New book: Quakerism in the Atlantic World, 1690-1830

Robynne Rogers Healey (ed.), Quakerism in the Atlantic World, 1690-1830 (Penn State University Press, May 2021).

I was honored to be asked to be part of this trans-Atlantic collaboration, and it is great to see my chapter on Quakers and marriage legislation in England in the long 18th century in print.

Quakers marriages were not formally recognized in law, which led to several court cases involving the inheritance of Quaker children and the rights of Quaker widows. Quakers lobbied tirelessly for half a century before the passing of the Clandestine Marriages Act of 1753 (effective from 25 March 1754) implicitly recognized their marriages.

Cover image for Quakerism in the Atlantic World, 1690–1830 Edited by Robynne Rogers Healey
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New book: Church and People in Interregnum Britain

Delighted to announce that this volume has been published by the University of London Press in their New Historical Perspectives series.

Fiona McCall (ed.), Church and People in Interregnum Britain (23 June 2021).

Free to download as a PDF, or to purchase as print copy (paperback or hardback).

My contribution is the chapter ‘Malignant parties: loyalist religion in southern England’. The practice of celebrating Christmas, Easter, Whitsun and other festivals in churches was widespread during the Interregnum, though the practice was banned, and the Book of Common Prayer outlawed. Yet many parishioners and their ministers persisted in this, and there is even some evidence of churches being decorated at Christmas.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

CFP: 1215-2015: 800 Years of Riot and Rebellion

1215-2015: 800 Years of Riot and Protest: 25th-26th June 2015, University of Winchester

Riot and protest is a theme of growing significance for contemporary social science. Across the globe, the 21st century has seen an explosion of the phenomenon. Some is organised, with a definite socio-political agenda, such as the anti-globalisation movement initiated at Seattle in 1999 and followed by a string of controversial summit protests. The ensuing economic crisis has only intensified this process, with new social movements emerging that contest the austerity paradigm. From a historical perspective, reports and accounts of riot can represent the only trace of a ‘popular voice’ at significant points of social and economic change or conflict. Analysis of these protests can often reveal much about popular reaction to important shifts such as the rise of a market economy and proletarianisation, adding a transhistorical perspective to forces which still resonate in the modern world.
In the year which sees the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, this multi-period and interdisciplinary conference offers a forum for Criminologists, Sociologists and scholars of Politics and History. The gathering also hopes to attract voices from the movements themselves to open a unique discussion on a subject that still exercises huge influence over local and global politics in the C21st. It will also act as the launch event for a new open access e-journal, hosted by the University of Winchester Press, the Journal of Riot & Protest Studies: We seek papers in the following areas:

Memories of protest and rebellion
Moral economies of protest
Geographies of protest and rebellion
Gender and protest
Distinguishing riot from rebellion

The social psychology of protest
What parallels are there between contemporary social movements and historical precedents?
Can direct democracy overcome the political cynicism generated by representative democracy?
How can we prevent the criminalisation of protest?

The synergy of Revolts
Identities of rebels

If you are interested in presenting, please send a 250-word abstract to by 27th February 2015

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Quaker doubts concerning the testimony against tithes, c. 1650 to c.1740.

Early Quakers have become identified in part with their refusal to pay tithes to support a paid ministry. Even after the Act of Toleration in 1689, records of fines, distraints or occasionally imprisonment for non-payment of tithes continued to be made. A publication of 1736 ran to almost 190 pages, listing Quakers who had suffered at the hands of the authorities since 1696 for refusing to pay tithes. A total of 1,180 Friends had been prosecuted in those years, of whom 302 had been imprisoned, and 9 died as prisoners.

Nevertheless, although the testimony against tithes came to be one of the defining features of Quakers, doubts were expressed by some Friends regarding the testimony. Two of the leading early Quakers, John Story and John Wilkinson, caused a schism in the movement in the 1670s when they reacted to the increasingly centralised control of the movement. The issues involved were complex, but among the objections was a reaction against suffering for non-payment of tithes. John Wilkinson, who had suffered for non-payment of tithes, did not go so far as to doubt the testimony against tithes, but he did believe that payment, or non-payment, was a matter for individual conscience.

