Foreword ix

Acknowledgements xiii

Table of Abbreviations xxi

1 PROLOGUE The Environment 3


2 The Magic of the Medieval Church 27

3 The Impact of the Reformation 58

4 Providence 90

5 Prayer and Prophecy 133

6 Religion and the People 179


7 Magical Healing 209

8 Cunning Men and Popular Magic 252

9 Magic and Religion 301


10 Astrology: its Practice and Extent 335

11 Astrology: its Social and Intellectual Rolt. 383

12 Astrology and Religion 425

THB APPEAL TO THE PAST 13 Ancient Prophecies 461


14 Witchcraft in England: the Crime and its

History 517

15 Witchcraft and Religion 559

16 The Making of a Witch 599

17 Witchcraft and its Social Environment 638

18 Witchcraft: Decline 681


19 Ghosts and Fairies 701

20 Times and Omens 735


21 Some Interconnections 755

22 The Decline of Magic 767

Index 801




IN the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries England was still a pre-industrial society, and many of its essential features closely resembled those of the 'under-developed areas' of today. The population was relatively sparse: there were perhaps two and a half million people in England and Wales in 1500, and five and a half million in 1700. Even in the later seventeenth century the economy gave little indication of the industrialization which was to come. It is true that there was now a highly commercialized agriculture, a vigorous textile industry, a substantial production of coal and a growing volume of colonial trade. But the bulk of the population was still engaged in the production of food, and the development of capitalist organization was still rudimentary. There were few 'factories'. The typical unit of production was the small workshop, and cottage industry was still the basis of textile manufacture.

Most of the population lived in the countryside. Gregory King, the pioneer statistician, to whom we owe most of our figures for this period, calculated that in 1688 nearly eighty per cent of the population lived in villages and hamlets. Most of the urban areas were very small; Birmingham. Bristol, Exeter, Newcastle, Norwich and York were the only provincial cities with more than ten thousand inhabitants. Norwich, the largest of these, had about thirty thousand. The one striking exception to this pattern of life in scattered rural communities was the capital city. London's population multiplied tenfold during


NOTE. This introductory survey is primarily intended for readers lacking any specialized knowledge of English history during this period. More information about the economy and social structure during these years may be found in such works as The Agrarian History of England and Wales, iv (1500-1640), ed. J. Thirsk (Cambridge, 1967); C. Wilson, England's Apprenticeship, 1603-1763 (1965); P. Laslett, The World We Have Lost (1965);

D. C. Coleman, 'Labour in the English Economy of the Seventeenth Century', Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., viii (1955-6); D. V. Glass, 'Two Papers on Gregory King', in Population in History, ed. D. V. Glass and D. E. C. Eversley (1965);

L. Stone, 'Social Mobility in England, 1500-1700', Past and Present, xxxiii (1966); A. Everitt, 'Social Mobility in Early Modem England', ibid.; E. Kerridge, The Agricultural Revolution (1967).


these centuries; by 1700 it was well over half a million and still growing. It has been estimated that perhaps a sixth of the total population spent at least part of their lives in this great metropolis, many of them returning to their rural communities with newly acquired urban habits of living.

Society was highly stratified and the contrast between rich and poor was everywhere conspicuous. Gregory King calculated that in 1688 over half the population were ‘decreasing the wealth of the kingdom’, that is to say earning less than they consumed. There can be no doubt that between a third and a half of the population lived at subsistence level and were chronically under-employed. These were the ‘cottagers, paupers, labouring people and outservants’, as King called them. Many of these were copy-holders occupying their own small tenements, but even more were wage labourers, for the decline of the English peasantry was already under way. Above them came the more prosperous classes of farmers. freeholders and tradesmen. At the top was the traditional elite of landed gentry and nobility, now strongly challenged by the rising professional groups; lawyers, clergymen, merchants and officials. King estimated that the landowners and professional classes, though only five per cent of the population, enjoyed a larger proportion of the national income than did all the lower c1asses (over fifty per cent) put together.

Conditions of life varied so much among these different elements of the population that it is hard for the historian not to be struck more by the differences than by the similarities. Tudor and Stuart England may have been an under-developed society, dependent upon the labours of an under-nourished and ignorant population, but it also produced one of the greatest literary cultures ever known and witnessed an unprecedented ferment of scientific and intellectual activity. Not every under-developed society has its Shakespeare, Milton, Locke, Wren and Newton. The social elite was highly educated. It has been calculated that by 1660 there was a grammar school for every 4.400 persons, and that two and a half per cent of the relevant age-group of the male population was receiving some form of higher education, at Oxford and Cambridge, or at the Inns of Court. The latter is a higher figure than any attained again until after the First World War.1


1.             E. A. Wrigley, 'A Simple Model of London's Importance 1650-1750', Past and Present, xxxvii (l967) p. 49.

2.             W. K. Jordan, Philanthropy in England, 1480-1660 (1959), p. 291; L Stone, The Educational Revolution in England. 1540-1640'. Past and Present,


It was an age of immense creative activity in the fields of drama, poetry, prose, architecture, theology, mathematics, physics, chemistry, history, philology and many other learned disciplines. Yet it was also a time when a large, but as yet unknown, proportion of the population (perhaps between half and two thirds of adult males in the mid seventeenth century) was unable to read, or at least signed with a mark.

It is this huge variation in standard of living, educational level and intellectual sensibility which makes this society so diverse, and therefore so hard to generalize about. Not only did conditions change over the two centuries, but at any one point in time there were so many different layers of belief and levels in sophistication. The invention of the printed word, moreover, had made possible the preservation and dissemination of many different systems of thought, deriving from other societies and sometimes dating from the remote classical past. The task of the historian is thus infinitely harder than that of the social anthropologist, studying a small homogeneous community in which all inhabitants share the same beliefs and where few of those beliefs are borrowed from other societies. This was no simple unified primitive world, but a dynamic and infinitely various society, where social and intellectual change had long been at work and where currents were moving in many different directions.

The beliefs with which this book is concerned had a variety of social and intellectual implications. But one of their central features was a preoccupation with the explanation and relief of human misfortune. There can be no doubt that this concern reflected the hazards of an intensely insecure environment. This is not to suggest that it was these hazards which brought the beliefs into being. On the contrary, most of the latter had been inherited from earlier generations and therefore preceded the society in which they flourished. Nevertheless, there were certain features of the sixteenth-and seventeenth-century environment by which they could hardly fail to be coloured.


xxviii (1964). pp. 68-9, and pp. 44-7. for some important criticisms of Jordan's estimate of the proportion of schools.

