R. C. Richardson
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The role of the laity
in Puritanism in north-west England
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Though puritan clergy were instigators, leaders, figureheads and agents in this region as elsewhere the growth of Puritanism would have been inconceivable without lay support and involvement from women as well as men. Indeed it is clear that puritan laity could and did sometimes act independently and could actually set the pace in their parishes and chapelries. Far from uneducated and becoming firmly grounded in the scriptures laymen could become religious proselytisers in their own right. Expressions of clerical nonconformity, sometimes at least, came about in response to lay urging and pressures and if they found their own minister did not meet their own standards laymen did not hesitate to go elsewhere for spiritual refreshment. ‘Gadding to sermons’ to satisfy their thirst for edifying preaching was common practice. Lay puritans’ own households, however, were their own preserves for religious devotions and the setting up of the puritan godly discipline, a church in their own homes. Conventicles often had their origin in this way. The ways in which John Bruen of Stapleford, Cheshire, and his cultivation of good religious practice became a model for others to imitate in his own lifetime and after provides a revealing case study of such trends. Choosing suitable marriage partners for his children and other relatives and recruiting like-minded servants are integral parts of his story. Bruen’s sister, Katherine Brettergh, provides a no less eloquent case study of lay puritanism, and specifically of women’s religiosity, in action. So numerous were women among the earliest Quakers that they were at first taken to be a female religious sect.

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Puritanism in north-west England

A regional study of the diocese of Chester to 1642


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