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Penance and the Market Place: a Reformation Dialogue with the Medieval Church (c. 1250–c. 1600)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 August 2003

Centre for English Local History, University of Leicester, Marc Fitch House, 5 Salisbury Road, Leicester LE1 7QR; e-mail:


During the later Middle Ages the ecclesiastical jurisdiction generally abandoned ritual humiliation in the market place as an integral part of penance imposed by sentence in its courts, although intermittently this punishment continued into the early sixteenth century. In the early decades of the ecclesia anglicana of Elizabeth, however, several jurisdictions reintroduced shaming in the market place as a consistent part of a disciplinary regime. Although constituting no more than an episode, as public penance had again declined by the 1580s, the reintroduction of penance in the public forum reveals much about the character of the Anglican Church in the first decades after the settlement of 1558, but also reflects back on the pre-Reformation Church.

Research Article
© 2003 Cambridge University Press

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The final version of this paper has benefited immensely from the critical comments of three referees, including Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch, without which it would have been immeasurably poorer. Professor Charles Phythian-Adams kindly read an early draft and Dr Paul Griffiths a later one. An embryonic version was read at the Mid West Conference on British Studies in Cincinnati in October 2000. Professor Margo Todd read a version of the paper and made some helpful comments, as noted below. I am also, of course, inordinately grateful to the searchroom staff of all the record offices listed above.