Colclough, Gillian (2010) The devil gets into the belfry under the parson's skirts: vox populi and early modern religion. In: From Augustine to Anglicanism: The Anglican Church in Australia and Beyond, 12-14 Feb 2010, Brisbane, Australia.
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Popular wisdom in the form of proverbs and adages is a feature of most societies. In European and American contexts, proverbs have been both respected and ridiculed as vox populi, the 'voice of the people'. However, from about the fifteenth to mid-eighteenth centuries, proverbs were viewed and employed at all social levels as containing simple truths because they emanated from the unspoiled peasantry. Consequently, as an oral cultural form transmitted upwards through society, proverbs can show socio-political or religious ideas and developments at many levels of everyday life, often cynically, sometimes with anger, and generally without the risk of litigation. Using Maurice Palmer Tilley's collection of sixteenth and seventeenth century English proverbs, this paper examines attitudes to the Church of England, the Catholic Church and the clergy. Bearing in mind the historiographical problems of potentially abstract oral sources recorded and often edited by external elites, the paper argues nonetheless that proverbs provide valuable insights into popular opinion, in this case, in the challenges and changes of Early Modern Christianity.
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