- Thomas Totney
Thomas Totney, who adopted the names TheaurauJohn Tany, Theauroam Tannijahhh and Ram Johoram (bap.
21 January 1608, South Hykeham, Lincolnshire- 1659) was an English preacher and religious visionary.
Totney was the third, but eldest surviving, son of John Totney and Anne, née Snelle. His father, although a poor farmer and never of the parish elite, was a respectable member of the local community. Nothing is known of Thomas’s education, yet it seems likely that by the age of seven he would have learned to read and by the age of nine, if his family could still cope without him, he would have learned to write.
In April 1626, Totney was bound as an apprentice in
Londonto a fishmonger but was not taught their trade, instead receiving instruction in his master’s adopted profession of goldsmith. On receiving his freedom, he married a daughter of Richard Kett, a prosperous Norfolklandowner, whose great-uncle had been executed as leader of the 1549 East Anglian rebellion. Rather than serving as a journeyman, Totney quickly established himself as a householder – a costly progression suggesting he received a charitable loan or financial assistance from family and friends. He set up in St. Katherine Creechurch, a location favoured by small retailers for its inexpensive rents, his shop marked by an unknown sign near Aldgate. To ensure that Totney’s business activities fell within their orbit, he was translated to the Goldsmiths Companyin January 1634. However, along with the majority of ‘remote’ goldsmiths, he resisted a Company initiative (which had gained royal approval) to vacate his dwelling and relocate in Cheapside, the hub of the goldsmiths’ trade.
Early political and religious involvement
Totney remained in St. Katherine Creechurch for another six years. There he heard the fiery sermons of
Stephen Denisonon the immutability of God’s decrees of predestination. It was a doctrine that troubled Totney until his epiphany. When his first son was born in December 1634, Totney refused to have him baptized and was presented before an ecclesiastical court as a result. Following his wife’s death, he remarried by licence during Lent, probably on Friday, 25 March 1636. This was the first day of the New Year in the old calendar and his actions hint at a type of confrontational godliness and perhaps also zealous Sabbatarianism. Upon his father’s death in 1638, he went to Little Shelford, Cambridgeshire to manage the family farm. In the summer of 1640, probably while serving as one of the parish’s petty constables, he played an important part in resisting the collection of ship money. By his own account he was imprisoned in London and his horse distrained on the county sheriff’s authority. A series of payments in 1642 show his support for those opposed to Charles I. Moreover, he claims to have witnessed one of Captain Oliver Cromwell’s orations delivered at Huntingdonto newly mustered volunteers. Totney later possessed a great saddle, musket, pair of pistols and sword, suggesting he served as a harquebusier. By December 1644, he had returned to Little Shelford where he resumed his duties as a local tax official, as well as taking up sequestered land and providing quarter for Parliamentarian soldiers and their horses. Following the outbreak of a second Civil War, Totney uprooted. He rented out his lands to a local villager and moved with his family to St. Clement Danes, Westminster. In June 1648, his second wife died and was buried in the parish.
Revelation and preaching
After his supposed revelation, Thomas Totney assumed the prophetic name TheaurauJohn Tany. 'TheaurauJohn' he understood to mean ‘God his declarer of the morning, the peaceful tidings of good things’. [TheaurauJohn Tany, "THEAURAUJOHN TANI His Second Part OF HIS Theous-Ori APOKOLIPIKAL: OR, God’s Light declared in Mysteries" (London, 1653), p. 19] While his former surname may have been vocalized as Tawtney, his new last name was usually pronounced Tawney. Because he had a speech impediment he may have dropped the consonant. In addition, he appropriated the coat of arms azure, three bars argent surmounted by the crest a hind’s head erased, gules, ducally gorged, or. This device, borne by Sir
John de Tanyof Essex during the reign of Edward I, appears on several of his works. Furthermore, he declared himself ‘a Jew of the Tribe of Reuben’ and took the titles High Priest and Recorder to the thirteen Tribes of the Jews. [TheaurauJohn Tany, "I Proclaime From the Lord of Hosts The returne of the Jewes From their Captivity, and the Building of the TEMPLE in Glory, in their owne LAND" (London, 1650), broadsheet] Tany justified his claims by inventing a fantastic genealogy that traced his descent from Aaron, brother of Moses, through the tribe of Judahand by way of the ten tribes of Israel, the Tartarsand the Welsh. He also circumcised himself.
