Now Elizabeth’s mother, pregnant and deserted at the age of 3, widowed with a family of 8 at 40, was clearly a person of some poise and confidence, well able to run such a large household; though she was of course very well off and so presumably surrounded by a cloud of servants. But Margaret remembered her with love and admiration right up to her death in 1647, as an ideal matriarch
‘of a grave Behaviour, and [of] such a Magestick Grandeur’
that was held in awe by all. And there at their manor house of St John’s Abbey, Elizabeth bought up her family, as one of the leading and richest families in Essex.
So a few things about Margaret’s childhood. First of all, it seems pretty settled and happy. She had three brothers and four sisters and seems to feel close to them all her life; her brothers John, Thomas and Charles were as martial as their father had been and all fought for the king in the civil wars; we will hear of Charles again in particular, there’s a bit of controversy attached to him. As for her sisters, Margaret always felt close to them and wrote that they didn’t need to go out very much to see other families, but instead the sisters went around ‘in a flock together’; and she’d be very protective of them, even panicking without much reason that her closest, Catherine would unaccountably die, so she continuously went to check she was still breathing. I remember that sort of thing from very small children checking Dad’s Ok when he is, in fact, simply getting a bit of much needed kip. Cute. I suppose.
So there’s that – happy family, settled and safe upbringing, plenty of money and all that, and as she herself wrote,
“delight and pleasure to a superfluity”;
Secondly, her education. Now this was an age where writers like Bathusa Makin and Mary More were trying to make a noise that women should have an education on a par with men; but to cut a long story short, most of the world didn’t agree with them and they don’t; let us quote the father of the nation at the time, James I, to illustrate this, when he wrote of his fear of educated women because
“to make women learned and foxes tame has the same effect – to make them more cunning”.
So, Margaret’s education was super traditional, as she records:
“singing, dancing, playing on music, reading, writing, and the like” and it seems her Mum was not keen for more
“my mother cared not so much for our dancing and fiddling, singing and prating of several languages, as that we should be bred virtuously”,
So, OK. And it became something of an object of pride for Margaret given her achievements; she claimed she never had any scholar teach her in her youth, and presents herself as an untutored genius. But she none the less she managed to find books, And was bookish, quite shy and retiring, focussed on reading alone she was. These books lit a fire, she would write that she was
“in love with three dead men… The one was Caesar, for his valour; the second Ovid, for his wit; and the third was our countryman Shakespeare”.
So, what do we have – safe and comfortable, happy in her family, inward looking and bookish, focused; and she is very clear that she’s painfully shy too. She faced am uphill challenge to educate herself; the Lucases were well off, but they were not at the top table, not part of the grand society, not part of an intellectual social milieu. So she would have to fight for her knowledge and writing talent. But she wasn’t a mushroom, grown in the dark.
Around this time, there’s the very early development of a London Season; nowhere near the monster it would become of course, but the Lucas mother would take them all off to London in the spring months, her brother John and his family would come round for lunch, and they’d set off out round London in their coaches to the fashionable West End, favoured as a place to live by the rich because, as everyone knows because the prevailing wind took the stink of the crowded London eastwards away from it, and because I was close to the centre of power and influence at Westminster. Although the first structured development won’t take place ‘til the 1660s, there were already also open air theatres, pleasure gardens near court. The Lucases would sometimes wish to cut a dash, as you do, and so employ a band of musicians to play while they had supper on a barge in the Thames. Hyde Park had been a royal hunting ground, but King Charles I had opened it up to the public, and there was a deal of flocking going on. May 1st was a big day when everyone was out, they’d hope the king and queen would be out too, there’d be the greatest and best of the aristocratic world; and there’d be dresses, ladies and gentlemen. The point was to see and be seen, no one favoured shabby chic; Margaret in particular was not only well dressed, but had an idiosyncratic taste for her own creations – nothing too wild yet but let me tell you she’ll work on that, and when all the planets are aligned – free, rich, famous – the eagle of invention will soar, swoop and call from the skies.
She’d have seen masques too, organised by the King and queen. So; shy, withdrawn, introverted and poorly education in literary stuff Margaret might have been; but she was exposed to the world of culture, plays, masques, society. And she drank it all in.
