Published online by Cambridge University Press: 12 February 2009
We live in an age (perhaps particularly apparent to those of us who work in universities) when informality is de rigueur, its own conventions and forms to be mastered if one is to live easily and effectively with colleagues, students, acquaintances or even the members of one's family. That it was not always so is a truism which attests to the reality of social change. One of the markers of such change, or of changes in social expectation, will be the realignment of relationships between the formal and the informal and of perceptions which govern interpretation of such relationships. In an age of revolution, or revolutionary aspiration, we might expect such realignments to be particularly dynamic or, more radically, for the categories of informal and formal themselves to be called in question.
1 By which is meant here the late 1640s and the 1650s. For one example amongst many which illustrate a revolutionary aspiration towards formalities (and its lack of fulfilment), one might take the proposals before the Nominated Assembly in August 1653 to cancel all titles and denominations in religion (‘for God's people should be under one name viz. Christians’) and in civil life to substitute ‘Freemen of England’ for all titles of honour and rank. See Cliffe, J. T., Puritans in Conflict: The Puritan Gentry During and After the Civil Wars (1988), 182Google Scholar.
2 There is a manifest danger, in developing the theme of ‘antiformalism’, of substituting another piece of ‘manic abstraction’ for those from which we are seeking to escape. But since abstraction, generalisation of some kind is the historian's inescapable obligation we must journey on in the hope of arriving at a city of less manic abstraction and more substance. Attention was drawn to manic abstraction in George, C. H., ‘Puritanism as history and historiography’, Past and Present, XLI (1968), 77–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Salutary remarks on the issue are to be found in Lamont's, William seminal essay, ‘Pamphleteering, the Protestant consensus and the English Revolution’, in Freedom in the English Revolution: Essays in history and literature, ed. Richardson, R. C. and Ridden, G. M. Manchester, 1986, 72–92Google Scholar.
3 A full and proper justification of these claims will require more space than is available here, where I attempt to give some illustration of the theme and some grounds for faith in its significance. But for some anticipation of the connections, see Davis, J. C., ‘Religion and the Struggle for Freedom in the English Revolution’, The Historical Journal, XXXV, 3 (1992), 507–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
4 The Constitutional Documents of the Puritan Revolution 1623–1660, ed. Gardiner, Samuel Rawson Oxford, 1906, 206Google Scholar.
6 Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, Contemplations and Reflections upon the Psalms quoted in Finlayson, Michael, ‘Clarendon, Providence and the Historical Revolution’, Albion, XXII (1990), 627Google Scholar.
7 Stalham, John, Vindiciae Redemptionis (1647)Google Scholar, To My Beloved Brethren and Neighbours in Terling; quoted in Wrightson, K. and Levine, D., Poverty and Piety in an English Village: Terling, 1525–1700 (1979), 162Google Scholar. Cf. The League, Solemn and Covenant, , Clause, II in Constitutional Documents, ed. Gardiner, , 268–9Google Scholar.
8 For the Blasphemy Ordinance see Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum 1642–1660, ed. Firth, C.H. and Rait, R. S. (1911), II, 409–10Google Scholar. Abiezer Coppe: Selected Writings ed. Hopton, Andrew (1987), 20CrossRefGoogle Scholar; A Collection of Ranter Writings, ed. Smith, Nigel (1983), 85Google Scholar. For Coppe's antiformalism see Davis, J. C., ‘Fear, Myth and Furore: Reappraising the Ranters’, Past and Present, CXXIX (1990), 98–103Google Scholar.
9 Cf. Hill, Christopher, A Turbulent, Seditious and Factious People: John Bunyan and his Church 1628–1688 (Oxford, 1988), 72, citing BunyanGoogle Scholar.
10 Kendall, R. T., Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 (Oxford, 1979), 130Google Scholar. Compare John Everard's identification of formality with those who ‘champ the Letter between their Teeth’ but show no virtue in their lives by the pursuit of the ‘Spiritual, Practical and Experimental Life’. Everard, John, The Gospel Treasury Opened (1657), I, 416Google Scholar; cited in Smith, Nigel, Perfection Proclaimed: Language and Literature in English Radical Religion 1640–1660 (Oxford, 1989), 132Google Scholar.
12 Winstanley, Gerrard, The Law of Freedom (1652)Google Scholar in The Works of Gerrard Winstanley ed. Sabine, George H. (New York, 1965), 509Google Scholar. Lest it be thought that such remarks are confined to radicals, we should note similar statements by William Strong and Stephen Marshall at about the same time. See Liu, Tai, Discord in Zion: The Puritan Divines and the Puritan Revolution (The Hague, 1973), 122, 146–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The divisiveness of the pursuit of externals instead of ‘the economy of God’ is also a theme of Taylor's, Jeremy The Liberty of Prophesying (1647)Google Scholar. See Huntley, Frank Livingstone, Jeremy Taylor and the Great Rebellion: A Study of His Mind and Temper in Controversy (Ann Arbor, 1970), 40, 55Google Scholar.
