The Wentworth and Holles families: dreaming of the living and the dead.
Dreams were understood in a wide variety of ways in sixteenth and seventeenth century England. Marc Vulson in The Court of Curiosite noted that the rules about dreaming were not general "and cannot satisfy all persons one way; but sometimes according to times and persons, they admit of various interpretations" (5). Wilhelm Adolf Scribonius defined a dream as "an inward act of the mind" while the body is sleeping (52). Thomas Tryon believed that dreaming was a higher state than waking: "Thus in Dreams the soul enjoys a more compleat and unmixed pleasure and delight, than is possible for any person to enjoy when awake" (59-60). The herbalist Nicholas Culpeper suggested that people's imaginations were always working, awake or asleep (4). When someone was asleep, this imagination caused dreams. Thomas Wright in The Passions of the Minde argued that "dreams are caused by the spirits which ascend into the imagination" (111). While some claimed there were people who did not dream when they slept, Thomas Tryon refused to accept that point of view: "Yet when ever we sleep we dream; for you may as well imagine Fire without heat, Sun without Light" (31-32).
There were many different views of what caused dreams. Dreams could come from God and his angels or the Devil and his demons or as the result of being bewitched, and we shall see how angels could play very significant roles in dreams. Dreams might also be influenced by the dominant one of the four bodily humours that many medical doctors were convinced made up the human body: blood, phlegm, choler, and black choler. One's personality was determined by the dominant humour: One was sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, or melancholy, and these personality types also influenced the dreams one had. Those who had choleric disposition did not sleep well: They dreamed of fireworks, exhalations, comets, streaking and blazing meteors, fury, anger, stabbing, battles, blood, and wounds. The sanguine, however, had no trouble sleeping, and their dreams were of beautiful women, gardens, pure purple colors, or flowing streams of blood. The phlegmatic, however, dreamed of seas, rains, snow, rivers, and drowning. While the dreams of the phlegmatic may sound unpleasant, the melancholics dreams were far more disturbing. Melancholics dreamed of dark places, of graves and cells, of falls from high turrets, of living in caves in the earth, and of black, furious beasts. They would dream of profound darkness. (1)
There was, then, a range of beliefs about dreams, and many recognized that there were a variety of kinds of dreams, some natural and others supernatural. Some people argued that some dreams were simply the fragments of the day retold. Thus a fisherman would dream of fishing, a cobbler of shoes, a butcher of blood, or a soldier of war. But people could also dream about what distressed them more than their daily activities. Thomas Nashe in The Terrors of the Night argued that dreams could also reflect the guilt people feel: "As touching the terrors of the night, they are as many as our sins." He added that the most fearful dreams are those caused by "accusing private guilt" (B1, D1).
Thomas Hobbes argued that "dreames are caused by the distemper of some of the inward parts of the Body." He described the difference between the experience of being awake or asleep dreaming: "Waking I often observe the absurdity of Dreames, but never dream of the absurdities of my waking Thoughts; I am well satisfied, that being awake, I know I dreame not; though when I dreame, I think my selfe awake" (90, 91). Hobbes did not believe that dreams had any value as prognostication.
William Vaughan in his Directions for Health described dreams as going either backward or forwards. He stated that dreams could either be a remembrance of the past or "signifcants of things to come" (163). While some believed that dreams were the fragments of the day revisited or the result of eating certain foods, others were convinced they were sent from demons or angels. The strongest belief--or sometimes fear--was how dreams could predict future events. Sometimes what was predicted was positive, the recovery from illness and the birth of a much wanted son. But sometimes what was foretold was tragic, including the death of a loved one such as a wife or a child. And sometimes dreams could also allow one a visit with the dead.
People could read a variety of texts to understand their dreams, but there were, however, astrologers--some of them also medical practitioners--who not only noted their own dreams but also interpreted dreams as part of their practice. In the early modern period, astrology was both "natural" (used for such things as the calculation of fixing the dates of holy days and the predictions of tides and eclipses) and "judicial" (the art of understanding the influence of stars and planets upon human affairs). John Dee, Simon Forman, and Elias Ashmole were among the judicial astrologers who recorded their own dreams, took them seriously, and interpreted the dreams of others. People knew the connections of astrologers with dreams, and as we will see later, astrologers could also be in dreams.
