Monday, 30 April 2012

‘Read, Mark, Learn, and Inwardly Digest’: 350 years of the Book of Common Prayer

Cathedrals and churches across the world are this year marking the 350th anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer.  Along with the King James Bible, the BCP is one of the cornerstones of the Church of England.  Its words and phrases have been spoken at baptisms, weddings and funerals since its inception.  But what is its history, and what will the next 350 years hold?

Frontispiece of the 1662 BCP © The Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral

Before the Reformation, most prayers were recorded and spoken in Latin.  However, this changed when Henry VIII initiated the break from Rome, making himself head of the new Church of England.  It was central to the Protestant faith to provide church services in the vernacular so that people could understand them.  The first English Prayer Book was written by Henry VIII’s archbishop, Thomas Cranmer, and published in 1549.  Cranmer’s main source was the ‘Sarum Rite’, the main Latin liturgy used in England before the Reformation.  Although it was not a direct translation, the 1549 Prayer Book retained many of its features, reflecting the piecemeal nature of Henry VIII’s changes during the 1540s.  Henry was succeeded by his son, Edward VI, in 1547.  As Edward was only 9 when he came to the throne, power was transferred to a Regency Council, led by the staunchly Protestant Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset.  Cranmer took the opportunity to revise his work, publishing a second English Prayer Book in 1552.  It was to be short-lived, however, because six months later Edward died and Mary I reintroduced the Catholic rite.  Cranmer himself was burned at the stake in 1556 for refusing to renounce his Protestant beliefs.  Remarkably his 1552 Prayer Book survived, and became the basis for Elizabeth I’s 1559 edition.  This was used right up until the Civil War when the Puritans demanded a radical overhaul of religious ceremony.  The Prayer Book was again put in abeyance.  However, the monarchy was restored in 1660, and the book came back from the brink once more.  In 1662 the Act of Uniformity prescribed universal adherence to a fixed set of prayers, rites and ceremonies.  The Book of Common Prayer was reborn.

The BCP contains a number of phrases which have become part of the fabric of our culture.  For example, the wedding vow:

‘To have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.’

And the prayer said at a funeral:

‘Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of the resurrection.’

Matrimony © The Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral

Worcester’s copy of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer contains the seals of the five commissioners who authorized its use.  Only 27 of these ‘Sealed Books’ are known to survive, many of which are in Cathedral Libraries.  They contain handwritten corrections to the text which were incorporated into the official 1662 edition.

 The Commissioners' Seals © The Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral

Monday, 16 April 2012

Anniversary of the Battle of Culloden

On 16th April 1745 Jacobite forces hostile to the Hanoverian monarchy were defeated at Culloden Moor.  The outcome of the Battle would determine the future of the British monarchy, and continue to influence the politics of the United Kingdom to this day.  It is little wonder that the events were marked by the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral.

Culloden was the culmination of decades of unrest following the Catholic James II’s removal from power in the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688.  The Jacobites took their name from the Latin for James, ‘Iacob’, and their main intention was to restore the House of Stuart which they believed had been unjustly usurped.  However, many other social and political issues became appended to the cause, particularly in Scotland where clan rivalries were fierce.  As a result, Jacobitism attracted a range of supporters from across religious and national divides.  After the death of Queen Anne, the last of James II’s children to sit on the throne, in 1714, the British crown passed by law to George I of the house of Hanover.  This was because the 1702 Act of Settlement excluded Catholics from the succession, dashing Jacobite hopes that Anne’s half-brother, James Stuart, would become king.  It led to the first major Jacobite uprising (‘The Fifteen’).  But James Stuart failed to garner the necessary support and he eventually retired to Rome.  The Jacobites’ hope now lay with James’s son, Charles Edward Stuart (known as ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’).  Charles mustered an army for the second major rebellion (‘The Forty-Five’) but was defeated at Culloden by the Duke of Cumberland, George II’s son.

Treasurer's Accounts, 1745
© The Dean and Chapter

An entry in the Treasurer’s accounts for the Dean and Chapter in 1745 reveals how these events were greeted at Worcester.  As George II was head of the Church of England, the Cathedral adopted a staunchly anti-Jacobite position.  In December 1744, the sum of £20 was paid to ‘John Garway, Esq.’  This represented ‘the tenth part of the money subscribed by the Dean and Chapter on an association for Defense of the King and Government against the present detestable rebellion’.  On 15th April 10 shillings were paid to the bell-ringers to mark the Duke of Cumberland’s birthday.  When news of his victory reached Worcester on 26th April, ten days after it had happened, a further 10 shillings were paid for the bells to be rung again.  The accounts also reveal that October 9th was set aside as a ‘Thanksgiving-Day for the Suppression of the Late Execrable Rebellion’.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

A Tsar-Studded Affair

Last week we came across a story in one of the Cathedral Library’s travel books which took us by surprise, and got us putting on our detectives’ hats again.  Few would expect to find a rakish Elizabethan Merchant Adventurer from Worcestershire hobnobbing with a Russian queen in the court of one of Ivan the Terrible’s protégés.  However, we had not reckoned on Mr William Barnsley of Bromsgrove...

