John Heneage Jesse.

Memoirs of the city of London and its celebrities (Volume 2) online

. (page 19 of 20)
Online LibraryJohn Heneage JesseMemoirs of the city of London and its celebrities (Volume 2) → online text (page 19 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


said warden hath also imprisoned my man, William
Downton, and stripped him out of his clothes to
search for letters, and could find none, but only
a little remembrance of good people's names that
gave me their alms to relieve me in prison ; and
to undo them also, the warden delivered the same



320 LONDON AND ITS CELEBRITIES.

bill unto the said Stephen Gardiner, God's enemy
and mine. I have suffered imprisonment almost
eighteen months ; my goods, living, friends, and
comfort taken from me ; the queen owing me by
just account eighty pounds or more ; she hath put
me in prison, and giveth nothing to find me ;
neither is there any suffered to come at me,
whereby I might have relief. I am with a wicked
man and woman, so that I see no remedy (saving
God's help), but I shall be cast away in prison
before I come to judgment. But I commit my
just cause to God, whose will be done, whether it
be life or death." In the Fleet this exemplary
prelate remained a prisoner till his removal to
Gloucester, the principal town of his diocese,
where he suffered martyrdom by being burnt in
a slow fire, on the 9th of February, 1554-55.

Under somewhat romantic circumstances, the
pious poet and divine, Doctor Donne, was for a
time a prisoner in the Fleet. After having accom-
panied the Earl of Essex in his expeditions against
Cadiz and the Azores, and having travelled for
some time in Italy and Spain, he obtained, on his
return to England, the appointment of secretary
to Lord Chancellor Ellesmere, in whose family he
lived contentedly for five years. As it happened,
under the roof of his patron he constantly met a
beautiful girl, the daughter of Sir George More,
chancellor of the Order of the Garter, and lieu-
tenant of the Tower. Between this young lady,



LONDON AND ITS CELEBRITIES. 321

who was a niece of Lady Ellesmere, and the sec-
retary there sprung up a mutual attachment, of
which Sir George More having obtained some
intimation, he removed his daughter in all haste
to his own house at Lothesley, in the county of
Surrey. The lovers, however, who had already
solemnly plighted their troth, not only found
means to correspond with each other, but the
Rev. Samuel Brooke, an intimate friend of Donne,
and formerly his fellow student at Cambridge, was
prevailed upon to unite them in a secret marriage.
The virtues and talents of Donne had endeared
him to Henry Percy, the " stout old Earl of North-
umberland," himself eminent as a philosopher
and a mathematician, to whom the lovers confided
their secret, and who readily undertook the task of
breaking the intelligence to, and softening the
anger of, Sir George More. Not only, however,
did Sir George prove inexorable, but his sister,
Lady Ellesmere, being no less incensed than him-
self, insisted upon the chancellor at once dismissing
Donne from his post of secretary, a demand which
with the greatest reluctance he complied with. " I
part," he said, "with a friend, and with such a
secretary as is fitter to serve a king than a sub-
ject." Neither was Sir George's anger satisfied
till he had obtained the committal of his son-in-law
to the Fleet Prison. Fortunately Donne obtained
his release after a short durance, when by the kind-
ness and friendship of Sir Francis Wooley, he was



322 LONDON AND ITS CELEBRITIES.

enabled to support his wife and young children till
the dawn of brighter days.

A still more romantic clandestine marriage, con-
nected with the Fleet, was that of the Lady Mary
Grey, the youngest daughter of Henry, Duke of
Suffolk. This young lady, being great-grand-
daughter of Henry the Seventh, by the marriage
of her grandfather, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suf-
folk, to Mary, Queen Dowager of France, daughter
of King Henry, was consequently first cousin to
Queen Elizabeth. Before she had reached the age
of womanhood, the Lady Mary's existence had been
far more checkered than commonly falls to the lot
of humanity. As a child, she had stood by the
altar at Durham House, in the Strand, when her
sister, Lady Jane Grey, gave her hand to Lord
Guildford Dudley. Within less than two years
from that time not only had that sister and that
brother-in-law died by the hands of the executioner,
but eleven days afterward her father suffered the
same fate on Tower Hill. Moreover, she could
hardly have attained her fifteenth year, when she
suffered a fresh misfortune by the death of her
mother. Providence had given her no brother,
and, as has been already mentioned, her only
surviving sister, Lady Katherine, had been com-
mitted to the Tower, where she died, by Queen
Elizabeth, for uniting herself to Edward Seymour,
Earl of Hertford. Thus, finding herself alone in
the world, and exposed to constant peril, from the



LONDON AND ITS CELEBRITIES. 323

jealousy of Elizabeth, who hated her for her affinity
to the throne, the Lady Mary was induced to give
her hand secretly to a private gentleman, Martin
Keys, sergeant-porter to the queen. Keys was
immediately arrested and sent to the Fleet, from
which, after a brief imprisonment, he was set free.
Lady Mary, however, survived his release but a
short time. She died on the 2Oth of April, 1578,
and was buried near her mother in Westminster
Abbey.

