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.
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.
Yorkshire border, it would be found that this part of the diocese contained the highest proportion of those places for which there is evidence of puritanism. In this area—which occupied little more than a quarter of the diocese—the existence of puritanism amongst either clergy or laity has been discovered in fifty-six parishes and chapelries. 27 In the whole of the remaining three-quarters of the diocese
subscription. Then names were generally subscribed after Sunday service, with the local gentry and the minister leading the way.80 Subscription across the county was extremely patchy. There were fifty-four lists of signatories for Chester and a variety of parishes, chapelries and townships, but this was out of a total of 101 parishes and chapelries and 540 townships across the shire. Of the fifty-four lists, it has been possible to establish the provenance of thirty-eight81 (Figure 16). These were concentrated in the shire’s western hundreds, most notably the Wirral, where
This book aims to revisit the county study as a way into understanding the dynamics of the English civil war during the 1640s. It explores gentry culture and the extent to which early Stuart Cheshire could be said to be a ‘county community’. It investigates the responses of the county’s governing elite and puritan religious establishment to highly polarising interventions by the central government and Laudian ecclesiastical authorities during Charles I’s Personal Rule. The second half of the book provides a rich and detailed analysis of the petitioning movements and side-taking in Cheshire during 1641-42. This important contribution to understanding the local origins and outbreak of civil war in England will be of interest to all students and scholars studying the English Revolution.