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Prophesying Again

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 July 2009

Peter Iver Kaufman
Professor of the history of the Christian traditions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


We know relatively little about prophecies or “exercises” that early Elizabethan reformers devised as in-service training. Nearly all textbooks report that Archbishop Grindal objected to government orders that prophesying be suppressed, for, in 1576, his reservations cost him the queen's and regime's confidence. Yet the suppressed exercises have lately been depicted as tame Elizabethan adaptations of continental practices that featured sermons delivered publicly but discussed only clerically. That was so in Zurich, Emden, and elsewhere, but I think that if we look at prophesying again, look, that is, at what the critics, patrons, and partisans said about the exercises in England, we will discover that lay involvement and initiative were just as subversive and disruptive as some thought at the time.

Copyright © American Society of Church History 1999

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1. Compare Denis, Philippe, “La Prophétie dans les églises de la réforme au XVI siècle,” Revue d'histoire ecclesiastique 72 (1977): 289316, which exaggerates both episcopal control of the exercises and episcopal tolerance of lay participation (310–11).Google Scholar

2. Patterson, Annabel, Reading Holinshed's “Chronicles” (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 21.Google ScholarFor “glory,” see the sermon in London, British Library (BL), Sloane MS 271, fol. 6v.Google ScholarDirectives for the diocese of Norwich were circulated in 1575 and were printed in Elizabethan Puritanism, ed. Trinterud, Leonard J. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), 199201, specifying “the English tongue only.”Google ScholarFor the popularity and geographical spread of the exercises, see Collinson, Patrick, “Lectures by Combination: Structures and Characteristics of Church Life in Seventeenth-Century England,” Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 48 (1975): 182213,CrossRefGoogle Scholarreprinted in Collinson's Godly People: Essays on English Protestantism and Puritanism (London: Hambledon, 1983), with additional figures at page 563.Google Scholar

3. See Wood's letter to the Earl of Warwick, in The Letters of Thomas Wood, Puritan, 1566–1577, ed. Collinson, Patrick (London: Athlone, 1960), 10.Google ScholarFor a concise statement of the “trickle down” claim, see the arguments compiled for or by Archbishop Grindal, Quod prophetia sit retinenda, London, Lambeth Palace Library (LPL), MS 2007, particularly fol. 144v: “usus prophetiae: ministros aptiores reddit ad docendum ignorantiam simul et ignaviam propellit.”Google ScholarConsult Nicholas Tyacke, “The ‘Rise of Puritanism’ and the Legalizing of Dissent, 1571–1719,” in From Persecution to Toleration: The Glorious Revolution and Religion in England, ed. Grell, Ole Peter, Israel, Jonathan I., and Tyacke, Nicholas (Oxford: Clarendon, 1991), 1718, for reservations about the “deflation.”CrossRefGoogle ScholarThat the radical or “revolutionary force” of Puritanism and prophesying has been overlooked is particularly surprising inasmuch as the literary historians of the period lately have been preoccupied with late Tudor “repressive mechanisms” or “containment.”Google ScholarWhat was repressed or contained, oddly, goes unreported, a point made by Sherman, William H., “Anatomizing the Commonwealth: Language, Politics, and the Elizabethan Social Order,” in The Project of Prose in Early Modern Europe and the New World, ed. Fowler, Elizabeth and Greene, Roland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 115–16.Google Scholar

4. Cox, De sacris coetibus de novo instituendis quaestiones, BL, Additional MS 29546, fol. 48r. But “some exercise,” Cox elsewhere said, should be convened “when the greater ignorance, idelness, and lewdnesse of the greater number of poore and blinde prestes in the clergye shalbe depely weyed and considered”; BL, Lansdowne MS 25, fol. 61r.Google Scholar

