The Reverend Samuel Wesley never cared much for the Isle of Axholme, a slight elevation in the middle of the north Lincolnshire fen country. He was sure his literary and theological talents better suited him for a bishopric or a prime London appointment. But he had been assigned to the village churches at Epworth and Wroot, so there he stayed from the end of the seventeenth century to 1735.

Samuel's wife, London-bred Susanna, also had literary and theological gifts—and a practical orientation that allowed her to get along in their rural setting. But she was not afraid to question her husband's authority.

John absorbed ideas from both of his unusual parents, but his mother clearly had the strongest influence on him. Indeed, Elsie Harrison's incisive biography of John is titled simply Son to Susanna.

Susanna earned quite a reputation for squabbling with her husband over theology and politics. Letters to a nearby noblewoman and a renegade conservative cleric reveal details of a marriage-threatening quarrel over who was rightfully king in 1701.

Both Samuel and Susanna supported high church principles and royalist politics, but he had made his peace with the new regime of William and Mary (put in power by Parliament), while she had not. One evening she refused to add her "Amen" to the standard Book of Common Prayer petition for King William during family prayers—a not-too-subtle indication of her support for the exiled Stuart family, whom she believed ought to continue to rule by divine right.

Bolstered by the advice of friends, Susanna stuck by her decision and refused to yield to her husband's protests. He finally told her, "You and I must part: for if we have two kings, we must have two beds." In fact, they did part for a few months. ...

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