This introductory chapter discusses the concept of ‘profession’ during the period and considers the clergy in relation to the other ‘learned professions’, law, medicine, the civil service, and the ministry of dissenting churches. It considers the central role of the Christian religion and the established Church in English and Welsh society throughout the period 1680 to 1840, and the central and distinctive role of clergy in English and Welsh society. The tensions within the Church in relation to government policies are discussed, especially referring to the crises under James II and the Settlement of 1689, and during Queen Anne's reign, and in the 1820s and 1830s. Programmes for reforming and improving the pastoral ministry of the Church, especially during the periods 1660 to 1720 and 1780 to 1840 are discussed. The impact of theological differences within the Church, manifested in ‘party’ disputes, especially among the clergy, is examined.
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