3. The limited evidence so far available on this subject is discussed in L. Stone, 'Literacy and Education in England, 1640-1900', Past and Present, xlii (1969), and R. S. Schofield, 'The Measurement of Literacy in Pre-industrial England' in Literacy in Traditional Societies, ed. J. Goody (Cambridge, 1968).


Of these the first was the expectation of life. Systematic demographic research upon the history of England during these centuries has only just begun, and the inadequacies of the evidence; probably mean that our knowledge of the health and physical condition of contemporaries will always be incomplete. But it is beyond dispute that Tudor and Stuart Englishmen were, by our standards. exceedingly liable to pain, sickness and premature death. Even among the nobility, whose chances are likely to have been better than those of other classes, the life expectation at birth of boys born in the third quarter of the seventeenth century was 29.6 years. Today it would be around 70. A third of these aristocratic infants died before the age of five, while the level of mortality among those who lived to be adults closely resembled that of India in the last decade of the nineteenth century.  In London, conditions were particularly bad. The first English demographer, John Graunt, estimated in 1662 that, of every hundred live children born in the metropolis, thirty-six died in their first six years and a further twenty-four in the following ten years. He calculated the expectation at birth to be less than that which was to be the figure for India during the influenza pandemic of 1911-21.1 Graunt's estimate may have been unduly pessimistic. In any case he lived at a time when the mortality rate was untypically high. In the mid sixteenth century the expectation at birth may have been as high as 40-45, for country folk anyway.' But contemporaries did not need elaborate demographic investigations to tell them that life was short, and that the odds were against any individual living out his full span. ‘We shall find more who have died within thirty or thirty-five years of age than passed it,’ remarked a writer in 1635. Even those who survived could anticipate a lifetime of intermittent pain. Literary sources suggest that many persons suffered chronically from some ailment or  other, and this impression is confirmed by inferences from what is known of contemporary diet.


4. T. H. Hollingsworth, The Demography of the British Peerage (Supple.¬ment to Population Studi~s, xviii [1964]), pp. 54,56,68. Mr Laslett points out that the expectation of life in the 1690s compared unfavourably with that of Egypt in the 1930s; The World We Have Lost, pp. 93-4.

5. The Economic Writings of Sir William Petty, ed. C. H. Hull (Cam¬bridge, 1899), ii, pp. 386-7; D. V. Glass, 'John Graunt and his Natural and Political Observations', Notes and Records of the Royal Soc., xix (1964), p.75.

1.             This is the conclusion arrived at by B. A. Wrigley in his study of mortal¬ity in the Devonshire village of Colyton; Daedalus (Spring, 1968). Hollings.. worth's figures for the sixteenth-century peerage give a life-expectation at birth of only 35-36 (op. cit., p. 56).

2.             D. Person, Varieties (1635), pp. 157-8.


The food supply was always precarious and throughout the period the fate of the annual harvest remained crucial. The meagre evidence available suggests that the yield-ratio on seed com may have doubled between 1500 and 1660, but so did the population. About one harvest in six seems to have been a total failure, and mortality could soar when times of dearth coincided with (or perhaps occasioned) large-scale epidemics.  In the seventeenth century, however, it was rare, but certainly not unknown, for men to die in the streets from starvation or exposure.  Yet even at times of plenty most people seem to have suffered from a lack of Vitamin A (yellow and green vegetables) and Vitamin D (milk and eggs). The first of these deficiencies accounts for the numerous complaints of 'sore eyes' (xerophthalmia). The second for the widespread incidence of rickets. Scorbutic diseases were also common. The well-known ‘green sickness’ in young women, to which contemporaries gave a sexual meaning, was chlorosis, anaemia produced by a lack of iron in the diet, stemming from upper-class disdain for fresh vegetables. The well-t0-do ate too much meat and were frequently constipated. They did not regard milk as a drink for adults and they frequently suffered from the infection of the urinary tract which produced the notorious Stuart malady of stone in the bladder. The dietary deficiencies of the lower classes, by contrast, reflected not so much ignorance as simple poverty. Not until the nineteenth century did labourers get enough meat and butter. In the seventeenth century they may have escaped the gout and stone which plagued their betters, and may even have had better teeth from eating more vegetables. But they were chronically under-nourished and vulnerable to tuberculosis and gastric upsets ('griping in the guts')


1.             B. H. Sticher van Bath, Yield Ratios, 810-1820 (Wageningen, 1963), pp. 41-2, 47-8; W. G. Hoskins, 'Harvest Fluctuations and English Economic History, 1480-1619', Agricultural Hist. Rev., xii (1964); id. 'Harvest Fluctua-tions and English Economic History, 1620-1759', ibid., xvi (1968).

2.             Some seventeenth-century allusions to such deaths may be found in J. Hull, Saint Peters Prophesie of these last daies (1610), p. 525; The Works of Gerrard Winstanley, ed. G. H. Sabine (Ithaca, New York, 1941), p. 650; L. H. Berens, The Digger Movement in the Days of the Commonwealth (1906), pp. 15~; C. Bridenbaugh, Vexed and Troubled Englishmen (Oxford, 1968), pp. 376-7; J. E. T. RogeI'St A History of Agriculture and Prices in England (Oxford, 1866-1902), v, p. 621; Lastlett, The World We Have Lost, pp. 115-17


caused by bad food.10 Rich and poor alike were victims of the infections generated by the lack of hygiene, ignorance of antiseptics and absence of effective sanitation. Epidemics accounted for thirty per cent of reported deaths in seventeenth-century London. There were periodic waves of influenza, typhus, dysentery and, in the seventeenth century, smallpox,  a disease which the contemporary physician Thomas Sydenham assumed would sooner or later attack most people. Thirty thousand people died of smallpox in London between 1670 and 1689; and a study of the newspaper advertisements printed in the London Gazette between 1667 and 1774 shows that sixteen out of every hundred missing persons whose descriptions were given bore pockmarks on their faces.  Most dreaded of all was the bubonic plague, which was endemic until the last quarter of the seventeenth century. It was a disease of the towns and it particularly affected the poor, who lived in crowded, filthy conditions, thus attracting the black rats, which are nowadays thought to have carried the fleas which spread the disease. (Like the people of India today. the poorer classes in parts of seventeenth-century England still used cow-dung as fuel. In the hundred and fifty years before the great visitation of 1665 there were only a dozen years when London was free from plague. Some people were thought to have died of it every year and periodically there were massive outbreaks, although many of the deaths which contemporaries attributed to plague probably occurred for other reasons.

I have followed I. C. Drummond and A. Wilbraham. The Englishman's Food (revd edn, 1957)). The diet of labourers is discussed in The Agrarian History of England, iv, pp. 450-53. An interesting piece of contemporary comment on their health may be found in A. Ascham, Of the Confusions and Revolutions of Governments (1649), p. 25.

