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Ranters were an English radical group which became prominent from 1649-54. Some have referred to them as religious libertines. Sometime known as "high attainers" and "high professors". The term was ascribed as a insult by their opponents.

Much of our information about this group is based on information provided by their opponents writings. The nature of any of Ranter organization, or the lack of it has been questioned by recent historians. Ranters existed, but a clear picture of them is still wanting.

Ranterism has its roots in the medieval Brethren of the Free Spirit or the Beghards, a 14th century heretical group, and the heresy of the Free Spirit. They also subscribed to the "Age of the Spirit" foretold of Joachim of Fiore (12th century).

Ranter, or Raunter activity may date from the mid-1640. The exact usage of the term on a contemporary basis may lack precision for today. "Ranting principles" according to Gerrard Winstanley (1609?-60?) denoted a general lack of moral values or restrain in worldly pleasures. Alehouses were common venues of Ranter activity.

English Ranter activity centered primarily around London, but other groups were active and spread throughout England. Ranters have been characterized as being quasi-millennium in outlook.

Ranters embraced the concept of the "indwelling spirit", a form of religious perfection. Whatever was done in the Spirit was justifiable to a Ranter. Man was fee of Sin and the Law. This was commonly known as Antinomianism.

As with others during this period, the very nature of religion was called into question. Everyman having the Spirit within them had no need for a risen Savior to wash away their sins. Heaven and Hell, the Resurrection and the final Judgment were all part of his Life.

Outward forms of religion were rejected. Even the Bible was not the Word of God. As everything comes from Nature, so should everything be used by all in common. These were common shared values shared by Familists, Quakers, and others of the period.

Contemporaries of the period often compared the Ranters and the Quakers as being cut from the same bolt of cloth. The Quakers were generally considered to be of slightly better quality.They both shared many of the same basic values. Early Quakers before 1660 engaged in radical theology of change.

Ranters and some Quakers of the period were known to cavort in the all together. Nudity in itself was not a manifestation of Ranter beliefs. The shedding of outer garments by saints, holy men, and prophets has a long biblical context. Shock value, the rejection of worldly goods, and all men being equal in the sight of God were common motivations to undress.

Nudity in all its forms was considered a major societal taboo during the period. Ranters and some Quakers paraded nude in public. Those who shed their clothing in public were not necessarily members of any specific sects.

The Adamites of the early 1640's were often stereotyped in the nude. These same iconographic images were later transferred to the Ranters by printers of the period possible to enflame tensions of the period.

John Robin, fl. 1650-1652 was a prominent Ranter leader. He became a stereotypical image of the period as a form of propaganda. Ranters were alleged to have engaged in wife swapping, illicit sex, and other wanton activities against the societal morals of the day according to their opponents.

Laurence Claxson (1615-1667), or better known as Laurence Clarkson was a prominent radical of the period. Among his many associations, he was a Ranter leader in Cambridge. His publication: A Single Eye All Light, no Darkness (1650) landed him in prison. His pamphlet was ordered to be seized and burned that September. He later converted to Muggletonianism in 1658. His publication: The Lost sheep found ... (1660) describes his own religious journey including those as a Ranter.

Abiezer Coppe (1619-1672), a companion of Clarkson, and who like Clarkson was imprisoned for acts against the public welfare, and his own radical writings. His publications: Some Sweet Sips of Some Spirituall Wine (1649), and A Fiery Flying Roll (1649) landed him in prison until 1651. Coppe had once been an active supporter of the London Particular Baptists in the late 1640's.

Coppe's writings show an avowed Ranter. Whether or not his writings express his own personal points of view, or are rather a reflection of the Ranter sect as a whole is still a matter of disagreement among scholars. There is no denying the radical nature of his writings, or their affect on the public.

The publication of the works of Clarkson, and Coppe in 1649-50 send a stir throughout Parliament. The potential rise of a Ranter antinomianism movement clearly frightened many members. The Adultery Act of 10 May 1650 was passed by the Rump Parliament against perceived sinful acts. The Blasphemy Act of 9 August 1650 was directed against the Ranters, and any who held their views.

Two other Ranter writers should also be noted: Joseph Salmon, and Jacob Bauthumley. Both writers represent slightly different points of view on Ranterism.

