SUNDAY IN THE OLDEN TIME.
HE history of Sunday in England is a subject which merits careful consideration. The laws and customs of bygone times are both curious and interesting. The manner of observing Sunday is a subject which is fast coming to the front, and one which we must be prepared to discuss in a spirit of fairness.
In our investigations we shall find that, prior to the period of the Puritans coming into power in England, the day did not rank higher than other festivals observed by the Church.
Our Sunday laws commence with the Saxons, a rude race, who delighted in a wild life, in which war and bloodshed formed prominent features. Gluttony and drunkenness prevailed to a considerable extent.
The laws and canons passed from the 82 days of Ine, who commenced to reign in Wessex in the year 688, to the time of Edward the Confessor, who died in 1066, clearly show that the Saxon rulers did their utmost to prevent Sunday labour, and that firm measures were also taken to put a stop to marketing on the day.
It appears, from the enactments of Ine, that if a lord commanded his slave to work on a Sunday, the slave became a freeman, and the lords was also fined thirty shillings. If, unknown to his lord, a slave worked, he was severely punished, or, in lieu of corporal punishment, he had to pay a fine. If a freeman was found guilty of Sunday labour, he had to forfeit his freedom, or pay a fine of sixty shillings. A priest was doubly liable.
Alfred was King of Wessex from 871 to 901, and we learn from his laws that if a thief was caught stealing on Sunday, at Yule, at Easter, on Holy Thursday, or during Rogation days, the penalty was double the amount of fine inflicted during the Lenten fast.
The laws of Edward, the elder, and Guthrum, made after the peace between the Danes and the English, 901 to 924, include some strict Sunday regulations. “If any one engage in Sunday marketing,” says the statute, “let him forfeit the 83 chattel, and twelve ore (192 pence) among the Danes, and thirty shillings among the English.” King Athelstan, about 924, passed a similar act to the preceding one, anent Sunday marketing.
Several important ecclesiastical laws were made in the reign of Edgar, which commenced in 959 and ended 975. We find, according to his enactments, that Sunday was to be kept from noontide on Saturday until the dawn of Monday, on peril of a fine. The following are two of his canons:
“And we enjoin you, that on feast days, heathen songs and devil’s games be abstained from.”
“And we enjoin, that Sunday and folk-motes be abstained from.”
When Canute, king of Denmark, became King of England, he passed several laws similar to those of Edgar. He also directed that Sunday should commence at noon on Saturday and end at dawn on Monday. He strongly forbade marketing and worldly works on Sunday. A condemned man in this reign was not put to death on a Sunday, unless he commenced fighting or attempted to flee.
Before leaving this section of our subject, it 84 may be observed that the settlement of the Danes here did not produce any great changes, for the customs and institutions of their native land were similar to those of England. The civilization of the Danes, however, was lower in its standard than that of the Saxons. During the whole of the Anglo-Saxon period, slaves were sold like cattle in the open market. Many slaves were exported to Scotland and Ireland from the English markets.
It may not be out of place to make a few remarks on slavery. They have not any special bearing on the Sunday question, but illustrate the hard life of the period when severe laws prevailed. Of circumstances which brought persons into slavery, we may mention, in the first place, those obtained by right of conquest; next, those sold into slavery by their parents or by their own free will; another class were those found guilty of stealing, who were made slaves as a punishment for their crimes; many were doomed to slavery through not being able to pay the penalties imposed for breaking the laws of the land; and lastly, we find not a few traces of men voluntarily surrendering their liberty for food. Famines, at this time, occurred very often, and men were glad 85 to be slaves for their own daily bread. A parent might sell his child if it had reached the age of seven years, and at thirteen a child might sell itself into slavery. A slave was usually estimated at four times the value of an ox. In the reign of King Athelstan, the punishment for theft was most severe; and, on the authority of Lingard, it is stated that a law was made respecting the offences committed by slaves against others than their masters, to the effect that a man thief was ordered to be stoned to death by twenty of his fellows, each of whom was punished with three whippings if he failed thrice to hit the culprit. A woman thief was burnt by eighty women slaves, each of whom brought three billets of wood to the execution. If she failed, she was likewise subjected to the punishment of three whippings. After the death of the offender, each slave paid three pennies as a fine to the proprietor. As Christianity spread, the condition of the slave became happier than before its truths were known. The slave might still be sold at the pleasure of the owner, but with the important restriction that a Christian was not permitted to made over to a Pagan.
