Category Archives: 17th Century

The Permanent National Debt – 1693

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The Permanent National Debt (1693); the Bank of England (1694): William had now gained, at least temporarily, the object that he had in view when he accepted the English crown.  He had succeeded in drawing the English into a close defensive alliance against Louis XIV,(3) who, as we have seen, was bent on destroying both the political and the religious liberty of the Dutch as a Protestant people.

The constant wars which followed William’s accession had compelled the King to borrow large sums from the London merchants.  Out of these loans sprang the permanent National Debt.  It was destined to grow from less than a million of pounds to so many hundred millions, that all thought of ever paying it is now given up.  The second result was the organization of a banking company for the management of this colossal debt; together the two were destined to become more widely known than any of William’s victories.

The building erected by that company stands on Threadneedle Street, in the very heart of London.  In one of its courts is a statue of the King set up [1734], bearing this inscription: “To the memory of the best of princes, William of Orange, founder of the Bank of England,” – by far the largest and most important banking institution in the world.


1. Ryswick: a village of Holland, near The Hague.
2. The second (Protestant) daughter of James II. See 542.
3. See Guizot, History of Civilization, Chapter [13.]

Excerpt from The Leading Facts of English History by David Henry Montgomery – 1904


Further Reading and External Links

William of Orange

History of Britains National Debt

Bank of England on Wikipedia

Matthew Hopkins, The Witchfinder

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Matthew Hopkins – Witchfinder

Matthew Hopkins – WitchfinderTHIS “worthy” of witchcraft flourished about the middle of the seventeenth century, when the delusions of the witching frauds were at their full height.  He assumed the title of witchfinder general, and travelling through the counties of Essex, Sussex, Norfolk, and Huntingdon, pretended to discover witches, superintending their examination by the most unheard-of tortures, and compelling forlorn and miserable creatures to admit and confess matters equally absurd and impossible; the admission of which was the forfeiture of their lives.

Sir Walter Scott describes Hopkins as follows: “He was, perhaps, a native of Manningtree, in Essex; at any rate, he resided there in the year [1644], when an epidemic outcry of witchcraft arose in that town.  Upon this occasion he had made himself busy, and affecting more zeal and knowledge than other men, learned his trade of a witchfinder, as he pretended, from experiment.  He was afterwards permitted to perform it as a legal profession, and moved from one place to another, with an assistant named Sterne, and a female.  In his defence against an accusation of fleecing the country, he declares his regular charge was twenty shillings a town, including charges of living, and journeying thither and back again with his assistants.  He also affirms, that he went nowhere unless called and invited.  His principal mode of discovery was, to strip the accused persons naked, and thrust pins into various parts of their body, to discover the witch’s mark, which was supposed to be inflicted by the devil, as a sign of his sovereignty, and at which she was also said to suckle her imps.  He also practised and stoutly defended the trial by swimming, when the suspected person was wrapped in a sheet, having the great toes and thumbs tied together, and so dragged through a pond or river.  If she sank, it was received in favour of the accused; but if the body floated, (which must have occurred ten times for once, if it was placed with care on the surface of the water,)  the accused was condemned, on the principle of King James, who, in treating of this mode or trial, lays down, that as witches have renounced their baptism, so it is just that the element through which the holy rite is enforced, should reject them; which is a figure of speech, and no argument.  

It was Hopkins’s custom to keep the poor wretches waking, in order to prevent them from having encouragement from the devil, and, doubtless, to put infirm, terrified, over-watched persons in the next state to absolute madness; and, for the same purpose, they were dragged about by their keepers, till extreme weariness, and the pain of blistered feet, might form additional inducements to confession.

Excerpt from The Cabinet of Curiosities, or Wonders of the World Displayed – 1840


Further Reading and External Links

1968 Witchfinder General Serialization on YouTube

Matthew Hopkins Witchfinder General


Bloods Attempt to Steal the Crown


Regalia in the Tower of London1671 – THE daring attempt made by the ruffian Blood to steal the Crown, is one of the most extraordinary incidents that ever happened within the walls of the Tower of London.

