Mercurius Politicus

A blog (mostly) about early modern history

Category: england

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!).

If Englishmen called this playing, it would be impossible to say what they would call fighting

This description of a long-standing football match that used to take place between young men in the parishes of All Saints and St Peter’s in Derby is just brilliant. I particularly like the disdainful Frenchman’s comment.

Football continues to be played at in many parts of England on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, but the mode of playing this game at Ashbourn and Derby differs very much from the usual practice of this sport. In the town of Derby the contest lies between the parishes of St Peter and All Saints, and the goals to which the ball is to be taken are Nun’s mill for the latter and the Gallow’s balk on the Normanton road for the former. None of the other parishes of the borough take any direct part in the contest, but the inhabitants of all join in the sport together with persons from all parts of the adjacent country. The players are young men from eighteen to thirty or upwards, married as well as single, and many veterans who retain a relish for the sport are occasionally seen in the very heat of the conflict.

The game commences in the market place where the partisans of each parish are drawn up on each side, and about noon a large ball is tossed up in the midst of them. This is seized upon by some of the strongest and most active men of each party. The rest of the players immediately close in upon them and a solid mass is formed. It then becomes the object of each party to impel the course of the crowd towards their particular goal. The struggle to obtain the ball which is carried in the arms of those who have possessed themselves of it is then violent and the motion of this human tide heaving to and fro without the least regard to consequences is tremendous. Broken shins, broken heads, torn coats, and lost hats are among the minor accidents of this fearful contest and it frequently happens that persons fall in consequence of the intensity of the pressure, fainting and bleeding beneath the feet of the surrounding mob.

But it would be difficult to give an adequate idea of this ruthless sport. A Frenchman passing through Derby remarked that if Englishmen called this playing, it would be impossible to say what they would call fighting. Still the crowd is encouraged by respectable persons attached to each party and who take a surprising interest in the result of the day’s sport, urging on the players with shouts and even handing to those who are exhausted oranges and other refreshment.

The object of the St Peters party is to get the ball into the water down the Morledge brook into the Derwent as soon as they can while the All Saints party endeavour to prevent this and to urge the ball westward. The St Peter players are considered to be equal to the best water spaniels and it is certainly curious to see two or three hundred men up to their chins in the Derwent continually ducking each other. The numbers engaged on both sides exceed a thousand and the streets are crowded with lookers on. The shops are closed and the town presents the aspect of a place suddenly taken by storm.

S. Glover & T. Noble, The history of the county of Derby (London, 1829, 2 vols), vol. I, p. 310.

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.

Sign of the times

How much can you tell about a person from their signature? One legitimate answer to that question is nothing. That’s probably the right answer if you interpret the question in terms of whether the idiosyncrasies of someone’s handwriting reveal anything about their personality.

In other respects, though, a signature can be incredibly revealing. This is particularly the case for the early modern period, where a person’s signature – on a title deed, on a will, on a book – may be the only surviving material trace of their existence. From a humanist perspective, seeking to recover what we can of the past, finding someone’s signature is exciting.  It is a way of connecting with someone long gone, across a void of hundreds of years. And while trying to discern actual personality traits from signatures may be a dead end, the material aspects of a signatures can still tell us things.

Signatures are a means of expressing one’s identity in textual form. The fact that they became, and remain, the primary legal means of asserting one’s identity means that there are all sorts of culturally-specific assumptions bound up with them. To know how to write, you had to know how to read: the latter was taught before the former. The fact that a person in the sixteenth or seventeenth century could write their name instantly tells you something about them. It also tells you something about how their contemporaries might have perceived them.  The ability to sign one’s name demonstrated to others that you had at least some degree of education, and that you had a certain amount of agency with which to engage in the worlds of commerce, politics or law.

Nor were signatures simply a passive means of asserting a pre-set identity to others. They also provided a means for early modern men and women to fashion and refashion their own identity. Commonplace books, for example, often contain the owner’s signature, in many cases written out over and over again, or in different styles of handwriting. In some cases these signatures show an identity which was already worked out; in others, one which was still being tried on for size.

