It was hardly respectable but
The CURATE turned BAPTIST
He announced his conversion in an outspoken sermon at Baldock, but within a few years he was leading a mutiny in the Army!
“Is it true what they say about the Curate?” When the parishioners of Pyrton (Pirton, Near Hitchin) whispered that among themselves in the early part of the seventeenth century they knew the seriousness of what was involved. For a respected curate like Henry Denne even to think of joining the new Baptist sect was a matter needing most earnest thought.
In spite of all advice against it, however, Henry Denne went ahead and made his change of conviction most felt in a classic sermon at Baldock. Then he told his listeners that the clergy of the day had many sins, among them “pride, covetousness, pluralities and non-residence”. Needless to say, instant protests were made publicly, almost before Denne had finished his sermon.
Denne went on then to explore fully the points he had made, in times when rivalry between Puritan and Established tenets was at its highest. As a result, Denne decided he had proved that there was no scriptural foundation for the practice of baptizing babies and that it was not even written about in church manuscripts until at least two “ages” after Christ’s birth
.In 1643, therefore, Henry Denne was formally baptized by the General Baptist pastorThomas Lamb, and became a full member of that church. So fervent did he become that he was imprisoned for his efforts to convert many of his former Hertfordshire friends and others to the Baptist creed.By 1645 Denne was appointed to the living of Elsley (Eltisley) in Cambridgeshire, but he seemed unable to settle to the work and disciplines involved. Known to many for his ardent mannerisms, particularly when in full flight of oratory, at last Henry Denne tried another field of work altogether.
By joining the Army as a serving cornet of horse, he felt he could extend his influence to wider fields altogether. Soon we find him forming a party within the Army to urge that the king should be brought to justice for his various “sins”.
In Salisbury the records of 1649 state that Henry Denne headed a mutiny against the authority of the king and his superior officers in the Army. Denne was forced to take his rebels off into a fierce escape attempt which proved unsuccessful.
Soon, pursued by Fairfax and his men, Denne was captured with his mutineers at Burford and a court martial was held then and there. Denne gave his opinions with his usual force and showed an earnest belief that he was within his rights to do what he felt necessary and star the mutiny.
After the hearing two corporals, Denne and another cornet were condemned to death. However, because of his sincerity, even if in a mistaken cause, he was pardoned and permitted to live.
Seeing his three friends shot before his eyes in the nearby churchyard, Denne felt he had caused their deaths. He left the Army, regarded as a man who meant well but was not fitted for this type of life.
Next we find Henry Denne doing evangelical work all over Hertfordshire and the eastern counties. He became a messenger among the General Baptists of this era. Soon, too, he took greater part than ever before in converting other types of religiooniss. He specialised in what were known as “Arminian” views, and aired these constantly among his helpmates.
Denne even wrote a treatise called “The drag-net of the kingdom of heaven or Christ’s drawing all men,” which in turn Edwards in his Gangraena referred to.
Speaking of Denne’s treatise, Edwards says that he was “an antinomian and desperate Arminian” who had been “baptized by a mechanic.” In fact, it is very clear that Edwards and Denne were of vastly different trends of thought.There is no actual record, apparently, of when or where Denne died, though 1661 is the most likely date. A man of unchallenged sincerity and strong views, this one-time curate in Hertfordshire will always have a place not only in Baptist but in county annuls.
By Nora I A Robinson Hertfordshire Life
HENRY DENNE (1607-1661)
Henry Denne was born at Wall, Ickham, Kent in 1607. (This date is arrived at deductively. He was admitted age 14 as a sizar to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, in May 1621). He was the younger son of David Denne, a gentleman. He was educated by his Uncle, Thomas Denne, then Vicar of Latton, Essex. Thomas’s own three sons and their cousin, Henry, were all admitted to Cambridge between 1618 and 1626. Sidney Sussex had a strong protestant tradition and Henry matriculated in 1621. He was awarded his B.A. in 1624-25, his M.A. in 1628 and was ordained by the Bishop of St Davids in 1630. At this time he was firmly attached to the established Church.
For ten years until 1641 he was curate at Pirton, Herts. In 1643, he broke from the Anglican Church and was baptized by Thomas Lamb, a soap boiler and elder of a General Baptist congregation in Coleman Street, London. He travelled Kent, East Anglia and other Home Counties preaching, baptizing and founding new congregations, in particular at Fenstaton and Warboys in Cambridgeshire.
When he joined the New Model Army as chaplain in 1646, his path had already crossed Cromwell’s on several occasions. Cromwell had been at Sidney Sussex two years before Denne. James Desborough, Cromwell’s brother-in-law, was Lord of the Manor of Eltisley, Cambs., where Denne became vicar in 1645. Desborough and Cromwell’s influence had secured Denne’s release from Peterhouse Prison in London in 1644 following his imprisonment for evangelizing activities. Both Cromwell and Denne had their greatest popular support in the Fens.
“Mr Desborough saith of him, he is the ablest man in England for prayer,
Expounding and Preaching. This Denne comes sometimes to London,
where in Lambs Church in Bell Alley he exercises; he was there lately
and the usual theme he is upon, is Christ’s dying for all, Judas as well as
Peter.” Edwards’s Gaogrrcna 1646
Between 1646 and 1649, Denne became a Leveller. He led and betrayed the Leveller Mutiny at Burford in May 1649. He reneged publicly on his comrades and, again throught Cromwell’s intervention, escaped execution. Three other soldiers were shot. His sermon of repentance was published as an example to others, The Levellers Designs Discovered. Henceforth he was known in radical circles as Judas.
Nonetheless, he apparently led a “Leveller” uprising of some 300 armed men against the Commissioner of Excise in Stourbridge in September 1649 but by 1653 had returned to his evangelizing work as a Baptist in Cambridgeshire. He returned to his native Canterbury in 1655, dying just after the Restoration.
Ten of his sermons and treatises were published between 1641 when he broke from the Anglian Church and 1661 when he died. His writings were very controversial. He is mentioned on many occasions by the Presbyterian minister, Thomas Edwards, in the three parts of his attack on radicalism, Gangraena.
The other major primary source for Denne’s religious position is in Records of the Churches of Christ gathered at Fenstanton, Warboys and Hexham 1644-1720. These records are moreorless the minutes of the proceedings of two of the congregations founded by Denne. Also included are many letters written in the style of the apostolic epistles. “In those marvellous dialogues….. we hear the common man and woman struggling for self expression against the dead weight of the culture of the centuries,” says Christopher Hill.