Mercurius Politicus

A blog (mostly) about early modern history

Category: civil war

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.

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!).

Breaking the news: the storming of Drogheda

On the night of 11 September 1649, the Irish town of Drogheda fell to regiments of the New Model Army under the command of Oliver Cromwell. The storming of the town was brutal. Most of its garrison and civilian inhabitants were killed during the assault, and still others were executed after being taken prisoner. The commander of the town, Sir Arthur Aston, was beaten to death with his own wooden leg, and Catholic friars were clubbed on the head with muskets in order to save ammunition. Those of the garrison who survived the assault were shipped to Barbados to be slaves.

The siege had lasted over a week, and in England many waited anxiously for news of the New Model’s progress. By 17 September, news had reached London about progress of the early stages of the assault. Snippets of information started to appear in newsbooks. The Kingdomes Weekly Intelligencer reported that St Mary’s church had been destroyed by the artillery bombardment. A day later, The Impartiall Intelligencer also reported that the assault had begun, but held back from giving any details until more accurate information was available. On 20 September, The Moderate Intelligencer mentioned a letter from Liverpool dated the 14th and received on the 17th, which had information on how the first assault on the breach by Colonel Hewson’s regiment had been pushed back. By 21 September,  Perfect Occurrences was reporting that the breach had been stormed and part of the town captured by Parliamentary forces.

More definitive news arrived on Saturday 22 September. That day, Henry Walker – the author of Perfect Occurrences – got hold of two letters. One was from Liverpool, dated 14 September, and gave a second-hand account via the captain of a ship recently arrived from Dublin that Drogheda had fallen. It reported that 3,000 of the garrison had been slain, and 16 captured royalist officers executed. A second letter was from Dublin, giving a blow-by-blow account of Cromwell’s campaign up to Drogheda, finishing just at the point where the assault on the town had begun.

Walker rushed into print. Perfect Occurrences came out every Friday, and it would be nearly a week before the next edition. Instead, Walker and his regular printer, Robert Ibbitson, reprinted the two letters in a standalone pamphlet. The timing was not opportune. The day before, Parliament had enacted a new Licensing Act, sweeping away the press licences granted to existing newsbooks and putting in place a new licensing regime, with tougher penalties for reader, authors, booksellers, and printers of unlicensed pamphlets. As a result, Walker placed a caveat on the title page of his pamphlet:

Reader the Act for regulating of Printing being not yet published, I know not what it enjoyns, nor to whom to go for Licence, but when it is made known, I shall be very observable to the rules therein expressed, but this being such extraordinary good newes I thought it my duty to publish it to stop the mouths of Malignants.

Malignants aside, one suspects that Walker was also after a scoop. However, he was not the only newsbook writer to break the news. On the same day, A Modest Narrative of Intelligence also reported the good news, adding that the lack of wind in Dublin had prevented vessels sailing until now. Some newsbooks followed suit, although others, like The Moderate Messenger, cautioned that:

Reports are commonly accompanied with such incredible stories, that it diminisheth that credit which otherwise would be given thereto.

By the next week, however, Walker had his scoop: by virtue of his extensive contacts book. One of his regular correspondents was Hugh Peters, the chaplain to Parliament’s forces in Ireland. On 28 September, the day the next edition of Perfect Occurrences was due to go to print, a letter from Peters dated 15 September arrived giving more details about the assault on Drogheda. Peters had not been present at the siege, only arriving in Dublin on 11 September, but passed on very precise information nonetheless:


THE Truth is Tredagh is taken, Three thousand five hundred fifty and two of the Enemies slaine, and sixty foure of ours. Collonell Castles, and Captaine Simmons of note. Ashton the Governour killed, none spared. Wee have also Trimme and Dundalk and are marching to Kilkenny. I came now from giving thanks in the great Church, we have all our Army well Landed.

Dublin Septemb, 15. 1649.
I am Yours Hugh Peters.

