Mercurius Politicus

A blog (mostly) about early modern history

Category: seventeenth century

Books with names but no bodies

In recent days I have been enjoying Adam Smyth and Gill Partington’s edition of Critical Quarterly on missing texts. As the title of their introduction asks, what is the material history of books with names but no bodies?

As it happens there is one particular book for whose body I have been searching recently: To Your Tents, O Israel by Henry Walker. The events which prompted its writing are well-known: on 4 January 1642, Charles I had made famous attempt to arrest five leading opponents in the House of Commons: arriving at Parliament only to find, in his own words, that ‘all the birds are flown’. Charles was determined to track down the rogue MPs, and believing that they were still in hiding in the capital, he decided to confront the Corporation of the City of London.

At about ten o’clock the following, Charles was taken by coach up the Strand towards the Guildhall. By the time he got there, a substantial crowd had assembled to meet him. After addressing the Corporation, Charles dined with London’s Sheriff, George Garrett, at his house in Aldermanbury Street next door. After their lunch was finished, he emerged and made his way back to his carriage. At this point the crowd surged and shouts went up of ‘privilege of Parliament’. This was the moment that Henry Walker, a 29-year old ironmonger turned writer and bookseller decided to throw a self-penned text into Charles’s coach.

The text has become known as To Your Tents, O Israel because of the passage in scripture it is supposed to have alluded to: 1 Kings 12:16, which told the story of King Rehoboam’s tyrannical rule over Israel. Rehoboam was a tyrant who imposed heavy taxes and harsh punishments on his people. In response, the ten northern tribes of Israel rebelled and formed their own nation. In alluding to these events, Walker was making a fairly heavy handed comparison to the extra-Parliamentary taxation that Charles had introduced under his period of Personal Rule in the 1630s.

However, it’s not actually clear if To Your Tents, O Israel was the title, or even if the text had a title. Nor is it clear what form the text took. It is described variously in contemporary accounts as a “Pamphlet”, “Petition”, “Paper” and “Sermon”. No copies survive and it’s not clear how many were made. We do know, though, that it was printed rather than hand-written. The only direct account we have of the text’s production is by a hostile witness, John Taylor:

He plotted and contrived with a Printer, the said night before to write and print a perrillous Petition to his Majesty, and borrowed the Printers wives Bible, out of which he tooke his Theame out of the first of Kings, Chap, 12. ver. 16 part of the verse; To your Tents O Israel. There was writing and printing all night, and all the next day those Libels were scattered, and when his Majesty had dined, and had taken Coach to returne to White-Hall, Walker stood watching the Kings comming by amongst the Drapers in Pauls Church-yard, and having one of his Pamphlets in his hand meaning to have delivered it to his Majesty, but could not come at him by reason of the presse of People, insomuch as Walker (most impudently sawcy) threw it over the folkes heads into his Majesties Coach.

John Taylor, The whole life and progresse of Henry Walker the ironmonger, E.154[29].

However, details in this account can be checked and verified. The printer was Thomas Payne, whose shop at the sign of the sugar loaf in Goldsmith’s Alley was a stone’s throw from Walker’s establishment in Butler’s Alley in St Giles Cripplegate. It was Payne who, having thought better of his role, shopped Walker to the authorities. In 1650 he received a belated reward of £20 from the Commonwealth’s Council of State ‘‘as a gratuity for his sufferings by printing a book for the cause of Parliament, written by Mr. Walker”. So it does seem clear that the text was in printed form, although it whether it was a book or a sheet is open to question. And it was written and printed overnight, which suggests it cannot have been that long or had a significant print run.

Something which may help resolve the question of what form of printed text it was is a reference two and a half years later in another of Walker’s works: an edition of his newsbook Perfect Occurrences for 30 August to 6 September 1644. At this point Walker was not acknowledging himself as the author of Perfect Occurrences, hence the references in the third-person:

Here followeth a true copie of Master Walkers petition to the king, for which he suffered.

