Early Modern Documents: Indemnity for Horses

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 8:06 am, 14 May 2013]

This month we have another indemnity case. The last one was about sequestration, which seems to be the most common type of case. Another very common complaint is that the petitioner is being sued for a horse, which occurs in about 10% of the surviving cases. This is not because there was a shortage of horses in England during the civil wars (Ian Gentles and John Shedd suggested that it was, but Peter Edwards has disproved it: see Gentles, New Model Army, p. 130; Shedd, ‘Legalism‘, p. 1096; Edwards, ‘Supply of Horses‘, pp. 55, 57). Although there were theoretically enough horses in England, soldiers often took them by force, sometimes because Parliament couldn’t provide them any other way, sometimes just because it was more convenient. Horses were valuable, and stealing them was usually taken very seriously. Despite this, the absolute number of horses involved in indemnity cases was quite small. Most horse seizure didn’t result in a court case. When it did, the soldiers who originally took the horses weren’t always directly involved. Horses could change hands many times, and under the Common Law, anyone in possession of a horse that was alleged to be stolen could be sued, even if they were not guilty of stealing it in the first place. This made horse cases very different from sequestration cases. Sequestration was very closely linked to allegiance: petitioners were under pressure to show that they had been loyal to Parliament and that the sequestered defendant hadn’t. Anne Hughes identified this as a general trend in indemnity cases, but horse cases are a significant exception (Hughes, ‘Parliamentary Tyranny‘, pp. 67–9; see my book, pp. 140–45, for a more detailed argument than I’ve given here). The horse might have passed through so many owners that it was a long way removed from the issues that the King and Parliament were fighting over. The crucial point for the Indemnity Committee to consider was whether the horse had been in the service of Parliament, not whether the petitioner had. This month’s petition is an example of this kind of case, where a long chain of ownership led to complicated court actions and then an appeal for indemnity. (more…)

Remembering Conrad Russell

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 11:13 am, 5 May 2013]

Over at Love and Liberty, Alex Wilcock has been reminiscing about his friendship with Conrad Russell, and discussing the influence of Russell’s The Liberal Cause. So I thought I’d join in with the name-dropping. I only met Professor Russell (as historians knew him: the title that he’d actually earned seemed more important to him than the earldom he inherited) once, in 1997. I was in the first year of my PhD, and I went to the Tudor and Stuart research seminar that he organized at the IHR, to hear Peter Edwards speaking about arms imports in the civil wars. It was in the old local history room in the IHR library, which was huge before they chopped it up to make the Wolfson and Pollard rooms. When Pete’s paper was finished and the discussion was about to begin, Elizabeth Russell passed around ash trays, and although it seems endearing now, at the time I was shocked to see Conrad, Elizabeth and several students lighting up – the only time I’ve ever seen anyone smoking in a library! I guess that’s what the IHR rules meant by ‘privileged occasion’. I was privileged to be briefly introduced to him afterwards, which was enough to confirm that he was a very nice person as well as a brilliant historian and politician.

But enough of the anecdotes. As Alex’s post makes clear, Conrad Russell helped to ensure that Liberalism is the most intellectually rigorous set of principles on offer in British politics. Nick Clegg’s view of history  in The Liberal Moment has some problems, but it’s quite impressive for the leader of a political party to write something that intelligent (Natalie Bennett could probably do better because she knows an awful lot about feminist history). Although I disapprove of many things that the Lib Dems have done in the coalition, I still want to vote for them because they’re the party whose principles I most agree with (although the Greens are the only other party that really has any principles at all).

