Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Funeral Sermons for Women: Celebrating GEMMS Sermon #10000

GEMMS has now added its 10,000th sermon, a funeral sermon commemorating Bridget, viscountess Beaumont, who was buried at South Carlton, Lincolnshire, on 1 June 1640. Since funeral sermons are among the most common sermon genres in the database (258 to date), this one is an appropriate choice to mark this milestone in our progress. These artefacts add substantially to the study of funeral sermons in general, and especially of women as subjects of sermons, a study that has generated vigorous historiographical debate about their value as historical and biographical sources.[1] In examining a religious culture where women were regularly praised in funeral sermons (often commissioned by their grieving husbands) for their domestic virtues (as good daughters, wives, and mothers) and as models of pious “mediocrity,” one can only celebrate access to an increasing archive of sermons that have survived in manuscript, although never printed. This sermon is one of 84 funeral sermons for women currently in GEMMS, and these sermons may help develop and complicate our understanding of this elusive and disputed genre.

This sermon also illustrates the mysteries that remain to be unravelled as researchers use the GEMMS database to locate and examine the sermons themselves. Both library catalogues and the headings of sermons provide varying amounts of preaching information, often frustratingly incomplete. While most preachers and auditors of funeral sermons did record the subject’s name, often along with the date and location of the sermon, many subjects of manuscript funeral sermons have left no other traces of their lives. For example, we are unlikely to learn much about the Mrs. Roe (or Row) whose funeral sermon was preached by Nathaniel Harding in Plymouth on 7 December, 1690 (GEMMS-SERMON-003708), although we can use the sermon to confirm and/or qualify conclusions about the generic characteristics of funeral sermons.

The situation of GEMMS-SERMON-010000 is more unusual: an identifiable subject commemorated by an obscure preacher. The sermon appears in the British Library’s Sloane MS 1470, and the library’s manuscript catalogue provides a full description of both the sermon and its accompanying material:
A Commemoracion of the Right Honourable the Lady Bridget Viscountess Beaumont, the truly pious, virtuous and loyal consort of the Right Honourable Sapcotes Lord Viscount Beaumont of Swords, delivered at her funerall in the parish church of South Carlton, (the antient burying place of her worthy progenitors) upon Munday the first of June, anno Domini, 1640, by John Hodgson, Rector of Motton; written Aug. 3 1658, by me Wm. Bannister.' ff. 249-267.
Prefixed are dedicatory letters from Wm. Bannister, to Mrs. Anna Simpson, dat. London, 3 Aug. 1658, and from John Hodgson to Sir Thomas Monson, Bart., dat. Motton, 19 Jan. 1640; and at the end are two letters from the last named writer upon the same date, the first to Thomas, John, and Elizabeth, children of Sapcotes Viscount Beaumont of Swords, by Bridgett, daughter of Sir Thomas Monson, Bart., the second to Ursula, wife of Sir John Monson, K. B.[2]
The deceased was the youngest daughter of Sir Thomas Monson and the first wife of Sapcote Beaumont, whom she married on 28 May, 1632, as well as the mother of three children. Her father was a man of some notoriety. Having risen to prominence in Lincolnshire under Queen Elizabeth, he had progressed to national offices under James I through the patronage of Henry Howard, earl of Northampton. His rising career hit a snag, however, when he was implicated in the Overbury affair after fulfilling Frances Howard’s request that he recommend Richard Weston as Overbury’s keeper. Although pardoned in 1617, Monson never quite got his career, or his finances, back on track.[3]

The preacher, John Hodgson, cannot be identified with certainty. The catalogue record identifies him variously as rector of Motton or Moulton, Lincolnshire, but he does not appear in the list of ministers at Moulton in The Clergy of the Church of England Database (CCEd). He cannot be the John Hodgisson appointed rector at Morton in 1562, but the name may suggest a family connection to this area.[4] The most likely candidate for the preacher of this sermon seems to be a John Hodgson ordained by William Laud and instituted rector at Burton by Lincoln in 1628. As Burton was the home of the Beaumonts it seems reasonable that the local rector would have been selected to preach the funeral sermon at nearby South Carlton, where Lady Beaumont was buried among her ancestors.

