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John Pendarves

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John Pendarves

1623 – 1656


(see long history)

John Pendarves, minister of religion, was a Cornishman, born in 1623. He took his BA degree in Oxford just as the Civil War was starting, and then served in both the Parliamentary army and in its navy as a chaplain. He arrived in Abingdon in 1644 with the parliamentary occupation forces, and, finding St Helen’s vicarage empty, simply moved in. He was later confirmed both as minister at St Helen’s and as chaplain to the garrison.

In the heated religious climate of the time, his position was as a Puritan who was more radical than the mainstream, but without being an extremist. St Helen’s already had a nucleus of such believers thanks to its last pre-war vicar, Edward Roode. Pendarves was soon in contact with a group in London who were setting up a new denomination, the Particular, or Calvinistic, Baptists. In 1650, he resigned from St Helen’s to lead his followers into this new religion. His new congregation included members from all over the Vale of White Horse, and even as far away as Wiltshire; and he set up a second local centre of the denomination in Wantage.

Pendarves was an able and charismatic man. He travelled throughout the region to preach his doctrines, often in competition with other religious leaders, and sometimes accompanied by a band of rowdy supporters. His great achievement was the Abingdon Association, a forum at which representatives of local Baptist churches over a wide area would meet three times a year for up to three days to discuss common problems and maintain uniformity of practice. At its peak, this united twelve individual churches.

By 1656, he was moving into a more central role among the Baptists, but died in London of dysentery. There was a new Baptist cemetery in Abingdon, and his body was sealed into a sugar chest and brought slowly up-river for burial. It was a time of particularly febrile politics, with Oliver Cromwell’s regime under fire especially from the religious radicals. The funeral turned into a great anti-Cromwell carnival attended by people from all over the country, with inflammatory preaching, malcontents gathering support and concerting plans for insurrection, and the security services noting identities and searching baggage. After three days, the town had to be cleared by a force of cavalry. It seems unlikely that Pendarves himself, always eminently respectable, would have approved of such goings-on.

The Baptist community he set up in Abingdon exists to this day.

See Glossary for explanations of technical terms.

© AAAHS and contributors 2013

(see short history)

The tragedy of John Pendarves is that his promising career was cut short by his death from dysentery in 1656, when he was only thirty-four years old.[1] Yet for a few heady years his leadership and administrative skills made Abingdon an important centre for a particular brand of religion, on which he stamped his own personality.[2]

Pendarves was born in 1622 in Crowan, Cornwall.[3] The Pendarves were county gentry, and a Samuel Pendarves had recently held the shrievalty, but John's father, also named John, seems to have been of a minor branch of the family. The younger John, with a brother, Ralph, entered Exeter College, Oxford, in 1637 as servitors: they would work their way through college as servants to wealthier students. Pendarves graduated B.A. on 3 March 1641/2, during the period of paranoid excitement that preceded the Civil War. Soon after, he took his name off the college books, so he would not be eligible for his master’s degree. This may be taken as a statement of opposition to the royalist enthusiasm of the university.[4] His activities thereafter are uncertain, but he will most probably have marched and preached with the parliamentary armies. For a period, he was a naval chaplain.[5] He appeared in Abingdon about May 1644, when the town was taken from the royalists. St Helen’s, the larger and by tradition the more radical of the two churches in the town, was without a vicar.[6] Pendarves took up the position, and was confirmed in office by the oddly-named Committee for Plundered Ministers, which was responsible for such matters. Sums of money were awarded him by the town corporation and later by the Committee itself.[7] He was also chaplain to the military garrison, and, from October 1647, was noted as minister at Wantage, where he may have maintained a curate.[8]

Once he was settled, Pendarves married Thomasine Newcomen of Dartmouth.[9] She was of a prominent Devon family, and was some four years his senior.[10] They had six children between 1647 and 1654; at least three died in infancy.[11] There were differences between the couple, and the absence of pregnancies after 1654 suggests they may have ceased to cohabit.[12]

