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Department of History


For nearly 500 years, from the 1530s to the 2000s, the governments and established churches of the British Isles summoned the nation to special acts of public worship, whether in times of anxiety or crisis (e.g. wars, conspiracies, epidemics, bad weather) or celebration (e.g. military victories, royal occasions), or for annual commemoration and remembrance. Most of these events are unstudied, and their long history - a remarkable continuity between early-modern and recent times - remains obscure. This project for the first time brings together information and texts for these special observances, defines their nature and purposes, and demonstrates their wider religious, political and cultural significance.

Special prayers and special days of worship were national events, reaching into every parish in England and Wales, in Scotland and in Ireland. Some of these occasions were also observed across the empire, in territories as distant as North America, South Africa, India and Australasia. These were significant occasions, rich in meaning, purpose and consequence. They were central in shaping ideas of national identity in terms of Protestantism, godliness and divine providence, and helped consolidate the idea of a British state and links across the British empire. They had considerable political and social significance, and illuminate church-state relations. They commanded considerable popular reverence but they could also be a focus for expressions of religious and political dissent.


The project is funded by the following grant.

  • British State Prayers, Fasts And Thanksgivings (£330172.14 from Arts and Humanities Research Council)


Few of these special acts of national worship have been studied, and their full history has never been investigated. This project is the first extended study of special worship in the British Isles. It provides a major contribution to historical understanding, addressing broad religious and political issues and connecting with other areas of recent research interest.

The project is publishing a three-volume edition which provides a complete list of special prayers and days of fasting, thanksgiving and prayer, edited texts of the orders appointing these occasions, and the prayers, services and addresses read in all parish churches. These are supported by extensive commentaries for each occasion, and by volume introductions explaining the patterns in decision-making , in the publication and distribution of the orders and materials for worship, and in popular observance.

Staff from outside Durham

Dr Alasdair Raffe, at the University of Edinburgh


Project Leader

From the Department of History

Related links

Further information

For further information, please contact Professor Philip Williamson.