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John Darrell

John Darrell, A. B.—He was minister at Nottingham, but a person in some respects of very peculiar sentiments. He believed, that by fasting and prayer evil spirits might be cast out of persons possessed. Dr. Heylin, defaming his memory, says, that he set up the trade of lecturing at Nottingham, without any lawful calling; and, to advance his reputation, pretended to cast out devils.* Mr. Strype, also, with a design to reproach the puritans as a body, observes, that when the open practices of the puritans for setting up their discipline did not prevail, some of their ministers had recourse to a more secret method, by doing something which looked little less than miraculous. They pretended, by fasting and prayer, to cast out devils; by which the multitude became so amazed, and were led so to venerate them, that they were the more readily inclined to submit to their opinions and ways. This was a practice borrowed from the papists, to make their priests revered, and to confirm the laity in their supcrstitions.t From these base insinuations, wc might be led to suppose, that some plot of considerable magnitude was laid by the puritans, to conjure the ignorant multitude into a belief of their discipline, and the practice of nonconformity: but all this vapour and smoke at once vanishes, and we only hear of the principles and practice of a solitary individual, in connexion with two or three others of less note, but of similar sentiments.

What wc have to say is not intended as a defence of Mr. Darrcll's peculiarities. He appears to have been a weak, but zealous and honest man; and, therefore, undeserving of the cruel usage which he received from Archbishop Whitgift and others. But because he was a puritan, and a sufferer for nonconformity, it will be proper to give on impartial statement of facts.

The learned historian observes, that, in the year 1586, Mr. Darrell professed to cast u devil out of one Katharine Wright, a young woman about seventeen years of age, living in Derbyshire. But the evil spirit afterwards returning into her, he cast out eight other devils, with which

shp protended (o have been possessed. Also, he wrote on account of these things at sonic length, and communicated copies of his performance to persons of distinction ; and, among others, to the excellent and pious Lady Bowes: " hoping hereby," says our author, " to obtain applause, and to accomplish other ends."* There is not, however, the Ic:ist shadow of evidence, that Mr. Darrcll sought after any human applause. This does not appear to have formed any part of his character, or at all to have entered into his designs. And what other ends he meant to accomplish, wc are left to conjecture. If the historian here designed to insinuate, that he intended to promote puritanism, and overthrow the church of England, it may be confidently affirmed, that his prospects were not the most flattering.

In the year 1596, Mr. Darrcll pretended to cast out many more devils. Among the persons who were on this account indebted to his piety, was one Thomas Darling, a boy about fourteen years of age, at Burton-upon-Trent. This occasioned a person of the town to publish an account of it, entitled " The Book of the Dispossession of the Boy of Burton." This greatly increased his popularity; and caused his fame to spread so much abroad, that he was sent for into Lancashire, and there cast out many other devils. Afterwards, upon his return to Nottingham, one of the ministers of the town, and several of its inhabitants, urged him to visit one William Somers, a boy who was so deeply afflicted with convulsive agonies, that they were thought to be preternatural. When Mr. Darrcll had seen the boy, he concluded, with others, that he was certainly possessed, and, accordingly, recommended his friends to obtain the help of godly and learned ministers, with the view of promoting his recovery, but excused himself from bein^ concerned ; lest, as he observed, if the devil should be dispossessed, the common people should attribute to him some special gift of casting out devils. At length, however, by the urgent solicitation of the mayor of Nottingham, he complied; and having agreed with Mr. Aldridge and two other ministers, together with about one hundred and fifty christian friends, they set apart a day of fasting and prayer, to entreat the Lord to cast out Satan, and deliver the young man from his present torments. Having continued in their devotions for some time, the Lord is said to

» Strype's Annals, vol. iii. p. 432.

have been entreated, and to have cast out Satan, for which they blessed his holy name. This was in the year 1597.*

In a few days after this event, the mayor and several of the aldermen began to suspect that Somers was an impostor; and, to make him confess, they took him from his parents, and committed him to prison; where, by the thrcatenings of his keeper, he was led to acknowledge, that he had dissembled and counterfeited what he had done. Upon this confession, being carried before a commission appointed to examine him, he at first owned himself to be a counterfeit, then presently denied it; but being so exceedingly frightened, he fell into fits before the commissioners, which put an end to his examination. After some time, being still kept in custody, and further pressed by his keeper, he returned to his confessing, charging Mr. Darrcll with having trained him up in the art for several years. Mr. Darrell was then summoned to appear before the commissioners, when sufficient witnesses were produced to prove that Somers had declared, in a most solemn manner, that he had not dissembled; upon which he was dismissed, and the commission was dissolved.

