Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Popular Grievances and Royalist Propaganda in Interregnum England

Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Popular Grievances and Royalist Propaganda in Interregnum England

Article excerpt

In January 1650, the royalist pamphleteer John Crouch described a scuffle between a group of Londoners and a troop of soldiers in his scurrilous newsbook The Man in the Moon} Though Charles Ts execution had been carried out a year before, Crouch continued to employ tropes long drawn out by royalist pens in an attempt to undermine the nascent Commonwealth. Themes of subversion, sexual slander and humiliation pervade this anti-Puritan narrative. Crouch related how 'two or three Companies' of 'Rebell' soldiers had seized a group of stage players on St John's Street. Having deprived the players of their garb, the troopers marched them to Westminster for breaking Parliament's ordinance against stage-plays. One soldier stayed behind the crowd with design of gaining 'some plunder', at which time he happened across a 'skimmington' riding near Smithfield Market. This popular shaming ritual involved a man imitating the army's Lord General Thomas Fairfax on horseback. The 'General' held a skimming ladle while 'Baskets' of Colonel Thomas Pride's 'Graines' were held out in front of him. Fairfax's 'Doxie' sat behind him, her face to the horse's tail.

As the procession passed the baffled soldier, a performer tossed a ladle of grain into the trooper's face. Enraged, he brandished his sword and 'began to swear and vapour' until a 'Butchers Boy' confiscated his weapon and compelled the trooper to 'swallow his Graines and be thankfull'. Crouch ended his narrative, stating

if this Souldier scape ... there will questionlesse come forth an Act for a Thanksgiving for this wonderful! Victory over the poore Players, and the Souldiers deliverance, and a double Excise upon all Beefe and Mutton for the future; that Butchers hereafter may learne to keep their Apprentices, and not suffer them to beat Souldiers as they passe upon their occasions.2

Detailing the possible consequences of the audacious apprentice's behaviour, Crouch concluded his account by linking Londoners' frustration with the army to another widespread grievance - the despised excise tax placed on everyday consumer goods.

Often through the guise of reporting the news, authors such as John Crouch expounded upon popular grievances with Interregnum policies in vivid detail. Depicting people's resentment of the army's grip on politics - whether at Westminster or in the streets of London - Crouch presented a scene that would resonate not only with a broad royalist audience, but also amongst others who were merely hostile to any number of local and state policies. Furthermore, 'royalism' was no simple, unified ideology, particularly in the 1650s. As Jason McElligott and David L. Smith have recently argued, the royalist label allowed for various 'political, religious and cultural positions'.3 Propagandists themselves held differing viewpoints, and with this understanding it becomes clear that certain propagandists such as Crouch chose to dwell on widespread grievances for their pervasiveness amongst a range of royalists and others alienated by the Interregnum state. By exploiting grievances that were held by a broad section of the populace, Crouch's rhetoric could reach across vertical and horizontal divides in English society. These royalist authors painted disaffection with the state as 'popular' in the sense it emanated from the 'people' - the commons, the essence of English society.4 Crouch, facing his own financial difficulties in the 1650s, likely realised that even though the lower orders had common grievances with their social superiors, certain Interregnum policies had a more immediate and disruptive impact on their lives.5 Such rhetoric enabled authors to project royalists as those who truly understood and sympathized with the plight of industrious sort, whether poor or middling. This strain of rhetoric placed the micro-politics of everyday existence at the forefront of a national debate over the political settlement.

Beyond their sympathetic portrayal of popular grievances, authors such as Crouch drew weapons from the large arsenal of grassroots resistance. …

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