To the Kings most Excellent Majestie.

Humbly beseecheth that your most Excellent Majestie, would be graciously pleased to meditate on that place of Scripture written, 1 Kings. 12. 15. 16. Wherfore the King hearkned not unto his people, for the cause was from the Lord, that he might perform his saying, which the Lord spake by Ahijah the Shulanite, unto Jeroboam, the Son of Nebat, So when Israel saw that the King hearkened not unto them, the people answered the king saying, what portion have we in David, Neither have wee portion in the son of lesse: To your tents O Israel, now see to thine own, &c. The Lord blesse guide and direct your gratious Majestie, and encrease the number of your faithfull loyall Subjects. Amen.

Perfect Occurrences, 30th August-6th September 1644, E.254[28].

So if we can trust Walker’s reprint, it seems that the text was more akin to a printed version of the manuscript petitions that were common for the king and Parliament to receive at the time. And a text of this length would barely take up half a side of quarto, so it seems unlikely that it was a pamphlet or other book: more likely, a single sheet with some copies taken to distribute to the crowd or paste up on walls, and which Walker was fortunate enough to have the chance to thrust upon Charles.

And so this particular missing text is perhaps not as missing as it seems. A version of it turned up, and is still extant, in a later text – and even if it is a summary or rewrite of the original, it does give some suggestions about what the text said and what form it took. Similarly, an apparently unreliable account in a work by one of Walker’s enemies turns out, when checked against other evidence of the London print trade, to have more in it than first appears. There is something quite satisfying about the fact that it is the material traces of other texts that allows at least a partial reconstruction of another text.

Check your privilege

Another post where I bemoan the fact that it’s been too long since I’ve written anything for this blog. But I thought I would spend the next few posts looking at the procedures of Parliament during the seventeenth century, and how they have influenced Parliamentary procedures today. This first post is about the roles of the House of Commons and the House of Lords in matters of spending and taxation.

Most bills that pass through Parliament involve some sort of public expenditure of one kind of another. They might require Government to fund a service to the public or a particular group, for example, or to finance a regulatory framework that applies to business or charities. For this sort of bill, the Commons will agree a “money resolution”. These tend to follow a standard format along the following lines:

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the bill, it is expedient to authorise—

(1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenditure incurred by a Minister of the Crown by virtue of the Act, and

(2) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.

Some bills are so-called “money bills”, which deal solely with national taxes or loans. Some are “supply bills”, dealing with changes to taxation or public spending. In practice these two categories can overlap, but for Bills that fall into either category, the Commons will agree a “ways and means resolution”, which authorises any charges or taxes made on the public as a result of the Bill, and the payment of any sums into the Consolidated Fund (the Consolidated Fund is essentially the Government’s current account, managed by the Treasury).

For bills that start in the Lords and then transfer to the Commons, rather than the other way round, this causes a potential difficulty. A bill that is passed from the Lords to the Commons may well involve matters relevant to financial privilege, and in constitutional terms it will have been the Lords which has agreed them and suggested them to the Commons. The Lords get round this difficulty by agreeing a “privilege amendment” to a bill just after it has had its Third Reading – the point just before it is taken to the Commons. These follow a standard format:

Nothing in this Act shall impose any charge on the people or on public funds, or vary the amount or incidence of or otherwise alter any such charge in any manner, or affect the assessment, levying, administration or application of any money raised by any such charge.

For most bills this will very likely not be the case, but it is a convenient fiction that allows the Commons to pretend its privilege has not been infringed. The Commons then removes the amendment from the Bill at Committee stage – the first point at which the bill can be amended – which means that in theory they are the first and only House to agree provisions that relate to public expenditure or taxation.

