Anna Trapnel joined the Fifth Monarchists in London (she worshiped primarily among the Baptists) in 1652, a group of radical Christian believers with whom she was associated with from that point forward. During this time, Trapnel’s visions become more prophetic, resulting in her ability to see future events. These visions were published in a series of pamphlets which relayed her prophetic abilities. Among her visions was that that of New Model Army’s entry into London, Cromwell’s defeat of the Scots at Dunbar in 1650, a 1652 victory by the Dutch, and Cromwell’s dissolution of the Barebones Parliament in 1653, which resulted in his being declared Protector.
Trapnel was born in the Parish of St. Dunstan’s in Stepney, England, probably in the 1620s, though the date of her birth is not precisely known. Her father, William Trapnel, was a shipwright in the town of Poplar. At the time, Poplar was a small hamlet where a number of ship workers lived while working on the Blackwell shipyards. Trapnel was an only child and little is known of her mother other than that she raised Trapnel to be literate and to believe in God. Despite the religious zeal she was imparted from an early age, Trapnel was never baptized, though that did not deter her from her faith, later claiming, “When a child, the Lord awed my spirit, and so for the least trespass, my heart was smitten.” In 1645, Trapnel began to have visions of a religious nature. In 1647, she recorded her first vision which occurred after the death of her mother. Following that event, Trapnel went to live with her aunt (her father was already dead). During this time, she was visiting multiple dissenting congregations, namely around the St. Dunstan’s area in Stepney. As she sought for a genuine religious experience, she often subjected herself to serious fasting, resulting in trances and visions. Though these occurrences were extreme, they were not uncommon at that time among several of the dissenting sects.
In 1654, while attending a trial at Whitehall, Trapnel went into an extended trance full of singing, praying, and prophesizing. She was taken to a local inn where she remained on the bed with her eyes closed and recited bible verses from memory. Over these eleven or twelve days, Trapnel refused to eat or drink anything except for some beer. One of her visions during this trance was that God would punish Cromwell for his corruptions. This long trance propelled Trapnel’s notoriety, making her famous around England. However, while her fame may have grown, Trapnel’s visions and statements created enemies as well. She voiced strong opinions on equality of the sexes and was highly critical of Cromwell’s Protectorate government. Her criticism and attacks on Cromwell may well could have resulted in her death given England’s political and religious turmoil after the Civil war. Additionally, Trapnel’s claim that she was God’s prophet resulted in accusations from multiple religious institutions that she was engaging in blasphemy and witchcraft.
Another compelling dream-vision occurred in Cornwall in 1654. While there, Trapnel actively preached and prophesied. In April, she was arrested on charges of witchcraft, madness, whoredom, vagrancy, and seditious intent. At her trial she answered the judges’ questions about the reason behind her travels with more questions, parables, and bible verses. During the trial, she insisted she was a single, free woman with the right to pray, publish, and travel according to common law and the word of God. Unfortunately, the only account of Trapnel’s trial at Cornwall is her own, which appeared in A Narrative of Her Journey into Cornwall. Trapnel managed to escape conviction, and possibly death, through her verbosity; she was taken to Plymouth and then sent to London where she was imprisoned in Bridewell. However, because of the height of her fame, the government did not want to turn Trapnel into a martyr and thus released her in July 1754. After her release, Trapnel continued to travel and prophesy. Her first-person accounts include Strange and Wonderful Newes from White-Hall, The Cry of a Stone, A Legacy for Saints, and Anna Trapnel’s Report and Please, all published in 1654.
For more on Trapnel, see 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)
1. Trapnel, Anna. Anna Trapnel's Report and Plea, Or, a Narrative of Her Journey into Cornwal: The Occasion of It, the Lord's Encouragements to It, and Signal Presence with Her in It, Proclaiming the Rage and Strivings of the People against the Comings Forth of the Lord Jesus to Reign ... Whereto Is Annexed a Defiance against All the Reproachful, Vile, Horrid ... Reports Raised Out of the Bottomless Pit against Her. London: Printed at London for Thomas Brewster, 1654. Internet resource.
This particular work of Trapnel’s is a recounting of the trial that she faced while in Cromwell. As noted in the biography, Trapnel did not directly answer any of the questions that the court asked, choosing to either avoid the question or answer with a Biblical reference. Trapnel begins the retelling with the scene of the Justices coming to fetch her. She recalls (from what she was told by her friends, apparently) that the Justices commanded her friends to rouse her from her trance so that they could take her. Followers of the Justices came to the scene, calling Trapnel a witch and drawing a crowd. When Trapnel appeared before the court, she was asked if she was the author of Strange and Wonderful News from Whitehall. When she denied her authorship, the Justices were very confused, believing that she would not speak for witches were unable to speak in front of the magistrate, presumably. Trapnel, while reconstructing the conversation, informs the reader that the Lord told her to plead not guilty, and the answer the questions with parables. She also informs the readers that the reason she did not claim authorship for the book was because she was not the author, God was. Trapnel also addresses and confirms that she has spoken about public and political affairs, claiming that she is praying for the people involved, because God has told her that their souls are in danger due to their sins. Trapnel’s reliance on the Lord and her willingness to defend and speak up for herself baffles the court, eventually convincing them to let her leave – cleared of all charges.
