the many-headed monster is 10: looking forward

This year we are celebrating ten years of blogging about the unruly sort of clowns and other early modern peculiarities. But we are also laying out plans for the next ten years, because it felt like it was time to make some fundamental changes in how we do things at the Monster.

We started this blog in 2012, and in all sorts of ways the world is a very different place now than it was then. Back then, the global financial crash and the UK coalition government’s policy of austerity loomed large. Today, the ongoing impact of the covid pandemic, Brexit, the Trump presidency, the climate emergency and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine set an even more apocalyptic backdrop. The MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements have brought more positive change, but in countless less obvious ways the nature and tone of public discourse often feels more radical and polarised than ever. Closer to home, the university sector in the UK has been transforming too, thanks simultaneously to the tripling of tuition fees and cutting of budgets, a central government increasingly hostile to the arts and humanities, the rise of decolonising initiatives, and a series of bitter labour disputes.

Our own situations have also changed. All four of us are now on permanent open-ended contracts, with solid publication records and ever-expanding administrative responsibilities. This is in sharp contrast to 2012, when two of us were still in temporary posts and the other two were very junior lecturers. We all now officially fit the label of ‘mid-career scholars’. All this could have spelled an ignoble end to our grand and monstrous venture. However, rather than simply puttering along and writing an occasional isolated post, squeezed in between our many other professional duties, we decided to take advantage of our current positions as established scholars of early modern history and build on the huge success of our recent Early Career Researcher Takeover event in 2021. More practically, we all now have extensive experience as peer reviewers and academic editors, so this seems like an ideal new long-term role for the Monster heads.

Welcome to the Monster Carnival! Johannes Lingbach, Carnival at Rome (1650-51)

Monster Carnivals

We are therefore delighted to announce that starting this year we will be hosting regular Monster Carnivals: online events that offer a platform for scholars of history, especially but not exclusively newer researchers, and those who study the late fifteenth to eighteenth centuries. The Carnivals will provide a forum for addressing critically important themes in current scholarship.

The Monster Carnivals will have something in common with conventional academic events and may sometimes be accompanied by online or in-person meetings. They will also share some features with issues of an academic journal, and we hope that they will be read and used by students as well as scholars. Their open-access nature means that they will also have plenty of readers beyond academia, as we have regularly discovered in our own blogging. And of course you’ll be able to follow along and join in the conversation via #MonsterCarnival on twitter.

Early Modern Matters: A Call for Contributions

Our first Monster Carnival will be launched in Autumn 2022 on the theme of Early Modern Matters. We are calling for contributions that highlight why early modern history matters to wider scholarly debates and to broader society.

This could be something very small – such as a microhistory that gives some unexpected insight into the human condition – or very something big – such as an argument about the long-term impact of early modern globalisation. It could be focused on the relevance of early modern history to issues that are central to current conversations such as racism, migration, disease or invasion. Or it could speak to the role of learning and teaching early modern history in an environment placing renewed official emphasis on STEM subjects and vocational training. Or it could be something completely different – as long as you can pitch a post that sounds interesting and might fit under the heading of Early Modern Matters, we’re happy to consider it!

Information on how to submit is below, the deadline for submissions is August 31 2022.

Marten van Cleve, Carnival in a Village with Beggars Dancing (c.1591-1600)

Early Modern Matters: advice for aspiring bloggers

Click here for our style guide and for information about how to submit [pdf].

Below is a brief explanation of some of the key principles behind our own blogging. It aims to familiarise potential contributors (or anyone else thinking of venturing into blog writing) with the reasons why we have come to write for the monster in the way that we do. As you will see, most of them relate to our sense of who reads the blog, when and why.

We’ve come to think of the monster as a ‘magazine’, rather than a research blog, so we ask for short, succinct posts no longer than 1,200 words, and potentially significantly shorter. As blog readers, we all know that once you get the gist of a post, you are unlikely to read right to the end of longer pieces unless you have a particular interest in the subject matter. So shorter is better when writing for a non-specialist audience, and fits with blog reading as a ‘supplementary’ research activity that scholars use to fill in gaps between other tasks. A neat side effect is that blog posts can serve as excellent brief introductions to topics for undergraduate students, so they work well as a teaching resource.

