Mary Bosanquet Fletcher

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Mary Bosanquet Fletcher
Mary Bosanquet Fletcher.jpg
Portrait of Mary Bosanquet Fletcher, created while she preached at Madeley
Mary Bosanquet

12 September 1739
Died8 December 1815(1815-12-08) (aged 76)
OccupationClass leader (c. 1763–1815)
Preacher (c. 1763–1815)
Philanthropist (1763–1815)
John Fletcher
(m. 1781; died 1785)
RelativesSamuel Bosanquet (brother)

Mary Bosanquet Fletcher (12 September 1739 – 8 December 1815) was a Methodist preacher, credited with persuading John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, to allow women to preach in public.[1][2] She, along with her friend and fellow preacher Sarah Crosby, would become the most popular female preachers of their time.[3] Bosanquet was known as a "Mother in Israel", a Methodist term of honour, for her work in spreading the denomination across England.[4] She was also involved in charity work throughout her life.

Early life[edit]

Mary Bosanquet was born to Samuel Bosanquet and his wife Mary Dunster in September 1739 in Leytonstone. At birth, it appeared that her tongue was fused to the inside of her mouth, and she almost died after it was separated.[5]

Bosanquet's family were rich Anglicans of Huguenot descent. Her father was Lord of the Manor in Leytonstone, as well as one of the chief merchants in London. Bosanquet had an older sister and two younger brothers.[5] Her brother Samuel became a director of the Bank of England.

Bosanquet grew up quite wealthy, wearing fine clothing and taking vacations to Bath and Scarborough.[5]

Around the age of seven, Bosanquet was introduced to the Methodist denomination.[6][7][8] This occurred through a Methodist servant girl in the household, who began discussing religion with the two Bosanquet girls.[9] After Bosanquet's parents found out, the servant was dismissed.[7][8][10]

Through her father, Bosanquet was confirmed as an Anglican at St. Paul's Cathedral at the age of 13.[5] However, Bosanquet's older sister introduced her at the age of 13 to a member of the London Foundery Society, a Mrs Lefevre.[5][11] This furthered Bosanquet's interest in Methodism, and she began to reject her luxurious lifestyle. By the age of 16 she was refusing refusing trips to the theatre or to spas and had begun to dress simply.[12][13]


The Foundery, the first Methodist Society Bosanquet attended

In 1757, Bosanquet met Sarah Crosby, who at the time was a Methodist class leader. Meeting Crosby was the final push that Bosanquet needed to bring about her conversion to Methodism. She then dedicated her life to the church and charity, rejecting her wealth and becoming active in the Foundry Society. She began to visit Sarah Crosby and Sarah Ryan in the Moorfields in order to learn more about the religion.[14]

By 1760, tensions between Bosanquet and her family had become pronounced. Bosanquet had rejected the marriage proposal of a rich young man, which angered her parents. Instead, she told them, she wanted to devote her life to serving God.[15] This, along with her rejection of wealth and her parents' fear that she would convert her brothers to Methodism,[16] caused Bosanquet's family asked her to leave.[14] She moved into unfurnished accommodation in Hoxton Square, where she soon settled in company with Sarah Ryan.[17]

Bosanquet had something of a change of heart over her wealth in 1763. She decided to accept it, but use it for charitable purposes. On 24 March 1763, Bosanquet and Sarah Ryan moved to one of the Bosanquet family's properties, nicknamed 'The Cedars,' in Leytonstone.[14][18] She and Ryan felt they were called upon by God to help others.[19] They hoped to establish an orphanage/school modelled on John Wesley's Kingswood School.[20] In 1768, the school was moved to a farm named Cross Hall in Morley.[20][21]

While working together at The Cedars, Bosanquet and Sarah Ryan became quite close, Ryan being like a mother to her. Even John Wesley acknowledged their bond, calling them, "twin souls".[4] After Ryan's death in 1768, Bosanquet fell into a depression, her only consolation being dreams she had of Ryan still being alive. Bosanquet's bond was so strong with Ryan that John Fletcher acknowledged Ryan as a part of their partnership during his and Bosanquet's marriage.[4]

