Scandal and Religious Identity in Early Stuart England

May 2015
1 black and white illustrations
403 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
Studies in Modern British Religious History
ISBN: 9781783270149
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
Boydell Press
BISAC HIS037040, HIS015000

Scandal and Religious Identity in Early Stuart England

A Northamptonshire Maid's Tragedy

Peter Lake, Isaac Stephens

A window into the mental and cultural worlds of the Stuart period, capturing the existing religious, social and political tensions on the eve of the English Civil War.
This book starts with an extraordinary event and document. The event is the trial and execution for infanticide of a puritan minister, John Barker, along with his wife's niece and their maid, in Northampton in 1637; the document, what appears to be a virtual transcript of Barker's last speech on the gallows. His downfall soon became polemical fodder in scribal publications, with Puritans circulating defences of Barker and anti-Calvinists producing a Laudian condemnation of the minister.

Scandal and Religious Identity in Early Stuart England uses Barker's crime and fate as a window on the religious world of early modern England. It is based upon an extraordinary deposit of manuscript and printed sources, all produced between 1637 and 1640 by people living in close proximity to one another and all of whom knew one another, either as friends or more often as enemies. Marshalling evidence from public polemical sources and from almost entirely private ones - a diary, private letters and a spiritual autobiography - the book is able to examine the same events and persons, and beliefs and practices, from multiple perspectives: the micro and the macro, the personal and the political, and the affective and the doctrinal. Throughout, we meet a range of very different people putting various bodies of religious theory into practice, connecting the most local and particular of events and rivalries to the great issues of the day and responding, in certain cases, to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and the temptations of the devil.
This approach enables a whole series of generalisations to be explored: about the relation between politics and religion, devotion and polemic, puritans and their enemies, local and national affairs; between rumour, manuscript and print; and, finally, about gender hierarchy and the social roles of men and women. The result is an extraordinarily detailed and intimate portrait of the religio- political scene in an English county on the eve of civil war.

PETER LAKE is Distinguished University Professor of early modern English history at Vanderbilt. He is the author of several studies of English religion, culture and politics in the Elizabethan and early Stuart periods.

ISAAC STEPHENS is Assistant Professor of History at Saginaw Valley State University and has published on early modern marriage, religion, and life-writing.

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Table of Contents

The crime and its consequences
The (Laudian) view, from the outside looking in
The (puritan) view, from the inside looking out
'Squeezing comfort from the creature'/ 'soaring on the wings of faith': the diary of Robert Woodford
Living 'in the midst of the faction': the letters of Robert Sibthorpe
'Living the private life': Elizabeth Isham's Book of Remembrance


[This] book is essential reading for everyone interested in early modern English religion. THE HISTORIAN

[A] richly detailed book ... [Lake and Stephens] exploit a truly extraordinary convergence of different sources in manuscript and print . The manuscript discoveries, the leads shared by other historians, and the very extensive quotation from the sources vividly show the inner workings of the historical craft. The book is colloquial, relaxed, and sprawling: it buttonholes the reader and compels assent to its strong historiographical line. RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY

[I]maginative and bold . . . makes a number of very important points with wide resonance to the study of early modern religiosity. SIXTEENTH CENTURY JOURNAL

[L]eaves no doubt that the meanings of religious ideology and public polemic were inseparable from the everyday experience of religion. JOURNAL OF MODERN HISTORY

[The authors'] penetrating analysis of the Northamptonshire tragedy and its ramifications is skilfully linked to their thesis of a deeply polarized religious climate in the 1630s. I found their picture of a long-term, cyclical struggle for the soul of the church broadly persuasive too. This is an important book, and one guaranteed to trigger further lively debate. H-ALBION

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