‘For memory, not for superstitition’: protecting the past

This royal proclamation issued in September 1560, nearly two years after the accession of Elizabeth I, demonstrates some of the ways in which Reformation altered and disrupted ways of remembering ancestors and family lineages. The queen’s order notes and laments that in many places reforming zeal had prompted iconoclastic attacks on funerary monuments. Among the victims of such destruction, it claims, are families who will now lack ‘true vnderstandyng’ of the predecessors commemorated in these monuments, and of their own familial lines of descent. For some Protestants the continuing presence of medieval memorials that solicited prayers for the souls was an unacceptable reminder of Catholic teachings on purgatory and the afterlife; in distinguishing between monuments for ‘memory’ and those for ‘religious honour’ this proclamation acknowledges but tries to mitigate such concerns. The queen ordered that such destruction ceased, and that church leaders make arrangements to repair existing damage. Yet it was difficult to restore these links to communal and family pasts once they had been severed; as the proclamation notes, ‘it be very hard to recouer thinges broken and spoyled’. CL

A proclamation against breakinge or defacing of monumentes of antiquitie, beyng set up in churches or other publique places for memory and not for supersticion (London: Richard Jugge and John Cawood, 1560).

CUL: Broadsides.A.56.1

Further Reading

Margaret Aston, England’s Iconoclasts (Oxford, 1988).

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