The Grindletonians

Who were the Grindletonians and what did they believe?

The Grindletonians were one of the the many sects and movements which sprang to life during the mid-seventeenth century, thriving in the mix of new ideas which exploded around the English Civil Wars. Although the last Grindletonian died in the 1680’s, they may have influenced George Fox and the early Quakers and their teachings the politically radical Ranters.

Grindleton is still relatively isolated: in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century it was very much isolated from the main centres of power and influence. Even into the eighteenth century the congregation which lay within the parish of Mitton in Craven, exercised a degree of independence. In 1742 it was reported to the Vicar of Mitton that the people thought that they could choose their own minister (in this case the Vicar of Waddington). However Grindleton is also close to the main east-west road which formed the major route between Yorkshire and Lancashire through the Craven gap. Could it be that familist beliefs arrived here from Germany following the woollen trade routes?

Their main leader was Roger Brereley (1586 -1637), an Anglican clergyman who came to be curate of the chapel at Grindleton (then in the parish of Mitton) between 1615 to 1622. However it has been suggested that the congregation already held heterodox beliefs and that Brereley may have adopted some of those himself. John Wilson led the congregation at Kildwick which seems to have also been a centre of Gindletonian beliefs before Brereley moved there in 1617. It is notable that of all the sects and movements of this period (Quakers, Seekers, Ranters et al) Grindletonianism is the only one named after a place and not it’s leader (Muggletonianism)

Grindletonians believed in the primacy of the Holy Spirit, in directing their understanding of Holy Scripture. They were accused of antinomianism and controversially believed that it was possible to live without sin in this life. In fact to ask for forgiveness of sins, as in the liturgy of the Church of England, was itself considered by Grindletonians to be a sin.The study of the group is complicated by the fact that to label someone a Grindletonian was the equivalent of calling someone a communist in 1950s America: it was a convenient smear for theological opponents. In America Anne Hutchinson (1591 -1643) was described as a Grindletonian. Furthermore, Grindeltonians who were brought to trial saw no problem in recanting in recanting their views. In this and other ways, they resemble their predecessors, the familists of the sixteenth century, who would only discuss their doctrines with sympathizers; showed every respect for authority, and considered outward conformity a duty.

Grindletonians, unlike the more “successful” movements of the period saw no need to separate themselves from the Church of England. Grindletonianism seems to have spread rapidly but died out quickly. Often Grindletonians appear to have become Seekers, Quakers or Ranters. As well as Brereley, other notable Grindletonians included John Webster of Clitheroe, John Everard, Francis Howgill and John Camm. Their influence on other Civil War movements is one of my areas of interest: how much of an influence was Grindletonianism on, for example, Early Quakerism?


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