Between 1650-51, the London newspapers picked up on the Ranter movement. There have been charges of "yellow journalism" during this period. There was a reported incident, January of 1651, in the City of London at Moor Lane involving wanton behavior at a local alehouse. The subsequent arrests, examinations, and trial were publicized in the local newspapers as Ranter being related incidents. Interest in the Ranters generally declined after 1652. Ranter activity reportedly continued into the Restoration(1660).

Contemporary writings often portrayed the Ranters as prominent group of individuals, some with extreme views, and actions. The strange case of one Mary Adams, fl. 1652-76 from Tillingham, Essex is an example. In 1652, she called herself the Virgin Mary. She claimed to had conceived a child by the Holy Ghost, which she claimed was to be the new Savior of the World. A child was born severely disfigured according to the reports, and died soon after while Mary was in prison.

The actual numbers of individuals are difficult to estimate. Ranters became prominent after the downfall of the Leveller movement in 1650. After 1654, the sect tended to fade into the background of larger political issues.

As a group the Ranters may have been small in numbers, but they seem to have made up for the difference in perceived shock and terror values to the general public. George Fox, the Quaker leader, indicated that many Ranters were converted to Quakerism after the Restoration (1660).

Recent scholarly debate has called into question the actual status of this radical group. Ranters may have been used as a propaganda tool by other sects of the period is a recently advanced argument. [Ed. Note. See: J. C. Davis; and, McGregor, J. F., Debate (1993) Past & Present 140 ]


Primary Sources

[Anon.] The Arraignment and Tryall with a Declaration of the Ranters also, ... (1650) [ British Library: E.620 (3)][Thomason tracts; 95:E.630(3)] [Wing (2nd ed.) A3748] [ESTCR206376]

[Anon.] A Justification of the Mad Crew in their waies and principles, or, The Madness and Weakness of God in Man ... (1650) [ British Library: E.609 (18)]

[Anon.] The Ranters Declaration with Their new Oath and Protestation; ... (1650) [Thomason Tracts; 95:E.620(2)] [Wing (2nd ed.) S6087] [British Library: E.620 (2)] [ESTCR206375]

[Anon.] The Ranters Ranting: or, A true Relations of a sort of People called Ranters, ... (1650)

[Anon.] The Ranters Recantation: And their Sermon Delivered ... [ British Library: E.620 (10)]

[Anon.] The Ranters Religion, or, A faithfull and infallible Narrative oftheir damnable and diobolical opinions, ... (1650) [British Library: E.619 (8)] [Thomason Tracts; 95:E.619(8)] [Wing (2nd ed.) R253] [ESTCR206367]

[Anon.] The Rovting of the Ranters being a full relation of their uncivil carriages, and blasphemous words and actions at their mad meetings, ... (1650) [British Library: E.616 (9)][Thomason Tracts; 94:E.616(9)] [Wing (2nd ed. R2055] [ESTCR203427]

[Anon.] Hell broke loose, or, the notorious design of the wicked Ranters, discovered on Sunday last at Black-Freyers. [1651] [EEb, 1640-1700; 2430:2] [Wing (CD-ROM, 1996) H1379] [ESTCR231010]

[Anon.] The Ranters creed being a true copie of the examinations of a blasphemous sort of people, commonly called ranters, whose names are herein particularised, together with the name of their pretended Gold almighty, and their false prophet ... (1651) [EEb, 1641-1700; 1044:2] [Wing R250]

[Anon.] The Ranters reasons resolved to nothing, or, The fustification instread of the justification of the mad crew... (1651) [Wing B251a]

[Anon.] Strange Nevves fron Newgate and the Old-Baily: The Proofs, Examinations, Declarations, Indictments, Convictions, and confessions of I. Collins, and T. Reeve, two of the Ranters taken in More-lane, ... (1651) [British Library: E.622 (3)] [Thomason Tracts; 95:E.622(3)] [Wing (2nd ed.) S5897] [ESTCR206429]

[Anon.] Strange news from Newgate, or, A relation how the ghost of Colledge the Protestant-joyner appeared to Hone the joyner since his condemnation being a account of the whole discourse that past between them (1683) [EEb, 1641-1700; 802:22] [Wing S5898]

[Anon.] The Ranters Monster: Being a true Relation of one Mary Adams, living at Tillingham in Essex, who named herself herself the Virgin Mary(1652) [British Library: E.658 (6)] [Thomason Tracts; 101:E.658(6)] [Wing (2nd ed.) R251] [ESTCR206673]

