The name "Anabaptist" in England first occurs in references to the movement on the Continent by that name. As early as 1526 a list of proscribed books included a tract by Zwingli against the Anabaptists. In 1528 and later Erasmus and Sir Thomas More corresponded about the "Anabaptistarum haeresis." William Barlow, in the pamphlet Lutheran faccyons (1531), described at length the movement in Switzerland and Germany as "the thyrde faccyon" of the Reformation. More, in the second part of the Confutation (1533), accused William Tyndale of becoming party to "those abominable heresies... the Anabaptists have added." Beginning about 1535 the name was also given to both foreign and native adherents of the movement present in England. Henceforth "Anabaptist" became a common pejorative of the English Reformation and throughout the 16th and 17th centuries was used with specific as well as generic connotations. Almost invariably the Latin form was employed, while the vernacular "rebaptizer" (German, "Wiedertäufer"; Dutch, "Wederdooper") retained the sense it had in patristic literature.
The first Anabaptists in England, according to various polemical treatments written in the 17th century and later, came from Holland subsequent to the seditious uprising at Amsterdam on 10 May 1535 (A Short History of the Anabaptists, 1642, 48). The source of this information is Lambertus Hortensius, a Dutch ecclesiastic and chronicler, who lived contemporary with the events and whose Tumultuum Anabaptisticarum was first printed at Basel in 1548, but he nowhere holds that these Anabaptists were the original ones in England. The 25 Dutch Anabaptists arrested and brought to trial at St. Paul’s on 25 May 1535, 14 of whom were condemned and burned at London and other English towns on 4 June 1535, may have been members of the party mentioned by Hortensius. Anabaptists were present in England before 1535. During the fall or early winter of 1534 Anabaptist ministers ("leraers") from England were at Amsterdam. Anneken Jans, a devout Dutch Anabaptist and later a martyr, with her husband Arent Jansz fled to England from Den Briel in Holland in the summer of 1534. Six English and two Flemish persons who held Anabaptist views were arrested in connection with the importation and distribution of "the booke of Anabaptist confession" sometime in 1532-34. They had a place of meeting in London, and their leader was a certain Fleming named Bastian, described as "the bishop & reder of the Anabaptists." (Reference to a 1534 proclamation against the Anabaptists, which is sometimes found in secondary sources, is due to the misdating of a 1538 proclamation in David Wilkins’ Concilia.) The relationship between Anabaptists and Lollards during the early Reformation in England is obscure. The spiritualistic character of Lollardy provided a fertile soil for the Dutch-Flemish variety of Anabaptism, and it may be said, at least in a generic sense, that "new Anabaptist was but old Lollard writ Dutch" (E. G. Rupp). Nevertheless, in the 1530's Anabaptism supplanted Lollardy in name as well as in doctrine and became the left wing of the English Reformation.
Apart from the missionary intentions of a Bastian and his associates, the great number of Anabaptists who reached England were Dutch and Flemish refugees escaping from the severe persecution of the Hapsburg rulers in their homeland. This escape was facilitated by the flourishing commerce across the North Sea as a result of the textile trade. Many of the Anabaptists settled in London and port towns on the east coast, including Hull, where their foreign character and non-participation in English life made it possible for them to retain their religious beliefs. For reasons of trade and diplomacy these foreign communities were often exempt from English laws, but when they began to influence the native population drastic action was taken against them. Although Henry VIII repudiated papal authority by the Act of Supremacy (1534) he endeavored to keep the English church orthodox in doctrine and practice in the Roman sense. His treatment of the Anabaptists was mild compared with Hapsburg policy, but, as R. W. Dixon observes, "there were more Anabaptists burned by Henry the Eighth than Lollards in the whole of the previous century."
