Tuesday, December 29, 2009

(St) Philip Howard takes upon him a quarrel

I came across this thrasonical document on EEBO, where it is attributed to St Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel. It is a challenge at tilt, issued in print, and in the spirit of Elizabethan neo-medieval chivalry of which Sidney and Essex were exponents – the opening flourish here could be in the Arcadia:

Callophisus, being brought by the greatest perfection in another to the smallest liberty in himself, having the foundation of his choice so firm as it cannot decay, and finding the place of his imprisonment so strong as he cannot escape: will be at the Tilts end upon the two and twenty day of January next ensuing, at one of the Clock in the afternoon, there to defend and maintain against all men whosoever, for six courses a piece, the whole six, or any of the six Articles which follow, whereunto he challengeth all, that either Honour any Lady, whom they may brag of for any worth: or serve a Mistress, which hath reason to boast of her self for any beauty, by these first three Articles.

1 The first, that his Mistress is for Beauty of her face, and the Grace of her person, the most perfect creature, that ever either the eye of man hath beheld, the Arte of Nature hath framed, or the compass of the earth hath enjoyed.

2 The second, that it is as impossible for any other whosoever, to abide the beams of his Mistress’ look, as for the Clouds to endure the shining and appearing of the Sun, and that the one doth not sooner vanish at the showing of the Sun, then the other will suddenly fade at the presence of his Mistress,

3 The third, that the perfections of his Mistress, are in number so infinite, in quality so excellent, and in operation so effectual, as she by the help of them, and they by the direction of her, do make more men without liberty, and more bodies without hearts, then any, or all the women in the world besides.

And because Callophisus doubteth that the taking upon him a quarrel which is so just on his side, will make that he shall have none to defend the contrary against him, and that the worthiness of his mistress will steal away the Servants of other Ladies, he will with one only assistant, challenge all that either have opinion in the constancy of their love, or assurance in the greatness of their affection, by these other three Articles.

4 The first, that Callophisus for his faith will yield to none, and for his loyalty doth think himself above all, and in these two respects pronounceth himself most worthy to be accepted into favor with his Mistress· or to receive grace at the hands of the fairest.

5 The second, that the good will and affection of Callophisus to his Mistress, is for impression so deep, for continuance so lasting, and for passion so extreme, as it is impossible for any other to carry so perfect love, or to conceive the like affection.

6 The third, that those adventures and hazards, which cannot but be most sour, to any other for the pleasing of any Lady (whom they Honour) are most sweet unto him, for the contentment of the Mistress whom he serveth.

And if they neither will contend with him for the superiority of his Mistress in worthiness, nor for the prerogative of himself in affection, having not their judgement veiled with so partial an humor as may lead them to resist of manifest and open truth, and doubting a bad success in a wrong opinion, because Veritas vincet omnia, then will he, & his said assistant, with all such, run six courses, to join with them in honouring of his Mistress, which hath no equal, and expressing of his affection which cannot be matched.

Whereas this challenge of Jousts, was signified by way of device before her Majesty, on Twelfth night last past, to have been performed the fifteenth day of January, her Majesty’s pleasure is for divers considerations, that it be deferred until the two and twenty of the same month, and then to be held at Westminster, the accustomed place.

Proclaimed by the sound of Trumpet, and a Herald.”

The final paragraph betrays a moment where reality intrudes upon this fantasy. Howard, swarthy of skin, and long of face and body, had the money to sustain his role as ‘Callophisus’ (I guess that the romance name is meant to suggest ‘beautiful face’), but didn’t have, in the all-important opinion of the Queen, the looks to hold her attention. He seems to have spent enormous sums of money on these efforts to draw favour to himself (in an account cited in the ODNB, he “Wasted a great part of that Estate which was left him, by profused expences of great Summs of money in diverse Tiltings & Tourneys made upon the anniversary dayes of the Queen's Coronation to please her, and at the entertainment of Certain great Embassadors, and also by the entertaining of the Queen her self”). But it seems that on 12th Night 1581, the Queen could not face sitting through another set of jousts by the lanky Earl, and put him back a week. I assume that she would have been the royal ‘Mistress’ whose virtue and beauty are so extravagantly touted in the challenge.

If this big event ever came to anything (for the printed announcement seems to come down to Howard actually expecting no challenger, and that he anticipates going through the motions with his ‘assistant’), it cannot have gratified his hopes, for 1581 was the year when Howard flung away from the court in pique at his neglect, and found that Arundel Castle was seething with the Jesuits and priests harbored there by the wife he had been ignoring for ten years. Disaffected, Howard was an easy mark. At last he had someone prepared to give him the attention he had sought. He wavered in faith straight away, and was converted by 1584. In 1585 he tried to flee abroad, but like his other enterprises, this was ineptly carried out: he was captured, and spent the rest of his life in the Tower of London.

His sainthood (1970) seems largely to have been founded on the still surviving inscription he carved on the walls of his cell: “quanto plus afflictionis pro Christo in hoc saeculo, tanto plus gloriae cum Christo in futuro’ (‘the more affliction we endure for Christ in this world, the more glory we shall obtain with Christ in the next’, the ODNB author translates it, though wouldn’t ‘in this age’ seem more accurate for ‘in hoc saeculo’?)


He was also alleged to have died of poison, and so he had been a kind of martyr. But it does seem to me that he was potentially worth more to the Queen alive. She didn’t like him, the Howards were far too wealthy, and he’d turned Catholic: but I’d have thought the Queen rather hoped for a big payout when he had finally had enough of the Tower. He, though, was offended enough, obstinate enough (or sincere enough) to hold out. As for the Queen, she did promise to restore him to all his honours if he attended Church of England services, but just maybe with the thought that his freedom would involve her in having to pay polite attention to all that jousting all over again.

After his unlikely canonization, Howard’s remains were installed in a shrine in the Catholic Cathedral at Arundel, where he is visited by Catholic bloggers who otherwise busily seek out the 39 martyrs, their relics, and Tridentine masses.

But what a surprising document his announcement that he will be on display jousting at the tilt-yard is! The spirit of medieval romance, but put into print - no doubt circulation was confined to court circles, but wasn’t it still classier to send your herald round with a trumpet and a vellum scroll? In print, Howard seems more nakedly self-advertising, to be desperately promoting an entertainment already bumped down the royal schedule. It survives in the Folger Shakespeare Library, I do not know with what provenance. An early hand has practiced penmanship on it, the reverse has a superscription “O Lorde save my soule, for I doe put my truste in thee”. I suppose this might even be the Earl himself, for that was the reverse side of the posturing Callophisus, searching for an ideal to defend, a service in which to be the unchallenged paladin.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A riotous Christmas at Canterbury, 1647

The anonymous pamphlet titled The declaration of many thousands of the city of Canterbury, or county of Kent. Concerning the late tumult in the city of Canterbury

(1647) tells a sad tale of oppression by the puritan mayor, whose miserable opposition to Christmas celebrations leads him to ban as ‘superstitious’ even a Christmas day sermon the good people of his town gathered to hear. These modestly festive folk were then attacked by his men.

