Clergy of Winchester, England, 1615-1698: A Diocesan Ministry in Crisis

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This book attempts to assess the ministry of the Church in Winchester – a premier diocese – in the seventh century – a time of outstanding upheaval – as it underwent the awesome challenges of Archbishop Laud’s Arminianism, abolition during the wars and emergence after the Restorations into an age of Toleration.

The focus is the parish. While the hierarchy was immersed in national policy, the parish clergy were the front line – the interface – between Church and people. They performed the essential rites of passage in the communities, from baptisms to communion – and with the churchwardens, oversaw the fabric of their church, its fittings and charity. Five critical points – 1615, 1637, 1663, 1675, and 1697 – form the basis of this study. Early chapters examine such characteristics as ‘class,’ education, and income of the clergy; later chapters, likewise, parochial activity over the century.

It is the contention of this survey that the mid-century upheavals smashed traditional loyalties but that the parish clergy and their overlords, when restored, reverted to type and failed to heed the lessons of the 1640s/50s. Problems from outmoded parochial boundaries to pluralism and working into old age remained unaddressed, depriving the church of the vigorous ministry needed in the changed circumstances of post-restoration Britain.


It is by combining information from a range of sources from parish sources that Dr. Thomson has been able to present a rounded picture of the clergy of the diocese. Dr. Thomson has risen to the challenge, combining a careful statistical approach which ensures that every piece of evidences give due weight with references to specific episodes and individuals, which make the book both more readable and a more vivid portrait of the clergy who baptized, married, buried, taught, and counseled the parishes of Hampshire, the Isle of Wright and surrey amidst religious, political, and intellectual turmoil of the 17th century. – David Rymill Archivist, Hampshire Record Office.

There are four compelling reasons why this books merits publication. The first is the current topicality of English ecclesiastical history and in particular the history of the Church of England’s clergy which Thomson presents. Second the diocese of Winchester was one of the richest and strategically important principalities in of the seventeenth-century Church of England. Third is the attention Dr. Thompson pays to the turbulent seventeenth century which saw the unprecedented religious and political upheaval of civil war followed by the bitter aftermath of suppressed nonconformity in Restoration England. Fourth, and finally, Dr. Thomson’s book is a labor of love. – Prof. Henry Roseveare, B.A. Ph.D. (Cantab.) FRHistS.

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