< Back

An Early Stuart Judaizing Sect

Henry E. I. Phillips

<plain_text><page sequence="1">An Early Stuart Judaising Sect1 By Henry E. I. Phillips, M.A. Paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England, Sth February, 1938. Lucien Wolf, writing of the pre-Resettlement period in his introduction to Manasseh Ben Israel's Mission, remarks: " Judaical sects arose, the members of which endeavoured to live according to the Levitical Laws, even practising circumcision. Prosecution for such practices may be traced back to 1624. Some of the saints, like Everard the Leveller, publicly called themselves Jews; others went to Amsterdam and were formally received into the synagogue ".2 The incident referred to in 1624 is quoted in the Calendar of State Papers Domestic and concerns a certain James Whitehall who was imprisoned in 1624 for preaching Judaism at Christ Church, Oxford. The State Papers note also another incident in 1635, when one Mary Chester was prosecuted for Judaical practices.3 These chance references have long been known to Anglo-Jewish historians. Now, however, evidence has come to light which affords conclusive proof of the existence of a sect in the early seventeenth century which observed Jewish practices and of which at least one member became a proselyte. The clue was provided by Thomas Fuller, a divine of the seventeenth century who produced a Church History of Britain, still regarded as a classic by students of ecclesiastical history. Writing in or before 1655, he says : 1 I must express my indebtedness to Mr. Wilfred Samuel, who was most helpful and painstaking in assisting me in the preparation of this paper. 2 Page xxi. 3 Cal. S.P. Dom., 1623-25, p. 435; 1635-6, pp. 122, 132. 63</page><page sequence="2">64 AN EARLY STUART JUDAISING SECT Now of the broachers of Judaism. John Traske was a principal. [Having been admitted to holy orders], he began to vent his opinions that the Lord's day was to be observed by Christians with the same strictness as it was by Jews, and that all meats and drinks forbidden in the Levitical law bound Christians to the same observance. . . . He reduced many souls by his tenets and his own wife amongst many others. For these he was censured by the Star Chamber but after? wards recanted his opinions ... he died obscurely at Lambeth in the reign of King Charles ... his wife could never be unperverted again and perished in her Judaism.4 Having said so much, Fuller goes on to refer to a pamphlet in his possession written by John Traske in 1620 and entitled A treatise on Liber tie from Judaisme. Unfortunately, the British Museum possesses only the frontispiece and introduction to their copy of this pamphlet and this carries us no further. But Fuller referred also to a work by Ephraim Pagitt entitled Heresiography for further par? ticulars about the sect and luckily one or two copies of this work still exist. It was published first in 1645 but care must be taken to use the sixth edition published in 1661, many years after his death, for here the editor has added some documents concerning the Traskists which had recently come to hand and of which Fuller had been ignorant. These papers provide a wealth of interesting material upon which the greater part of this paper is based.5 There are one or two other pamphlets which also discuss the subject, for instance, a short work published in 1618 by a Catholic divine who signs him? self B.D., entitled A Briefe Refutacon of John Trasse, and another by E. Norici, which appeared in 1638, called The New Gospel not the True Gospel.6 All these works both confirm and augment each other's stories, and from them the following brief history of the sect emanates.6a 4 Fuller, op. cit., V, p. 459. 5 Pagitt's information will be found on p. 161 sqq. of the sixth edition. The added documents contain letter to Traske's wife, a short story of Traske's life and Bishop Andrewes' speech against Traske in the Star Chamber. These documents will be referred to henceforth as Pagitt papers. 6 Both these tracts are in the British Museum. 6a There is already in existence a brief history of the Traskists based on the same sources, in C. E. Whiting: Studies in English Puritanism, pp. 314-6.