An essay concerning John Locke.
Monday, 26 October 2015
issues of Government. (In Parts)
This is the second part of a slightly different perspective on the much
discussed John Locke, the famous British philosopher. It does not claim to be a
particularly scholarly work. Rather it attempts to cast a familiar story in a
new light, highlighting the part Locke’s early life and physical environment
played in the making of the man and his ideas: ideas that were to have such an
important impact on a world that was to come after his death, the implications
of which he could have little conception. In the process it is hoped it will
help a relatively small area of North Somerset, familiar to the writer, to get
another “fifteen minutes of fame”, and its most illustrious son his rightful
place in its local history.
The article is submitted here in parts, to make it more suitable for a web site
that has been kind enough to publish some of my previous observations. I have
referred to a number of sources, principally the well-known biographies by
Maurice Cranston and Roger Woolhouse. Others will be listed as a bibliography
with the final part at a later date. Unfortunately the intended illustrations,
which helped to bring it all to life, cannot be included for technical reasons.
If despite my best efforts and in the interests of readability, any errors have
crept in, or I have offended anyone, I apologise in advance and request
indulgence. The substance is all the work of others; the errors all my own.
1. Introduction (Repeated for context).
John Locke, FRS (1632 – 1704), the seventeenth Century philosopher, is regarded
as one of the earliest and most influential thinkers in the English-speaking
world. Building on the approach of others, such as Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626)
and the Frenchman Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650), he asserted the primacy of
reason in matters of natural philosophy, religion, politics and man himself. As
such he is considered to be one of the first of the British “empiricists”. In
turn he influenced later thinkers including Voltaire (1694 – 1778) , Rousseau
(1712 – 1778) , David Hume (1711 – 1776) and Adam Smith (1723 – 1790) amongst
others. He also had a direct impact on British and American political
development, specifically the British “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 and the
American Revolution of 1776. Many of his ideas were pillars of both the United
States Declaration of Independence and first Constitution. These issues continue
to resonate in today’s interconnected corporate, unsettled world. To this liberal philosophy was added his
consideration of the mind, holding that all children were born as it were with a
blank slate (“Tabula Rasa”) and were shaped by environmental forces, to become
what they were as adults, emphasising perception and experience. So both in
political philosophy and human psychology he broke new ground and was deeply
challenging, undermining a number of political and religious “givens” of the
time. The concept of original sin, predestination, divine right of kings and
the duty of the subject to obey, no matter what, even the nature of God himself
were all directly or indirectly in the firing line! In a wider sense he
contributed to the “Enlightenment”, from which sprang later scientific discovery
and democratic principles of government. This article focuses on the period up
to and including the time Locke left home to attend Westminster School in 1646
and some incidents thereafter. (See earlier arti
cle for Sections 2 – 5 incl.)
6. The Family Home and Social Landscape
The house (now demolished) at the entrance to Wrington Church, the home of his maternal grand-parents, where Locke was born.
As regards the family home in Belluton, it was much superior to the Wrington
cottage, in which he saw the light of day. It was probably a Tudor Farmhouse,
neither grand nor modest. It had been purchased by his grandfather Nicholas and
handed on to his father, John senior. It consisted of a parlour, hall, study,
kitchen, buttery, three (bed) chambers and outside, stables, all with furniture
and fittings. Perhaps, the most significant item in the the still extant
inventory, is reference to a library containing books to the value of £5:14:0.
This when a stool was valued at 6d and even an exclusive 17th Century clock was
valued at £2:0:0. A library in a 17th Century home was not common and would
probably be regarded as a mark of distinction. It is likely that the majority of
it passed to Locke supplemented by many additional volumes during his life.
A“Locke’s Cottage” attached to a rebuilt and listed, “Belluton House” still
'Locke's Cottage' today, on the site of the original Belluton family home, looking south towards Pensford.
His was a fairly prosperous, low-church, family of which he was the third
generation that had made it’s money, like so many others in that time, from the
clothing trade. His father was an attorney, JP’s Clerk and steward for the
local Lord of the Manor. He also had fledgling local government office, being
appointed “County Clerk for Sewers”, presumably working under the authority of
the“Quarter Sessions” – that is JP’s meeting every quarter to judge more serious
crimes – or the Lord Lieutenant. During the Civil War he was a collector of
Parliamentarian contributions on behalf of Alexander Popham.
17th Century Bristol
In Bristol , five miles distant – a cosmopolitan and maritime port and city of
about 50,000 souls, with strong links to the West Indies and the triangular
slave trade – Locke had a wealthy brewer uncle (Thomas 1612 – 1664). There were
coal mines, water mills, leather, wool and metal processing factories nearby. A
varied and fascinating topography, wildlife and history; direct connections with
both local and national events; a serious Puritanical world view all of which
must have impinged on, and shaped, Locke’s youthful mind.
