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Reference group
Smectymnuus (act. 1641) was the name adopted by the collective authorship of two contributions to the pamphlet controversy over church government in the early days of the Long Parliament. The acronym composed of the pamphleteers' initials only briefly disguised their identities, but the convenient shorthand was adopted by other protagonists in their work. Its outlandish sound, combined with the sometimes bitter tone of the pamphleteering and the contemporary importance of the issues addressed, ensured that the name lingered in public memory, to be invoked approvingly or otherwise through the seventeenth century.

The Smectymnuans—Stephen Marshall, Edmund Calamy (1600–1666), Thomas Young, Matthew Newcomen, and William Spurstowe—were members of a group of Church of England ministers who from about November 1640 met regularly in the parish of St Mary Aldermanbury, London, at the home of Calamy, who had been installed as perpetual curate there the previous year. Although not exact contemporaries, various links drew them together. Marshall and Spurstowe were both graduates of the great puritan seminary Emmanuel College, Cambridge; all except Spurstowe held or had held livings or curacies in Suffolk or Essex and often preached in the Stour valley; Marshall and Calamy both owed preferment to members of the powerful and godly East Anglian family of Rich, earls of Warwick and of Holland, while Spurstowe's patron was their kinsman and associate John Hampden; in 1640 Newcomen married Calamy's sister-in-law. In the late 1630s uncomfortable attention from diocesan authorities, suspicious of the popularity of their preaching and the degree of their nonconformity, led them to gravitate to London. St Mary Aldermanbury was a rich parish with an active community of prominent godly laymen, and a convenient launching pad for engagement in the debates on religion which dominated the meetings of parliament. Marshall, the first of the five to be nominated as a parliamentary preacher, rapidly gained a commanding reputation, while Young, a Scot whose father was a vocal opponent of royal ecclesiastical policy north of the border, had already published Dies dominica (1639), a major work of sabbatarian apology and a critique of the permissive Book of Sports issued by the government. All had the ear of those MPs who sought robust reform of the church as it had developed under Archbishop William Laud.

Calamy's house group, which also included Cornelius Burges and John White, spearheaded the petition for reform signed by over 700 clergy delivered to the House of Commons on 23 January 1641. Joseph Hall, bishop of Exeter, hitherto dissociated from the Laudian ‘innovations’ and indeed suspected by the ecclesiastical establishment of puritan sympathies, had already surprised many by coming to its defence in Episcopacie by Divine Right Asserted (1640). When he too addressed parliament in An Humble Remonstrance (1641) as an anonymous ‘dutifull sonne of the church’, taking it upon himself to represent the silent majority of the orthodox and to contest the ‘scandalous Libels, bitter Pasquines, [and] railing Pamphlets’ (Humble Remonstrance, 7) of the petitioners for reform, it provoked a swift response. His plea that ‘ill-advised newfanglednesse’ (ibid., 17) should not scorn a liturgy ‘hitherto esteemed sacred, reverently used by holy Martyrs, daily frequented by devout Protestants’ (ibid., 9) and his exhortation to unity under the leadership of the episcopate in order to avert the evil of separatism, failed to convince Calamy and his circle.

The Smectymnuans' An Answer to a Booke entituled An Humble Remonstrance, published in February 1641 and also addressed to parliament, took on Hall's arguments for liturgy and episcopacy and found them wanting. The authors (of whom Thomas Young was thought by Robert Baillie, moderator of the Church of Scotland, to be the chief) did not object to a set form of service as contained in the Book of Common Prayer, but rather to the ‘many Additions and Alterations … that have so changed the face and fabrick of the Liturgie’ (Answer to a Booke, 5), to the ‘prescribed and stinted formes of Administration [of the sacraments] Composed by some particular men in the Church, and imposed upon all the rest’ (ibid., 6), and to the banning of additional extempore prayer by the minister; the current liturgy, aimed ‘to bring the Papists into our Churches’ (ibid., 12), had met with ‘so little successe’ () that alteration should be considered. Meanwhile, the Smectymnuans denied that episcopacy in its present form derived from the apostles. It had evolved over time, with bishops acquiring the powers and privileges which distinguished them from other clergy. To insist on its divine origin and exclusive authority was to prejudice royal sovereignty and to undermine dangerously the other reformed churches which lacked it. Moreover, many bishops had proved wanting. The English church ‘groan[ed] under so many corrupt Prelates … their ambition (fed with the largenesse of their revenewes) discovered it selfe in great attendance, stately dwellings, and all Lordly pompe’ (ibid., 65); like the papists, to the detriment of their primary function of edifying by preaching of the word and right administration of the sacraments, they had ‘dazzle[d] and astonish[ed] the senses of poor people, with the glorious name of … the holy Mother the Church’, a ‘Gorgonshead … that hath inchanted them and held them in bondage to their Errors’ (ibid., 79). The conclusion was already clear half way through the Smectymnuans' pamphlet, effectively pronounced, they claimed, by the remonstrant himself: ‘LET EPISCOPACY BE FOR EVER ABANDONED OUT OF THE HOUSE OF GOD’ (ibid., 32).