After marrying John Fletcher in 1781, Bosanquet decided to close Cross Hall.[22] She and Fletcher moved to Madeley, where they became co-pastors at a local church.[23]

John Fletcher, Mary Bosanquet's husband

After her husband's death in 1785, Bosanquet remained in Madeley, continuing to preach.[24] She exercised some control over the local church hierarchy by approving curate appointments.[25] Bosanquet continued to do work for the Methodist Church until her death.[26]

In 1793, Bosanquet discovered a lump in her breast, which she tried to dissolve by praying and taking goosegrass juice. Nine months later, Bosanquet claimed the method had worked and the lump disappeared.[27] However, it reappeared some years later. Further remedies were tried to unknown effect, but Bosanquet did have a lump in her breast upon her death.[26]


John Fletcher and Mary Bosanquet first met between 1756 and 1757 at The Foundry.[28] At this time, Fletcher considered proposing to Bosanquet, but decided against it, thinking that she was too rich to accept his proposal, and that it would be better if he devoted himself to God.[29]

In June 1781, Bosanquet received a letter from John Fletcher, saying he admired her and had done so since they first met.[22][28] They were married at Batley Church in Yorkshire on 12 November 1781.[30] They moved to Madeley on 2 January 1782 and started a joint ministry there as what was considered the first "clergy couple" among the Methodists.[26][31][23] The marriage was short, however, as Fletcher died on 14 August 1785.[32][33][34]

Charity work[edit]

Plaque reads: "On this site stood "The Cedars," wherein Mary Fletcher, née Bosanquet, resided 1763 – 1768. Erected by L.U.D.R.A. 1909."
Plaque to The Cedars on the site where it once stood.

The Cedars[edit]

In March 1763, Mary Bosanquet and Sarah Ryan moved into 'The Cedars,' one of the Bosanquet family's properties in Leytonstone.[17] They wished to establish an orphanage/school similar to John Wesley's Kingswood School.[20] Ryan had worked at Kingswood, and so provided the expertise Bosanquet needed in order to set up a similar school.[4] They hired a maid, and took in Ryan's orphaned niece, Sarah "Sally" Lawrence. As they took in more residents and Ryan's health declined, they hired Ann Tripp as a governess.[35][19] Over time, other Methodist women joined Bosanquet and Ryan in their efforts, including Sarah Crosby and Mary Clark.[36]

The women at The Cedars took in members of the poor from London, including those who had strayed from God's path.[17] The residents wore dark purple cotton uniforms and all ate together.[37] The children were taught manners, reading, religion, writing, nursing, and domestic skills, to to prepare them for life after the orphanage/school.[38] They were subject to harsh physical punishment if they misbehaved.[39]

Bosanquet was not just the owner of the orphanage, but in charge of much of its operations. She would plan and lead worship, take care of the finances, teach the children, conduct weekly meetings with all the children, serve as a supervisor for Methodist meetings, and nurse the sick.[40] She would even invite sick women into The Cedars to be treated by her, and some of these stayed after being healed, to assist Bosanquet in her efforts.[41]

The site of The Cedars today.

Bosanquet and Sarah Crosby instituted nightly Scriptural readings and prayer,[35] due to the lack of a Methodist Society in Leytonstone.[42] To improve the religious environment in the orphanage, the women asked John Wesley to supply them with a preacher. Wesley sent a Mr Murlin to preach, who evidently had success, as soon the orphanage became a Methodist Society.[35] Bosanquet and Crosby continued to hold their own religious services on Thursday nights and began to attract large crowds.[43] So successful were they that The Cedars became a centre of Methodism in Leytonstone.[41] Though some Methodist men began to express opposition toward Bosanquet and Crosby's activities, they were unable to stop them.[44]