As you read the account in the brief pamphlet, hints of the real circumstances appear amid the general ‘what is the world coming to?’ note of pious indignation:

“The cause of this so sudden a posture of defence (sic) which we have put ourselves into, was the violent proceedings of the Mayor of this City of Canterbury and his uncivill carriage in pursuance of some petty order of the House of Commons for hindring the celebration of Christs Nativity so long continued in the Church of God. That which we so much desired that day was but a Sermon, which any other day of the week was tolerable by the orders & practice of the two Houses and all their adherents, but that day (because it was Christs birth day) we must have none; that which is good all the year long, yet is this day superstitious. The Mayor causing some of us to be beaten contrary to his oath and office, who ought to preserve the peace, and to that purpose chiefly is the sword of justice put into his hands, and wrongfully imprisoned divers of us, because we did assemble our selves to hear the word of God, which he was pleased to interpret a Ryot, yet we were unarmed, behaved ourselves civilly, intending no such tumult as afterwards we were forc’d into: but at last seeing the manifest wrong done to our children, servants, and neighbours, by beating, wounding, and imprisoning them, we were moved to vindicate the wrong done them, and to release them that were imprisoned, and did call unto our assistance our brethren of the County of Kent, who very readily came in to us, and have associated themselves to us in this our just and lawfull defence, and do concurre with us in this our Remonstrance concerning the Kings majestie, and the settlement of Peace in this Kingdome.”

Dress it up as he may, the writer cannot quite conceal that a demonstration, a pointed political act, had been intended. Could those ‘brethren’ of the County of Kent have assembled quite so quickly when called to come to the assistance of the royalist townsfolk? Who exactly was to give this edifying sermon all had come to hear? - the writer rather suspiciously does not say. When the mayor sent whatever forces he had against the assembled people, we are told that they provoked the riot by beating just the children, servants, and neighbours of these civilly behaved citizens, who were of course “intending no such tumult as afterwards we were forc’d into” (‘forc’d’ is nicely judged here). These same citizens had by January 5th published in London a direct repudiation of the commonwealth, demand for the King’s release from Carisbrooke, and general diatribe against the injustices of the supposedly ‘reformed’ Commonwealth.

Perhaps the mayor did panic and overreact: that so commonly happens in such circumstances. But it seems quite likely he had a good understanding of what was going to happen if the Christmas day sermon had gone ahead, and it might even have been worse. What a way to spend your Christmas!

The declaration of many thousands of the city of Canterbury, or county of Kent. Concerning the late tumult in the city of Canterbury, provokt by the Mayors violent proceedings against those who desired to continue the celebration of the Feast of Christs Nativity, 1500 yeers and upwards maintained in the Church. Together with their resolutions for the restitution of His Majestie to his Crown and dignity, whereby religion may be restored to its ancient splendour, and the known laws of this Kingdom maintained. As also, their desires to all His Majesties loyall subjects within his Dominions, for their concurrence and assistance in this so good and pious work 1647

My image is a map of Canterbury from William Somner’s The most accurate history of the ancient city, and famous cathedral of Canterbury 1641. Object ‘S’, just outside the gate into the cathedral close, is the stake for bear-baiting.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

That animals can't look upwards: George Hakewill, 1608

George Hakewill’s THE VANITIE OF THE EYE, First beganne for the Comfort of a Gentlewoman bereaved of her sight, and since upon occasion enlarged & published for the Common good (1608; 1615) does what it says on the title page (at least for those able to read it), opening out the “disputable question whither we should more regard the benefit of nature in the one (i.e., seeing things we need to see ), or the hazard of grace and virtue in the other” (i.e., being able to see things we ought not to see).

Hakewill set out to write a brief consolatory exposition, but found that the “particular vices, which flow from the eye” offered him the chance of a far more widely edifying discourse than he had at first envisaged, and he went into print with the expanded version.

As you’d expect from a man appointed chaplain to Prince Charles “with special orders from the king never to leave the prince and to protect him from any influence of Roman Catholicism” (ODNB), of the vices which stem from the vanity of the eye “among the chiefest … is Idolatry, which as it had his original from the eye, so is it still nourished by the same”.

The first idolatrous act was original sin: “we find the first outward occasion of it to have been the fairness of the apple apprehended by the woman’s eye, & the punishment first inflicted on it to have been the opening of the eyes, whether of the mind or the body I dispute not.”

When I next have my Longman Annotated Andrew Marvell to hand, I will check if Nigel Smith (that busy annotator!) connected this book to Marvell’s ‘Eyes and Tears’, for Hakewill continues:

“Whence it may be in the Hebrew the same word signifieth as well an eye as a fountain; to show that from it as from a spring or fountain did flow both sin itself, the cause of sin, and misery the punishment of both; and because by the eye came the greatest hurt, therefore God hath placed in it the greatest tokens of sorrow. For from it comes tears, by which the expressing of sorrow is peculiar to man alone.”

(“How wisely Nature did decree,
With the same Eyes to weep and see!
That, having view'd the object vain,
They might be ready to complain.”)

The final idolatry is, predictably, that of the Catholic faith, to which Hakewill gives a chapter headed: “That the popish religion consists more in eye service then the reformed” - “Our adversaries indeed, place a great and main part of their superstitious worship in the eye-service; in the magnifike & pompous fabric, and furniture of their Churches and attiring their Priests…”

But fortunately, once Hakewill has got the moral issues sorted out (with this splendid bit of Solomon’s wisdom aptly cited “Thine eyes shall look upon strange women, & thine heart shall speak lewd things”), and adroitly passing by those awkward New Testament moments when Christ takes the trouble to cure the blind, he can digress into a rather entertaining fund of stories. We get the tale of the rat-catcher of ‘Hammel’, drawn in as an instance of the devil’s power to deceive the eye “(I confess I urge it not so much for the fitness, as the strangeness of the story)”. From his secular reading we get Mark Antony exploiting the power of sight by displaying the dead Caesar’s blood-stained garments to the Roman mob, followed shortly afterwards by the story of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester getting the beggar who had falsely proclaimed a miracle at the shrine of St Albans to betray himself by correctly nominating the colours of men’s gowns. It’s a fuller account than in Henry VI Part 2, but the proximity to Mark Anthony perhaps hints that our Oxford fellow knew his Shakespeare, and, in thinking of stories about the dangerous power of sight, and about blindness, recalled these two anecdotes. But it could be a coincidence, for, officially at least, Hakewill disapproves of theatre: “Hither also may be referred, the lewd masking, which the Papists use in their Carnivals, or rather Bacchanals, at Shrovetide; the women marching through the open streets, in man’s apparel, and the men in women’s; as also the Jesuits exhibiting of heaven and hell, God & the divell, the damned, and the elect, upon their stages”. This said, he seems to know rather a lot about it, for instance the “lascivious gross action, which is ever represented, in the French Comedies and dances, and sometimes in our common Mercenary interludes here at home, whereat the greatest part, would surely otherwise rather blush, then laugh; but that they hold that place in a manner privileged…” In a definite literary allusion, he refers to Sir Thomas More’s apologue about pride in the story of how the “Anemolian Ambassadors … thinking to dazzle the eyes of the poor Utopians, with the lustre, and glistering of their chains, & precious stones” (discovered that) “the children playing in the streets, took them for great boys, which had not yet laid aside their brooches, & baubles.”

