Kate Peters
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Ranter and Quaker stereotyping in the English Revolution
in Stereotypes and stereotyping in early modern England

As radical antinomian sects, Ranters and Quakers were subjected to vivid, often hostile stereotyping in print in the 1650s, frequently through shared stereotypes of apocalyptic license and libertarian disorder. Stereotyping has continued to feature in their historical treatment: Colin Davis famously argued that contemporaries and historians had been duped; that Ranters ‘did not exist’ beyond the moral panic about them generated in print. Simultaneously, and paradoxically, the Quakers are seen as a homogeneous group, identifiable precisely through their own, careful, deployment in print of their status as Quakers. This chapter draws on recent scholarship arguing for stereotyping as a ubiquitous and meaningful process of political mobilisation and debate. It reveals that different authors, including those stereotyped as Ranters, used the stereotype for a variety of polemical and ideological purposes ranging from discipline and persecution to inclusion, persuasion and debate. Quaker ministers for their part deployed several ‘coping strategies’ to discuss and contest their religious identity with opponents and followers. As agents of their own stereotyping, Ranter and Quaker authors engaged rhetorically to appropriate and subvert key stereotypes in ways that fortified their religious identities, and sustained long-established and ideological disputes with opponents and putative supporters.

In 1654, the fifth edition of Ephraim Pagitt’s Heresiography was updated to include entries for Ranters and Quakers, advertised on the title page as the latest heretics. Quakers, the author stated, were the ‘dregs of the common people’. Rejecting laws, magistrates and sacraments, ‘honouring no man’, and ‘confining salvation within the circle of their own giddy uncleen heads’, the Quakers’ avowal of perfection and liberty was, the author claimed, a cloak for ‘confusion and madness’, ‘resistance, not subjection’.1 The Ranter, also ‘an uncleane beast’, was ‘much of the make with our Quaker, of the same puddle … their infidelity, villanies, and debochements, are the same’.2 The conflation of Ranters and Quakers into a shared stereotype of dangerous antinomian fanatic with murky social origins was a common trope: hostile puritan contemporaries Richard Baxter, John Bunyan and Thomas Collier all agreed that they were two of a kind.3 This shared typology also endured for many years in historians’ treatment of radical religion in the English Revolution, which emphasised the collective failure of social and religious radicalism, as well as the shared eccentricity and unpopularity of radical sectaries in the 1650s. In this analysis, the mystical antinomianism and challenging social behaviour of Ranters, Quakers and other sectaries placed them beyond constitutional politics, provoking significant popular hostility and official repression, while sensationalising them in print vastly overstated their actual significance, creating a single ‘other’ against which contemporaries could react in horror.4

Yet there are also important distinctions in the stereotyping of Ranters and Quakers. Significant in this respect is the work of Colin Davis, who argued in 1986 that the Ranters scarcely existed beyond the potent stereotype of deviance and madness: their image as a coherent and dangerous sect was deliberately cultivated by a hostile press in order to intensify public fears about religious liberty of conscience, but beyond the salacious printed stories there was little evidence of a collective or coherent group of Ranters. For Davis, Ranters were the invention of a short-lived ‘moral panic’ in 1650–1 and their significance as subversive deviants, challenging social and religious hierarchy, had been further distorted by Marxist historians seeking evidence of a radical revolution. Davis argued the power of the Ranter ‘myth’ had misled contemporaries and historians alike, famously claiming there was ‘no Ranter movement, no Ranter sect, no Ranter theology’.5 In contrast, the longer-term evolution of the Quakers into an established denomination, and the survival of their institutional records, placed their existence, and the development of collective Quaker belief and practices, beyond doubt.6 Their careful self-fashioning in print from the early 1650s afforded clarity and coherence to the Quaker identity: indeed, it has been argued that the alacrity and vigour with which post-Restoration Quaker leaders publicly differentiated themselves from the antinomian enthusiasm of the Ranters served to exaggerate the Ranters’ coherence and added further potency to the Ranter myth.7 Thus, while Quakers mobilised successfully around their own stereotyping in order to assert their religious identity, Ranter stereotyping had been contrived by contemporaries as a heuristic device in order to mobilise against the perceived dangers of religious enthusiasm.

This paradoxical treatment of Ranter and Quaker typography, with both shared and antithetical functions, lends itself to further exploration in the context of a growing corpus of work that is beginning to explore the significance of radical print cultures, and through the lens of stereotyping as a distinct mode of mobilisation. In response to Colin Davis, historians and literary scholars focused largely on existential evidence for Ranters, emphasising the linguistic distinctiveness and polemical sophistication of Ranter writings, locating their beliefs within a broader, Continental mystical tradition, and noting the abundant circumstantial evidence that Ranters existed and moved within a networked community of like-minded people.8 It is now clear that there were indeed Ranters, although not necessarily in a coherent sectarian structure. But there has been relatively little probing of the process by which hostile stereotypes of the Ranters were produced, nor of their broader political or historical significance. A growing corpus of work on the transformative nature of print culture in the English Revolution has stressed its centrality to a new participatory politics, while the work of David Como, Nigel Smith and Laurent Curelly has argued for the integration of ‘radical’ print politics into our understanding of the political and cultural revolution of the mid-seventeenth century.9 Within this context, an exploration of stereotyping as a process in the construction of radical religious identities and the mobilisation of political responses offers a useful analytical framework. It allows us to explore the multiple representations of Ranters and Quakers, and the variety of ways in which these enabled political and religious mobilisation. Social psychology’s stress on stereotyping as part of a normal cognitive process of ordering and simplifying the world, particularly important heuristically in times of crisis in which complex or challenging information must be processed and understood, is an important insight in response to Colin Davis’s assertion that stereotypical projections of Ranters in print bore no relation to the existence of Ranters.10 A stereotype, as ‘an association of attributes with a certain group of people’, can be understood to be the ‘result of a normal and ubiquitous process’, as Mark Knights has put it. As such, we can study stereotypes as socially meaningful and historically significant, without assuming that the underlying signified has been invented.11 This chapter, building on the body of scholarship that has demonstrated the existence of Ranters, will therefore explore the complex processes by which Ranter and Quaker stereotypes were constructed, deployed, interpreted and contested. In so doing, it argues that stereotypes of both Ranters and Quakers constituted a meaningful and dynamic element of the cultural, political and religious landscape of the 1650s, beyond their more common depiction as marginal and alienating eccentrics. It focuses, first, on the wide range of audiences for whom Ranters (and their putative converts) were proposed as an ‘out-group’ and second, on the sophisticated strategies deployed by Quakers and commercial publishers seeking to define and control their collective identity. Finally, this chapter examines the distinct ‘antinomian’ episteme in which Ranter and Quaker audiences were urged in print and in public meetings to discern good from evil and truth from falsehood as a function of their spiritual inspiration. In so doing, I suggest that Ranters and Quakers proposed their own distinctive mechanisms for engaging with, and offering distinct interpretations of, abstract typologies of good and evil as part of a polemical debate between radical sects as they debated the nature of religious liberty. I argue that Ranters and Quakers alike were adept producers and navigators of their own stereotyping and that what is discussed in this volume as stigma consciousness was an integral feature of public debates about religious identity, truth and liberty of conscience.

The dynamics of Ranter stereotyping

The Ranters initially appeared in print as a literary sensation over the course of late 1649–50.12 An important context was the passing of the Blasphemy Act in August 1650, the legislative culmination of Parliamentary concerns over the publications and preaching of ‘Ranter’ authors Abiezer Coppe and Laurence Clarkson in the early spring of 1650. Another legal context was the Adultery Act of May 1650, which sought to suppress the ‘abominable’ sins of fornication, adultery and incest.13 Much of the anti-Ranter literature from October 1650 echoed the terminology and enforcement of this legislation, featuring reports of the breaking up of Ranter meetings by newly empowered magistrates. Journalists and publishers alike appeared to relish salacious reports of sexual and doctrinal misdemeanour, and of the wilful blaspheming, rowdy meetings and sexual license that featured in the examination and trials of Ranters. Davis’s analysis of the anti-Ranter sensation focused almost exclusively on tracts produced in the immediate aftermath of the passage of the legislation between October 1650 and January 1651, largely the product of what he termed the gutter or ‘yellow press’; and he identified a small handful of journalists, publishers or printers as key to the invention of the Ranter myth.14 In reality, as we will see, a wide variety of publications throughout the 1650s concerned themselves with accounts of the new ‘ranting’ phenomenon. The sheer variety of printed accounts of Ranters that appeared over the course of the decade offered a range of stereotypes, indicating that Ranters were interpreted differently for different audiences in order to fulfil diverse political and commercial ends. The diversity of the stereotyping, I argue, far from suggesting that the Ranters were invented, indicates that they constituted a significant presence within post-revolutionary religious politics, and were presented as such to a number of different audiences – and presumably discussed by them.15

Ranters made good copy. The short, quarto pamphlets of the type which featured Ranters were profitable: quick and cheap to produce, they provided a useful source of short-term income to publishers and printers.16 A number of publishing devices indicated the growing commercial importance of pamphlets to an increasingly sophisticated market in the years before the Civil Wars. Serial publications established a regular weekly market; pamphlet disputations locked readers into lengthy polemical exchanges; wondrous happenings and newsworthy events were reported as novelties for consumption. All of these commercial strategies were deployed on a vastly intensified scale in the political upheavals of the 1640s, to the extent that the nature of political engagement itself changed – domestic news, petitioning and rapid polemical exchanges all suggest an increasingly informed, mobilised and participatory readership that expanded exponentially over the course of the 1640s and 1650s. Central to this public politics was, as we shall see, stereotyping and various responses to it.

