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Rural Society and the Painters’ Trade in Post-Reformation England

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 February 2017

Concordia University


This article examines two opposing views on the role and presence of painters in post-Reformation rural England. The art historian William Gaunt concluded that painters simply ‘vanished’ from the local scene in their flight to London; the historical geographer John Patten saw non-agricultural workers in general flocking to the rural scene in the same era. Drawing on a database of over 2,600 working painters, the article explores the presence and role of the painters’ occupation in rural England between 1500 and 1640. It emphasises the painters’ accommodation to changing consumer demands; it offers a revised view of their geographic distribution over time; it shows that painters continued to serve the rural scene, albeit in somewhat different ways and from different locales than before.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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1. Holtgen, K. J., ‘The Reformation of Images and Some Jacobean Writers on Art’, in Brioch, U., Stemmler, T. and Statmann, G., eds, Functions of Literature, Essays Presented to Erwin Wolff on his Sixtieth Birthday (Tubingen, 1984), pp. 119–46Google Scholar. See also Collinson, Patrick, The Birth Pangs of Protestant England, Religious and Cultural Change in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Basingstoke and London, 1988), pp. 117–18Google Scholar.

2. Gaunt, William, A Concise History of English Painting (New York, 1964), p. 15 Google Scholar.

3. Major and more recent works include: Hearn, Karen, Dynasties, Painting in Tudor and Early Stuart England, 1530–1630 (London, 1995)Google Scholar; Tittler, Robert, The Face of the City: Civic Portraiture and Civic Identity in Early Modern England (Manchester, 2012 Google Scholar [orig. pub. 2007]); Hamling, Tara, Decorating the Godly Household, Religious Art in Post-Reformation Britain (London and New Haven, 2010)Google Scholar; Cooper, Tarnya, Citizen Portrait, Portrait Painting and the Urban Elite of Tudor and Jacobean England and Wales (London; New Haven, 2012)Google Scholar; Tittler, Robert, Painters, Portraits, and Publics in Provincial England, 1500–1640 (Oxford, 2012/13)Google Scholar; Tarnya Cooper and Jane Eade, eds, Elizabeth I and her People (2013); and Tarnya Cooper, Aviva Burnstock, Maurice Howard and Edward Town, eds, Painting in Britain 1500–1630 (2015).

4. See, for example, Tittler, Face of the City; Cooper, Citizen Portraits.

5. See, for example, Hearn, Dynasties.

6. See, for example, Hearn, Dynasties; Tittler; Face of the City; Cooper, Citizen Portrait; Tittler, Painters, Portraits, and Publics; Cooper and Eade, eds, Elizabeth I and her People.

7. Principally the Company of Painter-Stainers of London, whose main records for this era survive in the form of its Court Minute Book from 1623, and the Company of Painter-Stainers, Embroiderers, Glaziers and Stationers of Chester, whose Minute Books survive from 1621 with some earlier entries from 1575. London Metropolitan Archives, MS. CLC/L/PA/B/001/MS05667/001 and /002; and Cheshire and Chester Record Office (hereafter CCRO), MSS. ZCR 63/2/131; ZG 17/1, and ZG 17/2.

8. Robert Tittler, ‘Early Modern British Painters’ (hereafter EMBP), <>, see Segar, William.

9. EMBP, see Norgate, Edward.

10. EMBP, see Holme, Randle the elder.

11. Buck, George, ‘The Third Universite of England or a Treatise on the Foundation of all the Colleges’, printed as an Appendix to John Stow, The Annals of General Chronicles of England (London, 1615 edn), STC no. 23,338, pp. 987–8Google Scholar.

12. See especially Tittler, Painters, Portraits, and Publics, ch. 3.

13. See especially Hamling, Decorating the Godly Household, passim.

14. Patten, John, ‘Changing Occupational Structures in the East Anglian Countryside, 1500–1700’, in Fox, H. S. A. and Butlin, R. A., eds, Changes in the Countryside, 1500–1700 (London, 1979), pp. 103–21Google Scholar, esp. p. 118. Patten's quotation is from Clarkson, L. A., The Pre-Industrial Economy in England, 1500–1750 (London, 1971), p. 86Google Scholar. See also, for example, Thirsk, Joan, ‘Industries in the Countryside’, in Fisher, F. J., ed., Essays in the Social and Economic History of Tudor and Stuart England (London, 1961), pp. 7088 Google Scholar; Cornwall, J., ‘The people of Rutland in 1522’, Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society, 37 (1961–2), 1718 Google Scholar; Patten, John, ‘Village and town: an occupational study’, Agricultural History Review, 20 (1972), 263–4Google Scholar.