A low value was set on human life in Saxon 86 England. Flogging was generally adopted for punishing persons guilty of offences, whether slight or serious. It was not an uncommon practice for mistresses to whip, or have their servants whipped to death.
On the 14th of October, in the year 1066, was fought the Battle of Hastings. The contending armies were one led by Harold , the last of the Saxon kings, and the other by William, Duke of Normandy. Harold was slain, his brave followers defeated, and on the following Christmas Day, in the Abbey of Westminster, the Conqueror was crowned William I. On the whole, he made a noble sovereign, and the Normans added nobility of character to the people of the country in which they settled. It may be fairly asserted that all that is best of old English life is the outcome of the settlement of the Normans in this land. The Sunday laws under the Normans were, to a large extent, an expansion of those in force in the Saxon era. Sunday trading received much attention, several enactments being passed respecting it. In earlier ages, markets and fairs were held on a Sunday, and in many instances in churchyards. At the commencement of the fourteenth century, the traders of Cockermouth 87 suffered much from the active business operations at Crosthwaite. A petition was presented to Parliament, in 1305, by the inhabitants of the former town, stating that, owing to the sale of corn, flour, beans, flesh, fish, and other kinds of merchandise at Crosthwaite Church, on Sundays, their market was fast declining, and that the persons who farmed the tolls from the king were unable to pay their rent. An order was made for closing the church market at Crosthwaite.
Thursday was the chartered market-day at Bradford, Yorkshire, but it was changed to Sunday, and doubtless was held in the churchyard. The toll, about the time of Edward I., it is said, yielded £3 per annum, an amount equal to about £45 of money at the present time.
A statute, made in the reign of Edward I., in the year 1285, ordered “that, from henceforth, neither fairs nor markets be held in churchyards, for the honour of the Church.”
A market was granted to the town of Sedgefield, Durham, by Bishop Kellawe, in the year 1312, and it was to be held on a Friday. The people soon brought about a change, and held the market on a Sunday. The rector of Sedgefield 88 directed the attention of Bishop Bury to the Sunday trading, and he confirmed the grant made a few years previously.
John Thorsby, Archbishop of York, about the year 1367, delivered to his subordinates a charge respecting Sunday trading. It is stated in the document as follows: “Desiring, therefore, to obviate some errors and abuses, so far as we can, which we see to grow rife in the church; in the first place (according to the example of Christ, who would have his own church called a house, not of merchandise, but of prayer; and not allowing fraudulent traffic there to be exercised, cast the buyers and sellers out of the temple), we firmly forbid any one to keep a market in the churches, the porches, and cemeteries thereunto belonging, or other holy places of our diocese, on the Lord’s day or other festivals, or to presume to traffic or hold any secular pleasures therein; and let there be no wrestlings, shootings, or plays, which may be the cause of sin, dissension, hatred, or fighting, therein performed; but let every Catholic come thither to pray, and to implore pardon for his sin.” About this time, a similar charge was made by the Archbishop of Canterbury.89
In the year 1409, a statute of Henry IV. ordered:
“He that playeth at unlawful games on Sundays and other festival days prohibited by statute, shall be six days imprisoned.”
At Hull, in 1428, the local bench of magistrates drew up a code of regulations respecting Sunday trading. The chief orders were as follow:
“That no markets be held upon Sunday, nor any merchandise or goods sold thereon, under penalty of 6s. 8d. to the seller and 3s. 4d. to the buyer, except according to ancient custom, from Lammas to Michaelmas.”
“That no butcher sell or expose for sale any meat on Sunday, under the aforesaid penalty.”
“That no cooks nor victuallers dress any meat on Sunday, except for strangers, and that, too, before eleven o’clock.”
