Mercurius Politicus

A blog (mostly) about early modern history

Tag: english civil wars



Today is the anniversary of the birth of Edward Hyde, first Earl of Clarendon: adviser to Charles I and Lord Chancellor under Charles II, and author of the History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England.

I first read bits of of Clarendon’s history of the civil wars while an undergraduate, returned to it again in extracts as a postgraduate, but became gripped by it when I killed some of my commute by reading it all the way through a few years ago, having downloaded a free version from Google Books. It remains one of the great narratives of England’s troubles during the mid-seventeenth century, and not just because of Clarendon’s ability as a writer to capture in a single phrase the essence of the period’s key figures: describing John Hampden, for example, as having ‘a head to contrive, a tongue to persuade, and a hand to execute any mischief’, or Oliver Cromwell as a ‘brave bad man’. It’s also because he managed that rare thing of being both protaganist and commentator, combining first-hand knowledge of the political intricacies of the period with a much wider understanding, inspired by his readings in Roman history, of the compromises inherent in any political regime. Of course his views are partial, and he makes that clear from his first sentence: expressing his intention that ‘posterity may not be deceived, by the prosperous wickedness of these times’. But it has taken modern historians a long time to rediscover some of Clarendon’s insights: for example, that ‘paper-skirmishes’ went hand in hand with actual combat, as in this passage:

There was one circumstance not to be forgotten in the march of the Citizens that day, when the shew by Water was little inferior to the other by Land, that the Pikemen had fasten’d to the tops of their pikes, and the rest in their hats or their bosoms, printed Papers of the Protestation which had been taken and enjoyned by the House of Commons the year before for the defence of the Privilege of Parliament; and many of them had the printed Votes of the King’s breaking their Privileges in his coming to the House, and demanding their Member.

As a pamphleteer for the royalist cause, of course, Clarendon was closer than most the world of ‘paper bullets’ that he foregrounds in his account of the outbreak of the wars. Perhaps it’s this that means the History is still remarkably fresh for a modern reader, much closer in spirit to contemporary political diaries like those of Tony Benn or Alan Clark than to a drier work of political commentary.

All of which means I thought I should break my rather long period of silence here to mark Clarendon’s anniversary. There are various free editions of the History on Google Books and the Internet Archive, as well as a modern selection of extracts edited by Paul Seaward. The best book about Clarendon’s own role in the English civil wars remains, 62 years on, Brian Wormald’s Clarendon: Politics, History and Religion. Wormald was a retired fellow at my college when I was an undergraduate: in retrospect I would rather my only encounter with him had been to talk to him about the book, rather than him catching me climbing over a wall taking a shortcut to the pub.

The engraving of Clarendon is a print by David Loggan after Sir Peter Lely, from around the 1660s or 1670s: AN394659001, © the Trustees of the British Museum.

It was necessary to deface the book to save it

It is a truism that every generation refights the English Civil Wars. However, politicians and intellectuals are not the only combatants who take part in these battles. Private individuals must also have taken positions on the conflict, and argued about it in conversation and correspondence. Much of this is inevitably lost to us, but there are some types of source in which everyday roundheads and royalists can still make themselves heard, and one is the marginalia in books. Below are a couple of examples of attempts to rehabilitate Cromwell by defacing the cover of Flagellum, a critical biography published three years after the Restoration by James Heath.

On the first, a copy of the first 1663 edition has had the words “The late usurper” obliterated:

On the second, a 1671 edition, a reader has made more extensive alterations to the title page:

Hand-written notes are of course not the only way to alter a book. A more ambiguous alteration to the title page can be found in The Court & kitchin of Elizabeth, commonly called Joan Cromwel (1664). This was a genuine recipe book, but one with a satirical edge. In 1846 an owner of the book, the Welsh historian William Davies Leathart, made this note about a missing print from the front of the book:

The eighteenth-century antiquarian Richard Gough notes this book in his A Short Genealogical View of the Family of Cromwell (1785):

This is the print in question, which I found in the British Museum’s collection:

The monkey here is probably an unkind allusion to the proverb that “the higher a monkey climbs, the more you can see its arse”. The print could of course have been removed to be sold, but the unflattering print, combined with the fact that the page was torn out rather than removed more carefully, makes me wonder whether an owner disapproved of the insult to Cromwell’s wife.

