Saturday, 22 April 2017

Roger Morrice and the Puritan Whigs: The Entring Book, 1677-1691 - Mark Goldie Boydell Press 2016

"Pepys's ebullience matched the heady early years of the restored monarchy under King Charles II. But Morrice describes the dark days of political crisis, show trials, religious persecution, and the fear of 'popery and arbitrary power' that gripped the nation in the 1680s, and culminated in the second overthrow of Stuart monarchy,"

 Dr Mark Goldie.

'If Samuel Pepys's is the best-known diary in English history, then Roger Morrice's is perhaps the least known”.

Given the wealth of material and the insight this book provides into the political life of the second half of the 17th century, it is very strange that the work of Roger Morrice is not that well known or that his fame is not that of Samuel Pepys.

This book should go some way to rectify this anomaly. It has has been adapted, with a new substantial introduction and updated bibliography, from the first volume of the Entring Book of Roger Morrice. If you look at the task involved, then it is not that difficult to understand why this great diary laid dormant and virtually untouched.

While some historians have known of Morrice’s work for years it was unknown to the wider public and getting it to a wider audience took seven years, the original target was five.
It has made the collaboration of six leading international academics to bring these stories to life. The research team, led by Mark Goldie, of Cambridge University, has worked through 1,500 pages, which amounts to nearly one million words of 17th-century English. It includes 40,000 words written in an old shorthand, all of which had to be decoded by a specialist. 

The collection has 319-page introduction by Mark Goldie and 250 pages of appendices
There have been two previous attempts to publish a full transcript. But a project of this size could have only come about with the development of computers.

As John Morrill said “even with these advantages its completion required the tireless work of six major scholars (or seven if we include Frances Henderson, who teased out the shorthand passage and a large number of “postdoctoral galley slaves transcribing and editing”.

Morrice clearly understood he was writing in dangerous times and used shorthand to disguise what he was writing. He also knew that if caught he would be accused of sedition. He would disguise some of the names of people he was writing on.

Who Was Roger Morrice

To answer this question as Mark Goldie found out is a difficult one. A swift look at Mark Goldie’s biography of Morrice for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography(ODNB)will not tell you very much.  Given the huge amount, he wrote of other people, this is a contradiction, to say the least.

We do not have an accurate birth date 1628/9 is as close as we can get, he died in 1702. From a class standpoint, he was probably from the yeomanry. At birth, he was a registered as ‘plebeian’.

A young man when the English revolution took place. We know little about his attitude towards it. He studied at Magdalen Hall, Oxford in the early 1650s. At St Catharine's College, Cambridge, in 1654 he graduated BA in 1656 and proceeded to get an MA in 1659.

Later in life, he became closely connected with a large number of Puritan elites who had taken part in the English Civil War. He friendly with the likes of Baron Holles of Ifield and the eminent lawyer Sir John Maynard. Both were parliamentarian veterans of Puritan persuasion.

Morrice started writing at a dangerous time, and his personal experiences certainly shaped his writing. It was really in London where Morrice became what today would be an investigative journalist. He would frequent coffee houses which unlike today were hotbeds of political gossip. His notes would have been done in his secret handwriting to avoid being caught.

According to Goldie "Like all journalists, Morrice needed good sources, and he was lucky to have a very leaky secretary on the privy council called Richard Collings,".

Morrice became a commentator and collector of manuscripts. As a by-product of his journalism, he became well connected in Presbyterian circles.  It was rumoured that he was supplying newsletters to a group of Presbyterian Whig politicians.

So trusted politically he was given responsibility for the distribution of the will of Richard Baxter. He also was responsible, for distributing Baxter's library and publishing future works. A young John Toland was the eager recipient of some of Baxter’s library.

Morrice was clearly very conscious of what he was doing in aiding the Puritan cause so much so that he wanted to write a history of Puritanism and even and even drafted an outline in the 1690s.

Politically Morrice was a conservative Puritan and was not afraid to publish his thoughts in the in the ‘Ent'ring book’ he hated what he called the ‘hierarchists’ and ‘fanatics’, While applauding the ‘sober churchmen’ and ‘old Puritans’. He was also scared of the London Mobs.

