Mercurius Politicus

A blog (mostly) about early modern history

Tag: 1642

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.

The pen is mightier than the stick

As Prince Charles reflects on the recent attempt by protestors to force their way into his car, he may not realise that his namesake and ancestor had a similar encounter.

At about ten o’clock on the morning of 5 January 1642, Charles I set out from his palace at Whitehall to the Guildhall, the seat of the Lord Mayor and Corporation of London. The day before, he had made his famous, abortive attempt to arrest the Five Members: arriving at the Commons only to find, in his own words, that ‘all the birds are flown’. Believing that they were in hiding somewhere in the City, Charles’s intention was to demand that the Common Council of the Corporation assisted him in tracking down the rogue MPs.

As Charles’s carriage trundled along the Strand, up Fleet Street and towards the Guildhall, sat next to him were four members of the nobility: the Duke of Hamilton, the Earl of Essex, and the Earl of Holland. One account states that a rumour spread that Charles was taking them to the Tower. At any rate, the carriage soon attracted attention, and a crowd was waiting for Charles when he arrived at the Guildhall.

Once there, he addressed members of the Council and demanded their assistance in tracking down the Five Members. John Rushworth gives this account of his speech:

Gentlemen, I am come to demand such persons as I have already accused of High Treason and do believe are shrouded in the City. I hope no good man will keep them from me; their offences are Treason and Misdemeanour of a high nature. I desire your loving assistance herein that they may be brought to a legal trial. And whereas there are divers suspicions raised that I am a favourer of the Popish Religion, I do profess in the name of a king that I did and ever will and that to the utmost of my power, be a prosecutor of all such as shall any ways oppose the laws and statutes of this kingdom, either papists or separatists; and not only so, but I will maintain defend that true Protestant Religion which my Father did profess and I will continue in it during life.

Despite leavening his words in this way, Charles got a mixed reception. Robert Slingsby, who was in the train of carriages following the king to the Guildhall, wrote this account to Sir John Pennington:

After a little pause a cry was set up amongst the Common Council, ‘Parliament! Privileges of Parliament!’, and presently another, ‘God bless the King!’; these two continued both at once a good while. I know not which was louder.

Leaving the Guildhall, Charles then dined at the house of one of the Sheriffs of London, Sir George Garrett, before emerging at about three o’clock and climbing into his carriage. As he got in, the crowd surged around the carriage, taking up the Council’s cry of ‘Privilege of Parliament’.

Amongst the crowd was Henry Walker, an ironmonger turned bookseller and pamphleteer, who over the previous twelve months had published a steady stream of anti-episcopal pamphlets. Seeing his chance, Walker pushed his way through the crowds towards the coach. He got close enough to throw a copy of a self-authored pamphlet entitled To Your Tents, O Israel into the coach. One account also states that he shouted this slogan out loud.

No copies of To Your Tents survive: few may have been printed, and those that were may have been confiscated and destroyed afterwards. But even from the title we can deduce the pamphlet’s message, which would have been obvious to any contemporary. It was a reference to 1 Kings 12:16, which tells the story of how King Rehoboam introduced heavy taxes and arbitrary punishment to Israel. The ten northern tribes of Israel rebelled and formed their own nation:

So when all Israel saw that the king hearkened not unto them, the people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David. So Israel departed unto their tents.

Although at his trial he tried to disown authorship of this pamphlet, saying he had bought it for 2s. 6d. from a scholar in Westminster Hall, it seems pretty clear that Walker did write it. This was not his first scandalous pamphlet. In March 1641, he was hauled before the House of Lords for publishing scurrilous verses about Lord Keeper Finch and Bishop Wren. He was imprisoned in the Fleet and only released after pleading poverty and apologising for his actions. In April, Walker and a number of booksellers and printers were summoned once again to the Lords for publishing a fake petition claiming to be from the people of Cheshire. One of them, Thomas Bates, seems to have fallen out with Walker while in custody. According to a later account by Walker, Bates borrowed his bible and pawned it to buy alcohol. Whether or not this is true, they were certainly not friends by December 1641. On the 20th of that month, Bates testified to the House of Commons that Walker was the author of another scandalous pamphlet, A terrible outcry against the loytering prelates. The Commons ordered that Walker be arrested and brought before them.

When Walker hurled his pamphlet into Charles’s carriage, then, he was a wanted man who had previous form. This may be what inspired him to be so reckless. Perhaps he was also motivated by frustrations with his inability to engage with the political process: mass petitions to Parliament from across England had not produced the political and religious settlement that the godly wanted, and the attempt on the Five Members seemed to confirm that Charles could yet revert to behaving like Rehoboam. The chance to directly petition a king who had largely withdrawn from his people during the Personal Rule may have seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.

