Academic journal article Studies in Philology

The Commonwealth Cavalier

Academic journal article Studies in Philology

The Commonwealth Cavalier

Article excerpt

As a highway robber James Hind--the man zvith whom Charles II was thought to be hiding after his defeat in 1651 at the Battle of Worcester--was said to be unparalleled, "an absolute Artist in his profession," as well as a courteous, Robinhoodish sort of criminal with a nimble wit, an aversion to bloodshed, and a habit of sharing his spoils with the poor. Or so he was conceived in cheap print. For James Hind became the subject of a spate of pamphlets and chapbooks after the royalist defeat at Worcester. They form a heterogeneous group, diverse in character, content, and genre, ranging from chapbook collections of short merry tales and news pamphlets to what many have termed the first criminal biography in English. For me, the Hind texts' interest lies in what they may suggest about the nature of royalism in the wake of the establishment of the Commonwealth regime and the failure of the royalist forces at Worcester. This article argues that the forces of social control with which the royalist Hind chapbooks and pamphlets contended were not one, but two. The first and more obvious powerful force was the Commonwealth regime, but the texts are also sites of a less-apparent second tension, one between a backward-looking, essentially feudal royalism and an emergent royalism marked by the same progressive populism that fueled the revolution. I propose, then, that the Hind pamphlets were popular in part because the highwayman offered readers a royalism associated with the humbler sorts of English men and women.

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ON 3 September, 1651, royalist forces suffered a spectacular defeat at the Battle of Worcester, the last major battle of the British Civil Wars. Charles II and his largely Covenanter army had swept down from Scotland, their destination London, but by the time they got to the Midlands they'd mustered little armed support along the way. According to contemporary accounts, the royalist army, roughly 16,000 strong that morning, lost about 3,000 men by the end of the day, and perhaps as many as 10,000 more were taken prisoner. The Commonwealth army, by contrast, was reported to have lost only 200 men. (1) The twenty-one-year-old king escaped. For the next six weeks, he was on the run and incognito, his long hair shorn, his 6'2." royal body disguised in coarse dress. Fie took shelter where he could find it, at times in the woods, most famously in the Boscobel oak, his goal a safe port and passage to the Continent.

The young king had need for stealth and disguise. Not only were county militias out searching for him, Parliament had also issued a proclamation on 10 September promising a reward of 1,000 [pounds sterling] to anyone who captured the "Malicious and Dangerous Traytor to the Peace of this Commonwealth." (2) The newsbook The Diary wryly commented, "there is not a man almost in England but either in his person or discourse is running after the running King of Scotland." (3) Newsbooks and pamphlets, playing to keen public interest, buzzed with speculation about Charles's whereabouts. Some said he'd fled to the north, others to the west; still others reported him to be in London. Among the printed rumors, one took particular hold. As one pamphlet put it: "its thought he lies sculking about in some private corners with Hind his guide." (4)

This Hind--the man with whom Charles II was thought to be skulking--was a humbly born highwayman apparently so well-known as to need no other identification but his last name. By all accounts, as a highway robber James Hind was unparalleled, "an absolute Artist in his profession" whose "Sleights and Stratagems" made him a "Master in the Art of Theevery," just the sort of guide who could successfully spirit Charles away from his would-be captors. (5) Moreover, Hind was said to be a courteous, Robinhoodish sort of criminal with a nimble wit, an aversion to bloodshed, and a habit of sharing his spoils with the poor. (6)

Or so he was conceived in cheap print. …

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