Mercurius Politicus

A blog (mostly) about early modern history

Category: historiography

Loose ends

Regular readers will know that I am currently researching the life of the seventeenth century pamphleteer, newsbook editor and preacher Henry Walker. If you look up Joad Raymond’s article on Walker in the ODNB, it gives his dates as fl. 1634-1660. Nearly all that has been known about him relates to his activity during the 1640s and 1650s.

After a lot of digging, I think I have managed to find out the dates of his birth and death. Getting there has been a long story but I thought it might be interesting to explain the steps I’ve taken along the way.

It started with Walker’s records from his time at Cambridge. He went there relatively late, in 1639, after serving an apprenticeship as an ironmonger and setting up in business. The record of his matriculation at Queens’ College state that Walker was from Derbyshire. This got me searching for wills of Henry Walkers in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury records, on the assumption that he would have stayed in London or the south east after the 1650s.

I didn’t find a Henry Walker from Derbyshire. But I did find a Henry Walker, Clerk of London who had made his will in 1685. He left £20 to the poor of Derby, and £200 to his sister Anne Marshall of Derby.

And a subsequent dispute over the will described him as Henry Walker of Derbyshire. Could it be the same Henry Walker? It would mean him having lived a fairly long life if it was.

To find out I started combing through Derbyshire parish registers. Walker was made free from his apprenticeship in 1634. If he served the average of 7 years, he would have started it in 1627. That would give him a birth date some time between 1609 and 1613 or so. Eventually I found a Henry Walker who had been baptised in All Saints, Derby on 1 March 1612. Crucially, he had a sister called Anne. He was the only candidate who matched the description.

In itself, however, this wasn’t enough to match him to the Henry Walker Clerk who had made his will so many years later. What I needed was something to connect him with the Henry Walker from before the civil wars. I found it in the library of the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers, in a 1634 edition of Andrew Willet’s Synopsis Papismi:

It was donated by Henry Walker in 1681, and made clear that he was still alive at this point, and the same person as the Henry Walker of the 1630s. It also linked him to Petersham in Surrey.

My next stop was the parish registers for Petersham. These revealed that Walker had been appointed as curate by the vicar of Kingston in 1667. This nearly sparked a row when the Countess of Dysart stepped in and claimed the right of appointment as her own. However, she was happy to confirm Walker’s appointment:

On Tuesday 11th June 1667 Mr Henry Walker was by Mr Twetty of Kingston apointed to the cure of Petersham whither he went and tooke possession of the church where he marryed a coople that morning. Mr Walker went to the Honble the Countess of Disart, & acquainted her of his being sent by Mr Twitty but she said the right was in her & Mr Walker being allowed by her honour had afterwards licence from my Lord Bishop of Winchester and was confirmed in the place. His first day of preaching there was June 16. 1667 upon approbation.

Four years later, the parish registers mention Walker’s wife:

Mary the wife of Henry Walker minister of Petersham died 15 May 1671 at Petersham and was carred to be bured in the church of St Giles Crepplegate London.

I had known Walker was married but hadn’t known anything about his wife until this point. I then dug through the registers for St Giles Cripplegate and confirmed that she had been buried there:

This confirmed that the Henry Walker Clerk who had made his will was likely to be the same as the Henry Walker of the 1630s. It also gave me the first piece of detailed information about Mary: that she had died of a fever.

If Mary had been buried at St Giles Cripplegate, despite dying in Petersham, it seemed likely the family had strong connections with the parish. Starting with 1685 I dug through the entries on burials and quickly found an entry for Henry in February 1686/7:

He is described as ‘Dr in Divinity’, which fits with the fact that he took a theological qualification at Cambridge in 1639. The register also reveals that he died of the stone.

I then wanted to find out when they were married. Apprentices were not allowed to marry so it seemed likely it would have been after 1634, the date of Walker’s freedom. After some digging I found their wedding recorded in the register of St Gregory by St Paul’s – just round the corner from the shop of Robert Holland in Newgate, to whom Walker had been apprenticed.

