Navigation – Plan du site

When Heterodoxy Became News: The Representation of the Diggers and the Ranters in Contemporary Newspapers

Quand l’hétérodoxie faisait la une: la représentation des Bêcheurs et des Divagateurs dans les journaux du XVIIe siècle.
Laurent Curelly

Résumés

Les années 1640-1650 virent l’éclosion de deux sectes radicales qui connurent une certaine fortune : les Diggers et les Ranters. Les Diggers étaient rassemblés en communautés organisées qui défendaient la propriété commune de la terre ; les Ranters, quant à eux, constituaient plutôt un groupe protéiforme composé de voix individuelles qui s’exprimèrent dans des pamphlets à tonalité prophétique. Malgré des divergences de vue sur certains sujets, ces deux sectes avaient des positions religieuses communes et professaient, en particulier, une forme de radicalisme mystique. Cet article s’intéresse à la représentation de ces deux groupes dans les journaux publiés à l’époque, depuis le régicide et l’établissement de la république au printemps 1649 jusqu’au vote de la loi punissant l’expression d’opinions jugées athées et blasphématoires en août 1650 et à l’interrogatoire du Ranter Abiezer Coppe par une commission parlementaire en octobre 1650. Il prend appui sur des hebdomadaires de nature variée, allant des journaux parlementaires, puis des périodiques officiels après qu’une loi sur la censure eut limité la liberté de la presse en septembre 1649, jusqu’aux journaux royalistes, publiés illégalement. Il étudie en particulier les appellations dont ces publications affublaient les Diggers et les Ranters, et montre en quoi ces appellations reflétaient les perceptions du paysage hétérodoxe des années 1649-1650 qu’entretenaient les contemporains. Il analyse également les critiques formulées par les auteurs des hebdomadaires à l’encontre des thèses jugées hérétiques des Diggers et des Ranters, mettant ainsi en évidence le positionnement religieux de ces véhicules de l’information et faiseurs d’opinion si caractéristiques de la culture de l’imprimé des Guerres Civiles anglaises.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

1The British Civil Wars of the mid-seventeenth century are commonly said to have unleashed radical energies, making it possible for radical sects of all hues to emerge and for dissenting opinions to be voiced. Civil War heresiographers anatomised sects and documented their development. Even if their comments on the proliferation of sects should be taken with a pinch of salt, they are revealing of the anxieties of the times as well as of the political ramifications of sectarian radicalism. For instance, in the dedicatory epistle to part one of his Gangraena (1646), Thomas Edwards urged Parliament to take resolute action against sects:

  • 1 Thomas Edwards, Gangraena: Or a Catalogue and Discovery of many of the Errors, Heresies, Blasphemie (...)

You have, most noble Senatours, done worthily against Papists, Prelates and scandalous Ministers, in casting down Images, Altars, Crucifixes, throwing out Ceremonies, etc., but what have you done against other kindes of growing evils, Heresie, Schisme, Disorder, against Seekers, Anabaptists, Antinomians, Brownists, Libertines and other sects? […] You have made a Reformation […], but with the Reformation have we not a Deformation, and worse things come in upon us then ever we had before?1

  • 2 Cheap print is an expanding field of research. Recent publications on this topic include Jason Peac (...)

2Gangraena is one among many catalogues and compendia of heresies that benefited from the development of print. What with the polarisation of English politics in and outside Parliament and the easing of censorship in the early 1640s, the British Civil Wars witnessed the growth of print culture. Cheap print conveyed polemic, with the publication of a profusion of pamphlets and a staggering number of weekly newspapers, many of which were clearly intended as paper bullets.2

  • 3 See David Como, Blown by the Spirit – Puritanism and the Emergence of an Antinomian Underground in (...)
  • 4 “Turning England upside down” is a reference to Christopher Hill’s well-known study of radical sect (...)

3This is not to say that there was a correlation between the emergence of radical sects and the development of the press, in the sense of a cause-and-effect relationship. It has been argued before, convincingly, that the development of a heterodox subculture occurred in the early seventeenth century.3 But it may be maintained that newsbooks were instrumental in shaping their readers’ perception of the radical landscape and possibly made what was perceived as a sectarian threat even more of an imminent danger, one that was likely to turn England upside down.4 The dissemination of news made politics accessible to the disenfranchised but also contributed to the propagation of rumours and scare stories.

  • 5 The print-run of these publications cannot be measured with unerring accuracy. For contributions to (...)
  • 6 For details about the market for news in the late 1640s see my study of The Moderate: Laurent Curel (...)

4Seventeenth-century newspapers were popular forms of writing. Even if only educated guesses can be made as to their print-run5, their sheer number throughout the 1640s – less so in the 1650s due to closer government scrutiny – clearly testifies to their popularity. Customer sales may well be conservative estimates considering that they do not provide any indication regarding the actual number of readers – Civil war newspapers, indeed, were often included in private correspondence as well as passed around from person to person.6 Newsbooks were also commonly read out, typically to an illiterate audience. This practice made it possible, for example, even for those in the New Model Army who had no education to be kept abreast of news. Many members of the lower orders certainly read these newspapers or had other people read out items of news to them. The dissemination of news on a large scale was no doubt instrumental in arousing interest in Civil War politics, including among the popular classes. Newsbooks are worthy objects of study not only as purveyors of news but also as contributors to early modern political culture and, among other things, they provide useful insights into the representation of political groups and debates.

  • 7 On the Diggers see John Gurney, Brave Community: The Digger Movement in the English Revolution, Man (...)
  • 8 On the Ranters see J. C. Davis, Fear, Myth and History. The Ranters and the Historians, Cambridge, (...)

5This essay studies the way the tribulations of two heterodox sects – the Diggers and the Ranters – were reported in the contemporary press. The Diggers were a millenarian and anti-formalist sect that sprang up in the spring of 1649 and pursued a communistic agenda. Before settling on St George’s Hill on 1 April 1649 and engaging with pressing political issues, mainly property and the redistribution of wealth, their leader Gerrard Winstanley had penned religious tracts in which he expressed his heterodox views.7 The Ranters were a loose group of religious libertines who belonged to a millenarian and mystical tradition and who believed that they were sinless creatures in-dwelt by God.8 The reason why these two sects are discussed here is that they came at a pivotal time in the history of the English Revolution, namely after the execution of King Charles I and the establishment of the Commonwealth. The foundations of monarchical hierarchies had been toppled, not least with the abolition of the Church of England, and a new republican order was emerging.

  • 9 Winstanley, A Vindication of Those, Whose Endeavors Is Only to Make the Earth a Common Treasury, Ca (...)