“That no tradesmen keep their shops open on Sunday, nor sell nay goods; nor any vintners or ale-sellers deliver or sell ale or wine on Sunday, under the aforesaid penalties.”
“Any person who shall inform against transgressors shall be entitled to one-eighth over and above half of the sums so forfeited, provided he 90 acted out of pure zeal, devoid of self-interest or malice.”
The City Records of Worcester contain some quaint items on the observance of Sunday. We may infer from a regulation made by the local authorities, at the commencement of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, that the laws were not very stringent respecting Sunday trading. It was resolved that the shopkeepers were to open “only one top window on a Sunday.” “This was,” to use the words of a local historian, “a decided case of huckstership dividing its affection between God and Mammon.”
The strangest circumstances anent Sunday trading remain to be told, and belong to the days of Charles II. It is stated on reliable authority, that a meat market was held at Wigton, Cumberland, on a Sunday, and that the butchers suspended carcases of meat at the church door, to attract the attention of persons attending divine service. “It was,” says the writer from whom we glean these particulars, “even no uncommon thing for people who had made their bargains before the service, to hang their joints of meat over the backs of their seats until the ceremony was concluded.” The practice was so distasteful 91 to the priest, that, being unable to prevent it, he made a journey to London on foot, with a petition to the king to alter the market day to Tuesday, a request which was readily granted.
Sunday trading prevailed for a long period. Adam Clarke was appointed to preach in the Norfolk circuit in 1783, and he says here “multitudes, even those called religious people, bought and sold without any remorse.”
It was the common practice in country districts, even down to the commencement of the nineteenth century, for the parish clerk, on a Sunday morning, to mount a grave stone, and for the worshippers to gather round him and listen to the announcements of coming auction sales, particulars of rewards offered for the conviction of persons who had been guilty of trespassing and committing wilful damage in the district — indeed, all kinds of workaday matters were made known. Some of the old parish accounts contain references to payments made to the parish clerks for services rendered. It appears from the accounts of Newchurch, Rossendale, that the parish clerk stood in his desk in the church, and gave out secular notices, in which the people were supposed to take an interest. There is a legend still 92 lingering in the district, that bull-baitings were amongst the matters proclaimed by the parish clerk of this church. The church accounts state under the year 1804:
“Parish Clerk in giving Public
Notices in the Church.........0 2 6.”
At Ravenstonedale, when the practice of announcing sales, etc., in the churchyard ceased, the attendance at the ancient parish church diminished. The old parish clerks made many amusing blunders when giving out the public notices, and the following illustration may be given as an example. We are told that he was instructed to make known a change of service, as follows: “On Sunday next, the service in this church will be held in the afternoon, and on the following Sunday, it will be held in the morning, and so on alternately until further notice.” Instead of delivering the preceding notice, he said: “On Sunday next, the morning service in this church will be held in the afternoon, and on the following Sunday, the afternoon service will be held in the morning, and so on to all eternity.”
In the days of yore, stage-plays were performed on Sunday, not only in the churches, but in the theatres. Old church accounts contain many items 93 bearing on plays in parish churches. The books of St. Martin’s, Leicester state:
“1560. Pd. to the plears for their
The Bewdley chapel-wardens’ accounts for the year 1572, includes a disbursement as follows:
“Paid unto the quenes plaiers in the
The Corporation of Lyme, in 1558, paid 4s. 5d. to the Queen’s players, who performed in the parish church. “We may suppose,” says Mr. George Roberts in his “Social History,” “that money was taken at the doors by some official of the mayor, who ascertained the deficiency to be as above.”
The Syston registers state:
“1602. Paid to Lord Morden’s
players, because they should not
play in the church........xij.d.”
Prior to this period, not a few attempts had been made to stop acting in churches. Bonner, Bishop of London, issued in 1542, a proclamation to the clergy in his diocese, prohibiting “all manner of common plays, games, or interludes to be played, set forth, or declared within their churches or chapels.” The author of a tract, published in 1572, writes strongly respecting the clergy 94 neglecting their duty, and adverts to acting in churches. Speaking of the clergyman conducting the service, the writer says: “He againe posteth it over as fast as he can gallop; for he either hath two places to serve, or else there are some games to be played in the afternoon, as lying the whetstone, heathenish dancing of the ring, a beare or bull to be bayted, or else jack-an-apes to ryde on horse back, or an enterlude to be played; and if no place else can be gotten, it must be done in the church.”
