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George Fox, Millenarian


“Friends, take heed of setting up that which God will throw down, lest you be found fighters against God.”

The nearly two decades comprising the period of the English Revolution were marked by a widespread interest in the timely appearance of the millennium, the thousand year period of Christ's promised earthly reign. From scholarly biblical studies of Daniel and Revelation to omens such as total eclipses of the sun and rumors of a Nottingham girl returning from the dead to warn a sinful world of approaching destruction, people in revolutionary England were bombarded with “evidence” of divine intervention and the expected arrival of the new kingdom. Parliament's victory in the English civil wars and its execution of Charles I in 1649 dramatically blew away the aura of divinity surrounding the monarchy and promised a new and glorious age. As they read prophecies in Revelation about a New Jerusalem where God would dry all tears and banish death, sorrow, and pain, enthusiasts of the seventeenth century anxiously looked for the Christ who promised, “Behold, I come quickly.” So prevalent were such notions that, as one authority has stressed, popular millenarianism seemed only a small step beyond received orthodoxy.

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The author would like to thank Craig W. Horle, Hugh Barbour, James A. Ward, Richard L. Greaves, and the editor of this journal for helpful suggestions on earlier versions of this article, as well as to the Faculty Research Committee of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, which helped with some of the funds to make the research possible.

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1 Fox George, To the Protector and Parliament of England (London, 1658), p. 58.

2 The literature on millenarianism during this period is voluminous. For a sampling, see Cohn Norman, The Pursuit of the Millennium (Fairlawn, N.J., 1957); Lamont William M., Godly Rule: Politics and Religion, 1603–60 (London, 1969); Hill Christopher, “The Millennium and After,” pp. 253342, in The Collected Essays of Christopher Hill: Volume Two, Religion and Politics in 17th Century England (Amherst, Mass., 1986), The Experience of Defeat: Milton and Some Contemporaries (New York, 1985), pp. 5168; Toon Peter, ed., Puritans, the Millennium and the Future of Israel: Puritan Eschatology 1600 to 1660 (London, 1970); Capp Bernard, “The Fifth Monarchists and Popular Millenarianism,” in McGregor J. F. and Reay B., eds., Radical Religion in the English Revolution (Oxford, 1986), pp. 165–90; The Fifth Monarchy Men: A Study in Seventeenth-century English Millenarianism (Totowa, N.J., 1972); and Liu Tai, Discord in Zion: The Puritan Divines and the Puritan Revolution, 1640–1660 (The Hague, 1973).

3 For the most recent overview of popular notions about millenarianism, see Capp, “Fifth Monarchists and Popular Millenarianism.”

4 Ibid., 189.

5 See my forthcoming biography, tentatively entitled, “First among Friends: George Fox and the Quakers” (Oxford University Press).

6 On this theme, see Ingle H. Larry, “George Fox: In an Age of Revolution,” unpublished paper, American Society of Church History meeting, December 30, 1991, Chicago, Illinois, and On the Folly of Seeking the Quaker Holy Grail,” Quaker Religious Thought 25 (1991): 1729.

7 Gwyn Douglas, Apocalypse of the Word: The Life and Message of George Fox (Richmond, Ind., 1986), p. x.

8 Barbour Hugh, The Quakers in Puritan England (New Haven, 1964), p. xi.

9 Underwood T. L., “Early Quaker Eschatology,” in Toon, ed., Puritan Eschatology, pp. 91103.

10 Hill's most important book in this regard was The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas during the English Revolution (1972; Harmondsworth, 1975).

11 On the historiography of early Quakerism, see Ingle H. Larry, “From Mysticism to Radicalism: Recent Historiography of Quaker Beginnings,” Quaker History 76 (1987): 7994. Another recent authority makes clear that Quakers sought more to transform the world than to transcend it. Sommerville C. John, “Anglican, Puritan, and Sectarian in Empirical Perspective,” Social Science History 13 (1989): 119. Philip Gura's attention to Quakers in his work on Puritan radicalism in New England offers a welcome corrective to the theological approach. Gura Philip, A Glimpse of Sion's Glory: Puritan Radicalism in New England, 1629–1660 (Middletown, Conn., 1984), pp. 144–52.

12 For an example of this approach, see Hill's student, Reay Barry, The Quakers and the English Revolution (London, 1985), p. 34.

13 Capp, Fifth Monarchy, p. 38.

14 Hill, “The Millennium,” pp. 329–30.

15 Capp, Fifth Monarchy, pp. 192, 266.

16 Gura, Glimpse, p. 135.

17 On this theme, see Clouse R. G., “The Rebirth of Millenarianism,” in Toon, Puritan Eschatology, pp. 4265.

18 Baxter Richard, Reliquiae Baxterianae: or, Mr. Richard Baxter's narrative of the most memorable passages of his life and times (London, 1696), 1: 97. (In all seventeenth-century quotations, I have modernized spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.)

