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The culture of fasting in early Stuart parliaments

Mears, Natalie

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The fasts, proposed and observed by parliament in the first half of the seventeenth century, have always been defined as opportunities for propaganda. This article focuses instead on their cultural and religious meanings: why MPs believed that the act of fasting itself was important and what they hoped it would achieve. It argues that fasts were proposed for two reasons: to forge unity between parliament and the king at a time of growing division, with the aim of making parliamentary sessions more productive and successful, and to provide more direct resolution to the nation’s problems by invoking divine intervention. Fast motions commanded widespread support across parliament because they were rooted in the dominant theory of causation – divine providence – and reflected the gradual conventionalisation of fasting in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. However, this consensus seemed to wane in the early 1640s as divisions between Charles I and some of his most vocal MPs widened, while the fast day observed on 17 November 1640 was used by some MPs to express their opposition to Charles’s religious policy, especially regarding the siting of the communion table/altar and the position from where the service was to be read. The article concludes by reflecting on how a study of parliamentary fasting can contribute to wider debates on commensality and abstinence.


Mears, N. (2020). The culture of fasting in early Stuart parliaments. Parliamentary History, 39(3), 423-441.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 19, 2019
Online Publication Date Oct 12, 2020
Publication Date 2020-10
Deposit Date Aug 20, 2019
Publicly Available Date Oct 12, 2022
Journal Parliamentary History
Print ISSN 0264-2824
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 39
Issue 3
Pages 423-441


Accepted Journal Article (284 Kb)

Copyright Statement
This is the accepted version of the following article: <br /> Mears, Natalie (2020). The culture of fasting in early Stuart parliaments. Parliamentary History 39(3): 423-441 which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for self-archiving.

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