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Solomon Eagle striding through plague ridden London with burning coals on his head, trying to fumigate the air. Chalk drawing by Edward Matthew Ward, 1848

Solomon Eccles (1618–1683), also known as Solomon Eagle,[1] was an English composer. However, he later became an active Quaker and distanced himself from church music.


Solomon Eagle was mentioned in Daniel Defoe's semi-fictional account of the plague of 1665 titled A Journal of the Plague Year:

I suppose the world has heard of the famous Solomon Eagle, an enthusiast. He, though not infected at all but in his head, went about denouncing of judgment upon the city in a frightful manner, sometimes quite naked, and with a pan of burning charcoal on his head. What he said, or pretended, indeed I could not learn.[2]

This event is corroborated in the 29 July 1667 entry of the Diary of Samuel Pepys (vol 13). Pepys confirms that the person described as such is a Quaker:

...a man, a Quaker, came naked through the [Westminster] Hall, only very civilly tied about the privates to avoid scandal, and with a chafing-dish of fire and brimstone burning upon his head... crying, "Repent! repent!"[3]

Eccles as a Quaker was prosecuted numerous times during the Restoration for civil disobedience. He would worship with other Quakers, although the Conventicle Act 1664 declared that this was a dangerous and seditious activity.[4][5] The statute defined it as a criminal offence if more than five persons, "over and besides those of the same household, if it be in a house where there is a family inhabiting, or if it be in a house, field or place where there is no family inhabiting" assembled together "under colour or pretence of any exercise of religion, in other manner than according to the liturgy and practice of the Church of England." In May 1665, Eccles was arrested in Southwark, though he probably lived in the middle of the City of London, and was put away in prison for two or three months – probably in the Clink on the South Bank.

Death and will

Eccles died on 2 January 1682 in Spitalfields. He made George Whitehead his executor, and left money to the Quakers Leonard Fell and James Lancaster.[6]


Few if any of his works are extant, for when he became a Quaker, he burned all his books and compositions so as to distance himself from church music. He believed that music was a sinful vanity, and initially sold his compositions and instruments, before taking them back and burning them to prevent the purchaser falling into sin.[1] His repugnance for the organised church was reflected in the Quaker name for church buildings in his time: "steeple-houses".

Eccles is credited as the author of a tract, "A Musick-Lector", from 1667.[7]


Eccles had at least two children, who were also composers: John and Henry.

Cultural references

Eccles, under the name Eagle, features as a major character in Harrison Ainsworth's novel Old St. Paul's, a fictional chronicle of the Great Plague and the Fire of London.

He is mentioned in the poem The Wilderness by Second World War British poet Sidney Keyes.

A song on Jamie T's 2016 album Trick is named after Solomon Eccles. The cover of the record shows an 1843 painting by Paul Falconer Poole depicting the scene reported above.

The British band Orange Goblin mention Solomon Eccles in their song "The Ballad of Solomon Eagle"


  1. ^ a b Pulver, Jeffrey (1927). A Biographical Dictionary of Old English Music. Ayer Publishing. p. 162. ISBN 0833728679.
  2. ^ Defoe, Daniel. A Journal of the Plague Year.
  3. ^ Pepys, Samuel (1895). The diary of Samuel Pepys, Volume 13. Brainard. p. 41.
  4. ^ Documents of the Christian Church, selected and edited by Henry Bettenson, 2nd ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963, pp. 414–416.
  5. ^ Conventicle Act 1670 (22 Cha. 2. c. 1) I: Statutes of the Realm, v. 648.
  6. ^ Leachman, Caroline L. "Eccles, Solomon". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/8438. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  7. ^ "Quaker Heritage Press". Quaker Heritage Press: Online Texts. 7 July 2013. Retrieved 11 June 2014.

External links

1 Annotation

Second Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Solomon Eccles, AKA Eagle, was born around 1618 in London where his father was a professor of music. He became a composer and taught the virginals and viol, making a good living.

Although he was brought up in the established church, Eccles became dissatisfied and pursued religious truth through several denominations, becoming a Presbyterian, an Independent and a Baptist before being convinced by Quakerism around 1660.

On becoming a Friend, Eccles came to see music as a vanity which he must renounce. He sold all his books and instruments for a considerable sum -- but then became afraid they might injure the purchasers' morals. He therefore repurchased everything and burned it publicly on Tower Hill. [Can you imagine Pepys snatching sheets of music from the fire?]

To support himself Eccles learned to be a shoemaker.

Like other Friends at this time, Solomon Eccles preached not only by words but by acting out his message through 'signs'.
In 1662 Eccles sat in the pulpit of a church making shoes in order to show that it was not a special place. He was thrown out of the church -- but returned the next day, this time reaching the pulpit by jumping from pew to pew. After this demonstration he was arrested and imprisoned.
Eccles began acting out his 'sign' in London in 1665 so that some saw it as a prophecy of the Great Fire, He continued with them in 1667 in Scotland when he denounced the worshippers in a Catholic church, and later in Cork where he exhibited himself stark naked and was flogged through the town and expelled.

Solomon Eccles' most famous 'sign', reported by Samuel Pepys, was to walk semi-naked with a pan of fire and brimstone balanced on his head, threatening passers-by with the fate of Sodom if they did not repent.

Also in 1667, Solomon Eccles published a tract *A Musick Lector: OR, The Art of MUSICK that is so much vindicated in Christendom, discoursed of by way of Dialogue, between three men of several judgments [a musician, a Baptist and a Quaker].*

Although his actions seem extreme, Eccles made it clear he was only acting as God commanded him -- and against his own will.

George Fox trusted Solomon Eccles and took him to the West Indies in 1671 where Eccles was useful in organizing Quakers in Barbados and Jamaica.
In 1672 Solomon Eccles went to New England and was arrested at Boston and banished.

In 1677 Eccles wrote, 'I can truly say this, that I have strove much and besought the Lord that this going naked might be taken from me, before ever I went a sign at all.'
The Dutch Quaker, William Sewel (1653-1720) knew Eccles well, and judged him 'an extraordinary zealous man and what he judged evil he warmly opposed, even to the hazard of his life.'

Solomon Eccles returned to England in 1680 and died in Spitalfields around January 1682 aged about 64.

From https://stumblingstepping.blogspo…

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.