Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland 0521761549, 9780521761543

Drawing on archaeological, historical, theological, scientific, and folkloric sources, Sarah Tarlow's interdiscipli

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Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland
 0521761549, 9780521761543

Table of contents :
Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland
Chapter 1 Introduction
The Sources for This Study
The Body, and the Dead Body
The Changing Self – Burkhardt’s Individual and the Early Modern Body
The Modern Self
Belief and the Early Modern Body
Organisation of This Book
Chapter 2 Religious Belief
The World of Late Catholicism
The Reformation
The Disappearance of Purgatory
The Despised Body
The Actions of the Living upon the Body of the Dead
The Resurrection of the Body
Disposal of the Dead Body
Ireland and the Burial of Catholics
The Unbaptised
The Death of Infants in Early Modern Protestantism
Excommunicants, Recusants and Malefactors
Low Church and Dissent
Dissenters and the Dead Body
Chapter 3 Scientific Belief
Anatomy: A Potent Cultural Metaphor
Why Were Dead Bodies Cut?
Cutting the Body before the Great Age of Anatomy
Historians of Anatomy
The Microcosm
The Dissected
Archaeological Evidence of Anatomy
Anatomy Cuts Free of Moral Philosophy: Into Modernity
Dying for a Reason: The Growing Significance of ‘Cause of Death’
The Pursuit of Knowledge
The Coroner
Body as Person to Body as Commodity
Restoring the Body: Contradictory Beliefs?
The Horror of Anatomy
Anatomy and the Archaeology of Anxiety
Chapter 4 Social Belief
Ordinary Bodies, Ordinary Deaths
Massacred, Murdered, Drowned: Disposal after a Bad Death
Elite Burials
The Elite Body: Oliver Cromwell
Arms and the Early Modern Man
Burial and the New Kind of Modern Individual
Emotion: The Beloved and Beautiful Body
The Undying Body
Normal Preparation of the Corpse
The Emotional Response to Bereavement
Men and Women
The Problem of Decay
The Criminal Body
Disintegrating the Criminal Body
Anatomising Criminals
Conclusions: The Body and the Body Politic: Metaphors of the Body
Personal Status, the Decaying Body and the Desire for ‘Honesty’
Chapter 5 Folk Belief
Folk Beliefs about the Dead Body
The Touch of the Dead
The Powerful Corpse
The Hand of Glory
Folk Beliefs about the Places of the Dead
The Sensitive Corpse
Fairies, Wraiths and Souls
Folk Eschatology
Folk Beliefs about the Afterlife
Other Funerary Customs
Folk Practice, Religious Belief, Scientific Knowledge
Chapter 6 Conclusions
The Body as Curio
Ethical Implications

Citation preview

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland Drawing on archaeological, historical, theological, scientific and folkloric sources, Sarah Tarlow’s interdisciplinary study examines belief as it relates to the dead body in early modern Britain and Ireland. From the theological discussion of bodily resurrection to the folkloric use of body parts as remedies, and from the judicial punishment of the corpse to the ceremonial interment of the social elite, this book discusses how seemingly incompatible beliefs about the dead body existed in parallel through this tumultuous period. This study, the first to incorporate archaeological evidence of early modern death and burial from across Britain and Ireland, addresses new questions about the materiality of death: what the dead body means and how its physical substance could be attributed with sentience and even agency. It provides a sophisticated original interpretive framework for the growing quantities of archaeological and historical evidence about mortuary beliefs and practices in early modernity. Sarah Tarlow is Senior Lecturer in Historical Archaeology at the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester. She is the author of Bereavement and Commemoration: An Archaeology of Mortality (1999) and The Archaeology of Improvement in Britain, 1750–1850 (Cambridge 2007) and co-editor of The Familiar Past? Archaeologies of Later Historical Britain (1999) and Thinking through the Body (2002). She has published widely on archaeological theory, later historical archaeology and the interdisciplinary study of death.

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland Sarah Tarlow University of Leicester

cambridge university press Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, S˜ao Paulo, Delhi, Dubai, Tokyo, Mexico City Cambridge University Press 32 Avenue of the Americas, New York, ny 10013-2473, usa www.cambridge.org Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521761543  c

Sarah Tarlow 2011

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published 2011 Printed in the United States of America A catalog record for this publication is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication data Tarlow, Sarah, 1967– Ritual, belief and the dead body in early modern Britain and Ireland / Sarah Tarlow. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. isbn 978-0-521-76154-3 1. Funeral rites and ceremonies – Great Britain. 2. Funeral rites and ceremonies – Ireland. 3. Dead – Social aspects – Great Britain. 4. Dead – Social aspects – Ireland. 5. Human body – Social aspects – Great Britain. 6. Human body – Social aspects – Ireland. 7. Human remains (Archaeology) – Great Britain. 8. Human remains (Archaeology) – Ireland. 9. Great Britain – Antiquities. 10. Ireland – Antiquities. I. Title. gt3243.t37 2010 393.0941 – dc22 2010023739 isbn 978-0-521-76154-3 Hardback Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of urls for external or third-party Internet Web sites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such Web sites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

To Olwynne Tarlow And in memory of Michael Tarlow


List of Figures Preface

page ix xi

One: Introduction Two: Religious Belief Three: Scientific Belief Four: Social Belief Five: Folk Belief Six: Conclusions

1 19 59 103 156 191

References Index

203 221



2.1. Monument to John Deighton, Gloucester. 2.2. The wrappings of the upper part of the embalmed body of St Bees man. 2.3. Anthropomorphic lead coffins from the chapel vault at Farleigh Hungerford Castle, Somerset. 2.4. Mausoleum of James Melville of Halhill, at Collessie Fife. 2.5. Maamtrasna cill´ın, County Mayo. 2.6. Special cemetery at Tintagel in Cornwall. 2.7. Putative recusant burials, Eynsham Abbey. 2.8. Plan of the Quaker burial ground at Kingston-upon-Thames. 3.1. The title page of Helkiah Crooke’s Microcosmographia (1615). 3.2. Long bone from Newcastle Infirmary, sectioned with three different cuts. 3.3. Gravestone of Henry Hughes Cooper’s leg at Strata Florida, Ceredigion. 3.4. The microcosm. 3.5. Early modern burials from the filled-in moat of Oxford Castle. 3.6. Partial burial from Oxford Castle. 3.7. Developing foetus from Crooke (1631). 3.8. Anatomical illustrator using a camera obscura. 3.9. Burial of c. 1800 from Barton-upon-Humber. 3.10. Mortsafe from St Mary’s, Holystone. 4.1. London’s charity and the country’s cruelty. 4.2. A mass grave from York Barbican. 4.3. The burial of drowned bodies on the Isle of Lewis. 4.4. The ‘Wilkinson head’. 4.5. Coffin plate from Mary-le-Port Bristol. 4.6. Studs showing initials and a date from a coffin at the Quaker burial ground at Kingston-upon Thames. 4.7. Coffin of John Belasys from Blandford Parish Church, Dorset. 4.8. Catch on the Easingwold parish coffin. 4.9. Thomas More’s head.

page 30 32 33 41 47 51 53 57 63 65 67 69 76 77 86 87 93 97 107 111 113 117 123 124 125 139 151


Figures 5.1. The hand of the hanged murderer Hollings used to cure a young woman. 5.2. The head of St. Oliver Plunkett. 5.3. Hand of glory on display at Whitby Museum. 5.4. Witch bottle from All Saints’ Church, Loughton, Buckinghamshire. 5.5. A rose resuscitated through palingenesy. 6.1. Anthropodermic bibliopegy. 6.2. Pearson and Morant’s (1935) attempts to match the dimensions of Cromwell’s head to his busts, portraits and masks.


163 167 169 185 189 194 195


This book is one of two major publications resulting from my involvement in the ‘Changing Beliefs of the Human Body’ research project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust. It is a companion to Cherryson, Crossland and Tarlow (forthcoming). Whereas Cherryson, Crossland and Tarlow is a more descriptive and data-rich survey of archaeological evidence relating to death and disposal in Britain and Ireland over the last 500 years, this book is an interpretive and inter-disciplinary study of beliefs about the dead human body. I am grateful to the Leverhulme Trust for funding the project and to the universities of Leicester and Cambridge for supporting its administration and resourcing. Zoe Crossland and Annia Cherryson, my colleagues in this research, have been invaluable sources of information, ideas, critiques and support at every stage. Many other individuals and organisations have offered their advice, drawn our attention to sites and made available their archives. A fuller list of our collective debts of gratitude is in Cherryson, Crossland and Tarlow (forthcoming), but here I would like to record my personal thanks to colleagues on the ‘Changing Beliefs’ project, especially John Robb and Oliver Harris, for productive and challenging discussions. Maryon Macdonald, Oliver Harris and Annia Cherryson read a draft of the whole manuscript, and I thank them heartily for their useful suggestions, as I also thank the two anonymous readers for Cambridge University Press. Many thanks to Nick Pearson of On-Site Archaeology and Andrew Chamberlain of Sheffield University, who discussed the York Barbican site with me and provided photographs. I thank the following organisations and individuals for permission to reproduce their figures and photographs: Kirsty Owen for Figure 2.1; Deirdre O’Sullivan for Figure 2.2; John Cooke for Figure 2.3; ARC Architects for Figure 2.4 and Ruthann O’Connor for Figure 2.5. Figures 2.6, 2.7, 2.8, 4.3 and 5.4 were prepared by Debbie Miles-Williams of the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester. Figures 3.1 and 3.9 are reproduced by kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library. I thank Annsofie Witkin for Figure 3.2 and Alison Bryan for Figure 3.3. Figure 3.4 appears courtesy of the Chemical Heritage Foundation Othmer Library and Special Collections. Figures 3.7 and 3.8 are courtesy of Oxford Archaeology. Figure 3.11 is courtesy of Warwick Rodwell, who entrusted us with his precious negatives; and for Figure 3.12, I thank John Dalrymple. Thanks go to On-Site Archaeology for Figure 4.2; Bristol Museums xi

Preface for Figure 4.5; Archaeology South-East for Figure 4.6; and Blandford Forum Parish Church for Figure 4.7. For Figure 5.2, I am indebted to Ben Dillon; and for Figure 5.3, to Chris Twigg. Figure 6.1 appears courtesy of Wilkinson’s Auctioneers. The remaining figures are in the public domain or are copyright of the author. Finally, I thank my family: Mark, Rachel, Adam and Gregory, for being full of life when I was peering into the grave. My parents, Mike and Olwynne Tarlow, have always supported and indulged my interest in things funereal. My father’s death during the writing of this book was a painful personal encounter with the complexities of belief and mortality. This book is dedicated to his memory and to my mother.


Chapter 1


In the late seventeenth century, an elderly Quaker widow called Priscilla Moe was put in prison because she refused to pay a fine for attending a Quaker meeting on the Isle of Wight. Priscilla, weak and unwell, died in prison. The following day, her friends came to take her body for burial according to their principles – in unconsecrated ground and with minimal ceremony – but they were turned away without her corpse. She was instead buried “in a Christian manner”, at the order of the town governor, “with so many Ceremonies and Circumstances of [the Established Church’s] own, prayers and other Acts of such like Devotion, into hallowed and consecrated Ground” (Croese 1696: 180). Priscilla’s friends were terribly upset that her body was subjected to what they saw as the ostentatious and ritualistic burial rites of the established church. They had their own burial ground where Friends’ bodies could be interred in unmarked graves, eschewing the conventions of west–east burial which they would have preferred to use. Yet the treatment of Priscilla’s dead body had become the focus of contestation for a group of religious dissenters and their enemies. Gerard Croese, the seventeenth-century historian of Quakerism from whom we hear this anecdote, was surprised at the strength of Quaker feeling on this matter, given that “according to their Confession the Dead have no sense or feeling, neither is it any matter where they rot” (1696: 181). It seemed instead to him that the Isle of Wight Quakers had “so abhorred the superstition of others, as to favour another Superstition”. It was not just Quakers in early modernity whose attitudes towards the dead body appeared contradictory to both contemporaries and us. If the body was insensible, why did it matter where or how it was treated? What did early modern people really 1

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland believe about the dead body? This book addresses that question through examining multiple and often incompatible practices and discourses that surrounded the newly dead body. The research on which this book is built was funded by the Leverhulme Trust as part of a major research initiative examining changing beliefs about the body. My part of the project looks at beliefs relating to the dead human body in early modern and modern Britain and Ireland. By training, I am an archaeologist – that is to say, my Ph.D. is in archaeology and I teach in an archaeology department. The contribution of archaeology to our knowledge of early modern beliefs about the body has not been great up to now. But the archaeology of the last 500 years has become quite exciting and even fashionable in the past 10 years. Increasing numbers of students at all levels are choosing to study this period which is rich in material remains and historical context. In addition, much, if not most, archaeological excavation carried out in Britain and Ireland today relates to historically recent periods, and there is now a large quantity of grey literature on post-medieval archaeology. As yet, however, there is little synthetic literature on any aspect of the period for the student, scholar or interested person to look at. Post-medieval mortuary practices have inspired little interpretive work, and the archaeology of death in this period does not feature at all in recent overviews of later historical archaeology (e.g. Hall and Silliman 2006; Hicks and Beaudry 2006). Zoe Crossland, Annia Cherryson and I have tried to address this problem – at least in a preliminary way – by collating an extensive gazetteer of archaeologically excavated sites in Britain and Ireland containing post-medieval burials and writing a descriptive survey of the evidence. The publication of this part of the research (Cherryson, Crossland and Tarlow forthcoming) also forms part of the background to this book. However, in any project looking at the post-medieval period, the researcher is blessed with numerous sources of evidence which far exceed the traditional subject matter of any single discipline. Therefore, the evidence of belief considered here is not just derived from archaeological research. Other kinds of discourses are and were equally important in defining and illustrating beliefs about bodies in this period. Poetry and drama, scientific writing, state and local legislation, religious tracts and folk practice were all significant kinds of discourse, and an adequate discussion of belief over the last 500 years needs to be aware of all of them. A problem of institutional structures of academic research generally means that the different kinds of belief discourse brought together here are normally analysed separately by scholars in different traditions: the development of anatomy by historians of science; the nature of bodily resurrection by theologians; the form of memorial monuments has been the preserve of art historians and metaphors of the body have belonged to scholars of English literature. This study of belief and the dead body is therefore intentionally inter-disciplinary as a means of highlighting and focusing on areas of overlap and contradiction between different traditions of practice and discourse. This book studies some of the most important belief discourses about the human body, particularly the dead human body, in the post-Reformation period. In this introduction, I outline some key concepts, including the most challenging and perhaps also the most important: belief. Because different belief discourses in the 2

Introduction past map quite neatly onto the organisation of academic disciplines in the present, the key problem of how incompatible and even incommensurable beliefs can exist in a society has not often been remarked upon or explored. For example, the rise of anatomical dissection can be studied by historians of science for whom the process relates to the development of modern understandings of physiology, pathology and medicine, by social historians for whom it is part of the history of punishment and a means by which power and class relations are structured, by literary critics for whom it provides a reservoir of imagery and conceit that could be used by writers, by theologians for whom it was a way of knowing God and by art historians for whom it related to the depiction of the human form. Each of those disciplines examines the discourses that relate to its own focus of enquiry. But the separation of these analytical traditions obscures the way these kinds of thought relate to each other and, equally important, sidesteps analytical problems presented by contradictions between them. Efforts were sometimes made to explain or incorporate the beliefs of one tradition within another so that poets might use the latest scientific knowledge as a way of meditating on God as John Donne did, for example (Sawday 1995), or anatomists might introduce their texts with some reflections on divine omnipotence. Moreover, traditions of belief in the past were usually context specific. Thus, in a theological tract a man might say that the fate of the body after death is a matter of indifference, the soul being the immortal and valuable part, but at the same time may regard post-mortem dissection of the body as a dreadful fate and a suitable part of the repertoire of judicial punishment. To take another example, horror of decaying flesh is evident in the changing treatments of the body and the growth of non-utilitarian embalming (i.e. preserving corpses even when they are not needed for research or a delayed funeral), but at the same time, the putrefying remains of executed criminals suspended in gibbets which dotted the British and Irish countryside were the focal point of fairs and excursions (Whyte 2003). One of the central aims of this book is to find a way of thinking about the simultaneous occurrence of contradictory and incoherent practices and texts. The value of the concept of ‘belief discourse’, outlined in this chapter, is important here.

Death Many researchers across the sciences, social sciences and humanities have contributed to the study of death in their own disciplines and to the inter-disciplinary area of ‘death studies’. In Britain, there is an annual inter-disciplinary meeting and dedicated journal (Mortality). Much scientific and sociological study of death has direct applications in policy and practice relating to the care of people facing death or dealing with its aftermath. The ethical implications of such practices are considered by philosophers, theologians and others. In the arts and humanities, more emphasis has been put on elucidating different cultural attitudes to death across space and time, as evident in cultural productions, such as art and literature, or through direct and indirect observations, such as historical documents and ethnographic studies. 3

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland Death, responses to death and treatment of the dead are canonical areas of archaeological study. From its inception, the discipline of archaeology has relied heavily on materials recovered from funerary contexts. For some periods, such as the early medieval period in Britain, the bulk of archaeological evidence comes from graves. The spectacular tombs and monuments of ancient people aroused the curiosity of early antiquarians, and material objects recovered from grave deposits form the core of many museum collections. Grave goods even acted as ciphers for races or peoples in the past, as ‘Beaker Folk’, for example, were tracked across the continent by their distinctive funerary culture. In later years, the bodies of the dead were studied for what they could tell us about health, activities, demography and race, and later the practices of burial were analysed as clues to past social and symbolic systems. It is possible to divide the archaeological study of death in a number of ways. The most traditional one is the tripartite division into schools of thought: first a culture history phase, where burial practices and goods were indexical of past cultures; then a processual one elucidating general principles that would relate features of a society’s burial practices to its degree of social complexity and kind of organisation; and finally a post-processual period. Post-processualists were interested in what burial practices could tell us about power, ideology and cultural meaning. The utility of this division, as well as the variation it masks and the shared areas of enquiry it fails to recognise, has recently been critiqued by Chapman (2008), who suggests that analysis of mortuary archaeology by period of study, national and linguistic tradition or epistemology might sometimes be a more useful way of dividing the field. Good summaries of the history of archaeological approaches to mortuary contexts are Chapman and Randsborg (1981) and Rakita et al. (2005). Early work on the archaeology of death often focused on ‘grave goods’ found in association with the body. In fact, every aspect of disposal of the body is interesting and potentially informative, including the position and orientation of the body and the grave, its form and location and, of course, the human remains themselves. Grave goods can tell us about economic relationships and also about status within a community, as well as how gender and age were understood in particular contexts. Grave goods, along with other features of the burial, may provide clues to a society’s eschatological beliefs. By examining the body using scientific techniques, including anatomical examination and chemical and DNA analysis, we can find out probable age and sex of the individuals, what they ate, what diseases and accidents they may have suffered, who they might have been related to and perhaps even where they grew up. Heinrich Harke (2002: 340) has noted a recent move in archaeology from a focus on life in the past, which can be inferred from study of the burial and the human remains themselves, to death in the past, so that the actual mortuary context is more than just incidental to the recovery of archaeological material. Processual archaeologists of death tended to see the preoccupation of anthropological and historical work on the emotional and symbolic elaboration of death as indirectly relevant to archaeologists. Their position was that archaeologists needed to know about these things to screen them out, to correct skewed pictures presented by “devious societies” (Chapman 1987: 205) or to relate the observed 4

Introduction mortuary practice to truth about the organisation or structure of the society which produced it. But in recent years, many archaeologists have chosen to see things such as ritual and religion, symbolic and structural meaning and emotion and experience as being of interest themselves.

The Sources for This Study The focus of this book is the cultural history of death and the dead body. Evidence is drawn from archaeology and from a range of textual sources. The questions asked are about death rather than about what burial and the study of the body itself can tell us about social organisation in a past society. I have not attempted to study demography or pathology of past populations from the osteological evidence, concentrating instead on the post-mortem treatment of the corpse. Human remains can be valuable sources of evidence about many aspects of life in the past, but the archaeology discussed in this book treats the disposal of the body as the focus of enquiry rather than a source of evidence for other questions. The archaeological sources in this book are largely details of the disposal of the body itself, although features of the memorial monuments and cemetery context are also sometimes considered. The history of commemoration in Britain over the post-medieval period is much better understood now than it was a few years ago, thanks to works such as those of Finch (2000), Tarlow (1999a) and Mytum (2000, 2004). Our knowledge of the excavated archaeology of burial is currently far less complete, although good publications of single sites (e.g. Reeve and Adams 1993; Brickley and Miles 1999; Adams and Colls 2007; McKinley 2008; Miles and White 2008; Miles et al. 2008) are now augmented by a major survey and gazetteer (Cherryson, Crossland and Tarlow forthcoming). To date, however, there is no sustained attempt to analyse and explain the differences between the below- and above-ground archaeology of death, such as the different rates of change and range of variation in commemorative and burial practices. There remains considerable scope for archaeological studies that unite commemorative evidence with details of the preparation and deposition of the corpse. Mytum (2007) laments the general failure of archaeologists to bring together aboveground commemoration and below-ground archaeology in their studies of postmedieval burial practices. Some sites, such as St Pancras, London, have produced both human remains and memorial monuments, although the memorials from that site do not relate to excavated remains (Emery 2006). To my knowledge, there is no published site in Britain or Ireland where large numbers of skeletons have been clearly related to extant commemorative monuments. Only Mytum’s own paper (2007) comparing rates of change in decorative motifs on gravestones and in coffin fittings unites the two kinds of evidence. In his examination of coffin fittings and memorial monuments, Mytum found that below-ground material culture was much more conservative and changed little over long periods, whereas the design of standing monuments was more susceptible to changing fashions which could spread rapidly. He suggests that because coffin fittings were chosen at a time of 5

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland stress and under time pressure, undertakers probably assumed greater control than relatives of the deceased in decision making. Monuments, by contrast, were commissioned in a more leisurely way and with a greater eye to fashion. In addition, the memorial monument would be on display far longer than the coffin, and therefore a greater investment in money and care would be made in the selection and creation of a monument. As this book discusses, burial practices in most of Britain and Ireland changed slowly over the period examined here, and the most radical changes (the replacement of urban parish graveyards by municipal cemeteries; the rise of cremation) did not occur until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Change in memorial monuments, however, is easier to periodise. Trends in material, position, commemoration style, nature of epitaph, phrasing and language are all observable, and variation can usually be understood chronologically. By contrast, variations in the use of particular coffin type, burial attire and location of burial occur synchronically as well as diachronically. Until recently, the below-ground archaeology of death in the post-medieval period was less developed than the archaeology of standing commemorative monuments. In 2003, Roberts and Cox lamented that “only a handful” of post-medieval mortuary sites had been archaeologically excavated, compared to the dozens commercially cleared by cemetery clearance contractors (see Reeve and Cox [1999]) for a fuller discussion of this issue); they also complained that at the time of writing, few of the excavated sites had been properly published and most of those published had not been comprehensively analysed (Roberts and Cox 2003: 289). In fact, Cherryson, Crossland and Tarlow (forthcoming) found more than 600 post-medieval mortuary sites in Britain and Ireland, but it is true that the levels of publication for most of these are far lower than for earlier periods and only a very small number are well known and accessible to students of the period. However, several well-excavated and studied sites have been published in the last five years, and the situation is definitely looking up. Because clear chronological trends are more difficult to observe and interpret in below-ground archaeology than in memorials, this book is structured by belief rather than by period. Within each tradition of belief discourse, however, there were trajectories and events that changed beliefs or, at any rate, changed the way people expressed their beliefs over time. The period studied in this book is early modernity – from the sixteenth-century religious reformations of Europe until the early eighteenth century. However, sometimes the best evidence we have for particular practices or attitudes comes from the later eighteenth or even the nineteenth century. Where that evidence casts useful light on the subjects of study, I have included it despite its later date.

The Body, and the Dead Body ‘The body’ has been a hot topic in the humanities and social sciences for about twenty years. The philosophical and theoretical recognition that ‘the body’ is not universally experienced and described the same way has enabled the development 6

Introduction of traditions of study that analyse cultural meanings that shape the body in various contexts. Historically, in Western thought the body has often been considered half of a complementary duality (Haila 2000). In medieval and early modern philosophical thought, the body was completed by the soul – an explicitly divine and eternal counterpart to the earthly and finite flesh. Enlightenment thought often preferred to contrast the body with the mind, emphasising human capacity for reason and, again, mastery of the flesh. The mind is a more humanistic, but not atheistic, ruler of the body than is the soul. Rather, early twentieth-century thinkers tended to speak of ‘consciousness’ – the locus of awareness with which the body is in a more equal relationship. In more secular, modern times the order of priority is often reversed – the body considered the primary fact and consciousness, an overlay upon a universal body. To complete the history, post-modern body theory renders problematic all dualisms of previous centuries, breaking down and blurring divisions between biology and culture, between male and female, between human and non-human and between living beings and machines. The significance of the cyborg or the transgendered individual is not relevant to the history of the body considered here, but the critique of binary understandings is important to the theme of this book. When the body is contrasted with the mind or consciousness, as half of a two-part constitution of self, the unspoken paradigm is the opposition of nature (body, biology) and culture (awareness, ‘nurture’). Such an analysis supposes the body is capable of existing outside of and prior to culture. This idea has been critiqued most cogently in recent years by Ingold (2000, 2003), who discussed the impossibility of separating and prioritising ‘body’, ‘mind’ and ‘culture’ in this way. For the early modern period, however, it is not the mind but the soul that complements the body, and the soul stands in a different relationship to the physical self. The soul is neither cultural nor environmental, but divine. It could be argued that recent body histories underplay the significance of theology (Shaw 1997; Smith 1997) and do not recognise sufficiently that early modern souls were not the same as modern minds. Although modernist thinkers saw the body as essential and the mind as a cultural superposition upon it, in early modern thought it was the soul rather than the body which was the more stable and universal fact, as explored in Chapter 2. In the early 1990s, sociological studies began to discuss the way the body in modernity is understood as a ‘project’ (Giddens 1991, 1992 and especially Shilling 1993), a malleable, self-constructed form which is made to demonstrate such modern virtues as discipline, youth, vigour and so on. By contrast, a body that exhibits age, slackness, illness or ugliness, especially in the case of female bodies (Wolf 1990), is culturally devalued. In the constitution of the modern ‘individual’, then, the body is a key referent. At the same time, the growing influence of feminist thinkers across the humanities, the intellectual move away from high-level explanation towards localised and contextual experiences and the maturity of constructivist thinking (i.e. questioning the universality of many aspects of human life and experience that had previously been assumed to be ‘natural’ and prior to any cultural ‘overlay’) all affected academic 7

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland approaches to ‘the body’ (Hamilakis et al. 2002: 2–4). In the 1990s these related intellectual developments were promoted across many disciplines to a paradigm of ‘embodiment’ – the experiential aspects of having/being a body. The influence of embodiment theory was also felt in archaeology, with emphasis on sensory experiences in the past (e.g. Hamilakis 2002; Houston and Taube 2000; Morris 2004; Watson and Keating 1999) and the great popularity, in British archaeology at least, of phenomenological approaches to landscape (discussed by, among others, Br¨uck 2005; Johnson 2007; and Fleming 2007). However, for those of us studying death and the dead body, embodiment may not be the most useful approach. The bodies we study are no longer subjects. The dead do not experience the world as embodied selves; instead they are the objects of others’ interpretation. For archaeologists they are also the vehicles of evidence that can help us build our knowledge of human practices, relationships and societies in the past. For this reason Sofaer (2006) emphasises the materiality of the body rather than ‘embodiment’ as a useful foundation for research. We approach bodies from the outside – bodies as material culture, in Sofaer’s phrase. While it is undoubtedly valuable and necessary to consider that those bodies have been sentient, thoughtful, physical and experiencing subjects, our analytical approach to them is based on the material study of human remains. It is therefore the material rather than the experiencing body that requires more theoretical consideration in our discipline. This is not to say that the embodiment paradigm is not useful; its utility depends on the focus of study. The recent switch in archaeobotanical and zooarchaeological studies from examining ‘subsistence’ to the cultural practices of ‘consumption’, for example, has benefited from an approach that makes us consider what it means to eat and drink. Similarly, a number of archaeological theorists over the last ten years or so have tried to emphasise the importance of human experience in the past (Meskell 1999; Tarlow 1999a; Nilsson Stutz 2003; Lewis-Williams and Pearce 2005); experience has sensual, bodily meanings as well as other aspects like emotions (e.g. Tarlow 2000; Inomato 2006) and ways of thinking (e.g. Ortman 2000; Bradley 2005). In this book, it is the body, as understood and practised upon by others, rather than the experiencing self that is the focus of our analysis. In a period where the agency and individuality of the self was expressed in large measure through the body, the impotence of the dead body – and its physical decay – proved particular crises for understanding the self. One key question considered here will be how far the individuation of the body survived death: that is, what do the writings and practices (the ‘belief discourses’) of the early modern period reveal about the dead body and the self? Was the body, when deprived of the animating divine spark of the soul, effectively meaningless meat? Or was it a mnemonic of the person to be used in commemorative practice? Or was it a metaphor of the self, exhibiting characteristics of the individual it had been? Or was it actually still the same person, even endowed with sentience, agency and power? As I will try to explain, the body, in the various belief discourses that surrounded it, was all of these. Hallam et al. develop interesting implications of this multiplicity of understandings for the dying, dead and bereaved in contemporary Britain. In writing of 8

Introduction the dead, they pick out categories of “vegetables” and “vampires” (1999: 1–2). “Vegetables” are persons who are biologically alive but in some senses socially ‘dead’. They include many inhabitants of residential institutions, whose social roles have been reduced as their interaction with a broad social world is progressively curtailed. People suffering from slow terminal diseases, for example, may be sequestered from daily life, circumscribed in their choices of occupation, food, clothing and so on, may lose personal property and play a much smaller role in the conversations and plans of others. “Vampires”, by contrast, are those whose social life continues beyond the point of biological death. This might include not only those whose death has had such an impact that the bereaved maintain a bedroom or set a place for them at meals, but also those whose opinions, creations and tastes continue even after death to shape the living. “Vegetables”, on the other hand, will be hard to see in the archaeological or historical past: by definition they are those whose footprints are half-erased even before death. While “vegetable” and “vampire” are lively and attention-grabbing shorthand terms for the kind of personhood that arises when biological death is uncoupled from social expiry, the terms are too crude to capture the complex relationships existing between the living and the dead in early modernity. There is abundant evidence in early modernity, however, that the recently dead had a continuing and active presence in the world of the living. The dead person, and the dead body, was a source of power that could be beneficent or dangerous. As such, terms like ‘vampire’ have connotations that are probably too negative. The newly dead body was not one from which the force of life was entirely absent – in fact that life force could be channelled towards socially useful or morally appropriate purposes. By switching our focus to the body itself we can trace the ongoing social role and cultural meaning of deceased individuals, not only in the ways they are remembered by the living but also through the very materiality of their bodies. Whether sought out as a source of medical power or retained and treated as the object of love, punishment, mockery or fascination, the dead body participated in a variety of social situations in the post-medieval period. Hallam et al. criticise the fashionable ‘embodiment’ paradigm for its inability to help us understand frail or dead bodies and its failure to consider ‘disembodiment’, promoting a notion “that the death of the body means that the individual has ceased to be” (1999: 8). When the focus of study is on dying and dead bodies embodiment, as discussed previously, is not a helpful paradigm; the context requires us to rethink ideas of agency and self-determination. As produced through the dead body, power and identity require us to pay more attention to intersubjectivity and collective understandings than to internalised personal experience (Hallam et al. 1999: 19–20). As archaeologists, encountering bodies mainly in the form of skeletal remains, we also need to develop theories of the body which take account of its materiality. A key starting point for the consideration of the social and cultural role of the dead person, then, is that people are socially constituted. People gain their social identity in the way they are acknowledged by others. I am a university academic 9

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland because I am treated as such: students come to my lectures and write things down; the university assigns me an office, a computer and a salary; I am allowed to write books and papers and a university press will publish them. Thus, an identity is as much enabled by other people’s practices as generated out of some personal core. This point has been made most forcefully by contemporary feminist theorists. A woman gains her culturally female identity not through any inborn feminine essence, but because she is understood and treated by others as a woman. The same applies to other sorts of cultural identity: not only gender but also age identity, family position and social statuses like criminal, bishop, eccentric and so on. The same applies to those we would call ‘dead’. Because social existence is relational, social existence is not co-terminous with life. While others remain to treat you as a person, you retain some personal identity. This means that when you die, the corpse that is buried is still in significant ways ‘you’, that your identity does not leave your body with your last breath. This is at odds with two philosophical views of personal identity: first that identity is psychological – i.e. you are not you unless you are thinking, so before birth or in a persistent vegetative state you are not yourself but some other entity altogether; and the biologism which holds that personhood is identical with the biological life of the body (Scarre 2007). Adopting a relational view of personhood and social existence means stepping away from the very atomised, individualised modern understandings of self and recognising that a person is more than a single living, conscious body. Archaeologically and ethnographically there are numerous examples of the ways in which people actively participate in the social and cultural life of their community after the moment of death. We might think of the Malagasy dead, described by Maurice Bloch (1971), or the deceased Incas who continued to own property and participate physically in processions and festivals (Sillar 1992). Even in less clear-cut cases where the dead body is not itself physically involved in ritual, the wishes, attitudes and personal attributes of the death person are often still significant in the rituals surrounding death and remembrance. Personal relationships do not cease at death. Specific and emotional factors continue to structure relationships even after the death of one party. Igor Kopytoff (1971) describes relations between the living and the dead among the Suku of southwestern Congo as an extension of the hierarchical customs of respect and deference that structure social relations among the living. People will go and visit the grave of the dead, pour the deceased’s favourite kinds of food and drink into a hole there, speak to them as one would speak to a living elder – a conversational monologue including questions, appeals, rebukes, gossip and so on. Kopytoff’s observations suggest that we should not assume that the line between living and dead is as sharply drawn in non-Western cultures as we are accustomed to in our own. A detailed study of early modern beliefs about the dead body in Britain and Ireland shows that even Western attitudes were not straightforward. What this means when we are thinking about the death of the body is first that the dead body is not as inert as sometimes represented. It is an archaeological commonplace that it is the living who bury the dead; this particular aphorism is used 10

Introduction to explain how the interests of the living, particularly in terms of promoting specific social ideologies and power relationships, are served by particular mortuary and commemorative practices. At one level, this is undeniably true. Decisions are made and courses of action pursued by the survivors of a bereavement. Funerary practices and post-mortem rituals are frequently organised to promote the interests and status of those who have the practical responsibility for carrying them out (Hayden 2009). Nevertheless, dead individuals, like the collective dead, can continue to influence both their own obsequies and the course of human affairs after their own death. In the historical period, this happens unambiguously through wills which often specify funeral arrangements as well as disposition of an individual’s property. More subtly, the continuing emotional and psychological bonds between the dead and the living affect how decisions are made and understandings formed between living people. Four hundred years ago, looking at early modern commemorative practices from an emic perspective, John Weever recognised, For as God hath made us living, so hath he made us loving creatures, to the end we should not be as stocks [sic] and stones, voide of all kinde and naturall affection, but that living and loving together, the love of the one should not end with the life of the other (Weever 1631). As this book will discuss, in early modern Britain and Ireland, the power of the dead individual also persisted beyond the point of biological death in altogether more corporeal ways. The dead body, notwithstanding contemporary theologians’ insistence on its insignificance, was invested with power and even agency in popular and legal belief. Widespread and persistent beliefs in ghosts and revenants opened up other channels through which the dead could exercise power and actively influence the lives of their communities past the point of biological death.

The Changing Self – Burkhardt’s Individual and the Early Modern Body Archaeologists and anthropologists have paid much theoretical attention to separating and defining concepts of ‘self’, ‘individual’, ‘person’ and ‘agent’ (Carrithers et al. 1985; Strathern 1988; Busby 1997; Dobres and Robb 2000; Thomas 2002; Conlin, Casella and Fowler 2004) and to the relationships of all these things to the body. In fact, in some circles those terms have become so weighed down with critique that it is hard to use them at all. In colloquial use, however, the terms ‘self’, ‘individual’ and ‘person’ are used interchangeably in modern English, and the mapping of any of those terms onto a single body is not problematic. It is therefore worth stating that there is in fact no consensus across historical or cultural distances about what these things refer to. Marilyn Strathern (1988) has described Melanesian concepts of personhood which do not equate the ‘person’ with an atomised and self-determining ‘individual’, nor do they relate to an integral and unique body in 11

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland the way that modern Westerners often assume. In The Gender of the Gift, Strathern famously distinguished Melanesian ‘dividuals’ from Western individuals: Far from being regarded as unique entities, Melanesian persons are as dividually as they are individually conceived. They contain a generalized sociality within. Indeed, persons are frequently constructed as the plural and composite site of the relationships that produce them (Strathern 1988:13). Strathern’s work has been criticised for abstracting selected philosophical concepts from both Western and Melanesian traditions and ignoring the actual lived experiences of persons. As a “thought experiment” (Gell 1999: 34), however, it provides a challenge to our unexplored beliefs about bodies, persons and selves.

The Modern Self This book focuses on Britain and Ireland in post-medieval periods. The problem with the archaeological study of recent periods, especially in countries which are our own or which are culturally close to us today, is that it is easy to assume continuities and homogeneities where none exist. Because the (archaeologically) recent past is familiar to us in so many ways (Tarlow 1999b), we need to be more than usually critical and cautious about our assumptions. In this study, the changing, and possibly unfamiliar, understanding of ‘self’ demands our consideration. Any assumptions we have about dead bodies and how people think of them need to be undermined. Considering accounts of the use of pulverised human body parts as medicine, or the legal sanction of burial in the road makes us re-examine ‘our’ beliefs, and helps maintain a critical distance between past belief discourses and our ‘commonsense’ interpretations of them. The early modern period saw the formation of many ‘modern’ understandings of selfhood and the enduring hold of medieval dualistic structures of thought, but ideas of person, self and body were neither uniform nor unproblematic even during this period. The ancestor of all studies of development of the modern self is Jacob Burckhardt’s study The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, originally published in 1860 and translated into English in 1878. Burkhardt’s history of the self moves from the medieval world in which people were aware of themselves primarily as members of groups or categories and occupying certain positions in hierarchical orders of relationships, to the modern world in which people are subjective, self-aware individuals with personal relationships to the divine. For Burckhardt, this was the great achievement of Renaissance Italy. Since Burckhardt’s foundational work, the early modern period has been a watershed in developing conceptions of the self (Burke 1997: 17). Burckhardt argues that in the middle ages Man was conscious of himself only as a member of a race, people, party, family or corporation – only through some general category. In Italy [at the time of 12

Introduction the Italian Renaissance] an objective treatment of and consideration of the State and of all the things of this world became possible. The subjective side at the same time asserted itself with corresponding emphasis; man became a spiritual individual, and recognised himself as such (Burckhardt 1878:101). For Burckhardt, being a “spiritual individual” meant a greater degree of autonomy stemming from recognising that one could change one’s behaviour and social role. Birth, although still important, was no longer deterministic of social position. Burckhardt’s original formulation has been critiqued by succeeding generations of cultural historians and others who have pointed out limitations and omissions of this account. Burke (1997: 17–8) details a number of criticisms: that Burckhardt took a small number of upper class Italian males to stand for a European cultural trend; that he ignored earlier medieval evidence of the kind of personality-focused subjectivity he described; and he makes no mention of the strategic aspects of selfpresentation. Although Burke also criticised Burckhardt for ignoring subjectivities in non-Western traditions, that is not entirely fair. The passage quoted previously, for example, continues: “In the same way the Greek had once distinguished himself from the barbarian, and the Arab had felt himself an individual when other Asiatics knew themselves only as members of a race.” Nevertheless, Burke’s critiques are important. Porter (1997: 1–16) demonstrates that Burckhardt’s progressivist account can be undercut by noting that at any period multiple understandings of self and person were current. Other recent critiques of this history of the self stress that even the idea of a ‘true’ self orchestrating and managing the impression made on others is problematic; instead, the Renaissance self can be seen as entirely ‘fashioned’ (Greenblatt 1980). For many contemporary theorists of the body, the early modern period was the historical locus of a shift in ideas of selfhood from a courtly self made by social discourse and attention to the body’s exterior to a modern kind of subjectivity: an inner, authentic self, autonomous and self-disciplined, in unmediated communication with God. The first of those kinds of self is informed by, or based upon, a reading of the ‘courtly’ or ‘courteous’ body derived from literary works such as poetry and manuals of courtly behaviour which explicitly set out rules for the regulation of the body – effectively how to ‘make’ a self by attention to dress, gesture, deportment, voice and practical action. The self therefore is explicitly for others and makes sense only in a social setting. It is a relational self: attention is always on the impression to be received by other people. Nevertheless, in the emphasis placed on regulation of the self the courtly manuals of the early modern period demonstrate concern with bodily discipline which strikes us as distinctively modern. The regulated body’s subjection to nature is as far as possible disguised, and its relationship to the natural world is distanciated. ‘Animal’ functions of the body such as eating and sleeping needed to be made cultural through elaborate codes of etiquette. Other functions, especially those requiring expulsion of matter from the body such as excretion, vomiting and copulation, required total privacy. The extent to which studies of the early modern body focus on manuals of courtly behaviour has led body theorists to concentrate on the created self in 13

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland this period. Nevertheless, manuals of behaviour are only one area of discourse, and beliefs about the human body to which they conform are not necessarily the same beliefs that frame other kinds of discourse. Theological works in particular are not much studied by cultural historians and literary historians, though they constitute a large proportion of all published work of the period (more than half of the fifteenth-century books in the catalogue of the British library with the word ‘body’ or ‘bodie’ in the title are theological or religious books). Even among prescriptive books of etiquette, the extent to which aspirational behaviours are described in bodily terms is often not great. Many manuals, particularly English language ones of the seventeenth century and onwards, are far more concerned with things like speaking diplomatically, choosing good friends and cultivating moral and spiritual virtue. Even Nicolas Pasquier’s frequently cited book on the formation of Le Gentilhomme describes the ideal comportment of the gentleman thus: to acquire honour, he must love virtue, learn to speak well, to be modest, keep his faith, to be courageous, moderate, just and wise” (2003 [1611]: book 2, my translation). Pasquier goes on to describe the other essential acquired characteristics of a gentleman – the avoidance of offence, having a good reputation, having skills in military matters and strategy, ability in financial and administrative affairs and cultivating as close a relationship as possible to the king. None of these attributes are particularly ‘of the body’; even the skill of speaking well refers to the choice of words, rather than diction or projection. In the English language tradition works like Brathwait’s The English Gentleman (1630) and Peacham’s The Compleat Gentleman (1634) barely mention bodies at all, concentrating on making suitable friends, receiving an appropriate education, religious devotion and so on. Brathwait’s eight chapters, for example, deal with youth, disposition, education, vocation, recreation, acquaintance, moderation and [spiritual] perfection. None of these pay much attention to physical behaviours. It is likely that academic fashions, influenced by writers including Elias (1969) and Greenblatt (1980), have emphasised bodily behaviours more than was the case in original contexts of production and reading. Nevertheless, those aspects of bodily construction of the self that appear in courtly manuals are of interest both for the respects in which they differ from later kinds of self and for their relevance to the study of meaning of dead bodies at the time. This constructed ‘courtly’ self contrasts with the Protestant, introspective and ‘authentic’ self. Later periods would be characterised by emphasis on an ‘inner’ self that was true, inherent and God-given. The most commendable behaviour was that which was most true to the inner self, that listened to the inner voice of conscience and acted according to inspiration from God which would come from opening up the self to communication with God. In the early modern period, however, the self was still in large measure a construction of surfaces organised by discipline and convention. Renaissance ideas of self were such that this microcosmic property of the human body might make it necessary to adorn the body’s surface to make 14

Introduction visible that which was interior to the self: the body’s plastic exterior was in the service of its un-mouldable interior. This is considered a Renaissance concept of self and body, contrasted with a Protestant self where the interior is mouldable (Scholz 2000: 55–6), an autonomous self talking directly with God in place of the courtly self created through social discourse. From the mid-sixteenth century, compound words including the element ‘self’ began to appear in the English lexicon (Sawday 1997: 30), but the fact that most of these early self words were pejorative (e.g. ‘self-love’) demonstrates the ambivalence with which early modern English-speakers regarded the reflexive, a-social interior self.

Belief and the Early Modern Body The difficulties of dealing with interiority in the past are legion. Even in welldocumented historical periods (and in the present), it is hard to assess what people really think, feel, hope or dread. For a start, archaeological evidence, along with historical evidence, does not witness beliefs, but practices. The relationship between belief and practice is complex. What people believe cannot be directly inferred from what they do or say. There is a gap between interior understanding and its social expression through discourse or practice. People lie. They dissemble. They conform outwardly while inwardly concealing resentments, reservations or other secret ideas and emotions. Nevertheless, we cannot omit emotion, psychology and experience from the past, and neither can we interpret all belief in terms of genetic fitness, economic advantage or any other framework which attempts to circumvent the complexities and contingencies of context. To explain past human action in those terms alone produces a cynical, debased and incomplete history. This book suggests that a solution to this problem might lie in attention to ‘belief discourses’. This is to accept that personal interiority, especially in the past, may ultimately be inaccessible. Not only is the issue complicated by the distance between what is said and what is actually believed, those beliefs may themselves be incoherent and inconsistent. Among the most significant things to emerge from this study is that it is possible for people to hold a number of incompatible or incommensurable beliefs simultaneously. We need, therefore, to refine Porter’s important critique of Burckhardt to say that not only can we easily counter a simple progressivist history of the self by pointing out the plurality of beliefs about the self at any one time, but we can also note that numerous and often incompatible beliefs existed in parallel even in the same minds. This is more than saying that the literate elite believed one thing and the uneducated masses another; different contexts brought different conventional beliefs to the fore. In his influential discussion of the nature of ancient belief Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths? (1988), Paul Veyne suggested that what might seem to be contradictions in the things the ancient Greeks apparently believed in are a result of the “balkanisation of the brain”. The resulting abundance of modalities of thought 15

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland meant different frameworks of discourse pertained in different contexts. The conventions of reading an epic were different to those of carrying out a sacrifice or engaging in collective political discussion. Enlarging on Veyne’s multiple modalities of thought, this time with reference to the Romans, Feeney (1998: 21) comments that it would be a mistake to conclude that “if we do not have one over-arching, integrating system we are left with nothing but cogs endlessly revolving without engaging”. Rather, he says, different genres of belief are in constant, often selfconscious, dialogue with one another. To what extent a discussion of beliefs about the body in the early modern period is a result of a balkanisation of the brain is an interesting question to which I will return. The concept is valuable, however, in that contradictions between discourse and practice or between practices and discourses in one context and practices and discourses in another do not require us to weigh authenticity and judge which beliefs are more ‘real’. We do not need to discard evidence about belief in the past because it is contradicted by something else, nor do we need to interpret contradictions in past people’s actions as hypocrisy. Neither do we need to look for the conceptual ‘meta-belief’ within which apparent contradictions reveal themselves as logical results of a more enveloping world view. Instead we can note that discourse within specific contexts takes place with particular parameters and conventions of ‘belief’. Thus it is possible for the same man to engage in discussions about the nature of the resurrected body in one context and to study the ‘scientific’ discourse of human anatomy in another. His actual bodily practices of eating, drinking, sex, exercise and so on will have their own conventions too, nodding at but not identical to the frameworks of belief in those other contexts. When writing a manual on gentlemanly behaviour different beliefs about the body apply to those that pertain when planning a funeral, undertaking medical treatment or listening to a sermon. None of these contexts is the primary and authentic one, a set of ‘real’ beliefs underlying or being disguised by others that are ‘just words’ or ‘just ceremonial practices’. Accepting the contextuality of belief rather than trying to resolve all apparent contradictions is key to understanding early modern beliefs about the human body. Taking into account the existence of numerous ‘modalities of thought’ allows us to make much more sense of, for example, Thomas Laqueur’s (1990) well-known argument that in the early modern period there was only one sex, women’s bodies being understood as incomplete and imperfect versions of male bodies. This has been a hard line of historical reasoning for some, such as Scholz (2000: 4) who has pointed out that in medical discourses of the early modern period female bodies were described and constituted as different from male ones in nature and not just in degree, or Stolberg (2003), who has used sixteenth-century anatomical texts to argue that male and female difference was qualitative from an early date. In fact, it is possible to recognise the truth of Laqueur’s reading and at the same time acknowledge that it was not always what people ‘believed’. In some contexts, the parameters of discourse were shaped by a conventional belief that female bodies were those which lacked sufficient heat to force the penis out and form the body 16

Introduction into the stronger male version. In other contexts, and one suspects probably in many everyday situations, women were believed to be distinctive in their constitution. Some of the particular problems of early modernity, however, stem from attempts to unify the provinces of the brain – to apply the same rules of discourse and analysis to what were previously neighbouring but independent states. Descartes’ attempts to locate the soul in the anatomically known human body could be understood as part of this process. Looking for a physical space in the human body that was unitary and that he believed (erroneously) to be uniquely human, Descartes reasoned that the soul must be located in the pineal gland. He was attempting to combine in a single framework theological truths with empirical science. Ultimately, it is possible to argue that the decline of Christianity in Western modernity was a result of this brain unification, where religious belief turned out to be not amenable to the framework of discourse developed for the discussion of natural and human science. The slippery nature of belief makes it hard to discuss, but it is a fair conclusion that the integration of different belief discourses (including material practices) is a key process of modernity. As we shall see, attempts to squash different belief discourses into the same epistemological structure showed signs of strain and began to crack by the late seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century the discourses of religion and science had largely separated. The references to God that are so common in seventeenth-century scientific texts are absent from eighteenth-century ones. Given the difficulty of accessing belief and the problems surrounding what belief actually is, this book suggests instead that rather than inner conviction the focus of study should be on ‘belief discourses’ or practices. As discussed, archaeology does not show us direct evidence of belief but rather evidence of practice. Practices may not relate to highly personal interior beliefs in any clear way, but they generally reference shared social beliefs or cultural expectations. These shared beliefs, indicating the appropriate way to proceed in particular contexts, whether by undertaking particular action or shaping discourse within shared and agreed parameters, take their form from traditions and contexts of use. This book refers to them as ‘belief discourses’, with the intention of bracketing together material practices and textual and linguistic discourses. Dead bodies were drawn into many different belief discourses in early modern Britain and Ireland, some of which articulated with one another and some of which did not.

Organisation of This Book This book separates out some of the main belief discourses that characterise early modern responses to the dead body. Through the early modern period, the dominant theological belief about the dead body (as opposed to the living one) stressed the insignificance and worthlessness of the body when the soul was absent from it. The development of a scientific view of the body, based on anatomical observation and empirical experiment, came to replace a biological understanding based 17

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland on the authority of ancient and medieval writers. Anatomical beliefs were often explicitly linked to aesthetic/artistic beliefs of the human body as a microcosm of the universe or metaphor of the political system. These beliefs emphasised the harmony and perfection of the human body and are evident in art and sculpture as well as in literature and philosophy. Social beliefs group together beliefs about how social status and relationships should be indexed in treatment of the dead body and how these differential treatments were codified in legislation to stigmatise criminals, suicides and others who transgressed the rules or conventions of life and death in early modern society. All those belief traditions were described and justified discursively through tracts, books, sermons and creative works. By contrast, many British people, perhaps most, made manifest their understandings of the dead body through practices of ‘folk’ or ‘superstitious’ belief. Folk belief was, and is, a discourse of material practice and often unwritten knowledge. This book therefore considers religious belief, scientific belief, social/legal belief and folk belief as different traditions of belief discourse. They were not, however, entirely independent poleis of belief. Instead they were suburbs of the same city, sharing streets, aware of each other, sustained by the same fields and sometimes competing over the same territory. For most of the period covered here, all belief discourses attempted to fit themselves within a religious framework. Theological beliefs about the dead body were complex and contested, and both affected and were affected by normative treatments of the corpse. It is therefore with religious belief that our survey will begin.


Chapter 2

Religious Belief

The World of Late Catholicism The sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation in Europe was the most significant change in the history of British attitudes towards the dead and the dead body in the last thousand years. Not only did a new liturgy transform totally the relationship between the living and the dead, a new totalising theology squeezed out quasisuperstitious practice from the bounds of what was officially tolerated. At the same time, a new geography of sacred space altered the landscape of the dead and the place of the living within it, and new strategies of identity creation and social negotiation were required in the aftermath of the radical political dislocations of the period. This chapter looks at the dominant discourses about the dead body and its place in the new theologies of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Other theological discourses about the human body followed different tracks: the discourse of denial of bodily appetites associated with Puritanism, for example, or the debates that considered the relationship between human and angelic bodies, or the nature of Christ’s body. These other discourses, however, did not deal specifically with the dead body but discussed the meaning and value of the living body. Discussion of the dead body paid little or no attention to aspects of the body extensively discussed elsewhere, such as the relative qualities of male and female bodies or the theology of bodily practices such as consumption or sex. Modern analyses of early modern theories of the body have mostly paid more attention to gender, behaviour, adornment and clothing, and other features of the living body and the embodied 19

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland experience, than to the material significance of the corpse and its relation to the dead person. Surprisingly for this period, the soul has not often been central to the historical analyses with which we are most familiar. This chapter, and indeed most of this book, switches analytical focus from the experience of being a body to the discourses and practices that created and reproduced ideas about what the body – specifically the dead body – signified in various cultural contexts. This means foregrounding the materiality of the body as a cultural object rather than a sensuous subject. The treatment of the dead body in late medieval England is known from archaeological and historical sources (Gilchrist 2003, Gilchrist and Sloane 2005). Gilchrist and Sloane’s excellent survey of pre-Reformation monastic burial practices shows that many common practices of the post-medieval period were established long before the fifteenth century: the use of coffins, a preference for west–east orientation and commemoration by permanent memorial, for example, are all practices common many centuries before the Reformation and continued long after. However, there were certain material practices that declined dramatically or ceased altogether after the Reformation in Protestant burial places, although some of them continued in Catholic graveyards. These include the burial of pardons, bulls and similar religious tokens and the careful and systematic disposal of charnel in places specifically designated for that purpose (Gilchrist and Sloane 2005: 223). The changes brought about by the Reformation, however, went far beyond the predictable changes in material practices of disposal. This chapter is concerned with the question of how doctrinal changes regarding the self, the body and the relationship between living and dead people affected beliefs about and practices upon the dead body. These changes were profound and constitute the foundation of the early modern crisis of death, as well as provoking the development of new forms of disposing of and remembering the dead person.

The Reformation For years, the Reformation in Britain was seen as the culmination of a long period of festering discontent with the structures and dogma of the Roman church (Scarisbrick 1984). Popular sympathies towards Protestantism, born of frustration with a corrupt and engorged late medieval Catholicism, goes the traditional argument, was evident in movements such as Lollardy. Popular support for the religious and political reforms of the fifteenth century was inferred from the absence of widespread protest or dissent. English nationalist and progressivist historians represented the Reformation as the unfolding of a natural and inevitable story. England was always ‘meant to be C. of E.’, joked Sellar and Yeatman in 1066 and All That (1951 [1930]). Revisionist histories of the period have overturned that view. Historians such as Duffy (1992) and Haigh (1987) have documented the persistence of Catholic practice right up until the eve of Reformation. The continuation of some aspects of Catholic ritual and even liturgy well into the Protestant period has also been 20

Religious Belief noted (Watt 1991; Duffy 1992; Hutton 1995). The new view of the Reformation stresses the lack of substantial evidence in large parts of the country to indicate either any great anti-Catholic feeling or any significant groundswell of enthusiasm for Protestant doctrine at a popular level. Looking at evidence such as wills, church and court records and other local documentary sources of evidence, as well as popular literature and folk practice, historians suggest that in many areas support for Protestantism was grudging at best and adherence to Catholic practice was remarkably enduring. Some have suggested that the Reformation, rather than being an expression of popular dissatisfaction with a corrupt and irrelevant Catholic church, was in many areas imposed from above by an elite minority, and the process at a popular level was “slow, reluctant and untidy” (MacCullough 1994: 321). The nature and course of Reformation activity could differ considerably even between adjacent communities (Spufford 1974), depending on local economic and religious histories and on contingent factors such as the personality and inclinations of the local priest or landholder. Also, over recent years, historiography of the Reformation has moved from treating ‘it’ as an event or a circumscribed set of events taking place between the 1530s and the accession of Elizabeth I, towards a long, slow period of religious, social and political reform extending into and even beyond the seventeenth century (e.g. Spurr 2006). As well as changes in religious doctrine and practice, the Reformation was a period of great social upheaval as the old hierarchy of wealth and power was considerably altered by the redistribution of wealth from the Roman Church to the political supporters of the new order. Tenure of civic office at both national and local levels was also profoundly affected by religious loyalties. The practices surrounding the treatment of the dead body and governing the relationship between the living and the dead were, of course, affected by the Reformation in a number of ways. Principally these were the result of doctrinal change – such as the disappearance of Purgatoryand the altered relationship between the individual and God; political change – which affected things like the place of burial; and cultural change, such as in the manner and purpose of commemoration.

