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Silences, visions, prophéties: des performances contestées

God is not the Supporter of Tyranny”: Prophetic Reception and Political Capital in Elizabeth Poole’s A Vision (1648)

God is not the Supporter of Tyranny”: réception prophétique et capital politique dans A Vision (1648) d’Elizabeth Poole
Carme Font Paz

Résumés

L'agency politique et l'autorité des femmes dissidentes du dix-septième siècle qui ont pratiqué l’écriture prophétique sont perçues dans leur conscience du bien commun au-delà d'un idéal religieux abstrait. Conformément à l'opinion de Kevin Sharpe selon qui la religion n'était pas seulement une doctrine, “mais une langue, une esthétique, une structuration de sens, une identité, une politique”, cet article explore les tensions dialectiques générées par le discours prophétique lorsqu'il n'est pas conforme à la norme et à l’intérêt politique. En prêtant attention à la façon dont la prophétesse Elizabeth Poole a suscité la réaction du public et a répondu à la résistance de ce public à son message, on verra comment émerge la conscience d’un certain degré d'intervention publique au-delà de l’objectif de prophétiser. Je suggère que l'exposition de la production textuelle de Poole était une forme d'activisme, en particulier lorsqu'il s'agissait d'une défense publique de ses idées anti-régicides, quand elle a été mise au défi sur ces idées ou lorsque celles-ci ont articulé une vision en faveur du bien commun. L'étude de cas de Poole permet de comprendre comment la prophétie radicale a imprégné la politique du dix-septième siècle en projetant l'expérience spirituelle privée dans la vie publique et la manière dont les discours prophétiques du dix-septième siècle ont contribué à la sécularisation du publicum imprégné de religion.

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I

  • 1 Hilda Smith, ed., Women Writers and the Early Modern British Political Tradition, Cambridge, Cambri (...)
  • 2 Katherine Gillespie, Domesticity and Dissent in the Seventeenth Century, Cambridge, Cambridge Unive (...)
  • 3 Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract, Cambridge, Polity Press, 1988.
  • 4 Danielle Clarke, The Politics of Early Modern Women’s Writing, London, Routledge, 2001; Teresa Fero (...)

1Seventeenth-century prophecy allowed women to partake in a political culture in which public matters were verbalized in religious terms. Early Modernists have long noted the difficulty in defining what is political in prophecy and the extent to which its agency legitimized women as active political subjects. One point of contention is whether to count women prophets as full political subjects beyond their sectarian activities when no effective or lasting political change was achieved. This approach reveals a finalist conception of politics which does not always correspond with the dynamics of social and political change, both for men and for women. It also tends to disregard religion as a transformative force outside the domains of personal belief and conscience. Hilda Smith reinstated women as political subjects in the seventeenth century since they had a “real presence in political and economic structure”, and traced the road map from political existence to awareness, participation, and finally, political tenure.1 Susan Wiseman and Katharine Gillespie have provided insightful analyses of what was political for seventeenth century women, including prophetesses, which take the representation of gender into full account while seeking to disentangle the politics of gender from influence in state matters. Gillespie, in particular, associates revolutionary and dissenting writing with the unfolding of liberal political principles of toleration, separation of church from state and individualism,2 as a response to the classic and influential work by Carole Pateman in which the implicit subordination to men (or sexual contract) was a requirement for a successful social contract.3 For Danielle Clarke, Teresa Feroli, and Shannon Miller, women’s political legitimacy cannot be dissociated from gender politics when narratives of the Fall were often used to articulate theories on government authority.4

2Elizabeth Poole, a woman who is known to have prophesied in the halls of power, provides us with an example of the complex dynamics of prophetic reception when it enters a direct dialogue with political interest. As long as Poole’s message was in synchrony with the interests of the Army Council, she was welcomed and acknowledged as a prophetess, but when her message did not conform to political expectations, her morals and prophetic abilities were challenged. In both cases, Poole cast her prophetic interpretation of events as her right to political representation.

3I suggest that Poole’s exposure of her textual production was a form of activism, especially when it involved a public defence of her ideas, when she was challenged on those ideas, or when these articulated a vision on behalf of the common good. Seeking a reaction from an audience, or responding to the audience’s resistance to the prophet’s message, shows a degree of conscious public intervention beyond the mandate to prophesy.

  • 5 Katherine Romack, Monstruous Births and the Body Politic, ed. Cristina Malcomson and Mihoko Suzuki, (...)

4Prophetic writing, whether more or less openly millenarian in its persuasion, was also an attempt to regenerate the state through a divine code of ethics that sought to find a correspondence in matters of public life and political organization for the benefit of all (or all the elect). In this sense, most prophetic texts seek to be interventionist. Katherine Romack observes that the large-scale dissemination of print was conducive to a “radical transformation of the conceptual means through which the rights and obligations of individual ‘male’ subjects were envisioned”, and that women were obviously not immune to these conceptual changes. What still remains to be fully addressed are, in Romack’s words, “the contributions of women to the print debate over political representation”.5

  • 6 David Wootton, ed., Divine Right and Democracy, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1986, p. 3-10.
  • 7 Jürgen Habermas, Further Reflections on the Public Sphere, ed. Craig Calhoun, Habermas and the Publ (...)

5My analysis looks into the ways radical prophecy permeated seventeenth-century politics through its mandate of projecting private spiritual experience towards public life, and the manner in which these discourses secularized a religiously charged publicum. It shares with David Wootton his observation that Locke’s argument for sovereign individualism was based on a divinely ordained moral law,6 and explores the manners in which the principles of voluntary association in church matters facilitated free political association, often against or outside state control, and often, as Jürgen Habermas remarked, as the result of “the movement for a so-called freedom of religion which historically has secured the first sphere of private autonomy”.7 Since prophecy sought public exposure, it often legitimized its public function by appealing to an awareness of the common good, and this is the turn that most of Poole’s arguments take when these contradict the expectations of her supporters.

