Mercurius Politicus

A blog (mostly) about early modern history

Tag: history

History continues

Spotted today on the 7th floor of Senate House library.

The Hutton report

I’m currently doing some digging on parish politics in St Giles Cripplegate, London, during the 1630s. Irritatingly the vestry minutes for that period do not survive – it always seems to be the way that the particular period of a parish I want to research has no extant records! But the evidence that does survive suggests it was a pretty divided parish during this period. The vicar, Dr William Fuller, was an Anglican who resisted the Long Parliament’s attempt to strip away Laudian innovations:

For at St Giles’s Cripple Gate the Sectaries and the Orthodox got almost to Daggers drawing the one about Executing the Order the House of Commons the other for preserving their Church in ancient condition with the Rails about the Communion Table.

Nalson, Impartial Collection, p. 491.

The ‘sectaries’ of the parish went as far as submitting a petition to Parliament, a copy of which was printed. Fuller was singled out for complaint but so too was his curate, a man called Timothy Hutton:

Certaine Parishioners attended to see the christian buriall of a dead corps, could neither find the said Doctor or his Curate, though having notice before thereof: after that also, another Corps, then a third, all attending in the church yard. And at the last; hearing that Timothy Hutton his Curate was at the Fortune to see a Play, they sent to desire him, to officiate for the three corps: but hee would by no meanes come; then they sent a second, then a third also, certifying how long they had waited: yet would the said Timothy Hutton by no meanes come, untill such time that the play was ended.

The petition and articles exhibited in Parliament against Dr Fuller, Deane of Ely, and vicar of S. Giles Cripple-gate (London, 1641), BL, TT, E.175[1], sig. A3v.

I quite like the sound of Hutton: on another occasion he spent a night in the cells for being drunk and was fined a shilling by the magistrates for swearing.

Less amiable by all accounts was the churchwarden, Thomas Bogh, who was summoned in October 1641 to account for himself before the Commons after the MP John Venn gave an account of Bogh’s violent behaviour. In September 1641 Parliament issued reminders about the need to remove Laudian additions to churches, and in addition imposed lectureships on parishes: the godly faction within the congregation wanted the Puritan John Sedgwick (brother of Obadiah), but Bogh was having none of it.

On 15 October, Sedgwick and a crowd of parishioners assembled outside the locked church doors in the pouring rain, and waited an hour before concluding that they weren’t going to be let in. A few days later, John Chambers, servant to the MP Sir Roger Burgoyne, was assaulted by Bogh as he tried to deliver an order insisting that the church’s altar rails were removed.

Fuller, meanwhile, was summoned by the Commons and only released in November after posting substantial bail. In July 1642 he and Hutton were once more in trouble for reading a declaration by Charles I to the congregation. Further into the civil war, Fuller’s assets were seized and he ended up with the king in Oxford. During the Interregnum he returned to London to his old parish, dying in 1659. His request to be buried in the churchyard of St Giles Cripplegate was denied, though, so his body now lies in Saint Vedast-alias-Foster about half a mile south of his former parish.

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]

Milton and licensing


I’m currently reading Randy Robertson’s extremely interesting Censorship and Conflict in Seventeenth-Century England: The Subtle Art of Division, which was published earlier this year. In one of his chapters Robertson focuses on John Milton and his attitudes to censorship. This is one of the great paradoxes of Milton’s life: particularly his decision, in 1649, to take on responsibility for pre-publication licensing for the Commonwealth of newsbooks and other publications. How could Milton, champion of freedom of the press, take up a position that was directly contradictory to the critique of pre-publication licensing that he had set out five years earlier in Areopagitica?

For some scholars, like Milton’s early biographer David Masson, and more recently others like Christopher Hill, William Riley Parker and Sabrina Baron, Milton never gave up his radical commitment, and either carried out his duties rather perfunctorily or was able to work for reform from the inside. For others, like Stephen Dobranski and Abbe Blum, Milton acted inconsistently.  This is one of those questions that scholars will probably argue about forever, because of the lack of surviving evidence. We have the Stationers’ Company records for the issues of Mercurius Politicus which Milton approved – although these don’t tell us whether content was ever altered or deleted before editions were licensed. The minutes of the Council of State record various licensing or censoring tasks which they asked Milton to carry out. And that’s about it, save for second-hand remarks by contemporaries and a later reference Milton made to the Licensing Act of 1649. Unless other evidence turns up, we will probably never know for certain what made Milton take on the role.

