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    Parish Libraries and their Readers in Early Modern England, 1558-1709

    Purdy, Jessica Grace (2021) Parish Libraries and their Readers in Early Modern England, 1558-1709. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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    This thesis explores the foundation and use of post-Reformation parish libraries in early modern England from the accession of Elizabeth I in 1558 to the passing of the Parochial Libraries Act by Parliament in 1709. This work examines the circumstances of foundation for four early modern parish libraries established in England: the Francis Trigge Chained Library in Grantham, Lincolnshire (1598); Ripon Minster parish library in Yorkshire (1624); the Gorton Chest parish library in Manchester, Lancashire (1653); and Wimborne Minster Chained Library in Dorset (1686). It demonstrates that post-Reformation parish libraries in England brought together collections of religious and secular books for the purpose of educating their clerical and lay readers, and that they developed from and built on the collections of service books and liturgical texts housed in pre-Reformation parish churches. A small percentage of libraries also included works printed on the Continent, demonstrating the success of the international and domestic English trade networks. The number of parish library foundations in England increased gradually for much of the period until the last quarter of the seventeenth century, when there was an exponential increase in the number of repositories as a result of co-ordinated efforts to improve religious educational provision in England’s rural localities. This research demonstrates that the topical interests of early modern Protestant readers of parish library books remained relatively unchanged throughout the period between 1558 and 1709. They remained focussed on four key themes. The first area of interest for early modern readers was authors’ anti-Catholic sentiments, which centred on the changes, errors and corruptions of the Catholic Church. The second topic that interested readers was the importance of Scripture as the Word of God and everything necessary for faith, whilst the third pattern of focus was the interlinked concepts of sin, repentance and salvation. The fourth and final topic that particularly interested readers was instructions pertaining to a godly life and good death, in order to achieve everlasting life. This work provides scholars with an insight into the provision and reception of religious education at a parish level by people and in areas of early modern England that are otherwise commonly overlooked. In order to do so, this research uses a combination of sources including wills, inventories, purchase invoices, churchwardens’ account books, probate records and library catalogues to examine how early modern parish libraries were established and maintained for continued use in England in the period between 1558 and 1709.

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