7th October 2015: The Clergy in Kent and the English Civil Wars

Wye Historical Society began its new season of lectures on Wednesday 7th October when Professor Jacke Eales of Canterbury Christ Church University gave a talk on 'The Clergy in Kent and the English Civil Wars, 1640-1660'.

There were about 10,000 clergy in England during this period and as early as 1642 in areas where Pariliament was in control many priests who were supportive of the Royalist cause were investigated and ejected from their livings. With particular reference to Kent Prof Eales illustrated how Royalist clergy were gradually pushed out in favour of those who supported Parliament. One of the latter was Richard Culmer, a highly controversial figure, who in 1643, on the authority of Parliament, smashed a window in Canterbury Cathedral that depicted images of the saints. In 1646 bishops, deans and chapters were abolished and Anglicanism was seen to be in decline. This period saw the rise of many disparate religious groups, including Baptists and Quakers (who allowed women to preach) as well as such extreme sects as the Muggletonians (a movement which began when two London tailors announced they were the last prophets foretold in the biblical Book of Revelation).

Several themes emerged during the course of Prof. Eales' lecture, in particular, the huge importance of preaching at a time when the pulpit played a key role as the main broadcasting system in the country. Clerics attracted huge crowds and were known to give lengthy sermons in which the preacher was clearly able to influence his listeners' political as well as religious views and attitudes. Preaching really mattered and Charles I himself fully understood that it was impossible for a ruler to preserve the state unless he could rely on the support and loyalty of the clergy.

Another interesting theme was the cultural difference that existed within this milieu. For example, the distinction between the religious allegiances of better educated, predominantly male members of the community and the less educated (including women). Another contrast lay in the drinking habits of the clergy - where they drank and how much. Some drank in moderation at home while others frequented ale houses and clearly drank to excess!

In all, the members of Wye Historical Society who attended the lecture were treated to a wealth of information stemming from Prof Eales' broad knowledge and in-depth research into this fascinating period of history.

Jenny Oram