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Religion in Georgian Britain. Does it matter? Protestantism was a key to national identity [Colley] Religious identity could unify different British nations.

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Presentation on theme: "Religion in Georgian Britain. Does it matter? Protestantism was a key to national identity [Colley] Religious identity could unify different British nations."— Presentation transcript:

1 Religion in Georgian Britain

2 Does it matter? Protestantism was a key to national identity [Colley] Religious identity could unify different British nations Religion infused many important movements, habits and attitudes: political parties, Jacobitism, Ireland, slavery, women, luxury and commerce, empire, the Enlightenment, the press, class, riots The question was also asked in the C18th – in the face of new ideas (deism, atheism) and perceptions of growing irreligion and indifference Relations between church and state are back on the political agenda – how far should we tolerate non- majority beliefs? how far should one branch of Christianity be protected by law? how far should religion dictate education? How far should clerics be involved in politics? How far should morality be a public concern?

3 The Church of England: vibrant or not? J.C.D. Clark: GB was an ‘ancien regime’ in which religion and law were the basis of the state, intertwined props of each other until the repeal of the Test and Corporation Act in Clark sees the endurance of a confessional type of politics, and a continuing loyalty to the Church of England. There was a long-lasting popular Anglicanism: ‘church and king’. The turning point in politics of religion in GB is thus early C19th

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5 The Whig view of religion in Georgian Britain The Glorious Revolution of 1688 ushered in a period of religious toleration, after which people accepted religious differences and ceased to think of politics in religious terms, instead stressing the separation of church and state, and the preservation of liberty by civil institutions. C18th was an age of reason, in which religious conflict was subsumed by more secular politics. The turning point is thus 1689

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7 Challenges facing the Church of England Inequality – 1812 inquiry found that over 1000 parishes (out of c.10,000) had no resident minister; 1833 report found 47% of clergy had incomes of less than £200 pa. Urbanisation and rising populations: Manchester had one parish church for 20,000 in Parish structure not responsive to social change. Splits within the church: low-church vs high- church; non-jurors; evangelicalism [waves in 1740s and 1780s]. From Catholicism and Dissenting Protestant denominations

8 Anti-popery Long tradition – part of the self-understanding of Protestants since Luther in 1520s Rationale for the Glorious Revolution: get rid of J2 to overcome ‘popery and arbitrary government’. RCs excluded from toleration. Association with Jacobitism—foreign threat. Penal measures introduced after plots. Catholic priests banned and 1717 compulsory registration of property; barred from practising as barristers; excluded from office by Test acts of 1673 and Protestant monarch part of the Revolution settlement (and hence why the Georgians even came to the throne)

9 Anti-popery as part of British national identity. Hogarth’s The Gates of Calais

10 Anti-popery resurgent? Problem of what to do with Catholics in Quebec – 1774 (Quebec Act) given toleration. Association with Irish Catholicism. Irish immigration consolidated trend of increasing Catholic numbers c.1770: 750,000 by 1850 (60,000 in 1720) 1778 act to relieve Catholics: to repeal act vs priests and to allow Catholics to buy and sell property Protestant Association headed by Lord Geoge Gordon. Large crowds and petitioning— popular anti-popery.

11 Lord George Gordon

12 Gordon Riots 2 June ,000 gathered in London to present petition. Mob decided to destroy Catholic property. Some rioters imprisoned in Newgate so it was attacked. 7 June other prisons were attacked and Bank of England. 210 killed; 75 died in hospital. 450 arrests.

13 The Attack on Newgate 1780

14 No Popery or Newgate Reformer, 1780

15 The road to Catholic Emancipation 1791 act gave legal existence to Catholic places of worship allowed to vote. Pressure for Catholic emancipation but highly divisive issue for Church of England in 1820s repeal of Test and Corporation Acts Daniel O’Connell won election in County Clare but as a Catholic was barred from taking his seat passage of the act split the Tory party. Extreme hostility of the king. Gave right to sit in parliament and hold office. Crisis for the Church: seen as the destruction of old political-religious order in place since the Restoration

16 ‘Old’ Dissent Protestant denominations that originated in the C17th: Presbyterians, Independents (Congregationalists), Quakers, Baptists. Evans list, compiled between 1715 and 1718 gives a total of almost 356,000 (7% of population); shows urban strength of dissent Toleration Act gave freedom of worship for Dissenters in licensed meeting houses (if doors left unlocked!). Anti-trinitarians excluded (and atheists)

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18 Lingering Hostility to Dissent after Toleration Occasional conformity bills , act 1711 – anyone who attended a conventicle after taking office was to be fined £40. Repealed height of anti-Dissenting feeling, because of trial of Dr Henry Sacheverell who had preached vs them. Riots in London, destroying 6 meeting houses Schism act (repealed 1719) – no one to teach without license from bishop and conformist

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20 Unitarians and radical politics Unitarians – evolved from Presbyterians, anti-trinitarian, believed in the primacy of reason, natural rights and therefore often associated with radical politics and reform. Joseph Priestley, 1791 riots vs his house in Birmingham.

21 Joseph Priestley calling for the head of George III. His House was destroyed by a mob.

22 Meeting of Dissenters Religious and Political 1790

23 Radical Religion Deism Atheism Cult of reason. John Toland, Christianity not Mysterious (1696); Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason (1794) Not terribly influential but perceived to be threat to orthodox (correct) religion

24 ‘New Dissent’ 1740s revitalisation of non-conforming Protestantism. Independents and Baptists doubled in number Methodism: 1738 John Wesley had conversion experience. George Whitfield had similar conversion experience and began popular preaching style ,000 flocked to hear Wesley preach on Kennington Common. Charles Wesley’s hymns—singing draw people into religious experience. In 50 years of evangelism Wesley travelled 250,000m and preached 40,000 sermons. Methodism was not initially a movement outside the established Church

25 John Wesley (death mask 1791)

26 Growth of Methodism

27 Movements for Moral Reform: the civic consequences of faith? Social ills: Urbanisation, crime, gin, immorality, prostitution Moral reform movements attempt to address social problems –1689-c.1720 (75,000 prosecutions; Society for Promoting of Christian Knowledge 1699; Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Overseas 1702) –and 1780s (wake of defeat in America; Sunday School Society 1785; 1787 proclamation against vice and Proclamation Society –1802 Society for the Suppression of Vice

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29 The end of Christian Britain? The1851 census Church of England could only claim to be a national church in some areas – in north and Wales chapel-goers were in the majority. But also a society that no longer overwhelmingly attended public worship But, does non-attendance equal secularisation?

30 1851 Census


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