Trapnel, Anna (fl. 1642–1661)
Trapnel, Anna (fl. 1642–1661)
English prophet and writer. Birth date and place unknown; date of death unknown but evidence suggests she was still alive in 1661; daughter of William Trapnel (a shipwright); married, possibly in 1661.
The Cry of a Stone; or a Relation of Something Spoken in Whitehall by Anna Trapnel … Uttered in Prayers and Spiritual Songs, by an Inspiration Extraordinary, and Full of Wonder (1654); A Legacy for Saints: Being Several Experiences of the Dealings of God with Anna Trapnel (1654); Anna Trapnel's Report and Plea: or a Narrative of her Journey from London into Cornwall (1654); Strange and Wonderful Newes from White-hall (1654); A Voice for the King of Saints (1657).
Anna Trapnel's early history is unknown. She achieved some fame as a prophet during the period in which Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658) served as Lord Protector of England after the overthrow and execution of King Charles I. The Protectorate lasted from 1653 to 1658, and Trapnel uttered a number of politically charged prophecies during this time; she also published several works, including preachings and verse prophecies. Anna's mother died on December 31, 1641, and on New Year's Day of 1642, Anna was "seized with the spirit of the Lord" while John Simpson, a Baptist preacher, was delivering a sermon at St. Botolph's Church in Aldgate, London. This occasioned the start of Trapnel's career as a prophet; she began seeing visions and uttering prophecies that involved trances and periodically caused her to fall to the ground. She donated her possessions to the Parliamentarian Army and (possibly under Simpson's influence) joined the Fifth Monarchists. During the 1650s, this sect preached the imminent coming of the Kingdom of Christ on Earth, the downfall of Cromwell's government, and other radical political and religious views.
Trapnel attended the trial of Vavasour Powell, a Welsh Fifth Monarchist who had been arrested for foreseeing the end of the Protectorate. During the trial, she had another prophetic experience that lasted 12 days and involved singing, dancing, and uttering prophecies in verse and prose. Her first book, The Cry of a Stone; or a Relation of Something Spoken in Whitehall by Anna Trapnel … Uttered in Prayers and Spiritual Songs, by an Inspiration Extraordinary, and Full of Wonder, published in 1654, consists of the comprehensible verse prophecies that Trapnel spoke during this trance which were written down by an attendant. The book begins with a spiritual biography that contains virtually the only known biographical data about Trapnel.
Trapnel became a tool of the Fifth Monarchists as their propaganda campaign advanced out of the West Country. She called Cromwell the "little horn" on the head of the Beast, and was arrested and imprisoned in Plymouth, but she refused to stop prophesying in public. She wrote A Legacy for Saints: Being Several Experiences of the Dealings of God with Anna Trapnel while in prison in 1654 to describe her conversion. That year, she also wrote about her predictions and preachings prior to her imprisonment in Anna Trapnel's Report and Plea: or a Narrative of her Journey from London into Cornwall; she had been arrested on suspicion of witchcraft during her work in Cornwall. Trapnel maintained that the authorities apprehended her while she was in a prophetic trance. "They caused my eyelids to be pulled up," she wrote, "for they said I held them fast, because I would deceive the people…. One of the justices pinched me by the nose, and caused my pillow to be pulled from under my head, and kept pulling me, and calling me, but I heard none of this stir and bustle." Her interview with the justices and her second imprisonment, this time in Bridewell, are also dramatized; she depicts Cromwell as a bull and draws on passages from the Bible's Book of Daniel to describe political events.
Trapnel published her own account of her Whitehall trance in Strange and Wonderful Newes from White-hall in 1654. She experienced another trance in 1657 that lasted for ten months; it was documented in A Voice for the King of Saints, which, like The Cry of a Stone, was an account of her utterances, apparently printed with her approval. There are no records of any prophecies after 1658, and scant documentation of her life, although she may have married in 1661. That same year, the Fifth Monarchists staged an uprising, but it does not appear that Trapnel participated in the failed effort.
Buck, Claire, ed. The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.
Shattock, Joanne. The Oxford Guide to British Women Writers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Gillian S. Holmes , freelance writer, Hayward, California