Paper Combats

The Battle for the Provinces

Parliament had failed as a forum in which to express and reconcile political differences and could not hope to enjoy that function again until the King returned, along with those members who now defected.1 A recurring theme of subsequent negotiations was to find terms on which the King could return to London, a necessary preliminary to the resumption of this role. In the spring of 1642, however, parliamentary politics as they were normally understood had broken down, but there was no alternative way forward. As a consequence emerging royalist and parliamentarian parties battled for control of the language of constitutional moderation and of provincial institutions, appealing to wider publics and mobilizing support for their favoured projects and platforms.

In the immediate aftermath of the attempt on the Five Members the political temperature was very high. The arsenal assembled for the Scottish wars was in Hull and the King made a preliminary attempt to take control of it by issuing the Earl of Newcastle with a commission as governor of the town. Parliament hastily empowered Sir John Hotham to secure the arsenal in the name of King and Parliament, and a hasty journey up the Great North Road thwarted the royal plan. On 12 January, Colonel Lunsford assembled some of his Cavaliers at Kingston, where the Surrey arsenal was kept. There they met Lord George Digby, sent over from Hampton Court, and it was assumed that the plan was to arm enough men to secure Portsmouth for the King. When the King moved from the palace at Hampton Court to the castle at Windsor, on 13 January, it was easy to believe the worst, and there were rumours of wagons of arms heading for Windsor in the days afterwards.2 On 15 January men of strong convictions in the Commons, including Oliver Cromwell, called for the creation of a committee to put the kingdom into a posture of defence and on 18 January that committee proposed that the militia should be mobilized by the authority of a parliamentary ordinance – that is, without the King’s assent. This was an issue of unmistakable constitutional significance, and one which forced many allegiances later in the summer. The previous day, prompted by Pym, a Committee of the Whole House requested the dismissal of the King’s entire Privy Council, to be replaced by men appointed with the advice of the Houses. The Attorney General was impeached for agreeing to issue the charges against the Five Members and on 20 January the Commons ordered that a printed letter be sent to the sheriffs in all counties requiring all adult males to swear the Protestation.3

Taken together these were remarkably provocative measures. Parliament would have taken control of the militia and of whom the King should take as advisers, and was at the same time appealing directly to the people as the defenders of the Church of England. The use of ordinances (legislation passed on the authority of Parliament but without royal consent) seemed also to threaten fundamental constitutional principles. It was certainly a ticklish issue. No-one argued that Parliament could legislate alone: statutes required the royal assent. Parliament, however, could be said to be serving as a Great Council to the monarch, akin to the Privy Council. Just as the King could make proclamations in the absence of a parliament, so long as they did not make new law, so the Privy Council could issue executive orders in the King’s absence. Now, it was claimed, Parliament acting as the King’s Great Council could make such orders. While the King had been in Scotland the previous August, Parliament had passed five ordinances with this logic, and the constitutional principle does not appear to have caused outrage even though the fifth order, for disarming recusants, arguably went beyond existing law.4 On the other hand, this constitutional device coincided with more aggressive claims for Commons influence over policy, and this political issue did cause dissent – resentment against the growing pretensions of ‘King Pym’, the programme suggested by the Ten Propositions and the Commons order of 8 September for the purification of the churches.5 The proposals put forward in the fevered aftermath of the attempt on the Five Members accelerated this process. In the Lords there was considerable disquiet about these developments, and active opposition to the national imposition of the Protestation.6

These measures were taken against a background of continuing crowd activity in London and a renewed round of county petitioning strengthened Pym’s hand: on 25 January he personally delivered four massive county petitions to the Lords, throwing the weight of the Commons behind their demands (among which were the removal of bishops and popish lords from the upper House). Some London petitions were now making a connection between the failure to reach a political settlement and the decay of trade, and between January and March eleven counties and six towns petitioned Parliament on this issue. Clothworkers in Essex, Suffolk and the West Riding were among those who made this connection, and with some justification. Fearing forced loans and debasement of the coinage in the summer of 1641 many merchants had avoided tying up their capital in stocks of cloth. This, in turn, meant that work in clothing districts dried up and these conditions apparently persisted through the winter. In Essex, at least, this sectional economic interest fused with anti-Catholicism and popular parliamentarianism. In London, the slump led to the intervention of ‘poor labouring men, known by the name of porters, the lowest members of the City of London’.7

On 31 January, for the first time in this crisis, a petition was presented by women, specifically ‘many poor and distressed women in and about London’. To some extent these petitioners stayed within the bounds of the public role afforded to women by claiming that because of the slump they could not feed their families. Women had an established role in this sense, and were frequently prominent in food riots for this reason: as the family members most involved in the food market it was they who were most aware of corruption and exploitation within it. Petitioning on behalf of their families, and in these terms, avoided any challenge to the patriarchal assumptions governing political participation. But this posture could not conceal the fact that these women were making direct political interventions in a less than deferential way. Like the clothworkers and porters they attributed the slump to the political crisis, arguing that a popish plot existed to plunge England into a war, once Ireland had been overrun. This line of argument led to the extraordinary spectacle of poor women attending the Houses demanding that the kingdom be put in a posture of defence, that popish lords and bishops should be excluded from the House of Lords and that those who were hindering reformation should be identified and punished. The following day, 400 women attended the Houses for an answer and became involved in a scuffle with the Earl of Lennox. ‘Away with these women, we were best to have a parliament of women,’ he apparently said, only to have his staff broken as they tried to block his path. Philip Skippon, who was guarding the House, was told that for every woman there today there would be 500 the following day, since they might as well die there as at home, and they had also apparently threatened to bring their children to starve at the door of the Lords rather than watch them die at home. Lennox and Lord Keeper Littleton were both mobbed by a crowd of women and porters when they left that evening.8

In response to the provocations of Parliament’s measures, and against the background of these developments in crowd politics, Charles adopted a surprisingly conciliatory tone. He had gone to Windsor on 13 January partly in fear for his safety, since it was rumoured that 1,000 citizens were on their way to Hampton Court with a petition. At Windsor he kept a rather thin and depressing court, which can have done little for his morale.9 On 20 January he wrote to the Houses in fairly emollient terms, acknowledging ‘the manifold distractions which are now in this Kingdom which cannot but bring great inconveniency and mischiefs to this whole government’. Accordingly he asked the Houses to consider what was necessary ‘for the upholding and maintaining of His Majesty’s just and regal authority, and for the settling of his revenue, as for the present and future establishment of their privileges, the free and quiet enjoying of their estates and fortunes, the liberty of their persons, and security of the true religion now professed in the Church of England, and the settling of the ceremonies in such a manner as may take away all just offence’. He hoped that, digested into a single document, this would provide the basis for progress, and disavowed ‘intending or designing any of those things, which the too great fears and jealousies of some persons seem to apprehend’.10

