Mercurius Politicus

A blog (mostly) about early modern history

Category: newsbooks

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.

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.

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.


In four years of burrowing through the Thomason Tracts I thought I’d got used to George Thomason’s handwriting. This particular annotation, however, has stumped me slightly: both in terms of what it says and how to decipher it. It’s from the newsbook Perfect Occurrences of Parliament, for 15-22 November 1644.

This is what I think it says:

The author of this is Walker the Ironmonger

Who hath Wm Laud’s license to preach. Witness

John Partridge & others this 22 June.

I think this is the right transcription. The William Laud part certainly makes sense: in 1640 Walker was ordained a deacon by Laud, or at least by one of Laud’s chaplains. But why has Thomason got John Partridge – a fellow bookseller (not the astrologer of the same name, who was only born in 1644) – and others to witness it? He had scrawled much the same on a publication of Walker’s in early 1641 without feeling the need to get another person to verify it. And why the reference to 22 June given the pamphlet was published on 22 November – or could it actually say 22 Nov?

Another marginalia mystery related to Perfect Occurrences that I am trying to solve is related to its author(s). The Edwardian historian J. G. Muddiman attributed it to the antinomian preacher John Saltmarsh, citing a marginal note by Thomason. He argued that Walker only took over in 1647, when his pseudonym Luke Harruney appeared on the colophon. But as with most of Muddiman’s assertions, he doesn’t provide a citation for this. As a result, I can’t find the marginal note.

Much more recently, Carolyn Nelson and Matthew Seccombe – seemingly drawing on Muddiman – attributed the title to Saltmarsh and Walker in their short-title catalogue of newsbooks. Joad Raymond has subsequently mentioned that Saltmarsh might have had a hand in the publication – although implying heavily that Walker was the lead – and referenced Thomason’s copy of a very early edition of Occurrences from 5 April 1644. Is this the marginalia Muddiman mentions? But having looked at this on EEBO there are no annotations on it (at least none that I can make out). And the text itself doesn’t mention anything about the author. I am not sure whether it is the quality of the scan making Thomason’s scrawls illegible, an incorrect footnote, or something else.

Given Thomason’s marginalia above, and other self-aggrandising references to Walker in the paper from 1644, it seems pretty clear to me that Walker was involved with it from early on in its life, not just from 1647. And Saltmarsh seems a strange candidate for editor. In 1644 he was preaching in Northampton then became vicar of Cranbook in Kent. Quite how this gave him time or the capacity to edit a London newsbook is unclear to me. There is also the fact that in 1644 and 1645, Saltmarsh’s occasional religious pamphlets were published by Giles Calvert, not by Andrew and Jane Coe, the early publishers of Occurrences.

Describing the news

How do you describe what “news” means? If you try define it – whether simply as new information, or as information about current affairs presented through various media – it renders it almost banal.  Equally, to analyse in detail the range of overlapping shapes and identities that news as a concept can take is also very difficult.

And yet like art, or pornography, we all know what news is when we see it. Living in a news-saturated culture, almost without thinking we use a range of linguistic and conceptual shortcuts to make sense of what we understand by news. Many of these draw inspiration from the communication circuit in which news exists. Titles are one such short-cut. We know instinctively what we will find in the Daily Mail – “asylum seekers cause cancer” – just as much as we know what to expect from the Sun – “Tracy, 18, says she’s supporting David Cameron because of his policies on tax breaks for glamour models”. We are so familiar with some titles that we give them nicknames: the Thunderer, the Grauniad, the Indie.

Authors are another shortcut. The names of columnists like Polly Toynbee or Richard Littlejohn will forever be associated with particular styles of writing and world-views. Mention “Dave Spart” to any Private Eye reader and they will instantly call to mind the kind of left-wing pundit the term satirises. Verbal and sartorial tics single out newsreaders and the editorial line they represent much more quickly than any kind of analytical language. John Snow’s ties are Channel 4 News in the same way that Martin Bell’s white suit symbolised something about his particular style of foreign news reporting. We know what is going to happen when Trevor McDonald utters the words “and finally”.

