‘Threshing among the people’
Ranters, Quakers and the revolutionary public sphere
in Insolent proceedings
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This chapter re-examines relations between Quakers and Ranters in the 1650s. Although J. C. Davis’ robust attack on the Ranters in the 1990s has been widely rebutted, it retains nevertheless an enduring influence on scholarly approaches to radical sects in the 1650s. Accounts of Ranters still focus on the small handful of so-called Ranter authors. Their broader significance is largely understood negatively, as a thorn in the side of religious and political settlement in the 1650s, or as esoteric intellectuals operating on the margins of acceptable religious doctrine. Using material from Quaker correspondence, this chapter explores the broader impact of Ranter preaching and Ranter authors on local audiences. Quakers and Ranters sought out public debate and conducted formal disputations with each other in front of religiously diverse local audiences throughout the 1650s; Quaker authors worked hard, both in print and in local meetings, to refute Ranter ideas on sin and transgression, and argued for the importance of moral regulation governed by conscience, as part of their on-going campaign for the statutory provision of liberty of conscience. Ann Hughes’ work has been pivotal in founding a scholarship that has established the vibrancy and participatory nature of religion and politics during the 1640s and 1650s. This chapter builds upon her work and argue that the public exchanges and formal debates between Ranter and Quaker preachers can be integrated into this participatory model.

Insolent proceedings

Rethinking public politics in the English Revolution

Editors: Peter Lake and Jason Peacey

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