This affair becoming the subject of much conversation in the country, Mr. Darrell, in 1598, was cited before Archbishop Whitgift, and other high commissioners, at Lambeth. Upon his appearance, after a long examination, he was deprived of his ministry, and committed close prisoner to the Gatehouse, where he continued many years. Mr. George Moore, another puritan minister, for his connexion with him, was, at the same time, committed close prisoner to the Clink. The crime with which Mr. Darrell was charged, and for which he received the heavy sentence, was " his having been accessary to a vile imposture."t

Indeed, Bishop Maddox highly commends the conduct of these ecclesiastical judges, in this unchristian censure.

* Dr. Heylin, contemptuously speaking of Mr. Darrell*s pretensions, observes, " that whenever the conformable ministers visited these demoniacs, and used the form of prayer according to the established liturgy, the devil was as quiet as a lamb, there being nothing in those prayers to disturb his peace. But when Mr. Darrell and his nonconformist brethren approached, who used to fall upon him with whole volleys of raw and undigested prayers of their own devising, then were the wicked spirits extremely troubled and perplexed; so that the puritans, lest the papists should in any thing have the start of them, had also a kind of holy vattr, with which to frighten away the devil."—Htylin'i Misctl. Tracts, p. 156.

+ Strype'i Whitgift, p. 492—494.

" Any one," sajs he, " who considers the state of the town of Nottingham, will applaud the proceedings of the high commission." Then, in the words of Mr. Strype, he

fives an account of the state of the town, as if Mr. Darrell ad prompted the people to quarrel one with another; or, as if his deprivation and severe imprisonment were likely to allay the difference. " By this time," says he, " it came to pass, that the people of Nottingham were become violent against one another, and the whole town divided as they stood affected. The pulpits rang of nothing but devils and witches; and men, women, and children, were so affrighted, that they durst not stir out in the night; nor so much as a servant, almost, go into his master's cellar about his business, without company. Few happened to be sick, or ill at ease, but strait they were deemed to be possessed. It was high time," adds the learned prelate, " to put a stop to this practice of dispossessing, whether the authors were knaves, or enthusiasts, or both."* And could neither the Bishop of Worcester, nor yet the high commissioners at Lambeth, think of a more equitable method of punishing the contentious inhabitants of Nottingham, than by inflicting so heavy a sentence upon Mr. Darrell ? But Mr. Darrell was a puritan; therefore, right or wrong, he must needs be punished.

Somers and Darling were also brought before the high commission. During their examinations, though the former returned to his accusation of Mr. Darrell, declaring that he himself had, in what he had done, been guilty of dissimulation, the latter stood firm; and, notwithstanding the entreaties, threatenings, and fair promises of the archbishop and others, he could not be prevailed upon to accuse him, but maintained to the last, that the evil spirit had been cast out of him. It does not appear, however, that cither of them were cast into prison. +

The prosecution of Mr. Darrell led to a new controversy, when Mr. Harsnet, chaplain to Bishop Bancroft, and afterwards Archbishop of York, published a work, entitled, " A Discovery of the fraudulent practices of John Darrell, Batcbelor of Arts, in his proceedings concerning the pretended possession and dispossession of William Somers of Nottingham: of Thomas Darling, the boy of Burton at Caldwall: and of Katherine Wright at Mansfield and Whittington: and of his dealings with one Mary Couper

* Vindication of ihe Church, p. 360.

