Thursday, March 05, 2009

A Puritan oboed to death, 1660

I came across Henry Jessey, THE LORDS LOUD CALL TO ENGLAND: Being a True Relation of some Late, Various, and Wonderful Judgments, or Handy-works of God, by Earthquake, Lightening, Whirlewind, great multitudes of Toads and Flyes; and also the striking of divers persons with Sudden Death, in several places; for what Causes let the man of wisdome judge, upon his serious perusal of the Book it self (1660)

This is a fairly brief, structurally scrappy work in which the author publishes whatever evidence he can muster for the Lord’s disapproval of the restoration of the monarchy and suppression of that ‘Sion’ (as he terms the lost Puritan ‘Eden’ - he uses that precise term of Puritan-ruled Oxford) which England had been during the interregnum.

Any accident which occurred either during, or during preparation for, public rejoicings at the King’s return, serves Jessey as an example. The effect can be petty and heartless:

“An Ancient poor Woman went from Wapping to London, to buy flowers about the sixth or seventh of May, 1660 to make Garlands for the day of the Kings Proclamation, (that is May 8) to gather the youths together, to dance for the Garland. And when she had bought the flowers, and was going homeward, a Cart went over part of her body and bruised her very sore. Yet she made up her Garland, and gathered youths together, that danced for it, just before the doors of such as she might vex thereby. But since she remains in a great deal of misery, by the bruise she had gotten; and cried out of the Devil, saying; ‘The Devil had owed her a shame, and now thus he had paid her.”

Among the intelligentsia, there was (as ever) a lot of ‘outing’ in Oxford: the expulsion of ‘godly Fellows’ from the colleges. This duly gets reported: “Here is also a great rout in Oxford of the godly people; 19 Heads of Houses and Canons of Christs Church are put out, and this day we think will be outing many godly Fellows.”

But we also learn that dramatic performance was instantly revived at the University: the sad consequences for the misguided performers gratify Jessey:

“Also there was a Play acted by Schollars, wherein one acted the Old Puritan, he that acted that part, came in with a narrow band, short hair, and a broad hat; a Boisterous fellow comes after him, and trips up his heels, calling him Puritan Rogue; at which words, the Old Puritan shook off the dirt of his feet against him. Two of these Actors are also cut off; and he that acted the Old Puritan broke a vein, and vomited so much blood in the place, that they thought he would have died in the room, but he now lieth desperately sick. This is all very true. Also a Woman that joined with them in their Play is also dead.” (Was that a female performer?)

Jessey gets a lot of his evidence for the Lord’s displeasure with what is happening in England from the Cotswolds. At Bourton-on-the-Water, a Puritan sermon on the text, Behold the Lord commeth with ten thousand of his Saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly amongst them, of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed was interrupted by the former parish incumbent’s wife and daughter, who entered the gathering to revile the congregation. But then, “the hand of the LORD of HOSTS went out against that Daughter as it appeared, for she gave a sudden great Screech, and fell down dead before them all.” The pious congregation made an attempt to revive her with prayer, but the efficacy of these prayers was (Jessey reports) hindered by the daughter’s mother, who was ‘much out of patience’. There was some talk of charging the puritans with having caused her death, but everyone seems to have been too shaken to make much of it.

In Fairford, a gathered church meeting was “much abused by some of that Town, in a rude manner. The Lord of the Manor there stood looking on, and did not in the least suppress the rude multitude, but appeared rather to countenance them.” This cat-calling and jeering seems to have been the work of local boys, who can always be counted on to exploit any chance to behave badly.

The Lord duly sent a quasi-biblical plague:

“In the Evening of that same 24 day, there was seen coming up from the Mill-lane great multitudes of small Toads, they that saw them said, that there might have been taken up many Cowls full of them. And as they were going they divided themselves into two bodies. First, one Body, or Division of them, went to the Lord of the Manor’s house, (which was about one Acers Length, from the place where they were first seen) They come up through his Orchard, and went under his Gate into the inward court, and some did endeavour to prevent their coming into his house, but could not, though they killed many of them. They came into his Kitchen, and Cellar: and the next morning there went an honest man to the house, about business, and did see the servants looking on them, and took notice of them, that they lay thick on the ground, and being small, judged they were many thousands of them.

The Lord of the Manor had barely had time to get over the plague of small toads, when further provocation of the Lord’s displeasure punished him with something like locusts:

“About a Fortnight after in the same Town, these Christians were again sorely abused, and the next Friday fortnight after, there appeared in the Lord of the Manors Orchard, a great swarme of Flyes, about the bigness of Caddus Flies, with long wings; they that saw them said they might have taken up baskets of them, and the same day also, an honest Christian man saw the Lord of the Mannors Garden covered with these Flies, in heaps like unto swarms of Bees.”

Amid the nation-wide bullying and abuse, Jessey has more serious disturbances to report: “The most eminent Cavaliers embittered persecutors in the County, ride about armed with sword and Pistols, pretending to be of a Troop”. Health-drinking became the shibboleth and test of loyalty to the new order: “They Drink the Kings health stoutly, and rage against any that have the face of Godliness some drank a health to the confusion of Zion …They are so rude, that they compel men violently, to drink the Kings Health.

But drunken armed men are dangerous, and ejections from parsonages could be brutal:

“And not only soldiers, but the people who had long obscured their malice to the people of God, are now confident, and act barbarously. Take two late examples. One was of Mr. Warren a minister in the County, who upon the ejection of a Malignant (as then that Denomination was given men) was put into the Parsonage of Rencome: Upon this new encouragement the said ejected Minister (one Mr. Broade) brake in with a Company of rude companions into the Parsonage house; Penned up Mr. Warren and his wife and family into an Upper room; so distressing and afflicting the poor man, night and Day, making a noise with Hoboyes, so that he Died in the place; His blood will cry.”

Poor godly Mr Warren, his own house turned into a detention centre, tortured night and day by oboe music, like some wretched inhabitant of Abu Ghraib. One can imagine that he became very agitated at Cavaliers playing salacious tunes downstairs, and could not go down to rebuke them, Malvolio-style, for their uncivil rule, and he had a heart attack.

Persecution can always (as the contemporary example showed) rebound on itself, though, as Jessey can report from Carmarthen:

“Some of our Brethren were for a month’s space imprisoned in Carmarthen, merely because they would not forgo their Meetings, and join with them again in their Traditional Worship, from whom the Lord had separated them.

They bore their Testimony so full, and their sufferings so patiently and cheerfully, that we have much cause to bless the Lord for his gracious and tender dealings towards them.

Their conversation was such; that made those that threw stones at them, and shouted when they were brought thither, part with them with tears, confessing, they suffered for well doing, and judged them happy therein.”

How curious people are! The old lady getting flowers to weave into garlands for joy, and then deciding her accident stemmed from her having done the devil’s work. The Carmarthen mob bursting into tears...

My image is of woodwind and brass players, taken off the fascinating site


Gaenor Burchett-Vass said...

I enjoyed this one - it's a corker! Well done.

DrRoy said...

I will check if it is used in that 'The Experience of Defeat' book Christopher Hill wrote about Milton. Jessey is clutching at straws - of course one or two people will get taken ill during long-pent up national rejoicings. But it all reads so true of the English, both the good and the bad behaviour.