My latest history blog, Yeomen and Kinsmen, provides a ‘prequel’ to the story told here on Citizens and Cousins. The new site tells the story of my Tudor and Stuart ancestors, beginning with my 12th great grandfather William Byne, a yeoman farmer in Burwash, Sussex, in the early sixteenth century, and ending with the death of my 9th great grandfather, Magnus Byne, a clergyman in Clayton, Sussex, a hundred or so years later (and the father of John, Stephen and Magnus Byne junior whose stories I’ve told on this blog).
The story encompasses not only successive generations of the Byne family, but also the families with whom they were connected by marriage, and who are also part of my family tree. They include the Mansers, landowners and iron masters in Wadhurst, a few miles north of Burwash, and the Fowles, originally from Lamberhurst in Kent, who included monks and schoolmasters among their number.
The most significant change in people’s lives during this period was the transformation of the religious life of the country. When our story begins, England was still, as it had been for more than a thousand years, a Catholic country. By the time it ends, Catholicism had been effectively outlawed, the official state religion was Anglicanism, and an increasing array of Protestant sects had begun to rebel against the new orthodoxy. My ancestors saw the religion in which they, and countless generations before them, had been raised swept away under Henry VIII, and even more drastically so under his son Edward VI, then briefly restored during Mary’s brief reign, before the pendulum swung back again under her sister Elizabeth. The period ends with the nation tearing it apart in a Civil War, largely inspired by the religious disputes sparked off a century before when Henry VIII broke with Rome. I’m fascinated by my ancestors’ part in these spiritual and political conflicts, and one of my aims in this new blog is to understand more fully the changing religious identities of my forebears.