The Fifth Monarchy
The "Fifth Monarchy" or "Fifth Kingdom" refers to an interpretation of prophecies in the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation. Four kingdoms or eras in history (the Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman Empires) would be followed by the Fifth Kingdom, ruled by "a son of man", who would reign for 1,000 years (interpreted as the Papacy). The ending of the 1,000-year reign was the Millennium; it would be followed by the reign of Christ on Earth. While other millenarian sects believed that Christ's second coming would be a spiritual revelation, the Fifth Monarchists expected a physical return that would be preceded by the establishment of a godly kingdom on earth (the "Rule of the Saints"). For the Saints to prevail, the old order should be overthrown by violence. Fifth Monarchists regarded the civil wars and the beheading of King Charles I in 1649 as a necessary prelude to the Millennium.
The movement began in December 1651 when the radical preachers John Simpson and Christopher Feake held a meeting at the church of All Hallows the Great in London to promote their millenarian beliefs. The sect drew its support mainly from urban tradesmen and craftsmen and from soldiers of the New Model Army, notably Major-General Harrison. Other prominent Fifth Monarchy Men included the preachers John Rogers and Vavasor Powell, and the regicides John Carew and John Jones.
When Oliver Cromwell dissolved the Rump Parliament in April 1653, Fifth Monarchists hailed him as a second Moses, leading God's chosen people to the Promised Land. Their political influence reached its peak with the Nominated Assembly of 1653. Several of the delegates were from Fifth Monarchy congregations and believed that the Assembly indicated that the Rule of the Saints had begun. The Anglo-Dutch War (1652-4) was regarded as a continuation of the process that had started with the civil wars because Dutch materialism and greed had betrayed the cause. The Fifth Monarchists expected the war eventually to engulf the whole of Europe, until Rome itself had fallen.
The abrupt dissolution of the Nominated Assembly and the establishment of Cromwell's Protectorate in December 1653 was seen as a betrayal by the Fifth Monarchists. Feake, Simpson and Powell were imprisoned after denouncing Cromwell. Harrison was dismissed from the army. The sect continued to agitate against the Protectorate throughout the 1650s. In November 1654, members of ten London congregations signed a Fifth Monarchist declaration against what they regarded as the worst features of the Protectorate. In 1657, a Fifth Monarchist plot to overthrow Cromwell was discovered and the ringleader Thomas Venner imprisoned. He was released in 1659 as an act of clemency by the new Protector, Richard Cromwell.
After the Restoration, Venner led a desperate Fifth Monarchy uprising in London in January 1661, which resulted in a street battle with soldiers and about 40 deaths. Venner and his followers were rounded up and hanged. The failure of Venner's Rising was followed by repressive legislation aimed at the suppression of all nonconformist sects.
Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down (London 1972)
English Dissenters: Fifth Monarchists www.exlibris.org