In a diary entry dated December 1688 he states "The Mob was up in most parts of the Town all Tuesday night and committed many tumultuous insolencies, and made an invasion upon Liberty and Property to the great grief of all Wise men, and to the great Scandall of the City. They gathered together in the evening about most of the known Masshouses in Town (the Ambassadors Chappells that were open and publick not escaping) and particularly about the Masshouse in Lyncolns Inn Fields. They tooke out of those Mass-Chappells all the furniture, Utensills, and combustable materialls and brought them into the Streete and there burnt them. They have since pulled down, burnt and carryed away all the Timber in most of them and the Girders and Joysts. They were pulling up the ground Joysts on Tuesday night about midnight and multitudes were carrying away Bricks in baskets so that they have left scarce any thing but the bare Walls. They have seized upon and exposed to Rapine all the rich furniture and Plate in the Spanish Ambassadors house, and the Treasures of severall Papists that were deposited with him."

It is evident from Morrice’s diary that Puritanism was not dead and buried during the latter half of the 17th century.Puritans according to one writer “worked through parliament, the royal court, and the households of gentry, merchants, lawyers, and clergy. Setting out to galvanise civil society, they mobilised public opinion, organised electorates, and deployed the arts of journalism, influence, and persuasion”.

Morrice's diary began 1677 and ended in 1691 During that time he wrote about the reigns the reigns of Charles II, James II, and William III and Mary II.  Despite what some historians have written this England and to be more precise the English bourgeoisie was in a constant state of crisis. Much of what we know about this period has been dominated by the Whig interpretation of history which as deep roots in the consciousness of the British political class.

As Ann  Talbot states “The visitor to Chatsworth House in Derbyshire can still see in the grand entrance hall a fireplace inscribed with the legend “1688 The year of our liberty.” It refers to the “Glorious Revolution” when James II quit his throne and his kingdom overnight, and William of Orange was installed as king. This was the kind of palace revolution that the British ruling class increasingly preferred to look back on rather than the revolution in the 1640s when they had executed the king, conveniently overlooking the fact that James would not have run if he had not remembered the fate of his father—Charles I[1].

Morrice lived in this period political and social reaction. On the continent, absolutist monarchies were securing their powerful grip on trade.The English ruling class did not want to return to the instability of the English revolution and sought a period of political and social stability to achieve economic growth to compete with its rival mercantile powers. From 1660 to 1688 they tried to reach a political compromise that would at once secure them the gains of the revolution while establishing a stable form of government.

Morrice documented any threat to this stability In the diary, he wrote of the persecution of those he were a danger to the ruling elite, their laws and their established Church, such as the Quakers and Puritans.

"Eleven young men and women were seized at a chapel and convicted, fined and jailed, where they are put to hard labour," he wrote.

"The government has violated the fundamental laws of the kingdom and advanced arbitrary power and infringed liberty and property… and judges convict offenders… without any trial by juries," he wrote on January 23, 1679.

He described suspects being tortured for plotting against the king, on October 16, 1684, one victim was to  "keep him from sleeping, which they did without intermission for nine or 10 days. When he was ready to die … the balls of his eyes swollen as big as tennis balls … they tormented him by the thumbs".


"It is a huge source of material that will play a very significant role in helping historians and students understand the period,"  "It shows England in a very different mood to the Pepys diary, which was celebrating getting rid of the Puritans." Goldie is correct, and he and his team have done a tremendous service to make the study of this period easier and more rewarding.

It would be a mistake, however, to just see Morrice’s work as a historical relic or curiosity they have a contemporary ring to them. A serious study of them will give the dedicated reader a deeper insight into the problems we face today. The Entring Book should help us to ask questions about nature of modern day communication and who controls the information. To what extent does gossip, rumour and the advent of fake news guide our political views. If Morrice were  alive today, he would have a field day

[1]   "These the times ... this the man": an appraisal of historian Christopher Hill By Ann Talbot
25 March 2003