Rushworth, John

, an English gentleman, author of the “Historical Collections,” was of an ancient family, and born in Northumberland about 1607. He was for a short time a student in the university of Oxford; but left it without being matriculated, and entered himself of Lincoln’s Inn, where he became a barrister. But, his inclination leading him more to state-affairs than the comfrion law, he began early to take down in short-hand, speeches and passages at conferences in parliament, and from the king’s own mouth what he spake to both houses; and contrived to be on all occasions an eye and ear witness of the most important public transactions. He also personally attended and observed all occurrences of moment, during eleven years interval of parliament from 1630 to 1640, in the star-chamber, court of honour, and exchequer-chamber, when the judges met there upon extraordinary cases; and at the council-table, when great causes were tried before the king and council. He also frequently travelled in pursuit of information to considerable distances, and was present, during the civil war, at the camp at Berwick, at the fight at Newborn, at the treaty of Rippon, and at the great council at York.

In 1640 he was chosen an assistant to Henry Elsynge, esq. clerk of the house of commons; and this furnished him with another desirable opportunity of gratifying his curiosity, by "becoming acquainted with the debates in the house, and being privy to their proceedings. The house likewise reposed such confidence in him that they entrusted him with their weightiest affairs; particularly in | conveying messages and addresses to the king while at York; between which place and London he is said to have rode frequently in twenty-four hours. For these services he was rewarded with presents, and recommended to a place in the excise, which, however, it does not appear that he ever received. In 1643 he took the covenant; and when sir Thomas Fairfax, who was his near relation, was appointed general of the parliament forces, he was made his secretary, in which office he did great services to his master, and has been commended for not making a large fortune, as he safely might, in this office. During the siege of Oxford in 1646 he was very serviceable to Fairfax, and while the treaty of surrender was pending, acted as courier between the army and the government at London. In 1649, being in Fairfax’s suite at Oxford, he was created M. A. as a member of Queen’s college, and at the same time was made one of the delegates to take into consideration the affairs depending between the citizens of Oxford and the members of that university. Upon Fairfax’s laying down his commission of general, Rushworth went and resided for some time in Lincoln’s Inn, and, being in much esteem with the prevailing powers, was appointed one of the committee, in Jan. 1651-2, to consult about the reformation of the common law. In 1658 he was chosen one of the burgesses for Berwick-uponTweed, to serve in the protector Richard’s parliament; and was again chosen for the same place in what was called the healing parliament, which met April 25, 1660.

After the Restoration he presented to the king several of the privy-council’s books, which he had preserved frpm ruin during the late distractions; but does not appear to have received any other reward than thanks, which was given him by the clerk of the council in his majesty’s name. Sir Orlando Bridgman, lord-keeper of the great seal, appointed him his secretary in 1677, atid continued him in that office as long as he kept the seals. In 1678 he was a third time elected burgess for Berwick, as he was in the succeeding parliament in 1679, and afterwards for the Oxford parliament. Upon the dissolution of this, he lived in the utmost retirement and obscurity in Westminster. He had many opportunities of enriching himself, at least of obtaining a comfortable subsistence; but, either through carelessness or extravagance, he never became master of any considerable possessions. He had a small annual | pension of 8l. or lOl. from the government of Massachusetts Bay, for procuring them papers from the public offices, but this was withdrawn when he became incapable of supplying them. At length, being arrested for debt, he was committed to the King’s Bench prison in Southwark, where he dragged on the last six years of his life in a miserable condition, having greatly lost the use of his understanding and memory, partly by age, and partly by drinking strong liquors to keep up his spirits. There he died May 12, 1690, about eighty-three years of age, and was buried behind the pulpit in St. George’s church, Southwark. He had several daughters, one of whom was married to sir Francis Vane.

