“A Judgment upon the whole nation”: Why was The Great Fire of London in 1666 ignored by Restoration drama?

Within four days in September 1666, what was to be known as “the Great Fire of London” destroyed four fifths of the ancient commercial and topographic heart of London, quickly presented by King Charles II as “a judgment upon the whole nation” (my emphasis). As Cynthia Wall brilliantly showed, such physical and historical disaster entailed a wealth of “fire narratives” of all kinds and genres (royal proclamations, newspapers, sermons, poems), promoting a “rhetoric of loss” (Wall, 3) together with a view to resemiotize a now “signless” London (John Evelyn). However, one particular genre and space, drama, one of the dominant genres of the time, remained conspicuously aloof from such narratives of loss. Most of what the Restoration theatre produced in the immediate aftermath of and several years after the Fire hardly ever made so much as a passing reference to the event. One of the possible explanations for such emphatic silence might be that the theatrical world was located outside the ruined City, topographically and conceptually (Wall, 149). The aim of this paper is to interrogate further why Restoration drama, especially comedies –despite their usual countless topical references– gave the Great Fire of London the silent treatment, effectively placing the theatrical world out of the ashes and the rebuilding process that followed, but also, to a certain extent, beside the rest of the nation.

Denis Lagae-Devoldère (Sorbonne Université)


Primary sources

  •  Aubrey, John. Brief Lives, ed. Richard Barber (Woodbridge, Suffolk, The Boydell Press, 1982)
  • Evelyn, John. The Diary of John Evelyn, ed. E. S. De Beer (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1938)
  • Ford, Simon. The Conflagration of London Poetically delineated (1667)
  • Pepys, Samuel. The Diary of Samuel Pepys, ed. Robert Latham and William Matthews (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1972)
  • Shadwell, Thomas. A Short and Serious Narrative of Londons Fatal Fire (1667)
  • A Proclamation for a General Fast through England and Wales (October 10, 1666)

Secondary sources

  • Bell, Walter George. The Great Fire of London in 1666 (London, The Bodley Head, 1920)
  • Barton, Anne. “London Comedy and the Ethos of the City.” The London Journal 4:2 (1978)
  • Barton, Anne. “Parks and Ardens.” Proceedings of the British Academy 80 (1993)
  • Wall, Cynthia. The Literary and Cultural Spaces of Restoration London (CUP, 1998)
  • Wells, Susan. “Jacobean City Comedy and the Ideology of the City.” ELH 48:1 (1981)

“STRANGE and DREADFUL News” – événements climatiques et catastrophes naturelles dans les ballades anglaises

Mon projet est de confronter les récits de catastrophes naturelles ou climatiques relatées par des Broadside Ballads, ces feuilles volantes à bas prix  à leur traitement des événements politiques ou monstrueux dont on sait cette littérature friande. Je m’efforcerai d’analyser quels effets rhétoriques sont convoqués pour agrandir ou au contraire simplement essayer de rendre compte de ces événements hors du commun et que peu de témoins oculaires peuvent effectivement relater.

On discerne 3 types de ballade en rapport avec les catastrophes naturelles :

1.Les chansons entièrement consacrées au récit d’un événement exceptionnel, tempête, inondation, tremblement de terre, éruption volcanique, orage de grêle, épidémie (a vérifier), incendie causé par le vent etc

2.Les allusions à de tels événements dans des chansons traitant de sujets divers et en particulier les chansons de marins qui font fréquemment allusion aux tempêtes.

3.Les prophéties ou contes moraux qui mettent parfois en jeu le répertoire complet des catastrophes possibles, comme dans « Calebbe Shillocke, his Prophesie: or, the Jewes Prediction. » (EBBA 20024), une ballade de 1607, ou « AN ELEGY ON Mrs. ALICIA LISLE. Which for High-Treason was Beheaded at Winchester » (EBBA 33058), une ode funèbre de 1685 qui invoque orages et ouragans pour mieux instruire l’auditeur.

Le répertoire britannique semble relativement pauvre en ballades dédiées à des événements exceptionnels, alors même que l’on s’est habitué à attribuer à ces feuilles volantes un intérêt majeur pour ces épisodes sensationnels. Le projet de cette communication sera de continuer l’exploration de la base de données EBBA pour affiner ce cadre analytique, puis de se concentrer sur les chansons les plus significatives pour les mettre en rapport d’une part avec la littérature équivalente sur le continent (nombre d’entre les événements décrits ayant eu lieu en dehors de la Grande-Bretagne) et d’autre part avec les comptes-rendus qu’en auront proposé des auteurs travaillant dans des champs différents : récits de voyage, textes scientifiques, textes poétiques.

