Having read the royalist account of Charles’ escape back to France, with all its derring do, I’ve been looking out for the contemporary Commonwealth accounts, and this pamphlet is such an example. As with the pamphlet I showed last week (A list of the Scots Kings Party Slaine), this is a piece designed to mock and undermine the so-called ‘King of Scots’, though in this case it is written close to the events it professes to recount. The later Royalist accounts of the escape (which I will cover in a future post), in particular the Boscobel Oak story, are firmly enshrined in the national cultural consciousness, thanks partly to the later revival of interest in the Stuarts in the 19th Century. However, what ‘A Mad Designe’ shows is that the King’s escape was clearly of immediate interest to the country at large and it seems that Ibbitson cannily tapped into the commercial potential of producing the ‘official’ version of events. That they had failed to capture the king was undeniable and no doubt a cause of immense frustration (see the massive reward here) so it is unsurprising that this tract was licensed given its aim to ridicule.
The tract itself consists of central woodcut with accompanying text. Elements of the image are numbered and the text provides a commentary on each of these, and by doing so tells the story of how the King of Scots skulked his way out of the country. The woodcut itself raises a couple of questions:
The image seems to show a parade or pilgrimage of people and unearthly figures making their way to a globe depicting Rome (in the very far left), on top of the globe sits King Charles. Nick Poyntz (www.mercuriuspoliticus.wordpress.com) points out, in his comments on my King Death post, that it is uncertain whether the woodcuts used in pamphlets like this were actually created for this purpose or if they were reused from something else. It could be that the pamphlets themselves were a way to recoup as much money as possible from what was an expensive object. I would say that my suspicions about this image would back that up. I’ll look further at the text in part 2, but the first instinct is that image in itself does not really fit the subject matter and that the points that the author is trying to get across are rather inelegantly twisted to fit around the elements of the image, somewhat akin to an old episode of the Magic Roundabout*.
It also looks like a stock image has been used and made to fit the desired content of the pamphlet, a kind of early modern photoshopping. I haven’t been able to trace this image elsewhere to prove this but I suspect that the numbering and the image of Charles’ head on the far left are out of sync with the rest of the picture and that possibly it was a larger image (carrying on further to the left). My guess is that this is an anti-catholic woodcut from elsewhere (perhaps specifically mocking pilgrimages?) that has been altered and reused in this context. Given the haste in which this must have been produced to catch the potential zeitgeist this would not be surprising. Without even looking at the text the catholic imagery in the woodcut in itself is making a clear statement about Charles’ loyalties and the threat that he brought to the country.
More on the text in Part 2
*though as I understand it the Magic Roundabout contained less Republican propaganda and was largely ambivalent on the issue of a catholic succession. But contained more drugs.