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As Collinson has shown, the support the prophesyings received from influential laymen paradoxically spelled their doom.46 When absorbed within the structures of diocesan episcopacy, they flourished; but when they split allegiances and created rivalries, the Queen quickly acted to suppress them. Thomas Cooper, Bishop of Lincoln, recommended the prophesyings for the development of a learned ministry, but he worried about their potential for generating factions. He feared "theie should be made means to publishe phantasticall opinions and innovations," which, he quickly assures the Archbishop, has not occurred in his own diocese. Cooper believes the people should be excluded, not just to prevent outbursts by young men who will "speake rawlie," but more importantly, "to staie the phantasticall affection that many have to such conferences more than to preching, for it is seen some places not far from me that gentlemen and gentlewomen will come in good ... 6 or 7 miles to a conference, that will hardlie come to a learned mans sermon."47 A letter written ca.1582 to the Privy Council, arguing for their re-establishment, also acknowledged the troubles generated by people flocking to this or that prophesying in the years before the Queen's suppression.48

Wiki MarkupConservatives believed the godly used the prophesyings to separate from their ordinary congregations, and phrases such as "secret conventicles" or "disorderly and unlawfull conventicles" crept into the language of those hostile to their continuation.49 Even those defending their practice had to meet accusations of schism and separation. Walker assured Grindal that the people assemble not in "secret conventicles as the papistes and sectaries do," but in the church, where "all may com and hear and bear wittnes."50 The Queen's letter to Whitgift in 1577 is filled with warnings of the division caused by these conferences. All good subjects, the Queen wrote, "become hearers of their disputations and new divisid opinions upon pointes of divinitie in these prophesyings farre unmeete for vulgar people. Which maner of proceeding they in some places tearme prophesyenges, and in some oth\[er\] exercises, by which maner of assembles great nombre of people, specially of the vulgar sort are brought to idelnes and also in maner schismatically divided amonges them selfes into sondry dangerous opynions, not onley in townes and parisshes but also in some familyes, and manifestly therby incouraged \ [disregard\] of our lawes, and to the breaches of common ordre, and tendeth to the offence of all our other quyet subjectes that desire to serve God according to the uniforme ordres established, whereof the sequele cannot be but over dangerous."51 For the Queen, public disputation on the rites and ceremonies of the church was a violation of the order established by the settlement of 1559, and with puritans pushing for reforms in one Parliamentary session after another, her decision to silence the exercises is understandable.52

In 1590, Thomas Rogers engaged in precisely the kind of disputation on "new divisid opinions upon points of divinitie" that Elizabeth wished to silence. John S. Craig has recently published a study of the uproar caused by Rogers at an exercise at Bury St Edmunds, a town troubled by puritan, Familist and Brownist activity.53 The Monday exercises in Bury St Edmunds trace their origins in the orders for prophecy established by Bishop Parkhurst in 1573; they quickly became an institution and continued into the 1630s.54 On this day in 1590, the assembled ministers were working their way through a controversial passage in Romans (on the "gifts" given within the church – a text cited by Barrow in the margins of the passage on prophesying in A Briefe Discoverie, cited above). The "ancientest" of the assembly lectured soberly on the text, downplaying any radical interpretation of the passage. At his turn, Rogers, leaving the prescribed format of the exercise, displayed a copy of an anonymous, Robert Waldegrave-published pamphlet (written by Laurence Chaderton), and denounced the author, comparing him to Familists and to papists for interpreting the passage in Romans in a strongly presbyterian light. The ministers were outraged; and the stunned audience apparently disapproved of Rogers' desire to use the occasion to condemn rather than to preach. The senior ministers later barred Rogers from participating in future exercises.55


