Archive for September 2014

Forgotten England: Gentlemen Farmers and Labourers in the Agrarian and Industrial Revolutions   Leave a comment

Part Two: Poverty, Poetry and Protest, 1815-51


As Napoleon’s power grew, the threat of invasion became very real. Home defence was a matter of urgency and the regular forces had to be supplemented by volunteer reserves. A force of yeomanry known as the Suffolk Light Dragoons was raised at Bury and a part-time navy, the Sea Fencibles, patrolled the coast. These bodies of amateur soldiers and sailors were very unreliable and many men joined them to evade conscription to the real army and navy. This was probably the situation with Isaac Gulliver’s privateers on the south coast. As an additional deterrent to French invasion both coasts were also studded with Martello Towers, small fortresses on which cannons were mounted. Eighteen were raised along the Suffolk shoreline, some of which can still be seen today, as in Kent. Whether or not they gave the local people much real protection is difficult to judge, since the only invasion attempt which actually landed soldiers did so on the Pembrokeshire coast near Fishguard, where there were no towers, and where the action ended in farce and surrender by the French after two or three days. The war provided a captive home market for English farmers. Napoleon’s blockade, the continental system, though only partially successful, served to strengthen the British government’s conviction that by agriculture alone we live in plenty without intercourse with other nations. Besides the soldiers and sailors, allied nations needed British corn. So, there was an emphasis on intensive crop farming, giving a further boost to the Agrarian Revolution.

The French wars coincided with a run of bad harvests (only two good harvests and fourteen bad ones in twenty-two years). Since the disruption of trade prevented foreign corn reaching English ports, the price of home-grown grain rocketed. Farmers hurried to profit from this situation, and the heavy clay-lands of central Suffolk came into their own. It was then that the Suffolk landscape took on its now familiar appearance – the heaths and meadows of the east and west harbouring flat flocks and herds, the centre dominated by wide fields, interrupted by occasional copses and water-meadows. Agricultural incomes ballooned during the Napoleonic Wars only to be severely deflated by the downward trend in prices by 1815. When the war ended the special conditions which had favoured this prosperity ended with it. In 1815 corn prices plummeted to half what they had been in 1812. Parliament, where the landed interest was dominant, hastened to pass the Corn Law which prohibited the import of foreign grain until the price had reached eighty shillings a quarter. For thirty-one years this appalling piece of legislation remained on the statute book, protecting farm profits at the expense of every man, woman and child in the country, who had to pay inflated prices for daily bread. Wheat prices continued to fall until 1835. Careful research has again shown that the effect of this deflation varied greatly from one locality to another, depending in particular on the local interface between agriculture and industry.

The situation would not have been so bad if all the sections of the rural community had shared the benefits brought by protection, but because there were more potential workers than jobs, wages remained low. Farmers kept their retained workers to a minimum and drew on the large pool of casual labour at the busy seasons of the year. Most workers lived in thatched, verminous medieval cottages or in redundant farmhouses, converted into smaller units by flimsy partitions, steep stairs and lean-to additons. Some farmers built new dwellings for their workers, may sub-standard, but others responsibly built. Those erected by Lord Tollemache on his estate at Helmingham are an excellent example of the best in modest domestic architecture. However, the farmworker’s basic need was for food. Like everyone else, he had to buy bread at artificially inflated prices and he needed better wages in order to do so. The prevailing poor law worked to his disadvantage in this, and the Speenhamland System, which operated from 1795 to 1834, provided that where a labourer’s wage was inadequate, it could be augmented from the poor rate. This demoralised the farm workers further, by bringing them within the category of the parish poor, depriving them of any incentive to work and subsidising the farmers by relieving them of the obligation to pay realistic wages.

When the French Wars ended, four hundred thousand soldiers and sailors were demobilised, too many of them seeking to return to work on the land, which was no longer available. The results were mass unemployment and low wages for those fortunate enough to find work. William Cobbett wrote of the conditions in which the labourers of Leicestershire were living:

Look at these hovels, made of mud and straw; bits of glass, or of cast-off windows, without frames or hinges frequently, but merely stuck in the mud wall. Enter them, and look at the bits of chairs or stools; the wretched boards tacked together to serve for a table; the floor of pebble, broken brick, and of the bare ground…

However, the life of the rural peasant was not entirely one of unrelieved misery and squalor. As a child Robert Bloomfield of Honington (1766-1823) lived with his mother who gained a meagre living from her dame school. He became a farm worker at Sapiston at the age of eleven until it broke his health. He went to London and found success there in the literary world of Wordsworth and Coleridge who admired the freshness and authenticity of his nature poetry. Nevertheless, he died, poor and half-blind, in Bedfordshire. The inspiration for his best work, of which The Farmer’s Boy is the greatest, came from his years of hard labour at Sapiston:

Fresh from the Hall of Bounty sprung

With glowing heart and ardent eye,

With songs and rhyme upon my tongue,

And fairy visions dancing by,

The mid-day sun in all his power,

The backward valley painted gay;

Mine was the road without a flower,

Where one small streamlet crossed the way.


George Crabbe (1754-1832) also grew up in Suffolk and began work in the field of medicine, but then turned to the church and to literature. As a poet he stands out for the honesty of his pictures of country life and the craftsmanship of his verse. His  poem The Vicar (1823) pokes fun at the way in which the country parson had to be all things to all people in his parish:

Now rests our Vicar. They who knew him best,

Proclaim his life t’have been entirely rest;

Free from all evils which disturb the mind,

Whom studies vex and controversies blind.  

The Rich approved, – of them in awe he stood;

The poor admired, – they all believed him good;

The old and serious of his habits spoke;

The frank and youthful loved his pleasant joke;

Mothers approved a safe contented guest,

And daughters one who backed each small request:

In him his flock found nothing to condemn;

Him sectaries liked, – he never troubled them;

No trifles fail’d his yielding mind to please,

And all his passions sunk in early ease;

Nor one so old has left this world of sin,

More like the being that he enter’d in…

…Thus he his race began, and to the end

His constant care was, no man to offend;

He was his Master’s soldier,

but not one To lead an army of his martyrs on:

Fear was his ruling passion.

Self-portrait, John Constable, c. 1799-1804, pencil and black chalk heightened with white and red chalk. © National Portrait Gallery, London.However, few would argue with the assertion that Suffolk’s greatest ever creative genius was John Constable (1776-1837; his self-portrait is on the right), who also loved his home county, though he too, like Robert Bloomfield, spent much of his life away from it, being from a more privileged background than Bloomfield. However, he was always striving to recapture naturalistic Suffolk moods in his work. He wrote to a friend that he had been…

The Hay Wain, John Constable, 1821, oil on canvas. © The National Gallery, London 2014… running after pictures and seeking truth at second-hand. I shall return to Bergholt, where I shall endeavour to get a pure and unaffected manner of representing the scenes that may employ me… the great vice of the present day is ’bravura’, an attempt to do something beyond the truth. Fashion always had and always will have its day, but truth in all things only will last, and can only have just claims on posterity.


He therefore returned to his beloved Dedham Vale, where he had grown up amid the rumble and roar of his father’s mill wheels. There he painted the pictures which have always been recognised as representing not just Suffolk but the essential England. Nevertheless, it was an England which was soon to change, perhaps the reason why Constable’s paintings of The Hay Wain (1821, left) and Flatford Mill evoke so nostalgic a response in most English people, regardless of how much they understand about the craft of his art.

A century of great artists in the Constable tradition devoted themselves to the Suffolk scene. They found a deep truth in the simple beauty of the land and, like Constable, they knew that truth in all things only will last.  

 In addition to the evidence of rural poverty uncovered by Cobbett’s Rural Rides, the evidence presented to the commissions of inquiry into agrarian distress was carefully sifted by historians, working from county to county. This produced the conclusion that the western animal-rearing districts of the country, for example Lancashire and Cheshire, lying close to big urban markets for potatoes and dairy produce, barely suffered any depression. Arable farming districts, on the other hand, had no spare investment funds during the spells of very low prices in the deflationary periods, in 1816, and 1821-23. Later, although the price of wheat did not stagger to its nadir until 1835. farm costs had adjusted downwards as well. This tended to thin out the symptoms of true distress in later price troughs. Yet despite drops in both prices and costs, production continued to climb. The yield of wheat per acre, for example, rose by sixteen per cent from 1815/19 to 1832/36. Over the same period, the total population of England and Wales increased from just over eleven million in 1815 to nearly fifteen million in 1836, and these extra four million mouths were somehow fed without the help of imports and without the consumption of foodstuffs per capita falling significantly.


029The answer to this conundrum is probably that it was the labourers in the south and south Midlands of England who were hit hardest during the post-war period and into the 1830s. It was here that the Labourer’s Revolt of the 1830s began and was fiercest. Here, the depressed labourers refused to continue to suffer in silence, but protested in sporadic outbursts of rick-burning, as well as in widespread support for the Chartist movement of the 1830s, continuing into the 1840s. In 1830 perhaps the most serious outburst of rioting flared up not among the stocking-knitters of Nottinghamshire or the hand-loom weavers of Lancashire, but among the farm labourers of the eastern counties, where the threshing machine was increasing the number of labourers out of work during the winter months when threshing was done. The installation of the machinery was strenuously resisted by those whose labour, and consequent livelihood, it threatened to make redundant. Hence the farm labourer’s hostility to the horse-powered threshing machine which he saw depriving him of his winter work. But the violence which erupted in 1830 had been building up for some years, since the end of the French Wars, mainly due to widespread unemployment and depressed wages in the rural south and east. However, it was the particular anger against the threshing machines that fanned the riots flared in the southern countryside in 1830 and 1831.

021The disturbances began in Kent and quickly spread as far west as Dorset and as far north as Northamptonshire and East Anglia. An imaginary leader, Captain Swing, was invented (rather like the Nottinghamshire leader General Ludd) and, under his orders, farm labourers destroyed nearly four hundred threshing machines. The Swing Rising did not last long, however, as the Government, through local magistrates, dealt severely with the rioters. Six were hanged, over four hundred transported and about the same number imprisoned at home. By the end of 1830 order had been restored, though the rising did delay the spread of the machines. Nevertheless, the problem of low wages remained and increasing numbers of labourers decided to seek work in the growing industrial towns. Those who stayed put and tried to improve their wages through early attempts at forming unions, like the Tolpuddle Martyrs were dealt with like naval mutineers and also transported, leaving a legacy of bitterness. Here, too, the New Poor Law seemed most oppressive and had to be alleviated by the Speenhamland System, since there were few alternative occupations to farm labour, and periods of unemployment were almost inevitable.

In Dorset, annual contracts at the hiring fairs were usual, but wages were paid by the week, with nothing on wet days; much of the pay was in kind and the whole family was expected to work on the farm. The great difference in the rate of wages between the southern and northern counties was still apparent to James Caird in the High Farming period which followed the Repeal of the Corn Laws. He found that this wage differential was far greater than the prices of agricultural prices:

A bushel of wheat, a pound of butter, a stone of meat, is not more valuable in Cumberland, or the North Riding, than in Suffolk or Berkshire; yet the wages of the labourer in the two former (counties) are from sixty to seventy per cent higher than in the two latter counties… The higher rate is unmistakably due to the increased demand for labour. This has been greatest in the manufacturing and mining districts of the north, and near the commercial towns and great seaports… The welfare of the agricultural labourer is, more than any class in the community, dependent on the continued progress of our manufacturing and mercantile industry.

 Pictured below: The House of Commons in 1832.

021 (2)In the wake of the rural riots and rick-burning of the early 1830s, the passing of the 1832 Great Reform Act was due, in large measure, to the fears of the ruling classes that if they did not concede reforms, they might, at some imminent point, face revolution, as in France, from a combination of impoverished farm labourers in the southern and eastern counties and disenfranchised industrial workers in the growing northern and midland boroughs which had little or no representation in Parliament.

The archaic system of representation was at last challenged in the Reform Bill. At the beginning of the nineteenth century Suffolk’s parliamentary representation, unaltered for two centuries, was as follows: two county members and two borough members each for Ipswich, Bury, Sudbury, Orford, Dunwich, Eye and Aldeburgh. This distribution of representation was based on medieval settlements. Since then, all the coastal towns had dwindled in importance and Dunwich was one of the most rotten boroughs in the country; it consisted of only a handful of houses, since many of those which had been part of the thriving medieval port had long since fallen into the sea. Its corporation had to exercise their electoral franchise in a boat anchored over where the centre of the now submerged town had been. Virtually all votes were controlled by local magnates: Bury was likewise a pocket borough of the earls of Bristol, Orford was controlled by Lord Hereford and Eye by Lord Cornwallis.

Voters who were not tenants of the local landlord or in some way dependent on him were in a position of power; they could sell their vote to the highest bidder, and normally they did just that. The normal rate in Ipswich was three pounds, but this rose steadily as polling day came nearer and could be ten times that on the day itself. Candidates were expected to give sumptuous banquets for the electors and to give presents to their wives. Bribery, corruption and violence were a customary part of all elections. Sudbury was particularly notorious, with the mayor openly advertising that he and his colleagues were up for sale. Bands of electioneers wandered the town persuading voters to join their camp and wear their candidates favours. Once a voter had been recruited he was cooped up in a local hostelry, there to be plied with beer and kept away from the opposition who otherwise might try to nobble him. Dickens based his Eatanswell election in Pickwick Papers on Sudbury.

As a result of the Reform Act of 1832, Suffolk gained four county members and deprived Dunwich, Orford and Aldeburgh of their representation. It also extended the vote by reducing the property qualification. Now, ten-pound   householders in towns and ten-pound copy-holders in the countryside enfranchised. Corrupt practices could not be stopped until the secret ballot was introduced in 1872. However, politics remained a game for the rich which bore little relevance for the majority of the population. Even after the passing of the 1832 Act, five out of six men were without the vote and the industrial areas were still under-represented in the House of Commons.


001Writing at the time of the second Reform Act of 1867, George Eliot, alias Mary Ann Evans (1819-80), wrote a novel, Felix Holt, in which she looked back to the Warwickshire countryside she had grown up in thirty-five years earlier, at the time of the first Reform Act of 1832 and at how the temper of life changed by the first railways. The impression she gives is initially of a contrast between pleasant rural and unpleasant urban society, but closer reading reveals that, to Eliot’s eyes, the charm of the villages masked a society which was credulous and occasionally vicious; and although the new industrialism appeared to promote dirt and sensual indulgence, it could also respond to its problems in ways which the old order had never shown the capacity to do. Even the convinced enemy of capitalist industry, Engels, was able to write in the 1840s that,

The English worker today is no longer an Englishman of the old school. He no longer resembles his capitalist neighbour in being a mere machine for making money. His capacity for feeling has developed.

But where Engels saw the transition from rural to industrial life as a matter of decision on the part of society, Eliot saw it as a matter of decision on the part of the individual. Engels argued that people lived in industrial towns because they had no choice in the matter, whereas Eliot assumed that they chose to move and live there. Whatever the truth,  between 1835 and 1837, a period of returning and continuing hardship, the steady trickle of people leaving Suffolk became a flood, after the Poor Law Amendment Act provided financial assistance wishing to emigrate. Of the 6,403 people who took advantage of the scheme, 1,083 were from the county, most of them emigrating to Canada. In addition, more than two thousand left home for the industrial Midlands and North of England.


George Eliot’s remedies for the condition of the working people of Warwickshire was essentially a High Victorian Moral one, and she actually published an address to working men in 1867 using the name Felix Holt. Industrial society needed to be more ordered, workers should develop self-reliance and spend their, by then, high wages on books, and their time in the library rather than in the pub. Nevertheless, in her novel she does capture something of the nature of a more raw and rural, rough and ready English society:


Five-and-thirty years ago the glory had not yet departed from the old coach-roads: the great roadside inns were still brilliant with well-polished tankards, the smiling glances of pretty barmaids, and the repartees of jocose ostlers; the mail still announced itself by the merry notes of the horn; the hedge-cutter or the rick-thatcher might still know the exact hour by the unfailing yet otherwise meteoric apparition of the pea-green Tally ho or the Yellow Independent; and elderly gentlemen in pony-chaises, quartering nervously to make way for the rolling swinging swiftness, had not ceased to remark that times were finely changed since they used to see the pack-horses and hear the tickling of their bells on this very highway.

In those days there were pocket boroughs, a Birmingham unrepresented in Parliament and compelled to make strong representations out of it, unrepealed corn laws, three-and-sixpenny letters, a brawny and many-breeding pauperism, and other departed evils; but there were some pleasant things too, which have also departed… the elderly man has his enviable memories, and not the least of them is the memory of a long journey in mid-spring or autumn on the outside of a stage-coach… the slow old-fashioned way of getting from one end of our country to the other is the better thing to have in the memory… the happy outside passenger seated on the box from the dawn to the gloaming gathered enough stories of English life, enough of English labours in town and country… to make episodes for a modern Odyssey… Suppose only that this journey took him through that central plain, watered at one extremity by the Avon, at the other by the Trent. As the morning silvered the meadows with their long lines of bushy willows marking the watercourses, or burnished the golden corn-ricks clustered near the long roofs of some midland homestead, he saw the full-uddered cows driven from their pasture to the early milking. Perhaps it was the shepherd, head-servant of the farm, who drove them, his sheep-dog following… Mail or stage-coach belonged to that distant system of things called ‘Gover’ment’, which… was no business of his… his solar system was the parish; the master’s temper and the casualties of lambing-time were his region of storms. He cut his bread and bacon with his pocket-knife, and felt no bitterness except in the matter of pauper labourers and the bad luck that sent contrarious seasons and the sheep-rot… hedgerows were often as tall as the labourers’ cottages dotted along the lanes, or clustered into a small hamlet, their little dingy windows telling, like thick-filmed eyes, of nothing but darkness within. The passenger on the coach-box, bowled along above such a hamlet, saw chiefly the roofs of it> probably it turned is back on the road, and seemed to lie away from everything but its own patch of earth and sky, away from the parish church by long fields and green lanes… the inhabitants were probably so free from superstition that they were in much less awe of the parson than the overseer. Yet they were saved from the excesses of Protestantism by not knowing how to read, and by the absence of handlooms… to be pioneers of Dissent: they were kept safely in the ‘via media’ of indifference, and could have registered themselves in the census by a big black mark as members of the Church of England.

But there were trim, cheerful villages too, with neat or handsome parsonage and grey church set in the midst; there was the pleasant tinkle of the blacksmith’s anvil, the patient cart-horses waiting at his door… the wheelwright putting the last touch to a blue cart with red wheels… The land around was rich and marly, great corn-stacks stood in the rick-yards – for the rick-burners had not found their way hither; the homesteads were of those rich farmers who paid no rent, or had the rare advantage of a lease, and could afford to keep their corn till prices had risen. The coach would be sure to overtake some of them on their way to their outlying fields or to the market-town, sitting heavily on their well-groomed horses, or weighing down one side of an olive-green gig. They probably thought of the coach with some contempt, as an accommodation for people… who, wanting to travel to London and such distant places, belonged to the trading and less solid part of the nation. The passenger on the box could see that this was the district of protuberant optimists, sure that old England was the best of all possible countries, and that if there were any facts which had not fallen under their own observation, they were facts not worth observing> the district of clean little market-towns without manufactures, of fat livings, an aristocratic clergy, and low poor-rates. But as the day wore on the scene would change: the land would begin to be blackened with coal-pits, the rattle of hand-looms to be heard in hamlets and villages… here the pale eager faces of hand-loom weavers, men and women, haggard from sitting up late at night to finish the week’s work, hardly begun till the Wednesday. Everywhere the cottages and the small children were dirty, for languid mothers gave their strength to the loom… The gables of Dissenting chapels now made a visible sign of religion, and of a meeting-place to counterbalance the alehouse, even in the hamlets… The breath of manufacturing town, which made a cloudy day and a red gloom by night on the horizon, diffused itself over all the surrounding country, filling the air with eager unrest. Here was a population not convinced that old England was as good as possible; here were multitudenous men and women aware that their religion was not exactly the religion of their rulers, who might therefore be better than they were, and who, if better, might alter many things which now made the world perhaps more painful than it need be, and certainly more sinful. Yet there were the grey steeples too, and the churchyards… there were broad fields and homesteads, and fine old woods… In these midland districts the traveller passed rapidly from one phase of English life to another… after the coach had rattled over the pavement of a manufacturing town, the scene of riots and trades-union meetings, it would take him in another ten minutes into a rural region, where the neighbourhood of the town was only felt in the advantages of a near market for corn, cheese and hay… it was easy for the traveller to conceive that town and country had no pulse in common, except where the handlooms made a far-reaching straggling fringe about the great centres of manufacture… rural Englishmen… for the most part, resisted the rotation of crops and stood by their fallows: and the coachman would tell how in one parish an innovating farmer… had been fairly driven out by popular dislike, as if he had been a confounded Radical… and transferred his lease.  

In her later novels, Eliot continued to write about the whole of human society, especially in Middlemarch (1871-72). which many consider to be the greatest novel in English. Again, she sets it in the time of the first Reform Act, creating the fictional town of Middlemarch in the centre of England. Its themes are immense, from the changes in the voting system to medicine; from the coming of the railways to the roles of women. It considers the importance of the dead hand of the past, and ends with the heroine Dorothea finding her own independence and happiness. In another of her great novels, Silas Marner, she again contrasts the growing urban communities like Lantern Yard with the rural villages of the English Midlands in the experience of one man, The Weaver of Raveloe.

020A few leaders of the working people of industrial Britain believed, like George Eliot and other middle-class writers and social reformers,  in self-improvement through education, temperance and religion. The picture on the left shows the very respectable gathering of trades unionists which was organised to protest against the treatment of the six Tolpuddle martyrs whom the Dorchester magistrates sentenced to transportation for life for their trade union activities. They were Methodists. In the late twenties and early thirties there were several unsuccessful attempts to establish large national unions of workers, including  the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union, founded by the Welsh industrialist, Robert Owen. More of these leaders, however, remained suspicious of allying themselves to the progressive middle classes, believing that, for example, the abolition of the Corn Laws and the arrival of cheaper grain, flour and bread would just be a pretext for employers to lower wages further.

022The answer was a Magna Carta for the modern age: In May 1838 the Chartists sought to change the situation for working people by publishing and petitioning Parliament to accept the six points of The People’s Charter, the first of which was universal manhood suffrage. Three months later, the Charter was adopted by a crowd of two hundred thousand people at a meeting in Birmingham, marking the launching of the movement. The size of the crowd was an indication of the support which it was already attracting from widespread geographical areas, but most of these were industrial areas, where the rising corn prices and collapse of foreign trade in 1837-38 led to the support for the movement from unemployed workers in the manufacturing districts.

Above: The second Chartist petition is carried to the House of Commons, 1842

002The lack of support for Chartism from the southern agricultural districts and from the capital itself was a major part of the ultimate defeat of the movement in 1848. Feargus O’Connor, MP for Nottingham, the charismatic Irishman who had founded The Northern Star as an anti-poor law paper and turned it into the major organ of Chartist politics, held back the physical force wing of Chartism by promising a final attempt at moral persuasion. A Chartist Convention would meet in London at the beginning of April and present the latest monster petition – five million names, it was said, on a document so immense that it would have to be taken to parliament in great bales, loaded on a farm wagon pulled by four big dray horses. Supporters, including Irish nationalist confederates, would descend on the capital from the Midlands and the North and would meet in morning assemblies at various Greens and Squares north of Westminster and move south in converging processions towards the Thames bridges, thence to their mass meeting place at Kennington Common. After speeches had been made, the petition was to be brought to Parliament. The Duke of Wellington sent out orders to allow controlled access over the bridges to Kennington – but, if necessary, to bar the route back. Some eighty-five thousand special constables had been sworn to supplement the four thousand Peelers of Sir Robert Peel’s Metropolitan Police and the eight thousand troops who were standing by under the command of the hero of Waterloo.

004Given this overwhelming display of force, O’Connor had the same choice to make as faced all the leaders of European marches and demonstrations in the springtime of 1848: whether to force the issue by attacking the soldiers head-on, hoping for defections, to opt for a tactical stand-off or even beat the retreat. In making his decision, he knew that the geography of rebellion was not on the side of the Chartists. In Paris, Berlin, Budapest, Prague and Vienna, the footsoldiers of liberty were local artisans and workers who barricaded themselves in their own quarters, hoisted the flags of revolution and defied government troops to come and get them. They could legitimately appear to be defending their own hearths and homes. But Londoners en masse were not so unified in their hatred of the Government, and still less of their romantic young Queen. The rank-and-file Chartists from the regions and provinces had already been stigmatised as an occupying army. At Kennington, speaking through repeaters standing on platforms dispersed through the huge crowd, surrounded by Irishmen, O’Connor announced that his orders were not to provoke any kind of incident with the soldiers and police. Nevertheless, on Blackfriars Bridge on the return march, faced with a solid wall of truncheon-wielding police, there was heaving, stone-throwing, charges and counter-charges. Arrests were made and heads bled. Many of the younger men among the demonstrators were disappointed, but O’Connor really had no choice. He may have had the numbers, but he had no means of arming them to face disciplined and resolute forces of order. The early photograph of the meeting at Kennington shows a disciplined, Sunday-best dressed respectable protest by workers always anxious to give the lie to their demonization as a drunken, criminal rabble.


This was not the end of Chartism as a working-class movement, however. Some of the leaders became trade union leaders in the 1850s and fitful rebellion continued in Lancashire, Cheshire and Yorkshire. At the same time, less confrontational means of advancing the cause of reform through working-class self-improvement, were being attempted. The Chartist Land Company had been established by O’Connor in 1845 in fulfilment of the dream inherited from the seventeenth-century Diggers and more recent Irish reformers. Its aim was to take back to the rural world from which they or their forebears had come those workers, often hand-loom weavers or stocking frame knitters made redundant by the new power machinery, who found themselves stranded in the new urban areas described by George Eliot, or who were first generation immigrants to factories who wanted to return to the countryside. Those able to put down a little money were given a plot of a few acres on which food could be grown and a few animals kept: this was the resurrection of the strips and back lots they had lost to enclosure and engrossment.  The Land Company has often been characterised as a utopian venture, but if it was, it was also based on solid business sense. It tapped into the already active instincts of working men and women to save enough money to buy property, including land at Great Dodford in Worcestershire, where a single cottage remains today as testimony to that spirit (photo left).

Subscribers were sold shares corresponding to their investment, and the first settlers were chosen by lottery, subsequently by auction or by the putting down of direct deposits. The motto of these settlers was do or die, as they cleared boulders, laid out roads and paths, and planted hedges. The conspicuous presence of women in the village was another indicator that, once the worst of the hard times were over, working families might be prepared to settle for the evolution of a rural domestic life rather than an urban revolution. This was not defeatism, but evidence of a quieter, constructive strategy which would come to dominate the second half century of the working-class movement.  Nevertheless, in 1851, more than half a million men and women continued to struggle for a living in the cotton mills of the North, the majority of them women.

023024Meanwhile, the advent of The Railway Age was about to bring steam trains within sound of Constable’s East Bergholt. An Act of Parliament was needed to set up a Railway Company, since building a railway line involved the compulsory purchase of land. To obtain Parliament’s permission those wishing to form a company had to present a detailed prospectus giving details of route which the engineer proposed to follow and a list of all the landowners affected, who might well protest. Some landowners succeeded in changing the route, diverting the line past their estates, but others accepted the compensation provided. The engineer had to make his line as level as possible, filling in hollows and embankments, cutting through rising ground and driving tunnels through hills. Bridges, some of considerable height and length were needed, crossing marshy ground as well as river estuaries. All this was difficult work and demanded great skill on the part of the supervising engineer. In turn, the engineers required men to dig and build for them, and at one stage, in 1847, there were three hundred thousand navvies working up and down the country building railway lines. Their predecessors, the navigation workers, had built the canals. Now, armed with picks and shovels, dressed in moleskin trousers, hobnail boots and rainbow waistcoats, they gained a reputation for hard work and riotous living. They came mainly from Ireland, Scotland and the north of England, going wherever they were needed and living in shanty towns thrown together near the works.



On one line it was estimated that, in one year, they consumed nearly one and a half million litres of beer and over twenty thousand litres of spirits. During a full day’s work they could shift in the region of twenty tonnes of earth. The work was often dangerous, especially where gunpowder was used, and the navvies often increased the risks through their own recklessness. Three navvies were killed on the London and Birmingham Railway trying to leap over the mouth of a shaft in a game of follow-my-leader. Their skills were required overseas as well as in Britain, so that in the course of the nineteenth century they literally built railways around the world.


