Friday, 30 September 2011

Tales from the Parish Clerks’ Memoranda No.8: The overworked student and his surprising connections

Today we have both a cautionary tale on the dangers of “Imoderate studye” for all new and returning University students, and a very exciting bit of celebrity spotting 16th century style.
20 Awgust Ano 1587
A colexionn for one Frauncis [W]orlocke a batchelor of arte in oxford who Was becomme blynde and Lame wth Imoderate studye
Memerandum that a colexionn was gathered in ower parishe Churche the xxth Daye of awgust in ano 1587 By vertue of the Queenes Maties letteres pattens and was for one Frauncis Worlocke beinge a Batchelor of arte in Oxford and sonne to the lorde of Hunsdon Lorde Chamberlin his owld Servant Who by Imoderate Studye & other misfortunes Is become blynde ["blynde" inserted with a caret] lame & Impotent & that for want of Habillytye & mayntenance is forced to Seeke the Benevolence of Well disposed people in Consideration Whereof the Sayde frauncis Worlocke Was lysenced by Hemselfe or by his Deputie to aske gather receyve or take thalmes charretye or Devotion ower Lovinge Subiectes Inhabetinge & Dwellinge wthin the Countie of Midlesex and essex withe ower townes of Cowlchester and Mawldon and not els wheare towardes his Sayde reliefe the wch Sayde Letteres pattens weare to [erasure: probably another version of continue] Continewe for the Space of one Whole yeare beinge dated the xiiijth Daye of december in the xxixth yeare of her Maties Raigne & there was gathered for him the 20th daye of awgust aforesayde By Richard bigges beinge Constable the Some of ijs jd ob q
P69/BOT2/A/019/MS09234/001 fol. 121r

Poor Francis – that was very bad luck indeed. And there is no record of him in the Alumni Oxonienses for this period, so it would appear that in spite of the contributions of the good parishioners he was unable to complete his degree. A very sad Tale.

But why, instead of giving details of Francis’ father in this entry, did the Parish Clerk instead focus on the father’s employer, the Lord of Hunsdon? I suspect, readers, that our Parish Clerk was happy to have an excuse to list such a celebrated person in his Memorandum Book. For the Lord of Hunsdon was none other than Henry Carey: cousin to Elizabeth I, son of Mary Boleyn, nephew of Anne Boleyn, and although publicly acknowledged as the son of the courtier William Carey, widely rumoured to be the biological son of Henry VIII. As if these exciting and rather titillating associations were not interesting enough, Henry Carey also had one more notable connection. Following a distinguished military career, he was appointed Lord Chamberlain in 1585 and was responsible for organising all court functions for his royal cousin. As part of his duties, he became the first patron of The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a troupe of professional actors including (drum roll, please) William Shakespeare. Henry Carey was most definitely a notable celebrity.

So who was Francis’ father, described only as the “owld Servant” of Lord Hunsdon? A bit of digging on British History Online revealed that Francis Worlocke’s father was Captain Edward Worlock (spellings were far from consistent in the 16th century), who served as “muster master” for Lord Hunsdon. This wonderfully-named occupation was a fairly senior military post which entailed responsibility for organising the bands of soldiers that had to be supplied by English lords to fight the Crown’s wars. So Captain Worlock was a man of no small importance himself.

At this point I got a bit carried away and spent the princely sum of £3.50 to access the last will and testament of Henry Carey from the National Archives. Carey died in July 1596: would he have left anything for the struggling son of his “owld Servant”? I drew on my ever-helpful colleague Mark Merry’s skills to decipher the will:

What is interesting is that that the Queen promises to look after his old servants. Given this is after the St Botolph collection for Worlocke, this might not have been much help to the blind student, but it does suggest that Carey had a strong concern for his servants (and a close association with Elizabeth)... What an excellent example of some humble little local event feeding into a much bigger picture – and poor old Francis only got a couple of shillings out of the whole thing!

This is one of the particularly exciting aspects of working with the Parish Clerks’ Memoranda. You never know where an apparently “small” story will lead. It just takes a bit of digging.

Many thanks to St Botolph without Aldgate and London Metropolitan Archives for permission to reprint extracts from the Parish Clerks' Memoranda.

The Parish Clerks' Memoranda transcripts were prepared by the Centre for Metropolitan History team as part of their Economic and Social Research Council-funded Life in the Suburbs project (Grant Reference: RES-062-23-1260;

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

ReScript and British History Online user tests - we need you!

Would you like to participate in our online user testing for ReScript and British History Online? As part of our usability testing, we are currently running two quick and easy online tests to help us to make sure we are giving you everything you need on our sites. By sparing a few minutes to take these tests you can give us invaluable feedback and play an important role in both the evolution of British History Online and the development of ReScript. Please click on the links below to join in!

