Category Archives: Long Parliament

Philip Baker and Elliott Vernon, eds., The Agreements of the People, the Levellers and the Constitutional Crisis of the English Revolution (review)

Baker, Philip and Elliott Vernon. The Agreements of the People, the Levellers and the Constitutional Crisis of the English Revolution. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2012.

Sorry for the delay. I finished reading the book a little while ago, but had other work to do. I also read (most of) another book, and I will probably post some thoughts on that when I get the chance.

Let me start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. However, if you are planning on getting started with the Levellers, you should not start here. This book does not provide an overview or context for a lot of what was happening in the 1640s. That is not a criticism; that was not the point of the book. But this book is a big step toward establishing some new orthodoxies about the Leveller movement and the army’s radicalism during the Civil Wars.

A lot of the chapters in this book drew on some ideas put forward by Vernon and Baker in their article “What was the first Agreement of the People?” I believe I discussed it in an earlier post. They argue that first Agreement was not a Leveller document. It was written by soldiers and agitators, led by Wildman, who had little to no direct contact with the civilians who would become the leaders of the Leveller movement. The Agreement itself was a product of the radicalism of some of the army’s own members and a response to what these members thought was an overly generous peace proposal in the Heads of the Proposals. Not all of the contributors to the book entirely go along with this redefinition. In particular, Rachel Foxley, who recently published a book on the Levellers, is not willing to take the Levellers out of the Agreement, citing enough similar phrasings and patterns of thought with earlier pamphlets by later Levellers to show consistency, even if Vernon and Baker are correct about the genesis of the document. For my part, I think that Vernon and Baker’s reading of the origins of the first Agreement make a lot of sense. It never made sense to me that Cromwell and the other senior officers would have been willing to give a serious hearing to the Agreement those fateful days in October and November 1647 if it had not been a product of the army. We simply have to take at face value that it was written by representatives from five regiments and not part of a Leveller plot. More on this point later, but suffice it to say that many of the contributors, particularly in the earlier chapters, support this reading of the first Agreement. This will be the new orthodoxy.

Baker and Vernon also establish a new chronology for the Agreements. Traditionally, historians discussed the first Agreement (Nov. 1647), the second Agreement (the account that Lilburne published in Dec. 1648 purporting to be the version agreed upon by the committee of sixteen), the officers’ Agreement (Jan. 20, 1648), and the third Agreement (May 1649). There was also an Agreement by John Jubbes (Dec. 1648) which was generally ignored or marginalized because Jubbes was not a Leveller. Baker, Vernon, and many of the contributors to the volume rename and reorganize this timeline. After the first Agreement, there is a series of compromises worked out between Wildman and a committee to reconcile the Agreement and the Heads on Nov. 2. Throughout 1648, Levellers and army supporters continued to develop the Agreement to include many of the social and legal reforms promoted by the Levellers, and the various published versions are collectively referred to as New Engagements. The second Agreement is now Foundations of Freedom, because it can no longer be second if the first was not a Leveller document and there were New Engagements in between. Jubbes’s Agreement is reconsidered as an authentic Agreement because if the first Agreement was not a Leveller document, then the fact that Jubbes was not a Leveller should not discount his Agreement. The officers’ Agreement is still referred to as such by most of the contributors, but it was also called the January 1649 Agreement. Finally, the third Agreement is redubbed the May 1649 Agreement, because it can no longer be third. The names reflect the new understanding of the Agreements as an ongoing series of attempts by different parties to resolve England’s constitutional crisis of the 1640s. While the Levellers were heavily involved, they cannot be given pride of place when so many others contributed. The result is messier, but more accurately reflects the complexities of the history. The crux of the Agreement is not Leveller infiltration of the army but the quest to settle England.  As Baker and Vernon write at the end of their introduction (which was a superb survey of Leveller historiography, “the Agreements of the People were documents that represented a particularly early modern attempt to remodel the constitution in a time of political crisis” (20-21).

In the interests of space and time, I will try to limit myself to a few thoughts on each individual chapter.

Ch. 1: Edward Vallance, “Oaths, Covenants, Associations and the Origins of the Agreements of the People: The Road to and from Putney”

This chapter argued that the Agreements adapted the use of loyalty oaths that proliferated in the 1640s and 50s, particularly the Covenant, from their earlier medieval, communal roots into “natural rights-based individualism” in a “quintessentially ‘early modern’ transitional phase” (30). Time is given to looking at Collinson’s take on the 1584 bond of association and earlier precedents of oaths of association. The Levellers came to emphasize the contractual language and invitation to mass political involvement, making the oaths a kind of social contract. Vallance notes the importance placed upon engagements and covenants by the Levellers and the soldiers, pointing out that the debate that preceded the famous debate over the franchise was an extended debate over the keeping of those oaths. Therefore, the radicalism of the Levellers does not rest in the franchise or any particular part of their platform (though there were radical elements), but in taking “the sectional democracy of the medieval commune and transform[ing] it radically, into a national written constitution, guaranteeing fundamental, natural, human rights” (43).

