Mercurius Politicus

A blog (mostly) about early modern history

Tag: history

Carnivalesque 44

Right Honourable and Noble Senatours,

I here present you with a Catalogue, or Black Bill of the Errours, Heresies, Blasphemies and Practices of the early modern Bloggers of this time, broached and acted within these two last months in the Blogosphere: I much fear lest the subject matter of this Catalogue may prove unto England (unlesse some speedy and effectual course be taken to prevent it) like the Bill of Divorce given to Israel.

Now the Errours, Heresies, Blasphemies in this Catalogue particularised, may be referred to six heads or sorts of Bloggers, 1. Sailors and Explorers, 2. Precursors, 3. Writers, 4. Readers, 5. Soldiers, 6. Past-times.

Sailors and explorers

There is one Rachel Leow, who preaches both in Cambridge and New-England. On her going to New-England, she hath preached about the Carta Marina, a 1539 chart created by the Swedish priest Olaus Magnaus.

Meanwhile there is one new Blogger at Chronologi Citationes, whose Sermon on the early Stuart navy hath attracted much comment.


There is one Blogger, called only Vic, who comes out of Jane Austen’s World, who has lately printed a Discourse on advice columns and agony aunts in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

There is one Holly Tucker, who dwells at Wonders and Marvels. Very Erroneous, Strange Doctrines are vented there continually. The latest Preaching is of early midwifery.

There is a Blogger who lives in a place of Sunlit Water, who hath preached the heretical doctrine of a missing day in sixteenth-century Europe, eliminated by a Papal Bull.


There is in the Dutch Republic one Kristine Steenbergh, who hath given publick Lectures on Shakespeare biography and cultural history.

There is another Blogger, one Morgan Pitelka, who preaches about the creation of the soul in pre-modern Japan.

There is a third, named Jem Webster, who dwells on a Gaudy Gilded Stage, and talks of the eighteenth-century actor and writer Thomas Holcroft.


There is in New-England one Sarah Werner, who hath been publishing Scandalous and Malignant Bookes. Most recent are three posts about a book originally owned by Frances Wolfreston, and what the marginalia can tell us about her and subsequent owners.

There is also in New-England another Scandalous preacher named Whitney Anne Trettien, who hath preached on the links between the book and the body. This heresy has been repeated by Kristine Steenbergh, in a Sermon on the body in the library.

I have been informed for certain that she hath also been speaking ungodly lectures about the potential pitfalls of digital history for early modern scholars.


There is one Edward Vallance, a most Radical preacher, who hath preached about the upstart soldier and sectary Oliver Cromwell. He has gathered a host of sermons about Old Noll, in what the heretics are now calling a Carnivale of Blogs.


There is a noted Blogger, one Roy Booth, whose Lectures are now replaced by Sermons about training parrots to perform music in eighteenth-century England.

Cardinal Wolsey, who I presumeth still dwells at Hampton Court, has taken as his subject historical re-enactors, reviewing Tim Moore’s book I Believe In Yesterday.

There is a collection of Scandalous preachers, who come together at Blogging the Renaissance. I hath heard reports of a most malignant Sermon on Robert Dover and the Cotswold Games, early modern England’s equivalent to the Olympics.


With apologies to Thomas Edwards, who must be rolling in his grave as you read this. For more on Edwards and Gangraena, see:

Thanks to everyone who sent in nominations. Carnivalesque 45 – an ancient/medieval edition – will be up in November at The Cranky Professor.

Carnivalesque Logo

An acrostic on the city of Gloucester

Wasting time with EEBO, part 96. This morning I came across the following acrostic written in manuscript in the Thomason Tracts:

To Collonel Edward Massie

Greatness of Spirit and a faithfull Heart
Lodging in thee, & acting each his part
On my behalfe, attended with success
Unparalleled, this story doth express
Considering which deserved love affords
Even to lodge thee in my cheife records
Still shalt thou live with men in fame sublime
Till that eternity shall swallow Time
Exalting the prime Agent, whose great name
Retrives into it selfe all, mortalls same

Decemb 1st 1647 John Dorney
Towne Clarke
of Gloucester

It’s written in Thomason’s own hand. I find his italics difficult sometimes so transcribing this was a good exercise in paleography. Quite how it ended up in Thomason’s collection, I’m not sure: no secondary works seem to reference the poem.

It’s possible that it was pasted up somewhere in print and Thomason transcribed it, but it seems more likely that Thomason transcribed it from another manuscript copy that was passed on to him. The timing makes this possibility particularly interesting. December 1647 was several years after Massie’s stint as Governor of Gloucester, and half a year after the Presbyterians failed attempt to take control control of London and Massie’s flight to the Netherlands. Thomason was also a Presbyterian, active in London politics during the late 1640s. John Dorney (not Downey as Thomason has copied it) was town clerk of Gloucester under Massie and can be assumed to have shared some of his political views, given the encomium he wrote. So at a guess this might represent some kind of manuscript circulation network amongst the defeated Presbyterians (not dissimilar to the manuscript networks amongst royalists).

