Mercurius Politicus

A blog (mostly) about early modern history

Tag: monkey

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).

Monkey magic

It started with Gavin Robinson posting a wonderful piece about the Ladybird biography of Oliver Cromwell – including an anecdote about the infant Oliver being carried onto a roof by a monkey. This prompted Ted Vallance to do some more digging into the provenance of the story, including this plea:

Incidentally, we really need a PhD thesis on monkey symbolism in early modern English literature.

This post is not that PhD thesis. But Gavin and Ted’s posts did prompt me to dust off a post which has been sitting unfinished in my drafts folder for about six months now, about a short-lived pamphlet craze about Prince Rupert and his she-monkey.

In the spring of 1643, the bookseller George Thomason collected three such pamphlets. The first pamphlet, called An exact description of Prince Ruperts malignant she-monkey, a great delinquent, was bought by Thomason on 25 February 1643. Unusually for quarto pamphlets of this period, it was printed partly in black-letter. It describes Rupert’s monkey wearing a black scarf and yellow gown trimmed with lace, and alludes to Rupert’s sexual adventures with her. The monkey:

Clap[s] her hand on her buttock and scratch[es] it as if it were troubled with the lustfull itch.

The monkey’s name is an abomination, just like:

The Spanish painter wrote in a church window Sunt with a C, which was an abomination.

It ended with this bit of doggerel (in more than one sense) poetry:

Prince Ruperts Monkey is a toy,

That doth exceed his dog called Boy,

Which through dogged folly

Both barks and bites

But this delights,

The Prince when’s melancholy.

The front page had a woodcut of the monkey in buttock-scratching pose, complete with a cavalier’s sword at her side.

On 8 March 1643, Thomason bought a sequel of sorts: The Parliaments unspotted-bitch: in answer to Prince Roberts dog called Boy, and his malignant she-monkey. This had a frontispiece showing Parliament’s elegant dog, who goes on in the pamphlet to respond to Rupert’s monkey and dog. Boy is supposed to have used his diabolical talents to discover the Oxford college’s plate ‘which my Lord Say could not’. Parliament’s bitch concludes that:

He is an imposture, a very juggling Boy, and a very cowardly malignant cur, though he look like a lion.

Finally on 15 March Thomason collected a third pamphlet appeared. The humerous tricks and conceits of Prince Roberts malignant she-monkey, discovered to the world before her marriage. Again it doesn’t pull any punches about the monkey’s sexual predilections:

She could never keep her legs together, but would throw them about in such an obscene manner, that any of the Cavaleers with a Carbine charged with two bullets might easily enter her maiden fort, rifle all the treasures of her virginity, and come off safe and sound with a pox to them.

All three pamphlets draw effectively on the imagery of the roaring girl, casting the monkey as Moll Cutpurse – a female who disrupts gender norms with her bawdy behaviour, a stigmatisation of Rupert which is amplified by combining it with the imagery of the monkey. Rupert’s actions at Turnham Green in November 1642 – smashing a regiment at Brentford while Charles saw a delegation from Parliament – had given him a terrible reputation amongst Londoners so it is likely that the first pamphlet was exploring an already well-established market, combining titillation with anti-royalist fervour.

The first pamphlet clearly sold well, given the two sequels it inspired. It is not clear who wrote them, but the imprints do give the names of the undertakers (probably the booksellers). The first was printed for Edward Johnson – only a couple of pamphlets with this imprint survive. The second was printed for R. Jackson. No other pamphlets with this imprint survive. The third was printed for T. Cornish. Again, no other pamphlets with this imprint survive. Part of me wonders whether these are false names, given that in early 1643 Parliament was still attempting to keep a zealous oversight of scandalous publications (to be affirmed and strengthened in the Licensing Ordinance of 1643). Anti-royalist propaganda was all very well, it seems, unless it transgressed other social norms.