025 (2)024 (2)n 1836, the Eastern Counties Railway Company was formed to build and operate a line from London to Yarmouth via Colchester, Ipswich and Norwich, in direct competition with the stage-coach services which already followed the same route. The Eastern Counties Company’s project was the most ambitious to date, too ambitious as it turned out. When it reached Colchester in 1843 work stopped because local shareholders were outbid by others who were all for getting the stock rolling and had lost interest in meeting the transport needs of East Anglia. As the Norwich Mercury bitterly remarked, local people might have saved the line by buying up shares for a sum not larger than was expended in bribery at the last Norwich election.

None025theless, an Ipswich businessman formed another company, the Eastern Union, to complete the work, and by 1849 Ipswich had been linked to Bury and Norwich, with branch lines to Harwich, Hadleigh and Sudbury. There then followed a bitter battle between the two companies. However, the Eastern Counties Company still controlled the line south of Colchester, so by fixing high through fares they were able to force the majority of Norwich travellers to use the alternative route. In 1854 the Eastern Union was forced to sell out to its rivals. Other branch lines were laid by small local companies, bringing Lowestoft, Beccles, Halesworth, Framlingham and Woodbridge into the steam age. All these branch lines were eventually taken over by the Eastern Counties Company, which was then reconstituted as the Great Eastern Railway Company in 1862.

At the time of the 1801 Census, Lowestoft was a decayed town of 2,332 inhabitants. Many efforts were made to improve the port, culminating in the building of the harbour in 1831. Then Sir Henry Morton Peto, a London builder and self-made man, who had amassed an immense fortune, bought the estate of Somerleyton, with its beautiful Tudor House, in 1844. He rebuilt the house, restored the church and virtually reconstructed the whole village. He also bought the branch line of the Eastern Counties Railway into Lowestoft in 1847. Lowestoft at once became the harbour for Norwich and once more accessible to the rest of the country. The fisheries revived, and the port became an important port of call for coasters. In 1854 the local authorities were empowered by the Lowestoft Improvement Act to levy a two-shilling rate to repair buildings, build new homes and install lighting, sewerage and other amenities. In 1861 the population was 9,413 and climbing.

By this time other Suffolk coastal towns had begun to share in the revival. Resorts were becoming popular destnations as the railways brought holidaymakers right into the east coast ports. In Southwold local businessmen embarked on an ambitious programme of speculative building of houses and hotels. White’s Directory for 1844 stated,

Felixstowe is now in high celebrity as a bathing place, and speculators have within the last few years erected here neat houses and cottages, which are let to visitors during the bathing season.


Aldeburgh and Orford became popular with yachtsmen. It was the essential Suffolk which attracted the visitors. The unique quality of the light, the wide vistas, the rich textures of fields, copses and hedgerows, mellowed cottages, stately church towers, mills, rivers, estuaries and shores, together with human and animal participants in the landscape – all these attracted the admiration of poets and painters alike.

Despite the coming of the railways, cutting across the countryside and along the coast, the face of Suffolk remained unchanged, especially compared with the Midlands, Durham, south Wales, and much of Lancashire and Yorkshire. Suffolkers continued in their traditional ways, most of them never venturing more than five miles from their native villages. Even so, the era of steam and the age of progress had arrived to stay and not even Suffolk could remain entirely unmoved by their spirit. New industries were created, and old ones revitalised. The vestiges of the cloth industry were still to be found in the south of the county. A little woollen cloth had continued to be made for local markets, but it was being replaced by mixed textiles such as fustians, hempen cloths and drabbet. The latter, getting its name from its greyish-white colour, was used principally in the making of farmers’ smocks. The weaving was still done in the traditional manner, on hand-looms at home. The weavers were not organised as a corporate body but completely in the hands of the entrepreneurs, and were lucky to earn six or seven shillings for a hard week’s work, less than that earned by a farm labourer when in full employment. The continuity of their work makes the story of the Suffolk weavers one of the most remarkable in the industrial history of both the county and the country. Over nine centuries they maintained their craft, adapting themselves to changing demands, and only in the late twentieth century did the last loom in Lavenham fall silent.

It was these traditional skills and low wages which brought London silk merchants to a number of towns and villages between Ipswich and Haverhill in the eighteenth century. In the course of time, cottage industry was replaced by the factory system. Mills powered by water or steam were built in Hadleigh, Glemsford and Nayland, and at Sudbury many handloom operators and their machines were installed in factories where the employer could exercise more control over them. The fortunes of the industry fluctuated but at its peak it employed as many as one and a half thousand hands in the production of plain and figured silks, satins and velvets.


One industry which was already ancient when the first weaver set up his loom was flint working, probably having a continuous history in the Brandon area from Neolithic times. For many centuries the industry had taken second place to sheep-rearing, but when the woollen cloth industry declined, whatever specialised sheep farming continued in the county deserted the poor pastures of the west. Sporting estates, rabbit farming and limited barley production were all that the area was good for, except flint. It was used steadily for building walls, including those of castles, manor houses and almshouses, and instead of brick in humbler farmhouses and cottages. Many of the county’s more impressive churches, such as at Lavenham and Woodbridge, and other public buildings were dressed with flint. In the nineteenth century there was a revival in the use of flint as a building material for labourers’ cottages, railway stations and municipal buildings.

At the same time flint was being used in the firing mechanisms of the English guns which wrought havoc among the Napoleonic cavalry and infantry. Flintlock muskets, more dependable in the wet and more rapidly reloaded, replaced the matchlock muskets of previous conflicts. A Brandon flint was reckoned to be good for five hundred shots.

027 (3)
In 1819 Ransome and Sons constructed Ipswich’s first iron bridge and supplied the railway with chairs which secured the rails to the sleepers. The Company’s single most important innovation, in 1803, was that of a casting process which produced a blade whose under side was harder than its top side which prevented the rapid blunting of plough shares. The development was especially important to the grain farmers of the heavy clay belt. This was only one of the numerous patents obtained by Ransomes during its first century and by 1850 the Company was employing over one thousand five hundred men. Ipswich, in general, benefited from the commercial boom of the early Victorian era. The coming of the railway kept fashionable Ipswich society supplied with its sundry wants.

027 (2)In 1843 the Rev. Professor John Henslow, one of the foremost botanists of the day, was staying with relatives in Felixstowe. He was particularly interested in fertilisers, as it had recently been discovered that exhausted soil needed nitrogen and phosphates to revive it. Henslow noticed that the red cragg and London clay of the neighbourhood contained phosphatic nodules. This discovery was taken up by Edward Packard, a Saxmundham chemist, who was already producing artificial fertiliser from bones. From the Ransomes he bought an old flour mill on the Ipswich dockside and began the commercial exploitation of the phosphatic nodules which Henslow had called coprolites. Used first by Suffolk farmers, the new fertiliser was soon taken up enthusiastically by foreign agriculturalists, and another commodity was added to Ipswich’s regular exports. The discovery of coprolite helped the trade of the docks (pictured left).

The Repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 demonstrated finally that they had not been necessary in the first place. Foreign competitors were in no position to undercut British wheat. From the late 1840s, agriculture began to enjoy considerable prosperity once more and the wages of farm labourers rose. However, not for the last time, there was now a clear division emerging between two Britains, and within them two Englands. It was not a simple division between new urban areas and rural counties, but between those essentially industrial regions of the country where new markets for goods and labour enabled wages to rise more rapidly, both in town and countryside, contrasted with those rural regions where industry remained essentially domestic in character, so that labour remained in strong supply and wages did not rise as rapidly. In focusing on the growth of urban England during the Industrial Revolution, some historians have tended to forget this symbiotic relationship with rural England. Whilst it may have been forgotten, even by some contemporaries, it was not a lost world, even to the immigrants to London, Birmingham and Coventry who left it, many of whom took their country traditions, customs, folklore and patterns of speech with them.


Martin Dickinson (1990), Britain, Europe and Beyond.  Basingstoke: MacMillan.

Simon Schama (2002), A History of Britain 3: 1776-2000: The Fate of Empire. London: BBC Worldwide.

Robert McCrum, et. al. (1987), The Story of English. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Derek Wilson (1977), A Short History of Suffolk. London: Batsford.

Christopher Harvie, et. al. (eds., 1975), Industrialisation and Culture, 1830-1914. Basingstoke: MacMillan (for The Open University Press).

Neil Tonge & Michael Quincey (1985), Documents and Debates: British Social and Economic History, 1800-1900. Basingstoke: MacMillan.

Forgotten England: Gentlemen Farmers and Labourers in the Agrarian and Industrial Revolutions   Leave a comment

Part One:  1715 – 1815 – Agriculture, Trade and Towns.

005In 1700, England and Wales were still largely agricultural countries. A total population of just five and a half million (the current population of Scotland) lived mostly in small villages and market towns. With a population of 674,000, London was the only sizeable town by modern standards. A medieval peasant transported from the year 1415 to the year 1715 would have found himself still in a familiar landscape. For most people in England at the beginning of the eighteenth century, life still centred around the village where they lived and worked. It was in this small circumference that the farm labourer spent the whole of his life. Villages were sited where the soil was suitable for growing crops or where sheep could be reared. The majority of the population lived, as in medieval times, in the south Midlands, East Anglia and the South East (see map), but even there, where the soil was most fertile, most villages had remained small.

A typical English farming village consisted of little more than a single street lined with farmhouses and cottages, surrounded on all sides by the fields worked by the villagers. At the centre were the manor house and the parish church. The lord of the manor, now known as the squire, continued to own more land than anybody else in the village, and was also the local magistrate or Justice of the Peace (JP), responsible for maintaining law and order. He might also be a Member of Parliament, which would increase his ability to help the people of the county borough he represented. Sometimes the squire might ride with the local hunt or go shooting, both of which sports were becoming increasingly popular. He would also entertain his friends and important neighbours to lavish meals. Squire Custance of Ringland in Norfolk frequently invited the local rector, Parson Woodforde, to dinner:

006 (2)We had for dinner a Calf’s head, boiled fowl and tongue, a saddle of mutton roasted on the side table, and a swan roasted with currant jelly sauce for the first course. The second course a couple of wild fowl called dun fowls, larks, blamange, tarts, etc., etc. and a good dessert of fruit after among which was a damson cheese.


The rector was another important person in the village, and besides attending to his religious duties, he would supervise the farming of his land. As they had done for centuries, the tenant farmers provided the rector with a tenth, a tithe, of their produce. The tenant farmers rented their land, but other farmers owned theirs. The different holdings varied in size, but most consisted of less than forty hectares and many of less than ten hectares. Some villagers would work as labourers on the larger holdings. It was still common for these labourers to live in with the farmer and his family. Later, as farmers became more prosperous, this custom declined. The cottagers in the village might also work as labourers for part of the year. However, they mainly supported themselves by growing vegetables and a little corn on their small plots of land, or by grazing a few animals on the village common.

At the beginning of the century, perhaps half of the arable land in England still consisted of great open fields undivided by fences and hedges. In a village where this was so, farming would have changed little since medieval times. Very often the village had three big fields that were divided into strips of land separated only by uncultivated ridges known as balks. Each year one field was left fallow, with nothing being sown in it, a simple way of ensuring that the soil remained fertile. The open-field system worked well for centuries, but it did have its weaknesses. Since all the livestock in the village grazed together, disease could spread rapidly. One Oxfordshire farmer reported that he had known years when not a single sheep kept in open fields escaped the rot. In addition, some farmers’ lands were divided up into far too many lots, as many as twenty-four. Such inefficiencies did not matter so long as the land was producing enough food for both people and animals, but in the eighteenth century the population, recovering from the Great Plague in the century before, was increasing more rapidly than ever before. By the end of the century more than nine million people lived in England and Wales. To feed these people, the land had to be farmed more efficiently.

007Life was precarious for labourers, cottagers and for the smaller farmers. They simply survived from one year to the next with nothing to put by as a surplus to support them in bad times or in their old age. Many families were compelled to seek help from the parish authorities because the man of the house had fallen sick. Rural poverty continued to be the largest single problem in England as the eighteenth century progressed. Only slightly above the growing number of unemployed and unemployable were the mass of those whose earnings were totally inadequate to keep body and soul together. Agricultural labourers were employed on a daily basis at five or six pence a day. In the slack seasons of the year, when the weather was bad and the harvests failed, they had nothing to do but stay at home or beg in the streets of nearby towns.

013There had been a thriving woollen cloth industry since the fourteenth century, with its centre first in East Anglia and then in Yorkshire, based on the domestic system, with workshops and fulling mills, but factories were as yet unknown. Woollen cloth manufactured in England had been sold abroad for generations, with people working in their own homes. The yarn was spun and the cloth woven in cottages and farmhouses throughout the country. The West Country, East Anglia and Yorkshire were the three main centres of cloth production, where spinning and weaving had become full-time occupations for some, and a means of supplementing incomes for many more. Nevertheless, in Suffolk, even when the yarn industry was flourishing, employing about thirty-six thousand women and children, the spinsters were paid only three or four pence for a full day’s work and had to look to the parish for additional help.

Though the poor rate increased in every community, the Elizabethan poor law was, by this time, quite inadequate to meet the needs of depressed rural communities. The system had to be supplemented by private acts of charity and many members of the more favoured classes considered such acts as part of their Christian social responsibility. Gentlemen, merchants, parsons and ladies founded almshouses, hospitals and schools. They left land and capital sums to provide for the perpetual relief of the poor.

Although these funds continue to assist rural communities today, at the time they were insufficient to fill the gap between needs and provision. By the mid-eighteenth century several parishes were seeking powers from Parliament for incorporating themselves and of regulating the employment and maintenance of the poor by certain rules not authorised by existing poor laws. Beginning in 1756, Acts were passed which gave parishes the authority to acquire funds for the building of houses of industry, bringing into existence the first workhouses.                


017 (2)There were, of course, many degrees and orders of society between the merchant and yeoman farmer and the artisan and casual labourer. In 1752 a carpenter could earn 1s. 10d. and a bricklayer (with mate) 3s 4d. for a day’s work. However, the insecure and short time nature of many rural occupations was clear for all to see and many to experience. Parents who wanted a greater degree of security for their children tried to place them in service. Any family aspiring to some sort of social status kept servants and could afford to do so because wages were so low. The servants accepted their pittance, long hours of work, lack of freedom and the insults of their betters because it would not have occurred to them to do otherwise and because they were reasonably fed, cleanly clothed and, by comparison with their own homes, luxuriously accommodated.

However, the majority of Suffolk men and women continued to be employed in agriculture. Until the Agricultural Revolution of the second half of the century, the emphasis was still on animal husbandry. The dwindling demand for wool gradually reduced the sheep flocks, but Suffolk remained a prime supplier of mutton to the London markets, as well as of beef and poultry. Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) conjured up an intriguing picture of a turkey-drive:

008An inhabitant of the place has counted three hundred droves pass in one season over Stratford Bridge on the River Stour; these droves contain from three hundred to one thousand in each drove, so one may suppose them to contain five hundred one within another, which is a hundred and fifty thousand in all.

Dairying was also important, with Suffolk cheese enjoying a reputation as impressive as that of the butter from the county, although Defoe himself did not like it. The butter produced in the county, as Kirby’s Suffolk Traveller affirmed in 1734, was justly esteemed the pleasantest and best in England. Most of the milk that went into Suffolk butter and cheese came from the old Suffolk dun cow. One reason why so much acreage was devoted to stock farming was that under the old rotation system, land had to be left fallow every third year. Suffolk farmers were the first to introduce a four-crop rotation in the mid-seventeenth century, so that by the beginning of the eighteenth century, many gentry and yeoman farmers were alternating turnips and clover with their wheat and barley. In other parts of the country such improvements were effected only on the estates of major landowners, but in Suffolk, writers on the subject observed that,

… the most interesting circumstance is… the rich yeomanry as they were once called being numerous, farmers occupying their own lands of value rising a hundred to four hundred pounds a year: a most valuable set of men who having the means and the most powerful inducements to good husbandry carry agriculture to a high degree of perfection.


When, in the latter half of the eighteenth century, the Agricultural Revolution began, at least the yeomen of Suffolk were prepared for it. The organisation of the woollen industry, on the other hand, varied greatly from place to place, though a general pattern can be traced. The man in charge in the domestic system was the clothier who arranged for the raw wool to be distributed or put out to the spinners to spin it into yarn, which would then be collected and put out once again to the weavers to make it into cloth. It took several spinsters to supply one weaver with sufficient yarn, so that clothiers were compelled to employ spinners from further and further afield. Daniel Defoe commented that,

… the weavers of Norwich and of the parts adjacent, and the weavers of Spitalfields in London… employ almost the whole counties of Cambridge, Bedford, and Hertford; and beside that, as if all this part of England were not sufficient for them they send a very great quantity of wool one hundred and fifty miles by land carriage to the north, as far as Westmorland, to be spun; and the yarn is brought back in the same manner to London and to Norwich.


009In this way the clothiers employed hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of workers. Putters-out were employed to travel round distributing and collecting material, paying wages as they did so. They did not usually go to workers’ homes but would operate from depots set up throughout the area covered by the clothier. The workers would have to carry their material to and fro the barn, inn or shop, which served as their local depot. If foreign trade hit bad times the clothier would simply put out less wool, so that spinners and weavers would be thrown out of work, a cause of considerable complaint amongst them. For their part, the employers frequently complained of the delays caused by the custom of keeping ‘Saint Monday’ free for the alehouse.

The organisation of other textile industries, such as cotton and silk, was basically the same. However, the metal-manufacturing industry of the West Midlands and South Yorkshire were based more equally on the activities of both the men who supplied the metal and those who fashioned it into knives, swords, nails and similar products, in small sheds or workshops attached to their homes. Some industries, like coal mining and iron-smelting had to be conducted on a larger scale away from the home. Here and there, were hints of the factory system that was to develop.

In the textile industries some processes such as dyeing or fulling were already carried out in small mills because they required the operation of bulky water wheels and expensive equipment. In Yorkshire and throughout the Midlands, textiles were manufactured in clothiers’ homes, often in workshops and attics that were converted to let in as much light as possible. Defoe noticed this at Halifax:

… if we knocked at the door of any of the master manufacturers, we presently saw a house full of lusty fellows, some at the dye-vat, some dressing the cloths, some the loom, some one thing, some another, all hard at work, and full employed upon the manufacture…


008 (2)As early as 1717 Sir Thomas Lombe had set up a silk mill at Derby, which housed three hundred workers Lombe’s building was greatly admired and became the pattern for the cotton factories when they were built, like the famous cotton mill that Richard Arkwright established at nearby Cromford in the 1760s. However, until the latter quarter of the eighteenth century, most industry remained based on the domestic system.

The Industrial Revolution, in terms of a shift to factory-based production, passed East Anglia by. The growth of the manufacturing north confirmed an existing trend that had been underway since Tudor times. The roads and canals which linked the growing centres of industry in the North and Midlands with Oxford, London and Bristol sucked skill and commerce away from Suffolk’s textile towns and ports, and left a residuum of unemployment, depression and despair. Every town and village had its scenes of poverty and destitution. George Crabbe’s home town of Aldeburgh was no exception:

Between the roadway and the walls, offence

Invades all eyes and strikes on every sense:

There lie obscure at every open door

Heaps from the earth and sweepings from the floor,

And day by day the mingled masses grow,

As sinks are disembogued and kennels flow.

There hungry dogs from hungry children steal,

There pigs and chickens quarrel for a meal:

There dropsied infants wail without redress

And all is want and woe and wretchedness.


In this decayed port, warehouses, empty of merchandise, were let out as temporary havens to the homeless vagabonds. The magistrates, representatives of the gentry, wealthier farmers and more prosperous tradesmen, were increasingly concerned about the situation. They wanted to alleviate the suffering of the people beneath them.

016The Agricultural Revolution took place during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when farmers had to produce more food to feed the growing population of England and Wales. They did this by improving the way they farmed and by cultivating more land. The most important change in this respect was the enclosure of the open fields, which in 1700 still accounted for something like half the arable land in England and Wales. When a village was enclosed each farmer’s land was consolidated into a single holding. This process had been going on for centuries, especially in East Anglia, but in the eighteenth century the enclosure movement accelerated rapidly throughout the whole of southern England and Wales. From 1760 to 1800 Parliament passed over a thousand Acts, and from 1800 to 1815 a further eight hundred. Contemporary reaction to such legislation varied, as did that of historians subsequently. A more detailed investigation of the evidence has revealed an important methodological principle, that it is difficult and dangerous to generalise on to a national scale from local evidence. The locality of agricultural experience determined the particular nature and impact of enclosure within it.

018 (2)Enclosures led to many improvements in farming. For example, they accelerated the spread of new farming methods. One of the most important was the development of new crop rotations to replace the traditional system whereby one field was left fallow each year. Farmers in Norfolk were among the first to discover that fallowing was unnecessary if proper use was made of crops like turnip and clover. These were fodder crops that enabled farmers to keep more livestock, and more animals meant more manure to enrich the soil. Due to this, and the fact that turnips, clover and other small crops enriched the soil, fallowing could be avoided if they were regularly alternated with grain crops. The Norfolk system, or variations of it, had been well established in East Anglia, the Home Counties and much of southern England by 1700. During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the new rotations became increasingly popular.

018Sophisticated systems of crop rotation, use of fertilisers, reclamation of waste land, regional specialisation, all these were marks of the new approach to farming. Since they kept more animals, farmers were also able to experiment with scientific, selective stockbreeding. Robert Bakewell was the most famous of a number of men who, by careful breeding, managed to produce much heavier livestock. They had shown not only that attention to diet – and, in particular, the use of root crops for winter feed – produced bigger, healthier animals, but also that it was possible, by in-breeding, to achieve in animals just those characteristics which are required. Suffolk gave the world three great breeds of domestic animals during this period – the Black Face sheep, the Red Poll cow and the Suffolk Punch, the most famous and best-loved of all the Suffolk shire horses. Thomas Crisp of Ufford owned the founding sire, from whom all these noble creatures descend, in the 1760s. In 1784 Sir John Cullum described the qualities of the breed in his History of Hawstead:


They are not made to indulge the rapid impatience of this posting generation; but for draught, they are perhaps unrivalled, as for their gentle and tractable temper; and to exhibit proofs of their great power, drawing matches are sometimes made and the proprietors are as anxious for the success of their respective horses, as those can be whose racers aspire to the plates at Newmarket.

017Wool was now of little importance to sheep farmers in Suffolk. What they needed were ewes that produced a large number of lambs, with a high meat quality. By the early 1800s it became clear that the best results were obtained by crossing Norfolk horned ewes, traditionally hardy animals, with Southdown rams, famed for their fattening qualities. The offspring were known at first as Blackfaces, but were eventually classified as a distinct breed, Suffolk Sheep. The Earl of Stradbroke was among the early enthusiastic champions of the breed and his famous shepherd Ishmael Cutter produced some remarkable results on the Earl’s pastures near Eye. In 1837 he raised 606 lambs from 413 ewes, a considerable achievement in the days before artificial feedstuffs.

 The great pioneering names in agriculture – Coke of Holkham (pictured left), Jethro Tull, and Robert Bakewell – belong to counties other than Suffolk, but that County’s claim to leadership in the Agrarian Revolution is undeniable. Early widespread interest in breeding, crop rotation, ploughing matches, and so on, led to the informal meetings of farmers to discuss their common problems. From this grew the nationwide organisation of Farmers’ Clubs in the early nineteenth century.



Suffolk also produced the man who more than any other may be called the evangelist of the Agrarian Revolution. Arthur Young was one of those who acted as a propagandist for this, publishing journals and books, and addressing meetings. Born in 1741, the son of the rector of Bradfield Combust, he inherited farmland in the parish and tried to work it, with disastrous results. He fared no better when he transferred his activities to Essex and Hertfordshire, but developed many ideas about farming from his experiences. In 1768 he published A Six Weeks’ Tour Through the southern Counties of England and Wales, the first of many books and pamphlets in which he surveyed the current state of agriculture in the regions. In 1784 he began a monthly journal, Annals of Agriculture, which covered every aspect of agriculture and ran for a quarter of a century. By 1793 he was recognised as one of the foremost authorities on farming and was appointed secretary to the newly formed Board of Agriculture. The following year, his General View of the County of Suffolk was published. Young gave wide publicity to every new agrarian idea, advocating enclosure, reclamation and the establishment of large farming units on which these latest ideas could be employed. He therefore helped to make farming a profession. It was this professionalism that enabled the awareness of the need for change among Suffolk farmers to take root. Edward Fitzgerald, the Woodbridge poet and eccentric, was certainly alive to the changes taking place:

The county about here, he wrote, is the cemetery of so many of my oldest friends; and the petty race of squires who have succeeded only use the earth for an investment… So I get to the water, where friends are not buried nor pathways stopped up.


Enclosure did not, however, automatically lead to improvement throughout either the county of Suffolk, nor the region and country more widely. Some soils were unsuitable for growing turnips and clover and some farmers were reluctant to change their ways.   However, the enclosure movement gradually extended the area under cultivation. Between 1760 and the end of the century at least two million acres of wasteland were brought into cultivation in England and Wales. This, more than anything else explains why, during the period of the Industrial Revolution, England and Wales were able to support a much larger population without buying in large quantities of food from the continent. On the other hand, enclosure was an expensive investment. Landowners did not have to petition Parliament to pass an Act of Enclosure, but after 1750 most did, because they could not get agreement from the smaller farmers. The legal costs involved were high, and these were followed by the costs of fencing and building new roads.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century the Board of Agriculture estimated that the cost of enclosure by Act of Parliament was twenty-eight shillings per acre. Some of the smaller farmers could not pay this and had to sell up, but most survived, and found that, in time, the value of their land increased, enabling them to sell or mortgage part of it.

006Nevertheless, encouraged by the government and directly patronised by George III (Farmer George), genteel farming became fashionable. Gentlemen farmers built themselves splendid new houses at the centres of their estates, and they went hunting and shooting together; the Duke of Grafton hunted with hounds from 1745 until the early nineteenth century, and the Suffolk hunt was established in 1823. The ladies played the harpsichord and the new pianoforte, paid each other visits, organised balls and made up theatre parties. The county’s major towns were revived as provincial centres of fashion, aping the customs of the capital. William Cobbett, writing in his Rural Rides, was so impressed by Bury St Edmunds (below), with its Assembly Rooms, newly opened Theatre Royal and Botanical Gardens, that he called it the nicest town in the world.


027To sum up, the effects of enclosure were rarely great or immediate. In some instances enclosure came as the last act of a long-drawn-out drama of rural change. In other localities it sometimes introduced, but more often accelerated, a similar story of change. As the result of enclosure improved farming spread more rapidly than would otherwise have been the case, larger and more efficient farms were more readily developed, and the long-run decline of the smallholder and cottager hastened and made more certain. Enclosure provided a clear example of the large gains in economic efficiency and output which could be achieved by reorganisation of existing resources rather than by invention or new techniques. Enclosure meant more food for the growing population, more land under cultivation and, on balance, more employment in the countryside. Enclosed farms also provided a framework for the new advances of the nineteenth century. But in the pre-war period enclosure did not affect the whole country, and even the limited area that felt its influence was not transformed overnight.

However, many poorer villagers felt the loss of the commons and wastes, and they were not given land in compensation. Coming at a time when the increasing population made it difficult for labourers to find work, many were forced to leave the land altogether to seek work in the expanding industrial towns and villages. In East Anglia, where industries were not developing, this forced them to seek help from the parish authorities. From the 1790s, however, the cost of outdoor relief, which did not require the recipient to enter a workhouse, began to shoot up because of the widespread distress caused by bad harvests, fluctuations in trade and the overpopulated countryside. The magistrates were most concerned to avoid a situation like that in France where a depressed peasantry had risen against their superiors in bloody revolution.

At the same time, they were also responsible for the provision of outdoor relief, and wanted to avoid encouraging the indolence of what they called, the undeserving poor, those whom they felt had no desire to work, as opposed to the deserving poor, whose poverty was due to no fault of their own. Their solution was the provision of workhouses, which soon became known, out of the hatred they engendered, as the Bastilles, but they did not provide a solution.



