14 February 2011
Carpenter, Christine. “Religion”. Gentry Culture in Late Medieval England. Eds. Raluca Radulescu and Alison Truelove. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2005. 134-150.
Christine Carpenter’s account of religion among late medieval English gentry seeks to overturn the Protestant stereotype of the medieval Church, which characterizes the medieval Church practices as corrupt and neglectful. Carpenter seeks to explain the religious worship of the gentry not as “disenchantment” with the Church, but rather as evidence of “content” with Church practices (134). Ultimately, Carpenter demonstrates that the Reformation in England was a product of education and political loyalty, and not, as the classic Protestant sentiment maintains, a product of distaste of Church’s religious practices.
A. Gentry religious practice grounded in acts of charity:
This is a direct result of the fear of Purgatory. Carpenter maintains that since we see such generous donations to the Church and public projects in the wills of gentry members, we see direct confirmation that they wholeheartedly believe in the Church’s position of Purgatory.
Gentry members also established a chantry: a perpetual priest to say prayers for the individual’s soul, as well as member of their families (and these had to be paid for). Family members were also buried at churches together, forming “Chantry Chapels”.
B. Gentry members committed time to their religious orders.
Nunneries and monasteries remained popular places of education in Late medieval England.
Gentry members increasingly practiced religion privately, praying at private alters found in their own homes. Private prayer books, known as “Books of Hours,” increased in popularity and were mass produced.
Despite the individualistic nature of private worship, it seems that most, if not all, private worships were rooted in conformity, as evidenced by the similarities found in gentry wills; this would seem to indicate enthusiasm in Church Doctrines.
C. “Me Faith” vs. “Communal Faith”
As donations and generous offerings of the sort were direct reflections of the social hierarchy, the question remains of how enthusiastic the gentry were to give to the church versus how enthusiastic the gentry were to show off.
While donations to parishes outside of one’s local community may indicate one’s desire to show off to other gentry members, it can also be explained by the fact that wealthier people simply traveled more, and became familiar with parishes outside of their community.
Despite the importance of being buried in a monastery or parish, it did not discourage the importance of appearing in church in person.
Individual worship is a product of the decreasing need to know Latin, making it possible for learned gentry to practice faith on their own.
“We must conclude that… the argument that their faith was divorced from that of ordinary parishioners either ideologically or physically is far-fetched” (143).
D. The Reformation
Note that Carpenter recognizes the causes of the Protestant movement as a combination of monetary and political polices of Rome, which ultimately led the gentry to “embark on root and branch reform” (146).
1) Do you think that charity was a way to simply show off, or was it rooted in the idea of charitable works.
2) Does Carpenter succeed in making it apparent that the Reformation was not a product of religious discontent? Note here the counter arguments to the evidence that Carpenter provides (i.e. conformity, lack of time to devote to one’s own religious opinion).