At the center of Clapham's broader polemical strategy in these dialogues is to explore moments of true and false conversion. Conversion narratives have been an important component of dialogues from their classical origins, for conversion is at the core of the dialogue form's fundamentally pedagogic and therapeutic strategy. Sixteenth-century protestant dialogues often dramatize the fact that godly identity is achieved through interrogation, and the path toward spiritual regeneration involves the peeling away of false identities.98 Separatist autobiography shares with mainstream puritan autobiography the centrality of moments of conversion. Barrow was transformed from a puritan to a Separatist position after his encounter with a book written by Browne and by further debate with Separatist leaders.99 Johnson's "conversion" to Separatism is another well-known example. Johnson, no friend of Separatism at the time, was ordered to burn one of Barrow's books in 1591 while he was a minister in Middelburg. Johnson saved two copies of the book from the flames, ostensibly so "that he might see their errors," but he was so impressed by their arguments that he sailed to London to confer with Barrow and Greenwood in prison, "after which conference he was so satisfied and confirmed in the truth," he stayed in London and was elected pastor of a Barrowist congregation in 1592.100 There are moments of true conversion in Clapham's dialogues; indeed, the general movement of both texts is the re-integration of Malcontent and Flyer back into the fold of the English Church through their final dialogic encounters with Mediocritie. Malcontent is told "for by thy conversion God will have his mercy made glorious; and therefore being converted, see thou also do help to strengthen thy brethren" (Left Hand, 66).

Wiki MarkupBut there is a sense in Clapham's dialogues that these moments of conversion, generated by dialogic exchange, while powerful, can be illusionary. Clapham satirizes Separatist claims of conversionary power, as when the Anabaptist is convinced of his prophetic and evangelic abilities: "I shall turne the hearts of many Fathers to the Children; and the heartes of Children to the Fathers" (Right Hand, 26-7). Romaniste tells Malcontent: "I hate\[d\] the Church of Rome till now; but the holy Angell no sooner breathed upon me, but my bowels yearned after her presense, yea, methought such a light flashed upon my senses, as therwith all, all intricate scruples banished" (Left Hand, 11). Clapham develops the "gifts" of individual belief and "freedom and power" cherished by these Separatists and distorts them into monstrous versions of anarchy and self-possession. The Libertine-Arian's provides an example of one William, who fled from England to the Netherlands, "who running from the English Church here, to the Brownist; from the Brownist, to a particular faction of his owne, wherto he did baptize himselfe; from that to one sect of the Anabaptists, where they baptized him againe; from that to another sect of the Anabaptists &c., finding no rest in any, till hee setle \ [to\] heare all, to walke with all" (Left hand, 22-3).

Where most protestant polemical dialogues include one central conversion usually occuring in the final pages,101 Clapham's dialogues contain examples of multiple conversions, one after another, to dramatize the lightly held faith of these radicals. Engaging in dialogue (or "Dialoguizing" as one of his characters puts it) is crucial in the formation of a godly identity, but in Clapham's texts it can also mislead a wavering will. In every dialogic exchange in Clapham, there is a lingering uncertainty, a sense that godly identity is in continual flux, shaped easily by orthodoxy at one moment and heresy at another. Clapham wants to satirize claims by leading Separatists like John Robinson, who believed that just as "the inward, and invisible hand of the Spirit must seize, and take hold of the heart ... so must the Lord's outward, and visible hand, his Word, seize, and take hold of the outward man, at the least, and be effectual visibly and externally."102 Clapham instead shows how this self-possession urged by Separatists literally separates one's identity from oneself (in an opening monologue, Malcontent admits he is "divided in my selfe" Left Hand, 4) and how these false identities are formed through a language unhinged by zeal. In an earlier work, Clapham describes his own fall into Separatist thought as a series of misleading conversations, each pushing him into further and further stages of heresy,103 and within the fiction of his dialogues, Clapham shows how easily men and women can be fooled by those skilled in debate and disputation. Flyer, after talking a few minutes with Anabaptist, tells him he is ashamed of his previous religious associations, and declares "I firmely betake my selfe to your Fayth, till death us depart" (26). He declares the truth has suddenly burned into his heart, and he wants to jump into a "passage-Cart, and prophecie Fire upon England and all English Sectaries" (Right Hand, 27). A few pages later, however, after Flyer has listened to the Legatine-Arian/Anabaptist dialogue, he explains how in the course of "discoursing with the Anabaptist about Religion, I verily resolved to joyne with him and his Congregation. But perceiving by your Dialoguizing with him, that al is meere foolerie, to beleeve, that either Hee, or Brownist, or Mal-content, is of any true Church" (Right Hand, 36).


