Saturday, February 02, 2008

'It must be called EBENEZAR': Cheapside Cross, and a Puritan replacement.

A lecture to give on A Chaste Maid in Cheapside has led me on to have a closer look at the various pamphlets about the Eleanor Cross in Cheapside, and its demolition in 1643. I had expected all the pamphlets like The Downe-fall of Dagon, or, the taking downe of Cheap-side crosse this second of May, 1643 to be straightforward iconoclastic rants. 1643 was a difficult year for Parliament, the year when Charles might have won the Civil war: I thought the demolition would have had an aspect of Puritan London evincing panicky defiance. In fact, I found in the pamphlets far more awareness of and responsiveness to a wider non-religious culture than I had expected.

The Downe-fall of Dagon starts unexpectedly, with a variant of that minor genre of speaking statues, as the Cheapside cross itself is given a monologue about its approaching fall. The author speaks briefly about the variety of religious sects in London, and indicates that the cross will speak its own complaint: then, without any typographical niceties, the cross takes over. It speaks of its own antiquity, costliness, frequent re-gildings, but laments that it has become ‘the hatefull Idoll of the City … I am now accounted for a Papist … the Brownists spit at me and throw stones at me as they come along the street, the Familists hide their eyes with their fingers, the Annabaptists wish me to be knockt in pieces, the sisters of the Fraternity wil not come near me, but go about by Watling street, and come in againe by Soaper-lane to buy their provisions of the Market-folkes… It is the Crosse that stands upon my head which is a moate in their eyes’.

Maybe there is some exaggeration here, but I like the image of fiercer sectarians refusing even to walk past the cross, but rather taking diversions through side streets. The pamphlet now turns into a mock-testament (‘I give my Body and Stones to those Masons and Workemen that cannot tell how to frame the like againe, to keep by them for a patterne’, etc). A verse epitaph follows, again mingling satire and sympathy. The author then resumes with his account of the general reasons for the demolition: such a cross is better suited an ‘Idolatrous place’ like Rome than this ‘civill Citie’, its images misled badly instructed Protestants to believe in the intercession of saints – and after these come (I take it) the real reasons, that explain why 1643 was to be the year of demolition:

This Crosse hath been a great meanes to cause superstition and idolatry from time to time in worshipping and adoring it, as many people have done as they passe by it; for divers people both men and women hath been seen by severall honest, ancient and good Inhabitants dwelling neare the place, that sundry sorts of people have by three a clock in the morning come barefoot to the Crosse, and kneeled downe, and said something to themselves, crossed their fore-head and their breast, and so risen and making obeisance, went away, which punishment was enjoyned upon them, as a penance for some sins they had committed.’

This oddly coy account of Catholics doing penance nocturnally at the cross strikes me as potentially an early modern urban myth. The next part seems far more likely to me, in a city where Charles’s sympathizers might have thought the war was soon going to end with the King’s triumphant return:

‘Likewise hundreds of people have been publickly seen and in the midst of the day, bend their bodies to it, and put off their hats, and cross themselves: Not only as they have gone on foot by it, but divers that have rid on horse-back and in Coaches have put out their heads and pull’d off their hats, and done reverence to it; this hath bin done for these many yeares together’.

The Cheapside cross had been politicized: it had become a place to show a moment of defiance for those who held to the church of Archbishop Laud, gentry sympathizers expecting the King back from Oxford. Ministers complained both in sermons, and in print (says our author); others complained to the Houses of Parliament, and so a warrant for the demolition was rapidly issued, with the trained bands deployed ‘because divers people had given out they would rather lose their lives then it should down…’

This pamphlet, with its speech for the cross itself, resembles the verse monologue (again, voiced for the Eleanor Cross) deploring the proposed demolition A vindication of Cheapside Crosse against the Roundheads, an elite broadside printed in Oxford in1643. The poem descends into a series of jibes:

Have I transgrest the Law? Or did I ever

Our gracious Sovereigne from his people sever? …

… Do’s Religion such a hatred bring,

To hate the very picture of a King?

