We are grateful to Michael Lewis, Head of Portable Antiquities & Treasure at the British Museum, for this guest post.
The ‘Middling Culture’ project seeks to understand the cultural lives of the middling sort (1560-1660), but what might survive of their ‘material culture’, specifically in the small finds record? Known by archaeologists as ‘portable antiquities’, many of these items are found by members of the public, most by metal-detectorists, and recorded (generally on a voluntary basis) with the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS).
To date, the PAS has recorded over 43,874 items dating to 1560-1660 or thereabouts: many finds can only be dated to a century or more, so 1500-1600, 1550-1700 etc. The vast majority are coins (31,354), jettons (4,427) and tokens (1,174) and other sorts of numismatica which (arguably) must have crossed the palms of many in society, though invariably the rich are more likely to use the highest denominations. Putting the coins to one side, we are left with almost 6,000 items of ‘other stuff’ dating to 1560-1660, including bells (41), cloth seals (231), thimbles (16), toys (108), vessel fragments (96) etc, reflecting the diversity of items used in the Elizabethan and Stuart periods until the Restoration (1660). Identifying the ‘middling sort’ amongst this relative wealth of material culture is fraught with challenges, including presumptions about what they might have owned, especially in terms of object use and their material composition. However, it might be reasonable for us to examine objects that represent the ‘disposable wealth’ of the country’s inhabitants – items that are perfunctory or decorative, maybe even ephemeral!
With this in mind, one ‘object category’ that might be deemed useful to consider are ‘dress accessories’, of which dress hooks have already been considered in another Middling Culture blog, and I will reflect upon them again here. Although dress accessories – such as buckles, buttons, dress hooks and finger-rings etc – are clearly functional, sometimes (often in some cases) they can be made of more costly materials or highly embellished to a level beyond what is truly necessary. Obviously, the use of precious metals and a higher level of craftsmanship or work time, including the addition of applied or complex decoration, can add to production costs. As such (in very general terms) they must have been owned by people who had more wealth than most, but not necessarily as much as the highest echelons.
Almost all the Elizabethan and early Stuart finger-rings recorded with the PAS are precious metal, most being gold. Relatively common are so-called ‘posy rings’. These include an example from Brookland, Kent (KENT-2CA863), which is formed of nine domed roundels framed with corded wire. Inside the hoop the romantic inscription, in italic letters, reads ‘love is the bonde of peace’. Another gold ringer-ring from Kent, this time from Wootton (KENT-6EAD48) and without an inscription, has its bezel in the form of a six-petalled flower, with its central cell and each petal filled with red stones – perhaps garnet, or more likely sapphire. This has been likened to rings in the Cheapside Hoard. Such well-made, though not necessarily top-end, items must have been made for those below the aristocracy, probably in the merchant classes, but perhaps also including those in the middling ranks.
Conversely, all the buckles of this date recorded by the PAS are made of base-metals, with the vast majority being copper-alloy. By the start of the 15th century belts and girdles become larger, leading to the popularity of double-looped buckle frames – though they appear in London and elsewhere from about 1350. An early 17th century buckle frame from the Thames foreshore, found near the Tower of London (LON-4C1830), stands out because it has the bright shine of the original metal. This ‘found as lost’ look contrasts with items discovered on arable farmland, more typical of those recorded with the PAS, that usually have a green or brown patina. Perhaps indicative of items owned by the middling sort is a double-loop rectangular buckle frame found at Theale, Berkshire (SUR-2E3924). Whilst it is possible that these decorative items could have been owned by folk with more wealth than most, it is hard to be sure as casting allows for stylised pieces to be made with relative ease.
Amongst dress fasteners on the PAS database is an interesting silver example in the shape of a fleur-de-lis. It was found in Risby, Suffolk (SF-A9E705), and dates to the 17th century. Although it is a stand-out piece amongst its companions on the PAS database, it is of relatively simple construction and (perhaps) therefore not out of reach of the middling sort. It is worth considering this one alongside a type bearing the arms of the Commonwealth, and (as such) can be tightly dated: see for instance an example from Staple Fitzpaine, Somerset (SOM-7174B4). These are all made of copper-alloy and thus more affordable (one assumes) to a wider populous, reflected by the fact they are fairly common finds. People must have owned these to make a political statement of affinity to the Parliamentarian cause, and it is of note they are seemingly more common in the south-west.
Dress hooks might be considered in a similar vein to these other dress fasteners and fittings, especially as they are made of both silver (some also being gilded) and base-metals. The upper end of the market might be represented by a silver-gilt example, though incomplete, which was found at Great Witcombe, Gloucestershire (GLO-D42D08). It has a trefoil plate that supports three hemispherical domes, each decorated with applied filigree and granulated ornament. Of similar form, but made of lead, is one from Barton Bendish, Norfolk (NMS-A47F71). This clearly replicates the precious metal examples, but in lesser materials and would have been easier to make, surely appealing to those with less dispensable income. Most common are base-metal dress hooks, again probably inspired by their more impressive cousins. Somewhat typical of these, in very general terms, is a piece from Shalfleet, Isle of Wight (IOW-AF7846). This has a lozenge plate with a quatrefoil at its centre. In this case, as is fairly common, the hook is broken.
Previously I argued that copper-alloy dress hooks were owned by those in the middle of society, but metallic composition is not a neat guide to the status of the owner. As can be seen from the other dress accessories discussed above, it is possible that a wider range of society might have invested their wealth in certain portable objects. In this sense finger-rings are not typical, since (as we know from how they are used to this very day) precious metal items are more ordinarily owned by a wider range of modern society than certain other items of jewellery, such as bracelets, earrings and necklaces, for example. Therefore, it is quite likely that some of those at the upper end of middling society in 1560-1660 could have owned precious metal dress accessories also, perhaps allowing is to dwell on the challenges of identifying the middling sort through their material culture.
Dr Louise Hampson from the University of York traces the fascinating, not-to-mention agile, lives of glaziers and glassmakers in early modern Northern England.
In 1503, Robert Preston, master glazier of York, a prosperous and contented man who headed a significant workshop, died. In his will, he left generous charitable bequests, gave his tools and stock of glass to his partner Thomas Ynglyshe, and bequeathed ‘suitable’ books from his library to his apprentice.1His biggest legacy was, however, the glass he had painted and installed across the north of England in churches, abbeys, and cathedrals. They had been his workshop’s absolute bread and butter and York was a regional hub for this specialist craft. Window glass itself was not made in England at this date, it was imported from various places on the Continent, but it was here that it was painted, grozed (cut to shape), and leaded up into enormous windows of breath-taking beauty by workshops like Preston’s. In this period the biggest clients for most glass workshops like Preston’s were the thousands of churches, cathedrals and religious houses which had been such a feature of every city, town and village for over five hundred years.2
Fast forward one hundred years to 1603 and the landscape, literal and metaphorical, looked very different. The religious houses had gone, stripped of their lead, windows, and timber. The number of parish churches had been drastically reduced (in York’s case by a third) as income from the laity for prayers, masses and the accoutrements of pre-Reformation worship had stopped, and religious imagery had become a minefield of what was acceptable.3 Although windows had not been a particular target for Reformers (that would come later in the Civil War), the appetite for new figurative religious imagery in church windows had largely dried up and church patronage now took other forms.
For Robert Thompson, master glazier and glass painter, the head of a glass workshop in York, survival depended on finding new clients, creating new designs and opening up new markets. Fortunately for him, the appetite for conspicuous display had not gone away, but simply shifted in emphasis from the public realm to the private and from the religious to the secular. Where once the wealthy would have paid for windows of saints and angels in churches with donor figures and imprecations to pray for the soul of the donor, they now paid for richly detailed coats of arms demonstrating their social credentials and generosity to the upkeep of the church fabric.4 They also took a fancy to having elaborate painted glass in their houses as windows became bigger. For those newly ennobled or enriched by the dissolution of the monasteries, coats of arms played a key role in establishing or acquiring social status and what better way to show the world your ‘aristocratic’ lineage than in shining glass?5
For those lower down the social scale, the ‘middling sort’, the fashion for glazed windows (as opposed to shutters or windows covered with linen or filled in with pieces of flattened horn) began to be an achievable ambition and one which marked out your social status. Glass was still expensive but becoming cheaper as production shifted to home turf and the thicker edge and ‘crown’ (or bullseye) pieces became available, which allowed humbler domestic windows to be constructed from many small pieces leaded into a square or diamond net. The glaziers who would previously have been occupied glazing churches now moved to glazing houses for merchants, craftsmen and the rising professional classes.
At the same time as the world of the master glazier had been turned upside down, the Crown had been taking steps to break the Continental monopoly on window glass manufacture and establish glass furnaces on English soil. In 1567, Elizabeth I had brought two Continental glassmakers (Jean Carré of Antwerp and Giacomo Verzelini of Venice) to London to teach the English how to make the fine-quality glass necessary for window glazing.6The industry took off, initially predominantly in the south of England, with furnaces fired by wood. However, there is early evidence of furnaces being set up in the north with the burial of the ‘uxor Amabie Glassman’ being recorded in Lastingham parish register on 2nd March 1593 and evidence for furnaces being discovered in excavations in Rosedale and Hutton-le-Hole.7
The granting of patents, to allow taxation of the glass furnaces, was a privilege distributed to favoured courtiers: Sir Edward Zouche vied for this ‘business’ with Sir Robert Mansell and this led to the glassmakers of London being charged different rates whilst still facing the challenge of imports which were becoming cheaper in order to compete! However, by 1615, concerns were growing about the depletion of woodlands (and the potential loss of timber for the navy) which led to the ‘Proclamation touching glass’ of 1615 which prohibited the use of wood in furnaces and required the use of coal instead.8 This favoured the furnaces of the Midlands and the north where coal was easily available and encouraged the establishment of furnaces on estates such as Wentworth Woodhouse in south Yorkshire. Mansell petitioned the Earl of Stratford, Thomas Wentworth, to allow a furnace for window glass to be built on his estate because coal was so accessible, and the proximity of nearby rivers allowed easy transport of the finished product.9
Sir Robert Mansell bought out Zouche’s patent rights in 1615 giving him a complete monopoly on glass production, but it appears that the glassmen were an agile bunch who could set up and dismantle furnaces in remote places, like Rosedale, allowing them to evade the taxation system and increase their profits. The whole patent taxation system became so unwieldy and created such a disadvantage for native producers that it was abandoned in 1642.10 Small, family-run furnaces then sprang up around the south Yorkshire coal field which persisted into the nineteenth century: the Bolsterstone glasshouse ran a furnace near Sheffield producing both vessel and window glass (including coloured glasses) from the mid-seventeenth century until the mid-nineteenth century when glass manufacture became industrialised and the new ‘float’ process replaced traditional methods.11
So, what did all this mean for those of the middling sort? The Thompson family were both members of this social stratum and those who serviced its needs and desires. The Thompsons were master glaziers and glass-painters who had been at the forefront of their craft from 1568-1620 and who rode the wave of change as the appetite for new religious imagery gave way to other work and new designs. The first of the family were recorded as glaziers in 1492, but the complex structure of the craft meant the Thompson sons also trained in other workshops (like the Petty’s) to learn specialist and new skills.12 The eldest Robert Thompson had trained in the workshop of the Petty family who had produced the last of the great glass for York Minster before the Reformation, making the coats of the arms for the windows of the great lantern tower in the late fifteenth century.13 The master glazier John Petty had, uniquely, been memorialised in the glass of the south front, above the civic entrance to the Minster after his death in 1510 possibly because he was mayor of York as well as a master craftsman. This record of the depiction of a master craftsmen in stained glass (now sadly lost) is exceptionally rare and a measure of the status enjoyed by the Pettys in York.14
The Petty family were succeeded as master glaziers to the Minster by another Robert Thompson who had trained in the Petty workshop. His workshop had specific skills in ‘stayning’ or painting, a skill which continued to be in high demand. This was a skill his workshop passed on to one Marmaduke Crosby who took over as master glazier at the Minster in 1620.15 He had been an apprentice in the Thompson workshop and used his skills to design and make glass armorials for the York mansion of Sir Thomas Ingram, a self-made man who had risen to prominence on the back of the misfortune of others – he bought his country house, Temple Newsam near Leeds, from the bankrupt and disgraced Earl of Lennox for £12,000.16 Crosby made glass for his York house, Ingram’s Mansion, which was built on the north side of the Minster and installed armorials in the nave aisle which faced his house.17
With the onset of the Civil War, one might have expected the joyless and miserly Parliamentarian Ingram to dispense with Crosby’s services, not least as the Crosby family may well have been Catholics, but on the contrary, he transferred their contract to work on transforming Temple Newsam into a statement of his status and to design and install elaborate armorials to demonstrate his landed gentry credentials.18 Crosby had trained in a workshop which had been devoted to religious imagery whose skills were honed for the prestigious ecclesiastical clients which had been the backbone of the craft, but times had changed and the Crosbys nimbly switched their focus, adapted and remarketed their skills to appeal to a new and emerging domestic market, a market which continued to grow throughout the rest of the seventeenth century.