This restrained public response was probably a reflection of his desire to get his wife safely across the Channel. Whatever its motives, it did not satisfy the more radical spirits in Parliament. On 20 January the Commons had received a petition from Colchester which was hostile to the Prayer Book and a move to refuse to give thanks for the petition was overruled. The following day, in a debate about a forthcoming declaration of their position, the Commons voted in favour of a clause arguing that the ills of the kingdom were due to the want of reformation of church government and the shortcomings of the liturgy. When the Protestation had been passed the previous spring it had silently excluded a commitment to defend the discipline of the Church of England. Now the Commons were actively refusing to defend the Book of Common Prayer. Meanwhile, John Hampden called for parliamentary control of military strongpoints, including the Tower.11

Such developments had often been obstructed by the House of Lords over the previous fifteen months. But there was a committed core of activists who fought for, indeed sought to lead, the cause during the 1640s in co-operation with fellow travellers in the Commons. Their effectiveness in the Lords was increased by the defection of those who had restrained them.12 In early February Charles gave fourteen peers leave to absent themselves from the House, some of whom joined him. Others took the opportunity to leave the House: on 9 February sixty-seven. Lords were absent and attendances in both Houses fell further during the early spring.13

This exodus allowed the passage of the Bishops Exclusion Bill and the Impressment Bill in early February. Most provocatively of all, the reduced House immediately welcomed the proposed Militia Ordinance when it was presented on 15 February. The ordinance suggested that the King was being misled by the counsels of papists and other ill-affected persons and that as a result, in this time of imminent danger, Parliament should take over the King’s military authority, appointing dependable men as lieutenants and deputy lieutenants. As a practical political measure this is easy enough to understand, given what many people thought they knew about Charles. As a constitutional issue this was outrageous: what kind of king was it who did not control the military resources of the realm?

Throughout this period Charles held fire, agreeing to the Bishops Exclusion Bill and the Impressment Bill, dropping the charges against the Five Members and agreeing to place the command of the Tower of London in the hands of Sir John Conyers. Even in this mood, however, the Militia Ordinance was impossible for him to accept, but he signalled this only with a fairly moderate prevarication. By the time Henrietta Maria was safely embarked, on 23 February, Charles had made spectacular concessions, and London’s streets were quiet once again. Pym pressed on, however, securing the passage of the Militia Ordinance on 5 March.14 These measures were hardly likely to be seen as solutions to ills of the kingdom – parliamentary government as it was normally understood had collapsed. An important reason for this political failure was the way in which political argument had spilled out beyond the walls – in the mobilization of opinion in petitions, demonstrations and printed polemics. Following the breakdown of parliamentary government this process was virtually unrestrained. From March onwards battle was joined for the hearts, minds and military resources of provincial England.

After Henrietta Maria’s departure Charles had returned to Greenwich where, despite the wishes of Parliament, he met up with his eldest son. While he was there he finally responded to the Militia Ordinance, in strongly negative terms. This rejection led to a further escalation of the constitutional terms of the conflict. An important argument in justification of the ordinance was that there was a state of emergency manifest in the various military threats to Parliament. Tackling this emergency required Parliament to have control of defensive military forces and, in the absence of the King, that could only be achieved by an ordinance. This was, in other words, presented as an executive measure rather than a new law. When the King rejected the measure, according to this line of argument, it confirmed the emergency and the absence of the King. As Simonds D’Ewes, a member with a keen eye for legal matters, wrote: ‘if the king should be desperate and lay violent hands upon himself [we] must not only advise but wrest the weapon, so too if he should seize the helm of a ship in a storm and threaten to drown them all, only one course of action was possible’.15

With affairs in this posture, the King began a leisurely progress to York, taking eighteen days for a journey that was possible much more quickly. En route he was warmly received in Cambridge and enjoyed a day of hunting at Little Gidding, but his reception at York was disappointing. In the meantime he had exchanged declarations with his parliamentary critics. In these exchanges his absence, the nature of the emergency and the extraordinary political and constitutional postures adopted by Parliament were all debated at length and in historical detail. Both parties sought to attribute blame for the breakdown of the political process to the other party in an exchange that has been likened to a marital dispute – a series of mutual recriminations rather than an attempt to resolve the dispute, almost incomprehensible in its detail to non-participants.16 But it was also intended for public consumption: to extend the analogy, it was communication in the form ‘tell your father that he’s the one who is jeopardizing the constitution’.


The ‘paper war’: fundamental constitutional issues argued out before a print audience

These mutual recriminations were aimed at a print audience, and were intended to recruit allies as much as to resolve differences. Proclamations, petitions, ballads, pamphlets and scandalous verse brought the issues of this paper war to the provincial middling sort. Letters accompanied pamphlets sent down to the country, fuelling tavern conversation that was engaged, irreverent and often satirical. The response could be informed and critical, as in Colchester, where Stephen Lewes was disgruntled at the suppression of royal propaganda: ‘why should not we know the King’s mind as well as the parliament’s mind?’17

Behind these public and widely discussed exchanges, a parliamentary constitutional theory was taking shape: claims for the rights of subjects to exercise key restraints over the powers of their monarch. The argument for the executive powers of Parliament as the Great Council of the kingdom solidified – the King’s absence was said to be part of the crisis which necessitated the emergency measure (an argument which duly infuriated the royalists). By the early summer Parliament had staked out political territory which could only be justified by these arguments with a dose of goodwill and a following wind. A key issue in these exchanges was the King’s ‘Negative Voice’. To become law, a bill had to pass both Houses and then receive the royal assent. This effectively gave the monarch a veto – a Negative Voice which allowed him to stop legislation which had been passed by both Houses (hence, for example, the slight delay in securing Strafford’s death). According to the Great Council argument now being made, the use of the Negative Voice could necessitate an ordinance. Where the King was not willing to assent to necessary measures the Houses had to act in his absence.18 This, of course, implied something very profound about the relative powers of King and Parliament, and their relationship to the good of the kingdom. Charles was upholding his right to withhold consent, arguing that without that power he was no longer a king in a meaningful sense. In that, surely, he must have had a lot of support, and there were few who would have drawn the conclusion that England would therefore be better off without a king. Advocates of Parliament’s position, on the other hand, seemed to be suggesting that the King was answerable to his advisers” sense of what was good for the kingdom – if something was unacceptable to them then the King could not insist upon it.19