But considering that Conrad Russell’s politics were so liberal, why was his historical writing so conservative? I still think he was absolutely right to destroy the Whig and Marxist models of 17th century history, because they offered very simplistic explanations and didn’t fit the facts (and were more similar to each other than they would admit). But revisionism had its limitations too. Russell’s work was mostly about the political elite. That’s fair enough to a certain extent because it’s what interested him and what he was good at. We all have to exclude more from our research than we include, and there’s no point forcing people to write about things they find boring. The problem is that if you take this approach in a book boldly titled The Causes of the English Civil War, with a definite article, it implies that there’s nothing more to the story. John Adamson has improved on Russell’s approach by showing that you can focus on high politics and still have a revolution. Adamson acknowledges that although the Lords started the revolution, they couldn’t achieve much without material help from lower levels of society, and he’s left space for other people (including me) to show how that worked in practice (and he might well add to that himself when he publishes the next volume – not this year but surely next year). Russell and Adamson both failed to analyse the implications of both houses of Parliament being exclusively male. Like many histories written by men, Russell’s analysis of Queen Henrietta Maria’s influence over Charles I was a bit misogynistic. For example, the Queen wrote to her husband in October 1646 “in tones more appropriate to a son than to a husband”, and the impression of Charles that emerges from her letters “could easily have been signed ‘Lady Macbeth'” (Conrad Russell, The Causes of the English Civil War (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1990), pp. 205, 206; Frances Dolan may have made this point before but I can’t find a reference to it).

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Early Modern Documents: Credit and Coverture

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 7:28 am, 23 April 2013]

Previous posts in this series have covered sequestration (Parliament confiscating the estates of its enemies during the civil wars) and compounding (getting sequestered estates back by paying a fine). Sequestration led to lots of court cases, because although it was authorized by ordinances of Parliament, it was still technically illegal according to the Common Law. Parliament suppressed the law courts during the First Civil War, but they began to sit again when the war was over, creating opportunities to contest property rights, allegiance, and the legitimacy of the Long Parliament’s governing without the King. Many soldiers and officials were prosecuted for things they had done with the authority of Parliament. This led to the Indemnity Ordinance, which was implemented by the Indemnity Committee (I’ve written a brief guide to the committee and its records, now held by the UK National Archives). Ordinary civilians could also benefit from this if they were prosecuted for obeying Parliament. The majority of the petitions received by the committee were from tenants and debtors of sequestered delinquents who had paid the money they owed to the state and were sued for it by the original owner. This month’s document is one of these petitions. It adds an extra twist because it also involves the law of coverture. This denied married women the right to own property: with a few exceptions, any property a woman brought into a marriage was owned and controlled by her husband for the duration of the marriage. Mary Robinson from last month’s post owned an estate in her own right because she was a widow.


Concerning Burial of the Dead

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 10:59 am, 15 April 2013]

[Edit May 2016: No prizes for guessing who this was about.]

From ‘An Ordinance for taking away the Book of Common Prayer, and for establishing and putting in execution of the Directory for the publique worship of God’ passed by the Long Parliament in January 1645 (in Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum):

When any person departeth this life, let the dead body, upon the day of Burial, be decently attended from the house to the place appointed for Publique Burial, and there immediately interred without any Ceremony.

And because the customes of kneeling down, and praying by, or towards the dead Corps, and other such usages in the place where it lies, before it be carried to Burial, are Superstitious: and for that praying, reading, and singing both in going to, and at the Grave, have been grosly abused, are no way beneficial to the dead, and have proved many wayes hurtful to the living, therefore let all such things be laid aside.

Howbeit, we judge it very convenient, that the Christian friends which accompany the dead body to the place appointed for publique Burial, do apply themselves to meditations and conferences suitable to the occasion: And, that the Minister, as upon other occasions, so at this time, if he be present, may put them in remembrance of their duty.

That this shall not extend to deny any civil respects or differences at the Burial, suitable to the rank and condition of the party deceased whiles he was living.

These rules were observed at Oliver Cromwell’s funeral on 23 November 1658. Although his effigy was brought from Somerset House with an ostentatious procession accompanied by cannon salutes, there was no ceremony once it reached Westminster Abbey (Ian Gentles, Oliver Cromwell: God’s Warrior and the English Revolution, pp. 196-7; Cromwell’s body had actually been buried in secret shortly after he died in September).