Supported by the growth of local furnaces producing window glass of fine quality – possibly even producing some glass themselves, although the evidence is ambiguous – the Crosbys were well-placed to capitalise on these new opportunities and to reinvent themselves as suppliers to the gentry and to the middling sort who wanted a little bit of what had previously been the preserve of the church and the aristocracy.19 Agile and quick to pick up on new trends as old markets disappeared and new ones emerged (or could be built), the glaziers and glassmen – and women – of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries didn’t merely survive, they thrived!
Dr Louise Hampson
University of York
1 Testamenta Eboracensis: A Selection of Wills from the Registry at York. Vol IV ed. James Raine, Surtees Society 53 (Durham , 1869), 216-217.
2 John Blair and Nigel Ramsay, English Mediaeval Industries: Craftsmen, Techniques, Products (London, Hambledon Press, 1991), 275.
11 Ian Bailiff, “Bolsterstone Glass House, Stocksbridge, Sheffield, South Yorkshire: Luminescence Dating Report” Research Dept Report Series No.98-2010 (London: English Heritage, 2010).
12John A. Knowles, “The Glass-Painters of York VIII: The Thompson family”, Notes and Queries S IX, no.12 (1921):163-165.
13 Knowles, “The Glass-Painters of York VII: The Petty family”, Notes and Queries S IX, no.12 (1921): 21-22.
14 David O’Connor, “John Petty, Glazier and Mayor of York: an early sixteenth-century memorial window formerly in the south transept of York Minster”, in Glas. Malerei. Forschung: Internationale Studien Zu Ehren Von Rüdiger Becksmann ed. Ivo Rauch and Daniel Hess (Germany: Deutsche Verlag für Kunstwissenschaft, 2004), 254.
19Entries in the York Minster Fabric Rolls of the 1630s for purchases of turves for the glazier’s ‘furnace’ may refer to glass manufacture, but equally may be for the firing of painted glass and staining.
We are delighted to host this guest post from Nina Kümin, a PhD candidate in music performance and baroque improvisation at the University of York.
The pleasure of your company is requested for a seventeenth-century jam session!
One of the main forms of music making for English middling society in the seventeenth century was consort music. Small groups of families, friends or neighbours would gather to play music together in several parts. While at the beginning of the seventeenth century, viols were the most popular instrument for this, as the century progressed the violin also grew in popularity. Of this music making, one of the most elusive traditions was that of playing “divisions”. This was the practice of adding florid ornamentation to printed music and improvising variations (making them up on the spot) taking inspiration from a popular printed theme. At the middle of the century, Playford, a publisher based in London and member of the Stationers’ Company, turned to printing collections of such example “divisions” on famous tunes which is testament to the tradition’s existence and growing popularity. His attempt to materialise an essentially immaterial art represents an increased demand from the growing amateur market; the divisions he provides are teaching materials, once accustomed to the art and with some general technical ability, Playford encourages the players to improvise their own. Through improvisation, the players moved from recreating works to being the creators, in control of the emotional development of the piece, the technical difficulty and the length. These published divisions, therefore, acted as an intermediary, temporary material form. Thanks to Playford’s publications, including Christopher Simpson’s The Division Viol of 1659 and Playford’s own The Division Violin of 1685, and through practice-led research, we can begin to reconstruct what it might have sounded and felt like to play or hear improvised divisions in the early to mid-seventeenth century, making the journey from immaterial sound and oral tradition through Playford’s material representations to the immaterial nature of improvisation again.
Each theme in Playford’s division manuals is set to a bassline which repeats all the way through called a “ground bass”. Let’s take “Faronell’s Divisions on a Ground” from Playford’s Division Violin as an example:
To the improvising musician, the bassline reveals which chords occur at which time. This ultimately reduces the number of possible notes an improviser can choose from as each chord change must be accompanied by a consonant (right sounding) note at first. The task of the improviser is then to find an interesting way to get between each of these important consonant notes. The theory of consonance and dissonance was widely discussed in composition treatises at the time (English examples include Morely 1597; Mace 1676 and Matteis 1682) and is evident in many compositions over ground basses such as passacaglias as well as all of the examples in the Division Viol, Division Violin and Division Flute (a later collection by John Walsh from 1706). For this particular set of divisions, the harmony is as follows: Dm, A, Dm, C, F, C, Dm, A, Dm, A, Dm, C, F, C, Dm A, D. To the improviser, this means that you can chose one of the follow notes to start each chord:
Dm: D, F, A
A: A, C#, E
C: C, E, G
F: F, A, C
These, however, can be anywhere on the instrument and thus there are many possibilities even if there are only three named notes available for each chord. The materiality of the instrument, therefore, comes into play here too. As the violin, for instance, has four strings, only a maximum of four notes can ever be played together at any one time. In addition, the player has to be able to technically execute their ideas. It is therefore not realistic to pick notes which are at the extremes of the violin to jump between repeatedly; music tends to move by step or in smaller jumps. This reflects the vocal tradition in which singers also find large leaps difficult. Other considerations include the timbre (sound qualities) achievable. The lack of a shoulder and chin rest on the baroque violin also makes shifting, which facilitates the comfortable execution of large leaps, difficult. For each instrument, different strings will have different timbres due to the make of the violin and the material and winding of the strings but also the player’s technique and experience, not to mention the acoustic. This all also applies to viol playing and all of these factors might have a bearing on which of the options the improviser chooses.
Finding interesting ways to get between these notes has its roots in ornamentation. This was common practice in all music of this time. This meant that musicians would not just play what was written on the material page but add their own little flourishes and touches between printed notes. These could include trills, scales, arpeggios, repeated notes, turns, chords, vibrato and mordents, just to name a few. For example, here is the theme from the same set of Playford variations played without any ornamentation and then with:
The results are really quite different. This illustrates the frustration of music publishers and composers in notating their works as all printed notation only materialises a small amount of the sounds heard (Kuijken, 2013). Interestingly, contemporary writers sought to rectify this by providing lengthy treatises on composition and performance which attempted to explain these practices (some English samples include Morely, 1597; Simpson, 1659; The Burwell Lute Tutor,1660; Mace, 1676 and Matteis, 1682). The musician, therefore, has an interesting relationship with the material form of the music in that this does not represent an absolute but rather a set of guidelines or suggestions; the musician was free to follow the score or deviate from it as they saw fit. Of course, this opportunity still exists today but current common musical practice does not allow any creative licence in the form of added notes unlike the conventions of the Baroque. By reading these treatises and experimenting on period instruments, performers can attempt to ornament in a stylistic manner.
Adding to these structural harmony notes and ornamentation, each variation in the division publications is in a different character. These have their roots in the “affects” (emotions) and dances. Certain keys and intervals were viewed as evoking certain affects. While the key for divisions is already established through the ground bass, players can experiment with different intervals to create different emotional effects. In addition, English music took inspiration from the French tradition of Baroque dance using their forms and rhythmic characteristics. This use is evident in notated compositions but also in the dance melodies in Playford’s The Dancing Master (1651). For instance, this set of Playford variations is actually based on a sarabande; the opening theme contains the characteristic crotchet + dotted crotchet + quaver rhythm and is in triple time. It can actually be danced to as I demonstrate here…
Middling musicians would also have been familiar with the different dance styles and characteristics not just from playing music based on dances but also through learning to dance themselves. The rhythms and playing styles associated with each dance style aid the dancer by stimulating lift, poise, energy or impetus, all of which these musicians would have been accustomed to and internalised through the physicality of dancing. Many of Playford’s variations use these to add variety and interest as the harmony remains the same throughout. It is therefore highly likely that improvised divisions would also have included dance inspired variations. There were opportunities to escape the repeating harmony in other musical forms such as the fantasia but a characteristic of the division practice was this repeating “ground bass” so variety and interest came from creating these different characters.
Combining research into the intermediary material printed examples by Playford along with the advice in other treatises and the study of notated compositions in Playford’s The Dancing Master and those by his contemporaries, a set of guidelines can be produced for the modern performer seeking to improvise their own stylistic divisions:
Begin each chord change with a consonant note, then find interesting ways to get between these structural notes
Keep in mind the technical possibilities and characteristics of your instrument and performance space
Create variety and interest through adding/ considering:
Intervals to create different affects
Dance rhythms and characters
Through practicing and experimenting in this manner, it is possible to improvise some stylistic variations. Therefore, I would now like to invite you to a virtual seventeenth-century jam session by encouraging you to pick and mix from the following variations, choosing however many you like and in whatever order you like, each video plays one example improvised variation. By playing them after each other you can build your own set of improvised divisions and therefore experience the improviser’s task of making decisions between key structural points. In this way, you can orchestrate your own structure and each time will give you a different result. This in some way mimics the excitement and variety of improvisation; they would never have played the same variation twice and were in control of the development and length of the piece. These variations were taken from a longer recording of my continuous improvised divisions over the ground bass of this same Playford piece. If you would like to hear them in their original order, this is also provided below.
Playford’s attempt to materialise the immaterial tradition of improvised divisions through his published examples, whether for viol or violin, not only recognised the existence of this tradition but allowed for a greater engagement with this by amateurs, a large number of which were middling recreational musicians, transforming their domestic cultural engagements. Musical improvisation is also deeply rooted in the material, however, as the performer’s relationship with their instrument determines a large proportion of the compositional decisions as well as the limitations of the technicalities of the instrument. The variety, creativity and individuality performed by these middling musicians would have been exciting to experience but Playford’s materialisations allow modern performers to also experiment with this practice.
We are thrilled to host a blog written by members of the TIDE project. TIDE investigates “how mobility in the great age of travel and discovery shaped English perceptions of human identity based on cultural identification and difference.” The following profiles, written by Lauren Working, Emily Stevenson, and Tom Roberts, use our Status Calculator to think through immigrant experience and merchant travel in the period, reflecting on our categories and considering how middling identity fits with nationhood, travel, and social mobility.