Chantal Schütz (Ecole Polytechnique / Université Paris 3 – EA Prismes)


Sources primaires

  • Ballads and Broadsides in Britain, 1500-1800, ed. by Patricia Fumerton and Anita Guerrini (Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, 2010).
  • Broadside ballads from the Pepys collection : a selection of texts, approaches, and recordings, edited by Patricia Fumerton (Tempe, Ariz. : Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2012).
  • Broadside Ballads Online, Bodleian Libraries, http://ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/
  • Broadside Blackletter Ballads Printed in the Seventeenth Century, ed. by John P. Collier (London: Thomas Richards, 1868).
  • Catalogue of English and American Chap-books and Broadside Ballads in Harvard College Library, ed. by William Coolidge Lane (Cambridge, Mass.: The Harvard College Library, 1905).
  • Choyce Drollery: Songs and Sonnets (London: Robert Pollard and John Sweeting, 1656), in EEBO <http://eebo.chadwyck.com/home> [accesses 23 January 2013] Choyce Drollery: Songs and Sonnets, ed. J.W. Ebsworth (Boston, Lincolnshire: n.p., 1876).
  • Hyder Rollins, An Analytical Index to the Ballad Entries (1557-1709) in the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London, 2nd edn (Hatboro: Tradition Press, 1967).
  • More Sea Songs & Ballads, ed. by Cicely Fox Smith (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1926).
  • The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, ed. by Francis James Child, 10 vols (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1882-98).
  • The English Broadside Ballad Archive, Director: Patricia Fumerton, University of California, Santa Barbara http://ebba.english.ucsb.edu
  • The Roxburghe Ballads, ed. by William Chappell and others, 9 vols (Hertford: The Ballad Society, 1871-97).
  • William Chappell, Popular Music of the Olden Time, 2 vols (London: Cramer, Beale and Chappell, 1859).

Sources secondaires

  • Buchan, David, The Ballad and the Folk (East Lothian: Tuckwell Press, 1997).
  • Burke, Peter, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe, 3rd edn (Surrey: Ashgate, 2009).
  • Duffin, Ross, Shakespeare’s Songbook (New York: Norton, 2004).
  • Faber, Paul Lewis, Popular Song In Early Modern Drama 1580-1620, Dissertation, Leeds, 2013.
  • Fox, Adam, Oral and Literate Culture in England 1500-1700 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000).
  • Lindley, David, Shakespeare and Music (London: Arden Shakespeare, 2006).
  • McShane, Angela, ed., ‘Political Broadside Ballads of Seventeenth Century England: A Critical Bibliography’, London: Pickering and Chatto, 2011.
  • Marsh, Christopher, Music and Society in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
  • Reay, Barry, Popular Cultures in England 1550-1750 (Harlow: Addison Wesley Longman, 1998).
  • Rollins, Hyder, An Analytical Index to the Ballad Entries (1557-1709) in the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London, 2nd edn (Hatboro: Tradition Press, 1967).
  • ––––– ‘The Blackletter Broadside Ballad’, PMLA, 34.2 (1919), 258-339.
  • ––––– ‘The Date and Authors and Contents of A Handful of Pleasant Delights’, in The
  • Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 18.1 (1919), 1-17.
  • ––––– ‘William Elderton, Elizabethan Actor and Ballad-Writer’, Studies in Philology, 17.2 (1920), 199-245.
  • Simpson, Claude M., The British Broadside Ballad and Its Music (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1966).
  • Watt, Tessa, Cheap Print and Popular Piety (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).


Annexe : Ballads about natural disasters [télécharger l’annexe]

Date Title Catalog Type of event
1586 A briefe sonet declaring the lamentation of Beckles, a Market Towne in Suffolke which was in the great winde upon Saint Andrewes eve pitifully burned with fire EBBA 32522


Wind and fire
1661 Newes from Hereford, or, A wonderful and terrible earthquake: vvith a wonderful thunderclap,

that happened on Tuesday being the first of October,


BBO  V3081


1669 Mount AEtna’s Flames. OR, The Sicilian Wonder EEBO http://name.umdl.umich.edu/a51513.0001.001 Eruption
1671 A Description of a Great Sea-Storm,

That happened to some Ships in the Gulph of FLORIDA

EBBA 32167


Storm at sea
1680 A Ballad of the Strange and Wonderful Storm of Hail, Which fell in LONDON on the 18th. of May 1680 EBBA 20757


Storm of Hail
1684 The Benjamin’s Lamentation for their sad
Loss at Sea, by Storms and Tempests
EBBA 21862


Storm at sea
1684 Sad News from Salisbury,
And other Parts of the West of ENGLAND
EBBA 31877


Frost and snow
1686 STRANGE and DREADFUL News from Holland;
OR, The Sad and Lamentable Account of a Fearful STORM
EBBA 20756


Storm and floods

Ballads mentioning storms etc



The Jovial Marriner;
OR, The Sea-mans Renown.
EBBA 32976


Storms at sea
1714-1724 NEPTUNE’s Raging FURY.

