Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Isaac Penington

1616 – 1679

Isaac was the eldest son of Alderman Isaac Penington, Lord Mayor of London from 1642 – 43.  He was brought up in a strict and rigid Puritan family, and was interested in religion from an early age.  In 1634 he was admitted to the Inner Temple and was called to the bar in 1639.

He became dissatisfied with what seemed to him to be an outward and formal religion. By 1649 he had become associated with some Independents (a loose coalition of political and religious radicals).  After this he went through a period of spiritual darkness and later became a Seeker looking for a more inward and spiritual religion.   He wrote much about this quest. In ‘A voyage out of Thick Darkness’ (1650) he argued that it was essential to wait for the Spirit’s light and in ‘Light or Darknesse’ he recounted his spiritual troubles and his longing for a more perfect righteousness.

In 1654 Penington married Mary, the widow of Colonel Springett.  Mary had also experienced difficulties with her religious beliefs and had spent some years trying to find spiritual satisfaction, so she and Isaac had much in common in a spiritual sense.  Within two to three years they came into contact with the Friends.  At first he rejected them saying
His reason trampled them down as a silly contemptable generation.
One day in 1657 when they were walking in the park an unidentified Quaker rode by on his horse.  He chastised the Peningtons for their elaborate and fashionable attire.  Later he sent two Quakers Thomas Curtis and William Simpson to visit them.  Then, in 1658, after hearing George Fox speak, Isaac and Mary joined the Friends. He wrote

Some may desire to know what I have at last met with.  I answer I have met with the Seed.  Understanding that word, and thou wilt be satisfied and inquire no further.  I have met with my God, I have met with my Saviour, and he hath not been present with me without his salvation; but I have felt the healings drop upon my soul from under his wings. I have met with the true knowledge, the knowledge of life, the living knowledge, the knowledge which is life; and hath had the true virtue in it, which my soul hath rejoiced in, in the presence of the Lord.

Their home at The Grange in Buckinghamshire became a hub of Quaker activity. They befriended Quaker Thomas Ellwood and made him the tutor to their five children.

Mary and Isaac suffered greatly for becoming Quakers.  Friends and relatives shunned them and they were stoned on their way to Meetings.   Between 1660 and 1670 Isaac was imprisoned six times because of his Quaker principles.  Throughout this time he showed a forbearance and even tenderness towards his persecutors.  When not in prison Isaac spent his time spreading truth by preaching and writing, and he continued to write even when in prison.

By now, his writing was often political.  In ‘Three Queries Propounded to the King and Parliament’ he reminded readers that in the recent Civil War God had overturned the government and empowered men of low estate and warned that it could happen again.  In ‘A Weighty Question’, addressed to King and Parliament he asked whether they had the right to enforce laws people could not conscientiously obey.

In March 1665 he was imprisoned in Aylesbury for a month for attending a Quaker funeral.  Soon after his release he was imprisoned again for refusing to address the Earl of Bridgewater as “My Lord”.  He was released after serving nine months, but was arrested again about three weeks later and held in Aylesbury prison for about eighteen months.  He was released after one of Mary’s relatives obtained a writ of habeas corpus and had his case transferred to king’s bench.

During his 1665 imprisonment their house was seized and Mary and their children were evicted. They found a new home at the much smaller Berrie House in Amersham.

His imprisonments had taken their toll on his health, but in 1672 he was able to witness the marriage of his step-daughter Gulielma Springett to William Penn.

Isaac Pennington died in 1679 and is buried at Jordans in Buckinghamshire.

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