Surviving copies of The Court and kitchin are rare, but if this is the case it would not be the only reader who owned a copy and subverted it for their own purposes. In a recent article in Renaissance Quarterly, Laura Lunger Knoppers has drawn attention to another surviving copy in the Houghton Library, Harvard.This was owned by Esther Hooke Lilly, married first to Sir Hele Hooke then to Richard Lilly, a doctor from Kensington, and contains her marginalia. Amongst handwritten Latin recipes for medicines, there are a series of drawings, including an inked picture of Elizabeth on the verso of the printed image of her. Underneath are a series of pencil sketches of men and women in fashionable early eighteenth-century dress. Elsewhere in the book are pictures of flamingoes and of men wearing turbans.

Sadly the article doesn’t reproduce any of these marginalia, but it does suggest that this title, like any book, could fulfil multiple purposes: in this case, as cookbook and sketch book. In the case of Leathart’s copy, one wonders whether perhaps the recipes meant it was still a useful addition to the owner’s kitchen, but one which needed to be amended in order for it to be put to use acceptably.

All civility is required

At some time in mid-April 1647, a note was pasted up on a wall somewhere in London summoning apprentices to participate in political lobbying. The bookseller and collector George Thomason took a note of what it said, which survives as part of his collection of civil war pamphlets and other ephemera:

Fellowe Apprentizes

You are desired on Tuesday ye 20th April at 7 of ye clocke to meet in Covent Garden for ye prosecution of [our?] late pesented petition for Recreation, and yt we may better succeed, all civility is required &c.

(British Library, Thomason Tracts, E.384[12])

As it turned out, Covent Garden was the marshalling point for a march to Parliament to present their petition. Bulstrode Whitelocke’s Memorials has this record of the day:

20 April. Apprentices of London came to the house for answer to their former petition for days of recreation the commons referred it to a committee to draw up an ordinance to abolish all festival days and holydays and to appoint the second Tuesday in every month a day of recreation for all apprentices scholars and servants with limits against tumults disorders and unlawful sports.

As Whitelocke’s note implies, this wasn’t the first action the apprentices of London had taken to try to secure a regular day of rest. On 9 February, a group of apprentices had presented a petition to the Lords and the Commons, complaining that the move away from the holiday and feast days of the Cathlolic church may have been the right thing to purify the English church, but that it had the unintended consequence of depriving the apprentices of “Lawfull Recreations, for the needfull refreshment of their spirit”. This was followed up by a similar petition to the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London two days later. By 13 February, a printed edition of both petitions was on sale at the shop of the booksellers William Grantham and Nathaniel Webb.

Not much seems to have happened in response, which prompted a swift follow-up by another petition at the start of March. This too was printed; however this time it was presented by Alderman Thomas Atkin, the apprentices clearly having enlisted support from the City. This was the Thomas Atkin known as “shit-breeched alderman”, who acquired the unfortunate nickname after his supposed reaction to a volley of musket fire from his own troops. Still, having a City Alderman present it clearly did the petition some favours.  Atkin, Colonel John Venn, and Samuel Vassall (all City grandees as well as MPs) were instructed to thank the apprentices and “take the Petition into Consideration in convenient time”.

Nevertheless, this appears to have been the seventeenth-century’s equivalent of the present-day civil service phrase ” we will consider it in due course”. The apprentices, at least, seemed to have perceived it as an attempt to kick the issue into the long grass (another civil service phrase there…). Their gathering on 20 April resulted in the presentation of a third petition, which finally prompted some more concrete action:

The humble Petition of the Apprentices of London, and Parts adjacent, was this Day read; desiring some Days to be appointed for lawful Recreations.

