The Woodforde Family

A History of the Woodforde Family from 1300

ROBERT WOODFORDE THE PURITAN (3)



An eclipse of the Sun

 

Eclipse of the sun

 

In the concluding months of the diary's record, changes began to occur on a national scale which puritans saw as a divine response to their prayers.  In the diarist's eyes, these events began with the commencement of the so-called short parliament on 13 April 1640.  

On this night Robert Woodforde observed a strange light in the sky. Despite his frequent condemnation of superstitious beliefs and practices,  he regarded this light as an expression of divine intention, though in almost 600 pages of writing, this entry is the only example of such a belief:

In the eveninge about 9, of the clock there  was a strange streame of light came out of the Northwest closse by the moone as then it was   & came quite over, which I have called diverse to see it, oh Lord thou shewest synes & wonders in heaven & in the earth beneath & yet we remayne hardned still.

Whatever the nature and cause of this event,  it was not an eclipse.  A true eclipse was witnessed in England on 22 May 1639 and recognised as such by the diarist on that day:

This day there was an eclipse of the sunne about 4 or 5 a clock in the afternoone.  Oh Lord suffer not thy glorious gospell so to be eclipsed,  but that it may breake forth againe in beauty & excellently for the Lord's sake.

The diarist is able to make dramatic metaphorical use of this event,  particularly the return of the sun's rays after the eclipse,  conquering the darkness, as if in triumph.  Robert  makes  frequent use of such biblical metaphor when in prayer and when expressing his religious faith.  Hence the image of the Antichrist located in Rome,  and of English bishops as being `limbs', members of the one sinful organism  which must be cut off and cut down.   Writing at a time when there was much suffering caused by repeated outbreaks of the plague, smallpox, measles and other infectious diseases,  he frequently likens the puritan community to the Children of Israel,  with the bishops and their hierarchy of administrators and commissioners as the enslaving Egyptians.

Robert Woodforde in London

Whilst in London in the autumn of 1639 the diarist embarked upon the seemingly dangerous practice of meeting clandestinely with other young puritan thinkers.  On 6 November 1639 he had cause to visit his cousin and his father-in-law's family and later lodged at Clement's Inn with Mr Harvey, his "good Chamberfellowe". 

It is on the following morning that the diarist reported that Harvey had made contact with a group of like-minded men, noting " my Chamberfellowe hath found out a society of honest younge men in o(u)r house." The association continued and on 9 November the society, apparently in its infancy,  convened again and was joined by the diarist, meeting in "Mr Ratcliffs Chamber."

The group met next at St Clement's Inn on 16 November and again on 23 and 24 November. On 11 December 1639,  (in the old calendar) recognised by the diarist as the shortest day of the year, he expressed his belief in personal salvation:

Ah Lord my time in this world is like a short winter day, cloudy ... & soone ended give me in this my day to worke out my salvacon.

 

The Tower of London

 

Perhaps the diarist's most emphatic statement of his puritanical belief is given as part of a long diary entry for 6 March 1638 after hearing rumours of probable wars with Scotland:

Oh good Lord looke uppon us. What will these things come to ?  Thou alone knowest, for thou hast the orderinge and dispersinge of all things. Oh let thy gospell breake forth like the glorious sunne from under a Cloud that the eyes of the adversaryes may be enlightened, or they may be so ashamed that they may hide them selves in obscurity.  Let thy truth be so manifested & effectually declared that all iniquity may stop.

Why should p(ro)phanenesse be established or continued by a law ?  Why should the haters of truth be increased & flourish ?  Why should the p(re)cepts of men be taught for doctrines? Why should carnall ordinances & an earthly sanctuary still remayne & the worship in spirit & in truth be yet refused ?  Why should the whore of Rome, the mother of fornicacon & all the abominnacons that are in the earth remayne under these heavens & breath in thy agre? Why should not Babilon fall & be cast rather into the botome of the sea like a milstone ???

 

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Stephen Butt 2004-2005 Rev 14/01/06

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