Family life during troubled times

Jones' (2002) research shows how family folklore was re-edited, comprising an early form, one might argue, of "political correctness". It is equally illustrative of the formation of collective memories and the redrafting of moral selves, comprehensible within a changing context of social relations. A technique developed at the social and familial level to deal with changing culture, was that of revising memory and history, a process that has even been likened to an "iconoclastic holocaust" (Collinson, 2003). Rather quickly, and prompted by a loss of material evidence at hand, the language and forms of "old Catholic" were forgotten and would have soon appeared alien to the young. The printed word and practices of the new Protestant faith created new vistas and material conditions of faith. Another example was the disappearance of the general ritual of making the sign of the cross, stamped out by officials and preachers (although it survived in certain limited church ceremonies, such as baptisms, much criticised by some of the later Puritans). What had once been an automatic response to danger became associated with superstition or "old wives' tales". The past was recast, aided by new forms of literature, conduct manuals, sermons, and "common sense". At one point, the son in the dialogue example, just discussed, refers to Foxe's Acts and Monuments as an illustration of the established superiority of the Protestant, this being part of an intertextual reality in which the Bible is supplemented by other works. The foundational significance of Foxe's Book of Martyrs has been mentioned, providing, as it did, a view of events leading up to Elizabeth I's succession, seeing reformation within the context of a providential history and glorious emergence from the "declining time of the church" or the time of the "antichrist". Hence the break with Rome and the passing of the old religion became part of a grand story of the purging and rebirth of the church. No mere commentary on the events of reformation, Foxe's text became an important and widely known part of it, creating new modes and Protestant precedents (O'Day, 1986). It is part of the very story of the make-up of England.

One of Jones' examples is of the Wentworth family, whose father is fond of remembering the family's history and providences. In particular, he enjoys telling his son how he came along, given that for a long time he and his wife had "only" four daughters in eleven years. He talks of the intervention of a female apparition who assures him of his health and longevity and that he should wash himself at the well of St. Anne of Buxton. According to the prediction he did so and begot a son. There was a problem with this version, in so far as it ran counter to the Protestant rejection of miracles and the intercession of saints, which the son's grandparents might well have believed in. Somewhere along the way, therefore, with the change-over of cultures in England, the father dropped the reference to the well and St. Anne, whilst still being able to celebrate the son's conception as a source of joy and gift of God. Jones discusses other examples of mutations of memory and lore in families, and the silences, reflecting the way Protestant family chronicles managed the reality of their Catholic ancestors; had condemnation reigned, rather than a more benign process of "overlooking", entire previous generations would have been consigned to evil; therefore, more Janus-faced responses were required, with pragmatic adaptations to allow the construction of viable-enough family story-lines.

On the other hand, families that remained loyal to the "old religion" were increasingly excluded from social life and viewed with suspicion. Excluded groups, such as Catholics, also realinged their history, so that ill-treatment or isolation might be emphasised by family folklore as a sign of virtue and honourable suffering. Interestingly, the same form of argument from "noble suffering" as it were, was used by Puritans in the next century to give a particular meaning to their ill-treatment. New markers of difference came into play, so that individuals and groups who had previously been mere neighbours, might now be seen, in some contexts, as dangerous. As the ground of heresy kept shifting, these were uncertain times, and "learning to hate", as Jones puts it, as well as the avoidance of conflict, was a requirement of the times. At the same time, for others, perhaps it is also a story of toleration and the cultivation of compromises. In the example of the conference between mother and son, we see a kind, but compelling, form of dialogue, containing potential splits in family life, although one effectively facilitated by the mother's apparent conversion. Individuals growing up in these times were embedded within new networks of imagined community, religious and civil, from which they borrowed and built their identities and which carried an irreversible weight in English society.

Jones (2002) considers how Tudor families dealt with slow societal changes as they impacted upon kinship, marriage, and honour; he writes, "The reformations that did occur happened across the length of lives, slowly, as people found ways to get along in families that were increasingly complex religiously" (p. 50). It is worth noting that by the 1640s, life expectancy was thirty-two and the majority of the population young. Stone (1977) has analysed this period as one of a reduction in traditional sources of authority and kinship identification and growing "affective individualism". He charts how the household, over time, tended to replace the church as agency of moral and spiritual authority. The spiritualisation of the household—replacing the church as the most important organisation—meant a whole range of questions about how to nourish family life and provide leadership. Puritans were subsequently highly concerned with child-rearing and the discipline of home life, since it would be children who would inherit and maintain the Godly society; "Puritans were abnormally concerned about children and their upbringing because it was only by mass conversion of the younger generation that they could hope to create of perpetuate the godly society to which they aspired" (Stone, 1977, p. 125). In newer forms of patriarchy (but, significantly, which also included a revaluation of maternity and female authority), it was the responsibility of fathers to maintain domestic devotion and discipline, as children could all too easily be seen as "young limbs of Satan" (Spurr, 1998).

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