The Times and Trials of Anne Hutchinson.
The Times and Trials of Anne Hutchinson. By Michael P. Winship. (Lawrence, Kans.: University of Kansas Press, 2005. Pp. xi, 168. $35.00.)
Anne Hutchinson's image in the popular mind may be that of a crusader for religious freedom, a champion of feminism, a martyr to the cause of free speech, or all three. But the author of this work disdains those traditional interpretations of her role in seventeenth-century Massachusetts history. His goal is to return to the historical Hutchinson rather than the legendary one, to see her in the context of her own world, one obsessed by theological differences. The result is an absorbing tale of intrigue set against the piety and contentiousness of a Puritan community. Designed for the nonspecialist, this is another addition in the useful series Landmark Law Cases, edited by Peter Hoffer and N. E. H. Hull.
Michael P. Winship clearly describes and analyzes the events leading up to Hutchinson's trials and the political and theological alignments that helped to condemn her. He captures the essence of the drama in her ambiguous relationships with John Cotton, John Wheelwright, Sir Henry Vane, and their adversary Thomas Shepard, who saw all deviation from orthodoxy as subversion. With Wheelwright banished and Vane (who left the colony) out of the way, Cotton took a more moderate stand to conciliate Shepard. Hutchinson refused to back down and, in the absence of any other scapegoat for Shepard to charge with sedition, was transformed into the leader of all dissident opinions. Her gender, however, cannot be completely discounted as a factor in her persecution. In a world wherein the principle of subordination to authority shaped everyone's behavior, Hutchinson was also condemned for being a "husband rather than a wife," a complaint that could not be made against a dissenting man (132).
Nonetheless, this is a valuable contribution to an understanding of the abstruse theological issues that preoccupied Massachusetts Puritans both in the pulpit and among the laity. That background is essential to understanding Hutchinson's convictions and to providing an insight into how ordinary Puritans perceived the world. For this purpose, Winship has drawn on and simplified much of the material in his earlier work, Making Heretics: Militant Protestantism and Free Grace in Massachusetts, 1636-1641 (Princeton, 2002). Of help to the reader is the appended "Glossary of Religious Terms" that clearly explains the terminology of the seventeenth-century Christian world. The "Bibliographic Essay" in place of annotation is a marvel of concise historiographic exposition.
Winship provides a solid base for understanding (without condoning) the significance of religious intolerance in the Puritan world. As a warning for our own times, Hutchinson's trials call to mind the potential danger posed to a political system by religious excess when it impinges on civil society. Given the church-state questions of our own century, Winship reminds us that the issues of the "proper relationship between religion, the state, and individuals ... are still very much with us today" (5).
Elaine G. Breslaw
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
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|Author:||Breslaw, Elaine G.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2007|
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