One thing that Vallance notes, which I have not seen elsewhere, but I am quite behind on my Leveller historiography, is that Rainsborough’s famous “greatest hee” speech was borrowed from Lilburne’s The Charters of London (1644).

I think that many historians are reimagining the Levellers as radicals who happened to get along for a while. Historians long struggled over what to call the grouping. Is it a party? Is it a movement? This view of the Agreement and the Levellers emphasizes the view of the Levellers as part of the fracturing Independent alliance (also not a new interpretation, but increasingly in vogue). These were men who read parliamentary declarations in a particular way, and thus drew on the same material as Independents and even Presbyterians, but drew wildly different conclusions. In this case, it is a matter of how they interpreted oaths. Is there any greater symbol for variant interpretation than the Solemn League and Covenant? Both Presbyterians and Independents found ways to bash each other with it.

Ch. 2: Jason Peacey, “The People of the Agreements: The Levellers, Civil War Radicalism and Political Participation”

At heart, this chapter was about the people: who they were and what they were required to do, according to the Agreements. Peacey compares the various documents and finds that while all of them required a mechanism for popular approval, the Levellers were radical in that they imagined that the people bound themselves to maintain the Agreement in an active way. There would be frequent elections, impeachments, free press, and regular political reporting to keep MPs accountable.

I am always a fan of Peacey’s work. However, I struggled with this one a little. I think that the analysis and argument were strong and I am always amazed at his grasp of the historiography (seriously, I sometimes wonder if I have read as many books in my entire life as he cites in a single article), but got bogged down in the language from time to time. This sentence got me: “the texts of the various Agreements thus contained a range of different ideas and they performed different functions for different groups, and within individual schemes they could be understood to have had multiple uses” (66). Still, if this is what I can expect to find out of his new book (which I have not been able to read yet because no school in the University System of Georgia seems to have it), I am on board.

Ch. 3: Alan Orr, “Constitutionalism: Ancient, Modern and Early Modern in the Agreements of the People

Orr argues that the Levellers were not trying to create anything new. Rather, the focus of the Agreements and the Levellers was about the restoration of the English birthright, no matter how mythical. The goal was to return to a time before the Norman Conquest and restore the English birthright to its proper state of freedom. This included creating a unicameral parliament and abolishing the power of the Lords.

The article is well argued and clearly written. Considering how much time the Levellers and others spent considering birthright, not to mention the extended debate at Putney, it is surprising that there has not been more discussion of what exactly the birthright meant.

Ch. 4: Philip Baker, “The Levellers, Decentralization and the Agreements of the People

Baker argues that the Leveller platforms and the Agreements were shaped the Levellers experiences, good and bad, with local government, particularly London’s. The Levellers and the Agreements developed over time was “a reaction against longer-term changes in civic governance as in more recent national developments” (98). The Levellers particularly wanted to decentralize the English government. The emphasis on decentralization in the Leveller tracts is well known, but the examination of their knowledge of city governments is revealing.

The Leveller demand for decentralization was at least in part sparked by perceptions of parliamentary tyranny. It was their experiences in being part of the “unacknowledged republic” of England (there are a few points in this chapter in which the reader is reminded of John Morrill; this is one of them) and the self-governing city of London that led them to believe such decentralization desirable. Baker shows that William Walwyn and Thomas Prince both occupied positions in London, and that Prince and Wildman worked for other city governments, too. In addition, Baker shows that their experiences with groups in London (Lilburne’s fight with the Stationers’ Company and Merchant Adventurers, Prince being denied a voice in an election, Walwyn’s plan to raise a citizen army to guard the Tower) all are represented in some way in the Agreements. These experiences and fears of losing local autonomy as the English government continued to centralize encouraged the Levellers to push for decentralization.

In the late 1970s, Morrill argued that Leveller and army aims were incompatible, something that the soldiers eventually realized, because the Leveller emphasis on decentralization would have made it impossible for the army to find relief for its material grievances (“The Army Revolt of 1647”). This chapter drew on an explored this aspect further in a very interesting way. I am curious as to why I have not heard more about the Levellers in city government. Baker argues that the leadership and the rank-and-file of the army opposed this decentralization, and so relevant proposals were withdrawn from later Agreements. However, Baker also argues that the Levellers themselves lost some of their steam for decentralization as their experiences with national and local governments made them doubt the “support and the judgment of their fellow man”(108). I really liked that last point.

