This essay examines how lay scribal practices of sermon note-taking linked individual spiritual crises to collective experience and became a family project. Examining the sermon notes kept by the Gell household from the 1640s to the 1710s reveals them as devotional prompts that sustained the family’s Presbyterianism across two generations. In evaluating the figure of Katherine Gell, this essay also demonstrates the crucial role played by women within the home in sustaining a nonconformist devotional culture both before and after the Restoration.
This essay examines the domestic worship of Presbyterians both before and after the Act of Toleration (1689). By investigating the dissenting clergyman Oliver Heywood’s diary and his printed treatise A Family Altar (1693), this essay provides a case study on how centralising prayer became within the godly home. In doing so, it reveals how through his writing on prayer, Heywood configured household worship as a substitute for chapel worship in dissenting circles, blurring the lines between corporate and domestic devotion. Ultimately Heywood’s ministry, writings and devotional exercises show us how the performance of household piety could be a unifying force that helped galvanise the faith of families during trying periods and times of great change.
This afterword reviews and draws on the findings and arguments of the essays in the collection to emphasise the role of the familial in shaping early modern devotional practice, interiors and interiorities, not only (and obviously) in homes but in worshiping communities and societies, whatever their specific religious orientation, in the various contexts of personal record, scribal copying, manuscript circulation and printing that nurtured the spiritual life, in the rituals, homilies and literature that marked the stages from birth to death, even in the prisons that too often were the consequence of religious commitment. It adduces the non-partisan regard for George Herbert to conclude that the lived experience of the family of the children of God united believers across the socio-economic, political and religious boundaries that otherwise divided and segregated early modern life.
This essay reveals how Thomas Middleton’s city comedy The Puritan Widow (1607) attempted to reconcile the conflicting religious roles of the play’s protagonist – Lady Plus – as chaste widow to her sexualised potential as a remarried wife. The play wryly subsumes what is here termed ‘devotion to mirth’ with devotion to God, whereby the dramatisation of communal feasting, festive combat and the wearing of livery all lead to the marriage altar, the re-establishment of Protestant religious values and the play’s denouement. In this way, audiences could be taught to adopt religious conformity through dramatic and festive re-enactment – satire could (and often did) point to the sacred. In this way, English playwrights could mock devotions and model them too.
This essay examines the modelling out of mothers’ legacies, a genre of conduct books penned and left by mothers for their children, in the anonymous domestic tragedy A Warning for Fair Women (1599). Its research reveals how the play frames the ‘gallows speech’ of a convicted murderess – Mistress Saunders – as exemplifying this genre, and culminates in Saunders leaving a copy of John Bradford’s Meditations (1560) to her children. This act, coupled with her dying words, completes Saunders’ journey of rehabilitation from adulterous and murderous wife to redeemed and devoted mother. This essay emphasises the play’s function as a proselytising tool that sought to reinforce the importance of godly motherhood by depicting those who had transgressed it.
This essay explores how Mary Franklin, a newly discovered female voice, used her private manuscript devotions to create an identity that could defy and defend against State persecution. As a mother and a Presbyterian minister’s wife, living in a Restoration London notoriously dangerous to dissenters, Franklin chronicles the trials her family endured for their religious beliefs in a manuscript account, later titled by Franklin’s granddaughter ‘The Experience of my dear grandmother, Mrs Mary Franklin’. A recourse to scripture proofs, coupled with her own dramatic experiences, allowed Franklin to write a spiritual autobiography that situated her belief in a distinct Protestant past, as well as in the present tumultuous times she was living in. This essay reveals how Franklin’s devotion protected her against the tribulations of persecution and defined her identity as a dissenter.
The compilation and reception of the prison prose of George Fox’s Journal (1694)
This essay explores the autobiographical writings of the Quaker leader George Fox during his series of imprisonments in the 1650s. Through a detailed analysis of the textual variants in three editions of his prison accounts – found in the Short Journal, the Cambridge Journal and the Ellwood Journal – it adduces the role that Thomas Ellwood (as editor) played in shaping, and not just ventriloquising, the devotional identity of this dogmatic religious leader. In doing so, this essay reveals to what extent Fox’s representation of imprisonment – and his own devotional character – had been censored, and the effects these changes had on the reception of him and his journal.
This essay focuses on fathers and sons in the mid-seventeenth century, when the division between Catholic and Protestant was further complicated by the emergence of new sects and denominations. Religious tensions and conflict between parents and adolescent or young adult children could become a significant element in family life, one that remains relatively neglected in modern scholarship. This essay explores how such children attempted to reconcile duty to parents with the devotion they owed God, in struggles recorded in their diaries and autobiographies.
Katherine Sutton’s Experiences (1663), the printer’s device and the making of devotion
This essay examines the social and material production (rather than just the literary or spiritual exercise) of devotional identities. By showcasing Katherine Sutton’s Particular Baptist conversion account A Christian Woman’s Experiences (1663) as a highly crafted and visually sophisticated product, this essay adduces a lively interaction between what might be described as the ‘physicality’ of the text and the model of godly selfhood that it advanced. In doing so, this essay reveals how materially and socially imbricated devotional polemics were, pointing to the religious communities (including those of printers and printing houses) that forged them.
This introduction begins by examining recent work that emphasises the fluidity across supposed definitional or categorical boundaries, especially on the grounds of devotional or spiritual expression, within early modern Protestantism. It helps to break down the idea that categorical definitions based on creed can sometimes be misleading where personal and devotional lives might be more revealing. It then moves to outlining the unifying themes, sites and concerns surrounding ‘devotional identities’ as explored across the essays in this volume. Ultimately, English Protestantism is shown to be at once segregational and social, fixed in principle yet fluid in practice.