Mercurius Politicus

A blog (mostly) about early modern history

Category: eighteenth century

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.

Images of regicide

With the 360th anniversary of the execution of Charles I coming up on Friday, I thought I would have a look at what the internet has to offer on images of the regicide.

While Charles’s reputation has been the subject of immense debate, pictures of his execution have tended to be remarkably consistent over the years. Immediate reactions to the regicide – mostly printed abroad, for obvious reasons – tended (like the frontispiece of the Eikon Basilike) to emphasise Charles as martyr. Here, for instance, is an etching from a Dutch broadside of 1649, Historiaels verhael… Carolvs Stvarts, Coningh van Engelandt, Schotlandt, en Yerlandt.


AN257700001, © The Trustees of the British Museum

It’s fairly gruesome: you can see Charles’s body spurting blood from its severed neck. From left to right you can see Thomas Juxon, Colonel Francis Hacker, Colonel Matthew Tomlinson and the executioner. But in the apotheosis scene above, you can also see Charles’s spirit ascending to heaven.

Very similar, but without the apotheosis, is this German engraving from 1649, Endhauptung der Konigs in Engelandt.


AN151032001, © The Trustees of the British Museum

This kind of image persisted and was reinforced after the Restoration. Below is A lively Representation of the manner how his late Majesty was beheaded uppon the Scaffold, which probably dates from around the execution of various regicides in the early 1660s. At the top of the etching, Charles waits in dignity for his fate, while below one of the regicides is hanged, drawn and quartered.


AN260225001, © The Trustees of the British Museum

For much of the eighteenth century this kind of representation of Charles’s execution persisted. While Whigs and Tories battled over the history of the civil wars and rewrote and redeployed the key events and figures of the period to suit their ideologies, for the most part Jacobites seem to have resurrected the martyr cult while most orthodox Whigs remained horrified by the actual execution. But the more radical were still happy to celebrate the anniversary of the regicide: The True Effigies of the Members of the Calves Head Club from 1735 shows a mob gathering around a bonfire outside the Golden Eagle tavern in Suffolk Street, near Charing Cross, to celebrate.


By the end of the eighteenth century, though – fuelled in part by events in France – depictions of the regicide were becoming more unstable. Here is a print by James Gillray from 1790, Smelling out a rat; or the atheistical-revolutionist disturbed in his midnight “calculations”.


The figure at the desk is Richard Price, a radical dissenter. He sits below a portrait of the execution of Charles, writing an essay called “On the Benefits of Anarchy Regicide Atheism”.  Smelling him out is a caricature of Edmund Burke carrying a crown in one hand and a cross in the other. On one level the meaning is straightforward: the painting of Charles is labelled “Death of Charles I, or the Glory of Great Britain”. But Burke doesn’t exactly come out of the print wonderfully, either.

Still, even in the Victorian era Charles’s execution was often seen even by those who sympathised with Cromwell as an understandable but regrettable step. Great efforts were made to explain the actions of Cromwell and other regicides as a temporary blip in constitional propriety, prompted more by the evil of royalist enemies than by a failure of character by Cromwell. Radical and nonconformist images of the civil wars seem to have focused on more positive rehabilitations of Cromwell than on debunking the idea of Charles as a martyr king. I haven’t seen any images from the nineteenth century that go down this route. What I have found is some wonderful images of martyrdom:


Illustration from Charlotte M. Yonge Young Folks’ History of England (Boston: D. Lothrop & Co., 1879)


Painting by Ernest Crofts of Charles being led to his execution.

Closer to the present, no account of images of the regicide would be complete without the moving – pun intended – images of the execution in Ken Hughes’s 1970 film Cromwell. If you studied this period at school in England during the 1980s, then probably the mere mention of the phrase “a ciiii-vil war?” will be enough to transport you back to Proustian memories of the film, but if you haven’t seen it here is a clip I found on Youtube of the climactic scene. Alec Guinness as Charles goes resignedly to his fate, while Richard Harris as Cromwell looks moody. But if nothing else it shows the persistence of images of Charles as martyr.

The Barrier-Treaty Vindicated, 1712

Recently I was given a copy of a book written by a distant ancestor. I’ve blogged about one such book before – a travel guide to Tobago that inspired Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe. This one didn’t have quite such an impact, but I hope it will still be of interest.

The Barrier-Treaty Vindicated was written in 1712 by Stephen Poyntz. In later life, Poyntz would go on to be a diplomat and courtier, but in 1712 he was twenty-seven years old and serving as private secretary to Lord Townshend.

The Barrier-Treaty was published anonymously and is a meditation inspired by the 1709 treaty between Great Britain and the United Provinces. It quickly becomes clear where Poyntz’s sympathies lie. The United Province’s help is vital to secure a Protestant succession from the House of Hanover. Alliances with the French must be avoided at all costs, to mitigate the risk of a Catholic succession. Poyntz gives historical examples ranging from Elizabeth I to Oliver Cromwell to illustrate the benefits of siding with the Dutch, and the drawbacks of siding with France. A full copy of the text can be found on Google Books here.

The book itself is octavo,  200 pages long on cheap paper, and seems to have been designed for a fairly large print-run. It stretched to at least three editions. My copy is in fairly good condition. The paper is slightly mottled, and a few pages are creased, but other than that the book doesn’t appear to have been heavily read. The binding is new, though.

Poyntz went on to be an ambassador in Sweden, then courtier to the duke of Cumberland. He married Anna Maria Mordaunt, reputed to be a great beauty. He died in 1750.

After Poyntz’s death, his friend Walpole described him thus:

Ruined in his circumstances by a devout brother, whom he trusted, and by a simple wife, who had a devotion of marrying dozens of her poor cousins at his expense … Mr. Poyntz was called a very great man, but few knew anything of his talents, for he was timorous to childishness. The duke has done greatly for his family and secured his places for his children, and sends his two sons abroad, allowing them £800 a year.