Ch. 5: Rachel Foxley, “Freedom of Conscience and the Agreements of the People

This was a fascinating piece. Foxley is explaining the roots of the Levellers’ views on religious toleration and how those were different from Ireton and others.’ Religious toleration was fundamental to the Levellers in ways that it was not to others. It was the same as having political liberty.

The Levellers believed that, because compulsion in religion was not a power that an individual had, it could not be given by the people to the state. This is a fairly well known Leveller position. However, Foxley illustrates that the Levellers believed that the power of religion needed to be listed as a reserve from the government to make clear that it had no authority there. This was fundamental, because the Levellers believed that true government came from the people, not from God. For Ireton, magistrates did have divine approval. This illustrates the radicalism of the Leveller emphasis on government as a human institution, a belief that cost them the support of London congregations and put them at odds with the army grandees. Therefore, for Ireton, any Agreement should say that the government could not compel in matters of religion, but he fully believed that it had the authority to restrict in matters of religion, particularly to marginalize Catholics and prelacy.

The Levellers also argued that a person’s conscience was God-given, and therefore it was up to each person to make his or her own decisions, based on the way that God spoke to him or her. Foxley points out that this was also the motivation behind outlawing the draft. “Perhaps, indeed, it would not be going too far to say that the exercise of (individual) conscience in politics became one of the shibboleths that divided grandees from more radical army men” (16).

Ch. 6: Ian Gentles, “The New Model Army and the Constitutional Crisis of the Late 1640s”

This is a good article for getting context and background for the develops in the army and its relationship with the Levellers in the later 1640s. There is not a single argument that I can discuss here; it is more of a narrative.

Ch. 7: Frances Henderson, “Drafting the Officers’ Agreement of the People, 1648-49: A Reappraisal”

I am sometimes envious of Dr. Henderson and the amount of time she has been able to spend with the Clarke Papers. It seems like she is always finding something new and interesting. In this case, she is looking over an interim copy of the officers’ Agreement from Dec. 14, 1648. The discussion is very detailed, and I am not sure how much I can get into, especially considering this post’s current word count. Henderson argues that this draft of the Agreement in the Clarke Papers is a working draft of the Agreement, and not the Agreement decided on by the committee of 16 established by Lilburne and Ireton to draft a new Agreement. Henderson argues that Lilburne was writing truthfully when he wrote that he published the committee’s Agreement on Dec. 15, the day after he walked out of the Whitehall Debates. Henderson then uses the draft to show what the General Council had been up to on Dec. 12th and 13th, dates for which we have few sources to show what was being debated. The chapter ends with a transcript of the interim draft.

One takeaway from this piece, other than the usefulness of knowing what the General Council was up to during this busy period, is that Ireton was not playing the Levellers for fools. Lilburne came to believe that the debates over the Agreement were a ploy to keep the Levellers busy while the army set about executing the king and establishing its own power. The “painstaking” amount of work exhibited here suggests that Ireton and the army had every intention of settling the country through such an Agreement.

Ch. 8: Elliot Vernon, “‘A Firme and Present Peace; Upon Grounds of Common Right and Freedome’: The Debate on the Agreements of the People and the Crisis of the Constitution, 1647-59”

This chapter examined the Agreements as attempts to solve England’s constitutional crisis and the reception of the Agreements at large. This chapter examines how the Levellers became so closely associated with the first Agreement, despite that fact that it was not a Leveller document and that there was not group called “Levellers” before Putney. The innovative take on this part of Leveller history is that, simply, it was convenient for detractors to mash the two concepts together.

Vernon argues that the term Leveller came from the growing fears of social and religious disorder. Heresiographers, like Thomas Edwards, had stoked fears of social revolution. With the appearance of the Agreement and the threat of military imposition of that Agreement, people became convinced that there was a plot to kill the king and level society. The Agreement was the proof of such a plot, and it “would never lose this association in the polemical debates of the late 1640s and early 1650s” (200).

The Agreement also made people afraid of a future where people had too much freedom and society, as a democracy, would tear itself apart. It was perhaps made worse by the “secular formalism” of the proposed government that irked many fellow radicals. This included army divines like Joshua Sprigge and Sedgwick, who called it an “Agreement with death” (I always liked that one).

