Category Archives: History

Pepys’ Book Presses – 350th Anniversary year

Follow the link below for a really interesting post on Samuel Pepys’ book presses, the first of their kind! I worked at the Pepys Library for almost a year and never got tired of looking at those lovely pieces of practical furniture (the books inside were pretty good too). I heartily recommend a visit to anyone, it’s a wonderful, wonderful place (and FREE!!!):

Source: 350th Anniversary year


*dust dust, cough cough*


Dusting off the blog

Just dust of Mr Sykes’ blog will you, he wants the bloody thing back on the internet for some reason.

*dust, dust, cough cough* The great thing about blogs is that even if you make them private and stash them away in your sock drawer for three years, the pages don’t go all foxed and yellow and you’re only ever one button press away from sharing your amateur history ramblings with the world all over again.

This blog has been hidden away largely because I’ve spent the last three years encased in a library cacoon, emerging earlier this year as a beautiful qualified librarian butterfly (moth). I hated the idea of being sat here unloved and unupdated so I stashed it away, oh and some bugger stole the domain name.

Recently, I had the idea to track my very early efforts in learning to code  in the form of a blog. I’m still considering this but it did also make me stupidly Nostalgic for this old history blog, which charted a massively important part of my life during which I met some wonderful people interested in history (on the twitter and in real life) and drastically changed my life. So here it is. It’s under a new name: ‘History Botherer’ (formerly ‘In Pursuit of History’, formerly formerly ‘The Gentleman Administrator’).

Will I update it? Meh, dunno. Maybe. But rest assured, if I do, all I will subsequently do on twitter will be to pimp the living hell out of it until I lose all my followers ;)

Death of King Charles – the story of a father and son.

This is a combination of three posts I put up two years ago to mark the anniversary of Charles’ execution, his deathday if you like. It covers three letters written by Charles Snr and Jnr and in my eyes they highlight the personal nature of the crisis at hand, the matter of a son about to lose his father.

An act of desperation

Reading an old post by @daintyballerina recently, which featured an account of the ‘last words’ of King Charles before his execution, reminded me of a series of letters send by the King and Prince Charles in the lead up to the King’s execution. To modern eyes they seem highly formal, concerned in restating ideological positions, but I think that some of the emotion and desperation does seep through in the detail. While accounts of the execution are compelling, the letters give us a first hand glimpse into the concerns and fears of father and son in the midst of events that had spiralled from their control.

.On hearing that his father was to be tried the 18 year old Prince Charles wrote a desperate letter to General Fairfax and his Council of War in England. It’s unsurprising that the the letter was utterly ineffective, the tone in which it is written is unlikely to have endeared him to his enemies, though it is fair to say that it would have played to their doubts. The letter is significant in demonstrating both the dawning comprehension of what was to come and the powerless position that the heir to throne was now in. The letter shows that Charles is not part of any official negotiations and claims to be gaining his news through the press. The Prince was to become a better politician and a more eloquent letter writer in his future years, but this letter shows us the desperation of a young man to save his father from the mortal fate that was now sharply coming into focus. With the letter Charles included a single sheet of paper, blank except for his signature at the bottom (see picture above). It was an invitation for the Council to impose any condition on him in return for his father’s life. As we will see in the second post in this series, the King would have been appalled by his son’s action in this respect, but Charles was clearly desperate to save his father.

The Hague, January 13.23, 1648/9.

We have no sources of information regarding the health and present condition of the King, our father, but the common gazettes which come into this country, our servant, Symons, whom we lately sent to present our humble respects to His Majesty, not having been able to obtain permission to do so, or to see him. We have reason to believe that, at the end of the time assigned for the treaty made with his Majesty in the Isle of Wight, His Majesty has been withdrawn from that island to Hurst Castle, and thence conducted to Windsor, with some intention of proceeding against him with rigour, or of deposing him from the royal dignity given him by God alone, who invested his person with it by a succession undisputed, or even of taking his life; the mere thought of which seems so horrible and incredible that it has moved us to address these presents to you, who now have power, for the last time, either to testify your fidelity, by reinstating your lawful King, and to restore peace to the kingdom – an honour never before given to so small a number as you- or to be the authors of misery unprecedented in this country, by contributing to an action which all Christians think repugnant to the principles of their religion, or any fashion of government whatever, and destructive of all security. I therefore conjure you to think seriously of the difference there is in the choice you make, and I doubt not you will choose what will be most honourable and most just, and preserve and defend the King, whereto you are by oath obliged. It is the only way in which any of you can promise himself peace of conscience, the favour and good will of His Majesty, the country, and all good men, and more particularly of your friend.