</page><page sequence="3">AN EARLY STUART JUDAISING SECT 65 John Traske was born in Somerset c. 1583, had no university education, became a schoolmaster, was imprisoned soon after the turn of the century for what might be simply called extreme Puritan views, gained a smattering of Greek and Hebrew in prison, was eventually released, and, having contrived to take holy orders, came to London c. 1617. Here he met a tailor by name Hamlet Jackson, a believer in the divine law of the Old Testament, adopted his views, and then with him passed from an extreme Puritanism to an almost orthodox Judaism. This is, of course, not as surprising as may at first seem. The Puritan was an avid reader of the Old Testament and it was not a big step for an avid reader to become a literal interpreter. Cromwell, whose custom it was to adopt an Old Testament text for a battle cry, found it easy to be sympathetic to Manasseh Ben Israel. Traske and Jackson gained adherents, one of whom was Theo philus Brabourne : the others will be mentioned later. They preached that Sunday must be kept as strictly as the ancient Jewish sabbath, that no lights must be kindled thereon, nor must meats be dressed. Jackson, as we shall see, later went even further and demanded the seventh day of the week and not the first day as his sabbath. They also preached the observation of the dietary laws, abstaining not only from swine's flesh but also from blood. When they were in prison, they are reported by observers " after the fourteenth of March moone, to eat, contrary to their custome at other times, white unleavened loaves ". With some points of procedure they appear to have been unfamiliar and their observers heard them arguing amongst themselves whether or not the Paschal Lamb should be eaten with the unleavened bread. The writer of the pamphlet suggests that " the next yeare peradventure they will have profited in Judaisme so far as to sacrifice a Paschall Lambe also ". Incidentally he refers to the Passover as the "observance of Azimes ".7 That they were very literal in their interpretation of 7 The details about the Passover observances are from the Brief Refutacon noted above. E</page><page sequence="4">66 AN EARLY STUART JUDAISING SECT the Mosaic code is apparent from the following remarks in a letter written to Mrs. Traske which is among the Pagitt papers: . . . Hamlet Jackson draweth Mr. Trask to points of Judaism, as to the observation of Laws touching Meat, Drink, Apparel, Resting, Working, Building and many other matters. And thus, if there be a Law for doing of such and such things, we are, said he, to leave our own thoughts and other men's opinions, and follow that Law for the doing thereof. Upon which Tenet came in the observacion of legal Ceremonies, and one Law after another as occasion did minister itself; yea and much distraction was bred, so that it was not safe to eat, drink, to come into a house, to sit down, nor buy anything in a Market, nor to walk in the streets, for fear of touching others that observed not those Laws, and so was unclean. . . . Traske appointed four men to be preachers, of whom Jackson was one and a Mr. Hebden another. This had the effect of spreading the opinions of the sect and was probably its undoing. It is quite evident that many persons were attracted by Traske and his disciples and that the State regarded them as subversive elements. Traske was arrested and arraigned by the Attorney-General in the Star Chamber. On 19th June, 1618, he was sentenced " to be com? mitted to the Fleet, to be kept close prisoner there during his life so that he may not infect others and the Court holding that Traske is not a meet person to be any longer in the ministry leaves it to the ecclesiastical power to degrade him; he is to be whipped from the Fleet to the Palace of Westminster with a paper on his head ' for writing presumptuous letters to the King wherein he much slandered his Majesty and for slandering the proceedings of the Lord Bishops in the High Commission, and for maintaining Jewish opinions'?there to be set on the pillory and one of his ears nailed to the pillory and then to be burnt in the forehead with the letter ' J' for Jewish opinions, and to be whipped from the Fleet to Cheapside, with paper on his head, set in the pillory, and his other ear nailed thereto, then to pay a fine of 1,000 // ".8 William Hudson, a treatist of the Court, adds that he was also ordered to eat swine's 8 Add MS. C 303 ff 38v~45r in the Bodleian Library and cf. Calendar of MSS. of Marquess of Bath (Hist. MSS. Commission), II, p. 67.</page><page sequence="5">AN EAR'.