7. Civil War.
The Storming of Bristol on 26th July 1643 in the English Civil War
Locke Senior had direct involvement in the Civil War as Captain of Horse for
Popham’s troop (he declared himself for the Parliamentary side during Sunday
service in Publow Church). He was present under General Waller at the Battle of
Roundway Down, Devizes when the Parliamentary troops were routed. In the
fighting at Roundway Down, the Parliamentarians lost around 600 killed and 1,000
captured, so both he and Popham were lucky to survive. The defeat essentially
destroyed the Western Association army and left the west open to Royalist
forces. Taking advantage of this vacuum, Prince Rupert captured Bristol on July
After this military and financial setback, both Locke Senior and Popham appear
to retire from direct involvement, although they maintained their allegiance and
practical assistance for the Parliamentary side. Locke Senior never appears to
have been properly recompensed, which later on Locke junior in a letter to him,
comments adversely on Popham’s role. It has been suggested that Popham’s
sponsorship of John and his brother to Westminster was partially out of
gratitude or guilt.
At the start of the Civil War Bristol declared for Parliament. However in the
summer of 1643 Prince Rupert attacked from both north and south and after a
spirited defence, in which many were killed, he took the city and huge reserves
of booty and armaments. It then, for two years, became an important
manufacturing centre for the Royalist armies. How Pensford, only six miles to
the south, was affected by all this uproar we do not know. We know even less
about how Locke responded to it. The defeated Parliamentary troops were allowed
to depart with their possessions, so some may have made their way to Pensford
for support and recovery.
Somerset was a known Royalist area but Pensford bucked the trend and was a
rather notorious centre of both religious and political dissent. Having said
this, it should be qualified by the observation that many local people took the
view “a curse upon both your houses”. En route to Bristol in 1645, Fairfax had
to meet the “Somerset Clubmen” to promise his Army would treat them fairly. (The
Clubmen of Dorset were even more antagonistic requiring Fairfax to treat them
more harshly) As the Royalists retreated from their defeat at the Battle of
Langport, they were pursued and slaughtered by the essentially civilian
“Clubmen” in retribution for their mistreatment under Royalist occupation.
After the Battle of Langford and various other skirmishes at Yeovil and
Bridgewater, the tables were turned when Fairfax and his army laid siege to
Bristol for Parliament. He held counsel with his up and coming Captain of Horse,
Oliver Cromwell in Wickham Court, Stapleton (recently on the market) on the east
side of Bristol, so it is not altogether clear whether his route from Sherborne
was through Pensford but it is likely some of his army approached Bristol that
In the environs of Chew Magna on the Winford brook there were apparently several
gunpowder factories under the ownership of the Babers for whom Locke senior was
Clerk. There is a battle Lane in Chew approaching a bridge over the brook, a
tributary of the Chew River, so it may be reasonable to assume there may have
been skirmishes there.
However after the fall of Bristol on the 10th September 1645, General Fairfax
billeted his troops at Pensford for three weeks on Locke/Popham land, probably
chosen for its convenient and strategic location and facilities. It offered
plentiful supply of river and spring water for ablutions and other purposes;
timber from the “Lords” and “Culvery” Woods for fires; several bakeries and ale
houses; a weekly market when a wide range of items could be purchased; animals
for food, and an agricultural hinterland for vegetables and corn; blacksmiths
for repairs to weapons and implements; even fine cloth if required for blankets
or clothes. (From the 14th Century it had been customary to issue “a length of
broadcloth” to all the King’s men required to muster, parish by parish and of
course Pensford was famous for its broadcloth) It had the further advantage that
it was up wind of Bristol itself, which was affected by an outbreak of plague at
How much of this victualling and provisioning was actually paid for, can only be
guessed at. It is likely Locke was expected to contribute a great deal gratis
and probably led to his straitened circumstances thereafter.
Can you imagine the effect on the young Locke surrounded by all those battle
hardened soldiers? Three years later Locke senior records “ransoms” to Fairfax,
and by March 1649 the Taunton Assize records Pensford poor relief had become
defective. The war bled Locke Senior dry, a point that was to exercise him when
nearing death a decade later.
In a letter from Oxford in 1660 Locke Junior reassures him not to worry: “Let
not those thoughts deject you” he writes, “and if your convenience can leave me
nothing else, I shall have a head and hands and industry still left me which
alone have been able to raise sufficient fortunes.”
8. Class and Status
The Belluton Lockes were no working class household, and it is clear from the
first, Locke was brought up in a bookish, puritanical, socially elevated and
politically aware environment, but we should be careful not to project current
notions of class onto the 17th Century. The “Industrial Revolution” was yet to
arrive and with it Marxian ideas of class around the means of production. Nor
indeed modern ones of the “Classless Society”, even though in 1887 Lord Harcourt
famously opined, “We are all Socialists now” or even John Prescott’s comment in
2002 that, “We’re all Middle Class now”. Of course neither opinions were true
then or now.
Perhaps no one has better portrayed the 20th Century British attitude to class
than the famous Monty Python sketch from the early 1970’s – upper, middle and
lower. Today we appreciate the part played by family background, occupation,
education and wealth in determining it – still the subject of national debate
around the proportion of “Public School” scholars in government. We know that
class remains important for its implications for individual life chances,
standard of living, health, fulfilment and influence, despite all egalitarian
attempts to modify it or abolish it.
