Histories of London, c.1650-1800: Institutions, Work, Poverty and Crime

[In this post, Brodie Waddell sets out another response to the issues raised in the opening post on Integrating Histories of London.]

The history of early modern London cannot be written without the people who are often neglected in sweeping national histories. Whereas monarchs and politicians still receive the most attention in conventional textbooks of early modern history, it is the merchants, shopkeepers, craftspeople, criminals and beggars who populate the pages of metropolitan histories, especially those that focus on the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

So, why were these ‘ordinary’ – or even ‘marginalised’ – people so important to development of London at this time?

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Six people one might encounter on the streets of London: British Library.

As a historian whose research has wandered recklessly around early modern England, I have no unique expertise on the capital. Yet, the richness and accessibility of the sources held at the London Metropolitan Archives and freely available online at London Lives has encouraged me to spend more time working on the city’s history since arriving at Birkbeck in 2012. More importantly, working here has meant that I’ve benefitted hugely from the chance to learn from nearby colleagues who know much more about this field than I do. I’ve been able to read or hear a wonderful range of London-focused scholarship through conferences, seminars and supervisions as well as publications. Specifically, the impressions I set out below emerge mostly from what I have gleaned from Vanessa Harding, Jerry White, Mike Berlin, Matthew Davis, Sarah Birt, Charlie Taverner, Anna Cusack, Laura Gowing, Jenny Bishop, Richard Bell and the others at the workshop.

To my mind, if we are trying to understand how people outside the ruling civic elite fit into the ‘grand narratives’ of the metropolis, what we are really talking about is agency and structure. The question of the balance between agency and structure is one that features every historical subfield, but I think it has been especially important to recent work on London.

Before going any further, I know that this terminology is rather old-fashioned and simplistic, but simplicity can be useful when thinking about grand narratives. Moreover, obviously neither agency nor structure were all encompassing. The balance between them is always situational and historically contingent. This is precisely what makes it an interesting question for historians.

How much agency did different people have in ‘late’ early modern London (c.1650-1800)? Continue reading

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Histories of London, c.1500-1650: Space, Narratives and Numbers

[Dr Jennifer Bishop is a College Lecturer at Peterhouse College, Cambridge. In this post, she outlines her response to the questions raised in the opening post on Integrating Histories of London, focusing on the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.]

‘She is certainly a great world, there are so many worlds in her’ (Donald Lupton, 1632).

Donald Lupton’s description of London in 1632 neatly encapsulates our view of the early modern city. London was, and indeed is, composed of multiple overlapping and interlocking “worlds” – and the task of the historian is to explore these worlds, and to try and understand the relationships between them. It is perhaps no surprise that many studies of the city have been strongly influenced by the ‘spatial turn’. This is evident in the digital mapping projects of recent years – the Map of Early Modern London being the best example – and also a number of microhistorical studies of the individual streets, parishes, suburbs, and landmarks that made up the physical city.

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Visscher’s view of London, 1616

But equally as important as understanding London’s topography, the spatial turn has also directed our attention towards how ordinary people understood and navigated the early modern city. Historians now ask how and where different groups, individuals, and communities lived, worked, and socialised; which areas of the city were frequented by men and which were associated with women; which were popular with migrants and which were open only to citizens. We have a greater appreciation of the character and reputation of different spaces, and by asking how these changed over time (not only over the years, but also how they could also change simply in the transition from day to night), we can see a ‘microcosm’ of the changing urban world. Overall, by seeking to understand how disparate networks of people joined up and communicated across the metropolis, we have been able to recover some of the various overlapping and interlocking configurations that made up the early modern city. This approach to the history of London has resulted in some incredibly rich scholarship, with a special attention to minority and marginal groups, and a strong sense of London’s diversity and plurality as one of its key defining features.

The question we set out to discuss in this workshop was, how can we connect these diverse histories and stories together? Can we join up the histories of different groups and minorities in a meaningful way over the long early modern period, bringing them into dialogue over time as well as across space? In short, can we bring London’s multiple ‘worlds within worlds’ into a coherent, meaningful, whole? Continue reading

Integrating Histories of London, c.1500-1800

[Dom Birch, Esther Brot and Jonah Miller are doctoral students at King’s College London. In this post, they set out why and how they think the diverse histories of early modern London can be integrated with each other and with larger national narratives, reflecting on a workshop on this topic that they ran in autumn 2018.]