Rather more acid was Carlyle’s later description of him:

A once bright gentleman, now dim and obsolete.

Today Poyntz is probably best known for being the grandfather of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. His daughter Margaret Georgiana married into the Spencer family and was Georgiana’s mother.

1. Philip Woodfine, ‘Poyntz, Stephen (bap. 1685, d. 1750)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.

Going Dutch

There was a devastating review by Peter Conrad of Lisa Jardine’s new book on the influence of Holland on early modern English culture in the Observer this weekend . Noel Malcolm in the Telegraph had a slightly softer critique.

However, others seem to have liked Going Dutch better. Peter Ackroyd in the Times and Keith Thomas in the Guardian are both worth a read.

Update – John Adamson has also given Jardine a glowing review in the Literary Review .

Reading pamphlets

I’ve spent the past few weeks immersed in seventeenth-century pamphlets and as a result, have been reading a lot of background literature on printing, print culture, bibliography and the history of the book. Below are some scattered thoughts, based on what I’ve read, about different ways of approaching an early modern pamphlet. They will probably be old hat to most of you, but some of them have been new discoveries to me and hopefully some visitors to this blog might also find them useful.

I’ve based this post around a borrowed version of the diagram of the “communications circuit” of the book in Robert Darnton’s classic article, What is the History of Books? – but adding in the crucial extra of the physical book itself. (You might need to click on the image to actually read the text!)


  • The author. This is the most obvious starting point. Who wrote your pamphlet? What else did they write? What can you construct of their life – were they a professional writer, did they write under someone else’s patronage, what political and economic connections did they have? Don’t be scared of anonymity, either. Even if their names aren’t on the front page, authors often leave clues in the text to alert you to their identity. Do the vocabulary or concepts used in the pamphlet match those used in other pamphlets? Has the author used an anagram of their name, or initials? With a bit of work it’s often not too difficult to figure out the author – a (very humble) example from my own reading is linking a pamphlet by “I.S.” to the soldier John Streater.
  • The “middle-men”: printers, publishers, shippers and booksellers. These could be one and the same, but not always. But the point remains that books aren’t just created by authors. Publisher, printers, booksellers and often shippers all have to do their job in order to get a pamphlet to the reading public. Who printed your pamphlet? What else and who else did they publish? Where was it sold? Was it imported from elsewhere? Finding out can tell you a lot about the economic, social and intellectual conditions in which a work was published. And not finding out can also be illuminating – was the pamphlet issued without a licence or printed elsewhere then smuggled in to its eventual destination? The non-textual elements of a pamphlet can be helpful in tracking down anonymous printers. Look at the colophon, any woodcut initials, and any decorative woodcuts. Are they the same as those used by pamphlets for which you know the identity of the printer? Think about the font, too – are any of the letters cracked or otherwise distinctive, and if so can you match them to another pamphlet? Consider any illustrations, too. Is the woodcut brand new, or has it been recycled or pirated from previous works? For a great example, see this post from Blogging the Renaissance.
  • Readers. Sometimes – if rarely – this will be obvious. Perhaps it’s a popular work that attracted lots of comment from other writers, or was mentioned in contemporary diaries: from this you can reconstruct at least some of the book’s intended reading public. Or perhaps it was a limited edition that was intended for a named audience. Sometimes, you are able to get a detailed insight into an individual reader. One of the most famous examples is Carlo Ginzburg’s microhistory of the miller Menocchio in The Cheese and the Worms. But mostly, it is more difficult to track down your pamphlet’s readers – some may not have been able to read at all, but still may have accessed the book. For example, they might have had it read to them; if it’s a ballad or uses verse, they might have heard it sung; or if it was pasted up on a wall, they might have looked at the pictures. So form can be one way in to establishing who the readers were. Also consider the size of the pamphlet. Was it published in a small and hence cheap size, like octavo? Or was it a bulky and expensive folio? Analysing a pamphlet’s size can tell you a lot about its intended audience. This is where looking at pamphlets via the web is not always helpful, despite its convenience – you do not always get a sense of the physical dimensions of a tract. And consider other ways in which a book was consumed – what were surviving copies bound with, and where were they kept?
  • Intellectual influences and publicity. To borrow Joad Raymond’s phrase, “pamphlets multiplied”, feeding each other and sparking new publications. Does the title indicate that it’s an animadversion against another pamphlet? Are there references in the text to other authors or works? Many pamphlets cannot begin to be understood without this contextualisation. For an example, see Christian Jouhaud’s article on lampoons in seventeenth-century France.
  • Political and legal sanctions. What censorship regime was in place when the book was published? Was the book licensed, or pirated, or smuggled to its eventual destination? And does this tell us anything about how the content might have been put together? For some contemporary views on censorship, Milton’s Areopagitica is a traditional starting point – and there is an excellent online exhibition to celebrate his quartercentenary at the Bodleian.
    • The book itself. I’ve already touched on points like size, or illustrations, or cracked type, above, but there are other aspects of books themselves that can be illuminating. Look carefully at the typeface in which the text is laid out. Are certain words capitalised, or italicised, and if so does this mean you have to read something else into them? An excellent example is Don McKenzie’s close reading of the prologue to Congreve’s The War of the World, in which he shows that modern printed editions have inadvertently mis-quoted Congreve by changing his punctation and use of capital letters, thus completely altering the intended meaning. Or find out whether there were different versions of the pamphlet. Were there later editions, and do they differ from the original? Sometimes, different versions could even be issued within the same print run. For a brilliant example, see Jason Peacey’s analysis of Henry Parker’s The Generall Junto.