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GEORGE FOX - An Autobiography

CHAPTER XV. In Prison for not Swearing.

1662-1665.


XV.

After I had made some stay in London, and had cleared myself of those services that at that time lay upon me there, I went into the country, having with me Alexander Parker and John Stubbs. We travelled through the Country, visiting Friends' meetings, till we came to Bristol.

There we understood the officers were likely to come and break up the meeting; yet on First-day we went to the meeting at Broadmead, and Alexander Parker standing up first, while he was speaking the officers came and took him away. After he was gone, I stood up and declared the everlasting Truth of the Lord God in His eternal power, which came over all; the meeting was quiet the rest of the time, and broke up peaceably. I tarried till the First-day following, visiting Friends, and being visited by them.

On First-day morning several Friends came to Edward Pyot's house (where I lay the night before), and used great endeavours to persuade me not to go to the meeting that day, for the magistrates, they said, had threatened to take me, and had raised the trained bands. I wished them to go to the meeting, not telling them what I intended to do; but I told Edward Pyot I intended to go, and he sent his son to show me the way from his house by the fields.

As I went I met diverse Friends who were coming to me to prevent my going, and who did what they could to stop me. "What!" said one, "wilt thou go into the mouth of the beast?" "Wilt thou go into the mouth of the dragon?" said another. I put them by and went on.

When I came to the meeting Margaret Thomas was speaking; and when she had done I stood up. I saw a concern and fear upon Friends for me; but the power of the Lord, in which I declared, soon struck the fear out of them; life sprang, and a glorious heavenly meeting we had.

After I had cleared myself of what was upon me from the Lord to the meeting, I was moved to pray; and after that to stand up again, and tell Friends how they might see there was a God in Israel that could deliver.

A very large meeting this was, and very hot; but Truth was over all, the life was exalted, which carried through all, and the meeting broke up in peace. The officers and soldiers had been breaking up another meeting, which had taken up their time, so that our meeting was ended before they came. But I understood afterwards they were in great rage because they had missed me; for they were heard to say one to another before, "I'll warrant we shall have him;" but the Lord prevented them.

I went from the meeting to Joan Hily's, where many Friends came to see me, rejoicing and blessing God for our deliverance. In the evening I had a fine fresh meeting among Friends at a Friend's house over the water, where we were much refreshed in the Lord.

From Barnet Hills we came to Swannington, in Leicestershire, where William Smith and some other Friends visited me; but they went away towards nights leaving me at a Friend's house in Swannington.

At night, as I was sitting in the hall speaking to a widow woman and her daughter, Lord Beaumont came with a company of soldiers, who, slapping their swords on the door, rushed into the house with swords and pistols in their hands, crying, "Put out the candles and make fast the doors." Then they seized upon the Friends in the house, and asked if there were no more about the house. The Friends told them there was one man more in the hall.

There being some Friends out of Derbyshire, one of whom was named Thomas Fauks, Lord Beaumont, after he had asked all their names, bid his man set down that man's name as Thomas Fox. The Friend said, Nay; that his name was not Fox, but Fauks. In the mean time some of the soldiers came, and fetched me out of the hall to him. He asked my name. I told him my name was George Fox, and that I was well known by that name. "Aye," said he, "you are known all the world over." I said, I was known for no hurt, but for good.

Then he put his hands into my pockets to search them, and plucked out my comb-case, and afterwards commanded one of his officers to search further for letters. I told him I was no letter-carrier, and asked him why he came amongst a peaceable people with swords and pistols without a constable, contrary to the king's proclamation and to the late act. For he could not say there was a meeting, I being only talking with a poor widow-woman and her daughter.

By reasoning thus with him, he came somewhat down; yet, sending for the constables, he gave them charge of us that night, and told them to bring us before him next morning. Accordingly the constables set a watch of the townspeople upon us that night, and had us next morning to his house, about a mile from Swannington.

asterix When we came before him, he told us that we had met "contrary to the Act."[174] I desired him to show us the Act. "Why," says he, "you have it in your pocket." I told him he did not find us in a meeting. Then he asked whether we would take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy. I told him I never took any oath in my life, nor engagement, nor the covenant. Yet still he would force the oath upon us. I desired him to show us the oath, that we might see whether we were the persons it was to be tendered to, and whether it was not for the discovery of popish recusants. At length he brought a little book, but we called for the statute-book. He would not show us that, but caused a mittimus to be made, which mentioned that we "were to have had a meeting." With this mittimus he delivered us to the constables to convey us to Leicester jail.

But when the constables had brought us back to Swannington, it being harvest-time, it was hard to get anybody to go with us. The people were loth to take their neighbors to prison, especially in such a busy time. They would have given us our mittimus to carry ourselves to the jail; for it had been usual for constables to give Friends their own mittimuses, and they have gone themselves with them to the jailer. But we told them that, though our Friends had sometimes done so, we would not take this mittimus; but some of them should go with us to the jail.

At last they hired a poor labouring man, who was loth to go, though hired. So we rode to Leicester, being five in number; some carried their Bibles open in their hands, declaring Truth to the people as we rode in the fields and through the towns, and telling them we were prisoners of the Lord Jesus Christ, going to suffer bonds for His name and Truth. One woman Friend carried her wheel on her lap to spin on in prison; and the people were mightily affected.

At Leicester we went to an inn. The master of the house seemed troubled that we should go to the prison; and being himself in commission, he sent for lawyers in the town to advise with, and would have taken up the mittimus, kept us in his own house, and not have let us go into the jail.

But I told Friends it would be a great charge to lie at an inn; and many Friends and people would be coming to visit us, and it might be hard for him to bear our having meetings in his house. Besides, we had many Friends in the prison already, and we had rather be with them. So we let the man know that we were sensible of his kindness, and to prison we went; the poor man that brought us thither delivering both the mittimus and us to the jailer.

This jailer had been a very wicked, cruel man. Six or seven Friends being in prison before we came, he had taken some occasion to quarrel with them, and had thrust them into the dungeon amongst the felons, where there was hardly room for them to lie down. We stayed all that day in the prison-yard, and desired the jailer to let us have some straw. He surlily answered, "You do not look like men that would lie on straw."

After a while William Smith, a Friend, came to me, and he being acquainted in the house, I asked him what rooms there were in it, and what rooms Friends had usually been put into before they were put into the dungeon. I asked him also whether the jailer or his wife was the master. He said that the wife was master; and that, though she was lame, and sat mostly in her chair, being only able to go on crutches, yet she would beat her husband when he came within her reach if he did not do as she would have him.

