Francis Howgill (1618?–1669) was a Quaker activist who played a key part in the growth and development of the Movement. He was born c.1618, in Todthorne, near Grayrigg, Westmorland, probably of yeoman parentage. He appears to have had a sister but it is unclear whether the Quaker minister Mary Howgill, who addressed Oliver Cromwell, travelled to Ireland, and was imprisoned in Lancaster was his sibling. Francis Howgill’s spiritual autobiography The Inheritance of Jacob (1656) gives little detail about his material life or family, although he seems to have been university-educated and may have been involved with farming. Having experimented with Independent and Baptist forms of worship, in 1652, he had become a minister in Colton. In 1652, however, he and John Audland (another minister) were cross-questioned by George Fox, and converted to Quakerism.
Once convinced, Howgill travelled as a Quaker preacher. He appeared at James Naylor’s trial in Appleby for blasphemy to offer support for a persecuted Friend but infuriated members of the Bench by refusing to remove his hat in sign of deference to the judges. His hat was burned and he was imprisoned for five months as an enemy to ‘Ministry and Magistracy’, and imprisoned him for five months (Besse, 2.3). Howgill subsequently travelled with Edward Burrough, visiting Bristol (1654), London (1654), taking advantage of being close to the centre of power, and then Ireland, where they ministered through the winter of 1655–6 until they were banished by Henry Cromwell. Howgill endorsed the Quaker practice of going ‘naked as a sign’ in A Woe Against the Magistrates, Priests, and People of Kendall (1654) [see ‘Other Sources’ for excerpts] but was, nevertheless, critical of James Naylor's ministry and supporters, even prior to Naylor’s re-enactment in Bristol of Christ's entry into Jerusalem in October 1656. In March of this year, Howgill’s wife Dorothy, who had borne him at least one child, died. However, in 1657, he was travelling again in Scotland, and is recorded as imprisoned in London in 1661. The date of Howgill’s second marriage and the name of his wife, who gave birth to a son, Henry, on 27 September 1665, are unknown. There was at least one other brother, Thomas,1 and several daughters including one named Abigail.
Howgill became increasingly pessimistic after the Restoration, claiming in his tract One Warning More (1660: 3) that the nation had ‘Chosen Madness for thy Crown.’ When he refused to swear the oath of allegiance he was tried at Appleby in 1663 and sentenced to life imprisonment. His General Epistle (1665) showed a loss of belief in any Quaker triumph over adversity. After becoming sick while imprisoned at Appleby, he died on 11 February 1669 and was buried on 20 February in Westmorland. A collection of his works was published as The Dawnings of the Gospel-Day (1676).
‘A.R. Barklay MSS’ Journal of the Friends' Historical Society, 33 (1936), 55–64
‘A.R. Barklay MSS’ Journal of the Friends' Historical Society, 46 (1954), 78–91
Edward and Thomas Backhouse Biographical memoirs: being a record of the Christian lives, experiences, and deaths of members of the religious Society of Friends from its rise to 1653 (London: W. and F.G. Cash, 1854)
Joseph Besse, A collection of the sufferings of the people called Quakers, 2 vols (London: Luke Hinde, 1753)
William C. Braithwaite, The Beginnings of Quakerism, edited Henry J. Cadbury (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition 1955, reprinted 1981)
Catie Gill ‘Francis Howgill’ in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online edition: your local library card will usually give you access)
Francis Howgill The dawnings of the gospel-day (1676)
Francis Howgill The inheritance of Jacob (1656)
Norman Penney The First Publishers of Truth (1907)
1. If he is the Francis Howgill christened in Kendal on 21 November 1619, his father was called Richard and his mother Agnes née Beck, and he had at least six siblings, Thomas (1607), Dorothy (1608), Agnes (1610), Jane (1612), Margaret (1613), and Mary (1623). There are vast numbers of Howgills in the area (it is a place name), but only one recorded Francis. Return