16. William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act V, Scene I, spoken by Snout.

17. Woodward, Donald, Men at Work; Labourers and Building Craftsmen in the Towns of Northern England, 1450–1750 (Cambridge, 1995), p. 37 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

18. Population estimates come from Patten, John, English Towns 1500–1600 (Folkestone and Hamden, Connecticut, 1978)Google Scholar, Table 12, p. 251, and from Clark, Peter and Hosking, Jean, eds, Population Estimates of English Small Towns, 1550–1841, rev. edn (Leicester, 1993), pp. 103–9Google Scholar (for Norfolk), and 137–43 (for Suffolk).

19. Thus, for example, Patten's will-based study of occupations lists only six East Anglian places with painters in the period 1640–9. Table 1 lists thirteen such places between 1600 and only 1640. Patten, English Towns (un-numbered Table), p. 273.

20. For the shortcomings of will-based evidence, see Mark Overton, Jane Whittle, Darron Dean and Andrew Hann, Production and Consumption in English Households 1600–1750 (2004), pp. 22–6; and Zell, Michael, ‘The social parameters of probate records in the sixteenth century’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 57 (1984), 107–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Zell notes that, while not legally required to do so, numerous people with estates of less than five pounds remaining still left a will. But some with larger estates failed to do so at all. See pp. 109–112. In such rural communities as Darlington, testamentary activity of any sort ensued only for an estimated 27% of all deceased persons between 1600 and 1625. Atkinson, J. A., ed., Darlington Wills and Inventories, 1600–1625 (Newcastle, 1993), p. 3 Google Scholar.

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22. See, for example, Finch, Jonathan, ‘The Churches’, and David King, ‘Glass Painting’, in Rawcliffe, Carole and Wilson, Richard, eds, Medieval Norwich (London and New York, 2004)Google Scholar, chs 2 and 3 respectively, and Lucy Wrapson, ‘A Medieval Context for the Artistic Production of Painter Surfaces in England; Evidence from East Anglia c. 1400–1540’, in Cooper, et al., eds, Painting in Britain, pp. 194–203.

23. EMBP, see Bacon, Nathaniel.

24. EMBP, see Parkinson, Richard.

25. Wrightson, Earthly Necessities, pp. 193–4, 201–2.

26. EMBP, see Brame, Henry (cited 1623/3); John (fl. 1529–35); Nicholas the elder (c. 1577 to post-1600); Nicholas the younger (cited 1631–1638/9); and William (fl. 1566–76 or 1579).

27. EMBP, see Isborne, Augustus (fl. 1616 ff.); Lawrence (fl. 1604–12); and Thomas (fl. 1618 ff.).

28. EMBP, see Ives, Henry (fl. c. 1577–99); Willian (fl. c. 1566–79); and a third Ives whose forename is not recorded (fl. 1583–4).

29. EMBP, see Cley, Humphrey (fl. 1587–94); Geoffrey (fl. 1562–87); and possibly John (fl. 1551–80), though he may have worked in London for at least part of his life.

30. EMBP, see Sprie, George (cited 1606/7); Robert the elder (fl. 1570s–1580s); Robert the younger (fl. c. 1606–20); and Thomas (1588/9–1638).

31. EMBP, see Kyrck, Samuel (1594–1650s) and Zachery (fl. 1633–73).

32. EMBP, see Holme, Randle the elder (fl. 1590–d. 1655) and Randle the younger (fl. c. 1621–59).

33. EMBP, see Framway, John the elder (fl. 1586–99); John the younger (d. 1631 or 1632), William the elder (fl. 1573 to post-1583); and William the younger (d. 1598 or 1599).

34. EMBP, see Hallwood, Christopher (fl. c. 1619 to post-1650); Nicholas (fl. c. 1584–d. 1629); Ralph (d. 1596); Richard (fl. c.1563/4–1592/3); Robert (cited 1564); Nicholas's Widow (d. 1638); and Richard's Widow (fl. 1592/3–1630.

