George Fox (1624-1691) was a founder of the Religious Society of Friends. He rebelled against the prescriptive religious and political authorities and went to London in 1643 in a state of mental confusion, from which he found solace in the Bible. Over the next few years ox travelled around the country engaging clergy to try to help with the matters he found to be troubling, but found it them no comfort. He had hoped to find a spiritual understanding absent from the established Church among the English Dissenters but fell out with one group for he maintained that women had souls.
In 1647 Fox began to preach publicly, which gave rise to small gathering or sect that ended up calling themselves Friends. His qualification for ministry was not derived from any ecclesiastical study but from the Holy Spirit, who guides him. This extended to anyone and everyone.He was also against any religious ritual, as the important thing was a true spiritual conversion, and shunned things such as baptism by water, trying to refocus on the internal act, as opposed to the external action. He also shunned the idea of churches being building of religious experience and called them ‘steeple-houses’ instead to highlight the fact that religious experience can occur anywhere. Throughout his travels he was persecuted by the authorities who disapproved of his beliefs and upsetting of the established order. His ministry grew and grew until he was preaching to roughly a thousand people. He continued to travel and was arrested many times, often for disturbing the peace or unauthorised worship. In 1655 he was arrested and brought to Oliver Cromwell as parliamentarian fears of monarchist plots grew, but he assuaged these fears referring to his refusal to take up arms.
Fox travelled throughout Europe and America preaching the now established ways of the Society of Friends, visiting Ireland to preach against the Roman Catholic Church’s use of ritual, and as far as North America, even visiting the colonies of the West Indies where he was accused of inciting the slave populations to revolt. He returned to England, convinced of the Society of Friends progress there, but when he arrived he was met with division, with some Quakers still refusing the establishment of women’s meetings. He was arrested again for refusing to swear an oath, and after his release spent much time writing on the subject of oaths, something which he saw as essential to the Quaker’s faith, in allowing him to experience everyday truth and an inner light.
He died in January 1691. His legacy with regards to the Society of Friends was enormous, with his leadership overcoming government persecution and also internal disputes.