The Abingdon prophetess Elizabeth Poole was – almost certainly – born in the London parish of St Gregory by St Paul in 1622. At some point in her youth she joined a Baptist congregation, but, it seems, was expelled. She appeared in Abingdon after the town was taken by the Parliamentarians in 1644. There had been some allegation of sexual impropriety, and one can only guess that her migration to Abingdon was in search of the boy-friend among the London troops that formed the garrison. If this is correct, she didn’t find him, but she did become a friend of Thomasine Pendarves and a member of John Pendarves’s proto-Baptist community, and seems to have developed a reputation for spiritual insight.
She first comes unambiguously into the spotlight in the fraught month of December 1648. The army had entered London and seized power; its leaders were debating the disposition of the king and the political settlement of the nation. As ‘the gentlewoman from Abingdon’, Poole was given a fixed status in the Council of Officers. She had access to the soldiers singly or in small groups, and was allowed to speak in their plenary sessions. But when, on 5 January 1649, she advised that the king should be imprisoned but not executed, her prophetic gifts were called into question and she was dismissed. The full background remains unclear. Her own theology came from membership of the small, mostly female, group around the mystical Doctor John Pordage of Bradfield, but she was effectively acting as a mouthpiece for much more widely held political and religious opinions. Who arranged her entry into the Council is unknown, but a possible candidate would be the Abingdon soldier Francis Allen.
At some time after the Whitehall debacle, Poole returned permanently to London and continued a sometimes spectacular career as a religious activist. She seems to have had a significant following. In 1668, she was arrested for illegal operation of a printing press, but there is no further trace of her in the records.
© AAAHS and contributors 2013