Living Broadside Ballads: An Immersive Conference Experience

Mark Hailwood (I’m now on twitter: follow me @mark_hailwood)

As many readers of the ‘monster will know, April is one of the academic year’s prime conference seasons – and this year I threw myself into it with gusto, delivering three different papers on two continents in the space of a week. Now I’ve recovered, I wanted to offer some reflections on a unique conference experience that I enjoyed at the Huntington Library’s ‘Living English Broadside Ballads, 1550-1750’ event, convened by Paddy Fumerton of EBBA fame.

‘Immersive’ history has been an important theme of many posts on this blog; that is, an approach to history that concerns itself not only with surviving written sources, but also with the sights, sounds and material traces of past society. So it was fascinating to attend a conference that sought to ‘bring to life’ the various aspects of early modern printed ballads, not just as texts but as songs, dances and visual objects. This isn’t a conventional paper-by-paper conference report, but rather a selection of some of the highlights that spoke to this idea of ‘immersive’ history: Continue reading

Elizabethan ‘madmen’ Part II: Nightmare neighbours and Tudor ASBOs

Jonathan Willis

This post is, if not a follow-up, then perhaps a sequel to my investigation last month into the eccentric Elizabethan Miles Fry, aka Emmanuel Plantagenet, who claimed to be the secret lovechild of no less a coupling than Elizabeth I and God Himself. My next archival oddball is Goodwife Dannutt, from Rose Alley in London. Dannutt is described in the calendar of the Lansdowne manuscripts as ‘a poor distracted woman’, writing to Lord Burghley and ‘begging him for Jesus Christ’s sake to punish a constable and two watchmen, who are so noisy in the night she can take no rest’.[1]

Modern society seems more than a little preoccupied with the idea of nuisance neighbours. A quick google search reveals the website – designed to help embattled residents deal with, you guessed it, ‘Neighbours from Hell’. Newspapers, it appears, love to run stories about neighbours from hell; from the story of an academic whose experience of hellish neighbours may (the Telegraph speculates) have contributed to her tragic suicide, to the Mirror’s more risible account of Gywneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s decision to install a nine-foot gate at the entrance to their $10,000,000 California mansion, ‘without permission’. The UK’s Channel 5 is currently screening a television series called The Nightmare Neighbour Next Door, which promises to reveal ‘the traumatic, shocking, humorous and occasionally bizarre experiences of nightmare neighbours’; that’s people who live ‘next door’, in case anybody was in any doubt. In recent years even governments have taken this sort of thing increasingly seriously with the advent of the ASBO, or ‘anti-social behaviour order’, such as that given to a noisy Burnley resident.


Gwyneth and Chris – no longer a couple, but still neighbours from hell?

Elizabethan communities did not have to cope with electric gates, celebrity (ex-) couples, domestic cannabis farms, electronically amplified dance music or an influx of stag and hen parties to ‘party houses’ in affluent parts of Dorset. However, they were no less affected by noise. Just as Mary Douglas observed in Purity and Danger that ‘dirt’ was ‘matter out of place’, so we can usefully think of ‘noise’ as ‘sound out of place’. Sounds that might be acceptable, even appropriate, in one time or place or context could be deeply disturbing or offensive in others. I’ve written about this myself, in terms of religious music.[2] But clearly the principle can be extended to all forms of noise pollution.

The exact nature of the noise that disturbed Goodwife Dannutt is unknown, but in her frantic letter to William Cecil she noted that the time of the disturbance was ‘at one of the clocke at an unlawfull time’.[3] She requested Cecil ‘be so good unto me’ as to force her neighbour, ‘my good man Johnson’, to reveal ‘the counstables name that dwell next house’ and also the names of two watchmen, who were presumably responsible for the unseemly night time interruptions.

Dannutt’s desperation is palpable. She beseeched Burghley ‘for godes sake’ to help her, ‘for godes sake your honour’ and that she ‘may have some ende of it for cryste Jesus sake’. This sort of language, incidentally, would not have endeared her to any particularly religious neighbours, who would have viewed this sort of casual swearing as a serious breach of the Third Commandment.[4] Dannutt also requested that Burghley help her ‘have some ende upon it without gret expense’, suggesting that the constable and his accomplices request ‘pay every nighte’ and that she ‘can never take coste for them’. Quite what was going on here is unclear – some sort of nocturnal racket? – and if anybody has come across any similar cases I would be intrigued to hear about them.

