F. J. Harvey (Frederick Joseph Harvey) Darton.

The marches of Wessex, a chronicle of England online

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Never so many cousins, so few kind,
Goodmorrows plenty, good wills hard to find,
Never so many clerks, ne'er learning less.
Many religions, but least godliness."

The words have a curiously modern ring. And again,
he complains of the multitude of usurers — yet not enough,
for they were all so busy lending to " gentlemen, merchants,
nobles of the land " that poor men got no chance to deal with
them. He found it hard even to wi'ite consistently ; for

" How shall men's or manners' form appear
Which while I write do change from what they were ? "

Not that one need seriously regret the disappearance of
the great religious houses and the established order of which
they were part. They stood for a certain dependence of
life which was becoming foreign to the English temper.
As a consequence, the Dissolution shared with the wool
trade the responsibility for the increase of vagrancy. Not
only were hundreds of monks and nuns and servants of
the religious houses deprived of occupation — it should be
remembered, by the way, that many were pensioned— but
the whole administration of charity and much of the
organization of agricultural work vanished when these
centres were destroyed.

The direct result was the Elizabethan Poor Law, of which
we are not yet rid. I am not going to argue for or against
the various proposals for dealing with the problems the Poor
Law was meant to solve. The effect, so far as the country


labourer m Tudor times is concerned, was to keep wages low
— because the parish could be brought in to supplement
them — and to tie to the parish the worker \\ ho at the time
almost seemed, b}' the process of economic evolution, to
have got free of the chains that bound liiin to the soil.

But to dwell on purely agi-icultural questions alone
would be to ignore a large part of the bustling Tudor life.
The increased responsibilities of the parish involved cor-
porate labour for many piu-poses. A famous statute of
Philip and Mary charged the parisli with the upkeep of its
roads ; and many of the beautiful bridges of Dorset — those
at Wool, Holme, Spettisbiu-y, for instance — were either
built or retstored in this period. The building activities
of the new men, setting up their comfortable houses, must
have provided a good deal of employment, as must also
their l)usiness enterprises, like Clavell's undertaking at
Kimmeridge, Their sports and pastimes were numerous.
i*erhaps George Turberville, himself of the great Dorset
family, had the profiteer sportsman in mind when he ^\Totc
his Book of Falconry (1575) and Book of Venerie or Hunting :
though after all many of them were country born, and could
feel sincerely, as he did, that " a good Spaniel is a great
jewel, and a good Spaniel maketh a good Hawk."

Turberville, indeed, is an interesting example of an
average Elizabethan of the better classes, not so rich or
80 able as to be eminent, but versatile and eager in all he
did. It in hard to know whether he was a genuine outdoor
man or n(»t. He went to Russia — apparently because ho
was crossed in love — with the mission to Ivan Vasilivitch
(Ivan the Terrible), so vividly described in Hakluyt. lUit ho
wa.s only thirty-five or so when the I'rivy Council were told
that lie " hath In-en always from hisyoutli, and si ill is, given
to his book and study, and lu^ver e.\ercis(>(l in matters of
war." He had an epitaph of his own. " Ding, <long, cease
now the bell — ho loved a pot of strong ale well." I'erliaj)8
it ha« some connection wilh his advices to tlu' huntsman :
" When he is u]>Jand ready, let him drink a good draught.


. . . Andlet him not forget to fill his bottle with good wine."
These admirable sentiments are followed by a luscious
description of the most enormous cold luncheon of which
any human being could be capable.*

And here it may be convenient to insert, by way of con-
trast, a brief mention of another Dorset man — Arthur
Gregory of Lyme Regis. His gift to the Tudor polity was
a peculiar skill in opening even sealed letters, in such a
manner that the recipient could by no means detect the
interference. Walsingham, perhaps through the Dorset
connections already mentioned, heard of this attractive
artist, and conveyed him to London for suitable employ-
ment in the Civil Service.

The ordinary town life was likewise varied and vigorous.
A few extracts from the account books of the Mayors of
Weymouth (quoted by Mr. H. J. Moule in his excellent
survey of the Borough records) suggest more than any
description. These are expenses incurred : —

£ s. d.