How will the Social Status Calculator place a noblewoman who renounced her wealth, took a vow of poverty and perfection, moved to a new country, and pitted herself against Protestant authority in London? Meet Luisa de Carvajal, a Spanish woman who arrived in London in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot, intent on bringing the English back into the fold of the Roman Catholic Church.
What is your gender?
Do you have a title?
Carvajal was born into a noble family, but she was orphaned at the age of six. She took a vow of poverty before she moved to London, and never married.
Do you have a coat of arms?
Can you write?
I write regularly, though not just for professional/trade purposes.
Carvajal left a spiritual autobiography, mystic poetry, and dozens of letters to prominent English and Spanish Catholics. Her opinions on London and the royal family were particularly scathing. ‘In my opinion’, she wrote to her friend Inés de la Asunción in 1607, ‘only to please God can one tolerate living here’. She called James I’s daughter, Elizabeth, an ‘ignorant slip of a girl’ and ‘the boy prince’ Charles as ‘a nasty little so-and-so in matters of religion’.
What property do you own?
I rent property and do not own any.
This is a bit misleading since Carvajal grew up in an aristocratic home. She inherited wealth and engaged in a sustained legal battle against her brother for her inheritance in the 1590s. When she won, however, she donated the money to the Society of Jesus. In London, she wrote with pride about living in poverty in a house in Spitalfields, where she and her ‘warrior maidens’ made ends meet by making gold embroidery thread, typically used in Spain for religious vestments. She also created relics made from the bodies of executed priests, preserving their bodies in her household in East London and sending them to various patrons and clients in gold and silver boxes.
What is the main thing you do to earn a living?
James I himself referred to Carvajal as a ‘foreigner’ and a ‘spinster’, but I am going to go with, I work in a profession, such as a lawyer/academic/clergyman/writer/clerk. Carvajal had a profound sense of religious vocation, which she devoted her life to while choosing not to become a nun.
What positions of office or authority have you held?
I hold a position in a stranger church and/or hold an influential place among immigrant craftspeople.
Technically, Carvajal didn’t hold office. But she firmly believed her misión de Inglaterra was conferred onto her by God, connecting her evangelism to missions happening in other parts of the world. As a result, she possessed a keen sense of divinely-appointed authority. ‘In the session of the Council of State’, Carvajal wrote to the Duke of Lerma, the Archbishop of Canterbury George Abbot had brought forth the accusation that ‘I have brought many Protestants to my religion by means of persuasion’.
How much are you worth?
I’m going to tick the lowest amount, under £20, though this is reflects Carvajal’s wealth in London, rather than her upbringing in Pamplona, Valladolid, and Madrid.
What is your living situation most comparable to?
I have some furnishings including a table, some stools, and some earthen pots; I have tools for my trade; I have just enough to get by some months and plenty in other months; if I get ill then I will need to depend on charity. All of my furniture is old and inherited and I cannot afford to buy any new pieces.
When Carvajal was arrested in 1608, she used her shabby clothes as evidence of her commitment to the cause, recording that during the interrogation ‘my sleeve, on which all the light was falling, had a mended spot or two showing, and on my head was a ragged black taffeta’.
Credit in the community
I struggle to get by through my work and am dependent on charity.
Carvajal’s charity came from high places, and she was well-connected, having access to the households of Catholic ambassadors in London. She also provided some relief to imprisoned Catholics before their execution, offering to pray with them and bringing them pear tarts.
What kind of people are in your close social circle?
The lord/lady of the manor; a lawyer, town or court clerk, an author, a clergyman; other tradesmen or shopkeepers in my locale or their wives; other servants who work in the houses on my street; financially secure wives and widows.
Carvajal interacted with a range of men, women, and children from different social statuses. She learned English with the help of two ‘ladies form the land’ and offered spiritual guidance to prominent English Catholics. Once comfortable with the language, she publicly preached in the streets of London. She visited priests in prison, ambassadors, and complained about the ‘false bishop’ Abbot and other Jacobean councillors who sought to restrict her efforts to convert. She also corresponded with high-ranking courtiers in Spain, including Philip III’s favourite, the Duke of Lerma.
The calculator has placed Carvajal as ‘professional middling’, ‘defined by your high level of literacy’. This seems accurate in terms of the kinds of connections and spaces that Carvajal moved through: a kind of ‘golden mean’ between her aristocratic upbringing and her fervent rejection of wealth and comfort in the second half of her life. It places due emphasis, too, on her strong sense of vocation through her spiritual work, including her language-learning skills. But this useful exercise also raises attention to what thrums beneath social categorization, from the influence of personal choice (in this case, downward mobility) to the way migrant women sought to find a place in drastically different environments from those they called home.
Anne J. Cruz, The Life and Writings of Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza (Toronto: Center for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2014)
The Letters of Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza, Volume I, ed. Glyn Redworth (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2012)
Glyn Redworth, The She-Apostle: The Extraordinary Life and Death of Luisa de Carvajal (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)
This Tight Embrace: Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza (1566 – 1614), ed. Elizabeth Rhodes (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2000)
The Turkey Merchant’s Daughter
By Emily Stevenson
Joan Staper was born on 24 November 1570 at 6:30 pm to Richard and Dionis Staper. Her father, one of the most important English merchants in the sixteenth century, was deeply invested — financially and personally — in the Anglo-Levant trade, which brought vast quantities of luxury goods into England. Her mother was a member of another mercantile family, the Hewitts, and Joan would make a similar mercantile marriage to Nicholas Lete, another merchant involved in the Levant trade.
In many respects, Joan’s life was entirely typical of her social circle, atypical only in that an unusual number of details — such as the exact time of her birth — have been preserved. These details are recorded thanks to her many visits to Simon Forman and Richard Napier between 1597 and 1622. Joan’s visits addressed a wide range of questions including: whether she was pregnant, whether her husband’s ship was likely to return soon, whether her daughter could be convinced to marry her mother’s choice of spouse, and which member of her household had stolen her wedding ring. These records give us access to a level of quotidian detail which makes it possible to place Joan on the calculator.
Do you have a coat of arms/Where did you get this coat of arms?
Yes, I was awarded it in my lifetime
Both her husband and father had coats of arms: Lete’s were awarded in 1616 and Staper’s appear on his monument in St Helen’s Bishopsgate, apparently awarded during his lifetime.
Can you write?
I can write, but little writing in my hand survives
Joan was able to write, evidenced by a note in the Casebooks that ‘Mres Leate sent […] a letter in the behalf of her daughter [J]ane who hath for this twelfemonthe bene troubled w[ith] a swelling’. There is, however, no other known evidence of Joan’s ability to write, nor extant examples of her writing.
What property do you own/What is the main thing you do to earn a living/What positions of office or authority have you held?
I own and/or lease the building/rooms I live in/I live by the finances of my husband (but that doesn’t mean I don’t do any work!)/I have never held office
Joan lived by the finances of first her father, then her husband in property that the men owned and, typically for a woman, never held local office.
How much are you worth?
The exact details of Joan’s finances are difficult to ascertain, since she does not seem to have left a will. From her husband’s will (written after her death, since Joan is not mentioned), they appear to have been wealthy without living extravagantly. He left 1000 marks in 1631 to each of their three daughters: this comes to around £666 each (according to the National Archives Currency Convertor), which places the family well over the £500+ limit.
What is your living situation most comparable to?
I have a very large home […]
The absence of Joan’s will makes this question difficult to answer, and her husband’s will divides the estate equally between his sons without any specific mention of items. One exception is the portrait of Nicholas ‘in oyle colour’ given by their sons after his death to the Ironmongers’ company, ‘to remain in the Hall as a remembrance of their dear deceased father’. The artist is not named in the records, suggesting that they were a local rather than immigrant artist. There are similar glancing references to luxury goods in the Casebooks: Joan gave Napier ‘succet & a night cap of silke’ brought back by her husband’s ships in return for his services. There is no indication, however, of the family acting as literary patrons, while Nicholas’ failure to apportion expensive items such as furniture or fabrics amongst his children suggests that this was not where the Lete family invested their wealth. The second category — ‘I have a very large home […]’ — thus seems the most fitting.
Credit in the Community: which statement is comparable to your situation?
I have a fair amount of spare money to spend at my leisure
Joan’s level of financial credit is unclear: something between ‘a fair amount of spare money’ and the ability to ‘spend at will’. The constant anxiety regarding ships expressed in the Forman and Napier casebooks suggests that it would be more accurate to err towards the former, as a considerable amount of capital was tied up in ships and ventures.
What kind of people are in your close social circle?
Prominent tradesmen and their wives [OR] Financially secure wives and widows [OR] Wealthy merchants or their wives
Joan’s social circle definitely included the wives of prominent tradesmen, wealthy merchants and financially secure wives and widows — many of them related to her.
The social status calculator, using these answers, places Joan in the ‘Upper Middling’ category. This tracks with her family’s level of wealth and their social status, and also usefully recognises that though merchants held considerable influence, it was not necessarily through inheritance such as a title or land. Joan’s marriage to Nicholas Lete is one example of a common way in which wealthy mercantile families attempted to circumvent this issue: her sisters made similar marriages, all serving to embed the Staper family deeper into the web of London’s mercantile family networks and ensuring the continuation of their influence after the death of their patriarch.
Using the calculator for Joan also highlights some of the difficulties of tracking the social mobility of mercantile women in the period. Though the most personal facts — when was she born, whether she could write, what she worried about — are available to us thanks to the records of her conversations with Napier, questions of finance and property are more difficult to answer because Joan was financially dependent on male figures all her life and did not leave a will. Her level of personal choice in these matters is impossible to know, since it was not recorded, and there lies a tension in trying to fit facts to answers when Joan’s presence is only inferred. Social mobility was vital to Joan’s social role — and for other merchant women as well — and this fluidity also means that her social status at the end of her life may have been different to its beginning, making the calculator result primarily significant for her later years. It remains a useful exercise, however, with the ‘Upper Middling’ category recognising the importance of gaining and maintaining social status for such merchants, as well as the potentially meteoric changes in fortune resulting from participation in England’s growing trade networks.
How will the Social Status Calculator place a London-born son of Italians and self-described ‘Englishman in Italiane’? Meet John Florio, the linguist, translator, and celebrated translator of Montaigne whose career as England’s champion for Italian cultural consumption brought him from the cramped lodgings of a French silkweaver to the Privy Chamber.
What is your gender?
Do you have a title like Sir, Duke, Duchess, Princess, etc.?
Do you have a coat of arms?
A marigold with the sun in chief.
Can you write?
I write regularly, though not just for professional/trade purposes
Writing was of course central to John’s career and reputation, but it was not a primary source of income in a commercial sense. His early printed Italian dual language manuals were as much (unsuccessful) attempts to secure patronage as they were functional language learning materials for an expanding middling sort with Italianate tastes. Whilst some works of translation carried out in the 1580s can be said to have been commercially driven, and his employment as reader in Italian and private secretary to Queen Anne would have involved writing and translating correspondence, John’s more distinguished and celebrated works of translation and lexicography were not financially viable in the commercial world of print, and instead required the support of wealthy and often aristocratic patrons.
What property do you own?
I own and/or lease several buildings in the community I live in
I rent property and do not own any
The dramatic change in John’s fortunes throughout his life make this question difficult to answer. What we know of John’s property comes from his will in 1626, seven years after the death of his patron Queen Anne and the loss of his position at court, when he lived in a leased property in Fulham valued at around £6 per annum. However, it seems likely that he would have owned other properties during his more prosperous years that were then sold when the family fell on hard times.
What is the main thing you do to earn a living?