I considered that probably many Friends might come to visit us, and that if we had a room to ourselves, it would be better for them to speak to me, and me to them, as there should be occasion. Wherefore I desired William Smith to go speak with the woman, and acquaint her that if she would let us have a room, suffer our Friends to come out of the dungeon, and leave it to us to give her what we would, it might be better for her.

He went, and after some reasoning with her, she consented; and we were put into a room. Then we were told that the jailer would not suffer us to have any drink out of the town brought into the prison, but that what beer we drank we must take of him. I told them I would remedy that, for we would get a pail of water and a little wormwood once a day, and that might serve us; so we should have none of his beer, and the water he could not deny us.

Before we came, when the few Friends that were prisoners there met together on First-days, if any of them was moved to pray to the Lord, the jailer would come up with his quarter-staff in his hand, and his mastiff dog at his heels, and pluck them down by the hair of the head, and strike them with his staff; but when he struck Friends, the mastiff dog, instead of falling upon them, would take the staff out of his hand.

When the First-day came, I spoke to one of my fellow-prisoners, to carry a stool and set it in the yard, and give notice to the debtors and felons that there would be a meeting in the yard, and they that would hear the Word of the Lord declared might come thither. So the debtors and prisoners gathered in the yard, and we went down, and had a very precious meeting, the jailer not meddling.

Thus every First-day we had a meeting as long as we stayed in prison; and several came in out of the town and country. Many were convinced, and some there received the Lord's Truth who have stood faithful witnesses for it ever since.

When the sessions came we were brought before the justices, with many more Friends, sent to prison whilst we were there, to the number of about twenty. The jailer put us into the place where the thieves were put, and then some of the justices began to tender the oaths of allegiance and supremacy to us. I told them I never took any oath in my life; and they knew we could not swear, because Christ and His Apostle forbade it; therefore they but put it as a snare to us. We told them that if they could prove that, after Christ and the Apostle had forbidden swearing, they did ever command Christians to swear, then we would take these oaths; otherwise we were resolved to obey Christ's command and the Apostle's exhortation.

They said we must take the oath that we might manifest our allegiance to the king. I told them I had been formerly sent up a prisoner by Colonel Hacker, from that town to London, under pretence that I had held meetings to plot to bring in King Charles. I also desired them to read our mittimus, which set forth the cause of our commitment to be that we "were to have a meeting"; and I said Lord Beaumont could not by that act send us to jail unless we had been taken at a meeting, and found to be such persons as the act speaks of; therefore we desired that they would read the mittimus and see how wrongfully we were imprisoned.

They would not take notice of the mittimus, but called a jury and indicted us for refusing to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy. When the jury was sworn and instructed, as they were going out, one that had been an alderman of the city spoke to them, and bade them "have a good conscience"; and one of the jury, being a peevish man, told the justices there was one affronted the jury; whereupon they called him up, and tendered him the oath also, and he took it.

While we were standing where the thieves used to stand, a cut-purse had his hand in several Friends' pockets. Friends declared it to the justices, and showed them the man. They called him up before them, and upon examination he could not deny it; yet they set him at liberty.

It was not long before the jury returned, and brought us in guilty; and after some words, the justices whispered together, and bid the jailer take us to prison again; but the Lord's power was over them, and His everlasting Truth, which we declared boldly amongst them. There being a great concourse of people, most of them followed us; so that the crier and bailiffs were fain to call the people back again to the court.

We declared the Truth as we went along the streets, till we came to the jail, the streets being full of people.

When we were in our chamber again, after some time the jailer came to us and desired all to go forth that were not prisoners. When they were gone he said, "Gentlemen, it is the court's pleasure that ye should be set at liberty, except those that are in for tithes; and you know there are fees due to me; but I shall leave it to you to give me what you will."

Thus we were all set at liberty on a sudden, and passed every one into our services. Leonard Fell went with me again to Swannington.

I had a letter from Lord Hastings, who, hearing of my imprisonment, had written from London to the justices of the sessions to set me at liberty. I had not delivered this letter to the justices; whether any knowledge of his mind received through another hand made them discharge us so suddenly, I know not. This letter I carried to Lord Beaumont, who had sent us to prison. When he had broken it open and read it, he seemed much troubled; but at last he came a little lower, yet threatened us that if we had any more meetings at Swannington, he would break them up and send us to prison again.

But, notwithstanding his threats, we went to Swannington, and had a meeting with Friends there, and he neither came nor sent to break it up.

[After travelling through Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and Warwickshire, he came again to London.]

I stayed not long in London, but went into Essex, and so to Norfolk, having great meetings. At Norwich, when I came to Captain Lawrence's, there was a great threatening of disturbance; but the meeting was quiet. Passing thence to Sutton, and into Cambridgeshire, I heard of Edward Burrough's decease. Being sensible how great a grief and exercise it would be to Friends to part with him, I wrote the following lines for the staying and settling of their minds:

"FRIENDS:
    "Be still and quiet in your own conditions, and settled in the Seed of God, that doth not change; that in that ye may feel dear Edward Burrough among you in the Seed, in which and by which he begat you to God, with whom he is; and that in the Seed ye may all see and feel him, in which is the unity with him in the life; and so enjoy him in the life that doth not change, which is invisible. GEORGE FOX."[175]

[Hereupon extensive travels follow, throughout the eastern counties, then through the southern as far as Land's End, and again through Wales and the English Lake district. He finally reaches Swarthmore some time in 1663, and finds that an offer of twenty-five pounds has been made to any man who would take him. Out of the experiences of this long, though somewhat uneventful trip we give only the following discussion, which throws good light on Fox's "principle of truth":

"Next morning, some of the chief of the town[176] desired to speak with me, amongst whom was Colonel Rouse. I went, and had a great deal of discourse with them concerning the things of God. In their reasoning they said, 'The gospel was the four books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John'; and they called it natural. I told them, the gospel was the power of God, which was preached before Matthew, Mark, Luke or John were written; and it was preached to every creature, of which a great part might never see nor hear of those four books, so that every creature was to obey the power of God; for Christ, the Spiritual Man, would judge the world according to the gospel, that is, according to his invisible power. When they heard this, they could not gainsay; for the Truth came over them. I directed them to their Teacher, the grace of God, and showed them the sufficiency of it, which would teach them how to live, and what to deny; and being obeyed would bring them salvation. So to that grace I recommended them, and left them."]

