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‘Rapt up with joy’: children’s emotional responses to death in early modern England

Newton, H. (2017) ‘Rapt up with joy’: children’s emotional responses to death in early modern England. In: Barclay, K., Reynolds, K. and Rawnsley, C. (eds.) Death, emotion and childhood in premodern Europe. Palgrave Macmillan, London, pp. 87-107. ISBN 9781137571984

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Abstract/Summary

The chapter is an investigation of the child’s emotional response to death in early modern England. While much valuable scholarship has been produced on parents’ responses to the deaths of children, the reactions of the young themselves have rarely been explored. Drawing on a range of printed and archival sources, I argue that children expressed diverse and conflicting emotions, from fear and anxiety, to excitement and ecstasy. By exploring the emotional experiences of Protestants, the chapter contributes to the bourgeoning literature on emotion and religion, and contests earlier depictions of reformed Protestantism as an inherently intellectual, rather than an affective, faith. This study also suggests that we revise the way we classify the emotions, resisting the intuitive urge to categorise them as ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. The fear of hell, for example, though profoundly unpleasant, was regarded as a rational, commendable response, which demonstrated the work of the Holy Spirit in the soul, and was a prerequisite for the attainment of a joyful assurance of heaven. An underlying question is to what extent children’s responses to death differed from those of adults. I propose that although their reactions were broadly similar, the precise preoccupations of dying children were different. Through highlighting these distinctive features, we can come to a closer idea of what it was like to be a child in the early modern period.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Early Modern Research Centre (EMRC)
Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > History
ID Code:65729
Publisher:Palgrave Macmillan

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