After Sir G. Talbot had been appointed Master of the Jewel House, he assigned the profits which arose from exhibiting the regalia to an old confidential servant of his father, named Talbot Edwards, who was still keeper at the time of the concerted robbery.

About three weeks prior to his attempt, Blood, a disbanded officer of the Protectorate, went to the Tower in the habit of a parson, “with a long cloak, cassock, and canonical girdle,” accompanied by a woman whom he called his wife; his real wife being then in Lancashire.  The lady requested to see the crown, and her wish having been gratified, she feigned “a qualm upon her stomach,” and Mrs. Edwards, after giving her some spirits at her husband’s request, courteously invited her to repose herself upon a bed.  She soon recovered; and, “at their departure, they seemed very thankful for this civility.”

After an interval of a few days Blood returned, and gave Mrs. Edwards four pair of white gloves, as a present from his pretended wife.   At a subsequent visit he told her, that his wife, “could discourse of nothing but the kindness of those good people of the,Tower;”  and that  “she had long studied, and at last bethought her, of a handsome way of requital.”

“You have,” quoth he, “a pretty gentlewoman to your daughter, and I have a young nephew who has two or three hundred a year in land, and is at my disposal.  If your daughter be free, and you approve it, I will bring him here to see her, and we will endeavour to make it a match.”  This was readily assented to by old Mr. Edwards, who invited the disguised ruffian to dine with him on that day: the invitation was willingly accepted, and Blood;  “taking upon him to say grace,”  performed it with great seeming devotion, concluding his  “long-winded”  oration with a prayer for the king, queen, and royal family.

After dinner, “he went up to see the rooms, and seeing a handsome case of pistols hang there, expressed a great desire to buy them to present to a young lord who was his neighbour;”  but this was merely a pretence, by which he thought to  “disarm the house,”  and thus execute his design with less danger.   At his departure, “which was with a canonical benediction of the good company,”  he appointed a day and hour for introducing his young nephew to his future bride; and, as he wished, he said, “to bring two friends with him to see the regalia, who were to leave town early on that morning,”  the hour was fixed at about seven o’clock.

On the appointed morning, (viz. May the 9th, 1671,)  “the old man had got up ready to receive his guest, and the daughter had put herself into her best dress to entertain her gallant, when, behold, parson Blood, with three more, came to the Jewel House, all armed with rapier blades in their canes, and every one a dagger and a pair of pocket pistols.  Two of his companions entered in with him, and a third stayed at the door it seems for a watch.”

Blood told Mr. Edwards, that they would not go up stairs until his wife came, and desired him to show his friends the crown to pass the time till then.  This was complied with; but no sooner bad they entered the room where the crown was kept, and the door as usual been shut, than “they threw a cloak over the old man’s head, and clapt a gag into his mouth, which was a great plug of wood, with a small hole in the middle to take breath at;  this was tied with a waxed leather, which went round his neck.  At the same time they fastened an iron hook to his nose, that no sound might pass from him that way other.”

Thus secured they told him, “that their resolution was to have the crown, globe, and sceptre; and, if he would quietly submit to it, they would spare his life, otherwise he was to expect no mercy.”  Notwithstanding this threat, “he forced himself to make all the noise that he possibly could, to be heard above:”  they then “knocked him down with a wooden mallet, and told him, that if he would yet lie quiet, they would spare his life, but if not, upon his next attempt to discover them, they would kill him, and pointed three daggers at his breast.”  Mr. Edwards, however, by his own account, was not yet intimidated, but “strained himself to make the greater noise.”   In consequence, they gave him “nine or ten strokes more upon the head with the mallet, (for so many bruises were found upon the skull,) and stabbed him into the belly.”  This ferocious treatment occasioned the old man, “now almost eighty years of age,”  to swoon; and he lay some time in so senseless a condition that one of the miscreants said, “he is dead, I’ll warrant him.”  Edwards, who had-come a little to himself heard his words and conceiving it best to be thought so, “lay quietly.”