The Disappearance of Purgatory Purgatory was one of the defining doctrines of late medieval and early modern Catholicism (Turner 1993; Marshall 2002). Purgatory did not exist in early Christianity but came to be in many ways the motor of late medieval Western Christianity, providing a doctrinal justification for economic investments that kept the machinery of the church functioning and motivated individual and communal devotional practice. In his influential, though contested study of the concept, Jacques LeGoff (1984) dates the formalisation of a doctrine of Purgatory to the twelfth century and documents its rapid spread across Europe. The doctrine filled a conceptual space between death and eternal judgement. Ultimately, all Christians believed the soul was bound either for salvation, “the bosom of Abraham”, or for hell. Yet there were many people, most in fact, whose conduct and attention 21

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland to their religious duties were neither so mortally sinful as to deserve eternal damnation nor so exemplary as to ensure immediate election to Heaven. For these, Purgatory was envisioned as a sort of antechamber of judgement where sins could be atoned for in a manner analogous to ante-mortem penances (Allen 1565: 43–4). There was no consensus about what kind of punishment one would be required to undergo in Purgatory, but it was sure to be spiritually and emotionally painful, and most accounts describe it in terms of bodily pain as well, especially heat, thirst and abdominal pain. One sixteenth-century Catholic wrote that although we cannot know exactly what Purgatory is, we can be confident “that the paine there of, of what condition so ever it be, or where so ever the ordinaunce of God hath placed it, is wonderfull horrible” (Allen 1565: 118). Nevertheless, though described in physical terms, it was not the earthly body that felt this discomfort. The body was understood to be waiting in the ground until the day of the general resurrection; the pains of Purgatory were agonies of the soul, and to describe them in terms of fire and knives was metaphorical, although it is fair to say that lay readers and congregations probably did not always understand these theological nuances. Purgatory was a frequent subject for art, especially on European altar screens in the later Middle Ages. There it was most frequently represented as a place of fire – to burn away original and acquired sin (Turner 1993: 132). One thing undisputed by Catholics, however, was that pains suffered in Purgatory could be eased or shortened by the intervention of saints in response to the prayers and good deeds of the living. Supremely powerful in the release of souls from Purgatory was the Virgin Mary, whose cult was extensively elaborated and widely embraced in the late Middle Ages (Turner 1993: 128–30). To this end, individuals with an eye to the future often specified the number, nature and occasions of prayers and masses to be said for their souls after death. In their wills they asked that alms be distributed on their behalf at the funeral and perhaps at future times of remembrance such as the widely kept ‘month’s mind’ and ‘year’s mind’. Such prayers and good works would affect the deceased. William Allen explains this using the metaphor of the church as the body of Christ which would have been familiar to all Catholics of the period. The problem is, he says, that the dead, “being owt of the state of deserving and place of welworkyng, can not helpe theyme selves: nor by any motion of mynde, atteyne more mercy, then theyre liefe past did deserve” (1565: 132). This was indeed the position for Protestants, but Allen, as a Catholic, was not happy simply to abandon the soul to its fate. Ease for the dead, he continues, lies only in the unity and knotte of that holy felowship, in wich, the benefite of the heade [Christ] perteynethe to all the membres: and every good woorke of any one membre, wonderfully redoundeth to all the rest (1565: 132). Allen speaks of the Communion of Saints which joined all Christians past and present, living, dead and in Purgatory, as one body under the head of Christ. The dead 22

Religious Belief being membres of our common body, they must nedes be partakers of the common utilitye . . . as your brethren, and a portion of your body . . . feele ease of every prayer: your allmose [alms] quenshethe theire heate, your fasting releaseth theire paine (1565: 134–5). Relief from the agonies of Purgatory could be obtained through the prayers of one’s brethren in the church who, like parts of the same body, could ease the pain of any member. (The metaphorical use of the body to refer to a community, such as a nation, state, communion or commonwealth, is explored further in Chapters 3 and 4 but seemed to have little effect on writings about, or practices upon the actual body of the dead. These cogs did not really engage.) Unlike some postReformation dissenter churches, however, late medieval Roman Catholicism did not promote spontaneous communal prayer motivated by Christian fellowship. Instead, the church itself owned and controlled the principal means by which the sufferings of the soul in Purgatory could be eased. Prayers needed to be included in bede rolls (lists of people to pray for) or to be assured by donations that would sustain clerics, students, members of orders or others dependent on the church in the performance of regular, repetitive intercessions. This ensured the income stream upon which the late medieval Catholic establishment depended. Finch (2003: 442) points out that late medieval commemoration was not so much about remembering the dead as about reminding the living to pray for the dead: to that end, the deceased were presenced in churches and ecclesiastical buildings in the form of monuments, inscriptions and endowed art and craftwork. The interior of the church was covered with pleas and reminders to the living to pray for the souls of the dead. Purgatory also provided a theologically sanctioned place for creatures of the folk imagination. Ghosts, spirits, apparitions, fairies, monsters and demons could all be rationalised and engulfed in theological orthodoxy by claiming to be the inhabitants of Purgatory, walking the earth to carry out some business with living mortals. As I discuss in Chapter 5, the abolition of Purgatory threw the status of such supernatural beings into question. For Protestant reformers, however, the doctrine of Purgatory was deeply problematic. Above all, they rejected the idea that the fate of the soul after death should relate so directly to wealth and status in life. If prayers and alms for the dead made God more merciful, those who could pay for gifts, clergy and charitable donations were in a much stronger position that those who could not. It could not be right, said the reformers, that God’s mercy could be bought. There was also cynicism about the employment of Purgatory as a means for the church to take money for the maintenance of its clergy who, in the reformers’ propaganda, were living in conditions of luxury far superior to most of the laity. Accordingly, Protestants argued that a merciful God would judge persons on their conduct in life, and particularly on the quality of their religious belief: the Lutheran doctrine of salvation “by faith alone”. Puritan doctrine was even stricter, maintaining that the ‘elect’ recipients of divine mercy were a tiny minority of all humanity and that one’s membership of the elect was determined before one was even born. No amount of praying or good works could save a soul predestined to damnation; all one could do was hope 23

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland and put one’s faith entirely and humbly in divine mercy. But in the face of such long odds it is hardly surprising that the number of suicides in seventeenth-century Britain rose dramatically as Puritanism gained ground (Macdonald and Murphy 1990: 64–5). For Protestants there was no interval between the moment of death and the general resurrection, no space which Purgatory could occupy. Thomas Becon’s The Sicke Man’s Salve, a Protestant ‘ars moriendi’ text of 1568 states, through the mouth of its theologically sound protagonist Epaphroditus, so soone as my soule shall bee delivered out of the prison of this my body, it shall straight wayes possesse the blessed inheritance of the heavenly kingdome (1568: 112–3 my italics). Without any time allocated for the post-mortem expiation of sin, Epaphroditus is adamant that these purgatory takers, shall neither rake nor scrape for me with their masses and dirges when I am departed. For I trust to no such works (1568: 98). Here, then, is one of the key ways in which the Protestant Reformation affected the relationship between the living and the dead. Doctrinally, the practices of the living in terms of their discourse and material performances upon the body of the deceased were of no consequence or utility to the salvation of souls. By the time a death had taken place it was too late for anyone to do anything on behalf of the dead person’s soul. Even the observances of funeral and church burial made no difference to the dead person, who was beyond the reach or influence of the living. The deceased Protestant individual is dependent entirely upon the mercy of God which could no longer be affected by the piety or action of the bereaved. The exemplary Epaphroditus asks for a burial free of all “superstitious custome” (1568: 115), without incense, candles, torches and pomp: The sumptuous and costly burials are not to be commended, neither doe they profit either body or soule, but only set forth a foolish, vaine and boasting pompe. He does not even express a preference about where his body is buried, for “the earth is the Lords, and all that is contained in it.” In the mid-seventeenth century the Norfolk antiquary Thomas Browne (1852 [1658]: 74) writing, rather eccentrically for his time, in celebration of the ancient pagan practice of the burial of cremated remains in urns, was similarly scathing about the vanity of funerary pomp. Only through fame or reputation may one gain any kind of immortality after death; attention to the corporeal remains is nothing but vain folly: Had they made as good provision for their names, as they had done for their Reliques, they had not so grosly erred in the art of perpetuation. But to subsist in bones, and be but pyramidally extant, is a folly in duration. Vain ashes, which 24

Religious Belief in the oblivion of names, persons, times, and sexes, have found unto themselves, a fruitlesse continuation, and only arise unto late posterity, as Emblemes of mortall vanities; Antidotes against pride, vain-glory, and madding vices. Pagan vain-glories which thought the world might last for ever had encouragement for ambition and finding not Atropos unto the immortality of their Names, were never dampt with the necessity of oblivion. Nevertheless, in England and Wales the illustrious dead continued to make provisions for their bodily remains. Chapter 4 examines the attempts of the living to perpetuate their names, memories and family interests after death through elaboration of the body and prestigious placement of the burial as well as the erection of monuments in conspicuous spaces within the church. It is worth noting here, however, the incompatibility between such social measures and the value placed on the human body and its earthly memory in theological writing. Although making the individual responsible for his or her own destiny to a greater extent than had previously been possible, at least for the poor, the disappearance of Purgatory left the bereaved helpless and impotent in their desire to do anything for the benefit of the deceased in terms of directly affecting what happened to them. This was hard to bear for many people who wanted to extend a direct relationship with their friends and family, even after death, through the solicitation of divine intervention. Catholics were not slow to point this out. Allen condemns the Protestants who had, in abolishing Purgatory, “wickedly sought, utterly to breake the band of peace betwixt thyme [the dead] and us [the living]” (1565: 134). Despite the teachings of the reformed church, there is evidence that a belief in Purgatory endured in some form, even among those nominally Protestant. Some evidence comes from folk practices, considered in more detail in Chapter 5, such as the ‘Lyke Wake Dirge’ describing the soul’s journey after death to ‘Purgatory’s fire’. Another source of evidence is the memorial inscription. Although the old Catholic directive to ‘Pray for the soul of’ is generally absent from Protestant contexts, the inscription on the stone lid of a coffin in the Willoughby vault at St Catherine’s, Cossall, Nottinghamshire, finished with the phrase “on whose soule God be mercifull”, a typically Catholic formulation that sounds very like a prayer for the dead (Elliott 2000). What remained to the living under Protestant teaching was the perpetuation of memoryin a worldly sense. One might expect to see an escalation in the number of commemorative memorials after the Reformation as the result of rechanneling the survivors’ desire to demonstrate and create a continuing relationship with the departed. However, in most parts of Britain this did not occur until the second half of the seventeenth century (Tarlow 1999a; Finch 2000; Owen forthcoming). It may be that anxieties about iconoclasm or about the political consequences of taking, deliberately or unwittingly, any theological position, discouraged many people from erecting monuments during the turbulent sixteenth century. But while people might have remained cautious about committing their views to be literally ‘written in stone’ for all time, the ephemeral funeral service itself changed over the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, to having a much reduced ceremonial 25

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland and religious aspect, and a considerably extended funeral sermon which offered secular remembrance of the deceased and moral lessons for the living (Gittings 1999). There was, nevertheless, much talk of bodies in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer burial service. The prayers and readings dealt much with the nature of bodily resurrection, once the soul is released from “the burden of the flesh”, and readings from the old and new testaments which deal with the transformative power of the resurrection. The corpse was another important locus in the creation of this post-mortem relationship. Because Protestant doctrine had put the soul of the deceased beyond the reach of earthly communication or aid, the body became the last part of the deceased that was accessible to those who lived after. Thus, ironically, in its attempt to glorify the soul and denigrate the body, the reformed church actually contributed to augmenting the value of the corpse to the mortuary practices of the living. The body was used both before and after death as a place for construction of a social self, a process touched upon in the introduction and considered more fully in Chapter 4. With the doctrinal changes of the Reformation, and especially the disappearance of Purgatory, the body itself was one of the few remaining loci for the material negotiation of the relationship between the dead and the living.

The Despised Body Theologically, the dominant view of the mortal body after the Protestant Reformation (as before it) was as a contrast and foil to the soul. Theological discourse on death in the early modern period is dominated by the dualistic opposition of body and soul. This dualism has deep roots in medieval Christianity but was harnessed by Protestant and especially Puritan reformers to make the body stand for all worldly interests which are ultimately vain, and the soul represent the eternal Truth of a spiritual life. Whereas the soul was to be highly valued and carefully attended, the body was basically worthless except as a vehicle for the soul and a medium through which godliness could be performed, by meditation, prayer and good deeds. In theological discourse, the body is often represented as worse than morally neutral, however, because its appetites are temptations to sin. A rather extreme but not untypical position on the ultimate worthlessness of the body was taken by William Sherlock, Dean of St Paul’s amongst other clerical distinctions and an established figure of the Church of England. Published in 1689, Sherlock’s Practical Discourse concerning Death was not regarded as a controversial work but a practical guide to Anglican Christians in their spiritual conduct. The book went to at least 37 editions in the ensuing 120 years. It dates from more than a century after the main doctrinal changes of the Reformation but represents well the Protestant rejection of all things worldly and bodily: we should take no pride in these our bodies which were born ignobly and “must lie down in the Grave and be food for Worms” (1690: 51), he says. Because bodies are actually ‘prisons’ keeping us from the ecstasy of Heaven, and we should not expect, even at the resurrection, 26

Religious Belief to receive our earthly bodies back in their clumsy, solid, earthly form (Sherlock’s position was not universally shared on this question), we should try to live without our Bodies now, as much as possibly we can . . . to have but very little commerce with flesh and sense; to wean our selves from all bodily pleasures, to stifle its appetites and inclinations, and to bring them under perfect command and government (Sherlock 1690: 53). The moral imperative towards self-discipline is rightly regarded as an important aspect of the construction of the modern self. For Sherlock, this discipline is to be exercised over the wayward and capricious appetites of the body. The body is not just the counterpart of the soul, but its enemy, for “the Flesh and the Spirit cannot thrive together” (1690: 55). The desires of the body are not compatible at all with the needs of the soul, and one must necessarily triumph over the other. All flesh is inimical to the life of the soul, and death is therefore the preparation of the pure soul by purging it of the impure body. The eternal life of the soul depends on the degree to which it can ‘un-body’ itself. Bodies which indulged their fleshly desires will not be easily purged of their bodiliness and are unlikely to be resurrected. The soul cannot fight free of those bodies “which are become ten times more Flesh than God made them, which are the Instrument and the Tempters to all Impurity” (Sherlock 1690: 65). Those who die “in the quarrel of a Strumpet” or who eat and drink themselves to death, along with any body “which scorns to die by Adam’s sin, but will die by its own” cannot expect resurrection. Although Sherlock’s loathing for the body would now almost certainly be considered pathological, the sentiments he expressed were not uncommon in their time. Sherlock was not, after all, regarded as a Puritan extremist, but a pillar of the Anglican Church (Burns 2004). A seventeenth-century lawyer and pamphleteer William Prynne, in his long poem ‘The Soule’s Complaint against the Body’ (1641) has the soul complain of the time and money spent on beautification of the body. The soul accuses us of Spending more time, cost, thoughts on excrement, Than upon Mee mans onely ornament. What is the belly but a filthy sinke, Jakes which engenders nought but dung and stink? . . . yea let mee once withdraw My selfe from the most faire corps, eyes ere saw, It’s [sic] beauty fades, it’s flesh to rottennesse Is turned, and all abhorre it’s loathsomenesse (Prynne 1641: 182). Zacharie Boyd, a Protestant theologian from Glasgow, does not adopt the language of loathing used by Prynne and Sherlock but is nevertheless not in doubt about the relative value of the body and the soul. For him, the eventual release of the soul from the keeping of the body is a consummation devoutly to be wished: 27

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland Is it not your greatest desire to flitte from this bodie which is but a Booth, a shoppe, or Tabernacle of clay? Is not your Soule wearied to sojourne into such a reekie lodge? (Boyd 1629: 84). The body as booth or shop is not so unpleasant as the body as a filthy jakes, but it still attributes value to the body only as the container, for a little while, of the soul. The pastor in Boyd’s Last Battell describes our bodies as “prisons of clay” (1629: 90) from which the soul must escape, a metaphor which would later be echoed in one of Sherlock’s kinder evocations of the body, as “a little organized and animated clay” (1690: 36). In the end, the dying man of Boyd’s text accepts that his “carrionlie carkase” (1629: 1143) is bound to rot in the earth while his soul is set free. Sherlock (1690: 36) also uses the word carcase, more usually associated with the flesh of animals than of people, when considering the dead body: the body without the soul is of similar value to an animal body – it is no longer human (and thus no longer Godly): methinks when we see the senseless and putrefying Remains of a brave Man before us, it is hard to conceive, that this is all of him . . . And is this dead Carkase, which we now see, the whole of him! Or was there a more Divine inhabitant, which animated this Earthly Machine, which gave life, and Beauty, and Motion to it, but is now removed? Sherlock’s contemporary, Hayward, similarly describes his body as Filthy Flesh, which is now cumbersome and offensive to the Soul, and subject to so many mutations (Hayward 1696: 43). In theological discourse, then, the body without the soul is worthless and despicable matter. Little importance is therefore attached to rituals of burial and to postmortem treatment of the body, at least in official and orthodox written discourses. The proper Christian, as Boyd (1629), like Becon (1568) and Beconsall (1697) portrays him, attributes no value to church burial, nor to memorial monuments nor even to funeral sermons. No Protestant theologian in this period ever suggests that any treatment of the dead body, or commemorative practice devoted to a dead relative or friend, will improve the dead person’s chances of redemption. The only reasons regularly advanced in theological belief discourses for the careful treatment of the dead relate to the comfort of the bereaved or the moral improvement of the living. Boyd’s righteous man, dying, asks only that his body be buried under grass: God will never inquire of a mans Soule where was thy bodie buried? But how hast thou lived into that bodie? shall he say: Lay mee then under the greene Turfe: How manie Martyres have been burnt into ashes which have been cast up into the winde, and scattered upon the waters? . . . The losse of buriall is no great losse (1629: 1046). 28

Religious Belief If care given to the dead body were a waste of effort, so too are time and money spent on the earthly commemoration of a departed soul equally vain, according to theological discourse. For Boyd, memorial services and inscriptions are all symbols of vanity and pride. Of the latter, he adds that they are a waste of money that could be used more charitably: Why trouble ye me with vanities in death, who is now mourning for the vanitie of my life? . . . My name is written into the Book of Life, what care I for Letters into Stones? . . . Oh the folie of mens hearts, who vainelie and needleslie waste upon their dead vanities that which might builde houses for the poore (Boyd 1629: 1045). Like attention lavished upon the empty corpse, the words poured out in funeral orations and epitaphs are often merely attempts to disguise corruption. “Men whose life was full of scab and scandales,” observes the dying man, their names being rotten fore their bodies, are so decked and busked up with flowers of Rethorick, so wrapped up into hyperbolicke commendations as it were into a seare-cloath, for thereby to keepe close within smothered the stinking smell of their most filthie memorie (Boyd 1629: 1053).

The Actions of the Living upon the Body of the Dead The treatment of dead bodies at this time, however, suggests that beliefs about the value of the dead body, as almost universally expressed in discourses about death by theologians and philosophers, did not travel far beyond the pages of the devotional texts they wrote. The logic of the theological discourse suggests that the disposal of the dead body should have been a matter of little or no concern to the good Protestant; that the place of burial and its orientation, the preparation of the corpse and the manner of disposal should be a matter of indifference. A minimum of sensitivity about the feelings of the living was all that was required. And yet repeated use of a register of stink, filth and worthlessness is belied by evidence of care to inter the corpse, and often also, particularly in the case of the well-off, to preserve both body and memory. The churchmen who wrote with such loathing of the dead body were themselves interred with considerable care and pomp at prestigious locations. Thomas Becon was probably buried at Canterbury Cathedral, and William Sherlock at St Paul’s (Burns 2004). Kirsty Owen has recently shown that religious piety was often claimed as an attribute of those commemorated with expensive monuments erected in prime locations inside the parish church – exactly the kind of vanity devotional texts condemned (Owen 2006). The epitaph to John Deighton (d. 1676), for example, at St Nicholas church in Gloucester, details his great piety and virtue, exceptionally devout conduct and personal modesty, all of which contrasts with his large, ornamented mural monument inside an urban church and with the 20-line elegiac verse inscribed upon it (Owen 2006: 15, Figure 2.1). 29

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland

Figure 2.1. Monument to John Deighton, a doctor, in St Nicholas Church, Gloucester. The inscription, from 1676, praises his numerous virtues and personal qualities, but the ostentation of the monument appears at odds with the “pious . . . humble” character described. Photograph courtesy of Kirsty Owen.


Religious Belief Vanessa Harding (2003) notes the limited effect of the religious Reformation on burial rites: ceremony was “abbreviated but not abrogated” and many preReformation practices continued even when their ostensible theological purpose had been removed. After the Reformation, those with the means to do so seemed to continue to favour vault burial beneath the floor of the church, with some form of permanent commemoration and considerable attention paid to preparation of the body. This changed little for the well-to-do from pre-Reformation practice. In the early seventeenth-century Description of Leicestershire, William Burton describes the opening of the coffin of Thomas, Marquis of Dorset (grandfather of Lady Jane Gray), who had died in 1530. He had been buried at Astley in Warwickshire and would have been left undisturbed had not the old church collapsed after a storm in 1608 and a new chancel been built. During the building work, Thomas’s wooden coffin was discovered and “at the curious desire of some, and the earnest motion of others”, it was opened. Inside, the body of the marquis was found wrapped in a cerecloth (fabric impregnated with wax to make it airtight). When the cerecloth was cut, the body was “perfect . . . nothing corrupted” even after 78 years, but looked like a recently interred corpse (1622: 51). Burton wondered if the exceptionally good preservation was evidence that the corpse had been embalmed (1622: 52) which might well be the case. Additionally, however, the dry conditions of a vault burial probably impeded decay and the effects of the cerecloth would also reduce microbial action on the body. Thorough washing of the corpse before it was wrapped in cerecloth would not prevent decay from the inside but would severely restrict access to the outside of the body by airborne bacteria and those on the skin. The cerecloth was wrapped around the body before it hardened so that it would conform to the shape of the corpse and fit as a close, relatively airtight layer. How far people of the time were aware of the preservative action of cerecloth is not known. Cerecloth wrapping of bodies of high-status people is recorded from the later thirteenth century. The fourteenth-century St Bees man was found wrapped in linen covered with a substance that was probably beeswax (Figure 2.2). The body inside the cerecloth was in a remarkable state of preservation when it was recovered archaeologically in 1981 (O’Sullivan 1982). Gilchrist and Sloane (2005: 109) discuss an account of the application of cerecloth in 1344 to the body of Thomas de Henley, Abbot of Westminster. Turpentine was used to prepare the body before the cerecloth was applied, either soaked into the cloth used to stuff the cavities left by removal of the internal organs or to wash the corpse. The body of Bishop Lyndewood who died in 1446 and was examined in 1852 was found covered in nine or ten layers of cerecloth, but no removal of organs had taken place (Litten 1991: 39). Gilchrist and Sloane (2005: 110) find no evidence for embalming before the late thirteenth century and nothing after the end of the fifteenth century “barring exceptional circumstances such as the preparation of Henry VIII’s corpse in 1547.” In fact, Cherryson, Crossland and Tarlow (forthcoming) have since found quite a bit of evidence for embalming in the early modern period, although mostly this relates to preservation of the bodies of elite members of society such as the members of the Cavendish family placed in a vault at Derby Cathedral (Butler and Morris 31

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland

Figure 2.2. The wrappings of the upper part of the embalmed body of St Bees man – a medieval burial recovered from St Bees, Cumbria. His body has been preserved with resins and wrapped in linen before being sealed in a lead coffin. Photograph courtesy of Deirdre O’Sullivan. 1994), and the Duke of Lauderdale whose body was laid to rest at Haddington (Caldwell 1976). Embalming was especially likely to be carried out on the bodies of those who died far from home or whose elaborate funerals needed several weeks of preparation after their deaths. Evidence for the practice of embalming is discussed in Chapters 3 and 4. The use of lead coffins or sheets of lead wrapped around the body in the manner of a shroud would have had similar anaerobic effects to cerecloth, and these are regular occurrences in post-medieval burial contexts. Lead coffins were usually enclosed within outer wooden shells that were, increasingly during this period, covered in velvet, although seventeenth-century coffins from the Culpeper vault at Hollingbourne in Kent apparently had no wooden outers but were entirely made of lead (Litten 1991: 95). The three seventeenth-century lead shells of the North family coffins from a vault at Kirtling All Saints in Cambridgeshire are typical: lead inners were surrounded by wooden caskets and, in at least two of the three cases, 32

Religious Belief

Figure 2.3. Anthropomorphic lead coffins from the chapel vault at Farleigh Hungerford Castle, Somerset. Some of these sixteenth- and seventeenth-century coffins have ‘masks’ over the faces. Photograph courtesy of John Cooke. covered in dark fabric (Ponsford and Jackson 1997: 145). Tacks secured the velvet to the wood, and from the mid-seventeenth century the tacks were sometimes used to make decorative motifs or to mark out the date and the initials of the deceased on coffin lids. Because of the cost, lead coffins were generally the preserve of the wealthy. The Cavendish vault at Derby Cathedral contained thirty-five coffins of the seventeenth to early nineteenth century, most of which had identifiable lead inners. The coffin of Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury (‘Bess of Hardwick’), for example, who died in 1607 was a large rectangular chest made of lead (Butler and Morris 1994: 19). Anthropomorphic lead coffins are known from medieval contexts and are also found in some early modern vaults, such as those at Canterbury Cathedral (Blockley et al. 1997) or at Farleigh Hungerford Castle in Somerset (Figure 2.3).

The Resurrection of the Body There are two main grounds in Protestant theology upon which the continuing care of the body after death could be justified. First, because the body has been the temple of the holy spirit and it therefore, despite the ubiquity of writings that emphasise the insignificant or even vile nature of the corporeal body, should not be “despised and thrown away” after death. Becon, following St Augustin, reasons that bodies should still be accorded dignity because they were formerly the vessels of the Holy Ghost. This is a retrospective grounds for treating the dead body with 33

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland care. The other reason – more frequently cited and more widely misunderstood and wrongly invoked in the present – is the prospective significance of the resurrection of the body. The second reason is also invoked by Becon: The buriall of the faithfull ought to bee done honestly, but not sumptuously. Neither ought the dead bodies of Christians to bee vilely handled, but honestly buried for the hope of the glorious resurrection (Becon 1568: 116). The resurrection of the body is a central part of Christian doctrine for Protestants as well as Catholics. Early modern opinion was divided, however, not only about the timing of the resurrection (immediately after death, or following a period spent in Purgatory) but also about the bodies which were to be resurrected. For Becon there is no doubt. Echoing Job, he is certain that I shall be cloathed againe with this skin and see God my Saviour in my flesh. Yea I my selfe shall behold him not with other eyes but with these same eyes (Becon 1568: 188). Yet for William Sherlock, writing in the late seventeenth century, such a literal belief in bodily resurrection is ridiculous. The resurrected body for him is refined to the point where it is not the same material object as the body that carried the soul around during life: As our reason may satisfie us, that such gross earthly bodies, as we now carry about with us, cannot live and subsist in those pure regions of Light and Glory, which God inhabits; no more that you can lodge a Stone in the Air, or breathe nothing but pure Aether: and therefore our glorified Bodies will have none of those earthly passions which these earthly Bodies have, will relish none of the pleasures of Flesh and Blood; that upon this account we may truly say, that when we once put off these Bodies, we shall ever after live without them (Sherlock 1690: 52). Sherlock’s position partakes of the general ‘disembodiment’ of the (masculine) subject described by Scholz (2000: 70) increasingly common in discursive tracts of the seventeenth century. Suzanne Scholz notes that English creative literature (poetry, drama and so on) demonstrates less and less concern with the bodiliness of subjectivity from the seventeenth century onwards. The conscious self had an increasingly distanciated relationship to the material body until it became almost a free-floating autonomous mind. This was, however, a strongly gendered phenomenon. While the male subject became all interior self in dialogue with God, the female was its foil – a humoral body, leaky, porous, ‘natural’ and morally inferior (Scholz 2000: 68–70). Women, for many early modern writers, could not escape their corporeality and for that reason would never attain the intellectual or moral status of the masculine subject. Sherlock’s attitude towards the body is close to the 34

Religious Belief masculine abstraction and valorisation of the mind Scholz describes, although it is for him not the secular mind but the divine soul that is the counterpart of the flesh. He cannot believe that the worldly flesh has any part to play in the divine plan once our allotted spans on earth are up. But even for those who take a more ‘corporeal’ view of the resurrection, the resurrected body is not the same as the earthly one. For a start, there is the problem that even while living the earthly body itself is not always the same and that it changes through the course of life – so is the resurrected body to be the body as it was at the time of death, or at some earlier point in life? The most popular consensus was that all would be resurrected at the perfect age of thirtythree – Christ’s age at death (Marshall 2002: 227). Those who had died in infancy, childhood or youth would be resurrected as they would have been had they lived to full adulthood. The resurrected body was at once the same as the earthly body to which personal identity adhered and transformed into something different. John Bunyan discussed the question at some length in his book written around 1665 (there is some ambiguity in the date of publication). He goes on to compare the transformation of bodily resurrection to the candying of fruit as though they had no other Nature, than that in which they are boiled; When yet, in truth, the thing candied doth still retain its own proper Nature and Essence; though by vertue of its being candied, it loseth its former sourness, bitterness, stinking smell, or the like (Bunyan 1665: 224). John Bunyan believed in the literal resurrection of the body (i.e. that the very material of the earthly body would be used by God to make the resurrected body), and he believed that both the saved and the damned would be resurrected in their bodies and that their experience of the delights of salvation or the pains of hell would be fleshly. The grounds of his faith were fourfold: 1. The pious elect are the members of the body of Christ and it is inconceivable that the body of Christ should suffer corruption. 2. The body is the temple of the Holy Ghost; bodies are not therefore made for sin, although they are of course capable of sin, but for God (this is quite different to the view of somebody like Sherlock for whom the body is a thing to be despised precisely because it is inclined to sin and requires rigorous discipline to keep on the path of righteousness). 3. The human body is the image of Christ’s body. 4. The body has shared in our afflictions and will therefore share in our honour. Such a position made it necessary to reconcile the rottenness and sinfulness of the despised body, and particularly the corruption and imperfections of the earthly body, with the honour of salvation. Bunyan went about that first by distinguishing the ‘bad’ aspects of bodiliness from the ‘good’ ones. There was a distinction to be made, he said, between the actual flesh that hangs on our bones and ‘flesh and blood’ of the Bible, meaning the weaknesses of the flesh – like a woman’s dirty 35

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland clothes we can distinguish between the cloth and the dirt that covers it. Second, the resurrection would be a kind of reclothing of the soul in a washed and shining garment. It would involve the transformation and perfection of the physical body into something more glorious than what was ‘sown’ (the metaphor of a body sown in the ground and later harvested, like the metaphor of clean clothes, was used in the Bible and was prevalent in theological discourse). The earthly body is transformed at the Resurrection into a powerful, spiritual body, free from imperfections and disease. Bunyan concluded, “There shall be in our Resurrection no Corruption, either of Body, or Soul . . . There shall be no lame legs, nor Crump-shoulders, no blare eyes, nor yet wrinkled faces” (1665: 221–2). “And yet it is this Body and not another, this in nature, though changed into a far more glorious State”. (1665: 223). “The Body ariseth as to the nature of it; the self-same nature; but as to the manner of it: how far transcendant is it!” Like an ear of corn germinating “our brun [bran] shall be left behind us when we rise again” (1665: 217). Doctrinal stances on bodily resurrection did not vary enormously between different groups of Christians, although there were differences in the degree to which the resurrected body was expected to be identical with the earthly body. Seventeenth-century critics sometimes claimed that Quakers did not believe in resurrection of the body (e.g. Danson 1668: 74), but their teachings suggest only that they believed in a resurrected body of a different nature to the ‘carnall’ one put into the ground. George Fox wrote that God would provide a spiritual body, “but flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdome of Heaven” (Fox 1654: 14). Beliefs about the extent to which the resurrection of the body would require actual material remains of the physical human corpse did not agree with each other or even with themselves. For those trying to unify the balkanised brain into a single, rational modality of thought and a clear and consistent framework of discourse, the doctrine of bodily resurrection presents a problem. It is not possible to say what people ‘really’ believed about bodily resurrection: whether they thought the loss or annihilation of the corpse would compromise one’s chances of being resurrected, or how far they thought that place, manner or form of disposal would affect the nature of the bodily resurrection. Accounts of the actual details of the general resurrection and the empirical (as opposed to moral) qualities of the resurrected body are thin on the ground. Confronted with the possibility of incoherence, the allure of metaphorical and abstract discourse was great for early modern theologians. To recompose a body from its original substance, that substance had to be still in existence. For those whose corpses had been buried whole and remained undisturbed the skeleton would be raised from the grave and reclothed in new and transformed flesh: this was relatively straightforward. Theologians generally subscribed to the view that even in cases where the body had been scattered after death, as with burial at sea or where post-mortem disturbance had separated parts of the same body, God would recover and assemble the distributed remains. The greatest problems arose when the material body had been destroyed altogether, through fire, for example, or because it had been consumed by animals. How could the body be resurrected after such comprehensive destruction? 36

Religious Belief Even for subtle theologians, the relationship between the earthly and resurrected bodies was not always clear. Funerary practices of the early modern period demonstrate that whatever the scholars contended, the place and manner of disposal continued to be important to the living. In fact, as has been mentioned, it may be that the severing of formal spiritual links between the living and the dead that was accomplished by the Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith alone actually promoted even closer attention to the body, since the corpse itself, in the majority of cases where there was no permanent memorial, was now the only material aspect of the deceased self with which the bereaved could interact. However, there seems to be no theological legitimacy to the idea that denial of normal burial would make resurrection of the body impossible if that person were destined to be resurrected. It is not easy to find someone willing to go to print in the early modern period with the suggestion that the integrity of the corpse was a necessary condition for bodily resurrection. Even in the works of those who campaigned in the nineteenth century against the anatomical dissection of corpses of the poor, mad or stolen, this argument is not advanced. As Richardson notes, it only occurs in the works of propagandists for anatomical dissection attempting to ridicule the positions of their opponents (Richardson 1988: 93). Thus, there was no unanimity about the exact nature of bodily resurrection: the main division was between those who thought the resurrected body would be like the earthly one, individuated in the same ways, and recognisable, but transformed like candied fruit (Bunyan’s position); or those who thought the resurrected body would be of a different nature to the cloddish earthly one (Sherlock’s belief ). However, the treatment of the body at death does not matter to the fate of the soul, said early modern Protestant theologians, in a rare example of consensus. They conceded that God is able to reconstitute the bodies of the righteous for resurrection, no matter what kind of funerary rites they have received. “Vile, or no exequies at all hinder nothing the sepulture of the poore saints,” wrote Becon. Thomas Beconsall says that even the want of proper burial and the near annihilation of the body could not prevent the bodily resurrection of the virtuous. God would be able to reconstitute the body, wrote Beconsall in a passage which alludes to St Augustine’s doctrine of bodily resurrection. Even if evil people tear Infants from the Womb, to sacrifice to Wolves and Tygers; yet after Wit and Malice, and Cruelty have spent themselves, there will still be Materials enough for Omnipotence to perfect his own Designs, in a glorious and triumphant Resurrection (Beconsall 1697: 23). The form of the resurrected body was the subject of intense controversy in the seventeenth century, but even those, like Beconsall, who asserted that the resurrected body would be identical to the earthly body did not suppose that the body at death would need to preserve its integrity or require any particular conservation to enable this to happen. All the distributed particles of the body would be re-assembled, completing the resurrected body, if necessary, using 37

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland those fleeting Particles . . . that are carried off by more nice and delicate sorts of Evacuation, tho’ we cannot esteem integral, constituent Parts of a Man . . . yet they are justly to be esteemed proper Appendages of every particular Man [and can therefore be used to make up his rising body] (Beconsall 1697: 19).

Disposal of the Dead Body Even if it were not essential to the Resurrection, the body of the deceased was still at the centre of funerary ritual. The physical presence of the body itself was only missing on occasions where it had been lost entirely or on those occasions where the death of a very high-status individual meant that the funeral happened a long time, perhaps many months, after death had occurred, when an effigy might be substituted for the (previously interred) actual body. In the case of Oliver Cromwell, for example, whose ostentatious state funeral took place three months after his death, the place of the body was taken by an effigy, the actual body having been interred privately two or three months earlier (Pearson and Morant 1935). The published funeral sermon of Bishop John Cosins, who died in 1673, refers to “the sad Real Text before our Eyes” (Basire 1673: 7), showing that the sermon was delivered over the body itself which was the normal expectation. In fact, given the disappearance of masses and prayers for the soul of the dead and the far reduced religious ceremony (according to the 1644 Directory for the Publique Worship of God it was not even necessary for a minister to be present at the much shortened funeral service – Gittings 1999: 153), the corpse itself probably assumed even greater significance on the occasion of its interment. People’s wishes for the place and manner of disposal of their own bodies is most clearly evident in extant wills. Of course, these were produced by those who had access to the literate structures of law and by those whose ownership of property made will-writing worthwhile, so they disproportionately represent wealthy and educated males. The wishes of the poor and of women are not so directly evident. Before the Reformation wills usually asked that the body of the testator be buried in consecrated ground; often, in the case of the wealthy, within the church. The most important people and senior clergymen might specify the location of their burial more closely: close to the high altar, in a particular chapel, or adjacent to another burial, for example (Harding 1992; Houlbrooke 1998: 111; Gilchrist and Sloane 2005). After the Reformation, the vast majority of will preambles did not mention the fate of the dead body. Rather, it was the destination of the soul (to God alone and not, as previously customary, to Mary and the Company of Heaven as well) that occupied the mind of testators (and of course the succession of the estate and distribution of property). Cressy’s examination of a selection of wills written by members of the Elizabethan gentry found that proximity to the communion table, or location within a particular part of the church, was still of value to testators, although usually placement with family members was of greater importance than the spiritual potency of church geography (1997: 460–5). There is, 38

Religious Belief however, evidence that for many people post-Reformation1 attitudes towards the sacred geography of the church were similar to pre-Reformation ones. The old priory of St Oswald’s in Gloucester was restructured during the Reformation, transforming the former north aisle into the chancel of a new church. Ten post-Reformation burials were inserted into the high end of this chancel in the early post-medieval period (Heighway and Bryant 1999: 219). Interestingly, greater importance appears to have been attached to family than to holiness, in London at least, even before the Reformation, according to Harding (1992). Increasingly, however, the location of the burial of the body was left to executors; the majority of people affected (or really felt) indifference to the treatment of their own corpses (Houlbrooke 1998: 125). By 1640, over 60% of Berkshire wills specified no particular place of burial. In Norwich 84% of wills registered in 1649 did not say where the body should be interred (Houlbrooke 1998: 125, 385). Zacharie Boyd’s dying man in the Last Battell is applauded for making a will because it safeguards the material security of his widow and children, but he resists giving instructions for the disposal of his corpse which he proclaims to be a matter of indifference to him. Between the Restoration and the mid-eighteenth century, only a very small number of wills left directions about where the body was to be buried, even in the north of England where the old customs had endured for longest (Houlbrooke 1998: 131–2). By that time, the will had largely lost its religious function and character, becoming essentially a vehicle for organising financial and legal affairs after a death. Wills have been a vital source of information about popular attitudes to death and spirituality not only for Houlbrooke but for numerous social and religious historians, especially those studying the Reformation and the early modern period (e.g., Duffy 1992; Gittings 1984, 1999; Cressy 1997). However, in tracing the history of attitudes towards the body the picture suggested by wills is not fully borne out by archaeological evidence. Testators’ professed indifference to the fate of their earthy husk is belied by remarkable continuity in their places of burial. Pre-Reformation individuals commonly asked for burial not only in consecrated ground but actually beneath the floor of the church itself. Catholics of the time attributed superior sanctity to certain material objects – in particular saints’ relics, holy water, the furnishings and substance of the church itself. Through a principle of contagious sanctity, the places in contact with or proximity to those especially holy substances were more holy than elsewhere. Thus, the churchyard was more sacred than the unconsecrated profane land that surrounded it; the church was more sacred than the churchyard; the chapel’s housing relics and the high altar were more sacred than the nave. There was also secular advantage in terms of prestige to being buried beneath the floor of the church. Family vaults under the floor of the church itself were expensive and associated with the better sort of family. And the sale of such plots was an important source of revenue for the parish. According to Protestant doctrine, however, no ground or thing was more imbued with the spirit of God than any other. There was therefore no spiritual advantage in being buried beneath the communion table or within the church at all. In devotional literature this point was frequently made. In The Last Battell of the Soule in Death, Zacharie Boyd has the dying man visited by a “carnall Friend” who asks whether he would like to 39

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland be buried in a church. The sick man – who at this point in the book has been largely restored to theological orthodoxy thanks to more than a week’s worth of improving talk with his pastor – emphatically rejects the suggestion: Wherefore should I make the glorious House of my God a flesh pot of corruption? Fye upon our folie: should it be convenient that my stinking bones cast up anie noysome vapours, for to trouble the living at the service of the everliving? What advantage shall it be to my Soule to come and fetch this bodie out of a Church more than out of a Church-yard? . . . Let no man mak me an evill example after my death (Boyd 1629: 1043). Nevertheless, in England there was no noticeable change at the Reformation away from church burial and towards burial outside or even, as the logic of Protestant doctrine would indicate, in unconsecrated land altogether. As a pious Glaswegian, Boyd was probably firmer in his resolve upon this issue than many of his Church of England counterparts. In Scotland, unlike England and Wales, intra-mural burial (interment under the church floor) was actually forbidden by the reformed church in the first Book of Discipline, and this prohibition was reinforced by several additional orders of the Church of Scotland, including the threat of excommunication in 1576 (Gordon 1992: 482) and an attempt in 1597 to compel every nobleman in the country to construct a burial aisle in the kirkyard for his own family (Brown 2000: 265). When and where those strictures were obeyed, the architectural innovation of burial aisles and private mausoleums appeared within the bounded space of parish graveyards, and these allowed the continued erection of mural monuments and under-floor burial vaults while respecting the Church of Scotland’s position on burial within the church building. Andrew Spicer (2000: 149) recorded the inscription on the mausoleum of Sir James Melville at Halhill, Fife, who died in 1609 (Figure 2.4). The relevant parts read: Repent amend on Christ the burden cast Of your sad sinnes who can your sauls refresh Syne raise from grave to gloir your grislie flesh Defyle not Christ’s kirk with your carrion A solemn sait for God’s service prepar’d For praier; preaching and communion Your byrial should be in the kirk yard In forbidding kirk (church) burial, the Scottish church differed from most other European Protestant churches. William Birnie, minister of Lanark, argued that kirk burial encouraged other Popish and superstitious practice by associating the dead with the church building, suggesting to the ignorant that prayers and masses for the dead could be effective. Kirk burial, he argued, would make “the kirk a calvarie or cairne of dead mans skulls” (Birnie 1606: 1). The construction of mausoleums or burial aisles such as Melville’s permitted the continued erection of intra-mural 40

Religious Belief

Figure 2.4. Mausoleum of James Melville of Halhill, at Collessie Fife. The lengthy inscription includes a denunciation of kirk burial, proclaiming that instead burials should take place in the kirkyard. Photograph courtesy of ARC Architects, Auchtermuchty.

types of commemorative memorials and distinguished those buried in them from those in the rest of the kirkyard. Despite the firmness of the Scottish Church’s resolve to prevent church burial, as a potentially superstitious activity, there is considerable evidence of continuing adherence to the practice. In addition to the social prestige of a more expensive burial place, maintaining family tradition was a significant inducement to hang on to old intramural vaults. Spicer cites a number of early post-Reformation aristocratic sources who attached importance to burial in the same place as one’s ancestors, even when that meant the corpse had to go on a journey of many miles. When further burial in those places was difficult or impossible, responses included moving the ancestral remains to a new place of burial or appropriating and walling off parts 41

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland of churches to act as private mausoleums. Construction of burial aisles in kirkyards was another possible response. However, in some parts of Scotland, burial beneath the floor of the church did not end with the first Book of Discipline. For parishes, kirk burial could be a lucrative source of income, and for parishioners there were reasons other than theological ones for wanting to bury and be buried within the kirk itself. Because of the limited space available, floor space for burial was expensive and prestigious: only the best families of a parish could afford it. Intra-mural interment was therefore often publicised by the erection of monuments on the floor and internal walls of the church. Commemoration within the church was more highly regarded than commemoration outside in the graveyard (in the sixteenth century, there was very little evidence for any graveyard commemoration at all, especially in Scotland [Willsher 1985; Tarlow 1999a; Mytum 2004]). Intramural monuments were highly visible and were, moreover, regularly and inevitably encountered by the rest of the parish. Both parish authorities and wealthy inhabitants were often unwilling to comply with Church of Scotland dicta that could deprive them of income and opportunity for status display. Despite the kirk’s official line, some parishes continued to offer burial ‘lairs’ beneath the church floor. At St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, for example, church records and commemorative monuments suggest that intramural interment continued to happen throughout the early modern period and into the nineteenth century (Tarlow 1999a). At Balmerino Abbey in Fife, excavations revealed a considerable number of post-Reformation burials beneath the floor of the nave (Kenworthy 1980), and Glasgow Cathedral only managed to restrict burials to the nave and crossing as a concession to reformed teaching (Driscoll 2002). In England and Wales, where intra-mural burial was still permitted, the teaching that church burial no longer bestowed spiritual advantage on the interee did not, of course, imply the absence of secular advantage for the deceased person and their surviving kin. Especially when marked by a commemorative monument, church burial was a visible and ostentatious sign of social superiority. Kirsty Owen has argued that in early modern Gloucestershire church burial manipulated popular notions of piety to legitimate social inequalities by claiming that some individuals, wealthy ones who could afford sculptural monuments, were more spiritual than others (Owen 2006). Certainly intra-mural commemoration provided rich opportunities to enhance personal and family reputation within a local community, and these opportunities were particularly valued by the arriviste families who had only recently come into possession of significant wealth and land as a result of the redistribution of monastic property after the dissolution. Jon Finch’s study of church monuments in Norfolk in the early modern period found that in the century or so after the Reformation parishes with the most numerous and ostentatious commemorative memorials were those whose gentry was the least stable in status (Finch 2000: 114–5). In late medieval times, wealthy families were sometimes able to associate themselves with powerful monastic orders by using abbey burial grounds, and endowing associated chantries or devotional facilities. The materialisation of links between 42

Religious Belief high status families and the Church was also a claim for a secure place in a divinelysanctioned political order. The closure of many monastic burial grounds during the Reformation produced two problems for those whose families had traditionally used them. The first was finding a new burial ground for one’s family and one’s self, and the second was the fate of those ancestors and family members left behind in the closed grounds. There is some evidence that burials were moved to new locations during the Reformation. Spicer (2000), for example, considers a few cases of elite families undertaking this in the post-Reformation period in Scotland. However, the evidence for disinterment and translation of monastic burials is surprisingly scanty. A grave at the Dominican Friary at Guildford was disturbed and the body appears to have been completely removed suggesting a purposeful exhumation probably for reburial elsewhere (Poulton and Woods 1984:52). The absence of demolition debris in the grave suggests this occurred either prior to the dissolution of the monastery or immediately after the suppression order. A number of translations are noted in Leland’s itinerary of 1553–1554; including the relocation of the tomb of the Countess of Westmorland from the White Friars in Doncaster to the parish church of St George and the removal of Geoffrey Barbour from Abingdon Abbey to the parish church of St Helen’s (Gilchrist 2003: 408). Gilchrist also describes a couple of possible instances of the translation of burials en masse from closed monastic burial sites: one in Lincoln and one in York (Gilchrist 2003: 408). The vast majority of families made no provision for reinterments after the Reformation. Combined with the ongoing willingness to reuse grave space, and the antiquarian enthusiasm for inspecting the coffined remains of historical figures (not only the Marquis of Dorset, discussed by Burton, but numerous medieval kings and bishops were inspected by curious gentlemen over the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries), this suggests that treatment of the dead body depended on the recency of the death. Depending on the pressure for graveyard space, the bones of the dead might be removed after only a few decades. Usually, charnel in the post-medieval period was simply redeposited in a small pit beneath a new grave or in another part of the churchyard rather than going to an ossuary or any more formal space. The systematic use of charnel pits, however, is known particularly in heavily used urban graveyards. The Aldgate burial ground, now beneath Royal Mint Square in London, was in use between 1615 and the late eighteenth century. Although graves typically contained up to five individuals stacked on top of each other, there was still pressure on space, so the old bones displaced in the process of making new graves were put into charnel pits (unpublished site summary – Molas RM105), and at nearby St John’s Church, a charnel pit contained the disarticulated remains of more than 1,700 individuals (Ponsford and Jackson 1998). To disinter the newly dead or inspect their rotting corpses would not be considered decent; but for those who had lain dead for a century or more there is little indication that that the disturbance of their remains was of much concern to the living. Inspection of the contents of the coffins of the famous was a regular occurrence in our period, and as White (1998) points out, “Rarely was an attempt made to disguise the motive of idle or morbid curiosity”. 43

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland

Ireland and the Burial of Catholics In England, Scotland and Wales, the Protestant Reformation was probably the most important fact in the history of the disposal of the dead body of the early modern period. Key Protestant beliefs such as salvation by faith alone and the consequent disappearance of Purgatory impacted mortuary practices and affected beliefs about the body. The religious history of Ireland, however, was not the same as the rest of the British Isles, and the relationship between the body and the self and the treatment of the dead body was also different. Of course, there were Protestants in Ireland: the Anglo-Irish gentry were mostly, although not exclusively, Protestant, and parts of Ulster, which was settled extensively by Protestants from lowland Scotland in the seventeenth century, also had a strongly Protestant character. Indeed the history of Ireland throughout this period was largely the history of the relationship between Britain and Ireland, which often was, in practice, the relationship between the powerful, aristocratic Protestant minority, based in the area around Dublin and Drogheda (the English Pale), and the Catholic majority which not only included nearly everyone in the west and south of the country, but also constituted the majority of the population even inside the Pale. In Ireland, the Protestant Reformation had little impact on the everyday religious lives of most people. The Catholic Church retained the loyalty of most parishioners. Most Irish people in the early modern period, when they died, expected to go to Purgatory where their souls would be able to benefit from the interventions of the living. The burial of Catholics in Ireland or of the minority Catholic population in England, Scotland and Wales was similar to the burial of Protestants in terms of their material treatment, although the liturgy attending death and burial, and the post-mortem relationship between the living and the dead was very different. The only significant material differences were in what might be called religious grave goods and in place of burial. The majority of Catholic burials, however, are indistinguishable from Protestant ones in the early modern period. The communal parish graveyard contained the graves of both Catholics and Protestants, although during the 1641 rebellion, Irish Catholics in some areas disinterred the remains of Protestants whose heresy, they claimed, was polluting ancestral holy ground (McCormick 2007: 365–6). Occasionally Catholics were buried with religious items such as rosaries or papal bulls. Rosaries came to be regarded, particularly among Irish Catholics, as symbols of personal devotion and were sometimes so closely associated with a particular individual that they were buried with that person as essentially inalienable religious attributes. Papal bulls had a more practical value in the afterlife; as proof of remission of sins that had been negotiated with God’s representatives on Earth, they could be of real worth in reducing the punishment of the soul in Purgatory. Two eighteenth-century burials at Portchester Castle contained rosaries, one of beads only and the other of beads and a copper alloy crucifix (Cunliffe and Garratt 1994: 117). The individuals buried might have been Catholic prisoners of the Seven Years War (1756–1763). A rosary was found in a grave of


Religious Belief an unknown, but post-medieval, date at St Anne’s, Shandon, Cork (McCarthy 2001), and more are known from Manorhamilton workhouse, Leitrim (Rogers et al. 2007), and the Jesuit cemetery and the Mission of St Mary and St Michael, both in London (Melikian 2004), all of nineteenth-century date. Nevertheless, archaeological examples of Catholic objects such as bulls and rosaries in graves are rare, to the extent that they cannot be considered common elements even in Catholic disposal. The burial of Catholics in parish burial grounds, like that of other noncommunicants in Protestant areas, depended on the permission of the incumbent member of the established church. Although they were not normally excluded from parish burial grounds, their dependence on the national and local Anglican clergy was a source of frustration for Catholics and other dissenters who did not join the congregation of the established church. This dissatisfaction led, in the seventeenth century, to the establishment of burial places especially for the use of members of a dissenting church or another religion. The Old Velho Sephardi cemetery, for example, used by London’s Jews of predominantly Portuguese origin, was established in Mile End Road in the east end of London in 1657. An Ashkenazi (north European Jewish) cemetery was opened nearby in 1700.

The Unbaptised Most Catholics expected that after their death they would go to one of three places: Heaven, if very blessed; Hell, if very sinful; or Purgatory for nearly everyone else. However, there were certain people neither good enough for Heaven nor bad enough for Hell, and, in addition, they failed to qualify for Purgatory. For these people another region of the geography of the afterlife was designated: limbo. Its inhabitants included moral people who had died before Jesus was born and remote people who had never heard the word of God. The most populous of these categories, however, was unbaptised children. The fate of unbaptised children was subject to much theological discussion even before the Reformation. Marshall (2002: 8) notes that the scant official doctrine on the nature and place of both the ‘limbus infantum’ which received the souls of unbaptised infants and the ‘limbus patrum’ for the righteous patriarchs who died before the time of Christ, allowed plenty of scope for the ‘devotional imagination’. The souls of children in limbo were never to be admitted to Heaven, but neither were they to be subject to the torments of Hell or Purgatory. They had committed no sins for which they needed to atone, but by failing to receive baptism, neither had they earned the salvation of Christ. They could not be treated as members of the church. The theologically liminal state of these infant souls was mirrored in the geographical liminality of their bodies. In early modern Ireland, the bodies of stillborn and unbaptised children were usually considered ineligible for burial in the consecrated ground of the churchyard and were instead buried in special burial places


Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland called cill´ıni. The Irish words cill´ın, calluragh and ceall´unach by which these grave sites are known all derive from the Latin cella – little church (Finlay 2000). Cill´ıni, however, were not under church control like the normal parish graveyard, and their use was determined by custom rather than by formal church or civil sanction (Figure 2.5). Although some cill´ıni are not apparently sited in association with any earlier monuments, many of them are located on or adjacent to disused ecclesiastical or religious features or at the site of even earlier archaeological monuments such as megaliths, enclosures or burnt mounds. These associations may at first sight suggest the long-term continuing significance of particular landscape locations, but a recent survey by Eileen Murphy suggests that most of them were in use between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries, and at present there is no evidence that clearly dates any cill´ın to the medieval period or suggests these sites were in continuous use (Donnelly and Murphy 2008). What happened to the bodies of the unbaptised before the sixteenth century is not clear: it is possible that their admission to parish burial grounds was more widely tolerated or that even more informal means of disposal prevailed. As well as infant burials, cill´ıni were also used to dispose of the bodies of suicides, unrepentant criminals, strangers and non-Christians. Adult burials have been found during excavations of cill´ıni at Killalee Church Kilarney in Co., Kerry and Johnstown, Co. Meath (Dennehy and Lynch 2001: 23; Clarke 2002: 15). They generally went out of use the same time many folk religious practices were eradicated following Catholic emancipation in the early to mid-nineteenth century. However, Robin Flower witnessed a burial at a cill´ın on Great Blasket off the west coast of Ireland in the early twentieth century (1978 [1944]: 84–5). Flower describes the infant burial taking place amidst “the sobs of the women and the muttered prayers of the whole assembly.” The cill´ın on Great Blasket was used for unbaptised babies and suicides, “those who had known nothing and those who had known too much of this life” as Flower poignantly reflects. The use of cill´ıni was clearly a response to church teaching on the exclusion of ‘deviants’ from burial in holy ground. In early modern Europe, Catholics were probably stricter than Protestants in controlling who was allowed to be buried in consecrated ground. An admittedly partisan source, the seventeenth-century Anglican Bishop of Durham, contrasts Catholic practice with that of non-Anglican reformed churches regarding the burial of Anglicans in their cemeteries. Catholics

will allow us no other burial of our dead, than the burial of a dog; accounting their Churches, and their Churchyards to be polluted if any of our people be there put into a Grave; and whoever it is among them (be it a Son that shall bury his Father, or a Wife her Husband that dye in our Religion) if they venture to make a Grave there, and put the dead Corps either of a Father, or a Husband, or other the like into it, they are bound to scrape up that Corps again with their own fingers, and carry it away to be buried in a ditch or a dunghill, or where else they can find roome for it: Prince or Peasant are [herein] alike, if they be not Roman Catholicks, they shall be used no better. 46

Religious Belief

Figure 2.5. Maamtrasna cill´ın, County Mayo. Both the commemorative cross and the fencing are recent introductions intended to demarcate the ground and provide a focus for remembrance. The elevated, rural location away from parish burial grounds is typical. Photograph courtesy of Ruthann O’Connor. Low Churches, however, allow us not onely to bury our dead among them, in the Church-yards which they have purchased, and peculiarly set apart for that purpose; but they give us leave also to use our own Office, and Order of Burial . . . and to set up our Monuments and Inscriptions over the Graves, hereby professing unity with us both alive and dead. In all which Regards we ought no lesse to acknowledge them, and to make no Schisme between our Churches and theirs; however we approve not some defects that may be seen among them” (A.N.1673: 108–10). Bishop Cosin’s unsympathetic take on Catholicism was typical of Anglicanism of the period, and his notes were no doubt also defensive responses to the charge frequently brought by Catholics to the Reformed churches that by refusing to pray for the departed soul, Protestants showed a particularly callous and unnatural indifference to their dead. Although his experiences of trying to obtain permission for the burial of Anglicans in non-Anglican cemeteries might well have been indicative of relations between the various Christian churches at the time, it is certainly not the case that Anglicans of the period went to much trouble to demonstrate compassion and toleration towards Catholics. Anti-Catholicism was institutionalised in numerous ways, including exclusion from public offices and state institutions. 47

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland As has been established by numerous feminist historians, rules drawn up by childless older men did not necessarily meet or even acknowledge the emotional needs of women. Church doctrine was of little comfort to bereaved families, especially bereaved mothers, at a stillbirth or neonatal death (Murphy 2008). To believe that your child would never be able to go to Heaven was often hard for parents, and this point was one over which Protestant critics attacked Catholic doctrine. Marshall cites, among others, a publication of 1571 which lamented that limbus infantum was a concept “not onely to the great derogation of Gods mercie, but also to the great discomforting of the poore seely parentes” (Northbrooke 1571: 16, cited in Marshall 2002: 204). To be refused even the solace of a church burial alongside other relatives was bitter indeed. The rigidity of Catholic practice regarding the burial of infants forced bereaved parents, as well as relatives of dissenters, excommunicants and suicides, to seek a better alternative than the ditch or dunghill of Cosin’s imagination. The cill´ıni were not peaceful locations at the heart of the community like parish graveyards were, and they did not permit the comfort of interment in the same grave as, or next to, grandparents, parents or other kin. They were often bleak, isolated places without much to show above the ground surface, but they were at least a step up from the solitary, unremembered and wholly unceremonial pit on a moor, roadside or waste ground, and several steps above simply dumping the body in a gutter. Burial in a reserved and identifiable place meant that the body was less likely to be disturbed – in contrast to the constant possibility that a chosen piece of waste ground would be enclosed or developed – and that activities such as visiting the grave and leaving things there (in Ireland, the custom of leaving quartz stones on cill´ıni graves both marked the grave and functioned as a token of ongoing emotional care) would be socially tolerated. It also meant that the baby would not be alone, an important psychological and emotional factor. It may be compared in some ways with the designation of particular children’s areas in modern cemeteries in Ireland, and also in much of Britain (Garattini 2007). The widespread preference for locating cill´ıni among or adjacent to the ruins of other ecclesiastical buildings, or of other archaeological non-ecclesiastical sites such as raths or even barrows, suggests that where the church itself did not lend the authority of historical depth to a place, then locations which already had some time-deep meaning were chosen where possible. For example, a cill´ın at Johnstown, County Meath, containing the burials of sixty-one infants and two adults was located inside an early medieval enclosure (Clarke 2002).

