Hull Castle 1576-7

The Castle – the story so far

In the 1540s Henry VIII, having decided on war with Scotland, reinforced Hull. A castle was built, which consisted of three blockhouses, linked by a curtain wall running along the East bank of the River Hull. It was designed at the exact moment of the trace italienne revolution in castle building, and was well out-of-date before it was finished. It was possibly the last medieval castle to be built in Europe until the 19th Century.

Hull Castle 1576-7

In 1576 the Mayor and Aldermen of Hull finally faced a problem that they had been carefully ignoring for nearly twenty years. Since Northumberland’s de-militarization of England in 1552, Hull had been responsible for the royal castle on the Drypool bank of the river Hull, and in about 1557 it had (in part) fallen down. This was unfortunate as the town had given a bond to the crown for £2,000, which it would forfeit by failing to keep the castle in good repair. The manor of Myton and Tupcotes had been handed over to the town to provide £50 a year for the maintenance of the castle, and between 1555 and 1558 the town had made new leases for these manorial lands, which had generated new rents and entry fines. Many of those new leases had been taken by aldermen and other wealthy Hull merchants and would not have survived the recovery of the lands by the crown. Altogether it was a disaster waiting to happen.

What had gone wrong is now a subject for dispute. The archaeologists maintain that the problem is the site, especially that of the south blockhouse, which is geologically unsuitable for construction. (The latest building there is The Deep.) The sixteenth century concensus however was that the original builders were at fault for using unseasoned timber which shrank and caused parts of the edifice to fall.

For an unknown reason, in May 1576 the Mayor and Aldermen decided that they had to do something, and a discussion document was prepared with the alternatives. [HHC C BRS/53/1] They could give up the castle, but risked being forced into expensive repairs before the crown accepted its surrender, and they would also have to buy back their new leases, so they decided to try to keep the castle, while at the same time persuading the crown to pay for its restoration. A second consideration was the use that the crown might have for the castle. When it had been manned, the relationship between the town and the garrison had been bad, but that between the mayor and the military governor had been worse.

Aldermen John Thorneton and James Clarkeson with John Lewes, the town clerk, were sent up to London to break the bad news to the Queen and Privy Council, to excuse it as best they could, and to petition for assistance. [HHC C BRB/2 f.147r. ]

The deputation left Hull sometime after 17 May 1576, and their argument is summarised in “The contentes of the supplicacion exhibited to the Quenes Majestie by the Maior and Burgesses of Kingstone uppon Hull” [TNA SP 12/111/10]. The causes of the decay were “the greate rage of the water of Humbar,” the use of green timber in the constuction and to the foundations and walls not having been “substauncyally wrought,” with the result that the upkeep has “byn chairgeable above all expectacion.” The town is also said to be impoverished since the reign of Edward VI; most recently by shipwrecks and piracy, and by the effect on trade of “longe trobles in forayne contreyes” by which they probably meant not only the revolt of the Netherlands against Spanish rule but also the seven years war between Denmark and Sweden in the previous decade. It is interesting that although 1575-76 saw the worst plague of the reign in Hull, this is nowhere mentioned as a reason for the drop in the town’s prosperity. Perhaps it was thought better not to suggest the possibility of God’s displeasure when approaching the Prince for money. Hull reminded the Queen of the sixty footmen and twenty-four horsemen supplied voluntarily, and at the town’s charge, for the suppression of the northern rebellion of 1569-70. The town asked for a commission to examine the problem and “some reasonable yearly ayde” in money or otherwise.

In a letter of 8 July 1576 [APC] the Privy Council ordered a commission of investigation, which it will be convenient to refer to as the first commission. The Privy Councillors say that they had been informed that the decay was due to “the furie and raige of water and tempestious wether” and had been asked for financial assistance, but before deciding on how to respond, they wish to have a report on the state of the castle and blockhouses, the reasons for any dilapidation, the value of the lands given for the upkeep, and the use that had been made of the income. The commissioners were also to consider how the fortress might be “beste repayred with leaste coste” and include in their report an estimate of the charges. They were not asked to inspect the armaments of the fortress, presumably because Thorneton, Clarkeson and Lewes had not reported them defective, although they undoubtedly were.

The principal commissioner was Sir Henry Gate, of the Council of the North, the keeper of Pickering Lythe Castle. He was a property owner in Hull, and allied by marriage to at least one of the Aldermen. With him were joined two others Thomas Boynton and Ralph Rokeby. Ralph Rokeby, a legal member of the Council of the North, probably did not act, as he is never again mentioned in connection with this commission and he did not sign the report. Thomas Boynton, was to be appointed to the Council of the North in the following year. [Reid, Council Appendix II Membership] There were also two specialists, John Jenkins, the the Queen’s receiver for the County of York, and Hugh Bethell the Queen’s surveyor for the East Riding of Yorkshire. Bethell, who lived at Elloughton, a village west of Hull, was employed in Hull in the subsequent decades in supervising construction and repair. It is possible that Hull suggested these commissioners to the Privy Council. The commission was ordered to report by the first day of Michaelmas Term (by my calculation 24th October, but you may disagree).

The report of the first commission was extremely detailed and answered all the Privy Council’s questions. The report is in two parts, the survey of the castle and blockhouses and a report on the lands and the income derived from them, which corresponds to the separate expertises of Bethell and Jenkins. Most helpfully, it contains a summary of their findings. The town had received £611 5s. 2d and had paid out £549 12s 2d, and therefore had in hand for the upkeep of the fortress £61 13s. The cost of repairs was estimated at £669 12s., which included £200 for building a new jetty to protect the south blockhouse from the destructive forces of the Humber estuary. These figures for repair are justified in a detailed schedule. [HHC C BRS/53/3]

In general the commissioners supported Hull’s petition, they ascribed the decay to defects of material in the original building of the castle and north blockhouse and to the force of water on the south blockhouse. This is unlikely to have astonished the Privy Council, as the collapse of gun-platforms was the most common fault at this time in the royal forts [King’s Works p.405]. Gate, Jenkins Bethell and Boynton were rewarded by the town with the customary gifts of wine, but that is not to say that the report was particularily fraudulent. In making the gift the town recognized the “friendship”, “pains” and “travail” of Bethell and Jenkins, and that Gate had been in this and other matters “a specyall and singler good and faithfull frende” [HHC C BRB/2 ff.155r. and 166v.]. A more significant “gratification” in the form of a loan of £200, was to be given to Mr William Pelham, Lieutenant of the Royal Ordnance but a native of Lincolnshire, for his assistance and in anticipation of future service.

On 28 September, probably immediately after the commissioners’ inspection, the matter was discussed in Hull by the mayor and aldermen, They had decided that it was now time for another lobby of the Queen and Privy Council for financial assistance and felt it necessary to lay down that “those to whom the prosecutinge of the Sute is committed shulde not by any meanes condescende or agree to departe with the said castell and fortes to the Quenes majestie for her highness in them to plaice a garrison of Souldiours.” [HHC C BRB/2 f.150v.] It is difficult to see how the crown could have been prevented from taking back its own, but the town’s envoys were instructed to resist.

This second round of petitioning, lasting about six months, was led by Alderman John Thorneton and Town Clerk John Lewes although others also played a part. The Hull lobbyists probably ran their operation from the White Hart in The Strand (where they are known to have stayed on other occassions), and would have been supported by aldermen and burgesses who were visiting London in the course of their own business, as well as by their messengers and clerks. Wherever there is correspondence we can find traces of these people, coming and going. It was also during this time, in early November 1576, that the money to cover the £200 loan to Pelham was obtained from Alderman Gee’s London banker, Anthony Walthall. [HHC C BRB/2 ff.154v., 155r., 156r.] By January 1577 the London operation was in need of even more funds and Thorneton and Lewes were authorised to take a further £200 from Anthony Walthall, the transfer of funds, once again brokered by Alderman Gee, to whom it was to be repaid by the town. This money was “to be imployed about the said affaires.” This money is for expenses incurred and to be incurred, and undoubtedly included presents of money to useful people, a practice known as “making friends.” Thorneton had been funding at least part of the mission out of his own pocket, for which he was later compensated.

A Hull emissary arrived in London in November 1576 armed with a letter from Hull to an honourable gentleman, asking that as the Queen had referred the petition to the privy council the honourable gentleman would give their suit his “lawful favour”. The bearer would be able to inform him of the details. Only the copy of this letter that was kept in Hull still exists and it is not addressed, but it is most probable that the intended recipient was Sir Francis Walsingham, then one of the Queen’s two principal seretaries and ex officio a member of the Privy Council. It is equally likely that the bearer who carried it to Walsingham was Alderman Thorneton. [HHC C BRL/18 ] There is also an undated copy of a petition to Lord Burghley, the Lord Treasurer, which solicits his favour in the town’s suit for reasons including “theire dewetifull service and good will shewed in the laite tyme of rebellion in the northe to theire greate chairdges.” [HHC C BRL/1399 formerly Stanewell M.68]

On 11 December 1576 the Privy Council ordered a second commission to report before the start of Easter term, 24 April 1577. (Easter Day was on 7 April that year and the term started 17 days later, unless they were working on Exchequer dates – the Exchequer term started 8 days earlier than the other courts. Are you sure you want to be a historian?) Two letters were sent out, one a letter of appointment to William Pelham, and the other to the Earl of Huntingdon, Lord President of the North instructing him to appoint persons of “knowledge and experience” to meet Pelham in Hull. [HHC C BRL/19 This reference covers both letters, which, being similar in wording, have been catalogued as two copies of the same letter.] It appears from these letters that the town was asking for permission to demolish part of the fortress, it does not say which part, and re-use the building material to render the rest defencible. However “her Maiestie haith forborne to make anie resolute answere before the matter shalbe dewly considered of by such of trust and skill in such matters, as are able trewly to enform her Maiestie thereof.” The Privy Council also requires to be supplied with “a platt” (a plan).

There is an undated copy of petition to Walsingham from Hull, pointing out that the Lord President has not yet named Pelham’s fellow commissioners and no date has been set for the inspection. As everything else depended on the report and “tyme thereby maie be gretely prolonged,” Walsingham is asked to “move the Queenes Majestie for her highnes consent to suche of the requestes made by the saide maior and burgesses as by the Lordes of her majestes privy counsell are allowed uppon.” It can therefore be concluded that even before the second commission reported, the Privy Council had conceded Hull’s point that it should be given some aid and that the second commission was about the method rather than the principal.

There are two copies of the “requests”, that have been “allowed upon”; one is a Lansdowne Ms. in the British Library and was once among Lord Burghley’s papers and the other is in Hull City Archives. [BL MSS La 22.9: HHC C BRL/1416 formerly Stanewell M.56] The text differs only in occassional words and in the spelling, but the Hull copy has been annotated with marginal comments which seem to record the decisions of the Privy Council meeting that ordered the letters of 11 December 1576.

The requests are in the form of a list:

1. For permission to demolish part of the castle and blockhouses and use the materials to rebuild the rest. The annotation reads “a commission is graunted to the L. president & other skilfull gent” This is the second commission.

2.  For a licence to buy and export twenty thousand quarters of wheat, malt, barley and peas and beans, free of customs duty. Annotated “graunted of every kinde of graine 5000”

3. For a grant to Hull of ‘foreign bought and foreign sold’. Marked “not disliked” and it was actually granted.

4. A monopoly on the import of Russian flax by way of the Humber for ten years. This was “disliked.” Predictably, the Privy Council (many of whom were investors in the Russia Company) would not approve this incursion into the Russia Company monopoly.

5. The incorporation of a company of the merchants of Hull. Marked “to be considered” and it was in fact granted.

6. A grant of 300 large trees from the royal woods in the West Riding of Yorkshire. This was “Refered to the Quenes Majestie” who granted the trees. Some of the same trees were later (without permission) diverted to the building of the grammar school.

The rewards of persistance flowed in Hull’s direction on 22 March 1577, when the licence to transport corn was issued. [Boyle, Charters pp. 84-89.; TNA SP 12/19, 50.] Such export licences were an established way of granting princely bounty without the Prince actually having to find the cash. They either gave the recipient exemption from a statutory ban, or freedom from paying a duty. Some believe that they were generally used to reward courtiers, [MacCaffrey, Patronage p120] but as well as this licence for Hull to provide money to repair the castle, there is also a very similar licence granted to Dover in 1583 for the repair of the harbour there, [BL MSS La. 39, 69] and Cromer on the Norfolk coast also received one in 1589-90 [TNA E 133/6/920 and E 133/1/153]

The reasons given for the grant were those of the petition: the violence of the Humber on the walls, the great charges of repair of the sea defences, the recent losses of the town, and the “faithefull, redy and duetifull service to us and our progenitors and especiall to us in our service in the tyme of the laite rebellyon in the northe partes, to theire greate costes, chairdges, and expences, aswell by sea as by lande.”

Provided that the price of wheat was not above 16s the quarter (when all grain export would be likely to be halted anyway), the town could sell permissions to export barley, malt, wheat, and peas or beans, in English or friendly-flag vessels without paying customs duty to the crown. The grain had to be bought within Hull, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire or Norfolk and the licence was valid for 5,000 quarters of each commodity and for twenty years. The licence was to be endorsed with each shipment made and once the licence was used up or expired it was to be given to the Hull Customs as their discharge. The town recorded the first sale under the licence on 12 May 1577, and the ship sailed on the following day. As well as endorsing the licence itself, the town kept a duplicate record which was written up in the unnumbered pages of Bench Book Four. [HHC C BRB/2 endpages.] The purchaser, weight, type of grain, price, sailing date, ship and master are all recorded. The licence could have been worth £2,500 to the town but some was given away freely as rewards, and others parts were sold at a reduced rate. I think that the town received about £1,600 from the licence, of which just under £1,000 was spent on the castle.

The town was also granted Letters Patent of “foreign bought and foreign sold” and the incorporation of the company of Hull Merchants, and both are dated 11 May 1577. [Boyle, Charters pp.90-97] Unsurprisingly Alderman John Thorneton is named as the first governor of the company of merchants. Hull had already obtained a grant of foreign bought and foreign sold from Henry VIII, but as it was not being enforced, they decided that a new grant would be more effective than trying to revive one that had fallen into desuetude. A grant of foreign bought and foreign sold meant that the corporation were able to prevent strangers to the town selling to each other within the liberties of Hull. In every transaction at least one party had to be a Hull burgess. This precipitated an immediate and vicious trade war with York, whose merchants were the principal victims. It required the intervention of the Lord President to work out a compromise and let commerce continue.

Meanwhile the “other skillful gentlemen” of the second commission had been appointed to join with Pelham and they met in Hull in Easter week, 7-13 April 1577. The Lord President had selected Sir Henry Gate to serve again, on the grounds that he was already familiar with the place and the problem and appointed with him Thomas Gower, who the Lord President said had been Marshall of Berwick. Their undated report was inclosed in a covering letter from the Lord President to the Privy Council dated 20 April 1577. [HHC C BRL/20 and BRL/21]

This is the same date as an order from the Queen to the Lord Treasurer granting the three hundred large trees from the royal lands in the West Riding to Hull. [HHC C Bench Book Three f.210r]. For an idea of the value, in 1583 Hull bought two hundred similar trees to continue the repairs and paid £100 for them. [HHC C BRB/2 f.233v.]

