William Prynne (1600 - 1669)
William Prynne was a truly amazing character. Quotes from his
diatribes against dancing are fairly well known in dance circles,
but most people do not know the history behind them, so read on:
- Born, Somerset, son of a gentleman farmer. Attended Bath
- Enters Oriel College, Oxford.
- Graduates with B.A. degree, January 22.
- Enters Lincoln's Inn. Attends
sermons by Donne and takes part in a pressure group trying to
stop the Saturday night revels in Lincoln's Inn. The revels end.
Visits theatre 4 times and is disgusted. Starts writing for the
illicit pamphlet publishers on moral, religious and political
- Prosecuted for his pamphlet The Perpetuitie of a Regenerate
Man's Estate but gets off on a technicality.
- Qualifies as a barrister.
- One of his publishers imprisoned.
- More or less permanently embroiled in legal controversy over
his pamphlets, which are biliously brutal, vitriolic and scurrilous
even by the unfussy standards of the time!
- Qualifies as full barrister. Continues legal practice, often
defending unlicensed Puritan propagandists like himself in the
prosecutions they are generally prey to.
- While defending 3 Puritan propagandists charged with holding
"false opinions", in the Court of High Commission (the
court responsible for religious orthodoxy, which had failed to
convict him in 1627), Prynne is somewhat surprised, as his clients
are led away to the pillory, to find himself charged with the
exact offence he was trying to get them acquitted of.
Publishes Histriomastix, a 1006-page diatribe against
the theatre , masques, dancing and entertainment generally. Unwisely
implies that women who participate in masques are abandoned slatterns,
unwisely because the Queen herself is fond of a masque. The Histriomastix
is the source of his most famous quotes
- The Histriomastix is banned, Archbishop Laud of Canterbury,
like the Queen a prominent Arminian (a religious movement loathed
by Prynne and the Puritans as being too much like Catholicism),
starts pestering the King and the Attorney-General to prosecute
Prynne, and employs his chaplain to comb Prynne's writings for
Prynne is questioned by the Star Chamber and by the Attorney-General,
committed to the Tower and tried for seditious libel, with 6
Puritan printers as co-defendants. Prynne refuses to plead. He
is convicted and sentenced to the pillory, to have his ears cut
off, to lose his degree and his barrister's qualifications, a
£5000 fine and life imprisonment. His books and possessions
are sold. Actually they only cut off the tips of both ears. In
prison Prynne continues writing, with the result that:
- He is charged with seditious libel again, with two co-defendants,
Bastwick and Burton. All 3 are found guilty. Prynne is sentenced
to the pillory, to lose the remnants of his ears, another £5000
fine, life imprisonment in Carnarvon, and to have the letters
S L (for Seditious Libeller) branded on his cheeks. According
to Prynne, the hangman "burnt one cheek with a letter the
wrong waye, he burnt that againe." After this, Prynne wore
his hair long!
Prynne, Bastwick and Burton become famous as a result of the
case, and "a certain Papist, Mrs Hauton of Lancashire, merrily
cut off the ears of her three cats and seared one of them in
the 'cheekes', calling them Bastwick, Burton and Prynne."
Prynne arrives at Carnarvon in August: a 'nasty dogg-hole"
. As Carnarvon is insecure he is moved to Jersey, where he becomes
friends with his captor, the lieutenant governor Carteret and
- Charles I decides to call a Parliament for a change. Parliament
immediately sets up a committee to review the case of Bastwick,
Burton and Prynne. They are released pending the review and come
in triumph to London.
- Parliament declares Prynne's previous sentences to be illegal
and his fines are cancelled. Parliament is merrily eroding the
results of Royal policy in the run-up to the Civil War, and Laud,
Prynne 's arch-enemy, is in the Tower. Prynne is living in London
and Somerset, catching up with his reading and writing against
Laud and bishops in general, a popular pastime among Puritans
of the time.
- Civil War breaks out. Prynne is writing Parliamentary propaganda.
- Parliament appoints Prynne to search Laud's quarters in the
Tower and confiscate all his papers. Prynne gleefully wades into
Laud's cell with three musket-waving heavies and does the job
with exemplary thoroughness. Then he starts going through the
papers in search of incriminating material. In August Parliament
orders the publication of Prynne's findings incriminating Laud.
Prynne is appointed chairman of the committee taking accounts
for the kingdom, a very senior post, financing the parliamentary
forces and the war effort generally. He accuses Fiennes, the
Parliamentarian general who lost Bristol to the Royalist Prince
Rupert, of treason.
To be continued!
This page last modified Tue Apr 2 1996 11:38:50
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