The various dedicatory letters Hodgson prepared in January 1640/41 suggest that he hoped either for encouragement to print the sermon or for some other form of patronage. If these were his motives, however, it is odd that he addressed these letters not, as might have been expected, to the widower, but to the deceased’s father, her sister-in-law, Ursula Monson, and her three children. With the possible exception of Ursula Monson, none of these individuals were in positions to assist the preacher. Thomas Monson, who was in poor health, would die in May 1641, while Lady Beaumont’s children were all under eight years old. Ursula’s husband, however, would become Sir John Monson when he inherited his father’s baronetcy a few months later, and had already established his loyalty to Archbishop Laud by participating in a controversy over John Williams, Bishop of Lincoln, and would offer legal advice to Charles I during the civil wars.[5] Although the sermon never seems to have been printed, if the identification of Hodgson above is correct, then he may have received some benefit from the sermon, since in 1642 he resigned at Burton to become rector of Donington, Lincolnshire, where he apparently remained until 1669.[6]

The sermon’s paratexts present other puzzles involving the motives of William Banister (1614/15-1685) of Turkdean, Gloucestershire, who copied the sermon eighteen years later, on 3 August, 1658, and penned a new dedication to a Mrs. Anna Simpson. The occasion may have been the death of Sapcote Beaumont that year, but Banister’s connection to the deceased and her family is unclear, although there may be a family relationship through a Dorothy Banister in the sixteenth century, whose first husband was Thomas Monson of Belton.[7] Anna Simpson remains unidentified. The fact that the sermon was recopied and newly dedicated is important in revealing how complex the transmission history of such a text might be. Even if we cannot yet identify motives and connections to explain the fact, we can register this history, and investigate further into the ways in which this manuscript found its way into the Sloane collection.

The library catalogue describes Lady Beaumont in conventional terms as a “truly pious, virtuous and loyal consort” to her husband. One additional piece of information provided by the manuscript heading is the biblical text, 2 Corinthians 4:17 (For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison), which also seems conventional rather than offering any clues about the deceased. Only a reading of the sermon and the paratexts will show whether Hodgson’s commemoration reveals anything of her as a person.

While some of the funeral sermons for women in the GEMMS database commemorate upper class women like Bridget Beaumont or the wives of well-known preachers, such as Philip Henry’s wife Katherine,[8] we hope that the database’s identification of sermons preached for Mrs. Roe and other anonymous women – few of which would ever be printed – will increase our understanding of funeral sermons for women, of their transmission in manuscript, and of a religious culture with roots in a wider range of classes, social contexts, and religious piety than hitherto known to scholars.


[1] Patrick Collinson, “‘A Magazine of Religious Patterns’: An Erasmian Topic Transposed in English Protestantism,” in his Godly People: Essays on English Protestantism and Puritanism (London: Hambledon Press, 1983), 499-525; Peter Lake, “Feminine Piety and Personal Potency: The Emancipation of Mrs. Jane Ratcliffe,” The Seventeenth Century 2 (1987): 143-165; Eric Carlson, “English Funeral Sermons as Sources: The Example of Female Piety in pre-1640 Sermons,” Albion 32.4 (2000): 567-97; Lyndell O’Hara, “Far Beyond Her Nature and Sex”: The Making of a Protestant Hagiography, 1590-1640, PhD diss. (Fordham University, 2006); Ralph Houlbrooke, Death, Religion, and the Family in England, 1480-1750 (Oxford: OUP, 1998); Jeanne Shami, “Reading Funeral Sermons for Early Modern English Women: Some Literary and Historiographical Challenges,” in Arthur Marotti and Chanita Goodblatt, eds., Religious Diversity and Early Modern English Texts: Catholic, Judaic, Feminist, and Secular Dimensions (Detroit: Wayne State UP, 2013), 282-308.

[2] British Library, “Sloane 1470,” in Explore Archives and Manuscripts, http://searcharchives.bl.uk/IAMS_VU2:IAMS040-002113821 (Accessed 16 July 2017).

[3] Alastair Bellany, “Monson, Sir Thomas, first baronet (1563/4–1641),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: OUP, 2004; online edn, Jan. 2008. http://www.oxforddnb.com.libproxy.uregina.ca:2048/view/article/18990 (Accessed 16 July 2017).

[4] Moulton (CCEd Location ID: 172889),” and “Morton (CCEd Location ID: 8335),” The Clergy of the Church of England Database 1540-1835 (CCEd) http://theclergydatabase.org.uk (Accessed 17 July 2017).

[5] Bertha Porter, “Monson, Sir John, second baronet (1599–1683),” rev. Sean Kelsey, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: OUP, 2004; online edn, Jan. 2008. http://www.oxforddnb.com.libproxy.uregina.ca:2048/view/article/18986 (Accessed 17 July 2017).

[6] This information is pieced together from three separate records in the CCEd (Person IDs 80933, 98863, and 146188). The date of resignation from Burton by Lincoln (20 April 1642) in record 98863 matches the date of institution at Donington in record 146188, which indicates that the records refer to the same person. He also may be the John Hodgson admitted to Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1623 who graduated BA from Clare College (1626/27) and MA in 1630 (A Cambridge Alumni Database, http://venn.lib.cam.ac.uk/acad/enter.html [Accessed 17 July 2017]).

[7] The marriage produced two daughters, Margaret born in 1562 and Dorothy born in 1574, A. R. Maddison, Lincolnshire Pedigrees (London: Harleian Society, 1902), 2.681.