In part the financial privilege of the Commons is enshrined in statute: section 1 of the Parliament Act 1911 provides that if a money bill having been agreed by the Commons is not passed by the Lords within a month, the bill receives Royal Assent regardless. In practice the Lords has never tried to amend a money bill, so this has not been put to the test. But the concept of financial privilege goes back a lot further than a hundred years. It has its origin in two resolutions made by the Commons in the 1670s.

The first was in April 1671, in the context of amendment made by the House of Lords to the Foreign Commodities Bill. The Bill sought to increase duties on tobacco and sugar imports. Owners of Barbados sugar plantations persuaded a number of peers that it would not be desirable to have duties on refined sugar, as otherwise they would have to export unrefined sugar and lose any profits they made from refining it before export. The Commons responded as follows to the amendment made by the Lords:

The House then proceeded to the Reading the Amendments and Clauses, sent from the Lords, to the Bill for an Imposition on foreign Commodities: Which were once read:And the first Amendments, sent from the Lords, being for changing the Proportion of the Impositions on white Sugars from One Peny per Pound, to Halfpeny half Farthing, was read the Second time; and debated.Resolution against Lords altering Tax Bills.

Resolved, &c. Nemine contradicente, That, in all Aids given to the King, by the Commons, the Rate or Tax ought not to be altered by the Lords.

Commons Journal, 13 April 1667.

The second was in July 1678, in a supply bill to pay off soldiers recruited by Charles II for a potential war with France that ended before it had really started, as a result of other European states (which had been at war much longer) beginning negotiations for peace treaty with Louis XIV. Twists and turns in the negotiations resulted in the Dutch asking Charles to put his plans for disbanding his troops on hold, and the Lords amended the dates in the bill accordingly.  The Commons responded as follows:

Mr. Solicitor General reports from the Committee to whom it was, amongst other things, referred, to prepare and draw up a State of the Rights of the Commons, in Granting of Money, a Vote agreed by the Committee: Which he read in his Place; and afterwards delivered the same in at the Clerk’s Table: Where the same was read; and, upon the Question, agreed; and is as followeth; viz.

Resolved, &c. That all Aids and Supplies, and Aids to his Majesty in Parliament, are the sole Gift of the Commons: And all Bills for the Granting of any such Aids and Supplies ought to begin with the Commons: And that it is the undoubted and sole Right of the Commons, to direct, limit, and appoint, in such Bills, the Ends, Purposes, Considerations, Conditions, Limitations, and Qualifications of such Grants; which ought not to be changed, or altered by the House of Lords.

Commons Journal, 3 July 1678.

It’s worth noting that the two scenarios had very different outcomes. In the second, the Commons solved the problem of its privilege being infringed by incorporating the Lords amendments into a new Bill. In the first, the bill fell because neither House could agree it. Both issues came up during the process of what is nowadays known informally as “ping pong” – or in technical terms, as Lords Consideration of Commons’ amendments (where the bill has started in the Lords then moved to the Commons) and Commons consideration of Lords’ amendments (where the bill has started in the Commons then moved to the Lords). Amendments made in one House can be batted back and forth to the other House, until the point both Houses are content.

Financial privilege can still cause issues at ping pong. There is a convention that if the same amendment is insisted upon twice by one House, and the other House rejects it, the entire bill falls. This is the case even if the disagreement is about a single clause. Financial privilege can be used by the Commons as a means of rejecting Lords amendments, although it’s also open to the Commons to waive their privilege if they choose to do so. Most recently, financial privilege caused issues for the passage of the Welfare Reform Act 2012. When the relevant bill passed from the Commons to the Lords, the Lords made over 100 amendments. These then passed to the Commons to consider in the first stage of ping pong.

46 of these engaged financial privilege. The Commons agreed to 35 of them, but voted against 11 of them and passed the Bill back to the Lords without them. The reason they gave for rejecting them was that they:

would alter the financial arrangements made by the Commons, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.

Commons Reasons and Amendment, January 2012.