The second commission’s report with the required “platt” was sent to the Privy Council, who had been waiting for it before deciding on the plan for the repairs. The second commission supported the first commission’s view that the collapse was due to the “insufficiency” of the original timbers. They also confirmed that all the timber and lead was still being safely kept. Their report did not recommend Hull’s proposed scheme of using material from part of the fortress to repair the rest but said that that it would be more useful to leave the damaged buildings still standing, but not to repair them. What their scheme was was only shown in the platt, which the Lord President’s letter says was “bothe of the said Towne and fortes, as nowe they be, and also of that which they haue devised to be done of newe” Their scheme would cost, they estimated, not above four or five thousand pounds but that did not include maintenance of “waterworks” which they wrote would be very expensive and likely increase in cost. They recommend the immediate construction of the new jetty, but point out that Hull would need some assisstance with this, as the proposed site was neither in the royal precinct of the fortress or the liberties of Hull. They also complain that the town has allowed the castle ditch to fill up almost to the top.

I have found the platt. It is currently in the British Library manuscript collection and shows the castle and town walls of Hull, as they had been since the building of the castle in the 1540’s, with the addition of a trace italienne stucture round the castle and blockhouses, each part of which is coloured and labelled “newe worke.” The lines of fire from each of the new bastions are shown by flying cannon balls and the plan claims to be to the scale of 200 feet to one inch [1:2400:]. It fits the description of the platt in the Lord President’s letter and is consistent with the little information in the second commission’s report. It is a very fine piece of work and is signed W Browne. [BL Mss Cotton Aug.I.1.85] Had this work been carried out, the result would have been much like the extant fortifications at Berwick. Gower had worked with the Italian military engineer, Bergamo, on Holy Island and would have naturally chosen such a solution. [King’s Works pp.504–506]

The Hull aldermen were very happy with aspects of the reports of both commissions. They had been aware of the “great suspicion whiche generally was had that the said castles and fortes ware decaied by necgligent lookinge to and bicawse their was no coste bestowed upon them:” and these reports had laid the suspicion to rest, or so they believed. [KHRO BRB/2 ff.165v.]

The next question to be asked is who supported which scheme; whether or not the Pelham/Gower scheme, costing four or five thousand pounds, was supported by Hull and/or the Privy Council, or whether the Privy Council went with the scheme for repairs that the royal surveyor, Hugh Bethell, had so carefully costed for the first commission at £669.12s., or even Hull’s first proposal of demolishing part of the castle and using the material to repair the rest. The Earl of Huntington, Lord President of the Council of the North was convinced that any future threat to England would be by invasion up the Humber supported by an incursion from Scotland. He would then find himself on the front line, without troops, arms, powder or money. It would be a catastrophe, and he would get all the blame. He would have certainly favoured adding the finest and most modern defensive walls to Hull. What Hull and the Privy Council wanted is uncertain, although I would be prepared to ague that they both supported the trace italienne but it was the Bethell plan of repair that was adopted, probably at the Queen’s insistance and because it was cheaper.

Sometime after 20 April 1577 Thorneton and Lewes had had an interview with Walsingham, of which conversation they made a written record. [HHC C BRL/1401 formerly Stanewell M.70] Walsingham’s first utterance sounds unfriendly, but taken with the rest of the conversation, it is in fact sympathetic. “You shall not nede to tarie heare anie longer aboute your sute, for the Quenes majestie will not graunte anie further commoditie presentlie then she haithe donne.” If any man knew exactly what the Queen would or would not grant, that man was Walsingham, her principal secretary. It can therefore safely be assumed that by the time of this conversation all the benefits that were to be received in 1577 had been approved, if not signed, sealed and delivered. The use of the word “presentlie” holds out hope for the future, which is explained later in the conversation.

Walsingham advised them that in order to create a good impression with the Privy Council they should start on the repairs immediately and devote one day a month to digging out the ditch. He also recommended that they spend some part of the benefits that they have obtained on the repairs “wherin I wold have you to use Mr Pelham his advise.” Although the licence to export corn was applied for in order to repair and maintain the fortress and sea defences, it seems that the town is not to be restricted in its use, as it was with the grant of the income from the Manor of Myton. Walsingham instructed them that every household should have a pick a spade and a shovel and that the town should store a last or two of saltpetre for gunpowder. A last is a weight that varies according to the commodity being weighed, but it is more or less a cartload.

At this point Walsingham seems to have drawn breath, and Thorneton took his chance to introduce the real reason why he and Lewes were waiting on him. They had not come to ask for further grants or, although they are unlikely to have said so, to receive advice on ditches and shovels. They wished to know from Walsingham the Privy Council’s pleasure on the repairs, “for that their honours shoulde not thinke us uncarefull of our chairdge.” If this was a question about which scheme had been approved, Walsingham did not answer it, so it would seem that the repairs had already decided on. Thorneton and Lewes were assured that “If ther be anie thinge spoken touchinge you, I shall let your goode willes be knowne and soe advertize you.” Walsingham was promising to speak up for them at future Privy Council meetings; the bond between Walsingham and Hull was now established. Walsingham continues “And I will kepe the platte by me, and if ther be anie stirre or troble towardes, then it wilbe better dealinge with her Majestie for further consideracion.”

Walsingham was telling Thorneton and Lewes, that if the political or international situation should deteriorate, he would seize the opportunity to take the Pelham/Gower scheme back to the Queen and try again for her consent. The Queen’s principal secretary, perhaps the fourth most powerful person in the kingdom, was informing an alderman and town clerk from a northern corporate borough with a population of 4,000, of the tactics that he was going to use in changing the Queen’s mind. It seems therefore likely that at least a part of the Privy Council had approved the Pelham/Gower scheme, it was after all their commission that had proposed it, but it was vetoed by the Queen on grounds of cost. Whether or not Hull favoured the Pelham/Gower scheme is not known. They are not recorded as sending Gower a present of wine, but that may have been an oversight or a failure in the records. Hull’s priority was to retain control of the fortress at as little cost to the town as possible, and this they had acheived. Although they were under orders to take advice from Pelham, they were still in total control of the Castle, the money and the repairs.

To complete the story, on 28 July 1577 the council in Hull ordered, at the towns expense, ten dozen shovels, ten dozen spades, three score picks and a good store of saltpetre. No reason was recorded for these purchases but within the month the council were ordering that the castle ditch was to be “clensed”. [HHC C BRB/2 f.168v]


APC = Acts of the Privy Council, New Series. Vols IX and X.

Boyle Charters = J. R. Boyle, Charters and Letters Patent granted to Kingston upon Hull (Hull, 1905)

HHC C = the City records in Hull History Centre, formerly KHRO

HHC C BRB/2 = Bench Book 4

King’s Works = The History of the King’s Works Vol IV 1485–1660 (Part II) (London, HMSO, 1982)

MacCaffrey, Patronage = Wallace T. MacCaffrey, “Place and Patronage in Elizabethan Politics” in Elizabethan Government & Society ed. Bindoff, Hurstfield & Williams (London 1961)

Reid Council = Rachel R. Reid, The King’s Council in the North. (London, 1921, republished Wakefield 1975)

TNA = The National Archives formerly the PRO

You could see also Audrey Howes and Martin Foreman, Town and Gun: The 17th Century Defences of Hull. (Hull 1999) pp.11-47. This is quite a useful little book containing the most complete account available of the building and history of the castle up to its aquisition by the town. Despite its title, it covers the site from the end of the last ice-age to 1980, written from the point of view of an archaeologist, assisted by some documentary sources. As is usual in Hull histories, the Elizabethan period is barely noted in passing.


The ‘Elizabeth Jonas’ at the sack of Cadiz

[This assumes that you have already enjoyed my blog post “Hull and the Spanish Armada”]

In 1596, the third Armada was believed to be preparing in Cadiz, and the port towns were once again called on to supply ships. The 1596 list can be found in The Acts of the Privy Council and there is a copy of the letter that was sent out, transcribed into the Hull records. It was dated 21st December 1595. Hull was to provide a single ship, which was to be chosen by the Lord Admiral. It was to be furnished for war, for five months at the charge of the inhabitants of the town, the members of the port ‘and of such other towns and places as did contribute with you in the preparation by you made in the year 1588, or shall be now particularly mentioned by letters from the Lord Admiral to join with you in that charge.’ The ship was to be ready by the 31st March 1596. Hull was immediately to inform the other contributors to its levy of the contents of the letter and of the maximum amount that the ship would cost and ‘advise forthwith for the levying of the same among you rateably, as heretofore you have done.’ (1) The towns to which this letter was sent number only fourteen, and the total number of ships levied was only twenty-six, but the list did not include the levy that was made on London or the Cinq Ports. (2) The letter came to Hull with other documentation from the Lord Admiral by way of the Vice-Admiral for Yorkshire and the port was given the choice of one of three named vessels, all with local owners. (3)

There was no immediate and general claim from the port towns that they were unable to comply. There were problems, but the ship-levy letters recorded in The Acts of the Privy Council in these first few months are few. I believe that this is because the demands on the port towns were more reasonable (in 1588 the terms of the levy had been genuinely difficult to meet) and also because 1588 had established a precedent. As the sailing date approached however the appeals to the Privy Council grew in number, and by the end of two years it had to deal with possibly fewer but certainly more serious problems than in 1588.

As soon as Twelfth Night was over a conference was called by Hull and it was agreed that York should pay four-sevenths of the total and Hull three-sevenths. Hull agreed, in return, to institute a search for the lost accounts of the 1588 levy, and if it turned out that there was any money that had been collected but not used, York was promised a share of it in the same proportion. I think it is safe to say that no such sums were found. York was not happy with the allocation of costs but their delegates reported that Hull was immovable: Hull’s original proposal had been that York should pay two-thirds and Hull one. The estimate of the total cost was £1500, but it was thought in York that ‘being well husbanded’ this might be reduced by as much as a third. The City and the Town now had interests in common and they set to work together, although Hull was always forcing the pace. (4) A purser from each place was appointed and the York purser lodged with the Mayor of Hull. His reports and the correspondence between the Aldermen on practical matters over the next months provides an excellent source of lists and discussions on what a ship needed to be ‘warlike’ and on how they arrived at the lowest tenders.

There are three strands to what happened next: the problems in raising the money, contributions from the rest of Yorkshire, and the choice of the captain. I will deal with each in turn.

The Money

It would seem that the suppliers to the 1596 ship had also learnt lessons from 1588 because ready cash was needed immediately. We do not know how Hull made their collection, but York anticipated difficulties and applied to the Privy Council for support in collecting within the City. What they wanted was the right to distrain on the goods of those refusing to pay, which was a practical method of raising the money. (5) The Privy Council replied that the City could take bonds for appearance from those resisting, and if they refused to be bound could commit them to prison. There is no mention of distraint. It is a thoroughly unpleasant letter, ‘not a little marvelling’ at York’s problems, and it was not at all what the Aldermen wanted. (6) In the interim the £300 that Hull required immediately was borrowed from York Aldermen and the wealthier members of their Council of Twenty-Four, although they didn’t pay it over to Hull until the second week in March, despite many requests. (7) The York Aldermen professed themselves astonished; they thought, the said, that it had been paid long before.

By the time the ship was ready to sail, some days after 9th of April, the cost had been established at £1,400 of which about £960 was required before the ship sailed, and more on 1st May when the crew’s wives would be due to receive their husbands’ monthly wages. (8) York had still only contributed £300. They borrowed a further £100 locally and managed to send £150 to Hull. (9) Only then did they begin the assessment to raise money for the ship. At this time they were still attempting to find their agreed proportion of £800.

First the constables and churchwardens sent in lists of inhabitants, then the assessment proceeded taking half a day for each ward, and an extra half day was set aside for assessment of the City’s lawyers. (10) Perhaps they were expected to argue for longer than most. Hull was sending increasingly urgent letters; suppliers had been promised their money at the end of the month, and there was nothing left with which to pay them. Of the £800 that they owed, York had still only paid £450. York did not answer the letters.

As Hull had warned, the shortfall in money from York, meant that the mariners’ wives who had turned up for their allotment of pay on 1st May were disappointed, and they with other creditors were thereafter daily clamouring and exclaiming. (11) The amount of clamour that can be made in a small town by perhaps as many as fifty disappointed mariners’ wives should not be underestimated. In York on the 30th of April the Lord Mayor, Sheriffs and Recorder had started the assessment and by 5th May they had got to the appointment of collectors. Hull was complaining that they were receiving no replies. On 19th May the Hull Chamberlains arrived in York to make personal representations. They picked up £50 in cash and a note of some of the charges that York were paying directly, including 2s. for Ned the trumpeter. (12)

York was having a great deal of difficulty in raising the money; they were receiving refusals from both their citizens and other inhabitants. They were imprisoning their citizens and taking bonds of the others to appear before the Privy Council, but this took up a lot of time and was not producing any money. They had not been granted the power of distraint, which is what they had wanted. Eventually they raised £600, two thirds of what was required, and there they stuck. It was left to Hull to find the way out.

The Cloth Towns

From the beginning Hull had been looking around for other contributors. The Aldermen had taken advice (from Matthew Dodsworth) and decided that, as the charges were to be on all the users of the port, it should also include the merchants of the cloth towns of Halifax, Wakefield and Leeds. By the beginning of March they had obtained a letter from the Privy Council, (13) which that very week an Alderman of Hull and another of York took to Halifax. In the words of John Lister the Mayor of Hull ‘we think it not good to make any delay herein’. (14) In the mean time Hull had sent to Scarborough and Bridlington, but found that neither would give anything voluntarily. (15) On the arrival of the Aldermen with the Privy Council’s letter Halifax, Wakefield and Leeds sent representatives up to London, closely followed by a delegation from Hull. The Hull men were supplied with a letter from York to Sir John Fortescue, York’s High Steward, asking for his goodwill. (16) The Privy Council instructed the Lord Admiral to investigate, (17) but either they did not wait for his advice, or he gave it very swiftly, because four days later the cloth towns were exempted from having to contribute. (18) Hull, for the moment, had been defeated.

They did not however give up and in September the Privy Council’s decision was in its turn reversed, (19) but in November the matter was back again on the its agenda. The ship had cost £1,400, and York had still only managed to raise £600, The Hull Aldermen were suggesting that Hull should bear £400 of the balance and the cloth towns, Leeds Wakefield and Halifax the other £400. The Privy Council wrote a letter on the 9th of November referring the decision to the Council of the North, and to Archbishop Hutton, who was acting Lord President, but the letter was not sent. Instead on the 24th November a revised version of the letter instructed the Council of the North to take order that Leeds Halifax and Wakefield should contribute. (20) They also, at the same time, ordered that Bridlington and Scarborough were to be included. Hull was once again showing its superior lobbying skills.

