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 The Voices of Morebath

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Temperance
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PostSubject: The Voices of Morebath   Mon 01 Jun 2015, 18:36

Is this worth a story? I think it is. I refer to what I have learnt from Professor Eamon Duffy:

This is about a sixteenth-century country priest, and the extraordinary records he kept. It deals with ordinary people in an unimportant place, whose claim to fame is that they lived through the most decisive revolution in English history, and had a priest who wrote everything down. Morebath was - and is - a tiny Devonshire sheep-farming village, which in the sixteenth century was made up of just thirty-three families, working the difficult land on the southern edge of Exmoor. The bulk of its conventional Tudor archives have long since vanished: there are no manorial records, and most of the ancient wills of the region went up in smoke during the bombing of Exeter during the Second World War. But for more than fifty years, through all the drama of the Reformation, Morebath had a single priest, Sir Christopher Trychay (his surname is pronounced Tricky to rhyme with Dicky, and Catholic priests were then called Sir as they are now called Father). Sir Christopher was vicar of Morebath from 1520 until his death in 1574.  He was opinionated, eccentric and talkative and his records are like no other in England. He gives details of the rebellion of 1549 that left at least 3000 decent Englishmen dead - a rebellion that no one talks about...

Is he worth a book?
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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: The Voices of Morebath   Mon 01 Jun 2015, 19:52

Is he worth a book?

I have no doubt he is.

This reminds me of Montaillou, village occitan 1294-1324 although the circumstances of gathering the information were very different. The interrogation records of a bishop of the Inquisition, and future pope, must differ somewhat from the remembrances of a parish priest but both can provide, in the hands of the right author, the kind of detail that illuminates the micro-history, both social and in relation to events, of a place and its people which otherwise would have slipped silently away.
And old Tricky sounds worthy of a book in his own right anyway.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: The Voices of Morebath   Tue 02 Jun 2015, 16:03

@ferval wrote:


This reminds me of Montaillou, village occitan 1294-1324 although the circumstances of gathering the information were very different. The interrogation records of a bishop of the Inquisition, and future pope, must differ somewhat from the remembrances of a parish priest but both can provide, in the hands of the right author, the kind of detail that illuminates the micro-history, both social and in relation to events, of a place and its people which otherwise would have slipped silently away.
And old Tricky sounds worthy of a book in his own right anyway.


Easier said than done, of course! Duffy's excellent book gives all his historical research, and such an eminent academic might not take too kindly to someone using his book to come up with a fictitious account of the villagers and their lives, an account that would, inevitably, take liberties with the historical records.

Duffy's book is full of the most fascinating details - how, for instance, in 1529, Elenor Nicoll left her silver wedding ring to St. Sidwell whose statue stood in Sir Christopher's church, carefully placed next to the statue of Christ over the altar of the church, "the Wyche ryng dyd helppe make sent sydwyll ys scowys" - the ring was used to make a tiny silver shoe to be attached to the saint's feet. Sadly Saint Sidwell's little shoe - along with a chalice - was stolen from the church during the night of Friday 20th November 1534, the Feast of Edmund King and Martyr. Sir Christopher gives all the details:

By twyxte the fryday and the saterday a theffe with a ladder gate up a pon the churche and pullyd up the ladder after him and sette the ladder to the towre wyndow and brycke uppe that wyndoo and so gate yn to the bellis and fro the bellis came downe yn to the churche.

It is not at all clear what a thief with a ladder was doing roaming around the remoter fringes of Exmoor in the depths of winter, but the theft astounded and dismayed everyone in the village. It was thought the climbing villain came from Bampton, but there was also a terrible suspicion that it could have been a Morebath parishioner. Such a thing would be a shocking event in a Devon village today - 500 years ago it must have been absolutely terrible. Sadly, the little silver shoe was never recovered (nor the chalice - the villages clubbed together to buy a new one).

I find such things fascinating, but it is unlikely anyone else would!
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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: The Voices of Morebath   Tue 02 Jun 2015, 18:31

Well, they fascinate me and that story of the ring chimes precisely with the custom of depositing significant objects in the church, particularly jewellery to ornament statues of the Virgin and saints. Those same objects were also borrowed for the use of the bride at her wedding.

If you 'search inside' here for 'wedding ring', you'll get lots of information. This book is highly recommended!
https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Medieval_Life.html?id=T3EwHTrRZEsC&hl=en
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: The Voices of Morebath   Wed 03 Jun 2015, 11:44

What interests me is life in an English village - then as now. Sir Christopher's role as one of the maintainers of the "social miracle" of an English parish was often sorely tested. Things unfortunately were often not that miraculous. Being responsible for the religious healing and the sustaining of the bands of community is never easy especially when - as always - self-interest wins out over Christian charity. Love thy neighbour is all very well and good, but Tudor parishes, like old-fashioned English parishes today, are often contentious places.

At Michaelmas 1536 and for several months after, things fell spectacularly apart in the parish, not because of the momentous events happening in London and the decrees being issued from the capital, but over the payment - in corn and pence - of the clerk's wages. The clerk was the priest's helper - he kept the church key, prepared the church for services and sang the responses at Mass. No one wanted the job because some cottagers were refusing to pay their contribution to the wages fund.