+ Clatk's Lives annexed to Martjrologic, p. 32.

at Nottingham, detecting in some sort the deceitful trade in these latter days of casting out devils," 1599. This induced Mr. Darrell to publish a reply, entitled, "A Detection of that sinful, shamful, lying, and ridiculous Discours, of Samuel Harshnet.* L'ntituled: A Discoverie of the fraudulent practices of John Darrell. Wherein is manifestly and apparently shewed in the eyes of the world. Not only the unlikelihoode, but the flate impossibilitie of the pretended counterfayting of William Somers, Thomas Darling, Kath. Wright, and Mary Couper, together with other 7 in Lancashire, and the supposed teaching of them by the saide John Darrell," 1600. Thesameyear, Mr. Darrell also published, " A true Narration of the strange and grevous Vexation by the Devil, of 7 Persons in Lancashire, and William Somers of Nottingham. Wherein the doctrine of Possession and Dispossession of Demoniakes out of the word of God is particularly applied unto Somers, and the rest of the persons controverted : together with the use we are to make of these workes of God." Mr. George Moore, his intimate friend, and fellow-sufferer in the same cause, likewise published a reply to Harsnet, entitled, " A true Discourse concerning the ccrtaine Possession and Dispossession of 7 persons in one familie in Lancashire, which also may serve as part of an Answere to a fayned and false Discoverie which speaketh very much evill, as well of this, as of the rest of those great and mightie workes of God, which be of the like excellent nature," 1600.+

Mr. Darrell, upon his imprisonment, published another work particularly in his own defence, entitled, " The Trial of John Darrell, or a Collection of Defences against Alligations not yet suffered to receive convenient Answer, tending to clear him from the Imputation of teaching Somers and others to counterfeit Possession of Devils," 1599. Also, while he was in prison, he published " An Apology or Defence of the Possession of William Somers, &c Wherein this work of God is cleared from the evil name of counterfeiting. And thereupon also it is shewn, that in these days men may be possessed with devils; and that being so, by prayer and fasting the unclean spirit may be cast out." At the close of this work, Mr. Darrell made the

* Harinet was one of the principal persecutors of Mr. Darrell, and wa» advanced to the bishopric of Norwich, as the just reward of this meritorious service. But our author, by mistake, calls Mr. Darrell a popish priest.— Dloomficld't Hist, of Norfolk, vol. ii. p. 403.

+ Biog. Briton, vol. iv. p. 8547. Edit. 1747.

following protestation:—" If what I am accused of be true, even that I have been accessary to a vile imposture, with a design to impose on mankind, let me be registered to my perpetual infamy, not only for a notorious deceiver, but such an hypocrite as never trod on the earth before. Yea, Lord ! for to Thee I direct my speech, who knoweth all things, if I have confederated more or less, with Homers, Darling, or any others; if ever I set my eye upon them before they were possessed, then let me not only be made a laughing-stock, and a by-word to all men, but raze my name also out of the book of life, and let me have my portion with hypocrites."*

While Mr. Darrcll was suffering in close prison in the Gatehouse, the productions of his pen were spread through the kingdom. His books found their way to the two universities, particularly Cambridge, where many of them were purchased by the learned collegians. This presently roused the attention of the ecclesiastical governors; when the bookseller was convened before Dr. Jcgoii, the vicechancellor, as will appear from the following letter,addressed " To the right Rev. Father in God, the Lord Bishop of London:"t

" Right reverend, my very good lord, my duty most humbly premised. May it please you to be advertised,

" A Detection of the shameful, lying Discoverie," &c. the other " A true Narration of the strange Vexation," &c. have been sold underhand, by a taylor, since Christmas last, to the number of sixty books, as the party before me hath confessed. To whom he hath sold them in particular, he will not confess: whereupon I have bound him here, with surety, to be forth coming until 1 know your lordship's pleasure, thinking it my duty to signify the swiic, knowing that D:irrell hath been censured for a dissembler, ana supposing that surh books come not out with allowance and privilege. The examination I send here inclosed.

" Jegox, Vice-chancellor of the

" University of Cambridge."

What further prosecution the poor man underwent, or when Mr. Darrell was released from his cruel imprisonment, it is very difficult to ascertain.

* Strype's Whitgift, p. 495. t Baker's MS. Collcc. vol. xxvii. p. II.