The Captain

For captain of the ship, Hull had selected, and York had approved, a local merchant and master mariner, George Chapman. It was thought that being a local man he would be careful of the town and city’s interests and being a master mariner he could sail the ship himself if the master was incapacitated. He was not really wealthy enough to sustain the position, but both town and city thought well enough of him to promise him payment above the usual rate. (21) A month before the ship sailed Peter Frobisher, nephew of Martin, came to the town with a letter from the Lord Admiral which appointed him to the captaincy. This was not acceptable to either Hull or York, nor, apparently to the men, who were ‘very unwilling’ to change their Captain and a letter to that effect was sent to the Lord Admiral. (22) Chapman sailed as Captain but on joining the fleet he was dismissed and Frobisher put in his place. (23)


I you want to know more about the sack of Cadiz read Paul Hammer, but you will find nothing about the valiant deeds of the Elizabeth Jonas of Hull. She was used as a troop transport and carried some men marked as “from Ostend” under a Captain Lawrence. It is not clear to me if these were men from the Spanish Netherlands or English troops that had been serving there.

The sack of Cadiz did not bring in great revenue to the crown and there were a lot of complaints later by individuals about the unfairness of it all. Hull was no exception. During the sack the mariners of the fleet were forbidden to go ashore, a sensible precaution to ensure that the ships remained manned and the crews sober. Hull believed that it was only the crew of the Elizabeth Jonas that was kept from pillage, and ascribed it to Frobisher’s malice. At least one of her crew did go ashore, but what he took was then taken from him by Frobisher. The soldiers on the ship did take part in the sack under their captain and did bring back some booty. Captain Lawrence died on the Elizabeth Jonas on the way home, and according to the Hull men, Frobisher took all his personal pillage. (24)

The Happy Return

The ship returned to Hull on or before the 16 August. On arrival in the Humber, Frobisher at first refused to bring the ship into the haven until he was paid himself and also received payment of the men’s’ wages, who would be paid at his hands. And in this he at first had the support of the crew. He was demanding £6 a month for himself and £2 a month for his lieutenant. He also claimed all the unused powder and victuals as due to his office. A proportion of the remaining foodstuffs were from the soldiers store, which he had apparently saved by setting them six to a mess. Unlike the mariners, who were standing watch and ward, the soldiers had been taking their ease. (25) Though I would like to know how they managed that in such a crowded ship.

Both Hull and York were as one in refusing Frobisher’s demands. The mariners were employed by the city and the town, and would be paid by the city and the town. Any supplies remaining on the ship would go towards the expenses of the voyage, and the fees of a captain of a ship of this tonnage were £3 10s a month and not a penny more. There had been no lieutenant, they claimed, and therefore they would not pay for one. In fact there had been a lieutenant and other officers, but they had joined the ship, probably in Plymouth, with Frobisher, and at his invitation. York suggested that as they had not appointed Frobisher they could reasonably claim that even his pay was not their responsibility. The ship came into the haven, without any money being first passed up over the rail and there was a stormy meeting between Frobisher and the town Aldermen. Frobisher threatened them with the wrath of the Lord Admiral, the Earl of Essex, and the Privy Council. Then the original captain, George Chapman, came into port with a cargo of corn, and according to Edward Brook ‘they were at drawing of daggers on Sunday in Matthew Brown’s house.’ Whether this is a metaphor or a literal description Frobisher rode out of the town calling on Chapman to ‘follow, and he would stay for him, but Chapman went not forth.’ (26)

Frobisher rode off towards London to make good his threats and so, without consulting York, for which they later apologised, Hull quickly despatched an Alderman, Anthony Cole, to London with letters to the Privy Council, the Lord Admiral and Sir Robert Cecil, to prevent warrants being issued against them, and also to see if anything could be done to lessen their debt.

Alderman Cole found the Lord Admiral at Deptford and was told ‘absolutely’ that the ports were responsible for all the wages including the captain. Cole tried to interest the Lord Admiral in Hull’s financial problems ‘but his Lordship took a great oath and said that the ship came home very rich.’ Great oaths were not approved of in Puritan Hull. Cole answered firmly that if that were so then the captain had it all, because there was nothing put against their charges. He did establish with the Lord Admiral that ‘for powder and victuals, the captain is to have none.’ On the same day he went to the court which was at Greenwich, and probably fairly cramped there, because Sir Robert Cecil was having to use his bedchamber as his reception room. Cole successfully made his pitch to Cecil about Frobisher’s demands, but he had to wait a week before he could start on his next task which was to persuade the Privy Council to spread Hull’s charges further into West Yorkshire. He noted that there was diplomatic business going on with France that week. (There was an exchange of special ambassadors to France that week. Elizabeth wanted to bind Henry IV not to make a separate peace with Spain, while offering him nothing in return).

While waiting for the Privy Council to return to domestic matters, Cole attended daily at court and kept an eye open for Peter Frobisher, who in fact never showed up. The following letter from Captain Thomas Dutton to Sir Robert Cecil may have been the reason.

‘May it please your honour. whereas your honour hath bene informed that I gott great treasure at Cales, and also that great treasure which Capten Lawrance had whoe is deceased was brought aborde my ship by his leuetennant, and especiallie informacion is given of a hat bande valued at 2000 markes to your honour, that should come to my hands. I humblie protest unto your honoue that no treasure of Capten Lawrances came or was brought abord me, and for the said hatband I never sawe it, But I heare by one or two of Capten Lawrances soldiers that one of the soldiers delivered unto their Capten such a hat bande, but whoe hath it or what became of it I never knewe nor can tell, In dede right honorable two pieces of a hatband I had, in one of which was a dyamond, and in the other two pearles which I have to shew unto your honour. And so humblie crave pardon for this bouldnes. 2 Sept 1596. The name of ye Shippe whearein Captayne Laurence went was the Elizabethe Jonas of Hull wherin went Capt Furbusher cheffe Commaunder.’ [Cecil Papers at Hatfield 44,46].

Two thousand marks was £1,333. Hull seems not to have known about the hatband although they did know that Frobisher took the land captain’s possessions.

Cole also made friends with the Lord Admiral’s secretary, who gave him a note of the approved rates for captain’s wages. They found that they did not disagree. This was one of Hull’s better skills, they were friends with the secretaries of a number of great men. Undoubtedly money passed. (27) It has been suggested to me that one of the reasons why Hull aldermen did so much better than the York aldermen was that Hull’s confessional loyalties were more in sympathy with those of Walsingham, Cecil and others, than were those of York. This may well be so, but I have never found any evidence of it. York stays home and makes a list of letters to be written, while Hull puts an Alderman and money on a horse for London.

In February of the following year Frobisher found himself insulted by receiving a only a proportion of only the standard rate of pay, and the promise of the balance when the West Riding towns paid, and also by having his whole expenses claim refused by the town. Only a small part of the extremely bad-tempered and insulting correspondence has survived but it gives an insight into what had gone on. Frobisher had lent sums to the master to pay for sick mariners at Deptford and for extra stores, he had appointed officers to the ship and had paid for pilots out of his own pocket. All this he wished reimbursed. He had letters of support from the Lord Admiral and was threatening to go to the Queen. Hull’s response, the draft of which is on the reverse of his letter is equally robust. Stripped of the insults, they said that had he looked out for the town’s interests, they would have would have been pleased to have met his reasonable charges. As it was, they would not. (28) It seems that the Hull ship had not recouped any of its costs.

It was not only in Hull that the question of pillage was raised. From most of the other counties the Privy Councillors had been importuned by those to whom money was owing, and they were unable to persuade the inland towns to contribute. Refusal was especially strong in in Suffolk where it was generally believed that the Ipswich ships had returned in profit and in Norwich which was asked to contribute both to King’s Lynn and to Yarmouth. (29)

The Cloth Towns Again

Leeds, Wakefield and Halifax were still a problem and their refusal to contribute does not seem in any way allied to inability to pay. Resistance was led by Sir John Savile, who was the Sir John Savile who represented Yorkshire in the Parliament of 1597 and also served for the county in the reign of James I. (30) He, both alone and with others, was at least twice summoned before the Privy Council. He was committed to the Fleet prison on the day before the 1597 Parliament began its first session. (31) Certain supposed irregularities of the 1597 Yorkshire election were the prime cause of his imprisonment, but the Privy Council was dealing in the same week with his failure to collect ship-money. Brought before the Privy Council, he denied that he had questioned the authority for the levy, but the fact remained that no money was forthcoming from the West Riding. The Privy Council was getting its information about Sir John’s opinions from the many Hull petitions. The following April, that is April 1598, Hull was again petitioning the Privy Council. The West Riding refusal was by then regarded as so serious a matter of principal that the Queen had been informed and had commanded her council to ‘have a special care to examine these continued contemptuous proceedings.’ The West Riding, in response to one summons, had sent to London the lowest ranking and least effective Justices that could be found, who protested themselves very willing to do their best, if others could only be persuaded to co-operate. The Privy Council sent an open letter to Sir John Savile in April 1598 and gave powers to the Council of the North to ensure his compliance. These final threats were presumbably sufficient, as no more is heard. Sir John Savile had called ‘in question by what authority, in those public actions that concern the defence of the realm, such contributions be demanded’, but he wasn’t going to start a Civil War over it. (32)

Hull and York calculated that they had spent in lobbying pretty much what they received in contributions from Leeds Wakefield and Halifax, but they were not dissatisfied. They had established a precedent for future levies.

Sources: KHRO was Kingston upon Hull Record Office but today is HHC C (Hull History Centre, City), YCA is York City Archives, APC is Acts of the Privy Council.

(1) KHRO (BRB/2) ff297-297v. (Bench Book 4) also YCA B.31 f150. (York House Books). (2) APC 1595-6 p 122-5, December 1595. (3) KHRO BRB/2 ff297v-298. (4) YCA B.31 ff148v-152v. (5) YCA B.31 ff156 and 156v. (6) KHRO BRB/2 f298v.; APC 1595-6, pp 210-1, 8th February 1595/6. (7) YCA B.31 ff 154v.-155v., 163v., 172. (8) YCA B.31 ff179, and f182v., 21st and 28th April. (9) YCA B.31 ff167v., f.177v. (10) YCA B.31 f163, 29th April. (11) YCA B.31 f184. (12) YCA B.31 f184v. 19th May. (13) APC 1595-6 pp 241-2, 27th February 1595/6. (14) YCA B.31 171v-172, 6-12th March 1595/6. (15) YCA B.31 f164v. 13th February 1595/6. (16) YCA B.31 f.164 11th February 1595/6. (17) APC 1595-6 p 316, 28th March 1596. (18) APC 1595-6 pp 325-6, 1st April 1596. (19) APC 1596-7 pp 150-1, 7th September 1596. (20) APC 1596-7 pp 305-5 and pp 325-7, 9th and 24th November 1596.(21) YCA B.31 f169v. (22) YCA B.31 ff176v.-178. (23) YCA B.31 f184. (24) KHRO BRL/110 February 1596/7. (Hull Letters)(25) YCA B.31 ff.207-207v., 209v. (26) YCA B.31 ff.207-208, 209-209v., 210: KHRO BRL/110. (27) YCA B.31 ff.209, 212v-213. (28) KHRO BRL/110 February 1596/7. (29) APC 1596-7 pp171-2, 12 September 1956. (30) Biography by Irene Cassidy in P.W. Hasler, ed., The House of Commons 1558-1603.(HMSO, 1981) Vol. III, p 351-353. (31) APC 1597-8 p 46, 23rd October 1587. (32) APC 1597-8 pp 319, 400-402, 403 19th February 1597/8 and 14th and 15th April 1598.

Hull 1603: A Small Succession Crisis

Queen Elizabeth died in the early hours of the morning of the 24th of March 1603, and at 10 in the forenoon on the same day James VI of Scots was proclaimed King of England at Whitehall.

Now in those days news travelled fast, and Hull was never more than four days behind London, so it is no surprise that in the Hull town records we find that on the 27th March 1603 the word came to Hull. At about six o’clock in the morning (and even if you add ten days for the Gregorian calendar, it would still have been barely dawn) lord Clinton with ten followers arrived at the Mayor’s house, within the walls of Hull. Clinton was the son and heir of the Earl of Lincoln and a man well enough known to the town. He was a power in Lincolnshire on the south bank of the Humber estuary and there had been some small problems over the preferential treatment that he and his people expected when using the Humber ferry. Although he was known to the town, he had not been cultivated as a friend. There are no records of gifts to him or his father, or of letters requesting their support in any of the town’s affairs. According to the record, that day he had with him ten persons, “his followers and servants,” and the fact that the number is recorded, shows its significance. It was at the least very slightly unnerving.

The population of the town was about 4,000 but probably up to a quarter of the male population and certainly the most able of the male population would be absent at sea, and there would also be a significant number of foreigners, both mariners and merchants, in the town. By foreigners I mean men from Newcastle and London as well as Scots, Danzigers and Flemings.

The capture of Hull by infiltration had been attempted before. After the Pilgrimage of Grace, Hallam attempted to take the town on market day, and our townsmen’s Aldermanic grandparents had actually exchanged thrusts, in real sword-and-buckler work, against a few of the retreating rebels outside Beverley gate, and had captured them. Their severed quarters were later hung on a gibbet outside the same gate. But whatever the Elizabethan aldermen may have experienced during the sack of Cadiz, or while buying wine in war-torn France, or while being personally man-handled and pirated by a young King of Denmark off the Norweigan coast, or while sledging their goods in time of war between Revel and Narva, I do not imagine that the mayor or the town was mentally prepared suddenly to take on eleven disciplined men in an uncertain cause.

There was no military presence in the town, and the royal castle did not have either a governor or a garrison. The watchmen and warders of the town, although not completely Dogberry, were less than enthusiastic. Going by the constant renewal of regulations for them their principal faults were either drinking on duty, or sloping off home after the alderman of the night had done his round. The defence of the town was very much staffed by part-timers.

Lord Clinton and his little troop came to the mayor’s house and desired to speak with him, and being admitted lord Clinton “did delyver to the saide master Maior that our sovereigne Ladie Elizabeth laite Quene was deceased, and further that he was to proclame our most dread sovereigne James the sixte, Kinge of Scottes, by the name of James the first, Kinge of England.”

Well, none of this was particularly unlikely or necessarily unwelcome, Queen Elizabeth had been essential as a means of preserving protestantism, but the country would have greatly preferred a man, especially one with healthy sons, so while it was not bad news, it was in the words of the town record “suddaine strange and uncertaine and delivered by his honor withoute anie other the consentes of the Nobles of this Realme or of Her Majesties laite pryvie Counsell” It should perhaps be pointed out here that this fair copy of the record was written well after the truth was known, possibly even months after the event. This accounts amongst other things for James being referred to as “our most dread sovereign” at a time when that fact was still to be established.

