Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Barbon, Praisegod

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BARBON, or BAREBONE, or BAREBONES, PRAISEGOD (1596?–1679), anabaptist, leather-seller, and politician, has an obscure family history. In the ‘Spending of the Money of Robert Nowell, of Read Hall, Lancashire’ (edited by Dr. Grosart, 1877), one of the objects of his bounty (Xs) was ‘a John Barbon.’ The following data concerning him are drawn from Dr. Bloxam's ‘Register of Magdalen College, Oxford’—‘John Barebone, of Magdalen, 1567, aged 16; of the county of Gloucester; B.A. 23 Oct. 1570; probably Fellow 1571–78; M.A. 9 July 1574; Vice-Principall, 1578;’ described in 1574 as ‘a noted and zealous Romanist’ (iv. 170–1, and Spending, ut supra, pp. 206, 208). Another was a prominent puritan in Northamptonshire from 1587 onwards (Strype's Annals, iii. i. 691, ii. 479; Strype's Whitgift, ii. 7). Probably the same Barbon took part in a disputation upon nonconformity held about 1606 at the house of Sir William Bowes, at Coventry (Smyth, Parallels, Censures and Observations, &c., p. 128; Brook, Puritans, ii. 196).

In notes of a trial in an ecclesiastical case wherein Dr. William Bates was a party, Barbon in giving evidence incidentally mentioned that he was eighty years of age. This was in 1676, so that he was born about 1596 (Malcolm, Londinium Redivivum, iii. 453). While young he became a leather-seller in Fleet Street; he was admitted freeman of the Leathersellers' Company 20 Jan. 1623, elected a warder of the yeomanry 6 July 1630, a liveryman 13 Oct. 1634, and third warder 16 June 1648 (Notes and Queries, 3rd series, i. 211; cf. pp. 253, 395).

Probably shortly after 1630 Praisegod Barbon was chosen minister by half the members of a baptist congregation which had been under the pastoral care of Stephen More, but which had on More's death divided by ‘mutual consent’ into two parties. The one half chose Henry Jessey, and the other half Praisegod Barbon. Those who fixed on Barbon were pædobaptists, maintaining that the baptism of infants was scriptural, while the other part of the congregation comprised baptists proper. Some even of the latter must, however, have adhered to Barbon as well; for in the ‘Declaration’ of the baptists issued in 1654 ‘twenty-two’ names sign it as ‘of the church that walks with Mr. Barebone.’ In 1642 Praisegod Barbon published a defence of pædobaptism in ‘A Discourse tending to prove Baptisme in or under the Defection of Anti-Christ, to be the Ordinance of Jesus Christ. As also that the Baptism of Infants or Children is warrantable and agreeable to the Word of God. Where … sundry other particular things are controverted and discussed.’ In Edward Barber's ‘Small Treatise of Baptism or Dipping,’ also published in 1642 [see Barber, Edward], we read: ‘Beloved, since part of this treatise was in presse, there came to my hand a book set forth by P. Barboon, which could I have gotten sooner, I should have answered more fully;’ and then he quotes a number of objections to the baptist view urged by Barbon, which he in brief answers. Barbon replied to Barber in another book, published in 1643: ‘A Reply to the Frivolous and Impertinent Answer of E. B. to the Discourse of P. B. …’

