University of Leicester
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‘Schismatical People’: Conflict between Clergy and Laity in Warwickshire, 1660-1720

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posted on 2015-06-02, 10:55 authored by Maureen Elizabeth Harris
The clergy were the focus of early modern parish life, yet their often troubled relationships with parishioners have received little attention from social historians. This thesis offers new evidence by examining the Warwickshire clergy, in the turbulent years between 1660 and the repeal of the ‘Occasional Conformity’ and ‘Schism’ acts, as both victims and perpetrators in clerical/lay conflicts. Using the ecclesiastical records of Worcester and Lichfield/Coventry, the two dioceses covering Warwickshire, this study has found clerical authority weakened through contempt, and disadvantaged by the Anglican Church’s continued use of medieval methods of ecclesiastical discipline and funding. It has also discovered a strong laity using both legal and subversive tactics to express frustration with the clergy and influence clerical behaviour, by negotiating an acceptable Anglican orthodoxy or by opposing the minister to force his resignation, suspension or deprivation. Mapping of tithe and non-tithe clerical/lay incidents shows that conflict was more frequent in south-west Warwickshire, particularly in the Hundred of Barlichway, than in the north and east of the county. Strong gentry control decreased the likelihood of clerical/lay disputes while the proximity of grammar schools increased them, and the presence of dissenters in conflicted parishes was of major significance. Catholics in particular, but also Quakers and Presbyterians, participated in disputes. Conversely dissenters were few in parishes without recorded conflict. Warwickshire disputes were more prevalent than in the often dispersed settlements of York diocese, and violent hostility towards Warwickshire clergy and their families was greater in 1690 to 1720 than in 1660 to 1689. This study of clergy-centred conflict finds rare examples of harmony in a society of institutionalized informing and malicious intent, and sees frequent clerical/lay antagonism as part of a continuous narrative of religious ‘schism’ from before the civil wars, through the seventeenth century to the present day.



Hopper, Andrew; Coffey, John

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Historical Studies

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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