The Diary of Henry Machyn, Citizen and Merchant-Taylor of London, 1550-1563. Originally published by Camden Society, London, 1848.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
The most remarkable passages of the Diary now printed have already attained their position in history from having been largely incorporated in the works of Strype, and quoted on his authority by subsequent writers.
It must not therefore be expected that the present publication will develope much new information of high historical importance: but it will have its value, like some former publications of the Camden Society, in ascertaining the real authority for certain statements of general history, the credit of which materially depends upon the quarter from whence they are derived.
The writer was a citizen of London, of no great scholarship or attainments, as his language and cacography plainly testify, sufficiently prejudiced no doubt, and not capable of any deep views either of religious doctrine or temporal policy; but the matters of fact which he records would be such as he either witnessed himself, or had learned immediately after their occurrence: and the opinions and sentiments which he expresses would be shared by a large proportion of his fellow-citizens.
For a great part of the period of his Diary, the times were very eventful. Important changes in the Church and in the State were attended by many extraordinary occurrences, particularly those deprivations, imprisonments, trials, and executions, the promotion of new ministers and prelates, and other incidents in the personal career of the great actors in the political drama which were most likely to attract the attention of a popular chronicler. (fn. 1)
Though the most important particulars which he affords on these subjects are known (as already remarked) from the extracts made by Strype, still their detail is occasionally more interesting, and not unfrequently more accurate, (fn. 2) in the language of the original writer, however colloquial and ungrammatical that language may be; and as even this rude London language has some philological interest, I have appended a brief glossarial index, at the suggestion of one whose judgement on the subject will not be disputed, and who has favoured me with his assistance in its compilation,—Mr. Albert Way.
After the times became less stirring, when Elizabeth was securely seated upon the throne, Strype has made but little use of this Diary, which in that part is now for the first time made public. There are also large portions throughout of matters which Strype deemed of minor importance, but which are not without their value, in illustration of the manners and customs of the age: these have been hitherto unpublished, except by occasional extracts. (fn. 3)
The Diarist takes a lively interest in the pageantry and holidaymaking of the City, which were certainly esteemed by our ancestors as matters more important and indispensable than they are by their close-working posterity. He seldom fails to notice the shows of Lord Mayor's day, the gay doings in May, or the mummeries of Christmas; and so deep was the impression which such performances made upon his mind that, on the death of a past Sheriff, in 1557, (fn. 4) he recurs to the magnificence with which that gentleman had maintained his "lord of misrule," when in office five years before.
Throughout the whole runs a pervading series of the Funerals of the nobility and principal citizens, (fn. 5) in respect to which the author was engaged in the way of his business. These records will afford valuable assistance to the family historian and genealogist; and more especially so because they are antecedent in date to the series of Funeral Certificates (fn. 6) recorded in the College of Arms.
In the Notes the Editor has furnished references to all the works he could consult, as containing the epitaphs or pedigrees of the same parties; and with regard to the civic senators, he has entered somewhat more fully into biographical and heraldic particulars, supposing such information may be especially looked for in a London chronicle. Among these are several names which not only London but their country is still proud to remember, as the founders of some of the most flourishing sources of public education—Sir Thomas White the founder of St. John's college at Oxford, Sir Andrew Judd of the grammar-school at Tunbridge, Sir William Harper of that at Bedford, Sir Rowland Hill of that at Drayton, and Sir William Laxton of that at Oundle.
It is a remarkable circumstance that in a diary extending over only thirteen years, occasion should be given to notice nearly forty contemporary aldermen—an evidence in part, perhaps, of the prevalent mortality of the times, and in part of the advanced age at which citizens were then raised to that honourable preeminence. In one period of ten months no fewer than seven Aldermen were removed from their mortal career. (fn. 7)
The Diary, in fact, originated from the nature of the writer's business as a furnisher of funeral trappings; and it is at first a mere record of the principal Funerals for which he was employed to provide. Commencing in August 1550, he describes two funerals in that and one in the following month, one in October, and several in November, the last of which belongs to Christopher Machyn, his own brother.