11. Creighton, A History of Epidemics in Britain, ii, pp. 454-5; D. V. Glass, 'John Graunt ... ·, Notes and Records of the Royal Soc., xix (1964), p. 72; The Cambridge Economic History of Europe, iv, ed. B. B. Rich and C. H. Wilson (Cambridge, 1967), p. 54.

12. The Agrarian History of England and Wales, iv, p. 453; Agrlculturtl and Economic Growth in England, 1650-1815, ed. E. L. Jones (1967), pp. 61-2; Kerridge, The Agricultural Revolution. p. 242. At Mudstone in the 15905 the inhabitants of the almshouses kept pigs in their rooms; W. B. Gilbert, The Accounts of the Corpus Christi Fraternity and Papers relating to the Antiquities of Maidstone (Maidstone, 1865), p. 92. Some modem medical historians think that plague may also have been transmitted by the human flea. d. J.-N. Biraben in Daedalus (Spring, 1968), p. 544; Cambridge Economic History of Europe, iv, p. 7, n. 1.


In 1563 some 20,000 Londoners are thought to have died; in 1593, 15,000; in 1603, 30,000, or over a sixth of the inhabitants; in 1625, 41,000, another sixth; in 1636, 10.000; and, in 1665, at least 68,000. In provincial towns plague deaths sometimes took away an even higher proportion of the population.  The plague terrified by its suddenness, its virulence and its social effects. The upper classes would emigrate temporarily from the afflicted area, leaving the poor to die. Unemployment, food shortage, looting and violence usually resulted. The refugees themselves were liable to receive rough treatment from country folk, frightened they were bringing the disease with them. Further violence accompanied popular resistance to the quarantine regulations and restrictions on movement imposed by the authorities, particularly to the practice of shutting up the infected and their families in their houses.  The plague, said a preacher, was of all diseases, the most dreadful and terrible:

 ... then all friends leave us, then a man or woman sit(s) and lie(s) alone and is a stranger to the breath of his own relations. If a man be sick of a fever it is some comfort that he can take a bed-staff and knock, and his servant comes up and helps him with a cordial. But if a man be sick of the plague then he sits and lies all alone.

When a Western traveller visits a pre-industrial society of this kind today he equips himself with all the resources of modem medicine: he takes pills to keep his stomach free from infection and is vaccinated against smallpox, and inoculated against typhus, plague or yellow fever. No such immunity was available to the inhabitants of Tudor and Stuart England, for medical science was helpless before most contemporary hazards to health. There was an organised medical profession, but it had little to offer. In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries university-educated physicians were given a purely

13. I. F. D. Shrewsbury, A History of Bubonic Plague in the British Isles (Cambridge, 1970), is an important recent survey, though the critical review by C. Morris in The Historical lournal. xiv (1971), should also be read. Creighton, op. cit., remains indispensable, but account should be taken of the important criticisms of R. S. Roberts, 'Epidemics and Social History', Medical History, xii (1968). Also valuable are W. G. Bell, The Great Plague in London in 1665 (revd edn, 1951); F. P. Wilson, The Plague in Shakespeare's London (new edn, Oxford, 1963) and the recent surveys by K. F. Helleiner in The Cambridge Economic History of Europe, iv, chap. 1, and R. S. Roberts in Procs. Royal Soc. Med., lix (1966). 14. The Works of the Rev. William Bridge (1845), i, pp. 468-9.


academic training in the principles of humoral physiology, as set out in the works of Hippocrates, Aristotle and Galen. They were taught that illness sprang from an imbalance between the four humours (blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile). Diagnosis consisted in establishing which of these humours was out of line, and therapy in taking steps to restore the balance, either by bloodletting (by venesection, scarification or applying leeches) or by subjecting the patient to a course of purges and emetics. The physician thus followed a dreary round of blood-letting and purging, along with the prescription of pIasters, ointments and potions. He focused on what we should regard as the symptoms of disease, fever or dysentery, rather than the disease itself. The patient's urine was taken to be the best guide to his condition, and there were some practitioners who even thought it enough to see the urine without the patient, though ,the Royal College of Physicians condemned this habit.  It was just as well that in strict Galenic theory one of the humours was bound to predominate unnaturally, so that perfect health was almost by definition unattainable.

In the seventeenth century, accordingly, doctors were quite unable to diagnose or treat most contemporary illnesses. ‘Many diseases they cannot cure at all,’ declared Robert Burton, 'as apoplexy, epilepsy, stone,  strangury, gout ... quartan agues; a common ague sometimes stumbles them all.’ Internal medicine had to wait upon the slow development of physiology and anatomy. There were no X-rays and no stethoscopes, and a physician was usually quite ignorant of what was actually going on inside a sick person's body. There were surgeons who dealt with tumours, ulcers, fractures and venereal disease. But their art was regarded as an inferior one by the physicians. Besides, without anaesthetics or knowledge of antiseptics, there was very little they could do. Operations were largely confined to amputations, trepanning the skull, cutting for stone, bone-setting and incising abscesses. Patients were understandably terrified of undergoing this kind of torture and the mortality rate after such operations was high. Richard Wiseman's standard Severall ChirurgicaIl Treatises (1676) was popularly known as 'Wiseman's Book of Martyrs'.

15. Sir O. Clark, A History of the Royal College of Physicians of London (Oxford, 1964-6), i, p. 178.

16. As is pointed out in R. Klibansky. B. Panofsky and F. San, Saturn and Melancholy (1964), p. 11 and n. 27.

17. Burton, Anatomy, ii, p. 210.

18. R. North, The Lives of the ... North. ed. A. Jessopp (1890), ii, p. 248.


Nowhere was the inadequacy of contemporary medical technique more apparent than in its handling of the threat presented by the plague. A few physicians noticed that rats came out of their holes at times of plague, but they did not associate them with the disease; indeed, by urging that cats and dogs be killed in order to check infection, they may have actually worsened the situation. Contemporaries preferred to attribute plague to a combination of noxious vapours in the air and corrupt humours in the body, though they disagreed about the causes of these phenomena and about whether or not the disease was contagious. As a preacher bluntly said in 1603. ‘Whence it cometh, whereof it ariseth and wherefore it is sent ... they confess their ignorance.’ All sorts of amulets and preservatives were recommended, tobacco, arsenic, quicksilver, dried toads. Much energy was also devoted to finding some means of allaying popular panic, on the assumption that the happy man would not get plague. As a further preventive, the physicians prescribed better hygiene, which was sensible enough, and the locking up of infected parties within their own houses, which was less sensible, since by confining other members of the family to the habitat of the rats they must have increased the toll of deaths. No progress had been made in the study of plague by the time of the great visitation of London in 1665. ‘It is a mysterious disease,’ confessed the current Secretary of the Royal Society, ‘and I am afraid will remain so.,for all the observations and discourses made of it.’ 11

Yet the failure of contemporary doctors to offer an adequate therapy for this or most other contemporary diseases did not matter very much to most of the population. The attentions of a qualified physician were effectively beyond their reach, because there was a severely limited supply of trained men. The Royal College of Physicians had been set up in 1518 to supervise and license physicians practising in the City of London and within a seven-mile radius. The College seems to have exercised this monopoly in a jealous and restrictive way, for it kept its numbers small, despite an immense subsequent increase in the size of the City. In the first years of its foundation the College had only a dozen members;

19. e.g., T. Lodge. A Treatise of the Plague (1603), sig. C2v.

