Despite the importance of the subject to contemporaries, this is the first monograph to look at the institution of godparenthood in early modern English society. Utilising a wealth of hitherto largely neglected primary source data, this work explores godparenthood, using it as a framework to illuminate wider issues of spiritual kinship and theological change. It has become increasingly common for general studies of family and religious life in pre-industrial England to make reference to the spiritual kinship evident in the institution of godparenthood. However, although there have been a number of important studies of the impact of the institution in other periods, this is the first detailed monograph devoted to the subject in early modern England. This study is possible due to the survival, contrary to many expectations, of relatively large numbers of parish registers that recorded the identities of godparents in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By utilising this hitherto largely neglected data, in conjunction with evidence gleaned from over 20,000 Wills and numerous other biographical, legal and theological sources, Coster has been able to explore fully the institution of godparenthood and the role it played in society. This book takes the opportunity to study an institution which interacted with a range of social and cultural factors, and to assess the nature of these elements within early modern English society. It also allows the findings of such an investigation to be compared with the assumptions that have been made about the fortunes of the institution in the context of a changing European society. The recent historiography of religion in this period has focused attention on popular elements of religious practice, and stressed the conservatism of a society faced with dramatic theological and ritual change. In this context a study of godparenthood can make a contribution to understanding how religious change occurred and the ways in which popular religious practice was affected.
Table of Contents
Contents: Preface; Introduction; The Context of Spiritual Kinship: The Sources; Baptism and the spiritual community; The concept of spiritual kinship; Spiritual Kinship and Local Society: Local society: three case studies; The structure of spiritual kinship; English naming systems; Diversity and Social Change: The roles of spiritual kin; Determinants of spiritual relationships; The fortunes of a social institution; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.
'[This] thoughtful book is a worthy addition to a distinguished series.' Northern History 'Charting the changes in the perception of spiritual kinship in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, this volume makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the processes of religious change, and the impact that the Reformation had upon religious practice.' History '... by the end of the book we are convinced that the significance of spiritual relationships may have been greater than historians have imagined. It is the organic quality of this book - melding social, economic, religious and political facets of the institution that has allowed Coster to achieve so much. The result is the standard work on early modern English godparenthood.' Parergon 'This monograph on the institution of godparenthood is a carefully researched and impressively detailed piece of social history... The detail and precision of Coster's work, and the thoughtfulness of his interpretation, will make it a reference point on this topic for decades to come.' Reformation