Poole, Elizabeth (c.1622-c.1668)


Although documented details surrounding the life of Elizabeth Poole are few and far in between, most historians identify her birth year as 1622. The justification behind this date is that records at the St. Gregory by St. Paul parish in London show that Poole was baptized probably on October 20, 1622. She was the daughter of Robert Poole, a householder who had acquired a professional reputation in West St. Pauls. Elizabeth Poole the prophetess is not to be confused with Elizabeth Poole the heiress, even though it is only the latter who appears in the genealogic catalogues. 

When she was approximately sixteen, Poole had come under the influence of the Baptist minister William Kiffin. Against the wishes of her father, who saw Kiffin’s ministry as heretical, Poole joined Kiffin’s Baptist congregation and remained an avid supporter until she was expelled due to allegations that she had been engaging in immoral behavior. She migrated to Abingdon, Berkshire, after the town came under the control of the Parliamentarians in 1644. It had been speculated that Poole’s move to Abingdon was motivated by a love interest that may have been among the London troops at the garrison, however, there is not enough evidence to validate this claim as fact. She does not meet a lover in Abingdon, however, she develops close ties with Thomasine Pendarves, wife to the local Baptist minister John Pendarves.

Poole is a historically important figure because of her involvement during the political events of 1648 and 1649. In December 1648 the Puritan army had entered London and seized power from Parliament. The officers wished to form a political alliance with John Lilburne and the Levellers as well as come to a consensus regarding what action to take on the disposition of the king and the state of national affairs. By this time, Poole had already acquired a reputation as a woman of profound spiritual perception. Under the title “the gentlewoman from Abingdon”, Poole secured a fixed status in the Council of Officers and served as a consultant prophetess. This position granted her access to speak with the soldiers, either individually or in small groups, as well as access to speak in the Council’s plenary sessions.  On December 29, 1648, Poole described a vision she had in which the military, symbolized as an exuberant young man, healed the nation, which she envisioned as a sickly, feeble woman, of its illness. She claimed that the power of the military was divinely ordained and thus it should not be given up so easily. Many officers, including Henry Ireton who led the soldiers at this time, were pleased by this vision and praised Poole’s spiritual insight. Her vision was so effective that immediately afterwards, Lilburne presented a petition, A Plea for Common-Right and Freedom, which put in motion a plan to convert the Council of Officers into a national executive body. This plan never came into fruition, however, its inception shows how Poole functioned as an intermediary between the military officers and the Levellers. On January 5, 1649, Poole presented the Council with yet another suggestion, however, this time in the form of an essay instead of a vision from God. The paper argued against the execution of King Charles I by using the metaphor that the nation held a certain duty to its king like a wife to her husband. Unlike her vision in December, this suggestion was poorly received by the Council and when she could not answer questions on how exactly to secure an acquittal in the king’s trial, she was sent away. She never returned to the council, however, she published an account of this incident within A Vision (1648). A Vision is told in third person, suggesting that Poole was not only acting on her own accord when she was pleading mercy for the king. Most historians theorize that she was instead acting as a mouthpiece for the radical networks she belonged to, most notably the small, mostly female group, who followed the teachings of the mystical Doctor John Pordage.

There was no supernatural intervention during the execution of King Charles which undermined Poole’s reputation as a prophetess. She fervently defended herself in two pamphlets: An Alarum of War (1649) and A[nother] Alarum of War (1649), works of literature which featured writings from not only Poole, but from her associates as well. After the publication of Another Alarum of War, Poole receded from the public sphere as a prophetess.

Poole spent the 1650s actively preaching and in 1653, she became infamous for storming the pulpit of the chapel of Somerset House in London and preaching the innocence of Lilburne, who at the time was on trial for his life. Her actions became incredibly sensational in the news books and some even reported that she narrowly escaped being stoned for her impassioned message, although this aspect may be completely conjecture. After this debacle, Poole permanently relocated to London where she continued to gain a significant following. In 1668, during a government clampdown on underground publishing, Poole was arrested for illegally operating a printing press. She was imprisoned at the Gatehouse Prison in Wesminster and nothing is further known about her literary career or her death. 

