chapter  5
19 Pages

Polemics: Thetford, 1560–90

Early modern Englishmen and women possessed a rich vocabulary of religious descriptions. Within this corpus were at least two strains of use. One was reflected in the tendency to distinguish and differentiate groups and positions, a form of precision seen in the use of nicknames such as 'Brownists', 'Barrowists', 'Familists', 'Anabaptists', 'Socinians', 'Sabbatarians', and the profusion of more exotic terms that flourished in the years of the Civil War.1 The more dominant linguistic tendency tended towards catch-all terms that covered a variety of persuasions as in the use of the popular; triumvirate of 'Papist', 'Puritan' and 'Neuter'.2 And the adverbial and adjectival derivatives of such terms possessed an even greater versatility when applied by contemporaries either in a positive or negative way, for religious characterization was a subjective, partial and often polemical business. The 'godly' may have defined themselves as 'likers and allowers of the holy gospel', the 'well disposed .in religion', perhaps even simply the 'better sort' yet were castigated by others with the label of 'precisian, puritan, disciplinarian, busy fellows, and hypocrites'. Such terms are redolent with aspects of what historians have called 'cultural conflict', displaying the overlap that often existed between the language of religious sorts and the language of social solidarity or conflict. This is hardly surprising considering the ties that bound magistrate and

See Thomas Becon's comparison of 'many learned and eloquent writers and preachers, whom the enemies of God call Lutherians, Zuinglians, Oecolampadians, Calvinists, heretics, schismatics, teachers of new learning, troublers of our mother holy church, confounders of all good order, despisers of all laudable customs' which are contrasted with 'papists, anabaptists, Arians, Davidians, free-will men, libertines, adiaphorists, interimists, neutrals, epicures and other most horrible monsters of wickedness5. J. Ayre (ed.), Prayers and other pieces of Thomas Becon (Cambridge, 1844), p. 401; cf. 'A Sermon Against Contention and Brawling' in J. Griffiths (ed.), The Two Books of Homilies (Oxford, 1859). For Ranters, Seekers, Quakers, Muggletonians and Diggers see C. Hill, The World Turned Upside Down (London, 1972). Henoch Clapham's tract, Err our on the Right Hand (London, 1608) consists of a series of dialogues between a Tlyer' (or would-be separatist), Familist, Anabaptist, Legatarrian, Brownist, Malcontent and Mediocritan. Terms like Nullifidians never really caught on. Bullinger used it once: T. Harding (ed.), The Decades of Henry Bullinger, Fourth Decade (Cambridge, 1851), p. 112. Other terms such as Novatians, Catharist and Donatist, though often used in the printed controversies, had little popular usage. Cf. P. Collinson, English Puritanism (London, 1983), pp. 7-8.