(1596) Conveying a mad man out of the Town . 3
A shroud for a poor man that died in John-
son's porch, and to the woman that
shrouded him ..... 34

(1597) Wine bestowed upon the lieutenants and

the captains at times in their lodgings .15

(1606) Sending into Portland about the pirates . 3

(1611) Paid H. Tuckey for whipping a sailor . 4
(1615) Given the Queen's players for not playing

here, by order of the Aldermen . . 1 10
9 dozen of lobsters Jno. Poop at Mr. Re-
corder and 2 dozen of crabs, which cost 8 10

* The legend of the Turberville coach is referred to in Tess. It is
said to drive out of an evening from the beautiful Jacobean manor -hoxise
at Wool (an old Tvirberville dwelling), where the pictures on the walls —
still there — so frightened Tess. Only Turbervilles can see the coach. A
writer in the Dorset Field Club's Proceedings has this curious story :

" A gentleman whom I have the honour to know was passing near here
one evening of late years — going to dine with friends. On arriving he
asked which of their neighbours kept a four-in-hand. ' No one.' ' Yes,' he
said, ' someone must, for I've just seen a four-in-hand — a queer, old-
fashioned, but handsome affair, with outriders.' ' No,' they said, ' no
one here keeps such a turn-out, but — you've surely seen the Turberville
coach.' Now he is akin to the old Turberville race."


" Sending into Portland about the pirates " — the Privy
Council sent into Weymouth itself often enough " about
the pirates." The predatory instincts of the Dorset mariners
were apt to get England into trouble with other nations.
In 1546 " all the men of war adventurers " in the Dorset
ports had to be ordered not to put out to sea ; and the same
year an enquiry was held at Weymouth about a certificate
for cargo landed :

" The captain of a pinnace called the Mary Grace of
Salt ash . . . did enter into Weymouth Haven, and dis-
charged out of her goods to the value of sixty pounds ;
forasmuch as in the said certificate no mention was made
where the ship that the goods were taken out of is become,
nor what was done with the mariners in her, which made
the matter savour somewhat of a piracy. . . ."

The result of the enquiry is not given. It is clear that
there was a thoroughly well-organized system of receiving
and distributing the booty obtained by these means. The
ransom of prisoners was a common transaction on ordinary
hard business lines. There are constant complaints and
enquiries about piracy all through the reign of Elizabeth
and James. In 1582 a AN'eymouth man, newly turned
pirate, landed at Studland with his companions, and there
cut down the gallows on which men of his trade were hanged.
But the luck was not all on one side. In that same year the
Mayor of Weymouth \\as the accuser, not the accused :
he uTote to the Privy Council that " four ships have been
taken by the Turks and are sunk, to the value of more than
£200(1." In the later abortive attempts, in 1019-20, to
suppress the Barbary corsairs, Weymouth was also keenly

The great impetus to seafaring and oversea trade given by
tlu! discovery of America, especially aftt^r the destruction
of the Armada, affected the Dorset ports. It was at this
time that the country's close connection with Newfound-
land was established. Poole boats were certainly going to
the Newfoundland fisheries as early as 1583. Early in


1588, when a general embargo was laid on all foreign-going
boats in view of the Spanish preparations, it was worth
the while of certain " contemptuous persons " in the ship
Primrose of Poole to risk breaking the embargo and sail
for the Banks. In 1618, the Privy Council were informed
that " the adventures of this town (Poole) are not in any
staple, but in fishing voyages for the New Found Land, and
so home." By 1628, according to the Victoria County
History, Poole used to send twenty boats a year to the
Banks ; in 1622, Weymouth, which had previously sent
thirty-nine, sent eleven. They sailed in spring and returned
late in the summer. The trade continued to grow for two
centuries : it was at its highest in 1813 ; then it waned, and
Poole sent only seventy vessels west in 18-39 — which is
estimated at a fifth of the 1813 tonnage. The fishers had
gradually taken to setting up huts to cure the fish on the
spot ; and then huts for their own lodging : and so to
complete settlement.*

It is in those daily events which go to the making of a
livelihood that life continues. Three and a half centuries
later we are apt to think of the climax of Elizabeth's reign as

* There were risks about the voyage. " And when the sixteen were
in the boat, some had small remembrance, and some had none : for they
did not make account to live, but to prolong their lives as long as it pleased
God, and looked every moment of an hour when the sea would eat them
up, the boat being so little and so many men in her, and so foul weather. . . .
Thus while we remained two days and two nights . . . there was in our
company one Master Hedly that put forth this question to me the Master.
' I do see that it doth please God that our boat liveth in the sea, and it
may please God that some of us may come to the land if our boat were not
overladen. Let us make sixteen lots, and those four that have the
shortest lots we will cast overboard, preserving the Master among us all.'
I replied tmto him, saying, ' No, we will live and die together.' . . .
Thus we continued the third and fourth day without any sustenance,
save only the weeds that swam in the sea, and salt water to drink. The
fifth day Hcclly died and another moreover : then we desired all to die :
for in all those five days and five nights we saw the sun but once and the
stars but one night, it was so foul weather. Thus did we remain the sixth
day." They reached land the seventh day. The narrative is by Richard
Clarke of Weymouth,' Master of the Delight : the date 1583.

