The Puritans and "The Battle for Merry England", with Professor Ron Hutton

How the Puritans taxed seasonal revelry to pay for churches and the people fought back, defending their right to get drunk and have a good time without the Church bothering them

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In the late Middle Ages, the English reached a perfect compromise over the traditionally difficult question of the Church's attitudes to popular festivities: to make those festivities pay for the needs of the Church.

For about two hundred glorious years, seasonal revelry became the main means of fundraising which maintained or rebuilt parish churches and supplied a growing amount of decoration and ceremony inside them. This meant that there was no need to impose rates or collections for the job, and seemed to cheat the Devil of one of his main means of tempting people to sin, by making drinking, dancing and folk customs support true religion...

Then, when the English Reformation arrived and the medieval Church got ditched, many zealous Protestants decided that the Devil himself was behind the deal, making sinful activities pay for unnecessary decorations and rituals which took people's minds away from the Bible. They were answered in turn by others who felt that merrymaking brought communities together and legitimately enabled pleasure to provide for piety.

These people coined the term "Merry England" to describe the late medieval system they were defending. The result was a large number of tragicomic battles fought in local parishes, between the two sides, until the whole issue got sucked up into the English Civil War and became one of the fault lines between Cavalier and Roundhead. This talk is designed to tell this story properly for the first time, and also its outcome, which was a different kind of compromise and which has given us the festive England we have had ever since.

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Ronald Hutton

Ron is Professor of History at the University of Bristol, and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, the Society of Antiquaries, the Learned Society of Wales, and the British Academy.

He has published fifteen books, including the Pagan Britain and is the author of [The Rise and Fall of Merry England: The Ritual Year, 1400-1700, a comprehensive account of the religious and secular rituals of late medieval and early modern England. (Click for all Ronald's books)

He is a familiar contributor to radio and television programmes such as Neil Oliver's Sacred Wonders of Britain and Time Team, and has written and presented a number of documentaries, including a series for Radio Four and one for the Discovery Channel.

He has degrees from Cambridge and Oxford and was formerly a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, before moving to Bristol in 1981.

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2017Martin Keeley