Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

208 posts categorized "Manuscripts"

30 May 2023

‘Bringing up a chicken to peck out their eye’: A niece’s betrayal

Alice Thornton (1626–1707), a Yorkshire gentlewoman, made sure that her life didn’t go untold by writing at least four versions of it in the 1660s to 1690s, two of which were acquired by the British Library in 2009. But why was she so keen to record her life and what was the significance of a chick-induced eye injury which she included?

Manuscript written by my dear Grandmother Mrs ThorntonFlyleaf of Add MS 88897/2, with Thornton’s monogram (AWT), the date of her husband’s death and a later inscription by her grandson.

Halfway through Thornton’s final autobiographical account, she tells a story about the writing of an earlier book:

‘About March 25, 1669, I was writing of my first book of my life to enter the sad sicknesses and death of my dear husband, together with all those afflictions befell me that year, with the remarks of God’s dealing with myself, husband and children until my widowed condition… There happened [to] me then a very strange and dangerous accident… as I was writing in my said book, I took out this poor chicken, out of my pocket, to feed it with bread and set it on the table besides me. It, picking about the bread innocently, did peep up at my left eye … [and] picked one pick at the white of my left eye … which did so extremely smart and ache that I could not look up or see.’

Thornton's account of the incident with the chickThornton recounts the incident with the chick, below the line: Add MS 88897/2, page 177.

This story about her pet chicken, though, soon turns into an account of why she never forgave her niece, Anne Danby, for spreading rumours about her and her family, a topic that much consumes her in this final book. Danby – like the chick – had been taken in, fed and looked after by Thornton. This connection is explicitly made by Thornton:  

‘There was some who jested with me and said they had heard of an old saying of bringing up a chicken to peck out their eye. But now they saw I had made good that old saying both in this bird and [in] what harm I had suffered from Mrs Danby of whom I had been so careful and preserved her and hers from starving.’

Thornton's account of her niece's betrayal‘Upon my sad condition and sickness that befell me by the slanders raised against me, July 20th 1668’: Add MS 88897/1, page 246.

It seems likely from internal evidence that Thornton was writing this final book in the 1690s, after the death of her only adult son. This loss might explain why Thornton writes so much about Danby’s earlier betrayal. Thornton’s main heir was now her daughter, also named Alice, who was married to Thomas Comber. Thornton’s close relationship with Comber was one of the topics of Danby’s gossip, as was his marriage to Thornton’s daughter (then only fourteen) in late 1668. Thornton was perhaps keen to set the record straight about this match a quarter of a century later, when the Thornton name was dying out and being succeeded by that of the Combers. 

The motives behind Thornton’s writing four versions of her life are being tackled by an AHRC-funded project, ‘Alice Thornton’s Books’, which will also make freely available an online edition of all four manuscripts.

Chicken pecking the ground  from a music scoreDetail of a chicken pecking the ground, from a music score, 1650. British Library shelfmark: 59.e.19, between pages 30-31.

We haven’t been able to trace the saying about the chicken and the eye – have you heard it before?

CC-BY
Cordelia Beattie
Professor of Women’s and Gender History, University of Edinburgh

Creative Commons Attribution licence

Further Reading:

Cordelia Beattie, Suzanne Trill, Joanne Edge, Sharon Howard. 'The Four Books By Alice Thornton'. Alice Thornton's Books [accessed 23 April 2023]

Charles Jackson. Ed. The Autobiography of Mrs. Alice Thornton of East Newton, Co. York. Durham: Surtees Society, 1875

Alice Thornton, My First Booke of My Life, ed. Raymond A. Anselment (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014)

09 May 2023

Gold Stick in Waiting

At the coronation of King Charles III, the Princess Royal was asked to perform the role of Gold Stick in Waiting.  This office has its origins in the royal attendants who acted as the monarch’s personal bodyguards, but the duties have been mainly ceremonial since the reign of Queen Victoria.  The staff of office has a gold head, hence the name.  As Colonel of The Blues and Royals, the Princess Royal holds the Gold Stick jointly with the Colonel of The Life Guards.

At the coronation of King George VI in 1937, the Gold Stick in Waiting was Field Marshal Sir William Birdwood. The Birdwood Collection in India Office Private Papers has a file with documents about his role at that coronation.

