The Voices of Morebath

The Voices of Morebath : Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village

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In the fifty years between 1530 and 1580, England moved from being one of the most lavishly Catholic countries in Europe to being a Protestant nation, a land of whitewashed churches and antipapal preaching. What was the impact of this religious change in the countryside? And how did country people feel about the revolutionary upheavals that transformed their mental and material worlds under Henry VIII and his three children? In this book a reformation historian takes us inside the mind and heart of Morebath, a remote and tiny sheep farming village on the southern edge of Exmoor. The bulk of Morebath's conventional archives have long since vanished. But from 1520 to 1574, through nearly all the drama of the English Reformation, Morebath's only priest, Sir Christopher Trychay, kept the parish accounts on behalf of the churchwardens. Opinionated, eccentric, and talkative, Sir Christopher filled these vivid scripts for parish meetings with the names and doings of his parishioners. Through his eyes we catch a rare glimpse of the life and pre-Reformation piety of a sixteenth-century English village.The book also offers a unique window into a rural world in crisis as the Reformation progressed. Sir Christopher Trychay's accounts provide direct evidence of the motives which drove the hitherto law-abiding West-Country communities to participate in the doomed Prayer-Book Rebellion of 1549 culminating in the siege of Exeter that ended in bloody defeat and a wave of executions. Its church bells confiscated and silenced, Morebath shared in the punishment imposed on all the towns and villages of Devon and Cornwall. Sir Christopher documents the changes in the community, reluctantly Protestant and increasingly preoccupied with the secular demands of the Elizabethan state, the equipping of armies, and the payment of taxes. Morebath's priest, garrulous to the end of his days, describes a rural world irrevocably altered and enables us to hear the voices of his villagers after four hundred years of more

Product details

  • Paperback | 232 pages
  • 157.48 x 228.6 x 25.4mm | 408.23g
  • Yale University Press
  • New Haven, United States
  • English
  • Revised ed.
  • 26 b-w + 16 color illus.
  • 0300098251
  • 9780300098259
  • 116,258

Review quote

"a book of exceptional quality" John Adamson, The Sunday Telegraph "This great book is a monument not only to scholarship but also to the numinous spirituality of our past." Daniel Johnson, The Daily Telegraph "a book to be read by enthusiasts and general readers alike... significant and striking." Peter Ackroyd, The Timesshow more

About Eamon Duffy

Eamon Duffy is reader in Church History in the University of Cambridge and president elect of Magdalene College. His previous books include The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580, and Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes, both published by Yale University more

Review Text

A remote village on the edge of Exmoor, Morebath had from 1520 to 1574 a single parish priest, the dedicated and opinionated Sir Christopher Trychay, who kept detailed parish accounts in which he also recorded the lives and deeds of his flock. The period covered, of course, was that of the English Reformation, from Henry VIII's initial tentative reforms through the harsh Protestantism of Edward VI and the reversion to Catholicism under Mary to Elizabeth's establishment of a more moderate, distinctively Anglican religious settlement. Using Trychay's records as his primary source, Eamon Duffy - author of the much-acclaimed The Stripping of the Altars - examines just how the changes affected the people of Morebath, and how they reacted. Those used to the traditional Protestant account of corrupt, inaccessible Catholic practices being justly overthrown will be astonished by the harshness caused by the imposition of the Reformation and its consequent destruction of a community way of life, its impact on the unwilling and their eagerness to return to the old ways under Mary. The shock was financial as well as spiritual. The local community was faced not only with the obligatory purchase of new prayer books, service books, bibles and record books, but had also to raise the 'Five Dole', so called because it was a minimum #5 - as much as the normal parish income - to provide money towards equipping the army and for sea defences. To pay for this, what was left of the church valuables, after the Commissioners had seized all they could find, had to be sold off, the equivalent of the village hall stripped, closed down and rented out. No wonder the countryside rose up in protest. Morebath financed five young men to join the rebels who surrounded and laid siege to Exeter in 1549. Not trusting Englishmen to deal with the rebels, the Government recruited professional foreign mercenaries to subue them. The peasants were dispersed and 400 were slaughtered. The Vicar of St Thomas, near Exebridge, who was considered one of the ringleaders, was hung in his vestments from a chain to die from exposure and starvation. Duffy's meticulous research enables us to catch a rare glimpse of 16th-century religious life as experienced by the poorest of the poor, whose distress at the constant and inexplicable changes to their familiar rituals - not to mention the devastation wrought on the fabric of the church building itself - comes through clearly in this remarkable account. It is only a shame that Duffy's style is somewhat on the academic style for the general reader; a more 'popular' version of this masterly work would be widely welcomed. (Kirkus UK)show more

Rating details

298 ratings
3.73 out of 5 stars
5 30% (89)
4 32% (96)
3 22% (67)
2 12% (36)
1 3% (10)
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