Walker’s accomplice was a printer called Thomas Payne. Eight years later, when the king was dead and the political climate had altered, Payne received a gratuity of £20 from Parliament for his role in the events. In the aftermath of Walker’s actions, however, both Payne and Walker were wanted men. As Walker’s pamphlet landed in the coach, it was picked up by the Earl of Essex, who on the next day sent for the Lord Chief Justice to track down anyone involved with it.

Both were arrested the same day. Walker stuck to his story about a mysterious encounter in Westminster Hall; but Payne seems to have known the game was up. He confessed that Walker wrote the pamphlet, and that he had used Payne’s wife’s bible as a reference. Both were sent to the King’s Bench prison in Southwark as a result. They were then scheduled to be transferred to Newgate prison and tried at the sessions. However, in an extraordinary mobilisation by sympathisers in the London crowd, they were rescued after crossing the river and landing at Blackfriars. A group descended on them, overpowered the guards and spirited them away.

From then on, Walker played a game of cat and mouse with the authorities. He was spotted at the house of a barber called Edward Fisher – who acted as a clearing-house for separatist manuscripts – but escaped. He was then discovered in a tavern called the Castle in St. Martins, but again escaped thanks to the intervention of some apprentices. Finally he was tracked down to an upholsterer’s house near the Tower of London. Running from his apprehenders, he tried to get into a boat and across the river. No watermen would take him; but the officers pursuing him did not want to risk clashing with the water bailiff’s jurisdiction. So Walker sat there until the officers fetched the Lieutenant of the Tower, after which he was chased across the river and eventually caught.

Walker then tried his best to make amends. In early May he petitioned the House of Lords, claiming that he had spent the most part of what little estate he had on funding the cost of imprisonment, and protesting that he had no ill intent to Charles I in presenting his pamphlet to him. He added that his wife, Mary, was ‘bigg wth child, and a young infant besides’.

The petition did not do him much good. On 5 July, it was ordered that he be transferred to Newgate and tried before the sessions at the Old Bailey. Luckily for Walker, though, Charles had intervened and ordered that he only be tried for a misdemeanour, and not for treason. If the latter charges had gone ahead, and Walker had been found guilty, he would have paid for his petition with his life. Instead, he got away with being sentenced to stand in the pillory in Cheapside. By March 1643 he was once again in trouble, summoned to the Lords to account for publishing a fake declaration of Parliament, and for writing a critical ‘remonstrance’ against the Commons.

I have cheated ever so slightly with the image: it does show a coach belonging to Charles I outside the Guildhall,  but is a depiction of Charles’s meeting with Marie de Medici in 1639. It is an etching by an unknown artist that was one of the illustrations in Jean Puget de la Serre’s Histoire de l’entrée de la Reyne Mère dans la Grande Brétaigne (1639). AN260314001, © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Because non else would

In the early 1640s, the bookseller George Thomason started collecting the growing numbers of pamphlets being published in London. Like any serious collector, he imposed order on his collection, annotating the front of pamphlets with the day he acquired them. But occasionally, you also find other marginalia, like on the title page of this printed sermon (the capital for which was presumably paid for by the author):

From Thomas Cheshire, A sermon preached at Saint Peters Westminster on Saint Peter’s Day (London, 1642).

The Noble Revolt

So, my first post. I haven’t actually started the Masters yet – that has to wait until October – but I thought I’d get into the habit of forcing myself to write, and to collect my thoughts. I’m going to start with a review of John Adamson’s recent book on the politics of the build-up to the English Civil War between 1640 and 1642, The Noble Revolt , which I have just finished re-reading.

I mention the fact that I have re-read it because this is not a small book, and it takes quite some time to absorb in full. The footnotes alone take up 191 pages, which should alert you to the fact that it gives an incredibly detailed coverage of the two years on which it focuses. The book is in many ways a prequel to Adamson’s PhD thesis on the role of the English peerage in politics between 1645 and 1649 (when the House of Lords was abolished). In his thesis, Adamson argued that the nobility’s role in civil war politics had previously been neglected, both by Whiggish historians concerned with seeing the conflict as the high road to nineteenth century democracy, and by Marxists presenting the period as one of class struggle. In particular, Adamson focused on the emergence of two groups amongst the peerage, each of which cooperated with their comrades in the Commons – a moderate, later Presbyterian group that was keen by the late 1640s to reinstall the king with only mild limits on his authority, and a more extreme group (the Independents). This split between Presbyterians and Independents had been established before Adamson’s thesis, notably by David Underdown in Pride’s Purge , but the centrality of the peerage had not been suitably brought out.

Adamson’s wider thesis was criticised in the early 1990s in a debate with Mark Kishlansky over whether Viscount Saye and Sele had had a hand in drafting the Heads of Proposals, rather than just Cromwell and Ireton as had been previously believed. The general consensus seems to be that Adamson’s evidence doesn’t prove this, but Adamson’s blistering response to Kishlansky’s original critique in the Historical Journal is still worth reading. The unfortunate thing about the debate was that it tended to damn the rest of Adamson’s much wider thesis; unfairly, in my view.

