Review: Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England

Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England
Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England by David Cressy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I get a chance to talk or teach about Early Modern England, Cressy’s book always comes to the fore of my mind. I find the areas focused on birth and marriage the most helpful, especially when discussing the role of the church, superstitions and the Protestant reaction to the customs built up over centuries. In short, if there was any tie to the Roman church, the practice was either stopped or highly suspect.

As might be suspected, pretty much anything that involved women in a position of influence was viewed with concern, if not outright hostility. Cressy demonstrates this best in his discussion of midwifery during the period. Midwives had been respected and trusted practitioners through most of the period, but as the Reformation takes hold, the place of midwives is openly questioned if not suppressed by ministers throughout England.

In much the same way, marriage was undergoing significant changes during the Tudor Stewart period. Instead of being concerned with the role of women, the concern was over, what the Protestants, especially Puritans, viewed as Roman almost pagan celebrations. In particular the “Hymen Festivals” of the era were of particular concern. Eventually, weddings become more civic,yet more private affairs as England entered modernity.

The discussion about Death is also interesting, because the theological discussions about the after-life are particularly interest, namely what to do with purgatory? You can probably figure out which side of the theological divide each church stood.

Cressy’s book is getting a little long in the tooth these days, but if you need a better understanding of society in England during the Tudor Stewart era, it still provides a great deal of useful insight.

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