Propaganda, printing and image in the English revolution


imageThe image to the left was published by the house of Jane and Andrew Coe, based in the 1640s outside the city walls in Cripplegate, and is reproduced here with grateful thanks to the British Library Board. The Coes were to publish three pamphlets, in 1644, 1648 and 1651 which employed this image (the final example included removing the horse), and its graphic nature and the relative absence of images to represent scenes of violence during the civil wars, meant that it was also used by picture libraries. In the late twentieth century, a number of picture libraries provided this images to the publishers of schools' text books aimed at Key Stage 3 in which 11-12 year olds study the civil war period.

I am grateful to the Mary Evans Picture Library and to Fotomas Index UK for their help in researching the use and reuse of images.

The first time the image was used by the Coes, in 1644, it depicted a group of French troopers, supposedly in the south-west of England, committing a gang rape on a woman - seen being threatened in the image - who had been delivered of the child, three days earlier. Four years later, in the second civil war, the image was reused to relay the fears of the people of Leicestershire at the news that Henry Marten and a renegade detachment of Levellers were advancing towards the town, with revolutionary intent. Early in 1651, at the height of the so-called anti-Ranter debate about licentious religious radicalism and the breakdown of social mores, the image was used again, the venue changed to York, designed to show the violent actions of Ranter men whose wives would not turn Ranter. Removing the image from its historical contexts, however, necessitates reductionism on the part of picture libraries, which, presenting the image in isolation, need to attach classifiying terms to it to enable them to distribute it for wider use. Thus, in the schools' textbooks, the image becomes a piece of parliamentaraian propaganda, designed to show the violence and crudity of the royalists, because the horse, clothes and long hair of the chief protagonist seem, in a conflict reduced to roundheads and cavaliers, to be depicting the latter.

Click here for Coe database


Jane and Andrew Coes' press does not feature much in the increasing number of studies on printing, publishing and the book in early-modern Britain, but it was, in fact, a very busy press indeed. It specialised in newsbooks, following a moderate parliamentarian line, generally anti-Catholic in tone and content and more often than was usually the case in cheaply produced and printed pamphlets came with an accompanying woodcut illustration. A database of the pamphlets and newsbooks known to have been printed or published by the Coe press can be accessed in a separate window - see right.