History shows that things were different in the past, so they could be different again in the future.

Upgraded to HTML5

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 1:38 pm, 8 April 2013]

I’ve made a few changes to this blog, including changing the theme to use HTML5.

But Stew, it looks just as boring as it did before. Where’s the huge carousel of superfluous images? It can’t be HTML5 without that, can it?”

The most noticeable change (at least for some people) is that the layout is more flexible than it used to be. The sidebar is now only absolutely positioned on the right on computer screens where the window is more than 700 pixels wide. In all other cases, it’s displayed at the bottom of the page where I hope it won’t get in the way. This was actually done with CSS 2.1, and I could have done it a long time ago if I’d bothered to find out how to do @media rules.

The new HTML5 markup probably won’t make much difference to most people, but I like it because it’s more semantic. I’ve used header, footer, nav and article tags instead of divs for everything. Although there are more tags available now, I find that they’re easier to use because they’re more logical and reflect what people really do.

I’ve also turned off ReCaptcha because it’s an obstacle to genuine commenters and doesn’t stop all spammers. Even with my unimpaired vision, I only have about a 50% success rate with captchas on other people’s blogs (this is one of the reasons why I particularly dislike Blogger).

I’d be grateful for any feedback on whether the new stuff does or doesn’t work, especially if you’re visually impaired and/or using a phone. I don’t care about whether anyone dislikes the aesthetics of my design: I just want it to be accessible to as many people as possible.

There’s also some new content today as I’ve started putting guides to historical records on static pages. The first is a guide to compounding cases in SP 23.

Early Modern Documents: Mary Robinson, delinquent

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 10:33 am, 20 March 2013]

Last month’s post was about sequestration (Parliament confiscating the estates of its enemies). Later in the First Civil War, Parliament developed a new system called compounding, which allowed sequestered delinquents to get their estates back if they paid a fine and swore an oath that they wouldn’t help the King. This process was managed by the Committee for Compounding. I’ve written a brief guide to the committee and its records which is available under CC-BY just like the other content on this blog.

This month’s documents are from the compounding case of Mary Robinson, a widow from Branston in Lincolnshire (no relation as far as I know – my Robinson ancestors were coal miners in Yorkshire, and didn’t move to Lincolnshire until the early 20th century). As usual, the quoted text is all in Crown Copyright and released under Open Government Licence. Click the thumbnails to see page images on Flickr (non-commercial use only).


Early Modern Documents: Sequestration Inventory

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 8:07 am, 12 February 2013]

[Edit May 2016: Interesting things that I’ve noticed since posting this are that the inventory was taken quite soon after the Sequestration Ordinance passed, and that the deer hadn’t been massacred.]

During the English Civil War, Parliament started confiscating the estates of people whom it classified as enemies. This process was called sequestration, and its victims were labelled delinquents. They didn’t necessarily have any affection for the King, and hadn’t necessarily done anything to help him or his armies, but the criteria for sequestration kept getting broader. The sequestration system had a long and messy development that I tried to sketch out in my book. The first national sequestration ordinance was passed on 27 March 1643, and you can read it free at British History Online. The ordinance authorized the seizure of all of a delinquent’s real and personal estate. Rents and debts, which were to be paid to the state, were probably the main sources of money, but goods were also inventoried and sold. The inventory below is for the goods of Lady Wotton and Sir Philip Musgrave. Musgrave was a commander for the King in north-west England (you can read a biography of him at the Internet Archive), but I’m not sure where this inventory was taken. ‘Kent’ has been written on the manuscript in pencil but there’s no explanation of why. Maybe someone who knows the background can confirm or deny it. By the time I was half way through transcribing this document I’d decided that it wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be, but here it is anyway. For me, the most interesting part is towards the end, where it lists the animals in the park.