The Anabaptists from the Netherlands came to England for the most part in two waves: in 1535-36 as a result of the persecution which followed the rise and fall of seditious Anabaptism at Münster; in 1567-73 when the Duke of Alva was in the Low Countries and sought to exterminate them along with other Reformation parties, particularly in the southern Netherlands. In July 1535, shortly after the Münster debacle, the agents of Thomas Cromwell passed word on to London that many Anabaptists were fleeing across the North Sea. One of the leaders who escaped to England was Jan Mathijsz van Middelburg, an important figure in the early movement. In spite of the prevailing severe persecution, the leaders of radical Anabaptism held a conference at Bocholt in Westphalia during the summer of 1536. An Englishman named "Henry" is reported to have borne the expenses of this meeting in order to bring about some unity in the movement, especially in behalf of peaceful practices. Jan Mathijsz van Middelburg represented the English Anabaptists at Bocholt, and with others took a stand against the seditious Münsterites and Batenburgers. The attitude in England in 1536-37 appears to have been lenient, but a change occurred in the fall of 1538. In September of this year Henry VIII received a warning about the "Anabaptist pest" from Philipp of Hesse and John Frederick of Saxony in Germany. Their communication, composed by Melanchthon, was prompted by an Anabaptist letter seized in Hesse which revealed that Anabaptists in Germany were in touch with members of the movement in England, and that the latter, among other activities, had published a book on the doctrine of the incarnation. Possibly as a result of this letter, on 1 October Henry VIII issued a commission to Archbishop Cranmer "to search for and examine Anabaptists . . . and destroy all books of that detestable sect." In November 1538 two proclamations went out against Anabaptists: the first prohibited the printing, importation, and possession of their books, and the second ordered all rebaptized persons to leave the realm. There are records of some Anabaptists who recanted; three, however, were executed. One of these was the leader, Jan Mathijsz van Middelburg; he was burned at Smithfield on 29 November 1538. On the same day Peter Franke and his wife, Flemish Anabaptists, were burned, the husband at Colchester and the wife at Smithfield. In the controversial literature of the time Franke is described as a "godly and perfect" young man, whose piety and steadfastness converted many at Colchester. It was in December 1538 that Anneken Jans and her traveling companion, Christiana Michiel Barents, were taken while on a journey from England to Delft. They were drowned on 7 January 1539, at Rotterdam. Christiana and her husband, originally from Louvain in Brabant, were like Anneken and her husband, Anabaptist refugees in England. At her trial Christiana referred to Lijnken, another Anabaptist from Louvain, who had died in England. On 26 February 1539, Henry VIII issued a proclamation of pardon to all heretics in England except those from abroad. This appears to indicate that a considerable number of English subjects were affected by the new beliefs and that persecution had done more to spread than to counteract them. (The account in Martyrs Mirror (English) 450, concerning the execution at Delft of 31 Anabaptist refugees from England, who had fled in the winter of 1538-39, is the result of faulty reading of the original documents. These Anabaptist martyrs were residents at Delft and were arrested and condemned upon information given by Anneken Jans, who had come from England. Van Braght had taken the incident from P. J. Twisck’s earlier martyr book. See K. Vos, “De Delftsche martelaren van 1538 en 1539 ontward,” Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 1917, 160-67.) In the Six Articles Act of July 1539 the aging king reaffirmed a strict advocacy of the mass and other cardinal tenets of Catholicism. Among the score or more persons executed in 1540-46 for violation of this Act several were condemned as Anabaptists. Two of these were Maundeveld, "a French groom of the Queen," and Collins, an Englishman, who died at the stake in April or May 1540. Another account mentions the burning of two Flemish Anabaptists in June 1540. Because the offending charge was a wrong view of the sacrament, distinction between Sacramentarians and Anabaptists is difficult. In July 1540 Henry VIII again offered his people a general pardon, but Anabaptists of all kinds were excepted. The pardon listed the specific heresies of the Anabaptists, among which were: baptism is for adults and not for infants, refusal to "beare office or rule in the Commen Welth," nonswearing of oaths, "that Christe toke no bodily substance of our blessed lady," and "that all things be common."
The government of Edward VI, 1547-53, while promoting a Reformation on the continental pattern and in close co-operation with the leaders at Zürich and Geneva, continued the suppression of the Anabaptists. In January 1550, as in the previous reign, a commission was issued to Cranmer to search out and examine Anabaptists. On the whole, however, the reign was characterized by more leniency and efforts to meet the Anabaptist influence on positive and ideological grounds. License to establish a congregation for foreigners at London was granted, the king recorded in his journal, for "the avoyding of al sectes of Anabaptistes and such like." Archbishop Cranmer was particularly forbearing in his treatment of the Anabaptists, and he yielded to the use of violence only when heavy pressure was brought to bear upon him by the King’s Council. Cranmer’s leniency became so flagrant during the latter part of Edward’s reign that John Hooper and John Knox, both stanch supporters of the Reformed party, were called in by the government to combat the Anabaptist menace in London and Kent. Cranmer was active, however, in seeking to convert Anabaptists by methods of persuasion. In April 1549 he and other church officials debated with a party of Anabaptists in St. Paul’s at London. As a result three gave up