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 the monasteries was also one aspect of the wider changes introduced by the Henrician Reformation. This chapter investigates precisely what the wide-ranging Henrician developments meant for the inhabitants of Westminster. Standing at the heart of Westminster, St Margaret's was arguably one of the most important parishes in the country. In the medieval period, the presence of Westminster Abbey and Westminster Palace had stimulated extensive urban development in the parish, which was also co-terminous with a 'vill' of Westminster. Although a church of St Martin in the Fields was in existence before the death of Henry II in 1189, the parish of St Martin's was originally subsumed within the larger parish of St Margaret's. Boundary changes potentially drew the personnel of the different parishes even more closely together. After boundaries were redrawn, the site of St Mary Rounceval suddenly found itself within the limits of St Martin's parish.