Archive for January, 2006

Very brief notes on 17th-century shopping

January 31, 2006

The first chapter in Linda Levy Peck’s Consuming Splendor is about shopping for luxury goods in 17th-century London. I found it to be a very enjoyable read and it would do well as a set text for courses on early modern consumption.

I think we’re all aware that 17th-century aristocrats had a lot of stuff. You only have to look at an old portrait to see that they set great store in expensive clothing. As Levy Peck notes: “Painters often painted the clothes not the person.” (p.25) It’s interesting to read about where they got it from. One very interesting fact about luxury in 17th-century England is that quite a bit of it depended on contact with the outside world. Levy Peck quotes a shop boy in Ben Jonson’s The Entertainment at Britain’s Burse: (p.50)

“What do you lack? What is’t you buy? Very fine China stuffs, of all kinds and qualities? China chains, China bracelets, China scarves, China fans, China girdles, China knives, China boxes, China cabinets. . .’

Silk came from China but it was also cultivated in mainland Europe. In Chapter 2 Levy Peck deals with the attempt made by James I of England to start a domestic silk industry.

Going back to chapter 1, I particularly like it because Levy Peck tells us what it was like to shop in the New Exchange and the Royal Exchange. “Historians have ascribed the emergence of luxury retail shopping, separated from manufactures, to the eighteenth century or the late seventeenth century when, in fact, it can be found much earlier. . . . Thomas Gresham’s Royal Exchange, which opened in the City in 1570, proved a new departure in luxury consumption.” (p.45)  In 1609 James I opened the New Exchange just off the Strand (the Strand is near Trafalgar Square). Levy Peck writes: “The New Exchange marked a significant departure in consuming because of its location: it was suburban (i.e. outside the City) and private, a shopping mall located close to the court and to new aristocratic housing that Salisbury and the Earl of Bedford developed in St.Martin’s Lane, Covent Garden, and elsewhere in the parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields.’ (p.46)

“The architecture of shopping at the New Exchange provides important surprises. Shopping took place both on the piano nobile and at street level. Seats and benches were built into the outer wall next to the street and an Office of Assurance at the Burse was furnished with wainscoting. At ground level, the street was newly paved. We might, therefore, expect shops at ground level to be the most coveted and to pay the the highest rents. Later in the seventeenth century expanses of plate glass invited window shopping. But the rents for shops on the lower level, facing the street, were the lowest. . . According to the New Exchange leases of 1633, the most prized shops were those on the upper level and in the interior, especially the larger shops at the corners. Most shops were 10 or 11 feet in length, but the corner shops were 15 feet.” (p.51/52)

Overall Consuming Splendor makes at least three important points. As mentioned above, luxury shopping did not begin in the long eighteenth century. Secondly, the civil war did not stop retail growth. Finally, Levy Peck claims that as the new retail spaces became important public meeting places they can be counted alongside coffee houses (which sprouted up from the mid-17th century onwards and were full of gossip and political discussion) as a part of the public sphere.

This is a bit of a hurried, random and rambling review of Consuming Splendor, but at least now you know it exists, and you can go and have a look at it if it’s the sort of thing you like.



Concealed clothing

January 29, 2006

I was listening to an old edition of Home Truths when I heard this story about a furniture restorer who discovered a chaise longue stuffed with 19th-century clothing. She suggests that they were packed in there as a kind of memorial to their owner. Southampton University’s Deliberately Concealed Garment project investigates instances of clothes hidden in buildings. Garments were hidden as lucky charms for the protection of the house and its inhabitants. Other objects concealed in buildings include dried cats, coins and bottles. I think this is something I’d better warn my father about before he builds that extension!


James II & the Jacobites

January 29, 2006

When Charles II died in 1685 his brother James II inherited the throne. James II was a Catholic and because of this fact just a few years earlier the Whigs had made concerted efforts to exclude him from the succession. This attempt is known as the Exclusion Crisis. Despite this James II inherited the throne without any problems. It was only later in his brief reign when he tried to force through policies improving the situation of Catholics (but not harming Protestants in any way) that opposition seriously built up.

The Declaration of Indulgence was a major turning point in the reign. In 1687 and 1688 the declaration was released proclaiming freedom of worship for Catholics and Protestant dissenters. James II ordered that the Declaration be read in all churches but in 1688 seven Anglican bishops (the Church of England was the country’s official church) submitted a petition against the order. James ordered them to be imprisoned for seditious libel but they were found innocent at their trial. The seven bishops received a great deal of support from the general population and were seen as symbols of the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688.

