Unusually for a modern historian, most of my research revolves around two institutions with pre-modern origins: the Church of England and the British monarchy. Above all, I am interested in investigating how – sometimes individually, sometimes in tandem – these institutions have shaped British society as well as territories which were part of the British Empire. Although my focus has generally been on the oft-neglected pre-Victorian portion of the nineteenth century, my research has also embraced the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. In the process, I have discovered fascinating material and had many of my preconceptions challenged. In writing, my foremost aim is to reflect all that I learn from primary sources.
My research has distanced me from conventional sub-disciplinary divisions. Religion is my main historical focus, but political and social history play such a large part in my work that any narrow sub-disciplinary label seems inadequate. Although I have a strong interest in theology and ecclesiology, my interest in the Church is primarily in its functioning as a temporal, practical and socio-politically engaged institution beyond the confines of churches. In a similar fashion, my research into the British monarchy extends beyond the boundaries of the court, and seeks a holistic view of how successive monarchs interacted with the populace outside elite spheres, and the significance attached to the monarchy throughout society.
Correspondingly, two of my forthcoming publications concern the relationship between church and monarchy, one on the British coronation liturgy between 1761 and 1953, and another on George IV and William IV’s relations with the Church of England. However, during the past three years, my focus has been more on the Church than on the monarchy. I have been very fortunate in having the opportunity to study for an AHRC-funded PhD at Pembroke College, Cambridge, under the supervision of Dr Andrew Thompson. My thesis, which I am currently completing, concerns the political and social influence of the Church of England from c. 1800 to 1837. Cambridge and especially its University Library have afforded me an excellent base for my research, and I have also appreciated the encouraging sense of community that exists in my college and faculty.
Outside of Cambridge, two experiences have particularly nurtured and developed my approach to history while I have been a PhD student: my research trips and my attendance at Ecclesiastical History Society conferences. The trips occurred throughout the first and second years of my PhD, and took me to Oxford, Norwich, Ipswich, Winchester, Southampton, Brighton, Lincoln, Bolton, Leigh, Blackburn, Preston, Liverpool, Chester, Birmingham, Stafford, Lichfield, Warwick, Exeter, Durham and Ashington. Travelling through so many parts of England gave me a broader perspective on my research and a sense of the underappreciated riches contained in local archives.
I first attended an EHS event in March 2015 and since then have presented six papers at EHS conferences and colloquia. In this supportive environment, I have gained many insights from the EHS membership’s collective expertise. I have also benefited from the process of revising two papers for publication in Studies in Church History. In my view, the strength of the EHS lies in its stimulating combination of inclusivity and scholarly rigour. EHS members come from many different backgrounds and gather together to explore and debate religious history in a dispassionate, well-informed and collegial manner. This is a tradition of great value, which I hope to help foster and extend in my role as a committee member of the EHS.