It may be interesting here also to enter the name of another Newfound-
land-Dorset man — Captain Robert Abram Bartlett, whom Peary left at
the end of the last stage on his journey to the North Pole. Captain
Bartlett's ancestors, of Poole, settled in Newfoundland three generations
ago. He is proud of his Dorset lineage, and is an overseas member of the
Society of Dorset Men in London.


the few years which produced Shakespeare and the defeat
of the Armada. I must deal with Shakespeare as Weymouth
dealt with him : the Queen's players shall not enter here.

I am inclined to think that except for a week or two
of excitement just before and after the battle with Spain,
local feeling was likely to be chiefly concerned with local
men, of whom there is evidence to indicate " a certain
liveliness." Of coiu-se, the defeat of the Armada — the main
encounter began oil Lyme, and fdled the Dorset ports with
prizes — was a national affair. But it was probably looked
upon locally through short-distance glasses, in which the
hero of Poole or \\'eymouth or Lyme would stand out as
through a stereoscope. Even so, he often had a wide
background. Consider the arrival at Poole in 1582, in the
ship Landret, of Miles Philips, after sixteen years in the
power of Spain. This is a little of the story ho had to toll
Poole of his adventures after the Spanish treachery at San
Juan de Ulloa. When Drake and Hawkins esca])ed so nar-
rowly from the con.sequences of their filibustering, Pliilips
and others were jx'rforce put ashore in Mexico, and duly
captured by the Spaniards, and taken to Mexico City and
tried by Inquisitors. " Then did they proceed to demand
of us on our oaths what we did believe of the Sacrament,
and . . . whether we did not believe that the host of
bread which the priest did hold up over his head, and tho
wine that was in the chalice, was the very true and perfect
body and blood of our Saviour Christ, yea or no : to which
if we answered not yea, tlien there was no way but death.
. . . About the space of three months before they proceeded
to their severe judgment, we were all racked, and some
enforced to utter that against themselves, which after-
wards cost them their lives." They were taken out publicly
for the delivery of sentence, " every man alone in his yellow
coat, and a rope about his neck, and a great green wax
camlle in his hand unlighted. . . . The first man that was
called was one? Koger the armourer of the JeMus, ami h<' had
judgment to have thre«' himdred stripes oii horseback, and


after condemned as a slave to the galleys for ten years."
Others got less, but enough. Philips was awarded no
stripes, but " to serve in a monastery for five years, and to
wear a fool's coat, or San Benito, during all that time."
He made various escapes and attempts at escape : and at
last, after almost incredible hardships, reached Spain itself,
and so to Majorca, where " I found two English ships, the
one of London and the other of the West Country, which
were ready freighted and stayed but for a fair wind." That
little ship of the dear West Country which had ventured
so near to the Barbary coast carried him safely back to Poole.

But though the great event was at hand, and Dorset
knew it— for in 1586 two Liverpool men fresh from Bilboa
landed at Weymouth with news of 700 sail and 280,000 men
being prepared against England — when it arrived, there was
not overmuch eagerness to serve, or having served, to do it
again. Sir George Trenchard, of the Commission for the
county, was pressed to expedite the despatch of 1000
footmen, for the national forces, to " Stratford of the Bow,"
by July 29, 1588, and lancers and light horse a week later.
The county armour had to be looked up, men pricked and
mustered (Falstaff and Mr, Justice Shallow no doubt took
a hand), defences over which for two or three years there
had been argument hastily put into some sort of order,*
ships furnished — at the county's expense. Eventually,
though they did their best to get out of paying for it, Poole
provided one ship and one pinnace, Weymouth and Mel-
combe two ships and a pinnace, and Lyme (with Chard and
Axminster contributing) two ships and a pinnace. Even if
they had been able to evade the levy, they could not have
used the ships ; for on March 31, 1588, by order of the
Privy Council, a total embargo was laid on all shipping,