The rich prize was now within the villain’s grasp, and one of them, named Parrot, “put the globe orb into his breeches; Blood held the crown under his cloak,” and the third was proceeding to file the sceptre in two, in order that he might be put into a bag, “because too long to carry,” when their proceedings were interrupted by the unexpected arrival of a son of Mr. Edwards, from Flanders, who, having first spoken to the person who stood on the watch at the door, went up stairs to salute his relations.  Seizing the opportunity, the ruffians instantly “hasted away” with the crown and orb, leaving the sceptre unfiled.

The old keeper now raised himself, and freeing his mouth from the gag, cried “Treason! Murder” which being heard by his daughter, she rushed out of doors and reiterated the cry, with the addition, “the crown is stolen.”

Excerpt from The Cabinet of Curiosities, or Wonders of the World Displayed – 1840



Sir Charles Lyttelton


Sir Charles Littleton – Governor and founder of the first town of Port Royal Jamaica in 1662

LYTTELTON or LITTLETON, Sir CHARLES (1629 – 1716), governor of Jamaica, born in 1629, was a younger son of Sir Thomas Lyttelton (1696-1650) q. v., first baronet, of Frankley, Worcestershire. He was a subaltern in the royal forces at the defence of Colchester against the parliamentarians in June-August 1648, and after the surrender escaped to France.   On 25 Oct. 1650 he was appointed cupbearer to Charles II.  He returned to England about 1659, and joined prominently in the rising in Cheshire that year, under Sir George Booth q. v. Lyttelton was committed to the Gatehouse, Westminster, on the warrant of the Lord Protector (Richard Cromwell), but was soon set at liberty.  He appears to have been employed on various secret missions between the king and his friends in England about the time of the Restoration (Carte, vol. ii.).  In December 1661 he received 600l ‘as a free gift’.

In 1662 Lyttelton was knighted and went to Jamaica as lieutenant-governor with Lord Windsor, and on the return of the latter to England succeeded him as governor.  He founded the first town of Port Royal, destroyed by the earthquake in 1692, and summoned the first legislative assembly, ‘fairly and indifferently drawn by the votes of all the inhabitants,’ which met at St. Jago de la Vega, now Spanish Town, 24 Jan. 1664. He left the island in May of the same year.  On 5 Nov. 1664 he was appointed major, with a company, and on 18 July 1665 lieutenant-colonel in the lord admirals regiment. This was the yellow-coated ‘maritime’ regiment, which was the precursor of the marine forces, and ranked as the 3rd foot. Twenty-three years later its place was filled by the Holland regiment or buffs.

Lyttelton’s company, which arrived at Portsmouth in November 1664, is described at containing ‘some very sightly men, who will do good service when used to the sea’ (State Paper, Dom. cv. 60).  On 6 April 1666 a warrant from Monck, duke of Albemarle, directs the payment to Lyttelton of 218l 5s. for 606 privates at 8l, twenty-one corporals and one drummer at 1l., and seven sergeants at 1s. 6d., lately brought from Ireland.

Excerpts taken from The Dictionary of National Biography – Volume 12 – 1909

The Earthquake at Port Royal Jamaica


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Encyclopedia of Latin America – 1917

 Port Royal Jamacia 1902Port Royal – That town, once a place of great wealth and importance, was ruined by repeated calamities.  “On 7 June 1692 happened that earthquake which swallowed up a great part of  Port Royal,” says Edwards, who explains that the town “was chiefly built on a bank of sand, adhering to a rock in the sea, and a very slight concussion, aided by the weight of the buildings, would probably have accomplished its destruction.  “Hurricanes in 1712 and 1722, and a conflagration 13 July 1815, completed the work of obliteration.