I recently managed to find the signature of a civil war pamphleteer from a very early stage in his life. This is the signature of Henry Walker, in the book of oaths sworn and signed by apprentices of the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers:

The full oath reads:

Me[mora]nda that I Henry Walker being apprentice unto Robert Holland Ironmonger doe promis by my faithe and truste to be obedient unto the M[aste]r and thees our wardens of the company of Ironmongers of London and to their successors all the days of my life in witnesse whereof I put my hand Henry Walker

Walker made and signed this oath at Ironmongers’ Hall in Fenchurch Street, near Aldgate, on 20 January 1629. He was sixteen years old, and had probably only recently arrived in London after a comfortable childhood spent in Derby, a member of one of the town’s governing class.  His father had died in October 1627 and it seems likely that Walker was forced to seek his living rather earlier than he might otherwise have done. Later in his life he complained he had been ‘taken from the school to the shop’.

The Ironmongers’ Hall that Walker knew does not exist any more. Its current version sits hidden behind the concrete barrier of the Barbican on Aldersgate Street. The building Holland and Walker were familiar with dated from 1587, when a new building had replaced the ramshackle collection of houses that were there beforehand. We can only imagine what it looked like inside when Walker took his oath: wood-panelled or maybe plaster, perhaps hung with tapestries. But Walker’s signature does give us a means of connecting with the sixteen-year old who stood in that building: newly arrived in London, having left his brothers and sister behind to start a new life with a strange master.

By signing his name, Walker was stepping from one world into another. He was leaving behind Derby, a town of about 3,000 people in which he would have known most people by sight, if not by name. And he was entering London, a city with a rapidly shifting population  nearly one hundred times bigger than that of Derby, in which he knew nobody. London was a terrifying city for those who were not born there. One apprentice called Thomas Raymond, sent to the capital to live with his uncle William Boswell, found the violence which ‘young lads do undergo’ upon arriving in London ‘a very dreadful sight to a young country boy’. Another, Edward Barlow, from Prestwich in Lancashire, was greatly confused by the sight that met him at London Bridge:

‘seeing so many things in the water with long poles standing up in them and a great deal of ropes about them, it made me wonder what they should be’.

He did not realise that they were ships, ‘for I had never seen any before that time’.

Of course, Walker’s signature does not tell us anything about his reactions on moving from Derby to London. As he signed his name in the Ironmongers’ records, he may have felt confident or he may have been nervous. We have no way of knowing. But his signature in itself reveals an aspect of his life that has not been known about before: his years as an apprentice in trade, before a belated period of study at Cambridge and entry into bookselling and pamphleteering. It is a snapshot of a time when he had little power or agency, separated from his family and bound by strict codes of behaviour to a master for seven years.

By contrast, another record of Walker writing his name survives from the end of his life. This is from a book he donated to the Ironmongers’ Company in 1681:

Walker made his gift shortly before the end of his life: he died in February 1687. We can see a very different identity being asserted here. Walker was by now one of the eldest yeomen in the company, and while he had given up participation in the trade by 1642, he continued to be an active member of his Company. He continued paying quarterage until the end of his life, and served as warden of the yeomanry during the 1670s. The way Walker seeks to fashion his identity in this inscription is very different to what he had written 52 years earlier:

This book of Dr Willets Synopsis was given to the Worshipfull Company of Ironmongers by Henry Walker minister of Petersham in the county of Surry, and surrogat to the bishop of Winchester, and a [..] of the said Company of Ironmongers and sometimes Hebrew professor at the ahcadamy in Whitefryers and ordinary at the assizes in Surry by the appointment of the bishop of Winchester.

Here again, Walker’s signature and inscription cannot tell us much about his feelings when he donated the book: whether he was proud, regretful or bitter about the progress of his life. But they do show a man who placed some kind of value on membership of the Ironmongers’ Company, and who wanted to make clear his achievements outside the Company’s trade. The book he donated may also have been significant: it was a 1634 edition of Andrew Willet’s Synopsis Papismi, printed in the same year that Walker was made free from his apprenticeship. I cannot prove that Walker obtained this book in that year, but it is just possible that it was a gift to himself or from others to mark his emergence into the adult world.

