Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Stone the crows, says Henry VIII





As our non-elected national leader presses on towards a future in which she forces legislation through using Henry VIII’s 500 year old form of government by proclamation - somehow not repealed in the half-millennium since - Early Modern Whale presents a sample of such legislation. It’s Henry VIII identifying in 1532 a set of enemies to the economy, certain black corvids, and without putting any state resources into the problem, forcing the nation to act, but doing all this without upsetting the interests of the landed.

Is there anything to admire here? Certainly not, if judged on the level of its lumbering and repetitious prose (or legalese). A possible source of state revenue has been glimpsed, and to encourage a gentle and pleasing cascade of pence to the treasury, a division of spoils is legislated in painstaking clumsy detail: half for the king, so much for the landowner, so much for the bird-catcher, and this much for those who inform on those who fail to heed the proclamation and endorse it with action.

The basic premise is probably flawed. The approximately 26,000 dovecotes on the estates of gentry landowners probably contained birds that were more of a threat to the corn and grain harvests [“No kingdom in the world has so many dove houses”), while rooks and crows are generally accepted by farmers as a positive in terms of the invertebrate pests they take from the fields. Birds Britannica notes the bucolic rhyme “One for the pigeon, one for the crow/ Two to rot, and one to grow” as embodying a certain resignation. Interesting about their depredations on thatched structures in the nesting season, though, and Birds Britannica does not note this emphasis (that great book does mention the legislation).

"For so much as innumerable number of rooks, crows & choughs do daily breed through this realm which yearly destroy a marvellous great quantity of corn and grain and that a marvellous destruction of the covertures of thatched houses / barns / ricks/ stakes and such like for remedy whereof it is enacted that every person occupying and manuring any lands or tenements shall do as much as in him reasonable is to destroy and kill all manner choughs / crows / or rooks haunting within their said lands upon pain of a grievous amercement to be assessed in form following, and if any offence be done contrary to this act by any person inhabited within the limits of the leets [a court meeting once a year], lawdays [a court meeting six-monthly], rapes [an administrative district of Sussex] or court barons [“The assembly of the freehold tenants of a manor under the presidency of the lord or his steward”], of any lords having such courts, that then upon a presentment made before the steward he with two of presenters to be named shall assess for every default presented such amercement as to them that shall seem reasonable and that to be to the use of the lord aforesaid to be levied by distress as other amercements for common annoyances presented in leets hath been accustomed to be levied. And if the offence be done by any which have the occupation of any such lands or tenements whereunto such leets, lawdays, rapes or courts belong, that then upon a presentment thereof had before the Sherriff in the towns the stewards in turn with two of the presenters to be chosen as it is aforesaid or the justice of peace or two of them at the least if the presentment be before them in their sessions shall assess the said amercement by their discretion to be levied to the use of the king by distress like as other amercements of common annoyances.

"And further it is enacted that every parish township hamlet borough or village wherein is the least [ten] households the inhabitants thereof shall before Michaelmas next coming and yearly [ten] years ensuing at their costs provide and make a net commonly called a net to take choughs, crows and rooks with all things belonging to the same and the same shall keep and renew as oft as shall need and with a shrape [a bait] made with chaff or other thing meet for that purpose shall lay at such time in the year and in such places as is convenient upon pain of forfeiture of [ten] shillings the one moitie to the king and the other moitie to the lords of the same courts, leets, lawdays or rapes to be levied of the foresaid inhabitants. And that every such net with all things requisite thereunto shall once a year at the least be presented in the court, before the steward to be viewed whether it be sufficiently repaired or not so that by the said steward and inhabitants a sure way and ordinance may be devised for the reparation, continuance and putting in execution of the said net at times and places convenient. And that such ordinance made by the said steward and inhabitants or by the most part of them for the said rooks, crows, and choughs shall stand good and effectual, and be put in due execution. And further be it enacted that as well all such persons [illegible] … shall … and have in his occupation any lands or tenements whereunto any such courts aforesaid appertain  … the tenants and farmers inhabiting in them shall yearly during the said [ten] years at such times and places as by the steward shall be appointed assemble them self together to view and survey all the said lands and tenements where any of them shall inhabit and thereupon shall agree and conclude by what means it shall be possible to destroy all the young breed of choughs, rooks, and crows for that year and shall put the same in execution so that the said young breed may be utterly destroyed upon pain of forfeiture for every year omitting such assembly, endeavour and view making 20 shillings after presentment thereof had before the Justice of Peace the one half to the king and the other half to the presenters of the same offence to be levied by distress like as amercements for common annoyances have been accustomed to be levied. And be it further enacted that as well justices of peace in their sessions and Sheriffs in their turns [?] as stewards, mayors and bailiffs elected in their leets, lawdays, rapes and court barons shall give in charge to the inhabitants and all other appearing before them that they shall duly inquire and put into execution the effect of these premises so that this act may fully and truly be executed and the choughs, crows and rooks thereby destroyed in all places in this realm
And it is further enacted that it shall be lawful to every person minding to destroy the said crows / rooks / or choughs after request thereof made unto the owner or occupier of the same ground to enter take and carry away all such rooks, choughs and crows as he shall take in the same day in which such request shall be made without let or impediment of the said owner or occupier.
And it is further enacted that every farmer or owner having in his occupation any lands or tenements to the yearly value  of £5 shall pay to every such person as take and offer him any old crows, rooks or choughs taken within the same ground 8 pence for every 12 old crows, rooks or choughs and every 6 [indecipherable]  and for every 3 [an obulus]. And if he refuse to pay the said money to be levied by distress of the goods and cattles of every such farmer or occupier provided that no person by colour of this act take or kill any doves or pigeons upon pains limited by the laws and customs of this realm heretofore made for such offences an 24 Henrici 8 cap 10."


