Guilds and the Parish Community in Late Medieval East Anglia, C. 1470-1550

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Guilds and the Parish Community in Late Medieval East Anglia, c. 1470-1550. By Ken Farnhill. (Rochester, New York: York Medieval Press in association with The Boydell Press. 2001. Pp. ix, 237. $90.00.)

Guilds and their activities have figured prominently in the recent historiography of late medieval Catholicism in England-notably in furthering positive interpretations of the vitality of lay devotion on the eve of the Reformation and negative assessments of the impact of that cataclysm on popular religion. In this short study of guild activity in late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century East Anglia, Ken Farnhill has provided a further regional study to complement those already available for Cambridgeshire, the West Country, Yorkshire, and London. His work is carefully placed within the growing historiography of the guilds, and adds to it a particular concern to examine guilds in their parochial setting, and to assess their contributions to the parish as a religious and social unit. To this end he explores the geographical distribution of the known guilds of Norfolk and Suffolk, their membership, officers, and activities, and the benefits to be derived from participation in them. Surveys of the evidence surviving for the rural areas of the two countries are supplemented by close studies of the roles of both guild members and parish churchwardens in the market towns of Wymondham and Swaffham and the rural parishes of Bardwell and Cockfield. The study concludes by tracing the impact of the Reformation up to the final suppression of the guilds by the Chantries Act of 1548.

Farnhill is a scrupulous and judicious scholars He provides an excellent introduction to the historiography of the guilds and to the surviving sources for their study. He is particularly thorough in his assessment of the records available for his chosen region, and he provides a good deal of detail regarding both the guilds and parish administration in his sample parishes. …