Sir Roger as a preacher

Sir Roger de Coverley is a fictional Tory character created to serve as a farcical squire stereotype of the bygone era by the Whig authors, Addison and Steele. To some extent Sir Roger can be considered to be eccentric. In the essay "Sir Roger at Church" his eccentricity is seen in which he exercised his authority.

While the healthy living and paternalistic communal relations demonstrated by Sir Roger are portrayed with subtle admiration, his dealings with the local church are highly satirized in "Sir Roger at Church".  The authority Sir Roger wielded in the country church near his estate is meant to depict Tory feudalism as a farce. One of these feudal principles was the privilege of advowson, which gave large landowners control of the their local parish church and the ability to name the clergyman and clerks. Mr. Spectator provided evidence of advowson when noting how Sir Roger promised to choose the next church clerk based on merit once the old incumbent died. While a choice based on merit is an admirable enough notion, Mr. Spectator could not suppress a hint of bemusement over Sir Roger’s complete authority in the church writing that, ‘As Sir Roger is Landlord to the whole congregation; he keeps them in very good order, and will suffer no body to sleep in it besides himself…’ The squire routinely caused disruptions such as lengthening the verses of psalms, standing while others were kneeling so as to note any absences and interrupting the sermon to tell people not to disturb the congregation with fidgeting or making noise. Mr. Spectator opined that the worthiness of his character made these behavioural oddities seem like foils rather than blemishes of his good qualities. He also noted that none of the other parishioners were polite or educated enough to recognise the ridiculousness of Sir Roger’s behaviour in and authority over the church. These observations of Sir Roger’s love of the high-Anglican church in the countryside are essential to the authors’ original purpose for creating the character, to mock the seemingly backwards rural Tory.

But the irony in this De Coverley essay is not in the least offensive or hurtful. The oddities and eccentricities of Sir Roger are ironically conveyed to us, but irony is employee in a most humorous manner. We laugh at Sir Roger's absurd behaviour at  the church, but we also develop feelings of respect and love for him because of his humanity, charity and generosity. Ridicule (by means of irony) is combined with respect in the portrayal of Sir Roger.

In its detailed description of worship in the parish of Sir Roger de Coverley, The Spectator provides one picture of the manner in which the social relations between the elites, the clergy and the people were expressed through religion. The fictional Tory squire took pains to encourage his villagers and tenants to worship in the parish church in a suitably decent and conformable manner. Sir Roger gave each member of the congregation a Prayer Book and a hassock so that they could kneel and join in the responses. He railed the altar and had religious texts written on the walls, encouraged psalmody, rewarded with a Bible those children who performed their prayers well, and provided the parson with a supply of  printed sermons to read in church. Sir Roger also took care to keep the congregation in good order, interrupting the service to chide malefactors, and standing up during prayers to check that his tenants were all present. In his support for the liturgy and scripture Sir Roger de Coverley represented one ideal of worship within the eighteenth-century Church of England.

Coverley parish exemplifies the dependency, or social control, in which the landed elites and the clergy were united in an alliance which was to their mutual interest. In return for the Church’s support of the social and political establishment, the landed gentry defended the worship and privileges of the Church of England.

Last modified: Tuesday, 4 July 2017, 3:19 PM