The Death of Infants in Early Modern Protestantism Even amongst most Protestants (some dissenters excepted), the official teaching was that infant baptism was a necessary prerequisite to redemption, and the bodies of stillborn babies and unbaptised neonates were therefore sometimes excluded from Protestant graveyards as well as from Catholic ones. In examining the question of how far actual practices conformed to official teachings, scholars are largely dependent on historical sources for knowledge of the status of unbaptised infants, 48

Religious Belief because the skeletal remains of a full-term stillborn child or a victim of peri-natal mortality is not different to the remains of a child of a few days old who had been baptised. In any case, the burials of very young babies present particular problems for archaeologists because the bones are so small and brittle that they are often poorly preserved and easily misidentified as animal bones, especially when there is only fragmentary or partial preservation (Guy et al. 1998). For Protestants, the fate of unbaptised children was far from clear. Having done away with Purgatory and the limbos, the only remaining options for the soul after death were immediate salvation and eternal life in Heaven, or damnation and an eternity in Hell. Zacharie Boyd was sure that a benevolent God would not damn unbaptised children, although He might not be so generous to their neglectful parents (Boyd 1629: 630). Even as late as the eighteenth century, there was no Protestant unanimity on what was most likely, as a lengthy correspondence in the Gentleman’s Magazine 1739–40 shows. A letter enquiring as to the destination of the souls of dead infants raised the problem that these children have done nothing to deserve salvation, and if God were to grant it to them then surely, given the difficulty of entering Heaven after even a very moral life where “the Hazard is ten to one on the Negative”, it would be best to die immediately after birth. Respondents argued that salvation was a gift, not a reward, and that the direct ascent of the souls of children to God was an act of divine mercy. Further discussion moved to the question of baptism and whether it was necessary for salvation. By the eighteenth century, the necessity of infant baptism was widely questioned by those who believed that the failure of the parents to take proper care of their children’s spiritual well-being should not prejudice the soul of the child. Even before this stage, the lengthening of the period between birth and baptism (although there was considerable local variation in practice), and the growing insistence that baptism was performed by a cleric on a Sunday and not by a lay person at any time, suggested that many people did not consider the death of an unbaptised child to lead automatically to Hell or annihilation of the infant’s soul (Midi Berry and Schofield 1971). The problem with church doctrine – both Catholic and Protestant – was that it considered only the position, behaviour and actions of the deceased in determining whether burial on church land was possible. But even suicides, apostates and neonates had families for whom the emotional pain of loss was compounded by the taint of a bad death (i.e. an unexpected or untimely death, one for which the soul is not prepared, death as the result of one’s own crime, such as suicide or execution, or as a result of the crime of another, such as murder or witchcraft) and the social stigma of exclusion from the normal places and ceremonies of death. In the case of suicides, punishment of the family in the early modern period was part of the intention; because the actual perpetrator of the civil and spiritual sin of suicide could not be punished in this world, those things they had left behind – their body, estate and family – were targeted for punishment by the church and state. In pre-Reformation Britain, unbaptised infants were not officially allowed burial in consecrated ground (Gilchrist and Sloane 2005: 72). The disposal of unbaptised infants in post-Reformation Britain remains mostly unknown, although the burials 49

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland of twenty-nine stillborn and unbaptised children – seven in the church, fourteen in the cellar under the church and eight in the churchyard – were recorded in the parish records of All Hallows, Honey Lane in London between 1600 and 1654 (Harding 1989: 122–3). Archaeological evidence also suggests that people illicitly buried the bodies of stillborn and unbaptised children in holy ground. At Hereford Cathedral, despite the enclosure of its precinct and cemetery with walls and gates to prevent illicit burials, a group of twenty-four infant burials were discovered on Castle Green, an extension to the cathedral cemetery (Shoesmith 1980a: 51). Gilchrist and Sloane also note that four prone infant burials are known, from around the sixteenth century, at monastic cemeteries in Linlithgow, Aberdeen, Northampton and London. The treatment of these burials would usually be indicative of the burials of criminals or suicides, but in the case of infants may represent a way of giving burial in consecrated ground even to the unbaptised. Cill´ıni have generally been approached as a distinctively Irish phenomenon. However, the survey of archaeological sources for the Changing Beliefs of the Human Body project revealed a number of sites where burials took place outside the consecrated area (Cherryson, Crossland and Tarlow, forthcoming). These burials have sometimes been treated as erratic outliers, but taken together it is certainly possible to argue that in some areas of England and Wales, and certainly in Scotland a folk tradition of burying certain categories of person developed outside the supervision of the church. It is not stretching interpretation too far to suggest that these areas might have traditionally been used as burial grounds for unbaptised infants, suicides, strangers and others who might have been denied church burial, serving a similar purpose to Irish cill´ıni, although they were not common enough or sufficiently well-known in local folklore to be exactly equivalent to them. At St Oswald’s, Gloucester, a small group of infant burials dating to the post-medieval period was found to the south of the ruined priory, well away from the postdissolution graveyard to the north of the former church (Heighway and Bryant 1999: 200). At Lanercost Priory, Cumberland, four burials of neonates or stillbirths were dug through the demolition layers, and a further two grave cuts remained unexcavated (Whitworth 1998: 136). There may be more baby graves outside the excavated area. Precise dating of these burials is not possible, but they certainly post-date the destruction of the priory. As at cill´ıni, the majority of the burials are small infants. The best case for an English ‘cill´ın’ comes from Tintagel, Cornwall, where eight very small graves were excavated from the centre of the parish church, abandoned in the medieval period and ruinous by the sixteenth century (Nowakowski and Thomas 1992, Figure 2.6). At the time these graves were dug the church would probably have been detectable only by mounds where its walls had been. The graves themselves are lined with slates in a cist construction or are of tented form, using slates to make the bottom sides and a lid. Although no bones survive, the size of the graves suggests they were used for young infants. As at many of the Irish sites, quartz pebbles were found associated with some of the graves. The association with a former ecclesiastical site is also typical of Irish cill´ıni. The excavators at Tintagel, 50

Religious Belief

Figure 2.6. What appears to be a special cemetery for neonates and perhaps other liminal categories of the dead, at Tintagel in Cornwall. The tiny graves, dug in and around the ruins of the medieval church, are made as stone-lined cists or covered by two pieces of stone leaning against one another to make a ‘tent’. Many features of these Tintagel burials including the ecclesiastical location, the preponderance of infant burials and the deposition of lumps of quartz with the burials, are associated with Irish cill´ıni. Plan drawn by Debbie Miles-Williams from Nowakowski and Thomas 1992.


Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland however, attribute the child burials to the late sixteenth century, rather earlier than the Irish sites, although there is no absolute date for this phase at Tintagel, and it could perhaps be later than assumed. However, the remains of most unbaptised babies of the early modern period are unlikely to be discovered by archaeologists. Gittings notes that midwives in early modern England were particularly enjoined to prevent the casual disposal of the bodies of stillbirths and to ensure they were given suitable burial rather than simply being dumped with domestic rubbish or tossed into a ditch (Gittings 1984: 82–4). Such injunctions imply that the casual disposal of unbaptised infant remains was sometimes undertaken. There is no evidence in the early modern period that any kind of dead body except, perhaps, in some circumstances, unbaptised infants, were ever treated with indifference. Although strangers, criminals and excommunicants might have received differential, hostile or even punitive burial, they were not dumped unceremonially in this way. And archaeological evidence such as the existence of tiny coffins in vaults shows that even very small infants were given a careful and deliberate burial when possible. It is likely that stillbirths and neonates were frequently buried singly outside the normal places of human burial. Archaeologically isolated burials are sometimes dateable to this period, although when they are encountered it is often hard to date single burials with much confidence, because they generally lack the kind of material evidence or historical documentation that normally allows us to speculate about the circumstances of their creation. The bones of babies are usually fragmentary and delicate or entirely decayed after a few centuries of burial; they would be easily overlooked if uncovered in non-archaeological circumstances such as building or ploughing.

Excommunicants, Recusants and Malefactors Also denied burial in consecrated Anglican burial grounds were those who had been, because of their actions or professed beliefs, excommunicated from the church. The Hereford Journal of 19 June 1783 records the discovery of a skeleton in a paddock near Grantham, Lincolnshire, under a stone inscribed, “Here lies the body of Zacharias Laxton, deceased the 27th of August, 1667, being for his excommunication denied the usual place of burial” (Simpson and Roud 2000: 38). There is also evidence for the clandestine burial of excommunicates on consecrated ground. One of the more spectacular examples involved the burial of a Mrs. Horseman in the parish church at Horton in Oxfordshire in 1631 after the failure of an application for faculty (Cressy 2000:116, 121). The church’s parish clerk arrived early one morning to find that during the night the church had been entered and a grave had been dug and refilled in the chancel, with a communion table placed on top. Most numerous amongst the excommunicated in the sixteenth and seventeenth century were recusant Catholics who rejected the core dogma of the Protestant church. In the immediate aftermath of the Reformation, recusancy (continuing adherence to Catholicism) was treated harshly by Protestants, and people who refused to convert were formally excommunicated and denied burial in the parish 52

Religious Belief

Figure 2.7. Putative recusant burials, dug through the demolition layers of Eynsham Abbey. Plan drawn by Debbie Miles-Williams from Hardy, Dodd and Keevill 2003. graveyard. Their choice of burial place was sometimes a religious statement as well as a pragmatic decision. Eynsham Abbey, in Oxfordshire, has some examples of what are almost certainly the burials of recusant Catholics (Hardy et al. 2003, Figure 2.7). Three adult graves were cut into the primary demolition layers overlying the old abbey. These graves were, in turn, sealed by another mid-seventeenth century demolition layer. All three burials were coffined which might, given their early post-Reformation date, imply that those buried belonged to the upper strata of society. Church records show that Thomas Barncote of that parish was excommunicated in 1630 for assisting in the night-time burial of an excommunicant “in a close called the park on the backsyde of Eynsham Abbey” (Hardy et al.: 519). The Stanley family, the post-dissolution owners of Eynsham Abbey, were known to have Catholic sympathies and may have offered or permitted the use of the ruined abbey for the burial of recusants. 53

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland At Carmarthen Greyfriars at least seven burials and perhaps as many as thirty-one post-dated the dissolution and destruction of the friary (Manning 1998: 29). Again, the best dated examples were cut into the demolition layers. A hundred and twenty two inter-cutting burials were excavated at the Carmelite friary in Aberdeen. They were dated (by radiocarbon) to the period between the mid-sixteenth and midseventeenth century A.D. (Stones 1989a: 41–2). It cannot be established, from the evidence currently available, whether these were the burials of recusant Catholics or the descendants of people already buried at the friary, or whether their burials simply represent the continuation of local practice. At Perth, fourteen graves were found cut into the demolition rubble of the former Blackfriars (Stones 1989b), although again it is not clear why this site was used for post-Reformation burials or what the site’s former ecclesiastical status signified. Both the putative ‘recusant’ burials and the burials of other ‘deviants’ (those who did not conform to the norm of dying as a communicant of a parish, in predictable circumstances) show a preference for the use or re-use of ecclesiastical locations, such as abbeys and friaries, destroyed at the dissolution. Despite doctrinal changes that abolished the official religious significance of these formerly Catholic places, they continued to have spiritual meaning to many people, at least sufficient to constitute burial places preferred to any random field, ditch or garden. In this, the location of such burials is reminiscent of the frequent siting of cill´ıni at early ecclesiastical sites which retained an “aura of sanctity” (Hurley 1982: 304, cited in Donnelly and Murphy 2008: 197). One final category of people frequently denied church burial was executed criminals. The post-mortem fate of the criminal body was often part of their punishment. Although punishment over this period generally changed from corporal and bodily retributive justice towards psychological and disciplinarian reformative justice, as described most famously by Foucault, large numbers of executions were nevertheless carried out throughout the period, especially in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Moreover, these bodily punishments often specified ways in which the dead body should be treated. Primarily, the corpses of criminals could be stigmatised by the division or segmentation of the body, by its anatomisation and by special treatment in the place and/or manner of burial. These are all considered in greater detail in Chapter 4.

Low Church and Dissent The Catholic/Protestant axis was the most important means of locating religious belief for most people in the early modern period but, particularly in England and particularly after the sixteenth century, when Protestantism had been widely accepted, differences within the reformed church were sometimes equally significant. These are often described as positions along an axis from ‘High’ to ‘Low’ Church, with ‘high’ church meaning the Established Anglican church. The Laudian movement of the 1620s promoted the readoption of some aspects of Catholic worship into the established Protestant church, especially in terms of ceremony. These 54

Religious Belief developments were opposed by Puritans, who preferred a pared-down form of worship, eschewed decoration, image, ceremonialism and pomp in favour of scriptural contemplation and strong moral discipline. During the interregnum, the Puritans dominated public life, but with the restoration of Charles II in 1660, Laudian ‘High Church’ Anglicanism returned to pre-eminence in political and official circles. Puritans, though not much liked by the High Church establishment, were not totally excluded from public life and remained influential in various ways. Some Puritans, however, split away from Anglicanism to join the so-called ‘separatist’ sects of Anabaptists and Mennonites, which took doctrinal positions the Anglican church believed to be incompatible with mainstream national church belief. Many separatists left the country in the seventeenth century to seek more tolerant political and social environments in the Netherlands or the New World. However, Puritan ideas influenced a number of new churches over the following centuries. Known as ‘dissenters’ or, from the nineteenth century, non-conformists, members of these churches embraced what they believed to be a more simple, pure and authentic religious devotion. In opposition to the crypto-Catholicism of post-Laudian ‘high’ Anglicanism, they were known as the ‘low’ churches. They gained most converts among the lower middle and working classes, particularly in Wales, Scotland and the north and west of England. The most popular dissenter churches, in terms of numbers, were the Methodists and Quakers. The Quakers are the older group. Exploding onto the religious scene in the mid-seventeenth century, Quakers rejected entirely the intermediary role of clergy, doctrine and book, believing each person was illuminated by an ‘inner light’ by which means Christ communicated directly with the individual (Murray Rust 1995). Understandably, church hierarchy was threatened by this self-sufficiency which would make all clergy, as well as church buildings and the apparatus of religious social control, redundant. Quakerism was an introspective and meditative tradition, particularly during its first decades, but Quakers were also known (and sometimes ridiculed) for their unusually plain and egalitarian style of dress, speech and puritanical attitudes. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Quakers, perhaps ironically, became known for their worldly success, particularly in manufacturing: well-known Quaker families include the Frys and the Cadburys, both chocolate makers, the Darbys of Ironbridge, and the banking families of Lloyd and Barclay. At the same time, the Quakers often promoted or pioneered philanthropic or paternalistic initiatives for the care of the poor, the sick, prisoners and workers. Methodism developed and spread quickly in the middle part of the eighteenth century. Emphasising good works as well as faith, Methodists adopted the Arminian belief that there was no predestined elect, but that anyone could be saved through striving for perfection. They preached tirelessly, often in the open air, outside pits, factories and on common land to reach poor and working people. Quakers and Methodists distinguished themselves from members of the established church in their use of material culture by rejecting ornament, ostentation, most individualisation and anything that could be construed as crypto-Catholic. In their burial practices, they preferred either not to use monuments or to adopt discreet and uniform commemoration, and they did not believe any piece of 55

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland ground was more holy than any other. However, until the foundation of large non-denominational or inter-denominational cemeteries in the mid-nineteenth century, most dissenters were compelled to use the parish churchyard which was subject to the rule of the Anglican church (Rugg 1998).

Dissenters and the Dead Body Low church denominations embraced a kind of fundamentalist Protestantism, distrusting ritual, tradition and elaborate practices of worship. In their funerary practices, they frequently rejected traditional usages such as west–east orientation, intramural interment and so on, in favour of a more pared-down ceremony. Their values of simplicity, plainness, community and the direct and personal encounter with the word of God are often evident in their early modern burial practices. The dead body could become the locus of sectarian tension, particularly between Quakers and the established church in the seventeenth century, as happened in the case of Priscilla Moe, whose contested interment was discussed at the beginning of the first chapter. However, Croese was also surprised by the “storms of Reproaches and Trouble” their burial practices brought upon the Quakers, claiming it was not uncommon for the bodies of Quakers to be dug up by non-Quaker relatives and neighbours, removed from Quaker burial grounds and reburied elsewhere with ‘proper’ funeral rites. Lately, the Quakers had been allowed to bury where they pleased, since the year “wherein that Memorable Plague raged”. It is possible that measures introduced to cope with the disposal of the plague dead made burial outside the parish graveyard a more familiar option and tempered previous hostility. Quaker burial grounds were distinct from normal parish churchyards. They bury their dead, says Croese, in such places as are convenient and adapted for that purpose, not into Consecrated ground, lest they should be thought to partake of the Superstition of their Ashes in the least; neither have they any Ornaments, nor any Effigies of Lamentation or Mourning, nor do they wear any black Cloathes, besides what they are daily wont to do; neither do they use any Junkettings, but only broth before and after think upon the Mortal state of all Men, and every one of his own in particular (1696: 182–3). The seventeenth-century dissenter cemetery at Hemingford Grey in Cambridgeshire, for example, contained sixteen burials orientated NE-SW or SW-NE (McNicholl et al. 2007). Seven burials of probable eighteenth century date were laid out north–south at Therese House in London and were probably associated with a non-conformist chapel (MOLAS 2006). Cemeteries such as this form a small minority of archaeologically known early modern burial grounds. The overwhelming majority of burials in Britain and Ireland are orientated west–east, the traditional medieval Christian practice. Interestingly, this contrasts sharply with contemporary 56

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Figure 2.8. Plan of the Quaker burial ground at Kingston-upon-Thames. Note the variation in orientation which differs from the normal west–east orientation of Catholic and Anglican burial grounds during this period. Plan drawn by Debbie Miles-Williams from Bashford and Sibun 2007. practice in colonial Virginia and New England (Weglian 2006), where most cemeteries do not have a dominant grave orientation. All the graves at the cemetery at the probable site of Wolstenholme Town, Virginia, which was destroyed in 1622, were aligned north–south (Noel Hume 1991: 240). The influence of dissenting churches in colonial North America might have been significant in this difference in practice. By contrast, a single north–south burial stands out among the approximately 2,000 burials excavated from the medieval and post-medieval church and graveyard of St Peter in Waterford, Ireland. The grave was one of sixty-one dated to the early middle seventeenth century (Hurley and McCutcheon 1997: 221). The explanation for this apparent anomaly was examined by Fewer (1998), who concluded that this grave probably belonged to a Quaker and that, given the general levels of religious dissent over this period, what was surprising was that there were not more ostentatiously ‘dissenting’ burials. Their paucity he attributes to strongly pro-Catholic sympathies of the city, despite official attempts to promote Protestantism (Fewer 1998: 22–3). North–south burials are occasionally encountered archaeologically in Britain and even elsewhere in Catholic Ireland. Three adolescent skeletons of seventeenth to early eighteenth century date were found at John Dillon Street, Dublin, buried on this alignment (Walsh 2001), although identification of those burials as non-conformist is tentative. The recent full publication of the Quaker burial ground at Kingston upon Thames (Bashford and Sibun 2007) has much improved our knowledge of nonconformist burial practices in the early modern period. Like the other examples, the graves at Kingston upon Thames do not take the normal west–east alignment 57

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland (Figure 2.8). Most early graves (up to the mid-eighteenth century) exhibit the egalitarian principles of Quaker life; but the mid eighteenth-century brick-built Barnard vault looks strikingly like the aggrandising gentry vaults found in most Church of England graveyards at that time.

Conclusions Religious beliefs affected burial practice. The significance of religion is easiest to see in those practices which arose to distinguish a group of believers from the mainstream – as in dissenter rejection of traditional orientation and parish graveyards – and in those which arose as a response to exclusion from the mainstream – the alternative burial places of recusants and the unbaptised. Mainstream practices are not well accounted for by theology alone. Finding a theological justification for W–E burial, use of churchyards, coffins or burial clothes is not straightforward, and the fact that there is so little difference between preReformation Catholic practice and post-Reformation Protestant burial is probably because so little of the traditional burial rite was based on church teachings in the first place. The influence of theology in early modernity was more subtle. In reshaping the relationship between the living and the dead, Protestantism promoted a greater social and emotional investment in the dead body and its treatment, which informed social attitudes to commemoration, the embalming, dressing and encasing of the corpse, places of burial and post-mortem intervention in the body. As the next chapter will explore, not only were religious attitudes towards the dead body internally inconsistent, they did not easily articulate with emerging scientific ways of knowing the body. Religious faith is perhaps the most obvious meaning of ‘belief’ in colloquial English, but in early modern Britain and Ireland religious dogma was much disputed and subject to frequent change. Other sets of beliefs were drawn upon as well as, or instead of, the teachings of the church. Some of those beliefs dovetailed with Christian orthodoxy; others contradicted or competed with it. Beliefs about the criminal body, for example, drew on theological ideas but also upon political and judicial beliefs about punishment and social exclusion. They also intersected with another set of beliefs which were of growing significance over the early modern period: scientific knowledge of the human body through the practice of anatomy. This field of practice is well evidenced in the archaeological and osteological record. Like religion, anatomical dissection provided evocative cultural metaphors and had a profound and enduring impact on how the dead body was understood in the centuries following the Reformation. The next chapter considers scientific beliefs about the human body and the development of a scientific attitude towards anatomy, pathology and medicine, not only in their own terms but also in respect of the impact those developments had on other discourses of belief over the early modern and modern periods.


Chapter 3

Scientific Belief

Alongside theological discourses on the body as a paradigm of the divine order or, paradoxically, the soulless body as worthless carrion, a revolution in scientific thinking was changing the ways people thought about the human body and the ways available to them for knowing about it. The old science of the human body based on authoritative writings of ancient or medieval authorities was giving way to a new anatomy, based on empirical observation, practical knowledge of the body’s interior and scientific experiment. At the core of the new science of the human body was the study of anatomy. This chapter explores the history and cultural significance of cutting the dead body, reviews the archaeological evidence for anatomy, embalming and autopsy and considers why dissecting the dead was such a meaningful act in post-medieval Britain. The history of anatomy in Europe can be told as part of the history of medicine. Such a narrative would contrast the pre-modern understandings of the human body – humoral, microcosmic and based on knowledge passed in a direct line of transmission from the classical philosophers – with the modern: rational and systemic, gained through personal study and scientific enquiry. The separation of modern scientific anatomy from received knowledge of the ancients happened as natural philosophy and its study pulled away from moral philosophy and theology during the later seventeenth century and took full cultural effect in the eighteenth century. Anatomy was a fashionable study, and some acquaintance with human anatomy permeated deeply into society. By the 1650s, an average of eighteen medical texts, most of which were largely based on anatomy, were published in England every year (Webster 1975: 266–7). But the history of medicine tells only part of the 59

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland story; the fascination of anatomy was at least partly outside rationalist or utilitarian frames of reference. Although this chapter is called ‘Scientific Belief ’, the word ‘science’ could be anachronistic and misleading for this period. Early modern writers tend to use the term ‘natural philosophy’ for what we would now call science. Natural philosophy was the complement to moral philosophy. Both were related areas of knowledge, although over the period the tensions between natural and moral philosophy increased to the point where a greater fragmentation of intellectual endeavour into disciplines occurred, giving rise to the organisation of academic scholarship in the present day.

Anatomy: A Potent Cultural Metaphor Particularly in the early modern period, the cultural histories of anatomy are part of many other narratives besides the history of medicine – the history of crime and punishment, for example. But anatomy also had rich metaphorical meanings in art, poetry and the popular imagination that must be appreciated if we are to understand fully the significance of the anatomised body in the post-medieval period. I will argue here that ‘unscientific’ meanings of anatomy also persisted into the later modern period and continue to shape popular understandings of medical science in the present. As well as the numerous texts on the theory and practice of anatomy, the metaphor of anatomy was extensively used to discuss other concepts. The British Library catalogue lists in the half century before 1625, among others, The Anatomie of the Mind (Thomas Rogers 1576), The Anatomie of Wit ( John Lyly 1579), The Anatomie of Abuse (Philip Stubbes 1583), The Anatomie of Fortune (Robert Greene 1584), The Anatomie of Absurdity (Thomas Nash 1590), The Anatomie of Popish Tyrannie (Thomas Bell 1603), The Anatomie of Sorcery ( James Mason 1612), The Anatomie of Mortality (Strode 1618), Follie’s Anatomie (Henry Hutton 1619), The Anatomie of Vanitie (Richard Brathwait 1621), The Anatomie of Conscience (Immanuel Bourne 1623), The Anatomie of Protestancie (O.A. 1623) and The Anatomie of the Roman Clergy (George Lauder 1623). Nor is there any slowing in the rate of ‘anatomie’ publications in the mid- to late seventeenth century. In these contexts, the metaphor of anatomy invokes a systematic ordering, minute examination and classification. To anatomise is to gain social power through knowledge. The full title of the most famous early modern ‘anatomies’, Richard Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), extends the metaphor thus: what it is, with all the kinds, causes, symptomes, prognostickes and severall cures of it. In three Partitions with their severall Sections, members and subjections Philosophically, Medicinally, Historically opened and cut up. Anatomy was not only minute and detailed observation – opening – but also cutting up – division into parts. Jonathan Sawday (1995) has discussed extensively 60

Scientific Belief the figurative use of the term ‘anatomy’ and of images drawn from anatomists’ practice in early modernity. He noted that the Renaissance mania for dividing, sorting and enumerating includes both scientific classification and the poetical tradition of the blazon, a point-by-point description of the admired female form. To anatomise, even in the absence of any actual body, was already a rich and potent cultural practice in the early part of our period. Anatomy was the disintegration of a person, quite at odds with the triumph of the unified and unitary self attributed to this period by cultural historians from Burckhardt onwards. In fact, in this period the potency of the anatomy metaphor, and the real terror many people had of anatomists, came in large measure from the tension between a kind of self that was located in an individualised and unique body and that body’s dismemberment or even annihilation. The job of the anatomist was to study and teach the working of the body by demonstration through dissection of animal (including human) bodies. Although there were accounts of anatomists (outside Britain and before this period) being granted the bodies of living criminals to dissect alive, nearly all human dissections were performed on dead bodies supplied to the anatomists through official channels, after judicial executions and unofficial ones, through shady middlemen who acquired fresh corpses by theft from hospital morgues, undertakers’ workshops or from new graves. Some were also suspected of ‘Burking’: murder motivated by the financial gains of selling the corpse to an anatomist. The anatomist’s involvement with the dead body began only after the individual’s death had taken place, but in the popular mind the roles of anatomist and executioner were often confused. Works of literature sometimes added to the confusion, or at least deliberately played upon it. Jack Wilton, the hero of Thomas Nashe’s picaresque novel The Unfortunate Traveller, finds himself at one stage the prisoner of Dr Zacharie, a Jew and the Pope’s physician (the associations of this villainous character with both Judaism and Catholicism are not accidental). Jack learns that he is destined to be the specimen that Dr. Zacharie is obliged to provide annually for his public anatomy and is filled with terror – not just (or even mainly) at the prospect of his imminent death – but because he is to “be cut like a French summer doublet!” (Nashe 1594 [1985]: 349). As Jack was not yet dead, or even under sentence of death (at least not in that connection), his experience was not likely to be repeated outside fiction, but the anxiety that anatomists would be cutting into living flesh persisted. Most memorably, Hogarth’s much-reproduced engraving of grotesque anatomists pulling entrails from a body that appears to be screaming and trying to sit up plays on this tension. Outside the realm of art, the very real riots that sometimes occurred around the scaffold were demonstrations of revulsion and fear directed against the anatomists’ servants who had come to remove the corpses (Linebaugh 1988). The hazy line between anatomist and executioner was further blurred by the co-option of anatomists into the criminal justice system. Dissection by anatomists was regularly handed out as part of a judicial sentence, especially after the 1751 Murder Act. Many anatomists did not like the legislative use of science as moral retribution and resented the taint of unrespectability that it lent to anatomy, although anatomy plainly was not regarded as a neutral science even before the Murder Act. 61

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland To be an anatomist was to have total knowledge and thus total control, but to be the dissected subject of anatomy was to be fully exposed, to relinquish all secrets and all privacy. Writers of the Renaissance ‘self-’ literature, manuals of etiquette and polite behaviour, placed great emphasis on the importance of policing and patrolling the privacy of the body, and especially of controlling the exchange between the inside of the body and the exterior world, producing codes of etiquette to regulate the culturally dangerous moments of ingestion, penetration and excretion. Bodily privacy came to be greatly desired, at least by the middle and upper classes in the early modern period, something that has been observed by archaeologists of this period in the popularity of ‘closed’ and private spaces ( Johnson 1996; Austin 1998). Architectural forms were increasingly divided into separate enclosed spaces, especially for toilet and sleep. Privacy was especially valued as a necessary shield from the potential loss of dignity occasioned by death. Andrew Marvell hoped that the grave would be “a fine and private place”, but anatomists intruded upon that privacy and threatened the continence and integrity of the body.

Why Were Dead Bodies Cut? The title page of the 1631 edition of Helkiah Crooke’s Microcosmographia (first published in 1615) is worth an entire chapter to itself (Figure 3.1). Flanking the title, two grotesque caryatids teasingly reveal their interiors with coquettish deliberation. Elsewhere, the tools of the anatomists’ trade are ranged, and a tableau illustrates an anatomy in progress. In this, a group of men in early seventeenth-century dress stand behind a table on which sits a human head with the top sliced off like a boiled egg. This kind of transverse sectional cut – a craniotomy – is the most commonly encountered archaeological evidence of post-mortem intervention on the human body. Craniotomies are not necessarily indicative of the activity of anatomists. There are a number of reasons why the skeleton might be cut after death, and the teaching or demonstration of anatomical principles is probably not the most common. Cutting of the body was frequently carried out as part of an autopsy – literally a seeing-for-oneself – that would help establish a cause of death. Pedagogical or research-driven anatomical dissection was not the only purpose for the post-mortem intrusion into the body, although an autopsy carried out for private purposes might also be written up for publication in a medical journal. Although accounts of autopsies are most evident in the eighteenth- and nineteenthcentury medical literature, they are known also from the early modern period. In some cases, craniotomies are known to have been associated with the process of embalming (see accounts in Guibert 1639 and Read 1696). Oliver Cromwell’s brain was removed immediately after death as part of a procedure that was both autopsy (to establish the cause of death), research (his brain was weighed and reported to be exceptionally large) and embalming (the skull cavity could then be washed and filled with substances that would impede decay) (Pearson and Morant 1935: 7–8). The post-mortem autopsy to establish cause of death either as a legal requirement 62

Figure 3.1. The title page of Helkiah Crooke’s Microcosmographia (1631). The bottom of the page shows the anatomical dissection of a head in progress. The top of the skull has been removed using the kind of craniotomy often found in archaeological contexts. Image reproduced by kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library.

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland or to satisfy the attending doctor’s own curiosity became increasingly common through the early modern and modern periods. Living bodies might be opened for medical intervention; most commonly for the removal of stones or removal of a foetus when the life of a mother was seriously threatened. But the latter operation would normally involve the death of the baby if it were not already dead, so it was only undertaken if both mother and baby were certain to die otherwise. Of course, any surgical operation in the preanaesthetic age was traumatic for both patient and surgeon. The most common surgical procedures of the period were amputations of limbs and digits and excision of cancers and growths. Operations involving the interior of the abdomen or head were rarely undertaken and only as a last resort. In the pre-Lister era, surgery patients had mortality rates of up to 60%, the patient dying either during the operation as a result of blood loss or soon after due to infection acquired from the surgery (Waldron and Rogers 1988). For the surgeons who operated on conscious patients, the experience could be distressing, especially when the patient was a child. Because there were no effective anaesthetics, patients had to be tied up and assistants would also try to keep them still during the procedure, but even so they would thrash and scream with the intolerable pain. Patients, surgeons and onlookers were all traumatised by such gruesome pain. Charles Darwin was haunted for the rest of his life by the two operations he witnessed as a student: I also attended on two occasions the operating theatre in the hospital at Edinburgh, and saw two very bad operations, one on a child, but I rushed away before they were completed. Nor did I ever attend again, for hardly any inducement would have been strong enough to make me do so; this being long before the blessed days of chloroform. The two cases fairly haunted me for many a long year (Darwin 2008). An 1841 account of a whole leg amputation from the New York Herald makes the reasons for his feelings clear: The case was an interesting one of a white swelling, for which the thigh was to be amputated. The patient was a youth of about fifteen, pale, thin but calm and firm. One Professor felt for the femoral artery, had the leg held up for a few moment to ensure the saving of blood, the compress part of the tourniquet was placed upon the artery and the leg held up by an assistant. The white swelling was fearful, frightful. A little wine was given to the lad; he was pale but resolute; his Father supported his head and left hand. A second Professor took the long, glittering knife, felt for the bone, thrust in the knife carefully but rapidly. The boy screamed terribly; the tears went down the Father’s cheeks. The first cut from the inside was completed, and the bloody blade of the knife issued from the quivering wound, the blood flowed by the pint, the sight was sickening; the screams terrific; the operator calm (cited by DJ Wilkinson (n.d.)). 64

Scientific Belief

Figure 3.2. Long bone from Newcastle Infirmary, transversely sectioned with at least three different cuts. Photograph courtesy of Annsofie Witkin. The operator was not always calm, however, and tales of anguished, tearful and drunken surgeons abounded. Amputations were among the most common operations. In the days before antibiotics, serious infection in a hand or foot, leg or arm could not always be adequately treated. In cases where neither the body’s natural defences nor the medical techniques in the repertoire of the local physician were able to halt the spread of infection, the surgeon’s only remaining recourse was amputation. Serious injury or wounding also led frequently to amputation if the bone was badly damaged or the flesh very mangled. Stumps were ligated, cauterised and/or dipped in tar, but infection was common and many of those who survived the operation itself died soon after from infection. Under such conditions, the best surgeons were those who could complete procedures with the greatest speed to minimise blood loss and exhaustion in the patient. This meant being able to make the right cuts instantly and unerringly. A deep familiarity with the human body was obviously advantageous. Given the stressful nature of surgery on living patients, such familiarity was more easily built up through detailed examination of dead bodies. Archaeological evidence of deliberate cuts to the bone, therefore, are sometimes the traces of educational dissections carried out on cadavers. Other bone cuts – especially transverse cuts across long bones – might have been carried out by students of surgery practising amputations on newly deceased bodies, or such bodies might be those of patients who died during surgery or shortly afterwards. One long bone from Newcastle Infirmary has been sectioned transversely by at least three different cuts (Figure 3.2); if this was an amputation carried out on a living patient, the patient would never have survived the shock, so it is far more likely to be surgical practice on a corpse (Boulter et al. 1998: 149). An isolated skull recovered from Cotton Court, Belfast, had eleven trepanation holes cut with a trephine; the skull was probably used by a student to practice surgical skills and then dumped in a back garden (O’Baoill et al. 2002). 65

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland A similar skull was recovered from Craven Street, London (Hillson et al. 1999). For the medical profession, the benefits to humanity of cutting the bodies of the dead were clear. As this chapter explores, not everyone was convinced. The fate of the amputated body part is often unknown. However, there are some archaeological examples of amputated limbs being buried in graveyards and accorded the same treatment as whole bodies. In the graveyard at Strata Florida, Ceredigion, is a monument commemorating the last resting place of “the left leg and part of the thigh” of Henry Hughes Cooper (Figure 3.3). Presumably either accident or surgeon’s knife had separated this leg from the rest of Henry Hughes Cooper. What is interesting is that the treatment of the defunct leg was analogous to the treatment of a dead body rather than to the treatment of waste. Hughes Cooper must have felt that his leg, even when its tissues were dead, housed part of his individuated self. While it is rare to find the resting place of an amputated limb commemorated in this way, there are archaeological examples of care taken to inter amputated limbs alongside other whole bodies. Some correspondence in the journal Folklore in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries describes occasions of amputated limbs being accorded treatment normally reserved for whole bodies. Although dating to the nineteenth century, these examples demonstrate the degree to which personhood was distributed – at least in the popular imagination – throughout the body. A Wiltshire woman had a coffin made for her amputated leg and asked that her body be buried close to it when her death came (Law and Crooke 1900: 346); a coffin was also made for the amputated leg of a farmer from Old Basford, Nottingham (Pitman 1908: 234). An interesting example of the difference between popular and scientific attitudes to body parts came from County Wicklow. A man named Andres Bohan from Glenmacnass had a leg amputated following an accident. The surgeons who carried out the operation wanted to send the leg to Trinity College Dublin, presumably for anatomical or pathological study, but Bohan’s friends broke into the house of Dr. Garland at Laragh and removed the leg, which they buried in the churchyard at Glendalough (Barton 1907: 82–3). The same graveyard also contains the arm of John Porter of Woodbank, Roundwood, amputated after an accident with a threshing machine. On the occasion of that burial, Porter’s relatives wrote to his employer asking for the loan of a cart in which to convey the arm to the family grave plot at Glendalough (Barton 1907: 83). Haddon (1907: 216) recounts the burial of a leg in Valentia, County Galway, when a wake was actually held for the limb so that the unfortunate patient could drink whiskey to wake his own leg. Aside from the burial of amputated limbs, there is other evidence of a desire to keep the body’s parts together in the grave. A woman from Mawgon in north Cornwall asked her rector and his wife to ensure that her teeth were buried with her when she died (Venning 1894: 343). Not all amputated limbs were treated with such care, however. Dumps of surgical waste uncovered at Newcastle Infirmary and Nottingham General Hospital reveal that limbs were sometimes disposed of with little ceremony (Boulter et al. 1998; Chapman 1997). Evidence from Nottingham General Hospital, including bones with evidence of defleshing and one fitted with a hinge, suggests that amputations might also be retained for teaching or research collections (Chapman 1997). 66

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Figure 3.3. Gravestone of Henry Hughes Cooper’s leg at Strata Florida, Ceredigion. Under an incised picture of a left leg, the inscription reads: The left leg and part of the thigh of Henry Hughes Cooper was cut off & interred here June the 18th 1756. Photograph courtesy of Alison Bryan.

Cutting the Body before the Great Age of Anatomy Before the age of ‘scientific’ anatomy, post-mortem intervention might have taken place to embalm the corpse of a high status individual. When the funeral took place weeks or even months after death, often the case when elaborate preparations were required and funeral guests were expected to undertake long journeys, abdominal organs and the brain would be removed as part of the embalming process. Sawday (1995: 100) has alluded to the casual familiarity with the body’s interior that would have been acquired by the nuns, among other groups of people whose job it was to embalm and prepare corpses for ceremonial funerals. Partition of the body for multi-local burial was not uncommon in the high middle ages, especially for prestigious or royal burials (Gilchrist and Sloane 2005: 80). The medieval removal and circulation of body parts was perhaps most common in the case of saintly bodies. An economy of relics involved the removal, curation, circulation, exchange, display and veneration of body parts (Geary 1994). Thus, even before the advent of the anatomy theatre and the production of illustrated anatomical texts, many people were familiar with the appearance of certain organs and with the body’s interior geography. In this period, however, the practical 67

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland knowledge of human anatomy gained from surgical interventions in the bodies of the living and the preparation of the bodies of the dead did not match the words and images produced by philosophers and theologians.

Historians of Anatomy Two major acts relating to the practice of anatomical dissectionfall at the end of our period. The first was the Act for Better Preventing the Horrid Crime of Murder (1751), known as the Murder Act, and the second the Act for Regulating Schools of Anatomy (1832), usually called the Anatomy Act. Neither of these acts was primarily about the legal status of anatomical dissection. The first was about effective deterrents in crime control. In a period when a capital sentence was often passed for what would now be considered minor crimes against property such as theft or poaching, some way of marking crimes of serious violence for particular disapprobation was necessary. To this end, the principle that no murderer should be allowed a decent Christian burial was an attempt to make the consequences of murder so unpleasant and frightening that potential murderers would be persuaded to change their plans. The focus was on the criminal process; the scientific aims of anatomy were not recognised in this act. The 1832 Anatomy Act, however, did recognise the social and scientific necessity of anatomical dissection; its aim was to regularise the supply of bodies and put an end to the activities of grave robbers and remove the incentive for burking. The social context and consequences of the 1832 Anatomy Act are the focus of Ruth Richardson’s Death, Dissection and the Destitute (1988), which is still the authoritative text on the social history of anatomy in the nineteenth century. The earlier period is less well covered, but Jonathan Sawday’s The Body Emblazoned: Dissection and the Human Body in Renaissance Culture (1995) is a sophisticated culture history. The two texts are rather different in approach. Sawday’s theme is the significance and semiotics of anatomy in cultural history: its meanings in art and literature and so on. Richardson’s book is a social history, principally focused on the relationship between popular practice and legislative power. Her account is inevitably also about class relationships and social inequalities. Between them, these two books provide an excellent historical sense of social and cultural meanings of anatomy from the Renaissance to the twentieth century.

The Microcosm The early modern body was not the collection of biological facts it would become in later centuries. It was an allegory of God, the universe and the world. In 1615 Helkiah Crooke published his Microcosmographia, a highly detailed and illustrated anatomy of the human body. The eponymous microcosm is the human body itself, frequently used in literary and philosophical texts of the period as a conceit for the whole universe. When George Herbert referred in his poem ‘Man’ to the human body being ‘in little, all the sphere’ he was invoking a view of the self – and the body – as a microcosm of the universe. This microcosmic view held that 68

Scientific Belief

Figure 3.4. The microcosm. From Robert Fludd, Utrisque comsmi maioris et minoris . . . historia (1617–1619). The two spheres are labelled macrocosm (the outer sphere, holding the sun, moon and zodiac) and microcosm (the inner sphere showing a perfect and proportionate human (male) body. Courtesy of the Chemical Heritage Foundation Othmer Library and Special Collections. the whole world was inside the body, a world including the presence of God (Figure 3.4). The idea of body as microcosm is widespread ethnographically (e.g., Douglas 1970), but in early modern Britain and Ireland, the microcosmic body meant something more specific. Douglas Davies has said that for early modern people, the microcosmic body was the result of a process by which “the rule book 69

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland of society comes to be written into [each person’s] deportment and carriage, each person being a little representation of the society at large” (Davies 2002: 11). The early modern microcosm was, however, more than a woolly metaphor. It was thoroughly glossed, described and analysed: which parts of the body correspond to which elements of society was given detailed consideration; and the body’s geography was mapped as a manifestation of the pattern of the universe. Consider Da Vinci’s famous illustration of the proportions of man’s body. The picture of Vitruvian Man was part of Da Vinci’s attempt to understand Man as part of the natural order, as a cosmografia del minor mondo (cosmography of the microcosm). Da Vinci showed that normal units of measurement were derived from the dimensions of the human body. This was part of his larger project to show how the human body illustrated and replicated all the processes at work in the larger cosmos. The body encompassed God and the angels; the organs of the body were like rulers and subjects in a state. If knowledge of the world helped man understand the human body, knowledge of the human body would reveal the workings of the world and of the political and divine order. Crooke echoed Donne’s poetical assertion that he was “a littel world, made cunningly” (Divine Poems V) in his observation that the perfect proportions of Man’s body “may worthily be called a Little world, and the patterne and epitome of the whole universe” (Crooke 1631: 6). Crooke concluded that “if both Princes and Peasants would weigh and consider the mutuall offices betweene the principall and the ignoble parts, Princes might understand how to rule, and Peasants how to obey” (1631:13). Crooke develops both the microcosmic analogy and the state analogy extensively: the sun of the body is its heart; its planets are the marrow and “pith” of the back and the brain (Crooke 1631: 6–7). The body has seasons and weather. At the same time, it is a state: the heart is a king; the brain a tribunal; the liver feeds the rest of the body “like a most bountifull Prince” (1631: 13). The body as Crooke and his contemporaries understood it was part of a set of expanding and regressing mutual metaphors: the body was like a state and like the whole universe; the universe was a great body. All were produced by the mind of God and replicated the same structured and hierarchical design. The microcosmic paradigm relates to the prevalent metaphor of the ‘Body Politic’ exploited by Forset (1606), Crooke (1631) and others. The political implications of this common figuration were conservative, essentially denying social exploitation or conflict of interest by representing a common body in which the organs played equally vital parts, although in the performance of different duties. The metaphor of body was also familiar in discussions of the government of religion. The biblical figure that Christ is the head of the church was adopted across denominations in ordering the church. Even among the Quakers, the fellowship of believers could be understood as members of a body, each of whom had different functions and gifts (Barclay 1676: 10). Up to the mid-seventeenth century, the body was, as Sawday demonstrated, most commonly seen not as a machine – that would come later – but as a kind of geography. Unknown, and sometimes unknowable, the body was an unexplored country or world. It had its own hierarchy of organs, discussed previously, which 70

Scientific Belief were analogous to the hierarchy of a political state. It had territories and politics, both foreign relations and its own unfathomable internal disputes. As discussed by Sawday, these metaphors were explored in the writings of John Donne and Edmund Spenser, particularly the latter’s Faerie Queene, most of which was first published between 1590 and 1596. In Book 2 of the Faerie Queene, the heroes Arthur and Guyon find themselves in the house of Alma, an allegory of the human body. Alma’s house is staffed by retainers named things like ‘Appetite’ and ‘Digestion’, and she is attended by female personifications of characteristics: ‘Prays-Desire’ and ‘Shamefastnesse’, for example. In moving through the house with its great cauldron (stomach) and bellows (lungs), Spenser’s knights explore the interior of the body. The beautiful front gate is partnered with the rear gate, Port Esquiline, through which all waste is “throwne out privily” (the Oxford English Dictionary does not include the word ‘Esquiline’, but lists a seventeenth-century occurrence of the word ‘esquillery’ meaning scullery. Thus Port Esquiline is the back kitchen door). The same image is used by Helkiah Crooke, perhaps intentionally referencing Spenser, who comments that in the great state that is the human body, “the meaner sort of People . . . may easily understand by the ministering and servile Organs, what be the limits of service and subjection.” Their job will be to clean the body “and thrust as it were out of the kitchin, downe the sinke, all of the filth and garbage” (1631: 13). Donne, in both secular and devotional writings, used the metaphor of body as country. His lover, who in ‘The Sunne Rising’ is “all States” to his “all Princes”, is acclaimed elsewhere as . . . my America! My new-found-land, My kingdome, safeliest when with one man man’d, My myne of precious stones: My Emperie, How blest am I in thus discovering thee! (Elegy XIX ‘To his Mistress Going to Bed’: 27–30) The body and its dissection are everywhere in John Donne’s writing. When one starts quoting it is hard to stop. What is worth noting is that for Donne the body is not a machine but a place. His erotic poetry gives sensual relish to the exploration of a body that is not his own but is one that, through knowledge, he comes to possess. During his years of sickness, he wrote more abjectly of his own body as a mysterious and unknowable place. Bodies were potentially treasonous, at war with the self, “ours, though not Wee”, as he muses in The Extasie. As Sawday (1995: 36) put it, bodies were “hostile entities in which people were forced to spend their days.” The interior of the body, in particular, was taboo. Entering it was frightening and involved violence. Before the second half of the seventeenth century, and afterwards too, the body was largely discussed metaphorically – in poetry. Anatomical dissection was a curiosity and a potent source of the kinds of conceit that Donne and his contemporaries elaborated so cleverly, but, for most people, anatomy was a thrilling but frightening voyage 71

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland of discovery, and its practitioners were taboo-breaking explorers, horrifying but compelling. In fact, the so-called metaphysical poets of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries could more accurately be called ‘superphysical’. Some took their knowledge of anatomy and used it in the elaboration of the kind of theological discourses of the body and the soul discussed in the previous chapter. Andrew Marvell, for instance, published a poetical dialogue between the soul and the body which begins by deploying a strong and anatomical image of the soul as prisoner in the body. The soul asks O, WHO shall from this dungeon raise A soul enslaved so many ways? With bolts of bones, that fettered stands In feet, and manacled in hands; Here blinded with an eye, and there Deaf with the drumming of an ear; A soul hung up, as ‘twere, in chains Of nerves, and arteries, and veins; Tortured, besides each other part, In a vain head, and double heart? What happened from the later seventeenth century onwards is that a new rhetoric arose of rational knowledge of the bodily machine. Sawday points out this new rhetoric did not replace the old one, nor did it banish the fear of the body’s interior; instead it was “more to do with the body being reconstituted within distinct regimes of discourse” (1995: 38). The frightful interior of the body, a realm of metaphor, came to co-exist, uneasily, with what Boyle called the “curious Engine” (1684: 760). The history of the body from the eighteenth century is largely to be understood, says Sawday (1995: 22–32), as science’s attempt to bury the other concept of the body as geography. Sawday’s concentration on literary sources allows him to develop a cultural history of the early modern body that traces the relationship between two overlapping metaphorical discourses: the body as microcosm and as engine. However, a broader view of sources of evidence for the early modern body, admitting folklore, theology and actual practices, demonstrates that there were actually many more overlapping and sometimes competing discourses. Eventually those discourses diverged so far that the attempt to integrate them had to be abandoned. By the eighteenth century, for example, anatomy texts did not mention how the body signified the cosmic order or divine power. But there was a period during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when discourses of poetry and science were not separate, when poetry tried to keep up with and conform to contemporary scientific belief and scientists sought legitimacy in moral philosophy and religious devotion. Here the problem of belief returns to the issues raised by the development of separate traditions of belief discourse. 72

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Dissection The practice of dissection straddles both traditions of discourse identified by Sawday. Attempts to understand anatomy solely within the history of medicine ignore its role as public spectacle, as cultural metaphor and within the judicial system. Anatomical dissections were not only performed for the education of students of anatomy, but also for the public. There were thrills to be found in confronting the fearful taboo of the body’s interior (and there still are: in the early twenty-first century Gunther Von Hagens’s ‘Bodyworlds’ exhibition, showing real bodies flayed and plastinated, has been seen by more than 25 million people in 40 cities around the world). The attractions of the anatomy theatre lay only partly within rationalist and utilitarian frames of reference (Sawday 1995: 43). Moshenska’s recent discussion of anatomy in early modern Europe places the practice within traditions of carnival and unrule (Moshenska 2006). European carnival traditions involved overturning normal social behaviours so the fool could become king for the duration of the carnival; women’s and men’s roles and behaviours might be temporarily swapped; inferiors could mock their superiors; behaviour that would usually provoke censure, such as drunkenness or sexual license, would be tolerated and even encouraged. The inversion of societal norms, the confounding of expectations involved in seeing what is not normally seen, is what made anatomy unsettling – Moshenska prefers to use the Freudian term ‘unheimlich’. It is no coincidence that public dissections sometimes took place during carnival times and attracted large crowds of onlookers. Moshenska probably exaggerates the carnivalesque aspects of anatomy in early modern contexts, but he is right to mention the voyeuristic thrill available to non-specialist observers. The practice was also gendered and sexualised: the anatomist was male – actively looking and prying – and the body on which anatomy was performed was feminised – passive, helpless and yielding to the intellectual persistence of the anatomist. The opened body was leaky, porous, a thing more of nature than of culture, all believed to be characteristics of women’s bodies. The anatomist took the masculine role of mastering that body through knowledge and controlling its orifices. The dread of anatomy was thus related not only to theological and philosophical ideas about the self and the body, but of personal invasion or even penetration. English university students had observed human dissections since at least the mid-sixteenth century. Formal arrangements for the annual supply of the corpse of an executed criminal were in place at Oxford from 1549 and at Caius College Cambridge from 1540. The London Company of Barbers and Surgeons was legally entitled to bodies from 1540, and the Edinburgh Guild of Surgeons and Barbers had received one executed criminal a year since 1505 (Sawday 1995: 56). Undoubtedly, these dissections educated surgeons about the body, and the location and mechanics of its organs. However, in the popular imagination, the useful aspects of anatomy were eclipsed by sensationalism. The ghoulishness and unnaturalness of anatomists was a key trope. In Ravencroft’s seventeenth-century drama ‘The Anatomist’, a series of comic plans and concealments meant that during the play two characters ended up (at different moments) pretending to be newly delivered cadavers awaiting 73

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland dissection who then have to listen to anatomical gobbledegook about how the anatomist intends to cut and dismember their bodies. The comedy arises from the tension between the discussion of a dissection about to be performed on a dead body and the audience’s knowledge that the ‘cadaver’ is actually a still-living body. The play, which was first performed in 1696, was hugely popular. Sawday (195: 44– 5) comments that it was hardly off the stage for the next 100 years. Public attitudes toward anatomy and anatomists tell us something interesting about the history of science. Ravencroft’s play shows that even in the seventeenth century, the search for scientific knowledge was regarded with suspicion, and anatomy in particular was often seen as an unnatural, creepy thing to do. Moreover, the idea that the ‘dead’ body would actually be able to feel the dissection in process was a common comic trope, as with the ‘victims’ of The Anatomist, and in Nash’s Unfortunate Traveller.

The Dissected In early modern anatomy, as in those pre-modern ventures into the body’s interior which involved noting the quality and size of various organs as an indication of the bodily basis of character, the identity of the anatomised individual is significant. In the case of medieval saints’ bodies, pillaged for relics, and the socially important bodies divided at burial, the removed body parts were important because the people to whom they belonged were important, religiously or socially. In their materiality they had actual power, but equal material power would not attach to body parts from just anyone. Equally, in the early period of surgical anatomy, the identity of the dissected corpse was more than incidental. The identity of the opened body remained important in the early post-medieval period, although notoriety, rather than honour or spirituality, was now what chiefly marked a body for post-mortem intervention. In most cities of Europe where anatomies were performed in the seventeenth century, corpses were granted to the guilds or companies of surgeons at the rate of one or two a year. Nearly always these were the bodies of executed criminals. For them, post-mortem dissection was a formal or informal part of the sentence. Rembrandt painted two famous anatomy scenes based on public anatomies carried out by famous surgeons in his home town of Amsterdam. The anatomy lesson of Dr. Nicholaes Tulp (1632) shows Tulp, the city anatomist, demonstrating the workings of the muscles in the lower arm of a cadaver while being watched by a group of men. The spectators were members of the Guild of Surgeons of Amsterdam and included men who had paid to be included in this group portrait. In 1656, he painted the anatomy lesson of Dr. Joan Deyman. Again, this shows Dr. Deyman, Dr. Tulp’s successor as praelector of Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons, engaged in an autopsy and surrounded by onlookers (we know of the onlookers from a preliminary sketch: unfortunately, most of the original painting was destroyed in a fire and only a fragment remains). The cadaver in the anatomy lesson of Dr. Joan Deyman is shown supine from his feet, strikingly foreshortened (Lakke 1998). The body has been eviscerated. His scalp has been cut and hangs down 74

Scientific Belief either side of his face like a hood. His cranial cap has been removed and is held by an assistant. Unlike the anatomical subjects of the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the identity of Rembrandt’s cadavers is both known and significant (Sawday 1995: 154). Professor Tulp was examining the corpse of a thief called Adriaen Adriaenszoon. His corpse had been gifted to the guild for an anatomy demonstration. Similarly, Dr. Deyman is examining the body of Joris Fonteyn, another notorious thief whose apprehension and execution were much discussed in Amsterdam at the time. Rembrandt’s two anatomy pictures can be located in a seventeenth-century Dutch genre of anatomy paintings. The Amsterdam Historical Museum has an entire wall of paintings featuring fragmented corpses surrounded by serious bearded men in black. The anatomy pictures of Rembrandt and his contemporaries were a curious combination of group portrait (the spectators had paid to be included, and the grouping behind a table resembles other contemporary Dutch group portraits of guildsmen, showing groups of men seated around a table on which are set tools or emblems of their profession), action picture, showing an event in progress, a death image of an individual and a memento mori. That the seventeenth-century representations of anatomy are about death in a way that their more scientific and medical successors would not be is clear in the many images of dissection rooms. The anatomy theatres of the time were typically decorated (at least in artistic depictions) with skeletons and mottoes alluding to the brevity of human existence. The well-known image of the anatomy theatre at Leiden shows skeletons posed as Adam and Eve at the tree of knowledge; the first cause of death is linked to its ultimate end: the body of the dead sinner anatomised in the centre of the room. The anatomy theatre represented in Vesalius’s 1543 De human corporis fabrica liborum epitome is packed with allegorical elements in both the architecture of the space and the watching crowd. The early modern anatomy theatre is not the objective and sterile space of a modern laboratory but a philosophical space designed to encourage moral and theological reflection.

Archaeological Evidence of Anatomy In view of the degree to which anatomical dissection dominated the thoughts of early modern men of letters, there is surprisingly little archaeological evidence of the practice before the late eighteenth century, although there is little historical evidence to suggest how corpses were normally disposed of after dissection, so it may be that dissected remains have been missed by archaeologists when they do not occur in known burial places. The moat of Oxford Castle, filled in during medieval times, was found to contain sixty-four inhumations, mostly young men. With most of the Oxford Castle burials, however, there is little evidence of care. Although some of the bodies were laid out with their arms crossed on their chests, many appear to have been casually placed. One adolescent boy was probably buried with his legs flexed at the knee and bound behind him (Figure 3.5); others were buried in a prone position. The castle functioned as the city gaol throughout this period, and it is almost certain that bodies buried there included remains of executed criminals. 75

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Figure 3.5. Early modern burials from the filled-in moat of Oxford Castle. Both of these burials are prone, and neither was coffined. The angle of the arm of the burial on the left suggests that he was dumped rather than laid carefully in the grave. The burial on the right is a youth of about fifteen years whose legs were drawn up – possibly bound – behind him. These are almost certainly the bodies of executed criminals. Photograph courtesy of Oxford Archaeology.

The earliest phase of burial, dating to the sixteenth or early seventeenth century, includes two individuals who had apparently been anatomically dissected (Norton 2006). In both cases, the head had been removed and multiple craniotomies performed. The excavation report claims that before burial the heads had been placed inside the chest cavities. If this is the case, the organs of the chest and abdomen must have been removed and the ribs perhaps opened to make room for the head. However, there is some ambiguity in the short report, and this site still awaits full publication. It could be that the heads were placed on the chest or belly of their bodies and the subsequent decay of the flesh caused the skulls to collapse into the ribs. In either case, some care had been taken to keep parts of the same individual together, although there was no attempt to restore the body to its pre-dissection appearance (Figure 3.6). The two decapitated individuals from the first phase of moat burials were probably not executed by decapitation, which was usual only in cases of aristocratic executions. The most common form of capital punishment in the early modern period was strangulation hanging. This would not normally leave traces on the skeleton, unlike the ‘hangman’s fracture’ of the second cervical vertebra that often (but not always) occurs in nineteenth-century ‘long drop’ hanging (Waldron 1996). 76

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Figure 3.6. Partial burial from Oxford Castle. The sawn-off cranial cap was buried either in or on the chest of a decapitated body. Photograph courtesy of Oxford Archaeology. The heads would have thus probably been removed post-mortem before they were dissected. Crooke (1615) suggested that the order of the body’s dissection should follow one of three principles: either by ‘dignity’, starting with the brain as the most noble part; by situation, beginning with the skin and outer parts as most easily accessible; or by “diuturnitie”, starting with the parts most subject to rapid corruption, normally the bowels and abdominal organs. The principle of dignity is a philosophical one, but not a practical solution to the most pressing problem of putrefaction. Of the other two possible principles, diuturnitie was the most frequently followed. Thus dissection would normally start with the abdomen, moving to the limbs and head afterwards. To facilitate access to those parts, and so that the parts that had been completed could be removed from the sight and smell of the anatomist and his students, the head and limbs might be removed from the body. Lakke points out that the anatomical study of Joris Fonteyn’s head, as depicted in Rembrandt’s ‘The anatomy lesson of Dr. Deyman’, is unusual in leaving the neck intact. Normally the neck would be severed before opening the skull to facilitate access, as illustrated on the frontispiece of Crooke’s Microcosmographia. The Oxford skeletons had several craniotomy cuts. One had three cuts running horizontally, vertically and obliquely around the skull; another had five cuts. Extensive sectioning of the bone would not be necessary to establish the cause of 77

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland death or to embalm the body, and it therefore seems probable that these individuals were criminals whose bodies had been subject to anatomising. Oxford University students witnessed the dissection of humans from 1549 and had an entitlement to criminal bodies for that purpose (Sawday 1995: 56). Anatomy demonstrations took place in the university anatomy school, housed until 1683 in the old Bodleian library. It was later moved to the Ashmolean museum, at which location human bone and laboratory equipment were discovered during archaeological excavations in 1998 (Hull 2003). The Oxford castle burials are the clearest evidence we have for punitive and pedagogical anatomy in the seventeenth century, although a fragment of occipital (skull) bone from an assemblage of disarticulated human bone related to the cemetery of the Priory and Hospital of St Mary Bethlehem, London, had the marks of horizontal and vertical saw cuts, suggesting some kind of dissection (Swift 2005: 13). The hospital was in use between 1569 and 1720. The assemblage also included a femur with cut marks around the distal end of the bone. The marks indicate that a sharp blade had been drawn around the bone in a few swift strokes. They might relate to the removal of flesh before cutting the bone in an amputation. Because the amputation was never completed in this case, it might have been carried out on a cadaver to demonstrate or practice amputation technique, or perhaps this was one of the numerous unfortunate individuals who did not survive the trauma of pre-anaesthetic surgery. Overall, however, the archaeological evidence of anatomy – or even of postmortem autopsy – is scanty in this early period. To understand this it would be useful to know more about the post-dissection fate of the anatomised corpse. It is interesting that the best evidence of anatomy we have from this period was not recovered from a normal burial place at all but from the infilled moat of Oxford castle. One wonders how much other evidence remains unrecovered or unrecorded because it took the form of isolated elements of disarticulated bone in non-burial contexts. This is particularly likely in the case of criminals who were sentenced to be “hung in chains”, gibbeted, because this often happened near the scene of the crime and not at any habitual location. The remains of their bodies would thus be isolated, disarticulated and lacking a recognisable grave, although possible gibbeting deposits have been recorded at Dunball island, Avonmouth (Brett 1996) and Eyre Square, Galway City (Lofqvist 2004), although the skeletons at the latter were articulated and might represent the remains of people executed nearby. Gibbeting and dissection as bodily punishments are further considered in Chapter 4.