Many of the printed accounts of Ranters clustered around the moment of press ‘sensation’ in 1650–1 were clearly commercial publications. Many stressed the Ranters’ novelty and topicality, often in the context of reporting arrests carried out under the new legislation. A number of tracts promised ‘a discovery of the new Generation of Ranters’.17 The routing of the Ranters announced them as ‘a sort of people ... newly sprung among us, called Ranters alius Coppanites or Claxtonians’, stressing their novelty and also, in referencing Richard Coppin and Laurence Clarkson, locating them within a ‘Ranter’ print culture – another commercial strategy.18 Other pamphlets promised new or unique information. One complained that the many ‘sundry Papers’ on Ranters ‘have been onely beating about the Bush, and have not discovered the Bird in its own nature’.19 Another criticised a rival publication: ‘many things are totally omitted, and other things minced and come short of the truth’.20 The publication criticised, Ranters of both sexes, male and female, also denounced a competitor, ‘written with too much haste, I know not by whom, with but few truths, which in this are more largely expressed’.21

A number of these commercial tracts bore eye-catching woodcut illustrations on their title pages, another commercial move to attract customers.22 Some depicted salacious scenes of sex and drinking, others of rowdy Ranter meetings or their incarceration in prison, all compounding stereotypes of deviance, or of its restraint by the powers of the state.23 The accompanying texts promised further details of Ranter license, referring to their ‘dancing and revelling’ or ‘several kinds of musick, dances and ryotings’; and their alleged practice of ‘lying with any Woman Whatsoever’ – prurience presumably increasing their marketability, just as it attracted the attention of historians subsequently.24

Many of these tracts, as Davis and others noted, were produced by commercially prolific printers and publishers, underlining the broad market audiences at which lewd Ranter stories were directed. A handful were printed by the veteran printer-publisher Bernard Alsop, who had been in business for over forty years and was an experienced, indeed pioneering, producer of cheap print and news.25 Alsop’s output was polemically varied, balancing serious legal, religious and literary publications with news and other cheap, ephemeral tracts in ways that suggest his output was accessed by commercially broad audiences rather than one defined by religious or political ideologies. The publisher George Horton, similarly responsible for an ideologically eclectic output, and the printer ‘J. C.’, probably Jane Coe, both experienced producers of news, collaborated to publish a number of topical accounts of Ranters. The sheer variety of publications by figures such as Alsop, Horton and Coe makes it difficult to identify distinctive readerships for their commercial ‘Ranter’ publications, which must have weakened their capacity to construct Ranters as a meaningful ‘out-group’ in order to strengthen or motivate a particular ‘in-group’; the variety of stereotypes deployed, however, underlines the breadth and diversity of the audiences open to interpretations of the new ‘ranting’ phenomenon.

Where it is possible to identify a broadly coherent market readership associated with a particular publisher, it becomes clear that different interpretations of the Ranters reflected different political concerns. Thus, The smoke of the bottomlesse pit, written by John Holland and printed for John Wright in late 1650, presented a serious account of Ranter doctrines. Although little is known of Holland, John Wright was a substantial news and ballad publisher who produced over 400 extant titles during the 1640s and 1650s. He had been an official publisher to Parliament from 1642, as well as overseeing publications for the Council of the Army and London Common Council; he also published ballads and bestselling works of divinity.26 Over the course of the 1650s, Wright produced a range of predominantly Presbyterian-leaning tracts that highlighted the multiple threats of Independency, Socinianism, Quakerism and Arminianism; he also published key works by Anthony Ascham and Francis Rous, justifying Presbyterian allegiance to the new commonwealth.27 The smoke of the bottomlesse pit presented itself as a serious publication, promising ‘a more true and fuller discovery’ of the Ranters. The preface located its account of the Ranters within debates about religious toleration, emphasising that Ranters were best opposed through reasoned debate: spiritual enemies should not be battled with ‘carnal weapons’ but through argument, ‘by the spirit of Christs mouth’.28 Accordingly, the tract offered a considered account of Ranter principles in ways that stemmed from, and sought to encourage, polemical encounters with Ranters. A short account of Ranter principles on marriage offered no salacious details, but explained that Ranters rejected monogamy as a ‘fruit of the curse’ (of sin) from which they believed they were now free. Holland’s style suggested the desirability of ongoing public disputes with Ranters: ‘I did intend to ask them how we came to be freed from the curse, but I was prevented’.29

Other similarly definitional accounts of Ranters incorporated them into a well-established tradition of heresiography against which the true church had been founded and which, as Ann Hughes has argued, had been skilfully mobilised as a genre by the Presbyterian minister and polemicist Thomas Edwards in the 1640s.30 In this context, the novelty of Ranters, stressed by some of the more salacious news tracts, was superseded by a narrative of millenarian timelessness. ‘It hath beene the portion of Gods people, even in all ages, to be pestered with false prophets’, wrote Raunce Burthall in a tract published for an Aylesbury bookseller, Stephen Dagnall – itself indicative of locally specific markets for anti-Ranter polemic. Burthall argued that the ‘unreasonable practises’ of the Ranters needed only to be ‘named, and laid open to view’ in order for ‘reasonable men, to desert their wicked ways and societies’.31 In these heresiographical narratives, Ranters were compared with other sects ‘in former times, which came nearest in opinion and practise to them’, from Donatists and other early Christian schismatics to the Family of Love, as well as historically specific heretics such as William Hacket and John Trask.32 A number of these heresiographical works were produced by publishers with a known Presbyterian clientele. In 1651, the bookseller Michael Sparke published The narrative history of King James, which incorporated Ranters into a historical narrative of religious persecution.33 This work ‘revived’ the story of the 1611 burning of Bartholemew Legatt and Edward Wightman for heresy, drawing attention to the legal instruments, the ‘commissions and warrants’, that had been used against Legatt and Wightman, who held the same ‘old heresies’ as ‘our ranters’. The charges levelled against Wightman clearly resonated with those made against the Ranters. He had been accused of espousing ‘the wicked Heresies’ of early Christianity, ‘Anabaptists, and other Arch-Hereticks’,34 as well as blasphemies specifically associated with Ranters; Wightman had claimed he was the Holy Ghost, believed in the mortality of the soul and that there should be no sacraments.35 The parallels drawn by Sparke projected the Ranters as heretics and blasphemers, whose prosecution by the state was both necessary and legitimate; as Ian Atherton and David Como have shown, the burnings of Wightman and Legatt, at the order of James I and within machinery of the Church of England, had commanded widespread support in 1611.36 Michael Sparke, a substantial publisher and active member of the Stationers’ Company, worked with a group of publishers with well-established Presbyterian links; The narrative history of King James was thus a polemical nod towards the need for the punishment and restraint of dangerous blasphemous opinions.

Subsequent works published by Sparke suggest a more nuanced interpretation of the Ranters. In 1653, Sparke sold a work by the Jacobean separatist Henry Ainsworth, The old orthodox foundation of religion. The reprinting was in part a commercial gesture linked to political infighting within the Stationers’ Company: Michael Sparke’s son (now dead) had published its first incarnation, The orthodox foundation of religion, in 1641, and Sparke senior may have been asserting his rights to the title. But there was also a polemical edge, which incorporated Ranters into an agenda of broad religious cohesion. Sparke claimed he was republishing Ainsworth’s doctrines ‘for the profit or information of Presbyterians, Independents, Papists, Anabaptists, Arminians, Antinomians, Ranters, Quakers and Seekers’ – a doctrinally eclectic audience.37 In his address to the reader, Sparke hoped that Ainsworth’s work would facilitate both a ‘private search’ and a ‘publick Declaration’ to overthrow the heresies of the day.38 He lamented the delay in settling reformed religion ‘according to the word of God, and the example of the best reformed Churches’, and warned against the dangers of febrile religious disputes between men ‘of the same Religion’, an outcome that ‘the Jesuites and their Confederates have projected’.39 Ainsworth had been an irenic figure, reputed to have preserved discipline in his congregation against the religious discord of early separatism, and revisiting his doctrines may have seemed timely to Sparke who sought religious settlement in fractious times.40 The decision to address his work rhetorically to all, from Ranters and papists to Presbyterians, also suggests a different deployment of the Ranter stereotype, not as deviant ‘out-group’, but framed within a putative model of religious comprehension. The agreement of doctrines was implicitly the proper route for religious settlement and the overthrow of heresy. Ranters, Seekers, Quakers, and all ‘that desire to know Christ Jesus’, were invited to reconsider Ainsworth as ‘a pattern to a new reformation’.41

In similar vein, in 1653 Sparke also published a poem, A new proclamation, or a warning peece, which opened with a rhetorical address ‘to the Ranters who goe up and down teaching men and women to embrace ungodliness and worldly lusts’.42 The poem bemoaned at length the ruining of the national church, ‘by schismes broken, and by Sects undone! O how they swarme!’43 At the end it dismissed the Ranters specifically: ‘No God, no good, no sin, no hell, no blisse, O tremble heaven, and hell, and earth at this!’ Yet Ranters were posited as the recipients of this message, with power over their own reformation: ‘And tremble Ranters, tremble at your state,/And see your sin before it be too late’.44 In its rhetorical address to the Ranters, the author of A new proclamation implied a pervious wall between Ranters and ‘the world’, urging Ranters to come to their senses. This then was not presenting a binary account of Ranters as static out-group, but on the contrary positing an end to Ranting (as well as Quakers and Shakers). Ranters were thus assimilated into a polemic of religious orthodoxy; not as ‘deviant’ out-group, but to be persuaded into an irenic national church.