I like this piece because it ties together loose ends. It explains the appellation of Leveller, its links to the Agreement which was not originally a Leveller document, and how it played on fears across a broad political and religious spectrum. It is no wonder that no Agreement ever became the English constitution, despite eventually having the support of the army.

Ch. 9: Ann Hughes, “Diggers, True Levellers and the Crisis of the English Revolution”

Hughes makes the excellent point here that the Diggers and the Levellers were not related. Hughes has had a great deal of experience with the Diggers lately as one of the editors of the works of Gerrard Winstanley, and she notes that Winstanley himself rarely made common cause with the Levellers (I think it showed up in one or two pamphlets, but was probably more of an attempt at finding common cause rather than a demonstration of it) and that they wanted fundamentally different things. The Levellers wanted to create secular government, Winstanley wanted to God to help humanity recreate the beginning of the world. Winstanley’s project was inherently divine in nature. It was just convenient for commentators to lump the two groups together because the Levellers drew more attention, whereas the Diggers were what people thought that the Levellers were trying to be. In other words, the Diggers were actually trying to level men’s estates, so why not put them together with the group had been dubbed Levellers?

Ch. 10: David L. Smith, “The Agreements of the People and the Constitutions of the Interregnum”

This chapter traces the influence of the Agreements on reform and constitutional developments in the 1650s. Smith notes that the Rump had begun some piecemeal reforms regarding elections, religion, and justice. However, it was the Instrument of Government that showed the most influence from the Agreements, primarily in the franchise and distribution of seats, mainly drawing on the officers’ Agreement. However, with the Humble Petition and Advice, there was a distinct move away from the Agreements over religious toleration, the franchise, the distribution of seats, and the creation of a second house of parliament. The piece was frequently cited throughout the rest of the volume and is worth a read.

Wrap it up

Sorry for finishing so abruptly, but I saw how long this review was getting. The volume is really worth a read. I do think that Leveller and army history is being rewritten right now, and this book is making a significant contribution.

I hope that I will be able to keep up this more regular pace for writing posts. I am not sure what I will review next. I have some other recent books to look at, like Foxley’s book, I have some books on public history that I am reading, and I need to buckle down on some of my own research. I want to keep working on the history of the London agent, perhaps looking at what I can find on Sir Thomas Clarges and Capt. Adam Baynes. I am not sure if I have the money on hand to get copies of the volumes of Baynes’s correspondence at the BL right now, though. I may also want to go back in time and look at a Jacobean or an Elizabethan agent, but I am better prepared to work on another Civil War era agent. I will figure that out soon, hopefully. Suggestions are welcome.

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Censorship as language

Sorry for the delay.  I recently finished a little foray into a series of censorship events (let’s just go with that for a term) in 1645-6.  I will try to sum up.

To set the scene, parliament, the Scots, and the king are trying to come to some kind of peace.  Unfortunately, everybody wants something different, and all are keen to justify their behavior and demands to the larger public.  In a series of pamphlets, the Scots Commissioners tried to make their case.  For the most part, these pamphlets were made up of the Scots Commissioners’ own papers.  Parliament responded by making gestures through censorship. When it finally succeeded in censoring an entire Scot pamphlet, it appeased the Commissioners by making another gesture.

Parliament had a difficult time trying to silence the Commissioners.  On one occasion, it made an inquiry into an offending pamphlet clearly published with the Commissioners’ consent, only to let the matter drop.  Without punishing anyone, parliament was trying to make its displeasure clear.

On another occasion, parliament ordered the preface and introduction to a Scot pamphlet burnt, condemning David Buchanan, a friend of the Commissioners and author of the preface as well as another condemned pamphlet.  Buchanan was relatively safe to attack, but the Scots managed to smuggle him out of England in time anyway.  The pamphlet also contained 3 of the Scots’ papers, which were left unscathed by the flames.  Parliament managed to avoid an open conflict with the Scots by not burning their papers, but successfully conveyed its displeasure with the pamphlet.  As well, parliament seems to have intentionally avoided carrying out a further inquiry into the authorship of the introduction after it discovered that it was likely authored by either the Commissioners’ secretary or the earl of Lauderdale.  Parliament thus sidestepped another complication by avoiding knowingly condemning a work by the Commissioners themselves.  This was certainly a more threatening gesture, but fell far short of censoring the Scots.

