Parish clergy wives in Elizabethan England

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Thompson, Anne (Researcher in history)
  • Subject: DA

This study examines the lived experience and perceptions of the wives of the Elizabethan parish clergy following the introduction of clerical marriage. It challenges the widespread, but mistaken conviction that the first ministers’ wives have vanished from the historical record and shifts the emphasis from the institution to the individual. This has been achieved by consulting a large and heterogeneous collection of archival material including more than 1000 parish registers, 1000 wills, marriage licences, church court records, memorials and some newly-discovered certificates for ministers’ wives. This body of evidence, assembled from twelve dioceses in the southern province and from the archbishopric of York, demonstrates that the story of parish clergy wives can indeed be recovered.\ud \ud Qualitative and statistical analyses of social origin, considered assessments of the extent and nature of the abuse aimed at minister’s wives and a re-evaluation of the persistence, structure and significance of the letter testimonial refute most of the common assumptions about clergy wives derived from speculation and generalization. The impact of clerical marriage on charitable giving is evaluated in relation to the demands of family and the lack of provision for the clergy widow. Scrutiny of clerical courtship, relationships within the clerical household and involvement with her husband’s pastoral ministry enables us to chart the emerging importance of the clergy wife and changing attitudes towards her. Engagement with such extensive archival material exposes the close involvement of ministers’ wives with the wider community and reveals the agency of the women themselves in the advent and evolution of their role. Women who have hitherto been defined by their supposed obscurity and unsuitability are shown to have anticipated and exhibited the character, virtues and duties associated with the archetypal clergy wife of later centuries. The breadth of this investigation, therefore, uncovers and explores a neglected but crucial aspect of religious, social and women’s history.
Share - Bookmark