The spiritual status of the early modern child was often confused and uncertain, and yet in the wake of the English Reformation became an issue of urgent interest. This book explores questions surrounding early modern childhood, focusing especially on some of the extreme religious experiences in which children are documented: those of demonic possession and godly prophecy. Dr French argues that despite the fact that these occurrences were not typical childhood experiences, they provide us with a window through which to glimpse the world of early modern children. The work introduces its readers to the dualistic nature of early modern perceptions of their young – they were seen to be both close to devilish temptations and to God’s divine finger, as illustrated by published accounts of possession and prophecy. These cases reveal to us moments in which children could be granted authority or in which writers and publishers framed children in positions of spiritual agency. This can tell us much about how early modern society perceived, imagined and depicted their young, and helps us to revise the notion that early modern children’s lives, which were often fleeting, may have gone unregarded. Both contributing to, and informed by, some of the most recent historiographical directions taken by early modern history, this book engages with three key areas: the history of extreme spiritual experience such as demonic possession, the ‘lived experience’ of early modern religion and the history of childhood. In this way, it offers the first scholarly exploration of the dialogue between these three areas of current and widespread historical interest which have, perhaps surprisingly, not yet been considered together.
Children of Wrath: Possession, Prophecy and the Young in Early Modern England