We’ve also found that it’s a good idea to approach a blog post in a different way to other writing, and indeed to make a virtue of the freedom the format gives you. A more conversational style, colloquialisms, and jokey asides can all find a place, or perhaps you want to write a listicle, or experiment by storifying or playing with genres. One of the reasons the monster has lasted so long is undoubtedly the enjoyment we get from speaking to a different and wider range of readers, and writing just for the pleasure of it. This also explains why we want you to keep footnotes to a minimum – posts are not intended to replicate or ape conference papers or research articles.

We know that many of our readers are not early modern specialists, nor are they all historians, so writing with this audience in mind and avoiding or explaining technical language and key concepts will expand the reach of a post.

the many-headed monster is 10: looking back

When Brodie and Mark quietly announced the birth of the many-headed monster to the world in July 2012, little did they know how big their baby would grow or just how many readers and contributors the behemoth would ensnare. But it’s been quite a ride.

four photos of the monster heads when they were young
monster heads when they were young

It’s possibly obvious to our readers, but we have never had a strict editorial line, preferring the blog to develop organically and to lead us in whatever direction seems promising. We share a consensus that we want to reach broader audiences than journal articles and academic monographs can, and that the types of history that we discuss, the format, and particularly the tone of our writing is intended to be accessible and engaging for non-specialists, but beyond that, there aren’t really any rules. Indeed, until we four co-authors met late in 2021 to discuss how to mark our ten year anniversary we’d never had an editorial meeting, rather we very satisfactorily conducted matters via email, or a scatter of shared google docs for when we were feeling fancy.

This informal approach is perhaps one of our great strengths. For one thing, it keeps editorial and administrative duties to the barest minimum. Just as importantly, it has allowed us to develop ways of publishing content online that retains the quick blog post format, but which expand and adapt it for different purposes. At its simplest, this might mean breaking a longer post into more easily digestible chunks and posting each chunk individually across a week or a fortnight, as Mark did with his posts on the application of theory to the history of food and drink.

More distinctively, our ‘Monster Mini-Series’ quickly became a feature of our output. These are both finite and current/long-running collections of posts focused around a particular theme or topic. Laura’s posts on the history of the Tudor Southwest is an example of the former, and our co-authored series ‘On Periodisation’ of the latter.  

One of these mini-series, ‘Marooned on an Island Monographs’ became an excellent means for us to bring new contributors to the monster, allowing others to showcase their expertise in guest authored blogs. The series asks an expert ‘what 5 history monographs would you take with you to a deserted island?’, so the posts are effectively starter reading lists for a variety of themes, including early modern social, economic or medical history, the English Reformation, or the histories of femininities and masculinities. Latterly, as we have all found it harder to free up time to write for the blog, we have more deliberately sought guest contributions as a way of breathing new life and bringing fresh perspectives into the monster.

Another monstrous feature we are particularly proud of are our ‘Online Symposiums’, a format that we pioneered and which has happily proven very popular. The inaugural event was ‘The Future of History From Below’ in 2013. The concept is simple – the monster publishes a series of research posts or think pieces, each by a different scholar, speaking to the symposium theme. In many cases these posts were written after an in person conference or workshop, extending conversations held there to a broader audience and providing the opportunity for further reflection and discussion. They are an easier and cheaper way to bring together scholars from across the globe (with a small carbon footprint), and they can reach out to those on the margins of professional academia, be they students daunted by hierarchies, distance learners with physical obstacles to navigate, or scholars not officially attached to universities and therefore denied access to many of their resources. We have found that online platforms can provide a permanent and stable space to develop a research community or conversation, something that a short-term contract and fleeting affiliation with a Research Centre does not. Other symposia hosted on the monster include: The Voices of the People and After Iconophobia.

