I was having a hard time writing the conclusion to my dissertation on the English devil until I read a couple of articles from the Public Medievalist on Race, Racism, and the Middle Ages. It made me realize that we still demonize others and in the world of Brexit and Trump, there are nationalistic tones to this. We demonize Others as a way of defining ourselves- we are THIS because we're not THAT.
That's my dissertation.
And the conclusion was easy to write from there.
Yesterday I had this conversation on Twitter:
Just as demonizing enemies to define your own national identity is not new, neither is invoking the devil in politics. In the mid 1600s, as Cromwell and the Republicans demonized Charles and the Royalist, they did the devil to do it. While it would initially appear that the devil disappears in literature during the English Civil War until the Restoration, he really just moves into politics.
The devil, and his image, are used as a rhetorical shorthand. If the English devil is invoked on the title page of a pamphlet along with Cromwel and the idea of witchcraft, that's a complete story right there.
The audience doesn't need more explanation. By associating Cromwell with witchcraft and the devil, he is demonized, set apart from good Englishmen and women. A threat to not just the souls of the people, but the nation.
The same occurs when the devil is associated with parliament, as happened in 1648. Parliament was not just constructed as demonic because it historically is, but also because it worked counter to the interests of true Englishmen.
If we look at the number of pamphlets published during a section of the early modern period, and then look at the number of pamphlets that invoke the devil, some interesting patterns emerge.
From 1588 to 1636 there is a steady, but small increase in the annual press output with the number of texts barely rising above five hundred in 1638. In 1639 these numbers skyrocket producing over four thousand texts. From there the English Civil War can be read against the number of texts produced; there is a spike to three thousand texts in 1648 in anticipation of Charles I’s execution in 1649, and another spike in 1660 with the Restoration (Raymond Figure 1). The next spikes don’t come until the Popish Plot in 1678 and the Irish Plot in 1680 (Raymond 346)—both events that were viewed through a 1641 lens supported by the appearance of recycled pamphlets (Raymond 355). If we plot the occurrence of these pamphlets along a timeline we see a small spike in 1592, 1606, 1612, 1615, 1630-1, 1635 with the largest spikes in 1641 and 1642. Then we return to smaller spikes in 1648-9, 1652-3, 1655, 1657, and 1659-60. These spikes coincide with major events in English history such as the end of Elizabeth’s reign, Puritan emigration to the American colonies, major events in the English Civil War, and famous witchcraft trials such as the Pendle trials. From this we can conclude that traumatic events, events that created conflict or had a long reaching impact had a direct impact on pamphlet culture. As events unfolded that affected the lives of the common people the English folkloric devil and pamphlets became the vehicle through which fears, anxieties, and concerns over these events were expressed.
Recycled texts and images present new perspectives on current events while invoking previous arguments. “Just as the pamphlets celebrating the Restoration had whitewashed the complexities of the preceding years, so the pamphlets around the year 1680 reinvented the previous two decades” (Raymond 355). In order to understand these recycled images then we need to understand the current and past uses. Statistics illustrate that moments of anxiety and tension produce more texts. There are also similarities in the types of events that produce spikes in production. These similarities also contribute to the reasons pamphlets were recycled; if a pamphlet dealt with the same issues and had already proven its popularity then it was economically beneficial to just recycle the imagery and argument of past pamphlets. The “Revolution of 1688-9 provided an ideologically febrile moment for recycling and appropriation” (Raymond 367). The recycling of certain texts also highlights what images and topics spoke to the common people, capturing their imagination and representing their feelings.
Out of the two hundred and fifteen pamphlets that met my criteria of invoking the devil’s name in the title we can identify several subtopics: religion, including sermons; politics; ballads, many of which contain images; the supernatural, including witches; and specific figures; in particular Robert the Devil. There is also a small set of wills and testaments published in pamphlet format.” While spellings differ, he is most often named as some variation of “devil” with some pairings with Sathan, Lucifer, Plato, and serpents.