British History Online:


Friday, 16 September 2011

Tales from the Parish Clerks’ Memoranda No.7: The Bowels of Sir William Winter

I must confess that when I first read the Parish Clerk’s memorandum for 21 February 1588, I had flashbacks to every Hammer Horror graveyard scene I had ever watched as a child.

21 Februarie Anno 1588
The Bowels of Sr William Winter Weare buried
Memerandum that the Bowelles of Sr William Winter knygh[t] weare by Thomas Ponder ower Sexten Buried onn the northe Syde of the churche in the churchyeard the xxjth Day of Februarie anno 1588 Betwixt the oweres of Seven and eyght of the clocke at nyght and tha[t] in my prsentes
P69/BOT2/A/019/MS09234/001 f29v

I could call to mind no image that was not, in short, gruesome. The previous day’s entry had been intriguing enough:

20 Februarie Anno 1588
Memerandum that Sr WilliamWinter Knyght Endid this Lyfe in His Howse in this parishe the 20th daye of Februarie Anno 1588 att ellevenn of the clocke in the nyght beinge Cutt of the collick and the stone
P69/BOT2/A/019/MS09234/001 f29r

This was the only death notice I had ever seen in the PCMs. All other notices had been of burials, not deaths. It was clear that Sir William Winter, Knight, was an important man in the community, but why not simply record the burial, and why bury his bowels (oh dear) separately? Looking further down the entries, I found another clue:

10 Marche Ano 1588
The right Worshipfull Ser William Winter his corps Was caried towards glostershyer to be buried there
Memerandum that the Corps of the Right worshipfull Ser William Winter who Departed this lyfe Beinge Cutt For the Stone the xxth Daye of Februarie ano 1588 Last past was carried towardes glostershyre to be Buried there the xth Day of marche anno 1588 and Heare was Ronge for Him This Sayd Daye aforenoones knell wt the greate bell and the peales as yf that He Showld Have beene buried Heare wt us at wch tyme His Sonne mr Edward Winter Ded paye the Dewties unto this parishe For that He died in this parishe as yf that He Had beene buried in the parishe Churche as Followethe the Funirall chardgis received For the Funirall of Sr William Winter athowghe not buried heare
For the minester ijs
For the Forenoones knell
wt the greate bell vjs viijd
For the grownd in the church not used vjs viijd
For the best cloth not used ixd
For breakinge of the grownd not used ijs
For the peales ijs
For the pitt & knelles not made nor used xviijd
For the clarkes attendance viijd
For the Sextenes attendance iiijd
For iij passinge belles wt the great bell ijs
And for the pulpet clothe
wch I Had nott nether Had we anye to use For that He was not buried heare
P69/BOT2/A/019/MS09234/001 f35r

So Sir William wasn’t actually buried in St Botolphs – at least, apart from his bowels. But bells were rung and burial charges incurred. I wanted to learn more about him, and about the practice of separate burial of bowels. First, to Sir William.

Sir William Winter, Knight, was indeed an important man. He served as an Admiral under Queen Elizabeth I and played an active role in the Anglo-Spanish war. A very fine painting of HMS Vanguard, under Sir William’s command, battling against the Spanish fleet, can be found on the PortCities website. Whether his feats of derring-do on the high seas constituted heroism or piracy, however, rather depended on one’s point of view. Searching through British History Online, I found a record of “The Spanish King’s Complaints of English Piracies”, dated 1575, referring to Sir William Winter by name, along with Sir Francis Drake and other notable naval officers/privateers of the day. I also found on BHO that Sir William had a house near Tower Hill as well as his family residence in Gloucester.

Now to the more grisly matter of the bowels. Senate House Library provided me with the research sources I needed. I discovered that separate burial of the bowels – and indeed of the heart and other parts of the body – was certainly not unheard of in medieval and early modern England, particularly for royals and other high-status persons. If such a person died away from home, there was emotional value in returning the body to be interred in familiar surroundings1, and so a method needed to be found of transporting the body that would minimise decay and stench. Embalming techniques at the time were not particularly effective, and so before sending the body on the long journey home, the bowels would first be removed and buried.2 But on the death of important personages, there could also be conflicts about where they should be buried, with more than one locality wishing to claim the remains: one solution was to divide the body.3

In such cases, the heart and head were considered of the greatest importance, and a certain amount of competition could evolve over which locality received these for burial. I think we can safely say that if there had been any competition between Aldgate and Gloucester over the claiming of Sir William’s body, Gloucester most definitely won.

