Prynne, William

, an English lawyer, who was much distinguished by the number rather than excellence of his publications, during the reign of Charles I. was born in 1600, at Swanswick in Somersetshire, and educated at a grammar-school in the city of Bath. He became a commoner of Oriel college, Oxford, in 1616; and, after taking a bachelor of arts’ degree, in 1620, removed to | Lincoln’s-­inn, where he studied the law, and was made successively barrister, bencher, and reader. At his first coming to that inn, he was a great admirer and follower of Dr. Preston, preacher to the inn (see Preston), and published several books against what he thought the enormities of the age, and the doctrine and discipline of the church. His “Histriornastix,” which came out in 1632, giving great offence to the court, he was committed prisoner to the Tower of London and, in 1633, sentenced by the Starchamber, to be fined 5000l. to the king, expelled the university of Oxford and Lincoln’s-inn, degraded and disenabled from his profession of the law, to stand in the pillory and lose his ears, to have his book publicly burnt before his face, and to remain prisoner during lite. Prynne was certainly here treated with very unjust severity; for Whitelocke observes, that the book was licensed by archbishop Abbot’s chaplain, and was merely an invective against plays and players; but there being “a reference in the table of this book to this effect, women-actors notorious whores, relating to some women-actors mentioned in his book, as he affirmeth, it happened, that about six weeks after this the queen acted a part in a pastoral at Somerset-house; and then archbishop Laud and other prelates, whom Prynne had angered by some books of his against Arminianism, and against the jurisdiction of bishops, and by some prohibitions which he had moved, and got to the high commission-court these prelates, and their instruments, the next day after the queen had acted her pastoral, shewed Prynne’s book against plays to the king, and that place in it, women-actors notorious whores; and they informed the king and queen, that Prynne had purposely written this book against the queen and her pastoral whereas it was published six weeks before that pastoral was acted.

After the sentence upon Prynne was executed, as it was rigorously enough in May 1634, he was remitted to prison.*


The following particulars are extracted from the Journal of Sir Simonds D’Ewes. "May 8, 1634, I departed from Stowhall towards London and the next day in the afternoon came safe thither. As soon as I lighted I heard a particular newes, which much ensadded my heart, touching William Prinne, esquire, that had been an utter barrister of Lincolnes Inne, and a graduate in the universitie of Oxforde, who had lost one eare alreadie in the piltorie, or a parte of it, and was to lose a parte of the other tomorrow. He was a most learned, religious gentleman, had written manie acute, solid, and elaborate treatises, not only against the blasphemous Ana-


baptists, in the defence of God’s grace and providence, but against the vices of the clergie and the abuses of the times. He had been censured in the Starre-Chamber a few months before, for some passages in a booke hee wrote against stages plaies, called ‘ Histriomastix,’ as if he had in them let slippe some wordes tending to the queene’s dishonour, because he spoke against the unlawfulness of men wearing women’s apparel, and women men’s, Nothwithstanding this censure, which most men were affrighted at, to see that neither his academical nor barrister’s gowne could free him from the infamous losse of his eares, yet all good men generallie conceived it would have been remitted; and manie reported it was, till the sadd and fatail execution of it this Midsummer terme. I went to visit him a while after in the Fleet, and to comforte him; and found in him the rare effects of an upright heart and a good conscience, by his serenitie of spirit and chearefutl patience." Bibliotit Topog. Brit. No. XV, p, 55.