During my research into Quaker sufferings, I was intrigued to find details of a schism in the Quaker monthly meeting at Alton in Hampshire, and moreover, a schism which doesn’t seem to have been documented in the secondary literature. Nicholas Ede, a long-standing member of the meeting, who had previously been imprisoned for non-payment of tithes, had declared his dissatisfaction with his fellow-Quakers in a dramatic announcement at a Monthly Meeting held at the end of 1685. He declared that certain leading Friends were ‘adders’ and ‘murderers’, while the majority of Friends were ‘slow-worms’. Ede refused to recant, and was disowned. A separatist meeting is known to have been meeting in the Alton area after this event, which may have been held at Ede’s house.

Ede was never reconciled with Alton Monthly Meeting. In 1693 he published a tract against Quakers, a leading concern of which was tithe payment. Ede’s refusal to pay tithes had led to his imprisonment in 1675, and it seems that his efforts to avoid another period of imprisonment had led to his split with the meeting several years earlier.

This tract intrigued me, because it was so little known. Were there other tracts by former Quakers setting out their reasons for paying tithes, or other evidence in meeting minutes censuring those who had paid? In 1707-8 the issue of tithe payment surfaced again in Alton Monthly Meeting, when several Friends were spoken to regarding their payment of tithes.

Frustratingly, there seems to be little hard evidence of Quakers paying tithes. After the 1707-8 cases, there were, to the end date of my study in 1740, no further cases of tithe payment recorded in the minutes of Alton Monthly Meeting, nor of Hampshire Quarterly Meeting. I searched the records of Poole Monthly Meeting, and several Surrey meetings for the period 1689 to 1740, but found nothing there either.

A number of studies in other counties have found scattered evidence in local meeting minutes of Quakers being called to account for paying tithes, but such evidence seems to be fragmentary. Hints in the records, though, suggest it went on, and was known to do so, even if no Friend was named and shamed as a result. Alton MM minutes recorded a 1725 minute from Yearly Meeting in London concerning Friends paying tithes indirectly, and in 1739 and 1740, the MM replies to Yearly Meeting’s annual queries noted that not all Friends were adhering to the testimony against tithes.

Evidence from other counties suggests that Quakers were making arrangements to pay. In 1730, when Yearly Meeting in London received reports from the county Quarterly Meetings, these indicated many Friends were not faithful to the testimony against tithes. There were fifteen admissions of failure, and a further twelve which inferred lapses; only six of the county Quarterly Meetings declared they were clear.

It may be that some Quakers avoided any struggles with their conscience, and the risk of any confrontations with their fellow Quakers or, conversely, the authorities, by moving from farming into wage-earning employment. This has been suggested by Sylvia Stevens in her work on Norfolk Quakers. A similar suggestion has been made by Arthur Raistrick, who noted that second and third generation Quakers were likely to move from farming to trade. It could be speculated that the reason Quakerism came to be an urban movement was due to a desire to avoid entanglement with tithe payment, or non-payment.

Posted in Quakers | Leave a comment

Sacred space: Holy Trinity, Goodramgate, York


ImageTucked away behind the shops of Goodramgate, the church of Holy Trinity is an exceptional Grade One listed building. Originally Norman, it was much altered in the 15th century, some of this work being to accommodate the stained glass east window.

What was of great interest to an early modern historian were the seventeenth-century box pews, a fairly rare survival, since such pews were largely removed in the 19th century. There is also a double-decker pulpit, dating from 1695, from which the preacher could see the whole (or most of) the congregation. A lower lectern was used for readings.

