Clerical Misdemeanours

Clergy were expected to set an example to their flock and to elicit the respect of parishioners for the established church. It did not always work that way. The records of the Court of Arches feature numerous cases of clergy and church officers falling foul of the Church authorities.

Once in post, a vicar or rector faced the full scrutiny of his parishioners, and accusations of unbeffiting conduct abound. The catalogue of negligence and inappropriate pastimes shine a light on early modern community life. At a time of intense religious divisions, it is hard to tell how often the allegations reflect the real motivation behind a campaign to remove a priest from office

the Court was used to correct errors of belief. The concern of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century courts with both clergy suspected of popery and those with puritan leanings reflects the insecurity of the Church coming out of an era of reformation and revolution. By the nineteenth century, the main question of clerical orthodoxy centred on the reintroduction, in some parishes, of elements of Roman Catholic worship.

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