Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Roger Morrice- 17th century diarist of Meerbrook

The diary of Alistair Campbell has been the subject of a great deal of much comment in the media in the last week. The newspapers, both broadsheet and tabloid expended a great deal of ink in covering the publication of the spin master at the heart of New Labour and the man who had the ear of the most senior politicians of our time has been interviewed by both the new and old media. Campbell’s diary from the reviews I have read would appear to be self serving that uncritically endorse the actions of the powerful while despising the powerless and perhaps add another mark to the general lack of esteem in which politicians are held. Certainly they portray the leaders of today to be vacuous, foul mouthed and lacking in insight

However the use of the diary as a vehicle for self-justification and name checking is a new phenomenon. In the golden age of the diarist in the 17th century the purpose of the diary was complete different. Samuel Pepys diary, perhaps the most famous English diarist was written in code which was only cracked centuries after his death and it is the diary of a near contemporary of Pepys a person called Roger Morrice who was born in the Staffordshire Moorlands which was also partly written in code has excited interest in academic circles.

Roger Morrice was born in 1628 in Meerbrook and he returned to die in the village in 1702. Morrice was a puritan minister who was the minister at one time at a parish in Duffield in Derbyshire before moving to London and like Campbell became a political journalist who became extremely well placed and privy to some of the main political stories of his time. Morrice wrote down many of his entries in a form of shorthand into a number of “entiring” books which were bought by a religious library in the 18th century and for centuries simply gathered dust. The Entiring Books comprise of a million words and cover the period 1677 to 1691 one of the most turbulent periods of English History. He would have reached his early adulthood during the Civil War where religious intolerance was common and hatred especially of Catholics was frequently expressed. It was a time that the most feared country was Catholic France, which in the later 17th century was at the peak of its power

 Morrice was an extreme protestant and unlike the more relaxed and hedonistic Pepys took a firm moral view of his times. He described Tunbridge Wells then a very fashionable town popular with royalty and the aristocracy as the most debauched town in the country. With a great deal of approval he reports the reaction of the Moroccan ambassador at the court of Charles II when he was urged to “ receive a whore into his bed”

“ He said to our great rebuke and shame ‘ My religion forbids whores, does not yours?” When I come home I shall be counted a liar in my own country, for my master will not believe me that so many ladies came open faced with bare breasts to see me”

During the late 17th century the River Thames often froze and fairs were held on the ice. In 1684 the ice was able to bear coaches, which travelled on the ice and bull baiting, and other activities even a bonfire were held on the surface of the river. Morrice did not approve

“ The concourse and all manner of debauchery upon the Thames continued on the Thames upon the Lord’s Day and Monday the 4th and 5th of this instant”.

The 1680s saw three different monarchs on the throne and it was a time of the greatest suspicion and plotting as rival groups sought to establish power over other factions at court. Morrice wrote in code because he wished to protect his source at the centre of power believed by modern day researchers to have been a member of the cabinet. A team from Cambridge University have transcribed the diaries and have produced a number of volumes, which were published in 2005

The diary describes in great depth the events that lead to the overthrow of James II and the successful revolt that lead to William III assuming power in 1688. Morrice was ferociously anti Catholic and was appalled by the birth of a son to Catholic James in June 1688

“ The child was a large full child in the head and the upper parts but not suitably proportioned in the lower parts,” wrote Morrice.

Six months later James was deposed in perhaps the most successful coup d’etat ever seen in British History and in the last occasion when England was invaded by a foreign power. Dutch troops marched on London in December as James fled the country.

James II grandson Charles Edward Stuart would over 50 years later return and play a part in the history of the Moorlands by leading the Highland Army through the area during December 1745

Morrice wrote that women” shook the soldiers by the hand as they came by and cried “ Welcome, welcome, God bless you came to redeem our religion, laws liberties and lives”

He returned to North Staffordshire before his death in 1702 and left £100 to the church in Meerbrook for the purchase of bibles and the education of 8 poor children in Latin. He also left £20 to a Josiah Hargreaves to run a Presbyterian Meeting House in Westwood after his death. Hargreaves was still at Westwood in 1716.

Morrice diary describes the politics of over 300 years ago. It is questionable whether the Campbell diaries will have the same longevity and they are certainly written in a far less elegant style and Morrice words carry with them a certain resonance that should have serves as a warning to the politicians and placemen like Campbell who played such a pivotal role in involving us in Iraqi war.

“For men of power are so void of sense and reason, their cares are not open with patience to hear men of little passion greater sense and consideration”