Early Modern Documents: Horse Casualties

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 8:35 am, 15 January 2013]

In discussions about early-modern cavalry tactics, some people have asked me how many horses were killed in battles. This is the answer. Actually only a partial answer, but it’s the best one I’ve got. Narratives of English Civil War battles are usually very vague about casualties, if they mention them at all. Financial records are usually a better source for numbers. For a few parliamentary cavalry units, I’ve found detailed lists of horses lost in service. In 1644, Parliament set up  the Committee for Taking Accounts of the Whole Kingdom to audit the war effort (you can read the ordinance for appointing the committee at British History Online). One of the committee’s jobs was to certify arrears of pay due to soldiers and officers (Ian Gentles estimated that these ran into millions of pounds). If the commanding officer of a unit couldn’t satisfactorily account for money, horses and equipment he had received, the value would be knocked off his arrears. Losses by enemy action during a battle were usually allowed, giving officers a strong incentive to exaggerate battle casualties in their accounts. This is obviously a problem because the figures they give could be too high, but it also pretty much guarantees that they won’t be too low. The committee concluded that Lionel Copley, a captain of horse in the Earl of Essex’s army, had defrauded the state of lots of money and horses, and overstated his losses at First Newbury to cover it up, but some members of his troop testified against him. I haven’t included his accounts here because they’re incredibly complicated as well as unreliable. Below I’ve put extracts from three other officers’ accounts that give details of horse losses. Doing this made me realise how bad the transcripts I made for my PhD were, but it also shows that I’ve got much better at palaeography. The quoted text is all in Crown Copyright and released under Open Government Licence. Click the links in the document references to see page images on Flickr (non-commercial use only).


New series and new licence

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 3:23 pm, 14 January 2013]

I promised that I’d get back to blogging in January. I’ve finished the last freelance contract, but I’m just about to start a bigger one so I won’t be blogging as much as I’d planned. Instead of what I said I was going to do, I’ll be posting a transcript of an early-modern document every month, with links to images and some explanation of what it’s about. This means that my blogging will be exclusively early-modern for at least six months. The series starts tomorrow with accounts of horse losses in the English Civil War, which will make a nice transition from last year’s cavalry series and partly answer a question that people are always asking me.

The other big news is that I’ve changed my Creative Commons licence to attribution only. This means that you (yes, YOU) are free to modify and re-use my blog posts for any purpose, including commercial use, as long as you attribute it to me. The new licence DOES NOT apply to any posts deleted before today. Also, I’m not waiving any of my moral rights, so no defamatory false attribution, please. I was already planning to make this change before Aaron Swartz died, partly to save me from the trouble of having to give permission for commercial use when people ask for it, and partly to prove that CC-BY doesn’t automatically help neo-nazis. The downside is that I have to pay myself £1,500 per post in Blog Processing Charges, but I’m hoping I might get some free taxpayers’ money to cover that, because I’m a businessman too and so my profits should be just as important as publishing companies’ profits.

I really haven’t got the time

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 1:07 pm, 22 October 2012]

[Edit May 2016: I can’t remember what all those WW1 projects were, except that they were overambitious and I lost interest in them (this seems to be a recurring theme). By the middle of 2013 I was already sick to death of the centenary but in 2014 I was lured back by Lives of the First World War and Linking Experiences of World War One. I did return to blogging in January 2013, but it was early-modern instead. This had nothing to do with the ‘fan backlash’ in the comments below.]

I’ll be taking a break from blogging from now until January as I’m about so start a new freelance contract and ‘work comes first, I’m sure you’ll understand’. I was hoping to write a post summarizing the cavalry tactics series, but it’s still too complicated and uncertain for any definite conclusions. When I come back I’ll be blogging about some different things. I’m planning new projects involving digital history and WW1, so expect to see more about that sort of thing and less about early-modern cavalry. I think my blogging is starting to resemble TV seasons: I’ve posted regularly about cavalry (and also the Wharton letters running at the same time) since August, but now it’s finished and after a break will be replaced by something different.