6“Diggers” was not a name that the sect had coined for themselves. They owed it to some condescending newsbook writers who chose to ridicule the efforts of these impoverished farmers to grow crops on common land. Similarly, “Ranters” was a name that was given to the likes of Abiezer Coppe and Laurence Clarkson. The label was used even by members of other sects, such as Winstanley the Digger who denounced those of the “Ranting practice”.9 This essay especially explores the way the Diggers and the Ranters were labelled in newsbooks and what these labels reveal about the perception of the heterodox landscape of the late 1640s and early 1650s on the part of newspapers, and of their readers, too, as mid seventeenth-century weeklies, like twenty-first century newspapers, were dialogic publications that interacted with their political, cultural as well as commercial environment. Why, then, did newspaper editors devote attention to small heterodox movements? What were they hoping to achieve with their coverage of the Diggers and the Ranters? This paper will look at the way these sects were represented in the parliamentarian press as well as in royalist newspapers.

The Diggers and Parliamentarian newsbooks

  • 10 Judging by the editorials they included, Perfect Occurrences or The Kingdomes Weekly Intelligencer (...)

7Both parliamentarian and royalist newspapers reported on the Diggers. Royalist mercuries, as they were called, were printed illegally. They were typically satirical in tone, were committed to the defence of monarchy, even after the execution of Charles I, and promoted royalism by casting aspersions on their adversaries. Parliamentarian newsbooks were licensed publications, so they did not enjoy as much freedom as their royalist counterparts, even if the June 1643 ordinance on licensing was loosely enforced in the spring of 1649. A lot of them went with the tide and many authors were adept at self-censorship.10

  • 11 A Letter to the Lord Fairfax, And His Councell of War, With Divers Questions to the Lawyers, and Mi (...)
  • 12 See A Modest Narrative of Intelligence no. 3, 14-21 April 1649, p. 24: “It is observable, That whil (...)
  • 13 See for example The Kingdomes Faithfull and Impartiall Scout, no. 13, 20-27 April 1649, p. 98; A Mo (...)

8The Surrey Diggers did not become “the talk of the whole Land” as their leaders claimed,11 but certainly made the news. Many parliamentarian weeklies published the official letter sent by the President of the ruling Council of State to General Fairfax requiring him to investigate the doings of the Diggers. They were emphatic about the allegedly growing membership of the community and played up the risks of contagion to other parts of the country. Some insisted on what they perceived as the Diggers’ breach of social norms, in particular their supposed disregard for authority, as when the community leaders, Everard and Winstanley, were summoned to Whitehall to provide explanations for their occupation of St George’s Hill and refused to take off their hats the Quaker way.12 They condemned the Diggers’ egalitarianism as professed in Winstanley’s pamphlets and mocked their leader’s millenarian vision.13

  • 14 The New Law of Righteousnes (1649), in T. Corns, A. Hughes and D. Loewenstein (ed.), The Complete W (...)

9While the newspapers gave their own reading of the potential impact of the small Surrey colony, their description of Winstanley’s philosophy, sketchy though it was, was not quite incorrect. Winstanley’s tract The New Law of Righteousnes, dated 26 January 1649, fused his religious ideas with his communistic programme. It featured the Digger leader’s chiliastic vision, according to which the advent of an egalitarian universal community would be made possible through the work of Christ, the second Adam, who would dry up the “stinking waters of self-interest” and allow the “waters of life and liberty to run plentifully, in, and through the Creation, making the earth one store-house”.14

  • 15 A Perfect Summary of an Exact Dyarie of some Passages of Parliament no. 14, 23-30 April 1649, p. 14 (...)
  • 16 The Diggers and the Levellers held diverging views on the property issue. The Levellers went to gre (...)

10The way Winstanley and his acolytes were labelled, however, was none of the Diggers’ doing. It betrayed the newsbook editors’ fear of Digger heterodoxy as a challenge to established hierarchies and to the political stability of the new-born republic. Parliamentarian newsbooks came up with two different labels to refer to the Diggers. Some of them compared them to “Seekers”, as in this jibe by the author of the short-lived weekly A Perfect Summary who rejoiced in the presumed dispersion of the community: “The new Plantation at St Georges Hill in Surry is quite re-leveled, and their new Creation utterly destroyed, and by the Country people thereabouts, they are driven away, and as seekers, gone a-seeking”.15 There is evidently a sarcastic flavour to this comment but the attack possibly revolved around the Diggers’ heterodox opinions. Civil War heresiographers listed the Seekers as heretics because of their worship of an-indwelling God and their rejection of all outward religious forms. The verb “re-leveled” certainly refers to the Diggers’ communistic programme, more specifically their desire to share natural resources and abolish private property. This is also an indirect reference to the Levellers, a sect that did not pursue a programme of wealth redistribution but rather one of political inclusion.16 The words used in the news report on the alleged dispersion of the Surrey colony conveyed both religious and political meaning.

  • 17 The two Adams are a recurring theme in Winstanley’s works. See for example, The New Law of Righteou (...)
  • 18 A Nest of Serpents Discovered. Or, A knot of old Heretiques revived, called the Adamites. Wherein t (...)
  • 19 The Moderate Intelligencer no. 214, 19-26 April 1649, p. 2002.

11In addition to being compared to “Seekers”, the Diggers were commonly labelled “Adamites” in parliamentarian newsbooks, which was not completely unfounded, considering that Adam was a central motif in Winstanley’s writings and that the first Adam, the Adam of Genesis, did feature in his vision, but what the critics of the Diggers glossed over was the eschatological dimension of this vision, with the rise of the second Adam, who was no other than Christ and who would duly redeem the first Adam’s sins.17 The identification of Diggers with Adamites stemmed from a deliberate distortion of Winstanley’s theories and relied on heresiographers’ description of Adamites: according to one of them, this sect was set up in early Christianity and was revived in the late Middle Ages by one Adam Pastor whose disciples called themselves “Adamites”. The sect was particularly active in Bohemia, then a hotbed of religious sectarianism, and its members were said to go naked and to practise “promiscuous copulation”.18 Although in their report on the Diggers parliamentarian newsbooks were not explicit about their criticism of the Surrey settlement, the comparison with the Adamites implied that immodesty and sexual depravity characterised the sect. Newspapers were concerned about the alleged immorality of its members. One of the long-running parliamentarian newsbooks, The Moderate Intelligencer, equated the presumed dispersion of the colony with the victory that the formidable Hussite war leader had claimed over Catholic crusaders in fifteenth-century Bohemia, slaughtering the Adamites in the process as they had supposedly committed repeated acts of violence.19 Transposed into the context of the British Civil Wars, Jan Hus, who was the leader of a movement that had dissented from the Catholic Church, symbolised the Commonwealth as the destroyer of monarchy and of the established Church of England, and as the guardian of moral norms. He was conjured up as part of a Protestant mythology to justify government authorities’ repression of the Diggers.

  • 20 A Modest Narrative of Intelligence no. 12, 9-16 June 1649, p. 81.