Our laid-back approach has also allowed us to be experimental and creative, particularly in how we write our material. With minimal footnotes, plenty of jokey asides, listicles, and even book reviews written in diary style we have cast aside the fetters of the style guide to maraud happily through the digital landscape.

Finally, we can also respond quickly to developments and publish responses while timely topics are still relevant. Most recently we ran #SchOnline: Scholarly Communities Online writing and asking others to reflect on how best to handle the ‘pivot’ to online teaching and research during the pandemic lockdowns.

After ten years, the monster is now a well-established beast. It currently averages around 4,000 views a month, rising to 5-9K when we host symposium and events. We have published 376 posts, and have received more than half a million views. I might be wrong, but I don’t *think* our latest journal articles had quite the same reach. This is the first in a series of posts to mark and reflect on the 10 year anniversary of the many-headed monster, but as well as reflecting on how we got here, we will also be talking about where we want the blog and it’s readers to go next – we hope you will stick with us as the monster enters its teenage years.

the many-headed monster is 10: a history of a history blog

July 2012: Brodie and Mark announce the birth of the many-headed monster to the world. Why do they hate Henry VIII’s wives so much though?

September 2012: the monster hits 1,000 views after a month and a half. After blogging about this milestone, by 12 September this had doubled to 2,000!

September 2012: two new monster heads sprout as Jonathan and Laura join as new authors and the monstrous dream team is complete.

April 2013: nine months since launch, the monster was viewed for the 10,000th time. Drawn from 74 countries, these readers had viewed 53 posts and left 205 comments.

March 2014: just under a year later the monster published its 100th post. It had now been viewed more than 40,000 times and 541 comments had been left. The most popular posts were on the future of history from below; 17th-century drinking songs; John Dee’s conversations with angels; a medieval mistress; and, er, a review of David Starkey’s ‘Music and Monarchy’.

June 2015: Brodie’s post on a missing child and a suspicious meat pie was featured on ‘Hacker News’ and the post received an astonishing (for us) 4,857 views in just one day! It remains our best day ever. P.S. If anyone can explain to us what Hacker News is we are still in the dark.

June 2015: just before its third birthday the monster devoured it’s 100,000th viewer. The post celebrating this milestone revealed some of the more entertaining search terms that had directed people to the monster. Our favourite is ‘a naked monster alone showing long panni erected’.

February 2016: the 200th post was published. It’s amazing to think that in earlier years we were publishing at an average rate of one post per week…

July 2017: the monster celebrated its fifth birthday. It had published 260 posts that had been viewed over 236,000 times by 123,000 visitors, who left thousands of comments.

July 2019: the monster celebrated its seventh birthday. We were delighted when the Royal Historical Society invited us to reflect on being ‘one of the longest-running and most successful of academic historical blogs’ for their own blog.

November 2021: the monster heads hold their first editorial meeting. We are considering having another, perhaps in 2031.

July 2022: the monster turns 10! It currently averages around 4,000 views a month, rising to 5-9K when we host symposium and events. We have published 376 posts, and have received more than half a million views [!]. Fittingly, our most popular page by far remains the landing page for the ‘History from Below’ Symposium, which has received 21,800 views to date.

Paper Trails CfP: ‘Hidden Voices’

Laura Sangha

You may know that last year saw the triumphant release of the first cluster of publications for Paper Trails: The Social Life of Archives and Collections. Paper Trails is a BOOC (Book as Open Online Content) published by UCL Press: a fully open access platform that allows for multi-form contributions across time. The BOOC offers space for contributions both from practitioners who study the past, as well as those who make the study of the past possible. So if you are an educator, librarian, historian, curator, collections manager, archivist or just someone interested in critical histories as well as reflections on practice, sources and materials – read on!

Paper Trails image

I am privileged to sit on the editorial board of the BOOC and in our most recent meeting we had a noteworthy discussion about how to describe the innovative format to others. One of the things we worried at was the extent to which we wanted people to think of Paper Trails as being a bit like an online journal – so for instance, when we add our second, new cluster of publications, we could call this a new ‘volume’ or a new ‘issue’ of the BOOC, and allocate numbers to different articles accordingly. By making an association with such a well-established format we could familiarise the BOOC concept, and I suppose the comparison could in some way lend it more academic ‘legitimacy’.