Walker’s signatures hint at all sorts of lines of inquiry that have been helpful in uncovering other areas of his life. Just as importantly, though, they have enabled me to feel a connection, of sorts, across hundreds of years to someone whose humanity might otherwise have been lost on me.

For Ada Lovelace Day: Jane Coe

Ada Lovelace Day exists to raise the profile of women working in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This post is about a woman who played a significant role in the printing trade in seventeenth-century London: Jane Coe.

As Sarah Werner has made clear – in another post for Ada Lovelace Day – women played a significant role in trades related to books and printing in early modern London. However, their role can often be obscured by the slender evidence that survives about early modern printers and booksellers. Even where evidence does survive, it has to be read carefully: like all trades of the period, printing was dominated by men, and the terms in which female printers are described by contemporaries can underplay their importance.

Jane Coe is no exception. We know a lot about what she printed. The English Short Title Catalogue lists over seventy titles printed with either “Jane Coe”, “I. Coe” or “J. Coe” on the imprint. Some of these were serials that ran over a number of years, so the actual number of books she printed must run into the tens of thousands.  In the main, these were short quartos: printed versions of letters, satirical pieces accompanied by woodcuts, news pamphlets giving accounts of battles and negotiations, and above all newsbooks. Their emphasis is overwhelmingly Parliamentarian. However, we know very little about Jane herself.

Jane’s original name may have been Jane Bowyer. On 27 December 1634, a Joane Bowyer married Andrew Coe in the church of St George the Martyr in Southwark.

Andrew was an trainee printer who was served an apprenticeship with the Stationers’ Company. He was not made free until 1638, having been bound to his master George Miller in 1630. This makes a 1634 marriage seem, on the face of it, unlikely. Under the terms of their indentures apprentices were not allowed to marry. To do would technically prevent them from qualifying for their freedom. However, there were good reasons why apprentices might break the rules. One is financial gain. It is not uncommon to find apprentices marrying well-heeled widows (sometimes the wives of their masters), presumably calculating that it would be financially worth their while or that the widow’s resources would enable them to purchase their freedom by redemption. The other is love.

If this is Jane  – and I can find no other marriage records for an Andrew Coe – then we have no way of knowing what prompted their marriage, or whether they lived together afterwards. The next time they appear in the records is in the parish registers of St Giles Cripplegate, where Andrew had set up business. We can hazard a guess about the family’s financial status by looking at the type he used, which was old and worn. He presumably did not have enough capital to buy a new set, and either inherited an old set or purchased it from another printer.

Cripplegate was a parish just outside the City walls, and with a high concentration of printers and booksellers. Grub Street, soon to become synonymous with a certain kind of printed book, is within the parish boundaries. Many of its parishioners also seem to have had puritan leanings. In 1641 there were conflicts between the parish and its high Anglican vicar and churchwarden, William Fuller and Thomas Bogh. Bogh went as far as to assault a Parliamentary messenger sent to enforce an order to remove the parish’s altar rails. So it is possible, especially given the subsequent output of their press, that Andrew and Jane’s religious leanings ran this way, although again there is no way of proving it.

In February 1640, the couple had a son, named after his father:

Jane, again, is entirely absent from this record. All that is recorded is the name of her husband and his profession. However, it’s clear that she must have had some involvement in the business. At some point around the end of June 1644, her husband died, and Jane took over the running of the press. An illustration of how difficult some historians have found it to accept that this was possible can be found in H. R. Plomer’s Dictionary of Printers for the period, which says this about Andrew’s death:

The younger Andrew was six years old at this point, and presumably in no position to run anything in relation to the business. And yet Plomer’s assumption – despite the fact that it was Jane’s name that appeared on the imprints of the press’s books after this date – seems to have been that the couple’s son must have been the real head of the operation.

After the older Andrew’s death, Jane continued to print the same kind of books that the press had already become known for. Between 1644 and 1647 she was involved in the production of several newsbooks, including Perfect Occurrences, The Moderate Messenger, and The Kingdomes Scout. In 1645 she took on an apprentice, Samuel Houghton, who came from Mowsley near Market Harborough. It was Jane whose name appeared in the Stationers’ Register for many of her titles, and Jane who presumably took the copy there for the licenser to approve.

