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  • Title
    Great Books of Sufferings
  • Reference
    YM/MfS/GBS
  • Date
    1650-1856
  • Scope and Content
    This series consists of 44 volumes recording the persecution or "sufferings" of Quakers from 1650 to 1856, compiled from accounts of sufferings sent from Friends throughout England to London.
  • Extent
    44 volumes
  • Level of description
    series
  • Creator
    • Society of Friends. Britain Yearly Meeting. Meeting for Sufferings
      There was sporadic, sometimes severe, persecution of Friends during the Commonwealth, but after the restoration in 1660 a series of enactments penalised all Dissenters. Friends were prosecuted particularly for not attending church; for holding meetings 'under the pretence or colour of worship'; for refusal to swear oaths or to pay tithes, church rates and other dues; for conducting business affairs on first-days (Sundays) and holidays; for travelling on first-day; for being vagabonds or common nuisances; for contempt of court or of magistrates (for example by refusal to remove their hats); or for teaching without a bishop's licence. They could be prosecuted under common law, statute law or canon law. Particularly burdensome were the Quaker Act 1662, the Conventicle Act 1664 and 1670 (the latter giving the common informer sweeping powers), and the Recusancy Acts (originally passed under Elizabeth I and James I against Roman Catholics). Under these, Friends were liable to heavy penalties such as fines and loss of land. The Toleration Act of 1689, passed early in the reign of William & Mary, granted limited freedom of worship to Dissenters. Friends still suffered after this date for not paying tithes, and they often incurred penalties under the 18th century militia Acts. Following a conference in 1675 a 'constant meeting about sufferings' was established. Its series of minute books began in June 1676 and Meeting for Sufferings (qv) dealt with 'cases of suffering' anywhere in the country. For this purpose it had a network of county correspondents who could bring to light cases of illegal prosecution. It met weekly until the late 18th century and was entrusted with more and more work of a general nature. Yearly Meeting 1833 defined it as a "standing committee...entrusted with a general care of whatever may arise during the intervals of this meeting, affecting our religious society...". Returns of sufferings were copied up in the Great Book of Sufferings (44 volumes). The 29 volumes up to 1791 are copied in manuscript and indexed, though the index does not include the names of informers, priests and justices. From 1793, to ensure entries in standard form, printed books were supplied to Quarterly and Monthly Meetings, and printed sheets for returns to Yearly Meeting. The Great Books of Sufferings were compiled from accounts sent by Friends to London. Although some accounts were on scraps of parchment, many were included in letters to London Friends, or to the London-based county correspondents for Meeting for Sufferings. There were also annual tabulations for each county. All of these were gathered together, and edited by Ellis Hookes (1635-1681) or by other others after his death. A large number of these, particularly for London and Middlesex, can be found in the 'Original Records of Sufferings' (qv) now among the archives of Meeting for Sufferings'. All cases of prosecution were also copied up in a series of Monthly Meeting and Quarterly Meeting Books of Sufferings. These contain information on such non-Friends as informers, priests, constables and justices. The Library has finding aids showing the location of these records and other local Quaker archives.
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