The Noble Revolt is a rehabilitation of that thesis, stretching Adamson’s arguments back into the early 1640s. He argues that Pym’s centrality in the move towards war has been overstated, and that instead we should look to a network of godly Puritan nobles, centred around Bedford and Warwick, excluded from power during the 1630s and anxious at the direction in religious and political policies were heading. Adamson is at pains to emphasise that it was a case of bicameral cooperation, rather than the Lords commanding the Commons; but he does make the point that it was the great houses of the English nobility who possessed the political and, importantly, military clout to take things to war. What follows is a case of gambles alternately paying off then failing and pushing factions further away from their opponents. In particular, Adamson draws out the role of the Scots, not as an invading army but as mercenaries invited to invade by the Warwick-Bedford faction. If the invasion failed or the plot was discovered, this was treason; and so the stakes in negotiations with the king could not have been higher. Adamson presents his evidence through painstaking analysis of letters, newssheets and other contemporary sources. His reconstruction of the Warwick-Bedford axis, and the factions within it, is highly convincing. Kishlansky has argued in the past that kinship connections do not necessarily make for political connections. However, the weight of familial, spiritual, political and financial connections – handily combined in involvement in the Providence Island Company for many within the group – are such that it is hard to refute Adamson’s reconstruction.

And there are some standout moments in that reconstruction. There is a shrewd look at the authorship of a pamphlet which leads him to conclude that it was authored by Oliver St John. There is the set of annotations on a document hand-written by Charles I and handed to Will Morray that Adamson discovered in a barn belonging to a distant descendant. The analysis of the factional politics over Strafford’s execution, as different parts of the group blew alternately hot and cold depending on relationships with the Scots, is outstanding – as is the atmospheric account of the trial itself (where one suspects Adamson sympathises with Strafford, lucid and calm again the bumbling and tongue-tied Pym).

However, there are some moments where Adamson over-reaches himself. His account of the previous historiography of the origins of the war focuses really only on Conrad Russell. There is no coverage of other historians from a wide range of theoretical or argumentative backgrounds. This extends through the book’s epilogue, where Adamson is keen to debunk Whigs and revisionists alike by finding a third way on explaining the origins of the war – but can coverage of only 1640-1642 cover enough of the origins of the war to adequately explain them? I don’t believe it can. What it can do is explain the move in Westminster and Edinburgh politics towards war; but it doesn’t explain the longer-term preconditions that allowed such a move to happen, nor does it cover the background to development of party and ideology in the aftermath of war breaking out. And Adamson’s argument that it was not a war of religion, but a war based on cold-blooded political concerns may be right, but doesn’t sit well with his other point that (rightly) religion cannot be separated from politics during this period. There is also the odd assertion where his evidence doesn’t quite do what he wants it to. Charles I’s complaint that he would be turned into a doge of Venice, and the existence of quotes from republican authors in Bedford’s commonplace book, doesn’t quite add up to a determined intellectual programme of "Venetianisation" of the English state. If anything I think that Adamson’s arguments of contingency and short-term political calculation apply here too, and that there was less of a coherent programme of political thought behind the Warwick-Bedford axis than he perhaps argues.

What takes the book beyond its arguments is the quality of the writing. Chapters start and end with some fantastic set-pieces – for example, Charles fleeing Whitehall in January 1642:

"From the cabin at the stern of the barge, Charles caught a glimpse of the gilded weather-vanes of Whitehall Palace before the boat turned westwards, past the Abbey, and under the great east window of St Stephen’s Chapel – the Commons’ chamber, and the scene of his most recent political debacle. It would be seven years before Charles saw his palace again".

We all know – but Adamson leaves unsaid – the reason why Charles would return. And this extract also gives a glimpse into Adamson’s excellent sense of London’s geography, both physical and political. The geographical networks of godly aristocrats, going from one great house to another or holed up in the chamber, are brought out superbly. London comes alive in the book as we realise how small and yet how divided it could be between the rival factions. There are superb passages on the indefensability of Whitehall, on the physical layout of Strafford’s trial, and on the scenes in Whitehall yards as crowds of apprentices jostled with each other.

The critical response to the book so far has been pretty good, although some reviews have been of higher quality than others. The Times was very positive without particularly engaging in the book’s arguments. Diane Purkiss’s review in the Financial Times probably owes more to Adamson’s own review of Purkiss’s recent book . The Spectator and the Telegraph were more considered. By far the best was Blair Worden’s lengthy meditation on the book in the London Review of Books – subscribers only, unfortunately, but it contained a fascinating insight into Worden’s work on Hugh Trevor-Roper’s papers and a book on the English Civil War that he never finished, but which covered similar ground to Adamson. It was also the only review so far to engage with the book’s arguments in a genuinely critical way.

As a final word, if you are interested in a summary by Adamson himself of his arguments, there is a recording of a reading he gave at the Hay festival available on the Guardian’s site . It costs a pound to buy but it is worth downloading.