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Research

The Worlds of Arthur Hildersham (1563–1632) My longstanding fascination with nonconformist spirituality and culture in early modern England is evident as far back as my undergraduate dissertation (1977) on the writings of John Bunyan. More recently, whilst exploring issues of practical divinity in the late Elizabethan and early Stuart church, I have developed a particular interest in the career of Arthur Hildersham, representing as he does an archetype of Jacobethan nonseparating nonconformity, and an exemplar of pastoral parish ministry in his long residence at Ashby de la Zouch. Though he is widely recognised as an important and influential figure, there is no modern biography (Parker and Carlson, Practical Divinity, 1998, 31). A biographical study of Hildersham, rewarding in its own right because of his local and national significance, will also provide a focus for exploring a range of issues relating to religious continuity and change in this period. The project will take a two-fold approach. The basic biographical framework along with a systematic study of Hildersham’s published works will supply a context for discussing themes that feature in current historiographical debates on the progress of the Protestant Reformation in England. These will include shifting configurations of orthodoxy and conformity, the rôle of the godly pastor, the social and religious dynamics of a local parish community, networks of clerical sociability, lay patronage, ecclesiastical politics, and developments in reformed theology. Recent studies of puritan culture have challenged a familiar radical/moderate paradigm (Lake, The Boxmaker’s Revenge, 2001, Walsham, ‘Frantick Hacket’, 1998). I plan to investigate further the connections between so-called mainstream puritans like Hildersham and those on the radical fringes, and to show how the two were inextricably linked at a local level. As part of my MA, I have already completed a micro-historical study, drawing upon manuscript sources, of the events surrounding the burning of Edward Wightman in 1612, and the problematical relationship between Wightman and Hildersham in the preceding years. In this study I have also drawn attention to the previously unnoticed connection between Wightman and the Darrell/Hildersham circle in the Thomas Darling exorcism case in Burton upon Trent in 1596. My research will draw on a variety of sources: local parish and diocesan records, national archives, Hildersham’s surviving notebooks and unpublished manuscripts, and his published corpus. In approaching the latter, I will be continuing the textual analysis approach I employed in my MA dissertation, based upon two pieces of seventeenth-century popular nonconformist literature, Richard Baxter’s A Call to the Unconverted (1658) and Joseph Alleine’s An Alarme to Unconverted Sinners (1671/2). I have benefited from palaeographic training sessions, and intend to take a Latin refresher course if this proves necessary. I have previously published a journal article in the field of English Reformation studies: ‘“Friendly Fire”: the death of John Lambert and the significance of the year 1538 for the Henrician Reformation’, The John Foxe Bulletin, I:i (2002), 13-22. I plan to continue writing and publishing in the historical field.