Archive newspapers allow us to sniff history in a unique way. The sense of immediacy they invariably convey allows us to fully grasp that events in the ever-receding past actually happened.
Over its many Radio 4 series since the mid-1990s, Peter Snow’s Random Edition has explored stories of all kinds found in individual newspapers, dating as far back as the 1650s. A Parliamentary Intelligencer newspaper (or ‘newsbook’) from the spring of 1660 is the subject of a Random Edition special to mark the 350th anniversary of the Restoration of Charles II to the throne, 11 years after his father lost his head. On its pages we see the work of some of the very first professional journalists in Britain. Yet there’s no sophisticated computer page-setting here – the news tumbles onto the printer’s tray as it arrives.
Somehow, that very rough-and-readiness helps give the events the Intelligencer relays a particular authenticity, even if the slant of the paper (Printed by John Macock and Tho. Newcomb) is clearly royalist at a time when the country was still far from drained of radical political sentiment.
The key scene reported is the appearance before both Houses of Parliament of Sir John Grenville, who had just hopped across the North Sea from Breda in the Netherlands, Charles’s place of continental residence after a decade in exile.
The House being informed that Sir John Greenvil [sic], a Messenger from the King, was at the dore, it was resolved that he be called in, who being called in accordingly, at the Bar after obeisance made, said, “Mr Speaker, I am commanded by The King my Master, to deliver this Letter to you, and his desire is that you will communicate it to the House”.
Enclosed within the letter was what we know as Charles’s ‘Declaration of Breda’, offering guarantees should he be restored as king: a “free general pardon” for (almost) all those deemed to have offended against the monarchy in the years of civil war and revolution; freedom of religious expression (“liberty to tender consciences”); payment of army arrears; and a modus operandi for dealing with all property claims.
Says Random Edition contributor John Morrill of Selwyn College, Cambridge: “Grenville’s handing over of the declaration is the moment when the members of a newly elected parliament, having had no idea how the chaos of the years since the killing of Charles I was to be resolved, see that suddenly an answer is available. They grab that moment and declare Charles king.”
With parliamentary motions for the Restoration carried, the Intelligencer takes us out onto the streets of London:
…the people throughout the whole city and suburbs… this day made bonfires everywhere and the Bells were generally rung, and the great Guns went off at the Tower.
Elsewhere we read of the enthusiasm of the navy stationed at Deal in Kent, via letters sent from the flagship, Naseby, which was about to undergo a major and rapid refit for its journey to bring Charles home as king.
Then might you see the Fleet in her Pride with Pendants loose, Guns roaring, Caps flying and loud Vive le Roye received from one ship’s company to another.
However, despite the political leanings of the Intelligencer, clues on its pages point to the fact that at least one major military figure utterly opposed to the Restoration had been willing to take up arms to defend republicanism. A dispatch from Hereford states that:
Lambert’s party are all dispersed in these parts, there is onely a nest of them left in Red Castle [probably in Shropshire].
The man referred to here is General John Lambert, one of the outstanding military leaders of the period, but at odds with fellow general George Monck over high politics. The latter’s forces had swept those of Lambert aside earlier in 1660, allowing Monck to set in motion the sequence of events that were to lead to the Restoration. Lambert, meanwhile, went to the Tower, from which he nonetheless escaped, thereafter rallying republican sympathisers to take up arms at Edgehill, symbolic site of the first great battle of the Civil War.
Alas, most of Lambert’s supporters preferred to stand on the sidelines for the moment, rather than risk their lives in battle at Daventry (where the opposing forces finally clashed).
“Only 350 troops turn up to support Lambert,” says Lambert’s biographer, David Farr. “They’re vastly outnumbered by government troops. Lambert’s forces disintegrate. The story is that Lambert’s fine Arabian steed gets bogged down in the muddy ground, and he’s easily rounded up.” Lambert was to spend the rest of his days a prisoner.
Other reports in the Parliamentary Intelligencer reveal that the new administration’s words weren’t always matched by its actions. We read that:
The House ordered the thanks of this House to be given to Mr Calamy… and Mr Baxter for their great pains in carrying on the works of preaching and praying before the House at St Margaret’s Westminster.
Edmund Calamy and Richard Baxter were leading Presbyterian members of the reformed Anglican church, Puritans devoted to preaching and scripture, while loathing bishops, cathedrals and ceremony. The cruel irony is that their subsequent stories reveal the fragility of Charles II’s promises of “liberty to tender consciences”.
“That statement in the Declaration of Breda wasn’t worth the paper it was written on,” says Restoration historian Ronald Hutton. “Most of the nation was tired of Puritanism. A thoroughly intolerant new House of Commons was to outlaw all forms of religion that weren’t High Anglican. Calamy and Baxter attempted to carry on preaching, but ended up in prison as a result.”
Pragmatic prison sentences
There was more pragmatism in the Restoration regime’s treatment of the regicides – men who had signed the death warrant of Charles I. One of them, Sir Hardress Waller, turns up on the pages of the Intelligencer. Having until now been engaged in “managing the affairs of Ireland” he is reported as having…
…the leave of the Council [of State] to follow his private occasions, provided he shall appear before the Council when they shall desire the same.
In fact, Waller fled to France before surrendering in the hope that repentance would save his head (and guts). Though condemned to death, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
The treatment of the regicides wasn’t uniformly savage, says Penelope Corfield of Royal Holloway, University of London, even if the executions that were effected proved indescribably gory. “The general idea was to encourage the bitterness of divisive civil war to die down. If individual regicides were ready to express regret and play within the system in future, they didn’t suffer the extreme penalty. The authorities only went after the regicides that fled or wouldn’t accept the authority of the king as restored. Amazingly, one plan suggested for Charles while he was in exile was that he should marry the daughter of John Lambert, the stalwart of the republican cause!”
Weighty issues, then, at a dramatic and hugely significant turning point in British history. However, the great thing about newspapers is that there are usually unobtrusive corners that show life going on as normal even in stirring times. In the Intelligencer, the ads say it all. How’s this – all you master chefs – for a cookbook surely worth restoring to favour:
The Accomplisht Cook, the Mystery of the Whole Art of Cookery, revealed in a more perfect method than hath been publisht in any language; expert and ready ways for dressing Flesh, Fish and Fowl… with other a la mode curiosities … approved by the many years experience of Robert May.
Andrew Green is producer of Random Edition on Radio 4, in which the stories are provided by archive newspapers.