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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 July 2011

Christ's College, Cambridge
Christ's College, Cambridge CB2


The article considers the rapid increase in the English market for alcohol and tobacco in the 1620s and the set of concurrent influences shaping their consumption. It suggests that intoxicants were not merely a source of solace for ‘the poor’ or the lubricant of traditional community, as historians often imply. Rather, the growth in the market for beer, wine, and tobacco was driven by those affluent social groups regarded as the legitimate governors of the English commonwealth. For men of a certain disposition and means, the consumption of intoxicants became a legitimate – indeed valorized and artful – aspect of their social identity: an identity encapsulated by the Renaissance concept of ‘wit’. These new styles of drinking were also implicated in the proliferation (in theory and practice) of ‘societies’ and ‘companies’, by which contemporaries meant voluntary and purposeful association. These arguments are made by unpacking the economic, social, and cultural contexts informing the humorous dialogue Wine, beere, ale and tobacco. Contending for superiority. What follows demonstrates that the ostensibly frivolous subject of male drinking casts new light on the nature of early modern social change, in particular the nature of the ‘civilizing process’.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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This article was written with the support of an Economic and Social Research Council Research Fellowship. Earlier versions were given at Buckfast Abbey, University of Cambridge, Binghampton University, Lincoln College, Oxford, and Utrecht. I'd like to thank the editors and anonymous readers of The Historical Journal for their comments.


1 Anonymous, Wine, beere, ale, and tobacco. Contending for superiority. A dialogue (1630), sig. D4. The dialogue was first published as Wine, beere, and ale, together by the eares. A dialogue, vvritten first in Dutch by Gallobelgicus, and faithfully translated out of the originall copie, by Mercurius Britannicus, for the benefite of his nation (1629). Citations throughout are from the 1630 edition.

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3 Contending, sigs. Dv–Dr.

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8 Keith Thomas, ‘The place of laughter in Tudor and Stuart England’, Times Literary Supplement, 2 Jan. 1977, pp. 79, 81; Peter Burke, ‘A civil tongue: language and politeness in early modern Europe’, in Peter Burke, Paul Harrison and Paul Slack, eds., Civil histories (Oxford, 2000), p. 39.

9 Martin Ingram, ‘Reformation of manners in early modern England’, in Adam Fox, Paul Griffiths, and Steve Hindle, eds., The experience of authority in early modern England (Basingstoke, 1994), pp. 51–5.

10 Wrightson, ‘Alehouses’, pp. 11, 17, 20–1.

11 Shepard, Alexandra, Meanings of manhood in early modern England (Oxford, 2003)Google Scholar.

12 Wrightson, English society, p. 227.

13 Shepard, Meanings of manhood, pp. 252–3.

14 Courtwright, David, Forces of habit: drugs and the making of the modern world (Harvard, MA, 2001), pp. 2Google Scholar, 59; Porter, Roy, London: a social history (London, 1994), p. 181Google Scholar.

15 Jordan Goodman, ‘Excitantia: or, how Enlightenment Europe took to soft drugs’ in Jordan Goodman, Paul E. Lovejoy, and Andrew Sherratt, eds., Consuming habits: drugs in history and anthropology (London, 1996), pp. 126–47; Schivelbusch, Wolfgang, Tastes of paradise: a social history of spices, stimulants, and intoxicants (New York, NY, 1992), pp. 148–9Google Scholar.

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17 Vries, Jan De, The industrious revolution: consumer behaviour and the household economy, 1650 to the present (Cambridge, 2008), pp. 19, 10CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

18 Goodman, ‘Excitantia’.

19 Edward Phillips, The new world of words, 5th edn (1700). See also Thomas Elyot, The dictionary of syr Thomas Eliot knight (1538); Robert Cawdrey, A table alphabeticall (1604); Samuel Johnson, A dictionary of the English language, i (1773).

20 Paul Rycaut, The present state of the Ottoman Empire (1668), p. 114.

21 Louise Hill Curth and Tanya M. Cassidy, ‘“Health, strength and happiness”: medical constructions of wine and beer in early modern England’, in Adam Smyth, ed., A pleasinge sinne: drink and conviviality in seventeenth-century England (Cambridge, 2004), pp. 143–4. The first reference to ‘intoxicant’ in the Oxford English Dictionary is 1868.

