The Muggletonians were a radical Protestant sect that originated in the seventeenth century when London tailors John Reeve and Lodowick Muggleton announced themselves as the prophets foretold in the Book of Revelation. Along with Diggers, Ranters, and Levellers, Muggletonians comprised one of many iconoclastic groups that sprung to life in the the social disruption caused by the English Civil War.
Muggletonians did not seek to convert others to their beliefs. They did not have religious ceremonies or clergy. Rather, they simply met in public houses to discuss scripture, sing, eat, drink, and socialize. In this way, they were radically leaderless and egalitarian.
The sect survived—although sometimes in secret—into the nineteenth century, when they began to more publicly propound their faith. Isaac Frost’s 1846 Two Systems of Astronomy, for example, was written to discredit “Newtonian” astronomy by showing that it was contrary to the the Muggletonian reading of Holy Scripture. Public lectures on heliocentric astronomy had become popular in early nineteenth century London with the advent of large planetariums and magic lantern shows, and wealthy Muggletonian brothers Joseph and Isaac were ready to spend a significant amount publicizing an opposing view. The large and lavish book, which included eleven gorgeous color plates, was sold at what was likely a subsidized cost of sixteen shillings (about $67 today). Frost wanted his book to be affordable to the working class, but also seen as a luxury item for amateur astronomers of the bourgeoisie.
In the Muggletonian reading, the Bible clearly states that the sun, moon and stars revolve around the earth and are embedded in a firmament made of congealed water—and that the planets and the moon, rather than reflecting the sun’s rays, are themselves independent sources of light.
The last Muggletonian, Philip Noakes of Kent, died on February 26, 1979.
Image: Plate 10 of Two Systems of Astronomy (1846)