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Puritan Martyrs in Island Prisons

  • David Cressy

Charles I's Star Chamber prosecution of the lawyer William Prynne, the minister Henry Burton, and the physician John Bastwick generated both contemporary and historiographical controversy, mostly concerned with their writings, their trial, and their punishment in London. This article turns attention to their unusual offshore incarceration on the islands of Jersey, Guernsey, and the Scillies between 1637 and 1640. It examines the material, social, and spiritual circumstances of island detention, and shows how the “puritan martyrs”1 coped with separation from the world. Though the discourse of martyrdom invited a compilation of miseries, invoking scriptural comparisons, this triumvirate experienced isolation that did not necessarily incapacitate them. Prynne savored the hospitality of his jailers, Burton smuggled out polemical tracts, and all three found inspiration in the book of Revelation, written by St. John while a prisoner on the island of Patmos. Each returned to the fray in the 1640s, writing works of witness and justification. Their experience of island imprisonment provided a model and an inspiration for dozens more who were similarly confined during the Protectorate and the Restoration.

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1 Bastwick, Burton, and Prynne are commonly called “puritan martyrs,” as in Sharpe, Kevin, The Personal Rule of Charles I (New Haven, 1992), 758.

2 Sharpe, Personal Rule of Charles I, 758.

3 Reports of the Star Chamber proceedings survive in manuscript, the most accessible, though not the most complete, printed in William Cobbett, ed., Cobbett's Complete Collection of State Trials, 34 vols. (1809–28), 3:711–70. Related documents, with their compiler's commentary, appear in William Prynne, A New Discovery of the Prelates Tyranny (1641). The most salient modern historiography includes Kirby, Ethyn Williams, William Prynne: A Study in Puritanism (Cambridge, MA, 1931), 3650; Lamont, William A., Marginal Prynne, 1600–1669 (Toronto, 1963), 2850; Christianson, Paul, Reformers and Babylon: English Apocalyptic Visions from the Reformation to the Civil War (Toronto, 1978), 136–78; Foster, Stephen, Notes from the Caroline Underground (Camden, 1978), 4771; Sharpe, “‘Factious and Schismatical Humours’: Puritanism and Opposition,” in The Personal Rule of Charles I, 758–65; Cressy, David, “The Portraiture of Prynne's Pictures: Performance on the Public Stage,” in Travesties and Transgressions in Tudor and Stuart England (Oxford, 2000), 213–33; Bellany, Alastair, “Libels in Action: Subversion and the English Literary Underground,” in The Politics of the Excluded, c. 1500–1850, ed. Harris, Tim (Basingstoke, 2001), 99152; McRae, Andrew, Literature, Satire and the Early Modern State (London, 2004), 188207; McRae, Andrew, “Stigmatizing Prynne: Seditious Libel, Political Satire and the Construction of Opposition,” in The 1630s: Interdisciplinary Essays, ed. Atherton, Ian and Sanders, Julie (Manchester, 2006), 171–88; Clegg, Cyndia Susan, Press Censorship in Caroline England (Cambridge, 2008), 176–82; Kishlansksy, Mark, “A Whipper Whipped: The Sedition of William Prynne,” Historical Journal 56, no. 3 (September 2013): 603–27; Kishlansky, Mark, “Martyrs’ Tales,” Journal of British Studies 53, no. 2 (April 2014): 334–55.

4 Ahnert, Ruth, The Rise of Prison Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge, 2013), 201, 32. See also Murray, Molly, “Measured Sentences: Forming Literature in the Early Modern Prison,” Huntington Library Quarterly 72, no. 2 (June 2009): 147–67; Groot, Jerome de, “Prison Writing, Writing Prison during the 1640s and 1650s,” Huntington Library Quarterly 72, no. 2 (June 2009): 193215; Phillips, Philip Edward, ed., Prison Narratives from Boethius to Zana (New York, 2014); Warner, Michael, Publics and Counterpublics (New York, 2002).

5 Jenkins, Philip, “From Gallows to Prison? The Execution Rate in Early Modern England,” Criminal Justice History 7 (1986): 5171; Ingram, Martin, “Shame and Pain: Themes and Variations in Tudor Punishments,” in Penal Practice and Culture, 1500–1900: Punishing the English, ed. Devereaux, Simon and Griffiths, Paul (Basingstoke, 2004), 3662.

