A bit of a coup in recent weeks: I finally managed to view the original parish registers for Petersham chapel, where Henry Walker was curate from the 1660s until some point in the 1680s. This is part of a page written in 1667:
On Tuesday 11th June 1667 Mr Henry Walker was by Mr Twetty of Kingston apointed to the cure of Petersham whither he went and tooke possession of the church where he marryed a couple that morning. Mr Walker went to the Hon:ble the Countess of Disart & acquainted her of his being sent by Mr Twitty but she said the right was in her & Mr Walker being allowed by her honour had afterwards licence from my Lord Bishop of Winchester and was confirmed in the place. His first day of preaching there was June 1[illegible but must be 6 from the context as 16 June was the Sunday] 1667 upon approbation.
I am pretty certain that it was Henry himself who wrote this. Compare it to this inscription in the flyleaf of a copy of Synopsis Papismi that he gave to the Ironmongers’ Company in 1681, which seems to me to be the same hand.
If I am right about that, then the rest of the relevant page from the Petersham register becomes more interesting:
What precedes the entry about the Countess of Dysart seems to be in the same hand. Looking at what has been crossed out – an entry that then is re-written a few places down – it seems most likely that Walker was re-entering material that had already been recorded somewhere else, and made a mistake. The registers are a complete mess, with the pages out of order and the page that would have confirmed Prince Rupert’s alleged marriage of 1664 (together with entries from 1659 to 1664) missing. So Walker may just have been tidying things up.
However, one other possibility that occurs to me is whether Walker had effectively taken possession of the curacy himself, some months before he then went to the Countess of Dysart – making this an attempt to rewrite history so as to appear that he had gone to the Countess of Dysart as soon as possible? I have got quite used to Walker’s narrative of his own life being somewhat different to what actually seems to have happened, so would not put it past him, but I would welcome any thoughts.
I’ve spent the scattered moments I’ve had for writing in the last week or so trying to make sense of what Henry Walker did during the 1660s. I am not sure I have really succeeded, but here is where I have got to.
1660 marked a sharp turning point in Walker’s career. After spending the 1640s as a mouthpiece for Independent and army grandees, and the 1650s as a state-approved journalist, Charles II’s return to London in May 1660 resulted – as it did for many – in Walker trimming his sails to fit the change of wind. In early August – George Thomason acquired his copy on 6 August – Walker published what would be his last pamphlet: the in no way portentously titled Serious observations lately made, touching his Majesty Charles the Second.
The pamphlet had Walker’s usual gimmick of translating an English phrase into Hebrew and then back into a different English phrase. In this case “King Charles Stuart” was transformed into “the King hath prepared a refreshing, hee hath crushed it out of the rock by degrees”. The reference is to Psalm 78, in which God brings forth water from the rocks but the ungrateful Israelites keep sinning. The metaphor is not exactly subtle: Charles II is a latter-day Moses, leading England safely through the wilderness. The pamphlet goes on to compare the thirty-year old Charles to other great thirty-year olds from history such as Joseph, David and even Jesus (a tough act to follow, then). All of which was presumably an attempt by Walker to draw a line under his support for Cromwell and the Council of State, and hence to save his skin.
Walker’s fate after that is not at all clear. A “Henricus Walker” was ordained priest in June 1660 by the Bishop of Salisbury – I am not at all convinced this was him, given that he had been ordained as a deacon already in the late 1630s, but it is impossible to know. Various Henry Walkers turn up in parishes in and around Middlesex in the early 1660s:
– a Henricus Walker was made curate and preacher of Hanwell in Ealing in April 1661.
– a Henricus Walker was made curate of Hounslow chapel, serving Heston and Isleworth, in August 1662 and was still there in 1664.
