Adherents.com Home Page

< Return to The Literary 100
< Return to Famous Presbyterians

The Religious Affiliation of Novelist
Daniel Defoe
Author of Robinson Crusoe


Daniel Defoe, the influential author of Robinson Crusoe, was a Presbyterian at a time that non-Anglican Protestants were known as "Dissenters." Defoe was active in Dessenter activities and wrote much that promoted Dissenter positions.

From: "Daniel Defoe" article on Catharton.com website (a guide to Artists, Authors, Directors and Musicians) (http://www.catharton.com/authors/4.htm; viewed 24 October 2005):

Daniel Foe (he later added the 'De' himself, perhaps because of foreign ancestors) was born in London in 1660 to James Foe, who was possibly a butcher. The Foes were Presbyterians, one of the minority Protestant groups outside the Church of England that were known as the Dissenters. He was educated at a Dissenter-friendly school and university and his father hoped he would become a priest, but Daniel dashed their hopes and became a merchant instead (apparently of hosiery)...

Defoe was an extremely political man, and many of his works are satirical pamphlets on one topical issue or another. His most famous was probably 'The True-Born Englishman'. The (Catholic) King James II of England was thrown out of office by the anti-Catholic establishment and in 1689 a Protestant double monarchy was put on the throne in the shape of James' daughter Mary (known as Mary II of England) and her Dutch husband William of Orange (known as William III of England). Many people were suspicious of William as he was a foreigner, but Defoe had full confidence in him, especially as Defoe had tried to overthrow James II himself in the failed Monmouth Rebellion of 1685. 'The True-Born Englishman' made the point that all English people were of one foreign extraction or another, and it was quite reasonable to have a King from Holland.

Although he had defended a Church of England monarchy, Defoe was still a Dissenter and also something of a religious liberal. He was fed up with some of the attitudes the C of E held about rival Protestant denominations, and in 1702 he published another classic pamphlet, 'The Shortest Way With Dissenters'. Written in sarcastic tones, it portrays an over the top Establishment Church ordering the execution of all other religious groups. Alas, the Establishment didn't take kindly to it and Defoe was pilloried (put in stocks) and sent to prison. This led to another brilliant but bitter piece of satire, 'Hymn To The Pillory'.

Defoe was saved from prison by Robert Harley the Earl of Oxford, who founded and worked with him on a new journal called 'The Review' in 1704. Harley and Defoe used this paper to promote the Union of England and Scotland. The two halves of Britain had shared a monarch since 1603 when Elizabeth I of England died childless and her nearest relative James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne. They were still separate nations and had separate laws and parliaments, but complicated economic and strategic issues to do with trade, failed Scottish colonies in South America, and the threat to Protestant England from another Catholic succession made the two countries agree to unify in 1707. As well as promoting the Union through writing, Defoe apparently undertook various missions of espionage and subversion on Harley's behalf.

Search Adherents.com

Custom Search
comments powered by Disqus

Webpage created 24 October 2005. Last modified 24 October 2005.
We are always striving to increase the accuracy and usefulness of our website. We are happy to hear from you. Please submit questions, suggestions, comments, corrections, etc. to: webmaster@adherents.com.