So there was Clinton and the more important of his troop, in the Mayor’s hall, perhaps with a pot of beer or a glass wine in his hand, and expecting instant compliance. What he got was quite different. With suitable apologies to his honour, the mayor called an emergency council meeting, which met in the cold early dawn in November here in Trinity Church and included not only the Mayor and Aldermen but also the recorder, and John Aldred, a local gentleman, who was the late Customer’s son and had been a burgess of the Parliament for the town, and Lord Clinton himself. Hull is unusual amongst corporate towns in that it was ruled solely by a group of thirteen aldermen (including the mayor) and by no other council at all. There was no common council of twenty four or thirty or forty-two. There ensued here in this very church “long deliberation (as in such weightie affaires is expedient)” It is possible that Clinton did not remain in the meeting because at the end of it they decided on an answer to give him. If he was present throughout it must have been a very difficult meeting.

We have no evidence at all about what was said during the ‘long deliberation’ and a lot must have depended on whether they were able to speak in the absence of Clinton or not.

I know these aldermen quite well, and their parents and grandparents before them, and I do not for one moment believe that there were any speeches made here that day in favour of the other claimants: the Gray family, Arbella Stuart, or the Spanish Infanta Isabella, nor that the question of the effectiveness of Henry the Eighth’s testamentary dispositions or the legal bar to a foreigner, in this case a Scot, inheriting English land was debated. The rulers of Hull were aware of the issues, they certainly had opinions, but this was not a moment when they would have voiced them. The times were too “sudden strange and uncertain.” The issue for the town was to know not what they thought was right, but to plot a course that would not later be “misliked”. Normally when the town had to make a decision which would have consequences there would be a discussion document drawn up, giving the alternatives with their pros and cons. There was no time for that here, but I imagine that the arguments, in the “long deliberation (as in such weightie affaires is expedient)” spoken or unspoken, went like this.

There were four possibilities.

1 Firstly the Queen was not dead and this was yet another rumour. If that was the case, they must certainly not proclaim the King of Scots. The Queen would not have approved.

2 Secondly the Queen was not dead, and this was a pre-emptive coup by the King of Scots, which at the very least craved wary walking. The closer the queen came to the end of her life the more agitated the King of Scots became to secure the reversion of her kingdom. A coup was by no means an impossible scenario and not one in which the town would wish to become involved, especially not on the loosing side. As to which side that would be, well Elizabeth was going to die sooner or later, but in the interim she could hang any number of aldermen for treason, at the very least ears would be nailed to pillories.

3 The third possibility was that the Queen was dead, but the Lords and the Privy Council had proclaimed someone other than the King of Scots, and once again it was important not to join a loosing side. Although the king of Scots hoped and intended to succeed, everybody knew that he was not an heir proclaimed. The town of Northampton actually proclaimed Lady Jane Gray’s nephew as King, but the Privy Council managed to hush it up.

4 The fourth possibility was that the Queen was dead and they should indeed proclaim the King of Scots. This brought its own danger. If Lord Clinton was right, then the town would not wish to be slow to proclaiming their new sovereign. And the longer they hesitated the less “ready and dutiful” and the more “slack and disloyal” they would appear. In the aftermath of a disputed succession the priority in which one had signed up to the winning side could become important, and the prosperity of the town essentially depended on government favour.

During this debate, held here in this church, they would also have to avoid being rude to Clinton who was probably bolstering his claim with as much circumstantial detail as he could. His aim was undoubtedly to be able to recommend himself to his new master, by relating how he had secured the town for him, even before the official news had arrived. Proving your early and active loyalty to King James was to become quite a competitive sport in the new reign and Clinton would have regarded Hull as a major trophy. And as Clinton was speaking no more than the truth, I expect that he was fairly convincing. In fact the probability is that they believed his news to be true.

Now I don’t want you to think that the Aldermen could not put their futures on the line in a good cause, their sons withstood two sieges in the Civil War and their daughters built and maintained the defences with buckets and their bare hands, some dying from sniper fire while doing it. John Alured’s grandson, another John Alured, signed King Charles’s death warrant. And their great-grandsons in 1688, hearing that William of Orange was intending to invade by way of Hull, captured and imprisoned the Catholic commander of the garrison here and his Catholic officers in order to prevent local resistance to the landing. As for some unaccountable reason the man went to Brixham instead, their bravery has been overlooked by national historians, but “Town-taking day” as it came to be called, was celebrated as a holiday in Hull for two hundred years thereafter. And if you ask any Hull person over eighty today, why we have a great golden equestrian statue of King Billy, you will be told it is because he landed here first, tipped his hat to the town, and then sailed round to Brixham. The power of myth is very strong in Hull.

However to return to Trinity Church in the morning of March 27th 1603. The answer that the mayor and aldermen gave to Clinton was that they “in noe wise would so lightlie, beinge nott fullie certifyed of the death of her Majestie, graunt & consent that anie proclamacion should be published untill more certaine advertisement were gyven to the said Maior & brethren.” Perhaps Lord Clinton sympathised with their point of view, but I doubt it.

At this point he and his ten followers drop out of the record, he possibly went to try his luck in some other place more easily persuaded, but he may have remained in Hull to see the outcome. What the mayor and aldermen did however, and that very quickly, was to put all this in a letter to the Lord President of the Queen’s Council in the North Parts, who was at York, and they sent off a man on a horse to take it there “for more and speedie expedicion and intelligence” The Lord President was Thomas, second lord Burghley, the elder half brother of Robert Cecil, and he knew Hull and its aldermen very well.

Burghley had made a formal visit to the town with a large entourage two years earlier and been given dinner at the mayor’s house. Being Sunday he had been treated to some world-class preaching here in Trinity Church by preacher Wincopp whose memorial you will be able to admire in Trinity Church on the South Wall of the South Choir Isle. Unfortunately the town felt that it needed to provide more entertainment, and having previously abolished mumming, singing, and lewd plays and interludes along with the mayoral festival of cakes and ale, they were ill-provided for fun, but the town’s gunner was volunteered to arranged a firework display in the market place, which was at the east end of Trinity church.

The piece de resistance was made from a chamber, which would normally be a prepared charge to be slotted into a breech loading artillery piece. I have that from the young men at the Royal Armouries, but I am still don’t know what it means. Anyway this chamber, on this occasion, was filled with an appropriate mixture of black powder and wildfire. And it duly went off, and killed four. Abraham De la Pryme, who was a curate in Trinity Church in 1700 ascribes the whole incident to the town sinfully providing entertainment on a Sunday. What ever the cause, it was the last time that we have a record of the second lord Burghley visiting the town, and on his journey south King James also gave Hull a wide berth. Gunpowder is very tricky stuff, and you can get a reputation for being careless with it.

The connecting links between Hull and Scotland were very strong. Scots merchants lived in the town and Hull merchants in Scotland. They traded northern cloth, grain and some imported wares for Scottish salt and fish. Very occasionally they pirated each others ships. Scottish ships were actually commissioned and built in Hull, and no doubt among the lower and unrecorded classes Scots crewmen were to be found in Hull ships and Hull men served in Scottish ships. There was also a religious link. The apostle of protestantism in Hull was the Scottish Marian martyr John Rough who preached here, and at least one of the Elizabethan curates in the town was a Scot. The aldermen knew everything that the citizens of Edinburgh knew about the King of Scots. and the gunpowder incident in Hull would certainly have been a subject of conversation in Edinburgh. Anyway, in the event, the mayor and aldermen went to York to greet King James, rather than receiving him in the town. I imagine that the two-penny dole that had been given to the almsmen in the hospital in Hull to celebrate his mother, Mary Queen of Scot’s execution was amongst the subjects that were not touched on. Of course the whole raison d’etre of the founding of the town by Edward I had been as a magazine and base camp for the invasion Scotland, and royal interest in the town had always coincided with a serious deterioration in the relationship between England and Scotland.

Back to March 27th 1603. For the rest of the day, nothing happened, or at least nothing that has made it into the Hull records. I like to imagine lord Clinton making a nuisance of himself in the mayor’s house, while they waited for a response from York. It’s a little over forty miles from Hull to York, so they knew that they had a fair wait. A lot depended on the state of the recent weather as to how easy the roads were and, if the journey was being made by night, whether or not there was a moon. There is a dispatch marked “From the Queen for our service Haste Haste Haste” intended to close the port during the Babbington plot. It was carried overnight from York to Hull in September 1586, and seems by its indorsements to have taken nine hours. We do know that the letter in question here was delivered into lord Burghley’s hands at York on the same day that it was sent, the 27th, because his reply to it was dated that same day.

Next morning, that is the 28th of March, and by at the latest ten in the morning, a group of at least five gentlemen, arrived in the town. They had been sent by Lord President Burghley from York on the day before, the 27th, before he had received the town’s letter, and it appears that either they had not met the town’s messenger on their way or else, if they had, they had not realized that they were travelling in different directions on the same business. According to A. G. Dickens the road from Hull to York was not the route that we would use today, by way of Beverley, but ran along the Humber to Cave and then North West to York. The new arrivals may have taken a more easterly route and slept at Scorborough, just north of Beverley, the home of the Hotham family, because they had John Hotham with them when they arrived in Hull.

At this time the Hothams hardly figure in the town. The only reference to any of them before this date is in a letter from one of the burgesses of the parliament in 1586 referring to a loan raised against money owed to alderman Gee by “one Hotham” Of course they had some prominence later. The town would not have refused entry to Charles I, in April 1642, had not the sharpened edge of a Hotham family sword been lightly grazing the mayoral buttocks.

There is a lovely story about the John Hotham who was the grandson of Sir John and the son of Captain John. He met James, Duke of York, later James II, in Pall Mall, who was displeased with him and reminded him sharply that both Sir John and Captain John had been executed. John Hotham replied that he was sorry the Prince had said that, because whenever he thought of it he was overcome with grief as it reminded him that the same fate had come to James’s own father, King Charles I. I do not for a moment believe this story is true. It sounds just like one of those clever, witty things that you would have said, if you had only thought of it at the time.

Back to Hull, now the 28th March 1603 and still before ten in the forenoon. These gentlemen, newly arrived, were commissioners to proclaim the new king in Hull and were led by Christopher Hillyard, of Winestead, a village east of Hull, who was a fairly minor member of the Council of the North, He was a property owner in Hull, and one who subscribed when necessary to the fund which paid the preacher. The mayor and aldermen were joined in the commission with Hillyard, who brought them the proclamation to be read and all the necessary authority of the state from both the London and York.

Trumpets were sounded, the common crier cried “oyez,” and the proclamation of the accession of King James the First was read by the town clerk; and according to the town records this was “to the great joye comforte and likeinge of all the Burgesses Commons & hearers.” Anything they may have said to Clinton or Clinton to them is not recorded but the very next day they received their reply from lord Burghley. Firstly he advises “you shall doe well as you have great cause to doe, to expresse the comforte which you are to receyve herein by makeinge of bonfyers and such other as hath ben alreadie used in London upon this proclamacion”

I assume that there were some mourning rites somewhere for the late Queen, but from the documentation surviving from Hull, there was officially only jubilation at the accession of King James and the letters from Burghley say effectively “Rejoice, do it spontaneously, do it with bonfires, and do it now.” The implication being that the first person to suggest that it might be time to pack it in and go home was definitely of suspect loyalty. This must have caused a problem in Hull as street parties of any sort had been seriously discouraged by the puritan aldermen during the previous thirty years. I imagine though that there was a bonfire; the Lord President’s orders would not lightly be ignored and in every town there is always a bunch of degenerates who enjoy a good bonfire. Perhaps there were also fireworks. I am sure that the preacher, Thomas Wincopp, would have marked the occasion in Trinity Church with a sermon on God’s providence.

But what about lord Clinton, by this time proved right in every particular? Well the letter from lord Burghley, touches on him too. He says “I have cause to gyve you thankes and to comende your good discrecion That did forbeare to enter into such a busynes upon anie pryvate man’s Comaundment nott haveinge Commission or sufficient auctoritie frome the Lordes above or frome the President & Counsell here.” So much for Clinton.

So what is there to learn from this local experience? Well it shows the difficulty of establishing the certainty of events when horseback was the fastest that questions and answers could travel. It shows that the town authorities were well aware of the law and custom of the country, and were able to give a measured and mature response to an attempt to bounce them into a course of action. In my research I have had to look at the law as the Hull merchants found it in Russia and the Scandinavian kingdoms. The contrast with England could not be more marked. However despotic the Tudors may have been, the law in England was a matter of established and known fact and one could organize one’s affairs on the basis of its certainty. And here, faced with what could have been a political dilemma, the Aldermen of Hull found a solution in the law.

But from the language of the record we can also see that they were aware of the dangers of the time. “Suddaine, strange and uncertain” is how they describe Clinton’s instructions to them. They note how many men “his servants and followers” he had with him. There is an undercurrent of relief from fear running through the narrative. Fear principally of making a bad decision, but also a fear of something else.

The aldermen of Hull were travelled men, they had been to the north of Lapland and on to the Barents Sea, into the Baltic and on to the gulf of Finland, they knew the markets of Kola, Narva, Danzig, Emden, Antwerp and London as well as Bordeaux and Cadiz. In all these places I can at one time or another place the senior merchants and aldermen of Hull. In all probability some had travelled a good deal further, they certainly knew men who had. The town of Hull was both very provincial and very international. They were not strangers to war, to civil war, to civil wars of religion. The underlying relief that I see in the narrative is firstly from a fear of making the wrong decision, but secondly from a fear of civil war, probably augmented by foreign invasion, a fear which had been present since Queen Elizabeth’s accession November 1558.

This blog post is taken from a paper originally written as the Patronal Lecture at Trinity Church, Hull, and delivered on 7 June 2009 to an audience of seven. I felt it deserved better. HG

Source: HHC C BRB/2 better known as KHRO Hull Bench Book Four

[f.347v.] This xxvij of Marche 1603 aboute sixe of the Clocke in the morninge arryved heare the right honorable the Lo. Clynton accompanied with some tenne personns his followers & servantes and came to the howse of the nowe mr maior and desyred to speake with him, who beinge admitted the saide L. did delyver to the saide mr Maior that our sovereigne Ladie Elizabeth laite Quene was deceased, and further that he was to proclame our most dread sovereigne James the sixte Kinge of Scottes by the name of James the first Kinge of England: Which newes beinge suddaine strange and uncertaine and delivered by his honor withoute anie other the consentes of the Nobles of this Realme or of Her Majestes laite pryvie Counsell Mr Maior required of my Lo: that he might convocate mr Recorder and other his brethren Aldermen att the Counsell howse in Trynitie Churche to which place the saide Mr Maior and the said Lorde accompanied with Mr Recorder & all the Aldermen repayred to whom also John Aldred esquire came where after Longe deliberacion (as in such weightie affaires is expedient) It was answered to the said L: that Mr Maior the Recorder John Alredd esquire and the rest of the Aldermen, in noe wise would so lightlie beinge nott fullie certifyed of the death of her Majestie graunt & consent that anie proclamacion should be published untill more certaine advertisement were gyven to the said Maior & brethren / And for more & speedie expedicion and intelligence of the premisses Lettres were wrytten to the right honorable the Lo: Burghley and the rest of the laite Counsell in the North by the saide mr Maior & Recorder and other Aldermen to whom answere was returned in these wordes as hereafter enseweth. The morrowe after [f.348] beinge the xxviijth of Marche aforesaide came christofer Hildyerd John Hotham Lancelott Alforde & other Justices who brought lettres to the Maior Recorder & other Justices of this Corporacion with whome th’afforesaide christofer Hildyeard John Hotham Lancelott Alford were joyned in Commission together with a large proclamacion in these wordes underwrytten which betwixte the howers of xj & xij of the same daye, after three Trumpettes hadd twice sounded and three solemne oyes made by the Common Cryer of the towne the saide proclamacion by the towne Clarke was redd & proclaimed accordinglie to the great joye Comforte & likeinge of all the Burgesses Commons & hearers /

The Lettre frome the Lorde president beinge answere to that sent frome mr Maior & his brethren touchinge my Lord Clyntons beinge heare /

To my verie loveinge frendes the Maior and Aldermen of the towne of Hull.