By the time Cobbett was writing in the 1820s, the language he was writing in had become fully standardised. Jonathan Swift’s Proposal for an English Academy may have been rejected early in the eighteenth century, but there were many who shared his frustration with the chaos in English spelling which threatened to make the gap between spoken and written English unbridgeable. In any increasingly classified and stratified society, it was no longer enough to rely on the aristocratic convention of spelling as you spoke, especially if you had not yet established your position in genteel society. More than ever, the educated Englishman and Englishwoman needed a dictionary. The rise of dictionaries is therefore associated with the rise of the English middle classes, keen to ape their betters and anxious to define and circumscribe the various worlds that they needed to conquer, lexical as well as social and commercial. It is therefore highly appropriate that Dr Samuel Johnson of Lichfield, the very model of an eighteenth-century literary man, published his Dictionary at the very beginning of the heyday of the making of the English middle classes.

Johnson was a poet and a critic who raised common sense to the heights of genius. His approach to the problems Swift had been worrying about was intensely practical and typically English. Rather than establish an Academy to settle arguments about language, he would write a dictionary, and would do it single-handedly. He signed the contract for the Dictionary with bookseller Robert Dodsley at Holborn in London in June 1746, setting up his dictionary workshop in a rented house in Gough Square. James Boswell, his biographer, described the garret where Johnson worked as fitted up like a counting house, with a long desk running down the middle at which the copying clerks could work standing up. Johnson himself was stationed on a rickety chair at an old crazy deal table, surrounded by a chaotic array of borrowed books. He was helped by six assistants, five of who were Scots and only one English, two of whom died in the preparation of the Dictionary.


035It was an immense work, written in eighty large notebooks, containing more than forty thousand words, illustrating their many meanings with 114,000 quotations drawn from English writing on every subject, and from Elizabethan times onwards. It was not a completely original work, drawing on the best of all previous dictionaries to produce a synthesis, but unlike its predecessors, Johnson’s practical approach made it representative of English as a living language, reflecting its many shades of meaning. He adopted his definitions on the basis of English common law, according to precedent. After its publication, his dictionary was not seriously rivalled for over a century following its publication in April 1755. The fact that Johnson had done for the English Language in nine years what it had taken forty French academicians forty years to complete in French was the cause for much celebration. Johnson’s friend, pupil and Shakespearean actor, David Garrick, summed up the public mood:

And Johnson, well arm’d like a hero of yore,

Has beat forty French, and will beat forty more.


036For all its faults and eccentricities, the two-volume work is a masterpiece and a landmark in the history of the language, the cornerstone of Standard English. In his Preface to the Dictionary, Johnson comments on Swift’s idea of fixing the language, scorning the idea of permanence in language. To believe in that was like believing in the elixir of eternal life, he said:

… may the lexicographer be derided, who being able to produce no example of a nation that has preserved their words and phrases from mutability, shall imagine that his dictionary can embalm his language, and secure from corruption and decay, that it is in his power to change… nature, and clear the world at once from folly, vanity and affectation… to enchain syllables, and to lash the wind, are equally the undertakings of pride, unwilling to measure its desires by its strength.


The Dictionary, together with his other writing, made Johnson famous, so that George III offered him a pension. James Boswell, a Scot, then made the great Englishman the stuff of legend and folklore. At the same time as Johnson was writing his tomes of correct English, the language of London, or at least of the working Londoner, based on the Anglo-Saxon dialects of Mercia, East Anglia and Kent, the English of Shakespeare’s Mistress Quickly, was being transformed into what we refer to today as Cockney.


The same economic forces that created a market for dictionaries and books of etiquette transformed the City into the square mile of money and trade that it is today. The old City dwellers of Pepys’ time, street traders, artisans and guild workers, were driven out, taking their distinctive accents with them to the docklands of Wapping and Shoreditch, and across the river to Bermondsey.

They were joined by refugees from the increasingly middle-class West End, as the new Georgian squares and terraces of Bloomsbury and Kensington displaced the working classes. At the same time, the combination of rural poverty and urban industry was depopulating the neighbouring countryside of Essex, Suffolk, Kent and Middlesex, bringing tens of thousands of destitute farm workers to the East End in search of work.

These country immigrants added their speech traditions to those of the London Language, what we refer to today as Cockney. In fact, the working-class speech of East London was originally a blend of oral traditions from the rural communities from which the majority of East Enders came as immigrants, keeping their traditions alive in the alehouses and wash-houses of Limehouse and Stratford East. Thomas Sheridan neatly described the situation of spoken English in London at the end of the eighteenth century:

 012 (2)

Two different modes of pronunciation prevail, by which the inhabitants of one part of the town are distinguished from those of the other. One is current in the City, and is called the cockney; the other at the court end, and is called the polite pronunciation.



030That polite pronunciation was much closer to the speech of the English middle classes. In the words of a contemporary lexicographer, Standard English was now based upon the general practice of men of letters and polite speakers in the Metropolis. One of the most distinctive changes was the widespread lengthening of the vowel in words like fast and path. The long a became, and has remained, one of the distinguishing features of south of England middle-class speech. However, at that time a cockney was simply a lower-class Londoner who spoke the language of the City. John Keats, the ostler’s son, was known as the Cockney poet because he came from London. The speech of East Enders may have been implicitly regarded as inferior, but it was not labelled Cockney in the way it is today. The old saying, born within the sound of Bow Bells by which Cockneys are supposedly defined, does not refer to the Bow of the East End, but to St Mary Le Bow, in Cheapside, in the heart of the City of London, some distance from what is now thought of as the East End. Traditionally, the East End starts at Aldgate, running along Commercial Road and Whitechapel Road as far as the River Lea, taking in Stepney, Limehouse, Bow, Old Ford, Whitechapel and Bethnal Green. The heart of Cockneyland is Poplar, and as well as being a locality, it is an attitude of mind. Stripped of all legends, Cockney therefore simply means East End working class. Thus, many of those who claim to have been born within the sound of Bow Bells have no claims to be cockney. The social reformer Henry Mayhew did not write about the East End and neither did he identify a special accent of dialect to the London Poor. It was the later Victorian reformers, following in his footsteps, who discovered what they called the East End.

031When the rural poor of East Anglia were crammed together in the East End many of the conditions in which the oral tradition of the countryside had flourished were intensified still further. There was no privacy; everything happened on the streets; they were isolated in a particular part of London, not least by the twists and turns of the Thames. Some aspects of the cockney way of life have continuity with the days of Charles II, before the Great Fire of 1666 and Wren’s rebuilding of the City. The market at Spitalfields, for example, still does a brisk trade every morning. Market gardeners and greengrocers trade in fruit and vegetables from the early hours of the morning, crying out as they have done for centuries. There is a whole class of speech characteristics that betray the rural roots of Cockney. For instance, it is very common to find the g missing in the participle –ing endings, contrasting with Midland English, as in eatin’ and drinkin’. This is not just the pronunciation of the labourers from eastern shires, but also that of   their masters, for who it had become fashionable to go fishin’ and shootin’. This speech is incidentally and occasionally preserved for us in English literature of the period, as in that of Henry Fielding’s Squire Western and his heirs. Similarly, the Cockney pronunciation of gone, off and cough (gorn, orf, and corf) is still used by upper-class country speakers without a trace of class guilt. The characteristic long o, oo for ew, so it is no surprise that Cockneys say stoo for stew, nood for nude and noos for news, like most Americans. If the figures in Thomas Gainsborough’s paintings of Suffolk’s gentlemen farmers could speak, we might be surprised how similar some of their speech patterns might sound to those of East End barrow boys at Spitalfields.

Given the obvious paucity of evidence regarding eighteenth century speech patterns, nothing could be more evocative of the people of the Suffolk countryside than the paintings Gainsborough. The great artist found fame and spent most of his life in London, but he learned his love of landscape in the countryside round his native Sudbury where, as a lad, he wandered the fields and lanes, sketchbook in hand. He moved to Ipswich in 1750 and soon found that while no one wanted to buy his landskips, the provincial elite clamoured for portraits that would immortalise their own concept of themselves – lords of their own little corners of creation. Gainsborough obliged, and grasped the opportunity to combine portraits with pictures of his own beloved Suffolk. His paintings were of idealised scenes of sunlit countryside, in which it was always summer, the corn was always ripe, the trees were always casting a delicious shade, and his sitters’ satin shoes never made contact with the rural mud.

Even Gainsborough’s peasants were figures of heroic simplicity for who life was a merry frolic in the warm harvest haystacks. For the men and women who could live in the heart of the rural community and yet be so shielded from reality as to indulge in such fantasies, life must have been good. Over many years large-scale farming in Suffolk paid well, especially cereal farming.

For the unemployed and under-employed landless labourers, life was far from good. From their point of view, however, war provided a better, if temporary, solution to the problem of the surplus population than the workhouse. From 1793 to 1815 England was almost continuously engaged in war with France in both its Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras. Men were pressed into the army and navy, some never to see their native fields again, others returning broken and useless, lifelong charges on the parish. The wars were hard on the coastal communities, with press gangs very active. No ships in the harbours could be manned until the navy’s requirements had been met, and even fishermen, usually exempt, were impressed into service. However, there were still not enough sailors for the ships of Nelson and Collingwood, and regular levies were made in the counties, Suffolk being told to raise three hundred men each year. Even towns as far inland as Banbury provided sailors; one of the Gullivers from that town apparently served on board Nelson’s HMS Victory.

015In order to understand the importance of Britannia’s fight to rule the waves, we need first to understand how trade and industry had already been transformed during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Exports and imports had both increased dramatically, the chief export being textiles. In 1750, woollen cloth was still by far the most important textile made in Britain, chiefly from Yorkshire, but by the end of the century, as a result of the explosive growth of the Lancashire textile industry, the export of cotton goods almost equalled that of woollens. Whereas the greater part of Britain’s trade was with the continent in 1700, by a century later it had changed direction completely. More and more dealings were with the West Indies and North America, which grew at a spectacular rate. This brought prosperity to the western coastal ports of Whitehaven, Liverpool and Bristol (right), which were better placed than those of London, East Anglia and the south coast for the trans-Atlantic trade. Liverpools’s population increased from around six thousand in 1700 to over eighty thousand by 1800. Much of this increased prosperity was based on the slave trade. Slaves sold in the West Indies for roughly five times what they had cost on the African coast, and the ships were then filled with sugar, rum or tobacco, and increasingly with cotton, to complete the third side of the triangular trade.

014For the time being, however, it was groceries such as sugar, spices and tea, which formed the largest group of imports. The most English of pastimes, tea drinking, achieved wide popularity during the course of the century, though an excessively high import duty meant that about two-thirds of that consumed was brought in by smugglers such as Richard Andrews, who supplied Parson Woodforde among many others:

1777 29 March… Andrews the Smuggler brought me this night about 11 o’ clock a bagg of Hyson Tea, six pounds weight. He frightened us a little by whistling under the parlour window just as we were going to bed. I gave him some Geneva and paid him for the tea at 10/6 per pound…three pounds, three shilling.


Other goods smuggled into the country included wines, spirits and tobacco, while raw wool was shipped to France to take advantage of the high prices it fetched there. Smuggling took place all along the coasts, but flourished in the more remote corners of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. Therefore, the trading figures for the eighteenth century provide us with a picture of goods legally entering and leaving the country only.

014 (2)According to family tradition, the most important person of our patronomy was interred at Wimbourne Minster. This was the Dorset smuggler, Isaac Gulliver (b. 1745 in Semington, Wiltshire). He was, in the language of that time, a free-trader, and, when apprehended by the authorities for smuggling, either he, or his defense counsel pleaded that he must see the King (George III) and make some matter known to him for his personal safety. He told the King what he had discovered on his voyages to the low countries, which he suggested the King should take steps in his own personal interest to prove. This the King did straightaway and was apparently very pleased, engaging Gulliver in more secret talks. Our namesake explained that he had to have some means to maintain his ship and crew in good shape and order, but that if allowed, he would see that the King’s interest would be considered. The King gave him the freedom to carry on, pardoning Gulliver for helping to foil an assassination attempt and supplying Nelson with information about the movement of French ships along the coast.

He was also given a considerable parcel of land in the vicinity of Bournemouth and Christchurch, where he could berth his vessel. Well, our man Gulliver took full advantage, and had a crew of first class sailors and men at arms, estimated at anything between two and five hundred in number, dressed in white uniforms. They took three foreign vessels in the Channel, probably French, and it is recorded that it took a train of carts, wagons and pack-horses two miles long to carry the booty away; though, to this day, it is not exactly known to where… (to be continued).

God’s Englishmen: Midland and East Anglian Gentry in the English Revolution, 1619-89; part three   Leave a comment

Restoration, Renaissance and Revolution.


012The half-century of Stuart rule that followed the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, was a time of contrasts and contradictions. Court and Country people alike rejoiced to throw off extreme puritanical constraints and to return to traditional sports and pastimes. At the same time, preachers warned against the debauchery of the age and Suffolk had more Nonconformist assemblies than most other counties. East Anglia was still the industrial heartland of England, yet the new draperies were following the old into decline. The shipyards decreased in importance but Suffolk mariners and men o’ war took part in the principal naval actions of the Dutch wars, some off Suffolk’s own coast. Poverty, unemployment and vagrancy continued to mount steadily, but more fine houses were built in this period than ever before, and the Age of Enlightenment was reflected in the gracious living of the elite of Bury and Ipswich. The gap between rich and poor was steadily increasing. When England welcomed back Charles II it rejected the republican experiment of the Commonwealth and rejected egalitarian ideas. All men who could do so aped the manners and fashion of the court.

When the King visited Newmarket, or stayed with the Arlingtons at Euston, local squires and their wives clamoured to see what the ladies and gentlemen of the court were wearing.

When burgesses called professionally or socially at the country mansions of the great, they took careful note of what they saw and had copies of the furniture made for their town houses. Meanwhile, the labourers and weavers continued to bear their burden of poverty with as much good grace as they could muster.

013The establishment of Newmarket as the home of the sport of kings brought court and country closer together than ever before. Charles I had instituted the first cup race in 1634, but it was his son who laid the firm foundation of royal patronage. He came to Newmarket almost every spring and autumn to race his horses against those of his courtiers. John Evelyn, the diarist, recorded how,

By night we got to Newmarket, where Mr Henry Jermyn lodged me very civilly. We went immediately to court (the King and all the English gallants being here at their annual sports), supped at my Lord Chamberlain’s and next day after dinner went to the heath, where I saw the great match run between ‘Woodcock’ and ‘Flatfoot’, the King’s and Mr Eliot’s of the Bedchamber, many thousands being spectators…

Royal patronage encouraged courtiers and noblemen to build houses in and around Newmarket. The most magnificent was the mansion which Henry Bennett, Earl of Arlington, erected for himself at Euston. Having shared the hardships of exile with Charles, he returned with him to share the trappings of power. He became Lord Chamberlain and a member of the Cabal, Charles’ group of intimate advisers. A man of great taste, he amassed considerable wealth, so that Evelyn said of him that he was given to no expensive vice but building and to have all things rich, polite and princely. In the diarists’ opinion,

Euston Hall was a very noble pile, built in the French style, formed of additions to an old house, yet with a vast expense, made not only capable and roomsome, but very magnificent and commodious, as well within as without, nor less splendidly furnished. There were formal gardens, an orangery, pleasure gardens, a lake and a canal formed by diverting the nearby river. The park, which had a circumference of nine miles, enclosed a herd of a thousand deer.


Bury St Edmund’s shared in the enthusiasm for building which inspired so many in this new, gracious age. Suffolk gentlemen and well-to-do burgesses erected town houses or built classical facades on to medieval or Tudor structures. This spate of fashionable building of country houses, town hoses and facades gave impetus to a well-established local industry. There were important brickfields at Ipswich, Woodbridge, Woolpit, Aldeburgh, Beccles and numerous other smaller places. Restrictions had been placed on the use of timber for building since Elizabethan times, since there were dwindling stocks of oak for the navy. By the late seventeenth century, genteel society was, in any case, turning up its nose at timber-framed buildings. When Lady Fiennes visited Bury in the 1690s, she sweepingly condemned nearly all its buildings as old-fashioned and rambling. No doubt her bells were jingling more rapidly as she left:

Ride a cock hoss*

To Banbury Cross

To see a fine lady

Upon a white hoss* 

With rings on her fingers

And bells on her toes

She shall have music

Wherever she goes.

*hoss is Midland English for horse, still in use.

Celia Fiennes, the subject of one of the best-known nursery rhymes, was born in 1662, was, in many ways, the perfect feminine antidote to all those serious puritan gentlemen of the previous century, though granddaughter to the parliamentarian First Viscount Saye and Sele. She was one of the first women to write a book about her travels, called Through England on a Side Saddle in the Time of William and Mary. In it, she described Banbury in favourable terms, and she is reputed to be the source of the well-known nursery rhyme, ’Banbury Cross’. She was said to have often ridden to London on horseback, passing through Banbury on her way. Not only was she an excellent rider but she also dressed very fashionably, wearing little bells on her shoes. The market place had an ancient cross, which was destroyed by puritans earlier in the century, but it continued to be called ’The Cross’ because it was in the middle of the wide High Street where the major roads of the time did indeed intersect.

When Charles II came to the English throne, England was still a society with several speech varieties, of which Scots was one. The suggestion that there was a proper way of pronouncing and a right way of spelling would have seemed strange to most people. The spelling of many writers and printers of letters demonstrates this. Shakespeare and his contemporaries had experimented with the English language as no other writers before or since, making it sing. The writers of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries had boundless admiration for their Elizabethan predecessors, but they believed the situation had got out of hand. The language, like the mass of English society itself, was unruly, unrefined and ill-defined. The poet Laureate Dryden, related to the great gentry families of the Midlands exclaimed how barbarously we yet write and speak. Many shared this view, as if they wanted to send the language itself to school. How best to bring order to its written forms in particular, was one of the most serious problems facing the literary establishment.


One of the main impulses behind this search for order was the need to assimilate the new vocabulary, swelled almost beyond recognition, of the scientific and political revolutions of the seventeenth century. The scientific revolution reached its high point with Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity. Newton was a member of the Royal Society, founded in 1662, primarily as a forum for scientific discussion. However, the seventeenth century definition of scientific was broader than most uses of the term have been since, in keeping with the concept of The Enlightenment. It members included a broad range of interests, not simply those involved in the natural sciences. In 1664 it was reported that,

There were persons of the Society whose genius was very proper and inclined to improve the English tongue. Particularly for philosophic purposes, it was voted that there should be a committee for improving the English language; and that they meet at Sir Peter Wyche’s lodgings in Gray’s Inn once or twice a month, and give account of their proceedings, when called upon.

Developing a scientific model was one approach, following a deductive method. Another was more inductive, the revival of Latin, which was still the language of mathematics and theology. In addition, it had a regular grammar, spelling conventions and a systematic style. John Dryden was the finest English stylist of his time, partly because he sometimes translated his ideas into Latin to find a way of expressing it clearly in English. Of course, lawyers and literature professors still do this. Latin was the great example of a language that had lasted, precisely because it was ordered. Another gentleman poet, Edmund Waller observed :

001But who can hope his line should long

Last, in a daily changing tongue?

While they are new, envy prevails;

And as that dies, our language fails…

Poets that Lasting Marble seek,

Must carve in Latin or in Greek;

We write in Sand…

While these scientists and men of letters found clarity of style in Latin, other men of learning looked to Louis XIV’s France, as in other matters following the Restoration, for a means of purifying their native language from Barbarism or Solecism. The Italians had purified their language by publishing a specially commissioned dictionary and Cardinal Richelieu had established the Académie Francaise with a special charter to labour with all possible care and diligence to give definite rules to our language, and to render it pure, eloquent and capable of treating with both arts and sciences. However, the idea of an English Academy, which had been projected throughout the seventeenth century, never really caught on in the imaginations of the scientific and literary élite. In fact, it was widely mocked (see pictures). However, the Royal Society’s Committee for Improving the English Language did meet. At one of these meetings, the diarist John Evelyn produced an ambitious project involving the production of a Lexicon or collection of all the pure English words by themselves, but the plans were shelved. In 1697, Daniel Defoe proposed that with an Academy to decide on right and wrong usage, it would be as criminal to coin words as money. At the turn of the century, however, one writer in particular addressed himself to the issue of standards in English. Jonathan Swift focused his hatred of progress in a series of letters and pamphlets on the condition of the English language. Taken together, these writings amount to the greatest conservative statement for English ever put forward.

Born in Dublin in 1667 into a well-known Royalist family, Swift had literary connections from early in his life, in particular through his cousin, John Dryden. His early work provoked Dryden to comment, Cousin Swift, you will never be a poet. Although best-known as the author of the satirical journal, Gulliver’s Travels, he had already turned the power of his pen on many topical subjects, to devastating effect, including on the state of the English language:

From the Civil War to this present Time, I am apt to doubt whether the Corruptions in our Language have not at least equalled the Refinements of it; and these Corruptions  very few of the best Authors in our Age have wholly escaped. During the Usurpation, such an infusion of Enthusiastick Jargon prevailed in every Writing, as was not shook off in many Years after. To this succeeded that Licentiousness which entered with the ‘Restoration’, and from infecting our Religion and Morals, fell to corrupt our Language…

As a clergyman, Swift detested the way that abbreviations and abridgments were creeping into church, alongside the use of vogue words by young preachers, such as sham, banter, mob, bubble, bully, cutting, shuffling and palming. He felt that had it not been for the provision of the Bible and the Common Prayer Book in English, it would have proved impossible for any of his contemporaries in the reign of Queen Anne I to understand anything of what had been written in the reign of King James I, for those books being perpetually read in Churches, have proved a kind of Standard for Language, especially to the common people. His finest statement on the language is made in a letter written to Robert Hartley, Earl of Oxford, and the leader of the then ruling Tory Party, published in 1712 under the title A Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue. He took up the seventeenth century idea of an English Academy. However, the concept of a prescriptive society of this kind still ran contrary to the amateur tradition of English literary scholarship. In many ways, Swift’s view of the state of the English language, and the gap which existed between its spoken and written forms, reflected the evidence of the growing gulf between the aristocracy and gentry on the one hand, and the ordinary folk on the other. Although a Tory, Swift shared many of the views of the radicals in the English Revolution. Like many of them, he was fiercely critical of the new world in which money ruled, whose excremental vision extended backwards to a golden age when gold and repression were both unknown.

002The amateur literary tradition in the second half of the seventeenth century is perhaps best represented by John Bunyan (1628-88), born at Elstow in Bedfordshire, as the son of a poor brazier or tinker. His parents had been cottagers, and his wife described him in 1661 as a tinker and a poor man, therefore he is despised and cannot have justice. Having served in the parliamentary army during the civil wars, he joined an independent congregation in Bedford in 1651. He was terrified by thoughts of hell, and wishes that he might be a devil to torment others. Despite his doubts, or perhaps because of them, he became a fine preacher. His preaching led to his imprisonment after the restoration, spending much of the next fifteen years in jail, and it was while there that he began to write his books. By the time Bunyan was writing his Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666), men and women had come to know the Bible so well that their relationship to it was almost passive. In Grace Abounding texts are hurled around in Bunyan’s imagination like thunderbolts of the Almighty. The Bible spoke directly to men who believed that the day of the Lord was imminent, and their appeal to the past, through authentic documents (whether the Bible or Magna Carta), became a criticism of certain types of rule.

Bunyan’s most famous work, The Pilgrim’s Progress was published in 1678, an allegory based on Bunyan’s own spiritual life, which he had given account of in Grace Abounding. Bunyan’s language is a happy mixture of homespun phrases and echoes of the English Bible. His other well-known work, The Holy War (1682) uses imagery of warfare to construct another allegory. The eloquence and power of the simple artisans who took part in the political and theological discussions of this period is staggering. Some of it comes across in print: Fox the shepherd, Bunyan the tinker, Nayler the yeoman. John Milton was right in his confidence that God’s Englishmen, not just his gentlemen, had significant and eloquent things to say, which only the tyrranical duncery of bishops had prevented them from saying; and that any future attempt to censure them would be an undervaluing and vilifying of the whole nation, and a reproach to the common people.

One object of the restoration  had been to put tinkers, shepherds and yeomen back in their proper callings, but Bunyan remembered a lot from the revolutionary decades: More servants than masters, he wrote, more tenants than landlords, will inherit the kingdom of heaven. God’s own, he wrote in the same year (1658), are most commonly of the poorer sort. He also reflected on the sad condition of those that are for the most part rich men. Wordly Wiseman, Formalist, Hypocrisy, like Antichrist, were all gentlemen: Madam Bubble, the Mistress of the World, was a gentlewoman. Mrs Wanton was an admirably well-bred gentlewoman. Mr By-ends was a gentleman of good quality, related to lords, parsons and the rich. The Pilgrims, on the other hand, were of base and low estate and uneducated. Faithful was brought before Lord Hate-Good for slandering several of the nobility and most of the gentry of our town.  We can see The Pilgrim’s Progress as the greatest literary product of this group of itinerant writers. As he walked through the widerness of this world, Bunyan laid himself down in a den which he lighted on: Pilgrim’s Progress was the dream he then dreamed. Bunyan’s outlook .is that of the itinerant small craftsman, for whom society has been loosened up. His hero in Pilgrim’s Progress is one of the people: the law and its courts will not give him justice. As Christopher Hill has commented,

Milton persuaded himself that it had been a fortunate Fall. I do not think Bunyan would have agreed. He knew more about the heaviness of the burden, more about the puzzling word of Mr Badman, the free market and petty commercial reality, than Milton ever did, living without labour on the income of his father’s usury had left him. But each of them, starting from fallen man, can show the divine in man slowly winning its way back, in Milton’s case to ‘a Paradise within thee, happier far’, in Bunyan’s to a confidence that triumphed over the torments and early death which were the fate of the itinerant.

Across East Anglia, as in Bedfordshire and large parts of the Midlands, it must have seemed, In the second half of the seventeenth century, that the poor would be a permanent presence. The fishing ports of Suffolk lost their battle against the sea. In 1652 the inhabitants of Walberswick had appealed to the government for aid for their town, now one of the poorest towns in England with not one man living in the town that has five pounds per year of his own. In 1695 they unroofed most of their decaying church to repair the south aisle, tower and porch, which was all they used from then on. They were not the first parishioners to do so; Coverhithe’s magnificent fifteenth-century church was dismantled in 1672. Dunwich, Blythborough, Southwold and, to a lesser extent, Lowestoft, all shared the same fate as their harbours either disappeared or became too unreliable for regular use by the fishing fleets. In 1670 the county had only fifty-nine fishing boats and the King gave his personal support to a company set up to restore the east coast fisheries. It was only the first of several such ventures that, despite the injection of large amounts of capital, failed.

It is therefore not surprising that more and more fishermen turned to smuggling, which became a regular and highly organised industry in this period. When the Commonwealth government and its late Stuart successors slapped heavy taxes and duties on a variety of commodities, they threw down a gauntlet to mariners, foreign traders and English consumers who refused to be balked by such restrictions. Large smuggling associations developed with headquarters at Dunkerque, Flushing, Ostend and Calais. They ran cargoes across to the coves and small harbours of Suffolk, because they were father from London. Local mariners went out in their small boats to collect cargoes from the hundred and two-hundred ton ships which anchored offshore under cover of darkness, then carried the casks and chests of tea, tobacco and spirits to regular hiding places where they awaited distribution. Illicit goods were stowed under the altar at Theberton church, beneath the floorboards of Leiston’s Nonconformist meetinghouse and behind the pulpit at Rishangles, sometimes while the minister was preaching from it. The trade not only provided brandy for the parson, baccy for the clerk, but a living for many families which otherwise might have starved.

Some young men sought adventure and escape from grinding poverty in the army or navy. The soldiers were called upon to fight first of all in the Low Countries, and then in France and Ireland. Suffolk men who served in the Royal Navy found themselves engaged in battles much nearer to home. The Dutch wars brought enemy ships close to the coast for the first time since the Spanish Armada. Ipswich shared in the general decline of the coastal towns and ports, but the new danger led to a flurry of activity as the town built thirty-two armed merchantmen for the navy, and press gangs scoured the towns and villages of East Suffolk in search of cannon fodder. On 3 June 1665, gunfire was heard coming from a point fourteen miles NNE of Lowestoft. The English and Dutch fleets fought all day, the sound of their cannons roaring carrying across Suffolk and Essex, as far as London. Then, in the late afternoon, came the sound of one almighty explosion, but it was only the next day when the frigates returned from the battle to unload two thousand prisoners and three hundred wounded at Southwold, that the Suffolkers learnt of the destruction of the Durch flagship, De Eendracht, and the complete rout of the enemy. Most of the coast towns had to share the burden of caring for the wounded and prisoners in makeshift hospitals and camps, Southwold receiving six thousand pounds and Ipswich eight and a half thousand for their services.