Pendarves seems to have been too extreme in his puritanism for the liking of at least some of his flock at St Helen’s. The controversial pre-war minister, Edward Roode, had left behind a group of advanced believers, and it must have become obvious to Pendarves quite early on that his true place would be as minister to a separated or ‘gathered’ congregation. By 1649, he was in contact with the London merchant William Kiffin who was in process of founding a new sect of Particular (or Calvinistic) Baptists. In 1650, Pendarves resigned from St Helen’s and led his followers into this new denomination.[13]

The move will not have been simple to plan and carry out. On the one hand, there would be no reason to think that it would harm Pendarves’s long-term career prospects. Kiffin and his associates were wealthy men, well connected among the army officers who now held political power. The Particular Baptists, unlike the more plebeian General Baptists, were not seen as outside the pale of respectability. But on the other hand, there were financial implications. He would lose the income of his livings in Abingdon and Wantage. This would have to be made up. In 1649, the will of Richard Wrigglesworth, a London fishmonger, granted him £30 a year for preaching at set times in Abingdon and Marcham.[14] There was some arrangement with John Jones, a mercer of Longworth, who had attained a position of religious leadership covering the whole of the Vale of White Horse. Jones added approximately a hundred people from outside Abingdon to the flock from whose voluntary offerings Pendarves’s regular income would be drawn.[15] And it seems probable, though unrecorded, that suitable sums of money changed hands when the vicarages at Abingdon and Wantage passed to their new incumbents, John Tickell and William Ley respectively.

Pendarves saw himself as a leader and religious authority: ‘considering my selfe as in the body of Gods people one with you; though not so, in respect of a visible orderly Church, state and worship, wherein the name of God is greatly concerned’.[16] He was obviously a strict disciplinarian. Something of the atmosphere of his conventicle can be gained from a pamphlet by a disgruntled ex-member, John Atherton, The Pastor turn'd Pope.[17] Atherton had abandoned the Baptists in 1651, having been convinced by John Tickell to re-join the established church. He had then been formally excommunicated by Pendarves and ‘delivered to Satan’. It was the latter detail that aroused his religious fears and indignation. Atherton does seem to have been treated with deliberate discourtesy, refused hearings or granted them only in haste and at times and places inconvenient to him. Pendarves would have justified his autocracy on the basis that believers' baptism implied an enduring dedication to the only true church, and that apostates must necessarily be among those predestined for damnation.[18]

Further evidence of the atmosphere described by Atherton can perhaps be deduced from an incident that took place at a delegate meeting of the Abingdon Association of Baptist Churches that Pendarves had set up. At Tetsworth on 18 October 1655, one of the participants so far forgot himself as to say something funny (‘a speech … which savoured of some lightnes’), at which a few others smiled (‘not to be commended’). The meeting broke down into a flurry of ‘heart opening’ and ‘soule melting confessions’ and finished with the drafting of a letter to be sent to all affiliated churches warning them against ‘lightnes and vanitie’ and citing Ephesians 5:4 against ‘jesting’.[19] Some recent authors have insisted that the Puritans were not the sour-faced killjoys of contemporary satire, but it is a charge of which Pendarves’s followers at Abingdon must stand condemned.

Like other religious leaders of his day, Pendarves needed to divide his time between the promulgation of religious principles and the organisation of his sect. His great administrative achievement was the Abingdon Association, which at the time of his death had twelve member-churches and covered an area stretching from Andover in the south-west into Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire in the north-east, an ellipse some sixty miles long by about ten miles wide at its greatest extent. Later, the north-easterly congregations would break away and found their own association. The overall Particular Baptist organisation was a three-tier structure; the regional associations were under the general tutelage of one or other of the London congregations for matters of dogma or general policy, while themselves striving to maintain uniformity among their constituent churches.[20] But it was also open to individual clergy to maintain links between associations, and this Pendarves did in addition to his local activities, routinely during the last years of his life visiting the meetings of the West Country association and joining with its members in their correspondence and literary productions.[21] At one point there was even some talk of his removal from Abingdon to become minister at Kilmington in Devon, but nothing came of it.[22]