Distribution of Pamphlet Topics (created from my own research)
Religious pamphlets invoked the name of the devil to demonize roundheads, the Pope, Roman Catholics in general, as well as Jews although not as often as we’d think given their long-standing connection to the English folkloric devil. Anti-Catholic rhetorics built on narratives after the Reformation that demonized Catholicism and criticized popishness, which also connects to the criticisms of ritual seen in the witchcraft and supernatural themed pamphlets. By far the largest group of pamphlets were ones that specifically demonized Quakers and Ranters. In both religious and political pamphlets, the devil is mentioned along with Sin, Error, and the World, the Flesh and the Devil. Given the tensions of the English Civil War it’s not surprising that the devil is often associated with Parliament, Cavaliers, named as a traitor, and associated with the concepts of war and rebellion. The devil’s identification with discourse and dialogue in pamphlet titles references the devil’s ability to convince and tempt as well as his ties to written argument and print culture all of which are key elements of the figure. Out of these records, eleven were plays, such as The White Devil, The Devil is an Asse, or The Merry Devil of Edmonton.
There are several gaps in topics covered by these pamphlets including how witches are dealt with, pamphlets about New World colonies, and connections between the resurgences of plague, the Great Fire and the devil. While forty-two pamphlets deal with witches and the supernatural the rhetoric is not what we see in other texts that deal with witches and witchcraft (For more on this see Michael Bailey’s Battling Demons : Witchcraft, Heresy, and Reform in the Late Middle Ages (2003) or J.A Sharpe’s Witchcraft in early modern England (2001). The visual rhetoric of racialized and sexualized difference that we associate with witchcraft is absent. The women are presented as Othered by their association with the devil but the misogyny is missing as is any mention of pacts as a form of gaining power. Familiars rarely appear and there are few mentions of the devil and exorcism. There was also less use of the actual image of the devil than I expected with only thirteen pamphlets featuring cover art.
From left to right, top to bottom: Cover art for News from Scotland (1592), The English Usurer (1634), News from Hell (1642), A Delicate, Damnable Dialogue (1642), Plutoes Remembrance (1642), and The Snare of the Devil (1658)
By the early modern period the characterization of the English folkloric devil has coalesced. Physically he was shown as dark, usually black in color, with animal qualities such as fur, horns, ears, claws, and a tail. He is sometimes shown with batwings. Part of the reason why invoking the devil’s name and image works rhetorically is because the English people knew what he looked like and how he acted. Publishers depended on known iconography to make cover art work towards commercial interests, “Visual representation of their pamphleteering activities accompanied this self-conscious use of the printed medium” (Raymond 228). There are several recurring iconographies that are connected to the English folkloric devil tradition; Jews, Catholics, specifically Jesuits (as seen in Gyles Gdhed’s The pycture of the Devell and the pope (1562) and Roger Mitchell’s The Celestiall Publican the Vitious Courtier The Jesuite and the Divelle (1630)), the hellmouth, dogs, and witches all appear on cover art. Pamphlet imagery of the devil uses recognizable variations of the English folkloric devil. Four out of the eleven images feature a dark colored devil while the rest show a similar physical shape only not filled in which could have been a result of the practical consideration of wanting a clear image for printing production.
The devil works rhetorically because we know what he is. We know how he functions. He leads people astray, he tempts them, he lies, he deceives. Therefore people who are associated with him also have these traits. So far, the devil, and demonizing others, has mostly been used by those in power- Donald Trump, the Brexit arguments. Yet, the tide is starting to turn it seems. News outlets are still spewing the hate started by these campaigns, demonizing Others- refugees, Muslims, women. But a quick search for the devil in recent headlines shows that more and more Trump is the devil.
Given the history of the devil's rhetoric, the brand of the devil is a hard one to overcome. One can only hope that as Trump is constructed as a devil, the people stand on the side of righteousness.
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