Studying dreams allows us to know far more about the psyche of early modern English women and men, of what was the most deeply important to them. Especially noteworthy are dreams about parents and children, about husbands and wives, and about those who were famous and powerful, in all cases dreams of both the living and the dead. Some Renaissance families believed strongly in the importance of dreams, and repeated a number of dreams as they related their family history.
Thomas Wentworth, who claimed descent from John of Gaunt, had been married for eleven years and was the father of four daughters when, early in the reign of Elizabeth I, "itt pleased God," his son related in a family history written forty years later, "to vysytt him with a burninge fever wherof he languished so thatt both my mother and his mother were almost in dispaire of his recoverye" (28). The two women left him resting in bed. Thomas claimed that he was nor asleep at the time, but was simply lying there with his eyes closed. When he opened them, "he saw stand by his bedsyde a wellfavored gentlewoman of a mydle age in apparell and countenance decentt and verie demure" (28). Went-worth found her presence very strange and asked, "Gentlewoman, from whence come yow?" She responded, "Wentworth, I come from God." She then told him that she was an angel and her name was "God's Pittie" (28). God had sent her to Wentworth, she explained, to signify His compassion and promised that not only would Wentworth have "no mote fitts of that fever," but he would live for many more years and would have a son. She then "took outt of hir pockett a box of oyntment and dipped some of hir fingers therin and offered to putt hir hand into the bed about the myddest therof" (28). Wentworth, however, worried about his modesty, held his bedclothes down, and tried to restrain her hand. The angel told him, "I must touche the." She then took her hand and "touched his privities"(28). Wentworth was discomforted that the angel wanted to touch him so intimately. According to a dream interpretation text of the time, "To dream that you ... take hold of the privy members signifies that you have lost the faculty of procreation" (Vulson 104), but this was certainly not the result of this experience for Wentworth, as he later had the son that had been promised him. After this awkward moment, the angel then informed Wentworth that "when thow art well, go to the well att St. Anne of Buxtons and thear washe thy sself and thanke God for thie delivery" (29). From the time of Roman settlements in Britain there was a healing spring in Buxton, Derbyshire that came to be known as St. Anne's Well. The cult of St Anne became popular in England around the fourteenth century, and a chapel to St. Anne was attached to the spring that was demolished during the Reformation.
Norman Jones suggests that before the Reformation, Wentworth might have related this conversation with a more explicit reference to the miracle of the well of St Anne: "He could go to the well of St Anne and bathe because it was a health spa, but he could no longer admit to believing in the power of the saint expressed through her well" (17). Despite the Reformation, the waters at Buxton continued to be very popular in Elizabethan England. Some people went believing it was medically helpful, while others also still prayed for miraculous cures. Mary, Queen of Scots, Lord Burghley, and the Earl of Leicester were among the many who went to St. Anne's Well in Buxton.
One might think this dramatic promise of a cure would have completed the interchange between Wentworth and his visitor, but the angel still stayed with Wentworth and continued to converse with him. "What those thinges weare, I knowe nott," Wentworth's son wrote forty years later, "butt I conjecture itt was some predictions of some perticuler prosperitees of his house and posterity." We cannot know how long "his heavenlie spiritt" would have stayed with him, but, as he later told the son she foretold, his wife and mother came up the stairs and the presence vanished (29). Greatly disappointed, he informed them what had happened. Lewes Lavater, in his 1572 text, Of Ghostes and Sprirites Walking By Nyght, assured his readers that "Angels for the most part take upon them the shapes of men, wherein they appeare" (161). According to Thomas Hill, if in a dream one gets "to see and talke with an Angell," then happiness is to follow (n.p.). Thomas Tryon suggests that in some dreams are "courteous Visits of good Angels [who] chuse to Communicate with us, thereby often forewarning us of impending dangers or instructing us to some eminent advantage" (50). Having a son for Thomas Wentworth was certainly an "eminent advantage."
