The World in a Jar: Apothecary Shops and Globalisation in Early Modern England

Our latest post in our Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover is from Christopher Booth. Chris is an Midlands3Cities funded PhD Candidate at The University of Nottingham, researching the material culture and visual experience of apothecary shops in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Find him on twitter @archaeobooth.

The image of the early modern apothecary shop, with its shelves of labelled jars and bottles behind a counter and the apothecary moving between customers and their stock, is a neat encapsulation of the way that new, global products were incorporated into English medicine between the late-sixteenth century and the late-eighteenth century.

It was the inclusion of these new medicinal botanicals, imported from the Americas and across the world, into existing systems of organisation based upon early modern herbals that made these products familiar and thus acceptable for consumption. Later they would also be incorporated into European (meaning Diderotian or Linnaean) systems of classification, further familiarizing them in the ‘old world’. The skilful navigation of these organisational systems, represented by the labels on medical containers, and the knowledgeability and trustworthiness of the apothecary within their shops were key to the acceptance and increasing consumption of these materia medica.

Apothecaries sought to materially represent this organisation and encyclopaedic knowledge through the tin-glazed earthenware drug jars which lined shelves behind the counter where prescriptions were made up. Doing so allowed them to visually and materially communicate their knowledge of, and mastery over, ‘newly discovered’ botanical products, and through that knowledge ensure the confidence of their patient when consuming the medicines which they compounded.

Initially the names of the materia medica which the apothecary stocked were not visible to the customer. Earlier drug jars, and those in more rural shops, would have been unlabelled albarelli with a small paper label affixed to the string keeping parchment or bladder lids in place. Later jars, however, had abbreviated Latin names of their contents painted within cartouches on their surfaces which would have been prominently displayed to the apothecaries’ patients. Whether or not individual customers read or understood Latin, the fact that all the simples (individual medicinal ingredients) in their medicine were labelled in this same way demonstrated that they were categorised and understood, at least by the apothecary, within the same system of medical and botanical knowledge as the more familiar simples from Britain and Europe whose names were on display in the same way. Examples of drug jars labelled with ‘new world’ simples are extant in museum collections. The below example from the collection of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust was used to hold an electuary of sassafras which was derived from a North American tree.

An English drug jar, circa 1730; painted in blue on a white background; E.E.SASSAFRAS (Electuary of Sassifras) on a songbird and basket label. Dimensions: Height 195mm. Diameters: base 125mm, rim 90mm. STRST : SBT 1993-31/56. CC-BY-NC-ND Image Courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
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The Life of a Lawyer, Litigant and Mediator in Elizabethan England

Our latest Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover post is by Dom Birch. Dom (they/them) is a doctoral researcher at King’s College London who has just submitted their thesis ‘Parish, Participation and Power: Legal Pluralism in Early Modern England’ for examination.

I was drawn to history-writing because I wanted tell peoples’ stories. My ethical and political commitments, as a social historian, have pushed me to look for and recount the meaningful and inconsequential histories of ordinary early modern people. The somewhat obvious consequence of this commitment has been that the people who populate my work can be frustratingly anonymous.

The records I use—Church Court depositions—are full of gaps and individuals’ rarely turn up repeatedly. The longer depositions, and the fuller characters, stand out in my mind: Agnes Swales, from Osmotherly, who boasted about sleeping with three men in one night and told her neighbour that she hoped her future husband would be a `good doer’ in the bedroom; Joyce Griffiths who suffered from some kind of serious mental illness and was shunned by her neighbours on account of her `madd’ behaviour; and Emmanuel Trotter a vicar from Northumberland whose parishioners attempted to stop him collecting tithes using force, and pitchforks.

The Lawyer’s Office, Pieter de Bloot, 1628. Rijksmuseum, SK-A-660 (Public Domain).

My deponents’ lives can be slippery but it is even harder to know the motivations of the court officials—the notaries and lawyers who shaped the documents I read as a historian. How much of the legalese is theirs? And what did they do when they weren’t listening to other early moderns describing their sex lives and tithe disputes?