[8] There are two funeral sermons for Katherine Henry in GEMMS: two witnesses of a sermon by Samuel Benion (GEMMS-SERMON-002401 and GEMMS-SERMON-007569) and one witness of a sermon by Matthew Henry (GEMMS-SERMON-oo7570).

~ Anne James and Jeanne Shami

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Job Opportunity: GEMMS Research Assistant in the UK

Deadline extended: Applications will be accepted until October 31, 2017.

The Gateway to Early Modern Manuscript Sermons project is seeking a student enrolled in a UK PhD program in a related field of study (including but not limited to early modern English literature, social, political, and religious history, theology, and book history) to assist with data collection. The duration of the position is twelve months, with a 3-month probationary period. There is a possibility of extending the contract. We estimate that the researcher will work approximately 20 hours per month during the term of the contract, though the number of hours is negotiable with the principal researchers.

The purpose of this project is to develop a group-sourced online bibliographic database of early modern (1530-1715) sermon manuscripts in the UK and North America. The role of the Research Assistant is primarily to collect metadata for the database in selected UK repositories identified by the principal researchers. The Research Assistant also may have the opportunity to present research, contribute to social media to promote the database, and conduct workshops for groups of potential contributors and users.


Collect metadata on sermon manuscripts at libraries and archives in the UK (repositories to be selected in consultation with the principal researchers) and enter this data into the database.

Advise principal researchers of difficulties encountered and significant discoveries of additional materials.

Check and correct data currently in the database. 

Write posts for the GEMMS blog based on sermon manuscripts examined.


The Research Assistant will be compensated £15/hour to a maximum of £3600 plus travel expenses as required. In consultation with the principal researchers, the student will develop a mutually beneficial research schedule.


Candidates must be enrolled in a PhD program in a related field at a UK university. Candidates whose work involves substantial use of early modern sermons in manuscript will be preferred.

Candidates must also be willing to travel within the UK to conduct research and internationally to attend conferences.

Candidates must be able to communicate effectively both orally and in writing and must be able to work well independently.

Candidates must have accurate word processing skills and be attentive to detail. Familiarity with databases is an asset.

Some knowledge of Latin and/or Greek would be useful.

Application Procedure:

Applications will be accepted until October 31, 2017. We anticipate hiring to be completed in November and work to begin in January 2018, though an earlier start date may be possible.

Please submit a cover letter outlining your qualifications and availability, a current CV, and the names and contact details for two referees to jeanne.shami@uregina.ca or anne.james@uregina.ca or by mail to Jeanne Shami or Anne James at: 359 Administration-Humanities Bldg., University of Regina, 3737 Wascana Pkway, Regina, SK, S4S 0A2, CANADA

Thursday, 9 March 2017

GEMMS Announces Database Launch

GEMMS is looking forward to our official launch, taking place on 4 May, 2017 at Dr. Williams's Library, London, from 4:00 to 7:00 pm. 

If you plan to attend, please register by sending a message to lisa.cheetham@dwl.ac.uk

Our database now includes information on almost 500 manuscripts and over 6500 individual sermons. The manuscripts range from beautiful fair copies of complete sermons to notebooks containing hastily scrawled notes by auditors. While most were preached in the British Isles, a few come from North America. All manuscripts included to date are housed in the UK.

What comes next?

Following our launch, the database – via our new website -- will be available to researchers for searching, as we continue to add new records. Users will be able to search the database for sermons by specific preachers or on specific texts, as well as by date and preaching location. It should also be possible to search by sermon type (notes, outlines, drafts, autograph copies), repository, and genre (e.g. funeral sermons). We anticipate that in the following months researchers will let us know what features they find useful and suggest future enhancements and searching capabilities.
We will also begin developing plans for the next phase, which will allow other researchers to share and store their own data as well as to offer corrections and additions to existing records. Our hope is that this stage of the project will provide opportunities for researchers to share information and collaborate in new ways across disciplinary and geographic boundaries.

As we attempt to engage with researchers who will find our data useful, we encourage them to visit our social media sites and spread the word via Twitter about our new resource. (@GEMMS_sermons).

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

A Glimpse of Early Eighteenth-Century Newfoundland: Celebrating GEMMS Sermon # 5555

This blog post marks a significant milestone for the GEMMS research project. With well over five thousand sermons now entered into our online bibliographic database, this post shines a spotlight on GEMMS sermon # 5555. This sermon illustrates the broad scope of the project, which encompasses not only manuscripts from the British Isles, but also many fascinating records of preaching from the North American colonies. Sermon # 5555, and the wider collection to which it belongs, offers a rare glimpse of preaching in early Newfoundland, which would become part of Canada more than two centuries later in 1949.

