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English Constables, Peasants and Clodhoppers

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

In the 17th century people living on the fringe of the Celtic fringe were often thought of as being barbarians or savages. If the lower, impoverished sort were in England they would be called clowns or clodhoppers.

Among the lower sort, the question of behaving well and appropriately had become a matter of personal judgment. If most stuck by the rules, others more radical in temperament deliberately broke them.

Eighty Five percent of people living in England at the time were peasants. The word peasant was connected to ignorance, stupidity and firmly associated with labouring classes particularly in the rural labour force. Shakespeare used the word peasant in a detrimental sense 29 times in his plays usually coupled with words such as servant, dull, vulgar, worthless, base, slave, rogue and low.

Throwing down money on the table insisting on paying for the next round was common practice as was belching, urinating against the nearest wall and neglecting to wash the hands afterwards.

If one resided in rural areas and lived by raising cattle or sheep then the people were deemed to be barbarous, uncivil and violent.

Civil behaviour was governed by social hierarchies and the uncivilised and even barbarous English lower sorts were frequently depicted as rude and savage. Violence was also central to their culture and they remained indifferent and often revelled in it.

In church the clergy preached against immoralities and read the statutes prohibiting blasphemy, swearing and cursing, perjury, drunkenness, and profanations of the Lord's Day. It was believed by some that cursing, profane swearing and blaspheming was the greatest threat to England's relationship' with the Almighty.

In the 17th century the responsibility for law and order fell on the community through its constables; though actually only a proportion of the community were eligible for this post. The parish constable was a law enforcement officer. He was expected to monitor trading standards and pubs, catch rats, restrain loose animals, light signal beacons, provide local lodging and transport for the military, perform building control, attend inquests, and collect the parish rates. They were also responsible for collecting national taxes, within their area.

Mostly unpaid and part-time, these men were usually chosen by their parish to attend the magistrate's court where they were sworn in. If the prospective constable didn’t arrive then the people of the parish world be required to pay damages.

Constables were expected to implement the Vagabonds and Beggars Act 1494, under which vagabonds and beggars were to be set in the stocks for three days, and then whipped. The constable also had general responsibility for the local stocks, as well as for the pillory, and was expected to punish poachers, drunks, hedge-damagers, prostitutes, church-avoiders, and fathers of bastards.

In many cases the constables had criminal records themselves and were often involved in the arrest of others who had committed similar crimes. Most often these men were of the ignorant, meaner sort the Clowns and Clodhoppers.

Constables often used their appointed position to pursue quarrels, settle scores and favour friends. Other times they were ridiculed by villagers who refused to pay taxes.

If a murder or robbery had been committed, or a criminal had escaped, the Constable was responsible for recruiting a search party. The pay for chasing a criminal was anything from one penny to one shilling, depending on the perceived danger. The constable could call upon the villagers or townspeople for help, and anyone who refused to give chase or lend his horse to the party, was fined. The chases were known as Hue and Cry.

The constable was supposed to keep an eye on the moral compass of the neighbourhood. During the Interregnum, with Cromwell in charge, staunch attacks on vice were demanded. Alehouses were restricted, various sports were banned, and the constable’s duties were to enforce all these new rules – an unenviable task.

Paul Rushworth-Brown is the author of three novels:

Skulduggery - The bleak Pennine moors of Yorkshire; a beautiful, harsh place, close to the sky, rugged and rough, no boundaries except the horizon, which in places, went on forever. Green pastures and wayward hills, the colours of ochre, brown and pink in the Spring. Green squares divided the land on one side of the lane, and on the other; sheep with thick wool and dark snouts dotted the hills and dales. The story, set on the Moors of West Yorkshire, follows wee Thomas and his family shortly after losing his father to consumption. Times were tough in 1603 and there were shenanigans and skulduggery committed by locals and outsiders alike. Queen Bess has died, and King James sits on the throne of England and Scotland. Thomas Rushworth is now the man of the house being the older of two boys. He is set to wed Agnes in an arranged marriage, but a true love story develops between them.

"A glorious read of a period well versed and presented with accuracy and authentic telling by an author who is as much engrossed in his prose as the reader he shares with...masterful and thoroughly enjoyable...5 stars." Adrian, Indibook reviewer.

''Skulduggery, a different treat for lovers of historical fiction, an exciting and mysterious romp through the moors of 17th century Yorkshire, more specifically Haworth and Keighley. The story is a well-painted image of how 'copyholders' or peasants would have lived at this time but that is only the backdrop to a suspenseful whodunit with romantic tones. Modern writers usually don't know what it was like to live in the past but Rushworth-Brown has done this with great skill in this accomplished, atmospheric and thoughtful novel."... Jen Summers

Red Winter Journey- Come on this historic journey, which twists, turns and surprises until the very end. If you like history, adventure and intrigue with a dash of spirited love, then you will be engrossed by this tale of a peasant family unexpectedly getting caught up in the ravages of the English Civil War in 1642.

Reviewed in Australia on 17 October 2022

Paul Rushworth-Brown’s Red Winter Journey is the story of a family surviving in the time of the English Civil War; however, the story goes much deeper than that and focuses on the love of a father for his son and his plight to rescue him. I usually do not like tales of war, but Rushworth-Brown has captured the essence of humanity with love, romance, fear and mystery in this engaging family saga. The twists and turns really threw me and, the ending? Mmmmm interesting.

Dream of Courage- Soon to be released!

The much-anticipated story of the Rushworth family and their journey out of poverty. King Charles has been executed and England becomes a Republic under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell. Highwaymen, thief-takers, pirates and wool broggers tell the story in this mysterious and bone-chilling historical thriller.

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