their views; one of the members who persisted was Joan (Jane) Boucher, who, in spite of Cranmer’s continued efforts to win her, was burned at the stake on 2 May 1550. Joan was a lady of some social standing in London, probably of noble blood, and appeared to have some influence in court circles. The particular view to which she tenaciously held was the Melchiorite doctrine that Christ in His incarnation took no substance of Mary’s body. In June 1549 Cranmer won Michael Tombe, a tailor of London, from his Anabaptist views. In the spring of 1549 John Hooper complained to Bullinger how "Anabaptists flock to the place [where he gave lectures in London] and give me much trouble with their opinions respecting the incarnation of the Lord." In June of the following year he said that the counties of Kent and Sussex were "troubled with the frenzy of the Anabaptists more than any other part of the kingdom." During Edward’s reign four pamphlets by Bullinger and one by Calvin against the Anabaptists were translated into English. They were published as follows: H. Bullinger, An Holsome Antidotus or counterpoysen (1548); J. Calvin, A short instruction for to arme all good Christian people (1549); H. Bullinger, A treatise or sermon . . . concernyng magistrates (1549); H. Bullinger, A moste sure and strong defence of the baptisme of children (1551); H. Bullinger, A most necessary & frutefull Dialogue (1551). Jean Veron, a French Reformed minister, prebend at Worcester, was an active opponent of the Anabaptists. He translated many of the Bullinger tracts and added long prefaces to them. During Elizabeth’s reign he had a controversy with Robert Cooche, an Anabaptist, and wrote two pamphlets in defense of election. William Turner, "doctor of physick" and dean of Wells, also engaged Cooche in debate, especially on the doctrines of original sin and infant baptism. Turner’s pamphlet, A preeseruatiue or triacle (1551), is a reply to Cooche on the first of these questions. The book by John Knox, An answer to a great nomber of blasphemous cauillations written by an Anabaptist, first published at Geneva in 1560 and later at London in 1591, is a lengthy rejoinder to a controversial work from the pen of Cooche which is no longer extant. John Hooper wrote A Lesson of the Incarnation of Christe, a tract against the Anabaptist view of the doctrine; it went through at least three editions during 1549-50. Thomas Cole, who at one time had Anabaptist leanings, wrote A godly and frutefull sermon . . . againste dyuers erronious opinions of the Anabaptistes and others (1553). Probably more influential than Cooche as a leader among English Anabaptists was Henry Hart, who, we are told, was among the Kentish sectaries who "were the first that made separation from the reformed church of England." Hart was the author of two tracts of admonition, A Godly newe short treatyse (1548), and A Godlie exhortation (1549).
While in the reign of Henry VIII the Anabaptist movement had grown in secret, in Edward’s reign it came out into the open. The movement had its inception at the time the Melchiorite wing was dominant in the Netherlands and hence the English phase was characterized by spiritualistic tendencies. The names of some leaders are known; there is evidence of secret meetings and congregations among native Anabaptists in Sussex and Kent; Anabaptist leaders debated both privately and publicly, orally and in writing, with the ecclesiastics of Edward’s reign; yet a large part of what one finds designated as Anabaptism pertains to views held or promulgated by persons who never separated from the national church. The principal doctrinal views considered Anabaptist during the early English Reformation were believers’ baptism; the freedom of the will; intentional sin after conversion is unpardonable, and Christ in the incarnation took no substance from the flesh of Mary. These are the identical issues controverted by Martin Bucer against Melchior Hoffman at the Strasbourg disputation of 1533, and are views which characterized the Melchiorite phase of Anabaptism in the Netherlands and elsewhere. That much of English Anabaptism in this early period was nonseparatist may be due to Lollard precedents as well as to the spiritualistic strain of the Anabaptists who came to England. It may have had more separatist manifestations than we are able to discover today, but from the evidence available it is clear that it did not become an organized movement of gathered churches comparable to the Swiss Brethren and the Mennonites on the Continent. Not until Elizabeth’s reign and the period of the early Stuarts were the separatist bodies to be formed, and then more from the spiritual ferment within the national church than from a direct lineal descent from the Anabaptists of Edward’s reign.
The separatist development of Anabaptism in England may have been cut short by the Marian persecution. During the reign of Mary, 1553-58, the persecution of Anabaptists can scarcely be distinguished from that of Protestants in general. Since the greater percentage of the martyrs came from eastern counties and from the artisan classes, some historians assume that up to as high as 80 per cent may have been professing or fellow-traveling Anabaptists. Records do not exist to examine this question more precisely. John Foxe, in The Acts and Monuments (1563), the chief source of information, is not specific enough to enable one to identify Anabaptists. The persons in Foxe, for example, who were indicated as lay ministers, were no doubt Anabaptists. Apart from Foxe it is known that two Anabaptist ministers, Henry Hart and Humphrey Middleton, were imprisoned in Mary’s reign. Middleton died as a martyr in July 1555. Hart and other Anabaptists in prison had running debates, evidently in writing, with prisoners in other parts of the prison. John Bradford, prebendary at St. Paul’s and a martyr in January 1555, devoted much time in the last months of his confinement to an attempt to convert Hart to Reformed views regarding election. Hart’s circle, to which Bradford was warmly attached, included a number of ministers from the counties of Kent and Essex.
When Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1558 she soon came into conflict with both native and foreign Anabaptists. Bishop Jewel, writing to Peter Martyr in November 1560, reported: "We found at the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth a large and inauspicious crop of Arians, anabaptists, and other pests, which I know not how, but as mushrooms spring up in the night and in darkness, so these spring up in that darkness and unhappy night of the Marian times." In 1559 Bishop Parker told Bullinger that the realm was full of Anabaptists and other heretics. In 1560 Elizabeth issued a decree ordering Anabaptists to conform or leave the country upon pain of imprisonment and confiscation of goods. The decree specifically mentioned “the Anabaptists and such Hereticks, which had flocked to the Coast-Towns of England from the parts beyond the Seas, under colour of shunning Persecution.” An ecclesiastical commission was appointed to make registers and bring to trial all those who were tainted with the Anabaptist heresy. With the coming of Alva into the Netherlands and the institution of a policy of inquisition and persecution, thousands fled across the North Sea to England. The commission was slow in proceeding, but in 1562, Grindal, then Bishop of London, pushed the case of Adriaen van Haemstede, a Flemish minister of the foreign Dutch Reformed congregation (Austin Friars), on a charge of encouraging Anabaptism by recognizing “the Anabaptists as his brethren and as weak members of Christ,” to whom eternal life was also granted. When van Haemstede refused to recant he was excommunicated in 1562 and banished from England by royal decree. That there were Anabaptists among the Dutch and Flemish refugees is also affirmed by the Queen’s proclamation of 1568, which states that they met in secret conventicles and had influenced the English populace. A later regulation ordered that investigation be made among both foreigners and native subjects who had adopted of the heretical principles of the Anabaptists. Refusal to conform meant leaving the country within 20 days. Richard Heath, as well as other historians, considers the secret conventicles of this period to be the germ cells of the Baptist Church.
In 1575 a number of incidents occurred pertaining to the arrest, trial, and persecution of Dutch Anabaptists in England. At London and Ely meetings were discovered by the authorities. Van Braght devotes 16 pages (Martyrs Mirror (English) 1008-24) to accounts and letters concerning the experiences of the London group (not all details agree). On 3 April, Easter Day, about 20 persons were apprehended at a gathering "beyond the Aldgate." In May they were cross-examined by the Bishop of London, with three preachers from the Austin Friars church serving as interpreters, on four points: the incarnation, infant baptism, the oath, and the office of the magistrate. Under threat and exposure to public disgrace some of the group recanted. One account states that 14 women were banished from the city and one youth was "scourged behind a cart." Some were released under bail and two escaped from prison. Two of the group, Jan Piers Wagemaker (also called Jan Pietersz) and Hendrick Terwoort, were burned at Smithfield on 22 July, "in great terror, weeping and crying," according to one account. Members of the Austin Friars church, as well as the martyrologist John Foxe, interceded before the Queen and her Council in behalf of the imprisoned men, and Foxe obtained a reprieve to stay the execution for a month. Van Braght published a letter from the prisoners to Foxe, in which they reject his admonition to recant, and a confession of faith in which they elucidate their stand on the four points raised in their trial before the Bishop of London. A martyr ballad, "The Two Friends," is extant, and depicts in detail the death of Wagemaker and Terwoort. Van Braght also recorded the case of Hans Bret, apparently an English Anabaptist living at Antwerp, who was burned at the stake there in 1577 (Martyrs Mirrror (Dutch) 1037-54). Bret wrote a letter to his brother in England who "had not yet come to the knowledge of the truth," and during the cross-examination replied that he himself had been in England. When asked, "What sort of people were those put to death (in England)?" he replied, "I believe they were Menno’s."
About 1580 Anabaptism in England entered a new chapter. As a movement it was embraced and succeeded by the Separatist movement of the Brownists and Barrowists, culminating in the formation of the Congregationalist and Baptist denominations in the 17th century. Burrage has shown how congregations of Separatists formed at scattered places in England in 1588-1641, but the movement found its principal centers in the areas where Anabaptism had been strongest, in London and in the southeast and middle-east counties. The earliest leaders, Robert Browne and Robert Harrison, organized a congregation at Norwich in 1580 which fled to Middelburg in the Netherlands during the following year. Separatism in London found its leaders in Henry Barrow, John Greenwood, and John Penry, all three martyrs by 1593. The same year the congregation migrated to Amsterdam with Francis Johnson as pastor. It is to these origins that the Congregationalists owe the inception of their church. A Separatist congregation on the same pattern formed at Gainsborough about 1606, of which John Smyth was one of the pastors. In 1608 this group escaped to Holland and organized two congregations there, one under Smyth at Amsterdam, the other at Leyden with John Robinson as pastor. To the Smyth congregation, which accepted adult baptism as a result of contact with Dutch Mennonites, the General Baptists owe their origin, especially to the segment which Thomas Helwys and John Murton led back to England in 1612. A number of members from Robinson’s church were among the Pilgrim Fathers when they sailed for the new world in 1620.