The lawyers of the church court were men of some stature, but they too have left little information about themselves. They would have been trained in Canon or Roman law and would, in London, have populated the Doctors Commons and the area around St Paul’s. I have been unable to find specifics about their lives; except for Walter Horsell, a proctor and notary who worked in London in the late sixteenth century.

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The beloved zoo pet ‘Jumbo the Elephant’: Animal History as History from Below

Our latest Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover post is by Daniel Phillips. Daniel is a College of Humanities funded doctoral researcher at the University of Exeter whose work focuses on the London Zoological Society and the British Empire, 1847-1903. Find him on twitter at @Daniel_Ph1llips.

Nearly everyone has seen Dumbo: the 1941 Disney film that tells the story of an elephant that learns to fly. The film not only parodies the relationship between mice and elephants with Dumbo’s only friend, Timothy Mouse, but also includes racially stereotyped crows and a drunken hallucination of pink elephants.  However, what is less well known about the film, is Dumbo’s real name. In her only line of the film, Dumbo’s mother is asked to name her child and, in response, Mrs Jumbo names her child Jumbo Jr. Like every good story, Dumbo has a basis in truth. Namely, a real life elephant called Jumbo who led an extraordinary life.

Historians are beginning to reassess the human centred conditions of history writing, now looking to uncover complex roles animals played in historical narratives. Research is drawing attention to the fact that animals were very much part of the collective past, and were remembered and memorialised in ways that shaped human views and thinking. The story of Jumbo the elephant is a great example of this, revealing a history of human-animal relations and the various influences Jumbo had on human historical experiences. 

Jumbo 1

Jumbo as a young elephant eating buns. Illustrated London News.

Born around 1860, Jumbo was the first African elephant to set foot in England. Like a lot of zoo animals, he was captured at a very young age by a party of hunters who had separated him from the herd. After initially spending some time in Paris zoo, he was bought on exchange by the London Zoological Gardens (now known as London Zoo) and shipped to England on 26th June 1865. He was an instant hit and, after an initial struggle, Jumbo learnt to obey the voice and commands of his keeper Mathew Scott. Under Scott’s constant care and love, Jumbo soon became ‘very frolicsome’, and would kick at the woodwork pieces of his den, and occasionally wind up neighbouring animals. For example on one occasion, he angered the male hippopotamus, Obaysch, by throwing up dust into his eyes. The infuriated hippo then charged at the bars causing further injury to his nose, thus enraging him all the more.

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Teaching as an early modernist to non-historians: a brief reflection

The next post in our Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover is by Christophe Schellekens (@Christophe_Fir). Christophe is a lecturer in Economic and Social History at Utrecht University, NL.

What can students of politics, philosophy, economics or modern history learn from studying the early modern period? I have had to confront that question directly thanks to my current position as a non-permanent lecturer mostly teaching students on the BSc in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) at Utrecht University.

As a specialist in the sixteenth century, I contribute to the introductory module on early modern history. However most of my teaching is not situated in the BA or MA programs in history, but in the BSc PPE, which in Utrecht also has history as a fourth pillar discipline. I very much enjoy teaching in that program, as it challenges me on various fronts to become more self-conscious as a historian. In this short post, I would like to reflect on my experience of teaching as an early modernist in PPE, and in particular on which insights early modern history may bring to students working at the intersection of those four disciplines.

The students of the PPE program have rarely enrolled in that degree with a specific interest in the history of the period between 1500 and 1800. Quite a few have expressed their fascination for the period to me, but they are not studying to become specialists of the period. Instead, their encounters with historians like me come through team-taught modules such as ‘Major Debates in Global Economic History’ as well as ‘The Role of Corporations in Society’. What insights from early modern history can and should I then bring to the classroom?

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Religious Persecution and Child Loss in Early Modern England

The next post in our Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover is by Dr Robert W. Daniel of the University of Warwick. Robert is a Post-Doctorate Researcher and General Secretary of the International John Bunyan Society. Follow him at @BunyanSociety. In this post, he offers us insights into the petitions and diaries of women who lost their children as a direct result of religious persecution.

CONTENT WARNING: This post contains accounts of miscarriage and stillbirth.

