Mercurius Politicus

A blog (mostly) about early modern history

Category: civil war

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.


This afternoon I went over to Cheam and looked round Whitehall, a sixteenth-century house that has survived remarkably intact, save for eighteenth- and nineteenth-century extensions. The photo above is of an original, much graffitied door that is now exhibited within the house. Two of the most prominent additions, both against a white boxed-out background, are:




The guidebook for Whitehall says that these probably indicate royalist sympathies. “Remember” was supposedly one of Charles I’s last words, spoken to William Juxon on the scaffold as he attended the last minutes of his king’s life. D.O.M. is an acronym for Deo Optimo Maximo – “to the best and greatest God”.

The Whitehall website also mentions two supposedly royalist clergymen, implying they may have been at the centre of a royalist hub in Cheam. During the 1640s, Cheam was home to John Hacket [DNB], a royal chaplain who had a living at Cheam and who spent the civil war there after being accused of papist superstition by Parliament. However, he was sufficiently ideologically compliant to use the Book of Common Prayer, and to be elected to the Westminster Assembly in 1644. In a similar vein, George Aldrich had been curate of Cheam from 1633 to 1644, before being ejected from his position. Some accounts have him moving to Crowhurst at the eastern side of Surrey, some distance from Cheam, while others have him setting up a school at Whitehall.

Whether Aldrich had anything do with the graffiti, whether it was the work of somebody else disaffected by the regicide, or whether it means something else entirely unrelated to royalism, is not really clear. Irritatingly, none of the works which imply an Aldrich connection state their sources. It’s a good story, though, to imagine one of Aldrich’s scholars dutifully painting this on the door!

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.

Brother Fountain and Brother Heron

Here is an extract from a letter from Oliver Cromwell to Robert Hammond on 6 November 1648, in which he calls Sir Henry Vane the younger by a nickname:

Tell my brother Heron I smiled at his expression concerning wise friend’s opinion, who thinks that the enthroning the King with Presbytery brings spiritual slavery, but with a moderate Episcopacy works a good peace.

And here is an extract from a letter from Sir Henry Vane the Younger to Oliver Cromwell a few years later on 2 August 1651:

Brother Fountain can guess at his brother’s meaning … many other things are reserved for your knowledge, whenever it please God we meet, and till then let me desire you upon the score of ancient friendship that hath been between us not to give ear to the mistakes, surmises, or jealousies of others, from what hand soever, concerning your brother Heron, but to be assured he answers your heart’s desire in all things, except he be esteemed by you in principles too high to fathom, which one day I am persuaded will not be so thought by you’.

Cromwell is Brother Fountain; Vane is Brother Heron. Cromwell and Vane were certainly close but quite what this set of nicknames means is intriguing.

Early in the twentieth century, J. B. Williams (a historian of seventeenth century journalism) guessed that it might be from when Cromwell lived in King Street (now Whitehall), where there was a tavern called the Fountain. Perhaps this is right, but given that every point of interpretation of Williams that I have ever explored has turned out to be wrong, I am inclined not to believe it. And it is stretching it a bit to assume that Heron must also relate to another tavern or meeting place given the lack of evidence.

Vane’s most recent biographers, Violet A. Rowe and Ruth E. Mayers, don’t shed any light on it and I don’t recall any recent biography of Cromwell mentioning it either. Part of me wonders, perhaps, whether like many nicknames they came out of nowhere and were just silly, affectionate names that stuck.