22 William Vaughan, Naturall and artificial directions for health (1600), pp. 10–11, 7, 26.

23 Hobbes, Thomas, Leviathan, ed. Tuck, Richard (Cambridge, 1991; first pub. 1651), p. 55Google Scholar.

24 William Shakespeare, Henry V, in Stephen Greenblatt et al, Norton Shakespeare (New York, NY, 1997), iv.7 (my italics).

25 Andrew Sherratt, ‘Alcohol and its alternatives: symbol and substance in pre-industrial cultures’ in Goodman, Lovejoy, and Sherratt, eds., Consuming habits, p. 32.

26 This is the premise, for example, of Schivelbusch's excellent Tastes of paradise.

27 Goodman, Jordan, Tobacco in history (London, 1993), pp. 44–5Google Scholar. The key publicist was Nicholas Monardes, Joyfull newes out of the newe founde worlde, trans. John Frampton (1577). James I, A counterblaste to tobacco (1604); J[oseph] H[all], Work for chimney-sweepers, or, A warning for tobaccanists (1601); Edmund Gardner, The triall of tabacco (1610); William Barclay, Nepenthes, or the vertues of tabacco (Edinburgh, 1614); John Deacon, Tabacco tortured (1614); Tobias Venner, A briefe and accurate treatise, concerning the taking of the fume of tobacco (1621); Barnabe Riche, The Irish hubbub, or, the English hue and crie (1617).

28 Goodman, Tobacco, pp. 59–60; Hughes, Learning to smoke, pp. 36–8.

29 Notable stage representations include Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker, The roaring girle (1611); Ben Jonson, Bartholomew Fayre (1614; published 1631). See Pollard, Tanya, Drugs and theatre in early modern England (Oxford, 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

30 Keith Wrightson, Earthly necessities: economic lives in early modern Britain (2000), pp. 180, 238; Muldrew, Craig, The economy of obligation (Basingstoke, 1998), pp. 54–5CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

31 Willan, T. S., The inland trade (Manchester, 1976), pp. 82–3Google Scholar; Middleton and Dekker, The roaring girle, i.2.48; West Yorkshire Archive Service (Leeds Sheepscar), NH 2277/6/2.

32 Hanford, James Holly, ‘Wine, beere, ale and tobacco: a seventeenth-century interlude’, Studies in Philology, 12 (1915), p. 7Google Scholar.

33 Clark, Peter, The English alehouse: a social history, 1200–1830 (Harlow, 1983), pp. 20–4Google Scholar; Mathias, Peter, The brewing industry in England 1700–1830 (Cambridge, 1959), p. xviiGoogle Scholar.

34 Wrightson, ‘Alehouses’, pp. 1–11; Bennett, Judith M., Ale, beer, and brewsters in England: women's work in a changing world, 1300–1600 (Oxford, 1996)Google Scholar; idem, Conviviality and charity in medieval and early modern England’, Past and Present, 134 (1992), pp. 1941CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Peter Clark, ‘The alehouse and alternative society’, in Donald Pennington and Keith Thomas, eds., Puritans and revolutionaries (Oxford, 1978), pp. 53–7.

35 Unger, Richard W., Beer in the middle ages and the Renaissance (Philadelphia, PA, 2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; idem, Technical change in the brewing industry in Germany, the Low Countries, and England in the late middle ages’, Journal of European Economic History, 21 (1992), pp. 286–92Google Scholar; Bennett, Ale, beer, pp. 77–97.

36 Unger, Beer, pp. 137–40; Levine, David and Wrightson, Keith, The making of an industrial society: Whickham, 1560–1765 (Oxford, 1991), pp. 110CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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38 Luu, Lien Bich, Immigrants and the industries of London, 1500–1700 (Aldershot, 2005), pp. 259–62Google Scholar, 267.

39 Wrigley, E. A. and Schofield, R. S., The population history of England: a reconstruction (London, 1981), p. 528Google Scholar.

