Norwich Entertainments – Part III: A medieval royal mistress in the 17th century and beyond

Brodie Waddell

In December 1677, the Norwich Mayor’s Court granted Elizabeth Soane a licence ‘to make shew of a Motion Called Fayre Rosamond until further order’.¹ Now here, finally, we have a clear reference to a well-known story. This play or ‘Motion’ must have recounted the life and death of one of England’s most famous royal mistresses, a surprisingly crowded field.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, ‘Fair Rosamund’ (1861), modelled by Fanny Cornforth (source: National Museum Cardiff via Wikimedia Commons)

‘Fair Rosamund’ was a woman named Rosamund Clifford (d. 1176?), a mistress to Henry II and subject of innumerable legends. Various tales claimed that that the king built a palace and labyrinth at Woodstock for her, that she was mother to an Archbishop of York and the Earl of Salisbury, and that she was poisoned by the queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Sadly, none of these seem to be true.² Continue reading

It was a dark and stormy night…

Brodie Waddell

Beginnings are tricky. Coming up with an opening sentence for a great big pile of paper is never easy, especially if it’s the first great big pile of paper you’ve written. When you’ve invested at least several years of your life in a project, it can be very difficult to find some way to introduce it to your reader.

It’s customary to start with a quotation or short vignette. One of the most famous of these is Foucault’s introduction to Discipline and Punish:

On 1 March 1757 Damiens the regicide was condemned “to make the amende honorable before the main door of the Church of Paris”, where he was to be “taken and conveyed in a cart, wearing nothing but a shirt, holding a torch of burning wax weighing two pounds”; then, “in the said cart, to the Place de Grève, where, on a scaffold that will be erected there, the flesh will be torn from his breasts, arms, thighs and claves with red-hot pincers, his right hand, holding the knife with which he committed the said parricide, burnt with sulphur, and, on those places where the flesh will be torn away, poured molten lead, boiling oil, burning resin, wax and sulphur melted together and then his body drawn and quartered by four horses and his limbs and body consumed by fire, reduced to ashes and his ashes thrown to the winds” …

This leads Foucault into a minutely description of the gory process which then shifts abruptly to the highly-regimented daily schedule laid down for ‘for the House of young prisoners in Paris’ in the early nineteenth century. These examples, he says, epitomise ‘a time when, in Europe and in the United States, the entire economy of punishment was redistributed … It was a new age for penal justice’. Although I disagree with much of Faucault’s argument here, as an introduction this is a brilliant example of the form.

Despite a strong temptation to buck this tradition, I started my PhD thesis with a quote from John Bunyan, the peripatetic Baptist preacher and allegorist. Although I stuck with that for the book, the first few paragraphs needed a lot of work. I’ll let you judge for yourself whether the result was successful. The point is: beginnings are tricky.

So, it was with great interest that I read a post by Dave Hitchcock (yet another Hindlite, or should it be ‘Hindleite’?) on the opening for his own PhD.

We begin with a stone. … Yes, with a stone. With a stone flying through the air, in the late 1690s, and hitting the head, the confident, ‘middling sort’, noggin of Thomas Smith, who at that present moment, was atop his horse, riding blithely down a road in Warwickshire, England. I think he was close to Warwick town, the county capital. But as I say, our friend Thomas was struck on the head by a stone, while atop his horse, a powerful symbol of his social status might I add, in the late 1690s.

Not bad at all. He goes on to introduce us to an ‘un-named, possibly scottish, vagrant woman who might have had an incredible fastball and a grudge against authority’. She alone is reason enough for me to want to read the thesis.

Is this tendency to open with a story confined mostly to historians and other humanists? Or is this something that social scientists do too?

Football and its enemies

Brodie Waddell

This is really a topic for my co-blogger, Mark, who actually follows football and knows something about its history. I’m sure he’ll speak up to correct me if I say anything too absurd.

Football has a long history in England, having been played in one form or another for at least a thousand years. The most famous medieval example is the Shrovetide match at Ashbourne (Derbys.) which continues to today. These were often very rough games with few rules:  broken bones were common and the whole parish might join in.

‘Mob football’, reportedly drawn in 1721 and depicting Crowe Street, London.

In the early modern period there were increasingly regularised matches, but there was also plenty of sporadic opposition from the authorities. They were sometimes associated with social protest, particularly riots against the enclosure or ‘improvement’ of common lands.