II

6The work and public exposure of the dissenter prophetess Elizabeth Poole coincided with a transcendent occasion in the history of England: the intervening weeks between December 1648 and January 1649 in which the Army Council debated the possible execution of Charles I. Elizabeth Poole was probably baptised in 1622 and died in or after 1668. She was the daughter of Robert Poole who, in 1645, attacked the congregation’s minister, William Kiffin (1616-1701), for “seducing” his children away from his home and into the Particular Baptist church. We are acquainted with what exists through her own texts, The Clarke Papers (1647-1649), and a handful of letters attached to a reprint of her writings, bound together as A Prophesie Touching the Death of King Charles (1649) and slightly amended by the bookseller George Thomason.

  • 8 John Lilburne, An Agreement of the People of England, London, printed for R. Smithhurst, 1648, p. 3 (...)
  • 9 Elizabeth Poole, A Vision, Wherein is Manifested the Disease and Cure of the Kingdome, Being the Su (...)

7Poole began prophesying at the Army Council in December 1648, shortly after the establishment of the Rump Parliament and when preparations for the King’s trial were in place. General Henry Ireton had co-authored with the polemicist Hugh Peters the Remonstrance of the Army of November 1648, and supported the second Leveller Agreement of the People published on December 15, 1648, which insisted on a thorough constitutional reform, including the dissolution of Parliament by April 1649 and a “more convenient election of representatives”.8 Shortly afterwards Elizabeth Poole was summoned to appear before the Army Council where, on December 29, 1648, she explained and commented on the vision she had received concerning the future of England. A version of her speech on that day, and of her short debate with the army grandees, was published under her own name and the title of A Vision.9 Poole’s first speech to the Council on December 1648, her Vision, was warmly received and she was invited a second time only days before the execution of Charles I. On this occasion, and before the Leveller leader John Lilburne, Poole gave out her anti-regicidal discourse that astounded most army members.

  • 10 Teresa Feroli in Political Speaking, op. cit., p. 68, suggests that Poole may have been brought bef (...)

8On the eve of Poole’s first public intervention in Whitehall she was offered temporary lodgings there as was customary for sympathisers of the army. The issue of whether Poole was acting on behalf of someone else, and especially of whom, has been an object of speculation.10 It is uncertain whether Poole’s anti-regicidal discourse was secretly sponsored by a parliamentary source (most probably John Lilburne or even the Baptist leader William Kiffin himself) or whether this was really her own whim to challenge army officers. Poole was undoubtedly a sympathiser of the Army’s Council, and she was invited to foster its regicidal agenda.

  • 11 C. H. Firth, The Clarke Papers, Vol. 2, London, printed for the Camden Society, 1894, p. 164-166.

9The Clarke Papers reproduce the exchange between the “General Councill of 5 January 1649 att Whitehall” where “Elizabeth Poole who came from Abingdon call’d in”. After her own introduction of her vision, she “gives in a paper” and we read in a footnote that “it was against the King’s execution”. The Clarke proceedings do not reproduce the details of Poole’s “paper”, but we can read the questions that several council members placed about their main concerns: can Poole demonstrate that her message comes from God, and, is she advocating for the King’s trial only or for his death? Poole replies that “he is due to bee judged I believe, and that you may binde his hands and hold him fast under”.11 A footnote attached to Poole’s answer informs us that “[Henry] Ireton appears to have tried to make use of Mrs. Poole vision to support the policy he had been urging”, and when Ireton reformulates the same question, she insists that the text will “beare witness for itself” and describes its content:

  • 12 Ibid., p. 166.

[It] be consider’d in the relation that Kinges are sett in for Government, though I doe nott speake this to favour the tyranny or bloodthistinesse of any, for I doe looke upon the Conquest to bee of Divine pleasure, though I doe nott speake this – God is nott the supporter of tyranny or injustice, those are thinges hee desires may bee kept under.12

  • 13 For the whole Remonstrance, see Puritanism and Liberty, being the Army Debates (1647-9) from the Cl (...)
  • 14 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Richard Tuck, London, Penguin Classics, 2002 [1651], p. 286. “Conques (...)
  • 15 Marchamont Nedham, The Case of the Commonwealth of England, Stated, London, printed for E. Blackmor (...)
  • 16 Firth, op. cit., p. 167.
  • 17 Ibid.

10Poole is faithful to her role as prophetess in that she refers the gentlemen to the authority of her written prophecy, but she is on occasion willing to provide her own informed opinion, which is rich in nuances on contract theory. Poole makes it clear that she is not defending tyranny, and that therefore her prophetic message in favour of preserving the King’s life cannot be understood as a defence of absolutist depravity. “Conquest” pleases God, though he does not support injustice. The mentioning of the word “conquest” might have led Colonel Rich to frame the same question to Poole in terms of the relationship between natural reason and divine will, since the Remonstrance of November 1648 made it clear that the right of conquest could not be pleaded to acquit princes of that which was due to the people.13 Poole does not specify whether to her mind the rights of the people are above any royal prerogative on account of its rights of conquest, but Thomas Hobbes had defined “conquest” as “the acquiring of the right of sovereignty by victory”, which he extended to Parliament when the “Oath of Engagement” was subscribed to “by all men over 18 as required by parliament”.14 The notion of “conquest” could also be reminiscent of Marchamont Nedham’s reporting and later essay, The Case of the Commonwealth – whose definition of “conquest” is grounded in Machiavelli’s Chapter 6 of The Prince, “conquests by virtue” and Nedham’s abundant references to Grotius’ De jure belli and his defence of natural law in a civil war.15 Defending the right of Parliament to prosecute a king, John Milton would publish his The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates in February 1649 and Eikonoklastes in October 1649. Colonel Rich replies to Poole with a long question: “I desire to know whether that which is the will of God is nott concordant with naturall reason”. Is it consistent with natural reason to think that the will of God “will be inconsistent with the most essential being for which itt was ordain’d?” Ultimately, Colonel Rich is wondering whether we can interpret the will of God (through prophecy) as possibly meaning that “for the highest breach of trust there cannot be such an outward forfeiture of life itself, as of the trust itt self”.16 His questions touch upon the core of a political and religious argument for justifying regicide, and these can be seen as both a challenge to Poole’s authority and as a recognition of her role as prophet-interpreter. Poole replies in an astute manner that preserves the faithfulness to her prophetic message as well as her own political interpretation and standing. “If these thinges bee mistaken by mee and found out by you, soe God may be glorified”.17 The “Mrs Poole” who is resorting to her role as interpreter first, and then to her role as divine vessel, challenges Colonel Rich to find out for himself the mystery of God’s ways.

