The Revelation of Jesus Christ by Anne Wentworth, an electronic edition. Edited with an introduction by Vickie Taft
- critical introduction
- Section: Anne Wentworth's Life and Works
collection: Early Modern through the 18th Century
|< Preface||Section >||Section >>|
Anne Wentworth's Life and Works
The only biographical material thus far available concerning Anne Wentworth is contained in her own writings, especially within her two vindicatory, autobiographical tracts entitled A true Account of Anne Wentworths Being cruelly, unjustly, and unchristianly dealt with by some of those people called Anabaptists... (1676) and A Vindication of Anne Wentworth...(1677), and within several of her letters collected in the Calendar of State Papers Domestic. In these texts, Wentworth focuses on the events of her prophetic life, which begins at the age of forty, and relates little about her prior life. For instance, she never mentions her childhood, her maiden name, her husband's occupation, or her social status. Nor does she narrate any particular events which occurred in her life before her reception of a prophetic voice. However, Wentworth does not leave readers without the means to outline the key events of her earlier life. For instance, in the course of discussing her prophetic life, Wentworth indirectly provides several clues about her birth date, marriage date, and the date she gave birth to her daughter. In A true Account , Wentworth says that she was forty-years-old at the time God first visited her in 1670, which would indicate that she was born in approximately 1630 (A true Account 16, C1 verso). In this same tract, two of Wentworth's statements indicate that she married Mr. Wentworth either in 1652 or in 1653: first, she says that she was married for 18 years at the time of God's visitation in 1670, which suggests that she married her husband in 1652 (A true Account, 9-10, B2 recto & verso); second, she says that she has been married for twenty-three years at the time of the publication of the tract in 1676, which suggests that she married him in 1653 (A true Account, 7, B1 recto). Finally, Wentworth indirectly suggests that she gave birth sometime after the mid-1660s by referring to her daughter as a "child" in a letter dated 1677 (CSPD 435). She makes no mention of having given birth to other children in any of her extant writings.
Though Wentworth generally only gives sparing and indirect information about her pre-prophetic life in her texts, she provides a detailed description of her relationship with her husband during these earlier years. Specifically, in A true Account, she describes her husband as a tyrant to whom she constantly deferred and her marriage as an 18-year-long punishment which God inflicted upon her:
By the end of this 18-year-long "scourge," presumably meted out by God because of her lack of true faith in Him (A true Account 14, B4 verso), she lay at the point of death, suffering from acute sorrow and depression:
At this point, the Lord came and "restored" her, filled her with pure faith in Him, and chose her to be his prophet (A true Account 9, B2 recto). Wentworth, then, describes her marriage prior to her conversion and the acquisition of her prophetic powers as nearly fatal.
As aforementioned, Wentworth dates her healing and her reception of a prophetic voice as occurring on January 3, 1670 (A true Account 10, B2 verso). However, she did not publish her first tract of vindicatory, prophetic writing until 1676. Wentworth explains that the cause of this delay was her need to practice her writing skills: "And he [Christ] afterwards revealed to me, that it must be seven years before I could perfect that writing, and the Lord would bring forth his end in all this" (A Vindication 12, B2 verso-brackets added). Having learned the craft of writing six or seven years after her healing, Wentworth began to release her work for publication. In 1676 and 1677, A true Account and A Vindication of Anne Wentworth were published respectively; in both of these tracts, she tries to justify her prophetic voice as genuine, narrates the persecution inflicted upon her because of her prophetic activity, and predicts the imminent coming of the Apocalypse. Her tract entitled England's spiritual pill may have appeared in 1678, but its publication date is uncertain, and, because copies of it are only located at the University of Edinburgh, this critic has not yet been able to determine its contents. In 1679, The Revelation of Jesus Christ was published, a text in which Wentworth records the actual words Christ supposedly spoke to her during the course of the years 1677 to 1679.
Wentworth's failure to publish from 1670 to 1676, however, did not cause her prophetic activity to go unnoticed during these years. Wentworth claims that her husband and his fellow Anabaptist brethren began to persecute her at the time of her healing and only intensified their abusive behavior towards her as the years passed. Moreover, Wentworth, who was once an Anabaptist, probably exacerbated the Anabaptists' animosity towards her by leaving their Church sometime after receiving her prophetic voice (The Revelation 19). The first instance of persecution by the Anabaptists which Wentworth narrates occurred on February 13, 1673, when her husband brought three other Anabaptists home to intimidate her into ceasing to prophesy (A true Account 16, C1 verso & 17, C2 recto). At some point thereafter, presumably because the Anabaptists' threats were ineffective, two of her husband's brethren named Thomas Hicks and William Dix drew up a "bill of charge" against her in which they accused Wentworth of "misbehaviour in life and conversation" and "neglect of duty to their brother, in not obeying him" (A true Account, 16, C1 verso). Though Wentworth does not specifically note the consequences of these charges, they may have contributed to her being declared a "Heathen" and a "Publican" by the Anabaptist Church (A Vindication 1, A1 recto).