5. Collinson, Patrick, The Religion of Protestants: The Church in English Society, 1559–1625 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1982), 275–76;Google Scholaridem, “The English Conventicle,” in Voluntary Religion, ed. Sheils, W. J. and Wood, Diana (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986), 249–51;Google Scholarand for Puritanism and separatism, idem, “Sects and the Evolution of Protestantism,” in Puritanism: Transatlantic Perspectives in a Seventeenth-Century Anglo-American Faith, ed. Bremer, Francis J. (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1993), 147–66.Google Scholar

6. Original Letters Relative to the English Reformation, ed. Robinson, Hastings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1847), 2: 575;Google Scholarand Joannis a Lasco Opera, ed. Kuyper, A. (Amsterdam: Muller, 1866), 2:102103.Google Scholar

7. Consult Denis, “La Prophétie,” 300–303;Google ScholarPackull, Werner O., Hutterite Beginnings: Communitarian Experiments during the Reformation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), 2225;Google ScholarHeinrich Bullingers Reformationsgeschichte, ed. Hottinger, J. J. and Vogel, H. H. (Frauenfeld, 1838), 1: 117 for precedents.Google Scholar But also, for skepticism about the importance and influence of the strangers' experiments, see Fairlambe, Peter, The Recantation of a Brownist (London, 1606), sig. E3v–E4r and Collinson, “Lectures,” 188.Google Scholar

8. Pettegree, Andrew, Foreign Protestant Communities in Sixteenth-Century London (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 35, quoting a Lasco.Google ScholarAlso consult Original Letters, 568, for Micronius;Google ScholarBrigden, Susan, London and the Reformation (Oxford: Clarendon, 1989), 464–67;Google Scholarand MacCulloch, Diarmaid, Thomas Cranmer (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1996), 477–79.Google Scholar

9. The Miserable Clergy of London, Oxford, Bodleian Library (Bodl.), Wood MS F.30–32, 87. For the Dutch proposal, see Original Letters, 587.Google Scholar

10. Consult the narratives compiled in 1574 by Wood, Thomas and Field, John and published as A Brief Discourse of the Troubles Begun at Frankfurt (London, 1846), cxxv–cxxvii, clxxvii.Google ScholarAlso see Pettegree, Andrew, Marian Protestantism: Six Studies (Aldershot: Scolar, 1996), 3334, for Geneva;Google Scholarand 179–82, for Emden. Directions for appointing ministers and for censuring delinquents survive from Wesel, in LPL MS 2523, fols. 4r and 6v.Google Scholar

11. The Works of John Knox, ed. Laing, David (Edinburgh, 1848), 2: 242–45, citing 1 Cor. 14: 29–31.Google Scholar

12. Bancroft, Richard, Dangerous positions and Proceedings published and practiced within this Hand of Brytaine under pretense of reformation and for the presbiteriall discipline (London, 1593), 32.Google Scholar

13. Knox's debts to other reformers are assessed by Denis, “La Prophétie,” 313–14;Google Scholarand by MacGregor, Janet G., The Scottish Presbyterian Polity: A Study of Its Origins in the Sixteenth Century (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1926), 5354, 67, 76–77, and 134.Google Scholar

14. Kerkeraads-Protocoilen der nederduitsche Vluchtelingen-kerk te London, 1560–1566, ed. Schelven, Aart Arnout van (Amsterdam, 1921), 247 and 251, for the restrictions; 384–85, for Moreels.Google Scholar

15. See Grindal's contribution to the Velsius dossier, PRO, State Papers 12/28, fols. 29r–30r;Google Scholarand Collinson's, Patrick remarks in his Archbishop Grindal, 1519–1583: The Struggle for a Reformed Church (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 132–34.Google ScholarAlso Gallars's, Nicholas Des provisions “de exercitatione prophetica,” in Forma Politiae Ecclesiasticae nuper Institutae Londini in Coetu Gallorum, BL, Additional MS 48096, 78,Google Scholarrecently reprinted in Unity in Multiformity: The Minutes of the Coetus of London, 1575 and the Consistory Minutes of the Italian Church of London, 1570–1591, ed. Boersma, Owe and Jelsma, Auke J. (London: Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 1997), 119–20.Google ScholarFor Des Gallars's part in prosecuting Jean Morely for democratic notions, see Quick, John, Synodicon in Gallia Reformata (London, 1692), 5657.Google Scholar

