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The Catholic Historical Review 88.2 (2002) 363-364

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Book Review

The Boxmaker's Revenge:
"Orthodoxy," "Heterodoxy" and the Politics of the Parish in Early Stuart London

The Boxmaker's Revenge: "Orthodoxy," "Heterodoxy" and the Politics of the Parish in Early Stuart London. By Peter Lake. (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. 2001. Pp. x, 422. $65.00 cloth; $24.95 paperback.)

Peter Lake's latest excursion into the world of late Elizabethan/early Stuart Puritanism opens with high drama with a Paul's Cross sermon preached on February 11, 1627, by Stephen Denison, minister of the London parish of St Katherine Creechurch. Throughout the sermon John Etherington, a maker of water conduits and former boxmaker, was forced to stand in front of the pulpit as Denison denounced him as a heretic, a familist, and an anabaptist. Lake takes this scene as a starting point for an examination and explanation of the religious, social, and political contexts in which such a confrontation could occur, and, in the course of his analysis, he is able to provide glimpses of a previously hidden godly underground in London. This book confirms Lake's reputation as the historian best equipped to dissect, probe, and understand early Stuart Puritans and Puritanism.

Much of this territory is already familiar to us from Lake's previous published works and no more so than in the case of Stephen Denison, a model 'moderate' Puritan. Thus Denison possessed a heavily predestinarian view of the world, a strongly activist commitment to the community of true believers, a vision of the Christian community divided between the godly and the ungodly, a dogmatic insistence that preaching was the means of grace, and a belief in a strict Sabbath. Lake takes the opportunity to remind readers of his earlier attacks on the negative views of the godly entertained by some recent historians. Denison could adopt a form of pulpit rhetoric that was inclusive and potentially 'popular' in style. Furthermore, those historians who have stressed the 'conservatism' and respectability of Puritan social attitudes are presented with a Denison who could make some very pointed criticisms of the rich and powerful and was to engage in open conflict with some of the parish elite who constituted the select vestry in St Katherine's. [End Page 363]

Etherington is a less familiar and, in many ways, more interesting figure as a bold and articulate layman who dared to trespass into the domain of educated clergy. Lake skillfully uses Etherington's spiritual quest from the 1590's to the 1640's to shed light on an otherwise hidden underworld of London Puritanism. This was a world open to the influence of familists and of sect-masters like Etherington's early mentor, T. L., whose identity can only be guessed at. It was a world of debate between all sorts of radical sectaries, separatists, familists, and lay Puritans. The younger Etherington had been, at the very least, strongly influenced by familist thought; yet in 1623 and 1645 he was to launch attacks on familism. Probably at no stage was he a member of a separatist church, despite Denison's claims, although he did have strong views on the power of the godly to damn their assailants and seems to have had little regard for any form of purely clerical authority. The book finishes with the impact of Laudianism on the parish of St Katherine's and a fascinating account of the tensions which it exposed in an already divided parish.

The narrative and analysis occupies over 400 pages, and there are times when it is very heavy going even though the insight gained repays the effort. Firstly, the structure of the book calls for comment; it is unnecessarily complicated and somewhat disjointed. Secondly, only a readership which is informed and highly-committed will find the text easy to grasp. Some of the theology is, perhaps understandably, heavy going, but comprehension is not helped by an excessive use of quotations and the occasional tendency toward the verbose. A lot of knowledge...


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