All of the Separatist groups were at various times labeled "Anabaptist" by their enemies, as the prolific anti-Anabaptist literature of the first half of the 17th century testifies. It is necessary to distinguish between the generic and the specific use of "Anabaptist" during this period as well as in the 16th century. Robert Bailie, for example, wrote a work against all left-wing groups, entitled Anabaptism, the True Fountaine of Independency, Antinomy, Brownisme, Familisme, and the most of the other Errours (1647). Bailie succeeds to his own satisfaction in finding certain doctrinal similarities and historical connections among these groups which justify, for him, placing them all in one family. Actually, he followed a precedent common in his own time and earlier of using the term "Anabaptist" to label all kinds of nonconformity. "Anabaptist" became synonymous with "heresy" or "fanaticism." In the 16th century the term was used to refer to contemporary Pelagians ("free-willers"), to Antinomians, to Familists, and to other groups which had no relationship to the historic Anabaptist movement. Archbishop Whitgift accused T. Cartwright of being an Anabaptist. In the 17th century the term sometimes refers to Socinians, Ranters, Quakers, and other groups, as well as to the Independents and Baptists. This indiscriminate usage calls for great caution and discernment on the part of anyone making use of English Anabaptist sources. "Anabaptist" however did also have a specific use. In the 16th century it meant the English wing of the Dutch movement begun by Melchior Hofmann, as the official records assume. In the 17th century, from the 1630s onward, it was applied specifically to the Baptists, although it never lost its connotation of “fanaticism” or "enthusiasm." The name "Baptist" was first used in 1641. The literature on the Anabaptists, together with the subject of baptism, is enormous in quantity throughout the 17th century in England. Henry Martyn Dexter, whose bibliography, Collections toward a Bibliography of the First two Generations of the Baptist Controversy in England, is not complete, lists no less than 401 separate works published from 1618 to 1700.
The connections between Anabaptism and Separatism do not submit to exact statement. It has been pointed out that the strongholds of both movements were located in the same geographical areas. As for historical connections, the most plausible were those between Robert Browne and Anabaptists in London and Norwich, but conclusive evidence has never been presented. It is on theological and spiritual grounds that the evidence is more convincing. The Separatist doctrine of the church and to a certain extent its attitude toward the state are characteristically Anabaptist. Both groups believed in a visible church, of true believers, and that the civil magistrate had no authority in ecclesiastical matters. The biographer of Henry Barrow, F. J. Powicke, has pointed out that he was an Anabaptist in every respect except in regard to the concept and practice of adult baptism, yet Barrow strenuously denied any connection with the Anabaptists. One may not overlook the strong Calvinistic spirit and position of the Separatist movement, owing to the influence of Thomas Cartwright and others at Cambridge where most of its leaders were educated. Only in the case of Smyth and his colleagues was there a departure from the predestination doctrines, with the result that the General Baptists became Arminian in their theology. It is possible that this was a result of their sojourn in Holland. But the Anabaptists in England in the 16th century contended strongly for the doctrine of free will and were frequently labeled Pelagian.
Relationships between Anabaptism and Quakerism have also not been clearly established. Quakerism, which arose about 1644 around the prophetic and missionary leadership of George Fox, was in many respects more akin to historic Anabaptism than any of the segments within Separatism, especially in regard to the doctrine and practice of nonresistance. The English historian, G. P. Gooch, states that a large number of "Baptists" went over to the Quaker movement during the Puritan Revolution when no stand was taken by their leaders against participation in Cromwell’s army.
The presence of Anabaptism in England is reflected in the confessional literature of both the Anglican and Presbyterian churches. The earliest formularies, the Ten Articles (1536) and The Bishop’s Book (1537), as well as The King’s Book (1543), name the Anabaptists and oppose their view of baptism. In a much more inclusive way the views of the Anabaptists are rejected in the Forty-Two Articles of 1553. E. J. Bicknell observes that, although the Anabaptists are mentioned but twice (in regard to original sin and the community of goods), they are opposed in at least half of the articles. The Articles "are a double-edged weapon" designed to smite medieval teaching and abuses on the one hand, but “even more keenly the teaching of the Anabaptists” on the other hand (The Thirty-Nine Articles, London, 1955, pp. 11-12). This Edwardian confession is reflected in the better-known Thirty-Nine Articles, first agreed upon in 1562 although in general the latter reflect a greater latitude of opinion. Article 38 states that "the riches and goods of Christians are not common... as certain Anabaptists do falsely boast," while Anabaptist views on war, the oath, and the magistracy are reflected in other articles. The Westminster Confession (Presbyterian) of 1647 also opposes several Anabapist doctrines, and the Scottish confession of 1560, in article 23, rejects "the error of Anabaptists who deny baptism to appertain to children."
