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

The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village
The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village by Eamon Duffy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I remember reading this and thinking, “God being part of the Protestant Reformation was a pain in the ass.” Duffy takes a page from the French Annales School and looks at the longue duree of a specific village in Devonshire. It is quite telling what the everyday folks went through during the great English upheaval that was their version of the Reformation. Starting with an examination of pre-Henrician reforms to the final settlement under Elizabeth, the people of Morebath had to do their best to roll with the whims of those in power. Especially during the time of Henry it must have ranged between an inconvenience and a serious moral and financial dilema.

Duffy doesn’t find an England hungry for reform, quite the contrary. From his examinations of the parish of Morebath, the citizens there were quite pious and supportive of their local church and were willing to spend a great deal of the towns resources toward decorating and caring for the church. The reforms of Henry didn’t seem to disturb much and when Henry had his change of heart and basically wanted to return to Catholicism, without the interference from Rome, Morebath seemed to roll along.

It was during the time of the Edwardian Reformation that things get crazy in Devonshire. Under the leadership of Cramner, the English Church turns almost 180 and the results lead to rebellion of the more conservative counties and parishes, including Morebath. The rebellion is systematically crushed, all vestiges of popery removed.

Almost as soon as the Edwardian reforms are put in place, Mary takes the throne and it’s back to Catholicism. Elizabeth finally brings some measure of stability but the pious, devoted community that thrived before and during Henry’s reign had been replace by a much more secular and cynical population, probably not the goal of any of the reformers.

Ultimately, what we see in Morebath is a population that seemed content with their religious life. The political motivations for the reformation in England were not the concerns of the people living in the countryside. As the church moved through its reform spasms, we also get an idea of how far people are willing to go with changes to what they know. The Henrician reforms, and later his pulling back most of those reforms, allowed most people to continue in their faith practices almost unmolested. It was when Cramner and his great overhaul occurred that people resisted, even resorting to violence to protect their lifestyle. By the time of the two sisters, one definitely gets the feeling that the people of Morebath were finished with reformation and restoration and when Elizabeth allowed a certain measure of tolerance, everyone was happy to make that the status quo.

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