Between 1500 and 1800 the city of London changed—a lot. It was over this period that we begin to see the development of a London that we might recognise. By the end of the eighteenth century the city had many of its modern-day hallmarks: political power was linked to the metropolis, it was a driver of fashion and popular culture, it was a centre of a globalised world, and the city had grown to include what would have previously been considered its suburbs. The existential changes in London’s nature, and the way in which the history of London can be linked to the history of England, make it a compelling place to study. Understanding early modern London means understanding how it transformed from its medieval origins to an archetype of modernity. This field of study has, however, faced several difficulties recently. So, with this in mind, in October we brought together a group of historians whose work on London we felt is particularly innovative to talk through what, exactly, early modern London was.

The idea for this workshop originally came from the recognition that we were all working on the history of London in some capacity. This may sound obvious but as historians we’re often trained to think of the work we do in certain ways. We all think of ourselves as social historians and within that label as social scientists (Dom), historians of government (Esther) or cultural historians (Jonah). Despite these different fields of study, we were all researching groups of people who lived in London and would often find ourselves together in the London Metropolitan Archives—using sources from London. It then became apparent that this wasn’t an issue faced by us alone. There are plenty of historians working either in or on London who wouldn’t see themselves as historians of London. They might instead have as a primary motivator a historical theme (religious history) or a group of people (foodsellers or guild members). We thought it would be worthwhile to bring these different perspectives together for a discussion on early modern London more generally, and to ask what different focuses and methods could bring to the study of the city.

Braun and Hogenberg (1560-72) London map

London in the late sixteenth century: too big for one historian?

As we started to plan the workshop it became obvious that there are many issues in the history of London that can’t be solved by one single historian, or a small group of historians. Continue reading

‘Now, who the Divell taught thee so much Italian?’ Language-learning for historians of early modern England

[This guest post comes from John Gallagher of the University of Leeds. He also can be found on twitter talking about language, education and mobility.]

In an English-Italian phrasebook written in 1578, one character complained about the rudeness of the English towards foreigners, muttering that ‘fewe of these English men delight to haue their chyldren learne diuers languages, whiche thing displeaseth me’. He and his fellow-speakers discussed how best to learn languages, how fast it could be done, and whether it was worthwhile, with one speaker complaining that ‘I reade, write, and speake three or foure tongues, and yet I finde no profite’.[1] Four centuries ago, the usefulness of language-learning was already up for debate.

Early modern England, like England today, was multilingual. It was a country where Latin (and Greek and Hebrew) was heard in schools and universities, where Law French and Latin were spoken in the courts, where Dutch and French were languages of London courtrooms and fenland towns. While English tourists polished their Italian at home and abroad, soldiers and sailors encountered languages from Swedish and Spanish to Ottoman Turkish or Akan. From Ireland to India and from the Americas to Japan, England’s global expansion was shaped by multilingual meetings.

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Irish/Latin/English phrasebook compiled for and used by Elizabeth I of England (Wikimedia Commons)

Studying a language other than English can be of enormous value to historians. For students of early modern England, language skills can highlight new voices, new sources, and new perspectives on familiar histories. The UK – and the historical profession – seem to be facing a language crisis, so it couldn’t be more important to support our students in developing language skills or in putting ones they already have to use in their work as historians. From students who want to start a language from scratch to those who come to us with excellent Welsh, Polish, or Punjabi, as teachers we can always do more to show our students how their skills and interests can enrich their work as historians of all places and periods.

With this in mind, and partly prompted by Rebecca Rideal’s twitter discussion on the topic, I’ve put together some suggestions for students, researchers, and teachers who are interested in the rich and multilingual histories of early modern England and the early modern world (and hopefully many that will be of use beyond this period). Here are some resources that might be helpful to any early modernist seeking to learn a new language, or looking to brush up on one they’ve studied before: Continue reading

Seventeenth-century England: A Symposium to celebrate Professor Bernard Capp’s 50 Years at Warwick

Laura Sangha

On Saturday 20 October I had the great pleasure of returning to my alma mater to attend ‘Seventeenth-Century England’, a symposium to mark and celebrate Professor Bernard Capp’s fifty years at the University of Warwick. All of the many-headed monster co-authors were fortunate enough to benefit from Bernard’s advice and knowledge when we were postgraduates at Warwick in the 2000s, so this review of the Symposium is our way of joining the chorus of congratulations and commendations that characterised the day.