Hakewill digresses most on the way the eye is deceived. It’s a strange mixture of stories. He mentions many diabolic deceits, as practiced by conjurers like Agrippa and Faustus, a recently reported story of a possessed girl at Frankfort who was apparently able to stretch out an empty hand and pluck real money out of thin air (a simple conjuring trick, one would think), “an old woman in the Dukes of Meckelburges country, who appearing in the shape of a great Mastiff dog the hounds espying her, ran with full mouth upon her, & the country hinds with prongs, and pike staves, fell about her, till at length she being sore wounded, the shape of the Mastiff vanished, and nothing was left to the flake (sic – a hurdle on which to drag a criminal to execution?), but a poor silly old woman, begging mercy & pardon”. But Hakewill also describes common optical illusions and the camera obscura, which he tells you how to make: “The practise is thus; take a study, or closet, where (by closing the wooden leaves) you may shut out all the light: then bore an hole, through the midst of one of the leaves to the bigness of a pease, and cover it with a piece of spectacle glass, and when the sun shines on the ground before the window, hold on the inside right before the hole (to the distance of two foot or thereabout) a sheet of white paper or a large piece of faire linen; and you shall perfectly discern by the shadows; the shapes, and motions of men, and dogs, and horses, & birds, with the just proportion of trees, and chimneys, and towers, which fall within the compass of the sun near the window”.

In its way, Hakewill’s prose has striking moments: here he reflects on the eye not being able to see itself. I normally modernize my quotations, to make them easier to read, but this one I will leave as it appears, as the spelling ‘eie’ appears so much more appropriate than ‘eye’ for the enamourment with self he here complains of:

“nature hauing so framed the eie, as it can neither behold it selfe, nor the face, in which it is set, yet haue men invented for the supplying of that vse looking-glasses, as the artificial eies of pride; the eie being as it were a liuing looking-glasse, & the looking-glas again a dead eie, by means wherof many Narcissus like become enamored of themselues”

The moral point he wants to make leads him into this story, most uncompassionately told to show the dangers of mirrors and the self-love they promote: “I remember I have heard, of a young Gentleman of this University, who being newly recovered from the small pox, & by chance seeing the change of his face in a looking-glass, for mere grief fell into a relapse, and within short time died.”

Hakewill consoles his first audience, the newly blind gentlewoman, and edifies his readership, with a series of accounts of those who have overcome their disability: princes, poets, soldiers, scholars “And lastly for the work of the ministry, my self have seen more then once in this University a blind man in our solemn meetings, making a godly & profitable sermon to the body of the University assembled” (odd that he didn’t switch here to having ‘heard’ this blind man preach). I did not know how the Venerable Bede was supposed to have got his name. Hakewill tells a story from an unspecified life of Bede, about Bede after he had gone blind: “it is a merry jest howbeit seriously related by him who hath written Bedaes life, that his guide persuading him one day as he passed by an heap of stones, that the people (according to their wonted manner) were there assembled to hear him preach; the good old man moved at his speech, was content to give them a sermon, but there being no body present to say, amen, at his conclusion, the very stones cried out amen venerable Priest, by which means being then baptized by the name of venerable, he hath retained it ever since…”

Hakewill argues tenuously that as night is “the mantle of defects & imperfections, and by consequent the mother of union and love; the repose and closing up of the day’s labours … if then the night bring not tediousness with it, why should a day which is like a night be thought to bring it?” But this leads him on to the way that people who are blind can nevertheless excel “in those very sports which seem necessarily to require (sight), as bowling, shooting, quoiting, shoufgrating, & the like”. I wonder what you were doing when you ‘shoufgrated’?

My image is Durer’s drawing of an apostle looking up to heaven, which I chose because Hakewill anticipates an objection to his general argument about sight being morally bad, that God gave man alone “an upright figure of body to the end he might behold the heavens”. It was apparently proved (“as the Anatomists have observed”) to everyone’s satisfaction that humankind has “one nerve (i.e., muscle) more than …Brute beasts, for the turning of the eye upward, to the end he might behold the heavens, and in them … the glory of their maker.” Animals, it was affirmed, can’t look upwards (this reminds me of Adam, Godlike erect in Paradise Lost). But Hakewill explains that such divinely augmented eye control could only have been used properly by unfallen man “I answer that man indeed considered in the state of integrity, might & would have made excellent use thereof; but in the state of corruption the greatest part, either thereby are induced to Idolatry (as hath been before showed)”.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The mad house poems of James Carkesse

‘To a Lady, who was very kind to him in the place.’

Madam, when first your Beauty shin’d
Into my Cell, on me confin’d,
I grew in Love with my dark Cloister;
Slighted (poor and hungry) Pearl and Oyster:
The Apricots which you me threw,
The thoughts of Paradise renew;
In Eden’s Garden sure they grew,
Transplanted to Moorfields by you.
You gave me Silver; whence I hold,
I ought not to Envy Danae’s Gold;
For though on her Jove rain’d a Shower,
'Twa’nt real, but Poetic Ore.
You me with Paper, Pen, and Ink,
Madam, suppli’d, as well as Chink;
This my Muse studies to requite
In part, to you when she does Write.

Your Charity sent me a Shirt, each thread
Whereof, to you me fast does Wed;
And thus from your extended hand,
The Shirt in mine, turns to a Band.
At Night in Straw, Lying a-long,
To th’Oaten Pipes this was my Song.

A search on EEBO for early works on, about, or treating of madness (prompted by the mad-house in The Changeling) led me to James Carkesse’s Lucida intervalla, containing divers miscellaneous poems, written at Finsbury and Bethlem by the Doctors patient extraordinary (1679). Carkesse, who brought all his troubles upon himself, was incarcerated in Bedlam in 1678, and wrote his book of verses there (and at Finsbury). He probably experienced madness; he certainly experienced the treatment of the insane meted out by the Bedlam regime.

In the poem above, we see some of the inhumanities which his poems complain of at large: being kept in the dark, with nothing to do (when Carkesse wanted to write his way out of confinement, by addressing versified complaints to former patrons and protectors), sleeping in straw, and naked: “Without either Shirt, or Cloaths, / I lodg’d my merry Mad Youth”, another poem has his doctor gloat.

His lady visitor seems to be on the cusp between visiting Bedlam for the old reason of idle amusement, and an age of sensibility, visiting to perform charity. She was probably one of Carkesse’s supporters, as her gifts met all his needs: writing materials, money, a shirt, and throwing him the apricots as a change of diet.

Other poems reveal more about the regime: the vermin (“In a place I did him stow, /
Where Rats and Mice do swarm”, a poem makes his doctor say). “I’m opprest with cold”, says another. He was chained up: “Iron locks my Leg fast”, and beaten if he resisted treatment.

The brief ODNB entry on Carkesse says that by the standards of the time, the doctor in charge, Thomas Allen, introduced a relatively thoughtful regime in Bedlam. Purgings and phlebotomy were the medical norms for just about all ailments, and the inmates were subjected to both. Carkesse says he resisted as best he could. In the poem written to be voiced by Thomas Allen, the doctor complains about his patient:

My Chirurgeon he fiercely withstood,
And he led him such a Dance;
That to let this same Gown-man Blood,
A Sword was more fit than a Lance.
I order’d his Keeper, at Large,
On occasion to ply him with Blows,
That what Jugular did not discharge,
The mad Blood might come out at his Nose.