Thereafter, believing he had been given the gift of tongues with which to preach the everlasting gospel of God’s light and love to all nations, he went forth armed with sword and word. Crying vengeance in the streets of London, he declared woe and destruction upon the city, prophesying that the ‘Earth shall burn as an Oven’ and all the proud, the wicked and the ‘ungodly shall be as stubble to this flame’. [TheaurauJohn Tany, "THEAURAUJOHN His Aurora in Tranlagorum in Salem Gloria" (London, 1651), p. 49] Drawing on the potent image of Christ as goldsmith, purging dross and corruption in a furnace, Tany forged his prophetic identity – the messenger foretold by
Malachi. He claimed his authority rested with the one who sent him, God:
but who may abide the day of his appearing? for he is like fullers sope, a refiners fire. [TheaurauJohn Tany, "THEAURAUJOHN His THEOUS ORI APOKOLIPIKAL: Or, Gods Light declared in Mysteries" (London, 1651), p. 53]
Insisting that the restitution of the Jews was at hand and that he had been sent forth to gather them and proclaim ‘Israels return’, Tany set about enacting a millenarian mission to restore the Jews to their own land. In the manner of the children of Israel before him, he began living in a tent, perhaps modelled upon the
tabernacle, which he decorated with a symbol representing the tribe of Judah. He preached in the parks and fields around London and gathered a handful of followers. His message was strong, denouncing the clergy as ‘diabolical dumb dogs, Tythe-mongers’, who fleece rather than succour the people. [TheaurauJohn Tany, THEAURAUJOHN His THEOUS ORI APOKOLIPIKAL: Or, Gods Light declared in Mysteries (London, 1651), p. 34] Gospel injunctions also made him demand justice:
feed the hungry, clothe the naked, oppress none, set free them bounden, if this be not, all your Religion is a lye, a vanity, a cheat, deceived and deceiving. [TheaurauJohn Tany, THEAURAUJOHN TANI His Second Part OF HIS Theous-Ori APOKOLIPIKAL: OR, God’s Light declared in Mysteries (London, 1653), p. 90]
Tany’s first publication was a broadside entitled "I Proclaime From the Lord of Hosts The returne of the Jewes From their Captivity" (25 April 1650). It is likely that Captain
Robert Norwood, a wealthy London merchant, paid for its printing.
Apocalyptic writings and preaching
In early September 1650, Tany was at
Bradfield, Berkshireat the same time as William Everard, one-time leader of the Diggers. There was bedlam. It was reported that the rector, John Pordage, fell into a trance while preaching and bellowing like a bull, ran to his house. There he found his wife upstairs, clothed all in white from head to toe, holding a white rod in her hand. Moreover, an adolescent was said to have fallen into a very strange fit, foaming at the mouth for two hours. He dictated verses concerning the destruction of London and demanded to go there to meet a goldsmith.
Tany next published two tracts: "Whereas TheaurauJohn Taiiiiijour My servant" (15 November 1650) and "THE NATIONS RIGHT in Magna Charta" (28 December 1650). Both demonstrated his earnest desire for social reformation, the latter exhorting the common soldiers to dissolve Parliament and call fresh elections. His next offering, "Aurora in Tranlagorum in Salem Gloria", seems to have been written on three consecutive days in late December 1650. It was printed by a Baptist who had previously printed a ‘very dangerous’ book. The publisher was Thomas Totney’s brother-in-law. It was sold by
Giles Calvertfrom his shop at ‘The Black-spread-Eagle’ at the west end of St. Paul’s Cathedral. In January 1651, Tany wrote the first of the epistles that eventually comprised "THEOUS ORI APOKOLIPIKAL" (1651) and "Second Part OF HIS Theous-Ori APOKOLIPIKAL" (1653).
Blasphemy charges and trial
Excommunication and imprisonment
On 6 March 1651, Tany was apparently brought before the
Westminster Assembly of Divines, responding to their questions with thirty-seven of his own queries. Nonetheless, they accounted him mad. Perhaps shortly thereafter he forsook his trade.