  • 18 Blair Worden, Literature and Politics in Cromwellian England, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007 (...)

11A few days after this episode, the royalist weekly newsbook Mercurius Pragmaticus (now managed by Nedham till May 1649)18 wrote an account of the event, highlighting the party-line factions at the heart of the Council:

  • 19 Mercurius Pragmaticus, Tuesday, 26 Dec. 1648-Tuesday, 9 Jan. 1649.

Shee told the Grandees of their Sinnes, and the Levellers of their Transgressions; after which the Brethren Ordered her Thankes, and were it not too large I would have printed her Sermon. It might have served handsomely to have shewne the private Quarrells and deadly feuds, which run in their Divisions, and petty sub-Divisions of Faction.19

  • 20 John Lilburne et al., A Plea for Common Right and Freedom, London, printed for Ja. and Jo. Moxon, 1 (...)
  • 21 See Ann Hughes, Gender and Politics in Leveller Literature, eds. Susan D. Amussen and Mark A. Kishl (...)
  • 22 Elizabeth Poole, Thomasine Pendarves, An Alarum of War given to the Army and to their High Court of (...)

12Lilburne might have sponsored Poole’s appearance, but she did not spare comments that ran against the respective political agendas of grandees and Levellers alike, who had been debating both the disposal of the King and The Agreement of the People. On 28 December Lilburne had submitted a modified version of the Agreement, entitled A Plea for Common Right and Freedom to his Excellency, urging the army officers to honour the “banner and standard” of liberty now that “all power lay in their hands”.20 In April 1649 Katherine Chidley, Lilburne’s wife Elizabeth, probably Elizabeth Poole and hundreds of other women besieged parliament to claim the release of Leveller leaders who were dissatisfied with the new Commonwealth, and proffered a petition entitled The Petition of Women (1649).21 Poole’s “sermon”, as the reporter of the Mercurius Pragmaticus noted, left exposed the feuds and divisions within party lines, and struck the audience as being an elaborate message of political significance that went beyond the expected conventions of spiritual speech. The Baptist leader William Kiffin and his congregation turned against Poole in the aftermath of her January prophesying. He sent a letter to John Pendarves, the Baptist minister of Abingdon at that time, urging him to slander Poole. Pendarves’ wife, Thomasine, intercepted the letter and wrote a heartfelt response published in March 1649 along with a reprint of Poole’s original Vision in a second short tract entitled An Alarum of War Given to the Army.22 Pendarves defends Poole’s personal reputation, challenged by Kiffin’s mention of her ‘past sins’, and the truthfulness of her prophecies:

  • 23 Ibid., p. 9.

I am sure, and I speak nothing but the truth, that I have found a most divine spirit in her, as far as I could discern, and that which comes to the spirit and life of things, and in this methinks you should rejoice, for truly I have heard many professors and professions, but to my knowledge I never heard one come so near the power. I do not speak this as being affected with any person, party or opinion; I blesse my God, I am now in his strength.23

  • 24 Ibid., p. 10.
  • 25 An [other] Alarum of War, Given to the Army, and to their High Court of Justice (so called) by the (...)

13Pendarves appeals to Kiffin’s sense of Christian ethics in these times in which the “crime of self-love” is rampant and men, especially those who have defected churches, “speak largely upon little ground”.24 Poole authored a third tract interpreting the actual meaning of her prophecy, also published in the spring of 1649 as Another Alarum of War given to the Army.25 The text of the Vision, together with part of the material contained in the two subsequent Alarums, are all the actual copy that can be credited to Poole as an author.

  • 26 See Joseph Ivimey, The Life of Mr. William Kiffin, London, printed for the author, 1811, p. 33.
  • 27 Stephen Wright, The Early English Baptists, 1603-1649, Rochester, NY, Boydell & Brewer, 2006, p. 12 (...)
  • 28 William Kiffin, A Briefe Remonstrance of the Reasons and Grounds of the People Commonly Called Anab (...)
  • 29 Ibid., p. 11.
  • 30 Rachel Adcock, Baptist Women’s Writings in Revolutionary Culture, 1640-1680, Farnham, Ashgate, 2015 (...)

14Kiffin signed the First London (1644) and the Second London Confession of Faith (1677) and embraced the belief that baptism should be delivered only to believers.26 Contrary to what has traditionally been assumed in Baptist scholarship, Stephen Wright has argued that the formal division between the General and the Particular Baptists occurred much later in the seventeenth century as a result of the hardening of the predestinarian debate in the Second London Confession and their belief in particular atonement. Wright further argues that by the late 1640s, many Particular Baptist leaders showed hostility towards the Levellers after the Independent sentiment in Parliament gradually distanced itself from Presbyterian factions and gained ground.27 Apart from their changing political allegiances, Baptists were often looked at with distrust for their claim that children and servants could decide to be baptised against the authority of their parents or masters. A printed dialogue between Robert Poole and William Kiffin entitled A Briefe Remonstrance (1645) constitutes an eloquent example of why groups such as the Baptists could be enticing to young women who might be disaffected with domesticity.28 William Kiffin stated that “if we can prove ourselves to be such Congregations as are before spoken of, such as sincerely and truly strive, according to the light we have, to be such; then I hope you will be so farre from dispising such gatherings of the Saints together, as that you will noy denie them to receive in members and to dispense such gifts for the edifying one of another”.29 This emphasis upon spiritual equality and edification was a defining characteristic of Baptists congregations and translated into extending the right of prophesy to women.30

  • 31 Marcus Nevitt, art. cit., p. 233-248.
  • 32 Manfred Brod, “A Radical Network in the English Revolution: John Pordage and His Circle, 1646-1654” (...)
  • 33 Gillespie, op. cit., p. 115-165; Wiseman, op. cit., p. 143-178.