Heather Falvey (a fellow Hindlite) has come across some interesting cases of ‘rioting under the guise of football’ from the fifteenth century onwards, many taking place in the fens. In early 1699, for example, ‘an estimated 1,100 rioters attacked drainage works and enclosures in Deeping Level, just north of Peterborough’, having originally gathered ‘Under Colour & pretence of Foot ball playing’. And soon after, someone posted a notice inviting local people to ‘a Foot Ball play & other sports’ at the nearby village of Whittlesey, which the authorities believed was simply a cover for more unrest.¹

My own encounter with football at Whittlesey in the archives is sadly not quite so politically-charged. Instead, I came across it whilst trying to figure out how local people used manor courts in the early modern period. Trawling through the records of the court leet of the manor there, I came across the following order, dating from May 1759:

Whereas great Complaints have been made to the Jury of this Manor against a great Number of Young Persons who for some time past have practiced playing at Foot-Ball on the Market-hill whereby they have not only greatly damage the Slate-covering of the Market-Cross … by Climbing upon the said Roof to recover the said Ball; but also some of the Windows of the Adjoyning houses have been broken by their violently forcing a Ball against them And also have greatly obstructed the passage on the said Market-hill, by rendering it very Dangerous and unsafe for People, and especially for Women and Children to pass or Walk on the said Market-hill whilst such a Number of inconsiderate Persons were there rudely at play, Therefore in order to prevent the like irregularities for the future we do whereby Order that if any Person or Persons shall at any time … Kick any Ball to play at Foot-ball … on any part of the said Market-hill, such Person or Persons shall forfeit … 2s 6d²

Naughty boys breaking widows with an overeager kick of the football is hardly as dramatic as hundreds of people smashing up the fences of hated enclosers. Still, I rather like the idea that youth ‘rudely at play’ can turn a quiet street into ‘Dangerous and unsafe’ terrain. It’s also a useful example of the point I tried to make in my article on manor courts (gated; ungated): their records are packed full of weird and wonderful incidents and historians of early modern England should not dismiss them as decaying relicts of the middle ages. Finally, the attempt by local authorities to stamp out any trace of unregulated fun in the lives of ‘Young Persons’ has a shockingly contemporary ring to it.

Signs that can be found almost anywhere in England that might otherwise offer the possibility of a good casual football match.

I did, however, come across one case of football-related rioting during some recent archive-grubbing. In 1676, the Daventry Borough Assembly voted to pay for the charges of

the prosecution of such persons as have beene guilty or abbetting those persons that did concern themselves in playing att Footeball or in the Mutany or disturbance that did arise thereupon³

Without any context, it is not clear if this is an instance of social protest ‘under the guise of football’ or simply a case of seventeenth-century football hooliganism. Whatever the circumstances, the burgesses of Daventry saw a threat.


¹ Heather Falvey, ‘Custom, resistance and politics: local experiences of improvement in early modern England’ (PhD thesis, University of Warwick, 2007), pp. 356-7. For earlier and later examples, see ibid., pp. 360-2. She also discusses the connection between rioting and football in her ‘Voices and faces in the rioting crowd: identifying seventeenth-century enclosure rioters’, The Local Historian, 39: (2009), pp. 148-9

² Cambridgeshire Archives, 126/M70, unfol. (May 1759).

³ Northamptonshire Record Office, ML 106, f. 34.

The Devil’s Church

Mark Hailwood

Early modern moralists were quick to condemn alehouses as ‘nests of Satan’, or as ‘the Devil’s church’ – places where impiety and irreligion were rife. The reality, as I will be demonstrating in my book, was that alehouse-haunting and godliness were not necessarily incompatible features of early modern life.

Whilst many ministers perceived themselves as locked in a ‘Battle for the Sabbath’, competing with the local alehouse to put bums-on-seats (or rather bums on pews and ale-benches) during Sunday services, the majority of parishioners seem to have found no great problem – or contradiction – in using their Sundays to congregate both at church and at the local drinking hole. Two diaries from relatively devout Christians—the Yorkshire yeoman Adam Eyre, written in the 1640s, and the Lancashire mercer Roger Lowe, written in the 1660s—both detail routine behaviour of stopping off for drinks either on the way to, or the way back from, a sermon or service. When faced with the seemingly existential choice between church and pub, the most common response was… both.

In fact, religion was a common topic of conversation around the ale-bench, and it is a couple of particularly striking examples of such exchanges that I want to share here, and invite your thoughts on.

The first took place on a December morning in 1656, in a Nottingham alehouse. William Bradshaw, a felt-maker, was discoursing with his companions about food and drink, when the conversation turned to what scripture had to say on the issue. Bradshaw said that ‘there was a saying in scripture that our Saviour fed 5000 men with 5 loaves and 2 fishes, which was as arrant a lie as ever was spoken’.

