Mercurius Politicus

A blog (mostly) about early modern history

Category: britain

Great Snow

I am snowed in today under 8 inches of snow. Last time that happened I posted about an early modern equivalent, so I thought it would be appropriate to do the same today.

Both the passages below, like my previous post, are about the “Great Snow” of 1614-15. The first is an extract from the parish register of Youlgrave in Derbyshire.

This year, 1614-15, Jan: 16 began the greatest snow which ever fell uppon the earth, within man’s memorye. It cover’d the earth fyve quarters deep uppon the playne. And for heapes or drifts of snow, they were very deep, so that passengers, both horse and foot, passed over yates, hedges, and walles. It fell at ten severall tymes, and the last was the greatest, to the greate admiration and feare of all the land, for it came from the foure pts of the world, so that all cutryes were full, yea, the south p’te as well as these mountaynes. It continued by daily encreasing untill the 12th day of March, (without the sight of any earth, eyther uppon hilles or valleyes) uppon wch daye, being the Lordes day, it began to decrease; and so by little and little consumed and wasted away, till the eight and twentyth day of May for then all the heapes or drifts of snow were consumed, except one uppon Kinder-Scout, wch lay till Witson week.

Hyndrances and losses in this peake c~ntry by the snowe abovesayd. 1. It hindered the seed tyme. 2. It consumed much fodder. 3. And many wanted fewell, otherwise few were smoothered in the fall or drowned in the passage; in regard the floods of water were not great though many.”

The name of our Lord be praysed.

There fell also ten lesse snowes in Aprill, some a foot deep, some lesse, but none continued long. Uppon May day, in the morning, instead of fetching in flowers, the youthes brought in flakes of snow, wch lay above a foot deep uppon the moores and mountaynes.”

D. & S. Lysons, Magna Britannia, a concise topographical account of the several counties of Great Britain (1817), p. 303.

The second is from the 1618 edition of John Stow’s The abridgement of the English Chronicle.

The 17th of January, 1614, it began to freeze in ordinary manner, and the 23rd of January it beganne to snow, and continued freezing and snowing many daies; and upon Sonday the 12th of February it beganne to snow most extreamely, and continued untill the 14th of February at noone, and then it abated; and from that time for many daies after it continued freezing and snowing, much or little, until the 6th or 7th of March, by meanes whereof much cattell perished, as calves and lambs, deere and coneys, &c, by reason the earth lay long covered with deepe snow to the great hurt of all manner of cattell, and many were forced to use new devices to fodder. This snow brought extreame danger to all travaillers; after this snow thawed, there followed inundations, great and violent, which did great spoiles and dammages, as you mav read in my large booke.

John Stow, The abridgement of the English Chronicle, first collected by M. Iohn Stow, and after him augmented with very many memorable antiquities, and continued with matters forreine and domesticall, vnto the beginning of the yeare, 1618. by E.H. Gentleman (1618), p. 544.



The Hampton Court Letter, being a reply to The Epsom Ladys Answer

I came across this fun early eighteenth-century rebus earlier on this evening while searching the British Museum database for something else:

AN354005001, © The Trustees of the British Museum

Here is a translation from the BM catalogue. If you have any ideas what the sentence starting with two maids means then you are clearly much cleverer than me:

Glorious lady, Your rebus deciphered does inform that benign stars ordain happiness, to recompense noble flames. Your heart shall be mine I understand you well. Those eyes assure what your tongue should utter, belie not your sole, or I undermine your heart: maids madden[?] refuse but take it. Madam believe your fortune made; my income can bear a coach and six, which all the world knows. When wedlock joins hands then O! for your beauty. Your loving obedient meanest servant, signed, sealed, delivered before Henry Smith.

