From Reformation to Improvement: Public Welfare in Early Modern England

By Paul P. Slack | Go to book overview
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2 GODLY CITIES

Looking for bright spots in an otherwise diseased commonwealth in 1585, William Cecil identified 'good towns' with their 'discreet preachers, very zealous towards God', and watchful 'for her Majesty's safety'.1 It was perhaps less the queen's than the town's safety which most concerned the more zealous of these preachers, several of whom were masters of the civic hospitals considered in the last chapter: Thomas Sampson at Wigston's, Leicester, for example, or Thomas Cartwright at Leicester's Hospital, Warwick, or Arthur Wake at St John's, Northampton. In 1630 one of the last of the line, Robert Jenison, master of Mary Magdalene Hospital and lecturer in Newcastle upon Tyne, discussed The Citie's Safetle at some length. Protection from divine punishment -- from plague, famine and the sword, from fire and flood -- belonged, he asserted, 'peculiarly to godly cities, even to such as God will take and acknowledge for his own, and to godly persons in them. Over such cities God will in special manner watch for good, and will establish them in safety.' Jenison's confidence was unqualified: 'Doubtless, we belonging to godly cities, and being for our parts members thereof, shall escape . . . many dangers, and remain a quiet habitation.'2

In reality, godly cities were for the most part the most unquiet habitations, as we know from the work of Patrick Collinson, David Underdown, and other historians who have told us a good deal about such places: cities 'set on a hill', like Colchester and Dorchester, 'second Genevas' like Coventry and Stratford-upon-Avon.3 Despite the attention already given to them, however, they demand some prolonged consideration here. In efforts to reform manners, repress idleness, and employ and relieve the poor, their magistrates and ministers proclaimed a very deliberate and influential vision of the public welfare. Godly cities, according to Jenison, were those purged by 'a

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1
PRO, SP 12/184/50.
2
Robert Jenison, The Cities Safetie ( 1630), 11, 29. On Jenison, see R. Howell, Newcastle upon Tyne and the Puritan Revolution ( Oxford, 1967), 85-6.
3
P. Collinson, The Birthpangs of Protestant England ( 1986), 30; D. Underdown, Fire from Heaven: Life in an English Town in the Seventeenth Century ( 1992), P. ix; A. Hughes, Politics, Society and Civil War in Warwickshire 1620-60 ( Cambridge, 1987), 80; VCH Warwickshire, iii ( 1945), 280-1.

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