Resolved, &c. That the Second Tuesday in every Month shall be appointed for a Day of Recreation for all young Scholars, Apprentices, and Servants throughout the Kingdom; and that an Ordinance be prepared, and speedily brought in, to this Purpose.

Mr. Gott, Mr. Reynolds, Mr. Allen, Colonel James Temple, Mr. Weaver, Mr. Ball, Lieutenant General Cromwell;

This Committee, or any Three of them, are to prepare this Ordinance for Days of Recreation, and for suppressing the Observation of Festivals and Holy Days: And are to meet when and where they please.

‘House of Commons Journal Volume 5: 20 April 1647’, Journal of the House of Commons: volume 5: 1646-1648 (1802), p. 148.

Finally on 8 June 1647, Parliament agreed an “Ordinance for the abolition of Holy Days and the establishment of Days of Recreation in lieu of them“. Christmas, Easter, Whitsuntide and other feast days were formally abolished. The second Tuesday of every month was allotted as a day of recreation for apprentices.

However, this didn’t go far enough for the apprentices. On 22 June they presented yet another petition to Parliament, complaining that the legislation was flawed and that it was being disobeyed by their masters. They attached a list of demands to be added to the legislation:

  • That shops should be forced to close every second Tuesday of the month.
  • Apprentices should not be allowed to disobey their masters so long as there was an exceptional reason why they needed to work.
  • Apprentices who abuse a recreation day should be deprived of the next one.
  • Recreations shouldn’t happen outside of eight in the morning and eight at night.
  • Apprentices causing trouble on a recreation day should face the full consequences of the law.
  • Constables should be empowered to take action against apprentices gathering in taverns on recreation days.

An ordinance more or less reproducing these heads was swiftly passed on 28 June.

On the face of it, this is a remarkably swift and effective piece of political lobbying. From start to finish, it seems to have taken the apprentices only six months to achieve their aims. Their lobbying was sophisticated. The apprentices were careful to avoid stigmatising themselves as the “many-headed monster”, seeking to alleviate people’s fears of gatherings of young people by stressing the need to act politely and by calling for punishments for those who abused recreation days. Their petitions were printed, to raise awareness of them and garner additional support. They advertised their demonstrations. They engaged with politicians from the City of London to help push their cause in the Commons. In many respects, these are almost identical to the steps charities, businesses and other lobby groups still use today to influence politicians in Westminster.

It’s interesting, though, to consider whether the lobbying originated entirely with the apprentices. Were they a self-organising group, or did they have help? Apprentices were useful to politicians. At the end of July 1647, for example, Westminster exploded with riots by apprentices and former soldiers, who surrounded the Houses of Parliament and forced both Houses to reverse recent votes agreeing that Parliament would take over control of the militia from the City – the militia had originally been handed over to the City in May 1647, who swiftly began purging it of Independents. It may be that it was politically expedient for City politicians to grant apprentices their demands over recreation days, although the presence of Independents like Venn and Cromwell in the lists of those involved in taking forward the eventual legislation suggests otherwise.

Still, whatever the extent of involvement by Presbyterian grandees, it seems clear that in 1647 apprentices were playing an active and sophisticated role in Westminster politics. That this was considered unnatural and disapproved of by many is made clear by a satirical pamphlet which followed the petitions for recreation days. The Maids Petition purported to be a lobbying attempt by London’s maids to get their own recreation days, mirroring that of the apprentices:

To the Honourable members of both Houses. Or The humble petition of many thousands of the well-affected, within and without the lines of communication, virgins, maids, and other young women not married, &c.

Inside, however, ridiculed the pretensions of apprentices, maids and young people more generally in thinking they could participate in politics, drawing attention instead. It relied in particular on spoof and double-entendre:

… Our surly Madams; who in despite to all bodily respite, will perpetually enjoyn senceless and fruitless motions without intermission.