Throughout the life of this parliament there had been a tendency for political difficulties with Charles to lead to constitutional resolutions affecting all kings. Control of the militia was accelerating this process, and leading to startling claims. Even though the sternest opponents of these measures were now likely to be absent from the Houses, it took considerable political skill on Pym’s part to maintain the momentum, and to carry increasingly radical policies despite the qualms of many more moderate spirits.20 In his public declarations Charles was guided by moderate, constitutional royalists, like Edward Hyde, later the Earl of Clarendon, who aimed to undercut the political and constitutional radicalism of Parliament’s position. An opponent of abuses of the prerogative, he supported episcopacy and the Church of England, but without an insistence on enforcing ceremonial issues that were ‘indifferent’. His trajectory from the ‘opposition’ of 1640 to royalism in 1642 is fairly clear, and similar to that of others. By the summer of 1641 Hyde had been working informally to achieve a full settlement in co-operation with Sir John Colepeper and Lucius Cary, Viscount Falkland, the latter two parliamentary critics of the Personal Rule who, as defenders of the rule of law and religious decency, drew back as the measures of reform pressed further. Together they co-ordinated court attempts to influence the Commons in late 1641 and were widely suspected of being the authors of Charles’s propaganda. On concrete policy, however, Charles seems to have been heavily reliant on the forthright advice of Henrietta Maria, who had consistently counselled him to settle matters by force, foreign force if necessary. Disappointed by the rather lukewarm reception in York, Charles decided on two inflammatory courses of action – to go to Ireland personally to settle the political conflict there, and to wrest control of the arsenal in Hull from Sir John Hotham. Both suggestions were provocative in a situation where the King was thought to be in the hands of an armed papistical conspiracy, and was known previously to have considered bringing Irish forces into England in order to exert a bit of discipline on his behalf.21

The journey to Ireland did not materialize, but the attempt on Hull did, and it resulted in one of the most famous confrontations of the decade. The King’s second son, the Duke of York, and Charles’s brother-in-law, the Elector Palatine, had visited Hull on 22 April and been well entertained, but when the King made the journey there in person the following day the reception was much cooler. Four miles from town he sent ahead a letter saying that he had come to inspect the arsenal and that if his request was refused he would make his way into town ‘according to the laws of the land’. Forewarned Hotham decided to stick by his orders from Parliament. Aware that around forty-five strangers had arrived the previous day in the train of the princes, and that the King was accompanied by 300 horsemen, he shut the gates of the town and sent a message ahead to the King telling him ‘with all humble submissions’ that he would not break his trust to Parliament. In the rain, outside the walls, Charles’s supporters called on the garrison to kill Hotham and throw his body over the wall, but they did not; and Hotham refused Charles’s request to enter with just twenty of his men. Charles called on the heralds to proclaim Hotham a traitor, and rode away. He had given such ample notice of his arrival that it is hard to believe that he simply wanted to take control of the arsenal – arriving unannounced he would almost certainly have been able to do it. It seems likely that this was intended to be the symbolic moment that it subsequently became – demonstrating that Hotham was in rebellion against his king.22

Hotham’s position had not been an enviable one. His defence against the charge of rebellion rested on a well-established (though now rather incredible) line of argument. In January, when Parliament had sent him to take control of Hull, the order had been not to deliver it without ‘the King’s authority signified unto him by the Lords and Commons now assembled in Parliament’. The King, and some Members of Parliament, could not believe that this stretched to refusing entry to the King himself, and he rather cleverly put Hotham in the position of arguing that it did. The justification was that the authority of the King was separate from his physical body, that his authority could be present where his private person was not. For example, when a judge gave a judgement in court, it was considered to be the King’s judgement, underpinned by royal authority, even if the King did not agree with it. The argument went, therefore, that Parliament could express itself with the King’s authority in ways with which the King as an individual disagreed. All very clever, but rather cleverly nailed by Charles in a subsequent proclamation: ‘these persons have gone about subtly to distinguish betwixt our person and our authority, as if, because our authority may be where our person is not, that therefore our person may be where our authority is not’. For him the case was clear – these people were in open rebellion against him.23

Although he scored a fundamental political point, Charles had lost the arsenal. He had also by this time lost Portsmouth, the other great provincial arsenal, and the navy. After his initial departure from London in January it seems fairly clear that Charles was manoeuvring to take control of Portsmouth but it was for the time being under the command of George Goring on behalf of Parliament.24 Parliamentary attempts to influence the choice of naval commanders had been going on since 1640. In March 1642 the Lord High Admiral, Lord Northumberland, declared himself too unwell to go to sea and was persuaded by the House of Lords to nominate the Earl of Warwick in his stead. Warwick’s naval credentials were good, but his political and religious views persuaded the King to resist this nomination. He sought instead to secure the appointment of Sir John Pennington, a man who had commanded the fleet since 1639. Parliament launched an investigation of his conduct as a means of subverting this appointment, and persuaded Northumberland to confirm Warwick’s appointment on 4 April. The King, faced with a fait accompli, even failed to accept by way of consolation the appointment of Sir George Carteret, a man trusted by him, as vice-admiral. The military effects of this were soon to be felt, for Warwick, acting under Parliament’s orders, had sent warships to lie in the Humber before the King’s confrontation with Hotham. Their presence there had strengthened Hotham’s position, of course, and in May the fleet brought the arms to London. Having ignored direct orders from the King the commanders of the fleet were thanked for their fidelity by the House of Lords. The military benefits of parliamentary command of the navy were significant in the coming years.25

In the aftermath of these events the constitutional struggle and attendant pamphlet war reached new heights. In this round of argument the intention seems even more clearly to have been to appeal for support rather than to achieve reconciliation.26 On 5 May, Parliament ordered that the Militia Ordinance be put into execution, provoking an immediate printed answer from the King and, on 27 May, a formal proclamation against the ordinance and those who obeyed it. On 6 May a parliamentary declaration had put the Great Council argument particularly pungently:

