One of the more difficult practical questions raised by the English Reformation was just how to support its clergy and its fabric. Despite extensive resistance from the godly members of church and state, the Elizabethan church maintained the pre-Reformation system of impropriations, lay ownership of ecclesiastical tithes. This article examines the historical, practical, and ideological stakes of these everyday economics in the late sixteenth century. It argues that the majority of impropriators were responsive to the needs of the church, sustaining rather than undermining the nascent English church. In the space opened up by the Reformation's rents in the social and physical fabric of the parish, new bonds between church, state, and society were knit. This process of building the post-Reformation church thus tied the laity closer to the interests and activities of the church in England.
For their helpful comments on this article, I thank the Journal's editor, referees, and the attendees of the Sixteenth Century Society Conference. Research support for the project was provided by the Henry Hart Rice Fellowship and the Yale MacMillan Center. I am deeply grateful to Carlos Eire, Bruce Gordon, Matthew Lockwood, and Keith Wrightson for their insightful suggestions and advice. All books published before 1800 were printed in London, unless otherwise noted.
1 Throughout the article, the terms ‘evangelical’ and ‘godly’ are used interchangeably. The former is common in recent historiography, the latter common in early modern description. See MacCulloch, Diarmaid, ‘Henry VIII and the reform of the church’, in MacCulloch, Diarmaid, ed., The reign of Henry VIII: politics, policy, and piety (Basingstoke, 1995), pp. 159–80, at pp. 168–9; Marshall, Peter, Religious identities in Henry VIII's England (Aldershot, 2006), pp. 20–1. The heterodoxy of belief amongst evangelicals was present in the late as well as the early sixteenth century, making this still the ‘least-worst term’ available (Marshall, Religious identities, p. 20); however, ‘godly’ remains useful as the prime self-descriptor of those involved.
2 See Kain, Roger J. P. and Prince, Hugh C., The tithe surveys of England and Wales (Cambridge, 1985).
3 Hill, Christopher, Economic problems of the church, from Archbishop Whitgift to the Long Parliament (Oxford, 1956), ch. 6, passim.
4 Ibid., p. 153. Hill's larger argument focuses on the implications of such economic crises for the tensions of the Civil War, but his points on the Elizabethan church stand.
5 This typography is of my own making and for clarity's sake. I borrow here from A. G. Little, who referred to the distinction between predial, mixed, and personal tithes as ‘of three kinds’, and John Mirehouse, who referred to tithes ‘divided into two classes, great or small’. Little, A. G., ‘Personal tithes’, English Historical Review, 60 (1945), p. 68; Mirehouse, John, A practical treatise on the law of tithes (2nd edn, London, 1822), p. 2.
6 William Clark, Tithes and oblations, STC (2nd edn)/4323.2. (1595), sig. B3v.
9 Mirehouse, Practical treatise, p. 2; Toller, Samuel, A treatise of the law of tithes (London, 1808), pp. 50–1.
10 The situation was further complicated in urban spaces, where oversight of personal income routinely proved difficult. In most areas, tithes were commuted in favour of raised rates, paid annually or at certain festivals, as well as an early form of property tax. Cf. Thomson, J. A. F., ‘Tithe disputes in later medieval London’, English Historical Review, 78 (1963), pp. 1–17; Brigden, Susan, ‘Tithe controversy in Reformation London’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 32 (1981), pp. 285–301; Archer, Ian, ‘The burden of taxation on sixteenth-century London’, Historical Journal, 44 (2001), pp. 599–627.
11 Thus, we have, for example, tithing of fish in Scarborough broken down by species; some parishes tithed for lead and tin with others exempted; pea tithes exceeding wheat tithes in Ely; and eggs tithed in Holme-next-the-Sea in Norfolk but not in Harlow, Essex. Swanson, Robert N., Church and society in late medieval England (Oxford, 1993), pp. 210–15.
