Monday, March 27, 2017

THE EMBASSADOUR OF PEACE, Being a Strange and Wonderful Relation of a WHITE DOVE Seated on a Rain-Bow.
That Appears to several Persons, in the Parish of Peter's Carlile; particularly to Mrs. Isabel Fletcher, (Wife to Mr.Fletcher, Apothecary.) To whom it Relates Strange and Wonderful Things, concerning the state of Affairs in this Nation; very positively asserting Universal Peace and Plenty to all Christendom, the ensuing Year 1697. Proving the Subversion of the French King, from several Texts of Scripture; especially from the last Verse of the 31st Psalm.

It’s hard to make out what was happening up in Carlisle in 1696. The pamphlet, at once credulous and anxious, appeared both in London and Edinburgh editions. The clergymen who attest to the wonder are simultaneously worried that the dove delivering prophecies to Isabel Fletcher may be a devil: “False Christs, and false Prophets (saith the Holy Evangelist) shall arise, and shall shew Wonders to seduce, if it were possible, even the Elect.”

This is the beginning of the narrative of what was alleged to have taken place:
"On Friday the 23d. of October last, a little after Sun setting the Wife of John Fletcher and Apothecary in St. Peter's Carlile, a Woman of good and pious disposition; being set in her Chamber in a Melancholy thinking posture, with her Child in her Arms; felt on a sudden and unusual Warmness about her Head, and, immediately after discern'd the likeness of a White-Dove, as it were upon a Rain-bow: whereupon she presently fell down into a Trance: But, at last, recovering herself, she heard these Words uttered by it, in a shrill and powerful Sound, Isabel! be not afraid, for I am a Messenger sent from GOD, to proclaim Glad-tidings to all England: yea, even to all those that sincerely Love our Lord Jesus Christ; And so, bidding her attend in the same place next Evening, it for that time disappeared."

This would be easy enough: a vision or trance for a woman who is agitated by what she has heard about the Nine Years’ War and Louis XIV. The preamble to the pamphlet mentions "our Modern Speaking Raven (a Miracle yet fresh in our Memories)". I can find no further references to an oracular raven, it was perhaps another local wonder. But any raven speaking prophecies would certainly have run true to type as a bird of ill omen. The pious Mistress Fletcher is inspired to bring in a dove, offering greater comfort (and obviously inspired by Genesis 8). But the parish minister cited in the main part of the pamphlet makes it quite clear that the apparition was seen by others:

"The Astonished Woman acquainted her Husband with what had happened: whereupon he with several others attended with her the Hour appointed; to whom the Dove or Spirit appear'd, as aforesaid; Exhorting them to Prayer, Piety, and Repentance; as that GOD was angry; that his Vials of Wrath were ready prepared to be poured out on all the Children of Disobedience; that Rome had drunk deep of the Blood of the Martyrs: and therefore must drink deep of the Cup of GOD'S Wrath; That Peace and Plenty should environ all Christendom; and that the present disturber of the Welfare thereof, shall in the year Ninety and Seven, be Cut off from among the Children of Men: Moreover it added, that the Kingdom of Christ should shortly be Established throughout the whole World: and that of Satan's totally Subverted and broken into Confusion."

How was it done? If its appearances were confined to one place, one could imagine a simple mechanism, a painted rainbow (inspired by Genesis 9) being used to secure the bird and bring it into view. But is also appeared at other places. I suppose it was seen by those who could see it, and Mistress Fletcher, casting her voice, made sure everyone heard it:

 "It is so commonly seen, that it is known to every Body in the Neighbourhood; and appears frequently in the day time: and when Three, Four, or more are present it never fails to speak with a clear and audible Voice."

The parish minister, Edward Knowls, challenged the ‘dove or spirit’ to prove its non-diabolic nature:

"It shows itself also in the Neighbours Houses, exhorting to Repentance. At a certain time, being present, with some others, I conjured it, by the Holy Trinity, to tell me what it was, and wherefore it came. It presently replied, in the same manner as afore, ‘A Messenger, from God, sent for the Conversion of Sinners’. And so, for that time vanished."

He earnestly tries to dissuade Mistress Fletcher: "I desired her to consider, That it was not a Good & True Spirit; that she should refuse to Pray at his Command: For that, under such Holy Representations, it might seduce her and others from the Word of God and his Grace."

Despite such clerical misgivings, crowds gathered in Carlisle:

"Here is such a numerous Concourse of People that the Town cannot contain them, and if we should countenance them, I am apt to think, they would set it up as an Idol or Oracle; for as much as several repair hither to ask Council in doubtful Matters."

Henry Patrickson was the other clerical witness, though he seems to report the dove as having been Mistress Fletcher’s visual experience alone:

"Sir, I cannot omit this Opportunity of Acquainting you with a wonderful Apparition, that is here amongst us, to the exceeding Amazement of Thousands of People, viz. A White Dove, seated on a Rain-Bow, that daily appears to Mrs Fletcher, an Eminent Apothecary's Wife. It talks with her very much out of the Scriptures; applying especially these Places, The Seed of the Woman shall bruise the Serpents Head. The Blood of Jesus, &c."

“It foretells the total Subversion of the Ottoman Empire in a very small space of time; and a signal Victory over the French in 97. And that Peace and Tranquillity will thereupon ensue. It also speaks of the Affairs between France and the Duke of Savoy.
It delivers its Answers after a mysterious and ambiguous manner, as did the Oracles of old. The common People take it to be an Angel sent from God, but a Bishop and other of the Clergy hold it for a Devil. As for me I shall forbear to pass my Judgement, till it appear what manner of a Spirit it is.

The dove was surprisingly like a foreign correspondent, if a bit behind the times on the Turks, who had passed the apogee of their threat to Europe at Vienna in 1683. Even so, while Mistress Fletcher could do scripture talk easily enough, she had a wider concern for the state of Europe than one might expect from a late 17th century apothecary’s wife in Carlisle.

The postscript to the pamphlet promises more to follow: “You shall not fail of having exact notice of all ensuing Material, Passages relating to this wonderful Prodigy, for it is so far from any likelihood of Ceasing, that it daily appears, every day more visible than other freely answering all Questions whatsoever."

"Several Atheists flock thither, and are fully convinced of the Power of an Almighty Being: And several eminent Persons have employed their utmost Skill and Learning to find out whether it might proceed from some Natural Cause, or not? but all in vain. So that all in general conclude, that it is no less than the Finger of God."

The story seems to end there, with that 'flock' of 'several atheists'. Maybe there was an awkwardness, an exposure of pious fraud, or maybe she was finally persuaded of the ambiguity of her prophet bird. On the other hand, it did seem to have got The Treaty of Ryswick correct for 1697, when Louis XIV allowed Europe three years without war before triggering the War of Spanish Succession.

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