I am not to describe the great fight. The Dorset ships

* Sometimes at the enemy's expense. The Privy Council commanded
Trenchard " to dehver unto Carew Rawleigh, Esquire, [elder brother of
Walter] or his deputy, six port pieces of ordnance, being demi-culverins,
of those that were taken in the Spanish ship lately brought into Wey-
mouth, for the provision of Portland Castle."


were there. One was the Revenge of Lyme, which later under
Grenville was to engage a whole Spanish squadron without
assistance. " The Spanish Fleet, came, went, and was
vanquished. . . . The magnificent, huge, and mighty fleet,
such as sailed not upon the Ocean Sea many hundred years
before, in the year 1588 vanished into smoke."

I have said those times were not altogether spacious ;
but that is unfair when one looks at the Armaila light from
a national pciiiit of view. It is at close quarters at home that
the Elizal)ethan loses the gi-and air. And yet a Dorset
leader and his companions gave the age a spaciousness that
will live for eviM-. The " still-vexed Bermoothos," the
Bermudas, were in I GUI) rediscovered — discovered, so far
as the Xew World matters — by Sir George Somers of Whit-
church Canonicorum, M.P. for Lyme Regis in 1G03-4, and
Mayor in 1(505. And the account of that voyage, written
])y another Dorset man, is as certainly as may be the
foundation of much of The Tempest.

By a queer coincidence of our English contradictions,

it was the aust<?re Milton's secretary, Puritan of Puritans,

who translated into liquid golden verso the historian's

splendid catalogue of the wonders Somers found in the

remote Bermudas : —

" Where He the huge sea-monsters wracks,
That Hft the deep uiion their backs. . . .
He gave vis this eternal Spring,
Which here enamels everything ;
And send the fowls to us in care,
On daily visits through the air.
Ho hangs in shades the orange l)riglit,
Like golden lamps in a green niglit.
And does in the pomegranate close
Jewels more rich than Ormus shows ;
He makes the figs our mouths to meet,
And throws the melons at our feet ;
But (with ?) apples, plants of such a price,
No tree could ever bear them twice ;
With ( «'<lars, cJiosen by His Iiaiul,
From Lebanon He stores tiie land ;
And makes the hollow 8oaH that roar
Proclaim the ambergris on slHjre."


Andrew Marvell got his enthusiasm, doubtless, from his
friend Oxenbridge, who visited the Bermudas after Somers :
but he got his language — except the glorious couplet about
the orange — direct from Somers' fellow- voyager, Sylvester
Jourdan,* whose account of 1610 is dedicated to a Dorset
Justice of the Peace. The Bermudas had been called
" An Isle of Devils," " a most prodigious and enchanted
place, affording nothing but gusts, storms, and foul winds "
— watched by God Setebos, inhabited by Caliban and
Sycorax ; maybe by Prospero also, for it was an isle of
voices. Somers, in the Sea Adventure, bound for Virginia,
was wrecked. " For three days and three nights together "
he sat on the poop, guiding a ship whose crew, fearing no
better fate than a "more joyful and happy meeting in a
more blessed world," were as drunk as Trinculo and Stephano.
They " fell in between two rocks " in the Bermudas, whence
they could land, and built from their materials a new ship.
The island, instead of being peopled by devils, was found to
be a paradise. " Fish is there so abundant that if a man step
into the water they will come round about him ; so that men
were fain to get out for fear of biting." Somers with a hook
took enough in half an hour to feed the whole company for
a day. A thousand mullet could be taken at a draught
with a seine ; and anyone who knows the subtlety of the
netted mullet will appreciate that plenty. " Infinite store
of pilchards . . . great abundance of hogs, as that there
hath been taken by Sir George Somers to the number of two
and thirty at one time " (by another odd coincidence
Somers died there of a surfeit of pig the next year !) . . .
" great store of tortoises (which some call turtles), and those
so great that I have seen a bushel of eggs in one of their
bellies . . . one of them will suffice fifty men a meal at
the least. . . . Fowl in great number, that there hath
been taken in two or three hours a thousand at the least.
Great store and plenty of herons. . . . Prickled pears,

* Jourdan is a name constantly recurrent in the muxiicipal records of
Dorchester. Sylvester was a Lyme man. ^


great abundance, gi-eat plenty of mulberries white and red.
. . . And there is a tree called the Palniito tree, which hath
a very sweet berry upon which the hogs do most feed ;
but our men, finding the sweetness of them, did willingly
share with the hogs for them, they being very pleasant and
wholesome, which made them careless almost of any bread
with their meat. . . . An infinite number of cedar trees
(the fairest I think in the world). . . . No venomous
creature so much as a rat or mouse. . . . Great store of
pearl. . . . Some good quantity of ambergris . . . Great
plenty of whales."