[Anon.] St. Mary, Whitehapel. May 19, 1788. Sir, you are most earnestly requested to attend the church to-morrow morning, to elect and chuse forty trustees for the year ensuing; and to consider of a proper mode of turning out all atheists, diests, Wesleys, Methodists, free-thinkers, Quakers, ... ranters, bawlers, canters, ... [1788] [ESTCT192843]

Barclay, Robert, 1648-1690. The anarchy of the ranters, and other libertines, ... (1717) [18th century; reel 4138, no. 01] [ESTCT120647]

______. [Another ed.] (1726) [ESTCT64167]

______. [Another ed.] (1733) [ESTCT64166]

______. [Another ed.] (1757) [18th century; reel 9906, no. 09] [ESTCW18482]

______. [Another ed.] (1770) [ESTCW18483]

______. and Penn, William, 1644-1718 . [Another ed.] To which is added, A brief examination and state of liberty spiritual, ... By William Penn. (1771) [18th century; reel 5643, no. 11] [ESTCT60237]

______. A treatise on Christian discipline, formerly published by Robery Barclay, under the title of The anarchy of the ranters, and other libertines [1771]

______. [Another ed.] [1790?] [ESTCT149153]

______. and Penn, William 1644-1718.

Bauthumley, Jacob. The Light and Dark Sides of God, Or a plain and brief DISCOURSE, or ... (1650) [British Library: E.1353 (2)] [Thomason Tracts; 178:E.1353(2)] [Wing (2nd ed., 1994) B1165A] [ESTCR209427]

______. [Another ed.] (1650). [EEb, 1641-1700; 1632:65][Wing B1165B]

Baxter, Richard, 1615-1691. Plain Scripture Proof of Infant Church Membership (1653)

Burthall, Raunce. An old bridle for a vvilde asse-colt. [Thomason Tracts; 94:E.615(9)] [Wing (2nd ed.) B6147] [ESTCR106546]

Clarkson, Laurence, 1615-1667. A Single Eye All Light, no Darkness; or Light and Darkness One ... (1650) [British Library: E.614 (1)]

______. The Lost Sheep Found; or, The Prodigal returns to the Fathers house, after many a sad and weary Journey through many Religious Countreys, ... (1660) [EEb, 1641-1700 : 1523:19] [Wing C4580]

Coppe, Abiezer, 1619-1672. Some Sweet Sips of Some Spirituall Wine, sweetly and freely dropping from one cluster of Grapes, brought between two upon a Staffe from Spiritual Canaan (the Land of the Living; (the Living Lord.) ... (1649) [EEb,1641-1700 ; 683:12] [Wing C6093] [British Library: E.578 (13,14)]

______. A fiery Flying Roll, a Word from the Lord to all the Great Ones of the Earth, whom this may concerne: Being the last Warning Piece at the dreadfull day of Judgement. ...(1649) [Thomason Tracts; 90:E.587 (13)] [Wing C6087] [ESTCR206283]

______. A Second Fiery Flying Roule: to All the Inhabitants of the earth, specially to the rich ones. ... (1649) [Thomason Tracts: 90:E.587(14)] [Wing C6092] [ESTCR206288]

______. A Remonstrance of The sincere and Zealous Prostestations of Abiezer Coppe, Against the Blasphemous and execrable opinions recited in the Act of Aug. 10. 1650. ... (1651) [British Library: E.621 (5)] [Thomason Tracts; 95:E. 621(5)] [Wing (2nd ed., 1994) C6089] [ESTCR206397]

______. Copp's Return to the wayes of Truth: ... (1651)

______. To the Supream Power, the Parliament of the Common-wealth of England And to the Right Honorable the Council of State, appointed by their Authority (1651)

______. Truth asserted against, and Triumphing over Error. (1651)

Coppin, Richard, fl. 1646-1659. Truth's testimony, and a testimony of truths appearing, in power, life, light and glory, ... (1655) [EEb, 161-1700; 1864:2] [Wing C6094] [ESTCR215454]

______. [Another ed.] (1768) [18th Century; reel 1156, no. 08][ESTCT135251]

______. A blow at the serpent; or a gentle answer from Maidstone Prison to appease wrath, advancing itself against truth and peace at Rochester. ... (1656)