This gave me Mary’s maiden name – Fotheringall. Looking through the registers of St Giles Cripplegate, I found an entry that confirmed this:

Henry’s will mentioned three daughters – Anne, Christian and Sarah. Anne was their first child, baptised on 15 September 1639. The register mentions that she was born in the house of Anne Fothergill, an apothecary in St Botolph’s. Anne Fothergill was Mary’s mother – she mentions her daughter and her husband ‘Henry Walker clerk’ in her will of 1665. Her husband was James Fothergill, who had died in 1635 while Warden of the Society of Apothecaries. Anne inherited his business. It was a profession that must have come in handy when Mary came to give birth: and the reason she was at her mother’s house was because by this time, Henry was in Cambridge studying theology. Clearly he did not take his family with him.

Their second child was Sarah, baptised at St Giles Cripplegate on 31 July 1642:

Cripplegate’s registers helpfully give professions of parishioners at this time. The mention of Henry’s  trade as being that of an Ironmonger is revealing about his status on the eve of the civil war. By this time he was writing and vending anti-episcopal pamphlets. However, he was clearly doing it while holding down his existing trade. It is not unusual to find members of the Ironmongers Company acting as stationers and selling books alongside their other goods  – much to the irritation of the Stationers’ Company, who saw them as interlopers on their trade.

This time Henry was present for the birth, but only just. With weeks to go before the due date, he was in prison for throwing a printed petition into Charles I’s carriage. In May 1642 he petitioned the Lords to be released, stating not only that he was sorry but that:

His poore wife bigg wth child, and a young infant besides.

Luckily for him and Mary he seems to have been released in time for the birth. On 5 July he stood trial in the Old Bailey. Fortunately his charge was reduced from a felony to a misdemeanour and he got away with standing in the pillory at Cheapside.

On 7 September 1645 the couple had their first son, Henry, baptised at Cripplegate. However, he seems to have been dead by the time his father made his will. He may have been the same Henry, son of Henry and Mary Walker who was buried on 23 December at St Anne and St Agnes, although I am not completely sure why the family would have been living there at this point. By 1655 Walker was pastor of a gathered church in St Martin’s Vintry, just south of St Anne and St Agnes, but I have not come across evidence for his involvement earlier than that.

What does fit more strongly is evidence of other children. Christian, mentioned in Walker’s will, was baptised on 20 February 1653 in St Margaret Westminster. This makes perfect sense as by this point Walker was living and working out of the Fountain in King Street, just up the road.  A Mary Walker, baptised 1 June 1656 in St Clement Danes, and Elizabeth Walker, baptised on 17 February 1660, may also have been his children but I have no evidence to confirm this.

Why does all this matter? Partly because it allows us to see a much more rounded picture of a significant mid-seventeenth century puritan preacher and writer. By reconstructing Walker’s childhood in All Saints, Derby, and his teenage years in Newgate, we can get an idea of the influences he must have had from his family and the vicars of his parishes. This in turn can help us to explain his actions in the 1640s. By looking at Walker’s record after the Restoration, and his continuing attachment to the puritan parish of St Giles Cripplegate, we can also get a fascinating insight into how an Independent and staunch Cromwellian managed to reconcile himself to the Restoration. Clearly he was able to hide enough of his faith to survive as a member of the clergy.

But it also matters to me because I’ve had a great time finding all of this out. I am about 20,000 words into writing a biography of Walker at the moment, and even if the pressures of work and family mean I end up taking years to finish it, it’s still been a fantastic experience researching it.

J. Charles Cox

The Rev. John Charles Cox (1844-1919) was perhaps one of the most influential English local historians of the nineteenth century. Anyone studying early modern Derbyshire quickly comes across his work. He published dozens of books, including calendars of local records, a four-volume history of Derbyshire churches, and a detailed study of All Saints, Derby. Even if you don’t know anything about Derbyshire, you may still have encountered his influence if you are interested in early modern parish history. In 1879, Cox published the first edition of a guide on How to Write the History of a Parish that would become the textbook for generations of historians and genealogists. It discussed step-by-step the local and national sources needed to reconstruct the history of an early modern parish. It was a runaway success, and was reprinted a number of times.

