Living in the World Turned Upside Down

Brilliana Harley

A letter to her son in June 1642. May Day celebrations were among the targets of puritan reformers; using a maypole to attack - and mock - them in this way was a symbolic demonstration of hostility to their efforts.

At Ludlow they set up a May pole, and a thing like a head upon it, and so they did at Croft, and gathered a great many about it, and shot at it in derision of roundheads. At Loudlow they abused Mr Bauge's son very much, and are so insolent that they durst not leave their houses to come to the fast. I acknowledge I do not think myself safe where I am. I lose the comfort of your father's company, and am in but little safety, but that my trust is in God; and what is done in your father's estate pleases him not, so that I wish myself, with all my heart, at London, and then your father might be a witness of what is spent; but if your father think it best for me to be in the country, I am very well pleased with what he shall think best.1

Puritan demonstrations in London; crowds pull down Cheapside Cross, 1643

Puritan demonstrations in London; crowds pull down Cheapside Cross, 1643

Ann Fanshawe

Writing in her memoirs of the discomforts and dangers brought by the wars.

In 1642 my father was taken prisoner at his house, called Montague House, in Bishopsgate Street, and threatened to be sent aboard a ship into the Plantations, with many more of his own quality; and then they plundered his house, but he getting loose under pretence to fetch some writings they demanded in his hands concerning the public revenue, he went to Oxford in 1643, and thereupon the Long Parliament (of which he was a member for the town of Lancaster) plundered him out of what remained, and sequestered his whole estate, which continued out of his possession until the happy restoration of the King. My father commanded my sister and myself to come to him to Oxford, where the Court then was; but we that had till that hour lived in great plenty and great order found ourselves like fishes out of water, and the scene so changed that we knew not at all how to act any part but obedience. For from as good house as any gentleman of England had we come to a baker's house in an obscure street, and from rooms well furnished to lie in a very bad bed in a garret; to one dish of meat, and that not the best ordered; no money, for we were as poor as Job; nor clothes more than a man or two brought in their cloak bags. We had the perpetual discourse of losing and gaining of towns and men; at the windows the sad spectacle of war, sometimes plague, sometimes sicknesses of other kinds, by reason of so many people being packed together, as I believe there never was before of that quality; always want; yet I must needs say that most bore it with a martyr-like cheerfulness. For my own part I begun to think we should all like Abraham live in tents all the days of our lives.2

Images of iconoclasm: soldiers destroying church fittings at York Minster

Images of iconoclasm: soldiers destroying church fittings at York Minster

Margaret Eure

Letter to Ralph Verney in May and June 1642, writing eloquently of her hopes and intense anxieties.

O that the sweet parliament would come - with the olive branch in its mouth, it would refresh and glad all our hearts here in the north. We are so many frighted people; for my part if I hear but a door creak I take it to be a drum, and am ready to run out of that little valour I have... I write you this news to let you see what brave spirits is in the north. I wish all were well ended, for things stand in so ill a condition here as we can make no money of our coalpits. If rents fail and those fail too, we shall be in a hard case.3

Alice Thornton

Writing in her memoirs of her family's experiences of billeting soldiers in 1643. This was an unwelcome burden for many households, even when the soldiers were on the same side as their hosts - which was not the case here.

My mother went to live at Hipswell, her jointure, with my brother George, myself, and George Lightfoot, and Dafeny Carrell, and my brother George Wandesforde his man. And there she was troubled with the Scots one while, and the parliament forces another while tormented us, getting all our provisions of meat and drink, let us want all necessaries, that their domineering and insulting voluptuousness must be supplied, and my mother was charged for eighteen or twenty months together with £25 a month in moneys to the soldiers, besides the quartering of a troop of Scots on free quarter, which was treble the value of her estate, and at that time she borrowed moneys to maintain all her four children, which she paid afterwards.4

A pillaging soldier, from 'The English Irish soldier', a satirical broadside

A pillaging soldier, from 'The English Irish soldier', a satirical broadside

K. Lloyd

Letter to her husband Luke in February 1644; like Margaret Eure, worrying about rents. Women left to manage their husbands' estates sometimes found themselves in an uncertain legal position when it came to collecting moneys (especially if tenants supported their political opponents).