On religious matters his information is valuable, so far as it represents the sentiments and behaviour of the common people at this vacillating period of our ecclesiastical history. It is evident from numerous passages that his own sympathies were inclined to the old form of worship: which, indeed, in its pompous ceremonial, was the best encourager of the craft by which he gained his livelihood. He hailed with delight its re-establishment on the accession of Mary, and rejoices to chronicle all the ceremonies and processions which then enlivened the churches and streets of the city. From an extraordinary passage at p. 160, in which he mentions the uncompleted performance of the communion by the Gospellers at Islington, it is evident that, after having witnessed all the "gospel light" of king Edward's reign, master Machyn had still very confused ideas of the doctrines or objects of the Reformation. At that period, too, he gave credit to the charge made against Street the joiner for having drawn his dagger upon a priest that bore the sacrament in procession on Corpus Christi day; whilst the same occurrence is explained by Foxe as a casual and unpremeditated rencontre. (fn. 8) It is instructive, however, to observe that, in common with the population at large, he afterwards took a great interest in the public sermons which were so zealously multiplied by the new preachers; at one of which it was his fate to perform penance, in consequence of having spread reports defamatory of master Veron, the French protestant minister. (fn. 9)
With this exception the Diary contains scarcely anything of personal adventure. It is as little egotistical as a private Diary could well be. With all the dignity of an old chronicler the writer even mentions himself in the third person, on the few occasions that he makes his appearance, and in the unfortunate penance affair he further disguises himself in French costume,—a whim which has amusingly misled our Ecclesiastical Historian. (fn. 10)
Henry Machyn has twice noticed the occurrence of his birthday, (fn. 11) from which we learn that he was more than fifty years of age at the time the Diary commences, and approaching seventy at the period of its close. In 1557 he records a birth in his family, (fn. 12) but so obscurely that it is uncertain whether the child was his own or no: possibly it was a grandchild. The "Harry Machyn merchanttaylor," mentioned shortly before, (fn. 13) seems to have been the Diarist himself. His brother Christopher, who died in 1550, (fn. 14) was of the same company.
Machyn himself has been taken by some for a herald, or at least a painter employed by the heralds. (fn. 15) In the absence of any direct proof of his occupation, I rather think that his business was in that department of the trade of a merchant-taylor which we now call an undertaker or furnisher of funerals. The banners, &c. which he provided were probably painted by men who worked as journeymen under his superintendence.
His parish, from several passages, (fn. 16) is shown to have been that of Trinity the Little, by Queenhithe; and in Trinity-lane adjoining was the Painter-Stainers' hall, in the vicinity of which would live many of the workmen with whom he had so much to do.
From the attention which he paid to events in the family of Hethe or Heath, it is highly probable that he was connected with it. Two married couple of this name are mentioned: John, serjeant of the King's bakehouse, who died and was buried at Linton in Cambridgeshire, the seat of Philip Paris esquire, (fn. 17) and whose widow Annes was remarried to James Sutton, clerk of the green cloth; (fn. 18) and John, a painter-stainer, dwelling in Fenchurchstreet, who died in 1552–3, (fn. 19) and his widow Annes in 1556. This latter Annes I suspect, from the minuteness of our chronicler's entry (fn. 20) of the event, to have been his own sister or daughter. (fn. 21)
I have traced nothing of the family of Machyn from any other quarter. The only possible connection that I am aware of is an alderman of Gloucester in the reign of James the First, to whom a handsome monument still stands in that cathedral. (fn. 22)
The manuscript Diary (Vitellius F. v.) is one of those volumes which suffered severely in the fire of the Cottonian Library; but, though much was burnt away from the upper parts and edges of the pages, it does not appear that any leaves have been lost since the time when it was employed by Strype. (fn. 23) Indeed, the way in which it commences, as already described, would show that little, if anything, can have disappeared from the beginning; and the circumstance of its closing at a time when the plague was prevalent in London, renders it not improbable that the author was a victim of that deadly scourge.
After the Cottonian fire the injured leaves of the Manuscript were kept loose in a case until the year 1829, when they were carefully arranged, and inlaid, under the superintendence of Sir Frederick Madden, who recorded the accomplishment of his useful labours by the following memorandum on a fly-leaf:
"By the aid of Strype, who made use of the MS. when perfect, and who quotes largely from it, the leaves have been restored to their proper order; the chronology marked on each folio, and references given to the pages of Strype, who often supplies the lacunæ here visible. The curiosity and value of these fragments seemed a sufficient warrant for the labour and time consumed in arranging them in their present form.—F. M. 1829."
The first page of the MS. is shown to have been the original first page, by its soiled and worn appearance. It bears a memorandum, scarcely legible, connected with the author's accompts, "Remem' yt my lade Masun('s) byll (for) armes and hers in m . . . . . . . . . penter in . . . ."
It only remains to be added that the deficiencies, occasioned by the partial loss of the manuscript from fire, have been supplied in the present edition, either from Strype where he had quoted the injured passages, or in some other cases by conjecture from the context, such supplied readings being always distinguished by brackets [ ] and by modern orthography. Parentheses ( ) have sometimes been introduced to complete sentences left grammatically imperfect by the writer: and most of the obscurities of his spelling are made clear by the marginal notes.