Charles P.

Charles I during his trial

The next letter was written while Charles was in the hands of the army and prior to the trial that would eventually lead to his execution, on 30th January 1649. It is one of the last pieces of correspondence that he sent to Charles. What stands out about this letter to me is its reflective nature and the air of dignified sadness, even melancholy. While the trial that was to condemn him had not yet begun, I think the letter shows that the writing on the wall was coming into focus for this man and he had begun to put his mind to how he might guide his heir. Some of the lessons that Charles extols to the young Prince in this epistle are ones he singularly failed to adhere to in life, and there is a sense in which the King is acknowledging this. The blame is still in the hands of others, but he has clearly looked deep into his soul at this late point. A final point I would make is that while this is a letter to his son, the future King, it is also written from the point of view of a man who considers himself father of a nation, bear that in mind when reading it.

Newport, November 29, 1648.


By what hath been said, you may see how long we have laboured in search of peace. Do not you be discouraged to tread those ways, to restore yourself to your right; but prefer the way of peace. Show the greatness of your mind, rather to conquer your enemies by pardoning than punishing. If you saw how unmanly and unchristianly this implacable disposition is in our evil willers, you would avoid that spirit. Censure us not, for having parted with too much of our own right; the price was great; the commodity was security to us, peace to our people. And we are confident another Parliament would remember how useful a King’s power is to the people’ s liberty.

Of how much we have divested ourself, that we and they might meet again in a due Parliamentary way to agree the bounds for Prince and people! And in this, give belief to our experience, never to affect more greatness or prerogative than what is really and intrinsically for the good of our subjects (not satisfaction of favourites). And, if you thus use it, you will never want means to be a father to all, and a bountiful Prince to any you would be extraordinarily gracious to… if princes, like the sea, receive and repay all the fresh stream and rivers trust them with, they will not grudge, but pride themselves, to make them up an ocean.

These considerations may make you a great Prince, as your father is now a low one; and your state may be so much the more established, as mine have been shaken. For subjects have learnt (we dare say) that victories over their Princes are but triumphs over themselves; and so, will be more unwilling to hearken to change hereafter.

The English nation are a sober people; however at present under some infatuation. We know not but this may be the last time we may speak to you or the world publicly. We are sensible into what hands we are fallen; and yet we bless God we have those inward refreshments, that the malice of our enemies cannot disturb. We have learnt to own ourself by retiring into ourself, and therefore can the better digest what befalls us; not doubting but God can restrain our enemies’ malice, and turn their fierceness unto his praise.

To conclude, if God give you success, use it humbly and far from revenge. If He restore you to your right upon hard conditions, whatever you promise, keep. Those men which have forced laws which they were bound to observe, will find their triumphs full of troubles. Do not think anything in this world worth obtaining by foul and unjust means. You are the son of our love; and, as we do not more affectionally pray for you (to whom we are a natural parent) than we do, that the ancient glory and renown of this nation be not buried in irreligion and fanatical humour… that you may in due time govern, and they be governed, as in the fear of the Lord.


Charles the Martyr

I switched on the BBC news coverage of the Egyptian protests earlier today [This was two years ago at the height of the Arab Spring]. As I watched the Egyptian people attempt to emulate their Tunisian neighbours in deposing their head of state, I wondered how many people on that chilly London day on 30th January 1649 had felt the same way about their ‘tyrant’ during the war and if they were now happy to be seeing his execution.

.As we saw from the last letter, Charles had begun to prepare for the most extreme outcome of his capture. The King had clearly begun to gather his thoughts in order to prepare his son in case the tide ever turned back in their favour.

