clergy, Church of England

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Eamon Duffy, The Voices of Morebath (2001), provides a vivid account of how the Reformation affected a remote parish on the edge of Dartmoor, seen largely through the writings of the local priest, Sir Christopher Trychay, who kept the parish accounts. The Reformation reduced the number of English clergy by about a half. The Church of England suffered a severe shortage of manpower until well into Elizabeth's reign, and many livings remained vacant. For a study of the situation in a leading city, see Martha C. Skeeters, Community and Clergy: Bristol and the Reformation, c.1530–c.1570 (1993). The standard of education of the average clergyman was low; when 396 clergymen in the archdeaconries of Stow and Lincoln were tested on their knowledge of the Scriptures in 1576, only 123 were judged sufficiently qualified to fulfil their duties. Contemporary investigations elsewhere came up with similar results. Inadequate stipends failed to attract an educated clergy. In 1585 Archbishop Whitgift estimated that only 600 of the 9 000 or so livings were adequately provided; as a consequence, pluralism and non‐residency were rife. The Puritans sought to improve the educational qualifications of ministers and to make them ‘painful and laborious’ preachers. By the 1630s the majority of parishes had a resident graduate clergy. See Rosemary O’Day, The English Clergy: The Emergence and Consolidation of a Profession, 1558–1642 (1979).

During the Commonwealth, ministers who were judged ineffective by the Puritans were ejected from their livings. In 1662 Puritan ministers who refused to conform to the doctrines of the re‐established Anglican Church were ejected in their turn (see Nonconformity). For an investigation of the Church of England's ministers at a county level, see John H. Pruett, The Parish Clergy under the Later Stuarts: The Leicestershire Experience (1978). The most revealing clergyman's diary in the 17th century is that of the Essex parson Ralph Josselin; see The Diary of Ralph Josselin, 1616–1683, ed. Alan MacFarlane (1976), and MacFarlane 's study The Family Life of Ralph Josselin, a Seventeenth‐Century Clergyman: An Essay in Historical Anthropology (1970).

Clergymen continued to be educated at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge during the 18th century, but standards were lower than previously. Three published diaries that are revealing about the life of rural clergymen are The Diary of a Country Parson, 1758–1802 by James Woodforde, ed. John Beresford (1978), A Kentish Parson: Selections from the Private Papers of the Revd Joseph Price, Vicar of Bradbourne, 1767–1786, ed. G. M. Ditchfield and Bryan Keith‐Lucas (1991), and Paupers and Pig Killers: The Diary of William Holland, a Somerset Parson, 1799–1818, ed. Jack Ayres (1984).

Endowments were made more equal by a series of reforms in the 1830s, and the Church of England belatedly began to tackle the problems of the industrial towns. Ministers belonged to either the High Church, which emphasized liturgy and ritual, or the Low Church, which was evangelical. The Tractarian movement (see Oxford Movement) helped to improve the educational standards of clergymen, many Victorian parsons becoming noted scholars, especially in the fields of local and natural history. Many clergymen were now trained in theological colleges rather than at the ancient universities. Crockford's Clerical Directory, which has appeared regularly since 1858, is the prime source of information about clergymen in the 19th and 20th centuries, but much information can be found in parish magazines, local newspapers, and diocesan records. See Peter Towey, My Ancestor Was a Clergyman (2006), and the Clergy of the Church of England Database for Anglican clergymen between 1540 and 1835. In 1993 the General Synod of the Church of England voted to admit women priests.


Subjects: History.

Reference entries

Maureen Duffy (b. 1933)

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