OR, The Gallant Seaman’s SUFFERINGS.

EBBA 33926


storms at sea
1678-1680 The Worlds Wonder.
Giving an Account of Two Old Men, Lately known and seen in the City of Tholouze in France
EBBA 31031


Prophecies of doom
1607? Calebbe Shillocke, his Prophesie:  or, the Jewes Prediction. To the tune of Bragandarie. EBBA 20024 Prophecies of doom
1692 Strange and Wonderful News from ROME: EBBA 31787 Prophecy of an earthquake (in 1702)
1685 AN ELEGY ON Mrs. ALICIA LISLE. Which for High-Treason was Beheaded at Winchester EBBA 33058


Disasters one should fear or not fear
1821 THE Kentish Tragedy; OR, EDWARD AND HANNAH. AN AFFECTING TALE. EBBA 33104 Hurricane

Anomalies climatiques et considérations eschatologiques dans A Godly and Fruitful Sermon Preached at Grantham, Anno. Dom. 1592 (1595) de Francis Trigge

Dans un passage de son sermon, Trigge (c. 1540 – 1606), pasteur de Welbourne dans le Lincolnshire, observe : “Strangeness of eclypses,  and the multitude of them in our dayes […] and the two eclypses of the sonne which shall be seene this yeare […], the inflammations of the aire and the raging of the seas,  the unseasonable sommers and the miraculous floodes which wee have had, […] surely these are signs of this his [Christ’s] comming”.

Je propose d’explorer la manière dont ces observations de Trigge sur des anomalies climatiques font écho à des développements sur le thème du mundus senescit et à des rappels de passages prophétiques de la Bible et s’intègrent à un constat de la dégénérescence morale et spirituelle de la société de son temps. En effet, Trigge ouvre son sermon par une citation des 3 premiers versets du chapitre 24 d’Isaïe, évoquant la dévastation de la terre par l’Eternel[1], et son propos est d’exhorter ses auditeurs à réformer leur vie, non seulement en leur rappelant l’inéluctabilité de la rétribution divine, mais en en suggérant l’imminence. Cette perspective fait l’objet de nombreuses mentions dans le sermon qui s’inscrit ainsi dans ce que l’on identifie comme « l’apocalyptique Tudor », dans la lignée de John Bale et de George Joye, les turpitudes humaines comme les phénomènes climatiques inquiétants étant présentés comme autant de signes que la fin des temps est proche.

Monique Vénuat (Université Clermont Auvergne)


Sources primaires

  • BALE, John. The Image of Both Churches, Being an exposition of the most wonderful book of REVELATION of St John the Evangelist; The Select Works of John Bale, ed. Parker Society, Cambridge 1849.
  • JOYE, George.  The Conjectures of the ende of the Worlde and of that godly and learned man, Andrew Osiander (Anvers, in-8, 1548); The Conjectures of the ende of the Worlde by A. Osiander translated by Ge. Joye with many things by him added (London, 1548); The Conjectures of the ende of the Worlde (gathered out of Scripture by A. Oseander (in-8, Genève ? 1548) (British Library C.124.dd.34). Version électronique disponible sur EEBO.
  • TRIGGE, Francis: A Godly and Fruitful Sermon Preached at Grantham, (Oxford, 1595); éd. M. Couton, I. Fernandes, C. Jérémie, M. Vénuat, Coll. CERHAC, PUBP, Clermont-Ferrand, 2013.

Sources secondaires

  • BACKUS, Irena D. Reformation Readings of the Apocalypse, Geneva, Zurich, and Wittenberg. Oxford, 2000.
  • FIRTH, Katherine. The Apocalyptic Tradition in Reformation Britain: 1530-1645, Oxford, 1979.
  • FOESSEL, Michaël. Après la fin du monde Critique de la raison apocalyptique, Paris, Seuil, 2012.
  • WABUDA, Susan. Preaching during the English Reformation, CUP, Cambridge, 2002.

[1] Isaiah 24 : 1,2,3. “1 Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof. 2 And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the servant, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the taker of usury, so with the giver of usury to him. 3 The land shall be utterly emptied, and utterly spoiled: for the LORD hath spoken this word.” (King James Bible)





Francis Trigge,  A Godly and Fruitful Sermon Preached at Grantham, Londres, 1595.