.The letter I am featuring in this final post in the series (part 1, part 2) is the last letter that Charles communicated to the world. The letter was to his son, Prince Charles, and was handed over to the Bishop of London as he readied himself for the moment. The full letter is very long and a little repetitive, so I have edited it down to capture its key points. I hope I have managed to capture its nature as well. Here we see a father imparting his last thoughts and hopes to his son, both political and personal.


If these pages, with some others, wherein I have set down the private reflections of my conscience, and my most impartial thoughts, touching the chief passages which have been most remarkable, or disputed in my late troubles, come to your hands, to whom they are chiefly designed, they may be so far useful to you, as to state your judgement aright in what hath passed; whereof a pious us is the best can be made; and they may also give you directions how to remedy the present distempers, and prevent (if God will) the like for time to come.

It is some kind of deceiving and lessening the injury of my long restraint, when I find my leisure and solitude have produced something worthy of myself, and useful to you; that neither you, nor any other, may hereafter measure my cause by the success, nor my judgement of things by my misfortunes, which I count the greater by far, because they have so far lighted upon you and some others whom I have most cause to love as well as myself, and of those whose unmerited sufferings I have a greater sense of than my own.

…But this advantage of wisdom you have above most princes; that you have begun, and now spent some years of discretion in the experience of troubles, and exercise of patience, wherein piety and all virtues, both moral and political, are commonly better planted to a thriving, as trees set in winter, than in warmth and serenity of times, or amidst those delights which usually attend princes’ courts in times of peace and plenty…

I had rather you should be Charles le bon, than le grand, good, than great; I hope God hath designed you to be both…

…Above all, I would have you, as I hope you are already, well grounded and settled in your religion, the best profession of which I have ever esteemed that of the Church of England, in which you have been educated… and not other men’s custom or tradition which you profess.

…Never charge your head with a crown as shall, by its heaviness, oppress the whole body, the weakness of whose parts cannot return anything of strength, honour or safety to the head, but a necessary debilitation and ruin.

Your prerogative is best showed and exercised in remitting rather than exacting the rigour of the laws; there being nothing worse than legal tyranny.

…the troubles of my kingdoms, have nothing else to object against me but this, that I prefer religion and laws established before those alterations they propounded.

…Time will dissipate all factions, when once the rough hours of private men’s covetous and ambitious designs shall discover themselves; which were at first wrapped up and hidden under the soft and smooth pretensions of religion, reformation, and liberty: as the wolf is not so cruel, so he will be more justly hated, when he shall appear no better than a wolf under sheep’s clothing.

…It is all I have now left me, a power to forgive those that have deprived me of all; and I thank God I have a heart to do it, and joy as much in this grace, which God hath given me, as in all my former enjoyments; for this is a greater argument of God’s love to me than any prosperity can be. Be confident (as I am) that the most of all sides, who have done amiss, have done so, not out of malice, but misinformation, or misapprehension of things.

…As your quality sets you beyond any duel with any subject, so the nobleness of your mind must raise you above the meditating any revenge, or executing your anger upon the many.

…And if neither I nor you be ever restored to our right, but God, in His severest justice, will punish my subjects with continuance in their sin… I hope God will give me and you that grace which will teach and enable us to want, aw well as to wear a crown, which is not worth taking up, or enjoying upon sordid, dishonourable, and irreligious terms.

Keep you to true principles of piety, virtue, and honour; you shall never want a kingdom.

… My prayer to God Almighty is (whatever becomes of me…) that He would be pleased to make you an anchor, or harbour rather, to those tossed and weather beaten kingdoms…

… When they have destroyed me (for I know not how far God may permit the malice and cruelty of my enemies to proceed, and such apprehensions some men’s words and actions have already given me) as I doubt not my blood will cry aloud for vengeance to Heaven; so I beseech God not to pour out His wrath upon the generality of the people who have either deserted me, or engaged me…

…And if God will have disloyalty perfected by my destruction, let my memory ever, with my name, live in you; as of your father, that loves you, and once a King of three flourishing Kingdoms…

…At worst, I trust I shall but go before you to a better kingdom, which God hath prepared for me, and me for it…

Farewell, till we meet, if not on earth, yet in Heaven.

