Not just for Harry Potter?
This is simply an example of what happens when one finds a scrap of information and follows it.
"Muggletonians — A religious sect which arose in England about the year 1657; so denomiated from their leader Lodowick Muggleton, a journeyman taylor, who with his associate Reeves, setup for great prophets, pretending, it is said, to have an absolute powe of saving or damning who they pleased; and giving out that they were two of the last witnesses of God that should appear before the end of the world."
It caught my eye because I invented the Cotterites in my novel Secrets of the Night, but also because it's such an uninspirational name. I was surprised that the Muggletonians were still living in someone's memory in the 1770s, but it turns out I shouldn't have been. They were a going concern into the 19th century, with the last member dying in the mid 20th.
Who were the Muggletonians?
The sect was formed after the Civil War by cousins John Reeve and Lodowick Muggleton who believed they were the "two witnesses" described in the Book of Revelations, who would preach to the ungodly world in its final days.
"Muggleton was arrested and imprisoned on charges of blasphemy in 1653. Both Reeve and Muggleton were sentenced to six months in Bridewell Prison in 1654 for cursing the Reverend Mr. Goffin who died very shortly after having been cursed. This was a widely reported event of the period that helped to spread the mystic of the Muggletonians."
Only six months for cursing a vicar to death. Those were the days!
From the above page we also have:
" Common themes of Muggletonians were: the soul was mortal; Hell existed within Man; no need for formal religious ceremonies. A private gathering at a local inn or tavern with a reading or two from the Bible, and the singing of the "Divine Songs" to traditional tunes over a few beers would be considered a "service". (No wonder it was popular!)
Curiouser and curiouser, there was art and science attached. Here you can see some very modern seeming astronomical images "based on planetary charts drawn by Isaac Frost, an artist and scientist associated with a Victorian sect known as the Muggletonians." Click here.
Muggletonians through the ages.
The Muggletonians found supporters in the countryside and in the factory towns of England, as I said above, well into the late 19th century. I found casual mention of them in a piece of humor written in 1710 and in a play of 1796. They apparently were great believers in blessings and cursings, and one was pilloried for cursing King William III. A very foolish thing to do.
An article in the European Magazine, 1783, claimed that the sect owed its escape from oblivion to the absurdity of its principles.
They even get a mention in Lord Macaulay's History of England. “A mad tailor, named Lodowick Muggleton, wandered from pothouse to pothouse, tippling ale, and denouncing eternal torments against all those who refused to believe, on his testimony, that the Supreme Being was only six feet high, and that the sun was just four miles from the earth.”
"A full understanding of the development of Muggletonian theology requires a study of the Muggletonians rich and varied hymnology. For a small sect they produced a large library of songs of thanksgiving, especially in view of their rejection of prayer and religious services. Their hymns were sung to popular tunes with two separate collections of songs being published, the very rare 1794 "Celestial Harmony, or Songs of Grateful Praise" and the 1829 "Divine Songs of the Muggletonians" This volume contains freshly typeset texts for both the 1794 and the 1829 collections"
That's a different picture to the drunken, ranting, cursing portrayal elsewhere.
Interest in Muggletonianism today.
"The aim of this web site is to encourage and support the study of Muggletonianism through:
- Explaining the history and principles of Muggletonianism
- The publication of a detailed bibliography of all things Muggletonia
- The publication of certain key Muggletonian documents
- The publication of Muggletonian studies and discussion documents as they arise
- Putting the entire Muggletonian library in print, available for purchase by all with an interest in Muggletonianism."
Anyone here heard of them?
How would you use them in historical fiction?
Don't forget An Unwilling Bride is out again now. No odd sects there, unless you include a follower of Mary Wollstonecraft.