Monkey magic

by Nick

It started with Gavin Robinson posting a wonderful piece about the Ladybird biography of Oliver Cromwell – including an anecdote about the infant Oliver being carried onto a roof by a monkey. This prompted Ted Vallance to do some more digging into the provenance of the story, including this plea:

Incidentally, we really need a PhD thesis on monkey symbolism in early modern English literature.

This post is not that PhD thesis. But Gavin and Ted’s posts did prompt me to dust off a post which has been sitting unfinished in my drafts folder for about six months now, about a short-lived pamphlet craze about Prince Rupert and his she-monkey.

In the spring of 1643, the bookseller George Thomason collected three such pamphlets. The first pamphlet, called An exact description of Prince Ruperts malignant she-monkey, a great delinquent, was bought by Thomason on 25 February 1643. Unusually for quarto pamphlets of this period, it was printed partly in black-letter. It describes Rupert’s monkey wearing a black scarf and yellow gown trimmed with lace, and alludes to Rupert’s sexual adventures with her. The monkey:

Clap[s] her hand on her buttock and scratch[es] it as if it were troubled with the lustfull itch.

The monkey’s name is an abomination, just like:

The Spanish painter wrote in a church window Sunt with a C, which was an abomination.

It ended with this bit of doggerel (in more than one sense) poetry:

Prince Ruperts Monkey is a toy,

That doth exceed his dog called Boy,

Which through dogged folly

Both barks and bites

But this delights,

The Prince when’s melancholy.

The front page had a woodcut of the monkey in buttock-scratching pose, complete with a cavalier’s sword at her side.

On 8 March 1643, Thomason bought a sequel of sorts: The Parliaments unspotted-bitch: in answer to Prince Roberts dog called Boy, and his malignant she-monkey. This had a frontispiece showing Parliament’s elegant dog, who goes on in the pamphlet to respond to Rupert’s monkey and dog. Boy is supposed to have used his diabolical talents to discover the Oxford college’s plate ‘which my Lord Say could not’. Parliament’s bitch concludes that:

He is an imposture, a very juggling Boy, and a very cowardly malignant cur, though he look like a lion.

Finally on 15 March Thomason collected a third pamphlet appeared. The humerous tricks and conceits of Prince Roberts malignant she-monkey, discovered to the world before her marriage. Again it doesn’t pull any punches about the monkey’s sexual predilections:

She could never keep her legs together, but would throw them about in such an obscene manner, that any of the Cavaleers with a Carbine charged with two bullets might easily enter her maiden fort, rifle all the treasures of her virginity, and come off safe and sound with a pox to them.

All three pamphlets draw effectively on the imagery of the roaring girl, casting the monkey as Moll Cutpurse – a female who disrupts gender norms with her bawdy behaviour, a stigmatisation of Rupert which is amplified by combining it with the imagery of the monkey. Rupert’s actions at Turnham Green in November 1642 – smashing a regiment at Brentford while Charles saw a delegation from Parliament – had given him a terrible reputation amongst Londoners so it is likely that the first pamphlet was exploring an already well-established market, combining titillation with anti-royalist fervour.

The first pamphlet clearly sold well, given the two sequels it inspired. It is not clear who wrote them, but the imprints do give the names of the undertakers (probably the booksellers). The first was printed for Edward Johnson – only a couple of pamphlets with this imprint survive. The second was printed for R. Jackson. No other pamphlets with this imprint survive. The third was printed for T. Cornish. Again, no other pamphlets with this imprint survive. Part of me wonders whether these are false names, given that in early 1643 Parliament was still attempting to keep a zealous oversight of scandalous publications (to be affirmed and strengthened in the Licensing Ordinance of 1643). Anti-royalist propaganda was all very well, it seems, unless it transgressed other social norms.