Mercurius Politicus

A blog (mostly) about early modern history

Category: london

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.

Grub Street in 1641

Imagine that it’s the very end of 1640. You are in your late twenties, and have lived in London since your late teens after starting an apprenticeship in 1629. You have been exposed to the social and intellectual ferment of the capital’s puritan lectureships, and possibly even to some of the more controversial ideas in circulation in the city’s godly underground. Your master’s stall is a stone’s throw from the heart of the London book trade around St Paul’s, from where you will acquire a critique of Catholicism published in the same year as you are made free from your apprenticeship. There have been running battles over the position of the altar table in your parish church of St Giles Cripplegate, and the vicar and vestry (one of whom had daubed a crucifix on the church wall) are at daggers drawn with other more godly members of the congregation. You’ve just come back to London after a year spent studying theology at Cambridge, and want to play your part in fighting the religious changes being introduced by Archbishop Laud. You decide you want to to write and sell puritan books. Where do you start?

This is the situation that the ironmonger Henry Walker found himself in at the end of 1640. The transition from ironmonger to clergyman and pamphleteer may seem unusual to us: contemporaries certainly commented on it, particularly Walker’s critics, for whom it was evidence of a base, uncultured intellect. But if we look at the geography of Walker’s career at this stage of his life, it becomes clear that his shift from ironmonger to bookseller and writer actually may not have been that difficult.

In the late 1630s, Walker was working as an ironmonger in the parish of St Giles Cripplegate. He lived there with his wife Mary, and from September 1639, his first daughter Anne. He seems to have lived in Butler’s Alley, in between Grub Street and Moor Street: at least, that is where a pamphlet sold by him in 1641 gave his address, and in the absence of any other evidence we can assume that is probably where he was trading from in the late 1630s too.

Even at this stage, Grub Street was starting to become synonymous with a certain part of the London book trade. By the time the Walker family moved to Cripplegate, the parish had already been a focal point of London’s book trade for over seventy years. Robert Crowley, for example, the parish’s vicar first from 1565 to 1568, then from 1578 to 1588, had earlier in his career been an underground printer who published some of the earliest Protestant propaganda. By the late 1630s, Grub Street and the surrounding courts and alleys were becoming home to printers who would play a comparable role in producing puritan and Parliamentarian propaganda during the civil wars and beyond.

I’ve plotted on the map below some of the printers with whom Walker cooperated during 1641 and beyond. The map is from John Strype’s Survey of London (1720) so is not contemporary: however, the fire of 1666 did not reach Cripplegate, so it is fairly safe to assume that the core of the street plan would have been the same 80 years beforehand.




It quickly becomes clear that Walker would not have had to go very far to find help with his ambition to print and sell books.

The Walkers’ house and premises was in at the Moor Lane end of Butler’s Alley, a narrow passage that met Grub Street at its other end. I’ve marked this with a red star.   A short walk down Butler’s Alley, taking a left turn at the end onto Grub Street past the sign of the Flying Horse, was Honeysuckle Court: site of the printing house of Bernard Alsop and Thomas Fawcett, close by the parish’s lower pump. I’ve marked this with a blue star.

Alsop was a veteran of the book trade, having begun printing in around 1616 with his former master, Thomas Creed. Fawcett in turn had become Alsop’s junior partner in around 1625. A state investigation into the book trade in 1634 concluded that Alsop was ‘unruly’, whereas his partner Fawcett was a ‘poor man’, but ‘the abler man and better workman and better governor’. Alsop and Fawcett printed the first (surviving) book that Walker wrote, and I have concluded from bibliographical analysis of other texts that he wrote and sold in 1641 that they played a role in printing a number of these, too.

A few minutes’ walk to the west, close to the church of St Giles, was Andrew and Jane Coe’s printing house. I have marked this with a green star. Andrew took up his freedom in 1638 and texts with his imprint begin to appear from 1642 onwards. It was to the Coes’ press that Walker took his first newsbook Perfect Occurrences to be printed.

A little further west, at the sign of the sugar loaf in Goldsmith’s Alley off Red Cross Street, was the press of Thomas Paine and Matthew Simmons. I’ve marked this with a yellow star. Like Alsop and Fawcett, this pair would find themselves in trouble with the authorities on a number of occasions in 1641 for illegal printing. Paine was the printer who produced Walker’s infamous petition of January 1642 titled To Your Tents, O Israel: Walker had allegedly borrowed a bible belonging to Thomas’s wife to consult when writing it. Faced with the prospect of serious charges – Walker himself only avoided execution after intervention from Charles I – Paine shopped Walker to the authorities, although by 1650 when the political climate was rather different, he received a gratuity of £20 from the Council of State to recognise the difficulties he had experienced during the trial.

