Posted on 2 December 2019
The Fifth Monarchists were a violent, short-lived, religious sect formed in the aftermath of the English Civil War Period.
A radical group of Puritans, they took their name from a prophecy in the Old Testament that said there had been four great empires (Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman) and a fifth would be formed by the return of Christ in the Second Coming.
Their manifesto entitled, A Door of Hope: or a Call and Declaration for the gathering together of the first ripe Fruits unto the Standard of our Lord, King Jesus, called for the abolition of imprisonment for debt, the end of the death penalty for theft and other social reforms, as well as for the overthrow of the monarchy.
End of Days
Believing in the Apocalypse, the events of the civil war led the Fifth Monarchists to believe that the end of the world was in sight. In particular, the Fifth Monarchists saw 1666 as the date that coincided with 666, the mark of the devil.
However, the Fifth Monarchists themselves would not survive to see 1666.
Rise and Fall
Like many of the dissenting groups of the mid 17th century, the Fifth Monarchists were part of a new wave of thinking that saw the established order being questioned, debated and turned upside down.
In 1649, when the war came to an end and King Charles I was due for execution, two Fifth Monarchists, Thomas Harrison and John Carew, were among the 59 signatures on the king’s death warrant.
For many people at the time the King represented God on earth. So with the killing of King Charles I, a vacuum of lost belief opened up. The Fifth Monarchists believed that the vacuum should be filled by making England return to the Kingdom of God as they envisioned it.
This meant overthrowing Oliver Cromwell as the Fifth Monarchists believed he had broken several promises made to the group during the civil war by Parliament. Two plots to kill Cromwell by the Fifth Monarchists were uncovered and broken up in 1657 and 1659.
After the restoration of King Charles II, in 1660, the new monarch wasted no time in tracking down and killing the regicides associated with the execution of his father. The first of the regicides to be hanged, drawn and quartered was Thomas Harrison.
In the aftermath of Harrison’s execution, a group of Fifth Monarchists decided to stage an uprising. On 6 January 1661, around 50 Fifth Monarchists headed by Thomas Venner (main picture), set off from their meeting house in Swan Alley, London.
All dressed in armour this was to be their final attempt to usher in the Second Coming. They marched to St Paul’s Church and waved their manifesto, declaring for ‘King Jesus’ alone.
A fight with troops left them unexpectedly victorious, before reinforcements swept in and most of the 50 were either killed or captured. Thomas Venner, and ten other Fifth Monarchists followed the fate of Thomas Harrison. They were all hanged, drawn and quartered for high treason.
After the Fifth Monarchists uprising, Charles II’s new government rounded up and imprisoned all kinds of religious dissenters, including around 400 Baptists and 500 Quakers.
A new era of persecution had begun.