Despite the accuracy of the accounts, it is worth noting that Trapnel’s religious zeal and belief in her own rights presented her with the ability to confront, argue with, and survive the establishment she spoke out against while also preventing her from being considered mad or being a witch. After her view years of travel after being released from Bridewell, Trapnel mysteriously vanished from the public eye. While there is no knowledge of what she did next or when she died, there is evidence that she was still living in 1660 when she was attacked in print. Some believe that she may have married in 1661; however, her death did occur after one of both of these events. Trapnel was a revolutionary woman writer who was able to establish a name for herself during a time of female dismissal and incompetence. The influence that Trapnel had through her preaching and the size of the audience she was able to reach is very impressive, especially in the short amount of time she was in the public eye. Despite only having a few known, first person accounts of her endeavors, interest in Anna Trapnel has increased over the years.
2. Trapnel, Anna. Strange and Wonderful Newes from White-Hall: Or, the Mighty Visions Proceeding from Mistris Anna Trapnel: To Divers Collonels, Ladies, and Gentlewomen, Concerning the Government of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland; and Her Revelations Touching His Highness, the Lord Protector, and the Army. with Her Declaration Touching the State-Affairs of Great-Brittain; Even from the Death of the Late King Charles, to the Dissolution of the Last Parliament. and the Manner How She Lay Eleven Dayes, and Twelve Nights in a Trance, Without Taking Any Sustenance, Except a Cup of Small Beer Once in 24 Hours: During Which Time, She Uttered Many Things Herein Mentioned, Relating to the Governors, Churches, Ministry, Universities, and All the Three Nations; Full of Wonder and Admiration, for All That Shall Read and Peruse the Same. London: Printed for Robert Sele, 1654. Internet resource
This work, which Trapnel would be questioned about later in Cromwell, tells of the trance that she fell into for 12 days straight after viewing a court proceeding in Whitehall where a small broke out during the event. The account depicts Trapnel’s long fasting, only having small sips of beer throughout her trance, speaking and/or singing different prophesies or verses every 3-4 hours. While the work depicts many of the visions that she had, including informing some of the visitors (even those of prominent standings) of illnesses that may come their way or to strengthen their faith, Trapnel’s most compelling vision is that of the four horns. Trapnel’s vision were not just limited to religious scripture, but also directed at parliament, the army, and the Ministry. The vision of the four horns were stand-ins for the four powers of the nation. The first horn was for the Bishops, the horn broken in two and thrown aside; the second horn that was connected to a head that was suddenly pulled down and broken; the third horn was composed of many splinters, representing parliament and the many men that was eventually broken and scattered to where one bit did not remain together; lastly, the fourth horn was much shorter, yet much sharper than they others, consisting of sparkling red and white colors that provided great hope and kindness that would spread to all people – similar to that of David. Alongside major vision, Trapnel also had visions of a great Oak tree, a throne with winged Angels flying around it, children walking to the Earth with light shining around them. All of these visions were said to have come from God, warning and telling Trapnel (and those who listened to her) of the things to come. Once Trapnel rose from her trance, she proceeded on foot to Hackney, and from there to London in full health and strength.
3. Trapnel, Anna. The Cry of a Stone. or a Relation of Something Spoken in Whitehall, by Anna Trapnel, Being in the Visions of God: Relating to the Governors, Army, Churches, Ministry, Universities: and the Whole Nation. Uttered in Prayers and Spiritual Songs, by an Inspiration Extraordinary, and Full of Wonder. in the Eleventh Moneth, Called January. 1653. London Printed: s.n., 1654. Internet resource.
The Cry of a Stone is Trapnel’s more vivid retelling of the visions and prophecies she experienced in Whitehall. It appears that while Strange and Wonderful News from Whitehall was a quick account of what Trapnel experience, The Cry of a Stone holds more of the warning that her prophesies held. In this work, Trapnel includes the songs and prayers that she recited during her trance. Trapnel also is more vocal in regards to the political and public message that the visions contained. Though there are many similarities between this work and the work that preceded it, Trapnel is more focused in The Cry of a Stone. She is determined that people are aware of exactly what God delivered to her and how it will come to affect them in the future. Trapnel also lists more names of the people who she spoke to or who came to visit her during this time to add more validity to her visions.
4. Trapnel, Anna, John Proud, and Caleb Ingold. A Legacy for Saints: Being Several Experiences of the Dealings of God with Anna Trapnel, In, and After Her Conversion, (written Some Years Since with Her Own Hand) and New Coming to the Sight of Some Friends, They Have Judged Them Worthy of Publike View; Together with Some Letters of a Latter Date, Sent to the Congregation with Whom She Walks in the Fellowship of the Gospel, and to Some Other Friends. London printed: for T. Brewster, at the three Bibles in Pauls Church-yard, near London-House, 1654. Internet resource.
This particular work accounts for some of the experiences that Trapnel endured while going through trial and spending a short amount of time in prison. However, this work is not meant to be as much of a retelling as the other works are. Though she asks her readers, friends, and “followers” not to pity her and know that she will not be leaving for a while, the main point of the work is to provide a sort of “guide” for people to follow per direction of the Lord. Trapnel is giving examples of different Saints, people that are similar to her and everyone else who loves the Lord who were able to propel from the ordinary and into sainthood. Trapnel encourages her readers to give everything to God, to accept His salvation and know that the Lord will work through them, similar to the way that He works through her. Trapnel, by using her own accounts, informs her readers that the Lord is only using her as a messenger, and that they, too, can have the same relationship with the Lord if they follow the same “guide” as other saints and messengers. The legacy that they will leave will not be for themselves, but for the Lord, and for the rest of the world to know God’s truth through them.
This page assisted by Kelsi Cunningham, Georgia Southern University