Birdwood's invitation to walk in the procession at the Coronation of George VI

Birdwood's invitation to walk in the procession at the Coronation of George VI

Birdwood's invitation to the Coronation of George VI with instructions about the carriage procession and robesBirdwood's invitation to the Coronation of George VI with instructions about the carriage procession and robes

Birdwood's ticket to the Coronation of George VI

Birdwood's tickets as Gold Stick in Waiting to the Coronation of George VI and the rehearsalBirdwood's tickets to the Coronation of George VI

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Papers and tickets relating to the 1937 Coronation of George VI which Birdwood attended as Gold Stick in Waiting, British Library India Office Private Papers Mss Eur D686/9.

 

06 May 2023

Monarchs enthroned: ceremonial iconography and coronations

King Charles III’s coronation continues an extremely long-standing ceremonial tradition.  The scale of coronations does vary from reign to reign, yet core elements such as the monarch’s selection, anointment with holy oil, public acclamation and enthronement remain unchanged.  Records for English coronations stretch back over a thousand years, but as David’s instructions to crown Solomon as king reveal, the Judaeo-Christian origins of the ceremony actually stretch back much further in time:
“And let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him there King over Israel: and blow ye with the trumpet, and say, God save King Solomon.  Then ye shall come up after him, that he may come and sit upon my throne; for he shall be king in my stead” (I Kings 1: 34-5).

The coronation on 6 May 2023 includes a rendition of ‘Zadok the Priest’ alluding to this biblical tradition.  Charles III’s enthronement appears to take its lead from early medieval religious iconography.  The Liber Vitae created around 1031CE centres upon King Cnut and Queen Emma presenting a cross to the altar of New Minster at Winchester.  Angels descend from heaven touching the Monarch’s crown.  There is an image of Christ enthroned located immediately above the cross.

King Cnut and Queen Emma presenting a cross to the altar of the New Minster  WinchesterKing Cnut and Queen Emma presenting a cross to the altar of the New Minster, Winchester British Library, Stowe MS 944 f. 6r. 

The earliest surviving English Royal Seal from Edward the Confessor’s reign 1042-1066 depicts the King crowned and enthroned, holding an orb and sceptre.  Excluding the Commonwealth era between 1649 and 1660, every monarch has been depicted in this manner on their Great Seal.

Earliest surviving English Royal Seal from Edward the Confessor’s reign Earliest surviving English Royal Seal from Edward the Confessor’s reign 1042-1066 - British Library, Lord Frederick Campbell Charter XXI 5.

This theme continues within the illuminated manuscript and other artistic traditions into modernity.  The following detail from Matthew Paris’s Historia Anglorum Chronica Majora created around the 1250s illustrates Henry III seated upon his throne holding a sceptre and a model of Westminster Abbey.

Henry III seated upon his throne holding a sceptre and a model of Westminster AbbeyPortrait of Henry III from Historia Anglorum Chronica Majora - British Library, Royal MS 14 C VII, f. 9r (detail)

Centuries later, during the 1670s, Michael Wright’s portrait of Charles II displays the monarch similarly posed, wearing the St Edward’s crown and dressed in parliamentary robes.

Portrait of Charles II wearing the St Edward’s crownPortrait of Charles II  courtesy of The Royal Collections Trust, RCIN 404951.


Philately also embraces such iconographical references.  This die proof made by the security-printing firm Perkins Bacon and Company Limited, London for the State of Victoria in Australia’s 1856 stamps carries an image of Queen Victoria enthroned on King Edward’s Chair.  Created by Edward I, it is now known as the Coronation Chair having been used in most coronations since that time.

State of Victoria 1856 penny stamp with an image of Queen Victoria enthroned on King Edward’s ChairState of Victoria 1d postage stamp 1856 - British Library Philatelic Collections: Supplementary Collection, Victoria

Edmund Dulac’s design for the 1s 3d stamp for the UK Coronation Issue of 1953 likewise includes a modern iteration of Elizabeth II enthroned.

1s 3d stamp for the UK 1953 Coronation Issue showing Queen Elizabeth II enthroned1s 3d stamp for the UK 1953 Coronation Issue - British Library Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection, Great Britain.

Cecil Beaton’s iconic 1953 photographic Coronation Portrait of Elizabeth II reveals fascinating insights regarding the planning of such symbolic imagery.  It depicts her enthronement at Westminster Abbey, but actually it was taken inside Buckingham Palace.  Beaton’s archives at the Victoria & Albert Museum include photographs illustrating preparations for the portrait which was adopted by Jersey on its 6 February 2002 £3 postage stamp commemorating of Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee.

