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Scandal and Religious Identity in Early Stuart England: A Northamptonshire Maid's Tragedy

Stephen Taylor
Arthur Burns
Kenneth Fincham
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 381
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  • Book Info
    Scandal and Religious Identity in Early Stuart England
    Book Description:

    This book starts with an extraordinary event and document. The event is the trial and execution for infanticide of a puritan minister, John Barker, along with his wife's niece and their maid, in Northampton in 1637; the document, what appears to be a virtual transcript of Barker's last speech on the gallows. His downfall soon became polemical fodder in scribal publications, with Puritans circulating defences of Barker and anti-Calvinists producing a Laudian condemnation of the minister. Scandal and Religious Identity in Early Stuart England uses Barker's crime and fate as a window on the religious world of early modern England. It is based upon an extraordinary deposit of manuscript and printed sources, all produced between 1637 and 1640 by people living in close proximity to one another and all of whom knew one another, either as friends or more often as enemies. Marshalling evidence from public polemical sources and from almost entirely private ones - a diary, private letters and a spiritual autobiography - the book is able to examine the same events and persons, and beliefs and practices, from multiple perspectives: the micro and the macro, the personal and the political, and the affective and the doctrinal. Throughout, we meet a range of very different people putting various bodies of religious theory into practice, connecting the most local and particular of events and rivalries to the great issues of the day and responding, in certain cases, to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and the temptations of the devil. This approach enables a whole series of generalisations to be explored: about the relation between politics and religion, devotion and polemic, puritans and their enemies, local and national affairs; between rumour, manuscript and print; and, finally, about gender hierarchy and the social roles of men and women. The result is an extraordinarily detailed and intimate portrait of the religio- political scene in an English county on the eve of civil war. PETER LAKE is Distinguished University Professor of early modern English history at Vanderbilt. He is the author of several studies of English religion, culture and politics in the Elizabethan and early Stuart periods. ISAAC STEPHENS is Assistant Professor of History at Saginaw Valley State University and has published on early modern marriage, religion, and life-writing.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-497-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    At its core, this book centres on the story and scaffold performances of John Barker, the puritan vicar of Pytchley, and his two accomplices – Beatrice, the minister’s niece by marriage, and Ursula, their maid servant – in the committal and then the cover-up of the crime of infanticide. The book owes its origin to the remarkable researches of John Fielding, who first found a manuscript separate describing the scaffold performances of Barker and his partners in crime.¹ Fielding made passing use of the separate in his outstanding Birmingham Ph.D. thesis of 1989,² and very generously passed on a copy...

  4. Part I: Public Sources

    • 1 The Crime and its Consequences
      (pp. 15-51)

      On 14 July 1637 the people of Northampton were confronted with an extraordinary sight. A man and two women were about to be executed. Perched atop the scaffold, the man cried out to the crowd that ‘you know (I think there is none ignorant) that two things hath brought me here: adultery and murder. And for the first of the two I confess myself exceedingly faulty.’ The murder involved was an infanticide, but what made the situation remarkable was not merely that a man was being executed for that, but that the man involved was a puritan minister, John Barker,...

    • 2 The (Laudian) view, from the outside looking in
      (pp. 52-96)

      Barker, the tract tells us, was the son of a yeoman farmer recruited to the puritan ministry by way of Oundle School and Cambridge University. The tract used this entirely conventional progress of a towardly young lad from a plebian and unlettered background into the ministry as the launching pad for an extended disquisition on what we might term the social origins or causes of puritan religion. As things stood, the universities and church were being flooded by far too many young from humble backgrounds, desperate to make their way as scholars and clergymen. At the same time, even the...

    • 3 The (puritan) view, from the inside looking out
      (pp. 97-168)

      Thus far we have been viewing Northamptonshire puritanism from the remorselessly hostile perspective provided by theThe Northamptonshire high constable. And for all the apparent accuracy of that tract’s rendition of the Barker story, its gloss thereon might well be thought to tell us far more about the Laudian and Arminian views of its author than it does about the realities of puritan life in Northants during the 1630s.

      Unfortunately, no works from Barker survive, but we do have the next best thing – extensive printed versions of sermons preached at the Kettering lecture at which Barker himself preached, by...

  5. Part II: Private Sources

    • Introduction
      (pp. 171-176)

      Thus far we have been working with what we might term public, even ‘polemical’, sources. Of their publicness there can be no doubt. Bentham’s and Bolton’s sermons were first preached publicly, before the promiscuously assembled, albeit very likely somewhat self-selecting, godly audiences that attended the Kettering combination lecture and were then printed, in several editions. As for Barker’s last dying speech, that was very self-consciously performed before an audience of thousands. Its subsequent circulation in the form of a manuscript separate, shows just how anxious its multiple authors were to get an account of it into the hands of a...

    • 4 ‘Squeezing comfort from the creature’/ ‘soaring on the wings of faith’: the diary of Robert Woodford
      (pp. 177-257)

      Woodford’s diary is one of the most remarkable ‘ego documents’ of the early seventeenth century. It was first brought to the attention of the scholarly world in a brilliant article by John Fielding, who has since published an outstanding scholarly edition of the text for the Camden Society. As Fielding’s researches have revealed, Woodford was an obscure provincial attorney. While his father had been a gentleman he had also been of ‘mean fortune’ and there is no evidence that young Robert attended either university or the Inns of Court. Steward of Northampton from 1636 until his death in 1654, as...

    • 5 Living ‘in the midst of the faction’: the letters of Robert Sibthorpe
      (pp. 258-293)

      There is, in the Huntington Library in California, a run of letters from Robert Sibthorpe to his fellow conformist, indeed Laudian, activist, Sir John Lambe. They date from 1639 and can be supplemented by others in the State Papers from the later 1630s and 1640. As John Fielding has shown, both Lambe and Sibthorpe were veterans of the anti-puritan cause in Northamptonshire. Both rose to national prominence in the 1620s, with Sibthorpe achieving notoriety through his famous assize sermon of 1626 in favour of the forced loan. By the end of the decade both had attracted the hostile attentions of...

    • 6 Living the ‘private life’: Elizabeth Isham’s Book of Remembrance
      (pp. 294-354)

      Written around 1639,¹ Isham’sBook of Remembrancewas one of the longest pieces of autobiographical writing by a woman of the entire seventeenth century and one of the earliest sustained pieces of English autobiography of the early modern periodtout court. Born on 28 January 1609, Elizabeth Isham was the daughter of Sir John Isham and Judith, Lady Isham of Lamport Hall. In 1631 she came very close indeed to marrying John Dryden of Canons Ashby, a fellow member of the Northamptonshire gentry and cousin to the poet. Thereafter she espoused what she termed ‘the private life’ and died at...

  6. Conclusion
    (pp. 355-376)

    The primary purpose of this book has been very straightforward: to bring to wider notice the extraordinary deposit of manuscript materials describing the inner lives and ascribed and internalised religious identities of the godly and their enemies in Northamptonshire on the eve of the Civil War. The puritan separate account of the fate of Barker, Beatrice and Ursula, compounded by the testimony ofThe Northamptonshire high constableoffers an almost unequalled opportunity to view the same set of events from two immediately contemporary, and mutually exclusive, perspectives.

    We get to reconstruct the circumstances of the crime itself as well as...

  7. Bibliography
    (pp. 377-382)
  8. Index
    (pp. 383-392)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 393-396)