By the late sixteenth century, London’s Dutch Church, re-established in the reign of Elizabeth I, served as an important center for the city and country’s Dutch community. The church was granted a new charter by Elizabeth I on 24 February 1560. Waves of Protestant immigrants coming to London and its surrounding towns from the Low Countries in the 1560s and 1570s meant that the church was taking on the role of protector and representative for the growing Dutch population. Throughout Elizabeth’s long reign (1558-1603), these immigrants enjoyed religious freedom, and, for the greater part of this period, lived amicably with their English neighbors. Beginning in the early 1590s, however, as plague and famine introduced a period of economic downturn to the city and its English craftsmen, some of them began to aim their discontent at the Dutch community. One example of this intolerance is a four line rhyme recorded by John Strype in his 1824 Annals of the Reformation. On 5 May 1593, this rhyme was found posted on the wall of the Dutch churchyard between the hours of 11.00 p.m. and 12.00 a.m. which reads:
‘You, strangers, that inhabit this land,
Note this same writing, do it understand,
Conceive it well, for safeguard of your lives
Your goods, your children and your dearest wives’.
The following day, this rhyme was reported to city council. Orders were given to the lord mayor and aldermen to increase their watch over English master craftsmen and their apprentices. As a result, some unnamed apprentices were jailed, and the Dutch community remained free from harm.
Despite the nonviolent outcome of this case, the 1590s nevertheless saw a rise of tensions between London craftsmen and immigrant communities that continued into the next century. This rhyme, along with other examples of these tensions will serve as a focal point for my MA thesis on London’s English and immigrant weavers in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.
MA Candidate, University of Central Oklahoma