During the early eighteenth century, the Anglican clergyman, Jacob Rice (1683-1728), served as minister of St John’s, Newfoundland. The son of Thomas Rice of Newcastle, County Cardigan, Wales, he matriculated at Jesus College, Oxford, on the 13th of March 1699/1700 aged seventeen and received his BA from Magdalen Hall on the 16th of March 1703/4.[1]  Later that year he returned to Cardiganshire to take up a curacy, but in 1705 he was appointed as missionary at St John’s to replace John Jackson, who had served as chaplain to the British garrison since 1701.[2]  A letter of royal appointment by Queen Anne, dated May 1705, survives amongst Rice’s scribal remains. This document declares that Rice was ‘to be Chaplain to the Garrison or Garrisons’ in Newfoundland. A further surviving letter of appointment by the Bishop of London, dated the 3rd of June 1705, states that ‘Jacob Rice Clerk’ was ‘to be admitted to the Ministerial Function in the Province of Newfoundland in America’, having vowed to ‘conform to the Liturgy of the Church of England’.[3] On account of his failure to provide the necessary testimonials prior to his departure for Newfoundland, Rice failed to receive any financial support from The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.[4]  After residing at St John’s for a number of years, Rice relocated to serve as chaplain to the English garrison at Placentia. Unfortunately, the exact year of this transfer remains uncertain; Rice was still living in St John’s in 1712, but by early 1725 he appears to have taken up an appointment as Rector of North Cray, Kent, England. On his death in September 1728, Rice left £10 to his female servant and the remainder of his estate to his niece, who acted as sole executrix of his will.[5]

Figure 1: Letter of appointment by the Bishop of London. © The Bodleian Library. MS. Rawl. E. 173, ff. 18v-19r.

Two volumes of Jacob Rice’s early eighteenth-century sermons survive in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, as manuscripts Rawlinson E. 173 and Rawlinson E. 174. The first volume contains thirty-three separate sermon entries, six of which bear dates ranging from the 4th of April 1705 to the 23rd of May 1706. Only one sermon, preached on 1 Corinthians 11:29 (‘He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lords body’), is explicitly identified as having been preached at St John’s on the 10th of February 1705/6. On this occasion, Rice’s intention was to educate his congregation concerning exactly ‘what is required of them who come to the Lords supper’ (MS. Rawl. E. 173, fol. 198r).  Alongside a number of funeral sermons, this volume also contains a sermon on Joel 2:18 (‘then will the Lord be Jealous for his Land, & pity his people’) which was preached at a fast on the 4th of April 1705. According to Rice’s text: ‘the Government upon this day commands upon pain of such punishment as it may justly inflict’ that all must ‘sanctify a fast’ in accordance with their duties ‘as Englishmen and Protestants’ (fols. 183r-188v).

The second volume of Rice’s sermon manuscripts contains another thirty-three entries. One of this number, preached on Proverbs 10:9 (‘He that walketh uprightly, walketh surely’), is dated the 4th of November 1705 and is identified as ‘the first sermon I preacht at St Johns’ (MS. Rawl. E. 174, fol. 209r). Twelve further entries in this collection bear precise dates, ranging from the 11th of November 1705 to the 4th of August 1706. Nine of the sermons are said to have been preached at St John’s, but Rice also preached at Portsmouth, Gosport and Stoke during August 1705. Again, a number of the entries in this collection are funeral sermons, including one that was preached at the funeral of a merchant, Mr Yeates, on the 3rd of July 1706 (fol. 89v). There are two interesting instances of the same funeral sermon being preached on the deaths of more than one individual, and there are also three clear examples of occasions on which Rice preached two sermons on a particular text on the same date. For example, he seems to have preached on the divine inspiration of Scripture (according to 2 Timothy 3:16) on both the morning and afternoon of a single day (fols. 185r-190v, 191r-196r).

One of Jacob Rice’s sermons is GEMMS sermon # 5555, which spans folios 216r-218r of his first volume of sermon notes (MS. Rawl. E. 173). It was preached on the 23rd of May 1706 at the funeral of a woman named Hannah, the wife of Mr [John?] Mitchell. On this solemn occasion, Rice chose to preach on Matthew 3:8 (‘bring forth fruits meet for Repentance’). This verse forms part of a speech which John the Baptist addressed to the Pharisees and Sadducees who witnessed him baptizing in the river Jordan. Rice began by outlining his interpretation of this Biblical narrative, observing that these Pharisees and Sadducees (a ‘brood of venemous miscreants’), alarmed by forewarnings of ‘dreadfull vengeance’ awaiting their generation, feigned repentance and sought out John’s baptism by water. They desired this ‘outward badge of penitents’ despite lacking any true desire to turn from sin. According to Rice’s interpretation, John refused them baptism on account of their hypocrisy, but offered assurance that this ‘sacrament’ was freely available to all who demonstrated true repentance by their actions.

