Mercurius Politicus

A blog (mostly) about early modern history

Category: london

Going over to Milton’s house

I am moving office this weekend and was pleased to discover that my new building is more or less on the site of the ‘pretty Garden-house in Petty-France’ which John Milton moved to in 1651. Here is a view of it from St James’s Park, which it adjoined:

John Milton's house

It was here that Milton’s second wife, Mary Powell, died in 1652; and here that his third wife, Katherine Woodcock, lived. It was here that Milton would have set out from to wander across the park to Whitehall for his duties as Secretary for Foreign Tongues to the Council of State. It was here that Milton finally lost his sight. And it was here that he began to dictate Paradise Lost.

In the early nineteenth century it was owned by Jeremy Bentham, who placed a small tablet on one of the walls with the inscription ‘Sacred to Milton, Prince of Poets’. Bentham later leased the house to William Hazlitt. Here is a description of the house during Hazlitt’s occupation in 1818 by a visitor:

On knocking at the door, it was, after a long interval, opened by a sufficiently “neat-handed” domestic. The outer door led immediately from the street (down a step) into an empty apartment, indicating an uninhibited house, and I supposed I had mistaken the number; but, on asking for the object of my search, I was shown to a door which opened (a step from the ground) on to a ladder-like staircase, bare like the rest, which led to a dark bare landing-place, and thence to a large square wainscotted apartment. The great curtainless windows of this room looked upon some dingy trees; the whole of the wall, over and about the chimney-piece, was entirely covered, up to the ceiling, by names written in pencil, of all sizes and characters, and in all directions – commemorative of visits of curiosity to “the house of Pindarus”. There was, near to the empty fire-place, a table with breakfast things upon it (though it was two o’clock in the afternoon); three chairs and a sofa were standing about the room, and one unbound book lay on the mantelpiece. At the table sat Hazlitt, and on the sofa a lady, whom I found to be his wife.

In 1873 the site was demolished and a massive block of flats, Queen Anne’s Mansions, were erected. These caused quite a stir at the time due to their size and appearance:

Queen Anne's mansions

This view is, I think, looking west from where Tothill Street is today. Famous residents of the mansions included Edward Elgar, the explorer Sir Harry Johnston and the essayist Eliza Lynn Lynton. After the war it was leased by the Ministry of Works.

In 1973 the building was demolished and replaced with 50 Queen Anne’s Gate, a Brutalist design by Sir Basil Spence that has now been refurbished and renamed to 102 Petty France.

Edward Finch and graphic satire

I am in the midst of an essay crisis at the moment, trying to get my final paper finished before I embark on finishing the research for my dissertation and the task of writing it up. It is an odd feeling: stressing about getting the essay finished on time, while at the same time knowing that once I hand it in the end of my Masters is nearly here.

In the meantime here is a snippet from a previous paper I did for my MA on graphic satire during the civil wars. It’s about Edward Finch, a Laudian clergyman from the mid-seventeenth century. From 1630 he was vicar of Christ Church in Newgate in London.

In 1641 some of Finch’s parishioners rebelled and petitioned Parliament for his removal. They complained about his “superstitious affection to the Surplice and other Popish practices”, and accused him of extorting money from his flock. They also charged him with hanging around with “divers women suspected of incontinency”. Like many such petitions of the time, it ended up being printed as a quarto pamphlet: The petition and articles or severall charge exhibited in Parliament against Edward Finch vicar of Christs Church in London, and brother to Sir Iohn Finch, late Lord Keeper (London, 1641). What was different about this particular pamphlet was that it had an illustration of one of the accusations: a trip to a particularly notorious tavern.


The wooduct shows a stumbling Finch in canonical dress, addressing a coachman who, it is revealed in the text, had taken him to the Chequers Inn to get drunk. The coachman is shouting “away for Hamersmith”.

The illustration seems to have particularly stung Finch, so much so that he wrote a pamphlet in response. In it he attacked the “Frontispeece of his abominably absurde Pamphlet”. However, the detail of the woodcut was such that he was unable to deny the accusation completely. Instead, he only managed to tinker with the details: protesting that one of his companions on his trip to the inn had been his sister, and that they had been to the Goat Inn rather than the Chequers.

What was it about the cartoon that particularly irritated Finch? In her seminal book on the impact of the printing press, Elizabeth Eisenstein focused particularly on what she called the “fixity” that printed words could bring to ideas and concept. If anything, woodcuts would have been even more “fixed” than type. Unlike spoken or written descriptions of an event, images provide a statement of meaning that can be exactly repeated for as long as the printing surface works effectively. Viewers can still interpret them, but arguably with less room for manoeuvre. This element of ‘fixity’ seems to have been important in determining contemporary responses to graphic satire. For Finch, it meant that he was less able to refute the accusations levelled at him. Early modernists are now very attuned to the history of readers and reading as part of the wider history of printed, but there is probably still much more to learn about the viewers and viewing of printed images.

1. The petition and articles or severall charge exhibited in Parliament against Edward Finch vicar of Christs Church in London, and brother to Sir Iohn Finch, late Lord Keeper (London, 1641), B.L., T.T., E.166[12].