12When the Diggers first made the news, they were portrayed as nothing but a bunch of eccentrics, even lunatics, but as they became the focus of Commonwealth authorities’ attention, some parliamentarian newsbook writers increasingly used sectarian labels to describe them. They insisted that the Diggers ignored temporal laws. Thus, the author of A Modest Narrative of Intelligence in a June 1649 editorial entirely devoted to the Diggers denied that they could even be saved, “for […] had they been of Adam, they had had Passions, and then of necessity Laws; but being perfect (of which doctrine we now see the fruit) they need no Reyns”.20 The subtext, of course, was that the Diggers were Antinomians, whose would-be perfection exempted them from obeying laws. This was based on a misconception of the Diggers’ writings who, as anti-formalists, believed in the in-dwelling Spirit of God, and who, from a less spiritual perspective, rejected the English legal system not because it was there to enforce laws, but because they saw it as an instrument of domination.

  • 21 A Catalogue of the severall Sects and Opinions in England and other Nations (1646) described Antino (...)
  • 22 In 1650 the Rump Parliament passed two laws against immoral behaviour: these were “An Act for suppr (...)

13“Antinomian”, while initially designating a specific sect as described in heresiographers’ catalogues, became a convenient catch-all label to refer to various groups that were thought to harbour heterodox views.21 One of the reasons why parliamentarian newsbooks were interested in the Digger story and perhaps blew it out of all proportion, apart from its sensational quality, was that the religious issue was not settled in England in the spring of 1649; it was not even on the legislative agenda. Parliament was divided over it, and the continuation of an established Church based on the Presbyterian model, but with a certain amount of religious toleration, would have been palatable to half of the members of the Rump Parliament. The division between Presbyterians and Independents was not as acute as it had been in the autumn of 1648, and many MPs were suspicious of religious enthusiasm. Instead of proposing a new religious settlement, Commonwealth leaders set their minds on dealing with immoral behaviour, in an effort to eliminate radical sects and preserve political and social stability.22

  • 23 See B. Worden, The Rump Parliament, op. cit., p. 123-125. Worden argues that the Rump period brough (...)

14The difficulty in proposing a religious settlement and having a legal framework to organise it was that orthodoxy and heterodoxy were fluctuating notions and that they could change over time. Civil War heresiographers were overwhelmingly Presbyterians and some of their catalogues listed the “Independents” as a heretic sect. Many of those who sat in the Rump or on the Council of State had Independent leanings, and yet a number of them were not willing to allow religious sects to thrive; Seekers, Adamites and Antinomians were anathema to them.23 The issue of social norms and acceptable behaviour cut across political and religious divisions.

The Diggers and royalist mercuries

  • 24 Mercurius Elencticus no. 23, 24 September – 1 October 1649, p. 184.
  • 25 Thomas Edwards, Reasons against the Independant [sic] Government of Particular Congregations: As al (...)
  • 26 Mercurius Elencticus no. 1, 24 April – 1 May 1649, p. 2. Mercurius Elencticus, one of the three: ma (...)
  • 27 The Man in the Moon no. 27, 24-31 October 1649, p. 220-221.
  • 28 On satirical representations of nonconformists see Kristen Poole, Radical Religion from Shakespeare (...)

15If we turn to royalist mercuries, we realise that their authors were generally suspicious and critical of the Diggers, who bore the brunt of their satirical quips. Interestingly, royalist journalists saw the sect as one of the symptoms of a topsy-turvy world, a reformation that had gone awry, “this blessed Reformation of theirs”, as one of them put it ironically.24 They blamed members of the Rump Parliament and Commonwealth authorities, these self-styled “Saints”, acting in their “State-conventicles”, for encouraging liberty of conscience and, as a result, allowing sects to mushroom. Liberty of conscience, as is well-known, was a major bone of contention between Presbyterians and Independents, and a heresiographer like Thomas Edwards highlighted the nefarious potential of such a doctrine.25 The royalist press held “the most Irreligious, Hereticall, unjust, trayterous, Hippocriticall, Perfidious Apostates, Imposters, and Tyrants that ever Nature laboured of”26 responsible for the proliferation of heterodox ideas and regretted that “Religion is now divided into more then a hundred Sects and Schismes”.27 Royalist authors applied sectarian labels to the ruling oligarchy: the Council of State was described as “Seekers”, “Dreamers” or members of the “Family of Love”, while “the Conventicle at Westminster” was composed of “Seekers and Quakers”.28

  • 29 Mercurius Pragmaticvs, unnumbered, 17-24 April 1649, n. p. This was a counterfeit issue. Forged tit (...)
  • 30 See for example Marchamont Nedham’s comment in his Mercurius Pragmaticus (for King Charls II): “Thi (...)

16Although royalist newspapers did not necessarily use such names to refer to the Diggers, they featured critical comments on the potential danger that they represented, which shows that the authors were influenced by official news regarding the sect. In addition, some of them accused the Diggers of heresy and proselytising; the risk of contagion was a concern that they shared with their parliamentarian counterparts, and one of them even doubted their Christian credentials, as this remark of his demonstrates: “What this fanaticall insurrection may grow unto, cannot be conceived; for Mahomet had as small, and as despicable a beginning, whose damnable infections have spread themselves many hundred years since, over the face of half the Universe”.29 Although the Diggers came to be perceived as a profound threat, the attack here was probably exaggerated. This swipe was presumably aimed at Commonwealth leaders as much as at the Surrey community, as royalist journalists kept repeating that, by tolerating liberty of conscience, it was the authorities of the newly established republic that had made it possible for such heterodox opinions as the Diggers’ to be voiced and that, as a result, should be held responsible for propagating irreligion.30

  • 31 One of the Diggers’ tracts appeared in two editions under different titles: The True Levellers Stan (...)
  • 32 On the Levellers’ religious ideas see Rachel Foxley, The Levellers Radical Political Thought in t (...)

17The reason why some royalist newspaper writers lashed out at the Diggers was that the sect was a source of embarrassment to them because its members came to be identified as Levellers and were accused of Levellerism. Whether its leaders insisted on being labelled “Levellers” or whether they were called “Levellers”, a common term of abuse, by detractors has attracted some scholars’ attention.31 The Diggers’ writings shared a number of motifs with Leveller discourse, but the Levellers were generally suspicious of the Diggers’ communistic programme. However, critics of radical sects used the term “Levellers” as a convenient label to designate those who were thought to depart from political, social and religious norms. The Levellers had once been the bête noire of the royalist press because they had allied with the Independents before the regicide in pursuit of a common objective – a political settlement with democratic foundations. In the spring of 1649, as the Levellers grew weary of the Commonwealth leadership, royalist journalists changed tack and came to back the Levellers’ efforts to oppose the regime. It was more of a marriage of convenience than the “marriage of true minds” but it certainly admitted no impediment, and royalist authors did not mince their words when it came to denouncing the hypocrisy of the “Saints” who were charged with persecuting the Levellers while championing liberty of conscience. Royalist journalists divested liberty of conscience of its religious meaning but chose to retain its political meaning. It is a fact that the Leveller leaders developed heterodox theologies in their writings, which reflected their involvement in separatist congregations.32 By paying lip service to the Levellers, royalist newspapers hoped that the royalist camp, despondent though it was in the post-regicide period, would capitalise on political divisions. Despite their aspiration for religious toleration, the Levellers were no longer cast as firebrands by royalist mercury writers, as this extract from Marchamont Nedham’s revived Mercurius Pragmaticus makes clear:

  • 33 Mercurius Pragmaticus for King Charles II no 1, 17-24 April 1649, p. 6.

