Thomas Jollie

Thomas Jollie I’ve just posted an article about Thomas Jollie, one of the leaders of the the Congregational Churches in this area. He was expelled from the Church of England, was arrested, tried, imprisoned and threatened at gunpoint. Through all of this he remained faithful to his beliefs and principles and refused to stop preaching the gospel of Christ.

We should not be blind to his faults: he took a grim pleasure in the misfortunes of those who persecuted him, seeing it as divine retribution for their sins. He appears to have been deceived by the Surey Demoniac, Richard Dugdale, in later life, as he continued to find spiritual darkness around him.

But for me, one of the interesting strengths of the man was his willingness to work with other ministers of the gospel. He was a networker centuries before the word was first used. He was willing to compromise with others providing he still remained true to his core convictions. He maintained those core principles throughout his life, despite personal tragedies, persecution and hardship.

Ark of the Covenant in Grindleton?

In fiction and reality there are many secret last resting places for the lost Ark of the Covenant: Grindleton, in the former West Riding of Yorkshire, would probably be the last place anyone would look for it. But in the seventeenth century the tiny but influential religious movement known as the Grindletonians were said to believe “that the Arke of the Covenant is shut up or pinned within the wals of Grindleton Chappell”.

I should point out there are several problems before you reach for your fedora and whip: the Grindletonians were accused of believing many things but much of what they did believe and teach has been lost under the welter of bizarre accusations. Being accused of being a Grindletonian was in itself not unusual for the many who held to heterdox beliefs in the early part of theHouseNHill seventeenth century. And the last known Grindletonian died in the 1680s.

So what did Grindletonians believe? Their leader, Roger Brearley, was an antinomian, who taught that believers were set free from sin by the Holy Spirit. There was then no need, for example, for confession and absolution. This was the sort of preaching that attracted not just a sizeable congregation from points as far away as Giggleswick but also the attention of the ecclesiastical authorities. Earlier I said that they were influential: many of their beliefs were shared by the early Quakers and it is possible that they influenced George Fox, who had his famous vision on Pendle Hill, overlooking Grindleton.

If the good people of Grindleton were to turn up the Lost Ark it would put them one up on their neighbours in Gisburn who recently discovered a 400 year old Bible stored in a cupboard at the back of St Mary’s Church.

Quakers and Puritans

In most people’s minds the two are the same thing: in fact Puritans, both here in England and particularly in America were fierce persecutors of the Quakers. Their beliefs were radically different, though they started, in a sense from the same place.

Puritans took one part of St Paul’s theology and, following Calvin’s lead, concentrated on original sin, the Fall from grace and human beings need for God’s grace to redeem them. Quakers started from an awareness of grace and of being freed from sin. Early Quakers took this to such an extreme that they were accused of antinomianism, teaching that everything was permitted.

We should remember that our view of Quakers and Puritans is influenced on the one hand by the heirs of the Puritans in the Free Churches and on the other by modern Quakerism. Christopher Hill remarked that the nineteenth century nonconformist was to the seventeenth century Puritan what vinegar is to wine. Likewise, today’s pacifist and liberal Quaker is not the same as the violently apocalyptic visionaries of the 1650s.

The role of women was one area that divided Puritans and Quakers: the former believed that women should take the place allotted to them in scripture and followed a literalist translation of St Paul’s teaching. Many prominent Quakers were women who taught, preached and prophesied. And why not? George Fox consistently taught that God’s Inner Light shone in the hearts of all people.

The role of government was one which also separated them. Quakers here followed a literalist reading of the Scriptures and refused to swear oaths, bringing them into direct conflict with the civil authorities. Refusal to swear the Oath of Allegiance could lead to indefinite imprisonment during the Restoration and many Quakers were to suffer this, in may cases dying in prison. However, after 1660 George Fox and his followers were keen to deny any wish to overthrow the government, pointing, like Puritans to those passages of Scripture where Paul tells Christians that they must obey the authorities.

Puritans in England followed Calvin’s political teaching that earthly ruler are to be obeyed. However Calvin does not, as Luther was forced to, give a “blank cheque” to earthly rulers. He taught that the common people must obey the magistrates: however if the magistrates (in England represented by Parliament) should decide to revolt against the King…

John Webster

On the south wall of Clitheroe Parish Church is the last epitaph of a remarkable man who for part of his life was at the centre of the political, religious and scientific upheavals of the seventeenth century. John Webster was born in Thornton in Craven in Yorkshire in 1610, son of Edward Webster and baptised on February 3rd 1611 at Coxwold in the North Riding. Webster’s life spanned a period of unparalleled turmoil in this country. When he was a child, however, the coming of the English Civil War could not have been predicted.

There are many unanswered questions about his early life. William Weeks, Webster’s first Victorian biographer makes an interesting allusion to Webster’s schooling, as being in some psychologically (or physically) scarred by punishment at school. Was he really educated at Cambridge University as he claimed? The University has no record, but many records from this period are incomplete. Wherever he gained his education we know that he had a good writing style and read Latin and Greek. He frequently referred to himself as Johannes Hyphastes, as he does on the plaque in church. Johannes is the Greek version of John: Hyphastes means “weaver”, the origin of the now common surname “Webster”. In his later life, one of Webster’s main areas of interest was to be reform of the university system, at this time an area of fierce c

His next publication, The Academiarum Examen of 1654 made detailed proposals for the reform of the university curriculum; it was dedicated to General John Lambert, a highly-placed officer of the New Model Army and a former near neighbour of Webster’s in Kirkby Malham. At this time, Lambert, at the age of 35, was arguably the second most powerful person in England, after Cromwell. While advocating the work of Francis Bacon, Webster wanted to combine ideas from the experimental philosophy of the time with those of astrology and alchemy: he also advocated the teaching of Robert Fludd and Paracelsus. The reformed universities, according to Webster, had to promote experimental and utilitarian learning, which should include alchemy and natural magic, which he vindicated against the impostors’ misuse.