40 Luu, Immigrants, p. 275.

41 Clark, English alehouse, pp. 47–51, 59.

42 Luu, Immigrants, p. 277.

43 Brennan, Thomas, Burgundy to Champagne: the wine trade in early modern France (Baltimore, MD, 1997), pp. 2Google Scholar, 3–4.

44 W. B. Stephens, ‘English wine imports c. 1603–1640, with special reference to the Devon ports’, in Todd Gray et al., Tudor and Stuart Devon (Exeter, 1992), p. 141.

45 Calculated from Stephens, ‘English wine imports’, and Wrigley and Schofield, Population history, p. 528.

46 Phil Withington, ‘Intoxicants and the early modern city’, in Steve Hindle, Alexandra Shepard and John Walter, eds., Remaking English society: social change and social relations in early modern England (Woodbridge, forthcoming).

47 Calculated from Muldrew, Economy of obligation, and Wrigley and Schofield, Population history, p. 528. For the development of the tobacco retail trade see Withington, ‘Intoxicants and the early modern city’.

48 Wrightson, English society, pp. 169–70; idem, ‘Alehouses’, pp. 15–16.

49 Borthwick Institute of Historical Research (BI), CPG 2840, 1595.

50 BI, CPH 2161, 1637.

51 BI, CPH 1833, 1630, CPH 2265, 1638.

52 BI, CPH 2074, 1635.

53 Withington, ‘Intoxicants and the early modern city’.

54 Crawford, Anne, A history of the Vintners’ Company (London, 1977), pp. 116–27Google Scholar; Withington, Phil, ‘Public discourse, corporate citizenship and state formation in early modern England’, American Historical Review, 112 (2007), pp. 1016–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Cogswell, Thomas, ‘“In the power of the state”: Mr Anys's project and the tobacco colonies, 1626–1628’, English Historical Review, 123 (2008), pp. 3564CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Beresford, M. W., Time and place: collected essays (London, 1984), pp. 227–42Google Scholar.

55 Cogswell, ‘“In the power”’, pp. 62–3; Beresford, Time and place, p. 241.

56 O'Brien, Patrick K., ‘The political economy of British taxation, 1660–1815’, Economic History Review, 41 (1988), p. 11CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

57 John Chartres, ‘No English calvados? English distillers and the cider industry in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’, in John Chartres and David Hey, eds., English rural society, 1500–1800 (Cambridge, 1990), p. 324.

58 Contending, sig. C2.

59 Thomas Smith, De republica Anglorum, edited and introduced by Mary Dewar (Cambridge, 1982; first published 1583), pp. 64–77, 157–62; Harrison, William, The description of England, ed. Edelen, Georges (2nd edn,Ithaca, NY, 1968)Google Scholar, ch. 5; Wrightson, English society, pp. 18–23.

60 Edmund Bolton, The cities aduocate, in this case or question of honor and armes; whether apprentiship extinguisheth gentry? Containing a cleare refutation of the pernicious common errour affirming it, swallowed by Erasmus of Roterdam, Sir Thomas Smith in his common-weale, Sir Iohn Fern in his blazon, Raphe Broke Yorke Herald, and others (1629).

61 Smith, De republica Anglorum, pp. 64–77.

62 Keith Wrightson, ‘Estates, degrees and sorts: changing perceptions of society in Tudor and Stuart England’, in Penelope Corfield, ed., Language, History and Class (Oxford, 1991).

63 Smith, De republica Anglorum, pp. 70–3.

64 Wrightson, Earthly necessities, p. 154.

65 The argument is made in Smith, Thomas, A discourse of the commonweal of the realm of England, ed. Dewar, Mary (Charlottesville, VA, 1969)Google Scholar. This was written in the 1540s and first published as William Stafford, A compendious or briefe examination of certayne ordinary complaints, of diuers of our country men in these our days (1581).

66 See Patrick Collinson, ‘The monarchical republic of Queen Elizabeth I’, in Patrick Collinson, Elizabethan essays (London, 1994); Mark Goldie, ‘The unacknowledged republic: office-holding in early modern England’, in Tim Harris, ed., The politics of the excluded, c. 1500–1850 (Basingstoke, 2001); Withington, Phil, The politics of commonwealth: citizens and freemen in early modern England (Cambridge, 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Richard Cust, ‘Reading for magistracy: the mental world of Sir John Newdigate’, in John F. McDiarmid, ed., The monarchical republic of early modern England: essays in response to Patrick Collinson (Aldershot, 2007), pp. 181–200.