15Seventeenth-century Baptist practice played a major role in Poole’s visions and was an influence on fashioning her prophetic speech. Through her elaborate metaphor of “curing” and “divorcing” the body politic, Poole presented herself as a concerned individual who aimed at restoring the “health” of an ailing nation, after its leaders had severed a sacred contract with their people. While Marcus Nevitt surveys her adept use of the metaphors of divorce to justify an anti-regicidal discourse, his emphasis is on Poole’s contribution to the political debate rather than her authority as a prophet or a writer.31 Manfred Brod’s approach leans toward Poole’s biographical details and the circumstances of her appearances at Whitehall.32 Susan Wiseman and Katherine Gillespie, respectively, have expanded on Brod’s line of inquiry toward the elucidation of who might be pulling the strings behind Poole’s public interventions. They have also connected them to extended readings of Poole’s usage of the tropes of marriage and the body politic and linked them to wider considerations on women’s voice and political authority in the seventeenth century.33

III

  • 34 To Xeiphos tō Martyōn, or A Brief Narration of the Mysteries of State Carried on by the Spanish Fac (...)
  • 35 A Brief Narration, op. cit., p. 69.
  • 36 Ibid., p. 70.

16Two Royalist accounts on parliamentarian affairs and commentary, A Brief Narration of the Mysteries of State Carried on by the Spanish Faction in England (1649) and The English-Devil (1660) provide additional information about the circumstances of Poole’s appearance, even though The English-Devil borrows most of its account from A Brief Narration.34 The anonymous author of A Brief Narration is intent on showing the plotting of Cromwell and his Spanish faction. In his description of how the depraved Cromwell had to resort to sectaries to promote his agenda, the reporter provides an account of how the “witch full of deceiptufull craft, put into brave cloathes and pretended she was a Lady that come from a far Countrey, being sent by God to the Army with a Revelation which she must make known to the army”.35 The report does not mention the name ‘Poole’, but the circumstances of the “witch’s” appearance coincide with those of the The Clarke Papers. We learn further details, though, such as her “strange postures expressing high devotion” and her advice of “removing the King out of the way which they must do by proceeding first to try him, and then to condemn him, and then to depose him, but not to put him to death”.36 The reporter expresses contempt for the whole episode and tries to ridicule both Poole and her sponsors:

  • 37 Ibid.

Cromwell and Ireton fixing their eyes upon her in most solemn manner (to beget in the rest of the Officers (who were ready to laugh) an apprehension of some extraordinary serious thing) fell both of them to weeping; the Witch looking in their faces, and seeing them weep, fell to weeping likewise; and began to tell them what acquaintance she had with God by Revelation”.37

  • 38 For Dorothy Ludlow, “Shaking Patriarchy’s Foundations: Sectarian Women in England 1641-1700”, in Tr (...)
  • 39 A Brief Narration, op. cit., p. 70.
  • 40 Ibid., p. 71.
  • 41 See T. M. Lawrence, “Thomas Goodwin”, ODNB, last accessed December 6, 2016, http://www.oxforddnb.co (...)
  • 42 A Brief Narration, op. cit., p. 71.

17His tone contrasts with the sober account of The Clarke Papers in which the gathered officers were trying to make sense of the anti-regicidal challenge of Poole’s prophecy. It might well have been the case that Cromwell, Poole and Ireton did not weep after all, or that the officers did not wrestle to hold their laughter. The report provides a vivid scene of uproar and confusion at seeing a woman speaking in parliament, and it is likewise revelatory that women prophets – whether their messages were taken in earnest or in ridicule – were not always regarded as dangerous or suspicious or even politically innocuous.38 A Brief Narration states that “this relation I had from one that was strongly of the Armies party, but related this shamefull story with much indignation”, and finishes the episode with a short derogatory reference to the astrologer-prophet William Lilly “which was much according to the opinion of his sister witch”.39 The pamphlet underlines the ludicrous element of prophecy, whether produced by a man or a woman, if it is in line – as Lilly’s prognostications were at that time – with the parliamentarian faction. It also attempts to discredit prophecy from inside the Independent’s side, as when the reporter describes how “I repaired to some of the most religious and able Independents to know their opinion of these things; they replied (I am informed [by] Thomas Goodwin in particular) that since they had gone too far, they must now carry it on”.40 Goodwin, the nonconformist minister who in 1652 would favour the Cromwellian settlement,41 finishes his reply to the anonymous reporter with a “Machiavells aphorism”, namely, that “this [the prophetic performance] was good in Politikes, but bad in Divinity”.42 Goodwill reported commentary would appear to criticise deism in politics, as Machiavelli did, while retaining the cryptic double meaning that Poole’s prophecy is good for politics and in political content.

  • 43 Elizabeth Poole, A Vision: wherein is Manifested the Disease and Cure of the Kingdome. Being the su (...)

18The central images that Poole presented as being the core of her visions and those that she developed as commentary are closely interrelated, especially when she addresses the central issues concerning regicide. This applies to both of the tracts that she authored, but to Another Alarum of War in particular. The opening speech of A Vision makes it clear, already in the title page, that it “was delivered to the councel of War” by Poole: “I have been (by the pleasure of the most High) made sensible of the distresses of this Land, and also a sympathizer with you in your labours: for having sometimes read your Remonstrance, I was for many daies made a sad mourner for her”.43 The beginning of Poole’s address is startling in the directness with which it immediately links the political and the spiritual. In the very first sentence, she presents herself as having become conscious of the difficulties of England by the grace of God: by dint of His will she had grown in political awareness. In doing so, she has entered a new situation of solidarity with the members of the Army: she can now “sympathize” with them. She has been able to understand their troubles and share them. The visionary experience does not precede the political. On the contrary, it seems to be framed and even motivated by it. We are not only facing an interaction between the political and the spiritual, but a precedent, both thematic and chronological, of the former over the latter.

  • 44 For the whole Remonstrance, see Puritanism and Liberty, being the Army Debates (1647-9) from the Cl (...)