What happened to Coe after the 1640s is not clear. At some point, the business was finally handed over to her son: his name appears on a few imprints in the 1660s, by which stage he would have been in his twenties. His name also appears at various points before that, with the formulation “Printed by J. Coe and A. Coe”. So it does seem clear that Jane’s eventual aim was to set her son up in her and her husband’s trade. By October 1664, Andrew was firmly ensconced in Cripplegate, had a wife named Hannah, and had a son (a third-generation Andrew):

Again, however, the surviving evidence about Jane is very slim. I can find no record of Jane’s death anywhere in the registers of St Giles Cripplegate or other London parishes. No wills survive for either her or her husband.

So Jane remains something of an enigma. She was clearly something of a publishing force in the world of cheap print in the 1640s, but tantalisingly little remains about who she was. I hope this post brings her achievements to a slightly wider audience.

For more on the Coes’ business, the best work is the recent article by Sarah Barber, ‘Curiosity and Reality: the context and interpretation of a seventeenth-century image’, History Workshop Journal vol.70 (2010), pp.21-46. Some of the details above I owe to this article, although others are based on my own trawls of Jane’s books and of London parish registers.

A payre of breaches of russet cloth and my worst hatt

Thomas Walker was born in 1562 in the parish of All Saints, Derby. He was the eldest son of Thomas Walker Sr., a wealthy butcher who would go on to be elected as one of the town’s two bailiffs at least three times in 1578, 1587 and 1593. A contemporary chronicle of Derby noted the funeral of the elder Thomas’s wife, Agnes Walker (née Wandell), in 1616 as a major event for the town:

In this year died old Mrs Walker and was carried to the church by her four sons all Brethren of the Company of twenty-four for the borough.

As oldest sons of wealthy people tend to, the younger Thomas did well. In 1587 he married Mary Turner in the neighbouring parish church of St Alkmund. Mary was the daughter of Edward Turner, another member of the town’s governing class who served as bailiff in 1575. Turner’s occupation is unclear, but he rented a number of acres of arable land in the possession of All Saints church, so it’s possible he may have been a yeoman farmer. It seems likely, though, that Thomas and Mary’s marriage was in part about cementing ties between two notable local families.

Mary and Thomas went on to have three children: Thomas, William, and Anne. The family seems to have prospered. In 1607, the elder Thomas was confident enough of his oldest son’s future that he did not include him in a gift of properties in Full Street, Friargate and the Cornmarket that he made to some his younger sons (Robert, Edward and Henry). A year or so later, however, tragedy struck the family. Thomas became sick. Although it is not clear what his illness was, he seems to have been sure enough that it was terminal that he made his will.

His will survives in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, and I have put a transcript onto Your Archives. It is an organised and business-like last testament, one written by a man setting his affairs in order. He made sure his wife and children were well-provided for, leaving one hundred pounds in silver to Mary and one hundred marks each to his children. After that, his biggest priority was that his children complete their education:

I committ the education and tuition of my sonne Thomas Walker to my father Mr Thomas Walker with his portion, so that he be put in good surety to pay him his sayd childes parte when he shall come to the age of One and Twenty yeares. I commytt the education and tuition of my sonne William Walker to my […] William Botham. And my will is that my […] William Botham have the half of his portion. And my father in law Mr Edward Turner the other half of his portion so that they put in suretie to pay it when he shall come to the age of One and Twentie yeares. I commytt the education and tuition of Anne Walker my daughter to my wife her mother and her portion payeing it at the age of eighteen yeares if it please god she live so longe.

Thomas also made sure that other family and friends were recognised. His father was left forty shillings to make a ring to remember him by. His mother received ten shillings, and his grandmother Mrs Wandell five shillings. Edward Bennet, the vicar of All Saints and one of the witnesses of the will, received ten shillings.

