Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England

Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England

Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England

Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England

Synopsis

From childbirth and baptism through to courtship, weddings, and funerals, every stage in the life-cycle of Tudor and Stuart England was accompanied by ritual. Even under the protestantism of the reformed Church, the spiritual and social dramas of birth, marriage, and death were graced with elaborate ceremony. Powerful and controversial protocols were in operation, shaped and altered by the influences of the Reformation, the Revolution, and the Restoration. Each of the major rituals was potentially an arena for argument, ambiguity, and dissent. Ideally, as classic rites of passage, these ceremonies worked to bring people together. But they also set up traps into which people could stumble, and tests which not everybody could pass. In practice, ritual performance revealed frictions and fractures that everyday local discourse attempted to hide or to heal. Using fascinating first-hand evidence, David Cressy shows how the making and remaking of ritual formed part of a continuing debate, sometimes strained and occasionally acrimonious, which exposed the raw nerves of society in the midst of great historical events. In doing so, he vividly brings to life the common experiences of living and dying in Tudor and Stuart England.

Excerpt

The period from the middle of the sixteenth century to the end of the seventeenth century--encompassing Renaissance, Reformation, Revolution, and Restoration--saw intense debate and sharp conflict in England over the meaning and conduct of routine rites of passage. Politicized disagreement about religious behaviour and social practice contributed to the national divisions of the Civil War and Interregnum as well as to countless parochial disputes, and were barely resolved in the reigns of the later Stuarts. Godly protestants of the post-Reformation era objected to 'popish' elements that they thought still stained the life-cycle services in the Book of Common Prayer, while episcopal disciplinarians prevented puritan nonconformists from simplifying or subverting established ceremonies. Traditionalists clung to patterns of behaviour that the official church was reluctant to countenance. Furthermore, the rowdiness and irreverence associated with some of these rituals--such as christening festivities after baptisms, gossips' feasts following churchings, wedding parties after marriages, and funeral dinners accompanying burials--brought rites of passage within the purview of the campaign for the reformation of manners. The dispute was fought out in public and private, in sermons and pamphlets, diaries and letters, as well as in court cases and in poetic and dramatic literature. This book sets out to interrogate the widest possible range of sources in order to examine the social, cultural, and religious history of the ceremonies associated with birth, marriage, and death.

Every stage of the life cycle in early modern England was accompanied by ritual activity. The major episodes of birth, marriage, and death, in particular, were intensely scripted, marked by customary social performance as well as the regulated routines of religious liturgy. The Book of Common Prayer, in its various editions and revisions from 1549 to 1662, contained the services for the ministration of baptism to infants, the churching of women after childbirth, the ceremony for the solemnization of matrimony, and the order for burial of the dead. These were powerful protocols, with their prayers and incantations, exchanges and interrogatories, and the rubric of ritualized action--sprinkling with water, signing with the cross, kneeling at the altar, giving the bride, placing the ring, meeting the corpse, and casting earth upon . . .

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