Magnus Byne and the Quakers

In recent posts I’ve established that my Byne ancestors definitely had their roots in rural Sussex. To recap: Mary Byne (born in 1683), who married goldsmith Joseph Greene, was my 7 x great grandmother. She was the daughter of John Byne (1651 – 1689), citizen and stationer of Tower Hill, London, and his wife Alice (died 1738). John was born in the village of Clayton, Sussex, the son of Magnus Byne (1615 – 1671), the rector of Clayton-cum-Keymer. John had three brothers: Stephen (1647 – 1685), a London citizen and upholsterer; Edward (born 1649), who remained in Sussex; and Magnus (born in 1664), an apothecary in Southwark. There were also three Byne sisters – Ann (1643), Anna (1663) and Sarah (1666) – but I don’t have any information about what became of them.

Cover of Magnus Byne's book

Cover of Magnus Byne’s book

Now that I’m fairly sure Magnus Byne, clergyman of Clayton, was my 9 x great grandfather, I can take a closer look at his life. For example, I’ve known for some time that he wrote a famous (or, depending on your point of view, notorious) diatribe against the Quakers, but I didn’t want to explore it further until I could be sure that Magnus was my ancestor. In 1656 Magnus Byne published a book entitled The Scornfull Quakers answered and their railing Reply refuted by the meanest of the Lord’s servants Magnus Byne, which was printed in London by William Bentley for Andrew Crook at the sign of the Green Dragon in St Paul’s Churchyard (see above). The publication seems to have been prompted by a personal encounter between Magnus and two Quakers named Thomas Lawcock and Thomas Lawson. As the author states in his preface:

I had some dealing by conference and by questions and answers and replies on both sides. As concerning their questions propounded to me in writing I gave them but a brief answer not minding to make anything public unto the world knowing mine inability to come forth in print in the midst of such a variety of judgements abroad yet receiving a reply from Lawson full of lying and railings and evil surmisings I was pressed in my spirit to give some satisfaction unto my friends. 

The book is composed in question and answer form and contains a good deal of personal invective on both sides. It prompted a reply by Thomas Dawson, also published in 1656, the shorter version of whose title is The Lip of Truth opened against a Dawber with untempered Morter, A few words against a book written by Magnus Byne, Priest in the county of Sussex…   The founder of the Quakers, George Fox, also responded to Byne’s book in his 1659 publication, The Great Mistery of the Great Whore unfolded…

Quaker meeting

Quaker meeting

Magnus Byne’s book can be read online via university library collections, though I’ve also ordered a printed copy and will have more to say about it once I’ve had the chance to digest it thoroughly. For now, I’ll just note how fascinated I am by this discovery of a publication by my 9 x great grandfather. It means that, as well as being the first member of my family (certainly of my mother’s family) before the current generation to attend university (he studied at Emmanuel College, Cambridge: see this post), it turns out that Magnus was also the first person in my family tree, again before the current generation, to become a published author. Until now, I had thought that this honour was held by my paternal ancestor Rev. William Robb of St Andrews (1763 – 1830), the brother of my 3 x great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb.

Mention of William Robb is a reminder of another connection: both men were ministers, one in the Scottish Episcopal church the other in the Church of England, and it seems Christian ministry is a constant theme in my family history. My father’s cousin Frank Everard Robb was a Methodist minister and my own father Peter is a Methodist lay preacher. Involvement in religious and political disputation also appears to be a common refrain: William Robb’s longest poem rails against Jacobins and reformers, echoing Magnus Byne’s fulminations against the upstart Quakers. More broadly, both my father’s and my mother’s family trees are full of religious activists, including a wide variety of Nonconformists, from Methodists and Baptists to Congregationalists, Independents – and yes, Quakers. I wonder what Magnus Byne would have made of the fact that his 5 x great grandson Daniel Roe, a London shoemaker, himself the son of Baptists, would marry Mary Blanch, who was descended from Bristol Quakers?

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