Jersey £3 postage stamp with Elizabeth II at her coronation  commemorating the Queen's Golden Jubilee 6 February 2002Jersey £3 postage stamp commemorating Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee 6 February 2002 -British Library Philatelic Collections: The Holman Collection

 

Richard Scott Morel
Curator, Philatelic Collections

Further reading:
Roy Strong. Coronation: A History of Kingship and the British Monarchy. Harper Collins. 2005, p. 9.
Susanna Brown. Queen Elizabeth II: Portraits by Cecil Beaton. V & A, 2011.
The New Minster Liber Vitae 

 

16 February 2023

An early Union Flag on a Bombay document

Would it surprise you that there is an early representation of a Union Flag on a pass issued in Bombay in 1684?

Bombay, now known as Mumbai, became an English colony on 11 May 1661 as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza when she married Charles II.  On 27 March 1668, the King leased Bombay to the East India Company for an annual rent of £10.  By 1683 dissatisfaction with the Company’s rule culminated in a rebellion, with Bombay’s inhabitants appointing Captain Richard Keigwin to govern on behalf of Charles II.  Keigwin issued passes to local merchants allowing them to trade outside the Company’s monopoly as part of his policy to encourage economic growth in Bombay.

Pass issued by Richard Keigwin for the ship Tiger  owned by ‘Monnock Parsee’  Bombay  with impression of ‘His Majestie’s Union Seale’Pass issued by Richard Keigwin for the ship  Tiger,owned by ‘Monnock Parsee’, Bombay, with impression of ‘His Majestie’s Union Seale’- British Library IOR/E/3/43 f. 323 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

A pass for ‘Monnock Parsee’ and ‘Pendia Pattell’ sailing aboard the Tiger was issued at Fort Bombay on 6 January 1684.  Valid for one year, it was signed by Governor Keigwin on behalf of Charles II.  It requested ship commanders and British subjects allow the Tiger and its passengers ‘to passe without seizure, molestation or trouble, nor offering any abuse or incivility'.  The pass carries an impression of His Majesty’s ‘Union Seale’ in addition to the signatures of Keigwin and his secretary.

Impression of ‘His Majestie’s Union Seale’Impression of ‘His Majestie’s Union Seale’ - British Library IOR/E/3/43 f. 323  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


The seal’s design includes a large flag comprising the saltire of St Andrew and cross of St George denoting the union of England and Scotland.  Informally combined from 24 March 1603 onwards after the accession of King James VI of Scotland to the English throne as James I, this was not a legal and political reality until the 1707 Act of Union.  Nevertheless, a Royal decree on 12 April 1606 ordered the creation of a Union Flag for display on the main topmast of English and Scottish vessels.   Various design iterations fell in and out of fashion throughout the 17th century.  With flags being termed ‘jacks’ in the maritime world, such Union Flags acquired the nickname ‘Union Jack'.  Becoming the national flag of the United Kingdom from 1707 onwards, our current design has been in use since 1801.

Richard Scott Morel
Curator, British Library’s Philatelic Collections

Further reading:
Digital images of East India Company ‘Original Correspondence’ in the series IOR/E/3 are available via AM’s East India Company resource, free to access in British Library reading rooms.

 

09 February 2023

Peritas - Alexander the Great’s dog

Most people have heard of Alexander the Great or his teacher Aristotle.  Many have heard of Alexander’s warhorse Bucephalus, a horse so beloved that Alexander named a city, Bucephala, after him.  How many people can tell the tale of Alexander’s dog?  Who can name that Good Boy?

Little is known about Alexander’s dog ownership.  He may well have had more than one dog but the canine companion who is most frequently mentioned in the myths and legends that surround his master is Peritas.

If Plutarch is to be believed, Alexander reared Peritas from a puppy and the bond between the two was so strong that when Peritas died he was honoured in the same way as Bucephalus.  Alexander named a city after him. (Plutarch, Lives, 61.1).

We don’t know what breed of dog Peritas was, we don’t know what Peritas’ coat looked like, we don’t know if he enjoyed a game of Fetch.  All we know about that dog’s appearance comes from Pliny who recorded that Alexander was gifted a dog which was unusually large (Pliny, Natural Histories, 8.149).

A dog, a lion and an elephant walk into an arena… This may sound like a riddle or the beginning of a Christmas cracker joke but it’s actually one of the best known stories about Peritas.  Or the dog often believed to be Peritas.

