Mercurius Politicus

A blog (mostly) about early modern history

Tag: henry walker

Take the Milk of a red Cow

If you had bought a copy of the newsbook Severall Proceedings on Thursday 1 February 1655, you would have found this advert on pages two, three and four. Its format and style is remarkably similar to advertorials in today’s newspapers.

I am desired to insert this following Advertisement for a generall good, by Mr Nathaniel Holeday.

Upon my thoughts touching the Small Pox, of which now many sicken and dye, and I having had experience for this 20 years, I discover this meerly for the publique good, and question not of using the means, as you love your life, though they seem never so weak, neither bee disswaded by the perswasion of others. Yet let not any put confidence in the means though never so probable, without seeking unto the Lord for a blessing.

The Causes of the Small Pox.

They are caused by overcharging the Stomack with meat, which quickly corrupteth there, or by too much bad blood.

Signes of the Small Pox.

Pain of the back, Itch of ears and Nose, pricking of the whole body, rednesse of Face and eyes, and somewhat swelling, and very sleepy, untill they bee out.

Remedies for this disease, before they come forth.

1 Let there bee a publique, or at least private humiliation, generally through the whole City, This (as far as we know) may bee but a warning peece from the Lord in mercy, to warn you and us of a greater judgement. If wee are not bettered by this gracious Visitation of Tryall, and this is Gods usuall course which hee hath formerly taken with his people, whom he loves, Amos 4. from vers. 6, to verse 12. But if neither you nor wee mend not this, fear left (the Plague) a worse thing come among you, and seize upon you. Yet if you humble you truly, you have a Promise 2 Chron 12.7.

2 Although I hope there are none of such a wicked spirit as Ahaziah had, 2 Kings 1.2. Yet take heed wee are not of the mind of Asa, that wee seek not to, nor look not upon the Phisitians or physick, rather, or more than unto God.

3 Now at this time a good order of diet is to be observed.

4 None ought to eate till hee feel and find his former meat digested.

5 Go not abroad into the City with an empty stomack, but first eate and drink.

Excellent Medicines to bring forth the small Pocks.

Take the Milk of a red Cow, and make a posset therewith of Ale, and take the curd off clean, then take the quantity of a spoonfull of red Fenell and seeth it in the posset Ale, and strain it, then put into it, the quantity of a Nutmeg of fine Treakle, and a little Sedwel, and twopenny worth of English Saffron, mingle it well together and give it warm to drink. Or use this.

Take Milk, Saffron and Hony, and seith them well together and give it to drink. Or give it to a little child but a spoonful of sweet sack, and it will drive them out.

Means to be used while the Pocks is on them.

1 Keep the party warm, not too hot nor too cold, but in a middle temper, but be sure you keep the clothes about him that hee be not naked.

2 Put a peice of cypris about the neck, to prevent the worst there.

3 Make this broth and give it. Boyle a peice of Veal or rather a Chick or young Pullet in water, then pound some great Oatmeale finely in a morter, and strain it through a fine cloth with some of the liquor, (but put in none of the husks) then put in a small handfull of red sage, a liitle Mace, a little Saffron. Some Currans and Raysons of the Sunne, with a Nutmege slised, and when you find it well boyled, drink the Brtoh only.

A Remedy if the Pocks be all struckin, and the party be as whise as your Band, or be distracted, and so bring them out again in the space of two hours or a little more at the furthest.

If this happen unto a child fill a spoonfull of sweet Sack, & mingle with it the quantity of a pease of the best Methridate, and give a clear spoonfull of Sack after. But if it be for a middle age body or some what antient, give a halfpenny worth in the same manner as before, in their bed. This was tryed by my self upon a Knight and effected.

But if the Pocks stick in the Throat, and the party be in danger thereby, this must be used by some Friend.

Chew some Cummin Seed in your mouth, and after they are chewed, breath your breath into the mouth of the party infected, and this cures in a short time, you will find ease, in a quarter of an houre.

A Principal Oyntment for the small Pocks.

When any Colt is killed take the Gall out of him, put it upon a clean Spit and rost it, but bast it very little with new Butter without Salt, and put underneath the Spit, some clean vessel, with a good quantity of Rosewater, and let the driping fall therein; and when it is rosted dry and no moysture left therein, take the dripping and beat it well with the Rose water wherein it first dropped, and as any froth tryeth scum it off clean, and so put it into a Pot, untill you have occasion to use it, and then let the party be annoynted therewith, and this will cause all the Scabs and Scales to shel off.