Just as the angel assured him, Thomas Wentworth recovered his health. He then "wentt to the well att Buxtons, washed himself and most humblie thanked God." Thomas and his wife had one more child, the son he so wanted, whom he called William, who was born in 1562. William's father survived until his son was twenty-three years old. The adult William assured his own son that he not only heard this story from his father, but "my mother hath also severarally avowed the same to me" (29). When Thomas's son William grew up, he married Anne Atkinson, daughter and heir of Sir Robert Atkinson of Stowell in Gloucestershire. Their first son died in infancy, but they had a second son, named Thomas after his paternal grandfather, who was born on Good Friday 1593. In 1604 William decided to write his family history for his own son.
While the Elizabethan Thomas Wentworth told his son William that he was awake when the angel visited him, today we would most likely consider this to have been a dream, and some contemporaries believed it was as well. Certainly in the Wentworth family after this event, dreams were very much valued. C. V. Wedgwood describes Thomas Wentworth's son William as "superstitious as well as devout," concluding he was "an ambitious, weak and credulous man" (17, 20). The evidence Wedgwood used for this conclusion was a dream William related to his son about a conversation he had with his dead father. In this case the dream gave him support to do what he wanted but feared to do. William described how "going to bed and on my first slepe, I dreamed and thought that my father appered unto me" (34).
In the early modern period, night-time slumber was divided into "first" and "second" sleep, separated by a period of wakeful activity. And there was a strong belief in ghosts and that the easiest way for the dead to communicate with the living was through the medium of dreams, especially if there had been a strong emotional tie. Just as Lewes Lavater was convinced that angels could come to people in sleep, he also argued that ghosts could not only inhabit the visible world, but the world of dreams as well, and that God allowed ghosts to communicate with the living in their dreams. Thomas Tryon informed his readers that "It is far easier, and more familiar for the deceased Souls to communicate their secrets to their living Friends in Dreams ... for men in Dreams are nearer unto the condition of departed Souls then when awake; and therefore they can with ease, and, and great familiarity discourse, and reveal their minds unto them, most especially, if there were ... a hearty Love and Affection whilst they lived" (74).
While there appeared to be great love and affection between William and his father, and his father offered him just the support he needed in the dream, one would not expect that a ghost would return to help in a real estate venture, but this is exactly what William reported. As his father appeared in the dream, he asked William, "Sonne, what do youe for ffarwod?" William had been very much wanting to purchase the Harwood estate but did not think he could afford it. He answered his father: "By my troth, Sir, nothing, for the price is so excessive and the incombrances so manie thatt in reason, I maie not adventure upon it." Clearly Thomas had been spending his time in heaven considering the matter. William reported, "Me thought he said to me, 'It makes no matter, go forwards with itt in the name of God." William, who appeared to remember the conversation vividly, explained to his father, "Sir, I have considered of itt verie advisedlie and I can not deale with itt, but in trewe reason I shall danger the overthrowe of my estate." But the ghost was adamant and said again, "It makes no matter, go forwards with itt in the name of God." William then awoke from the dream, and as he wrote to his own son, "I tould your mother whatt I had dreamed and did fele in my self (contrarie to the constant courses I ever used upon the lyke sound deliberations) a desyre to adventure for ytt, verelie believing that this motion proceded from the speciall favor and blessing of God" (34-35).
Renaissance dream theorists believed that dreams were usually false in the first sleep, but true in the second after midnight and especially true toward morning. Richard Saunders explained that "It is that the first sleep is more vehement by reason of the more gross exhalations, and more turbulent, by reason of the impurity of vapours; but the morning sleep is more sweet, light, and apt for dreams, by reason of the more pure vapours, and the more rare and perlucid exhalation" (241). William Wentworth, however, absolutely believed in the veracity of his dream in his first sleep. The purchase of the Harwood estate proved sound. "After thus having surmounted all difficulties in the course of that matter, being guyded by the pouerfull and mercyfull hand of the Almightie, I have established the inheritance of Harwod upon you, whom in the name of God I charge ever to beare a good conscience, which is to a man an exceding comfort," he noted (35).
