Robins, John (fl.1650-1652) (DNB00)

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ROBINS, JOHN (fl. 1650–1652), ranter, was a man of little education. ‘As for humane learning’ (he says) ‘I never had any; my Hebrew, Greek, and Latine comes by inspiration.’ A misdirected study of the Bible turned his head. He appears to have been a small farmer, owning some land. This he sold, and, coming to London with his wife Mary (or Joan) Robins, was known in 1650 to Lodowicke Muggleton [q. v.] and John Reeve (1608–1658) [q. v.] as claiming to be something greater than a prophet. He was familiarly spoken of as ‘the ranters' god’ and ‘the shakers' god.’ His followers deified him, and it would seem that he did not reject a species of divine homage. His wife expected to become the mother of a Messiah. Robins probably viewed himself as an incarnation of the divine being; he asserted that he had appeared on earth before, as Adam, and as Melchizedek. He claimed a power of raising the dead. Robins broached a scheme for leading a host of 144,000 persons to the Holy Land; Joshua Garment was to be his Moses for this expedition; the volunteers were prepared by a diet of dry bread, raw vegetables, and water, a regimen which proved fatal to some of them. On 24 May 1651 Robins, his wife, and eight of his followers were apprehended at a meeting in Long Alley, Moorfields, and consigned to the New Bridewell at Clerkenwell, where three other disciples were sent to join them. During three days they held a sort of public reception of the ‘gentry and citizens’ who ‘resorted thither to dispute with them.’ Robins reduced his personal claim to one of inspiration, and rested his hopes of salvation on the merits of our Lord; his followers stoutly maintained his higher pretensions. Among the disputants was ‘an Oxford scholar,’ who referred to the previous fanaticism of William Hacket [q. v.], Edmund Coppinger [q. v.], and Henry Arthington, giving this last name as Arthingworth, perhaps because among the followers of Robins was a Mary Arthingworth. Robins remained in durance for more than ten months. On 5 Feb. 1652 Reeve and Muggleton, who had just received their own ‘commissions’ as prophets, visited Robins in his Clerkenwell prison, and passed sentence of eternal damnation upon him. The scene is graphically narrated by Muggleton. Robins said afterwards that he felt ‘a burning in his throat,’ and heard an inward voice bidding him recant. Accordingly, about two months later, he addressed to Cromwell a letter of recantation, which obtained him his liberty. He returned to the country, repurchased his land, and lived quietly. Though he professed to expect to ‘come forth with a greater power,’ he was not heard of again.

[The Declaration of John Robins, the false prophet … and Joshua Beck and John King, the two false disciples. … By G. H., an ear-witness, 1651; Ranters of both Sexes … by John Taylor, 1651; Reeve and Muggleton's Transcendent Spirituall Treatise, 1652; A List of some of the Grand Blasphemers and Blasphemies, 1654; Muggleton's Acts of the Witnesses, 1699, pp. 20 sq., 45 sq.]

A. G.