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The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village [Kindle Edition]

Eamon Duffy
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In the fifty years between 1530 and 1580, England moved from being one of the most lavishly Catholic countries in Europe to being a Protestant nation, a land of whitewashed churches and antipapal preaching. What was the impact of this religious change in the countryside? And how did country people feel about the revolutionary upheavals that transformed their mental and material worlds under Henry VIII and his three children?

In this book a reformation historian takes us inside the mind and heart of Morebath, a remote and tiny sheep farming village on the southern edge of Exmoor. The bulk of Morebath’s conventional archives have long since vanished. But from 1520 to 1574, through nearly all the drama of the English Reformation, Morebath’s only priest, Sir Christopher Trychay, kept the parish accounts on behalf of the churchwardens. Opinionated, eccentric, and talkative, Sir Christopher filled these vivid scripts for parish meetings with the names and doings of his parishioners. Through his eyes we catch a rare glimpse of the life and pre-Reformation piety of a sixteenth-century English village.

The book also offers a unique window into a rural world in crisis as the Reformation progressed. Sir Christopher Trychay’s accounts provide direct evidence of the motives which drove the hitherto law-abiding West-Country communities to participate in the doomed Prayer-Book Rebellion of 1549 culminating in the siege of Exeter that ended in bloody defeat and a wave of executions. Its church bells confiscated and silenced, Morebath shared in the punishment imposed on all the towns and villages of Devon and Cornwall. Sir Christopher documents the changes in the community, reluctantly Protestant and increasingly preoccupied with the secular demands of the Elizabethan state, the equipping of armies, and the payment of taxes. Morebath’s priest, garrulous to the end of his days, describes a rural world irrevocably altered and enables us to hear the voices of his villagers after four hundred years of silence.

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Amazon Review

Eamon Duffy's monumental The Stripping of the Altars provided a new slant on the English Reformation. Duffy has now dug deeper into the same fascinating period. The Voices of Morebath is the story of a hamlet buried deep in the heart of Devon. The parish priest, Sir Christopher Trychay remained in office through the troubled times of the mid-16th century. During his long tenure he carefully recorded the impact of national events in his ordinary rural community.

Trychay's account is unique because it is not a personal diary but a record of the parish accounts. Sir Christopher, however, was talkative and opinionated so the accounts are laden with the minutiae of parish life. Duffy weaves these otherwise cryptic details into the wider tapestry of events of the time, and by analysing the result shows the devastating revolution that took place in ordinary people's lives. As the drama unfolds we see the folk of Morebath forced from their secure Catholicism into the new religion of King Henry. After Edward's brief reign the villagers breathe a sigh of relief and haul out all their Catholic paraphernalia, grateful that Mary Tudor has restored the Catholic faith. Then it all goes for good once Elizabeth takes the throne.

Duffy has given us history that is absorbing, readable and complete. His own enthusiasm for his topic gives the book a zest that takes it beyond the usual academic tome. Anyone the least bit interested in English history must not neglect this important book. --Dwight Longenecker


'A passionate and elegiac account.' -- John Morrill, BBC History Magazine, November 2001

'This is a book to be read by enthusiasts and general readers alike.' -- Peter Ackroyd, The Times, 15 August 2001

'[a] great book' -- Daniel Johnson, The Daily Telegraph, 1 September 2001

'a book of exceptional quality' -- John Adamson, The Sunday Telegraph, 2 September 2001

'a real historical discovery' -- Nigel Jones, BBC History Magazine, November 2001

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 5804 KB
  • Print Length: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; New edition edition (11 Aug. 2003)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00B3S1XWM
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #245,756 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
53 of 55 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A moving account of a Reformation village. 4 Jan. 2002
By A Customer
An instructive and at times deeply moving account of the effects of the Tudor Reformation on village life. Although the first half of the book may seem a little tedious in its introduction to the village, people and institutions of Morebath, it is ultimately necessary in understanding the remainder which moves historically through the Reformation period. The book gives a detailed insight into how bewildering it must have been for a conservative rural village to undergo the changes from Catholic to Protestant, back to Catholic under Queen Mary and finally to Protestant again under Elizabeth.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing 26 May 2009
"The Voices of Morebath" has received much acclaim and justly so.