12 Clarke, H. W., History of tithes from Abraham to Queen Victoria (London, 1887), pp. 99–100; Moorman, J. R. H., Church life in England in the thirteenth century (Cambridge, 1945), p. 116.
13 Glebe land was that land given to parish clergy for their own personal farming, while mortuaries were fees raised for the preparation and burial of the dead. Palmer, Robert C., Selling the church: the English parish in law, commerce and religion, 1350–1550 (Chapel Hill, NC, 2002), pp. 10–11; Barratt, D. M., Ecclesiastical terriers of Warwickshire parishes, Dugdale Society, vol. 22 (2 vols., Oxford, 1955), ii, pp. ix–lviii.
14 The degree of disconnect between rector and parish, and especially between corporate rectors and parishes, was made even more pronounced by the regular leasing of tithe and other parish income. Leasing the parish allowed rectors to receive profit with a minimum of effort, and Palmer's convincing study has shown this becoming the dominant form of parochial land management in the years following the Black Death. By 1500, corporate rectors routinely made leases as long as twenty years, with leases of over thirty years not uncommon. While some of these lessees were clerics, a majority were laypeople who looked on tithe farming as a profitable investment. See Palmer, Selling the church, ch. 4, especially pp. 88–92.
15 Thompson, A. Hamilton, The English clergy and their organization in the later middle ages (Oxford, 1947), pp. 111–12; Heath, Peter, The English parish clergy on the eve of the Reformation (London, 1969), pp. 148–9.
16 Palmer, Selling the church, p. 99.
17 Swanson, Church and society, pp. 44–5. The latter figure is of my own calculation, with Swanson noting that ‘between 1291 and 1535 the number of appropriated churches in England and Wales rose from under 2,000 to over 3,300’ (p. 44).
18 Thompson estimates that late medieval Yorkshire had 622 parish churches, with at least 392, or 63 per cent, appropriated to monastic houses. Thompson, The English clergy, p. 115.
19 31 Henry VIII c. 13, s. 14 (1539).
20 For more on dissolution property, see Youings, Joyce, The dissolution of the monasteries (London, 1971), and Heal, Felicity, Reformation in Britain and Ireland (Oxford, 2003), pt iv, ch. 3.
21 2 & 3 Ed. VI, c. 13, s. 4 (1548).
22 Swanson, Church and society, p. 44; Hill, Economic problems, pp. 144–5.
23 Edward Dering, A sermon preached before the Quenes Majestie (1569) STC (2nd edn)/6699, sig. E4r–v.
24 Dudley Fenner, A briefe and plaine declaration (1584) STC (2nd edn)/10395, p. 55.
25 John Field, An admonition to the parliament (1572), STC (2nd edn)/10848, sig. A4r.
26 Anthony Gilby, A pleasant dialogue, betweene a souldior of Barwicke, and an English chaplaine (1581) STC (2nd edn)/11888, sigs. B4v, E1v.
27 Arthur Dent, The ruine of Rome (1603) STC (2nd edn)/6640, sig. O3v.
28 William Burton, A sermon preached in the cathedral church in Norwich (1590) STC (2nd edn)/4178, sigs. C2v–C3r. This recalls Gilby's description of ‘you that be loiterers, to devoure the churche goods, the sweat of poore mens labors, and doe allowe proprietaries & improprietaries, drones to sucke the Hony combe’. Gilby, Pleasant dialogue, sig. D3v.
29 Neale, J. E., Elizabeth I and her parliaments, 1559–1581 (2 vols., London, 1953), i, p. 99. See also Hill, Economic problems, p. 139.
30 The National Archives (TNA): Public Records Office (PRO)/SP/12/27, fo. 226; TNA: PRO/SP 12/88, fo. 98, and TNA: PRO/SP 12/107, fo. 138.
31 TNA: PRO/SP 12/199, fo. 7v. D'Ewes's Journal described it as ‘a petition that it might be enacted that all laws now in force touching ecclesiastical government should be void’. Simonds D'Ewes, A compleat journal of the votes, speeches, and debates, both of the House of Lords and the House of Commons throughout the whole reign of Queen Elizabeth (1693), Wing/D1248, p. 410.