The class distinctions of the 17th Century were different but no less real. In
fact it could be said they were more stratified and rigid. Elizabethan
Sumptuary Laws laid down specific rules as to dress and weapons, so that it was
literally possible to place people on sight. The rules were well defined and
structured so that it was unlikely individuals could move seamlessly from one
class to another – although it was possible. Social status of Locke’s time
ranging from paupers and dispossessed, vagrants who could and were whipped and
sent back to their originating parish; cottage holders such as many of the
“very poor” tenants of Locke; small businessmen and yeoman farmers; the growing
merchant class that would often take on functions in the chartered towns and
cities – Gentlemen and Esquires, and if beneficial to the crown might obtain a
baronetcy. Then the nobility in all its degrees to those of royal blood with the
monarch at the very top.
"The rich man in his castle, The poor man at his gate, God made them, high or lowly, And ordered their estate."
Needless to say, despite all democratic and social progress, the basic pyramid
in British society remains – presumably because we cannot find anything better
to replace it.
The merchant or manufacturer that came from humble beginnings, making his
fortune and then assuming both place and influence, within the context of the
Chartered cities and towns was the exception that proved the rule. The legend of
Dick Whittington is emblematic.
Thomas Becket (to which Saint Pensford Church is dedicated) by Unknown artist etching, 17th century
Another route to preferment and status was the Church which held a special place
in public education and administration right up to the dissolution of the
monasteries and thereafter under the auspices of the established Church of
England. Thomas a Beckett (c.1120) – 29 December 1170) the famous martyred
Archbishop of Canterbury, came from a small land owning/merchant family. In
contrast Thomas Cromwell, (c.?1485 – 28 July 1540) 1st Earl of Essex and Henry
VIII’s Chancellor was the son of Walter Cromwell, a blacksmith, fuller, and
cloth merchant, and owner of both a hostelry and a brewery. Locke’s grandfather was a cloth merchant, his father was a legal clerk - effectively a solicitor - and steward of the large land owner and borderline aristocrat Popham.
Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's Chancellor
However distinctions of class as determined by the status of one’s parents were
hard to cross and most of the population remained in them for life. This reality
must also have had significant psychological consequences.
Following the Black Death in 1350, the labourers had flexed their increased
economic muscle to improve their circumstances, most notably in the person of
Wat Tyler (d. 1381) lead rebellion. By Locke’s time the Civil War also had
strong populist and libertarian themes. “The Levellers” were so named for
Seventeenth Century conurbations – London, Bristol, Norwich, Oxford and other
ancient centres – were then a melting pot, where talent and effort could
transform the social and financial status of an individual. Quakers, from the
1640’s onwards, though generally reviled, including by Locke himself initially,
and denied access to established education routes, were particularly adept at
self improvement. They became prominent in areas of instrument making, commerce,
banking – and social reform – because they were sober and honest. (Trust in
banking – now there’s a thing!)
Most medium sized towns now had their “Grammar Schools” where the children of
those who could afford to pay or were lucky enough to win scholarships, could
find a route to the established universities of Oxford and Cambridge and thence
usually into the Church and a comfortable living.
The Quaker James Naylor made a 'naked protest through the streets of Bristol in 1656 for which he was severely punished by the Cromwellian State and rejected by Quakers including George Fox, their leading light.
However in the rural areas where, unlike today, the vast majority lived,
mediaeval and feudal approaches clung on and the chances of making it big were
actually quite small. If lucky you might be born the child of a farmer or
tradesman. For the rest you got by on the strength of your arm or the ingenuity
of your brain. The common fields had largely been, or were being, enclosed and
although serfdom had disappeared, the lot of the farm labourer was hard and
desperate. Somerset fields had been given over to sheep from crops, particularly
around the very profitable cloth producing towns such as Pensford. Even so
Elizabethan poverty was rife which necessitated the first Poor Laws. Pensford
poor are specifically mentioned in the mid 17th Century as requiring the
surrounding parishes to contribute to their relief.
Being more affluent, all three generations of Lockes made provision for the
poor. For example John Locke donated a pound every Christmas for bread for the
poor of Pensford, the elderly, infirm to be treated preferentially. His will,
like his Grandfather Nicholas, specified two pounds annually for the poor of
Pensford and High Laver and ten pounds annually for apprenticeships until the
death of his executor.
No-one was exempt from the waves of infectious disease that swept the country
which reappeared every few years. The “French” Pox was almost endemic as were
intestinal parasites and infections. Tuberculosis was rife to which Locke’s
father probably succumbed. The poor were worse off for obvious reasons and there was
plenty of poverty to go around in the 17th Century. Medicine was still largely
based on inaccurate notions of anatomy and false projections from cosmology
dating back fifteen hundred years to Aristotle and Galen. The theory of the
“four humours” as they related to the “four elements” was superficially elegant
and all embracing but it didn’t work in practice. It was tied to superstition
and religion in equal measure. Cures utilizing mercury and frequent blood
letting usually made matters worse.
Rembrandt's "The anatomy of Dr. Tulp" (1632)
Established trade had been disrupted by a decade of civil conflict as had the
physical infrastructure of bridges demolished and towns and stately homes
burned, including one owned by our Col. Popham at Wellington in Somerset. There
were thousands of bread winners either killed or disabled. There was no
unemployment or sickness benefit. There was no old age pension. Plague was rife.
The reality was that if you could not work you starved.
