Paper monuments: England’s remembrancer

This is a ‘monument’ made out of words. A pyramid constructed from paper and print, it commemorates the ‘miraculous’ mercies accorded to England on the eve of the Civil War which broke out between King Charles I and his Parliament in 1642. It is the title-page of a tract by John Vicars, schoolmaster of Christ’s Hospital, devout Presbyterian, and self-appointed chronicler of the military conflicts that dominated the rest of the decade. A chronicle of the providential deliverances of the nation from popery and tyranny, it must be situated in the context of a long tradition of Protestant providential historiography that recounted celebrated episodes of divine intervention such as the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605. Reflecting his sense that he was a witness to history in the making, Vicars’ ‘remembrancer’ celebrates England’s rescue from ecclesiastical and political developments that many worried were a prelude to the destruction of the Reformation itself. This pious two-dimensional memorial to the Almighty is compatible with Calvinism’s chronic anxiety that visual images might be a stimulus to the sin of idolatry. Protestantism defended the use of the pictorial arts as an aid to remembering the past. AW

John Vicars, God in the mount, or Englands remembrancer. Being a panegyrick pyramides, erected to the everlasting high honour of England’s God in the most gratefull commemoration of all the miraculous Parliamentarie mercies wherein God hath been admirably seen in the mount of deliverance, in the extreme depth of Englands designed destruction in her years of jubilee 1641 and 1642 (London: T. Paine, and M. Simmons for John Rothwell and Thomas Underhill, 1642).

CUL: Bb*.10.43(E)

Further Reading

David Cressy, Bonfires and Bells: National Memory and the Protestant Calendar in Elizabethan and Stuart England (London, 1993).

David Cressy, ‘Remembrancers of the Revolution: Histories and Historiographies of the 1640s’, in Paulina Kewes (ed.), The Uses of History in Early Modern England, special issue of Huntington Library Quarterly, 68 (2005), 257-68.

William Dyrness, Reformed Theology and Visual Culture: The Protestant Imagination from Calvin to Edwards (Cambridge, 2004).

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