32 A description of the legislation and its opposition can be found in Neale, J. E., Elizabeth I and her parliaments, 1584–1601 (2 vols., London, 1957), ii, pp. 148–65.
33 Youings, The dissolution of the monasteries, pp. 130–1.
34 Neale, Elizabeth I and her parliament, ii, p. 160.
35 TNA: PRO/SP 12/199/1, fo. 3r.
36 Strype, John, The life and acts of John Whitgift (4 vols., Oxford, 1822), i, p. 145. See also Hill, Economic problems, pp. 147–8.
37 Sheils, W. J., ‘Rectory estates of the archbishop of York’, in O'Day, Rosemary and Heal, Felicity, eds., Princes and paupers in the English church, 1500–1800 (Leicester, 1981), pp. 91–109, at p. 94. As Sheils points out, this put those bishops who disapproved of impropriations in a difficult position; they may have had ideological objections, but they were practically tied to the institution (p. 97).
38 Hill, Economic problems, p. 15; Sheils, ‘Rectory estates’, pp. 93–4.
39 John Bridges, A defence of the gouernment established in the Church of Englande for ecclesiasticall matters (1587), STC (2nd edn)/3734, pp. 521–2.
40 TNA: PRO/SP 12/199/1, fo. 2v. Also quoted in Neale, Elizabeth I and Her parliaments, i, p. 160.
41 Bridges, A defence of the government, p. 520. Hill notes that absolute property rights became an issue by the early seventeenth century, though these statements place their germination firmly in the Elizabethan period. (Hill, Economic problems, p. 156).
42 TNA: PRO/SP 12/199/2, fo. 7v.
43 TNA: PRO/SP 12/199/1.
44 Neale, Elizabeth I and her parliaments, i, p. 161.
45 Field, An admonition to parliament, sig. B3r.
46 Strype, Whitgift, i, 145.
48 Moorman, Church life in England, pp. 38–44; Palmer, Selling the church, ch. 2, passim.
49 Collier, Jeremy, An ecclesiastical history of Great Britain, chiefly of England (9 vols., London, 1846), ix, pp. 362–3.
51 1,895 of 4,543 parishes rated under £10. Comparatively, 58 per cent of total vicarages were valued at this very low level, while 48 per cent of rectories were so valued. Ibid., p. 362.
52 Hill, Economic problems, p. 110.
53 Swanson, Church and society, pp. 215–16.
54 For an example of a summary valuation, see TNA: PRO/SP 12/96, fo. 101.
55 Norfolk Records Office (NRO) DN/VAL 1/2. Compare with Valor Ecclesiasticus, temp. Henr. VIII (6 vols., London, 1817), iii, pp. 281–498.
56 These unofficial surveys, commissioned by evangelical ministers to support their claims for further reformation, attempted to account for the value of livings and quality of the clergy across England. They were, as noted, highly flawed, but they provide a provocative glimpse of the areas of church life most in contestation in the mid-Elizabethan period. For further information, see Collinson, Patrick, The Elizabethan puritan movement (Berkeley, CA, 1967), pp. 280–3.
57 The seconde parte of a register: being a calendar of manuscripts under that title intended for publication by the puritans about 1593, and now in Dr. Williams's Library, ed. Albert Peel (2 vols., Cambridge, 1915), ii, p. 144.
58 Zell, Michael J., ‘Economic problems of the parochial clergy’, in O'Day, and Heal, , eds., Princes and paupers in the English church, 1500–1800 (Leicester, 1981), pp. 19–44, at pp. 38–40. It should be noted that Zell does use the 1586 survey for these numbers.