Walker reprinted the letter in Perfect Occurrences, listing from a separate, un-named source the casualties amongst the garrison’s officers and also the deaths of “2500. Foot-Soldiers, besides staffe-officers, chirurgions, and many Inhabitants”. He also took it to the House of Commons. Although it is not recorded in the House’s journal, it seems to have been read to MPs and the clerk of the Commons, Henry Scobell, appears to have ordered it to be published. At least, that is what Walker claimed: he and his printer Ibbitson issued a short and rather overblown pamphlet the next day, much of which was taken up with a large woodcut of the Commonwealth’s coat of arms rather than the brief contents of Peters’ letter.

Parliament rose on 28 September and did not return to sitting until 2 October. However, on Saturday 29 September two letters from Cromwell about the assault had arrived with the Speaker, William Lenthall, and were read out in the Commons when it returned. The letters went into horrible detail about the fate of the garrison:

Our men getting up to them, were ordered by me to put them all to the Sword; and indeed being in the heat of action, I forbade them to spare any that were in Arms in the Town, and I think that night they put to the sword about two thousand men, divers of the Officers and Soldiers being fled over the Bridge into the other part of the Town, where about One hundred of them possessed St. Peters Church Steeple, some the West Gate, and others, a round strong Tower next the Gate, called St. Sundays: These being summoned to yield to mercy, refused; whereupon I ordered the Steeple of St. Peters Church to be fired, where one of them was heard to say in the midst of the flames, God damn me, God confound me, I burn, I burn; the next day the other two Towers were summoned, in one of which was about six or seven score, but they refused to yield themselves; and we knowing that hunger must compel them, set onely good Guards to secure them from running away, until their stomacks were come down: from one of the said Towers, notwithstanding their condition, they killed and wounded some of our men; when they submitted, their Officers were knockt on the head, and every tenth man of the Soldiers killed, and the rest Shipped for the Barbadoes; the Soldiers in the other Town were all spared, as to their lives onely, and Shipped likewise for the Barbadoes. I am perswaded that this is a righteous Judgement of God upon these Barbarous wretches, who have imbrued their hands in so much innocent blood, and that it will tend to preventthe effusion of blood for the future.

The letters also enclosed lists of the numbers killed. Cromwell’s second letter seems to have included the following in its list, echoing the phrasing of the list in Perfect Occurrences:

Two thousand Five hundred-Foot Soldiers, besides Staff-Officers, Chyrurgeons, &c. and many Inhabitants.

This list has been the subject of much argument amongst those seeking to absolve or blame Cromwell for what happened at Drogheda. Cromwell’s original letter does not survive, but Thomas Carlyle denied that the phrase “many inhabitants” was present in the original printed version, arguing it was added on later in an eighteenth-century reprint. C. H. Firth suggested that the printers, Edward Husband and John Field, added the list. Carlyle’s claim is demonstrably false, while Firth’s is put in doubt by this entry in the Commons journal for 2 October:

A Letter from the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, from Dublin, of the Seventeenth Day of September 1649, with a List, therein inclosed, of the Defendants in Drogheda, was this Day read.

A Letter from the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, from Dublin, of the Twenty-seventh Day of September 1649, together with a List of the Officers and Soldiers slain at the Storming of Drogheda, was this Day read.

What has also been claimed is that the authorities tried to hush up the fact that civilians had been killed. The Edwardian historian Joseph Muddiman argued that Walker paid the price for being the first to break the news about the slaughter of the town’s inhabitants. On 12 October, the last edition of Perfect Occurrences appeared. It had been running continuously, albeit under various similar titles, since the start of 1644. It and all of the other previously licensed newsbooks were swept away, to be replaced with three officially-sanctioned and censored newsbooks. For Muddiman, this was evidence of the regime trying to cover its tracks. More recently, Jason Peacey has also made this suggestion.

At first glance, there is evidence that suggests Muddiman may have had a point. Not every newsbook writer was as keen as Walker to mention the deaths of civilians. The Kingdomes Weekly Intelligencer for 2 October published the list with the phrase “many inhabitants”, while The Perfect Weekly Account for 3 October and A Perfect Diurnall of 8 October missed it out. One of the official newsbooks published from October onwards, Severall Proceedings for 9 October, also missed out the phrase. Another, A Briefe Relation of 2 October, summarised the assault with reference only to civilian casualties. Does this represent an attempt to damp down unwelcome details of the assault?