67 Braddick, Michael J., State formation in early modern England, c. 1550–1700 (Cambridge, 2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

68 Findlay, ‘Theatres of truth’, pp. 37–9.

69 Withington, Politics of commonwealth, pp. 60–1; O'Callaghan, Michelle, Thomas Middleton, Renaissance dramatist (Edinburgh, 2009), pp. 32–5Google Scholar.

70 Contending, sig. D2r–v.

71 See Withington, Phil, ‘Company and sociability in early modern England’, Social History, 32 (2007), pp. 291308CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Michael J. Braddick, ‘Introduction: the politics of gesture’, in Michael J. Braddick, ed., The politics of gesture: historical perspectives (Oxford, 2009), pp. 9–35.

72 Thomas More, The supplycacyon of soulys (1529), ii, p. xviii; Thomas Elyot, The Gouernour (1531), iii, p. yiv. See Withington, Phil, Society in early modern England: the vernacular origins of some powerful ideas (Cambridge, 2010), pp. 102–33Google Scholar.

73 Giddens, Anthony, The consequences of modernity (Cambridge, 1990), p. 12Google Scholar.

74 Phillips, New world of words (1668 and 1698 editions).

75 Johnson, Dictionary, i and ii.

76 Elyot, Dictionary; Johnson, Dictionary.

77 These are available on the English short title catalogue (ESTC), which can be consulted in conjunction with the Early English books online (EEBO), to create a database of meanings and applications. See Withington, Society in early modern England, pp. 106–22.

78 John Barston, The safeguard of societie (1576).

79 Withington, Society in early modern England, pp. 113–16; Mark Hailwood, ‘Alehouses and sociability in seventeenth-century England’ (Ph.D. thesis, Warwick, 2010), pp. 51–7.

80 William Prynne, Healthes: sickness (1628), sigs. B, B2, A7r.

81 Contending, sigs. A, B.

82 Ibid., sig. B3.

83 Ibid., sigs. B2, C4.

84 Ibid., sigs. C2r–C4.

85 Barston, The safeguard of societie, pp. 60–6.

86 Contending, sig. A3.

87 Withington, Society in early modern England, pp. 104–5.

88 BI, CPG 3041, 1598.

89 BI, CPH 4, 1600.

90 BI, CPH 2345, 1640.

91 Cedric C. Brown, ‘Sons of beer and sons of Ben: drink as a social marker in seventeenth-century England’, in Smyth, ed., A pleasinge sinne, pp. 18–21.

92 Heal, Felicity, ‘The idea of hospitality in early modern England’, Past and Present, 102 (1984), pp. 67CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 81.

93 BI, CPH 2924, 1674.

94 BI, CPH 1823, 1629. The case is discussed in more detail in Withington, ‘Intoxication and the early modern city’.

95 Richards, Jennifer, Rhetoric and courtliness in early modern England (Cambridge, 2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hailwood, ‘Alehouses and sociability’, ch. 3.

96 O'Callaghan, Michelle, The English wits: literature and sociability in early modern England (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 166–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

97 Shepard, Meanings of manhood, pp. 103–13.

98 Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 50.

99 Ibid., pp. 50, 53.

100 Ibid., pp. 51, 52.

101 Ibid., p. 52 (my italics).

102 Ibid., p. 55.

103 O'Callaghan, English wits, p. 1.

104 Hanford, ‘Wine’, pp. 13, 16; Warren, Jason Scott, Early modern English literature (Cambridge, 2005), p. 86Google Scholar.

105 Shirley was the only playwright published by John Grove when Grove, Contending, appeared in 1629. See James Shirley, The wedding (1629); The gratefull seruant (1630), which John Grove sold in Furnivall Gate. James Shirley, Changes: or, Love in a maze (1632). When Grove moved shop in 1631, Shirley continued to publish with the new occupant of Furnivall Inn Gate, William Cooke (in 1632 John Grove published Marmion Shackley, Hollands leaguer from Swan Alley within Newgate).