In fact we quickly came to a consensus that this was definitely not how we wanted potential readers and contributors to conceive of the publication. Part of our mission is to try to break down barriers in the world of historical research rather than to replicate existing ways of working, and the BOOC’s strength is its distinctive approach and design. So we considered what else we might call our second ‘cluster’ of articles – ‘release’ was mooted, but in the end we plumped for ‘update’. The latter was truer to the idea of Paper Trails as a ‘living’ book, evolving over time, and allowing for different contributions to speak in conversation. It also echoes other online platforms such as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography which has monthly updates. Thus while our readers can see the publication year at the end of every piece of writing, we don’t plan for each update to be viewed as a discreet whole, in isolation from earlier and later contributions.

And did I mention … our initial update is imminent – keep an eye out for it in the next few weeks!

The editors also agreed that it would be useful to add a gloss for our readers of another category that we have adopted, that is the four different streams of content (Research Stories; Co-Production; Collection Profiles; Engagement – for more on each see ‘About’ or click on the stream headings here).

These discussions evoked for me the sorts of choices that fifteenth and sixteenth century publishers of printed texts would have been faced with after the printing press became widespread in Europe. The first printed texts were in fact very similar in form, content and function to their medieval manuscript predecessors, and these early texts were reproductions of existing technology rather than deliberate departures from it. But this meditation on the categories that we use to describe things is also a very longwinded way of me introducing our latest call for papers, for a Paper Trails special update (you guessed it, this ‘special’ update has a theme). For as with the discussion of issues, releases and updates, how we describe and structure knowledge, and the often uninterrogated categories that we use to do so, are two of the key concerns that we want future contributors to consider.

Regular monster readers will see that the update’s focus on recovering the traces of past marginalised groups and absent voices is one that has been a longstanding concern on this blog, and we hope that some of you will be able to contribute to the update.

The full call for papers is below – do contact our General Editor (and esteemed leader) Andrew Smith if you have any questions.

Special Update CfP: Hidden Voices

In recent years, there has been an increasing recognition of the inherent inequalities in the way collections are acquired, described, and structured amongst collection professionals. A range of work is currently being undertaken in the sector to undo this legacy and find alternative ways of approaching the curation of collections that support the diversification of historical collections and that allow for greater representation of marginalised groups.

Examples include reviewing the terminology used in cataloguing, proactive collection development, and co-curating exhibitions with members from marginalised groups.

There has been a concurring trend in scholarship to draw on historical collections to reveal and reassess historically underrepresented voices of marginalised groups.

This themed update to Paper Trails will bring together practitioner, academic and student perspectives on issues relating to the mis- and underrepresentation of marginalised groups in historical collections and provide a timely insight into the current challenges and debates in this area. 

Topics might include:

  • The discoverability of material relating to marginalised groups
  • Absent voices and silences in collections
  • Bias in cataloguing practices and its impact on research
  • Collection-based collaborations between collection professionals, academics, and members of marginalised groups
  • Profiles of collections that contain the voices and experiences of those usually excluded from historical collections

Paper Trails brings together a diverse group of people both in its pages and its readership – researchers, practitioners and students – as well as featuring different historical collections (print, object and digital) held in a wide variety of different libraries, museums and archives. Its content is designed to bridge different communities of research and practice. The BOOC format creates a ‘living book’, which is entirely open access and evolves over time, allowing for different formats of pieces to speak in conversation.

Proposals, submissions and any questions should be sent to the editor Dr Andrew WM Smith (, who can liaise with the wider Editorial Board. When submitting, please indicate which Paper Trails stream you are submitting material for, and see our guidance for authors on the Paper Trails BOOC.

Submissions should be received by 30 September 2022.

