Protestant nonconformity and sectarianism in Restoration Northamptonshire
In this thesis, an exploration of Dissent in Restoration Northamptonshire, a comprehensive survey of every parish reveals this phenomenon to be present within all socio-economic groups, both urban and rural, across the county. In explaining this fact, the thesis eschews mono-causal social, economic or topographic factors in favour of others more generally applicable, such as the influence of trade and communication and the persistence of puritan traditions. An introductory survey of the physical and economic geography of the county, and a review of its puritan background, are followed by a brief historiography of Restoration Dissent. The sources, which include the returns from the 1674 Hearth Tax and the 1676 Compton Census, and methodologies used in the above survey, are then discussed. Through ecclesiastical and secular courts records, Chapter 4 examines the effect of penal statutes on Nonconformists, presentments across the period being found to vary with the exigencies of local and national politics. The mismatch between reported Nonconformity and prosecution is also investigated, as is the persistence of `obstinate' Dissenters in absenting themselves from the Established Church in favour of illegal gatherings, despite increasingly harsh penalties. Chapter 5, a prosopographical analysis of dissenting and conformist clergy, suggests that the influence of their particular puritan education, rather than considerations of age, wealth or patronage, played a significant part in the choice of those refusing conformity. For Conformists, abhorrence of separatism was a major factor in their decision. The final chapter places Northamptonshire Dissent in the wider seventeenth-century context, examining the spread of anti-tolerationist polemics during the Interregnum. The appeal, survival and growth of the Quaker movement are explored, as is the failure of post-toleration initiatives for unity amongst Nonconformists. Finally, the question whether the phenomenon of Dissent during the Restoration period should be considered a disjunction or a continuity in the puritan tradition is addressed.