59 Ibid., p. 40.
60 John Addy, The archdeacon and ecclesiastical discipline in Yorkshire, 1598–1714: clergy and the churchwardens, Borthwick papers, no. 24 (York, 1963), p. 22. Fascinatingly, a version of this liability stands today, enforced by the 1932 Chancel Repairs Act. In the past decade, these provisions have been debated in the House of Commons and the British media, who delight in spotlighting cases such as the £230,000 repair of the Aston Cantlow parish church in Warwickshire (Steven Morris, ‘Church bill for £230,000 forces couple to sell farm’, Guardian, 28 Sept. 2009; HoC Hansard 17 Oct. 2012: column 130–1 WH).
61 Archbishop Grindal's visitation, 1575: comperta et detecta book, ed. Sheils, W. J., Borthwick texts and calendars, vol. 4 (York, 1977), p. 50.
62 Ibid., p. 33.
63 NRO, ANW 6/1, passim.
64 NRO DN/VIS 2/1, fo. 8v.
65 Of 506 chapels, 75 presented for decay: 35 in the archdeaconry of Yorkshire, 15 in Cleveland, 22 in the East Riding, and 3 in the peculiars. Archbishop Grindal's visitation, pp. iv–vii.
66 Figures taken from A miscellany of Nottinghamshire records, ed. Thomas M. Blagg, Thoroton Society Record Series, vol. 11 (Nottingham, 1945), pp. 10–42.
67 Bishop Still's visitation, 1594; and the ‘Smale booke’ of the clerk of the peace for Somerset, 1593–1595, ed. Derek Shorrocks, Somerset Record Society, vol. 84 (Taunton, 1998), pp. 9–15.
68 Diocese of Norwich, Bishop Redman's visitation, 1597, presentments in the archdeaconries of Norwich, Norfolk, and Suffolk, ed. J. F. Williams, Norfolk Record Society, vol. 18 (Norwich, 1946), pp. 8–10. 806 parishes made presentments, with 181 additional silently marked omnia bene; 119 parishes were presented for chapel default.
69 Regarding widely different chronological periods, see Walsham, Alexandra, Church papists: Catholicism, conformity, and confessional polemic in early modern England (Woodbridge, 1993), p. 14; Marchant, Ronald A., Church under the law: justice, administration and discipline in the diocese of York, 1560–1640 (London, 1969), pp. 201–2; Sharpe, Kevin, The personal rule of Charles I (New Haven, CT, 1992), p. 369; Ingram, Martin, Church courts, sex and marriage in England, 1570–1640 (Cambridge, 1987), pp. 31–3.
70 These numbers include both churches and chapels listed in the survey, though not those that had been demolished or united with other parishes. 412 of the parishes, or 80.6 per cent, were listed in perfect condition, while a further 25 (or 4.9 per cent) were listed with a pristine chancel but a dilapidated church. The state of the church in the reigns of Elizabeth and James I as illustrated by documents relating to the diocese of Lincoln, ed. C. W. Foster, Lincoln Record Society, vol. 23 (Lincoln, 1926), pp. 221–32.
71 Borthwick Institute (BI)/V.1578–9/CB.1; BI/V.1590–1/CB.1; BI/V.1595–6/CB.1; BI/V.1600/CP.1.
72 J. S. Purvis, The condition of Yorkshire church fabrics, 1300–1800, St Anthony Hall Publications, no. 14 (York, 1958), p. 16. I have not cited Purvis's 1590 records, as the exclusion of figures from five of the deaneries skews the relative data.
73 State of the church, p. 224; Bishop Redman's visitation, p. 37; NRO DN/VIS 2/1, fo. 10v.
74 NRO DN/VIS 2/1, fo. 7v.
75 Archbishop Grindal's visitation, pp. 42–62.
76 Bishop Redman's visitation, pp. 29–70.
77 NRO DN/VIS 2/1, fos. 3v–9v.
78 Bishop Redman's visitation, p. 50.
79 NRO ANW/1/17.
80 Archbishop Grindal's visitation, p. 28.
81 BI/V.1590–1/CB2, fo. 25r.
82 State of the church, p. 222.
83 Bishop Still's visitation, p. 102.
84 British Library Additional MSS 39227, fo. 98r.
85 TNA: PRO/SP 59/31, fo. 141r.
86 The seconde parte of a register, pp. 98–110.
87 The churchwardens' accounts of St. Michael's in Bedwardine, Worcester, from 1539 to 1603, ed. John Amphlett (Oxford, 1896), p. xii.
