Late medieval churchwardens' accounts and parish government : looking beyond London and Bristol

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Kümin, Beat A. (2004)

This contribution reviews a number of contested issues in the historiography of the late medieval English parish. In contrast to views expressed by Clive Burgess in a recent article in this journal, it is argued that the reliability of churchwardens’ accounts cannot be judged in a general manner, but depends on the specific questions historians want answered. While offering reliable insights into ordinary financial transactions made by churchwardens on behalf of their parishes, they are utterly inadequate for a histoire totale of local religious life. Closer examination of the function, context and compilation of the records suggests that quantitative analysis is not only possible, but an essential prerequisite for informed discussion of parish regimes. The complexity of local communities and the desirability of comparative perspectives call for a plurality of approaches. Finally, the pivotal role of churchwardens within the varying (religious, political and administrative) configurations of the ‘whole body of the parish’ is reasserted.
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