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The Cathedral during the Civil War

Your studies at school should have given you the background knowledge to events in England during the years 1603-1642. These years saw a growing tension between King and Parliament over religion, taxation, and politics.

These tensions eventually led to the Civil War between King Charles I and his Parliament. The Civil Wars were to end in 1651 following the execution of the King and the establishment of a Republic (or Commonwealth) in Britain.

Although no large battles took place in Norwich, the conflict still had a major impact on the city and the Cathedral. Here is a brief outline of events:

  • In 1642, Bishop Hall was installed at Norwich Cathedral. But he had already in fact served time in the Tower of London, having been put there by Parliament for asking the king for help when carrying out his duties.
  • In 1643, Bishop Hall had most of his money taken from him by Parliament. This was under the Ordinance of Sequestration Act which allowed Parliament to take the goods of anyone they thought was opposing them.


Bishop Hall

  • In September 1643, Parliament decided to rid churches of anything which they believed was connected with the Pope and Roman Catholicism. The Puritans in Norwich believed the Cathedral contained many such ornaments and ideas. They objected to the colours, ornaments, monuments, brasses, painted glass, images and carvings – all of which they said stood as a 'constant reminder of Popery'.
  • 1643 therefore proved to be a significant year in the life of the Cathedral. In September of that year, an angry mob entered the Cathedral and caused much panic and destruction.

Did you know?

If you look carefully, some of the damage can still be seen today. There are graffiti inscribed by Parliamentary musketeers, a musket ball still lodged in Bishop Goldwell's tomb, and heads of statues missing. You will also see the Despenser Reredos (a painting on wood used to decorate the altar); this was hidden during the Civil War by being turned upside down and used as a table - in this way it survived!

But the damage was so bad that Bishop Hall wrote of the 'beating down of walls'. He also described the following event in his book, Hard Measure: 'In a kind of sacrilegious and profane procession all the organ pipes, vestments, both copes, together with the wooden cross which had been newly sawn down from over the Green Yard pulpit, and the service books and singing books that could be had, were carried to the fire in the public market place. Near the public cross all these monuments of idolatry must be sacrificed to the fire...'

This 'primary source' is very valuable to us, but you must remember to read as many viewpoints on the events as possible in order to get all sides of the story.

  • By 1644, the Cathedral had fallen into disuse, and musketeers had even taken up residence! Bishop Hall again provides us with a description: 'The cathedral, now open on all sides, to be filled with musketeers, waiting for the mayor's return, drinking and tobacconing as if it had been turned into an alehouse'. This picture shows what the scene might have looked like.
  • Bishop Hall retired in 1646.
  • On 30th January 1649, King Charles I was executed at Whitehall in London. Parliament had triumphed in the Civil War.
  • In the same year, the Dean and Chapter of Norwich Cathedral were removed from office.
  • By 1650, Puritans were calling for the Cathedral to be pulled down. These calls were to continue for the next ten years.

Did you know?
Some Puritans actually suggested that the Cathedral stones should be used to build a new pier at Great Yarmouth!

1660 saw the restoration of King Charles II and the Cathedral returned to the care of the Dean and Chapter. Norwich Cathedral had survived the near destruction of the previous two decades.

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