______. [Another ed.] [1763?] [18th Century; reel 3084, no. 08] [ESTCT135198]

______. The adventure of all things in Christ, and of Christ in all things. ... [1763] [18th Century; reel 3084, no. 09] [ESTCT135207]

Downam, John. A Blow at the Root, Or, some OBSERVATIONS towards A Discovery of the Subtitles and Devices of Satan, practiced against the Church and Truth of CHRIST, as In all Ages, so in these times especially. (1650) [British Library, E.594 (14)]

Dornford. Robert. Gospel-light, and gospel-life, in the saints conversaation. ... A discovery of some ranters lartely brought to trial in London, with their examnations. A word to all men in power. (1652)[Thomson Tracts; 175:E.13315(2)] [Wing 92nd ed., 1994) D1934] [ESTCR209204]

Farnworth, Richard, d. 1666. The ranters principles & deceits discovered and declared against, denied and disowned by us whom the world cals Quakers (1655) [Thomason Tracts: 126.E.830(14)] [Wing(2nd ed.) F501] [ESTCR207442]

[Hall, George, 1612?-1668]. The Declaration of John Robins, the false Prophet, otherwise clled the Skakers God, and Joshua Beck, and John King, the two false disciples, with the rest of their Fellow-Creatures now prisoners in the New-prison at Clarkenwell: ... (1651) [British Library: E.629 (13)]

______ and Digby. Kenelm, Sir, 1603-1665. The black and terrible vvarning piece, or, a scourge to Englands rebellion. ... the dangerous proceedings of the ranters ... (1653) [Thomason Tracts; 111:E.721(7)] [Wing (2nd ed., 1994) B3039] [ESTCR207217]

Hickcock, Richard. A Testimony against the People call'd Ranters and their Pleads and their pleads and a call or invitation of them to return to the Lord again (1659) [EEb 1641-1700 : 1485:9] [Wing H1918] [ESTCR31100] Hyde, Edward

Holland, John. Smoke of the Bottomlesse Pit or, A More true and fuller Discovery of the Doctrine of those men which call themselves Ranters: or, The Mad Crew (1651) [British Library: E.622 (5)] [Thomason Tracts; 95:E.622(5)] [Wing (2nd ed.) H2428] [ESTCR206430]

Hyde, Edward,1607-1659. A Wonder and yet no Wonder: a great Red Dragon in Heaven (1651) [Thomason Tracts; 179:E.1361(2)] [Wing H3869] [ESTCR209183]

[M., J.] The ranters last sermon (1654) [Thomason Tracts; 123:E.808(1)] [Wing (2nd ed.) M47] [ESTCR207492]

Reading, John, 1588-1667. The Ranters ranting: with the apprehending, examinations, and confession of Iohn Collins, I. Shakespear, Tho. Wiberton, and five more which are to answer the next sessions. (1650) {Thomason Tracts; 95:E.618(8)] [Wing R450] [ESTCR203304]

Reeve, John, 1608-1658. The prophet Reeve's epistle to his friend, discovering the dark light of the Quakers, written in the year 1654. September the 20th. [1660?] [EEb, 1640-1700; 1938:21] [ESTCR217554]

Roulston, Gilbert. Ranters Bible, or, Seven several Religions by them held and maintained, with the full particulars of their strange Sects and Societies; ... (1650) [British Library: E.619 (6)] [Thomason Tracts; 95:E.619(6)] [Wing (2nd ed.) R2006][ESTCR206365]

Salmon, Joseph. Antichrist in man, or A discovery of the great whore that sits upon many waters. ... (1647) [EEb, 1641-1700; 1129:17][Wing (2nd ed.) S413][ESTCR39105]

______. [Another ed.] (1648)[EEb, 1641-1700; 1046:15] {Wing S414] [ESTCR34048]

______. [Another ed.] (1649) [EEb, 1641-1700; 1535:23] [Wing (2nd ed.) S414A] [ESTCR32330]

_____. Divinity anatomized. Or, Truth nakely appearing out of its fleshly cloathing, and creature attire. (1649) [ESTCR231557]

______. A Rout, A Rout, Or some part of the Armies Quarters Beaten Up, By the DAY of the Lord Stealing upon them. (1649)

______. Heights in Depths and Depths in Heights or Truth no less Secretly then Sweetly sparkling out its GLORY from under a Cloud of OBLOQUIE, ,,, (1651)

