Mercurius Politicus

A blog (mostly) about early modern history

Tag: prince rupert

From bullets to stones: the history of a woodcut

This woodcut is from the title page of A dog’s elegy, or, Rupert’s tears (London, 1644), and is probably familiar to anyone who knows about the life of Prince Rupert:

The woodcut shows Prince Rupert’s dog, Boye, being shot in a hail of bullets at Marston Moor as a witch stands by his side. Boye was reputed in various earlier pamphlets to have magical powers and to be impervious to shot, and his death did not escape the notice of London’s writers.

This particular account of Boye’s death was printed on 27 July 1644 by an unknown printer for the bookseller G. B. This may have been George Badger, based in St Dunstan’s near Fleet Street.

The woodcut must have been commissioned specifically for the pamplet, since it reproduces various details in the text such as beanfields, the city of York, and the witch who is alleged to have given birth to the dog.

Despite this, the image of the soldier may not be as new as it seems. A chance conversation on Twitter with Sir James Pennyman (@HistoryNeedsYou), a reenactor from Sir William Pennyman’s regiment, revealed a couple of details that I would never have spotted.

First, the musketeer’s helmet is a morion: a type of crested helmet common amongst foot soldiers in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. By the 1640s this was starting to become slightly old-fashioned, although it was still used by many soldiers in the civil wars and examples of surviving morions from the period do seem to exist. Nevertheless, it is a clue that all may not be as it seems with the image.

However, the big giveaway according to Sir James is that the musketeer is left handed and has his bandolier on back to front. If he fired in that position it would probably blind him or at the very least leave him burned. What seems most likely is that the artist has traced the image from another, earlier print onto the block, and it has been flipped into a mirror image when printed. Either he didn’t know enough about military equipment to spot the error, or he needed to produce an image of a soldier at short notice and speed, rather than accuracy, was his paramount consideration.

I haven’t yet been able to trace an original from which the artist may have copied this image. What I have traced, however, is a subsequent reworking of the image. This collage of woodcuts appeared thirty-seven years later in Strange and wonderful news from Yowel in Surry (London, 1681):

Printed for a bookseller called John Clarke, the pamphlet told the story of Joan Butts, who was alleged to be a witch and to have harrassed Elizabeth Burgess and her master Mr Tuers in Ewell in Surrey. The story starts in 1680 with a young girl called Mary Farborough who sickened and died. Meanwhile Joan called at the home of Mr Tuers begging for a pair of gloves but was turned away. Shortly afterwards lumps of clay flew from Elizabeth’s back and stones, dishes and candlesticks threw themselves at her. In 1682 Joan was put on trial but found not guilty: her fate thereafter is unknown.

What is interesting is how this pamphlet was able to be reworked. The witch on the left is Butts, and the bullets have become stones. None of the other details really match, but the parts that do have been deemed sufficient. The other woodcuts it’s been teamed with look like standard stock illustrations for ballads, although I haven’t yet been able to trace any of them. Intriguingly, the illustration are all on the inside front cover, not the title page. Instead, the title page is taken up with a lengthy précis of the contents. So they are not designed to draw the reader’s eye when on the bookstand. Perhaps they were there to clinch a sale for the browsing reader, or were being used to fill an otherwise empty page.

Where I draw a blank is how the woodcut came to be knocking around thirty-seven years later. Were the two pamphlets produced by the same printer? Was the block passed around printers or inherited by a junior partner in the business? At this point there is nothing I can find that gives any clues.

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.

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.