Anatomy Cuts Free of Moral Philosophy: Into Modernity Although the terms ‘autopsy’, ‘dissection’ and ‘post-mortem’ are often used interchangeably, they have slightly different meanings. A dissection is cutting open an organism to examine the inner parts. The aims of dissection are division, minute examination and analysis. It is both a research and a pedagogical process. 78

Scientific Belief Post-mortem examinations are all enquiries carried out after a death, usually with a judicial or medical purpose, and may include autopsy. A coroner’s inquest, for example, may hold a post-mortem enquiry which would consider the results of the autopsy alongside other relevant information to establish the cause of death. An autopsy is literally a ‘seeing for oneself ’, intended to discover the cause of death. It is not necessarily educational, and certainly not necessarily public, but it is medical and may be of judicial significance too. An autopsy might also be carried out by a doctor as the final part of the care of his (private) patient. Autopsies appear to have been more acceptable among the upper classes than they were in the rest of society, possibly because levels of scientific education were such that they were better able to appreciate the possible benefits to medical science. Autopsies on the rich were performed by the family doctor – a known and trusted individual. It is nevertheless noticeable that, according to archaeological evidence, autopsies were more frequently carried out on the bodies of men than women. Around 80% of craniotomies on the bodies of securely sexed adults were on male skulls (Cherryson, Crossland and Tarlow, forthcoming). Autopsies, however, were not only carried out on the rich. The archaeologically known burial place with the highest proportion of craniotomised skulls is the hospital burial ground of Newcastle Infirmary. The bodies buried in hospital burial grounds were generally people who had no family to claim them or whose friends and relatives lacked the resources to pay for burial in a parish ground. They were, therefore, usually poor and socially marginal. The bodies of those who died in hospital and had nobody to claim them for parish burial were often regarded as fair subjects for medical research. Craniotomies among this group may relate to post-mortem autopsy or pedagogical dissection. There is not always a clear division between anatomical dissection and medical post-mortem. It is likely that medical students would have been present at postmortem autopsies which reveal both normal anatomy and pathologies. They would have gained much of their knowledge of the human body’s architecture by examining cadavers for evidence of cause of death. Thus, with many cuts – particularly craniotomies – there is nothing diagnostic about the nature of the cut that would distinguish the purpose of examination. However, some cuts, such as the sectioning of long bones along their length, as known from the Newcastle Infirmary (Boulter et al. 1998), were not a normal part of medical autopsy and were most likely to be the result of anatomical demonstration. Longitudinally sectioned limb bones are known from an assemblage of disarticulated human bone from Surgeons’ Square, Edinburgh (Henderson et al. 1996), and a sectioned femur was found with other human bone in the packing around a drain behind a house in Romsey, Hampshire, that had belonged to a surgeon in the mid-nineteenth century (Smith 1999). Similarly, although a craniotomy is not diagnostic, multiple craniotomies probably indicate research dissection. Like most evidence of archaeological dissection known to archaeologists, these examples are from the eighteenth to nineteenth century. There is good archaeological evidence from this period, some of which suggests that body parts were retained after dissection for further study or teaching. An assemblage of human 79

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland remains from a Victorian piping trench at the Old General Hospital, Nottingham, included a number of leg bones, one of which, a right tibia, had a hinge and wire attached (Chapman 1997). It was presumably part of an artificially articulated skeleton for teaching and display. The excavators thought one of the vertebrae recovered from the Bristol Royal Infirmary might have had a piece of copper wire attached, although there was no evidence of it when the bones were subsequently examined in the laboratory. In any case, the evidence suggests that the bones of anatomised bodies were not always reburied immediately but might have been kept as teaching and study aids. Disarticulated human bone has been found in probable laboratory assemblages from Edinburgh, Nottingham and London. Archaeological deposits recovered from the cellar of 36 Craven Street near Charing Cross in London contained the remains of exotic animals, mercury and vermillion pigment which had probably been used as a preservative and a tracer in anatomical preparations. Also found were groups of human vertebrae and a pair of artificially articulated human feet (Hillson et al. 1999). The deposits from Surgeons’ Square, Edinburgh, yielded bones from a brown bear and a seal as well as bones from a pair of human feet and a tubercular lumbar vertebra with a steel pin in it, presumably for mounting and display (Henderson et al. 1996). Both assemblages suggest that human remains were kept as part of demonstration collections by anatomy schools. In fact, both locations were well-known for anatomy schools in the early eighteenth to nineteenth centuries. 36 Craven Street was inhabited between 1772 and 1774 by William Hewson, a student of William Hunter, who ran his own anatomy school on the premises. When Hewson died in 1774 the school passed to fellow anatomist Magnus Falconer, who based his teaching and research there until his own death in 1777 (Hillson et al. 1999). After dissection, human remains were not necessarily reburied. Bones and tissue samples might be selectively preserved for educational or demonstration purposes or as curiosities (Dobson 1953). Above-ground preservation for display or teaching is probably a significant factor in the paucity of archaeological evidence of dissection in early modernity, as is the dearth of securely dated early modern remains. In his handbook of surgery and anatomy (1685: 347–8), James Cooke gives instructions for preparing skeletons for teaching: first the bones must be boiled. Then, using an awl, holes should be made in the ends of larger bones to draw out the marrow. While the bones are hot they should be scraped clean with a knife and rubbed with a coarse cloth. Then they should be bleached and cleaned, either by laying them in the open for two to three months, “or put them in a wooden case, bored full of holes, and lay under a Mill-stream for 10 or 12 days”. After the bones have been fully cleaned in this way, Cooke says they may be kept in a chest or fastened together with wire for display, although he thinks that loose bones in a chest would be more useful for teaching purposes than an artificially articulated skeleton in a display case, which would be “more for Ostentation” than practical use. There is some suggestion that bones with holes drilled for wiring were found in a late eighteenth-century assemblage of human and animal bones mixed with domestic and industrial pottery and other materials from the site of the first Ashmolean Museum, Broad Street Oxford, but the report (Hull 2003) is not clear on this point. 80

Scientific Belief Whole human bodies and parts of human bodies including bones and preserved organs were commonly added to private or semi-public museum collections by gentlemen curators of ‘curiosities’. Where soft tissue was preserved, embalming obviously needed to take place. The catalogues of collections of famous anatomists like William and John Hunter show that bones of certain individuals were kept after dissection, as were preparations of typical and pathological organs (Clift n.d.). The 1794 catalogue of Rackstraw’s museum – a London collection open to the public – contains items including the bones of Mary Edmonson, executed for the murder of her aunt in 1749, a series of ‘opened’ women’s bodies showing the stages of pregnancy and development of the child, numerous “real parts of generation”, both male and female “preserved in spirit”, alongside preserved animals and insects and a series of skulls showing the “graduation from human species to brute” (according to the categorisation of the catalogue’s compiler), with a series showing the skulls of a white man, a mulatto, a negro, an ape, a monkey and a baboon. It is likely that many remains of executed criminals never made it into the ground because they were curated and displayed in museum collections. Where the bones have been wired for display, longitudinally sectioned or where there are multiple craniotomies, post-mortem treatment of the skeleton could be construed as having a pedagogical (or at least titillatory) purpose in the teaching of anatomy or surgery. However, numerous archaeologically known craniotomies from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries cannot be clearly related to the demonstration of anatomy or teaching. For example, a coffin from a rural churchyard in Oxfordshire dating from the 1820s or 1830s contained a skeleton that had been subjected to craniotomy. In view of the high-status burial paraphernalia (not only a coffin, but a well-finished one with grip plates, studs and a breast plate), the excavators were surprised that the individual had been ‘anatomised’ (Boston 2004). However, craniotomies have been seen in other high-status burial contexts. Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Dallas of the East India Company, who died on 12th August 1839 aged 81, had a craniotomy before he was buried in the churchyard of St Nicholas Church, Bathampton (Cox and Stock 1994), and two adult females with craniotomies found at the former church of John the Baptist in Cardiff were buried in brick-lined vaults (Tavener 1998). Similarly, three of the burials from St Bartholomew’s in Penn, Wolverhampton, including a child, had craniotomies (Boyle 2002). The Penn churchyard seems to have contained wealthy burials in brick-lined vaults and in coffins with brass fittings. The individuals buried in such a cemetery do not fit the usual profile of the ‘victims’ of anatomy – criminals or stolen bodies. It is certainly unlikely that the child was an executed criminal, and the craniotomised infant burials from Bishop Challoner School, Tower Hamlets, London (Miles and Powers 2006), nine-year-old Matilda Maria Hedger, buried at Widcombe, Bath, in 1825 (Lewcun 1995) and the ten-month-old from the crypt at Spitalfields (Molleson and Cox 1993: 89) certainly were not. Interestingly, the Spitalfields baby, one of two autopsied infants from that site, was the son of a surgeon. Molleson and Cox speculate that the autopsy might have been carried out by the child’s own father, although there is no particular reason to think so, and indeed dissection of one’s own close kin might be considered inappropriate and 81

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland distressing. (However, William Harvey, the celebrated author of On the Circulation of the Blood and the Heart, dissected his own father and sister after their (natural) deaths, so such extreme clinical detachment would not be without precedent.) Craniotomy cannot thus be taken as unambiguous evidence of anatomising. None of the burials mentioned shows evidence of bone-cutting, except for the craniotomies. Otherwise, if there were any other post-mortem intervention in the body it could have affected only soft tissue and not left any lasting archaeological indication. Of course, it is possible to open the thorax by cutting through the cartiligenous part of the ribs where they join the sternum, and a cut in this location is unlikely to be preserved archaeologically. All in all, it is likely that the craniotomies considered here are the result of an autopsy intended to establish the cause of death. Moreover, between 1752 and 1832 criminals subject to dissection would not have been given a formal burial, nor would those bodies stolen from their grave be returned for burial afterwards.

Dying for a Reason: The Growing Significance of ‘Cause of Death’ Not until 1836 was there any systematic, national attempt to record cause of death for all people. In that year the Registration Act made it a legal requirement to register all births, deaths and marriages with the local registrar and to compile annual returns for submission to the General Records Office. There was no requirement for medical certification until the 1870s, and even then there was no standardisation of the terms and practices employed by general practitioners. However, in the case of sudden, accidental or suspicious death occurring to an individual who had not been under medical supervision, it was standard practice to request a coroner’s report which often meant holding an inquest. This sometimes included an autopsy. It is therefore possible that the deaths of high-status individuals with craniotomies might have come to the attention of the coroner’s office. It is possible that Lieut. Gen. Thomas Dallas, whose craniotomised remains were recovered from Bathampton (Cox and Stock 1994), was the subject of an autopsy. Coroners reports for the region unfortunately do not survive for the period of his death, but The Morning Chronicle on 20th August 1839 recorded the death of Lieut. Gen. Dallas “rather suddenly on Monday last, at his residence at Bath”. In such circumstances, an inquest to establish cause of death would not be unexpected. One of the skeletons recovered from the church of St Martin’s in the Bull-ring in Birmingham belonged to George Warden, who died in 1863 at the age of 33 (Brickley et al. 2006: 146, 199). He can be securely identified because of his coffin plate which allowed excavators to relate post-mortem treatment of his body to historical records. Warden was the son of a wealthy iron merchant in Birmingham and died in Oxford while a student at Worcester College. Because cause of death was not immediately apparent, there was a coroner’s inquest requiring two postmortem examinations. The skeleton had a craniotomy made as part of one of 82

Scientific Belief these autopsies. The coroner’s inquest was held by Valentine Cox, coroner for the University of Oxford, on 26th November and 2nd December 1863 and concluded that Warden died after “inadvertently taking an overdose of the preparation of opium which he had habitually used to relieve neuralgic pain”. Warden was one of seven individuals from St Martin’s to have had a craniotomy. The growing need for a forensic or medical explanation for death encapsulates an eighteenth- and nineteenth-century attitude toward the body. In philosophical and theological writings on death of the early modern period, the medical reason for death was hardly ever mentioned. Typically, the dying man of an ‘ars moriendi’ text would be ailing in some unspecified way that caused him to be bed-ridden and aware of his approaching demise. There might be pain, but the focus was always on the emotional and spiritual experience of death rather than the physical or medical one. The blindness afflicting Epaphroditus towards the end of his (wearisomely prolonged) dying was not intended to reference any particular condition, but the loss of the senses one by one was commonly believed to characterise the final moments of life. With a few exceptions, such as violent death or death in childbirth, early modern people did not die of anything. They just became ill and expired. Death itself, as all the literature emphasises, is inevitable and unpredictable. There is, therefore, nothing about a death that needs explanation, unless a crime has been committed. The purpose of post-mortem autopsies in the seventeenth century was usually to address suspicions about death and only in a few unusual cases to satisfy medical curiosity (Harley 1994a, 1994b). Death in the sixteenth and seventeenth century was nevertheless different from the medieval ‘tame death’ described by Ari`es (1981); death is still frightening and is resisted. The moment of death is unpredictable, but it is never unexpected. Death of the body is a mystery known only to God. It does not occur to anyone to seek an explanation for the death of a person unless it is sudden. Epitaphs of the early modern period frequently emphasise this unknowableness: “Thou knowest not the day nor the hour”, and so on. One Orcadian epitaph from 1781 reads: By sudden death I am snatched away Death scarce Left me time to say The Lord have mercy On my soul So absolute is his control Think passenger When this you see The nixt grave May be for thee. Similarly, a typical early eighteenth-century gravestone from Upper Broughton in Leicestershire commemorates Elizabeth Pilkington who died in 1728. Above the 83

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland hourglass and crossed bones at the top of the stone is the motto “Be ye ready”, and following is the epitaph: You readers all, both old and young Your time on earth will not be long For death will come and die you must And like to me return to dust Coroners’ inquests until the end of the nineteenth century were intended to establish whether a crime had been committed. Natural causes of death were vaguely worded and poorly understood; diagnoses of ‘decline’ or ‘fever’ were so common as to be normal. Not only different knowledge of disease in the past but also a different understanding of what constitutes death and what requires explanation mean that pre-twentieth-century records of the cause of death are not always easy to interpret (Risse 1997). In early modernity, death was certain but unknowable; by the nineteenth century, however, the death of the body had come to be aberrant. It was a departure from the usual way of things, even a failure on the part of the individual, and required explanation. This shift in attitude towards the death of the body relates to the increasing dominance of the ‘body-as-machine’ paradigm from the eighteenth century onwards. Detailed enquiry into the body’s workings and the inter-relation of its parts, accomplished through anatomical inspection and other medical research, promoted an understanding of the body as a set of closely related parts and processes. Tuned and balanced, these worked together to keep the body functioning in perpetuum mobile. In the introduction to his eighteenth-century anatomy, John Bell outlines this position: It is not easy to explain, in their natural order, the various parts of which the human body is composed; for they have that mutual dependence on each other, that continual circle of action and reaction in their various functions, and that intricacy of connection, and close dependence, in respect of the individual parts, that, as in a circle there is no point of preference from which we should begin to trace its course, there is in the human body no function so insulated from the other functions, no part so independent of other parts, as to determine our choice . . . from whatever point we begin, we may so return to that point, as to represent truly this consent of functions, and connection of parts, by which it is composed into one perfect whole (Bell 1797: 1–2). This is a different approach to that of the previous century where parts of the body had a strictly hierarchical order, corresponding to the social order of a state so that anatomists like Helkiah Crooke could propose that anatomy take place in order of “dignitie” (1631: 19). The new understanding of the body changed the meaning of death from inevitable process to mechanical failure. Over the course of the seventeenth century the shift began from body-as-microcosm to body-as-machine. Illustrations in anatomy textbooks changed from being artistic and stylised to being 84

Scientific Belief highly accurate and mimetic representations of the body’s parts (see the contrast between Crooke’s developing foetus, with the proportions of a four-year-old child, and Cheselden’s celebration of the illustrator’s art in Figures 3.7 and 3.8).

The Pursuit of Knowledge The purpose of anatomy in the early modern period was to know the self – nosce te ipsum, as frequently inscribed on plates and texts relating to anatomy, and thereby to know God. Crooke says that because God is known only by his effects, to study the wonder of the body, the architecture of the hand, for example, or the diversity of parts and substances in a body formed only from “a small quantity of Seed (the parts whereof seame to be all homogenie or of one kind) and a few drops of Blood” (1631: 14), is to know God. “How profitable and helpful Anatomie is to the knowledge of God”, he notes, challenging any atheist to retain his convictions after studying the workings of the brain and eye, “dumb schole-masters” to humanity (1631:15). As an appendix to his study of Rembrandt’s ‘Anatomy of Dr. Tulp’, W. Schupbach has attempted to list all occurrences of the motto ‘Cognitio Sui, Cognitio Dei’ [Know the self, know God] in European anatomy texts and illustrations. He records forty-three emblems bearing the words in prints or representations, and forty-three textual occurrences, all of which date to between 1532 and 1690 (Schupbach 1982: 66–84). At the start of the seventeenth century Anthony Nixon’s anatomy text, tellingly entitled The Dignity of Man, Both in the Perfections of His Soule and Bodie (1612) describes the practice of anatomy as a meditation upon the divine. The book itself takes the form of a catechistic set of questions and answers. In answer to the question, “What commoditie commeth by Anatomy of the body?” Nixon answers “It puts us in minde of our mortality, and teacheth us that if the providence of God bee so wonderful in the composition of the vilest and the earthly partes, It must needes follow that it is farre more great, and admirable in the creation of the Noble parts, especially of the Soule” (1612: 8). For Nixon and others of his time, anatomy was not primarily a practical discipline for the improvement of medicine or for the development of a scientific clarity of understanding, it was most valuable as a suitable ground for moral exegesis or poetical conceit. One commonplace of the period was that the human body was the universe in microcosm, and thus “whoever doth well know himself, knoweth all things” (Crooke 1631: 12). The study of anatomy was then not only useful for medical purposes but as a proxy for the study of cosmology, political science and theology. The wisdom of ‘knowing thyself ’ continued to be associated with the study of anatomy into the eighteenth century, most usually in popular, nonacademic contexts, but became divorced from knowing God. During the seventeenth century, the devotional function of anatomy gradually receded as its practical and medical purpose acquired greater weight. The surgeon James Cooke alluded to both of these values in the introductory ‘Epistle to the Young Chirurgion’, dated 1647, of his medical text The Marrow of Chirurgery (1685). He defines anatomy as “an artificial separation of the parts of the Body by Section, 85

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Figure 3.7. Developing foetus from Crooke (1631). practised to attain the knowledge of the Frame of it, and the use of each part”. It has two purposes, he says: one is the “philosophical way . . . for Man to know himself, and admire his Maker” and the other is to acquire the practical knowledge that will equip the surgeon or doctor to perform operations or prescribe appropriate treatments. As time passed, the first purpose gradually gave ground to the second. 86

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Figure 3.8. Anatomical illustrator using a camera obscura. The torso he is drawing is suspended upside-down from a tripod so that it would appear the right way up in the camera obscura. By the time of Cheselden’s eighteenth-century anatomy texts the empirical accuracy of the illustrations had come to be valued. This contrasts with the less accurate images in Crooke just more than a century earlier (see Figure 3.9). Image from Cheselden (1733). Simply to marvel at the human body was less an appropriate purpose of dissection. Accordingly, public anatomy took place less frequently, and the amount of anatomy teaching increased as it moved into the closed, controlled and exclusive spaces of medical schools, universities and teaching hospitals. With this change, the scientific discourse of anatomy separated itself from theology, moral philosophy, law and thanatology. Instead it became empirical and experimental. The new kind of medicine was incompatible with old, traditional kinds of medicine. Instead of trying to rationalise traditional practice in modern scientific terms, devotees of anatomy distanced themselves from the past. By the late seventeenth century, Thomas Gibson could introduce his textbook of human anatomy by saying that this learned book disdains the conversation of Quacks and old Women, leaving them to meditate on the traditional Virtues of their Receipts, without offering to instruct them in the knowledge of themselves, of which their Ignorance and Impudence render them incapable in any sense (Gibson 1697: introduction). At the same time, in his definition of anatomy Gibson’s scientific thought is still informed by a theological epistemology: Anatomy is the artificial separation of the Parts of the Body by section, instituted for the attaining to the Knowledge of its Frame, and the use of each Part. 87

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland All animal Bodies of convenient bulk, are the Subject of Anatomy: But an humane Body is the primary, both because its frame is more perfect and exquisite than that of any other, and because the Anatomist dissects others, to the end only that by comparison those with this, he may obtain a more accurate knowledge of it, the preservation and cure whereof is the principal and ultimate End of Anatomy. By the early eighteenth century, the study of the human body was no longer a necessity for philosophers, poets and painters, as Crooke had recommended (1631: 15). Instead anatomy had become instrumental. The author of an anatomy text of 1737 defines his study thus: Anatomy is an artificial Dissection of an Animal Body; with a view to advance a true and adequate Science or Knowledge of the Matter, Figure, Size, Situation, Connection and Uses of the component parts thereof; to satisfy the Purposes of Physic, Surgery, Physiology, and other Sciences which require an Acquaintance therewith (M.N. 1737: 1). Gone is the occasion to wonder and reflect; gone is God; and gone also is respect for the learning of the ancients which must fall before the practical and instrumental value of empirical accuracy. Cheselden’s influential mid-eighteenth-century anatomy which ran to many editions explicitly eschews the authority of ancient anatomical texts and the hierarchical view of the body to which they led. Whereas, he wrote, the ancients supposed that the brain and heart were the first organs to be formed in a growing embryo, and all other parts of the body subsequently developed from them, “the modern, by the assistance of glasses, having made more accurate observations, concludes, that all the parts exist in miniature, from the first formation of the foetus”. In his book therefore, “no notice is taken in this treatise of some distinctions and divisions into parts, used by ancient anatomists” (Cheselden 1737 (7th ed.): 1–2). By the late eighteenth century, anatomist John Bell (1797: v) mocked his predecessors’ “idle dreams about humours and temperament, and spirits, and blood!” now dispelled by the advance of science and by Harvey’s work on motion of the blood. For Bell the aim of anatomy is the scientific pursuit of comparative biology and “to get some conception of how life is supported in each class [of animal or vegetable body]” (1797: ix). There is no divine purpose nor any mention of the soul.

The Coroner As an empirical and scientific understanding of the human body replaced, for the educated classes, a view of the body’s interior mechanics as mysterious and ineffable, the death of the body came to be regarded as a systemic failure for which a specific medical cause was responsible. Death and decrepitude, rather than a predicted and normal phase of the body’s existence, were now seen as the result of a breakdown 88

Scientific Belief in some part of the system. Guenter Risse (1997) outlines the historical processes by which cause of death was localised within the body and attributed to specific causal agents rather than to symptoms such as debility, natural decay or seizure, like the causes of death listed for the Spitalfields dead (Molleson and Cox 1993: 184). This process was accelerated by the disappearance of humoral theory from orthodox medicine in the nineteenth century, according to evidence of doctors registering causes of death, when modern anatomy informed an agentive theory of disease. Dissection and a detailed description of the body’s interior were part of a move among the medical and scientific professions to locate the causes of disease in the malfunction of particular organs or processes. This development is evident in the history of the autopsy and the evolving role of the coroner. The office of coroner was established in English law in the twelfth century; by the seventeenth to eighteenth centuries the office had lost much authority and was performed without much diligence ( Jackson 1994: 64). Sudden deaths were the purview of the coroner, but until the late eighteenth century the widespread belief was that an inquest was necessary only if there was obvious evidence of violence. In such cases, the prima facie evidence that a crime had been committed was so obvious on the body that any non-specialist could interpret it; expert medical knowledge was not usually required ( Jackson 1994: 64). However, some kinds of death, particularly alleged stillbirths of illegitimate babies, were perceived as ambiguous. According to sources of the period, infanticide was not uncommon in the case of unmarried women concealing a stigmatised pregnancy. Given the legal and social disadvantages of being a child born outside marriage or being the mother of such a child, it was believed that mothers might try to conceal illegitimate pregnancies and then kill or abandon the baby. Therefore, medical experts were frequently called upon to examine the bodies of stillborn children of unmarried mothers to determine whether the child had been born alive. Most commonly this involved the ‘hydrostatic lung test’, floating the lungs or parts of lungs in water to see if they contained air ( Jackson 1994: 75). If they did, the baby was believed to have been born alive and its death would require investigation. Apart from neonates, however, forensic medicine was slower to develop in Britain than on the continent (Crawford 1994: 89). According to Houlbrooke the shift from providential to natural explanations of disease (and therefore of death) was gradual and uneven. Even in the eighteenth century many people associated bodily decline with religious or moral factors (Houlbrooke 1998: 71). It was not until the late eighteenth century that autopsies became more routine, and not until the late nineteenth that cause of death was reported to the registrar or investigated by the coroner in a standardised or systematic way across the country. Houlbrooke (1999: 175–8) dates the growth of a more enquiring and statistical approach to death to the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century and the publication of the first systematic demographic assessments of mortality, such as John Graunt’s Natural and Political Observations Made upon the Bills of Mortality (1662). Surveys such as Graunt’s were precursors to significant developments in environmental and preventive health policies of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, such as large-scale vaccination programmes and public hygiene schemes. 89

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Body as Person to Body as Commodity Modern anatomy as it developed over the later seventeenth century cultivated a way of looking at and understanding the human body that downplayed its personhood and individual identity. This was not the same as the early modern anatomical body, whose life history was important even upon the anatomy table. The dissection of a criminal body was the final part of a moral narrative. The bodies and organs kept in research anatomy museums as well as those displayed for public entertainment were catalogued by name and often a short history of the living individual to whom they had belonged. Moreover, the condition and nature of the body sometimes indicated the personal character of the deceased, as with the exceptional reputed weight of Oliver Cromwell’s brain. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, however, the body as object of scientific scrutiny was increasingly anonymised. It is unfortunate that many of the poorest people in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were more valuable after their death than before. Those who had been unable to find or hold work, who lacked friends and family, who lived unnoticed and died unmourned could be considered desirable property after death and command a high price. Ironically, it was through the loss of personal and social identity and their reduction to material body alone that they gained their value. To the anatomists, corpses were not of interest because of their individual life histories or relationships; in fact, corpses were divested of individuality to represent a category of body: adult female, adolescent male, aged consumptive. Individualising details – name, clothes, even skin and external appearance – were removed to allow the intervention of the anatomist’s knife and the insertion of the body into the depersonalised, objectified discourse of science. The anatomist’s view of the body differed from most other views of dead bodies of the period in that the body was of interest not because of the living individual it had formerly been, nor even because it was dead. Under the anatomist’s knife the cadaver was an example of the human machine. Thus, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the supply of bodies for anatomy was similar to the supply of other necessary supplies and equipment. Bodies were bought and sold for money; they became commodities. In an impassioned paragraph Richardson summed up the frequent fate of the dead body before the Anatomy Act of 1832. Corpses were bought and sold, they were touted, priced, haggled over, negotiated for, discussed in terms of supply and demand, delivered, imported, exported, transported. Human bodies were compressed into boxes, packed in sawdust, packed in hay, trussed up in sacks, roped up like hams, sewn in canvas, packed in cases, casks, barrels, crates and hampers; salted, pickled or injected with preservative. They were carried in carts and wagons, on barrows and steamboats; manhandled, damaged in transit, and hidden under loads of vegetables. They were stored in cellars and on quays. Human bodies were dismembered and sold in pieces, or measured and sold by the inch (Richardson 1988: 72). 90

Scientific Belief These bodies had in death a different meaning to those they had had in life. Depersonalised, representative, lumps of nature, the bodies on the anatomist’s table were not supposed to be the sites of emotional investment or theological reflection. The surgeon (or the anatomist) had to cultivate what William Hunter called a “necessary inhumanity” (c. 1780, cited by Richardson 2000: 104) – a clinical detachment from the humanity of the body. These beliefs co-existed with other, apparently incommensurable beliefs about the body, the self and the person. The conflict between the view of the body as research resource and as locus of personal identity and emotional relationship is most evident in narratives that proliferated during the eighteenth century in which the anatomist recognises the body of a friend or relative, stolen from the grave, on the dissection table. This reputedly happened to the stolen corpse of novelist Laurence Sterne in 1768 (Hughes 2003).

Restoring the Body: Contradictory Beliefs? We have evidence of attempts to restore an appearance of wholeness to bodies that had been subjected to post-mortem investigation, but that evidence is mostly eighteenth century or later and derived from contexts where post-mortem interventions were probably the result of autopsy than pedagogical dissection. It is interesting to note that the majority of recovered skulls with craniotomies, apart from the Oxford Castle burials, were found with the skull cap on top of the head. Despite being completely sawn off, it was not usually thrown away but replaced after an internal examination of the head had taken place. One eighteenthcentury craniotomised skull from Infirmary Street, Edinburgh, still had hair and scalp fragments adhering to a pin on its front. More copper alloy staining along the right side of the skull suggests that the scalp was pinned back into position before burial (Henderson et al. 1996). Interestingly, the young woman whose head this was had been buried in a burial ground used by the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary from 1749. Teaching of anatomy by dissection did not occur at the Royal Infirmary, so this woman’s craniotomy, and other cuts including ‘paring’ marks left by removing soft tissue around her right femur and left tibia, might relate to an autopsy or informal teaching of surgical technique. Hospital rules at the time specified that after autopsy bodies should be sewn up, dressed and returned to relatives. This woman’s interment in the infirmary burial ground suggests that she had no family, or at least no relatives in a financial position to take charge of her body. However, it appears that her body was nevertheless treated like those of better-off patients by some of the hospital staff. Unofficially, the body was shown less respect. The front teeth of this individual, like those of seven others whose skulls were recovered from the Infirmary Street site, had been removed after death with sufficient force to break the jawbone. All incisors and canines were gone, and five individuals had also been robbed of their premolars. In one case, the bone in front of the canines had been cut to facilitate removal of those long-rooted teeth. Given the attention to restoring the appearance of the woman with the craniotomy, the excavators’ conclusion that teeth were removed surreptitiously by hospital functionaries seems 91

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland justified. In the eighteenth century there was money to be made from selling real human teeth. Such teeth, later called ‘Waterloo’ teeth (because many were recovered by scavengers from the bodies of those slain at the battle of Waterloo), were in great demand by manufacturers and fitters of dentures. In the 1820s a man called Murphy made £60 in a few hours after gaining access to a crypt and removing teeth from bodies he found there. Such trouble was not always taken, and by the mid-nineteenth century the bodies of the poor were sometimes treated with less care. One nineteenth-century body from York Women’s Prison was interred with ribs splayed, suggesting little attempt to disguise the opening of the thorax, although the skull cap was placed on top of the skull (Carrott et al. 1998). Nevertheless, the official policy in Edinburgh was to restore bodies to a natural and decent appearance before burial, and this policy was honoured publicly. Similar concern was shown for the body of a late eighteenth-century “post-mortem victim” buried at St Peter’s church, Bartonupon-Humber (Figure 3.9), possibly a former study subject of distinguished local surgeon Dr. William Benton, who died in 1800. The body had been extensively modified: The spinal column, rib-cage and presumably all the organs of the body had been excised, leaving what can only have been a skin bag with attached arms, legs and head. A charred wooden stake was inserted inside the body, as a stiffener in place of the spine; the skin bag would then have been stuffed with some suitable packing material (e.g. grass or moss) and sewn up to return the corpse to a seemly shape for burial. The vault of the skull had been sawn off for the extraction of the brain, whereupon the two parts were reunited with glue, the joint being masked by the hair (Rodwell and Rodwell 1982: 306). Similar cosmetic treatments of the autopsied body are known even in cases where there were no relatives to see the body before burial, as with the young woman from Edinburgh Infirmary. This shows the significant cultural importance of bodily integrity at burial. By repairing and clothing the body, an attempt was made to restore propriety and to compensate, in some way, for any dishonour done to the body during the autopsy. It also moved the body out of the belief discourse of modern anatomical science and into the social and theological context of individualised, personalised human interaction. As the body changed context, its personhood also changed. The body’s social personhood was suspended during scientific examination but was restored for the socially important moment of burial. The body was restored with reference to integrity and dignity. Clothing the body added, literally, a cultural layer. The body was removed from the natural (and scientific) to the cultural domain. At the same time, it was protected from the probing, prying and exposure of medical examination. Restoring a pre-dissection appearance also allowed the most common metaphor for death – sleep – to be employed at the funeral and interment. A body missing a head was plainly not asleep, even figuratively. 92

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Figure 3.9. Burial of c. 1800 from Barton-upon-Humber. This individual had his spine, ribs, pelvis and shoulders removed so that he was effectively “a skin bag” at the time of burial. His skull had been opened for a post-mortem inspection. However, those who buried him had gone to great lengths to restore his appearance for burial. In place of a spine a stake of wood had been inserted into the body cavity which was probably then stuffed with some organic material. His skull had also been glued back together. Photograph courtesy of Warwick Rodwell.

The Horror of Anatomy Despite the scientific rhetoric, however, and despite the religious position that considered a body without a soul to be worthless carrion, outside the group of elite men who inhabited the universities and hospitals (and sometimes even inside it), the dissection of corpses was regarded with terror and the trade in dead bodies was a subject of scandal and abhorrence. Ruth Richardson’s Death, Dissection and the Destitute (1988) documents the social unrest occasioned by the activities of anatomists and dealers in corpses who supplied them, primarily by grave robbing. Anatomists’ assistants who attended hangings to take the body away afterwards were harassed by the crowd. In fact, riots following attempts to bring away corpses of executed criminals were a significant factor in the decision to move hangings from Tyburn to Newgate, where the scaffold was close to both the prison and the Surgeons’ Hall (Richardson 1988: 75). In other parts of the country riots were not infrequent, and these were principally directed 93

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland against the grave robbers who supplied the anatomists. Legally, grave robbing was not a crime because dead bodies were not property. To bring criminal charges against grave robbers, they had to be charged with the theft of grave clothing or some other artefact. But popularly, grave robbing was regarded as a terrible thing, and if the judicial process did not treat grave robbers harshly, violent crowds of protesters who quickly gathered when grave robbers were apprehended could enact vicious punishments. In 1832, the anatomy school in Aberdeen was burned and manually pulled down by rioters after the appearance of human remains in the yard led to the invasion of the school and the discovery of further bodies being dissected. In that case, the remains had not been disposed of with much care because they were dug up by a dog – and the school yard had a bad smell which had aroused suspicion even before the dog got in (Richardson 1988: 90). Something similar happened at the Swan Street cholera hospital in Manchester the same year. An old man’s discovery that his grandson’s head had been removed and replaced by a stone before his body was coffined caused a major riot which nearly destroyed the hospital (Richardson 1988: 228–9). Archaeologically, there is not much evidence of the artificial weighting of coffins to prevent the absence of the body being noticed. However, one coffined burial at Newcastle Infirmary consisted only of the top half of the body. A stone slab had been substituted for the lower half of the body, nicknamed ‘the Magician’s Assistant’ by excavators (Nolan 1998). Additionally, a coffin found in the Spitalfields vault filled with rubble might suggest that an unscrupulous undertaker or sexton had made money selling the corpse and disguising its absence by making up the coffin’s weight (Molleson and Cox 1993: 205). Of the stolen bodies taken by stealth, it is not possible to say what proportion came from graves and how many were removed secretly from hospitals or mortuaries before the burial of an empty coffin. Grave robbing is rarely identified in archaeological excavation, usually because in the tightly packed graveyards of intercutting burials, disturbed, disarticulated and partial remains are common anyway, and where the survival of bones and coffins is not good it can be hard to detect or interpret evidence of broken or empty coffins. However, the Quaker burial ground at Kingston-upon-Thames was excavated with particular care and revealed twenty-eight “empty features”, some or all of which might be graves from which the body had been robbed (Bashford and Sibun 2007: 114). According to sources studied by Richardson (1988), grave robbers would normally dig over the head end of the coffin only, then prize the coffin open, breaking the lid, before hooking out the corpse and remaking the grave so that no trace of their activity would be noticed the following day. Such a procedure would leave a broken but empty coffin in the ground. The lead coffin of Anna Barnard, who was interred in the Quaker Cemetery at Kingston-upon-Thames, had been ripped open at the head end and was empty except for a blonde hairpiece (Bashford and Sibun 2007: 111). Bodies deposited in a common grave that was not backfilled until several corpses had been placed there, perhaps over a period of a week or more, were much 94

Scientific Belief easier to get hold of than bodies interred in single grave which was immediately filled in. The resurrection men preferred to take the bodies that were easiest to get hold of, and that meant the bodies of the poor. In general, only the wealthy could afford the double- or triple-shell coffins, the iron bands and other antiresurrectionist devices available. The Anatomy Act of 1832 further formalised the class differences of medical dissection by specifying that ‘unclaimed’ bodies of those dying in workhouses, prisons and other institutions could be taken by medical schools. In the strength of popular feeling against anatomists and the great dread of having either one’s own body or that of somebody close used as the subject of anatomical dissection, we see one of the most deeply held beliefs about the human body in modernity. Anatomical study violated the requirement that the dead body be treated ‘decently’, that is, with the kind of consideration normally due to a person and not a lump of carrion. As Chapter 5 will show, there was a widespread but unarticulated popular understanding that the new corpse possessed a degree of sentience and even agency, so that the comfort and dignity of the body, the situation of the grave and the respectable conduct of the survivors would make a difference to the dead person. According to both Christian and rational humanist frameworks of belief, death removed all awareness, sensation, thought and social meaning from the corpse, but when it came to anatomy there was a widespread feeling that to cut the body was to cause it pain, humiliation and harm. The actions of anatomists were moreover located at the intersection of two incompatible attitudes towards the body. The anatomists embraced (at least in their professional lives) the scientific paradigm of the body. It was, to them, an intricate and balanced machine that could be known and understood through appropriate methods of fine examination, classification and experiment. This would result in benefits to mankind, both practically in advancing medicine and contributing to the collective improvement of humanity. But extension of this knowledge required invasion of the dead body. Penetration of the body, and its passive and helpless subjection to the probing eyes and fingers of strangers, revolted and terrified people. The 1832 Anatomy Act effectively regulated the supply of bodies to anatomy schools and obviated the need for grave-robbing. The removal of bodies from the institutions where they died to the anatomy schools ended more than a century of anxiety about ‘resurrection men’ (and at the same time augmented the horror and stigma of dying ‘on the parish’). Before the act, however, even those who died at home and were buried in the parish graveyard in the normal way were at risk of having their corpses taken from their graves within a few days of burial. The extent to which this actually happened is hard to estimate. As discussed previously, there is little evidence of removed corpses in archaeology, but if excavators were not alert to this possibility it is unlikely that such evidence would be recognised, especially where there is complex intercutting and poor survival of both coffin wood and human remains. However, evidence of people’s fear of resurrectionists, and the measures they took to try to protect burials, is more easily observed. Obviously, more substantial coffins presented a greater challenge to grave robbers, who had to 95

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland work quietly and quickly to avoid detection. Part of the appeal of the triple-shell coffin (wooden outer shell and inner with a seamed lead layer in between) was that it was secure. Although expensive, these coffins were common and widespread from the eighteenth century (although some are known from earlier) and from earth burials as well as crypts. A patent coffin made of cast iron with reinforced joints and catches inside the lid to prevent it from being opened was advertised in the early nineteenth century (Richardson 1988: 81; Litten 1991: 109), although none of these are known from archaeological contexts. Cheaper than the full triple shell or patent coffin was adding metal bands or straps to an ordinary wooden coffin to make it hard to extract the body even if the lid were broken. Some of the best archaeological evidence of attempts to thwart the resurrection men comes from Spitalfields in London (Molleson and Cox 1993). The dead of big cities like London, Edinburgh and Dublin were particularly vulnerable to grave robbers due to the proximity of anatomy schools. At Spitalfields, Mrs. Mary Mason had three iron straps around her coffin (Molleson and Cox 1993: 205). William Horne, himself an undertaker and aware of the possibility of ending up on the anatomy table, had a triple-shelled coffin for his burial in 1823 (Molleson and Cox 1993: 205). The lid of the inner coffin was reinforced by two iron bars along its length, and iron straps held the coffin’s inner surface together. The lead coffin was soldered shut and placed upside-down in the outer coffin which had two more iron bands nailed around it. Even so, there is a suggestion that the resurrection men had been active even at Spitalfields. Context 604 was a double-shelled wooden coffin which contained no human remains but was filled with building rubble. The attempt to make up the weight inside the coffin suggests that somebody – a corrupt undertaker perhaps? – sold the body before the funeral. In Scottish graveyards, newly interred bodies were protected by ‘mortsafes’, cages fixed into the ground (Figure 3.10), or communally owned ‘jankers’, heavy pieces of stone or iron that could be placed over the new grave for a couple of weeks after burial. Some parishes invested in ‘dead houses’, secure places where the corpse could be kept for a few weeks until it had decayed enough to be of no further interest to the resurrectionists (Ritchie 1921). Strong gates and high walls surrounded parish grave yards, watch towers were erected and night watchmen employed to protect the newly buried. Much of the anti-resurrectionist architectural fortification of churchyards is still observable, including watchmen’s huts and towers, walls and gates and dates from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Richardson also mentions strategies adopted by the poor who could not afford to pay watchmen or buy impregnable coffins. Mixing straw and twigs with the soil of the grave fill was intended to make it harder for the resurrectionists’ wooden spades to reach the coffin (wooden spades were quieter than iron ones). Small objects such as shells, flowers or other tokens were left on top of the grave so that mourners could see if it had been disturbed. Richardson notes that in their memoirs, grave robbers took pride in spotting these booby traps and replacing them perfectly after the grave had been filled in again. Richardson notes that although some parliamentary rhetoric, particularly in the build-up to the Anatomy Act, represented opposition to anatomy as the preserve 96

Scientific Belief

Figure 3.10. Mortsafe from St Mary’s, Holystone. This iron cage was designed to go deep into the grave around the newly buried coffin to keep the burial safe from grave robbers. Photograph courtesy of John Dalrymple.

of the ignorant and superstitious, the belief that exploratory dissection was an affront to recognised social norms was widespread. It is worth noting that although post-mortem autopsies were sometimes carried out on the bodies of the middle and upper classes, they were mostly performed by the family doctor as an extension of the care given during the patient’s last illness; they were not anonymous demonstration dissections carried out to benefit students’ education. The bodies of the wealthy were unlikely to be exposed to the eyes and hands of strangers in this way. It was this latter kind of dissection that people dreaded at all levels of society. From the eighteenth century, pedagogical dissections and research of morbid anatomy were more likely to be carried out on the bodies of the poor. This parallels the rise of the voluntary hospital; only then were clinical histories likely to be available for those who could not afford private doctors. Harley (1994a: 27–8) describes this shift in power as stemming “not from the development of a new gaze on the part of the doctors but from the loss of the patient’s viewpoint”. Whereas autopsies in the seventeenth century had been carried out on bodies of wealthy patients by the physicians who had treated them, as part of the patient’s own story and in consultation with the family, eighteenth-century investigations objectified and anonymised the body. The identity of the body was ignored and the person’s individuality denied. 97

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland

Embalming Knowledge of anatomy and its acquisition through dissection was not the only significant involvement of scientific knowledge with the dead body in the early modern period. The development over this time of techniques that could preserve the soft tissue of the body and prevent the characteristic appearance and aroma of decay had scientific and social importance. The history of embalming in medieval and post-medieval Britain and Ireland is lamentably neglected. The main authoritative treatment of the subject is not the work of a historian or archaeologist but the condensed and partial account given in Robert Mayer’s standard textbook for modern embalmers Embalming: History, Theory and Practice. Therein the dozen centuries from 650 to 1861 AD are covered in the description of the “Period of the Anatomists”. What is missing from this account is a discussion of why bodies were embalmed. In fact, there were three main reasons. The first, most prevalent in the early modern period, was to preserve the body in cases where more than a few days separated the death and the funeral. This was especially common in the case of aristocratic funerals which required elaborate preparations and attendance of friends and relatives who lived far away. It was also the case when somebody died far from the place they were to be buried and the body needed to be treated to survive the journey. The Duke of Lauderdale, for example, died away from home at Tunbridge Wells, and the body had to be transported back to Haddington in East Lothian, making it essential that the corpse be embalmed (Caldwell 1976). Similarly, if the body was to be divided for burial at multiple locations, embalming was necessary before the journey could take place (e.g. Weiss-Krejci 2001 on burial of incomplete bodies among the Babenberg and Habsburg families). Because of the expense of preparing and transporting a corpse, this usually only happened to the bodies of nobility. Cheshire et al. (1980), however, discuss an account of the death and burial of one of the Eskimos, Martin Frobisher, brought back to England from his travels in 1576. Following the man’s death, shortly after his arrival in England, his body was embalmed to be transported to his own country. In the end, however, he was buried in London. The second reason to embalm a body, and the one which dominates Mayer’s account, is to allow more time for dissection. Untreated, a dead body will begin to decay immediately after death, and very soon it becomes unpleasant to be near because of the smell. Customarily, major dissections such as those carried out by the Royal Colleges were scheduled immediately after the executions following court sessions in January or February – the coldest time of the year. Anatomy theatres were unheated, but even so, dissections had to be carried out quickly before the smell from the decaying body became unbearable. Embalming the body, or parts of the body, allowed dissection to be undertaken more carefully over several days. Developments in embalming techniques were often pioneered by anatomists trying to address this problem. Finally, embalming was increasingly seen as a desirable way to prevent signs of death from being evident to the living. It is for this reason that embalming is carried out today on ‘ordinary’ dead people prior to the funeral, especially in America and Ireland, where open caskets and post-mortem visits to 98

Scientific Belief view the body are common. A skilfully embalmed body helps the bereaved sustain the metaphor that the dead person is sleeping. A ‘natural’ corpse, with its pallor, livid patches, sunken cheeks, open jaw and smell of decay did not always support this metaphor. The great early modern innovators in embalming technology considered by Mayer were Dutch or French, although their works were translated and available in Britain. Directions given in textual sources for embalming are consistent with the kinds of interventions in the skeleton most commonly found archaeologically: craniotomies and rib cuts. Peter Forestus, the sixteenth-century Dutch pioneer of embalming, has left accounts of embalmings of a number of European figures of note, including a princess, two aristocrats, a bishop and a pope. Some, but not all, of his accounts mention opening the cranium to remove the brain (Mayer 2000: 456). Frenchman Ambroise Par´e, whose works were translated into English in 1634, gives a thorough account of how to embalm the dead. First the abdomen is split open and the bowels removed, “keeping the heart apart, that it may be embalmed and kept as the kinfolkes shall thinke fit”. The brain should be removed, “the scull being divided with a saw”, and cuts made in the flesh to allow the blood to drain. Cavities would then be filled with embalming powders and the cuts sewn up. One of Par´e’s recipes for embalming powders requires about twenty different powdered spices. The embalmed body of Duke of Lauderdale, interred in the burial aisle of St Mary’s Church, Haddington, East Lothian, in 1682, had been eviscerated, and the abdominal cavity packed with sawdust (Caldwell 1976). Afterwards, the body should be washed with “Turpentine dissolved with Oil of Roses and Camomil, adding, if you shall think it fit, some Chymical Oils of Spices” (Par´e 1678: 686). Then the body should be wrapped in linen and a layer of cerecloth. The embalmed body of Duke of Lauderdale had been dressed in a shroud and wrapped in several layers of linen heavily impregnated with lanolin. The fabric had been tightly bound around the body using linen ties, and the coffin was sealed with a combination of lanolin and possibly gum ammoniacal (Caldwell 1976). Finally, says Par´e, the whole body should be put into a coffin of lead and the space around it filled up with dried sweet herbs or, if dried herbs are unavailable as they might be in a city under siege, ashes of oak wood. Par´e’s reference to the city under siege is a clue to the circumstances in which he, a physician involved in a number of military campaigns, commonly found himself embalming bodies. Essentially, the same method of embalming was described by Par´e’s countryman Philbert Guibert (1639). Guibert makes the comparison between embalming and anatomy explicit in his instruction. He begins, like Par´e, by opening the abdomen, removing the organs and cleaning the body cavity. Then, he says, “the head or Cranium shall bee sawed in two, as you doe in an Anatomie” (1639: 144). The brain should be put with the other internal organs into a barrel and buried, unless there is a “desire to carry them farre”, in which case they should be embalmed and the barrel coated with pitch and wrapped in cerecloth. The skull cavity should be stuffed with cloth and embalming powder and the scalp bound together with thread. Guibert describes a detailed system of long cuts in the limbs, extremities, buttocks and back to drain blood. The cuts should then be sewn closed, the ears, nose and 99

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland mouth stopped with cotton and the whole corpse washed with turpentine. Then it is ready to be wrapped in cerecloth, put into a lead coffin filled with aromatic herbs and soldered in. In the latter part of the seventeenth century, three Dutch embalmers began to experiment with preservative injection (Mayer 2000: 457). Jan Swammerdam (1637–1680), Frederick Ruysch (1638–1731) and Stephen Blanchard (1650–1720) independently developed preservation techniques ‘from the inside’, by flushing veins and bowels and replacing body fluids with preservative substances. For example, Blanchard’s A New Anatomy with Concise Directions for Dissection of the Human Body with a New Method of Embalming, published in 1688, begins by flushing out the intestines with water and then embalming the bowel by filling it with winebased spirits, kept in place by a cork in the rectum. A porcelain plug recovered from the pelvic region of an individual buried at Goswell Road, London (Deeves 2002: 26), might have served a similar purpose. Technical developments in British and Irish embalming during the eighteenth century centred on the invention of more effective preservative substances and the preparation of more perfectly preserved specimens for scientific study or emotional reasons. Brothers John and William Hunter, both significant figures in the history of medicine and anatomy in Britain, independently experimented with embalming techniques. William Hunter of Glasgow pioneered the use of turpentine injections combined with plant oils and vermillion dye. The dye was used first to trace the flow of blood or fluid through the body, but also to counter the pallor or livor of death by imparting a slightly pink hue to the skin. One disturbing anecdote, albeit recounted with admiration by fellow embalmer Mayer, involves a visitor to Hunter’s house exploring his rooms while Hunter had been temporarily called away. Entering a downstairs room, he came across a baby apparently asleep in a crib. Bending to kiss the sleeping child, the visitor realised that it was actually dead but embalmed so skilfully that it retained the appearance of a living baby (Mayer 2000: 458). A number of high-profile experiments in embalming were open to public or scientific view during the eighteenth century. The ‘Manchester mummy’ was the body of Miss Hannah Beswick, who died in 1758 and was embalmed by Charles White, a friend and former student of John Hunter (Dobson 1953: 432). The mummy was displayed upright in a clock case at White’s Museum at Sales Priory near Manchester. The body of the wife of Martin van Butchell, a dentist and trussmaker who might also have been a pupil of Hunter’s at one time, was embalmed and exhibited after her death in 1775 at the age of thirty-six. So many visitors came to see the body at van Butchell’s home that he circulated a card restricting visiting hours and conditions (Dobson 1953: 436). The mummy prepared by John Sheldon in 1775 and exhibited in the museum at his house was admired by a visiting French professor (Dobson 1953: 437) for its lifelike appearance. Neither of the Hunters, nor Matthew Baillie, another great anatomist of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, mention craniotomy, although they did recommend a preservative powder to pack the eyes, ears and nostrils (Baillie 1812). With the use of preservative injection, state-of-the-art embalming did not always require removing the brain, so osteological evidence that embalming has taken place 100

Scientific Belief is not always clear from the nineteenth century onwards. However, John Morgan, a Dublin-based anatomist of the mid-nineteenth century, advocated opening the sternum to inject the heart directly with preservatives (Mayer 2000: 462), an action which might have left evidence in the skeleton depending on where the ribs were cut.

Anatomy and the Archaeology of Anxiety Anatomy in the early modern period is currently a trendy area for cultural historians, who have traced its influence on art, literature and other cultural products of the period. Archaeological sources strongly suggest, however, that the performance of anatomies as public or educational spectacles was less frequent than cutting the body for autopsy or embalming. Neither practice generated the richness of cultural resonance that public anatomy did, although many processes were similar. There is currently more archaeological evidence for the fear of grave robbers than for their actual activities (Cherryson, Crossland and Tarlow forthcoming). There is more evidence for post-mortem autopsy than for pedagogical dissection. Although the autopsy involved similar processes to a demonstration dissection its cultural meaning was different. Whereas to illustrate normal human physiology almost all bodies chosen for dissection in anatomy schools came from criminals and, after 1832, from the very poor, people of all social classes were subject to autopsy. Autopsy was far more socially acceptable than dissection, at least among the educated and for men. John Lethieullier, father of the antiquary Smart Lethieullier, asked that his body “be first opened” and then buried in a lead coffin at Little Ilford church with his late wife (Redknap 1985: 36). Opening the body before burial allayed the seventeenth-century fear of being buried alive, but it is possible that Lethieullier wanted to make a contribution to humanist science; his other request for a simple, nighttime burial “without any pomp” suggests he belonged to a fashionable set espousing modern, enlightenment views. But it was rare for the deceased himself to request an autopsy. Anatomical dissection involved an imbalance of power and the most serious intrusion into personal privacy – public exposure of the body’s interior. Why was anatomy such a potent cultural signifier in the absence of evidence for widespread anatomical dissection? Two significant reasons were the violation of privacy and the impotence of the dissection subject, who was wholly at the mercy of the anatomist. Not only did the subject have the obvious physical disadvantage of being dead, but the respective social status of dissector and dissectee meant that there were already great inequalities in terms of social power that could be mobilised by the parties. There was also a third reason for the deep anxiety. There was considerable evidence, to be explored in the next two chapters, that in Britain and Ireland there was a belief – irrational, unorthodox and unscientific – that the dead body was still sensitive, animate and active. It retained a social existence after death. Following Katharine Park (1995), Hillary Nunn (2005) suggests that in post-medieval Britain, as in the late medieval period, death was a process rather 101

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland than a moment. Life gradually left the body over the months or years following death, but in the first few days or weeks after death the body was still in transition. Thus, she says, “onlookers in early modern London were more likely to have seen the dissector’s knife cutting into flesh from which signs of life, even if muted, still emanated” (2005: 73). The discourses of science, largely buttressed by those of reformed religion, encouraged a rationalist belief that the dead body was only matter. But parallel beliefs saw the newly dead body as an enduring social being. Infringement of privacy, decency and physical distance were accentuated by the circumstances of dissection. Nor is this attitude purely a historical curiosity. From time to time, a story breaks in the national media around the retention of body parts from people who have died. One story that attracted a great deal of media attention in Britain in the late 1990s and early 2000s was the revelation that children’s organs had been kept for research purposes at Alder Hey hospital, Liverpool, and at Bristol Royal Infirmary (B.R.I.). In the ensuing furore, the media depicted the medical researchers involved as macabre and ghoulish monsters. This representation would not have been out of place in early modern theatre. Following the enquiry into events at the B.R.I., Alder Hey and elsewhere, changes to the law have had a major impact on medical and biological research. In fact, the stories fall into a tradition of ‘body parts’ stories that indicate a contemporary ambivalence towards science, especially where it involves research using dead bodies.


Chapter 4

Social Belief

This section looks at what people actually did in regard to dead bodies in early modernity. Our sources for social practices are varied and help us understand different kinds of beliefs about the dead body. At the most formalised end, legislation was a significant factor in shaping people’s practices in early modernity, as aspects of mortuary practice were taken out of the control of individuals or of the church and taken into state control. The law tells us what we can and cannot do, and the judicial system specifies a range of sanctions that may be enacted upon us if we break that law. But the law does not exist in isolation from society. Laws are passed to address our concerns or protect values of societies at a particular time. For example, the Human Tissue Act (2004) was passed largely in response to public outcry over the retention of organs at Alder Hey hospital and the Bristol Royal Infirmary. Some groups and individuals in society do not support particular laws, so legislation is never a perfect mirror of social values. However, especially in large, complex, and highly structured societies like post-medieval Europe, regulation of the body is a matter for politicians and legislators as well as tradition and convention. So legislation is in a recursive relationship with social attitudes: responsive to public feeling but also creating popular practice. At the same time, many popular and folkloric beliefs about the dead body were not universally shared, even though they betrayed attitudes to the corpse that provide further understanding of apparent contradictions between theological, scientific and judicial approaches. There is no open water between social beliefs of this chapter and folk beliefs of the next. Both chapters consider actual practices rather than formalised traditions of discourse that arose in relation to religious or 103

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland scientific belief. However, to avoid a single unwieldy megachapter, I have included in this chapter the more mainstream, establishment and uncontested social beliefs affecting death and burial – beliefs about status, gender, legal power and social self. The next chapter deals with the unorthodox, the demotic and the superstitious – the kind of beliefs folklorists have been accustomed to study. There is considerable overlap between these kinds of belief: for example, the folk tradition that the newly dead corpse still has a degree of sentience gave rise to beliefs in the corpse’s active ability to accuse its murderer, which was in turn admissable as evidence in a court of law. Areas of overlap in various scholarly and popular traditions of belief discourse in this book are a source of insight into the nature of belief and ideas about the nature of the dead body in early modernity. Beliefs about the proper ordering of society were formulated through, amongst other things, the body, including the dead body. This chapter looks at how the social order was maintained and reproduced through actions upon the corpse. By ‘the social order’ I mean not only things like hierarchical relationships of class but also maintenance of social convention with regard to gender and accepted social behaviours. Material practices upon the corpse promoted certain social values as appropriate to categories of individual. Thus, the elevated status of aristocratic and gentry families was maintained through preservation of the corpse, use of exclusive burial locations and expensive material trappings and deployment of tastes and styles which signalled their membership of the cultured elite. At the other end of the scale, deviants and those who had transgressed against societal norms could be stigmatised, a status evident in and achieved through unusual treatment of the corpse (Harding 1998). Social beliefs examined in this chapter also include personal relationships between the living and the dead which were often more emotional in nature and were expressed through continuing care of the dead body past the point of death, attention given to the place and nature of burial, as well as through its material commemoration in overtly emotional and affectionate memorial monuments.