According to Pliny (Pliny, NH, 8.149), Alexander was gifted his dog by the King of Albania.  Alexander was told by the King to test the ability of this dog by sending the dog into a battle with a lion or an elephant.  Alexander did just that.  The dog immediately killed the lion and then defeated the elephant by biting it in strategic places and causing the elephant to spin around and around until it was too dizzy to stand.

Alexander watching a battle between a dog  a lion and an elephantAlexander watching a battle between a dog, a lion and an elephant, C.107.k.7.

Aelian tells a slightly different version of the tale.  He tells of a ‘hound which can boast a tiger for a father’ that would not fight a deer, nor a boar; it only leapt into action when it saw a lion.  Aelian records that Alexander was so amazed by that dog that he was gifted dogs of this breed by the people of India (Aelian, On the Nature of Animals, 8.1).

Alexander receiving the gift of a dog; a dog battle against a lion and an elephantAlexander receiving the gift of a dog; a dog battle against a lion and an elephant, Royal MS 20 B XX, f.41v

Do we know for certain that the dogs in these stories were Peritas?  No, but perhaps they were.  Perhaps Peritas really was a dog so incredible he deserved to have a city named for him.  Or perhaps Peritas is merely one of the many myths that has grown up around Alexander the Great in the 2,300 years of storytelling that surrounds the historical man.  To discover more of the myths and legends surrounding Alexander the Great, visit our exhibition Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth, closing on 19 February 2023.  Alternatively, explore our website.

Yrja Thorsdottir
Digital Content Exhibition Curator

Further reading:
Affective Relations and Personal Bonds in Hellenistic Antiquity. United Kingdom, Oxbow Books, 2020.

 

03 January 2023

Charles Tuckett Senior and the British Museum Bindery fire of 1865

What a difference a day makes!  On the morning of 10 July 1865, Charles Tuckett (1796-1876) was manager of the British Museum bindery, a post he had held for 40 years.  That evening a fire, which lasted from approximately 21.00 to 22.15, ended his employment there.  According to Andrew Prescott, ‘The 1865 Bindery fire was arguably the greatest single disaster to the collections since the establishment of the Museum in 1753’.

Red and black leather binding with gold tooling by Charles TuckettBookbinding by Charles Tuckett -  British Library C.21.e.3.  Tuckett’s ‘signature’ as a bookbinder Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The bindings workshop was necessarily stocked with supplies of paper and other flammable materials.  Charcoal braziers supplied the heat required for processes including the tooling of leather.  A brazier in the ‘finishing’ room (the location for gold tooling and other ornamentation) was probably the source of the blaze.  Finishing involved heating engraved metal tools, one in the binder’s hand and three lying flat.

Drawing of a finisher at work with his heated toolsA finisher at work from The Penny Magazine September 1842 supplement RB.23.a.30032. The apparatus shown here was more modern than those in use in the Museum but it is clear what a precarious operation ‘finishing’ could be. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The museum’s fireman was absent on leave; the hosepipe burst; the fire brigade arrived after half an hour but only one of the two fire engines worked.  The manuscripts under treatment were either burned or drenched.  There were some positives: the wind drove the flames to the northeast which prevented further spread, and staff members Fricker and Farrant managed to close an iron workshop door to isolate the fire and protect the Library stacks. Eyewitness Frederick Madden of the Department of Manuscripts noted; 'such a want of organization (after all the fair printed rules and instructions)… I never beheld in my life'.

Accidental fire was a recognised hazard for Master Bookbinders.  Tuckett had taken out insurance with the Sun Fire Office for his family business located near the Museum in Little Russell Street.  The British Museum Trustees had ordered precautionary measures.  In 1861 one of the flues in the workshop caught alight and Tuckett was instructed to have the flues swept regularly.  The following year, the Trustees ruled that the binders should use lamps not candles.  Only four days before the fire, the London Evening Standard reported Trustee Earl Stanhope’s statement that means of fire prevention were ‘under consideration’.

Early reports stated that the fire was promptly extinguished without any material damage done, but that proved to be wildly optimistic.  The loss included seven unique manuscripts and 282 printed books.

Report of the bindery fire in the Pall Mall Gazette 11 July 1865Report of the bindery fire in the Pall Mall Gazette 11 July 1865 British Newspaper Archive

Half of the six rooms in the bindery were ruined.  By 1 January 1866, however, the repaired bindery reopened.  A fireproof building for ‘finishing’ was built nearby.

