Diary of Thomas Burton Esq: Volume 1, July 1653 - April 1657. Originally published by H Colburn, London, 1828.
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Thursday, December 18, 1656.
Captain Lister called me aside, and told me a long story in very high terms against Captain Atkinson, and that one of them should fall. He would complain to O. P. (fn. 1) and he said Richard Hilton has confessed all before Major-General How; and would not go back from what he had said.
Resolved, that the whipping of James Nayler, from Westminster to the Old Exchange, is to be on this day. (fn. 2)
Lord Chief-Justice Glynn. It is high time to take a course with them. They daily disturb our courts of justice; several indictments against them; their persons and. pamphlets daily pestering of us. I was, in my private opinion, against punishing old offences with a new punishment, and am also for tender consciences. But those that openly profess against the ministers and ordinances and magistracy too, it is fit they should be taken a course withal; for they grow to a great number. There was a Bill in last Parliament against them; I desire that may be confided, with all those petitions, to a Committee, to provide a law against them.
Sir William Strickland. I am sorry to see such a thin House upon this occasion. They are a growing evil, and the greatest that ever was. Their way is a plausible way; all levellers against magistracy and propriety [property.] They say the Scriptures are but ink and paper. They are guided by a higher light. They deny all ordinances, as marriage, &c.
Sir Thomas Wroth. They are a very numerous party, and ought to be taken a course withal speedily. I desire you would refer it to the same Committee, that your time may not be further spent in this business.
Major-General Whalley. It is a hard thing to make a law against them. Some do acknowledge scripture, magistracy, and ministry; others, not. Good ministers is the only remedy to suppress them: only make a law against blasphemy, and let them that commit James Nayler's fault, have his punishment. But for their denying of the magistracy and ministry, you have laws against them already. Bind them to their good behaviour.
Lord Whitlock. If there be any such people as deny magistracy and ministry, we may easily guess the consequence. Cutting of throats must necessarily follow. That which I do most except against, is the disturbance of the public peace of the nation. I am much against the general words Blasphemy and Quakerism. This is like the word, incumbrance, the more general, the more dangerous for the people of England. I would have it referred to a Committee to bring in, by a particular law, what persons shall be punished, but not to leave it in the general.
I am for tender consciences, as much as any man; but it is one thing to hold an opinion, another thing to hold forth an opinion. If a man be a Turk or a Jew, I care not so he do not openly hold it forth.
I am for enumeration of their blasphemies, for I would not have any honest man surprized by a general Jaw. I would have Biddle, (fn. 3) and his sect, also considered by the same Committee, which are also dangerous, as well as Quakers.
Mr. Briscoe. I have no petition from the county (fn. 4) for which I serve, but I am sure I have as much occasion to complain as any, for they are numerous in those parts, and, principally, occasioned by the ignorance of these people in the principles of religion. They meet in multitudes, and upon moors, in terrorem populi. I have a long time feared, that they and the people of a contrary judgment, should fall by the ears together. I desire it may be referred to the Committee.
Major-General Boteler. They are most their friends that labour to suppress and prevent that wickedness. I hope we shall never have cause for the like debate; which would be prevented if there were a law now made. It is one thing to pass a sentence upon a man without a law, another thing to make a law. I desire a Bill may be brought in.
Mr. Godfrey. Unless you provide a law against them, in general, it was to little purpose to punish this man. The sect is dangerous, the increase numerous, prevention very necessary. I desire it may be referred to the same Committee to bring in a Bill against them.
Major Brooke. I desire you would spend some time in making a law against these, else all the laws you make here will be to no purpose. They will overturn all laws and Government, unless you timeously strengthen the banks. They meet in thousands in our country, and certainly will overrun all, both ministers and magistrates. I desire that you would make no delay in this business. Ere long, it will be too late to make a law.
Sir. Christopher Pack. Though you have no petition from London, yet we are no less infested with them then other parts of the nation. They knew you were about making a law against them, but I desire that it may be referred to a Committee, and it will appear our grievances are as great as any.
Mr. Butler. In pity to these people's souls, I desire there may be a law against them. Lenity may work upon some, and severity upon others. They have been reclaimed from disturbing of ministry, and haply, by fair means, other works may be done.
