The spatial ordering of community in English church seating, c.1550-1700
The evidence for this thesis includes several hundred pew disputes heard before the church courts in the period c.1550-1700. The jurisdictions examined here include the dioceses of York, of Chester, of Coventry and Lichfield, and of London. These have been supplemented by churchwardens' accounts, parish registers and vestry minutes. These sources also often contained pew lists and plans that are analysed alongside rate assessments and other taxation records. This thesis investigates the relationship between church seating arrangements and the social hierarchy of local communities in sixteenth and seventeenth century England. It firstly, therefore, explores both legal and official views regarding church seating and status. Secondly, it examines the nature and chronology of conflict over pews, and the social profile of disputants. Thirdly, it explores popular perceptions of the social order through the analysis of the depositional evidence generated by pew disputes. Fourthly, the chronology of pew litigation is explored in the light of ecclesiastical policy and the reaction to these policies in the localities, particularly during the 1630s. Fifthly, the thesis considers the possibility that dispute was a function of the function implication of changing methods of pew allocation. Finally, through the consideration of the meaning of conflict over church seating as it erupted in the context of three parishes over a number of years, the role each of these themes played in helping to construct the local social order is analysed. The analysis of the records of pew disputes and of the politics of space in church here enables us to perceive more clearly how contemporaries attempted to negotiate their social roles across a complex web of intersecting and overlapping hierarchies and thereby become agents in the recreation of the local social order. Moreover, depositional evidence in particular suggests that status itself was a compound phenomenon that incorporated a number of factors including wealth, age, gender, reputation and officeholding.