I can imagine copious blood-letting might have kept the wretched inmates quiet. More specific as a treatment was Allen’s notion that an infantile diet might reduce his mad patients to a more docile condition:

His Diet was most of it Milk,
To reduce him again to a Child;
And Butter as soft as Silk,
To smooth the Fierce and the Wild.
My Potions he turn’d into Drenches,
For he freely would take ne’re a jot;
But by Thomas and the Wenches,
They were forced down his Throat.

The potions Carkesse threw down would have been purgatives and emetics.

Here’s another complete poem – it uses the conceits of a love poem to express gratitude to another lady visitor:

On the Ladies looking into his Cell.

When Doctor Mad-Quack me I’th’Dark had put,
And a close Prisoner in my Cloyster shut;
A Lady chanc’d peep in, whose Beauty bright
Enlarg’d the crannies, and let in new light:
Quack, I'm now pleas’d, without the Sun, confin’d
See how he Blushes, by my Star, out-shin’d.

Throughout his ‘Lucid Intervals’, Carkesse maintains that he has been thrown into Bedlam by the contrivance of his enemies:

Satan’s Agents, my false Friends, combine
A Minister to Silence and confine.
I’m forc’d (though Sober) Bedlam to inherit,
When they, who put me here, the Prison merit;
For they’re possest, not I, by th’Evil Spirit…

These enemies seem to include, interestingly, Samuel Pepys, who had caught Carkesse peculating at the Navy Office, and had him dismissed from office:

… Mr. Pepys, who hath my Rival been
For the Duk’es favour, more than years thirteen:
But I excluded, he High and Fortunate…

Elsewhere, he blames his wife: “me to be Tam’d, / My Shrewish Wife and her Relations send”.

His actual confinement seems to have been prompted by an outrage against the Dissenters. Carkesse fancied himself to be a parson. “I am a Minister of God’s holy Word”, says the poem he addressed to the King (the ODNB entry says there is no evidence to suggest that this was true), and to have a divine mission. The revealing poem title is ‘On his being Seiz’d on for a Madman, only for having endeavoured to reduce Dissenters unto the CHURCH.’

“Whether Carkesse was incarcerated for a specific offence is difficult to determine” says the ODNB. It may not be quite so obscure a matter as this makes it sound. One has to imagine that there was at the time a pretty broad tolerance for attacks upon dissenters, but he seems to have gone just too far. In a poem in which he imagines himself in self-defensive dialogue with his doctor, we learn that Carkesse went dressed as a parson to a ‘Conventicle’, where he seems to have torn his parson’s gown. He was probably doubly drunk on zeal and spirits. His poem tries to explain these circumstances away: “in a Conventicle, / Who Sober would wear a Gown? The Dissenters seem to have locked him out, so Carkesse tried to break in: “Oh but, Parson, you break the Wall, / And Burglary you commit”. Carkesse does not think that these charges warrant defending:

“the way to Build up the Church,
Is to pull down the Chapel o’th’Devil.
Then throw the House out at Window,
And lay it flat with the Ground.”

In other poems Carkesse suggests that he had also strongly taken to the taint of madness about the ‘Popish Plot’: “Titus destroy’d Jerusalem; and Rome / Her self, from Titus, may expect her doom. / Grow, Titus Oates, and thriving in this Land, / A Promise of our future Triumph, stand.” Jesuits and the Dissenters both set him off.

At other moments in the ‘Lucid Intervals’, he tries to assert that the whole incident was a feigned enragement, a piece of devout acting: “Madness in Masquerade …A Mad-man I have Acted, as a Feat”. Perhaps this half admits that he was merely dressed as a parson, and tore up the robe on being challenged about his right to wear it. Carkesse makes allusions to plays like The Humorous Lieutenant and The Mad Lover, in which insanity is performed by the actor in the role, rather than a medical condition.

But the self-exposing ‘On his being Seiz’d on for a Madman, only for having endeavoured to reduce Dissenters unto the CHURCH’ indicates that Carkesse was taken straight off to the asylum after his attack on the ‘Conventicle’, looking very much like a dangerous maniac, but (from his point of view) on his dignity and determined to make it look as though he went without constraint:

as I did pass,
I arm’d my hands in Coach with broken Glass;
Threatning the Slaves, which waited on my wheel,
That if they touch’d me, they should find 'twas steel,
Th’affrighted multitude observe their distance,
Without their help I enter, or my resistance:
But the great Tumult, and such solemn state,
Amus’d the Officers of Bedlam-Gate:
So well I Acted, that they did not stick,
Me to receive as their Arch-Lunatic…

The old print DNB apparently said that Carkesse ended up as a Catholic. The current ODNB says this is not evidenced. But he was, to say the least, unstable, and may have ended up in one of the churches he had previously attacked. My image is of course one of Goya’s mad houses.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mr Haddock in deep waters

My little find this week is in Thomas Bayly’s Witty apophthegms delivered at several times, and upon several occasions by King James, King Charls, the Marquess of Worcester, Francis Lord Bacon, and Sir Thomas Moor; collected and revised (1669). This book goes a long way to convince any reader that the Stuart Kings simply did not deliver ‘witty apothegms’ at all. Most of the book was clearly compiled during a visit by King Charles to Ragland (Rutland) Castle, and to bulk out the collection Bayly plagiarised Ben Agar’s King James, his apopthegmes, or table-talke as they were by him delivered occasionally and by the publisher (his quondam servant) carefully received, and now humbly offered to publique view, as not impertinent to the present times by B.A. gent (1643).

I opt for the later version of the text, as Bayly’s prose is rather easier to follow than Agar’s, but will add back in some of the extra details which Agar had included, which Bayly edited out when lifting the text.

So, to our story:

King James produced the apothegm that: “That there were many ways to find out truth besides evidence of real witness”.

“whereupon Master Hugh May replied and mentioned Master Haddocks good report and opinion conceived of him in Oxford, and yet was found at last a great offender”. I take it that Mr May tried to steer the remark towards a recent triumph for the King’s capacity to find out truths. The flattery doesn’t quite take: “whereupon his Majesty replied, the case in him was not after his meaning, and thereupon insisted further to exemplify his offence, confessing [the sense is ‘confess’ verb 1 ‘to declare’] the same to be high & capital in respect of God and man, meaning Mr. Haddock, who preached in his sleep…”

This is worth pausing over: it rather looks as though Mr Haddock was found such a great offender that he was in the end executed for his pains. The King continues in what must have been a familiar vein of self-congratulation:

“that his Majesty [1] did God and the Country good service, in discovering that man. 2. That his practice was diabolical & a new way to sin, that his Majesty never heard of before. 3. That he did therein practice against God himself, in that he did endeavour to make his own inventions as the oracle of God, and by that means to bind men’s consciences thereto to believe.”

So far, this is just James reiterating his opinion; that he came to the conclusion that the practice was ‘diabolical’ does not bode well for Mr Haddock. But the third royal point is astute: by feigning to be delivering a sermon while asleep, Mr Haddock would indeed lead credulous hearers to believe that he was ‘channeling’ the word of God.

