Articles tagged with: Charles I

“Very disorderly, danced the Morris Dance”: Morris, Garlands, Sedition and Riot

on Tuesday, 21 May 2019. Posted in Archives, Traditions and Folklore, Wiltshire People

Devizes Jubilee Morris

Here at the History Centre, we’re no stranger to Morris Dancers. We’ve had dancers on the staff, while each May Bank Holiday Chippenham hosts its popular Folk Festival. It’s great fun watching the street theatrics, but there was once a darker side to Morris Dancing that led to the following stories being recorded by the Wiltshire Magistrates (and now appear in Records of Wiltshire).

What happened at Woodborough in May 1652 caused official concern, but how was it that Morris Dancing threatened the pillars of the state?

Capers against the Commonwealth
On the evening of Sunday, May 16th 1652, Edward Smyth and Edward Hawking left their homes in Woodborough and went to All Cannings, where they met and conspired with about a dozen people. That same Sunday, Robert Golfe went from Woodborough into Marlborough “to get a drummer”, while Thomas Beasant went to Ram Alley in Easton and “there invited and procured a fiddler”.

The following day, their plans were revealed when a crowd gathered from the surrounding countryside; according to the records, “three hundred persons, or thereabouts … gathered together in a Riotous, Routous, Warlike and very disorderly manner’.” If anyone thought about stopping them, they were armed “with muskets, pistols, bills, swords drawn and other unlawful weapons”.

The musicians led the crowd from Woodborough to Pewsey where they “very disorderly, danced the Morris Dance”, and committed other misdemeanours, including “drinking and tippling in the inn and Alehouse”. While the prevalence of weapons may, happily, be less, it’s reassuring to see that the drinking still continues in and around Morris circles to this day (and sometimes, people still disapprove).

Public nuisance, party, or Sedition?
In 1652, England was a republic, following the execution of Charles I. The Commonwealth kept a close eye on signs of dissent, looking for evidence of Royalist insurgency: traditional sports and pastimes were suspect. Ales, Morris and other customs had been the target of religious reformers since before the Civil War. The opposition from these authorities meant that Morris and other customs now symbolised the old order prior to the Civil War, when license and liberty were, supposedly, more freely allowed; as such, Morris dancing and the open drinking of ale was as much an open challenge to the authorities as the bearing of arms. Although the weapons offered a challenge to the authorities, the Morris spoke of tradition, culture, custom and a perceived stability before the upheavals of the 1640s. The new rulers of England were right to view the emotional power of such demonstrations with suspicion.

Blackpowder Morris from Lewes in Sussex

While the Morris at Pewsey may not be as famous as folksinger Pete Seeger, who was blacklisted by McCarthy in Cold War America, or Victor Jara, the Chilean musician executed during the 1973 coup, the Wiltshire boys used their folk art and their rootedness in the traditions of their place to show dissent toward the Authorities. Were the ringleaders seeking to incite rebellion, or just standing up for traditional fun? No doubt motives were mixed and shifting, including a mass of local and national grievances, as well as people being there for the fun, the beer and the free entertainment. What also seems remarkably modern was the casting of The Commonwealth as  an alien, faceless Authority that stopped fun and meddled in the lives of “ordinary folk” (“Bonkers Conkers” anyone?).

However, as our next story shows, the dancers in Pewsey were evoking an idealised past in an “imagined village” …1

Penruddock’s Rebellion – Wiltshire’s Royalist uprising of 1655

on Tuesday, 29 November 2016. Posted in Archives, Military, Wiltshire People

The joy of working at the History Centre is that every day is a learning day with the added pleasure of discovering treasure!

My latest magical tour through the archives has taken me back to one of the most turbulent and important times in our history – the English civil wars, the rule of Oliver Cromwell and the fight to restore the monarchy.