35. Tittler, Robert, ‘Early Stuart Chester as a centre for regional portraiture’, Urban History, 41:1 (2014), 9 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

36. Inglis, neé Langlois, worked successively in: London, 1569–c. 1574; Scotland, 1574–1604; London again, 1604–7; Essex, 1607–14; Edinburgh, 1615; possibly Suffolk in 1620; Edinburgh again and then Leith, where she died in August, 1624. EMBP, see Inglis, Esther.

37. EMBP, see Peacham, Henry.

38. Tittler, Robert and Roberts, Stephanie, ‘Tracking the elusive portrait painter Thomas Leigh through Caroline England and Wales’, The British Art Journal, XI:1 (2010), 2431 Google Scholar.

39. Minns, Chris and Wallis, Patrick, ‘Rules and reality; quantifying the practice of apprenticeship in early Modern England’, Economic History Review, 65:2 (May 2012), 556–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

40. Tittler, Portraits, Painters and Publics, p. 64.

41. See Rappaport, Steve, Worlds Within Worlds: Structures of Life in Sixteenth Century London (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 311–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Ben-Amos, Ilana Kraus, ‘Failure to become freemen: urban apprentices in early modern England’, Social History, 16:2 (May 1991), 4165 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Adolescence and Youth in Early Modern England (London and New Haven, 1994), pp. 130–1; Griffiths, Paul, Youth and Authority, Formative Experiences in England, 1560–1640 (Oxford, 1996), pp. 330–5CrossRefGoogle Scholar, esp. p. 330 and n. 172; Wrightson, Keith, Earthly Necessities: Economic Lives in Early Modern Britain (London and New Haven, 2000), p. 59 Google Scholar.

42. Tittler, Portraits, Painters and Publics, p. 64.

43. Goldsmith, Oliver, The Vicar of Wakefield (New York, 1884 edn), pp. 102–3Google Scholar.

44. Woodward, Men at Work, pp. 11, 30, 91; Millican, Percy, ed., The Register of the Freemen of Norwich, 1548–1713 (Norwich, 1934)Google Scholar, p. xix.

45. Fenn or Fenner (fl. c. 1616–24) worked as an assistant or journeyman for Sir Nathaniel Bacon at Redgrave, near Bury St Edmunds, in 1624, but also worked on his own and became a widely employed painter of all work in Suffolk, Norfolk, and Cambridgeshire. EMBP, see vide Fenn/Fenner, John.

46. EMBP, see Strong, Samson.

47. Robert Tittler, ‘Patrons’ and Painters’ Circles, in Provincial England, c. 1580–1640’, in Cooper, et al., eds, Painting in Britain, p. 382 and n. 29; EMBP, see Souch, John; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (hereafter ODNB), see Souch, John.

48. EMBP, see Matthew, John.

49. Dover Assembly Book, Kent History and Library Centre, MS. A DO AAM 2, fol. 172r; Richard Cust and Andrew Hopper, eds, Edgecumbe v. Stephens, ‘Court of Chivalry’ website, <>, no. 187, fol. 89r; EMBP, see Sprie/Spry, George, Robert the elder, Robert the younger, and Thomas.

50. William Whiteway's Diary (Dorset Record Society, 12, 1991), p. 134; British Library, Egerton, MS. 784, fol. 189; William Whiteway's Commonplace Book, Cambridge University Library MS. Dd.xi.73, fols, 23r–28v, 32r–34r.

51. EMBP, see Priwizer, Johan.

52. CCRO MS. ZG 17/2, unpaginated, see by year.

53. Essex Record Office, MS. D/P 11/5/1A, fol. 34r; Glasscock, J. L., The Records of St Michael's Parish Church, Bishop's Stortford (London, 1882), pp. 47 Google Scholar, 48, 58, 147; Stephen G. Doree, ed., The Early Churchwardens' Accounts of Bishop's Stortford, 1431–1558 (Hertfordshire Record Society, 10, 1994), pp. 290–1.

54. British Library, Egerton, MS. 1912, fols 34r, 37v, 38r.

55. Shrewsbury Papers, Lambeth Palace Library, MS. 707, fol. 136.

57. Lambeth Palace Library, MS. CMII/13.

58. Williams, John Foster, ed., The Early Churchwardens' Accounts of Hampshire (Winchester and London, 1913), p. 95 Google Scholar.