16. The Remains of Edmund Grindal, ed. Nicholson, William (Cambridge, 1843), 304305, 336.Google Scholar

17. Forma seu Modus Prophetandi, LPL, MS 2007, fols. 129r, 132r–v, and 134r. Also see arguments for limiting lay prophesying copied into a commonplace book, preserved now in Oxford, Bodl MS 3432 (Selden Supra 44), fols. 64v–65r.Google Scholar

18. BL, Additional MS 29546, fol. 56v. An episode at Cambridge suggests that “over much vehemency” was occasionally pardoned when the sermon in question was “delivered in the Latin tongue and not popularly taught,” but the offender's appeal for pardon attests the government's surveillance and seriousness, Cambridge University Library, MS Mm. 1.40, 373–74.Google Scholar

19. BL, Lansdowne MS 21, fols. 2r–3r.Google Scholar

20. See the queen's correspondence printed in Lehmberg, Stanford, “Archbishop Grindal and the Prophesyings,” Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 34 (1965): 142–43. LPL, MS 2003, fol. 40r specifies “no small nombres.”Google Scholar

21. BL Additional MS 27632, fol. 47v.Google Scholar

22. LPL, MS 2003, fol. 70r. For Peterborough, PRO, State Papers 12/78, fols. 243r–44r; and BL, Lansdowne MS 21, fol. 4r.Google ScholarFor the conventional case against proprietors' greed and for comments on the failure of reformed churches to obtain and sustain “an holy preaching ministerie,” consult “The Lamentable Complaint of the Commonaltie,” printed in A Part of the Register (Middleburgh, 1593), especially 206207, 221–23, 247–49, and 269.Google ScholarPubMed

23. BL, Lansdowne MS 17, fol. 129r.Google Scholar

24. The Letterbook of John Parkhurst, ed. Houlbrooke, Ralph (Norwich: Norfolk Record Society, 1975), 231–33, 235–36, 241–47;Google ScholarGleanings of a Few Scattered Ears during the Period of the Reformation in England, ed. Gorham, George Cornelius (London, 1857), 484–92; and Patrick Collinson, Elizabethan Puritan Movement, 191–92.Google Scholar

25. The Zurich Letters, ed. Robinson, Hastings (Cambridge, 18421845), 1:98.Google Scholar

26. BL, Additional MS 29546, fols. 56r and 57r, for Cheney and Aylmer respectively; LPL, MS 2003, fol. 29r, for Cooper.Google Scholar

27. Remains of Edmund Grindal, 342. Zanchi nonetheless wrote directly to the queen, Zurich Letters, 2:339–53.Google Scholar

28. LPL, MS 2003, fol. lOv and Lehmberg, “Prophesying,” 115–17. “Enemies of the prevailing order” may have compassed the critics who aimed to make Scory rather than episcopacy contemptible, for the bishop's misconduct in office became something of a public scandal early in the next decade—see, for example, the Privy Council's letter to John Whitgift, BL, Egerton MS 3048, fols. 207r–208r.Google Scholar

29. LPL, MS 2003, fols. 5r, 8r, 13r, and 16r, printed respectively in Lehmberg, “Prophesying,” 113, 97, 108–109, 101. Neither set has the letter from Bishop Cheney of Gloucester, for which, see BL, Additional MS 29546, fol. 56v, but note that an independently composed summary misleadingly abbreviates Cheney's position and substitutes “admit no layman” for the original “admit no layman to speak,” BL, Additional MS 21565, fol. 26v.Google Scholar

30. Review Archdeacon Thomas Lever's “Notes for Some Reformacon of the Mynistrye,” London, Inner Temple Library, Petyt MS 538/38, fols. 71v and 73r.Google Scholar

31. For Parkhurst's exasperation, consult his letter to Heydon, William (1573), printed in John Strype, Annals of the Reformation (Oxford, 1824), 2.2: 523–24.Google Scholar