English literature, particularly of the 16th and 17th centuries, also bears evidence of the Anabaptist movement in England. The name "Anabaptist" does not occur anywhere in Shakespeare (1564-1616), although "Brownist" does, but at least one Elizabethan scholar, J. F. Danby, has suggested Anabaptism as one of the sources of Shakespeare’s equalitarian ideas, especially in King Lear. In Edmund Spenser’s (ca. 1552-99) The Faerie Queene, the virtuous Artegall debates with and destroys the "mighty Gyant" of communistic Anabaptism. The allegorical encounter is related in 26 stanzas (Book V, Canto II, stanzas xxix-liv). Some commentators see here in Spenser "a mind which was at once conservative, aristocratic, and influenced by Calvinistic theology," opposing "the general restlessness of the times and growth of democratic ideals." At any rate, the subject was of current interest to Spenser’s readers, and contemporary pamphleteers such as Robert Crowley (d. 1588) kept it fermenting in the public mind. Thomas Nashe (1567-1601), in contrast to the decorous Spenser, relates in a racy manner the story of the Anabaptists at Frankenhausen and Münster in The Unfortunate Traveller (1594). Although he confuses the two events, he appears to follow Sleidanus faithfully enough to arrive at the traditional interpretation. Nashe is interested chiefly in telling a story, but he does betray a sympathy with the victims, the account of which no doubt reminded him and his readers of the current executions in London. Nashe’s polemical tracts also contain references to Anabaptists, and John Greenwood and other Barrowist leaders are often mentioned.
The 17th-century literature relating to Anabaptism, as already indicated, is enormous in quantity. Most of the upwards of 400 pamphlets and books are of primary interest from a theological point of view, but some have literary merit, such as those by John Taylor, Thomas Hooker, and Richard Baxter, to mention only a few. One finds references to Anabaptists in both Milton and Bunyan, but more important is their spiritual affinity to the Anabaptist way of life, a discovery which has led more than one Baptist historian to adopt them into the brotherhood. In more secular literature, especially in the drama, one finds a satirical and even farcical treatment of the Anabaptists and their views. This can be seen already in the comedy of the Jacobean satirists, where with topical Puritanism it becomes a special object of ridicule. One sees a similar treatment in the "character," a type of literature which was exceptionally popular in the 17th century. In the early collections of "characters," such as those of Overbury and Earle, where the type is treated in a short, concise essay in imitation of the classic models of Theophrastus, the Anabaptist and Brownist do not occur. But in the later imitations, particularly those of Francis Wortley and Samuel Buder, there is a riotous castigation of the sects in both prose and verse. One of Butler’s rhyming "characters," in the manner of Hudibras, begins as follows: Among these rank rebellious Weeds, The Anabaptist next succeeds; These Saints derive their way of fooling From Sutor, Humor, Knipperdoling, Hut, Hetzer, Hofman, and a Crew Of frantick Fools, the Lord knows who.... Satirical references to Anabaptists appeared also in the 18th century, chiefly in the drama and the periodical essay, but soon declined. The name “Baptist” replaced the older label, which remained, however, as a term to denote religious fanaticism or "enthusiasm."
If one surveys the results of pre-1950 research regarding Anabaptism in England one might make the following observations. For the 16th century we have available only scanty information concerning a movement which for the most part was an underground one. What is known comes chiefly from the sources which sought to suppress it. How deeply and extensively the movement penetrated into English life, who its leaders were, where its congregations were located, what its literature was, and how its theology was taught and practiced—these are all questions concerning which we know very little. In the absence of such detailed information possibly the best way to estimate the scope of the movement and the importance of its achievement is to note its impact on the times. This can only be hinted at here, and a few tentative conclusions stated. One way to view it is to hold that, as a distinct movement, Anabaptism came to an end about 1580 when its message and genius gained acceptance and was linked with other elements in the Separatist movement, and that it probably reached its highest peak of life and activity during the reigns of Edward VI and Mary (1547-58). It is also possible to view the movement as one which was effectively crushed and whose spiritual potency was suppressed until it was granted a better opportunity to develop within the Separatist groups of the 17th century. Whichever view one may adopt, it is clear that the Anabaptist views of the church and state were embraced by the Separatists. One may not claim that Anabaptism was the exclusive source of these insights, but the evidence is overwhelming that it was a major influence. Ernest A. Payne quotes H. N. Brailsford as saying in 1948, "The English Puritan Left can be understood only when we realise that it drew much of its inspiration directly from the Swiss, German, and Dutch Anabaptists." The influence of Anabaptism on Independency and tire later Congregational movement can be traced especially on the form of church government and on the character of church worship and life. Much more radical was its influence on the movement which bore the name “Anabaptist” the longest, the General Baptists, who were the closest English counterpart to the main-line Anabaptists on the Continent (Mennonites, Täufer). In another sense, however, especially in reference to the practice of nonresistance and a radical nonconformity, the purest expression of the Anabaptist spirit is to be sought in Quakerism, which dates from the year 1644. Thus we see that Anabaptism in England was no spiritual backwater, not merely a fanaticism held by Dutch refugees whose influence on English Protestantism was only peripheral, but that it deposited a ferment of religious ideas which were finally absorbed into both English and American church and secular history. -- Irvin B. Horst
