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Thursday 08 August 2002, 9.02 am - 9.30 am.
Melvyn Bragg follows his long historical exploration of the Routes of English with Voices of the Powerless, in which he explores the lives of the ordinary working men and women of Britain at six critical moments across the last 1,000 years.

Read original sources..>>
View key events..>>

The Reformation
The upheavals and turmoil of the sixteenth century transformed many aspects of religious life. As the great monasteries and religious houses disappeared, the Reformation transformed the landscape of both the countryside and the towns.

Miniature of Queen Elizabeth 1, crowned by angels, presiding over Archbishop Parker preaching. Reproduced courtesy of the Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Visit the Parker Library.

In some areas monastic lands were seized and enclosed, sometimes with disastrous consequences for the rural poor. Most towns changed dramatically as the abbeys and other religious foundations, once great centres of wealth and employment, were closed down. The parish churches remained in place but their more decorative features were destroyed, as were many statues and images. Chantries (often priest's chapels) were dissolved and, as they had enabled the living to intercede for the souls of the dead, their dissolution seemed to threaten the medieval conviction that the dead and the living remained intimately connected.

Almost every aspect of religious practice was changed - changes which to many parishioners seemed to threaten their salvation and the salvation of their family members including: confession, the confirmation of infants, intercession for the souls of the dead, and the belief in purgatory.

Cover of Bible written in English, showing a cross section of Society with Henry Vlll at the top.

There was a new vernacular Bible and the new English liturgy set out in the Book of Common Prayer. In many ways the people were powerless to prevent these changes. Their spiritual lives were transformed as local shrines and cults were outlawed and the activities, services and festivities of the parish were altered.

Essex and Suffolk were counties which had long been prosperous and densely populated and, as a result, contained a great number of parish churches and religious houses. In addition, the laity were relatively educated and radical. Spending on churches and chantries was particularly high and the parochial structure was well-established and maintained.

Churches and Religious Sites in the Programme
Chelmsford Cathedral
Formerly St Mary's Church - which was built in the 15th Century. William Maldon, a young man in the 1530s, was part of a group of apprentices and poor men who secretly exchanged and read Protestant tracts - not, at that time, something that the church or secular authorities would have tolerated. Maldon recounted his experiences to John Foxe and it was found among his papers although not included in the main text of his famous Book of Martyrs. This illicit activity centred on the Church although the source material also recounts the fury of William's parents when they discovered that he had also brought a forbidden tract home with him and hidden it under his bed.

Ufford parish church
( source Trevor Cooper's edition of The Journal of William Dowsing ) During the Civil Wars in the next century, the sixteenth century, local parishioners refused - at considerable personal risk - to give the keys of the church to the Parliamentary Commissioner, William Dowsing, who'd been sent to smash up its more decorative elements. Their refusal is a testament to their faith and attachment to the church - they were not Catholics but they refused to see their church destroyed. As a result, the church's interior decoration - including a particularly beautiful font cover - see attached illustration - can still be seen.

The beautiful font of Ufford church that the parishioners refused to give up to destruction. Drawing from 18th century.

The village church of Bures on the Essex/Suffolk border. During the reign of Elizabeth, it was the centre of a furious row following an outbreak of popular iconoclasm and shows how the religious fervour of poorer parishioners sometimes outstripped that of the local gentry. About 20 radical Protestants hacked down all the screens of the church to waist height, destroyed the Easter Sepulchre canopy over the finest of the Waldegrave tombs and damaged another monument. An outraged local gentry institued an action in the local courts and successfully complained to the Privy Council. This case is seen as being influential in the issuing of a proclamation against the destruction of monuments and memorial glass in September 1560.

Prof. Diarmaid MacCulloch from St.Cross College Oxford. Author of many books on Tudor and Reformation history.
Dr. Susan Brigden is Fellow and Tutor in Modern History at Lincoln College
Dr Lucy Wooding, lecturer in Early Modern History, King's College London.
Listen Live
Audio Help
l - Castles and Cruelty - extracts on programme page.
2 - The Peasants' Revolt - extracts on programme page.
-3 - The Reformation - extracts on programme page
4 - The Plantation of Ulster - extracts on programme page
5 - The English Civil War and the Siege of Chester - - extracts on programme page
Listen to Melvyn Bragg talk about Voices of the Powerless
Listen to Simon Elmes, executive producer, give an unigue insight into the programme.
Listen to the signature music
Go to - Homepage.
Go to Prog l - Castles and Cruelty
Go to Prog 1 - Biography of Orderic Vitalis
Go to Prog 2 - The Peasants' Revolt
Go to Prog 3 - The Reformation
Go to Prog 3 - The Reformation - Key Events
Go to Prog 4 - The Plantation of Ireland in the Counties of Armagh and Tyrone.
Go to Prog 5 - The English Civil War and the Siege of Chester
Read The Sources
Go to Prog 1 - Castles and Cruelty
Go to Prog 2 - The Peasants' Revolt
Go to Prog 3 - the Reformation
Go to Prog 4 - the Plantation of Ulster
Go to Prog 5 - The English Civil War and the Siege of Chester

In Our Time
Thursday 9.00-9.45am, rpt 9.30-10.00pm. Melvyn Bragg explores the history of ideas. Listen again online or download the latest programme as an mp3 file.
This Sceptred Isle
This Sceptred Isle - The End of the Monasteries.
This Sceptred Isle - Rebellion, Executions and Common Prayer.
This Sceptred Isle - Bloody Mary and the Burning of Cranmer.
BBC History - Reformation
Melvyn Bragg
Melvyn Bragg presents In Our Time for BBC Radio 4, a series where he and his guests discuss the "Big Ideas" of cultural or scientific significance.

He also presented The Routes of English, his millennial series celebrating 1,000 years of the English language.

Melvyn Bragg was born in 1939 in Wigton, Cumbria - where many of his books are set. He won a scholarship to Oxford to read history, and in 1961 he gained a coveted traineeship with the BBC.

He has presented a number of television series including: Read All about It, Two Thousand Years, and Who's Afraid of the Ten Commandments? and createdThe South Bank Show.

Melvyn presented Start the Week between 1988 and 1998. In his 1998 series On Giant's Shoulders he interviewed scientists about their eminent predecessors.

As well as presenting for Radio 4, he is Controller of Arts for London Weekend Television. In 1998 he was made a life peer. He's written 17 novels, the latest of which, The Soldier's Return, won the WH Smith Literary Award.

Melvyn Bragg was made a Life Peer in 1998 and he took the title of Baron Bragg of Wigton in the County of Cumbria.

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