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The History Detective: Story of George Burdett

By John Arnold
Burdett in Yarmouth

Image of Ranters
A congregation of Ranters - a radical 17th-century Protestant sect ©
The most sensible place to start looking for more information on Mr Burdett in Yarmouth is the rest of the Assembly Book itself. Searching it via the scribes' comments in the margins, we find five other mentions of him. Each of these can form another piece in our jigsaw.

The first time he is mentioned appears three years before the grant to Mrs Burdett, in 1633. It is a note that a 'Mr George Burdett', preacher, was reported to the assembly by one Matthew Brooks, 'for not bowing at the name of Jesus'.

To understand what this means, we need some further context. Existing histories of 17th-century England will tell us that this was a period of religious tension over the nature and governance of the Church. Brooks appears to have believed in a brand of moderate Protestantism, that supported religious ceremony while being opposed to royal control of the Church.

'Burdett ... preached sermons that appeared to be religiously and politically antagonistic ...'

Burdett, in contrast, was more radical against ceremony, and hence refusing to make the ritual obsequience to the crucifix ('bowing at the name of Jesus') when in church. Following Brooks's complaint, Burdett was suspended from his position of preacher, but then reinstated.

However, a later passage in the Assembly Book shows Burdett suspended once again in 1635, for having preached sermons that appeared to be religiously and politically antagonistic.

Two further references tell us that Matthew Brooks made a bid to take over the house where Burdett had lived, but that it was later leased to a Mr Crane for £12 per annum. The last reference to the Burdetts in the book is the one to Mrs Burdett's annuity.

A picture is now starting to form for us. George Burdett, something of a firebrand preacher, caught up in the religious and political struggles of his time, then leaving for the New World. The evidence in the Assembly Book is, however, fragmentary, and we are already having to interpret what it says.

For example, we have surmised that Burdett was religiously radical, and therefore probably against royal control of the Church. But we have had to base this only on one brief phrase, that he did not 'bow at the name of Jesus'. It is a fair interpretation - but we have to bear in mind that it currently stands on fairly slender foundations. We also have further questions to ask, such as why exactly did Burdett leave Yarmouth? And why did he go to America?

Published: 2005-01-28

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