I praise God we in this family and all the rest of friends are in good health; we in the same condition you left us, or better, nothing wanting but thyself, which is more prized than all the rest, and I hope ere long to enjoy. Tom is at the Dungre, my sister Ellin at Geaton, Brereton's army within 3 miles of Chester. The Lord Berron's army in Chester, and from Bangor to Hawarden, where there is great fear. This week there are garrisons put in Feneshall and Bettisfield. We expect more to Hanmer. They are of those men that come from Ireland, that turned when they were taken prisoners at the Withe. I sent to the Widow Wenlock, who was very glad to hear of her son's health. She dare not write, but desired that I would remember her love to him and certify him that all his frends are in health. William Genings is very earnest with me that he may rent some corner of a field that has much broom growing upon it. He would sow a bushel of oats, he tells me; it will take no more. My promise was to certify you and to return him your answer, which I desire to have with what speed you can. Thomas Roe questions your man, when I send him for your rent, whether I have commission to receive it. I desire he may be satisfied in a line or two, for it comes very slowly from him.5

Alice Thornton

Writing on the death in childbed of her sister, Lady Danby in September 1645. Old, familiar dangers were exacerbated by the newer disruptions caused by the wars.

About this year, my dear and only sister, the Lady Danby, drew near her time for delivery of her sixteenth child... The troubles and distractions of those sad times did much afflict and grieve her, who was of a tender and sweet disposition, wanting the company of her husband, Sir Thomas, to manage his estate and other concerns. But he, being engaged in his king's service, was not permitted to leave it, nor come to Thorpe but seldom, till she fell sick. These things, added to the horrid rudenesse of the soldiers and Scots quartered then amongst them, which vexing and troubling her much with frights, caused her to fall into travail sooner than she expected, nor could she get her old midwife, being then in Richmond, which was then shut up, for the plague was exceeding great there, so that all the inhabitants that could get out fled, saving those who had the sickness in their houses.6

Baptism the 'old way': a baptism scene from the 1620s

Baptism the 'old way': a baptism scene from the 1620s

Isabella Twysden

From her diary, August to September 1647. Her mention of the 'new way' of christening a child refers to a change in the form of this church service brought in by the commonwealth government in 1645, according to puritan views that godparents (the 'gossips') were a 'popish' invention. The change did not survive the Restoration.

the 5 of August [1647] my husband came to Peckham where he had not been in 5 years before having been a prisoner most of that time by the parliament
the 6 August 1647 Sir Thomas Farfax went with his army through London and took possession of the Tower.
the 14 August troopers came and billeted at Peckham and in many parts there abouts 2 with George Stone at our house.
the 21 of August 1647 the King came to Hampton Court.
the 17 September 1647 my sister Twysden was brought a bed of a girl at a quarter past 5 a clock in the morning being Friday. It was christened that afternoon, and named Margaret, it was born at Peckham, it was christened with out gossips, the new way.7

  1. Brilliana Harley to Edward Harley, 4 June 1642. Lewis (ed), Letters of Lady Brilliana Harley, 166-7.

  2. Fanshawe (ed), Memoirs of Ann, lady Fanshawe, 24-25.

  3. Margaret Eure to Ralph Verney, 21 May 1642. Memoirs of the Verney family, I, 253.

  4. Jackson (ed), Autobiography of Mrs Alice Thornton, 43.

  5. K Lloyd to Luke Lloyd, 3 February 1644. Manuscripts of Lord Kenyon, 62.

  6. Jackson (ed), Autobiography of Mrs Alice Thornton, 49-50.

  7. Bennitt (ed), 'Diary of Isabella Twysden', 121.