The answer seems to be yes and no. The fact that Cromwell’s letters were published on 2 October, apparently unaltered, suggests there was not at first any attempt to hide or cover up reports coming into London. However, that civilian deaths were not subsequently mentioned in officially sanctioned newsbooks is striking, and may well have been deliberate. This probably relates more to a desire to avoid giving royalist critics ammunition with which to attack the Commonwealth, than to hide Cromwell’s role or otherwise deny responsibility altogether. Royalist newsbooks made great play of the savagery of the assault. Mercurius Elencticus for 15 October, for example, claimed that soldiers who had surrendered were killed:

In the most cruell manner they could invent, cutting off their Members, and peeces of their flesh.

It may well be that the hostile reactions Cromwell’s letters prompted from critics influenced how the assault was subsequently described.

However, the closure of other newsbooks around the same time is probably coincidence. The Council of State began shutting down non-official newsbooks from 2 October onwards. On that date, the Council wrote to Sir John Wollaston (one of the aldermen of the City of London) asking for action to be taken against unnamed printers of a newsbook:

Notwithstanding any pretence of being  licensed by one Hatter, whom we do not know to be secretary to the army; and if he were, he has no power to license anything but those of  the army.

The Licensing Act passed by Parliament on 21 October had envisaged a nominee of the Council of State, the secretary to the army, and the clerk to Parliament becoming official newsbook licensers for the new press regime. Richard Hatter was part of  the army secretariat, but was clearly not  the secretary of the army the Council of State had envisaged: the rightful candidate being John Rushworth, secretary  to Fairfax and also to the Council of Officers. However, Hatter seems to have made a determined start to his brief licensing career. On 1 October, he licensed two editions of A Perfect Diurnall. (This must have been the title that prompted the Council of State to write to Sir John Wollaston). On 3 October, he licensed Perfect Occurrences;  between 6 and 11 October he licensed several other newsbooks.

The Council of State soon began to act against the titles Hatter had licensed. An undated warrant of arrest survives in the state papers targeting John Clowes and Robert  Ibbitson, the printers of Perfect Occurrences, together with its author, ordering that they be fined under the terms of the new Licensing Act. This probably relates to the edition for 4 October that Hatter had licensed the day before publication.

The reason why the Council went after Hatter and the titles he licensed seems to lie in a mixture of politics and a desire to enforce the new Licensing Act robustly: not in the fact that these newsbooks printed details about the slaughter of civilians. A Perfect Diurnall missed out the phrase “many inhabitants” when republishing the list of deaths, and was still shut down. Walker quickly got involved with Severall Proceedings after the closure of Perfect Occurrences, and was writing it either from the start or very shortly after it began. This is not the treatment that might be expected of a writer who had offended the regime. It makes more sense, however, if the Council’s actions are seen as an attempt to bring authors and printers into the fold of the new Licensing Act.

One newsbook from this period underlines this point. The Kingdomes Weekly Intelligencer for 1 October stated cautiously that:

I have for the most part waved the Parliament news, and shall so continue until I am better satisfied with what safety (in relation to their Counsailes) this Pen may walk upon this Paper which I conceive was never more uncertaine then at this present. And truly for my owne part if I had their owne journalls lying by me, I should forbeare to give you account thereof. I shall also forbeare in this place to give you the Letters of Master Peters concernin the taking of Tredagh: In regard he saith that at the storming of the Towne there were none spared I shall give you therefore in the Roome thereof the Letter from the Lord Governour himself and affixe it for my next dayes Intelligence, which indeed is able to make any dayes Intelligence most remarkable.

The wording here is ambiguous, and could be read as an unwillingness to publish details of civilian deaths. However, later in the same edition the author, Richard Collings, was happy to print the phrase “many inhabitants” when listing casualties. Given that Peters’ letter was about the casualties inflicted on the garrison, this extract seems instead to be about the accuracy of Peters’ report. This was criticised: the royalist newsbook Mercurius Pragmaticus mocked the exact body count, appending the phrase “not a man more or lesse” in square brackets after the 3,552 casualties mentioned.

