The Diary of Thomas Burton: 16 December 1656

Pages 148-159

Diary of Thomas Burton Esq: Volume 1, July 1653 - April 1657. Originally published by H Colburn, London, 1828.

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Tuesday, December 16, 1656.

Colonel Richard Carter's Bill for selling Lands worth 3000l., for payment of his father's debts and his. Read a third time.

Resolved, That this Bill do pass for a law. (fn. 1)

Mr. Robinson reported a very foul affront offered last night by James Noble, at the Committee for Drury House.

Colonel Twisleton. I had the chair, and never heard such language in all my life. I have known this fellow a long time. He was in Wales, and approved himself a very vile person. He showed himself so in Scotland, where he was in arms. I have observed him all along very prying at Committees. We, as a Committee of Parliament, presumed to commit him to the Serjeant-at-arms.

Resolved, To approve of what the Committee had done as to his commitment, and that he be brought to the bar.

Mr. Bampfield. Ask him who are the six knaves; haply he may mean some of us.

Sir William Strickland. This is a very high crime, and we ought to vindicate ourselves from this aspersion. I desire he may explain himself who he means by these knaves.

Sir John Reynolds. This is a civil blasphemy, and you know not what debate it may beget, and hinder Nayler's Committee; but I desire a new day for Ireland. (fn. 2)

Mr. Noble came to the bar and remained on his knees all the time, while the Speaker asked him several questions. He confessed most part, but said he was distracted to see such proceedings. He thought the Committee had had other work than to commit a poor mad creature. I care not what becomes of me, so the commonwealth be not cheated. He desired to be excused as to the naming of the six knaves. He said, he would know by what warrant they did it. If he was distempered, the justice of peace might have punished him, &c.

Major-General Whalley. I never knew such an affront offered to a Committee since I knew what a Committee was. I have faithfully served the Commonwealth in considerable commands ever since the wars began, but was never called knave nor cheating rogue in all my life. And this fellow named me for the first of those knaves. I have constantly attended this Committee, thinking it my duty to inquire if the trustees had cheated the commonwealth of 140,000l., as Jervis's petition (fn. 3) set forth. It ought to be examined; but, indeed, finding that nothing would come of it, I left the Committee. I was a purchaser myself, and set forth of what and at what values. I take this very much to heart, to be so affronted. I was always accounted for an honest man, and the country had not sent me hither but that they thought so. I hope you will vindicate us in this. I care not what becomes of us in our other relations, so our credits be preserved. He was twice cashiered the army, and is more knave than fool.

Major-General Disbrowe. Do not spend time. These gentlemen need not to vindicate themselves. We know their innocency. To make the business short, let him be committed to Newgate for a month, and afterwards for two months to Bridewell, to be whipped. You see what he is.

Sir William Striekland. I rise up to second that motion.

Mr. Bodurda. First vote the words to be scandalous. Instanced in a case of Lord Suffolk's, in tertio Jac., where the Parliament resented a lower offence.

Resolved, that these words are scandalous, &c.

Colonel Mathews. Send him three months to Bridewell for all, and not to Newgate.

Major-General Goffe and Mr. Robinson. He tells you he is a madman. It is good physic to whip him. "A rod for the fool's back."

Sir Thomas Wroth. I am sorry you are not more sensible of this business; it reflects upon all, though spoken to particulars.

Alderman Foot. If you send him to Newgate, you will make him worse.

Colonel Fitz-James and Mr. Berkeley. The man is distracted already, and if you whip him you will make him worse. Let him only do hard labour; not the usual way, of whipping.

Sir Gilbert Pickering, Lord Whitlock, Sir John Reynolds, and Colonel Hewitson. He has been a soldier, and it is not proper to whip him; the word Noble speaks his privilege. He is a Roman, &c.

Resolved, That he be committed to Bridewell, there to receive the usual punishment, for three months.

Per Sir John Reynolds. Resolved, That immediately after Nayler's business, the Irish business be taken up, and nothing to intervene.

Mr. Bodurda desired that Noble might receive his sentence at the Bar, but Mr. Speaker said it was not usual.

The Order of the day was read.

Mr. Reynell. This blasphemy of James Nayler wounds Christ through every side, as well in assuming the worship of Christ, as his very breath. "The voice is Christ's," said he.

He ran over all the texts formerly urged in this case, pretended to great skill in the original, and would prove it, that, under the Gospel, a blasphemer and an impostor ought to be put to death. He said, Paul in the Acts, declared, "If I have done any thing worthy of death, let me then die."

There the apostle grants their allegation. "If I have done any thing against the law," &c.; some footsteps whereby we may guess that the laws in the Old Testament are moral. Where the reasons are eternal, there the laws are eternal.

