England in 1703.

In this episode, we look at the political, economic, colonial factors (among others like race and gender) of the world John Wesley was born into.

Episode 22

Hello, I'm Wilson Pruitt, and you are listening to the History of Methodism Podcast. Today’s episode: England in 1703.

The England of John Wesley’s death was a very different place from the England of Wesley’s birth. Wesley died at the end of the 18th century, soon after the loss of the American Colonies. England in the 1790s was a prosperous nation on the cusp of radically expanding its holdings in India and Africa and the Asian Pacific. Money from the colonies was connecting with the nascent industrial revolution in order to create the prosperous society found in Jane Austen novels.

For today’s episode, we are going to look at the year 1703. What was going on in the government? How did the economy function? How did race and gender play out in this time? Not all these questions will be answered fully, but we will cover a lot of contextual territory in order to help us understand the youth of John and Charles Wesley, their family and world.

In 1703, Queen Anne was in the second year of her reign. William III had died childless in 1702 from pneumonia (Queen Mary had died in 1694). Anne was Mary’s sister. She was raised Anglican and married Prince George of Denmark, but they were also childless at the point of her succession. In order to prevent any Catholic Stuarts from being heirs, the Act of Settlement had been passed in 1701 declaring that only a Protestant could sit on the throne. This didn’t solve the issue of James II and his son, James Francis Edward Stuart, who was very much alive and very keen on regaining his father’s throne that the Dutch William had taken from him. Supporters of James Francis and the Stuart line were called Jacobites after the Latin word for James, which is Jacob. In 1715, after Anne’s death and after the accession of James Francis’s second cousin, George Louis, to the throne of Great Britain, an uprising of Jacobites was fierce but quickly put down. What is important for our understanding of the History of Methodism is that the Jacobite alternative was present throughout this period of English history. Queen Anne and her heirs, the Hanoverian Georges, all had to govern knowing that the Catholic Stuarts had a better claim to the thrown than they had.

Getting back to Anne, John Wesley wrote about her kindly in his history, saying:

The loss of King William was thought irreparable; but the kingdom soon found that the happiness of any reign is to be estimated as much from the general manners of the times, as the private virtues of the monarch. Queen Anne, his successor, with no shining talents, yet governed with glory, and left her people happy.1

A month after her coronation, England became embroiled in the War of Spanish Succession, a complicated affair that lasted until 1714. England joined the side of the Netherlands and Austria in order to prevent the Spanish Empire from basically becoming a part of France. The same John Churchill, who was a member of the plot to bring over William of Orange, emerged as a great military strategist during this time. Churchill took the strategic innovations of the Cromwell’s New Model Army and advanced them, winning great victories at Blenheim (1704), Ramillies (1706), Oudenarde (1708), and Malplaquet (1709) that caused Anne to raise him to the title of Duke of Marlborough. The war, as well, should be seen in the context of the Jacobite threat. England not only wanted to prevent French expansion but also to prevent the Allies of James Francis Stuart from gaining power enough to put him back on the thrown.

Shifting gears slightly, you cannot separate the Economic and Colonial History of England in 1703. There was no plan for colonial dominance coming from the crown. The Virginia Company in Jamestown in 1607, the Hudson’s Bay Company in Canada, The East India Company in Asia, The Company of Royal Adventurers Trading which later became the Royal Africa Company. These enterprises received royal charters but they bore the expense and the profit. The 17th century saw an incredible expansion of English colonial possessions in the West Indies, which were seen as the most valuable properties in what was yet to be termed or understood as an empire. The true colonial value of India had not been established. Up until Robert Clive in the middle of the 18th Century, the East India Company was simply a modestly profitable enterprise trading with the Mughal Empire. The Mughal’s had ruled India for hundreds of years. Their wealth dwarfed that of England or any other European power. Susannah Wesley’s older brother, Samuel Annesley, started working for the East India Company in 1677, at the age of 19. He rose quickly in the company and became president of the Surat Council in the modern state of Gujarat, north of Mumbai. Pirate activity in the area causes Annesley to lose his position. He tried to earn it back, even asking his brother-in-law, Samuel Wesley, to be his agent in England. Unfortunately, Wesley was not as good with money as with preaching and he lost a substantial portion of Annesley’s estate, eventually causing estrangement between the families.2

