England's Fifth Monarchy Men, a millenarian group active in the mid-1600s, was a radical sect that merged millenarian theology and political extremism and came close to seizing complete political power in 1653. Members, which included clergymen, soldiers and members of the urban lower classes, were ready to employ violence to achieve their aim — replacing Parliament with saints and establishing Christ's Kingdom on earth through political reform. They employed apocalyptic biblical texts, declaring the Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman empires as the four great monarchies in the Book of Daniel, and that their rule was to be the fifth and last monarchy, the everlasting kingdom of God. They prophesied the Second Coming to be near where judgment would come upon the earth and made complex calculations to prepare the faithful.

Carlyle uses this group to criticize "prophets" by demonstrating the futility of such predictions of the future. He points out that "the rage of prophecy" comes and goes, no matter who the actors or what the prophecy. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the Fifth Monarchy Men faced a swift decline and left no lasting accomplishments of their political or millenarian visions. Therefore, Carlyle implies, people should not be focusing on the heralding of future things, but instead on discovering the present.

Related Material

Sources

Michael J. St. Clair. Millenarian Movements in Historical Context. New York: Garland Publishers, 1992.

Rogers, P. G. The Fifth Monarchy Men. London: Oxford University Press, 1966.


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Last modified 1 April 2009