If a man rise up presumptuously to slay a man, he shall die the death, was offered as one argument why the magistrate may commute the punishment. It is rather to be interpreted, and slay, instead of to slay.

He cited Calvin, Rutherford, and Cotton, about the punishment of corporal, fornication, and spiritual idolatry. If leave might be given, in other cases, to commute the punishment, not in this case. Otherwise, the punishment would be too light. Said something of Gallio. (fn. 4)

If you should punish this man with corporal punishment, in a short time it will come to nothing. If you cut off his hand, or restrain him of pen and ink, we have found, by experience, that such have found means to trouble you. He inclined to the highest punishment, but none could guess by his argument.

Mr. Waller. I have an equal abhorrency to Nayler and his party, as any man here; but I cannot agree to the punishment with death. Much has been spoken which, needed not have been, and something omitted that should have been spoken. From generals you cannot conclude particulars. Your argument runs thus. Some blasphemy ought to be punished with death, but Nayler has committed blasphemy, ergo. Now I shall, prove, that Nayler has not committed such a blasphemy as ought to be punished with death.

No positive inference can be drawn from Nayler's confession, as to his assuming the attributes of Christ, but rather a positive denial of these assumings. The proof is all along dubious.

He hath not said that he is Christ, but only a sign. Now the sign is another thing than the thing signified. He says not that Christ dwells wholly, or personally, in him.

As to that of the woman's kissing his feet, and the like, this is but a civil posture to our superiors.

That of assuming divine adoration. He does no such thing. He said not that Christ was in him more than he was in others.

(He said a great deal more to extenuate the crime, but I minded it not.)

Non-practice of the law takes not away the law, yet we are not now under the same dispensations. Christ did not direct his disciples to be all Nimrods, but to be " fishers of men." (fn. 5) Christ said, "all blasphemy shall be forgiven," &c. (fn. 6)

Without the spirit concurring with the light of the Scriptures, we may wander into as erroneous opinions by that light, as did the heathens by the light of nature, without the Scriptures. Do you pass this sentence upon him to reclaim himself, or to reclaim others ? If to reclaim him, you cannot after death; if, before death, it will be said, it is but the terror of that which frights him. Instead of reclaiming others, you will confirm and pervert them. The ways of truth are slippery. Angels have fallen. Perfect men have fallen. This man does not challenge to be either of them. There is but an inch of ground to go upon between error on each side. I shall say nothing as to the law you have to punish this person; yet, certainly, if you condemn him by a law unknown, you do unjustly. I desire you would come to some Question.

Colonel White. There has been enough said in this business. I desire you would put some Question or other, and the most proper is, whether the Question for the higher punishment should be put or no.

Question. Whether that Question shall be put or no.

We, the Yeas that staid in, were 82. Alderman Foot and Sir Christopher Pack, [Tellers.]

The Noes that went out were 96. Colonel Berkeley and Mr. Lawrence, [Tellers.]

Mr. Downing called me to go out, but consc (fn. 7).

The question for the lesser punishment being read.

Colonel White proposed that his tongue might be bored through.

Colonel Barclay, that his hair might be cut off.

Major-General Haines, that his tongue might be slit or bored through, and that he might be stigmatized with the letter B.

Colonel Coker, that his hair might be cut off.

Sir Thomas Wroth. Slit his tongue, or bore it, and brand him with the letter B.

Major-General Whalley. Do not cut off his hair; that will make the people believe that the Parliament of England are of opinion that our Saviour Christ wore his hair so, (fn. 8) and this will make all people in love with the fashion.

Sir Gilbert Pickering. His hard labour and imprisonment will be sufficient. I have, within these two days, talked with a very sober man of that sect, who tells me Nayler is not to be heeded in what he said, for he is bewitched, really bewitched; and keeping him from company, especially from that party that bewitched him, your imprisonment will do. If your vote be not passed about his hair being cut off, I am for that.

Major-General Skippon. Seeing you are off the other question (wherein I fear we have offended God), make the other punishment as high as you can I doubt cutting off his hair will be but too private a punishment. It is offered you, instead of pillory, to slit his tongue, and that upon a scaffold upon the Exchange, in as public a manner as can be, and that the rest of his punishment may be done at Bristol.

Major-General Disbrowe. I doubt if you slit his tongue, you may endanger his life. It will be a death of a secret nature.

Mr. Downing. You ought to do something with that tongue that has bored through God. You ought to bore his tongue through. You punish a swearer so, (fn. 9) and have some whipped through an affront to your members, in the case of Noble. (fn. 10)

Colonel Kiffen proposed, that the boring his tongue through might be suspended till he come to Bristol.

