Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hatfield, Martha

HATFIELD, MARTHA (fl. 1652), ‘the wise virgin,’ the daughter of Anthony Hatfield, by his wife Faith Westley, was born at Leighton, Yorkshire, 27 Sept. 1640. The Hatfields were puritans. In April 1652 Martha was seized with an illness which the physicians were unable to define, but which seems to have been a form of catalepsy. For seventeen days she lay stiff and was unable to speak, and it was said that she could neither see nor hear. When she recovered her voice she uttered rambling recollections of pious discourses abounding in quotations of Scripture. Her friends regarded her ravings as a new revelation, and her words were taken down, generally by the two sons of Sir Edward Rhodes and by John Cromwell. From 8 Sept. 1652 till 7 Dec. Martha was again speechless, but after her recovery gave no further proof of exceptional powers. The circumstances of Martha Hatfield's illness impressed her friends, and her uncle, James Fisher, the founder of the first presbyterian congregation in Sheffield, published the story of her case and her reported sayings. The book was called ‘The Wise Virgin, or a Wonderfull Narration of the hand of God, wherein his severity and goodness hath appeared in afflicting a Childe of 11 years of age when stricken Dumb, Deaf, and Blind …,’ 1653. It gained great popularity among the credulous, and was several times reprinted. The fifth edition (1664) has a curious portrait of Martha Hatfield prefixed. Contemptuous reference is made to Hatfield's vision in ‘A New Song on the strange and wonderful groaning board,’ London, 1682 (cf. Notes and Queries, 1st ser. viii. 310).

[The Wise Virgin; Hunter's Hallamshire, ed. Gatty, p. 288.]

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