Presbyterianism, urban politics, and division: the 1645 Great Yarmouth witch-hunt in context

Buck, Danny (2021) Presbyterianism, urban politics, and division: the 1645 Great Yarmouth witch-hunt in context. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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A series of witch-hunts occurred in politically and religiously divided puritan towns across East Anglia between 1645 and 1647. Previous studies have examined the patterns of witch-hunts across East Anglia but have not provided in-depth studies of what lay behind an urban community’s support for witch-hunting. This study of Great Yarmouth shows how the witch-hunt had meaning to the town’s political elite through the lens of a longer historical context of puritan governance over a quarter of a century. This thesis builds on work that re-evaluates the religious and political meaning of witch-hunts and puritan and Presbyterian politics during the seventeenth century to show how the witch-hunt was part of the crisis of urban government during the English Civil War.

This thesis argues that the witch-hunt was contingent on Great Yarmouth’s puritan aldermen developing into a powerful political faction within the town during the 1620s and 30s. Puritan members of the corporation used purgative violence to criticise Laudianism during the Caroline period, including a witchcraft accusation. With the collapse of royal government after 1638 the puritan faction on the town’s corporation established their control over the town and sought to build a comprehensive puritan settlement. War exhaustion and the growth of nonconformity challenged puritan control and cohesion in the corporation during the First Civil War. In 1645, members of the corporation supported the witch-hunt as part of a wider attempt to unite the town’s puritans against fissiparous forces. The failure of a second witch-hunt was the result of the weakness of the town's oligarchy as the town's Congregationalist church became a practical political force and war time strain undermined puritan authority. Discontent caused by poverty weakened support for a comprehensive puritan settlement, while a Royalist rising in 1648 and the subsequent Parliamentary purge shattered the conservative puritan majority among members of the corporation.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of History
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 11 Jul 2022 13:16
Last Modified: 11 Jul 2022 13:16

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