Lord President. I am against putting this into your question. You had better take his life; that tongue may afterwards praise the Lord. I was ever against that punishment.

Colonel Holland. You have done what becomes magistrates. Now I would have you do like Christians, and not to be too severe.

Dr. Clarges. Boring through the tongue is a mutilation of members. It was said by most that were not satisfied in his death, that they would go as high as you please. Whipping, in law, is a mutilation.

Mr. Robinson. I remember no such thing granted, to go to so high a punishment; I understand not the grammar that whipping is a mutilation.

Major Audley. It is an ordinary punishment for swearing, (fn. 9) I have known twenty bored through the tongue.

Resolved, that his tongue be bored through.

Resolved, that he be marked with the letter B. in the forehead.

Major-General Whalley proposed, that his lips might be slitted.

Alderman Foot, that his head may be in the pillory, and that he be whipped from Westminster to the Old Exchange.

Resolved, that instead of the word " Cheapside," be added " Old Exchange."

Colonel Cromwell, that he may be whipped through the whole City from Westminster to Aldgate.

Major-General Goffe, that he may also be restrained from society of women, as well as from men. Only some to come to him for necessaries.

Colonel Mathews, that he may be branded and bored at the Old Exchange.

Dr. Clarges, that he may stand in the pillory in Glassenbury and Wells.

Colonel Shapcot, that his Bridewell may be at York, whence he came.

Mr. Speaker and Sir William Strickland, He came not thence. I shall put it upon Bristol.

Mr. Pedley and Colonel Purefoy proposed, that his prison might be the Isle of Scilly. (fn. 11)

Colonel Clarke. If you put him to hard labour, indeed Bridewell, London, is the fittest place. A gentleman in my eye will inspect it.

Mr. Bond. Do what you can, resort for monies will be had to him. Send him rather into the Orcades, or Scotland, or other remote parts.

Major-General Disbrowe and Alderman Foot. London is the fittest place.

Sir Gilbert Pickering. Either be strict in this, or you do nothing, for certainly this of Quakerism is as infectious as the plague. And that not only men, but women be kept from him. I have told you, it is a woman that has done all the mischief.

Mr. Puller proposed, that he might be sent to Jamaica.

Sir Thomas Wroth, to the Isle of Dogs. (fn. 12)

Sir John Reynolds. It is most dangerous to send him to Bristol, lest he disturb the peace of that town. Put it rather upon Scilly or Coventry.

Sir William Strickland. London is as liable to tumults as any place. I desire, rather, that he might be sent to Bristol.

Mr. Highland. Those that come out of the North, are the greatest pests of the nation. The diggers came thence.

Mr. Robinson. I hope that gentleman does not mean by his pests, all that come thence. He means not us, I hope. (fn. 13)

The origin of the diggers was from London, a Blackwell-hallman thief. (fn. 14)

Lord Strickland. I rather think these pests have come from Surrey, for there was the first rise of the diggers.

Mr. Bampfield. I am glad every body apprehends this man to be such an one as that all are weary of him. He came from the North. It verifies the proverb ab aquilone nil boni. I hope it will be a warning to them never to send us such cattle amongst us.

Mr. Attorney-General. Send him to some country-town. In a public place it will breed tumult, if you keep him in a city.

Mr. (fn. 15). I am sorry to hear such reflections upon the North. I would have this fellow sent rather to South. wark, (fn. 16) where there is a prison, i. e. the Marshalsea, to which we all contribute.

Major-General Boteler and Colonel Whetham. The proper place is where they most abound. There they may best be punished. If at Bristol, then at Bristol.

Resolved, that London be the place.

Per Major Boteler and Colonel Mathews. That he might have no relief but what he earns.

Colonel Rouse. This is the most material part of your question. Many of them live better in prison than otherwise.

Mr. Bampfield. John Lilburn (fn. 17) had forty shillings per week, which, I believe, is more than ever he had before. This fellow's condition will be better than before, unless you restrain all relief to him, more than he earns with his hard labour. You will hardly keep him so private here.

Mr. Speaker. You may remember a case in Parliament of one John James, for striking a member, one Mr. Howard, in the hall with, a dagger (some thought he was killed): the House ordered his hand to be cut off, but this was to be done by Bill, and I think you must, in this case, take that course.

Dr. Clarges. I am against the troubling ourselves with a Bill in this case. I think it is altogether needless. Your judicial power will extend further than to such a vpte as this, without the help of your legislative. You remember what you did this morning against Noble, in a lesser matter, and what you did not long since in a worthy gentleman's case, a member of this House, against a fellow that exhibited articles, against him. I may name the person, I think he is not here, Mr. B., how you committed that fellow, and it was debated about the whipping, where a noble lord said whipping was a mutilation.