19Even more significant is the fact that the speaker reacts to an experience of reading. She has become “a sad mourner” for England because she has been reading the “Remonstrance” for some time. Here Poole is referring to A Remonstrance of Fairfax and the Council of Officers, a formal statement of grievances on the state of the kingdom, similar to the one that had been produced by the House of Commons and addressed to the Crown in 1641.44 This is a remarkable detail, since A Remonstrance had been only recently released. Poole might have been able to get a copy of it through the network of booksellers and radical activists that she befriended, probably from her connections with the publisher Giles Calvert and John Pordage, rector of Bradfield in Berkshire, and Lilburne’s circle.

  • 45 Firth, op. cit., p. 151.
  • 46 Poole, op. cit., p. a2.
  • 47 Firth, op. cit., p. 154.

20The message that Poole delivered in Whitehall for the second time elicited a sustained negative response, although it had initially been received with a seal of approval by a few prominent members of the Army Council. Colonel Rich, for example, was delighted with the message of military supremacy that she seemed to be voicing: “I doe rejoice to heare what hath been said, and itt meetes much with what hath been upon my heart heretofore […] and shall rejoice to see itt made out more and more in others”.45 Thomas Harrison similarly approved of the message, but asked her to define further the particular means wherewith the army should effect the “cure” that Poole suggested as the best solution resource for England (his question to her is indeed recorded and reproduced in the text of A Vision).46 In her answer, Poole denied that there was any specific or detailed plan informing her vision, claiming instead that the army should put themselves on the hands of providence after renouncing any idea of regicide: “By the gift and faith of the Church shall you bee guided, which spirit is in you, which shall direct you”.47 Ireton’s response to her first appearance before the Council was far more skeptical that those coming from Rich or Harrison, and therefore most telling:

  • 48 Ibid., p. 154.

I see nothing in her but those [things] that are the fruites of the spiritt of God, and am therefore apt to thinke soe at the present, being not able to judge the contrary, because mee thinkes it comes with such a spiritt that does take and hold forth humility and self deniall, and that rules very much about the whole that shee hath deliver’d, which makes mee have the better apprehension of itt for the present. Itt is only God that can judge the spiritts of men and women.48

21The judgement voiced here seems positive overall, but in fact it presents itself as provisional: Ireton gives his approval “for the present” (an expression that he repeats twice), simply because he cannot “judge the contrary”: the final verdict is left only to God. The slight sense of approval that is given here is justified on the grounds of the “humility and self-denial” that Poole showed in her appearance before the Council. She points to a sense of a self-contained and modest attitude on the part of the prophetess. As we have seen, this did not exclude a firm conviction on the necessity of directing the decisions of the Council in what she perceived to be the correct direction. This became evident in the short exchange that took place immediately after her presentation, when she was asked to define her position clearly and shortly concerning regicide. This exchange was also reproduced at the end of A Vision:

After the delivery of this, she was asked, whether she spake against the bringing of him to triall, or against their taking of his (life).

  • 49 Poole, op. cit., p. 6.

She answered, Bring him to his triall, that he may be convicted in his conscience, but touch not his person.49

  • 50 Thomasine Pendarves, “The Copy of a Letter as it was sent from T. P. a friend of Mrs. Elizabeth Poo (...)

22Poole’s insistence on bringing the King to trial but preserving his person following the terms of her metaphor with the body politic infuriated most members of the Council and Kiffin himself after Poole’s second appearance, to the point that her status as a prophet was questioned. The contrast with her first visit to Whitehall could not be starker. This controversy about authorial control prompted Thomasine Pendarves to vindicate Poole’s authority as a prophetess in her letter addressed to Willian Kiffin, in which she asked him “how you durst so peremptorily to judge the woman that has brought a vision from God”.50 Pendarves argued that “visions and revelations doe most especially confirme and strengthen those that have them” in a solid attempt to reinstate Poole’s status as a prophetess. But at this point, that status was being seriously disputed, and she herself had been forced to question it in her second appearance before the Army Council:

Col. Deane: I must desire to aske one question: whether you were

commanded by the spiritt of God to deliver itt unto us in this manner.

Woman: I believe I had a command from God for itt.

Col. Deane: To deliver this paper in this forme?

Woman: To deliver in this paper or otherwise a message.

Col. Deane: And so you bringe itt, and present itt to us, as directed by his

spiritt in you, and commanded to deliver itt to us?

Woman. Yea Sir, I doe. (….)

Mr Sadler: doe [you] offer this paper or [is it] from the Revelation of God?

Woman: I saw noe vision, nor noe Angell, nor heard no voice, butt my

spiritt being drawne out about those thinges, I was in itt. Soe far as it is from

  • 51 Firth, op. cit., p. 164.

God I thinke itt is a revelation.51

23Colonel Deane’s disbelief captures his difficulty in coming to terms with a woman expressing her own political views in public and in print; but his resistance seems also due to the fact that her prophetic dispatch is closer to a political statement than to a prophetic message. Deane insists on teasing Poole so as to make her clarify the extent to which she is acting through a “revelation of God”, since that would be the only valid legitimation for her to present her “message” to the Council. His repeated questions are not only meant to clarify the extent to which Poole is acting as a prophet: they are also, in themselves, visible proof of his scepticism before her, and part of an attempt to discredit her publicly by putting her authority in doubt. She establishes the common dependence of all (the soldiers and herself) on the will of God, as the main aspect that must bind them together, and make them heed her warnings throughout her argument:

  • 52 Poole, op. cit., p. a2.