The Poor Law and private charity provided not much more than bare survival,
unless lucky enough to find a place in an Alms House or be looked after into old
age by a philanthropic employer. Is it any wonder that Thomas Hobbs in his
famous tract “Leviathon”, in 1651, on whose work Locke built, could easily
imagine a “life with no arts, no letters, no society, and worst of all continual
fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty,
brutish and short”.
Locke was not, and never became aristocracy, but in a rural community, he
decidedly was not one of the labouring classes. He occupied a privileged and
elevated status of “Gentleman” carved out by his father and grandfather. Further
back he was able to trace his lineage to Sir William Locke, mercer to Henry
VIII, alderman and sheriff of London in 1548. Locke was therefore fortunate in
possessing a good springboard from which to jump and could be proud of his
ancestral line, confirmed by the fact that he adopted Sir William’s arms for his
own seal. Such distinctions, then as now, could be of critical importance to an
individual’s social advance.
The Locke family that lived just outside the Pensford town would weekly appear
in either of the parish Churches of Pensford or Publow. This would be as much a
social statement as it was of religious observance. They would be seen and known
intimately. Local administrative functions, in the absence of municipal
government, were largely discharged by JP’s. Locke was later to make much of the
“Magistrate” and the limitations on his and the church’s powers to require
conformity on pain of punishment, and the converse need for the church to stay
out of politics. In other words the seeds of the principle of separation of
powers adopted most notably by the United States. There can be little doubt that
the seeds of his reasoning was grounded in his childhood experience in Somerset
and the activities of his father as Clerk to the Justices. His attitudes can be
seen to change and mellow with the years from an authoritarian one of his 1660
tracts on government and church, to the more liberal position of 1690 for which he is famous.
Locke's ideas on the necessary separation between Church and State find expression in the United States of America seventy years after his death.
With his advantageous family background, exclusive education at Westminster and
Oxford, adoption by Lord Ashley, later to become the Earl of Shaftesbury, his
status and influence definitely elevated. From the mid 1660’s on he was to be
given various high level administrative positions supporting royal envoys and
ambassadors and after the “Glorious Revolution” other government roles but never
the “top jobs” reserved still for the aristocracy. Today we might compare him
to a noted academic and high level civil servant but were it not for his
writings, he would have been a footnote to British history and largely
9. Religion and Beliefs.
The swirling and heated debate on political and religious issues of Locke’s
lifetime cannot be over-looked. The great division between Roman Catholic and
English churches that began in the 1530’s was still the dominant political theme
a century and a half later. It and the power of the King to act arbitrarily
infused the Civil War of 1642-9 between supporters of Parliament, called
“Roundheads” and of the King called “Royalists”.
Jane and Andrew Coe published this propaganda image, depicting a group of French troopers, supposedly in the south-west of England, committing a gang rape on a woman 1644. However it was frequently reused in the Civil War to represent the threat posed by 'Levellers' and the like. It is not difficult to draw modern parallels is it?
It was a time when the protestant church initiated by Henry VIII to facilitate
his marriage to Anne Boleyn, splintered further into puritan faiths of various
persuasions. Locke said of himself in 1660, “I no sooner perceived myself in the
world but I found myself in a storm, which has lasted almost hitherto.”
With the introduction of the Great Bible (1539); the Geneva Bible (1560), and
the Bishop’s Bible (1568) and finally the King James “Authorised Version” of
1611, all based to greater or lesser extent on Tyndale’s earlier translation
from Latin into English, scripture access gradually became democratised: Beyond
the Latin-only priesthood, to the English speaking Clergy, to the wealthy laity,
until eventually it entered the homes of even the poor. The issue was to what
extent the Biblical stories and themes could be translated to the temporal
sphere of government and social order. Every side of the argument looked to the
Bible for support, be it the God given right of a King to rule or a divinely
established order of equality between his creation. The Baptists, Anabaptists,
Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Shakers, Ranters, Fifth Monarchists
– following variously Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, or even John Bunyan and George
Fox, rejected in various degrees, traditional
ecclesiastical authority. As such they were often seen as destabilising and
threatening influences to the established order, both political and religious.
Both Catholics and non-conformists suffered persecution and limitation up to and
Persecution was a factor in the the colonisation of the New World by those who
had had enough of the repressive mother land. The Pilgrim Fathers set sail from
Plymouth in 1620 only twelve years before Locke was born. America was a recent
and intimate topic in Locke’s childhood insofar the father of his lifelong
friend John Strachey, William (1572–1635) had actually been instrumental in
setting up the colony of Virginia to which they resorted and had survived
shipwreck before returning. This William it should be noted was a friend with
the likes of Thomas Campion, John Donne, Ben Jonson, Hugh Holland, John Marston,
George Chapman, and Matthew Roydon, who met at the Mermaid Tavern in London and
no less than William Shakespeare himself. He is also generally credited for
supplying the account on which the latter based his play “The Tempest”. It must
have been a topic of family and boyhood conversation with first hand information
as to what this amazing new territory and its native "savages” was really like. Fascinatingly in 1996, William Strachey’s signet ring was discovered in the ruins of Jamestown, identified by the family seal, an eagle!
