God’s Preservationists: The Championing of Conformity in Interregnum England, 1649–1660
This dissertation examines the preservation of the Church of England in Interregnum England. It incorporates a microhistorical analysis of parish life in four Puritanical counties located in East Anglia, namely Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex. In the current historiography on the Church of England, scholars of religious history have traditionally associated both Puritan and sectarian activity with the political upheaval, religious reform, and the collapse of cultural norms that accompanied the English Interregnum. Absent from this scholarship, however, are the voices and actions of those devoted parishioners who refused to abandon their parish church after its disestablishment in 1649. These followers, henceforth called “Conformists,” both fostered and maintained a shared cultural system that stabilized their communal interaction in a period exemplified by politico-religious chaos. In a period characterized by bloody conflicts, their instruments were not swords, but sermons. Thus, this project reveals that the perseverance of Conformists amid the persecution of Cromwellian England was not arbitrary, but a disciplined reaction in which spiritual guidance was actively sought and developed. Central to this response were the actions of sequestered Conformist ministers who guided their displaced congregations by administering forbidden sacraments and emboldening communal engagement.