The separation of the political from the theological found in Murton's text can be traced back to the baptists in Henry VIII's reign, through them to the Swiss Anabaptists, and ultimately, as Abraham Friesen has recently restated, to Erasmus' introduction of his New Testament and his Annotations of the 1520s.122 What we find in these early seventeenth-century writings is a move away from Erastian conceptions of a national church. A Baptist confession of 1611, also published in Amsterdam, argued that as the Word of God comes into every church, no particular church should challenge the prerogative of any other.123 For Anabaptists, since the church is a gathered church, based upon those who seek, voluntarily, the sacrament of baptism, compulsion by the civil authorities is a violation of this spiritual community.124 This concept is found in fellow baptist Leonard Busher's extraordinary plea for toleration, Religions Peace, published in Amsterdam the year before Murton's pamphlet. Busher writes that "the King and State may defend religion's peace by their sword and civil power, but not the faith, other than by the word of God."125 Helwys' A short declaration contains this equally notable passage: "For men's religion to God is between God and themselves. The King shall not answer for it. Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least."126 Again and again, Helwys and Murton make the distinction between the faith of the King's subjects and the allegiance of "faithful subjects."

Wiki MarkupMurton's dialogue argues that when the King forces "his faithful subjects to dissemble to believe as he believes," the desire for religious conformity in fact leads to political instability. (This idea is developed in Busher's Religions Peace, where Busher argues that the persecution by the King's bishops and his ministers led directly to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.) If the King accepts those who come to his church without their conscience, this will create an environment of spiritual decay and political intrigue: "And therefore you," Murton writes, "compelling me by tyranny to bring my body whereunto my spirit cannot be brought, you compel me to hypocrisy with God and man; for if my heart were not faithful in sincerity to his majesty's crown and dignity, as I take God to witness \ [it is\], these courses would rather harden my heart to work villainy than otherwise" (139). (James made the same argument in his defense of the Oath of Allegiance, that diversity in belief is nothing but a shield for rebellion and treachery.) In the language of the Oath, as explicated in God and the King, the subject acknowledges the authority of the king "in all his dominions" and he further declares that his conscience is free from any mental reservation or equivocation. Subjects owe their duty and their oaths to this higher power, Theodidactus explains, and not even a tyrannous or heretical ruler can break this inviolable bond. The Oath was directed at Catholic recusants, and can be seen as an act of religious tolerance: It recognized the Bishop of Rome while re-asserting the King's authority as monarch; if Catholics signed the Oath the King promised to leave them alone. But this distinction did nothing for other recusants like the Helwys-Murton congregations. As Helwys put it in a petition to the House of Commons, his people remain in prison "only for conscience" while "Popish recuzantes" go free after signing the Oath.127

Religious identity in Objections: Answered is something joined to the State through political, and not religious, affiliation. As Murton explains in the Epistle, only God is the "lawgiver to the soul" (100). True religion, Christian insists, is activated "by the hearing of the word of God" and not the compulsion of any earthly authority. The Oath requires only civil, and not spiritual, obedience (135). While Christian acknowledges the authority of the King's "earthly magistrates," should those same magistrates compel him to attend church services, he would only bring his body, and not his "willing mind" (113). When Antichristian answers that treason will follow if freedom of religion is granted, Christian answers in a twofold way: first, those who practice reform in religion come in peace, and not in treachery; and second, he repeats his position that treason in fact is generated by religious compulsion. Christian pushes this idea further in a remarkable passage where he claims that if Catholics were given freedom of religion, they would in fact become obedient subjects. Look to other nations, he tells Antichristian, "where no such compulsion is used; for if papists might have freedom in their religion unto their faithful allegiance to the king, the fear of the king's laws would make them live more inoffensively in that respect" (114). In contrast to the positions put forward in God and the King, where the subjects' relation to his prince is one of subjugation and obedience in a hierarchy of royal power and control, in Objections: Answered, this relationship is seen as more cooperative, at least in the realm of religious conscience. Just as subjects must be faithful and obedient unto their prince, Christian argues, so should princes be "just and equal" to all their subjects; for his lord bishops to excommunicate and punish for religion is to become just like the Pope and his "bloody" practices (116-17).