The High Court of Parliament is not only a court of judicature, enabled by the laws to adjudge and determine the rights and liberties of the kingdom, against such patents and grants of His Majesty as are prejudicial thereunto… but is likewise a council, to provide for the necessities, prevent the imminent dangers, and preserve the public peace and safety of the kingdom, and to declare the King’s pleasure in those things as are requisite thereunto; and what they do herein hath the stamp of the royal authority, although His Majesty, seduced by evil counsel, do in his own person oppose or interrupt the same; for the King’s supreme and royal pleasure is exercised and declared by this High Court of law and council, after a more eminent and obligatory manner than it can be by personal act or resolution of his own.27

Invited by people within the royal camp to state its terms for settlement, Parliament produced the Nineteen Propositions on 1 June. Here the claims of Parliament to an executive role were unmistakable and prompted a further round of escalation in the constitutional argument. Accepted as a whole they would have made Parliament the sovereign power. Parliament would have had the power to approve who the King chose as councillors, officials and judges. Following the implementation of the Militia Ordinance, the disbandment of the King’s personal forces, and the placing of fortresses in the hands of men approved by Parliament, parliamentary control of military resources would have been complete. Parliament demanded that the church be reformed and governed according to Parliament’s wishes and that no peers created subsequently would have been allowed to sit without the consent of both Houses. It also sought to dictate the King’s foreign policy. These were demands which would have permanently shifted the constitutional position of Parliament. There were also other demands relating to the education of the King’s children and the arrangement of their marriages, the enforcement of the recusancy laws, and the punishment of delinquents.28 Distrust of this particular king had led Parliament into proposing a constitutional revolution; this radicalism and the public insult to the King could hardly be plainer.

The King’s Answer to the XIX Propositions stated the royalist position in terms of established and respectable political theory. It was drafted by Falkland and Colepeper, who took their stand on the law. Parliament’s propositions, they said, were an attempt to remove a ‘troublesome rub’ from their path – that is, the law of the land, which was the birthright of every Englishman. To accept the propositions would have overthrown not just personal monarchy but also a mixed monarchy, in which the authority of the crown and Parliament were combined. Authority lay with the King-in-Parliament – the King was a part of Parliament, and could not simply be dictated to by the other constituent parts. They also gave a commitment to remove illegal innovations that had crept into the church – a commitment to the preservation of the Reformation within the law which implied again the importance of the law in the regulation of political and religious life. The argument about the estates of the realm had a very respectable lineage, but there was room for disagreement here. Hyde held to the view that the three estates of the realm were the Commons, the Lords spiritual (the bishops) and the Lords temporal (the peers). He felt that Colepeper and Falkland had conceded too much in taking the (equally venerable) line that the King was one of the three estates – making him an equal partner, rather than the King over the three estates. In effect, however, they had mounted a defence of a limited monarch, something that had been taken for granted in 1640.29 Indeed, Colepeper had been a vociferous petitioner in the opening days of the Long Parliament, in defence of the lawful government of the country, and now found himself the spokesman for moderate royalism on the eve of a civil war.

In response to the Answer, Henry Parker, something of a veteran pamphleteer and controversialist, published his Observations on some of His Majesties Late Answers and Expresses. This broke new ground in a number of ways. Unperturbed by the royalists” claim to be the defenders of the constitution, he pushed ahead, spelling out very clearly the implications of the recent declarations and demands. In an emergency which threatened the state the King was obliged to follow Parliament’s advice. Parliament was the state itself, with a sovereign power of its own, capable of addressing dangers by legislative, executive or judicial means. Its advice was crucial to supplying the defects of monarchy and if the King did not follow it then the ultimate moving force of all human laws – individual self-preservation and the good of the people (salus populi) justified the Lords and Commons in acting without him.30 Even more daringly, he argued that the King’s Negative Voice rendered all Englishmen slaves. It was based on an argument about freedom which can be traced before 1642 in parliamentary speeches and elsewhere, not least in the controversy over the Petition of Right. To be free, it was said, it was necessary not only to be able to exercise all your rights and freedoms in practice; you also needed to be free, in principle, from any possible constraint. This was because fear of censure or hope of reward would act as a bridle or a spur, distorting your actions as a free man and rendering you, in effect, the creature of another. This was used as an argument in favour of the Bishops Exclusion Bill in January – they should not sit in the House of Lords since their position depended on the King, and they were not, therefore, free to exercise their rights and liberties as free men. Parker now yoked it to the controversy about the Negative Voice, the existence of which rendered all Englishmen ‘slaves’, since it was a continual potential limit on the exercise of their rights and liberties.31

But was Parker speaking for anyone but himself? It is significant here that Parker was probably also involved in drafting two declarations of May which had flirted with these ideas and his argument about slavery. Parker was secretary to the Committee of Safety established in the summer of 1642, and clearly had a role in drafting many of its papers and letters. From July onwards the committee also had a primary role in drafting declarations and, although Pym was the most prominent member of the committee, it is unlikely that an experienced polemicist like Parker was there only to take dictation.32 Parker’s argument about slavery was taken up in other pamphlets later in the summer – among them a pamphlet called Reasons why this Kingdom ought to adhere to the Parliament. This has plausibly been shown to have been published by presses run by George Bishop and Robert White, who evidently had a line in radical parliamentary publications. Even more intriguingly, they seem to have had connections with Pym and with William Walwyn, the later Leveller. Pym may have been complicit in floating these arguments but, at the point where a very significant line was crossed, the views were expressed as private opinion, not as the official parliamentary line. Instead they appeared as the private opinion of polemicists like Parker or anonymously, as in the case of Reasons (which bore the name of neither author nor publisher).33

If it is true that Pym was to some degree complicit in this ideological radicalization, seeking either to fly kites or to soften up the public with a clever manipulation of the press, it bears testimony to an increasingly complicated relationship between politicians and the press.34 For example, the publication of parliamentary speeches seems to have been both commonplace and a breach of a longstanding inhibition on publicizing the deliberations of Parliament.35 Nonetheless, from very early in the Long Parliament speeches had been printed, and there were also, from very early on, publications purporting to be speeches which were clearly fictitious – because the supposed speaker had not spoken in the relevant debate or was no longer even a member of the House. Even this did not automatically cause offence, however. Many of John Pym’s printed speeches seem to have been fabrications, for example: an observation that both cuts him down to size a little, while at the same time inflating his importance as a figurehead for influential views.36 But on occasion what was said, or who said it, or the timing, clearly did cause offence and on those occasions sanctions were imposed which might have seemed to some to have been inconsistent.

