Agnes Beaumont and Her Fateful Ride
Agnes Beaumont and Her Fateful Ride
Agnes Beaumont was gloating on her way to church. She had managed to find a ride against all odds, and what ride! She was sitting right behind John Bunyan, pastor of the church in Bedford. “My heart was puffed up with pride,” she wrote, “and I was pleased that anybody did look after me as I rode along.”
Bunyan, on the contrary, might have been somewhat nervous. He had tried hard to get out of that uncomfortable predicament. His reputation had been tainted enough by unsubstantiated rumors without adding a potential tale of involvement with a 24-year old woman. But Agnes and her brother had insisted...
If Agnes had been reveling in people’s looks of curiosity and surprise, her feelings changed when a priest of the Church of England, Mr. Lane, looked at her and Bunyan “as if he would have stared his eyes out.” This obviously spelled trouble.
Agnes was a native of Edworth, Hertfordshire - the youngest of seven children in a family of farmers and religious nonconformists. At one point, the whole family used to attend the church in Bedford, where John Bunyan was pastor.
After a while, however, Agnes’s father John developed a dislike of Bunyan. This is not entirely surprising. Many despised Bunyan for his humble origins (he was a tinker by trade), and the disapproval had often escalated into outrageous accusations of being “a witch, a Jesuit, a highwayman, and the like.” As time went on, their family became smaller, either by deaths or relocation, and only Agnes, her brother John, and his wife continued to attend Bunyan’s preaching.
Agnes’s fateful horse ride was from Edworth to Gamlingay, about eight miles north of her home, where Bunyan was scheduled to preach. Agnes had been a member of that congregation for two years – since 1672, the same year Bunyan had been released from prison. She was in fact the first of the listed members, recorded in Bunyan’s handwriting.
That Sunday, she waited in vain for her customary ride, her neighbor John Wilson, to take her. Her brother, who lived nearby, was already taking his wife, and they had no spare horse. It was then that John Bunyan rode by.
Well aware of the problems Lane was going to create, Bunyan didn’t offer Agnes a ride home after church. She ended up walking, first with a friend and then alone. By the time she arrived home, it was dark, and the news had already reached her father. “Where you have been all day, go at night,” he told her.
Since the house was locked, Agnes spent the night in the barn. The next day she moved in with her brother, who encouraged her to stand her ground. That was a difficult choice for a young woman who had spent much time caring for her 59-year old father.
The following Sunday, after church, she again begged her father to take her back. He said he would, as long as she never again attended a meeting without his permission. His words were kind, appealing to her filial love. “What do you say, hussy, will you promise me or not?”
She promised, then immediately regretted. “Soon after I had entered the door, that awful promise was brought to my mind,” she said, “’They that deny me before men, them I will deny before my Father and the angels that are in heaven.’ And that word, ‘He that forsaketh not father and mother and all that he hath, is not worthy of me.’” She was back in her house, but her heart was heavy with “terror and guilt and rendings of conscience.”
The next day continued to be full of grief, with occasional feelings of comfort when she remembered promises such as, “Simon, Satan hath desired to have thee that he may sift thee as wheat, but I have prayed for thee.” She also remembered 1 Corinthians 10:13, about God making a way of escape in temptations.
She finally talked to her father about her anguish. He became so moved that “he wept like a child,” confessing how difficult locking her out had been for him. “Don’t let that trouble you,” he told her, “we shall not disagree.’”
Death and Indictment
What little relief she felt didn’t last long. The next night, when she was about to sleep, she heard a noise and rushed to her father’s bed, only to find him sitting up in tears. “I was struck with a pain at my heart in my sleep. I shall die presently,” he said.
In her memoir, Agnes describes the pain and confusion of that moment. All her attempts to help were futile, and he asked her not to go out looking for help, since it was already dark. She could only pray and let him die in her arms.
She had no time for quiet grieving. Just a day before the burial, Mr. Feery, a disgruntled suitor who was also their family lawyer, suggested that Agnes had murdered her father with poison provided by Bunyan.
Agnes and her brother rushed to find evidence in her defense. Since nFeery didn’t take the testimony of a local physician, they called a coroner and jury from a neighboring village. Agnes was confident of her innocence, but knew that juries can be prejudiced, and the thought of burning at the stake (the customary penalty for patricides) filled her with terror. She spent much time in prayer, knowing that ultimately all things are in God’s hands.
The investigation and trial lasted for a while, and Agnes was repeatedly called to testify. The coroner’s specific questions and the occasional shaking of his head must have troubled her. In the end, however, she was cleared of all charges. In fact, the coroner ordered Feery to restore the reputation he had besmirched.
Rumors Die Hard
But rumors die hard, and the stories of an alleged relationship between Agnes and Bunyan persisted. Once in a while, someone resurrected the idea that Agnes had poisoned her father in order to live with Bunyan. As for Feery, far from respecting the coroner’s orders, he was quick to accuse Agnes of setting fire to a house in Edworth.
As for Bunyan, he was so tired of these and similar defamations that he added a section to a later edition of his autobiography: “But that which was reported with the boldest confidence, was, that I had my misses, my whores, my bastards, yea, two wives at once, and the like. Now these slanders, with the other, I glory in, because but slanders, foolish, or knavish lies, and falsehoods cast upon me by the devil and his seed.”
The longevity of rumors might account for the fact that Agnes didn’t marry until 1702, when she was 50 years old. Her husband, Thomas Warren of Cheshunt, was a land owner and fellow Nonconformist who died five years after their marriage. In 1708, she married Samuel Storey, a London fishmonger.
Trust in God’s Providence
In the meantime, she continued to be a member of the Bedford congregation and contributed to the building of a church in Hitchin, where her neighbor John Wilson had become the pastor. She was buried in the yard of that church.
Her candid description of her experiences opens a window on the life of 17th-century Nonconformist women. Christian readers will also find encouragement in her dependency on God and her complete trust in his providence. She reports that God had been preparing her for her trial by reminding her of specific Scriptures and by moving her to pray wherever she was, so that “there was scarce a corner in the house, or barns, or cowhouse, or stable, or closes, under the hedges, on in the wood, but I was made to pour out my soul to God.”
All this, and especially her regular attendance to faithful preaching (missing a week was to her “like death”), gave her strength to face a succession of difficult ordeals, a stressful court trial, and a persistent and painful stigma.
 Agnes Beaumont, The Narrative of the Persecutions of Agnes Beaumont, ed. by Vera J. Camden, East Lansing Colleagues Press, 1992, p. 44.
 Ibid., p. 45.
 John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Project Gutenberg. Transcribed from the 1905 The Religious Tract Society edition by David Price, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/654/654-h/654-h.htm, 307
 Beaumont, The Narrative, p. 46.
 Ibid., p. 58
 Ibid., quoting Matthew 10:33, 37.
 Ibid., p. 60, quoting Luke 22:31, 32.
 Ibid., p. 63.
 Bunyan, Grace Abounding, p. 309.
 Beaumont, The Narrative, p.39.
 Ibid., p. 41.