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Howard, Lukefree

  • Caroline L. Leachman

Howard, Luke (1621–1699), Quaker activist and writer, was born at Dover on 18 October 1621, the son of Robert Howard (c.1580–1625), a shoemaker, and his wife, Susanna. His mother married a butcher when Luke was eight, but when he came to decide on his future occupation 'something in my Conscience … stirred against Evil, and made me dislike a Butcher's Life and Trade' (Howard, 4), and he chose to follow in his late father's trade. He was apprenticed at the age of fourteen to a shoemaker, and for a time was a strict conformist to the Church of England. He later recalled, however, that his master 'began to enquire after Religion, and went amongst such as separated from the Publick Worship, and began to make more Conscience of Religion than he had done; the which then opened a Door to me'. His seven-year term completed, Howard went to London and joined John Goodwin's Independent congregation at Coleman Street.

At the outbreak of the civil war Howard had hoped to join the parliamentarian army but failed to get enrolled; he later rejoiced that this failure had saved him from shedding human blood. He then took service with the garrison in Dover Castle, and there refused to sing psalms in 'rhyme and meter' (Howard, 6). The chaplain preached against him, and Samuel Fisher (1605–1665), the future Quaker, reasoned with him, but was himself convinced of Howard's viewpoint.

In his journal Howard relates that, after becoming successively a Brownist, presbyterian, and Independent, he joined the Baptists, and journeyed to London to be 'dipped' by William Kiffin on a December day 'when ice was in the water' (Howard, 8). In turn he shifted from the Particular Baptism of Kiffin to General Baptism, rejecting the 'dark stuff' of Calvinist election as 'God's Witness in my own Conscience arose and opened my Understanding, and I then saw Man's Destruction to be of himself, and not of the Lord' (ibid., 9). Howard found his first wife among the Baptists: Anne Stevens (d. 1665) of Canterbury, whom he described as 'the first baptised person in Kent', and whom he married some time after 1644 (ibid., 34). They had at least two children: Luke (1645/6–1667) and Robert (1647/8–1665). He became disillusioned with the Baptists, coming to see the very act of baptism as a merely worldly form. Following this, Howard says, 'I gave myself up to a seeking state again, and became as dead to all forms' (ibid., 11).

In March 1655 Howard again went to London and was converted to Quakerism by William Caton and John Stubbs. In his journal Howard discusses how he adapted to Quaker customs and habits, saying, 'And then as to my whole life and course thereof, I had all to learn again … both eating and drinking, and wearing apparel, and talking, and buying, and selling; yea, all to be made new' (Howard, 24–5). Howard notes that he was the 'first receiver of Friends' in Kent (ibid., 34). Following his convincement he was frequently in trouble for interrupting ministers in church services, noting that he 'was moved to go to the priest, and bear a testimony for God in time of their preaching' (ibid., 30). He also recounts how he sometimes fasted for long periods of time, unknown to all but his wife, feeling as well after seven or eight days as he did at the outset.

Through Howard's work Quaker numbers increased at Dover, and the movement attracted many Baptists, the cause of much controversy between the two groups. Howard was largely responsible for the conversion to Quakerism of the Leveller John Lilburne, who was imprisoned in Dover Castle, where the Quaker visited him many times, Lilburne becoming fully convinced in 1656 and describing Howard as his 'indeared, spiritual and faithful friend' (Resurrection of John Lilburne, 5).

At the Restoration Howard himself was imprisoned in Dover Castle for three months. In June 1661 he was committed to Westgate prison in Canterbury for five days, and in the July following was sent to Dover Castle for about sixteen months 'because we could not forbear meetings' (Howard, 28). On 30 January 1684 he was taken, along with seven others, from a meeting and imprisoned in the same dungeon for fifty-one weeks.

Following the death of his first wife, Anne, Howard married Elizabeth Loper (d. 1714) on 17 July 1666. Together they had at least two sons, Luke (b. 1669) and Solomon (1672–1694). Mary Howard (d. 1719) who married John Knott, a shoemaker, may have been a daughter. Howard was held in high esteem by leading London Quakers, for a testimony from the second day morning meeting, signed by William Penn, George Whitehead, and others, described him as 'of an exemplary christian conversation, and of a good report among his friends and neighbours, and beloved of them for his just and upright dealing' (A testimony concerning … Luke Howard). He was evidently a leading Quaker in Kent, for the 1672 yearly meeting minutes show that he was the recipient of books for his county. In relation to local meetings, he wrote in his journal that since becoming a Quaker,

I never had liberty in Dover to omit one meeting; except by sickness or lameness kept away, but outward business I have been constrained to make bow to the Lord, and the meeting, and the time as much as I could, and not to miss one, unto this day.

Howard, 33

Howard wrote a number of tracts, many of which are found in Love and Truth in Plainness Manifested. Some of these are replies to Baptists, such as A Looking Glass for the Baptists (1673) and The Seat of the Scorner Thrown Down (1673); in the latter Howard explains why he left the Baptists, and more generally discusses ideas such as the Quaker notion of the 'inner light' and their views on baptism. He also wrote The Devil's Bow Unstringed (1659), a reply to the nonconformist divine Thomas Danson, and testimonies to leading Quakers, namely 'A testimony concerning Samuel Fisher', in Samuel Fisher's The Testimony of Truth Exalted (1679), and 'A testimony concerning George Fox', in George Fox's Gospel Truth Demonstrated (1706). Luke Howard died on 7 October 1699 and was buried on 13 October 1699, presumably at Dover.


  • L. Howard, ‘A short journal of Luke Howard’, in L. Howard, Love and truth in plainness manifested (1704) [1697]
  • J. Smith, ed., A descriptive catalogue of Friends' books, 1 (1867), 978–80
  • The resurrection of John Lilburne, now a prisoner in Dover-castle … in these following lines, penned by himself, 2nd edn (1656) [with added appendix]
  • P. Gregg, Free-born John: a biography of John Lilburne (1961)
  • ‘A testimony concerning our dear Friend and brother Luke Howard’, L. Howard, Love and truth in plainness manifested (1704)
  • yearly meeting minutes, 1668–93, RS Friends, Lond., 1.4
  • digest registers (marriages and burials to 1837), RS Friends, Lond. [Kent quarterly meeting]

  • ‘Dictionary of Quaker biography’, RS Friends, Lond. [card index]
  • L. V. Hodgkin, The shoemaker of Dover: Luke Howard, 1621–1699 (1943)


  • RS Friends, Lond., Swarthmore MSS, vol. 3, MS vol. 354
Religious Society of Friends, London