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Thomas Venner
Ian Bone speaking at the installation of the Thomas Rainsborough memorial plaque (12 May 2013), championing Thomas Venner and the Fifth Monarchy Men. The banner is a replica of that used by the insurgents at the time.

Thomas Venner (died 19 January 1661[note 1]) was a cooper and rebel who became the last leader of the Fifth Monarchy Men, who tried unsuccessfully to overthrow Oliver Cromwell in 1657, and subsequently led a coup in London against the newly restored government of Charles II. This event, known as "Venner's Rising", lasted four days beginning on January 6, 1661, before the royal authorities captured the rebels. The rebel leadership suffered execution on 19 January 1661.


Venner had moved to New England in 1637 and stayed for 22 years before returning to plot against Cromwell. He assumed leadership of the Fifth Monarchists after the execution of General Thomas Harrison at Charing Cross on 19 October 1660. Venner led a congregation, which included New Model Army veterans, that met in a rented room above a tavern in Swan's Alley off Coleman Street.

Incidents in the Rebellion of the Fifth Monarchy Men under Thomas Venner, and the Execution of their Leaders, illustration, 17th century

On 6 January 1661 he led a number of his men – Samuel Pepys said they later turned out to be only 50, although it had been thought they were 500 at first – to a bookseller called Mr. Johnson at St. Paul's to demand the Cathedral keys. On being refused they broke in and accosted passers-by asking who they were for. One answered "King Charles" and they shot him through the heart. Several musketeers sent to dislodge them were beaten back and a detachment from the London Trained Bands under the Lord Mayor, Major General Sir Richard Browne, attacked them and they retreated to Ken Wood near Highgate.

On January 9 they attacked again at Wood Street and Threadneedle Street forcing the King's Life Guard of Foot (a force of 1200 men commanded by John Russell) to retreat. They then attempted to storm the Comptor Prison to liberate the inmates in order to join them but were repulsed by fierce fighting. Venner is said to have killed three men with a halberd in Threadneedle Street.

A force of General Monck's men under Colonel Cox pursued them to their last stands in the Helmet Tavern on Threadneedle Street and the Blue Anchor on Coleman Street. Royalist troops broke through the clay roof tiles with musket butts and fired upon the wounded defenders, breaking in through the ceiling. Venner was captured after being wounded nineteen times. Others were shot out of hand.

He was put on trial at the Old Bailey and hanged, drawn and quartered on 19 January 1661. According to Tobias Smollett, Venner and his followers "affirmed to the last that if they had been deceived, the Lord himself was their deceiver".[1]


Venner's son, also Thomas (born 1641), a fellow-rebel, led the Monmouth cavalry in 1688.[2]

His grand-daughter Elizabeth married a linen draper's son, John Potter, later Bishop of Oxford and Archbishop of Canterbury.


  1. ^ According to the then prevailing Old Style calendar, the turn of the year occurred on Lady Day, 25 March. As such, Venner died in 1660 according to contemporary accounts, but in 1661 as described by modern historians who take the start of the year to be 1 January.


  1. ^ Tobias Smollett, A Complete History of England, Book VII Chap. 1, p. 406
  2. ^ Greaves, Richard L. (23 September 2004). "Venner, Thomas (1608/9–1661)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/28191. ISBN 978-0-19-861412-8. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)

Further reading

  • Anonymous. The Last Speech and Prayer with other Passages of Thomas Venner (London, 1660)
  • Banks, Charles. Thomas Venner, the Boston wine-cooper and Fifth-Monarchy man, New England Historic Genealogical Society (1893)
  • Burrage, Champlin. "The Fifth Monarchy Insurrections", The English Historical Review, Vol. XXV, 1910
  • Dunan-Page, Anne. "L'insurrection de Thomas Venner (1661): anglicanisme et dissidence au défi des prophéties", in Les Voix de Dieu: Littérature et prophétie en France et en Angleterre à l'Âge baroque, Presses de la Sorbonne Nouvelle (2008) pp. 227–239
  • Greaves, Richard L. Deliver Us From Evil. The Radical Underground in Britain, 1660–63 (Oxford University Press, 1986)

External links

10 Annotations

First Reading

vincent  •  Link

Venner, Thomas Fifth-monarchy man and there many interesting pieces to fit each point of view.