William Strachey's ring discovered in Jamestown in 1996
"Among the eight ships scattered by the storm, Strachey was on the fleet’s flagship, the , which wrecked on uninhabited Bermuda. The survivors spent the 10 months building two replacement vessels in which they sailed to Jamestown by May 1610. Strachey remained at Jamestown for less than a year, but in that time he became the Secretary of the Colony and recorded many of the things we know about the early years of Virginia, such as the shape of the first fort. He wrote an eloquent letter to an unnamed “dear lady” about the disaster and his time at Jamestown. The letter probably reached England in late 1610, and scholars believe Shakespeare wrote “The Tempest” in 1610-11. The play was first performed in London in November 1611." See: http://historicjamestowne.org/selected-artifacts/stracheys-ring-2/
In one sense it was a democratisation of religion that had wider connotations
for society generally, one of which was a greater questioning of slavish
obedience to civil authority that ultimately was to challenge the King himself.
The intertwining of religious and political beliefs made the Parliamentary
forces under Cromwell doubly inspired to fight for both a temporal and spiritual
kingdom. The issues were perhaps best demonstrated in the Putney Debates of
1647 – whilst Locke was literally a mile or so down river still at Westminster,
aged 15. Surely the boys in their dorms were not immune to the heated issues of
Locke’s views on Quakers in particular are interesting. They were very strong in
Bristol numbering many thousands. Quaker Friars remain as a testament to their
influence. Locke wasn’t impressed with either their radical beliefs or
outlandish behaviour. Fox believed in direct communication with God and that
every human possessed the spirit of Christ within them – “the light within” –
that circumvented any need for episcopal interpretation or authority. In a sense
it was an extension and continuation of a trend initiated by Luther and his
ninety five theses of 1522 – direct communication with God without the need for
priestly intervention mediation or supplication.
This was thought to be overtly challenging to state institutions and dissenters
were harshly treated if they failed to attend the Parish Church, pay Church
tithes or attended their own places of worship.
At the Restoration in 1660, despite a desire on the part of the new King,
Charles II to tolerate a degree of religious diversity – not least because of
his own Catholic leanings – Parliament was insistent on repressive measures
against dissenters and Catholics. Repressive legislation was passed banning
alternative places of worship in towns and believers from civic appointments.
The so called Corporation and “Five Mile” Acts of 1665 which prohibited
Non-conformist and Quaker Meeting places within five miles of the larger towns,
impinged directly on Locke’s Pensford property where a Meeting House was
established in about 1667 on the road to Chew Magna, recently relocated and
Quakers it has to be said had a reputation for bizarre behaviour. It was
exemplified by the action of James Naylor who had a passing resemblance to what
was thought to be Jesus Christ himself, when in 1656 he paraded naked through
Bristol on a donkey, surrounded by followers crying “hosanna”. Significantly he
had served in the Parliamentary army from 1642 to 1650. He was arrested brought
to Westminster to answer a charge of blasphemy. Locke the young Oxford graduate
was there to witness and report on it in detail.
Narrowly escaping execution, Naylor was pilloried and whipped through the
streets of London, was branded with the letter B on his forehead, had his tongue
pierced with a hot iron, and was then transported back to Bristol to be whipped
through its streets there also, before enduring two years imprisonment at hard
labour. He died in 1660 aged only forty-four.
Such events bring home to us the changed social circumstances in modern Western
Society, though not necessarily elsewhere in the world. If we have a more
enlightened approach, Locke deserves a large share of the credit.
Locke rejected the Quaker approach, as much for its irrationality and weirdness
as for any assault on firmly held religious beliefs. He considered them “mad
folk” for good reason and poked fun at their refusal to remove their hats “as
dangerous for their already hot heads”. Indeed this typifies Locke’s approach.
One senses throughout, a rather cynical view of alternative religious practice,
whilst retaining a personal faith in what he considered the irreducible tenets
of Christianity as demonstrated by his religious writing at the very end of his
Two paradoxes strike me. First that only a few hundred yards down the road from
his Belluton home, a Quaker Meeting House was built in the late 1660’s as
mentioned above and continued there for the next two centuries. Recent
investigations have revealed the exact location of the burial ground. If not on
Locke land it was immediately adjacent to it, so it must have had Popham/Locke
approval. It was located five miles to the south of Bristol and about a mile
outside Pensford probably to comply with the legislation mentioned above. Was
this an example of Locke’s liberal attitude to religious expression?
The second paradox relates to the fact that Locke was later to rely heavily on
an English Quaker in Rotterdam. Benjamin Furly, sheltered him when he was being
sought for extradition on charges of complicity in the Rye House plot. Furly and
his family were to become firm friends and in old age, despite rejecting
“enthusiasm” in matters of religion, he softens his attitude to dissent,
including Quakerism as personified in his writing on Toleration. Only Catholics
were to be excluded on the grounds that they posed a real risk to the state,
answerable to a foreign power although his trip to Cleve in 1665/6 modified even
that when he witnessed different religious persuasions living together
10. Crime and Punishment 18th Century Style.
It is not until one reads examples of crimes and their punishment from the
period, is one struck by the transformation of what is considered acceptable
behaviour and how Christian society has evolved. Some may consider it has swung
too far the other way but I suggest it would be difficult to find anyone today
who would wish to return to that time. There are for example a multitude of
young women executed for killing their illegitimate “bastard” children. The
fathers appear to have uniformly escaped punishment which might be considered a
There follows a vivid account from 1728 involving the very Quaker Chapel at
Belluton referred to above, that illustrates both the desperation and barbarity
of the times better than any current description.
