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Title: Melancholy and the doctrine of reprobation in English puritan culture, 1550-1640
Author: Hunter, Elizabeth Katherine
ISNI:       0000 0004 2022 7835
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2012
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The thesis examines the relationship between reprobation fears and melancholic illness in puritan culture over a period of approximately ninety years. Reprobation formed part of the Calvinist doctrine of double predestination, by which God had chosen a few for salvation (the elect), and many for destruction (the reprobate). When a person came to believe that they were reprobate, this could give rise to symptoms of fear and despair similar to those associated with melancholy (an imbalance of black bile believed to affect the brain). The thesis shows how puritans used explanations based on melancholy in order to explain how otherwise godly people came to doubt their election. The first chapter shows how the Calvinist physician, Timothy Bright, incorporated ideas from medieval scholastic and medical texts into his Treatise of melancholie (1586), in order to explain how physiological causes could be at the root of reprobation fears. The second and third chapters examine the religious context in which Bright was writing. The second chapter shows puritan ambivalence about pronouncing a person to be reprobate through an examination of responses to the death of the apostate, Francesco Spiera. The third chapter shows how the Elizabethan puritan clergy developed a form of consolation for those suffering from despair of salvation based on the medieval idea that melancholy was the ‘devil’s bath’. The fourth and fifth chapters show the importance of physiological explanations for despair in defending the reputations of the dying. When a godly person despaired on their death-bed, or committed suicide, this was blamed on a combination of forces external to themselves – melancholy and the devil. The final chapter shows how Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy adapted puritan ideas about despair, to be more acceptable in the context of growing resistance to the preaching of double predestination in the 1620s and 30s.
Supervisor: Pelling, Margaret; Mortimer, Sarah Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: History ; Early Modern Britain and Europe ; History of medicine ; puritan ; melancholy ; predestination ; suicide ; sickness