Pendarves was always an enthusiastic controversialist, and a frequent participant in one of the popular competitive sports of the time: contests where preachers of different persuasions sought to capture the hearts and minds of their audience. There was a notable battle of words at Watlington church in 1652, where the opponent was the moderate Jasper Mayne, and Pendarves was accused of bringing a rowdy claque of supporters who ensured that Mayne would not be heard.[23] Mayne deplored the abusive language that had become customary when different theological opinions clashed. It is not clear that Pendarves indulged in such language himself, but he certainly suffered it from his many other opponents. He was accused, no doubt falsely, of beliefs and practices that will have been extreme even in those disturbed times: 'you raise the dead, you cleanse lepers and cast out devils etc'.[24] His critics included local men, John Tickell, his successor at St Helen’s, and William Ley, who had taken over at Wantage; but he was also important enough to attract the fire of such heavyweights as the Quaker leader James Nayler and the Quaker champion in Bristol, Dennis Hollister, who portrayed him as lukewarm and insincere.[25]

Pendarves’s personal religion has been the subject of debate. There is no doubt that he was a millenarian, looking forward to the thousand-year age of peace and righteousness associated with the Second Coming of Christ, pleading with God in prayer to bring this about, and interested in the numerological calculations which several of his colleagues were using to predict when it would happen.[26] The question is to what extent he was involved with the Fifth Monarchy Men, a fanatical group who sought to force God’s hand by rising in armed revolt against the Cromwellian regime.[27] There is some evidence that he was on the fringes of the Fifth Monarchy movement, and keeping intellectual company with those who may have been further in than himself.[28] Yet he kept his own record clean, and seems never to have been troubled by Cromwell’s efficient security services. The life he advocated, and no doubt exemplified, was one from which a consciousness of the deity was never absent: God is to be ‘eyed’ continuously; we must ‘see God in every business wee are imployed in’. [29] God may be appealed to, even insistently: ‘make it your business to cry mightily to the Lord, even night and day, to give the Lord no rest’ until the coming of the millennium.[30] He preached separation of the Saints from a corrupt church and an apostacised civil government, and their distinction from the reprobate masses in dress and behaviour; but he is not known ever to have advocated disobedience or physical resistance.[31]

It was, in fact, in his death that Pendarves rendered his greatest service to the Fifth Monarchist cause. At the beginning of September 1656, in London, he fell ill with dysentery and died. His body was sealed into a sugar-chest and brought slowly up-river to be buried on 30 September. According to some of the numerologists with whom Pendarves had been associated, 1656 was the year that would see the return of Jesus in power and majesty. There was great excitement. For the prophetess Anna Trapnell, Pendarves had gone to plead personally at God’s throne for the coming of the millennium.[32] For others, he would be a harbinger of it, returning on the third day together with another recently deceased clergyman.[33]

As the date of the funeral approached, Abingdon filled with mystics and millenarians from all parts of the country, and, especially, with Fifth Monarchists who would use the occasion to concert their plans for insurrection and to recruit collaborators. The government’s security men were there in force, listening, raiding the inns, searching baggage for incriminating papers.[34] Every spare room, every open space, was filled with crowds listening to inflammatory and seditious sermons. Townsfolk were harassed as they went about their daily business. Pendarves was duly buried, but the jamboree went on for three days until it was forcibly ended by a troop of militia brought in from Wallingford. Arrests were made, and the town was cleared of strangers. The episode was ignored by the heavily censored newspapers of the time, but gave rise to a substantial pamphlet literature.[35]

