Millenarianism and Prophecy in Eighteenth-Century Britain

In: Early Modern Prophecies in Transnational, National and Regional Contexts (3 vols.)
William Gibson
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This introduction presents evidence that millenarianism and prophecy were much more prevalent in Britain in the long eighteenth century than scholars have previously recognised. There was a vibrant intellectual tradition of millenarianism, as well as one actively promoted by bishops of the Church of England. Millenarianism also motivated political activity and foreign policy from the Glorious Revolution to the French Revolution. Prophecy was also regarded as a serious religious activity and was advocated by leading churchmen throughout the century. This essay argues that millenarianism and prophecy reached deep into British society. They were experienced by the poor through preaching and widely read chapbooks. In communities like that of the “French Prophets” ordinary people experienced them in religious observance; and they were strong in Scotland and other parts of the country. Millenarianism was also a presence in the evangelical movement and in global missionary activity. Consequently, it spread with the British Empire across the globe. Finally, the influence and strength of millenarianism and prophecy can be gauged in the potency of responses to them. This chapter is a contribution to the view that millenarianism and prophecy were two important but unacknowledged features of British Christianity in the eighteenth century.

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