After my hartie Commendacions The Quenes Maiestie beinge deade, I haue this daye caused the Kinge of Scottes to be proclaimed Kinge of Englande Scotlande & Irelande accordinge to the dyreccions sent vnto me by lettres frome the Lordes and States of this Realme And I haue caused seuerall copies of the proclamacion to be sent as well to that towne of Hull as to dyvers other townes within this Countie with particuler Instructions by lettres what course is to be taken therein. And haue sent the same vnto you alreadie by Mr Hildierd who was here this daye with me, and haue ioyned him in Commission with you the Maior & the rest in this matter. And you shall doe well as you haue great Cause to doe, to expesse the Comforte which you are to receyve herein by makeinge of bonfyers and such other as hath ben alreadie vsed in London vpon this proclamacion. I haue receyved your lettres by this bearer, and haue cause to gyve you thankes and to comende your good discrecion That did forbeare to enter into such a busynes vpon anie pryvate mans Comaundment nott haveinge Commission or sufficient auctoritie frome the Lordes above or frome the President & Counsell here. and I require you Mr Maior & the rest to contynewe that good care and to foresee that your porte and other places of strength maye be safelie kept, and the towne Contynewed in good quiett And you shall heare frome me frome tyme to tyme as their shalbe occasion And so I leave you to godes safe proteccion frome Yorke this 27 of Marche 1603.

Your verie loving frende

Thomas Burghley

Hull’s expedition against Pirates

In Queen Elizabeth’s time there was a pirate problem. How do we know this? The Queen’s Council (in our terms – the government) wrote a lot of letters on the subject, with very little effect. It is the single most frequent subject of the outgoing correspondence of the Council in the year 1577, which is the year of the Hull expedition against the pirates.

Now we think of a pirate as a man with a cutlass, sash, and eyepatch wearing a mixture of ragged but rich fabrics. As soon as he walks into the tavern in Tortuga, you know he is a pirate. Elizabethan pirates were less easy to spot. Firstly they were not always pirates; if there was a legitimate job available, they would take it. And then in time of war they mostly turned into heroes and became respectable. Martin Frobisher, a Yorkshireman, is a good example, before the war with Spain the government wanted to hang him, afterwards he was one of our brave boys.

In a times of peace, like the 1570s, the pirates of the East coast of England were a real menace. They lay in wait in the Humber mouth and merchant ships had to fight their way in and out. Some of the pirates were foreigners; there were a number of Hull ships taken by Scottish pirates, and the Dunkirkers caused a lot of problems in the next century. Some pirates were from Yorkshire. Phipson and White were a pair of pirates from Scarborough, who appear in a lot of the Council correspondence. In the year in question 1577 they had stolen from a dozen Dutch ships. But the Lincolnshire coast was a favourite place for pirates to to lurk, mainly because the coastline was very lightly populated. In the year before (in1576) Hull claimed to the Queen and the Council that in recent years Hull merchants had lost £23,000 in shipwrecks and by piracy. This is from a document pleading the poverty of the town and therefore was certainly not an underestimate, but say seven million pounds in todays values.

Pirates were difficult to put down. Elizabethan law and order was based on the county, the town, and the village, and did not extend beyond the shoreline. The Navy Royal was not patrolling the seas. Unless it was required for a money making venture or for war, it was mostly laid up. That way the ships could not deteriorate and needed only the expense of a night-watchman. Queen Elizabeth did not like sending her ships to sea, unless they took very rich prizes, it was expensive.

So the pirates roamed the coastline with a degree of safety, but Elizabethan ships needed the land. Firstly their navigation out of sight of land was, with very few exceptions, truly terrible. Secondly they had to trade for provisions for themselves and the ship. It is unlikely that a coastal pirate ship could last more than a month at sea without needing substantial repairs. And once on land they were vulnerable to arrest.

Every anchorage in the country was a member of a customs port and thus under the supervision of the customs comptroller and his searchers for that port, but there were far too few searchers to cover the coast. The customs comptroller therefore, like the other local magistrates, depended on paying for information, usually as with a share of the fine levied on the malefactor. For the alehouse keeper in a coastal village there was a balance to be weighed between the profits from receiving or from informing and, in small communities, local loyalties, animosities, and power structures were more immediately relevant than the distant power of the Queen’s Council or the concept of the rule of law.

We have a good example of a small-time pirate venture. A Ship, the Anne of London, was arrested with its crew for piracy in Boston in Lincolnshire in December 1578, and the crew were questioned by the mayor and their statements sent up to the Council. The crew was said to have numbered only six and was probably in fact was no more than ten. Those who were caught all swore that they never knew the names of those who had escaped, and that they didn’t exist anyway. Four of them gave evidence and they were from Hull, London, Kent and Kings Lynn, so it was a fairly diverse crew. They had been signed on in London to deliver the ship to Newcastle, but half way down the Thames new owners had come on board and tried to persuaded them to Seek Adventure. This is code for piracy. They had virtuously refused. These new owners were a strange bunch. There was a lawyer and a man from Enfield, and a gentleman called Ellerker, you can guess where he came from, and a Russian called Clemens. When they joined the ship and when they left it, it is impossible to be sure. The crew swore that the owners had left before any piracies were committed, but some of their clothing was still on board when the ship was arrested in Boston. In the mouth of the Thames they had met another very well-armed pirate ship, with a crew of thirty, who apparently compelled them to join in attacking two Dutch ships who were following them down the Thames.

In the piracies of the two Dutch ships our ship got away with 20 rolls of cloth and four barrels of beer. After this they seemed to have wandered about rather unhappily. They came into the Humber and exchanged some cloth for supplies with the Innkeeper at Winterton and made other trades at Clee and Stallingborough and then they sailed South again. The plan of delivering the ship to Newcastle seems to have been forgotten. They claimed to have put two of the crew ashore on the Lincolnshire coast and taken on two others at Yarmouth, ‘since whose entry no offence was committed’ but this may not be true. They could not of course remember the names of those they had put ashore. They then came into Boston, because they had lost their anchor and cable and needed provisions, and as soon as they arrived they hid what remained of the stolen cloth in another ship, before the customs searchers came on board. They sound like a pretty useless bunch, but they were obviously only telling the authorities what they absolutely had to. I don’t know what happened to them, but there may be something in the Boston records if anybody cares to look.

As a result of all this pirate activity there was a proposal “from divers towns corporate” that they be deputized by the Lord High Admiral of England to sail out against pirates “at their own adventure, proper costs and charges.” This was discussed by the Queen’s Council and an agreement was reached that the towns should be able to recoup their expenses from the pirate ships captured. The Queen’s principal secretary Sir Francis Walsingham reported in a letter to the Lord Admiral dated 11 May that he had put the idea to the Queen and received her agreement, and on the 22 of May a royal warrant to that effect was issued to the Lord Admiral. On the 24 May were issued “Instruccions for the better direction of suche as shall have licence to passe to the seas for the takinge of piratts and sea rovers; to be annexed to their commissions.” Hull’s licence from the Lord Admiral under this warrant was dated 22 June, exactly a month after the initiative was launched. In Tudor terms, that was fast.

The record of the Hull expedition are partly in the government correspondence but mostly in the Hull records.

Hull claimed to have come up with the idea of the scheme, but it is more likely that it was the Lord Admiral’s new power to grant these licenses that had prompted Hull to apply for one. Walsingham’s letter to the Lord Admiral, mentioned above, refers to the pirates as being “especially” on the coasts of Norfolk and Suffolk, and makes no mention of the Humber or of the Lincolnshire coast.

It is well documented that Alderman Thorneton and John Lewes, the town clerk, were in London either regularly or for very long periods between November 1576 and late April or early May 1577. Their final interview with Walsingham was at about this time, when the plan of licensing the corporate port towns to act against pirates was being put in place. Even if the Hull men did not suggest the plan, they had plenty of opportunity to become aware of it There is also absolutely no suggestion that the corporation or an member of the town hoped to make a profit out of pillage or any captured ship, although such a motive can never be discounted. The wording of the Queen’s warrant and instructions show that the danger of such private enterprise was very much in the government’s mind and that it was determined to prevent it.

Hull had probably already identified its target. In May 1577 two mariners, John Young and John Johnson were arrested and imprisoned in Hull gaol on suspicion of piracy and examined by the mayor. The men were from the ship the Elizabeth of Chichester, owner George Veyner gentleman, “and by him set forth to the seas a-roving” (yet another way of describing piracy). In all probability the prisoners gave information against their former shipmates, and this was what secured them their liberty after the eventual trial.

The gocernment licenced Hull’s mayor and aldermen to mount an armed naval expedition against pirates, before the end of October 1577, as deputies for the Lord Admiral, “as lardgely and amplye as I my selfe might doe and execute if I were there personally present” on the understanding that they were solely responsible for all the costs, and for any actions of the expedition which might later be “misliked”. Any pirate captured was to be imprisoned. Captured ships and all their contents were to be valued and lodged with the nearest Customs officer. Despite the fact that the basis for this initiative was that the town could recover its costs from the spoils, it would receive nothing without the express order of either the Lord Treasurer or the Chancellor of the Exchequer with two other judges of the Exchequer. What they received, if anything, would be “towards their chairges” and not as profit or reward. The mayor and aldermen were also warned against boarding or assaulting merchantmen or fishing vessels. It is apparent that the government had some some doubts about what the licenced port might be inclined to do with its powers, and were determined that the anti-pirate initiative should not create a further uncontrolled armed force to add to their existing problems.

Two Hull ships were fitted out for the task, “in warlike manner,” the Salmon and the White Hind. Both these ships were commonly used for fishing off Wardhouse [Vardo], the Salmon, 120 tons, had a double crew of 36 and the White Hind, 70 tons, a double crew of 30. At that time, the Salmon was the largest Hull-owned ship. The only crew member known of either ship is John Kidd, a surgeon, who was a volunteer and received a reward later when he was made a burgess of the town without payment. The captain of the expedition was probably John Perrot, he got into an argument with the town later, which was probably about this expedition. The decision to sail was taken by the Mayor and Aldermen on 17 August, and the ships sailed on 23 August 1577. As the date of their licence was 22 June, this might be thought a considerable delay, but they would have had to wait for the return of suitable ships and crews, and they certainly had to accumulate supplies of all sorts. The rations of bread, beer, biscuit, beef and cheese and the firewood and candles and other stores, needed to be accumulated, just as arms and ammunition needed to be borrowed from other ships. Although the expedition was only absent from Hull for fifteen days, the speed of its success had by no means been guaranteed, and the likelihood is that it was provisioned for longer.

The Hull expedition arrived off “Inghulmeales” on the “Lincolnshire cooste” “& retourned with a pirateous shippe by them taken called the Elizabeth of Cheichester the sixt day of September of whiche was owner Mr George Veiner of Chichester and her captaine & master was Launcelot Grenewell.” “And the said Elizabeth with piraites to the nomber of seventeen in her taken was brought to this porte [of Hull].”

As an account of a naval action this is disappointingly brief. It becomes apparent later that they also took a number of shore-based aiders and abettors. They may have surprised the ship at anchor and without her without much resistance. No deaths or injuries are noted in the record.

There is letter that was received by the Queen from the King of Denmark. The King had complained that a ship belonging to Cornelis Cornelison with its cargo of rye had been brought by “one Launce a pyratt” into the haven of “Englemens” in Lincolnshire. There part of the rye had been sold before the ship was recovered. We don’t have the royal correspondence, only a note of it.

The seventeen prisoners, which included the unfortunate Cornelius Cornelison, owner of the ship with the cargo of rye, were committed by the mayor to the gaol in Hull to await their trial. There they joined their two shipmates, Young and Johnson, whose arrests had probably led to the capture of their ship. The Elizabeth and its contents were duly handed over to H M Customs for safekeeping and valuation. This was assessed to be £214. 10s. 4d. including everything on board at the time of capture.

The mayor examined the prisoners but the witness statements sent up to London have not survived. The mayor and aldermen wanted to hold the trial in Hull themselves, and so they applied for a commission to do so from the Privy Council.

When it came the commission named to the bench the Earl of Huntingdon, Lord President of the North, followed by Sir Thomas Gargrave and Sir Henry Gate. The mayor of Hull was next and was named before the legal members of the Council and the local gentry, the aldermen were named last. Not all of the outsiders attended but the bench that finally sat numbered sixteen. There was no jury.

The absence of a jury was significant. One of the problems that the government had in prosecuting pirates was the reluctance of local juries to convict. Some jurors ended up in the Court of Star Chamber charged with perjury (they were sworn to bring in a true verdict and had not done so, and breaking one’s oath is perjury).

Of the seventeen captured on the Elizabeth, two were now missing: Cornelius Cornelison, on whose behalf the King of Denmark had written, and Michael Simpson, a Dutchman. They may well have been freed almost immediately. As well as the remaining fifteen, there were two others accused of, and indicted for piracy, William Huxton alias Hoxton, late of Chichester yeoman “somtime captain” of the Elizabeth and Launcelot Grenewell, late of the city of London, mariner.

Also charged as accessories in both receiving stolen goods and supplying the pirates were Thomas Thory of Ingoldmels gentleman and Richard Holmes and Christopher Jackeson of Great Grimsby, yeomen. It is not apparent how these accessories were arrested or when they came to Hull. The two members of the crew who had been in Hull gaol since the previous May, were not brought into the dock. Of the fifteen crew member accused of piracy, two were found not guilty, and another three reprieved after conviction. The remaining ten were hanged. It does not appear that the Captains or the accessories were tried in Hull.

The usual place of execution in Hull is now thought to be somewhere near what is now Adelaide Street. But in 1593 a Hull man, convicted at York of murder and robbery on the high seas, was hanged “by the south blockhouse within Humber bankes” that is just inland of what is now The Deep. It is likely that this was also the place chosen for these executions. This is because it was in Yorkshire, not in Hull, and it was a part of the Royal Castle of Hull, and therefore a suitable place for hanging the Queen’s prisoners. (The Adelaide Street site, in the manor of Myton, was within the County of Hullshire.) It is also possible that the condemned were taken elsewhere for execution; the record says only that it was done.