No ‘nightmare neighbour’ story is complete without a sense of how powerless law-abiding citizens are to resolve their desperate situation. Not only was Dannutt complaining about a constable and a pair of watchmen, she also noted that ‘the judges of the Kinges Bench ar a kinde’ to the offenders, and that they have ‘so maney frendes that I coud never reste day nor nighte’. Reaching out to Cecil was therefore her last hope for peace, quiet, and a good night’s sleep.

Nightmare neighbours - not just a modern problem.

Nightmare neighbours – not just a modern problem.

The goodwife ended her letter on a strange note. She also claimed that ‘moste of the lands that the queen gave he meanes to kepe it from me’, and also lamented that ‘every one cossus me & decevses me’. There are perhaps two conclusions to be drawn. The first is that, like many neighbourly disputes, this one may well have concerned the more serious question of property rights, as well as the nuisance issue of antisocial behaviour. The second is that Dannutt appears to have been socially isolated, and therefore may not have been as innocent a party as she herself claimed. There is no evidence as to whether Burghley slapped whatever the Elizabethan equivalent of an ASBO was on to the noisy constable, or even whether or not Dannutt ever managed to get a decent forty winks. Even if this incident was resolved amicably, we can at least say for certain that the problem of noisy neighbours has unquestionably never gone away.


[1] Catalogue of the Lansdowne MS in the BL, p. 191.

[2] Jonathan Willis, Church Music and Protestantism in Post-Reformation England (2010), p. 225.

[3] Lansdowne vol. 99 no. 28, f. 77.

[4] John Dod, for example, forbade idle, curious, vain or unreverent speaking of God’s word titles, attributes or works. John Dod, A plaine and familiar exposition of the Ten commandements (1604), p. 92.

Samuel Clarke’s Martyrology: images of religious violence

Laura Sangha

On Friday, one of my fellow tweeters, Early Modern World @EMhistblog, retweeted an image from a 1651 martyrology that I had originally posted last year. Here’s the tweet:

Original tweetIt proved popular, so I wanted to post the full details of the original work and author here (though I make no claim to be an expert on early modern martyrologies). Click on images for enlargements.

Clarke’s Martyrology

The image is one of many graphic illustrations in Samuel Clarke, A generall martyrologie containing a collection of all the greatest persecutions which have befallen the church of Christ from the creation to our present times (London, 1651), Wing / C4513. Clarke’s compilation was first published in 1651. A second edition in 1660, and a third in 1677 suggests that the work was popular. The Martyrology is almost entirely derived from John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments (1563). Indeed, in the preface to the third edition, Clarke defended himself against the claim that his work was a superfluous repetition of Foxe’s monumental work – Clark argued that Foxe’s was a general history of the church, not just a martyrology, and he also claimed that he had ‘turned over many other Authors’ to supply what was wanting in ‘Master Fox’ – although a cursory perusal of the work suggests this claim is false. Probably closer to the truth was Clarke’s assertion that:

in these times many want money to buy, and leasure to read larger Volumes, who yet may find both money, and time to purchase, and to peruse so small a Volume as this is. (Preface, A2r).

Though even this should be taken with a pinch of salt, because later editions of Clarke would have been reasonably expensive – the third edition was more than 700 pages long; and it contained many illustrations, making it an object of prestige as well as a marker of preferred churchmanship. That said, the images are certainly cruder and less sophisticated than in the large, expensive editions of Foxe. The original image that I tweeted can be seen in context here, bottom right (p. 125, 1677 edn.)Original pic in contextThere were twelve of these plates in the book, each depicting the sufferings of the martyrs in extremely graphic detail. The reader can gaze upon the brutality of religious persecution and be struck by the ingenious capacity of humans to inflict ever more horrible suffering upon their fellows. The enormous variety of types of torture, and the inventiveness of punishments is constantly surprising. Page 18Page 18bpage 52 hung and animal clawsFor the modern viewer, the crude images probably provoke a variety of conflicting emotions. Organised in (what looks to us) a comic book style, the presentation, and the poses and expressions of the victims and torturers often seem terribly mismatched against the outrageous violence that the images depict. The result is both shocking, but at the same time it can also be humorous – as with the nonchalant chap in the ‘boiling oil’ boots. We are used to a extraordinary level of realism in modern media: high definition reproductions of crime scenes, the aftermath of terrorist attacks, the devastating effects of modern warfare. Early modern efforts can seem basic, stiff and even silly, by comparison.

page 74 full page

ATROCITY PROPAGANDApage 242 papist hearts




The images also provoke a sense of disbelief – we would prefer to think that this is religious polemic, on a par with the atrocity propaganda of the First World War. Surely no Catholics actually ate a Protestant heart, and the Hun didn’t really crucify a Canadian soldier in Belgium? Though we accept terrible violence happens, the presumption is often that these acts have been exaggerated for greater effect – though countless atrocities throughout history offer plenty of evidence to the contrary.