Women who did not conform to the Established Church of seventeenth-century England – labelled ‘puritans’, ‘fanatics’, ‘nonconformists’, ‘plotters’, or ‘dissenters’, paid a heavy, if not the heaviest price, in their fight for religious equality. They resisted religious uniformity by courageously, often peacefully, contesting pecuniary laws prohibiting alternative forms of worship, unjust imprisonments and the distrainment of goods, and the law making weekly parish church services compulsory. In researching the history of this struggle, I was struck at how frequently these women, as mothers, suffered child loss as a direct result of State sponsored religious persecution. Through their diaries, petitions and pamphlets, women depicted the trauma of stillbirths, miscarriages and neo-natal deaths as one of the tragic consequences of their struggle for religious freedom during a period of intense religious intolerance.

In this blog post I want to examine some examples of maternal suffering that need to be re-incorporated into our reading of the history of English religious nonconformity. Doing so will reveal not only the horrific (and underexamined) effects of religious persecution during this period, but also the affective discourse and mediums in which a denominationally and politically diverse cross-section of women (Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers and Levellers) sought to make these known to a broader audience.

The homes of religious dissenters were constantly under siege. Men, women and children were routinely roused in the middle of the night, chivvied and dragged – at times quite literally – to be interrogated or thrown in prison. The result of such upheavals, if a woman was with child, could be miscarriage or a stillbirth. Elizabeth Eaton (fl. 1632–1641) was an active member of the Baptist Lathrop congregation in London who, along with several other women, was questioned by the High Commission court in the early 1630s.  In 1641 she wrote a petition to the House of Commons (see Figure 1). Elizabeth explained that she was now a widow having lost her husband, Samuel Eaton (d. 1639) (who was also a Baptist), by his ‘wrongful imprisonment’. On one of several occasions that Samuel was arrested, Elizabeth describes how one John Ragg, Archbishop William Laud’s pursuivant, ‘violently entered his [Samuel’s] house and … haled him to Newgate’. Elizabeth, ‘being then with child’, was ‘assaulted by Flamsteed, a pursuivant to Sir John Lamb’, which ‘caused her to miscarry’. She was not alone in reporting such violence. Other women of the Lathrop congregation said that their own miscarriages were a result of the rough treatment they had received when arrested.  Elizabeth’s petition clearly made an impression on the Commons. It was later included amongst papers relating to the trial of Archbishop Laud, as evidence of his excessive cruelty in prosecuting religious sectaries. 

Figure 1. ‘Petition of Elizabeth Eaton’, CSPD, 1641-1643, p. 518. Held in The National Archives, London.
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Execution Ballads and the Popular Imagination in Seventeenth Century England

The next post in our Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover is by Eleanor Hedger. Ellie is an M4C doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham, and she has recently submitted her thesis, entitled ‘Soundscapes of Punishment in Early Modern England’, for examination. Find her on twitter @ellie_hedger.

It’s December 11, 1633. After hearing St. Sepulchre’s Church toll its ominous passing bell, you’ve made your way to Tyburn to witness the latest spectacle of public execution. This time, a woman found guilty of infanticide faces the scaffold. Hundreds of spectators have gathered in the surrounding streets and fields, with onlookers peering out of nearby windows or clambering onto rooftops. You jostle amongst the crowd in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the spectacle, but to no avail. As the victim makes her final speech you strain to hear her words, but her voice is drowned out by the noise of the crowd. Once the grisly spectacle has come to a close you make your way home, but the doleful sounds of a nearby ballad monger selling copies of a song about today’s execution catches your attention. Having seen or heard very little of her demise, you want to know more, so you hand over a penny to the ballad monger. You fold up your copy of the large, single-sheet song, slip it into your pocket and return home, ready to sing, read, and listen to it with friends and family later that day.

Martin Parker, No naturall Mother, but a Monster (London, 1633),EBBA 36049.