Paper size is yet another. We have tabloids, and we have broadsheets, and the two have very diffierent associations, which is perhaps why the Guardian caused such a fuss when it moved to the new Berliner-style format a while back. The chances are these two terms will remain in use long after newspapers – in the sense of news printed on paper – have died out. This is certainly true of another term linked to the production of papers. Fleet Street is still the collective term for the British press thirty years after Rupert Murdoch killed off any physical association between that area of London and journalism. Readers can also define particular types of news. “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” lives on fifty years after the term was first popularised, despite the likelihood that very few people remember its origins.The regulars of the BBC News “Have Your Say” section are, for me at any rate, swiftly becoming Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells 2.0.

Our understanding of what news means is thus deeply shaped by and rooted in the cultural forms and agents that bring it to our attention. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that people in mid-seventeenth century England – who lived in an equally news-saturated culture – used the same kind of techniques to make sense of news as it evolved in front of them. What follows is a scattered account of various primary sources I have come across that, in some way or another, use various stages in the news market’s communication circuit to try to analyse or define the concept of news in civil war England. Rather than try to analyse them at this stage, I have simply described them. (This may or may not turn into a more considered post at some point).

As quickly as newsbooks were born, their titles took on an identity of their own. The 1642 tract A Presse Full of Pamphlets traced the corruptive influence of print to the invention of the first ever newsbook:

But in hope of more gain to himself by undoing of others, put the first Copy of the Diurnall Occurrences that was printed to a Printer, and then came all other things true and false to the Presse.

From this point on, individual titles started to stand for particular styles of writing and different shades of politics. Here for example is the frontispiece to a satirical pamphlet poking fun at the early royalist newsbook Mercurius Aulicus:

AN352667001, © The Trustees of the British Museum

A reader has written “Sir John Birkinhead” [sic] underneath the woodcut, but it is worth noting that the original pamphlet didn’t need to name the newsbook’s editor: the title was enough. During the 1640s newsbooks were as much the subjects of pamphlet literature as politicians or generals. The image below, which shows the front pages of two warring pamphlets laid out alongside each other, is a good example:

For a time there was even a trend for editors to bring out titles diametrically opposed to their enemies, and signified as such by having the prefix “Anti” in their title. Probably the most meta and paradoxical of these is Mercurius Anti-Mercurius, which tries to do itself out of a job even in its very title:

In layout and style this is (deliberately) almost identical to real newsbooks, from the title and series numbering through to the poem on the front page; and yet it proclaims itself not to be a newsbook. Pamphlets like this are an indication of how quickly the innovations of the 1640s – bear in mind the newsbook was only invented in 1641 – became normalised and integrated into the political and cultural vocabulary of contemporaries.

Nevertheless, editors themselves also became a recognisable shorthand for certain types of journalism. Of all the newsbook editors, Henry Walker probably attracted the most mud-slinging. Royalist newsbooks developed a range of nicknames for him, including ‘Beelzebubbs  brindled  Ban-dogge’,  ‘Sirrah  saffron-chapps’,  ‘Athiestical  liar’,  ‘Parliaments News-Monger’,  and ‘Rusty  Nuncio’ (the second and last a reference to his red hair). Ever since, Walker has been associated with a kind of pedestrian journalism that relies on press releases and official titbits rather than ‘real’ investigative scoops. This is to impose Victorian and twentieth-century categories of journalism onto a period in which “journalism” (if we can even use that word) meant rather different things, and is also a bit unfair on Walker. But informed contemporaries would probably have known what royalist editors were getting at when they presented Walker as the symbol of  what they saw as an arrogant, godless Puritan regime.

The 1647 pamphlet A fresh whip for all scandalous lyers went so far as to assemble a mock-encyclopedia of newsbook editors. Its primary aim was probably satirical, so it is problematic to seek to match the personalities it describes too closely to real editors. As a source of biographical details it may well be inaccurate. Nevertheless, for contemporaries to have found it funny it must have at least had the ring of truth. Here are some extracts from its pastiches of Samuel Pecke and Henry Walker:

I must beginne with the Diurnall Writer first… I may not unfitly tearme him to be the chief Dirt-raker, or Scafinger of the City; for what ever any other books let fall, he will be sure, by his troting horse, and ambling Bookselers have it convey’d to his wharfe of rubbish.

The Perfect Occurrence Writer… his whole face is made of Brasse, his body of Iron, and his teeth are as long as ten-penny nayles… Witnesse how many times hath he taken and killed Prince Rupert, and Prince Maurice, and Sr. Ralph Hopton: he hath an excellent faculty to put a new title to an old book, and he will be sure to put more in the Title page than is in all the booke besides.