1.             H. Holland, Spirituall Preservatives agains,t the Pestilence (1603). p. 35.

2.             The Correspondence of Henry Oldenburg, ed. and trans. A. R. and  M. B. Hall (Madison and Milwaukee. 1965-), ii, p. 527.  


whereas London's population was perhaps sixty thousand. By 1589 the College's membership had risen to thirty-eight while the population had more than doubled. Thereafter the number of inhabitants continued to rise spectacularly, but the size of the College remained almost stationary until the Civil War period. The number of Fellows was raised to forty in 1663 and the College expanded further in the later Stuart period. But the ratio of the London population to its resident members and licentiates can never have been less than five thousand to one and was usually very much greater.22 In the provinces, where the licensing powers exercised by the College were never so important as those of the Church and Universities, the situation was rather better. The number of country physicians rose steadily through the period. One modern student has compiled a list of 814 physicians who are known to have been licensed between 1603 and 1643. It shows that some towns were relatively well supplied with qualified doctors. Norwich had seventeen, Canterbury twenty-two, Exeter thirteen and York ten. Not all these may have actually practised, but the list itself is an under-estimate, since not all the records of the period have survived. By the end of the seventeenth century there can have been few market-towns without a resident physician. Richard Baxter, the nonconformist divine, who tells us he was very seldom without pain, was able as a young man to consult no fewer than thirty-six different physicians. Physicians, however, were too expensive for the bottom half of the population, even though they often tailored their bills to fit the pockets of their clients. In the seventeenth century a gentleman could expect to be charged about a pound a day for medical attendance, but humbler persons might get off for a few shillings if the doctor was so disposed.21 


22. Clark, History of the Royal College of Physicians, i, pp. 70, 71, 132, 188, 190, 304, 315, 356; ii, pp. 736-9. The exact number of licentiates before 1673, when there were nine, is obscure. 23. J. H. Raach, A Directory of English Country Physicians. 1603-43 (1962). For a thorough discussion of this whole subject see R. S. Roberts, 'The Personnel and Practice of Medicine in Tudor and Stuart England" Medical History. vi (1962) and viii (1964).

24. Reliquiae Baxterianae. ed. M. Sylvester (1696). i, p. 10.

25. Apart from E. A. Hammond, 'Incomes of Medieval English Doctors', lournal of the History of Medicine, xv (1960), and a 'twenty-minutes' talk' by Sir D'A. Power, printed in Procs. Royal Soc. of Medicine, xiii (1920), there seems to be no modem discussion of medical fees. The pound-a-day principle is well exemplified in the long series of accounts in H.M.C. Rutland, iv; The Autobiography and Correspondence of Sir Simonds Dewes


Nevertheless, there were many complaints that it was only the wealthy who could regularly afford a physician. ‘Physic,’ declared Bishop Latimer in 1552. ‘is a remedy prepared only for rich folks and not for poor; for the poor man is not able to wage the physician.’ At the end of the seventeenth century Richard Baxter wrote that ‘many a thousand lie sick and die that have not money for physicians’: even frugal freeholders of twenty or thirty pounds a year had difficulty in finding ‘ten shillings to save their lives in cases of danger’. The Royal College of Physicians in 1687 ruled that their members should give free advice to the poor and soon afterwards set up a short-lived dispensary to sell medicine at cost price. This step angered the apothecaries (grocers-cum-drug sellers) and did not solve the problem. Parishes were expected to pay medical fees for their paupers and some municipalities appointed town doctors, but the provision of a state medical service was urged only by utopian thinkers. One of them, John Bellers, declared in 1714 that half the people who died annually suffered from curable diseases, for which only their poverty prevented them from finding a remedy. In lieu of the physicians, patients could turn to the surgeons and apothecaries. Seventy-two surgeons were licensed to practise in London in 1514, while in 1634 the apothecaries were thought to number at least a hundred and fifty.

(1845), ii, p. S; and Diary of Walter Yonge, ed. G. Roberts (Camden Soc., 1848), p. xxiii. Clark, History of the Royal College, ii, p. 436, suggests that lOs. was the usual charge. In the early eighteen century Claver Morris charged poor men half a crown; The Diary of a West Country Physician, ed. E. Hobhouse (1934), p. 26. But in 1697 the surgeon, James Yonge, was demanding up to £S a day for his services; The lournal of lames Yonge, ed. F. N. L. Poynter (1963), p. 207.

26. Sermons by Hugh Latimer, ed. G. E. Corrie (Cambridge, p.s., 1844), p. 541; F. J. Powicke, 'The Reverend Richard Baxter's Last Treatise', Bull. lohn Rylands Lib., x (1926), p. 187. 27. Clark, History of the Royal College, ii, chaps. xx and xxiii. 28. e.g., Newcastle (Clark, op. cit., i, p. 163 n.); Denbigh (A. H. Dodd. Life in Elizabethan England (1961), pp. 46-7); Norwich (J. F. Pound in Univ. of Birmingham Hist. lourn., viii (1961-2), p. 147); Barnstaple (J. B. Gribble, Memorials of Barnstaple (Barnstaple, 1830), ii, pp. 293-4); Chester (R. H. Morris, Chester in the Plantagenet and Tudor Reigns [n.d.], pp. -357-8). See also R. M. S. McConaghey, ~eHistory of Rural Medical Practice', in The Evolution of Medical Practice in Britain. ed. F. N. L. Poynter (1961), p. 126 29. J. Bellers, An Essay towards the Improvement of Physick (1714), p. 2.