A quick hello from library land

Library trainee caught mid-scan

Library trainee caught mid-scan

Hello. This poor little blog has been in hibernation since the summer, which is a polite way of saying ignored. If you read the post below you’ll understand why. I started my new job in Cambridge on 3rd September and so far it has been fantastic. The downside though is that the job, and accompanying commute, has sapped my time and quite frankly the blog slipped down the list of things to do. I’ve also become addicted to ‘Masterchef: The Professionals’, which doesn’t help.

I still don’t have any time to write anything but this brief missive for the blog, but my fellow Cambridge library trainees have begun to blog about their experiences on our very own Cambridge trainee website. I thought I’d advertise it here as some of you might be interested in our exploits or curious as to what library trainees get to do (aside from the above, entirely unrepresentative and deliberately cliched photo, which was in no way posed for).

So I recommend popping over to:

Or click on the lovely picture of frosty Cambridge:

Frosty Cambridge

Frosty Cambridge

For those of you really interested in libraries here is my review of a talk on Cambridgeshire Library Service’s restructure (it’s more interesting than you’d think): Roots, Branches and Llama Biscuits.

Veni, Vidi, Vici – New Job!

Classic, innit.

Having signed & returned the job contract I finally feel that I can announce that I’ve got myself a new job, and I am very excited about it. Starting in a weeks time, and for the next twelve months, I will be the new Library Trainee at the Classical Faculty Library at Cambridge University. As first steps into library careers go, this one is pretty good. It’s particularly gratifying as there have been times over the last six months when I doubted I’d ever get that first break into this new career.

Any regular readers of this blog (are there regular readers of this blog anymore?) will have noticed that it’s been a bit quiet this year, particularly since March. As I mentioned in this previous post, this was due to me moving into full-on job hunting mode, and in particular job hunting for a potential new career. With building up voluntary experience, researching the job market and applying for posts eating up every available day this has essentially been a full-time job in itself. I’ve barely been in the mood to muster the enthusiasm to tweet at times, let alone pursue much history. The effort was undoubtably worth it, but I am sad that it has come at the expense of my history bloggings. I’m hoping that once settled in the new job I’ll be in the mood to share my thoughts in writing again.

So what am I going to be doing as a library trainee? Library traineeships are offered at many University libraries, with differing regularity, but Cambridge recruits several trainees each year (I think it’s six this year). Essentially I’ll be doing a library assistant job in an academic library (in my case a specialist faculty library) but with an additional programme of support and the benefit of being part of a group of fellow trainees who will be working in other college libraries. This year will include opportunities to visit other libraries and possibly training events and courses. After the year is up the trainees usually go on to study for a Masters in Library studies. Looking at what past students have done, it seems like a lot go on to do this part-time or via distance learning courses.

As I mentioned on Twitter earlier in the week, this is where the nerves come in. I’ve been freelance for nearly two years now, working from my home office (desk in our bedroom) like a hermit, but I’m actually not worried about moving back into a formal working environment, in fact I can’t wait. I’ve enjoyed the last year or so, but it will be nice to have co-workers again, actual people, not just these lot:

Some of the Study Buddies

I guess the nerves are the same as at the beginning of any new job, a mix of anticipation and healthy self-doubt, but they’re still there none the less. Nerves manifest themselves in odd way and so I’ve left a fair few cups of distractedly made and un-drunk cups of coffee around the house and generally required more naps than normal over the last week. Starting at the bottom and learning a new career largely from scratch is daunting, but I take comfort from the fact that I do enjoy learning and that I’m going to at least get to do the thing I’ve chosen to do over the next twelve months. Having rather fallen into university administration while I wasn’t paying attention (though not doing too badly at it *ahem, Gentleman Administrator, Ahem*) this opportunity to follow something I really want to do is pretty cool and at least motivation won’t be a problem.

To avoid rambling on about myself for too much longer I should mention the obviously cool thing about the job (well for those less interested in libraries), I’ll be working in the Classics Faculty at Cambridge! It’s a pretty cool place, I mean it has its own freakin’ museum… While I love Early Modern history, I have mentioned a few times here on the blog that the bulk of my Degree and Masters were focused on ancient Jewish history, so I won’t be completely lost working to support students and staff studying the ancient world, and I certainly wont be at a loss for interest and motivation from the subject matter. Coincidently I was blathering on about how cool ancient history is earlier in the year, here. That said, it is eleven years since my Masters so I might be a little rusty. Luckily I’ve had time to get some revision in:

A Classicists handbook.