88 The churchwardens' accounts of Prescot, Lancashire, 1523–1607, ed. F. A. Bailey, Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, vol. 104 (Preston, 1953), pp. 48–144, passim.
89 Iniunctions exhibited by John by gods sufferance bishop of Norwich (1561), STC (2nd edn)/10286, sig. B1v. The language is copied almost exactly into the last years of Elizabeth's reign; the visitation of Peterborough in 1602, for example, asked ‘whether your chauncell . . . be in good and sufficient reparations’. Articles to be inquired by the churchwardens and sworne-men of the dioces and jurisdiction of Peterborough . . . 1602 (Cambridge, 1602), STC (2nd edn)/10314.2, sig. A2v.
90 Purvis, Conditions of Yorkshire church fabrics, p. 17.
91 Even archivally focused historians have fallen into this trap. J. S. Purvis, for example, describes presentments for chancel disrepair as painting ‘a startling and deplorable picture’ of an ‘evil (which) was widespread’ – and on the following page tallies figures indicating dilapidation rates of under 15 per cent (Purvis, Conditions of Yorkshire church fabrics, pp. 15–16). This cognitive disconnect can also be found in Sheils's edition of Archbishop Grindal's visitation, where he describes ‘the almost universal negligence of impropriators’, followed by a table listing under 12 per cent of chancels as dilapidated (Archbishop Grindal's visitation, p. vii)
92 Finch, Most recently J., Church monuments in Norfolk before 1850: an archaeology of commemoriation (Oxford, 2000); Gaimster, D. R. M. and Gilchrest, R., eds., The archaeology of Reformation, 1480–1580 (Leeds, 2003); Owen, Kirsty, ‘The reformed elect: wealth, death and sanctity in Gloucestershire, 1550–1640’, International Journal of Historical Archaeology, 10 (2006), pp. 1–34.
93 Quoted in Sheils ‘Rectory estates of the Archbishopric of York’, p. 100.
94 Zell, ‘Economic problems’, p. 41.
95 O'Day, Rosemary, ‘The reformation of the ministry’, in O'Day, R. and Heal, Felicity, eds., Continuity and change: personnel and administration of the church in England, 1500–1642 (Leicester, 1976), pp. 55–76, especially at pp. 58–63.
96 Glebe land in rural England tended to range between 25 and 75 acres, thus forming a fundamentally important aspect of clerical income. Barratt, ed., Ecclesiastical terriers of Warwickshire parishes, p. xxx.
97 Outhwaite, R. B., The rise and fall of the English ecclesiastical courts, 1500–1860 (Cambridge, 2006); Ingram, Church courts, sex and marriage, passim.
98 As in the the rectors of Langton, Yorkshire (BI/CP.G.1376).
99 Calendar of manuscripts of the most honourable the marquis of Salisbury, preserved at Hatfield House, ed. R. A. Roberts (19 vols., London, 1892), iv, p. 163.
100 See R. H. Tawney's classic ‘The rise of the gentry, 1558–1640’, Economic History Review, 11 (1941), pp. 1–38, and the controversy it engendered.
101 Cf. Zell, ‘Economic problems’, passim, for a discussion of ideals versus reality in regard to the ministry.
* For their helpful comments on this article, I thank the Journal's editor, referees, and the attendees of the Sixteenth Century Society Conference. Research support for the project was provided by the Henry Hart Rice Fellowship and the Yale MacMillan Center. I am deeply grateful to Carlos Eire, Bruce Gordon, Matthew Lockwood, and Keith Wrightson for their insightful suggestions and advice. All books published before 1800 were printed in London, unless otherwise noted.
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.
* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.
Usage data cannot currently be displayed