I work in a profession, such as a lawyer/academic/clergyman/writer/clerk/doctor
We can say with confidence that John worked in a profession, albeit a poorly defined one with no concrete training programme. Whilst in Oxford in the early 1580s, he worked as a tutor in Italian to interested students, although without an official university position. Returning to London in 1583, he taught Italian to the daughter of the French Ambassador, Michel de Castelnau, and translated several news items dispatched from Rome whilst possibly in the employ of Sir Francis Walsingham. As he became connected to those prominent Inns of Court men and intellectuals in the circle of Sir Philip Sidney, John caught the attention of the Earl of Southampton and the Countess of Bedford, who he tutored from the early 1590s. This financed both his first Italian/English dual language manual in 1578, and his celebrated translation of Montaigne’s Essays in 1603. Both this work and his reputation as England’s leading expert in all things Italian brough him into the orbit of Queen Anne, and the following year he was appointed her private secretary and Groom of Privy Chamber. This position came with a yearly pension, which had risen to £100 by the Queen’s death in 1619.
What positions of office or authority have you held?
I work for the government of the country (I advise the Queen, I am the chancellor or I am in charge of a royal department)
Groom of the Privy Chamber, Reader in Italian, and Private Secretary to Queen of Anne.
How much are you worth?
I don’t know
This really depends on what point in John’s life we are focusing on. Although we have some sense of his worth between 1604 and 1619, he had little financial security either side of this period. Arriving in London a migrant with no family or friends in the city, the 1570s and early 1580s were marred by poverty and unsuccessful attempts to secure patronage. As he became well acquainted with the intellectual circles around Oxford, the Inns of Court, and the French Embassy, he found relatively steady employment as a language tutor and translator. How much this paid is unclear, although he relied heavily on the generosity of Nicholas Saunders, a gentleman from Surrey, for several years before eventually coming to the attention of Southampton and Bedford. Patronage was of course an unreliable income, and even the stability he attained under Queen Anne would not last. Following the Queen’s death in 1619, the pension of £100 per annum that she had reportedly promised John was denied by the Lord Treasurer. Over the next few years, his fortunes steadily worsened until his death from plague in 1626.
Few material possessions are listed in John’s will – he bequeaths his daughter, Aurelia, her deceased mother’s wedding ring, which was regrettably the only thing of any value he had to give by ‘reason of my poverty’. This was not strictly true. He had collected some ‘Three hundred and Fortie’ Italian, French, and Spanish language books by his death, which he bequeathed William, Earl of Pembroke, to place in his library at Wilton or Baynards Castle as a ‘token of my service and affection’. He also left Pembroke a curious jewel described as a ‘Corinne stone’, gifted to his late benefactor the Queen by Ferdinando de’ Medici, Duke of Tuscany. He also kept several other items items gifted him by his former employer, including a ‘Faire blacke velvet deske, embroidered with seede pearles, and with a silver and guilt inkehorne and dust box therin’, which he left to his son-in-law, James Mollins; and two ‘oule greene velvett deske with a silver inke and dust box in each of them’, which he gifted to his ‘much esteemed, dearely beloved, & truly honest good Friends’ Theophilius Field, Bishop of Landaffe, and Dr Richard Cluet, vicar of Fulham.
There was clearly some financial dispute between John and Aurelia. She claimed he owed them ‘threescore pound’, although John claimed that ‘my conscience telleth mee, & soe knoweth her conscience, it is by Thirty Foure pound or therabouts’, plus a separate loan from James of £10 for which two gold rings encased with thirteen diamonds (another gift from the Queen) was given up as collateral. John proposed that they accept the rings, which ‘I might many tymes have had forty pounds readie money’, several other items, and the lease of his house in Shoe Lane as payment.
What is your living situation comparable to?
I’m young; live in accommodation owned by my employer, college or inn; I am starting to build up things pertinent to my trade; I’m always learning.
I have lots of tools/items in order to work my living; a stock of materials to use in my trade; some joined furniture including one or two special pieces with carving; perhaps a servant and an apprentice
Again, the answer depends entirely on the period. If he was the ‘Jhon Flehan’ residing with the French silkweaver Michael Barnyard in the parish of St James Garlick Hythe in November 1571, he would have lived in overcrowded conditions with many other strangers from the continent when he first arrived back in England. He appears to have secured the resources and connections to print his first dual language manual, Florio his first fruites, in 1578, although he failed to spark the interest of the dedicatee, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and a few years later he’s found residing in presumably meagre quarters in Oxford as a language tutor. From 1583, he resided in the house of the French Ambassador on the Strand. We can assume that his living situation changed after he came to the attention of the Southampton and the Countess of Bedford, and his £100 per annum salary under Queen Anne to the Queen would have given him the means to live an exceptionally comfortable lifestyle. Whether he purchased a property is unknown, and dependent on whether he was considered ‘native-English’ in the eyes of the law. He claimed English identity, but it’s likely that both his parents were first generation migrants, in which case John was, in the best-case scenario (legally speaking), a denizen. This meant that he had certain limited rights, including the right to lease property, sell merchandise, and inherit/bequeath property. Owning land or properties freehold, however, was restricted to the natural-born English.
In any case, he resided at a leased property in Fulham with his second wife Rose and servant Arthur until his death, surrounded by the tools of his trade: hundreds of books and three separate writing desks.
Credit in the Community: which statement is comparable to your situation?
I have some spare money, have the ability to borrow on credit, and can spend and take risks
I don’t know/none of these
Clearly a man in the employ of the Queen had some standing amongst creditors, although John would often allude to anti-stranger hostility from the English throughout his work. He was also known to butt heads with others at court, and feared that some of these adversaries would discourage the Earl of Pembroke from supporting Rose after his death, pleading in his will that the Lord Chamberlain ‘not suffer her to be wrongfully molested by any enemi of myne’.For whatever reason, Pembroke’s support was not forthcoming, and other, later friendships and associations proved equally fickle. His ‘true honest good Friends’, Field and Cluet, refused his request to act as executors of his estate, and the responsibility reverted back to Rose. It is worth noting, however, that despite his professed poverty, he had no creditors worth naming in his will apart from his daughter and son-in-law.
What kind of people are in your close social circle? (check all that apply)
The lord/lady of the manor
A lawyer, town or court clerk, an author, an academic, a physician, a clergyman or their wives
Students at universities or the inns of court
Other tradesmen or shopkeepers in my locale or their wives
Wealthy merchants or their wives
Florio interacted with a range of men and women from different social statuses. He was, of course, employed by the Queen and acquainted with senior statesmen; he was patronised by well-respected families in the shires, and aided proto colonialist through works of translation. He caroused with Inns of Court men, a close friend of the Welsh preacher Matthew Gwinne and the poet, Samuel Daniels, marrying his sister in 1580. Ben Jonson gifted a copy of his 1605 play, Volpone, in which hereferred to Florio and ‘his Loving Friend … the ayde of his Muses’. He maintained correspondences with renegade recusants, like Theodore Diodati, exchanged ideas with heretical ex-Dominicans, like the cosmologist Giordano Bruno, and was acquainted with London’s community of wealthy Italian merchants and financiers.
The calculator has placed Florio as ‘professional middling’. He possessed a ‘high level of literacy’, was exceptionally mobile, and relied on his ‘social networks with the landed gentry, urban gentry, and middling officeholders’. It was a difficult task as John’s fortunes changed greatly over the course of his life, and he did not, as did many his contemporaries, set up shop in London teaching Italian to aspiring courtiers, and English to resident Italian merchants, but navigated his way through the English social hierarchy by forging a place for himself at a prominent intersection – the interest in and admiration for Italian culture. Strikingly, it suggests that if property ownership factors into our assessments of social status, we inevitably exclude a substantial number of first- and second-generation migrants who were exceedingly wealthy and well connected, but unable to own property freehold. For Florio in particular, who capitalised on his Italian heritage to assert his authority as London’s preeminent advocate for Italian language and culture, difference meant both his exclusion from traditional social and economic systems and his inclusion in a vast intellectual network that resulted in a singularly impressive career.
‘Will of John Florio of Fulham’, 1 June 1626, TNA, PROB 11/149/289
Florio, John, Florio his firste fruites which yeelde familiar speech, merie prouerbes, wittie sentences, and golden sayings (London, 1578; STC (2nd ed.) / 4699)
Florio, John, Florios second frutes to be gathered of twelue trees, of diuers but delightsome tastes to the tongues of Italians and Englishmen (London, 1591; STC (2nd ed.) / 11097)
Florio, John, Queen Anna’s nevv vvorld of words, or dictionarie of the Italian and English tongues, collected, and newly much augmented by Iohn Florio, reader of the Italian vnto the Soueraigne Maiestie of Anna, crowned Queene of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, &c. (London, 1611; STC (2nd ed.) / 11099).
Pfister, Manfred, ‘Inglese Italianato – Italianato Anglizzato: John Florio’, in Renaissance Go-Betweens: Cultural Exchange in Early Modern Europe, ed. by Andreas Höfele and Werner von Koppenfels (Germany: Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co, 2005)
Wyatt, Michael, The Italian Encounter with Tudor England: The Cultural Politics of Translation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).
We are thrilled to host this guest post from Dr Paula Simpson, who works at the Wren Library, Trinity College,Cambridge, and who is currently writing a book on Tithe Disputes in Early Modern England: Everyday Popular Protest in the Diocese of Canterbury (Boydell and Brewer).
Scribes – often of professional middling status – held a crucial social role in sixteenth-century England. But the writing undertaken by these scribes did not always occur at a desk in the office or home. I’m interested in the movement of pen, ink and paper between agricultural fields and urban courtrooms and in the records stored in parish chests and household ‘archives’. This post explores the scribal activity involved in recording tithe payment in early modern Kent. Tithes were a form of tax paid to members of the clergy or to lay tithe owners on agricultural produce or personal income. Although strictly speaking the amount due was one tenth, the reality was much more complex. Tithing practices tell us about the interplay between written and oral testimony, formal and informal record keeping and the activities of the middling sort in local communities.
In the sixteenth century, literate people regularly undertook a scribal role for their friends, neighbours and kin. One such person was the local clergyman. In Mersham, Kent in 1583 John Whytinge, vicar wrote out the will of his parishioner and kinsman Richard Batchelor. According to a deposition in a subsequent case in the ecclesiastical courts over this will, his ability to do so had been aided by his ‘having penne, ynke and paper about hym’ which ‘he doth usually carry with him at suche tymes.’
A witness in another case described a presentment (a formal statement for the court) which was written out in the house of Henry Snod of Sittingbourne, where the vicar ‘toke pen and ynke and wrote the words’. When he realised, however, that the accusation was levelled at his own curate he ‘put upp his paper into his bosome.’
We might suppose then that literate members of the community including the clerical profession had ready access to the materials needed to record the last wishes of parishioners as well as for writing other types of document. The wealthier may have owned equipment such as a desk box (a sloped writing desk) or a standish (a stand or case for pen and ink) and those with access to the market and the financial means had access to a variety of writing materials as well as a paper supply. Inkhorns and penners (pen cases) are especially interesting in this context as portable items carried slung from the girdle or perhaps around the neck. This equipment could be utilised for both planned record making as well as impromptu note taking.
I am particularly interested in the way in which Kentish tithe collectors (often clerics) may have recorded agreements, receipts and debts owed to them often in the course of their everyday interactions with parishioners. Unlike wills, as ephemera these notes or notebooks rarely survive but there are telling glimpses of their existence or use in the records of the ecclesiastical courts. The people who produced these records did not usually write to make a living but a certain level of skill and expertise was required to make meaningful records of transactions, whether they were formal accounts or hastily-written notes.