Not that they [the Levellers] aim at the Levelling of mens Estates, but at the new State-Tyranny […], and a few poor people making bold with a little wast-ground in Surrey, to sow a few Turnips and Carrets to sustain their Families, they wrest this act to the disrepute of the Levellers, as if they meant to make all common […]. But that you may not be scared with the Levellers hereafter, I tell you they are such as stand for an equall Interest in Freedom against the present Tyranny.33

  • 34 On Nedham and the Levellers see Blair Worden, Literature and Politics in Cromwellian England – John (...)
  • 35 See for example John Crouch’s report on the Commonwealth’s repression of the Levellers at Burford i (...)

18Arguably, Nedham should be distinguished from other royalist authors, in that he had a particular set of values that caused him to be aligned with Lilburne34, but his attitude towards the Levellers in the spring of 1649 was also that of other royalists.35

  • 36 Mercurius Pragmaticus for King Charles II no 1, p. 6-7. On Nedham’s preference for limited monarchy (...)
  • 37 Thomas Edwards, The third part of Gangraena, London, 1646, p. 153-161. In order to defame them, Edw (...)

19In the above mentioned issue of Mercutius Pragmaticus Nedham argued that the Levellers would clearly share in the restoration of a “well-regulated Monarchy” as “being the best Guardian of publique Liberty”, whereby he possibly meant a mixed monarchy of the kind that the 1688 Revolution produced.36 This reversed Thomas Edwards’s accusation that the Levellers’ religious heterodoxy was linked to their political radicalism.37 Meanwhile, royalist authors depicted the Diggers as a potentially dangerous sect not only because they were liable to spread spiritual corruption further afield but also because, to quote Nedham, they acted “to the disrepute of the Levellers, as if they meant to make all common”.

  • 38 Mercurius Brittanicus no. 1, 24 April – 4 May 1649, p. 4. Mercurius Brittanicus aimed to confute Me (...)
  • 39 See for instance the phrase “Jesuiticall Scabs” as used by The Man in the Moon no 53, 1-9 May 1650, (...)

20It seems that the Diggers were the victims of a power struggle between Commonwealth leaders, the royalist party and the Levellers. They were the scapegoats of a pitched battle of words waged by newspapers as well as the targets of government and local repression. It is no accident that the revived Mercurius Brittanicus, a parliamentarian newspaper with a polemical slant, described the Diggers as puppets in the hands of the royalists intent on overthrowing the Commonwealth: “I am certain it is the work of the royalist, together with the Jesuite, to animate these Levellers as they call them, to foment a difference and thereby to take occasion to disturb the peace of the Nation, and so to set up their interest”.38 Some Civil War catalogues included the Jesuits in their list of heresies and described them as usurpers of the name of Jesus and promoters of regicide. Royalist newsbooks commonly used the name “Jesuits”, not quite a recent word of abuse, though, to revile Commonwealth leaders.39 By underlining the alleged collusion between the Diggers and the royalists and by insisting that the former were manipulated by Jesuits in particular and Catholics at large, the author of Mercurius Brittanicus hoped to disparage the members of the Surrey colony but, more importantly, to drive a wedge within the anti-Commonwealth camp. He seems to have overlooked the fact that Jesuit writers had penned anti-monarchical tracts which made them suspicious to some civil War heresiographers. The author of Mercurius Brittanicus indulged in scaremongering, and in his account the Diggers were the instruments of Jesuits and royalists, which could not be further from the truth considering that the Diggers kept expressing their aversion to kingly power in their pamphlets. Arguably, accumulating and misusing these labels was part of a tactics of stylistic escalation, to prove that sectarian radicalism was at work in Commonwealth England: according to royalist newspapers, this was the doing of the “Saints” in power and their supporters while a parliamentarian newsbook like Mercurius Brittanicus held the royalists responsible for that.

The Ranters and contemporary newspapers

21This section about the representation of the Ranters in contemporary newsbooks is shorter than the discussion of the Diggers, essentially because the Ranters attracted attention at a later time, and the high tide of polemical journalism had subsided by then.

  • 40 J. C. Davis, Fear, Myth and History. The Ranters and the Historians, op. cit., p. 2. See also J. C. (...)
  • 41 For responses to J. C. Davis’s theories see J. F. McGregor, Bernard Capp, Nigel Smith and B. J. Gib (...)
  • 42 J. Raymond, Pamphlets and Pamphleteering in Early Modern Britain, op. cit., p. 239.

22The Ranters were a loose group of religious libertines who came to the fore after the regicide and flourished for about three years. Their existence was denied by J. C. Davis in his important book Fear, Myth and History. The Ranters and the Historians, published in 1986, on the grounds that there was very little evidence regarding them, apart from what could be gathered from “hostile accounts of heresiographers, Anglicans, Baptists, Quakers and some sensationally lurid yellowpress accounts of Ranter behaviour” as well as from the writings of alleged Ranters.40 Davis meant to refute the theories of Marxist historians, A. L. Morton and Christopher Hill, in particular, who were keen to stress the plebeian dimension of the English Revolution. It is generally admitted today that the Ranters truly existed and that the sensational reports on them that featured in pamphlets and newspapers were not mere fabrications.41 They were individual but interconnected voices who were characterised by their anti-formalism and antinomianism and shared a common prophetic and unabashedly ecstatic language. They were not just involved in some form of self-fashioning but they defended a heterodox religious programme, which included social practices that were labelled immoral and were fiercely denounced. As Joad Raymond argues, “the name ‘Ranters’ rapidly became a byword for the rejection of all social and moral authority”.42

  • 43 The “Act against unlicensed and scandalous Books and Pamphlets, and for better regulating of Printi (...)
  • 44 A Perfect Diurnall no. 8, 28 January – 4 February 1650, p. 72.
  • 45 Several Proceedings no. 39, 20-27 June 1650, p. 560. Within a year by 1650, a whole string of Rante (...)
  • 46 On the Engagement controversy see Edward Vallance, “Oaths, Casuistry, and Equivocation: Anglican Re (...)