Sir Edward Dering offers an instructive case. It was he who famously objected to the printing of the Grand Remonstrance: ‘I did not dream that we should remonstrate downward, tell tales to the people, and talk of the king as a third person’. The experience of these debates was an important moment in his ‘defection’ from the parliamentary cause. He had himself been chair of a committee dealing with ministers” grievances and charged with the licensing of books – he made an early speech complaining about the licensing of crypto-popish books. He had also seen many of his speeches in print, or circulating in manuscript copies, however. On 16 January 1642, at the height of the security scare following the attempt on the Five Members, a collection of his speeches appeared. Styled as moderate, they were highly inflammatory, and very critical of the more radical positions being taken by Parliament. But his parliamentary colleagues were most offended by the irreverent tone, and the public display of this dirty linen (sentiments not unlike his own reaction to the publication of the Grand Remonstrance). This offended against the view that free speech depended on civility, freedom from public opprobrium and, therefore, secrecy. On 2 February the collection was condemned by the Commons and ordered to be burned by the public hangman. Dering himself was expelled from the House and sent to the Tower, where he remained until discharged on his own petition on 11 February.37 The spectacle of politicians appearing on all sides of these questions about the propriety of publication invited satire. John Taylor, one of the most prolific satirists of the period, for example, published a pamphlet (under the anagrammatic pseudonym Thorny Ailo) which promised on its title page that it was based on shorthand notes taken at a sermon.38

Such a public breakdown of government by the King-in-Parliament was bound to resonate more widely and the snowstorm of official and semi-official declarations was part of a larger paper war. Thomason acquired more pamphlets per month in this period than during any other: an average of 165 titles each month, with peaks of 200 in January and 231 in August.39 Much of the output consisted of the official statements of the two sides, published speeches or news items, but there was clearly a much wider mobilization of opinion. This was manifest too in petitions and battles for control of local institutions, and in this mobilization there was a concerted attempt to harness existing metaphors and images to fit the current situation. The issues which seemed irreconcilable in national institutions were represented differently in local situations, but this was clearly a crisis which affected all levels of English government.

In the paper war between Parliament and the King secular issues were at the cutting edge of the conflict. But the motor behind the radical constitutional position, and the grounds on which Parliament’s cause often seemed to rest, was the defence of the true religion.40 This was certainly prominent on both sides of the conflict in the larger pamphlet campaign. Anti-popery, of course, played well for those who had remained in Parliament. In the light of what were seen as recurrent attempts to use force to overawe the guardians of the true religion – the two army plots, the Incident and the attempt on the Five Members – popery could now be seen as an active military threat. This was not new, but was newly urgent, and gained a further impetus from the Irish rebellion. Anti-popery as a polemical argument for further reformation was fused with this more restricted and dangerous form of anti-popery attached to a specific Catholic threat. It served to mobilize opinion in support of radical constitutional as well as religious positions.

Ireland was a dominant presence in print: in October 15 per cent of the tracts collected by Thomason were concerned with Ireland, rising to 22 and 28 per cent in the following two months. Between January and June 1642 nearly 23 per cent of the collection concerns Ireland, with peaks of one third or more of the total in February and April. In this massive print output stories of Catholic atrocities were clearly exaggerated, and the authors and publishers of those accounts were men with an agenda close to that championed by Pym. An important strand of writing related these atrocities directly to a strong tradition in English Protestantism celebrating the sufferings of true believers, and some passages apparently describing contemporary atrocities seem to have been lifted almost directly from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.41

They had detractors in the presses, willing to denounce the ‘many fabulous pamphlets that are set out concerning the rebels in Ireland of their outrages and bloody proceedings’, and which identified this episode with a history of the evils of rebellion rather than of Protestant sufferings. But these brave voices were shouting into a strong wind. By late 1641 fears of an Irish invasion were alive in England and Wales, along with the (groundless) fear that recusants would join forces with them.42 In January, John Thomas, likely associate of Pym and inventor of the newsbook, published ‘a true relation’ of a bloody popish plot in Derbyshire, an attempt to blow up the parish church of Bingley, which must have been intended for this audience.43 The title page is larded with promises of details: names, dates and places, as well as a full inventory of a store of arms seized from a Catholic recusant. This plain factual reporting countered the charge of exaggeration, but the pamphlet had a clear and partisan political implication. Thomas Needham, a prominent local recusant of substantial means, employed John Simonds to place thirty-four barrels of gunpowder, faggots, old iron and stones in the vault of the church, with the intention of blowing it up during divine service, ‘when the church was filled with a full number of parishioners’. God’s providence averted the catastrophe, however, when Jacob Francklin, the sexton, arrived at the church to toll the ‘passing bell’ for a parishioner who was gravely ill. Hearing noises in the vault he investigated and disaster was averted. Following investigations by the local magistrates a search of Needham’s house revealed a stock of arms, enough to set out at least one hundred men for war.44 The pamphlet is written with a little style – the narrative is dramatically recounted – but there are some printing errors, so it may have been a rushed production. Given what else we know about Thomas’s publishing, it seems likely that revelation of this store of arms was intended to support the case for the radical security measures promoted in the Commons during January: it was on 18 January that a parliamentary committee had proposed the Militia Ordinance and, a couple of days later, that John Hampden had called for parliamentary control of strongpoints, including the Tower.45


The pamphlet account of the gunpowder plot in Derbyshire, which was probably fictitious, despite the assurances on the title page

This was also a story to be understood in the light of previous Catholic plots, of course: the resonances with the Gunpowder Plot are strong in general and in the details (Fawkes and his associates had used thirty-six barrels of powder, along with faggots and other materials), and placed this story in a longer history of providential deliveries from Catholic plots. It was this general lesson which was, ostensibly, the main concern of the pamphlet: ‘This kingdom hath had too frequent experience of their mischievous intentions and plots, which had the all-seeing eye of Heaven not prevented, we would long ago been brought to utter ruin and destruction’. Like the plague sore of the previous autumn, the inhumanity of the plot revealed the corruption of the beliefs from which it sprang. Providential delivery bore testimony to God’s favour, and to the persistent blindness of Catholics to His purposes. Their resilience in the face of constant frustration was thus evidence of a more fundamental error: ‘Mischief, the child of heresy, cannot want instruments to prosecute and bring it to perfection, and the devil, who is the author of all unlawful attempts is always ready at hand to further and set forward any dissensions, and damnable enterprises’.46