This seems to have been part of a series of prints: the first from the “Tunbridge Beau”, the second a response from the “Epsom Lady”, the third this one, and the fourth the answer of the “Country Assembly”. Unfortunately the only other image I have tracked down is the fourth and final part of the series:

Translation (again, would welcome any thoughts on the uncertain sections):

Vain pragmaticall man, The style and assurance of your epistle shows you a daring bogtrotter, what earnest of ye lady’s heart could induce you to fancy your famous party and as you believe handsome overtures would be cordially received. You are a great bear for your pains, too [knave paired?] and lunatic, [straw bed, owl] pottage, Bedlam, and iron bars is what you want; [urinal/flask?] clothes her hatred, esteemed nor regarded of a [?]. The Tonbridge rake that begun this folly is a danmed liar and prevaricator, two nonesuch violents not to be uttered on a spinster, a welshman but she made address to defend herself and waived entering fool’s paradise so ridiculously. On that he charitably belies Mr J-n nobody knows wherefor, but ye scandal would not stick. Ye post stays so I can only beg you repent be content confess your treacheries and we shall become your admirers. To show [basket?], Abel Burnet, Martin Palfrey, Millicent Fane, Rose Cage, Bridget Cooper.

All four in the series were published by Andrew Johnston, a printmaker based at the Golden Eagle in Old Round Court off the Strand. He seems to have mostly sold engraved and etched portraits, but clearly fads like these rebuses could also prove a useful money-spinner.

O J burne in hell

By way of follow-up to yesterday’s post about pro- and anti-Cromwellian manuscript poems, here is a short manuscript libel about John Lilburne which I came across today. It was doing the rounds in the summer of 1658, but I suspect it may date back to the late 1640s. Bonus marks to the author for managing to combine both anagram and acrostic, two favorite devices of the seventeenth-century pamphleteer:

The anagram of John Lilburne
O J burne in hell

If a bold traitour gainst his god & King
Of money may have share, John Lilburne bring.
He kicks gainst King, gainst parish, gainst prophett too
No mischiefe under heaven that he’ll not doe,
Laws sacred, national, and most humane
Illegall are, if Jack (the Jew) complaine
Lend mee your aid, you limners that can paint
Brittaine’s white devils, or his black grime saint
Vaine, Mildmay, Bradshaw, Martin, and Jack Pim,
(Rouges most compleat) punies unto him.
None but himselfe, himselfe can parallell.
Expect thus by him, O J burne in hell.

The image is an anonymous engraving commemorating Lilburne’s acquittal in 1649: AN514450001, © The Trustees of the British Museum.

It is I

In mid-May 1653, a man pulled up at the Royal Exchange in a carriage, got out, and fixed a portrait of Oliver Cromwell onto the wall. The picture was titled ‘It is I’, and along with Cromwell’s coat of arms had this poetic inscription:

Ascend three thrones great Captain and Divine
By the will of Go (o Lion) for they are thine.
Come priest of God, bring oyle, bring robes, & gold
Bring crownes and sceptres, itts now high time, unfold
Your cloistered baggs, your state chests, lest the rod
Of steele & iron of the King of God
Chastise you all its wrath, then kneel and pray
To Oliver the torch of Zion starre of day.
Then shout O merchants, Citty and Gentry sing.
Let all men bare-head cry, God save the King.

Eighteenth-century sources say that the portrait was quickly taken down and taken to the Lord Mayor, who in turn took it to Cromwell. They claim that the Lord Mayor was apparently worried about Cromwell’s reaction, but that Cromwell laughed it off and told him not to worry about such trifles.

Whether or not Cromwell’s reaction is a true story, the portrait itself was undoubtedly real. Despite the relatively small number of people who would have seen the portrait before it was taken down, it managed to reach a much wider audience. The verses were copied down and circulated in manuscript: variations of the poem survive in the Clarendon, Folger, Rawlinson, Tanner and Harleian manuscript collections, and in George Thomason’s collection of manuscript ephemera (which is where the version above is taken from). It also prompted a satirical response in the form of another manuscript poem, including these verses:

Antichrists three Crownes, for they are thyne
To which we wish thee three Headds like Cerberus grim
For thou art fiend enough to be like him.
Ansd to each Head a face took, wish we thee,
For thou hast Nose enough for them all three.

