The seventeenth century: Religious Life to 1642

Pages 89-90

A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.

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Religious Life to 1642

The activities of the governing body remained central to religious affairs in the town. The corporation had a direct and wide-ranging influence at the minster, managing the church's finances, caring for the fabric, and appointing the clergy. The mayor and governors also interested themselves in the affairs of St. Mary's, although their responsibilities there were much more circumscribed. Moreover, control of the grammar school and its masters enhanced the corporation's influence on religious teaching in the town. (fn. 1) The administration of church finances proved an insistent burden on the mayor, governors, and receivers. Attention was given to the collection of the minster rents and the repair of the church and schoolroom, besides the regular payment of the minster clergy and the schoolmasters; fees were occasionally paid to other preachers as well. (fn. 2) By contrast no corporation orders enjoining godly behaviour have survived beyond the occasional prohibition of drinking, trading, or conducting legal business on Sundays. (fn. 3)

The corporation perhaps attached most importance to the selection of effective preaching clergy at the minster, no light task, for there was undoubtedly competition for the living and a rapid turnover among the asssistant curates. An element of election was involved which commended itself to holders of puritan views: in 1632, for example, when there were six candidates for the curacy, James Burney won 9 of the 17 votes cast. (fn. 4) Among those appointed to the minster during the early 17th century were several men of known puritan views. Besides Burney (1632-60) they included William Crashaw (1599-1605), author of controversialist literature and father of the poet Richard Crashaw, and Richard Rhodes (1613-32), formerly chaplain to the enthusiastically puritan Hoby family at Hackness (Yorks. N.R.). Notable puritans appointed by the Crown to the vicarage of St. Mary's were William Ellis (1608-37) and Nicholas Osgodby, curate in 1632 and vicar from 1637. Both associated themselves with the well known congregation of Ezekiel Rogers at Rowley. The activities of the parochial clergy were complemented by puritan schoolmasters appointed by the corporation to the grammar school, including John Garthwaite in 1614 and John Pomroy in 1626. (fn. 5)

Two cases before the ecclesiastical courts in York throw light on the teachings of the town's clergy, on local puritan practices, and on the participation of the laity. In 1615 some 60 people gathered at the minster for psalm singing and repetition of the sermon, conducted by Garthwaite, and when Thomas Brabbes, the assistant curate, warned them that their behaviour was unlawful they refused to disperse, abusing Brabbes as a dumb dog. Some of the minster congregation were evidently adopting radical religious views, but those accused were merely admonished, and Rhodes was ordered to read the services and administer the sacraments as required by law. (fn. 6) The second case, in which Rhodes was cited to the archbishop's court in 1631 for holding illegal conventicles, was an altogether milder affair. Rhodes admitted conducting repetitions, especially for scholars from the grammar school, and to holding private catechisms. The judge agreed that those activities were not illegal but ordered Rhodes to discontinue them. (fn. 7) The involvement of the grammar school accords closely with the traditional puritan emphasis on education, further illustrated by the school run by William Ellis at St. Mary's. (fn. 8)

At the beginning of the century a thoroughgoing search for recusants by the corporation and the diocesan authorities yielded fewer than 10 names, and the number of recusants later remained small. (fn. 9) Some of the failures to attend church were, moreover, probably to be explained by mere carelessness. The only other evidence of popish activity were shadowy allegations about a mysterious trunk containing clothes and plate, first made in 1617 and repeated in 1631, when Thomas Lacy, a member of a local Catholic family, was examined by the Council in the North. (fn. 10) Although the more prominent local recusants included Allan, Joceline, and Thomas Percy, together with some of the Warton family, Beverley was not a centre of recusancy. (fn. 11)

In other respects church life seems to have been undisturbed by the kinds of dispute found elsewhere. In 1629 an argument about responsibility for the provision of bread and wine for communion was eventually referred to the archbishop, but that controversy was an old one and seems to have been financial rather than doctrinal. (fn. 12) Otherwise, fragmentary evidence suggests that 'beautification', the allocation of pews, and the provision of altar rails were peacefully accomplished in Beverley, (fn. 13) and there was nothing in the restrained puritanism of the town and its preaching ministers to attract the hostile attention of Archbishop Neile and the Laudian officials of his courts.


  • 1. Below, Churches; Education.
  • 2. H.R.O., BC/II/6/44-55; BC/II/7/4/1, ff. 14v., 16, 25, 30v., 52-3, 66.
  • 3. Ibid. BC/II/7/4/1, ff. 31, 53v.
  • 4. Ibid. f. 55.
  • 5. Ibid. ff. 6, 24 and v., 55 and v.; Lawrance, 'Clergy List', Harthill, 1 (i), p. 23; J. A. Newton, 'Puritanism in Dioc. York' (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1956), 59, 124, 152-5, 299, 387; R. A. Marchant, Puritans and Ch. Cts. in Dioc. York, 1560-1642, 37-8, 241-2, 244-5, 248, 267, 269, 271-2; below, Education.
  • 6. B.I.H.R., V. 1615/CB., ff. 199, 212-13; Newton, op. cit. 124, 299, 387; Marchant, Puritans and Ch. Cts. 37-8, 271-2.
  • 7. Marchant, Puritans and Ch. Cts. 271-2.
  • 8. Below, Education.
  • 9. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, f. 12; A. G. Dickens, Reformation Studies, 191, 197.
  • 10. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1631-3, 143.
  • 11. H. Aveling, Post Reformation Catholicism in E. Yorks. 1558-1790 (E. Yorks. Loc. Hist. Ser. xi), 39, 41, 63; D.N.B. s.v. Percy, Thos.; Cal. Cttee. for Compounding, iv, p. 3086.
  • 12. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/i, ff. 23, 54v., 69.
  • 13. R. A. Marchant, Ch. under Law, 77 n.; idem, Puritans and Ch. Cts. 56.