The Third Commandment: What’s in a Name?

Jonathan Willis

(For the first, introductory post in the series, click here)

The Third Commandment of the Reformed Decalogue was ‘Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain’.  It would therefore be easy to assume that the primary purpose of the commandment was to forbid blasphemy – employing God’s name in the uttering of profane curses or the swearing of false or deceitful oaths.  In fact, the third commandment was much more sweeping in its scope than this.  The Pembroke College graduate and Suffolk minister Robert Allen explained that the scope of the commandment was nothing less than ‘to shew what ought to be the ordinarie course of the of the whole life and conversation of the true worshipper of God, both in word and deed’.  Secondly, it was

To declare what is the chiefe end of life, and of all the thoughts, words, & works thereof; not only in the duties of God’s worship, both inward & outward, according to the first and second Commandment: but also in every other duty according to all the Commandments of the whole Law of God.[1]

The third commandment was therefore pretty totalising: it did not just apply to oaths and curses, but directed the whole ordinary life of the believer outside of the context of religious worship. Continue reading

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The Second Commandment: The Protestant War on Will-Worship

Jonathan Willis

(For the first, introductory post in the series, click here)

Of all of the Ten Commandments, it is probably the second which has received the most attention from historians.  The Protestant renumbering of the commandments took the prohibition ‘Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image … thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, or worship them’ out of the Catholic First Commandment, and made it into a separate precept.  This gave a lot more emphasis to Protestant hostility to the making and worshipping of idolatrous images, but it did not create it: it merely gave it added prominence and urgency.

JacketIt is one of the arguments of the book, and of this blog post, that historians have done two contradictory things: they have given too much importance to the Second Commandment, and they have also viewed it too narrowly.  They have emphasised it to the extent that they have ignored some of the (frankly) more significant changes taking place at the other end of the Decalogue (for which see the last post in the series, on the Tenth Commandment).  And they have also failed to recognise that the Second Commandment was but one element of a much grander description of how to worship God (and how not to worship him), which encompassed the whole of the first table. Continue reading

The First Commandment: Faith and Atheism in Early Modern England

Jonathan Willis

(For the first, introductory post in the series, click here)

The First Commandment in the renumbered Protestant Decalogue was deceptively simple:

I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

adam_s_creation_sistine_chapel_ceiling__by_michelangelo_jbu33cut-0What this commandment required, however, was nothing short of true faith.  The first component of faith was knowledge.  The future bishop of Llandaff, Exeter and Worcester, Gervase Babington, wrote in his very Fruitful Exposition of the Commaundements in 1583 that the knowledge of God was declared by the magnificence of his creation (the heavens and earth, and all the creatures therein); by his word (in the form of the scriptures); by the holy spirit which brought the knowledge of salvation; and by the conscience of man, which comforted him when he acted in a way of which God approved, and accused him and made him afraid when he committed evil deeds. Continue reading

Reforming the Decalogue: A Blog Series Preface

Jonathan Willis

JacketRegular readers of this blog may or may not be aware that I’ve spent the last seven years or so researching and writing a book on the Ten Commandments and the English Reformation, initially with the help of a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship, and latterly as a lecturer and then senior lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Birmingham.  The fruits of these labours are due to be published in mid-October (2017) by Cambridge University Press, as part of their Cambridge Studies in Early Modern History series, under the title The Reformation of the Decalogue: Religious Identity and the Ten Commandments in England, c.1485-1625.  What better way to mark this new arrival into the world of published work, than with a series of blog posts, exploring some of the more interesting and/or unexpected aspects of the Ten Commandments as they came to prominence over the course of the English reformation…

Before I start a series of posts which will focus on each commandment in turn, however, I want to do two things in this preface.  Firstly, I want to ask why are the commandments worthy of attention, and secondly, I want to give a bit of essential context for understanding the Protestant Decalogue. Continue reading

the many-headed monsters’ resources for teaching

Laura Sangha

**shiver** The nights are drawing in. There is a cold wind blowing from the east. Berries weigh down the hedgerows. Fungus sprouts on your lawn overnight. The traffic in your inbox has increased tenfold in the last week. That’s right. Term is coming!

September finds many of us emerging from the archive into the daylight and turning our sore eyes to teaching once again. As I write, another module handbook will be finished off, another final item will be added to a module bibliography. So to help ease us all through this difficult time, I have put together a list of some of the many-headed monster posts that go particularly well with teaching. I hope they bring you comfort in the wars weeks to come.

Continue reading

‘Clothes to go handsome in’: what did the seventeenth-century rural poor think about the clothes that they wore?

This guest post comes from Danae Tankard, a Senior Lecturer in Social and Cultural History at the University of Chichester. It follows on from Mark’s recent post on ‘Material Culture from Below’ and further demonstrates the potential of court depositions for examining the material culture of the lower orders in early modern England – here, their clothing. It provides an introduction to Danae’s broader body of work on the clothing of the rural poor in seventeenth-century England. You can follow Danae @morley1640.

Danae Tankard

Yet with that and such like words I made shift to buy me some clothes, and then I went to church on Sunday, which I never could do before for want of clothes to go handsome in.  My father being poor and in debt could not provide us with clothes fitting to go to church in (so we could not go to church) unless we would go in rags, which was not seemly.[1]

This passage is taken from the autobiographical writings of Edward Barlow, the son of an impoverished husbandman, born in Prestwich in Lancashire in 1642.  Written retrospectively when Barlow was a thirty-one year old seaman and had learned to read

Barlow leaving home

Barlow leaving home: in ‘rags’?

and write, it describes the period leading up to his first departure from home aged twelve or thirteen.  Since his father could not afford to indenture him as an apprentice, Barlow worked for his neighbours, harvesting and haymaking and carting coal from the local coal pits, for which he received ‘but small wages’ of about two or three pence a day.[2]  By making ‘shift’ he was able to buy himself some clothes to ‘go handsome in’ to replace the ‘rags’ that he had worn before.  The significance of these new clothes in Barlow’s account is that they allow him to attend church, something he could not do before ‘unless [he] would go in rags, which was not seemly’.  His description of his clothing as ‘rags’ may be an exaggeration but it enables Barlow to express his sense of shame at having nothing decent to wear to church.  However, Barlow does not want just any clothes: he wants clothes ‘to go handsome in’.  In other words, he wants to look good. Continue reading

Impressions of imprisonment in early modern England

Brodie Waddell

Cage for vagrant beggars (Seller, Punishments, 1678)Our knowledge of both literal and figurative imprisonment in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is growing rapidly thanks to the on-going work of some outstanding historians and literary scholars. On Friday, a group of them assembled at Birkbeck for a ‘mini-symposium’ on the topic of ‘Writing Prisons: Literature and Constraint in Early Modern England’, where they considered ‘forms of physical, political, and aesthetic unfreedom’ at that time.

The event was organised by Molly Murray, who is currently completing a book on the literature of the prison, and also included short papers from Ruth Ahnert on the correspondence networks of Marian Protestant prisoners; Andrea Brady on the trope of constraint in poetry; Richard Bell on the use of written records by London prisoners and their jailors; and Robert Stagg on how rhyme was conceptualised as aesthetic ‘bondage’ or ‘liberty’. Pleasingly, the audience included scholars such as Vanessa Harding, Susan Wiseman, Molly Corlett and John Levin, ensuring that the discussion that followed was wonderfully wide ranging.

Although I’ll make no attempt to summarise the whole event, it did set my mind whirring and left me with a few particularly strong impressions … Continue reading