Christopher Love, Preacher, 1618-51
Fiery Presbyterian preacher found guilty of treason and beheaded for his involvement in conspiracies against the Commonwealth.
Christopher Love was the son of a merchant of Cardiff in Glamorganshire. Encouraged by his father, he gained a reputation as a gambler during his early life, but in 1633 he heard a sermon by the radical Welsh preacher William Erbery that persuaded him to renounce his sinful ways and devote himself to godliness. Love's conversion to Puritanism caused a breach with his father who confined him to the top room of the family house, yet Love escaped by climbing down a rope to attend sermons. Supported by his mother and Erbery, Love persuaded his father to let him go to Oxford to train for the ministry. He attained his degree in 1639 but refused to be ordained by a bishop, regarding episcopacy as popish and corrupt.
In June 1639, Love became chaplain to the household of John Warner, sheriff of London. The following year, his refusal to subscribe to the canons introduced by Archbishop Laud brought him to the attention of William Juxon, Bishop of London, who ordered his suspension from the ministry. Love became notorious as a firebrand wandering preacher. He continued to denounce the Laudian innovations, for which he was briefly imprisoned, and he was accused of treason in 1642 after proclaiming the righteousness of civil war against King Charles.
Love was appointed chaplain to the regiment of John Venn and accompanied Venn when he became governor of Windsor Castle. Love remained at Windsor throughout the First Civil War. He was finally ordained a Presbyterian clergyman in January 1645 under the auspices of the Westminster Assembly. Shortly after his ordination, Love preached an inflammatory sermon against the Royalists at Uxbridge, where negotiations for the Uxbridge Treaty were being held. He was confined to the garrison at Windsor following complaints by the Royalist commissioners, but was released after the collapse of the treaty negotiations.
In May 1645, Love took up an appointment as minister to the parish of St Anne and St Agnes within Aldersgate in London. During 1647, he became involved in Presbyterian opposition to the New Model Army. Love denounced the Army's toleration of the radical sects. HIs sermons were published under the pseudonym Tom Tell-Truth in a tract entitled Works of Darkness Brought to Light in July 1647. His hostility intensified after Pride's Purge of December 1648 and the trial and execution of King Charles early in 1649.
During the summer of 1649, Love became involved in a conspiracy in support of the alliance between Charles II and the Scottish Covenanters. Links were established between Charles' court-in-exile, London financiers and a number of leading Presbyterian ministers, with the intention of raising funds to finance a Scottish invasion of England. In the spring of 1651, the Royalist agent Tom Coke was arrested by the Commonwealth authorities and revealed full details of the conspiracy, leading to the arrest of Love and several of his fellow conspirators. As Love's house had been a meeting-place for the conspirators, he was regarded as a ringleader and selected to stand trial before the High Court of Justice. He was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death on 5 July 1651.
Love's sentence resulted in an intensive campaign for a reprieve. While radicals argued that the sentence should be carried out as a warning to Presbyterians not to oppose the Commonwealth, moderates maintained that a reprieve would be a positive step towards reconciliation between the Presbyterians and Independents. The call for leniency was widely supported across the nation. Love's wife Mary, whom he had married in 1645, campaigned tirelessly on his behalf. She appealed to Cromwell and his officers in Scotland to intervene and regularly presented petitions at the door of the House of Commons. Parliament hesitated for several weeks, but with Charles II and the Scottish army marching into England, a motion to reprieve Love was finally rejected on 16 August. He was beheaded on Tower Hill on 22 August 1651.
Next day there was a terrifying storm that was widely interpreted as a sign of divine anger. Love came to be regarded as a Presbyterian martyr. During the 18th and 19th centuries in Britain and America, he acquired a reputation as a prophet of the last days, whose writings and sermons had predicted the Restoration, the Great Fire of London, the American War of Independence and the French Revolution.
S.R. Gardiner, History of the Commonwealth and Protectorate vol.ii (London 1903)
E.C. Vernon, Christopher Love, Oxford DNB, 2004
Blair Worden, The Rump Parliament (Cambridge 1974)