The fortunate isles. . . . No wonder that

" Thus Sling they, in the English boat,
An holy and a cheerful note,
And all the way, to guide their chime.
With falling oars they kept the time."

When they had rebuilt that happy boat — rebuilt ; and yet
people wonder that the Swiss Family Robinson could tamo
ostriches, or Crusoe build a hut ! — they went on to Virginia ;
and from there " being willing to do service unto his Prince
and Countrj', without any respect of his private gain, and
being of threescore years at the least, out of his worthy and
valiant mind," Somers undertook to go back to Bermuda
for the hogs Virginia needed ; and so died.

It is really in the villages and towns of to-day, as secluded
and forgotten as Somers' birthplace, that the historical
vestiges can give out the breath of life. AValk from Biuton
Bradstock to Sherborne, and let the Tudor folk speak for
themselves of their own greatness and pride and cruelty and

Start from liurton Bradstock, not only because it is a
good place, but because the church contains the old clock
of the only institution where the Elizabethan dress is to-day
in daily use — the clock from the old Newgate Street build-
ings of Christ's Hospital. Proceed thence along tiir liri(k'
valley. You will come near Brcdy Farm 1<» the di^ius('d
stone pillars of a gateway. It is the entry to the Bedfctrd


Estate, for here at Berv/ick manor (now a farm) were founded
the fortunes of the Duchy of Bedford. A little of the old
house is left, and a small barn to the north-west looks as
ancient as the Duchy.

The Russells were a Dorset family established at Kingston
Russell — further east — two hundred and fifty years before
John Russell of Berwick, a member of that house, saw and
seized his opportunity of fame. The Archduke Philip and
his wife Joan, daughter of the King of Castile, were driven
by a storm in 1506 to land at Weymouth, and were enter-
tained — not, perhaps without some neutral vigilance — by
Sir Thomas Trenchard at his new-built manor-house,
Wolverton, near Dorchester. They needed a man of
" habylytie and standing " to make the commerce of
hospitality smooth. John Russell had lately returned
from travels abroad, and was summoned in aid : he spoke
Spanish. He was so efficient and companionable that he
accompanied the guests to London when Henry VII de-
sired to be their host. He obtained a post at court and
improved it under the eighth Henry. He fought brilliantly
in France, held the position of ambassador at Rome, became
a privy councillor and at length the first Baron Russell,
Warden of the Stanneries, Knight of the Garter, Lord
Privy Seal, and Earl of Bedford.

" He had a moving beauty that waited on his whole
body, a comportment unaffected, and such comeliness in his
mien as exacted a liking, if not a love, from all that saw him.
... In dancing " — one of Henry VIII 's delights — " he
was not too exquisite, for that is vanity : but his dancing
was a graceful exorcise wherein ho was carelessly easy,
as if it were rather natural motion than curious and artificial
practice which endeared his severer virtues. . . . Though
Mr. Russell brought himself into court by what did humoiu-,
he kept himself in there by what obliged ; standing not so
much upon his prince's pleasure as his interest, and adding
to his more airy com-tships the solidity of serviceable


Witli Russoirs marriage to Anne Sapcote of Chenies,
and his later grant from Henry VHI of the Cistercian Abbey
of Woburn, his iUustrious family passes out of close con-
nection with the county of Dorset, except in so far as the
holding of various high offices brought its members into
touch with local government. They retained the greater
part of their Dorset estates till recently, however, and Lord
John Russell, when he accepted his earldom in 18G1, took
the title of Earl Russell of Kingston Russell.

That is the foundation of one great family, though the
founder came of a good enough line originally. Take the
footpath across country from Berwick to Swyre and see how
a deal in fish founded another. In the plain little church
(now too often locked) is commemorated James Napier
(the name is also spelt Napper, as in Napper's Mite, the
Dorchester almshouses). Ho was a capable Scot, who
" came into England in the reign of Henr}' VII, settled here,
and supplied the atljacent abbies with fish, from whom ai"C

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Online LibraryF. J. Harvey (Frederick Joseph Harvey) DartonThe marches of Wessex, a chronicle of England → online text (page 11 of 28)