Around fifteen manuscripts and 258 printed books had been salvaged and required treatment.  Tuckett was experienced in tending to such material, having learned from specialist Henry Gough, but he was dismissed by the Museum trustees.  His son was appointed his successor.  Charles Tuckett Junior (1822-75) had worked as apprentice to his father, and had written about historic bindings and also devised new bookbinding techniques and patented them.  His brother John (1828-1908?) trained as a lithographer but assumed control of the family workshop in Little Russell Street until 1880.

Letterhead of invoice issued by Charles Tuckett, Bookbinder to the Queen and Prince Albert and to the British Museum.Letterhead of invoice issued by Charles Tuckett, Bookbinder to the Queen and Prince Albert and to the British Museum - Royal Collections Trust RA PPTO/PP/QV/PP2/23/7860

Charles Tuckett senior appeared in the 1871 census as a widower and ‘Retired Bookbinder’ living with his unmarried daughter in Croydon.  It was a far cry from his entry in the 1861 listings for Bloomsbury, as a bookbinder employing 52 men, 19 women and a boy.

P. J. M. Marks
Curator, Bookbindings; Printed Historical Sources

Further reading;
Philip Harris, A History of the British Museum Library, 1753-1973 (London, 1998).
Andrew Prescott 'Their Present Miserable State of Cremation': the Restoration of the Cotton Library.

 

11 October 2022

Can’t fly to Rio for Carnival? Explore the British Library’s Portuguese Language Collections!

This year the British Library joined CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) and Westminster College to offer new opportunities to train as a Library, Information and Archives Services Assistant (LIAS).  The course was launched by CILIP in 2021, the first institution in the world to offer this unique training qualification.  I am among the first four lucky people to be accepted as an apprentice.  The course will last eighteen months, and I will rotate within three departments.

Montage of photographs illustrating the British Library core purposes - custodianship, research, business, culture, learning, internationalThe British Library core purposes - custodianship, research, business, culture, learning, international Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

My first department is Collections and Curation where I am working with Printed Books, and Modern and Contemporary Manuscripts and Archive Collections.  This has allowed me to access some unique collections items that I am very excited to share with you.

Let me first introduce myself - my name is Sheila, but I am not English, Irish or Australian. I am a ‘Brazuca’.  What does that mean, you may ask?

I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a true carioca!  Cariocas are people born in the City of Rio de Janeiro nicknamed ‘The wonderful City’!  The British Library holds many items written in Portuguese, both printed and manuscript form, and these highlight the beauty of that rich language.

An illustration of nineteenth century Rio de Janeiro city and harbourAn illustration of  19th century Rio de Janeiro city and harbour from Edmondo Luiz, A Côrte de D. João no Rio de Janeiro - British Library X.700/456 Images Online

So, let’s start!  It is time for you ‘Brits’ to practise.  C'mon, I know you can do better than ‘Obrigado/Obrigada'.

The first item is: A Coleccao Dos Documentos, Estatutos e Mais Memorias da Academia Real da Historia Portuguesa, dated 1721

Finding it difficult?  Ok, I will help you.

It translates as 'The Collection of Documents, Statutes, and Memoirs of the Royal Academy of Portuguese History'.

On 8 December 1720, the king of Portugal, John V, decided to establish the academy to register the ecclesiastic history of Portugal and its colonies, as well as the history of all Portuguese conquests.  This date was chosen because it is the day dedicated to ‘N. Sa. Da Conceicao’ the Patron Saint of Portugal.

Cover of Collecçam dos Documentos  estatutos  y memorias da academia ... anno 1721 ... ordenada pelo Conde de Villarmayor    Title page of Collecçam dos Documentos  estatutos  y memorias da academia ... anno 1721 ... ordenada pelo Conde de Villarmayor

Fly page of Collecçam dos Documentos  estatutos  y memorias da academia ... anno 1721 ... ordenada pelo Conde de VillarmayorCover, title and fly page of Collecçam dos Documentos, estatutos, y memorias da academia ... anno 1721 ... ordenada pelo Conde de Villarmayor, British Library 131.g.1 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Next is 'The Memoir of D. Pedro I',  the first emperor of Brazil.  Surprised?  Me too when I found it.  This one was easy - it has an English title!

