Ranters

A radical, anarchic quasi-religious movement of the English Civil War era, known for their antinomian beliefs and opposition to traditional religious and social norms.


The Ranters were a loosely organized and unorthodox religious group that emerged during the tumultuous period of the English Civil War (1642–1651). They are known for their antinomian beliefs, which assert that Christians, being saved by grace, are not bound by moral law, particularly the Mosaic Law. This belief led them to reject traditional moral constraints and authority, both religious and secular.

Beliefs and Practices

Ranters typically believed in an immanent God, present in all creatures, especially humans. They held that individuals who attuned themselves to this divine presence within were free from sin, as they saw all of God’s works as inherently good. This led to a lifestyle characterized by unbridled dancing, drinking, smoking, swearing, and liberal sexual practices, all of which were deeply shocking to the more conservative and religiously orthodox elements of society at the time.

Opposition to Established Religion

The Ranters expressed a strong opposition to the church hierarchy and established religious practices. They were known for their iconoclastic views, including the denial of the authority of the church, scripture, and any external authority. Their criticism of established religion was often vehement and uncompromising. For instance, prominent Ranter Abiezer Coppe denounced ministers and church officials as instruments of persecution.

Conflict with the State

The Ranters’ radical beliefs and practices inevitably brought them into conflict with the state. The English government, under Oliver Cromwell, passed the Adultery Act in May 1650 and the Blasphemy Act in August 1650, partly as a response to the growing concern about the Ranters. These acts imposed severe penalties for what were considered moral transgressions and heretical beliefs. Many Ranters, including leaders like Abiezer Coppe and Laurence Clarkson, faced persecution, imprisonment, and other forms of state repression.

Decline and Legacy

The movement’s heyday was short-lived due to a lack of organization and the extreme hostility they faced from magistrates and ministers. By the mid-19th century, the term “Ranter” was often applied derogatorily to other groups, like the Primitive Methodists, known for their enthusiastic and unrefined preaching styles.

The Ranters were never a cohesive or organized sect, and their beliefs and practices varied widely among individuals identified or self-identifying as part of the movement. Despite their brief existence, the Ranters’ theological focus was clear and significant, representing an extreme form of religious and social radicalism during a period of great upheaval in England.