The position of the pulpit and lectern are quite different from most Anglican parish churches today. The normal layout is to have the pulpit on the left of the chancel arch (if there is one) and the lectern on the right, both facing the congregation in the nave. Although churches today try to be egalitarian, there is still a hierarchy at specific occasions – think of weddings and funerals – where the most important people sit in the front pews.

Here in Holy Trinity, the pew for the Lord Mayor of York is situated at the very back of the church. Yet this makes sense. The pulpit and lectern are not at the front of the church, but about a third of the way down. Though the plan of the church gives a separate nave and chancel, in fact there is no chancel arch, and the beginning of the chancel is designated by the pulpit. If the Lord Mayor was sitting at the front of the church, he would have his back to the clerk as he read the lessons, and indeed to the minister as he preached. Sitting at the back, he had a good view of both, and, as the Mayor’s pew was slightly raised, a good view of the congregation as well.

Why not put the pulpit at the front of the church? Partly because it was common practice in the later 17th century and into the 18th century to have the pulpit in a very visible location, and sometimes this would be part-way down the nave, rather than at the front of it. But also, at Holy Trinity, there was the problem of the existing pillars. There is very little room at the front of the church for such a large pulpit, unless some of the seating space was sacrificed, and the view of the altar partly obscured. The creators of this sacred space in the 17th century were having to work with the existing space, designed for a mass-based Catholic liturgy and not a ministry with a far greater focus on preaching.



Holy Trinity Goodramgate is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust:


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A visit to Longford Castle

John Taylor, the seventeenth-century ‘water poet’, came to Longford Castle near the end of his journey by wherry from London to Salisbury. Having struggled up the barely-navigable River Avon from Christchurch, by the time he and his companions reached Longford Castle, a couple of miles south of Salisbury, the boat was ‘tattered windshaken and weatherbeaten . . . almost unserviceable’.

At the time of John Taylor’s journey in 1623, the lord of Longford Castle was Edward Gorges, 1st Baron Gorges of Dundalk, and son of the original builder of the castle, Sir Thomas Gorges. Sir Thomas and his wife, Helena Snakenborg, a Swedish lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth I, had conceived of the castle as having a triangular plan with three corner towers, apparently modelled on the Swedish castle of Gripsholm. The castle that John Taylor would have seen was extensively reconstructed and restored by the Victorian architect Anthony Salvin in the 1870s.


John Taylor left no description of the castle, nor of the river immediately around it. Nevertheless, he recorded that he had some conversation with the Baron regarding the state of the Avon, and that the Baron kindly gave him some money for the battered wherry. I feel, from Taylor’s descriptions of the Avon in other places, that it probably wouldn’t have looked quite as neat as it does today in the vicinity of Longford Castle. And whether there was a bridge by the Castle, as there is today, I have no idea.


River Avon, from Longford Castle grounds, looking north. May 2014.


River Avon, from Longford Castle grounds, looking south. May 2014.

There is a story that Oliver Cromwell came into the Castle grounds on reconnaissance during the Civil Wars; a sniper in the castle fired at Cromwell, but missed, killing the soldier beside him instead. If this story is true, and the sniper had been a better shot, history could have been quite different.

Note: Longford Castle is not normally open to the public; I visited as part of an pre-arranged tour group. The history of Longford Castle is given in ‘A Guide to Longford Castle’ (n.d.) by Nicholas Penny, Director of the National Gallery. John Taylor’s account of his journey from London to Salisbury by wherry is ‘A New Discovery by Sea, with a Wherry from London to Salisbury’ (1623).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Maps and historians

Maps were a great frustration for much of my PhD. There were helpful books aimed at historians who wished to use maps in their research, but that wasn’t the problem. The issue was how to create my own maps to display the results of my research. I’d created a list of Hampshire parishes in which the 1676 Compton Census indicated a high (over five per cent) proportion of Protestant dissenters, but how to represent that on a map?