6 Dobb, C., “London's Prisons,” Shakespeare Survey 17 (1964): 87100; Thomas, J. E., House of Care: Prisons and Prisoners in England, 1500–1800 (Nottingham, 1988); Lake, Peter and Questier, Michael, “Prisons, Priests and People,” in England's Long Reformation, 1500–1800, ed. Tyacke, Nicholas (London, 1998), 195233; see also Rachel Weil and Richard Bell, eds., Early Modern Prisons (blog),

7 Frances Condick, s.v., “Leighton, Alexander (c. 1570–1649),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,

8 Elizabeth Allen, s.v., “Smart, Peter (1568/9–c. 1652),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,; William Lamont, s.v., “Prynne, William (1600–1669),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,

9 The National Archives (hereafter TNA), State Papers (hereafter SP) 16/354, fols. 379–98; Samuel Rawson Gardiner, ed., Documents Relating to the Proceedings against William Prynne, in 1634 and 1637, Camden Society, n.s., vol. 18 (1877), 63–64.

10 Kishlansky, “Martyr's Tales,” 342. The texts that allegedly constituted seditious libel included Bastwick, John, Apologeticus ad Praesules Anglicanos (Leiden, 1636); Bastwick, , The Letany of John Bastwick (Leiden, 1637); Burton, Henry, For God, and the King (Amsterdam, 1636); Burton, , An Apologie of an Appeale (Amsterdam, 1636); Burton, A Divine Tragedie Lately Acted (1636); Prynne, William, Newes from Ipswich ([Edinburgh?], 1636).

11 TNA, SP 16/362, fols. 141, 208.

12 Kishlansky, “Martyrs’ Tales,” 334, 342, 355.

13 Phillips, Henry E. I., “The Last Years of the Court of Star Chamber, 1630–41,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 4th ser., 21 (1939): 103–31; Barnes, Thomas G., “Star Chamber Mythology,” American Journal of Legal History 5, no. 1 (January 1961): 111, at 7; Harrison, Brian A., The Tower of London Prisoner Book. A Complete Chronology of the Persons known to have been Detained at Their Majesties’ Pleasure, 1100–1941 (Leeds, 2004), 280–95.

14 TNA, PC 2/48, fols. 93–93v; TNA, SP 16/367, fols. 192–95; Documents Relating to the Proceedings against William Prynne, 63–66.

15 TNA, SP 16/439, fol. 5; TNA, SP 16/450, fol. 120; TNA, SP 16/536, fol. 79; TNA, SP 16/538, fol. 102. The peculiarity of island jurisdiction is discussed in Eagleston, A. J., The Channel Islands under Tudor Government, 1485–1642 (Cambridge, 1949); Ogier, Darryl, Reformation and Society in Guernsey (Woodbridge, 1996); Ogier, , The Government and Law of Guernsey (St. Peter Port, 2005); Thornton, Tim, The Channel Islands, 1370–1640: Between England and Normandy (Woodbridge, 2012).

16 Halliday, Paul D., Habeas Corpus from England to Empire (Cambridge, MA, 2010), 8185, 204, 227–29, 437; Halliday, , “11,000 Prisoners: Habeas Corpus, 1500–1800,” in Judges and Judging in the History of the Common Law and Civil Law: From Antiquity to Modern Times, ed. Brand, Paul and Getzler, Joshua (Cambridge, 2012), 259–76.

17 Peter Heylin, A Full Relation of Two Journeys… , The Second Journey: Containing a Survey of the Estate of the Two Islands Guernzey and Jarsey (1656), 279–89; Heylin, Cyprianus Anglicus: or, the History of the Life and Death of the Most Reverend and Renowned Prelate William, by Divine Providence Lord Archbishop of Canterbury (1668), 334–35; The Severall Humble Petitions of D. Bastwicke, M Burton, M. Prynne (1641), 9. For Instantius, banished “in Sylinancim insulam, quae utltra Britannia sita est,” see Washburn, Daniel, Banishment in the Later Roman Empire, 284–476 CE (London, 2012), 31.

18 McRae, Literature, Satire and the Early Modern State, 189.

19 Heylin, Cyprianus Anglicusm, 334; Clarendon, Edward Hyde, The History of the Rebellion and Civil War in England, ed. Macray, W. Dunn, 6 vols. (Oxford, 1888), 1:267.

20 TNA, PC 2/48, fols. 93–93v; Prynne, New Discovery of the Prelates Tyranny, 2nd pagination, 85–88.

21 Documents Relating to the Proceedings against William Prynne, 65.

22 Thomas May, The History of the Parliament of England, Which Began November the Third, MDCXL (1647), 79–80.

23 William Prynne, Romes Master-Peece, or, The Grand Conspiracy of the Pope and His Iesuited Instruments (1644), epistle dedicatory.

24 An imprisoned debtor escaped from Mount Orgeuil on Jersey in 1631 after two years confinement and fled to France. TNA, SP 16/533, fols. 105, 186.