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17 For two examples of this concern: ‘Instructions given by the King's Highness to … the archbishop of York and such other as shall be named hereafter, whom his Majesty has appointed to be of his Council resident in the North parts …’ (1544) in The Tudor Constitution: Documents and Commentary, ed. Elton, G. R. Cambridge, 1965, 206Google Scholar; Cf. A Remonstrance: or the Declaration of the Lords and Commons now assembled in Parliament: 26 May 1642 where the King's wicked counsellors are identified as those ‘more earnest in the Protestant Profession, than in the Protestant Religion’. Rushworth, John, Historical Collections (1691), III.i, 586Google Scholar; Russell, Conrad, Causes of the English Civil War (Oxford, 1990), 77Google Scholar.
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20 Winstanley, , The New Law of Righteousnes (1649)Google Scholar in Works of Winstanley, ed. Sabine, , 226Google Scholar.
21 For examples from the 1650s see Goodwin, John, A Fresh Discovery of the High Presbyterian Spirit (1654)Google Scholar; Hall, John, The True Cavalier Examined (1656)Google Scholar.
22 For Bunyan's, depiction of this see The Pilgrim's Progress (Ware, 1987), 38–40, 201Google Scholar and Cunningham, Valentine, ‘Glossing and Glozing: Bunyan and Allegory’ in Bunyan: Conventicle and Parnassus, ed. Keeble, , 223–4Google Scholar; Kaufmann, ‘Spiritual Discerning’ in ibid., 172–4.
24 Evans, Arise, The Voice of Michael the Archangel, To his Highness the Lord Protector (1654), 16Google Scholar.
25 The depiction of an excessively formal youth was almost a convention of spiritual autobiography. For examples see Rogers, Edward, Some Account of the Life and Opinions of a Fifth-Monarchy-Man (1867), 7–17Google Scholar; Trapnel, Anna, A Legacy for Saints (1654), 1–7Google Scholar; Clarkson, Laurence, The Lost Sheep Found (1660), 1–7Google Scholar.
26 Cf. Peter Sterry: ‘to be subject to … the Church in the outward forme for the outward forme's sake is a bondage.’ Cited in Liu, Tai, Discord in Zion, 49Google Scholar.
29 Coppe, Abiezer, A Remonstrance (1651)Google Scholar in Ranter Writings, ed. Smith, , 121, 119 marginGoogle Scholar.
30 For a setting out of these contraries enmeshed with issues of social and political authority see Winstanley, Gerrard, Truth Lifting Up Its Head Above Scandals (1649)CrossRefGoogle Scholar in Works of Gerrard Winstanley, ed. Sabine, , 99–101, 101, 105Google Scholar.
31 Marshall, John, ‘The Ecclesiology of the Latitude-men 1660–1689: Stillingfleet, Tillotson and Hobbism’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 36 (1985), 408, 410CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
32 For a general treatment of the theme and some exemplification see Nuttall, Geoffrey F., The Holy Spirit in Puritan Faith and Experience (Oxford, 1946), Ch. IV and 91, 97, 108, 114Google Scholar.
33 The works of Lamont, William are essential here in particular ‘Pamphleteering, the Protestant Consensus and the English Revolution’, and Godly Rule: Politics and Religion 1603–1660 (1969)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
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35 We lack an adequate modern history of these debates. For divergence on the central issue of the Prayer Book amongst a discrete group of wealthy, puritan gentry see Cliffe, J. T., Puritans in Conflict: The Puritan Gentry During and After the Civil Wars (1988), 27–8Google Scholar. For the Harleys' attitude to the Prayer Book see Eales, Jacqueline, Puritans and Roundheads: The Harleys of Brampton Bryan and the Outbreak of the English Civil War (Cambridge, 1990)Google Scholar. On the significance of the Prayer Book in the 1640s see Morrill, John, ‘The Church of England 1642–9’ in Morrill, (ed.) Reactions to the English Civil War (1982), 89–114CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For some parallel issues of forms see Greaves, R. L., ‘The Ordination Controversy and the Spirit of Reform in Puritan England’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History XXI (1970), 225–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Katz, David S., Sabbath and Sectarianism in Seventeenth Century England (Leiden, 1988)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Parker, Kenneth L., The English Sabbath: A Study of Doctrine and Discipline from the Reformation to the Civil War Cambridge, 1988CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
36 For Winstanley, as epitomising this disillusion see Fire in the Bush in Works of Winstanley, ed. Sabine, , 445–6Google Scholar; Truth Lifting Up its Head, in ibid., 140–5; The New Law of Righteousnes, in ibid., 174. There is an obvious comparison with Coppe's attack on the formalism of the gathered churches in A Fiery Flying Roll. See also A Christian Caveat to the Old and Mew Sabbatarians (1650).
