Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tears instead of ink

Sir John Oglander, an aristocrat and politician associated with the Isle of White, died all of 430 years ago today. He is as much remembered for his diaries as he is for the relatively minor administrative and political appointments he held, not least because, having started as account books, they became more personal over time. For example on the death of his beloved son, George, he wrote: ‘With my tears instead of ink I write these last lines.’

Oglander was born at Nunwell, on the eastern side of the Isle of Wight, on 12 May 1585. He was schooled at Winchester, and entered Balliol College, Oxford, for three years but left without a degree. Thereafter, he entered the Middle Temple, though was not called to the bar. He married Frances, the youngest daughter of Sir George More of Losely, and sister to the wife of the poet John Donne. They had four sons and three daughters.

After residing for a while in Winchester with his father, Oglander moved to take up residence at the old family home in Nunwell, aiming to live a life, he wrote, of ‘ardent and unbroken devotion to the public service’. Little is known of that life, however, until around 1620 (though he was knighted in 1615 by James I). From 1620 to 1624, he acted as deputy governor of Portsmouth, before selling the position and returning to the Isle of Wight to be deputy governor there instead.

In 1625, Oglander was elected to Parliament as member for Yarmouth. He held other appointments, such as High Sheriff of Hampshire in the late 1630s. With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642, Oglander - a true Royalist - found himself imprisoned, firstly for a short time, and then for three years. Later, he helped Charles I while on the Isle of Wight, but, as the king became confined at Carisbrooke Castle so it became dangerous for his friends, such as Oglander, to continue their support for him. Oglander was arrested one more time, in 1651, but was released within weeks. He died in 1655, a man broken by the war, his estate having been diminished and having lost his wife and a son. Further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia, the History of Parliament website, or The Gentry.

For much of his life Oglander kept ‘Bookes of Accoumpts’ in which he wrote down his business affairs. However, over time they became more diary-like with entries of a personal nature. The diaries are considered valuable, particularly with regard to the history of the Isle of the White. Indeed, during Oglander’s lifetime he copied out some parts for use by his friend Sir Richard Worsley, who was then compiling what would be published in 1781 as The History of the Isle of Wight. Later, in 1888, the notebooks were also used by W. H. Long for his book The Oglander Memoirs.

It was not until 1936, however, that Oglander’s diary was published in its own right as A Royalist’s Notebook - The Commonplace Book of Sir John Oglander Kt of Nunwell, transcribed and edited by Francis Bamford (Constable, 1936). Cecil Faber Aspinall-Oglander says in his introduction: ‘The numerous tattered volumes of faded manuscripts from which this book has been compiled have lain for three hundred years in the house where Sir John Oglander wrote them in the days of James I and Charles I, their slumber only disturbed by the reverent fingers of his descendants in search of information. And here indeed their slumber might have continued had it not been for Mr. Bamford asking my wife’s permission to look through the Nunwell papers in search of local colour for a historical novel on which he was then engaged.’

Bamford’s book divides Oglander’s writings into various chapters, viz: His observations 1622-1639; His observations 1642-1652; His neighbours; His rules for husbandry; Some of his recipes; Some of his accounts; His advice to his descendants. Here are a few samples from the first chapter (the language has been modernised by Bamford).

‘The 20th February, 1626, I put into the pond by Whitefield House 200 young carp.’

‘May the 30th, 1627. On Wednesday in the afternoon on Granger, captain of a small man-of-war belonging to Mr. James of Portsmouth, being on the south side of the Island, spied a fleet of Hollanders of 22 sail, whereof Sir Lawrence Reoll was Admiral. He presently took them for Spaniards and came into the Island, sent intelligence to Sir Edward Dennys that he had espied a fleet of Spaniards at sea, the copy of which letter is in my box. Whereupon Sir Edward sent the very letter to Portsmouth, whither when it came, a Wednesday by 4 of the clock, the town rose all in arms and apprehended as much fear as if an enemy had been at the gates. Higham, Master Gunner, hasted away post with this intelligence to my Lord Steward, which came to the Council and my Lord Duke’s knowledge by 2 the same night. He presently commanded down all the colonels to their charges: hither came Brett and Spry by Friday morning. The Duke himself posted to the Downs, vowing he would not stay but would fight them with those ships that were then ready.’

‘King Charles came into our Island the 20th of June 1627, being Wednesday. He came ashore at Ryde, where only myself was to attend him: he was landed by 9 in the morning, sooner than the gentlemen expected. We had notice of it but the night before, yet I took such order of it that my coach was there, and some 40 horses. I waited on him from Ryde to Arreton Down and was his guide. On the Down, he saw Sir Alexander Brett’s regiment train, which was the motive that brought him over. I had the honour to kiss His Majesty’s hand, being presented unto him by the Lord Chamberlain, and at his going away again, which was about 3: all the gentlemen with myself had the like honour. [. . .]

His Majesty neither ate nor drank in our Island. On our complaint unto him, he promised we should have Sandham Castle repaired (which I showed afar off unto him, together with the consequences thereof), a fort of St Helens, munitions for our country, and 10 or 20 ships of his to be still resident in Portsmouth Harbour. So much, and so happy we, if performed.’

‘On the 8th of December, 1631, my shepherd’s wife, Good Greenwood, going to my windmill with a gust coming from thence, she went so near to the vanes of the mill that one of them took her in the head and beat out her brains. She was a very good woman and had been nurse to my son William, and dry nurse to most of my other children.’

‘Here is set down the most sorrowful story that was ever written by the hand of a distressed father. On the 21st of July, 1632, being at Newport [. . .] the Mayor, Sir Richard Dillington and Sir Edward Dennys came unto me and told me of a flying report, brought by a bark off Weymouth lately come from Caen, that my eldest son George, that was then at Caen, was very sick - if not dead.

Let those judge, who have had a hopeful young son aged 22 years, well brought up and learned in all the arts, dutiful, wise, sober, discreet and given to no vice, but tall, handsome, judicious and understanding - yea, far above the capacity of his young years, what a case I was in and how deeply stricken, insomuch as I had much ado to get home.

With my tears instead of ink I write these last lines. O George, my beloved George, is dead and with him most of my terrestrial comforts, although I acknowledge I have good and dutiful sons left. He died of the smallpox at Caen in Normandy, the 11th of July, 1632. Only with my tears and a foul pen was this written.’

The Diary Junction

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