1959 Supplemental Article
The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), at the urging of Canadian Mennonites, began a modest relief program in England in May 1940, with Theodore Claassen of Newton, Kansas, joined by John E. Coffman in October 1940. The various projects, which were developed, were not for emergency relief needs, but planned as a service to needs aggravated by the war, combined with an evangelical peace witness. These projects included: Polish Boys Project in London, aid to Cotswold Bruderhof (Hutterite), Wickhurst Manor (Save the Children Fund), Woodlands (Old People's Home near Birmingham), South Meadows (children's hostel near Liverpool), Taxal Edge (boys home), prisoner of war work, and clothing distribution. It was John Coffman who first proposed in 1941 the motto "In the name of Christ," which was adopted by the MCC as a label for all future clothing and food packages. Among the 24 workers who served in England were Peter J. Dyck (July 1941-July 1945) and Elfrieda Klassen Dyck (1941-45). For the work in London see the article London: Supplement. The MCC work in England was closed in 1946, when the opportunity for more urgently needed relief work in Holland opened up, though one worker continued in prisoner of war work until the close of his term in 1947.
In 1952 the Mennonite Church (MC) began mission work in London, and in 1958 had two centers, the one at Free Gospel Hall with 10 members. -- Harold S. Bender
The Mennonite movement in modern English history can be traced to relief efforts by North American Mennonites during World War II. In 1940 Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) sent Ted Claassen to London, followed several months later by John E. Coffman. During the hostilities 24 MCC workers served in England.
After the war MCC's activities shifted to the European continent. But John Coffman, who had married Eileen Pells (the first 20th-century English Mennonite), remained in London to do inner-city mission work. The Mennonite Board of Missions (MC) in 1952 sent Quintus and Miriam Leatherman to open the London Mennonite Centre, which until 1981, provided a ministry of caring and housing to international students of many races and national origins. In the centre, a London Mennonite fellowship met regularly.
By the 1980s some English people, impelled by a world crisis of militarism and maldistribution of wealth and by an awareness that traditional forms of Christianity were disintegrating, began to show renewed interest in Anabaptist and Mennonite insights. In response, the London Mennonite Centre, led by Alan and Eleanor Kreider, began a Cross-Currents program to do discipleship training in the Anabaptist and Mennonite tradition for a wide variety of English people. A resource center, with library, book service, and conversation partners, was also developing. The Centre's workers made significant contributions to the Christian peace movement in England.
Simultaneously, a growing number of English Christians in the 1980s had claimed the Anabaptist heritage. Many of these were charismatic Baptists; others were members of networks of rapidly growing charismatic "house churches." From 1936 onwards (with several interruptions), in a succession of communities in several parts of the English countryside, the Society of Brothers had given its witness to communitarian Anabaptism. Either through affirmation or denunciation, thinkers in several English Christian traditions were beginning to pay tribute to the influence of Anabaptist and Mennonite positions. -- Alan Kreider
Between 2000 and 2009 the following Anabaptist groups were active in the United Kingdom:
|Denominations||Congregations in 2000||Membership in 2000||Congregations in 2003||Membership in 2003||Congregations in 2006||Membership in 2006||Congregations in 2009||Membership in 2009|
|Brethren in Christ Church United Kingdom||2||81||2||84||5||207||6||266|
|British Conference of Mennonites||1||22||1||28||1||25||1||25|
Barclay, R. The Inner Life of the Religious Societies of the Commonwealth. London, 1876.
Bax, E. B. Rise and Fall of the Anabaptists. London, 1903: 332-83.
Bloom, J. H. English Tracts and Printed Sheets, 1473-1640, 2 vols. London, 1922-23.
Burn, J. G. History of French, Walloon, Dutch . . . Refugees in England from Henry VIII to the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. London, 1846.
Burrage, Champlin. The Early English Dissenters in the Light of Recent Research (1550-1641), 2 vols. London, 1912.
Butler, Samuel. Characters and Passages from Note-Books. Edited by A. R. Waller. Cambridge, 1908.
Calendars of State Papers, including the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII and the Domestic Series of the Reigns of Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth;
Dexter, H. M. The Congregationalism of the Last Three Hundred Years, as Seen in Its Literature . . . New York, 1880.
Gillett, C. R., ed. Catalogue of the McAlpin Collection , . . in the Union Theol. Seminary Library, 4 vols. New York, 1927-29.
Gooch, G. P. English Democratic Ideas in the 17th Century. Cambridge, 1927.