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

Venner, Thomas, a wine-cooper, who, not satisfied with the business of his profession, became a fanatical preacher, and persuaded his followers, who were called fifth monarchy men, that all human government was soon to cease, to make room for the coming of Christ and his saints. From preaching he proceeded to violence, and after representing Cromwell and Charles II. as usurpers, he headed a mob, and proclaimed the kingdom of king Jesus. This popular insurrection called for the interference of the civil power, and Venner and 12 of his followers, who considered themselves as invulnerable, were executed Jan. 1660-1, exclaiming, "that if they were deceived, the Lord himself was their deceiver."
---Universal Biography, J. Lemprière, 1810.

Bill  •  Link

Thomas Venner, a wine-cooper, who acquired a competent estate by his trade, was reputed a man of sense and religion, before his understanding was bewildered with enthusiasm. He was so strongly possessed with the notions of the Millenarians, or Fifth Monarchy Men, that he strongly expected that Christ was coming to reign upon earth, and that all human government, except that of the saints, was presently to cease. He looked upon Cromwell, and Charles II. as usurpers upon Christ's dominion, and persuaded his weak brethren, that it was their duty to rise and seize upon the kingdom in his name. Accordingly a rabble of them, with Venner at their head, assembled in the streets, and proclaimed king Jesus. They were attacked by a party of the militia, whom they resolutely engaged; as many of them believed themselves to be invulnerable. They were at length overpowered by numbers, and their leader, with twelve of his followers, was executed in January, 1660-1. They "affirmed to the last, that if they had been deceived, the Lord himself was their deceiver."
---A Biographical History of England. J. Granger, 1775.

Bill  •  Link

VENVER, THOMAS (d. 1661), plotter; a cooper; resident in Massachusetts, 1638; Fifth-monarchy preacher in London; planned a rising, 1657; prisoner in the Tower of London, 1657-9; headed a rising to set up the Fifth monarchy, 1661; executed.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Ahhh, seems like Thomas Venner was against a growing English trend: the transportation of Bondslaves to the New World, and working them to death.

I found this paper today:
“Out of the Land of Bondage”: The English Revolution and the Atlantic Origins of Abolition by JOHN DONOGHUE…

In 1637, the wine cooper Thomas Venner had gone to New England, where he served in the Bay Colony militia.

Excited by the prospect of the Commonwealth reformation in England, he returned to London in 1651 and joined the radicals.

By 1654, Thomas Venner had joined the millenarian Fifth Monarchist movement, which opposed the Protectorate regime of Oliver Cromwell as just another form of monarchy.

So January 1661, Thomas Venner mobilied his Fifth Monarchist cell in a four-day rebellion to overthrow the recently-restored Charles II.

Venner’s forces at-tacked the Comptor Prison, Wood Street and tried to free the prisoners because they were potential ‘bondslaves’ bound for the plantations.

In tracts written before the rising, these Fifth Monarchists condemned the trade in the slaves and souls of men and prophesied the doom of those who engaged in this traffic.

Shortly after their capture, Venner and ten of his followers were executed.

Wood prints quickly followed, depicting Thomas Venner as a traitorous fanatic.
He was not be the last abolitionist to be vilified in such terms.

Engraving by unknown artist, 1861.
From Charles Knowles Bolton,
The Founders: Portraits of Persons Born Abroad Who Came to the Colonies in North America before the Year 1701, 3 vols.
(Boston, 1919), 3: 827

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

For 4 bloody days in January 1661, London was terrorised by a suicidal band of Christian zealots attempting to seize England’s capital city in the name of King Jesus.
Samuel Pepys was awakened at 6am on Wednesday, 9 January, by panic-stricken shouts “that the fanatics were up in arms in the city… I found everybody [with] arms at their doors. So I returned (though with no good courage and that I might not look afraid) and got my sword and pistol [for] which I had no [gun] powder.” He decided to remain indoors that day.

Pepys was prudent: a terrifying slaughter was going on in the heart of the city. A group of armed religious insurgents were rampaging through the narrow streets, defeating efforts by hastily summoned troops to eliminate them. Their fanaticism was bolstered by their belief that bullets could not harm them.