| In June following, as soon as he could procure pen, ink, and paper, he wrote a severe letter to archbishop Laud concerning his sentence in the Star-chamber, and what the archbishop in particular had declared against him; who acquainted the king with this letter, on which his majesty commanded the archbishop to refer it to Noy the attorneygeneral. Noy sent for Prynne, and demanded whether the letter was of his hand-writing or not; who desiring to see it, tore it to pieces, and threw the pieces out of the window; which prevented a farther prosecution of him. In 1635, 1636, and 1637, he published several books: particularly one entitled “News from Ipswich,” in which he reflected with great coarseness of language on the archbishop and other prelates. The mildest of his epithets were “Luciferian lord bishops, execrable traitors, devouring wolves,” &c. For this he was sentenced in the Starchamber, in June 1637, to be fined 5000l. to the king, to lose the remainder of his ears in the pillory, to be branded on both cheeks with the letters S. L. for schismatical libeller, and to be perpetually imprisoned in Caernarvoncastle. This sentence was executed in July, in Palaceyard, Westminster; but, in January following, he was removed to Mount Orgueil castle in the isle of Jersey, where he exercised his pen in writing several books. On Nov. 7, 1640, an order was issued by the House of Commons for his releasement from prison and the same month he entered with great triumph into London. In December following, he presented a petition representing what he had suffered from Laud, for which Wood tells us he had a recompense allowed him; but Prynne positively denies that he ever received a farthing. He was soon after elected a member of parliament for Newport in Cornwall, and opposed the bishops, especially the archbishop, with great | vigour, both by his speeches and writings; and was the chief manager of that prelate’s trial. In 1647, he was one of the parliamentary visitors of the university of Oxford. During his sitting in the Long Parliament, he was very zealous for the presbyterian cause; but when the independents began to gain the ascendant, shewed himself a warm opposer of them, and promoted the king’s interest. He made a long speech in the House of Commons, concerning the satisfactoriness of the king’s answers to the propositions of peace; and for that cause was, two days after, refused entrance into the House by the army. This remarkable speech he published in a quarto pamphlet, with an appendix, in which he informs us, that “being uttered with much pathetique seriousnesse, and heard with great attention, it gave such generall satisfaction to the House, that many members, formerly of a contrary opinion, professed, they were both convinced and converted; others, who were dubious in the point of satisfaction, that they were now fully confirmed most of different opinion put to a stand; and the majority of the House declared, both by their chearefull countenances and speeches (the Speaker going into the withdrawing-roome to refresh himselfe, so soon as the speech was ended) that they were abundantly satisfied by what had been thus spoken. After which the Speaker resuming the chair, this speech was seconded by many able gentlemen; and the debate continuing Saturday, and all Monday and Monday night, till about nine of the clock on Tuesday morning, and 244 Members staying quite out to the end, though the House doores were not shut up (a thing never scene nor knowne before in parliament) the question was at last put: and notwithstanding the generall’s and whole armie’s march to Westminster, and menaces against the members, in case they voted for the treaty, and did not utterly reject it as unsatisfactory, carried it in the affirmative by 140 voices (with the foure tellers) against 104, that the question should be put; and then, without any division of the House, it was resolved on the question, That the answers of the king to the propositions of both Houses are a ground for the House to proceed upon for the settlement of the peace of the kingdom.” In the course of the speech, he alludes to his services and sufferings, adding that “he had never yet received one farthing recompense from the king, or any other, ‘though I have waited,’ says he, ‘above eight years | atyour doors for justice and reparations, and neglecting my owne private calling and affaires, imployed most of my time, studyes, and expended many hundred pounds out of my purse, since my inlargement, to maintain your cause against the king, his popish and prelatical party. For all which cost and labour, I never yet demanded, nor received one farthing from the Houses, nor the least office or preferment whatsoever, though they have bestowed divers places of honour upon persons of lesse or no desert. Nor did I ever yet receive so much as your publike thanks for any publike service done you, (which every preacher usually receives for every sermon preached before you, and most others have received for the meanest services) though I have brought you off with honour in the cases of Canterbury and Macguire, when you were at a losse in both; and cleared the justnesse of your cause, when I was at the lowest ebb, to most reformed churches abroad (who received such satisfaction from my books, that they translated them into several languages), and engaged many thousands for you at home by my writings, who were formerly dubious and unsatisfied.’

