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Death, Religion, and the Family in England,
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Ralph Houlbrooke

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9780198208761

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198208761.001.0001

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(p.372) Conclusion
Death, Religion, and the Family in England, 1480–1750

Ralph Houlbrooke

Oxford University Press

This concluding chapter sets the developments described in this book in a broader spatial and chronological perspective, and assesses the importance of different causes of long-term change in the ‘culture of death’. This book has focused on the complex effects of religious change. Protestant reformers drastically reduced the role of sacraments in helping the dying and repudiated intercessory prayer as a means of helping the dead. Radical Puritans complained that far too many undesirable ‘relics of popery’ had in fact survived: deathbed Communion and absolution; elements of prayer for the dead, reinforced by the tolling of bells; funeral doles; superstitious and hypocritical mourning-garb; and intramural burial. Funeral sermons had replaced trentals of masses. During the 17th century there was a strong counter-current of opinion, largely but never exclusively High Church, in favour of the viaticum and deathbed confession. Among people of religious outlook there was an interest in the last hours which transcended doctrinal differences and grew if anything more intense during the decades following the Reformation. Some old habits were very slow to change, notably the tendency to postpone until the deathbed the making of the last will.

Keywords:   death, religious change, Reformation, death rituals

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