It is significant here that Collings uses the word “Intelligence” to describe his reprinting of Cromwell’s letter. Newsbooks distinguishe between mere news and intelligence. News was unmediated information that migght very probably be wrong or distorted. Intelligence was information that had been sifted and evaluated so as to give readers the truth. The Kingdomes Weekly Intelligencer made this clear in its title. It was an Intelligencer, nor a Diurnall or Mercury, and its full title was “The Kingdomes Weekly Intelligencer Sent Abroad To Prevent Mis-Information”. Collings’s reluctance to print Peters’ letter seems to derive from this impulse, not any fear that the authorities would punish him for it. What he was scared of though, as he makes clear, was printing any state-related information that had not otherwise been authorised or licensed, such as extracts from the Commons journal (hitherto a common source for newsbook writers with contacts within Parliament).

Richard Hatter’s background, too, makes clear that the closure of newsbooks was probably not linked to Drogheda. Hatter seems to have been associated particularly with the army’s Council of War. This was Fairfax’s personal advisory body, made up of around thirty to forty officers of the rank of captain or above. John Rushworth, by contrast, seems to have acted as secretary to the Council of Officers. This was a wider body drawing on officers from all levels of the army, which had evolved from the General Council of the Army established in July 1647 as part of radical agitation within the army. By late 1648, the Council of Officers was the body driving events at Westminster, initiating the purge of Parliament on 6 December.

Although Fairfax had remained as Lord General Army throughout the king’s trial and into 1649, there was a clear political divide between him and the Council of Officers. Pride’s purge thrust him into events that he had not initiated, having been opposed to political intervention by the army.After the purge, secluded MPs attempting to see him were rebuffed by a written statement by John Rushworth given to them by Edward Whalley (one of the members of the Council of Officers). Nor did Fairfax participate in the king’s trial, withdrawing from his position as one of the trial’s commissioners. Although Rushworth was also secretary to Fairfax, he too was strongly associated with this faction. Orders to the army that were ostensibly from Fairfax were issued in Rushworth’s name during the build-up to the regicide, probably as a result of intervention from Ireton and other radicals on the Council of Officers.

Quite why Hatter decided to start licensing newsbooks at the end of September 1649 is unclear. It may have been an attempt by moderates on the Council of War to influence printed publications in their favour. Or it may be that Samuel Pecke, the author of A Perfect Diurnall, took his copy to Hatter rather than Rushworth without making the distinction, and that other newsbook writers followed suit before Rushworth or the Council of State had a chance to catch up.

Whatever the explanation, Muddiman’s interpretation does not quite stack up: the reaction in London newsbooks to the fall of Drogheda does not seem to suggest attempts to engineer a media blackout. What it does give an insight into, though, is how news spread at this time. The speed of transmission was affected by unpredictable factors like the winds or the state of the roads. How the news was broken in print depended on whether Parliament or the book trade got hold of it first. In this case, the private sector beat the public sector: the networks of contacts and correspondents that successful journalists had to develop both then and now were what got Henry Walker his scoop.

But the desire to rush to print could also spread misinformation. Exaggerated or entirely untrue reports could be spread quickly by printed newsbooks and pamphlets the same day they were received, sold to a direct audience of hundreds within London and beyond, and reaching a much wider secondary audience when passed on second-hand, read aloud, or summarised to friends and neighbours. Arguments over what newsbooks said about Drogheda and other significant incidents during the civil wars have arguably overshadowed what these texts can tell us about the circulation of news more widely.

The Hutton report

I’m currently doing some digging on parish politics in St Giles Cripplegate, London, during the 1630s. Irritatingly the vestry minutes for that period do not survive – it always seems to be the way that the particular period of a parish I want to research has no extant records! But the evidence that does survive suggests it was a pretty divided parish during this period. The vicar, Dr William Fuller, was an Anglican who resisted the Long Parliament’s attempt to strip away Laudian innovations:

For at St Giles’s Cripple Gate the Sectaries and the Orthodox got almost to Daggers drawing the one about Executing the Order the House of Commons the other for preserving their Church in ancient condition with the Rails about the Communion Table.

