Burrough was born in Underbarrow, Westmorland, and educated in the Church of England, but became a Presbyterian before converting to Quakerism. During his late teens, he heard George Fox preach in 1652 and immediately converted to what later came to be known as the Religious Society of Friends. He was consequently rejected by his parents. Burrough began itinerant preaching throughout England, travelling with another Friend, Francis Howgill. Among those converted by them was Hester Biddle, probably in 1654.
During the years 1656–1657 Burrough and John Bunyan were engaged in a pamphlet debate, begun by Bunyan, who published Some Gospel Truths Opened, in which he attacked Quaker beliefs. Burrough responded with The True Faith of the Gospel of Peace. Bunyan countered with A Vindication of Some Gospel Truths Opened, which Burrough answered with Truth (the Strongest of All) Witnessed Forth. Later the Quaker leader George Fox entered the fray by publishing a refutation of Bunyan's essay in The Great Mystery of the Great Whore Unfolded.
Intervention with the king
Upon the Restoration in 1660, Burrough approached King Charles II requesting protection and relief of Quakers in New England, who were being persecuted by Puritans there. Charles granted him an audience in 1661, and was persuaded to issue a writ stopping (temporarily) the corporal and capital punishments of the Quakers in Massachusetts.
Burrough arranged for the writ to be delivered by Samuel Shattuck, himself a Quaker under a ban from Massachusetts. Charles's writ commanded the Massachusetts authorities to send the imprisoned Quakers to England for trial, but they chose instead to release them. The king's order effectively stopped the hangings, but imprisonments and floggings were resumed the next year.
Imprisonment and death
An order for his release signed by Charles II was ignored by the local authorities, and Burrough remained in Newgate until his death on February 14, 1663, aged just 29 ("twelfth month 1662" in the Old Style and Quaker terminologies). He was buried in the Quaker Burying Ground, Bunhill Fields.
After his death, his collected works were published by E. Hookes in 1671 as The Memorable Works of a Son of Thunder and Consolation: Namely, that True Prophet, and Faithful Servant of God, and Sufferer for the Testimony of Jesus, Edward Burroughs, who Dyed a Prisoner for the Word of God, in the City of London, the Fourteenth of the Twelfth Moneth, 1662.
In popular culture
- New Model Army's fourth album, Thunder and Consolation, was named as a reference to his collected works, The Memorable Works of a Son of Thunder and Consolation.
- Burrough, Edward; Howgill, Francis (1671). The Memorable Works of a Son of Thunder and Consolation: Namely, that True Prophet, and Faithful Servant of God, and Sufferer for the Testimony of Jesus, Edward Burroughs, who Dyed a Prisoner for the Word of God, in the City of London, the Fourteenth of the Twelfth Moneth, 1662. Printed and published [by E. Hookes] for the good and benefit of generations to come. LCCN 06024785.
- Sample of Burrough's writing
- The Quaker Women Online entry for Hester Biddle, who converted to Quakerism after hearing Burrough and Francis Howgill preach
- A Declaration of the Sad and Great Persecution and Martyrdom of the People of God, called Quakers, in New-England, for the Worshipping of God (1661) online PDF edition
- Edward Burrough: A Memoir By William and Thomas Evans (London: Charles Gilpin, 1851) online edition.
- Claus Bernet (2002). "Edward Burrough". In Bautz, Traugott (ed.). Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German). Vol. 20. Nordhausen: Bautz. cols. 257–283. ISBN 3-88309-091-3.