Sunday, 2 May 2010

"A Holy, Vertuous, Honourable Life..." Lucy Hutchinson on the subject of her husband.

In 1670 Mrs. Lucy Hutchinson, widow of Colonel John Hutchinson, set about the task of writing what is, in effect, an apology for her husband who had died in prison four years after the Restoration; his imprisonment being for his part in the execution of Charles I. The resultant “Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson” is more revealing about the strong willed and intelligent Lucy, than it is about her dour puritan husband to whom the book is devoted.

Lucy (born 1620) began her life in the Tower of London where her father was Sir Allen Apsley, the Lieutenant of the Tower. Unusually for a girl of her time, her parents “...applied all their cares and spar’d no cost to emproove me in my education...”. At one time she had 8 tutors, outstripping her brothers in Latin and a devoted book worm. As for music and dancing “I profitted very little in them...and as for my needle, I absolutely hated it...”. Instead she strongly applied herself to the study of “God”. However it would appear young Lucy was not entirely without a passionate nature and alludes to several youthful dalliances before meeting the great love of her life, John Hutchinson.

To read John's “vertues”, which go on for page after page of the introduction, you would think Lucy had married a saint! Number one in the endless list is his commitment to Christianity (both Lucy and John were puritans). He was just, honourable, loyal to his friends, loved his enemies, loved his wife, pious, free from avarice, ambition and pride ...and so the list goes on.

At 18 they met and it was, apparently, love at first sight although Lucy coyly passes over “all the little amorous relations” as “vanities of youth, not worthy of mention among the greater transactions of life”. They married in 1638 and in 1641 moved to the Hutchinson family home, Owthorpe in Nottinghamshire but their dreams of a peaceful family life were shattered by the onset of the English Civil War.

In August 1642 Charles I raised his standard at Nottingham (In a dreadful, portentous, thunderstorm) and summoned the nation to war. Hutchinson declared his loyalty for Parliament early in the war and by the middle of 1643 he had been given the role of Governor of Nottingham Castle, a formidable task for a young man of no military experience. Lucy moved into the run down castle lodgings where she would spend the next few years. In September of that year, the town was overrun by royalist forces and the inhabitants of the castle besieged. Lucy came into her own, attending to the wounded with her “excellent balsoms and plaisters” (they all recovered). Seeing wounded Royalists being taken down into the castle cells, she ordered the men to be brought to her and dressed their wounds. When chided by one of the fanatical Puritan officers for doing favours “to the enemies of God”, she responded “...she had done nothing but what she through was her duty in humanity to them, as creatures, not as enemies...”
Nottingham Castle

John and Lucy remained at Nottingham until 1647. On their return to Owthorpe, they found their home had been looted and damaged beyond repair. John had been elected to Parliament as the member for Nottinghamshire and , taking his family with him, went up to London to serve in the Parliament. He was named as a Commissioner to sit upon the trial of Charles I and “...upon serious debate, privately and in his addresses to God, and in conferences with conscientious, upright and unbiassed persons...”, signed the King’s death warrant. Although he was rewarded for his action by becoming a member of the Council of State, he rapidly became disenchanted with the new regime and in 1651 retired to Owthorpe where Lucy returned to the life of a seventeenth century housewife. They had 8 children, only one of whom did not survive infancy.

John Hutchinson
Happiness was not to last. In 1660 Charles II returned to England and John Hutchinson, as a regicide, was exempted from the general amnesty of the Declaration of Breda. Despite Lucy’s personal plea to the Speaker of the House of Commons and the intervention of friends and family, John was imprisoned at Sandown Castle in Kent in 1663. Lucy and the family followed him. She took lodgings in Deal and every day they would walk to the Castle to take him food. After sending Lucy back to Owthorp, he became ill and died on 11th September 1664. The grief stricken Lucy strongly suspected poison, as the two men who had been drinking with him just before his illness, also died within a short time. (Well, it was either murder or the “evil spirits” who had not been heard before but suddenly appeared to be very busy in the kitchen for the fortnight before his death!)

Lucy herself died in 1681. She wrote her book for her family and it was not published until 1806. She is a superb chronicler of the events of the time, in so far as they impacted upon her. In her acute and, at times, satirical, observations of the people around us she paints a very different picture of the “puritan”. She was appalled by the zealots “affected habitts” of cutting their hair, which was to spawn the “ of roundhead...the scornfull terme given to the whole Parliament party”. It was she writes “...ill applied to Mr. Hutchinson, who having a very fine thicksett head of haire naturally kept it cleane and handsome without any affectation, so that it was a great ornament to him...”!

All that education was not wasted and what Lucy gives us is one of the best first hand descriptions of the life of a woman of the English Civil Wars. If she comes across as rather priggish and a bit of snob, we can forgive her!

Lucy Hutchinson “Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson”
Alison Plowden “Women All on Fire”

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