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Essay on Biographies from the Victorian Era

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This easy to read and well written book by the former editor of the Church Times, provides mini biographies on five clerics from the Victorian era, who as the title suggests fought against the authority of not just the church but also the state. All five rebelled in order to bring back either monastic or Roman Catholic rituals into the Anglican Church of England. One of the main issues that they argued for was the idea of the Real Presence of Christ in the bread and wine surrounding the Eucharist service.

Palmer begins by reminding his readers about the Ritual movement during the nineteenth Century, and introduces several of the main characters contained in his book. The majority of Protestants at this time were appalled to find out that there were individuals who were intent on resurrecting Roman Catholic rituals into the Anglican services. So much so that the Public Worship Regulation Act was introduced, it became law in 1847. The Protestant Church Association was instrumental in bringing about this law, designed to prevent the return of Catholic ritualism. Subsequently five clerics were sent to prison for ritual offences.

However, the vast majority of the public, both Christian and secular, were outraged at the imprisonment of clerics, even if they did not agree with their principles. One of the five imprisoned was Arthur Tooth, Vicar of St James, Hatcham, one of the five Rebels. The result of this brought the Act into disrepute and Tooth’s conviction was overturned on a technicality. A Royal Commission in 1906 ended prosecutions under this Act; it was repealed in March 1965, after being in existence for 91 years.

The next five chapters contain the mini biographies of the so called Rebels, these being George Anth...


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...fascinating insight into these five Rebels’ lives. It is such a shame that the majority of the book deals with their conflicts with the authorities, and does not reveal the person behind the argument. My only wish is that there was more space to allow this to happen. However, it has given me a taste to look deeper into the lives of these Rebels and perhaps to even research their biographies in detail.

Palmer’s excellent book is a wonderful introduction to the ecclesiastical historian of the Victorian era; today’s church has its foundations moulded by these events. It must be remembered that these five Rebels were only Anglicans who were doing what Anglicans have done since Luther, they were protesting. They simply did not want to conform both to their superiors in the church or to the state. As Palmer writes in the epilogue, their battles have not been in vain.



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