Tithe payment punctuated the agricultural year and sums were paid at particular times in the liturgical calendar. Often this was at Easter, linked to the receipt of communion. In urban parishes those who had paid tithe would be given a token which they would redeem in order to receive the sacraments and receipts would be recorded in ‘Easter Books’.But in other instances deponents also described payments made for acreage for feeding cattle with half paid at the feast of the Annunciation (25th March) and the other half at the feast of St Michael the Archangel (29th September).Payment of tithe in kind could be linked to the birth of animals: another witness named St Georgestide (around 23rd April) as the usual time for delivering tithe lambs or to the seasonal production of particular fruits. Most great tithes were collected at harvest time. The adherence to traditional Quarter Days reminds us that tithe could be an onerous financial burden in addition to other rents that were typically payable at these dates.
Six Preacher and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, Henry Wayland kept a ‘booke of his accomptes or reckoninges.’As the pluralist and often absentee rector of the Kent benefices of Hastingleigh, Ivychurch and Lyminge, he clearly had considerable income to keep track of and which made him a frequent plaintiff in the ecclesiastical courts suing for tithe.
In a long-running dispute Mason versus Paramor (1574-5) which concerned tithing-out (setting aside the tithe owner’s share during harvesting) in the parish of Monkton, the number of sheaves bound together had been carefully overseen and noted down in a book by the plaintiff.Of course, tithe collectors were entirely within their rights to observe and keep such accounts, but we might imagine that on occasion the sight of such noting could have been provocative, especially perhaps to those labouring hard to bring in the harvest.
An ill-tempered encounter took place in the churchyard of Molash in the 1580s. There Ezechias Fogg, vicar of Chilham revealed to his curate Robert Coxon that he would not be renewing his cure at Michaelmas and, showing him a document, confirmed that the small tithes would instead be leased to Christopher Goteley who was also present. Fogg testified that at this point ‘the sayd Coxon offered to snatche the same out of this deponents [Fogg’s] hande and did rent parte of one of the counterpannes and the sayd Coxon did greatly abuse this deponent in speeches.’
These examples suggest that tithe owners used both formal and informal documentation to assert, monitor and defend their right to tithe. Tom Johnson has written about the proliferation of paper flying to and fro between the ecclesiastical courts and the parish in the late medieval period. The situation was no different in the sixteenth century. Apparitors (court officials who delivered summons to court) were often unpopular figures in local communities and the clergy and parish elite acted as intermediaries in this system of ecclesiastical bureaucracy through the system of presentment (though of course they were often the subject of presentments themselves) and by citing recalcitrant tithe payers to court. While it might be argued that these accounting procedures and citations to appear in court were indicative of power relations in a culture where the everyday maintenance of customary practice and tithe payment was still primarily oral, tithe payers were still able to turn these documents to their own symbolic advantage.
Thomas Gardener, curate of Seasalter, described the events of the afternoon of one Trinity Sunday when Mr Marshe, the vicar of Hernhill, had preached in the parish church of Seasalter and after the service came to the vicarage house ‘to drynck and to make mery’. After a while, parishioner John Turnor came to the vicarage gate and asked to speak with Mr Marshe who came ‘yncontynentlye’ out of the house to meet him. Turnor had come to pay Marshe for half a year’s agistment (the pasturing of livestock). It was reported that “… the saide Mr Marshe therupon takinge oute of his purse a pece of paper and after he had looked therupon a whyle then sayde that he did there fynde a mentyon of suche a dutye”. Turner offered to pay, but the vicar had no change and so Turner had to obtain some in order to make the exact payment to the tipsy cleric. He remained on horseback at the gate for the whole of the encounter. Far from being intimidated by the cleric’s record-keeping Turnor had engineered payment at a time when the tithe collector was arguably at a significant moral and physical disadvantage.
The use of these documents reveals much about dialogue between literate and oral culture in the maintenance of the tithe payment system. While literate culture may have been gaining ascendancy over oral by the 17th century, the Kentish evidence for tithe suggests that the 16th century was very much a transitional period. Take, for example, the case Chillenden versus Thompson in which events on Lady Day in the parish church of Goodnestone (Faversham) were described. William Chillenden had paid seven shillings for his small tithes for half a year. He asked for an acquittance (a written receipt), but the vicar refused instead asking those assembled in the church to bear witness to the payment.
The meaning of bearing witness is relation to tithe payment was very complex. Often payment involved deliberately-staged encounters which took place, often in churches, before specifically appointed witnesses as well as by others who observed events because they happened to be around. Production, consumption and tithe payment was closely observed by the parish community because everyone had a stake in the tithe payment system. Payment was a matter of community concern because of the defining role of custom and precedent.
In court (literate) people were as likely to cite visual and oral testimony as well as drawing on more formal record-keeping. Henry Butler, a previous town chamberlain of Sandwich, deposed in a case over the disputed site of a mill in 1555, that ‘he hath herd his father now deceased about xiiii yeres now past say and report that the wyndmyll before specified is in the parish of Saint Maryes of Sandwich and so the said wyndemyll is conteyned in the rentalles to be in the parishe of St Maryes’. This period is especially interesting then for the dialogue between the two modes. People may have been able to read even if they could not write. They recognised the value of written records by adding their marks to wills and to witness testimonies and in so doing added veracity to the contents.
While court cases often drew on institutional record-keeping such as urban and monastic archives in support of claims for tithe, there is also evidence that yeomen and small farmers and perhaps clergy were beginning to build small personal archives of their own. Scraps of paper, lists and receipts – some of which might be identified as ‘makeshift texts’ – may gradually have built up into small carefully-preserved personal archives probably kept in people’s homes.Whether scribbled notes or fair copies, these records would have been a resource to draw on in times of dispute.
In the case Harper versus Asherste (1573) the defendant, yeoman William Asherste referred to a book of ‘incomings and outgoings’ which had belonged to his grandfather, describing it as ‘verry credible old a book of antiquity’. Here he was bringing to bear all of the notions of veracity and credibility usually associated with the oral testimony and memories of older members of the community but this time to personal written records.
Alongside oral testimony local documentation, including that passed from one clergyman to another, was another resource of community memory. These documents assumed an important authority especially in times of crisis or court dispute. Increasingly such documentation was kept in locked parish chests and regulating access to this knowledge was central to social and economic relationships within the parish community.
It seems then that note-taking and personal archive-building activities were characteristic of the professional middle stratum of society. When created by tithe collectors they reveal the use of these documents as part of the everyday experience of negotiating and maintaining the tithe payment system. These documents were used alongside activities such as perambulation of the parish bounds and obtaining the oral testimonies of older members of the community as the custodians of the knowledge of past practice.
Tithe also reveals the complexity within the social strata identified as middling. It exposes ongoing tensions within this group. Often tithe disputes occurred between clergy and those who were office-holders, or who were from families long-established in the parish, or over religious tensions. Aspirant parishioners – sometimes those we might consider to be members of the same professional middling stratum as the clergy – often clashed with incumbents over tithe payment. Tithe offers then a unique perspective on what it meant to belong to the professional middle stratum.
Furthermore, wealth was not always a significant indicator of this middling status. Clearly some clerics enjoyed high incomes, social standing and were well-educated and lay tithe owners, especially those who benefitted from the dispersal of monastic lands, were usually aspirant and again relatively wealthy. Others, usually vicars or curates, were scraping by on a low income from a relatively poor benefice. Disputes over tithe – a time of rupture in local social and economic relationships – might be a meaningful way to tease out the complexities of those among the socio-cultural status of the middling and of those bound to engage with them.
For Kent, for example: Hallam, E. A.,‘Turning the hourglass: gender relations at the deathbed in early modern Canterbury’, Mortality, 1/1 (1996), pp. 61-81; Hallam, E. and Hockey, J., Death, Memory and Material Culture (Oxford, 2006), chapter 7; Richardson, C. (2017) ‘Continuity and Memory: Domestic Space, Gesture and Affection at the Sixteenth-Century Deathbed’ in Buxton, A., Hulin, L, and Anderson, J (eds), InHabit: People, Places and Possessions (Oxford, 2017).
 PRC 39/10, f.151v. See also another testamentary case PRC 39/10, f.166: ‘there being redy provided penne, ynke and paper’. Thank you to Catherine Richardson for these references.
 Bunker versus Newland (1556), PRC 39/3, ff. 23v-24.
 Hamling, T. and Richardson, C., A Day at Home in Early Modern England: Material Culture and Domestic Life, 1500-1700 (Yale: New Haven, 2017). A book of rates dated 1552 lists a wide range of commodities for writing, p.159.
 For example CKS PRC 39/8, f.21v; X.10.16, f.69v.
Wright, S. J. ‘A Guide to Easter Books and related parish listings’, Parts 1 and 2, Local Population Studies, 42 (1989), pp. 18-31 and 43 (1989), pp. 13-27. There are no known Easter Books extant for the diocese of Canterbury.
For example Merricke versus White (1586-89), CKS X.11.1, ff. 195v-196r. Also Lane versus Cheeseman (1598), CKS PRC 39/22 f. 58r.
 Ducklyng versus Symonds (1573), CKS PRC 39/6, f.229v.
 There are numerous examples of dispute over tithing out. See Simpson, P., ‘Custom and Conflict: Disputes over Tithe in the Diocese of Canterbury, 1501-1600’, Phd University of Kent (1997), pp. 99-116.
 Harper versus Asherste (1573): KCC DCb X.10.14 ff. 122v-4.
 Wood, A., The Memory of the People: Custom and Popular Senses of The Past In Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2013), especially pp. 256-271. See for example KCC DCb X.3.3 pt. 1 f. 95v which describes documents borrowed from the parish chest for personal perusal.
 See Simpson, P., ‘Custom and Conflict’, chapter 5.
 For example the encounter described above between Ezechias Fogg (graduate of Oxford, gentleman) and curate Robert Coxon. It is worth noting here that the small tithes were instead given to Christopher Goteley who was denounced by Coxon as a ‘papisticall fellowe’ and who had himself been the defendant in a tithe case brought by Fogg.
Guest post by Hannah Yip, a Research Assistant for ‘GEMMS – Gateway to Early Modern Manuscript Sermons’, an SSHRC-funded project based at the University of Regina, Canada. Her latest article, ‘What was a Homily in Post-Reformation England?’, is published in The Journal of Ecclesiastical History.
The English Protestant divines discussed in this blog were of ‘professional middling’ status. Although they were highly educated individuals, many of them holding degrees from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, they relied on their livings and patronage from institutions and wealthier individuals to support themselves. While the role of published writings as instruments of patronage for Protestant clergymen in early modern England is widely recognised, the question of whether there were alternative avenues for securing patronage, such as scribal publication, remains largely unaddressed. Moreover, how did Protestant preachers decorate their manuscripts intended for patrons? What evidence do we have that they practised the art of penmanship and drawing in their leisure time?
Today, the subject of ‘Protestant art’ in post-Reformation England constitutes a thriving area of study. Over the past thirty-five years, historians have continued to challenge Patrick Collinson’s ‘iconophobia’ thesis, contributing to a deeper understanding of the manner in which English Protestants generated a visual culture of their own. While such research has included the Protestant clergy’s defence of visual imagery in certain contexts, there has been insufficient research into the practical engagement of these divines with the visual arts. One principal exception is represented in studies of the graphic art of Samuel Ward (1577–1640), town preacher of Ipswich; in particular, his print entitled The Double Deliverance, claimed by the minister to illustrate ‘the two grand blessings of God to this nation’ but ultimately misinterpreted as a personal affront to Catholic Spain. The limnings of Stephan Batman (c. 1542–1584), rector of St Mary’s, Newington, Surrey, have also been explored at some length by M. B. Parkes, who has drawn attention to a treatise on the art of limning written by the cleric which appears to be no longer extant. One of Batman’s commonplace books featuring his drawings survives as Houghton Library, Harvard University, MS Eng 1015, and is available to view in its entirety here.