In one final move, parliament managed to block the publication of some of the earl of Loudoun’s speeches in a conference with parliament.  The Scots were offended and made a few attempts to retrieve the seized pamphlets.  Parliament could not return the pamphlets, but not wishing to force a breach with the Scots, appear to have tried to mollify them with a further act of censorship.  This time, it brought in Henry Walker for publishing a pamphlet that had particularly offended the Scots.  Walker claimed that he had received Mabbott’s permission for publication, and parliament ordered him to bring in proof.  As far as I can tell, that is where the matter ended.  Unable to satisfy the Scots’ demand for the return of their papers, parliament made another gesture, this time toward censoring an offender against the Scots, again without punishing anyone.

There is certainly a language to all of this.  I find it useful to remember that censorship was a tool in the early modern government’s toolbox which could be used for many purposes.  Here, it was a soft sort of diplomacy.  It also carried some important ramifications for some of the publishers, printers, and authors involved, their allegiances, and Mabbott, but I think that is a story for another time.

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Skippon, Bethan, Mabbott, and the Provost Marshall

I will have something up on Tolmie soon, but first I thought I would discuss a little problem I have finally solved.  On Aug. 31, 1648, Mabbott requested further (but unrecorded) powers for suppressing illegal printing.  Most sources report that Parliament was happy with his suggestions, and the matter was promptly referred to a committee.  On Sept. 13, the Commons, following a report from Derby House, appointed Capt. Francis Bethan as Provost Marshall with the power, among others, to suppress pamphlets.  Historians have assumed that Bethan was given the powers that Mabbott had requested for himself.  The insinuation is that this was a repudiation of Mabbott as licenser.  This interpretation has never set entirely well with me.

For starters, nowhere do we have any indication that Bethan was granted the powers that Mabbott had requested.  The only suggestion that the two were connected in that way comes from Mercurius Elencticus, a royalist newsbook, which reported that Mabbott, “upon second Thoughts and the secret Checks and Twitches his Conscience gave him, he declined the Imployment,” and thus it was granted to Bethan.  J. B. Williams (Muddiman) bought this line in toto.  As nearly as I can tell, this is the only source that puts Mabbott’s request and Bethan’s appointment together, but Elencticus‘s specious claim lived on through Williams and into the modern historiography.  Fortunately, no one else that I have seen seems to believe that Mabbott’s conscience kept him from taking the job.

In case you are wondering why you’ve never heard of Bethan before, it would probably be because he came out of nowhere.  I have no idea who he is, and apparently neither did the newsbook editors and parliamentary clerks who gave several different versions of his name: Bethen, Bethan, Betham, Bethum, Bethel…  I suppose I could understand the first four, but Bethel?  That one was from Pragmaticus.

There is good reason that most contemporaries did not comment on the connection between Mabbott’s proposals and Bethan’s appointment.  Suppressing pamphlets was one of the smaller aspects of Bethan’s commission.  The order from the Commons on Sept. 13, following the report of Richard Knightley from the Derby House committee, read:

Ordered, That Francis Bethan have a Commission granted unto him to be Provost Marshal, for Apprehension of such as are within Twenty Miles of London, without the Liberties of the City, against the Ordinances of Parliament; and of other dangerous Persons that have listed, or are listing themselves: And that the said Provost Marshal have Power to apprehend and surprise all such Person or Persons as sell, sing, or publish, Ballads or Books, scandalous to the Parliament, or their Proceedings; and to suppress Playhouses, and apprehend the Players; and keep the said Persons apprehended in Custody; and carry them to the Committees of the Militias of the several Counties and Places where they shall be apprehended; to take Course with them, according to Ordinance of Parliament: The said Power to continue for Three Months.

As you can see, there isn’t really any indication that he was being granted whatever powers it was that Mabbott had requested.  Moreover, according to the original report in the CSPD from Derby House on Aug. 7, Bethan was originally only going to be recommended for the former part of the commission, rounding up malignants around London.  The responsibility for plays, ballads, and books was added at some later date.  Bethan’s ultimate appointment as Provost Marshall on Sept. 13 had clearly been intended, originally, for a separate purpose, beyond the suppression of pamphlets.  One also has to wonder about the delay from Derby House’s decision on Aug. 7 and its report on Sept. 13 (and the Lords’ concurrence on the 23rd).

I would argue that, rather than a repudiation of Mabbott, Bethan’s commission was an attempt to buttress Independent control in the metropolis.  The explanation lies in Skippon and the City.

Major-General Skippon had been in charge of the security of London and the surrounding areas.  While it would at first seem that Bethan’s duties would overlap with Skippon’s and thus undermine him, Skippon would never have agreed to his appointment were that the likely outcome.  Skippon was on the Derby House Committee, which was no longer under Presbyterian control, and was present on the day that the committee decided on its recommendation.