From this time he became a bitter enemy to the army and their leader Cromwell, and attacked them with as much severity as he had used towards the royal party, and the church. Thus defying Cromwell in an open manner, he was, July 1, 1650, committed close prisoner to Dunster castle in Somersetshire. He then insisted strongly upon Magna Charta, and the liberty of the subject; which, though of little weight with Cromwell, seems at last to have released him, and taking again to his favourite employment, he wrote abundance of books upon religious controversies and other points.

In 1659, being considered as one of the secluded members of the House of Commons, he was restored to sit again, and became instrumental in recalling Charles II. in which he shewed such zeal, that general Monk was obliged to check his intemperate and irritating language, as being then unseasonable. In 1660 he was chosen for Bath, to sit in the healing parliament; and, after the restoration, expected to have been made one of the barons of the Exchequer, but this was not thought proper. When the king was asked what should be done with Prynne to keep him quiet, “Why,” said he, “let him amuse himself with writing against the Catholics, and in poring over the records in the | Tower.” Accordingly he was made chief keeper of his majesty’s records in the Tower, with a salary of 500l. per annum. He was again elected for Bath in 1661; and, July that year, being discontented at some proceeding in the House, he published a paper, entitled “Sundry Reasons tendered to the most honourable House, of Peers by some citizens and members of London, and other cities, boroughs, corporations, and ports, against the new-intended Bill for governing and reforming Corporations:” of which being discovered to be the author, he was obliged to beg pardon of the House, in order to escape punishment. After the restoration, he published several books, altogether, with what he had already published, amounting to forty volumes, folio and quarto, a copy of all which, bound together, he presented to the library of Lincoln’sInn: so that March mont Needham was not far from the mark, when he called him “one of the greatest paperworms, that ever crept into a closet or library.” He died at his chambers in Lincoln’s-Iun, Oct. 24, 1669, and was interred under the chapel there.

Prynne has been thought an honest man, for opposing equally Charles, the army, and Cromwell, when he thought they were betrayers of the country; and after having accurately observed, and sensibly felt, in his own person, the violation of law occasioned by each of them, he gave his most strenuous support to the legal and established government of his country, effected by the restoration of Charles II. The earl of Clarendon calls him learned in the law, as far as mere reading of books could make him learned. His works are all in English; and, “by the generality of scholars,” says Wood, “are looked upon to be rather rhapsodical and confused, than any way polite or concise: yet for antiquaries, critics, and sometimes for divines, they are useful. In most of them he shews greatindustry, but little judgment, especially in his large folios against the pope’s usurpations. He may be well entitled ‘voluminous Prynne,’ as Tostatus Abulensis was, two hundred years before his time, called ‘ voluminous Tostatus;’ for I verily believe, that, if rightly computed, he wrote a sheet for every day of his life, reckoning from the time when he came to the use of reason and the state of man.” Many of his works have lately been in request, and have been purchased at high prices. Whether they are more read than before, is not so certain; but much curious | matter might be extracted by a patient and laborious reader, which would throw light on the controversies and characters of the times. He was himself perhaps one of the most indefatigable students. He read or wrote during the whole clay, and that he might not be interrupted, had no regular meals, but took, as he wanted it, the humble refreshment of bread, cheese, and ale, which were at his elbow.

His greatest work goes under the title of “Records,” in 3 vols. folio; another is called “Parliamentary Writs,” in four parts, 4to. He likewise published “Sir Robert Cotton’s Abridgment of the Tower Records, with amendments and additions,” folio; and, “Observations on the fourth part of Coke’s Institutes,” folio. 1


Biog. Brit. Supplement. Gen. Dict. where is a fuller account of his Works. —Ath. Ox. vol. II. Mr. D’Israeli, in his “Calamities,” has a curious chapter on Prynne’s character, sufferings, and oddities. Stward’s Anecdotes. Letters by eminent Persons, 1813, 3 vols. 8vo.