Such legislation against corvids was repeated by the Elizabethan parliament, and the Jacobean. “I never knew the execution of it”, said John Aubrey. But choughs were swept south westwards and finally out of the country. The habits of birds perhaps were altered: Birds Britannica notes without comment that Scottish and Irish rookeries tend to contain much larger aggregations of birds than English ones, but that could perhaps be related to local predilections for rook pie.


Wildfowl were a different matter for Henry VII and his compliant government. This was a matter of preserving birds for the landowner, who was required to practice his longbow skills in fowling for birds on his own land. Look at cranes, bustards and bitterns being protected:

"No person between the last day of May and the last day of August take any wildfowl with nets or other engine upon pain of a year’s prisonment and to forfeit for every fowl 4d the one half to the king the other to him that will sue for it by action of debt where no essoign protection nor wager of law to lie, and Justices of Peace to enquire thereof as they do in trespass.

"Provided that any gentleman or other that may dispend 40/- a year of freehold may take such wildfowl with their spaniels using none other engine but their long bow. And from the first day of march that shall be in the year of our Lord 1533 unto the last day of June then ensuing no person to destroy any eggs of wildfowl upon pain of imprisonment for one year and to lose for every cranes egg or bustard 20d, and for every bitterns egg, herons or shoveller, 1d the one half to the king the other to him that will sue therefore in form aforesaid and justices of peace have power to inquire and determine the same in form aforesaid.

Provided that this act extend not to any that destroy choughs, ravens, or bustards or any fowl not used to be eaten or their eggs. An 25 H8 cap 11."


http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/03/26/theresa-may-announce-details-ofbritish-legal-shake-up-next-week/

Monday, March 27, 2017



THE EMBASSADOUR OF PEACE, Being a Strange and Wonderful Relation of a WHITE DOVE Seated on a Rain-Bow.
That Appears to several Persons, in the Parish of Peter's Carlile; particularly to Mrs. Isabel Fletcher, (Wife to Mr.Fletcher, Apothecary.) To whom it Relates Strange and Wonderful Things, concerning the state of Affairs in this Nation; very positively asserting Universal Peace and Plenty to all Christendom, the ensuing Year 1697. Proving the Subversion of the French King, from several Texts of Scripture; especially from the last Verse of the 31st Psalm.


It’s hard to make out what was happening up in Carlisle in 1696. The pamphlet, at once credulous and anxious, appeared both in London and Edinburgh editions. The clergymen who attest to the wonder are simultaneously worried that the dove delivering prophecies to Isabel Fletcher may be a devil: “False Christs, and false Prophets (saith the Holy Evangelist) shall arise, and shall shew Wonders to seduce, if it were possible, even the Elect.”

This is the beginning of the narrative of what was alleged to have taken place:
"On Friday the 23d. of October last, a little after Sun setting the Wife of John Fletcher and Apothecary in St. Peter's Carlile, a Woman of good and pious disposition; being set in her Chamber in a Melancholy thinking posture, with her Child in her Arms; felt on a sudden and unusual Warmness about her Head, and, immediately after discern'd the likeness of a White-Dove, as it were upon a Rain-bow: whereupon she presently fell down into a Trance: But, at last, recovering herself, she heard these Words uttered by it, in a shrill and powerful Sound, Isabel! be not afraid, for I am a Messenger sent from GOD, to proclaim Glad-tidings to all England: yea, even to all those that sincerely Love our Lord Jesus Christ; And so, bidding her attend in the same place next Evening, it for that time disappeared."

