FRENCH PROPHETS: A fanatical sect in England started in 1706 by refugee Camisards (q.v.), who pretended to have the gift of prophecy and the power of working miracles. Their special mission, they claimed, was to declare the speedy establishment of the Messiah's kingdom, which was to be accompanied by wonders and the infliction of severe judgments on the wicked. For a time they produced a deep impression in London and the larger provincial cities and won the allegiance of such well-known people as Lady Jane Forbes, Sir Richard Bulkeley, and John Lacy. Bulkeley claimed to have been miraculously cured of continuous headache, stone, and rupture, and contributed large sums to the support of the sect, at the time of his death (1710) he was on the point of selling his estates and distributing the proceeds among the prophets. He wrote in their defense, An Answer to Several Treatises Lately Published on the Subject of the Prophets (London, 1708).
Lacy, who was a member of Edmund Calamy's church, fell under the influence of the prophets soon after their arrival and "entered into all their absurdities, except that of a community of goods, to which he strongly objected, having an income of two thousand pounds per annum." He became a seer and healer and published several works for the cause, including A Cry from the Desert, or Testimonials of Miraculous Things Lately Come to Pass in the Cevennes (London, 1707), a translation from the French of Francis Maximilian; Prophetical Warnings of Elias Marion (1707); The Prophetical Warnings of John Lacy (1707), a collection of his own prophecies; A Relation of the Dealings of God to his Unworthy Servant, John Lacy (1708), an answer to an attack by Edmund Calamy; and A Vision of J. L., Esq., a Prophet (1715), inspired by the Jacobite rising. In 1707 the prophets were convicted of publishing false and scandalous pamphlets and holding tumultuous assemblies and placed in the pillory, though prosecutions against Lacy and Bulkeley were quashed. This seems to have made the sect temporarily more popular than ever, and soon there were no less than 400 persons spreading their fanatical prophecies in various parts of the country. They even went so far as to predict that one of their number, Thomas Emes, lately deceased, would rise from the dead on May 25, 1708. In a pamphlet entitled The Mighty Miracle, or the Wonder of Wonders, Lacy issued a general invitation to everybody to come to Bunhill Fields to witness this event. The failure of Emes to emerge from his grave at the time appointed weakened the influence of the prophets, and from that time they fell into disgrace.