The Fleet Prison is intimately associated with
the misfortunes and mutilation of the learned
Puritan, William Prynne. For his libel on Queen
Henrietta Maria in his famous " Histrio Mastix,"
he was condemned by the star chamber to pay a
fine of ^5,000 ; to stand in the pillory ; to be
branded on both his cheeks ; to have his nose muti-
lated ; to lose both his ears ; and to be kept a pris-
oner for life. Prynne endured his punishment
with extraordinary constancy and courage. When,
shortly after his mutilation, Sir Symonds d'Ewes
paid him a visit in the Fleet, he found in him " the
rare effects of an upright heart and a good con-
science, by his serenity of spirit and cheerful
patience."

Another eminent Puritan who was imprisoned
in the Fleet in the seventeenth century was the
sturdy clothier, John Lilburne, who subsequently
wielded his sword with no less intrepidity at the
battles of Edgehill, Brentford, and Marston Moor



324 LONDON AND ITS CELEBRITIES.

than he had formerly exercised his pen in his
furious attacks on the bishops and the Church
of England. In consequence of the publication of
his seditious works, the " Merry Liturgy " and the
" News from Ipswich," he was committed to the
Fleet Prison, where he remained till summoned
before the star chamber, when he was sentenced
by that infamous tribunal to imprisonment, the
pillory, and flagellation at the cart's tail. " To the
end," runs the sentence, "that others may be
the more deterred from daring to offend in the
like manner hereafter, the court hath further
ordered and decreed that the said John Lilburne
shall be whipped through the street from the
prison of the Fleet unto the pillory, to be erected
at such time and in such place as this court shall
hold fit ; and he shall be set in the said pillory, and
from thence returned to the Fleet." Accordingly,
after having been whipped " smartly " from the
Fleet Prison to New Palace Yard, he was there
exposed on a pillory set up between the entrance
to Westminster Hall and the star chamber. The
intrepidity with which he endured his painful and
degrading punishment led, of course, to his admir-
ers regarding him as a martyr. " Whilst he was
whipped at the cart, and stood in the pillory,"
writes Rushworth, " he uttered many bold speeches
against the tyranny of bishops, etc. ; and when his
head was in the hole of the pillory, he scattered
sundry copies of pamphlets, said to be seditious,



LONDON AND ITS CELEBRITIES. 325

and tossed them among the people, taking them
out of his pocket." This bold and contumacious
conduct having reached the ears of the members
of the star chamber, who were sitting at the
time, directions were promptly issued by them to
gag him during the remainder of his punishment ;
in addition to which orders were sent to the Fleet
to load his hands and feet with irons on his return
thither, and to place him among the meanest and
most degraded prisoners.

The circumstance which led to Lilburne's release
from the close and painful restraint to which he
was subjected was somewhat remarkable. " Hav-
ing," says Rushworth, "for some time endured
close imprisonment, lying with double irons on his
feet and hands, and laid in the inner wards of the
prison there happened a fire in the prison, of
the Fleet, near to the place where he was prisoner,
which gave a jealousy that Lilburne, in his fury
and anguish, was desperate, and had set the Fleet
Prison on fire, not regarding himself to be burnt
with it. Whereupon, the inhabitants without the
Fleet (the street then not being five or six yards
over from the prison door), and the prisoners, all
cried, ' Release Lilburne, or we shall all be burnt ! '
and thereupon they ran headlong, and made the
warden remove him out of his hold ; and the fire
was quenched, and he remained a prisoner in a
place where he had some more air." Lilburne
was finally released from the Fleet at the com-



326 LONDON AND ITS CELEBRITIES.

mencement of the Long Parliament, in November,
1640, when the sum of ,2,000 was voted for him
out of the estates of the royalists.