“Jan 17. Bristol, Jan 7.A barbarous Murder was committed last Tuesday, by HENRY
BROOKMAN, (an idle fellow, about 18 years of age) on the body of MARY COFF, a
Quaker, who was found in the Meeting House last Wednesday, with her throat cut
from Ear to Ear. It happened, that one of the Neighbours seeing the said
Brookman coming from thence, caused him to be apprehended upon suspicion, and
being brought before the Justices then sitting at Pensford, they immediately
ordered him to be search’d, and found a Bloody Knife in his Pocket, which prov’d
to be the poor Woman’s; whereupon he made an ample confession of the Fact, viz.
That he first knocked her down, then searching her pocket, found therein 18d. in
Money, and that Knife, with which he cut her Throat; he was thereupon committed
to Ilchester Gaol.
Apr 18. Bristol, Apr 8. We hear that at the Assizes at Taunton 10 Malefactors
receiv’d Sentence of Death; among whom is HENRY BROOKMAN for the Murder of a
poor Woman at Belton Meeting House near Pensford, … Brookman is to be executed
on Wednesday next on a Gibbet near the said Meeting House, and to be hang’d up
in Chains on the same.
May 2. Bristol, Apr 28. On Friday last about one in the Afternoon, HENRY
BROOKMAN was executed, and afterwards hanged in Chains, on Hursley-hill, for the
Murder of MARY CUFF, a Quaker. He confess’d the said Murder, and said he stabb’d
her in seven Places, and then cut her Throat and robb’d her of 1s. 6d. Some
Gentlemen having the Curiosity to ask him, why he was Guilty of such a Crime? He
answered (as he did before the Judge) that ‘twas Hunger made him do it.”
Then if you thought burning witches went out of fashion in the 1500’s an example
from 1727 when this method of execution was still inflicted in the Bristol
“1723. JANE LEAMOUCKS, of the Parish of St Philip and Jacob, was indicted for
the murder of her husband JAMES LEAMOUCKS, on the 12th of October last, by
giving him one mortal wound on the Navel with a knife. Several witnesses deposed
that they had often heard her threaten to kill him; but one John Harding swore
positively that she told him she had stabbed her Husband, and desired him to
hide the knife in the Garden, for fear it should be discover’d. She said very
little to the Purpose in her Defence, and being a Person of a very bad
Character, the Jury brought her in Guilty of Wilful Murder. – To be burnt. April
1 – At the same time Jane Leamoucks was burnt for the murder of her Husband; she
likewise denied the Fact, and behaved herself very stubborn, from the time of
her receiving Sentence to the place of Execution.”
Then a third and final example involving quite possibly a coal mine on what had
been Locke’s land – he had at least one over which there had been a legal
“May 20. From Mist’s Journal, May 11. On Tuesday se’nnight, one JOHN FLOWER
kill’d a Boy with a Pick Axe, as he was at work with him in a Coal pit, near
Pensford, four mile from Bristol. He confess’d the Fact, and that he did it
without any Provocation; the next Day he was committed to Ilchester Gaol. It
appeared to the Coroner’s Inquest, that the man was Lunatick, he having
attempted to kill his own Father but three Days before, and was prevented only
by the timely coming in of his brother.”
These and many others can be found at http://www.genebug.net/glsinquests.htm
11. Friends and Family
For the times, the Locke family was small. His mother Agnes (nee Keene) was
actually nine years older than his father, and gave birth to only three
children, one of which (Peter) did not survive. His younger brother by five
years, Thomas, was rather delicate and followed him to Westminster School, but
did not excel. His father died in 1661 of “consumpyion” (TB?) and his brother
Thomas soon after in 1663 aged 26 possibly of plague. His mother Agnes had
already passed away in 1654, so at thirty-one, Locke remained the only survivor,
bereft of paternal, maternal or sibling advice or support and suffering from
persistent asthma type symptoms, always exacerbated by urban smoke. In addition
he remained unmarried with no children, so he was the last of that particular
family line. One of his uncles, Peter, living in near-by Bishop Sutton,
providing indispensable help looking after the estate when John was living and
working away, and uncle Thomas the successful Bristol brewer assisted in other ways.
As regards the first fourteen years of Locke’s life in Pensford, his character,
activities and acquaintances, we have relatively sparse information. To a
certain extent we have to fill the gaps with reasonable supposition. Where did
he get his youthful education? Did he accompany his father on JP or other
business? Was he free to travel abroad and mix socially with locals? Did he ever
travel or stay elsewhere, in Bristol with his uncle for example. Did he have to
travel everywhere by foot or did he ride? Was he familiar with his later
sponsor, Alexander Popham? What were his personal experiences and recollections
of the Civil War? In all these areas we can only surmise and construe on the
basis of his later letters, notebooks and writings.