Ordinary Bodies, Ordinary Deaths In surveying the treatment of the dead body in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Britain, it is easy to concentrate on marginal, unusual and deviant burials – the anatomised criminals, the elite in their vaults and crypts, the unbaptised and excommunicated in their alternative places of burial. Archaeologically, these burials are more conspicuous, more likely to be fully recorded and published, and often their very strangeness makes them easier to date because they can be related easily to relevant historical sources. The vast majority of people dying between the Reformation and the eighteenth century, however, were not aristocrats or murderers, nor were they adherents of any minority or transgressive religion. They were members of the majority parish congregation. After the Reformation, that meant they were part of the established church in England, Scotland and Wales; Catholics in most of Ireland. In all countries the vast majority of the population consisted of baptised, 104

Social Belief law-abiding people, neither wealthy nor destitute. Their most important secular relationships were those with family members and the local community; for many of them spiritual relationships to the divine were also important. Their values were probably mostly dominant values of their communities. These people rarely wrote books or surviving letters or diaries that discursively described their beliefs and values, but their conformity is signalled by silences in documentary sources as well as by the unremarkable archaeology they left behind. Although easily overlooked because of its dull and pedestrian character, the remains of these people’s lives and deaths constitute the quantitative majority of evidence for beliefs about the dead body in the early modern period. When most early modern British people died, their corpses were treated in a way that differed little from later medieval times. It is not usually possible on the basis of archaeological evidence alone to distinguish Catholic from Protestant burials, although nonconformist burials are more recognisable because they often eschewed the normal west–east orientation and few of them used expensive or ostentatious styles of burial or commemoration. It is worth noting, however, that much of our archaeological knowledge of conformist Anglican burial comes from vaults; it is likely that ordinary churchyard burial, even for members of the established church, had little evidence of expensive or elaborate material embellishment. In the later sixteenth century coffin use was not universal but was becoming more widespread. When interment took place without a coffin, the corpse was wrapped in a shroud or winding sheet. Although these rarely survive in the ground, the position of the bones shows that something was holding the parts of the body in position while the flesh decayed so that even the small bones of the hands and feet were still next to each other and had not spread apart, as happens when a body is not contained. Most burials were deposited individually in a parish burial ground, usually in an approximately west–east orientation. In general there is little archaeologically to distinguish the majority of post-Reformation burials from the sixteenth and seventeenth century from the majority of pre-Reformation ones. Historical evidence can be informative in the absence of datable inclusions or coffin furniture, especially given complex intercutting and redeposition that characterises the stratigraphy of most parish burial grounds. We know from historical records, for example, that the New Churchyard at Broadgate, London, was established in 1569 to cope with the surfeit of bodies requiring burial following the great population rise of the sixteenth century (Dyson et al. 1987). The plague outbreak of 1563 was important as well as concerns that a similar outbreak would overwhelm the city’s already overstretched burial capacity. Before any burials took place there the ground level was raised by bringing all waste and spoil from the excavation of foundations and cellars across London to make up sufficient depth to bury the dead unobtrusively (Hunting 1991; Harding 2002). The earliest period of use for this ground saw relatively few burials. Like late medieval ones, they were uncoffined. From the later sixteenth or early seventeenth century there were, unusually in Britain at this time, collective burial pits containing remains of between four and sixteen individuals. These might relate to outbreaks of plague in 1593 or 1603, or they might have been for the very poor. About half the individuals in these pit 105

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland burials were under the age of seventeen, the group that epidemiologically was most likely to succumb to plague because it was less likely to have built up immunities. Excavators suggest that the new ground was not very popular in its first decades (Dyson et al. 1987; Hunting 1991). Established Londoners probably preferred to be buried with their families in older parish grounds so isolated interments of the first phase of burial and pit burials of the second might represent poor recent immigrants to the city without a claim on any local parish graveyard. Those parishes with little space in their churchyards preferentially interred poorer residents, especially servants, strangers and foundlings, in the New Churchyard (Harding 2002: 96–7). The bodies of prisoners from Newgate and suicides were also buried in the New Churchyard (2002: 96). But the New Churchyard seems to have been unusual in a number of respects. In other burial grounds of this period the normative burial is a single interment, probably coffined, in an individual grave in a west–east alignment. The Reformation’s effect was more radical in the archaeologically invisible aspects of liturgy than in the actual material practices of death. Gittings (1999: 153) considers that post-Reformation Protestant funerals were more social than religious occasions. She notes that the English funeral service was much shortened in the sixteenth century, a trend that culminated in 1644 when the Directory for the Publique Worship of God specified that funerals should be short and that no minister need be present. However, it noted that “civil respects and differences . . . suitable to the rank of the . . . deceased” should still be observed. The Reformation had a more pronounced effect on the funeral in Scotland where even the customary places of burial beneath the floor of the kirk were declared out of bounds. However, in terms of the material treatment of the corpse, the Reformation had at first little effect in most of Britain. Despite the trend towards simplification in funerary liturgy, the amount of care and money spent on the preparation and disposal of the average dead body showed, if anything, a slight increase after the Reformation. The use of coffins, usually the preserve of the well-to-do and elite clergy in the late medieval period (Gilchrist and Sloane 2005), became widespread and normative in many parts of Britain, even for burials of the poor. Two mid-seventeenth-century cemeteries recently excavated by Oxford Archaeology in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, suggest that in that area coffin burial was normal for ordinary people by the time of the Interregnum. One cemetery at Abingdon was excavated to reveal twenty-six individuals, buried in three neat rows, most graves having nails or stains indicating that they had been buried in coffins (Norton et al. 2005). This is all the more remarkable if, as the excavators surmise from the restricted age profile, the pathology and absence of either intercutting or grave markers, the cemetery represents the burial of the victims of an epidemic of a lethal infectious disease. Even if the bodies of those buried at Abingdon were unpleasant to look at or smell and were contaminated with disease, their relatives and friends were careful to lay them out, coffin them and inter them singly instead of piling corpses into a pit. In fact, Harding says that even in London the number and use of ‘plague 106

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Figure 4.1. A pamphlet of 1641 contrasts London’s charity with the country’s cruelty. The decent treatment of the plague dead in the city includes burial in single graves, in draped coffins carried by bearers and followed by mourners carrying sprigs of rosemary. The (grossly unfair) caricature of rural plague burial shows the dead dragged (by a rope around the ankles in one case) to mass burial pits still clad in their everyday clothes. None of the ceremony of normal, decent burial attends them and they are unaccompanied by any mourner. From London’s Lamentation (1641). pits’ in the early modern period had been exaggerated in London folklore. Most sixteenth- and seventeenth-century plague dead were accommodated in parish burial grounds, usually in single graves. Vanessa Harding’s (1994) examination of parish records of St Bride’s in London, not a wealthy part of town, shows that in the mid-seventeenth century even burials at parish expense were generally provided with individual coffins; only the great volume of plague deaths caused the vestry to suspend this practice for a few months in 1665. At the height of plague mortality, in the late summer and autumn of 1665, mass graves were used, but these were overwhelmingly dug within parish churchyards, and the dead were individually shrouded. There were only a couple of overflow burial grounds – most famously the New Churchyard, founded in the sixteenth century, for which we have archaeological evidence, and Bunhill Fields, enclosed during the great plague. Only Bunhill Fields fits the mould of unconsecrated waste-ground for mass pit burials. In September 1665, when plague deaths were at their peak, the city ordered the keeper of the New Churchyard to dig single graves, and later records confirm that he did so. A woodcut of 1641 depicts ‘London’s Charitie’ using an image of a plague victim carried to his grave on men’s shoulders in a draped 107

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland coffin towards a churchyard where single graves have been prepared (Figure 4.1). The coffin is followed by well-dressed mourners carrying sprigs of rosemary. By contrast, ‘the countries crueltie’ is shown in the practice of dragging the bodies of the dead, still dressed in the clothes they died in, on sleds towards an open pit (London’s Lamentation p. 151). This obviously propagandist volume is unfair to rural populations who, evidence suggests, took equal care in the disposal of plague dead. Whatever the truth of the comparative merits of London and the provinces (an argument that goes on to this day), the desire to see the dead body treated ‘decently’ was sufficient to overcome an aversion to touching a diseased corpse and anxieties about one’s own health in order to wash, groom and dress the body and to invest time and energy making a single grave, even at times of great stress. Even in cases where constructing individual coffins was not possible because of poverty, difficulty in obtaining materials or inability, during epidemic or famine, to keep up with demand, a reusable parish coffin could be borrowed to convey the body respectably to the grave. These were sturdy coffins in which a body could be conveyed repectably to the graveside and retrieved after the mourners had left. Surviving parish coffins are known from Howden and Easingwold in North Yorkshire (Figure 4.8). The Howden example has lost its lid, but the Easingwold parish coffin, dating to about 1645, is complete, made of oak with ring handles and a lockable lid (Litten 1991: 97–8). At Hemingford Grey, in Cambridgeshire, a late seventeenth-century Quaker cemetery eschewed conventions of west–east burial – still an almost universal custom in Anglican graveyards – but still treated the bodies of the dead with care, dressing them for the grave in lace-up shrouds of the nightdress variety, attested by the presence of copper alloy aglets (lace-ends) in coffined burials (McNichol et al. 2007). The large number of shroud pins recovered from the site suggest that all sixteen of the bodies had been interred in elaborate, tailored shifts pinned into place. The place of the body was important not only in relation to the sacred geography of an area but also in relation to its social geography. Unlike some earlier medieval cemeteries, burial places of the post-medieval period do not often exhibit spatial segregation by age; only rarely are children (beyond neonates) allocated a particular zone (although a particular part of the nave of Llangar Church, Merionethshire, appears to have been kept for the burial of young children) (Shoesmith 1980b: 90), and a similar reserved area for babies and pre-term infants was found in East Kirk of St Nicholas, Aberdeen (Cameron 2007). The cluster of infant burials at Tintagel (Figure 2.6) might be an informal burial ground for stillborn and neonatal interments in the same tradition as the Irish cill´ıni (Nowakowski and Thomas 1992). For individuals the greatest predictor of burial location is the presence of ancestors or family members. Family burial plots or vaults are located according, broadly, to wealth and status, the most prestigious places being the most expensive. Again, there is no theological reason why a person’s body should be laid close to those of their dead forebears, but in the post-Reformation centuries most British people wanted their bodies to lie with those of their family. Vaults were usually constructed for a single family’s use, and where coffin plates survive it is 108

Social Belief sometimes possible to see family relationships between individuals in a grave. Two coffins stacked on top of each other in the south transept of St Paul’s Cathedral, for example, proved to be those of Lawrence Spencer, Clerk of Works during the construction of the cathedral, and his son, also called Lawrence. They died within five months of each other in 1719–1720 (Wroe-Brown 2001: 18). Where wills specify the testator’s wishes in respect to his or her body, they allude more frequently to burial with family than to anything else. Sometimes difficult and expensive, reburials were undertaken to bring ‘home’ family members who had died far away. Archaeologically attested cases include examples from Haddington and Derby Cathedral. In 1638, for example, the Bishop of London issued a licence for exhuming the body of George Manners who died in London while receiving medical treatment and had been buried as a stranger at St Martin in the Fields parish church. His family in Derbyshire did not hear about his death until after the burial had already taken place and requested that his body be moved to the family burial place at Bakewell Parish Church, “where the Auncestors of the said deceased and of his said father have been interred” (Rice 1884, citing the Act Book, Vicar General of the Consistory Court, London, number 15, fo.45). To be not just commemorated but physically buried in the same place as one’s ancestors was considered the appropriate thing by church authorities, who mention no other reasons for disinterring George Manners’s body, as well as by families. Eventual interment in the family vault was clearly a preference for families wealthy enough to have one, even if it had to be achieved through including symbolic body parts, such as the head of Thomas More in the family vault of his son-in-law (the rest of his body was interred at St Peter ad vincula after his execution). Two kinds of social belief affected burial location: beliefs about status, which were played out through an emphasis on propriety, honesty and, as Houlbrooke (1999) notes, a ubiquitous desire for ‘decency’. The second set of relevant social values relates to personal and emotional relationships. Love and affection, and consequently grief and desolation at bereavement, acquired greater cultural importance over this period. At a death, emotional relationships were marked both in the form and wording of commemoration and in the location of the burial, as emotional proximity in life was extended and symbolically reproduced by spatial proximity in death. The significance of emotion in the social treatment of the body will be discussed in more detail later in this chapter.

Massacred, Murdered, Drowned: Disposal after a Bad Death The conventions of normative ‘decent’ burial are noticeable by their absence or inversion in the few examples we know of non-criminal abnormal burials, such as the treatment of enemies during war. Two mass graves, containing six and nine individuals, and another single burial excavated at Carrickmines Castle near Dublin, probably contain remains of the victims of a massacre of Irish people carried out by the English at the castle in 1642 (O’Byrne 2003; Fibiger 2004). The remains include a high number of females and children, many bearing marks of violent 109

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland injury. Their bodies have not been laid out carefully, as is known from other mass graves containing the victims of disease but piled into pits that were shallower than a normal grave. The death of the people in these pits relates to the final taking of the castle by the English army “with great fury putting all to the sword, sparing neither Man, Woman or Child” (Borlase 1680, cited by O’Byrne 2003). The burials are not coffined or aligned west–east, as is conventional. They are not allocated single graves or laid out in the customary position (supine, with hands either on the pelvis, by the sides or crossed over the chest); indeed at Carrickmines one burial was face-down. The disposal of ‘enemies’ at Carrickmines contrasts with the disposal of ‘friends’ in comparable situations. Recent excavations at York barbican uncovered a series of mass graves dug through the demolition layers of a church, in which numerous bodies had been laid carefully on their backs or sides (Figure 4.2). The skeletons were all young men and fit the profile of a military cohort. However, the absence of peri-mortal trauma makes it unlikely that these individuals were killed in battle. Instead Andrew Chamberlain has suggested that they belonged to an army involved in the siege of York during the English Civil War. Under siege conditions, epidemic disease is prevalent among both besieged and besieging troops, and it is possible that the individuals buried at York barbican were victims of an epidemic (Chamberlain, pers. com.). The unexpected discovery of the late sixteenth- or early seventeenth-century burial of an adult male at the site of a Roman villa in Hampshire is probably a rare example of the archaeological excavation of a clandestine interment – possibly that of a murder victim (Fitzpatrick and Laidlaw 2001). Unsurprisingly, such discoveries are not often made; isolated burials outside of recognised cemeteries are unlikely to be archaeologically excavated. This man, of about 30–45, was buried in a shallow grave, at least partially clothed. Coins found with the body provide a terminus post quem of 1594 but were still in circulation in the 1620s. The fact that the coins were still with the body suggests that he was not killed for the purpose of robbery; the excavators surmise that his death was most likely either a personal murder or the result of some virulent disease which prevented the living from wanting to prepare the body for burial or inter it near places of ordinary habitation (Fitzpatrick and Laidlaw 2001: 227). However, Harding (1994) has shown even plague burials were normally shrouded and often coffined, so this would not be normal treatment. Less well recorded is the recovery of part of the skeleton of a young man in the winter of 1902–1903 during construction of a basement area at Shrewsbury station (Southam 1903). This isolated burial was (possibly) associated with an Elizabethan coin and early modern artefacts including a bronze bodkin and knife blade. The isolated nature of the burial and traces of lime that accompanied it made its excavator suspect that this young man might have been illicitly buried, probably in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century. However, from the brief report there is no clear reason to believe that the bones were post-medieval in date. Better evidence of murder comes from post-medieval bodies recovered from peat bogs. At Quintfall Hill near Wick in Caithness the fully clothed remains of an adult man were found lying face-down in a peat bog in 1920 (Orr 1921: 213). From the few coins on his body, his death dated to sometime after 1694. His skull had been broken at the back 110

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Figure 4.2. A mass grave from York Barbican. One of ten pits containing 110 individuals in total, this mid-seventeenth-century burial probably dates to the siege of York during the English Civil War. All the bodies were young adult men, but they lack the perimortal trauma which one would expect to see if they had died in battle. Andrew Chamberlain suggests that they might be the victims of epidemic disease, common in siege situations. Photograph courtesy of On-Site Archaeology. from a heavy blow. It is reasonable to suppose that his body was concealed in the bog after his violent death. Turner (1995: 117) mentions another body at Arnish Moor, Lewis, of about the same period, also a young man who had suffered blows to the head. The bodies of shipwreck victims were often doubly inauspicious. Not only had they died a bad death, otherwise healthy and young people cut off before their time (it is interesting to note that the bodies of the drowned are sometimes offered as alternatives to the bodies of hanged criminals in folk medicine), but they were also often strangers whose bodies appeared on unfamiliar shores, with decay often already underway. Given that their names, religious identities and nationalities were often unknown, the drowned bodies of strangers were not necessarily buried in the usual parish graveyard. The remains of four individuals were discovered in a single grave at Croyde Bay, Devon, in the early twentieth century (Young 1908: 260–3). They had been laid in the grave at the same time, their bodies slightly overlapping. Two more burials were found nearby in 1996 (Bayer 1996) and a seventh one in 1998 (Gent 1998). The two burials found in 1996 were laid in the same grave, and buttons and a boot buckle found with the bodies suggest a sixteenth-century date (Gent 1998: 1). Sand deposits around the lower legs of 111

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland the 1998 skeleton are likely to be beach sand held in some form of boot. This suggests that the bodies might have been taken directly from the beach to be buried immediately on the adjacent headland; certainly the presence of buttons suggests that they were buried in the clothes they were wearing. These bodies, therefore, are almost certainly those of drowned sailors. Their north–south orientation and the location of the burials outside consecrated ground probably mean that those responsible for their burial believed them to be outsiders. The same may be true of another group of burials around One Gun Point, near Dartmouth Castle, also in Devon (Freeman 1985). A number of burials have been found over the years along a short strip of coast, and a particular concentration of burials was excavated in 1985. Of the seven burials excavated, three were male, the rest indeterminate. Three were orientated SE/NW; the others SW/NE. Their exclusion from the nearby St Petrox churchyard seems deliberate, and notes in the parish registers of 1676 point to these being the bodies of drowned sailors or foreign sailors who had died in or near Dartmouth. The exclusion of bodies of the drowned from normal parish burial grounds, and the unusual powers ascribed to drowned bodies in folkloric belief, indicate their exceptional status. In the case of a group of twelve coffined post-medieval burials discovered in a Shetland peat bog in 1886 (Turner 1995: 117), the decision to put the probable shipwreck victims in a powerful, liminal location (the bog) might have been carefully considered. Another group of probable shipwreck victims were interred in the dunes at Braigh, Aignish, on the Isle of Lewis (McCullagh and McCormick 1991; Figure 4.3).

Elite Burials Historical archaeologists occasionally advance for their discipline the claim that the study of material practice can reveal the lives of ordinary people, the poor, the illiterate and those excluded by their gender, race or class from written histories. Material culture, they claim, was produced and consumed by all sections of society and does not lie, omit or misrepresent like written texts. By contrast, this argument runs, normal history depends on the study of written texts which were produced by members of privileged groups – wealthy, upper-class males of European descent – and therefore gives a partial account. Unfortunately the contrast between written and material sources of evidence does not really withstand much examination. It would be more true to say that both written and material sources of evidence are partial and interested. Both kinds of evidence are produced by people under particular historical circumstances. In both cases, the productions of the wealthy and socially privileged were more numerous and more likely to survive into the present than those of poor and subaltern groups. In the case of funerary practices, for example, those who could afford lead-lined coffins, vault burial and a permanent memorial are more likely to have left significant traces for study by present-day scholars than those interred in plain coffins or no coffins at all, in unmarked graves in churchyards. Therefore archaeologists, as well as historians, have a disproportionate amount of information about the elite. Because elite burials were often 112

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Figure 4.3. The burial of drowned bodies close to the shore at Braigh, Aignish on the Isle of Lewis. These burials differ from normal burials not only in their location, far outside the parish graveyard, but also in their lack of west–east orientation, in the deposition of two or three bodies in each grave and because the bodies were not prepared for burial in any way. They seem to have been wearing the clothes in which they died, including coins and other small objects in their pockets. Plan drawn by Debbie Miles-Williams from McCullagh and McCormick 1991.


Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland accompanied by memorial inscriptions on monuments and/or coffin plates, it is more likely that archaeologists will be able to relate written sources to particular burials in the case of high-status individuals than of common people. Although elite burials were not the most frequently occurring type of interment in early modern Britain and Ireland, they provide some of the best evidence, both textual and archaeological, because they are more recognisable and datable in archaeological contexts. It was important for people in the recent past both to mark the end of a socially significant life and to mitigate any potential rupture in the normal order through controlled and ostentatious funerary practices (Llewellyn 1991). When those at the top of the social pyramid died there were major political implications. Royal succession was often contested in the early modern period when the religious and political climate of the nation depended on the monarch’s own views. The royal body was subject to great ritual elaboration which both legitimated a line of succession and denied the break in continuity occasioned by an individual death. Kantorowicz’s (1957) theory of ‘the king’s two bodies’, although developed for a medieval historical context, also works in the early modern period. For Kantorowicz, the continuity of the office of king survives the death of the individual by the perpetuity of a ‘royal body’, a transcendent social body not coterminous with the biological life of any single individual. The traditional proclamation “The King is dead. Long live the King” affirms the perpetuation of kingly office. Llewellyn (1991) has also pointed to the use of an effigial body to ease the time of transition. In the case of early modern royal funerals the effigy, rather than the natural body, was normally the centre of funerary attention: it was the royal effigy, not the biological body, which lay in state and was given a full state funeral. The deployment of effigies, like the embalming of the royal body, was aimed at denying the dead body’s changes, specifically its decay. Nigel Llewellyn (1991: 54) observes: After death the natural body was accorded a programme of treatment, but even here the objective of the ritual was the survival and re-presentation of the social body rather than the conservation of the natural body per se. In order that the burial could effectively mark transition – the points between death and life, horizontal and vertical, above and below the earth – the body could not simply be left to the bacteria . . . One of the most important aims of the funeral . . . was the preservation of social cohesion and the denial that any one individual death presented an irreparable threat to continuity. The construction of an effigy, or at least of a convincing wax mask of the face, was necessary so that a lifelike version of the actual body could be seen, unmarred, at the funeral. Effigies were skillfully constructed, life-sized images made with a wooden armature built up with straw, plaster or sacking with detailed heads and hands made from wood or wax attached to give a naturalistic (although idealised) effect. The effigy of Elizabeth I made for her funeral in 1603 cost £50 – a considerable sum. Highly naturalistic effigies were prepared for the funerals of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and for most royal deaths of the early modern period, some of which are still 114

Social Belief visible at Westminster Abbey. Nigel Llewellyn describes an effigy prepared for the funeral of Henry, Prince of Wales, in 1612 which had moving arms and legs (Llewellyn 1992: 55). As well as the funerary effigy, the elite body’s likeness was often reproduced in art or sculpture, giving rise to a genre of deathbed portraiture, and busts, casts and images modelled from the new corpse. The preservation of an idealised ‘body’ after death in the form first of the effigy and then of a ‘monumental body’ (a memorial) challenged the democratic uniformity of death. If the bodily event of death treated rich and poor alike, it reduced the powerful to the same status as the lowest in society. The death of great men and women also left a hole in the fabric of social power which required ideological darning. The social order was threatened by death, writes Llewellyn, and therefore the artificial body was in some ways charged with the task of re-establishing social difference (Llewellyn 1992: 104). Far more common than the creation of effigies in the early modern period, however, were attempts to preserve the integrity and distinctiveness of the physical body. Preserving the corpse by embalming and lead coffins has already been discussed in Chapter 3. There was great interest among men of science in preserved bodies from antiquity, particularly mummified bodies of ancient Egypt and naturally mummified bodies known from various parts of the world. Most of Greenhill’s Art of Embalming (1705) is actually a discussion of Egyptian mummies, and mummies are frequently mentioned as comparanda in accounts of preserved bodies. Exposure of the body to dry air was seen as a significant factor in preservation, as was the fact that burial in soil or damp conditions was inimical to it. The desire for his body to be securely preserved led London surgeon Francis Douce to plan, site and construct an elaborate pyramid during his lifetime to contain his remains (Craske 2000). The pyramid kept his body out of the earth, allowed the air to move around it, separated the bodies of Douce and his wife from those of the common people and spared them the indignity of being disturbed, redeposited, mixed up or pushed aside in the scramble for burial plots in crowded churchyards. Construction of a family mausoleum was beyond the means of most people. But many gentry families were able to accomplish most of what Francis Douce did by constructing a burial vault at their parish church. The burial place of the Sibthorpe family below the floor of the northeast chapel at St Mark’s, Lincoln contained the lead coffins of four family members, enclosed within a brick-built vault which separated them from other inhumations (Gilmour and Stocker 1986: 30). Burial in a vault afforded a degree of privacy and security for the dead body and excluded the possibility of sharing a grave with strangers.

The Elite Body: Oliver Cromwell The story of Oliver Cromwell’s body after his death makes a useful case study of the way in which the dead body in early modern Britain was indexical of social position and political standing. Both the high office he held at the time of his death and his subsequent demonisation as a culpable regicide were symbolically 115

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland represented upon his dead body, the first in the care with which the body was prepared and artificially reproduced and the second in the subsequent disinterment and beheading of the corpse and the public display of his head (Figure 4.4). The post-mortem treatment of Oliver Cromwell’s body was exactly the same as the treatment of the body of a king. On the 3rd September 1658 Oliver Cromwell, Protector of the Commonwealth, died at the age of 59. After his death, his body was embalmed. In accord with surgical treatises of the mid- to late seventeenth century, internal organs were removed, including the brain which was accessed by sawing off the cap of the cranium. The skull cavity was then filled with “powder and tow”, the top of the skull replaced and the scalp sewn together over it all (Pearson and Morant 1935: 7). Cromwell’s brain was noted to weigh an enormous six and a quarter pounds. The average human adult brain weighs about three pounds, so even using Troy measures with twelve ounces to the pound, Cromwell’s brain would be quite remarkable (Pearson and Morant 1935: 8). At a time when character was held to depend on physiological make-up, and in particular of the balance in the body between the secretions of key organs according to the theories of Hippocrates and Galen, the power and health of those organs might be apparent in the behaviour of the individual in life. At the same time, the brain also had its modern meaning as the place of understanding, and therefore a large brain also had its modern association with great intelligence. Thirty-three years earlier, the fact that King James’s brain was so large had been taken as “a marke of his infinite judgement” (Nichols 1828: 1037 cited in Pearson and Morant 1935: 29). After the post-mortem examination and the skilful embalming of Cromwell’s body, the corpse was taken by night with some ceremony to Somerset House where lying in state took place (Firth 1923: 444). What was laid out for public display, however, was not the actual body but an effigy; the coffin carrying his remains stayed under the table. The effigy had a wax face moulded by an expert artist, Thomas Symond, engraver to the Mint, and a wooden body made by a man called Philips, carver to the House. According to the Mercurius Politicus (a public journal): the effigies [sic, passim] itself apparelled in a rich suit of uncut velvet, being robed first in a kirtle robe of purple velvet, laced with a rich gold lace and furred with ermins, upon the kirtle is the royal large robe of the like purple velvet laced, and furred with ermins, with rich strings, and tassels of gold; his kirtle is girt with a rich embroidered belt, in which is a fair sword richly gilt, and hatched with gold, hanging by the side of the effigies; in the right hand is the golden scepter representing governement; in his left hand is held the globe, representing principality; upon his head the cap of regality of purple velvet, furred with ermins. Behind the head is a rich chair of estate of cloth of gold tissued; upon the cushion of the chair stands the imperial crown set with stones. The whole effigies lies upon a bed covered with a large pall of black velvet, under which is a fine Holland sheet upon six stools of cloth of gold tissued; by the sides of the bed of state lies a rich suit of compleat armour representing his command as General; at the feet of the effigies stands his crest, as is usual in all ancient monuments. 116

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Figure 4.4. The ‘Wilkinson head’, established by Pearson and Morant (1935) to be the head of Oliver Cromwell. This head was embalmed, buried, disinterred, removed from its body, displayed on a spike, curated by a supporter, sold, exhibited as a curiosity, inherited as a family heirloom, examined by scientists and finally re-interred (or immured) at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. Image from Pearson and Morant (1935).

Cromwell’s highly ornamental effigial body tells us much about attitudes to the self and the body in the late seventeenth century. Etiquette manuals in the early modern period show that sumptuous dress for the aristocracy was not considered effeminate, vain or suspicious but appropriate to the rank and social position of the person (Scholz 2000: 18). Sumptuary laws restricting the purchase and deployment of material goods which flourished in the late medieval period continued to be passed into the seventeenth century, still with the aim of ensuring that clothing corresponded to the status of the body it covered. Scholz (2000: 39) has discussed the way the body in the sixteenth and seventeenth century needed to be moulded ‘as an index of one’s social self ’, a process which could involve ‘a high degree of theatricality’. Both the use of the body as a medium for establishing social position and the theatricality to which Scholz refers are evident in Cromwell’s laying out. Adorning the body’s surface was necessary to make visible that which was interior to the self: the body’s plastic exterior was in the service of its 117

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland un-mouldable interior. This is generally considered to be a Renaissance concept of self and body, contrasted with a Protestant self where the interior is mouldable (Scholz 2000: 55–6), an autonomous and authentic being talking directly with God in place of the courtly self created through social discourses. But in the case of Cromwell we see a Puritan body employing the conventions of the microcosmic, courtly, exterior body which differed little from the Renaissance bodies of an earlier age and dressed according to the prescriptions of Tudor sumptuary law. Cromwell’s body was buried quietly at Westminster Abbey; preparations for the funeral continued. At some point lying in state was replaced by a standing in state – probably another effigy altogether. Although he died on September 3rd, his state funeral did not take place until November 23rd, postponed from November 9th. At the funeral the effigy was shown standing to the guests, then laid flat on a chariot to be taken to the funeral at Westminster. The effigy was placed at the centre of an elaborate structure which was processed to the funeral followed by 9000 mourners. Only the effigy, not the body itself which had already been buried, was used at the proper funeral. One critic published a pamphlet that year called “A Testimony against a great Idolatry committed: and a true Mourning of the Lord’s Servant – upon the occasion of that great stir about an image made and conveyed from one place to another, happening the 23 day of the ninth month” (Burrough 1658): proof, if needed, that beliefs about the significance of the funerary ritual were not shared by everyone. After the funeral the effigy was, according to one source, set up above the burial place of the body. What happened to the recumbent effigy after lying in state is not known, but the destruction of two effigies of Cromwell, one by burning and one by hanging and riot, is recorded in May and June 1660 at the time of Charles II’s restoration to the throne. The capacity of the effigy to signify the person could make it the object of vilification as much as of honour. The fate of Cromwell’s actual body is equally salutary. Following the restoration of the monarchy Cromwell and a number of others who had played significant roles in the trial and execution of Charles I were tried and convicted of regicide. In the case of Cromwell and some others for whom the verdict was also posthumous, the sentence of beheading (normal in cases of treason) was to be carried out on the disinterred dead body. Accordingly, in 1661 the bodies of Oliver Cromwell, Henry Ireton and John Bradshaw were disinterred and dragged on sleds to Tyburn where they were hanged and then beheaded, a great public spectacle. After the beheadings, the bodies were buried in a pit at Tyburn (significantly, they were denied burial in holy ground), and the heads were displayed on wooden poles above the south end of Westminster Hall. The subsequent history of Cromwell’s head, as it was traded, exchanged, displayed, studied and finally reinterred is a reflection of changing beliefs about the human body and its parts that has been studied elsewhere (Pearson and Morant 1935; Tarlow 2008). As an elite body, the ostentatious and multiple attempts to replace or prolong the bodily integrity of Cromwell’s personhood are informed by the same social beliefs that made it natural to try to obliterate him by disintegrating both his actual body and its effigial replacements. 118

Social Belief For the majority of people in early modern Britain and Ireland, even the titled aristocracy, the actual biological body, rather than an artificial effigy, was the focus of funerary attention, but the body was modified from its natural state. High-status individuals frequently had their bodies embalmed after death, partly because an unembalmed body would not survive the long interval between death and funeral which was required when elaborate obsequies needed to be arranged, and partly also because the individuation of the elite body survived the moment of death. That is to say, the personhood of elite individuals outlived their biological body. But in the early modern period, the association between person and body was so strong that post-mortem changes to the body constituted a threat to that personhood. Thus the body’s decay was an insult to the person of the deceased and, in an age when bodily integrity was highly valued and the orifices of the body were well policed, to leak or smell was an affront to one’s personal dignity. When people died far from their intended place of interment, the body might be embalmed before undergoing a long journey. Where this was impractical, the continental practice of embalming and transporting only the heart might be chosen. Throughout the period, preservation of the heart was a matter of particular importance for some elite families. Guibert (1639: 146) recommends that the heart be embalmed separately from the rest of the body, sewn into a little bag of cerecloth and then put into a case of lead, silver or pewter “fashioned in the forme of a Heart, and carry it whither you please”. His contemporary and countryman, Ambroise Par´e, also directs that the heart should not be disposed of with other internal organs removed when the body is embalmed, but “kept apart, that it may be embalmed and kept as the kinsfolkes shall thinke fit” (Par´e 1678). This allows for the heart to be buried in a different location to the rest of the body if necessary. Body parts, says Bradford (1933), were meaningful and spiritual and their placement a matter of considerable concern. In the case of people of great social or spiritual distinction, a single corpse might not suffice to grace all institutions which had a claim to it nor to fulfil the spiritual hopes of the deceased. In those cases, the division and preservation of the corpse was a solution that enabled burial to occur at multiple locations. The earliest example known to Bradford is a heart burial at Anjou in France in 1117. Throughout the later Middle Ages, the hearts of noble crusaders killed while fighting were embalmed and returned to northern Europe for burial. The number of individual cases of heart burial listed by Bradford (1933) is a very small, vanishing, proportion of the population as a whole, but individuals who had heart burial were of high social standing. For the Habsburgs, for example, it was routine (Weiss-Krejci 2001). Case histories recounted by Bradford are nearly all aristocratic or celebrated military or cultural figures. The following table demonstrates that the numbers of heart burials reached a peak in the seventeenth century. The practice was most popular with French and German aristocrats but was also adopted by some British and Irish individuals. Bradford (1933) says that heart burial had its roots in the medieval practices of burial ‘ad sanctos’, whereby a burial place close to the remains of a saint gave spiritual advantage, and from the Catholic practice of venerating and conserving saints’ relics. 119

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland Heart burials, twelfth to early-twentieth century


Approximate number of heart burials (from Bradford 1933)

Twelfth Thirteenth Fourteenth Fifteenth Sixteenth Seventeenth Eighteenth Nineteenth Early twentieth

fewer than 20 80 70 50 130 190 120 40 about 5

In 1299, Pope Boniface VIII prohibited the custom of dividing and transporting the body for burial (Bradford 1933:47). Park (1995) has argued that Pope Boniface’s distaste for what he saw as a German custom (modus Teutonicus) of burial is typically Italian. Park notes a difference between northern European attitudes to the corpse and Italian ones in the late Middle Ages, suggesting that for northern Europeans much more social and emotional meaning was invested in the new corpse than in Italy, where death was a radical moment of separation of soul and body. In addition to hearts, the other internal organs might be embalmed separately from the rest of the body. The Cavendish vault at Derby Cathedral housed two drums containing the embalmed entrails of two unknown people who died in the seventeenth century (Butler and Morris 1994), and the coffin of Charles Lethieullier, who died in 1737, contained a viscera chest which on opening in 1984 was found to contain internal organs including the heart packed in aromatic bran (Litten 1991: 54).

Arms and the Early Modern Man Contemporary studies of the individual proceed from Jakob Burckhardt’s contention that the modern self was born in the Renaissance and was characterised, above all, by his (and the self was always gendered masculine) individuality, a point outlined in Chapter 1. In contrast to the medieval self, understood as a member of groups, the modern individual was, says Burckhardt, autonomous and singular. Davis (1986), in a study of concepts of the self in sixteenth-century France, rejected Burckhardt’s contention that the individual was understood as a wholly atomised, independent unit. She found that explorations of self continued to be made in relation to groups throughout the sixteenth century, especially in terms of family and lineage. This is equally true of British evidence from contexts of disposal and commemoration. Despite some rhetoric of the time that demonstrates a self-conscious awareness, as Greenblatt (1980: 6–7) has noted, of the ways in which identities could be created, the self was never truly severed from its familial and 120

Social Belief social context – it was always relational. Moreover, conceptions of the self differed according to the context – or the tradition of discourse – in which the assertion was made. There is thus, Greenblatt himself continues (1980: 8), no such thing as a single ‘history of the self ’ in the sixteenth century, except as the product of our need to reduce the intricacies of complex and creative beings to safe and controlled order. The desire to reduce the study of humankind to safe and controlled order, however, is not ours alone; throughout the early modern and modern period, this goal was pursued through particular approaches to the human body. The control of social order was attempted through differential treatment of the body during life and after death. Although the discourses of theology and science were often in contradiction with social desires about the significance and function of the body, social status was nevertheless enacted through, among other things, the adornment and presentation of the body. The living body in the early modern period was an indicator both of the inner self, in a Burckhardtian way, and of social role. In fact, these two things were closely related; the quality of the inner self legitimated social position, but that quality had to be signalled in a way that was legible to peers which usually meant, among other things, that the appearance and bearing of the body should conform to cultural expectations. Its exterior could be adorned and shaped to demonstrate the qualities of both these aspects of personhood. ‘Decency’ and modesty in dress were indexical of moral value. The deportment of the body in terms of manner and gesture could also reveal personal worth. The construction of self by attention to exteriority did not cease at death. After death, the self could be constituted and managed through the manipulation of the body itself, and of material culture, as it had been in life. Being an aristocrat or a gentleman, for example (but not an arbitrary example), involved being constructed through the use of arms, initials, colours, devices, dress and so on. These identities, however, draw more upon a stereotypically medieval kind of self, constructed through role, pedigree and social position, than upon a modern one based on interior attributes of character. The subject of the heraldic funeral was rarely distinguished by any personal characteristic; instead, says Gittings (1999: 159), heraldic funerals “reflected a traditional view of society in which one person is replaceable by another of the same rank, with little sense of human individuality”. This sounds like Burckhardt’s medieval person (and Burckhardt, of course, derived his evidence from just such strata of society), and the later seventeenth and particularly eighteenth centuries were periods of increasing dissatisfaction with that kind of funeral. Commemoration in the early modern period drew upon both this medieval kind of constructed self and, increasingly, a modern one based on interior worthiness. Although nearly all medieval commemorative monuments display the arms of the person commemorated (commemoration being almost exclusively reserved to those who had the right to bear arms), early modern monuments exhibited both arms and discursive inscriptions detailing moral virtues of the deceased. Heraldic arms, to the heraldically literate, could be interpreted to show family lineage and 121

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland affiliation in some detail; the very possession of arms indicated high social rank even to those ignorant of the full meaning of the emblems and their arrangement. In the post-Reformation period, however, a number of newly distinguished and newly propertied families who had acquired their status and estates from the redistribution of confiscated monastic properties were granted or took heraldic arms. Often links with older and more established local aristocratic families were emphasised through arms. In these cases the use of arms at funerals and in permanent commemorative monuments inside local churches and cathedrals had a clearly legitimatory function. Before death, symbols of status such as arms, emblems and initials were deployed upon the body itself but also extended beyond the body to ornament buildings and objects by referencing the self. The proliferation of naturalistic portraits, busts and statues in this period obviously and mimetically expressed personhood. They were also safe from the changes and dishonours of bodily death (Burke 1997: 24). Arms, as the cipher of a socially constituted person, would ensure the recognition of a person even after physical identification had been made impossible by decay. As the body with its unique face rots away, it is transformed into a skeleton, indistinguishable to most of us from other skeletons. Arms and memorial stones act as a second line defence against the descent into anonymity after primary efforts to preserve the body have failed. The appearance of coats of arms on coffins is not infrequent in early modern elite burials; The Maynard vault at Little Easton, Essex, contains a coffin from the 1660s with elaborate appliqu´ed coats of arms (Litten 1991: 96). In Scotland the coffin could be covered with a ‘mort cloth’ for the funeral procession (Gregor 1881: 212). This might be a parish-owned piece of decorative fabric or, for the elite, a highly elaborate, individualised part of the funerary furnishings. Traces of fabric found in association with coffins at the White Kirk, Comrie, Perthshire, were interpreted by excavators as parts of the mort cloth that had been interred with the coffin and left to decay in situ (Cachart and Cox 2001). That personal identity survives death is also evident in the increasing use of the name plate (often called a depositum plate) attached to the top of the coffin. These plates usually record the name and date of death of the individual inside the coffin. The short inscription is often embellished with floral decoration, as in the case of Mary Manby’s coffin plate from St Martin-at-Palace, Norwich (Beazley and Ayers 2001: 34), or, especially in the eighteenth century, elaborate funereal motifs (Figure 4.5). Sometimes they also note the person’s age and other information too, such as a spouse’s name, as appears on the depositum plate of Judith Davison (d. 1685) from St Benet Sherehog, London (Miles and White 2008: 58, 63). Depositum plates are known from some medieval burials, including a couple from the late fifteenth to early sixteenth centuries from St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury (Gilchrist and Sloane 2005: 120). Such plates were unusual before the seventeenth century but were extremely widespread by the early nineteenth, even for relatively humble interments. From the seventeenth century, good quality coffins were sometimes decorated with brass studs forming the initials and death date of the person interred (Figure 4.6). Two examples from Llangar church in Wales are labelled EH 1687 and IO 1688 (1980b: 91). The studs served the role of holding on the baize that 122

Social Belief

Figure 4.5. Coffin plate from Mary-le-Port Bristol. Image from Watts and Rahtz (1985), by kind permission of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. covered the coffin but were also used to decorate and individualise the coffin. The function of initials and depositum plates is never discussed and is hard to interpret. It is unlikely that they played a significant part at the time of the funeral and burial because remains were normally kept at home and the coffin only closed 123

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland

Figure 4.6. Studs showing initials and a date from a coffin at the Quaker burial ground at Kingston-upon Thames. Photograph courtesy of Archaeology SouthEast. just before interment so there was little chance that coffins would be muddled up. It is possible that the name plate was intended to ensure that family members who died later could be sure of sharing the right grave, or to help unknown future generations if disinterment and reburial were necessary. A slab excavated from the chapel undercroft at Lincoln’s Inn in London warning gravediggers that they were about to come down on the top of the coffin of Peter Holford who died in 1804 (Ponsford 1992: 96) suggests that thought was sometimes given to protecting interred remains from damage by future burials, but overall there is not much evidence for this concern in the early modern period. Ultimately no utilitarian reasons for the popularity of depositum plates are very convincing. By the mid-eighteenth century, however, their ubiquity demonstrates the importance that people attached to retaining the body’s personal social identity beyond the time of natural death. Unlike commemorative monuments, depositum 124

Social Belief

Figure 4.7. Coffin of John Belasys from the Belasys family vault at Blandford Parish Church, Dorset. The coffin is inscribed: ‘eare lyes John Belasys, sonne of the sayde Ladye Belasyes and Henry her Husband who dyed Sep the 16 1661. Die nativit’. Photograph taken by Rev. Canon Goodall in 1970 and reproduced by kind permission of the Blandford Forum Parish Church. plates would be visible for only a brief period at the funeral itself and were not about perpetuating the memory of a social individual so much as labelling individual remains to enable the attribution of personal identity even after the natural process of decay had removed identifiable characteristics. The growing popularity of depositum plates was contemporary with the spread of labelling in other contexts. Date plaques and carved door lintels became widespread forms of architectural ornamentation – usually also bearing dates and initials. Initials and dates decorated numerous small personal objects such as jewellery and books. In parallel with the early modern vogue for labelling all sorts of things with initials and names, the development of a new attitude towards the body as the location of a highly individualised and unique selfhood gave further impetus towards the use of plates and studs to identify the remains of the deceased (Figure 4.7). Such practices helped counter the threat to identity presented by bodily decay and consequent anonymity. At the funerals of the wealthy and those of high social rank (categories that still closely corresponded in early modern England) the corpse was the centre of elaborately and extensively arranged material culture. Until the late seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth century, funerals of those entitled to bear arms (the aristocratic classes) were controlled and planned by the heralds of the College of Arms (Gittings 1999). The number and rank of mourners were prescribed by custom and supervised by the college rather than by the family. This resulted in funerals where the chief mourners, because of restrictions of sex 125

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland and rank, might have little personal attachment to the deceased. By the same token, the spouse and closest friends of the deceased could be excluded from the funeral altogether. The significance of the funeral was not primarily theological or emotional; rather it was about the controlled succession of secular rank, title and property. Demand for more individualised and emotional rites is evident in the rise of new kinds of funeral among the aristocracy, such as the night funeral, and in rising numbers of personalised commemorative monuments and funeral sermons. Thus, although regulating funerary rites of the higher gentry, nobility and royalty was traditionally the province of the College of Arms, John Weever noted in 1631 the declining involvement of the heralds as the nobleman’s traditional heraldic funeral became less popular. Many nobles who would in the past have had an expensive funeral controlled by the heralds of the College of Arms were now choosing to be buried in fashionable torch lit night funerals with much less elaborate ceremony and fewer attendants. This meant that the bereaved – or even the deceased during their lifetimes – were able to plan more intimate and meaningful funerals with close kin and friends playing larger roles, and with a ceremony and procession that could be shaped to fit the tastes, preferences and characters of the people involved. The reduced role of the heralds, the move away from grand funerals according to prescribed forms and the emphatic rejection of the idea that human individuals were replaceable by effigies and arms did not mean that the funerals of high-status individuals became indistinguishable from those of the common people. Lavish and expensive funerals and funerary material culture helped maintain hierarchical and class roles, even outwith the control of the heralds. As the period progressed, however, the display of cultivated taste and fashionable styles came to be as important as the ostentatious display of wealth per se. By at least the eighteenth century, certain styles of funeral and commemoration could powerfully suggest the taste, education, sensibilities and values that signalled with greater subtlety the membership of a prestigious and desirable social group. Thus the night funeral, for example, demonstrated the emotional sensibility and sophisticated tastes that marked one as a better sort of person. There was a tension in the organisation of funerals and commemoration in the sixteenth and seventeenth century between signalling elite status in the oldfashioned way through deployment of controlled symbols (such as arms) and the modern way of indicating class membership through shared tastes and manners. The antiquarian John Weever, whose 1631 work on funeral monuments is an important source, was a traditionalist: Sepulchres should bee made according to the qualitie and degree of the person deceased, that by the Tombe every one might bee discerned of what ranke hee was living . . . stately sepulchres for base fellowes have always lien open to bitter jests; therefore it was the use and custome of reverend antiquitie, to inter persons of the rusticke or plebeian sort, in Christian buriall, without any further remembrance of them, either by tombe, gravestone, or epitaph (Weever 1631: 10). 126

Social Belief Swimming against the current of what was commonly written on the subject of funerals, Weever justified taking care with the rites of disposal not on theological grounds relating to the deceased but on the basis of emotional needs of the living: Now howsoever the procuration of funerals, the manner of buriall, the pompe of obsequies, bee rather comforts to the living, then helpes to the dead, and although all these ceremonies be despised by our parents on their death beds; yet should they not be neglected by us their children, or nearest of kindred, upon their interments. What Weever is alluding to here is the collision between conventional theological beliefs about the value of the dead body expressed in the discourses of wills where testators profess indifference to the fate of their corpses, and the conventions of social discourse expressed through traditional mortuary practices. Recognising the conflict, Weever nevertheless argues that a degree of funerary pomp is socially necessary. He regrets, in 1631, what he believed to be the minimal ceremony that accompanied funerals at his own time compared with the care taken by previous generations in disposal of the body and preservation of memory: But funerals in any expensive way here with us, are now accounted but as a fruitlesse vanitie, insomuch that almost all the ceremoniall rites of obsequies heretofore used, are altogether laid aside: for wee see daily that Noblemen, and Gentlemen of eminent ranke, office, and qualitie, are either silently buried in the night time, with a Torch, a two-penie Linke, and a Lanterne; or parsimoniously interred in the day-time, by the helpe of some ignorant countrey-painter, without the attendance of any one of the Officers of Armes, whose chiefest support, and maintenance, hath ever depended upon the performance of such funerall rites, and exequies. So that now by reason of this generall neglect of Funeralls, and the sleight regard wee have of the needfull use of Heraulds, many and great errours are daily committed, to the great offence and prejudice of the ancient Nobilitie, and Gentrie of this Kingdome, and to the breeding of many ambiguous doubts and questions, which may happen in their Descents, and issues in future ages: And nothing will be shortly left to continue the memory of the deceased to posteritie; pilfrey and the opinion some have, that Tombes, and their Epitaphs, taste somewhat of Poperie, having already most sacrilegiously stolen, erazed, and taken away, almost all the Inscriptions and Epitaphs, cut, writ, inlaid, or engraven upon the Sepulchres of the deceased; and most shamefully defaced the glorious rich Tombes, and goodly monuments of our most worthy Ancestors. By the time Weever writes he laments that funerary rites and commemorative practice take place without proper regard for tradition or rank; these are not appropriate substitutes for the memorials destroyed by iconoclasm or modernising tastes. Richer memorials and more extravagant epitaphs are used to commemorate “a rich quondam Tradesman, or griping usurer, then is given to the greatest Potentate entombed in Westminster” (1631: 11). It is not only the emotional needs of the 127

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland living, then, that inform Weever’s preference for a more traditional funeral and monument; he also perceives the maintenance of a conservative social order in the face of the ambitious nouveaux riches to be under threat from the deregulation of funerary custom. Weever prefers a much clearer ordering in funerary rites where the degree of ostentation corresponds exactly with the social location of the deceased. The highly ordered system he approves is the late medieval one, but it requires regulation and conformity, both of which were weakening in the early seventeenth century. This does not mean, however, that disposal of the dead was no longer significant in the production and reproduction of social status. Social status could be signalled through ostentation and the display of expensive material culture at the funeral and in commemorative practice, or it could be more subtly broadcast through the demonstration of elite values such as taste, education, sophistication and the membership of particular kin and acquaintance groups. Demonstrable subscription to emerging codes of emotional and spiritual behaviour might also signal elite status, when being a man (or woman) of sensibility or of patient resignation would have had positive connotations of refinement and ‘nobility’. In either case, material culture was crucial in making claims to elite social status. The anonymous author of the elegy commemorating Josiah Shute, Rector of St Mary Wolnorth in London, attempts to tread the line between maintaining the status quo and vainglory in commemoration. Mr. Shute was so well loved and genuinely mourned that Every pious bosome may make it selfe his Tombe; which being adorned with any resemblance of his better part will more fully evidence his worth, then a speaking marble, whose partiall Inscriptions doe most times flatter their dead guests (A.N. 1643: 17–18). Yet A.N. has no real desire for Mr. Shute to forgo a speaking marble entirely; he needs a memorial to “deliver him over to Posterity” and attend to the continuation of his earthly fame (1643: 18). Preparation of the corpse itself might be different for the nobility. A visiting French observer noted that in England it was customary for the bodies of people “of Quality” to be embalmed and laid out to public view for a fortnight or more, as opposed to the three or four days customary for people of the middling sort (Misson 1719: 93). Embalming was both a necessary measure in cases where an elaborate funeral had to be prepared, involving the assembly of distant guests, the preparation of elaborate mourning decoration and the provision of food and drink for hundreds of people, and in itself a signifier of elite status. It also facilitated the practice of viewing the corpse, normal at all levels of society throughout this period. In non-elite families the body would be laid out at home and refreshments made available to friends and relatives who came to pay their respects in the days between the death and the funeral. The period of watching or waking the body was limited by the ability of the family to provide food and drink, by the period of time they could afford to take away from regular work and by corruption of the 128

Social Belief corpse itself. Although sweet herbs and perfumes were sometimes used to mask any odour of decay, a visibly decomposing or stinking corpse was a dishonour both to the deceased and to the family, and its removal from the senses of the living needed to happen before that point. For the wealthy, however, a longer period of visiting signalled the wealth and independence of the family. If the decay of the corpse could be halted or delayed, the wake could be extended into a longer lying-in-state, with the participation of more visitors. The apparent incorruptibility of the corpse also reflected well on the deceased at a time when physical corruption was closely related in people’s minds with moral decay. This maybe owed something to a deep medieval idea that virtue would be less subject to decay than vice, and ultimately descended from the Catholic doctrine of the incorruptibility of the saintly body, although of course this particular doctrine was rejected by Protestants. It is interesting to note that Royalist propagandists claimed that Cromwell’s body needed to be interred before his state funeral because its putrefaction was particularly swift and malodorous (falsely in fact; the prior interment of the biological body was normal for elite funerals of the period, and the subsequent survival of Cromwell’s head for a further 300 years suggests that his corpse was exceptionally well preserved). The body of the Duke of Lauderdale, who died in 1682, was found embalmed and encased in a lead coffin in the Maitland vault at Haddington, East Lothian (Caldwell 1976), and the post-mortem treatment of his body was typical of elite embalming practices. The body had been laid on a layer of wood shavings inside a wooden coffin that had been lined with a yellowish substance identified as a mixture of lanolin and (probably) “gum ammoniacal” (Caldwell 1976: 27). The wooden coffin was inside an outer lead one, to which the inscription on a brass plate was attached. The body itself had been eviscerated and padded with sawdust before being wrapped in a linen shroud. He was naked except for a black ribbon which tied his hair at the back of the head. The body had then been wrapped in many strips of coarser linen impregnated with lanolin. Alongside the coffin was a lead box containing a red earthenware vase functioning as a canopic jar, according to an inscription on a brass plate attached to the box. The coffins of high-status individuals were more likely to be double or triple shelled, elaborately decorated and skilfully made than plainer coffins of common people. The French traveller Henri Misson recounts a lengthy anecdote about a confidence trickster who was extended great credit in London by assuming the identity of the rich but reclusive Mr. Wickham of Banbury (Misson 1719: 100). The rogue asked his landlord to witness a will in which, as Mr. Wickham, he ordered the disposition of a vast estate, including a substantial sum for the landlord himself. When this false Mr. Wickham died unexpectedly, the landlord purchased an expensive coffin for him, as befitting his position, and wrote letters of condolence to the family. The family replied in surprise that the real Mr. Wickham was in good health at his Oxfordshire home. The trick thus discovered, the landlord evicted the false Mr. Wickham from his fancy coffin, sold the coffin and threw the body of the trickster into “a Hole in a Corner of St Clement’s Church-yard” (1719: 100). Two seventeenth-century ballads in the Pepys library of Magdalene College, Cambridge, tell the same story which seems to have been a popular and well-known anecdote. 129

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland The funeral itself was a highly charged and memorable occasion where the display of the coffin and the draperies, arms and decorations associated with it could have made a deep impression. But as an occasion of display it was ephemeral and needed close choreography. To feel the full impact of the ostentatious interment, one had to be a physical witness to the moment. But opportunities provided by increasingly personalised and individuated forms of commemoration which were constructed with increasing frequency over the post-Reformation period opened up the possibility of making status claims to a larger audience and over a longer period. Mytum (2007) has also pointed out that whereas coffins and their furniture were often chosen quickly and at times of great emotional stress, commissioning a commemorative monument, if one was erected, could take place in a more leisurely way over a longer period.

Burial and the New Kind of Modern Individual That modernity encouraged a kind of individualism that focused thought on the active and powerful individual is established, if anything in this period can said to be established. But modernity also enabled and valued a new kind of modern individual – the eccentric non-conformist. This individual was necessarily male (eccentric non-conformity was [and is] not generally valued positively in women), and usually wealthy and of high social standing. Eccentric individuals sometimes made idiosyncratic requests about the fate of their body, the conduct of their funerals or the nature of their commemoration, perhaps in line with unusual philosophical, social or religious beliefs. Jeremy Bentham’s request to be publically dissected and mummified as his own memorial or ‘auto-icon’ is perhaps the best known of these, but Clare Gittings (2007) has collected twenty-six examples of cases where unusual burials were carried out at the request of the deceased. These range from the construction of elaborate mausoleums to an unmarked grave in a field that was to be immediately ploughed over, from indefinite perennial commemoration by dancing children to immediate destruction by slaked lime (Gittings 2007). While none of the wishes expressed for the body are enough on their own to draw general conclusions about early modern beliefs, the existence of these unusual requests is interesting. Gittings notes that she found no examples of unusual burials by request in the period between the Reformation and 1699, but that their number is greatest between 1699 and 1823, with a particular cluster around 1760–1800 (Gittings 2007: 323). This suggests that the second half of the eighteenth century saw unprecedented freedom of personal expression together with a particular confidence in the human capacity to initiate new practices (Tarlow 2007).

Emotion: The Beloved and Beautiful Body The social archaeology of death and burial in the processual and early postprocessual phases of the discipline was mostly focused on how mortuary practices could reveal styles of social organisation or, more subtly, the dynamics of power 130

Social Belief within society. Publications discussed whether particular features of burial practice indicated particular kinds of society; whether the status of deceased individuals could be inferred from the ostentation of their funerary rites, the placement of the dead in the landscape or the kinds of material that accompanied individuals or formed their graves. Later, a generation of archaeologists influenced by NeoMarxist and critical theory refined those questions to focus more on the ways power was mobilised in society to sustain inequalities (e.g. Parker Pearson 1982, 1993; Barrett 1994; Shanks and Tilley 1982; McGuire 1992). The ideological significance of mortuary ritual had a crucial role to play in supporting or challenging normal relations of power within a society. These approaches made it clear that archaeological interpretation was a political activity. They also moved the subject on by showing that mortuary archaeology could be used to address ambitious social questions. However, by the 1990s there was also dissatisfaction with what had become a new orthodoxy and a desire to ask other questions besides those concerning power and status. In particular, the experiential aspects of mortality and bereavement were not often adequately covered by power-centred explanatory frameworks. The next wave of post-processual archaeologists was interested in exploring themes like emotion (e.g. Tarlow 1999a), memory (e.g. Williams 2006) and experience. While they have not rejected the conclusions on the political understanding of power in the past, these archaeologists have argued that emotion and experience are important in themselves and not just as a means to the operation of power. Some influential post-processual work on death was written with particular reference to the post-medieval period in Britain. In particular Parker Pearson’s (1982) paper was a study of how ostentation in commemorative monuments might work either to legitimise or to mask actual inequalities in society, the former strategy being common in nineteenth-century monuments and the latter in the early twentieth century. Those observations were confirmed by Tarlow (1999a), who nevertheless argued that interpretation based on power alone in a context of bereavement was inadequate and could be cynical; mortuary archaeology had to take account of emotions of grief, love and so on. The archaeological study of emotion presents many problems, not the least of which is that it is extremely difficult to know what another person’s interior experience really is. For this reason I have suggested that social emotional values rather than personal emotional experience might be the most fruitful focus of enquiry in developing an archaeology of emotion (Tarlow 2000). Here, therefore, ‘social belief ’ is taken to include beliefs about the emotional experiences of death and bereavement as well as beliefs about what was appropriate in terms of social status and community relations. Commemorative monuments show a great valorisation of emotional and sentimental beliefs about personal relationships from the later eighteenth century, but some of those ideas were also present in the early modern period and found expression in the preferred forms of burial. The actual body of the deceased is an important location in the development of codes of feeling over the period. The history of the body treats the early modern period as an important time because that was when the individualised, personalised self came to be most closely 131

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland associated with the body. Bodies ceased to be interchangeable in any meaningful way, and the self, regarded as essential and irreplaceable, inhabited a unique and beloved body. Portraiture became a highly developed and important artistic tradition which allowed selves to be indexed by the unique appearance of their bodies (Schneider 2002: 6). Both the preparation of the body for burial and the location of the burial were matters of considerable importance in the early modern period, suggesting that the individuated body was still standing for the deceased person in the period immediately after death. This is clearly demonstrated in the vogue for wax portraits and death masks: an art form which brought the mimetic art of portraiture as individual record to the dead body on the brink of disintegration. The significance of embalming has been considered elsewhere, but the motivation for preventing or retarding decay was emotional as well as practical. Greenhill’s early eighteenth century defence of the “art” of embalming (1705) contains little discussion of the practicalities, but an impassioned case for extending the practice.