After perusing these and similar instances of
bigotry and brutality on the part of the advisers
of Charles the First, can we wonder that when the
Puritans obtained the mastery they should in their
turn have wreaked vengeance on their oppressors ?
If retribution was ever made manifest in human
affairs, it certainly overtook that haughty conclave
whose mildest sentences amounted to mutilation,
impoverishment, the pillory, and the gaol. Of
those who from time to time sat at the council-
table of Charles, in the memorable star chamber
at Westminster, how many there were whose fate
was destined to be a violent and a bloody one.
Charles himself ; the chivalrous James, Duke of
Hamilton ; the severe Strafford ; the bigot Laud ;
and the gay and graceful Holland, perished sever-
ally on the scaffold. The haughty Buckingham
fell by the hand of an assassin, and the virtuous
Falkland on the battle-field.

It was not long after the release of Lilburne that
the Fleet opened its gates to receive more than one
of the devoted adherents of Charles the First.

"The arbiters of others' fate
Were suppliants for their own."

Among these was James Howell, the author of
the delightful letters which bear his name. The



LONDON AND ITS CELEBRITIES. 327

circumstances of his arrest are related by himself
in a letter dated, " The Fleet, November 20, 1643 : "
" There rushed into my chamber," he writes, " five
armed men, with swords, pistols, and bills, who
told me they had a warrant from the Parliament
for me. I desired to see their warrant ; they
denied it. I desired to see the date of it ; they
denied it. I desired to see my name in the war-
rant ; they denied all. At last one of them pulled
a greasy paper out of his pocket, and showed me
only three or four names subscribed, and no more-
So they rushed presently into my closet, and seized
on all my papers and letters, and anything that
was manuscript ; and many printed books they took
also, and hurled all into a great trunk, which they
carried away with them. I had taken a little physic
that morning, and with very much ado they suf-
fered me to stay in my chamber, with two guards
upon me, till the evening." Howell appears to
have borne his misfortune with becoming philos-
ophy. Nine months after his committal, he writes
to Sir Bevis Thelwall : " If you would know what
cordial I use against it [melancholy], in this my
sad condition, I will tell you. I pore sometimes
on a book, and so I make the dead my companion ;
and that is one of my chiefest solaces. If the
humour work upon me stronger, I rouse my spirits,
and raise them up toward heaven, my future coun-
try ; and one may be on his journey thither, though
shut up in prison, and happily go a straighter way



328 LONDON AND ITS CELEBRITIES.

than if he were abroad. I consider that my soul,
while she is cooped within these walls of flesh, is
but in a perpetual kind of prison ; and now my
body corresponds with her in the same condition.
My body is the prison of the one, and these brick
walls the prison of the other." Howell remained
a prisoner in the Fleet till some time after the
execution of his royal master. During his im-
prisonment, he employed himself in composing
many of his celebrated letters, and in other literary
labours.

Several other persons whose names are eminent
in the literature of our country have at different
times been prisoners in the Fleet. Among these
may be mentioned the " darling of the Muses,"
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, who about the
year 1 542, when in the zenith of his fame as a poet
and a soldier, was at two different times committed
to this prison. On the first of these occasions it
was on account of a private quarrel ; on the second,
for eating flesh in Lent and breaking the windows
of the citizens of London with stones from his
crossbow ; the latter, as Mr. Campbell observes,
"a strange misdemeanour, indeed, for a hero and
a man of letters." His own excuse was that he
acted from religious motives. "He perceived,"
he said, " that the citizens were sinking into papacy
and corrupt manners, and he was desirous, by an
unexpected chastisement, to demonstrate to them
that divine retribution was about to overtake them."



LONDON AND ITS CELEBRITIES. 329

Lord Surrey describes the Fleet as "a noisome
place with a pestilent atmosphere."

Another individual, scarcely less distinguished
in the paths of literature, whose youthful indis-
cretions led to his being immured within the walls
of the Fleet, was Lucius Gary, Lord Falkland,
the future statesman, moralist, and hero. "My
lord, in his youth," writes Aubrey, " was very wild,
and also mischievous, as being apt to stab and do
bloody mischiefs ; but it was not long before he
took up to be serious, and then grew to be an ex-
traordinary hard student." It was for one of his
juvenile misdemeanours that he was committed to
the Fleet, as shown by a moving petition addressed
to the king by his father, Henry, Lord Falkland,
in which he prays for the pardon of his offending
son. Shortly after the release of the latter from
the Fleet, we find him setting on his travels accom-
panied by a suitable tutor ; from which period we
hear nothing more of the profligacy or wildness
of the future patriot.

