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.