Saturday, November 15, 2014

I pray increase my estate

Robert Woodford, a Northamptonshire lawyer, died all of 360 years ago today. He would surely have been forgotten had it not been for one of his diaries surviving down the centuries through the family, and then finding its way to an Oxford University archive. In print for the first time in 2012, its publisher makes some grand claims: it provides a ‘unique insight into the puritan psyche and way of life’; and it is ‘a fascinating source for the study of opposition to the Personal Rule of Charles I’.

Robert Woodford was born in 1606 in Northamptonshire, and educated at Brixworth School. He became a provincial lawyer, and married Hannah Haunch in 1635. They had many children, only a few of whom survived childhood. In 1636, he was elected steward of Northampton. He died on 15 November 1654. There is very little further biographical information available online about Woodford, except at Stephen Butt’s Woodforde Family website.

However, Woodford is remembered today because he kept a diary which was passed down through the family for centuries. In 1970, Oliver Heighes Woodforde donated it to New College, Oxford. The diary begins in August 1637 and ends in August 1641, and appears to be the sole survivor of several other, possibly four-year, diaries. It contains 588 pages with approximately 89,000 words. The Diary of Robert Woodford 1637-1641, edited by John Fielding (Camden Fifth Series, Volume 42), was published by Cambridge University Press for The Royal Historical Society in 2012. However, it’s a bit pricey at over £40!

Here is the publisher’s blurb: ‘Woodford’s diary, here published in full for the first time with an introduction, provides a unique insight into the puritan psyche and way of life. Woodford is remarkable for the consistency of his worldview, interpreting all experience through the spectacles of godly predestinarianism. His journal is a fascinating source for the study of opposition to the Personal Rule of Charles I and its importance in the formation of Civil War allegiance, demonstrating that the Popish Plot version of politics, held by parliamentary opposition leaders in the 1620s, had by the 1630s been adopted by provincial people from the lower classes. Woodford went further than some of his contemporaries in taking the view that, even before the outbreak of the Bishops’ Wars, government policies had discredited episcopacy and cast grave doubt on the king's religious soundness. Conversely, he regarded parliament as the seat of virtue and potential saviour of the nation.’

A note inside the diary states: ‘who ever finds this booke (if lost) I pray be sparinge in looking into it, & send it to Robte Woodford at Northampton.’

20 August 1637 [first entry]
‘I prayed alone and I and my deare wife prayed in private this morninge to beseech the Lord for his blessing uppon the sacrament of Baptisme to our poore child this that the inward grace might goe a longe with the outward signe &, and that the Lord would make it an Instrument of some service to him in his Church in time to come and a Comfort to us the parents and surely the Lord hath heard us in m[er]cye we prayed not to be hindred in our sanctifcacon of his Sabath this day & to order Conveniences &. Mr ffisher preached in the morninge, but my hart somewhat heavy Lord p[ar]don my dulnes.’

26 September 1637
‘I would give some present to new Mr Maior but want some money. Lord I pray thee increase my estate in thy due time for the Lords sake Amen.’

10 October 1637
‘my wives breasts sore still with chopping [cracks in skin]. I pray unto the Lord for cure in his time my Clyent Some came to me with this P[ro]vidence’

16 October 1637
‘I was with Mr Bullivant at the George & dranke some wormewood beare, & with Mr Rushworth I was very ill after I had supped oh Lord p[ar]don my fayling & make me very watchfull for the Lords sake Amen.’

7 June 1638
‘The small pox are much in London, but the sicknesse at a very Low ebbe blessed be god though they come hether from many p[ar]tes of the Country that are infected.’

8 June 1638
‘The towne very full of people. Mr Robins fayles to pay me money.’

9 June 1638
‘The Lord doth graciously carry me on through diffcultyes: he is with me in the fire & in the water blessed be his name.’

23 October 1638
‘my deare child is still very sick, but the Lord is able to recover her, I now pr[e]pare for my Journey into the Country to morrow, & prayed for my Comfortable arrival at North[amp]ton & for favor in the eyes of the Maior & Bayleifes there & for presrvacon from the devouringe pestilence’

According to the Woodforde family website: ‘Many members of the Woodforde family have written about their history, from Robert Woodforde in Leicestershire in the 15th Century to the owner of this website in the 21st Century, constituting over five hundred year's of literary work. [. . .] Almost every generation has left diaries. These include Robert Woodforde, the 17th Century puritan of Northamptonshire, his son Dr Samuel Woodforde the Divine and founder of the Royal Society, and of course the Revd James Woodforde [author of Diary of a Country Parson].

The Diary Junction

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