Figure 2: Beginning of the funeral sermon for Mrs Hannah Mitchell. © The Bodleian Library. MS. Rawl. E. 173, f. 216r. 

On the basis of this Scriptural account, Rice sought to illustrate two points of doctrine; first, ‘what this Repentance is of which he exhorts them to bring forth the meet fruits’ and, secondly, ‘the necessity of bringing forth such fruits’. Rice defined repentance, or μετάνοια, as ‘a sincere and through [sic] change of mind’, a willful resolution to leave off vice and forsake a sinful course of life. This, Rice insisted, is necessary for ‘the satisfaction of God’, since it is on account of the merits of Christ’s death that our repentance is accepted in lieu of our punishment. Only a repentance which bears fruits that lead to personal amendment and to the amendment of others can be acceptable to God. Moreover, these fruits of repentance are essential for ‘the satisfaction of our own consciences’, providing a comforting reassurance of the sincerity of our penitence.

In the final section of this funeral sermon, Rice briefly turned to consider its subject, Mrs Hannah Mitchell, whom he praised as ‘a woman of a kind and obliging temper, modest in her converse’ and, as far as he could tell, ‘of a very good moral life’. His decision to preach on Matthew 3:8 is explained by his subsequent account of having baptized Mrs Mitchell on her deathbed:
She had the misfortune to be brought [to Newfoundland] by sectaries which kept her from the common advantage of a X.tian, which by reason of her modesty which I presume had got a little the upper hand of her she never imparted to me till she lay on her death-bed, where she received the b[enefit]e of Baptism.
Hannah’s sincere repentance was evidenced in her way of life, which, according to Rice, differed markedly from that of the majority of the inhabitants of Newfoundland. From a full assessment of Rice’s sermons, Geoff Peddle has concluded that the Anglican cleric considered the Newfoundlanders amongst whom he ministered to be in desperate need of spiritual reformation.[6] Yet Hannah Mitchell:
had live[d] a considerable time in this countrey without addicting her self to those vices (shame on them) that seem by its so common use to be peculiar to the place, she being a modest, sober, chast, quiet woman, & I hope she has her due reward in Heaven.
Figure 3: End of the funeral sermon for Mrs Hannah Mitchell. © The Bodleian Library. MS. Rawl. E. 173, f. 218r.

Although, as a rule, Rice’s funeral sermons contain only the slightest details concerning the lives of their subjects, he did frequently conclude with brief eulogies of this kind. At the funeral of James Vickers on the 8th of March 1705/6, Rice followed up his sermon by advising his congregation to imitate the ‘honest and upright life and conversation’ of the deceased (MS. Rawl. E. 174, fol. 51v). However, on another occasion, he concluded what appears to have been a funeral sermon on Luke 13:5 with a declaration that his subject had failed to display true repentance, concern for God’s commandments or any desire for Grace. Thus, Rice could:
only hope that God who has shewn mercy in midst of Judgment to many & great sinners has in his great and most condescending Pity received our deceased Brother into his eternal Rest (MS. Rawl. E. 173, fol. 25r).
 Jacob Rice’s extensive collection of sermons constitutes a fascinating window onto the style and content of early eighteenth-century Anglican preaching. These manuscripts supply some evocative insights into the condition of the Anglican Church in Newfoundland in this period and the pastoral approach of missionary preachers. The GEMMS team are eagerly awaiting the launch of our online bibliographic database in spring 2017 when these, and many other early modern British and North American sermon manuscripts, will become more easily accessible for researchers.

All images reproduced with the kind permission of the Bodleian Library.


[1] Alumni Oxonienses: The Members of the University of Oxford, 1500-1714..., vol. 3, edited by Joseph Foster (Oxford, 1891), p. 1250.

[2] Carson I. A. Ritchie, ‘Rice, Jacob,’ in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2 (University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003) http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/rice_jacob_2E.html (accessed October 12, 2016); Geoff Peddle, ‘The Reverend Jacob Rice: Anglican Ministry and Preaching in Early Eighteenth Century Newfoundland’, MA thesis (Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1996), pp. 9, 15, 20.

[3] Bodleian Library, MS. Rawl. E. 173, fols. 10v-11r, 18v-9r.

[4] Ritchie, ‘Rice, Jacob’; Peddle, ‘The Reverend Jacob Rice’, pp. 22-5.

[5] Ritchie, ‘Rice, Jacob’; Peddle, ‘The Reverend Jacob Rice’, p. 26; Falconer Madan, A Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford..., vol. 3 (Oxford, 1895), p. 273; The National Archives, PROB 11/624/333.

[6] Peddle, ‘The Reverend Jacob Rice’, p. 100.