The means through which newsbooks were produced and distributed also seem to have become associated with particular definitions of news. The title of one early critique from 1642 name-checks everyone involved in this process:

This is not to suggest that titles, editors, printers and sellers were the only language through which contemporaries were able to analyse and discuss the news market of the 1640s. There are various sophisticated critiques of newsbooks and the news industry from many contemporaries. My favorite of these is probably still this jaundiced editorial from an early edition of the Briefe Relation, one of the first ‘official’ newsbooks issued by the Commonwealth after the execution of Charles I:

To have no Newes is good Newes, it is a symptome of a placid and quiet state of affaires. The subject of newes which is most enquired for, is for the most part of Wars, Commotions, and Troubles, or the Composing of them.

Even for the lay reader, though, there were other ways to approach the concept of news than its constituent actors. The woodcut below – from Matthew Hopkins’s 1647 pamphlet A Discovery of Witches – is famously used to illustrate many textbooks’ accounts of early modern witchcraft:

But almost unnoticed at the bottom left, it also personifies news as a bit-part character in the form of a weasel:

In his own words

There is an interesting article by John Morrill in the February issue of BBC History, announcing that he is part of a team of eight editors picked by Oxford University Press to compile a new, scholarly edition of Oliver Cromwell’s collected writings and speeches.

As Morrill says in the article, this is long overdue. The first collected edition of Cromwell’s words was Thomas Carlyle’s Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell, published in 1845 and updated by S. C. Lomas in 1904. If you skip Carlyle’s commentary, it is a reasonable reference edition, but the provenance of the texts – especially where variant versions exist – is not really covered. Then there is W. C. Abbott’s Writings and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell, published between 1937 and 1947. I have all three volumes of this and the only good thing about them is that one copy used to be owned by Brian Wormald and still has lot of notes he made tucked into the dustjacket. That, and that in an emergency it can double as an effective doorstop. Otherwise, it is a pig of an edition to use. Abbott’s accompanying history of the period takes up most of the space, it’s really difficult to find what you’re looking for, and like Carlyle/Stainer it doesn’t deal with variant versions.

Morrill’s argument in the article – which he has made before in the Historical Journal, and to a generation of undergraduates like me who took his Cromwell special subject in the late 1990s – is that being clear about variant versions matters. One of the examples he gives in the article is the famous one, pointed out by Austin Woolrych in his study of the Barebones Parliament, of Cromwell’s speech at the opening of that body. One version, recorded in 1654,  is as follows:

I confess I never looked to see such a day as this – it may not be nor you neither – when Jesus Christ should be so owned as He is, at this day, and in this work. Jesus Christ is owned this day by your call, and you own Him by your willingness to appear for Him; and you manifest this, as far as poor creatures can, to the day of the power of Christ.

Another, recorded a century later, runs like this:

I confess I never looked to see such a day as this – it may not be nor you neither – when Jesus Christ should be so owned as He is, at this day, and in this work. Jesus Christ is owned this day by you all, and you own Him by your willingness to appear here; and you manifest this, as far as poor creatures can, to a day of the power of Christ.

The differences are small but important. In the first version, Cromwell is far more radical. Members of the Parliament have called forth the spirit of Christ through their presence, and the day itself is “the day of the power of Christ”, an apocalyptic climax to the struggles of the past eleven years. In the second version, Cromwell calls it “a day of the power of Christ”, which softens its millenarianism. Representatives have been summoned by Christ, not the other way around.

Establishing the provenance of these variant versions more precisely, and weighing up their likely accuracy, could make a fundamental difference to how historians interpret this and many other of Cromwell’s actions. If Morrill and his co-editors can pull this off, it will be a fantastic achievement. They ought to produce a definitive edition of Cromwell’s recorded words. As Morrill puts it:

Cromwell will come alive in much the same way as a Great Master painting takes on a new and different life when it is cleaned and restored.

I agree with the sentiment of this statement, but part of me wonders about the extent to which his work will “restore” Cromwell’s original words. A new version of Cromwell will be born, it’s true: but whether it will be the original Cromwell resurrected is a different matter. Like any historian of Cromwell, the editors will still have to wrestle with numerous ambiguities in what survives of his words. One example that springs to mind is Bulstrode Whitelocke’s famous description – or more accurately, descriptions – of a night-time encounter with Cromwell in Hyde Park in November 1652. Here is the version in a manuscript ‘diary’ written up by Whitelocke years after the event:

But suddeinly and unexpectedly Crom brake forth in this expression, What if a man should take uppon him to be King? Wh answerd that it would be more to his prejudice than advantage to doe so.

