- Birth, Marriage and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England (review)
- Australian and New Zealand Association of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (Inc.)
- Volume 15, Number 2, January 1998
- pp. 178-181
- View Citation
- Additional Information
178 Reviews 1982, the same year as 'Setf-inflicted Suffering'. Curiously, Brown is not mentioned or referenced in the 1992 'Moderation and Restraint' either, which looks like an oversight on Constable's part. The final two essays deal with prayer and inner spiritual transformations, providing a satisfying conclusion to a very stimulating volume, which is w e U worth reading. Carole M . Cusack School of Studies in Religion University of Sydney Cressy, David, Birth, Marriage and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997; cloth; pp. xv, 641; 26 b / w illustrations; R.R.P. AUS$70.00. The basic shaping events of ordinary h u m a n life—birth, marriage and death—have only recently become accepted as proper subjects for serious academic historians. W h e n Keith Thomas wrote Religion and the Decline of Magic his approach to aspects of belief which had been dismissed in EngUsh historical practice as ignorant superstitions not worthy of serious study helped shift English academic interest to matters of everyday life. Growing study of women's Uves has helped focus interest on these fundamental concerns of life. It has led to recognition that birth was an important matter not only in the private sphere but also for the state which sought to regulate and control the ways in which new potential subjects were incorporated into the matrix of society, ensuring that the newborn had a certain and due place and both spiritual and material provision for its weUbeing. The smooth running of society involved a general acceptance of rules and practices which bound the community together. These events were also critical for the Church, bearing as they did upon such issues as sin and predestination. Procreation and chUdbearing produced souls for salvation but both had an ambiguous status with regard to sin and defilement. Death, leading as it did in Christian eyes to the moment of judgement, had an equaUy uncertain relationship to corruption and promise. The tensions between Reviews 179 popular, ecclesiastical and secular interests in such fundamental moments of h u m a n life create a multiple image of considerable complexity. Dr Cressy has undertaken the ambitious project of integrating aU aspects of these events in a single study of all points of transition from one human state to another in the Tudor and Stuart period with their various layers of meaning and symbolism. H e has based bis analysis on a wide study of primary sources, especiaUy church court records, in an attempt to overcome as far as possible the well k n o w n problems of relying on the possibly atypical accounts of the Uterate and literature. It is his aim to integrate the theological debates with the grass-roots level practice and to examine what changes were taking place in the course of the period. Dr Cressy deals systematicaUy with each vital event in the Ufe cycle. The individual images are not fundamentally different from those developed by other recent scholars. His account of childbirth rituals and protocols owes a great deal to the insights of Patricia Crawford, for example. His judgements are fundamentaUy moderate—the midwife was 'not so iU as often suggested'. W h U e some superstitious charms such as eaglestones continued to be recommended, even in printed manuals, he notes that prayer to the God who had created the chUd in the w o m b and religious exercises became more important, at least in some households. The material on the churching of w o m e n is less famUiar and perhaps more interesting than the material on courtship and marriage where he is traversing weU-trodden paths. Surprisingly, his section on death and burial is more cursory and here, perhaps, there are sources he has neglected, particularly on the funeral, where the office of the heralds shows what state interference could be used to insist on appropriate dignity and decorum in funerals of nobiUty and gentry. Indeed, while in his conclusions Dr Cressy stresses the importance the state laid on controlling these aspects of the private individual's life, these rituals which infused routine occurences with meaning, he spends...