25 Knott, John R., Discourses of Martyrdom in English Literature, 1563–1694 (Cambridge, 1993), 4, 134–35; Freeman, Thomas S., “Imitatio Christi with a Vengeance’: The Politicisation of Martyrdom in Early Modern England,” in Martyrs and Martyrdom in England, c. 1400–1700, ed. Freeman, Thomas S. and Mayer, Thomas F. (Woodbridge, 2007), 3569.

26 Documents Relating to the Proceedings against William Prynne, 65–66.

27 Ibid., 65–66.

28 Ibid.,, 65–66.

29 TNA, SP 16/471, fols. 65–68.

30 Severall Humble Petitions, 9–20.

31 Jansson, Maija, ed., Proceedings in the Opening Session of the Long Parliament, 7 vols. (Rochester, 2000–2007), 1:28–29, 48–50.

32 TNA, SP 16/364, fol. 131; TNA, SP 16/368, fols. 24–25; TNA, SP 16/370, fol. 71. See also Cressy, “Portraiture of Prynne's Pictures,” 226–29.

33 TNA, SP 16/385, fol. 87; Documents Relating to the Proceedings against William Prynne, 64–65.

34 Severall Humble Petitions, 8–9.

35 TNA, SP 16/385, fols. 87–89.

36 Ibid.

37 Ibid.

38 Ibid.

39 Ibid.

40 Ibid.

41 Documents Relating to the Proceedings against William Prynne, 64–65, 68.

42 William Prynne, Movnt-Orgveil: or Divine and Profitable Meditations (1641), 7, 28. See also William Prynne, Comfortable Cordials Against Discomfortable Feares of Imprisonment (1641), sig, B2.

43 Prynne, Movnt-Orgveil, sig Av.

44 Severall Humble Petitions, 9.

45 TNA, SP 16/418, fol. 198.

46 Balleine, G. R., All for the King: The Life Story of Sir George Carteret (St. Helier, 1976), 18.

47 Prynne, Movnt–Orgveil, sigs. ¶3, Av, A4, 55, 113.

48 William Prynne, The Lyar Confounded or A Brief Refutation of John Lilburnes Miserably-Mistated Case (1645), 33.

49 Ibid., 42.

50 Ibid., 42.

51 Ibid., 42.

52 Articles Exhibited against Sir Philipp Carteret, Governour of the Isle of Jersy (1642).

53 Prynne, Lyar Confounded, 38, 39.

54 Michael Lempriere, Henry Dumaresq, and Abraham Hérault, Pseudo-Mastix: The Lyar's Whipp, reprinted in Société Jersiaise, Bulletin Annuel 13 (1888): 309–55. No seventeenth-century edition of Pseudo-Mastix is known to survive.

55 Ibid., 314–15.

56 Ibid., 345.

57 Ibid., 348.

58 Ibid., 352.

59 William Prynne, Brief Animadversions on, and Additional Explanatory Amendments of […] the Fourth Part of the Institutes (1669), 207.

60 TNA, SP 16/367, fol. 192.

61 Severall Humble Petitions (1641), 12 (printer's error for 20); Henry Burton, A Narration of the Life of Mr. Henry Burton (1643), sig A2, 19. See also Cressy, David, “The Vast and Furious Ocean: The Passage to Puritan New England,” New England Quarterly 57, no. 4 (December 1984): 511–32.

62 Burton, Narration of the Life, 19.

63 Ibid., 32, 34.

64 TNA, E 178/5400.

65 Ibid.

66 TNA, E 178/5400; TNA, SP 16/378, fol. 132; TNA, SP 16/537, fol. 90.

67 TNA, SP 16/536, fol. 101; TNA, SP 16/537, fol. 27. See also Thornton, Channel Islands, 147; Ogier, Reformation and Society in Guernsey, 93.

68 Burton, Narration, 20–21.

69 TNA, SP 16/ 458, fol. 77

70 Rolleston, W. and de Guerir, T. W. M., eds., “Jean de la Marche … The Diary,” Report and Transactions Societé Guernesiase 11 (1930–1932): 201.

71 Burton, Narration, 20–21, 3.

72 Burton, The Sovnding of the Two Last Trvmpets (1641), sig. A3.

73 The Birdman of Alacatraz, directed by John Frankenheimer (1962), was an award-winning film on the life of inmate Robert Stroud.

74 Burton, Narration, 22.

75 Jean de la Marche, A Complaint of the False Prophets Mariners upon the Drying Up of their Hierarchicall Euphrates (1641), title page, Sigs. a–a2v, 1; Rolleston and de Guerir, “Jean de la Marche … The Diary,” 198. An admirer of Burton, de la Marche was later a member of the Westminster Assembly, and may have been responsible for recommending the Channel Island “Orders for Ecclesiastical Discipline” as an alternative to episcopal government: The Orders for Ecclesiastical Discipline according to That Which Hath Been Practiced since the Reformation of the Church in […] the Iles of Garnsey, Gersey, Spark and Alderny (1642).