Anti-popery was not necessarily about Catholics – it was a language with which to denounce the danger of all threats to the Reformation. In the past, it had been possible to distinguish between the threat of popery and the more acceptable presence of Catholic recusants and it is well attested that practical local toleration of Catholics existed alongside a keen awareness of the threat of popery in the abstract.47 In these fraught political circumstances, however, these distinctions were in danger of breaking down. Pym and others had conflated popery with Catholic conspiracy for months, but the Irish rebellion and the year of plots gave this line of argument its maximum appeal. Many parts of the country experienced Catholic scares during these months, fuelled by knowledge that violence in Ireland was extending widely in January and February.48 There is some evidence that it began to erode the practical toleration of recusants in provincial England, and in August anti-Catholic scares were to give way in Essex to attacks on the houses of Catholics.49 This atmosphere was also bad for the prospects of those Catholic priests unfortunate enough to be arrested. Seven priests were arrested and executed in the aftermath of the Irish rising. Two of them, a Benedictine called Alban Roe and an ageing secular priest, Father Thomas Greene, met their ends at Tyburn in late January, and on 22 March further executions followed. This was despite, or perhaps because of, the King’s record in securing reprieves for Catholic priests. Such deaths were gleefully reported in pamphlets, of course. Arthur Browne, a seminary priest, was condemned at Dorchester assizes on 16 August, and his public recantation was reported for the edification of a wider audience in London nine days later. Hugh Green, condemned at the same assizes, met a grotesque end, which reportedly culminated in a game of football using his severed head.50

This heady mix of anti-papistical writing seems to have underpinned mobilizations across most of the country in support for the emerging parliamentary position. In the aftermath of the attempt on the Five Members, a number of county petitions were submitted, co-ordinating provincial concerns about the future of Protestantism with the defence of parliamentary liberties. In fact, between December 1641 and May 1642, thirty-seven of England’s forty counties petitioned Parliament, along with a number of Welsh counties and boroughs. Some counties petitioned more than once, and Westmorland added its petition to the pile in August. The contents of these petitions suggest that those promoting Pym’s position were more successful at mobilizing provincial opinion than those with alternative visions. Most concentrated on anti-popery, evil counsellors, preaching and scandalous ministers, the decay of trade and the militia. Rather than talk of confrontation they tended to set out terms for an accommodation; but of course to urge accommodation was to urge that someone shift their position, and that often entailed taking a position on the national debate.51 Many of these petitions, of course, were printed, suggesting that these ‘county’ postures were intended as contributions to the wider debate.52

National subscription to the Protestation was not uncontroversial, but it was very successful – so successful in fact that the extant returns are one of the most complete English population listings for the seventeenth century. The Protestation had already become a token of allegiance and now 11,000 copies were printed to be circulated with a letter expressly tying the defence of English Protestantism to the defence of parliamentary liberties. Subscription was required as a sign of ‘good concurrence with the Parliament’ and was more urgent than ever because of the discovery of ‘many dangerous designs plotted against Parliament’. Parliament required the names of refusers as well as of subscribers, and many local returns obliged, with explanations for refusals or absences. Although the clearly partisan nature of this national subscription prompted new debate about the propriety of subscription, and many took the subscription with some mental reservation or explicit limitation, there is ample local evidence of widespread subscription and of the great pains that were taken to achieve that. On the other hand, the evidence of the reservations with which people might subscribe suggests that some could still separate subscription from a partisan parliamentarianism.53

Anti-popery was a powerful means to mobilize opinion in favour of Parliament’s actions, and it was promoted in the press, petitions and the Protestation campaign. It also involved the institutions of local government in partisan politics. Given the wide purchase of the call to defend English Protestantism it is not surprising that proto-royalists did not tackle anti-popery. Instead, they played on fears about religious and political order. For example, those who expressed more restrained views of the Irish rebellion did not distance themselves from anti-popery, but did place greater emphasis on the evils of disorder and rebellion.54 This concern for order resonated more widely. As we have seen, religious debate could now be expressed in terms of a choice between totems: the Protestation and the Prayer Book. The Commons vote of 21 January, which attributed the ills of the kingdom to the want of good reformation in church government and liturgy, had lent official weight to attacks on the Prayer Book, and reinforced attempts to rally to its support.55

Standard metaphors and literary forms were put to service in this mobilization too – God’s judgements were detected in the misfortunes of sectarians as well as popish plotters. One such was Richard Stichberry, churchwarden in Towcester in Northamptonshire, whose punishments were reported in a pamphlet of June 1642. He had broken a stained-glass window, ‘fairly painted’, leaving ‘God’s house so miserable mangled and torn, which ought to be used with an holy respect’. The patron of the church refused to make good the damage, insisting instead that those who had done it make the repair. God could not see such sins unpunished and within two days of the iconoclasm Stichberry’s wife ‘was exceedingly tormented on a sudden in her limbs, raging and crying most fearfully with the extreme anguish and pain she did endure, that she could not rest till such time as the violence thereof brought her to her last end’. Stichberry himself suffered an agonizing death shortly afterwards, ‘raving’ in such a way that five or six men could not control him, ‘howling and making a noise until he died’. Stichberry’s sister, Anne, had made scorn of the Prayer Book for the previous ‘two years’: in other words, more or less since the failure of the Short Parliament. She too was punished when she tore her Prayer Book out of a volume in which it was bound up with her Bible. God dealt harshly with this ‘poor silly creature’. Her hands began to rot ‘in a most strange manner… the flesh flying from the bones: and so continues to this present, rotting in a most fearful and loathsome manner’. Something of a local attraction, large crowds of onlookers came to see her, and ‘being so extreme loathsome’ she had been moved a mile out of town by her neighbours. The lesson was clear, that it was rash to attempt anything against sacred places, or to ‘vilify those things which have any part of holy Writ in them’. It was clearly unwise to attempt to alter anything in church, or about the Prayer Book established by ‘Authority’ until Parliament should determine otherwise. To that end the pamphlet reproduced the Lords order of 16 January 1641 calling for worship to be performed according to the statutes currently in force.56

