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Reformation Studies Colloquium 2014 and my paper on ‘Lower Orders’ of the Clergy

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On Wednesday and Thursday this week I attended parts of the Reformation Studies Colloquium, which this year is being held at Murray Edwards College, Cambridge. The Colloquium continued today (Friday), but unfortunately I was unable to attend any of these sessions. I arrived for Communications Session 3 on Wednesday afternoon and attended the panel on ‘Elite, noble and civic Protestant culture in the Scotland of James VI’.

Dr Steven Reid introduced us to Glasgow University’s Bridging the Continental Divide project, which is trying to put as much Scottish Neo-Latin poetry online as possible (with the ultimate aim of making all Scottish Neo-Latin literature available). Dr Reid noted that there is a vast corpus of Neo-Latin literature by Scottish authors, dwarfing the output of literature in Scots and Gaelic as well as the Neo-Latin output of English authors. He argued that this was down to four main factors: a shared educational experience based on the Classics; Scots’ desire for recognition in European Humanist circles (which was much more intense in Scotland than England); the desire to obtain patronage; and the desire to demonstrate Classical knowledge. This demonstration took two forms: the invocation of Classical gods, places and personages to stand for common tropes of the day (James VI, for example, was regularly referred to as the northern Apollo), and allusions to and imitations of Classical literature. Neo-Latin poets regularly imitated specific Classical genres, such as Thomas Maitland’s twelve erotic love elegies, which recall Propertius, Tibullus and Catullus. Most intriguingly, Dr Reid demonstrated that Scottish Neo-Latin poets were both Protestant and Catholic, and he argued that Scottish Neo-Latin culture, while still ‘Protestant’ in a broad sense, was not deeply enmeshed with Scottish Protestantism and represented a distinct culture in its own right, which had more in common with the earlier, pre-Reformation Humanism than it did with the specific character of the Scottish Reformation. Scots, in other words, could get away with less overtly Protestant writing in Latin than they could in Scots – or at least that was how I interpreted Dr Reid’s argument. Given my longstanding interest in Neo-Latin literature (I gave a paper on the subject at the Ushaw English Catholicism conference in 2013), I was intrigued by Dr Reid’s research and I should dearly love to see a similar project for England.

The next two papers, delivered by Miles Kerr-Peterson and Paul Goatman, both also from Glasgow University, concentrated on Protestant and Catholic notables respectively: in Kerr-Peterson’s case George Keith, 4th Earl Marischal and in Goatman’s case the Glasgow recusant Archibald Hegate, who was a key organiser of the Jesuit mission in Scotland.

Wednesday’s keynote lecture was delivered by Prof. Benjamin Kaplan of UCL on the theme ‘Reformation, Religious War, Enlightenment? The Changing Forms of Religious Strife in Early Modern Borderland’. Prof. Kaplan’s lecture focussed on a case-study of the village of Vaals in the Overmaaze, an area partitioned between the Dutch Republic and the Habsburg Netherlands. Vaals belonged to the Dutch from the 1650s and was officially Calvinist, but the proximity of the Catholic city of Aachen meant that there was a large Catholic minority in the area. Kaplan began with the case of a Protestant baptism that resulted in the abduction of the child by Catholic family members and turned into a religious riot in 1762; he used this incident as the pivot on which he turned his argument against the accepted ‘master narrative’ of eighteenth-century Europe, in which ongoing religious conflicts are routinely dismissed as relics of an earlier era. Kaplan pointed out that the idea that the Enlightenment was ‘anti-religious’ has long been challenged. The next step Kaplan is suggesting is the rejection of the idea that religious conflicts ceased to be a significant factor in the eighteenth century. He drew an analogy with developments in the historiography of witchcraft, where the previously accepted view that witchcraft belief tailed off after decriminalisation has been comprehensively challenged. Historians of witchcraft (including me in English Catholics and the Supernatural) now emphasise the continuity between early modern and eighteenth-century beliefs, even if eighteenth-century persecutors of witches were not acting with the official backing of the authorities. Kaplan argued that popular religious violence in the eighteenth century, which was actually fairly common in the Low Countries and the Holy Roman Empire until the 1770s, was a backlash against changes in elite behaviour. Violence actually increased, on a popular level, as elites became less interested in religious persecution, and it was ‘an ironic product of official toleration’. Perhaps the most intriguing moment of the lecture came, for me, when Kaplan hinted that his model of understanding eighteenth-century religious violence could be applied to England and the Gordon Riots of 1780.

On the second day of the Colloquium I arrived in time for the panel on ‘Religious Conservatism and Catholic Revival in Reformation Britain’ chaired by Dr Ceri Law. Dr Neil Younger of the Open University spoke to the question ‘How Protestant was the Elizabethan Regime’, arguing that it was a lot less Protestant than the conventional historiography would have us believe. He concentrated on Sir Christopher Hatton, arguing that historians have underplayed the fact that Hatton was widely regarded as a papist during his lifetime. Hatton, Dr Younger argued, was the ‘poster boy’ for loyalist Catholicism in its most extreme form: he was a Catholic who conformed in public worship and did not hear mass (and thus may would argue, not a Catholic at all). Younger argued that Elizabeth needed Protestants to protect her from the Catholic nobility, who had tried to gain control in 1569, but she was keen to prevent the Protestants from going too far. People like Hatton acted as a moderating influence on the Protestants in Parliament. Elizabeth used appointments (such as her appointment of Hatton as Lord Chancellor) as a way of communicating her personal religious policy to the country at large. He made the case for there being an argument within the Elizabethan regime about the direction of religious policy, and insisted that the Elizabethan reformation was far from purely Protestant. I was delighted to hear someone making this argument, since I have long held the view that Elizabeth was not a wholehearted Protestant. Indeed, in some ways Elizabeth was continuing the religious policy of Mary’s last days, when Mary and Pole were distancing themselves from the Pope and developing a form of ‘national Catholicism’. Had Mary and Pole lived, I wonder whether something like the Henrician settlement might eventually have returned.

