Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Voices of Morebath: Reformation & Rebellion in an English Village

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Voices of Morebath: Reformation & Rebellion in an English Village

Article excerpt

EAMON DUFFY. The Voices of Morebath: Reformation & Rebellion in an English Village. New Haven, Connecticut, and London, England: Yale University Press 2001. Pp. xxviii + 232, introduction, bibliography, index. $22.50.

Eanion Duffy's rendering of the Reformation in the rural Devon parish of Morebath offers the kind of perspective that only local history can give. The personal view he offers relies on the extraordinary accounts kept by the vicar, Sir Christopher Trychay (pronounced tricky) from 1520 until his death in 1574. Because the accounts were read aloud to the parish, they had an "extraordinary verbal immediacy" (34). In this respect they were quite unusual. But Duffy's sensitive treatment of the material is also vital in this exquisite contribution to the history of the English Reformation.

Duffy sees Sir Christopher using the accounts to represent and support parish unity and cooperation. For example, a virtual beating of the bounds of the parish occurred when the vicar recited a litany of the households spread round the countryside. The annual sheep count, a "carefully crafted parochial ritual" (43), tracked the parish's store of sheep, in the care of various parishioners. And in 1554, the same litany addressed the parish's indebtedness to its members following the disastrous Edwardine period. Sir Christopher also showed his displeasure towards parishioners whose cooperation, at least in his eyes, was lacking.

The accounts reflect Sir Christopher's deep concern for the beauty and devotional life of his church. Early in his tenure the parish, like many other West Country parishes, endeavored to renew its equipment and furnishings with an astonishing outlay. Sir Christopher himself donated his tithing from the church sheep to his favored project, a set of black vestments; he founded the cult of St. Sidwell and encouraged the adornment of her image and her altar; and his parishioners reciprocated. The results of these efforts and the opportunities they represented for devotion, cooperation, and income were utterly destroyed by 1548.

To meet expenses, High Warden Lucy Scely sold off the liturgical equipment made superfluous by the dictates of the authorities. It is in recording losses of this kind that Duffy makes the most effective use of the accounts. When we hear that the equipment sold off included the altar cloths which had come from John Smyth and Christina Taylor, the basins from Margery Lake and Jekyn at Moore, we sense the personal cost the sales represented. …

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