Over the five years that the orphanage was in operation, it supported 35 children and 34 adults.[37][45] Most of them were girls aged 15 to 20.[19] Bosanquet's work at The Cedars was praised deeply by Wesley.[9][46][47][48]

In 1768, Bosanquet decided to move the orphanage to the country due to increasing costs, to provide a better environment for the children, and to seek fresh air for Sarah Ryan, who was becoming seriously ill.[49][41][50]

It is significant to note that the creation of The Cedars had not gone on entirely peacefully. When Bosanquet and Ryan first moved in, a crowd of villagers would throw dirt at anyone coming out of the house and yelled at and spied on the residents.[51] Bosanquet was once told that four men would attend one of the Methodist meetings held at the home in order to break it up. Indeed, the men came and Bosanquet treated them kindly. She conducted the meeting as usual, and gave each of the men Methodist pamphlets at the end. The men reportedly took the pamphlets, bowed to Bosanquet, and left peacefully.[52]

Cross Hall[edit]

After leaving The Cedars in 1768, Bosanquet set her eyes on Morley. There she bought a farm which she called Cross Hall, and started an orphanage for 14 girls.[53] Cross Hall also became a centre of Methodism, housing many prominent female figures, including Sarah Crosby, Sarah Ryan, Sarah Lawrence, and Mary Tooth.[54]

The move from The Cedars to Cross Hall was made to decrease costs, as the women were to grow their own food, to give the children a more pleasant environment, and hopefully to improve Sarah Ryan's failing health.[49] However, these ends were not accomplished. Bosanquet and the other women had little to no experience of farm life, and growing their own food proved less than successful. Sarah Ryan died shortly after their arrival.[41][50]

Bosanquet met criticism for her work at Cross Hall. Some said her punishments of the children were too harsh, others that she was creating a convent, that her educating the children was a waste of time since God was the bringer of success, and some even that she was simply wasting her time.[41] Her family thought that she was wasting her inheritance.[48] Despite these criticisms, however, Bosanquet continued to operate Cross Hall until her marriage to John Fletcher. It was then closed on 2 January 1782, but not before Bosanquet had ensured that all the children in her care had been found new homes or an occupation.[22][41]

Preaching and church work[edit]

While living and working at The Cedars, Bosanquet, with Sarah Crosby, began to hold Methodist meetings at night,[26][35] there being no Methodist Society in Leytonstone.[42] In the summer of 1771, Bosanquet wrote to John Wesley to defend their work, now continuing at Cross Hall.[55] This is seen as the first full and true defence of women's preaching in Methodism.[56] Bosanquet's argument was that women should be able to preach when they experienced an "extraordinary call", or when God asked them to.[56][57] Wesley accepted the idea and formally began to allow women to preach in Methodism in 1771.[1][2] However, it has been argued by the scholar Thomas M. Morrow that Wesley only allowed women to preach because they were successful in converting people. He did not have a change of heart, and did not allow women to preach in order to make any sort of statement, only as a technique for expanding his denomination.[58]

In February 1773, Bosanquet went against Wesley's protocol for women preachers by referencing a text in her sermon. Though Wesley had supported women preaching in public after Bosanquet's letter in 1771, he was still hesitant about allowing women to preach in the same ways as men. However, Wesley seemed impressed by her preaching style, and allowed her to continue.[26]

While Bosanquet was daring and defensive when it came to her preaching, she was not entirely confident in it. In many of her diary entries and letters she expressed anxiety about her preaching. Bosanquet was only able to continue with her work due to the support of her friends and fellow preachers.[59]

Bosanquet was a popular preacher, and many attended her sermons. For instance, in September 1776, Bosanquet addressed a crowd of 2,000 in Golcar.[26][60][61] Several times in her life, Bosanquet's friends encouraged her to become a traveling preacher, due to her success and ability, but she did not take up the idea and found her passions to be more centred locally.[62]