But forwards to the way the King proved Mr Haddock to be a fraud:

“4. That his Majesty discovered him by his own papers and notes which were brought unto the King, the which Mr. Haddock confessed to be his own handwriting, and the notes of his Sermon which men say he preached in his sleep, but for answer thereunto, said he only noted his Sermons first in writing, and so in the night dreamed thereof, and of the same thing that he had penned before, but by his answer his Majesty convinced him upon his own experience [This is OED sense ‘convince’ , verb, II 4, ‘To prove (a person) to be guilty, or in the wrong, esp. by judicial procedure’] concerning dreams and visions in the night, that things studied or mentioned in the day time may be dreamed of in the night, but always irregularly, without order, but not as his Sermons were, both good and learned…”

The King simply produced the undeniable authority of his own royal experience: dreams are jumbles, while Mr Haddock’s discourse was simply too orderly. It then emerges that the remarkable (and suspect) Mr Haddock had been hauled in and had the folly to perform his act in front of the king himself:

“as in particular in that very Sermon which he preached before his Majesty in his sleep, concerning David’s waters, Psalm 69. where in he treated. 1. physically, then theologically, which is not usual in dreams so to do.”

It has to be admired here that Mr Haddock appositely chose as his text Psalm 69: 1Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul. 2 I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me.

How fishy can you get?

It seems that Mr Haddock was hung up shortly after this, and James justifies this as heading off legal chaos:

“5. That Mr. Haddocks sin being granted for liberty, and good, then would all sins be protected and allowed, as blasphemy against God, Treason against the King, slander against any man; and at last all defended under colour of being asleep.”

This is of course ludicrous: a heavy-handed punishment of a silly man pretending to give a sermon in his sleep is hardly justified by the thought that crimes that can hardly be committed while asleep might have found legal precedent for mercy by the perpetrators claiming they were asleep at the time. But the quality of King James’ legal thinking is aptly caught in another of these precious royal aphorisms: “That it were better twenty innocents did suffer, then to have all dishonest men go free”. Or, best to hang people, just to be on the safe side.

Rather surprisingly for 1669, Bayly omitted another royal observation preserved in the 1643 version of the anecdote, which reveals at Mr Bayly’s politics and religious stance: “Sixthly, that in all his Sermons, he had always some sayings in defense, or in excuse of the Puritans. After the discourse ended concerning Master Haddock, as aforesaid; his Maiesty proceeded to mention his great trouble with that sect in Scotland”.

But Bayly, from somewhere, produces two further pieces of royal acumen, which are all too typical of James: for they show that the King did have some human understanding of the person he is about to have executed:

“and further his Majesty declared his opinion, that the reason that moved the aforesaid Mr. Haddock to put in practice his preaching in his sleep did proceed from two natural infirmities, to which he was subject, the one was stammering in speech, so finding himself more ready to speak being quiet in his bed, and his eyes shut from any object to trouble his mind, he could utter himself more perfectly. The second reason was his practice to talk in his sleep…”

These are reasonable deductions about how Haddock ended up performing his dangerous act – but neither stops the King from leaping to a third opinion: “these two as the King conceived, put him on to that foul practice and illusion of Satan’s”. Satan enters the picture, and Mr Haddock is doomed.

So, here is King James once again investigating a fraud, as he did in the case of demoniacs up and down his kingdom. Usually, he discovers the demoniac to be fraudulent, and the case ends there, but Mr Haddock is simultaneously discovered to be a fraud (via the discovery of his notes for his somniloquous sermon) and a tool of Satanic illusion. The King convicted Mr Haddock on the grounds that his sermon was too orderly, “both good and learned”, but also inferred that this good sermon was coming direct from Satan.

I have not been able to find more than one other reference to Mr Haddock, in Thomas Pierce’s Heautontimoroumenos, or, The self-revenger exemplified in Mr. William Barlee. (1658): “In how many more places he did asperse me as a Socinian, I must needs be forgetful, as well as he. He hints my erring about the very Trinity, but holds forth nothing; only dreams of a Manuscript, and talks as impertinently out of it, nay a great deal more, then Mr. Haddock did in his sleep.

My image is Durer’s ‘The Dream of the Doctor’.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How to Vanish a Glass of Beer: Hocus Pocus, 1634

My colleague and friend Professor Adam Roberts, who writes novels and updates his blogs by prestidigitation


draws my attention to


an account of “the object of great desire by collectors of conjuring books - it is the first devoted exclusively to magic as a performing art”, Hocus Pocus Junior The anatomy of legerdemain. Or, The art of iugling set forth in his proper colours, fully, plainly, and exactly; so that an ignorant person may thereby learn the full perfection of the same, after a little practise.

I was delighted to hear of this book, new to me, as 1634 is such an appropriate year for such a work to have appeared: the year of Heywood and Brome’s The Late Lancashire Witches, a play which certainly put some conjuring tricks with carefully prepared props onto the London stage, and the year of Milton’s Comus (“Thus I hurl / My dazling Spells into the spungy ayr, / Of power to cheat the eye with blear illusion, / And give it false presentments.”)

Hocus Pocus Junior is, by and large, hocus pocus itself: if you bought a copy, you had bought chapters 22 to 34 of Scot’s Discovery of Witchcraft. Here are the tricks with cup and balls, coins (“the best piece for conveyance is a Tester, but with practice all will be alike”, this practice-minded redactor tells us, as Scot did before him), pieces of lace, along with instructions on how to construct trick boxes and other props.

Just how word-for-word the two texts can be is shown in two passages describing the same trick of palming a coin

Hocus Pocus Junior:

How to convey money out of one of your hands into the other by Legerdemaine.

FIrst, you must hold open your right hand, and lay therein a Tester, or some big peece of money, then lay thereupon the top of your long left finger, and use some words of Art, and upon the sudden, slip your right hand from your finger, wherewith you held downe the Tester, and bending your hand a very little, you shall retaine the Tester still therein, and suddenly drawing your right hand thorow your left, you shall seem to have left the Tester there, especially when you shut in due time your left hand. Which that it may more plainly appeare to be truly done, you may take a knife, and seeme to knocke against it, so as it shall make a great sound: but instead of knocking the peece in the left hand (where none is) you shall hold the point of the knife fast with the left hand, and knock against the Tester held in the other hand, and it will be thought to hit against the money in your left hand. Then after some words of Art pronounced, open your hand, and when nothing is seen, it will bee wondered at, how the Tester came removed.

Text in Scot:

To Convey Money out of one of your hands into the other by Legierdemain.

FIrst you must hold open your right hand, and lay therein a Testor, or some big piece of Money: then lay thereupon the top of your long left finger, and use words, and upon the sudden slip your right hand from your finger wherewith you held down the Testor, and bending your hand a very little, you shall retain the Testor still therein, and suddenly (I say) drawing your right hand through your left, you shall seem to have left the Testor there, specially when you shut in due time your left hand. Which that it may more plainly appear to be truly done, you may take a Knife, and seem to knock against it, so as it shall make a great sound, but instead of knocking the piece in the left hand (where none is) you shall hold the point of the Knife fast with the left hand, and knock against the Testor held in the other hand, and it will be thought to hit against the Money in the left hand. Then use words, and open your hand, and when nothing is seen, it will be wondred at how the Testor was removed."

The only difference is that Hocus Pocus Junior is instructing a would-be performer, so he is a little more emphatic about the ‘words of art’. At the start of his tract, the later writer outlines the basic requirements for successful performance: presence, speed, and well-timed misdirection:

“The Definition, or description of the Operator,

First, he must be one of an impudent and audatious spirit, so that hee may set a good face upon the matter.

Secondly, he must have a nimble and cleanly conveyance. Thirdly, hee must have strange termes, and emphaticall words, to grace and adorne his actions, and the more to astonish the beholders.

