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  • Is the Pope Catholic? March 11, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback


    Here follows a potted biographer of one of those seventeenth-century Quakers who enjoyed riling the world. In fact, this was the period when the Society of Friends was anything but…

    One case, in London, may be given as an illustration in John Perrot, an Irishman, who during the times of stripping from death or imprisonment of such men as Burrough and Dewsbury, acquired much influence by a high swelling spirit, though it had but a small tenement for its habitation. Self-confident and enterprising to an extreme, he interviewed the Doge of Venice, addressed himself to the Jews, wrote to India, and journeyed even to Rome, hoping to end the Papal heresy by his eloquence; and though it only introduced him to the dungeons of the Vatican, and the disciplinary powers of the Inquisition, he was as vigorous as ever on his return in propagating whatever views he might entertain.

    Words are cheap, particularly in seventeenth-century religious disputes carried on with people in other countries: so what if John Perrot wrote a long and wandering epistle to India? But what is remarkable here is that JP also acted on some of his unlikely convictions and headed off to Rome to ‘end the Papal heresy’. We know from a book Perrot’s published after his time in Italy that his aim was to personally convince the pope of the error of his ways: the book is entitled Battering Ram [or Rams] Against Rome. Now today if you went to Rome to convince the Pope of the error of his ways the highlights of your time in the capital of Christendom would include a tussle with the Swiss guard and a human interest story on Rai 1. In 1658 though the papal states were very much sovereign in their own affairs and reactionary. God help the man who walked into St Peter’s and demanded to see the key-holder, Alexander VII (obit 1667) at this date, to discuss Quaker doctrine.

    Beach has not been able to read Battering Ram against Rome dating to 1661. Perrot did though describe his time in Rome in verse as he was an accomplished (and actually quite good) poet: his poem outlining his agonies in Rome is 1448 lines long and entitled A Sea of the Seed’s Sufferings. The story is an everyday tale of seventeenth-century Quaker madness: other examples, drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com. A group of six Quakers decide to go and preach to the Sultan of Turkey, a foolhardy enterprise given that the Sultan’s court enjoyed, at this date, removing testicles in the most painful way possible from miscreants. Perrot and his five friends got to Turkey but were somehow persuaded to leave by a British consul. It was here that Perrot and his bosom companion Luffe decided to put Rome right. Once in that city Perrot talked to an English confessor in St Peter’s and then was passed on to a Jesuit who listened, we suspect, with frank amazement to Perrot’s plans to convert the bishop of Rome. The Jesuit, in any case, informed the authorities and JP and Luffe were arrested at their lodgings.

    Luffe’s fate was uncertain:  he may have been hung, he certainly died in Rome. Quakers often dreamt about going to foreign parts and getting themselves killed in this period. In fact, there is quite a lot of legend making about their deeds. Luffe was perhaps the only one who managed it.  Perrot, on the other hand, was kept first in the city prison for a week. He was then brought for eighteen long weeks under the Inquisition, which must have been fun: was he perhaps the last Englishman to be slapped around by the Congregation of the Holy Office? Then, third, he was left in a mental asylum for three years: with substandard levels of care even by the sorry standards of the seventeenth century.  After months and months of torture (whipped repeatedly with a bull’s dried pizzle) and chains (he was bound by the neck for part of his time) he was finally released. What had Perrot learnt from this ordeal? Well, not much. He was arrested in France on the way home for preaching against Catholicism. JP then arrived in Britain where he set off one of the most pointless religious controversies of all time, which is saying something. He argued – we cannot remember whether for or against, and we won’t dignify the problem by walking across the room to pull down the relevant book – whether Quakers should or should not keep their hats on while praying. It makes Dark Age clergy shouting at each other about the dating of Easter positively civilised.


    18 March 2013:  Nathaniel writes: Read George Fox’s “Journal” in its entirety for examples of madness touched by divinity, or divinity touched by madness. A great many of his adventures conclude with “and then they threw me down the stairs”, “and then they hit me with their Bibles”, “and then they put me in jail”. But give Fox and his Friends their due — they were trying to create a spirituality for all, that all could participate in without coercion. Despite its oddities Quakerism is more appealing than most of its religious competitors. Disclosure — although it’s been centuries my earliest American ancestors were Quakers.’ Thanks Nathaniel!

    31 March 2013: Invisible adds to the list: Your post on the Quakers going on a mission to convert the Pope reminded me of some other lunatic Friends, like James Nayler, who entered Bristol on a donkey, with women shouting “Hosannah in the highest.” and Solomon Eccles who went naked and espoused what we might term Free Love. He also went in for the scatalogical, as when he entered a church, nude and covered in excrement, saying something to the effect of, “He [Eccles] might as well enter the church with a turd in his hand than the minister come there with a Bible in his.” This Fortean Times article is a nice summary of some of the excesses of Quaker religious enthusiasm and this.   Then there was also George Hutchinson, the Presbyterian Irish weaver who was commanded by God to go to Rome in 1742 and convert the Pope. I was diverted by finding that he preached, not only against the idolatry of images, but against bag-wigs, umbrellas and hoop-petticoats. Your post also suggested other hopeless attempts like the seven-year-old Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada (later St Teresa of Avila), running away with her brother to find martyrdom at the hands of the Moors. Also St. Francis going to Egypt to attempt to convert the Sultan. Some historians have said that the Sultan, a nephew of Saladin, treated Francis and his lone companion kindly because he thought they were lunatics. There is a story in the much later Little Flowers of St Francis (and I’m sorry I don’t have the Italian) that the Sultan actually was convinced (possibly by a fire-walking ordeal proposed by Francis) and said he’d be happy to convert, but his own people would kill him if he did it publically, so it would have to be strictly hush hush. Francis said he quite understood and sent him two friars who later baptized him in secret. Thanks Invisible!!!