On 25 March, Tany preached at Eltham, Kent and then again on 13 April at Norwood’s house in
St. Mary Aldermary. In May, Norwood was excommunicated from his gathered church. The following month an indictment was prepared jointly against Norwood and Tany. The indicters seem to have understood Tany as some type of Ranter, as one of ungodly conduct who allegorized the Bible and internalized hell; as an antiscripturian universalist who repudiated gospel ordinances and averred that men might live as they wished; as one who glorified sin and maintained that the soul is God. Yet, as Norwood recognized, only two of the charges fell within the scope of the Blasphemy Actof August 1650 – the allegations that Tany and Norwood affirmed:
the Soul is of the essence of God
There is neither hell nor damnation. [Robert Norwood, A Brief Discourse made by Capt. Robert Norwood (1652), pp. 3–4; Robert Norwood, The Case and Trial of Capt. Robert Norwood, now prisoner in New-gate (no date = 1651?), pp. 9–10]
As their own accounts of the trial’s proceedings make clear, the defendants adamantly maintained that their words had been misrepresented, altered and taken out of context. Even so, on 13 August 1651, they were convicted jointly of blasphemy by a jury of twelve men at the London sessions of the peace held in the
Old Bailey. They were each sentenced to six months imprisonment in Newgate gaolwithout bail or mainprize. Conditions for those that could not afford the services of the gaoler were apparently intolerable.
On 27 October 1651, legal proceedings were initiated in the
Court of Upper Benchappealing the verdict. After several sessions the case was deferred until the next law term. More hearings followed. On 4 February 1652, Tany appeared before the Court. A London tailor named John Reeveclaimed that the same morning God revealed to him that he had been chosen as the Lord’s ‘last messenger’. Reeve and his cousin Lodowick Muggleton, a freeman of the Merchant Taylors’ Company, announced themselves to be ‘the two Witnesses of the Spirit’ foretold in the Revelation of Saint John. [John Reeve, A Transcendent Spiritual Treatise (no date = 1652?), p. 5; Lodowick Muggleton, The Acts of the Witnesses of the Spirit (1699), p. 40] In addition, they denounced Tany as a ‘counterfeit high Priest’ and pretended prophet, marking him as a Ranter, the spawn of Cain. [John Reeve and Lodowick Muggleton, A Divine Looking-Glass (1661 edn), pp. 167-68] A few days later, the judges of the Upper Bench made their judgement: Lord Chief Justice Rolle washed his hands of the business. On 16 February 1652, Tany and Norwood, having served their sentence, were each released on £100 bail pending good behaviour for one year. Thomas Totney’s former master and another man later described as a goldsmith, provided sureties. In Easter term Norwood initiated a new legal appeal. After several hearings the judges deferred proceedings until the following law term. On 28 June 1652, they reversed the guilty judgement against Norwood and Tany, resolving that their opinions had been made to rigidly conform to the strictures of the Blasphemy Act. For, whereas the Act made it unlawful to maintain that ‘there is neither Heaven nor Hell, neither Salvation nor Damnation’, the defendants who affirmed that:
there is ‘no Hell nor Damnation’, are not within the Statute, for tho by Implication if there be no Hell there is no Heaven, yet the court is not to Expand these words by Implication but according to the Letters of the Stat [ute] . [Gray’s Inn, London, MS 33 fol. 142]
Resumption of activities and second name change
Within a month of his release, Tany published a pamphlet he had written in Newgate entitled "High Priest to the IEVVES, HIS Disputive challenge to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and the whole Hirach. of Roms Clargical Priests" (March 1652). Echoing Paul’s epistle to the Romans, Tany proclaimed the return of ‘Israels Seed’ from captivity. [TheaurauJohn Tany, THEAVRAUIOHN High Priest to the IEVVES, HIS Disputive challenge to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and the whole Hirach. of Roms Clargical Priests ( [London] , 1652), p. 8] About 1 January 1653, it appears from his own account that Tany underwent another purificatory ritual. He refrained from speaking for thirty-four days, isolating himself for twenty-one of them. On the