At other times, the violence is so absurd or extreme that humour is almost a logical response:

page 220 face plainedIt’s not really possible to ‘plain’ someone’s face off is it?

page 220 frogs and toadsBeing thrown in a cave with some toads and frogs hardly seems comparable to some of these other tortures, does it?

page 180 geeseHow long did it take them to tie those geese and hens on?

Undoubtedly martyrologies are a form of religious polemic and we shouldn’t assume that the atrocities they depict happened. As with all source material we must recognise the cultural dynamics that have shaped the content and presentation of the material. But of course we mustn’t assume that the viewing experience was the same for the early modern person. Early modernists were used to sub-standard or less accomplished woodcuts, and these visuals would presumably have represented the events they depicted to their imagination as effectively as a photograph does to us today. Early modern readings of these images would also have been informed by their own visceral experiences of religious violence – in the mid-seventeenth century, England had suffered about a 3.7 percent loss of population during the Civil Wars (more than during World War I, around 2 percent) and religious violence was part of everyday existence. Thus in their historical context, these images would perhaps have been just as affecting as Azadeh Akhlaghi recreations of Iran’s most notorious murders are to us today, though in the future they may also be seen as amateurish and slightly absurd.

The Author[1]

Samuel Clarke (1599-1682) was born in Sam Clarke headshotWarwickshire, the son of a vicar, and he grew up in a notably Puritan parish. He was well educated – first at Coventry school, and then Emmanuel College, Cambridge. In February 1626 he married Katherine Overton, with whom he had six children.

Following his education Clarke had a successful career as a clergyman. He was constantly in trouble for his nonconformity (his refusal to wear the surplice and omitting some of the ceremonies in the Book of Common Prayer), although he was pleased with the reformation that he achieved at Alcester in the 1630s – according to Clarke, as a result of his ministry the town ‘which before was called drunken Alcester, was now exemplary and eminent for religion’.[2]

Clarke campaigned against Laudian innovations in Church government and theology, and witnessed the suffering that the Civil War bought to the Midlands in the 1640s. In 1643 he moved to London, becoming minister at St Benet Fink and getting involved in London Presbyterian circles. In the 1650s he was a more moderate voice, prepared to work with the Cromwellian regime, and he initially welcomed the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. However, the religious settlement of 1662 was too conformist for Clarke’s tastes, and he was ejected from his position in the Church, along with two of his sons.

Excluded from the Church, Clarke then dedicated his time to writing and publishing works that would promote his religious beliefs, including A Generall martyrologie. Clarke specialised in compiling biographies, gathering his material from already published works and the manuscript writings of other godly ministers. His other works included: The Lives of Thirty-Two English Divines, appended to the third edition of A Generall Martyrology (1677) and Lives of Sundry Eminent Persons in this Later Age (1683).

[1] The information about Samuel Clarke is from: Ann Hughes, ‘S. Clarke (1599-1682)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (OUP, 2004); online edn. May 2007 [, accessed 12 April 2014].

[2] S. Clark [S. Clarke], The lives of sundry eminent persons in this later age (1683), quoted in Hughes, ‘S. Clark (1599-1682)’.

I consulted all three editions of Clarke on Early English Books Online.

No place like home: Seventeenth-Century Portishead

I suppose it is natural when you are on the other side of the world to turn your thoughts towards home. And so it is that on a trip to the Huntington Library in California (to attend this ace conference on ballads) I’ve felt inspired to write a post about my home town: Portishead in North Somerset.

The Huntington: A long way from home...

The Huntington: A long way from home…

One of the areas I focused on in researching alehouses for my forthcoming book was the county of Somerset, which has excellent quarter sessions records. Of course, as I scoured the archive looking for evidence of alehouse regulation and instances of good fellowship, I kept an eye out for references to my home town. I didn’t find much – it was no more than a small village before the Victorians adopted it as a seaside resort in the nineteenth century – but there were a few cases I came across which suggest something of the character of the place and its inhabitants. They don’t necessarily portray my ancestors in a positive light.