Execution ballads, such as the one illustrated above, were an extremely popular form of news media in early modern England. Taverns, marketplaces, homes, and even the execution space itself resounded with the singing of these macabre ditties, allowing the public to reflect upon and relive the brutal spectacle of execution through the medium of song. Whilst ballads were probably read out loud, they were, first and foremost, intended to be sung, and the majority of ballad sheets usually contain an inscription under the title indicating its tune. These popular and memorable melodies were used over and over again, garnering new thematic and emotional associations with each rendering. The reuse of familiar tunes for new texts—a technique known as ‘contrafactum’—raises important questions concerning the reception and experience of execution ballads: how did the cultural associations of a melody amplify or subvert the meaning of a ballad text? And to what extent did the melodies of these songs influence the perception of public executions in the popular imagination? In this post I explore some of these intriguing questions by tracing the evolution of a well-known ballad tune called ‘Welladay’.

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The ‘Lowest Sort’ in the Print Trade of 17th-Century England

Our latest post in the Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover is from Joe Saunders. Joe has just started a PhD at the University of York using wills to study the social networks of the print trade in England c.1557-1666. Find Joe on twitter at @joe_saunders1.

We are this year ‘working from home’; struggling with work-life balance; and have ‘Key Workers’ in our supermarkets, hospitals and care-homes. What constitutes important labour is a contemporary debate but also interests historians who seek to define and locate work. Histories of literature are a case-in-point, with focus oscillating between the labour of authors, readers and publishers. In recent decades we have come to know a great deal about text creation and circulation during the hand-press era with work on the producers and movers of texts; publishers, printers and booksellers as they turned an author’s ideas into something tangible and passed them to an audience. The transfer from the author’s mind to printed page and then to the reader required a significant amount of labour from a variety of actors in a myriad of roles from financing a text through to those who carried the finished products along country roads.

Men working at a printing press- Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Bertolt Brecht in his 1935 poem ‘A Worker Reads History’ imagined how the workers who built the great monuments of the world figured into histories dominated by great men. He asked ‘but was it kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?’. Of course, the answer is no, but their names adorn these structures nonetheless. Though the process of text creation and movement in early modern England was gendered, classed and regionalised research has necessarily focused on the better offs who left their names on imprints and records of the Company of Stationers; the livery company which held a theoretical control over the membership and products of the print trade. This is the case across the History of the Book where source survival means most work on reading and authorship is also done on the middling sorts and elites.

The 2020 publication Women’s Labour and the History of the Book in Early Modern England brought together a range of essays dealing with reading, authorship and production. The focus was more towards countesses than chapmen-or-women but an exception was Craig’s essay on the rag-women who collected material for papermakers. This research recovered the labour of people who were critical to the production of texts but are largely absent from the records and therefore from our understanding. It was argued implicitly that to look for the lowest sort of women in the trade is the first step to finding them.

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The Price of Fish: Formal and Informal Justice in London’s 17th-Century Docklands

The next post in our Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover is by Graham Moore. Graham is a PhD student, studying as part of a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership with the University of Reading and The National Archives. His research focuses on the High Court of Admiralty in the early seventeenth century, with an interest in piracy, maritime law, and littoral communities. You can find him on twitter at @moregreyham

Justice was a booming business in seventeenth-century England. English legal culture had seen rapid growth during the sixteenth century, and this growth had led to greater accessibility. Accessibility in turn led to profit, and greater profit led to heightened competition between England’s different courts. This meant that, by the turn of the century and the accession of King James I/VI, potential litigants had a veritable wealth of options to choose from when bringing forth a case.

Jane Cockyn was one such litigant, and when one day in July 1609 she found her purse missing – presumed stolen – Jane’s quest for justice took her to surprising destinations, ranging from the local Constable to ‘sorcerers and wise men’, and eventually to the High Court of Admiralty. Jane’s story is not extraordinary; her name is not one you would typically find in a history book. But, that is precisely why it is so interesting. Jane’s exploits help us consider such questions as: how did ‘ordinary’ people use the early modern English justice system? Was justice sought formally, or informally? And, finally – what’s all this got to do with the price of fish?

‘A guide for cuntrey men in the famous cittey of London…’, Speculum Britanniae (London, 1653). British Library, Crace 1.33.]