My image is an engraving of Oliver Cromwell by Richard Gaywood after Pierre Lombart and Robert Walker, published by Peter Stent in the late 1650s: AN403221001, © The Trustees of the British Museum.

All civility is required

At some time in mid-April 1647, a note was pasted up on a wall somewhere in London summoning apprentices to participate in political lobbying. The bookseller and collector George Thomason took a note of what it said, which survives as part of his collection of civil war pamphlets and other ephemera:

Fellowe Apprentizes

You are desired on Tuesday ye 20th April at 7 of ye clocke to meet in Covent Garden for ye prosecution of [our?] late pesented petition for Recreation, and yt we may better succeed, all civility is required &c.

(British Library, Thomason Tracts, E.384[12])

As it turned out, Covent Garden was the marshalling point for a march to Parliament to present their petition. Bulstrode Whitelocke’s Memorials has this record of the day:

20 April. Apprentices of London came to the house for answer to their former petition for days of recreation the commons referred it to a committee to draw up an ordinance to abolish all festival days and holydays and to appoint the second Tuesday in every month a day of recreation for all apprentices scholars and servants with limits against tumults disorders and unlawful sports.

As Whitelocke’s note implies, this wasn’t the first action the apprentices of London had taken to try to secure a regular day of rest. On 9 February, a group of apprentices had presented a petition to the Lords and the Commons, complaining that the move away from the holiday and feast days of the Cathlolic church may have been the right thing to purify the English church, but that it had the unintended consequence of depriving the apprentices of “Lawfull Recreations, for the needfull refreshment of their spirit”. This was followed up by a similar petition to the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London two days later. By 13 February, a printed edition of both petitions was on sale at the shop of the booksellers William Grantham and Nathaniel Webb.

Not much seems to have happened in response, which prompted a swift follow-up by another petition at the start of March. This too was printed; however this time it was presented by Alderman Thomas Atkin, the apprentices clearly having enlisted support from the City. This was the Thomas Atkin known as “shit-breeched alderman”, who acquired the unfortunate nickname after his supposed reaction to a volley of musket fire from his own troops. Still, having a City Alderman present it clearly did the petition some favours.  Atkin, Colonel John Venn, and Samuel Vassall (all City grandees as well as MPs) were instructed to thank the apprentices and “take the Petition into Consideration in convenient time”.

Nevertheless, this appears to have been the seventeenth-century’s equivalent of the present-day civil service phrase ” we will consider it in due course”. The apprentices, at least, seemed to have perceived it as an attempt to kick the issue into the long grass (another civil service phrase there…). Their gathering on 20 April resulted in the presentation of a third petition, which finally prompted some more concrete action:

The humble Petition of the Apprentices of London, and Parts adjacent, was this Day read; desiring some Days to be appointed for lawful Recreations.

Resolved, &c. That the Second Tuesday in every Month shall be appointed for a Day of Recreation for all young Scholars, Apprentices, and Servants throughout the Kingdom; and that an Ordinance be prepared, and speedily brought in, to this Purpose.

Mr. Gott, Mr. Reynolds, Mr. Allen, Colonel James Temple, Mr. Weaver, Mr. Ball, Lieutenant General Cromwell;

This Committee, or any Three of them, are to prepare this Ordinance for Days of Recreation, and for suppressing the Observation of Festivals and Holy Days: And are to meet when and where they please.

‘House of Commons Journal Volume 5: 20 April 1647’, Journal of the House of Commons: volume 5: 1646-1648 (1802), p. 148.

Finally on 8 June 1647, Parliament agreed an “Ordinance for the abolition of Holy Days and the establishment of Days of Recreation in lieu of them“. Christmas, Easter, Whitsuntide and other feast days were formally abolished. The second Tuesday of every month was allotted as a day of recreation for apprentices.