32. BL, Additional MS 48066 (Yelverton MS 62), fols. 2v–3r.Google Scholar

33. See Leicester's letter to Bishop Scambler of Peterborough, Cambridge, Magdalen College, Pepys Library, MS 2503, 647;Google Scholarand, for Leicester's patronage, consult Tighe, W. J., “Courtiers and Politics in Elizabethan Hertfordshire: Sir James Croft, His Friends, and His Foes,” Historical Journal 32 (1989): 260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

34. Compare BL, Additional MS 21565, fol. 26v with PRO, State Papers 12/78, fol. 244v.Google Scholar

35. BL, Additional MS 29546, fol. 57. So seriously did Aylmer take this epidemic that, as bishop of London two years after its suppression, he was quick to imprison a preacher simply for “touchynge that which theye call exercise,” BL, Cotton MS Titus B VII, fol. 18v.Google Scholar

36. BL, Additional MS 25, fol. 92r.Google Scholar

37. LPL, MS 2003, fol. 4; and Lehmberg, “Prophesying,” 110–11.Google Scholar

38. See Two Sermons (London, 1584), sig. C2, for Curteys's 1576 sermon against “sophisters.”Google ScholarPubMedFor his case that same year against libelers, review the pleas in PRO, STAC 5 / c43 / 10,Google Scholarand consult Manning, Roger B., Religion and Society in Elizabethan Sussex: A Study of the Enforcement of the Religious Settlement, 1558–1603 (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1969), 104106.Google Scholar

39. Remains of Edmund Grindal, 373–74.Google Scholar

40. BL, Additional MS 27632, fol. 49v, for the questions asked in the aftermath of suppression; and Collinson, Grindal, 233–41, for sobriety.Google Scholar

41. MacCaffrey, Wallace T., Queen Elizabeth and the Making of Policy, 1572–1588 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), 8489.Google Scholar

42. Compare Udall, John, The State of the Church Laide Open (London, 1588), fols.Google ScholarH1r–H2r with Harrison's Description of England in Shakespeare's Youth, ed. Furnivall, Frederick (London, 1877), 1819.Google Scholar

43. Adams, Simon, “Eliza Enthroned? The Council and Its Politics,” in The Reign of Elizabeth I, ed. Haigh, Christopher (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985), 7071;Google ScholarO'Day, Rosemary, The English Clergy: The Emergence and Consolidation of a Profession, 1558–1642 (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1979), 7273; and Collinson's introductory remarks in Letters of Thomas Wood, xxvii.Google Scholar

44. Letters of Thomas Wood, 15. From what we now know of the subsequent agitation connected with one of the preachers at Southam, Eusebius Paget, we could conclude that Leicester's demurral was disingenuous. For at Kilkhampton, a number of Paget's partisans protested official sanctions by leafleting parishioners “in the highe wayes,” LPL, Cartae miscellaneae 12/16, fol. 5v.Google Scholar

45. Collinson, Godly People, 375.Google Scholar

46. LPL, MS 2003, fols. 70v–71r; Lehmberg, “Prophesying,” 139;Google Scholarand Collinson, , “If Constantine, then also Theodosius: St. Ambrose and the Integrity of the Elizabethan Ecclesia Anglkana,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 30 (1979): 205229; reprinted in Collinson, Godly People, 109–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

47. BL Lansdowne MS 23, fols. 7r and 20r; and Lansdowne MS 25, fol. 163v, also printed in Remains of Edmund Grindal, 392–93. Grindal's protest, “not of my stubborness and wilfulnesse,” was filed in Cecil's papers with a letter from the bishop of Durham declaring the archbishop's “owne wilfulnesse and undeutifullnes towards his sovereign to be the just occasion of his troubles,” Lansdowne MS 25, fols. 161v–162r.Google Scholar

48. BL Lansdowne MS 17, fol. 96r, for Sandys's difficulties keeping “fanaticall spirits from the Crosse”; LPL, MS 2003, fols. 35v and 69v–70v, for Grindal's confidence and promise.Google Scholar