Fourthly, and lastly, such gestures of body as may leade away the spectators eies from a strict and diligent beholding his manner of conveyance.”

As Hocus Pocus Junior instructs a performer, we get to hear the rather rakish performance patter of the 17th century stage conjurer: when a ball is found – surprise – to be under a cup: “do you see Gentlemen, they are snug’d like a young man and a Maid in bed together”, or an anecdote in which a simple trick of making coins seem to pass through a table top made acceptable by being framed as a retelling of a Faustus-like gulling of ordinary folk, in this case for a night’s free lodging and sex:

“Now sirs it was my fortune as I was travelling, to be benighted, and so forced to seeke for lodging, and as it happened, I tooke into an house of entertainment, where calling for my Ostesse, I drew my stocke, and said, what must I give you mine Ostesse for my meat, drinke, and lodging this night? My friend, quoth she, you must give me three French Crownes; with that I uncovered my boxe, and set it upon the Table (it must be done with the mouth of the boxe downward) tooke my boxe from off the Counters, and delivered her three from the top, saying, there they are; and casting my eye aside, I spyed a pretty lasse comming down the staires; Sweet-heart, said I to her, what shall I give thee to lye with thee this night?”

Hocus Pocus Junior also has various Latin magic words of command. These come to him from the original ‘Hocus Pocus’, whose performance routine is described in Thomas Ady’s sceptical tract (against too ready belief in witchcraft), A candle in the dark (1655):

“The first is profitably seen in our common Juglers, that go up and down to play their Tricks in Fayrs and Markets, I will speak of one man more excelling in that craft than others, that went about in King James his time, and long since, who called himself, The Kings Majesties most excellent Hocus Pocus, and so was he called, because that at the playing of every Trick, he used to say, Hocus pocus, tontus talontus, vade celeriter jubeo, a dark composure of words, to blinde the eyes of the beholders, to make his Trick pass the more currantly without discovery, because when the eye and the ear of the beholder are both earnestly busied, the Trick is not so easily discovered.”

When Hocus Pocus Junior ends his account of how to perform these deceptions, he partly seeks to gain the credit of a ‘coney-catching’ pamphlet: his reader will have a notion of how all tricks are performed. But there is also a belated acknowledgement of the other means by which tricks might be performed, tricks that no-one can penetrate, because the confederate of the performer is the devil himself:

“If thou rightly understand this, there is not a trick that any jugler in the world can shew thee, but thou shalt bee able to conceive after what manner it is performed, if he doe it by a slight of hand, and not by an unlawfull and detested meanes. That there are such it is not to be doubted of, that doe work by unlawfull means, and have besides their own naturall endowments the assistance of some familiar.”

I leave with Thomas Ady’s brilliant account of just how far 17th century performers were willing to go in playing with fire, a juggler equipped with a spring-loaded artificial ‘familiar spirit’, who keeps popping up into view, part the naughty puppet in the vein of Rod Hull’s ‘Emu’, part credible diabolic imp:

“First, A Jugler knowing the common tradition, and foolish opinion that a familiar Spirit in some bodily shape must be had for the doing of strange things, beyond the Vulgar capacity, he therefore carrieth about him the skin of a Mouse stopped with feathers, or some like Artificial thing, and in the hinder part thereof sticketh a small springing Wire of about a foot long, or longer, and when he begins to act his part in a Fayr, or a Market before Vulgar people, he bringeth forth his Impe, and maketh it spring from him once or twice upon the Table, and then catcheth it up, saying, would you be gone? I will make you stay and play some Tricks for me before you go, and then he nimbly sticketh one end of the Wire upon his waste, and maketh his Impe spring up three or four times to his shoulder, and nimbly catcheth it, and pulleth it down again every time, saying, Would you be gone? in troth if you be gone I can play no Tricks, or Feats of Activity to day, and then holdeth it fast in one hand, and beateth it with the other, and slily maketh a squeeking noyse with his lips, as if his Impe cried, and then putteth his Impe in his breeches, or in his pocket, saying, I will make you stay, would you be gone? Then begin the silly people to wonder, and whisper, then he sheweth many slights of activity as if he did them by the help of his Familiar, which the silliest sort of beholders do verily beleeve; amongst which he espyeth one or other young Boy or Wench, and layeth a tester or shilling in his hand wetted, and biddeth him hold it fast, but whilst the said Boy, or silly Wench thinketh to enclose the peece of silver fast in the hand, he nimbly taketh it away with his finger, and hasteneth the holder of it to close his hand, saying, Hold fast or it will be gone, and then mumbleth certain words, and crieth by the vertue of Hocus, Pocus, hay passe prestor, be gone; now open your hand, and the silly Boy or Wench, and the beholders stand amazed to see that there is nothing left in the hand.”

As for the glass of beer? It's easy enough, but you will get wet: "Though you spill a part of the Beere, it is no matter, neither is it any disgrace unto it; besides you may put it off very well."

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The martyr in the fool's coat: Edmund Geninges, 1592

I approach once again my annual lecture on the religious poetry of John Donne. I will talk, again, about the third satire, and its difficult admonitions to seek true religion, while doubting wisely, dismissal of the available choices, and (to crown all this), earnest insistence that you must hold the truth you find at any cost, even if it means your death.

However eager to encourage others to martyrdom, Donne chose to opt out of it himself, while trying to establish that in his special cases like his own, ‘not to be martyrs is a martyrdom’.

A Catholic martyr local in time and place to the young Donne is Edmund Geninges, whose avid and successful pursuit of martyrdom is told in his brother’s biography, The life and death of Mr. Edmund Geninges priest, crowned with martyrdome at London, the 10. day of Nouember, in the yeare M.D.XCI.

Whoever drew up the title page had read carelessly: Geninges died on Friday 10th December 1592. The print house over in St Omers also over-inked the woodcuts provided for the volume, at least in the EEBO copy – you can see squeezes of ink forced off the side of the prints. But the resultant crepuscular images are very appropriate for a story of darkness on the earth, and for a young man imprisoned in his last days by Topcliffe in the notorious ‘Little Ease’ cell in Newgate, in complete darkness with no room either to stand or lie down. (My composite image above is of his arrest and trial, and then his execution.)

Jennings was born in 1566 in Staffordshire. His biographer leaves such details unspecified, for obvious reasons, though the family were protestants. His brother-biographer tells instead of Edmund being born with a tooth, to the discomfort of his wet nurse, and the prophecy made about this by a venerable Catholic doctor of divinity who happens to be in the house, to the effect that the tooth meant that the boy would travel, and return to bring comfort to all. There’s even a tenebrous woodcut of the miraculous infant Edmund biting the wet nurse’s nipple.

Jennings’ mother was a widow, and when he was 16, she allowed him to enter the service of a gentleman who was looking for a ‘handsome youth’ to act as his page. This man (Richard Sherwood) was a Catholic, travelling in England to perform secular, quasi-legal services for Catholics, before escaping danger abroad. Without a father of his own, Jennings was immensely susceptible to his master’s influence, and when Sherwood entered a religious order, Jennings begged him to sponsor him in training for the priesthood.

Jennings had his way, as he did throughout his lonely and self-destructive course. He studied so intensely at Rheims, especially in his ‘spiritual exercises’, that he became ill. An attempt to send him back to England without a priesthood, for the sake of his health, foundered when Jennings prayed his way back to better vigour while waiting for passage.