William lived to see his son start an illustrious career. Thomas was educated at Cambridge and the Inner Temple. In 1611 his father presented him at court and bought a baronetcy from the king. That year Thomas was knighted at the age of eighteen, soon after his marriage to Lady Margaret Clifford. Wentworth continued his education by traveling abroad. He had just been elected to the House of Commons at the time his father died in 1614, when Thomas was only twenty-one. It is as well William did not see the tragic end to the career several decades later. Thomas took his responsibilities as head of his family seriously and made sure that his five surviving younger brothers and four younger sisters all received fine educations. While his grandfather Thomas had had only the one son, William had more than made up for it.
In the 1621 Parliament Wentworth attempted to mediate between James I and those members of Parliament who argued that the king was attempting to limit the privileges of parliament and the ancient liberties of the kings subjects. He was concerned about Stuart policies, however, and in 1626 he opposed King Charles's attempt to impose forced loans, which Wedgwood considered to demonstrate Wentworth's "conscience and integrity" (57). In 1628 Wentworth was one of the most eloquent and persuasive supporters of the Petition of Right, introduced by Sir Edward Coke, which was a statement of civil liberties that Parliament sent to King Charles. Wentworth, and others were in violent opposition to the policies of Charles and his favorite, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, such as forced loans and quartering troops in people's homes.
But in 1628 after a shift in Charles's foreign policy, Wentworth switched sides and expressed his loyalty to the king. In December Charles gave him the title of Viscount. Wentworth's Parliamentary colleagues, including John Pym and John and Denzil Holies, who had become his brothers-in-law, were angry and resentful that someone of such ability, who had done so much to secure the passage of the Petition of Right, had gone over, from their point of view, to "the dark side." After 1629 Charles ruled without Parliament for eleven years, his "personal rule" or "king's tyranny," depending on one's point of view. Charles found ways to raise money without Parliament. The most hated was "ship money," which allowed the king to levy taxes from coastal towns in times of crisis, but which Charles levied without crisis to towns throughout England. Even with these other ways of raising money, the king's government had to be careful, since a real crisis could mean the need for Parliament and new taxes.
Charles appointed Wentworth to the position of President of the Council of the North. During the eleven year "personal rule," Wentworth was Charles's chief minister. Wentworth, though his own religious convictions were far more Puritan, became the close ally of William Laud, the high church Archbishop of Canterbury. Just as dreams were important in Wentworth's family, they were important to Laud as well, who meticulously recorded his dreams in his journal. Laud was another who dreamed of his dead parents. (2)
In the meanwhile, Wentworth's personal life went through a number of crises in these years. His wife Margaret died in 1622. In 1624 he began to court the sixteen-year-old Lady Arabella Holies, the daughter of Lord Clare, and sister of John and Denzil Holies, Members of Parliament who would also support the Petition of Right. Wentworth was soon passionately in love with her, and they married in February of the following year, a month before the death of King James. They had had three children, when in 1631, the pregnant Arabella, attempting to move an insect off Wentworth's arm, tripped and fell. She went into premature labor, and she and the baby died. Wentworth was devastated, her death made even worse for him as her family blamed him for it. Arabella's mother was convinced, untruly, that her daughter's fall had happened because her husband had struck her. Whether John and Denzil Holies believed it or not, they used it as an excuse to break off all relations with their erstwhile colleague and brother-in-law.