Heath, Carl. “The Anabaptist Movement.” In Social and Religious Heretics in Five Centuries. London, 1936: 62-101.
Heath, R. “The Archetype of the Holy War.” Contemporary Review (1897): 105-18.
Heath, R. “The Archetype of the Pilgrim’s Progress.” Contemporary Review (1896): 542-58.
Heath, R.“The Anabaptists and Their English Descendants.” Contemporary Review (1891): 399-406.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 584-91.
Horst, Irvin B. “The Anabaptists in English Literature, A Research Note.” Mennonite Quarterly Review XXIX, 2 (July 1955): 232-39.
Jordan, W. K. The Development of Religious Toleration in England, From the Beginning of the English Reformation to the Death of Queen Elizabeth. London, 1932.
McKerrow, R. B. Works of Thomas Nash, 6 vols. London, 1902-10.
Padelford, F. M. “Spenser’s Arraignment of the Anabaptists.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology XII (1913): 434-48.
Payne, Ernest A. The Anabaptists of the 16th Century and Their Influence in the Modern World. London, 1949.
Payne, Ernest A. The Baptist Movement in the Reformation and Onwards. London, 1947.
Payne, Ernest A. The Free Church Tradition in the Life of England, 3rd revised ed. London, 1951.
Pike, E. C. The Story of the Anabaptists. London, 1904: 55-72.
Pollard, A. W. and C. R. Redgrave. A Short-Title Catalogue . . . 1475-1640. London, 1926.
Quainton, C. Eden “The Anabaptists in England During the Commonwealth, 1648-1654.” Mennonite Quarterly Review VI (1932): 30-42.
R. Barclay’s Inner Life treats the English Anabaptists briefly in Chapter I, but is of great value on the 17th-century developments, particularly as to relations with the Dutch Mennonites of Holland.
R. Heath, six essays on the Anabaptists in the Contemporary Review, 1891-97, of which the following three relate to England:
Roosen, B. C. “Anfänge der Gemeinden der Taufgesinnten in England.” Mennonitische Blätter (1856-73).
Smithson, R. J. The Anabaptists. London, 1935: 192-204.
Spenser, Edmund. “The Faerie Queene” in The Works of Edmund Spenser, A Variorum Edition Baltimore, 1936): v. V.
Stow, John. The Annates of England. London, 1605.
Strype, John. Annals of the Reformation and Establishment of Religion . . . during Queen Elizabeth’s Happy Reign, 4 vols. Oxford, 1824.
The letters regarding Pieter Tasch are in the Corpus Reformatorum III, 578-83. Of the older Baptist histories, the one by Edward Bean Underhill found in “An Historical Introduction” in the first two volumes (A Martyrology of the Churches of Christ, I and II) of the Hanserd Knollys Society Publications, I (London, 1850) pp. cxxii-cxxviii, II (London, 1853) pp. xliv-lxxvi, is especially valuable for the 16th century.
Weber, G. Geschichte der akatholischen Kirchen und Sekten in Grossbritannien. Leipzig, 1845.
Whitley, W. T. A Baptist Bibliography, 2 vols. London, 1916.
Works of John Taylor the Water Poet, Vol. VII of the Spenser Society Publications, 1870;
Wortley, Sir Francis. Characters and Elegies. London, 1648.
Wriothesley, Charles. A Chronicle of England during the Reigns of the Tudors, 2 vols. London, 1875-77.
Unruh, J. D. In the Name of Christ. Scottdale, PA: 1952.
Mennonite World Handbook Supplement. Strasbourg, France, and Lombard, IL: Mennonite World Conference, 1984: 114.
2011 Update Bibliography
Mennonite World Conference. "2000 Europe Mennonite & Brethren in Christ Churches." Web. 27 February 2011. http://www.mwc-cmm.org/Directory/2000europe.html.
Mennonite World Conference. "2003 Europe Mennonite & Brethren in Christ Churches." Web. 27 February 2011. http://www.mwc-cmm.org/Directory/2003europe.html.
Mennonite World Conference. "Europe." Web. 27 February 2011. http://www.mwc-cmm.org/Directory/2006europe.pdf.
Mennonite World Conference. "World Directory: Europe." Web. 27 February 2011. http://www.mwc-cmm.org/en15/files/Members2009/EuropeSummary.doc.
|Author(s)||Irvin B. Horst|
|Harold S. Bender|
|Date Published||February 2011|
Cite This Article
Horst, Irvin B., Harold S. Bender and Alan Kreider. "England." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. February 2011. Web. 25 Feb 2018. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=England&oldid=103486.
Horst, Irvin B., Harold S. Bender and Alan Kreider. (February 2011). England. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 25 February 2018, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=England&oldid=103486.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 215-221; vol. 4, pp. 1078-1079; v. 5, pp. 269-270. All rights reserved.
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