A proclamation was made aquitting Cornelison and Simpson (the foreigners) and Johnson and Young (the first prisoner) and the two accused who were found not guilty, and at the end of the day the Lord President and the rest of the commissioners reported what they had done to the Privy Council. The Privy Council’s letter of thanks for their good service was dated 30 October. The Lords did “assure you that in any your reasonable sute unto her Majestie hereafter, we will not be unmindfull of this your service, but wilbe readie to furder you the best we maie. And for your chairges disbursed in this service their shalbe order given, that of the shippe and goods of the pirates taken their shalbe full satisfaccion maide fourthwith unto you.”

The latter promise was not of course made good without much more correspondence and personal lobbying. The mayor and aldermen applied to the Lord Treasurer who replied that he could do nothing without the Queen’s warrant. Hull then explained the position to Walsingham, “an especiall and singuler good frende to the body of this towne” who spoke to the Queen and a warrant was issued on 8 November under the Privy Seal. This was then delivered to the Exchequer and, after a further application by Hull, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Walter Mildmay, ordered a tally to be cut and wrote to the Customers in Hull instructing them that, as the charges incurred by Hull were greater than the assessed value of the captured ship and its contents (£214 10s 4d), Hull was to be awarded the whole value of the ship. The Lord Treasurer considered that the most convenient way of passing this recompense to Hull was to give the ship and its contents to the town, which he instructed the customers to do. Thus ends Hull’s expedition against the pirates.

The letter of thanks from the Privy Council is most unusual. It is the only Council letter that I have ever come across that does not contain an instruction, a reprimand, a threat, or all three. The Council did not, as a general rule, send letters of thanks and praise, but Hull’s action was the only good news that the Council had received about pirates in a very long time, and they were properly grateful for it. The letter from Sir Francis Walsingham is also remarkable. Firstly it is addressed not to the mayor but personally, to Alderman Thorneton and John Lewes the town clerk, secondly it is again a letter of unconditional praise and approval, very unlike Walsingham’s usual letters to Hull of complaint and barely-veiled threat, and thirdly it reports that the Queen herself had been made aware of, and was pleased with Hull’s service. Which was nice, but it didn’t last.


The “Anne” arrested in Boston BL MSS La. 26, 46

The Hull expedition KHRO Bench Book 4 ff.169-187 and Acts of the Privy Council 1577

Hull & the Spanish Armada

In 1588 the Privy Council ‘receiving daily advertisement of the preparations of the King of Spain to increase’ and ‘thinking it necessary that [the] Navy on the seas should be reinforced and strengthened’ sent out two orders by letter. One went out on the 31st March to the maritime counties to prevent English ships leaving port and the second, signed on 1st April, was an order sent to twenty-two port towns to provide, at their own charges, forty-nine ships and twenty pinnaces to serve under the admirals. (1) In the list in The Acts of the Privy Council the towns are named in geographical order between Newcastle and Bristol, with London placed last on the list. There are no Welsh ports included, nor is Chester, nor any other North-West port.

Each port town was ordered to provide between one and three ships and some a pinnace in addition, with the exception of London which was to supply eight ships and two pinnaces; all the ships were to be of 60 tons burden or above, armed, manned and provisioned for two months from 25th April. This choice of date was either inspired or very well informed, as the Armada finally sailed from Lisbon on 30th April. but it only gave the port towns three weeks to find the ships, to load crew, arms and provisions and to rendezvous with one of the fleets. I should point out here that I will be using the old style calendar throughout, as that is the calendar used by all of my sources. The year will however begin on the 1st January not the 25th March.

We can tell that the Privy Council cannot have been expecting the responses that they received from the port towns, because when the first replies arrived, from Poole and from Chichester, pleading poverty, decay, and lack of ships and men, the Privy Council wrote to them, releasing them from the levy.(2) Within a week of this generous gesture, every single port, except Bristol and London had protested its own individual inability to comply. As a result Poole and Chichester went straight back on the list.

Faced with all these dutiful and loyal but negative replies, individual Privy Councillors wrote to the towns where they had interests, expressing their personal feelings as well as those of the Council. Sir Francis Walsingham wrote to Hull, and received in reply a re-statement of Hull’s willingness but complete inability to contribute – or at least not in the time allowed. In support of their position the Aldermen of Hull sent a list of all the Hull ships, with their tonnage and crew numbers and where they were thought to be on that day, the seventh of April 1588. They also claimed that a recent press for the Navy Royal, by an agent of Hawkins, deputed on that same first of April, had left the town empty of men capable of going to sea. Hawkins’s own commission was dated all of eight years earlier, a fact which was noted in the letter to Walsingham from Hull. Between the Navy and their merchant fleet, Hull claimed that just over 500 men were absent from the town: a quarter of the male population. Nevertheless, such was the force of Walsingham’s letter, that Hull agreed to provide its two ships and a pinnace just as soon as sufficient ships and men returned to port. The larger ships, and none of Hull ships were very big, had sailed to Wardhouse (Vardo) to fish for cod, and there was no possibility that they would have returned in time, but some the coasters plying between Newcastle and London were of the required size, 60 tons or over. (3) Hull was not alone in this lack of ships and men; the letters staying shipping from leaving the ports had been sent too late to be useful for this levy, and the Navy Royal itself was pressing both ships and crew at the crown’s charge in many ports, in competition with the levy. (4)

The Privy Council dealt with the excuses of the port towns on an ad hoc basis; their policy on the ship levy developed gradually and observably over the next two months. Some problems were easily solved: Newcastle had no guns? They could be borrowed, on the Mayor’s bond, from the royal supply. (5) Bristol required a warrant to press a surgeon? A warrant was sent. (6) The Lord Admiral had agreed with Ipswich that the town should supply 3 hoys with ordnance and musketeers rather than the two 60 ton merchantmen originally required? This was approved. The other problem, the difficult problem, was of course the financial problem. Who was to stand the charges?

It would be tedious and unprofitable to rehearse here the squirms and wriggles of each individual borough, but fortunately a pattern does emerge. First came the government’s demand, then the protestation of readiness and willingness but complete inability to comply, then the accusation of disloyalty and undutiful slackness, and the grovelling and contrite response. There then followed the Privy Council’s authorisation to raise money from those not of the town but from neighbouring areas, who were assumed to benefit from the port. This turned the levy into a complete dog’s breakfast; there were no rules only guidelines. In a series of letters the Privy Councillors explained that their desire was that the poor should not be troubled, only those able to pay. Anybody who derived benefit from trading through the port was to be, for the purposes of the levy, chargeable as a member of the port. The original letter of 1st April seems to have laid stress on the profits that had been made in the ports from voyages of reprisal; a claim which was hotly denied by every port.

Of course these letters, intended to spread the load to neighbouring towns and parishes, were then used as weapons in a number of local feuds, not least that between York and Hull. The method seems to have been that the Privy Council’s letters were sent to the port towns for them to deliver to their neighbours with appropriate words of explanation and encouragement. The Privy Council’s correspondence was consequently increased by the protests of those on whom demands had been made by the ports. The only excuse that the Privy Council would accept at first, was that a particular community had already contributed to the Land Service, and in the case of York, whose merchants shipped through Hull, even that was not accepted. The Privy Council commissioned the usual local dignitaries to settle the problems in their locality, The sanction of an order of personal appearance before the Privy Council was made available to them, and to some, imprisonment as well, but most of these commissions failed and the problems returned again and again to the Privy Council’s agenda.

These concerns did not however prevent Hull Aldermen from taking action. They hired every ship-carpenter within twenty miles of the town, and two of the Aldermen went to York, to buy casks for the provisions, and to inspect and negotiate for the hire of a possible pinnace. While they were there, and on the sole authority of the Privy Council’s letter, they attempted to press York keelmen for service in the Hull ships. The fury of York when this was discovered was increased as it seems that some of their men had actually agreed to take the Hull shilling. When York then realised that they were also expected to pay a large proportion of the costs of Hull’s two ships and a pinnace, they were even more annoyed, especially as while the Hull Aldermen had been in York making a valiant attempt at a hot press, the Lord Mayor of York had been in Hull buying armour for his City’s Land Service. (7)

Nothing had been resolved by the time the Hull ships joined Seymour’s blockade squadron in the Narrow Seas. They seem to have been very nearly on time: the Lord Admiral had given them a second rendezvous for the 27th April, and they probably sailed on the 29th, (8) But it didn’t really matter, because to everybody’s great inconvenience, the Armada was delayed. It was bad for Parma, waiting in the Low Countries to embark his army, but it was also bad for the English naval preparation. On 9th June the Armada was damaged and scattered by storm and started to regroup and refit at Corunna. In the Channel ports ships’ stores were replenished, and what repairs were possible, were made. There was no information, everybody waited, and it is said that Drake played bowls. Then at the end of June, their two months’ service being completed, the Hull ships went home. They sailed back to Hull and their crews were discharged. The Aldermen, received another of Walsingham’s letters (already on its way before the Hull ships had tied up), and the ships sailed again, but this time it was at the Crown’s cost, for wages and supplies, and at the usual tonnage rate. (9) The Bristol ships also needed resupply and this was paid for by Bristol merchants, but it was at the Privy Council’s request and as a loan to the Crown. (10) The 1588 uncompensated ship levy had officially ended before the Armada arrived; the correspondence is very clear. Admiral Seymour himself on the 24th of June, the day before the expiry of the two months, was authorised to procure ships to replace those of the port towns whose service was ended. (11) The Crown of course hadn’t any money, and with the Invincible Armada almost in the Channel, its credit was limited, but it seems at first to have accepted liability for all costs of the ships of the port towns after 25th June. At some point the Newcastle ships had also returned home, after being used for merchant convoy to Stade. We know that they went home because they had to be called out again as the Armada sailed up the North Sea. (12) (Newcastle, after its initial problems with lack of ordnance, probably caused the least trouble to the Privy Council of any port.)

It is worth looking at the 1588 correspondence between the Privy Council and Gloucester. Gloucester does not appear on the list in The Acts of the Privy Council to receive the initial letter of 1st April, This may merely be a clerical error, but I am inclined to think that the inclusion of Gloucester was an afterthought, as the Gloucester story seems to run about a month behind that of the other port towns. We first hear of them in mid-May, when the lack of a seacoast at Gloucester has been noticed and the Privy Council’s letter refers to orders given to ‘divers ports and inland towns’. They call on Gloucester with the aid of Tewkesbury ‘to furnish rateably the whole charge and expenses that hath been laid forth in preparing and manning the ship, called the Bark Sutton . . . and do require them to deliver the money so levied and collected for that service unto such as the lord Admiral shall nominate.’ (13) On the 29th of May Gloucester reported that Tewkesbury was refusing to pay its share. The Privy Council’s solution was, as with other such refusals, to spread the load further into the neighbouring hundreds. (14) In early June, Gloucester and Tewkesbury finally realised that the Privy Council was not going to relent and that the amount that was demanded for the Sutton was far in excess of what it would have cost them to do it themselves. They therefore changed their response, and offered to send the ship and pinnace, instead of paying for the Sutton, and this offer was accepted. (15) Their ship was captained for them by its owner or its owner’s man, and came from Devon.

When the Hull ships returned home for the second time, after the Armada had passed, they carried an instruction from the Lord Admiral that the town not the government was to pay the remaining three months’ tonnage for the ship and the crews’ wages: although reprovisioning had been paid for by the crown. Hull, which had already paid out £700 for the first voyage to the end of June, was now faced with an additional £315 for tonnage and wages after the end of June. (16) It soon became apparent that the Privy Council had indeed changed the rules, and that Hull was going to have to stand this charge too.

This also happened in other port towns. In July Lyme, Chard and Exminster were already estimating that they would have to pay for four months, (17) In September, Dover, already receiving refusals to pay from those assessed for the levy, was instructed by the Privy Council that they were also to pay two further months tonnage. (18) The two ships of Totnes and Dartmouth had served for four months and the towns were expected by the Privy Council to pay for the whole. (19) Bristol, which supplied three ships and a pinnace, was told that they had to pay for them for five months, but in October the Privy Council agreed to reimbursed the town for all except the two months of the original uncompensated levy. (20) Bristol was traditionally a major supplier of merchantmen for the Navy for a price, and their contribution to the fleets was undoubtedly more than the levy ships.

We have some evidence of how much this was costing the port towns. Hull’s two ships and a pinnace came to £1015, Lyme Chard and Exminster for the same £719, (21) perhaps their ships were not as large, or they had served for less than five months. For Exeter’s three ships and a pinnace £600 ‘was not half’ the cost, (22) Fowey and Looe had provided a ship and a pinnace and £600 had been spent, (23) Bridgwater’s single ship and a pinnace came to £447 15s. 6d. (24) Weymouth were charged with £451 1s 10d by the owner of one of the ships of their two and a pinnace. (25) It seems that a ship fully furnished for war was costing between £400 and £500 for four to five months service. Aldebrough’s ship of 160 tons cost them £590. (26) These were not inconsiderable sums. The amount due from Weymouth and all its neighbouring towns and hundreds was, by the Privy Council’s own admission, the equivalent of half a subsidy. (27) Ipswich claimed that the cost of the three hoys that they had provided was the equivalent of four subsidies if borne by that town alone, with other money raised at interest and £500 still unpaid. (28) Harwich, though jointly charged with them, had apparently failed to pay anything.

Who was bearing this debt; very little of the money had actually been raised? To deal with the exception first, one John Rasheley esquire had very rashly, although loyally, made a loan of £600 pounds, the entire cost, for the ships for Fowey and Looe, of which in July 1588 he had only been able to recover £100 from an initial collection, and his prospects for collection the remaining £500 were not looking good. (29) Generally though, for the hire of a fully fitted, armed, manned and supplied ship, the ship owner was out of pocket, and for the hire of a ship to be fitted out by the town, the ship owner, the suppliers and the crew needed paying. Most of these debtors, individually, collectively or by attorney, were petitioning the Privy Council though only a fraction of the correspondence mentioned in The Acts of the Privy Council has survived.

It is interesting, for the sake of completeness, to return to the parallel universe of Gloucester and Tewkesbury. By some miracle they had achieved the hire of a Devon ship of 75 tons and and pinnace 25 tons completely furnished for only £320, of which sum, by another miracle they had raised and paid-over £260. This was somewhat unfortunate both for them and for the owner of the Bark Sutton which, as you will remember, had been nominated by the Lord Admiral to serve for Gloucester’s ship. The Sutton had performed well with the Navy and the owner was claiming his charges from the town, in which he was supported by the Lord Admiral and eventually by the Privy Council. The Devon ship, hired by Gloucester and Tewkesbury, had never, it was claimed, joined the fleet at all, but had spent the time in other ways, as was evidenced by the fact that it and its crew were under arrest in Southampton for piracy. After making quite serious accusations of bad faith on the part of Gloucester, the Privy Council eventually only required that Gloucester and Tewkesbury should raise the balance of £60 which was to be given to the owners of the Sutton. (30)

It took at least a year to settle the disputes and some of the money was never collected. Many of the smaller debts sank without trace, presumably, they were written off as the cost of lobbying the Privy Council outgrew the value of the debt. As the months went on the Privy Council moved from asking for contributions “in neighbourly sort” to “an indifferent assessment” and finally “rateably, according to the subsidy book”, which at least gave some structure to those who were commissioned to persuade people to pay towards the levy. It is interesting that the Privy Council, from 1588 onward, wanted the payment for the ship-levy to be a voluntary contribution partly made out of loyalty to the state and partly out of neighbourly feeling for the local port town. They tried, to avoid making rules for the contribution.

