R.H. Tawney claimed that ‘the sixteenth century lives in terror of the tramp’. He wrote that over a hundred years ago, but more recent research has largely confirmed Tawney’s contention that Tudor and early Stuart England was a society deeply anxious about the movements of the ‘masterless’ poor.
As a result, it is not difficult to find fearful, satirical or insulting depictions of ‘vagrants’ and ‘vagabonds’ from this period. However, just as it can be hard to find images of early modern working women, it is also rare to come across sympathetic pictures of the poor. Yet, we know that many people continued to see at least some beggars as victims who deserved compassion and charity.
The one particularly sympathetic portrayal of poverty that does appear repeatedly in early modern culture is the biblical story of Lazarus and Dives. In this parable, Jesus tells of a diseased beggar, Lazarus, who arrives at the door of a rich man, Dives, to beg for the crumbs off his table. Dives refuses and is condemned to hellfire while Lazarus dies and is carried to heaven by the angels.
Last year I wrote a series of posts on memorialisation and history, inspired by my discovery of Exeter’s memorial to two sixteenth-century martyrs. I uncovered the story of the two local victims remembered on the monument, the life of its colourful creator, and I explored why commemoration of religious martyrs suddenly became widespread in nineteenth and twentieth-century England. Over the summer, free from the golden reins of teaching, I found myself in two locations that provided more pieces of the puzzle.
University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford
The view north from St Mary’s, looking into Radcliffe Square.
I was lucky enough to spend a week working in the Bodleian, and during a lunch break I took a tour around the University Church just opposite. In 1556 the church still functioned as a court and the first Protestant archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, was tried for heresy there by Mary Tudor’s Catholic government. Cranmer was one of the key architects of the early English Reformation, chiefly responsible for the 1549 and 1552 Books of Common Prayer – the latter was eventually the basis for the Elizabethan 1559 version. Cranmer refused to abjure his faith (technically he recanted, but then went back on his original recantation) and was burnt to death on Broad Street in Oxford, just round the corner from the church – and of course very close to the site of the Oxford Martyr Memorial today. Continue reading
In 1658, the Czech scholar John Amos Comenius published what’s been called ‘the first children’s picture book’. It proved extremely popular and was republished many times, in many different languages. What brought it to my attention was the fact that it included 150 pictures of ‘the visible world’, a rare treat in an early modern publication.
It was designed to teach Latin and, in the 1705 edition, English to young people, so most of its illustrations depicted the sorts of things a child might be expected to know from life. They would find, for example, pictures of youth at study and at play, stilt-walking or bowling.
However, the ones that caught my eye were the many illustrations of working life. If you, like me, teach or write about early modern economic history, you’ll know that this particular subfield has an ‘image problem’. Perhaps thanks to a strong seam of ‘iconophobic’ Calvinism, post-Reformation England was not exactly awash in imagery of any kind and I have often found it particularly difficult to find images of economic life. One can find many pictures of kings and noblemen. But there are frustratingly few depictions of ordinary people doing their jobs, whether as artisans, traders or labourers. This gap is partly filled by the broadside ballad woodcuts on EBBA that Mark Hailwood has discussed here before. However, it remains difficult to find the sort of rich visual material that one can find, for instance, in Dutch ‘Golden Age’ paintings or in nineteenth-century periodicals. Continue reading
Whether you’re a historian, a hairdresser or a helicopter pilot, you may well define yourself by your occupation. The same was true in the early modern period, as when legal scribes added ‘labourer’, ‘weaver’ or ‘yeoman’ after each and every name in their records.
Joseph Bufton, the Essex diarist and sermon-goer, was no different in some ways. His father, John, was listed as a ‘clothier’ in at least four documents between 1645 and 1692. His brother, also John, was likewise a ‘clothier’ in 1671 and 1695. Joseph himself was described as a ‘clothier’ when he served as a trustee for a local charity in 1695 and again when he made up his will in 1718. He was, then, a clothier in a family of clothiers.
So why have I titled this series ‘The Woolcomber’s World’? I’ve used that label because Joseph Bufton was – I think – a woolcomber for most of his life, closely linked with the trades of fulling and combing throughout his time at Coggeshall.
Isaac van Swanenburg’s ‘The Removal of the Wool from the Skins and the Combing’ (1595)
The evidence for this comes from yet another almanac-turned-notebook, a Goldsmith’s Almanack of 1686, which Bufton later described as the one which ‘has the orders in Comber’s book, &c.’. In it he recorded the ordinances of his guild, warrants from magistrates to protect the craft, the articles of the journeymen’s ‘purse’, and of course several lengthy poems lauding the glories of the trade. Continue reading
This is my latest post in my long running series on the pious Leeds antiquarian Ralph Thoresby. My thanks to the Yorkshire Archeological Society for their permission to reproduce material from the Thoresby papers.
I recently returned from an end of summer ‘smash and grab’ raid on the archive with a memory card stuffed full of hundreds of images of diary entries, correspondence and other bits and bobs from Ralph Thoresby’s papers. I consulted all of this material at the Yorkshire Archaeological Society (YAS) headquarters in Leeds, where the Thoresby Society is also currently located. Both are housed at Claremont, a splendid eighteenth-century merchants’ abode that is a delight for any student of history to work in, peaceful and accessible as it is. The staff and volunteers are very welcoming and knowledgeable, and the archivist Kirsty McHugh in particular went out of her way to accommodate me on my visit. Alas, Claremont will not provide such a salubrious environment to scholars for much longer, because lack of funds means that the Society’s Library and Historical Collections are to be moved, and Claremont is to be sold. Fortunately, the collection is to be loaned to the magnificent Brotherton Library of the University of Leeds, hopefully preserving the unique character and coherence of the whole, but nonetheless this is sad news for those who have sustained the YAS over the years, and particularly for those currently based there.
With the start of term only a week away, it is likely to be some time before I can digest the material that accompanied me back to the South West, but I did stumble across a couple of bits of found art that I wanted to share. Continue reading
This is the fourth post in a series of posts relating to Exeter’s martyrs memorial, the others are on the following:
Today’s question is – what do we know about the creation and placing of Exeter’s martyr monument? The endlessly informative Exeter memories website furnished me with more details about the city’s own specimen. Funded by public conscription, it was designed by Exeter’s Harry Hems (above), a London born master sculptor and wood carver, who made Exeter his home. Continue reading
This is the second of a series of posts on issues relating to Exeter’s martyr memorial. The first post discusses the details of the martyrs themselves.
Foxe’s [?] monumental [?] achievement.
The information about Exeter’s martyrs that I related in yesterday’s post was taken from John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments,
popularly known as the ‘Book of Martyrs’. Actes
was first published in 1563, five years into the reign of Elizabeth I. It is a work of Protestant history and martyrology, mainly consisting of a polemical account of the sufferings of evangelicals under the Catholic Church.
I’ve previously discussed images of martyrdom on the monster, in this post I am more concerned with as a history of the ‘true’ Church. Continue reading