When originally published in 1972 this book – chiefly thematic in approach and based on the author’s doctoral thesis - was hailed as the first regional study and micro analysis of the development of English Puritanism to appear in print. Leading scholars like Patrick Collinson welcomed its appearance. Internal contrasts within the huge, sprawling diocese of Chester and its large parishes are drawn out as are comparisons with the religious situation in other parts of the country. The ways in which, for much of the period under review, Puritanism in this region was actively supported, and not persecuted, by the authorities is a key distinctive feature which receives careful attention. So do the activism of puritan laity and gender dynamics. Puritan clergy provide only part of the story which is documented in these pages though often it is most conspicuous (not least because clergy tend to be the principal narrators). There is much here on women’s distinctive roles and contributions within households and congregations and as patrons. Analysis is offered of the reading habits of puritan clergy and laymen as a major example of the ways in which puritans in this region were closely connected with the wider world. Contributions made to Puritanism in this diocese by clergy from outside it are also assessed. The ways in which individual and corporate patronage was brought to bear in favour of Puritanism receives a whole chapter of its own. Tensions and conflicts between puritans and Roman Catholics in the North West are carefully reviewed in what was in effect a frontier region.
The Church in these parts has been successively blessed with famous ministers . . . Oliver Heywood, Life of John Angier , Chet. Soc., new series, 97, Manchester, 1937 , 45 1. The forms of clerical nonconformity in worship
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.
the Privy Council, was prepared to overlook a certain amount of clerical nonconformity in the face of what was seen as the far greater threat from Roman Catholicism – the Privy Council had, after all, described Lancashire in 1574 as ‘the very sincke of Poperie, where more unlawfull actes have been comitted and more unlawfull persons holden secrett than in any other parte of the realme’. 63 Preaching against popery became the test of a fellow’s worth, not ceremonial conformity. Hence Thomas Williamson was