12 For separatist views, see Walter H. Burgess, The Pastor of the Pilgrims: A Biography of John Robinson (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920), 77-154; Champlin Burrage, Early English Dissenters, 2 Vols. (Cambridge UP, 1912); Geoffrey Nuttall, Visible Saints: The congregationalist way 1640-1660 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1957), Chapter 1; W. K. Jordan, The Development of Religious Toleration in England (Gloucester: Peter Smith, 1965), 261-273; Edward B. Underhill, Tracts of Liberty of Conscience and Persecution 1614-1661 (New York: Burt Franklin, 1966); B. R. White, The English Separatist Tradition: From the Marian martyrs to the Pilgrim Fathers (London: Oxford UP, 1971); Murray Tolmie, The Triumph of the Saints: The Separate Churches of London 1616-1649 (Cambridge UP, 1977); Michael R. Watts, The Dissenters: From the Reformation to the French Revolution, Vol. 1 (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1978; Stephen Brachlow, "John Robinson and the lure of separatism in pre-revolutionary England" Church History 1 (1981), 288-301; R. J. Acheson, Radical Puritanism in England 1550-1660 (London and New York: Longman, 1990), 19-27; Christopher Hill, Antichrist in Seventeenth-Century England (London and New York: Verso, 1990), 52-62.

Wiki Markup13 "\[F\]or if anie such guiftes spring up in any," Robert Harrison writes in A Treatise of the Church, "for want of stiring up of such guiftes & practicing it is quenched as the talent hidden in the ground, so that their parishioners are not by these guiftes & callinges joyned together as felow members, or knit by tehse as by the sinews & bandes of the Church" (The Writings of Harrison & Browne. Albert Peel and Leland H. Carlson, eds. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1953, 36).

14 "Likewise an order was agreed on ffor their meetinges together, ffor their exercises therin, as for praier, thanckes giving, reading of the scriptures, for exhortation and edifiing, ether by all men which had the guift, or by those which had a speciall charge before others. And for the lawefulnes off putting forth questions, to learne the trueth, as iff anie thing seemed doubtful & hard, to require some to shew it more plainly, or for anie to shew it him selfe & to cause th rest to understand it." See Champlin Burrage, The Early English Dissenters, 2 Vols. (New York: Russell & Russell, 1967), 1:98.


37 See the orders for Hertfordshire, in Lehmberg, 93-96; see also David Kemp's letter, Lehmberg, 102-3.

Wiki Markup38 See Richard Davies' letter to Grindal, Lehmberg, 121-22. See also Elizabethan Puritan Movement, 175. The order for the exercise at the diocese of Chester allows "people and the whole congregation" at the sermon, but the exercise itself is restricted to the clergy (Strype, Annals of the Reformation \ [II:i 549\]).

39 Collinson cites one observer of a public exercise who noted that "men and women, boys and girls, labourers, workmen and simpletons" would discuss and debate the texts explored in that morning's conference (Elizabethan Puritan Movement, 175); see also Knappen, 255.


79 Prophesyings ..., A3r.

Wiki Markup80 On the formation of the godly community, see Peter Lake, "William Bradshaw, Antichrist, and the Community of the Godly," Journal of Ecclesiastical History 36:4 (1985), 570-89. See also Joseph Puterbaugh, "Your selfe be judge and answer yourself: The formation of Protestant identity in A Conference betwixt a Mother a devout Recusant and her sonne a zealous Protestant (1600)," Sixteenth Century Journal (31:2 \ [2000\]), 419-31.

81 For the Coventry conference, see Burrage, 1: 229; W. T. Whitley, The Works of John Smyth (Cambridge UP, 1915) lvii-lviii; and Ronald A Marchant,The Puritans and the Courts in the Diocese of York 1560-1642 (London: Longmans, 1960), 151 and 162. Marchant, however, shows that prosecutions and deprivations against the Scrooby group and other nonconformists at this time were less harsh than older histories would have us believe (164-66). One set of figures shows only between seventy-three and eighty-three beneficed clergy were deprived for non-subscription between 1604-9 (see Spurr, 61). For the tradition of exercises at Burton-on-Trent and Repton, see "Lectures by Combination," 482.

