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Reviewed by:
  • Ecclesiastical London
  • Peter Davison (bio)
Ecclesiastical London. Ed. by Mary C. Erler. (Records of Early English Drama.) London: The British Library; Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2008. cxxv + 483 pp. £180. ISBN 978 0 7123 5024 2 (UK); 978 0 8020 9858 0 (Canada).

This, according to its last page, is the twentieth volume in the invaluable REED series although, rather puzzlingly, the project's website ( lists the twenty but refers to twenty-four collections having been published. There are thirty-one collections in progress, mainly devoted to counties but with exceptions such as The Percy Papers. This is a remarkable achievement and the opening of the editor's Acknowledgements is indicative of how scholars have devotedly laboured over long periods. She writes gratefully of those who have helped her in the 'Conversion of pencil transcripts made in the early 1980s' and in the 'recuperative work' necessary in reading 'difficult microfilmed material'. Their - and her - 'tenacity and dedication' are a mark of what makes this series exceptional. This volume, which does not include Westminster Abbey (to appear in Middlesex), follows the pattern of its predecessors: an Introduction (including historical background, 'Drama, Music, and Ceremonial Customs', and a description of the documents), Select Bibliography, a map of London c. 1530, and the records themselves. There are eleven appendices, translations, and endnotes; and Latin and English glossaries precede the index. The Latin glossary will doubtless be incorporated into Abigail Ann Young's Composite Latin Word List.

The map of the City of London was drawn by Subhash Shanbhag. It shows prominent buildings, the more important streets, and the positions of 104 churches. Names are modernized, except for 'Bread Street', which is given simply as 'Bred'. The index refers on one occasion to 'bredstret' (p. 379) and on another to 'Breadstreet' (p. 133). Some variation is inevitable but on the map modernization might well have been consistent, as with 'Cheapside'. But this is a tiny quibble for what is a very attractively presented map.

The introduction offers a careful analysis of the evidence for the site of the theatre at St Paul's and the route by which it was approached by playgoers. A short but very interesting section considers the poaching of boy musicians and suggests that its historic practice underlay the later theft of boy actors. Behind the 'parish-by-parish sale of religious goods between 1548 and 1552 in response to doctrinal changes' one can easily imagine the turmoil and distress of ordinary folk occasioned by the 'reformers' distaste for [ . . . ] excrescence on the liturgy' and 'its playful foolishness', which expressed 'all too well the old religion's impurities' (p. xxvi). This is more fully depicted by Eamon Duffy in his The Voices of Morebath (2001) - a study that might usefully be read in parallel to what is touched on here - where 'reformers' rocked the foundations of the traditional world, undermined collective fundraising, and bankrupted parishes (p. 141). There are also discussions of Hocking, Maying, and Pageants. [End Page 206]

As usual with REED volumes, the appendices are an important feature. In this volume, those on the Boy Bishops, the Paul's Cross Sermons, William Percy and Plays at Paul's, and 'The Mechanical St George at St Botolph Billingsgate' offer immediate interest. This last was made at Ipswich and installed in 1474. It is described by the editor as 'an armed figure of St George with moveable head and arms, mounted on a horse with moveable ears and tail' and could be 'made to ride across a beam to a castle where a dragon attacks a moveable maiden with moveable royal parents'. I am not sure what is the most intriguing of these moveable parts - the ears, the maiden, or her royal parents. Alas, it is no more.

There are fascinating insights into life as it was lived - and as it was enjoined to be lived - according to early rules and statutes. In a statute promulgated in the last two decades of the twelfth century by the Dean of St Paul's it was explained that 'because the almonry boys ought to live on alms, it is ordered that they shall sit on the...


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