37 An example of such ‘radical’ formalists might be found in the Chidley family with their campaigns on church bells, cathedrals, Christmas and adult baptism. Gentles, Ian, ‘London Levellers and the English Revolution: The Chidleys and their Circle’, The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, XXIX (1978), 281–309CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
38 For an early warning to this effect see [Burton, Henry], The Protestation Protested (1641)Google Scholar.
39 For the difficulties inherent in this exercise see Goddard, Guibon, ‘Journal of the Parliament of 1654–5’ in Rutt, J. T. (ed.), Diary of Thomas Burton, Esq., 1656–9, 4 vols. (1828), I, xvii–cxxxGoogle Scholar. See also Davis, J. C., ‘Cromwell's Religion’, in Morrill, John (ed.), Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution (1990), 194–5Google Scholar. Thomas Hobbes' ecclesiology may perhaps be more illuminatingly seen in these terms rather than under the heading of Erastianism. Glenn Burgess, ‘Liberty in the English Revolution: Hobbes and Some Contemporaries’ (unpublished typescript). I am grateful to Dr Burgess for the opportunity to read this ahead of publication. See also Sommerville, Johann P., Thomas Hobbes: Political Ideas in Historical Context (1992)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
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41 Katz, Sabbath and Sectarianism; idem., Philo-Semitism and the Readmission of the Jews to England 1603–1655 (Oxford, 1982). For examples of contemporary anxiety about judaizing tendencies, see Crofton, Zachary, Bethshemesh Clouded or some Animadversions on the Rabbinical Talmud of Rabbi John Rogers (1653)Google Scholar; Ludlow: A Voyce, ed. Worden, , 7Google Scholar.
42 For example, John Gifford's congregation at Bedford. See White, , ‘Fellowship of Believers’ in Bunyan: Conventicle and Parnassus, ed. Keeble, , 8, 11–12, 17Google Scholar; Hill, , Turbulent, Seditious and Factious People, 90Google Scholar.
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51 Walwyn, William, The Vanitie of the Present Churches (1649), 22–3, 43Google Scholar. See also Walwyn's Just Defence (1649), 32. Cf. Lilburne, John on the ‘Carnal Professours’ satisfied with forms only: Lilburne, , An Answer to Nine Arguments (1644)Google Scholar, To the Reader. R. B. Seaberg has shown that the Levellers viewed the Norman conquest as a disruption of form but not of legal substance, in the sense of Anglo-Saxon liberties or Englishmen's birthrights. In this respect it might be argued that the Levellers were traditionalists of substance concerned in the 1640s to see that substance protected by appropriate constitutional forms. Seaberg, R. B., ‘The Norman Conquest and the Common Law: The Levellers and the Argument from Continuity’, The Historical Journal, XXIV (1981), 791–806CrossRefGoogle Scholar. There was, of course, room for variation on what the substance of Christianity amounted to. At one end of the spectrum, William Prynne saw too exclusive an attitude to the sacraments, too great an emphasis on the purity of ordinances, as jeopardising the work of moral reformation, the establishment of godly community. At the other, Abiezer Coppe condemned the gathered churches' formalistic hair-splitting as a diversion from the rigours of practical Christianity. In either case, however, substance involved the active reshaping of community. For Prynne, see Lamont, , Godly Rule, 120Google Scholar. For Coppe see Davis, J. C., Fear, Myth and History: The Ranters and the Historians (Cambridge, 1986), 48–58Google Scholar; ‘Fear, Myth and Furore: Reassessing the Ranters’, Past and Present, CXXIX (1990), 95–102Google Scholar.
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54 Rogers, , Dod, 40–1, 65, 67, 212CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For an attempt by an individual congregation to achieve this shift of emphasis see Bedford, John Gifford's congregation set up in 1650 ‘without respect to this or that circumstance or opinion in outward or circumstantiall things’Google Scholar. New members, identifying the distinction between substance and form, were to solemnly agree that ‘union with Christ is the foundation of all Sainte's Communion, and not any ordinances of Christ, or any judgement about externalls’. White, B. R., ‘The Fellowship of Believers: Bunyan and Puritanism’, in John Bunyan, ed. Keeble, , 8, 11–12, 17–18Google Scholar. However, for the paradox whereby the testing for substance could result in the emergence of forms see Richard L. Greaves, ‘Conscience, liberty and the Spirit: Bunyan and Nonconformity’, in ibid., 24.
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65 Evans, Arise, The Voice of King Charts the Father (1655), 34–5Google Scholar. Less immediately Evans argued that godly order and authority in the family could only be restored if there were such in the commonwealth at large.
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71 This is the principal theme of Coppe's, A Fiery Flying Roll.
72 Bunyan, , I will Pray with the Spirit (1662?)CrossRefGoogle Scholar quoted in Hill, , Turbulent, Seditious and Factious People, 126Google Scholar.
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102 Both Christopher Hill and John Pocock, in one of the few points of agreement between them, have seen the origins of the debate on authority in reaction to the rise of antinomianism. The rise of antinomianism is as spectral as the rise of the middle class.
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