Over the next few years, amid frequent rumours of Dutch invasions, repeated calls were made for Suffolk to provide men and ships. In 1667, twenty-six small ships were impressed as fire ships into the navy, and the county militia had to be kept in a constant state of readiness. The dreaded invasion took place on 2 July 1667, when the Dutch made a combined naval and military assault on Landguard Fort with the object of capturing the new dockyard at Harwich. Although the English fleet balked the naval part of the expedition, the small Landguard garrison had to face a determined attack by 1,400 Dutch soldiers who landed at Felixstowe and advanced along the beach. The garrison kept up a musket barrage until, after several hours, the assailants retreated in confusion. The demoralised and hungry soldiers had then to wait half the night on the sands for the returning tide to enable them to refloat their boats.

039Five years later another great sea battle was fought off the Suffolk coast, and this time spectators could follow its course. In mid-May 1672, the Anglo-French fleet under the command of the Duke of York and Edward Montague, now Earl of Sandwich, followed eighty-eight Dutch ships up the Channel. They then made the mistake of putting in at Sole Bay for careening. At dawn on 28 May they were surprised by the enemy, caught with their sales furled and with many of their men still sleeping off the effects of the previous evening’s carousing in the taverns of Southwold. With a haste next to panic, the allied fleet weighed anchor and tried to manoeuvre away from the lee shore, but the Dutch raked their enemies with devastating fire. This was concentrated on the Prince and the Royal James, carrying the English admiral and vice-admiral.

Sandwich’s Royal James took the worst of this. Mastless and with half her company dead, she was encircled by the enemy men-o’ war and baited by fire ships. She might have been relieved by Sir Joseph Jordan’s squadron, but he sailed past her to go to the aid of the Duke of York, much to the outrage of one onlooker:

I like not his fighting nor conduct, I wished myself on him to have saved that brave Montague, for he was in the wind of him and might have come down to him… I was so near as I saw almost every broadside and was in hearing and whistling of the shot.


It was about mid-day when a Dutch fireship ran into the Royal James. The flames reached her magazine and she disintegrated with a sickening roar. Two weeks later, bloated and scarred, Montague’s body was picked up by a local ketch. It still bore the George and Star of the Garter. The body was conveyed to Landguard Fort from where it was taken a week later for a magnificent funeral in London.


In June 1685 Henry Howard, Duke of Norfolk, was commissioned by James II to raise a new regiment of Foot in the county. However, the new unit was of no use to James, as Protestant East Anglia declared for William of Orange in 1688 and its new regiment, under the command of Henry Wharton, fought against the deposed king in Ireland, serving with distinction at the Battle of the Boyne the following year. The East Anglian lads went on to fight King William’s wars against King Louis in France and the Low Countries. However, at least they no longer had to fight against fellow Englishmen on their own soil.


Religion continued to be an important issue in Suffolk for many years after the Restoration. The Commonwealth had given rise to a plethora of sects, ranging from the more orthodox Independents, Congregationalist and Baptists to the Quakers, Brownists and Fifth Monarchists. Harsh laws were passed against all those who would not conform to the re-established Anglican Church, including Presbyterians such as Richard Baxter. They were reinforced, with brief, more tolerant interludes, until 1689. Ministers were ejected from their livings, and Nonconformist services had to take place in secret. Preachers who were caught, or who continued in defiance, were thrown into prison.

Such persecution did not stop the Dissenters and when limited toleration became the official policy of the reign of William and Mary’s reign, new chapels sprang up all over the country, and throughout the county. Nowhere was Nonconformity stronger than in Suffolk. The elegant places of worship they built are continuing proof of their devotion, vigour and wealth. Bury, Ipswich, Needham Market, Walpole and Framlingham all have fine examples. When Defoe visited Southwold, he attended divine worship in the parish church with twenty-seven local people. Walking past the dissenting chapel afterwards, he could see that it was full to the doors with God’s Englishmen and Englishwomen. At its end, the seventeenth century had indeed witnessed a Glorious Revolution.

    042Above: Whitehall from St James’ Park, by Peter Tillemans. The Coldstream Guards drill in front of the House Guards Building, under the Union Flag, while Charles II strolls through the park with members of his court.


Printed Sources:

Robert Latham (1978), The Illustrated Pepys: Extracts from the Diary. London: Bell & Hyman.

Derek Wilson (1977), A Short History of Suffolk. London: Batsford.

Christopher Hill (1972), The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution. London: Penguin.

Christopher Hill (1972), God’s Englishman: Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Robert McCrum, William Cran, Robert MacNeil (1987), The Story of English. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Glenn Foard (1994), Colonel John Pickering’s Regiment of Foot, 1644-1645. Whitstable: Pryor Publications.

William Anderson (1983), Holy Places of the British Isles: A guide to the legendary and sacred sites. London: Ebury.

Austin Woolrych (2002), Britain in Revolution, 1625-1660. Oxford: OUP.

Mabel Richmond Brailsford (1927), A Quaker from Cromwell’s Army: James Nayler. London: The Swarthmore Press.

‘God’s Englishmen’: The Midland and East Anglian Gentry in the English Revolution, 1619-89: part two.   3 comments

ImageBefore the Civil War, the Gullivers had become successful traders and respectable aldermen of Banbury, owning shops and public houses in the town and a brewery as far away as Aylesbury. As Protestant Nonconformists, or Dissenters, possibly Quakers, many of them were also excluded from higher occupations, especially public office, though some found an alternative outlet in becoming soldiers (and later officers) in Cromwell’s Army. Others had been thriving as yoeman farmers in the outlying Banburyshire parishes, but had now fallen on hard times, like Edward Gulliver, who was born in Banbury in 1590, and married Mary Hawes in Cropredy in 1620. They settled in the nearby village of Noke, where they raised a large family before Edward died in 1647.

Jonathan Swift made later reference to the family and their tombs in the graveyard of St Mary’s, Banbury, of which there were many, but only three remain:

ImageIn his Preface to the First Edition of his famous Gulliver’s Travels, 1726, Swift remarks ‘I have observed in the Church Yard at Banbury several tombs and monuments of the Gullivers. The original tombstones no longer exist, but a later one bearing this old Banbury name lies near to this plaque.

Swift was related to the Dryden family of Canon’s Ashby in Northamptonshire. His grandmother was Elizabeth Dryden, aunt of the poet laureate, John Dryden, born near Oundle. She married Thomas Swift and they had two children, Jonathan and Thomas, the elder being the father of the author of Gulliver’s Travels. John Dryden was also a cousin of Sir Gilbert Pickering, MP, and Col. John Pickering, also of Canon’s Ashby, as detailed already.

Viscount Saye and Sele (left), William Fiennes, was also related to these Northamptonshire gentry. He had been was one of the county’s leading activists against Charles I, raising troops for the first battle at Edgehill. Cavalier troops besieged and occupied his fourteenth-century moated manor house, Broughton Castle, for a time, but were fought to a standstill on Cropredy Bridge in June 1644. They later wreaked their revenge on the puritan population of the countryside by burning down the manor house at Wormleighton. Due to this act of vengeance and attrition,the village never recovered its former status. By contrast, Noke was loyal to the King, since it had an association with Oxford going back to the plagues, when the Colleges were allowed to quarter their dons there. Oxford became Charles I’s headquarters in the Civil War, and troops were stationed in some of the villages nearby, including Noke. The village saw action in the form of raids by Parliamentarians. In one of these, horses were taken and two soldiers were killed, being buried in the churchyard. The divisions among south Midland families and villages can be detected by the records that remain of these events, in both Cavalier and Rounhead versions!



At the end of 1643, a Midland Association of the counties of Leicester, Rutland, Nottingham, Derby, Northampton, ‘Banbury’ and Buckingham and  had ben formed. The Eastern Association consisted of the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Cambridge and the Isle of Ely, Huntingdon (Cromwell’s home county), Hertfords and Lincoln  . Together, the two associations controlled most of the Midlands from Banbury into East Anglia as far as the coastal ports. Individual regiments were raised in specific parts of East Anglia, because Manchester believed that he could maintain esprit de corps by drafting men from each county to keep up the regiment for that county. These principles were generally maintained even after the regiments were incorporated into the New Model Army in 1645. However, Cromwell realised that centralised control and regional administration were not enough. A standing army would need discipline, regular pay and commitment to Parliament’s cause. In an oft-quoted letter dated 29 August 1643, Cromwell outlined his criteria for selecting officers:

I would rather have a plain russet-coated captain that knows what he fights for and loves what he knows…



In John Pickering he found such a man to command a regiment, and in Pickering’s regiment there were many other russet-coated captains who also fitted this description. Most of the payments to the regiment came from the County committees of Norfolk and Suffolk. In April 1645, just before its transfer into the New Model, former soldiers of Pickering’s regiment caused some disturbances in Suffolk:

By some old soldiers returned home, we have sent down to you Major Jubbes and Captain Axtell, two officers of Col. Pickering’s regiment, to receive such soldiers as formerly belonged to that regiment… If any other soldiers will come along with them and serve in that regiment these officers will take charge of them.

031From this it can be concluded that Pickering’s regiment was probably recruited mainly in Suffolk, with some men joining from Norfolk, possibly from villages along the boundary between the two counties. These men were largely pressed into service, compared with those from towns and larger villages, undoubtedly a factor in the high rates of desertion in 1644. On the other hand, after August 1643, as part of the reorganisation of the Association, under Cromwell’s influence, commanders and officers for the regiments, like Jubbes and Axtell, were chosen primarily for their military abilities, their godliness, discipline and devotion to the parliamentarian cause. They were no longer drawn from the ranks of the local gentry of the county in which the regiment was recruited. Instead, the officers either came up through promotion in the Association regiments, or from other parliamentarian Associations. Much of the responsibility for the military command in the field fell upon the Lieutenant Colonel, in this case, John Hewson. He had more than a year’s experience as a company commander before he took up his command as second-in-command in Pickering’s regiment. Before the war, he had been a shoemaker, selling to the Massachusetts Company, but getting little by trade, he in the beginning of the grand rebellion, went out as a captain upon the account of the blessed cause. Having served in the Earl of Essex’s regiment from late 1642, he joined Pickering’s in late March of 1644.

John Jubbes’ family lived in Norwich. He had joined the Eastern Association army as a Captain of foot in Col. Sir Miles Hubbard’s regiment at its formation, in April 1643. Jubbes had, in his own words, joined the army because he had been long deeply sensible of the many grievous Incroachments and Usurpations exercised over the People of this Nation. After seeing action in the engagements of the Association in 1643, Jubbes took up a commission as Major with Pickering’s regiment in March 1644, taking responsibility for the regiment’s finances. He had already raised money in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex on Manchester’s orders. However, in a letter dated December 1643, Thomas Windham wrote:

My personal estate I have given up at two thousand pounds, which is more than I know I am worth, my estate in lands to the uppermost, during my father’s life. The oppression practised by Jubs and his associates is very odious, their fury in churches detestable.

The historian, Ketton-Cremer, has argued that,

Lt. Col. John Jubbes, who expressed violently anti-monarchical sentiments at the critical Army Council of 1st November 1647… was just the kind of man to display detestable fury in churches.

038He has described this as random iconoclasm, carried out by local puritan extremists or detachments of unruly troops. However, this is far from the truth. The Solemn League and Covenant signed between Parliament and the Scots required the reformation of religion in England and Ireland in doctrine, discipline and government. In other words, a Presbyterian form of church government was to be adopted. In August 1643 an ordinance was passed by Parliament for the utter demolishing, removing and taking away of all monuments of superstition and idolatry, and the following December a systematic implementation was ordered. This raised the opposition of many puritan parliamentarians, such as Windham. However, he had also been accused of undervaluing his estate when a levy was made in 1643 to raise money for the war, and it is this context that we need to understand his accusations against Jubbes, who was certainly not an unruly trooper. Neither was Daniel Axtell, Pickering’s first captain, who was a Baptist by background, one of a number in the regiment, and in the New Model Army, who rose from humble origins to positions of influence purely through ability and commitment to the parliamentarian cause.

023In the civil war, one of the great Puritan writers came to serve as Rector of Lavenham. William Gurnell, though lacking priest’s orders, was appointed by the Puritan lord of the manor and County Sheriff, Sir Symonds D’Ewes, an action sanctioned by parliament in 1644. During his thirty-three year incumbency he wrote one of the most famous Puritan devotional works, The Christian in Complete Armour, dedicated to my dearly beloved friends and neighbours, the inhabitants of Lavenham. However, the growth of fanatical millenarianism during the wars alarmed many moderate puritans within the Church. It was one thing to want to purify religion of superstitions and popish relics; it was quite another to show a total disrespect for churches, as did soldiers who used them for stables and fired muskets at ancient windows and monuments.

Two Suffolk men, William Dowsing of Laxfield and Matthew Hopkins of Great Wenham, became renowned for their fanaticism. Dowsing rose from obscurity when in August 1643 Parliament decreed that altars, candlesticks, pictures and images were to be removed from churches. Dowsing immediately came forward as one prepared, for the zeal of the Lord, to undertake this task and was appointed to the post of Parliamentary Visitor by the General of the Eastern Association. After creating havoc in Cambridgeshire he turned to his own county. Between January and October 1644 he toured Suffolk with a troop of soldiers. He smashed stained glass windows, defaced bench ends and carved fonts, broke down crucifixes, tore up brasses and obliterated inscriptions. In his disastrous rampage he visited a hundred and fifty churches, virtually at random, and carefully noted down in a journal the work of destruction. At Clare,

We broke down a thousand pictures superstitious. I broke down two hundred; three of God the Father and three of Christ and the Holy Lamb, and three of the Holy Ghost like a dove with wings; and the twelve Apostles were carved in wood, on the top of the roof, which we gave order to take down; and twenty cherubims to be taken down; and the sun and moon in the east window, by the King’s arms to be taken down.

Some parishes welcomed Dowsing and co-operated with him, but others, such as Ufford, put up a show of resistance, locked the church and tried to keep the desecrators at bay. Many churchwardens, even if sympathetic to Dowsing, resented having to pay the standard charge of 6s. 8d. for his visitation.

Matthew Hopkins was a far more sinister figure. As the Witch-Finder General, he could only thrive in a troubled time where in every community people were divided against each other, where loyalties clashed and where calamities were put down to supernatural agencies, where dislocations of the patterns of everyday life had driven many to the brink of mental breakdown, and where the exponents of an introspective religion held sway. Hopkins became famous after he supposedly uncovered a witches’ coven near Manningtree. He was asked to examine men and women, usually the latter, suspected of having familiar spirits. For three years he toured Suffolk and neighbouring counties applying his tests and supervising the resulting 106 executions in Suffolk alone.

The supposed witches were stripped, stuck with pins, denied food and rest, and made to walk until their feet were cut and blistered. If they still didn’t confess, they were swum, having their thumbs and toes tied together and then being dragged through the local pond in a sheet. If they sank, they were innocent, but probably drowned anyway. If they floated, they were in league with the devil. As a contemporary complained,

Every old woman, with a wrinkled face, a furrowed brow, a hairy lip, a gobber tooth, a squint eye, a squeaking voice, or a scolding tongue, having a ragged coat on her back, a skull-cap on her head, a spindle in her hand, and a dog or cat by her side, is not only suspected, but pronounced for a witch.

Eventually, poetic justice caught up with the Witchfinder-General, who was, himself, tried for witchcraft in 1647 and hung.

The placing of the county on a military footing was another cause of discontent. Soldiers were billeted on townspeople without payment. They took provisions from these homes, from local shops and ransacked the houses of the gentry for arms and plate. A visit of one Parliamentary troop at Somerleyton House in 1642 cost Sir John Wentworth forty-four pounds in various appropriations plus a hundred and sixty pounds of gold. The local militias were expected to train every week and provide their own equipment and the county as a whole had to pay 1,250 pounds for the maintenance of the army. All this the people were expected to suffer gladly for the sake of their own defence.

035After their victory at Marston Moor in the summer of 1644, in which the Association army was hard hit, being reduced from fourteen thousand men to about six thousand, the remaining troops were quatered in several towns in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire during the winter of 1644-5. These garrisons, just beyond the Association’s borders, were facing the royalist capital at Oxford. At this time the conflict between those who believed that the war could be won and those, like Manchester, who did not want to defeat the King, ultimately led to the success of the parliamentarian cause. The success of Independents in the Association armies enabled the creation of a new standing army committed to outright victory. In January 1645 the Committee of Both Kingdoms recommended the formation of a new army of twenty-two thousand men, to be supported by a levy of six thousand pounds a month on those districts controlled by Parliament. This New Model Army, established in April, was placed under the overall command of Sir Thomas Fairfax with Philip Skippon as Sergeant Major General. Cromwell was nominated as Lieutenant General of the Horse on the eve of the Battle of Naseby, and did not become Commander-in-Chief until June 1650.

The New Model was formed from the existing units of the armies of Essex, Manchester and Waller, but these had been so seriously depleted by the campaigns of 1644 that they could supply only seven thousand of the required fourteen thousand infantry alone. Therefore, new regiments had to be created, under committed officers like Pickering and Montague. Nevertheless, when the list of officers for the New Model was debated in parliament, Pickering, that fanatical Independent, had his name struck out by the Lords, along with that of Montague and others. They went further than this by striking out the whole of the most radical regiment from the forces of parliament, since Manchester was determined to purge his personal enemies from the New Model. However, under pressure from the Commons, Fairfax’s original list was eventually passed by just one vote and Pickering’s became the twelfth regiment of the New Model Army.

Each regiment of foot had a nominal strength of twelve hundred men, and there were eleven cavalry regiments, each of six hundred. In addition, there were ten companies of dragoons, each of a hundred men. Of these, nine of the regiments of horse and four of the infantry came from the Eastern Association, a total of 3,578 men. However, many of the foot regiments, including Pickering’s, were seriously under strength, and had to impress men from the areas through which the army marched. Several thousand men were conscripted into the New Model at this time, nearly all of them impressed, untrained, raw recruits. When the New Model set forth on its first campaign it was still four thousand men short, but did begin to look like an instrument that, by its professionalism, courage and discipline, would bring Parliament victory.

Pickering took up his new command at Abingdon, where his regiment still waited in winter quarters. The administrative system of the Association had been unable to raise adequate resources to cover the cost of maintaining the regiment over the previous ten months, a sum of more than four and a half thousand pounds. As a result, the pay to the regiment had fallen into arrears. These problems did not improve, even after transfer to the New Model. For forty-two days in April and May 1645 the regiment was without any pay, undoubtedly a factor in the mutiny of April that occurred when Colonel Pickering preached a sermon to his troops, following the confirmation of his command of the regiment. However, according to a royalist broadsheet, it was Pickering’s condemnation of Presbyterianism which some of the men most objected to, having joined from other regiment less Independent in religious character. Parliament instructed Fairfax that preaching in the army in future was only to be in the ministry of authorised chaplains, and Henry Pinnell was appointed to the regiment. He was an Independent, but also politically moderate, in favour of the Army reaching an agreement with the King. Nevertheless, Pickering continued to be admired for his views by most in the regiment, as well as the townspeople of Newport Pagnall.
On 1st May 1645, Fairfax’s army marched into the west, leaving Cromwell and the four former Eastern Association regiments to join him later around Oxford when the new recruits were fully trained. Cromwell himself was already involved in an attempt to clear several smaller garrisons around Oxford, including Bletchington House and Faringdon Castle, which was then in Berkshire. Pickering’s regiment was sent from Abingdon to Faringdon, where Captain Jenkins was killed, along with fourteen others. It numbered around five to six hundred by this time. The attack was abortive, for even with infantry Cromwell did not have the means for a decisive assault, and the garrison remained in royalist hands until June 1646.
021On 14th May, Fairfax began to lay siege to Oxford and Pickering was with the army at Southam in Warwickshire in late May. Hewson was in carrying arms and surgeons’ equipment to the siege of Oxford.   Following the fall of Leicester to the royalist army on 31st May, Cromwell was dispatched to secure Ely. Pickering’s, however, remained with Fairfax, marching from Oxford on 5th June, and then following the King’s Army, which was retreating from Daventry on 13th June,   reaching Market Harborough, where that night Charles decided to turn and engage the New Model.

006The royalists marched south on the morning of the 14th June and the two armies met at Naseby in Northamptonshire. Pickering’s were positioned at the centre of the parliamentarian front line. Here, the Royalist infantry began the battle well, and forced the Parliamentary regiments back, concentrating their attack against their left and centre, in support of Prince Rupert’s successful cavalry charge, which caused Ireton’s cavalry to veer to the right. Rupert charged into Ireton’s left, and then began to cut and thrust with sword. He forced his way through, and was then in a position to re-group: instead, he decided to press on, but achieved little, and though anxious not to repeat his mistake at Edgehill, was still absent from the battlefield for some time. This was, again, disastrous for his side. Cromwell launched a tremendous cavalry charge on the right, smashing into Langdale’s cavalry, slowed by difficult ground on the royalist left. As Astley’s foot stormed their way up Red Hill Ridge, they came under attack from Ireton’s recovering cavalry, supported by a mounted charge from Okey’s dragoons. As Astley’s troops reached Skippon’s foot, they not only met spirited resistance from the Parliamentary infantry, but also received a terrible blow on the other flank from Cromwell’s cavalry.

027 By the time Rupert returned to the field, his horses blown, he could only watch as Astley’s infantry were wiped out completely, four thousand of them, either killed or captured. Total Royalist losses were a thousand, with four-and-a-half thousand captured. With the King and Rupert having already left the field, the remaining Royalist infantry also tried to leave the field, with only Langdale’s cavalry fighting on.

This was the most decisive battle of the first civil war and Charles should never have fought it. He lost his infantry, his baggage train, his artillery, his private papers and, effectively, his throne. Outnumbered two to one, fourteen thousand to seven, short of cavalry and artillery, the Royalist had severely underestimated their opponents, raw recruits as many of them were, and paid dearly for it. Although initially forced to retreat by the assault on their centre and left, Pickering’s and Montague’s had done so lyke men, in good order. While Skippon’s more hardened troops had held the centre, they fell into the Reserves with their Colours, choosing there to fight and die, than to quit the ground they stood on. Together with the Reserves, Pickering’s and Montague’s remaining men had then rallied and moved forward to join Skippon’s, who were being steadily pushed back by the Royalist advance. The Roundhead charge did little to ease the pressure, especially when Ireton himself was wounded and taken prisoner. It was only after the rally of Pickering’s and Montague’s regiments, together with the calling up of the reserve, that the Parliamentarian infantry centre’s greatly superior numbers began to tell.

012So it was that Pickering’s took part in the final destruction of the Royalist infantry, deciding the outcome of the Battle of Naseby and the first Civil War. Captain Tomkins was killed, and estimates at the time put the Parliamentarian losses at between fifty and a hundred. A further fifty of Pickering’s men were seriously wounded, four dying later from their wounds. Two hundred more from the other infantry regiments were also seriously wounded.

The New Model then marched on to Leicester, which refused to yield, and Newark, where the Royalists surrendered on the 18th. After taking Leicester on their return, the New Model then secured Warwickshire and Gloucestershire before moving against the Royalist strongholds in the West Country. Following a further victory at Langport on 10th July, Bristol fell on 10th September, and Devizes a fortnight later. Laycock followed a few days later, followed by Winchester on 5th October. There was then a long siege of Basing House in Hampshire, which finally fell in mid-October, then Longford near Salisbury, leaving only Corfe Castle as the only remaining substantial Royalist garrison left between London and Exeter. Troops were needed to reinforce both the garrison at Abingdon and those besieging Exeter, so it wasn’t until March 1646 that the castle finally fell.

The Parliamentarian forces then comprehensively slighted it, so that the Cavaliers could not use it again. Pickering’s regiment played a role in most, if not all, of these sieges, though it had moved on to Ottery St Mary in the winter of 1645-6, a small market town ten miles from Exeter. Pickering himself arrived ahead of his regiment, on 12th November, as his legal expertise was needed in securing the surrender of the city.

033During the Civil War there were probably more soldiers who died of disease than on the battlefield. Plague had been rife in and around Bristol when it had been captured in September, but the Parliamentary troops had escaped its ravages. However, they then fell prey to influenza, probably brought with them from the city, though it had taken a month for it to take hold among their ranks. The foot, quartered in Ottery St Mary, were the worst hit, with as many as nine soldiers and townspeople dying on a daily basis. Many soldiers were already weak from lack of good supplies and arrears of pay. Pickering himself fell ill on 24th November 1645, just before his thirtieth birthday:

Col. Pickering, that pious, active Gentleman, that lived so much to God, and his Country and divers other Officers, dyed of the New disease in that place; Six of the generals own family were sick of it at one time, and throughout the foot regiments half the souldiers…

The whereabouts of the Colonel’s burial is unknown, but it is likely that he would have been buried in Lyme Regis, in accordance with the wishes of his elder brother and MP, Sir Gilbert Pickering, as well as those of Cromwell and Fairfax. These are recorded in a letter from Cromwell to Colonel Creely, the commander of the nearest parliamentary garrison written from Tiverton on 10th December. Major Jubbes, of Norwich, took responsibility for the arrangements. The high esteem in which many parliamentarians held Pickering can be seen in the various obituaries in the newsheets of the time. One of them is accompanied by a eulogy, far less eloquent than his cousin, John Dryden, later poet laureate, might have produced, but he was only fourteen at that time:

… Black Autumn fruits to cinders turne;

Birds cease to sing, our joy is fled,

‘Cause glorious Pickering is dead,

Let time contract the Earth and Skie,

To recommend thy memorie

To future ages…

Sprigge devotes a whole poem to a poem on his death, which he entitled Iohannes Pickering: In God I Reckon Happiness. By comparison, Dryden’s first published work, in 1659, was also to be a eulogy, A Poem upon the death of his late Highness, Oliver, Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland. As a close associate of Cromwell within the Eastern Association, John Pickering was in an ideal position to establish a regiment that mirrored his own religious and political views. It was, after all, not just the Colonel, but also the whole regiment that drew criticism from the Presbyterians in Parliament. It was his deep religious conviction, some said fanaticism, which gave him strength, courage and commitment both in combat and negotiation. In these virtues, he was typical of the men who brought about the revolution in liberties of conscience, which was a distinctive element in the civil wars of the middle to late seventeenth century. Like Cromwell, he saw himself as one of God’s Englishmen.


After Pickering’s death, his Lieutenant Colonel, John Hewson took command of the regiment, and his advancement heralded the increasing authoritarianism of the revolution as the country moved towards a form of military dictatorship. In May 1647 the Presbyterian Parliament attempted to break up the military power-base of Independency, requiring the New Model Army regiments either to disband or to volunteer for the campaign in Ireland. Hewson’s regiment refused, as did others. Lieutenant Colonel Jubbes, the Norwich Baptist, together with Major Axtell and two other agitators prepared a statement of the regiment’s grievances. In June, as political debate developed and intensified in the army, some of the regiment were already committed to the Leveller cause. Two of the six authors of A Letter from the Army to the honest Seamen of England, of 21st June 1647, were from Hewson’s. They were Captains Brayfield and Carter. A third, Azuriah Husbands, had been a Captain in the regiment, and some of its ordinary soldiers also signed it.

John Jubbes, in his statement at the Putney debates on 1st November 1647, called for political reforms extending well beyond mere army grievances. Jubbes took a conciliatory position between the Independents and the Levellers, seeking even to bring the more libertarian Presbyterians into an agreement. The same position was taken by the regiment’s chaplain, Henry Pinnell, who had published his own proposals, which while radical in general nature, included a reconciliation with the King. For Jubbes, as for many who later became Quakers, the war had encouraged pacifist views in him. He came to see the real conflict as being between the slavery of the sword and the Peace of Christ. In April 1648, having lost the argument in the regiment, as it had been lost at Putney in the army as a whole; Jubbes laid down his sword and picked up his pen. He was disillusioned with the course the revolution was taking, believing that the cause of liberty of conscience was being sacrificed to that of the authority of the Grandees of the New Model. He became associated with a sect of religious radicals with millenarian ideas, confidently looking forward to the imminent personal reign of Christ on earth, following His second coming.