Before the end of April 1588, in fact the day before the Hull ships sailed for the first time, Hull had secured a letter from the Privy Council to the Earl of Huntingdon, who was Lord President of the Queen’s Council in the North Parts. The letter instructed the Lord President, to deal with merchants and others, in York and thereabouts to contribute “in some reasonable sort.” This was a start for Hull, but it was too vague to have any effect. (31) It should be recognised here, that if Hull had agreed to shoulder the whole charge, the Privy Council, the Lord President and York would have been perfectly happy to let them do so. The movement to force York to contribute was started by Hull, and was maintained by Hull.

Hull’s principal contact with the Privy Council was Walsingham, with whom they had many dealings. I would not call Walsingham the town’s patron; Hull never gave him the title and he never claimed it, nor did he ever visit the town or have property in the area. He was however given the title of High Steward of the town and Hull Aldermen always went to him first with their petitions to the Privy Council, and his requests for jobs in the town for his clients were treated seriously. He may even have nominated one of Hull’s burgesses of the Parliament in a by-election. Walsingham had bought the farm of customs at Hull, which somewhat soured the relationship, but generally he was regarded as a friend of the town.

In September 1588, after the ships had returned to port, the Aldermen wrote to Walsingham professing themselves “dutiful in any her highness service as far as life lands or goods shall extend” but asking that they should be relieved of having to pay for more than the two months originally required of them, and further, that York should be made to pay a part of the same two months: they were attempting to lower their liability from £1015 to less than £350. The inhabitants of York, they said, were refusing to comply with the Lord President’s requests. This letter was taken to London by a responsible bearer, probably one of the Aldermen, who carried with him the Lord Admiral’s letter imposing the extra charges, and he expected to be received and heard by Walsingham. (32) Within a week of the delivery of the letter to Walsingham, a letter was written by the Privy Council to the Lord President at York reminding him of their former letter and asking him to get on with it. (33) The subsequent correspondence is complicated by other matters; Hull was at the time defending itself in a major action in the Court of Exchequer, but this meant that there were always Hull Aldermen in London during the legal terms and often at other times. The Hull letters were generally intended to serve as an introduction to the bearer who would usually have other supporting documents to deliver, as well as being able to argue the town’s case. The Hull bearers were also responsible for delivering the letters that the Privy Council wrote at their request. This particular letter to the Lord President was brought back to Hull and then taken up to London again with a covering letter from Hull. It had crossed on the road with Huntingdon himself. (34) While in London the Hull men procured yet another letter of instruction to the Lord President from the Privy Council and carried the resultant letter from the Lord President in London to York along with copies of the Privy Council’s latest letter. In York a committee of Aldermen was formed to plan the City’s resistance. It was by then mid-October of 1588. (35) My purpose in detailing these letters to and fro is to show how each step in the process was facilitated by the Hull Aldermen. They both solicited and delivered every part of the correspondence.

In the meantime the many suppliers of the Hull ship, from swabbers to ship owners, remained unpaid, and word reached the London that they were planning what would today be called a mass lobby, if not a March on London. No doubt this was partly a tactical threat but it certainly worried the Lord President who wrote urgently to the Mayor of Hull to prevent it. (36) By Hull standards, York’s response was slow. They did not decide on a delegation to London until November 13th, to leave a week the following Monday but they sent a letter ahead of it apologising for the delay. Delay would have been a good tactic for York, except that Hull had men in London already, who were lobbying against them. (37) The matter was heard in full before the Privy Council on 15th December 1588. Delegates presented their cases and written submissions and rejoinders were examined, and Hull won. The Hull Aldermen convinced the Privy Council that as York had the benefit of the port, York should contribute; the total sum owing or paid for the levy was £1015 and York were required to supply £600, which is just over half. The move to persuade the Crown to carry the costs for the final three months had failed. (38) The Privy Councillors believed, probably correctly, that York had three times the wealth of Hull and that there were no more than fourteen substantial households in the Hull. The wealth in Hull, along with the political power, was concentrated in very few hands. (39) Whatever the Aldermen of Hull failed to pass on to York, they would have to pay themselves. It was not the town’s capital that the Aldermen were defending, but their own.

York had lost, but the Aldermen and merchants there had yet to accept their defeat. They continued to urge their case in letters to the Lord President and they did not start collecting in the city until March 1589. The collection went badly and in April they issued warrants to attach those who were refusing to pay. (40) At the end of May they wrote apologetically to Hull in reply to what was probably one of a number of demands, that they could not pay more than they already had done as ‘the inhabitants here do refuse to contribute with us’; their assessment had obviously included many who were not citizens. The York Aldermen offered to pay 10% interest on the outstanding balance to Hull or anyone of Hull who would advance them the money. (41) Hull cannot have accepted the offer, as in July 1589 York borrowed £300, half their debt, in London for a year at 10% per annum, on the bond of some of the Aldermen who were themselves secured by a mortgage of some City property. (42) That settled the debt to Hull but in October 1589 York were still trying to raise money from their resident strangers. (43)

You may ask why I have concentrated on the York collection and not that of Hull, but the fact is that the Hull town clerk was very busy in London that year, and in his absence the Hull Bench Book wasn’t being properly kept. We don’t know how the Hull contributions were collected.

1. Acts of the Privy Council pp7-10. 31st March and 1st April

2. APC p.23 9th April

3. The National Archives State Papers 12/205, 75 (ff114-7)

4. TNA SP 12/209, 91 (f136)

5. APC 1588, p.41, 24th April

6. APC 1588, p.30, 12th April

7. York City Archives B.30 f.20v.-21 April 17-20 1588; TNA SP 12/209 104 (ff152-3); APC 1588 p.46 28th April; YCA B.30 f.34 May 22nd 1588

8. KHRO BRL/85, 7th April 1588 (Kingston upon Hull Record Office currently HHC)

9. KHRO BRL/86, 12 September 1588

10. APC 1588 p 134, 24 June

11. APC 1588 p 134, 24 June

12. APC 1588 p 212-3 2 August

13. APC 1588 pp 61-2, 12 May

14. APC 1588 p 95, 29 May

15. APC 1588 p 98, 2 June

16. KHRO BRL/86, 22nd September 1588

17. APC 1588 pp 161-2, 14th July

18. APC 1588 p 294 30th September

19. APC 1558 pp 374, 8th December

20. APC 1588 pp 312-3, 16th October

21. APC 1588 pp 281-2, 21st September

22. APC 1588 pp 112-3, 6th June

23. APC 1588 pp 159-60, 14th July

24. APC 1588 p 279, 18th September

25. APC 1588 p 301, 6th October

26. APC 1588 p 93, 28th May

27. APC 1588 pp 353-4, 20th November

28. APC 1588 pp 399-400, 17th December

29. APC 1588 pp 159-60, 14th July

30. APC 1588 pp 405-6, after 17 December

31. APC 1588 p 46, 28th April

32. KHRO BRL/86, 12th September 1588

33. APC 1588 p., 28th September

34. KHRO BRL/87, 8th October 1588

35. APC 1588 pp316-7, 18th October; YCA B.30 f.65v.

36. KHRO BRL/89, 28th October 1588

37. YCA B.30 ff67v-68, 69v, 13th-23rd November 1588

38. APC 1588 pp395-7, 15th December

39. APC 1588-9 pp 45-6, January 1588/940. YCA B.30 f88v, f96, f99

41. KHRO BRL/93, 28th May 1589

42. YCA B.30 f119v and f121v

43. YCA B.30 f144

Shakespeare came to Hull

When Shakespeare was thrown out of Hull:
The Theatre and the Church in Elizabethan Hull.
a local history talk given by Helen Good
Holy Trinity, Hull, 16 August 2016

In late September 1599 a travelling company of players arrived in Hull, set up in an Inn, and put on at least one performance. Hull Corporation went ape-shit.

By 1599 the Hull was ruled by 13 Aldermen including the Mayor of the year, and they were all of the Godly faction. They could be described as Puritans or Precisians or even as Saints, we would call them Calvinists, but they thought of themselves as the Godly or as God’s Elect. The reason these Aldermen were all of the Godly faction, was because although they were elected as Aldermen by the Free Burgesses of the town, the Free Burgesses only got to vote for one of two candidates for each vacant post, and the candidates were both chosen by the existing Aldermen. By this method, between the death of Queen Mary Tudor in 1558 and the 1590s control of the Corporation of Hull had been entirely taken over by the Puritan tendency. Unlike most towns there was no larger common council, the thirteen Aldermen, who took office for life, ruled everything. They were all merchants, most were shipowners.

Here is the official record from the town’s bench book. When I found it, it was called KHRO Bench Book 4 f.325v. It started to change shortly afterwards, and this week they are calling it HHC C BRB/2 f.325v., but the older reference has a better pedigree and probably more long-term stability.

The 27th of September 1599.
“Whereas heretofore and yet there are resorte to the town of Kingston upon Hull divers idle & lewde persons, players or setters oute of plays or enterludes within this towne, to which plays many of the inhabitantes here have gone and been present at, and spent their times and also their money in hearing such frivolous and vain exercises to the evil example of many. For reformacion whereof, And because the players are for the most part straingers and therefore not so conveniently restrained frome playing, as inhabitants of this town from hearing, and for that the use thereof is thought to be very ungodly and wicked. It is therefore ordered and agreed by the Maior & Aldermen of Kingston upon Hull in the presence of Master John Graves Mayor and Master Thurscros, Master Richardson, Master Lyster, Master Chapman, Master Cooke, Master Burnsell & Master Armin, Aldermen That no Burgesse or Inhabitant within the towne of Kingston upon Hull neither man nor woman shall at any time hereafter resort, be, or be present when any playe or enterlude is playing or showed in any place within Kingston upon Hull, upon payne that every such person offending therein to forfeit for every time & offence the sum of 2s and 6d to the Maior & Burgesses of Kingston upon Hull. And also that the owner of every house or place where such playes or enterludes are played or heard shall for every offence or time forfeit 20s to the use aforesaide.”

It is important to understand what this Bench Book record is and what it is not. It isn’t a chronicle history of the town, although sometimes people think that it should be, and treat it as if it was. Its sole purpose was to make a record of decisions for future reference. They might be an obligation or a debt or, as here, they made a new bye-law. Sometimes there are reasons given for the decisions, frequently there are none. In the 1580s new fire regulations were promulgated to be obeyed by all ships coming into the haven. One can take a guess at the reason behind them from the rules that were made: for secure gunpowder storage, against allowing lighted candles on board ships and especially against small boys being left in charge after dark, but it is only from a London source that we learn that a ship called the Dragon had exploded in Hull haven. Here, in September 1599, because, apparently, no action could be taken against the players, no record of them needed to be made. The identity of the company was utterly irrelevant to the new bye-law. The nature of the Bench Book does result in some very strange omissions. In 1588 there is no mention at all of the Spanish Armada, but some very fierce rules are made against the parents and masters of school boys and apprentices, whose latest game was throwing stones with slings.

We also have the problem that the Bench Book was not written as a journal. It was written up from the town clerk’s notes in bulk. Sometimes this was done at the end of the mayoral year, and sometimes a few years were written up together. A lot depended on the quality of the notes and the clerk’s memory for detail. The town clerk was a regular traveller on the town’s affairs, to York or to London. In his absence someone else had to take notes, or alternately fail to do so. Here, all that the clerk needed to record was the solution that the Aldermen had found for the problem: they could not control the actors, so they would control the audience, They imposed a fine for hearing a play, and a fine for allowing a play to be performed on one’s premises.

Let us look at what new bye-law meant financially. The play will have been put on in an inn yard and there really was only one suitable inn yard, the King’s Head on High Street. In 16th Century Hull every other house in the town seems to have been at one time or another a tippling house, sometimes licenced, sometimes not, but an Elizabethan national survey of licenced premises (to see if licensing could be farmed) found that Hull had only one substantial inn. The usual deal was for the landlord to gather what he could from the audience using the galleries surrounding the yard, whilst the company gathered from those who stood in the yard itself.

If, for the sake of convenience, we assume an audience of 240 for a show, then the total take would be 240 pence, that is one pound and whatever premium the innkeeper was charging in the galleries, to be shared between the company and the innkeeper. The innkeeper was going to make a loss if he had to pay a fine of twenty shilling for every performance. Twenty shillings being also one pound. Then, turning to the fines on the audience, entry to the yard would be a penny, and the fine for hearing a play was set at half a crown, that is 30 pence. You will get a feel for this if you think of paying £10 for a cinema ticket and then paying a £300 fine for watching a film.

So how far is this typical for travelling companies in towns? The answer is that it isn’t typical at all. As far as I can tell it is unique. It is certainly not the way the regular touring companies behaved. They would arrive in a town and apply to the mayor or bailiff for permission to play. They might offer a performance for the Councillors and then be allowed to set up in an inn or even in some places in the Guild Hall. Some towns did not allow them to play, but this was not always bad for the company. Cambridge for example sometimes paid touring companies to go away without playing. This made good sense for the players. If they took 240 pennies or one pound for every performance that they gave, to be paid £5 by Cambridge Corporation to go away, was the equivalent of receiving the takings for 5 performances without the necessity of unpacking the carts and performing.

But travelling theatre companies did not come to Hull. They did not apply for permission, they did not play, they were not paid not to play. The records are not complete, and of course absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but the reaction of the Corporation to this particular event is a good indication that the record is true, and Hull did not expect to be visited by companies of players.

Hull did pay people to go away. An example: The central government was desperately short of Gunpowder and issued commissions to dig for Saltpetre. (KHRO Bench Book 4 f.286) The Saltpetremen turned up with their carts and spades and leeching tubs and a commission to dig up every stable in Hull. The villainous saltpetre had been made by the Chinese from bat guano on cave floors, but the Elizabethan English dug for it, especially where they knew there were years of good horse piss. Hull gave the Saltpetremen twenty nobles to go away and stay away. Twenty nobles is £6 13s 4d. The Saltpetremen were happy, they had their profit quickly and without exertion, and the town was happy, because business was not interrupted by a mass of holes in the ground. Of course the government didn’t get its gunpowder, but the government was in London, and it was in no-one’s interest to tell them. It certainly didn’t stop the Hull protesting at the shortage of gunpowder.