Toward the close of the 18th Century the island was occupied by large plantations, and was exceedingly productive.   Before that time 610,000 slaves had been landed at Port Royal.  The freeing of the negroes resulted in the abandonment of the island by many landlords.  The effort to regain the lost prosperity through diversified agriculture has already been mentioned.  In August 1903 a hurricane inflicted great injury at several points in Jamaica, and on the Cayman Islands. On 14 Jan. 1907 Jamaica was visited by a disastrous earthquake which (“in ten seconds,” Treves says) almost entirely destroyed Kingston.

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William Wilberforce

The Dictionary of National Biography – Volume 21, 1909

William Wilberforce
William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce – A Leader of the Movement to Abolish the Slave Trade

William WilberforceWILBERFORCE, WILLIAM (1769-1833), philanthropist, born in the High Street, Hull, on 24 Aug. 1769, was the only son of Robert Wilberforce by his wife Elisabeth, daughter of Thomas Bird of Barton, Oxfordshire. Of three other children a daughter alone reached maturity. The family had long been settled in Yorkshire, and took their name from the township of Wilberfoss, eight miles east of York…

…Wilberforce was re-elected for Yorkshire without opposition in July 1802, and in 1804 again brought forward the abolition of the slave trade. Conditions had become more favourable. The anti-Jacobill sentiment which had animated the last parliament was no longer a dominant factor in the situation. The Irish members introduced by the union were almost unanimously against the slave trade, and public opinion nad been greatly altered. The abolition committee again became active, and was joined by Brougham, Z. Macaulay, and James Stephen and in the next year Clarkson was again able to take part in the agitation, after a long illness.

The new government of Fox and Grenville was generally in favour of abolition, though the opposition of two members prevented it from being adopted by the cabinet. Resolutions in favour of abolition were carried by 116 to 14 on 10 June 1806.  On the dissolution of parliament Wilberforce was again returned without opposition for Yorkshire in November, and afterwards finished a book upon the slave trade.  It was published on 31 Dec., and had a marked effect.   The bill for abolishing the slave trade was introduced in the House of Lords in January 1807, and, though still opposed by a few bigots, the second reading was carried by 100 to 36, and it was sent to the House of Commons on 10 Feb.  Counsel was heard against it during the following week. On 23 Feb. the chief debate took place, when Romilly, as solicitor-general, made an eloquent comparison between Napoleon and the ‘honoured man who would that day lay his head upon his pillow and remember that the slave trade was no more.’  Wilberforce was too much affected to be conscious of the cheers with which the house greeted him, and the motion was carried by 283 to 16.

The bill finally received the royal assent on 26 March 1807 just before the resignation of the ministry.  The ‘African Institution’ was founded upon the passing of the act, in order to promote the effective application of the measure and the suppression of the slave trade in foreign countries.

Wilberforce was henceforth the object of unique respect.

The Biography of Isaac Newton (1642-1727)

The Biography of Isaac Newton (1642-1727)
From The Dictionary of National Biography – Volume 14, 1909

Statue of Isaac Newton
Statue of Isaac Newton

Sir ISAAC (1642-1727), natural philosopher, was born in the manor-house at Woolathorpe, a hamlet of Colsterworth, eight miles south of Grantham, Lincolnshire, on 26 Dec. 1642. Engravings of the house, which is still standing, appear in Thomas Maude’s’ Wensleydale, 1771, and in Tumor’s ‘Collections for the History of Grantham,’ 1806, p. 157. He was baptised at Colsterworth 1 Jan. 1642-3. His father, Isaac Newton of Woolsthorpe, had married in April 1642 Hannah, daughter of James Ayscough of Market Overton, Rutland, but died at the age of thirty-six, in October 1642, before the birth of his son. The small estate of Woolsthorpe had been purchased by the philosopher’s grandfather, Robert Newton (d. 1641), in 1623. Some three years after her first husband’s death, 27 Jan. 1645-6,  Newton’s mother married Barnabas Smith, rector of North Witham, Lincolnshire, who died in 1656, leaving by him one son, Benjamin, and two daughters, Marie (wife of Thomas Pilkington of Belton, Rutland) and Hannah (second wife of Thomas Barton of Brigstock, Northamptonshire).