Some may be called Quakers that are not so. It is an offence, indeed, to keep on their hats before the magistrate; for, lay aside magistracy, and expect confusion. I would have the petition considered by the same Committee, and see how far the offences extend to the disturbance of the peace.
It is the magistrate's interest to have an influence upon all factions, and not drive the Government into one faction, whilst they hold nothing out to the disturbance of the peace. Under the general notion, you may bring all, nay any man, to be tried by this law. As to the superintendency of the Church, if the supreme magistrate should assert Arianism, he must be tried by this law. I would first have the petitions considered, and the substance and heads reported, and then a Bill to be brought in.
Major-General Kelsey seconded that motion; and that, under the general word Quakers, it might not be referred to a Committee to provide a law, but first to report the heads and substance of the petitions, and their opinions in it.
Captain Baynes. I have not heard so many petitions read together, and not committed in order. I am against refering it to a Committee in general terms. But let it be enumerated in the Bill, the offences particularly, that a man may certainly know how he transgresses the law, and when he is free.
Colonel Sydenham. I am as much against the Quakers as any man, but would not bring in a law against Quakers by a general word. It is a word that signifies nothing, individuum vagum nearly. It is like the word Lollards or Puritans, under the notion whereof, many godly persons are now under the altar, their blood being poured out. It is of dangerous consequence to make a law under general terms, and leave it to after ages to interpret your meaning. Let it be plainly explained what the offences shall be. But your proper way now, is to refer the petitions to a Committee, who may take out the heads of them, and represent their sense to you, and then you may make a law as you see occasion.
Mr. Bond. If men boggle at the word Quaker, leave it out. If we had had a law against them, we should not have troubled ourselves with this fellow. They are a generation that begin to lisp already. It will make men wear their swords. I desire the Question may be put.
Lord Strickland. You will not find in all your statutebooks a definition of Quaker or Blasphemy. Other States never do it, further than as disturbers of the peace. We know how laws against Papists were turned upon the honestest men. We may all, in after ages, be called Quakers. It is a word nobody understands. I would have it left to your Committee to consider of the heads of the petitions, and represent them to you, and then you may make a law against them. But we all know how the edge of former laws against Papists has been turned upon the best Protestants, the truest professors of religion, the honest Puritan, as they called him, a good profession, but hard to be understood, as this word Quaker will be in after ages.
A great debate whether it should be referred to Nayler's Committee, or to a new Committee. Mr. Robinson offered to name a Committee before the Speaker had said, " Gentlemen, name your Committee;" but .Mr. Speaker said it was improper.
Mr. Godfrey. It is neither just nor honourable for a Parliament to condemn one for his own confession, in giving testimony against another. You ought not to build any judgment or sentence upon what they confessed there; but now examine, as against them.
Mr. Robinson. That way of proceeding against a witness was never known but in Lord — (fn. 5) case, where his footman bore witness against him, by which testimony he died for the crime, and afterwards they hanged up the footman for what he had confessed against himself.
Colonel Sydenham, I cannot but wonder to see the strange temper of the House in this business; how zealous they were for that high sentence against Nayler, though there was no law at all for it, and never quiet till it was done; and now, how different. A punishment far lesser would content them against these women; who, in my opinion, were greater offenders than Nayler, inasmuch as they actually committed idolatry. He denied all honour to himself. For my part, I am altogether unsatisfied by what law you do this. I doubt you have opened a gap to prostitute both life, member, and liberty, to the arbitrary power of men, who by a vote may do what they will.
At the Committee of Trade, in the Duchy Chamber, we sate till after eight, upon the business of the Clothworkers against the Merchant Adventurers, touching the exportation of white cloths, undressed. (fn. 5) Mr. Rich, of counsel, for the Clothworkers, and one. Skinner, a notable nimble fellow, I suppose, clerk to the Merchant Adventurers. There was at the Committee, Mr. Downing, Sir Christopher Pack, Alderman Foot and Mr. Rolle, his son-in-law, Mr. Moody, Mr. Disbrowe, Captain Hatsell, Mr. Lloyd, Mr. Thomas, Mr. Collins, Major Burton, Mr. Tymbes, Mr. West, and myself, but we came to no resolution, so adjourned the debate till Tuesday next.