… We the subordinate subjects of this Commonwealth, doe declare our selves (by reason of the Epidemicall difference) to joyne with the Apprentices of the City of London, not by way of combinatory siding, but downright honestly intending the increase of the City force, approving their locking in the Members untill they made themselves voyd.

… Till then, wee’le remaine your Vassalised Virgins.

The writer was partly using the comparison with their female counterparts as a means of exposing the ridiculousness of the male apprentices making demands on Parliament. But the pamphlet also forms part of a wider genre of texts from the 1640s which ventriloquised the voice of women to mock female attempts to engage in politics. Like apprentices, they would not be put in their place, despite the contempt with which many in power held them. On 24 April 1649, for example, hundreds of women presented a petition to Parliament, calling forJohn Lilburne and other prisoners to be released, and asking that the Agreement of the People be put into place. The Speaker of the Commons, William Lenthall, made it clear that the public sphere was not an arena in which they were allowed to participate, telling them:

You are desired to go home and look after your own business and meddle with your housewifery.

Nevertheless, for a group supposedly so incapable of participation,  it still took a detachment of soldiers holding the protestors back at gunpoint to enforce Parliament’s superiority.

Choosing sides

I found this while doing some research on the Militia Ordinance and the Commission of Array of 1642 (attempts by Parliament and Charles I respectively to require local grandees to muster forces in case of conflict). It’s part of a letter from Thomas Knyvett to his wife on 18 May 1642:

I would to God I could write thee any good news, but that is impossible so long as the spirit of contradiction ranges between king and parliament higher still than ever. And ’tis to be feared this threatening storm will not be allayed without some showers (P ray God not a deluge) of blood. The one party now grows as resolute as the other is obstinate… Oh sweet heart, I am now in a great straight what to do. Walking this other morning at Westminster, Sir John Potts, with Commissary Muttford, saluted me with a commission from the Lord of Warwick, to take upon me (by virtue of an ordinance of parliament) my company and command again. I was surprised what to do, whether to take or reguse. ‘Twas no place to dispute, so I took it and desired some time to advise upon it. I had not received this many hours, but I met with a declaration point blank against it by the king. This distraction made me to advise with some understanding men what condition I stand in, which is no other than a great many men of quality do. What further commands we shall receive to put this ordinance in execution, if they run in a way that trenches upon my obedience against the king, i shall do according to my conscience, and this is the resolution of all honest men that I can speak with. In the meantime I hold it good wisdom and security to keep my company as close to me as I can in these dangerous times, and to stay out of the way of my new masters till these first musterings be over.

B. Schofield (ed.), The Knyvett Letters (Norfolk Record Society, 1949), pp. 101-103.

Knyvett eventually sided with the king.

Pepper and Puddle


Here’s an image with which you are probably familiar. It’s a staple of lots of textbooks and narratives of the civil wars, and is commonly used to show how deep the conflict ran – even the dogs had to take sides. But on a closer look it reveals a rather different context.

It’s a woodcut from the title page of a pamphlet published in early 1643:

A dialogue, or, Rather a parley betweene Prince Ruperts dogge whose name is Puddle, and Tobies dog whose name is Pepper, &c.

Whereunto is added the challeng which Prince Griffins dogg called Towzer, hath sent to Prince Ruperts dogg Puddle, in the behalfe of honest Pepper Tobies dog.

Moreover the said Prince Griffin is newly gone to Oxford to lay the wager, and to make up the match.

The dialogue starts with Rupert’s dog, Puddle, and Toby’s dog, Pepper, exchanging insults: “whindling Puppy Dog”, “shag haired Cavalier’s Dogge”. Pepper claims Puddle is an evil spirit, a claim which Puddle throws straight back at him, accusing him of bewitching the apprentices who rioted outside Westminster in the months before war broke out. After establishing what breed of dog they are, they trade insults on the social standing of their respective armies. Puddle contemptously rejects Pepper’s “red-cotton” soldiers, preferring the massed ranks of aristocrats he is able to list on the king’s side.

