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What does the Voices of Morebath tell us about the impact of religious change in the 16th Century?

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Introduction

What does the "Voices of Morebath" tell us about the impact of religious change in the 16th Century? In the Voices of Morebath Duffy explores the period 1530-1580 through the churchwardens accounts, minute books, journals and legacy of the remote Devon village of Morebath. The account is a rare source making it invaluable when studying the impact of religious reform as it is a first hand account. The book gives the reader a glimpse into the probable reaction of ordinary Devon citizens' attempts to confiscate church property. Duffy shows how the church property belonged to everyone in the parish having been purchased through generous contributions to the numerous well-supported parish guilds. The Voices of Morebath illustrates the extent of communal involvement in the small and precious rituals of the church year, drawing out enormous significance from the minutiae of tiny bequests and careful purchases. In 1529 one female parishioner leaves her silver wedding ring which is melted down to make a little silver shoe for the figure of St. ...read more.

Middle

The problem with Duffy's interpretation is that it has a tendency to describe the experience of Reformation in terms of triumph and tragedy, when there appears to also be so much that was mundane. His vision of the Reformation is seen as an assault upon a whole way of life, or as the author describes it in the preface, 'the most decisive revolution in English history.' This vision can certainly be inspirational, but it can also fail to take account of some of the complications of the process, and some of the obvious stability in parish religion despite the Reformation. It can also assign questionable representative importance to inanimate objects. The sources are all about material objects and their monetary value; the question of what those objects symbolized is interesting but not speculated into too much detail. When royal injunctions stripped the churches of their ornamentation, for Duffy this appears to be an assault upon the belief structures underlying the church decoration, yet we cannot be sure that the statues and vestments had this much symbolic value ...read more.

Conclusion

Rebellions cannot be reduced to single causes, as the author is keen to point out with reference to the traditionally more 'Protestant' disturbances in East Anglia. Duffy argues, the Protestantism of the East Anglian rebels may have been only superficial, adopted for political purposes and at the request of rebel leaders, then the same may be true of the Catholic loyalism of the western rebels. Duffy shows how gradually, after limited destruction under Henry VIII and massive destruction under Edward VI, restoration under Mary, and further destruction under Elizabeth, the Old Religion in Morebath gave way. Their parish priest stayed with them, no longer using the requiem vestments for which in his early days so much parish money had been saved and obediently adopting the new ways. He "eased them into a slow and settled conformity to the new order of things" Under Mary he probably had looked back on the Reformation as being "arrogant, destructive, and un-English, a disastrous rebellion against God and the faith of our fathers" but when it triumphed again he adapted to the change. He saw his duty as being to God and Morebath. ...read more.

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