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1646: More on Levellers in Northamptonshire

A series of historical notes appeared in Northampton Mercury from February 1875 onwards and ran for the next ten years. Titled “Antiquarian Memoranda” they often contained historical material relating to Northamptonshire, sometimes contributed by John Taylor.

Antiquarian Memoranda

We find several curious particulars concerning the Army and divers of the “separation” at Towcester at the time of the Civil War, in a rare tract, entitled —

” The Prerogative Priests Passing-Bell, or Amen to the Rigid Clergy. Showing the Usefulness, Equity, Lawfulness, and Necessity, of private persons to take upon them Preaching or Expounding of the Scriptures, having a call thereto * * * * Calculated on purpose for the Metropolis of Northamptonshire, and may serve indifferently for the Meridian of most places in other Horizons, especially for those parts that are in conjunction with the Northern Climate.”

By William Hartley.
* * * * London, 1651.

These we give below :—

December 31, 1646. The Commons assembled in Parliament, do Declare, That they do dislike, and will proceed against all such persons, as shall take upon them to preach or expound the Scriptures, in any Church or Chappel, or other publique place, except they be ordained either here, or in any other reformed Church, Ac. * * * * * It is the grief of every humane-like spirit to see Mordecai favored, although he justly may have merited the same, and what care and industry the Presbyterated party do take to render both persons and meetings of the Separation odious in the eyes of the Magistrate and people, for taste thereof, I thought good to insert the carriage of Mr. Parmer, and Gore, &c., of Towciter, whose malicious and envious spirit could not be satisfied in setting Major Ducket’s troopers to fall upon us with their naked swords, while Captain Elliot was speaking, but also caused many notorious falsehoods to be inserted in the weekly news books; viz.:— “A Tumultuous Meeting”; “Tompson’s Party, Levellers”; “Ranters, Erroneous Fellows.” For as much as this is not the first time that we have been abused in this nature (as is well known to some godly and eminent governors of this Common-Wealth), it would favour of unanswerable improvidence if we should not faithfully endeavour to wash off that dirt which is so unworthily cast in the faces of us.

Upon the first day (commonly called Whit-Sunday), divers of the Separation met at Cornet Reads house in Towciter, and after one friend had exercised his gifts, the Auditory lid exceed the room, and by reason of the throng, it was moved, for better conveniency, to go into the yard, which being of less continent than the room, by the advise of the soldiery there present, and some friends under the penthouse without door (taking the benefit of shade) was adjudged a convenient place; there Capt. Elliot (much about the time of the ending of the evening Exercise at the publique place, spake a word of exhortation, and the people gave him peaceable audience. Now that this Meeting might degenerate to tumultuous disturbance of the Peace, that must wholly lie at the door of Farmer, Gore, and their adherents, who incensed the soldiery; but by the wise carriage of the officers the business was easily appeased. Seriously this is hard measure, when Christians shall be denyed that liberty which is commonly afforded to those unreasonable creatures who lick the crumbs of our tables.

2. We are branded for Tompson’s Party; I cannot tell what to say to this allegation, seeing Tompson (his fury working his own destruction) is now under ground; but upon enquiry this is gathered, that there was one at the meeting that adhered to him, and by the Councel of State acquitted long since. Now if a convention of people must be measured by a single person, by these men’s reason Sodomites were all righteous, because one Lot inhabited the city.

For the word Leveller is a term of odium cast upon many a person for holding forth of righteous principles: for those who deny propriety under pretence of community, as we have no communion with them in such a principle, so see we no reason to debar them from hearing of the word preached.

3. Ranters, erroneous fellows, &c. For calling those that met ranters, if their passion had not quite eat up their reason this sentence would not have passed, there being neither beer, wine, women, or any other object which might provoke licentiousness made use of; besides, those who are involved in so sad condition, of necessity must turn Apostates into prayer and preaching. Now, had not the envy of the elder brother been too prevalent with them, if there came any of that judgment to the Exercise out of good intention, ought it not to be a matter of rejoicing? I am sure Jesus Christ saith there is joy in heaven upon the like occasion.

And that the mouth of envy may be fully stopped take a view of a letter directed to Mr. Benson, commissioner of the Peace, viz.
Sir,— It is related you are dissatisfied with the meeting of some dissenting from the public worship, and that myself should assume the publique place which thing never entered into my intention; however we may be mispresented through malice or misprison, yet know that our actions will manifest all peaceable obedience to the present power, to whom, with yourself, I am,

A ready servant,         WILL HARTLEY.

J. T., Northampton.

Northampton Mercury – Saturday 05 April 1879
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