Two companies of players, in 1539, visited Knowsley; one was the Queen’s players, and the other the Earl of Essex’s players. On the Sunday after their arrival, the rector of Standish preached in the morning, the Queen’s players acted in the afternoon, and the Earl’s players at night. Other Sunday performances were given in the district by the actors at this time.
Before 1579, Sunday appears to have been the only day upon which plays were performed, but after that year they were acted on other days as well as on Sunday. It was not the fashion for females to visit theatres, but at Oxford we find that Queen Elizabeth witnessed a Sunday theatrical exhibition. James I., at his Court on a 95 Sunday, had plays provided. The Bishop of Lincoln, on Sunday night, September 27th, 1631, had performed, in his London house, the play of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and for this he was indicted by the Puritans. Masques on a Sunday night at this period were extremely popular.
During a visit of James I. to Oxford, in 1621, on a Sunday in August, the university men produced a piece called the “Marriage of Arts.” It was not a successful entertainment, the king and his friends failing to appreciate the wit of the undergraduates. Says an epigram of the period:
At Christ Church, ‘Marriage’ done before the King,
Least that some mates should want an offering,
The King himself did offer — what, I pray?
He offered twice or thrice to go away.”
In the town of Hull, the player, about this period, does not appear to have been regarded with much esteem. The earliest notice of theatres in Hill occurs in the year 1598, and we learn from Mr. Sheahan, the local historian: “That the Mayor issued an order, in which ‘divers idle, lewd persons, players, or setters of plays, tragedies, comedies, and interludes,’ who were in the habit of coming to the town, were denounced.” In this document, it was further set 96 forth that persons patronising their performances would have to forfeit 2s. 6d. for every offence.
Football was introduced into England by the Romans, and it is our oldest sport. In past ages, it was a popular Sunday amusement, and, in not a few places, it was played until the earlier years of the present century. Attempts were made to prevent its being practised during the time of Divine service. An entry bearing on this subject appears in the parish accounts of Colne, Lancashire. The item is as follows:
“1713. My charges with ye
men taken playing at football
in ye tyme of Divine servis
to ye Justice...................00 01 00.”
The local authorities were equally severe on Sunday idlers. The accounts for the year 1737 include a charge “for warrant to take up idle persons on the Sabbath-day, £0 2s. 0d.” An annual football match was formerly played at Beverley on the Sunday preceding the races. The game commenced on the racecourse, and was attended by a large number of persons from the surrounding villages. The Corporation made several attempts to stop the custom, but without 97 avail until 1825, and then not without a struggle. A number of constables received special instructions to stop the sport, but they were, however, severely handled, and the match was played . The aggressors were subsequently tried, and convicted of assault, and imprisoned with hard labour for a time. This action prevented any further Sunday football playing at Beverley.
A good anecdote is related in Dawson’s “History of Skipton,” respecting Sunday football playing. It is stated that the Rev. J. Alcock, B.A., of Burnsall, was on his way to conduct afternoon service, when he saw a number of boys playing football. “With a solemn shake of the head,” says Mr. Dawson, “he rebuked them. ‘This is very wrong, you are breaking the Sabbath!’ The remonstrance fell unheeded, and the next moment the ball rolled to Mr. Alcock’s feet. He gave a tremendous kick, sending it high in the air. ‘That’s the way to play football!’ he said to the ring of admiring athletes, and then, amidst their universal praise, he proceeded on his way to church.”
