Adaptation and resistance: behaviours, conflict and belief in the post-reformation British Isles, c.1550-1700

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Arts Languages and Cultures


This interdisciplinary 1+3 CASE project challenges longstanding assumptions about Protestantism's hostility towards the material and supernatural realms by exploring how physical artefacts and domestic households became sites and vehicles of memory, consolation and contestation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The student will map, analyse and interpret the ritual marks and symbols from archaeological remains from this period. The project is founded on a previous preliminary survey of these at the Little Moreton Hall conducted by B Jackson and J Owen with C King of the North West Historic Graffiti Survey group, not yet analysed or contextualised by historians. The student historicises these marks and links them to social practices within the home and to the religious conflicts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The project also examines a range of moveable domestic artefacts to reassess the impact of the English reformation upon experiences of confessional divisions, devotion, conflict and coexistence (A Walsham, Catholic Reformation in Protestant Britain, 2014). By examining the history of domestic space, with particular focus upon material culture within the home, the project highlights the emotional and intellectual processes early modern people used to accept, incorporate or resist religious and political change (A Walsham, 'Domesticating the Reformation', 2016).

Previous studies of domestic ritual acts in post-Reformation Britain have focused on the South East (see Hutton, 1995 and 2016). The analysis of evidence from the North West region, renowned for its pro-Catholic associations well into the eighteenth century, is an important intervention. The masters and doctoral research adds contextual value. The research will also underpin the public programme at Little Moreton Hall, which will focus exclusively on these rituals in the final year of the PhD project (2021).

The student's dissertation will just focus on this site, combining the marks with Moreton family correspondence, estate records, account books and household inventories, from the Cheshire Record Office and the British Library. Wider contextual information on the local communities' religious and political associations is sought through visitation records, church court records, and legal records in Cheshire Record Office.
The student will also examine the remains and collections of other North West historic households including Speke Hall, Hall i' th' Wood, Smithills Hall, Bramall Hall, and Ordsall Hall (Salford) where preliminary mapping of the ritual marks has been undertaken by the North West Historic Graffiti Survey group.

Research Questions
1. What role did the material culture of early modern households play in shaping responses to the Protestant reformation in the British Isles?
2. How far can early modern households (and their contents) be considered as vehicles of assimilation and contestation of religious and political change?
3. What similarities and differences can be identified in the assimilation of religious and political change by adopting a comparative regional approach?
4. What added value does interdisciplinary engagement between historians, archaeologists, and material culture specialists bring to the written history of the religious reformations in the early modern British Isles?
5. How can historians best support and direct the interpretive strategies of the heritage sector by engaging with their collections?

Outcomes and Dissemination
The project will make a strong contribution to early modern social history, bringing fresh insights from newly uncovered archaeological evidence to bear upon some of the central questions within early modern religious and social history. These include the nature and extent of social change following the upheavals of the Protestant reformation in the British Isles, and the ability of households to deal with change and combat emotional distress.


10 25 50

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000665/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
2067511 Studentship ES/P000665/1 30/09/2018 29/04/2023