The Trial of Benjamin Keach (Part 1)

Records from the English court system exist in a variety of places; many are accessible to us through massive published volumes. This happened during the reign of Charles II, after the Act of Uniformity had been passed and the Puritans were driven out of the Church of England. Here it is:

The Trial of Benjamin Keach, from Thomas Bayly Howell’s A Complete Collection of State Trials and Proceedings for High Treason and Other Crimes and Misdemeanors from the Earliest Period to the Year 1783 Vol. VI:702ff.

S20. The Trial of Mr. Benjamin Keach, at the Assizes at Aylesbury, in Buckinghamshire, for a Libel : 17 Charles II. A. D. 1665.

BENJAMIN Keach of Winslow, in the county of Bucks, having wrote a little book, entitled, “The Child’s Instructor; or, A New and Easy Primmer”’ in which were contained several things contrary to the doctrine and ceremonies of the church of England; as, That infants ought not to be baptized ; That laymen may preach the Gospel; That Christ shall reign personally upon the earth in the latter day,&c. He had no sooner got it printed, and some of them sent down to him, but one Mr. Strafford, a justice of the peace for that county, received information of it. Whereupon, taking a constable with him, he went in quest of the said books; and coming to the house of Mr. Keach, found and seized several of them, bound Mr. Keach over to answer for it at the next assizes in a recognizance of 100£ and two sureties with him in 50£ each.

The next Assize holden for the said county was at Aylsbury on the 8th and 9th of October J664, Lord Chief Justice Hyde being Judge. On the 1st of which days, in the forenoon, Mr. Keach was called upon; who answering to his name, was brought to the bar, and examined as follows:

Judge. Did you write this book? [Holding out one of the Priminers in his hand.]

Keach. I writ most of it.

Judge. What have you to do to take other men’s trades out of their hands? I believe you can preach as well as write books. Thus it is to let you, and such as you are, have the Scripture to wrest to your own destruction. You have made in your book a new Creed : I have seen three Creeds before; but I never saw a fourth till you made one.

Keach. I have not made a Creed, but a confession of the Christian faith.

Judge. Well, that is a Creed then.

Keach. Your lordship said you had never seen but three Creeds; but thousands of Christians have made a confession of their faith.

After this the Judge observed to the Court several things which were written in the said book, concerning Baptism and the Ministers of the Gospel, which were contrary to the Liturgy of the Church of England, and so a breach of the Act of Uniformity.

Keach. My lord, as to those things—

Judge. You shall not preach here, nor give the reasons of your damnable doctrine, to seduce and infect his majesty’s subjects. These are not things for such as you are to meddle with, and to pretend to write books of divinity: but I will try you for it before 1 sleep.

After this he gave directions to the Clerk to draw up the Indictment; and the witnesses were sworn, and ordered to stand by the Clerk till the Indictment was finished, and then to go with it to the grand inquest.

[*Upon the cruelty, brutality, and illegality of the conduct of Chief Justice Hyde in this Trial, see the observations of Mr. Dunning (afterwards lord Ashburton) in lus Speech in the House of Commons. December 6th 1770. See Cobb. Parl. Hist. ed.]

Judge. Gentlemen of the Grand Jury, I shall send you presently a bill against one that hath taken upon him to write a new Primmer for the instruction of your children: He is a base and dangerous fellow; and if this be suffered, children by learning of it will become such as he is, and therefore I hope you will do your duty.

The Indictment being long, took so much time to draw it up, that the Trial did not come on till the next day.