106 Ira Clark, ‘Shirley, James (bap. 1596, d. 1666)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. See in particular James Shirley, The triumph of peace (1634), sold by William Cooke in Furnivall Inn Gate.

107 O'Callaghan, English wits, p. 5.

108 Raylor, Timothy, Cavaliers, clubs and literary culture: Sir John Mennes, James Smith and the Order of the Fancy (Newark, DE, 1994), pp. 160–1Google Scholar.

109 Ibid., p. 162.

110 Raylor, Cavaliers, p. 71; O'Callaghan, English wits, p. 13.

111 Raylor, Cavaliers, pp. 77–78.

112 Contending, sig. D.

113 Ibid., sig. D2.

114 Ibid., sig. C3.

115 Wrightson, English society, p. 192.

116 Robert Greene, Greens groatsworth of wit, bought with a million of repentance: describing the folly of youth, the falshood of make-shift flatterers, the miserie of the negligent, and mischiefes of deceiuing curtezans. Published at his dying request, and newly corrected, and of many errors purged (1628), sigs. F3, A3.

117 Nicholas Ling, Politeuphia. Wits common-wealth, newly corrected and amended (1630).

118 William Brereton, Wits priuate wealth. Stored vvith choyse commodities to content the minde (1629); William Basse, A helpe to discourse: or, A misselany of seriousnesse with merriment: consisting of witty philosophicall, grammaticall, and astronomicall questions and answers: as also, of epigrams, epitaphs, riddles, and iests: together with The countreymans counsellour, next his yearely oracle or prognostication to consult with: containing diuers necessary rules and obseruations, of much vse and consequence being knowne (1630); Robert Hayman, Quodlibets, lately come ouer from New Britaniola, old Newfound-land. Epigrams and other small parcels, both morall and diuine. The first foure bookes being the authors owne: the rest translated out of that excellent epigrammatist, Mr. Iohn Owen, and other rare authors: wit two epistles of that excellently wittie doctor, Francis Rablais: translated out of his French at large (1628).

119 Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and his world, trans. Helene Iswolsky (Cambridge, MA, 1968); Bowen, Barbara C., Enter Rabelais, laughing (Nashville, TN, 1998), p. 101Google Scholar. See also Hadfield, Andrew, ‘Spenser and jokes’, in Spenser studies: a Renaissance poetry annual, 25 (2010), pp. 119CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

120 John Taylor, Wit and mirth, chargeably collected out of tauernes, ordinaries, innes, bowling greenes, and allyes, alehouses, tobacco shops, highwayes, and water-passages. Made vp, and fashioned into clinches, bulls, quirkes, yerkes, quips, and ierkes. Apothegmatically bundled vp and garbled at the request of old Iohn Garrets ghost (1629).

121 Ibid., title-page and preface.

122 For a useful discussion of the genre see Hadfield, ‘Spenser and jokes’.

123 Taylor, Wit and mirth, sigs. B4r–B5.

124 Ibid., sig. T8.

125 John Chartres, ‘No English calvados’, p. 324.

126 Daniel Defoe, The true-born Englishman (1701), pp. 28, 29, 30, 31.

127 Porter, Roy, ‘The drinking man's disease: the pre-history of alcoholism in Georgian Britain’, British Journal of Addiction, 80 (1985), pp. 385–96CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.

128 Nicholls, James, The politics of alcohol: a history of the drink question in England (Manchester, 2010), p. 24Google Scholar.

129 Prynne, Healthes: sicknesse, sigs. A2r–A3, A8.

130 Ibid., sigs. B2r–B3.

131 Quentin Skinner, ‘The state’, in Terence Ball, James Farr, and Russell L. Hanson, eds., Political innovation and conceptual change (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 90–131.

132 Daniel Defoe, The poor man's plea (1700), p. 16.

133 Josiah Woodward, An account of the societies for reformation of manners in London and Westminster, and other parts of the kingdom (1699), pp. 154–5.

134 Defoe, Poor man's plea, p. 11.

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