The Undying Body Embalming the dead body has received far less critical attention than anatomising it. However, the practice of embalming tells us much about British attitudes to the body, and especially to the changes wrought upon the body by death. Thomas Greenhill’s Nekrokedeia, or the Art of Embalming (1705) tells us little about how embalming was practically carried out in the early eighteenth century, but contains long discussions of its purposes and value and casts interesting light upon the social and medical context of the practice. Greenhill’s privately published volume defends “the noble Art of Embalming” as a preserve of trained physicians, surgeons and anatomists, against the claims of upstart undertakers (1705: vi). For Greenhill, embalming is more than a set of techniques that can be learned through apprenticeship; it is an art rather than a trade and requires training in both natural and moral philosophy. It promotes, for him at least, reflections of a moral and theological nature. Anatomy and embalming are two branches of the same art: the one aimed at knowledge of the body; the other at “preserving it for ever in our Memories” (1705: 2). Greenhill discusses at length why people think it proper to bury the dead (rather than simply to abandon them), then considers why embalming is a particularly desirable practice. In fact, his reasons for burial show a considerable preoccupation with, and horror of, decomposition, and are thus also reasons for embalming. To be in the presence of a dead body is, says Greenhill, not only injurious to health (1705: 15) but also emotionally upsetting for the living because the processes of corruption are shameful and undignified: Human Nature would be asham’d to see Man, the Master-Piece of the Creation, left unregarded or dye unburied and naked, expos’d to the Insults of all Creatures, and become a Heritage to the most vile Worms and Serpents, or lye rotting like Dung upon the face of the Earth; so that if Pity and Compassion will not move 132

Social Belief our obdurate Hearts to Bury him, the very Stench and Corruption of the Dead will compel us to it (Greenhill 1705: 10). Burial thus prevents decay from happening openly and prevents the body from being consumed by birds or beasts “unbecoming the Dignity of Human Nature” (1705: 16). Although he is theologically sound on the insignificance of the fate of the body for the fate of the soul (for Protestants, lack of proper burial should be no impediment to salvation), he advances a number of reasons why it is nevertheless desirable to pursue funeral formalities and a proper burial. First, he claims, the body has been the temple of the soul and the soul thus expects and hopes for its body to be honoured with “lofty monuments and the Duties of Funerals” (1705: 103). Second, although the dead body is not sensible and the loss of the soul deprives it of much “Dignity and Worth”, in our live state we know what will happen to our bodies after death, and this knowledge will affect our actions and disposition during life. If a man knows that the decay of his body will be observed by his survivors he is likely to avoid the company of others; apprehension of the indignity his body will suffer will make him miserable and could even drive him to despair (1705: 104). For it is not death that makes us anxious, says Greenhill, but the fate of the body that proceeds from it. If death “were only ceasing to be, act, or breath, then were that State most desirable . . . ”, but to be consumed by beasts, or simply to dissolve into nothing is unendurable. For this reason, embalming is a great boon. It will lessen the dread of something after death if a man can die assured of being embalmed and “lying undisturb’d in his Grave, as in his Bed” (1705: 105). The growing importance of privacy over the late medieval and early modern period has been noted by archaeologists considering the material forms of, for example, domestic architecture or landscapes ( Johnson 1993; Austin 1998). Greenhill’s argument highlights the importance of bodily privacy even after death. The possibility that the grave might not be private is clearly a source of anxiety. A decent burial involved keeping the processes of bodily decay out of view. Jeremy Taylor wrote in 1651 that the processes of decay should not be observed by others: It is good that the body be kept veiled and secret, and not exposed to curious eyes, or the dishonours wrought by the changes of death discerned and stared upon by impertinent persons (Taylor 1651: 329). Although he is careful to reiterate the theological line that to remain unburied would in no way prejudice the fate of the soul (1705: 18), Greenhill’s case for taking care of the deceased body, concealing its decay by burial or best of all forestalling it by preservation centres on the feelings of those left behind, and also the apprehensive emotions of those confronting death. He argues that it is actually the fate of the body which is the root of all anxiety. The reasoning employed by Greenhill, however, led Mary, Countess of Northumberland, to precisely the opposite course of action. In her will of 1572, 133

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland Mary recorded specifically that she did not want to be embalmed, explaining that in her life “I have not loved to be very bold afore women, much more would I be loathe to come into the hands of any living man, be he physician or surgeon” (Gittings 1999: 156). Gittings (1999: 157) suggests that the anxiety in Mary’s will is perhaps evidence of “a greater unease about physical decomposition”, but it seems more likely to relate to concerns over bodily privacy than decay which would, after all, be prevented by embalming. In this case invasion of privacy is compounded by the high cultural value placed on female modesty, and we might imagine that men’s feelings about embalming would be different to women’s because physical modesty was not such a highly prized virtue for them. Interestingly, Cherryson, Crossland and Tarlow (forthcoming) note that the bodies of men were far more likely than women’s bodies to be subjected to post-mortem autopsy. For the bereaved, as well as for the individual facing death, embalming is advantageous. For the bereaved, says Greenhill, a well-preserved corpse would be a better way to perpetuate the memory of the deceased than a picture or statue, which would be only a “faint and imperfect” image. In this suggestion, Greenhill seems to anticipate Jeremy Bentham’s celebrated proposal for the preservation of bodies to act as “auto-icons”: unique memorials to the deceased. Bentham left detailed instructions on the manner of preparation of his own body in an annex to his will, dated 1830, and discussed the possibilities of the practice in a paper entitled Auto-Icon: or, Farther uses of the dead to the living, although that paper was not published during his lifetime (Marmoy 1958). The advantage of fidelity to the memory of the living body only works if the body is to be viewed by survivors for some considerable period after death, however, which would not normally be the case. Once in the ground or in the vault, the dead body was not viewed again, and then a picture or statue, impervious to decay, would be a better mnemonic than the corpse itself. Finally, Greenhill points out the practical necessity for embalming if a body is to be transported for burial. The interest of Greenhill’s text, however, is not in its practical approach to embalming (in fact he does not give any practical directions for embalming bodies but devotes most of the book to a discussion of ancient Egyptian mortuary practices and antiquities), and certainly not in his prose style (there were clearly reasons for having it published privately), but in giving a sense of the early modern British anxiety about decay. Although he tries to justify the mortuary practices of his time and place with reference to Biblical and classical precedent and by appealing to rational science and hygiene, in fact his ultimate appeals are to ‘dignity’, ‘human nature’, ‘honour’ and ‘respect’, with an expectation that all these things would be outraged by corporeal decay. The art of the embalmer – at first the surgeon and later the specialist undertaker – helped prolong the social existence of the body beyond death. Embalming made it easier to maintain the metaphor of sleep and to ensure that the body still stood for that person for the purposes of social interaction. Proper embalming was mostly an elite practice: it was expensive in terms of both materials and skills. In 1719 a French visitor commented that in England “Among Persons of Quality ‘tis customary to embalm the body, and to expose it for a 134

Social Belief Fortnight or more on a Bed of State” (Misson 1719: 93), and Burton attributes the excellent state of preservation of the disinterred Marquis of Dorset after seventyeight years to the skill with which he had been embalmed (Burton 1622: 51). But the desire to halt or slow decay was widespread. John Brand observed in the late eighteenth century, It is customary at this Day in Northumberland, to set a pewter Plate, containing a little Salt, upon the Corps; as also a Candle in some Places. The learned Moresin tells us “That Salt is the Emblem of Eternity and Immortality: It is not liable to Putrefaction itself, and it preserves Things that are seasoned with it from Decay (Brand 1777: 23–4). In fact, placing a dish of salt on the chest of the deceased when he or she is laid out was a widespread folk practice, known throughout Britain and Ireland. The reasons given for the practice vary. To impede decay is a reason often stated, but Brockie (1886: 200) dismisses such prosaic explanations. “Some matter-of-fact people, who could not rise to the conception of the mystical meaning, said it was done to prevent the body from swelling”, he says derisively, when the real reason is that salt is symbolic of eternal life. Greenhill’s case for embalming, however, is argued mainly on the basis of antiquarian exemplars, particularly the practice of the Egyptians. Ultimately, despite continuing interest in embalming for scientific purposes (considered in Chapter 3), the decline of the heraldic funeral and the popularity of smaller, more personal night burials among the aristocracy did not create an environment amenable to the growth of embalming as a common practice. It is interesting that Greenhill himself appears to have been somewhat traditional in his attitudes to the College of Arms, applying to it for an alteration to his family coat of arms as a mark of his mother’s extraordinary fecundity (he claimed to be his mother’s thirty-ninth, and youngest, child; all but one were single births and all were baptised – Davidson 2004).

Normal Preparation of the Corpse Except in the case of royalty and nobility, whose funerals focused on the effigial body, mortuary ritual for most people in the early modern period was centred around the corpse itself. It was washed, clothed, wrapped, laid out, touched, waked, spoken to and sometimes made to bear significant symbolic objects. Corpse washing was seldom discussed by writers, probably both because its ubiquitous occurrence seemed so natural to observers that even folklorists did not think to note the practice, and because the washing and preparation of corpses was carried out by women of the servant classes who were rarely sufficiently literate to record their own activities, and whose duties were not generally regarded as interesting to letter-writing, diary-keeping, folklore-recording upper middle class men. Foreign visitors such as the Frenchman Henri Misson (1719), who toured England in the early eighteenth century, have provided the best contemporary accounts of the 135

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland practical steps taken after a death. Immediately upon a death, says Misson, two women are appointed to check the body for signs of infectious disease, and to stop its orifices, a custom established, he explains, after the great plagues of 1665. Then the women of the house prepare the body: After they have wash’d the Body thoroughly clean, and shav’d it, if it be a Man . . . they put it on a Flannel Shirt, which has commonly a Sleeve purfled about the Wrists, and the slit of the Shirt down the Breast done in the same Manner. When the Ornaments are not of Woollen Lace, they are at least edg’d, and sometimes embroider’d with black Thread. The Shirt shou’d be at least half a Foot longer than the Body, that the Feet of the Deceas’d may be wrapped in it, as in a Bag. When they have thus folded the End of this Shirt close to the Feet, they tye the Part that is folded down with a Piece of Woollen Thread, as we do our Stockings; so that the End of the Shirt is done into a kind of Tuft. Upon the Head they put a Cap which they fasten with a very broad Chin cloth; with Gloves on the Hands, and a Cravat round the Neck, all of Woollen. That the Body may ly the softer, some put a Lay of Bran, about four Inches thick, at the Bottom of the Coffin. Instead of a Cap, the Women have a kind of Head-Dress, with a Forehead cloth (Misson 1719: 89). Finally, to ensure compliance with the Burial in Woollen Act, designed to promote the British woollen industry and to maximise the supply of rags to British papermakers, the dressed body was inspected again (Misson 1719: 90). Parliamentary acts in 1666, 1678 and 1680 (18 and 19 Cha. II c. 4, An Act for burying in woollen onely [Burial in Woollen Act]; 30 Cha. II c. 3, An Act for burying in woollen; 32 Cha. II c. 1, An additional Act for burying in woollen) decreed that all bodies not prepared for the grave in woollen textiles would be subject to a fine. This is an early example of how state intervention on behalf of commercial interests shapes social practice. It is indicative also of the growing involvement of the state in regulating the behaviour of individuals, intervening in areas of personal and private life that would not normally be considered criminal. It also provided another arena for the display of wealth, because the well-off could afford to factor the fine for funeral clothes of more high-status fabric into their costs. Alexander Pope satirically had one of his vain and proud characters respond thus to the requirements of the act: “Odious! in woollen! ‘twould a saint provoke” (Were the last words that poor Narcissa spoke); “No, let a charming chintz, and Brussels lace Wrap my cold limbs, and shade my lifeless face: One would not, sure, be frightful when one’s dead – And–Betty–give this cheek a little red.” Pope Moral Essays, epistle 1 The act specified that inspection of the body before burial had to take place, and Misson describes the inspectors he saw as two elderly women from the parish. 136

Social Belief Conformity was thus achieved by using local social networks and exploiting people’s concerns about maintaining respectability within the neighbourhood. Washing the corpse would slow its decay, but Richardson (1988: 18) suggests that it also served a symbolic function and represented, at some level, a moral ablution, such as was signified in Catholic last rites. It certainly had a social function too: the preservation of ‘decency’ and dignity. When the normal funeral ritual involved laying out the body on a bier or in an open coffin (until the interment), relatives and friends of the deceased would come to look at, touch and perhaps speak to the body. Because the body, in the early modern period, was increasingly becoming the locus of self, the propriety of the body was necessary to the dignity, privacy and decency of the person. The body in death was at increased risk of being unsightly, or smelling bad, or in some other way becoming a source of embarrassment to its owner. Early modern ideas of privacy depended, as we have seen, on ensuring that the boundaries of the body were not normally transgressed in public. The opening of bodily boundaries in death meant that the visible outside of the body could be soiled by fluids, or excrement, that the jaw might sag and make visible the interior of the mouth. Anything like this would embarrass and upset onlookers and the idea of this happening to their own bodies could be a source of anxiety for those facing death. Washing, scenting and decently clothing the dead was thus necessary to the continuation of the personal and individuated relationship between the deceased and their living kin and friends. Burial clothing was designed to prevent or conceal any bodily process likely to compromise dignity or decency. Jaw cloths bound the lower jaw to the upper part of the skull to prevent gaping mouths – they are known archaeologically from burials at Spitalfields ( Jannaway 1998) but, like most textiles that went into graves, very few examples survive. The aglets from Hemingford Grey (McNicholl et al. 2007) suggest that lace-up shirts or shifts of the type worn as undergarments or nightclothes were commonly used to dress the dead which would be in accordance with Misson’s observations of half a century later. In the days between death and interment, the body remained the site of memory and personhood for the emotional purposes of the bereaved. Although the vogue for ‘living memory’ pictures (photographs of the newly deceased dressed and posed for a commemorative record, often sentimental sleeping pictures or as if still alive, sitting in a favourite chair with a book, for example) belongs to the nineteenth century and the spread of photographic technology, the appearance of the corpse was nevertheless important in the early modern period, and efforts were sometimes made not only to ensure the decency of the body, but to present it attractively. Painted deathbed portraits were perhaps a forerunner of the living memory picture, although their cost meant they were limited to the wealthy. Vegetation does not normally survive well in archaeological contexts, but the coffin of John Belasys from the vault of Blandford parish church in Dorset contained several surviving twigs of bay and rosemary as well as the skeleton of a child (Goodall 1970: 155). These plants had traditional associations with memory and the life to come because they were evergreens. They were also aromatic herbs whose funerary use might have helped disguise any smell. Rosemary was widely used at funerals, where mourners would 137

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland carry sprigs of the herb during the funeral procession and throw them on top of the coffin at burial (Misson 1719: 91). Other vegetation associated with funerals is discussed in the next chapter. The social and geographical spread of coffin use in the post-medieval period is probably another manifestation of the unease the sight or smell of bodily decay aroused in the bereaved. By shielding the corrupting body from the eyes and noses of the living, the coffin allowed the body to retain its integrity in the memories and imaginations of those left behind. Quite early in the post-Reformation period, the use of coffins to contain and conceal the bodies of the dead became normal, even for people who had little money. Only three of the ten post-Reformation (c. 1540– 1650) burials from St Oswald’s Priory, Gloucester, were in coffins (Heighway and Bryant 1999), whereas all sixteen of the burials from the cemetery at Hemingford Grey, which date to the period between 1680 and 1720, were coffined (McNichol et al. 2007). So essential was it to have a coffin for the funeral that by the midseventeenth century some parishes even supplied a re-usable casket for the funerals of the poor. The parish coffin from Easingwold in North Yorkshire dates to around 1645 (Litten 1991: 97. Figure 4.8).

The Emotional Response to Bereavement In the early modern period the most highly valued and socially acceptable emotions of bereavement were moderate compared to the excesses of romantic and sentimental grief that characterised the nineteenth century (Tarlow 1999a). Commemorative inscriptions from monuments of this period were more likely to describe the deceased in terms of roles, family position and connections, or to make general religious and philosophical points about the inevitability of death and the necessity to make spiritual preparations for it than to allude explicitly to the emotions of the bereaved. While it was fitting and admirable to be affected by the death of a close family member, immoderate grief was condemned. Frances Stuart, the Duchess of Richmond and Lenox, was devastated by the death of her husband in 1624. She cut her hair and wore mourning dress until her own death in 1639 when, in conformity with the plans set forth in her will, she was buried wrapped in her wedding sheets (Gittings 1999: 164). By the late eighteenth century, such immoderate and flamboyant passion would have been widely regarded as an indicator of romantic sensibilities and valued positively. In the seventeenth century, however, the duchess’s mourning was regarded as excessive by many of her peers who questioned its authenticity and appropriateness. A flavour of the emotions of bereavement, and a warning against excessive grief, are evident in Zachary Boyd’s lament for the drowned Prince Frederick (1629: 958), put in the mouth of his mother, Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia: Oh my Sonne, my dearest Sonne is gone: Hee is lost, where shall I finde him? O Frederick my Son where are thou? Shall I see thee no more? Shall I never kisse thy mouth againe? Once did thou lye in my bellie neere unto mine heart, but 138

Social Belief

Figure 4.8. Catch on the Easingwold parish coffin, dating to about 1645. Because this parish coffin was made for repeated use, it was not hammered shut but closed with a simple catch so that the body could be removed for burial. The coffin is in Easingwold parish church, North Yorkshire. Photograph by the author. now alas, thou lyes sleeping in slime: now thy bedde is made among the crawling wormes: Thy Princelie Bodie now lyeth in the place of silence: O where is thy Coloure now? Where is thy Countenance? Long shall it before I see thy smiling face and twinkling Eyes . . . The poet takes his own voice to advise the queen: Containe your selfe Madame: Beware to passe the bounds of Christian mourning: To mourn for the dead is permitted unto all, but to none is it permitted as these that have none hope. The moderate expression of personal grief, however, was regarded by most as evidence of emotional attachment and a tender and sensitive character which was an asset; this increasingly sentimental attitude to the dead grew stronger and more acceptable over the course of the eighteenth century. Elizabeth Rowe’s extremely popular book of letters from the dead, Friendship in Death, in Twenty Letters from the Dead to the Living (1733), consists mostly of accounts of the emotional relationships between highly individualised dead people and other individuals with whom they had a close emotional relationship, such as family members, friends or lovers. The 139

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland relationships described in these letters are unique relationships between two individuals – the kind of emotional relationship that was to dominate the sensibilities of modernity. Although the letters were consolatory, they assume a shared assumption with the reader that emotional relationships continue after death, and that the nature of those relationships will be similar to the relationships experienced in life, with the addition of regret or sadness because of the temporary separation necessitated by the death of one of the parties. The concurrent re-invention of Heaven as a place of reunion also gave (informally) divine sanction to the importance of relationships of love (remember that Princess Elizabeth anticipated seeing again the smiling face and twinkling eyes of her son, albeit a long time hence). The continuing association of personal identity with the body, even after death, is an essential factor in the way emotional relationships between individuals were maintained. Proximity to the body of a person was experienced as emotional closeness and was desirable for that reason, even after death. The continuing popularity of burial in the same grave as close family was probably due as much to emotional attachment to kin as a desire to perpetuate hierarchical relations of status. Family vaults or grave plots in a churchyard were available and were popular ways of ensuring that one’s body would eventually be laid with emotionally significant others. Family identity and emotional attachments were probably significant in the post-medieval practice of burying individuals either in the same grave as, or in close proximity to, family members who had predeceased them. As the post-medieval period progressed, commemorative monuments were increasingly erected to the memory of a couple or of a family rather than to a single individual or a lineage. A need to be with a loved one could not always be met, however. In these cases, archaeological excavation and historical accounts tell us of the range of body parts and artefacts that functioned as synecdochal or metonymic signifiers of an absent person. One burial at Christ Church, Spitalfields, was accompanied by a small wooden barrel containing human teeth – but not the teeth of the individual buried in that coffin (Reeve and Adams 1993: 89). Other occasions where remains of one individual had been buried with another might well be missed because of the nature of many modern excavations where either coffins were not routinely opened or osteoarchaeological analysis was not well integrated with the archaeological context, or because the excavators assumed that additional human remains were either part of the same body or intrusive from another context. Two death masks were found in the coffin of a child buried in the early nineteenth century at St George’s Church, Bloomsbury, neither of which was of the child. Possibly they were images of family members (Boston, Boyle and Witkin 2006). Similarly, it is not always clear when artefacts buried with people are significant personal possessions of the interred, or are intended to represent another person. When there are clear contradictions in, for example, gender association, there is a strong case for hypothesising that a grave good might be acting as a souvenir of somebody else. For example, Jannaway (1998: 32) recounts the case of Hugh Haimains, buried in 1850 wearing, at his own request, his first wife’s wedding gown. Rings worn by the buried corpse, such as those on the hands of nineteenth-century female burials at Sheffield Cathedral, Spitalfields or Bathampton (Reeve and Adams 140

Social Belief 1993: 89; Cox and Stock 1994: 141; Symonds and Sayer 2001) might have been wedding rings or meaningful mementoes of another person; certainly one of the Spitalfields rings was a mourning ring bearing the name of a relative who had died earlier, and was presumably deliberately taken to the grave as a meaningful object. Objects like these, however, are not commonly encountered in post-medieval burials before the late eighteenth century. There is nevertheless a possibility that locks of hair, flowers or other small and organic objects were commonly buried with the bodies of the dead; traces of such things are not routinely sought during excavation, and are in any case unlikely to have survived. The decay of the beloved and individuated body presented an emotional problem to the bereaved. Attempts to beautify the dead body partially addressed this problem. Although the almost erotic elaboration of the dead body did not reach its peak until the nineteenth century (Ari`es 1981), efforts were made through the early modern period to make the body look good for burial. These include the restoration of the corpse after post-mortem investigations, as discussed in Chapter 3, the decoration of the body with vegetation (which, like the perfume used in laying out the body of a Cambridge student in 1618 [Porter 1969: 34], would help conceal the smell of decay), the use of decorated funerary garments, shrouds and shroud sheets, false teeth (such as the two pairs interred with Maria West at St Nicholas, Sevenoaks, Kent in 1785 – Boyle and Keevill 1998: 92), and wigs or hairpieces. The head of Sir Richard Steele, founder of The Tattler magazine who died in 1729, was found to be wearing “a peruke tied at the back with a black bow” when it was unearthed during renovations at St Peter’s Church, Carmarthen, in 1876 (Spurrell 1879: 39, cited in Page 2001: 56). Two post-medieval burials from the church of St Peter’s Barton-upon-Humber in Lincolnshire were buried in leather trusses (Rodwell and Rodwell 1982: 306), presumably to ensure that the body looked normal for viewing and interment. Partly to offset the smell of death, and partly to prevent the body banging against the sides of the coffin, corpses were often laid on sawdust, coal dust or some other padding. These would also help absorb the products of decay. The seventeenth- and eighteenth-century coffins from the church of St Mary the Virgin at Little Ilford were sealed with pitch, and then the bodies packed in aromatic sawdust (Redknap 1985: 37). Sawdust packing is also known from the O’Meara Street Quaker cemetery, Southwark, London (Woodger 1994: 24). At Litchfield Cathedral, two coffined bodies were laid on a bed of lime-plaster; another, on a bed of coal dust (Ponsford and Jackson 1995: 116). All of these substances probably functioned to absorb smells and liquids produced by the body.

Men and Women Social roles and expectations were not only determined by class membership or aspiration. Factors such as gender and age were just as significant as class in the creation of social roles. Conformity to gender roles at death and following death signalled an acceptance of and participation in normative social relationships and helped structure and perpetuate the meaning of gendered identities. 141

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland Male primacy was enacted through customs like the carriage of the corpse, and through the conventions of commemoration whereby the man is commonly listed above the woman on a monument even when the wife pre-deceased the husband (Mytum 2004: 127). The coffins of men are carried to the grave on the shoulders of other men, remarks Weever (1631: 11–12); the coffins of women, however, are carried at arm’s length to signify their inferiority to men. For although there will be no male and female in Heaven, while the body remains on earth, the distinction between male and female was real and perpetuated through the funeral. In fact, going by the epitaph on the gravestone of Mary Boucher, buried at Burton Overy, Leicestershire in 1806, the reunion of husband and wife in Heaven was anticipated. It is possible that Mary’s future arrangements might be more complicated than most. Her gravestone reads: Beneath are interred the remains of MARY wife of EDWARD BOUCHER and relict of JOHN VOSS she departed this life the 28th day of August 1806 aged 59 years At heavens command I yield my fleeting breath And here between two husbands sleep in death I died in hope to meet them both again In worlds on high where joys eternal reign The death of a young unmarried woman attracted special funerary rites and was popularly marked by the preparation and display of ‘virgins’ garlands’. A correspondent to the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1747 describes the practice as having been common in Kent within living memory. Virgins’ garlands were carried in the funeral processions of unmarried girls and women, and sometimes widows who had “enjoy’d but one husband”. After the funeral they were hung up in the churchyard. The correspondent describes the garlands thus: The lower rim, or circlet, was a broad hoop of wood, whereunto were fix’d, at the sides thereof, part of two other hoops crossing each other at the top, at right angles, which formed the upper part, being about one third longer than the width; these hoops were wholly covered with artificial flowers of paper, dy’d horn, or silk, and more or less beauteous, according to the skill and ingenuity of the performer. In the vacancy of the inside from the top, hung white paper, cut in the form of gloves, whereon was wrote the deceased’s name, age, andc. together with long slips of various-colour’d paper, or ribbons. these were many times intermix’d with gilded or painted empty shells of blown eggs, as farther ornaments; or, it may be, as emblems of the bubbles or bitterness of this life; whilst other garlands had only a solitary hour-glass hanging therein, as a more significant symbol of mortality (E.S. 1747: 264–5). This correspondent also notes that the clerk of the parish church at Bromley recently found the remains of such a garland, made from gold and silver wire and lined with 142

Social Belief cloth of silver, but given the materials normally used as he describes them it is not surprising that maidens’ garlands are not frequently encountered archaeologically. Although the account given previously describes the garlands being hung up in the graveyard, concurring with other folkloric accounts of maiden’s garlands (Brockie 1886: 205; Nicholson 1890: 8; Blakeborough 1898: 118; Simpson 1973: 98), it goes on to say that from the beginning of the eighteenth century, church opinion moved against these garlands, but people continued to make them and, rather than hanging them up visibly, they would inter them on top of the coffin, above the face of the dead woman (Morris forthcoming). Historians of gender have demonstrated clearly that attitudes towards men’s and women’s bodies in the early modern period differed considerably. Contemporary discourses about gender suggest that women were often identified far more closely with their bodies than men were. In Braithwait’s text The English Gentleman (1630), a book describing desirable characteristics and conduct for men, behaviour and habits of mind are stressed more than habits of body. Chapters include discussion of Youth, Disposition, Education, Vocation, Recreation, Acquaintance, Moderation and Perfection. Peacham’s volume The Compleat Gentleman (1634) on the same topic treats little upon bodily comportment, but it is much more concerned with moral virtues and what we would now call ‘life choices’ – what friends to make, how best to spend our time, what to say in particular situations. By contrast, Braithwait’s companion volume The English Gentlewoman (1631) is much more concerned with bodily behaviour and exterior appearance, with chapters on Apparell, Behaviour, Complement, Decency (including gait, look, speech and clothing), Estimation, Fancy, Gentility and Honour. Braithwait’s view is that the virtue of women “may be best discerned by the carriage of the body” (1631: 6), which is barely mentioned in the Gentleman. As a man, writing for women, he is perhaps more inclined to concentrate on those aspects of the feminine self that relate most to his own experience of women – that is, women’s appearances when in social contact with men – but the subjectivity of The English Gentleman is of a wholly different nature to that of its companion. On the evidence of Brathwait’s popular works, the bodily creation of self persisted as a feminine virtue even when the masculine self was created by attention almost exclusively to the interior. Dualistic thought aligned bodies with femininity, while souls and minds were masculine principles. One might expect therefore the death of the female body to represent a more serious threat to personal identity than the death of a man, because women’s identities were more tightly bound to their bodies than men’s. However, archaeological evidence does not show much distinction in the preparation of men’s and women’s bodies at death; in fact, the uniformity of the shroud and later “nightdress” style shrouds and bonnets serves more to obscure than emphasise sex differences. Post-mortem treatment of the body such as washing, dressing and binding the corpse was normally carried out by women. The exception was when a body was to be embalmed, when a surgeon or perhaps one of the new breed of undertakers – male professionals – carried out the work on the dead body. Since one of the defining virtues of the feminine woman was physical modesty, there is evidence that women were distressed at the idea of their bodies being naked before the gaze 143

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland of men; for that reason they resisted the idea of embalming (Gittings 1984: 190). Davidson (2004) suggests indeed that female reticence was one of the main reasons why embalming did not become a normal and widespread part of treatment of the corpse in the early modern period, notwithstanding anxieties surrounding bodily decay at the time. Archaeological evidence for the practice of diagnostic postmortem autopsy is far more frequently associated with male skeletons in this period than with the remains of women (Cherryson, Crossland and Tarlow forthcoming). Explicit written evidence of women’s own desire to preserve bodily decency after death is unusual. Women were less likely to write wills than men, and those who did so were likely to belong to a restricted class of people – literate and educated older women (younger women would be less likely to have property of their own to dispose of). How far women’s feelings about bodily privacy were shared across the social spectrum is hard to know. Women of the working and servant classes and poor women would have been more corporally vulnerable during their lives and more likely to have experienced physical searches, rough handling and physically or sexually invasive treatment at the hands of others. Moreover, because of their cramped living conditions, they would probably have been less used to physical privacy during their lives. Strong popular feeling at public dissection, encompassing both revulsion and excitement, suggests that a taboo about revealing the private body was broken through such events.

The Problem of Decay Decay of the dead body presented a challenge to the living in several ways. First was the emotional challenge, as discussed, of witnessing the transformation and disintegration of the body of a known individual at a time when personal identity was strongly bound by the body. Second was the anxiety caused to the living at the approach of death because of the prospective shame of becoming a body whose boundaries had become permeable and whose continence could not be trusted: this was an apprehension about the loss of personal dignity. At the same time there was embarrassment in having to witness the humiliation of others as their bodies decayed. The third reason, concerns about public hygiene, is more often associated with the grand urban and public sanitation reforms of the nineteenth century, but even in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries concerns about the possible effect of decaying bodies on the health of the living were being expressed. In his campaigning volume, Churches no Charnel Houses, for example, Thomas Lewis (1726) objects to burial in churches and churchyards on the grounds that the practice is injurious to the health of the living, giving rise to polluted air which is a danger even outside in the churchyard, but much more so in the closed space of the church itself. Lewis believes that the newly dead corpse, while it is still warm, is highly infectious, but that when it has cooled it stops being infectious until it begins to decay, when it becomes infectious again (1726: 64–5). He objects also to the practice of hanging in chains (the public exhibition of a criminal body in


Social Belief an iron cage while it decays, discussed in the following) because of the danger the polluting miasma produced by the rotting body presents to the public. Responses to the problem of decay in the early modern period, despite the efforts of campaigners like Lewis, were mostly in the nature of treatments to the corpse itself rather than to wholesale geographical or legal reforms of burial practice. Embalming was one response; the expedient circumvention of decay altogether by cremating human remains was never discussed as a desirable possibility in the early modern period and, despite the eventual legalisation of cremation in 1880 ( Jupp 1990), the practice continued to be regarded as undesirable and eccentric in Britain until the early twentieth century, and remains unpopular in Ireland. Attempts were made, however, to counteract the effects of decay by adding a layer of quicklime to the grave, as at Glasgow Cathedral (Driscoll 2002), plaster or coal dust as at Lincoln Cathedral (Ponsford and Jackson 1995: 116). Quicklime was sometimes used in the nineteenth century to accelerate decay to neutralise infection, as in the case of cholera victims (Morris 1976), or to make bodies unattractive to grave robbers.

The Criminal Body The treatment of the dead body not only helped affirm the social position of the deceased and the place of his or her heirs, it was also used to mark the boundaries of what was socially acceptable. The bodies of people who transgressed those boundaries were treated in ways that were both a warning to the living and a punishment to the person who had flouted the standards of acceptable social behaviour. The bodies of those condemned by the law were not to be carried to the grave by their fellows because the hand of justice had “cut them off, by untimely death, from the societie of men” (Weever 1631: 12). Their unworthiness was signalled by having their bodies processed to the grave in “waines or carts”, as any profane burden or animal carcase would normally be carried. Weever (1631: 22) sets out variations in treatment of the criminal body, according to the crime of which he or she had been convicted. The traitor was to be hanged, drawn and quartered “and his divided limbs to be set upon poles in some eminent place, within some great Market-towne or citie”; anyone convicted of “that crying sinne of murther, is usually hanged up in chaines, so to continue untill his bodie be consumed, at or neare the place where the fact was perpetrated”; other criminals “after a little hanging are cut down and indeed buried, but seldome in Christian mould (as we say) nor in the sepulchres of their fathers, except their fathers had their graves made neare, or under the gallowes”. From the time and manner of execution to the eventual disposal of the corpse, the body of the criminal transgressor was treated in ways that demonstrated, usually publically, the individual’s deviance from social and legal expectations. Judicial sanctions enacted on the criminal body included its dismemberment, assaults on the privacy and decency of the corpse, exclusion from the normal places of burial and annihilation of the body through burning, dissection or exposure to the elements.


Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland Execution itself sometimes involved breaking the body into pieces by removing the head (most frequently) and in the most serious cases, removing the intestines and partitioning the body. The sentence for high treason, passed in England from the thirteenth century until 1870, was “That you be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution where you shall be hanged by the neck and being alive cut down, your privy members shall be cut off and your bowels taken out and burned before you, your head severed from your body and your body divided into four quarters to be disposed of at the King’s pleasure”. There are cases of this sentence being enacted in full until the mid-eighteenth century, described in the Newgate Calendar. Archibald Cameron, one of the Elibank conspiritors, who plotted to kidnap King George II, was convicted of treason and subject to the full treatment of the normal sentence as late as 1753. Although the sentence was also passed in the nineteenth century it was not fully instituted again. Generally the sentence was only partially carried out – convicts being hanged, usually until dead, and then beheaded. Even in the most serious crimes, social differences were still observed. The intersection of class and crime meant that the bodies of those who shared the backgrounds, behavioural codes and some of the values of the judicial and ruling classes were given better treatment than criminally deviant members of the lower orders. Aristocratic or royal bodies condemned to death were normally beheaded rather than hanged, and in the case of traitors of high social status it was not uncommon for the executed body to be handed over to relatives for burial in a coffin in a family vault or parish churchyard. This was also the case with the majority of eighteenth-century sentences of hanging, drawing and quartering. In the case of Francois Henri de la Motte, executed at Tyburn in 1781 for conspiring against the life of the king, the traitor was hanged for nearly an hour before his head was cut off and shown to the crowd, and his heart cut out and burnt. His body was then marked with four incisions, and he was partially disembowelled (Marks 1908: 266). Finally, according to the Newgate Calendar, “the body was then scorched, together with the head, and put into a very handsome coffin, which was delivered to an undertaker for interment”; Marks (1908) specifies that he was buried at St Pancras. There were degrees of ignominy related to the seriousness of the crime: treason was the worst of all crimes, and its punishment involved not only the most painful and horrific manner of death, but also the most radical assault on the integrity of the body. In theory the sentence for treason would result in the public display of the divided body, but as the period progressed the public appetite for ghoulish spectacle seems to have palled. Especially where the convicted man was a member of the upper or middle class, as was often the case, the royal prerogative to display the body was less often exercised. Those convicted of murder, however, a lesser crime than treason, were more likely to have their bodies displayed publically either at open public anatomical dissections or by hanging in chains. Murderers were not to be afforded burial, especially after the 1751 Murder Act, but their bodies were subject to public indignity. According to sources consulted for the preparation of this book, no Protestant theologian maintained that the lack of a proper Christian burial would be in any 146

Social Belief way material to the fate of the soul. Men, not God, find it “bloudy and tyrannous” to leave unburied the bodies of the dead (Weever 1631: 31). But the sanction of carrying out punishment on the body of the criminal even after execution shows that for the people of early modern Britain and Ireland, the identity of the individual continued to inhere in the body past the point of biological death. The other reason attributed to the punishment of the deviant body was to warn and deter the living. It is significant that the act specifying the treatment of the criminal body in the mid-eighteenth century was called an act “for Better Preventing the Horrid Crime of Murder”. The other crime that was particularly distinguished at burial was suicide. Suicide was a crime as well as a sin until 1870 (Macdonald and Murphy 1990: 346), although the legal penalties for suicide had not generally been enforced for some time before its final abolition. Macdonald and Murphy suggest that both popular and official attitudes to suicide hardened in the post-Reformation period in comparison to late medieval attitudes, and then gradually became more liberal from the late seventeenth century on. Perhaps because the odds against a glorious resurrection as one of the elect, according to Protestant theology, were so long (fewer than one in a hundred were destined to be saved, according to some), the temptation to despair was strong in the early modern period. Despair, though, was a sin, and killing oneself was regarded as a rejection of God and a rejection of faith because it was the extreme expression of lost hope, putting the self forever beyond the possibility of redemption. Suicide was widely regarded as succumbing to the temptations of the devil. It was an especially diabolical act: “Every crime could be viewed as a sin”, write Macdonald and Murphy (1990: 59), “and hence an ungodly act inspired by Satan, but only a few offences, notably self-murder and witchcraft, were regarded as primarily supernatural”. Suicides presented a number of problems. In folk belief, their eternally liminal status made them more likely to return and trouble the living; the efforts made to prevent this are further considered in the next chapter. In terms of the proper ordering of society, the normal means of punishment were not accessible: corporal or capital punishment was pointless or unavailable, imprisonment inappropriate. The aspects of personhood that survived death were one’s estate, one’s progeny, one’s reputation and one’s corpse: all these were targeted in the judicial and social punishment of suicide. The property of suicides was forfeit, often leaving families destitute. The names and stories of suicides were advertised in the press and in ephemeral publications such as pamphlets and newspapers, thus removing their respectability; and the bodies of suicides were excluded from Christian burial. Their burial should, says Weever, have a deterrent effect. Instead of churchyard burial, suicides should be buried “in or neare to the high wayes, with a stake thrust through their bodies, to terrifie all passengers, by that so infamous and reproachfull a buriall; not to make such their finall passage out of this present world” (Weever 1631: 22). The case of Marcy Clay, also known as Jenny Fox, illustrates the strange coming together of science, superstition and the judicial system in the treatment of the criminal body. Jenny Fox was the intelligent and handsome daughter of a Dorset chapman, who made her living in London by theft and deception until one day, desperately short of money, she “got on 147

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland Men’s Apparel . . . a good Horse, Sword and Pistols . . . and in this Equipage betakes her self to the High-way” (Anon 1665: 8). For some time she made a living as a highwaywoman and, according to her anonymous biographer, engaged in romantic and daring adventures until at last she was apprehended and condemned to death by hanging. The day before her sentence was to be carried out, she killed herself by drinking poison that had been smuggled to her in prison. Two days later she was “opened” by a surgeon in Newgate who found her body to be in a sound and healthy condition except for the damage incurred by drinking “white mercury”. Her biographer does not say whether this dissection was performed in front of an audience and if so, whether it was composed of students or the public, but in 1665 Surgeons’ Hall had not yet been relocated to Newgate. Afterwards her body was taken to Tyburn “and there (hard by the Gallows) buried, with a stake through her bowels, as in cases of self-Murther is usual” (Anon 1665: 11). Although this treatment of the corpse owes more to traditional folk-belief than to the furtherance of science, it was actually in conformity with legal and theological regulations denying normal burial to suicides.

Disintegrating the Criminal Body The criminal body, as discussed previously, was often officially or unofficially excluded from normal rituals of deposition. Depending on the severity of the crime committed, the body could be disintegrated or obliterated, hung in chains, given to anatomists, buried in an unusual place or manner or, the mildest sanction, interred on the inauspicious north side of the churchyard. The removal of the heads, and sometimes the hearts or entrails, of some executed traitors accomplished three things. First, it destroyed the integrity of the body. Although this did not, according to any theologian, compromise bodily resurrection at the time of judgement, there might have been a popular feeling that the body required all its elements in order to be restored, even if this was not articulated in any coherent way. It is likely, however, that given the crimes of which these people had been convicted, there would be little popular expectation that their souls would be saved anyway. Second, it enabled the public display of the head, the most highly individuated and recognisable part of the body, thus contributing further to its punitive humiliation. Third, the head had particular symbolic meaning as the seat of consciousness, and thus was a good signifier for the body as a whole. LeGoff (1989: 13) writes that in medieval European thought the head was often the seat of the soul and a bodily location of particular power. Ethnographically there are many circumstances where the removal of the head transferred the power of its former possessor to the person who removed it (Stahl 1986), although it is doubtful that such a specific idea was at work here. The political and social circumstances of the Reformation precipitated many beheadings during the sixteenth century. In the seventeenth century the Civil War, interregnum and restoration saw large numbers of executions, and the rebellions of 148

Social Belief the eighteenth century, especially the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, also resulted in many beheadings. Rebellions in Ireland were dealt with brutally by the English; the five human skulls found below the walls of Galway city (Fitzpatrick et al. 2004: 22) are probably the remains of heads mounted and exhibited on poles above the city walls. An excavation at 16 Eustace Street, Temple Bar, Dublin produced eleven skulls, thirteen lower mandibles and eighteen cervical vertebrae, but no other post-cranial bones at all (Ponsford and Jackson 1998: 167). These are also likely to be the remains of heads displayed in prominent public locations. The public display of the head was intended to punish the criminal and to dissuade others. The heads of traitors executed in London were usually put on public display, while the rest of the body was buried in an unmarked pit at Tyburn, or if an aristocratic or royal traitor, at the church of St Peter ad Vincula at Tower Hill or at the place of execution, if elsewhere. The removal of heads at or after execution was the most common division of the criminal body. Although heads were displayed publically in most cases, the family and friends of the deceased were sometimes able to secure the return of the head. A well-preserved head in a wooden box discovered in the vaults beneath the Holy Trinity Church, Minories, near the Tower of London in 1851 was tentatively identified as belonging to Henry Grey, the Duke of Suffolk and the father of Lady Jane Grey, executed in 1554 (Ponsford 1991: 116). Following the closure of the Holy Trinity, the head was moved to St Botolph’s Aldgate. The vault at St Botolph’s was full of burials mostly dating to the seventeenth century and had been sealed, but this head was nevertheless added to the vault; it was subsequently removed in 1990 during the archaeological excavation of the church floor (Ponsford 1991: 116). In the case of Sir Thomas More, executed for his opposition to Henry VIII’s divorce, his head was removed from display on Westminster Bridge and kept by his daughter, Catherine Roper, with whom it was buried in due course. The head remains in St Dunstan’s, Canterbury, in the Roper vault beneath the floor (Figure 4.9). The vault was opened and archaeologically examined in 1978 and a lead box containing the remains of a human skull was found in a specially constructed niche in the wall (Tatton-Brown 1980). Other heads were not so decorously treated. Sir Walter Raleigh’s head was carried by his widow in a bag designed for the purpose, and was not buried until the death of his son with whom it was probably interred (Powell 1952). Oliver Cromwell’s head, after Cromwell’s posthumous execution, passed through many hands and was kept as a curiosity, exhibited for money, bought, sold and inherited until its eventual secret reburial in 1960 (Tarlow 2008). The fate of Cromwell’s head contrasts neatly with that of his near contemporary St Oliver Plunkett. As a Catholic martyr Plunkett’s head, snatched from the flames at his execution, was curated in a number of secret locations, eventually coming to St Peter’s church, Drogheda, where it has been venerated as a saintly and miraculous relic for some centuries. Where the body was buried with minimal ceremony and not in a place that would normally be appropriate to the social rank of the individual, the head had to signify the whole of the physical person, and perhaps the whole of the social 149

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland person too. Certainly Lady Raleigh’s habit of being accompanied by her husband’s head for the rest of her life suggests that the head signified more than itself in a social sense – it was the material referent for a social persona. By the eighteenth century, the accounts of traitors’ executions contained in the Newgate Calendar demonstrate that requests by the convict for his head to be collected decorously and not held up to the crowd but put into the prepared coffin with the rest of his body were usually granted. Beheading of enemies in times of war was not unknown, although it was more common in conflicts with the indigenous inhabitants of America, where the removal and exchange of heads was a familiar way of making political alliances or demonstrations of defiance (Lipman 2008). However, the actions of Sir Humfrey Gilbert in putting down an Irish rebellion in Munster in September 1569 offended even English sensibilities. Deciding that “the stiffe necked must be made to stoupe” (Churchyard 1579: c.145 [no page numbers]), Gilbert’s policy was that the heddes of all those (of what sort soever thei were) whiche were killed in the daie, should bee cutte of from their bodies, and brought to the place where he incamped at night: and should there bee laied on the ground, by eche side of the waie leadyng into his owne Tente: so that none could come into his Tente for any cause, but commonly he muste passe through a lane of heddes, which he used ad terrorem, the dedde feelyng nothyng the more paines thereby: and yet did it bryng greate terrour to the people, when thei sawe the heddes of their dedde fathers, brothers, children, kinsfolke, and freends, lye on the grounde before their faces. Churchyard tries to defend Gilbert’s policy on the grounds that he was only using the custom of the Irish against them, but the English were by no means unanimous in applauding this brutality.

Anatomising Criminals Anatomy was considered extensively in Chapter 3, but it was also a significant part of the judicial history of the body as an instrument of social control. The needs of anatomists had been formally supplied by the criminal justice system since the inception of the science. Before the Murder Act of 1751 the eventual fate of the bodies of executed criminals was not specified, although small numbers of bodies were made available to anatomy institutions. Otherwise, practice seems to have varied. The bodies of people who have apparently been hanged have been found in parish graveyards, and even after dissection some bodies were interred in a normal grave. The burial register of St Martin’s, Ludgate, London, records that on 28th February 1615 “an anatomy from the College of Physicians” was buried there (Lang 1887: 28). It is likely that additional costs were paid to gaolers, executioners or the anatomists themselves to secure bodies for private burial. For those who 150

Social Belief

Figure 4.9. Thomas More’s head. After More’s execution and the brief public display of his head, it was taken by his daughter Margaret Roper and eventually deposited in a special niche in the Roper vault at St Dunstan’s Church, Canterbury. This illustration is from the Gentleman’s Magazine 7 (1837): 496.

came from less privileged backgrounds the option of eventual burial in a family vault or ceremonial treatment by friends and family was not available. Bodies of the executed poor were generally buried outside the normal places of consecrated burial, as discussed in the case of the Oxford Castle burials. The bodies supplied for anatomy through official channels were presented to established groups of anatomists such as the Royal College of Surgeons in London or the fellows of a university college. The conditions of donation usually involved a requirement that bodies be dissected in public, accompanied by an anatomical lecture. While this could be interpreted as part of a programme of public education for the general improvement of the populace, it also ensured that the privacy and dignity of the object of dissection was violated as thoroughly as possible. The anatomising of the criminal body was intended as retribution for the individual’s transgression against societal values, as a deterrent to the public and a social reinforcement of behavioural boundaries. In serving these functions punitive dissection also reinforced ideas about the body and the science of anatomy, associating bodily disintegration with moral and social dishonour, and anatomists with executioners. 151

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland Many progressive early modern anatomists resented the popular perception of their science as a ghoulish punishment for wrongdoing.

Conclusions: The Body and the Body Politic: Metaphors of the Body Given the disgust that pervades theological writing on the relationship between the body and the soul, it is surprising that the most frequent metaphorical invocation of the body in the early modern period is not grounded in its corruption, sinfulness and ephemerality, but in the beauteous harmony of a perfectly articulated and integrated system working in an orderly way. This is the body politic, a familiar concept in early modern political philosophy. Chapter 2 described the ‘microcosmic’ paradigm, wherein an identity was posited between the body of man and the whole universe, or cosmos. As the body had a soul, the universe had a God. Thus, to know the body was to know God, a belief invoked in the discourses of science as well as in philosophy and poetry. The microcosmic idea pivoted on a relationship that was almost fractal – the constant replication of the same form at different scales. It also meant to the medieval mind that disorders of the universe were manifestations of disorders in human relationships, and conversely that the disorders of the body were due to cosmic imbalances. This classical and medieval idea was strongly present in the early modern period, informing humoral theories of medicine, for example, and the astrological beliefs of alchemy. These beliefs in cosmic replication and the existence of forces of sympathy acting between parts of the universe, the human body and the political state also underlay certain folk beliefs such as the power of the murdered corpse to bleed or the medicinal and curative powers of the touch of a dead hand, discussed in the next chapter. There was, however, a related way of thinking about the body which metaphorically paralleled each body part with some element of civil society. The idea of the ‘body politic’ received expression in poetry and philosophy. It was not a new metaphor in the early modern period – it was extensively employed by Greek and Roman writers, especially Plato (Hale 2003: 68). The Pauline metaphor of the church as body drew on and elaborated this metaphor, and the analogy between church and body was very prevalent in late medieval theology. In the early modern period, some of the old conservative assumptions of the metaphor were challenged and even subverted, as by John Milton in ‘Of Reformation in England’ (1641), where the hierarchy of the Catholic Church was depicted as a cancer upon the body of society. By the eighteenth century, the authoritarian and hierarchical burden of the metaphor had caused it to fall out of favour somewhat, and gradually the political metaphor of the social contract came to dominate thinking about relations between individuals and the political state (Hale 2003: 70), but it was still commonly found in secular employment in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Galenic medicine, still widely practiced in the early modern period, assumed an identity between the cosmos and the human body, but even the modern medicine 152

Social Belief emerging at the time made use of those familiar ideas. William Harvey dedicated his seminal work on the motion of the blood to Charles I, in the following words (ironically, this English translation [of the original Latin] was published in 1653 by which time, of course, the king had been executed and the Common-wealth was functioning without a divine heart): The Heart of creatures is the foundation of life, the Prince of all, the Sun of their Microcosm, on which all vegetation does depend, from whence all vigor and strength does flow. Likewise the King is the foundation of his Kingdoms, and the Sun of his Microcosm, the Heart of his Common-wealth, from whence all power and mercy proceeds. In a book-length elaboration of the metaphor, Edward Forset (1606 [1973]) claimed that the body of a man was the fittest model of the Commonweal, the body “being the lesser world, even the diminitive and modell of that wide extending universall” (1606: iii). In this model the sovereign is to the state what the soul is to the body, although elsewhere in the text the sovereign is seen as equivalent to the head, or to the heart. As the head is “the first wheel and string of motion”, loved and protected by the rest of the body (1606: 27), the heart, “the well of life, the furnace of heat, the center of bloud, the first living and the last dying part” (1606: 29), sends blood to fortify all parts of the body. Neither the head nor the heart can do any harm to the body, as all its parts are bound together in mutual need and service. Within the lesser world, the four humours of man’s body were not only linked to different personality types, but these types in turn made up the elements of the body politic: the ‘generous’ [leaders]; the learned; yeomen; and ‘trafiquers’ [merchants] (1606: 38). This view of the body has a number of implications. First, there is clearly a conservative political implication: if the social hierarchy of a state is analogous to the organs of the body, then dependence is mutual and the smooth functioning of the whole depends on each part fulfilling its role. Princes (brains or hearts) cannot do any harm to the body upon which it depends. Forset notes with approval that Menenius Agrippa was able to quell the dissatisfactions of the “seditious revolting commons of Rome” by reminding them that their rulers were the belly of the body that sustained them, the working hands, and that by destroying the belly, the body itself would cease to function (Forset 1606: v). The political tendency of Forset’s metaphor is conservative and counter-revolutionary. Strife and civil unrest are as unnatural in this formulation as the rejection of one body part by the rest of the body would be (in a pre-transplant era), and societal elements that might otherwise be perceived as parasitic are presented as essential to the functioning of the whole. Unsurprisingly, Forset does not develop the theme of the ultimately privileged status of the soul as opposed to the destiny of the body. In his book, the body is not stinking, vile or corrupt, worthless matter that will eventually turn to dust. Instead, it is a timeless, ageless, immortal, breathing body, a balanced system in perpetual motion. 153

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland

Personal Status, the Decaying Body and the Desire for ‘Honesty’ Protestant doctrine would seem to suggest that giving significant attention to the dead body was foolish and vain, given that it was nothing but a stinking jakes, empty booth or a little organised and animated clay. There are, in fact, theological justifications that could be invoked when detailing suitable treatment of the corpse, although they rarely were (see ‘The Resurrection of the Body’, in Chapter 2). Despite the theologians’ insistence on the insignificance of the corpse, other written discourses including the wishes of will-writers, and archaeological evidence of actual practice document a widespread desire for decent, or in early modern terms, ‘honest’ burial. The majority of early modern testators did not mention the fate of their body at all, but a significant minority did make some provision for disposal of their corpse. Allison Chambers, a Darlington woman making her will in 1588, began with the request that she “be honestlie brought forth, like an honest man’s barne [child], and laid beside my father” (Houlbrooke 1998: 95). Becon stipulated that “The buriall of the faithfull ought to be done honestly, but not sumptuously. Neither ought the dead bodies of Christians to bee vilely handled, but honestly buried for the hope of the glorious resurrection”. Becon gives the theological justification of bodily resurrection as a reason why the body should be treated with care. It is not entirely clear what honesty means in these contexts, although it seems to contrast, for Becon at least, with both sumptuousness and vile handling. Theologically, given the sixteenth-century context of both Allison Chambers’s will and Becon’s Ars Moriendi, honesty is also likely to contrast with Catholic “superstition”, especially since the charge of sumptuousness or luxury was often levelled at Catholics by adherents of the reformed churches. The desire to maintain seemliness in regard to the dead body is evident in both the wishes of those contemplating their own deaths and in the priorities and practices of the bereaved. It is evident, at the top end of the social scale, in the construction of effigies and the practice of embalming (and also, paradoxically, in resistance to embalming motivated by feminine modesty). For more ordinary people, it is evident in attempts to hide, mask or offset the process of decay with perfumes, herbs, closed coffins and attentive washing. Decay of the body seems to have constituted a threat to personal dignity and to personal identity itself. At an individual level, the threat of bodily decay was more significant for most people than the hole in the social fabric left by a death which anthropologists such as Bloch and Parry (1982) have argued needs to be knitted up by social and ritual action. Because the body in post-medieval Britain and Ireland was so significant in mediating the personal and emotional relationships coming to be highly valued at this time, the annihilation of the body was also a profound emotional challenge to those left behind. That challenge was addressed by a number of strategies; in particular perpetuation of the body itself or the substitution of the body by a commemorative memorial that could assume some of the emotional work done by 154

Social Belief the body during life. These beliefs about the body were not the same as the beliefs of the human body formulated and reproduced in the discourses of science, nor were they the anti-corporeal beliefs of religious teaching. Social beliefs about the dead body, however, intersected with other belief discourses in ways that sometimes showed compatibility between them, and sometimes exposed contradictions. Once more, the context and tradition of belief discourse is vital to our understanding of how ‘belief ’ operated in the context of mortality in the early modern period.