To what extent did Protestant churchmen cultivate their skills in draughtsmanship, and why? This blog examines the devotional artistic endeavours of other Protestant ministers as manifested primarily in manuscript, posing crucial questions regarding their function as gifts for patrons or as forms of record-keeping and private meditation. It begins to enquire whether the pen-and-ink drawings within these manuscripts can be categorised as a genre of Protestant artwork which has not, thus far, been recognised either by palaeographers or by historians of early modern visual culture.
It was undoubtedly the case that the wide range of confessional allegiances, theological positions and religio-social groups could dictate Protestant divines’ appreciation for art and their own artistic pursuits. In their fascinating article about the scheme of imagery for a Wiltshire parish church designed by Christopher Wren (1589–1658), dean of Windsor and father of the famous architect, Louise Durning and Clare Tilbury emphasised the ways in which his designs negotiated the boundaries between the Laudian ‘beauty of holiness’ and a word-centred piety. Jasper Mayne (1604–1672), a prolific poet and playwright as well as a Royalist Oxfordshire vicar, not only expressed his disdain for ‘the vanity of some of our Modern Prophets,who can see Idolatry in a Church-window’ in a typically moderate Protestant defence of ‘the Ornamentall use of Images’, but also revealed his dedication to art in a poem extolling the qualities of the ‘table-book’ of Anne King (b. c. 1621), sister of Bishop Henry King (1592–1669). Detailed analysis into the attitudes of preachers hailing from multiple branches of Protestantism towards the visual and decorative arts richly merits further investigation.
Notwithstanding specific religious allegiances, it was certainly the case that an individual preacher’s skills in draughtsmanship could be used to his advantage when seeking or maintaining gentry patronage. With their bespoke woodcuts, engravings and accompanying verses, printed funeral sermons could serve as Protestant memorial keepsakes for a grieving patron’s family. Lucy Russell (c. 1581–1627), Countess of Bedford may have financed in part the production of a handsome octavo volume containing various visual and textual tributes to her brother, Sir John Harington, Second Baron Harington of Exton (c. 1592–1614). A considerable number of presentation copies of manuscript sermons intended for patrons, written in the hand of the preachers themselves, survive in archives and libraries today. However, arguably few are as exquisite as a sermon dedicated to Lady Thomasine North of Mildenhall, Suffolk (c. 1586–1655), dated 27 August 1626 and preached locally by Nicholas Searle (1592–1678). Searle was clearly an accomplished penman, exhibiting a variety of calligraphic hands in a manuscript which imitated a printed sermon in its layout and appearance, complete with decorated drop-cap initials. Bound in gold-tooled vellum, this was designed to pay tribute to an important patron in rural Suffolk.
The drawings of divines could also be rendered at the service of record-keeping. The commonplace book of the Cambridgeshire vicar Edward Beaver (c. 1649–c. 1705), an octavo volume comprising notes of sermons which he had attended in addition to memoranda and accounts, also contains several diagrams which connect his interests in astronomy with his faith (see Figure 1). ‘The Constellations as they stand in ye North Hemespheer of Heaven’ are spread out over twelve pages (ff. 9v–15r). While clearly not as sophisticated as the efforts of his contemporary, the astronomer Reverend John Flamsteed (1646–1719), Beaver’s sketches reveal a personal engagement with scientific study. This was an aspect of a cleric’s interests which could often find its way into his sermons. Choosing Revelation 2:1 as his text (‘Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks’), the royal chaplain Thomas Bradley (1599/1600–1673) muses upon whether the ‘seven stars’ refer to ‘that famous Constellation clearly visible in our Horizon, in dorso Tauri, called by Astronomers, the Pleyades’. A yet more erudite marriage of astronomical knowledge with biblical exegesis appears throughout a sermon delivered by Robert Gell (1595–1665), rector of the affluent St Mary Aldermary, London. Preaching to the Society of Astrologers, Gell’s final exhortation argues that ‘a living and powerfull faith […] hath the vertues not onely of some one Star, or some one Asterisme, or Constellation, but even of all the Stars, all the Constellations of the heavens’. Citing Daniel 12:3 (‘And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever’), Gell expresses his hopes that the members of his congregation ‘shall become true Magi’ who will subsequently ‘shine as the Firmament’.
Finally, churchmen could also decorate their manuscripts ‘for art’s sake’. British Library, Harley MS 663 is an autograph folio volume containing notes relating to the private accounts and sermons of William Hull (d. 1626), lecturer at St Oswald’s Church, Ashbourne, Derbyshire and dating from the first quarter of the seventeenth century. At the end of the volume, there are several decorative tracings and drawings in pencil, evidently pricked from an original printed source (see Figure 2). There is little evidence to suggest that the volume was owned by anybody other than Hull before it passed into the Harleian Library. It is therefore likely that, in a spare moment, Hull traced these designs for his own pleasure. Such practices would not have been lost on the likes of an even more illustrious churchman, Bishop John Cosin (1595–1672). As Adrian Green has shown, the designs for Cosin’s ecclesiastical woodwork were inspired by Netherlandish and German pattern books.
Deriving from devotional pursuits, but also undertaken at their leisure, these diagrams, drawings and instances of ornamental penmanship blur the boundaries between ‘recreation’ and ‘work’ in the service of God. Whereas the art of drawing and calligraphy may have been considered as secular pursuits which were at odds with clerical vocation, it was the case that these talents could, in fact, be utilised at the service of patronage, or to ally external interests in natural phenomena with the Protestant faith. This blog challenges older assertions that the practice of drawing and limning was the principal preserve of royalty, courtiers and the landed gentry in the seventeenth century. Such assumptions mean that it is of no surprise that preacher-painters exist on the margins of art-historical research. For example, Robert Tittler’s invaluable ‘Early Modern British Painters’ resource does not mention Francis Potter (1594–1678), rector of Kilmington, Somerset, whose portrait of Sir Thomas Pope (c. 1507–1559) hangs in Trinity College, Oxford, which Pope founded (see Figure 3). The painting is an accomplished work, showing Potter’s sensitivity to the intricacies of his sitter’s jewellery and ermine.
Very little research has been undertaken thus far on how preachers acquired these creative skills. By beginning to examine the artistic recreational activities of Protestant divines, this blog has highlighted that more research is required regarding the relative social status of the clergy, the ‘largest profession of the early modern period’, and the leisure time that they could afford to take. Endowments attached to certain livings varied enormously, as did the backgrounds and early upbringings of clergymen. It is possible that certain churchmen were able to build a rapport with the middling sorts ensconced within their parish by taking up recreations which they could identify with. Jill Francis has shown how the published garden designs of William Lawson (1553/4–1635), vicar of Ormesby in the North Riding of Yorkshire, were ‘simplified and accessible’, aimed towards the emerging class of rising gentry in the first quarter of the seventeenth century. Considerations of space have precluded discussion of wealthier clergymen’s activities as art collectors, including the intriguing career of the Cumbrian rector William Petty (c. 1585–1639), who was both chaplain to Thomas Howard (1585–1646), Earl of Arundel and his principal agent, purchasing collections on his behalf. Investigating the artistic recreations of clergymen in early modern England leads to the potential for discovering the origins of the characteristics of the Hanoverian squarson, whose lifestyle bore strong similarities to those of the landed gentry. The recognition of certain preachers’ abilities to interpret art is also crucial for enhancing scholarly understanding of their engagement with the religio-political controversies of their day. In a published defence of a painting censured as showing King Charles I’s submission to the Pope, the Royalist divine Daniel Featley (1582–1645) demonstrated that the work was a representation of a story from the Golden Legend, analysing with considerable detail its religious symbolism which was incompatible with the accusations against the painting put forward at the Star Chamber.
Moreover, whereas Durning and Tilbury previously argued that Dean Christopher Wren’s visual skill was ‘hardly a typical attribute of the early modern cleric’, this blog argues that, on the contrary, a wider awareness of certain clergymen’s capabilities as visual thinkers would advance scholarly knowledge of the external influences that informed the composition of their sermons. The admirable work of Jean-Louis Quantin, Katrin Ettenhuber and Noam Reisner, amongst others, has revealed how preachers drew upon classical literature in addition to theological texts, ancient and modern. But what about the godly inspiration which could be gained from studying artistic treatises? According to William A. Dyrness, The Mysteryes of Natvre and Art (London, 1634), a treatise by John Bate (fl. 1626–1635) which covered the art of drawing and painting, was owned by the staunchly godly Mather family in New England. While I have argued elsewhere for the enthusiasm of the ‘hotter sort’ of Protestant ministers for other types of visual devices such as anagrams, more meticulous study may disclose further evidence of the appreciation of, and active engagement with, visual culture by clergymen across the wide spectrum of Protestant belief in post-Reformation England.
 Paul Seaver, ‘Puritan Preachers and their Patrons’, in Religious Politics in Post-Reformation England: Essays in Honour of Nicholas Tyacke, ed. by Kenneth Fincham and Peter Lake (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2006), pp. 128–42.
 Alexandra Walsham, ‘Impolitic pictures: providence, history, and the iconography of Protestant nationhood in early Stuart England’, Studies in Church History, 33 (1997), 307–28; Helen Pierce, Unseemly Pictures: Graphic Satire and Politics in Early Modern England (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 2008), pp. 35–47; Ema Vyroubalová, ‘Catholic and Puritan Conspiracies in Samuel Ward’s The Double Deliverance (1621)’, in Puritans and Catholics in the Trans-Atlantic World 1600–1800, ed. by Crawford Gribben and Scott Spurlock (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), pp. 47–65.
 M. B. Parkes, ‘Stephan Batman’s Manuscripts’, in Medieval Heritage: Essays in Honour of Tadahiro Ikegami, ed. by Masahiko Kanno and others (Tokyo: Yushodo Press, 1997), pp. 125–56 (p. 128).
 Louise Durning and Clare Tilbury, ‘‘Looking unto Jesus’[:] Image and Belief in a Seventeenth-Century English Chancel’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 60.3 (2009), 490–513.
 Jasper Mayne, A late Printed Sermon Against False Prophets, &c. ([London], 1647), p. 15; British Library, Harley MS 6931, ff. 59r–60v.
 Richard Stock, The Chvrches Lamentation for the losse of the Godly, &c. (London, 1614); Ted-Larry Pebworth, ‘“Let Me Here Use That Freedome”: Subversive Representation in John Donne’s “Obsequies to the Lord Harington”’, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 91.1 (1992), 17–42 (p. 40).
 Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich, HD607/1. For presentation copies of sermons in manuscript which follow print conventions, see Mary Morrissey, ‘Sermon-Notes and Seventeenth-Century Manuscript Communities’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 80.2 (2017), 293–307 (p. 300).
 For Flamsteed, see Frances Willmoth, ‘Flamsteed, John (1646–1719)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn (2008), <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/9669> [accessed 13 November 2020].
 Thomas Bradley, A Sermon Ad Clerum, &c. (York, 1663), p. 4.