By 1701 there were said to be a thousand in London and a further fifteen hundred apprentices. They outnumbered the physicians by five to one.  The apothecaries thus took on the task of diagnosing and prescribing the medicine as well as supplying it. The physicians resisted this incursion into their territory and the seventeenth century witnessed a protracted legal battle which did not end until 1704, when the apothecaries' right to give medical advice (though not to charge for it) was upheld by the House of Lords. But they had long engaged in general practice in the provinces, where distinctions between themselves and the physicians and surgeons had been less rigid, while in London they claimed to be handling ninety-five per cent of medical practice before the end of the seventeenth century. After 1704 their evolution into the modern general practitioner was assured. Nor was their treatment necessarily inferior to that offered by the physicians. On the contrary, the very size of their clientele forced them into prescribing new drugs of a kind frowned upon by the Royal College in place of the time-consuming humoral remedies.'

But the impact of organized medicine upon the lower reaches of the population was seldom more than superficial. Many of the poor chose to go outside the ranks of the licensed practitioners altogether, and to consult an empiric, herbalist wise woman, or other member of that ‘great multitude of ignorant persons’ whose practice of physic and surgery had been denounced by Parliament in 1512. In 1542-3 another Act had allowed anyone with the necessary knowledge to treat external sores and prescribe for the stone. According to a pamphleteer in 1669, there was ‘scarce a pissing-place about the City’ which was not adorned by posters advertising the services of some medical quack. Some of the nostrums thus peddled reflected genuine country lore about herbs and roots; others did the patient severe or even fatal damage.

30. R.~. James in Janus, xli (1936); C. Wall and H. C. Cameron, A History of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, i. ed. E. A. Underwood (1963), pp. 77, 289, 394; K. Dewhurst in St. Barts. Hospital Journ., lxvi (1962), p. 261.

31. Wall and Cameron, op. cit., p. 131.

32. See R. S. Roberts in History of Science, v (1966).

33. (D. Coxe), A Discourse wherein the (nterest of the Patient in Reference to Physick and Physicians is Soberly Debated (1669), p. 313; 3 Hen. viii, cap. 11; 34 and 35 Hen. viii, cap. 8.

34. For a woman killed by an Elizabethan gardener'S herbal prescription, see Middlesex County Records, ed. J. C. Jeaffreson (1886-92). i, p. 276.


But this was above all a time when medicine began at home. Every housewife had her repertoire of private remedies. ‘All the nation are already physicians,’ remarked Nicholas Culpepper in 1649. ‘If you ail anything, every one you meet, whether a man or woman, will prescribe you a medicine for it.’ ‘None practise physic or professeth midwifery’, reported the villagers of Dry Drayton, Cambridgeshire, in 1662, ‘but charitably one neighbour helps one another’.  In childbirth, indeed, a physician was neyer employed, save by the very wealthy, or in cases of unusual emergency. There was no shortage of midwives, licensed and unlicensed, but their qualifications were rudimentary. The forceps had been invented by Peter Chamberlen early in the seventeenth century, but he kept it secret and the usual obstetric tools were cruel and inefficient. A midwife estimated in 1687 that two thirds of contemporary abortions, stillbirths, and deaths in child-bed were to be attributed to the lack of care and skill displayed by her colleagues. The wife of one Newark apothecary was so afraid of any midwife coming near her that her husband used to lock her alone in her room until the delivery was over.

As for hospitals, St. Bartholomew's and St. Thomas's were the only two for the physically ill in London at the end of the seventeenth century and there were few elsewhere. They were in any case meant primarily for the poor. No person of social pretensions would dream of entering one as a patient; and if he did he would certainly be increasing his chances of contracting some fatal infection.

Even less could be done for sufferers from mental illness. Contemporary medical therapy was primarily addressed to the ailments of the body. ‘For the diseases of the mind,’ wrote Robert Burton, ‘we take no notice of them.’  Raving psychotics were locked up by their relatives, kept under guard by parish officers, or sent to houses of correction, as less dramatic forms of mental illness were regarded either as cases of melancholy to be treated by purging and bloodletting, or wrongly diagnosed as ‘hysteria’, stemming from a condition of the uterus. The uterine origin of nervous diseases was not successfully challenged in England until the later seventeenth century, when Thomas Willis formulated the theory of the cerebra) origin of hysteria and pioneered the science of neurology.


35. N. Culpepper, A Physicall Directory (1649), sig. A2; W. M. Palmer, 'Episcopal Visitation Returns, Cambridge (Diocese of Ely), 1638-62', Trans. Cambs. and Hunts. Archaeol. Soc., iv (1915-30), p. 407. cf. Burton, Anatomy, i, p. 210.

36. E. Cellier, A Scheme for the Foundation of a Royal Hospital (1687) (in Somers Tracts, ix), p. 248.

1.             P. Willoughby, Observations on Midwifery. ed. H. Blenkinsop (1863; 1972 reprint, East Ardsley), pp. 240-41. This book gives a remarkable account of the activities of seventeenth-century midwives.

2.             Burton, Anatomy, i, p. 69; A. Fessler, 'The Management of Lunacy in Seventeenth-century England', Procs. of the Royal Soc. of Medicine (Hist. section), xlix (1956), based on the Quarter Sessions records for Lancashire.


There was thus no orthodox medical agency which offered satisfactory cure for mental illness. Various low-grade practitioners took out licences as ‘curers of mad folks and distracted persons’; some of them maintained private madhouses. Yet even Bethlehem Hospita! (Bedlam) in London discharged its inmates as incurable if they had not recovered within a year.  It is not surprising that supernatural explanations of mental depression were advanced or that the main psychotherapists were the clergy. Physic alone was not enough to cure melancholy, declared the Puritan oracle, William Perkins.

These were the circumstances in which so many unorthodox methods of healing en joyed prestige. The population at large disliked Galenic physic for its nauseous remedies,  and were frightened by the prospect of surgery. Some of the most intelligent laymen of the day expressed total contempt for conventional medicine; and the unorthodox empirics hounded by the Royal College of Physicians often turned out to have influential champions. King James I regarded academic medicine as mere conjecture and therefore useless. Francis Bacon thought that ‘empirics and old women’ were ‘more happy many times in their cures than learned physicians’. Robert Burton, Archbishop Abbot, and many less notable contemporaries, said the same. Some scientists and intellectuals followed the example of Paracelsus and were prepared to learn from herbalists and wise women. Thomas Hobbes, who took a keen interest in the

39. See I. Veith, Hysteria. The History of a Di.'iease (Chicago, 1965); G. AbricossotI, L'Hysterie aux XVlle et XVllle siecies (Paris, 1897); I. Hunter and R. A. Macalpine, Three Hundred Years of Psychiatry (1963), pp. 69, 187.