After her marriage and move to Madeley, the Fletchers founded a ministry there.[26] Bosanquet and Fletcher worked together as co-pastors. Apparently, Madeley residents were enthralled by their preaching.[23][63] Previous attempts to convert and preach to the Madeley residents had been unsuccessful.[32] Not only did Bosanquet preach, but she nursed the sick, met Methodist classes, and held Methodist meetings.[31] She and Fletcher worked to run a school in Madeley, teaching religion, reading and writing.[64]

After her husband's death in 1785, Bosanquet retained a prominent role in the hierarchy of the church. Her husband's successor let her advise him on curate appointments.[26] She was also allowed to continue living in the vicarage for the rest of her life.[65][25] She continued to preach at Madeley and started to do so at the nearby villages of Coalbrookdale and Coalport.[24] She continued to serve as a Methodist class leader for children and adults.[66]

In 1800, Mary Tooth moved in with Bosanquet, and Bosanquet began to train Tooth as her successor.[67] She continued her work within the Methodist Church until shortly before she died. It was reported that in 1814, when she was 75 years old, that she still preached five times a week.[26] Her last sermon was given on 25 July 1815,[19] and three months before her death she ceased also to take religious meetings and hold classes.[26][19]


Bosanquet published several evangelical pamphlets in her lifetime, addressed mainly to women.[68] For instance, Jesus, Altogether Lovely (1766) advises single women to remain faithful to Jesus.[69] An Aunt's Advice to a Niece (1780) outlines further religious instruction for baptism and confirmation.[70] Thoughts on Communion with Happy Spirits (1785) discusses the death of her husband,[70] pondering whether he is still with her in a spiritual sense.[71]

Bosanquet published several of her letters in the Methodist Arminian Magazine.[70] Though she did not personally write the work, she transcribed and preserved The Vision, an account of a religious dream.[72] A transcript of one of Mary Bosanquet's sermons was discovered recently. Dated 8 June 1794, the sermon was delivered in the vicarage at Madeley and speaks of being faithful and loving towards God.[73]

After Bosanquet's death, Henry Moore compiled letters and diary entries of Bosanquet's and published them as an anthology entitled The Life of Mrs. Mary Fletcher.[70]

List of published works[edit]


  • Fletcher, Mary (1791). An Account of the Death of the Rev. Mr. Fletcher, Vicar of Madeley, in Shropshire.
  • Fletcher, Mary (1808). An Account of the Death of Sarah Lawrence.

Autobiographical accounts[edit]




  • Fletcher, Mary (2010). Wilson, D. R. (ed.). "A Sermon by Mary Fletcher (née Bosanquet), On Exodus 20, Preached at Madeley in the Parish Vicarage on the Evening of Whitsunday, 8 June 1794". Wesley and Methodist Studies. 2: 120–122. JSTOR 42909787.



St. Michael's Church, where Bosanquet was buried.

Mary Bosanquet died on 9 December 1815, and was buried at St Michael's Church, Madeley, in a shared grave with her husband John Fletcher.[26][19] In her last days, she was placed under the care of her friend and successor, Mary Tooth.[26]

An 1895 map showing the location of The Pastures (top left), formerly the site of Cross Hall.


The Fletcher family held a prominent position at the church in Madeley for three generations. Reports have shown that the churches at Madeley were more popular than those in neighbouring regions even as late as 1851, 36 years after Bosanquet's death.[26],

In 1895 Agnes Cotton opened a home for girls in Leytonstone.[74] Cotton purchased what had been The Cedars, Bosanquet's first attempt at an orphanage. She renamed the house as The Pastures, and in time opened a larger home on the same site.[74]


