1633: An “outrage to decency” as a man attends a lying-in


In late 1633 the Anglican archdeaconry in Oxford ordered an investigation into an incident in Great Tew. According to informants a male servant, Thomas Salmon, committed an “outrage to decency” by entering the bedroom of a Mrs Rymel, just six hours after she had given birth. Salmon had gained access to the room by wearing women’s clothing. Several persons were ordered before an archdeacon’s court, including the attending midwife, Francis Fletcher. She testified that:

“Thomas Salmon, a servant, did come to the labour of the said Rymel’s wife… disguised in women’s apparel… she confesseth he did come into her chamber some six hours after she had been delivered so disguised, but she sayeth at his first coming that she knew him not… and was no way privy to his coming or to his disguise.”

Testimony from other witnesses revealed that Salmon was a young servant employed by Elizabeth Fletcher, daughter in law of the midwife. According to Salmon’s own testimony, his mistress had encouraged him to cross-dress and attend Mrs Rymel’s lying-in, suggesting there would be food, drinking and “good cheer”. After outfitting him in women’s clothing, Fletcher took him to the Rymel house and told other women he was “Mrs Garrett’s maid”. Salmon admitted staying only briefly in Mrs Rymel’s bedroom – however he remained in women’s clothes for another two hours. His testimony was confirmed by Elizabeth Fletcher, who admitted helping Salmon enter the room as “a jest”. The archdeacon’s court absolved the midwife of any blame, ordered Elizabeth Fletcher to apologise and handed Salmon a strong talking-to and a formal penance.

Source: Oxford Archdeaconry Archives, 1633, fol.75, 151. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1633: Women actors are “notorious whores”, writes Prynne


William Prynne (1600-1669) was an English lawyer and writer, famous for his provocative and controversial essays. One of the most Puritan of the Puritans, Prynne was not afraid to take aim at popular conventions, culture or leaders. One of his earliest and best known works was Histriomastix, a 1633 attack on just about anything considered fun. Historiomastix strongly criticised parties, masquerade balls, country fairs, mixed dancing, feast days, wakes, sports, even hairstyles and colourful stained-glass windows. But much of this particular text is a condemnation of theatrical performances and those responsible for them. Plays, Prynne claims are “the chief delight of the Devil”, wanton and immoral displays of debauchery filled with:

“…amorous smiles and wanton gestures, those lascivious complements, those lewd adulterous kisses and embracements, those lustful dalliances, those impudent, immodest painterly passages… they are the very schools of bawdery, real whoredoms, incests, adulteries, etc.”

As to those who regularly attend the theatre, they are:

“…adulterers, adulteresses, whoremasters, whores, bawds, panders, ruffians, roarers, drunkards, prodigals, cheaters, idle, infamous, base, profane, and godless persons.”

Histriomastix was especially severe on actors and actresses. The ranks of male actors, Prynne claimed, were filled with “Sodomites” who spent their time writing love letters and “chasing the tails” of “players boys”. As for actors of the opposite gender, Prynne offered a simple but biting four-word assessment:

“Women actors, notorious whores.”

A drawing of William Prynne, right, being reacquainted with his ears
A drawing of William Prynne, right, being reacquainted with his ears

This anti-thespian tirade soon got William Prynne into trouble. One woman who quite enjoyed masked balls, mixed dancing and the occasional acting role was Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I. The queen, who appeared in a speaking role in a prominent play not long after the publication of Histriomastix, took his slurs personally. In 1634 Prynne was hauled before the star chamber, charged with seditious libel against the queen and others and found guilty. He was fined £5000, stripped of his academic degrees, given two days in the pillory and sentenced to have the tops of his ears clipped off with shears. And if that wasn’t enough, hundreds of copies of Histriomastix were rounded up and burned before Prynne’s eyes as he languished in the pillory.


Source: William Prynne, Histriomastix, London, 1633. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.