40. Hunter and Macalpine, op. cit., passim; Clark, History of the Royal College, i, p. 263; R. R. James in lanus, xli (1937), p. 102; E. H. Carter, The Norwich Subscription Books (1937), p. 138; J. Spencer, A Discourse 0/ Divers Petitions (1641); J. J. M., 'A Clerical Mad-Doctor of the Seventeenth Century', The East Anglian, i (new ser.), (1885-6).

41. Cited by Kocher, Science and Religion, pp. 300-1.

1.             As was observed by J. Primrose, Popular Errours, trans. R. Wittie (1651), pp. 231-3, 278, 280, although proof is hardly needed.

2.             Clark, History Of the RoyaICollege,i,pp. 111, 114,116,143-7,195,262.

3.             Sir G. Keynes, The Life of William Harvey (Oxford, 1%6), p. 142; Bacon, Works. iv, p. 388; Burton, Anatomy, i, p. 257; Clark op. cit., i. p. 195. See also H.M.C., Rutland, i, p. 163; Yorkshire Diaries, ed. C. Jackson (Sur tees Soc., 1877), p. 221; G. Harvey. The Art of Curing Diseases by ExpectQa tion (1689), p. 6.


problem of survival. concluded that he would ‘rather have the advice or take physic from an experienced old woman that had been at many sick people's bedsides, than from the learneds but unexperienced physician’. ‘Doctors of physic,’ thought the sectary Lodowick Muggleton were ‘the greatest cheats in the world. If there were never a doctor of physic in the world, people would live longer and  live in better in health.’ Before discounting such lay opinions we should recall that even Thomas Sydenham, the greatest physician of the seventeenth century, thought that it would have been better for many patients if the art of physic had never been invented, remarking that many poor men owed their lives to their inability to afford conventional treatment.41 Nor was he alone among his colleagues in holding such opinions. ‘I have heard the learned and pious Dr. Ridgeley. M.D., say,’ recalled John Aubrey, ‘that if the world knew the villainy and knavery (beside ignorance) of the physicians and apothecaries, the people would throw stones at 'em as they walked in the streets.’

Helplessness in the face of disease was an essential element in the background to the beliefs with which we shall be concerned. So too was vulnerability to other kinds of misfortune, particularly when it came suddenly. Next to plague, perhaps the greatest single threat to security was fire. This was more of a risk in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries than it is today and contemporaries were much less well-equipped to deal with it. The towns were particularly vulnerable with their thatched roofs, wooden chimneys and crowded living conditions. Since there were no safety matches, people often chose to fetch a bucket of burning coals from a neighbour rather than waste time struggling with a tinder-box. At night they were dependent on candles, which when set down in a draughty place, could easily put a house on fire.  ‘Fear candle, good wife,’ warned the agricultural writer, Thomas Tusser, ‘Fear candle in hay loft, in barn and in shed.’ When the chimney needed cleaning, it was common to take a short cut by firing a gun up it or even setting it on fire: this was how the Beccles fire was started in 1586, with eighty houses burned down as a result.

1.             J. Aubrey, Brief Lives, ed. A. Powel1 (1949), p. 251.

2.             L. Muggleton. The Acts of the Witnesses (1699), p. 111.

3.             K. Dewhurst, Dr Thomas Sydenham (1624-89) (1966). pp. 163, 116.

4.             Bod!', Aubrey MS 10, f. 113v•


A further risk came from the numerous industrial workshops, scattered among the houses, and observing the most rudimentary safety precautions. Dyers, brewers and soap boilers were a constant source of danger: the fire which did £200.000-worth of damage at Tiverton in 1612 began when a dyer's furnace was allowed to become overheated.

Some of the biggest conflagrations were the result of carelessness engendered by primitive living conditions. A hundred and fifty buildings were damaged at Woburn in 1595 after an old woman had set her thatched house alight by throwing all her used bed-straw on the fire. Tiverton was heavily damaged in 1598 when a fire was started by some beggar-women who had been pathetically trying to cook pancakes on straw because they could not afford to buy wood. Much of Northampton was destroyed in 1675 when a woman left her pot of washing on the fire for too long. Most of the Palace of Whitehall was burned down in 1698 because a Dutch washerwoman tried to hasten the drying of her linen by lighting a charcoal fire indoors.

Once fire had broken out it seldom encountered much in the way of effective resistance. Fire-fighting techniques were virtually unchanged in England between the Norman Conquest and the death of Elizabeth 1.  Even the most advanced municipality possessed nothing more in the way of equipment than some leather buckets, a few ladders and iron hooks for pulling down thatch so as to stop the fire spreading. Until the mid-seventeenth century there were no engines to project water to a height, and the water supply itself was usually unreliable. Some towns required householders to keep buckets of water outside their doors. Others tried to check the erection of wooden buildings, and thatched roofs. This had been the official policy of the City of London since the twelfth century.

49. T. Tusser, His Good Points of Husbandry, ed. D. Hartley (1931~, p. 177; A Collection of Seventy-Nine Black-Letter Ballads and Broadsides

(1867), p. 82.

50. F. J. Snell, The Chronicles of Twyford (liverton, n.d. [c. 1893]). p. 60.

51. (f. Wilcocks). A Short, yet a True and Faithfull Narration of the Fear¬full Fire that fell in the Towne of Woobutne (1595). p. 4; The True Lament¬able Discourse of the Burning of Teverton (1598); The State of Northampton (1675); A Full and True Account of a Most Dreadful . .. Fire • .. at Whitehall (1698) (The Harleian Mi,ficellany, ed. T. Park (1808-13), vi, p. 398).

52. The early history of fire-fighting is surveyed in the opening sections of

G. V. Blackstone, A History of the British Fire Service (1957). Much reievant material may be found in contemporary borough records.


But such regulations were easier to make than to enforce, and the fire-fighting equipment usually proved sadly inadequate when the blaze was under way. There were no fire brigades, and the scene at a fire was usually one of unrelieved chaos. The only effective way contemporaries knew of stopping a fire was to blow up all the buildings around it to stop it spreading. When the flames dwindled there was invariably trouble with pilferers.

Unable to prevent the outbreak of fire, and virtually helpless during the actual conflagration, contemporaries showed little more resource when it came to bearing the loss. There was no organised fire insurance until the last two decades of the seventeenth century. All that the victim of fire could do was to apply for a Church brief, authorising a collection to be made on his behalf in places of public worship. These begging letters were issued for a variety of charitable purposes and were as unreliable as modern flag-days. Nor was their prestige enhanced by the numerous petty frauds which grew around them. But they help us to form some estimate of the actual scale of fire damage. They show, for example, that in the last fifty years of the seventeenth century there were eighty-nine separate fires in which the damage incurred was estimated at £1,000 or more: the total cost of this group of large fires was put at £913,416.  In assessing this figure we should recall that it excludes the Great Fire of London (1666), which did £10 millions of damage, destroying over 13,000 houses, and leaving perhaps 100,000 people homeless. It also excludes numerous smaller fires, as well as those for which no record has survived, or for which no brief was issued. All this, moreover, took place at a time when fire-fighting methods had begun to improve; in the sixteenth century the situation was worse.

