Medieval and early modern historiography had encouraged the integration of biblical and Gaelic chronologies, and throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Irish antiquarians, poets and romantic nationalists began to think of themselves as ‘Milesians’, the displaced descendants of a wandering Phoenician tribe. This chapter focuses on the British Israelites, a loose Protestant sect united by their belief that the Anglo-Saxon race was descended from the Lost Tribes of Israel and that biblical prophecies on the future of ‘Israel’ referred to the British Empire. The British Israelites argued that the ancient Irish king, Ollamh Fodhla, was actually the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah. This myth-history was deployed in support of the British-Israel claim that the Anglo-Saxons were the true heirs to the biblical Kingdom of David. Yet despite their fascination with the mysteries of pre-Christian Ireland, most British Israelites were arch-imperialists, staunch anti-Catholics and opponents of Irish Home Rule. The chapter explores shifting notions of British and Irish racial identity in relation to scriptural genealogy, and argues that Old Testament narratives were co-opted to serve conflicting political and religious agendas.
Biblical literacy and Khoesan national renewal in the Cape Colony
The rapid growth in popularity of the Protestant, Nonconformist missionary movement among the Cape Colony’s indigenous population, the Khoesan, coincided with Britain’s efforts to remould the Cape into a territory which exhibited British characteristics. Cape society had already been structured according to a racial hierarchy, though race was not yet the sole determinant of belonging as it was to become from the 1840s onwards. Christian identity held important sway in the Cape Colony during the early nineteenth century and was an important marker of social status and inclusion. For Khoesan descended from distinct, precolonial ethnic lineages, biblical literacy offered a language through which a new, Christian ‘nation’ could be imagined and articulated, and which could challenge settler–colonial hierarchies of power. This chapter explores how the Bible became a site of contestation in the struggle over the ownership of Protestant Christianity in the Cape Colony during the early nineteenth century. Khoesan acceptance of the Bible did not simply amount to submission to Western domination. Rather, Khoesan interpretations of scripture positioned the Bible as a disruptive, anti-colonial text. By confirming the Bible as a potent repository of symbolism and imagery, Khoesan sought to challenge racially based notions of Christian identity.
While historians of early modern Britain have long noted the ubiquity of Old Testament typology in religious-political discourse, its enduring potency thereafter has received much less attention. In part this is because of the flexibility of such rhetoric, for while posing as a ‘new Israel’ worked for embattled states like sixteenth-century England, this was not the only rhetorical option available; nor was it always the most apposite comparison, especially in the era of British global hegemony. This chapter argues that maritime imperial expansion lent particular weight to one set of passages, those concerning ancient seagoing Tyre and Tarshish. What they stood for was seldom stable: they were read prophetically, as literally presaging Britain’s current greatness; typologically, as warnings against the besetting sins of commercial greed and pride; and moralistically, as examples of the problems caused by imperial overstretch. I seek to show that British people in the nineteenth century continued to map the world and their place in it in biblical terms, to an extent that has sometimes been underplayed. What that meant, however, was increasingly open to interpretation.
This chapter presents a fresh analysis of the nature of the Association
Movement in interregnum England and Ireland. It surveys the various local
associations, using their constitutions and position statements to modify
the long-held view that the association movement was an outgrowth of Richard
Baxter’s drive for Christian unity. The chapter argues that the associations
in general had a presbyterian basis, looking back to the Westminster
assembly’s project as the foundation of local unity. The chapter then
focuses on the political status of the associations in the interregnum,
arguing that in the later years of the 1650s, the associations were eclipsed
by a renewal of the struggle between congregationalists and presbyterians
for control of religious policy in government.
The debate on the polity of the church was at the centre of the religious debates
in the British Atlantic world during the middle decades of the
seventeenth-century. From the Covenanter revolution in Scotland, to the
congregationalism of the New England colonies, to the protracted debates of the
Westminster assembly, and the abolition of the centuries-old episcopalian
structure of the Church of England, the issue of the polity of the church was
intertwined with the political questions of the period. This book collects
together essays focusing on the conjunction of church polity and politics in the
middle years of the seventeenth century. A number of chapters in the volume
address the questions and conflicts arising out of the period’s reopening and
rethinking of the Reformation settlement of church and state. In addition, the
interplay between the localities and the various Westminster administrations of
the era are explored in a number of chapters. Beyond these discussions, chapters
in the volume explore the deeper ecclesiological thinking of the period,
examining the nature of the polity of the church and its relationship to society
at large. The book also covers the issues of liberty of conscience and how
religious suffering contributed to a sense of what the true church was in the
midst of revolutionary political upheaval. This volume asserts the fundamental
connection between church polity and politics in the revolutions that affected
the seventeenth-century British Atlantic world.
The polity of the British episcopal churches, 1603–62
Benjamin M. Guyer
This chapter provides a historical account of the British episcopal churches
from the Tudor Reformation until the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy and
Church of England in the later seventeenth century. It explores the
connection between episcopal polity and the liturgy of the Church of
England. The chapter argues that episcopacy and liturgy provided the
resilient bedrock that preserved the Church of England through the civil
wars and interregnum.
Church polity and politics in the British Atlantic world, c.
This chapter introduces the volume by asking the questions pertinent to the
subject matter of church polity and politics in the British Atlantic world.
It summarises the developments of church polity in the period before the
time frame of the volume. The chapters of the volume are introduced so that
the wider issues explored in common are brought together.
An exploration of church polity and the governance of the region’s
Francis J. Bremer
This chapter looks at the issues surrounding church polity in mid- to late
seventeenth-century colonial New England. It looks at the debates
surrounding the role of synods in the congregational churches of New
England, as well as disputes concerning the role of the laity in church
governance. The chapter focuses on the gradual seventeenth-century drift in
the American colonies away from the pure congregationalism of its founders
towards more presbyterian forms of government. This retreat from
congregational and lay governance was made more rapid by the New Englanders
witnessing the events of the civil war and interregnum in England and the
chaos caused by the de facto toleration of religious sects.
The chapter looks at the issue of political policy and church polity in
mid-seventeenth-century Wales. It eschews the focus on the formation of
independency and baptist churches traditionally found in studies of Wales in
the period. Instead, the chapter looks at the activities of the Long
Parliament, particularly the Herefordshire MP Sir Robert Harley, in the
attempt to institute the Long Parliament’s projected presbyterian settlement
in Wales. The chapter argues that the failure of presbyterianism to take
roots in Wales in the period was due to its essentially English and
politically metropolitan character. Conversely the success of independency
and baptists’ forms of church polity owed much to its propagation by godly
The failure of congregational ideas in the Mersey Basin region,
This chapter explores the failure of congregationalist ideas to penetrate
into the Mersey Basin area of Lancashire and Cheshire in the late 1630s and
early 1640s. The chapter focuses on the network of godly clergymen around
local aristocratic magnates, the earls of Derby and particularly Lord
Strange. These clerics, led by Charles Herle, the future prolocutor of the
Westminster assembly, would organise against attempts from New England
ministers such as Samuel Eaton and Richard Mather to introduce
congregationalist ideas into the region. As civil war broke out, both
presbyterians and episcopalians would act together to protect their vision
of a cohesive national Church of England from congregationalism.