~ Lucy Busfield

Friday, 5 August 2016

August 5, 1616: Remembering the Gowrie Conspiracy

When James VI and I claimed his southern kingdom, he brought with him an annual celebration of his deliverance from an alleged plot by the earl of Gowrie, John Ruthven, and his brother Alexander on 5 August 1600. By James’s own account, Alexander Ruthven had accosted him while he was out hunting with a story about a man finding a large pot of gold. Falling for this ruse because he thought it might indicate Spanish Catholic gold flowing into the country in preparation for a rebellion, James had been lured to Ruthven House, where his retainers rescued him from a murderous attack, killing both brothers in the process.

The occasion was a difficult one for James’s preachers, since the story seemed far-fetched, and James was the only surviving witness to the most crucial events. In Scotland, preachers such as Robert Bruce openly contested the story. In England, legend has it that Lancelot Andrewes, who preached regularly at court on the 5 August anniversary, begged James on his knees to tell him the truth of the affair. [1] While James steadfastly insisted on his version of events, some suspected that there had been no plot against the king and that the story had been fabricated to cover up the accidental but convenient deaths of two troublesome subjects. The relatively few Gowrie sermons available in print were preached mainly at court and at Paul’s Cross, and are generally by prominent preachers. Manuscript sermons provide an opportunity to expand our understanding of how other preachers approached their task.

One of these preachers was James Cleland, a relative newcomer to the pulpit, who preached at Canterbury Cathedral on 5 August 1616. Little is known of Cleland’s early life, but his initial ambitions appear to have been courtly rather than ecclesiastical. He received his MA from Edinburgh University, and may have come to England in hopes of advancement in 1603. In 1607, he published a how-to guide for young noblemen (Hero-paideia, or The institution of a young noble man) which was apparently popular enough to be reprinted, with variant titles, in 1611 and 1612. He was ordained on 18 June 1614, by John King in the parish church of Fulham, Middlesex, at the somewhat advanced age of 37, at which point he seems to have redirected rather than cast aside his ambitions.[2]

Cleland’s sermon (British Library Royal MS 17 B XIX) follows many of the conventions found in printed Gowrie sermons, such as hinting that Gowrie was motivated by Catholic sympathies, and insisting upon James’s deliverance as a sign of God’s special favour and protection. Unlike most preachers, however, Cleland directly confronts sceptics who question James’s account of the event. He argues that James acted reasonably in going to see the gold, and observes that even Adam and Eve were tricked by dissimulation. In a riskier move, he insists upon the providential nature of the king’s deliverance  by drawing attention to the least credible aspects of the story, asking rhetorically whether it was not “strange” that Alexander Ruthven lost courage to strike the fatal blow, whether it was not “wonderfull” that the king managed to get to a window to call for help at the exact moment that his followers were directly below, and whether it was not “most strange, and wonderfull of all” that the young Viscount Haddington should find a shortcut to the tower room and manage to kill both would-be assassins (f. 11v). However, his strongest argument for the king’s veracity is to remind his audience of a curious sequel to the Gowrie incident, and one that had offered a starring role to George Abbot, then Dean of Winchester, and the future source of Cleland’s preferment.

Figure 1: The opening of Cleland's sermon. © The British Library. Royal MS.17 B XIX, f. 1r.

One of the troubles with the Gowrie narrative was that James had no one to corroborate his story, since the Ruthvens appeared to have acted alone. But in 1608, a full eight years after the incident, authorities claimed they had discovered an accessory to the plot. This was George Sprot of Eyemouth, Berwickshire, a dodgy notary with a habit of forgery, who, under the influence of alcohol, claimed he had known of the plot before it occurred. When questioned, he told the privy council that he had seen a series of letters that Robert Logan, seventh laird of Restalrig, who had died two years earlier, had supposedly exchanged with John Ruthven and others. Under torture, he recanted this story, insisting he had forged the letters. George Home, earl of Dunbar, who stood to gain financially from the ruin of Logan’s estate, allegedly persuaded Sprot to revise his story once again, and at his execution, Sprot claimed that the letter addressed to Ruthven was copied from an original, while he had written the others.[3] The evidence against Sprot was hardly damning, given his reputation and the circumspection of the letter, which offered a safe location for settling a “plot” that might lead to forfeiture of his estates and execution but did not specifically refer to harming the king.

For James, however, the case promised an opportunity to validate his narrative. The king despatched Abbot to Scotland to witness Sprot’s trial and execution, after which Abbot contributed a preface to Sir William Hart’s account of the evidence against Sprot (The Examinations, Arraignement and Conviction of George Sprot, 1608, rpt. 1609). The preface focuses not on Sprot’s trial, but only on his execution, suggesting that Abbot’s role was to witness that justice had been done. However, the publication of the pamphlet clearly demonstrates that he had a more important goal: to bring recalcitrant ministers into line. He concludes by warning preachers “that in cases of highest nature between a King and his rebell they conceiue not things to the worst, and (because they will be opposite to him whom most of all they should honor) by buzzings and whisperings, and secret suggestions, without all ground of trueth, labour to sow sedition in the eares of women and children, or in the mindes of men either weake or ill disposed. For as the lips of the Priest should alwayes preserue knowledge, so should they preserue trueth. And we are to go before our flocks and Congregations in obedience and obsequiousnesse vnto the Christian Magistrate, not in sowing sedition, or making of mutinies, to the disturbance of the State” (37). Curiously, when James appointed Abbot archbishop of Canterbury in 1611, he claimed to be honouring a request made by the recently deceased earl of Dunbar, the man who had profited from Logan’s fall.[4]

Figure 2: Reference to George Sprot in Cleland's sermon. © The British Library. Royal MS.17 B XIX. f. 12v.

