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The Pennyles Pilgrimage of John Taylor: Poverty, Mobility and Performance in Seventeenth-Century Literary Circles

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 March 2013

Department of English, University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RD,


In this article I ask what it means for cartographical, social, economic and political understandings of poverty and mobility when the ‘geography of vagrancy’, as A. L. Beier termed it, is re-staged and reconfigured in specific acts of writing and even specific acts of walking. Invoking a range of public performances as well as print and manuscript publications by recognised literary figures of the day, including work by Ben Jonson and John Taylor, I concentrate on one particular literary remaking of the everyday experiences of the mobile poor in Taylor's 1618 published pamphlet The Pennyles Pilgrimage or The Money-lesse perambulation, of Iohn Taylor, Alias the Kings Majesties Water-Poet. What Taylor understood when engaging with the ‘geography of vagrancy’ in his challenging text was that the act of mapping the spatial world of the itinerant poor required considerable thought not only about the spaces inhabited, albeit temporarily, or travelled through, but also the ways in which the mobile poor performed such spaces. In turn, Taylor's own performance can be understood as a contradictory act of commercial enterprise and self-promotion as well as one that gives literary historians significant access to contemporary imaginings of the specific socioeconomic and spatial conditions of poverty and mobility.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013

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1. Taylor, John, The Praise, Antiquity and Commodity of Begging (London, 1621)Google Scholar, sig. C4r.

2. Fumerton, Patricia, Unsettled: The Culture of Mobility and the Working Poor in Early Modern England (Chicago, 2006), p. 6Google Scholar.

3. Fumerton, Unsettled, p. xi; Kent, Joan R., ‘Population, Mobility, and Alms: Poor Migrants in the Midlands during the Early Seventeenth Century’, Local Population Studies, 27 (1981), 3551Google ScholarPubMed, 35; Slack, Paul, ‘Vagrants and Vagrancy in England, 1598–1664’, Economic History Review, 2nd edn, 27:3 (1974), 360–79Google Scholar; Beier, A. L., Masterless Men: The Vagrancy Problem in England, 1560–1640 (London and NY, 1985).Google Scholar

4. Fumerton, Unsettled, p. xi.

5. Hindle, Steve, On the Parish: The Micropolitics of Poor Relief in Rural England, c. 1550–1750 (Oxford, 2004).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

6. Cited in Beier, Masterless Men, p. 69.

7. Cresswell, Tim, Place: A Short Introduction (Oxford, 2004), pp. 110–11.Google Scholar

8. Taylor, Barry, Vagrant Writing: Social and Semiotic Disorders in the English Renaissance (London, 1991), p. 2.Google Scholar

9. See, for example, Brayshay, Mark, ‘Waits, Musicians, Bearwards, and Players: The Inter-Urban Road Travel and Performances of Itinerant Entertainers in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century England’, Journal of Historical Geography, 31:3 (2005), 430–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

10. Beier, Masterless Men, pp. 79–80.

11. My work is indebted to complementary arguments about ‘spatial knowledges’, mobility, and the particular understanding and practice of roads at this time in McRae, Andrew, Literature and Domestic Travel in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2009)Google Scholar, especially chapter 2.

12. Tuan, Yi-Fu, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (Minneapolis, 1977), p. 6Google Scholar.

13. Beier, Masterless Men, p. 80. On the spatial connection of vagrancy and alehouses see also Griffiths, Paul, Lost Londons: Change, Crime, and Control in the Capital City, 1550–1660 (Cambridge, 2008), p. 345CrossRefGoogle Scholar and McRae, Literature and Domestic Travel, chapter 3.

14. Beier, Masterless Men, p. 85.

15. Taylor, Praise, sig. B2r.

16. cf. McRae, Literature and Domestic Travel, p. 211.

17. For similar reasons, McRae describes Taylor as someone who was not only fascinated by but actually ‘experienced traffic’, Literature and Domestic Travel, p. 212.

18. Griffiths, Lost Londons, p. 21.

19. Fumerton, Unsettled, p. xiv.

20. This phrase appears frequently in the Coventry constables’ accounts; see WRO W1026/7; see Slack, ‘Vagrants’, 368.

21. Taylor, John, The Pennyles Pilgrimage or The Money-lesse perambulation [. . .]. (London, 1618)Google Scholar, sig. A1r.