Now I first came upon this visit of a company of players to Hull nearly twenty years ago, and I have used it a lot since then, both in teaching a module on the Early Modern Town and in conference papers to illustrate Godly Governance. I was putting together a package of such material and, because I had decided to order it chronologically, I re-checked the dates and suddenly received a most tremendous shock. In the years since I had found the entry, the date, September 1599, had taken on a quite different significance. We now know that the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s Company were (most unusually) on tour at that exact time. We don’t yet know where they went. This raised the possibility that Shakespeare, the single greatest cultural figure that this country, or possibly any country, has ever produced, came to Hull, next year’s UK City of Culture, and was thrown out of town by the corporation as an undesireable. We should not perhaps be too hard on the corporation. Theatre was not then in any way respectable, and culture was not a recognised concept. It is easy to be wise after the event. When Hull Corporation banned Monty Python’s Life of Brian from Hull cinemas, it was not known that it would regularly be voted the best comedy film ever made. I find it less understandable that the Corporation should spend their Culture 2017 money, not on something of lasting cultural worth, like giving a good education to the children of Hull, but on creating a year of chaos to improve the pavements; which is neither cultural nor likely to look good for long. I live in the old town and when I meet baffled visitors to Hull, wondering out loud how to cross the road, I say “they are digging for culture, but so far they in’t found owt.”

So somebody came to Hull, in September 1599, but was it the Lord Chamberlain’s men, Shakespeare’s company, and was Shakespeare with them? From the complaints of the touring actors in Hamlet, first performed in the next year, I would say without hesitation that wherever the Lord Chamberlain’s men did go, Shakespeare went with them. And the experience was not a happy one. As to whether the company came to Hull, that is an open question.

It was certainly someone important and unusual. These “idle and lewd persons” had serious protection. They were attached either to the Queen or to one of the Privy Councillors. The Aldermen of Hull would not have hesitated to expel anyone else. Hull’s Aldermen were the law in the town. They were Justices of Peace with all the powers that that implies. This was because the town of Hull was among the few towns in England that were also counties. As Justices the Aldermen had the right and the duty to have strolling players, strangers or locals, whipped until their backs were bloody, and they could certainly have run them out of town. The Council was never slow in exercising arbitrary power. As an example, there was a husband and wife who were tried in the town for pretending to work magic, which was a crime. They were found not guilty, (there was not enough evidence) but the aldermen ordered them to be ejected from the town anyway as undesirables. These actors, whatever their deserts not only ’scaped whipping, but could not apparently conveniently be ejected.

These aldermen were not provincial hicks. Just a few months before this incident, a Hull alderman rode up to London to defend Hull’s Charter right not to muster as part of Yorkshire. He appeared before the the Privy Council, with success. The letter that he brought back from the Privy Council says effectively “All right, do it your way.” All the Aldermen were substantial merchants with connections in London and abroad. Most were shipowners. They were the rulers of Hull, but they understood where central power lay and how it was exercised. Although they disapproved, they would have understood how the London theatres were protected from the Godly London Aldermen; protected both by law and by the Queen’s will. All in all, it seems reasonable to me to say that this particular company of players had powerful protection. Otherwise the entry makes no sense. Any company that did not carry accreditation from the Queen or a Peer or Privy Councillor would have been easy to discipline, either under statute law or under the, to modern eyes, despotic powers that the Aldermen customarily exercised. Appeals against them were few, and those that there were, were defended with a vigour that dismayed the appellants.

I do not believe that they were the company called the Queen’s men, although the Queen’s men did come to Yorkshire, and were still active. We know a lot about the Queen’s men and there is no indication that they ever came nearer to Hull than York. You might say that that is not so very far away, but for an early modern cart on early modern roads, it is a very long way away. I also do not believe it was the Queen’s men because this was not the way the Queen’s men ever behaved; setting up and playing without permission. Of the other important companies that it might have been, the only one that I can find was was travelling in this month was the Lord Chamberlain’s men, Shakespeare’s company.

Obviously the next step was to look in the records of other places on the route to Hull from London and in other places nearby, and there is no trace of this or any other company. However in 1768 William Guthrie claimed in his history of Scotland that in this very month and year the Lord Chamberlain’s men played in Edinburgh for King James VI, “to prove how thoroughly he was emancipated from the tutelage of his clergy” but that there was no record as to whether Shakespeare was with them or not. Guthrie gives no source for  his claim and consequently has not previously been taken seriously. If the company was on its way from London to Edinburgh by sea, it would be very likely to call at Hull, for shelter, repairs, supplies, or to load and discharge cargo. If the company found itself in an inn in Hull waiting to sail on to Edinburgh, what is more likely than that they would put on a play. (William Guthrie, A general history of Scotland from the earliest accounts to the present time, London 1768, Vol 8, Page 358)

There was at this time only one suitable inn yard, the King’s Head on High Street. In 16th Century Hull every other house in the town seems to have been at one time or another a tippling house, sometimes licensed, sometimes not, but an Elizabethan national survey of licensed premises (to see if licensing could be farmed) found that Hull had only one substantial inn. (The National Archives SP 12/117, 37)

So if Shakespeare came to Hull, what did he find, and is any of it in the plays that he wrote immediately afterwards; Twelfth Night and Hamlet. There is an old-fashioned view of Shakespeare, the great poet, in an attic, dreamily composing his deathless verse. Due to the weird way in which the Oxford English Dictionary was made, people believe that he single-handedly created a whole vocabulary of new words and he is credited with being more or less responsible for the subsequent flourishing of English literature. He had a feel for the language around him, perhaps finer than any individual, before or since, and an ability to find words for emotions and situations, that have become part of our language. The only book that is better at this is the King James Bible, famously the only work of art created by a committee, and the King James Bible came from the same source, the flowering of Early Modern English.

So, if Shakespeare was in Hull in September 1599, what would he have found there, still bearing in mind that he was about to write Hamlet and Twelfth Night?

Well obviously he found the Godly Aldermen, who had said that because they were virtuous, there should be no more Cakes and Ale. In Twelfth Night Sir Toby Belch, reproved for his drunken singing in the night, says to his Puritan enemy Malvolio “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” This is not a figure of speech. Cakes and Ale has become for us shorthand for a certain sort of party spirit, but this was real cakes and real ale. The cakes were not what we would call cakes, more like a round shortbread biscuit, and they were full of sugar and spice and all things nice, and they must have therefore been expensive, a treat. Traditionally in Hull, the Mayor, in his year, provided Cakes and Ale for all comers at his house on Midsummer eve. It was custom promoting, it was claimed, goodfellowship and neighbourliness. I imagine it also promoted lewdness, public drunkenness and singing. This custom was abolished by our Godly Hull Aldermen. There were protests, furious protests from the Free Burgesses, so much so that the custom was reinstated for a year, but then Alderman John Smith became mayor and it was abolished again, this time for ever. In Hull there were to be no more Cakes and Ale. You can see a portrait of the virtuous Alderman John Smith in the Hull Grammar School museum (if you can find it open). There was a doctrinal aspect which is not included in the official account. This custom had a religious origin. The cakes, usually marked in the dough with a cross, were originally called soul cakes and they were part of a contract. The donor gave out the cakes and the recipients said a prayer for the donor’s soul. In Puritan Hull this would have been called Popish superstition.

This seems like a good moment to reveal something else that I have found about Twelfth Night. I have recently made a new name index of the parties in Elizabethan Star Chamber cases, and I am indecently proud of it. They are the class called STAC 5 and consist of 100,000 documents and no map; at least none before my index. I discovered, very much to to my surprise, that whilst Englishmen were called Lancelot, or Melchior, they were not called Andrew. There are a tiny number of English Andrews. It was not until after indexing thousands of names, that I finally hit an Andrew and I realized that the Andrews were missing. The first Andrew that I found was called Andrew Bonnet, I don’t know who he was but I would guess at a Scottish heritage. If Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night is a Scot, and I believe that if he was called Andrew he must have been intended to be a Scot, then that has implications. A Scottish knight as a foolish and unsuccessful wooer of a noble lady was politically charged in 1600. James VI of Scotland was sitting north of the border worrying, and the longer Elizabeth lived, the more worried he became. She was living far longer than seemed possible.

A lot of speculation has been published about Shakespeare’s religion. He can be shown to have conformed publicly all his life to the Church of England, unlike so many of his contemporaries, he never put a foot wrong. But in his writing, in his imagery, all the subtle choices that he made in the plays we can see that his instincts were completely Catholic. This is most obvious in a play like Hamlet with its great Catholic versus Protestant debate over the “honesty” of the ghost in which the Catholic theology wins, but it also appears, more subtly, in most of the other plays.

Hamlet and his friend Horatio are students at the University of Wittenberg, Luther’s University. This is like hanging a label on them saying “protestants”. Protestants did not believe that ghosts were the spirits of the dead, but that they were devils sent to mislead the living and bring them to hell. I recently saw a woodcut of the devil making crop circles. In mediaeval times it was the fairies, after the reformation it was the Devil, in the twentieth century it was extra-terrestrials, the only thing that doesn’t change is the crop circle. So when the ghost appears Horatio, he greets it as a Protestant should: “What art thou that that usurps this time of night, / together with that fair and warlike form / in which the majesty of buried Denmark / did sometimes march.” The ghost, a good Catholic ghost, is offended, it stalks away. I haven’t the time here to take you through all the passages. If you want to follow it up it is all in a book called “What Happens in Hamlet” by John Dover Wilson, an old book but a good one.

Back to Hull. When we come to Hamlet and Hull, we need only ask what was current in Hull in September 1599, what were the Aldermen and the inhabitants all talking about? The men at work and in the tippling houses. The answer is that in Hull in September 1599 they were all talking about how much they hated the King of Denmark. Christian IV was then only 22 years old and and already, like most of his his countrymen, a spectacular drinker. He was, if you remember, the Danish King during whose state visit to James I, no one drew a sober breath. There was vomit on the steps of the throne. I have never seen anything to suggest that the Danish King was ashamed of this, but it could be said that it soiled his addition.

In July 1599 five Hull ships were pirated by this King of Denmark and his brother. This is not one of the king’s later anonymous pirate voyages, he was on an official visit to a part of Lapland whose ownership was disputed with Sweden. He was showing the flag. Norway at this time was owned by the Danish crown, but Sweden was a separate kingdom. Christian IV did not yet have much of a navy, but he was eager to increase it, and he made a start at the expense of Hull. We do not know the tonnages of the ships that he took, but based on other records I would guess that there was an aggregate crew in the five ships of between 150 and 200 men. This is from a male population of Hull of a little over 2000. He kept four ships, pressed some of the Hull men into the Danish navy, and sent the rest of the men on one ship (the least valuable of the Hull ships) back to Hull. They had been sailing to Vardo (Wardhouse as it is called in Hull), and were therefore the largest and the best of the Hull ships. Hull claimed that the total losses came to £7,000. This wasn’t settled quickly. There is considerable diplomatic and other correspondence about this outrage, well into the next reign.

This was not the only complaint that Hull had against Denmark. Control at the sound of Elsinor gave Denmark the power to charge as much as the market would bear for passage into and out of the Baltic. The Danish crown prospered as a parasite on the trade of other nations and this was deeply resented. The tolls were extortionate but the guns on the platform of the castle at Elsinor enforced them.

So in Hull people were talking about the king of Denmark, and not in a good way. They didn’t need to talk about Denmark to talk about pirates. I remember at school reading a Hamlet commentary, I forget by whom, but he was eminent. He said that of course the pirates who rescued Hamlet on his voyage to England did not exist, Hamlet had invented the story. One of the problems with Shakespeare commentators is that they are not historians. On the North Sea a pirate of very warlike appointment could be expected to give any ship chase. All ships entering or leaving the Humber mouth had to be armed against them, some pirates were from Dunkirk, most were from Lincolnshire, Clee, now known as Cleethorpes, was a terrible place for pirates. Hull of course had a castle of its own with guns at the South Blockhouse on the platform where the watch watched, to control entry into the haven. I have no evidence of ghostly apparitions on the gun platform of Hull castle. The South Blockhouse of Hull Castle was the Guantanamo Bay of its time, known throughout Europe for the barbaric conditions in which its Catholic prisoners were held.

There is one other thing that connects the touring players to Hamlet, and that is of course that they were touring players. Someone in Hull will have reported to the Aldermen “the actors are come hither” and at some point someone will have asked “How chances it they travel?” For a company with a theatre in London, it is a question that had to be asked. Shakespeare goes to some trouble in Hamlet (in a very long exchange nowadays omitted) to let the audience know that his was a superior company, the tragedians of the City, that their tour was forced and unusual, and that they would much rather have stayed in the City.

What we need to ask is what is this Hull Bench Book entry all about. One thing is for certain, it is not about culture, because it is entirely about religion.

By 1599 the usual target of the Godly Preachers and Aldermen in Hull was the blasphemings of the most holy name of god, drunkenness, whoredom and infinity other abominable and detestable sins, enormities and offences which do abound in the town by reason of the great number of ale houses, the unreasonable and excessive strong ale by ale brewers there brewed, and the continual and disordinate repair of the people to those lewd houses. Well Hull Corporation is still working on that. Beer is made with hops which are a preservative, and the stronger the beer the longer it lasts. This means that in ports where beer was needed for long voyages, it was brewed extra strong, and this unfortunately also got sold locally, alongside regular ale and the barely alcoholic small beer.

Have a look at the memorial to Thomas Wincopp who was the Godly preacher, here in 1599. It is in the South Choir Isle of Trinity Church. The Hull preacher did not have a ten minute slot, he typically preached for two hours, the same length as the two hour traffic of their stage. Then go to Stratford Church (or go on-line) and look at the bust of Shakespeare on the wall there. The counterfeit presentment of two men and very similar in size and treatment, but one was the vastly respected Godly preacher of an important seaport and the other a relatively rich man in a small market town, with a lot of ungodliness in his London past to live down. But Stratford was not a Godly Commonwealth, as Hull was. Warwickshire had a long Catholics tradition.

When I was sixteen and a complete Shakespeare groupie, the height of my ambition would have been to find something, anything, to add to the Shakespeare biography. To find something that connected him with the place where I was born, would have been the greatest achievement of my life. But maybe at my age the heyday in the blood is tame. He either came to Hull, or he didn’t come to Hull. I don’t know, I wasn’t there. On balance I think he probably did, except that that would really be too good to be true. But it is not that important. The history of the town, the history of the reformation does not depend of whether a man who later became famous was briefly made unwelcome here.

What is important is the religious picture. The division, the polarisation, of all England into those who were building a Godly Commonwealth and those who were struggling against that particular tide of history, to cling onto their version of religion and their version of England. There is a theory at present that there were moderates, that there was at this time a strand of moderate episcopalian protestantism (if such a thing can exist), to which much if not most of population happily adhered; the famous ‘via media’ of the Church of England. It may be so, but I have seen no evidence of it in this town in this reign. The battle lines of the Civil War were already being drawn, Hamlet’s father’s ghost was either an honest ghost or a goblin damned. The elect of God chose virtue and the rest preferred cakes and ale.