* STUART JUDAISING SECT 67 flesh whilst in prison, an admirable example from Hudson's point of view of the Star Chamber's habit of making the punishment fit the crime where possible.9 This certainly seems a savage sentence. But the Government was undoubtedly greatly worried by the opinions which were being freely expressed by Traske and his friends, as, for example, Traske's own reference to Bishops as '' bloody butchers ", among other uncom? plimentary remarks. Bishop Lancelot Andrewes spoke in the Star Chamber against Traske, saying: '' It is a good work to make a Jew a Christian: but to make Christian men Jewes hath ever been holden a foul act, and severly to be punished ... he is a very Christened Jew, a Mar an, the worst Jew that is. ..." 10 A few days later, on 23rd June, Lord Suffolk, then Lord High Treasurer, was appointed a member of a commission authorised to banish Jesuits and other people with subversive religious opinions.11 On 26th June Lord Chancellor Bacon in his terminal speech to the Judges said : . .. New opinions spread very dangerous, the late Traske a dangerous person. Prentices learn the Hebrew tongue . . . You will not think what a number of foolish followers he hath in this town and some other parts and yet he hath not been long of this opinion. He and divers of them are in prison, but continue obstinate, whereby a man may see there can arise no such absurd opinion but shall find followers and disciples. . . ,12 There are also occasional references to the Traskists in the Commons. Mr. Thomas Shepherd, Member for Shaftesbury, Dorset, was expelled from the House in 1621 because of his attitude, savouring of Traskism, to a Bill regulating Sabbath-Day observance. The Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking in connection with the same Bill, said he was in favour of excluding altogether the word " Sab? bath " because of " the aptness of divers to enclyne to Judaisme as the newe sect of the Thraskites."13 9 William Hudson, Treatise on the Court of Star Chamber, p. 225. 10 This speech is among the papers in the Pagitt collection. 11 Rymer: Foedera, xvii, 94. Judaisers are not specifically mentioned, but see Nicholas's reference quoted below, page 69. Cf. the Portuguese merchants of London in 1609 who were suspected of Judaising and expelled. C. Roth, Short History of the Jewish People, p. 317. 12 Spedding, Bacon, VI, p. 315. 13 Notestein Reif and Simpson, Commons Debates 1621, II, 96; III, 299; IV, 377-8.</page><page sequence="6">68 AN EARLY STUART JUDAISING SECT John Traske found his imprisonment too much for him and in 1620 he agreed to recant his heresy, and his pamphlet already men? tioned embodies this recantation. But he could not live down his stigma. In August 1627 we find the Bishop of London writing to Laud, then Bishop of Bath and Wells. A Puritan had been executed for rape, and his friends had asked Traske, who was still in holy orders, to preach the funeral sermon. The Bishop of London forbade this and as a result the congregation all went out and would not listen to the deputy. The Bishop calls Traske " an unworthy person and a Jew ",14 Traske lived until 1636, becoming an Antinomian in his last years, but he bore " J "on his forehead to the end of his days. Of Traske's disciples we know that his wife, Hepburn, Brabourne and Mary Chester were all imprisoned by order of the High Com? mission, and James Whitehall was probably another sectary to meet a similar fate. Mrs. Traske was persistent in her beliefs until she died, either in 1635 or in the early 1640^, it is not clear which. She had originally been imprisoned because she refused to teach children on more than five days a week?she insisted on both Satur? day and Sunday off. She was shut up in Maiden Lane prison and was transferred to the Gatehouse after the Long Parliament had closed Maiden Lane. She would eat neither flesh nor wine, and her death is said to have resulted from her being persuaded in her latter days to eat " other things which made her sick ". "As she lived, she dyed, out of communion with all Christian Churches what? soever . . . she not only charged but indented with the keeper of the Gatehouse . . . that he should not bury her in any Church . . . nor in any Churchyard but in the Fields ".15 Of Hepburn we know only that he was imprisoned in the " Newe Prison " for " holding Saturday-Sabbath ". Brabourne remained in gaol and eventually wrote a " Discourse of the Sabbath Day ", which appeared in 1628, for which he was called " a Jew, a heretic and schismatic." In 1634 he was punished by the High Commission, but later persuaded to recant.16 Mary Chester, who insisted upon an un i* Cal. S.P. Dom., 1627-8, p. 281. 15 Pagitt papers ut supra. 16 Cal. S.P. Dom., 1634-5, pp. 126, 459.