Religion and the English People, 1500-1640: New Voices, New Perspectives

By Eric Josef Carlson | Go to book overview

NEGOTIATING the REFORMATION

Norman Jones

IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY, people had to attempt to fulfill their ideals while thinking pragmatically about what to do if the law suddenly frowned on those ideals. No matter what one's faith one had to find a path--perhaps even a via media--through the confusion of the Reformation. The will of George Seyntpole of Northaulton in Lincoln presents a classic case of this pragmatic idealism. Drafted in the Christmas season of 1558 it shows a sensible awareness of the mutability of laws. Seyntpole wished to endow a chantry priest to pray for the souls of his mother, his father, himself, and his family. The terms of this endowment were carefully worked out over a folio page. He named the priest, he provided for the selection of his successor, and he concluded by directing what should be done with the money if religion changed. All the stipulated things were to be carried out "Provided alwayes that if any lawe hereafter be made within this Realme by parliament or other wise that the saide gift for fynding of a priest shall not be goode" his son John could redirect the money. As George Seyntpole had foreseen, by the time his will was proved in late February of 1559 Parliament was moving to abolish purgatory, making the founding of a chantry impossible. 1 George Seyntpole was afraid of purgatory. No heretical law could really abolish it. But that law could take away his money and put it into the crown's pocket so it was incumbent upon him to protect his property. Believing firmly in the power of the Blood of Christ he also believed firmly in the power of Parliament over this world. And so he planned accordingly.

The essays in this volume reflect the difficulty three generations of English people faced as they negotiated the changes wrought by the Reformation. No matter where their religious allegiances lay they were involved

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1
P[ublic] R[ecord] O[ffice], PROB 11/42A, fols. 338v-341v. My thanks to Dr. Wabuda for bringing this will to my attention.

-273-

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