Know Your Nutters


Dissenters have in common a class status (low, lower-middle, and middle); a hatred of hierarchy in politics, property ownership, and clergy; their ranks are swelled by the increasing number of itinerant men created by the break-up of farms and over-employment in trades; they take the notion of "equality" very seriously. Having, in effect, nothing to lose and totally convinced of divine support, they make formidable demonstrators and soldiers. Baptists, Anabaptists, Quakers belong in this group, but these sects no longer seem marginalia in 17th religious politics (main authority: Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down, 1972).


1. THE LEVELLERS (including subsects such as the DIGGERS)--essentially political & economic


2. FIFTH MONARCHY MEN-essentially political and economic; had much in common with Levellers

One fact that distinguishes the Fifth Monarchists is that more of the few men hanged, drawn, and quartered as regicides were of their sect than any other: Thomas Harrison (see Pepys, p. 650, col. 1), John Carew, John Cook (one of the parliamentary lawyers), Hugh Peter, Daniel Axtel, and Francis Hacher. (Peter had preached the funeral sermon for Charles I (who did not attend); the text was from Isaiah: "Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial because thou hast destroyed thy land and slain thy people"; Peter and Cook were executed together; Peter watched Cook's hanging, drawing, and quartering from the public scaffold, then endured his own.

Fifth Monarchists were said to have expected "King Jesus in English politics to bring about the effects which democratic political methods had failed to achieve"; their expectation of "a fifth monarchy" as some kind of political Eden identifies them with prophecies and millinarian thinking; commited to improvements in the plight of the poor; sought to overturn primogeniture.


3. FAMILISTS (FAMILY OF LOVE)-essentially religious (see Middleton's play, The Family of Love)

Sect started in Europe in the mid-1500s by Henry Niclaes; strong in England by 1570s; prominent spokesman was John Salmarsh; believed it possible to recapture Eden (state of innocence) in this world; property should be held in common; God's spirit in the believer is the only means of knowing scripture; fiercely anti-clerical, anti-ritual; their ministers were itinerants, "like the Apostles."

One Thomas Shepard, impressed by the doctrines of Familist Roger Brearley of Grindleton in Yorkshire, emigrated to America, and Mistress Anne Hutchinson was said by Gov. Winthrop to have been "infected" with Grindletonian heresies by way of Shepard.


5. SEEKERS AND RANTERS-the fringe of the fringe

This bunch--as disorganized as their names imply--were loud, prophetic, anarchical, skeptical of doctrine and authority of all kinds; known by their wild behavior in gathering at taverns, smoking, and calls for heretical sexual behavior (John Robins, a Ranter, advocated the exchange of husbands and wives).


Return to Syllabus

Return to 17cInfo