When did he live?

John Ray lived in 17th century Britain.

He was born in 1627, two years after Charles I became king, and grew up in a time of religious and political ferment. In this period Milton wrote his Paradise trilogy, and the monarchy was replaced by a republican military government in the 1650s.

In 1660, Charles II was invited to return as king. During his reign London was hit by Plague in 1665, and in the following year by the Great Fire, and Samuel Pepys wrote his Diaries. The Stuart dynasty was overthrown in the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688.

After this William and Mary reigned, bringing a period of peace and prosperity. John Ray lived quietly through these events and died in 1705.

The Civil War (1640-1660)

The first battle of the Civil War was fought at Edgehill when Ray was 14 years old. He went up to university aged 17 in 1644, the year of the battle of Marston Moor. In the same year Thomas Johnson, Ray’s predecessor in field studies and botany, was killed at the siege of Basing House while fighting for the Royalists.

Ray never expressed any preference for Parliament or King, and worked in quiet Cambridge rather than in Oxford which was the King’s headquarters throughout the war.

Ray gained his first college post in 1649, the year that Charles I was beheaded, and lectured during the Commonwealth period. Cromwell died when Ray was journeying through Wales, and he recorded the fact in his journal.

Oliver Cromwell [16K]

The Later Stuarts (1660-1688)

When Charles II returned from exile, Cromwell’s supporters were punished. Clergy who had signed the ‘Covenant’, a manifesto for church reform, also fell under royal suspicion.

By the Act of Uniformity (1662) every minister had to swear an oath condemning the Covenant, or resign. In the ‘Great Ejection’ which followed, nearly two thousand ministers, a fifth of all the clergy, were dismissed and forbidden to teach religion by word or pen. John Ray was one of these.

This was "one of the darkest days in British history" (Arnold Dallimore). The ministry of the Church of England was weakened. Outside it, non-conformists were persecuted even more. Baptists, such as John Bunyan, and Quakers were imprisoned or had their property confiscated.

Charles II [17K]

The Glorious Revolution (1688)

In 1685 James II succeeded his late brother Charles II, but in 1688 he fled from the ‘Glorious Revolution’. The crown passed to James’ daughter Mary Stuart, whose husband was a Dutch prince named William of Orange. They became joint monarchs.

John Ray wrote:

“ I thank God that He allowed me to live to see this dear land endowed by divine favour with princes such as in the recent stormy times I longed for but scarcely dared to expect, princes chaste and religious and distinguished in every form of virtue. Under their quiet rule, if only God grant us peace, we can rely upon prosperity and a real age of gold...”

“ The yoke of slavery which our necks have never learnt to endure was beginning to oppress us; it has been broken: our heritage of freedom has been restored.”

William and Mary [17K]

The Act of Toleration (1689)

John Ray wrote:

“ Superstition has been overthrown. Pure and reformed religion is honoured. Its profession and practice are not only freely permitted, but by our Sovereigns enjoined in word and encouraged by example..."

“ Philosophy and all sound learning, now that the favour of princes smiles upon the efforts and stimulates the industry of scholars, show promise of wonderful advances.”

The Act made it legal for Ray to begin writing theological works:


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