After the Portuguese Court returned to Portugal, Pedro decided to stay in Brazil.  He declared independence and became the first Brazilian Emperor.  Brazil, the largest country in South America and the fifth largest in the world, became independent in 1822.   So in 2022 we celebrate 200 years of independence.

This 'authentic memoir' was written by an English woman who was the governess to the Emperor’s daughter.  Being trusted with such a task makes her appear closer to him than his family were.   Perhaps it is best not to gossip, but bear in mind that during her time in the household she witnessed the day-to-day life of an Emperor, the ‘upstairs, downstairs’ of a Brazilian/Portuguese dynasty.

Cover of An authentic memoir of the life of Don Pedro    Title page of An authentic memoir of the life of Don Pedro

Folio 1 of An authentic memoir of the life of Don PedroCover, title page and f.1v of An authentic memoir of the life of Don Pedro [Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil (b. 1798, d. 1834)]', covering his early years until 1826: an unpublished work by Maria, Lady Callcott formerly Graham, based on her experiences in Brazil in 1824-1825, British Library Add MS 51996 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Would you like to get your hands on these fantastic items?  Come to the British Library, become a reader and explore our vast collections.

Sheila Rabello
LIAS Apprentice, British Library

 

06 October 2022

A 'pest of skolds' and other 'unruly women' (part II)

This is part two of 'A pest of skolds' - part one can be found here.  

In our previous blog on the nurses caring for sick and wounded sailors, we saw one of the more extreme courses of action available to nurses to force the navy into paying them what they were owed.

Lodging and caring for the sick and wounded could be exceedingly costly, and nurses and care workers could be pushed into poverty due to a lack of payment for their services. In a letter to Evelyn dated 9 June 1673, for example, a Mr Hannon wrote of the ‘miserable condicon’ of the people. He informed Evelyn that the quarterers had engaged their credit as far as it would go, and shopkeepers were now refusing to trust them. Consequently, they had been forced to sell and pawn their own goods to provide for the sick, with many ‘now reduced to that poverty that they have not where withal to maintiane their owne family’.

Some nurses made their superiors aware of their condition through formal petitions, as in the example below:

Handwritten petition with signatures
Petition to John Evelyn, Add MS 78322, f 71

The nurses of Deal petitioned Evelyn on the basis that the crown had allowed seven shillings per week for the maintenance of every sick and wounded person, but the ‘prickmaster’ would pay them no more than five shillings. They also wrote that they had not been paid for twelve months, and were now ‘in danger to be utterly undone and ruined, not being able to subsist, unlesse speedily assisted’.

Fifteen individuals, mostly women, set their names to the petition asking Evelyn to ensure that the prickmaster paid their money in full, and allowed them to discharge their debts to their creditors.

Where petitioning failed, however, there was one further approach attempted by the nurses to recover the losses incurred whilst nursing sick and wounded seamen. This final letter records what Evelyn refers to as a ‘universal conspiracy’ amongst the nurses. He writes that his deputies had already been forced to break open doors in order to procure quarters for the sick and wounded, as the nurses had asserted that they would not receive any more until their arrears had been discharged.

Handwritten letter by John EvelynLetter from John Evelyn regarding financial pressures on the nurses, Add MS 78322, f 2.

Evelyn writes that the financial pressure placed on the quarterers ‘makes them not onely in a kind of despaire, but so inrag’d, that I neither dare to go down amongst them, nor for almost these five weekes, stay in my owne house’. At last, he requests that the sum of £1000 is paid immediately, to ‘pacifie the poore-people’, who might otherwise ‘grow to a very greate disorder’.

Together, these letters reveal the struggle that these individuals faced to be paid for their services as well as the means at their disposal to fight back. Where some opted for the more formal approach of petitioning the authorities, others channelled their frustration into action, refusing to take in the hundreds of sick and wounded arriving on their shores without payment in full of their outstanding wages. Others, as we saw in Reymes’ letter in part one, took the fight directly to the commissioner’s door, where they loudly proclaimed their struggles until the authorities were forced to respond.

These were ordinary people, many of whom lived their lives close to the poverty line. Nevertheless they remained indispensable to the success of the navy, and by uniting as one, they were able to make their voices heard.

Rachel Clamp

PhD Placement Student Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading

Matthew Neufeld and Blaine Wickham, ‘The State, the People and the Care of the Sick and Injured Sailors in Late Stuart England’, Social History of Medicine Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 45-63.

University of Leicester Library Special Collections blog, John Evelyn and the war with the Dutch

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