In 1598, Boris Godunov was crowned tsar of Russia.  Boris came to prominence as a soldier during the reign of Ivan the IV (‘The Terrible’), becoming a member of his personal guard.  In 1581 he witnessed Ivan murder his own son and heir.  After Ivan’s death in 1584 Boris became regent for Fyodor I, Ivan’s second son, who was considered incapable of government.  When Fyodor died in 1598 no-one challenged Boris’s claim to the crown.  Although Boris had manoeuvred himself into an enormously influential position, there was still one problem: his wife.  The travel book says that,

Though he got several Advantages by this Marriage, he lost one that was more valuable than all the rest, which was his Quiet.  He was old and jealous, his Wife handsome and young: they quarrelled in a little time.

One of the causes of these quarrels was Mr William Barnsley, of Barnsley Hall in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire.  Alleged to have lived until the age of 126, Barnsley was a Merchant Adventurer, first dispatched to Russia to take advantage of Ivan’s tax exemptions for English traders.  There he became acquainted with Tsar Boris’s ‘handsome and young’ wife, Maria.  After a time Boris realised that the pair were growing ‘too familiar’ and banished Barnsley to Siberia.  The Worcestershire man reportedly spent twenty years in exile before being allowed back into society.  Despite this indignity, Barnsley ‘turned from the Protestant religion to the Russian, married a great fortune and lived at Moscow in splendour.’  He certainly landed on his feet!

We found Barnsley’s story in the 1748 edition of John Harris’s A Complete Collection of Voyages and Travels.  This work is a compilation of various earlier accounts of journeys across the globe, from Europe and Asia to Africa and America.  The chapter on the ‘Voyage to the North’ was taken from the work of a Frenchman, also a merchant, recorded at the end of the seventeenth century.
Russian Sleds in Siberia
From: A Journey into Siberia, Made by Order of the King of France,
by l'abbé Jean-Baptiste Chappe d'Auteroche (1770)

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Alternative Easter Celebrations in Nineteenth-Century Worcestershire

What will you be doing to celebrate Easter this year?  Chances are you won’t be grating up a year-old hot cross bun to create your own medicine, or indulging in a spot of ‘heaving’ in Kidderminster.  But 150 years ago you may have been doing just that.  John Noake’s 1856 work, Notes and Queries on Worcestershire, describes a variety of curious customs observed in the county, including those reserved for Easter Week.

Good Friday, according to Noake, was ‘the occasion of great superstition’.  It was widely believed that things planted on that day would grow more abundantly than if they had been sown at any other time.  However, bad luck could also befall you if you had washing out, or failed to empty your washtub before Good Friday.

Baking hot cross buns at Easter is a custom which continues to this day.  However, in Noake’s time, they were thought ‘never to grow mouldy, and if kept for twelve months and then grated into some liquor, will prove a great soother of stomach ache’.  Noake reported that ‘the superstitious frequently preserved Good Friday buns from year to year, from the belief in their efficacy in the cure of diseases.’

Another Easter custom in Worcestershire was ‘Heaving’ or ‘Lifting’.  In the 1850s Noake commented that this practice had not long been discontinued in the Birdport area of the city.  ‘Heaving’ occurred on Easter Monday, and was a reference to the resurrection of Christ.  On that day, ‘the women would surround any man who happened to be passing by, and by their joint efforts lift him up in the air, and on the next day the men did the same to the women’.  Men could only escape by paying for drinks.  In Kidderminster, the women ‘would deck themselves gaily for the occasion’, ‘dress a chair with ribbons, and place a rope across the street to prevent the escape of any unfortunate man who chanced to pass that way’.  The man was lifted up in the chair, turned three times around then kissed by each of the women.  He also had to contribute to the evening’s festivities of ‘tea and dancing’.  At Hartlebury it was considered good luck if a male servant ‘heaved’ a female servant, because it meant she would not break any crockery during the following year.

So here's wishing you a very lucky Easter from Worcester Cathedral Library!