</page><page sequence="7">AN EARLY STUART JUDAISING SECT 69 Christian interpretation of " A virgin will conceive," was in 1635 persuaded to recant by Dr. William Gouge, rector of St. Anne's Blackfriars, and the High Commission allowed her to be released from Bridewell. Twelve months after her release she is reported to have relapsed.17 But what of Hamlet Jackson ? He had been one of the founder members of the sect. According to one of the Pagitt papers he had a difference of opinion with Traske over the question of the Sabbath. Jackson said that it should be the seventh day of the week, and he left England for Amsterdam. Whether he did so as a consequence of the quarrel, or whether in order to seek further information from the Jewish community there, or whether in order to escape the fate of Traske it is not clear. He may even have been expelled by the commission on which Lord Suffolk sat and which has already been mentioned. Undoubtedly some must have been forced to flee the country at that time. On 20th September, 1655, Marmaduke Lang dale tells Sir Edward Nicholas that the Jews in Holland " hate the monarchy and are angry for the patent that was granted by King James to my Lord Suffolk for the discovery of them which made most of the ablest of them to fly out of England ",18 and this must almost beyond doubt apply to Jackson and other disciples of Traske. There would be no doubt about Jackson's movements at all but for an obscure passage in an anonymous work entitled History of King Killers, which was published in 1720 to commemorate the execution of Charles I.19 Jackson was travelling once on the seventh day and thought that he saw " the shining light of the Law around him ". From then onwards the seventh day was for him a day of rest. He became invested with so much faith apparently that " when he was cast into Maiden Lane prison he doubted not but that the doors of the same would all fly open and give him free passage when he should think fit, but having put the same to the test he found by 17 Cal. S.P. Dom., 1635-6, pp. 122, 132. One of the Pagitt papers refers to Dr. Gouge and to the fact of her relapse. 18 Nicholas Papers, III, 51; quoted in H.S.Q.; Henriques, The Jews and the English Law, p. 119, and cf. above note 11. 19 Available in the British Museum.</page><page sequence="8">7? AN EARLY STUART JUDAISING SECT experience that his Faith failed him So Jackson was in prison too, but when and for how long we do not know. It is, however, quite possible that he, like Traske, had a period in gaol before the hue and cry began against the sect in 1618, or alternatively he was released from prison in order to be banished. The other documents certainly provide circumstantial evidence of his visit to Amsterdam. " Going in a short time to Amsterdam . . . he turned directly Jew. . . . He turned many from Christ some of which I knew, namely his wife (who with himself is dead). He perverted likewise one William Hillyard, somewhat shook one Thomas Whittaker, overturned Christopher Sands. . . ." The latter is said to have been in communication with Hebden and with Mary Chester and to have attempted to subvert many others in the City of London, among them a minister named Wright and his wife, whom he introduced to Mary Chester. He and Sands conferred with the Rabbis of Amsterdam and it seems that the latter suggested that they might remain what we now term Noachists, 44 strangers within the gate ", observing the seven precepts of Noah, but not being required to keep the Sabbath, which was only for the Israelites and not for the Nations, and, what was more important, not requiring circumcision. Sands was content to remain a Noachist but Hamlet would not; 44 he would be circumcised and so made a Jewish Proselyte And on this condition he entered the Jewish community and was permitted to keep the Sabbath.20 There is a most interesting and not unlikely check on Jackson's conversion. The Bibliography of materials for Anglo-Jewish History issued in connection with the Anglo-Jewish Exhibition of 1887 con? tains the translation of some very intriguing entries in a survey of certain gravestones in the Portuguese Jewish cemetery at Ouder kerke, Amsterdam. On 9th August, 1623, it appears, 44 a little daughter of the English Jew " was buried just beyond the confines of the cemetery in unconsecrated ground because the mother had not yet taken the ritual bath necessary for her conversion to Judaism. 20 All this paragraph is based on the Pagitt papers. The author of most of these papers has the initials T.S., and is described as "an honest citizen of London."