The Muggletonians: A People Apart

Juleen Audrey Eichinger, Western Michigan University


Muggletonians were followers of John Reeve and Lodowick Muggleton, seventeenth-century London tailors who believed that they were the last two witnesses of the Spirit described in Revelation 11 :3. A dizzying array of religious and political groups flowered for a time in mid-seventeenth-century England, inspired by the establishment of the Church of England and the continental Reformation in prior centuries, and unleashed by the collapse of the English monarchy in 1640. Muggletonians were long considered to be heretics or lunatics, one example of the many religious eccentrics and fanatics who flourished in England during this period.

The opportunity now exists to reconsider this perception of Muggletonians. In 1978, the British Library acquired a long-lost collection of primary-source materials that includes Muggletonian tracts, letters, songs, and minute books from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries. These materials reveal the concerns of Muggletonian believers and document the evolution of Muggletonian belief and practice over three centuries.

Unlike other studies, this dissertation focuses on the concerns of ordinary Muggletonians rather than on the founders, and on the religious teachings of the group rather than its internal and external social relations. Furthermore, it notes Muggletonian links to the medieval heretical tradition rather than to the eighteenthcentury antinomian tradition. It uses the archived materials, in concert with microfilm editions of original tracts, to examine Reeve and Muggleton's claims to religious authority and believers' responses to that authority. It investigates the Christology, soteriology, and eschatology expounded by Reeve and Muggleton and believers' responses to those teachings. It identifies both the continuation and evolution of doctrine and practice among believers, particularly in the later seventeenth century, as they endured persecution by government and Church authorities, internal dissent, and the deaths of Reeve and Muggleton. It concludes that Muggletonians articulated a unique and coherent religious doctrine that set them apart from not only the Church of England but also from other seventeenth-century dissenting sects.