Now Margaret dearly loved and admired her mother and brothers, to the point of idolisation. It appears their tenants and the trades people of Colchester and Essex did not share her rosy view. It is an age old story really; Elizabeth and her eldest, John, insisted on that every right however tendentious be enforced, every sous owed be called in, they enclosed common land where the could and demanded all rights as a matter of honour. By all accounts other than his sister’s, John Lucas was argumentative, stiff necked, proud and litigious. One local record records that
He cannot almost go in quiet up and down streets for people calling after him
And as Galatians records
whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap
and the time was coming when the social bonds that held back those oppressed by the Lucases would be loosened. The results would be really quite nasty.
There’s a bit of history to all of this. If you’ve been through 1630-1642 in the history of England, you will know the background; and in particular the hated Ship Money, an innovative direct royal tax that looked as though it might serve the same purpose as the gabelle in France, of allowing an absolute monarch to raise taxes without consent. Now, one of the principal figures opposing Charles’ innovations was Richie Rich, the Earl of Warwick. Actually I don’t think anyone called him Richie and lived to tell the tale. Well anyway, the very centre of the Earl of Warwick’s lands and power was not, in fact, in Warwick, but in Essex. And in 1636, in the early years of Ship money, Warwick tried to organise resistance to it; non payment, a passive resistance – maybe Ghandi picked up a few tips, who knows. Well, it was John Lucas, as Justice of the Peace who was appointed by King Charles to enforce payment – and so he did, with great efficiency and even enthusiasm. Payments resumed, the reformers were thwarted until John Hampden took them on but that’s another story. So another insult was added to the injury of economic impositions and the plundering of rights of common through enclosure.
There was another source of conflict. East Anglia had long been in the forefront of protestant reformation and were at the forefront of Calvinism and thoroughly cheesed off by the imposition of Laudianism. Meanwhile, as luck would have it, the Lucases were suitably High Anglican. They rather liked the altar at the East end with a nice rail round it and the beauty of holiness thing also rang their bell. So…another point of difference.
Well, things warned up through the Short parliament, the Long parliament and the parliamentary conflicts in 1641, and then in May 1642 the execution of the King’s right hand man, the Earl of Strafford effectively scuppered any hope of a peaceful settlement – had Charles ever been open to such a thing anyway. And Essex and the Stour valley in next door Suffolk started preparing for conflict; Warwick’s party drilled their troops, collected money and arms, and disarmed local Catholic families.
The Lucases of course were having nothing to do with any of that, they were always in the king’s side. So super secretly, John Lucas also gathered as many men as he could find, kept them within St John’s Abbey, armed and drilled them too and on 21st August 1642 he was ready – he would take his brave men he would ride to Nottingham to join the king, raise the royal standard and help him crush the rabble.
Very quietly, more quietly than a tiny wee mousy with a little twitchy nosey, Lucas and his brave boys stayed up for a midnight feast on 21st, then slowly and carefully opened up the back gates, making sure not to make a squeak, though giggling a little at their cleverness at fooling hoi polloi of Colchester, tee hee hee, and slipped out into the night….
Where they found 2,000 un-fooled men and militia waiting for them. Looking cross and vengeful. Lucas ran back inside and shut the door. The next morning, the Lord Lieutenant became very worried that the crowd of locals were getting a little rowdy and aggressive. So he used the militia to try and stop the locals from storming the manor house. It didn’t work. The local militia were not keen to fire on …other locals.
The crowd worked themselves up into a rabble, and decided now was the time to fight for liberty – and if a few score were settled along the way, all well and good. They called the attack, roared inside the Lucas’ pied a terre and started tearing it to pieces. They found a lot of arms and armour, immediately confiscated for the cause; they found gold and plate and they had that too – silly not to; Anne and Elizabeth were found within the walls, and along with John and maybe the rest of the family they were pushed onto horses and paraded triumphantly through the streets of Colchester; at which point the mayor had them locked up in the common town goal – as much for their own safety as anything. Meanwhile the next day the news reached the townspeople that their King had declared war on them and so that was annoying, so there was another day of violence and more indignities visited on the Lucas’ silver and fine tapestries; every prize was looted and carried away.