Then on 11 June 1667, a Henry Walker – and this time it is definitely our Henry – was presented to be curate of Petersham chapel near Richmond, by a Mr Twetty of Kingston. This must be Thomas Twitty, who had been made vicar of Kingston in 1662. Shortly afterwards, though, Walker had to pay a call on Elizabeth Tollemache – otherwise known as the Countess of Dysart – who asserted that the living was hers to give rather than Twitty’s. She confirmed his appointment and Walker began preaching there on 16 June.
The connection to Elizabeth Tollemache is really intriguing. She was the daughter of William Murray, gentleman of the bedchamber to Charles I who carried messages between Charles and the Scots in 1640. in 1648 she married Sir Lionel Tollemache, and together they supported the Sealed Knot during the 1650s. However, she also seems to have been on good terms with Cromwell (to such an extent that she was alleged to have been his mistress while he was in Scotland). Walker himself was one of Cromwell’s associates – attending his deathbed in 1658, or at least claiming he did. It is just possible that Walker and Elizabeth had known in each other in the 1650s, and that this may have made his hurried visit in June 1667 slightly easier than it would otherwise have been. But again, as with all of Walker’s life in the 1660s, there is no real evidence, only the suggestion of connections.
Walker’s handwriting in the Petersham parish register starts at this point, and stops in early 1674. I have only recently found and looked at the original registers and the fact that they contain another physical trace of Walker’s presence – to add the handwritten note I’ve found in the book he donated to the Ironmongers’ Company in 1681, and his signature in their apprentice book in 1629 – has been incredibly exciting. More on that next week.
Four years ago I started writing a book: a biography of the seventeenth-century ironmonger, preacher, bookseller, pamphleteer and newsbook editor Henry Walker. I had done most of the research, and finished writing up the early chapters (the first three are now on my academia.edu page, if you want to read them). And then real life intervened, and I ground to a halt, and the book has sat unfinished on my hard drive for two years. My resolution this year is to start writing it again.
To help me stick to that resolution, I am going to try blogging about my progress. Every week from now on, I will aim to post an update about how I am getting on. It might be a summary of what I’ve done that week, it might focus on a particular source I’m working on, a particular text or protagonist I’m researching, or it might just be an excuse for why I haven’t done anything. But I will try to post something every week or so, even if it’s just a paragraph or two. This first post is about beginnings and ends.
How does one start – or in my case, re-start – the process of writing a book? Four years ago I did it according to the textbook: planning and plotting out each chapter based on my research, and then starting at the beginning of Walker’s life with his baptism in All Saints, Derby on 1 March 1612. I got as far as 1641 before I stopped.
Returning to the draft, though, I have had to confront an enormous mental block about picking up where I left off. Nobody really knew much about Walker’s life before the 1640s before I started researching him: the most that had been found was records of his time as an apprentice ironmonger in the late 1620s and early 1630s. I have found a lot more, but inevitably there are gaps that I have had to fill in through educated guesses and speculation. Writing up Walker’s early life, I didn’t have existing accounts to consider or react against. From 1641 onwards, however, Walker starts selling and publishing pamphlets, and becomes much more visible in the historical record. Many historians, from the the early twentieth century onwards, have written about Walker’s career from the outbreak of the civil war and onwards.
So picking up the draft chronologically where I’ve left off feels quite daunting – stepping into well-trodden ground where there is huge amounts of primary source material that has been picked over in secondary sources. Not having written anything for two years, I’ve found it hard to dive straight back in just at the point where it is hardest to say something new or original.
Instead I’ve chosen to begin at the end. According to his ODNB entry, in the early 1660s Walker more or less disappears from the historical record. After lots of digging, I have been able to reconstruct a skeleton framework for the last twenty years of his life:
If I was updating Walker’s entry in the ODNB I would simply list these events, and that would be that. But that is hardly enough for a chapter in a full biography that is meant to be an epilogue to Walker’s life. So I am having to resort to other means to fill in the blanks – by reading the parish registers to get a sense of the rhythm of Walker’s job, by reading the court book for the Ironmongers’ Company to see what dinners he attended and when he was fined for non-attendance, and by reconstructing what his grown-up daughters were doing by this point from mentions in his will.