  1. ^ a b Eason 2003, p. 78.
  2. ^ a b Lloyd 2009, p. 35.
  3. ^ Chilcote 1991, p. 76.
  4. ^ a b c d Lawrence 2011, p. 81.
  5. ^ a b c d e Burge 1996, p. 11.
  6. ^ Chilcote 1991, p. 262.
  7. ^ a b Brown 1983, p. 136.
  8. ^ a b Morrow 1967, p. 65.
  9. ^ a b Chilcote 1993, p. 67.
  10. ^ Keeling 1889, p. 58.
  11. ^ Morrow 1967, p. 66.
  12. ^ Burge 1996, pp. 11–12.
  13. ^ Morrow 1967, p. 68.
  14. ^ a b c Burge 1996, p. 12.
  15. ^ Brown 1983, p. 138.
  16. ^ Lawrence 2011, p. 58.
  17. ^ a b c Chilcote 1993, p. 68.
  18. ^ Morrow 1967, p. 75.
  19. ^ a b c d e f Brown 1983, p. 54.
  20. ^ a b c Chilcote 2007, p. 32.
  21. ^ Morrow 1967, p. 81.
  22. ^ a b c Chilcote 1993, p. 103.
  23. ^ a b c Chilcote 1993, p. 104.
  24. ^ a b Chilcote 1991, p. 186.
  25. ^ a b Keeling 1889, p. 77.
  26. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Hargreaves 2005.
  27. ^ Morrow 1967, p. 100.
  28. ^ a b Keeling 1889, p. 72.
  29. ^ Brown 1983, p. 142.
  30. ^ Brown 1983, p. 144.
  31. ^ a b Brown 1983, p. 145.
  32. ^ a b Chilcote 1991, p. 184.
  33. ^ Brown 1983, p. 146.
  34. ^ Keeling 1889, p. 76.
  35. ^ a b c d Chilcote 1993, p. 69.
  36. ^ Chilcote 1991, p. 119.
  37. ^ a b Chilcote 2007, p. 33.
  38. ^ Brown 1983, pp. 55, 56.
  39. ^ Brown 1983, p. 55.
  40. ^ Brown 1983, p. 57.
  41. ^ a b c d e f Brown 1983, p. 58.
  42. ^ a b Brown 1983, p. 44.
  43. ^ Chilcote 1993, pp. 69–70.
  44. ^ Chilcote 1993, p. 70.
  45. ^ Morrow 1967, p. 77.
  46. ^ Burge 1996, p. 15.
  47. ^ Chilcote 1991, p. 126.
  48. ^ a b Brown 1983, p. 59.
  49. ^ a b Chilcote 1991, p. 129.
  50. ^ a b Keeling 1889, p. 68.
  51. ^ Keeling 1889, p. 65.
  52. ^ Brown 1983, p. 140.
  53. ^ Chilcote 1993, p. 72.
  54. ^ Krueger 1992, p. 43.
  55. ^ Burton 2008, p. 164.
  56. ^ a b Chilcote 1993, p. 78.
  57. ^ Lloyd 2009, p. 34.
  58. ^ Morrow 1967, p. 15.
  59. ^ Chilcote 1993, p. 87.
  60. ^ Chilcote 1993, p. 88.
  61. ^ Morrow 1967, p. 85.
  62. ^ Chilcote 1993, p. 90.
  63. ^ Keeling 1889, p. 74.
  64. ^ Burton 2008, p. 272.
  65. ^ Brown 1983, p. 147.
  66. ^ Burton 2008, p. 273.
  67. ^ Lenton 2011, p. 141.
  68. ^ Virginia Blain, Patricia Clements and Isobel Grundy (eds), The Feminist Companion to Literature in English. Women Writers from the Middle Ages to the Present (London, Batsford, 1990), p. 380.
  69. ^ Chilcote 2007, p. 138.
  70. ^ a b c d Chilcote 2007, p. 148.
  71. ^ Brown 1983, p. 152.
  72. ^ Cope & Kime 2016, p. 52.
  73. ^ Fletcher 2010, pp. 120–122.
  74. ^ a b Martin 2008.