In attitude and ideas, Hewson differed markedly from both Pickering and Jubbes. Although, like Cromwell, an Independent, he had expressed a typically authoritarian view about the Levellers in the army, suggesting that military tribunals rather than civil courts should deal them with. We can hang twenty before they will hang one, he pointed out. For him, as for Cromwell and Ireton, whatever the political merits of the Levellers’ case, which they had listened to patiently and responded to sympathetically within the Army Council at Putney Church, they could not be allowed to undermine military discipline through constant arguing and petitioning. It is in this context that we need to understand both Hewson’s remark and Cromwell’s later statement to one of his Colonels, you have no other way to deal with these men but to break them or they will break you… Daniel Axtell, another fierce Independent, replaced Jubbes as Lieutenant Colonel, while John Carter became Major, despite his Leveller sympathies.   The regiment was involved in Pride’s Purge of the Presbyterian MPs in Parliament in December 1648, during the Second Civil War.

The harsh new laws of the Presbyterian Long Parliament had also transformed the sympathies of many ordinary people in the country. In Suffolk in 1648 there was a serious riot in Bury St Edmund’s when the authorities tried to prevent the hoisting of a maypole. The local arsenal was seized and people rushed through the streets shouting, For God and King Charles! The outburst was contained, but there were also similar risings in Aldeburgh and Lowestoft. Suffolk was growing tired of war, of religious conflict and of political maneuverings between the Army and Parliament. None of these made any difference to the problems of the cloth industry, which was still declining, or to the harbours of the East Anglian ports, which were still silting up. There were still thousands of people living at bare subsistence level in thatched, rat-infested hovels.

In the second war, which ended with the surrender of the royalist troops at Colchester, Hewson’s had faced the Kentish royalists and bore the brunt of the fighting at the storming of Maidstone. Fairfax wrote, I cannot but take notice of the valour and resolution of Col. Hewson, whose Regiment had the hardest task. Major Carter was injured and Captain Price, a deserving and faithfull Officer, was killed. The regiment had gone on to suppress the rising in Kent, recapturing the castles at Deal, Walmer and Sandown. Hewson was a judge at the King’s trial in January 1649, also signing the death warrant, while Axtell commanded the guard at the king’s execution. In April 1649 Hewson’s were chosen, by lot, to go to Ireland with three existing and six new regiments. While in Ireland, they took part in many of the major actions and the most notorious, particularly at Drogheda, where they were at the centre of the atrocities against the royalist troops who refused to surrender.

Hewson later became Governor of Dublin, member of the Council of State and an MP. He was knighted by Cromwell and described after the Restoration as an arch-radical and religious zealot. However, he did not approve of what he called the usurpation of the General and opposed Cromwell from within the Protectorate, at some personal risk. By the end of the interregnum, the regiment was commanded by John Streeter, undoubtedly the same soldier who drew the battlefield of Naseby (above). It took part in the last land action of the Commonwealth, finding itself fighting against its original first captain and later Lieutenant Colonel, Daniel Axtell. He had joined Major-General Lambert in an attempt to reimpose military government. On 22nd April 1660 Lambert’s forces were confronted and routed at Daventry in Northamptonshire, close to the battlefields of Edgehill and Naseby. Axtell escaped, but was later captured and eventually executed by Charles II’s government, as a regicide. At the Restoration, Hewson fled to the continent where he died in Amsterdam in 1662. The regiment which was raised in 1643, and first served in East Anglia as a major force in the Eastern Association in April 1644, was not disbanded until October 1660, and even then four of its companies being sent to form the garrison at Hull. By then, it had served longer than any other Parliamentarian regiment.


John Pickering’s elder brother, lord of the manor and baronet, Sir Gilbert Pickering, had been elected as an MP for Northamptonshire to the Short Parliament of 1640. He raised, though he did not command, a dragoon regiment in eastern Northamptonshire. He was appointed commissioner and judge in the trial of Charles Stuart, though wisely attended only two sittings, and did not sign the death warrant. During the Commonwealth he rose to a position of considerable national influence, as a member of the Council of State and as a Commissioner in various posts. Finally in 1655 he was appointed Lord Chamberlain to the Lord Protector. It was only due to the intervention of his brother-in-law, Edward Montague, Earl of Sandwich, that Gilbert obtained a pardon from Charles II.

Gilbert Pickering was described after the Restoration as first a Presbyterian, then an Independent, then a Brownist, and afterwards an Anabaptist. Although coming from his enemies, this statement does perhaps describe the process of radicalisation that many of his class went through in the thirty years of conflict in the reign of Charles I and in the interregnum. The Pickering family had long been known for their strong Puritan beliefs, reflecting the strength of these views in eastern Northamptonshire, which had developed rapidly and become strongly entrenched in the Peterborough diocese during the second half of the sixteenth century, as elsewhere in the southeast Midlands and East Anglia. Robert Browne, whose Brownism developed into the Independent form of puritanism that in turn led to Congregationalism, was Rector of Thorpe Achurch, only three miles north of Titchmarsh, from 1591 to 1630. The Pickerings were therefore very close to one of the main centres of Puritan Dissent, forced out of the Church of England during the 1630s by Archbishop Laud and his supporters, and into the manor houses of sympathetic families like the Pickerings and then across the countryside and market towns until it found its way into the regiments of the Eastern Association and the New Model Army. Therefore, the history of the Pickering family and their relatives also describes and explains the history of much of the Midlands and East Anglia during the seventeenth century.

023However, the rather disparaging view of him as a Committee man responsible for sequestration was quite unfair, as was the attempt to paint him as a most furious, fiery, implacable man… the principal agent in casting out most of the learned clergy. This assessment comes from the papers of Jeremiah Stevens, Rector of Quinton and Wootton in Northants, who was sequestered in 1644. In 1656, a very different temperament from the conciliatory role undertaken by the MP and Lord Chamberlain in the parliamentary proceedings undertaken against James Nayler, the Quaker, who stood accused of blasphemy. Nayler, a farmer from Yorkshire, had fought for Parliament at the Battle of Dunbar in the second civil war, in September 1650, where his preaching was remembered long after by those who heard it, both ordinary soldiers and officers alike, as well as by the country folk:

 013After the Battle of Dunbar, as I was riding in Scotland at the head of my troop, I observed at some distance from the road a crowd of people, and one higher than the rest. Upon which I sent one of my men to see and bring me word what was the meaning of this gathering. Seeing him ride up and stay there without returning according to my order, I sent a second, who stayed in like manner, and then I determined to go myself. When I came thither, I found it was James Nayler preaching to the people, but with such power and reaching energy as I had not till then been witness of. I could not help staying there a little, though I was afraid to stay, for I was made a Quaker, being forced to tremble at the sight of myself. I was struck with more terror before the preaching of James Nayler than I was before the Battle of Dunbar, when we had nothing else to expect but to fall prey to the swords of our enemies…


However, James Nayler’s six years of missionary journeys, of eloquent and victorious evangelism, of loyal co-operation with colleagues, were all forgotten when he appeared before Parliament in 1656 accused of horrid blasphemy and of being a grand imposter and seducer of the people. He is still remembered for the six months of his disgrace, and as the fallen apostle of Quakerism, while his contemporary George Fox is seen as its chief Founder. Nayler was born in 1618, in a village two miles from Wakefield in Yorkshire, where he married and lived from 1639. After having three children there, he joined the parliamentary army in 1643, serving in Fairfax’s regiment, before becoming Quartermaster in Lambert’s Regiment of Horse, a position which he held until the decisive Battle of Worcester in 1651, after which Charles II (only of Scotland at that time) fled to France. After that conclusive battle, there was no longer any need for an army in the field. According to Cromwell, Lambert’s Horse bore the brunt of the battle, the best of the Enemy’s Horse being broken through and through in less than an hour’s dispute.


As Quartermaster, it would have been Nayler’s task to feed the ten thousand who were taken prisoner, especially the Scots. The half who were English were sent home due to the impossibility of providing for them. At his trial, Major-General Lambert gave testimony that he was a very useful person – we parted from him with great regret. He was a man of unblameable life and conversation. Lambert’s statement bears out Nayler’s own testimony to his judges that I was never taxed for any mutiny or any other thing while I served the Parliament.


In 1651 Nayler returned to his family in broken health, both physical and mental. A victim of consumption, he settled on a small farm near Wakefield. Lambert recalled that he became a member of a very sweet society of an Independent Church.

Although Presbyterianism had been established in England by ordinance in 1648, at the end of the second civil war, it was by no means popular and had not filled the place of the Church of England. Many parish ministers were relatively free to belong to different denominations, and/or to follow the promptings of their congregations. After a meeting with George Fox, Nayler decided to leave home to follow his calling as an evangelist, though he found it very difficult to leave his wife and children again, having just returned after nine years. His ministry took Nayler to the West Country where, while not in prison, he gathered a large number of followers around him. However, he came into conflict with Fox and, when his attempts to effect a reconciliation were rebuffed, he became deeply depressed to the point of appearing morose.

024It was in a deeply contemplative state that he set off for Bristol, in the middle of October 1656, from Glastonbury, in the pouring rain, with a small procession of Friends. He was riding a horse and on either side a woman led his horse by the bridle, walking knee-deep in the mud, when they could have walked along the sides of the ancient bridleway. Passers-by found the sight utterly bizarre, even before the company reached Bristol. As they reached the Radcliffe Gate of the City, the procession began shouting and singing a psalm, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Israel, removing their wet cloaks and throwing them in front of the horse, with Nayler still being led on it, as if in a transe. Between two and three in the afternoon they passed the High Cross, where it seemed as if the whole city had turned out to see the strange spectacle. After arriving at their inn, the Magistrates sent an escort for them and they were brought, still singing, to the Guildhall for examination.

After a brief, preliminary examination, they were imprisoned, despite Nayler possession of a pass from Cromwell himself. At the second examination, it became clear that, whatever interpretation his followers placed on their actions, he regarded himself simply as a symbol of Christ and the triumphal entry simply a sign of his second coming.


However, two of the women in his congregation claimed that Nayler was indeed Jesus, one claiming that Nayler had raised her to life after she had been dead for two days. Under these circumstances, the Bench had no alternative but to send the group back to jail. The Bristol Magistrates then wrote to their MP. The second Parliament of the Protectorate had been sitting for only a month when this MP presented his report from the magistrates of his constituency. The case which came before them for judgement was so serious, so pregnant with consequences for both Church and State, that they felt incompetent to deal with it. The basis of it was that on the 14th October, a parody of the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem had been enacted in Bristol, not from any spirit of mockery, but in the steadfast belief of those present that a second Messiah had appeared in England. Letters found upon the chief prisoner gave further evidence of this blasphemous delusion, and, since a pass from the Lord Protector himself was among these letters, the magistrates had decided to keep him and his companions in custody until they could ascertain the pleasure of Parliament. The House had now decided to undertake the third examination themselves and then to sentence the prisoners.


Meanwhile, the entry into Bristol had become a nine days’ wonder, and the talk not only of London, but of every corner of the country into which Quakerism had penetrated. Nayler appeared before a Parliamentary Committee, and answered their questions clearly and to their satisfaction. With nothing further to examine, on 5th December the Committee made its report to the House. In spite of its careful purging, this second and last Parliament of Cromwell’s Protectorate was composed of many warring and irreconcilable elements, upon which the prisoner acted as a touch stone. His most vocal prosecutor was Sir George Downing, who gave his name to Downing Street. Four years later he was to make his peace with the new king by betraying his Parliamentary associates, including Sir Gilbert Pickering. Downing and the Extremists were opposed by the Merciful Party, including Pickering, Desborough and Lambert, Nayler’s old commanding officer, who gave his character reference, adding that the trial was very much sorrow of my heart. Major-General Desborough, in command of the Western counties, had come into contact with the best side of Quakerism, had witnessed Fox’s heroic temper in Launceston prison. Desborough used all his influence to moderate the harsh temper of the House. He argued that it should be handed over to the lawyers, to whose province it rightly belonged. However, the temper of the House was already one of heated debate, since Nayler was already present to hear the Committee’s report, and the Major-General’s advice was largely ignored. Westminster Hall had been the setting for the dramatic trial of Charles I, almost exactly eight years previously, and many of those sitting in judgement on Nayler had been present when the King had faced his avenging subjects. Perhaps some felt that they could now balance the scales of extreme justice, and even avenge the royal martyr, even if they dared not speak openly of this, even in Parliament.


Nayler did not present himself, in Carlyle’s later description, as a mad Quaker, and again emphasised that his act had been purely symbolic of Christ’s second coming, which had not yet been fulfilled. However, either through ignorance or obdurance, Downing and others maintained their aggressivity towards Nayler and his beliefs. Other more gentle voices were raised on the prisoner’s behalf, especially by those who, through personal acquaintance with the Quakers, had studied and discussed with them their doctrine of the Inner Light. Among them was that of Sir Gilbert Pickering, who defended himself and the merciful party as having the same zeal for God, yet haply they may not have the same appetite to give sentence in these things, without special tenderness respecting the sad consequences. This view came close to that of the Lord Protector, whose impatience with this Parliament over this case was based on his view that it should uphold a spirit of toleration in the country by providing for liberty of conscience for the tender-hearted, even when they were in error. However, at dinner that night with the diarist Burton, Richard Cromwell was clear that Nayler ought to die. However, Nayler’s punishment was a matter for the House to decide, not the Lord Protector or his son, soon to inherit the title.

When Parliament met to impose punishment, Sir Gilbert Pickering interposed again with a plea for hard labour and imprisonment, as he had learnt from a very sober man of that sect that Nayler was bewitched, really bewitched, and his words were not to be heeded. Imprisonment would be a charity in keeping him from that party that bewitched him. It was resolved by a narrow majority of 96 to 82 votes that the prisoner’s life should be spared. On December 17th, after further debate, they came to the following resolution:

That James Nayler be set upon the pillory… in the Palace-Yard, Westminster, during the space of two hours, on Thursday next, and be whipped by the hangman through the streets, from Westminster to the Old Exchange, London: and there likewise be set upon the pillory… for the space of two hours… on Saturday next, in each place wearing a paper bearing the inscription of his crimes; and that at the Old Exchange his tongue be bored through with a hot iron and that there also be stigmatised in the forehead the letter B; and that he be afterwards sent to Bristol and be conveyed into and through the said city on horseback, with his face backward; and there also publicly whipped the next market day… and that from thence he be committed to prison in Bridewell, London, and there restrained from the society of all people, and there to labour hard, till he be released by Parliament; and during that time be debarred the use of pen, ink, and paper, and shall have no relief but what he earns by daily labour.


On May 26th 1657, Sir Gilbert Pickering brought Nayler’s case again before the House. The Protector had been informed of Nayler’s poor state of health, and it was at his recommendation that Parliament was now asked to provide a keeper or nurse to wait upon him. Fearful of showing too much sympathy for the prisoner, Sir Gilbert recalled him as that reckless person Nayler. However, he was quite unable to preserve this air of detachment when Cromwell’s proposal met opposition. If you care not for him, he continued angrily, so as to let him have a keeper, he will die in your hands. Whether it was Cromwell’s wish or Pickering’s indignation which inclined the House to this unaccustomed show of humanity, there was no opposition to the proposal when put to the vote, and it was carried, with the suggestion that the Keeper should be a Quaker, that he might not infect others with the plague. It was then stated that his Highness further desired a minister to be sent to Nayler, for the truth is, he is very weak.

This was also agreed to. William Tomlinson, his devoted Friend throughout his punishment in London, became his Keeper, and the Governer also appointed a female nurse, Joane Pollard, to minister to his medical needs, alongside the Matron of Bridewell Hospital. Cromwell and Pickering had combined to soften the hearts of both Parliament and the prison governers. The brave, humanitarian action of Pickering in particular, seems at odds with the description of him after the Restoration. Perhaps it was his determination to oppose the hard-line attitude of Downing’s party, together with his earlier action against Laudian ministers in his county, which resulted in him being branded as a fanatical hothead by his enemies after the Restoration, but it is difficult to imagine that the sympathies he showed towards Nayler would not have also led him to be tolerant of protestant believers and ministers of a less Independent persuasion than his own. He may have been a Committee Man, and passionate about his Independency in faith and politics, but he also showed that that meant he was determined to support Cromwell’s view that liberty of conscience should extend to Presbyterians and tender-hearted sectaries alike.


The youngest son, Edward Pickering, was born in 1618. He was also educated as a lawyer, at Lincoln’s Inn, but played no significant role in the war. ‘Ned’, as his friends affectionately knew him, was a companion of Samuel Pepys and is frequently described in Pepys’ Diary. Apparently, Ned did not maintain the same Nonconformist religious beliefs and practices as his brothers after the Restoration, and was less of an Independent in political views too. Probably influenced by Edward Montague, he travelled to the continent in 1660 to swear allegiance to Charles II before his return to England. Even after the Restoration, as late as the 1670s, Lady Pickering was still holding Congregationalist meetings in the manor house at Titchmarsh. However, though the Pickerings may have continued to hold to their puritan beliefs, they did not support the social levelling supported by John Lilburne and others.


Neither were they averse to indulging in the finer aspects of courtly life in London, as Samuel Pepys (above) records for the 29th October 1660, The Lord Mayor’s Day. This was an occasion for quite a gathering of friends and family, including the wife of Edward Montague, Lady Sandwich, her children, and Lady Pickering, wife of Sir Gilbert and Montague’s sister. They went shopping for draperies in St Paul’s and Cheapside, where they found an ideal vantage point on the quayside to watch the parades and pageants with a company of fine ladies. The gentlemen continued to enjoy their sports. Eight years later, on 11th December, Pepys and his clerk and life-long friend Hewer met up with Ned Pickering in Smithfield to watch horse-riding, observing all the afternoon… the knaveries and tricks of jockys. However, Pepys had to be careful in meeting the jockys, especially one whose wife he desired but dare not see, for my vow to my wife. He came away with his friends having done nothing except concluded upon giving fifty pounds for a fine pair of black horses.


The Pickerings were very much in the same mould as their Fenland neighbours, the Cromwells, prepared to challenge the religious and political order, but staunchly conservative with regard to the social order, and with an eye to property when determining who should have the right to decide on the government of the day. Although given the title God’s Englishman by Christopher Hill in his biography, Oliver Cromwell was, in fact, the grandson of a third-generation Welshman named Richard Williams, whose grandfather was said to have accompanied Henry Tudor to London in 1485. He settled in Putney and married his son, Morgan, to the daughter of the local blacksmith, Walter Cromwell. Walter’s brother was Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s great Chancellor, the hammer of the monks. In tribute, Morgan Williams’ son Richard decided to use his mother’s family name and became a firm supporter of the Reformation. Oliver’s mother was Elizabeth Steward, whose great-uncle was the last Prior of the Abbey of Ely and also became the first Protestant Dean of the Cathedral. He was Elizabeth Steward’s great-uncle, and was persuaded to throw in his lot with the Reformation by Sir Richard Cromwell. Oliver’s maternal grandfather and uncle continued to farm the manors of Ely Cathedral.*

As a result of their dissolution, Sir Richard Cromwell acquired the lands of three abbeys, two priories and the nunnery of Hinchingbrooke. He married the daughter of a Lord Mayor of London, as did his son, Sir Henry, who also represented his county in the House of Commons and was four times sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire. His son, Sir Oliver, who also became an MP and a high sheriff, was the uncle of Oliver Cromwell. Old Sir Oliver spent much of the family fortune in entertaining King James V of Scotland on his royal progress to being crowned James I in 1603. Like Sir John Harington of Coombe Abbey in Warwickshire, he got little in return for providing such lavish hospitality to the Stuart family. He had to sell the great house to the Montague family. Like John Pickering, Oliver Cromwell’s father Robert was a second son, and therefore received little of Sir Oliver’s patrimony anyway. So, Oliver was born into a comparatively modest house in Huntingdon, which had been part of the St. John’s Hospital. Later, Oliver was to inherit some of the church manors of the Dean and Chapter of Ely. Like John Pickering, he would have grown up conscious of being a poor relation. However, he was related to most of the powerful gentry families of East Anglia and the Midlands, including the Knightleys and the Fiennes, into which the Golafre family had married in early Tudor times. These cousinly connections, together with the puritan education many of the sons of the gentry received in Cambridge, were what enabled a growing network of the Country opposition to Charles’ rule to emerge in the 1630s and, in parliament, in the 1640s. When Oliver took up his seat in the House of Commons in 1628, he was one of ten cousins there.



Looking back, historians have tended to see the breach with the Levellers at Burford in 1649 as the turning point of the Revolution. But for Oliver, 1653 was undoubtedly the high point. After the failure of the Barebones Parliament, his high hopes of uniting God’s Englishmen in government had gone. He now saw himself as a constable whose task was to prevent Englishmen from flying at each other’s throats. He was forced back on the support of an Army purged of radicals, an Army which in the last resort had to be paid by taxes collected from the propertied classes, the natural rulers of the countryside. So, by 1653 the Revolution was effectively over and the Lord Protector, General Cromwell was the saviour of propertied society. The radicals had been driven from Westminster, the City and the Army in 1653, and the trading monopolies were still in control of the mercantile economy. The conservative generals, including Lambert, Montague and Desborough, formed Cromwell’s Council, together with the baronets, including Sir Gilbert Pickering. Other advisers included Nathanial Fiennes, son of Lord Saye and Sele. Cromwell’s plans for unity were no longer restricted to the Independent party, whose leader he had been: He saw his task now as being to unite the nation. To the radicals Oliver was now, finally its lost leader. Lilburne, Wildman, Sexby and other remaining Levellers turned to negotiations with the royalists, rather than acceptance of the new régime. Baptists, Quakers and Congregationalists never forgave him for reneging on promises to abolish tithes.

The Welsh Fifth Monarchist, Vavasour Powell greeted the Protectorate by asking his congregation whether the Lord would have Oliver Cromwell or Jesus Christ to reign over us?

However, the actual composition of Cromwell’s council, no less than the powers given to it and to the parliament by The Instrument, drafted by General Lambert, make it difficult to characterise the Protectorate as a military dictatorship, as it so often has been. Ten of the eighteen members were, in fact, civilians, and only Lambert, Fleetwood, Skippon and Desborough were members of the field army. Montague had last commanded a regiment in 1645, and the three others, although having some military duties, were administrators rather than soldiers. A simple head count, however, can be misleading, since civilians like Sir Gilbert Pickering often supported the military members, while Colonel Montague, later General at Sea, tended to oppose it. The council contained men of diverse and independent views, including Sir Gilbert Pickering, and was unlikely to act collectively as a rubber stamp to dictatorship, and nor did it.

Cromwell certainly wielded immense personal authority, and he would never have become Lord Protector had he not been Lord General. But he had a genuine aversion to dictatorial power, and the constitution was genuinely designed to prevent this. The army party reached its peaks of influence when Cromwell accepted the Instrument of Government and during the rule of the major-generals, but he signalled his disillusionment with it in a speech that he made to the hundred officers in February 1657. Thereafter, the exclusion of Lambert shifted the balance decisively against the military faction, and the trouble that the grandees made for Richard Cromwell in the spring of 1659 does not testify to their continuing ascendancy, but rather to the desperation of defeated men.

After the dissolution of the Long Parliament in March 1660, the Royalist historian Clarendon records that the council of state did many prudent actions, the most important of which was the reform of the navy, which was full of sectaries and under the government of those who of all men were declared the most republican. The fleet was under the command of Vice-Admiral Lawson, an excellent seaman, but then a notorious Anabaptist; who had filled the fleet with officers and mariners of the same principles. Nevertheless, the Rump Parliament owed its restoration to his successful siege of the City, so he stood high in reputation with all that party and they were therefore unable to remove him from power. Instead, they decided to eclipse him, that he should not have it so absolutely in his power to control them. So, they called up Sir Edward Montague, who had retired to his own house in Cambridgeshire, under a cloud, and made him joint-admiral. Montague accepted the commission on the conditions that he alone would have charge of recruiting new officers and men for the ships to be added to the fleet, and that he would have oversight of the rest, reforming them as he saw necessary. He sent a secret message to the king in exile, asking for his approval, before finally accepting the office and returning to London, where he immediately set to work in putting the fleet in so good order that he might comfortably serve in it. Clarendon goes on to praise Montague by asserting that there was no good man who betook himself to his majesty’s service with more generosity than this gentleman.


Montague was from a noble family, which was a rival of the Cromwell family, having bought the House at Hinchingbrooke from Oliver’s grandfather, who had impoverished his family by the lavish hospitality he had shown to James I. However, Oliver and Edward became firm allies from the early years of the First Civil War, perhaps because the former was always destined to be a poor relation, as the son of a second son, but inherited his uncle’s lands in the Chapter of Ely anyway when he died childless. Clarendon records that the Montague family was too much addicted to innovations in religion, though Edward went against his father in opposing Charles I, since Sir Sidney had been a long-serving courtier and never could be prevailed upon to swerve from his allegiance to the crown, taking great care to restrain his only son within those limits. However, being young, and more out of his father’s control by being married into a family which, at that time, also trod away, he was so far wrought upon by the caresses of Cromwell, that, out of pure affection to him, he was persuaded to take command in the army when it was new modelled under Fairfax, and when he was little more than twenty years of age.

Montague served in the army, as Colonel of his regiment, until the end of the war, with the reputation of a very stout and sober young man, who … passionately adhered to Cromwell. The Lord-General took him into his closest confidence and sent him on several expeditions by sea, in sole command, which were very successful for both the Commonwealth and Edward’s career in it.

011Although perceived as devoted to Cromwell’s interests, he showed no acrimony towards any who had served Charles I, and was so much in love with monarchy that he was one of those who most desired and advised Cromwell to accept and assume that title, when it was offered to him by his parliament. Soon after the Convention Parliament decided to send the fleet to fetch Charles II from the Dutch United Provinces, the King had only been in the Hague for a few days when he heard that the English fleet was in sight of the port of Scheveningen. Shortly after that, an officer was sent by Admiral Montague to ask the King for orders. The Duke of York went on board the fleet to take possession of his command as High Admiral, where he was received by all the officers and seamen, with all possible duty and submission. He spent the whole day on board, receiving details of the state of the fleet, returning to the King that night, with the information. Montague therefore played a major part in ensuring the smooth transition of power to the Stuart restoration. Still in his thirties, he was to receive rich rewards for this throughout the reign of Charles II. Neither did he abandon his old friends and allies, ensuring that they too received royal pardon and patronage, provided that they had played no part in the regicide.

Of course, Oliver Cromwell himself could not be pardoned for the act which he himself had regarded as a cruel necessity. Although he was beyond temporal punishment, his bones were not allowed to rest in peace. In 1661 the Protector’s body was dug up, hung at Tyburn, decapitated and buried at the foot of the gallows. The head was stuck on a pole outside Westminster Hall and left to rot. It eventually came into the possession of a Suffolk family, a descendant of which, Canon Wilkinson of Woodbridge, arranged with the fellows of Cromwell’s old college at Cambridge, Sydney Sussex, that it should be given a decent burial within the precincts, in 1960.

God’s Englishmen: Midland and East Anglian Gentry in the English Revolution, 1619-89: Part One.   Leave a comment

God’s Englishmen: Midland and East Anglian Gentry in the English Revolution, 1619-89

In the middle years of the seventeenth century, England’s heritage and history became potent political forces as the spokesmen on both sides before and during the Civil Wars drew on the various interpretations of the past furnished by antiquarians and legal historians.

004Poets and writers began to make inner journeys, or pilgrimages, to find a more primitive form of their faith. My mind to me a kingdom is, wrote Sir Edward Dyer: the means of escape from political and religious strife through the cultivation of the inner life, which often found its expression through the art of poetry. It is due to their poetry that the places where these poets lived have gained their special associations: George Herbert at Bemerton outside Salisbury; Thomas Traherne reliving his childhood visions in great verse and prose at Hereford and Teddington. The place which contains in its seclusion much of the spirit of this inward-seeking urge is Little Gidding in Cambridgeshire, where still stands the church associated with the Protestant nunnery, the community centred on his family set up by Nicholas Ferrar in 1625 and which survived for twenty years after Ferrar’s death in 1637 in spite of its despoilment by Parliamentarian soldiers in revenge for the family giving shelter to the fugitive Charles I. Nicholas Ferrar’s tomb still stands outside the church, and the furnishings within it are much the same as they were in the days of the community. T S Eliot gave its name a wider currency in his Four Quartets, as a place where the communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.