There seemed to be next to no practical advice to be had, other than to draw a map myself. But I’m no artist, and knew that any attempt would be far too time-consuming, and probably end up looking decidedly amateurish. Furthermore, I needed to be accurate. Firstly, I needed an exact county boundary, but the historic county boundary, not the current boundary. Secondly, there were well over fifty parishes that needed to be plotted, and part of the reason for creating the map was to see if there were clusters of dissent in certain parts of the county. It couldn’t be ‘approximate’, it had to be exact.

The Hampshire Record Office sold copies of a map showing the historic county boundary, and its parishes. I simply coloured in those parishes with a high proportion of dissenters. This version was submitted for my upgrade from MPhil to PhD, and the external examiner even commented favourable upon it. But I wasn’t totally satisfied. The HRO map showed only mainland Hampshire, not the Isle of Wight parishes which were also part of my research. It also showed the settlement of Waterlooville, which obviously wouldn’t have been around in 1676! The Isle of Wight wouldn’t have been a problem – I found a parish map at the Isle of Wight Record Office – but the presence of Waterlooville just wasn’t right. And there was the problem of copyright in both maps if the thesis ever went online.

A fellow-PhD candidate then put me onto a software package called GenMap, which she’d used to plot place names. Although aimed at family historians, I found it hugely helpful. GenMap is a fairly basic package, but it did everything I needed – plotting places onto a Hampshire (including the Isle of Wight) with its historic, not modern, boundaries. I could save the maps, which was ideal, since I could make alterations and corrections, and import them into the thesis. In fact, I got so enthusiastic that the final thesis incorporated eight maps, all created with GenMap.

I had wanted to take the Institute of Historical Research’s course on GIS (Geographical Information Systems), but this never quite happened. Finally, if rather late for the PhD itself, I managed to attend the IHR’s one-day course on historical mapping and GIS held on 6 May 2014. This proved a useful introduction to what GIS can, and cannot, do for historians. It isn’t, as I’d thought, a way of creating pretty maps. But it can be used to make sense of spatial information, from a micro level (city streets) up to a macro level (countries and continents). We were also given a list of resources, either free or available through institutional licences held by many universities. However, there isn’t a lot out there on GIS which is aimed specifically at historians.

Having taken the IHR course, I’m now enthusiastically planning how to use GIS in developing the data collected during my research.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

More on the weather

Thinking some more about the weather, there’s the question of how far supernatural experiences in the early modern period were affected by, or associated with, violent weather.

My inspiration for this thought came from a non-academic, but very readable, source – the regular ‘Ghostwatch’ column by Alan Murdie in the most recent issue of Fortean Times (issue 313, April 2014). Murdie gives a number of examples of what he describes as ‘weather dependent’ ghosts, such as the ghost of a drowned girl who appears at Crowborough, Sussex, in bad weather.

The research question is, how far were ghosts in the early modern period dependent on bad weather? Ghosts in the early modern period tended to be hauntings of a specific person or family – think of the Tedworth (or Tidworth) Drummer – sometimes with a message to give from beyond the grave. Rather than, as now, spirits haunting a specific place who can appear to anyone.

Something to investigate!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Extreme weather and religious meanings

In the course of my research into Protestant dissenters, I came across an example, by an anonymous nonconformist, of divine retribution upon an overly-enthusiastic supporter of the Church of England. The lightning strike on the Dorset town of Shaftesbury in June 1662 hit the home of a devout nonconformist minister. It did no hurt to the minister and his family in the house, but the following day the minister’s son, a conformist, died.

The story was printed in Mirabilis Annus Secundus, an anonymous collection of reports of extreme weather, as well as various anomalous events, or ‘prodigies’ as they were called. It is a somewhat partisan collection, since its aim was to collect examples of these events to support its anti-Royalist, anti-Established Church standpoint, and to call for repentance by its readers.

Its emphasis on the weather as a sign of divine displeasure was far from unusual in the early modern period, nor were such accounts limited to nonconformists. Numerous accounts of violent weather were printed throughout the seventeenth century, and many emphasised that these occurrences demonstrated the need to repent. Indeed, the ‘Litany’ of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer includes a petition asking God to defend His people from lightning and tempests.