In the Fleet Prison expired one of our most in-
defatigable students, Sir Richard Baker, the author
of the " Chronicle of the Kings of England." Pos-
sessed of the manor of Middle-Aston, in Oxford-
shire, and at one time high sheriff of that county,
he appears till middle age to have lived not only
in easy but in affluent circumstances with his wife,
Margaret, daughter of Sir George Mainwaring, of
Ightfield, in Shropshire. Unfortunately he was



33 LONDON AND ITS CELEBRITIES.

induced to involve himself in the pecuniary em-
barrassments of his wife's family, the result
being that he found himself a ruined man and
a prisoner in the Fleet. Here he composed
several works, among which was a memoir of
his own life, which was unhappily destroyed by
his son-in-law. At length, "after a life full of
troubles and cares," he expired in the Fleet on
the 1 8th of February, 1645, an ^ the next day
was buried in the south aisle of St. Bride's
Church, Fleet Street.

Another literary inmate of the Fleet Prison was
William Oldys, the author of "The British Libra-
rian." So congenial to his tastes and convivial
habits was the society which he here met with,
that to the close of his life he continued to pass
his evenings at a tavern within the rules, which
was frequented by his former associates. A short
time after his release from the Fleet he pub-
lished his "Life of Sir Walter Raleigh," which
so delighted the Duke of Norfolk that he con-
ferred upon him the appointment of Norroy
king-at-arms. His love of the bottle, added prob-
ably to his incessant literary labours, is said to
have shortened his life. He died in 1761.
Among his MSS. was found the following in-
genious anagram, which may probably be new to
the reader :

" In word and WILL I am a friend to you,
And one friend OLD is worth a hundred new."



LONDON AND ITS CELEBRITIES. 331

In the Fleet Prison languished for seven years
William Wycherley, the dramatist. James the
Second happening to attend the theatre one night
when Wycherley 's " Plain Dealer " was being per-
formed, the play recalled to his mind its gifted
author, and he made some inquiries respecting him.
Being informed that he was a prisoner in the Fleet,
James not only gave orders for the payment of his
debts, but settled on him a pension of two hundred
a year.

In the Fleet Prison died, in 1693, Francis Sand-
ford, the author of the "Genealogical History."
Here also expired, in 1764, Robert Lloyd, the poet,
the friend and schoolfellow of Churchill. The
Fleet Prison is doubtless associated with the mis-
fortunes of many more of the sons of genius, Pope
speaking ironically of it as the "haunt of the Muses : "

" Others timely to the neighbouring Fleet,
Haunt of the Muses, made their safe retreat"

In 1773, Noorthouck thus describes the Fleet
Prison : " The body of this prison is a lofty brick
building, of considerable length, with galleries in
every story, which reach from one end of the
house to the other ; on the sides of which galleries
are rooms for the prisoners. All sorts of provi-
sions are brought into this prison every day, and
cried as in the public streets. A public coffee-
house, with an eating-house, are kept in it ; and all
sorts of games and diversions are carried on in a



332 LONDON AND ITS CELEBRITIES.

large open area, enclosed with a high wall. This
is properly the prison belonging to the Common
Pleas ; the keeper is called warden of the Fleet,
which is a place of very great benefit, as well as
trust. Prisoners for debt in any part of England
may be removed by habeas corpus to the Fleet ;
and enjoy the rules, or liberty to walk abroad, and
to keep a house within the liberties of this prison,
provided he can find security to the warden for his
forthcoming. The rules comprehend all Ludgate
Hill, from the Ditch to the Old Bailey on the
north side of the hill, and to Cock Alley on the
south side of the hill ; both sides of the Old Bailey,
from Ludgate Hill eastward to Fleet Lane ; all
Fleet Lane, and the east side of the Ditch or mar-
ket, from Fleet Lane to Ludgate Hill."

As late as the year 1739 the Fleet Prison con-
tinued to be the scene of the most frightful atroc-
ities exercised by those who had authority over its
unfortunate inmates. The person to whose human-
ity was owing the exposure and mitigation of this
fearful state of things, was Gen. James Oglethorpe,
the fellow soldier of Prince Eugene in his cam-
paigns against the Turks, and the friend of Pope
and Doctor Johnson.

" Driven by strong benevolence of soul,
Shall fly, like Oglethorpe, from pole to pole."