This would be easy enough: a vision or trance for a woman who is agitated by what she has heard about the Nine Years’ War and Louis XIV. The preamble to the pamphlet mentions "our Modern Speaking Raven (a Miracle yet fresh in our Memories)". I can find no further references to an oracular raven, it was perhaps another local wonder. But any raven speaking prophecies would certainly have run true to type as a bird of ill omen. The pious Mistress Fletcher is inspired to bring in a dove, offering greater comfort (and obviously inspired by Genesis 8). But the parish minister cited in the main part of the pamphlet makes it quite clear that the apparition was seen by others:

"The Astonished Woman acquainted her Husband with what had happened: whereupon he with several others attended with her the Hour appointed; to whom the Dove or Spirit appear'd, as aforesaid; Exhorting them to Prayer, Piety, and Repentance; as that GOD was angry; that his Vials of Wrath were ready prepared to be poured out on all the Children of Disobedience; that Rome had drunk deep of the Blood of the Martyrs: and therefore must drink deep of the Cup of GOD'S Wrath; That Peace and Plenty should environ all Christendom; and that the present disturber of the Welfare thereof, shall in the year Ninety and Seven, be Cut off from among the Children of Men: Moreover it added, that the Kingdom of Christ should shortly be Established throughout the whole World: and that of Satan's totally Subverted and broken into Confusion."

How was it done? If its appearances were confined to one place, one could imagine a simple mechanism, a painted rainbow (inspired by Genesis 9) being used to secure the bird and bring it into view. But is also appeared at other places. I suppose it was seen by those who could see it, and Mistress Fletcher, casting her voice, made sure everyone heard it:

 "It is so commonly seen, that it is known to every Body in the Neighbourhood; and appears frequently in the day time: and when Three, Four, or more are present it never fails to speak with a clear and audible Voice."

The parish minister, Edward Knowls, challenged the ‘dove or spirit’ to prove its non-diabolic nature:

"It shows itself also in the Neighbours Houses, exhorting to Repentance. At a certain time, being present, with some others, I conjured it, by the Holy Trinity, to tell me what it was, and wherefore it came. It presently replied, in the same manner as afore, ‘A Messenger, from God, sent for the Conversion of Sinners’. And so, for that time vanished."

He earnestly tries to dissuade Mistress Fletcher: "I desired her to consider, That it was not a Good & True Spirit; that she should refuse to Pray at his Command: For that, under such Holy Representations, it might seduce her and others from the Word of God and his Grace."

Despite such clerical misgivings, crowds gathered in Carlisle:

"Here is such a numerous Concourse of People that the Town cannot contain them, and if we should countenance them, I am apt to think, they would set it up as an Idol or Oracle; for as much as several repair hither to ask Council in doubtful Matters."

Henry Patrickson was the other clerical witness, though he seems to report the dove as having been Mistress Fletcher’s visual experience alone:

"Sir, I cannot omit this Opportunity of Acquainting you with a wonderful Apparition, that is here amongst us, to the exceeding Amazement of Thousands of People, viz. A White Dove, seated on a Rain-Bow, that daily appears to Mrs Fletcher, an Eminent Apothecary's Wife. It talks with her very much out of the Scriptures; applying especially these Places, The Seed of the Woman shall bruise the Serpents Head. The Blood of Jesus, &c."

“It foretells the total Subversion of the Ottoman Empire in a very small space of time; and a signal Victory over the French in 97. And that Peace and Tranquillity will thereupon ensue. It also speaks of the Affairs between France and the Duke of Savoy.
It delivers its Answers after a mysterious and ambiguous manner, as did the Oracles of old. The common People take it to be an Angel sent from God, but a Bishop and other of the Clergy hold it for a Devil. As for me I shall forbear to pass my Judgement, till it appear what manner of a Spirit it is.
Yours, HEN. PATRICKSON." 

The dove was surprisingly like a foreign correspondent, if a bit behind the times on the Turks, who had passed the apogee of their threat to Europe at Vienna in 1683. Even so, while Mistress Fletcher could do scripture talk easily enough, she had a wider concern for the state of Europe than one might expect from a late 17th century apothecary’s wife in Carlisle.

The postscript to the pamphlet promises more to follow: “You shall not fail of having exact notice of all ensuing Material, Passages relating to this wonderful Prodigy, for it is so far from any likelihood of Ceasing, that it daily appears, every day more visible than other freely answering all Questions whatsoever."

"Several Atheists flock thither, and are fully convinced of the Power of an Almighty Being: And several eminent Persons have employed their utmost Skill and Learning to find out whether it might proceed from some Natural Cause, or not? but all in vain. So that all in general conclude, that it is no less than the Finger of God."