And here is the version in Whitelocke’s Annals:

Cromwell.—” What if a man should take upon him to be King?”

Whitelock.—” I think that remedy would be worse than the disease.”

Cromwell.—” Why do you think so?”

Whitelock.—” As to your own person, the title of King would be of no advantage, because you have the full kingly power in you already, concerning the militia, as you are General. So that I apprehend less envy, and danger, and pomp, but not less power and opportunities of doing good, in your being General, than would be if you had assumed the title of King.”

Here we have two versions of an encounter written retrospectively – both in the third person, but one in direct speech and one in reported speech. Which is more accurate? Has Whitelocke remembered events correctly, and dated them properly? Has he embellished, or even made things up? Given what we know of Cromwell’s frustrations with the Rump Parliament at this time, it is not implausible that this conversation took place. (One might add that given what we know about Whitelocke, it’s not implausible that it’s exaggerated, either). But it would be more plausible if it had taken place in 1657, when the offer of kingship was for a time seriously on the table. From what we know of both Cromwell and Whitelocke, we can contextualise this source to some extent. But ultimately, we can never know whether it reflects Cromwell’s actual words.

A similar problem might be raised with those of Cromwell’s words intended for publication. Cromwell wrote detailed accounts to William Lenthall, Speaker of the Commons, of battles in which he had commanded Parliamentary forces. Many of these were ordered to be published by Parliament, and formed part of an increasingly sophisticated propaganda war as the 1640s went on. We rely on these letters for much of our insight into Cromwell’s military and political career during the 1640s. One example amongst many is Cromwell’s famous – or infamous – account of the sack of Drogheda in September 1649. This is a critical source for trying to understand what happened during the siege, and for unpicking Cromwell’s attitude towards the Irish. It includes this grim account of the assault:

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 2,000 men, diverse 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. Peter’s church-steeple, some the west gate and others a strong round tower next the gate called St. Sunday’s. These being summoned to yield to mercy, refused, whereupon I ordered the steeple of St. Peter’s 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.”

It also has this oft-quoted phrase:

I am persuaded that this is a righteous judgment of God upon these barbarous wretches, who have imbrued their hands in so much innocent blood; and that it will tend to prevent the effusion of blood for the future, which are the satisfactory grounds to such actions, which otherwise cannot but work remorse and regret.

This letter survives in a number of printed sources: in the “official” pamphlet ordered to be published by Parliament, and reprinted in various newsbooks. But do we know that its contents are actually Cromwell’s words? As far as I know, Cromwell’s original letter does not survive. We don’t know whether the Council of State, or the clerk to Parliament, or the printers, may have made alterations or amendments. And even this aside, we also know very little about how Cromwell composed these letters. John Rushworth is known to have ghost-written equivalent letters sent back to Parliament by Thomas Fairfax. Did Cromwell write these letters on his own, or with the help of others under his command? Were they “tidied up” before publication?

My own answer is that I don’t really know. If anyone does, it’s John Morrill, which is why the work he and his co-editors are taking forward is so important. The Cromwell that emerges from their work will no doubt be much more sophisticated portrait than anything produced so far. But to extend Morrill’s metaphor, bits of it will be still be smudged or frayed at the edges. They will probably always remain that way. That is part of the challenge for anyone studying Cromwell, but it’s also what makes him such a fascinating and controversial figure.

As a footnote, a podcast by Professor Morrill about the work on a new edition of Cromwell’s words will go up on the BBC History site on 12 February.

Mercurius Britanicus

If you are interested in early modern book history or the civil war period, then you will probably be interested to know that Joyce Macadam’s 2005 thesis on Mercurius Britanicus, one of the earliest and most successful newsbooks backed by Parliament, is now online via the British Library’s rather excellent EThOS service. Joyce was very kind to me when I was writing my dissertation and sent me a copy of it, and it is a fascinating read.

Since 2005, part of the thesis has also been published as an article in Historical Research: ‘Soldiers, statesmen and scribblers: London newsbook reporting of the Marston Moor campaign, 1644’.