It is the convention that where the Commons disagrees with an amendment made by the Lords, and that amendment invokes financial privilege, that this is the reason given in response – even if it is not in fact the actual reason that the Commons has disagreed. It is the Commons – in practice, its clerks – which decides whether an amendment invokes financial privilege, not the Government.

It is also the convention that the Lords will not insist on an amendment that is rejected for reasons of financial privilege: in other words, that they will not pursue “double insistence”, which results in the bill falling. But it is open to the Lords to send back a different amendment in lieu of the first, in the hope that the Commons will agree this instead.

When the Welfare Reform Bill was returned from the Commons citing financial privilege as the reason for rejecting the 11 Lords amendments, it caused some controversy and suggestions that the Commons was defining financial privilege extremely widely, and that the Goverment was able as a result to use its majority in the Commons to impose the will of one House. The debate in the Lords on this matter on 14 February 2012 is worth reading in this respect. The Lords ended up suggesting variations on the amendments, some of which were Government suggestions but two of which were not – the latter dealing with the “bedroom tax” reducing housing benefit for claimants considered to have a spare room.

The Commons then disagreed with these two further amendments when they were sent back to them by the Lords. The Lords in turn suggested another amendment in lieu, requiring the Government to review the provisions six months after implementation. The Commons accepted this, and the bill as a result was able to receive Royal Assent.

So 350 years or so on, the issues that were exercising MPs and peers during the reign of Charles II are still of significant constitutional importance to MPs and peers today. The comparisons with the 1670s were not lost on peers debating the bedroom tax, but nor was the potential to disagree about the extent to which there was a smooth line connecting one to the other. Here for example is Lord Strathclyde speaking for the Government in the debate on 14 February:

Even for a Conservative, the financial privilege of the House of Commons cannot be considered new. Its origins lie in the constitutional settlement that followed our civil war. The Commons agreed its first resolution on the subject in 1671, and in 1678 resolved that:

“All aids and supplies, and aids to his Majesty in Parliament, are the sole gift of the Commons; and all bills for the granting of any such aids and supplies ought to begin with the Commons; and that it is the undoubted and sole right of the Commons to direct, limit and appoint in such bills the ends, purposes, considerations, limitations, and qualifications of such grants, which ought not to be changed or altered by the House of Lords”.

And here is the response in the same debate from the Labour peer Lord Morgan, who is also (as will become clear) a historian:

Lord Morgan: My Lords, I will just say that I am afraid I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Tyler on this.

Noble Lords: He is not your noble friend.

Lord Morgan: Well, sometimes he is-but the view that we heard is historically flawed. The idea that there has been a seamless web since 1671 is quite unsound. As we know, the Parliament Act defined money Bills very precisely. It did so in the spirit of the resolutions of the 1670s. Distinctions were drawn between where the money came from, which was spelt out very clearly, the intended objective and the issues governing its expenditure. It was confirmed in 1911 by the great Prime Minister Mr Asquith that the money Bills provision applied to what he called “all matters of pure finance”. There was agreement across the House that it would not be applied to financial privilege more generally, particularly where issues of social policy were concerned. This is why very often House of Lords amendments had waivers in the House of Commons on many things-including, recently, university tuition fees, the savings gateway and child trust funds, all issues that I discussed myself. The principle that this should now be extended to any implications for public expenditure is far wider than the Parliament Act 1911, and adds a new and unwelcome principle to our unfortunately unwritten constitution.

Incidentally the exchange at the start of this last extract is because Lord Morgan got his forms of address wrong. In the Lords peers refer to each other in the third person as “noble Lords”. Members of the same political party call each other “my noble friend”. Lord Tyler, whom Lord Morgan was addressing, is a Liberal Democrat and so not – at least in the context of the Lords chamber – a noble friend to Labour peers.

Horses, People and Parliament

Gavin Robinson, Horses, People and Parliament in the English Civil War: Extracting Resources and Constructing Allegiance (Ashgate, 2012).