Locke speaks little of his mother other than saying at a later stage that she
had been “a very pious woman and an affectionate mother”. As regards his father
it appears he was “severe with him, keeping him much in awe and at a distance
while a boy but relaxing by degrees as he grew up to be a man.” There is
suggestion that later on he mellowed with age and regretted his sternness for
when a man Locke junior reported his father “solemnly asked his pardon for
having struck him once in passion as a boy, his fault not being equal to the
correction”. On the other hand in that age, when wayward women were publicly
whipped on market days in Pensford, the fact he could apologise for only one
instance, is rather reassuring.
The letters from son to father that survive suggest affection and respect in
equal measure. As we shall see there is also a shared sense of humour regarding
amusing people and life events. When his father is ill he returns home to tend
him with his physician skills not yet fully developed and attempts to put his
father’s cares at rest. Though sparse, this speaks volumes as to the quality of
the relationship between the two.
So we get a picture of a small family unit with rather stern and distant
puritan parents taking their religion and politics seriously. Father busy and
cerebral effectively fulfilling the role of a local authority, police authority,
water authority, highways agency, social security, inland revenue and
administrator of justice all rolled in one.
Queen Elizabeth I had identified JP’s as her effective administrative arm a
century before. Women were publicly whipped in Pensford on sequential market
days for falling pregnant outside marriage for example and Locke senior as Clerk
must have been party to the sentence. He was specifically responsible for the
county’s sewers and for calculating and collecting the hated Ship Money – one of
the aggravating factors leading up to the civil war. Pensford was part of the
Popham estate, for which John senior acted as attorney. It was the location of a
weekly market and twice yearly fair that required supervision and adjudication.
As we saw above, JP’s held sessions in Pensford itself.
The Civil War had seriously depleted the family fortune and it was equally
disastrous for his boss, Alexander Popham, both suffering defeat by Royalist
troops at the battle of Devizes in 1643. After this they appear to have retired
from the conflict. The office of Custos Rotulorum was filled by Alexander
Popham, who is described as Keeper of the Rolls of the County at the Wells
The atmosphere at home was likely to have been sober and industrious with little
time for frivolity. Nevertheless or even perhaps because of it, it is clear that
Locke junior managed to develop an earthy and somewhat subversive sense of
humour. I am very aware how humour is used to mitigate an overly sober domestic
environment and I think I can understand how Locke might have developed his
scatalogically and satirically. In a humorous letter to his father dated 25th
October, 1656, that was obviously intended to amuse, he describes sharing his
carriage from Bath with an obese woman which he describes as: “that mountain of
flesh that cald herself a merchants wife, by her tongue and her body may well be
taken for two, shee was so grose that she turned my stomack and made me sick the
first two mornings and a third I was like to be buried, for had the coach (as it
might) overturnd and she fell on me I shud have been dead and buried at a time.”
In a letter (dated 21.10.1659) to Sarah Edwards at Stanton Drew concerning her
husband – one gets the impression a “Capt. Mannering” figure – clearly suffering
from unfortunate intestinal complaint, amid much ribald mockery, he ends by
saying: “Pray tell Mr Constable ’twas noe ill-grounded conjecture that I told
him when I saw him last that he was in the way for preferment: I then smelt
preferment in his breeches and his luck was sure to be good according to the
12. The Strachey Connection.
Perhaps Locke’s best friend from childhood was John Strachey (1634 – 1675) who
lived a couple of miles across the valley to the south in an old Elizabethan
manor house called Sutton Court, whose foundation dates back to 1310. If
anything, the Stracheys were somewhat higher in the social pecking order but the
two families shared much in common in their business, religious and political
outlook. Both were protestant and parliamentarians of a Whig persuasion. Locke’s
father was an attorney and so Locke’s friend John Strachey was to become.
Strachey was two years younger than Locke and died some twenty nine years before
him. In between they followed a similar educational trajectory and remained
close, communicating by letter when circumstances forced them apart.
Sadly his father dies only a year after he was born when his mother marries
again (the third time) Edward Baber, the wealthy Chew merchant and JP that
Locke’s father worked for as clerk. There is also a suggestion that the Lockes
and Babers were related by marriage. John St Loe Strachey says Eliz. Hodges
brought the house to Strachey Sutton Court whereas others say it was the Babers.
Part of my inability to unravel it exactly probably results from the different
interests – freehold, leasehold and renting – of the property.
In the 15th Century it had belonged to the St Loe’s. Sir William St Loe married
Bess of Hardwick. When he died she married a Sir William Cavendish, and they had
a son Charles who became the famous Earl of Newcastle. By 1646/7 the Earl was
compounding for his estates with the Parliamentarians and was deeply short of
cash, his tenant, Edward Baber had been renting the property for some years. He
had married Elizabeth Strachey, nee Crosse, daughter of William Cross of
Charlinch, Blackmore in Cannington, and of Norton FitzWarren, in 1635. Elizabeth
Baber was able to “purchase the revision”. In 1662 she drew up a will which in
1671 left the property to John Strachey.
Elizabeth Crosse (1605-1671) (spelt sometimes Cross) had been married three
times, to Samuel Jepp, who was dead by 1631, then to Strachey who died by 1634,
and finally to Baber. As can be seen John only survived a few years after he
inherited the house, so it then passed to his son, another John, (10 May 1671 –
11 June 1743) who would make a name for himself as member of the Royal Society
and effectively one of the first geologists, demonstrating rock stratification
as a way of identifying coal seams. Locke who had been refused admission by
Mendip Miners to their workings but must have been familiar with pits on his
father’s land, must have taken a keen interest in the young orphan.