 Robert Gell, Stella Nova, A New Starre, Leading wisemen unto Christ (London, 1649), pp. 30–1.
 For this manuscript, see Arnold Hunt, The Art of Hearing: English Preachers and Their Audiences, 1590–1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 276–81.
 Adrian Green, Building for England: John Cosin’s Architecture in Renaissance Durham and Cambridge (Durham: Durham University, 2016), p. 16.
 Mordechai Feingold, ‘Parallel Lives: The Mathematical Careers of John Pell and John Wallis’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 69.3 (2006), 451–68 (p. 457).
 Kim Sloan, ‘A Noble Art’: Amateur Artists and Drawing Masters c. 1600–1800 (London: British Museum, 2000), p. 11.
 Arthur Burns, Kenneth Fincham and Stephen Taylor, ‘Reconstructing Clerical Careers: The Experience of the Clergy of the Church of England Database’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 55.4 (2004), 726–37 (p. 737).
 Rosemary O’Day, ‘The Anatomy of a Profession: the Clergy of the Church of England’, in The Professions in Early Modern England, ed. by Wilfrid Prest (London: Croom Helm, 1987), pp. 25–63; Fiona McCall, ‘Children of Baal: Clergy Families and Their Memories of Sequestration during the English Civil War’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 76.4 (2013), 617–38 (p. 618).
 Jill Francis, ‘Order and Disorder in the Early Modern Garden, 1558–c. 1630’, Garden History, 36.1 (2008), 22–35 (pp. 29–30).
 For clergymen’s art collecting, see Tarnya Cooper, Citizen Portrait: Portrait Painting and the Urban Elite of Tudor and Jacobean England and Wales (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 2012), pp. 138, 153. For William Petty, see David Howarth, ‘Petty, Rev. William’, Grove Art Online, <https://doi.org/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.T066833> [accessed 13 November 2020].
 Wilfrid Prest, ‘Introduction: The Professions and Society in Early Modern England’, in The Professions in Early Modern England, ed. by Wilfrid Prest (London: Croom Helm, 1987), pp. 1–24 (p. 18).
 Daniel Featley, The Sea-Gull, &c. ([London], 1644); Laura Lunger Knoppers, Politicizing Domesticity from Henrietta Maria to Milton’s Eve (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 38–40.
 Durning and Tilbury, ‘‘Looking unto Jesus’’, p. 513.
 Jean-Louis Quantin, The Church of England and Christian Antiquity: The Construction of a Confessional Identity in the 17th Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), ch. 1; Katrin Ettenhuber, Donne’s Augustine: Renaissance Cultures of Interpretation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); Noam Reisner, ‘The Preacher and Profane Learning’, in The Oxford Handbook of the Early Modern Sermon, ed. by Peter McCullough, Hugh Adlington and Emma Rhatigan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 72–86.
 William A. Dyrness, Reformed Theology and Visual Culture: The Protestant Imagination from Calvin to Edwards (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 223–24.
 Hannah Yip, ‘‘Speaking now to our eyes’: Visual Elements of the Printed Sermon in Early Modern England’ (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Birmingham, 2020), ch. 3.
Welcome to Elizabethan England via the digital world! We’re lucky to have a range of exciting and innovative online resources at our disposal that make it possible to explore the entertainment and cultural activities of early modern England through our computer screens. This post (in collaboration with Middling Culture) takes the form of “remote quest(ions)” […]
Many thanks to Chris Pickvance for this guest post on the furniture of the middling sort. You can hear Chris talk the team through a “middling” style chair in the video at the end of this post…You can also read more about furniture of this and other periods at the Regional Furniture Society.
In an ideal world (for researchers) there would be a close correspondence between household social status and domestic furniture. Higher status households would have greater incomes or wealth and be living in larger houses with more specialized rooms. They would thus have furniture of higher quality and of more varied types. In practice, life styles are not only influenced by means. Large houses can mean more ‘old’ furniture is preserved, for example because inherited ‘family’ furniture is valued, or because old pieces are relegated to servants’ quarters or outbuildings. Moreover, norms can differ among households in the same economic position.
In the 1560-1660 period, furniture was mainly made of solid oak; veneer arrived later. Imported and exotic woods became available in small quantities or through chance purchases as trade routes extended to Asia and the Americas. Cypress and juniper chests were also imported and survive in considerable numbers. Decoration took the form of work on the surface: primarily various forms of carving, to a small extent stain or paint, and the introduction of inlay.
Applying this approach to the ‘middling sort’ is not straightforward. As Tara Hamling and Catherine Richardson write in A Day at Home in Early Modern England, this group is defined more by its social status (they ‘held social positions that bestowed a certain superiority within their local contexts’) than by a shared economic position (‘they might be moderately to exceptionally wealthy’) (p.9). It follows that their furniture preferences were shaped by local as well as national influences rather than being invariant across localities.
This is consistent with the evidence of diversity. On the one hand, the furniture that survives from the 1560-1660 period is likely to over-represent the furniture of the middling sort and upper classes; lower quality and less durable furniture is intrinsically less likely to survive, and in so far as furniture enters the market, pieces that are less appealing to later users, including collectors, are less likely to survive. One can thus conclude that the furniture of the middling sort constitutes a major part of what survives today from this period.
Motifs, Techniques and Region
On the other hand, while renaissance motifs such as fluting, guilloche, scrolling and gadrooning were taken up nationally, in most regions they were combined with local favorites, e.g. the ‘worm’ and Celtic interlace in the Lake District, dragons in Cheshire, Wales and the Borders, the ‘domino’ in Wiltshire and the ‘eye’ in Wiltshire and Dorset. Dates, initials and, occasionally, couples’ names were popular features on carved press cupboards, chests and armchairs in Cheshire, Lancashire, Derbyshire, Yorkshire, and Cumbria. East Anglia was particularly open to Flemish renaissance influence, and Scotland and the South West to French renaissance influence.
Carved work covered a range of techniques. The simplest was incising produced by a V-tool, which led to ‘outline’ designs which left most of the surface intact, as in Dorset and Devon, where it was combined with paint or stain on boarded pieces. The most common type of carving dug deeper into the surface of the oak to produce recurrent patterns such as guilloche, and needed greater skill. Indeed, combinations of these stock patterns were the main feature of English carved furniture. Relief carving was rare and limited to adornments such as sculptural terminal figures, whereas on the Continent furniture with sculpted scenes could be found.
As well as carving, fine rectilinear inlay using contrasting woods arrived in the middle to late Elizabethan period, brought by German and Flemish migrant craftsmen, initially in the most costly furniture. Floral inlay followed soon after and remained popular in Yorkshire armchairs, press cupboards and chests till late in the 17th century.
On the other hand, punched work was used as a background to a main design, as a decorative element in it, or to fill secondary spaces.
Other techniques included the use of mastic to add contrast to incised designs, as on this armchair.
It cannot, however, be concluded that those frame and panelled chests and panel back armchairs which lack carving on their panels were therefore made for lower status social groups. Such groups sat on stools, not panel back armchairs of any type, and their chests are most likely to have been of the simple ‘six plank’ boarded type which could also serve as benches. Rather, plain panels indicate the range of variation within the furniture of the middling sort. Finally, the century in question saw a great expansion in furniture ownership and all aspects of domestic comfort, so statements about furniture need to be qualified by reference to time and place as well as social status.
We thank Susan Orlik for this guest post on the Bridgwater Corporation Pew:
If you had been sitting in the congregation on a Sunday in the early seventeenth century in St Mary’s church, in the centre of Bridgwater, Somerset, your line of sight facing east would have been radically changed by a new construction. Around 1620 the Corporation had built for itself a space between your seat as a parishioner and the communion table at the east end. In front of you, they had erected a highly-decorated wooden chancel screen, which stood before the chancel arch on a north-south axis. Behind that you would have seen the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses sitting in their seats. Behind them you would just about have been able to perceive the old fifteenth-century rood screen, which itself stood in front of the communion table. The Corporation had created a discrete enclosure for themselves, positioning the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses in primary position at the front of the church, visually dominant, and separated from the rest of the congregation. Together, today, the Corporation’s seats and the screen are known as the Corporation Pew.
The parish church was not only the place for religious worship in this period, but also a social space where status was expressed and negotiated. The surviving material evidence for investment in these buildings by parishioners is crucial for understanding ‘middling culture’.
Christopher Marsh and Amanda Flather have established some important principles on church seating: congregational seating was ordered by the Churchwardens hierarchically by gender, age, moral reputation, and by ‘degrees and estates’. Robert Tittler has suggested that in the context of public civic seating, in the face of discontinuity with the Reformation, patterns of symbolic usage became more important than ever. This view has resonance with the material evidence at Bridgwater, which provides an insight into how middling elites constructed and displayed their special status within their local community.
Since 1857 the line of sight from the nave has been changed as the Corporation Pew has been moved to the south aisle, where it stands on a west-east axis. Slightly reduced in size, now 9.3 metres long, its magnificence and decoration still stand as evidence of the Corporation’s pride, wealth and cultural investment. With rich material evidence, but thin extant archival sources, what does this rare construction tell of the middling elite in this prosperous West Country Borough?
While the original screen had a double central opening, as the early nineteenth-century lithograph by the amateur local artist, John Chubb, shows, the repositioned screen has two openings. There were, and now are, four parts to the screen. The front of the screen has an inscription, and two rows of superimposed arches with a frieze of grotesque masks and beasts with fish tails above the arches. The bays are separated by carved columns.
Second, above the bays is an arcade with pierced spandrels. The third part is a cornice which sits above the arcade with carvings of hybrid creatures on the front and stylised patterns on the back.
Fourthly, the screen is crested with strapwork and thin ornamental obelisks. These obelisks were common symbols on funeral monuments representing wisdom and eternity. On the front of the screen is the text ‘Feare God. Honour the King’.
Behind the screen, on either side of the openings, are three rows of seats for the Mayor, Aldermen and Corporation. Some of these are the original seventeenth-century while others date from the nineteenth-century; the Mayor’s seat is differentiated from the others by a higher back rest and arm rests.
Although expressions of civic identity in parish churches can be found in other boroughs, the specific discrete enclosure of the seating of Bridgwater’s elite public officials in the chancel appears rare, if not unique. At Axbridge in the same county the Corporation sat in the nave in their own pew. At St Saviour’s in Dartmouth, Devon, the town council in 1614 placed themselves along the east wall with a specially carved and cushioned seat for the Mayor. The screen and pews at Bridgwater took the placing of the Corporation to a new level of visual dominance in its display of power and wealth, by its size, its position, and by its decoration.
The fine carvings of the pierced spandrels and the crest with strapwork and thin obelisks would indicate that part, if not all of the screen was carved by skilled artisans from an urban centre with more sophisticated workshops than a town like Bridgwater could provide. Tantalisingly there are no Corporation minutes or church records to help us. We can only speculate that, as the premier port of Somerset, sitting on the River Parrett with easy access to the Bristol Channel, Bridgwater’s corporate investors identified that Bristol may have been where such skilled carvers and joiners were to be found. We know that the less wealthy town of Axbridge had dealings with Bristol when they were planning their decorated plaster ceiling in 1636: the churchwardens’ accounts noted, ‘Item spent at Bristoll when we went to take a pattern of the fret work 1s’. The entry is ambiguous: either they, the Churchwardens, or the craftsmen were purchasing a print from Bristol or they were taking a pattern to Bristol. At Bridgwater, we have no such archival guidance. What we do know is that the whole scheme, which included fish-tailed creatures and troll-like creatures on the screen, belonged to the grotesque tradition, a fashionable Renaissance import, of which wealthy merchants would have been aware of during their business travels to Bristol, London and other significant urban centres. The Corporation had decided to erect new, contemporary-styled woodwork, which would have appeared startling in its modernity to the viewing parishioners. The taste of an upper middling elite that was well networked to Bristol and London appears to have been influenced by continental fashions. Their import into England has been well documented; in particular, the effect of continental prints on all media has been explored by Anthony Well-Cole. He highlighted the principal contribution of Netherlandish prints to the ‘highly distinctive combination of grotesques and strapwork’, both manifest in the Bridgwater screen.