I came over the sands to Swarthmore. There they told me that Colonel Kirby had sent his lieutenant, who had searched trunks and chests for me.

That night, as I was in bed, I was moved of the Lord to go next day to Kirby Hall, which was Colonel Kirby's house, about five miles off, to speak with him. When I came thither I found the Flemings, and several others of the gentry (so called) of the country, who were come to take their leave of Colonel Kirby, he being then about to go up to London to the Parliament. I was taken into the parlour amongst them; but Colonel Kirby was not then within, being gone out a little way. They said little to me, nor I much to them.

After a little while Colonel Kirby came in, and I told him I came to visit him (understanding he was desirous to see me) to know what he had to say to me, and whether he had anything against me.

He said, before all the company, "As I am a gentleman, I have nothing against you." "But," said he, "Mistress Fell must not keep great meetings at her house, for they meet contrary to the Act."

I told him that that Act did not take hold on us, but on such as "met to plot and contrive, and to raise insurrections against the King"; whereas we were no such people: for he knew that they that met at Margaret Fell's were his neighbours, and a peaceable people.

After many words had passed, he shook me by the hand, and said again that he had nothing against me; and others of them said I was a deserving man. So we parted, and I returned to Swarthmore.

Shortly after, when Colonel Kirby was gone to London, there was a private meeting of the justices and deputy-lieutenants at Houlker Hall, where Justice Preston lived, where they granted a warrant to apprehend me. I heard over night both of their meeting and of the warrant, and could have gone out of their reach if I would, for I had not appointed any meeting at that time, and I had cleared myself of the north, and the Lord's power was over all. But I considered that there being a noise of a plot in the north, if I should go away they might fall upon Friends; but if I gave myself up to be taken, it might prevent them, and Friends should escape the better. So I gave myself up to be taken, and prepared for their coming.

Next day an officer came with his sword and pistols to take me. I told him I knew his errand before, and had given myself to be taken; for if I would have escaped their imprisonment I could have been forty miles off before he came; but I was an innocent man, and so it mattered not what they could do to me. He asked me how I heard of it, seeing the order was made privately in a parlour. I said it was no matter for that; it was sufficient that I heard it.

I asked him to let me see his order, whereupon he laid his hand on his sword, and said I must go with him before the lieutenant to answer such questions as they should propound to me. I told him it was but civil and reasonable for him to let me see his order; but he would not. Then said I, "I am ready."

So I went along with him, and Margaret Fell accompanied us to Houlker Stall. When we came thither there was one Rawlinson, a justice, and one called Sir George Middleton, and many more that I did not know, besides old Justice Preston, who lived there.

They brought Thomas Atkinson, a Friend, of Cartmel, as a witness against me for some words which he had told to one Knipe, who had informed them, which words were that I said I had written against the plotters and had knocked them down. These words they could not make much of, for I told them I had heard of a plot, and had written against it.

Old Preston asked me whether I had an hand in that script. I asked him what he meant. He said, "in the Battledore?" I answered, "Yes."

Then he asked me whether I understood languages. I said, "Sufficient for myself," and that I knew no law that was transgressed by it. I told them also that to understand outward languages was no matter of salvation, for the many tongues began but at the confusion of Babel; and if I did understand anything of them, I judged and knocked them down again for any matter of salvation that was in them.

Thereupon he turned away, and said, "George Fox knocks down all the languages; come," said he, "we will examine you of higher matters."

Then said George Middleton, "You deny God, and the Church, and the faith."

I replied, "Nay, I own God and the true Church, and the true faith. But what Church dost thou own?" said I (for I understood he was a Papist).

Then he turned again and said, "You are a rebel and a traitor."

I asked him to whom he spoke, or whom did he call rebel. He was so full of envy that for a while he could not speak, but at last he said, "I spoke it to you."

With that I struck my hand on the table, and told him, "I have suffered more than twenty such as thou; more than any that is here; for I have been cast into Derby dungeon for six months together, and have suffered much because I would not take up arms against this King before Worcester fight. I was sent up a prisoner out of my own country by Colonel Hacker to Oliver Cromwell, as a plotter to bring in King Charles in the year 1654. I have nothing but love and good-will to the King, and desire the eternal good and welfare of him and all his subjects."

"Did you ever hear the like?" said Middleton. "Nay," said I. "Ye may hear it again if ye will. For ye talk of the King, a company of you, but where were ye in Oliver's days, and what did ye do then for him? But I have more love to the King for his eternal good and welfare than any of you have."

Then they asked me whether I had heard of the plot. I said, "Yes, I have heard of it."

They asked me how I had heard of it, and whom I knew in it. I told them I had heard of it through the high-sheriff of Yorkshire, who had told Dr. Hodgson that there was a plot in the north. That was the way I had heard of it; but I had never heard of any such thing in the south, nor till I came into the north. As for knowing any in the plot, I was as a child in that, for I knew none of them.

Then said they, "Why would you write against it if you did not know some that were in it?"

I said, "My reason was, because you are so forward to crush the innocent and guilty together; therefore I wrote against it to clear the Truth[177] and to stop all forward, foolish spirits from running into such things. I sent copies of it into Westmoreland, Cumberland, Durham, and Yorkshire, and to you here. I sent another copy of it to the King and his council, and it is likely it may be in print by this time."

One of them said, "This man hath great power! "

I said, "Yes, I have power to write against plotters."

Then said one of them, "You are against the laws of the land."

I answered, "Nay, for I and my Friends direct all people to the Spirit of God in them, to mortify the deeds of the flesh. This brings them into welldoing, and away from that which the magistrate's sword is against, which eases the magistrates, who are for the punishment of evil-doers. So people being turned to the Spirit of God, which brings them to mortify the deeds of the flesh; this brings them from under the occasion of the magistrate's sword; and this must needs be one with magistracy, and one with the law, which was added because of transgression, and is for the praise of them that do well. In this we establish the law, are an ease to the magistrates, and are not against, but stand for all good government."

Then George Middleton cried, "Bring the book, and put the oaths of allegiance and supremacy to him."

Now he himself being a Papist, I asked him whether he, who was a swearer, had taken the oath of supremacy. As for us, we could not swear at all, because Christ and the Apostle had forbidden it.

