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In this text a Reformation historian takes us inside the mind and heart of Morebath, a remote and tiny sheep-farming village where 33 families worked the difficult land on the southern edge of Exmoor. The bulk of Morebath's conventional archives have long since vanished. But from 1520 to 1574, through nearly all the drama of the English Reformation, Morebath's only priest, Sir Christopher Trychay, kept the parish accounts on behalf of the churchwardens. Opinionated, eccentric and talkative, Sir Christopher filled these vivid scripts for parish meetings with the names and doings of his parishioners. Through his eyes we catch a rare glimpse of the life and pre-reformation piety of a 16th-century English village. The work also offers a window into a rural world in crisis as the Reformation progressed. Sir Christopher Trychay's accounts provide direct evidence of the motives which drove hitherto law-abiding West-Country communities to participate in the doomed Prayer-Book Rebellion of 1549 - culminating in the siege of Exeter which ended in bloody defeat and a wave of executions.
Its church bells confiscated and silenced, Morebath shared in the punishment imposed on all the towns and villages of Devon and Cornwall. Sir Christopher documents the changes in the community: reluctantly Protestant, no longer focused on the religious life of the parish church, and increasingly preoccupied with the secular demands of the Elizabethan state, the equipping of armies, and the payment of taxes. Morebath's priest, garrulous to the end of his days, describes a rural world irrevocably altered, and enables us to hear the voices of his villagers after 400 years of silence.
Eamon Duffy is Reader in Church History in the University of Cambridge, and President of Magdalene College. His previous books include The Stripping of the Altars, Traditional Religion in England c 1400-c 1570 (0 300 06076 9, [pound]13.95* pb.), and Saints and Sinners, a History of the Popes (0 300 07799 8, [pound]14.95* pb.), both published by Yale University Press.