The backgrounds of all the novels of Robert Neill are both historical and geographical, and for the greatest enjoyment we need to be aware of this environment. We need to distinguish between historical and fictional people and places, and we also need to be aware of Neill's oersonal sympathies, his overall approach being definitely royalist and protestant but with a strong sympathy for the old Roman Catholic religion.
In the 16th., 17th., and 18th. centuries the country was Christian without serious question, the only disputes were of the interpretation of Christian dogma, moving from Roman Catholicism (first queried by the Lollards in the 14th. century) through very strict Puritanism to a more relaxed Anglicanism of the later Church of England. Neill's protestant sympathies lie clearly with the High Church of England, tolerant to some freedom of worship, but intolerant of extreme Calvinism, Lutheran, Puritan and Presbyterian interpretations. Surprisingly, he makes no mention of George Fox and the Quakers, despite the close relationship between Fox and the king, and particularly since Fox records his strongest vision of the Lord on the top of Pendle Hill in 16...
As far as the general population of the countryside was concerned there were two main aspects of the move from Rome to the Anglican church.
Firstly the Roman church laid great stress on ritual in church (this was dramatic entertainment and participation for the lay population) and the celebration of the many religious festivals (which were, above all, days of freedom from labour). Typically Sunday afternoons were times for public antertainment and games. With the advent of Protestantism all this disappeared, the multitude of Saint's days and religious festivals were banned, Sunday, after morning church, became a very quiet afternoon of religious meditation at home prior to evening at church. Gone were the dancing and sports of Sunday afternnon.
Secondly there was a confusing change of responsibilities. Rome accepted that people erred and provided mechanisms for absolution and forgiveness, a very paternalistic approach, but lacking any attempt to develop individual responsibility. The church tells you how to behave, but accepts that your performance will not be perfect and provides for forgiveness subject to some minor penalties (performance of aves and the creed). In sharp contrast the new protestant formulation of Christianity stressed the personal aspect: everyone is personally responsible for his own actions and should organise his life on the basis of his interpretation of the scriptures. This approach stressed the importance of understanding the scriptures and role of the preahers in explaining these matters to the lay public.
The rise of a more formal worship (especially under Archbishop Laud, and allied to a stronger feeling for royalty) restored the ritual elements at the expense of angering the more presbyterian elements in Parliamment who were completely opposed to the authoritarianism of 'Crown and Mitre'. With the return of the king in the 'Golden Days' this lead to a serious danger of another revolution.
No wonder the poorer and less educated population were seriously confused and generally tended to absorb old ways into the new religion. Resident clergy had either to adapt or be removed from the church.
Accompanying the religious disputes there were very serious territorial consequences. The advent of the Commonwealth in the 1640's resulted in much forfeiture of the land of the country gentleman (the local squire), and the loss of his role as a 'local petty king'. Attempts to centralise control was very unpopular.
The return of forfeited land on the return of the king (but not of land sold to pay fines impose by the Commonwealth) caused further social disruptions (see Rebel Heiress).
Witchcraft, Illness and Misfortune Illness and Misfortunes were a commonly accepted feature of life. How one dealt with them depended to a large extent on one's wealth. The better-off folk could attempt to handle illness by paying for the help of a physician. Some misfortunes could be handled (at some expense) by recourse to law. The poorer element of the population had recourse to the local wise-woman (or man), who was generally regardded as a witch with both beneficial and malificient abilities.
Although Neill's primary concern in the earlier novels is with malicious witchcraft, he does in 'So Fair a House' and '.....' accept that white witchcraft exists and could play an important role in the life of the poorer elements of the population.
................ more needed
In 'Mist over Pendle' Neill strongly suggests a general tolerance of religious differences by Roger Nowell, and a corresponding neighbourliness from acknowledged papists. In his treatment of Richard Baldwin and of Margery's upbringing he clearly disapproves of the Puritan approach but he still tries to maintain the neighbourliness important to a small rural community.
................ summary of progress (or lack of) in Whalley after the dissolution
OS map of Pendle for Mist over Pendle and Scorpio. map of London before the fire for Crown and Mitre Hal's journeys around England and into Scotland. Crossing the pennines and north over Shap into Scotland might be home territory for me, but not for everyone. A sketch map of the journey would be useful. Similarly for Hangman and Black William.
trace So Fair house and Anstey, family relations. Nowell, Whitaker and Nutter for Mist
Neill uses it heavily but appears not to take it seriously (Culley is lampooned a little, but in a humourous way.) Astrology was however taken very seriously at the time, perhaps most seriously by the rich and upper classes.
Contrast his approach and acceptance of technology - the clocks in Scorpio, the improvements in the navy in Golden days.
Neill is clearly a 'country gentleman'. He may be a royalist, but he disapproves of much at court (Anstey is a slight digression from the norm). The country gentleman is honour bound to protect and further his estate. A higher loyalty might require service to the king, but back to the land is eventual aim.