The story seems to end there, with that 'flock' of 'several atheists'. Maybe there was an awkwardness, an exposure of pious fraud, or maybe she was finally persuaded of the ambiguity of her prophet bird. On the other hand, it did seem to have got The Treaty of Ryswick correct for 1697, when Louis XIV allowed Europe three years without war before triggering the War of Spanish Succession.


Saturday, January 07, 2017

The Accomplished Cook makes Umble Pie, 1660



The image of the 17th century English aristocrat is fixed forever by Van Dyke. In this post, which is inspired by Adam Smyth’s review of Wendy Wall’s Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern English Kitchen in the latest LRB, I look at another artist who worked under aristocrat patronage, and what kind of image of the aristocracy he provides. He’s the cook, Robert May, author of The accomplisht cook, or The art and mystery of cookery (1660).

One of the patrons May shared with Van Dyke was Sir Kenelm Digby, and so we can think first of Venetia Stanley in her silk dresses, we see her on her pathetic and decorous deathbed, with that rose shedding its petals on the pillow beside her.

May’s version of aristocratic life is different: barbaric, carnal, fat-basted, one of tables surrounded by people enjoying banquets which were, on special occasions, kinetic events, He opens his book with a joyous account of what he considered a feast done properly should be like. What he describes for his adventurous diners is recreated for his readers: making an amazing entrĂ©e for both the feast and his book. The table set with a pasteboard galleon and a castle, exchanging fire - gunpowder is involved, then the women present throw eggshells full of rosewater at one another to allay the fumes, one of those women next being set up as victim of a guffawing hoax – asked to pull a spear from the side of a model stag, from which red wine will gush instead of blood, then her or another female victim being invited to cut into pies that were, in certain of their compartments, full of frogs, live birds, even snakes: “lifting first the lid off one pie, out skips some Frogs, which makes the Ladies to skip and shreek”. The birds, May remarks complacently, would fly in terror into the candles: “after the other pie, whence comes out the Birds; who by a natural instinct flying at the light, will put out the candles: so that what with the flying Birds and skipping Frogs, the one above, the other beneath, will cause much delight and pleasure to the whole company”. 

So we can imagine the bangs, hubbub, shrieking, laughter, cries of vexation at ruined expensive dresses. As May himself puts it, after this grand opening salvo for the feast, everyone could then settle down to talk about what happened to them during the action, before settling down to the meal itself: “at length the candles are lighted, and a Banquet brought in, the musick sounds, and every one with much delight and content rehearses their actions in the former passages.”

Robert May must have been deuced expensive to employ: it’s a principle with him to hold his patron to a level of profligate expense. Publishing his fifty years of experience as a master cook in 1660, he was advocating a return, in England, to the old English ways of eating, before the puritan interregnum, a return to meals that are a lavish medley of dead animals and animal parts (all of them: sweetbreads, lips, and noses, “first tender boiled and blanched”), displays of largesse and profusion, conspicuous consumption at a quite literal level.

Kitchen scene by David Teniers

The waste must have been terrific. One of his measures for an added element is the ‘gubbin’: “Mutton, Venison, Pork, Bacon, all the foresaid in gubbins, as big as a Ducks Egg”. No doubt every woman present was feeding her lap dogs; it’s easy to imagine larger ‘gubbins’ from the feast being thrown by the men to their larger dogs waiting round the edge of the room. Adam Smyth aptly writes that there must have been a culture of the leftover, but for May the profusion of meat at the table is always connected to charity in the proper old English way, the poor folk at the gate eventually receiving the orts and fragments.

As a master cook, May was a kind of culinary combine harvester, processing whole animals into pies, pies of many compartments, animals stuffed inside animals and coffined in pastry, pies that feature sections that are bird-filled alongside the portions full of animal meats, with easily available animals like rabbits, “pigeon-peepers and chicken peepers”, always thrown in to bulk out the fare. There’s no buying of a cut of meat. If it’s pork, May starts with a pig, venison is prepared from the whole animal. An amazing amount of boiling goes on, and the animals are hashed, stewed in gobbets, fricasseed into hearty fare for Lord or his hound, Lady and lapdog.