19 Nuttall Geoffrey F., Richard Baxter (London, 1965), pp. 6474. See also Lamont William, Richard Baxter and the Millennium (London, 1979), pp. 33, 158-59, 164.

20 The most recent study of Bunyan is Hill Christopher, A Turbulent, Seditious, and Factious People: John Bunyan and his Church (Oxford, 1988), stressing his millenarian views. See also Greaves Richard L., “John Bunyan and the Fifth Monarchists,” Albion 13 (1981): 8395, and two more recent studies, Owens W. R., “‘Antichrist must be Pulled Down’: Bunyan and the Millennium,” in Laurence Anne, Owens W. R., Sim Stuart, eds., John Bunyan and his England, 1628–88 (London, 1990), pp. 7794, and Ross Aileen M., “Paradise Regained: the Development of John Bunyan's Millenarianism,” in van Os M. and Schutte G. J., eds., Bunyan in England and Abroad (Amsterdam, 1990), pp. 7389.

21 But Christopher Hill (A Turbulent People, ch. 20) and W. R. Owens (“Bunyan and the Millennium”) have both made a valiant effort. Aileen M. Ross has also, while conceding that he was a “conservative, orthodox Christian” and “impeccably orthodox” (“Paradise Regained,” pp. 73, 76), adjectives difficult to use to describe Fox and his approach.

22 On this point, see McGee J. Sears, ed., The Miscellaneous Works of John Bunyan (Oxford, 1987), 3: xxxiixlv.

23 Capp, Fifth Monarchy Men, ch. 9, esp. pp. 223–24.

24 As Reay, Quakers and the Revolution, pp. 81111, and Greaves Richard, Deliver Us from Evil: The Radical Underground in Britain, 1660–1663 (New York, 1986), p. 11, make clear, rumors were rife during the Interregnum and the Restoration that Quakers were conspiring against the government; some in fact did become involved.

25 On this point, see Hill, Experience of Defeat, pp. 132–33. Both the near classic studies by Gooch G. P. (English Democratic Ideas in the 17th Century [2nd ed.; New York, 1959]), who saw Quakers “impregnated with Millenarian ideas,” p. 233n2, and Nuttall Geoffrey F. (The Holy Spirit in Puritan Faith and Experience [Oxford, 1947], pp. 111–12) stress the connections between millenarianism and Quakers.

26 See for example, Luke 16:8, John 12:36, Ephesians 5:1-8, and I Thessalonians 5:4-5.

27 Fox George, Gospel Truth Demonstrated (London, 1706), p. 457. The quotation is from Revelation 22:5. The year 1666 briefly fed millennial hopes. Greaves Richard L., Enemies under his Feet: Radicals and Nonconformists in Britain, 1664–1667 (Stanford, Calif., 1990), pp. 38, 199.

28 On Nayler, see Bittle William G., James Nayler, 1618-1660: The Quaker Indicted by Parliament (York, 1986).

29 Nayler James, Lamb's Warre against the Man of Sinne (London, 1657), A Foole answer'd according to his Folly (London, 1655), and Foot yet in the Snare (London, 1656). Some modem Friends, with an eye for a telling phrase, have appropriated it to apply to the Quaker mission, then and now. For this usage, see Barbour Hugh and Roberts Arthur O., eds., Early Quaker Writings, 1650–1700 (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1973), p. 104. For the best analysis of Quaker notions about the Lamb's War, see Oliver Pamela M. C., “Quaker Testimony and the Lamb's War” (Ph.D. diss., University of Melbourne, 1977).

30 Reay Barry, “The Quakers and 1659: Two Newly Discovered Broadsides by Edward Burrough,” Journal of the Friends Historical Society 54 (1977): 101–11. Oliver identifies Burrough with those who believed the Kingdom could be realized within history by the appearance of the Messiah. Oliver, “Quaker Testimony,” p. 107. See also Burrough, “A great cry….,” Swarthmore MSS, V, 6, Library of the Society of Friends (London) (hereafter cited as LSF).

31 Hubberthome Richard, The Good Old Cause Briefly Demonstrated (London, 1659), esp. p. 11 [3]. On Hubberthome's millenarianism, see H. Larry Ingle, “Richard Hubberthome and History: The Crisis of 1659.”

32 The most recent study, however, deemphasizes this designation. See Kunze Bonnelyn Y., “The Family, Social and Religious Life of Margaret Fell” (Ph.D. diss., University of Rochester, 1986), p. 2.

