‘A dog, a butcher, and a puritan’
The politics of Lent in early modern England
in Connecting centre and locality
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In 1538, in the midst of the Reformation in England, Henry VIII decided to provide new Lenten regulations. His intervention which relaxed some of the more stringent dietary prohibitions was not hastened by any religious change of heart but born out of a socio-economic problem – the skyrocketing price of fish during Lent and the consequent starvation of the poor. From hereon in, until the last Lenten proclamation of 1662, the matter of Lent became a battleground of warring economic and regional factions, disruptive religious ideologues, exasperated government officials and parliamentary intervention. Adding to the problem was the widespread evasion of the regulations both by the lower classes priced out of the Lenten market and by the wealthier segment of society able to buy their way out. This chapter traces the changing nature of Lenten proclamations, Privy Council orders and local regulations. In doing so it highlights the inability of the state to enforce its will on a reluctant population despite incessant cajoling, the evolving severity of Lenten punishments, failed attempts to devolve authority to the localities and the clash between the remnants of ‘Popish’ rituals and the new Protestant emphasis on state-sanctioned fast days.

Connecting centre and locality

Political communication in early modern England

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