  • Brown, Earl Kent (1983). Women of Mr. Wesley's Methodism. Edwin Mellen. ISBN 978-0889465381.
  • Burge, Janet (1996). Women Preachers in Community: Sarah Ryan, Sarah Crosby, Mary Bosanquet. Foundery Press. ISBN 9781858520629.
  • Burton, Vicki Tolar (2008). Spiritual Literacy in John Wesley's Methodism: Reading, Writing, and Speaking to Believe. Baylor University Press. ISBN 9781602580237.
  • Chilcote, Paul W . (2007). Early Methodist Spirituality: Selected Women's Writings. Kingswood Books. ISBN 9780687334162.
  • Chilcote, Paul Wesley (1991). John Wesley and the Women Preachers of Early Methodism. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0810824140.
  • Chilcote, Paul Wesley (1993). She Offered Them Christ: The Legacy of Women Preachers in Early Methodism. Eugene, O.R.: Wipf and Stock. ISBN 1579106684.
  • Cope, Rachel; Kime, Bradley (2016). "'The Vision': A Dream Account Collected and Preserved by Mary Bosanquet Fletcher". Wesley and Methodist Studies. 8 (1): 52–66. doi:10.5325/weslmethstud.8.1.0052. JSTOR 10.5325/weslmethstud.8.1.0052.
  • Eason, Andrew Mark (2003). Women in God's Army: Gender and Equality in the Early Salvation Army. Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. ISBN 9780889208216.
  • Fletcher, Mary (2010). Wilson, D. R. (ed.). "A Sermon by Mary Fletcher (née Bosanquet), On Exodus 20, Preached at Madeley in the Parish Vicarage on the Evening of Whitsunday, 8 June 1794". Wesley and Methodist Studies. 2: 120–122. JSTOR 42909787.
  • Hargreaves, John A. (22 September 2005). "Fletcher [née Bosanquet], Mary". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
  • Keeling, Annie E. (1889). "Chapter II: A Sister of the Poor − Mrs. Fletcher (Mary Bosanquet) − Born, 1739; Died, 1815". Eminent Methodist Women. C. W. Kelly. pp. 56–82.
  • Krueger, Christine L. (1992). The Reader's Repentance: Women Preachers, Women Writers, and Nineteenth-Century Social Discourse. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226454887.
  • Lawrence, Anna M. (2011). One Family Under God: Love, Belonging, and Authority in Early Transatlantic Methodism. University of Pennsylvania Press. JSTOR j.ctt3fhccb.6.
  • Lenton, John H. (2011). Religion, Gender and Industry: Exploring Church and Methodism in a Local Setting. James Clarke & Co. Ltd. JSTOR j.ctt1cgfbqr.13.
  • Lloyd, Jennifer (2009). Women and the Shaping of British Methodism: Persistent Preachers, 1807–1907. Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-1-84779-323-2. JSTOR j.ctt155j83t.
  • Mack, Phyllis (2008). Heart Religion in the British Enlightenment: Gender and Emotion in Early Methodism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521889186.
  • Martin, Mary Clare (3 January 2008). "Cotton, Agnes". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 18 May 2017.
  • "Mary Fletcher, nee Bosanquet, portrait". Leodis. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
  • Morrow, Thomas M. (1967). Early Methodist Women. London: Epworth Press.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Fletcher, Mary (1819). Moore, Henry (ed.). The Life of Mrs. Mary Fletcher. Philadelphia: Jonathan Pounder.
  • Keeling, Annie E. (1889). "Chapter II: A Sister of the Poor − Mrs. Fletcher (Mary Bosanquet) − Born, 1739; Died, 1815". Eminent Methodist Women. C. W. Kelly. pp. 56–82.
  • Taft, Zachariah; Wesley, John; Vickers, John A. (1992). "Mrs. Mary Fletcher". Biographical Sketches of the Lives and Public Ministry of Various Holy Women: Whose Eminent Usefulness and Successful Labours in the Church of Christ, Have Entitled Them to be Enrolled Among the Great Benefactors of Mankind: in Which are Included Several Letters from the Rev. J. Wesley Never Before Published. Methodist Publishing House.

External links[edit]