So, there will be more blogging here in the future, but it might be more of a mix of Early Modern, Ancient and Libraries. It may also be about commuting, as one sacrifice I’m making is time away from my wife and child each week. That, above anything else, will be the hardest thing. Yet at least it will serve to put every other worry nicely in perspective.

It’s Oak Apple Day!

Today is Oak Apple Day, the celebration of Charles II birthday that was once popularly celebrated across the UK. Why Oak Apple Day? Click on the link to find out: Royal Oak.


Southampton City Walls

The Sea Lapping at Southampton City Walls

I have a bit of a thing about Southampton’s medieval walls, so I was looking forward to Dr Andy Russel talking about the decline of the walls in the Stuart period, at last weekends ‘Stuart Southampton’ study day. The talk was excellent and it reminded me again of what an incredible asset the walls are to Southampton and what an incredible shame it is that they are still not showcased as well as they could be. I thought I’d cover the talk here and add in my own thoughts on the city walls today.

Southampton’s first stretch of defensive walling was constructed in the thirteenth century, and covered the north and easterly sides of the city, but not the coastline on the west and south. I imagine the water of the Solent itself was considered protection enough. This early phase included the building of the original Bargate, which was the principal entrance to the city and means of extracting tolls and taxes from those importing and exporting goods via the port and markets. Bits of the original still survive within today’s much altered Bargate.

The Towne Wall is in manie places decayed & broken

The Towne Wall is in manie places decayed & broken

Despite the presence of a castle on the coastal (western) side of the City, and further extensions of the walls, the defences proved to be inadequate, as Southampton was invaded by the French in 1338. King Edward III immediately ordered that a stone wall was to be built on the seaward side of the City and therefore completed its enclosure.

The full extent of Southampton's City Walls after 1338.

The mid-Fourteenth Century was a time of excellence in the construction of stone masonry according to Dr Russel, so Southampton was lucky that its walls were built at this time. While the wall has been altered, restored, rescued many times in the intervening years it still has its medieval core. The westerly walls were an impressive undertaking, measuring from 25 to 30 feet in height, and what remains (which is a lot) are still quite a sight. Check out the video at the end of the post to see the north-west corner as it stands today.

The Fourteenth Century seaward walls looking South

Dr Russel’s talk focused on a spike in complaints about the state of this section of the walls at the City’s Leet court in the mid Seventeenth Century. The Leet court of Southampton continues to meet to this day. Then, as it does now, the Leet court met annually and was an opportunity for local people to raise their fears or complaints, the legitimacy of the complaint then being decided by the presiding judge.  The section that seemed to be causing most worry was between the Arundel tower in the north-west corner of the city to the Watergate in the south. Dr Russel presented some data on the pattern of complaints through the century, here’s a rough summary:

1590 – 5
1600 – 30
1610 – 35
1620 – 50
1630 – 30
1640 – 15
1650 – 25
1660 – 15(ish)

Clearly the first half of the Seventeenth century was a time when locals were worried about the state of the walls, culminating in a peak in complaints in the 1620s. Looking at both the archaeology of the walls and the details of the complaints it seems that the walls were undergoing a period of neglect. The main form of maintenance that the walls and towers required was continued upkeep of the piles and stones that protected the foundations. Large timbers were driven into the seabed (the piles) and then stones were deposited between the piles and the walls to stop erosion. To be effective these had to be regularly replenished and it was a requirement of all the ‘lightermen’ who operated the cargo barges to hold stones as ballast on their return journey to Southampton and to deposit them at the walls. The records show that this did not always happen, Dr Russel pointed out the Hythe boatmen who were initially fined for not meeting this part of their license and then in desperation offered beer as payment.

It seems that there was ongoing conflict between the desire to retain the defences and the desire to make money. The town rented out the towers along the wall as dwellings, which led to complaints that they were inhabited by ‘lewd persons’ who threw their ‘water’ into the streets. Other complaints included those against James Courtney in 1623 who built houses along and on top of the walls and William Ryman in 1635, who knocked a hole in the wall for a window. Part of the walls even fell down under the care of Peter Knowler, and as it evident from the archaeology, were not rebuilt.