Little Gidding is a shrine of the Anglican tradition, but there are also many places connected with the tradition and era of protestant dissent. The most atmospheric of these are the old Baptist and Congregationalist chapels and the Quaker meeting-houses, such as the one at Jordans in Buckinghamshire. It stands amongst orchards close to a barn said to be built from the timbers of the Mayflower in which the Pilgrim Fathers sailed. It was built towards the end of the era, in 1688, by William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, who lies in the graveyard outside. It is a simple building with transomed leaded windows, the interior singing with silence and peace, following more than half a century of religious warfare.

However, these conflicts were not simply about religion and culture, but also about politics and economics. The County of Suffolk had faced a number of economic disasters throughout Elizabethan and Jacobean times, some of them caused by natural events over which its people had no control. Its ports were silted up and closed by the effects of coastal erosion, or blockaded and attacked by Flemish pirates. Despite frequent pleas, the government refused to help build adequate sea defences, or to deal with the privateers in the North Sea. The last major disaster to strike the Suffolk coast was the rapid decline of the shipbuilding industry. Until about 1638, fine ships were built at Ipswich and other Suffolk yards, like Woodbridge. However, by that time not only was timber becoming scarce and expensive, but the London dockyards were growing, so that Henry Johnson, an Aldeburgh shipbuilder, left his own declining port to found the Blackwall Yard on the Thames. The venture made him a fortune and encouraged those with a similar spirit of adventure and enterprise, but it also served to herald the end of the Suffolk shipbuilding industry.

What had angered and alienated the men of the East Anglian coast was that, while the government had done virtually nothing to help them through their difficulties, it had frequently demanded, since the time of the Spanish Armada, contributions of men, money and ships towards royal naval expeditions and towards the defence of the realm when disastrous Stuart policies plunged it into senseless war. The justices had reported to the Privy Council on many occasions that the levies could not be met, and ports petitioned unsuccessfully for payment for ships donated to the national cause.

002After 1619 this local ill feeling centred on one man, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, royal favourite, Lord High Admiral and virtual ruler of England. He epitomised for many provincial Englishmen exactly what was wrong with their country, the growing gulf between the Court and the Country, which was threatening to engulf it. Many men had cause to hate this smooth, handsome, incompetent courtier on whom both James and his son doted, but none more so than John Felton of Pentlow, near Sudbury. A soldier who had lost his left hand in serving his country, his repeated pleas for promotion were ignored. At last he obtained an interview with the great lord and explained that without a commission he could not make a living. To this, Buckingham responded, if you cannot live you will have to hang. Felton decided that, if he had to hang, he may as well take out his revenge on Buckingham in order to do so. In August 1628 he went to Buckingham’s rooms in Portsmouth armed with a cheap knife and struck the Duke down, in front of his admirers and petitioners. Felton rapidly became a national hero and went to the gallows as a martyr for his over-burdened fellow-countrymen.

Buckingham’s assassination is often listed by historians as one of the key events setting England on course for its Great Rebellion, as it was described by the Earl of Clarendon in his memoirs, published in three volumes from 1702. In his History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars, Clarendon shows how Charles I’s public reaction to the murder affected his relationship with his Court:

The Duke was murdered while supervising the fitting-out of the fleet at Portsmouth. The Court was too near Portsmouth, and too many courtiers upon the place, to leave this murder (so wonderful in the nature and circumstances, the like whereof had not been known in England in many ages) long concealed from the king. His majesty was at the public prayers in the church, when Sir John Hippesley came into the room, with a troubled countenance, and, without any pause in respect of the exercise they were performing, went directly to the king, and whispered in his ear what had fallen out. His majesty continued unmoved, and without the least change in his countenance, till prayers were ended; when he suddenly departed to his chamber, and threw himself upon his bed, lamenting with much passion, and with abundance of tears, the loss he had of an excellent servant, and the horrid manner in which he had been deprived of him; and he continued in this melancholic and discomposure of mind many days.

Yet the manner of his receiving the news in public, when it was first brought to him in the presence of so many (who knew or saw nothing of the passion he expressed upon his retreat), made many men to believe that the accident was not very ungrateful; at least, that it was very indifferent to him; as being rid of a servant very ungracious to the people, and the prejudice to whose person exceedingly obstructed all overtures made in parliament for his service.

And, upon this observation, persons of all conditions took great license in speaking of the person of the duke, and dissecting all his infirmities, believing they should not thereby incur any displeasure of the king. In which they took very ill measures; for from that time almost to the time of his own death, the king admitted very few into any degree of trust, who had ever discovered themselves to be enemies to the duke, or against whom he had ever manifested a notable prejudice. And sure never any prince manifested a more lively regret for the loss of a servant, than his majesty did for this great man…

In this passage, Clarendon shows how the murder of Buckingham, together with Charles I’s very different public and private reactions to it, were a symptom rather than a cause of the wider discontent both within and between Court and Country. At the heart of the matter in Suffolk was the Stuart attack on the religion espoused by the leading members of the community. Puritanism was powerful in Suffolk because it was an expression of many of the qualities shared by Suffolk men and women; fierce independence, simplicity, dislike of fripperies and pomp, appreciation of the business virtues of common sense and honesty, mistrust of mysticism. In 1604 new canon laws were issued which enforced the use of the existing Prayer Book with all rituals and ceremonies involved in it. Armed with these, militant bishops carried out sporadic attacks on Puritan clergy. Some of these clergy resigned their livings in order to be appointed to lectureships by powerful patrons. Others conformed outwardly but continued to preach Calvinistic doctrines. Persecution only increased their influence and their independence.

Some formidable men occupied Suffolk pulpits in those days. Their figurehead was Samuel Ward, town preacher of Ipswich from 1603 to 1635. Forthright yet wise, Ward was widely respected and his sermons at St Mary le Tower (see photos) attracted large congregations. He was also a familiar figure in Cambridge and London pulpits. Ward was a gifted artist and his political caricatures won him many admirers and not a few enemies. He even spent a few days in prison for lampooning Spanish dignitaries. He published several tracts and sermons, which similarly offended the establishment. In 1623 the King wrote personally to the Ipswich Corporation asking for Ward’s suspension from office, a request that the city fathers politely declined.

Another of Suffolk’s famous puritans was lord of the manor of Groton, John Winthrop, descended from a long line of Lavenham clothiers, and a practising lawyer. His conscience would not allow him to enjoy his patrimonial estates, and in June 1628 he met with other like-minded fellows in Cambridge, and they decided to follow the example of the Pilgrim Fathers. Winthrop was elected their leader and, less than two years later, he led a fleet of emigrés out of Southampton. They founded the colony of Massachusetts of which Winthrop was the first Governor.

003However, many more puritans were determined to stay put in England, and it was William Laud’s appointment first as Charles I’s controller of ecclesiastic affairs and then as Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1633, that precipitated the religious and constitutional crisis which turned into the civil wars in both kingdoms, Scotland and England. He was determined to enforce conformity by every possible means, even using paid informers, as well as muzzling the press and prosecuting Puritan clergy in the courts. His treatment of the puritan propagandist Alexander Leighton in 1630 appalled the whole nation. Convicted in Star Chamber, Leighton was fined ten thousand pounds, and was sentenced to have both ears cut off, both nostrils slit and his face branded, then to be whipped, pilloried and imprisoned for life.

Given the cruel and vindictive nature of Laud’s persecution of the puritans, it is hardly surprising that so many of them planned to emigrate to America. Led by Dr Dalton of Woolverstone, a further group of would-be pilgrims sought the advice of their patriarch, Samuel Ward, who saw no dishonour in the younger members fleeing persecution to set up a holy commonwealth in the New World but that those too old for such adventures should remain to resist their tormentors. In 1633, six hundred Suffolk men and women sailed from Ipswich and settled in Massachusetts in a place they named after their hometown. Two years later, Samuel Ward had his prophecy fulfilled when he was finally dismissed from office and imprisoned. After his release, he fled to Holland for a time, but returned to die in Ipswich and to be buried in the church he had so faithfully served. His memorial is a fitting, if strangely worded, testimony to so determined a Christian witness:

Watch Ward! Yet a little while,

And He that shall come will come.

These were indeed years of crisis in which Suffolk people needed to be watchful, and they bred an even more radical form of Puritanism; millenarianism, the belief that the second coming of Christ was imminent. There were signs all around as the 1640s began. Ruined by decades of economic distress and royal taxation, Suffolkers were unable to meet the unremitting demands of the Stuart government. The Sheriff, Sir Symonds D’Ewes, was required to collect eight thousand pounds in ship money, but succeeded in collecting only two hundred.

In the same year, 1640, six hundred soldiers, levied at Bungay for the Scottish war, mutinied and besieged their deputy-lieutenants in one of the town inns. In Ipswich a set of the new canon laws was nailed to the pillory and sixteen thousand poor people assembled for a march on London to petition Parliament for the redress of grievances. The following year, the County’s royal commissioners, Sir Lionel Tollemarche and Sir Thomas Jermyn, did not even attempt to muster the County militia.

As soon as the breach between King and Parliament opened up, Suffolk was secured for the latter. The Parliamentary forces took charge of the powder magazine at Bury and the Landguard fort at Ipswich. Where necessary, officials were appointed whose loyalty to Parliament was assured. In December 1642 the Eastern Association was formed by a parliamentary ordinance, a union of Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, for mutual defence and the provision of men and money for the war effort. Through it, East Anglia became the power-base of the Roundhead cause, effectively closing the east coast to Royalist sympathisers. There were some Cavaliers in the county, but they were mostly isolated and powerless to help King Charles. A few of them made a half-hearted attempt to hold onto Lowestoft in March 1643, but they were soon overpowered.

The ordinance that created the Eastern Association created a number of regional associations of counties, but these were generally ineffective. The Eastern Association, however, more than fulfilled its objectives. The Association was first placed under the command of Lord Grey of Warke. He was relieved of command in mid-July 1643, for failing to prosecute the war with sufficient vigour, and was replaced by Edward Montague, Earl of Manchester. This was a time of major setbacks for the parliamentarian cause, with the defeat of the Earl of Essex’s army and the loss of Bristol. The strengthening and reorganisation of the Eastern Association was desperately needed.

In autumn 1642, John Pickering was already working on military matters in Cambridgeshire. Pickering was born into a puritan family of Northamptonshire gentry in 1615. The second son to John Pickering (III) of Titchmarsh, he fitted the poet John Milton’s description of the typical Independent gentlemen very well:

Men of better conditions of life, of families not disgraced if not ennobled, of fortunes either ample or moderate… prepared, not only to debate, but to fight; not only to argue in the senate, but to engage the enemy in the field.

He had matriculated as a Commoner of St Catherine’s College, Cambridge in 1631, a puritan institution whose fellows included John Arrowsmith, William Strong, Thomas Goodwin, who later became chaplain to the Council of State and a favourite of Oliver Cromwell, and John Knowles, who emigrated to New England but returned to England in 1651, when it was reckoned that no less than forty-seven of his former pupils were either Members of Parliament or of the Assembly of Divines. John’s intense puritan views can be clearly seen from his obituary which says that instead of drinking, swearing, roaring, carding dicing and drabbing, he spent that little time he had to spare in the study of the scriptures… He followed his brother Gilbert to Gray’s Inn in London in October 1634, to train as a lawyer. This Inn of Court was the most popular with families from the Midlands and East Anglia. Of those that went on, like Gilbert Pickering, to become MPs, twice as many supported Parliament as did the King. However, as second son, John was left very little land by his father, just a few closes in Titchmarsh, Molesworth and Bythorn. He therefore had no alternative but to seek a profession.

By December 1641, during the Scottish war, he had taken up work for Parliament, engaged in diplomatic work, carrying messages to its committee in Scotland. As Sprigge recorded following Pickering’s death, he had done the kingdome great service, by riding between England and Scotland before these troubles. In 1642, as civil war in England loomed over events, he was working for the Lords. He was dispatched to apprehend the keeper of the Royal Seal, who had secretly escaped from London to take the seal to the King. In October, he was sent by the Deputy Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire on a two-week reconnaissance of the enemy’s advance. Between November 1642 and February 1643 John continued to work for Parliament in Scotland, passing on details of events in the Scottish Privy Council. This was during the early stages of the negotiations that led to the Scots’ forces intervention into the war on the side of the English Parliament.

John was undoubtedly well-known to the Earl of Manchester through his brother Gilbert’s marriage into the Montague family. Like John, Manchester had been educated at Cambridge, and may have been instrumental in John’s employment in the service of Parliament. If this were the case, it is therefore hardly surprising that John was appointed, in August 1643, as Comissary General of the Musters for the Eastern Association. The Muster Master received orders, made a general muster list of the whole army before it marched, making reviews when required, and keeping a record of alterations between each muster, including those killed, sick, run away or discharged. In this post Pickering was involved in the setting up of the twenty Eastern Association regiments required under the parliamentary ordinance of 1643. This work carried on throughout the following autumn and winter and until the end of April, 1644.

On the 13th August 1643, the important East Anglian port of King’s Lynn declared against Parliament, in anticipation of the advance of the Earl of Newcastle’s royalist army into Norfolk. The newly raised Association forces were rushed north to lay siege to the town. After some weeks Manchester offered the port the opportunity to surrender, before they launched their final assault. John Pickering was one of eight commanders who met with their royalist counterparts, at Gaywood, several miles to the east, to negotiate the treaty of surrender. The debate went on for twenty-four hours, but was successfully concluded, and the surrender took place on 15th September. The following autumn, Manchester’s forces went on to defeat the royalist forces, still advancing from the north, at Winceby in Lincolnshire. At some time following the siege of King’s Lynn, late in 1643 or early 1644, Pickering received a commission as Colonel of a regiment of dragoons, possibly the one that his brother, Sir Gilbert Pickering, had raised. Dragoons rode to battle, but fought on foot with matchlock muskets and pistols. By January 1644 he was recorded as Colonel Pickering, when he carried a message for the Earl of Manchester to the House of Lords.

Pickering’s dragoons were an Eastern Association regiment, perhaps from Essex where most of The Eastern Association’s dragoons were raised. His transfer to the command of a regiment may have been through the influence of Oliver Cromwell, whose strategy for the development of the Association army was to recruit and promote dedicated men with strong puritan beliefs who were dedicated to the defeat of the King. Cromwell was already challenging the Earl of Manchester over both military and religious matters. It was through the commissioning of men like Pickering that he hoped to strengthen his position both in parliament and the army.

Pickering saw his first action as commander in March 1644, at the storming of Hillesden House, the fortified manor of Sir Alexander Denton, a royalist garrison. The royalists had advanced with the fortifying of Newport Pagnall in October 1643, posing a dual threat to London and the Eastern Association. The London Trained Bands, under Major General Skippon, were sent to retrieve the situation. Supported by local forces, they recovered Newport, and followed this up by successfully storming the royalist garrison at Grafton Regis in Northamptonshire. The royalists then abandoned their nearby garrison at Towcester, and the East Midlands was secured under the control of local forces supported by the Eastern Association. At the storming of Hillesden House, where the retreating royalist troops dug in, Pickering emerged as second-in-command to Cromwell. During the siege, a musket ball injured him under his chin, though not seriously.

Three weeks later, on 25th March, he was sufficiently recovered to take up his command of a new regiment of foot. In April 1644, his regiment of dragoons, which had taken part in the action at Hillesden, were disbanded. This may have been due to their indiscipline in firing their muskets at the church, instead of at the House itself. They were described as a rude multitude, most of them pressed into service. The Association dragoons were then reduced into a single regiment under John Lilburne. Pickering’s new infantry regiment comprised ten companies, whose commanders took up their commissions between the 13th March and the 4th April. In the succeeding weeks, the companies were built up, though most never reached their full complement. It mustered in Cambridge in early April, together with most of the rest of the Association’s army, though there were further musters at Gainsborough, Doncaster and St Albans over the next six months. Pickering’s Regiment totalled 738 men.

It is highly likely that Pickering’s Regiment were equipped with red, or russet coats from the outset. This was becoming the standard issue for the Eastern Association regiments by 1644. The reasons for this are contained in a strongly worded dispatch from Cromwell to one of his commanders whose regiment had just been issued with the new coats:

… your troops refuse the new coats. Say this: Wear them, or go home. I stand no more nonsense from any one. It is a needful thing that we be as one in colour; much ill having been from diversity of clothes, to slaying of friends by friends…


By the time Pickering’s troops were incorporated into the New Model Army a year later, red coats lined with blue were becoming the norm. Though Pickering himself came from Northamptonshire, that county was not the recruiting ground for his regiment. Northamptonshire was part of the Midland Association, under the command of Lord Saye and Sale, who lived at Broughton Castle, near Banbury. The Knightley family had previously married into the Staffordshire branch of the Golafre (Gulliver) family, moving to Fawsley Hall in Northamptonshire, and then marrying into the Fiennes of Broughton Castle near Banbury. The Fiennes Family gained more prestige and titles, and their decision to side with Parliament, gave Banbury an importance both as a strategic centre in civil wars, given its position between Oxford and Warwick. The Battle of Edgcote of 1469 had been one of the key turning points in the Wars of the Roses, involving Warwick the kingmaker and possibly Edward IV himself. The Battle of Edgehill, just south of nearby Kineton, was the first major battle of the English Civil War. There is a well-known local rhyme, which refers to one of these battles, has been passed down in the Gulliver family:

If Fenny Compton you can see, the King of England you shall be.


009It was supposed to have been said by a local wise woman to one of the rival claimants to the throne or to Charles I, as they halted near the Rollright Stones, The alternating hills and marshes of Banburyshire created local weather conditions, involving sudden mists, creating eerie conditions for superstitious soldiers and varying visibility for fighting battles. The gradual drainage of the land during the agricultural revolution also lowered the levels, so that local stories of battlefield ghosts refer to soldiers appearing to fight each other in the air!

005The usual verdict on the Battle of Edgehill, fought on 23rd October 1642, is that it was a draw. Prince Rupert’s Cavaliers, not for the last time, made a brilliant cavalry charge, shattering the Roundhead left flank. Many of them veteran professional soldiers from the Thirty Years’ War, where they had fought to restore his mother Elizabeth, King Charles’ sister, to the throne of Bohemia. By contrast, the Roundhead cavalry was untried and untested, and the infantry largely untrained.

However, Rupert’s troopers literally got carried away with their success and, thinking that the battle and perhaps even the war was won, they swept past Kineton and on towards Warwick. However, after two miles they were met some Roundhead reserves, commanded by a Captain Cromwell, who blocked Rupert’s advance. When the Prince eventually rejoined the King’s army on the field, dusk was falling and the infantry had pushed each other to a standstill.

Rupert has often been severely criticised for allowing his cavalry to ride right off the field in an impetuous charge, but restraining a powerful charge requires superhuman powers, and cavalry on both sides was not used effectively on either side until much later in the conflict, under Cromwell and Ireton. Charles finished the day closer to London than the Parliamentarians, which enabled him to make Oxford his headquarters, so the Royalists came away with an overall advantage, holding the ridge of land marking the Banburyshire border, while Essex was forced to withdraw to Warwick leaving many of this guns on the field. Cromwell was disgusted with the quality of some of the Roundhead infantry, describing them as old decayed tapsters and serving-men, but they stood and fought in the centre, and it was here that the war was later to be won for Parliament.

Whatever advantage Charles had gained in the Midlands, since without London and its money and materials, he stood little chance of winning the war. He spent the night on the battlefield at King’s Ley Barn, thinking that with its reinforcements from Warwick, Parliament might return to renew the struggle the next day. When they did not, he failed to take advantage of the open road to London that lay before him. They took Banbury with little difficulty on 27th October before moving on to Oxford, lingering there, while Essex went round to the east. On 4th November Charles reached Reading, but did not press on, so that while the Parliamentary Army approached the capital from Woburn, arriving in the city on the 8th, Charles’ troops did not reach the outlying western boroughs until the 13th. By then, they found their way blocked by a new army, twenty-four thousand strong, including six thousand well-armed members of the City Trained Bands at Turnham Green. There were another three thousand Roundheads guarding the Thames Bridge at Kingston. Charles retired to Reading, losing his best chance of wresting control of the capital, or at least the middle reaches of the Thames, from Parliament. Although he had secured Oxford, as both sides quartered their troops for the winter, he knew he would have to marshal his resources for a long war.

Some Final Facts on the Union: Why Hungarian citizens in Scotland should vote ‘No’ to Separation – for the sake of European integration and the next generation.   Leave a comment

Malcolm greeting Margaret on her arrival in Scotland. Detail from a mural by the Victorian artist William Hole

Tomorrow, thousands of Hungarians will be given a right I have never had in Hungary in the ten years I have lived here as a UK citizens, married into a Hungarian family. They will also have a right denied by Scotland’s First Minister to hundreds of thousands of Scots living in the rest of the UK or as ex-expatriates elsewhere. Many will perhaps feel embarrassed to vote as non-Scots, particularly when Scots themselves do not have a say in the future of their homeland. Of course, this is part of the Nationalists ‘Team Scotland’ ploy to suggest that anyone who is not a Scot resident in their home country, should be excluded as far as possible on the grounds of non-residency, even if they qualify to represent Scotland in a whole range of sporting and cultural competitions. For example, I went to school with the Scottish Stewart family who won Commonwealth medals for Scotland in the 1970 Games. I well remember how popular Ian, Peter and Mary were both north and south of the border. However, because they lived in Birmingham, they were not allowed to vote in the 1978 Referendum, and the same would be the case today (I don’t know where they live now), even though Alex Salmond acknowledged on Sky News last night that he could easily have changed the rules. However, Hungarians living in Scotland MUST turn out and vote.  If they abstain, the polls suggest that they will be narrowing the gap between the two camps, so effectively voting ‘Yes’ anyway.  Of course, some Magyars may have already decided to vote ‘Yes’ anyway, because they support the ruling Nationalist, Citizens’ Party (Fidesz) in Hungary which has a similar sort of populist, right-wing social democratic stance (not to be confused with the left-of-centre German Social Democratic Party)  which Alex Salmond claims to hold. Notice how neither Viktor Orbán nor the Scottish First Minister describe themselves as pro-liberal democracy. In fact, the Hungarian PM has recently gone on record as wishing to build an illiberal state in Hungary. However, as long as Hungary remains within the EU he has to operate according to the democratic principles of the Union, even within Hungary itself. Hungary cannot simply derigate (opt out) from these principles. It would have to vote to leave the EU in its own referendum. Worryingly, Alex Salmond has begun to talk already of a new form of ‘Team Scotland’ politics in which the existing UK political parties would cease to be relevant, leaving the Nationalists as the main populist political force, exactly what is already happening in Hungary. What he really means is that there would be no Socialist, Social Democrat, Liberal or Conservative parties to choose from. Only Nationalists, like him and a few ageing Stalinists like Jim Sillars, who has called for a day of reckoning against all those business people who have dared to warn of the very real economic consequences of leaving the UK.

But an Independent Scotland’s case would be very different from that of Hungary. Yesterday, the Spanish PM (who has good reason to be concerned about the effect an independence vote would have on the Kingdom of Spain), said that he thought it would take a minimum of five years for Scotland to gain accession as an independent country. Even if the European President, Parliament and Council wishes Scotland to join earlier, Spain would have a veto under the current constitution, and, given the current Catalonian demands for a referendum on independence, would be foolish not to use it. Of course, if Scotland decides to leave both the UK and the EU tomorrow, and a ‘Yes’ vote is for withdrawal from both, neither the basic laws of the UK Parliament, passed over the centuries, at least since 1707, nor any EU legislation will apply to Scotland. The Scottish Nationalist Party, which will not be dissolved (again, according to Salmond) will continue to carry forward its right-wing policies without any checks and balances on those which current exist within the British Constitution, dating back to the 1689 Bill of Rights, or scrutiny over human rights matters by the EU. This is not scaremongering. It will the factual status of Scotland for the lifetime of at least one Scottish Parliament, until 2020 at the earliest. Even then, without a Sterling Currency Union, which has been ruled out by the Premiers of the UK, Wales and Northern Ireland, Scotland would be forced to join the Eurozone on joining the EU as an accession country, adopting the Euro as its currency. Hungarians living in Scotland would first of all have the pound’s exchange rate against the forint set by the Bank of England, with no say from Scotland, and then see their savings and pensions plummet in value as Scotland joined the Euro at a far worse rate of exchange than even the uncontrollable pound. However, these factual circumstances are not the main reasons why Hungarians living in Scotland, should, positively, vote no. These are given here:

Firstly, because voting ‘No’ means staying in the EU.  In the meantime, all EU citizens living in Scotland will be classed as immigrants having no special work or residency rights, unless they are married to a Scottish citizen, and can prove that their husband or wife has sufficient income to support them, or that they have a sufficient joint income. This was my wife’s situation during our fifteen year residence in the UK and mine during the 1990s in Hungary. Had I not, like many othe ex-pats, had an official UK-sponsor during this time, as well as being married to a Hungarian citizen, it would have been impossible for me, and many other Brits, to remain in Hungary, except on an extended tourist visa. Staying in the UK means staying in the EU, and the freedom to move across the Union, unrestricted and without visas and work permits. Leaving the EU means going through all this bureaucracy again. No wonder Salmond talks about this being a once in a generation decision. Many of the current EU migrants have no idea what these restrictions meant for the previous generation in terms of their negative impact on our lives. Imagine having your baby tested for HIV in order to get a work permit, or smuggling your wife across multiple borders because her transit visa has expired and the consulate is closed!

This brings me to my second reason. The next generation. Many central Europeans from within the EU are settled, with children in state schools in the UK, including Scotland. They are thriving members, growing up bilingually, a real potential asset to their future countries. They have no say in this decision, except through their parents, yet it may either make or wreck their lives, because, as both campaigns have said, they will not be able to change it until they themselves have their own children. Why should they have hard-won civil rights taken away from them by this generation? Further integration within the EU can only bring more rights, fewer opportunities for individual governments to derigate, as the French did over immigration from central Europe a decade ago. Plus, a Nationalist victory in Scotland would pave the way for withdrawal by the rest of the UK from the EU in 2015, against the wishes of the Welsh and Northern Irish, as well as the majority of those in the North and Midlands of England, whose jobs depend on manufacturing sales within the EU. This is likely to have a major impact upon a central European automotive industry, highly integrated with other manufacturing regions of Europe. JUst look at Mercedes, Opel, Suzuki and others! Why would we want to limit the ability of the next generations to migrate across the single market?

My third reason is no less heartfelt. Politicians come and go with relative rapidity in most countries. Few leave us with any enduring legacy. I have only two British political heroes, Churchill and Attlee. Perhaps one Hungarian, although perhaps tainted with anti-Semitism, like nearly all of his generation, but the only one to resist the Nazi’s by surrendering his own life, Pál Teleki. However, although once a moderate republican, I became a monarchist when I realised how much the monarchy means, both to Britain and in countries like Hungary, once a proud Christian Kingdom. The fact is that we need to feel, even more in the shifting societies of the modern age, that our roots go deep into our own soil. We need to feel that someone in the Establishment has the long-term interest of our families close to their hearts. Presumably, that’s why the majority of our European states have chosen to retain monarchies and royal families, where they have had any measure of choice in the matter. In Britain, we also have a connection with the Commonwealth, which provides an international dimension to our English-speaking heritage within a family of nations. These real relationships matter to us as families and individuals, as they matter to our monarchy. They go to the core of our values.

Therefore, the Queen’s message to her Scottish subjects to think very carefully about their future extends, by definition, to all the residents of Scotland. With all due respect to the countries of the Commonwealth, keeping the Queen, along with the pound, and EU membership, in the same way as she is Queen of Canada or Australia is as unconstitutional and unworkable as the other two. Australia, for example, has evolved its dominion status to that of full independence within the Commonwealth, from its foundation as a colony. Scotland has never been a colony, despite some narrow nationalist mythology. Her Majesty’s role as dual monarch of Scotland and England was carefully crafted by James VI and I in making Great Britain into a political as well as a geographical reality when he succeeded Elizabeth I in 1603. A great deal of integration had already taken place across the two kingdoms by the time of the Civil Wars, and the Act of Union of 1707, although resulting in part from a Scottish colonial and banking crisis, was the product of a century of interaction, not all of it connected with the wars of the three kingdoms (including Ireland, which did not complete the Union until 1801). Her Majesty is directly descended from James I through his eldest daughter, Elizabeth Stuart, who became Princess of the Rhineland Palatinate and Queen of Bohemia rather than Queen of England and Scotland, because at that time, boys came first, no matter how weak by comparison! Fortunately, recent legislation has now corrected this, so that an eldest female princess can now succeed to the throne before her brothers. The Queen of Hearts, who spent most of her adult life in exile in the Hague, but returned after the Restoration to live, and die, in England, had a grandson, George I, who may have spoken little English, but was just as British by lineage as the Stuart pretenders, including Bonnie Prince Charlie, who also lived out most of their lives on the continent. At the Battle of Culloden, most of those fighting against the Highlanders and for George II were lowland Scots, despite all the romantic tales.

