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Fleury, Maria delocked

(fl. 1773–1791)
  • Emma Major

Fleury, Maria de (fl. 1773–1791), religious controversialist and hymn writer, was based in Cripplegate, London, but little is known of her family and background, other than that she had a brother who married about 1773. An active member of a circle of moderate Calvinist Baptists and other dissenters, she published several pieces on the theological and political controversies of the day. She was a Baptist but the Independent minister John Towers records that she was also a member of his congregation in Clerkenwell for many years.

De Fleury was a member of the anti-Catholic Protestant Association and wrote in their praise and defence in her Poems, Occasioned by the Confinement and Acquittal of the Right Honourable Lord George Gordon (1781) and in her versified account of the Gordon riots, Unrighteous Abuse Detected and Chastised (2nd edn, 1781), in which she claimed that the Roman Catholics were to blame for the violence. Her anti-Catholic allegory Henry, or, The Triumph of Grace (1782), dedicated to Lord George Gordon, went into three editions.

De Fleury was a close friend of the Baptist minister John Ryland (1753–1825) and joined with him in his paper war against the flamboyant and high Calvinist minister William Huntington. Her popular Letter to the Rev. Mr. Huntington (2nd edn, 1787) was the first of several attacks she made on Huntington's religious beliefs and practices. She criticized his alleged antinomianism again in Antinomianism Unmasked and Refuted (1791). In a response of 1792 to de Fleury's criticisms, An Answer to Fools, Huntington claimed that Ryland had co-written Antinomianism Unmasked. He also made the scandalous claim that the address given by de Fleury in her prefaces was false and that he had eventually found her home by enquiring at a gin shop, where he maintained she was well known. Huntington's claim seems unlikely; the address, 31 Jewin Street, London, was given in some of her publications as a sale outlet, and other references to her poverty would suggest that her writing was an important source of income.

De Fleury's writing suggests that she was defensive of her poor education and her independence as a writer; Huntington's allegation that she collaborated with Ryland was clearly not new. Her collection Divine Poems and Essays (1791) has recommendatory prefaces by Ryland and two other evangelical ministers, John Towers and Thomas Wills, in which Towers contends that her theologically assertive style is due to the amount of time she has spent conversing with ministers and is not a sign that her work is by another, more educated person. The ministers all stress her commitment to the protestant church, and although she explained in her Letter of 1787 that she was not then an official member of the ecumenical evangelical association she emphasized that her friendships within that circle had confirmed her belief in the great value of their activities. She justified the publication of her poetry and controversial tracts by the need for protestant and Trinitarian evangelism at a time that she felt was one of crisis because of the spread of arianism and socinianism. Her poetry reflects her evangelical mission, and it is perhaps not surprising that she also published Hymns for Believer's Baptism in 1786. It is not known when or where de Fleury died.

Sources

  • D. M. Lewis, ed., The Blackwell dictionary of evangelical biography, 1730–1860, 2 vols. (1995)
  • J. Mee, Dangerous enthusiasm (1992), 60
  • W. T. Whitley, A history of British Baptists (1923), 231

Wealth at Death

poor: T. Wills, preface, in M. de Fleury, Divine poems (1791), vii

S. A. Allibone, , 3 vols. (1859–71); suppl. by J. F. Kirk, 2 vols. (1891)