Bridgwater, described as ‘rich and sturdily independent’, the premier port of the county, was generally prosperous, despite the vicissitudes of trade. As an administratively strategic Borough, it shared the Quarter Sessions with Wells, Ilchester and Taunton, and enjoyed its own Justices of the Peace. Bridgwater’s elite, the leading townsmen, were mercers who led the wool manufacturing businesses of the town. Important for cloth production and its export, the town was well known for the ‘Bridgwater cloth’, a good quality serge. Among the middling elite would have been merchants who traded the agricultural produce and minerals from the hinterland particularly to and from Ireland and South Wales, as well as the coastal trade and the trade with France, Spain and Portugal. Among the goods that Bridgwater, ‘the busiest port in Somerset’, exported were peas, beans, coal, salt, iron and finished cloth, while it imported hides, wool, timber, and wine. The mercers and the merchants, the middling elite, drove the town’s prosperous economy, which had recovered from depression in the 1590s to improve significantly in the early seventeenth century. They also led the civic authorities. It is likely that the expensive investment in the Corporation Pew c.1620 is linked to this renewed prosperity in the Borough.
The Corporation drew its membership from the mercers and merchants; and it is the relationship between the Corporation and the Parish which is at the heart of the story of the Corporation Pew. The rectorial rights of the parish were granted to the Corporation by Elizabeth in 1571. Part of the terms of the 1571 grant charged the Corporation with stipends of £20 for a man ‘to preach and teach in town and neighbourhood’, £13 6s 8d for a curate and another sum for a schoolmaster. Exercising its rights as rector, the Corporation was taking one-tenth of the agricultural produce of the parish, which realised significant sums; for example the Rectory Accounts of 1579 show receipts of £124 13s 5d, payments £81 13s 3d and the balance of £43 0s 2d. The number of Burgesses allowed rose from 18 to 24 in 1628, an indication of the Corporation’s growing power and influence. The Corporation held the rectorial rights, paid the stipends of the clergy and was receiving substantial income, all of which enhanced its position of power in the town and in the parish.
On the front of the screen was a reminder of tripartite authority: the biblical text ‘Feare God. Honour the King’. The congregation were urged to fear God, and honour the King who took his royal and religious headship from God. By obvious implication authority was triangulated, as through the screen the local civic authority was on view to the congregation throughout the service, who should also be obeyed in this hierarchy of authority. Found in other churches, the inscription was also common in domestic contexts. Not only had the Burgesses of Bridgwater built an expensive screen, highly decorated in a modern, fashionable manner, to sit behind, and to be seen differentiated from the rest of the worshippers, they had also boldly displayed their authority, linked to the King and to God. The metaphorical and the literal display conjoined.
The evidence suggests that this parish in the first decades of the seventeenth century was committed to a stricter form of Protestantism (often referred to as ‘godly’), which rejected what it perceived as unnecessary religious ceremony. While such rich adornment of this seating may seem inconsistent with such ‘godly’ attitudes, the Corporation Pew reflects a much wider wave of material investment in parish churches in the earlier decades of the seventeenth century which gave the wealthier and more influential middling sort opportunity to express their status and taste.
The dominant position of the seating for the wealthy Corporation at Bridgwater appears rare. The Corporation’s power and status were displayed through their investment in decorated woodwork, located in an unusual, exclusive, primary position at the east end of the nave, which emphasised their leadership of this godly community. At present, no other configuration has been found of a Mayor and Corporation sitting in what was essentially an enclosed pew either with their backs to the chancel, facing west to the congregation in the nave, or facing inwards towards each other. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to suggest which way they faced.
In any case, as you sat in the congregation you could not have failed to have been impressed by the burgesses’ investment. The sheer size and magnificence made the screen visually dominant. The exclusive nature of the space for the burgesses was clearly demarcated. The modernity of the fashionable imagery, combined with the skill of the workmanship, demonstrated the wealth, power and networked connections of the town’s leading figures. They had enhanced through decorated wood their civic status and also their church, over which they held the rectorial rights. You could not have ignored the elegant linking of the authority of God and the King to their own, materialised through the magnificence of the woodwork, the fashionable imagery and the inscription. This was investment driven by civic pride and aldermanic status on a bold scale.
Susan Orlik is an associate member of the department of History, University of Birmingham. This case study draws on research for her PhD thesis, ‘The ‘beauty of holiness’ revisited: an analysis of investment in parish church interiors in Dorset, Somerset, and Wiltshire, 1560-1640’ (University of Birmingham, 2018).
We can be confident in dating the construction through three pieces of evidence: a mayoral will; a brass plate to a deceased Mayor; and a pew dispute which locates and dates the ‘new ile’. SHC: D\D\cd/71; SHC: DD\X\SR/5/c403.
See especially Christopher Marsh, ‘Order and Place in England, 1580-1640: The View from the Pew’, The Journal of British Studies vol. 44, no. 1 (January 2005): 3-26; and Amanda Flather, Gender and Space in Early Modern England (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2007).
Robert Tittler, ‘Seats of Power: The Symbolism of Public Seating in the English Urban Community, c. 1560-1620’, Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies vol. 24, no. 2 (Summer, 1992): 205-223, 214.
KJB I Peter 2: 17, ‘Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the King’.
We are grateful to Michael Lewis, Head of Portable Antiquities & Treasure at the British Museum, for this guest post on “dress hooks.”
Identifying the ‘middling sort’ through their material culture is fraught with difficulties, not least as there is potential to interpret these items within our own, modern (21st century), perceptions of status, and any supporting evidence is largely lacking from contemporary written or art-historical sources. Indeed, often the best evidence for most material culture is the archaeological record.
A case in point are ‘dress hooks’, commonly found through metal-detecting and reported in substantial numbers to the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) – a project to record archaeological finds made by the public in England and Wales. In contrast to some other ‘detector finds’, dress-fastenings are mentioned in the written record, notably wills and inventories, and they also appear in art. That said their role and function, though studied (notably by David Gaimster et al in 2002, Antiquities Journal 82), remains somewhat enigmatic – indeed Gaimster described ‘dress-fastenings’ as ‘a crucial yet unsung element of Tudor dress’ (174). In general, it is believed that they were used to draw up garments, to keep them out of the muck of the street or display the rich fabric of the garment beneath, and may also have been used to fasten garments, or simply as decoration. Indeed, a multifunctional role, a bit like modern dress fastenings (buttons, ties etc) seems likely, and this might be reflected in the fact that they vary considerably in form and decoration.
To date (August 2019) the PAS has recorded some 4,600 dress hooks; also – incorrectly – logged as ‘hooked tags’, which is a term for similar items of the early medieval period. If the material composition of dress hooks is any indication of the status of their owners, then it is of interest that almost 4,000 of them (so the vast majority) are constructed of copper-alloy. Thereafter, some 470 are silver, followed by 100 or so lead-alloy examples.
It must surely be the case that the lead-alloy dress hooks are under representative of what once existed, and indeed it is of interest that their forms often mimic those found in the other metals – take for example a cast leaden example from Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire (BH-C23A16) which has a similar lozenge form to a copper-alloy example from Shalfleet, Isle of Wight (IOW-AF7846).
An assumption might be that dress hooks were being produced in lead (and maybe other ‘lesser’ materials, like bone, antler and wood) to cater for a less affluent market, though the numbers suggest otherwise. That said, there is a general recovery bias in the PAS data against lead, not least because intricately made leaden objects appear to survive less well in agricultural plough-soil (where most detected finds are recovered) than those of copper-alloy; on the Thames foreshore in London, thanks to the anaerobic conditions of the river mud, the survival of lead-alloy items is much better, though still copper-alloy dress hooks are most common.
It must be that dress hooks made of precious metals, notably silver, were for those above middling culture, although Gaimster et al said that ‘detailed study of the iconographic and documentary record suggests that dress-hooks, as functional dress-fastenings, were not a significant part of male or female elite dress, particularly that of the royal court, in the early Tudor period’ (190). There are some fabulous examples of dress hooks within the PAS dataset. From Boxford, Berkshire (BERK-93DC8A), for example, is a silver-gilt dress hook made of several parts to form a flower-like head.
The central boss serves as a rivet, with its shank passing through a hole in the front plate and a silver back plate, before forking in two. Attached to the reverse is the hook. Also of composite form, is a silver-gilt dress hook of lozenge form, from Langham, Norfolk (NMS-116943). Again, the central boss serves as a rivet joining the elements of the object together, though the use of solder is noticeable. Besides these elaborate precious metal dress hooks are some humbler items, which because of their simple construction might have been more within the reach of the middling sort. Take for example a dress hook from Bletsoe, Bedfordshire (BH-B4EDCA) which is made of singly cast plate, with its hook added on after.
This type of dress hook – a cast plate with hook – is common amongst the copper-alloy PAS finds. It would seem from the quantity that these are the stock of dress hooks being used in Tudor and Stuart times, but by whom? It is interesting to posit whether this data is representative of all society, or just part of it. An inkling, given that their ornate designs suggest more than just a practical function, is that these would have been bought by those with some disposable income – maybe indicative of middling sort? Gaimster et al. seem to agree, suggesting that ‘pairs of decorative dress-hooks were mainly the preserve of women of the middle ranks’ (190). Some examples serve to illustrate the point. One from Asselby, East Yorkshire (YORYM-5281A5), though incomplete, is formed of an attractive openwork design, perhaps featuring a pine cone.
Of note is its integrally cast rectangular attachment loop and the hook, though broken. An important example from Arreton, Isle of Wight (IOW-A203D3), very much mimics a form of composite dress hook usually found in precious metal. It is formed of three bosses decorated with rope-work, likely to replicate applied filigree decoration found on some precious metal examples (including HAMP-B7066E).
Simplest in form amongst the copper-alloy dress hooks are those made of a single piece of wire, such as one from Watlington, Oxfordshire (SUR-3488DA).
It appears that this form had a long life, and (although relatively few are recorded on the PAS database), they must have been relatively common. Surely these are below the middling sort, though we must not dismiss the use of simple, yet practical hooks, by all in society, especially if they were out of view.
Returning to dress hooks of lead and lead-alloys. There is no doubt that these would be easier and quicker to make, so therefore (presumably) cheaper to buy. In general terms the examples recorded with the PAS are similar in form and designs to those of copper-alloy, though are normally cast in one piece; in the case of the copper-alloy examples the hook is usually soldered to the plate. For example, from Twyford, Hampshire (HAMP-48DED2) is a rectangular leaden dress hook decorated with a lattice of lozenges, within each lozenge a quatrefoil. Also, and much like examples seen in silver and copper-alloy (see above), is a dress hook from Stockton-on-the-Forest, North Yorkshire (YORYM-0D11C9). It does seem, therefore, that these dress hooks are imitating (or akin) to those of copper-alloy, with those in lead looking silver when new, and those of copper-alloy appearing golden (for gilding). Whether these lead-alloy dress hooks were popular amongst the middling sort is unclear, but it is a possibility…