From tomorrow until 7 October I’ll be post-blogging Nehemiah Wharton’s letters from the English Civil War (hat-tip to Brett Holman, who gave me the idea of post-blogging). Nehemiah Wharton was a servant of London merchant George Willingham, who I’ve written about before. In the summer of 1642, Wharton joined the parliamentary army, becoming a sergeant in Denzil Holles’s infantry regiment. This was a regular regiment in the Earl of Essex’s army, made up of men who volunteered for war service, and was separate from the London Trained Bands. From 16 August to 7 October, Wharton sent nine letters home to his master in London. These give a unique insight into the day to day life of the army, which didn’t spend most of its time fighting big battles, as well as into puritan networks. Soldiers’ letters weren’t censored in this period, so they contain lots of details that wouldn’t have been allowed in the 20th century.
The original letters are held by the UK National Archives (aka PRO) at Kew in series SP 16, and microfilm copies are available in the Map Room on the second floor. Transcripts made by Sir Henry Ellis were published by the Society of Antiquaries in 1854, which means that the letters must now be out of copyright. Ellis made some serious transcription errors, especially with names, which have probably caused a lot of unnecessary confusion over the years. His editing was inconsistent, modernizing the spelling of some words but not others. He also added modern punctuation, which makes the text easier to read but takes us further from what Wharton actually wrote. Better transcripts of the letters were published in Calendar of State Papers Domestic, but these still modernized spelling inconsistently, added punctuation (and not necessarily in the right places) and summarized some minor parts of the text instead of printing it in full. I’ve gone back to the originals (well, actually the microfilm) and made new transcripts that are much more accurate than the old versions (although there are a few uncertain words). I copied the original text as exactly as possible and have only added some paragraph breaks and used square brackets to expand abbreviations, fill in some gaps where the manuscript is damaged and indicate words I’m not sure about. This will make it more challenging to read than Ellis’s punctuated version, but it also brings out the character of Wharton’s writing. My favourite thing is where he spells the name of the river Wye simply as a capital Y! I’m also putting my photos of the microfilm on Flickr so anyone can check my transcripts. The picture quality isn’t great, but it’s mostly legible enough. Brief notes giving background information about things mentioned in the letters will appear under the transcripts but will be clearly separated from them.
[Edit: I should also have mentioned that I've silently changed i to j and u to v where appropriate, and ignored crossed out words and letters]
The letters are dated according to the Julian calendar, which was abandoned by Britain in 1752 in favour of the Gregorian calender that we still use now. That means that although they will appear to be posted on the anniversary of when they were written, it’s not exactly the same date, but I doubt that anyone is pedantic enough to see that as a problem.
Every post in this series will be tagged with “wharton letters” so that it’s easy to find them all in the future. As the text is in the public domain, feel free to copy and re-use it for any purposes. You don’t need anyone’s permission. The first letter will be posted tomorrow.