59. Rosemary Pardoes, ‘Royal Arms in Churches: The Artists and Craftsmen’ (1987), <>, see Overton.

60. Fleming, Juliet, Graffiti and the Writing Arts of Early Modern England (London, 2001), pp. 50 Google Scholar, 58.

61. Anon., Queen Elizabeth's Entertainment at Mitcham (1598), as cited in Mercer, Eric, English Art, 1553–1625 (Oxford, 1962)Google Scholar. See also Tittler, Portraits, Painters and Publics, ch. 3.

62. ODNB, see Bucket, Rowland; EMBP, see Buckett, Rowland.

63. ODNB, see Johnson, Cornelis.

64. EMBP, see Goodricke, Matthew.

65. EMBP, see Jackson, Gilbert.

66. Page, William, ed., Letters of Denization and Acts of Naturalization for Aliens in England (Publications of the Huguenot Society of London, 8, 1883)Google Scholar, I, p. 25.

67. Daphne Foskett, ed., A Dictionary of British Miniature Painters (1972), p. 288; EMBP, see Gibson, Richard ‘Dwarf’.

68. Robert Tittler, ‘Painters’ and Patrons’ Circles’, p. 379.

69. ODNB, see Clifford, Henry.

70. See n. 53.

71. Airs, Malcolm, ‘Samuel and Zachery Kyrke, painters of Lichfield’, Transactions of the Ancient Monument Society, 60 (2016), p. xxx Google Scholar. My thanks to Malcolm Airs for bringing this to my attention.

72. Recent and general discussions of arms painting and painters may be found in Tittler, Robert, ‘Regional portraiture and the heraldic connection in Tudor and Early Stuart England’, The British Art Journal, 9:3 (2009), 310 Google Scholar; Tittler, Portraits, Painters and Publics, ch. 6; and Elizabeth Goldring, ‘Heraldic Drawing and Painting in Early Modern England’, in Cooper et al., eds, Painting in Britain, pp. 262–77.

73. Cheesman, Clive, ‘Grants and Confirmations of Arms’, in Ramsay, Nigel, ed., Heralds and Heraldry in Shakespeare's England (Donington, 2014), pp. 92–3Google Scholar.

74. Tara Hamling, ‘“Wanting Arms”: Heraldic Decoration in Lesser Houses’, in Ramsay, ed., Heralds and Heraldry, pp. 204–19.

75. Richard Cust, ‘Heraldry and Gentry Communities in Shakespeare's England’, in Ramsay, ed., Heralds and Heraldry, pp. 190–6.

76. Tittler, Robert, ‘Social aspiration and the malleability of portraiture in post-Reformation England: the Kaye panels of Woodsome, Yorkshire, c. 1567’, Northern History, 52:2 (2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, Fig. 2 and 194–6.

77. Horne, T. H., A Catalogue of the Harleian Manuscripts in the British Museum with Indexes of Persons, Places, and Matters, 4 vols (London: 1808), II, p. 30 Google Scholar; Town, Edward, ed., ‘A biographical dictionary of London painters, 1547–1625’, The Walpole Society, 76 (2014), 41 Google Scholar; Francis Collins, ed., Register of the Freemen of the City of York, 1559–1759 (1900), pp. 32, 72.

78. William Smith, ‘A Brief Discourse of the Causes of Discord. . .’, Folger Shakespeare Library, MS. V.a. 157, 12v–13r; Ann Payne, ‘William Smith, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant: Appendix’, in Ramsay, ed., Heralds and Heraldry, p. 62.

79. Randle Holme the elder to Sir Richard St George, Norroy King of Arms, 23rd May 1623 (or 1624), in Raines, F. R., ed., Letters on the Claims of the College of Arms in the time of James I by Leonard Smethley and Randle Holme (Chetham Society, 1875), pp. 30–1Google Scholar.

80. Stephen Friar, The Sutton Companion to Heraldry (Stroud, 2004 [orig. pub. 1992]), p. 17; Ailes, Adrian, ‘The Development of Heralds’ Visitations in England and Wales, 1450–1600', The Coat of Arms, 3rd series, 5 (2009), pp. 723 Google Scholar; Ailes, Adrian, ‘Artists and Artwork of the Heralds’ Visitations in England and Wales, 1530–1687', Proceedings of the XVI Colloquium of the Academie Internationale d'Heraldique (Verviers, Belgium, 2011)Google Scholar. I am grateful to the author for permission to read this essay in manuscript form and to cite it.

