Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Women of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century High Church Tradition: A Biographical and Historiographical Exploration of a Forgotten Phenomenon in Anglican History

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Women of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century High Church Tradition: A Biographical and Historiographical Exploration of a Forgotten Phenomenon in Anglican History

Article excerpt

Originating in the seventeenth century, the high church tradition in Anglicanism arose as an attempt to assert a tradition of English Christianity that was both reformed and catholic. Stressing a simultaneous adherence to the ancient church through the episcopal order and the blessings of the best-or moderate-aspects of Reformation theology, high churchmen became-as they believed themselves to be as-the flag-bearers of the Anglican tradition in its fullness.1 For much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries high churchmen were thought of primarily as a seventeenth-century phenomenon, the eighteenth having been, for the most part, a period of decline only to be reawakened by the leaders of the Oxford Movement. Yet in recent decades revisionist interpretations of the high church tradition have stressed its vibrancy in the century and a bit preceding the Oxford Movement. High churchmen such as George Home (1730-1792), Samuel Horsley (1733-1806), in addition to the laymen, William Stevens (1732-1807) and Joshua Watson (1771-1855), are some of the names that led an active high church tradition in the fading light of late Georgian England.2 No longer can students of Anglican history regurgitate typical Anglo-Catholic notions of a tractarian revival that "saved the Church of England."3 Yet there remain further areas of revision when it comes to the historiography of the classical high church tradition. For example, it is important to assert the prominent role of the laity within high church history.4 The notion of high churchmanship as being a clerical tradition is not completely wide- spread, but it is undoubtedly a dominant-and unquestioned- presupposition for many historians; this despite the fame of many high church laymen such as Robert Nelson, William Stevens, and Joshua Watson. A connected issue to this is that of gender. Reading most academic studies of the high church tradition, even those recent ones that have stressed its vibrancy, one would not be thought odd in concluding that the high church tradition is an expression of Anglicanism made up, not only of clerics, but of men. In fact, the role of women in the high church tradition is a topic rarely discussed by ecclesiastical historians. This dearth of female recognition is in stark contrast to contemporary scholarship on Anglican evangelicalism, however. When David Bebbington wrote his influential history of evangelicalism in 1989 he made numerous reference of the role of women within that movement.5 A still more prominent focus on the role of women in evangelicalism can be seen in Grayson Ditchfield's introductory survey, The Evangelical Revival (1998),6 as well as recent scholarship devoted to the prominent late Georgian female evangelical, Hannah More (1745-1833).7 Yet the same attempt to correct the gender-imbalance has not taken place with regard to the high church tradition. Why is this the case? Partly it most likely stems from the clerical bias of high church studies. Yet added to this there is no question that a "men and movements"8 approach has been the dominant historiographical method. It goes without saying that to think of the great names of the high church tradition throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is to think only of men. Yet women were attracted to high churchmanship, not simply as pious wives, but also as visible laywomen of distinction.

THE SEVENTEENTH AND EIGHTEENTH CENTURIES

The most prominent high churchwomen of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries include names such as Susanna Hopton (1627-1709), Frances Norton (1644-1731), Elinor James (1644/5-1719), MaryAstell (1666-1731), Anne Coventry (1673-1763), Elizabeth Stuart Bowdler (¿1797), Mary Deverell (//.1774-1797), Elizabeth Carter (1717-1806), and Sarah Trimmer (1741-1810).9 In one degree or another, all these women fit into the category of religious writers, though a few-such as Elinor James and Sarah Trimmer-went beyond this role, turning their ideas into a more practical lay activism. …

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