Roger L'Estrange

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Sir Roger L'Estrange
Sir Roger L'Estrange by John Michael Wright.jpg
Portrait of L'Estrange by John Michael Wright, c. 1680.
Member of Parliament
for Winchester
In office
1685–1689
Personal details
Born (1616-12-17)17 December 1616
Hunstanton
Died 11 December 1704(1704-12-11) (aged 87)
Nationality English
Political party Tory
Relations Hamon le Strange (father)

Hamon L'Estrange (brother)

Alma mater Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge
Occupation
  • Author
  • Pamphleteer
  • Translator
Newspaper publisher
Religion High Anglican
Military service
Allegiance English Royalist

Sir Roger L'Estrange (17 December 1616 – 11 December 1704) was an English pamphleteer, author and staunch defender of Royalist claims. L'Estrange was involved in political controversy throughout his life. Perhaps his best known polemical pamphlet was An Account of the Growth of Knavery, which ruthlessly attacked the parliamentary opposition, placing them as "dissenting fanatics" and truly beyond the pale.

Early life[edit]

Roger L'Estrange was born in Hunstanton as the youngest son of a Norfolk baronet and fought on the Royalist side in the English Civil War. In 1644 he led a conspiracy to deliver the town of Lynn to the king and was sentenced to death as a spy, although after four years' imprisonment in Newgate Prison he was able to escape to the Continent, finding refuge in Holland.

In 1653, he returned to England, with a special pardon by Oliver Cromwell and lived quietly, maintaining a low profile. By 1659, however, he was making his presence as a Royalist known. He printed several pamphlets supporting a return of Charles II and attacked various Commonwealth writers, including John Milton in a pamphlet titled No Blinde Guides.

Restoration years[edit]

As a reward for his propaganda, L'Estrange was granted a warrant to seize seditious books or pamphlets in 1662 and in recognition of his Considerations and Proposals in Order to the Regulation of the Press he was appointed Surveyor of the Imprimery[1] (Printing Press) the following year.[2] Thereafter, also appointed Licenser of the Press, he retained both positions until the lapse of the Licensing of the Press Act in 1679.[3] The latter was not, however, a continuous appointment. At one time, L’Estrange was deprived of his post as Licenser by Joseph Williamson; but when anti-Royalist pamphleteering began to turn the city against the king, L’Estrange was recalled to this position.[4]

As Licenser and Surveyor, L’Estrange was charged with the prevention of the publication of dissenting writings, and authorised to search the premises of printers and booksellers on the merest suspicion of dissension.[5] L’Estrange excelled at this, hunting down hidden presses and enlisting peace officers and soldiers to suppress their activities. He soon came to be known as the “Bloodhound of the Press.”[6] His careful monitoring and control of nonconformist ideas and opinions succeeded not only in checking seditious publications,[4] but also in limiting political controversy and reducing debate.[7]

There were, however, notable excesses. Under L’Estrange, the antennae of state censorship prickled at the very mention of the monarch and he famously objected to the following lines from Milton’s Paradise Lost, Book I:

As when the Sun new ris'n
Looks through the Horizontal misty Air
Shorn of his Beams, or from behind the Moon
In dim Eclips disastrous twilight sheds
On half the Nations, and with fear of change
Perplexes Monarchs.[8]

In 1668, William Lilly, the astrologer and occultist, had commented on the connection between comets and the death of princes in a draft to his 1670 almanac: comets indicated, wrote Lilly, “some dreadful matter at hand,” and were “a prediction of the fall of kings and tyrants.” The latter comment was removed from the draft by L’Estrange.[9]

In 1663, L'Estrange had ventured into newspaper publishing with The Public Intelligencer and The News, but the unpopularity brought him by his position, coupled with dissatisfaction with his product and intrigues to wrest away his monopoly, eventually led to the loss of his favoured position. In the later years of the reign, he was once again involved in writing for the Court. The Whigs were actively engaged in the publishing of tracts critical of Charles and his ministers; L'Estrange countered by comparing the divisiveness of the Whigs with the Parliamentarians on the eve of the Civil War. He also sought to calm the popular hysteria arising from the Popish Plot in pamphlets questioning the truthfulness of Titus Oates' allegations. At this period too, he helped Thomas Britton found his concert series, playing the viol at the first event in 1678. [10]

Toward the end of 1680, he was forced to flee the country by the political opposition but on his return the next year he started another paper called The Observator, a single sheet printed in double columns on both sides. It was written in the form of a dialogue between a Whig and a Tory (later Trimmer and Observator), with the bias on the side of the latter. During the six years of its existence, L'Estrange wrote with a consistent fierceness, meeting his enemies with personal attacks characterized by sharp wit. One of his main targets was Titus Oates, whose increasingly extreme allegations eventually brought about his conviction for perjury in 1685.[10]

Later life[edit]

In 1685, L'Estrange was knighted by King James II and became a Member of Parliament for Winchester from 1685 to 1689.[11] However, though a fierce Tory and High Anglican, he opposed the religious toleration of Catholics, which put him at odds with the policy of the new king. After the revolution in favour of William III, he lost all his offices and was arrested several times on suspicion of involvement in plots against him. [10]

L'Estrange now turned to writing again, and published translations of Seneca the Younger's Morals and Cicero's Offices, besides his master-work of this period, Fables of Aesop and Other Eminent Mythologists (1692).[12] This notably included nearly all of the Hecatomythium of Laurentius Abstemius, among several other fabulists. The style is racily idiomatic and each fable is accompanied by a short moral and a longer reflection, which set the format for fable collections for the next century.[10]

In 1702, he completed his acclaimed English translation of The works of Flavius Josephus. Additionally he wrote a 'Key' to Hudibras, a 17th-century satire by Samuel Butler on the English Civil War, which was included in several 18th century editions of the work.[10]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Surveyor of the Imprimery
  2. ^ John William Cousin, op. cit.
  3. ^ Anne Dunan-Page & Beth Lynch, op. cit., p.1
  4. ^ a b Abbott p. 44.
  5. ^ Anne Dunan-Page & Beth Lynch, op. cit., p. 1
  6. ^ Abbott p. 35.
  7. ^ Joad Raymond, ‘The Literature of Controversy’, in A Companion to Milton, ed. Thomas N. Corns (Blackwell, 2003), p. 209
  8. ^ Sharon Achinstein, Milton and the Revolutionary Reader, (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994), p. 173
  9. ^ Ken Simpson, ‘The Apocalypse in Paradise Lost’, in Milton and the Ends of Time, ed. Juliet Cummins (UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 215
  10. ^ a b c d e Lee 1893.
  11. ^ Constituencies beginning with "W" - Leigh Rayment's Peerage Page
  12. ^ Available on Google Books

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Parliament of England
Preceded by
James Annesley and
Sir John Cloberry
Member of Parliament for Winchester
with Charles Hanses

16851689
Succeeded by
Lord William Powlett and
Francis Morley