Much mythology has built up around the personality of Robert the Bruce in the year of the anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn of 1314, painting him as the hero of Scottish Independence and Edward I, King of England, the so-called Hammer of the Scots as the villain of the piece. Our current Queen’s claim to the Scottish throne is said to be through her link to the Bruce family. However, she has a much stronger claim to both thrones which can be traced back to the marriage of Matilda of Scotland to Henry I of England, William I’s grandson in 1100. Matilda’s mother was Margaret of Scotland and Wessex, born in Mecseknádásd in Hungary, to Edward the Confessor’s heir to the English throne, Edward the Exile (he was exiled by the Danish usurper, Cnut) and Agatha, the daughter of István (King Stephen I of Hungary) and his wife Gisella. When Edward returned from Exile with his children, he was murdered and Agatha and her children were returning to Hungary via Hamburg when they were forced into port of the coast of Scotland. Malcolm III (Canmore), KIng of Scotland, came to greet them. He married Margaret and supported Eadgar, her brother’s unsuccessful attempt to regain the throne. They had eight children, including the eldest daughter, Edith (born 1080), who became Matilda, Henry I’s Queen, and David I (1083), from whom the Bruce claimed descent. As the daughter of a Princess of Wessex, granddaughter of Edmund Ironside, the last truly Saxon King of England, Matilda gave ancient Saxon legitimacy to both the English and Scottish royal families, as did David I, who was the fifth of her brothers to rule Scotland, from 1124 to 1153. It was through David’s offspring that Bruce claimed their royal heritage. So, Hungarians have a stake in Royal British heritage, through Margaret of Scotland, and HM Queen Elizabeth II is just as much part of Scottish royal heritage as she is part of an English royal family. The two thrones are dependent on each other’s lineage, and are therefore inextricable. Therefore, Hungarians who vote ‘No’ tomorrow will also be voting to uphold the legacy of Istvan’s granddaughter, who was also made a saint for her service to the Scottish people, over the mythological figure of Robert the Bruce, and in so doing to keep the dual monarchy established by the Stuart Kings, rather than substituting an equal monarchy with some kind of Australian-style Governor- General.

No thanks! God Bless Her Majesty and Save the Union! Then we can get on with the business of creating a more equal confederation of self-governing countries within a renewed United Kingdom. A ‘No’ vote is a positive vote for Home Rule and UK-EU integration; a  ‘Yes’ vote is a vote for withdrawal, separation and ultimate isolation on the fringes of Europe.

Appendix: Some Notes on the role of Robert the Bruce in the Wars of Scottish Independence: 

King Alexander III of Scotland died in a hunting accident in 1286, leaving his 3-year-old granddaughter Margaret (called “the Maid of Norway”) as his heir. In 1290, the Guardians of Scotland signed the Treaty of Birgham agreeing to the marriage of the Maid of Norway and Edward of Caernarvon, the son of Edward I, who was Margaret’s great-uncle. This marriage would not create a union between Scotland and England because the Scots insisted that the Treaty declare that Scotland was separate and divided from England and that its rights, laws, liberties and customs were wholly and inviolably preserved for Edward agreed to meet the guardians at Norham in 1291. Before the process got underway Edward insisted that he be recognised as Lord Paramount of Scotland. During the meeting, Edward had his army standing by, thus forcing the Scots to accept his terms. He gave the claimants three weeks to agree to his terms. With no King, with no army ready, and King Edward’s army at hand, the Scots had no choice. The claimants to the crown acknowledged Edward as their Lord Paramount and accepted his arbitration. Their decision was influenced in part by the fact that most of the claimants had large estates in England and, therefore, would have lost them if they had defied the English king. However, many involved were churchmen such as Bishop Wishart for whom such mitigation cannot be claimed.[1]However, Margaret, travelling to her new kingdom, died shortly after landing on the Orkney Islands around 26 September 1290. With her death, there were 13 rivals for succession. The two leading competitors for the Scottish crown were Robert Bruce, 5th Lord of Annandale (grandfather of the future King Robert the Bruce) and John Balliol, Lord of Galloway. Fearing civil war between the Bruce and Balliol families and supporters, the Guardians of Scotland wrote to Edward I of England, asking him to come north and arbitrate between the claimants in order to avoid civil war.

On 11 June, acting as the Lord Paramount of Scotland, Edward I ordered that every Scottish royal castle be placed temporarily under his control and every Scottish official resign his office and be re-appointed by him. Two days later, in Upsettlington, the Guardians of the Realm and the leading Scottish nobles gathered to swear allegiance to King Edward I as Lord Paramount. All Scots were also required to pay homage to Edward I, either in person or at one of the designated centres by 27 July 1291.

There were thirteen meetings from May to August 1291 at Berwick, where the claimants to the crown pleaded their cases before Edward, in what came to be known as the “Great Cause“. The claims of most of the competitors were rejected, leaving Balliol, Bruce, Floris V, Count of Holland and John de Hastings of Abergavenny, 2nd Baron Hastings, as the only men who could prove direct descent from David I.

On 3 August, Edward asked Balliol and Bruce to choose 40 arbiters each, while he chose 24, to decide the case. On 12 August, he signed a writ that required the collection of all documents that might concern the competitors’ rights or his own title to the superiority of Scotland, which was accordingly executed. Balliol was named king by a majority on 17 November 1292 and on 30 November. He was crowned King of Scots at Scone Abbey. On 26 December, at Newcastle upon Tyne, King John swore homage to Edward I for the Kingdom of Scotland. Edward soon made it clear that he regarded the country as a vassal state. Balliol, undermined by members of the Bruce faction, struggled to resist, and the Scots resented Edward’s demands. In 1294, Edward summoned John Balliol to appear before him, and then ordered that he had until 1 September 1294 to provide Scottish troops and funds for his invasion of France.

On his return to Scotland, John held a meeting with his council and after a few days of heated debate, plans were made to defy the orders of Edward I. A few weeks later a Scottish parliament was hastily convened and 12 members of a war council (four Earls, Barons, and Bishops, respectively) were selected to advise King John.

Emissaries were immediately dispatched to inform King Philip IV of France of the intentions of the English. They also negotiated a treaty by which the Scots would invade England if the English invaded France, and in return the French would support the Scots. This became known as the Auld Alliance, remaining in place until the time of Mary Queen of Scots in 1560. It was not until 1295 that Edward I became aware of the secret Franco-Scottish negotiations. In early October, he began to strengthen his northern defences against a possible invasion. It was at this point that Robert Bruce, 6th Lord of Annandale (father of the future King Robert the Bruce) was appointed by Edward as the governor of Carlisle Castle. The movement of English forces along the Anglo-Scottish border did not go unnoticed. In response, King John Balliol summoned all able-bodied Scotsmen to bear arms and gather at Caddonlee by 11 March. 



Above: The dethroned King John, whom a Scottish chronicler dubbed ‘toom tabard’ (’empty coat’)

The First War of Scottish Independence can be loosely divided into four phases: the initial English invasion and success in 1296; the campaigns led by William Wallace, Andrew de Moray and various Scottish Guardians from 1297 until John Comyn negotiated for the general Scottish submission in February 1304; the renewed campaigns led by Robert the Bruce following his killing of The Red Comyn in Dumfries in 1306 to his and the Scottish victory at Bannockburn in 1314; and a final phase of Scottish diplomatic initiatives and military campaigns in Scotland, Ireland and Northern England from 1314 until the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton in 1328.


 Above: Notable figures from the first War of Independence as depicted by the Victorian artist William Hole



King Robert the Bruce: 1306–1328

 Above: Bannockburn Monument plaque

On 10 February 1306, during a meeting between Bruce and Comyn, the two surviving claimants for the Scottish throne, Bruce quarrelled with and killed John Comyn at Greyfriars Kirk in Dumfries. At this moment the rebellion was sparked again.[

Comyn, it seems, had broken an agreement between the two, and informed King Edward of Bruce’s plans to be king. The agreement was that one of the two claimants would renounce his claim on the throne of Scotland, but receive lands from the other and support his claim. Comyn appears to have thought to get both the lands and the throne by betraying Bruce to the English. A messenger carrying documents from Comyn to Edward was captured by Bruce and his party, plainly implicating Comyn. Bruce then rallied the Scottish prelates and nobles behind him and had himself crowned King of Scots at Scone less than five weeks after the killing in Dumfries. He then began a new campaign to free his kingdom. After being defeated in battle he was driven from the Scottish mainland as an outlaw. Bruce later came out of hiding in 1307. The Scots thronged to him, and he defeated the English in a number of battles. His forces continued to grow in strength, encouraged in part by the death of Edward I in July 1307. The Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 was an especially important Scottish victory.



Posted September 17, 2014 by AngloMagyarMedia in Uncategorized

These Weeks in History, 15-28 September   Leave a comment

These Weeks in History: 15th-28th September

A Hundred Years Ago: The First Battle of Aisne:They are waiting for you up there, thousands of them.

Royal Flying Corps pilot to troops before the battle.

Following their defeat at the Marne, the Germans had withdrawn fifty miles north to the River Aisne. The Allies were slow in their pursuit; troops were exhausted after prolonged fighting. At one point it was thought the invaders could be pushed back into Germany but they had sufficient time to establish strong defensive positions on elevated ground to the north of the river on the Chemin des Dames ridge.

Once the British and the French had made perilous crossings of the river their attacks had to be made uphill in full view of the overlooking Germans. Initial successes were overturned. Trenches were dug, a foretaste of things to come across the whole Western Front.

Only thirty-four men from the First Battalion of The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment were left after the battle. They had begun the war with 1,026.The Race to the Sea:
With stalemate in place at the Aisne, the war on the Western Front took another direction in what became known as the ‘Race to the sea’. Both sides tried to outflank each other in a series of engagements that ran northwards. After the German taking of Antwerp in October the remaining Belgian troops retreated westwards. Under severe pressure, they opened the sluice gates to flood land and prevent the Germans’ advance.

Seventy Years ago, September 1944:


The following poem was found in the notebook of Miklós Radnóti, buried in a shallow grave on the road to the Austrian border. He had been at a labour camp in the Bor area of Yugoslavia. Evacuating the area due to the Soviet advance, the Germans decided to march his unit back to Hungary. The poem bears witness to the beginning of this death march. The notebook was found in the pocket of his raincoat when his body was exhumed twenty months after his roadside execution.

Forced March, by Miklós Radnóti:

Crazy. He stumbles, fops, gets up,    and trudges on again.

He moves his ankles and his knees    like one wandering pain,

and when the ditch invites him in,    he dares not give consent,

and if you were to ask why not?    perhaps his answer is

a woman waits, a death more wise,    more beautiful than this.

Poor fool, the true believer:    for weeks, above the rooves,

but for the scorching whirlwind,     nothing lives or moves:

the housewall’s lying on its back,    the prunetree’s smashed and bare;

even at home, when dark comes on,    the night is furred with fear.

Ah, if I could believe it!    that not only do I bear

what’s worth the keeping in my heart,    but home is really there;

if it might be! – as once it was,    on a veranda old and cool,

where the sweet bee of peace would buzz,    prune marmalade would chill,

late summer’s stillness sunbathe    in gardens half-asleep,

fruits sway among the branches,    stark naked in the deep,

Fanni waiting at the fence    blonde by its rusty red,

and shadows would write slowly out    all the slow morning said –

but still it might yet happen!    The moon’s so round today!

Friend, don’t walk on. Give me a shout    and I’ll be on my way.

September 15, 1944, Bor.



Meanwhile, in the second half of September, the plans for a third attempt at a Breakaway from Germany were taking shape in Budapest. As soon as the question of direct negotiations with the Russians became pertinent, the Regent had to proceed to select suitable individuals for a mission to Moscow…  On 24 September, it was considered a done deal that General Faragho was to go to Moscow  In Hungary at this time the Gestapo had become quite powerful: All important telephones were tapped, individuals were shadowed, and there were arrests and kidnappings. Faragho began to lose his ‘characteristic courage’. On the morning of the 26th, when the Regent told him that he was the definite choice, the General categorically declared that he would not go to Moscow without accompanying diplomatic officers, Domokos Szent-Iványi and Géza Teleki, son of the late Premier, Pál Teleki. They were given a letter addressed to Marshal Stalin from Admiral Horthy. On the afternoon of the 27th, the peace delegation received its final instructions from the Regent, who gave the rank of Colonel-General to Faragho. The Armistice Delegation left Budapest on the 28th, crossing the Hungarian-Slovak frontier that night, and on the 29th they were met by a military delegation sent by Marshal Koniev from Kiev, in a Douglas airplane in which the delegation would return to Kiev, before continuing in another plane to Moscow.

Twenty-five years ago… Here comes the trout that must be caught with tickling (Shakespeare).

At the end of September, James Baker, US Secretary of State, and Eduard Shevardnadze, Soviet Foreign Minister, went trout fishing together. Whether they were tickling the trout we don’t know, but the fishing was mainly for the cameras (see picture). The talks, at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, were successful, however. The wily, smiley, Georgian established a real rapport with his American opposite number. He had visited President Bush and called upon him to adopt a more energetic and engaged policy towards the Soviet Union. Bush had already announced, following the opening of the Hungarian border to the East Germans on 10th-11th September, that Hungary would be given most-favoured-nation status once it liberalised its emigration, which it quickly did. 

Baker invited Shevardnadze to his ranch in Wyoming. On the four-and-a-half-hour flight the two men talked continuously, and the foreign minister astounded his US counterpart with his frankness, having just left Moscow after a two-day plenum in the Central Committee on the problems of separatism and ethnic conflict within the Soviet Union. The Georgian had described how the injustices of the Stalinist era had generated hostility towards Moscow within the Soviet republics; this was now coming home to roost in the unrest sweeping Central Asia and the Baltic, and he felt that the republics must be given some form of autonomy within the Union. However, he also told Baker, we must not turn protest into riots and riots into bloodshed. He was also candid about Moscow’s economic woes. Journalists sitting at the back of the plane could hear nothing of what was said but could see from the intensity of the dialogue that something crucial was going on. Dennis Ross, who translated for Baker, said the two men crossed a threshold as they flew across the continent.

At Jackson Hole, the two men went trout fishing together, both wearing Stetsons. They walked trails through pine and aspen woods and spent the evening dining on ribs and buffalo steaks, listening to a country and western band. The formal talks between the two men then reverted to a more conventional form. Shevardnadze made major concessions in the hope of kick-starting the arms-reduction talks. Moscow no longer insisted on limits to the US Star Wars programme before an agreement to sign a START treaty. This was a major climb-down over the single issue that had prevented Gorbachev and Reagan from signing a far-reaching agreement on nuclear disarmament. Second, the Foreign Minister agreed to dismantle the giant early warning radar installation in Siberia, which the United States had claimed was a violation of the ABM Treaty. The Soviets would do this without any dismantling of the US installations in Greenland and England (Fylingdales Moor).

The Wyoming talks ended with several bilateral agreements, including a reduction in the stockpiles of chemical weapons. There was also an announcement of a summit to be held between Bush and Gorbachev the following year, though further details of the Malta meeting were to be kept secret for another month. However, the US failure to respond in kind to the substantial Soviet concessions was a big disappointment to Shevardnadze, and to Gorbachev, who came under increasing pressure from the Soviet military to change tactics. However, Baker had been convinced that the new line from Moscow was for real and that the US must move to support Gorbachev, advancing from understanding to interaction, and wherever possible to partnership. He concluded that, the situation has got the makings of a whole new world.

Posted September 16, 2014 by AngloMagyarMedia in Uncategorized

This Week in History   Leave a comment

Twenty-five years ago…


This week, twenty-five years ago, on 10 September, despite strenuous objections from the East German government, including a thinly veiled threat of invasion, Hungary’s border with Austria was opened to East German refugees. Within three days, thirteen thousand East Germans, mostly young couples with children, had fled west. This was the biggest exodus since just before the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, and it was only the beginning.

Left: Demonstrations in Hungary
Right: East Germans, holidaying in Hungary, drive into Austria and on to West Germany, to the fury of the DDR Government.


Seventy years ago…


This week seventy years ago (1944), following the appearance of three Soviet units in Transylvania, the Hungarian Government and Regency held five meetings in the capital, followed by a meeting in Berlin between the Hungarian Chief of General Staff and Hitler:

7 September: Two meetings of conference of intimate advisors at the Palace.

8     ”           : Council of Ministers

10   ”           : Conference of Privy Councillors

11   ”           : Council of Ministers

12   ”           : Interview between General Vörös and Hitler in Berlin.

On the last of these dates, Red Army units crossed the Carpathians, and the following day the Romanian Armistice was registered with the United Nations, which had just come into being as a result of the ongoing Dumbarton Oaks Conference between the USSR, the USA, Great Britain and China.

At a conference of Horthy’s most intimate advisors, held in the Royal Palace in Buda on 7 September, the Regent informed those attending – Lakatos, Csatay, Henyey, Vörös, Vattay and Ambrózy – that he had taken the decision to sue for an armistice. All those present agreed that this would be an unconditional surrender. At the same time, a request would be made that Romanian and Yugoslavian troops would not take part in Hungary’s military occupation, and that Hungarian police and officials would to be left in their posts. The country’s defection from the Axis camp would be preceded by an ultimatum for the Germans to evacuate Hungary within forty-eight hours.

Later, in the evening, however, at another Conference in the Palace, with the same persons present, the Regent accepted Csatay’s idea to send an immediate ultimatum to the Germans, to ask them to immediately send five armoured divisions to Hungary to stop the Soviet advance. If these forces did not arrive within twenty-four hours, Hungary would be obliged to sue for an armistice. The unanimous opinion of those present was that the Germans would be unable to meet this demand and that Hungary would therefore be free to leave the war without prejudicing her honour.

However, the following day, these ministers were surprised when the Lakatos Government received information from the Germans that four divisions were already on their way to Hungary and that further forces would follow shortly. Under these changed circumstances, the Hungarian Government again postponed its break-away action. At the same time, they received a report that the previous request of the Hungarian Government to the Allies, that the country be occupied as soon as possible only by Western troops, was quite impossible for them to agree to. Domokos Szent-Iványi later commented:

While the Government and Horthy were continuing their vacillating and irresolute policy, wavering between hope and fear, the Left and Right were busy redoubling their activities… I was greatly displeased with the situation; firstly, I disliked to the utmost the behaviour of most of the self-styled and self-proclaimed resistance leaders, and in general, the continuous boasting of those who believed themselves knowledgeable of the situation. Under the circumstances confidentiality could not be maintained, and even secret… discussions, like those in the Crown Councils and councils of the Privy Councillors… became subject to close examination by the Germans and the Russians not long after they had taken place.

According to Szent-Iványi, there were quite a number of “shrewd” operators  in government circles as well as in Parliament who found it opportune to carry several party membership cards, belonging at one and the same time to the fascist Arrow-Cross, the Smallholders’, the Communist, the Social Democratic and the pro-German Volksbund parties. While all this political and governmental wrangling was going on, the Red Army was advancing into Transylvania, so that by 9th September their units had already reached Temesvár and the Yugoslav Bánát. The following day the Conference of Privy Councillors took place in the Palace, attended by three ex-premiers, one of the Keepers of the Crown, three retired generals, representatives of all the political parties and religious denominations in Transylvania, the three generals and ministers of the Lakatos government, including the Premier himself. After assessing the military situation, the Transylvanian representatives, Bánffy and Teleki, proposed a resolution, already accepted in their territory, that Hungary must ask immediately for an armistice with the Allies and allow the territory to be occupied by the Red Army without resistance. The Romanians must then be treated as allies. The resolution was in line with the standpoint of the Regent, Bethlen, Kánya and others to sue for an unconditional surrender to the Allies, including the Soviet Union, and it was unopposed by any others present. Therefore, Lakatos was instructed to call a Council of Ministers for the next day, to agree the resolution on a constitutional basis.

On the morning of the eleventh, Hitler was told of the outcome of the meeting of the Crown Council. He commented on the behaviour of the participants, whom he referred to as the Old Gentlemen in a very contemptuous way. Not surprisingly, the pro-German element among the Ministers responded strongly to the proposition, arguing for the continuation of the war in co-operation with the Reich. Others spoke of the practical difficulties involved in a breakaway under the current circumstances. They used the argument that the current Cabinet, having given the Germans an ultimatum to send more troops a few days earlier and had it accepted, could not honorably surrender. They would have to resign for another Cabinet to be formed who would then take this action. Bárcy, the State Secretary, accepted this last point and said that he wanted a new Cabinet appointed, composed of independent, courageous men who had not asked for new armoured divisions. Five other Council members agreed with him in this view.

This represented a turning point for the Regent, who now decided to act independently from his Government. In the meantime, however, he reluctantly accepted the decision of the Council of Ministers and again postponed the decision to surrender to the Allies. Although Lakatos tendered the resignation of the Cabinet, Horthy refused to accept it. The opportunity for Hungary to leave the war was lost with this decision. At this point, Hitler, having again been secretly briefed about the meeting of the Council of Ministers, sent a message to Budapest that he wanted to arrange an interview with the Hungarian Chief of General Staff, General Vörös. He left Budapest on the twelfth for the Führer’s HQ in a special plane sent by Hitler. The general took with him another letter from the Regent containing the requests for assurances that no further Hungarian territories would be evacuated without previous consultation with the Hungarian Government, that effective military assistance would be given to Hungary in order to stop the advance of the Red Army and that the Regent would be informed immediately if Berlin entered into negotiations with the enemy powers.

In the event, Hitler’s interview with the general turned into a two-hour rant by the dictator, who knew exactly what had happened in both the Privy Council and the Council of Ministers in Budapest. Himmler, Keitel and Guderian were also present, listening in silence. Germany, said Hitler, would be defended to the last drop of blood: He who jumps overboard, man or nation, will assuredly drown. Vörös reported to the Regent that he deduced from Hitler’s words that he was mistrustful of the whole leadership of the Hungarian State. However, the German leader also repeated that Hungary would be defended in the same sense as East Prussia. Not only would the whole of Transylvania be freed within a short period, but a great offensive would follow to liberate the whole of Romania as well. Indeed, he would soon be putting the seceret weapons into effect, which would end the war for good and for all.

A hundred years ago…

The Battle of the Marne, 5-10 September

The Germans continued their advance, but were weakened as some of their divisions were withdrawn and moved to East Prussia to counter the Russian threat. There was a crucial change in direction: instead of continuing westwards, to come around Paris from the west, General Alexander von Kluck, of the German First Army, turned his troops to pass to the east of the capital. The allies saw this as an opportunity to stop retreating and to counter-attack. Von Kluck realised his right flank was exposed and turned his army westwards but in doing so, opened up a large gap between his troops and the German Second Army, which was further to the east. The Allies exploited the gap. The Germans, not wishing to be encircled, retreated. Casualties were high, around half a million in total. After this crucial battle, which saved France from defeat, the German chief of staff, Helmuth von Moltke, suffered a breakdown. There was now little chance of the Germans making this a short war.

The Battle of the Marne was not a foregone conclusion, and at one point French reinforcements were required urgently. To get these reserve troops to the front line quickly, Paris taxis were requisitioned, with each vehicle transporting five soldiers to the battlefield. The French regarded the saving of the capital, and therefore the avoidance of a quick defeat in the war, as a miracle. The Germans had got to within twenty-five miles of Paris. Forward parties could see the Eiffel Tower through binoculars. A third of the capital’s citizens fled and the Government moved, temporarily, to Bordeaux.


The Legacy of Tudor and Jacobean England: Part Two: Poets, Ports and Puritans.   Leave a comment


Above: pages from Spot the Style: A Mini Guide to architecture in Britain, by David Pearce. London: P Murray.

Below: Seckford Street in Woodbridge, Suffolk, named after the Tudor lawyer, parliamentarian and benefactor. In 1587 he decided to donate a large measure of his wealth to endowing ‘certain almshouses’ in the town. He died the same year, and his tomb can be seen in St.Mary’s Parish Church.


Elizabethan and Jacobean England: The Languages of Anglicanism and Puritanism; East Anglia and New England

017As Anglicanism became established, parish churches continued to hear the celebration of the eucharist (holy communion) in the form set out in Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer and readings from the translations of the Bible later consolidated in the Authorised Version of 1612. The repetition of prayers and readings, noble in expression, brought linguistic unity to England. The adoption by the Scottish Kirk of English translations of the Bible may have thwarted the separate development of Lallans (lowland Scots) and a different cultural tradition, which made the transition to the unity of the kingdoms much easier. Those devising the new services had a long tradition of devotional literature to draw on. Tyndale and Cranmer had a language ready for expression and translation of the complex Judaeo-Christian tradition  in new forms. This was due to the creation of English as a language of intellect and the higher emotions by authors of vernacular works by poets and writers who drew their themes and inspirations from shrines, pilgrimages, visions and the telling of legends of saints and Arthurian heroes.

Some of those writers were women, such as the turbulent visionary Margery Kempe, who wrote the first autobiography in English, and the gentle, reclusive Julian of Norwich. The poets and writers included, most notably, Geoffrey Chaucer, who set his greatest poem in the framework of a pilgrimage to Canterbury. William Langland’s Piers Ploughman arose from a vision on the Malvern Hills. Thomas Malory gave new life to the common British tradition in his Morte D’Arthur. The holy place that most fully commemorates the English literary tradition is Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, where the names of those buried among kings and knights make it a resting place of genius unrivalled in Europe. The only name missing is that of England’s national bard, William Shakespeare, but it is perhaps appropriate that he lies by the altar of his parish church, Holy Trinity in Stratford-upon-Avon, where he was also baptised and grew up listening to the language of Cranmer’s English Bible and Prayer Book.


003Looking back on the achievements of Elizabeth’s reign, historians have referred to it as an age, one in which England survived national and international crises to be recognised as a centre of artistic splendour. During her reign and that of James I, a total period of seventy years, or one full lifespan, the English language achieved a richness and vitality of expression that even contemporaries marvelled at. However, contemporaries at the beginning of this period had recognised that their native tongue was barely ready, after centuries of Latin and French dominance, for serious literary and scholarly purposes. England, not even yet united with the Tudor homeland of Wales, was a small nation, just beginning to flex its international muscles. Its statesmen tended to indulge in hyperbole, like the poet, courtier and soldier, Sir Philip Sidney, who claimed that English hath it equally with any other tongue in the world. It was the confluence of three historical developments, at least two of which were common to much of Europe, and occurred earlier in many countries, the Renaissance and the Reformation, which really propelled England forward during these years. The third, most dynamic factor, was its emergence as the leading maritime power.


The Renaissance had different effects in each European country. In England it had coincided with a communications revolution following Caxton’s setting up of his printing press at Westminster. This revolution has only recently been surpassed by the present age of computer and internet technology. The printing press transformed society. Before 1500 there were only about thirty-five thousand printed books in Europe as a whole, mostly in Latin. Between 1500 and 1640, some twenty thousand items were printed in English alone, ranging from pamphlets and broadsheets to folios and Bibles. The result was to accelerate the education of the middling sort and even some of the lower orders of society, so that by 1600, it has been estimated, as much as half the population had some kind of minimal literacy, and a much higher proportion in the cities and towns. In a growing free market in the printed word, the demand for books in English outstripped the demand for the old classical media of the universities, and booksellers and printers were keen to meet this new market. Lexicographers were keen to introduce new words, like maturity, from Latin, as part of the necessary augmentation of our language.