Generally, the histories written of the English Reformation and counter-Reformation have taken a national perspective. This book, however, is an account of how decisions made and policies adopted by members of the Tudor dynasty and its various executives, culturally and geographically remote from a small Devonshire village, so profoundly affected the life of that village and how, with remarkable pragmatism, its equally remarkable priest guided his flock through the upheavals of the iconoclasm and head-spinning changes in liturgical orthodoxy accompanying this turbulent period.

Little of the outside world directly penetrates this small society absorbed with just "getting by" on the upland fringes of Exmoor - Father Trychay tries to shield his flock but there is the occasional rude intrusion; Dean Heynes - one of Thomas Cromwell's creatures, a real piece of work and a sort of 16th century Senator Joseph McCarthy - and the imposition of the 1549 Prayer Book creating fury sufficient for this small village to send men to Exeter, some of whom were accounted in the 4,000 lost in the ill-fated Prayer Book Rebellion of that year.

Professor Duffy provides a seemingly balanced story (an achievement in itself given the polemical nature of the subject) drawn from Christopher Trychay's entries in the parish records. The author puts flesh on the bones of what otherwise might be a detached history to create real people living at the close of a long-established and conservative era, their communal confidence having been shaken and facing an uncertain future. It is difficult not to personally identify with these simple parishioners.

"The Voices of Morebath" could be regarded as a (long!
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Eamon Duffy brings the village of Morebath in the sixteenth century to life with this excellent piece of research. Using original churchwarden's records and relevant historiography, he reconstructs the life of a community as it's belief system comes increasingly under threat. Duffy's work not only gives us a glipmse into the past, but also shows us the historian's craft in action. So Duffy may become a little wrapped up in his subject matter - his enthusiasm shines out of his work and adds to its appeal, in this case anyway. His love of the period is obvious and is infectious, and he reconstructs the minutiae of village life with gusto, to the point where you too may be sucked into the world of Morebath under the Tudors. No bad thing. It happened to me and I for one was sorry to leave.

This is very much a companion volume to "The Stripping of the Altars", the earlier work grand in scope, while "The Voices of Morebath" focusses on one community and narrows that scope, bringing it under the microscope and revealing it with skill and crystal clarity. Anyone with anything more than a passing interest in early modern history should have this book. What the hell... everyone else should have it too.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Thus ended the career of the parish priest of Morebath, there was he buried, between two religions, two social worlds, two distinct weltanschuung. Taken from his parish register, which gives full details of accounts with a full and interesting commentary by him ,Christopher Trychay, who served the parish from 1520 - 1574, this book gives an interesting account of the minutiae of parish life throughout the events of the 16th century.
I wonder whether it is possible to write of the Reformation without one's own loyalties being obvious, indeed other reviewers have clearly revealed their own, but Professor Duffy , himself a Catholic, certainly writes not only with considerable affection for the pre-Reformation world but also with some appreciation for the Elizabethan one which came to supplant it in England.

Many of us do not believe ,unlike our ancestors were led to believe by their historians -indeed Haigh when he first studied the opposition to the Reformation came to the conclusion that what he had been taught at school about its popularity was erroneous -that the Reformation was welcomed by the people of England, and have been puzzled as to how they accepted such a revolution. Looked at from the centre the answer is perhaps the power and luck of Queen Elizabeth and the relentless persecution , well detailed by Philip Hughes' "The Reformation in England Vol III True Religion Now Established " , of her Catholic subjects, but the localities have been more problematic, although even there as in the time of Thomas Cromwell it could be said that careless talk costs lives.(p 167).
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 29 days ago by Gerhard Wallbank
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 1 month ago by Tony Gudgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars Eamon Duffy writes with knowlrdge and detailed research
Lots of Local history references about Morebath in Devon and especially interesting are the recommendations for further studies and the implications for Church history and local... Read more
Published 2 months ago by pauline
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable read but please don't make the mistake of ...
An enjoyable read but please don't make the mistake of assuming that this will give the popular view of the Reformation. Read more
Published 2 months ago by SomeoneSomewhere
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
The finest of local histories with tragic national resonances - first class.
Published 5 months ago by Chris Taylor
Published 6 months ago by gl
5.0 out of 5 stars The book very skilfully relates the way a 16th century ...
The book very skilfully relates the way a 16th century rector administered his parish against the background of turbulent events which imposed protestantism on a largely catholic... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Joe Edge T
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent book and service.
Published 8 months ago by Terry C
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Very's historical fact so don't expect a novel.
Published 10 months ago by Spiral
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A brilliant book of Reformation Church History.
Published 10 months ago by Mary Brown
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