In 1632 Charles asked Wentworth to become Lord Deputy of Ireland, where Wentworth was successful in forming alliances with Roman Catholics and increased royal revenues. But there was a crisis for Charles in 1637 when Scotland rebelled over Laud's imprudent imposition of the Anglican prayer book in Scottish churches; the hastily elected Parliament refused to aid the king in raising money to squash the rebellion. After Charles dismissed Parliament, known as the Short Parliament, the situation only worsened, so Charles called Parliament again, this time the Long Parliament. Charles recalled Wentworth to England to help him deal with the difficult House of Commons. Charles also rewarded Wentworth's loyalty by creating him Earl of Strafford. Strafford had not been an advocate of Charles's most hated policies such as ship money or the imposition of Anglican prayer books in Scotland, but he felt it was his duty to support the king in enacting these policies once they had been decided upon, and for this he was very much hated.
When Parliament met in November 1640 Strafford was in Yorkshire and aware he was in danger of impeachment by Parliament should he go to London. But Charles, who had few he could trust, asked Strafford to come to the capital, and the earl obeyed, even knowing the danger he was facing. He wrote to his close friend George Radcliffe, "I am tomorrow to London with more dangers beset, I believe, then ever any man went of Yorkshire; yet my hartte is good" (Radcliffe 218). The day he appeared in the House of Lords, John Pym, in Commons, accused him of high treason and impeached him before the Lords. Pym went after Strafford as he was the most able of all of the king's advisors and the one seen most as a traitor to Parliament. That December Laud was also impeached for high treason by Commons. Strafford was arrested and sent to the Tower, where Laud was also lodged. The following March Strafford was put on trial in the House of Lords, with a long list of charges prepared by the Commons, Originally Denzil Holies was part of the committee that drew up the charges, but he had resigned. Wedgwood suggests that even "as he abhorred Strafford's politics, the judicial murder of his sister's husband was more than he could stomach" (319). But given the traditional definitions of treason--crimes against the king--it was a difficult case to make. Nor could it be shown that Strafford had committed crimes which subverted the established legal order. Strafford defended himself with great skill and courage, arguing that if his opponents were allowed to so redefine treason, no office holder could be safe. As the impeachment proceedings appeared about to collapse, Commons changed tactics and on April 21 passed a bill of attainder, 204 to 59, declaring Strafford's actions treason and condemning him to death. Crowds massed outside cheering this outcome. (3)
Charles wrote to Strafford two days later promising that he would save his life, no matter what. On May 1 the king came to Parliament to beg for Strafford's life, but he also sent soldiers to the Tower the next day to free Wentworth, an attempt that failed. When Londoners heard about the attempt and also of a more wide-ranging plot of the king to bring armed forces against Parliament, there was widespread panic and fury. Strafford released the king from his promise, though he apparently also reflected that one should not put one's trust in princes. On May 9 Strafford wrote to George Radcliffe, "Gentle, George, ... Meete, I trust, we shall in heaven, but I doubt not on earthe. Howbeit, of all men living I should be gladest to spend an hour with you privately" (Radcliffe 224). Fearful of what might happen to his own family, on May 10 Charles assented to the bill of attainder. Two days later Strafford was to be beheaded on Tower Hill. By two o'clock in the morning of the 12th crowds were already gathering on Tower Hill. By the time of the execution there were as many as a hundred thousand people there to watch. Before his death Strafford sent word to Laud asking him to watch from his window, but Laud could not bear to do so. Strafford met his death with courage and dignity. Radcliffe wrote, "I lost in his death a treasure which no earthly thing can countervail; such a friend as never man within the compass of my knowledge had; so excellent a friend, and so much mine" (Wedgwood 397).
Not all who sat in the Long Parliament agreed with the decision to have Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, executed. One of those who sat in this Parliament but who refused to vote for the attainder against the Earl was Sir Philip Warwick, who later left Parliament to rally with the king. In his Memoires of the Reign of King Charles I, published posthumously in 1701, Warwick blamed Strafford's death on the "the greatness of the envy that attended him." Warwick then related the Wentworth family history in terms of the story of a man appearing to be dying and the promise of a coming son. This is a very different version, making it about the Earl of Strafford's father William, not his grandfather and namesake Thomas, and is explicitly described as a dream. In this account, Strafford's father was thought to be dying when he fell into a deep and profound sleep. His wife, becoming worried, came up to his bed to check if she could hear him breathing, and gently touched him. Upon this touch, "he awaked with great disturbance." He then explained why he was so distressed: "She had interrupted him in a dream which most passionately he desired to have known the end of. 'For,' said he, 'I dreamed one appeared to me, assuring me that I should have a son, (for till then he had none) who should be a great and eminent man: but--and in this instant thou didst awake me, whereby I am bereaved of the knowledge of the future fortune of the child" (122). Warwick went on to assure his readers that "this I heard when this lord was but in the ascent of his greatness, and long before his fall: and afterwards, conferring with some of his [nearest] relations, I found the tradition was not disowned" (123).
