(c. 1622-1668)

Elizabeth Poole was probably born c. 1622 in London, the daughter of Robert Poole, a householder living near St. Paul’s Cathedral. She should not be confused with Elizabeth Poole the heiress, even though it is only the latter who appears in the genealogical calendars. At sixteen, Poole had come under the influence of William Kiffin, a Baptist minister who her father (an Anglican) believed to be heretical and subversive. Against his wishes, Poole joined Kiffin’s congregation and remained an avid supporter until she was expelled due to allegations that she had been engaging in immoral behavior. She removed to Abingdon, Berkshire, after the town came under the control of the Parliamentarians in 1644, possibly to pursue a love interest with a soldier among the London troops at the garrison. While there, she developed close ties with Thomasine Pendarves, wife of John Pendarves, the Baptist minister at Abingdon at that time.

Poole is of historical importance because of her involvement during the political events of 1648 and 1649. In December 1648 the Puritan army entered London and seized power from Parliament. The officers wished to form a political alliance with John Lilburne and the Levellers and reach a consensus regarding actions to be taken on the disposition of King Charles I and the state of national affairs. By this time, Poole had already acquired a reputation as a woman of profound spiritual perception. Under the title “the gentlewoman from Abingdon,” she secured a fixed status in the Council of Officers and served as a consultant prophetess. This position granted her access to speak with the soldiers, either individually or in small groups, as well as access to speak in the Council’s plenary sessions. On December 29, 1648, Poole described a vision she had in which the military, symbolized as an exuberant young man, healed the nation, which she envisioned as a sickly, feeble woman, of its illness. She claimed that the power of the military was divinely ordained and thus it should not be given up so easily. Many officers were pleased by this vision and praised Poole’s spiritual insight, presenting a petition, A Plea for Common-Right and Freedom, to put in motion a plan to convert the Council of Officers into a national executive body. This plan never came into fruition, but it reveals how Poole functioned as an intermediary between the military officers and the Levellers. On January 5, 1649, Poole presented the Council with yet another suggestion, however, this time in the form of an essay instead of a vision from God. The paper argued against the execution of King Charles I by using the metaphor that the nation held a certain duty to its king like a wife to her husband. Unlike her vision in December, this suggestion was poorly received by the Council and when she could not answer questions on how exactly to secure an acquittal in the king’s trial, she was sent away. She never returned to the council, but she did publish an account of the proceedings in A Vision (1648). A Vision is told in third person, suggesting that Poole may not have been acting on her own accord when she asked for mercy for the king.

Poole may have been acting as a mouthpiece for other radical networks, including a small female group who followed the teachings of John Pordage. The absence of supernatural intervention during the execution of King Charles further undermined Poole’s reputation as a prophetess. She defended herself in two pamphlets: An Alarum of War (1649) and A[nother] Alarum of War (1649), works that featured writings not only from Poole but also from her associates. After the publication of Another Alarum of War, Poole receded from the public sphere as a prophetess. Poole spent the 1650s actively preaching and in 1653 became infamous for storming the pulpit of the chapel of Somerset House in London and preaching the innocence of John Lilburne, who was on trial facing execution. Poole remained in London after this event and continued to enjoy a significant following. In 1668, Poole was arrested for illegally operating a printing press. She was imprisoned in Westminster and drifted into oblivion thereafter.

For more on Poole, see Manfred Brod, “Doctrinal Deviance in Abingdon: Thomasine Pendarves and her Circle.” Baptist Quarterly 41.2 (2005): 92-102; Carme Font Paz, ““Foretelling the judgements of God”: Authorship and the Prophetic Voice in Elizabeth Poole’s A Vision (1648).” Journal of English Studies 11 (2013): 97-112; Rachel Trubowitz, “Female Preachers and Male Wives: Gender and Authority in Civil War England.” Prose Studies 14.3 (1991): 112-133. See also Curtis Freeman, A Company of Women Preachers: Baptist Prophetesses in Seventeenth-Century England (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2011); Rachel Adcock, Baptist Women’s Writings in Revolutionary Culture, 1640-1680 (Farnham, Surry, UK: Ashgate, 2015).

Annotated Bibliography

1. Poole, Elizabeth. A Vision: Wherein is Manifested the Disease and Cure of the Kingdome. Being the Summe of what was delivered to the Generall Councel of the Army, Decemb. 29. 1648. London, 1648.

Poole’s A Vision is an account of what happened when she presented A prophesie touching the death of King Charles... before the General Council of the Puritan Army. This is after the first English Civil War and the soldiers had been debating whether or not they would kill Charles I. When she came before the council, Poole, who at the time was serving as a consultant prophetess, advised the men against regicide. She utilized an analogy that the relationship between king and his nation is like that between husband and wife. Instead of execution, Poole advised the Council to figuratively divorce themselves from the king since he had failed in his duties as a “husband.” Ultimately, however, the General Council dismissed Poole along with her position against regicide.

2. Poole, Elizabeth. An Alarum of War, given to the Army, and to their High Court of Justice (so called) by the will of God: revealed in Elizabeth Pooll, sometime a messenger of the Lord to the Generall Councell, concerning the cure of the land, and the manner thereof. London, 1649.

In An Alarum of War; Given to the Army, Poole again utilizes the imagery of husband and wife to relate back to the relationship between king and state. She declares Charles I to be an unsanctified husband unfit to rule, however, she also argues that executing the king would be unnatural because vengeance is the work of God. The text demonstrates that Poole was well versed in the Bible as she casually inserts Biblical passages as support for her arguments against regicide.

3. Poole, Elizabeth. An[other] Alarum of War, given to the Army, and to their High Court of Justice (so called) by the will of God: revealed in Elizabeth Pooll, sometime a messenger of the Lord to the Generall Councell, concerning the cure of the land, and the manner thereof. London, 1649.

In her follow up to An Alarum of War, Poole addresses her detractors who ridiculed her previous visions and arguments against regicide. Poole specifically targets William Kiffin, the Baptist Minister whom she had once followed in her youth. Kiffin’s congregation expelled Poole on the grounds that some suspected her of lewd behavior and he continued to attack Poole’s reputation even after she left his congregation and began her role in the General Council. She denies all of his allegations and reaffirms herself as a true prophetess, attributing her powers to the “babe Jesus in me” (2). After defending her reputation against each allegation, she then envisions a violent death for the officers who dismissed her prophecies, claiming that she has already seen their “carcases slain upon the ground” (2). Sections of the book are written by some of Poole’s associates including Thomasine Pendarves.

This page assisted by Ray Delva, Georgia Southern University