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Village life and the church in the late 17th century

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Village life and the church in the late 17th century

Postby Brian Chatters » Thu Sep 13, 2018 8:12 pm

In researching my family history, I found the following record.
"A presentment made this 12th day of May 1684 by Isaac Cane and Abraham Kerington churchwardens for the parish of Belchamp St Paul the minister assisting.
• Those that absent themselves from their parish church – return to the justice every month and they are convicted upon the statute of twelve pence for every Sunday.
• We present for not coming to the communion at Easter last these following:"
Then followed a named list of over 100 persons (including one of the churchwardens). Then:
"These aforementioned persons are not obstinate but perhaps will soon comply and many of them will communicate upon Trinity Sunday next God permitting and therefore we desire that no proceedings may be in court against them."
Then followed a shorter list of a handful of people who were non-repentant.

Why would so many people fail to attend the church? In 1801, the population of the village was just under 500 so I would estimate that the list of non-attendees represents about half of the adult population in 1684.
On examination of the parish register, there are no entries from March 1682 (82/3) to November 1685 and from June 1688 to March 1695 (95/6). The incumbant from about 1676 was Thomas Unwin. He was still vicar at the time of the presentment but I am not sure when he was replaced.

One other observation that may be relevant. During the period that Thomas Unwin was vicar, a number of entries in the parish register were in Latin. I have not been able to analyse the records in detail but I guess the ones in Latin were about 30-40% of the total.

Any suggestions as to why so many parishioners failed to attend communion would be most welcome. Or any suggestions as to what other records may provide more information. I believe that the reason may be related to the unrest caused by James II but I am no expert.
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Re: Village life and the church in the late 17th century

Postby Mick Loney » Thu Sep 13, 2018 10:37 pm

This was a period when anti-Catholicism was prevalent, so this could be part of the problem. If many of the parish were Catholic, it could explain their absence from attending church. It could also explain why some of the register entries were in Latin, as most Catholic registers entries tend to be written in Latin.
I’m sure someone with more knowledge of history will correct me if I’m wrong :D
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Re: Village life and the church in the late 17th century

Postby HardWork » Thu Sep 13, 2018 10:45 pm

Perhaps Thomas Unwin had a "High Church", Church of England viewpoint not shared by his parishioners who may well have been of a more "Puritanical" outlook, which may have accorded more comfortably with Unwin's predecessor. The predecessor in turn may well have been the first to have the living after the Restoration of the Monarchy, replacing an incumbent from the era of the Protectorate, as happened across the country?
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Re: Village life and the church in the late 17th century

Postby AdrianB38 » Fri Sep 14, 2018 6:21 am

Interesting - but I think that there are several questions here.

First, as mentioned above, was the parish priest more High Church than many of his flock?

Was there a non-conformist tradition in the area? I'd suggest looking for other chapels before or after.

What was the normal level of non-attendance across England? Bearing in mind that we seem to be talking about attendance on a specific date (and I think that was the way attendance was measured - on Easter. I think.)

I suspect that you may need to do some background reading in relation to religious practices during the reign of James II and VII.

Definitely interesting though - this is the sort of thing that puts flesh on the bones of the story.

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Re: Village life and the church in the late 17th century

Postby Brian Chatters » Fri Sep 14, 2018 11:43 am

Thanks for the replies. The High Church theory seems the most likely. Belchamp St Paul is in north Essex, close to the Suffolk border and I am not aware of any significant nonconformity. I have not found any early chapels in the area. I will try to find out more about Thomas Unwin but the only source I have is a copy of the parish register. It was not well maintained after the restoration until after 1700 when a new vicar took over.
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Re: Village life and the church in the late 17th century

Postby meekhcs » Fri Sep 14, 2018 3:22 pm

https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/e ... /pp339-351 These pages talk about non conformity in Essex during the period you are researching.I have not read them through but they may prove useful.
Regarding the Catholic Faith there were several prominent Landowners/Lords of the Realm who practised the faith. Tenants would often convert to the faith of their Landlords so little pockets of worshippers occurred. My only experience of this was somewhat later in the early 1800s with the Weld Family in Dorset.
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Re: Village life and the church in the late 17th century

Postby Brian Chatters » Fri Sep 14, 2018 4:34 pm

A bit more information to muddy the waters! I've checked the parish register from 1660 (the restoration) and Thomas Unwin became vicar at that time. From 1671, all entries were in Latin at first but mixed records started to appear about 1680. Ten of the thirteen families who had records written in Latin in 1680 also appear on the list of non-attendees at communion. If the villagers were protesting against the Catholic preaching of the vicar, I would have thought that the Protestants were the non-attendees. After about 1683 and until 1695, the records in the registers are very sparse - almost non-existent. The vicar may have left the village in 1695. There is no burial record for him there and one internet record claims that he died in nearby Coggeshall.
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Re: Village life and the church in the late 17th century

Postby AdrianB38 » Fri Sep 14, 2018 8:07 pm

Brian Chatters wrote:... From 1671, all entries were in Latin at first but mixed records started to appear about 1680. ...

I don't imagine that entries being part in Latin and part in English signifies too much. Maybe one clerk did Latin and another didn't. It certainly wouldn't be the case that some families were always written up in Latin, etc., other than by coincidence.

Brian Chatters wrote:... If the villagers were protesting against the Catholic preaching of the vicar, I would have thought that the Protestants were the non-attendees. ...

To be clear - there is absolutely no way that a parish priest would be permitted to publically preach the Roman Catholic faith in that era. Being High Church is still being Protestant - so it's perfectly possible that he was High Church (Protestant) and therefore viewed with suspicion by those of his flock who were of a more Puritan persuasion - who might fear that he was a closet Catholic.
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Re: Village life and the church in the late 17th century

Postby HardWork » Fri Sep 14, 2018 9:44 pm

If villagers became aware that records were being written in Latin that may be enough to raise their fears. Blood was spilt in trying to produce the Bible in English rather than Latin, in earlier times. The worshippers may well have been children of families that supported Parliament in the Civil War, if not participants themselves. This is East Anglia we're talking about where Parliamentary support was arguably at its strongest. My own researches indicate that many baptisms are "missing" (at least for certain families) in West Suffolk parish records which cannot all be explained by poor record keeping and though I don't think families were necessarily "organised" Non-Conformists they quite probably harboured such tendencies. Any suspicion of a covert return to anything resembling Catholicism could well cause alarm.
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Re: Village life and the church in the late 17th century

Postby Brian Chatters » Fri Sep 14, 2018 9:50 pm

Adrian/Hardwoork,
Thanks for that. My (limited) understanding of the High Church is that it is similar to the Catholic teaching but has allegiance to the monarch rather than the Pope. Is that right? Your comment about "fear of returning to Catholicism" rather than an explicit attempt to preach it make sense. Could it be that some members of the High Church were closeted Catholics?
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