Although the Answer promoted equality within the ministry, referred approvingly to the Genevan moderator system, and stressed the importance of lay elders, it did not directly advocate out-and-out presbyterianism on the model recently adopted in Scotland following the imposition of the solemn league and covenant. The stark exhortation of page 32 notwithstanding, and although Calamy later characterized it as ‘the first deadly blow to Episcopacy’ (E. Calamy, A Just and Necessary Apology against an Unjust Invective, 1646), it seemed to leave the door open to a form of ‘primitive episcopacy’ like that advocated by the widely respected James Ussher, archbishop of Armagh. It may have been in this spirit that Marshall and Calamy joined the committee appointed by the House of Lords on 1 March to consider religious reform. Under the chairmanship of John Williams, the controversial bishop of Lincoln, and with Hall himself a participant, it met six times between then and mid-May; although irreconcilable differences brought it to an end, these meetings do not seem to have been characterized by the heat of the pamphlet debate.

Apparently still in ignorance of the Smectymnuans' identity, Hall (as ‘E. I.’) called for parliamentary action against those who had castigated bishops in A Letter to an Honourable Gentleman (1641) and in April (as the remonstrant) issued A Defence of the Humble Remonstrance against the Frivolous and False Exceptions of Smectymnuus—‘impotent Assailants’ (sig. A3v), whose ‘names, persons, qualities I care not to know’ but whom he labelled with the loaded name of ‘Legion’ (p. 1), that given by the demons who possessed a man encountered by Jesus in Mark, chapter 5. Hall restated his original case for episcopacy and liturgy, and appended supporting arguments from the German Calvinist Abraham Scultetus. The Smectymnuans replied in June with A Vindication of the Answer to the Humble Remonstrance, once again addressed to parliament, dismissing a book ‘so fraught with bitter invectives, false assertions, hyperbolical confidence, selfe contradictions, and such like extravagancies’ (‘To the reader’). In a text that again alluded to the church fathers, apologists for the Church of England, English and European history, and the general practice of the Reformed church, they reiterated and amplified their earlier contentions. By this time they apparently knew their adversary, mocking the similarity with, and contradictions in, ‘Doctor Hals irrefragable propositions’ (p. 183), although they insisted that ‘our businesse is with a namelesse Remonstrant, not with the undervaluation of any mans person in particular’ (p. 218). As far as they were concerned, the case for episcopacy had not been, and would not be, made—‘we doubt not but we shall quickly give satisfaction to all that ever hath bin written for Episcopall government’ (p. 216)—but they did not offer an alternative unless, by implication, that of the Scottish and continental Reformed churches.

In July Hall and other bishops faced preliminary charges of impeachment. Against this background he composed his 103 page A Short Answer to the Tedious Vindication of Smectymnuus (1641), intended to be his last word in print in defence of episcopacy, and chiefly concerned with confuting the objections of his still nameless opponents. They did not take up the gauntlet again, perhaps recognizing an unproductive stalemate, but they were in any case preoccupied with overcoming divisions that were opening up between those who had come to favour a presbyterian model of church government (among whom Calamy was increasingly identified) and those like Philip Nye who advocated Independency. A united front in submissions to parliament was achieved in an agreement reached at Calamy's house in November 1641, but did not last. All five Smectymnuans were nominated members of the Westminster assembly summoned in 1643 to prepare a new church order, and were associated, albeit in differing degrees, with the presbyterians, but their subsequent individual careers illustrate the very complex and divergent paths trodden by many clergy over the next twenty years as they sought to find an acceptable ecclesiastical settlement.

In the meantime Smectymnuus lived on in the context of wider controversial literature on the religious question. In A Discourse Opening the Nature of that Episcopacie (1641) the opposition peer Robert Greville, second Baron Brooke, rejected a jumped-up ecclesiastical hierarchy and advanced radical arguments for religious diversity. Most notably Young's friend and former pupil John Milton, who had already entered the fray on the anti-episcopal side with Of Reformation Touching Church Discipline in England (May 1641) and a little later Of Prelatical Episcopacy, published in July Animadversions upon the Remonstrants Defence against Smectymnuus, a savage attack on Hall and on the clergy. Hall was provoked into A Modest Confutation of a Slanderous and Scurrilous Libel, entituled, Animadversions upon the Remonstrants Defence against Smectymnuus (1642), to which Milton responded with the misleadingly named An Apology against a Pamphlet Call'd A Modest Confutation … against Smectymnuus (1642). As the presbyterians appeared to gain the political ascendancy, and any lingering vestiges of anonymity deserted the pamphleteers, Milton parted company from his former friends, whose position he came to see as excessively clericalist and intolerant, and John Saltmarsh attacked them from an Independent standpoint in Groanes for Liberty (1647). Targeting explicitly the Smectymnuans, who were named on the flyleaf for the reader's benefit, he accused them of practising the prelatical tyranny against which they had preached.

