the antinomian who declared that he would sell all religions for a jug of beer
the butcher in the diocese of Ely in 1608 who set his dog on the people as they went to church
Brian Walker, who in 1635 was asked if he did not fear God, retorted that, ‘I do not believe there is either God or Devil; neither will I believe anything but what I see’ and who as an alternative to the Bible commended ‘the book called Chaucer.’
A Cambridgeshire man was charged with indecent behaviour in church in 1598 after his ‘most loathsome farting, striking, and scoffing speeches’ had occasioned ‘the great offence of the good and the great rejoicing of the bad.’
The Bexley man who in 1313 made images of wood and stone in his garden and worshipped them as gods, before proceeding to kill his maidservant [obv that bit’s not so good]
When Mr Evans, rector of Holland Magna, Essex, preached in 1630 about Adam and Eve making themselves coats of fig-leaves, one loud-mouthed parishioner demanded to know where they got the thread to sew them with.
of confusion regarding communion: At one church in the area there were only two male communicants. When the cup was given to the first he touched his forelock and said, ‘Here’s your good health, sir.’ The second, better informed, said, ‘Here’s the good health of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ At Chippenham a poor man took the chalice from the vicar and wished him a Happy New Year.
the salutory story of the man of sixty who had all his life attended sermons, twice on Sundays, and frequently on other occasions in the week. yet the answers he gave the minister who questioned him on his deathbed spoke for themselves:
Being demanded what he thought of God, he answers that he was a good old man; and what of Christ, that he was a towardly young youth; and of his soul, that it was a great bone in his body; and what should become of his soul after he was dead, that if he had done well he should be put into a pleasant green meadow.
the people in 1547 of one parish in Cambridge where, ‘when the vicar goeth into the pulpit to read that he himself hath written, then the multitude of the parish goeth straight out of the church, home to drink’
Lady Eleanor Davis, who in 1625 ‘heard early in the morning a Voice from Heaven, speaking as through a trumpet these words: “There is nineteen years and a half to the Judgment Day”‘. From then until her death in 1652 she had a continuous career of prophetic utterance, interrupted only by consequent periods of imprisonment. Contemporaries believed her to have predicted the deaths of Charles I, Laud and Buckingham, as well as that of her first husband. her ecstatic and utterly obscure pronouncements were frequently printed, and as frequently suppressed. In 1633 she was imprisoned and heavily fined by the High Commission for illegally printing at Amsterdam a commentary on Daniel in which she made dark predictions about the fate awaiting Laud and Charles I. A few years later she went berserk in Lichfield Cathedral, defiling the altar hangings and occupying the episcopal throne, declaring she was the Primate of all England. This led to a further period of restraint.
two bits of commentary from Keith Thomas worth quoting as well:
[In the Elizabethan period] a substantial proportion of the population regarded organised religion with an attitude which varied from cold indifference to frank hostility.
Not enough justice has been done to the volume of apathy, heterodoxy and agnosticism which existed long before the onset of industrialism.
Cannot be said enough. It is not something we have just discovered, or to be used as some indicator of ‘progress’ – worldly indifference is persistent.