Owing to popular demand, my little book on Witches and Witchcraft in Ely has been reprinted and will once more be on sale at all of Ely’s bookshops: Burrows, Topping and Co., Oliver Cromwell’s House, Ely Cathedral Shop and Babylon Gallery. I am extremely grateful to Brian Watson of ADEC for making this reprinting possible; all profits from this re-printing will go towards the development of the arts and historical projects in the Ely area, and I hope to announce in due course exactly which project we will be supporting.
Forthcoming book: Inferior Office
I have just signed a contract with James Clarke and Co. for a new book on the history of deacons, entitled Inferior Office: A History of Deacons in the Church of England. This book begins with the Ordinal of 1550, explaining how the reformed Church of England reduced the number of orders to three (bishop, priest and deacon), resulting in deacons becoming the lowest order of the clergy. In the centuries that followed, the diaconate was for many clergy a brief period before they proceeded to the higher order of priesthood, but for a significant minority the diaconate was as far as they would ever progress. Men who were deemed less educated than their colleagues remained in deacon’s orders, as did those who lacked the connections to obtain a ‘title’ to priest’s ordination. These deacons formed a clerical underclass of chaplains, perpetual curates, schoolmasters and other functionaries until well into the eighteenth century. By the beginning of the nineteenth century such deacons had all but disappeared, but in 1839 Thomas Arnold began what would become a noisy movement in the Victorian church for the restoration of a meaningful diaconate, as a way of allowing less educated men to participate in mission and receive holy orders. The campaign ultimately achieved little in England, but it raised awareness of the idea of deacons in the colonial churches. In the end, the Church of England only came back to the idea of lifelong deacons for political reasons in the 1980s, when it became clear that the church needed to do something to allow women to join the clergy. Between 1987 and 1994, women in holy orders were permitted to be deacons but not priests. Finally, the book takes the story of deacons right up to the present day, charting the development of the ‘distinctive diaconate’ in the contemporary Church of England.
I expect the book to be published early in 2015.
A review of my English Catholics and the Supernatural, 1553-1829 has just appeared in the Spring 2014 edition of Renaissance Quarterly, pp. 303-5, by Peter Marshall. This is the first review of my book to appear in an academic journal (that I am aware of, anyway), and it is pleasingly positive. Marshall describes the book as ‘an intelligent and illuminating study of a good subject’, and concludes that ‘it is full of interesting insight and sound judgment, and offers some important points of orientation for the mapping of a Catholic subculture that was also an integral part of a broader cultural landscape’. I look forward to reading more reviews as they filter through from the journals.
Yesterday I travelled down to Sutton Hoo in Suffolk to deliver four lectures on the history of Catholicism in East Anglia to an audience of around thirty people who had travelled from various parts of Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex and, in one case, from Kent. The study day, entitled ‘Surviving the Reformation: East Anglia’s Catholic Families’ was probably the first one-day event ever dedicated to the history of Catholicism in East Anglia. I am grateful to Dr Sam Newton and Rosemary Hoppitt of Wuffing Education for making this possible.
The first session, entitled ‘Why did Catholicism live on in East Anglia?’, made the case for studying East Anglian Catholicism (and Catholicism in general), before giving a brief chronological overview of the main events of the Reformation as they impacted upon Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. The second session, entitled ‘Who were the Catholics? East Anglia’s Catholic Families’ focussed in on the main Catholic families of the region, dividing them into four categories: the ancient families, who predated the Reformation; the incomers, who settled in the region after the Reformation; families who vacillated between Catholicism and Protestantism; and finally non-gentry families.
After lunch, the third session was ‘The Catholic Mission in East Anglia’, which examined Catholicism in the region from the perspective of the priests rather than the laity, and traced the evolution of Catholic chapels from small rooms in attics to the earliest Catholic churches. The final session of the day, entitled ‘Surviving the Penal Laws in East Anglia’, examined ten different strategies employed by Catholics to survive or avoid the laws against Catholicism between 1559 and 1829.
Although this study day was in many ways a ‘whistle-stop tour’ of Catholicism in East Anglia and a very brief introduction, it is my hope that it will be the beginning of a renewed interest in the history of Catholicism in the region, and that those who attended will go out and spread the word about this very interesting and promising area of research.
‘Visions of Enchantment’ Conference
Yesterday I attended the second day of the ‘Visions of Enchantment’ conference in Cambridge, organised by the University’s Department of History of Art and other sponsors. Unfortunately I was not able to attend the first day, which featured keynote lectures by Professors M. E. Warlick and Emile Savage-Smith. I would have been particularly interested in hearing Dr Christiane Hille’s paper on the esoteric symbolism of Elizabethan miniatures. Unfortunately I also missed more keynotes lectures at the start of today, by Dr Marco Pasi and Dr S. V. Turner. However, I arrived in Cambridge at lunchtime in readiness to deliver my own paper, ‘Esoteric Recusancy in the Elizabethan Age: The Occult Architecture of Sir Thomas Tresham’ as part of the panel on ‘Occultism and Architecture’ convened by Prof. Deborah Howard, Cambridge’s Professor of Architectural History. I shared the panel with papers on William Lethaby, the late nineteenth-century esoteric architect, mystical motifs on Javanese mosques, and nineteenth-century Spiritualist architecture in America. Overall, looking at the programme of the conference, the early modern period was rather underrepresented.