Your well wished Friend N Holiday living at Mr. Habbakuk Kerbys in the Parish of Edmonton in Middlesex 17 January 1654 [Old Style dating, ie 1655].

1655 was, as the start of the advert implies, a peak year for smallpox outbreaks in London.

Sadly I don’t know much about who Nathaniel Holiday or Habbakuk Kerby are, or why they would have wanted to place this advert. I can’t find any trace of Holiday at all. There is a record in the parish register St. Andrew’s, Enfield of a Habbakuk Kerby being baptised on 31 Janauary 1618. There is also a record from St. Dunstan’s, Stepney of a Habbakuk Kerby marrying Elizabeth Lewes on 29 June 1637. If it’s the same person, Habbakuk would have been twenty, which constituted marrying young by the standards of the times but is not implausible. That would make him thirty-seven in 1655. The couple seem to have had a son, Henry, who was baptised in St. Botolph’s in June 1638. Beyond that, I’ve drawn a blank.

I also wonder how much it would have cost to place this ad. In 1649 the standard price charged by editors for a short advert of a few sentences seems to have been 6d. In 1655 Marchamont Nedham seems to have charged up to half a crown, but that was in the context of a near monopoly of the press. Nevertheless three pages out of an eight-page quarto cannot have been cheap and one wonders what Holiday’s motive was: even though he gives his address, he doesn’t seem to be selling anything directly.

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.

The pelican’s beak holds more than its belly can

There is a children’s song that is on permanent loop in my house at the moment, which goes:

The pelican’s beak holds more than its belly can,
Nothing has a beak that’s the size of the pelican’s.
(repeat lots of times)

I am guessing it’s a shortened and sanitised version of the limerick by the humorist Dixon Lanier Merritt:

Oh, a wondrous bird is the pelican!
His bill holds more than his belican.
He can take in his beak
Enough food for a week.
But I’m darned if I know how the helican.

I am reliably informed by the collective knowledge of the internet that this is actually true: the pelican’s stomach can hold up to a gallon, whereas its bill can hold up to three gallons.

Earlier generations had their own story about the pelican: that it was so attentive to its young that, if short of food, it would open wounds in its chest to feed its blood to its young. Some early Christian and medieval writers took this further, reporting (to be fair, some dubiously) that the pelican would kill its young and then revive them with its blood:

The little pelicans strike their parents, and the parents, striking back, kill them. But on the third day the mother pelican strikes and opens her side and pours blood over her dead young. In this way they are revivified and made well. So Our Lord Jesus Christ says also through the prophet Isaiah: ‘I have brought up children and exalted them, but they have despised me’ (Is 1:2). We struck God by serving the creature rather than the Creator. Therefore He deigned to ascend the cross, and when His side was pierced, blood and water gushed forth unto our salvation and eternal life. (Epiphanius Physiologus).

The pelican is an Egyptian bird that lives in the solitude of the river Nile. It is said that she kills her offspring and grieves for them for three days, then wounds herself and sheds her blood to revive her sons. (Isidore of Seville, Etymologies).

Here is a wonderful thing about the pelican, for never did mother-sheep love her lamb as the pelican loves its young. When the young are born, the parent bird devotes all his care and thought to nourishing them. But the young birds are ungrateful, and when they have grown strong and self-reliant they peck at their fathers face, and he, enraged at their wickedness, kills them all. On the third day the father comes to them, deeply moved with pity and sorrow. With his beak he pierces his own side, until the blood flows forth. With the blood he brings back life into the body of his young. (Guillaume le Clerc, Bestiaire).

(Translations from The Medieval Bestiary)

The pelican was an obvious symbol for Christ: it appears, for example, in the coat of arms for Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and Corpus Christi College, Oxford:

Medieval bestiaries featured some amazing illuminated pelicans, like this one from the Aberdeen Bestiary (c. 1200):

As new technologies like woodcuts and etchings came along, the pelican went with them, such as in this engraving by Pieter van der Borcht (1577):

Or this woodcut, from the front of Henry Walker’s A gad of steele, wrought and tempered for the heart to defend it from being battred by Sathans temptation, and to give it a sharpe and lasting edge in heavenly consolation (1641) [EEBO]:

