‘Tis my Lot by Faith to be Sustained’: Clerical Prosperity in Seventeenth-Century Dorset

2019-11-25T11:44:40Z (GMT) by Trixie M. Gadd
Drawing on biographical data collected on over 2,500 individuals appointed to Dorset’s 289 rectories, vicarages and curacies over the course of the seventeenth century, this study examines a range of economic, geographical, social and political factors that affected clerical prosperity during this period. A wide range of sources is analysed, including ecclesiastical administrative records, parish valuations, wills and inventories, records of oath taking and published sermons. The physical landscape is also mapped, drawing on geological and topographical data and personal fieldwork. The study reveals that Dorset’s incumbents tended to be locally ordainedand native to the county, although the richest livings were secured through university or other connections. The precise nature as well as the value of parochial income affected clerical prosperity, and detailed analysis of Dorset’s landscape reveals differences between five key regions in terms of land usage and yields and the nature of tithe produce, as well as other income-generating activities in which clergymen engaged. Some individuals augmented their income by serving more than one parochial cure, or by acting as household and army chaplains. Regional differences are identified in the likelihood of persecution and ejection during the middle decades of the century. Investigation of social relationships with family, patrons, parishioners and other clergy reveals the impact of improved education, the increasing influence of familial ties, and rising geographical mobility. Analysis of oath taking, preaching, publishing and military involvement reveals some patterns in clergymen’s propensity for activism that did not necessarily follow denominational distinctions. Boundaries between parochial and non-parochial clerical activities were fluid, and nonconformist ministers continued to associate with conformist clergy even after leaving the established Church. Overall, this study presents a broad picture of the diverse contexts in which Dorset clergymen lived and worked over the course of a turbulent century.

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