Thursday, 13 October 2011

Tales from the Parish Clerks’ Memoranda No.9: Captured by the Turks – or was that the Hungarians?

If ever confirmation was needed that the world of international politics in the 16th century could be deeply confusing, not only for modern historians, but also for the people living at the time, our Parish Clerk’s slip of the pen in the following entry does the trick:
26 Maye Ano 1588 A collection For Thomas Morgann Who hathe bene captived by ["the" erased] Infedyles [erased: "Hungarians"] Memerandum that Thomas Morgann of Radrife in the Cowntie of Surrye who Had Served Her Matie in Her Warres in Dyveres places that is to Saye in the warres at newe Haven under Raphe Browne in a Ship Caled the Red Dragonn Also at Lafowld in Ireland in a Ship called the newe christopher alijs elizabethe Chester and in Dyveres other placis and after that Served unde[r] Sr william Gorge knyght in Hungarie Where by Infedyles He was Taken prisoner and above xv yeares kept bond and thrall in most cruell Slaverie and Bondage Hentell ower lovinge Subiect edwad cottonn esquyer most charetablye Redeemed Hem from the Same in considerationn wheareof He was Lycenced By Her Maties Letteres pattentes to gather the Devociones of weldisposed people enhabetinge wthin the cittie of London and the Suburbes thereof and also ower cowntie of norfolke and the towne of norwitche for one whole yeare Dated the Second of maye in the xxxth yeare of her Maties Raygne By vert[ue] whereof There was gathered for Hem inower parishe churche the xxvjth Daye of Maye ano 1588 the Some of xvjs vijd the wch beinge engrosed upon the Letteres pattenes was Delivered to His wyfe the Sayde Daye above Wrighten
P69/BOT2/A/019/MS09234/001 fol 69r
I have a great deal of sympathy with the Parish Clerk’s initial muddle as, when I started researching this entry, I found it all rather confusing myself. The entry seemed to indicate that Thomas Morgan had fought in the Habsburg-Ottoman Wars, but why would he and Sir William George have been in Hungary in the first place? Hungary was part of the Catholic Habsburg empire, which was actively opposed by Protestant England. But in spite of this, English mercenaries were encouraged to serve under Emperor Maximillian II in the defence of Hungary. And there appears to have been long-standing support for Hungary’s battle against the Turks, as the following record from British History Online indicates:
In 1566, the Archbishop of Canterbury issued "A Fourme to be used in Common excite all godly people to pray...for the preservation of those Christians and their Countreys that are now invaded by the Turke in Hungary or elsewhere".
So, it would appear that, although across Europe Catholics and Protestants were at daggers drawn, the possibility of an Ottoman invasion of Europe was seen as the bigger threat. However ... Elizabeth I supported the Protestants of the Netherlands and France in their revolt against the Catholic Habsburg empire, of which Hungary was a part, even though English mercenaries were encouraged to fight for Hungary against the Ottomans, and Elizabeth I was also working to secure a pact with the Ottomans to open up the lucrative trade routes in the Levant to England. It’s no wonder the Parish Clerk wasn’t sure whether Thomas Morgan had been captured by the Turks or the Hungarians.

Meanwhile, wounded soldiers and sailors of the day returned to an England where, upon receipt of a license granted by the Queen, they or their relatives could seek the charitable “devocions of weldisposed people”. As my colleague Mark Merry explains, “War was as big business then as it is now, and mercenaries (even noble ones) were plentiful, especially as land grabbing became something of a feature in foreign wars. A part of the business involved ransoming, even of relatively humble individuals, and it was not unusual for people to be held for some years (although 15 does seem like a long time), especially as there were people who made a lucrative living organising and paying ransoms. It worked kind of like an insurance scheme, but relied on the Christian charity of donors.” As we saw in Tales no.3, the parishioners of St Botolphs without Aldgate often took returning sailors into their homes, and bore witness as many of them died from injury or illness contracted while fighting for the realm. One would imagine that this first-hand experience of the plight of such men would have touched the parishioners deeply, making them all too aware that without their charity, men like Thomas Morgan would be left with no support at all.

Donna Baillie

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;


  1. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Thanks very much Cheryl. Glad you found it interesting.