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Thomas Venner and the Fifth Monarchists


The Civil War threw up new men with values and ideas that separated them from their Tudor forebears: everything was to be questioned and everything debated. Thomas Venner was one such new man, born of the lower orders, bred in the fulcrum of the civil wars, reasonably educated, fiercely republican and deeply religious. Such men emerged from years of struggling with revolutionary ideas whilst in the army, which had itself become, for a brief moment, the revolutionary crucible.

Waiting impatiently for the Fifth Monarchy of the Apocalypse when Christ himself would reign, men like Venner gathered congregations and preached the coming end of the world. They were convinced by the signs of recent history and extrapolating from their own circumstances to the rest of the world that the End of Days was near. After the Civil War they had gained political strength and convinced many in the army, including Cromwell, of their position, but the various parliaments that followed failed to deliver the republic they demanded before Christ’s coming. They were to be disappointed in everything: with Cromwell, with the peace with the Dutch, with parliament and its lawyers and with the betrayal of the army and final royal restoration. There would be nothing left to do but give in to fate and admit the time was not propitious for the Second Coming or rise and make history bend to their will.

In May 1660, a preacher at Venner’s meeting house was openly preaching regicide, and on Sunday 6 January 1661, Venner and fifty followers, all dressed in armour, marched to St Paul’s and waved their manifesto, which declared for ‘King Jesus’ alone. A fight with troops left them unexpectedly victorious, but with little idea what to do next they retreated towards Highgate where they hid and trained, being well armed and ready for more action. There may have been up to 300 followers by this time but it appears only 50 were ever seen together. These marched back to the City three days later and fought a ferocious battle with soldiers where they lost twenty-six men for twenty soldiers killed. At least one woman wore armour in the fight.

The end of the rebellion came when Venner, his fury expended, was arrested and put on trial alongside fifty others. Venner and twelve conspirators were hanged and their heads placed on spikes on London Bridge. The Fifth Monarchists were almost finished, but they fought on in minor skirmishes during 1661 and more plots were discovered in 1662. Thomas Blood, the most famous and notorious renegade of the late seventeenth century was a confederate of the Fifth Monarchists, a believer in their doctrines and an active participant in their conspiracies and battles.

The dream was not dead and it was to reawaken in the likes of Tom Paine, Edward Despard, Arthur Thistlewood, Robert Wedderburn, Alice Wheeldon and Tom Wintringham, and in the apostles of Irish Independence, Physical Chartism and Social Democracy as well as in the national liberation struggles of the various nations of the United Kingdom.

Extracted from Restless Revolutionaries by Clive Bloom

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