Puddle then lists the various plots he has been involved in, making Pepper so envious he begs to be told how to emulate him. Puddle reveals a plot to end all plots – a conspiracy to use 1000 barrels of gunpowder, 500 bars of iron, and 600 tonnes of stones to undermine the Thames, blowing them all up at high tide and sweeping the roundheads away.

Pepper is so impressed that he swears to deny all roundheads, and to bark at conventicles. To seal the deal, Puddle asks him to blow his nose backwards, and to fart against all sectaries. Unfortunately Pepper also ends up stinking the place out, much to Puddle’s consternation: “But I gave you no command to stink”. The dialogue closes with Puddle fetching sheeps-wool for Pepper to use as a periwig, completing his side-switching.

The dialogue is obviously a rich mine of information about the stereotypes already flourishing by 1643. There are the feather-capped, long-haired, spur-wearing cavaliers in the woodcut, contrasted against the plain-hatted roundheads. There is the rich imagery deployed by the author of the dialogue, and the scatological humour. There is also the reference to Prince Rupert’s dog, Puddle, who really existed but whose real name was Boye. Boye rode into action with Rupert on a number of occasions and built up quite a reputation amongst Parliamentarian troops as an evil spirit. Here for example is an image from a 1643 pamphlet of Rupert with his familiar.

All this can tell us a lot about the audience for such pamphlets, and the literary tropes and images that were in use at the time, making it a very useful source.

But in fact the main emphasis of the pamphlet is on something rather different. The author was John Taylor, the so- called “water poet”, a staunch royalist who would later travel to Oxford to join Charles I there. During 1642 and 1643 he became engaged in a literary spat with another pamphlet writer, Henry Walker the ironmonger. Walker was a “tub” preacher – in other words, he didn’t have a benefice. Walker is the real subject of the pamphlet. At some point in 1642 Walker had obviously delivered a sermon on the book of Tobit (in which Tobias makes a journey accompanied by a dog). A record of this does not survive, but there is a piss-take by Taylor in which Walker spouts nonsense, each paragraph ending with “and the dog of the man went with him”. There’s even a woodcut of Walker in his tub.


The dialogue between the dogs is scattered with references to this incident. There is Pepper’s owner, most obviously, as well as many references to Walker and to tub-preaching: for example, when switching sides Pepper declares: “all tub-lecturers I defie”. So the real objective of the pamphlet is to continue the battle on paper with Walker, as well as propagandising the royalist cause. Walker was certainly put out by the pamphlet: in a retort titled A Modest Vindication, he grumbled about a “foolish ridiculous Pamphlet of Tobie and his dog”. So he was clearly stung by Taylor’s caricature!

Finally, who is the mysterious Towzer, Prince Griffin’s dog? EEBO reckons it’s a reference to Roger L’Estrange, who would become a famous pamphleteer after the Restoration (but who at this point was a supporter of Parliament). In 1680 he was burnt in effigy by Londoners, who christened him the Dog Towzer. But this is far too early for L’Estrange to have been a target. The answer lies in the reference to Prince Griffin. This is likely to be John Griffith or Griffin, who had been an MP for Caernarvonshire before getting into trouble for basically duelling and killing his way round England. There is a brilliantly-titled denial of having murdered a gentleman’s servant, for example: A vindication or justification of John Griffith, Esq. Against the horrid, malitious, and unconscionable verdict of the coroners iury in Cheshire : vvhich was packt by the means of that pocky, rotten, lying, cowardly, and most perfidious knave, Sir Hugh Caulveley Knight, onely to vent his inveterate hatred and malice against me. Taylor portrays Towzer as challenging Puddle to a duel.