Pat here: I believe I promised you last time to talk about my research into the Anglican Church. We all know the history about Henry the Head Chopper who wanted a divorce and the pope refused to give him one, so he created his own church. That’s not what I researched. Instead, I spent hours trying to figure out if my isolated manor might have a chapel or a vicar or what on earth they did for Sunday services.
I wasn’t researching because I just wanted my folks praying. They were nicely handling that by reading the English Book of Common Prayer on a Sunday morning—in the ancient great hall that was once a priory chapel, before Henry’s men tore it down. But under the Marriage Act of 1753, one cannot marry without a real church and real clergyman (unless you’re a Quaker or Jewish), and that’s a bit of a problem in a mystery series with a lot of romance.
Because I was into the story and not the research, I first created a character who claimed to be a vicar show up at the manor. But as Mary Jo reminded me, vicars are educated fellows who live in parishes that actually pay a tithe. Vicars can afford families and the upkeep of vicarages. My poor guy was on the roof repairing thatch on a tumble-down chapel and parsonage. This did not compute. I was forced to research and relearn that I needed a curate. Memory fails me like that.
Remember poor Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice, dependent on Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s whims for his living? Obsequious, ingratiating, because a poor curate has no secure living, no benefice, only the generosity of their wealthy benefactor, which could end at any time.
I will not drive you insane as my research did me. The politics and laws of the Anglican church are more complex than the IRS. What I discovered was that, by the 1800s, the need for new churches and clergymen outstripped the number of wealthy lords willing to support them. The medieval system of the local noble supporting the village chapel just didn’t work any longer. The vicar of one parish might end up representing half a dozen small chapels scattered around the countryside, because the vicar is the one with the church register who records marriages, births, and deaths according to all the fancy new laws. (If you want a real lecture, try studying the Marriage Act of 1753—England had THREE separate sets of laws—canonical, civil, and equity. And all three were affected by marriage.)
My main concern was that I had ancient priory land that was given to an earl and most likely encompassed a good-sized church for the monks and quite possibly a small chapel for the locals outside the walls. The earls destroyed the large church to build their manor, but there was no reason I couldn’t leave the chapel. By the time of my story, the village is nearly vacant, the manor hadn’t been lived in for fifteen years, the earl was dead, and his money gone. The nearest vicar is far away, and the newly-arrived manor inhabitants have no way of supporting a church or clergyman—but they want to get married! And it would be nice to have the church record the deaths all these murder victims. . .
Et voila, after much digging (and cursing), I discovered the answer—a perpetual curate! According to Wikipedia, the perpetual curate developed out of an anomaly in the sixteenth century and was grabbed by desperate parishes in the 18th century to fill all those tiny towns. Someone would endow a new church, and a perpetual curate would be appointed—without the ancient rights to tithes. (Medieval practices required a percentage of the lord’s income be tithed to the church—an early form of taxation that got passed on to the peasants, of course.) Like poor Mr. Collins, the perpetual curate survived on the generosity of others and any income he might have of his own, which is why it was handy place to stick younger sons. Keeping a house and raising a family couldn’t easily be done without outside sources.
So, my earls might once have endowed the chapel in the village. The church appointed a perpetual curate to fill the position in that isolated little town. When the earl died, the curate might leave for greener pastures, but because the position is perpetual. . . My curate can trot right back anytime he likes.
I know there are many more stories with poor curate characters. Can you remember any of them? My mind is an utter blank.