“Friends, take heed of setting up that which God will throw down, lest you be found fighters against God.”
The nearly two decades comprising the period of the English Revolution were marked by a widespread interest in the timely appearance of the millennium, the thousand year period of Christ's promised earthly reign. From scholarly biblical studies of Daniel and Revelation to omens such as total eclipses of the sun and rumors of a Nottingham girl returning from the dead to warn a sinful world of approaching destruction, people in revolutionary England were bombarded with “evidence” of divine intervention and the expected arrival of the new kingdom. Parliament's victory in the English civil wars and its execution of Charles I in 1649 dramatically blew away the aura of divinity surrounding the monarchy and promised a new and glorious age. As they read prophecies in Revelation about a New Jerusalem where God would dry all tears and banish death, sorrow, and pain, enthusiasts of the seventeenth century anxiously looked for the Christ who promised, “Behold, I come quickly.” So prevalent were such notions that, as one authority has stressed, popular millenarianism seemed only a small step beyond received orthodoxy.
H. Larry Ingle is Professor of History at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He has published several articles concerned with Quaker history and religious thought in addition to his book Quakers in Conflict: The Hicksite Reformation (1986). He is presently writing a biography of George Fox to be published by Oxford University Press.
* The author would like to thank Craig W. Horle, Hugh Barbour, James A. Ward, Richard L. Greaves, and the editor of this journal for helpful suggestions on earlier versions of this article, as well as to the Faculty Research Committee of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, which helped with some of the funds to make the research possible.