Poor Jennings was so devout, and so ill, that he was allowed special papal dispensation to become a priest at just 23. Without his priesthood, he might miss out on his martyrdom, and he was clearly ill enough that they didn’t want to disappoint by condemning him to a merely natural death. At the thought of his status and what it meant, Jennings succumbed to a shaking that lasted till his death, and duly set off to England, ‘like a sheep to the slaughter’, as his brother-biographer rather unguardedly writes.

After being attacked by local pirates off Scarborough, Jennings landed, like Count Dracula would, under a cliff near Whitby. He has a companion priest with him, they part to make converts, with Jennings taking the long road to London, and to death.

He has learned that all his family are dead except a brother, who is in London. Jennings knew him only as a blonde haired child, eight or nine years before. After a long search in London has almost been despaired of, Jennings sees a dark haired youth in a brown cloak, thinks nothing of it, goes to pray, is suddenly convinced it was his brother, and miraculously runs into the same youth later on that same day, and it is his brother. John Jennings, talking to a man who has introduced himself as ‘Ironmonger’, and who opportunely discovers that the two of them are relatives, repudiates his brother as a ‘notable papist’. ‘Ironmonger’ confesses that he really is that Catholic convert brother, but sees that he cannot do anything with John, who (retrospectively narrating this after his own eventual conversion) says that Edmund went his way to convert souls, while his brother went off to ‘meditate how to corrupt his own’.

Did Protestant John Jennings betray his brother? He does not say so. But Edmund was swiftly caught, serving mass at the house of Swithin Wells in Holborne. Probably the house was already watched: the awful Richard Topcliffe arrived, and caught two priests, and a congregation of ten. Topcliffe was pushed down the stairs, breaking his head. Violently intemperate though he was, he seems to have allowed the mass to finish rather than start another struggle. His ghastly triumph comes when “They carried them all to Newgate, and were not ashamed to leade M. Geninges through the streetes in his Priestly vestements, for greater shew of this theyr insulting triumph, and the more to make him a laughing stocke to all the beholders, who are commonly ready (as they well knew) exceedingly to scoffe at such an vnwonted spectacle”.

Swithin Wells was not actually in his house at the time of the arrests, but courageously tried to get his wife released, talking himself into trouble as he did so. This has to be authentic dialogue: the ‘Justice began to storme when he found him so resolute, and therefore told him in playne termes, he came time inough to tast of the sauce, although he were ignorant how the meate savoured’.

Imprisoned, Jennings was seen as young enough to be broken. They use ridicule:

“especially M. Geninges was scorned and reviled, because he was a very young man, and had angred them with disputes. Nay the more to make him a scoffe to the people, they vested him agayne, not with his priestly garments, but (almost as King Herod and Pilates souldiours did our Sauiour) with a ridiculous fooles coate, which they found in M. Welles his house, and when they had so altered him, they laughing told him, he was more fit in that attire to be presented to the Queene for a jester, then to a Nune for a Confessor.”

Jennings is offered mercy in return for renunciation, but he says that he cannot accept the Queen as spiritual head of the church. He is kept in ‘little Ease’ until his execution. The others die at Tyburn, Jennings and Wells suffer in Gray’s Inn Fields opposite Wells’ house. The death is brutal, and best told in the author’s own words. Jennings confesses his priesthood, and says he would follow the same course at the hazard of a thousand lives:

“Which wordes M. Topliffe hearing, being much troubled therwith, scarce giving him leave to say a Pater noster, bad the Hangman turne the ladder, which in an instant being done, presently he caused him to be cut downe, the Blessed martyr in the sight of all the beholders, being yet able to stand on his feete, & casting his eyes towardes heaven, his senses were very little astonished, in so much that the Hangman was forced to trippe up his heeles from under him to make him fall on the blocke. And being dismembred, through very payne, in the hearing of many, with a lowde voyce he uttered these wordes, Oh it smartes; which M. Welles hearing, replyed thus: Alas sweete soule thy payne is great indeed, but almost past, pray for me now most holy Saynt, that mine may come. He being ripped up, & his bowelles cast into the fire, if credit may be given to hundreds of People standing by, and to the Hangman himselfe, the blessed Martyr uttered (his hart being in the executioners hand) these wordes, Sancte Gregori ora pro me, which the Hangman hearing, with open mouth swore this damnable oath; Gods woundes, See his hart is in my hand, and yet Gregory in his mouth; รด egregious Papist! Thus the afflicted Martyr even to the last of his torments cryed for the ayde & succour of Saynts, and especially of S. Gregory his deuoted patron, and our countries Apostle that by his intercession he might passe the sharpnes of that torment.

And thus with barbarons cruelty our thrice happy Martyr finished the course of his mortall life, and purchased no doubt a crowne of immortality in the glorious Court of heaven.”

After this ghastly scene, the quarters of the body are loaded onto the hurdle to be taken back to Newgate for boiling (before being placed on London Bridge, or wherever the authorities thought to put these mementos of their justice). The crowd follows, and Jennings’ first miracle occurs: “Amongst the rest there was a Virgin who had wholy dedicated her selfe to the service of God”. She is seeking a relic, and the text marginally annotates what happens with ‘A Miracle’:

“And comming to the prison, the people flocked togeather to behold the fresh bleeding quarters, according to theyr wonted custome, when any such thing is to be seene, before they were carryed vp to boyling, desiring the executioner to shew them peece by peece, that so their curiosity might give censure (as they said) whether he was fat or leane, blacke or fayre. To satisfie theyr request, by chance Bull the Hangman tooke up one of his forequarters by the arme, which when he had shewed to the People, he contemptuosly flung it downe into the baskett agayne wherin it lay, and tooke up the head that they might see his face. And (as God would have it) both arme and hand of the foresayd quarter hung out over the sides of the basket, which the said virgin espying, drew neare to touch it, and approaching warily with feare lest any should take notice of her so doing, having a determination and vehement desire to touch his holy & annoynted thumbe which then appeared next her, if it were possible; and because it was a part of his hand which so often had elevated the immaculate body of our B. Saviour Jesus Christ, she purposed not to leave it unhandled for her last farewell.

This her determination and purpose she presently performed, and taking the thumbe in her hand, by the instinct of Almighty God, she gave it a little pull, only to shew her loue and desire of having it. The sequele was miraculous: for behold she not imagining any such matter would have followed, by the divine power, the thumbe was instantly loosed from his hand, and being separated she carryed it away safely both flesh, skinne, and bone without sight of any, to her great joy and admiration. O strange and miraculous separation! O benefit past all requitall! The thumbe of a man newly dead and quartered, to depart from the hand, as it were, sponte sua, of it owne accord, to pleasure a friend, that loved him so entirely, and that in the middest of so many hundreds of people, of a different Religion, yet not espyed by any. But the strangnes therof I leave to your pious consideration, confessing my selfe altogeather unworthy, and not any wayes able to explicate the worthines of the same.”

John Jennings had ‘rejoiced’ at the death of his brother, though (counter to the ODNB account, which says he was present) he by his own account “neglected, yea rather scorned to go to see his brother, eyther imprisoned, arraigned, or martyred; such was the froward blindnes of his heresie”. But he continued in his bad courses of life for just ten days, until a night came when he fell into reflections which contrasted his late brother’s life with his own, and converted.