The subject of my own paper was the esoteric influences on the architecture of Sir Thomas Tresham, most notably the knowledge of the Christian Cabala that he incorporated into his designs for the Long Gallery in the Bishop’s Palace at Ely and the building and grounds at Lyveden. I was glad that Coral Stoakes was able to be there, and she was kind enough to take a photo of me during my paper. Tresham seemed to be a new figure to most members of the audience, so I was glad that I had included some basic background on him and his buildings. I was also surprised that there were so many similarities between Tresham’s choice of motifs and those of William Lethaby in the 1880s, as Amandeep Sangha outlined. Like Tresham, Lethaby was preoccupied with the Tau cross and the serpent, as well as the connection between the cross and the ‘serpent lifted up in the wilderness’.
Afterwards I was delighted to meet Dr Emily Mitchell, Senior Lecturer in Illustration at Norwich University of the Arts, who is currently engaged in a project exploring the history of witches in Norfolk, so I was able to tell her about my work on the history of witchcraft in the Ely area. I then attended the final keynote lecture of the conference by Professor Antoine Faivre, introduced by Professor Wouter Hanegraaf. Although illustrations in the works of eighteenth-century German theosophers is not really my cup of tea, I enjoyed this stimulating lecture from one of the founders of the field of Western Esotericism as an academic study. ‘Visions of Enchantment’ was an excellent conference that brought together specialists from a very wide range of disciplines, and thanks must go to Dan Zamani for organising the conference so smoothly and effectively.
My review of Peter Wickins’s book Victorian Protestantism and Bloody Mary: the legacy of religious persecution in Tudor England (Bury St Edmunds: Arena Books, 2012) has just appeared in vol. 43, part 1 of Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History. This is a fascinating book that juxtaposes a furious debate about a monument to the Marian ‘martyrs’ in Bury St Edmunds at the turn of the twentieth century with another look at the historical evidence for the martyrs themselves. What emerges is that the religious debates of the early twentieth century had more to do with civic identity than religion, while the range of beliefs that the martyrs themselves died for (everything from Unitarianism to Lollardy to Lutheranism) hardly corresponded to what the worthies of Edwardian Suffolk considered ‘Protestantism’ to be. It is an excellent example of a study of nineteenth-century historical perception, which in so many ways remains with us and needs to be recognised and challenged at every opportunity.
I have just joined the English Catholic History Association (I’m not sure why I wasn’t already a member), a magnificent organisation that exists to promulgate public knowledge of the post-Reformation history of Catholicism in England. The ECHA makes use of technology such as podcasts to transmit knowledge of English Catholicism. I am hoping that my new site East Anglian Catholic History Centre can be a bit similar on a local level.
I have recently set up a new website, East Anglian Catholic History Centre, in an effort to remedy the woeful lack of information on the web about the history of post-Reformation Catholic history in East Anglia. So far, the site includes a list of links to archives containing material on the Catholic history of the region and societies with related interests. I am hoping that eventually the site will be a point of reference for parish history groups and anyone else with an interest in the history of Catholicism in the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.
Interview on ‘Albion Calling’
I have given an interview to Ethan Doyle White’s website Albion Calling, which has become a leading source of news and information on scholarship in the area of Pagan studies since its launch in April 2012. As a follower of the website, I was flattered to be invited to contribute an interview, even though my primary research interest in early modern religion is a little off-piste as far as Albion Calling is concerned. Ethan Doyle White is a London-based independent scholar, trained in archaeology, who has made innovative use of social media to promote a scholarly approach to Pagan studies. His interview series on Albion Calling has provided a platform for more information on some of the most exciting scholars in a fast-growing field of academia.
Witchcraft at Babylon Gallery
On the evening of Friday 24th January I spoke on the subject of ‘Witches and Witchcraft in Ely’ at Ely’s Babylon Gallery, as part of a series of lectures intended to introduce people to areas of knowledge unfamiliar to them, ‘Babylon Bites’. The series is organised by Arts Development East Cambridgeshire (ADEC), the organisation that runs the Gallery. I should like to thank Brian Watson and Christine Pike for inviting me to speak and for promoting the event so effectively.
As I have found every time I have spoken on the subject of the history of witchcraft, the most interesting aspect of the event was not anything I said but rather the stories and comments that emerged afterwards. On this occasion I was very excited by the possibility that notes of an interview with a pagan herbalist practising in Essex in the 1960s might still exist – the ’60s were a crucial time in which the very last vestiges of traditional rural practices were sometimes making connections with nascent modern Wicca.