Postscript – a reader has commented to point that out Edward Massie spelled his name thus, rather than Massey as he has tended to be known by scholars in the past. I have updated this post accordingly.

Look, blogs!

Here are a few new blogs I’ve recently discovered that may be of interest to early modernists, and to historians more widely.

Wynken de Worde is by Sarah Werner, a director at the Folger Shakespeare Institute. Her blog looks at early modern book history and has had some fascinating posts already on contemporary books owned by the Folger. I particularly enjoyed this post on Frances Wolfreston.

Airs, Waters, Places is by Olivia Smith, a PhD student at Queen Mary, University of London, and looks at the seventeenth-century environment. It’s prompted me to read John Evelyn’s Fumifugium, amongst other things.

The Undergraduate Historian is, not surprisingly, by an undergraduate historian who wants to make history their career. There are some interesting posts with tips on establishing yourself in the profession.

Finally, farewell to Notes of a Neophyte – you will be missed!

J.B. Williams

A History of English Journalism to the foundation of the Gazette (1908), by J.B. Williams, is now available in its entirety to download from the Internet Archive. His chapter in the Cambridge History of English and American Literature (1907-21) is also available in full on Bartleby.

Williams’s work is important for those studying English print culture during the seventeenth century. It was the first modern history of early seventeenth-century newsbooks, and spans the trade in corantoes in the 1620s and 1630s as well as the development of the newsbook proper in the 1640s and 1650s. Much like the political histories of the period by S.R. Gardiner and C.H. Firth, it has cast a long shadow over historians’ interpretation of early modern news culture.

Williams’s narrative is Whiggish and sees the 1640s as the crucible of the modern newspaper. In particular, he introduces a cast-list of “pioneering journalists” that have influenced how historians have interpreted newsbooks and used them as sources. Williams actually wrote under a pseudonym, at least during the early stages of his career (he abandoned it in 1914 although I haven’t yet discovered why, or found much else out about his background). His real name was J.G. Muddiman, and he was a descendant of the Restoration journalist Henry Muddiman (perhaps a reason for the pseudonym). For Williams, Muddiman is a “patriarch of English journalism”:

From the founding of the Gazette, until his death in 1692, he was little less than an institution, and the reason why up to the present he has been forgotten is because he devoted himself entirely to journalism, was not a pamphleteer, and engaged in no controversies. (p. 176).

Other newsbook writers receive short shrift compared to Muddiman. Marchamont Nedham, for example, is dismissed with the following words:

He was no patriarch of journalism, invented nothing, originated nothing, and his name is chiefly to be associated with the retrogressive and decadent Mercurius Politicus. (p. 178)

Only recently have scholars like Blair Worden and Joad Raymond restored Nedham’s reputation, together with the importance of Mercurius Politicus as a publication.

By contrast, Williams is intrigued by more eccentric personalities. For example, he has a love-hate relationship with Henry Walker, the independent preacher and pamphleteer. He takes gossip and invective about Walker by his enemies at face value, eager to cast him as an ugly red-headed Judas figure (p.73), who employed a “ragged regiment of tatterdemalions, Mercuries, and hawkers” to sell his books (p. 72). But he also wants to portray Walker as an early news pioneer – pioneering the newspaper advertisement and bringing a capitalist business sense to civil war journalism. This portrait of Walker as part purveyor of titillation, part Fleet Street editor is to misunderstand his complex personality. Walker was not just a newsbook writer: he worked as an ironmonger, seems briefly to have been ordained a deacon, was a well-known preacher, and later in the 1650s ministered to a parish. Walker is still misunderstood and his works sometimes dismissed, a mistake that derives in some part from Williams’s portrait of him.

While Williams was a pioneer in trawling the Thomason Tracts for newsbooks, his scholarship is not always perfect. Writers sometimes have titles mistakenly attributed to them, or attributions made without evidence. This focus on editors also ignores the role of printers, patrons and readers in bringing newsbooks to print.

Williams was also an ardent royalist. This is obvious from the moment you open his book, where you are confronted by a print from the Thomason collection of Charles II. The link to Thomason seems to be the only sketchy link to the book, given that it stops its main narrative in 1659 a year before Charles was restored to the throne, and deals only in conclusion with what happened in the early years of the Restoration.

So why still read Williams? Partly because his fascination with gossip makes for a good read. But he’s also important because, much like Gardiner, his work set the tone for subsequent generations of scholars. His history is a good starting point for anyone interested in understanding mid-seventeenth century newsbooks, although it needs to be read alongside more recent work on the subject. The extent to which Williams was himself influenced by the powerful narratives established by contemporary newsbook writers and historians is, however, another story…


Various posts on Cromwell are appearing across the blogosphere:

  • A collected blog carnival at Edward Vallance: 1, 2, 3.
  • Christopher Thompson on new evidence of Cromwell’s involvement in Huntingdon politics in the 1620s.
  • Gavin Robinson on Cromwell’s military career, and a comparison to that of his contemporary Sir William Balfour.