23At the height of the Ranter controversy in 1650, the stringent licensing law of September 1649 was in force.43 It had driven all the existing parliamentarian periodicals out of the news market and approved three newsbooks instead: first, A Briefe Relation and Severall Proceedings in Parliament and, three months later, A Perfect Diurnall of Some Passages and Proceedings Of, and in relation, to the Armies in England, Ireland & Scotland; all three were dry-as-dust publications, toed the official line and relayed government information. They duly mentioned Parliament’s decision to punish the Ranter Abiezer Coppe for publishing A Fiery flying Roll, which was reported to include “blasphemies and heterodox opinions”, thus justifying the introduction of a bill to punish incest and adultery.44 The authorities’ condemnation of the Ranters’ alleged immoral behaviour was given publicity in Several Proceedings a few months later as it referred to a House of Commons report on the “Raunters […] and their abominable practices” and the subsequent introduction of a bill to suppress them.45 Besides signifying bad behaviour, irreligion was a theological threat; it was on this basis that the Ranters were repressed. One of the reasons why the Ranters were perceived as a danger, in addition to their Antinomian beliefs, was that their writings were publicised at the time of the Engagement controversy in early 1650. The Commonwealth had imposed an oath of allegiance to be taken by all Englishmen. It was challenged by many, notably Presbyterians, who used casuistry to vindicate their rejection of the oath. In this context of opposition to the state, heterodoxy was seen as a destabilising factor.46

  • 47 Man in the Moon no. 41, 30 January – 6 February 1650, p. 328. In the catalogue of sects entitled A (...)
  • 48 A fine example of the fluidity of discourse on tyrannicide between religious communities in England (...)

24The few royalist mercuries that remained in 1650 referred to the Ranters as one more example of the “swarming” of sects – as they put it – in Commonwealth England. Although they did not use the label “Ranters”, they mentioned Coppe’s and Bauthumley’s blasphemies as well as the odd “prophet” who voiced heterodox opinions and who may or may not have been a Ranter. They expressed no particular sympathy for the Ranters but their most acid comments went to the “State-hypocrites” who had allowed these sects to thrive. The greatest heresy, they argued, was “that horrible, damnable, Jesuiticall, and Soul-killing Doctrine [that Kings may be deposed by their owne Subjects]” which was the original and foundational sin of the Commonwealth.47 The advocates of the republic, especially at the time when the oath of allegiance to the Commonwealth was substituted for the oath of allegiance to the monarch, were portrayed as members of a sect that was far more destructive than all the other sects. The regicides were implicitly likened to “monarchomachs”, who made a case for tyrannicide, rather than regicide, and who were commonly associated with the Jesuits, although many theorists of the killing of kings were also found among Protestants.48 For royalist journalists writing in 1650-1651, the Ranters and other sects paled in comparison with the republican oligarchy and their supporters in the Rump Parliament who, by killing the King and by forcing Englishmen to renounce the oath of allegiance, had wreaked destruction on divine monarchy and, thus, had challenged God. That was the epitome of heresy, and heterodox sects were just by-products of the alleged godlessness of the godly.

25Heterodoxy grabbed the headlines in the momentous months that followed the regicide. Of course, there were other items of news that were given as much prominence, or as much pride of place, as the news about the Diggers and the Ranters. What is interesting is what the representation of these sects reveals about the perception of the sectarian landscape of those years, and perhaps more importantly, about the perception of heterodoxy by newspaper writers. To that extent, attaching labels matters.

  • 49 This is a point that I make in my study of The Moderate concerning other items of news: L. Curelly, (...)

26It mattered for newsbook writers at a time when news travelled swiftly as it facilitated categorisation. In England’s competitive news market, identifying heresies and spreading scare stories about sects whetted and satisfied early modern readers’ appetite for rumours and sensationalism. This does not mean that these sects did not exist or that they were given more attention than was necessary. The fact that reports on them multiplied within a relatively short period of time surely testifies to their significance. It may be argued, though, that these reports may also have contributed to the news business by allowing newspaper writers and publishers to increase their sales and outsell competitors. This is not to say that editors were merely trying to sell papers, but the commercial aspect of news writing should not be ignored.49

  • 50 The Levellers were keen to distance themselves from the Diggers, as has been argued before. So were (...)

27Surely, labels also mattered for those who had to cope with them, hence radical sects’ repeated efforts to distance themselves from other sects, such as the Levellers from the Diggers and the Diggers from the Ranters.50 Even those in the radical sphere were concerned with moral norms and social acceptability. Thus, being talked about allowed them to step into the spotlight and to advertise their programme of change – not that this was always deliberate on their part, but it was clearly one of the side effects of media interest.

28Last, labels matter for the student of Civil War heterodoxy, not just as a source of historical enquiry or as an index of the extent of heterodox ideas – although the development of sects during the British Civil Wars is not to be doubted. The labelling of sects as a form of representation matters because it reflects the fears and anxieties of those who wrote and read the newspapers. Their perception of the world around them, however fantasised and distorted, offers a glimpse of what was considered heterodox in those years. It is necessary to give the “lurid yellowpress accounts” of heterodox ideas and practices their fair share of attention, in that they reflected the concerns of their readers while seeking to shape public opinion in favour of the royalists or the Commonwealth. There is a fair amount of textual evidence testifying to the dialogic nature of newspapers, so that with the coverage of the Diggers and the Ranters newspaper editors were trying to achieve multiple goals – informing their readers, reflecting their prejudices and influencing them. It is interesting to probe contemporary perceptions and portrayals as expressed in newspapers as this helps us to understand with greater accuracy what religious and social practices were seen as heterodox in mid seventeenth-century England.

  • 51 See Laurent Curelly and Nigel Smith, in Radical Voices, Radical Ways – Articulating and Disseminati (...)
  • 52 Laurence Clarkson, The Lost Sheep Found, Or, The Prodigal returned to his Fathers house after many (...)
  • 53 The Kingdomes Weekly Intelligencer no. 311, 8-15 May 1649, p. 1353.