After that, Thomas disposed of his other valuables: his clothes. His best cloak he left to his brother Edward. His best hat was willed to his brother William. To Richard Pearson/Fearson he left his worst hat, a doublet made of fustian, and a pair of breaches made of russet cloth. These were the clothes typical of a member of the middling sort and, along with the financial value of the will – approximately £315 – underline the fact that Thomas was relatively well-off.

Reconstructing the social world of the Walker family is made difficult by the lack of surviving evidence. It seems certain they played a significant role in the governance of Derby. The elder Thomas and a number of his sons served as bailiffs to the town’s Corporation. However, the loss of the Corporation records to a fire in 1841 makes it difficult to tell much more than that. The family also make appearances in the parish register of All Saints. Thomas seems to have been friends with Edward Bennet, the parish’s minister until 1609. His brothers Henry and Edward served as churchwardens.

And Thomas was not the only one who seems to have married the daughter of another of Derby’s well-to-do families. Henry’s marriage to Anne Becke, for example, cemented a connection with another prominent local family. Anne was the daughter of Thomas Becke, with whom the elder Thomas Walker had shared the position of bailiff in 1603. Anne’s father, like her father-in-law, seems to have been in a victualling trade, perhaps also a butcher. The account books from All Saints record that in 1620, Thomas Becke and Thomas Walker were paid six shillings for providing dinner at the house of William Collier for twelve men, to celebrate the perambulation of the parish’s boundaries on Rogation Day. Collier was yet another of the town’s butchers, who like some of his friend’s sons was churchwarden of All Saints in 1615 and 1616.

What is frustrating is trying to find out any more about the family’s faith and politics. After Edward Bennet’s death, Richard Kilby became minister of All Saints. I have blogged about Kilby before: he had a somewhat tempestuous career that flirted with Catholicism, but by the early seventeenth century he had developed a puritan sense of his own and his congregation’s innate sinfulness. In other respects he was more middle-of-the-road – there was a revolt by some of his parishioners when he made the sign of the cross at a baptism, but as Kilby pointed out this was specified by the Book of Common Prayer and he would not leave it out until he was told to. Were the Walkers part of that revolt against Kilby? At the moment I cannot tell, but it is tempting to speculate that they might have been. Their middling sort status would make them likely candidates for membership of the kind of puritan elite that countless other seventeenth-century towns saw assume power during the 1610s and 1620s.

A puritan faction within the parish elite certainly existed. Henry Fisher, member of another of Derby’s ruling families, would later lead another puritan revolt within the parish. In1641 this entry appears in the parish records for All Saints:

It is this daie ordered that Henry Fisher shall for his takeinge awaie two serplisses from the pishe church of All Sts in Derby yt the minister of the said pishe of All Sts in Derby be hereafter enjoyned to weere a serples whereby the pishe shalbe enjoyned to buy a serplis that then he the said Henry Fisher is to buy one good fit & Competent serplis for the use of the said pishe. And if the said pishe shall not be compelled to buy a serplis before Easter next that then he the said Henry Fisher shall paie to the then Churchwardens to the use of the pishe soe much for the bindinge some poor pson of the said pishe as apprentice as the pishioners at the nexte pishe meetinge after Easter sundaie next will sett downe and that if he the said Henry will not assent to this order then the Churchwardens shall take such legal course according to the former order as Mr Recorder shall direct.

However, at the moment the only clue I have to Thomas’s faith is this line from his will:

First I trusteth my soule unto God by the death and passion of Jesus Christe by whose blood shedding only I believe to be saved.

In itself it does not tell us much, and he left no money to the poor of the town, or to any other church-related purpose. Although I’m trying to dig out wills from other members of the family, unless I strike it lucky a lot of of the Walker family’s history remains conjecture at best.

The research underpinning all of the above is part of my ongoing efforts to uncover more about the life of the civil war pamphleteer Henry Walker. Henry was born in All Saints in 1612, and was the son of the elder Henry – Thomas Walker’s brother, and one of the sons of the elder Thomas. No historian has previously uncovered much of Henry’s life before 1641, and while there are still lots of unanswered questions about his early life it is reassuring that I have been able to fill in quite a lot of the blanks. I know a lot more now about his childhood, education and apprenticeship in London than has previously been uncovered. I’ll aim to post highlights here as I write them up.