Yet, from the founding of the Royal Society in 1660, running in parallel with these accounts of extreme weather as indicating God’s displeasure was another view, which emphasised the importance of studying the weather, and other natural phenomena, in a rational and scientific fashion. The pages of the Society’s Philosophical Transactions contained many scientific observations of the weather, and theories as to its causes. In particular, Richard Towneley, a Lancashire gentleman, and William Derham, rector of Upminister in Essex, were both dedicated collectors of weather data in their localities over many years.

The two views of extreme weather as, on the one hand, evidence of divine providence, and on the other hand as a subject of scientific enquiry, are reflected in the writings of modern historians. Vladimir Janković and Alexandra Walsham have both written about this in recent works.

However, while these may be the main views of the weather in the later seventeenth and early eighteenth century, I do not believe that they are the only views. The man usually acknowledged as the founder of the Quaker movement, George Fox, travelled widely, visiting the converted and preaching to the unconverted, both in Britain and abroad. His attitude to violent weather, and indeed to other perils of travel, was marked by thankfulness to God for preserving him and his companions. Indeed, after his journey to the American colonies in 1673, Fox credited God for arranging storms, mists and fogs to hide him and his friends from their enemies.

The weather was not always so helpful, and there were times when storms and fogs meant that the seamen could not make their observations, vital in seventeenth-century navigation. But Fox’s conviction that God was on their side remained undaunted. Fox’s attitude was that, fair weather or foul, God arranged everything for the best. Though elsewhere in Fox’s writings he did give examples of God striking the wicked, Fox did not see the challenges he met with on his travels as in any way suggesting that he should mend his ways. Fox’s confidence was shared by other Quaker travellers, as recounted in other published memoirs. This view of violent weather as from God, yet not as evidence of divine displeasure, but rather as an opportunity for the individual to demonstrate the strength of his or her faith, is, I believe, one that could be further examined in studies of the religious meanings of violent weather.


Anon, Mirabilis Annus Secundus (s.l., 1662).
George Fox, The Journal of George Fox, J. L. Nickalls (ed.) (Philadelphia PA, 1997).
Vladimir Janković, Reading the Skies: a cultural history of English weather, 1650-1820 (Chicago and London, 2000).
Alexandra Walsham, The Reformation of the Landscape: religion, identity, and memory in Early Modern Britain and Ireland (Oxford, 2011).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Quaker membership

At a recent event held at Salisbury Quaker Meeting House, the speaker asked the forty or so Quakers present how many had grown up in a Quaker household. Only a couple of people put their hands up. The overwhelming majority had come to the Society of Friends as adults.

It was suggested that two generations ago, the situation would have been very different, indeed, the complete reverse would have been true. That may well be right. However, I recently interviewed two elderly Friends about their memories of Salisbury Quaker Meeting, which was re-established in 1932/3 after a gap of over a hundred years. The person responsible for re-establishing the meeting was a Salisbury schoolmaster, Charles Dingle, whose pacifist principles led him to service in the Friends Ambulance Unit in the First World War, where he first met Quakers. Charles and his wife Florence had been members of a Baptist church in Southampton before coming to Salisbury. The people they gathered to form the new meeting were not ‘birthright’ Quakers either. Some were attracted to Friends because of their pacifist principles, which became increasingly important as the Nazi threat became more evident. Charles Dingle had many contacts with long-established Quaker meetings in the region, who supported the new meeting with regular visits, but the core group of Salisbury Friends were not born into the Society.

So I wonder how many Quakers joined the movement in the 1930s, because of its pacifism? I’d like to see if any research has been done on this, and on the numbers of meetings established, or re-established, in the 1930s. I believe Alton in Hampshire resumed its meetings around the same time, or shortly before, Salisbury, though Alton, unlike Salisbury, had been meeting into the early years of the twentieth century before its meetings ceased.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment