Fire from Heaven: Life in an English Town in the Seventeenth Century by David Underdown

Fire from Heaven: Life in an English Town in the Seventeenth Century

byDavid Underdown

Paperback | April 27, 1994

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Dorchester—the west-country town immortalized by Thomas Hardy as Casterbridge—was two hundred years before Hardy's time the most fervently religious town in England. The catalyst that turned a provincial backwater into a "godly community" was a great fire in 1613 that devastated much of the town and enabled the new pastor, John White, to lead the town in a kind of spiritual mass conversion that lasted for fifty years. In this book David Underdown describes the transformation of Dorchester, placing it in the context of national events (the English Civil War, Cromwell's rule, and the restoration of the monarchy) and events across the sea (the settling of similar godly communities in New England). Portraying the everyday lives of the townspeople—both the high-minded reformers and the boisterous characters they attempted to reform—Underdown recreates a seventeenth-century English town in all its vitality and richness.

Underdown describes how Dorchester became a community with advanced systems of charitable giving, education, and assistance for the sick and needy. He paints a picture of Dorchester residents: Matthew Chubb, chief representative of the jovial, paternalist town oligarchy that preceded the Puritans; Chubb's friend Roger Pouncey, "godfather to the unruly and unregenerate of the town"; diarist William Whiteway, one of a group of Puritans who earnestly tried to reform their neighbors; and many other less gentrified men and women who spent their leisure time drinking and swearing, fornicating and repenting, striving to live up to the new ideals of their community or rejecting them with bitter anger and mocking laughter. Underdown's subtle and witty exploration of these characters and events casts a refreshing new light on a bygone era.

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Title:Fire from Heaven: Life in an English Town in the Seventeenth CenturyFormat:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 8.25 × 5.5 × 0.68 inPublished:April 27, 1994Publisher:Yale University Press

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0300059906

ISBN - 13:9780300059908

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The town is Dorchester in Dorset; the time the beginning of the seventeenth century. Two hundred years before Hardy disguised it as Casterbridge, Dorchester was a typical English country town, of middling size and unremarkable achievements. But on 6 August 1613 much of it was destroyed in a great conflagration, which its inhabitants regarded as a 'fire from heaven', and which was the catalyst for the events described in this book. Over the next twenty years, a time of increasing political and religious turmoil all over Europe, Dorchester became the most religiously radical town in the kingdom, deeply involved, emotionally, with the fortunes of the Protestants in the Thirty Years War, and horrified by the Stuart flirtation with Spain. It was, after all, barely a generation since the defeat of the Great Armada. David Underdown traces the way in which the tolerant, paternalist Elizabethan town oligarchy was quickly replaced by a group of men who had a vision of a godly community in which power was to be exercised according to religious commitment rather than wealth o