1Death and the Noble Body in Medieval England; Danielle Westerhof; The Boydell Press; Woodbridge, Suffolk; 2008 p.59
2Medieval Death: Ritual and Representation; Paul Binski; The British Museum Press; London; 1996
3Death and Burial in Medieval England 1066-1550; Christopher Daniell; Routledge; London and New York; 1997; p.92.

Many thanks to St Botolph without Aldgate and London Metropolitan Archives for permission to reprint extracts from the Parish Clerks' Memoranda.

The Parish Clerks' Memoranda transcripts were prepared by the Centre for Metropolitan History team as part of their Economic and Social Research Council-funded Life in the Suburbs project (Grant Reference: RES-062-23-1260;

Friday, 9 September 2011

Findings from the first stage of ReScript user testing

We have recently completed our first tranche of usability testing for ReScript, which produced very interesting findings. Peter Webster put nine volunteers, selected for different career stages and a good spread of period specialism, through their paces with the prototype ReScript interface. It is of vital importance to elicit honest feedback during usability testing, so Peter made a point of telling the volunteers that he did not have anything invested in this particular design. If users are worried about hurting someone’s feelings, they are less likely to provide the sort of frank responses to a design that prove invaluable. Users were enthusiastic about the possibilities for editing that ReScript provides, but it soon became clear that there were some fundamental challenges that were making the interface difficult for them.

Rather than merely tweaking the existing design, Project Manager Bruce Tate took note of the findings from the first tests and went back to the drawing board. He is currently finessing the second version of the ReScript interface, taking on board all that was learned from Peter Webster’s user tests. And the results so far are very impressive. As Bruce rightly observed in a recent posting on the British History Online blog, it is important to conduct user testing at an early enough stage to enable designers to contemplate major changes. Usability/learnability needs to inform all stages of a project right from the beginning, rather than being thought of as something to be tacked on near the end of a project.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Tales from the Parish Clerks’ Memoranda No.6: The devil as a roaring lion walketh about seeking whom he may devour

This week we discover an instance of institutional kindness – unusual in the early 17th century – following the suicide of a maid of East Smithfield.

7 October 1616
Mary Play, a Maid of East smithfeild, who poysened hir selfe, in the house of hir Maister, Mr John Barbour, was (by a Licence from my Lord Bishoppe of London) buried in our new Church-yard, without any buriall Service, shee was coffind, and had our Black Cloth, Be Sober and watch, for your aduersary the Divel, as a roaring lion walketh abour, Seeking whom he may devour. 1 Peter. 5 Chap. 8 verse
P69/BOT2/A/003/MS09223 f262v

The first thing that struck me about this entry was the choice of scripture, which seemed to express a great sympathy for the unfortunate Mary Play. This made me wonder if John Clerke (the aptly-named Parish Clerk) and church leaders had information about the circumstances of Mary’s suicide that left them feeling sympathetic rather than merely condemnatory towards her actions as was more usual at this time. We will, of course, never know, but the choice of Bible verse sounded so heartfelt that it I couldn’t help but wonder.

The second particularly interesting thing about this was the fact that Mary was buried in hallowed ground – without a Christian burial service, but in hallowed ground nonetheless – the church having sought permission from the Lord Bishop of London. It was more usual at this time for suicides not only to be denied burial in hallowed ground, but often to suffer descecration of their corpses, and punishment of their families.1

It wasn’t until later in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that suicide began to be viewed not as a sinful decision made voluntarily, but as the result of melancholy madness which was beyond the control of the unfortunate victim. Martin Luther went so far as to argue that suicides were driven to their deaths by the devil, and that they – and their families – therefore could not be held responsible for their actions.2 Our Parish Clerk seems to be of this view as well.

By the early 1700s, the laws disgracing suicides and punishing their families gradually disappeared, and a more humane approach was adopted across Europe.3 It would be interesting to find out how many licences allowing suicides to be buried in hallowed ground were granted by John King, the Lord Bishop of London from 1611 to 1621. I know that he was a well-known Calivinist and anti-Catholic preacher before being appointed Lord Bishop. Did this make him more willing to challenge the dogma of the day? It would certainly appear that at least in this instance he, and St Boltolph’s, were very much ahead of their time.

1 Gale Encyclopaedia of the Early Modern World. accessed 16 August 2011
2 ibid.
3 Sleepless Souls: Suicide in Early Modern England (1990) Michael MacDonald, Terence R. Murphy. Oxford University Press

Many thanks to St Botolph without Aldgate and London Metropolitan Archives for permission to reprint extracts from the Parish Clerks' Memoranda.

The Parish Clerks' Memoranda transcripts were prepared by the Centre for Metropolitan History team as part of their Economic and Social Research Council-funded Life in the Suburbs project (Grant Reference: RES-062-23-1260;