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Response to Review no. 182

I am grateful to Dr Ambler for his kind remarks about my book, and particularly for the generously appreciative words in the fourth paragraph of his review. I readily agree with him that illustrations would have been helpful. Given the format and production standards of the distinguished series in which the book appeared, the inclusion of a representative selection of photographs would probably have increased the hardback costs to a prohibitive level. In any case, visual aspects of the early modern culture of death have been well presented in a number of recently published books, notably Death in England: An Illustrated History, by Peter Jupp and Clare Gittings (Manchester University Press, 1999). Parts of Dr Ambler’s review, including the few unobtrusively critical remarks he makes, reflect what seems to have been a certain disappointment that my book did not say more about death and the poor. I attempted to describe and discuss the experiences of all the major classes or groups in society. Surviving materials for a study of the English ‘way of death’ do however provide far richer and more varied testimony about the upper and middling ranks of society than about the lowest ones. It is true that I did not seek deliberately to offset this inbuilt bias in the sources. There is nevertheless a good deal in my book about the poor and their attitudes and expectations. Some of the most poignant testimony I encountered in will registers and testamentary cases concerned the disposal of their very meagre possessions by people who would clearly count as poor by any save the narrowest definition. I also drew on a variety of sources not directly mentioned by Dr Ambler, including a considerable number of accounts of overseers of the poor, churchyard plans and sextons’ accounts, and some vivid eyewitness descriptions of poor people’s deathbeds. I certainly hope that future historians of the poorer social groups in late medieval and early modern England will (at the very least) find some useful signposts in my book.