fourteenth day he transcribed an edict to ‘all the Jewes the whole earth over’, which was to be engraved in brass and sent to the synagogue in Amsterdam. He signed this proclamation with his new name and titles, Theauroam Tannijahhh, King of the seven Nations, and Captain General under my Master Jehovah, and High-Priest and Leader of the Peoples unto HIERUSALEM. [TheaurauJohn Tany, HIGH NEWS FOR HIERUSALEM ( [London] , no date = 1653?), pp. 10–12; cf. Southampton University Library, AJ 151/8/2c, TheaurauJohn Tany, ‘The Edictorie Unto all the Jewes the whole Earth over’ (photograph of an undated broadside in the collection of Cecil Roth), printed in D.S. Katz, ‘The Restoration of the Jews: Thomas Tany, to World Jewry (1653)’ in J. van den Berg and E.G.E. van der Wall (eds), Jewish-Christian Relations in the Seventeenth-Century: Studies and Documents (Dordrecht, 1988), pp. 190–92] Together with some other material, it was issued by an unknown publisher under the title "HIGH NEWS FOR HIERUSALEM" (no date). It exasperated one reader, who complained ‘truly I skill not the man, nor his spirit; in his writing he offends against all rules of Grammar, Geography, Genealogy, History, Chronology, Theology & c, so far as I understand them’. [Sheffield University Library, Hartlib Papers, 34/4/11A–12B]
In March 1654 a list of some thirty ‘Grand Blasphemers and Blasphemies’ was submitted to the Committee for Religion, which included:
XIX. A Goldsmith that did live in the Strand, and after in the City, and then at Eltham; who called his name Theaurau John Tany, the High Priest, & c. Published in Print, That all Religion is a lie, a deceit, and a cheat. [Anon., A List of some of the Grand Blasphemers and Blasphemies (1654), broadsheet]
Climax of claims
Claims of divine power
Writing from ‘the Tent of Judah’ on the ‘Tenth DAY NISAN’ (probably 16 April 1654), Tany addressed a millenarian epistle ‘Unto his Brethren the QUAKERS scornfully so called, who ARE the Children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; who ARE circumcised in Heart’. He saluted them as descendants of the Jewish race, an elect remnant who spoke a pure language and trembled at the word of God. [TheaurauJohn Tany, THARAM TANIAH, Leader of the LORDS Hosts, Unto his Brethren the QUAKERS scornfully so called ( [London] , 1654), broadsheet] On 8 May 1654, he issued an edict to all ‘earthen men and women’ announcing that he would shortly proclaim the Law and Gospel from his tent standing in the bounds of the Middle Park at Eltham, Kent. [TheaurauJohn Tany, Hear, O Earth, ye earthen men and women ( [London] , 1654), broadsheet] On 8 June 1654, he read out a speech in which he laid claim to the crowns of
France, Reme, Rome, Naples, Sissiliah and Jerusalem, as well as reaffirming an earlier claim to the crown of England. He did this by repeating Pontius Pilate’s reply to the chief priests of the Jews after Pilate had written ‘JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS’ as the title to be put on Christ’s cross:
What I have written, I have written. [TheaurauJohn Tany, ThauRam Tanjah his Speech in his Claim, verbatim ( [London] , 1654), broadsheet]
Assault on Parliament
On the morning of Saturday, 30 December 1654, in the week that Cromwell was offered the crown, Tany solemnly made a large fire at
Lambethinto which he cast his great saddle, sword, musket, pistols, books and bible. He crossed the River Thamesin a rowing boat and made his way to Parliament, ascending the stairs into the lobby outside the door. Unable to deliver a petition he departed, returning after about an hour oddly attired with a long, rusty sword by his side. Pacing up and down the lobby he suddenly threw of his cloak and began slashing wildly, but was disarmed before anyone was hurt. He was brought to the bar of the House and questioned by the Speaker. He refused to remove his hat, was evidently mistaken for a Quakerand committed to the Gatehouse prison. Having been examined by the Committee for regulating printing, he wrote to the Speaker requesting liberty to have an audience with Cromwell. He then attached a great lock and long chain to his leg as a symbol of ‘the people of Englands Captivity’. [The Faithful Scout no number, 5–12 January 1655 p. 1668] Legal proceedings were transferred to the Court of Upper Bench, but on 10 February 1655 he was bailed upon habeas corpus.