Other tracts that may have been intended for a more independent-minded audience suggested that the risk posed by the Ranters was their attractiveness to a gullible readership, and urged readers to be on their mettle. In the printer’s address to the reader in the anonymous tract, The Ranters creed, James Moxon warned of the plausibility of the ‘nonsensical Parables and Mysteries, which neither their Auditors or themselves understand’. Recalling the dangers of false prophets who ‘creep into houses, leading silly women captive’, Moxon called on his readers to ‘embrace the Apostles rule, Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God’. The pamphlet account that followed consisted of a series of apparently authentic transcripts of the examination of the followers of John Robbins, ‘a blasphemous sort of people, commonly called Ranters’, that Moxon ‘exposed’ to the view of the world, ‘that their stupidity being manifest, their folly may be avoided’.45 The transcribed examinations, which the tract claimed were taken before a Middlesex Justice called Thomas Hubbert on 24 May 1651 and presented without annotation or interpretation, effectively provided a narrative of the beliefs and practices of the ‘Company of Ranters’. Robbins had proclaimed himself the Almighty and was recognised and worshipped as God by his followers; he had taken a married woman, Joan Garment, as his wife and it was widely claimed she was now pregnant with the son of God. As they were brought into court, the company was described ‘clapping of their hands’, ‘skreeking’, and crying out ‘The glory of the Lord’. Joshua Garment, one of Robbins’s prophets and the husband of Joan, lay prostrate before Robbins ‘and the women cast themselves down at his sides’, Garment ‘clasping his arms about the god’s leggs’ and crying out ‘deliver us, deliver us’.46

Moxon’s tract presented many familiar aspects of Ranting behaviour that both conformed to, and confirmed, contemporary and subsequent stereotypes of Ranters. Robbins’s case was a real one, heard before the Middlesex bench and by the Committee for Examinations, and discussed in Parliament; the details of the trial and the pamphlet were shaped significantly by the terms of the Blasphemy and Adultery Acts. The case was widely publicised and discussed in print, and Moxon’s transcripts appear to be authentic: this was a specific description of an actual prosecution. But Moxon’s prefatory address in The Ranters creed presented a more abstract, and thus stereotypical, picture of Ranter followers as delusional and ultimately destabilising, the victims of a ‘madness’ that could infect others and should (by implication) be resisted.47 In this analysis, it was not so much the Ranter Robbins as his followers and disciples that were characterised as a problematic ‘out-group’ for the benefit of Moxon’s audience.

James Moxon’s previous work as a printer and engraver suggests that much of his professional experience placed him in touch with publishers of radical works such as William Larnar, Giles Calvert and Henry Overton; he had printed books out of Rotterdam in the early 1640s and had printed army and Leveller material in 1647–8.48 In addition to a clientele for his work as an engraver and producer of maps, many of Moxon’s commercial contacts had links with radical markets, perhaps among army regiments and officers still on active campaign against the Scots and the royalist forces of Charles Stuart in the summer of 1651. In July 1651, Moxon also printed a serious account of a dispute held in Banbury between Richard Coppin, known at the time as a Ranter author and ringleader, and the minister and parishioners of Bampton, Oxfordshire; while not naming them as Ranters, the tract denounced a ‘generation of men’ who ‘make it their business to resist the truth’ and to worship the ‘Great Idol’ of ‘sensual liberty’.49 The political thrust of The Ranters creed highlighted the dangers posed by ‘Ranter’ false prophets to gullible audiences.

The range of stereotypes relating to the Ranters suggests not that they were caricatured as a marginal or deviant out-group to produce a unified reaction which would reject religious radicalism, but rather that they were a feature of broad-based discussion about the nature of religious settlement and the growing complexity of religious identities in the course of the 1650s. Printed accounts of Ranters stereotyped not just Ranters but also their putative followers, positing a range of political responses from prosecution to toleration, avoidance or rebuttal. Although Ranters featured as an ‘out-group’ in these accounts, this was a fluid identity, with a clear expectation of dialogue and persuasion, constructed in the context of ongoing public debates about the structure and discipline of a national church and the need to complete a thorough reformation.

Strategies of Quaker stereotyping

Quakers, who came to public attention a year or so after the Ranters, were depicted in strikingly similar ways to the latter, often in tracts produced by the same printers or publishers. Notably, one such tract, The Quakers dream (1655), reproduced on its title page the same woodcut illustration that had been used earlier in The Ranters declaration (1650). The images depicted open-air preaching and meetings featuring dancing, pipe smoking and sexually licentious behaviour, but the annotations and banners were altered to describe Quaker rather than Ranter practice (see Figures 5.1 and 5.2).

Beyond Nicholas McDowell’s careful study of the polemical strategy in the Ranter author Abiezer Coppe’s subversion of the ‘mechanic preacher’ stereotype, little evidence exists of Ranters collectively mobilising around, or contesting, some of the key typologies with which they were associated.50 But there is abundant evidence allowing us to trace the ways in which Quakers appropriated and exploited the hostile stereotypes by which they were derided and, in particular, manipulated their own nickname to construct an equally hostile attack on their detractors. In this way, Quaker authors collectively adapted and exploited their stereotyping in order to present their opponents as an out-group defined by persecutory inclinations and by inability to discern the divine spirit by which Quakers, the ‘in-group’, were inspired. Drawing on Yamamoto’s and Lake’s suggestions, we can therefore begin to explore Quakers’ collective coping strategies as they sought to control their own stereotyping as part of the mobilisation of their audiences in debates that, like those relating to Ranters, concerned religious liberty of conscience and the settlement of religion.

Quakers were unprecedentedly effective in marshalling their own printed pamphlets to consolidate a coherent collective identity and to challenge many of the religious and political opinions of their contemporaries. Like their puritan forebears, Quakers deployed print as part of a polemical process through which they established their identity, differentiating themselves from other radical sectarian groups and challenging ministers and magistrates to acknowledge their rights to worship within the broadly tolerant religious framework of the commonwealth and Protectorate.51 One of the most striking ways they did this was by redefining the negative image imposed upon them, that is, by appropriating and exploiting the ‘Quaker’ nickname. In his autobiographical Journal, George Fox claimed retrospectively that the term ‘Quaker’ had been coined by a Derby magistrate, Gervase Bennett, in October 1650, when Fox was tried for blasphemy (the proximity of this to the timing of the ‘Ranter’ sensation is telling). In a letter clearly written some years after the trial, Fox accused Justice Bennett of having begotten ‘Reprochers scoffers and mockers through Every towne in the nation’; for ‘thou was the first man that gave the children of god that name of quakers, and soe it was spread over the nation’.52 Fox’s claim was not strictly accurate, however, as references to Quakers pre-date this. Charles I’s secretary of state, Sir Edward Nicholas, reported the ecstatic prophesying of a sect of women ‘called Quakers’ in Southwark in November 1647, in a letter detailing the Putney debates and agitation for religious liberty.53 Quakers had also been referred to in print from 1647. The reliability of female prophesying by ‘Quakers and Shakers’ was discussed in an address to the army in late 1647, while in a 1648 pamphlet the naval officer Sir William Batten lamented the flourishing of ‘Quakers’ and other sects. In late 1649 the Fifth Monarchist John Spittlehouse had dismissed ‘Quakers’ as an insignificant group of Seekers.54 In a printed account of a conference held in Warwickshire in August 1650, the minister Thomas Hall complained (with some legitimacy) of the many new sects, including ‘Ranters, Seekers, Shakers, Quakers and now Creepers’ that infected his region.55 ‘Quakers’ had been discussed in print and in private intelligence as a dangerous sect from 1647: Fox’s slightly disingenuous attempt to single out the significance of Bennet’s intervention in October 1650 stemmed from the Quakers’ project of appropriating their own stereotype as part of their own mobilisation.