‘Parliamentarian’ and ‘Royalist’ are two of those words that it’s easy to throw around unthinkingly. Partly it’s because they are such a convenient shorthand for a set of concepts that are too complicated to express succinctly, that we can forget the nuances that come with them. But as the introduction of Horses, People and Parliament points out, it’s also because they are bound up with the particular way civil war allegiance has been defined in the twentieth century:

Essentialist assumptions about identity are so deeply embedded in the English language that they are difficult to challenge, or even recognize. It feels perfectly natural to say that a person was royalist, and awkwardly unnatural to say that a person did royalism.

Gavin’s starting point, following the lead set by Rachel Weil, is that there is much profit to be made from thinking about the external aspects of allegiance: what a person did, rather than what a person felt. This can feel counter-intuitive for historians conditioned to trying to reconstruct individual beliefs and collective mentalities. A person’s actions, after all, can be carried out unwillingly or due to necessity, rather than through free will. But as Gavin points out, the sources for reconstructing what a seventeenth-century person thought are much less abundant than those for reconstructing what the same person did.

And for contemporaries, actions could be just as, if not more, important than their beliefs. For MPs and county committee members struggling to fund the war effort, allegiance was ultimately about providing resources in cash and in kind. For a certain kind of godly puritan, a dry, legalist adherence to godly doctrines was inferior to a vigorous, outward-focused style of worship which turned those doctrines into practical actions. Seventeenth-century concepts of gender were as much performative as they were essentialist. Contemporaries did not necessarily privilege beliefs over deeds.

Following this idea to its logical conclusion may mean, as Gavin argues, that we need to jettison the terms Royalist and Parliamentarian altogether. Too often one comes across accounts of seventeenth-century men and women which say ‘she was a Royalist’, or ‘he was a Parliamentarian’: only to find out that this is based on a single tax they paid, item they sold, or statement they uttered. As Gavin points out, if civil war identities can be reduced to a mixture of only five binary oppositions – class, gender, religion, ethnicity and which side was picked – that still leaves thirty-two different sets of identities.

Allegiance, then, is messy and complicated. Rather than seeking to tidy up the mess, Horses, People and Parliament tries to use empirical evidence of how MPs and county committees sought to supply their armies with horses in order to uncover and describe it. Although Gavin seeks to draw out trends where he can, what emerges most from his analysis is the individual, and how hard they are to put into boxes. There are elite women like Lady Leye of Dichley, described in one account book as one of ‘severall men’. There are middling sort men like the vicar Cornelius Burges, who orchestrated a petition to Parliament offering a cavalry troop to Parliament, previously assumed to have been a example of localism but also with links to the junto. There are horses like those belonging to Captain George Thompson, ‘one blacke w[i]th two white feete and a blase downe his face, the other a bright bay’, or like Gunpowder and Sparks sent by the Earl of Lincoln as part of a group of seven. All of these individuals, whether human or animal, refuse easy categorisation.

The description of Lady Leye, in particular, is a wonderful vignette that captures some of the paradoxes in how contemporaries conceived of allegiance (and how different these can be to our own conceptions). It is a minor niggle, but I would have liked to have seen more on the role of gender in unpicking twentieth-century categories of allegiance. Gavin has been inspired by work by Ann Hughes and others, which analyses in a contextually-specific way what contemporaries understood by gender, to do the same for allegiance. Chapter one, in particular, uses gender as a way to unravel the monolithic identities – ‘well-affected men’, and so on – that were imposed on those who provided resources to Parliament. Other chapters look at how the wives of delinquents could exercise agency beyond that of their husbands, and at how concepts of masculinity were tied up with how Parliament defined and ‘othered’ its enemies. However, the focus is not quite as sustained in subsequent chapters as it is in the first (although bonus marks for the reference in the index under ‘men’, which simply reads passim).