This pamphlet invested a local event with cosmic significance and used it to underline the importance of order in worship, and of legitimate authority in achieving religious change. It also offered God’s special providence as a source of authority in uncertain times.57 Another, published by Richard Harper later in the summer, told of the punishment of those who resisted harmless ceremonies on the basis of ignorant zeal.58 Mary Wilmore, wife of John Wilmore, a rough mason in Mears Ashby (Northants.), had become concerned about the religious rituals that attended a birth while expecting a baby. In particular, she was concerned about the use of the sign of the cross during baptism, a ritual moment subject to some criticism in these months. In Essex, attacks on the practice, like attacks on the Prayer Book and the use of surplices, had been justified with reference to the Protestation and the obligation it imposed on people to resist popery.59 Mary persuaded her husband to visit one Master Barnard, a ‘reverend Divine’ in the village of Hardwick, not far away. Barnard’s answer was a learned and moderate one: the use of the sign of the cross ‘was in no ways necessary to salvation, but an ancient, laudable and decent ceremony of the Church of England’. On hearing this verdict Mary apparently declared that ‘I had rather my child should be born without a head than to have a head to be signed with the sign of the Cross’. Tragically, this wish was granted, and she gave birth to a child with no head and a sign of the cross on its chest.60

According to the author, John Locke, cleric, the responsibility for this tragedy lay either in Mary’s ‘weakness’ or in her ‘too much confiding in the conventicling Sectaries’, whose claims that the practice was a ‘pernicious, popish and idolatrous ceremony’ were refuted with scriptural citations. The judgement was set in the context of the fate of Julian the apostate, who pissed on the altar in Antioch to demonstrate his belief that ‘Divine providence took no care of outward ceremonies’. His punishment was ‘a disease that rotted his bowels [so that] his excrements leaving their wonted course, ran through his throat and blasphemous mouth in as stinking a manner as the poisoned trash and beggarly rudiments are fomented nowadays from the impudent mouths of unlearned and ignorant Teachers’. The fruits of their ‘pernicious and illiterate doctrine’ were exemplified in the terrible fate of Mary’s child, which reflected ‘God’s wrath and judgments to over curious and nice zealots of our times’. Locke’s own learning was evident not just in his command of scripture, and his knowing awareness of the danger of pursuing ‘unprofitable questions’ in public disputations, but in the Latin phrases which pepper the text.61

Religious contention in Northamptonshire was not restricted to pamphlet wars. On 28 June a party of volunteers raised for Parliament entered the village of Isham and destroyed its cross. This led to a charge of riot, prosecuted by Thomas Jenison, a neighbouring Justice. But the two men most likely to judge the case at a special sessions called to consider the matter were also likely to sympathize with the iconoclasm, and the commander of the troop was himself a JPs. On 6 July, Jenison went to Wellingborough and found Puritan JPs at lunch in the Hind, after the regular lecture, discussing the incident. Their conclusion was that it was not a riot and that he was interfering unnecessarily. A heated argument ensued but the matter was eventually brought before a special sessions on 11 July. There the men were found guilty, but not without problems. The foreman of the jury had apparently disheartened the jury, and as they withdrew to consider their verdict one of the presiding magistrates, Mr Sawyer, lectured them about the superstitious nature of crosses, citing the Commons order of 8 September 1641 as justification for the action of the volunteers. This led to an argument between Jenison and Sawyer in which Jenison accused him of seeking to pervert the jury. The Commons order had mentioned crucifixes not crosses, but Isham Cross was not the last victim of this zeal.62

Defence of the liturgy in pamphlets like those describing the torments of Stichberry and the Wilmores supported a programme of order based around the dignity of the clergy, learned divinity, and a nuanced approach to the authority of scripture and tradition in liturgical matters. The zeal of the humble, Puritan scriptural preciseness and public contestation were in this view not means to promote reformation, but a threat to the faith. Again, this seems to represent a modulation and radicalization of longer-standing polemics. Since the reign of Elizabeth at least there had been anti-Puritan polemic, which had often focused on the hypocrisy and self-love of Puritans. Starting with the line of anti-sectarian writing in the autumn of 1641, however, anti-Puritanism seemed to concentrate almost exclusively on the question of order, the dangers of schism and the folly of unlearned preachers.63

This anti-Puritanism was not necessarily the same as support for Laudianism, but it was certainly beginning to play better for the royalists than for Parliament. It was reflected, for example, in Ludlow, on 1 May, where a maypole was adorned with the head of a Roundhead and pelted with stones. Puritan excess in suppressing communal festivities was harnessed to attacks on Parliament’s partisans. Wallington noted, alongside ‘God’s judgements on them that set up the cursed maypole’, judgements on ‘mockers especially that new reproachful name… Round heads’.64 At Croft images were shot at ‘in derision of roundheads’ and a ‘Roundhead sermon’ in Hereford Cathedral was silenced. It was a term now juxtaposed to loyalty and constitutional royalism and it began to erode deference to the godly elite. Lady Brilliana Harvey wrote to her husband in June 1642 that:

They are grown exceeding rude in these parts. Every Thursday some of Ludlow, as they go through the town, wish all the puritans of Brampton [the home of the Harleys] hanged, and as I was walking one day in the garden… they looked upon me and wished all the puritans and Roundheads at Brampton hanged.65

Another sign of irreverence is in the spread of the nickname King Pym. It apparently arose from the publication of an order of the House of Commons in a form resembling that of a royal publication, appearing over the name of John Pym.66 It became a means of ridiculing the presumption of the parliamentary leadership. On 15 March 1642 the Commons sent for Mr Shawbery, who was reported by two witnesses as having said in the Spread Eagle in Gracechurch Street ‘That he would cut [Pym’s] throat, and his sinews in pieces’, and referring to him as ‘King Pym, and Rascal’. Another witness reported him as saying that ‘he could find in his heart to cut King Pym in pieces’.67

It was in these months that Prayer Book petitioning was widespread. These campaigns were clearly partisan, related to local mobilizations against parliamentary radicalism.68 The best known was that in Kent. At the assizes on 25 March, Sir Edward Dering, the disgraced MP, successfully engineered a confrontation with a rival Puritan and parliamentary faction, associated with Sir Anthony Weldon and Sir Michael Livesey. As chairman of the Grand Jury, Dering managed to steer through the assizes, after three drafts, a petition in defence of the existing liturgy and church government, and against sectarianism. The Grand Jury had been empanelled by Justice Malet rather than the sheriff, and was clearly managed, but even so nine members of the jury disowned it. One of the grounds for speaking against it was that it contradicted petitions previously sent up – clearly a tactical argument but one that arose from the increasingly partisan use of institutions previously understood to serve as the ‘voice of the county’. These struggles were revisited at quarter sessions in Maidstone in April, and at the summer assizes in July. The Commons sent a committee to sit on the bench at the summer assizes, but this was resented by those on the bench legally, and there was even some jostling as they tried to take their seats and their colleagues failed to make room for them. At another point rival groups ‘hummed’ each other as they tried to speak. Henry Oxinden complained that ‘I have heard foul language and desperate quarrellings even between old and entire friends’. This partisan struggle was very public too: it was said that 2,000 people witnessed the reading of the petition on 25 March.69

