The evolution of Puritan mentality in an Essex cloth town : Dedham and the Stour Valley, 1560-1640
The subject of this thesis is the impact of religious reformation on the inhabitants of a small urban centre, with some reference to the experience of nearby settlements. Dedham has a place in national history as a centre of the Elizabethan Puritan Movement but the records of the Dedham Conference (the local manifestation of that movement), also illustrate the development of Reformed religion in Dedham and associated parishes. The contents of the thesis may be divided into four sections. The first of these concerns the material life of the inhabitants of Dedham and the way in which this generated both the potential for social cohesion and the possibility of social conflict. The second section examines the attempt at parish reformation sponsored by the ministers associated with the Dedham Conference and the militant and exclusive doctrine of the Christian life elaborated by the succeeding generation of preachers. The third element of the thesis focuses on the way in which the inhabitants articulated the expression of a Reformed or Puritan piety and, on occasion, the rejection of features of that piety. The ways in which the townspeople promoted the education of their children, the relief of the poor and the acknowledgement of ties of kinship and friendship, have been examined in terms of their relationship to a collective mentality characterized by a strong commitment to 'godly' religion. The fourth and final section seeks to examine how a group, characterized by the particular mindset discussed earlier, responded to the political crisis and increasing polarization of opinion which culminated in the outbreak of the English Civil War. The Conclusion attempts to integrate the topics examined in these sections and to show how, despite the rigour and exclusiveness which characterized the rhetoric of the preachers, Puritanism in Dedham tended to foster social cohesion rather than social division.