The term ‘Quaker’ was appropriated by Quaker authors at a very early stage of their own pamphleteering. One of Fox’s earliest extant broadsides, An exhortation to you who contemne the power of God (1652), included a lengthy discussion of ‘Trembling and Quaking’ as indicators of divine presence, citing key biblical passages in which Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles had trembled in the presence of God. This scriptural justification of quaking was repeated in a number of subsequent publications: ‘Moses quaked, David quaked, Jeremiah shaked ... and the rest of the holy men of God ... quaked and trembled as they who witness quaking now’.56 Extended textual engagement with the allegorical significance of ‘quaking’ allowed Quaker authors to associate themselves with a range of abstracted ideological and polemical positions, as part of their own in-group identity formation. Quaking, they argued from Scripture, happened in those ‘to whom the power of the Lord was made manifest’, and thus signalled the immediacy and transcendence of the Quakers’ spiritual experience as witnesses of God.57 ‘Search the Scriptures,’ James Nayler instructed his readers, ‘and you shall finde that the holy men of God do witness quaking and trembling, and roaring and weeping’.58 Quaker authors maintained that the nickname had been coined by hostile detractors, who either did not, or could not, recognise the true significance of quaking, and who thus – even unwittingly – persecuted the heralds of the true church. Thus the failure of their opponents to discern or recognise the divine authenticity of quaking was presented as a counter-stereotype, indicative of their opponents’ reprobation.59 ‘The world’, Nayler declared, ‘knows not the saints conditions’.60 Denouncing those ‘that scorne trembling and quaking’, George Fox warned ‘you are in the steps of your forefathers who persecuted the Apostles’.61 Another Quaker, George Baiteman, refuted the accusation that quaking was ‘counterfeit, or comes from the power of the Devill’ by observing that his opponent could not have experienced ‘the powring out of the Justice of God upon his soule … as hath made all his bones to quake’, and, in a counter-stereotype, derided his ignorance as hypocrisy: ‘I marvaile that such a one as he, who cryeth up the Scripture so high ... should be so unacquainted with Gods dealing with some of his people in former time … [I]f he had lived in those dayes, he would have called Moses a Quaker, and that his trembling proceeded from the Devill.’62

Arguments such as these enabled a tactical redefinition of the Quaker stereotype. Persecution of quaking was presented as an allegory of biblical persecutions, confirming (for Quaker polemicists) the immanence of God’s presence through time and the ongoing apocalyptic battle between the true and false church; as George Fox put it, ‘now yee are the scoffers that are come in the last times whom they spoke of’.63 By asserting the authority of Scriptural references to quaking, and implying their opponents’ own understanding of biblical passages was flawed, Quaker authors countered accusations that Quakers denied the bible and were unlearned; and cast doubt on the biblical knowledge of their learned opponents. Ranter author Abiezer Coppe did the same thing.64 ‘[S]ome scoffes at the power [of quaking] and call it of the Divell, and some persecute’, wrote Fox, ‘doe not you heere fulfill the Scripture and Christs sayings, who sayth if they kill you they thinke they doe good service, and yet you make a profession of Christs words, the Prophets and Apostles words, and calls yourselves Churches and ministers of the Gospell.’65

Contention over the spiritual authenticity of quaking was used to highlight the conflicting hermeneutics that distinguished the spiritual knowledge of Quakers from the ‘worldly’ learning of their opponents: quaking was abstracted as a uniquely spiritual experience that was incomprehensible to non-Quakers. James Nayler made a distinction between quaking, of which he said ‘we owne it as that which the Lord hath said shall come upon all flesh’, and other more salacious activities they were accused of by their detractors: ‘grovelling upon the ground and foaming at the mouth’ were ‘slanders and lyes’, ‘inventions’ of the puritan authors who wrote against the Quakers.66 Critics of the Quakers were tellingly outraged that they made such a play on the significance of the nickname, arguing indignantly that the Quakers’ claim that the moniker had been ‘thrust upon them’ was itself disingenuous: ‘I could bring many instances ... to shew how they would make men believe they are greatly wronged when they are distinguished from other men by this term’, complained Jeremiah Ives, a Baptist and former Leveller engaged in a protracted dispute with Quakers in 1656. For Ives, their exploitation of the nickname was a ‘deceit’; ‘they say Ishmael’s Brood and the world calls them so, and yet they take paines to prove themselves so ... they are Lyers, in saying that they are Nick-named Quakers, when themselves say they witness quaking’.67 Pagitt, more succinctly, observed, ‘they owne the title of Quakers’, ‘a name imposed by themselves’.68

The appropriation and elaboration of the Quaker nickname translated, in print, to a literal stereotype – the word ‘Quaker’ – that served materially to advertise Quaker books to a commercial audience. Quaker authors initially used the word ‘Quaker’ paratextually, to signify both the prophetic status of the author and the unlawful persecution such status entailed. An early exponent was Richard Farnworth, one of the most prolific early Quaker pamphleteers, who styled an early tract as ‘written by one whom the people of the world call Quaker, by name Richard Farnworth’; another promised the ‘vindication of those whom the world calleth Quakers’.69 This paratextual device first appeared in a series of five ‘litle books’ by Farnworth, printed in London in late 1652 or early 1653 as one of the earliest printing ventures. These may not have circulated in London: mainly octavo or duodecimo, they were distributed directly to sympathetic households in the north of England and were not acquired by the London bookseller George Thomason.70 In these tracts, little visual emphasis was given to the word ‘Quaker’ (see Figure 5.3).

As shown in Chapter 4 by Lake and Yamamoto in this volume, under Elizabeth and James London commercial theatres helped to propagate stereotypes about puritans and projectors. Something similar happened in the world of print for the Quaker nickname. Indeed, it was contact with commercially savvy booksellers in London that appears to have led to the visual emphasis of the word ‘Quaker’ on title pages. Tracts published after February 1653 for the highly experienced radical London bookseller, Giles Calvert, emphasised the word Quaker on the title page of pamphlets: the type was much larger and the word increasingly dominated the title page, presumably a marketing device advertising Quaker books to a broad audience in Calvert’s well-known radical bookshop, and beyond. Books that were among the first to be circulated in London, from the spring of 1653, drew attention to their Quaker status, the earliest being Saul’s errand to Damascus, acquired by Thomason on 12 March 1653 (see Figure 5.4).71 Interestingly, the ‘litle books’ by Farnworth may have been less commercial, and they appear to have sold sluggishly: in 1654 the Quaker Thomas Aldam sent a consignment of them to George Fox to ‘be spread abroad in the contry’ by Quaker preachers, and explained that he still had plenty in storage in York, while of the larger more recent ones ‘there is fewe to be had; but I have sent for more to London’.72

In addition, the Quaker epithet was used commercially to advertise anti-Quaker tracts to commercial markets, and thus to mobilise audiences around Quakers as an out-group. One such was John Gilpin’s The Quakers shaken, which told of the author’s brief brush with, and rejection of, Quakers in Kendal in 1653: its ostensible aim was to describe Gilpin’s experiences ‘so others may heare, and feare, and take warning by my example’.73 Gilpin’s tract thus provided an entertaining pastiche of Quaker belief and practice, emphasising key stereotypes: their denial of ministerial teaching and ordination, refutation of ‘carnall’ learning, and rejection of ‘outward’ family obligations in favour of their co-religionists. Gilpin’s own experience of quaking was also explained as an ‘imposture’, the author concluding ultimately that his shaking and trembling had been inspired by a diabolical rather than a divine power. The whole account was presented in a tract which emphasised the word ‘Quakers’ on its title page.74 A more erudite, heresiographical critique, The perfect pharisee under monkish holiness, presented a list of sixteen Quaker doctrines or ‘positions’, a list of their principles (not to salute anyone, not to give outward tokens of reverence to magistrates, parents or masters), and finally a consideration of their ‘practices’, including ‘Quaking’ and ‘Rayling’ (the evidence for which was borrowed from Gilpin’s book). This work, too, emphasised the word ‘Quakers’ on its title page (see Figure 5.5).75

Both The Quakers shaken and The perfect pharisee used the Quaker moniker in large printed letters to identify Quakers as a deviant out-group and strongly suggest an implicitly polemic, anti-Quaker, market readership (although of course Quaker authors read, commented on and responded to both books). Both books were published simultaneously in London and in Gateshead, in Gateshead to be sold by William London, bookseller in Newcastle, and printed by Simon Buckley, who had been printer for the king in York during the 1640s.76 As with Giles Calvert’s typographical elaboration of the term Quaker, this appears to have been a commercially driven attempt to reach a presumptively anti-Quaker market, defined by its polemic dislike of, or curiosity about, Quakers. As with Ranters, then, there is evidence that commercially driven publishers and booksellers honed and exploited a Quaker stereotype in anticipation of an existing, non-Quaker, market readership for whom Quakers were projected as an out-group. Then, as now, collective negotiations and contestation over stereotypes took place in a dynamic environment that underlines the complex relationship between printed polemic, public debate and commercial calculation within the intricate politics of group identities.