Wiki Markup82 See Smyth's Parallels, Censures, Observations (1609): "I do therefor Proclame you \ [Richard Bernard\] unto the whole land to be one of the most fearful Apostates of the whole nation that excepting Thomas Whyte, & Clapham, you have no Superior nor equal that I know or remember" (cited in Burrage, 197 n2).

83 Henoch Clapham, Errour on the Left hand. Through a frozen securitie. Acted by way of dialogue (London, 1608), STC 5342 and Errour on the Right hand, through a preposterous zeale. Acted by way of dialogue. Whereto is also added, certaine positions touching church and Antichrist (London, 1608), STC 5341. Quotations from these works will be cited parenthetically. On other anti-Separatist writers, see "The English Conventicle," 250 n94.


87 Henoch Clapham, Antidoton: or a sovereign remedie against schisme and heresie: from that parable of tares (London, 1600), STC 5330, 6.

Wiki Markup88 The discription of a True Visible christian: Right confortable & profitable for all such as are distressed in Sowle about present controversies in the Churche \ [Amsterdam, 1599, STC 5337, A3v.

89 In a marginal note in the same work, Clapham writes that "Schismatiks ever have the cloke or visor of Purity and sheepish conversation: but inwardly rending wolves, thornes and thistles" (Biiiv).


110 Quoted by Richard Groves, in the "Introduction" to his edition of Helwys' A short declaration of the mystery of iniquity (Macon: Mercer UP, 1998), xxv. See Babbage, 87, and Chapter 3 passim.

Wiki Markup111 Objections: Answered by way of Dialogue, wherein is proved By the law of God: By the Law of our Land: And by his Maties many testimonies That no man ought to be persecuted for his reliogn, so he testifie his allegeance by the Oath, appointed by Law (Amsterdam, 1615) STC 13054. Quotations from Murton's text are taken from Underhill's edition and will be noted parenthetically. The "objections" Murton's dialogue answers are those of congregrationalist John Robinson, in his book Of Religious Communion, published the year before, itself a response to the writings of Helwys and Murton (See Burgess, 91-114). See also A. F. Johnson, "The Exiled Church at Amsterdam and its Press" (The Library 5:4 \ [March 1951\], 219-42). The titles cited by Johnson from 1604-22 suggest the dizzying textual maze of objections and answers by many of these works. For Murton, see Burrage, 1:257-58; A. C. Underwood, A History of English Baptists (London: Kingsgate P, 1947) 48-50; and Timothy George, John Robinson and the Separatist Tradition (Macon: Mercer UP, 1982), 182-83 for brief summaries. For the Helwys-Murton congregration, see Burrage, 1:251-69.

112 Objections: Answered by way of Dialogue, 93.


117 Theodidactus invokes Romans 13, where the higher powers spoken of by Paul are understood as "such as beare the sword" (55). He further argues that princes may correct and punish "spiritual pastors" and priests through the authority of God (59).

Wiki Markup118 The bloody Münster riots of the 1530s tainted Anabaptism with associations of fanaticism throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. See A. G. Dickens, Reformation and Society in sixteenth-century Europe (London: Thames and Hudson, 1966), 125-35; Watts, 8-9; and Keith L. Sprunger, "English Puritans and Anabaptists in Early Seventeenth-Century Amsterdam," Mennonite Quarterly Review 46:2 (April 1972), 113. The use of "anabaptist" as a term of abuse continued well into the seventeeth century, as, for example, in Robert Baillie's Anabaptism, the true fountaine of Independency, Antinomy, Brownisme, Familisme, and the most of the other Errours, which for the time doe trouble the Church of England \ [London, 1647\]). See Irvin B. Horst, "The Anabaptists in English Literature: A Research Note," Mennonite Quarterly Review 29:3 (July 1955), 236.

119 The Epistle is signed "By His Majesty's faithful Subjects: Commonly (but most falsely) called Ana-Baptists" (101), and in the final pages, Christian tries to connect sectarianism with Christ and his apostles: "And if they be anabaptist that deny baptism where God hath appointed it, they, and not we, are anabaptists" (179).