Bowling was, in bygone ages, a popular Sunday pastime. Ladies appear to have greatly enjoyed the sport. Charles I. and Archbishop 98 Laud were both very fond of bowling. When Laud was taken to task for playing on Sunday, he defended himself by showing that it was well known to be one of the favourite amusements of the Church of Geneva. When John Knox, the Scottish reformer, visited Calvin, he arrived on a Sunday, and found Calvin enjoying a game at bowls. It is not stated if Knox joined in the pastime, but we certainly know that he travelled, wrote letters, and even entertained Ambassadors and others on this day. On a Sunday, in the year 1562, Knox attended the marriage of James Stuart (afterwards the Earl of Murray), and it is asserted that he countenanced a display which included a banquet, a marquee, dancing, fireworks, etc. Not a few of the godly lifted up their voices in condemnation, not so much, we infer, on account of the day, but the extravagances to which the amusements were carried. About a half a century later, was married, on Shrove Sunday, 1613, Frederick, the Prince Palatine, and the Princess Elizabeth. The day ended, we are told, according to the custom of such assemblies, with dancing, masking and revelling. In the works of Shakespeare and other dramatists will be found many allusions to Sunday weddings.99
We gather from numerous Acts of Parliament, and other sources, that, after attending church, the people in the old days devoted themselves to “honest recreations and manly sports.” Particular attention was paid to the practice of archery. Richard II., for example, in the year 1388, directed that his subjects, who were servants of husbandry, and artificers, should use the bow on Sundays and other holidays, and they were enjoined to give up “tennis, football, dice, casting the stone, and other importune games.” The next king, Henry IV., strictly enforced the statute made by his predecessor, and those who infringed it were liable to be imprisoned for six days.
Sunday was a great day for bear baiting. It was on the last Sunday of April, 1520, that part of the chancel of St. Mary’s Church, Beverley, fell, killing fifty-five people, who had assembled for the celebration of mass. A bear baiting, held in another part of the town, at the same time, had drawn a much greater crowd together, and hence the origin of the Yorkshire saying, “It is better to be at the baiting of a bear, than the singing of a mass.” At an accident in a London bear-garden, the people did not fare so well, for we learn that 100 on a “Sunday afternoon, in the year 1582, the scaffolds being overcharged with spectators, fell during the performance, and a great number of persons were killed or maimed by the accident.”
We get a good idea of the Sunday amusements in vogue at the time of Elizabeth, from a license the Queen granted to a poor man, permitting him to provide for the public certain Sunday sports. “To all mayors, sheriffs, constables, and other head officers within the county of Middlesex. — After our hearty commendations, whereas we are informed that one John Seconton, poulter, dwelling within the parish of St. Clement’s Danes, being a poor man, having four small children, and fallen into decay, is licensed to have and use some plays and games at or upon several Sundays, for his better relief, comfort, and sustenation, within the county of Middlesex, to commence and begin at and from the 22nd of May next coming, after the date hereof, and not to remain in one place above three several Sundays; and we, considering that great resort of people is like to come thereunto, we will and require of you, as well for good order, as also for the preservation of the Queen’s Majesty’s peace, that you take with you four or five of the discreet and substantial men within 101 your office or liberties where the games shall be put in practice, then and there to foresee and do your endeavour to your best in that behalf, during the continuance of the games or plays, which games are hereafter severally mentioned; that is to say, the shooting with the standard, the shooting with the broad arrow, the shooting at twelve score prick, the shooting at the Turk, the leaping for men, the running for men, the wrestling, the throwing of the sledge, and the pitching of the bar, with all such other games as have at any time heretofore or now be licensed, used, or played. Given the 26th day of April, in the eleventh year of the Queen’s Majesty’s reign.” — [1569.]
The Puritans were making their power felt early in the seventeenth century, and doing their utmost to curtail Sunday amusements, The history of the north of England supplies not a few facts bearing on this matter. One illustration we may give you as an instance of many which might be mentioned. Elias Micklethwaite filled the office of chief magistrate of York, in the year 1615, and during his mayoralty, he attempted to enforce a strict observance of the Sabbath. During the Sunday, he kept closed the city gates, 102 and thus prevented the inhabitants from going into the country for pleasure.
Speaking of city gates, we are reminded of the fact that great precaution used to be taken against the Scotch in the North of England. Many were the battles between the men of England and Scotland. A Scotchman was not formerly permitted to enter the city of York without a license from the Lord Mayor, the Warden, or the Constable, on pain of imprisonment. In 1501, hammers were placed on each of the bars for Scotchmen to knock before entering.
