The Character of a Cavaliere

by Nick


A couple of days ago, while searching for something else, I found a pamphlet on EEBO called The Character of a Cavaliere, or a Warning Piece to Round-Heads. The woodcut on the right – which seems to have been recycled in a few pamphlets of the early 1640s – shows the eponymous cavalier. Printed in London on 1 April 1643, the author is anonymous but is clearly of parliamentarian sympathies. It’s a classic example of the “character sketch” that became popular during the 1640s as print culture suddenly exploded. These were sketches in the tradition of the Greek philosopher Theophrastus, setting out a person’s defining qualities, that were increasingly used in a humorous or sarcastic style. Characters of Welshmen, combining a common iconographic vocabulary of leeks and toasted cheese with a common linguistic vocabulary where the letter g was replaced with a c or k, were particularly popular.

Spoofs of roundheads and royalists were also not uncommon, and The Character of a Cavaliere ticks all the usual boxes, satirising the aggressive tendencies of the cavaliers who had gathered in London’s taverns in 1641-2 while waiting employment after the Scottish wars.

But you can imagine my surprise when on page 2 of the pamphlet I noticed that the spoof cavalier comes out with the phrase “all thy base are belongeth to us” – this while engaged in a debate with an imagined roundhead. Perhaps this is a reference to the royalist successes in the southwest, for instance Prince Rupert’s successful siege of Cirencester, earlier in 1643. But it also anticipates poor Japanese translations into English and the “all your base” web meme by 350 years!

Were the translators channelling 1640s print culture, or is it just a coincidence? I’ve managed to track down a copy of the pamphlet in an out of copyright book on Google Books, so you can have a look at the pamphlet without the need to go to EEBO here