We can assume that Walker’s connections with these printers had a commercial context. It is likely that Walker paid to have most of his pamphlets printed by them. There may also have been a religious or political side to them: Payne’s colloboration on To Your Tents, for example, may have been done in return for cash, but given the risks and the uproar throughout London over the attempted arrest of the five members that prompted Walker’s petition, it seems more likely that it was a plot hatched together. But mapping the geography of these connections makes clear that there was another side to them: these printers were also Walker’s neighbours. Walker would have passed them in the street and seen them in local alehouses. He worshipped alongside them every Sunday in Cripplegate church. He probably saw Thomas Fawcett’s daughter Sara buried in September 1636 after succumbing to the plague, followed by Bernard Alsop’s son Abraham a month later. They were probably acquaintances, perhaps even friends.

So Walker’s move into writing and selling books no longer looks quite such a leap. He was living in a parish full of printers and booksellers, and it would not have taken much to turn over at least part of his shop to book-selling. Ironmongers had relatively basic shops, needing little in the way of specialist equipment other than a table, steelyard balance and scales. There is evidence that a number or ironmongers in this period diversified into selling other items, including books. Whenever it was that Walker decided to begin selling books – whether in the late 1630s or only in 1641 after coming down from Cambridge – he did not have to look far for stock. And when, at the end of 1640, he had finished the manuscript of his first book, he only had to walk five minutes to discuss prices with Alsop and Fawcett.

Thence into the Hall

Work took me over to the Commons for most of Thursday, and wandering back through Westminster Hall after the House had adjourned, I realised that the souvenir shop that used to be tucked away in the corner is no more.

Westminster Hall still stops me dead in my tracks every time I go through it, and it’s nice to see it entirely uncluttered, but part of me thinks it’s a bit of a shame the shop has moved. Nowadays we are most likely to think of the Hall as a ceremonial space: a place where state trials used to be conducted, where the bodies of dead monarchs and statesmen lie in state, and where world leaders – like President Obama in the image at the top of this post – address the political nation. In fact most of the year it is little more than a thoroughfare for tourists and officials leaving central lobby for the New Palace Yard exit.

But Westminster Hall used to be a working space, too. The Courts of Common Pleas, Chancery and King’s Bench sat here, and on an average day the Hall would have been alive with the hubbub of legal decisions and gossip. Something of this is captured in this early seventeenth century drawing of what I think is the south end of the Hall:

I wonder whether the two men to the right of the picture may be newsletter writers taking notes. But it seems possible they might also be a tradesman and a customer. Nowadays one only has to wander around the streets near Temple to realise that where there are lawyers, there are legal bookshops and legal outfitters. The same was true of Westminster Hall, and by the seventeenth century it had numerous shops and stalls selling wigs, pens and legal texts. This engraving by C. Mosley after a drawing by Hubert Gravelot is from 1738, but shows something of what the Hall must have looked like a hundred years earlier:

Samuel Pepys was a regular visitor to Westminster Hall and made frequent use of the shops there. Two stallholders in particular, Miles and Ann Mitchell, became good friends of Pepys’s, and provided him with a regular supply of newspapers and pamphlets. They also sold lozenges, presumably an essential purchase for MPs or lawyers giving long speeches. For Pepys the Hall was also a source of a different kind of transaction: two of his mistresses, Betty Martin and Doll Powell, were linendrapers with stalls there.

A footnote from Henry Wheatley’s edition of Pepys’s Diaries refers scathingly to the stalls in Westminster Hall:

These stationers and booksellers, whose shops disfigured Westminster Hall down to a late period, were a privileged class.

But actually it is the periods when Westminster Hall has been ‘disfigured’ that are the norm. It is only relatively recently in its history that Westminster Hall has been bare of shops. Moves from MPs and peers to override the advice of English Heritage and move the souvenir stall back there are not quite as earth-shattering as they might seem, when looked at in the context of how the building has been used over the centuries. And if nothing else it would remind me to pick up House of Commons biscuits for my colleagues on the way out of the building.

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.