Illuminated chancery document showing Oliver Cromwell, 1655 (2057/D4/81)

I was hooked the moment a beautiful chancery document from 1655 appeared in our office. Archivist Steve Hobbs dug out the document for our recent open day and it had not just one, but two remarkable features: a superb portrait of Oliver Cromwell and a complete Commonwealth Seal showing parliament on the obverse (front) and a map of the Commonwealth – England, Wales and Ireland – on the reverse.

Seal attached to chancery document showing parliament

The illuminated document (2057/D4/81) is part of the Wilton House archive and relates to the estate of the Earl of Pembroke. I was not too concerned with the content (although it was in English as opposed to Latin). It was the portrait and seal that drew me in to a fascinating period in our history and opened up all sorts of questions about how power and authority are conveyed through images as well as words. Here I was, handling (very carefully) a 361-year-old seal and looking at a contemporary portrait of Oliver Cromwell, the ruler of an English republic!

O for Oliver

I would have been happy if this journey into 17th century Wiltshire had stopped there. But it didn’t – it was just the beginning of a voyage of discovery that took me to documents written by a condemned man, heartfelt letters from his wife to Cromwell and then back to a document signed by a king who lost his head.

As the education officer here at the History Centre I look for ways our archives can support learning for all ages. I mentioned the Cromwell portrait and seal of 1655 to an historian friend who has been teaching the English civil wars and interregnum for 20 years. She responded immediately with two words – Penruddock’s Rebellion.

I have to confess that Penruddock and his rebellion had passed me by (my areas of expertise are the 20th century, early medieval and pre-history), and I felt somewhat shamefaced to discover that this short-lived but significant event began in my hometown Salisbury.

So off I went to fill this rather glaring gap in my historical knowledge and was rewarded with a fascinating story and a treasure-trove of documents from our archive and John Penruddock himself. The story is one of plot and intrigue, of secret (or not so secret) societies, and of paying the ultimate price for ones beliefs.

The Pillory as Punishment

on Friday, 10 October 2014. Posted in Crime

During some research I’ve come across a wonderful woodcut engraving of the pillory at Marlborough in an article on obsolete punishments by Llewellyn Jewitt in “The Reliquary” Quarterly Journal, January 1861.

The pillory was used for a range of moral and political crimes, most notably for dishonest trading - the modern equivalent of implementing trading standards. Its use dates back to Anglo-Saxon times where it was known as “Healsfang” or “catch-neck”. In France it was called the pillorie. It was well established as a use of punishment after the Conquest. It was considered to be a degrading punishment with offenders standing in the pillory for several hours to be abused by fellow citizens, sometimes being pelted with all manner of organic material such as rotten eggs, mud and filth. If that was not enough, sometimes the offender was drawn to the pillory on a hurdle, accompanied by minstrels and a paper sign hung around his or her head displaying the offence committed.

An image of a world long gone...

on Wednesday, 04 September 2013. Posted in Art

Here at the History Centre we have a collection of over 1,000 prints dating from the 17th century to the late 19th century; artistic snapshots of our county in time. A selection will be on show in our reception area in the form of a mini exhibition, running from the 28th of September 2013 to the 3rd January 2014. Entry to the exhibition is free, open during our normal working hours. Please feel free to pop in and take a look; they are beautiful works of art in themselves!

The earliest examples of printed illustration are the woodcuts used by William Caxton to illustrate his books in the late 15th century. Saxton’s atlas of England and Wales was published in 1579 and has been called the greatest publishing achievement of the 16th century, being the first national atlas of its kind to be produced in any country, utilising the latest technology of line engraving.

By the 17th century it had become established practice to issue books with engraved title pages and portraits. The process required a different printing process to text and led to an increase in the use of the copper plate press. Demand for this new type of publication increased, resulting in the establishment of two new trades; the publisher and print seller.


The popularity of etching in Britain was predominantly due to one man, Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-77) from Prague. He arrived in Britain as a member of the household of the Earl of Arundel, one of Charles I’s Ministers of State who was a great patron of the arts. Less than 10 years later both the Earl and Hollar had to flee due to the Royalist defeat in the Civil War.

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