Fifty years’ service.

Professor Capp was appointed as Lecturer in History in 1968, when Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, the Kray twins were arrested, the M1 was completed, and the Race Relations Act was passed. The University of Warwick had admitted its first undergraduates just four years earlier.

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Alexandra Walsham exhorting us to undertake our own ‘generation work’

Whilst at Warwick Professor Capp became established as one of the leading historians of early modern England, his teaching and publications demonstrating an extraordinary breadth of research interests and expertise. The Symposium organisers, Peter Marshall and Naomi Pullin, did an excellent job of creating a programme that gave space to all the themes that underpin this work. Many papers explored gendered aspects of the seventeenth-century as well as the ‘religious marketplace’ of the age. Amanda Flather discussed the impact of Laudian ceremonialism on women worshippers, explaining how matters of conscience could be corrosive of female obedience. Tim Reinke-Williams regaled us with the masculine ‘banter’ of the early modern jestbook and laid bare the emotions that structured them. Ann Hughes’ paper on dissenting culture in Restoration England revealed the ways that religion connected single women to broad social networks and kinship. Hughes’ focus on the Gell family of Hopton Hall and the siblings in the family connected neatly to Alexandra Walsham’s paper on the ‘revolutionary generation’ of the 1640s and in particular the Fifth Monarchy Men, religious radicals bonded in solidarity by their conception of Christian history and the conviction that they were the ones to carry out a turbulent age’s vital ‘generation work’. Continue reading

The Power of Petitioning in Seventeenth-Century England: The Long Road to a New Project

Brodie Waddell

How can people without official political power push the authorities to act? Historically, one of the most common tactics was to create a petition or supplication. Even today, every year hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens sign e-petitions addressed to parliament which can lead directly to high-profile debates in the House of Commons.

In seventeenth-century England, petitioning was ubiquitous. It was one of the only acceptable ways to address the authorities when seeking redress, mercy or advancement. As a result, it was a crucial mode of communication between the ‘rulers’ and the ‘ruled’. People at all levels of society – from noblemen to paupers – used petitions to make their voices heard. Some were mere begging letters scrawled on scraps of paper; others were carefully crafted radical demands signed by thousands and sent to the highest powers in the land. Whatever form they took, they provide a vital source for illuminating the concerns of supposedly ‘powerless’ people and also offer a unique means to map the structures of authority that framed early modern society …

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That was our pitch to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for a grant of over £200,000. To my surprise and delight, they liked it.

So, from January 2019, I’ll be running a project looking at ‘the power of petitioning in seventeenth century England’. The co-investigator is Jason Peacey at UCL and we will hire a full-time postdoctoral research associate for twelve months as well. There will be much more information available once we have the project website up and running, but in the meantime I thought I’d announce it here and explain how it came to be. I hope it might be useful, or at least interesting, to other scholars thinking about their own projects. Continue reading

The Living, the Dead and the Very Very Dead: Ethics for Historians

Laura Sangha

Students of history are no strangers to ethics. Indeed, universities have ethics committees and policies which cover instances where the conduct of research involves the interests and rights of others. For historians, this usually means that they must reflect on the possible repercussions of their research on the living – particularly those relatives, friends, descendants and other groups or communities otherwise connected to the subjects that the historian writes about. Indeed, many ethical statements produced by historians concentrate on the interests and rights of the living – for examples see the Royal Historical Society statement on ethics, or the American Historical Association ‘Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct’.[1]

But I don’t work on the living.

I work on the dead. In fact, I work on the very very dead. People who died at least 300 years ago, and in some cases half a millennium ago. And since the dead don’t have any human rights for a while I was rather dismissive of ethics policies. They were for modern colleagues working on the recent past.

Yet eventually I came to think differently. Continue reading