From contemporary references, it appears that those who had chosen Barbon assembled as a church in their pastor's own ‘great house,’ called the ‘Lock and Key,’ in Fleet Street, near Fetter Lane. As a preacher he speedily made his mark. The libellers of the puritans called his preaching ‘long harangues,’ but he held the allegiance of a large congregation. He combined his ‘trade’ of leather-seller with his preaching, and he must pretty early have joined to himself in his pastorate one Greene, a ‘felt-maker’—the two ‘trades’ exciting the sarcasms of adversaries of nonconformity. In a contemporary scurrilous pamphlet entitled ‘New Preachers, New,’ we have mention of ‘the last tumult in Fleet Street, raised by the disorderly preachment, pratings, and pratlings of Mr. Barebones, the leather-seller, and Mr. Greene, the felt-maker, on Sunday last, 19 Dec.’ [1641]. The ‘tumult’ is jocosely described, and ‘1,000 persons’ are alleged to have been present; but the ‘tumult,’ so far from originating in the ‘disorderly preachment,’ certainly originated in violent intrusion upon the worshippers. Another pamphlet on the same disturbance is entitled ‘The Discovery of a Swarme of Separatists, or a Leather Seller's Sermon. Being a most true and exact relation of the tumultuous combustion in Fleet Street last Sabbath day, being 29 of Decemb. [19 in text]; truly describing how Burboon, a leather seller, had a conventicle of Brownists met at his house that day, about the number of an hundred and fifty, who preached there himself about five hours in the afternoon. Showing likewise how they were discovered and by what means, as also how the constable scattered their nest, and of the great tumult in the street .... London: Printed for John Greensmith, 1641.’ In this publication we read concerning the persecutors' treatment of the worshippers: ‘At length they catcht one of them alone, but they kickt him so vehemently as if they meant to beate him into a jelly. It is ambiguous whether they have kil'd him or no, but for a certainty they did knock him as if they meant to pull him to pieces. I confesse it had been no matter if they had beaten the whole tribe in the like manner’ (A 3).

Barbon's position commercially was a stable one. In 1650 he was surety with Sir Fulk Greville, John Harvey, and Thomas Barnardiston, each in 500l., for Dr. Aaron Guerdon, master of the mint, ‘for the performance of his covenants and indents’ (Calendar of State Papers, 25 July, 1649–52, p. 249). On 6 June 1653 Oliver Cromwell summoned Barbon ‘to appear,’ as the writ runs, ‘at the council chamber, Whitehall, on 4 July, and take upon you the trust of member for the city of London’ (Calendar of State Papers, 1652–3, p. 386). The assembly, which met on 4 July, was christened by its enemies ‘Barebone's,’ or the ‘little’ parliament. In the house Barbon does not seem to have spoken at all. But we read that on Tuesday, 2 Aug., ‘the house being informed that there were divers petitioners at the door out of the city of London, Mr. Barbone and Captain Stone were sent forth. Mr. Barbone acquaints the house that the petition was in behalf of Lieutenant-colonel John Lilburne’ (Burton's Cromwellian Diary, ed. Rutt, i. p. v, Introduction).

The ‘little parliament’ had only five months' lease; and Barbon did not again accept the dignity of M.P. He continued to preach as the ‘leather-seller of Fleet Street.’ In 1659–60 he was again the object of assaults. Samuel Pepys writes: ‘February 12th .... So to my father's, where Charles Glascocke was overjoyed to see how things are now; who told me the boys had last night broke Barebone's windows’ (p. 45). ‘February 22nd, 1659–60—I observed this day how abominably Barebone's windows are broke again last night’ (Pepys's Diary, ed. Bright, i. p. 53).

Barbon did all in his power to hinder the restoration of Charles II. Marchmont Needham confided to Praisegod the manuscript of his book, ‘News from Brussels in a Letter from a near Attendant on his Majesty's Person to a Person of Honour here. Dated 10 March 1659[–60].’ The object of the work was to expose the evil life of Charles in Holland, and Barbon had it printed and circulated broadcast. Nor did he seek to conceal his responsibility (Wood's Athenæ (Bliss), iii. 1187). But Barbon did more in the cause of the Commonwealth. On Thursday, 9 Feb. 1659–60, he presented the famous ‘Petition of Mr. Praise-God Barebone and several others to the Parliament’ against any kind of reconciliation with the Stuarts or the monarchy. It proposed that all officials should solemnly abjure the Stuarts, and that any one publicly proposing a restoration should be deemed guilty of high treason.