James II was tolerated because his two daughters (later Mary II and Queen Anne) were Protestants. This meant that the throne would revert to a Protestant heir after James’ death. The situation changed in 1688 when James II’s second wife Mary of Modena gave birth to a Catholic son. As a boy he became first in line to the throne and neither Mary or Anne would inherit unless he died without children. James II’s opponents believed in a rumour that the boy was not James II’s son and that he had been sneaked into the royal bedchamber in a warming pan. This opposition print shows Mary with her baby. The lascivious looking man behind her is one of James II’s Jesuit priests (I forget his name, possibly Father Peter). Of course this is anti-Catholic propaganda that tries to slur the heir’s legitimacy by suggesting that his mother had improper relations with a Catholic priest.

The end of James II’s reign came when seven of his opponents sent an invitation to William of Orange. William of Orange was the husband of Mary, the second in line to the throne, and as her cousin he also had some claim in his own right. James’ opponents were not asking William to depose James II. Instead they wanted William to assume control of the country and persuade the Catholic king to reverse his less popular policies.

It is not known exactly when William of Orange decided to take the crown for himself. James II made matters remarkably easy for him by fleeing to France. It is likely that he did this because he wished to avoid his father’s fate. Charles I had been imprisoned and then executed during the civil war. William and Mary became joint monarchs and were succeeded in 1702 by Mary’s sister Anne. When Anne died she did not have any children so the crown went to distant Protestant relatives in the German Electorate of Hanover.

James II lived in exile in France until his death in 1701. He had tried to regain the throne by invading Ireland with the aid of French troops but they were defeated at the Battle of the Boyne. When Anne died in 1714 James’ son, now James III, attempted to take the crown in the unsuccessful uprising of 1715. Finally in 1745-46 James II’s grandson Charles Edward Stuart made one last unsuccessful attempt to seize the throne by invading Scotland. This In Our Time programme examines the final attempt and asks whether Bonnie Prince Charlie really stood a chance.

The supporters of James II, James Francis Edward Stuart and Charles Edward Stuart are known as Jacobites. They could be found both inside the British Isles and in exile with the Stuart court on mainland Europe. They promoted their cause with propanda texts and images including portrait prints. Further details of the circulation of Stuart portrait prints can be found in Richard Sharp’s The Engraved Record of the Jacobite Movement (1996).

17th-century print culture

January 28, 2006

If you are reading this within a week of 26th January 2006 you still have a chance to download the MP3 of the latest edition of In Our Time. Don’t worry if you are too late because you can find it in the programme archives and listen online. This week host Melvyn Bragg discussed seventeenth-century print culture with Joad Raymond, Kevin Sharpe and Ann Hughes. 

You might wonder why you should care about seventeenth-century print culture more than that of the sixteenth or eighteenth centuries. Well, in Britain the seventeenth century was very important because it witnessed an enormous expansion of printed material. Just two elements of this were the development of the newspaper and the beginnings and rapid growth of the London pictorial print trade.

After listening to the programme you may want to do some further reading. The programme website suggests books by Raymond, Sharpe, Hughes and others, but I’d like to recommend a few more.

The discussion raised the point that news and other information was transmitted in both oral and printed form. For example ballads were printed on paper and also sung out loud. Other people then learnt the ballads by ear and so the songs’ messages spread. Ballads could be about lovers, murders, folk heroes, emigration and other day to day topics. However many were also political and were sung in support of partisan figures such as the Duke of Monmouth, who as the illegitimate son of Charles II (1660-1685) was seen by some as a possible heir to the throne. Adam Fox’s Oral and Literate Culture in England, 1500-1700 is one of the best books around dealing with the transmission of information in written and oral form.

If you want to learn more about ballads you could refer to the work of recent Warwick university PhD graduate Angela McShane Jones. Her 2004 thesis is called ‘Rime and Reason’: the political world of the English broadside ballad, 1640-1689. A further list of her publications can be found here.  

I’m surprised that just one Joad Raymond book appears on the In Our Time reading list. In 1999 he edited News, newspapers and society in Early Modern Britain. He has also written The invention of the English newspaper: English newsbooks, 1641-1649. James Sutherland’s The Restoration newspaper and its development is also an indispensable guide