Monthly Archives: May 2009

The death of a Lord Treasurer

I was perusing the newsletters written by George Garrard to the earl of Strafford when I came across an account of the death of the Lord Treasurer Richard Weston, earl of Portland (d. 1635).  It sounds like it was terribly painful:

Friday Morning about three of the Clock the Lord Treasurer died; and he said over Night to many of his Friends, that he should do so about that Hour.  He died in great Pain, entring his Bed not above one Hour before his Death, crying out vehemently upon a Pain in his Kidneys, and most of that Hour tumbling and rowling up and down: At length he fetched three great Groans and expired.  At Night he was opened by Watson the Surgeon, his Heart two Inches fat about, a fat Heart, his Liver and Lungs good, his Sweet-bread naught, his Spleen good, but his Kidneys clogged with Stone, in one of them a Stone four Inches about, in the other a Stone like the Cork that stops a Bottle; the Bottom of his Stomach very foul, black, raw, being corroded with some malignant Humours.

Talk about a rough way to go.  From a similar letter, I also learned that Prynne, after having his ears cropped, had them sown back on.  The amazing part is that it worked!  I’m not sure about when he had them cut clean off, though.  The seventeenth century was kind of gross.  Then there was this item; I thought it was rather cold:

The little Treasurer Sir Thomas Edmondes hath lately buried his only Son, in whom he was most unfortunate, therefore no great Loss to him.  For, of all young Men that ever I heard of, he was the most given to Drunkenness, no Counsel, no Advice able to recall him from that filthy beastly Sin.  Also Mr. Comptroller Sir Henry Vane’s eldest son hath left his Father, his Mother, his Country, and that Fortune which his Father would have left him here, and is for Conscience sake gone into New-England, there to lead the felt of his Days, being about twenty Years of Age.  He had abstained two Years from taking the Sacrament in England, because he could get no body to administer it to him standing.  He was bred up at Leyden, and I hear that Sir Nathaniel Rich and Mr. Pymme have done him much hurt in their Persuasions this Way.  God forgive them for it, if they  be guilty.

This last one is interesting for other, obvious reasons.  I got these from the first volume of Strafford’s Letters and Dispatches edited by Knowler, published in the eighteenth century.  I also wanted to mention for anyone unaware, as I discovered recently, that the Strafford papers held at Sheffield City Library have been microfilmed and Julia Merritt has edited a guide to the said microfilm.  I wonder if they are somewhere digitally available.  Nonetheless, a very useful set of papers to be made widely available.  I just ordered up about 10 reels from UC Irvine.  Why Irvine had them and none of the other UCs (like UCLA or Berkeley) is a bit strange, but I guess I’m just happy that one of them did.

Anyway, that’s it for now.  I might have spent more time discussing the various issues raised by these selections (early modern punishment, mutiliation, cosmetic surgery, puritanism, etc.) but it’s been a rough few weeks and will continue to be so.  They caught my attention, so I thought others might be interested as well.


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Notable Occurences and more on agents

The new Carnivalesque is up at Mercurius Politicus!  Surprisingly, my previous post is actually mentioned!  Whooo!  My thanks to Politicus for hosting the Carnivalesque and for the handful of people who read this blog.

Also mentioned in the Carnivalesque is this article over at Got Medieval.  Evidently, Johannes Gutenberg found a printing press after he tripped over a stone tablet.  A panel of experts, indeed.

I have continued my look into agenting (I don’t know if that’s a real word; if it isn’t, I hereby call dibs).  I’ve been skimming through Knowler’s 18th-century volumes of Strafford’s correspondence for clues as to his relationship with William Raylton, clerk of the council chamber and later the clerk of the privy seal.  As J. F. Merritt points out in her chapter in her edited book The Political World of Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, 1621-1641, Raylton was a very key component in Strafford’s communication with London.  In fact, he seems to have performed very similar functions to Mabbott with some his patrons.  I still have to look up more secondary literature on Strafford, but I think this is definitely something useful.

I have been trying to formulate a slightly more vertical version of political history.  What I am doing still focuses on the center, Westminster and Whitehall, and I am still interested in what the grands were up to, but I also think it is necessary to look at some of the lesser known functionaries in these places.  Men like Mabbott and Raylton were there, and provided important unofficial functions, but very little record of these activities remain.  All we have are snippets, usually in other people’s correspondence.  However, we need to imagine a political world in which the machinery had its own minds and motives.  These men were official clerks, but also were in the pocket of others.  When grands conducted business in front of these people, they had to keep that in mind.  Some of them, like Mabbott, seem to have had more mercenary tendencies, while others may have been loyal to one patron.  Nonetheless, it does add another texture to the goings on in Westminster.  We need to remember that these scribes were not just cogs in the government machine, but were powerful players in their own right, and they had a great deal of information pass under or around them every day.  They were likely better informed than many of the more famous players.  Peter Beal, in In Praise of Scribes, remarks that scribes were singled out as unnaturally powerful for their humble social status.  Perhaps we should take the contemporary complaint a bit more seriously.

Anyway, those are my thoughts for today.  See you all next time!

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Lake on post-revisionism, Me on the historian’s craft

I just read Lake’s chapter “Retrospective: Wentworth’s political world in revisionist and post-revisionist perspective” in Merritt ed., The Political World of Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, 1561-1641 (1996).  I have to say that I am impressed.  It’s just another one of those occasions where I feel utterly incapable of the profession I am trying to enter.  However, as a graduate student, that is nothing too new and I have moved on.