The royalists republished the petition, and in one of their attacks on it—the ‘Picture of the Good Old Cause drawn to the Life. In the Effigies of Master Prais-God Barebone. With several examples of God's Judgment on some Eminent Engagers against Kingly Government’—introduced a vividly engraved portrait of its author. Another tract vituperating Barbon's latest act was entitled: ‘That wicked and blasphemous petition of Praisegod Barbone and his sectarian crew, presented to that so-called the Parliament of the Commonwealth of England, Feb. 9, 1659, for which they had the thanks of that House, anatomized. Worthily stiled by his Excellency the Lord Generall Monck, Bold, of dangerous consequences, and venemous. By a Lover of Christ and his Ordinances, Ministers and their Calling, Parliaments and their Freedome; the Town of Ipswich her Peace and Prosperity, Civill and Ecclesiasticall: being sometimes an Inhabitant there. Printed by Philo-Monarchæus [4 April 1660].’ Barbon is here pronounced ‘worthy of all dedignation, indignation, and abomination.’ Another broadside travesties the petition after this fashion: ‘To the Right Honorable the High Court of Parliament sitting at Westminster. The Illegal and Immodest Petition of Praise-God Barbone, Anabaptist and Leather Seller of London: most impudently showeth that your Petitioner hath known a great while, and indeed long enough to have had more wit and more honesty,’ &c. (4 July 1660).

Although Barbon took advantage of the temporising ‘general pardon’ of 1660, he did not forsake his friends after the accession of Charles II. On 5 Sept. 1661 Humphrey Lee writes to Katharine Hurleston that Praise-God Barebones constantly resorts to Major Bremen and Vavasour Powell, prisoners in the Fleet (Calendar of State Papers, p. 82). On 26 Nov. 1661 Barbon, along with Major John Wildman and James Harrington, was arrested and sent to the Tower (Kennet, as before, p. 567). On 31 Dec. 1661, interrogations were drawn up by Secretary Nicholas to be administered to Mary Ellis, as to what she knew of Praisegod Barebones and others; their meetings at one Porter's house, where she had been servant; the weekly dining there of the post-office clerks (ibid. p. 197). We get a glimpse of Barbon in prison on 27 July 1662, when an order in council on petition of Sarah Barebones released her husband on bail from the Tower, where he had been close prisoner ‘many months, and so ill that he must perish unless released’ (Calendar, p. 447). But under 3 Nov. 1662 we discover that his steps were still dogged: ‘Examination of Lieutenant Kingsley as to his acquaintance with Jesse [Henry Jessey?], whom he apprehended two years before, … and Praise-God Barebones’ (ibid. p. 541).

After his release from prison Barbon reappears, in 1676, as a witness on house-rents, whilst he was resident in St. Dunstan's parish, and, as already noted, he was then aged eighty years. He died at the close of 1679. His burial is registered in the parish register of St. Andrew, Holborn, under date ‘5 Jan. 1679[–80], at ye ground near ye Artillery’ (Notes and Queries, 4th series, iii. 215).

It has been stated that Barbon had two brothers, respectively named ‘Christ-came-into-the-world-to-save Barebone’ and ‘If-Christ-had-not-died-thou-hadst-been-damned Barebone,’ abbreviated into ‘Damned Barebone’ (Granger, Biogr. Hist. of England, iii. 68); but there is no proof of this. The only other Barbon known at this period was Dr. Nicholas Barbon, probably Praisegod's son [see Barbon, Nicholas].

[In addition to the authorities cited, see Carlyle's Cromwell; Picton's Cromwell; Whitelocke's Memorials; Crosby's History of Baptists, ii. 40; Ivimey's History of Baptists, i. 156–7; Fanatics, Puritans, and Sectaries, 1821, in Brit. Mus.; reprint of New Preachers New, with a modern Introduction; communications from Rev. S. A. Swaine, M.A., London, and Rev. G. P. Gould, M.A., Bristol; two tractates referred to in Notes and Queries, 3rd series, i. 395, seem to show that Barbon, in his despair of monarchy and protectorship alike, fell in for a time with the ‘fifth monarchy’ enthusiasm; in Brit. Mus. (Harleian MS. 7332, f. 40) is a collection of verse ‘written (i.e. transcribed) by Ffeare-god Barbon (of Daventry), who, being at many times idle and wanting employment, wrote out certain songs and epigrams, with the idea of mending his hand in writing.’ Cf. Notes and Queries, 1st ser., i. 266.]

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