The year of Strafford's death the book The Divine Dreamer was published. The author was listed as simply as Gonzalo. The book gave many examples of dreams and what they meant and described a number of significant dreams in history. The author ended the text with a dream he related that had happened recently that foretold the death of Thomas Wentworth. It was a long and convoluted dream, and the description of it in many ways sounds like an actual dream instead of one the author simply created, but there is no way we can know the veracity of the dream. It has elements of sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, and melancholic dream-types. The author promised that "I shall relate a dream of a young gentleman which of late happened, premonitory of the death of the Earl of Strafford, the truth of which is fresh in my memory" (16). The dream began with the young man looking to the heavens and seeing two great ghostly armies about to encounter each other. The battle was frightening and horrific, and in the midst of it a huge black man who was fighting fell to earth. Then they all vanished leaving a disturbed heaven. The dream continued with the young man seeing "a grave old man sitting in a chair of state, upon the top of a mountain, having a sceptre in his hand, with a triple crown on his head, having with him divers [people] habited in long robes and red hats, that seemed to hold the chair; whilst his eye was busied with the view of them, a thunderbolt fell and cleft the mountain, which swallowed them up" (17). This sounds like a disturbing dream, and would have also to those who read the text at the time it was published. According to Thomas Hill, "To dreame that he seeth a king or kings, declareth departure out of the world or sorowfulnes. And to dreame he seeth kinges dye, signifyeth damage" (n.p.). He also stated that thunder signified trouble and fear. Marc Vulson concurs that "if one Dreams that the Air is cloudy, dark and troubled, that signifies sadness, sickness, melancholy" (15).
After that the dream changed, and the young man found himself walking through pleasant green fields, The first person he met was a young cavalero, a horse-soldier or knight. The next person he met was quite different from the first, a poor soldier. The dreamer wanted to speak with the knight, but before he could the poor soldier rushed him and demanded his money. The dreamer gave it to him, and "and in requital, the soldier said, 'Come you to hear news? In brief it is this, our General being dead, our armies were disbanded'" (18). Upon saying that he vanished, and a poor countryman took his place demanding to know if soldiers had been there who had driven away his cattle. The dreamer wanted to help him, but the poor soldier had already stolen his money. The dreamer kept walking, passing by a great house that was well fortified. He asked to enter but since he did not know the pass word, he was not admitted. Next he came to a tree "the true height of a star" with a man standing under it. The two began to talk, and the dreamer told the man of the vision he had seen. The man under the tree was someone who studied stars, who told him to have a little patience while he put away his mathematical instruments. He then pulled out a small box, which was of such beauty the dreamer was amazed, and he was not sure if it "was the work of art or nature, or both" (18-19).
The astrologer took a mirror out of the box. It had an oval frame set with beautifully cut diamonds, rubies, and topaz. According to Pierre le Loyer, a man with cunning and art can create "Artificiall Specters" using glass and mirrors (58). The belief in magic mirrors was very powerful at this time. For example, John Aubrey recounted that James Harrington had informed him that when the Earl of Denbigh was Ambassador at Venice he had been shown a mirror that showed "things past, and to come" (129). But they could be dangerous. For instance, in Macbeth when the witches show him Banquo's heirs, "the eighth appears, who bears a glass/Which shows me many more" (4.1.134-35). On one side of the mirror the dreamer saw a tall man dressed like a prince. On the other side someone in mourning, and by him stood an executioner. Over the executioners head was an inscription in large letters stating, "worser rul'd not, traytor's head must off." The astrologer told the dreamer to "cast up each letter of this inscription," and he would find out the name and title of the person in the mirror. The dreamer started to work with the letters and found that it was Sir Thomas Wentworth, Lord Strafford. At this the astrologer vanished, "and making a horrible noise at his departure, the gentleman awaked" (20).