Both before and after the “two Johns” the Strachey line is interesting. John
Stracheys father William, was something of an adventurer, and first Secretary
to the Colony of Virginia. His account of his ship wreck on Bermuda and
miraculous survival formed the basis of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”. Edward
Baber mentioned above was one of the first financial backers of the Virginia
Company formed under Royal Charter. He was referred to as “Lord of the Manor of
Chew and died about 1640. His prominent tomb remains in Chew Church and is the
focus of periodic Baber family reunions to this day.
On a personal level I retain vivid memories of Sutton Court visiting as a child
with my father who would converse with the last Lord Strachey, whilst his Great
Dane looked in at me and my Cardigan Corgi through the back window of the Morris
Eight! Indeed my x4 grandfather was born in Chew Sutton in 1778 probably on the
Strachey estate and may have worked for him. So on two counts I feel an
insignificant but authentic link with the Stracheys as well as the Lockes!
Sadly on the death of the last Baron in 1973, modern economic necessity
required the house be converted to flats, surrounded by “executive houses”, and
with it an indefinable historic link with a past age was terminally damaged.
In his 1922 autobiography, “The Adventure of Living”, John St. Loe Strachey, for
many years the Editor of The Spectator, refers affectionately to Sutton Court,
his family home and ancestors. He writes:
“The beauty and fascination of the house, its walls, its trees and its memories
made …. so deep an impression upon me that to this hour I love the place, the
thought of it, and even the very name of it, as I love no other material thing.
I remembered with a glow of pride that it was on these principles that my family
had been nourished. William Strachey, the first Secretary to the Colony of
Virginia, would I felt, have been a true Whig if Whig principles had been
enunciated in his time, for the Virginia Company was a Liberal movement. John
Strachey his son stood at the very cradle of Whiggism, for was he not the
intimate friend of John Locke? Locke in his letters from exile and in his
formative period writes to Strachey with affection and admiration.” (Many of
these between Jan 1658 and Nov 1666 are preserved in the Bodian Locke
Indeed right up to John Strachey’s death in 1674/5, the very year Locke made his
escape to to the continent, they maintained their friendship, Locke visiting him
whenever back in Somerset and writing to him whenever away.
Consistently it is his humour and scepticism that comes through. Just one
example will have to do.
Whilst on a Government mission to Cleves in 1655/6 he pokes good-natured fun at,
“a learned bard in a threadbare coat and a hat that though in its younger days
it had been black, yet it was grown grey with the labour of its master’s brain …
his two shoes had but one heel, which made his own foot go as uneven as his
verses.” And again in relation to a formal disputation of theologians he
records, “the dispute was a good sport and would have made a horse laugh and
truly I was like to break my bridle”. As a descendant of a tribe of saddlers it
has a special resonance.
It is worth remembering 1665 saw catastrophic plague in London. It also happened
to have struck Pensford also. This was followed by the Great Fire of London in
which much of the old city, including St Pauls, was destroyed. Meanwhile on his
return from Cleves diplomatic mission, Locke was back with his friend Strachey
at Sutton Court, carrying out rather amateurish in pressure experiments for his
friend Robert Boyle, noting how the mercury level changed when he ascended a
nearby hill (at Clutton?) This was also the first year that he came fully into
the possession of the Belluton estate which he valued at £872.00 – a not
insignificant inheritance that proved his father’s fears unfounded.
Locke owed much to the Stracheys and between them they were to have a lasting
and profound effect in various realms, scientific and social, including the new
American territories in Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia. But more of that
13. Leaving Home.
Locke remained at home in Pensford until his fifteenth year, (1646) when he was
dispatched to London for schooling. The importance of this notable life event
cannot be understated. It transported him from the quiet rural landscape, filled
with animals, birds and plants of every kind, his childhood friends and village
life, to a contrasting one of the pre-Great Fire and Christopher Wren remodelled
Capital City of almost half a million population, in a sprawling mass of mainly
timbered, closely packed, houses stretching from the Tower of London to the
Palace of Westminster itself, all enclosed within city walls. Locke was
fortunate being located in the relatively undeveloped west, as it was still
surrounded by fields and except in an easterly wind, the stench of the smoky and
un-sewered town was kept away. Even so the immediacy of the sights and sounds of
one one of the foremost conurbations of the time, the splendour of the Abbey, of
the Thames packed with sailing vessels, o
f traffic and industry, the cries of street sellers, all classes and
nationalities engaged in lawful and illegal trade, the centre of political
momentous events, must have been a shock to a relatively unsophisticated
Somerset youth. Could he fail to apprehend that he was now at the very centre of
things? Located in London, he was to return to Pensford during the vacations and
subsequently to at least 1666 and again in 1674. He returned less frequently
thereafter but kept in touch via his agent Uncle Peter Locke. On the death of
his father in February 1661 at only fifty-five, Locke had inherited the estate
of property and land, although he did not take full possession for four years to
enable accrued debts to be paid off, providing a moderate income variously
estimated between about £75 and £250 pa. for the rest of his life which
supplemented other sources of income.