001English could not escape the influence of the classical languages in the age of the Renaissance, as the revival of learning produced a new group of scholar-writers from Thomas More to Francis Bacon who devoted themselves to the cultivation of style in Latin. Although they wrote their scholarly works in Latin, when they wrote their letters in English, they embellished their prose with Latinate words. They ransacked the classical past for words like agile, capsule, absurdity, contradictory, exaggerate, indifference (Latin) and monopoly, paradox, catastrophe, lexicon, thermometer (Greek). The scientific revolution of the time also prompted new borrowings, such as atmosphere, pneumonia, skeleton. An encyclopedia would now be required to explain the idea of gravity. Vesalius’ transformation of anatomy meant that English would need descriptions like excrement and strenuous. In physics, the work of scientists like William Gilbert were introducing words such as external and chronology. There were also further borrowings from French, like bigot and detail. Besides some specific architectural words from Italian, and some bellicose Spanish words, there were also important nautical words from the Low Countries like smuggler and reef. Sailors also brought Low Dutch into English at this time, words which are sometimes falsely attributed to the Anglo-Saxons, like fokkinge, kunte and bugger.  These words are not what we would normally associate with the Renaissance, but they form part of the same desire to make English a communicative, everyday language with a broad vocabulary. Altogether, the Renaissance added as many as twelve thousand words to the English lexicon.


These innovations and inventions were typical of the kind of adventurousness we associate with the Elizabethans, especially in their brave explorations of the New World. Francis Drake traveled well beyond the bounds of Christendom, circumnavigating the globe, plundering Spanish ships in the Caribbean and exploring the Americas. It was the guidance and inspiration of Drake’s fellow Devonian, Sir Walter Ralegh (pronounced Rawley), which led to the first English-speaking communities in North America. A lesser-known adventurer was Thomas Cavendish of Trimley St Martin in Suffolk. He was one of the many sea dogs who served Queen Bess and his own pocket by harassing Spanish shipping and settlements in the Americas. In 1586 he decided to emulate Drake’s great exploit of sailing around the globe. Setting out with three ships, he completed the incredible journey in a little over two years. In 1591 he set out to repeat the venture in order to open up commercial relations with the Orient, but was worn down by storms and disease, dying off the coast of Brazil, where he was buried at sea.


The story of what was to become the first North American settlement starts in the late 1570s when Sir Humphrey Gilbert, under charter from Elizabeth, claimed Newfoundland for England. (One of his fellow explorers was a Hungarian, about whom I have written elsewhere.) Heading South, Gilbert was then drowned in a storm with the famous last words, We are as neer to heaven by sea as by land. Sir Walter Ralegh then took up the cause of founding a new colony, temporarily establishing the Cittie of Ralegh in Virginea, on today’s coast of North Carolina. The story of The Lost Colony, as it became known, exemplifies the adventurous mariners of the Elizabethan era, but also shows how hazardous and difficult the settlement of the New World was. Ralegh, now out of favour with the Crown, continued to express his undying faith in an English empire overseas. With hindsight, the colonisation of the new huge land-mass of North America by English-speaking settlers seems inevitable and Ralegh’s boast to Sir Robert Cecil in 1602, that he would yet live to see it an English Nation might not seem so idle, had he been allowed to live on. However, at the time neither Ralegh nor the prospective settlers could envisage what they were taking on, let alone confront the harsh realities of the new frontier on the other side of the ocean. In the meantime, raiding and trading was continuing to prove far more lucrative. 

In contrast to the internationalism of scholarship and commerce,  Tudor politics – the Reformation and its creation of a distinctly English Church, emphasised the age-old desire of the English, and to a lesser extent the Welsh and the Scots, to establish their independence from French and other continental influences. The breach with Rome, followed by the almost continual wars with France and Spain, the superpowers of the age, culminating in the defeat of the Armada, with the small island nation beating off the huge invasion fleet of a transatlantic Empire, was matched by the declaration to Parliament of an independent-minded Queen:

 I thank God I am endowed with such qualities that if I were turned out of the realm in my petticoat, I were able to live in any place in Christendom. 

002In reality, the threat of 1588 failed to strike much of a patriotic fire in the coastal towns of Suffolk. The decayed coastal defenses had to be rapidly repaired and when the eastern ports were required to provide a quota of ships for the royal fleet they all pleaded poverty. The Spanish wars had already caused them severe loss of trade, they argued, and they could only afford a fraction of the ships needed. When the time came for the county levies to assemble before their Queen at Tilbury, the men of Suffolk had to be cajoled once more, for they were reluctant to leave their farms at harvest time and even more reluctant to leave their county. In the event, they were not really needed, as Drake’s fireships scattered the heavy Spanish galleons, laden down with heavy cannon and balls which disintegrated on impact, and God’s wind did the rest.

The long war with Spain disrupted the cloth trade with the Spanish Netherlands, an important cause of its decline, or rather of transition, with old draperies giving way to new ones. The old system had been badly hit not just by wars and market changes, but by the introduction of new techniques and the growth of monopolies. The planting of European colonies in Africa and the Americas provided new and often captive markets for the goods of the Old World, but the requirements of these new consumers were not the same as those of England’s old trading partners. The inhabitants of tropical and sub-tropical lands did not want to drape themselves in heavy Suffolk broadcloth. The county’s clothiers could probably have risen to this challenge as they had to previous market changes, but powerful mercantile groups saw regional specialisation as the solution to the problems.

Fulling could be carried out more efficiently and cheaply in counties like Yorkshire with its abundant supply of fast-flowing tributaries running off the Pennine moors into its great, navigable rivers, flowing into the North Sea. Within a few years, Suffolk’s small-scale yet integral fulling industry dwindled and many craftsmen had to take to the Great North Road to find work.

DSC09762Growing control over the East Anglian industry was being exercised by London merchants, most of whom belonged to trading companies which had official or unofficial monopolies in large trading areas overseas. These merchants could therefore combine to outbid the local clothiers for yarn and to pay more for unfinished cloth than the exporters of Ipswich and Colchester. Suffolk clothiers who tried to break these monopolies were frequently prosecuted through a growing volume of legislation. The erosion of free trade by sharp mercantile practices led to prohibitions and restraints of trade which, in 1588, left the merchants of Ipswich unable to transport Suffolk cloths even to the continent, and especially to Spain. By the second decade of the seventeenth century, this stranglehold on trade had left the cloth industry in Suffolk extremely exposed to the sharp practices of some unscrupulous London merchants. In 1619, one Gerrard Reade refused settle payment with eighty Suffolk clothiers for the cloths he had already sold for twenty thousand pounds. The Suffolk magistrates complained that the work of at least five thousand weavers was at stake. The clothiers did not have the funds to pay them, having not been paid themselves for the cloth, and were they to be thrown on the parish for relief, there would not be enough funds to relieve them.

DSC09679The Elizabethan Poor Law, which reached its final form in 1601, made the parishes responsible for all their inhabitants unable to care for themselves. Throughout the country the number of those in need of relief rose and the poor rate with it. The magistrates heard frequent pleas for leniency from overseers and churchwardens who simply could not collect the necessary money. Three years later the same justices reported to the Privy Council that bankruptcies were continuing among the Suffolk clothiers, unable to sell the 4,453 broadcloths they had left on their hands, distributed across twenty different towns, worth more than thirty-nine thousand pounds. Poor houses and alms houses were built in many places, including inside the castle walls in Framlingham (pictured left)


The clothiers reacted to these pressures by banding together themselves into local organisations capable of resisting them. A company of cloth-workers was formed at Ipswich in 1590, with the avowed intention that the said mysteries and sciences may be better ordered, the town better maintained, and the country near about it more preferred… A similar trade organisation was formed at Bury in 1607. However, they failed in protecting local trade from the tycoons in London. What they did achieve was to help the clothiers to restrict the wages and impose strict conditions upon the craftsmen who worked for them and who were already experiencing severe hardship. They also tried to restrict to check the import of new, lightweight cloths from the Low Countries, but the Flemish weavers were producing a fabric which, while warm, was easier to work and lighter to wear, and whose popularity was therefore irresistible. Many Suffolk craftsmen, especially the persecuted puritans among them, decided to practice both their trade and their religion in the Netherlands, before some later emigrated with the Pilgrim Fathers to New England. At the same time, some cloth-makers had been copying the skills of earlier Flemish immigrants, turning their attention to spinning yarn and weaving new draperies. These new cloths included fustian, bay, say and stuff. The Suffolk centre for these was Sudbury, but the kembing (spinning) of yarn was more widespread. At first the spinners were independent and made their own arrangements for selling the yarn in London or Norwich, but before long merecantile capitalists took over the organisation of the industry.

DSC09865In Tudor times, fishing, shipbuilding and coastal trade continued to be thriving activities along the coasts and estuaries. Two hundred or more ships out of ports of Lowestoft, Southwold, Walberswick, Dunwich, Aldeborough and Orford plied the North Sea herring grounds and Icelandic cod fields throughout most of the sixteenth century. In 1572 these ports, together with Ipswich and Woodbridge owned 146 coastal trade vessels, carrying cloth, oil, flax, hemp and wine across the Narrow Seas and plied along the coast with timber, fuller’s earth, hides and Newcastle coal. The growth of maritime enterprise in these times brought prosperity to the shipyards of Ipswich and Woodbridge. Ipswich was the principal supplier of large merchant ships to London, and thousands of Suffolk oaks went into a succession of fine vessels.

Woodbridge was always a close rival to its neighbouring port but Ipswich added to its prosperity by producing the cordage and sail canvas. By the turn of the century business was booming and a succession of fine ships were laid down, including the 320-ton Matthew in 1598.

However, coastal erosion posed a continual threat to the east coast ports, in particular, Dunwich. In 1573, The Queen’s majesty’s town was by the rages and surges of the sea, daily washed and devoured. The haven was so badly silted that no ships or boats could get either in or out, to the utter decay of the said town. Year after year more houses, churches and sometimes whole streets simply vanished. The inhabitants lacked the technical skill and resources necessary to construct sea defenses and, despite desperate pleas for help, there was none forthcoming from the government. Southwold was also fast silting up by 1620 and fishermen could no longer rely on access to the harbour at Walberswick. These ports were also plagued by piracy, which had become particularly virulent in the North Sea from the late sixteenth century. Operating out of Dunkirk, Ostend, Sluys and Nieuport, the privateers caused havoc to coastal and international shipping. In 1596 a small fleet of Dunkirkers blockaded Harwich and in 1602 east coast merchants were forced to adopt a convoy system. In 1619 a national subscription was raised to relieve the people of Dunwich, Southwold and Walberswick whose misfortunes were, in part, blamed on pirates. In 1626 a Dunkirk privateer sailed into Sole Bay at Southwold with guns blazing. While the townsfolk fled from the harbour the pirates cut out a merchant ship and made off with her. Between 1625 and 1627 no less than thirteen Aldeburgh ships of a total value of 6,800 pounds were lost to pirates.

DSC09763Despite these problems, many Suffolkers were as proud of their mother-tongue, in all its vernacular plainness, as they were of defying the pope and denying the might of Spain access to their island’s shores.  Some writers such as Ben Johnson and even Shakespeare himself wanted to defend the language against the incursions of Latinate terms, calling them inkhorn terms and showing a preference for plainnesse. When Berowne finally declares his love for Rosaline in Love’s Labour’s Lost, he announces that he will shun taffeta phrases, silken terms precise, and instead express his wooing mind … in russet yeas and honest kersey noes.

The combination of these twin traditions, homespun and continental, led to the emergence of a language, to quote Logan Pearsall Smith of unsurpassed richness and beauty, which, however, defies all the rules. Almost any word could be used in any pat of speech, adverbs could be used for verbs, nouns for adjectives, and nouns and adjectives could take the place of verbs and adverbs. In Elizabethan English, you could happy your friend, malice or foot your enemy, or fall an axe on his neck. Shakespeare himself wrote of how he could out-Herod Herod, ask that ye uncle me no uncle and describe how she might tongue me.

When Shakespeare moved to London, he would have encountered the speech of the court, which was sufficently different from the standard speech of a market town like Stratford for a sharp-eared contemporary to note what he called a true kynde of pronunciation (what, today, we would call received pronunciation). We find some clues as to how this might have sounded in Shakespeare’s own plays, where he puns with minimal pairs like raising and reason, which would then have sounded much more like its French original, raison. Similarly, in All’s Well that Ends Well, a lot of the humour is conveyed in language rather than action, based on exchanges of puns as with the words grace and grass, much more similar among the courtiers then than they are now. Shakespeare would also rhyme tea with tay, and sea with say. Elizabethan English would have sounded much more like the English of Banburyshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire to twentieth-century ears than that of East Anglia, London and the South-East.

008However, it was the English of London and East Anglia which was first to take hold in Massachussets, the language of the rigorous Puritan mind. The text owed much to earlier translations, especially that of Tyndale, but also to the scholarship of John Bois in ensuring the faithfulness of the overall text to the original Hebrew and Greek. He was born in 1560 and grew up East Anglia, reading the Hebrew Bible at the age of six, and becoming a classics scholar at St John’s College at fourteen. He passed through the examinations at record speed, and soon became a Fellow of the College. When this expired he was given a rectorship at Boxworth, an isolated hamlet a few miles north of Cambridge, on condition that he married the deceased rector’s daughter. This he did, moving into the Fens, but still rising at four o’clock to ride into Cambridge to teach, reading a book on horseback. Bois continued  to live quietly in Boxworth, a man with a brilliant scholarly reputation. At the Hampton Court Conference in 1604, called by James I to discuss matters of religion, Dr John Reynolds of Oxford proposed a definitive translation of the Bible to ameliorate the developing friction between Anglicans and Puritans. The rex pacificus gladly assented to the idea of one uniforme translation, though he doubted whether he would see a Bible well translated in English.

By June 1604 it was settled that there would be six groups of translators, two in Westminster, two in Oxford and two in Cambridge, each made up of eight scholars. John Bois was recruited for one of the Cambridge committees, and he was put in charge of translating the Apocrypha from the Greek, but his level of scholarship soon made him indispensable to other committees. The six committees were instructed to base their Version upon the previous English versions, translating afresh, but also comparing their work with that of the previous translators, from Tyndale to Parker. At the end of six years, the six committees delivered their texts to Westminster for a final review by two scholars from each centre. John Bois went from Cambridge, together with his old tutor, Dr Anthony Downes. For the next nine months in 1610, the six scholars worked together on the final draft of the AV, refining and revising the texts. Their brief was to re-work the text not just in order to make it read well, but also sound better when read out loud. In their Preface to the finished text, the translators commented interestingly on this process, addressing their remarks to The Reader.

During these nine months, Bois kept a diary containing notes on the revisions which still survive, and through which we can see how the six translators honed the text to near perfection. In the First Epistle of Peter, chapter two, verse three, the key word is pleasant. Bois had several choices from previos versions; pleasaunt  (Tyndale), gracious (Great Bible), bountifull (Geneva), gracious (Bishop’s), sweete (Rheims), …if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious… (KJV), …how gracious the Lord is… (Bois’ revision). Not only does he make the right choice with the word gracious (pleasant would sound like nice in today’s English, and have roughly the same far too general and everyday meaning), but by inserting the adjective before the proper noun, Lord, he also makes the sentence sing (compare it with the great hymn, How great Thou art.) If we also compare the King James’ Version with Henry VIII’s Great Bible in the translation from the Hebrew, we can also detect the work of a brilliant linguistic and literary scholar. In chapter twelve of Ecclesiastes, the preacher says:

Or ever the silver lace be taken away, or the gold band be broke, or the pot broke at the well and the wheel upon the cistern, then shall the dust be turned again unto earth from whence it came, and the spirit shall return to God which gave it. All is but vanity saith the preacher, all is but plain vanity. (Great Bible).

Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern: Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity. (KJV).

005The King James Version at once reads more clearly and sounds more poetic. It is an irony of the process by which the final text was created that only the king himself is credited with its creation. The version he only had to authorise came from the hard work of a scholarly committee, rather than a single writer. Compared with Tyndale and Cranmer, Bois is now almost forgotten. He returned to the Fens, where in 1628 the Bishop of Ely offered him a canonry at the cathedral, in which position he remained for the rest of his life, being buried in the cathedral in 1643.

The King James Bible was published in the same year as Shakespeare produced his last play, The Tempest, in 1611. Both the play and the Bible are masterpieces, but there is one crucial difference between them. While the playwright used more words than ever, inventing new ones as he wrote, the King James Version employed a mere eight thousand words, God’s English for Everyman. The people for whom the new, simplified yet poetic text became a weapon saw themselves as God’s Englishmen and Englishwomen. They became known to others as Puritans. Their heartland was East Anglia, birthplace of John Bunyan and Oliver Cromwell. Besides these very English revolutionaries, about two-thirds of the early settlers of Massachusetts Bay came from the eastern counties, from Lincolnshire in the north to Essex in the south, from Suffolk and Norfolk in the east to Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire in the west.

007Throughout the seventeenth century, the villages and towns of these counties supplied the New World with a ready and steady stream of immigrants, country people with country skills who were already well adapted for the hard life of the pioneer. The speech-features of East Anglia that were transplanted to the place the Pilgrim Fathers named New England are still to be heard in the rural parts of Norfolk and Suffolk. People there still say noo instead of new and don’t sound the r in words like bar, storm and yard, very different from the burr of western English counties from rural Oxfordshire and Worcestershire down to Dorset and Devon.

009Many, perhaps most, were Puritan dissenters, or separatists, who would not conform with the liturgy and practices of the Church of England, and their story became the story of American English. Their motives were a tangle of idealistic, colonising, self-interested and religious ambitions. The Pilgrim Fathers went to escape, in the words of Andrew Marvell, the Prelate’s Rage. They were also escaping from a monarch of Great Britain who hated both Scottish Presbyterians and English Independents among his subjects, vowing to harry them out of the land. Their impulse to migrate was both profoundly conservative and revolutionary in religious terms. They hoped to find an austere wilderness where they could establish an authentically English Christian community. They were not abandoning their East Anglian identity, but rather purifying and transplanting it. They did not see themselves as creating a new country, America, but recreating the old country, free from what they felt were the papist poisons prevalent in the national church. When the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth on 16 September 1620, the largest group on board came from East Anglia, but they represented thirty different communities from all over England. These can still be seen in the place-names of New England… Boston, Bedford, Braintree, Cambridge, Lincoln and Yarmouth. By the middle of the seventeenth century, there were some already a quarter of a million colonists on the North-Eastern seaboard of North America, mainly from London and the eastern counties.      

Today, it is claimed that over 360 million people speak English as their mother-tongue, many of these with a recent history in North America. However, their heritage as English-speaking peoples goes back for a millenium and a half. The role of churches and holy places in the creation of the language and literature, and therefore in its creation as a worldwide language, whether first, second, or as a foreign tongue, means that they form part of a much greater heritage. From the religious strife that followed the breach with Rome there remain many holy places, but they are sectarian in nature, such as the sites of the burning of the Protestant martyrs at Smithfield, Oxford, Canterbury and Hadleigh, or the hanging, drawing and quartering of the Catholic martyrs at Tyburn and the site of the beheading of Sir Thomas More in the Tower of London. There was, however, a wider spirit at work to reconcile these differences. The spirit in which the King James Version of the Bible was consolidated from earlier translations, mostly based on Tyndale, in the Jerusalem Chamber of Westminster Abbey, in a conscious effort to appeal to as wide a cross-section of beliefs as possible. The spirit of toleration in forgiveness and reconciliation which informs the last plays of Shakespeare, before he went back to rest in his parish church in Stratford. Perhaps Prospero’s speech from The Tempest (c 1611), often thought to be Shakespeare’s own valedictory speech, can be seen as the supreme antidote to the speech of the dying John of Gaunt in one of his earlier plays, Richard II (c 1595):


005This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,

This other Eden, demi-paradise,

This fortress built by Nature for herself

Against infection and the hand of war,

This happy breed of men, this little world,

This precious stone set in the silver sea,

Which serves it in the office of a wall,

Or as a moat defensive to a house,

Against the envy of less happier lands,

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,…

This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,

Is now leased out, I die pronouncing it,

 Like to a tenement or pelting farm: (2.1.3) 

 Prospero, in The Tempest:

 And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,

The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,

The solemn temples, the great globe itself,

Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve;

And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,

Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff

As dreams are made on, and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep. (IV.i. 148158)


By the time The Tempest was written, England had been given a renewed identity by the first Elizabethan age, and, though the Essex Rebellion, late in 1601 and the Midland Rebellion of the Catholic gentry of 1605 threatened to disrupt this new vision, it became a vision of Great Britain. Under the dual monarchy of the Stuart kings, this was to become more than simply a geographical entity, Grande Bretagne as opposed to little Brittany, but a vision of an island and an independent people chosen by God for great deeds and heroic achievements. The expression of this is found not only in Shakespeare, but also in Spenser’s mythical history of Britain in The Fairie Queen and in the great antiquarian work, Camden’s Britannia. History, or rather national mythology, was to become a potent political force in the seventeenth century, with the myth of the Norman Yoke and the legends of Robin Hood finding their usage among counter-cultural nonconformists.

Legacy of the Tudors: The Island Myth in Word and Image

A later visionary portrayal of the unity of Britain appears in Blake’s prophetic poems, in which he sees the dawning of a new form of consciousness when sleeping Albion, the spiritual essence of Britain, will awake with the light of the Divine imagination and be joined to his female emanation, Jerusalem, a holy shrine re-built in England’s green and pleasant land. In one of the versions of the Glastonbury legends preserved among Cornish and Somerset miners, on which Blake based his poem, Jerusalem, now England’s alternative national anthem, Joseph of Arimathea had visited Avalon, Ynys yr Afal (Apple Island in the Cymric), bringing with him the young Jesus of Nazareth who, as a trained carpenter, built a shrine made of wattle and daub, dedicating it to his mother.  Even the coronation oath of both Elizabeth I and II refers back to the mythology of a Christianity dating back to the time of Joseph’s second visit, sent by the Apostle Philip in 63 A.D. with a band of missionaries, to establish the Christian faith in Britain. As the last Welsh-speaking monarch, Elizabeth, like the first,  her grandfather, was not averse to using popular British legends as propaganda, to point out to a Papacy about to excommunicate her that she owed her title as Defender of the Faith not to the Bishop of Rome, nor even to St Augustine, but to the ancient British saints and rulers who went into battle with pagans, like Arthur, carrying crosses and pictures of the Virgin Mary, as well as their dragon emblems. After Blake, the legends were again reinterpreted in the Gothic and Celtic revivals of the Victorian period, inspiring both Anglo-Catholics and Pre-Raphaelites, especially Edward Burne-Jones, who created so much of the stained glass for churches built in this period.

 004Any traces which may have remained of this most ancient shrine to Mary were destroyed by a great fire in 1181. All that survives to claim credence for the legend is The Glastonbury Thorn, marking the place called Wearyall, a hill on which Joseph thrust his hawthorn staff into the ground and it immediately burst into blossom, though it was winter. It still blooms around Christmas-time. The branch is on one of the several trees descending from the one, thought to be the original, which was cut down at the Dissolution. Originally surrounded by marsh and water, the four-hundred-foot Tor (which means rocky outcrop in the Cymric), with its fifteenth-century tower of the ruined St Michael’s Church, the site of the abbey and the town to its west, all formed an island until the Somerset levels were drained in Stuart times. The association of this island with Arthur’s resting place received a great boost when, a decade after the great fire, a monk apparently discovered the coffin of Arthur and Guenevere.

 The resulting flood of pilgrims must have helped to fund the abbey’s rebuilding, by the thirteenth century, but this early tourist industry was also what led to its ultimate destruction. Nevertheless, few of the ruins of the Dissolution bring about such a pang in the visitor as those of Glastonbury, whether because of the destruction of a great architectural work of an abbey rebuilt in the Transitional and Early English styles, or because of the psychological damage done to both England and to the British Isles as a whole by the sudden and violent denial of a contemplative tradition in the expulsion of the monks.

Excavations have shown traces of the original British monastic settlement, first recorded as existing in 658, and there are strong traditions that St Patrick, St Brigid and St David all visited the monastery. Re-founded by King Ine of Wessex in the eighth century, ravaged by Danes in the ninth, the abbey began its great period in 940 under Abbot Dunstan, who later became Archbishop of Canterbury. We know, from the chroniclers, that some of the Kings of Wessex were buried there, including Edmund Ironside, in 1016, but there no Anglo-Saxon remains have yet been discovered.

003Ascending to the summit of the Tor, the modern-day pilgrim stands on the place where in 1539 Richard Whiting, the last abbot of Glastonbury, was executed as a traitor on Henry VIII’s command. After the death of the previous abbot in February 1525, the community elected his successor per formam compromissi, which elevates the selection to a higher ranking personage, in this case Cardinal Wolsey, who obtained King Henry’s permission to act and chose Richard Whiting. The first ten years of Whiting’s rule were prosperous and peaceful. He was a sober and caring spiritual leader and a good manager of the abbey’s day-to-day life. Contemporary accounts show that Whiting was held in very high esteem.The abbey over which Whiting presided was one of the richest and most influential in England. Glastonbury Abbey was reviewed as having significant amounts of silver and gold as well as its attached lands. About one hundred monks lived in the enclosed monastery, where the sons of the nobility and gentry were educated before going on to university.

Whiting had signed his assent to the Act of Supremacy when it was first presented to him and his monks in 1534. Henry sent Richard Layton to examine Whiting and the other inhabitants of the abbey. He found all in good order, but suspended the abbot’s jurisdiction over the town. Small injunctions were given to him about the management of the abbey property.  Whiting was told a number of times over the years which followed that the abbey was safe from dissolution.

However, by January 1539, Glastonbury was the only monastery left in Somerset. Abbot Whiting refused to surrender the abbey, which did not fall under the Act for the suppression of the lesser houses. On 19 September of that year the royal commissioners, Layton, Richard Pollard and Thomas Moyle, arrived there without warning on the orders of Thomas Cromwell, presumably to find faults and thus facilitate the abbey’s closure. Whiting, by now feeble and advanced in years, was sent to the Tower of London so that Cromwell might examine him himself. The precise charge on which he was arrested, and subsequently executed, remains uncertain, though his case is usually referred to as one of treason. Cromwell’s manuscript Remembrances contains the following  entries:

Item, Certayn persons to be sent to the Tower for the further examenacyon of the Abbot, of Glaston… Item. The Abbot, of Glaston to (be) tryed at Glaston and also executyd there with his complycys… Item. Councillors to give evidence against the Abbot of Glaston, Rich. Pollard, Lewis Forstew (Forstell), Thos. Moyle.

 Marillac, the French Ambassador, wrote on 25 October that;

“The Abbot of Glastonbury. . . has lately, been put in the Tower, because, in taking the Abbey treasures, valued at 200,000 crowns, they found a written book of arguments in behalf of queen Katherine.” 

As a member of the House of Lords, Whiting should have been condemned of treason by an Act of Attainder, and beheaded, but his execution was an accomplished fact before Parliament met. Whiting was sent back to Glastonbury with Pollard and reached Wells on 14 November. There some sort of trial apparently took place, and he was convicted of robbing Glastonbury Church. The next day, Saturday, 15 November, he was taken to Glastonbury with two of his monks, John Thorn and Roger James, where all three were fastened upon hurdles and dragged by horses to the top of the Tor, overlooking the town. Here they were hung, drawn and quartered, with Whiting’s head being fastened over the west gate of the now deserted abbey and his limbs exposed at Wells, Bath, Ilchester and Bridgwater. His gruesome death at so peaceful a place was symbolic of how 1539-40, the year of the Pilgrimage of Grace, the dissolution of the great monasteries and the official publication of the Bible in English, marked the key point of transition to the development of a distinctively English form of Christianity, based on the word, rather than on the image.


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See Part One 


Learning history in Orbán’s Hungary   Leave a comment

Hungarian Spectrum

The new school year began yesterday and with it an entirely new system as far as textbook distribution is concerned. As you most likely know, a couple of years ago all schools were nationalized and put under the authority of one monstrous organization called Klebelsberg Intézményfenntartó Központ (KLIK), named after Kunó Klebelsberg, minister of education between 1922 and 1931. Critics predicted the failure of such a centralized system where KLIK was to be the employer of about 150,000 teachers. They were right. It was a disaster, which even Zoltán Balog, who is in charge of education, had to admit. The head of KLIK was sacked and right now the government is in the midst of a “reorganization” of KLIK.

One of the important demands of Rózsa Hoffmann, former undersecretary in charge of education, was a reduction in the number of textbooks teachers can choose from. Indeed, as of this year, teachers can only…

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Posted September 5, 2014 by AngloMagyarMedia in Uncategorized

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