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Prophecy, Politics and the People in Early Modern England

Prophecy, Politics and the People in Early Modern England

Tim Thornton
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Prophecy, Politics and the People in Early Modern England
    Book Description:

    The influence of the non-Biblical vernacular prophetic traditions in early modern England was considerable; they had both a mass appeal, and a specific relevance to the conduct of politics by elites. Focussing particularly on Mother Shipton, the Cheshire prophet Nixon, and Merlin, this book considers the origins of these prophetic traditions, their growth and means of transmission, and the way various groups in society responded to them and in turn tried to control them. Dr Thornton also sheds light on areas where popular culture and politics were uneasily interlinked: the powerful political influence of those outside elite groups; the variations in political culture across the country; and the considerable continuing power of mystical, supernatural, and 'non-rational' ideas in British social and political life into the nineteenth century. Dr TIM THORNTON teaches at the University of Huddersfield where he is head of department, History, English, Languages and Media.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-500-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction: Prophecy, politics and the people in late medieval and early modern England
    (pp. 1-13)

    This is a study of non-biblical prophetic traditions current in England from the sixteenth century to the present day, especially Mother Shipton, Merlin and Nixon the Cheshire prophet. The term ‘prophecy’ covers a wide variety of phenomena in the early modern period. These overlap far more than is sometimes allowed, but it is nonetheless necessary and legitimate to focus for the moment on one element of ‘prophecy’, in this case ‘ancient prophecy’ (to use a term of Keith Thomas’s), that is prophecy allegedly uttered or written by figures in the past, who might or might not be religious figures but...

  6. 1 Ancient prophecy in the sixteenth century
    (pp. 14-52)

    In 1539 John Davy, described as a Welsh prophet, was sent up to the capital by an anxious courtier, Sir John Gresham. Davy was very desirous to see the king, and content to face prison and death if what he foretold did not prove true. Gresham opined: ‘he is but a “werysh” [that is insipid or, perhaps, weak and unimaginative] person to have any such learning of prophecy’.¹ The incident seems to encapsulate the state of ancient prophecy in the sixteenth century: espoused by the marginal or deranged, a threat to order and stability, and either benignly dismissed or savagely...

  7. 2 Prophetic creation and audience in civil war England
    (pp. 53-98)

    The conditions prevalent during the latter part of the sixteenth century in England might have spelt the end for ancient prophecy as an influential political language and set of traditions. There were some attacks upon it, and especially upon some of the broader ideas which helped to support it. There were also potentially significant challenges from other ways of understanding the future and its relationship to the past such as astrology and biblical prophecy. These challenges to ancient prophecy, and the alternatives that became increasingly attractive, did not in fact destroy ancient prophecy; in some ways, in fact, a synergy...

  8. 3 Prophecy and the Revolution settlement
    (pp. 99-144)

    The century after the Restoration has been seen as conclusively fatal for so many of the ‘predictive’ cultures of the early modern period. It undoubtedly saw a rising tide of scepticism about astrology, challenged by changing understandings of the heavens. Patrick Curry and Keith Thomas, for example, both found in these years a growing pattern of scepticism and disbelief which made astrologers like John Partridge laughing stocks for many.¹ In addition, although latitudinarianism expressed a continuing faith in the biblical pattern of history well into the eighteenth century, it also saw the beginnings of a more effective challenge to biblical...

  9. 4 The re-rooting and survival of ancient prophecy
    (pp. 145-193)

    This chapter will consider why ancient prophecy was able to survive in the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, at precisely the time when the modernization narratives of Thomas, Capp and others might suggest it was already effectively dismissed and marginalized, a relic of the past. Even some of those who have urged the continuities in prophetic culture after 1660 have found the later eighteenth century as a period in which it lost its force.¹ The traditions of Merlin and Nixon will be examined to assess the thesis that particular factors lay behind their decline. In particular, however, we will address...

  10. 5 Conclusions
    (pp. 194-197)

    The introduction to this book set out its intention to address three contentious areas of recent historiography. I have argued that ancient prophecy represented a powerful political, religious and social language that was never under complete elite control, and yet which could never be completely ignored by the elite. I have suggested that this was partially to do with the vitality of regional political cultures in the English, and the British, monarchy well into the early modern period. And I have urged that this indicates a strong continuity in non-rational elements to the political culture of this country. Where prophetic...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 198-248)
  12. Index
    (pp. 249-270)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 271-271)