Some of them would not have had the oath put to me, but would have set me at liberty. The rest would not agree to it, for this was their last snare, and they had no other way to get me into prison, as all other things had been cleared to them. This was like the Papists' sacrament of the altar, by which they ensnared the martyrs.[178]

So they tendered me the oath, which I could not take; whereupon they were about to make my mittimus to send me to Lancaster jail; but considering of it, they only engaged me to appear at the sessions, and for that time dismissed me.

I went back with Margaret Fell to Swarthmore, and soon after Colonel West, who was at that time a justice of the peace, came to see me. He told us that he had acquainted some of the rest of the justices that he would come and see Margaret Fell and me; "but it may be," said he, "some of you will take offense at it." I asked him, what he thought they would do with me at the sessions? He said they would tender the oath to me again.

Whilst I was at Swarthmore, William Kirby came into Swarthmore meeting, and brought the constables with him. I was sitting with Friends in the meeting, and he said to me, "How now, Mr. Fox! you have a fine company here." "Yes," said I, "we meet to wait upon the Lord."

asterix So he began to take the names of Friends, and those that did not readily tell him their names he committed to the constables' hands, and sent some to prison. The constables were unwilling to take them without a warrant, whereupon he threatened to set them by the heels; but the constable told him that he could keep them in his presence, but after he was gone he could not keep them without a warrant.

The sessions coming on, I went to Lancaster, and appeared according to my engagement. There was upon the bench Justice Fleming, who had bid five pounds in Westmoreland to any man that would apprehend me, for he was a justice both in Westmoreland and Lancashire. There were also Justice Spencer, Colonel West and old Justice Rawlinson, the lawyer, who gave the charge, and was very sharp against Truth and Friends; but the Lord's power stopped them.

The session was large, the concourse of people great, and way being made for me, I came up to the bar, and stood with my hat on, they looking earnestly upon me and I upon them for a pretty space.

Proclamation being made for all to keep silence upon pain of imprisonment, and all being quiet, I said twice, "Peace be among you."

The chairman asked if I knew where I was. I said, "Yes, I do; but it may be," said I, "my hat offends you. That's a low thing; that's not the honour that I give to magistrates, for the true honour is from above; which," said I. "I have received, and I hope it is not the hat which ye look upon to be the honour."

The chairman said they looked for the hat, too, and asked wherein I showed my respect to magistrates if I did not put off my hat. I replied, "In coming when they called me." Then they bade one take off my hat.

After this it was some time before they spoke to me, and I felt the power of the Lord to arise. After some pause old Justice Rawlinson, the chairman, asked me if I knew of the plot. I told him I had heard of it in Yorkshire by a Friend, who had it from the high-sheriff. They asked me whether I had declared it to the magistrates. I said, "I sent papers abroad against plots and plotters, and also to you, as soon as I came into the country, to take all jealousies out of your minds concerning me and my friends; for it is our principle to declare against such things."

They asked me if I knew not of an Act against meeting. I said I knew there was an Act that took hold of such as met to the terrifying of the King's subjects, were enemies to the King, and held dangerous principles; but I hoped they did not look upon us to be such men, for our meetings were not to terrify the King's subjects, neither are we enemies to him or any man.

Then they tendered me the oaths of allegiance and supremacy. I told them I could not take any oath at all, because Christ and His Apostle had forbidden it; and they had sufficient experience of swearers, first one way, then another; but I had never taken any oath in my life.

Then Rawlinson asked me whether I held it was unlawful to swear. This question he put on purpose to ensnare me; for by an Act that was made those were liable to banishment or a great fine that should say it was unlawful to swear. But I, seeing the snare, avoided it, and told him that "in the time of the law amongst the Jews, before Christ came, the law commanded them to swear; but Christ, who doth fulfil the law in His gospel-time, commands not to swear at all; and the apostle James forbids swearing, even to them that were Jews, and had the law of God."

After much discourse, they called for the jailer, and committed me to prison.

I had about me the paper which I had written as a testimony against plots, which I desired they would read, or suffer to be read, in open court; but they would not. So, being committed for refusing to swear, I bade them and all the people take notice that I suffered for the doctrine of Christ, and for my obedience to His command.

Afterwards I understood that the justices said they had private instructions from Colonel Kirby to prosecute me, notwithstanding his fair carriage and seeming kindness to me before, when he declared before many of them that he had nothing against me.

Several other Friends were committed to prison, some for meeting to worship God, and some for not swearing; so that the prison was very full. Many of them being poor men, that had nothing to maintain their families by but their labour, which now they were taken from, the wives of several went to the justices who had committed their husbands, and told them that if they kept their husbands in jail for nothing but the truth of Christ, and for good conscience' sake, they would bring their children to them to be maintained.

A mighty power of the Lord rose in Friends, and gave them great boldness, so that they spoke much to the justices. Friends also that were prisoners wrote to the justices, laying the weight of their sufferings upon them, and showing them both their injustice and want of compassion towards their poor neighbours, whom they knew to be honest, conscientious, peaceable people, that in tenderness of conscience could not take any oath; yet they sent them to prison for refusing to take the oath of allegiance.

Several who were imprisoned on that account were known to be men that had served the King in his wars, and had hazarded their lives in the field in his cause, and had suffered great hardships, with the loss of much blood, for him, and had always stood faithful to him from first to last, and had never received any pay for their service. To be thus requited for all their faithful services and sufferings, and that by them that pretended to be the King's friends, was hard, unkind, and ungrateful dealing.

At length the justices, being continually attended with complaints of grievances, released some of the Friends, but kept diverse of them still in prison.

I was kept till the assize, and Judge Turner and Judge Twisden coming that circuit, I was brought before Judge Twisden, the 14th of the month called March, the latter end of the year 1663.

When I was brought to the bar, I said, "Peace be amongst you all." The Judge looked upon me, and said, "What! do you come into the court with your hat on!" Upon which words, the jailer taking it off, I said, "The hat is not the honour that comes from God."

Then said the Judge to me, "Will you take the oath of allegiance, George Fox?" I said, "I never took any oath in my life, nor any covenant or engagement." "Well," said he, "will you swear or no?" I answered, "I am a Christian, and Christ commands me not to swear; so does the apostle James; and whether I should obey God or man, do thou judge."