But I like the messiness of what emerges from this analysis. It builds on recent historiography that sees contingency and chance as critical to the origins and outcome of the civil wars. And it stresses the way in which allegiance was fashioned or constructed, rather than necessarily innate. Actions could foist identities upon people unwillingly just as much as they could carefully craft an allegiance. Those appearing before the Committee of Compounding, for example, were quick to stress what they had done to support Parliament, or at least what they had not done to support the king. But those providing horses for Essex’s army in 1642, or for the Eastern Association in 1643, could equally provide them only with reluctance or at the hands of requisitioners.

I also love Gavin’s argument that, on this definition, animals could have allegiances just as much as humans. Horses had their own temperaments, and did not always respond to human attempts to control them. Given how essential horses were to civil war armies – not just for cavalry, but for supply as well – their willingness or unwillingness to comply could be just as important as human decisions about whether to provide king or Parliament with resources.  There are shades here of ‘for the want of a nail’, not just in terms of how battles were fought but also in terms of how resources were gathered.

Where the book is perhaps a little less systematic in unpicking traditional labels is with the third member of the trio in its title: Parliament. The horses and people who feature in the book emerge very strongly as diverse individuals. So too do MPs, whose identities were complicated by their twin roles in their constituencies and Westminster. Gavin is careful with his language, using royalist and parliamentarian rarely (and then only without capitals, and usually to describe how the terms have been used by others). Even so, despite stressing the factional divisions amongst MPs, at points in the book Parliament itself to some extent retains a single identity. This is a difficult point: terms like king and Parliament are synecdoches behind which lie much wider groups of people, but history books would be unreadable if we didn’t employ them. Nevertheless, there were a few points in this book where Parliament does things, and where I wondered: who actually did this? On any given day, the attendance in the Lords and the Commons varied; the motivations of the men attending may have been different; the influences of local committees, petitioners and men-of-business may have varied. Parliament did not have a single will or an essential, internal identity – despite the conventions of parliamentary language that survive to this day, and which would like you to believe that it does.

Horses, People and Parliament has important things to say about how parliamentary armies were supplied with horses, overturning a number of orthodoxies about how Parliament (see? I’ve done it too) went about the task, and about the priority it gave it. But at its heart, the book is an argument: a challenge to historians to think more widely about the vocabulary and methodologies they use when analysing and describing civil war identities. It has certainly succeeded in challenging me.

Disclaimer: Gavin kindly gave me a copy of this book, and I commented on a chapter or two of it in draft as well as following the early stages of some of its ideas on Gavin’s blog. I hope I have not pulled any punches as a result (and I suspect Gavin would be the first to encourage me not to hold back with criticism!).

Peter Sterry, fast sermons and Quakerism

So I am sitting at my desk at work when a friend, who has an even bigger obsession with books than me, wanders over and says, “Do you know about Wing numbers?”.

“Um, yes. Why?”

“Can you look one up for me?”

“Yes, okay.”

I open up ESTC and find the short title, then look it up on EEBO. It’s a sermon called The Spirits Conviction of Sinne, preached by Peter Sterry in 1645. While I am doing this, my friend gets out a bound octavo book and opens it up to the same title page that I’m looking at on EEBO.

“When’s your birthday?”.

“July”.

“Happy birthday!”, he says, and passes the book to me. It turns out it is a collection of Sterry’s sermons to Parliament during the 1640s and 1650s, together with a few other surprises too.

Now I am obviously very lucky to have friends who see collections of seventeenth-century sermons and immediately think “I know who would like that”. As an inadequate token of gratitude I did some digging into the provenance of the collection and thought it would be interesting to share it.