 


Annotated Bibliography of Published Works

Poole, Elizabeth. A Vision: Wherein is Manifested the Disease and Cure of the Kingdome. Being the Summe of what was delivered to the Generall Councel of the Army, Decemb. 29. 1648. London, 1648. WorldCat. Web. 15. Mar 2016. Click on text below. 

Poole’s A Vision is an account of what happened when she presented A prophesie touching the death of King Charles... before the General Council of the Puritan Army. This is after the first English Civil War and the soldiers had been debating whether or not they would kill Charles I. When she came before the council, Poole, who at the time was serving as a consultant prophetess, advised the men against regicide. She utilized an analogy that the relationship between king and his nation is like that between husband and wife. Instead of execution, Poole advised the Council to figuratively divorce themselves from the king since he had failed in his duties as a “husband.” Ultimately, however, the General Council dismissed Poole along with her position against regicide. 

Poole, Elizabeth. An Alarum of War, given to the Army, and to their High Court of Justice (so called) by the will of God: revealed in Elizabeth Pooll, sometime a messenger of the Lord to the Generall Councell, concerning the cure of the land, and the manner thereof. London, 1649. WorldCat. Web. 16. Mar 2016. Click on text below

In An Alarum of War; Given to the Army, Poole again utilizes the imagery of husband and wife to relate back to the relationship between king and state. She declares Charles I to be an unsanctified husband unfit to rule, however, she also argues that executing the king would be unnatural because vengeance is the work of God. The text demonstrates that Poole was well versed in the Bible as she casually inserts Biblical passages as support for her arguments against regicide.

Poole, Elizabeth. An[other] Alarum of War, given to the Army, and to their High Court of Justice (so called) by the will of God: revealed in Elizabeth Pooll, sometime a messenger of the Lord to the Generall Councell, concerning the cure of the land, and the manner thereof. London, 1649. WorldCat. Web. 16. Mar 2016.

In her follow up to An Alarum of War, Poole addresses her detractors who ridiculed her previous visions and arguments against regicide. Poole specifically targets William Kiffin, the Baptist Minister whom she had once followed in her youth. Kiffin’s congregation expelled Poole on the grounds that some suspected her of lewd behavior and he continued to attack Poole’s reputation even after she left his congregation and began her role in the General Council. She denies all of his allegations and reaffirms herself as a true prophetess, attributing her powers to the “babe Jesus in me” (2). After defending her reputation against each allegation, she then envisions a violent death for the officers who dismissed her prophecies, claiming that she has already seen their “carcases slain upon the ground” (2). Sections of the book are written by some of Poole’s associates including Thomasine Pendarves.

 


References to Elizabeth Poole

  • Brod, Manfred. "Doctrinal Deviance in Abingdon: Thomasine Pendarves and her Circle." Baptist Quarterly 41.2 (2005): 92-102.
  • Gheeraert-Graffeuille, Claire. "Tyrants and Tyrannicide in Mid-seventeenth Century England: a Woman’s Perspective?." Études Épistémè. Revue de littérature et de civilisation (XVIe–XVIIIe siècles) 15 (2009).
  • Paz, Carme Font. ""Foretelling the judgements of God": Authorship and the Prophetic Voice in Elizabeth Poole's A Vision (1648)." Journal of English Studies 11 (2013): 97-112.
  • Trubowitz, Rachel. "Female Preachers and Male Wives: Gender and Authority in Civil War England." Prose Studies 14.3 (1991): 112-133.

 Elizabeth Poole on WorldCat

 A Prophesie Touching the Death of King Charles. Shewing many reasons against the taking away his life. Together with an Alarum to the Army ... 


                                         This biographical notice prepared by Ray Delva, Georgia Southern University 


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Timothy Whelan,
Apr 27, 2016, 11:35 AM
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Timothy Whelan,
Apr 27, 2016, 11:35 AM
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