Cox was born in 1844 in Parwich in Derbyshire. He attended Repton and Somerset College in Bath, before starting a degree at Queen’s College, Oxford in 1862. Financial pressures – he was the second son and needed to find a secure income – led him to leave after three years without taking a degree, to take up a position as partner at the Wingerworth Colliery Company. Two years later, he married Marian Smith, the daughter of a local squire with whom he would go on to have ten children. They settled in Belper in Derbyshire.

Cox quickly got involved in local politics, becoming a magistrate and sitting on a number of local boards. He was a Liberal who became friends with Sir Charles Dilke, a high-flying politician who would become notorious in 1885 after an alleged fling with Virginia Eustace Smith during the first year of her marriage to the MP Donald Crawford. He was a trade unionist who became a regular on the left-wing speaking circuit in the 1870s, stating:

That there should be classes that exclusively labour, and others that exclusively enjoy, and have the privilege of unlimitedly expending the fruits of other men’s labour, is opposed to reason, justice and Christianity.

To the left of the Liberal Party, he diverged from Gladstone over disestablishment of the Church of England and the Church’s role in education. Just before the 1874 election he stood as an Education League candidate in the Bath by-election, against a sitting Liberal MP. The latter’s supporters caused uproar at an open meeting Cox was addressing, throwing him out of a first-floor window. Fortunately he survived his defenestration, as members of the local constabulary were standing beneath and managed to catch him.

In 1879 Cox started studying for the priesthood at Lichfield Theological College, becoming an Anglican priest in 1881. After a series of livings he was awarded a lucrative Crown placement in Holdenby in Northamptonshire. With a parish of fifteen people, this left ample time to devote to the historical research into parish archives that he had already been carrying out in Staffordshire and Derbyshire. During this time Cox was also taking pioneering approaches to what he called the ‘parish state’: insisting that the local could not be understood without reference to the national, an approach which is now second nature to post-revisionist historians of early modern England. In line with his politics, he was particularly concerned that the poorer members of past societies had the right to have their voices heard, and made innovative use of vestry minutes to uncover the plight of the poor in early modern parishes.

Many of Cox’s works are now out of copyright and are starting to appear on the Internet Archive. I also cannot recommend highly enough Elizabeth T. Hurren’s excellent article on Cox in Rural History (2008), from which much of the biographical information in this post is drawn.

London crowds and the Restoration

There is an interesting post by Lucy Inglis over at Georgian London about the moment, in March 1660, when a painter went into the Royal Exchange and obliterated the inscription by the statue of Charles I that had been symbolically beheaded in 1650:

Exit Tyrannus, Regnum Ultimus Anno Libertatis Anglicae Anno Domini 1648, Jan 30.

I hadn’t come across this incident before, but I’m not so sure – as Lucy suggests – that it’s necessarily evidence of different parts of London society uniting to welcome Charles II back to London. So (in the nicest possible way!) I thought I would set out some counter-examples.

It’s true that this is certainly the traditional way of looking at the events of 1659 and 1660. C. H. Firth’s history of the period argued that the London crowd had become alienated by the heavy taxation of the Protectorate and the Commonwealth which followed it, which combined with the economic downturn of 1659 led them to welcome Charles II back. Firth’s account contrasts this with the role of the London crowd in forcing Charles’s father out of London in 1642.

There is certainly something in Firth’s arguments. Merchants and tradesmen alike were under pretty severe economic pressure during this period. But as subsequent historians like Tim Harris have argued, there are some things about this narrative which are jarring. One is the tendency to see the crowd as a monolithic entity capable of switching allegiance depending on the circumstances. “The crowd” exists only as a perception in the minds of individuals: crowds themselves are a collection of individuals, who will have joined it for a range of motives, and one crowd is not the same as another.