This particular copy belonged to Walker’s contemporary, the book seller and collector George Thomason. You can see Thomason’s marginalia at the top:

this Walker was admitted into orders by Laud Arch. Bish. of Canterbury

Elsewhere on the title page Thomason wrote “Ironmonger” – Walker’s previous profession before turning his hand to printing, selling and writing pamphlets. Walker was clearly not one of Thomason’s favorite writers – as a Presbyterian Thomason probably would have loathed Walker’s predilection in the early 1640s for preaching to independent congregations. His contempt shows through from the fact that nine or ten years later, Thomason was still crossing out any pretensions Walker had to be a “cleric” or “Minister of God’s word” and replacing them with “Ironmonger”:

A sermon, preached in the Kings Chappell at White-Hall (1649) [EEBO]

A sermon preached in the chappell at Sommerset-House in the Strand (1650) [EEBO]

Good will hunting

I have spent the past few weeks digging through wills from the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Happily these are now all online, and although the quality of scans does vary, they are a treasure trove if you are looking to find out details about individuals who had sufficient wealth to be dealt with by that court.

One of the reasons for searching was to figure out the social background of a man called John Giffard who lived in Gloucestershire in the mid-seventeenth century. Giffard was a significant figure in an incident that took place on 15 August 1642, just before the outbreak of civil war. Lord Chandos had set out on the morning of that day to Cirencester, to attempt to raise troops for Charles I. He was intercepted just outside the town and escorted in. The townspeople had fortified the town when they learned about Chandos’s plan, and together with clothworkers from the surrounding villages and some of the volunteers massed under Parliament’s Militia Ordinance, demanded that Chandos surrendered the king’s Commission of Array to them. Eventually Chandos was forced by their threats of physical force to swear an oath based on Parliament’s Protestation. Very sensibly he then decided to escape overnight rather than face the crowd in the morning, and was smuggled out of the town by a supporter. Waking up the next morning, the crowd were enraged and dragged his coach into the marketplace and smashed it to pieces.

Giffard wrote the only surviving contemporary account of the incident. I’ve got an article about it coming out in the March edition of Midland History, and so Giffard’s account was a significant source.  One of the comments the referees made was to ask me to find out more about Giffard’s social status. I have blogged about him before – I think he is the person of the same name who held the saltpetre contracts for much of the south-west. However I wasn’t clear whether he was gentry or middling sort.

His will appears to be that of John Giffard of Wiveton, Norfolk, from 1658. This seems a long way from Gloucestershire, but it seems that in 1650 Giffard was censured by Parliament for destroying timber in the Forest of Dean that was earmarked for the navy. Instead he used it to fuel a number of iron works he owned. Giffard managed to fall out with a number of former allies over this incident and seems to have moved away rather than deal with the social humiliation.  In 1651, the estate at Wiveton was bought from Edward Britiffe by a John Giffard the younger of Gloucestershire. The will records lands bought from men of both Gloucestershire and Norfolk, which suggests that it’s probably the same man. Giffard built a new house at Wiveton, made of flint and brick in the Artisan Mannerist style. His grave at Wiveton describes him as a gentleman, and while it shows a coat of arms for a branch of the family I can’t connect him to, just the fact he described himself as gentry and acted as if he was is good enough evidence to treat him as such.

Another reason for ploughing through wills was to find out more about my old friend Henry Walker (previously: 1, 2, 3, 4), an ironmonger who was given the opportunity by the turbulent events of the 1640s to become a pamphleteer and preacher. The Dictionary of National Biography doesn’t contain his date of birth, and loses track of what happened to him after about 1660. I think I may have found out more about both of these.

A hostile critic of Walker’s described him in 1642 as hailing from the Walkers of Breadsall just outside Derby. Bearing that in mind, I dug through the wills for all Henry Walkers in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centur and found that of a Henry Walker of 1685. He left twenty pounds to the “poor people living within the town of Derby”. This seemed like a lead, so I did some more digging about whether it might be him. I discovered a record in the Court of Chancery of a dispute over his will that had the following:

Ferdinando Low and Jane his wife, Francis Ward, Anne Ward, John Dakin and Hannah his wife and others v Charles Pellison and Anne his wife, John Dod and Christian his wife and John Deacon and Elizabeth his wife: personal estate of Henry Walker, deceased, Derbyshire.

So if it was him, does this fit with details of any Henry Walkers born in Derbyshire at the right time? It’s known that Walker was made free from his apprenticeship as an ironmonger in 1634. If he served a full apprenticeship, this would put his date of birth around 1610, give or take a few years.

