King Death

A List of the Scots Kings Party Slaine and taken Prisoner

A List of the Scots Kings Party Slaine and taken Prisoner

Stumbling around EEBO looking for some more of the parliamentarian take on Charles II after the battle of Worcester, I came across this anti-Stuart broadside, printed by Robert Ibbitson after the battle. It’s a fascinating little title and crams in a goodly amount of Republican ire into one pamphlet.

The central image conflates death with monarchy.


King Death

The caption reads:

Whilst on this figure,

Thou shalt fix thine eye,

Learne theise two lessons,

Howe to Live to Dye.

Death’s proclamation is a message against the presumptions of monarchs to rule, when in fact only Death (the great leveler) rules over men in the end. The threat is clear, the defeat at Worcester demonstrates that Charles, the newly crowned King of Scotland, will meet the fate of all other Kings who try to usurp death by taking the throne.

This broadside draws on striking apocalyptic imagery that would have been familiar to people in the mid-Seventeenth century. The point is forced home by use of a rather tenuous arithmetical model, identifying Charles II with the numbers 666 and therefore as ‘the beast’ from the Book of Revelation (thereby adding Charles to the list of other ‘things carrying the mark of the beast’ alongside the Pope, Kaiser Wilhelm and oddly enough barcodes).

Another notable thing is the emphasis on Charles as the King of Scots, a point drawn on in other contemporary writings. Most studies of the battle of Worcester point out that Charles’ failure to recruit significant English fighters enabled the government to portray it as a foreign invasion and further weakened Charles’ attempts to gain popular support.

It is milked here for all its worth in the long list of Scots Kings that died violently:

List of Scots kings

The list itself makes for morbid reading, here are the top Scottish King deaths:

King Alexander the Third – Killed with a fall from his horse

King Donald the Seventh – Cast into prison with his eyes put out

King Donald the Fifth – Killed himself

King Fergus – Poisoned by his wife

King Maldxin (?) – Murdered and cast into a privy

King Ferquerd (?) – Killed by a wolf

and surely the worst:

King Kenneth – Murdered by a Scottish woman

Clearly, the victory over the would be King of England itself was not enough of a deterrent and the brush with monarchy, no matter how perfunctory, had opened wounds. Pamphlets such as this demonstrate that the government felt a need to drive the Republican message home in the strongest terms possible. While the King was at large he was a threat.


10 thoughts on “King Death

    1. thegentlemanadministrator Post author

      oops, sorry. Early English Book Online

      Assumption, the curse of the historical blogger ;)

  1. DaintyBallerina

    Fascinating post. The central image reminds me of the Danse Macabre from all those medieval allegorical paintings. Utilising the image of Death as the Great Leveller not only, as you say, conflated death & the monarchy, but it also acts to reinforce the King as an antichrist figure in line with Revelation. As we know only too well, Catholicism & The Pope were similarly figured from the Reformation onwards, particularly by radical Protestants. Don’t get me started on Apocalyptic anxiety…

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  3. Nick

    Robert Ibbitson was a printer of newsbooks and other cheap ephemera – he was a partner of Henry Walker, the pamphleteer and newsbook writer who is the subject of my research at the moment. This pamphlet is one of a series of “Victories of X” publications from 1651:

    – “A list of all the victories, and successefull atchievements of the Parliaments fleet under the command of Col. Popham (lately deceased) Col. Blake, and Col. Deane, admiralls and generalls of the fleet”

    – “A perfect list of all the victories obtained by the Lord General Cromwel from the time that his excellency was made Captain General and Commander in Cheif of the Parliament forces in England, Ireland, and Scotland”

    – “A perfect table of one hundred forty and five victories obtained by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and the Parliaments forces under his command”

    They all follow a common format – a single sheet with a central woodcut and sometimes additional illustrations. Clearly they sold pretty well for a time, and became one of those short-lived crazes for particular topics, genres or formats that you see quite a bit during the 1640s and 1650s. I would be interested to know whether they were also a way of eking life out of expensive woodcuts, for example are the woodcuts at the top of the pamphlet the post is about actually true-to-life representations, or just stock male portraits?

    I’m not sure whether Walker too might have been involved in these, but I have my suspicions about this particular one. The slightly rubbish mathematical puzzle is not unlike Walker’s similar Hebrew puzzles – where he would transliterate the name of a famous figure into Hebrew then back into English again to draw some spurious lesson from it. They were either a cruelly unrecognised ancestor of the Sudoku, or else a chance for Walker (never one to hide his light under a bushel) to show off that he knew Hebrew. Somehow I suspect the latter.

    1. thegentlemanadministrator Post author

      I’m not enormously up-to-speed on pamphlets from this time so that’s a great bit of information on Ibbitson, cheers. I was struggling to find any information on him at all other than he married Jane Cotes who was the sister of Thomas Cotes, the publisher who printed the second Folio of Shakespeares plays. Next post will be about a similar pamphlet printed by Ibbitson. It also follows the pattern; central woodcut on a single sheet. I’m curious as to who would have written the text, could it have been Walker or would Ibbitson have contributed on the authorial front?

      1. Nick

        For more on printers the first place to look is normally H. R. Plomer’s dictionaries of printers at work in the seventeenth century, and also his equivalent dictionary of Stationers’ Company apprentices. You can find some of these on the Internet Archive, here is the relevant entry in the printers dictionary on Ibbitson:

        D.F. Mackenzie and others have also produced a calendar of documents relating to the London book trade during this period which has some references:

        Ibbitson was particularly associated with two newsbooks (edited by Walker), the Perfect Occurrences of the 1640s and Severall Proceedings of the early 1650s. These must have kept up a steady stream of income. Perfect Occurrences was also one of the first, perhaps *the* first, newsbook to run adverts – for other books. However Ibbitson also printed a range of other more or less ephemeral pamphlets. The broadside format here – single sheet plus woodcut – was not uncommon. It would have been cheap to produce at only a single sheet (paper was the most expensive part of any book), quick to typeset, and quick to run off 250-1,000 copies or so in between larger jobs as a small but steady revenue stream.

        In terms of writing we still know very little – and will probably always know only very little – about how texts were commissioned. Some clearly originate with the author who then finds a printer willing to take on the text as a profit-making concern. There are even a few examples of authors probably paying for vanity publishing:

        But others may well have been commissioned by printers searching for new copy to sell. Still others may have been joint endeavours between writers and printers, ie they were both financial undertakers financing.

        In Walker’s case I have a feeling – which I can’t prove, so it’s just an instinct – that the newsbooks he wrote may have been a joint partnership with Ibbitson and a few other printers, if only because Walker started his pamphleteering career as a printer and bookseller publishing his own works before focusing solely on writing. I’m not so sure about other pamphlets he may have had a hand in, though.

  4. Lucy

    An interesting twist on the way kings used to trace their ancestry back to the earliest royalty, even Arthur in an attempt to assert their right to the throne.

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