"I ask you again," said he, "whether you will swear or no." I answered again, "I am neither Turk, Jew, nor heathen, but a Christian, and should show forth Christianity."

I asked him if he did not know that Christians in the primitive times, under the ten persecutions, and some also of the martyrs in Queen Mary's days, refused swearing, because Christ and the apostle had forbidden it. I told him also that they had had experience enough, how many had first sworn for the King and then against him. "But as for me," I said, "I have never taken an oath in my life. My allegiance doth not lie in swearing, but in truth and faithfulness, for I honour all men, much more the King. But Christ, who is the Great Prophet, the King of kings, the Saviour and Judge of the whole world, saith I must not swear. Now, must I obey Christ or thee? For it is because of tenderness of conscience, and in obedience to the command of Christ, that I do not swear and we have the word of a King for tender consciences."

Then I asked the Judge if he did own the King. "Yes," said he, "I do own the King."

"Why, then," said I, "dost thou not observe his declaration from Breda, and his promises made since he came into England, that no man should be called in question for matters of religion so long as he lived peaceably? If thou ownest the King," said I, "why dost thou call me in question, and put me upon taking an oath, which is a matter of religion; seeing that neither thou nor any one else can charge me with unpeaceable living?"

Upon this he was moved, and, looking angrily at me, said, "Sirrah, will you swear?"

I told him I was none of his Sirrahs; I was a Christian; and for him, an old man and a judge, to sit there and give nicknames to prisoners did not become either his grey hairs or his office.

"Well," said he, "I am a Christian, too."

"Then do Christian works," said I.

"Sirrah!" said he, "thou thinkest to frighten me with thy words." Then, catching himself, and looking aside, he said, "Hark! I am using the word sirrah again;" and so checked himself.

I said, "I spoke to thee in love; for that language did not become thee, a judge. Thou oughtest to instruct a prisoner in the law, if he were ignorant and out of the way."

"And I speak in love to thee, too," said he.

"But," said I, "love gives no nicknames."

Then he roused himself up, and said, "I will not be afraid of thee, George Fox; thou speakest so loud thy voice drowns mine and the court's; I must call for three or four criers to drown thy voice; thou hast good lungs."

"I am a prisoner here," said I, "for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake; for His sake do I suffer; for Him do I stand this day. If my voice were five times louder, I should lift it up and sound it for Christ's sake. I stand this day before your judgment-seat in obedience to Christ, who commands not to swear; before whose judgment-seat you must all be brought and must give an account."

"Well," said the Judge, "George Fox, say whether thou wilt take the oath, yea or nay?"

I replied, "I say, as I said before, judge thou whether I ought to obey God or man. If I could take any oath at all I should take this. I do not deny some oaths only, or on some occasions, but all oaths, according to Christ's doctrine, who hath commanded His followers not to swear at all. Now if thou, or any of you, or your ministers or priests here, will prove that ever Christ or His apostles, after they had forbidden all swearing, commanded Christians to swear, then I will swear."

I saw several priests there, but not one of them offered to speak.

"Then," said the Judge, "I am a servant to the King, and the King sent me not to dispute with you, but to put the laws in execution; therefore tender him the oath of allegiance."

"If thou love the King," said I, "why dost thou break his word, and not keep his declarations and speeches, wherein he promised liberty to tender consciences? I am a man of a tender conscience, and, in obedience to Christ's command, I cannot swear."

"Then you will not swear," said the Judge; "take him away, jailer."

I said, "It is for Christ's sake that I cannot swear, and for obedience to His command I suffer; and so the Lord forgive you all."

So the jailer took me away; but I felt that the mighty power of the Lord was over them all.

The sixteenth day of the same month I was again brought before Judge Twisden. He was somewhat offended at my hat; but it being the last morning of the assize before he was to leave town, and not many people there, he made the less of it.

He asked me whether I would "traverse, stand mute, or submit." But he spoke so fast that it was hard to know what he said. However, I told him I desired I might have liberty to traverse the indictment, and try it.

Then said he, "Take him away; I will have nothing to do with him; take him away."

I said, "Well, live in the fear of God, and do justice."

"Why," said he, "have I not done you justice?"

I replied, "That which thou hast done has been against the command of Christ."

So I was taken to the jail again, and kept prisoner till the next assizes.

Some time before this assize Margaret Fell was sent prisoner to Lancaster jail by Fleming, Kirby, and Preston, justices; and at the assize the oath was tendered to her also, and she was again committed to prison.

In the Sixth month,[179] the assizes were again held at Lancaster, and the same judges, Twisden and Turner, again came that circuit. But Judge Turner then sat on the crown bench, and so I was brought before him. Before I was called to the bar I was put among the murderers and felons for about two hours, the people, the justices and also the Judge gazing upon me.

After they had tried several others, they called me to the bar, and empanelled a jury. Then the Judge asked the justices whether they had tendered me the oath at the sessions. They said that they had. Then he said, "Give them the book, that they may swear they tendered him the oath at the sessions." They said they had. Then he said, "Give them the book, that they may swear they tendered him the oath according to the indictment."

Some of the justices refused to be sworn; but the Judge said he would have it done, to take away all occasion of exception. When the jury were sworn, and the justices had scorn that they had tendered me the oath according to the indictment, the Judge asked me whether I had not refused the oath at the last assizes. I said, "I never took an oath in my life, and Christ the Saviour and Judge of the world, said, 'Swear not at all.'"

The Judge seemed not to take notice of my answer, but asked me whether or not I had refused to take the oath at the last assizes.

I said, "The words that I then spoke to them were, that if they could prove, either judge, justices, priest, or teacher, that after Christ and the Apostle had forbidden swearing, they commanded that Christians should swear, I would swear."

The Judge said he was not at that time to dispute whether it was lawful to swear, but to inquire whether I had refused to take the oath.

I told him, "Those things mentioned in the oath, as plotting against the King, and owning the Pope's, or any other foreign power, I utterly deny."

"Well?" said he, "you say well in that, but did you refuse to take the oath? What say you?"

"What wouldst thou have me to say?" said I; "I have told thee before what I did say."

Then he asked me if I would have these men to swear that I had taken the oath. I asked him if he would have those men to swear that I had refused the oath, at which the court burst into laughter.

I was grieved to see so much lightness in a court, where such solemn matters are handled, and thereupon asked them, "Is this court a play-house? Where is gravity and sobriety," said I; "this behaviour doth not become you."