Skippon had also been called on to help suppress suppress stages and plays in Middlesex alongside the Committee of the militia of Westminster (CJ, July 26, 1648).  Considering the seemingly ad hoc nature of Bethan’s commission, it appears that Bethan was being enrolled to help Skippon in performing his various duties.  Defense of London (and its morals, evidently) required more than one man, especially when City government had so decisively turned away from him.

In the same way, Bethan was also to aid Mabbott, who was clearly incapable of halting unlicensed publication and was indeed asking for further powers.  While this could have been an attempt to undermine Mabbott, Skippon’s alliance with the army would have made him and Mabbott allies.  It is more likely that this was an attempt to strengthen Independent authority around an increasingly royalist London.

The fact that Derby House did not convey its request until Sept. 13, two weeks after the successful conclusion of the siege of Colchester, indicates that the move was not solely concerned with royalist invasion.  Rather, it would likely have been a result of the increasingly hostile mood in the capital (partly a result of the influx of royalists leaving Colchester).  Bethan’s official charge as Provost Marshall was “for the Safeguard of the Parliament.”  This is perhaps why the Commons and Lords agreed to the recommendation, but were very slow to go about it.  The Lords likely held out hope that Bethan would be more congenial, as their very next order of business after confirming Bethan was to order an inquiry into the authorship of the Moderate.  It is almost enough to make wonder if Bethan was chosen expressly because he was a nobody; it was not immediately obvious for whom he would be working.

There is certainly some guesswork in the story so far, but I think that it is plain enough that Bethan’s appointment was part of something much larger than Gilbert Mabbott (who would have imagined such a thing?).  Because of Skippon’s seat at Derby House, I have assumed that Bethan’s appointment had his blessing.  Parliament’s own fears about insurrection rather than invasion drove them to ultimately accept Bethan as Provost Marshall.  I argue that the move was meant to give support to both Skippon and Mabbott in keeping London and its presses in line.

Why devote this much space to something which no one has ever really cared enough to examine before?  Well, for my own purposes, it is useful for further explaining Mabbott’s career.  More generally, it is a reminder to those of us who have become so specialized in certain brands of history (print culture, in my case) that we need to remember to consider that print was only one front in a larger political and military battle.  Having only examined Bethan’s appointment in a print context, it certainly looked like an affront to Mabbott, but by looking at the larger political context, it was clear that it was part of an Independent push to control the capital.  The appointment of Bethan as Provost Marshall ultimately did very little to effect the outcome of the conflict, but it is a useful example of Independent strategy as well as of one of the ephemeral, omnipresent, miniature political battles that made up the parliamentary war effort.

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Royalist Composition

I have been doing some work with the Royalist Composition Papers lately, so I thought I would discuss what I’ve learned so far.  I haven’t found a guide beyond what is in the introduction in the fifth volume of the Calendar of the Proceedings of the Committee for Compounding, which is better than anything I’ll give here, but I thought I’d do it anyway.

The general practice, fairly well established by 1645, was for the properties of known recusants or delinquents (royalists) to be seized by commissioners in the counties.  There were two committees in London, the Committee for Sequestrations and the Committee for Compounding, though these were eventually merged into the latter.

The potential compounder was expected to take the Covenant and the Negative Oath and submit a particular of his estate, including the yearly value of each property.  If he misrepresented his property, by an order of the House of Commons, the compounder would have to pay four times the property’s value and lose the advantage of compounding.  The commissioners in the counties would do their own examination to verify the particular.  I could be mistaken on this; it seems that the compounder may have been allowed to reconcile the particulars without being fined extra.  It may have been only if a property was discovered after he had already been fined.

Upon petitioning to compound, the clerks of the committee would be ordered to examine what records they could find to determine the level of the fine.  The fines ranged from a tenth to two-thirds of the estates’ value.  The difference between a tenth and two thirds was large, but somewhat diluted by the calculation, the tenth was calculate for 20 years’ purchase, and the two thirds at 12 years.  The fines in the middle were progressively rated between the two extremes.  The wealthier or worse offenders were charged more, those less active or poorer less.  From what I have seen, most of the fines were set around one third.  The compounder would also be allowed to make deductions from the fine for debts owed, jointures to be paid, or other holds in their properties.

There were two acts for sale of sequestered properties that had not been compounded.  There were, apparently, a great deal of problems with these acts.  Some of the cases I have looked at involve the reclamation of the lands by the heirs of a dead delinquent, who had only been seised for life in a particular property.  While, most often, the claimant was simply handed the rents from the land in question, it could get stickier on occasion.