29In the absence of a clear-cut religious settlement in the 1649-1650 that would serve as a normative index, it is difficult to define orthodoxy and heterodoxy as these are fuzzy categories that, to a large extent, depend on our perception and on that of contemporary actors, in the same way as it is not always easy to decide what social or political group, or what ideas, should be labelled “radical” or “mainstream”.51 Such a difficulty is compounded by the extreme fluidity and permeability of sects. They were porous communities, and individuals often moved from one sect to the next. Thus, a few months after leaving the Surrey colony, Everard, one of the Leveller Diggers, joined a community gathered around John Pordage and influenced by the ideas of Jacob Boehme, and later seems to have come close to the Ranters. In his spiritual autobiography the Ranter Laurence Clarkson chronicles his sectarian odyssey as he moved from the Church of England to the Presbyterian Church, then to the Independents and on to the Antinomians, and then to the Baptists, and on to the Seekers, before ending up with the Ranters.52 The difficulty that modern-day scholars experience in mapping out mid seventeenth-century heterodoxy seems to have been anticipated by a contemporary journalist who in an issue of The Kingdomes Weekly Intelligencer expressed his embarrassment at naming the Levellers: “Some call them the Troopers, others call them the Levellers, but I conceive not properly, for it is one of their principles neither to deny nor destroy propriety: Untill it shall please God to settle all things according to the many Declarations made, if you please to allow it, I shall call them the Dissenters”.53

Haut de page

Notes

1 Thomas Edwards, Gangraena: Or a Catalogue and Discovery of many of the Errors, Heresies, Blasphemies and pernicious Practices of the Sectaries of this time, vented and acted in England in these four last years, London, 1646. “The Epistle Dedicatory” is addressed to Parliament. Gangraena is the object of Ann Hughes’s seminal study Gangraena and the Struggle for the English Revolution, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2004.

2 Cheap print is an expanding field of research. Recent publications on this topic include Jason Peacey, Politicians and Pamphleteers – Propaganda During the English Civil Wars and Interregnum, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2004; Jason Peacey, Print and Public Politics in the English Revolution, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2013; Joad Raymond (ed.), The Oxford History of popular Print Culture – Volume One: Cheap Print in Britain and Ireland to 1660, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011; Joad Raymond, “Cheap Print and Popular Reading During the Civil Wars, 1637-1660”, in A Companion to British Literature – Vol. II Early Modern Literature 1450-1660, Robert Demaria Jr, Heesok Chang, and Samantha Zacher (ed.), Malden, MA and Oxford, Wiley Blackwell, 2014, p. 309-325. On the Civil War press see, among other studies, Joad Raymond, The Invention of the Newspaper – English Newsbooks 1641-1649, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1996; Sharon Achinstein, “Texts in Conflict: The Press and the Civil War”, in The Cambridge Companion to Writing of the English Revolution, N. H. Keeble (ed.), Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 50-68; Andrew Pettegree, The Invention of News – How the World Came to Know About Itself, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2014. Very little, with the remarkable exception of Ann Hughes’s study of Gangraena and the heterodox milieu, has been written on newspapers and heterodoxy. There are a few remarks about this topic in The Complete Works of Gerrard Winstanley, Thomas N. Corns, Ann Hughes and David Loewenstein (ed.), 2 vols, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009, vol. I, p. 29-30.

3 See David Como, Blown by the Spirit – Puritanism and the Emergence of an Antinomian Underground in Pre-Civil War England, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2004.

4 “Turning England upside down” is a reference to Christopher Hill’s well-known study of radical sects The World Turned Upside Down – Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (1972), London, Penguin Books, 1991, the title of which was borrowed from a ballad of a hostile nature published during the Civil Wars, and ultimately taken from Acts 17:6.

5 The print-run of these publications cannot be measured with unerring accuracy. For contributions to the debate on this issue, see Joseph Frank, The Beginnings of the English Newspaper, 1620-1660, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1961, p. 57; Anthony N. B. Cotton, “London Newsbooks in the Civil War: Their Political Attitudes and Sources of Information”, PhD diss., Oxford, 1971, p. 8-14; J. Raymond, The Invention of the Newspaper, op. cit., p. 235.

6 For details about the market for news in the late 1640s see my study of The Moderate: Laurent Curelly, An Anatomy of an English Radical Newspaper: The Moderate (1648-9), Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017, p. 9-17.

7 On the Diggers see John Gurney, Brave Community: The Digger Movement in the English Revolution, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2007; and John Gurney, Gerrard Winstanley The Digger’s Life and Legacy, London, Pluto Press, 2013. See also Olivier Lutaud’s in-depth study Winstanley: socialisme et christianisme sous Cromwell, Paris, Didier, 1976. The most recent and thorough edition of Winstanley’s writings is T. Corns, A. Hughes and D. Loewenstein (ed.), The Complete Works of Gerrard Winstanley, op. cit. Winstanley’s early religious tracts include The Mysterie of God, The Breaking of the Day of God, The Saints Paradise, and Truth Lifting Up its Head Above Scandals; these, together with The New Law of Righteousnes, were reissued in January 1649 as Several Pieces Gathered Into One Volume and published by the radical printer Giles Calvert.

8 On the Ranters see J. C. Davis, Fear, Myth and History. The Ranters and the Historians, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1986, a discussion of the Ranters as a fallacy; Nigel Smith, Perfection Proclaimed: Language and Literature in English Radical Religion, 1640-1660, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1989; Ariel Hessayon, “Abiezer Coppe and the Ranters”, in The Oxford Handbook of Literature and the English Revolution, Laura Lunger Knoppers (ed.), Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2012, p. 346-374. See also A Collection of Ranter Writings. Spiritual Liberty and Sexual Freedom in the English Revolution, Nigel Smith (ed.), 2nd edn, London, Pluto Press, 2014.

9 Winstanley, A Vindication of Those, Whose Endeavors Is Only to Make the Earth a Common Treasury, Called Diggers or, Some Reasons Given by Them against the Immoderate Use of Creatures, or the Excessive Community of Women, Called Ranting; or Rather Renting (1650), in T. Corns, A. Hughes and D. Loewenstein (ed.), The Complete Works of Gerrard Winstanley, op. cit., vol. II, p. 235-242.

10 Judging by the editorials they included, Perfect Occurrences or The Kingdomes Weekly Intelligencer never departed from what may termed the official line, thus adjusting their political stance to changing circumstances in the autumn of 1648 and the spring of 1649. Leading articles in John Dillingham’s Moderate Intelligencer could occasionally be critical but, all in all, Dillingham adopted a cautious attitude when the Commonwealth was established, urging his readers to adopt “a passive posture”: The Moderate Intelligencer, no. 204, 8-15 February 1649, p. 1885.

11 A Letter to the Lord Fairfax, And His Councell of War, With Divers Questions to the Lawyers, and Ministers (1649), in T. Corns, A. Hughes and D. Loewenstein (ed.), The Complete Works of Gerrard Winstanley, op. cit., vol. II, p. 44.

12 See A Modest Narrative of Intelligence no. 3, 14-21 April 1649, p. 24: “It is observable, That while Everard and Winstanley stood before the Lord General they stood with their Hats on, and being demanded the Reason, said, He was but their fellow Creature”. A Perfect Diurnall of some Passages in Parliament told the story in similar words: see no. 298, 16-23 April 1649, p. 2449. It cannot be argued with certainty that these reports were true, but they were far from implausible.