To return to Sunday amusements, James I., in the year 1617, coming from Scotland to London, passed through Lancashire, and was received with every token of loyalty. He was entertained at Hoghton Tower in a manner befitting a monarch. It is not without interest to state how the king and his suite spent the Sunday at this stronghold on the 17th August, 1617. A sermon was first preached by Bishop Morton; next, dinner was served, which was of a substantial character. About four o’clock, a rush-bearing, preceded by “piping,” was witnessed by the king. After the rustic merriment, the company partook of supper, which was almost as 103 formidable as the dinner. After supper, the king repaired to the garden, and a masque of noblemen, knights, and gentlemen passed before him. Speeches were made, and lastly, the night was concluded by “dancing the Huckler, Tom Bedlo, and the cowp Justice of the Peace.” It is stated that Bishop Morton condemned the profaneness of the company who had disturbed the service at the church. During the king’s visit to the country, it is recorded that a large number of the tradesmen, peasants, and servants, of the County Palatine, presented a petition, praying that they might be permitted to have the old out-door pastimes after the services at the church were over. The king granted their request, and issued a proclamation from his palace, at Greenwich, on May 24th, 1618, sanctioning various sports after divine service on Sunday. It was meant only for Lancashire. The recreations named are dancing, archery, leaping, vaulting, May games, Witsun-ales, morris-dancers, and setting up of May-poles. The document, known as the “Book of Sports,” gave considerable offence to the Puritans. Clergymen were directed to read it in their churches.
The question came forward under the next 104 king, Charles I., and on October 18th, 1633, he ratified and published his father’s declaration. This action, in many quarters, was most displeasing, and a number of the clergy refused to read the order. One of the ministers was, in 1637, deprived and excommunicated by the High Commission Court for not acceding to the request. Six years later, namely, in 1643, the Lords and Commons ordered the “Book of Sports” to be burned by the common hangman, at Cheapside and other public places.
We have now brought down our investigations to the days of the Commonwealth. King Charles’s life closed in a tragic manner, at the hands of the headsman, on a scaffold erected before one of the windows of the Palace of Whitehall. Old times are changed, and old manners gone; a stranger fills the Stuart throne. In our pity for unfortunate Charles, we must not forget that English life under the Stuarts became demoralised, the court setting a baneful example, which the people were not slow to follow. Licentiousness and blasphemy were mistaken for signs of gentility, and little regard was paid to virtue. Debauchery was general, and at the festive seasons was carried to an alarming extent. 105 The Puritans with all their faults, and it must be admitted that their faults were many, had a regard for sound Christian principles; and the prevailing lack of reverence for virtue, morality, and piety, was most distasteful to them, and caused them to try to put an end to the follies and vices of the age.
Various Acts of Parliament were passed to check work and amusement on the Lord’s Day. We get from the Puritans our present manner of observing Sunday. The following are a few extracts from the “Directory of Public Prayers, reading of the Holy Scriptures,” etc., which was adopted by the Puritan Parliament in 1644. It is therein stated:
“The Lord’s Day ought to be so remembered beforehand, as that all worldly business of our ordinary callings may be so ordered, and so timely and seasonably laid aside, as they may not be impediments to the due sanctifying of the day when it comes.
The whole day is to be celebrated as holy to the Lord, both in public and private, as being the Christian Sabbath, to which ends it is requisite that there be a holy cessation or resting all the day, from all unnecessary labour, and an abstaining 106 not only from all sports and pastimes, but also from all worldly words and thoughts.
That the diet on that day be so ordered as that neither servants be unnecessarily detained from the public worship of God, nor any other persons hindered from sanctifying that day.
That there be private preparation of every person and family by prayer for themselves, for God’s assistance of the minister, and for a blessing upon the ministry, and by such other holy exercises as may further dispose them to a more comfortable communion with God in his public ordinances.