It turns out there is indeed a Henry Walker born in All Saints, Derby (possibly the actual All Saints in Derby, or perhaps the All Saints in Breadsall). He was christened on 1 March 1611/12, son of Henry Walker and Anne Walker, née Beckes. He had a number of siblings:

  • Thomas – christened 8 November 1609.
  • Thomas – christened 16 May 1614. (Whether the first Thomas died young is not clear).
  • Anne – christened 25 August 1616.
  • Francis – christened 15 June 1619.

The Henry Walker of 1685 included this instruction in his will:

I give and bequeath unto my sister Anne Marshall of Derby the sum of two hundred pounds of lawful money of England.

So it seems that the Henry Walker born in 1612 may be the same one who wrote his will in 1685. Of course that doesn’t necessarily prove that he was the same person as the pamphleteering Henry Walker. But given that the will names his profession as “cleric”, and that we know in the 1650s Walker began to take responsibility for various parishes, incuding Knightsbridge and St Martin’s Vintry, it seems like it may be him. There are traces of Henry Walkers being vicar or rector in a number of parishes between the 1660s and 1680s:

  • 1664: Royal Chapel in Hounslow
  • 1667: Petersham Chapel in Kingston upon Thames
  • 1677: St Mary’s, Kennington
  • 1681: Willesborough

There is also a record in the archives of the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers of a Henry Walker donating a copy of Andrew Willet’s Synopsis Papismi, or a General View of Papistrie to the company in 1681. This almost certainly is the same Henry Walker who was an apprentice ironmonger, so it seems likely he was still alive in 1681. Given all that, I’m pretty sure the will I’ve tracked down is his.

The next step is to do some more digging about all the various properties he seemed to have owned. It’s clear that he had amassed quite a substantial estate by the time of his death. He also seems to have made his peace with Charles II. Given that this was the same Henry Walker who in 1642 was imprisoned for throwing a scandalous pamphlet he’d written into Charles I’s coach, he obviously went on quite an ideological journey between his youth to his old age.

Finally, something else I found was the will of Walker’s master while he was serving his apprenticeship, the ironmonger Robert Holland. I was tickled by the following request he made:

First I give and bequeath thereof unto youngest brother Richard Holland of [Wakefield?] thirty shillings of lawfull money of England to buy him a golde ringe with a deathes head engraven thereon and a pare of gloves with black fringe to wear both for my sake.

I just have visions of Holland heading up some early modern proto-heavy metal band. An Iron Maiden avant la lettre, perhaps…

Out of the loop?

Council of War

When I first started working in government, there was an e-mail forward that used to do the rounds every so often with a satirical collection of civil service jargon and what it meant. It’s since made its way online [PDF] and one of the definitions that is not only funny but also true is this one:

Loop (as in “in the loop” or “not fully in the loop”)
A very important phrase especially for those who are not fully in the loop as it can cause resentment and lead to temper tantrums. It is a measure of how important you are as to whether you are in or out of the loop at any one time.

I was reminded of this definition recently when re-reading Filippo de Vivo’s fantastic book about the politics of information in early modern Venice. De Vivo unpicks the various layers of society in which Venetian politics were conducted, tracing the importance of political information for people at all social levels. One of the themes he illuminates is the growing role of what he calls ‘information professionals’ in the conduct of Venetian politics:

Venice also hosted a large constituency of people with a professional interest in political information – diplomats and their agents, authors and newswriters, groups living at the margins of early modern politics… As well as bonding with patricians, ambassadors also surrounded themselves with a more heterogenenous host of intermediaries, people who were not fully part of formal politics but who networked their way into the secrets of the powerful through favours, personal friendship or money… Information professionals were part of the political system, helping communication between different members of the political system. (Filippo de Vivo, Information and communication in Venice: rethinking early modern politics (Oxford, 2007), pp. 4, 74.)

I suppose my own job could quite aptly be described as an ‘information professional’: as a ‘policy wonk’ (a less flattering title, but still fair) much of my role revolves around collecting information and providing it, in mediated form, to others. And then it struck me that my dissertation has also ended up gravitating towards a study of information professionals. In unpicking the evolution and impact of the early Commonwealth’s newsbooks, a substantial chunk of my current draft looks at the roles of their various authors, licensers, printers and publishers. They are people whose names only appear briefly in the major political histories of seventeenth century England: people like Gualter Frost, who was secretary to the Derby House Committee then the Commonwealth’s Council of State, or Henry Walker who went from marginal pamphleteer to state-licensed journalist and sermoniser. Even John Rushworth, secretary to Fairfax and the council of the army, is probably better known for his collection of newsbooks and bricolage-style history of the 1640s than for his role in politics.

