Puritan Iconoclasm during the English Civil War

Puritan Iconoclasm during the English Civil War

Puritan Iconoclasm during the English Civil War

Puritan Iconoclasm during the English Civil War

Synopsis

This work offers a detailed analysis of Puritan iconoclasm in England during the 1640s, looking at the reasons for the resurgence of image-breaking a hundred years after the break with Rome, and the extent of the phenomenon. Initially a reaction to the emphasis on ceremony and the 'beauty of holiness' under Archbishop Laud, the attack on 'innovations', such as communion rails, images and stained glass windows, developed into a major campaign driven forward by the Long Parliament as part of its religious reformation. Increasingly radical legislation targeted not just 'new popery', but pre-Reformation survivals and a wide range of objects (including some which had been acceptable to the Elizabethan and Jacobean Church). The book makes a detailed survey of parliament's legislation against images, considering the question of how and how far this legislation was enforced generally, with specific case studies looking at the impact of the iconoclastic reformation in London, in the cathedrals and at the universities. Parallel to this official movement was an unofficial one undertaken by Parliamentary soldiers, whose violent destructiveness became notorious. The significance of this spontaneous action and the importance of the anti-Catholic and anti-Episcopal feelings that it represented are also examined.Shortlisted for Historians of British Art Book Prize for 2003Dr JULIE SPRAGGON is at the Institute for Historical Research, University of London.

Excerpt

It has been seen that part of the reaction to the increased beautification of churches and other features of the new Arminianism was a protest focused, amongst other things, upon a perceived increase in `idolatry'. the main targets for protesters were communion rails, but there was also a clear feeling that images—loosely defined to include pictures, hangings, ornaments and other `monuments of superstition'—were on the increase. the controversy about church decoration and ornamentation sparked a renewed interest in the issue of imagery and a vigorous campaign on the subject. the calling of parliament in November 1640 was seen as an opportunity for this issue to be addressed, inspiring a number of works which argued for the removal and destruction of images. This chapter gives an overview of the published literature which formed a backdrop to the official and unofficial iconoclasm of the period.

The majority of the works directly concerned with images and idolatry were published in 1641 and, to a lesser extent, 1642. This ties in with both the collapse of press censorship—followed by an enormous increase in the amount of printed material circulating—and the pouring forth of previously repressed feelings against the Laudian religious regime. Indeed it was as part of the attack on Laud and the bishops that a lot of the anti-imagery and anti-cathedral works appeared at this point—mostly in the form of cheap satirical verses and woodcuts. the printed works attacked the bishops as pawns of the pope, who were aiding him in his endeavour to bring back popery and were responsible for the growth of idolatry—represented by the use of images in churches. This was summed up in the anonymous verse Bishops, Judges, Monopolists, of 1641, which accused the bishops of:

Inclining to the Arminian Sect and preaching in the Roman Dialect They labour'd mongst us Protestants to intrude What our Reformed Church did quite exclude. New Canons, Oathes & Altars, bending low, To where, in time the Images must grow . . .

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