By 1660, May knows his culinary rivals very well, rivals to his proper English way of doing food. Royalty never appeared among his patrons, he was probably too olde tyme, too extravagant, and unsophisticated for Charles II – who hah had so many years eating abroad. It’s French cooking a la mode that May fears, and denigrates, rather superbly, as “epigram dishes”. We’d say nouvelle cuisine, a taste of something served on a plate, an epigram in food, rather than a chorographical epic of food:
“Epigram Dishes, smoak't rather then drest, so strangely to captivate the Gusto, their Mushroom'd Experience for Sauce rather then Diet, for the generality howsoever called A la mode, not being worthy of taken notice on. As I lived in France and had the Language, and have been an eye-witness of their Cookeries, as well as a peruser of their Manuscripts and printed Authours, whatsoever I found good in them I have inserted in this Volume.”

May makes no suggestions about what wine might go with a particular dish. Everyone was clearly getting on splendidly drinking just whatever was being poured, and as the dishes contain everything – avian, animal, oysters, lemons – you could hardly drink wine according to whatever had turned up in the last unctuous and dribbling mouthful.

May presided over this animal holocaust for fifty years. Fish that can now barely be found (lampreys, sturgeons), birds protected 24/7 in these days by the RSPB (bustard, or look at “To boil all other smaller Fowls, as Ruffes, Brewes, Godwits, Knots, Dotterels, Strents, Pewits, Ollines, Gravelens, Oxeyes, Redshanks, &c.”). By the sheer number of his employers, people must from time to time have looked at their kitchen bills and decided that that swan must be the last.

The cook book in his hands is a celebration of fifty years of cooking it my way. It starts with a brief life of the artist. That’s what he has become, though the narrative is also a tale of the long apprenticeship necessary for the mastery of such an art.

A short Narrative of some passages of the Authors Life.
For the better knowledge of the worth of this Book, though it be not usual, the Author being living, it will not be amiss to acquaint the Reader with a brief account of some passages of his Life, as also what eminent Persons (renowned for their good House-keeping) whom he hath served throughout the whole series of his Life ; for as the growth of the children argueth the strength of the Parents, so doth the judgement and abilities of the Artist conduce to the making and goodness of the Work: now that such great knowledge in this so commendable Art was not gained but by long experience, practice, and converse with the most ablest men in their times, the Reader in this brief Narrative may be informed by what steps and degrees he ascended to the same.

He was born in the year of our Lord 1588, his Father being one of the ablest Cooks in his time, and his first Tutor in the knowledge or practice of Cookery; under whom having attained to some perfection in that Art, the old Lady Dormer sent him over into France, where he continued five years, being in the Family of a noble Peer, and first President of Paris; where he gained not only the French Tongue, but also bettered his knowledge in Cookery: and returning again into England was bound apprentice in London to Mr. Arthur Hollinsworth in Newgate Market, one of the ablest workmen in London, Cook to the Grocers Hall and Star Chamber. His Prenticeship being out, the Lady Dormer sent for him to be her Cook under his Father, (who then served that Honourable Lady) where were four Cooks more, such noble Houses were then kept, the glory of that, and shame of this present age; then were those golden dayes wherein were practised the Triumphs and Trophies of Cookery, then was Hospitality esteemed, Neighbourhood preserved, the Poor cherished, and God honoured; then was Religion less talk't on and more practised, then was Atheism and Schisme less in fashion; and then did men strive to be good rather then to seem so.

The nation has slipped and declined from its golden days, but May’s Art has remained. His message is ‘eat like this, and make England great again‘.

The latter parts of his book, once he gets past the heroic and Rabelaisian meat-eating, offer more to appeal to the etiolated modern palate. His tarts and cheesecakes sound delicious. There are even some signs of economy, especially with venison that has been hung just too long:

“To make meer sauce, or a pickle to keep venison in that is tainted.
Take strong ale and as much vinegar as will make it sharp, boil it with some bay salt, and make a strong brine, scum it and let it stand till it be cold, then put in your venison twelve hours, press it, parboil it, and season it, then bake it as before is shown.
 … Other wayes to preserve tainted Venison.
Bury it in the ground in a clean cloath a whole night, and it will take away the corruption, savour, or stink.”

This is May on passing off inferior meats as venison:
Other meer sauce to counterfeit Beef or Mutton to give it a Venison colour.
Take small beer and vinegar, and parboil your beef in it, let it steep all night, then put some turnsole to it, and being baked, a good judgement shall not decerne it from red or fallow deer.

Otherwayes to counterfeit Ram, Wether, or any Mutton for Venison.
Bloody it in sheeps, lambs, or pigs blood, or any good and new blood, season it as before, and bake it either for hot or cold. In this fashion you may bake mutton, lamb, or kid.

I will leave him with his recipe to make umble pie. This is again a matter of eking out your venison. I gather that the edible inner organs of a deer were the perquisite of the huntsman who had given his professional assistance at the hunt. Samuel Pepys was eating Umble pie in 1663: “Mrs. Turner… did bring us an Umble-pie hot out of her oven”. It became a joke in the 19th century:

To make Umble Pyes.