2. Edward Finch, An answer to the articles preferd against Edward Finch, vicar of Christ church by some of the parishioners of the same (London, 1641), Wing / 256:E.175[11].

3. Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-modern Europe (Cambridge, 1980).

Van Dyck’s portrait of Archbishop Laud: the hijack of an image

The Van Dyck exhibition has now started at Tate Britain. I haven’t had a chance to go yet, but in the meantime I thought it might be interesting to post about how a particular portrait by Van Dyck was put to very different uses by different political and religious factions.

NPG 171, William Laud

In 1636, the Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud sat for this portrait by Van Dyck. Laud stands in his convocational robes, gazing powerfully out at the viewer. This was Laud as the architect of a restored and revivified Church of England, projecting authority without the need for props like Bibles in the background.

The impact of the image wasn’t limited to Lambeth Palace. By 1640, Wenceslaus Hollar had produced this reversed etching of the Van Dyck portrait:


AN344014001, © The Trustees of the British Museum

Although such etchings would have been expensive at about 6d. each, the etching survives in a number of versions, which suggests it sold well. Nor is the only version of the portrait that was available:


AN406358001, © The Trustees of the British Museum

There was clearly an audience for popular reproductions of Laud’s portrait. In the 1640s, however, a different type of popular audience emerged in the wake of the controversy over the Laudian canons. Van Dyck’s portrait was very quickly put to a rather different use. For example, here is an engraving from 1641 of Laud with his nemesis Henry Burton:


AN48816001, © The Trustees of the British Museum

Laud is shown vomiting books as Burton holds him still, gripping his head in a manner which is meant to remind the viewer of execution. The captions confirm this. Burton proclaims that Laud will be ill “till Head from body part”, and the punning verse above their heads reads as follows:

Great was surnamed GREGORIE of Rome

Our LITTLE by GREGORIE comes short Home.

The pun here is that Gregory was not just the name of Pope Gregory the Great – a critique of Laud’s perceived return to Rome – but was also the name of London’s executioner, Gregory Brandon.

Woodcuts, the cheapest form of printed image, also had a field day with satirical images of Laud. Here is a woodcut that was commonly used to illustrate anti-Laudian pamphlets, in this case taken from Mercuries Message of 1641:


AN406357001, © The Trustees of the British Museum

In this case the satirical content was provided by the text that accompanied the woodcut. But depictions of Laud could be extremely sophisticated satires in their own right. Here is an image of Laud with fellow prelates, which draws on Van Dyck’s image (Laud is on the far left) but also plays with the associations of the word ‘canon’:


AN501635001, © The Trustees of the British Museum

These kinds of images would have been in wide circulation in bookshops, taverns and private homes in London in the early 1640s. They may have played an important role in shaping a popular political consciousness amongst Londoners, for instance amongst the hundreds who gathered to protest outside Lambeth Palace in May 1640. Laud himself was in no doubt of their impact, seeing a key cause of the reaction against him as:

base pictures of me; putting me into a Cage, and fastning me to a Post by a Chain at my Shoulder, and the like.

For more on anti-Laudian satire:

The execution of Charles I – a mini blog carnival


360 years ago today, Charles I stepped out of the Banqueting House onto a wooden scaffold to be faced with a crowd of Londoners, and a waiting executioner.

11 years previously, Charles had commissioned the Banqueting House’s architect, Inigo Jones, to incorporate it into a much grander palace. This elegant replacement for the rabbit warren of medieval and Tudor buildings that made up the palace of Whitehall would have been a fitting end to Charles’s ambitious programme of political and religious reform. Once finished, it would set him amongst the most important absolute monarchies of Europe.

But it was never built. Instead, a decade later, the neo-classical facade of the Banqueting House would be the last building Charles would see. Reputedly putting on two shirts – in case the cold January air meant the crowd mistook his shivering for fear – he stepped outside and was executed in front of the people of his capital.

This post is a mini blog carnival – inspired by Ted Vallance’s post on the 350th anniversary of Oliver Cromwell’s death – to mark the 360th anniversary of the regicide. What follows is a selection of links, images and texts about events before, during and after Charles’s execution from bloggers, historians and other commentators.

Charles’s trial

380px-court-charles-i-smThe High Court for Charles’s trial was established by a bill passed by the remains of the Long Parliament, after its purge in December 1648 by Colonel Pride. The bill nominated 3 judges and 150 commissioners who were empowered to try the King. John Bradshaw was president of the trial, with John Cooke as prosecutor. Charles refused to enter a plea, declaring:

I would know by what power I am called hither, by what lawful authority…?

Extracts from Charles I’s speeches at the trial are available via the website [PDF].

The names of the 59 commissioners who were willing to sign the death warrant can be seen at this image on the National Archives site.

The execution


Charles spent the morning of 30 January in prayer while Parliament hurriedly passed an ordinance making it treason to declare a successor. He was then led out to the scaffold outside the Banqueting House at about 2pm.

In his final speech he called himself  “the martyr of the people” and reminded the audience that “a subject and a sovereign are clear different things”. He declared that:

I shall go from a corruptible to an incorruptible Crown, where no disturbance can be.