Mr. Downing and Mr. Bampfield. 1 am more afraid of a Bill than any thing else. You have done greater matters by your judicial power. Boring the tongue through is often done by less judicatures.

Colonel Shapcot and Sir William Strickland. An order of this House will be as much as a Bill. Your warrant to the sheriff will show your judgment; but I desire the imprisonment may be perpetual. It is a civil death.

Colonel Jones. It were good, before you agree of the time, you would proceed upon the legislative or judicial power.

Sir William Strickland. I am against a Bill. If Lord Stratford's case were to be acted over again, we should not proceed by a Bill, but in a judicial way. The Parliament then might question whether the House of Lords would consent, and so a Bill was requisite; but in this case it is otherwise. We are another. Jurisdiction now, a judicial Court. If we lose this privilege, if we own it not now, we shall have much ado to resume, to regain it. I desire you would trouble yourselves no further in this business. If you talk of a Bill, it will all come to nothing.

Resolved, that James Nayler be set on the pillory, with his head in the pillory, in the New Palace Westminster, during the space of two hours, on Thursday next, and be whipped by the hangman through the streets of Westminster to the Old Exchange, London; and there, likewise, to be set upon the pillory, with his head in the pillory, for the space of two hours, between the hours of eleven and one, on Saturday next; in each of the said places, wearing a paper containing an inscription of his crimes: and that at the Old Exchange, his tongue shall be bored through with a hot iron, and that he be there also stigmatized in the forehead with the letter B.; and that he be, afterwards, sent to Bristol and conveyed into and through the said city, on a horse bare ridged, with his face back, and there also publickly whipped, the next market-day after he comes thither: and that from thence he be committed to prison in Bridewell, London, and there restrained from the society of all people, and kept to hard labour till he be released by the Parliament: and, during that time, be debarred of the use of pen, ink, and paper, and have no relief but what he earns by his daily labour.

Resolved, that the said James Nayler be brought to the bar to-morrow, at ten of the clock, to receive his judgment.

Resolved, that the Speaker be authorised to issue his warrants to the Sheriffs of London and Middlesex, the Sheriff of Bristol, and the Governor of Bridewell, London, to see his judgment put in execution respectively in the several places.

Resolved, that the Speaker be authorised to make a warrant to the Sheriffs of London and Middlesex, to convey the said Nayler to Bristol.

Resolved, that Mr. Speaker do issue out the like warrant to the Sheriffs of Bristol to convey him up to London, after the execution of this judgment.

Resolved, that to-morrow, after the sentence pronounced against James Nayler, the several Petitions now offered, be read.

Resolved, that the House do likewise then take into consideration the persons brought up with James Nayler.

Mr. Speaker. It cost us 26l. to bring them up, and I hope we shall be at no more charge with them.

Resolved, That the Bill concerning Mr. Acklam be read to-morrow.


  • 1. See supra, pp. 2, 81. Richard Carter, of Colomb Major, was one of the representatives for Cornwall, in this Parliament.
  • 2. See supra, p. 12, note †—127.
  • 3. "Oct. 3,1656. The humble petition of William Jervis was this day read. Ordered, That a Committee be appointed to examine the matters complained of; and they are to meet in the Star Chamber."— Journals.
  • 4. Probably alluding to Acts xviii. 17., "Gallio cared for none of these things."
  • 5. Matt. iv. 19.
  • 6. Matt. xii. 31.
  • 7. So the MS. Perhaps it designs that conscience forbad.
  • 8. As Nayler then wore it, was probably the meaning of this speaker. A learned Presbyterian had published, in 1654: " The loathsomeness of long hair, containing many arguments against it." See Thomas Hall in Athen. Oxon.
  • 9. This speaker probably alludes to some law, in consequence of the following reference. " Oct. 7, 1656, Resolved that the laws touching profane swearing, and the defects therein, be referred to the Committee for ale-houses and drunkenness." Journals. See infra.
  • 10. See supra, pp. 149, 150.
  • 11. See supra, p 57.
  • 12. Said, probably, in ridicule of the last speaker, if not of the whole Parliamentary debate.
  • 13. Mr. Robinson was one of the representatives for Yorkshire.
  • 14. At this time the great mart for clothiers.
  • 15. Blank in MS.
  • 16. Of which Mr. Highland was one of the representatives.
  • 17. Now justly celebrated for having maintained, against the judicial authorities of his time, the principle of Mr. Fox's Libel Bill, that juries were judges of law as well as fact. See State Trials, (1776) ii. 19–82; Dr. Towers'a, Brit. Biog. (1770) vi. 44–69.