Cleland clearly seems to have been rewarded for defending the king and citing the Sprot episode. Abbot appointed him rector at Chartham, Kent, two years later in October 1618, by which time he had also been granted the degree Doctor of Divinity. That same year, Cleland became domestic chaplain to Lodovick Stuart, second duke of Lenox and Richmond, for whom he published a flattering funeral sermon in 1624. Abbot’s hand can be traced here too: in 1616, the archbishop had absolved the duke of his Scottish excommunication, the penalty for suspected Catholic sympathies. Cleland in turn rewarded Abbot in 1626, publishing an effusive sermon that he had preached, once again at Canterbury Cathedral, praising Abbot for supplying a conduit to provide water to the city, and in the process comparing him to Jacob (Iacobs wel, and Abbots conduit, paralleled, preached, and applied, 1626).

There is a curious gap of at least two years between the preaching of the Gowrie sermon and the copying of the manuscript, which includes a marginal reference to a document of 1618. Perhaps Cleland hoped to bolster his resume with a command to publish. If so, he was apparently disappointed. Possibly his defence of James’s story had been too heavy-handed, and more likely to increase scepticism than to put it to rest. Nevertheless, the preservation of this manuscript sermon leads us into a web almost as tangled as that of the Gowrie conspiracy itself.

The above images are used with the kind permission of The British Library.


[1] John Hacket, A Century of Sermons Upon Several Remarkable Subjects (1675), viii.

[2] Information about Cleland’s clerical career is taken from the Clergy of the Church of England Database (CCEd Person ID 39547) http://theclergydatabase.org.uk/ as well as from the title pages of his sermons.

[3] John Simmons, “Sprot , George (d. 1608),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn., Oxford: OUP, 2004. http://www.oxforddnb.com.libproxy.uregina.ca:2048/view/article/26182 (accessed July 12, 2016).

[4] Kenneth Fincham, “Abbot, George (1562–1633),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: OUP, 2004; online edn. January 2011, http://www.oxforddnb.com.libproxy.uregina.ca:2048/view/article/4 (accessed July 12, 2016).

~ Anne James

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

GEMMS’s Sermons Taxonomy: Tell us what you think

This spring, Anne and Jeanne introduced GEMMS to its first academic audience at the Renaissance Society of American meeting in Boston in order to seek feedback from others involved as creators and users of large digital humanities projects. In this post, we would like to share one of the first challenges of our work—developing a taxonomy of sermons and reports of sermons. We hope you will send us your questions and comments, because it’s feedback from potential users – like you – that will be crucial to this next phase of our project. We’d like to find out what kinds of information – and especially what kinds of searches – you’d like this database to provide. 

Our Goal: Improved Access

The primary objective of GEMMS is to improve access to manuscript sermons archives, many of which are described only minimally in catalogues. For example, the catalogue entry for British Library MS Add 75511, part of the Althorp papers, indicates that it contains “Sermon notes, medical recipes, and other commonplace material of the Monteage family, 1645-1748.” In fact, the manuscript so described includes fair copies of 20 mid-seventeenth century sermons by prominent puritan preachers, and provides important evidence not only for a number of sermons that are not preserved in print, but also of how they were carefully preserved and possibly circulated; each one is folded and carefully docketed. Since the British Library does not permit photography of this manuscript, the full description in the GEMMS database will be all the more necessary as an aid to further scholarship.

The database will improve situations such as this one, first, by offering more detailed information about the contents of each manuscript; second, by enabling the kinds of searches across repositories and across manuscripts that are not currently possible. These include the ability to search for sermons preached by individual preachers, on specific biblical texts, and on specific occasions and/or at specific locations as well as within a specific date range.

First Steps: Creating a Taxonomy of Sermons and Reports of Sermons

The Challenges of Diversity: The rich diversity of the materials available for inclusion in the database presents immediate problems of classification. Because we see our database as instrumental in establishing a standardized lexicon or common vocabulary for cataloguing, discussing, and interpreting early modern sermon culture, one of our first and basic structural challenges has been to develop a standard taxonomy acceptable to scholars and users of manuscript sermon materials that recognizes the range of manuscript sermon materials, especially in the growing field that examines sermon notes left by preachers, auditors, and readers. Our early forays into manuscript description quickly brought home to us the complexity of the archive and the challenges it offers, not only to us – primary researchers and project administrators – but also to our research assistants, and ultimately to you as users and contributors.