Lay minced beef-suet in the bottom of the pye, or slices of interlarded bacon, and the umbles cut as big as small dice, with some bacon cut in the same form, and seasoned with nutmeg, pepper, and salt, fill your pyes with it and slices of bacon and butter, close it up and bake it, and liquor it with claret, butter, and stripped time.



Saturday, December 24, 2016

Presenting on the Stage of verity the late wofull Tragedy of the destruction of the Earle of Rutland's Children, 1618





I attended a viva voce examination last week, in which the candidate stuck out his neck and suggested that the anonymous author of The Wonderful Discoverie of the Witchcrafts of Margaret and Phillip Flower Daughters of Joan Flower, by Beaver Castle, and executed at Lincolne the 11 of March 1618 had not actually believed his own pamphlet’s tale of deaths by witchcraft. His external examiner noted that the best guess was that the writer was Samuel Fleming, D.D., a local J.P. and often named in the text. Fleming would then have to have been a sceptic who concurred with the fatal verdicts because, in the end, to quote the examiner herself, “a witch is a person in front of a court accused of witchcraft”.

I had missed any such subtleties in a pamphlet I’d read (after a fashion), so I decided to take another look. The basic narrative is graspable enough: Joan Flower, and her daughters Margaret and Philip (“The Charwoman, and her daughters Pocketing and Filch”, as Richard Bernard quipped in 1626) were in service at Belvoir Castle, Margaret actually living at the castle, until they were dismissed for pilfering. In their revenge, a glove of young Henry Manners was stolen, rubbed on the back of their cat familiar Rutterkin, then buried, causing the young nobleman to waste away and die.


Fleming, if it is him, starts off quite well. A reason for the veracity of witchcraft lies in “those infinite Treatises of many of them convinced [‘convicted] by Law, and condemned to death”. He has also had access to sceptical positions on witchcraft: “there be certain men and women grown in years, and over-grown with Melancholy and Atheism, who out of a malicious disposition against their betters, or others thriving by them; but most times from a heart-burning desire of revenge, having entertained some impression of displeasure, and unkindness, study nothing but mischief and exotic practises of loathsome Arts and Sciences: yet I must needs say, that sometimes the fained reputation of wisdom, cunning, and to be reputed a dangerous and skilful person, hath so prevailed with divers, that they have taken upon them indeed to know more then God ever afforded any creature, & to perform no less then the Creator both of Heaven & earth.” Age, craziness, malice, the desire in the self-fashioned witch to be feared or respected; the impossibility of God allowing such powers to such people - such points touch on good, solid objections to the veracity of witchcraft and the eligibility of confession from such people.


Fleming could supplement his treatise with other papers, examinations of further local suspects: “These Examinations and some others were taken and charily preserved for the contriving of sufficient evidences against them, and when the Judges of Assise came down to Lincoln about the first week of March, being Sr. Henry Hobert, Lord chief Justice of the Common Pleas, and Sr. Ed: Bromley one of the Barons of the Exchequer.” The phrasing is unfortunate here, but the sense of ‘contriving’ was neutral.


So, ‘some’ of these ‘charily preserved’ papers he adds to his account in the most baffling way: we have been reading about Joan Flower and her daughters, Margaret and Philip. Suddenly, we have Anne Baker, Joane Willimot, and Ellen Greene brought in as further suspects, with some of the evidence taken from them post-dating the executions of Joan Flower’s daughters. Then Fleming lurches back in time to provide examinations of Margaret and Philip Flower, taken in January and February.


The pamphlet says more than once that the accused women killed both of the children of Francis Manners and his second wife Cecily. But the younger son did not die until March 5th 1619-20:
If March 1620 was the new style date of the younger boy’s death, we have a pamphlet describing the convictions of the murderers on March 11th 1618 (if that’s an old style date, then we still have a year to close).


In 1688 ‘R.B’ (Richard Bouvet) attempted to summarise the Belvoir Castle case in his compilation of paraphrases, The kingdom of darkness. R.B. cannot make sense of the chronology, so he falls back on vagueness: “About the same time Joan Willimot of Goadby a Witch was examined by Sir Henry Hastings and Dr. Fleming Justices in Leicestershire about the murder of Henry Lord Ross…”
He cannot work out why we are not told about the outcomes of the examinations of Anne Baker, Joane Willimot, and Ellen Greene: “and the rest questionless suffered according to their deserts.”