As we have seen, much of the material published against Quakers in the 1650s shared similarities with printed attacks on the Ranters. Spurious, salacious accounts focused on their sexual depravity and blasphemy, and sought to titillate audiences; more serious heresiographical accounts attempted to catalogue, contextualise and interpret their principles and beliefs. Some of these printed attacks shared the same publishers and printers, and woodcuts, as earlier anti-Ranter works. George Horton, who had published a number of scurrilous works against the Ranters, published ‘a new relation and further discovery’ of the Quakers’ ‘trances, shakings, raptures, visions, apparitio[n]s, conflicts with Satan, revelations, illuminations, instructions in new divine mysteries, and seraphical divinity’; another related ‘their several opinions and tenets, holding a community with all mens wives, either sleeping or waking; their strange doctrine, raptures, and inspirations’ and further extrapolated the ‘several sorts of Quakers; as Catharists, Familists, Enthusiasts, Mentatists, Valencians, & Libertins’.77

Quakers clearly made a conscious effort to contest the stereotyping in their own printed works. In 1655, Thomas Aldam, one of the earliest architects of Quaker use of print, confronted the journalist Henry Walker, the publisher George Horton and the printer Robert Wood about ‘slanders and false reports’ in their newsbook The faithful scout in 1655. In his printed account of the encounter with Walker, Horton and Wood, Aldam complained about the allegations, a specific one alleging an adulterous relationship between two leading Quakers, George Fox and Margaret Fell, and others more generic: that Quakers wore and exchanged ribbons, were secret papists and associated with witches.78 The significance of wearing and exchanging ribbons was ambiguous and multifaceted, conflating a range of stereotypes that ultimately facilitated different polemical responses. Wearing ribbons was a sign of allegiance or association – Levellers and army regiments identified themselves with coloured ribbons; but the exchange of ribbons as favours could also suggest a sexual relationship, as that alleged between George Fox and Margaret Fell, or superstitious or idolatrous behaviour. Quaker authors criticised clergy wearing ‘ribbons and cuffes and gaudy attire’ as emblematic of their worldly greed and dedication to hierarchy, a sign that ‘they are heady and high-minded men, for poore people bow to them in the streets, and call them Masters’.79 An instance of early Quaker enthusiasm in Malton, Yorkshire, in July 1652, when Quaker shopkeepers burned lace and ribbons in a denunciation of worldly goods, had been discussed in print in 1653.80 Some of the printed attacks on Quakers focused on the egalitarianism and enthusiasm implied by this incident: George Horton’s tract, The Quakers terrible vision; or the devils progress to the City of London recounted the ‘burning of their fine cloaths, points, and ribbons’ by the Malton Quakers, who declared themselves ‘abased by pride’. The significance of the ribbons was extended to include idolatory and demonology: ‘compare these fellows burning of their ribbonds and silk, with Moses burning the molten Calf, Hezekiah breaking the brazen Serpent, and the burning of the Ephesian conjuring books in the Acts’.81 The story then became generic. The title page of The Quakers fiery beacon (also published by George Horton) described the Quakers’ use of ‘inchanted potions, ribbons and bracelets’. The clergyman Donald Lupton’s The quacking mountebancke alleged that ‘they use Charmes, Spells and Incantations, by tying of Ribbons Laces Knots, and by giving some slight present’ such that the recipient acted as though ‘possessed and Frantick’, abandoning clothing, families and estates. And William Prynne employed the reports of ribbons to argue that Quakers were Jesuits, who ‘use inchanted Potions, Braclets, Ribons, Sorcery and witchcraft, to intoxicate their novices and draw them to their party’.82 Other puritan commentators argued that the Quaker rejection of ribbons and other worldly goods was hypocritical, likened to ‘a few outward observances, of casting off ribbons, not putting off the hat … etc. … whilest in the mean time they speak nothing of a work of regeneration and renovation in the heart’.83 Richard Baxter argued that this was tokenism: ‘Do you think that the salvation of the world doth lie upon this Doctrine? They come to preach down ribbons, and lace, and points, and cuffs: O glorious and excellent Doctrine, for children to make sport with!’84

Thus various and conflicting stereotypes could be, and were, invoked by their critics in response to the Quakers’ public rejection of ribbons as they characterised them negatively for implicitly different audiences. In other publications Quaker authors and their opponents engaged polemically with these broader religious and social arguments. Yet Thomas Aldam’s direct response to the journalists and their publishers is significant because it sought to refute the truth of the allegations on the basis of the scant evidence gathered by Walker, Horton and Wood. The strategy was rhetorically effective in inferring the empirical weakness of generic assertions made against Quakers. Aldam demanded evidence for the exchange of ribbons between Fell and Fox, as well as about another story of a ‘gentlewoman’ who allegedly wore ribbons and obliged her maid and husband to do the same: ‘what is the name of this Gentlewoman, and the maid, and the name of her husband, the Country they dwell in, and what towne they dwell in, and the place where these things was done, and who saw it, and where they dwell?’ Similarly, Walker was pressed for proof of the Quaker association with witches: ‘mentione the names of those witches, ... that witch-craft may be found out, ... for witch-craft we deny’. George Horton and his printer Robert Wood were denounced in Aldam’s tract for an over-reliance on third-party evidence when reporting a Quaker who ‘went naked’ in Smithfield. ‘I said, Didst thou see it? He said no, but a lad told him ... that one went naked into Smith-field amongst the hay carts… To this many can witness against thee, that there was no hay carts there, for it was about 9 of the Clock at night.’85

As Mark Knights’s discussion of stereotyping has shown, and as the example of the ribbons has demonstrated, generic or abstract language is effective in defining negative attributes of an out-group (as well as positive attributes of an in-group) because abstract descriptions are more static and enduring, and therefore more flexible, in shaping a stereotype.86 In narrowing down the journalistic accusations of Walker and Horton to one-off events and casting doubt on their veracity, Aldam attempted to refute generic labels of diabolism, popery and fanaticism that would inform negative stereotypes of Quakers, by reducing them to deniable instances. At the same time, behind the circulation of printed stories, Quaker ministers worked hard to suppress actual stories of impropriety; and were privately concerned to control the behaviour of women preachers and deny stories that might ‘be tattled’ abroad. Thus James Nayler, publicly reputed to have abandoned his wife, reported in a letter that her visit to him in prison had been ‘verie servisable’ because it ‘stopped many mouths’. Printed stories of Christopher Atkinson’s actual adultery, the cause of some anguish in Quaker circles, were likewise subject to a skilful non-denial in print (also by Nayler): ‘if ye know more, why doe you not speake the truth, but slander in secret?’87 Some coping strategies sought privately to refute or contest damaging stories in order to discredit them among Quaker audiences and hence to fortify vulnerable members of the Quaker in-group. In 1653, the Quaker preacher Thomas Lawson was obliged to circulate a manuscript paper to deny the ‘filthy things’ he was alleged in print to have committed with an outspoken young Quaker woman. Lawson professed himself concerned that ‘the outward minde … looked forth at the reports of the world’, and ‘tatled them abroade, without any ground, but onely by heresay’.88 Such coping strategies by Quaker authors were thus based on stigma consciousness – acute awareness of the dangers of being stereotyped – and with a range of responses that were sensitive to the proclivities of different audiences.89 Tellingly, the Quakers’ coping strategies focused purposely on the commercial context in which these hostile stereotypes were produced and disseminated. In identifying the journalists, printers and publishers responsible for the propagation of key negative stories, Thomas Aldam had clearly understood the commercial origins and interests at play in the stereotyping process and worked with it.

Sensitivity to the commercial dimensions of stereotyping is also evident in the intricate distribution strategies of key works which contested the hostile stereotyping of Quakers. In July 1660, the cartographer Richard Blome published The fanatick history, a hostile account of Quakers which appeared against a backdrop of openly violent assaults on Quakers and their meetings following the restoration of Charles II. The fanatick history incorporated a number of stereotypes of Quakers, implying they shared a heretical tradition with German Anabaptists, noting their ‘blasphemous opinions’, fanatic behaviour and hostility to all civil government. In doing so, Blome drew from a number of publications from the 1650s to characterise the Quakers’ fanaticism, including John Gilpin’s narrative and a long catalogue of Quakers ‘going naked’.90 The Quaker leader George Fox was quick to alert his co-religionists to it, and within a week a sixteen-page reply had been written and printed. The authors, Richard Hubberthorn and James Nayler, denounced Blome’s work as a ‘Packet of Old Lies’: ‘false accusations formerly written against us, which have been disproved by answers several times over’.91 In working through Blome’s accusations, Hubberthorn referred the reader to a number of Quaker pamphlets published since 1653 that had already combated negative stories about the Quakers. Other instances of fanatic or deviant behaviour were flatly denied, such as a preacher’s ecstatic trembling at a meeting in Durham in 1654: ‘there was no such thing, as many can witness, who was present at the Meeting’; or disowned: Mary Todd who reputedly attended a Quaker meeting ‘pulling up her coats’ and ‘using base expressions’ was rejected: ‘she neither was nor is a Quaker but a Ranter, who came thither to oppose the Quakers’.92 While the range of coping strategies was familiar, however, the dissemination of the Quaker response is informative. The Fanatick history was, novelly, advertised in a newsbook, and Richard Hubberthorn’s response was also unusually widely disseminated, perhaps in an attempt to reach a similarly broad audience. Copies were ‘given abroad in Whitehall’; others ‘sould in divers shopps’, and others were hawked: ‘women cryes them about the streets: soe that the truth is over it’.93 This is a rare instance of the use of hawkers and booksellers to disseminate a Quaker book, which were usually distributed discriminately by Quaker preachers and trusted booksellers. Hubberthorn’s work had been printed for the bookseller Giles Calvert, whose shop was well established as a radical meeting place in London; the use of hawkers and ‘divers shops’ suggests a more eclectic market envisaged by Calvert and the Quakers for Hubberthorn’s work. A widely advertised and defamatory work was thus responded to in kind, its dissemination shaped by knowledge of the target readership.

Locating the production and distribution of stereotyping literature within the commercial world of print helps our understanding of its role in the mobilisation of what Jason Peacey has recently called ‘public politics’. As Ethan Shagan showed in relation to polemical accounts of the Irish rebellion in 1641, commercial booksellers assumed a market readership that was already polarised in the mounting tensions that would lead to Civil War.94 In our growing understanding of the commercial dynamics of the market for print, it is clear that booksellers and publishers produced works and mobilised stereotypes likely to appeal to, and to reinforce, pre-established religious or political positions within markets. Printed denunciations or defences of Quakers, Ranters and their putative supporters categorised them using familiar, well-worn stereotypes that would appeal to a variety of political and religious views. The associated marketing strategies reviewed here underline both the diversity, and the prevalence, of public discussion of the radical religious sects.