81. Cust, ‘Heraldry and Gentry Communities’, pp. 197–8.

82. Adrian Ailes, ‘“A herald, Kate? O put me in thy books”: Shakespeare, the Heralds’ Visitations, and a New Visitation Address’, in Ramsay, ed., Heralds and Heraldry, pp. 109–10.

83. Succinctly described in Anthony Wagner and George Squibb, ‘Deputy Heralds’, in Frederick Emmison and Roy Stephens, eds, Tribute to an Antiquary; Essays Presented to Marc Fitch by some of his Friends (1976), pp. 229–33 and Appendix III, pp. 252–6.

84. Geoffrey Briggs, Civic and Corporate Heraldry (1971), passim.

85. Wagner and Squibb, ‘Deputy Heralds’, pp. 229–33 and Appendix III, pp. 252–6.

86. Myriad examples may be found in the workbooks of London Painter-Stainers who were permitted to do heraldic painting by the College of Arms, as recorded in College of Arms, Painters’ Workbooks 001, 12, and VIS 12. Eight Painter-Stainers at a time were permitted to do so, as noted in College of Arms, MS. I–3 for 5th July 1636. See also Borg, Alan, The History of the Worshipful Company of Painters (Huddersfield, 2005), p. 70 Google Scholar.

87. Wagner and Squibb list thirteen painters who were appointed deputy heralds in the era at hand, though their failure to recognise the locally-prominent William Robinson (d. 1636), deputy herald and painter of Newcastle, suggests that their list is incomplete. Wagner and Squibb, ‘Deputy Heralds’, pp. 253–64; Ailes, ‘“A herald, Kate?”’, pp. 110–11; will and inventory of William Robinson, Durham University Library Archives, MS. DPRI/1/1636/1-2. I am grateful to Professor Keith Wrightson for this last reference.

88. See, for example, College of Arms, MSS. Vincent 92 and Vincent 188.

89. ODNB, see Holme, Randle the elder; Tittler, ‘Early Stuart Chester’, pp. 10–15.

90. Tittler, Robert and Evans, Shaun, ‘Randle Holme the elder and the development of portraiture in North Wales, c. 1600–1630’, British Art Journal, 16:2 (2015), 22–7Google Scholar.

91. Tittler, ‘Painters’ and Patrons’ Circles’, Fig. 23.4: ‘Patrons of John Souch’; ODNB, see Souch, John.

92. Blair, John and Ramsay, Nigel, English Medieval Industries (London, 1991), p. 277 Google Scholar; Brown, Sarah and Conner, David O, Medieval Craftsmen: Glass Painters (London and Toronto, 1991)Google Scholar; King, David, The Medieval Stained Glass of St Peter Mancroft, Norwich (Oxford, 2006)Google Scholar; Woodforde, Christopher, The Norwich School of Glass-Painting in the Fifteenth Century (Oxford, 1950)Google Scholar.

93. EMBP, see van Bentham/Bentheim, Martin and Bent.

94. EMBP, see Von Diepenbeck, Abraham.

95. EMBP, see Van Lingen, Abraham and Bernard.

96. Newcastle's Painters were joined with the Plumbers, Glaziers, and Pewterers; Preston's with the Glaziers alone until 1637, whilst in Chester the Glaziers were lumped in from 1533 with Painters, Embroiderers and Stationers. See Anderson, J. J., ed., Records of Early English Drama, Newcastle upon Tyne (Toronto and Manchester, 1982), p. x Google Scholar; Dobson, William and Harland, John, A History of Preston Guild, 3rd edn (1971 [orig. pub. 1862]), p. 112 Google Scholar; Minute Books of the Company of Painters, Glaziers, Embroiderers, and Stationers, CCRO MSS. ZCR 63/2/131; ZG 17/1 and ZG 17/2.

97. Most of the scholarship on wall paintings in churches, both pre- and post-Reformation, appears in journals of local history, but a useful summary of the pre-Reformation story may be found in Rosewell, Roger, Medieval Wall Paintings in English and Welsh Churches (Woodbridge, 2008)Google Scholar. For the post-Reformation see Davies, Kathryn, Artisan Art, Vernacular Wall Paintings in the Welsh Marches, 1550–1650 (Almeley, Herefordshire, 2008)Google Scholar. It is noteworthy that the virtually encyclopedic essay collection by Cooper et al., eds, Painting in Britain, has almost nothing at all to say about wall painting in either text or index.

98. Davies, Artisan Art, pp. 75–6.