The Evil May Day riot of 1517 and the European Union elections of 2014: Writing about the history of anti-immigrant politics

[This piece is cross-posted at On History. It emerges from a new article on The Evil May Day riot of 1517 and the popular politics of anti-immigrant hostility in early modern London, published in the latest issue of Historical Research.]

Brodie Waddell

In the Spring of 2014, it felt like a wave of anti-immigrant hostility was sweeping through England. In the European Union elections of May that year, the UK Independence Party won more seats than Labour and the Conservatives combined. The British press was running ever-more stories on migrants, many of them focused on the supposed dangers of ‘mass immigration’. As it turned out, this was merely a foretaste of the torrent of xenophobia that came with the Brexit Referendum in 2016, but we didn’t know that then.

Meanwhile, I was a junior lecturer scrabbling around for a good idea for a conference paper, as Koji Yamamoto had invited me to speak at an event he had organised on ‘Stereotypes in Early Modern Britain’ in June. Moreover, I was also an immigrant. As a white, anglophone Canadian, I was hardly the main target of Nigel Farage or the Daily Mail, but nonetheless I was probably more aware of my ‘foreignness’ that Spring than I had been since my arrival in the UK almost a decade earlier. Although as a historian I had long been interested in how notions of ‘Englishness’ influenced economic life in the early modern period, I think it was only because of my own status as an immigrant at that particular moment that I decided to focus on perhaps London’s most famous explosion of anti-immigrant hostility: Evil May Day.

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On A Fool’s Errand: Writing A Biography of Will Somer

In this guest post Dr Peter K. Andersson reflects on the challenges of trying to write a biography of Henry VIII’s court fool, Will Somer. Dr Andersson is based at Örebro University in Sweden and works on the history of fools and clowns from the early modern to the modern age. His previous research has looked at Victorian streetlife and popular culture from below.

It’s strange to think that among the people who were closest to King Henry VIII was a man who, by all accounts, was a humble commoner and possibly intellectually disabled. In the early modern period, there was virtually only one way in which a person of low birth from a poor background could become close to a monarch and spend as much time with him or her as their family members. Naturally, it was possible for a commoner to enter the royal household as a servant, but I think it’s safe to say that there was only one occupation that transgressed the social hierarchy in such an extreme way. I am, of course, referring to the position of court fool.

There were many hundreds of court fools and jesters from the Middle Ages until well into the eighteenth century, and most of them enjoyed a status not far from that of a stable boy or scullery maid, or, at the other end of the spectrum, a hired entertainer living at best close to the court, but only seeing the king when called for to entertain. One of the most famous fools in all of history, however, appears to have lived as close to the monarch as possible, and he did so for an unusually long time.

Henry VIII and Will Somer, from Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, BF.1985.6

To posterity, his name is often known as Will Summers, or Sommers, but this spelling only really emerges after his death. To his contemporaries, he was Will, or William Somer – sometimes with an -s added. During the sixteenth century, he grew to become one of the most legendary comics of the age, and after his death turned into a recurring folk hero, cropping up in ballads, jestbooks and pamphlets – not to mention plays, most famously by Thomas Nashe and Samuel Rowley. When Shakespeare omitted him from his play about Henry VIII, he had to include a prologue that explained to the audience that they would not be seeing the beloved fool, so as not to force anyone to sit through it waiting for him to come on.

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Spotlight on Undergraduate Research: The Student Research Portfolio and the Georgian Ghosts Project

This guest post ties in with our traditional mid-September focus on teaching resources and pedagogy. Here, two Warwick Faculty of Arts undergraduates introduce us to an innovative interdisciplinary group research project that may provide inspiration for tutors elsewhere.

Jessica Barton and Dan Smith

This year at the University of Warwick, the Faculty of Arts introduced the Student Research Portfolio (SRP), which encouraged second- and third-year students to explore a topic, to develop their research and teamwork skills, and to produce an output. By allowing students across disciplines to work together, the SRP challenged its participants to step beyond the limits of their undergraduate degree and its typical forms of assessment. As the scheme was completed entirely online, students were also able to strengthen their digital skillset. We were part of one of the SRP groups, and worked on an outcome entitled The Georgian Ghosts Project. It was inspired by a ghost story from eighteenth-century Cork, Ireland, which has survived in a manuscript housed at the John Rylands Research Institute and Library, Manchester [1].

