No. 19, April 2008

The Committee; or Popery in Masquerade

  Click the image to enlarge it Antony Griffiths has hailed the present print—which was ‘answered’ for the Whig faction six months later by Stephen College’s Strange’s Case Strangely Altered—as constituting ‘a landmark in the history of English satire, being the first occasion that both parties conducted a political controversy in visual form’. 1

The Committee; or Popery in Masquerade, by an unknown engraver, is a most accomplished print satyr—as the accompanying text interestingly terms it—issued in April 1680, which inter alia holds up the various nonconformist sects for ridicule. Here representatives of the various denominations of the earlier Commonwealth era—a naked Adamite, a Ranter, a Quaker, an Anabaptist, a Presbyterian, an Independent, [Lodowick] Mugleton himself, and [James] Nailor—are depicted as constituting a committee listening to petitions from a dog, a horse, a man and a woman. In the lefthand corner, the various victims of the Civil War appear in chains, while in the righthand corner, a Church of England parson is forced to vomit forth his living—a detail which may well owe something to Doctor Panurgus (see Print of the Month for November 2006) which Sir Roger L'Estrange, who conceived the design for the present print and penned its text, had accorded his imprimatur eight years earlier. 2 At this period, L’Estrange was the most effective of the Tory propagandists, and the message of the print as a whole is to imply that the present day Puritan faction is plotting to seize Parliament and subvert the Government, which will lead to a second Civil War. When criticised for his part in the design, however, L’Estrange declared that the print was a piece historical and only recommended by way of caution. 3 The subtitle alludes to the present era of Popish Plot(s) and the verses describe how such misinformation is to be circulated amongst the credulous populace:

…the Pulpits, and the Presses
Must ring of Popery, Grievances, Addresses,
Plots of all Sorts, Invasions, Massacres,
Troops under Ground, Plague-Plaisters, Cavaliers…

The Committee; or Popery in Masquerade is extremely detailed visually, and also accompanied by 178 lines of verse commentary; it would require an essay-length commentary to do it justice. 4 Instead, I shall concentrate here on the petitioners,‘sectaries’ themselves whose alleged infamous behaviour is clearly intended to discredit all such schismatics.

The petitioners before the Committee are, in fact, two animal/human couples: a dog named Swash and the Elders Mayd; and a horse and man, jointly labelled The Colchester Wedding. The verse to which the latter figures are keyed makes it clear that the man is a Quaker and the horse a mare, and it is clear that bestiality is implied.

In a remarkable and amusing burlesque sermon, The Exaltation of Christmas Pye (1659), by one P.C.—allegedly Dr. of Divinity and Midwifery—as the parodic preacher is exemplifying the various types of conjunction copulative, he cannot resist referring, in passing, to what are evidently these same two pairs:

your praeternatural Conjunction Copulative, as when an Elders maid lyes
with a Mastiff or as when a Quaker buggereth a Mare.

The former alleged act is the subject of Sir John Birkenhead’s The four-legg’d elder, or, A horrible relation of a dog and an elders maid to the tune of The lady’s fall (1647), reprinted three years before the present print. The elder is a Presbyterian—so his mastiff (which is, indeed, named Swash here) is counted one too—and his maid, Jane, was apparently born in Colchester.

Twelve years later Birkenhead was also the author of The Four’legg’d Quaker To the Tune of the Dog and Elder’s Maid, Or, the Lady’s Fall (1659), which concerns another Colchester resident, one Ralph Green, and an act that appears to have occurred six years earlier. This broadside is also illustrated with four individual woodcuts: a man with tongue out, advancing towards a horse, a centaur wearing a hat and holding a sword in one hand and the hilt only of another in the other hand, and a devil also wearing a hat advancing towards the latter holding a bridle. 5 But Sir John could not help referring readers to his earlier composition in the accompanying verse text:

But though ‘twas foul ‘tween Swash and Jane,
Yet this is ten times worse,
For then a Dog did play the Man,
But Man now play’d the Horse.

The same year Sir John Denham too was moved to publish an unillustrated broadside, A relation of a Quaker that to the Shame of his Profession Attempted to Bugger a Mare near Colchester (1659). 6

The Committee evidently achieved sufficient notoriety to make it worthwhile for some anonymous publisher to issue a somewhat inferior copy: this is BM Satires 1081.

British Museum 1849,0315.82. Dimensions of original: 554 mm x 417 mm (sheet); 297 mm x 415 mm (plate)


Antony Griffiths, The Print in Stuart Britain (London, 1998), p. 287. Back to context...
It is pleasing to be able to add a sixth item to the list of five—all licensed to John Overton on 28th October 1672—given by Antony Griffiths (op. cit., p. 148), viz. a second impression of The Common Weales Canker Worms (Globe knew only of the earlier Stent impression in the Sutherland Collection), in what I produce evidence to show in my forthcoming book is its third state. Back to context...
L’Estrange, Answer to a whole Litter of Libels (1680), cited in F.G.Stephens, Catalogue of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum: Satirical and Personal Subjects, vol. 1 (1320-1689) (London, 1870), p. 627. Back to context...
See Stephens, op. cit., pp. 623-7. For modern accounts of it see Tim Harris, London Crowds in the Reign of Charles II (Cambridge, 1987), pp. 139-40, Joseph Monteyne, The Printed Image in Early Modern London (Aldershot, 2007), pp. 173-4, and Helen Pierce, ‘The Devil’s Bloodhound: Roger L’Estrange Caricatured’, in Michael Hunter (ed.), Printed Images in Early Modern Britain: Essays in Interpretation (Ashgate, forthcoming). Back to context...
Reproduced in Barry Reay, ‘Popular hostility towards Quakers in mid-seventeenth- century England’, Social History, 5 (1980), pp. 387-407 (p. 395). Back to context...
Text edited in J. Wardroper, Lovers, Rakes and Rogues (London, 1995), pp. 216-18. It also appears in Denham's collected verse, i.e. Poems and translations with the Sophy (1668), under the title News from Colchester: or a Proper New Ballad of Certain Carnal Passages betwixt a Quaker and a Colt at Horsly near Colchester in Essex. Back to context...