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Reformation of Manners


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The Reformation of Manners was an ideological drive to bring religious discipline to English parishes between the late 1600s and the early 1700s, and later in the 1780s, with William Wilberforce as a major instigator. Following the sixteenth-century religious reformation in parts of England, Calvinism heavily influenced the governance of many parishes. These parishes were governed by a series of local presbyteries, a group of church elders that saw their duty in the regulation of morals in accordance with scriptural principles. Calvinist theology encouraged a dualistic distinction between the 'godly' and the 'reprobate' of the parish: it was thought that the 'better sort' of inhabitant should be responsible for policing and disciplining the behaviour of their 'vulgar' neighbours. In practice, the 'word of God' was brought to bear on communities through pastoral supervision, an enforced focus on scriptural education ), attempts to increase literacy, mandatory repetition of catechisms and the suppression of many popular pastimes, including parish wakes, seasonal festivities, drinking and bear-baiting. This impulse is perhaps best exemplified in Richard Baxter's ministry over Kidderminster in Worcestershire between 1641 and 1660. Baxter, often referred to as 'the saint of the Puritans', had an exalted view of his ministerial office and pastoral duties, striving to bring moral discipline to his parishioners. Baxter's ministry is an extreme example but the Reformation of Manners was also manifested as a wider initiative in the church courts throughout England more generally. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, particularly, saw these courts take a leading role in enforcing the moral principles of the Anglican Church.
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