As a purely economic factor, therefore, fire was exceedingly important. But its human consequences are even more obvious, for there was no occurrence which so graphically symbolized the instability of human fortunes. ‘He which at one o'clock was worth five thousand pounds and, as the prophet saith, drank his wine in bowls of fine silver plate, had not by two o'clock so much as a wooden dish left

1.             See, e.g., G. Atwell, The Faithfull Surveyour (Cambridge. 1962), pp. 95-6.

2.             I have worked out this total from the list of briefs in W. A. Bewes, Church Briefs (1896). For some additional figures see E. L. Jones, The Reduction of Fire Damage in Southern England, 1650-1850', Post-Medieval Archaeology, ii (1968).

55. W. G. Bell. The Great Fire of London (3rd edn. 1923), pp. 174, 224.


to eat his meat in, nor a house to cover his sorrowful head.’ The briefs which were read aloud in the churches on Sundays served as constant reminder of how men could be reduced in an instant from wealth to utter penury, and how there was no telling whose time might be next. The psychological threat was increased by the capriciousness of the danger. Some towns escaped serious fire; whereas others suffered again and again. Tiverton was burned down three times (1598, 1612. 1731). Marlborough, Blandford. Dorchester and Beaminster all suffered repeatedly. Warwick and Northampton had only one serious fire each, but in both cases it destroyed a large part of the town. In the metropolis fires were so common that when the great fire in 1666 began scarcely anyone outside its immediate vicinity took any notice.

Poverty, sickness, and sudden disaster were thus familiar features of the social environment of this period. But we must not make the anachronistic mistake of assuming that contemporaries were as daunted by them as we should be, were we suddenly pitchforked backwards in time. In Tudor and Stuart England men were fully accustomed to disease and a low expectation of life. Parents were slower to recognise the individuality of their children, for they well knew that they might lose them in their infancy. Husbands and wives were better adjusted to the idea of the surviving partner marrying after the other's death. The attitude of the poor to their lot seems often to have been one of careless stoicism. Many middle-class observers commented on their insensibility in face of the dangers of the plague, and were shocked by the general reluctance to obey regulations designed for their own safety.  When starvation threatened, the poor were capable of using violence to secure food for themselves, but they made little contribution to the political radicalism of the time and showed no interest in attempting to change the structure of the society in which they found themselves. Unlike the inhabitants of today's under-developed countries, they knew of no foreign countries where the standard of living was notably higher. Instead of working for social reform they often turned to more direct methods of liberation.

1.             Snell, The Chronicles of Twyford, p. 50.

2.             Bell; Great Fire of London, pp. 30-31. There is a list of London fires in Flagellum Dei (1668).

58. See, e.g., H.M.e. Gowdy, p. 163; e.S.P.D., 1665-6, p. 5; W. Kemp,  A. Brief Treatise of the Nature . .. and Cure of the Pestilence (1665), pp. 15-16; Wilson, The Plague in Shakespeare's London, p. 41.


Drink, for example, was built into the fabric of social life. It played a part in nearly every public and private ceremony, every commercial bargain, every craft ritual, every private occasion of mourning or rejoicing. At fairs and markets, which remained exempt until 1874 from ordinary licensing restrictions, the consumption could be enormous. ‘Go but to the town's end where a fair is kept,’ remarked a preacher in 1638, ‘and there they lie, as if some field had been fought; here lies one man, there another.’  As a Frenchman observed in 1672, there was no business which could be done in England without pots of beer.  Late medieval preachers complained that working-men got drunk at least once a week; while in the reign of Charles II foreign visitors noticed that artisans did not let a day go by without a visit to the alehouse.

The beer was cheap to make. The Elizabethan country clergyman, William Harrison, had 200 gallons brewed every month in his household, for an outlay of only twenty shillings a time. We do not know the size of his household, but the daily consumption was obviously high. At sea and on land the standard allowance of beer per head seems to have been a gallon a day. Beer was a basic ingredient in everyone's diet, children as well as adults. The first available figures for the total national consumption date from the late seventeenth century. They show that in 1684 duty was charged in England and Wales on a total of 6,318,000 barre1s of beer (4,384,000 of strong beer. 1,934.000 of small beer), each barrel containing

59. (R. Younge), The Drunkard's Character (1638), p. 338; R. V. French, Nineteen Centuries of Drink in England (2nd edn, n.d.), p. 224. For an in¬formative survey by an early temperance reformer of pre-industrial drinking customs, see J. Dunlop, The PhUosophy 0/ Artificial and Compulsory Drink¬ing Usage in Great Britain and Ireland (6th edn., 1839).

60. G. R. Owst, Literature and Pulpit in Medieval England (2nd edn, Oxford, 1961), p. 364; (L. Magalotti), Travels of Cosmo the Third, Grand Duke 0/ Tuscany, through England (1821), p. 398.

61. W. Harrison, Description 0/ England, ed. F. J. Furnivall (New Shake¬spere Soc. (1877-1908)), i, pp. 158-9.

62. E. M. Myatt-Price, fA Tally of Ale', lourn. Royal Statistical Soc., ser. A, cxxiii (1960); L. Stone, The Crisis of the Aristocracy, 1558-1641 (Oxford, 1965), p. 558; M. Oppenheim, A History of the Administration of the Royal Navy, i (1896), p. 140; F. G. Emmison, Tudor Secretary. Sir William Petre at Court and at Home (1961), p. 150; 1. D. Chambers, Nottinghamshire in the Eighteenth Cel'turv (2nd edn, 1966), pp. 290-91.


thirty-six gallons in London, and thirty-four in the provinces. This suggests each member of the population, man. woman and child. consumed almost forty gallons a year. i.e. nearly a pint a day. But allowance must also be made for the beer brewed privately on which excise was not charged: Gregory King estimated that in 1688 this came to a further seventy per cent of the original total. Even without this addition the per capita consumption figure is higher than anything known in modem times. And this is to take no account of the foreign wine imports or the growing volume of spirit consumption.

