The Peculiar Ventures of Particular Baptist Pastor William Kiffin and King Charles II of England: The Most Popular Narrative about the Seventeenth-Century English Baptist Pastor and Wealthy London Merchant, William Kiffin, Involves Charles H Asking Him for a Loan of Forty Thousand Pounds

By Johnson, Ronald Angelo | Baptist History and Heritage, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

The Peculiar Ventures of Particular Baptist Pastor William Kiffin and King Charles II of England: The Most Popular Narrative about the Seventeenth-Century English Baptist Pastor and Wealthy London Merchant, William Kiffin, Involves Charles H Asking Him for a Loan of Forty Thousand Pounds


Johnson, Ronald Angelo, Baptist History and Heritage


As the story goes, Kiffin responded by offering the king a gift of ten thousand pounds in lieu of the loan. Charles accepted the gift. Kiffin later quipped that he had saved thirty thousand pounds. English Baptist historian Thomas Crosby contributed this anecdote to the historical understanding of Kiffin. (1) Subsequent historians of Baptists during the Restoration employed the story to interpret interactions between Kiffin and Charles, some suggesting that Kiffin's financial ability to offer ten thousand pounds shielded him from the religious harassment other Baptists endured. (2)

Kiffin and Charles assisted one another during the first decade of the Restoration. Twice the king invited Kiffin to speak before his privy council. In both appearances, Kiffin provided Charles and his inner circle with sound economic advice. On another occasion, Charles entertained Kiffin's request for judicial assistance when the Baptist preacher appeared at Whitehall Palace without invitation. Kiffin also wrote to government officials for help against charges of sedition. His requests received direct intercession. The king and the Baptist pastor effected distinctive dealings that did not imply a religious, political, or financial alliance.

Perhaps Kiffin's Particular Baptist ministry--moderate in temperament and Calvinist in theology--and his life help explain his rapport with Charles during a time in seventeenth-century English history of deep religious and political tensions. Kiffin's conversion during the 1630s placed him at the inception of the Particular Baptist movement. (3) He began his sixty-year pastorate at the Devonshire Square Particular Baptist Church during the same period. Historians acknowledge his pivotal role in the ecclesiastical foundations of the Particular Baptist faith. (4) A contemporary Presbyterian merchant, Josiah Ricraft, labeled Kiffin the "grand ring-leader" of English Baptists. (5) Hardly known to twenty-first-century Baptists, Kiffin coordinated association-building among early Baptists and championed religious freedom and church-state relations. These contributions probably helped Particular Baptists survive the Civil Wars, the Restoration, and the Glorious Revolution. While his wealth and ability to provide funds to Charles are important factors, they do not fully elucidate the religious and political complexity of the interactions between Kiffin and Charles in the 1660s.

This article offers two explanations for how Kiffin garnered the king's favor and the amity of royal councilors during a time when English Baptists suffered persecution. The first is that William Kiffin did not pose a radical threat to Charles's regime. While many Baptists actively plotted against the restored monarchy, Kiffin promoted loyalty to the magistracy as an ordinance of God. The second explanation is Kiffin's commercial success as a London merchant, which afforded him an opportunity to advise the king and win his confidence. The article concludes that, in some ways, Kiffin and Charles were kindred spirits. Neither man professed extremist views on spiritual matters. Undoubtedly, the royal head of the Church of England and this Baptist leader held opposing spiritual beliefs. Their peculiar ventures demonstrate, however, that shared goals equipped them to practice--at least with each other--the tenets of religious toleration that they preached.

Baptists and the Restoration Regime

The Restoration of the Stuart monarchy and the reestablishment of the Church of England took place within a climate of radical hostility. The Civil Wars of the 1640s triggered a rise in the number of religious groups outside the Church of England. Baptists and Quakers were among the dissenting sects that separated themselves from the state church. Oliver Cromwell's Interregnum regime rewarded the wartime support of dissenters with the dissolution of the Church of England. When Charles II returned to England in 1660 to inherit his father's throne, dissenters did not intend to surrender quietly their hard-won liberties. …

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The Peculiar Ventures of Particular Baptist Pastor William Kiffin and King Charles II of England: The Most Popular Narrative about the Seventeenth-Century English Baptist Pastor and Wealthy London Merchant, William Kiffin, Involves Charles H Asking Him for a Loan of Forty Thousand Pounds
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