Even though the chapter is over a decade old, it is still a useful signpost of the direction that the historiography is headed as well as an astute discussion of what revisionism was.  Yes, it was destructive and iconoclastic even in its attack on whiggery, marxism, and whatever other form of “modernization theory” it could find (I am an American, so I will spell it with a “z”).  However, the real use of it was in returning high politics to the story and replacing “rising middle class”/”striving for democracy” with other long term problems, like the “functional breakdown” of the government and the divisions within Christianity.  Revisionism was destructive, but it was also constructive, it’s just that the new problems seemed so unique and isolated; how could historians continue to talk to each other?

The way forward is to look at other centers of power besides parliament and the king.  Important though they may be, they were not the whole show.  For Lake, in the short term, historians have to engage in histoire événementielle, looking at well defined events and following throughout England and different social and political milieu.  Lake is looking for a “multiplicity of narratives” to replace the master narrative.

This future (and ongoing) historiography is more intellectually satisfying, more postmodern, and more capable of dealing with disorder.  It is an historiography without an end, because how could we ever run out of events?  It seems that we have secured our jobs for the foreseeable future.

Or have we?  My question is: how do we teach it?  How do you teach history without a narrative?  How many people can stomach history without a point?  In a sense, this new history is more pure; it is history written to the taste of historians.  Yet, in a place where the president is proposing increasing funding to the other side of campus, can the humanities really expect to prosper without appearing useful?

This is all obviously beyond the scope of Peter Lake’s chapter, which was very insightful (the complexity of the discussion is not done justice here) and has given me some direction in writing my dissertation, and some grounding in a larger historiographical trend which I find gratifying, but it has made me start to wonder about what it is that we do.  Marc Bloch told us to live in our world, even while writing about one long gone.  I mean, the man was executed by the Nazis.  What is that we do?

I am not advocating pandering to the ill-conceived notions of undergraduates.  Whether or not they enjoy finding out that Marx was wrong, that history did not magic up the United States, and that perhaps science and religion aren’t the worst of enemies, we should teach them to think differently.  Certainly, we are not here merely to confirm what they already misguidedly believe.

Perhaps the answer is with Marc Bloch, too.  Our prey, like the mythical giant, is wherever we catch the human scent.  We study humanity: in society, by himself, and all the myriad things it is that the human animal does.  We engage in that age old art of storytelling.  But then again, didn’t those stories have a point?


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Mabbott in London

Hello everyone, I apologize for my long disappearance from the world.  I have been busy, suffice it to say, and more recently I have been very distracted by my city burning to the ground.  It sounds like the fire crews are starting to win the battle, and the weather finally broke, but it’s been a very miserable few days.

I have been working steadily on putting together one of my dissertation chapters.  I don’t have anything on paper yet, but I’m getting the itch to start writing, so I thought I would start here.  This chapter will be on Mabbott as a London Agent.

Old Gilbert is mostly known for his role in the news industry, and perhaps that is his major significance, but my research on him indicates that his main occupation was as a London agent to a variety of patrons, including a handful of armies (Fairfax’s, Cromwell’s, and Monck’s, and I do think these need to be divided), the Hull corporation, Leith, and a dozen or so royalists.  There is undoubtedly more, but that’s all I can find.  Some of these I do not have very much on other than intriguing tidbits, and on the rest I only have about half the story, but I think put together they tell an interesting tale.

Mabbott had been a parliamentary clerk, he was well connected in the army, and he was “fitt for many imployments” (my new dissertation title).  All of these things made him a very useful middle man: he knew most of the important movers and shakers and he knew how to get things done.  He just never shows up in any of the official records.

I have been having a hard time finding a framework in which to work out the history.  I plan to look at the news culture aspects, mainly by trying to understand his relationship to the Hull fathers.  Ian Atherton and some others have painted the nature of the relationship between newsmonger and recipient as almost being forced into a patron-client relationship in order to avoid some of the dangers inherent in disseminating news.  This worked its effects on the content of the letter, tending toward very little glossing or explanation of the news, and the placed the two parties in a more readily recognized social relationship.  Thus, the newsletter writer was made the client, and Mabbott as client, could do a lot of favors for his patrons.  At some point, people seem to have figured out that if someone had good enough connections to get the news, he might just be able to do other things, too.

However, a lot of Mabbott’s work as agent did not have much to do with news.  He was used to prosecute business in parliament and the protectorate.  This is the part I am having difficulty developing.  I have found a number of articles on the London guilds lobbying parliament and crown in the Tudor period, but I haven’t had much luck beyond that.  Derek Hirst’s article, “Making Contact: Petitions and the English Republic,” makes a persuasive  case that in the 1650s, interested parties increasingly turned to middle men to pass their petitions on to the appropriate committee or official.  Mabbott would have been exactly one of those middle men (I’ve got evidence of him doing exactly that).

The problem is that I can’t seem to find a larger historiography on the London Agent as part of the political culture.  Obviously, there had been London agents for a very long time before the 1640s, but I’m not sure where to look.  The likely forerunners would have been at Charles’s court during the Personal Rule and around the parliaments in the 1620s.  The parliaments transacted an enormous amount of private business, there surely must have been agents acting behind the scenes.  I think I’m on to something here, because as I get deeper and deeper into it, the London agent seems to have been a necessary if rather invisible part of the political culture, but I don’t have other examples to look to.  If anyone knows of anything discussing either the agent as a concept or someone who acted as an agent, I would greatly appreciate a point in the right direction.

Anyway, that’s my post for now, I will hopefully have some further thoughts to post in the next few days.  Also, I recently rewatched “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and I’ve been laughing about Paul Rudd singing “the weather outside is weather” for the last hour.  I just thought I’d mention it.

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