The height of Wentworth's persecution occurred in 1677 and corresponded with the height of her publicity as a prophet. Besides having published A true Account in 1676, Wentworth wrote letters in July 1677 to King Charles II and to the Lord Mayor of London informing them of the coming of the Apocalypse before New Year's Day, 1678 (CSPD 1677, 279-80). Wentworth's relation of her prophecies to such highly public, powerful figures may have been the event that caused her husband to engage three of Wentworth's cousins to remove her forcibly from her house in Midsummer 1677 (The Revelation 26). Letters written from October to December 1677 by Thomas Barnes, who was probably an informant for the King, to an unknown addressee in the government suggest that Wentworth's prophecies spread throughout London at least throughout the Fall of 1677, but may have suffered a decline in popularity by December of that year. In a letter dated October 21, 1677, Barnes writes, "The predictions of Mrs. A. W[entworth] are to be heard next week by some in town. Several papers are dispersed about it, which, as soon as I can get, I may send. There is much talk of it" (CSPD 1677, 411). In a letter dated November 30, 1677, Barnes indicates that former supporters of Wentworth were becoming skeptical of her apocalyptic predictions: "Our friend Mrs. A. Wen[tworth1/4s] friends begin to decline her predictions and her too; because she cannot or will not be positive when and what the great things she wrote about to the King will be. Some considerable and otherwise ingenious persons were much affected with it at the first" (CSPD 1677, 478). Nevertheless, Barnes indicates that Wentworth's prophecies were still being taken seriously by at least some of the London populous when he says in a letter dated December 26, 1677, "Some printed papers are out about Anne Wentworth's predictions and more to come. If you please to have any of them, I can send them. But 300 of the first are printed" (CSPD 1677, 529).
As Wentworth's prophecies were spreading throughout London in the Fall of 1677, her husband's wrath seems to have been growing. In a letter dated October 1677 and addressed to "dear Christian friends," Wentworth claims that mortal fear of her husband and her wish to write a vindication of her prophetic activities had driven her into hiding with her daughter:
Besides suffering possible physical and definite emotional abuse by her husband in the latter half of 1677, Wentworth indicates in the same letter that she also suffered the loss of "two books" which she had written during "six years' labour" and which had been seized by her "enemies" (CSPD 1677, 434-35). These "enemies" included her husband to whom Wentworth's friends petitioned in October 1677 for a return of her writings; specifically, her friends requested that the following items be returned:
2. A little book with a painted red cover having 8 or 9 titles with a prayer of faith to show my wrestling with God till I prevailed.
3. A paper of verses dated 22 Sept. (CSPD 1677, 436).
No evidence exists that suggests the length of Wentworth's period of actual hiding. However, the author of the conclusion to The Revelation claims that Wentworth was finally able to return to her house in Midsummer 1679, which indicates that she had ceased to fear her husband's wrath by then (The Revelation 26). Wentworth's return, though, did not signal a reconciliation with her husband; as she indicates in The Revelation: "...he [her husband] takes no care of me, nor once looks after me these almost two years" (The Revelation 25). The author of the conclusion to The Revelation claims that the Lord, rather than her husband, provided for Wentworth:
Other than Wentworth's readmission to her house in 1679, little can be discerned about the events of her life after 1677. Her name no longer appears in any letters in the Calendar of State Papers Domestic. Most of the autobiographical references she makes in her 1679 tract The Revelation concern the events of 1677. One can only speculate that, when Wentworth's prophecy that the Apocalypse would arrive before New Year's Day, 1678, failed to be fulfilled, her popularity as a prophet declined. As Barnes' November 30, 1677, letter indicates, her supporters were becoming skeptical of her prophetic powers even before the New Year arrived and it became obvious that her prediction was erroneous. However, it seems as though Wentworth maintained at least some support for her prophetic activities until at least 1679. Someone, for instance, had to finance Wentworth's domestic costs after her husband ceased to support her in 1677. Someone, who is named only as a "Friend in love to Souls" on the title page, also financed the printing of The Revelation in 1679. No trace of Wentworth or her prophetic activities after 1679 has been uncovered, however. Though the author to the concluding material of The Revelation says that a larger version of this tract "is making ready to be published," there is no indication that it ever was. Whether Wentworth's voice fell silent after 1679 because of her lack of support or whether she died before she could finish her larger version of The Revelation is unknown.