The economics of ministry in 1700 meant that Samuel Wesley was not used to dealing with money. The lucrative payouts to vicars in Jane Austen novels did not exist at the time. As David Hempton writes, “at the beginning of the eighteenth century around half of Anglican livings were worth less than £50 a year and the salaries of stipendiary curates were notoriously inadequate.”3

After 1740, ministry became a much more desirable profession with the financial support high enough so that F.M.L. Thompson could say it was the most desirable career choice in the second half of the 18th century. John and Charles Wesley did not go into ministry for the money, neither did their father.

The economy of England itself was in the process of an incredible expansion. A Treaty in 1703 with Portugal led to an expansion of English commerce and the incorporation of Brazilian Gold Bullion into the economy. The Treaty also led to the popularity of Port Wine in the English speaking world.

England in 1700 was exporting about £6.5 million. By the end of the century, exports were at £43.2 million.4 This economic growth took place for many reasons, principle being the resource extraction made possible by the colonies. As well, the majority of the colonies would not have been as profitable were it not for the practice of African and Indian slavery. The Royal African Company had a near monopoly on African Slave Trade in 1703, with a large number of trafficked and sold humans moving from Senegal and Angola to the West Indies and North America. The slave trade began to expand radically with Statute 9 and 10 of William and Mary, chapter 26, which stipulated, as WEB Dubois wrote in his dissertation on the suppression of the Slave Trade, that “private traders, on payment of a duty of 10% on English good exported to Africa, were allowed to participate in the trade.”5 This came about because American merchants wanted to build to help maintain forts and castles in Africa which would then further the trade. The wicked practice grew, but the eyes of the British and American Merchants were all on the rich Spanish colonies.

Their desire was rewarded after the War of Spanish Succession. In the Treaty of Utrecht that ended the war, the British won the Asiento, the monopoly of supplying slaves to the Spanish Colonies.6 slavery was not limited to North America. On the other side of the world, Indian slavery took place within the Mughal empire but also in East India company territories.

The expansion of the Slave Trade as well as the expansion of English colonial territory led a change in local opinions about non-white races. A hundred years before, Shakespeare could write a play whose main character was a Moor, yet in 1693, “Thomas Rymer thought it necessary to criticize Shakespeare for showing so little colour prejudice.”7

English urban life was rapidly changing as well. The 17th century had increased London’s population from around 200,000 to 490,000 around the time of Wesley’s birth.8 Some 5% of the inhabitants were French, mostly Protestant refugees called Huguenauts who brought with them a lot of fiber and fabric skills that greatly expanded English industry.9

The colonies of North America were filled with English puritans who had fled the Stuarts, as well as many others hoping to make their way in the world. Colonial life was never peaceful and that lack of peace made its way back to Europe. As Bernard Baylin writes,

“There was never a time, over a half century of settlement, when there was not a racial conflict in one or another of the European colonies in coastal North America—not only random killings on isolated border lands and deadly attacks by ruthless traders, but “concerted wars of devastation different from the pre-contact Indian wars and beyond the rules of civilized warfare, the principles of just war, and Christian moderation, which in some degree had softened the impact of military conflict in Europe. If there were familiar precedents for the Indian wars in seventeenth-century North America, they were the exceptions to the normal practices of European warfare: the merciless slaughter and devastation reserved for conquered towns and cities that refused to surrender when sieged; domestic rebels who openly challenged established regimes; or heretics whose radical doctrines threatened to destroy the stability of civil society. For these, in the wars of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, there had been, and was, no mercy.”10

King Philips War of the 1670s was a burn down, drag out affair with more in common with Sherman’s march to the sea than any contemporary military conflict. It took place in New England between the massachusetts Bay Colony and a number of tribes under Metacomet, who had taken the name King Philip. It was a conflict, as well, that forged a distinctively American identity because the English Army did not come to save them (since they were in the process of losing to the Dutch, again, in the Third Anglo-Dutch War.