Webster’s article soon drew a reply from the Oxford academics Seth Ward and John Wilkins, in Vindiciae Academiarum (1654) They argued for a less radical and more moderate programme of updating, partly put in place already. Ward and Wilkins put the case that Webster was ignorant of recent changes in University education, and was inconsistent in championing both Bacon and Fludd, whose methods were incompatible.

Sometime in the 1650’s Webster must have returned to Clitheroe. In 1658 he says that many of his manuscripts were confiscated but he appears to have been in many ways a model citizen being elected in bailiff twice. One can only imagine the position of this former parliamentary soldier and radical now settled in Restoration Clitheroe and had to live with those he had imposed many of the unpopular laws of the Commonwealth period when he had also served as in-bailiff.

There is an anecdote that Webster, during the Commonwealth period had, with a group of friends, knocked down the three “Paulinus Crosses” which were in Whalley Churchyard. After the Restoration, Webster paid to have them re-erected to the position that they still hold today, in atonement for his actions. The riverside walk, still known as Webster’s Walk is supposed to be one of his favourite walks during his last years.

During this, the final period of his life, he published “Metallographica” (1671), the fruit of his experimental work in chemistry. For Webster, chemistry was about much more than science: for Robert Fludd the Rosicrucian who Webster passionately admired, chemistry was the search for God. Webster believed that the spiritual and the physical are one and that the search for the physical transformation of metals is fruitless unless accompanied by a genuine inner search for spiritual perfection.

Webster’s last work is the one for which he is today most famous; The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft (1677), a criticism of the traditional demonology and the belief, still current then, among scientists in the realityt of wittchcraft. . It is apparent that material for it had been collected for several decades and the work was completed by 1674, but initially it failed to gain an imprimatur, apparently because of opposition from the ecclesiastical authorities even though by the 1670’s the tide of scepticism was running very much in favour of John Webster’s thought. Webster had asked for the support of his friend and correspondent Martin Lister, to whom he sent a draft of the work in 1674. He also sent a copy to the Royal Society, which was forwarded by Oldenburg to Hooke, who read it on 19 March 1675. In the event, The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft was published in 1677 with the imprimatur of the society’s vice-president, Sir Jonas Moore, dated 29 June 1676, and was dedicated to the justices of the peace in the West Riding of Yorkshire. The significance of this, of course is that it was the justices of the peace in the West Riding who had investigated and condemned the original Pendle Witches a generation before. The five Webster mentioned: Thomas Parker of Browsholme, John Asheton of the Lower Hall, William Drake of Barnoldswick-coat, William Johnson of the Grange, Henry Marsden of Gisborne he honoured in this way he states because

“You have all been Gentlemen, not only well known unto me for many years, as being my near neighbours, but also with whom I have been freely admitted to a Noble and Generous converse, and have been trusted and honoured by you in your Domestick concerns, wherein by my Medical Profession, I might be serviceable to you”.

Where Webster’s work formed a departure from previous works was in laying out a theological, scientific and psychological rationale both for why some people might be accused of witchcraft and believe themselves to be witches even though their alleged crimes were impossible.

The Displaying opens with a vindication of freedom in philosophical matters and is aimed at answering the arguments in favour of the existence of witchcraft held by Meric Casaubon and by Joseph Glanvill. Glanvill had urged that disbelief in witchcraft was but one step in the path to atheism. No witches, no spirits, no immortality, no God, were the sequences of Glanvill’s reasoning. In answer Webster urged that the denial of the existence of witches—creatures endued with the power from the Devil to perform supernatural wonders—had nothing to do with the existence of angels or spirits . In other words – if we grant the existence of spirits we don’t also have to accept the existence of witches. Webster’s work was also crucial for its “early recognition of psychological phenomena which in the later 19th century were studied as suggestibility and suggestion especially under hypnosis” (Hunter & MacAlpine, 209)

Webster died at Clitheroe 18 June, 1682 leaving a widow, Elizabeth and no children. In 1684, Alice Molland was sent to the gallows in Exeter and became the last witch to be executed in England.

Of himself Webster observes: “I owe little to the advantages of those things called the goods of fortune, but most (next under the goodness of God) to industry: however, I am a free born Englishman, a citizen of the world and a seeker of knowledge, and am willing to teach what I know, and learn what I know not.”

Some questions

Before George Fox and the Quakers and before the Civil Wars, this area of Lancashire and Yorkshire was already home to some heterodox teaching and ideas: before 1640 these could only find expression verbally – after the removal of censorship, they could be expressed in print.

What were the roots of these ideas? Who were the leading thinkers and where were they based? And how much influence did they have on those who came after them, who names are better known, like George Fox?

The congregation of Grindleton and their minister, Roger Brereley, were one of the main influences in this area and beyond: a good starting place to address some of these questions

Why study the seventeenth century?

What was it like to live through the apocalypse? What was it like to believe that you were witnessing the end of the world? And then to survive and discover the new world was not what you expected but was a restoration of the old? 1649 saw the execution of King Charles I, an unparalleled event in English history. But the period is not just marked by remarkable political upheaval but by religious conflict and scientific advances. No wonder that many saw this time as being the End Times foretold in the Bible: but the era also produced it’s own secular apocalyptic visions which were in some ways intensified following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.