In these partisan battles standard metaphors – such as providence or natural wonders – were deployed with precise partisan purposes, and some of the staple elements of local life – the history of Protestant sufferings or the Prayer Book – became invested with partisan meaning. Newsbooks inhabited this same world of polemic and were often produced by men with a record of contentious pamphleteering and a line in other kinds of writing: Richard Harper was soon to launch an apparently very successful line in prophecy pamphlets, having published ‘pleasant histories’ during the 1630s. John Thomas and Bernard Alsop, both associated with newsbooks and publication of parliamentary news, had also been up before Parliament for publishing scandalous pamphlets.70Unsurprisingly, therefore, news stories were often explicitly intended as moral or religious exempla. Nathaniel Butter, better known to posterity as a newspaper pioneer, published a number of wonder pamphlets, including the story of a giant toad fish caught at Woolwich and displayed at Glove Alley in London in 1642. Its appearance was attested by many witnesses, among them gentlemen, and that it meant something was attested by classical sources including Pliny and Josephus as well as more contemporary examples: large fish coming ashore had meant, throughout history, trouble for reigning monarchs. ‘These unnatural accidents though dumb, do notwithstanding speak the supernatural intentions and purposes of the Divine powers, chiefly when they meet just at that time when distractions, jars, and distempers are afoot in a Common-weale or Kingdom’. ‘It is further observed by those that profess skill in prognostication, that of how much the monster is of feature or fashion, hateful and odious, so much it portends danger the more dreadful and universal’. Appended to the story is news of a more conventional kind – a skirmish outside Hull.71 News was partisan and reports of human and natural events were of equal value in coming to terms with the times.

But this literature too was open to satire. In January 1642 a marine monster was reported to have appeared to six sailors near the mouth of the Thames. The monster ‘was very terrible; having broad fiery eyes, hair black and curled, his breast armed with shining scales, so that by the reflection of the sun they became so blind and dazzled, that he might have taken or slain every man of them, he having a musket in one hand, and a large paper in the other hand, which seemed to them a petition’. Able to travel at miraculous speeds he left the sailors to observe the French fleet on its way to Catalonia, returning within minutes with news of it. In discussion with the amazed sailors the monster emphasized to them the dangers faced by the kingdom, a clear warning about the consequences of divisions. Appended was a report of a minor victory in Ireland, a providence of God and an encouragement to the Protestants. The six sailors were named, and the story was said to have been taken down by a gentleman – a contemporary code for the reliability of the testimony. The names of the witnesses, however, suggest a satirical intent.72 Perhaps the point was to make fun of the influence of rumour on menacing petitioners. In January fear of the crowd was certainly vying with fear of armed Catholic conspiracy. In any case, this subverted more than just the use of monsters to tell political tales, since a plain, factual style was in itself a persuasive technique. The bloody plot in Derbyshire was reported with the full apparatus of sober reporting, for a clearly identifiable political purpose but in the hope that it would be inoculated against the charges of fantasy and exaggeration being levelled against some of the pamphlets about the Irish rebellion. There does not seem to have been a parish called Bingley, though, and there is no independent evidence of the existence of this plot. This was not uncommon: in such publications ‘moral verisimilitude’ was as important as ‘circumstantial accuracy’.73 But at this juncture such ambiguities made it even more difficult to know not only what to believe, but also whom to believe.

A substantial number of pamphlets sought to expound the fundamental issues using the common metaphors of political life, but in these increasingly polarized political conditions their meaning was elusive. For example, an important metaphor for contemporaries in understanding political relationships, and dysfunctions within them, was that of the body politic. Over the summer of 1640 the court had been afflicted by disease, as had the Earl of Strafford. In August, after this summer of disease, uncertainty and discontent, John Castle prayed for his patron’s ‘safety and health in these valetudinous times, when all is sick and ill at ease’.74 Where did the sickness lie? In Parliament, following the revelation of the Irish rising and the suspicion that it was prompted from above, Pym had said ‘diseases which proceed from the inward parts, as the liver, the heart or the brains, the more noble parts, it is a hard thing to apply cure to such diseases’.75 In December, William Montagu wrote to his father that ‘sects in the body and factions in the head are dangerous diseases and do desperately threaten the dissolution of a well governed estate’.76 A shared language did not enable the resolution of the conflict, but it might be a means to express it. Thomas Knyvett wrote to his wife on 31 May 1642 about the paper war, expressing his frustration that both sides claimed to be seeking the maintenance of the laws: ‘the question is not so much how to be governed by them, as who shall be master and judge of them’. ‘A lamentable condition’, he continued:

to consume the wealth and treasure of such a kingdom, perhaps the blood too, upon a few nice wilful quibbles. Out of these prints you may feel how the pulse of the King and kingdom beats, both highly distempered, and if God doth not please to raise up skilful physicians that may apply lenatives and cooling Julips, phlebotomy [blood letting] will be a desperate cure to abate this heat.77

Provincial opinion was not leading events, but it is certainly clear that the issues being thrashed out in Parliament and at court resonated powerfully in the localities. Local conflicts were interpreted in the light of much larger, even apocalyptic issues, and as such were represented in print for the edification of a non-local audience. Standard metaphors and forms of explanation were appropriated to the highly unusual conditions of incipient civil war. Providence, wonders and signs were good to think with. These pamphlets were being published into a market, and intersected with attempts to mobilize provincial opinion via press and pulpit or to take control of local institutions like the militia or law courts. Anti-Puritan and anti-Catholic pamphlets clearly resonated in local panics and controversies. By refining political differences into polemical positions, and soliciting support for these positions among wider publics, print had helped to corrode normal political processes. Events were over-interpreted in a febrile atmosphere, in which passions were inflamed, animosities were stoked up in print, and plots were detected everywhere.

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