It may be that the greater quantity of salt meat and fish consumed in the seventeenth century made men thirstier. It is also likely that the listlessness produced by a predominantly cereal diet created a greater demand for a stimulant. The absence of alternative beverages further helped to drive men to alcohol. Tea and coffee were still luxuries. Tea cost twenty shillings a pound at the end of the seventeenth century and did not establish itself as a working-class drink until the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Coffee played an even slighter part in the drinking habits of the population at large, though it became very fashionable among London sophisticates.

Alcohol was thus an essential narcotic which anaesthetized men against the strains of contemporary life. Drunkenness broke down social distinctions, and brought a temporary mood of optimism to the desperate. It was extensive in Elizabethan prisons and among the lower classes. (It was only during the seventeenth century that the lord replaced the beggar as proverbially the drunkest member of the community. The poor took to drink to blot out some of the horror in their lives. Alcohol flowed freely at times of plague:  ‘I have myself seen,’ recalled a preacher in 1638. ‘when the Bills [of Mortality] were at the highest, even bearers who had little respite from carrying dead corpses to their graves and many others of the like rank go reeling in the streets.’ At executions drink was always offered to the condemned: the witch, Anne Bodenham, who was executed at Salisbury in 1653, kept asking for drink and would have died drunk if her persecutors had allowed her.


63. B. R. Mitchell and P. Deane, Abstract of British Historical Statistics (Cambridge, 1.962), p. 251; O. King, Natural and Political Observations (in

O. Chalmers, Estimate of the Comparative Strength of Great Britain [1802]), pp. 55-6. d. O. B. Wilson, A.lcohol and the Nation (1940), table 2.

64. Drummond and Wilbraham, op. cit., p. 117.

65. Shakespeare in His Own Age. ed. A. Nicoll (Shakespeare Survey, xvii [Cambridge, 1964]), pp. 98-9. '

66. A change noted by J. Hart, The Diet of the Diseased (1633), p. 135. and H. Moseley. An Healing Leaf (1658), p. 4.

67. Young~,'The Drunkard's Character, p. 248. d. The Plague Pamphlets of Thomas Dekker, ed. F. P. Wilson (Oxford, 1925), pp. 150-51.

‘Ale,’ wrote a contemporary,

doth comfort the heavy and troubled mind; it will make a weeping widow laugh and forget sorrow for her deceased husband; ... it is the warmest lining of a naked man's coat; it satiates and assuages hunger and cold; with a toast it is the poor man's comfort; the shepherd, mower, ploughman, and blacksmith's most esteemed purchase; it is the tinker's treasure, the pedlar’s jewel, the beggar's joy; and the prisoner's loving nurse.

As a means of making life appear momentarily tolerable, drink had few rivals among the very poor. There was more good in a cask of ale than in the four gospels, declared a fifteenth-century heretic; malt, he thought, did more to justify God's ways to man than the Bible.

A newer form of narcotic was tobacco. Smoking was introduced to England early in the reign of Elizabeth I and had become well established by the time of her death. At first there was an attempt to represent tobacco as being taken only for medicinal purposes, but the pretence soon became unconvincing. In 1597 a contemporary remarked that addicts were consuming it ‘for wantonness ... and cannot forbear it, no, not in the midst of their dinner’. Jacobean observers were familiar with the chain smoker who puffed his pipe from morning to night, and even in bed.  ‘Tis death to some to be barred tobacco,’ declared a Member of Parliament in 1621. Yet pipe-smoking was an expensive habit. Tobacco varied widely in price according to the supply, but it seldom sold for less than a pound per pound in the reign of James I, and often cost more. Figures for domestic consumption are spasmodic, but they indicate a steady rise, from an annual average of 140,000 pounds in 1614-21 to 11,300,000 pounds in 1699-1709. This suggests that the consumption per head of population went up from less than an ounce a year at the beginning of the century to nearly two pounds at the end.

68. E. Bower, Doctor Lamb revived (1653), pp. 34,36.

69. John Taylor, the Water Poet, quoted in W. T. Marchant, In Praise of Ale (1888), p. 57.

70. Thomson, Later Lollards, p. 62.

71. A. Chute, Tobacco, ed. F. P. Wilson (Luttrell Soc., 1961), p. xxvii;

W. B. Willcox, Gloucestershire. A Study in Local Government (New Haven. 1940). p. t58.

72. M. Prestwich, Cranfield (Oxford, 1966), p. 313.


Not until 1907 did the figures reach this level again.  Tobacco must have done something to steady the nerves of Stuart Englishmen. One modem historian has suggested, not entirely frivolously, that it helped to foster the virtues of political compromise which emerged in the later seventeenth century. Holy Communion, thought Christopher Marlowe, would have been ‘much better being administered in a tobacco pipe’.  

A further escape from reality was gambling. In modem times the prospect of winning a fortune on the football pools attracts millions of people and sustains the optimism of many working-class folk in adverse circumstances. In the seventeenth century gambling diverted the attention of the labouring poor from the possibilities of self-help and political activism, by holding out the prospect that a lucky person would be able to better himself despite the inequities of the social system. Men gambled on cards, dice, horses, foot-races, bear-baiting, cock-fighting, and a host of similar pastimes. Even very poor men engaged heavily in speculative ventures; and the judicial records of the time contain occasional references to labourers who were unable to support their wives and children because they had lost all their money at cards.  In 1663 Samuel Pepys was amazed to see ordinary working-folk losing as much as ten or twenty pounds on bear-baiting and cock-fighting.

These were the habits which generations of middle-class reformers attempted to break in their successive campaigns for the Reformation of Manners, by battling against popular pastimes, 'superfluous' ale houses and lower-class tippling. What they were combating was the fatalistic hopelessness of those who saw no alternative but to drown their sorrows. The beliefs to which we must now turn were all concerned to explain misfortune and to mitigate its rigour. But we must not forget that some contemporaries preferred recourse to cruder and more immediate forms of escape.

1.             C. M. Macinnes, The Early English Tobacco Trade (1926), p. 35; Mitchell and Deane, Abstract of British Historical Statistics, pp. 355-7: A. Rive, 'The Consumption of Tobacco since 1600', Economic History, i (1926).

2.             D. Ogg, England in the. Reign Of Charles 11 (2nd edn, Oxford, 1955), i, p. 76; P. H. Kocher, Christopher Marlowe (Chapel Hill, 1946), pp. 35-6,60.

1.             T. Gataker, Of the Nature and Use of Lots (2nd edn. 1627), pp. 288-9; Quarter Sessions Records, ed. J. C. Atkinson (North Riding Rec. Soc., 1884-7), i, p. 209; (T. Brasbridge), The Poore Mans Jewell (1578), sig. biii"',

2.             S. Pepys, Diary, 21 Dec. 1663.