Popular Politics and the English Reformation

By Ethan H. Shagan | Go to book overview

4
Anticlericalism, popular politics and
the Henrician Reformation

On the first Sunday of Lent in 1540, John Gallampton and 'other misruled and wild persons' gathered outside their parish church in the town of Pawlett, Somerset. They entered the church 'with strength and violence', dragged out their vicar, Thomas Sprent, and 'cast him over the churchyard wall', nearly breaking his neck. On Easter Sunday the following month, with Sprent recovered from his injuries, John Gallampton 'stood at the chancel door' and 'kept the parishioners back' so that they could not receive communion from the vicar's hand. Then in July, Gallampton allegedly ambushed Sprent and beat him with a club. These violent actions, according to the vicar's opponents, were not without provocation. In the autumn of 1539, Sprent had abandoned his benefice for two weeks without providing a replacement, leaving two parishioners to die without last rites. Sprent was also accused of beating two of his parishioners, demanding 'more tithings of the parishioners than they were wont to pay', and meeting in his house with 'women of evil name and fame'. The conflict between the vicar and his parishioners became so heated that local modes of dispute resolution proved futile, and Gallampton and Sprent sued one another in rival actions in the King's Court of Star Chamber.1

This anecdote colourfully illustrates a mode of clerical–lay relations in the Reformation era, traditionally labelled 'anticlericalism', that scholars have often linked with the rise of English Protestantism.2 Yet Protestantism is

____________________
1
PRO STAC 2/31/120, fols. 25r, 24r, 12r, and 19r. The pages in this manuscript are confusingly and inaccurately numbered, so I have counted folios beginning at the front of the larger of the two bundles.
2
For important assertions of the relationship between anticlericalism and English Protestantism, see A. G. Dickens, The English Reformation, 2nd edn (London, 1989); A. G. Dickens, 'The Shape of Anti-clericalism and the English Reformation', in E. I. Kouri and T. Scott (eds.), Politics and Society in Reformation Europe (Basingstoke, 1987); G. R. Elton, Reform and Reformation: England 1509–1558 (London, 1977). Among earlier works, see J. A. Froude, History of England: From the Fall of Wolsey to the Death of Elizabeth, 12 vols. (New York, 1873); C. G. Coulton, 'Priests and People before the Reformation', in his Ten Medieval Studies, 3rd edn (Cambridge, 1930).

-131-

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