In her deposition (HCA 1/47/f22r), Jane (described as ‘wife of John Cockyn of Wapping, ship carpenter’) states that on Wednesday 22 July she was at Bell Wharf in a boat belonging to William Cowper. Jane, William, and Elizabeth (William’s wife) had bought a stock of herring together which they had sold that day for a profit. Quite a considerable profit, it seems – Jane had on her person a leather purse, containing £3 and 3 shillings. Putting this amount into The National Archives’ currency converter gives us an approximate modern value of £422.40.

However, Jane claims that when she went ashore the purse fell into the boat, whereupon William and Elizabeth rowed away:

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A ‘slanderous & scandalous’ petition: the Dyers’ Company and a burdensome petitioning campaign in early Jacobean England

Our latest post in our Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover is from Ellen Paterson. Ellen is a DPhil candidate and Clarendon scholar at Lincoln College, University of Oxford, researching anti-monopoly petitioning activity in late Elizabethan and Jacobean England. Find her on twitter at @elpatersonPhD.

In July 1605, the London Company of Dyers not only upset the Privy Council through their writing and attempted presentation of a ‘slanderous & scandalous’ petition, but also the King himself who was ‘much offended’ by their appearance before him at court.[1] Whilst petitioning was an accepted and common practice in the early modern period, the petitioning of the Dyers’ Company in this instance generated a degree of concern amongst the Council, who promptly ordered Thomas Sackville, the Earl of Dorset, to investigate their petitioning activity.

The Dyers had petitioned the King and Council to express their discontent with a new patent of monopoly granted for the product of logwood. This was a type of dyeing wood which had been introduced into England in the sixteenth century, which produced black, grey, and red dyes. The use of it was prohibited as it was thought to produce defective colours, but licences were sometimes issued allowing limited imports of the commodity, as part of the Crown’s larger reliance on patents and grants as a much-needed source of revenue. In August 1604, a group of courtiers led by Sir Arthur Aston had been given such a grant, allowing them to import logwood and to make a new dyeing mixture from it. This was a cause of vexation to the Dyers’ Company; not only did they complain in their petition that this dyeing mixture was sold at an ‘intollerable’ price, but they also alleged that it was unfit for use and consequently ‘unprofitable to the comon Welthe.’[2]

Painting of a Logwood/Sappan tree. Credit: Ming herbal (painting): Sappan tree, Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).
Painting of a Logwood/Sappan tree. Credit: Ming herbal (painting): Sappan tree, Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

In many ways this case was not unique. Groups of artisans and traders often came together to protest against grants and monopolies which were seen as infringing on their trades and livelihoods. However, the response of the Council and the investigation that the Dyers’ petition provoked is certainly interesting. Why was this particular petitioning episode worthy of investigation?

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A Poor Hand-Maid’s Tale: Love, Petitioning and Print in Seventeenth-Century England

The second post in our Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover comes from Scott Eaton, an ECR interested in early modern witchcraft, religion, art and print cultures. His book on the witch-finder John Stearne is available from Routledge now. You can follow him on twitter: @StjEaton.

On 22 August 1651 Christopher Love was executed for treason for conspiring with Royalists to restore the King, Charles II, to the throne. His wife, Mary Love, had worked tirelessly to try and save him. While he was being held in the Tower of London, Love petitioned, ‘stood dailie’ at Parliament’s doors and even sent messages to Cromwell in Scotland (at the cost of £100!) in the hope she might secure her husband’s release. Unfortunately, she failed in her efforts. Shortly after Christopher’s death, however, Mary published her petitions and included letters they had written to each other before he was executed. Her publications can provide insight into petitioning, print and gender roles in seventeenth-century England.  

Petitioning was an acceptable way for the ‘ruled’ to address the authorities and make their voices heard, whether seeking action, intercession or mercy, like Love. The 1640s saw a breakdown over censorship of the press and a rise of female assertiveness in the political arena, allowing printed petitions attributed to women to proliferation more widely than before. Mary Love’s printed petitions obviously came after these events had happened, giving her a precedent to follow.

The Resolution of the Women of London to the Parliament (1642), EEBO
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