Early modern crowds were certainly capable of what might be described as mindless or at least non-political violence. But they were also just as capable of highly targeted and politicised acts of violence. The poachers and woodcutters who killed the Earl of Middlesex’s deer in 1642 were targeting a potent symbol of his gentility, in response to grievances about their treatment at his hands. Likewise, enclosure protestors who ransacked the muniment rooms of manor houses were attacking the legitimacy of those oppressing them. And early modern crowds, or at least their leaders, were equally able to strategise. The apprentices who petitioned Parliament in 1647 for their rights to holidays planned their march well in advance, and backed it up with printed advertisements scattered about the streets and pasted up and down London’s walls. All of which means we need to be careful when ascribing uniform motives to crowds, and equally careful of not stripping their actions of a political vocabulary.

Another counter-argument to Firth’s narrative is the circumstances in which the painter expunged the legend by Charles I’s statue. By March 1660 neither Cromwell was in power. Oliver had been dead for a year and a half and it had been nearly a year since Richard had resigned the Protectorship. England was ruled once more by a republican Commonwealth with power constituted in a reformed Rump Parliament. It was the Rump, and the steps it tried to take to protect independent sects, that prompted many of the actions taken by Londoners during 1659 and 1660. It is a mistake to read too much royalism into their demands: foremost in the demands of the various petitions from that time, and of the various crowds which protested, was a call for a free Parliament to protect their rights. Some saw these rights as religious: their rights as mainstream Presbyterians or Puritans. Some saw these rights as economic: their right to earn a living and to be protected from the effects of the downturn. There is an argument that at least some of the Londoners who welcomed Charles II back saw him as the best way, in the circumstances they faced, of guaranteeing those rights.

Equally, many of their protests were neither quiet nor dignified. 5 December 1659 saw a crowd of rock-throwing apprentices quashed only at sword- and gunpoint by a detachment of 2,000 soldiers. A number of apprentices were killed. February 1660 saw several regiments in London mutiny, more violent protests by apprentices, and the military occupation of the Common Council of the City of London’s Corporation by the army. Even the incident with Charles I’s statue is ambiguous. A contemporary pamphlet claimed that it was actually done at the instigation of General Monck, the architect of Charles II’s return:

Providence… check[ed] these exorbitances after a long tract of time, by causing the Right Honorable, and Ever-noble General Monck, to be a happy Instrument in carrying on (without bloodshed) the blessed returns to our due Obedience, and of hard-hearted and implacable Rebels, to become patient and loving subjects; who (to his everlasting Memory let it be recorded) ordered that abominable Superscription of EXIT TYRANNUS as a Capital offender to be expunged.

The loyal subjects teares, for the sufferings and absence of their sovereign, Charles II (London, 1660), British Library, Thomason Tracts, E.1017[29], p. 4.

While this may seem – and probably is – too good to be true, it does indicate another problem facing anyone trying to reconstruct early modern crowds, which is the likely interaction between different social groups in organising and conducting protests: whether that be aristocrats, the middling sort, apprentices, wage labourers, men or women. Trying to unpick these layers isn’t made easier by the fact that many of our accounts of crowds of this time are filtered through the lens of the authorities, whether they be personal accounts of political elites, printed literature aimed at or censored by elites, or court records reflecting official rather than hidden transcripts. One of the quotes Lucy cites about London’s reaction to the Restoration is an example of this:

Bow Bells could not be heard for the noise of the people.

This quote comes from the Diurnall of Thomas Rugge, a manuscript now in the British Museum compiled about events from 1659 to 1672 (Additional MSS 10,116-10,117). A barber by trade, in compiling his Diurnall Rugge mixed his own knowledge with that of friends and blended it with contemporary printed accounts such as those in newsbooks and pamphlets. As a result it is hard to know whose views it gives, and asides like this may just as easily reflect accounts of the Restoration sympathetic to Charles II as they do reality. And ultimately we can never know whether all those cheering were doing so through joy, through fear, or because it was what everyone else was doing.

Then again, it’s partly the ambiguities in the sources that allow historians to argue back and forth about the nature and existence of popular politics. And – like the reader of a paper I wrote who objected to my preferring to use the phrase ‘crowd action’ instead of riot – I’m equally aware that my own views on early modern crowds can be criticised as overly schematic, idealised and reflecting twenty-first century liberal concerns!