The group served to epitomize the evils of presbyterianism as its name captured the imagination of satirical poets. The royalist John Cleveland's The Character of a London-Diurnall: with Several Select Poems (1647) envisaged a monster. In ‘Rupertissimus’ he exhorted the king's energetic nephew and general to ‘untruss / That five-fold fiend SMECTYMNUUS’, reaching like Milton in his ‘On the New Forcers of Conscience under Long Parliament’ for the damning metaphor of Phariseeism as he continued
Who place Religion in their Velam ears;
As in their Phylacters the Jews did theirs.
Another poem, ‘Smectymnuus, or the Club-Divines’, proposed a succession of exotic and pejorative characterizations. Abraham Cowley's ‘A Satyr against Separatists’ (The Foure Ages of England, 1648) pointed to ‘That many-headed beast Smectymnuus’, the ‘Hydra which would grow still and increase’ as the dangerous, all-devouring creature conjured up by those who dared to question the doctrine of the ‘antient Fathers’. With the triumphalist backlash that followed the Restoration, bitterness only intensified. In The Muses Holocaust, or, A New Burnt Offering to the Two Great Idols of Presbytery and Anabaptism (1662) Samuel Holland singled out Calamy who, in the cloak of John Presbyter, ‘did spit / Against St Paul's his Excremental Wit’, but now that the ‘Presbyterian Whore’ was doomed:
Smectymnuus be henceforth the Hang-mans name
And from his last dissecting hand take Fame.
May All together in one Fire be burnt,
With Buchanan and Knoxes Testament;
And all rot with them, that would tumble down
The rising Mitre, and the stablish'd Crown.
The name Smectymnuus continued to be invoked and its influence to be apparent in more serious writing. Thomas Manton considered it ‘seasonable’ (‘To the reader’) to reissue An Answer to … An Humble Remonstrance as Smectymnuus redivivus (1654). John Humfrey invoked their arguments in a tract on ordination following his ejection from his living in 1662. Richard Baxter recommended the Smectymnuan pamphlets among ‘choice’ books of theology in A Christian Directory (1673) and cited them in his A Treatise of Episcopacy (1681). On the other hand, before and after 1660 critics like Hamon L'Estrange and Roger L'Estrange continued to assault their position, for example the former in Smectymnuo-mastix, annexed to his An Answer to the Marques of Worcester's Last Paper (1651), the latter in his Considerations and Proposals (1663), which used the Smectymnuan pamphlets as an argument for press censorship. In the charged political atmosphere of the 1680s the spectre returned to haunt at least one satirical poet, as in Epipapresbyter, Grandchild to Smectymnuus, or, The Worlds Huy and Cry, after Titus Oates (1685), but thereafter seems to have subsided. The issues contended for in 1641 were not dead, however: the Smectymnuans' work was still cited in such works of ecclesiological controversy as Richard Burthogge's The Nature of Church-Government (1691) and Thomas Forrester's The Hierarchical Bishops Claim to a Divine Right (1699). As individual Smectymnuans—and Calamy in particular—were remembered, their brief association in the pamphlets was recalled.

Vivienne Larminie


The nonconformist's memorial … originally written by … Edmund Calamy, ed. S. Palmer, 2 vols. (1775) · T. Webster, Stephen Marshall and Finchingfield (1994) · T. Webster, Godly clergy in early Stuart England: the Caroline puritan movement, c.1620–1643 (1997) · D. Laing, Biographical notices of Thomas Young, S.T.D. (1870) · The letters and journals of Robert Baillie, ed. D. Laing, 3 vols. (1841–2) · P. C. Carter, The history of the church and parish of St Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury (1913) · R. S. Paul, The assembly of the Lord: politics and religion in the Westminster assembly and the ‘Grand debate’ (1985) · Tai Liu, Discord in Zion: the puritan divines and the puritan revolution, 1640–1660 (1973) · W. A. Shaw, A history of the English church during the civil wars and under the Commonwealth, 1640–1660, 2 vols. (1900) · V. M. Larminie, ‘Smectymnuus: a study in seventeenth century Presbyterianism’, BA diss., University of Birmingham, 1975 · J. C. Spalding and M. F. Brass, ‘Reduction of episcopacy as a means to unity in England, 1640–1642’, Church History, 30 (1961), 414–32 · J. D. Maltby, ‘Petitions for episcopacy and the Book of Common Prayer on the eve of the civil war, 1641–1642’, From Cranmer to Davidson: a Church of England miscellany, ed. S Taylor (1999), 103–67