None of it quite adds up to a substantive chapter, at least not compared to what I will end up writing about Walker’s career in the 1640s and 1650s. At best it is a process of writing someone’s life by reconstructing the milieu in which they lived and hoping it leaves a subject-shaped gap; at worst it is simple speculation. But it does give me a gentler way in to re-starting the process of writing, with some small, manageable chunks of drafting that aren’t too scary. So I am beginning at the end, hoping that the act of going backwards is what will ultimately send me in the right direction.
It takes five minutes to walk from my office to Parliament, past Westminster School and cutting between Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s church. I have probably walked back and forth along this route about a hundred times in the last year, but I am normally in such a rush that it was only recently that I noticed this on the east wall of St Margaret’s church:
St Margaret’s has been the church of the House of Commons since 1614, when MPs objected to the type of communion bread being used in the Abbey and switched allegiance to the church next door. There is therefore a certain irony that a bust of Charles I, destroyer of Parliaments, takes pride of place at the east end. However, the reason Charles is there becomes clear when you look across the road:
There is, of course, an equal irony that Cromwell – another destroyer of Parliaments – has even greater pride of place outside Westminster Hall. However, while the campaign by Lord Rosebery and others to erect Cromwell’s statue is well-known, the story of Charles’s bust is a bit more obscure.
It is there thanks to a campaign by the Society of King Charles the Martyr. In around 1945 the secretary of the Society, Hedley Hope-Nicholson, found two lead busts of the king in a Fulham salvage yard. He donated one to the church in 1950; the other is now at the Banqueting House. The gift to St Margaret’s was finally erected in 1956 after a new niche was made for it. I would love to know more about how the decision to install the bust was made, but can find frustratingly little about it other than a note by the Assistant Keeper of the Muniments at the Abbey Library. However, reading between the lines I wonder if its origins may lie in the politics of the rector of the time.
The Rector of St Margaret’s in 1956 was the Revd. Canon Charles Smyth. It’s not clear whether he was directly responsible for accepting the gift of the bust and arranging for its placement – but he certainly gave a lecture welcoming its donation. He had read history at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, before taking holy orders and eventually returning to be Dean of Corpus. As a don he reacted against left-wing orthodoxies and argued that the Anglican clergy could play a superior role to intellectuals as a bearer of truth. In the words of the historian Maurice Cowling – who was not just taught but heavily influenced by him – Smyth was a “destructive intellectual” and “Anglican reactionary” whose primary mode of intellectual inquiry was attack. As a result he never made it as far as a bishopric, despite landing the plum role of rector of St Margaret’s (even quarreling with his neighbours at Westminster School about the noise made by the boys).
With this disdain for liberal values, it is not hard to imagine Smyth taking some pleasure at the idea of Charles facing out across Millbank towards Cromwell. His pupil Cowling certainly indulged in mischief-making – or “genial malice”, as he put it – in order to bait what he saw as dogmatic intellectual arrogance masquerading as altruism, on both the left and the right. AT Peterhouse, where he was a Fellow, he founded a dining club called the Authenticators to commemorate Hugh Trevor-Roper’s mistaken authentication of the “Hitler Diaries”. The fact that Trevor-Roper was Master of the college did not deter him. Cowling retired from his Fellowship in 1993, five years before I went up to Peterhouse, but he was still spoken of in hushed tones by graduate students who remembered him.
Cowling devoted a significant chunk of the first volume of his Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England to assessing Smyth’s ideas and political thought, in a chapter which is as much autobiographical confession as historical argument. There is something in Cowling’s epitaph for him – “Smyth challenged nearly everyone and nearly everyone responded” – that suggests Cowling himself would be quite proud of this verdict. It may just be that the genial malice of Cowling’s character was something, like his Conservative polemic, that he first learned from Smyth.
This is all speculation, clearly. But I do like the idea of Charles’s statue being a barbed intellectual joke as well as a grand statement of political and religious values.