Jumping forward to 1681, and to the Somerset parish of East Pennard, near Glastonbury, the vicar of the parish, Mr Alisbury, was drinking in an alehouse with Joshua Swetnam, a local farmer. Their discussion came on to the subject of the Old and New Testaments, whereupon Alisbury offered his view that ‘they were not good but were both false and that there was not a good book but the common prayer book’.

We have two expressions here of unorthodox religious belief – but how unorthodox were they? Was Bradshaw’s denial of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand an instance of truculent plebeian cynicism, demonstrating a healthy dose of mistrust of authoritative discourses? Or was this felt-maker ‘pushing the envelope’ of Protestant theology, taking the official Protestant distrust of the possibility of contemporary miracles to its extreme, and denying the possibility of any of Christ’s miracles? And what about the vicar Alisbury’s rubbishing of both the Old and New Testaments? Was he just a confused drunkard (he did have a reputation for imbibing) who failed to see the contradictions in his statement, or was he simply a ‘hotter sort’ of ‘Prayer Book Protestant’ who exalted the book above even the Bible itself? Would his view have been shared by some of his parishioners, or were these the ramblings of a lone voice?

I’d love to hear from religious historians here – do these views chime with any of the broader trends in religious debates in the mid-to-late seventeenth century, or are these isolated outbursts of unorthodoxy whose origins will remain obscure?

There is a broader question about popular religion at stake here I think – what we might call, after Ginzburg’s famous ‘The Cheese and the Worms’, the Menocchio question – do discoveries such as these help historians of popular culture to tap into hidden veins of belief held by ordinary people, or do they represent the unrepresentative, and lead us up the garden path?

A Seventeenth-Century Comic Strip?

Brodie Waddell

Gavin Robinson, over at Investigations of a Dog, asks ‘Why weren’t there any comics in the 1640s?’

He uses to the wikipedia definition:

a sequence of drawings arranged in interrelated panels to display brief humor or form a narrative, often serialized, with text in balloons and captions

This seems rather strict for my taste. Perhaps this is the nature of wikipedia  – an article on ‘comic books’ is bound to be dominated by comic ‘purists’ (even ‘puritans’) with a prescriptive outlook. The OED, in contrast, simply gives one definition of ‘strip’ as

A sequence of small drawings telling a comic or serial story in a newspaper, etc. Freq. as comic strip. Also transf. orig. U.S.

It gives the first use in 1920, which slightly predates the first supposed ‘comic book’ in 1933.

Apparently the first ‘comics’ (by the strict wikipedia definition) only appeared in the nineteenth century, and Gavin Robinson offers some possible reasons why, all of which seem plausible.

However, is it really true that ‘comics’ only emerged in the nineteenth century?

If we go by the OED definition, certainly not. As Gavin points out, ‘sequential art’ goes back to the Romans at least, and there are plenty of early modern examples. Here is Hogarth’s famous series:

William Hogarth, A Harlot’s Progress (1732). Image borrowed from here.

If we go by the wiki definition, we need ‘text in balloons and captions’, both of which are found in many early modern sources, but which was not normally paired with sequential panels. Here, for example, is some dialogue in balloons from a ballad in the Pepys collection:

Ropery Routed: Or, Father Petres’s Farewel to London City (1689) in Pepys Ballads, II, p. 296.

All of this is just a lengthy prologue to my own attempt at a small contribution. Whilst I haven’t found anything that unambiguously matchs the narrow definition, I think this comes pretty damn close.

The Young-Mans Victory Over the Povver of the Devil Or Strange and VVonderful News from the City of London (?1693), from the Haughton Library at Harvard.

I came across this broadsheet when looking for an image for the cover of my book. You’ll note that although it doesn’t have dialogue in balloons, it does tell a sequential story through pictorial panels with accompanying in-panel text.

Detail of panels from The Young-Mans Victory Over the Povver of the Devil Or Strange and VVonderful News from the City of London (?1693).

My favourite panel (and the one that ended up on my book cover) is that which shows the devil trying to tempt the ‘Young-Man’ with ‘Bag of Gold and silver’. It makes literal the age-old association between ‘gold’ (i.e. riches) and ‘temptation’ (i.e. sin and damnation), neatly encapsulating one of my arguments: traditional Christian moral codes continued to be a popular way to think about economic life at the end of the seventeenth century.

So, is this an early modern comic strip?