Then the clerk read the indictment, and I told the Judge I had something to speak to it; for I had informed myself of the errors that were in it. He told me he would hear afterwards any reasons that I could allege why he should not give judgment.

Then I spoke to the jury, and told them that they could not bring me in guilty according to that indictment, for the indictment was wrong laid, and had many gross errors in it.

The Judge said that I must not speak to the jury, but he would speak to them; and he told them I had refused to take the oath at the last assizes; "and," said he, "I can tender the oath to any man now, and præmunire him for not taking it;" and he said they must bring me in guilty, seeing I refused to take the oath.

Then said I, "What do ye do with a form? Ye may throw away your form then." And I told the jury it lay upon their consciences, as they would answer it to the Lord God before His judgment-seat.

Then the judge spoke again to the jury, and I called to him to "do me justice."

The jury brought me in guilty. Thereupon I told them that both the justices and they had forsworn themselves, and therefore they had small cause to laugh, as they did a little before.

Oh, the envy, rage, and malice that appeared against me, and the lightness! But the Lord confounded them, and they were wonderfully stopped. So they set me aside, and called up Margaret Dell, who had much good service among them; and then the court broke up near the second hour.

In the afternoon we were brought in again to have sentence passed upon us. Margaret Fell desired that sentence might be deferred until the next morning. I desired nothing but law and justice at his hands, for the thieves had mercy; only I requested the Judge to send some to see my prison, which was so bad they would put no creature they had in it; and I told him that Colonel Kirby, who was then on the bench, had said I should be locked up, and no flesh alive should come to me. The Judge shook his head and said that when the sentence was given he would leave me to the favor of the jailer.

Most of the gentry of the country were gathered together, expecting to hear the sentence; and the noise amongst the people was that I should be transported. But they were all crossed at that time, for the sentence was deferred until the next morning, and I was taken to prison again.

Upon my complaining of the badness of my prison, some of the justices, with Colonel Kirby, went up to see it. When they came they hardly durst go in, the floor was so bad and dangerous, and the place so open to wind and rain. Some that came up said, "Surely it is a Jakes-house." When Colonel Kirby saw it, and heard what others said of it, he excused the matter as well as he could, saying that I should be removed ere long to some more convenient place.

Next day, towards the eleventh hour, we were called again to hear the sentence; and Margaret Fell, being called first to the bar, she had counsel to plead, who found many errors in her indictment. Thereupon, after the Judge had acknowledged them, she was set by.

Then the Judge asked what they could say to mine. I was not willing to let any man plead for me, but desired to speak to it myself; and indeed, though Margaret had some that pleaded for her, yet she spoke as much herself as she would. But before I came to the bar I was moved in my spirit to pray that God would confound their wickedness and envy, set His truth over all, and exalt His seed. The Lord heard, and answered, and did confound them in their proceedings against me. And, though they had most envy against me, yet the most gross errors were found in my indictment.

I having put by others from pleading for me, the Judge asked me what I had to say why he should not pass sentence upon me. I told him I was no lawyer; but I had much to say, if he would but have patience to hear. At that he laughed, and others laughed also, and said, "Come, what have you to say? He can say nothing." "Yes," said I, "I have much to say; have but the patience to hear me."

I asked him whether the oath was to be tendered to the King's subjects, or to the subjects of foreign princes. He said, "To the subjects of this realm." "Then," said I, "look into the indictment; ye may see that ye have left out the word 'subject'; so not having named me in the indictment as a subject, ye cannot præmunire me for not taking an oath."

Then they looked over the statute and the indictment, and saw it was as I said; and the Judge confessed it was an error.

I told him I had something else to stop his judgment, and desired him to look what day the indictment said the oath was tendered to me at the sessions there. They looked, and said it was the eleventh day of January. "What day of the week was the sessions held on?" said I. "On a Tuesday," said they. "Then," said I, "look in your almanacs, and see whether there was any sessions held at Lancaster on the eleventh day of January, so called."

So they looked, and found that the eleventh day was the day called Monday, and that the sessions was on the day called Tuesday, which was the twelfth day of that month.

"Look now," said I, "ye have indicted me for refusing the oath in the quarter-sessions held at Lancaster on the eleventh day of January last, and the justices have sworn that they tendered me the oath in open sessions here that day, and the jury upon their oaths have found me guilty thereupon; and yet ye see there was no session held in Lancaster that day."

Then the Judge, to cover the matter, asked whether the sessions did not begin on the eleventh day. But some in the court answered, "No; the session held but one day, and that was the twelfth." Then the Judge said this was a great mistake and an error.

Some of the justices were in a great rage at this, stamped, and said, "Who hath done this? Somebody hath done this on purpose;" and a great heat was amongst them.

Then said I, "Are not the justices here, that have sworn to this indictment, forsworn men in the face of the country? But this is not all," said I. "I have more yet to offer why sentence should not be given against me." I asked, "In what year of the King was the last assize here holden, which was in the month called March last?" The Judge said it was in the sixteenth year of the King. "But," said I, "the indictment says it was in the fifteenth year." They looked, and found it so. This also was acknowledged to be another error.

Then they were all in a fret again, and could not tell what to say; for the Judge had sworn the officers of the court that the oath was tendered to me at the assize mentioned in the indictment. "Now," said I, "is not the court here forsworn also, who have sworn that the oath was tendered to me at the assize holden here in the fifteenth year of the King, when it was in his sixteenth year, and so they have sworn a year false?"

The Judge bade them look whether Margaret Fell's indictment was so or no. They looked, and found it was not so.

I told the Judge I had more yet to offer to stop sentence; and asked him whether all the oath ought to be put into the indictment or no. "Yes," said he, "it ought to be all put in."

"Then," said I, "compare the indictment with the oath, and there thou mayest see these words: viz., 'or by any authority derived, or pretended to be derived from him or his see,' which is a principal part of the oath, left out of the indictment; and in another place the words, 'heirs and successors,' are left out."

The Judge acknowledged these also to be great errors.

"But," said I, "I have something further to allege."

"Nay," said the Judge, "I have enough; you need say no more."

"If," said I, "thou hast enough, I desire nothing but law and justice at thy hands; for I don't look for mercy."

"You must have justice," said he, "and you shall have law."

Then I asked, "Am I at liberty, and free from all that ever hath been done against me in this matter?"

