The National Church in Local Perspective: The Church of England and the Regions, 1660-1800

By Clark, Jonathan | Anglican and Episcopal History, March 2005 | Go to article overview

The National Church in Local Perspective: The Church of England and the Regions, 1660-1800


Clark, Jonathan, Anglican and Episcopal History


JEREMY GREGORY AND JEFFREY S. CHAMBERLAIN, EDS. The National Church in Local Perspective: The Church of England and the Regions, 1660-1800. Studies in Modern British Religious History. Woodbridge, Suffolk, England: The Boydell Press, 2003. Pp. xiii + 315 pp., introduction, bibliography, index. $90.00.

What used to be called "ecclesiastical history" has changed greatly in recent decades, but the changes have been uneven. Where "bottom up" approaches have been wildly popular in many other periods, the history of religion in England during the long eighteenth century has still been predominantly "top down," written from the perspective of the center, often concerned with issues of church-state relations, ecclesiastical polity, or ecclesiology. Although distinguished local studies have been written, there have been few attempts to draw this recent work together into an overview, let alone a new synthesis. This volume is such an attempt, ably edited by two distinguished young scholars in the field. Here they extend their gaze from the south-east of England to other regions, and to Wales in addition. The very uneven distribution of churches and clergy is their cue for a reflection, in an important introduction, on the way in which regional differences should modify Cobbett's famous image of the ubiquity of the clergy as the key to the power of the church.

The volume begins with Jeremy Gregory's essay on the archbishops of Canterbury and the shaping of the national church, showing that the performance of their local duties did not prevent them from assuming a growing national role. Viviane Barrie studies the diocese of London and shows reasons for being "generally, if tentatively, positive about religious practice and clerical activity." Jeffrey Chamberlain looks at the diocese of Chichester, exploring the theme of the reconciliation of party divisions through the strong connection to the center provided by the duke of Newcastle's machine. William Gibson on Winchester and Donald Spaeth on Salisbury record divergent patterns of development for otherwise similar dioceses: successful eirenicism in the first, the embittered failure of Gilbert Burnet's efforts at reform in the second. Colin Haydon studies the church in the Kineton deanery of the diocese of Worcester and endorses the observation of Bishop Maddox (1743-59) that he inherited a "wellregulated diocese." Norfolk is the subject of W. M.Jacob, who finds effective pastoral care despite a high incidence of technical nonresidence: "The substantially medieval administrative and pastoral structure of the Church of England, as well as of its church buildings, were continually adapted by the clergy and lay people to meet changing social and economic situations, including the major agricultural changes of the second half of the eighteenth century." W. M. Marshall compares two "markedly different" dioceses, Oxford and Hereford, and finds that, despite their differences, they both "followed the trend of church life." This, indeed, is the optimistic impression left by all of the chapters on the southern dioceses.

By contrast, the north-east of England, the subject of Françoise Deconinck-Brossard, emerges as structurally very different, offering "many complex variations on a national theme," especially in those few areas in which the church was in a numerical minority." England's largest parish, Whalley, Lancashire, in the diocese of Chester, is the subject of M. F. Snape's chapter, which investigates the church's decline in a cotton manufacturing area despite indigenous population growth that permitted the preservation of a "relatively stable social and cultural milieu. …

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