Quaker Family History Society                   for family historians with Quaker ancestors from the British Isles

Besse’s Sufferings

INTRODUCTION TO Besse’s Sufferings

In 1753, Joseph Besse published A Collection of the Sufferings of the People Called Quakers for the Testimony of a Good Conscience under the authority of the Meeting for Sufferings. It recorded many of the instances of persecution and suffering inflicted upon early Friends from the beginning of the movement until 1690, the year after the Act of Toleration. It records imprisonments, many of which led to death – over 400 Friends dying in prison during this period – the seizure of goods by way of fines for Friends’ refusal to pay tithes or swear oaths or for simply meeting together in silent worship. It records some of the beatings and whippings many early Friends received for their testimony and many petty acts of cruelty and avarice.

Besse began his work in 1729, publishing an earlier version, An Abstract of the Sufferings of the People Call’d Quakers, in 1734. Besse’s catalogue of sufferings is based on the 44 folios of sufferings collected and recorded by Ellis Hookes, long-time clerk of the Yearly Meeting, from 1660 onwards.

The early 20th Century Quaker historian William C. Braithewaite said of Besse’s Sufferings

In this great book his materials took final shape. The work is conscientiously done, and may be generally relied on, but the sources behind it often yield fuller and sometimes more accurate information. A complete and critical collection of our Acta Martyrum would be a vast undertaking, but of great service to the local historian and to the Quaker genealogist.

William C. Braithwaite, The Second Period of Quakerism, p. 285 fn

The files presented here list all the individuals named in Besse’s Sufferings in alphabetical order, by county. You will find each individual instance of suffering recorded. Where indicated in Besse, you will also find under each entry any description of the individual, usually where he or she lived, the location of the event, the date of the event, the nature of the charges, or in some case absence of charges, against the individual Friend, and the nature of the penalty imposed on the individual. The genealogist or historian can use the table as an index with which to refer to the original record of the suffering. The lists, which can be filtered and sorted, can also be used to examine and compare the sufferings.

At present, a limited number of counties are available. We will continue to regularly add to these. Volunteers interested in helping with this effort are welcome and invited to contact the QFHS.

GLOSSARY of some legal terms

  • Excommunicato capiendo – The Writ De Excommunicato Capiendo Act 1562 (5 Eliz 1 c 23): A writ de excommunicato capiendo (Latin for “taking one who is excommunicated”) was a writ commanding the sheriff to arrest one who was excommunicated, and imprison him till he should become reconciled to the church. (Wikipedia)
  • Praemunire – The Statute of Praemunire (16 Ric 2 c 5) was an Act of Parliament enacted in 1392. It was originally designed to limit the powers of the Pope in England. It was revived during the Restoration period to use against Friends. “The person found guilty was to be put out of the King’s protection, his estate forfeited to the crown, and he was imprisoned during life or at the royal pleasure. The simplicity and severity of a praemunire quickly recommended it, and the rust weapon forged for use against the pretensions of Rome was turned against the harmless Quakers.” (William C. Braithwaite, The Second Period of Quakerism, p. 14)
  • Significavit is an obsolete writ in English ecclesiastical law, issued out of chancery, that a man be excommunicated for forty days, and imprisoned until he submits himself to the authority of the church. It is synonymous with the writ de excommunicate capiendo. (Wikipedia)