Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The Readmission into the Church of England by Apostates in 17th Century England

I have written before about finding notes in old BMD parish registers that referenced activities in the parish as wells as various historical events.

I found the following note, apparently glued into the pages of the burial register for Plympton St. Mary parish in Devon, England. It was at the end of a section that listed burials in 1683. On the preceding page were some other parish notes dated 1632 and 1662. On the following page, which is the last page of the register book, were some notes dated 1680 and 1681.

At the bottom of the insert is a reference to the information having been copied by E. G. Hunt on what looks like July 5th, 1869. Edward George Hunt was the Vicar of Plympton St. Mary from 1865 to 1872 so the 1869 date makes sense. Why he did so then and in that register book, we may never know. One may surmise he was studying one of the most accomplished leaders of the Church of England and thought that particular register book which spanned the years 1603 to 1683 was the most appropriate place to include it.

A transcription of the insert is as follows:

In A.D. 1637 Arch. Bp. Land, in presenting to the King
the annual returns from the Bps. of his Province, reports
under “Exeter”. “This year, by reason of the return of divers
that were captured in Marocco, and having been in-
habitants of those western parts, there arise in my Lord
the bishop a doubt, how they, having renounced their
Saviour, and become Turks, might be readmitted
into the Church of Christ, and under what penitential
form. His Lordship at his last being in London spoke
with me about it, and we agreed on a form which
was afterward drawn up, and approved by the right
reverend father in God my Lord the bishops of London,
Elg. And Norwich, and is now settled by your Majesty’s
appointment; and I shall take care to see it regis-
tered here, and have given charge to my Lord of Exon
to see it registered below, to remain as a precedent
for future times, if there should be any more and
examples of apostasy from the faith.”
Laud’s Works. V. 352

The Bp. Of Exeter at this time was the famous
Dr. Joseph Hall.

Copied July 5th 1869
by E. G. Hunt

It is a curious entry and I wondered what it all meant. I knew that, between the 16th and 19th centuries, a white slave market had flourished with tens of thousands of men, women and children taken in raids along the European coast from Spain to England – from villages and ships at sea. While captive many people converted to the Muslim religion – or “Turk” as it was called – probably to save their lives.

Thousands died in captivity as a result of overwork, malnutrition, disease or murder. Over the decades, though, many were able to escape or were ransomed, and returned to their home countries. Among many references about the subject is a good summary on the History webpages, called British Slaves on the Barbary Coast.

The return of the former captives posed a problem for the Established Church. The ones who had converted to Muslim were considered apostates and could no longer attend services or receive help from their local parishes.

One man who recognized the situation and who also realized that the majority of former slaves had been forced to convert was Joseph Hall (1574-1656), who served as the Bishop of Exeter between 1627 and 1641. Hall was an outspoken theologian, often controversial, and a prodigious writer. Much of his writing was compiled later and published, in twelve volumes, as The Works of Joseph Hall, D. D. All of the volumes, along with many more books and essays by him can be read online. He had many run-ins with authorities but also had many accomplishments within the Church of England.

Dr. Hall had been troubled by former slaves who returned home as apostates and undertook to find ways to reunite them with their former church and congregation and to become, once more, productive members of their communities.

The note found in the parish register references a form which was drawn by Dr. Hall, under the authority of Archbishop William Laud (1573-1645). The finished document, published in 1635, can be found in Volume XII of The Works of Joseph Hall, D. D. (pages 346-350) and is titled, A Form of Penance and Reconcilitation of a Renegado, or Apostate from the Christian Church to Turcism.
First part of 1635 Church of England form dealing with the Penance and Reconciliation of an Apostate
The rules for readmission into the Church were laid out in detail in this form. The penitent was required to meet with clergy in his area for a number counselling sessions. If his situation warranted, he would be allowed to offer penance over several weeks, described firstly as:

The next Sunday following, let the offender be appointed to stand all the time of divine service and sermon in the forenoon, in the porch of the Church, if it have any; if none, yet without the Church door, if extremity of weather hinder not; in a penitent fashion, in a white sheet, and with a white wand in his hand, his head uncovered, his countenance dejected, not taking particular notice of any one person that passeth by him; and when the people come in and go out of
the Church, let him upon his knees humbly crave their prayers, and acknowledge his offence in this form; “ Good Christians, remember in your prayers a poor wretched Apostate, or Renegado.

After numerous occasions of standing in penance, he would be questioned again if he had “. . . found a true and earnest remorse in his soul for his sin. . .” and, following substantial prayers and public entreaties, a Minister would finally take away his white sheet and absolve the individual by saying,

Dear Brother, (for so we all now acknowledge you to be,) let me here advise you, with what care and diligence, every day of your life, you ought to consider how much you are bound to the infinite goodness of God, who bath called you out of that woeful condition, whereunto you had cast yourself; and how much it concerneth you ever hereafter to walk worthy of so great a mercy; being so much yourself in all holy obedience to God, by how much you have more dishonoured and provoked him by this your shameful revolt from him: which the same God, the Father of mercies, vouchsafe to enable you unto, for the sake of the dear Son of his love, Jesus Christ the righteous. Amen.

And I learned all this after finding a strange note pasted into a parish register by the local vicar in 1869. These kinds of notes will rarely be digitized and almost never found in an online database of births, marriages and deaths. One has to troll the pages themselves. In doing so, it might be possible to find all manner of references to the history of the times.

The image reproduced here is used with the kind permission of the rightsholder, Plymouth and West Devon Record Office, Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.