"Yes," said the Judge, "you are free from all that hath been done against you. But then," starting up in a rage, he said, "I can put the oath to any man here, and I will tender you the oath again."

I told him he had had examples enough yesterday of swearing and false swearing, both in the justices and in the jury; for I saw before mine eyes that both justices and jury had forsworn themselves.

The Judge asked me if I would take the oath. I bade him do me justice for my false imprisonment all this while; for what had I been imprisoned so long for? and I told him I ought to be set at liberty.

"You are at liberty," said he, "but I will put the oath to you again."

Then I turned me about and said, "All people, take notice; this is a snare; for I ought to be set free from the jailer and from this court."

But the Judge cried, "Give him the book;" and the sheriff and the justices cried, "Give him the book."

Then the power of darkness rose up in them like a mountain, and a clerk lifted up a book to me. I stood still and said, "If it be a Bible, give it me into my hand."

"Yes, yes," said the Judge and justices, "give it him into his hand." So I took it and looked into it, and said, "I see it is a Bible; I am glad of it."

Now he had caused the jury to be called, and they stood by; for, after they had brought in their former verdict, he would not dismiss them, though they desired it; but told them he could not dismiss them yet, for he should have business for them, and therefore they must attend and be ready when they were called.

When he said so I felt his intent, that if I were freed, he would come on again. So I looked him in the face, and the witness of God started up in him, and made him blush when he looked at me again, for he saw that I saw him.

Nevertheless, hardening himself, he caused the oath to be read to me, the jury standing by; and when it was read, he asked me whether I would take the oath or not.

Then said I, "Ye have given me a book here to kiss and to swear on, and this book which ye have given me to kiss says, 'Kiss the Son'; and the Son says in this book, 'Swear not at all'; and so says also the apostle James. Now, I say as the book says, and yet ye imprison me; why do ye not imprison the book for saying so? How comes it that the book (which bids me not swear) is at liberty amongst you, and yet ye imprison me for doing as the book bids me?"

As I was speaking this to them, and held up the Bible open in my hand, to show them the place in the book where Christ forbids swearing, they plucked the book out of my hand again; and the Judge said, "Nay, but we will imprison George Fox." Yet this got abroad over all the country as a by-word, that "they gave me a book to swear on that commanded me 'not to swear at all'; and that the Bible was at liberty, and I in prison for doing as the Bible said."

Now, when the Judge still urged me to swear, I told him I had never taken oath, covenant, or engagement in my life, but my yea or nay was more binding to me than an oath was to many others; for had they not had experience how little men regarded an oath; and how they had sworn one way and then another; and how the justices and court had forsworn themselves now? I told him I was a man of a tender conscience, and if they had any sense of a tender conscience they would consider that it was in obedience to Christ's command that I could not swear. "But," said I, "if any of you can convince me that after Christ and the apostle had commanded not to swear, they altered that command and commanded Christians to swear, then ye shall see I will swear."

There being many priests by, I said, "If ye cannot do it, let your priests stand up and do it." But not one of the priests made any answer.

"Oh," said the Judge, "all the world cannot convince you."

"No," said I, "how is it likely the world should convince me; for 'the whole world lies in wickedness'; but bring out your spiritual men, as ye call them, to convince me."

Then both the sheriff and the Judge said, "The angel swore in the Revelations." I replied, "When God bringeth His first-begotten Son into the world, He saith, 'Let all the angels of God worship Him'; and He saith, 'Swear not at all.'"

"Nay," said the Judge, "I will not dispute."

Then I spoke to the jury, telling them it was for Christ's sake that I could not swear, and therefore I warned them not to act contrary to the witness of God in their consciences, for before His judgment-seat they must all be brought. And I told them that as for plots and persecution for religion and Popery, I do deny them in my heart; for I am a Christian, and shall show forth Christianity amongst you this day. It is for Christ's doctrine I stand." More words I had both with the Judge and jury before the jailer took me away.

In the afternoon I was brought up again, and put among the thieves some time, where I stood with my hat on till the jailer took it off. Then the jury having found this new indictment against me for not taking the oath, I was called to the bar; and the Judge asked me what I would say for myself. I bade them read the indictment, for I would not answer to that which I did not hear. The clerk read it, and as he read the Judge said "Take heed it be not false again"; but he read it in such a manner that I could hardly understand what he read.

When he had done the Judge asked me what I said to the indictment. I told him that hearing but once so large a writing read, and at such a distance that I could not distinctly hear all the parts of it, I could not well tell what to say to it; but if he would let me have a copy, and give me time to consider it, I would answer it.

This put them to; a little stand; but after a while the Judge asked me, "What time would you have?"

I said, "Until the next assize."

"But," said he, "what plea will You now make? Are you guilty or not guilty?"

I said, "I am not guilty at all of obstinately and wilfully refusing to swear; and as for those things mentioned in the oath, as jesuitical plots and foreign powers, I utterly deny them in my heart; and if I could take any oath, I should take that; but I never took any oath in my life."

The Judge said, "You speak well; but the King is sworn, the Parliament is sworn, I am sworn, the justices are sworn, and the law is preserved by oaths."

I told him that they had had sufficient experience of men's swearing, and he had seen how the justices and jury had sworn falsely the other day; and if he had read in the "Book of Martyrs" how many of the martyrs had refused to swear, both within the time of the ten persecutions and in Bishop Bonner's days, he might see that to deny swearing in obedience to Christ's command was no new thing.

He said he wished the laws were otherwise.

I said, "Our Yea is yea, and our Nay is nay; and if we transgress our yea and our nay, let us suffer as they do, or should do, that swear falsely." This, I told him, we had offered to the King; and the King said it was reasonable.

After some further discourse they committed me to prison again, there to lie until the next assize; and colonel Kirby gave order to the jailer to keep me close, "and suffer no flesh alive to come at me," for I was not fit, he said, "to be discoursed with by men." I was put into a tower where the smoke of the other prisoners came up so thick it stood as dew upon the walls, and sometimes it was so thick that I could hardly see the candle when it burned; and I being locked under three locks, the under-jailer, when the smoke was great, would hardly be persuaded to come up to unlock one of the uppermost doors for fear of the smoke, so that I was almost smothered.

Besides, it rained in upon my bed, and many times, when I went to stop out the rain in the cold winter-season, my shirt was as wet as muck with the rain that came in upon me while I was labouring to stop it out. And the place being high and open to the wind, sometimes as fast as I stopped it the wind blew it out again.

