Anti-Catholicism and ‘superstitious’ memory

Baptism by midwives rather than a priest was permitted in emergency but always controversial, and in 1604 James I took a personal interest in attempting to abolish the practice. An ape, he said, was as likely to be able to baptise as a woman. This is a Formulary, dating from the late sixteenth century or early seventeenth century, setting out rules for midwives. It regulates the use of English in baptising children and fulminates against Latin, in a way that suggests that the language of the Catholic church is not only retrograde or doctrinally suspicious, but intrinsically superstitious. At the opening shown here, a false baptismal rite is made equivalent to a witch’s charm or spell: ‘5. Item you shall not in any wise vse or exercise any charme, witchcraft or sorcerie invocations or other praiers then may stand with gods laws and the kings’. The Book of Common Prayer is enforced as the only proper wording for ritual, excising the practices of the past: ‘12. Item you shall not be privie too or consent that any Papiest or other person shall in your presence or in your absence, or of your knowledge or sufferance baptize any Childe by any Masse lattin service or other praiers, then such as are appointed by the lawes of the Church of England, neither shall you consent that any child borne by any woman, who shall be delivered by you, shallbe caryed away without being baptized in the parish where it was borne by the ordinarie Minister there, unlesse it be in case of necessitie privatelie baptized accordinge to the booke of common praier but you shall forthwith vpon vnderstanding thereof giue notice to your ordinarie’. BC

CUL: MS EDR F/ 5/ 39, fo. 73r-v

Further Reading

David Cressy, Birth, Marriage and Death: Ritual, Religion and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England (Oxford, 1997).

Bryan Spinks, Reformation and Modern Rituals and Theologies of Baptism (Aldershot, 2006).

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