A Preliminary Taxonomy: Our basic division of materials comprises two groups – Sermons and Sermon Reports. We use Sermons to denote a broad category that includes a wide range of records of sermons, including full texts of sermons, sermon notes, and outlines of the main points of sermons. Incomplete sermons also are included in this category as sermon fragments. Each sermon will be entered as a separate record in the database. We added the category of Sermon Reports to our taxonomy to include other types of manuscript records of sermons that only briefly mention sermons, specifically lists of sermons, sermon diaries, commonplace books, and letters. While most sermon reports mention multiple sermons, only one record is entered for each report with a brief summary of the range of sermons recorded rather than a record for each sermon.

The terms we use to classify the materials we examine cover a broad and diverse range. Under the category of Sermons, we include complete sermons, ranging from exquisite fair copies, almost all intended for wider circulation (presentation copies [scribal and authorial]), authorially preserved full-length sermons, and manuscripts used by printers, to fair copies with minor deletions and revisions. Sermons with significant numbers of corrections are identified as Sermon drafts. Sermons that are clearly incomplete are identified as Sermon fragments

Figure 1: Fair copy of a sermon on Psalms 119:11 (Bodleian Library MS. Rawl. E.234)

Figure 2: Presentation copy of a sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:17, preceded by a title page (Bodleian Library MS. Rawl. E. 119)

Sermon notes prepared by preachers include materials in various states of completion. Some are clear, organized, and legible Preachers’ outlines, complete with scriptural citations, headings, and divisions  – the type of document a preacher might bring to the pulpit or save for future reference. We also include Preachers’ notes, working documents, not intended for circulation, ranging from single paragraphs meditating on scriptural passages to more extensive notes. Aware of their potential to register the impact of a sermon as an oral performance, we include a range of Auditors’ and Readers’ notes. Among the materials we’ve examined, some of these notes are thorough and informative; others are practically illegible, but provide a valuable and immediate point of access to a sermon’s moment of delivery or a reader’s engagement with a printed or manuscript sermon. We try to distinguish between notes made by preachers, auditors, and readers, but when their authorship is unclear, we use the generic term Sermon notes.

Figure 3: Auditor's notes of a sermon on Deuteronomy 10:12  (Bodleian Library MS. Rawl. E. 259)

Transcriptions are sermons that have been copied from another source, whether from print, manuscript, or an unknown source. Such transcriptions can indicate interest in the sermon long after its original occasion and help us to trace its circulation and reception. Charles Caesar’s commonplace book (British Library Additional MS 43410) contains sermons transcribed from print with Caesar’s notations on them.

The database also includes Sermon Reports; currently we distinguish four kinds of reports: Sermon lists, Sermon diaries, Commonplace books, and Letters. Sermon reports range from simple listings of sermons with minimal preaching information, to diaries and letters mentioning sermons preached or attended, sometimes offering the writer’s evaluation or interpretation of the sermon, or even identifying some of those present. Lists of sermons can help to identify sermons that may have survived in print or in other manuscripts. For example, Bodleian Library MS. Rawlinson D. 1076 is a catalogue of parliamentary fast and thanksgiving sermons from the 1640s, including an index of the preachers and a sample of the form used for thanking them for their services.

Figure 4: List of Parliamentary Sermons (Bodleian Library MS. Rawl. D. 1076)

Sermon reports are valuable evidence for the preaching and reception of sermons, but include little or no indication of the sermon’s content. Our goal is to identify these materials at the manuscript level without attempting to itemize all of the contents. In some cases, such as the diary of Thomas Crosfield (Queen’s College, Oxford, MS 390), which contains hundreds of brief reports of sermons, it would be impractical to locate and enter the details of each sermon. In these cases, the manuscript record will direct users to the item itself, providing any available information such as persons, places, and dates associated with the manuscript in searchable form so that the user can determine whether an examination of the manuscript itself is warranted.

We have constructed our taxonomy to make useful distinctions that are at once discernible to those entering data and useful to potential users of that data, without creating an overly complex taxonomy that is intimidating to those groups. Click here for our complete sermon taxonomy. We would appreciate suggestions for improvement, queries, or feedback of any sort on how we are organizing our materials.

Feedback from Potential Users: We’re at the point in our project where we would welcome feedback from potential users and contributors. As we refine our design, especially our metadata categories, we need to hear from you, especially with concerns, challenges, and ideas for improving and streamlining our content and our processes. What we really want to know is what you want this database to do for you.

All images reproduced with the kind permission of the Bodleian Library.

Anne James and Jeanne Shami