However, this didn’t go far enough for the apprentices. On 22 June they presented yet another petition to Parliament, complaining that the legislation was flawed and that it was being disobeyed by their masters. They attached a list of demands to be added to the legislation:

  • That shops should be forced to close every second Tuesday of the month.
  • Apprentices should not be allowed to disobey their masters so long as there was an exceptional reason why they needed to work.
  • Apprentices who abuse a recreation day should be deprived of the next one.
  • Recreations shouldn’t happen outside of eight in the morning and eight at night.
  • Apprentices causing trouble on a recreation day should face the full consequences of the law.
  • Constables should be empowered to take action against apprentices gathering in taverns on recreation days.

An ordinance more or less reproducing these heads was swiftly passed on 28 June.

On the face of it, this is a remarkably swift and effective piece of political lobbying. From start to finish, it seems to have taken the apprentices only six months to achieve their aims. Their lobbying was sophisticated. The apprentices were careful to avoid stigmatising themselves as the “many-headed monster”, seeking to alleviate people’s fears of gatherings of young people by stressing the need to act politely and by calling for punishments for those who abused recreation days. Their petitions were printed, to raise awareness of them and garner additional support. They advertised their demonstrations. They engaged with politicians from the City of London to help push their cause in the Commons. In many respects, these are almost identical to the steps charities, businesses and other lobby groups still use today to influence politicians in Westminster.

It’s interesting, though, to consider whether the lobbying originated entirely with the apprentices. Were they a self-organising group, or did they have help? Apprentices were useful to politicians. At the end of July 1647, for example, Westminster exploded with riots by apprentices and former soldiers, who surrounded the Houses of Parliament and forced both Houses to reverse recent votes agreeing that Parliament would take over control of the militia from the City – the militia had originally been handed over to the City in May 1647, who swiftly began purging it of Independents. It may be that it was politically expedient for City politicians to grant apprentices their demands over recreation days, although the presence of Independents like Venn and Cromwell in the lists of those involved in taking forward the eventual legislation suggests otherwise.

Still, whatever the extent of involvement by Presbyterian grandees, it seems clear that in 1647 apprentices were playing an active and sophisticated role in Westminster politics. That this was considered unnatural and disapproved of by many is made clear by a satirical pamphlet which followed the petitions for recreation days. The Maids Petition purported to be a lobbying attempt by London’s maids to get their own recreation days, mirroring that of the apprentices:

To the Honourable members of both Houses. Or The humble petition of many thousands of the well-affected, within and without the lines of communication, virgins, maids, and other young women not married, &c.

Inside, however, ridiculed the pretensions of apprentices, maids and young people more generally in thinking they could participate in politics, drawing attention instead. It relied in particular on spoof and double-entendre:

… Our surly Madams; who in despite to all bodily respite, will perpetually enjoyn senceless and fruitless motions without intermission.

… We the subordinate subjects of this Commonwealth, doe declare our selves (by reason of the Epidemicall difference) to joyne with the Apprentices of the City of London, not by way of combinatory siding, but downright honestly intending the increase of the City force, approving their locking in the Members untill they made themselves voyd.

… Till then, wee’le remaine your Vassalised Virgins.

The writer was partly using the comparison with their female counterparts as a means of exposing the ridiculousness of the male apprentices making demands on Parliament. But the pamphlet also forms part of a wider genre of texts from the 1640s which ventriloquised the voice of women to mock female attempts to engage in politics. Like apprentices, they would not be put in their place, despite the contempt with which many in power held them. On 24 April 1649, for example, hundreds of women presented a petition to Parliament, calling forJohn Lilburne and other prisoners to be released, and asking that the Agreement of the People be put into place. The Speaker of the Commons, William Lenthall, made it clear that the public sphere was not an arena in which they were allowed to participate, telling them:

You are desired to go home and look after your own business and meddle with your housewifery.

Nevertheless, for a group supposedly so incapable of participation,  it still took a detachment of soldiers holding the protestors back at gunpoint to enforce Parliament’s superiority.