George Fox and the Origins of Quakerism
In the tercentenary year of the death of the founder of the Society of Friends, Michael Mullett takes a look at the outlook and achievement of a man to whom 'all things were new'.
The Quaker founder George Fox was born in Fenny Drayton in Leicestershire in 1626. His religious background was that of the highly developed 'godly' English Protestantism which came to maturity under Queen Elizabeth. In his autobiographical Journal, an account of his spiritual travail and subsequent missionary and organisational work, Fox paid tribute to his deeply pious parents. Of his father Christopher, George wrote, 'he was by profession a weaver, an honest man; and there was a seed of God in him. The neighbours called him Righteous Christer'. The description is more than a little patronising – 'there was a seed of God in him' – and it sheds little light on the family's economic circumstances: 'weaver' could mean anything from an operative, depending on a system of distribution for his livelihood, to a sizeable entrepreneur. Evidence – such as a surviving nineteenth-century photograph of the Fox's Fenny Drayton home – would suggest a family of the industrious, self-reliant 'middling' stratum of early modern society – the very sector from which so many Quaker converts were later recruited.