Robertson’s argument is that there is less conflict than many have thought between the Licensing Act which the Commonwealth introduced in September 1649, and the critique of pre-publication licensing set out in Areopagitica. There are two central planks to his argument.

First, he suggests that Milton helped soften the drafting of the 1649 Licensing Act, and was hence happy or at least grudgingly content with the end product. However, there is no direct evidence for this. The only person we can be confident was involved in actually drafting the act was John Bradshaw, because the Council of State minutes record an agreement that he should lead the work on the Bill. The Commons journal also records a committee being appointed to steer the Bill through, but we should be wary of assuming that nomination to a committee necessarily meant an MP actually sat on it or contributed to it. Behind the scenes, there’s a good chance that Bradshaw probably did talk to Milton about the Bill. They were colleagues and perhaps also relatives, who shared an interest in the book trade.  Bradshaw had acted as legal counsel to Milton earlier in the 1640s. But there is no way of telling from this circumstantial link what impact Milton may actually have had on the legislation.

Secondly, Robertson argues that the 1649 Act only introduced pre-publication censorship for newsbooks. Other books and pamphlets, he suggests, were to be pursued after publication if they had objectionable content. I think this is a misreading of the Act. It’s true that, on the face of it, the only licensing arrangements set out by the Act were to introduce three new licensers to approve newsbooks before they could be published: the clerk to Parliament, the secretary to the army, and an appointee of the Council of State. But the Act is also clear that previous licensing arrangements from the licensing ordinances of 1643 and 1647 were to remain in place, save for where the 1649 Act repealed or strengthened them:

“Be it by the authority aforesaid Enacted and Ordained, That the Laws made formerly, and at this present Parliament, now in force for punishment of devisers and spreaders of false and seditious news, lyes and rumors, by writing, printing, speaking or otherwise, shall be put in due and diligent execution, according to the tenor of the same Acts”.

“So much of the said Ordinance as specifies the imposition of Penalties upon such Offenders as are beforementioned, in respect that higher Penalties are in stead thereof herein limited and designed, shall stand from henceforth repealed, and be of no further effect”.

An Act against Unlicensed and Scandalous Books and Pamphlets, and for better regulating of Printing (1649).

For me, at least, the 1649 Act is fairly clear in reinforcing the pre-publication licensing regime that the 1643 licensing ordinance had started.

Other scholars have suggested Milton was able to radically reinterpret the 1649 Act, so as to work for reform of the system from within. Sabrina Baron draws attention to Milton’s possible involvement in licensing the Rachovian Cathecism, a work that denied the existence of the trinity. The work’s printer, William Dugard – an old acquaintance of Milton’s – shopped him to the Council of State as having licensing its publication. Milton’s role as licenser ended after this, although it is not clear whether this was due to losing his sight or because of actual links to the controversial publication. Milton did later comment in a letter to Samuel Hartlib that:

‘There are no licensers appointed by this last Act, so that everybody may enter in his book without license, providing the printer’s or author’s name be entered, that they may be forthcoming if required’.

But this is surely wishful thinking on Milton’s part: his role in licensing a range of publications for the Commonwealth must have made him aware that in practice, even if he interpreted the legislation differently, his role was to ensure controversial publications did not make it as far as the reading public. In June 1649, for example, Milton was ordered to ‘examine the papers of [the royalist newsbook] Pragmaticus”, an ad-hoc investigatory role that he played with a number of other writers or pamphlets considered scandalous by the Commonwealth.

As for me, I have a lot of sympathy with the arguments of Stephen Dobranski on this issue:

‘We can use his inconsistency to see beyond the theoretical construction of “the author” and glimpse the real person, John Milton, operating wihin his specific historical environment’.

Stephen Dobranski, Milton, Authorship and the Book Trade (Cambridge, 1999), p. 133.

Or to put it another way, Milton was a human being like the rest of us. Nobody’s political or religious ideologies are internally consistent, let alone consistent over time, so why do we expect Milton’s political ideals to have remained constant? Dobranski suggests it is because of the assumption that Milton, one of the foundation stones of the Western canon, must have possessed authorial autonomy. He quotes Foucault’s observation that the author “constitutes a principle of unity in writing” and “serves to neutralise the contradictions that are found in a series of texts”. There may be something in this: compare the adjectives Sabrina Baron uses to describe Milton and those she uses to describe his predecessor as Secretary for Foreign Tongues, George Weckherlin:

‘Milton’s was a radical interpretation of the law and a radical involvement of personal authority that a professional bureaucrat like George Weckherlin could never have made’.