The five sermons by Sterry that the book includes are:

  • The Spirits Conviction of Sinne. Opened in a Sermon before the Honorable House of Commons [26 November 1645].
  • The Teachings of Christ In The Soule. Opened in a Sermon before the Right Honble House of Peers, in Covent-garden-Church [March 29, 1648].
  • The Clouds in which Christ Comes. Opened in a Sermon before the Honourable House of Commons [27 October 1647].
  • The Comings Forth of Christ In the Power of his Death. Opened in a Sermon Preached before the High Court of Parliament [1 November 1649]
  • England’s Deliverance From the Northern Presbytery, compared with its Deliverance from the Roman Papacy: or A Thanksgiving Sermon Preached [5 November 1651].

This is not every sermon Sterry published, but it is nearly all of them. And they are all significant sermons: placed together, they tell something of the story of the puritan victories of the 1640s and the growth in religious radicalism that the same decade saw.

The first three are fast sermons. These had become established as a Parliamentary tradition by the 1620s and were significant in the 1640s as a venue where preachers favoured by Presbyterian and Independent grandees could be used to fly religious and political kites to an audience of MPs or peers. They stopped in 1649, at least as regular sermons, but extraordinary fast sermons carried on after that date.

The 1645 sermon is the first one Sterry ever preached to Parliament. He was chaplain to Lord Brooke, who along with other disaffected peers like the Earl of Warwick and Lord Saye and Sele had played a significant role in leading Parliamentary opposition to Charles I during the early 1640s. Brooke was shot by a sniper while laying siege to Lichfield Castle in 1643. After that, Sterry became part of the Westminster Assembly of religious divines. The sermon is fairly conventionally puritan, in that it focuses on the role of the holy spirit in redeeming the chosen. But it’s sold by Henry Overton and Benjamin Allen, booksellers with more radical sympathies. Both were partners based in Cripplegate.

The Clouds in which Christ Comes is the first sign of Sterry moving in a more radical direction. It dabbles in the mysticism of Jakob Boehme, who was a German theologian who had various personal experiences of God. It was delivered at a critical time for the Parliamentary side: a coup by the Presbyterians had been seen off but the Independents were now having to deal with Leveller influences in the army. The Putney debates started the day after this sermon was delivered. As a result, the text is rather apocalyptic. The Teachings of Christ In The Soule was preached at a time when Parliament’s relationship with the Scots had broken down, and both were preparing for war. It also shows signs of being influenced by Boehme. Both texts were sold by Robert Dawlman, a specialist in theological literature with a shop in St Paul’s Yard.

The Comings Forth of Christ In the Power of his Death marked Cromwell’s victories at Drogheda and Wexford. By this stage Sterry was preacher to the Council of State, the executive body set up after the death of Charles I which included Cromwell and various of the Independent and New Model Army grandees as its members. It was much more overtly millenarian than Sterry’s previous sermons. England’s Deliverance From the Northern Presbytery marks the defeat of the Scots at Worcester, and argues that this is a greater deliverance for England than having rid itself of Catholics.

The fact that all of these texts were collected in one place indicates someone with a significant interest in Sterry and the radical, millenarian end of puritanism. It is not clear when they were gathered together. The collection is labelled as being bound bound by L. A. Smart, a binder in Gloucester. It seems this was Lucy Ann Smart, who was in business from at least the 1870s onwards, but the binding does not necessarily indicate the date of collection. Nevertheless, I suspect this may well have been the late nineteenth century. Some of the texts have marginalia, and this is not all in the same hand, suggesting they were probably not all collected by one person during the seventeenth century. The Clouds in which Christ Comes has this after the preface, which would appear to be a seventeenth-century hand:

(Incidentally I cannot make out John’s surname and would welcome any help with this).