Most likely written by the prominent Methodist Hester Ann Rogers (1756-94), the manuscript records the dramatic conversion experience of a candle-maker called Cadwallader Acteson. He is haunted by the ghost of his deceased mistress, assaulted by a ‘hellish monster’ with long claws, and finally reassured by a heavenly voice promising redemption. Along the way he navigates knotty relationships with various women, most notably the ghostly mistress, a scheming maidservant who convinces him to attempt the murder of his wife, and the long-suffering wife herself. The story provides a thought-provoking perspective on eighteenth-century religion, gender roles, and the potentially perilous results of household tensions.

Portrait of Hester Ann Rogers. Wikimedia Commons
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more many-headed monster resources for teaching

Mark Hailwood

Is that the sound of term hurtling towards us once more? I’m afraid so, UK readers. As tutors scramble to get their courses ready – against the backdrop of an ongoing pandemic, let’s not forget – we thought it might be helpful to highlight the many teaching resources we have available in the many-headed monster archive.

Back in 2017 Laura Sangha put together a comprehensive list of all the resources we had on the blog at that stage, and you can see that here.

Below is an addendum to that list, highlighting a few materials we have added since.

Good luck this term, I’m sure we will all need it…

New Resources

Language Learning for Historians of Early Modern England
This guest post from John Gallagher is packed with suggestions for students – and staff – looking to develop their language skills alongside their studies.

Teaching Microhistory: small things, big questions and a global pandemic
Brodie Waddell reflects on teaching an MA module on microhistory. Includes advice on online teaching, and a free-to-download module handbook.

Decolonising and Black British History: a teaching resource
If you are looking to decolonise your early modern teaching this year, Laura Sangha’s seminar plan for a session on ‘Black Lives in Early Modern England’ is shared here.

#SchOnline: Scholarly Communities Online
Whilst this series of posts was focused on non-teaching types of online working, it does contain lots of good advice and ideas about things like online meetings that will still be applicable to many of us this academic year.

If you have any resources you would like to share, please do add links to the comments section below.

Satires of American Drugs in Early Modern Spain

We are pleased to introduce the final post in the Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover, by Ivana Bicak. Ivana’s latest research project, funded by the Wellcome Trust and conducted at the University of Exeter, explored early modern satires of experimental medicine in Spain.

In the sixteenth century, new medicinal plants from America entered Spain. Apart from transforming the medical practice of the time, these novel products had an immediate impact on the literary landscape, particularly satiric poetry. The witty verses of Spanish satirists offer us a unique view into how these experimental medicines were perceived by the contemporaries. The satires of exotic drugs such as guaiac and sarsaparilla underline the acceptance and familiarity of the newly discovered materia medica, as described by Christopher Booth in his recent post ‘The World in a Jar.’

After Christopher Columbus returned from his famous voyage in 1493, a terrible disease struck Europe, transforming human bodies into decomposing masses of pustules, broken bones, bald heads, and missing noses. The epidemic of highly contagious syphilis spared no one, sowing destruction from seedy brothels to shiny courts, from Spain to England.

In a desperate search for a remedy, many different treatments were tried. One of the more ingenious prescriptions included applying a freshly cut chicken or pigeon to the ulcerated penis, as per advice of the papal physician Gaspar Torella. Most physicians and patients, however, turned to mercury, a long-standing cure for skin diseases. This heavy metal was not exactly the happiest solution as the severity of its side effects frequently surpassed that of the disease’s symptoms. Thanks to its potent corrosive properties, mercury acted much more as a poison than as a cure. If the patient did not lose their nose due to syphilis, mercury made sure their teeth fell out.