Nalson, Impartial Collection, p. 491.

The ‘sectaries’ of the parish went as far as submitting a petition to Parliament, a copy of which was printed. Fuller was singled out for complaint but so too was his curate, a man called Timothy Hutton:

Certaine Parishioners attended to see the christian buriall of a dead corps, could neither find the said Doctor or his Curate, though having notice before thereof: after that also, another Corps, then a third, all attending in the church yard. And at the last; hearing that Timothy Hutton his Curate was at the Fortune to see a Play, they sent to desire him, to officiate for the three corps: but hee would by no meanes come; then they sent a second, then a third also, certifying how long they had waited: yet would the said Timothy Hutton by no meanes come, untill such time that the play was ended.

The petition and articles exhibited in Parliament against Dr Fuller, Deane of Ely, and vicar of S. Giles Cripple-gate (London, 1641), BL, TT, E.175[1], sig. A3v.

I quite like the sound of Hutton: on another occasion he spent a night in the cells for being drunk and was fined a shilling by the magistrates for swearing.

Less amiable by all accounts was the churchwarden, Thomas Bogh, who was summoned in October 1641 to account for himself before the Commons after the MP John Venn gave an account of Bogh’s violent behaviour. In September 1641 Parliament issued reminders about the need to remove Laudian additions to churches, and in addition imposed lectureships on parishes: the godly faction within the congregation wanted the Puritan John Sedgwick (brother of Obadiah), but Bogh was having none of it.

On 15 October, Sedgwick and a crowd of parishioners assembled outside the locked church doors in the pouring rain, and waited an hour before concluding that they weren’t going to be let in. A few days later, John Chambers, servant to the MP Sir Roger Burgoyne, was assaulted by Bogh as he tried to deliver an order insisting that the church’s altar rails were removed.

Fuller, meanwhile, was summoned by the Commons and only released in November after posting substantial bail. In July 1642 he and Hutton were once more in trouble for reading a declaration by Charles I to the congregation. Further into the civil war, Fuller’s assets were seized and he ended up with the king in Oxford. During the Interregnum he returned to London to his old parish, dying in 1659. His request to be buried in the churchyard of St Giles Cripplegate was denied, though, so his body now lies in Saint Vedast-alias-Foster about half a mile south of his former parish.

Tongue of Saye

In the summer of 1641 the poet and waterman John Taylor wrote a polemical pamphlet called A Reply as true as Steele attacking Henry Walker, in which he claimed Walker spoke with the:

Tongue of Saye.

Given the context – Taylor was attacking Walker for his anti-episcopal brand of puritanism – one might conclude that this is a reference to Viscount Saye and Sele, the éminence grise of the Warwick-Pym faction in Parliament. By the mid-1640s Walker had attached himself to Saye and the rest of the Independent part, and at least one historian has suggested that this is an early reference to that.

However, a closer look at the context of Taylor’s accusation suggests another possible interpretation. These are the lines in which the accusation appears:

Yet thou, (well skild in foolish impudence)
‘Gainst these retorting lines will take offence
And with Mockado mouth and judgement Rash,
And tongue of Saye , thou’lt say all is but trash,
And that ’tis pitty, I should thus disperse
A businesse of such consequence in verse.

The words in italics (Taylor’s/the printer’s, not mine) are all different forms of cloth. Mockado is a woollen imitation of velvet, introduced to England from Flanders in the mid-sixteenth century. Its roughness quickly made it a pseudonym for anything of inferior quality. Rash was a term for a wide range of wool or silk products, usually of a twill weave. And saye was another form of twill, woven in the south-west of England. Samuel Pepys bought a pair of green saye curtains for his parlour in June 1661.