The insurrectionists called themselves ‘Fifth Monarchists’ or ‘visible Saints’, and combined religious and political objectives with radical fundamentalism, derived from narrow interpretations of religious texts.

Their confidence in an imminent apocalyptic ‘Fifth Monarchy’ came from prophecies in the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation. Four empires (the Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman) would precede the ‘Fifth Kingdom’, the thousand-year reign of Christ on Earth, lasting from his Second Coming till the Last Trump. This would be heralded by the establishment of a worldwide godly government, the ‘Rule of the Saints’.

The year 1666 held special significance for Fifth Monarchists because of its similarity to Revelation’s ‘Number of the Beast’ (666), which indicated the end of earthly rule by carnal human beings. But first, existing corrupt governments must be overthrown by violence, which is why Samuel Pepys and his fellow Londoners found themselves under attack on 9 January 1661.

Having flickered into life London in the 1650s, Fifth Monarchism spread like wildfire through southern England into north Wales, East Anglia, Devon and Cornwall. Many Civil War veterans were adherents, including Major Gen. Thomas Harrison, parliamentarian hero of the battles of Knutsford and Worcester in 1651.
Several were in Oliver Cromwell’s own Ironsides regiment; another was one of his personal life guard. Cromwell’s navy was also a hotbed.

These men’s political manifesto demanded the destruction of the monarchy and nobility and the privileged classes, especially lawyers. Once the old order had been swept away, the Saints’ theocracy would rule a society where godliness determined status. The judicial system would use the Bible’s Mosaic Code, with offences against God rather than the community. Property belonging to the ‘ungodly’ would be confiscated and distributed to the poor.

Following his victory over royalist forces and the execution of King Charles, many Fifth Monarchists hailed Oliver Cromwell as a second Moses, who would lead God’s people to their promised land.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


Their political influence peaked in the Nominated Assembly of 1653 (a ‘parliament’ dominated by army officers), but when this was dissolved and Cromwell was declared ‘lord protector’ of England, Ireland and Scotland, the Saints found themselves increasingly marginalised.
Cromwell’s new government was anathema to them, and the erstwhile ‘Second Moses’ was suddenly top of their hitlist.
John Thurloe, Cromwell’s spymaster, warned that Saints held five clandestine meetings in London to organise Cromwell’s overthrow in April 1657. Their leader was a Devon-born cooper named Thomas Venner.

The Fifth Monarchists planned to attack a troop of cavalry, then march on East Anglia, where they hoped rebels would rally to their flag. A bomb was also to be detonated in the cellar of a London house. The crusade was to start at Mile End Green on the evening of 9 April, 1657, but it turned into a fiasco.

Cavalry troopers attacked as the Saints mustered, arrested 20 and seized a substantial cache of arms, hundreds of copies of their manifesto and almost £6,000 in cash. The rebels, it was discovered, had enough weapons for 25,000 men, planned to cut Cromwell’s throat and slaughter the entire nobility. Their leader was immediately thrown into prison.

Such a body blow would have proved fatal for many revolutionary movements. Not the Fifth Monarchists.
By 1661 their numbers had swollen to an estimated 30,000 in England and Wales. The extremists among them needed a leader, and the charismatic Thomas Venner –- who had been freed in 1659 –- again fitted the bill.

On Sunday, 6 January, 1661, 50 Saints gathered at Venner’s meeting house to collect weapons and armour for the coup d’état: blunderbusses, muskets, swords and halberds.

Thomas Venner promised they would be invulnerable to bullets as they were to strike the final blow for ‘King Jesus’. Those opposing them should be killed. Their objective was to destroy “the powers of the Earth” in England: Charles II, his brother James, Duke of York, and Gen. George Monck, Duke of Albermarle. The first strike would be against that symbol of the Anglican church: St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Bizarrely, the heavily armed party called at the home of a bookseller called Johnson in St. Paul’s churchyard to ask for the cathedral’s keys. When they were refused, they broke in.

The rebels then challenged a passerby: “Who are you for?” When he replied “God and King Charles”, he was shot through the heart and fell dead on the cobbles.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


After repulsing 72 musketeers who had been dispatched to quell the affray, the Fifth Monarchists marched onto Aldersgate and, in St. Giles’ Cripplegate, killed a constable.
They then hid in Kenwood, near Hampstead Heath, but were driven out of the woods by troops.