On his mother’s second marriage Newton was left at Woolsthorpe in charge of his grandmother, Mrs. Ayscough. He was sent in 1654 to the grammar school at Grantham, then kept by a Mr. Stokes. For some time he made little advance with his books, but a successful fight with a boy older than himself awakened a spirit of emulation, and  Newton soon rose to be head of the school. At the age of fourteen he was removed from school by his mother, who had returned to Woolsthorpe on the death of her second husband, in order to take part in the management of her farm. This proved distasteful to Isaac, there are various stories of the way in which he occupied himself with mathematics and other studies when he ought to have been attending to his farm duties and by the advice of his uncle, William Ayscough, rector of Burton Coggles, Lincolnshire, he was sent back to school in 1660 with a view to preparing him for college. Ayscough was himself a Trinity man, and on 5 June 1661 Isaac Newton was matriculated as a subsizar at Trinity College, Cambridge, under Mr. Pulleyne. Few details of his undergraduate life remain. In 1664 he made some observations on halos, afterwards described in his ‘Optics’ (bk. ii. pt. iv. obs. 18), and on 28 April of the same year he was elected a scholar. He graduated B.A. in January 1665, but unfortunately the ‘ordo senioritatis’ for that year has not been preserved.

Newton’s unrivalled genius for mathematical speculation declared itself almost in his boyhood.

Tradesmen’s Tokens No III



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Tradesmen’s Tokens No III This is the third and final part of a three part series on Tradesmen’s Tokens. Tradesmen’s Tokens were commonly used by tradesmen as a form of currency when there was a shortage of the normal types of coin.  It allowed them to continue to trade and was widely used in the mid 17th century.

From The Gentleman’s Magazine Volume 31 May 1849 Page 496

THIS Token appears to have been of the satirical class, and was issued by William Newcome of “Darby.”  The inscription, which is continued  from the obverse to the reverse is “Touch not mine anointed; doe my prophets noe harme;” the propriety of which is not countenanced by any device on the coin.  Doubtless Newcome was a profane wag, and designed to have a fling at the Puritans, who were accustomed to adopt scriptural signs and mottoes (whether appropriately or otherwise) after the “Praise-God Barebones” fashion.*  And had any caviller questioned the  applicability of the quotation, Master Newcome would probably have directed him to read it, “doe my profits noe harme.”  The issuing of these  Tokens was a very profitable affair,  for one pennyworth or copper or brass could be converted into forty or fifty  tokens; hence they came to be issued in such quantities, that the Government was compelled to suppress them  by severe enactments.

 Yours, &c. B. N.

*There is a public-house at Tunbridge Wells, at the back of Mount Sion, which formerly bore for its sign “God encompasseth us;”  the puritanical landlord little imagining it would ever become corrupted into its present ludicrous designation, “The Goat and Compasses.”   Tunbridge Wells during the reign of Charles II. was the stronghold of Puritanism, as the names of “Mount Sion.” “Mount Ephraim,” &c. given to the localities by these sectarians, still attest.  And there is a curious custom still adhered to in the oldest church (or chapel) of this popular place of resort — that of the separation of the sexes during divine service — the men occupying one side, and the women the opposite side of the church.  Even temporary visitors here fall in with this ancient practice, which is doubtless of puritanical origin.

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Tradesmen’s Tokens No II

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Tradesmen’s Tokens No IIThis is the second in a three part series on Tradesmen’s Tokens, following on from my earlier post as promised.  Its from the Gentleman’s Magazine Volume 31 in April 1849 page 369.


