Curiosity and reality: the context and interpretation of a seventeenth-century image

Barber, Sarah (2010) Curiosity and reality: the context and interpretation of a seventeenth-century image. History Workshop Journal, 70 (1). pp. 21-46. ISSN 1477-4569

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This article traces the varied uses made of a single woodcut image over the course of 350 years. Its repeated issue, first in interregnum tracts – ostensibly newsbooks – in 1644, 1648 and 1651, from which it was archived by picture libraries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, led to its publication in schools‘ textbooks in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries and to widespread use by teachers throughout Britain. In the course of its diverse deployment, interpretations of what it depicts have ranged widely. In the earliest depiction which the author has managed to trace, it illustrated a story of post-partum rape by detachments of French soldiers under Prince Rupert's command; subsequently, the image was slightly doctored, tailoring it to illustrate tales of Henry Marten's ‘Leveller’ troops; and finally in the Commonwealth period, it formed part of the ‘anti-Ranter literature published following the Blasphemy Act. The events depicted were reputed to have taken place in Dorset, Leicestershire and York respectively. The disparate employment of the image in the seventeenth century points to the interpretative interdependence of image and text, and makes possible a discussion of the nature of news – propaganda or reportage; ‘curiosity and reality’ as a contemporary journalist had it – in the depiction of truth and fiction when recounting violence and criminality.

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
History Workshop Journal
Uncontrolled Keywords:
?? english civil war woodcut image propaganda text context national curriculum education schoolshistoryhistoryhistory and philosophy of sciencehistoryda great britain ??
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Deposited On:
23 May 2012 11:00
Last Modified:
15 Jul 2024 12:50