</page><page sequence="9">AN EARLY STUART JUDAISING SECT 71 Later, on 30th May, 1624, " a little daughter of Abraham Ger the Englishman " was permitted to be buried in the cemetery itself in spite of the fact that the girl owing to her illness had not bathed, in view of the fact that both mother and father had so bathed. On 29th January, 1625, yet another child was buried, aged six months, and on 9th March in the same year the mother herself died and is described as " the wife of Abraham Ger the Englishman, called Sarah ".21 From these entries it is apparent that an Englishman had been converted to Judaism in Amsterdam before 9th August 1623, that he was a well-known case, being referred to as " the " English Jew, but that his conversion was so recent that his new name was either not chosen or not yet known. It further appears that his wife was converted between 9th August 1623 and 30th May 1624. It is apparent, too, that they were a special case. Haham Saul Levy Morteira himself gave the licence for the burial of the second child, while entries in connection with the later burials give evidence that the Gers were not well off and required assistance for the burials. The names Abraham and Sarah Ger are not surprising attachments for proselytes. When we recall again Jackson's story, that he must have gone to Amsterdam c. 1618, perhaps later, that he had discussions with the Rabbis and eventually decided on complete conversion and that it was he who was eventually responsible for persuading his wife to follow his example, we are bound to accept the possibility that Jack? son and Ger are one and the same. To sum up: There was a sect of Judaisers existing in the early days of seventeenth-century England and it was proscribed in 1618. Its founder members were John Traske and Hamlet Jackson, and 21 The survey referred to by the Bibliography is D. Henriquez de Castro, Keur van Grajstenen op de Nederl-PoHug-Israel Begraafplaats te Ouder\er\e aan den Amstel (Leiden, 1883), pp. 26, 28. The Dutch translation from the Portuguese is not entirely accurate. According to J. S. Da Silva Rosa, Librarian of the Portugeesch Israe'lietisch Seminarium Ets Hai'm, the original Portuguese of the extracts given in this paper are, menine filha do Ingres judeu, menina de Ab. Ger Ingrez, and A Molha de Abraham Ger, Ingres, chamada Sarah.</page><page sequence="10">72 AN EARLY STUART JUDAISING SECT among its disciples were Mrs. Traske, Mrs. Jackson, Theophilus Brabourne, Christopher Sands, Mary Chester, Mr. Hebden, William Hillyard, Thomas Whitaker, Mr. Wright and his wife, and prob? ably James Whitehall. There were undoubtedly others. Traske and his wife, Brabourne, Hebden, Chester and Whitehall are all known to have been imprisoned. Jackson and Sands and perhaps the others went to Amsterdam. The Traskist sect as such seems to have been short-lived. Those remaining in England were put out of harm's way and those in Amsterdam seem to have been allowed to mingle, if not to be absorbed by, the Jewish community. One of the Pagitt documents, written in 1638, does indeed suggest that there were signs of a revival at that time, and a State Paper of 1636 numbers the Traskists among other sects of extreme Puritans still in existence; but the story of any such recrudescence would not bulk large in the tumultuous days of the Civil War which were to follow. Even after the Resetdement there were Judaising Christians, as readers of Gardiner will remember22; while the Middlesex Sessions Rolls of 1649 refer to an Anne Curtyn as having been discharged from Clerkenwell prison where she had been punished for being " a professed Jew and causing children to be circumsided " [sic]23 The spirit of Traskism survived the untimely death of the sect. And there is surely an important echo from Amsterdam when in 1649 Johanna and Ebenezer Cartwright sent their well-known petition to Parliament. They were not Jews, but they had emigrated to Amsterdam and were sufficiently interested in the community there to suggest that the deed of 1290 be undone. 22 History of the Commonwealth and Protectorate', III, 216, note 2. 23 Jeaffreson, Middlesex Session Rolls, III, pp. 186-7. Incidentally, according to Dr. Whiting (op. cit., p. 316), " The Traskites?that is to say, the successors of the original flock?continued as a sect into the next century, though they seem to have modified their views. . . . They were also known as Seventh-Day men."</page></plain_text>