13 See for example The Kingdomes Faithfull and Impartiall Scout, no. 13, 20-27 April 1649, p. 98; A Modest Narrative of Intelligence has an editorial with derisive comments on the Diggers: no. 11, 9-16 June 1649, p. 81.

14 The New Law of Righteousnes (1649), in T. Corns, A. Hughes and D. Loewenstein (ed.), The Complete Works of Gerrard Winstanley, op. cit., vol. I, p. 482. On Winstanley’s religion, see “Introduction”, in ibid., vol. I, p. 51-59.

15 A Perfect Summary of an Exact Dyarie of some Passages of Parliament no. 14, 23-30 April 1649, p. 140. Similar accounts were printed in A Modest Narrative of Intelligence no. 4, 21-28 April 1649, p. 32, and Continued Heads of Perfect Passages in Parliament no. 3, 27 April – 4 May 1649, p. 18. These newsbooks may well have had access to the same source, possibly a brief written in a London news agency.

16 The Diggers and the Levellers held diverging views on the property issue. The Levellers went to great lengths to refute accusations that they intended to “level mens estates”, as in A Manifestation from Lieutenant Col. John Lilburn, Mr William Walwyn, Mr Thomas Prince, and Mr Richard Overton, (Now Prisoners in the Tower of London), And others, commonly (though unjustly) Styled Levellers, published in London and dated 14 April 1649 (p. 5). The Diggers are said to have referred to themselves as “True Levellers”, as suggested by the title of their tract The True Levellers Standard Advanced. But whether they chose the title themselves is a moot point: see note 23 for further details.

17 The two Adams are a recurring theme in Winstanley’s works. See for example, The New Law of Righteousnes (1649), in T. Corns, A. Hughes and D. Loewenstein (ed.), The Complete Works of Gerrard Winstanley, op. cit., vol. I, p. 472-568, and the Diggers’ manifesto The True Levellers Standard Advanced (1649), ibid., vol. II, p. 1-20.

18 A Nest of Serpents Discovered. Or, A knot of old Heretiques revived, called the Adamites. Wherein their originall, increase, and severall ridiculous tenets are plainly layd open, London, 1641, p. 3-4.

19 The Moderate Intelligencer no. 214, 19-26 April 1649, p. 2002.

20 A Modest Narrative of Intelligence no. 12, 9-16 June 1649, p. 81.

21 A Catalogue of the severall Sects and Opinions in England and other Nations (1646) described Antinomians thus: “Under this name shrowds many desperate / Destroying Doctrines, unregenerate, / Expresse opposing grace in its true power”. This definition had a potential for broad categorisation that included various heterodox doctrines. Antinomianism came to designate irreligious practices, most notably the denial of sin, as in Ephraim Pagitt’s Heresiography, or, A discription of the hereticks and sectaries of these latter times (London, 1645).

22 In 1650 the Rump Parliament passed two laws against immoral behaviour: these were “An Act for suppressing the detestable sins of Incest, Adultery and Fornication” (May 1650) and “An Act against several Atheistical, Blasphemous and Execrable Opinions, derogatory to the honor of God, and destructive to humane society” (August 1650). On religious policies during the Commonwealth see Blair Worden, The Rump Parliament, 1648-1653, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1974, p. 119-138.

23 See B. Worden, The Rump Parliament, op. cit., p. 123-125. Worden argues that the Rump period brought Presbyterians and Independents closer together, and that most MPs, both Presbyterians and Independents, were appalled by heterodox sects.

24 Mercurius Elencticus no. 23, 24 September – 1 October 1649, p. 184.

25 Thomas Edwards, Reasons against the Independant [sic] Government of Particular Congregations: As also against the Toleration of such Churches to be erected in this Kingdome, London, 1641.

26 Mercurius Elencticus no. 1, 24 April – 1 May 1649, p. 2. Mercurius Elencticus, one of the three: main royalist mercuries of 1647-1648, was briefly revived after the regicide, hence the new numeration.

27 The Man in the Moon no. 27, 24-31 October 1649, p. 220-221.

28 On satirical representations of nonconformists see Kristen Poole, Radical Religion from Shakespeare to Milton – Figures of Nonconformity in Early Modern England, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000.

29 Mercurius Pragmaticvs, unnumbered, 17-24 April 1649, n. p. This was a counterfeit issue. Forged titles were not uncommon in Civil War journalism, including among royalist newspapers.

30 See for example Marchamont Nedham’s comment in his Mercurius Pragmaticus (for King Charls II): “This Reformation hath brought forth a pretty litter, and whosoever looks seriously upon them all, may see who, and what were their Parents: For, by their Religion and Manners, and their Practices upon each other, any one must conclude that the Turke and the Canniball were chief in their generation”, no. 6, 22-29 May 1649, p. 41-42.

31 One of the Diggers’ tracts appeared in two editions under different titles: The True Levellers Standard Advanced and A Declaration to the Powers of England. Thomason’s copy of the former is dated 26 April [1649], at the height of the Leveller crisis. The reason why there are two titles is not clear. It has been argued that the former title may not have been the doing of Winstanley. For details about this debate see “Introduction”, in T. Corns, A. Hughes and D. Loewenstein (ed.), The Complete Works of Gerrard Winstanley, op. cit., vol. I, p. 79-82.

32 On the Levellers’ religious ideas see Rachel Foxley, The Levellers Radical Political Thought in the English Revolution, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2013, p. 122-125; John Rees, The Leveller Revolution – Radical Political Organisation in England, 1640-1650, London and New York, Verso, 2016, p. 27-29, 58-61, 145-148; Michael Braddick, The Common Freedom of the People – John Lilburne and the English Revolution, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2018, p. 278-279; Rachel Foxley, “Freedom of Conscience”, in P. Baker and Elliot Vernont (ed.), The Agreements of the People, the Levellers and the Constitutional Crisis of the English Revolution, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, p. 117-138.

33 Mercurius Pragmaticus for King Charles II no 1, 17-24 April 1649, p. 6.

34 On Nedham and the Levellers see Blair Worden, Literature and Politics in Cromwellian England – John Milton, Andrew Marvell, Marchamont Nedham, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 29, 42, 46.

35 See for example John Crouch’s report on the Commonwealth’s repression of the Levellers at Burford in his Man in the Moon, no. 6, 14-21 May 1649, p. 57.

36 Mercurius Pragmaticus for King Charles II no 1, p. 6-7. On Nedham’s preference for limited monarchy rather than divine-right kingship, see B. Worden, Literature and Politics in Cromwellian England, op. cit., p. 29. When Nedham committed himself to the defence of the Commonwealth, the Levellers became the butt of his criticism, and he had no qualms about associating the Diggers with them: “From Levelling they proceed to introduce an absolute Community. And though neither the Athenian nor Roman Levellers ever arrived to this high pitch of madnesse; yet we see there is a new Faction started up out of ours, known by the name of Diggers”, Marchamont Nedham, The Case of the Commonwealth of England Stated, London, 1650, p. 87, quoted in “Introduction”, in T. Corns, A. Hughes and D. Lowenstein (ed.), The Complete Works of Gerrard Winstanley, op. cit., vol. I, p. 40. On Nedham’s volte-face and his repudiation of the Levellers see Nigel Smith, Literature and Revolution in England, 1640-1660, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1994, p. 183-184.

