‘Swil-bols and Tos-pots’: Drink Culture and Male Bonding in England, c.1560–1640

  • Alexandra Shepard


When James Hart, a Northamptonshire physician, compiled his regimen KΛINIKH, or The Diet of the Diseased, his puritan tendencies came to the fore as he turned his attention to the dangers of excessive drinking, which he chose to treat primarily as a sin rather than a disease. While admitting that his theme was more fitting ‘for a divines pulpit than a Physitians penne’, he nonetheless begged his readers’ patience, ‘by reason this vice now so reigneth’, while he gave ‘this beastly sinne a lash or two’. He proceeded to rehearse arguments against drunkenness that were commonplace in the social and moral commentary of his day, to which men and women in early modem England may well have been exposed almost as frequently as the attractions of wine, beer and ale. It was the drunken man (rather than the drunken woman) that particularly preoccupied Hart. Drunkards, in Hart’s view, inverted all that was expected of men, both morally and socially. ‘Swil-bols, tos-pots’ and their ‘pot companions’ belched out oaths, were quarrelsome, slanderous, back-biting and even murderous, ‘unclean’ and adulterous. They loved their ale more than God, cheated their neighbours, wives and children, and ignored the dictates of deference. A drunken man, claimed Hart, ‘maketh little difference betwixt superiour, inferiour, equall’, and, as well as denying their superiors the ‘reverence and respect due unto them’, drunkards ‘even often mocke[d] and deride[d] them’.


Seventeenth Century Excessive Drinking Male Friendship Early Modern Period Moral Commentary 
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© Alexandra Shepard 2005

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  • Alexandra Shepard

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