Busher, Leonard (DNB01)

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BUSHER, LEONARD (fl. 1614), pioneer of religious toleration, appears to have been a citizen of London who spent some time in ‘exile’ at Amsterdam, where he seems to have made the acquaintance of John Robinson (1576?–1625) [q. v.], the famous pastor of the pilgrim fathers, and probably of John Smith (d. 1612) [q. v.], the se-baptist. He adopted in the main the principles of the Brownists, and after his return to England Busher apparently became a member of the congregation of Thomas Helwys [q. v.], and published in 1614 his treatise advocating religious toleration. In it he speaks of his poverty, due to persecution, which prevented his publishing two other works he had written: (1) ‘A Scourge of small Cords wherewith Antichrist and his Ministers might be driven out of the Temple;’ and (2) ‘A Declaration of certain False Translations in the New Testament.’ Neither of these books appears to have been published, nor is any manuscript known to be extant.

Busher's only published work was entitled ‘Religious Peace; or, a Plea for Liberty of Conscience, long since presented to King James and the High Court of Parliament then sitting, by L. B., Citizen of London, and printed in the year 1614;’ but no copy of this edition is known. It was, however, reissued in 1646 (London, 4to), with an epistle ‘to the Presbyterian reader’ by H. B., probably Henry Burton [q. v.] This edition was licensed for the press by John Bachiler, who was on that account ferociously attacked by Edwards (Gangræna, iii. 102–5). A reprint of this edition, with an historical introduction by Edward Bean Underhill (d. 1901), was issued by the Hanserd Knollys Society in 1846. Busher's book ‘is certainly the earliest known publication in which full liberty of conscience is openly advocated’ (Masson, Milton, iii. 102). He was apparently acquainted with the original Greek of the New Testament, and his book is an earnest and ably written plea for religious toleration. It has been suggested that James I was influenced by it when he declared to parliament in 1614, ‘No state can evidence that any religion or heresy was ever extirpated by the sword or by violence, nor have I ever judged it a way of planting the truth.’

[Underhill's Introd. to reprint in Hanserd Knollys Soc. 1846; Masson's Milton, iii. 102–5, 432; Hanbury's Hist. Mem. relating to the Independents, i. 224; Morley's Life of Cromwell, 1900, p. 158.]

A. F. P.