Contesting stereotypes and discerning truth

As we have seen, then, Quakers acted collectively, and in concert with commercial publishers, to mobilise and control the stereotypes by which they were depicted in print. This involved contesting – sometimes disingenuously – the veracity of generic printed caricatures and stories about them, as well as counter-stereotyping their critics as ‘false prophets’ who were unable or unwilling to recognise the spiritual authenticity of the Quakers. These contestations and counter-accusations were not confined to printed polemical exchanges, but occurred also in public meetings between Ranter and Quaker leaders, in which the two sides argued about their respective status as true or false prophets and urged audiences to follow the light in their conscience in order to discern truth.95 Through the 1650s, Quaker and Ranter leaders expected, and sought, public debate with each other; indeed, the degree to which Quakers appear to have routinely organised formal meetings with Ranter leaders is significant evidence that Ranters did exist and were active participants in the local religious debates. The power of Ranters over audiences in these meetings was a source of significant anxiety for Quaker leaders, as they competed directly to win over new followers. Accounts of public disputations between Quakers and Ranters are revealing of the ways in which the discernment of truth or falsehood, and thus of the spiritual authenticity of their audiences, was actively discussed in public meetings. These debates add an important dimension to our understanding of both the epistemological significance of stereotypes for radical sectaries, and of their mobilisation in contesting them.

Quaker leaders were well aware of the Ranters’ formidable rhetorical skills. In late 1654 the Quaker William Dewsbury travelled to Leicestershire, anticipating a public dispute with local Ranters: when the meeting was delayed, he boasted in a letter that this was due to the Ranters’ ‘fearfullnes’ of the Quakers. When the encounter eventually took place, Dewsbury described triumphantly how he had managed to reveal truth and silence his Ranter opponents, who included the author Jacob Bauthumley, ‘the highest of them’. ‘[W]hen the truth was spoken to their conscience’, Dewsbury explained, and ‘their decaitts was layd open … the power of the lord stayed their mouths [and] they had no power to resist’, but left the meeting ‘in shame and contempt’. For Dewsbury, the primary beneficiaries of this exchange were the audience: ‘Frinds were much strengthened who had been bewitched’.96 In other instances, however, Quakers were defeated by the power of Ranter rhetoric. The Quaker Henry Fell, disputing in Barbados against Joseph Salmon, a former ‘ring leader of the Ranters’, was stung by Salmon’s deviousness, complaining he ‘seems to deny Ranting outwardly’, but that this was a ploy to ‘deceive the hearts of the simple’. Those formerly sympathetic to the Quakers had been particularly vulnerable to Salmon’s words: ‘truly many are deceived by him who formerly have had a profession … but are now drawne after this painted beast & gotten into his Image’. Salmon’s skills were formidable: ‘he hath gotten the forme of truth in words, the most that ever I heard’, but ‘soe blind and bewitched are they by him, that they nether can, nor will see him: truly he is a great enemy to ye truth’.97

Quakers and Ranters shared an antinomian cognitive landscape that prioritised immediate divine revelation and rejected formal learning: both worked within what McDowell has termed a ‘purely inspired epistemology’.98 This enabled both Ranter and Quaker authors to characterise the worldly learning of their educated opponents as ‘carnal’ in juxtaposition to their own immediate, prophetic revelation. However, in dispute with one another it became necessary to invoke language of a more immediate, apocalyptic struggle: Fell’s depiction of Salmon as a ‘painted beast’, and of his followers as bewitched, identified Salmon’s, and his audience’s, inspiration as diabolical rather than divine. At stake in these meetings of course was not the contestation of the veracity of printed stereotypes but a more urgent and fundamental concern with the abilities of Quakers or Ranters to discern divine truth within the others’ utterances, and thus to judge prophetic authenticity. Nevertheless, the epistemological implications of this debate are important for our assessment of the significance of stereotyping, since the discernment of truth was of existential significance to the Quakers’ spirituality and their understanding of universal grace. Quakers were clear, in their printed attacks on Ranters, that the Ranters’ wilful embracing of ‘carnal’ sin had led to apostasy and the loss of discernment. ‘Once you were enlightened with the pure light, … and the judgement within you, to have freed you from sin … had you … stood in the counsel of God …’, wrote Farnworth of the Ranters, but lamented instead their turn to ‘fleshly joy, fleshly liberty, and fleshly pleasures’.99 George Fox addressed Ranters in similar terms: ‘you had a pure convincement, I witnesse’, but this had been transformed by the Ranters into ‘wantonnesse’, through wilful acts of drunkenness, ‘cursed speaking’, ‘following oaths’ and ‘swearing’.100 John Chandler, self-defined as a former Ranter turned Quaker, lamented those Ranters who previously had been ‘conscious of thinking, speaking, or doing, vainly, idly, or unjustly’, but who were now literally insensible to their own wrongdoing. He focused on the ephemerality, and potential for change, in their abandonment of conscience. In departing from truth, they had fallen into error ‘which they could not see at the present’ [my emphasis], and were ‘unsensible thereof, by reason of their wandring minds and hearts, which brought a Vail over the Understanding, or stupified the Conscience’. For Chandler, conscience (or inner light) potentially enabled all people to recognise and denounce sin: ‘Christ … sheweth a truth to every man, which is, that he hath transgressed his Law or Light, by dark motions, words, and actions’. For Chandler, sin was not ‘a fiction or fained thing in any man whatsoever, because sin is known by a Law, which Law is Light, which Light is in every man’.101

Within accounts such as these, Quakers argued for a significant spiritual difference between themselves and Ranters, which centred on the ability to discern truth from falsehood. This has a number of implications for our understanding of Quaker and Ranter stereotyping. First, it enabled Quaker authors to dismiss Ranters as ‘worldly’, carnal and unable to recognise the true prophecy of Quakers, in ways that directly recall Quaker and Ranter authors’ dismissal of the ‘worldly’ learning of their orthodox puritan opponents. It thus enabled the Quakers, rhetorically, to reposition Ranters with the stereotypical puritan, largely predestinarian, out-group who were driven by worldly, not spiritual, guidance. Second, the anxieties of Dewsbury and Fell about their audiences’ vulnerability to Ranter deceit reveal that discernment of truth and falsehood was actively and experientially discussed and contested in their preaching and public meetings. It is clear from the accounts of both Dewsbury and Fell that they sought to empower their audiences to discern and judge truth and contest falsehood and misinterpretation, and this has obvious implications for the ability of audiences to question and contest the authenticity of stereotypes. Quaker leaders were thus concerned to equip audiences with the facility to contest stereotyping and other rhetorical devices as part of public debate and proselytisation. Finally, published addresses to Ranters by Quaker authors all offered the possibility of Ranter redemption, by rejecting sin and returning to the light: this was by no means a permanent, static out-group, but temporarily ‘unsensible’ and thus (in ways that recall works printed by Moxon and Sparke) open to persuasion and deliverance.

The stereotyping of Quakers and Ranters offers a fruitful understanding of the diversity, fluidity and dynamism of radical religious cultures in the English Revolution. Stereotypes of Ranters were deployed polemically in a number of ways by their contemporaries, suggesting a range of political responses to their presence, from discipline and persecution to inclusion, toleration and – importantly – persuasion and debate. In this analysis Ranters did not constitute a single or static out-group, nor the fictive subject of a moral panic, but were stereotypically situated pragmatically and ideologically by different authors, discussed for implicitly different audiences or readers. Quakers and Ranters themselves were also well aware of the linguistic power of stereotyping. As agents of their own stereotyping, Ranter and Quaker authors engaged rhetorically to appropriate and subvert key stereotypes in ways that fortified their own religious identities. They also sustained long-established, ideological disputes with their opponents and putative supporters. The carefully documented records of Quaker preaching, in particular, afford access to a range of coping strategies deployed by Quaker ministers as they discussed and contested their religious identity with opponents and followers alike. The evident commercial dynamic to the use and distribution of stereotypes is evidence of a broad but complex public appetite for religious contention, and public discussions of and opposition to the shifting meanings of radical religious identities. A focus on Quaker and Ranter stereotyping has also enabled a delineation of a distinct antinomian episteme; Quaker engagement with the meanings and interpretation of stereotypes was consistent with their belief in a universal, immanent, divine presence, and they used this rhetorically in dialogue with largely Calvinist Ranter and puritan opponents in order to propagate their status as true prophets. As such, an exploration of the stereotyping of Ranters and Quakers affords a more nuanced understanding of the conduct of religious debate in the 1650s, and of a participatory public politics in which radical voices were polymorphous, oppositional and subject to persuasion. Stereotypes were deployed in ways that sought not just to caricature or isolate Ranters or Quakers as marginal eccentrics, but also to provide a locus for ideological mobilisation, contestation and change.