Interestingly, one of the things that they did was find the Lucas’ strongbox, dig out all their legal papers and deeds and so on and rip them up and destroy them. It’s a common thing; often the Law was a useful tool to well-educated and organised gentry to rob ordinary people of their common rights; these documents were a symbol of gentry dominance. The mob also drove off the Lucas’ deer from their park; again, villagers hated deer parks. They were almost always created by chucking tenants off their lands, enclosing a large area and deleting any rights of common. So deer parks might look very pretty – but they were a running sore for many locals.
The violence now spread, all through the Stour valley, often focussing on Catholics and Laudian priests, and including a fair amount of destruction and iconoclasm. After a week at Colchester, parliament had sent a proclamation ordering things calm down, and 5,000 folks obediently stood to hear. No doubt there were grumbles, but Order was restored. Meanwhile John Lucas was hauled off to London and the Tower for the crime of being imprisoned by the mob – or more likely for raising an army against parliament. On 26th August Elizabeth and the family were released from the goal, and returned to their devastated house. John would be released on bail from the Tower, and the whole family at large, nothing of comfort left to them, fled Colchester to London, which was safer – or it was for the moment.
Meanwhile the other two of Margaret’s brothers were at war for the king already – Thomas in Ireland, and Charles at Powick Bridge, then Edgehill, and then at Turnham Green. And beyond. He was to prove something of a nightmare off the field, but something of a nightmare on the field – nightmare for his enemies that is, accounted as good a cavalry commander as Cromwell, and utterly loyal to his king.
Well then, a common story of the civil wars; a community and a family torn apart. For the grande dame Elizabeth the whole experience of being coerced by the people over whom she and her family had exercised their careless dominance for so long must have been deeply humiliating, as well as terrifying I am sure, and it’s not surprising they took themselves off to London as quickly as they could – Colchester was no longer safe for them, and their home had been ransacked. They would petition for the return of all their possessions; Parliament, knowing an enemy when they saw them, ignored them.
What we don’t know for sure is whether or not Margaret was at St Johns Abbey at this time and went through all of this; I mean there’s no reason why she wouldn’t have been there but the thing is she doesn’t mention it in her autobiography and you’d have thought it might have warranted a mench. You know – got up this morning – spent some time reading the bard – messed around with the girls – got dragged off to a cold dank prison by hordes of screaming peasants baying for my blood – that sort of thing. But not a word.
However, the experience clearly marked her. Margaret does not seem to have been energised by the political and philosophical questions of the conflict; her reaction to it is pretty simple. She had been brought up in a courtly, affluent family culture, insulated from the townspeople; at her age of course she would have had little knowledge of the estate management issues her Mother and elder brother dealt with; it’s very unlikely she would have seen stuff like enclosure as anything other than their family rights, and in their high Anglican world they distrusted and disliked the Calvinist dissenters.
And very unsurprisingly she was disgusted and frightened by the intrusion of the angry, Calvinist mob into their little paradise. She hated these people who had intruded so violently, and later wrote of them as ‘barbarous people’ who
‘would have pulled God out of Heaven, had they the power, as they did royalty out of his throne’
Margaret’s world view was a traditional, royalist and gentry viewpoint. There is often mention of the Great Chain of Being that age old view that has God at the top, delegating to king, to the male head of the household and so on. Broadly she is pretty relentlessly royalist; one of her later works of fairy tales has an Animal parliament, traditionally organised with king at the top, nobility and so on. She has a lot of people to keep her company in these views of course.
She doesn’t seem to have had any great awareness or sympathy for supporters of parliament and why they fought. In one of her publications of 1656 there is turmoil and rebellion
“In our Kingdom of Riches, after a long and sleepy peace, overgrown with plenty and ease, luxury broke out into factious sores, and feverish ambition, into a plaguey rebellion, killing numbers with the sword of unjust war.”
And finally Margaret’s focus is art, literature, thought, science; not political science, and the political events that blow her around are simply are a fearful, frightening, outraging inconvenience that had to be dealt with and endured.