The remarkable funeral of Cheapside-Crosse in London, dated1642 (this must be ‘old style’), seems to explain that the ‘mortal wound’ to the cross came on January 24th. I surmise that this may have been the date of parliament’s warrant. The pamphlet imagines a funeral procession for the cross, envisaging Valentine’s Day as suitable for a rather fond farewell. First, those invited who will not attend are listed: Bishops, Jesuits, Papists, Arminians – Cavaliers will not be there as their aim is ‘to make more Crosses in the kingdom’, or so the writer puns. But then the he goes on to imagine the send-off procession. It faintly recollects Nashe’s Will Summers his last will and testament, a city pageant, or maybe even a masque. Members of 12 livery companies enter first, with their apprentices, singing a song, then another set of representatives of another 12 companies, also singing (‘The great Idoll is down, down, downe…’), next members of the Carpenters, Plumbers, Stone-Cutters and Gilders, expressing mingled joy and sorrow (the latter emotion stemming from the fact that there is no possibility of a commission to them for a replacement). Their song rejoices in the way that the royal crown on the adjacent water conduit, ‘The Standard’ will now be more famous with its medieval rival removed. Again, there’s that undercurrent of divided loyalty, London as a royal city despite everything. Countrymen follow in the imagined procession, crying out against ‘Popery’ and rejoicing with some complacency that with God served only ‘in Spirit, and in Truth’, prosperity will surely come to the land. Forgetting his earlier list of those unable to attend, the author next imagines a Cardinal, Jesuits and Friars in the mourners, lamenting how ‘Hereticks and filthy drosse / In England do our state so tosse’; then members of eight different Protestant sects bearing away the cross itself for burial.

The author of what appears to be an earlier pamphlet, The Crosses case in Cheapside (1642) presented his work as a measured contribution, and professes himself more angry about idols in the heart. Of the Cheapside cross itself, he alleges that ‘a man could not passe that way, but he must declare himselfe, whether for the Crosse or against it’, and deplores the ‘bloody noses, and scratched faces’ such challenges resulted in. (The royalist poem mentioned earlier seems to indicate that London’s butchers were among the cross’s violent supporters.) He testifies having heard a noise like a bear-baiting crowd coming from around the cross, and having gone to witness there two mobs squaring up to one another. After this preamble, he embarks on his justification of the demolition, and explains that the first attack on the ‘Pile of Images in Cheapside’ came from a man who stood on the railings (the royalist broadsheet indicates that the cross was protected by iron pikes, so the iconoclast was risking getting impaled if he had slipped) and ‘wrencht off a Leg and part of the Thigh from that Image, they presumptuously called Christ’. (How quintessential that comment is, capturing the moment when the revered has become the despised!) The pamphlet goes on with a painstaking justification of the demolition, against all objections that it was an ornament to the city, and the rest. Actually quite bothered by that problem of civic ornament, the author gets carried away into a confident prediction that the city will instead erect a pillar (‘it must be called EBENEZAR’) dedicated to the ‘KNOWNE GOD’ for His justices and mercies (largely, the military non-event of the Bishop’s war).

Also contributed to this furious debate was the spittle-flecked ‘humour’ of The Popes proclamation: together with the lawes and ordinances established by him and his shavelings, concerning his adherents and rights which hee claimeth in England. Whereunto is added six articles exhibited against Cheapside Crosse, whereby it stands guilty of high treason, and ought to be beheaded (1641). This is a cod proclamation, from which the author veers off into the kind of attack on the Cheapside Cross I had expected all these pamphlets to contain: ‘Contrary to protestation, it is still pointed at … it is adhered to, and doth comfort the Kings enemies, the Papists … His Majesties subjects … doe prostitute themselves, and commit spirituall fornication, Idolatry, with said Idoll.’

But I suppose that the other authors were more sentimental Londoners, aware of the long history of objections, vandalism and royally commanded repairs and re-gildings Stowe’s Survey of London describes for the Cheapside Cross, and faintly hopeful that the much haggled over but familiar edifice would weather another storm.

Related post:

Images: my own rehandling of images from The A to Z of Elizabethan London, to bring out Cheapside in a single view.


Mercurius Politicus said...

Interestingly - and coincidentally given that I have just been posting about him - I think some of the Cheapside cross pamphlets may have a connection to John Taylor. I have posted a follow-up on this at my own blog:

A couple of other things:

- I think January 24 1642 (new style) was an occasion when the cross was vandalised - see the reference in A Dolefull Lamentation, for instance. So the date of The remarkable funeral of Cheapside-Crosse in London may actually be a new style reference for 1642, rather than an old style reference for 1642.

- if you haven't seen it, there is a good (and mostly complete on Google Books) article by David Cressy on the attacks on Cheapside cross:,M1

Mercurius Politicus said...

Thanks for your comment on my post - I think you're right that it must show the act of vandalism itself. There's an alternative picture, this time naming the sects the culprits belonged to, in another pamphlet which I've added to my post.