That all the people meet so timely for public worship that the whole congregation may be present at the beginning, and with one heart solemnly join together in all parts of the public worship, and not depart till after the blessing.
That what time is vacant, between or after the solemn meetings of the congregation in public, be spent in reading, meditation, repetition of services (especially by calling their families to an account of what they have heard, and catechising of them), holy conferences, prayer for a blessing upon the public ordinances, singing of the Psalms, visiting the sick, relieving the poor, and such like 107 duties of piety, charity, and mercy, accounting the Sabbath a delight.”
Earnest attempts were made to improve the morals of the people, but the zeal of the Puritans was often not tempered with mercy, and frequently displayed a want of common-sense. In America, the Puritans made some very curious Sunday laws. Walking, riding, cooking, and many other natural needs of life were forbidden. Sports and recreations were punished by a fine of forty shillings and a public whipping. In New England, a mother might not kiss her child on a Sunday. An English author, visiting America in the year 1699, supplies interesting details anent Sunday laws at that time. Says the traveller: “If you kiss a woman in public, though offered as a courteous salutation, if any information is given to the select members, both shall be whipped or fined.“ As a slight compensation for the severity of the regulation, he adds that the “good humoured lasses, to make amends, will kiss the offender in a corner.” He adverts to the captain of a ship, who, on his return from a long voyage, met his wife in the street, and kissed her, and for the offence had to pay ten shillings. Another Boston man was fined the same amount for 108 kissing his wife in his own garden. The culprit refused to pay the money and had to endure twenty lashes.
Tobacco, in Virginia, took the place of money as a medium of exchange. A person absenting himself from church was fined one pound of tobacco, and for slandering a clergyman, eight hundred pounds. Ten pounds covered the cost of a dinner, and eight pounds a gallon of strong ale, and innkeepers were forbidden to charge more.
An important Act was passed in the reign of Charles II., in the year 1676, for the better observance of the Lord’s day. It prohibited travelling, the pursuit of business, and all sales, except that of milk. Old church records and other documents contain numerous references to Sunday travelling, and, as an example, we may state that it appears, from the books of St. James’s Church, Bristol, at a vestry meeting, held in 1679, four persons were found guilty of walking “on foot to Bath on Lord’s day,” and were each fined twenty shillings.
In past ages, attending church was not a matter of choice, but one of obligation. Several Acts of Parliament were made bearing on this subject. Laws of Edward VI. and of Elizabeth provided 109 as follows: “That every inhabitant of the realm or dominion shall diligently and faithfully, having no lawful or reasonable excuse to be absent, endeavour themselves to their parish church or chapel accustomed; or, upon reasonable let, to some usual place where common prayer shall be used — on Sundays and holy days — upon penalty of forfeiting, for every non-attendance, twelve pence, to be levied by the Churchwardens to the use of the poor.” The enactments regarding holy days were allowed to be disregarded. In the reign of James I., the penalty of a shilling for not attending church on Sunday was re-enforced. Sunday, only in respect of the attendance at church, is named in the statutes of William and Mary and George III., by which exceptions in favour of dissenters from the Church of England were made. Not a few suits were commenced against persons for not attending church. An early case is noted in the church book of St. James’s, Bristol. On July 6th, 1598, Henry Anstey, a resident in that parish, had, in answer to a summons, to appear before the vestry for not attending the church. At Kingston-on-Thames, we gather from the parish accounts that the local authorities, in 1635, “Received from idle 110 persons, being from the church on Sabbaths, 3s. 10d.” Some more recent cases are named by Professor Amos, in his Treatise on Sir Matthew Hale’s “History of the Pleas of the Crown.” In the year 1817, it is stated that, “at the Spring Assizes of Bedford, Sir Montague Burgoyne was prosecuted for having been absent from church for several months; when the case was defeated by proof of the defendant being indisposed. And in the Report of the Prison Inspectors to the House of Lords, in 1841, it appeared that, in 1830, ten persons were in prison for recusancy in not attending their parish churches. A mother was prosecuted by her own son. It is clear that in many instances, personal and not religious feeling gave rise to the actions.” The laws respecting recusants were repealed in the year 1844.