All these men certainly fit the definition of  living at the margins of early modern politics. Historians have also often gone out of their way to marginalise them. The original Dictionary of National Biography described Rushworth as a ‘historian’, only amended in the 2004 edition to ‘historian and politician’. Frost’s DNB entry focuses on his nepotism and dismisses his attempts to write political propaganda for the Commonwealth. He suffers in comparison to his successor, John Thurloe, who is more often seen as a sophisticated political puppet-master. Walker is probably best known for an incident in 1642 where he threw a scandalous pamphlet into the king’s carriage, than for his relationship with the army and the Council of State.

Yet my suspicion is that all of these men played bigger roles in the politics of the 1640s and 1650s than historians ordinarily allow. What is striking about all three is how widely their careers stray from one type of information to the next. All were involved in editing newsbooks, and some licensing them as well. All wrote or ghost-wrote political propaganda. Walker preached sermons praising Cromwell and the army, while Frost and Rushworth kept records of extremely high-level political meetings. They all had roles that involved shaping or reshaping the political information which grandees used to make decisions, and on which (some) citizens of the Commonwealth (partially) based their political ideologies and allegiances. Their role, basically, was to keep other people in the loop.

Frost, for example, started his career as manciple of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and also wrote almanacs on the side. In the late 1630s he began acting as courier for the Junto in their secret correspondence with the Scots. In 1644 he then became secretary to the Committee of Both Kingdoms, the crucial administrative development of Parliament’s military superiority, and stayed with it as it evolved into the Derby House Committee then the Council of State. He would not have stayed so long unless he was trusted: and his role would almost certainly have quietly involved a great deal of what civil service jargon today calls ‘stakeholder management’ – keeping different factions on side.

Similarly, Rushworth started his career as assistant clerk to the Commons, but rose to become secretary to Fairfax and to the general council of the army. During the mid-1640s and then from 1649, he acted a licenser of newsbooks and pamphlets, helping to shape the material the public read. He also ghost-wrote some of the accounts of battles that were sent to Parliament by Fairfax and subsequently published. During Pride’s Purge, in particular, he seems to have played a crucial role behind the scenes in uniting the army grandees with Independents in Parliament. When a group of purged MPs demanded to see Fairfax, it was not Fairfax who answered them, but Rushworth – by letter, hand-delivered by Edward Whalley (one of the Council of Officers).

Walker, too, seems to have been closer to the political centre than has sometimes been realised. Indeed he seems to have lived with Cromwell for some period of time during the late 1640s. During the trial and execution of the king he was able to give detailed coverage in special daily editions of newsbooks due to his links to the army. He was also sufficiently powerful to request, and be granted, his own licenser in a struggle with Gilbert Mabbott during the late 1640s. By the time of Cromwell’s death, it is possible he was acting as a groom of the bedchamber to the Lord Protector.

There are various reasons why such men don’t loom larger in accounts of early modern politics. Their activities were not always ones that tend to leave traces in the historical record. Politicking that is carried out face-to-face or through meetings only survives if a record is kept of it in minutes or a journal. There is also a sense in which historians may be unwilling to grant ‘bureaucrats’ a role in proceedings. It is easy to speak of decisions ‘made’ by Charles I or Oliver Cromwell – partly these are synecdoches for ‘the state’, ‘the monarchy’ or ‘the Commonwealth’, but in an age of personal monarchy early modern rulers were extremely powerful. Nevertheless, they still had a small but significant machinery of government to support them in making decisions and in executing them. Historians are now more alive to occasions where royal proclamations were ghost-written by others, or where key decisions were made on the advice of others. But typically the advisers focused on are still political grandees such as the earl of Clarendon. People like Frost, Rushworth and Walker have been studied in most detailed not in accounts of high politics, but by Gerald Aylmer in his history of the development of the English civil service. It’s true that all three reflect a growing centralisation of officials, a shift from men-of-business attached through patronage to great aristocrats to salaried officials employed by the state. Nonetheless, it might just be the Sir Humphrey in me, but I suspect there is more to them than that.

My image is a woodcut illustration of an army council, probably the Council of War, taken from the frontispiece of A declaration of the engagements, remonstrances, representations, proposals, desires and resolutions from His Excellency Sir Tho: Fairfax, and the generall councel of the Army (London, 1647).