The present state of the old world.. is running up like parchment in the fire, and wearing away.' So declaimed Gerrard Winstanley, charismatic leader of radical religious group the Diggers, in mid-seventeenth century England: one of the most turbulent periods in that country's history. As three civil wars divided and slaughtered families and communities, as failing harvests and land reforms forced many to the edge of starvation and beyond, and as longstanding institutions like the House of Lords, the Established Church and even the monarchy were unceremoniously dismantled, so a feverish sense of living on the cusp of a new age gripped the nation. Radical Religion in Cromwell's England is the first genuinely concise and accessible history of the fascinating ideas and movements which emerged during this volatile period. Names like the 'Ranters', 'Seekers', 'Diggers' and 'Levellers' convey something of the exoticism of these popular associations, which although loose-knit, and in some cases short-lived, impacted on every stratum of society. Some, like the Levellers, produced sophisticated political programmes not unlike the manifestos of present-day political parties. Others, like the Fifth Monarchists, pinned their hope for political change on a belief that the execution of Charles Stuart fulfilled a prophesy in the biblical Book of Daniel and heralded the arrival of Christ's kingdom. As Diggers strove to make the earth a 'common treasury', Quakers walked naked to symbolise humanity's inherent equality; as Muggletonians damned everyone who rejected their own take on the Book of Revelation, Ranters saw God as present in all things, even human excrement. Andrew Bradstock critically appraises each group and its ideas, taking into account the context in which they emerged, the factors which influenced them, and their significance both at the time and subsequently. The role of political, religious, economic and military factors in shaping radical opinion is explored in full, while the contribution of women - often overlooked - is also discussed, as is the influence of individuals not generally associated with these movements, such as John Milton, John Bunyan and Anne Wentworth. Drawing on the author's long study of the topic, as well as the latest scholarship, Radical Religion in Cromwell's England brings this remarkable era and its chief participants to vivid and colourful life.
Radical Religion in Cromwell's England
A Concise History from the English Civil War to the End of the Commonwealth