Scriptural patterns and model piety in the early modern sickchamber
Robert W. Daniel
This essay explores how the acts and attitudes during infirmity, in manuscript and printed accounts by both men and women during the seventeenth century, were often theologically cohesive. Patients demonstrated a precise and widely shared biblicism – that is to say, they used the same scriptures – in their sickbed writings. This created a common devotional identity that ran across denominational, social and political lines, and at times crossed the confessional divide. By identifying and examining these shared scriptural patterns, one sees how the ill incorporated broad and attested doctrinal behaviours during their illnesses. This essay also demonstrates how popular sickbed piety was as likely to reject as to reflect the devotional models espoused in printed ‘how-to’ manuals.
In 1615 the clergyman Jeremiah Dyke exclaimed ‘surely wee never beginne to know Divinitie or Religion, till wee come to know our selves’. His clarion call, and the ‘devotional turn’ in early modern historiography, urges us to look anew at how ordinary men and women lived out their faith in painstaking and sometimes painful ways. People and Piety is an interdisciplinary edited collection that investigates Protestant devotional identities in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England. Divided into two sections, it examines the ‘sites’ where these identities were forged (the academy, printing house, household, theatre and prison) and the ‘types’ of texts that expressed them (spiritual autobiographies, religious poetry and writings tied to the ars moriendi), providing a varied and broad analysis of the social, material and literary forms of religious devotion during England’s Long Reformation. Through archival and cutting-edge research, a detailed picture of ‘lived devotion’ emerges. From the period’s most recognisable religious authors (Richard Baxter, George Herbert, Oliver Heywood and Katherine Sutton) to those rarely discussed and recently discovered voices (Isaac Archer, Mary Franklin and Katherine Gell), this book reveals how piety did not define people; it was people who defined their piety. Contributors include internationally recognised scholars from either side of the Atlantic: Sylvia Brown, Vera J. Camden, Bernard Capp, John Coffey, Ann Hughes, N. H. Keeble and William Sheils. To those studying and teaching religion and identity in early modern England, and anyone interested in the history of religious self-expression, this book will be a rich and rewarding read.
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.