Neverthelesse it is not the gift of faith in me, say I, nor the act of diligence in you, but in dependance on the divine will, which calls me to beleeve, and you to act. Wherefore I being called to beleeve ought not to stagger, neither you being called to act should be slacke. For looke how farr you come short of acting (as before the Lord for her cure) not according to the former rule of men prescribed for cure, but according to the direction of faith in me, so farre you have come short of her consolation; and look, how far you shall act before the Lord, with diligence for her cure, you shall be made partakers of her consolation.52

24In this excerpt, Poole moves from the description of her vision to her direct address to the army. The divine will is presented as the main motivation for her appearance before the Council, but at the same time it seems to act as a dynamic force that sets all the actors in the text in motion: she has been moved to speak, but the army is meant to act. She must not doubt, but they must not hesitate either. The use of parallel clauses is significant, as it underlies the double movement that Poole wants to emphasize: her action in delivering her prophecy, and the action that the army should take in following her advice (God “calls me to believe, and you to act”, “I ought not to stagger, neither you […] should be slacke”). The syntax suggests one joint movement and purpose between the speaker and her addressees. This is followed by a long sentence in which a paradox is introduced, playing upon the terms “far” and “short”: the army has come “short of acting” while believing to go “farr”, since, up to the present moment, they have “so farre come short” of consoling the country in its sufferings. This smart game of paradox hints at the ambivalent position in which the Council finds itself when Poole appears before them: having taken serious steps for the benefit of the country, but not having fulfilled the whole of their mission yet; unsure, in any case, in which direction to move. It is only by following Poole’s indications and heeding her message, insofar as these are sanctioned by her faith that the Council will be able to escape this contradictory situation and ensure the well-being of the country.

25The content of A Vision is determined by the vision that is narrated at its very beginning, in which the army is presented as a “young man” who is meant to save and heal the “crooked woman” representing England itself. After commenting on the vision and establishing her authority as a prophetess, Poole goes on to detail the ways in which the army is supposed to behave while the King is their prisoner. At this point Poole, while following on the ideas of participation and membership that she has introduced at the beginning, begins to elaborate on the central metaphor of the state as a body politic. She tells the army officers that they are expected to act, just as she has been called to speak. But she then goes on to specify the constraints and requirements of that action. By revisiting the excerpt devoted to the theme of “subordination”, we realise that its language becomes strongly tinged with more traditional tones:

  • 53 Poole, op. cit., p. 5.

The King is your Father and husband, which you were and are to obey in the Lord, & no other way, for when he forgot his Subordination to divine Faith hood and headship, thinking he had begotten you a generation to his own pleasure, and taking you a wife for his own lusts, thereby is the yoake taken from your necks…You have all that you have and are, and also in Subordination you owe him all that you have and are, and although he would not be your Father and husband, Subordinate, but absolute, yet know that you are for the Lords sake to honour his person. For he is the Father and husband of your bodyes, as unto men, and therefore your right cannot be without him.53

  • 54 Ibid., p. 6.

26Here Poole addresses the main problem that the army is facing: the nature of the King’s authority. In the first place, it must be observed that she manages both to affirm the monarch’s authority while specifying that he has also been untrue to his appointed task: on the one hand, he is both “father and husband” to the army, and it is to him that the army must “obey in the Lord, and in no other way”; on the other hand, he himself has forgotten his own “subordination to divine Faith hood and headship”. Poole acknowledges the existence of a double chain of subordination (of the King to God and of the nation to the king), and it is unambiguously the King who has broken this chain: here the prophet takes care to list some of the accusations against Charles I that had become commonplace among the revolutionaries (his observation of “his own pleasure” and his having taken “a wife for his own lusts”, Queen Henrietta Maria). But the use of this metaphoric language is also oriented toward suggesting strong limitations on the initiative and freedom of the army itself: since both subordinations, the royal and the popular, exist “for the Lord’s sake”, the fact that one of them has been abandoned does not justify forsaking the other. As Poole specifies at the beginning and at the end of the passage above, the King is both “father and husband”: two ties that cannot be shaken because these establish obligations on both sides. The particular re-sexing of the army as “wife” to the monarch thus implies that it is not free to turn against him violently, or to substitute his authority entirely: it is bound to respect both his position and the obligation that has been divinely conferred on it, even though he has proven personally unworthy. As Poole puts it: “Although he would not be your Father and husband…yet know that you are for the Lord’s sake to honour his person. For he is the father and husband of your bodyes”.54

  • 55 Anne Laurence, Women in England 1500-1760, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1994, p. 240.

27The rhetorical feminization of the army has noteworthy consequences when it is translated into the political sphere: the daughterly and wifely obedience implied by this view hinders any physical violence against the father and spouse. Since late medieval times, women who killed their husbands were accused of high treason, whereas men who killed their wives were accused of murder.55 In Elizabeth Poole’s mind, then, the high treason involved in regicide was analogous to murdering a husband:

  • 56 Poole, op. cit., p. 5.

You never heard that a wife might put away her husband, as he is the head of her body, but for the Lord’s sake suffereth his terror to her flesh, though she be free in the spirit of the Lord; and he being incapable to act as her husband, she acteth in his stead; ... accordingly you may hold the hands of your husband, that he pierce not your bowels with a knife or a sword to take your life.56

  • 57 Crawford, Women in Early Modern England 1550-1720, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 140.

28Poole’s allusions to marital violence are striking. Although physical abuse from husband to wife was not legally sanctioned in seventeenth-century London, popular ballads and legal records show that it was probably widespread and that society tolerated a high level of violence against wives in domestic relations.57 Poole advises a passive suffering of this violence by dint of her almost divine obedience to husbands, but this physical pain is at the same time liberating and rejuvenating in spirit. Thus, a country may patiently suffer the ill-treatment of a king, but killing him would detract the Army (as representatives of the people) from a moral and a sacred bond with God. The chain of subordinations that she establishes places several obligations on the army: the duty of not overstepping their position, and the obligation to refrain from violent action against the monarch. But if this pyramidal structure imposes limits on those below, it is because of the logic of divine justice that emanates from above. Poole feels enabled to give serious warnings: if the army chooses revenge on Charles I, it will have broken the system of correspondences that articulates the whole state. Up to this point, it has removed the King from his throne and it has taken legislative power away from him. To go beyond that is to act for the sake of vengeance, and this is a prerogative that only belongs to the Lord:

  • 58 Poole, op. cit., p. 9.