1 Ephraim Pagitt, Heresiography, or a description of the heretickes and sectaries, 5th edn (London, 1654), p. 136. Pagitt died in 1647 and the fifth edition appeared posthumously.
2 Pagitt, Heresiography, p. 143.
3 Christopher Hill, The world turned upside down: radical ideas during the English Revolution (Harmondsworth, 1975), pp. 236–7.
4 Hill, World turned upside down; J. F. McGregor and Barry Reay (eds), Radical religion in the English Revolution (Oxford, 1984). For the argument that radicalism has been over-emphasised, see Conel Condren, ‘Will all the radicals please lie down, we can’t see the seventeenth century’, in Conal Condren, The language of politics in seventeenth-century England (Basingstoke, 1994); Ariel Hessayon and David Finnegan (eds), Varieties of seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century radicalism in context (Farnham, 2011); Glenn Burgess, ‘Radicalism and the English Revolution’, in Glenn Burgess and Matthew Festenstein (eds), English radicalism, 1550–1850 (Cambridge, 2007); see also my discussion: Kate Peters, ‘The Quakers and the politics of the army in the crisis of 1659’, Past & Present, 231 (2016), 98–102.
5 J. C. Davis, Fear, myth and history: the Ranters and the historians (Cambridge, 1986), p. 124; for discussion of Ranters as moral panic, see pp. 94–8. See also David Lemmings, ‘Introduction: law and order, moral panics, and early modern England’ in David Lemmings and Claire Walker (eds), Moral panics, the media and the law in early modern England (Basingstoke, 2009), pp. 1–17.
6 For the longevity of the Quakers, see most recently Richard C. Allen and Rosemary Moore, The Quakers, 1656–1723: the evolution of an alternative community (University Park, PA, 2018).
7 Kate Peters, Print culture and the early Quakers (Cambridge, 2005); J. F. McGregor et al., ‘Debate: fear, myth and furore: reappraising the “Ranters”’, Past & Present, 140 (1993), 155–94, at p. 161.
8 The critical response to Davis was vast. It is best summarised in two debates: J. C. Davis, ‘Fear, myth and furore: reappraising the “Ranters”’, Past & Present, 129 (1990), 79–103; J. F. McGregor et al., ‘Debate: fear, myth and furore’; and J. C. Davis, ‘Fear, myth and furore: reappraising the Ranters: reply’, Past & Present, 140 (1993), 194–210. For important, more recent, scholarly responses, see the introduction to Nigel Smith, A collection of Ranter writings: spiritual liberty and sexual freedom in the English Revolution (London, 2014); Ariel Hessayon, ‘The making of Abiezer Coppe’, The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 62 (2011), 38–58; Ariel Hessayon, ‘Abiezer Coppe and the Ranters’, in Laura Lunger Knoppers (ed.), The Oxford handbook of literature and the English Revolution (Oxford, 2012), 346–74; Ariel Hessayon, ‘The Ranters and their sources: the question of Jacob Boehme’s supposed influence’, Sciences et Techniques en Perspective, 2nd series, 16 (2014), 77–101; Nicholas McDowell, The English radical imagination: culture, religion, and revolution, 1630–1660 (Oxford, 2003); Nicholas McDowell, ‘A Ranter reconsidered: Abiezer Coppe and Civil War stereotypes’, The Seventeenth Century, 12 (1997), 173–205; R. C. Richardson, ‘“Babels of profaneness and community”: the Ranter sensation in Hampshire and Wiltshire, 1649–51’, Southern History, 36 (2014), 29–55.
9 Joad Raymond, Pamphlets and pamphleteering in early modern Britain (Cambridge, 2003); Jason Peacey, Print and public politics in the English Revolution (Cambridge, 2015); David Como, Radical parliamentarians and the English Civil War (Oxford, 2018); Nigel Smith and Laurent Curelly (eds), Radical voices, radical ways: articulating and disseminating radicalism in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Britain (Manchester, 2016): see the editors’ introduction.
10 Mark Knights, ‘Historical stereotypes and histories of stereotypes’, in Cristian Tileagă and Jovan Byford (eds), Psychology and history: interdisciplinary explorations (Cambridge, 2014), pp. 242–67, esp. p. 245.
11 Knights, ‘Historical stereotypes’, pp. 242–3.
12 Smith, Collection of Ranter writings, pp. 14–19; Hessayon, ‘Abiezer Coppe and the Ranters’.
13 McGregor, ‘Fear, myth and furore’, p. 159.
14 Davis, Fear, myth and history, pp. 107–10.
15 Kathryn Gucer, ‘“Not heretofore extant in print”: where the mad Ranters are’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 61 (2000) 75–95. While Gucer suggests that the Ranter opponents were broadly Presbyterian, I argue that the contestation of Ranters was broader based and involved intersections of radical and more orthodox opponents.
16 Raymond, Pamphlets and pamphleteering, esp. pp. 4–26, 53–97; Anna Bayman, Thomas Dekker and the culture of pamphleteering in early modern London (Farnham, 2016), esp. pp. 13–36.
17 Gilbert Roulston, The Ranters bible (London: by J. C., 1650), p. 1; The Ranters recantation (London: for G[eorge]. H[orton]., 1650), p. 1; The Ranters declaration (London, by J. C., 1650) described ‘a great Company of the new Generation of Ranters’, p. 2.
18 The routing of the Ranters (London: by B[ernard]. A[lsop]., 1650), p. 1. Clarkson, or Claxton, had written A single eye, no darkness (London, n.p., 1650), publication of which in June 1650 was considered by the Parliamentary committee eventually responsible for the Blasphemy Act of August 1650; Abiezer Coppe had been imprisoned in January 1650 for the publication of A fiery flying roll (also investigated by Parliament in the prelude to the passage of the Blasphemy Act). Coppe also knew and had written the preface to a work by Richard Coppin, Divine teachings, in 1649, although presumably Coppanites were followers of the flamboyant Coppe rather than Coppin. See Smith, Ranter writings, pp. 13–20.
19 Roulston, Ranters recantation, p. 1.
20 John Reading, The Ranters ranting (London: by B. Alsop, 1650), sig. Av.
21 John Taylor, Ranters of both sexes, male and female (London: for John Hammon, 1651), sig. A. In a written communication Ariel Hessayon has expressed doubts over Taylor’s authorship of this work and a number of other publications normally attributed to Taylor; I am grateful to Ariel Hessayon for discussing this with me.
22 For the association of woodcut title pages and marketability, see James Raven, The business of books: booksellers and the English book trade (London and New Haven, CT, 2007), p. 55; Raymond, Pamphlets and pamphleteering, p. 77. Examples of some of the woodcuts are reproduced in Davis, Fear, myth and history, pp. 138–203, and Hessayon, ‘Abiezer Coppe and the Ranters’, pp. 359–61. The following pamphlets boasted woodcut illustrations on their title pages: The arraignment and tryall ([London]: by B. A., 1650); The Ranters religion (London: for R. H., 1650); Samuel Tilbury, Bloudy newse from the north (London: by J. C., 1650); Strange newes from Newgate and the old-Baily [London: by B. Alsop, 1651]; G. H., The declaration of John Robins, the false prophet (London: by R. Wood, 1651); The Ranters monster (London: for G. Horton, 1652); Routing of the Ranters; Ranters declaration; Ranters ranting; Ranters bible.
23 For the sexually explicit woodcuts so frequently associated with Ranters, see Ranters declaration; Ranters ranting; Routing of the Ranters. The arraignment and tryall showed Ranter meetings. Strange newes from Newgate carried a picture of a prison; Bloudy newse from the North carried an illustration depicting a brutal massacre. The Ranters bible carried an astrological picture and S. Sheppard, The joviall crew (London: for W. Ley, 1651) carried a picture of the devil riding a chariot into England.
24 Arraignment and tryall, sig. A; The Ranters declaration, sig. A; Routing of the Ranters, sig. A; Ranters bible, at p. 2 and throughout.
25 Alsop’s extant ‘Ranter’ works are: Routing of the Ranters; Ranters ranting and Strange newes from Newgate; for Alsop as innovator, see Joad Raymond, The invention of the newspaper: English newsbooks 1641–1649 (Oxford, 1996), pp. 33, 122.
26 Peacey, Print and public politics, p. 66.
27 Anthony Ascham, The bounds and bonds of publique obedience (London: for J. Wright, 1649); Francis Rous, The lawfulness of obeying the present government (London: for J. Wright, 1649).
28 John Holland, The smoke of the bottomlesse pit (London: for J. Wright, 1650), p. 1.
29 Holland, Smoke of the bottomlesse pit, p. 4.
30 Ann Hughes, Gangraena and the struggle for the English Revolution (Oxford, 2004), pp. 66–105.
31 Raunce Burthall, An old bridle for a wilde asse-colt (London: for S. Dagnall, [1650]), sig. Ar.
32 Arraignment and tryall, pp. 4–5.
33 Michael Sparke, The narrative history of King James (London: for M. Sparke, 1651), title page.
34 Sparke, Narrative history, p. 12 (i.e. sig. Bb*3v).
35 Sparke, Narrative history, p. 8 (i.e. sig. Bb*v).
