A Letter From Lewis The Great, To James The Less
















So it turns out that the next entry in our journey through this particular outbreak of political brawling is not prose – still less an actual “letter” – but a poem. Given its relatively short length, I’ve decided to transcribe it rather than deal in excerpts.

This work, whose complete title is A LETTER From LEWIS the Great, To JAMES the Less, His Lieutenant in IRELAND. With Reflections by way of ANSWER to the said LETTER, or serious CONTEMPLATIONS at an Unseasonable Time, is one of the slander-writings that provoked the anger of the author of The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d; although in this case, we assume that it was the crass language and crude sexual innuendo which upset him, rather than the content.

Obviously this poem was part of that subset of political writing which decided that the best way to deal with James was not ranting and raving and tub-thumping, but mockery. It offers the by-now standard view of James as a fool and a cuckold; but it also adds a further smear—presenting him as a coward.

The dating of this poem is uncertain, being unhelpfully listed as 1689-1690 in the catalogues; but there isn’t any doubt that it was published after the Battle of the Boyne, when James’ fate had been decided.

And while there is plenty of crude humour in the text, the poem’s best joke is actually a pretty subtle one: it has Louis XIV offering James the choice of two fates, Death or Glory; but as we know, he found a third option…

(I suppose I should add a warning here for “coarse language” and “sexual references”. Just noting that the censored language is in the original document. And that some of the censoring choices, and non-choices, seem…odd.)



TO James our Lieutenant this greeting we send:
As you hope to preserve us your Patron and Friend,
As you trust to the vertue of us and your Wife,
Who leads in your absence a dissolute life;
          Now you’ve sold us your Land,
          Obey Our Command,
As your Spouse does our Pego when e’re it will st—,
And what I enjoyn you be sure to observe,
Since you know not to Rule, I will teach you to Serve.


To reduce our new Subjects, we sent you ’tis true,
But be sure take upon you no more than you’re due;
Submit to the Fetters your self have put on,
You’ve the Name of a King but the Majesties gone.
          For your bold Son-in-Law,
          The valiant Nassaw,
Who values not you nor my self of a straw,

Will neither be cullied nor bubbled like you,
I’ve a prospect already of what he will do.


Let not Infant or Bedrid your pity implore,
You’ve lost all your Kingdoms by that heretofore,
A Hereticks life like a Dog’s I do prise,
Murther all that oppose you, or ‘gainst you dare rise:
          They were Subjects to you,
          Therefore make ’em all rue,
And either give them, or I’le give you your due:
I acknowledge your folly has made me more wise,
I see with my own, and not Jesuits eyes.


These Courses in Ireland, I charge you to steer,
In the Head of your Army be sure to appear,
You’re a Souldier of Fortune and fight for your pay,
You know your reward, if you once run away;
          Either Conquest or Death,
          I to you bequeath,
And therefore prepare for a Shrowd or a Wreath:
So thus I commit you to one of the Two,
If I see you no more here, I bid you adieu.



WHEN that Remnant of Royalty Jimmy the Cully,
Had receiv’d this Epistle from Lewis the Bully,
His Countenance chang’d, and for madness he cry’d,
I’ve the Devil to my Friend, and his Dam to my Bride;
          Sure I am the first
          That’s in all things accurst,
Nor can I determine which Plague is the worst,
That of losing my Realms or the News I’ve receiv’d,
Which from any Hand else, I could ne’re have believ’d.


I find they agreed when for Ireland they sent me,
And if I knew how, ’tis high time to repent me;
I’ve abandon’d my reason to pleasure a Trull,
Who has made me her Bubble, her Cuckold, and Fool;
          We’re all in the Pit,
          Our designs are besh-t,
And hither I’m sent to recover my Wit:
If this be the fortune proud Este does bring,
Wou’d I’de been a Tinker instead of a King.


How or which way to turn me, or whither to go,
By the Faith of a Jesuit I’me a Dog if I know;
For this going to War I do mortally hate,
Tho’ of Sieges and Battles I ever cou’d prate;
          I thought I had Valour,
          But I find it was Choler,
Tho’ thirty years I have been Lewis’s Scholar;
I’ve trac’d all his Policies, Maxims and Rules,
By which I’ve attain’d to be chief of his Fools.


Had I courage to dye I’de refuse to survive,
I’m buried already altho’ I’m alive,
My Story’s like that of unfortunate Jack,
I’ve shuffled and cut till I’ve quite lost the Pack:
          He that trusts to the Pope,
          No better must hope,
Or to Lewis or she whom that Pagan does grope:
For no Monarch must ever expect a good Life,
Who is rid by a Priest, or a damn’d Popish Wife.


May Lewis succeed me in all Circumstances,
His Arms unsuccessful where e’re he advances,
May his ill gotten Laurels be blasted and dry,
May a Shrowd be deny’d him when e’re he does dye;
          May his Land be o’re-run,
          By that Champion our Son:
So I’le close up with her who that mischief begun;
May the Curse of Three Kingdoms for ever attend her,
While to WILLIAM and MARY my Crown I surrender.




14 Comments to “A Letter From Lewis The Great, To James The Less”

  1. Now that’s very interesting… the scansion matches To Anacreon in Heaven, though that wouldn’t be written for another hundred-odd years. It’s a distinctive metrical form, though…

    • No, I don’t think the— can I call him “the poet”? 😀 —was parodying anything, just using a recognised form.

  2. “As your Spouse does our Pego when e’re it will st—”???

  3. Okay, apparently a pego is indeed a penis.

  4. I suspect I should not have tried reading this aloud whilst at work, but the meter compelled me! Just softly under my breath, so my job is safe for now. 🙂

  5. Speaking of the Glorious Revolution, a bit of it came up in my own family history, which my gf found when doing genealogy.

    In 1684, Charles II ordered consolidation of the governments of four New England colonies into a Dominion of New England. After James II succeeded Charles, he sent over a new dominion governor, John Andros, who arrived in 1686. Andros started invalidating people’s land titles and imposing new taxes. This sparked outrage, and a preacher named John Wise started gathering a resistance. His first recruits were brothers John and Samuel Appleton. John was the one who is my direct ancestor, I think, but Samuel was the badass of the movement. They called the orders taxation without representation and refused to comply. Wise, the Appletons, and four other citizens of Ipswitch Massachusetts were arrested in 1687 and “severely handled”. In court, they asserted the rights of the Magna Carta, and one of the judge said, “You must not think the laws of England follow us to the ends of the earth. Mr. Wise, you have no more privileges left you, than not to be sold as slaves.”

    They were jailed and fined, and Sam Appleton, the most defiant of the bunch, was kept in a cold dungeon through the entire winter.

    The result was a resistance movement throughout the area, coinciding with the push to get rid of James back in England. It escalated into a mini-revolution. In 1689, it was Samuel Appleton’s turn to march John Andros into a jail cell. He was then shipped back to England, where William and Mary dropped the Dominion idea.

    Ipswitch now describes itself as “The Birthplace of American Independence.”

  6. John Appleton went on to be a judge, and ended up presiding over a witchcraft trial. He ruled that the witchcraft charges were bullshit, and this essentially ended the New England witch-hunt hysteria.

    • Wait, I got that somewhat wrong. Samuel Appleton was the judge at the final Salem witchcraft trial, and John Appleton and John Wise were among a group who got the past convictions for witchcraft overturned, and damages paid to the families.

      • Cool ancestors!

        The fact that the whole witchcraft thing basically just STOPPED is one of the things I’ve always wanted to look into…

  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_Andros ?

    Three separate American governorships; two ended in recall, one in rebellion. And yet they kept sending him back out.

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