All of the cases I have looked at have required at least a year if not two or three to see a person go from delinquent to compounded and pardoned.

As to the Calendars themselves, I have run into several errors.  I am not trying to fault too greatly the work that went into compiling them.  However, the compilers generally neglected the depositions in many of these cases, and have thus misidentified persons, types of sequestration, or misnarrated the case more generally.  In fact, they seemed to have relied entirely on the persons name and home town to identify them, which turns out can be rather problematic though certainly practical from their point of view.  On a side note, I was astounded at the number of Lancelots running around in Civil War England.  I never thought of it as a common name.

So if you want to be certain about a particular case, you need to look up the materials at Kew yourself.  The depositions are tedious, but chalk full of goodies.  There are a few indexes available.  I got started by looking at the suggestions on the inside cover of the first volume of the Calendar in the Maps and Large Documents Room at Kew, so I guess I would recommend that for others, too.  Of course, the Calendars have references as well, but I found much more in the National Archives than what was listed in the them.

Anyway, that’s my post for now.  Hope it helps someone.  Actually, I really hope that someone helps me.  Anyone seen anything on the Committee for Compounding anywhere else?

PS. Thank you to everyone for your comments and submissions for my turn hosting Carnivalesque.  It was a surprisingly rewarding experience.  As well, thank you to everyone who drummed up my blog stats by stopping to take a look at it.

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Mabbott the Visitor

I’ve finally rebegun my work on collecting licensing statistics for Mabbott’s second term of office.  There are some quirks.  For instance, in Oct. 1647 there is a pamphlet that would appear to be royalist to which Mabbott gave his imprimatur.  The pamphlet contains an argument against allowing parliament to send visitor to Oxford University.  The author asserts that only the king has the right to conduct a visitation.  Considering Oxford’s previous position as royalist capital, as well as its later infiltration by a swarm of parliamentarian intellectuals, it is difficult to understand why Mabbott would license such a polemic.

There is no imprimatur on the actual work.  In the Stationers’ Register, the pamphlet was entered under the hands of Mabbott and [George] Latham.  Latham was a bookseller and would be a master of the Stationers’ Company by 1650 (I haven’t checked, but I assume he was serving as an Under or Upper Warden of the Stationers’ Company at the time, considering that he would be a master in three years time.  Wardens often served as the Company’s own licensers).  As Cyndia Clegg reminds us, entry into the Stationers’ Register does not necessarily mean the granting of a license.  However, I would assume that if the work was entered specifically under a licenser’s hand, that would imply a license.

I can think of five possible explanations.  One: Mabbott did not know what he was licensing.  I find this explanation unlikely.  Two: Mabbott was secretly a royalist sympathizer.  I find this explanation even more unlikely.  Three: he was bribed.  Possible, but one would expect that his regular pay as the army’s agent as well as licensing fees, plus a number of other “perks” that I’ve been finding, would have been enough to keep him loyal.  Four: as reputed, he did believe in a free press.  I do  not have space to discuss this here, but I have elsewhere concluded that this was not the case.  Five: he intentionally saw it published in order to make the author’s position appear foolish.  The text is rather vitriolic, and though I am not yet positive, this fifth explanation is the most likely.  Certainly, with Charles in the army’s custody, the argument that only the king could carry out a visitation was somewhat absurd.

What does this tell us about Mabbott’s licensing?  He at least occasionally engaged in games similar to those of the Laudians in the 1620s and 30s (at least as reconstructed by Anthony Milton).  By publishing an unrealistic royalist argument, he sought to marginalize royalism as a whole.  Or perhaps more simply, if that was the case against an Oxford visitation, airing it could only serve to weaken resistance.  Mabbott has shown other signs of such sophistication, including publishing petitions against free quarter with a related petition by Fairfax to parliament for regular pay, thus placing the blame for free quarter squarely on parliament’s shoulders.  I will have to leave off the full history of Mabbott’s licensing history for my dissertation, but this is what I have been thinking about lately, so I thought others might find it interesting.

On another front, I may have finally solved the mystery of Mabbott’s alternating letter forms.  I noticed in reading his newsletters that while his hand was generally consistent, a few letter forms, particular “t”s, would vary from newsletter to newsletter.  I am currently in the middle of reading Harold Love’s Scribal Publication in Early Modern England, and yesterday I noted a brief mention that personal secretaries might be expected to be able to mimic their master’s italic hand.  It is something I should have thought of earlier, but the explanation for the varying letter forms is as simple as different writers, all trying to write like Mabbott, with varying degrees of success.  I guess I was so confused because the hand was quite consistent besides a handful of letters, but I think that solves that problem.  It also may or may not suggest something about the scope of Mabbott’s newswriting enterprise beyond his currently known recipients, but that is a question for a different day.

