Friday, 19 August 2016

Huntington Library despatches 3: Things fall apart in Buckinghamshire

Also amongst the Ellesmere Papers, this oddly moving little snippet (MS EL 7765): a statement from the minister of Marsworth in Buckinghamshire, dated 16 August 1642. It’s short enough to quote in its entirety:

A certaine number of Souldiers calling themselues by the name of London Prentises came upon Munday being the 15th day of August to the towne of Masworth in Buckinghamshire, and there demanding of the Clerke the key of the church doore, went in to the said church and broke downe the rayles at the upper end of the Chancill where formerly the Communion Table stood, and beat downe all the painted glass in the windowes, and so coming downe to the Minister’s house demaunded of him the Service booke and Surpliss, withall threatning that if he did not deliver them to them, they would pull downe his house over his head, but he telling them they were not in his keeping, they returned back to the church, and finding them there, first tore the two Service bookes all to peices, scattring some of the leaues about the streets, and carrying the rest away vpon the pointes of their swordes, and afterwardes one of them took the Surpliss and putt it on him, as the Minister useth to doe, and so marcht away to Alisbury triumphing in comtempt and derision, In witness whereof I the minister of the said Parish haue here sett my hand: Date this 16th of August: 1642. Roger Wilford minist: ibid.

It’s countersigned by the parish clerk.

Amidst the national calamity that was starting to unfold, this was nothing. What I find compelling about this, however, is Wilford’s plaintive petition – apparently believing that this blatant lawbreaking might be punished. And why not? England, especially the South, had been at peace internally for longer than anyone alive could remember. Law had been upheld and rights respected. Yes, politics had become very shouty and embittered, but surely name-calling in Westminster is one thing, and soldiers barging into your village with impunity, smashing up the church, spiking service-books on their sword and threatening to pull your house down, is another?

In our own age, we could perhaps do with remembering that entrenched division and demonisation of opponents can eventually have  consequences.

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