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The Good Angel of Stamford

The chapbook The Good Angel of Stamford shows how the belief in angels was fairly widespread in 17th century England, and that the prospect of an angelic encounter was well within the realms of possibility, even for the most unremarkable members of the laity!

This ‘true and faithful’ account was published in 1659, and recounts the story of Samuel Wallas, a shoemaker from Lincolnshire, who was suffering terribly from ‘a deep consumption’ – so terribly, in fact, that doctors believed it was ‘past cure’. He nevertheless made an extraordinary recovery, after receiving advice from an unexpected visitor. Upon hearing of this miracle, local ministers concluded that the visitor in question was a ‘good angell’.

Little is known of Wallas, but his occupation suggests that he lived a humble life. This source therefore offers an insight into the nature of angels from a commoner’s perspective. Their role was more pragmatic than it was ‘celestial’ or ‘abstract’; the idea that an angel could manifest itself as a ‘grave old man’ differs significantly from intellectual accounts, which tend to describe an invisible entity [1]. That the angelic ‘old Pilgrime’ could have been anyone, might demonstrate how great comfort was found in the belief that angels were walking amongst the laity. Indeed, many early modern Christians believed that angels were put on this earth as ‘protectors of mankind’ [2]. The angel in Wallas’ account was certainly a ‘protector’ of sorts, serving as some kind of heavenly pharmacist!

Nevertheless, angelic encounters had the potential to incite fear amongst the laity [3]. By 1659, England was a Protestant country. The Church was wary of stories like Wallas’ – it was, after all, blasphemous to worship false idols. In fact, some religious authorities argued that encounters with angels had stopped occurring after Christianity had taken root [4]. This may be why the angel proclaims – no less than six times – to ‘Fear God, and serve him’. Had his godly devotion been less overt, there would have been reason to believe that he was, in fact, the devil, ‘masquerade[d] as an angel of light’ [5].

The principal role of an angel was to put God’s ‘mercy into action’ [6]. Wallas, it seems, was a devoted Christian; upon the angel arriving, he had just finished ‘Evening Sermon’, and was studying a religious text. In fact, it was because of his willingness ‘to commit himself into the hands of the almighty’ that the angel sought God’s power to stop his suffering. This miracle could have encouraged the laity to maintain a strong faith, in the hopes that they too could be rewarded.

In that sense, angels acted as God’s watchful eye, deciding who was worthy of his mercy. In some ways, this miraculous encounter also served as a cautionary tale; when Wallas failed to abstain from drinking, as had been required by God, he found himself unable to speak for twenty-four hours. This incident supports the dichotomous nature of God, as both loving and vengeful, that was championed by the Church at the time. Perhaps, it was a condemnation of greed – a particularly abhorrent sin under Protestant doctrine [7]. This source therefore shows how a belief in angels encouraged the laity to abide by the teachings of the Church, for fear of punishment.

Overall, the source shows how angels were believed to play a multifarious role in the lives of the laity; they were at once protectors, punishers, figures of evil and healers. The ubiquitous belief in heavenly apparitions, despite being a hangover from Catholicism, made the laity easier to police; accounts like Wallas’ emphasised the importance of religious obedience.


By Jenna Meakin


[1] Laura Sangha, Angels and Belief in England, 1480-1700 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2012), p. 148; Laura Sangha, 'John Dee's Conversations with Angels', The Many-Headed Monster (9 Nov. 2012),

[2] Laura Sangha, Angels and Belief in England, p. 148.

[3] Ibid., p. 159.

[4] Alexandra Walsham, 'Invisible Helpers: Angelic Intervention in Post-Reformation England', Past & Present 208 (Aug. 2010), 77–130, at p. 82.

[5] Ibid., p. 83.

[6] Sangha, Angels and Belief in England, p. 156.

[7] Charles L. Cherry, 'Enthusiasm and Madness: Anti-Quakerism in the Seventeenth-Century', Quaker History 73:2 (1983), 1-24; Stephen Gordon, 'The Monstrous Devourer', Supernatural Histories: Ghosts, Magic and Wonders in the Medieval and Early Modern World (12 Dec. 2016),

The title page of The Good Angel of Stamford (1659)


Alexandre Cabanel’s Fallen Angel (1868)