Chapter 5

Folk Belief

Distinct traditions developed in thinking and writing about the dead body in the early modern period. Theologians argued over the exact nature of bodily resurrection and the fate of souls of the unbaptised. Scientists and doctors were increasingly able to localise disease and ascribe medical causes to the failure of the body. Appropriate ways of distinguishing the bodies of criminals or nobles from the common herd or of marking the difference between men and women were discussed. Beloved bodies were wept over. Alongside all these kinds of beliefdiscourse, however, ran another discourse of belief about the body. Popular, often unwritten, sometimes incoherent folk belief or superstition not only constituted the basis of medical practice for many people of the British Isles, it also affected both scientific and religious practice throughout the period and into the modern age. In fact, scientific and theological discourses were often attempts at post hoc rationalisation of phenomena that were part of folk knowledge (such as the capacity of the touch of a hanged man’s hand to cure cancers of the neck, or the definition of the numinous sith as an order between men and angels) rather than explanations of empirically witnessed observations. The study of folklore is often overlooked by scholars interested in understanding the past in Britain, especially in England, despite the success of Keith Thomas’s lengthy examinations of folk belief in early modern England (Thomas 1971, 1983), and more recently Ronald Hutton’s wide-ranging social histories which have integrated folkloric evidence with other more orthodox sources of historical information (e.g. Hutton 1994, 1996). In contrast to many other European countries, there are few departments of English folkloric studies. Scottish and Welsh folklore are better 156

Folk Belief established, and in Ireland folkloric studies have a rich and respectable pedigree and are still regarded as important to national identity and heritage. In England, however, folklore is still widely regarded as the province of local tourist guides, ghost walks and uncritical amateurs. Contemporary folklore literature is awash with local books of stories, superstitions and (especially) ghosts, witches and the supernatural, in which no sources are cited, written by authors with no academic experience or research skills. These books are widely and cheaply available and constitute the backbone of ‘tourist lore’ (Simpson and Roud 2000) retailed by tour guides and in pamphlets catering to visitors. These accounts mix nuggets of genuine local history and folk belief with anecdotes from fiction or even from the folk archives of other places. Wiltshire’s Wiltshire Folklore (1975:10), for example, sources the tale of Bella and the ‘hand of glory’ to her own Wiltshire grandmother, who told the story of an inn near her home. In fact, the story was well-known in the late nineteenth century, but originally collected by Henderson from his informant, Charles Wastell, to whom the tale was recounted by Bella Parkin, daughter of the former servant at the Spittal Inn on Stainmore in North Yorkshire, where the incident is alleged to have taken place. This transposition of events is probably common. It ironically exposes another assumption of popular commentaries on folklore: that it is highly specific to regions, and certainly to countries. Identity politics of Scotland, Ireland and Wales, and of some of the English regions, promote claims to distinctiveness and almost certainly implicitly inform research strategies that look for the unique, particular and charming. Despite the taint of unscholarly populism, however, there is plenty of ethnographically sound folklore, sourced and checked with sociological rigour, and the Folklore Society continues to advance the study of those aspects of contemporary popular culture which could be considered folkloric. The study of folklore as a historical source is also undertaken, but its potential as a source of evidence is not close to being fully exploited. There is much good folkloric ethnography written from the late eighteenth century onwards (Hutton 1995: 90–91), much of which dates to the later nineteenth century. Folklorists of this period were generally upper middle class or aristocratic individuals with close attachments to their regions. Clergymen and county gentry were numerous amongst them. Despite the existence of the Folklore Society, a learned association founded in 1878, uses of folkloric evidence as a proper historical source are rarely fully exploited. There are several legitimate reasons for this. As mentioned, much ‘folklore’ produced today lacks academic credibility. Most of the collection of British folklore during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was not undertaken with the rigour that modern sociological research demands. Informants frequently go unnamed, sources unattributed and practices recorded without having been witnessed first-hand. Furthermore, because so much folklore was collected more than a century ago, it was often interpreted using anthropological and historical frameworks now discredited or unfashionable. Undeniably, the social background of the writers meant that sometimes the recording of folklore was informed by a moral agenda of political, religious or social 157

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland reform. For this reason, common people who were the subject of discussion might be romanticised, or the distance between their beliefs, practices and conditions and those of the middle classes might be exaggerated. Less strategically, it is a common problem in folklore that only what seems different and unusual gets recorded. Further, ‘folklore’ was often assumed to be concerned with the customs and beliefs of the rural poor: urban folklore and folkloric practices that were also shared by the folklorist mostly went unremarked. Many practices the collector deemed outwith the realm of folklore (e.g. young adult behaviour of comparatively recent origin) or beneath notice (children’s games). Conversely, some aspects of folk practice were inaccessible to the folklorist, such as (often) the intimate female practices surrounding pregnancy and childbirth; there were other aspects about which the informants may have misled the folklorist (especially if, as was often the case, he was also their vicar), such as sex, or that involved minor legal transgressions (poaching, rough justice). The deepest suspicion of folklore today, especially among archaeologists and historians, is the degree to which is was and often still is interpreted by a theory of ‘Survivals’ (Hutton 1995; Simpson and Roud 2000: 349). That is to say, there is an often implicit assumption that ancient pagan religious beliefs and ritual cultural practices survive in a decontextualised, degraded and muddled form in modern folklore. Thus, the proper analysis of a children’s game, folk song, or local calendar custom would reveal at its heart a form of pagan worship, a memory of lost tribes or an ancient cataclysm. A number of early folklorists and anthropologists, including such luminaries as George Lawrence Gomme, Andrew Lang and James Gordon Frazer, saw the purpose of their discipline as illuminating these ancient and lost beliefs. ‘Survivals’ theory articulated well with a progressivist theory of history, by which all societies passed through the same recognisable phases on their inevitable trajectory from savagery to civilisation. Thus, our barbarian past was observable in the survival of aspects of cultural practice that had lost their original meaning but were curated by the unthinking, conservative and ignorant masses, and also in the customs of modern ‘primitives’, for example in Africa or America. The common people of Britain were assumed to be culturally conservative to the point of immutability. A correlate of this view is that folklore is all ancient, dateless and ‘from time out of mind’. Anthropologists consider ‘survivals’ thought as part of nineteenth-century evolutionism, which was challenged in that discipline in the early twentieth century by Malinowski’s functionalist argument that apparently arbitrary survivals were actually retained because they served a purpose in the present (Maryon McDonald pers. comm. 2009). Over the course of the twentieth century, academic anthropology and archaeology have critiqued and abandoned survivals theory, although its death among folklorists has been slower. Some form of survivalism still underwrites nearly all popular folklore and, as Simpson and Roud (2000: 349) rightly point out, “as its basis is purely conjectural, it can be used to support any view which is fashionable at the time, whether sun or moon worship, fertility, phallic symbols, female deities, or Freudian or Jungian psychology”. The use of folklore has thus become associated in many minds with a cavalier disregard for cultural specifics like date and provenance. 158

Folk Belief It is widely regarded by academics in other disciplines as unreliable and as a source of manipulable weight to buttress any unorthodox theory about the past, no matter how fruity. In more academic circles, however, studies have demonstrated the comparatively recent origins of supposedly ancient folkloric practices and demonstrated how, far from being mindlessly re-enacted, they were often deployed strategically in times of contemporary political or cultural tension. These unarguable conclusions undermined the theory of cultural survivals that had structured folklore for so long. But if one can disentangle it from tourist lore, nationalist propaganda and discredited theories, there is much good empirical information – perhaps better described as historical ethnography – available. Moreover, folkloric researchers were sometimes the only people to take an interest in recording (as opposed to correcting or deriding) the practices, beliefs and aspirations of the poor and uneducated. Even given the explicitly ‘survivalist’ title of John Aubrey’s Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme (1881 [1686]), it is probably the most valuable source for English and Welsh folkloric practice and belief in the seventeenth century. Even though folklore, by its nature, is encountered as gossip, hearsay or unprovenanced anecdote, and the substance of folk knowledge is generally unverifiable by empirical means, it is a valuable source of evidence for belief in the past and one which can illuminate our examination of beliefs around the dead body in the early modern period.

Folk Beliefs about the Dead Body The scientific exploitation of the dead body as the raw material of anatomical research depends on a belief that the dead body cannot feel or sense, that it can no longer be an active agent in the world of the living. Insofar as it had value, the corpse’s value was in its worth as a research tool or material resource. But for the mass of people in Britain and Ireland, such an understanding of the dead body was alien, and the fact that they did not share that view was the source of much antagonism and fear. For most people in the early modern period, folkloric evidence suggests, the dead body was neither inert nor powerless. The body itself was a source of supernatural power, which could be harnessed for judicial or social purposes. But the corpse was also a source of medicinal power, known for its curative properties throughout Europe. Until the nineteenth century, ‘mummia’ or ‘mummy’, a remedy made either from the remains of actual ancient mummies or from dried flesh or pulverised bones – particularly skulls – of the recently deceased was available throughout most of Europe and was part of the orthodox physicians pharmacopeia. Oswald Croll includes the following recipe for making medicinal mummy in his Basilica Chymica, translated into English by John Hartman in 1670 Chuse the Carcase of a red Man (because in them the blood is more sincere, and gentle and therefore more excellent), whole (not maimed) clear without blemishes, of the age of twenty four years, that hath been Hanged, Broke upon 159

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland a Wheel, or Thrust-through, having been for one day and night exposed to the open Air, in a serene [unclouded] time. This Mumy (that is, Musculous flesh, of the Thighs, Breasts, Armes, and other parts) from the two Luminaries, once illuminate and constellate, cut into small pieces or slices and sprinkle on them Powder of Myrrh, and of Aloes, but a very little (otherwise it will be too bitter) afterward by Macerating, Imbibe them for certain days in Spirit of Wine, hang them up a little, and again imbibe them, then hang them up to dry in the Air; this so dryed will be like Flesh hardned in Smoak, and be without stink (Croll 1670: 155). Other recipes for mummy also exist, including one by Dr. Alexander Read in 1687 (Noble 2003: 702). It is interesting that Croll’s recipe calls for a particular kind of human body – a young, vigorous and male body who has died a sudden and violent death. The good condition of the body (and explicitly of the blood) is important to the efficacy of the medicine. Another seventeenth-century chemist says that the efficacy of medicines derived from living creatures depends on the animal having been cut off violently in full health and not allowed to consume its own virtue in a slow death from disease. If “the vital flame be extinguished violently”, he says, it “remains a while not separated from its body, till both be dissolved” (Schroeder 1669: 506). Mummy was considered a potent medicine and recommended against all sorts of diseases. It was widely prescribed (although it had its detractors too – Reginald Scot believed that administering the flesh of people who had died would introduce disease and could not be a good thing, and Ambroise Par´e was similarly unimpressed by the practice [Hamby 1960]). Other parts of the dead human body could also be taken medicinally. Simpson (1973: 84) records the belief that powdered human skull was particularly effective for epilepsy. Aubrey (1881 [1686]: 165) knew of a Dr. Goddard who bought bones from the sexton to make his ‘drops’. Even in the 1880s, a Devon woman attempted to buy ‘Oil of Man’ distilled from human skulls to restore the affections of her errant husband. Unhappily for her, however, her search was fruitless: she was told that such a commodity was no longer available (Transactions of the Devonshire Association 21 (1889): 113–4). As well as essences of the whole flesh like mummy or oil of man, early modern pharmacopoeia were full of specific substances derived from the human body which were recommended as ‘simples’: blood (especially menstrual blood or blood taken from wounds inflicted by violence), urine, marrow, bone dust (especially, as noted, cranium), excrement and human milk, for example. Observing that the noblest medicine for man is man’s own body, Paracelsus recommended human simples as part of the treatment of many diseases (Noble 2003: 681). In Denmark, Germany and Switzerland the blood of decapitated criminals was taken as medicine, even in the nineteenth century (Peacock 1896: 270–1), and Christian IV of Denmark is alleged to have taken the powdered skulls of criminals as a cure for epilepsy (1896: 270). The use of the skulls of malefactors in some European locations as drinking vessels was also curative, although the British examples cited 160

Folk Belief by Peacock involve the heads of saints rather than criminals. In this case, the body was directly medicinal but also had quasi-magical power. Indeed, the body did not have to be treated and eaten to have a beneficial effect. The use of human teeth, taken from skulls, as a safeguard against toothache is recorded by Aubrey in 1686, who recalled that in his boyhood at Bristow (Bristol) “it was common fashion for the woemen, to get a Tooth out of a sckull in the churchyard, wch they wore as a preservative against the Tooth-ach” (Aubrey 1880 [1686]: 164–5). The ghoulish manner of getting the teeth in nineteenth-century Devon was witnessed in the 1830s by a friend of Mrs. Bray, a folklorist, who noted on 8th January 1833 Only this very day, had I not been too lazy to stir from my room, I might have had the gratification of seeing a scramble after old teeth in a skull. For Miss Elizabeth Greco . . . asked me if I knew what was going on in the churchyard, so many persons, old and young, were thronging to it. Scarcely had she spoken when Mary Colling came running in and said if I wanted to see an old custom she had told me of I had only to go to the churchyard, for several skulls having, in making a grave, been dug near the remains of Orgar’s tomb, there was going on such a scene as she had never before witnessed; men and women tugging with their mouths at every tooth they could find left to cure them (Bray 1838: 29). Even before Aubrey’s boyhood, Reginald Scot recorded a sixteenth-century belief that toothache would be cured if one were to “scarifie the gums in the greefe, with the tooth of one that hath beene slaine” (1964 [1584]: 210). The particular efficacy of the executed body is a recurrent motif to which I will return. If the body itself was not used, then the earth of the churchyard, moss from the skull or, best of all, fittings from a coffin also had prophylactic and curative powers. According to Aubrey (1881 [1686]: 165), the “earth or musilage newly scraped from the shin-bone” made an effective plaster for gout, and Simpson and Roud (2000: 152) note the belief that moss growing on skulls could cure plague and ease headaches. In his study of ghost lore in the west country, Brown (1979: 58) encountered a recurrent element in stories of spirits in animal form where a fierce and threatening animal is rendered docile by throwing graveyard earth in its face, although whether this was due to the earth containing part of the power of the dead body or whether it was because it was consecrated ground, functioning like holy water, is uncertain. Faith in the value of wearing a ring made of a coffin nail, handle or hinge recovered from a graveyard is recorded from North Yorkshire (Blakeborough 1898: 140–1), where they were believed to act as charms against all kinds of evil. In Shropshire the ring should be made from three different coffin rings, from three different coffins from three different churchyards (Opie and Tatem 1989: 91). The use of graveyard earth or coffin fittings suggests that the presence of the body had some sort of contagious ameliorative power, and that the soil in which the dead were laid (and, to be precise, which was made in part from the bodies of 161

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland the dead), and the things most closely associated with the corpse, also retained some power. This understanding of the power of substances clearly relates to Catholic relic traditions; in particular, stuff associated with the dead bodies of saints, such as the shrouds in which they were wrapped or the water with which they had been washed, were conserved, traded and used as holy substances in the medieval period. The belief that dead bodies had some kind of power which affected the things they came into contact with also informed secular folk belief and early scientific knowledge. That the presence of dead bodies, and not solely their consecrated character, was part of the efficacy of churchyard earth is suggested by an anecdote from the early nineteenth century. In the time of Louis XIV, Hibbert (1825: 22) tells us, the Institute of Paris was intrigued by the case of three alchemists who had distilled the graveyard earth of Les Saint Innocents in Paris, a famously powerful burial ground that could allegedly consume the bodies of the dead in twenty-four hours. The alchemists had hoped that the ground might contain the philosophers stone, but when they examined their distillations through magnifying lenses they saw instead that the water was swimming with homunculi – little men. Hibbert took this to mean that some essence of the bodies buried there was present in the earth and linked it to the possibility that wraiths of the dead might be produced from churchyards through the operation of palingenesy (see this volume, pp. 188–9).

The Touch of the Dead There is considerable evidence too that people sought out the touch of the dead for medicinal reasons. Most widespread was the belief that the touch of a recently hanged man’s hand would cure various medical conditions. Peacock’s (1896) survey of the significance of executed criminals in folk medicine records the practice throughout France, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and parts of Italy, particularly Sicily. Balkut˙e (n.d.) records the Lithuanian folkloric belief that the hand of a corpse (but not necessarily a hanged one) would cure moles, warts and similar skin conditions. Similar traditions in the regions of Britain are legion (Figure 5.1). Wollaston Groome (1895) records the Suffolk belief that the hand of a dead man, passed three times over the affected part, will cure wens or “fleshy excrescences.” In Lincolnshire, the dead man’s hand should be passed seven or nine times over the swelling, and ideally the hand should be that of either an executed criminal or a drowned person (Peacock 1896: 268). The Stamford Mercury of 26 March 1830 records that two women, one bringing a child, attended the execution of three men at Lincoln to rub the dead men’s hands over themselves in order to cure diseased parts of their bodies. A correspondent of Notes and Queries (ii: 36) said in 1850 that execution days in Northampton drew crowds of the afflicted hoping to receive the ‘death stroke’, and an Oxfordshire woman in 1852 wanted to try the cure for her goitre, because it had apparently worked for her father (Notes and Queries first series vi: 145). In the late eighteenth century, John Brand noted a widespread willingness to subject “any maculated part to the Touch of the Dead” 162

Folk Belief

Figure 5.1. The hand of the hanged murderer Hollings used to cure a young woman. The application of the ‘dead hand’ was widely believed to be efficacious against conditions of the neck. (1777: 97). Pitman (1909: 216) noted a Cumbrian case of a boy cured of marks on his face by the touch of the hands of three heads of households who had all died on the same day. Even in the early twentieth century, the touch of a dead man’s hand was believed effective for curing cancer in Cambridgeshire (Porter 1969: 75), and in the Cambridgeshire fens it was believed that if a woman was able to hold the hand of a dead man for two minutes she would not conceive for two years, a desirable reward for the mothers of large, poor Fenland families in an age of rudimentary family planning. In North Yorkshire too unspecified diseases could be cured by the touch of a dead hand (Blakeborough 1898: 201), and in Sussex and Northamptonshire a hanged man’s hand would cure a wen or goitre (Sternberg 1851: 116). In County Durham, the hand of a dead child or a suicide would cure goitre, and Brockie (1974 [1886]: 221) cites the case of a collier’s wife in Castle Eden in about 1853 who, on the advice of a wise woman, spent the night in an outhouse where a suicide had been laid out with his hand against her neck to cure a wen there. Often the bodies of those who had died a violent death were particularly potent, especially executed criminals. In Thomas Hardy’s short story ‘The Withered Arm’ (published in 1888 but set in the 1820s) a desperate young woman seeks the body of a victim of hanging in the hope that the touch of the young man’s still warm 163

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland neck will cure her own deformity. Udal (1922: 186) confirms this practice for Dorset as a cure for skin complaints and withered limbs (although he cites Hardy as one of his sources). Even medical men apparently made use of the power of the corpse on occasion. According to Napier (1976 [1879]: 92–3), William Harvey, the seventeenth-century physician who first described the circulation of the blood, successfully removed “tumours and excrescences” by the application of the hand of one who had recently died of a lingering disease. Belief in the curative power of the hanged body, particularly the hand of an executed criminal, is attested through much of Europe and known from early modern times. Reginald Scot (1964 [1584]: 210) knew of a belief that the touch of a dead hand would cure cysts, wens, goitres, ulcers and the king’s or queen’s evil (scrofula), and Aubrey knew of a man whose wen had been cured that way, as well as a child who had been cured of a hunchback (1880 [1686]: 198). In Somerset, said Aubrey (1696: 97), a man’s wen should be cured by the touch of a dead woman’s hand, and a woman should use the hand of a dead man. He emphatically affirms the “Wonderful Effects” proceeding from the touch of a dead hand (1696: 97).

The Powerful Corpse The medieval belief that the body of a murder victim would bleed if brought into the presence of its murderer was recognised until at least the seventeenth century. Keith Thomas discusses two cases in 1613 and 1636, in Somerset and Lancashire respectively, where a person suspected of murder refused to come into the presence of the corpse for fear that the corpse would indict them in this way (1971: 261). The Somerset man in fact confessed to murder ten years later, having been pursued by the ghost of his victim (Thomas 1971: 714). Holt (1992: 74–6) describes the case of another Somerset man, Robert Sutton, who was murdered around 1729 or 1730. His body was laid out in the church porch and the local clergy and magistrates stood beside it as all the men in the neighbourhood filed passed and each in turn laid a hand upon the corpse. When one of the men, Jack White, came past he refused to touch the corpse and was subsequently tried and convicted of Sutton’s murder for which he was hanged, although how dependent his conviction was on the mute testimony of the corpse is not clear from Holt’s account. A similar account is (unreliably) recorded for Manningford Abbas in Wiltshire. In 1798 a man named Taylor Dyke was robbed and murdered near the Phoenix Inn. The following Sunday the rector of Pewsey, Rev. Joseph Townsend, made everyone file out of the church past Dyke’s body, and each in turn had to lay a hand on the corpse and swear their innocence of his murder. A man called Amor refused to swear and was subsequently charged and hanged (Wiltshire 1975: 138). The belief in the power of the corpse to accuse its murderer was also known in Scotland. Napier (1976 [1879]: 85) claims to have heard “many instances adduced to prove the truth of bleeding taking place on the introduction of the murderer” and asserts that an eleventh-century ballad (which he does not name) alludes to the 164

Folk Belief practice, as does another medieval ballad called Young Hunting. The Child Ballads collection contains a number of versions of ‘Young Hunting’ which tells of the murder of a young man by his lover and the concealment of his body in the River Clyde. The woman’s crime is witnessed and described by her caged bird, and the body is recovered from the river. In some versions the woman is then brought into the presence of the body: O white, white war his wounds washen, As white as a linen clout; But as the traitor she cam near, His wounds they gushit out.” (Child’s Ballads 68, version B. http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/child/) Napier prefers to explain this phenomenon, in which he clearly believes personally, in terms of Christian belief, acknowledging the Rev. Mr. Wodrow’s statement that such a marvel could be ascribed to “the wonderful Providence of God”, so that murderers might be found out and His command that “thou shalt not suffer a murderer to live” be obeyed. The celebrated trial of Philip Standsfield for the murder of his father, Sir James, in Edinburgh in 1688 depended on evidence of the corpse’s blood shooting onto Philip’s hand as he attempted to lift the body into its coffin (Anon 1690). Philip was subsequently convicted and hanged. The custom was also known in Wales. In the late nineteenth century, according to Jones (1930: 34), O. M. Edwards recorded a story in his journal Cymru about a teamsman who was working away from home when he heard of the death of a young woman he had been courting. He returned home and encountered the ghost of the young woman who told him that she had been seduced and strangled by the man for whom she had been keeping house. She asked him to have her grave and her coffin opened and to bring the guilty man into her presence. Then, she said, her blood will “leap to his face.” The young man, however, did not do as she had asked and died himself soon afterwards (Cymru 4: 43). Also from Wales comes the belief that the body could proclaim its innocence from the grave. A Montgomeryshire man executed for murder proclaimed that his innocence would be proven by the fact that no grass would grow on his grave ( Jones 1930: 217). Belief in the judicial reliability of corpses was not confined to poorly educated provincial types either. Highly educated and rational men like Francis Bacon and Reginald Scot refer to it even as they rejected other folk belief as superstition (although Bacon [apophthegm 144]) refers to the belief as a ‘common tradition’, and his own position is not clear). Thomas argues that acceptance of this folk belief was possible because the Neoplatonic conception of the universe “pulsating with many undiscovered occult influences” (1971: 691) accommodated numerous relationships of influence and attraction. Even if they were not (yet) properly understood, those laws would eventually provide a scientific explanation of phenomena which were believed to exist. It is interesting in considering the nature of belief that where the 165

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland phenomenon of the bleeding corpse was accepted as true by the learned middle and upper classes, attempts were made to explain through the belief discourses of either religion (Napier’s Rev. Wodrow) or science (Scot). Perhaps because executed criminals were often healthy and fit young men, their powerful bodies seemed to contain more life than the sick, emaciated and old bodies of those who died natural deaths. This would also explain why the bodies of drowning victims were sometimes attributed with similar powers. Hallam et al.’s useful distinction between vegetables and vampires is significant here (Hallam et al. 1999). The vigorous young victims of execution or accident were social persons whose potency survived their natural death. Mabel Peacock’s preferred explanation, reflecting the late nineteenth-century vogue for historically deep derivations of folkloric belief in the nineteenth century, is that the judicially slain took the place of the pre-Christian sacrifice. Modern folklorists are less willing to accept deep time lines, but some of the nineteenthcentury beliefs logged by Peacock (1896) and her contemporaries were probably nevertheless descended from the theologically sanctioned beliefs and practices of Catholic antecedents (as Hutton [1995] has recently demonstrated for some calendar customs of the period). For Catholics, the curative and apotropaic power of the body parts of exceptional individuals – and it is worth noting that saints had often met with violent and sudden death while in good health – was controlled by the church which held the relics. Sufferers would sometimes make long pilgrimages to visit the relics of an appropriate saint. The parallels between medieval relic cults and post-Reformation corpse cures are easily drawn. St Margaret Clitheroe, martyred in 1586 for refusing to plead against the accusation of harbouring a priest, had her hand preserved and venerated in the Convent of the Blessed Virgin at York, where it was believed to be effective against throat ailments (presumably because of her own silence). Similarly the hand of St Edmund Arrowsmith, a Jesuit martyred in 1628, is still kept at St Oswald’s Church, Ashton in Makerfield. In their collection of Lancashire folklore, Harland and Wilkinson (1882: 158–60) include Arrowsmith’s hand as an example of superstitious folk-belief rather than of Catholic orthodoxy. They supply the detail that the hand had previously been kept in a chapel at Bryn Hall, which had been demolished by 1882, and the hand removed to Ashton in a silk bag and occasionally brought out to work cures. Both St Margaret Clitheroe and St Edmund Arrowsmith were among the ‘English martyrs’ who died during or in the aftermath of the Reformation and were among the forty beatified martyrs canonised in 1970. In Catholic Ireland, the powerful relic was often a body part (but not always: objects associated with the life or, particularly, the death of the saint are also frequently reputed to have miraculous powers). While some of these belong to ancient saints, corporeal relics of more recent saints are also widespread. The head of St Oliver Plunkett, another of the recently canonised martyrs, was snatched from the flames and taken first to Lambspring in Germany and then to Rome. In the early eighteenth century, it was moved to a new convent in Drogheda, smuggled into Ireland, according to legend, in the top of a grandfather clock (Kilfeather 2002: 232). It is now in St Peter’s Church, Drogheda (Figure 5.2). There is some inconsistency between saints’ relics, 166

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Figure 5.2. The head of St. Oliver Plunkett. Like that of Thomas More (Figure 4.9), Plunkett’s head was rescued shortly after his execution, but unlike More’s it was not interred with family members but curated as a religious relic. It is now housed in a highly ornamented gold and glass box at St Peter’s Cathedral, Drogheda, where it is the focus of a shrine to the canonised Catholic martyr. Photograph courtesy of Ben Dillon.

where their efficacy is related to the blessedness of an individual of extreme virtue, and powerful body parts of the executed criminal, where the individual was not a person of great virtue or recipient of divine favour. Yet the particular power of the body is related to the manner of death in both cases. The curative power of a saint often related especially to the part of the saint’s body most closely involved with martyrdom. Thus, St Bartholomew (who was flayed) was especially good for skin diseases; St Erasmus (disembowelled) for digestive problems and so on. The notable association between hanged men and conditions of the neck and throat probably related to this tradition. The power of the hanged body has nothing to do with the moral virtue of its owner in life, but with its physical vigour, material power and violent death. 167

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The Hand of Glory One other impressive channelling of the power of the corpse is the use of the hand of an executed man as a supernatural aid in the commitment of crimes. In 1440 a coroner’s court at Maidstone in Kent was told that a lit candle held in the hand of a dead man who had lain for nine days and nine nights beneath the ground would ensure for the possessor that “they that sleep shall sleep, and they that wake shall not move, whatever thou do” (Opie and Tatem 1989: 100). Aubrey also recorded the custom in 1686. The fullest description of the use of a hand of glory, however, came from a woman called Bella Parkin, who told her story to Charles Wastell, an informant of Henderson for his (1866) folkloric compendium. When Bella’s mother was a young woman in the 1790s she worked as a maid at the Old Spital Inn (in fact, by the 1790s it would have been the New Spital Inn) on Stainmore, a bleak upland in the parish of Bowes, North Yorkshire. One night, (Atkinson [1981: 55] says it was in 1797) an old woman arrived late at the inn asking to break her journey there. Rather than take a room, since she had to leave very early, she asked permission to sleep in a chair downstairs in the inn parlour, to which the innkeeper agreed. The innkeeper’s family then retired upstairs to bed, leaving the servant to sleep on a bench in the parlour in case their guest should need anything in the night. However, before she lay down to sleep the maid noticed the bottom of a pair of men’s breeches protruding from beneath the dress of the rather large ‘old woman’ and so decided only to feign sleep but actually to stay awake and keep watch. Sure enough, as soon as he thought she was asleep, the traveller removed his dress and bonnet to reveal himself as a burly man bent on burgling the remote and isolated inn. He took from his pocket a withered human hand into which he fitted a candle. Lighting the candle, he passed it to and fro in front of the girl’s face, saying “let those who are asleep be asleep and let those who are awake be awake”. Then he set the hand on the table and went down the steps that led to the outer door to let in his partner. The girl leapt up, pushed him outside, slammed and bolted the door, then went upstairs to rouse the family, but found them impossible to wake. Hearing that the thieves were beginning to break the door down she ran back downstairs and tried to blow out the candle, but was unable to do it. Finally, in desperation she flung a bowl of blue (skimmed) milk over the light. Happily she had stumbled upon the only way of extinguishing a hand of glory; the family was soon roused and in pursuit of the criminals. The two men promised to leave quietly if they could have back their hand of glory, but the family refused and fired shots after them as they ran off (Henderson 1866; Atkinson 1981: 55–8; Brockie 1886: 147). The story is widely known and other versions exist, although the Henderson narrative is the most widespread. Other versions, including one reported to Rhys (1921) by Sabine Baring-Gould, say that the fingers of the hand itself, rather than a candle held in the hand, are set alight. The narcotic effect on the innkeeper’s family is the same. One story, supposed to have occurred at Pontesbury, Shropshire, in the mid-eighteenth century, involves intruders breaking into a house called Sibberscot, the home of Dr. W (Burne 1909: 219). One of the men had “a dead man’s hand and a candle stuck in a lump of clay”. Although the dairy maid was able to summon 168

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Figure 5.3. Hand of glory on display at Whitby Museum. After proper preparation, the hand of a dead man could be used for occult purposes to prevent sleepers from waking up. A hand of glory was therefore of particular value to burglars. Photograph courtesy of Chris Twigg. help by blowing a whistle from an upstairs window, the villains had harmed the cattle by the time they were arrested. Rowling (1976: 24) says that when Cumbrian witch Margaret Teasdale died in 1777 at the age of 98, her house was found to contain a cupboard which opened into a concealed stairway. In the cupboard were the skeleton of a child and the bones of a hand, assumed to be the remains of a hand of glory. Walter Scott drew on accounts of Margaret Teasdale in creating Tib Mumps in his novel Guy Mannering, and discussed the hand of glory in The Antiquary, where Douster Swivel, a German, gave the following account of its preparation. The hand of a murderer should be cut off, he says, and then dried very nice in de shmoke of de juniper wood, and if you put a little of what you call yew wid your juniper [both plants associated with funerals] . . . then you do take something of de fatsh of de bear, and of de badger, and of de great eber, as you call de grand boar, and of de little sucking child as has not been christened (for dat is very essentials), and you do make a candle, and put it into de hand of glory, at de proper hour and minute, and with de proper ceremonish (Scott 1816: 185). Scott’s account is fictional, but Whitby Museum possesses what is purported to be a real hand of glory (Figure 5.3) and a recipe for its preparation (Whitby Museum 169

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland 2007). According to the instructions, the hand must be removed from the body while still hanging from a noose or gibbet, then it must be drained of blood, embalmed in a shroud and steeped in a solution of saltpetre, salt and pepper for two weeks before being dried in the sun. In order to use the hand one also needs to prepare candles made from hanged man’s fat mixed with wax and Lapland sesame.

Folk Beliefs about the Places of the Dead Folkloric beliefs and practices accreted around the places of the dead as well as their bodies. The vast majority of people dying in Britain and Ireland were buried in the parish graveyard, at least until the establishment of large suburban cemeteries in the mid-nineteenth century. The parish graveyard was usually under the control of the established church, except in Ireland where most parish churches were Catholic, although there were still significant numbers of Church of Ireland graveyards too. This meant that the church had the right to insist on particular burial rites, but this right was not always taken up. In most Anglican parishes, for example, dissenters would be buried in the parish church, even though the incumbent was empowered to insist on or prohibit particular ritual practices. Even so, there was considerable scope for unorthodox folk practices which were not justified by any particular doctrinal teaching. The use of vegetation, for example, both in and on the grave, is not a response to any Biblical or theological directive. The custom of putting sprigs of branches of evergreens into graves is well known from at least the sixteenth century (the herbs strewn by Ophelia for her father include rosemary, pansies, fennel, columbines, rue and daisies (Hamlet IV v: 172– 80). In England, the evergreens rosemary and box seem to have been most common. A French visitor to England in 1719 says that it was customary to carry a sprig of rosemary in the funeral procession and to throw it into the grave on top of the coffin (Misson 1719: 91). Mourners are depicted following the coffin with sprigs of rosemary in their hands in a woodcut of 1641. Coles (1656: 64–5) noted a class difference: Cypresse Garlands are of great account at Funeralls amongst the gentiler sort, but Rosemary and Bayes are used by the Commons both at Funeralls and Weddings. They are all plants which fade not a good while after they are gathered and used (as I conceive) to intimate unto us, that the remembrance of the present solemnity might not dye presently, but be kept in minde for many yeares. The belief that evergreen vegetation at funerals is symbolic is shared by John Brand (1777: 29), although Brand says that it is the immortality of the soul, rather than the living memory of the bereaved, evoked by the green and unchanging nature of ivy, laurel, rosemary or bay (1777: 29, 37). He adds that plants are good figures for the resurrection, since shrubs appear to die and to fall back into the earth, but will later “rise and shoot up again” (1777: 30). However, writing in the late eighteenth 170

Folk Belief century, he describes carrying evergreens at funerals as an ancient custom, now obsolete. The custom of strewing flowers over a grave, however, was one with which he was familiar, especially in country churchyards. For the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Ophelia’s rosemary was probably more typical of botanical inclusions in graves than the other plants she strews; the flowers she mentions had other meanings which would have been familiar to a Shakespearian audience, but they probably do not represent a typical floral grave assemblage. Simpson and Roud write that after the Reformation, flowers at burial were generally replaced by rosemary or rue. When the eccentric Major Labelliere died at Dorking in 1800 he arranged for two large carts to pass through the streets of the town on the morning of his funeral: one filled with box and the other with yew, so that everyone might take a sprig. At his burial, his ten-foot grave shaft was half filled with greenery. Sprigs of rosemary were traditionally thrown into the grave in Dorset (Udal 1922: 187; Rose 1977). The remains of box and viola (field pansy) were observed around undated (but post-medieval) coffins at Llangar, Merionethshire (Shoesmith 1980b: 95). Although the Llangar burial context was too disturbed stratigraphically to say for certain whether the vegetation was inside the coffin or on top of it, the coffin of Ramsden Barnard (d. 1748) clearly contained dry vegetation beneath and around his head (Mytum 1988: 186). The box leaves found in post-medieval burials at St Peter’s Church, Carmarthen, still had traces of gold paint on them, although these are not securely dated and might be the remains of nineteenth-century wreaths (Page 2001: 57), but the coffin containing leaves of bay and rosemary found in a vault in Blandford was dated to the seventeenth century (Goodall 1970). In much of England, despite Brand’s observations, funeral flowers were only reintroduced late in the nineteenth century. One 1884 source alludes to the developing “pretty custom of sending wreaths for the coffins of deceased friends” (Simpson and Roud 2000: 125–6). Fletcher Moss, writing at the end of the nineteenth century, recalls that in Cheshire it had been considered heathenish to place flowers in or on graves until recently. Indeed he believed that the rector of Didsbury only permitted placing flowers on graves for the first time at Moss’s own father’s funeral in 1867 (Moss 1898: 18–19). There might, however, have been considerable regional variation: across the Pennines in Yorkshire Nicholson recorded the practice of strewing flowers over the corpse before the coffin lid was screwed down as traditional in 1890. Brockie recorded the same for Sunderland in 1886. Even as early as the seventeenth century Aubrey recorded that the sight of roses on graves was common (1880 [1686]: 155). The ground above the grave might also be planted with ornamental plants. A man from Little Abingdon in Cambridgeshire recalled in 1958 that new graves were covered over with tufts of grass and then branches of wild roses pushed into the ground in a criss-cross pattern over the whole grave (Porter 1969: 30), although he did not know whether it was for decoration, to deter grave robbers or rabbits or to keep away evil spirits. Brand (1777: 43) observed the custom in the south of England of fencing the new grave with osiers, a practice also alluded to by John 171

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland Gay in the ‘Friday’ poem of the Shepherd’s Week (1714). When the rustic maid Blouzelinda is buried With wicker rods we fenc’d her tomb around To ward from man and beast the hallow’d ground, Lest her new grave the parson’s cattle raze; For both his horse and cow the Church-yard graze (Gay 1854: 64) Although Gay’s poem is very much a pastoral genre piece intended to invoke the rustic pleasures of the shepherd Bumkinet and his friends, it also alludes to change in perceptions of grave space widely shared in the early modern period. The grazing of animals in the churchyard had been common throughout Britain since the medieval period. Often churchyard grazing was a perk for the vicar or sexton, but in the post-medieval period objections to the practice were raised with increasing frequency and outrage. In the first place, growing numbers of upright memorials now commonly placed in churchyards were at risk of damage from larger animals. Secondly, social ideas of appropriate space for the dead were changing over this period to emphasise aesthetically pleasing landscapes and to ensure that grave space was not disturbed after interment. The wicker or willow fence served the same function as the grave slab, marking the position of the grave plot and preserving it from interference. In the early modern period it was still common for churchyards to serve a variety of functions besides burial of the dead. Grazing animals has already been mentioned. Social and commercial activity was not uncommon either; markets and fairs could take place at least partially within the space of the churchyard. Excavations at St Nicholas churchyard, Barry, Glamorgan, recovered a concentration of coins, clay pipe fragments and pieces of brown-glazed ale mugs, along with other small finds like brass buttons and a shoe buckle, all dating to the period between the mid-seventeenth and the mid-eighteenth century. The location of these finds around the churchyard gate suggested to the excavators that some sort of regular market or fair had taken place there (Ponsford and Jackson 1997: 260–1). Where most English graves before the late nineteenth century were decorated with greenery rather than flowers, Welsh graves were a colourful contrast. Eighteenth-century English visitors to Wales remarked on the custom of decorating graves with flowers. Jones (1930: 215) says that the kinds of flowers planted were determined by the age of the occupant of the grave: daffodils, primroses and violets were planted on an infant’s grave; red roses on the graves of people in mid-life, and old people had rosemary and the plant called in Welsh hen wr [old man]. Around the edges of all graves was a border of box and yew. At the time of Jones’s publication (1930) it was still common to line the grave with branches of evergreen (1930: 217). Of course, not all the dead were buried in graveyards. Criminals, suicides, the unbaptised and some victims of crime, war or disaster would not be buried in a consecrated burial place or receive normal burial rites. Those who had died such unnatural or abnormal deaths were also most likely to wander as ghosts or spirits 172

Folk Belief and to trouble or threaten the living. Places associated with the improper, hasty or clandestine burial of people who had not had a normal death were sometimes threatening locations.

The Sensitive Corpse In Chapter 2 the continuing preference for intra-mural burial after the Reformation was discussed, and some reasons for this were mentioned, including social prestige, attachment to family and income for the parish. It is also possible that indoor burial was more attractive because it was warmer, more sheltered and cosier inside the church than in the graveyard. Although irrational, there is evidence by the seventeenth century that the bodies of the dead were often understood as, in some ways, still responsive to their surroundings. Phillippe Ari`es cites a Latin tract composed in the seventeenth century by a German doctor called Christian Garmann which offers many examples of the sensibility of the cadaver. The previous chapter considered how embalming the natural body, as well as creating an artificial one, might have challenged an individual death by promoting the continuity of a person’s social existence. This social existence was popularly recognised even in cases where embalming and effigy-making did not take place, as is clear from many examples Garmann gives of people taking care not to hurt the bodies of the dead, or minding what they said in front of the newly dead who could still, in some sense, ‘hear’ (Ari`es 1981: 354–8). In the mid-seventeenth century, Thomas Browne, the antiquarian, finds it normal that nobody would want to be buried too deep “but content with less than their own depth, [all people] have wished their bones might lie soft, and the earth be light upon them” (1852 [1658]: 7). The irrational expectation that the corpse might feel heat, cold or comfort, or that it might appreciate a good location or lament ill-treatment is not justified by any aspect of orthodox theology, nor does it accord with rational humanism. Yet archaeological evidence that people took care to promote the physical ‘comfort’ of the deceased is strong for this period: the ‘beds’ of sawdust or bran upon which the corpse sometimes lay, the pretty textiles and sweet-smelling herbs and flowers with which they were interred all enhanced the sensory comfort of the coffin and the grave. This trend continued to grow in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with the use of pillows and coverlets in the coffin, and increasing efforts to transform the graveyard into a beautiful and peaceful garden. It seems that over the very period that the people of Britain were supposed to be getting more rational and secular, the attitudes of the majority to the dead body moved further than ever from both the scientific and the theologically orthodox. Here, again, one is forced to abandon any expectation that people’s beliefs about the dead and about the bodies of the dead will be consistent and coherent. In early modern England people were capable of believing that the body was worthless clay and irrelevant to the eternal joy of the soul. They also felt deeply upset at the idea of its being cold, subjected to the violation of anatomy or disposed of outside the safety of church ground. 173

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Fairies, Wraiths and Souls There is much shared territory in the periphery of religion and folk belief, and one such area is the existence of a double self. In religion the person is composed of earthly body and divine soul, divided at death and re-united at the resurrection. Much folk belief, especially surrounding death and the dead, is based on an idea that the material body is complemented by an immaterial essence. Folk beliefs, however, differ from religious ones in emphasising incomplete separation of the body and the spirit at death so that the body is still possessed of some of the characteristics of a conscious self – thus it can on occasion exert personal power; and the soul can still display attributes of the material body: being visible, for example, and accomplishing material things in the secular world. Turning our attention to the active physicality of the soul after death brings us into the territory of the ghost, spirit or revenant. Equally, it might be the souls or spirits of the dead that constitute the citizens of what Kirk (c. 1690) called the ‘Secret Common-Wealth’ – fairies, elves, pixies or little people. In Welsh, the word for wraith – ellyll, also means ‘elf ’ or ‘fairy’. Kirk, a Scottish pastor who believed in fairies, was of the opinion, widely shared, that the fairies were in Gaelic, sluagh sith, ‘men of peace’, spirits of the dead. The Christian soul did not, according to most orthodox theologians, take on visible form, except when housed in the mortal body. Yet in folkloric belief the spirit self could sometimes be visible and active. Kirk is an interesting figure, as a seventeenth-century religious man who neither dismissed folk belief in fairies nor believed fairies and spirits to be the work of the Devil. The individual ghost or wandering spirit is considered in more detail in the next section, but the status of fairies as the spirits of the community of the dead is something different. Whereas ghosts are usually individually identified unquiet souls who want to see something put right before they can rest, fairies are not necessarily keen to intervene in the human world (although some categories of them do), and are not usually named in terms of their correspondence to particular individuals. Their identity is usually collective and undifferentiated, although not when appearing as a wraith or fetch. Kirk suggests that the inhabitants of the secret commonwealth are an order of being between men and angels, but they are also the souls of the dead attending a whil in this inferior state, and cloth’d with bodies procured through their Alms-deeds in this Lyfe called cuirp dhaondachbach, viz. fluid, active, aethereal vehicles to hold them, that they may not scatter, nor wander and be lost in the Totum, or their first nothing. But if any were so impious as to have given no alms [their souls] sleep in an unactive state till they resume the Terrestriall Bodies again (Kirk c. 1690: 58). There are several interesting things in this passage. First, the possession of an ‘aethereal vehicle’ is a boon given to the virtuous, not a punishment or a misfortune; in Scottish fairy lore, unlike most English ghost lore, walking this world, not resting 174

Folk Belief in the grave, is the desirable state. Second, a body – even one of air – is a container for the spirit, in this case to stop it dissipating and being lost. Kirk goes on to locate the home of the sith or fairy/spirit people: according to ‘mountain people’, a Mote or Mount was dedicate beside every Church-yard, to receave the souls, till their adjacent Bodies arise, and so become as a Fayrie-hill. They using bodies of air when called abroad (Kirk c. 1690: 61). Particularly in Scotland, some of the living were more able and likely to see wraiths, siths or spirits than others, and some kinds of spirits were more likely to show themselves in this way. In Scotland, particularly in the West Highlands, the possession of ‘second sight’, sometimes a family trait, often a male one, enabled some people to see the future, or events happening far off or spirits of the other world. They were particularly likely to see those that died suddenly before they should have died in the natural way of things, according to Kirk (1690: 80). After death, the spirit of the deceased would be seen in the form of a wandering ghost or fairy. But even before death a person’s wraith could temporarily leave the body during sleep or illness, or to warn, foretell or inform another person of some event or situation. The appearance of a person’s wraith was particularly common in Scotland, where it usually foretold a death. The wraith, sometimes called a fetch, would most commonly appear either shortly before a death or at the actual moment of death, often in a place far away from the person’s ( just) living body. Although a spirit, often translucent like smoke or, in Kirk’s evocative phrase, “congealed air”, the wraith nevertheless resembled the living body in form, so that it was recognisable to anyone encountering it. English folklore tells of Lady Diana Rich who met her own wraith in her father’s garden in Kensington about a month before she died (Aubrey 1696: 76). On particular nights, often Midsummer, All Souls’ or St Mark’s Eve, anyone brave enough to wait up would see, at midnight, a procession into the churchyard of all those destined to die in the coming year. Although those people would still be alive, and presumably asleep in their beds, their wraiths were free to manifest elsewhere. Most folk tales about this phenomenon involve the unsuspecting watcher seeing his own wraith in the procession. Wraiths might also appear in response to love charms, especially those designed to reveal to a young woman the identity of the man she will marry. The nature of the wraith is not clear, but it seems to be some sort of essence of self and might correspond to the soul or spirit: that part of selfhood that survives the death of the body. Certainly it was some kind of self that could take visible form away from the fleshly body.

Folk Eschatology ‘Eschatology’ refers to the study of the four last things: death, judgement, Heaven and Hell. As I have discussed, in the post-Reformation period these things were hotly contested theologically and there was no clear orthodoxy generally shared. 175

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland Learned men found it hard to reach consensus on how to fill the gap left by the disappearance of Purgatory. Instead of a relatively clear geography of the afterlife, there was either an immediate and eternal judgement or an ill-formulated idea of ‘sleep’ until a collective Judgement Day. It was never entirely clear how this ‘sleep’ worked or how far it was meant metaphorically. Into this imperfectly known void fell, says Brown (1979: 16) “all the disjecta of peripheral human experience”. Before the Reformation Purgatory, with its distinctive geography, its reserved zones for the unbaptised and righteous pre-Christian elders (Marshall 2002), and its accommodating borders, had provided a notional home for all sorts of monsters, ghosts, spirits, elves and magical beings. Protestantism set firmly against all such superstitious fantasies. Many Protestant theologians derided folk beliefs of this kind as residual superstition, Popery or even devilworship, soon to be eradicated by the light of ‘true’ religion. Reginald Scot titled a chapter of his sceptical review of sixteenth-century superstitions: ‘Of vaine apparitions, how people have been brought to feare bugges, which is partlie reformed by preaching of the gospell, the true effect of Christes miracles” (Scot 1584: 139). Across from Scot and his fellow rationalists stood those theologians who sought to encompass ‘bugges’, and more especially fairies, elves, spirits and witches, within the conceptual landscape of reformed Christianity. For these thinkers, the evidence for existence of these creatures was undeniable; the question was what purpose they served in a divinely ordered universe. For seventeenth-century Scottish minister Robert Kirk, fairies, far from being a challenge to God’s authority, were proof of His existence, and represented, “The courteaous endeavours of our fellow creatures in the invisible world to convince us (in opposition to Sadducees, Socinians and Atheists) of a Dietie, of Spirits; of a possible and harmless method of correspondence betwixt men and them, even in this lyfe” (1690: 82–3). Sadducees did not believe in life after death, and Socinians were a rationalist Reformation sect who rejected Hell, holding that the wicked were utterly destroyed after death. Kirk was not alone in this view: it was emphatically expressed by Baxter in The Certainty of the Worlds of Spirits (1691) which was written to convince “Atheists, Sadducees and Infidels” that spirits, ghosts and fairies were proof of God’s existence. Another seventeenth-century author, Thomas Browne, well known to archaeologists for his antiquarian writings, was equally convinced of the existence of spirits and supernatural beings, but interpreted them more darkly as diabolical forces sent to lure men away from godliness. In Religio Medici (1642) he is uncompromising: “there are witches; they that doubt of these, doe not onely deny them but Spirits, and are obliquely and upon consequence a sort, not of Infidels, but Atheists” (1642: 67). Browne does not subscribe to the widespread belief, pre-Reformation in origin, that ghosts are the wandering spirits of dead people; he believes that they are devils sent to tempt us, or occasionally seen in graveyards, “dormitories of the dead”, gleefully triumphing in their acquisition of damned souls (1642: 86). 176

Folk Belief Amongst the learned and the clergy, belief in a supernatural world was widespread in the seventeenth century, and most did not consider ghosts, fairies, wraiths, etc. to be benevolent manifestations of a divinely ordered world. Thomas Browne’s suspicions of the nature and purpose of spirits is typical of the dominant attitude. For those common people who claimed to have second sight, to be in communication with inhabitants of the Secret Commonwealth or who used folkloric knowledge of medicine, including charms and spells, the consequences of Establishment distrust could be grave. The persecution of witches in early modern England has been well described by social historians (Trevor-Roper 1969; Sharpe 1997).

Folk Beliefs about the Afterlife Ghosts fitted well into late medieval Catholic eschatology. Purgatory gave them a home, and the ongoing dependence of the dead on the living gave them good reason to communicate with those they had left behind. They might come back to warn the living of the pains of purgatorial fire or, most often, to ask for their prayers to reduce or alleviate their punishment. The formal abolition of Purgatory in the mid-sixteenth century removed this reason for the discontented dead to return and trouble the living, although revenants remained common, and other reasons for walking – to warn the living, to redress a wrong or to reveal a secret – remained. Purgatory was not so successfully eradicated from folk memory, however. In North Yorkshire (and maybe other parts of northern England and lowland Scotland too) the Lyke Wake dirge was still being sung after a death in the late nineteenth century. Many different versions of this dirge (traditional funeral hymn, a corruption of the Latin, ‘Dirige’) exist, but they all describe a journey taken by the soul after death. The version published by Arthur Quiller-Couch in 1910 is essentially the same as that collected by Aubrey in the seventeenth century, which Aubrey claims was current in the 1610s. It goes as follows: THIS ae nighte, this ae nighte, – Every nighte and alle, Fire and fleet and candle-lighte, And Christe receive thy saule. When thou from hence away art past, – Every nighte and alle, To Whinny-muir thou com’st at last: And Christe receive thy saule. If ever thou gavest hosen and shoon, – Every nighte and alle, Sit thee down and put them on: And Christe receive thy saule. If hosen and shoon thou ne’er gav’st nane – Every nighte and alle, 177

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland The whinnes sall prick thee to the bare bane; And Christe receive thy saule. From whinny-muir when thou may’st pass, – Every nighte and alle, To Brig o’ Dread thou com’st at last; And Christe receive thy saule. From Brig o’ Dread when thou may’st pass, – Every nighte and alle, To Purgatory fire thou com’st at last; And Christe receive thy saule. If ever thou gavest meat or drink, – Every nighte and alle, The fire sall never make thee shrink; And Christe receive thy saule. If meat or drink thou ne’er gav’st nane, – Every nighte and alle, The fire will burn thee to the bare bane; And Christe receive thy saule. This ae nighte, this ae nighte, – Every nighte and alle, Fire and fleet and candle-lighte, And Christe receive thy saule.

Other versions retain more dialecticised language, and that recorded by Blakeborough in North Yorkshire in 1898 (pp. 122–3) substitutes “fleeams of Hell” for the more explicitly Catholic “Purgatory fire”; Blakeborough’s Protestant version (in which the Brig of Dread is the actual moment of judgement which one either passes over with sure and true steps or from which one falls forever into the flames of Hell) may be later than Aubrey’s dirge. Blakeborough’s version is also longer and seems structurally more complete, including additional lines at the Brig o’ Dread, where those who have given “siller or gowd” [silver or gold] will pass safely over, and those who have not will fall into the flames. As the soul encounters successive trials in its journey, acts of charity are repaid in the provision of comforts for the journey. Thus, crossing the “whinny muir” (whin is a dialect word for gorse), the good person who made gifts of shoes and stockings in life will be provided with shoes and stockings now to protect their feet from being cut “to the bare bane” by the thorns. The lyke wake dirge is interesting not only as a vestige of Catholicism (although given the survivalism of much folklore commentary, that is how it has largely been presented), but also for the kind of dead self it presents. This soul is neither progressing directly to judgement nor slumbering in the grave, but actively moving, in an embodied and sensing way, through a landscape of the afterlife. The relationship between the geography of this world and that of the next is not clear, but the kinds of landscape experienced by the dead soul – gorse-covered moors and treacherous 178

Folk Belief bridges – and the bodily way they are experienced – feet pricked by thorns, feelings of hunger and thirst – are analogous to the bodily experiences of living people. One other theologically unorthodox practice was the recorded tradition of sineating. Protestantism did not permit sins to be cleaned by confession and expiation like traditional Catholic practice; far less was it possible to short-circuit the process by undertaking pilgrimages, rites of devotion to a particular saint or the purchase of indulgences. Instead, private devotions of contrition, affirmations of faith and trust in divine mercy were the individual’s only hope. But in some parts of Britain popular practice offered another alternative. Aubrey recorded the practice of sineating in Herefordshire: In the County of Hereford was an old Custome at Funeralls to hire poor people, who were to take upon them all the sinnes of the party deceased . . . The manner was that when the Corps was brought out of the house and layd on the Biere, a Loafe of bread was brought out and delivered to the Sinne-eater over the corps, as also a Mazar-bowle [wooden drinking vessel] . . . full of beer, which he was to drinke up, and sixpence in money, in consideration of which he tooke upon him (ipso facto) all the Sinnes of the Defunct, and freed him (or her) from walking after they were dead (Aubrey 1881 [1686]: 35). Besides knowing of other examples from the Welsh Marches, Aubrey believed the custom was widespread in Wales. Jones (1930) notes that the practice was described to the Cambrian Archaeological Association in 1852 by a Mr. Moggridge who witnessed it at Llanderbie, but Sikes (1881: 322–4) failed to find any other evidence or corroboration for this. Porter (1969: 26) describes a good late nineteenth-century account for the fens north of Ely in Cambridgeshire. There, the local sin-eater was a woman who, having taken too much of the local poppy-tea, was assumed to be dying and was given last rites. Against expectation, she recovered but was told that she was now dead to the church and was shunned by her neighbours. Because of this liminal status, being neither dead nor fully part of the world of the living, she took on the role of sin-eater. At a death, she would call at the deceased’s home when the body was laid out and take a piece of bread with salt on it that had been placed on the chest of the deceased. Eating this bread would transfer the sins of the dead to the person of the sin-eater.