22. For reflection on this aspect of Taylor's career, see Chandler, John H., Travels through Stuart Britain: The Adventures of John Taylor the Water Poet (Stroud, 1999)Google Scholar, espcially p. vii. On Taylor's interest in navigation, see McRae, Literature and Domestic Travel, pp. 49–51.

23. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sig. A3v. Coryate's travels were recounted in Coryats Crudities (London, 1611).

24. Chandler, Travels, p. 3; McRae, Literature and Domestic Travel, p. 162.

25. Taylor, John, A Kicksey Winsey; or a lerry come-twang wherein John Taylor hath satirically suited 800 of his bad debtors, that will not pay him, for his returne of his journey from Scotland (London, 1619)Google Scholar, sig. A1r.

26. ‘Ben Jonson is going on foot to Edinburgh and back for his profit’, George Garrard to Sir Dudley Carleton, 4th June 1617, CSP Dom., 1611–18, 472. For further discussion of this letter, see Donaldson, Ian, Ben Jonson (Oxford, 2011), p. 34Google Scholar. Jonson's ‘foot-voyage’ is now better known about following the discovery of a manuscript in 2009: ‘My Gossip Joh[n]son his foot voyage and mine into Scotland’, Aldersey Family Collection Manuscript: Cheshire Record Office MS ZCR 469/550; see James Loxley, ‘My Gossip's Foot Voyage: A recently discovered manuscript sheds new light on Ben Jonson's walk to Edinburgh’, Times Literary Supplement, 5554, 11th September 2009, 13–15. This manuscript is now the subject of an Arts and Humanities Research Council project held jointly between the Universities of Edinburgh and Nottingham. Ben Jonson's Walk to Scotland, an edition with essays, co-authored by the project team, James Loxley, Anna Groundwater and Julie Sanders, is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press in 2014. For early findings, see Donaldson, Ben Jonson, pp. 34–43.

27. See Steggle, Matthew, ‘Markham, Gervase (1568?–1637)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004Google Scholar; online edition, October 2006 [, accessed 28th January 2012]. Steggle notes that Markham too suffered from defaulters, many of them among a group of Red Bull actors who had performed in his plays. Bernard Capp makes a related point in The World of John Taylor the Water Poet, 1578–1653 (Oxford, 1994), pp. 19–20. He notes that amongst the sponsors in Markham's case were the playwright and entertainment writer Thomas Heywood and the booksellers Gosson and Trundle, as well as other Bankside and Clerkenwell figures. See also Wallace, C. W., ‘Gervase Markam, Dramatist’, Jahrbuch der Deutschen Shakespeare Gesellschaft, 46 (1910), 347–50.Google Scholar

28. Brayshay, ‘Waits’, p. 450.

29. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sig. A4r.

30. Markham brought certification back from the Berwick mayor as proof of successful completion (see Steggle, ‘Markham’).

31. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sig. A3r.

32. James used the phrase in his December 1616 correspondence with the Scottish Privy Council; cited in Donaldson, Ben Jonson, p. 29.

33. For parallel observations on the Taylor and Jonson walks, see McRae, Literature and Domestic Travel, p. 162 and Sanders, Julie, ‘Domestic Travel and Social Mobility’ in Ben Jonson in Context, edited by Sanders, Julie (Cambridge, 2010), pp. 271–80Google Scholar, especially 277–8.

34. Palmer, Daryl W., Hospitable Performances: Dramatic Genres and Cultural Practices in Early Modern England (West Lafayette, 1993), p. 120Google Scholar, suggests that Kemp takes the progress pageant and substitutes clown for king. We might argue that Taylor does something akin, substituting beggar for monarch; for a comparison of Kemp's and Taylor's projects informed by Palmer, see McRae, Literature and Domestic Travel, pp. 161–4.

35. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sig. F3v.

36. Walsham, Alexandra, The Reformation of Landscape: Religion, Identity and Memory in Early Modern Britain and Ireland (Oxford, 2011), p. 49CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

37. ‘The landscape traversed by [. . .] pilgrims was in turn envisaged as a kind of remembrancer itself’, Walsham, Reformation, p. 78.

38. McRae, Literature and Domestic Travel, p. 163.

39. Heal, Felicity, Hospitality in Early Modern England (Oxford, 1990), pp. 236–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Heal writes specifically on Taylor's pilgrimage on pp. 210–16.

40. Fumerton, Unsettled, p. 54.

41. Brayshay argues the same for itinerant players in ‘Waits’, p. 450; cf. Kent, ‘Population, Mobility, and Alms’, 41, on parochial support for travel by cart in certain instances.

42. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sig. B3r.

43. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sigs. B2r-v.

44. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sig. C3r.

45. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sig. A4v

46. It may be that this decision infringed the terms of his sponsorship and led to the high number of defaulters.

47. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sig. B4r.

48. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sig. B1v.

49. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sig. C4r.

50. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sig. B2r.

51. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sig. B2r.

52. In Coventry he lodges with the translator Dr Philemon Holland and in Lichfield he is greeted by a joiner he knows from London trade networks; see Pennyles Pilgrimage, sigs. B3r-v.

53. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sig. A1r.

54. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sig. B1r

55. Beier, Masterless Men, p. 6; Carroll, William C., Fat King, Lean Beggar: Representations of Poverty in the Age of Shakespeare (Ithaca, 1996), p. 3Google Scholar and chapter 2 passim.

56. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sigs. B1v-2r.

57. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sigs. C2r-v. Intriguingly, the Preston Mayor is anxious to recall a previous royal progress to the town when one member of the community had apparently let them down and displeased the monarch. There seems to be an assumed opportunity for reparation of sorts through the Taylor trip which is fascinating and suggests the national publicity that the walk was receiving. On the expectations of local communities during progress, see Cole, Mary Hill, The Portable Queen: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Ceremony (Amherst, 2000).Google Scholar

58. On the established rhythms and conventions of progress, see Bergeron, David, English Civic Pageantry, 1558–1642 revised edn (Tempe, AZ, 2003)Google Scholar; summarised in Palmer, Hospitable Performances, p. 121.

59. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sig. C3r.

60. McRae, Literature and Domestic Travel, p. 92.

61. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sig. C3r.

62. Kent ‘Population’, p. 35.

63. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sig. B3v.

64. Heal, Hospitality, p. 210.

65. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sig. B2v. Jonson's journey has similar accretive effects as news of the walk appears to increase as it continues and the presence of welcoming audiences and spectators increases exponentially on the route (see CRO MS ZCR 469/550, e.g. fols. 5v, 12r). The relative celebrity of Jonson and Taylor in 1618 should not be collapsed into one another however. Jonson had published a major folio edition of his Works in 1616 and received an annual payment from the King as a virtual Poet Laureate, whereas this was the first of Taylor's forays into print as a travel writer and some of his more extravagant claims may constitute an attempt to emulate Jonson.

66. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sig. B1v.

67. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sig. B2v.

68. CRO MS ZCR 469/550, e.g. fols. 6v, 7v where Jonson visits Belvoir Castle and Welbeck Abbey respectively.

69. Heal, Hospitality, p. 19.

70. Beier, Masterless Men, p. 80.

71. Wiltshire CRO QSR h:1 1613/154; this is Beier's summary of a longer document, Masterless Men, p. 80.

72. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sigs. A4v-B1r

73. CRO MS ZCR 469/550, e.g. fol. 5r.

74. Griffiths, Lost Londons, describes ‘scores of bodies in Bridewell at any one time, working, suffering, and resting’ and many were regularly beaten and whipped (p. 253).

75. As a waterman, Taylor would have been acquainted with the real world of vagrancy. Water traffic from Gravesend into the City was regularly checked for the number of vagrants abroad and watermen were actively discouraged from ferrying vagrants from Southwark and Bankside into the city proper (see Griffiths, Lost Londons, p. 91). Taylor also talks of vagrants he has seen, not least at playhouses, in the 1621 Praise pamphlet.

76. Palmer, Hospitable Performances, p. 128, makes a connection between specific royal progresses and publication of narrativised accounts of the same, with Kemp's Nine Daies Wonder.

77. Palmer, Hospitable Performances, p. 123. In this way, Palmer suggests, the monarch consciously engaged ‘the beneficial dynamics of live performance’ (p. 126).

78. Palmer, Hospitable Performances, p. 120.

79. Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, sigs. B4v-C1r

80. McRae describes Taylor's text as ‘multiply parasitic’ and observes the ‘peculiar, paradoxical status of the venture’, Literature and Domestic Travel, pp. 162, 164.

81. A similar argument can be made for Kemp who was an out of work actor at the time he undertook the dance to Norwich in 1599.

82. On the ‘beggar-king’ tradition more generally, see, for example, Woodbridge, Linda, Vagrancy, Homelessness and English Renaissance Literature (Champaign, 2001)Google Scholar.

83. Fumerton, Unsettled, p. 50.

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