So Taylor here is using Saye as part of an extended metaphor to criticise Walker’s literary credentials. Never one to resist blowing his own trumpet, he is probably also showing off his own cultural capital. In Measure for Measure the clown briefly mentions a character called Master Rash who is a money-lender. John Donne had also played upon this metaphor in one of his Satires:

Sir by your priesthood tell me what ye are!
His clothes were strange though coarse and black though bare
Sleeveless his jerkin was and it had been
Velvet but twas now (so much ground was seen)
Become tuff-taffety and our children shall
See it plain rash awhile then nought at all.

Still, it’s possible that the double meaning of the word may have had resonance with contemporaries as an insult. And as it happens I have found some evidence to suggest Henry Walker may have been linked to some of Saye’s fellow-travellers, if not Saye himself, as early as 1641. During the first half of that year two members of the Cheshire gentry, Sir Thomas Aston and Sir William Brereton, traded blows with each other via a series of petitions to Parliament.The quarrel was started by the root and branch petition put together by Calvin Bruen and others for Cheshire over the Christmas of 1640, and submitted to the Commons by Brereton on 19 February 1641.

Aston was incensed by the petition and mobilised signatures for his own petition to the Lords in favour of episcopacy, which he submitted on 27 February. A printed version was also published. At some point around the end of March or the start of April, a counter-petition emerged also claiming to be from Cheshire, but criticising episcopacy. This too was published: “many thousands” of copies according to Ashton later on in the year, although it was perhaps in his interest to exaggerate its impact and a print run in the hundreds seems more likely. According to Judith Maltby the counter-petition was orchestrated by Aston’s rival, William Brereton (although she doesn’t reference this). It was also a fake: it hadn’t been anywhere near the county of Cheshire and seems to have been intended instead as a tactical riposte to Aston’s pamphlet for a London audience.

As fakes go, it was a good one though. The printed version of the counter-petition was printed on the same size paper (as a broadside), and laid out in the same style with the same starting woodcut initial. However an alert reader might have concluded something was up when they read the numbers of signatories to each petition. Here are the signatories to Aston’s petition:

This petition was subscribed to by four noblemen, 80 and odd knights and esquires, 70 divines, 300 and odd gentlemen, and above 6,000 freeholders and other inhabitants.

And here are the signatories to Brereton’s:

This petition was subscribed to by eight noblemen, 199 knights and esquires, 140 divines, 757 gentlemen, and above 12,000 freeholders, and other inhabitants.

As you can see most of the figures have just been doubled to make a point.

The story of this exchange, and how it subsequently developed, was first told by John Morrill in his monograph on Cheshire and then developed by Maltby, who sees Aston’s petition as an example of prayer-book Anglicanism rising up to counter the growing anti-episcopal tendencies within Parliament. A classic example of the growth of a royalist opposition, then. But this account has subsequently been subject to an important revision by Peter Lake, who argues that Aston actually showed Laudian tendencies during the 1630s. He argues instead that Aston was trying to rally a wide spectrum of religious positions behind an inclusive definition of episcopal Anglicanism, to marginalise the hotter sort of Puritans such as Brereton.

However what none of the accounts mention is Henry Walker’s involvement with Brereton’s counter-petition. On 2 April Aston petitioned the Lords to complain about Brereton’s fake petition, and calling for justice on those involved in its circulation:

After this, a Petition of Sir Tho. Aston’s was read, in the Behalf of the County Palatine of Chester, against a Printed Petition, dispersed abroad as a Libel, in the Name of that County, which was supposed to be made by one Henry Walker, and sold by divers Stationers, and dispersed by others, whose Names were annexed unto the Petition; whereupon it was Ordered, That Henry Walker, Henry Hoode, Bankes, Thomas Bates, John Harrison, Bernard Alsop, and Tho. Fossett, be sent for, by the Gentleman Usher attending this House, to appear and answer the said Fact.

Six days later a number of these printers and booksellers named were brought to justice:

Ordered, That such of the Printers and Stationers, that were sent for upon the Complaint of Sir Thomas Aston, Baronet, and are charged in particular to have Hand in the libellous Petition, are to go upon reasonable Bail; and the Matter is referred to the Committee for examining the Printing of Libels, etc. But such of those that are not charged, are presently to be released out of the Custody of the Gentleman Usher.

