The Moreton Papers - Philip Moreton
Our research volunteers have been using their spare time wisely whilst the property is closed due to Covid. They have been working on a project to transcribe the Moreton family letters, held at the British Library. Abigail Greenall, our resident ESRC funded PhD researcher from the University of Manchester, shared her photographs of the letters with the volunteers and has been on hand to assist the team. The project is still underway, but the team have already discovered much of interest in connection with the Moreton family. This is the second article in the series, covering some highlights from the contents of Philip Moreton's letters.
Philip Moreton 1611 – 1669
News from London
Philip was often unemployed but did eventually find a position in London. He wrote a number of letters to his father from the City, sometimes sharing gossip and scandal. In July 1641 he wrote:
The charges against the judges came out in print about 3 dayes since, wherein judge Berkley stands charged of Treason; And the rest of the judges that deliver there opinion for the King in the case of Ship money.
Ship money was a tax typically levied on the inhabitants of coastal areas of England. The attempt of King Charles I, from 1634 onwards, to levy ship money during peacetime and extend it to the inland counties of England without Parliamentary approval, provoked fierce resistance and was one of the grievances of the English propertied class in the lead-up to the Civil War.
Judge Berkeley was impeached by the Long Parliament for high treason on 13 February 1641, after giving his judicial opinion in favour of the legality of ship money. He was arrested at Court while sitting on the Bench and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. In September 1642 the House of Lords deprived him of his office and fined him £20,000, of which he actually paid half. He got off very lightly as the punishment at that time for high treason was to be hung, drawn and quartered.
This was a time of religious upheaval, with the Civil War fast approaching. Philip reports on the actions of the House of Commons as they tried to quash Holy Communion in September 1641:
There came an order on Friday last from the house of Commons, to take away the Railes from the Communion tables in every Church to remove the table from the East end of the Church, into some other convenient place, and to levell the Chancells, And that all cruxifixes, present should be taken away, And that the bowing att the name of Jesus shall be forbore.
The plague was present in London in 1636 and it killed about 10,000 people in the capital that year. In the early 17th century the population of London was about 200,000, so about 5% died. This was nothing compared to the Great Plague in 1665. The population of London had then risen to about 400,000 and 100,000 died of the disease.
Philip discusses the plague in London. He mentions "the danger of the tymes by reason of the contagion". He then goes on to give the present figures of those who have the contagion.
Although shipping was quarantined, there appear to have been no other measures such as closing the taverns, so there was no lockdown in the manner we have experienced recently. That said, the rich (including the King) fled the city to escape the plague.
I hope you will be please (considering the danger of the tymes by reason of the contagion) to excuse the breach of my promise made unto you at your last being in London which was monethly to expresse my duty unto your selfe and my mother by a llettre, which I will here after (god willing) more faithfully peforme, I cannot nowe enforme ^ you of any newes, but as soone as I heare of any I will in a lettre relate the same unto you; Onely this weeke the sicknes is much abated from 312 unto 167 Soo with my humble duty rememberd unto your selfe and my mother my love to my brothers and sisters I rest.
Your obedient sonne
London Deceember 8th
Trouble with the law
In April 1640, Philip’s father seemed to have fallen foul of the law:
Since I received your lettre sent by Master Bradshaw his man (which was not till Thursday last) I have reteyned an Attorney of the Court of Requests, to search what hath bine done in the busines betweene you & Wiseman, and there he findes, that he hath taken out an Attachment of contempt, & a proclamacon of Rebellion, and has on Saturdaie last taken out a Commission of rebellion, which was then readie to be sealed, if the Attorney had not then appeared for you, which is now presented by the apparance and paying the charges of the Attachement: and proclamacon; all with charges together with the other fees of the Court: amount to £36-6s The Attorney tells me that upon my affidavit of your age, and the distance you live from heure, that the Court will grant a Dedimus potestatem to take your answer in the Country
The ‘Attachment of contempt, & a proclamacon of Rebellion’ basically meant he was in contempt of court for something; exactly what is not clear. ‘Dedimus potestatem’ meant commission was given to a private person for the expedition of some act normally performed by a judge. In other words, William was not required to go to London to answer the charge. The fee mentioned of £36 6s is the equivalent of about £4,200 in today’s money*; legal fees were as astronomical then as they are now!
* calculated using The National Archives Currency Converter.
As well as the latest news, Philip also continued to furnish his father’s tobacco habit and send other items. For instance, in May 1642 he wrote:
I have sent you by Buckley a pound of that tobaccoe which you wrote to me for and 2 sticks of wax, I have enquired but cannot yett heare of any bookes in English which were wrote my master Meade
Buckley’s name features many times in Philip and Peter’s letters, and he appears to be a regular carrier of post between London and Cheshire.
The sticks of wax mentioned would be used for sealing letters by melting the ends, dripping the hot wax onto the paper and then pressing the seal stamp onto it.
The master Meade he refers to was probably Joseph Mede, an English scholar with a wide range of interests. He is now remembered as a Biblical scholar.
Despite the fact that Philip (along with his brothers) constantly asked his father for money, he still gave him a bill for anything he ordered! Here is an example:
These are the particulers of the money that I have layed out for you
£ s d
ffor halfe a pound of tobaccoe - 0 – 6 -- 0
paid out in the Court of Requests - 0 – 6 – 6
ffor wax- 0 – 1 -- 0
13 – 6
The six shillings for the tobacco would be about four days wages for a skilled tradesman at the time, so it was an expensive habit even then.
Philip would also rely on others he knew for his subsistence, and then ask his father to foot the bill. In 1641 he was living in London with Master Parnell (a family friend and tailor):
Sir I am indebted to master: Parnell in the somme of £44 10s for my dyett for almost 2 yeares and for cloathes which he made me in that tyme.I hope you will be pleased either to pay it or give him security for it, or els to give me a small some of mony towards my maintenance
On the face of it, £44 10s does not sound very much for two year’s food and clothing, but it equates to about £5,300 in today’s currency.
At the bottom of the same letter, he wrote ‘Post paid 4d’.
This equates to about £1.95 in today’s money. Although this may sound a little steep, it was going by a carrier on horseback to Cheshire, probably with other correspondence for the same area. It would take him a few days' travel at least, and this fee would include expenses for overnight stays at inns.
The Civil War
In April 1642 Philip related this news to his father:
It is reported here that the king will be att Chester the latter end of the next weeke. There is ^an answer (lately come forth in Printt) of his Majestie to a peticion proferred to him by both the houses of Parliament; which I will send you downe by Buckley.
The English Civil war was about to begin and the King was to be petitioned by parliament. The King was apparently heading towards Chester. Although Cheshire was trying to maintain a position of neutrality, Chester itself was a Royalist stronghold.
It is noticeable that in the letters of Philip and his brothers, there is a lack of reference to the conflict between Royalists and Parliamentarians. This was undoubtably wise as the post was lost or intercepted on many occasions and it would have been unwise to be seen to take sides. Philip remarked on mail not being delivered a number of times. He commented in April 1643:
I have written twice or thrice to you since I received any answer, but I understand by Tom Heath that my letters came not to your hands
The Civil War was a time of great instability and the Moreton family were gravely affected by this when William Morton III was imprisoned, probably for his Royalist leanings. This is recorded in a letter from Philip in January 1643:
I understand by my sister Anne her letter that you have obtayned your liberty, and that you are in good health and have bine ever since your ymprisonment, all which I am exceedinge glad to heare
Things did not improve for the Moretons, as later that year Parliamentarian troops were billeted at Little Moreton Hall. The Civil War was a turning point in the family's fortunes and, from this point on, the Hall gradually fell into decline.