49. BL, Harley MS. 36, fols. 298r–299r.Google Scholar

50. Collinson, “Lectures,” 195–96.Google Scholar

51. London, Dr. Williams's Library (DWL), Morrice MSS B.2, fol. 8 and C, 218.Google Scholar

52. DWL, Morrice MSS B.2, fol. 18r and C, 228.Google Scholar

53. LPL, MS 2007, fol. 131r: laid idonei et habiles.Google Scholar

54. LPL, MS 2003, fol. 13r and Lehmberg, “Prophesying,” 106.Google Scholar

55. But note the difficulties Leech's critics experienced formulating the differences between teaching and preaching—and their indictments: McIntosh, Marjorie Keniston, A Community Transformed: The Manor and Liberty of Havering, 1500–1600 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 207211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

56. LPL, Cartae miscellaneae, 12/15, fol. lv.Google Scholar

57. DWL, Morrice MSS, B.I, fol. 276 and C, 338–39.Google Scholar

58. Fenner, Dudley, A Defense of the Godly Ministers against the Slaunders of Dr. Bridges (London, 1587), 7072, citing Acts 11:2–4, and 128–29;Google ScholarFenner, , A Counterpoyson (London, 1584), 3031,140–43; and DWL, Morrice MS A.2,131.Google Scholar

59. “The Defense of the Ministers of Kent,” DWL, Morrice MSS B.I, fol. 411 and C, 377–78. Also see a contemporary clerical petition for the resumption of exercises and in-service training, in BL, Lansdowne MS 42, fol. 208r.Google Scholar

60. Fenner, Defense, 71.Google Scholar

61. For “many,” see Grindal's De horum nominum, LPL, MS 2014, fol. 73, citing Matt. 7:22; for the gentleman's letter and “all,” Part of the Register, 175–76. Jean Morely had published similarly “democratic” sentiments more than twenty years earlier, but there is no way now to be sure how widely his remarks were known in late Tudor England.Google ScholarFor Morely and democracy, consult Kingdon, Robert M., Geneva and the Consolidation of the French Protestant Movement, 1564–1572 (Geneva: Droz, 1967), 5761;Google Scholarand, for Morely and prophesying, Maruyama, Tadataka, The Ecclesiology of Theodore Beza: The Reform of the True Church (Geneva: Droz, 1978), 8889.Google ScholarFurther observations on, and arguments against, the “copia prophetarum” can be found in Oxford, Bodl. MS 3432 (Selden supra 44), fol. 64v.Google Scholar

62. See PRO, State Papers 12/176/68, fol. 215r for the queen's address to her bishops in 1585.

63. BL, Add MS 34729, fols. 50v–51r.Google Scholar

64. Knappen, Marshall M., Tudor Puritanism: A Chapter in the History of Idealism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939), 255–82, quoted at 278.Google Scholar

65. For the “hush” and “necessarie discord,” consult Overton, William, Godlye and Pithie Exhortation (1582), sigs. B6v–C5r.Google Scholar

66. See Dering's letter to Burghley, BL, Lansdowne MS 17, fol. 197r and Barstow, The Safegarde of Societie (London, 1576), fol. 104r.Google Scholar

67. See The Troubles of Our Catholic Forefathers Related by Themselves, ed. Morris, John (London, 1575), 240–41 for Weston's report.Google ScholarFor Collinson's characterization, see his “Elizabethan and Jacobean Puritanisms as Forms of Popular Religious Culture,” in The Culture of English Puritanism, 1560–1700, ed. Durston, Christopher and Eales, Jacqueline (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996), 54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

68. For “dumbe asses,” A Dialogue Concerning Strife in Our Church (London, 1584), 6869.Google Scholar

69. Parry, G. J. R., A Protestant Vision: William Harrison and the Reformation of Elizabethan England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 168–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

70. BL, Harleian MS 7042, fol. 59v.Google Scholar

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