For as the Lord revenged his owne cause on him, he shall doe on yours; For vengeance is mine, I will repay it, saith the Lord; who made him the Saviour of your body, though he hath profaned his Saviour-ship; Stretch not forth the hand against him: For know this, the Conquest was not without divine displeasure, whereby Kings came to reigne, though through lust they tyrannized, which God excuseth not, but judgeth; and his judgements are fallen heavy, as you see, upon Charles your Lord: Forget not your pity towards him, for you were given him an helper in the body of the people.58

29The theme of divine vengeance is introduced in a way that praises the work hitherto done by the army, while setting strong limits on it. The biblical quotation here “Vengeance is Mine, Saith the Lord” (Romans 12:19) is presented both as an example of what has occurred already and of what may yet occur: the army has been the instrument of God’s vengeance against Him, but it may yet be the object of that vengeance itself. Once more, Poole manages to play her metaphoric game elegantly, so as to establish a parallelism between victorious revolutionaries and conquering kings: the latter often provoked “divine displeasure” in their conquests, even though these may be legitimate; in the same way, the revolution carried out by the army may have been fair, but to go further would be an act of vengeance, and it would mount to replacing and disobeying God’s will. All this is subtly brought together at the end by the reappearance of Poole’s key metaphor of unity and participation, the idea of the “body of the people”, that body of which both Charles I and the army are “helpers”, and of which Poole herself is a “member”. It is her membership in that body, after all, that has authorized her to speak in the first place: in the end, the whole of Poole’s political discourse is subtly brought back to the notions of common purpose and union in the participation of the state that had articulated her vision, and which are at the root of her own prophetic authority. In spite of her nimble manipulation of biblical echoes, conceptual parallelisms and traditional theories of authority and subordination, Poole’s advice went unheard.

IV

30Prophesying for many seventeenth-century women was the closest they could get to a form of ministry on whose behalf they produced, performed and ultimately owned the word. Elizabeth Poole furnished a prophetic content that was directed toward a politicized audience or intended to effect political change based on a spiritualized notion of “the common good”. While she was generally aware of her inferior position as political subject, her texts and live responses were assured and positively connoted about her sex. The possibility that Elizabeth Poole acted on their own accord or was invited, persuaded or even manipulated to prophesy, does not detract from the fact that she owned her anti-regicidal discourse based on her interpretation of Biblical episodes and her dialectical exchange with army council officials. The primary concern of her activism was social and political regeneration, not religious conversion. As her suggested course of action legitimized itself through speech and text, Poole was authorizing her work against the negative reception and political capital of her audience by unfolding the sacred rationale of “truths” hiding behind current affairs.

  • 59 For Quaker women petitions to the Rump Parliament, see Catie Gill, Women in the Seventeenth-century (...)

31Women who showed dissenting political awareness about state matters in their writings were not so exceptional cases in the 1640s and later in the Interregnum and Restoration with Quaker women campaigning against payment of tithes.59 A closer look into a variety of texts by women who were politically aware shows that prophecy was not necessarily tied to a specific cause or to a radical agenda. Its mandate to reach out, make itself verbal and heard promoted a political function of prophecy that found a correspondence with the divine in the prophetess’ individual notion of civic order and wellbeing.

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Notes

1 Hilda Smith, ed., Women Writers and the Early Modern British Political Tradition, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998.

2 Katherine Gillespie, Domesticity and Dissent in the Seventeenth Century, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004; Susan Wiseman, Conspiracy and Virtue: Women, Writing, and Politics in Seventeenth-Century England, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006.

3 Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract, Cambridge, Polity Press, 1988.

4 Danielle Clarke, The Politics of Early Modern Women’s Writing, London, Routledge, 2001; Teresa Feroli, Political Speaking Justified: Women Prophets and the English Revolution, Newark, University of Delaware Press, 2006; Shannon Miller, Engendering the Fall: John Milton and Seventeenth-Century Women Writers, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.

5 Katherine Romack, Monstruous Births and the Body Politic, ed. Cristina Malcomson and Mihoko Suzuki, Debating Gender in Early Modern England 1500-1700, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2002, p. 210.

6 David Wootton, ed., Divine Right and Democracy, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1986, p. 3-10.

7 Jürgen Habermas, Further Reflections on the Public Sphere, ed. Craig Calhoun, Habermas and the Public Sphere, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 1992, p. 422-461.

8 John Lilburne, An Agreement of the People of England, London, printed for R. Smithhurst, 1648, p. 3. For recent accounts of revisionist and post-revisionist scholarship on Leveller political ideas, in particular their reliance on army factions and separatist congregations, see Philip Baker and Elliot Vernon, eds., The Agreements of the People, the Levellers, and the Constitutional Crisis of the English Revolution, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, p. 19; Rachel Foxley, The Levellers: Radical Political Thought in the English Revolution, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2013.

9 Elizabeth Poole, A Vision, Wherein is Manifested the Disease and Cure of the Kingdome, Being the Summe of what was delivered to the General Councel of the Army, December.29, 1648, Together with a Copie of what was delivered in writing the fifth of this present January, London, 1648.

10 Teresa Feroli in Political Speaking, op. cit., p. 68, suggests that Poole may have been brought before the Council by either Colonel Rich or General Fairfax, since both men were interested in preserving the King’s life; Ian Gentles marks the same point in The New Model Army (London, Blackwell, 1994, p. 301); Manfred Brod in “Politics and Prophecy in Seventeenth-Century England: The Case of Elizabeth Poole”, Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies Studies, 31.3, 1999, p. 398, supports this view drawing from the facts that Colonel Rich interrogated Poole after her second vision and that Thomasine Pendarves mentions a “Colonel Reeth”, a name which is homophonic with “Rich”; David Underdown in Pride’s Purge: Politics and the Puritan Revolution (London, Harper Collins, 1985, p. 182), and Marcus Nevitt in “Elizabeth Poole Writes the Regicide”, Women’s Writing 9.2, 2002, p. 235ff, point at either Cromwell or Ireton as sponsors of Poole’s appearance, although evidence of this is not conclusive; Susan Wiseman in Conspiracy and Virtue, op. cit., p. 144, leans toward Lilburne’s sponsorship.