The arguments dragged on through the winter and by spring of 1537 - the time of the church's patronal festival - nothing had been settled. As Duffy reports, the lack of a clerk not only threatened to ruin the festival, but it also was to add poison to an already harrowing human situation - one that reminds me of the Richard Hunne affair in London. One of the village's poorest men was the "Exebridge cottager, one Marke". A week before St. George's day, his wife had struggled to give birth to twins, both of whom died after a hasty baptism. Such children were known as "crysom children", from the holy oil of chrism used in the baptismal rite, and the fact that at death they were still wearing the "crysom cloth" bound around the child's head over the spot anointed by the priest. Poignantly, the account of the Alms Light for 1537 includes the payment of a penny from Marke "for the occupying of the almys lyghth by the death of his 2 crisimmers."

The morning of St. George's day, Sir Christopher arranged to celebrate a requiem mass for Marke's dead babies. When he arrived at the church with the grieving family, they found the church door still locked; there was no chalice and no one willing to make the responses or help serve the mass. Marke had to go round several houses to ask for help from former church officials, one of whom had the key, but who had not bothered to show up with it for the service for this poor man's family. In Sir Christopher's words, Marke was obliged

"... to goo to John at Courtis to fett the churche dore key and the challys also he fett the wolde John Waterus (a former parish clerk) to helppe the vicar to mas be fore he coud have any mas sayd for hys chyld: and all was for lacke of a clerke."

In other words, no one gave a damn about the poor man's grief - and the family's desire to provide a proper requiem for the dead infants. Five hundred years on, it's still a heart-breaking story.

But that wasn't the end of the drama - that afternoon (it was a public holiday) all the parishioners were due to go to the house of one William at Timewell for the solemn betrothal of his daughter Margaret. The fiasco of the morning had been discussed by everyone and the betrothal celebration ended in a fight. William Leddon, one of the men whose refusal to pay the clerk's corn had precipitated the crisis, was at the betrothal and the bereaved father, Marke, also showed up later in the afternoon. He went for Leddon. The two men had to be separated because they "ware a most by the eris for the same cause."

Margaret's betrothal feast was ruined - her comments are not recorded.

PS There is a report from one of Cromwell's men, appointed Dean of Exeter Cathedral in 1537, who warns Cromwell that Devon was "a perilous country, for God's love let the King's grace look to it in time."
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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Re: The Voices of Morebath   Wed 03 Jun 2015, 12:32

Fascinating stuff Temp.

Since he was priest from 1520 to 1574 his diaries must also give a valuable account of how he saw the Protestant reformation and presumably how he had to bend reed-like to accommodate the changing dictates from central government and his bishop. 

He started his ministry before Henry's schism with Rome, as a catholic priest giving services in Latin and reading from the Latin bible; lived through the dissolution of the monasteries; the shift to the official use of the vernacular bible; the complete shift to Protestant styles of service and prayer under Edward VI; but then suddenly back again, under pain of death, to the old Latin Mass under Mary; ... before re-returning to English Protestant rites under Elizabeth (ie services in English, no transubstantiatian during mass, re-establishment of Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer, official obligatory prayers for the Monarch, and official obligatory abuse of the Pope in the litany).

I'm interested to find out what he thought about it all and how, as a humble parish priest, did he square the circle of his own, and his parishoners', religious convictions to the changing demands of the authorities?
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Vizzer
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PostSubject: Re: The Voices of Morebath   Wed 03 Jun 2015, 23:16

@Temperance wrote:
a tiny Devonshire sheep-farming village, which in the sixteenth century was made up of just thirty-three families

Thirty-three families doesn't sound so small. Around 150 people maybe. That would certainly put it right within the range of anthropologist Robin Dunbar's number of the maximum limit of people with whom we can maintain any meaningful social relationship. In other words the ideal size of a parish.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: The Voices of Morebath   Thu 04 Jun 2015, 10:15

@Meles meles wrote:
Fascinating stuff Temp.

Since he was priest from 1520 to 1574 his diaries must also give a valuable account of how he saw the Protestant reformation and presumably how he had to bend reed-like to accommodate the changing dictates from central government and his bishop. 

He started his ministry before Henry's schism with Rome, as a catholic priest giving services in Latin and reading from the Latin bible; lived through the dissolution of the monasteries; the shift to the official use of the vernacular bible; the complete shift to Protestant styles of service and prayer under Edward VI; but then suddenly back again, under pain of death, to the old Latin Mass under Mary; ... before re-returning to English Protestant rites under Elizabeth (ie services in English, no transubstantiatian during mass, re-establishment of Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer, official obligatory prayers for the Monarch, and official obligatory abuse of the Pope in the litany).

I'm interested to find out what he thought about it all and how, as a humble parish priest, did he square the circle of his own, and his parishoners', religious convictions to the changing demands of the authorities?

That's what I find fascinating too, MM. Seems someone was gunning for Sir Christopher and his love of the saints early in 1538 - before Cromwell's second set of injunctions were official policy. Remote part of Devon, but seems our eccentric priest had enemies - or just an enemy - in high places.

Back later.

PS ideal number or not, there was a lot of tension in the area known as the "village of Morebath".
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Triceratops
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PostSubject: Re: The Voices of Morebath   Thu 04 Jun 2015, 15:19

Morebath Church;

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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: The Voices of Morebath   Fri 05 Jun 2015, 17:52

Thanks for posting that, Trike.


This is Exebridge - Marke and his wife had their cottage nearby.
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The Voices of Morebath

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