Over the Hill?

There have been a few posts across the blogosphere in recent days about the historian Christopher Hill, sparked by an article about him by R. C. Richardson in the THES.

Richardson argued that despite shortcomings in Hill’s approach to sources, his legacy to current historians of the seventeenth century is a significant one. In particular, he focused on the impact of Hill’s most well-known book, The World Turned Upside Down, in forcing historians to confront the role that working men and women had played in politics and political thought.

This sparked some reflections by Christopher Thompson, wondering whether Hill’s impact was really as significant as Richardson asserted, and suggesting that the rise of revisionist interpretations of the civil wars marked the end of his influence. In turn, this sparked a response from J. N. Nielsen arguing that Hill does leave a legacy, through the passion with which he was able to make the lives and ideas of people from the seventeenth century come alive.

Richardson’s article and the two posts following it reminded me of a comment by John Morrill in an article assessing Hill’s career, in which he lamanted that his postgraduate students were unlikely to have read more than one or two of Hill’s numerous books. It may well be that knowledge of his work is slowly fading purely due to the passage of time, but I’m not so sure that his influence will. The World Turned Upside Down is a good example of that. It seems a shame to focus on it alone, given the prodigious range of books that Hill wrote. His biography of Oliver Cromwell, for example, is still despite its flaws and occasional inaccuracies one of the best single-volume books on the subject. Even its title, God’s Englishman, captures the essence of Cromwell more succinctly in two words than many books do in thousands. Similarly, Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England still stands up well as an introduction to its subject.

Nevertheless, The World Turned Upside Down is probably the most famous of Hill’s books and the one which probably retains the most foundations in current historiography. It was actually about far more than just the lives and ideas of religious sects and political radicals. It dealt more widely with the social and economic conditions in seventeenth century England and how they influenced the ideas of ordinary men and women. It made a determined argument, on empirical rather than theoretical grounds, for the existence of class differences and, to some extent, class consciousness during the period. And by holding the mirror up to those who ruled, it also gave a detailed look at how they saw those below them in the social hierarchy. A line – direct or indirect – can be traced between this and current approaches to understanding the politics of the 1640s and 1650s by historians like Andy Wood, John Walter and David Cressy. While popular political ideologies were often more nostalgic and conservative than some of the individual subjects of Hill’s book, nevertheless Hill’s collective portrait in The World Turned Upside Down of the the forces shaping the political views of ordinary people has lived on.

It’s true that Hill’s historical method can be criticised. Hill’s typical style of writing was a kind of historical pointillism,  assembling a vast array of printed and calendared sources to build up an argument, peppered with direct quotations, that was lyrical and evocative but not necessarily representative. It is not a style you see much now with the rise of the monograph and the revisionists’ return to the archives. In particular, Hill’s reliance on printed sources always left him vulnerable to the charge that he was reflecting elite perceptions of the crowd rather than the views of the crowd itself (although in his defence, Hill did often gloss sources like this and make clear their limitations). What this style of writing did very well, though, was conjure up the collective mentalité of Hill’s subjects. The World Turned Upside Down, in particular, is a triumph of historical imagination and empathy. One of Hill’s opening sentences deserves to be as well-known as E. P. Thompson’s famous determination to rescue the working men and women of eighteenth-century England from the “enormous condescension of posterity”:

Lunacy, like beauty, may be in the eye of the beholder.

This maxim allowed The World Turned Upside Down to enter into the minds of subjects in a way that few other studies of the same period manage. It’s not surprising that it was able to be turned into a film and a stage play. I would argue that this is another of Hill’s legacies: his ability to inspire readers to take seriously the lives of people in the past. The World Turned Upside Down is still in print, and if you browse through the History section of any branch of Waterstone’s, it’s likely to be one of the few books on seventeenth-century England you will find. As a result, each generation continues to read at least one of Hill’s books, and be inspired. Every November, I do mock university interviews for sixth-formers at a north London comprehensive. Last year, I interviewed a student who had become obsessed with civil war radicalism after reading The World Turned Upside Down. She got into Cambridge to do history, and I have no doubt that her interest in the seventeenth century – like Gerrard Winstanley’s “parchment in the fire” – will still be burning after being lit by Hill’s work.


