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Continuing civil war by other means: royalist mockery of the interregnum church

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Historians have often commented on the apparent weakness of organised royalist opposition to the English republic. Crushed by military force, royalists seemed disheartened and depressed at the new religious and political realities they now faced. What remained to console them and act as a bulwark of royalist identity were their extensive social networks, and their sense of humour. The latter proved to have surprising subversive power, belying the lack of overt royalist resistance. Well-established anti-puritan tropes already prevalent in both oral and literate culture mutated into a savage strain of black ironic humour attacking particular ‘new lights’ implementing radical alterations to local religious practice. Loyalist memories of this period, from the John Walker archive in the Bodleian Library, record a rich seam of mockery against the strange doctrines and odd behaviour of the ‘curse-ye-Meroz’ presbyterians and self-serving independents who displaced loyalist clergy in many parish churches during the 1640s and 1650s, as well as the parliamentary sequestrators and committee men who supported them. None of this voluminous catalogue of material was ever published within the 1714 book for which they had been collected. For to do so, its author John Walker had been advised, was the ‘devil’s office’, ill befitting a ‘good Christian or a Divine’. But as this chapter demonstrates, loyalist religious satire, frequently cruel, surprising-often sexual considering its clerical authorship, served many practical purposes, acting as a psychological safety valve for loyalists in opposition, and even facilitating local actions against ‘intruders’ in livings. Looking back in the early 1700s, it became a means to document the excesses of the times and, via ridicule, circumvent any possibility of a nonconformist resurgence. Royalist religious satire is shown here to be the product of a vibrant mid-seventeenth century oppositional subculture, underpinning and linking with the better-known literary examples of the genre, and over the longer term, a surprisingly effective political tool.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe power of laughter and satire in early modern Britain c.1520-1820
Subtitle of host publicationcontestation and construction
EditorsMark Knights, Adam Morton
PublisherBoydell and Brewer Ltd
ISBN (Print)9781783272037
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2017

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