Sabrina Baron,  ‘Licensing readers, licensing authorities in seventeenth-century England’, in Jennifer Andersen & Elizabeth Sauer (eds.), Books and readers in early modern England: material studies (Philadelphia, PA, 2002), p. 235.

But Weckherlin was a poet, just like Milton, in the same way that Milton was a bureaucrat, just like Weckherlin. Dobranski’s efforts to historicise Milton’s actions and ideas within their wider social and political context seems to me a more successful way of trying to unpick his motives during the heady days of the late 1640s. Dobranski suggests that Milton’s commitment to classical republicanism was what convinced him that supporting the Commonwealth supported a greater good. Possibly, too – although we cannot know it – there was an element of personal gain or even fear that lay behind Milton’s decision to accept a role as one of the Council of State’s spin doctors. There need not necessarily have been one sole reason that convinced him to take on the role. 1649 was a year, if ever there was one, when the world was turned upside down. Friendships, allegiances and entire political systems were being broken, changed and reshaped at astonishing speeds. It was left to Milton, like his contemporaries, to make sense of these changes and feel his way into a new era of government.

My image is an etching of a bust of Milton made by Jonathan Richardson Jr. in around 1730-1750; AN339250001, © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Marriott the great eater


AN363040001, © The Trustees of the British Museum

Here is a satirical print of the lawyer William Marriott, the ‘great eater’ of Gray’s Inn. By the 1650s he was one of the Inn’s oldest members.

In 1652, for unknown reasons he came under fire from the pamphleteer George Fidge, in a pamphlet called The great eater of Graye’s Inn, or, The life of Mr. Marriot the cormorant, wherein is set forth all the exploits and actions by him performed, with many pleasant stories of his travells into Kent and other places [EEBO]. The introduction to the reader set the scene:

He loves Cook and Kitchin, not so much for their Law as for their Names sakes, and at Bacon his mouth waters; he knowes better how to handle a Chyne of Beefe than a Cause, for he has more gutts than braines, and doubtlesse there was a stout Thrasher spoyled when he was made a Lawyer: Hee is rather of the body Corporate than Politique.

The pamphlet then takes a leisurely tour through the history of Marriott’s gluttony. It starts with a tale of Marriott taking a client from the country out to breakfast, and competitively ordering greater and greater quantities of beef. He goes to dinner with a friend and devours a bowl of cold cream in the kitchen, a dozen pigeons and a leaze of rabbits. He then falls ill and voids a worm three yards long, ‘that had a long time bred in his body’. He gets tricked into being poisoned, and into eating ‘an old spaid bitch’ baked in a pasty, and a monkey baked into a pie. He devours eight pounds of currants that have been cut with a pound of tobacco.

The pamphlet ends with some mock recipes invented by Marriott. Here is a good example:

A Purgation.

Mr Marriott would often follow the Farriar’s Rule for Drenches, which Receit best agreed with his Body: for he would take Milk and Oyle with Aquavitae, Pepper and Brimstone all mingled together, a Pottle at one time is nothing with him, to scoure his Maw.

Friends rushed to Marriott’s defence and published A letter to Mr. Marriot from a friend of his, wherein his name is redeemed from that detraction G. F., gent., hath endeavoured to fasten upon him by a scandalous and defamatory libel. Marriott subsequently died in November 1653, reportedly penniless. However, his reputation lived on as a glutton. In 1660, Samuel Pepys mentioned Marriott in his diary:

So to Will’s, and sat there till three o’clock and then to Mr. Swan’s, where I found his wife in very genteel mourning for her father, and took him out by water to the Counsellor at the Temple, Mr. Stephens, and from thence to Gray’s Inn, thinking to speak with Sotherton Ellis, but found him not, so we met with an acquaintance of his in the walks, and went and drank, where I ate some bread and butter, having ate nothing all day, while they were by chance discoursing of Marriot, the great eater, so that I was, I remember, ashamed to eat what I would have done. (4 February 1660).