Three years ago I wondered about the possibilities that could be opened up if scholars were able to annotate texts in Early English Books Online. Now you can: EEBO have just launched EEBO Interactions, a social networking site that is linked to EEBO and allows registered users to comment on and discuss the texts.

Having had a quick play about with it, there seem to be three key respects in which EEBO Interactions will be a big step forward. The first is the breadth and accuracy of EEBO’s metadata. In particular, Interactions allows updates to and discussion about the bibliographic provenance of EEBO’s texts. A lot of the authorial attributions for anonymous pamphlets on EEBO are drawn from the short-title catalogues produced by Pollard & Redgrave and by Wing. While the revised editions of both catalogues corrected some dubious or mistaken attributions, if you have spent any time browsing EEBO you will probably have discovered examples where you disagree with the attribution.

One of the great features of Interactions is that it provides fields to add your own information. If you get to a text and someone has added a gloss you think is wrong, you can discuss it on the page itself, or send the other user a message to have a one-to-one discussion with them.

That brings me to the second benefit, which is one of sociability. EEBO have structured Interactions along the lines of Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. Users have a user-page where they can put information about their background and interests. Users can send each other messages and bookmark sites of interest, which allows you to see whether other people are working on texts you are studying. I think this will have real benefits for students and scholars across the world, as they start to discover they have colleagues with shared interests whom they never previously knew existed.

The third benefit is one I find hard to express concisely, but which can I suppose be summed up by the phrase “better scholarship”. If that seems a bit intangible, hopefully the context in which it struck me will make it clearer. One of the guidelines for Interactions suggests that users:

Provid[e] concise and informative commentaries on some of the less frequently discussed texts, as are currently available via the EEBO Introductions Series.

EEBO Introductions is a series of short essays on some of the more obscure texts included in EEBO’s corpus of books and pamphlets. It’s intended as a gateway into early modern texts that might otherwise seldom or never be read. At the moment there are nineteen Introductions, which perhaps reflects the fact that they have been centrally managed up to now.

In the future, if you are a student working on a particular text, or an established academic with material on a particular source, you can leave it in your files or you can post it to Interactions. I think this has all sorts of possibilities. It could be a way for undergraduates and postgraduates to get involved in a wider scholarly community, by posting essays on a particular text or snippets from their research that would otherwise never find an audience. It could function – as seminars do now – as something like an intermediate step between undergraduate/postgraduate study and publishing your work in peer-reviewed journals. In ten years time, posting an essay on Interactions or similar sites could be as normal a part of scholarly practice and career structures as submitting a proposal for a conference paper or sending an article for consideration by a journal.

Exposing your ideas or research to a wider audience in electronic form has benefits for students, whether they are pursuing a career in history or simply interested in the period. But it would also have benefits for scholars – if you have devoted your BA dissertation, say, to a particular text, you will probably be far more of an expert on it than the most experienced academic. Interactions will hopefully provide a platform for one group to speak to the other, and vice versa – with the ultimate benefit that knowledge and interpretations of texts can be shared rather than remaining with their originator.

Not many people have signed up as users yet. Given that (at the moment) all contributions have to be approved by an editor, that is probably not a bad thing from EEBO’s perspective, but hopefully the userbase will grow with time, and hopefully the editorial control will be loosened once the site grows. Otherwise, without a large userbase the risk is that the site will never take off. It will need lots of people making lots of comments and notes to really get the most out of it.

So in the spirit of encouraging others to sign up and use the site, here is a link to my own first contribution, on Canterburies dreame: in which the apparition of Cardinall Wolsey did present himselfe unto him on the fourtenth of May last past: it being the third night after my Lord of Strafford had taken his fare-well to the world (London, 1641). Have a look and see what you think. As ever, there is also a good discussion going on at Early Modern Online Bibliography.