11 C. H. Firth, The Clarke Papers, Vol. 2, London, printed for the Camden Society, 1894, p. 164-166.

12 Ibid., p. 166.

13 For the whole Remonstrance, see Puritanism and Liberty, being the Army Debates (1647-9) from the Clarke Manuscripts with Supplementary Documents, selected and edited with an Introduction by A. S. P. Woodhouse (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1951), November 16, 1648; on ‘Conquest’, see Puritanism and Liberty, p. 65.

14 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Richard Tuck, London, Penguin Classics, 2002 [1651], p. 286. “Conquest, is not the Victory itself; but the Acquisition by Victory, of a Right, over the persons of men […] Conquest (to define it) is the Acquiring of the Right of Soveraignty by Victory”.

15 Marchamont Nedham, The Case of the Commonwealth of England, Stated, London, printed for E. Blackmore and R. Lowndes, 1650, ch. 4.

16 Firth, op. cit., p. 167.

17 Ibid.

18 Blair Worden, Literature and Politics in Cromwellian England, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 18.

19 Mercurius Pragmaticus, Tuesday, 26 Dec. 1648-Tuesday, 9 Jan. 1649.

20 John Lilburne et al., A Plea for Common Right and Freedom, London, printed for Ja. and Jo. Moxon, 1648, p. 6.

21 See Ann Hughes, Gender and Politics in Leveller Literature, eds. Susan D. Amussen and Mark A. Kishlansky, Political Culture and Cultural Politics in Early Modern England, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1995, p. 162-188.

22 Elizabeth Poole, Thomasine Pendarves, An Alarum of War given to the Army and to their High Court of Justice (so called) revealed by the Will of God in a Vision to E. Poole, London, 1649.

23 Ibid., p. 9.

24 Ibid., p. 10.

25 An [other] Alarum of War, Given to the Army, and to their High Court of Justice (so called) by the will of God; revealed in Elizabeth Pooll, sometime a messenger of the Lord to the Generall Councell, concerning the cure of the land, and the manner thereof, London, 1649.

26 See Joseph Ivimey, The Life of Mr. William Kiffin, London, printed for the author, 1811, p. 33.

27 Stephen Wright, The Early English Baptists, 1603-1649, Rochester, NY, Boydell & Brewer, 2006, p. 12-20.

28 William Kiffin, A Briefe Remonstrance of the Reasons and Grounds of the People Commonly Called Anabaptists, for their Separation, London, printed and published for publike information, 1645, p. 2-15.

29 Ibid., p. 11.

30 Rachel Adcock, Baptist Women’s Writings in Revolutionary Culture, 1640-1680, Farnham, Ashgate, 2015, p. 3-9.

31 Marcus Nevitt, art. cit., p. 233-248.

32 Manfred Brod, “A Radical Network in the English Revolution: John Pordage and His Circle, 1646-1654”, The English Historical Review, Vol. 119, 484, 2004, p. 1230-1253.

33 Gillespie, op. cit., p. 115-165; Wiseman, op. cit., p. 143-178.

34 To Xeiphos tō Martyōn, or A Brief Narration of the Mysteries of State Carried on by the Spanish Faction in England, The Hague, printed by Samuel Brown, 1651; The English-Devil: or Cromwel and his Monstruous Witch Discover’d at Whitehall, London, printed by Robert Wood, 1660.

35 A Brief Narration, op. cit., p. 69.

36 Ibid., p. 70.

37 Ibid.

38 For Dorothy Ludlow, “Shaking Patriarchy’s Foundations: Sectarian Women in England 1641-1700”, in Triumph Over Silence: Women in Protestant History, ed. Richard L. Greaves, Westport, Conn., Greenwood Press, 1985, p. 123.

39 A Brief Narration, op. cit., p. 70.

40 Ibid., p. 71.

41 See T. M. Lawrence, “Thomas Goodwin”, ODNB, last accessed December 6, 2016, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/10996.

42 A Brief Narration, op. cit., p. 71.

43 Elizabeth Poole, A Vision: wherein is Manifested the Disease and Cure of the Kingdome. Being the summe of what was delivered to the Generall Councel of the Army, Decemb. 29.1648. Together with a true copie of what was delivered in writing (the fifth of this present January) to the said Generall Conncel [sic], of divine pleasure concerning the King in reference to his being brought to triall, what they are therein to do, and what not, both concerning his office and person, London, 1648, p. A2r.

44 For the whole Remonstrance, see Puritanism and Liberty, being the Army Debates (1647-9) from the Clarke Manuscripts with Supplementary Documents, selected and edited with an Introduction by A. S. P. Woodhouse, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1951, November, 16, 1648.

45 Firth, op. cit., p. 151.

46 Poole, op. cit., p. a2.

47 Firth, op. cit., p. 154.

48 Ibid., p. 154.

49 Poole, op. cit., p. 6.

50 Thomasine Pendarves, “The Copy of a Letter as it was sent from T. P. a friend of Mrs. Elizabeth Poole, To the Congregations of Saints, walking in fellowship with Mr. William Kiffin”, in An Alarum of War, op. cit., p. 13.

51 Firth, op. cit., p. 164.

52 Poole, op. cit., p. a2.

53 Poole, op. cit., p. 5.

54 Ibid., p. 6.

55 Anne Laurence, Women in England 1500-1760, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1994, p. 240.

56 Poole, op. cit., p. 5.

57 Crawford, Women in Early Modern England 1550-1720, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 140.

58 Poole, op. cit., p. 9.

59 For Quaker women petitions to the Rump Parliament, see Catie Gill, Women in the Seventeenth-century Quaker Community, Farnham, Ashgate, 2005, p. 90-92.

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Carme Font Paz, « God is not the Supporter of Tyranny”: Prophetic Reception and Political Capital in Elizabeth Poole’s A Vision (1648) », Études Épistémè [En ligne], 31 | 2017, mis en ligne le 15 juillet 2017, consulté le 18 décembre 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/1686 ; DOI : 10.4000/episteme.1686

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Carme Font Paz

Carme Font, Ph.D. is Lecturer of English Literature at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, and Research Associate at the UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. She is a specialist in seventeenth century literature and has published on women’s prophetic writing, poetry and intellectual history. Her latest monograph is Women's Prophetic Writings in Seventeenth-Century Britain (Routledge).

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