Illustration of guaiac. Francisco Hernández, Rerum medicarum Novae Hispaniae thesaurus (Rome: V. Mascardi, 1651). Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

The arrival of the new American medicines in Spain was therefore eagerly welcomed in the hopes of relieving the suffering of syphilitic patients across European borders. American anti-syphilitic plants flooded European medical markets. Among them, guaiac wood and sarsaparilla achieved immense popularity. As a result, they were exported from Spain to other European countries.

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‘Being all dead of the Plague’. Plague and petitions in Westminster c.1620-1645

We are pleased to introduce the latest post in the Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover, by Aaron Columbus. Aaron recently completed his PhD at Birkbeck, University of London and co-edits the blog We Hang Out a Lot in Cemeteries. Aaron’s thesis is focused on the response to plague and the poor in the suburban parishes of early modern London c. 1600-1650. Find him on Twitter @columbus_aaron .

Around ten o’clock on the evening of 30 May 1626 in Westminster, Thomas Powell, accompanied by a constable and watchman, arrived at the door of John Bonner with the pretext of asking for his landlord. Many ‘injurious wordes’ were made against Bonner and he was assaulted in his lodging. Powell, in a most ‘furious and barbarous manner’, then compelled the constable, watchman and others to take him to the local gatehouse.

Bonner gives his account of the incident in a petition to the Westminster Quarter Sessions in 1626, and states that Powell was acting on a grudge that had been conceived against him in his shop the Saturday before the incident. Bonner asked the Justices to take action against Powell and his associates, as he possessed no warrant and had wronged his ‘bodie and good name’. Bonner based this on the understanding of ‘most of the parishe’ that he had, as a ‘professor of phisicke’, willingly worked to cure ‘upon 500’ people of the plague in the 1625 epidemic.[1] Bonner’s petition suggests that the experience of plague might be used as a currency of sorts to further the cause of the petitioner, in much the same way that poverty was made explicit and given focus when seeking poor relief.

John Bonnar’s petition (1626). Courtesy of the London Metropolitan Archives, WJ/SR/NS/016/15. Copyright of LMA and not for reproduction.

The Power of Petitioning project recently published transcriptions for 424 petitions to the Westminster City Quarter Sessions on British History Online. Over 150 of the petitions are dated to the period between 1620 and 1646. These mainly concern petty crime, imprisonment, apprenticeship and poor relief. I was interested to see if plague was mentioned in any of the petitions up to the 1640s.

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Understanding Sources: Glimpses of daily life in medical case histories

Our latest Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover is by Amie Bolissian. Amie is currently in the third year of her Wellcome-funded PhD at University of Reading, researching ‘The Aged Patient in Early Modern England, c.1570-1730’. Find her on Twitter at @AuntieAmie.

One ill-fated day, sometime around the middle of the seventeenth century, ‘an old servant to a person of honour’ was bitten on the back of his hand by a monkey. The surgeon called to treat the man, ‘forbad him wine’ to reduce inflammation. But the next morning the old man complained of a sleepless night, feeling ‘faint and sick’, and that ‘his Wound was the least of his ailment’. After his patient swooned, and claimed he ‘could not live without Wine’, the surgeon finally relented, and allowed him to return to drinking ‘as he pleased’. As it turned out, this entailed a ‘Quart’ of wine every morning but, soon after, the wound healed, and the patient was cured.1

[Detail of] A medicine vendor tying up his pet monkey. Etching by T. Major after D. Teniers II.. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Public Domain Mark

This story was just one of many medical case histories that Richard Wiseman, ex-civil war surgeon and personal practitioner to Charles II, included in his lengthy tome on surgery, published in 1676. He went on to explain that some heavy drinkers should never be forbidden wine and that with ‘Dunkerker’ sailors he could ‘scarce ever cure any of them without allowing them Wine’. Wiseman cited the saying ‘a Hair of the same Dog’, and admitted that his readers ‘may laugh’ at him for ‘pleading’ for these drinkers but, as he put it, ‘I hope you will consider I am a Water-drinker’.2 There is so much of historical interest to unpack in this short passage that it is hard to know where to begin. To start with: Whose monkey was it? And were monkey-inflicted wounds so common that this warranted no comment?

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