Published online by Cambridge University Press: 23 December 2003
The historiography of the eighteenth-century Church of England remains peculiarly preoccupied with vindicating that institution from the condemnation heaped upon it by Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals in the nineteenth century. The chapters of Jeremy Gregory's Restoration, reformation, and reform characteristically begin with quotations from Victorians on the somnolence and negligence of the Hanoverian Establishment. The starting point is, as it were, a Hogarth cartoon of a corpulent curate and a snoozing congregation. In part this preoccupation is indicative of how little has been done on the subject since the Victorians. Norman Sykes, writing between the 1930s and 1950s, remains an almost solitary beacon for the church's institutional history, though much of his work was biographical, dwelling on clerical high politics rather than on the social fabric of the church in the parishes. About the Hanoverian parish we know little, and probably care less, because without Reformation or Revolution – or nuns or witches – there is little to move the secular-minded to take an interest. It would not, of course, be true to say that nothing has recently been done. There has been something in the field of intellectual history. One thinks of Brian Young's fine Religion and enlightenment in eighteenth-century Britain (1998), a filling out of John Pocock's sketch of an English ‘clerical Enlightenment’ – though most intellectual history of that era prefers the wilder shores of deism, freethinking, and the radical assault on priestcraft. There have been valuable probings of the early eighteenth-century politics of religion (the Sacheverell affair, the charity school movement, the Societies for the Reformation of Manners) and of the late Hanoverian roots of nineteenth-century high churchmanship.