John Pordage

(1607—1681) religious leader and physician

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Elias Ashmole (1617—1692) astrologer and antiquary

Jane Lead (1624—1704) mystic and author

Richard Baxter (1615—1691) ejected minister and religious writer



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John Pordage was born in London in April 1607 and died there in December 1681. He was educated at Pembroke College, Oxford, graduating BA in 1626. He studied medicine at Leiden and later styled himself ‘M.D.’, although it seems he did not pass the examinations. By 1644 he was curate in charge of St Lawrence's, Reading. He acquired a reputation as an astrologer, on the strength of which Elias Ashmole presented him in 1647 for the living as rector at Bradfield in Berkshire. He was a follower of the German philosopher Jacob Boehme and was described by his contemporary Richard Baxter as the ‘chiefest’ of the ‘sect of Behmenists’. Baxter described this little group as being not unlike the more numerous Quakers in believing in ‘the sufficiency of the Light of Nature, Inward Light, the salvation of the Heathens as well as Christians, and a dependence on “revelations”’ (Reliquiae Baxterianae, vol. 1, p. 77). A ‘family’ of Behmenists lived with Pordage, and their heterodox practices (they sought and claimed visions) and beliefs (which tended to a mystical pantheism) led him into trouble with the authorities. In 1651 he was charged on nine counts of heresy but the Berkshire county commissioners acquitted him on all of them. In 1653, however, a book was published by a dissenting minister, Christopher Fowler, alleging necromancy against Pordage. The nine articles were revived in 1654 and many more charges were brought against him – for instance, that he claimed to see and have communication with angels. He was ejected from his living in the following year as ‘ignorant and very insufficient for the work of the ministry’. Pordage himself thought these proceedings illegal and unjust and published defences. Fowler continued the controversy with further publications. After the Restoration, however, Pordage was reinstated at Bradfield, thanks to the intercession of another Behmenist, the Earl of Pembroke, a supporter of Charles II. He continued in his ministry until he died, after which some of his writings were published at the instigation of his followers, particularly Jane Lead. Other writings by Pordage were published in German only.


From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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