John Jennings went abroad, and became a Franciscan friar. He wrote his brother’s biography and published it in 1614. Edmund Jennings was canonized in 1970.

As for the unspeakable Topcliffe, here’s another of his executions of 1592, that of the priest Thomas Pormort (from the ODNB):

“During the proceedings Pormort informed the court not only of Topcliffe’s proposed deal, but also about the bizarre sexual fantasies with which his tormentor had regaled him: fantasies which focused on the person of Queen Elizabeth, whose legs, breasts, and belly Topcliffe claimed to have frequently fondled. Pormort was condemned to death. On the day of his execution in St Paul's Churchyard, 20 February 1592, he was ‘enforced to stand in his shirt almost two hours upon the ladder in Lent time upon a very cold day’ while Topcliffe ranted at him in a vain attempt to make him retract the accusations he had made in court.”

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A misprint in a lost book

Thomas Webbe, Parson and Ranter, is fairly well known, with his own brief ODNB entry and having featured in Christopher Hill’s World Upside Down. I have been looking at the book by one of his antagonists, Edward Stokes’ The Wiltshire Rant (sic), 1653.

Webbe’s uneven career went through several phases of wild unconformity in thought and action, interspersed with spells when, for very understandable reasons, he chose to repent and conform. He was one of those people prosecuted under the May 1650 act which had made adultery a felony punishable by death. The jury, like sensible folk, had found him not guilty despite convincing testimony against him. From time to time, Webbe had to appear to have renounced his sins; but he went back to them as soon as he safely could.

The same resilience would have been manifest (I think) in his lost work, The Masse of Malice, where he seems to have chosen attack - without any scruple as to honesty - as the best way to defend himself. Edward Stokes was the local J.P., who had heard and believed one of Webbe’s repentances, but became his target in The Masse of Malice. Muddying the waters as much as possible, Webbe invented for Stokes a scatological blasphemy. This is Stokes’ report of what Webbe alleged in print, which was that:

“Finding a bottle he [Stokes] filled it with his Urine and set it by his Filth. He used the gesture of kneeling. And expressed himself in this abominable and blasphemous language to me, [Webbe] That I should kneel down and partake the Communion. Saith he, pointing to his dung, Here is the body of Christ. Pointing to his urine, saith he, Here is the bloud of Christ.”

Stokes could hardly let this go unchallenged. His account of Webbe’s talk and behaviour is fascinating for what it tells us about the ‘ranters’, and as a self-defence it is quite convincing. As Stokes points out, in his role as parson, Webbe (if he were as he claims to be, an innocent man reviled in a ‘mass of malice’) should not have let such blasphemy go unreported:

“The Libidinous Parson saith himself, That he made no words of the businesse till now, concealing it till now from all people, wherefore if M. Stokes were guilty, must not the Parson be as far forth guilty as himself; Is a man of his Coat and Calling to conceal a blasphemy of that nature, without check to the blasphemer or complaint to the Magistrate for two years together?”

But one thing particularly cheers Stokes – the intervention of the hand of God in the printing house, which subverted Webbe’s lies:

“Yet M. Stokes is beholding to the Christian moel-Parson, not for creating a most cursed and detestable blasphemy and fastening it upon him, but for weakning his own evidence, giving himself the lye, and clearing the accused, for so he doth in the 20th line of the aforesaid 55. pag. in these words, Blasphemy that I never heard in my life. If he had said That he had never heard the like in his life, or never heard before, it might have been otherwise understood: But to conclude, after he hath filled up with most accursed circumstance a self-invented blasphemy, he clearly acquits the accused, and saith, blasphemy that I never heard in my life. Lord how good thou art? this is thy hand and thy doing! Thou hast made the Author of the Masse of malice to acquit the innocent, in the middest of his fierce and foul Charge, To thy name be all the glory.”

I think that ‘moel-Parson’ is an antedating of the OED’s ‘moil’ n. 1: so it means a tainted, besmeared parson. It’s a regional usage.

Webbe did cause a stir in Wiltshire. He’s mentioned in this webpage for Langley Burrell:


After remarrying locally when he took up the living (Webbe, whose qualifications were his own invention, got the preferment by promising to take no tithes), Webbe rewarded his patron, Henry White, by starting an adulterous affair with the patron’s wife, Mistress Mary White, ‘the little gentlewoman’, as Stokes calls her. When they were charged with ‘the felonious committing of the horrible and crying sin of adultery’ together, Mistress White got her husband to stand surety for her lover, rather than him go to jail. Webbe had been persuasive enough for the evidently not-that-injured husband allow Webbe to move into the disrupted marital home. Meanwhile, Webbe had arranged the seduction of his own wife, also Mary, artfully caught by him at the compromising moment, to allay her jealous protests at his own affair.

More sensationally still, Webbe took John Organ as his ‘man-wife’:

“Wherefore note that Webbs most principall favourite, and greatest choicest associate in the whole Country; for one of his own Sex, was one J O. a comely young man, and a man of a seeming sober behaviour, even as Webbe himself, of whom a stranger cannot but say, or at least think, that butter would not melt in his mouth (as we use to say) yet here you will perceive, as the Proverb is, The still Sow eats all the draught. This man with his Cob-webb seeming sobriety, and unclean inside, is taken by Tho. Webbe, as men use to take their wives, For better for worse: So I say, this man is honoured with the title of Webbs wife, for so he cals him, My wife O; and O owns Webb for a husband; and now where ever they come, 'tis my wife O, and my husband Webb. True it is, Webb is become a great lover of Musick, which to prophane hearts is an in-let to lust: but whether ever he plaied any hellish tune with his Organ or Church musick yea or no, is not yet discovered…”

Stokes, who tells all this, attempts from time to time a wavering irony and uneasy humour: the jokes on the names ‘Webbe’ and ‘Organ’ are typical. He is restrained here: he seems capable of thinking that ‘ranters’ might just pretend love for their (male) ‘fellow creature’ as part of their general effrontery.

Webbe’s lasting sexual affair was with Mary White. It all began jovially enough, with arguments from nature:

“this Deponent did then and oftentimes since bear the said M. Webb say, That he did live above Ordinances, and that it was lawfull for him to lye with any woman. And at one time above the rest, the said M. Webb, Mistress White, this Deponent, and divers others sitting in the Gate-house of the dwelling-house of the said Mistress White (there being tame Pidgeons in the Court) the said M. Webb observing a great Cock Pidgeon to tread divers of the Hen Pidgeons there, said unto those that were there present, that it was lawfull for every man and woman, and that they ought to take that liberty and freedom one with the other, as those Pidgeons did, although they were not married the one to the other.”

But the affair led to serious quarrels, with Mary White sometimes willing to proceed and testify against Webbe (perhaps after he gave her the French pox), at other times wearing him when they were finally imprisoned together, when Webbe, the man beaten at his own game:

“was exceedingly wearied and tired out with Mistress Whites company in Goal, that she by her flatteries and frowns still indeavoured to keep him in his evil and unclean courses with her, whose provocations and temptations gave him no rest; and therefore he humbly desires to be removed into any other prison out of her company, where he might be at rest.”

Webbe finally “earnestly desired M. Stokes his assistance to work a separation between him and Mistress White, in putting of them to severall Goales.”

My image of Ranters enjoying the company of the 'fellow creature' is from The Ranters Declaration, 1650.