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His hat was gone his religion was gone

I've been enjoying William C. Braithwaite's The Beginnings Of Quakerism To 1660, and I'm almost through. It'll be enriching this site soon enough, on multiple levels. Braithwaite provides an incredible (if dense) foundation, loaded with excellent quotes and amazing stories. The contrast between his perspective and that of later writers is more than a matter of style, but I think it's fair to say that his work is necessary reading for anyone who wants to pursue early Quaker history in depth.

I'm almost through the book, and nearly used to stories of Quakers being beaten, stoned by mobs, thrown into fiendish jails, mocked, put in the stocks, and occasionally executed. Still, this story of Ellis Hookes, who wrote (among other things) a Speller with George Fox, is stunning for its violent attempt at a conversion away from Quakerism:

The case of Ellis Hookes, who seems to have come from Odiham, in Hampshire, and became the official clerk to Friends, illustrates vividly the domestic persecution which befell them.

In 1657 he went with a letter to his mother, who was at Sir William Waller's house at Stanton Harcourt, in Oxfordshire. Lady Waller, a high religious professor, thought to convert him from his Quaker notions, and had him into her chamber. She took his hat off his head, locked the door, and rated him soundly.

He remained silent until she cried that now his hat was gone his religion was gone, and he could not speak, but only hum. Then he angered her still more by saying unceremoniously, "Woman, shew thyself a sober woman." She fell to beating him about the head and pulling his hair, saying that she was never called Woman before.

When she had wearied herself, the young man spoke a second time, "Woman, I deny thy religion that cannot bridle thy tongue nor thy hands," a speech that only added fuel to her passion. She commanded her man and her son to stand before Hookes and keep him up in a corner of the room, where she continued to beat him, and called for a stick, as her fists were sore.

After a time he said, "Instead of showing thyself a sober woman, thou hast shown thyself more like a beast." At this insult to his wife, Sir William Waller, who had hitherto taken no part, struck the Quaker down with a blow on his head, and they all cried, "Out of the doors with him."

He was thrust out and sent off, bare-headed, and deaf for a weak with the blows which he had received. Moreover, his father was written to the next day to have nothing to do with his son, but to turn him out of doors, which he did, though he must afterwards have relented, for on his death in 1672 he left him a considerable fortune.

So, there's something of a happy ending.

Still, let's look at some of the odder moments here:

  • 350 years later, we may be too cynical to expect that a lady would take this man into her chamber, take off his hat, and lock the door for the sake of a religious conversation.

  • Removing his hat is supposed to remove his religion. I think some shouting was involved, if 'rating' is like 'berating'.

  • Hookes offends with plain language on two levels, with "Woman" and the use of "thy" and "thou" rather than the more courteous language Lady Waller no doubt expected.

  • Apart from three sentences, Hookes barely responds to these provocations.

  • She beats him up and pulls his hair, and calls for a stick to keep beating him, with the help of her son and husband to "keep him up".

  • Hookes' final comment - which could fairly be taken as an insult for its (apparently well-deserved) use of "beast" - earns him a final blow from Sir Waller and ejection to the outdoors.

  • The beating isn't enough - they write his parents as well.

It's hard to imagine this situation today. I suspect that a large part of why is that there are relatively few people who feel they can safely beat up those they disagree with, but even so, it seems that even the angriest religious conversations don't reach this level any longer. That calmer conversational temperature may in part be the result of Quaker calls for and implementation of religious liberty. Maybe we learned a bit from moments like this.


"It's hard to imagine this situation today"? Oh, dear, no: I find it all too easy. I had friends who were kidnapped and "deprogrammed" in the 1970s because they were identified as "cult members". It wasn't so very different from what Hookes went through.

I am pleased to say that the "deprogramming" didn't work in my friends' cases. (They were not the type who could be brainwashed.) More to the present point, I am pleased that a court finally told the preëminent deprogrammer, Ted Patrick, that if he kept it up he'd be sentenced to prison.

But the whole thing was nonetheless a vivid demonstration that much of U.S. is no more willing to tolerate passionate religion of unusual sorts in the young today, than much of England was in the 17th century.

There is also the siege of the Branch Davidian compound to think about. Yep, another demonstration of cultural tolerance for wierd sorts of religion.

I'm going to stop here, friend Simon, because I'm starting to get emotional.

"Cult deprogramming" didn't really occur to me as a scenario for this, mostly because there isn't much context given to suggest that this was a set-up. He "went with a letter to his mother" to this house. Of course, in the 1650s, they didn't exactly swoop in with vans...

While it's possible that Lady Waller thought of herself as a "deprogrammer", I'd read this more as a random encounter between people who didn't really know each other, especially since they basically threw him out at the end, rather than trying to keep him around. That kind of encounter does seem fortunately rare these days.

Of course, the English government of the time was doing plenty of keeping Quakers around in miserable circumstances.

I guess I did not explain myself clearly enough! My apologies.

When you wrote, "removing his hat was supposed to remove his religion", I thought of how one of my friends, whose "cult" religion involved vegetarianism, was force-fed meat by the deprogrammer on the theory that this would remove hers.

When you wrote, "She commanded her man and her son to stand before Hookes and keep him up in a corner of the room, where she continued to beat him, and called for a stick, as her fists were sore," I thought of how my friends who were "deprogrammed" were likewise kept against their will, and if not beaten with fists, were at least brow-beaten with shoutings, pretty much out of a similar desperation.

My friends, like Hookes, were not kept forever, but ultimately released -- and in some cases disowned.

Does this clarify my reasons for seeing a parallel?

I see parallels in their (bizarre and broken) methods.

Perhaps I should have been clearer that my "It's hard to imagine this situation today" referred to the oddity of delivering a letter to one's mother and finding one's self beaten up and then thrown out for one's religious beliefs.

That's a very different situation from deprogramming, where the deprogrammers are hired, usually by people who know their target. I don't mean to question your stories at all, but rather to say that religious tolerance has reduced the level of violence that arises in the course of normal conversation.

I must say Simon, I'm sure we've come a long way, but I don't see the kind of angry to the point of violent reaction in the story as too hard to imagine.

I imagine that a few of the kids I went to high school with in northern Maine might get a similar reaction if converted to Islam and went home with a letter about it.

Angry to the point of this kind of violence from friends of the parents?

I guess it's possible, but I'd suggest at least that it's less likely than it was in the 1650s.