Two days later a fire broke out in
Fleet Street. In the following months, London was engulfed by several more unexplained fires which were interpreted as a sign of the impending destruction of the world. Eventually an arsonist was apprehended who may have been in the pay of William Finch, one of Tany’s disciples.
In September 1655, after weeks of heavy rain and widespread floods, Tany ‘in one of his old whimsies’ pitched his tent in the large tract of open ground between Lambeth Marsh and Southwark known as
St. George’s Fields. [Certain Passages of Every dayes Intelligence No. 4, 21–28 September 1655 p. 26] A satirical newsbook writer thought him ‘a madman’, fitter ‘for Bedlam then a Tent’. [Mercurius Fumigosus No. 70, 19 September – 3 October 1655 pp. 550–51] On 10 June 1656, Tany’s tent was pitched on Frindsbury Street near ‘The Black Lion’ in Frindsbury, Kent. That day, according to the title-page of his last known work, Tany read the law ‘unto the people ISRAEL, belonging to the returning from Captivity’. Then, sometime after 16 June 1656, Tany set sail, perhaps from Kent, bound for the:
Wars, wars, wars, wars, wars, wars, wars. [TheaurauJohn Tany, THE LAVV READ June the 10. 1656. unto the people ISRAEL, belonging to the returning from Captivity, at the Tent of JUDAH ( [London] , 1656), title-page, p. 3.]
He crossed the
English Channelsuccessfully and at an unknown date arrived in the United Provinces, perhaps to gather the Jews of Amsterdam. Some three years later, now calling himself Ram Johoram, he was reported lost, drowned after taking passage in a ship from Brielle bound for London. [Occurrences From Foreign Parts No. 50, 20–27 December 1659 p. 552] He was survived by his eldest daughter and probably also a second daughter and second son.
It is plausible but inadequate to see Tany as a crazy man, all too likely maddened by the mercury in the goldsmith's refinery, and allowed to make his voice heard because of the special circumstances of the English Revolution and a world made free to listen to crazed voices. But this would be to underestimate and to overlook the significant number of remarkable but elusive works that he wrote and that can fairly be said to be unlike anything else in the English language. His sources were varied, although they seem to have included almanacs, popular prophecies, and legal treatises, as well as "The Testament of the Twelve Patriarches, the Sonnes of Jacob" (1647),
Jacob Boehme's "A Description of the Three Principles of the Divine Essence" (English translation, 1648) and "Mercurius Teutonicus" (1649), "Theologica Germanica, or, Mysticall Divinitie" (1648), "Paracelsus of the Nature of Things" (1650), Henry Cornelius Agrippa's "Three Books of Occult Philosophy" (1650), and Menasseh ben Israel's "The Hope of Israel" (1650). Indeed Tany's writings embrace currents of magic and mysticism, alchemy and astrology, numerology and angelology, Neoplatonism and gnosticism, hermeticism and Christian Cabbala — a ferment of ideas that fused in a millenarian yearning for a return of Christ to earth. The English Revolution freed crazy, learned men and women to speak their minds and challenge their times. Tany had a few loyal followers but — unlike Lodowick Muggleton and others — he failed to found a sect. His vision was like molten gold, untouchable, malleable, redolent of possibility; and the trinkets he made with his words are as worthy of preservation as much of the solemn and weighty pronouncements of heavyweight puritans that have crumbled to dust with the passage of time.
*Ariel Hessayon, "'Gold Tried in the Fire'. The Prophet TheaurauJohn Tany and the English Revolution." (Ashgate, 2007)
*Ariel Hessayon, 'Totney, Thomas [later Theaurau John Tany] (bap. 1608, d. 1659?)', "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography" (Oxford, 2004)
*Ariel Hessayon, ‘«The refiner’s fire»: TheaurauJohn Tany (1608–1659) e la Rivoluzione Inglese’, "Rivista Storica Italiana", 119 (2007), pp. 359–84
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