In this manner I lay all that long, cold winter till the next assize, in which time I was so starved, and so frozen with cold and wet with the rain that my body was greatly swelled and my limbs much benumbed.

The assize began the sixteenth of the month called March, 1664-5. The same Judges, Twisden and Turner, coming that circuit again, Judge Twisden sat this time on the crown-bench, and before him I was brought.

I had informed myself of the errors in this indictment also; for, though at the assize before Judge Turner said to the officers in court, "Pray, see that all the oath be in the indictment, and that the word 'subject' be in, and that the day of the month and year of the King be put in right; for it is a shame that so many errors should be seen and found in the face of the country;" yet many errors, and those great ones, were in this indictment, as well as in the former. Surely the hand of the Lord was in it, to confound their mischievous work against me, and to blind them therein; insomuch that, although, after the indictment was drawn at the former assize, the Judge examined it himself, and tried it with the clerks, yet the word "subject" was left out of this indictment also, the day of the month was put in wrong, and several material words of the oath were left out; yet they went on confidently against me, thinking all was safe and well.

When I was brought to the bar, and the jury called over to be sworn, the clerk asked me, first, whether I had any objection to make to any of the jury. I told him I knew none of them. Then, having sworn the jury, they swore three of the officers of the court to prove that the oath was tendered to me at the last assizes, according to the indictment.

"Come, come," said the Judge, "it was not done in a corner." Then he asked me what I had to say to it; or whether I had taken the oath at the last assize.

I told him what I had formerly said to them, as it now came to my remembrance.

Thereupon the Judge said, "I will not dispute with you but in point of law."

"Then," said I, "I have something to speak to the jury concerning the indictment."

He told me I must not speak to the jury; but if I had anything to say, I must speak to him.

I asked him whether the oath was to be tendered to the King's subjects only, or to the subjects of foreign princes.

He replied, "To the subjects of this realm."

"Then," said I, "look in the indictment, and thou mayest see the word 'subject' is left out of this indictment also. Therefore, seeing the oath is not to be tendered to any but the subjects of this realm, and ye have not put me in as a subject, the court is to take no notice of this indictment."

I had no sooner spoken thus than the Judge cried, "Take him away, jailer, take him away." So I was presently hurried away.

The jailer and people expected that I should be called for again; but I was never brought to the court any more, though I had many other great errors to assign in the indictment.

After I was gone, the Judge asked the jury if they were agreed. They said, "Yes," and found for the King against me, as I was told. But I was never called to hear sentence given, nor was any given against me that I could hear of.

I understood that when they had looked more narrowly into the indictment they saw it was not good; and the Judge having sworn the officers of the court that the oath was tendered me at the assize before, such a day, as was set forth in the indictment, and that being the wrong day, I should have proved the officers of the court forsworn men again, had the Judge suffered me to plead to the indictment, which was thought to be the reason he hurried me away so soon.

The Judge had passed sentence of præmunire upon Margaret Fell before I was brought in; and it seems that when I was hurried away they recorded me as a præmunired person,[180] though I was never brought to hear the sentence, or knew of it, which was very illegal. For they should not only have had me present to hear the sentence given, but should also have asked me first what I could say why sentence should not be given against me. But they knew I had so much to say that they could not give sentence if they heard it.

While I was prisoner in Lancaster Castle there was a great noise and talk of the Turk's overspreading Christendom, and great fears entered many. But one day, as I was walking in my prison chamber, I saw the Lord's power turn against him, and that he was turning back again. And I declared to some what the Lord had let me see, when there were such fears of his overrunning Christendom; and within a month after, the news came that they had given him a defeat.

Another time, as I was walking in my chamber, with my eye to the Lord, I saw the angel of the Lord with a glittering drawn sword stretched southward, as though the court had been all on fire. Not long after the wars broke out with Holland, the sickness broke forth, and afterwards the fire of London; so the Lord's sword was drawn indeed.

By reason of my long and close imprisonment in so bad a place I was become very weak in body; but the Lord's power was over all, supported me through all, and enabled me to do service for Him, and for His truth and people, as the place would admit. For, while I was in Lancaster prison, I answered several books, as the Mass, the Common-Prayer, the Directory and the Church-Faith,[181] which are the four chief religions that are got up since the apostles' days.

Chapter Sixteen ...>>


Notes and Links

[174] This was an act passed in 1662, "for preventing mischiefs and dangers that may arise by certain persons called Quakers, and others refusing to take oaths." The act declared it "altogether unlawful and contrary to the word of God" to refuse to take an oath, or to persuade another person to refuse to do so. It further made it an offense for more than five persons, "commonly called Quakers," "to assemble in any place under pretense of joining in a religious worship not authorized by the laws of this realm."

[175] This letter well illustrates the difficulties of George Fox's style. The letter manifests a profound and beautiful spirit, but the phraseology is none too clear. He means: "Dear Edward is living in God, who is invisible and unchangeable; settle your own lives down into that same living God whose divine presence manifested in Edward Burrough has begotten a spiritual life in you, and you will feel yourselves united in spirit and life with the dear departed one."

[176] Truro.

[177] "Truth" is used here and often in Friends' writings for the CAUSE which Friends represented.

[178] Most of the Quakers who suffered in prison during the reign of Charles were imprisoned for refusing to take the oath.

[179] This would be August of our calendar. Again the pen was busy during these weeks in jail, and many epistles and documents were written. A Baptist preacher, named Wiggan, who had been a great opponent of Fox, was brought into straits over the oath which he finally took. The episode furnishes this interesting entry:

"This Wiggan was poor, and while he was prisoner at Lancaster he sent into the country, and got money gathered for relief of the poor people of God in prison; and many people gave freely, thinking it had been for us, when indeed it was for himself. But when we heard of it, we laid it upon him, and wrote into the country, that Friends might let the people know the truth of the matter, that it was not our manner to have collections made for us, and that those collections were only for Wiggan and another, a drunken preacher of his society, who was so drunk, that once he lost his breeches."

[180] "A præmunired person" is one who has incurred the penalty of being put out of the protection of the crown, of having his lands, goods and chattels forfeited to the crown and of remaining in prison during the sovereign's pleasure.

[181] These "four chief religions which have been got up since the apostles' days" are respectively the Roman Catholic, the Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Independent, i. e., Congregational.