This book is in the worst condition of them all: it is damp stained and missing the second half. A reader – I am not sure it’s the same one as John – has also been through and corrected the text at various points, in line with an errata page inserted by the printer:

This particular text also has a bookplate (which I have not been able to identify – again, I would welcome any thoughts), whereas none of the others do, which makes me wonder if this one at least came from another collection:

Whereas another text bound in with the Sterry books has extensive marginalia in what I think is a different and later hand:

There is also the question of some additional texts, by authors other than Sterry, that have been bound together with Sterry’s sermons.  The three additional texts are:

  • The preface to Saducismus Triumphatus by Joseph Glanvill. This was published in 1681, after Sterry’s time, and affirmed the existence of witches at a time when learned opinions were not inclining that way.
  • A Victorian reprint (1894) of William Dell’s Doctrine of Baptisms. Dell was, like Sterry, an alumnus of Emmanuel College, Cambridge and another radical preacher, associated with Thomas Fairfax. He was critical of baptism of children.
  • Another Victorian reprint (1864) of Ralph Cudworth’s The True Knowledge of Christ. Cudworth was another Emmanuel alumnus, and this particular sermon sermon argued against blind adherence to rituals,  stating that true Christians were to be spotted by how they lived their lives.

Certain Puritan preachers of the mid-seventeenth century enjoyed a renaissance in the nineteenth century due to interest from nonconformists, who were quick to see parallels with their own beliefs. Sterry in particular had preached in 1656 – at the time of the controversy over James Nayler – about the need to treat Quakers kindly. The similarity between the concept Sterry had of the holy spirit, and Quaker views on the inner light, means that Victorian Quakers were probably able to absorb his works fairly easily into their own worldview.

The likelihood of it being a Quaker who collected these sermons is increased when one realises who the printer of the two reissued sermons was: John Bellows in Gloucester, who was well-known to contemporaries in south-west England as a Quaker. So it seems likely that the books were collected by a Quaker connected to Bellows in some way, or who was at least from Gloucestershire or the surrounding counties. Beyond that, though, I’ve drawn a blank.

The sceleton of some flat Fish

For some reason, it was always trilobites.

By the age of six, I was obsessed with fossils, and while dinosaurs were a big part of that, I was always fondest of trilobites. I remember having a book about prehistoric sea creatures and my eyes were always drawn to what was on the ocean floor rather than the icthyosaurs and plesiosaurs swimming above it. Maybe it was because they were similar to the woodlice I used to like to catch in the garden. By the time I was seven, I had been given a book about the Tudors and Stuarts and suddenly my allegiances shifted. But I’m still fond of trilobites: a geologist friend at university noticed me sneaking a glimpse at her book about them while we were revising in the library, and gave me a plaster cast of one after we finished our finals.

Trilobites, as any six-year old will tell you, are an extinct type of marine arthropod. They appear in the fossil record around 500 million years ago, and died out 250 million years later. The picture above is the fossil of a particular type of trilobite called Oxygiocarella debuchii. This specimen was found at Llandeilo in Glamorgan, by Edward Lhwyd at the end of the seventeenth century.

Lhwyd was the keeper of the Ashmolean Museum and the author of the first English catalogue of fossils: Lithophilacii Britannica ichnographia [EEBO], published in 1699. As part of the research for this book, Lhwyd spent time in Wales, which is where he found his trilobite specimen alongside those of various shells and corals. He wrote to Martin Lister, a member of the Royal Society, about his findings and part of the letter – along with some wonderful etchings like the one above – was published in the Society’s Philosophical Transactions. In his letter Lhwyd described the creature as best he could given the knowledge of the time:

The 15th whereof we found great plenty, must doubtless be referred to the sceleton of some flat Fish.

Although it was not identified as such, this is the first written record of a trilobite. I wonder how many readers of the Philosophical Transactions were as intrigued by the trilobite as I was, aged six. For me – and perhaps for some of Lhwyd’s contemporaries – they hinted at a foreign yet strangely familiar other world, now at a vast distance from us but visible all the same with the tap of a hammer on stone.

This post marks the Royal Society’s decision to make every copy of the Philosophical Transactions freely available online. For more on trilobites, I cannot recommend highly enough Richard Fortey’s wonderful Trilobite! Eyewitness to Evolution (2000), which sets out far more eloquently than I can what makes the trilobite  so alluring.

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