From The Gentleman’s Magazine Volume 31 April 1849 Page 369

THE Token engraved here is of the class called “Rhyming Tokens,”— a very rare and limited series.  John Hart has appropriately enough adopted a heart as his device, in juxtaposition with the initials of himself and his wife.  It was a curious but universal custom to place the wife’s as well as the husband’s initials on these Tokens; where it is omitted the presumption is that the man was a bachelor.  Instead of date or motto, round the edge we have this distich, singular for its orthography:

“Take. these. that. wil. Ile. chaing. them. sti.”

equivalent to the “I promise to pay” on the bank notes of the present day.

Snelling has noticed these Tokens, and has engraved one that reads:

“Though I’m but brasse,
Yet let me passe.”

and he has also described another, of which we have an example in our own collection, issued by the proprietor of the “Coffee House in Exchange Ally” (now Garraway’s), which bears the device of a Turk’s head, with this rhyming inscription:

“Morat the Great, men did mee call,
Where’er I came I conquer’d all.”

Coffee having been introduced into Europe via Turkey, a Turk’s head naturally became the favourite sign of coffee-houses; and Amurath III. (popularly called Morat or Morad), who was a renowned warrior, appears to have been the most popular personage, although we have occasionally met with Tokens bearing the head of “Solyman.”

B. N.


Part 3 of Tradesmen’s Tokens coming soon

Images from the 19th Century


Tradesmen’s Tokens

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The Tradesmen’s Token series of images caught my eye when looking through todays Flickr set Images from the 19th Century.  There’s a humourous story surrounding them as written about in this excerpt from The Gentlemen’s Magazine – Volume 31 – March 1849 page 248:




FEW of your antiquarian readers are unacquainted with the small “Tradesmen’s Tokens” current in the seventeenth century. During the period of the Protectorate and the Restoration they abounded, and the necessities of the time gave them an extensive local circulation. The earliest known date is 1648; in 1672 they were suppressed by royal ordinance; and, if we may judge from dates, the largest numbers appear to have been issued in 1665 and 1666, the period of the “greate fyre” and the plague. Pinkerton has spoken of these pieces with the utmost scorn, disdaining them as utterly unworthy of notice; but we are not of those who yield to the dictum of that learned pedant. Many of them are of very neat workmanship, and interesting as illustrative of costume and heraldry; others are of a political or satirical character, while some describe trades and occupations, a few of which are now obsolete; to say nothing of them as records of old localities, and the orthographical designation of towns, buildings, and streets, now swept away by the ruthless hand of time, the great fire, and the no less devastating march of modern improvement. As illustrative of old London, they abound in interest.

The Token delineated above, which we have selected for illustration, was issued by the master of a tavern or public-house at Hockley in the Hole, in the county of Bedford.

The “sign” is one that dates from the period of the Reformation. Not only were learning and argument then employed in exposing the fallacies of the Popish system; but, in the fierce contentions of the time, scurrility and buffoonery were resorted to, as auxiliaries well adapted for prejudicing the common people. The conclave of cardinals was irreverently designated as a ‘set of old women’, and hence “Old Mother Red Cap” became a popular sign with the vulgar and the profane.

George Hall may have been a Puritan, and probably intended the device on his token to convey a sly sarcasm on the orders of the Popish priesthood. There is considerable ingenuity in the pictorial management of the device. If Popery were in the ascendant, the publican might aver that his token represented merely a tapster with the symbols of his occupation in his hands. On the other hand, the sign might be regarded, as it was obviously intended to be, as a caricature of a cardinal bearing the elements of the Eucharist. Transubstantiation was one of the points most fiercely contested.

Yours, &c. B. N.

* Mr. J. Y. Akerman has now in the press a work on the “Tradesmen’s and Tavern-Tokens of London in the Seventeenth Century,” which promises to be of considerable antiquarian and historical interest.


There are more in this series, so keep a watchful eye out for follow up postings.