Friends and Neighbours in Early Modern England: Biblical Translations and Social Norms

  • Naomi Tadmor

Abstract

‘Neighbourhood’ was a key concept in early modern England. Most people lived their entire lives in small communities, where human interaction took place first and foremost among neighbours. When people moved away — as they often did in their youth or later in life — they were only likely to find themselves once more living in local communities, surrounded by new yet structurally similar sets of neighbours and neighbourly relationships. Indeed, neighbourliness was a crucial norm.1 Neighbours were to live in peace and avoid conflict and strife. Clergymen were to extol among their neighbours and parishioners ‘charity in loving walking and neighbourly accompanying one another, with reconciling of differences’.2 In the Elizabethan parish of Swallowfield, Berkshire, neighbours even got together to draw articles which were to guide them in living ‘in good love & lykinge one another’. They promised ‘th[a]t non of us shall disdayne one another, nor seeke to hynder one another nether by woordes nor deedes, But rather to be helpers, assisters & councellors of one another, And all o[u]r doyinges to be good, honest, lovynge and iuste’.3 Neighbours joined by love were thus depicted like a strong bundle of sticks which cannot be broken if bound together fast.4

Keywords

Migration Corn Europe Propa Hunt 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    K. Wrightson, ‘The Politics of the Parish in Early Modern England’, in P. Griffiths, A. Fox and S. Hindle (eds), The Experience of Authority in Early Modern England (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996), pp. 10–46, on p. 18.Google Scholar
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    The English Works of George Herbert, ed. G.H. Palmer I (Boston and New York, 1915), p. 316, quoted in J. Bossy, ‘Blood and Baptism: Kinship, Community and Christianity in Western Europe from the Fourteenth to the Seventeenth Centuries’, in D. Baker (ed.), Sanctity and Secularity: The Church and the World, The Ecclesiastical History Society (Oxford: Blackwell, 1973), pp. 129–43, on p. 143.Google Scholar
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    Weinfeld, The Decalogue and the Recitation of ‘Shema’ p. 90. In other words, re‘a refers to persons with whom one is — or should be — bound in a relationship of well-wishing and amity. Such relationships are imagined as taking place in time and space, but the word re‘a contains no specification as to the type of space. I include here the by-forms mere‘a and re‘eh and feminine and plural forms. See also E. Jenni and C. Westermann, Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, vol. 3 (Peabody Mass.: Hendrickson, 1997), pp. 1243–6. The Hebrew transliteration in this chapter follows the modern pronunciation.Google Scholar
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    See ‘neighbour’ in Coverdale’s Proverbs 6:3, ‘neighbour’ and ‘friend’ and ‘friend’ and ‘neighbour’ in the Wycliffite Bible, Geneva Bible, and the Rheims-Douay version, and ‘friend’ only in the Authorized Version. Note also that ‘friend’ was used at the time as a kinship term, and see also N. Tadmor, ‘“Family” and “Friend” in Pamela: A Case Study in the History of the Family in Eighteenth-Century England’, Social History, 14 (1989), 289–306;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Estimates are that 80 per cent of the Authorized Version is due to Tyndale: Anchor Bible Dictionary, ‘Versions, English’, 6: 820. See also E.W. Cleaveland, A Study of Tyndale’s Genesis Compared with the Genesis of Coverdale and of the Authorized Version (Hamden Conn: Archon Books, 1912). Tyndale published translations of the New Testament, the Pentateuch, and Jonah, and completed drafts from Joshua to II Chronicles, before he was strangled and burned at the stake.Google Scholar
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    In Elizabethan Buckinghamshire, for example, over 80 per cent of witnesses appearing before the church courts had moved at least once in their lives. In Sussex Weald and Kent 1580–1649 the comparable figures are 77 per cent, and for Suffolk and Norfolk 82 per cent. The population of entire parishes could undergo significant changes: in some places, about half the population could change in the course of a period of 12 years: P. Clark and D. Souden, Migration and Society in Early Modem England (Totowa, NJ, 1988), pp. 22, 28, 124, 229.Google Scholar
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    See Wrightson, English Society, pp. 59–65, 163–7. This is seen especially with regard to litigation. See e.g. Ingram, ‘Communities and Courts’; M. Clanchy, ‘Law and Love in the Middle Ages’, in J. Bossy (ed.), Disputes and Settlements: Law and Human Relations in the West (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), pp. 47–67; J. Sharpe, ‘Such Disagreement Betwyx Neighbours: Litigation and Human Relations in Early Modern England’, in ibid., pp. 167–87; Muldrew, ‘The Culture of Reconciliation’. As Hindle argues, however, ideals of neighbourliness were also enforced by public authority and should be seen in the context of power relations: Hindle, The State and Social Change, pp. 94–5.Google Scholar
  34. 58.
    M. Bradick, State Formation in Early Modern England c. 1550–1700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), esp. p. 14.Google Scholar
  35. 59.
    John Clare, The Parish: A Satire, ed. E. Robinson (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985), p. 63.Google Scholar
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  39. 61.
    See E. Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400–1580 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1992), pp. 7, 54; see also references in ibid., p. 56 to Ordynarye of Crysten Men (1502) and Floure of the Commandments (1510). For the figures on catechisms, 1530–1740, see Green, The Christian’s ABC, p. 51, and Appendix 1.Google Scholar
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    For this notion in medieval times, see Clanchy, ‘Law and Love’; Sharpe, ‘Such Disagreement Betwyx Neighbours’, esp. pp. 178–80; Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars, esp. ch. 3; M. Rubin, Corpus Christi (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991). See also evidence on the continued importance of the Lord’s Supper in Protestant and indeed Puritan rituals in A. Hunt, ‘The Lord’s Supper in Early Modern England’, Past and Present, 161 (1998), 39–83;Google Scholar
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    J. Aubrey, Three Prose Works, ed. J. Buchanan Brown (Fontwell: Centaur Press, 1972), pp. 141–2, quoted and discussed with additional references in A. Hunt, ‘The Lord’s Supper in Early Modern England’, p. 71.Google Scholar
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    In the early seventeenth century suites for slander were increasing in all courts. The ecclesiastical courts dealt with sexual slander, however, because it imputed spiritual rather than sexual sin, and the penance and apology imposed as punishment by the ecclesiastical courts were seen as more suitable for dealing with slander and defamation than the financial compensations of the common law: see Sharpe, ‘Such Disagreement Betwyx Neighbours’, p. 179; L. Gowing, ‘Language, Power and the Law’, in J. Kermode and G. Walker (eds), Women, Crime, and the Court (London: UCL Press, 1994), p. 27.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in S. Hindle, On the Parish? The Micro-Politics of Poor Relief in Rural England, c. 1550–1750 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), ch. 5: ‘Exclusion’. I am grateful to Steve Hindle for directing me to this quotation and letting me use his unpublished text.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See e.g. references in works by Ingram, Sharpe, Archer, and Muldrew mentioned above. See also Wrightson, ‘Two Concepts of Order’. A strong emphasis on notions of neighbourliness and social consensus in early modern attitudes to criminality can be found, for example, in C. Herrup, ‘Law and Morality in Seventeenth-Century England’, Past and Present, 106 (1985), 102–23, and inCrossRefGoogle Scholar
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© Naomi Tadmor 2005

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  • Naomi Tadmor

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