Home sweet home

Home sweet home

The first thing I discovered was the following order, made by the county magistrates, at a meeting of the Somerset quarter sessions in Wells, in 1656:

‘Whereas one Susan Gulston a poore cripple is lately come into the parish of Portishead in this County; and itt appearing that shee was last settled att Takeley in the County of Essex, this Court uppon complaint of the parishioners of Portishead doth order: That the said Susan bee retorned from parish to parish by the officers of each parish to Takeley aforesaid there to bee provided for according to lawe.’[1]

Basically, a poor crippled woman had turned up in the parish, and the locals did not want to be responsible for paying her poor relief. So they had asked that she be escorted from parish border to parish border all the way back to her home parish some 154 miles away to claim relief. That’s 51 hours of walking, according to google maps (assuming she stuck to the most direct A roads). That’s some walk, especially given that this poor woman was disabled:

The Long Walk Home

The Long Walk Home


The case doesn’t, I think, reflect particularly well on my Portishead forebears – but it is not by any means an untypical response to a poor stranger turning up in an early modern parish. As Brodie’s recent post on a 101-year old vagrant woman attests, the world’s first nation-wide welfare system was not necessarily a deeply compassionate one.

The next reference I found came from a meeting of the quarter sessions at Taunton in 1630. This time, the county magistrates were issuing an order that:

Fifty pounds be raised by a County rate and the money arising therefrom to be paid unto Rice Davies and Richard Cole, Esquires, to be by them imployed for and towards the transportinge of a greate number of Irish people from the parishe of Portishead.[2]

The precise details of what was going on here are not entirely clear, but it seems once again like a case of a cold Portishead welcome for outsiders – perhaps a group of Irish migrants had landed a ship at the beach in the parish, only to be apprehended by the locals who then asked for assistance to fund sending them straight back.

A stony welcome at Portishead beach?

A stony welcome at Portishead beach?

I was starting to fear that the only imprint left by my ancestral townsfellows on the historical records of the early modern period were a few cases of a pronounced, if not unusual for the period, lack of hospitality and compassion to outsiders – ‘local xenophobia’ if you will.[3]

Then I recently came across another reference rather more to my liking. In 1637, the churchwardens of Portishead – a local voluntary office whose duties included maintaining peace and good order in the community – were reported to their superiors for their tolerance of:

‘fives playeinge [an early racket sport like squash], dauncing, Cudgill playeinge [an early form of cricket perhaps?], and fightinge in the churchyard there’.[4]

Since the Reformation, church authorities had worked hard to banish games and pastimes from taking place in the church grounds, as they sought to establish clear lines between the ‘sacred’ and the ‘profane’, and increase a sense of sober reverence in and around the church itself. But here were the parishioners of Portishead, having a merry old time in the churchyard, whilst local officials willingly turned a blind eye to this defiance of authority.

Fun and games at the parish church - now Grade I listed:,_Portishead

Fun and games at the parish church – now Grade I listed:,_Portishead

As Chris Marsh puts it, such ‘inveterate traditionalism’ was probably unusual by this date and these kind of activities had been largely suppressed. So here at last was something for me to hold on to: a sense of pride that Portishead had, albeit in a small way, played its part in the West Country’s long tradition of non-conformity and libertarianism. Even better, it sounds as though an afternoon of cricket, dancing and fighting was as popular in seventeenth-century Portishead as it is today.

* If anyone else happens to have come across a reference to seventeenth-century Portishead, please share it in the comments section.

[1] Bates Harbin, E.H. (ed.), Quarter Sessions Records for the County of Somerset, Vol. III, Commonwealth, 1646-1660 (London: Somerset Record Society, 1907-12)

[2] Bates Harbin, E.H. (ed.), Quarter Sessions Records for the County of Somerset, Vol. II, Charles I, 1625-1639 (London: Somerset Record Society, 1907-12)

[3] For more on the ‘culture of local xenophobia’ in early modern England see: Keith Snell, ‘The Culture of Local Xenophobia’, Social History, 2003, 28 (1), pp.1-30.

[4] The case is from REED (Somerset, p.207), though I encountered it through reading Chris Marsh, Music and Society in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2010), p.375.