The next paper was delivered by Dr Anna Seregina from Moscow’s Russian Academy of Sciences on ‘Catholic nobility and church patronage in Elizabethan and early Stuart England’. Dr Seregina concentrated on the example of the Montagues of Battle in Sussex from the 1550s to the 1620s, arguing that they made use of their right to present to benefices as a means of securing Catholicism in the area. For a Catholic to present a Protestant minister to a benefice was an excommunicable offence, because it constituted the encouragement of heresy, but Allen and Parsons argued in their 1582 manual of casuistry that it was acceptable for a Catholic to present if the minister had been nominated by a Protestant (e.g. the local bishop), or if the incumbent intended to celebrate mass (i.e. he was a crypto-Catholic). One such was the Dean of Battle, Dr Withens, who did not celebrate communion or even visit his own church, and received papists in his house. Dr Seregina argued that the Montagues deliberately appointed non-preaching and Church Papist clergy as a means of keeping out the more enthusiastic Protestants. I was interested in this paper because it is easy to see a similar pattern in Suffolk, where the Rookwoods of Euston in particular seem to have supported a series of crypto-papist incumbents at Euston parish church. Likewise the case of Sir Thomas Cornwallis, who even collaborated with Bishop Freke of Norwich in the 1590s to install non-preaching incumbents (again, as a tactic against the Puritans), was well described by Diarmaid MacCulloch.

I was very sad to have missed the first paper in this panel, which was Coral Stoakes‘s presentation on ‘Catholic Apocalypticism in Post-Reformation England, 1558-1625’. I would also very much have liked to hear Dr Emilie Murphy‘s paper on ‘English Catholic Exiles and “Economies of Song”: piety, politics and patronage in the early seventeenth century’.

The next panel was the one at which I was speaking, entitled ‘Clergy and Bishops in English Reformation’ and chaired by Prof. Felicity Heal. Prof. Peter Marshall and John Morgan of Warwick University delivered a joint paper entitled ‘Clerical Conformity and the Elizabethan Settlement Revisited’, which drew on a new digital resource developed at Warwick, the Clergy of the Church of England Database, to argue that previous estimates of the number of clergy who were deprived for failing to conform to the Elizabethan Settlement have been too low. Prof. Marshall also used the opportunity to make a broader historiographical point about the ‘narrativisation’ of numbers (a term coined by John Morgan), by which he meant that historians have a tendency to take a number (e.g. the mere 300 clergy supposedly deprived after 1559) and use it as a shorthand for a generally accepted historical view (in this case, that the Elizabethan clergy were quiescent and accepted the reformation). Apart from the fact that the number itself is in need of revision (to something more like 700), numbers on their own should not be used in this way. Conformity, Marshall argued, was not an ontological state but a legal relationship between an individual and the state, defined by law. All the conformity tells us about a person is that he fulfilled what the law required; it reveals little or nothing about his personal beliefs.

My own paper, entitled ‘The “Lower Orders” of the Clergy in the English Reformation’, concentrated primarily on those men who, after 1550, were ordained deacon but never priest. I argued that, while the existence of a ‘clerical underclass’ is widely accepted by mediaeval historians, the clerical underclass of the post-Reformation church has been little studied. Using data culled from John Venn’s Alumni Cantabrigienses, I put forward an initial quantitative analysis of the proportion of Cambridge alumni who were probably never ordained priest, in spite of being in deacon’s orders, and argued that diaconal orders acted as a means for the church to bring less educated men into the ranks of the clergy. Men with grammar school educations who had not been to (or had not graduated from) university were ordained deacon but often prevented from rising any further. These deacons often served remote chapels in large parishes, especially in the North of England, and some acted as schoolmasters. Others, however, made use of their orders and education to cause trouble. My paper was based on research conducted for my forthcoming book Inferior Office: A History of Deacons in the Church of England (Cambridge: James Clarke and Co., 2015).

The final paper of the panel was delivered by Dr Sarah Bastow of the University of Huddersfield on the social difficulties encountered by  Elizabethan bishops, based on a case-study of Edwin Sandys.

The last panel of the day that I attended was ‘Memory and Myth in the English Reformation’, chaired by Cambridge’s Dr Richard Rex. Simone Maghenzani of the University of Turin spoke on ‘Myth, Memory and the Italian Reformation’, delivering a fascinating insight into subsequent constructions of what ‘the Italian Reformation’ meant to Italians. I asked Simone at the end how Italian Protestants remembers Reginald Pole, and was intrigued to discover that in Italian historiography up to the 1940s Pole was always remembered as a Protestant; his activities in England at the end of his life (including his burning of heretics in the Diocese of Canterbury) was completely ignored in the Italian story. The next paper was delivered by the Rev. Dr Hannah Cleugh of Durham University on ‘The French Invention of Anglicanism: John Cosin, the Church of England, and History’ in which she argued that Cosin’s time in exile in France in the 1650s played a crucial role in developing the phenomenon of ‘confessional Anglicanism’. Finally, we heard a paper from Dr David van der Linden of Queens’ College, Cambridge on the role played by memories of the French Wars of Religion in the era of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

Naturally, I was sad that I could not attend more of the fascinating papers presented during the three days of the Colloquium, which was seamlessly organised by Dr Liesbeth Corens who, as always, did a superb job of laying on a first-rate academic event.

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This entry was posted on September 12, 2014 by .
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