36 Ian Atherton and David Como, ‘The burning of Edward Wightman: puritanism, prelacy and the politics of heresy in early modern England’, English Historical Review, 120 (2005), 1215–50, pp. 1247–9.
37 Henry Ainsworth, The old orthodox foundation of religion (London: to be sold by M. Spark, 1653), sig. A. For Sparke, see Cyprian Blagden, The Stationers’ Company. A history, 1403–1959 (London, 1960), pp. 131–8; Lois Spencer, ‘The politics of George Thomason’, The Library, 14 (1959), 11–27.
38 Ainsworth, Old orthodox foundation, sig. A2r.
39 Ainsworth, Old orthodox foundation, sig. A2v.
40 M. E. Moody, ‘Ainsworth, Henry (1569–1622)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/240 (accessed 4 August 2017).
41 Ainsworth, Old orthodox foundation, sig. A.
42 I. F., A new proclamation: or a warning peece (London: for M. S[parke], 1653), p. 3.
43 I. F., New proclamation, p. 3.
44 I. F., New proclamation, p. 7.
45 The Ranters creed (London: by Ja. Moxon, 1651), sig. Av–p. 1.
46 Ranters creed, p. 6.
47 Knights, ‘Historical stereotypes’, p. 246.
48 Severall proposalls from His Excellency Sr. Tho. Fairfax: and the generall councel of the armie [22 September 1647] (London: by Ja. and Jo. Moxon, 1647); A moderate and clear relation of the private soldierie of Collonel Scroops and Col. Sanders regiments (London: by Ja. and Jo. Moxon, 1648); John Lilburne, A plea for common-right and freedom (London: by Ja. and Jo. Moxon, 1648); The subject’s libertie set forth in the royall and politique power of England (Rotterdam: by Ja. Moxon, 1643).
49 John Osborne, The world to come (London: by Ja. Moxon, 1651), sig. A2r. Osborne’s book took issue with Coppin’s Divine teachings (1649) and discussed the Ranter Abiezer Coppe’s work, Some sweet sips, of some spiritual wine (London, 1649). As mentioned above, Abiezer Coppe wrote the preface to Coppin’s Divine teachings and the two authors clearly collaborated.
50 McDowell, ‘A Ranter reconsidered,’ pp. 173–205.
51 Peters, Print culture, pp. 91–123 and 153–92.
52 Norman Penney (ed.), The journal of George Fox (Cambridge, 1911), vol. 1, p. 6.
53 Bodleian Library, Clarendon State Papers 2624, MS Clarendon, vol. xx, fol. 140r.
54 Anon., The maids prophecies or Englands looking-glasse [London, 1648]; William Batten, The sea-mans dial (London: n.p., 1648), p. 3; John Spittlehouse, Rome ruin’d by White Hall (London: 1650 [i.e. 1649]), pp. 181–2.
55 Thomas Hall, The pulpit guarded (London: for E. Blackmore, 1651), pp. 15 and 29. A number of Ranter authors were imprisoned in Coventry gaol in January 1650 and visited by Fox: see Hessayon, ‘Abiezer Coppe and the Ranters’, p. 367; Nigel Smith (ed.), The journal of George Fox (Harmondsworth, 1998), pp. 44–5.
56 George Fox, An exhortation to you who contemne the power of God [London: n.p., ?1652]; George Fox, The trumpet of the Lord sounded (London: for Giles Calvert, 1654), p. 7; in this paragraph I summarise a lengthier discussion in Peters, Print culture, pp. 99–107.
57 R[ichard] F[arnworth], A message from the Lord to all ([London: s.n.], 1653), p. 26; Catherine Gill, ‘English radicalism in the 1650s: the Quaker search for the true knowledge’ in Smith and Curelly (eds), Radical voices, pp. 80–4.
58 James Nayler, The power and glory of the Lord (London: for Giles Calvert, 1653), p. 16.
59 This tactic is similar to ‘counter-stereotyping’, which Morton discusses in depth in Chapter 6. Those who were prone to being accused of being ‘popish’ often returned the same accusation to their opponents.
60 Nayler, Power and glory, p. 16.
61 George Fox, A word from the Lord ([London: n.p.], 1654), pp. 9, 11.
62 George Baiteman, An answer to vindicate the cause [London: n.p., 1653], p. 13.
63 Fox, Word from the Lord, p. 9.
64 McDowell, ‘A Ranter reconsidered’; Gill, ‘English radicalism in the 1650s’, also explores the rhetorical juxtaposition of worldly and spiritual learning in Quaker texts.
65 Fox, Word from the Lord, p. 11.
66 James Nayler, An answer to the booke called the Perfect pharisee [London: n.p., 1654], p. 25.
67 Jeremiah Ives, The Quakers quaking (London: by J. Cottrell for R. Moon, 1656), p. 3.
68 Pagitt, Heresiography, pp. 136–7.
69 R[ichard] F[arnworth], A call out of false worships [London: n.p., 1653], sig. A; R[ichard] F[arnworth], A message from the Lord to all ([London: n.p.], 1653), sig. A.
70 Friends’ House Library, London (hereafter FHL), MS vol. 355, item 45, Richard Farnworth to Margaret Fell. For a more detailed discussion see Peters, Print culture, pp. 38–9. The ‘litle’ tracts in question are Richard Farnworth, A brief discovery of the kingdom of Antichrist [London: n.p., 1653]; Richard Farnworth, A call out of false worships [London: n.p., 1653]; Richard Farnworth, A message from the Lord ([London: n.p.], 1653); Richard Farnworth, Moses message to Pharaoh [London: n.p., 1653]; and Richard Farnworth, A voice of the first trumpet ... together with a flying roll to the scattered and dispersed one (London: n.p., 1653).
71 George Fox, Saul’s errand to Damascus (London: for Giles Calvert, 1653). Other such tracts include James Nayler, A discovery of the first wisdom from beneath (London: for Giles Calvert, 1653), acquired in London on 25 April 1653. This is discussed and illustrated further in Peters, Print culture, pp. 118–23.
72 FHL, MS vol. 354, item 44, Thomas Aldam to George Fox.
73 John Gilpin, The Quakers shaken (Gateshead: by S[imon]. B[ulkley]., 1653), p. 3.
74 Gilpin, Quakers shaken, pp. 2, 3, 7, 8, 14.
75 T. Weld, W. Cole, R. Prideaux, W. Durant and S. Hammond, The perfect pharisee under monkish holiness (Gateside: by S. B., 1653); see p. 41 for the practice of quaking.
76 Gilpin, Quakers shaken; Weld et al., Perfect pharisee.
77 The Quakers fiery beacon (London: for G. Horton, 1655); The Quakers terrible vision (London: for G. Horton, 1655).
78 Thomas Aldam, The searching out the deceit ([London: n.p.], 1655), esp. pp. 3–5.
79 Edward Burrough, Truth defended, or, certain accusations answered [London: n.p., 1654], p. 16. See also George Fox, To the high and lofty ones [London?: n.p., 1655], p. 5.
80 Certain queries and anti-quaeries, concerning the Quakers (so-called) (London: n.p., 1653), p. 9; The querers and Quakers cause at the second hearing (London: by I. G. for Nath. Brooke, 1653), p. 39; the burning of ribbons by shopkeepers in Malton in the summer of 1652 was reported to George Fox in a letter by Thomas Aldam; see W. C. Braithwaite, The beginnings of Quakerism, 2nd edn (Cambridge, 1955), pp. 71–4.
81 Quakers terrible vision, sig. A, p. 5.
82 Quakers fiery beacon, sig. A; Donald Lupton, The quacking mountebancke (London: for E.B., 1655), p. 20; William Prynne, The Quakers unmasked (London: for Edward Thomas, 1655), p. 8.
83 Jonathan Clapham, A full discovery and confutation of the wicked and damnable doctrines of the Quakers (London: by T. R. and E. M. for Adonirum Byfield, 1656), p. 59.
84 Richard Baxter, One sheet against the Quakers (London: by Robert White for Nevil Simmons, 1657), p. 6.
85 Aldam, Searching out the deceit, pp. 4, 6.
86 Mark Knights, ‘Historical stereotypes’, p. 246.
87 FHL, MS vol. 354, item 66, James Nayler to George Fox; Nayler, Answer to the booke, p. 27. For an account of Quaker management of women and of their reputation more broadly, see Peters, Print culture, pp. 145–50.
88 FHL, MS vol. 352, items 245, 246, Thomas Lawson papers.
89 For the definition and relevant discussions see Introduction, pp. 19–21.
90 Richard Blome, The fanatick history (London: for J. Sims, 1660).
91 Richard Hubberthorn [and James Nayler], A short answer to the book called the Fanatick history (London: for Giles Calvert, 1660), title page and sig. A3r.
92 Hubberthorn, A short answer, pp. 5, 9.
93 Mercurius Publicus (London: by John Macock, 5–12 July 1660), p. 457 (misp.; sig. Kkk); FHL, Swarthmore Transcripts, vol. 2, p. 619, Richard Hubberthorn to George Fox.
94 Ethan Shagan, ‘Constructing discord: ideology, propaganda, and English responses to the Irish rebellion of 1641’, The Journal of British Studies, 36 (1997), 4–34.
95 For the importance of discerning truth for Quakers, see Michael Birkel, ‘Leadings and discernment’, in Stephen Ward Angell and Ben Pink Dandelion (eds), The Oxford handbook of Quaker studies (Oxford, 2013), pp. 245–8.
96 FHL, MS vol. 354, item 22, William Dewsbury to George Fox.
97 FHL, Swarthmore Transcripts, vol. 2, p. 101, Henry Fell to Margaret Fell.
98 McDowell, ‘A Ranter reconsidered’, p. 196.
99 R. F. (i.e. Richard Farnworth), The Ranters principles & deceits discovered (London: for Giles Calvert, 1655), pp. 1–3.
100 Fox, Word from the Lord, sig. B3r [mispaginated p. 13].
101 John Chandler, A seasonable word and call, to all those called Ranters (London: for the author, 1659), p. 9.
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