In 1641 the tension in the country was extreme. England was fighting the rebellions in Scotland and the conflicts between King and his enemies in Parliament were becoming more intense. There was more crime, and in times of uncertainty and violence, more and more felt the need to consult astrologers. Someone who admired Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, might well have had such a dream. Equally, someone who admired Strafford and studied dreams might well have been able to construct such a dream. One final dream resonated with the death of Strafford. Another 1641 pamphlet, authored by John Milton, was highly critical of William Laud and presented a dream of Laud's where the ghost of Cardinal Wolsey visited him. The full title of this pamphlet is Canterburies Dreame: in which the Apparation of Cardinal Wolsey did present himselfe unto him on the fourteenth of May last past: it being the third night after my Lord of Strafford had taken his fare-well to the World.
Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, came from a family that valued dreams, as is clear from the account William Wentworth left for his son. Dreams were also important to some members of the family of Wentworth's beloved second wife, Arabella Holies. Gervase Holies, an antiquarian who fought in the Civil War on the side of the king, was a cousin of Arabella and Denzil, though his branch of the family was less wealthy and prestigious. Gervase was the only surviving son of Freschville Holies and his wife Elizabeth, who died when Gervase was only a toddler. In his teens Gervase spent three years with his cousins in the household of John Holies, Earl of Clare. Gervase's father died in 1630 when he was twenty-three, and only a few months later he married Dorothy Kirketon, whom he loved deeply. They returned to Grimsby, Lincolnshire, where he had lived as a boy. The next four years were the best of his life; he adored his wife and was "indulgent to his own contentment." He "took great pleasure in searching the records and investigating antiquities." Their daughter was born November of the next year. She was named for Holles's mother Elizabeth, who had died before Gervase turned two. Their son George was born two years later. Holies felt such love and happiness that "from the time of my marriage ... I found no cause to envy any person living" (228).
But this idyll ended abruptly. On 18 January 1635, Dorothy died while giving birth to their third child; the baby girl also died. Two days before Holies had had a terrible dream that expressed not only the fears he had for what could happen to his wife in childbirth, but what had happened to his own mother:
I dreamt that my wife was brought to bed of a daughter and that she and the child were both dead, and that I (in a great deal of affliction) walking under the north wall of the close in the Friers Minorites at Grimesby (the place where I was born) my own mother walked on the other side her hand continually touching mine on the top of the wall; and so (my heart beating violently within me) I awakened. (231)
Holles did not want to worry his wife, so he did not share his dream with her. But his wife's parents saw his distress and "were importunate to know the reason. They, being rigid Puritans, made slight of it; but the day after made it too true in every syllable." For Holies the tragedy was even more intense because of the "parallel she [his wife] made to my mother; my mother brought my father three children as she did unto me; my mother died in childbed of a daughter as she did; the daughter died likewise as hers did; my son was within about six weeks as old as I was at the departure of my mother" (231).
The tragedies unfortunately continued. Holles's wife died January 1635. His son George died only seven months later. In the following years Holies supported the king. As mayor of Grimsby he collected ship money in 1636 and 1638. Rolles signed a letter to the Members of Parliament in Nottinghamshire warning that Parliament could not act as if their votes were law. In the summer of 1642 when Rolles was thirty-four years old, he received a commission in Charles's army. His young cousin William had a commission in the regiment under him. William was the only surviving child of Gervase's uncle Francis and wife Anne. Gervase was thirteen years older and in the army looked out for his young cousin.