What’s interesting about this is the number of people involved. Walker appears to have been the writer of the petition. At this point in 1641 he was drifting into writing and selling anti-episcopal books. Bankes (Thomas Banks) and Bates were two booksellers who were partners together. Walker’s books occasionally appeared in their stocks during the first half of 1641, although he seems to have had a quarrel with Bates later in the year while the pair were in prison for another offence. Harrison and Hoode are two other booksellers. Alsop and Fawcett were both printing partners about whom I’ve blogged previously, who would frequently be in trouble with the Long Parliament during 1641 and who printed many of Walker’s books in the same year.

So we have four booksellers distributing the fake petition. This is unusual: it could suggest a high print-run that needed to be dispersed quickly; or an attempt to share the blame if things went wrong; or something else entirely. And it’s equally unclear how they all came to be involved. Were they in it for the money? The flurry of petitions arriving at Parliament in the spring of 1641 may have meant this kind of product was particularly marketable. Or were their motives more political? Aston’s distinction between some of the stationers selling the petition, and others dispersing it, may mean some of them were giving it away. They would presumably have been funded to do so: either from their own money, suggesting strong political views, or by others who wanted to get this petition circulated as widely as possible.

Like most case studies of this type, we can ultimately only guess at what happened. But read in one way, it is possible that this is an early example of politicians making use of networks of stationers to get their messages out to a wider audience. Perhaps Brereton commissioned Walker directly to write the petition, recompensing him in return, and Walker in turn used his contacts in the book trade to get the pamphlet distributed quickly. Or perhaps it represents a more popular form of politics: Brereton only seems to have become associated with the counter-petition because of his rivalry and subsequent exchanges with Aston. If Walker was the instigator, it becomes instead an example of a relatively obscure individual, at home with underground religious and print networks, participating actively in a propaganda war. Either possibility is intriguing.

  • omas Aston’s original petition in favour of episcopacy read in the Lords.
  • Unknown date – Henry Walker’s fake petition against episcopacy.
  • Unknown date – Aston produced his own petition, not circulated in the county. Is this the same as the critique of Walker et al?
  • 2 April – Sir Thomas Aston’s petition against Walker’s libel. House adjourned into Committee but let him off after he explained himself.
  • 19 April – petition of Calvin Bruen and others. Is this the Attestation? Refers back to another petition presented by William Brereton – but presumably this is the root and branch one?
  • Unknown date – Aston drafted an answer to the Attestation.
  • Unknown date – 43 gentry wrote a letter of support for Aston.
  • November 1641 – Remonstrance against Presbytery.
  • Unknown date – An Humble Remonstrance (E.178[4]) was the response.

Different class

I came across the following in an account by Thomas Weller of a royalist uprising in Sevenoaks and Tonbridge, in Kent, in July 1643. Weller was the owner of Tonbridge castle, pictured, and a local grandee on the Parliamentarian side. At this point in his narrative he is holed up in his house in the castle grounds, having armed his servants and placed them at the windows. A number of royalist rebels have already tried to enter the house when this happens:

Upon Saturday morning early, being in my study, the doore locked to me, suddenly about twenty persons, whereof one Parry, a smith of Crayford, one other smith of Earith, and one Smale were chiefs, with their pistols ready cocked, their swords drawn, matches cocked in their muskctts, entered my house swearing many oaths they would have me alive or dead: and immediately they fell to plundering my house, breaking open chests and trunks and presses, takeing away the greatest part of my linen, all my cloathes, the apparell of myself and wife, she being then lame a-bed of a broken leg, and thrust my linnen and other things into sacks which they brought with them, and laid them upon horses, and rode away with them.

I, keeping myself in my study, heard Parry say to Smale, “We have sped well here. Let us go to Hadlow and Peckham, and plunder there, for they are rich rogues, and so we will go away into the woods;” to whom Smale replied, “But we must plunder none but Roundheads.” Parry replied with a great oath, ” We will make every man a Roundhead that hath any thing to lose. This is the time we look for.”

