The Seekers Found: Radical Religion during the English Revolution – A study in their construction by themselves, their opponents and their historians

Smith, Philip Michael. 2020. The Seekers Found: Radical Religion during the English Revolution – A study in their construction by themselves, their opponents and their historians. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

With the abolition of episcopacy from 1641, ecclesiastical hegemony evaporated and numerous religious groups emerged and filled this void. Each advocated a unique position and believed they alone had the model of the true church. A bewildering plurality of competing models ensued and the emergence of the Seekers was both a constituent of, and a reaction to, these developments. The Seekers were spiritualist Protestants who met in small voluntary, autonomous and usually uncoordinated groups, following the congregational model of the gathered churches. They were unorganised rather than disorganised in their corporate structure and withdrew from organised religion, to varying degrees. Their size and influence peaked in England during the period of Civil War and interregnum known as the English Revolution. They drew considerable attention from hostile contemporaries who described the Seekers as a sect to serve the authors’ own polemical purposes. They have attracted less interest from historians who have described them as a loose movement or an intermediate phase in a spiritual journey towards Quakerism. Both constructions are unsatisfactory, and this thesis contends that the evidence best supports the characterisation of a Seeker milieu containing a number of related, but separate and coherent, spiritualist positions regarding religious belief and practice. Historians have not acknowledged the significant role that disputes with Seekers played in shaping the identity of other contemporary religious groups. This thesis aims to correct this by considering evidence drawn principally from the printed exchanges between different religious groups over the nature of right religion. The argument is focused on the competing constructions of the Seekers by themselves and their opponents including Presbyterians, Independents, Baptists and Quakers. Key methodological problems have included anachronism regarding the definition of terms and what respective weight to give to the various accounts of Seekers when they disagree, as is often the case.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Seeker, Early Quaker, John Saltmarsh, religious radicalism

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



30 November 2020

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

25 Jun 2021 12:15

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2022 17:19


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