76 Burton, Narration, 22.

77 Ibid

78 Burton, A Replie to a Relation of the Conference Between William Laude and Mr. Fisher the Jesuite (Amsterdam, 1640), sigs. C2v–C3. The final page is dated 26 June 1639.

79 Burton, Narration, 28.

80 Ibid., 32.

81 Burton, Sovnding of the Two Last Trvmpets, Sigs. A4, 33.

82 Ibid., 41.

83 Ibid., title page.

84 Burton, Sovnding of the Two Last Trvmpets, Sig. B. See Henry Burton, The Seven Vials or A Brief and Plain Exposition upon the 15: and 16: Chapters of the Revelation (1628), which is concerned more with the Beast and the Antichrist than with the end of days.

85 De la Marche, Complaint of the False Prophets, Sigs. A–A2, 48–49.

86 Rolleston and de Guerir, “Jean de la Marche … The Diary,” 204. See also Cressy, Travesties, 230.

87 TNA, SP 16/369, fol. 242.

88 TNA, SP 16/368, fol. 190.

89 Severall Humble Petitions, 11–15; TNA, SP 16/471, fol. 68; TNA, SP 16/473, fol. 148; HL/PO/JO/101/174, HL/PO/JO/101/202, Parliamentary Archives.

90 John Bastwick, Flagellum Pontificis et Episcoporum Latialium (1641), 8.

91 TNA, SP 16/448, fol. 50.

92 HL/PO/JO/101/174, Parliamentary Archives.

93 HL/PO/JO/101/202, Parliamentary Archives.

94 HL/PO/JO/101/174, Parliamentary Archives.

95 Ibid.

96 John Bastwick, The Utter Routing of the Whole Army of all the Independents and Sectaries (1646), 4.

97 John Bastwick, A Iust Defence of John Bastwick (1645), 14, 37. Neither John Bastwick, The Confession of the Faithfull Witnesse of Christ (1641), nor John Bastwick, A Declaration Demonstrating and Infallibly Proving That All Malignants, Whether They Be Prelates, Popish-Cavaliers, with All Other Ill-Affected Persons, Are Enemies to God and the King (1643), mention his imprisonment in Scilly.

98 Susanna Bastwick, Innocency Cleared, True Worth Predicated, Against False Aspertions: in a Letter sent to Mr Henry Burton. From a Christian Friend; In Defence of Dr Bastwick, one of His Quondam Fellow Sufferers (1645), title page, 3.

99 To the High Court of Parliament […] The Remonstrance and Humble Petition of Susanna Bastwick (1654).

100 Prynne, New Discovery of the Prelates Tyranny, 2nd pagination, 179. For ancient precedents, see Washburn, Banishment in the Later Roman Empire; Braginton, Mary V., “Exile under the Roman Emperors,” Classical Journal 39, no. 7 (April 1944): 391407. Richard II exiled John Lord Cobham to Jersey in 1398; Thornton, Channel Islands, 1370–1640, 19.

101 Statutes of the Realm, 1641, 16 Car. 1, c. 10.

102 Benton, Lauren, A Search for Sovereignty: Law and Geography in European Empires, 1400–1900 (Cambridge, 2010), 35, 165–67, 220, 299.

103 Stephen I. Vladeck with Jacob, Gregory F., “Detention Policies,” in Patriots Debate: Contemporary Issues in National Security Law, ed. Rishikof, Harvey, Baker, Stewart, and Horowitz, Bernard (Chicago, 2012), 205–23.

104 TNA, SP 18/211, fol. 24.

105 Statutes of the Realm, 1679, 31 Car. 2, c. 2.

106 John Rogers, “To the Reader,” Jegar-Sahadutha: An Oyled Pillar. Set up for Posterity (1657).

107 William Prynne, A New Discovery of Free-State Tyranny (1655), 2nd pagination, 6, 14.

108 Christopher Feake, The Oppressed Close Prisoner in Windsor-Castle, His Defiance to the Father of Lyes, in the Strength of the God of Truth (1655), sig. A2, 119; Rogers, Jegar-Sahadutha, 2–18.

109 Rogers, “To the Reader” and introduction to Jegar-Sahadutha, 4, 23, 57.

110 The Plain Case of the Common-Weal Neer the Desperate Gulf of the Common-Woe (1658–1659), 15–16; J. R., The Sad Suffering Case of Major-General Rob. Overton, Prisoner in the Isle of Jersey (1659), 1–10.

111 Rogers, Jegar-Sahadutha, title page and 1, 20, 53, 61, 63, 72, 137.

112 Kishlansky, “Martyrs’ Tales,” 342.

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