Ghosts Spirits of the dead have a major role in the folkloric belief of all parts of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. The ghost might manifest in a number of ways. Most commonly the ghost, like the wraith, resembles the body of the living person it once was, so ghosts are usually recognisable to the living as particular individuals. Baxter (1691: 8) asserts that individual identities do not cease at death. Although the attainment of eternal bliss might involve abandoning personal identity, at least for the wicked who might appear as ghosts, “numerical individuation” continues. 179

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland The ghost encountered in 1665 by the younger Mr. Bligh at Botathen in Cornwall was recognisable as Dorothy Dinglett who had died a few years earlier (Rees 1898: 241–68), although she was pale and her hair was misty. Rather than walking, she seemed to glide just above the top of the grass. Sometimes, however, ghosts took the form of animals, particularly dogs. The black dog is widely known as a supernatural being, and is not always a ghost, but in the southwest of England some individual ghosts (particularly malevolent ones) took the form of a black dog (Brown 1979). Ghosts were generally encountered in places which had particular associations with their lives: such as at their homes or at the places of their death, particularly if their death was tragic or premature. The ghost of Elizabeth Peterman haunts Moco Farm at Steeple Morden in Cambridgeshire because that was where she was murdered in 1734 (Porter 1969: 157). The Reverend John Garnage, former parson at Sedgefield, County Durham, haunted his parsonage until it burned down in 1792. Although he died a natural death, he was not at peace because of his anger at the treatment of his body, according to Brockie (1974 [1886]: 40–41). Rev. Garnage died in the second week of December 1747, shortly before he was due to receive the tithes of his parishioners. In the case of his death, the tithes were to be paid to the Bishop of Durham. Anxious not to lose the tithe income, Garnage’s widow kept her husband’s body in a box of salt and only revealed his death after the twentieth of the month, when the tithes had been collected. The ghost of what was known locally as “the pickled parson” was frequently seen around the parsonage for the next forty-five years, according to local folklore. The other place where the living were most likely to encounter the dead was at the graveyard. We have encountered already the west Highland belief that a mound adjacent to the graveyard functioned as a holding place for the ‘sith’ – spirits – of the local dead. But, more commonly, the graveyard itself was the place most associated with ghosts. Why the ghost should stay so close to its former body is not clear, but the association was strong enough for Reginald Scot to remark in 1584 that in a darke night . . . a polled sheepe is a perillous beast, and manie times is taken for our fathers soule, speciallie in a churchyard, where a right hardie man heretofore scant durst passe by night, but his haire would stand upright (Scot 1964 [1584]: 139). The ghost may walk the places of the living at particular times (usually night, often at particular times of the year – such as All Soul’s Eve or on significant dates such as the anniversary of a death) and return at other times to another place. For Catholics this other place was unproblematically interpreted as Purgatory. Otherwise, there was no consensus on where the ghosts of the dead ‘lived’. Dorothy Dinglett, the Cornish ghost, finally glided away into the west, and in the southwest of England, the dead were often reckoned to inhabit a land across the sea and to the west (Brown 1979). Ghosts that take animal form are unusual in that they are often malevolent and even physically dangerous to the living. The majority of ghosts are not threatening; 180

Folk Belief in fact they are often benevolent, trying to warn the living about a forthcoming danger, to inform them about the location of treasure or advise them about a course of action which will have positive consequences for them. Aubrey recounts numerous anecdotes about ghosts returning to tell the living some important thing. Dr. Turbervile’s sister was visited by the ghost of her husband’s first wife who showed her where the original marriage settlement document was hidden, behind the wainscoting of the room the sister slept in. This ensured that the children of the first marriage were not dispossessed. The ghost told her that she “Wandered in the Air”, but now that her children were provided for, she would go to God (Aubrey 1696: 63). The ghost of Sir George Villiers appeared to a Mr. Towes and asked him to go to his son and tell him to improve his behaviour (Aubrey 1696: 64–5). This Mr. Towes did, but the young Villiers carried on as before, ignoring his father’s advice, and the ghost subsequently reappeared to foretell his son’s own death, and that of Towes himself. Most common of all, the ghost wants to ensure that justice is done, usually in relation to his or her own death. Victims of murder are particularly likely to become revenants, especially while their murderers remain unpunished. A seduced and murdered housekeeper in Wales appeared to her former sweetheart to ask him to bring her murderer to justice ( Jones 1979 [1930]: 34). The ghost of a Mr. Brown appeared to his sister and her maid in Fleet Street to disclose the fact and manner of his murder. Once that particular task was accomplished, Mr. Brown was seen no more, and it is usually the case that once the important message is conveyed or acted on the ghost will cease to trouble the living. The case of Dorothy Dinglett is typical, and interesting to us for being unusually well described by the minister responsible for ‘laying’ the spirit. It was recounted by Wilkins Rees in 1898, but based on the first-person account of the Rev. William Rudall, Minister of Launceston in Cornwall. The spirit of Dorothy Dinglett regularly appeared to the son of Mr. Bligh of Botathen and the boy, in turn, was becoming ill and failing in his studies. Mr. Bligh senior therefore approached Rev. Rudall and asked for his help in laying the troublesome spirit (although it is interesting that the ghost was melancholy rather than menacing to the boy). After securing permission from his bishop, Rudall conjured the spirit, using a stick of rowan to mark a pentacle on the ground. He challenged the spirit to enter the circumscribed space which eventually she did. Rudall then conversed with her, asking what she wanted. Although he does not give many details of what the ghost said, he wrote that she was unquiet because of a certain sin. We are not told what the sin was, but that evening the minister had a long talk with “that ancient transgressor, Mr. B.”, during the course of which Mr. B. showed great remorse and begged pardon for his sins. The following day Rev. Rudall again conjured the spirit of Dorothy Dinglett and relayed to her the conversation that had taken place with Mr. B. Following this he asked her to leave the young Bligh in peace, and she glided away to the west never to be seen again (Rees 1898: 241–68). As Hutton (1995) has noted, the actions of the Rev. Rudall in this case are more like those of a conjuror than a modern man of God. Most ghosts in folk literature appear either benevolent or neutral, but theologians were suspicious. Where any supernatural being could not clearly be fitted into the 181

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland accepted divine cosmology – as an angel, for example – there was a possibility that it was an emissary of the devil or was being manipulated by evil forces. Some early modern mysticism was pre-occupied by the question of whether the dead could be raised to do the bidding of the living. This is a question to which mystic John Dee devoted considerable energy, and he was widely reported to have successfully achieved this is 1560, raising a dead man at Walton-le-Dale. With the help of seer Edward Kelly, Dee disinterred the man from his grave using powerful incantations, and then persuaded him to reveal the location of buried treasure (Harland and Wilkinson 1882: 128). In his account of the event, John Weever (1631: 45) describes Kelly, who was also known as Talbot, as an English alchemist, and says that the man who was raised from the dead was able to make predictions about the life and death of Kelly’s young ward, although Weever was not sure whether the knowledge came from the resurrected dead man or from the devil who was speaking through the corpse. Scot, in 1584, gives detailed instructions for raising a spirit to be one’s servant (although Scot himself is extremely sceptical about the efficacy of this and the other charms in his compendium). It is best, says Scot (1964 [1584]: 334), to choose either a suicide or an executed man who has sworn while still alive to serve you after death (although Scot does not explain why anyone would swear this), and shortly after the man’s death, the would-be conjuror should visit his grave and conjure the spirit to appear “in a faire forme and shape of a child of twelve yeares of age”. A series of elaborate vows then ensue to protect the bond of loyalty between master and servant. The stipulation of the form the spirit should take suggests that it had the power to alter its shape, and that it was possible for it to appear in a form that the living would find horrific or at least unappealing. By the eighteenth century, the spirits of the dead did not seem to represent such a threat to the teachings of the church or to the peace of the living. In fact, one of the most popular consolation books of the eighteenth century was Elizabeth Rowe’s Friendship in Death, first published in 1728 but reappearing in over thirty editions between then and the end of the century. The book takes the form of a series of letters from the dead to the living, often describing the heavenly lands they inhabit, but nearly always based on the idea that the dead have observed the world of the living in the period since their deaths and have comments or suggestions to make about the behaviour of the living. Some of them have appeared as apparitions to the living, but always in a beautiful form and not to frighten them (Rowe 1733). Often, the voices of the dead are used to teach moral and religious lessons, albeit their own place in God’s order is ambiguous at best. In the sixteenth century, such a text would have been regarded with suspicion or outrage by church authorities, but by the eighteenth century it seems to have been regarded as only a charming conceit. Aubrey records one moving ghost visitation at the end of the seventeenth century where an acquaintance was visited by the ghost of his wife about three months after her death. As he lay awake in bed, his young grandchild beside him, the ghost appeared and kissed him, then departed without saying anything (Aubrey 1696: 68). Not every dead person was equally likely to attempt to interact with the living. Because most revenants wanted to convey a message or ensure that some task was 182

Folk Belief carried out, those who had died suddenly or whose irregular death or immoral life was likely to leave them dissatisfied were particularly likely to be revenants. Named and described ghosts were often murder victims seeking justice or bemoaning their fate. Unbaptised children were also less likely to rest peacefully in the grave. Sometimes all that was required from these little ghosts was for the haunted parent to give the infant ghost a name, and one recurrent narrative involves the bereaved parent mistaking the ghost for a horse, dog or neighbour and addressing it mistakenly by name, after which the ghost baby, having been given a name, disappears and is not seen again. Orkney is particularly rich in folklore relating to unbaptised children. Almqvist (1998) notes that this has much in common with Scandinavian folkloric beliefs on the subject. Most frequently, the restless souls of unbaptised infants can be stilled by giving them a name. Tom Muir of Tankerness House Museum in Kirkwall tells of his great uncle from the island of Westray who had a stillborn son around 1913. The child’s parents wrote his name – ‘George Drever’ – on a slip of paper and pinned it to the infant’s chest at burial. Marwick (1975: 94–5) records two tales where ghosts of unbaptised children were laid by calling them names: once a man made bold by drink confronted the ghost with the words “Had awa wae ye, bare erse!” and the ghost vanished forever; on another occasion, the parent of a dead child mistook the ghost for his own donkey and called to it “get away home, Stumpy!” after which the ghost thanked its father for giving it a name and was never seen again. These stories might also relate to the Irish haunting tales in which the spirits of unbaptised babies haunt the parents who failed in their religious duty (Donnelly and Murphy 2008: 218). Some people who died without keeping a promise or with a vow made to them still unfulfilled may return so that the obligation may be completed. A man called Caisho Burroughs, says Aubrey (1696: 60), was known for his good looks. A young woman fell in love with him and he took her virginity, but she made him promise to tell nobody what had happened to preserve her reputation. She died soon after and, despite his promise, Burroughs boasted in a tavern about the seduction. From then on, she haunted him frequently, including on the morning of his death in a duel, although she never asked anything of him. People who died with major sins on their consciences were also especially likely to ‘walk’. Suicides were in such a category. By law, not all who killed themselves were guilty of suicide; those who did so while not in proper possession of their faculties could be deemed non compos mentis; but where a rational decision was taken to take one’s own life, the crime of felo de se had been committed and both formal and informal justice was brought to bear upon the body of the unfortunate individual. Various folk methods were used to prevent the newly dead who belonged to highrisk groups from returning to the world of the living. Suicides were commonly buried at crossroads so that, according to widespread folk belief, they would be confused about which road to take (Macdonald and Murphy 1990). In fact, since suicide was a legal crime as well as a religious sin, up until 1823 local authorities generally insisted that the bodies of suicides were buried in the road, although not necessarily at crossroads. Brockie (1974 [1886]: 151) was aware of a baker who had committed suicide in South Shields, County Durham, whose body was buried in 183

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland the Mile End Road at midnight with a stake through his body. The date of this burial is unclear, but the stake used to protrude one or two feet above ground level, and until the 1850s boys would balance on the stake for a game (Brockie 1974 [1886]: 151). An eighteenth-century chapbook described the ghost of suicide John Fox of King’s Lynn, who had been buried at a crossroads which he subsequently haunted, crying out that he was undergoing the torments of hell’s flames (Macdonald and Murphy 1990: 212). After 1823 the clergy had the discretion to allow the body of a suicide to be buried in the churchyard, although often the less-favoured north side was used for this purpose, as Harland and Wilkinson (1882: 275) record for Lancashire, for example. The 1823 act prohibited coroners from ordering burial in any public highway of those guilty of felo de se and also officially ended the practice of driving a stake through the suicide’s body to pin it down and prevent walking. The prone burial of suicides is also known from folkloric sources, although it is hard to know whether the prone burials recovered occasionally from archaeological sites are the bodies of suicides or whether they were buried in this unorthodox position for some other reason. A fascinating incident was recounted in a letter to The Times on 29 July 1915. After a major battle of the first world war, a burial party of English soldiers encountered the body of a German soldier who had died with a particularly menacing expression on his face. The soldiers decided to bury him face-down to prevent his walking – so that he would be scrabbling the wrong way if he wanted to get out of his grave, the men explained (Simpson and Roud 2000: 39). Although certainly not a suicide, this man was given an unusual burial treatment to prevent his return. Ghosts were feared, and most of the time living people did not relish the idea of walking after their deaths. Outside Scotland, most ghost lore is underwritten by a belief that the spirit of the dead would rather be ‘at rest’, but is prevented from being so because of unresolved business in the world of the living. Finally, the bodies of witches or those supposed by their neighbours to have been witches were often given unusual treatment to prevent them from exercising malevolent power from beyond the grave. Witch burial customs were observed surprisingly late – into the nineteenth and even early twentieth century. Porter recounts the tale of the funeral of Susan Cooper of Whittlesford who died in 1878. A twentieth-century villager remembered that as soon as her grave had been filled in, the schoolchildren of the village all ran to the spot and trampled down the ground of her plot “so that the imps couldn’t get out” (Porter 1969: 175). Porter writes of two other Cambridgeshire witches – one in Barlow and one, known as the ‘Daddy Witch’, at Horseheath – who were buried in the road. The Barlow witch was buried at a crossroads like a suicide (Porter 1969: 161, 163). Living witches could be a threat to the dead, and occasional attempts to safeguard the corpse from the attentions of witches do occasionally survive. Witch bottles are not often found archaeologically – folklore suggests that smashing a witch bottle was often necessary for it to work – but when they are discovered it is usually in domestic contexts, for example, concealed in house walls or buried beneath the threshold or fireplace. However, a witch bottle was recovered from the burial 184

Folk Belief

Figure 5.4. Witch bottle from All Saints’ Church, Loughton, Buckinghamshire. Witch bottles were used curatively or apotropaically, but were normally smashed to make them work. A few witch bottles have been discovered buried or built into houses. Illustration drawn by Debbie Miles-Williams from Bonner 1994.

of an individual in his or her late teens or early twenties, interred at All Saints Church, Loughton, Buckinghamshire (Bonner 1994; Figure 5.4). The bottle, filled with a liquid that is probably human urine and stopped with a cork from which a number of pins protrude, was probably placed on the person’s chest, perhaps to safeguard the person against possible witchcraft. A Derbyshire folk belief that a pewter plate laid on the chest of a corpse will keep witches away (Merrill 1995: 115) is not attested by any archaeological evidence in that area. However, the unusual occurrence of a Delft-ware plate inverted over the abdomen of a skeleton found in London at the site of St Martin Vintry Church might be explained in those terms (Cohen 1995). 185

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland

Other Funerary Customs Some aspects of traditional or folkloric practice are easy to overlook because they still define our understanding of what is appropriate. Many features of funerals fall into this area – the provision of food and drink for funeral guests, for example, the procession to the graveyard and so on. Similarly, the use of black as a funerary colour is so familiar to us that it generally passes unremarked by folklorists and ethnographers. Wearing black clothes to signify mourning was widespread practice from the medieval period. In the early modern period, the use of black was extended to include funerary paraphernalia such as coffins, hearses and draperies, and eventually by the nineteenth century had come to include mundane material culture in the bereaved household – mourning crockery, letter paper and upholstery being fairly common. A development of this custom, extension of the period of mourning – marked by wearing black – beyond the funeral to last for weeks, months or even years after a significant death was a process of the modern period, reaching its height in the mid-nineteenth century. The use of black was a way of making visible the particular status of the bereaved, and could be a dramatic manifestation of an emotional state. The deep cultural association in the west between darkness and desolation gives the use of ‘mourning’ material evocative force.

Folk Practice, Religious Belief, Scientific Knowledge ‘Folk belief ’ has been considered separately from other kinds of belief discourse here only because it proved a convenient way to treat the material derived from the recording of folklore. However, it is hard to separate folk belief from other forms of belief. I have only divided it from social belief to prevent these chapters from becoming even longer and more unwieldy. Folk belief is, after all, social in the sense of being collective, organic and produced through repeated cultural action. It is also inevitable that the overlap between folk and religious belief is large. Folk practice, rather than theology, determines much of the way that funerals and the treatment of the dead are carried out by the church. Burial in consecrated ground, in a west–east alignment, with flowers or vegetation and attended by black clothing and other material culture, is related more to traditional custom than to church teaching. As some of these examples suggest, people within the Reformed Church adopted different strategies towards folk belief. While some were concerned to distance themselves from what could be condemned as ‘superstition’ or remains of Catholic ‘idolatry’, others sought to explain folk beliefs in theologically orthodox terms, such as the attempts of Robert Kirk to place fairies in the divine order. Beliefs about the power of the dead body had much in common with preReformation attitudes towards the relics, bodies and body parts of saints and martyrs. Apotropaic and curative powers attributed to coffin nails, graveyard earth or teeth from the skulls of the dead compares to the miraculous powers of holy bones or fragments of the true cross. A pre-Reformation belief in contagious sanctity also informed Protestant attitudes to places of burial, where church burial was believed 186

Folk Belief to be in some way better than burial outside, and religious sin, as well as secular crime, could be punished by exclusion from sacred places of burial altogether. On other occasions folk belief overlaps with scientific belief, particularly in pretwentieth-century medicine. William Harvey, for example, was prepared to use the dead hand as a remedy and probably explained its efficacy with reference to as-yet-unknown relations of cosmic influence between things. But he attributed particular power to the coldness of the dead man’s hand, according to Robert Boyle, whose writings mention Harvey’s use of the dead hand cure on several occasions (Hunter and MacAlpine 1958). In Quincy’s English translation (from Latin) of Carr’s Medicinal Epistles (1714: 132), the author notes that Although the Touch of a Seventh Son has lost all its repuattion [sic], yet stroaking the affected Part with the Hand of a dead Body, untill it is thoroughly chilled by its coldness, is, by the Honourable Mr Boyle, and I think by Helmont too, cryed up for a wonderful Specifick [in cases of swellings on the neck]. The dead body, then, was at the centre of a web of meanings and beliefs that brought religion, science and folk practice together in ways that sometimes challenge our own beliefs about what characterises modernity. The coming together of these different traditions of belief discourse is evident in the case of palingenesy. Hibbert (1825: 22) recounts the story of the experience of a French physician’s assistant which he says was published in the Manchester Philosophical Transactions by Dr. Ferrier [sic]. In fact, there is no such journal, but an early volume of the Memoirs of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society contains a paper by John Ferriar with a note which gives the following anecdote: A physician obtained the body of an executed criminal which he dissected for his own research. Once he had finished with the corpse, he ordered his assistant to pulverise the skull (for medicinal use). The assistant did this, and left the powder on a table in the ‘museum’ [laboratory]. That night the assistant, who slept in the museum, was awakened by a noise in the room, and eventually localised the source of the noise to the heap of powder on the table. He lit a candle and looked at the pile of skull powder in the midst of which he now beheld, to his unspeakable dismay, a small head with open eyes staring at him; presently two branches appeared, which formed into arms and hands; then the ribs became visible, which were soon clothed with muscles and integuments; next the lower extremities sprouted out, and when they appeared perfect, the puppet (for his size was so small) reared himself on his feet; instantly his clothes came upon him, and he appeared in the very cloak he wore at his execution. The terrified assistant tried to leave the room but the homunculus barred his way. Eventually, after “divers fierce looks and threatening gestures” the little man himself opened the door and left (Hibbert 1825, based on Ferriar 1790: 112–3). 187

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland What is most remarkable about this anecdote is not the grotesque miniature man created from his own powdered skull, nor the instruction to crush a human skull to make medicine, a practice well documented from elsewhere. It is that this account was published in the Memoirs of a prestigious scientific association by John Ferriar, a doctor and a modern man of science. The intellectual background to Hibbert’s enquiries was not the collection of folklore or the authorship of Gothic fiction, but the investigation of ‘palingenesy’, which Brown (1979: 58) defines as the study, from the mid-seventeenth century, of the resurrection of plants from their ashes. In fact, palingenesy was a far broader scientific and social ideology than Brown, following Hibbert (1825), describes. ‘Palingenesie’, as most fully formulated by the Swiss natural philosopher Charles Bonnet in 1769, was an internalist theory of evolution. Bonnet posited that every living thing had within it the germ of all future generations; that since the creation of the world, a pre-ordained pattern of change has been unfolding (McCalla 1994). Thus people, animals, plants and all living things contain “tiny preformed structures that are inert but otherwise exact miniature replicas of themselves.” A number of respected scientists from around Europe carried out experiments in palingenesy; Hibbert claims that there was even a public demonstration at the Royal Society, although I have been unable to substantiate this. A plant was burned and its ashes collected, from which were extracted its essential ‘salts’ which contained, according to the natural philosopher Kirschner, its “seminal virtue” (Hibbert 1825: 20). When these salts were heated they produced a kind of wraith of the living plant, a ghostly projection of the plant itself, complete in every leaf and petal, but which lasted only as long as heat was applied to the salt (Figure 5.5). The experiments with plant ashes described by Hibbert were attempts to make manifest potential forms existing within these germs. A number of experiments in palingenesy are described by the Abb´e du Vallemont (1707), including some carried out by Sir Kenelm Digby. Directions for conducting palingenetic experiments are given in a lengthy chapter of a treatise on horticulture. The operation of palingenesy appears to have been widely accepted by the scientific establishment and raised in many minds the question of whether sightings of spirits of the dead could be explained in the same way. In Hibbert’s words: when a dead body had been committed to the earth, the salts of it, during the heating process of fermentation, were exhaled. The saline particles then each resumed the same relative situation they had held in the living body, and thus a complete human form was induced (Hibbert 1825: 21). The seventeenth- to eighteenth-century vogue among men of science for palingenetic theory and experiment stands at an interesting point in the history of belief. Palingenesy represented a possible framework for the union and co-articulation of folkloric, scientific and religious kinds of belief within a discourse of reason. As McCalla (1994: 428) points out, palingenesy, at least as formulated by Bonnet, was considered “as a form of worship, of coming to know God through understanding his creation”. 188

Folk Belief

Figure 5.5. A rose resuscitated through palingenesy. The theory of palingenesy held that all matter contained the seeds of all its future forms. Therefore, applying heat to the ashes of a burned rose would cause the ‘phantom’ of the rose to present itself in the smoke. It was suggested that the ‘science’ behind the appearance of phantom roses might also account for the appearance of ghosts at cemeteries. Image from Abb´e du Vallemont, 1707. Later, in the nineteenth century, scientific thought came to differ so greatly from theology, not only in points of fact, but in epistemology and language, that there was effectively a bifurcation in the unified discourse of reason. Scientific rationality developed its own philosophical method, and religious belief came to occupy a separate field of discourse. But before this “Balkanisation of the brain” took place, there was a period when across science, theology, poetry and even folk-life, attempts were made to accommodate different forms of belief to a single, rational, explanatory framework. Poets used the findings of the new natural philosophy for 189

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland meditations on the self; theologians put ghosts and fairies into divinely ordered hierarchies; scientists saw the architecture of the human eye as proof of God’s omnipotence and sought to replicate the appearance of wraiths in experimental conditions. What do these strange cases tell us about belief and the human body in early modernity?


Chapter 6


The dead body in the early modern period was conceptually situated at the intersection of numerous fields of discourse. It partook of the meanings of individualised personhood inhering in the unique body that took shape from the Renaissance onwards. At the same time, it was understood as a material object with mechanisms that could be analysed through careful study and fully recorded in words and images. In this way it was both unique and universal, although its universality was not the old medieval kind of universal in which all bodies were the same by virtue of being all images of God, but a new medical universal in which the social identity of the body was less significant in understanding its physical features, since one body could usually be substituted for another. Sofaer (2006) has suggested that for the purposes of archaeological study the human body should be treated as material culture and subjected to the same analytical processes as other artefacts we recover. This book argues that this way of thinking about the human body is possible as a result of a particularly modern concept of corporeality that has developed over the past 500 years and is evident particularly in scientific discourses of the early modern period. However, it would not be correct to say that this disinterested, forensic understanding of the human body was the single or even dominant conception in this period. For emotional and social purposes there is strong evidence that the dead body retained the unique and personal identity of the deceased individual, with some of the attributes of a living body such as power and vigour, and that it even retained a degree of sentience and capacity for voluntary action. 191

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland Katharine Park (1995) has related the importance of the place of burial among Northern Europeans in the late Middle Ages to an attitude towards death and the newly deceased body that was distinctively different to contemporary Italian opinion. For Italians death was a moment: the instant of the soul’s departure. After the soul had gone little significance was attached by early modern Italians to the empty body. Even aristocratic bodies were usually interred in a place convenient to the place of death, with a low-key ceremony. In Northern Europe, by contrast, highstatus funerals were elaborate and both the ceremony and commemoration were ostentatious. Park suggests that in Northern Europe the newly dead body retained considerable power and even sentience. It continued to be the same individual as before death; life force ebbed only slowly from the body over the period of its decay. This is why, she says, while Italian corpses were normally lain on open biers, Northern European bodies required closed coffins to contain their powerful and dangerous inhabitants (in fact coffined burial was unusual in the Middle Ages even in Northern Europe, and elite bodies that lay in state were not customarily covered, but this does not substantially weaken the argument). The dead body in Northern Europe, says Park, was both fetishised and feared in a way that the inert Italian corpse was not. The selfhood of the deceased individual could inhere in every part of the body. Even separated body parts could stand for the individual; indeed they were more than that – they actually were the individual. Thus, the divided burial of the bodies of kings, nobles and senior churchmen in the late medieval period allowed one person to ‘live’ in many homes, by burying the heart, for example, in a different place to the rest of the body. Park’s argument was formulated with regard to elite European practices in the late Middle Ages. We do not need to accept her evaluation of Italian beliefs about the body to find useful insights in her analysis of north European practices. In particular, the idea that the recently dead body is still a locus of personal identity and is possessed of sentience, some kinds of power and agency and awareness can go a long way to explaining apparent contradictions in early modern beliefs about the body. This underlying belief is evident more in practices than in explicit discourses, but it also informs many of the unexamined values that characterise beliefs about the dead body in this period, such as respect, decency, honesty and notions of what is fitting. Thus, many beliefs about the human body discussed in previous chapters are easier to understand if we accept that to many British and Irish people, the dead body was sometimes aware of what was happening around it and capable of feeling pain, anxiety or discomfort. It also had an agentive power that enabled it to effect actions in the world and a primal force that could be channelled to good or bad ends. The necessity of treating a dead body ‘honestly’ and protecting its privacy and pride from public view, especially sparing it the shame of being seen to suffer the ravages of death, were values inspired by this belief. So, also, was the widespread horror of, and resistance to, anatomy. The desire to be buried with kin and friends, sometimes requiring long-distance transportation, makes sense, as does attention to the ‘comfort’ of the corpse, selecting special coffins and grave clothing, taking care in choosing a place of burial and so on. Widespread beliefs in the medicinal power 192

Conclusions of the corpse, such as the efficacy of the dead hand, mummy powder and so on depend on a belief in the power of the dead body, as does, very clearly, the ability of the murdered corpse to accuse its murderer in the widely recognised custom of bier right.

The Body as Curio British and Irish treatments of the dead body over this period seem to be affected by how much time had passed since the death occurred. The care generally taken to respect the integrity, comfort and decency of the newly dead is not matched by the treatment of the bodies of those who died much earlier. This is most evident in the scholarly and popular interest in viewing and collecting the bodies or parts of bodies of famous or notorious individuals from history, but it is also clear in the people’s readiness to cut through earlier burials when making new interments, often simply pushing other bones aside and rarely preserving the integrity of the individual. Cutting of bodies for embalming or dissection has been extensively discussed in this volume, as has the use of human tissue for medical or occult treatments. However, body parts also functioned as material culture in the manufacture of other artefacts or as curios or keepsakes. For example, human skin was used on several occasions as book binding material. Here, the skin was never used simply because its functional or aesthetic qualities were preferred to other possible kinds of binding material. The identity of the individual formerly contained by the skin was important in giving it meaning and desirability (Figure 6.1). The Anatomy Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh holds a wallet made from the tanned skin of William Burke, the notorious murderer who sold the bodies of his victims to Dr. Knox of the same Royal College. More common than leatherwork pocket books was the use of human skin to make book bindings – anthropodermic bibliopegy, to give the practice its proper name. In April 2006 police in Leeds recovered a seventeenth-century book bound in human skin, taken during a burglary (Lovett 2006). The Boston Athenaeum holds one of two copies of the confession of highwayman James Allen, alias George Walton (alias Jonas Pierce, alias James H. York, alias Burley Grove), bound in Walton’s own skin at his request (Young 1944). Before his death in prison (of consumption), Walton asked that one copy of his confessions be given to the doctor who attended him during his final illness, and the other go to a Mr. John Fenno, a former victim Walton much admired for his bravery in attempting to resist robbery. It is Fenno’s copy that is now held by the Athenaeum. Other books bound in human skin are also known, perhaps numbering a few hundred (Alban 2005). Many of these are French books dating to the Revolution. They made use of the skin of well-known individuals executed during the terror. Body parts of historically significant or famous individuals were collected and exchanged. The early post-mortem history of Oliver Cromwell’s head was discussed in Chapter 4, but even after his head was removed and displayed it continued for 193

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland

Figure 6.1. Anthropodermic bibliopegy. This account of the trial and execution of the Jesuit Henry Garnet was bound in the subject’s own skin. Photograph courtesy of Wilkinson’s Auctioneers of Doncaster. the next few centuries to be exhibited, traded, studied, bequeathed and purchased until its reinterment in 1960 (Pearson and Morant 1935; Tarlow 2008). After the beheading of Cromwell, Ireton and Bradshaw in 1661, the bodies were buried in a pit at Tyburn and the heads mounted on spikes above Westminster Hall. There Cromwell’s head remained for many years until it was blown down in a storm and secretly entered the possession of either a guard or a Cromwellian sympathiser. It turned up in 1710 in a cabinet of curiosities belonging to a London-based Swiss calico printer called Claudius DuPuy, and then again in about 1770 when a travelling actor called Samuel Russell tried to sell it to the master of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, Cromwell’s old college. At that time, the college declined the offer, but the head was bought from the Russell family by James Cox for £118 in 1787 (Pearson and Morant 1935: 14). Cox soon sold the head at a considerable profit to three men, perhaps called Hughes, who wanted to exhibit it in Mead Court, Old 194


Figure 6.2. One of Pearson and Morant’s (1935) attempts to match the dimensions of Cromwell’s head to his busts, portraits and masks. Their main aim was to establish the authenticity of the so-called ‘Wilkinson head’. After extensive historical and metrical analysis they concluded that it was indeed the head of Oliver Cromwell. Bond Street. In 1814, the head was obtained by Josiah Henry Wilkinson, in whose family it remained until the middle of the twentieth century. During the twentieth century, a number of attempts were made to verify the authenticity of the head, most thoroughly by Pearson and Morant in the 1930s. Their conclusions were published in a lengthy article in the journal Biometrika (Figure 6.2). On the death of Canon Horace Wilkinson, the last private owner of the head, it was finally laid to rest at Sidney Sussex College. As the story of Cromwell’s head demonstrates, we cannot always differentiate clearly between body and artefact. On some occasions, Cromwell’s body signified Cromwell’s social person – as when it was exhumed, hanged and decapitated as punishment for crimes committed by Cromwell. On other occasions, his head was an interesting collector’s item, conversation piece or family heirloom: functioning like an artefact. Cromwell’s head has consistently represented Cromwell in some way, but its authenticity has not always been a major concern. If nothing else, the extraordinary history of Oliver Cromwell’s head should make us wary of assuming that dead bodies are inert in terms of social agency. His several bodies – the natural one, the effigies and the many artificial and monumental ones (not even considered here) – had social meaning long after he breathed his last. In 1790, John Milton’s body was exhumed from its family grave in London at the Church of St Giles, Cripplegate, prior to the erection of a permanent memorial to 195

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland the poet (Wallace 2004: 53). After an apparently seemly excavation by workmen, it was decided to rebury the coffin, now that its location had been confirmed. The events of that night are set forth in a narrative prepared by Philip Neve, now in the British Library, and related by Jennifer Wallace (2004). Apparently, after spending a few hours in the local inn, a number of the gravediggers decided to return to the coffin and look inside. One of the workmen removed the lid and the gravediggers saw the remains of Milton still wrapped in a shroud. What happened next was, Wallace says, “a frenzy of trophy-hunting” (2004: 53). The assembled group grabbed at the bones, teeth and hair of the poor body, even knocking the jaws with a stone to loosen the teeth. The following day one of the gravediggers, a woman named Elizabeth Grant, was guarding the body and decided to make some money by exacting a charge of sixpence from each onlooker in exchange for a look at the body. The men who had removed body parts the previous night sold their subdivided spoils to souvenir hunters. What is interesting about this event is that, as Wallace says, “while the parishioners had to dehumanise the body in order to ransack it, the value of the corpse in the East London black market paradoxically derived from the fact that it had once been a person and, more precisely, that it had once been John Milton” (2004: 55). The line between body and artefact was not clearly fixed in post-medieval Britain. While new corpses were often treated like living bodies, as shown in the previous chapter, on other occasions parts of dead bodies, particularly when they had been dead for some time, were collected, exhibited, traded and inherited as novel material objects. Where bodies and body parts were kept and exchanged as artefacts they nearly always, as in the case of Milton, acquired their value from the person they had belonged to. The collection and curation of body parts in the post-medieval period is probably not a unified phenomenon, in that the particular part of the body preserved, its former owner and its treatment after being separated from the body vary considerably, and the meaning of the preserved part differed accordingly. Sometimes the body part was retained as a sentimental souvenir of a loved one. This practice reached its fullest expression in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century ‘hair art’, the manufacture of decorative objects from the hair of a particular person. But it is more evident earlier on in idiosyncratic preservation, such as the decision of Lady Elizabeth Raleigh to carry the preserved head of her husband Sir Walter with her in a velvet bag. Given his reputation as a philanderer she might have been happy to keep him where she could see him. A fascination with the long dead bodies of the famous led to the widespread early modern antiquarian habit of opening tombs. Tombs were frequently encountered in the course of renovations, and frequently they were opened and their contents examined. No reason is generally given for this, except the curiosity of onlookers; no particular historical questions were answered by opening tombs, nor did the condition of the body have any religious meaning to Protestants, although for Catholics, incorruptibility of the body was generally a sign of sainthood. Both motivations contributed to the popularity of St Michan’s Church, Dublin, as a place of pilgrimage and sightseeing. The church vault seems to have been particularly 196

Conclusions favourable to preserving by desiccation the bodies deposited there. Among the bodies were those of John and Henry Sheares, executed by the British for their part in the 1798 rising, whose fame or notoriety attracted many visitors. Also in the vault were the allegedly miraculous remains of a nun named Crookshank, the powers of which brought huge numbers of, presumably, Catholics to her tomb during the eighteenth century (Loomis 1935: 366–7). The accounts of the opening of a lead coffin at Mary-le-Port church in Bristol in 1814 (Watts and Rahtz 1985: 181) give no particular reason for the exhumation but describe the interest of local surgeons in the preservation of the body and the techniques of embalming. They surmise that the body had been preserved by pouring some strong spirit into the coffin through an aperture on the lid so that the whole body was pickled, but that is not supported by other archaeological evidence. It is likely that they mistook the liquid products of putrefaction, mixed with the oils, spirits and other substances used in preparing the body, for large quantities of alcoholic liquid (Watts and Rahtz 1985: 181). A later account describes removal of the heart for exhibition. Parts of its clothing and the blue and white handkerchief that tied up its jaw were removed to keep as “relics”. This information is supported by the fragment of blue and white material attached to a page in a scrapbook at the Bristol Royal Infirmary giving an account of the opening (Watts and Rahtz 1985: 181). If the bodies of the famous exercised a fascination for early modern minds, parts of the bodies of individuals who had had only personal significance to those left alive were also curated as mementoes of the absent person and the relationship between a dead and a living individual. The great age of hair art – pictures and mementos made from the hair of loved ones – did not arrive until the late eighteenth century, but as early as the seventeenth century selected body parts could be conserved and kept as mnemonics of the deceased. Hair was particularly good for this purpose: it could be collected during life and did not entail doing violence to the new corpse. It was meaningful to its possessor because it was intimately associated with the personal and bodily identity of the deceased. For the same reason, hair clippings, like nail clippings, could be used against the interests of the person from whom they came by the occult power of witches. Many superstitions relate to the need to prevent such intimate body parts from coming into the hands of witches. Charms such as witch bottles depended also on the inclusion of hair and nail clippings (and often of urine) for their efficacy.

Belief Paul Veyne has noted that only rarely is ‘belief’ either wholly present or wholly absent: Throughout the ages a plurality of programs of truth has existed, and it is these programs, involving different distributions of knowledge, that explain the subjective degrees of intensity of beliefs, the bad faith, and the contradictions that coexist in the same individual (Veyne 1988: 27). 197

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland That it is possible to believe in many things concurrently, with the ‘intensities of belief ’ varying according to context, is down to the numerous ‘modalities’ of belief – beliefs based on the word of others; beliefs based on one’s own experience and so on. We might add that beliefs based on hope and desire can be powerful too. We trust the word of others, says Veyne, when we know they are knowledgeable, and we cannot see why they would want to trick us. Thus, it is possible for Veyne to believe that Tokyo exists, even though he has never been there (1988: 28). When many incompatible beliefs are held simultaneously, Veyne says that the brain ‘Balkanises’ – sets up boundaries between beliefs so that they are not all called upon at the same time. This process, he claims, is characteristic of periods of intellectual confusion. The early modern period was precisely such a period, when different kinds of conflicting truths threatened to fracture any coherent belief system. Yet over this period there were still attempts to find coherent metabeliefs – explanatory frameworks which would accommodate the truths of religion, the knowledge of science and the half-formulated beliefs of personal experience. The emergence of ‘modern’ attitudes in a context of pre-modern folkloric and theological belief gave rise to curious paradoxes. Especially in relation to death and the dead body, the modern brain was required to both ‘know’ and deny its own death. “All men think all men mortal but themselves”, wrote Young in 1700 in one of the most popular works of the period. When religious truth must fit in with other kinds of truth known by experience to be real, there can be problems. Such a problem is posed by the question of bodily resurrection. While there were numbers of people who professed a literal faith in the resurrection (the established church position), there were also those who adapted it and denied it altogether both within the mainstream Protestant and Catholic churches and in the proliferation of low church sects. Writing recently about religious belief the philosopher Simon Blackburn (2008: 37) observed The state of mind here is unaccountable in the same way as that of the child who pretends that the tree stump is a bear and then becomes genuinely frightened of it, while knowing all the time that it is a tree stump. In Blackburn’s wonderful example, two kinds of belief co-incide: one based on empirical observation and experience; the other on a constructed myth. Blackburn argues that religious belief is qualitatively different to material knowledge of the world. However, and whether, one chooses to rank different kinds of belief, Blackburn’s point is useful. Even when belief is contradicted by something else ‘known’ in a different way, it can still have real emotional and psychological consequences. We might add more examples: we all gain pleasure from engaging with the invented characters and worlds of fictional literature, film and television. We know the events and characters of fiction are not true: they are made up by a writer and perhaps shown to us by actors pretending to be other people and saying the words they would say. Yet we can cry real tears of empathy for their grief; experience physiological symptoms of fear and anxiety at the situations in which they find themselves – even when we know that it will all turn out fine; miss them 198

Conclusions when they die. Perhaps ‘belief ’ is too strong a term for our relation with fiction, but Coleridge’s characterisation of our relationship with poetry, coined in 1817 as a ‘willing suspension of disbelief ’, comes close. Perhaps the state of mind when pursuing folk medicine (or its modern equivalent: spending grocery money on expensively packaged products containing imaginary ingredients that claim to make us look younger, restore our lost hair, become slimmer or feel happier) could also be characterised as a willing suspension of disbelief: in some ways we ‘know’ it won’t work, but in another we choose to believe that it will. So what did the dead body mean to people in early modern Britain? What was left in the body when life had gone? The answer to this central question depends on who asks it and in what context. For virtuous Christians demonstrating their orthodoxy, the correct answer is ‘nothing’. The body is understood, as it was in pre-Reformation Catholic times, as a container for and contrast to the soul. But the two are not of equal value: in fact, the body came to be, especially for Protestants, the enemy of and opposite to the soul. And yet, in social practice and in the context of the personal emotional relationships which increasingly structured family and community life over this period, the dead body remained a locus of self: a place where love, grief and personal identity were enacted and constructed. It also signified social position and role, and its treatment reinforced social relationships of inequality. For natural philosophers – scientists – the dead body was a resource for teaching and research. It offered benefits to the living. And for millions of ordinary people, the dead body was a source of occult or medicinal power – its physical matter possessed a force that could be used for the purposes of the living. Because of these different and incompatible ways of answering the question of belief about the dead body in the early modern period, it is equally impossible to make any categorical statement about the relationship between the body and the self. In some traditions of belief, the body’s individual identity continued to be important after death; in others the body was not individuated, or only its membership of a category was important. Social and emotional practices were profoundly dependent on personal identity during life. For a bereaved relative, the body of the deceased retained its personal identity for purposes of the funeral and mourning ritual. Social hierarchy, especially at the top and bottom of the social scale, was maintained through elaborating or degrading the corpse which would certainly involve reference to the personal identity of the deceased during life. For other purposes, however, the exact identity of the deceased mattered little. Medicines such as mummy were obtained from anonymous bodies, but sometimes their age and sex categories were important: the remains of a healthy young man were often specified as containing more vital power than those of old and sick people, or women. Thus, the importance of individual identity attached to the dead body varied according to the belief discourse in which it was involved. As the modern conventions of scientific discourse took shape in the early modern period, the idea of the universal medical body also began to form. And yet even in the discourse of science, the dead body, the subject of dissection and examination, was not always anonymous or representative of type. Cherryson has noted that early 199

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland modern catalogues of anatomical preparations in research and teaching collections routinely identified the individual from whose body the tissues were removed (Cherryson, Crossland and Tarlow, forthcoming). Where the anatomical dissection was also part of the public enactment of retributive justice, the identity of the dissected body was crucially important. It is, thus, impossible to find an unambiguous answer to the question of whether assaults on the integrity of the dead body – through cutting – constituted assaults on the personhood of the deceased. The use of anatomical dissection as a judicial sanction, the popular anxiety about grave robbing and the removal of heads in war and execution all suggest this was the case. However, there were other contexts, especially for elite male bodies, in which cutting the dead body was tolerated as part of decent post-mortem treatment, such as autopsy and embalming. Similarly, the anatomical location of personhood is not easy to find with much precision or consistency. Early modern texts paid particular attention to the heart and brain, metaphorically understood as the sovereign and God of the human form, but those organs – along with the gut and other abdominal organs – were normally removed during embalming and might be buried locally when the rest of an elite body was transported ‘home’ for burial, and in cases where remains were moved after death, the bones, rather than any fleshly remains, were selectively curated. What makes the difference is context, and especially the relations of power involved. When a physician removed the entrails of a private patient after death or carried out an autopsy on his or her corpse, he performed a last act of service to one who was employing him before a small number of private individuals. Without the consent of the deceased before death, or the family afterwards, no such interventions would take place. On the other hand, when the head or bowels of a criminal were removed after death, or anatomical dissection carried out on the body in front of an unregulated gallows crowd, the social power was all in the hands of the Establishment. Intervention was non-consensual. Autonomy was totally removed from the individual who suffered the double loss of power from both the impotence of death and the total supremacy of the socially empowered anatomist. In a period of nascent individualism, loss of autonomy was perhaps the gravest assault on the individual, and to extend this beyond death was terrible to the people of the early modern world.

Ethical Implications Archaeological research on the remains of the dead has been the subject of intense and impassioned debate in recent decades. In some contexts, the incompatible demands of archaeological researchers who study and retain human remains and of (usually) non-archaeologists for the non-disturbance or reburial of human remains have proved to be local manifestations of larger power differences in ethnicity, race and class. Thus, in Australia, for example, demands for reburial are inseparable from a long history of colonial oppression and cultural inequality: modern archaeologists are seen by many aboriginal Australians as representatives of the same alien and 200

Conclusions colonial values that led to the near obliteration of aboriginal culture in many parts of the country. In Europe, where the agent/subject dichotomy of archaeological study does not correspond directly with the possession and lack of political and cultural power in the same way, disputes over the bodies of the dead have been less fraught and less urgent than in post-colonial contexts. Nevertheless, in the last few years even British and Irish archaeologists have needed to respond to public disquiet about the ethics of research using the remains of humans, especially those who died in recent centuries. The main focus of the ethical case has been respect for the feelings of living descendants and local communities, although this has not always been clearly distinguished from ‘respect’ for the dead themselves (Tarlow 2001, 2006). The study of traditions of belief about the body brings out a few salient points for consideration of the ethics of dealing with the remains of the dead: 1. Human remains have not been treated consistently with ‘respect’ in the historical past. Use of skeletal remains, for example, as medicine or apotropaic talismans (such as the teeth kept as safeguards against toothache) demonstrates that removal of human remains from burial contexts for use in other ways was often tolerated. There is, moreover, a marked difference in attitude to the bodies of the recently deceased compared to the bodies of the long dead. 2. The widespread horror of grave robbery and dissection relates to bodies of the newly dead. Taboos around the excavation, study and cutting of bodies of those who had been dead for some time, even where there was extensive soft tissue survival, do not seem to have existed. This is particularly clear in the numerous examples of disinterment of the bodies of celebrated historical figures. The bodies of kings, lords and celebrated famous individuals were all examined by curious antiquaries in the eighteenth century without apparent disapprobation. The account of the despoliation of Milton’s grave, as his skeleton was torn apart by souvenir hunters, is a striking example of this attitude. 3. Even in the past, attitudes towards the bodies of the dead were complex and multiple. There was no single cultural belief about how the body should be treated. Instead, there were tensions between social groups about what was appropriate and when. Anatomists and ‘men of science’, for example, often subscribed to a different attitude towards the bodies of the newly dead than their non-academic peers. 4. Beliefs passionately and eloquently expressed in written or rhetorical discourses are not always evident in common practice. For example, the theological belief that the dead body was insignificant did not inform burial practices or social attitude towards the dead body to a great extent. Rather than clarifying the appropriate course of ethical behaviour in treating the remains of the dead, the complexities and ambiguities of belief in the past only emphasise that the ‘right’ ethical decision about the archaeological study of human 201

Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland remains is contextual and can only be made by acknowledging possibly conflicting belief traditions in which such research is situated. One final ethical implication relates more to doing justice to people in the past. The interpretation of people’s actions and utterances in the past depends on our understanding of what those people meant to achieve, what values they were trying to promote and whose interests they served. When we find – as inevitably we always do – apparent inconsistencies between what people say and what they do, it is tempting or even normal to interpret some aspect of their behaviour or rhetoric as a strategic attempt to legitimise or conceal oppressive or self-aggrandising motives. This is often a fair interpretation. But the absolute idea that we sometimes have of belief as something coherent and fixed leaves no other explanation for inconsistency in the behaviour of past people. The more contextual and flexible kinds of ‘belief ’ discussed in this book make it possible to consider that human behaviour in the past, as in the present, was not necessarily rational, coherent or strategic. If we consider belief to be multiple and often incoherent, human action can be seen as the product as much of muddle, emotion and habit as calculation and planning.



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Aberdeen, 50 ability of a corpse to accuse its murderer, 164–166 Abingdon, Oxfordshire, 106 afterlife, 44, 45, 176–178 agency of a new corpse, 95 agency, individual, 8 agency, social, 195 Alder Hey Hospital, Liverpool, 102 Aldgate burial ground, 43 All Hallows, Honey Lane, London, 50 All Saints Church, Loughton, Buckinghamshire, 185 All Soul’s Eve, 180 Allen, William, 22 amputation, 64, 65 Anabaptists, 55 anaesthetic, lack thereof during operation, 64 Anatomist and executioner, hazy line between, 61 Anatomy Act, 68, 90, 95, 96 anatomy as gendered practice, 73 antibiotics, 65 Anti-Catholicism, 47 approach, post-processual, 4, 130 approach, processual, 4, 130 archaeology, mortuary, 4, 131 Ari`es, Phillippe, 173 arms, heraldic, 121 Atheists, 176 Aubrey, John, 159 auto-icon, 130, 134 autopsy, definition of, 78 Baillie, Matthew, 100 balkanisation of the brain, 15, 16, 36, 189, 198 Balmerino Abbey, Fife, 42 Barclay family, 55 barrow, 48 Beaker Folk, 4 Becon, Thomas, 24

bede rolls, 23 beeswax, 30 beheading, 116, 118, 149, 150, 194 belief, Arminian, 55 Bell, John, 84 Bentham, Jeremy, 130 bibliopegy, anthropodermic, 193 biologism, 10 Birnie, William, 40 black, use of in funerary customs, 186 Blackburn, Simon, 198 Blackfriars, 54 bodies as material culture, 8 bodiliness, 27, 34, 35 body and soul, 27, 152 dialogue between, 72 dualistic opposition of, 26 body anatomised, 60 criminal, 54, 58, 90, 144–149, 151 drowned, 111, 112 earthly, 22, 35–38, 174 elite, 115, 118, 119, 200 fetishisation of, 192 as geography, 72 identity denial thereof, 97 as machine, 72, 84, 95 as microcosm, 69, 72, 84 royal, 114, 146 saintly, 129 without the soul, 28 witches, 184 body parts, veneration of, 67 body politic, 70, 152, 153 Bodyworlds, 73 Bohan, Andres, 66 Book of Common Prayer, 26 Book of Discipline, 40, 42 Boyd, Zacharie, 27, 39, 49 Boyle, Robert, 72, 187


Index Bradshaw, John, 118 Braigh, Aignish, Isle of Lewis, 112 Brand, John, 162 Bristol Royal Infirmary, 80, 102, 197 Browne, Thomas, 173, 176 Bunyan, John, 35 Burckhardt, Jacob, 12, 120 burial heart, 119 multi-local, 67 vault, 30 burial customs suicides, 183 witch, 184 Burial in Woollen Act, 136 Burke, Peter, 13 burking, 61 Burton, William, 30 Cadbury family, 55 Cambrian Archaeological Association, 179 Cameron, Archibald, 146 carcass, 28, 145 Carmarthen Greyfriars, 54 Carmelite Friary, Aberdeen, 54 Carrickmines Castle, Dublin, 109 carrion, body as, 40, 59, 93, 95 cause of death, 82 cauterisation, 65 Cavendish family, 30, 120 cerecloth, 30–33, 99, 119 Chambers, Alison, 154 Changing Beliefs of the Human Body Project, 50 Charles I, 153 Charles II, 55, 118 charnel, 20, 43, 144 Cherryson, Annia, 2 Christ, body of, 22, 35 Christian IV, 160 Church of Ireland, 170 Church of St Peter, Waterford, Ireland, 57 cill´ıni, 45–50 class relations, 3 clinical detachment, 82, 91 coffin anthropomorphic, 33 lead, 32, 94, 99, 101, 112, 115, 129 parish, 108, 138 College of Arms, 125 Communion of Saints, 22 Congo, 10 consciousness, 7 constuctivist, 7 contagious sanctity, principle of, 39, 186


Cooke, James, 80 corpse washing, 135, 137, 143 corruption, 29, 35, 40, 77, 128, 132, 152 Cosins, John, 38 craniotomy, 62, 76, 77, 79, 81, 82, 91, 99, 100 cremation, 6, 145 criminals, stigmatisation of, 18 Croese, Gerard, 1 Croll, Oswald, 159 Cromwell, Oliver, 38, 62, 90, 115, 149, 193 Crooke, Helkiah, 63, 68, 71, 84 Crossland, Zoe, 2 Croyde Bay, Devon, 111 crucifix, 44 crypto-Catholic, 55 culture history approach, 4 Da Vinci, Leonardo di ser Piero, 70 Darbys of Ironbridge, 55 Darwin, Charles, 64 Davies, Douglas, 69 de Henley, Thomas, 30 de la Motte, Francois Henri, 146 dead body, loathing of, 29 dead houses, 96 dead, categories of Vampires, 9 Vegetable, 9 dead, dissection of, 59 death masks, 132, 140 death studies, 3 Dee, John, 182 Deighton, John, 29 depositum plate, 122, 124 Derby Cathedral, 30 Descartes, Ren´e, 17 deviants, 46, 54, 104 devices, anti-resurrectionist, 95 Deyman, Dr. Joan, 74 Dinglett, Dorothy, 180 dissection anatomical, 3, 37, 58, 62, 68, 73, 75, 79, 95, 101, 200 definition of, 78 by dignity, 77, 84 by diurnitie, 77 dividuals, 12 Dominican Friary, Guildford, 43 Donne, John, 3, 71 Douce, Francis, 115 Drogheda, 44, 166 Dublin, 44, 57, 66, 96, 101 Duke of Lauderdale, 32 Dunball island, Avonmouth, 78

Index Edinburgh Guild of Surgeons and Barbers, 73 effigy, 38, 126, 154, 173, 195 effigy, royal, 114 Elizabeth I, 21, 114 Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury, 33 embalming techniques, 98–100 embalming evidence for, 30, 32, 99, 100 reasons for, 98 embodied experience, 20 embodiment, 8, 9 emotion, archaeology of, 131 empirical observation, 59, 198 enemies, burial of, 110 Enlightenment thought, 7 Epaphroditus, 24, 83 epidemic, 106, 108, 110 epitaph, 6, 29, 83, 84, 126, 142 etiquette, 13, 14, 62, 117 excommunicants, 48, 52 excommunicates, clandestine burial of, 52 Eynsham Abbey, Oxfordshire, 53 Eyre Square, Galway City, 78 fairies, 23, 174, 176–177, 186, 190 Falconer, Magnus, 80 Farleigh Hungerford Castle, Somerset, 33 felo de se, See suicide, act of Ferrier, Dr. John, 187 Finch, Jon, 42 Flower, Robin, 46 Folklore Society, 157 Forestus, Peter, 99 Foucault, Michel, 54 Fox, George, 36 Frances Stuart, the Duchess of Richmond and Lenox, 138 Frazer, James Gordon, 158 Fry family, 55 garments, funerary, 141 Gay, John, 172 geography, body, 70, 72 sacred, 39, 108 social, 108 ghosts, 11, 23, 157, 161, 164, 165, 172–177, 179–184, 190 gibbeted criminals, 78 Gibson, Thomas, 87 Gittings, Clare, 130 Glasgow Cathedral, 42 Glendalough, 66 Gomme, George Lawrence, 158 Grantham, Lincolnshire, 52

grave robbers, 68, 94–96, 101, 171 grazing, churchyard, 172 Great Blasket, 46 grief, 109, 131, 138, 139, 198, 199 ground, consecrated, 38, 39, 45, 46, 49, 50, 52, 112, 161, 186 Guild of Surgeons of Amsterdam, 74 Haddington, 32 hair art, 196, 197 Halhill, Fife, 40 hand of glory, 157, 168, 169 recipe for the preparation of, 169 hangman’s fracture, 76 Harding, Vanessa, 107 Hardy, Thomas, 163 H¨arke, Heinrich, 4 Harmenszoon van Rijn, Rembrandt, 74 Harvey, William, 153, 164, 187 heart, preservation of, 119 Hemingford Grey, Cambridgeshire, 56, 108, 138 Henry Grey, the Duke of Suffolk, 149 Henry VIII, 30, 114, 149 Henry, Prince of Wales, 115 Herbert, George, 68 Hereford Cathedral, 50 Hewson, William, 80 histories, revisionist, 20 Hollingbourne, Kent, 32 Holy Ghost, 33, 35 holy water, 39, 161 homunculi, 162, 187 Human Tissue Act, 103 Hunter, John, 100 Hunter, William, 80, 91, 100 Hutton, Ronald, 156 hydrostatic lung test, 89 hygiene, 134 public, 89, 144 identity of the anatomised individual, 74 identity cultural, 10 family, 140 female, 10, 143 gendered, 141 individual, 90, 179, 199 national, 157 personal, 10, 35, 91, 122, 125, 140, 143, 144, 154, 179, 191, 192, 199 immortality, 24, 25, 170 Incas, 10 incorruptibility of a corpse, apparent, 129


Index individual eccentric, 130 spiritual, 13 infants, unbaptised, 45, 48–50, 52, 183 infection, 64, 65, 145 infectious disease, 106, 136 Infirmary Street, Edinburgh, 91 inquest, 79, 82, 84, 89 Interregnum, 106 intersubjectivity, 9 Ireton, Henry, 118 Isle of Wight, 1 Jacobite rebellion, 148 jankers, 96 jaw cloths, 137 Jesuit, 45, 166 Johnstown, County Meath, 46, 48 Kelly, Edward, 182 Killalee Church Kilarney, County Kerry, 46 King George II, 146 King’s Evil, See scrofula Kingston upon Thames, 57 Kirk, Robert, 176 Kirtling All Saints, Cambridgeshire, 32 knowledge, scientific, 3, 58, 74, 98, 162, 186 Kopytoff, Igor, 10 Lady Diana Rich, 175 Lady Jane Grey, 149 Lanercost Priory, Cumberland, 50 Lang, Andrew, 158 Laqueur, Thomas, 16 last rites, 137, 179 Laudian, 54, 55 lead, 32, 49, 96, 100, 119, 149, 197 Les Saint Innocents, Paris, 162 Lethieullier, John, 101 ligation, 65 limbo, 45 limbus infantum, 45 limbus patrum, 45 Linlithgow, 50 Litchfield Cathedral, 141 living memory, 137, 142, 170 Llangar Church, Merionethshire, 108 Lloyd family, 55 Lollardy, 20 London, 50 London Company of Barbers and Surgeons, 73 Louis XIV, 162 Low Churches, 47 Lyke Wake Dirge, 25, 177


Malagasy, 10 Manchester mummy, 100 Manners, George, 109 Manorhamilton workhouse, 45 Marquis of Dorset, 43 Marvell, Andrew, 72 Mary, Countess of Northumberland, 133 Mayer, Robert, 98 Maynard family, 122 meditation, 26 meditation upon the divine, anatomy as, 85 Melanesian, 11, 12 Melville, Sir James, 40 memory earthly, 25 folk, 177 perpetuation of, 25, 29, 125, 127, 134 Mennonites, 55 mercy, divine, 23, 24, 49, 179 Methodists, 55 Milton, John, 152, 195 Mission of St Mary and St Michael, 45 Misson, Henri, 136 modernist, 7 modesty, female, 134, 143 Moe, Priscilla, 1, 56 Moore, Thomas, 109 moral imperative, 27 Morgan, John, 101 morgues, hospital, 61 Mortality, 3 mortsafes, 96 Moshenska, Gabriel, 73 Murder Act, 61, 68, 146, 150 murder act of, 49, 61, 81, 110, 146, 165 consequences of, 68 victim of, 110, 164, 181, 183 Murphy, Eileen, 46 Mytum, Harold, 5 natural philosophy, 59, 60, 189 New England, 57 Newcastle Infirmary, 79 non-conformists, 55 Northampton, 50 Nottingham General Hospital, 66 O’Meara Street Quaker Cemetery, Southwark, London, 141 Oil of Man, 160 Old Basford, Nottingham, 66 Old General Hospital, Nottingham, 80 Old Velho Sephardi cemetery, 45

Index Oliver Cromwell’s head, post-mortem history of, 193–195 One Gun Point, Devon, 112 Ophelia, 170, 171 Owen, Kirsty, 29, 42 Oxford Castle, 75, 151 palingenesy, 162, 187, 188 papal bulls, 44 Par´e, Ambroise, 99, 119, 160 Park, Katharine, 192 Pasquier, Nicolas, 14 pathology, 3, 5, 58, 106 Peacock, Mabel, 166 peat bog, 110, 112 pentacle, 181 personhood, 9–11, 66, 90, 92, 118, 119, 121, 122, 137, 147, 191, 200 Peterman, Elizabeth, 180 philosophy, moral, 59, 60, 72, 78, 87, 132 philosophy, political, 152 plague, 56, 105, 106, 110, 161 plants as metaphor for resurrection, 170 Pope Boniface VIII, 120 Pope, Alexander, 136 Portchester Castle, 44 Porter, Roy, 15 post-mortem, definition of, 78 post-Reformation, 2, 23, 39, 41–43, 49, 53, 54, 58, 105, 106, 108, 122, 130, 138, 147, 166, 175 power, 3, 4, 8, 9, 11, 21, 74, 97, 116, 131, 148, 152, 153, 161, 182, 186, 187, 191, 192, 199, 200 cultural, 201 curative, 152, 159, 161, 164, 166, 167, 192, 199 divine, 72 dynamics of, 130 in executed criminal body parts, 167 of the hanged body, 167 imbalance of, 101 legislative, 68, 104, 193 malevolent, 184 medical, 9, 164 occult, 197 personal, 174 quasi-magical, 161 relations, 200 social, 60, 101, 115, 200 supernatural, 159 transformative, 26 preparation of skeletons for teaching, 80 pre-Reformation, 20, 30, 39, 49, 58, 105, 176, 186, 199

preservative injection, 100 Priory and Hospital of St Mary Bethlehem, London, 78 privacy, 13, 62, 115, 134, 137, 145, 192 bodily, 62, 133, 144 personal, 101 violation of, 101, 102, 151 progressivist history, 15 Protestantism, 20, 21, 48, 54, 56, 57, 176, 179 Prynne, William, 27 Purgatory, 21–26, 34, 44, 45, 49, 175–180 Puritan, 19, 23, 24, 26, 27, 55, 118 Quaker, 1, 36, 55–58, 70, 94, 108, 141 raths, 48 Ravencroft, Edward, 73 Read, Dr Alexander, 160 recusancy, 52–54, 58 Reformation, Protestant, 19, 24, 26, 44 Registration Act, 82 relationships, personal, 12, 104, 131 relic, 39, 67, 74, 119, 149, 162, 166, 186, 197 Renaissance, 12–14, 61, 62, 68, 118, 120, 191 report, coroner’s, 82 resistance to embalming, female, 144 resurrection men, See grave robbers resurrection, bodily, 34, 35 revenants, 11, 174, 177, 181, 182 Reverend John Garnage, 180 Richardson, Ruth, 68, 90 Roman Church, 20, 21 rosaries, 44 rosemary, 108, 137, 170–172 Rowe, Elizabeth, 139, 182 Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh, 193 Royal College of Surgeons in London, 151 rural poor, association of folklore with, 158 Sadducees, 176 salt as symbol of eternal life, 135 Sawday, Jonathan, 68 Scholz, Suzanne, 34 Scot, Reginald, 160 Scott, Walter, 169 scrofula, 164 second sight, 175 Secret Common-Wealth, 174 self, conscious, 34 self, constructed, 121 self, deceased, 37 self, double, 174 self, social, 26, 104, 117


Index services, memorial month’s mind, 22 year’s mind, 22 Seven Years War, 44 Sherlock, William, 26 shroud, 32, 99, 105, 108, 129, 141, 143, 170, 196 sin-eater, role of, 179 sin-eating, 179 Sir George Villiers, 181 Sir Humfrey Gilbert, 150 Sir Kenelm Digby, 188 Sir Thomas More, 149 Sir Walter Raleigh, 149 skull, 65 social identity, 9, 90, 124, 191 Socinians, 176 soul, departed, 29, 47 soul, divine, 35, 174 soul, fate of, 23, 37, 133, 147 space, conceptual, 21 space, grave, 43, 172 space, sacred, 19 Spenser, Edmund, 71 spirit, laying of, 181 St Anne’s, Shandon, Cork, 45 St Augustin, 33 St Bartholomew, 167 St Bride’s, London, 107 St Catherine’s, Cossall, Nottinghamshire, 25 St Dunstan’s, Canterbury, 149 St Edmund Arrowsmith, 166 St Erasmus, 167 St John’s Church, London, 43 St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, 42 St Margaret Clitheroe, 166 St Mary the Virgin, Little Ilford, 141 St Michan’s Church, Dublin, 196 St Nicholas Church, Gloucester, 29 St Nicholas, Barry, Glamorgan, 172 St Nicholas, Sevenoaks, Kent, 141 St Oliver Plunkett, 149, 166 St Oswald’s Church, Ashton, 166 St Oswald’s Priory, Gloucester, 39, 50, 138 St Pancras, London, 5, 146 St Peter’s Barton-upon-Humber, Lincolnshire, 141 St Peter’s Church Carmarthen, 141 Drogheda, 149, 166 status ecclesiastical, 54 elite, 30, 38, 43, 67, 81, 82, 114, 126, 129, 136, 192


hierarchical relations of, 140 liminal, 147, 179 moral, 34 social, 10, 18, 101, 121, 128, 131, 146 symbols of, 122 Strathern, Marilyn, 12 suicide(s), 24, 46, 48–50, 106, 147, 163, 172, 182, 183, 184 act of, 49, 147, 183 stigmatisation of, 18 Suku, 10 surgeons, 64–66, 73, 74, 132, 197 Surgeons Square, Edinburgh, 79 Survivals, theory of, 158–159 system, body as, 152, 153 taboo, 71, 73, 144 tame death, 83 Teasdale, Margaret, 169 Temple Bar, Dublin, 149 The Gender of the Gift, 12 Therese House, London, 56 Thomas, Keith, 156, 164 thought experiment, 12 thought, scientific, 59 Tintagel, Cornwall, 50, 108 tourist lore, 157, 159 treason, 118, 146 trepanation, 65 Trinity College, 66 Tulp, Dr. Nicholaes, 74 Turpentine, 30, 99 unheimlich, 73 Valentia, County Galway, 66 Veyne, Paul, 15, 197 Virgin Mary, 22 virgins’ garlands, 142 Vitruvian Man, 70 Von Hagens, Gunther, 73 Waterloo teeth, 92 Weever, John, 11, 126 west-east orientation, 20, 56, 58, 105, 106, 186 Whitby Museum, 169 winding sheet, 105 witch bottle, 184, 197 witchcraft, 49, 147, 185 Wolstenholme Town, Virginia, 57