The legacy that John Pendarves left to Abingdon was based on the strong leadership he had provided and in the stable community he had built up. His Baptist congregation remained, surviving the departure of the Vale puritans who returned to their own communities to be ministered to by their local preachers as they had been before his arrival.[36] Admittedly, some signs of heterodoxy appeared: the theory of the seventh-day Sabbath gained adherents, although their leader, Edward Stennett, soon left for Wallingford.[37] But what was important was what did not happen. Neither the General Baptists, perpetually questing for social justice, nor the strangely attractive counter-culture of the Quakers , nor yet the mystical dogmas promulgated by Dr Pordage at Bradfield, of which Thomasine Pendarves herself was a devotee, made any significant headway in Abingdon, even though they were all jostlingly present in Reading and the first two of them in Oxford. The religious situation in Abingdon remained a relatively simple one, and, at least until the Restoration, religious conflict was mitigated. Pendarves may well have died dissatisfied with his achievements, yet they were not negligible.


See Glossary for explanations of technical terms.

© AAAHS and contributors 2013



[1] It seems that an autopsy showed tuberculosis as, at least, a contributory cause of death.− Larry Kreitzer, ‘The Fifth Monarchist John Pendarves  (†1656); a victim of “studious bastard consumption”?’ American Baptist Quarterly, 23 (2004), pp. 281-289.

[2] For an assessment of Pendarves's significance in Baptist history, see B.R. White, 'John Pendarves, the Calvinistic Baptists and the Fifth Monarchy', Baptist Quarterly 25 (1973-4), pp. 251-71.

[3] Joseph Foster, Alumni Oxonienes 1500-1764 (Oxford, 1891-2), p. 1140.

[4] Manfred Brod, ‘Pendarves, John (1622/3–1656)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 20 Jan 2014]; ‘ … most of the sober and religious gospellers have left the university’ – letter of 3 September 1642, Historical Manuscripts Commission XIII, Portland Mss, Appendix vol. 2, p. 58.

[5] Larry Kreitzer, personal communication.

[6] A.E. Preston, St. Nicholas, Abingdon, and other papers (Oxford, 1929), pp. 116-7.

[7] Bodl., Accounts of the Committee for Plundered Ministers, Bod. Mss 323 fo.9; 325, fos. 4 and 5; 326 fo. 10; 327 fo.19; Lambeth Palace Library, Committee for Augmentations of Livings, Mss COMM VIa/1 fo. 5r; W.A. Shaw, A History of the English Church during the Civil Wars and under the Commonwealth 1640-1660 (2 vols, 1900), II p. 561.

[8] Anne Laurence, Parliamentary Army Chaplains, 1642-1651 (Woodbridge, 1990), p. 58; A G Matthews, Walker Revised (Oxford, 1948), p. 71.

[9] The dating is based on the fact that their first known child was born in Abingdon on 15 January 1646/7. This child apparently survived, and a second was born 14 February 1647/8. Thomasine evidently did not breast-feed. A third child died 5 September 1650, and a fourth 27 July 1651. There was then a live child 16 December 1653, but a sixth child died 5 August 1654. This child therefore is unlikely to have been one who died at birth; possibly there was an unrecorded birth in 1652. Abingdon St Helens Registers, (by courtesy of the Archivist, Mrs Anne Smithson).

[10] B.R. White, 'John Pendarves, the Calvinistic Baptists and the Fifth Monarchy', Baptist Quarterly 25 (1973-4) pp. 251-71; International Genealogical Index (microform).

[11] Abingdon St Helens Registers, (by courtesy of the Archivist, Mrs Anne Smithson).

[12] Manfred Brod, ‘Doctrinal deviance in Abingdon: Thomasine Pendarves and her circle’, Baptist Quarterly 41 (2005), pp. 92-102.

[13] B R White, The English Baptists of the 17th Century (2nd edn, Didcot, 1996),  p. 84.

