13 February 2011

'Upon beat of Drumme'

In the Alfred and Isabel Reed Collection, Dunedin City Library, there are fifteen boxes of printed leaves and fragments dating from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century that form part of the Printing Examples Collection. These items are currently being added to the online catalogue as part of an ongoing retrospective cataloguing project. The majority have been identified, and the project has yielded some treasures, such as a leaf from the Shakespeare First Folio (London, 1623) and another from Cornelius Roelans's Opusculum aegritudinum infantium (Louvain, 1486–1487). Not all the 'fragments', however, are what they seemed.

Among the cuttings and full pages are two Parliamentarian broadsides printed in 1644, the third year of the First English Civil War (1642–1646). Both were trimmed and possibly bound into a book, therefore mistaken for fragments as a result. The earlier of the two sheets is dated 'Die Sabbati, 24 August 1644', and the only other copies recorded in the ESTC are held by Harvard University and the Huntington Library respectively (ESTC R25376).

The August broadside included two orders. The first granted 'Serjeants and Councellors at Law' the power to execute 'the Commissions of Oyer and Terminer, and Goal-delivery', which empowered those so commissioned to 'hear and determine' ('oyer and terminer') all criminal matters, and to try all prisoners committed to a local gaol ('Goal-delivery' [sic]). The second, more mundane order, granted 'commissions of sewers'. Both are endorsed by Henry Elsynge, clerk of the House of Commons, a position Elsynge held from December 1639 to December 1648 when he resigned the post citing poor health. In truth, Elsynge wanted no part in the trial against Charles I (ODNB). The broadside was printed for Edward Husband(s), a stationer who, in 1650, was directed to print all the ordinances and acts leading up to and including the trial of the deposed king.

The second broadside is dated 'Die Lunae, 16 Septemb. 1644'. ESTC again records just two other copies, one held by Harvard and the other by the British Library (ESTC R212197).

The order granted 'Commissioners of Martiall-Law' the power to 'proceed against' soldiers and officers who abandoned their colours without leave, ordered the Committee for the Militia to instruct the Courts of Guards to arrest any deserters, and commanded all military personnel near London and Westminster to join their regiments or face prosecution. 

The 16 September date is key. Although the Royalists lost control of northern England after the Battle of Marston Moor in July 1644, the armies of Charles I were still a threat to the Parliamentarian cause in the south. Towards the end of June, Charles I won the Battle of Cropredy Bridge near Banbury in Oxfordshire. On 2 September, the Parliamentarians were again defeated, this time at the Battle of Lostwithiel in Cornwall. With Charles I now marching towards London, and their forces growing increasingly demoralised and disaffected, the Parliamentarian commanders could not have afforded any depletion in the ranks.

The September broadside was published 'forthwith upon beat of Drumme' by the Committee for the Militia, endorsed by another clerk of the Commons, John Brown, and printed for John Wright, Sr., the notable bookseller who published Shakespeare's Sonnets and Marlowe's Faustus.

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