History of Kelvedon Hatch

History of Kelvedon Hatch >> English Civil War

The parish during the English Civil War

A world gone mad: the English Civil War.

At the beginning of the 17th century an important event occurred in the history of the parish. In 1605, the Wright family of Kelvedon Hall, the Lords of the Manor, converted to Catholicism which meant the patronage of the benefice passed into the hands of a patron who was not living in the parish. Within the parish, Anthony Luther of Great Myles's, a staunch protestant, took over Wright's role in vestry affairs.

The first rector to be presented by an outside patron was John Lancaster. Two years later in 1607, Stephen Withers (Wythers) was presented. Withers later found himself involved in the turmoil of the English Civil War when the upheaval challenged all accepted things - 'a world gone mad'.

A countryman of the 17th century

Withers had attended Trinity College, Cambridge, gaining his B.A. in 1603 and his M.A. in 1607. He occupied the rectory which was situated ½mile from St Nicholas' Church and Kelvedon Hall. It was probably during his time that the rectory was enlarged and rebuilt. In 1611, his son John was born; followed in 1613 by Anthony. Nothing is known of his wife. In 1613 he was instituted at Sheering. He is last recorded in the registers of Kelvedon Hatch in 1641 and in a visitation in 1642. After these years in the parish, Withers fell victim to the turmoil of the English Civil War.

Within the pages of St.Nicholas' registers are the signatures or marks of parishioners who took the Protestation Oath in 1641 and 1642. The oath was required by Parliament to be taken by all men in the presence of all parishioners, and those that did not were unfit to bear office in the Church or Commonwealth. Its main effect was to identify and remove Catholics from holding office, but was also a protestation against infringement of liberty of the church and state.

In 1641, 60 men signed their names or marked with a cross. The list was made in their order of position in society, from Anthony Luther down to the servants employed in the great houses. In 1642, 51 signed the protestation. Three absent Catholics were marked as 'recusants', but interestingly John Wright was shown only as absent.

In the same year, John Wright and his wife, and servant Thomas Haward and his wife, were convicted as Popish recusants. Despite this, Wright managed to hold onto the Kelvedon Hall estate and pass it onto his descendants.

A citizen of the 17th century

In August 1643, after the start of the war, the Puritan party appointed a committee for the purpose of replacing those clergy who were loyal to the king. These displaced clergy were described as 'scandalous', but this mainly meant their political and theological attitudes. The committee would hear evidence, often from local parishioners, of the misdeeds of the parish priest. If the allegations were proved the rector would be sequestrated. This committee sometimes gave the local parishioners the opportunity to get rid of any clergy they did not like. In Withers's case, he was sequestrated from both Kelvedon Hatch and Sheering by 30th December 1643; and he had died before October 1645.

What had he done? The first account appeared in a book by John White, Counsellor at Law (1643). It had the full title: 'The first Century of Scandalous and Malignant Priests made and admitted into benefices by the prelates into whose hands the ordination of ministers and government of the church hath been, Or a narration of the causes for which the Parliament hath ordered the several sequestration of the benefices of several ministers complained of before the them, for viciousness of life, errors in Doctrine etc.'.

In this book, according to a later 18th century writer, Withers was described as "one of the Scandalous and Malignant Priests, for reading the Book of Sports; Observing the orders of the church, incontinency and malignancy". But the sympathetic writer noted that "probably the Latter part of this charge against him was just as true, as the Latter Part of that against the Person of Mr Washington, before mentioned" - i.e. false.

This allegation is given a completely new slant by a 1712 reprint of a 1643 book titled 'A New Years Gift for the High Church Clergy: being an account of the sufferings of a great number of the clergy of the Church of England who were sequestrated, harassed and persecuted by the Parliament, in the late times of the Great Rebellion, for errors in doctrine, and Vitiousness of Life, viz.: Armenianism, atheism and deism, blasphemy and sodomy.

In the book the following indictment of facts is made against Withers:
"The Benefice of Stephen Withers, Parson of Kelvedon, in the County of Essex, is sequestrated, for that he hath solicited, often-times, the wife of Philip Glascomb to commit Adultery with him, and divers other women, affirming it to be no sin to lie with them; and will not suffer his people to have above one Sermon on the Lord's Day, though at their charge".

Was this allegation true? After all this time it is impossible to say apart from the fact that there was a Philip Glascomb living in the parish at the time.

Withers replacement was George Robert Bettes. In 1645, George Bound, who was described as "an able godly preaching minister", was placed at the benefice by the Committee of Plundered Ministers. Bound, the son of Nicholas Bound the rector of Wickford, went to Cambridge University where he was awarded a B.A. in 1640, and his M.A. in 1643. He was ordained priest on 24th September, 1643. Bound is an example of the increase in the number of clergy who had received a University education (84% at this time it has been estimated). The parish priest in England was now to be far better educated that his predecessors had ever been.

Another to suffer in the civil war was Ralph Pettus of Brizes described as a 'great royalist', he had his estate sequestrated for £800. He was unable to pay and by the mid-1650s the estate passed to a Captain Glassock.

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