33 Fell Margaret, For Manasseh Ben Israel, the Call of the Jewes out of Babylon (London, 1656), and A Loving Salutation to the Seed of Abraham among the Jewes (London, 1656). On the relation between Jewish conversion and millennial expectations, see Hill Christopher, “‘Till the conversion of the Jews,’”, in Hill, Essays: Volume Two, pp. 269300.

34 People there even read the writings of the notorious Digger Gerrard Winsranley. Stephens Nathaniel, A Plain and Easie Calculation of the Name, Mark, and Number of the Name of the Beast (London, 1656), p. 267.

35 On Stephens, see Calamy Edward, The Nonconformist's Memorial, ed. Palmer Samuel (London, 1775), 2: 112–14, and Journal of George Fox, ed. Penney Norman (New York, 1973), 1: 394 (hereafter cited as Penney Journal). On his book, see Stephens, Plaine & Easie Calculation. Edward Calamy the elder, the moderate but Restoration-ejected Presbyterian, wrote an introduction endorsing Stephens' book. See also Nichols John, Antiquities in Leicestershire (London, 1790), 7: 318.

36 Journal of George Fox, ed. Ellwood Thomas (London, 1694), p. 4 (hereafter cited Journal).

37 Ibid., p. 6.

38 Fox, Gospel Truth, pp. 447–57.

39 Ibid., p. 182.

40 Journal, p. 247.

41 Fox George, Concerning Revelation, Prophecy, Measure, and Rule, and the Inspiration and Sufficiency of the Spirit (n.p., 1676), pp. 42, 46.

42 For Fox's use of this phrase, see Pickvance Joseph, A Reader's Companion to George Fox's Journal (London, 1989), pp. 6667.

43 Fox, To the Protector, p. 61.

44 Journal, p. 73; The Short Journal and Itinerary Journals of George Fox, ed. Penney Norman (Cambridge, 1925), p. 28 (hereafter cited as Short Journal).

45 On this point, see Gager John G., Kingdom and Community: The Social World of Early Christianity (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1975).

46 Judging from a recent statistical sampling of Quaker literature, the theme of divine judgment was one of the most common among Quaker authors, including Fox. See Sommerville, “Anglican, Puritan, and Sectarian.”

47 Journal, pp. 67, 245.

48 Short Journal, pp. 21-22.

49 This was increasingly true after the traumatic Nayler scandal of 1656.

50 or this sometime irrational fear of Ranterism and why it was encouraged, see especially Davis J. C., Fear, Myth and History: The Ranters and the Historians (Cambridge, 1986). Robert Barclay, first theologian of Quakerism, penned a major attack on ranterism and dissidents within the movement. The Anarchy of the Ranters and other Libertines (n.p., 1676).

51 Fox George, A Warning from the Lord to all such as hang down the head for a Day (London, 1654), p. 1.

52 Fox George, “As for our Silent Meetings,” 1674, Richardson MS. (transcript), 239, Quaker Collection, Haverford College, Haverford, Pa.

53 Fox George, The Law of God, the Rule for Law-makers (London, 1658), p. 32.

54 See his 1653 epistle explaining this designation in Swarthmore MSS, II, 55, LSF, published the first time in Ingle H. Larry, “George Fox as Enthusiast: An Unpublished Epistle,” Journal of the Friends Historical Society 55 (1989): 265–70.

55 Fox George, et al., Several Letters Written to the Saints of the Most High (London, 1654), pp. 1315. “Deceit” or some variant was one of the most common terms in his lexicon.

56 Fox, Gospel Truth, p. 455. Fox held that abiding in the son meant abiding in eternal life. See Epistle 184 in Works of George Fox (Philadelphia, Pa., 1831), 7: 172–74.

57 Fox George, News coming up out of the North, Sounding towards the South (London, 1654) p. 5-9, 11.

58 Fox George, A Declaration of the Ground of Error & Errors, Blasphemy, Blasphemers and Blasphemies (London, 1657), pp. 1-5, 15. Bunyan wrote also of the evil of riches, but he did so to warn the wealthy of the dangers of hellfire after death. Bunyan, A Few Sighs from Hell, in Underwood T. L., ed., The Miscellaneous Works of John Bunyan (Oxford, 1980), 1: 231382.

59 Journal, p. 167.

60 Fox George, The Glorie of the Lord Arising, Shaking terribly the Earth, and Overturning All, Until Righteousness Be set up (London, 1655), pp. 12, passim.