37 Thomas Edwards, The third part of Gangraena, London, 1646, p. 153-161. In order to defame them, Edwards refers to the Levellers as a “secular root” (p. 159).

38 Mercurius Brittanicus no. 1, 24 April – 4 May 1649, p. 4. Mercurius Brittanicus aimed to confute Mercurius Pragmaticus, in the same way as its predecessor Mercurius Britanicus – spelt with one “t” – had once fought a paper war with the royalist newspaper Mercurius Aulicus.

39 See for instance the phrase “Jesuiticall Scabs” as used by The Man in the Moon no 53, 1-9 May 1650, p. 403, to refer to the members of the Rump Parliament.

40 J. C. Davis, Fear, Myth and History. The Ranters and the Historians, op. cit., p. 2. See also J. C. Davis, “Fear, Myth and Furore: Reappraising the ‘Ranters’”, P&P 129, 1990, p. 79-103.

41 For responses to J. C. Davis’s theories see J. F. McGregor, Bernard Capp, Nigel Smith and B. J. Gibbons, and Davis’s reply in “Debate: Fear, Myth and Furore: Reappraising the Ranters”, P&P 140, 1993, p. 155-210; Christopher Hill, “Abolishing the Ranters”, in A Nation of Change and Novelty: Radical Politics, Religion and Literature in Seventeenth-Century England, London and New York, Routledge, 1990, p. 152-194. See also Nigel Smith’s introduction to his Collection of Ranter Writings, op. cit., p. 1-31. For a discussion of reports on the Ranters in cheap print, both pamphlets and newspapers, see Joad Raymond, Pamphlets and Pamphleteering in Early Modern Britain (2003), Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 239-243.

42 J. Raymond, Pamphlets and Pamphleteering in Early Modern Britain, op. cit., p. 239.

43 The “Act against unlicensed and scandalous Books and Pamphlets, and for better regulating of Printing” was passed on 20 September 1649 and was strictly enforced.

44 A Perfect Diurnall no. 8, 28 January – 4 February 1650, p. 72.

45 Several Proceedings no. 39, 20-27 June 1650, p. 560. Within a year by 1650, a whole string of Ranter pamphlets had rolled off the printing press: Abiezer Coppe had published Some Sweet Sips, of some Spiritual Wine; A Fiery Flying Roll and A Second Fiery Flying Roule, as well as his preface to Richard Coppin’s Divine Teachings. Laurence Clarkson’s A Single Eye All Light, No Darkness had been printed; so had Joseph Salmon’s A Rout, A Rout, and Jacob Bauthumley’s The Light and Dark Sides of God.

46 On the Engagement controversy see Edward Vallance, “Oaths, Casuistry, and Equivocation: Anglican Responses to the Engagement Controversy”, The Historical Journal, 44.1, 2001, p. 59-77.

47 Man in the Moon no. 41, 30 January – 6 February 1650, p. 328. In the catalogue of sects entitled A Relation of severall Heresies, published in 1646, Jesuits feature side by side with Adamites, Familists, Seekers, Antinomians and another fifteen heterodox groups.

48 A fine example of the fluidity of discourse on tyrannicide between religious communities in England is an apology attributed to the English Jesuit Robert Persons (or Parsons), A Conference about the Next Succession to the Crown Of Ingland, the first part of which was reprinted in 1648 by Robert Ibbitson, a radical printer, under the title Severall Speeches Delivered at a Conference concerning the Power of Parliament, to proceed against their King for Misgovernment. Religious affiliations mattered little in this case when the purpose was to denounce arbitrary government. On the recycling of this Jesuit tract by the author of the radical newsbook The Moderate see the pioneering work of Luc Borot: “‘Vive le Roi!’ ou ‘Mort au tyran!’? Le procès et l’exécution de Charles I dans la presse d’information de novembre 1648 à février 1649”, in Figures de la royauté en Angleterre de Shakespeare à la Glorieuse Révolution, François Laroque and Franck Lessay (ed.), Paris, Presses de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, 1999, p. 143-164; “The People against the ‘New Powers that Be’ in 1649: The testimony of the petitions printed in The Moderate”, in Républicanisme anglais et idée de tolérance, Confluences 17, 2000, p. 59-79, here p. 63-64.

49 This is a point that I make in my study of The Moderate concerning other items of news: L. Curelly, An Anatomy of an English Radical Newspaper, op. cit.

50 The Levellers were keen to distance themselves from the Diggers, as has been argued before. So were the Diggers from the Ranters, which is why they wrote a tract entitled A Vindication of those, whose Endeavors Only to Make the Earth a Common Treasury, Called Diggers or, Some Reasons given by them against the immoderate use of creatures, or the excessive community of women, called Ranting; or rather Renting; it was printed in the spring of 1650 at the time of the Ranter controversy.

51 See Laurent Curelly and Nigel Smith, in Radical Voices, Radical Ways – Articulating and Disseminating Radicalism in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Britain, L. Curelly and N. Smith (ed.), (Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Studies; General Editor: Anne Dunan-Page), Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2016, p. 1-37, especially p. 5-10.

52 Laurence Clarkson, The Lost Sheep Found, Or, The Prodigal returned to his Fathers house after many a sad and weary Journey through many Religious Countreys, London, 1660, p. 4-34.

53 The Kingdomes Weekly Intelligencer no. 311, 8-15 May 1649, p. 1353.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Laurent Curelly, « When Heterodoxy Became News: The Representation of the Diggers and the Ranters in Contemporary Newspapers », Études Épistémè [En ligne], 35 | 2019, mis en ligne le 10 juillet 2019, consulté le 19 août 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/4341 ; DOI : 10.4000/episteme.4341

Haut de page

Auteur

Laurent Curelly

Laurent Curelly est Professeur d’Études anglaises du XVIIe siècle à l’Université de Haute Alsace à Mulhouse. Ses recherches portent en particulier sur les sectes radicales et la presse à l’époque des Guerres Civiles anglaises. Il a récemment publié An Anatomy of an English Radical Newspaper: The Moderate (1648-9) (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2017), et co-dirigé, avec Nigel Smith, Radical Voices, Radical Ways: Articulating and Disseminating Radicalism in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Britain (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016).

Articles du même auteur

Haut de page
  • Logo DOAJ - Directory of Open Access Journals
  • OpenEdition Journals