R.B. does quote this passage from the 1618 pamphlet, a passage in which the young Lord Francis Manners is still alive, though afflicted:
“At last as malice increased in them so the Earls Family felt the smart of their revenge, for Henry Lord Ross his eldest Son fell sick of a very unusual disease and soon after died; His second Son the Lord Francis was likewise miserably tortured by their wicked contrivances; And his Daughter the Lady Katherine was oft in great danger of her life by their barbarous dealings, with strange Fits, &c. the Honourable Parents bore all these afflictions with Christian magnanimity.”


R.B. sensibly leaves out all the inconsistent references in the 1618 pamphlet to the Earl having lost more than one child to the diabolic conspirators:
“I have presumed to present on the Stage of verity for the good of my Country & the love of truth, the late woeful Tragedy of the destruction of the Right Honourable the Earle of Rutlands Children …”
“the Right Honorable Earl had sufficient grief for the loss of his Children; yet no doubt it was the greater to consider the manner, and how it pleased God to inflict on him such a fashion of visitation …”
“Notwithstanding all this did the noble Earle attend his Majesty, both at New-market before Christmas, and at Christmas at Whitehall; bearing the loss of his Children most nobly, and little suspecting that they had miscarried by Witch-craft, or such like inventions of the Divell …”


What had been happening in Leicestershire? Tracy Borman was encouraged by the opacities of the case to produce a conspiracy theory (the man who sought to profit by the deaths of the boys was the Duke of Buckingham, set to marry Katherine Manners as sole heir to her father’s fortune).

I haven’t read Borman’s book, having been put off by that review. But there is  undeniably a curious and unusual strand to the witchcraft in the pamphlet, with the witches boasting that their practices will prevent to the Earl and Countess having any more children: “She further saith, that her Mother and she, and her Sister agreed together to bewitch the Earle and his Lady, that they might have no more children.”


There are certainly some things left unsaid in the text. Fleming ascribes to Francis Manners, Lord Rutland,  an exemplary acceptance of God’s inscrutable will in allowing the innocent to be tormented. Fleming is adopting the official (and rather comfortless) church line on witchcraft: that you must accept your trials. The problem was that Manners and his family were Catholics, so this exemplary Christian behaviour just has to be treated as part of Manners’ general nobility of character.


But the main unmentioned, un-located, and unidentified person has to be a Leicestershire witchfinder. Who had pushed the 1616 case in Leicester, leading to the hanging of nine women on the testimony of a demoniac boy? King James had disconcerted his circuit judges by declaring that the case had been fraudulent. But a variant upon the sentiment in The Late Lancashire Witches ‘once and ever a witch, though knowest’ could be offered: ‘once and ever a witchfinder, thou knowest’. The pleasure, at once sadistic and righteous, of sending to the gallows those you have proved to be wicked seems to have been irresistible to some. I think it might have been this same person who is proving his point in the 1618 case. Someone had broadened the investigations, drawing in Anne Baker, Joane Willimot, and Ellen Greene. They seem to have been local wise women, whose general expertise was in pronouncing whether a sick child had been ‘forespoken” or not.


Everybody accused in this case is strikingly free with their confessions: “for here you see the learned and religious Judges cried out with our Saviour, Ex ore tuo.”  The triumphant allusion is to Luke 19, 22, ‘And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant.’ This aligns the court with one of Christ’s most harshly judgemental moments, in the parable of the talents. They were also willing to name names: both Willemot and Greene have been induced to say where they got their familiar spirits from. “This Examinate [Willemot] saith, That she hath a Spirit which she calleth Pretty, which was given unto her by William Berry of Langholme in Rutlandshire, whom she served three years”…  “She saith further, that Gamaliel Greete of Waltham in the said County Shepheard, had a Spirit like a white Mouse put into him in his swearing; and that if he did look upon any thing with an intent to hurt, it should be hurt, and that he had a mark on his left arm, which was cut away; and that her own spirit did tell her all this before it went from her.”


Ellen Greene “saith, that one Joan Willimot of Goadby came about six years since to her in the Wolds, and persuaded this Examinate to forsake God, and betake her to the divel, and she would give her two spirits, to which she gave her consent, and thereupon the said Joan Willimot called two spirits, one in the likeness of a Kitlin, and the other of a Moldiwarp”. The author uses such anecdotes and accusations to suggest a hinterland of cunning folk who have actually bartered their souls to the devil: “They admit of those execrable conditions of commutation of souls for the entertaining of the spirits, and so fall to their abominable practises, continuing in the same till God laugh them to scorn.”


The 1618 pamphlet makes a passing reference to torture: “because the mind of man may be carried away with many idle conjectures, either that women confessed these things by extremity of torture”. Again, an off-note: torture of women, minors in the view of the law, was not legally allowed. There’s something collusive about ‘extremity of torture’, as though a little bit of torture was only to be expected.


