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.”