Samuel Pepys heard of the insurrection the next morning: “A great stir in the city by the fanatics, who killed six or seven men, but all are fled. My lord mayor and the whole City had been in arms, above 40,000.”
London was now in lockdown. Returning from Twelfth Night celebrations, Pepys was “strictly examined” at “many places … there being great fears of these fanatics”.

The Saints returned to the City at dawn on Wednesday, 9 January. Venner repeated his pledge that “No weapons employed against them would prosper, nor a hair on their heads be touched”. (Government troops also believed the Saints had magic or poisoned bullets as “It was observed that all they shot, though ever so slightly wounded, died”.)

Venner, wearing a steel morion helmet, and carrying a halberd, took some Fifth Monarchists to the Comptor gaol in Wood Street and demanded that its prisoners be freed “or else [the gaolers] were dead men”.
With all available forces in London now mobilised –- including 700 Life Guard cavalry and Albemarle’s infantry regiment –- the net was tightening around the Fifth Monarchists. And when a cavalry detachment charged at them, Venner fell badly wounded and his two lieutenants were killed.

Ten Saints then broke into the Blue Anchor ale house near the city walls for a last stand. Musketeers fought their way up the stairs, broke through a barricaded door and shot six, as soldiers sniped through holes in the roof tiles.
Twenty-two Saints died in the street fighting, and another 20 were taken prisoner.
Venner killed three soldiers and sustained 19 wounds before his capture.
A woman was detained dressed “all in armour”.

Pepys was astonished at how so few desperate men could bring London to a standstill. “These fanatics that have done all this –- routed all the Trained Bands; put the king’s Life Guards to the run, broke through the city gates twice – are … in all about 31.”

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


The surviving rebels were tried for high treason on 17 January at the Old Bailey. Venner was one of two men hanged, drawn and quartered; the others were hanged and then beheaded.

Unfortunately for Charles II, the Fifth Monarchist cause didn’t die with Venner. In fact, the king’s secret service spent much of the following decade trying to defeat numerous conspiracies hatched by the Saints and their nonconformist allies.
In 1662 there was "... a plot to kidnap the king and his brother in an attack on Whitehall Palace on All Hallows’ Eve. The Tower was to be seized and a sergeant and a gunner at Windsor Castle were suborned as a first step to capturing that too. Three years later, there was another Fifth Monarchist plan to kill Charles II and set London ablaze."

But by the end of Charles II’s reign, the imprisonment of their leaders had weakened the Saints’ threat. Their movement was also dying, mainly because the apocalypse had not come.

Many Fifth Monarchists fought for the Duke of Monmouth in his uprising against England’s new king, James II, in 1685.
Venner’s eldest son, Thomas Jr., a cashiered army officer, was lieutenant colonel in Monmouth’s regiment and was wounded in a skirmish at Bridport, Dorset on 14 June.
After Monmouth’s defeat at Sedgemoor, many Fifth Monarchists were hanged or transported. Venner junior escaped retribution having gone to the Netherlands to buy munitions.

The last popular manifestation of belief in the imminent apocalypse was in the unlikely surroundings of Water Stratford in Buckinghamshire. The Reverend John Mason, rector of St. Giles’ Church, had accused Charles II of surrendering to the Beast and warned of the Second Coming.
In 1694, he had a vision of Christ, who revealed that ‘New Jerusalem’ was to be his parish. The revelation galvanised the neighborhood. Scores of people gathered in the village, many camping out in tents on a field across the river Ouse, renamed ‘Mount Pleasant’. Henry Maurice, rector of Tyringham, found Mason’s home full of disciples “running up and down”, their prayers “as loud as their throats gave them leave, till they were quite spent and black in the face”.
Mason predicted that after his death, he would be resurrected on the third day and his body carried up into heaven.
He died the following month, and was buried on 22 May 1694. His followers refused to believe that he had not risen again: some claimed they had spoken to him after his death. The new rector was forced to exhume Mason’s remains as grisly proof that he really was dead.
This did not persuade his followers and they continued to squat on the ‘Holy Ground’ until they were dispersed by militia 15 years later.

Extracted from…
This contains biographies of the leading Fifth Monarchists

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



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