His “Historical Collections of private passages in State, weighty matters in Law, and remarkable proceedings in Parliament/‘ were published at different times, in folio. The first part, from 1618 to 1629, was published in 1659. The copy had been presented to Oliver Cromwell when he was protector; but he, having no leisure to peruse it, recommended it to Whitelock, who running it over made some alterations and additions. The second part appeared in 1680; the third in 1692; and the fourth and last, which extends to 1648, in 1701. All the seven volumes were reprinted together in 1721, with the trial of the earl of Strafford, published in 1680, which makes the whole eight volumes. This work has been highly extolled by some, and as much condemned by others. Alt who have been averse to Charles I. and his measures, have highly extolled it; all who have been favourers of that king and his cause, have represented it as extremely partial, and discredited it as much as possible. But the person who professedly set himself to oppose it, and to ruin its credit, was Dr. John Nalson, of Cambridge, who published, by the special command of Charles II.” An impartial collection of the great affairs of State, from the beginning of the Scotch rebellion in 1639 to the murder of king Charles I. wherein the first occasions and whole series of the late troubles in England, Scotland, and Ireland, are faithfully represented. Taken from authentic records, and methodically digested.“The title promises to bring the history down to the murder of Charles I. but Nalson lived only to put out two vols. in folio, 1682 and 1683, which bring it no lower than Jan. 1641-2. He professes, in the introduction to this work, to make it appear that” Mr. | Rushvvorth hath concealed truth, endeavoured to vindicate the prevailing detractions of the late times, as well as their barbarous actions, and, with a kind of a rebound, to libel the government at second-hand:“and so far it is certain, that his aim and design was to decry the conduct of the court, and to favour the cause of the parliament; for which reason it is easy to conceive that he would be more forward to admit into his collections what made for, than against that purpose. The authors of the” Parliamentary Chronicle" have also proved that Rushworth suppressed much which an impartial collector would have inserted, nor can we suppose that he could be very impartial in the early part of the work, which was submitted to Cromwell or his adherents. His Collections, however, cannot be without great use, if it be only to present us with one side of the question.

It is said that Rushworth supplied himself plentifully from the grand collection of pamphlets made by Tomlinson the bookseller, which commenced from the latter end of 1640, and was carried down to the Restoration. They were uniformly bound in upwards of two thousand volumes of different sizes, and consisted of about thirty thousand tracts. Tomlinson is said to have refused four thousand pounds for this collection. William Prynne had by far the greatest hand in these pamphlets, having written above 160 of them himself. Near an hundred were written by and concerning John Lilburne. The catalogue, which was taken by Marmaduke Foster, the auctioneer, consists of tsvelve folio volumes. So scarce were many of these tracts, even at their first publication, that king Charles I. is reported to have given ten pounds for only reading one of them over, which he could no where else procure, at the owner’s house in St. Paul’s Church-yard. The author from whom we have borrowed these particulars, says that Mr. Rushworth “did, most plentifully, supply himself from these fountains, how abundantly soever he represents the facts therein corrupted with fiction; how fondly soever he seems to magnify his own sagacity, in the distinguishment of one from the other; and how suspiciously soever he discountenances all farther examination into them, than that wherewith he hath been pleased to present us; where he expresses himself thus slightingly of these very authorities, which have yet so liberally contributed to such of the massy tomes, passing under his name, whereof he was the real | compiler. ‘Posterity,’ says he (i. e. Rushworth), should know, that some durst write the truth, whilst other men’s fancies were more busy than their hands; forging relations; building, and battering castles in the air; publishing speeches, as spoken in parliament, which were never spoken there; printing declarations, which were never passed; relating battles which were never fought; and victories which were never obtained; dispersing letters which were never writ by the authors; together with many such contrivances to abet a party or interest Pudet h<ec opprobria. Such practices, and the experience I had thereof, and the impossibility for any man, in after-ages, to ground a true history, by relying on the printed pamphlets of our days which passed the press while it was without controul, obliged me to all the pains and charge I have been at for many years together, to make a great collection; and, whilst such things were fresh in memory, to separate truth from falsehood, things real from things fictitious, or imaginary.’1


Ath. Ox. vol. II. Biog. Brit. Dissertation upon Pamphlets in —Moreri. Phoenix Britannicus, p. 557. Letter in Mss. Oarl. 7524. in Maty’s Reviews vol. III. p. 249.