[14] Preston, St Nicholas, pp. 116-7. Griffith-Boscawen, Endowed Charities of the County of Berks (1912), Vol 1 Pt 1, p. 37; Pt 2, pp. 1095-1112.

[15] M Brod, ‘Dissent and Dissenters in Early Modern Berkshire’, Unpubished DPhil thesis, (Oxford, 2002), p. 47; Angus Library, Regent’s Park College, Oxford: Longworth Churchbook.

[16] John Pendarves, Arrowes against Babylon (London, 1656), ‘A Word of Exhortation'.

[17] John Atherton, The Pastor turn'd Pope (London, 1654).

[18] John Pendarves, 'To the Reader', in Anon, The Prophets Malachi and Isaiah prophecying (London, 1656), p. 28.

[19] B R White (ed), Association Records of the Particular Baptists of England, Wales and Ireland to 1660 (London, n.d.),, pp. 141-2. They may have been using the Geneva version, in which jesting is ‘not comely’, rather than the King James version, where it is merely ‘not convenient’.

[20] B.R. White, 'The Organisation of the Particular Baptists, 1644-1660', J. Eccles. History 17 (1966), pp. 209-226.

[21] White, Association Records, pp. 72-80, 103.

[22] Kilmington Churchbook, cited by B.R. White in R.L. Greaves and R. Zaller (eds)  Biographical Dictionary of British Radicals in the Seventeenth Century (Brighton, 1982-4), III pp. 20-1.

[23] P. Bliss (ed), Wood’s Athenae Oxonienses, 4 vols, (London, 1813-20),

 Vol III, pp. 419-421; William Ley, A Buckler for the Church of England against …. Mr. Pendarvis.. (Oxford, 1656), pp. 23-24; Jasper Mayne, A Sermon against Schisme  (London, 1652). For other such contests in Berkshire, Fowler, Daemonium Meridianum Part 2 (London, 1656), pp. 20, 24, 52.

[24] John Atherton, The Pastor turn'd Pope (1654), introductory letter, unpag.

[25] Ley, A Buckler, esp. p.17; John Tickell, Church-rules proposed the Church in Abingdon (Oxford, 1656), esp. p.18; Dennis Hollister, The skirts of the whore discovered (London, 1656), title page and p. 25; James Nayler, An answer to some queries put out by one John Pendarves (London, 1656).

[26] 'Signes of the Times' in C. Feake, (ed), Mr. Tillinghasts eight last sermons (London, 1655), pp. 45-98; Anon, The Banner of Truth Displayed (1656), p. 47.

[27] B.R. White, 'John Pendarves’; G.F. Nuttall, 'Abingdon Revisited, 1656-1675', Baptist Quarterly 36 (1996) pp. 96-103.

[28] B S Capp, The Fifthe Monarchy Men (London, 1972), p. 115.

[29] Pendarves, The fear of God, p. 19

[30] White, Association Records, p. 79.

[31] John Pendarves and others, Sighs for Sion (London, 1656), passim; Anon, The prophets Malachi and Isaiah prophecying (1656), preface by Pendarves.

[32] Anna Trapnell, Voice for the King of Saints and Nations (London, 1658), p. 52.

[33] B.R. White, 'Henry Jessey in the Great Rebellion', in R.B. Knox, (ed), Reformation, Conformity and Dissent (Nuttall Festschrift) (London, 1977), p. 143

[34] Thomas Birch (ed), Thurloe State Papers (London, 1742), Vol VI, pp. 185-6.

[35] William Hughes, Munster and Abingdon, (Oxford, 1657), pp. 85-94; Anon, A witness to the Saints (London, 1657), p. 5; John Canne, Time of the End (London, 1657), p. 80; Anon, The Complaining Testimony of some of Sion's Children (London, 1656).

[36] Angus Library, Regent’s Park College, Oxford: Longworth Churchbook.

[37]Anon, Abingdon Buildings and People, (accessed 3 November 2013).


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