General Oglethorpe, whose philanthropic exertions
in founding the colony of Georgia had already ob-



LONDON AND ITS CELEBRITIES. 333

tained immortality for him in the verse of Pope,
happened to pay a visit to the Fleet, to a friend of
the name of Castell, an architect, and author of
a translation of Vitruvius, who was a prisoner
within its walls. From the lips of this person the
general learned quite sufficient of the system of
cruelty and oppression which was practised by the
warden and his myrmidons, to induce him, in his
place in the House of Commons, to move for, and
obtain the appointment of a committee to investi-
gate the state of the prisons throughout the king-
dom, he himself being appointed its chairman.
The first gaol which the committee visited was
the Fleet ; the names of its warden and deputy
warden being John Huggins and Thomas Bain-
bridge, persons apparently of respectable birth and
education. Here, in due time, they satisfied them-
selves that the most infamous extortions, and the
most cruel and arbitrary punishments, notorious
breaches of trust, cases in which debtors had been
permitted to escape, and others in which they had
been unlawfully loaded with irons and thrust into
dungeons, were of frequent occurrence.

One of the most striking features in this affair
was the contempt with which the committee, in the
early stages of their inquiry, appear to have been
treated by the functionaries of the prison. For
instance, on the occasion of their first visit, on the
2/th of February, 1729, among other prisoners
whom they examined, was Sir William Rich, a bar-



334 LONDON AND ITS CELEBRITIES.

onet, whom they had found immured in one of the
dungeons, loaded with irons. It might have been
imagined that the baronet for the future would
have been exempted from similar cruel coercion,
but no sooner had the committee quitted the
prison, than Bainbridge, the deputy warden, sent
him back to his miserable quarters. But a still
more remarkable instance in point was the ward-
en's treatment of Castell, notwithstanding he was
the personal friend of the chairman, General Ogle-
thorpe. Being unable to meet an extortionate
demand which had been made on him in the
shape of a fee, he was ordered to be removed from
his apartment, which happened to be in an airy
part of the prison, to a quarter in which the small-
pox was frightfully raging. Having a nervous
horror of this distemper, he passionately entreated,
although to no purpose, to be allowed to remain in
his present apartments, insisting that, in the event
of his removal, he was satisfied he would catch the
distemper and die. His words proved prophetic.
He was removed, was locked up in his miserable
apartment, sickened, and died.

The tyranny and tortures, indeed, practised in
the Fleet Prison not a century and a half ago,
almost exceed belief. The sufferings which an
unfortunate Portuguese, named Jacob Mendez
Solas, endured at the hands of the inhuman
Bainbridge are especially dwelt upon by the com-
mittee. "The said Bainbridge," run the words



LONDON AND ITS CELEBRITIES. 335

of the report, " one day called him into the gate-
house of the prison, called the Lodge, where he
caused him to be seized, fettered, and carried to
Corbell's, the sponging-house, and there kept for
upward of a week. When brought back into the
prison, Bainbridge caused him to be turned into
the dungeon, called the Strong Room, on the
master's side. This place is a vault like those
in which the dead are interred, and wherein the
bodies of persons dying in the same prison are
usually deposited till the coroner's inquest is
passed upon them. It has no chimney or fire-
place, nor any light but what comes over the door
or through a hole of about eight inches square. It
is neither paved nor boarded, and the rough bricks
appear both on the sides and top, being neither
wainscoted nor plastered. What adds to the damp-
ness and stench of the place is its being built over
the common sewer, and adjoining to the sink and
dunghill where all the filth of the prison is cast.
In this miserable place the poor wretch was kept
by Bainbridge, manacled and shackled, for near
two months." We have the authority of the
committee, that, after the release of Solas from
his dungeon, when the probability of Bainbridge
returning as warden of the Fleet was incidentally
mentioned to him, he not only fainted away, but
the blood started out of his nose and mouth.

In this case, as in the parallel one of a Capt.
John McPhedris, the only offence committed ap-



336 LONDON AND ITS CELEBRITIES.

pears to have been an inability to meet the extor-
tionate demands, in the shape of fees, which were
made by the authorities of the Fleet. The case of
McPhedris was even more cruel than that of Solas.
Having been dragged from the apartment of an-
other prisoner, in which he had sought refuge, he
was thrust, in spite of his entreaties, into a miser-
able dungeon, in which there was not even a bed.
In vain he implored to be carried before a magis-
trate, insisting that if he had committed any offence
he was willing to be judged and punished by the
laws. In vain, too, he complained that his fetters
were not only too small for him, but that they
caused him intolerable torture. Bainbridge coolly
replied that they had been selected with that ex-
press intention. Again, when the unfortunate man
remonstrated, that torture was forbidden by the


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19

Online LibraryJohn Heneage JesseMemoirs of the city of London and its celebrities (Volume 2) → online text (page 19 of 20)