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Newsletters finis

I finally finished transcribing the Mabbott-Hull newsletters a little while ago.  I thought I would take a little time to think about what I found in them, and since it’s time for a new post, to discuss them here.

I suppose the more general comments should go first.  Unsurprisingly, it seems obvious that Mabbott was writing a lot of these newsletters.  Some of them survive both in Hull and in the Clarke Papers, and the daily updates suggest that he wrote the letters one day at a time.  There are occasional changes in hand, indicating that he had help in writing all of them.  At least in one case, where he made a special ps to discuss business he was carrying out for Hull, he wrote “(Hull)” in the bottom left of the page.  I would imagine that it was intended to remind him to send the letter to the correct recipient, which would not be terribly necessary with only a handful of correspondents.

These letters would be useful for someone studying the Anglo-Dutch war, the Jamaica expedition, or the period’s politics more generally.  They focus on parliament, military engagements, and foreign affairs.  It is clear that he had access to the Commons Journal, and he had numerous contacts in parliament that he used to try to prosecute Hull’s business.

I’ve found evidence suggesting that Mabbott clearly took his position as agent to the army as superior to his employment with the Hull corporation.  I found one case in which he appears to have been using his correspondence with Hull to spread a little printed army propaganda (yes, I know that isn’t the right word), as well as possibly tried to repurpose one of Lilburne’s pamphlets.

He mentions a few printed works that were supressed.  One, Sportive Wit, caught my eye as being singled out.  I took a brief look, and although it seemed rather bawdy, I didn’t think it deserved quite the treatment that it received.  However, near the end of the book, there is an epitaph to none other than John Taylor.  There was also a strange line on the title page, “Semel in anno ridet Apollo,” which translates as Apollo laughs once a year.  Does anybody know the reference?

My favorite part is still where he refers to the Speaker being “modestly” pulled out of his chair at the dissolution of the Rump.

Well, that’s not everything, but those are some of the more important (or more interesting) things I’ve discovered by looking at his newsletters.

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A little more of the who and why of news

So I followed up a footnote in Alastair Bellany’s The Politics of Court Scandal in Early Modern England, a reference which I later discovered was also in Joad Raymond’s Invention of the Newspaper.  In 1637, John Taylor published a list of where the carriers from a number of cities and areas stayed while in London.  He republished it, with some minor corrections and additions (at least as I can see from a brief skimming) in 1642.  The first one was called The Carriers Cosmographie and the second A Brief Director.  I’m not yet entirely certain what to make of these pamphlets, but they very much interest me.  Assuming that it is the same John Taylor, one can see how he got into newsmongering; he knew where to get news from around the country.  However, it is the fact that he, a publisher, and a printer carried out the project that I find most intriguing.  The first post began in 1635, so it would seem that these pamphlets were geared either to those who wanted their letters carried more quickly or specifically wanted to avoid the post.  I’m not sure how secure these carriers were, but since the post was monitored, they certainly would have been more discreet than the official post.  Anyway, I can spend more time on that later; I just thought it was interesting.

I also had another thought today.  I’ve still been mulling over explanations for the explosion of printing in 1640-2.  I took another look at the great chart that Cressy has in England on Edge of numbers of publications per year.  In Politicians and Pamphleteers, Jason Peacey discusses how and why politicians resorted to print, often in clandestine ways.  Well, there were large spikes in publications in late 1640-2, 1646-7, and 1658-1660.  These periods have in common intense politicking and uncertainty.  I would argue that these spikes were the result of politicians trying to win political battles.  I don’t think it is a rise in demand or that censorship was that much less effective in these periods than the rest of the 1640s and 50s.  I have to assume that people would be as interested in the peace as in whether or not someone had won the war, or whether or not the war would be in their backyards soon.  If anything, I would guess that there was more demand for news of actual battles.  Politicking went on in the winters, but newsbooks tended to fail without military news to report (at least according to Anthony Cotton’s dissertation, “London Newsbooks in the Civil War”).  At the very least, there would not be such a widely varying demand.  I think it would be better to think of the print explosions in the 1640s and 1650s not so much as a result of the breakdown of censorship, but of its active circumvention by political elites: a push rather than a pull.  The more stable periods in between the spikes represent the regular “demand.”  I’d be happy to hear other peoples’ thoughts on the matter.

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Filed under Long Parliament, Print Culture