Monday, June 27, 2022

Banning foreign buttons

Narcissus Luttrell - a serial chronicler, keeping diaries and journals through much of his life - died 290 years ago today. Most of the records he kept (at least those that have survived) are devoid of personal details. He is most remembered, perhaps, for his Parliamentary Diary which Wikipedia says, ‘is often the best source available for legal and political matters of the time’. Here he is, for example, reporting on a debate concerning a proposed law to ban the import of buttons: ‘Sir John Darell, Mr. Clarke, and Mr. Harley spoke against it that it would only encourage a monopoly of the trade and make the workmen idle and exact more upon the people, and only put the importers of them to bring them in by stealth.’

Luttrell was born in Holborn of a West Country family, educated at Sheen School, and followed his father into the law. However, he also attended, for a few months, Newington Dissenting Academy, learning philosophy and logic. After the death of his father, he spent a few years travelling around England before being called to the bar in 1680. He was twice elected to the House of Commons, sitting for Bossiney (Cornwall) in the second Exclusion Parliament (1679–1680) and then in the parliament of 1690–1695 for Saltash (Cornwall). He served actively as a Middlesex Justice of the Peace for three decades from 1693. On various occasions, he also served as a deputy lieutenant, a commissioner of oyer and terminer, and a commissioner of land-tax assessment. 

In addition to Luttrell’s public service, he accumulated a valuable collection of contemporary publications, including both political and poetical works. He was married twice, first to Sarah, daughter of a wealthy London merchant, with whom he had one son; and later, after Sarah’s death in 1722, he married Mary. After a long illness, Luttrell died on 27 June 1732. Further information is available from Wikipedia, The History of Parliament, or the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required).

Luttrell is largely remembered today because he left behind, what has become, a valuable historical daily record of Parliament. He first kept diaries during his travels around the country, though I cannot find any trace of these having been published. He kept so-called Chronicles (compiled from newsletters and papers) which were discovered by Thomas Babington Macaulay and published in 1857 as A Brief Historical Relation of State Affairs from September 1678 to April 1714. Various volumes of this can read freely at Internet Archive.

While serving in Parliament, Luttrell kept a very detailed journal of its proceedings. These were first edited by Henry Horwitz and published in 1972 by Oxford University Press as The Parliamentary Diary of Narcissus Luttrell 1691-1693. This can be consulted freely online at Internet Archive. Wikipedia notes that Luttrell relied primarily on secondary sources for the workings of Parliament, but that ‘he is often the best source available for legal and political matters of the time’. While the legislation of the time can be found in official parliamentary journals, Wikipedia goes on to say, ‘Luttrell's diary is often the only record of debates within the Palace of Westminster’. As a result, it concludes, Luttrell ‘provides crucial political information which cannot be found elsewhere’. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, however, the diary ‘is almost wholly devoid of personal references.’ Both the parliamentary diary and the materials for Historical Relation are held by All Souls College, Oxford. Luttrell also kept a diary of private transactions between 1722 and 1725 written in Greek characters. This is held by the British Library.

Here are two extracts from the Parliamentary Diary.

12 April 1692
‘So the House met according to former adjournment - such members as were in town - and after some time the Speaker took the Chair.

And a motion was made for a new writ for Scarborough in the room of Mr. Thompson, deceased, as also another for the City of Carlisle in the room of Capt. Bubb, deceased. And the Speaker was ordered to issue his warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make writs out accordingly, which was done forthwith.

After some time the Black Rod came with this message: Mr. Speaker, the Lords Commissioners appointed by Their Majesties’ commission desire the attendance of this honourable House immediately in the House of Peers to hear the said commission read.

So the Speaker went up, attended with the House, where the commission was read in Latin. And then the Earl of Pembroke, Lord Privy Seal, spoke: By virtue of Their Majesties’ commission to us directed, we do prorogue this parliament to the 24th of May next, and this parliament is prorogued to the 24th of May next accordingly. From 12 April 1692 to 24 May 1692.’

6 February 1693
‘Sir John Brownlow presented the petition of the inhabitants of the town of Newark in the county of Nottingham and Sir Edward Hussey presented another from Sir Richard Earl, complaining of the undue election of Sir Francis Mollineux for that borough. They were received, read, and referred to the Committee of Elections and Privileges.

The bill for prohibiting the importation of foreign buttons was reported.

Sir John Darell, Mr. Clarke, and Mr. Harley spoke against it that it would only encourage a monopoly of the trade and make the workmen idle and exact more upon the people, and only put the importers of them to bring them in by stealth.

Sir Robert Cotton, Mr. Colt, and Mr. Pery spoke for the bill that it was to encourage our own manufacture - buttons being entirely so. The 

wood is our own and so is the horse hair, which is exported hence and returned you home manufactured, whereby you lose the employment of many of your poor and consequently they must lie upon your hands.

However, the bill with the amendments was ordered to be engrossed.

The engrossed bill for the aulnage [the inspection and measurement of woollen cloth] was read the third time and passed, with the title, and Sir Robert Davers to carry it up to the Lords for their concurrence.

Then the House resolved itself immediately into a committee upon the ways and means for raising the supply for Their Majesties; Mr. Attorney to the Chair.

Mr. Neale proposed for raising the remainder of the taxes to lay a duty upon all paper and parchment used for public matters and all such to be made on this sealed paper and parchment.

Sir Thomas Clarges desired before the House went upon considering how to raise any more money, the House would compute what they had already given. The land tax I reckon at £2,200,000, the project bill at £1,000,000, the revenue £1,000,000, the continued impositions besides sugar £500,000, joint stocks £57,000. And for the duties I have offered to you I will present you with a computation thereof, and when that is done I do not think there will be above £200,000 to raise. [. . .]’

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