The Reformation and the Towns in England: Politics and Political Culture, c. 1540-1640

By Robert Tittler | Go to book overview

2
The Ethos of Community on the Eve of Reformation

i

Both the cultural context and institutional expression of the urban community on the eve of the Henrician reforms, those factors which principally comprise the communal ethos of the age, have been rendered increasingly clear by the research of the past decade or so. Thanks especially to the anthropologically informed historical investigations pioneered in the late 1970s and early 1980s by such scholars as Mervyn James and Charles Phythian-Adams,1 and the work on religion and urban society carried out in the 1980s and early 1990s by a host of other scholars, we are better able to understand the prevailing culture and institutional framework of the late medieval urban community than ever before. If we are fully to comprehend the way urban communities changed in the Reformation era, we must first remind ourselves of the way they had been beforehand.

To this sense of the late medieval town as a community there are many dimensions. Culturally speaking, they include both an ideological framework, which supplied a common purpose and ethical perspective, and a ritualistic and ceremonial dimension which reinforced and justified its shared beliefs. Politically, they included that matrix of institutions which served, expressed, and, in entirely pragmatic ways, helped community members to achieve their common goals. The aim of this chapter is to identify these factors, and to describe more fully their contribution to the civic culture of provincial towns on the eve of the Henrician and Edwardian reforms.


ii

More than by any other agency, men and women of pre-Reformation times, whether urban dwellers or not, remained bound by a shared

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1
Esp. Mervyn James, "Ritual, Drama and Social Body in the Late Medieval English Town",

-23-

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