Queen Anne’s War, which began in 1701, but functioned, in many ways, as the North American Front of the War of Spanish Succession, included battles all along the Atlantic seashore. A vital theater for the future of methodism was the conflict between the English Carolinas and Spanish Florida. In 1704, the English destroyed the Spanish mission system on the coast of what is now Georgia. The Yameee War of 1715 then depopulated the indigenous peoples of Florida, paving the way for James Oglethorpe to found the Georgia Colony, and recruit John and Charles Wesley as Priests in 1735. Georgia was chartered as a colony for the worthy poor of England, which helps us get to the issue of class relationships in 1703.

E.P. Thompson, the radical English historian who was raised Methodist, begins his magisterial The Making of the English Working Class in 1792. A working class as Thompson and others in the twentieth century would understand it, did not exist. In part because there were no companies or factories large enough to demand the class, but this was changing drastically during this period. As Christopher Hill writes, “the number of joint stock companies…increased from eleven to about a hundred, between 1689 and 1695, almost entirely in the sphere of home production.”11 The market, as well, became more free as cloth duties on exports were eliminated in 1700. By 1714, as Hill writes, “there are examples of sail-cloth makers employing up to 600 persons, a saltmaker employing 1,000, silk manufacturer with up to 700. But there is little evidence that working conditions improved.12 There were also early vestiges of trade unions and union activity that we would recognize, as in a group of feltmakers in London who went on strike to increase wages.

Changes in the economics of mining would also impact the future methodist movement because the practice of collusion among coal mine owners was forbidden, which opened the market for coal wider.

Narrowing to the family and the home, gender dynamics were not as clear as they might seem at this time. The late 17th and early 18th century were not times when women stayed home and the men went to work. Peter Earle showed with church records in the period of 1695-1725, that 60% of married women in his sample (256 of 427) claimed to be maintained either partly or wholly by their own employment.”13 Public opinion of the time expected that all women to engage in employment.14 Women could sue in a court of law if they were not married and could receive inheritance.

As well, even though the story of the reformation in England often speaks of Henry VIII’s desire for a divorce, that was not the case. Henry sought an annulment, and England became the only Protestant nation to not allow divorce. It was not until 1670 when the first divorce took place in England. Parliament in 1700 allowed for divorce, but only 14 took place between 1700-1749.

Many attitudes about gender were different in the countryside. The historical record is weaker in the countryside, but what we do know is that women beyond the aristocracy were not idle and were not passive. We will see this especially clearly over the next few episodes as we finally enter the world of the Wesleys directly with the most influential person on the lives of Charles and John Wesley. Their mother, Susanna, next time on the History of Methodism.


Bernard Baylin, The Barbrous Years (New York: Vintage, 2013).

Amy Louis Erickson, “Married women’s occupations in eighteenth-century London.” Continuity and Change23(2):267-307.

Christopher Hill, The Century of Revolution:1603-1714 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1961).

Arnold Wright, Annesley of Surat and His Times, the True Story of the Mythical Wesley Fortune (London: Andrew Melrose).

Sybil Wolfram, “Divorce in England 1700-1857”, Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 5.2 (Summer, 1985):155-186.

  1. John Wesley, 4:41. ↩︎
  2. Much of this history comes from Wright, Arnold (1918). Annesley of Surat and His Times, the True Story of the Mythical Wesley Fortune. London: Andrew Melrose. ↩︎
  3. Hempton, 6. ↩︎
  4. E. Lipson, The Economic History of England (1931) 188. ↩︎
  5. Dubois, 10. ↩︎
  6. Hill, 228. ↩︎
  7. Hill, 229. ↩︎
  8. Diversity, 12 ↩︎
  9. Diversity, 28. ↩︎
  10. The Barbarous Years

    Bernard Bailyn

  11. Hill, 227. ↩︎
  12. Hill, 228. ↩︎
  13. Erickson, 2008. ↩︎
  14. Ibid ↩︎