Scandals in a religious sect: Agapemone

Catherine Layton

Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperChapter


As of 1846, the “Saviour of Mankind”—defrocked clergyman, the Reverend Henry James Prince (1811‒1899)—lived in his Agapemone (Abode of Love) compound in the quiet Somerset Village of Spaxton waiting to be taken up to heaven. He, his wife, his “soul brides,” a few male acolytes, and the wives he had arranged for them (three wealthy sisters), as well as a hierarchy of followers, secreted themselves behind a 12-foot-high wall and kept bloodhounds to deter intruders. Brothers abducted the fourth sister and placed her in a lunacy asylum, an incarceration she successfully challenged, and upon which Charles Dickens reported. As a result of a bizarre ceremonial rape, several followers left the fold, but the “Devil child” grew up to run the place after her father’s death until another leader emerged. After Prince died in 1899, married Reverend John Hugh Smyth-Pigott was enthroned as the “new Saviour,” and new “soul brides” were selected by the Devil Child. The last remaining sect member—Smyth-Piggott’s “spiritual” wife “Ruth” (who bore him three children)—died in 1956. The sect epitomizes many such cults, with sex scandals, accusations of brainwashing, dramatic rescues, moral outrage from respectable society, and virulent attacks in the popular press.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge handbook of Victorian scandals in literature and culture
EditorsBrenda Ayres, Sarah E. Maier
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781000782578, 9781003286011
ISBN (Print)9781032259963
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 01 Dec 2022


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