British Museum blog

The Protestant state under Elizabeth I

Shakespeare’s Restless World is currently being broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Today’s episode Communion and Conscience: The Stratford Chalice explores religion in Elizabethan England.

A communion cup from Holy Trinity Church, Stratford, which features in today's episode.
© Inspired Images


Eamon Duffy, University of Cambridge

Everybody in 16th-century England took religion for granted as a fundamental part of life. In the Protestant state under Elizabeth I, attendance at church and the reception of communion were increasingly enforced. It became, in a way, a test of citizenship.

Catholics would have been required to receive the Protestant communion at least once a year, and Catholics who stayed away from services would have been fined.

For everybody, these were changes that affected fundamental views of the meaning of life and of the afterlife. The Mass was no longer in Latin, but in English. We tend to see this as a move towards intelligibility. Some people were thrilled by it, the arrival of the English Bible. For many, it was a revelation and an empowerment.

But for others, it was tiresome gobbledegook. When the English communion service was first introduced in 1549, most of the people in the west of England were outraged. They felt this was some bizarre game that was being imposed on them and rebelled against it, which led to a horrendous siege at Exeter. The rebels denounced the new service as a sort of Christmas game and demanded the return of the Latin Mass.

So it took people time to accustom themselves to these changes, and the date on this communion cup – 1571 – is one indicator of the time it takes simply to change material culture. When we look at this cup, we are looking at a whole culture in movement, adjusting itself. By 1571 it’s becoming clear to everybody that there is not going to be a return to Catholicism in the near future.

In the late 1560s, even before the sterner [religious] enforcement began, communities all over England are beginning to say, oh well stuff this for a game of soldiers, we better do it. Here in Cambridge in the late 1560s, the church wardens of the main town churches begin to sell off the Catholic vestments, they were beginning to equip themselves properly for Protestantism.

This doesn’t mean to say that Catholicism disappeared. Catholic beliefs remained current in one form or another, especially around things like funerals, for a very long time. When Shakespeare was young, there would still have been old people saying the rosary, crossing themselves when there was thunder, using holy water.

Shakespeare couldn’t have avoided knowing about Catholicism, it’s probable that every family in England had Catholic relatives. Shakespeare himself had a second cousin, Robert Saville, who became a Jesuit priest. Saville was executed at Tyburn and is a Catholic saint.

What is certain is that every literate person in England in the 1590s and early 1600s had some acquaintance with Catholicism, even if it was so that they knew the enemy.

Shakespeare’s Restless World is on BBC Radio 4
from 16 April to 11 May, at 13.45 and 19.45 weekdays.

Listen to today’s programme Communion and Conscience:
The Stratford Chalice

Filed under: Shakespeare's Restless World, What's on, ,

One Response - Comments are closed.

  1. Emma says:

    Thanks for a fantastic summary.

    Like

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Greece lightning: this exquisite bronze depicts Zeus, chief of the Greek gods #FridayFigure

In ancient Greece, powerful, shape-shifting gods provided compelling subjects for artists. The famous sculptor Phidias created a gold and ivory statue of Zeus, ruler of the gods, that was over 13 metres high for his temple at Olympia. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it symbolised the awesome presence of the god at his sanctuary site. There was also drama to be found in the gods’ ability to change their form as a means of disguise. Zeus, ruler of the Olympian gods, could take animal form – he seduced Leda as a swan, carried away Europa as a bull and Ganymede as an eagle.

This bronze statuette splendidly represents the majesty of Zeus, ruler of the gods on Mount Olympus and lord of the sky. Zeus holds a sceptre and a thunderbolt, showing his control over gods and mortals, and his destructive power. Although just over 20cm high, this exquisite work appears to be a copy of a much grander statue that does not survive.

You can see this figure in our exhibition #DefiningBeauty, until 5 July 2015.
Bronze statuette of Zeus. Roman period, 1st–2nd century AD, said to be from Hungary.
#art #museum #exhibition #ancientGreece #Zeus #gods This beautiful watercolour of Tintern Abbey is by J M W Turner, thought to have been born #onthisday in 1755.

Even before he had entered the Royal Academy schools at the age of 14, Turner had worked as an architectural draughtsman. This training is evident in his fascination with the details of the famous ruins of this twelfth-century Cistercian Abbey in Monmouthshire, which he visited in 1792, and again in 1793. Tourists of the time were as much impressed by the way that nature had reclaimed the monument as by the scale and grandeur of the buildings. Turner's blue-green washes over the abbey's far wall blend stone and leaf together, and on the near arch the spiralling creepers seem to make the wind and light tangible. 
#art #artist #Turner #history #watercolour ‪#IndigenousAustralia is now open. Discover a remarkable 60,000 years of continuous culture in our new special exhibition.
This show is the first major exhibition in the UK to present a history of Indigenous Australia through objects, celebrating the cultural strength and resilience of both Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders. See spectacular objects like Torres Strait Islander masks alongside significant paintings.
Organised with the National Museum of Australia, ‪the exhibition also includes important international loans.
#history #Australia #museum #BritishMuseum Happy #StGeorgesDay! Here he is killing the dragon and rescuing Lady Una on a medieval pilgrim badge
#history #StGeorge #dragon #IndigenousAustralia opens tomorrow. Here’s a sneak peek in the exhibition… 
#art #Australia #exhibition #BritishMuseum 
Objects pictured include: 
Roy Underwood, Lennard Walker, Simon Hogan and Ian Rictor, 'Pukara'. Acrylic on canvas, 2013. © the artists, courtesy Spinifex Arts Project. 
Charlie Allungoy (Numbulmoore) (c. 1907–1971), Ngarinyin Mowanjum. Pigment on composition board, 1970. Kimberley region, Western Australia. National Museum of Australia. 
Mask of turtle shell. Mer, Torres Strait, before 1855. 
Selection of shields:
Mulgrave River region, near Cairns, Queensland, c. 1900.
Adelaide Plains region, South Australia, before 1848.
South-east Australia, mid-19th century.
South-east Australia, before 1950. Legend has it that #onthisday in 753 BC Romulus founded Rome. Here's the myth on this coin
#history #coin #Rome #Romulus
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