61 Fox George, To all Freinds and People in the whole of Christendome (London, n.d.), p. 28. These images were straight from Revelation, while the allegories were suffused with meanings given them by seventeenth-Century Protestants, e.g., the “great whore” referred to the Church of Rome; the “dragon,” the Devil; the “bride,” the true church; the “Lamb,” Christ.

62 Fox, Gospel Truth, pp. 143–44.

63 Fox George, To all that would know the Way to the Kingdome (n.p., [1654]), p. 5.

64 Journal, pp. 221-22.

65 The O.E.D. gives its first use in 1638.

66 Journal, pp. 22-24. Fox was strikingly ‘close to Jesus’ concept of the immediate appearance of the Kingdom. See Sheehan Thomas, The First Coming: How the Kingdom of God Became Christianity (New York, 1986), pp. 5862.

67 Penney Journal, 1: 40.

68 Fox George, This for each Parliament-Man (London, 1656), pp. 14.

69 Fox George, An Instruction to Judges & Lawyers (London, [1657]), pp. 67.

70 Ibid., pp. 18-21.

71 Fox George, Several Papers Given Forth (London, 1560), pp. 3233.

72 Fox George, This is to all Officers and Souldiers of the Armies in England, Scotland, and Ireland (London, 1657), p. 2.

73 Fox, Warning from the Lord, p. 2.

74 Fox George, To the Councill of Officers of the Armie and the Heads of the Nation (n.p., [1659]), pp. 2-3, 8. Other contemporaries also advocated this kind of “millenarian imperialism.” See Hill Christopher, A Nation of Change & Novelty: Radical Politics, Religion and Literature in Seventeeth-Century England (London, 1990), p. 232, and “The Millennium,” pp. 327-28. For the interest the English revolution evoked abroad, and thus encouraged English radicals to think internationally, see Hill Christopher, Puritanism & Revolution: Studies in Interpretation of the English Revolution of the 17th Century (New York, 1964), pp. 132–42.

75 Fox could border on an English chauvinism. Five years after the English executed their king, Fox explained that “God has showed wondrous works in this Island (called England) as [in] any nation; there is no nation [that] has tasted the life, wherein the glory of the Lord is made manifest in it above all nations”; then he judged: “in all nations there is not more persecution and imprisoning as in this nation.” Fox, Warning from the Lord, p. 5. Later he dispatched an epistle to foreign nations explaining that the “pearl,” the truth that God had put in each person, had been located in England. Fox George, The Pearle Found in England (London, 1658).

76 Fox George, A Warning to all the Merchants in London (London, 1658), pp. 25.

77 Fox George, The Serious Peoples Reasoning and Speech with the Worlds Teachers and Professors (London, 1659).

78 Fox George, To the Parliament of the Comon-wealth of England, Fifty-nine particulars laid down for the Regulating things (London, 1659). Interestingly, the pamphlet does not appear in Fox's collected writings—indeed, the bulk of his 1650-era pamphleteering, the most socially significant and radically millenarian, escaped the reprinters” eyes. On such omissions as reflecting problems in the interpretation of early Quakerism, see Ingle, “From Mysticism to Radicalism.”

79 Fox, To the Parliament, p. 20.

80 For an outline of the Fifth Monarchist platform, see Capp, “Fifth Monarchists and Popular Millenarianism,” p. 173.

81 This part of his proposal suggests something of the resentment that Fox and his commoner-followers harbored against those benefiting from the post-Reformation policy of selling church lands to government favorites.

82 Fox, To the Parliament, pp. 313.

83 Ibid., p. 5. The third adjective is printed “softy” though “lofty” is surely meant.

84 Fox George, et al., A Declaration from the Harmles & Innocent People of God Called Quakers (n.p., [1661]), p. 6. Fox had also disavowed plotting after the uprising of Sir George Booth in the summer of 1659, but his statement then was not as complete a repudiation of warfare as the one in 1661. For the 1659 statement, see Journal, pp. 200-02. Margaret Fell, later Fox's wife, wrote a statement for the King on June 5, 1660, with a passing reference to the Quakers' testimony against wars and contentions. Fox also signed it. Fell Margaret, A Brief Collection of Remarkable Passages and Occurrences Relating to…Margaret Fell (London, 1710), pp. 202210.

85 On this theme, see Greaves, Deliver Us from Evil.

86 On this point, see the excellent analysis by Oliver, “Quaker Testimony,” p. 231, as well as Reay, Quakers in the English Revolution, ch. 5.

87 Works of Fox, 8: 129.

* The author would like to thank Craig W. Horle, Hugh Barbour, James A. Ward, Richard L. Greaves, and the editor of this journal for helpful suggestions on earlier versions of this article, as well as to the Faculty Research Committee of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, which helped with some of the funds to make the research possible.

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