Hands up everybody who is really excited about the current elections! Oh, the fun of it all. Local and European! Home and Away! The endless blethering, the armies of campaigners banging on the door, the piles of promises yet to be broken heaping up on the door mat and the myriad of prospective politicians demanding our attention and our vote. Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem, Green, UKIP, Independent, UUP, British Democrats, Sinn Fein, Scottish Nationalist, We Demand a Referendum, Plaid Cymru and on and on… all the sign of a healthy if rather overheated democracy.
It was not like this in 1639. There were only two political alliances then - the Royalists on one side and the Puritans on the other and they didn’t get on - and stuck in the middle was the Reverend William Grant, Vicar of Isleworth.
The Royalists and the Puritans had two contrary and confrontational views, both based on that old, persistent and still familiar tinderbox - religion. The Royalists were Episcopalians, protestant in doctrine but catholic in appearance. They came out of the Reformation of the 16th century firmly believing in formal ritual, ornate vestments, decorated churches, the authority of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer and the leadership of their bishops. The Puritans were deeply dissatisfied by the Reformation. In a drive for further reform and greater ‘purity’ in doctrine and practise they were against the formal rituals and decorated churches and they were against Reverend William Grant, the Vicar of Isleworth who in their view was definitely ‘old school’. They felt that Rev .Grant was falling short of the puritan standards that they desired…and in 1641 they started a petition against him. Contained on a single sheet it contained 21 articles of indictment against the man including…
“He useth very unbecoming speeches in his sermons, as speaking of some Popish tenets, he said, “Marry, as good lucke is, we have the scriptures against them”, and at another time, speaking of the devil’s temptations, “Marry, as good lucke was, God was stronger than the devil”. Clearly in their minds the concept of luck, good or otherwise, did not apply when it came to God.
Of the 1,000 communicants in the parish only 40 signed the petition - but it was enough to prompt the good Reverend to respond vigorously…
“I have twice used the phrase, “Good lucke is” - though never as alleged - because it is often used thus in Holy Writ, “Good lucke have thou with thine honour” says the Psalmist, and again, “It is fortuned that there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee.”
I looked into the King James Bible to check out the Holy Writ quotations used by Rev. Grant in his defence - and found them both lacking, maybe because of differences in translation. One is from Psalms 45:4. The other is John 2:1
Eventually the Puritans gained the upper hand in Isleworth and in 1641 Reverend William Grant was kicked out of his living. It must have been a grim time for the non-puritan parishioners of Isleworth particularly when a new government under Puritan Party Pooper Supreme Oliver Cromwell came to power in 1642…
2nd September 1642
“Spectacles of Pleasure too commonly expressing Mirth and Levity, and public stage Plays shall cease and be forborn.”
15th February 1643
“Wicked Prophanations of the Lord’s Day by Sports, and Gamings, of Excess in Eating and Drinking, Vanity, Pride, Prodigality in apparel shall cease.”
26th August 1643
“All monuments of Superstition or Idolatry shall be Removed, Taken away and utterly Demolished.”
And finally, the Big One…
3rd June 1647
“The Feast of the Nativity of Christ, with all other holidays should no longer be observed.”
And if that wasn’t enough, other Church festivals like Lent were forbidden, the prayer book abandoned and church weddings abolished. Instead of being called in church, marriage banns were published in town on market day and wedding ceremonies were performed by a Justice of Peace.
Eventually, and as with many other firm limitations imposed on a tolerant society, the parishioners grew tired of the puritanical restrictions. With the restoration of Charles 2nd to the throne in 1660, they welcomed Rev. William Grant back to his church where he was to remain until 1678. One of the first things he did, much to the annoyance of the remaining puritans in his flock, was to reinstate Lent and to grant “a special license to Richard Downton, Esq. and Thomasin his wife, to eat flesh in Lent, for the recovery of their health, they being enforced by age, notorious sickness, and weakness, to abstain from fish.”
At the time such licenses were regarded by some as ‘popish superstition’.
It was a time of marked change in society as local historian G.E Bate noted…
“From the depressing rule of the Puritans, repressions and moral control, many people went to the other extreme, and there were excesses and licence of one of the most deplorable periods in our history.”
I wonder what the Vicar of Isleworth made of it?
– from Martyn Day