From Richard Almack (ed.), Camden Miscellany: Papers relating to proceedings in the county of Kent, A. D. 1642-1646, vol. 3 (1855)

Of course we can’t necessarily trust Weller’s account. It may be that he is exaggerating or making up the encounter altogether, and playing on gentry fears of the ‘rude multitude’ turning the natural order of things upside down. But at face value, it appears to show two men with a rather developed sense of class consciousness. The ideological tension between Parry and Smale – do they choose allegiance to their political cause, or allegiance to their class? – is almost too good to be true. There is a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern quality to the pair which makes me wish I knew more about them.

The battle around Tonbridge is one of those skirmishes that barely features in narratives of the civil wars, but which was clearly of huge significance locally. The burial records for Tonbridge Parish Church contain entries for five Parliamentarian and two Royalist casualties, but there must have been more in the surrounding towns and villages across which the battle was fought. The Parliamentary army sent to relieve the local militia, under the command of Colonel Richard Browne, reported killing a dozen Royalists and taking two hundred prisoners.

When I was at school in Tonbridge in the early 1990s, a teacher told me a story of the ghost of a Parliamentarian soldier who haunts the High Street: running up and knocking on the doors of Ferox Hall (a grand house near the town’s old defensive ditch) to escape his pursuers. The house’s owners did not let him in, and he was killed. Hearing about this at the age of thirteen or so was one of the things which first got me interested in seventeenth-century history. I now can’t find any other references to this tale, though, and wonder whether it’s a genuine folk tradition; or whether it was garbled in the telling; or indeed whether the teacher made it up altogether.

Photo courtesy of Dave Patten, used under a Creative Commons non-commercial attribution share alike licence.

It was necessary to deface the book to save it

It is a truism that every generation refights the English Civil Wars. However, politicians and intellectuals are not the only combatants who take part in these battles. Private individuals must also have taken positions on the conflict, and argued about it in conversation and correspondence. Much of this is inevitably lost to us, but there are some types of source in which everyday roundheads and royalists can still make themselves heard, and one is the marginalia in books. Below are a couple of examples of attempts to rehabilitate Cromwell by defacing the cover of Flagellum, a critical biography published three years after the Restoration by James Heath.

On the first, a copy of the first 1663 edition has had the words “The late usurper” obliterated:

On the second, a 1671 edition, a reader has made more extensive alterations to the title page:

Hand-written notes are of course not the only way to alter a book. A more ambiguous alteration to the title page can be found in The Court & kitchin of Elizabeth, commonly called Joan Cromwel (1664). This was a genuine recipe book, but one with a satirical edge. In 1846 an owner of the book, the Welsh historian William Davies Leathart, made this note about a missing print from the front of the book:

The eighteenth-century antiquarian Richard Gough notes this book in his A Short Genealogical View of the Family of Cromwell (1785):

This is the print in question, which I found in the British Museum’s collection:

The monkey here is probably an unkind allusion to the proverb that “the higher a monkey climbs, the more you can see its arse”. The print could of course have been removed to be sold, but the unflattering print, combined with the fact that the page was torn out rather than removed more carefully, makes me wonder whether an owner disapproved of the insult to Cromwell’s wife.

Surviving copies of The Court and kitchin are rare, but if this is the case it would not be the only reader who owned a copy and subverted it for their own purposes. In a recent article in Renaissance Quarterly, Laura Lunger Knoppers has drawn attention to another surviving copy in the Houghton Library, Harvard.This was owned by Esther Hooke Lilly, married first to Sir Hele Hooke then to Richard Lilly, a doctor from Kensington, and contains her marginalia. Amongst handwritten Latin recipes for medicines, there are a series of drawings, including an inked picture of Elizabeth on the verso of the printed image of her. Underneath are a series of pencil sketches of men and women in fashionable early eighteenth-century dress. Elsewhere in the book are pictures of flamingoes and of men wearing turbans.

Sadly the article doesn’t reproduce any of these marginalia, but it does suggest that this title, like any book, could fulfil multiple purposes: in this case, as cookbook and sketch book. In the case of Leathart’s copy, one wonders whether perhaps the recipes meant it was still a useful addition to the owner’s kitchen, but one which needed to be amended in order for it to be put to use acceptably.