More of the surviving Westerly walls

The walls went through periods of neglect and repair a number of times in its lifetime and Dr Russel was interested in analysing why it seemed to cause such concern at this time and why by the end of the century did people not seem to care as much. Some of the complaints refer to ‘dangerous times’ and it is interesting that the complaints coincide with the period of the Thirty Years war which was devastating the continent. The French invasion seems to have loomed large in the psyche of the citizens of Southampton so the news of the horrific sack of cities overseas would doubtless have contributed to fears. Dr Russel also points out that the 1630s continued to be uncertain political times domestically, however I’m unsure whether there is any real evidence of a fear of armed insurrection at home prior to the Civil War breaking out. Domestic fears surely would have had little impact on the peak in the 1620s? However, Dr Russel made a compelling point about the horrors of war on the continent coupled with the genuine neglect of the wall being the likely cause of concern.

So why did the complaints drop off? Concerns are clearly still strong on the 1630s, but suddenly drop off in the 1640s. Surely the onset of Civil War would have increased concerns about the City’s ability to defend itself? Southampton was held through the duration of the Civil War by the Parliamentarians. This was in part because the townsfolk were considered to be closet royalists by Parliament and as a strategic port it was watched closely. To keep the populace on side Colonel Norton along with five hundred horsemen and foot-soldiers was sent there and billeted by the City. Dr Russel pointed out historical and archaeological evidence that Colonel Norton spent a considerable amount on shoring up the cities defences and re-digging the defensive ditch around the walls. The walls themselves were certainly part of the plan, this can be seen from large holes chiselled into the arrow slits to enable musket fire from the towers along the wall.

Musket holes chiselled into the arrow slots in the Arundel Tower

Perhaps the work undertaken by Norton’s troops and indeed the presence of the army itself was enough to allay people’s fears about the state of the walls. Or possibly the Civil War showed the people of Southampton that the type of defence provided by these wall was not effective in a modern conflict. Maybe people were not so concerned about the City’s defence while it was being held by Parliament? Despite another rise in the uncertain years of the 1650s the number of complaints remains very low for the rest of the century, despite other turbulent political times, including the threat of Dutch attack. I would tend to agree with Dr Russel’s idea that by then the people had realised the ineffectiveness of the walls and that some of the derelict parts were beyond repair.

It was an excellent talk by Dr Russel, covering a period in the walls history that was certainly a blank for me. The best surviving part of the wall ironically includes much of the bits that the Seventeenth Century folk of Southampton were worried about, from the north-west corner down the western side of the City. The north and eastern walls have survived to us only in small patches, and not usually much above ground level. That which has survived has done so despite considerable changes to the City (including land reclamation from the sea), horrific damage from German air raids in the Second World War and horrible town planning after the war. There has been effort in the last thirty years to promote the walls, including work that has enabled people to walk all the surviving bits. The Bargate itself is on the City’s slightly odd logo (you can’t sail a yacht through it by the way).

Southampton City Council Logo

One of the problems that the wall has is that for most of its life it marked the extent of the coast, and the sea lapped scenically against its foundations. The image at the very top of the post shows exactly how the walls would have originally been viewed. However, the reclamation of enormous tracts of land and the way in which the city has built up means that the best run of the walls is essentially below ground level for the main shopping areas. The walls are tucked away behind a hotel, a busy road and a waste, ground that gets used for the Southampton boat show once a year. You have to go out of your way to view the walls. Aside from a few key locations the presentation of the walls themselves is either a little dated or quite frankly neglectful, the start of the wall walk being a nasty public toilet. The situation has improved thanks to the newly reopened Tudor House Museum, which possibly gives an additional reason for people to walk the walls, but this angle doesn’t seem to be very highly promoted. Here is a little video looking at the north-west corner of the walls that gives an idea of the problems:



Southampton could do a lot more to promote this medieval heritage, but sadly much of it is still buried away behind old folks homes and bad town planning. It doesn’t stop me enjoying them but properly integrating them into Southampton’s tourist infrastructure might improve the reputation of the town, a reputation that is not particularly high when it comes to anything other than shopping and cruises.