Paul Griffiths has compiled a study of the first importance, throwing extraordinary light on a major period of English history. His theme is low life in London during the reigns of Mary, Elizabeth, the first two Stuarts and the Protectorate, and the measures adopted by the authorities to keep the simmering urban pot from boiling over.
At the beginning of this period, conditions in the city were relatively constant. The unruly element of the citizenry was largely known and manageable, and as times changed many looked back on the earlier era with nostalgia. John Stow’s great Survay [sic] of London, first published in 1598, still managed to encapsulate this steady state of affairs, although the city he described had been changing fast about him.
The most daunting factor facing the governing class was that of burgeoning over-population, with immigrants pouring in faster than anyone could control. Desperate attempts were made to keep them beyond the walls and on the southern bank of the Thames. ‘Shee swarmes’, as Donald Lupton wrote of the