Stephens, Edward (d.1706) (DNB00)

STEPHENS, EDWARD (d. 1706), pamphleteer, was son of Edward Stephens of Norton and Cherington, Gloucestershire, by Mary, daughter of John Raynerford of Staverton, Northamptonshire. He practised for some time at the common-law bar, but afterwards took holy orders. Probably he held no benefice. He published a great number of pamphlets on political and theological subjects, displaying great candour and embodying much valuable research. His friend, Thomas Barlow [q. v.], bishop of Lincoln, considered him an honest and learned lawyer, and Thomas Hearne, the antiquary, says that he was ‘a good common lawyer, great with Judge Hale.’ The only record of Stephens's legal ability is a pamphlet published in 1687, with dedication to Jeffreys, entitled ‘Relief of Apprentices wronged by their Masters, how by our law it may effectually be given and obtained.’ He welcomed the Revolution in ‘The True English Government and Misgovernment of the four last Kings, with the ill consequence thereof briefly noted in two little Tracts,’ 1689, 4to (the first of which appeared under the pseudonym Socrates Christianus). But Stephens animadverted upon the early conduct of the new government in ‘Reflections upon the Occurrences of the last Year’ (1689), attributing the want of success in Ireland to division of counsel; complaining that James II's advisers remained unpunished; and denouncing the ‘scuffling for preferments in the church.’ A Dutch version of the ‘Reflections’ appeared in 1690. It produced a reply, to which Stephens rejoined in ‘Authority abused in the Vindication of the last Year's Transactions, and the Abuses detected’ (1690). In the last-named brochure Stephens says that he had joined King William at Sherborne, and assures him of the devotion of himself and his five sons. In 1690 he also published ‘A plain Relation of the late Action at Sea between the English and French Fleets from 22 June to 5 July … with Reflections.’ This was drawn up from information given by ‘an honest volunteer seaman’ on board the English fleet, and has subjoined to it a copy of a letter written by a Frenchman serving in De Tourville's squadron. It was translated into Dutch the same year, and was followed by ‘Reasons for the Tryal of the Earl of Torrington by Impeachment,’ an account of his conduct in the battle described.

Stephens devoted most of his later years to theological controversy. As early as 1674 he had written against the Romanists a tract entitled ‘Popish Policies and Practices. … Translated out of the famous Thuanus and other writers of the Roman Communion.’ In the year of his death he says he has been engaged more than twelve years in contests with the papists, who were ‘so gravell'd with one or two little papers’ as to be obliged to fall back upon ‘little tricks, feigned excuses, forgeries, needless charges at law, bribing and corrupting witnesses, &c., and at last forfeiture of no less than 3,000l.’ The ‘little papers’ referred to are probably ‘A True Account of the unaccountable Dealings of some Roman Catholic Missioners of this Nation,’ 1703, and some other pamphlets on the same subject, one of which was addressed to the Right Rev. Bishop G[ifford], and the rest of the English bishops of the Roman communion.’ Stephens also attacked the quakers. George Keith and other leaders had a friendly conference with him, and consented to circulate one of his tracts at their annual meeting, but declined further controversy. ‘Achan and Elymas; or the Troublers of Israel … detected among the leaders and managers of three dangerous Sects,’ 1704, is mainly directed against the quakers, though ‘Roman Catholic Missioners’ and ‘Church and State Deists’ are coupled with them. In spite of his controversial publications, Stephens himself propounded plans for conciliating both Romanists and dissenters. His own religious views appear to have been eclectic. He disliked Erastianism even more than Romanism or the quakers, and assailed it in ‘The Spirit of the Church Faction detected,’ 1691, and other writings. Hearne says that he ‘was for the Greek rather than the Western church,’ and thinks he died a member of the former.

Stephens's ‘The Liturgy of the Ancients represented’ was originally published in 1696. It was reprinted in 1848 in Peter Hall's ‘Fragmenta Liturgica.’ His repute as a theologian is indicated by the appellation ‘Father Stephens’ or ‘Abbat Stephens,’ and by his correspondence with Johann Ernst Grabe.

Stephens died in April 1706, and was buried at Enfield by the care of his son-in-law, Dr. Udall, who lived there. He married Mary, daughter of Lord-chief-justice Sir Matthew Hale [q. v.] In 1676 he wrote prefaces to Hale's ‘Contemplations, Moral and Divine.’ Besides the works mentioned Stephens published: 1. ‘Observations upon a Treatise of Humane Reason,’ 1675, 12mo. 2. ‘The Apology of Socrates Christianus,’ 1700. 3. ‘A Collection of Modern Relations concerning Witches and Witchcraft,’ prefaced by Hale's ‘Meditations concerning the Mercy of God in preserving us from the Malice and Power of Evil Angels,’ and ‘Questions concerning Witchcraft,’ 1693, 4to. 4. ‘A Choice Collection of Papers relating to State Affairs during the late Revolution,’ 1703, 8vo; a second volume was promised, but not issued. 5. ‘A Wonder of the Bishop of Meaux [Bossuet] upon the Perusal of Dr. Bull's Books considered and answered,’ 1704. In 1702 he printed a general title and a preface to be bound up with a selection from his tracts (of which very few copies were printed), and gave a copy to the Bodleian.

[Reliquiæ Hearnianæ, ed. Bliss, i. 63 n. (complete list of works), iii. 36, 37; Fosbroke's Gloucestershire, i. 320; Stephens's Works; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

G. Le G. N.