In part 1 of this series I tried to find out what disparaging things Henry Marten said about the Earl of Essex on 5 December 1642. In part 2 I showed how criticism of Essex was probably unfair. Now in the final part I’m going to look at what the London press were saying. (Working on these posts always earworms me with ‘A Woman in Winter’ by The Skids: good thing or bad thing?)
Although Marten had spoken in front of lots of MPs in the House of Commons, and some of them noted it in their diaries, news of the controversy wasn’t published outside Parliament. It was an established tradition that what went on in Parliament wasn’t to be revealed to the general public, even though members claimed to be looking after the public interest, and this was still more or less holding up despite all the crazy things that happened in 1642. In 1643 leaks became much more common, and different factions in Parliament used the press to attack each other and advance their own agendas (see Peacey, Politicians & Pamphleteers for lots of examples). The weekly newsbooks covering 5 December 1642 mentioned that news had been received from Yorkshire and Devon but there seems to be no consensus about whether the news was good or bad. They didn’t criticize Essex, and some claimed that he was about to attack the enemy, or that he already had.
A continuation of certaine speciall and remarkable passages from both houses of Parliament (E.244) reported news from Yorkshire and Devon but put a positive spin on it rather than treating it as a disaster. It also claimed that Essex had defeated the royalists at Reading. Near the end it said ‘This night the Earle of Holland, the Earle of Pembroke, the Earle of Northumberland, the Lord Say and the Lord Wharton that went down to Windsor are expected to return again to Parliament’ but didn’t say anything about why they had gone there.
England’s memorable accidents (E.244) wrote under 6 December (p. 107), ‘The Lord Generall being furnished with money and other necessaries, is advancing now towards the Enemie’ but for 9 December (p. 111) admitted ‘The Lord Generall with his Foot and Ordnance continue still at Windsor, because they cannot march this winter; but all his horse and Dragoneers are sent out in severall Parts to intrap the Cavalliers and to restraine their pillaging’.
A perfect diurnall of the passages in Parliament (E.244) reported that contradictory letters had come to Parliament from Yorkshire, one saying that the Earl of Newcastle had relieved York unopposed and the other that Sir John Hotham had defeated him.
Speciall passages and certain informations (E.129) mentions news from Yorkshire and Devon, and says that ‘The Lord Generall marcheth to morrow from Windsor, the greatest part of his Army being a dayes march before him’.
There were some even bigger claims about Essex’s exploits in one-off pamphlets.
Another famous victorie obtained by his Excellencie the Earle of Essex (E.129) claimed that Essex had inflicted heavy casualties on the royalists and captured Henley and Marlow on 2 December.
A true relation of the proceedings of His Excellence the Earle of Essex, with his army, since his departure from these parts, in pursutie of the cavaliers (E.129), collected by Thomason on 8 December, told an unlikely story of John Hampden having besieged and captured Reading (which wasn’t actually recaptured by Parliament until April 1643).
The title of Exceeding joyfull newes from the Earl of Essex being a true and reall relation of his incompassing the Kings army neare the citty of Oxford, Decemb. 7. and the great skirmish which they had at the same time… (E.129) says it all. This pamphlet claims that Essex had left Windsor on 5 December and had managed to surround the King’s army at Oxford within two days!
Some of these stories are blatantly false, and others must at least be exaggerated. It looks like there was huge demand in London for news of victories, and if there wasn’t any then pamphlet writers were willing and able to make it up. It seems like the writers and their audiences still want to believe that Essex is doing great things. He hasn’t become unpopular yet, and no-one is openly criticizing him in public.