Sheppard, S[amuel]. The Joviall Crevv, or, The Devill turn'd RANTER: Being a Character of The roaring Ranters of these Times. Represented in a COMEDIE containing A true Discovery of the cursed Conversations, ... (1651) [British Library: E.621 (7)] [Thomason Tracts; 95:E.621(7)] [Wing (2nd ed.) S3166] [ESTCR206410]

Stokes, Edward. The VViltshire Rant; or A narrative wherein the most unparallel'd prophane acting, counterfeit repentings, nd evil speaking of Thomas Webbe late pretended minister of Langley Buriall, ... (1652) [Thomason Tract; 103.E.669(5)] [Wing (2nd ed.) S5725] [ESTCR207024]

Tany, Thomas, fl. 1649-1655. My edict royal [1655?] [EEb, 1640-1700; 2557:10] [Wing (2nd ed.) T152C] [ESTCR232368]

Taylor, John, 1580-1653. Ranters of both Sexes male and female being thirteen or more, taken and imprisoned in the gate-house at Westminster, and in the new-prison at Clerken Well. Wherein John Robins doth declare himself to be the great God of Heaven, and the great deliverer, ... (1651) [Thomason Tracts; 97:E.629(15)] [Wing (CD-ROM, 1996) T499] [ESTCR206443]

Tilbury, Samuel, fl. 1650-61. Bloudy Newse from the North, and The Rantering Adamites Declaration concerning the King of Scotland, with their new League, Covenant, and Protestation; ... (1650) [British Library: E.622 (1)] [EEb, 1641-1700; 116:12] [Wing (2nd ed.)T1162] [ESTCR6387]

Webbe, Thomas. Mr. Edwards pen no slander; or, the Gangraena once more searched: ... (1646)[Thomason tracts; 55:E.337(34)] [Wing (CD-ROM, 1996) W1206] [ESTCR200835]

Secondary Sources

Acheson, R. J., "All Manner of Filthiness : The Ranters", in Radical Puritans in England 1550-1660 (1995 pap.)

Ambler, R. W., Ranters, revivalists, and reformers : Primitive Methodism and rural society, South Lincolnshire, 1817-1875 (1989)

Aylmer, G. E., "Did the Ranters exist?", Past and Present 117, (1987)

Cohn, N., "The Free Spirit in Cromwell's England: the Ranters and their Literature", in The Pursuit of the Millennium (1970 rev.)

Davis, J. C., Fear, Myth and History: The Ranters and the historians (1986)

______, "Fear, myth and furor: reappraising the Ranters" (English revolution), Past and Present 129, (1990)

______. "Reply", Past and Present 140, (1993)

Friedman, J., Blasphemy, immorality, and anarchy : the Ranters and the English Revolution (1987)

Hawes, C., Mania and literary style : the rhetoric of enthusiasm from the Ranters to Christophe Smart (1996)

Hayes, T., "Diggers, Ranters, and women prophets: the discourse of madness and the Cartesian "cogito" in seventeenth-century England", CLIO 26, (1996)

Johnson, G. A., "From Seeker to Finder: A Study in Seventeenth-Century English Spiritualism before the Quakers", Church History 17, (1948)

Jones, R. M., Studies in Mystical Religion (1909)

Lloyd, A., "On the Ranters" Notes and Queries 190

McGregor, J. F., "Seekers and Ranters", in Radical Religion in the English Revolution, McGregor, J. F. and Reay, B (eds.) (1984)

______. Capp, B., et al. Debate: fear, myth and furore; reappraising the "Ranters" ( 17th-century English religious sect)(response to J. C. Davis, Past & Present, p. 81, November 1990), Past & Present 140, (1993)

Morton, A. L., The English Utopia (1952)

_________., The World of the Ranters: Religious Radicalism in the English Revolution (1970)

Mott, A. D., The phenomenon of Ranterism in the Puritan revolution : a historical study in the religion of the spirit, 1640-1660, Ph.D. (thesis) (1956)

Nuttall, G. F., Studies in Christian enthusiasm, illustrated from early Quakerism (1948)

Smith, N. (ed.), A Collection of Ranter writings from the 17th Century (1983)

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