William served with great courage and distinction at the battle of Atherton and the siege of Bradford and other skirmishes. The regiment had suffered a great deal when they were ordered to Newark to strengthen the garrison from an expected siege. But this order, wrote Gervase, "gave a fatal period both to my regiment and my dear kinsman's life." In writing the history of his nephew, Gervase suggested that the family ability to perceive the future, whether in dreamtime or world time, was something William, and his father, also inherited. Gervase recorded that after William received the orders he immediately wrote to his father: "Sir, we have received orders to march into Newarke, and expect speedily to be attacked. Let me humbly beg of you if I chance to miscarry that as Colonell has beene like a father to me, you wilbe so to him and his" (188).
The path to Newark proved deadly. On Ash Wednesday, March 6, 1643, Gervase explained, "The enemy ... powred over the bridge and kild and galled my souldiers from severall partes: amongst the rest Will Holies, after a musquet shot had past through his clothes, had his thigh shatt'd in pieces with a great bullet, upon which he fell and could not be carried of, the enemy prest on so violently. He lived about two houres" (189). William was twenty-two years old.
Francis later wrote to Gervase that he had been at Oxford at the time, and on the "very night after his death I ... dreampt that one came to me and tolde me my son was dead; after which I wakened with a great passion and palpitation of my heart." Francis could not get back to sleep, so lit a candle and wrote a letter to his wife "charging hir ... to send a messenger away to me to let me know how my childe did." He gave the letter to Mr. Sutton, "acquainting] him with the contents, and the trouble I had by reason of my dreame." Four or five days later another cousin, Frescheville Holies, came to Francis "and acquainted me with this sad accident of my [son], which though it proved not my dreame exactly true, yet relatively it did." It was a terrible blow to Francis, "I having ever placed him both in my affections and intentions" (189).
For Francis, as for Gervase, there was the strong belief about a how a dream could foretell a tragedy: "I deny not but amongst the variety of dreames sometimes they may casually sort with the present accidents, yet I doubt not at all (notwithstanding Hobs his new and atheisticall philosophy) but when there is betweene two an harmony in their affections, there is likewise betweene their soules an acquaintance and sometimes an intelligence" (190). For both husband and wife, and father and son, there was a great harmony in affections, and it is not surprising there were dreams such as this.
Gervase wrote that "his father tooke his [son's] losse (though very heavily) yet better then I feared he would considering he was his only childe, most hopefull and most dutifull, and a son that he loved most entirely." The only thing that comforted Francis was "the gallantry of his death and the just cause he died in" (190-91). Gervase was well aware of the great pain for a father to lose his only son.
In the early modern period dreams were part of family lore. Dreams of the Wentworth and the Holies families are but two examples of the many dreams recorded in this time. Dreams could be part of the remembrance of survival of a man thought to be dying and the promise of a much-desired son, such as Thomas Wentworths experience. How William understood what happened to his father helped shape his own understanding of his own dream of his father. But as William's son became powerful and famous, the stories of the family dreams changed to center on him, and after his death that also was retold in a dream. For the Holies family, the recorded dreams expressed anguished love and loss. Whether a wife lost in childbirth or a son lost in battle, Gervase Holies and his uncle Francis both believed that dreams warned them of these deaths, though there was nothing either could do to change the future. Given the dangers for women giving birth in the pre-modern world and the death of Gervase's own mother, and the dangers for a young man in the midst of the civil war, it is not surprising that Gervase Holies and Francis Holies both had these dreams. No doubt many husbands and fathers of the time had such dreams, but if they did not come true they would not have had the same power. There were reasons for these to be so vividly remembered. The recorded dreams of people of early modern England demonstrate how much family and death were both on the minds of individuals and at the center of the cultural milieu, how intense were the feelings people had. Through dreams we can learn some of the deepest feelings of people from a vanished world.
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(1) For more on the meanings of dreams and humoural theory, see Levin.
(2) For more on Laud's dreams, see Carlton.
(3) For more on Wentworths trial and the public response, see Kilburn and Milton.
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|Publication:||Explorations in Renaissance Culture|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2014|
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