Early modern Westminster is familiar as the location of the Royal Court at Whitehall, parliament, the law courts and the emerging West End, yet it has never been studied in its own right. This book reveals the often problematic relations between the diverse groups of people who constituted local society - the Court, the aristocracy, the Abbey, the middling sort and the poor - and the competing visions of Westminster's identity which their presence engendered. There were four parishes in Westminster at the turn of the sixteenth century. The parishes of St Martin's and St Margaret's have been identified as two of only eighteen English parishes for which continuous and detailed parish records survive for the turbulent period 1535-1570. Differences in social organization, administrative structure and corporate life in the two parishes also provide a study in contrasts. These crucial differences partly shaped forms of lay piety in each parish as well as their very different responses to the religious reformations of Henry VIII and his children. The death of Henry VIII heralded important changes in Westminster. Most strikingly, however, this was a period of major religious change, in stark contrast to the piecemeal changes of Henry's reign. The dissolution of Westminster's abbey gave rise to special problems. The book examines individuals who wielded the most influence at the local government; as well as the social identity of these parish elites. Finally, it explores the interaction of religion with the social and political developments observed in the post-Reformation town.
The dissolution of Westminster's abbey gave rise to special problems, given the earlier prominence of the abbot in the medieval government of the town. Relations between Abbey, Crown and townspeople were certainly redefined during the century following the Reformation. In the Elizabethan period, power in Westminster was largely concentrated in the hands of the Crown and the Cecil family. The growing volatility of town politics and patronage in the early Stuart period partly reflected the collapse of the Cecil patronage that had earlier dominated the town. Jacobean Westminster was marked by a degree of continuity and stability, as Cecil patronage continued to operate on many levels within Westminster. In 1607, King James approved a bill for the incorporation of Westminster. Expenses incurred by St Margaret's parish in promoting the bill reveal the prominent, but ambiguous role played by members of the Cecil family.