Signs of Sin Everywhere: Alehouses, Alchohol, Drugs, and More

  • Jerome Friedman


No one was happy about the apparent social anarchy evident in London and elsewhere. Many Englishmen believed the collapse of traditional institutions to be divine punishment for Charles’s death. Advocates of political change, of course, viewed the current social unrest as God’s punishment for England’s toleration of popery and Catholicism. But even supporters of the revolution feared that the fragmenting of organized religion constituted a dangerous slide into anarchy. The seemingly sudden appearance of sects and religious charlatans provided yet another sign that society was unable to control its dangerous fringe elements and would soon prove impotent to impose even the simplest standards of law and order. The increasing religious and political radicalization of officers in the army was nothing short of alarming, especially since the government depended upon the army for its own stability. Many people also believed that there was a decline in social ethics and that personal morality was going unchecked. There was an increase in crime, or so people believed; there was in increase in prostitution, or so people believed; there was an increase in alcoholism, or so people believed. There were vagrants and masterless men and women everywhere and no signs that society could heal itself anywhere. In short, the process of disintegration, which had already affected the dismantling of state and church, was now visible in society at large. There were, in other words, signs of sin everywhere. Only a further revolution in morality, or, alternately, a return to monarchy, could rectify England’s woes.


Public Moral Gastric Distress Moral Reform Revolutionary Government Simple Standard 
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  1. 1.
    For the Puritan ethic and seventeenth-century sexual morality, see: Jean Mather, “The Moral Code of the English Civil War and Interregnum,” The Historian 12 (1985): 92–95; Keith Thomas, “The Puritans and Adultery: The Act of 1650 Reconsidered,” in Donald Pennington and Keith Thomas, eds., Puritans and Revolutionaries (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), pp. 257–82; Cynthia B. Herrup, “Law and Morality in Seventeenth-Century England,” Past and Present, no. 106, (1985) 102–23; William E. Monter, Enforcing Morality in Early Modern Europe (London: Variorum, 1987). The following will provide background material: F. G. Emmison, Elizabethan Life and Morals and the Church Courts (Chelmsford: Essex County Council, 1963); Martin Ingram, Church Courts, Sex, and Marriage in England, 1570–1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988). For subquent developments see Dudley W. R. Bahlman, The Moral Revolution of 1688 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    For a good discussion of how the single parish attempted to cope with sin and immorality, see John Addy, Sin and Society in the Seventeenth Century (London: Routledge, 1989); Ronald A. Marchant, Puritans and the Church Courts in the Diocese of York, 1560–1640 (London: Longmans, 1960).Google Scholar
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  4. 6.
    Peter Clark, “The Alehouse and the Alternative Society,” in Donald Pennington and Keith Thomas, eds., Puritans and Revolutionaries, p. 55. This is an extremely readable article. Also see Clark, The English Alehouse: A Social History (London: Longman, 1983) for a more complete treatment. Also, H. A. Monckton, A History of the English Public House (London: Bodley Head, 1969); Monckton, A History of English Ale and Beer (London: Bodley Head, 1966); H. G. Husdon, Social Regulation in England Under James I and Charles I: Drink and Tobacco (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1933); R. F. Bretherton, “Country Inns and Alehouses,” in Reginald V. Lennard, ed., Englishmen at Rest and Play (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1931). And for something more humorous, see Douglas Sutherland, Raise Your Glasses: A Light Hearted History of Drinking (London: MacDonald, 1969).Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Clark, “The Alehouse and the Alternative Society,” p. 59. For an alternate view, see Tessa Watt, Cheap Print and Popular Piety, 1550–1640 (Cambridge: University Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    Concerning church-ales, see T. G. Barnes, “County Politics and a Puritan Cause Celebre: Sommerset Church-ales, 1633,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th ser., 9 (1959): 108–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 15.
    These statistics are taken from Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1971), p. 20. For more on this subject the reader might consult the following: C. M. MacInnes, The Early English Tobacco Trade (London: K. Paul, Trench and Trubner, 1926); A. Rive, “The Consumption of Tobacco Since 1600,” Economic History 1 (1926); J. E. Brooks, The Mighty Leaf: Tobacco Through the Centuries (Boston: Little Brown, 1952); H. G. Hudson, Social Regulations In England.Google Scholar
  8. 16.
    Some readers may believe Harry the Hangman wrote in jest since few people now find as many uses for human excrement. Those readers might wish to see John G. Burke, Scatological Rites of All Nations (1891; reprinted New York: Johnson Reprint, 1968), especially pp. 277–338 for more on these curious practices.Google Scholar
  9. 17.
    Samuel Pepys, The Diary of Samuel Pepys, ed. Robert Latham and William Mathews, 9 vols. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970–1983), vol. 5, p. 78.Google Scholar

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© Jerome Friedman 1993

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  • Jerome Friedman

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