After forgiving his executioner, he placed his head on the block, and gave the signal to the executioner.

One of the many mysteries surrounding the execution is who carried out: the man who wielded the axe wore a mask. Here are some of the candidates:

  • Richard Brandon, the common Hangman of London: he reportedly refused, but is said by some to have confessed to the execution on his deathbed.
  • William Hewlett, who was convicted for his part in signing the death warrant after Charles II’s restoration.
  • Two people called “Dayborne and Bickerstaffe”, who were arrested but never charged.
  • Henry Walker, a former ironmonger turned writer and journalist, who covered the trial in his newsbooks.

The aftermath

eikonCharles’s trial and execution quickly became a major issue for writers and readers in England’s developing public sphere. Shorthand writers transcribed what happened, and many tracts and newsbooks covered the trial and the execution: the Folger Shakespeare Library has got some good examples as part of its online exhibition on Breaking News. These provided an astonishingly detailed, blow by blow coverage of the trial that was a far cry from the elevated, withdrawn image that Charles had cultivated in the 1630s: for example, this extraordinary account of the sentencing (presented as a script) from The Moderate‘s issue for 30 Jan – 6 Feb:

Here the Clerk read the Charge.

Which Charge being read unto him, as aforesaid, he the said Charls Stuart, was required to give his Answer, but he refused so to do: and so exprest the several passages at his Tryal in refusing to answer.

For all which Treasons and Crimes, this Court doth adjudge that the said Charles Stuart, as a Tyrant, Traitor, Murtherer, and a public enemy, shall be put to death by the severing of his Head from his Body.

After the sentence was read, the Lord President said, “This sentence now read and published, it is the Act, Sentence, Judgment, and resolution of the whole Court”. Here the Court stood up, as assenting to what the President said.

KING: “Will you hear me a word, Sir?”

PRESIDENT: “Sir, you are not to be heard after sentence.”

KING: “No, Sir?”

PRESIDENT: “No, Sir; by your favour, Sir. Guard, withdraw your prisoner.”

KING: “I may speak after the Sentence. By your favour, Sir, I may speak after the Sentence ever. By your favour (hold) the Sentence Sir… I say Sir I do… I am not suffered to speak, expect what justice other people will have.”

Ten days after the execution, the Eikon Basilike: The Pourtrature of His Sacred Majestie in His Solitudes and Sufferings was published. Written in the form of a diary, it would set the seal on Charles’s reputation as a sacred martyr. The book went through 35 editions in that year alone. Wikipedia has a good summary of the document, including an analysis of the symbolism of its engraved frontispiece. The full text is available online at Project Canterbury.

The legacy of the regicide

The image of Charles the martyr persisted for many years after the Restoration of Charles I. The Society of King Charles the Martyr still exists today. More on Charles as martyr can be found in Andrew Lacey’s article on ‘Charles the First, and Christ the Second’ [Google Books]. This image of Charles persisted well into the nineteenth century and beyond: see a recent post of mine for some examples.

Meanwhile a gruesome fate awaited many of those who had signed Charles’s death warrant. The Fifth Monarchist Thomas Harrison was the first of the regicides to be killed: he was hanged, drawn and quartered on 13 October 1660. Samuel Pepys famously described the scene:

To my Lord’s in the morning, where I met with Captain Cuttance, but my Lord not being up I went out to Charing Cross, to see Major- general Harrison hanged, drawn, and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition. He was presently cut down, and his head and heart shown to the people, at which there was great shouts of joy. It is said, that he said that he was sure to come shortly at the right hand of Christ to judge them that now had judged him; and that his wife do expect his coming again.

Executed Today reminds us that on this day in 1661, Oliver Cromwell’s body was disinterred, hung in chains at Tyburn, then posthumously beheaded.

Why was Charles executed?

To quote Sellar and Yeatman, from 1066 and All That, the civil war was an:

utterly memorable Struggle between the Cavaliers (Wrong but Wromantic) and the Roundheads (Right but Repulsive)

Charles I was a Cavalier king and therefore had a small pointed beard, long flowing curls, a large, flat, flowing hat and gay attire. The roundheads, on the other hand, were clean-shaven and wore tall, conical hats, white ties and sombre garments. Under these circumstances a Civil War was inevitable.

This subject divides historians even today. Ann Hughes gives a good introduction on the BBC site about the execution. Executed Today also has a good range of material on this. For a range of different views, try the following texts on Google Books:

Mark Kishlansky and John Morrill discuss the endgame of the civil wars, and the events that led up to Charles’s execution, as part of their Dictionary of National Biography entry for him. It’s available free for the next week as part of the DNB’s Lives of the Week.

And finally…

The most interesting fact about Charles I is that he was five foot six inches tall at the start of his reign, but only four foot eight inches tall at the end of it. More on Monty Python’s take on Charles and Cromwell can be found at YouTube:

Not surprisingly, some of the more weird and wonderful reactions to Charles’s execution today can also be found on YouTube:

Images of regicide

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

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


AN257700001, © The Trustees of the British Museum

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

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


AN151032001, © The Trustees of the British Museum

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


AN260225001, © The Trustees of the British Museum

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


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


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

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


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


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

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