Travesties and Transgressions in Tudor and Stuart England: Tales of Discord and Dissension

Travesties and Transgressions in Tudor and Stuart England: Tales of Discord and Dissension

Travesties and Transgressions in Tudor and Stuart England: Tales of Discord and Dissension

Travesties and Transgressions in Tudor and Stuart England: Tales of Discord and Dissension

Synopsis

In Travesties and Transgressions, David Cressy examines how the orderly, Protestant, and hierarchical society of post-Reformation England coped with the cultural challenges posed by beliefs and events outside the social norm. He uses a series of linked stories and close readings of local texts and narratives to investigate unorthodox happenings such as bestiality and monstrous births, seduction and abortion, excommunication and irregular burial, nakedness and cross-dressing. Each story, and the reaction it generated, exposes the strains and stresses of its local time and circumstances. The reigns of Elizabeth, James, and Charles I were witness to endless religious disputes, tussles for power within the aristocracy, and arguments galore about the behaviour and beliefs of common people. Questions raised by 'unnatural' episodes were debated throughout society at local and national levels, and engaged the attention of the magistrates, the bishops, the crown, and the court. The resolution of such questions was not taken lightly in a world in which God and the devil still fought for people's souls.

Excerpt

This book brings to life some of the strangest and most troubling incidents from the byways of Tudor and Stuart England. Through a series of linked stories and close readings of local texts and narratives, it examines the ways in which early modern society coped with cultural difficulties and dealt with bewildering phenomena. Among the topics under discussion are bestiality and monstrous births, seduction and abortion, ridicule and paranoia, mockery and invective, symbolic violence and iconoclasm, atheism, excommunication and irregular burial, nakedness and cross-dressing. These were issues that challenged the orderly, Protestant, hierarchical society of post-Reformation England. They disturbed the margins, cut across the grain, and set the authorities on edge.

When incidents of this sort caught the attention of diarists, came before the ecclesiastical courts, or entered the realm of printed discourse, they were often surrounded by questions. What was the truth of the matter, what exactly had happened, and what did it all portend? What were the limits of credibility, and whose account should be believed? What did it mean, for example, when Leicestershire villagers asserted that a woman in their community gave birth to a cat? Why was a Sussex parish so divided over midwifery, plague remedies, and religion, and why was the fate of their minister bound up with accounts of an illegitimate birth? Why was an Oxfordshire woman refused Christian burial, and why were her neighbours so uncooperative when their bishop tried to find out who had secretly invaded the church to bury her at night? What explains the mocking invective flung at a Yorkshire clergyman, the insults suffered by Kentish churchwardens, and the venomous language some pastors directed at their flocks? and what was at stake at Chester in 1637 when the authorities gave public execution to five empty picture frames?

Behind these questions lay stories and counter-stories that were rooted in local struggles and shaped by contests over gender, authority, deference, and belief. But each episode also touched issues of national significance, that engaged the attention of the magistrates, the bishops, the crown, and the court. Their telling embroiled the centre and the periphery, the mainstream and the marginal, engaging both public and private spheres.

There are stories here about sex and violence, faith and folly, birth and death. But this is not a conventional history of any of these topics. It is rather a project in creative listening. Rather than constructing a standard historical narrative of . . .

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