This pamphlet was re-printed in 1621, perhaps as part of the backwash from the Elizabeth Sawyer case, or maybe because the younger son had by then died. Whoever put this reprint together added in an account of how to set about verifying witchcraft by ‘swimming’ suspects. This notion came from other sources, but its inclusion just might have been prompted by a rumour of such rough handling having been used in Leicestershire, and used successfully.


Was this Leicestershire witchfinder in fact Samuel Fleming himself? As a Doctor of Divinity and a J.P., he had the right sort of credentials and position. He was an eager reader of witchcraft tracts (his pamphlet begins with a commentary on the books he approves, King James, John Cotta, Alexander Roberts and the rest; he has examined sceptical positions).


His fractured account of the Belvoir witches would then not be the product of a man who didn’t believe what he was saying, but rather someone who believed it all too well, masking his role, playing down the strength of his opinions. He evidently regards young Francis Manners as doomed, dead already. He pushes Baker, Willemot and Greene into the reader’s attention because they were products of his newest investigations. If you look closely at the pamphlet, you see that Fleming was working on Anne Baker on March 1st, 2nd and 3rd. On the first day, in front of Francis Manners, his brother George, and Fleming, Baker resisted quite successfully. She then had a day being interrogated by Fleming alone, and he established a connection to the main inquiry when she repeated (or was lead to repeat) the story of the buried glove. By the third day, back in front of George Manners and Fleming, she confessed to having a familiar spirit in the form of a white dog: far better for a conviction than her previous baffling talk of their being four colours of planets that can strike people.



In demonological theory, the deaths of Joan, Margaret and Philip Flower should have seen young Francis Manners recover quickly. Francis Manners, Lord Rutland, had showed little appetite for the investigation of witchcraft, but he obviously believed in it: his own memorial records the death of both of his sons as a result of witchcraft. There might have been some pressure to find other suspects when young Manners did not recover after March 11th, the date of the executions.


To conclude, there is a sense of the stories not being told in this pamphlet. Leicestershire was not at this time an area liable to foster disbelief. Samuel Fleming, D.D. and J.P. might have been a covert sceptic. But he might instead have been a covert witchfinder. 'Utinam tam facile vera invenire possem, quam falsa convincere', ends the pamphlet, Cicero's 'Would that I could find the true as easily as I can detect the false'.

An enigma!




Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The uselessness of Proquest's LION database



I do not know how much institutions round the world pay for access to this resource. It is time ProQuest cut their fees, for the database has not worked properly for years now. Here's an e-mail dating from 2014 in reply to a complaint I had made:


"Our developers are working on a fix". Yes, I bet they are. It's now two years later. Are they still working on it? This problem arose when the LION database was re-designed. As the re-design caused the problem, they should simply have reverted to the fully functional earlier version.

This is the problem: if you do a search using the 'NEAR' Boolean operator, the database simply delivers a selection of texts in which the two search terms separately occur. For example, this is a search in Victorian era prose (why the first return should be a work by Turgenev escapes me, it's just one of those LION database things) for 'gentleman NEAR horse'. The database does not find the terms in association. Nor do I necessarily believe that just 72 prose fictions of the Victorian period have somewhere in them the words 'gentleman' and 'horse'. The returns, such as they are, are not given in any kind of order that I can discern.


In some cases, usually for the two bottom items on a display of returns, the prose fiction is just a title, with no indication of the number of 'hits'. Just what is the database doing in those cases?




For the search 'lady NEAR jewellery', the database, unable to perform the Boolean function, offers seven returns (that is, ostensibly can only find seven Victorian novels in which 'lady' and 'jewellery' both occur). Trollope's Can you forgive her? provides a spectacular 1027 hits: the characters include 'Lady Macleod' and 'Lady Glencora', of course. 'Jewellery' does indeed occur once, but this is far from any notion of proximity searching.




I've been marking essays on Milton, and occasionally logged on to LION to locate relevant passages omitted by the students. Searching for Milton on the database mysteriously offers both John Milton and John Cage. When the database is being really recalcitrant, it will offer you a text by John Cage when you want Milton returns

If you set out to follow a particular word through Paradise Lost, say 'first', you can't: clicking to see the hits in Book IV shows you Book II, clicking for the hits in Book V shows you only Book III.

Why can't they put these things right? I suspect that their techies know too little of literature: they see some returns, and conclude that the database is working. As far as ProQuest are concerned, they are getting their money (librarians at my college do not seem to know of any organisation of university libraries that could confront ProQuest and demand improvements or lower fees).