Needham Family

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Famous Needhams

Marchmount Nedham or Needham

Marchamont   Nedham   or Needham ( bap.   1620,   d.   1678),   journalist and pamphleteer , was baptized on 21 August 1620 at Burford, Oxfordshire, the only known child of Marchamont Nedham of Derbyshire ( c .1594–1621) and Margery, daughter of John Collier, host of The George inn, Burford. The name was frequently spelt Needham . Marchamont senior matriculated at St John's College , Oxford , and gained his BA from Gloucester Hall on 19 February 1612; thereafter he was an attendant on Lady Elizabeth Walter,   née   Lucas, sister to John, Lord Lucas, and wife to Sir William Walter of Sarsden, near Burford. The year after Marchamont senior's death Margery married Christopher Glynn, vicar of Burford and master of its free school; accordingly young Marchamont was educated by his stepfather. From 1634 Nedham attended All Souls College , Oxford , subscribing on 22 January 1636 as a chorister, probably indicating a scholarship. He obtained his BA on 24 October 1637, and moved to St Mary Hall, Oxford . Soon after he obtained the place of an usher or undermaster at Merchant Taylors' School in London . For unknown reasons he abandoned this job, perhaps during the turbulent events of 1641, to become an under-clerk at Gray's Inn , where he developed the legal knowledge that informed his later political thought. At some point during these years he also found time to study medicine.

Mercurius Britanicus and parliamentarianism

Nedham moved onto the public stage in the summer of 1643, when he became the author or editor of the parliamentarian weekly newsbook   Mercurius Britanicus .   Britanicus , which appeared between August 1643 and May 1646, was apparently commissioned in response to the royalist   Mercurius Aulicus ,. Nedham joined with Thomas Audley to produce a periodical combining counter-propaganda with news and witty political analysis and from October 1644 he was in sole control.

Nedham's powerful writing, his unwavering hostility to presbyterianism, and lack of sympathy with the king was soon to attract much hostile press. This became acute following an intervention which caused his first friction with the authorities. When the correspondence of Charles I was seized at the battle of Naseby in July 1645 parliament recognized the propaganda value it represented, and permitted the king's private letters to be put on display and published in print. Nedham reprinted the letters in   Britanicus   with annotations, and crossed the boundaries of permissible criticism. Nedham was reprimanded by the House of Lords, but his position on the civil war and the king's responsibility became more uncompromising. In May 1646 he published an editorial in   Britanicus   that described Charles as a tyrant and suggested that he was endeavouring to set the two crowns of England and Scotland against each other. Nedham was imprisoned for two weeks in the Fleet, and the House of Lords extracted from him a £200 surety for future good behaviour and a promise that he would write no more pamphlets. The promise did not keep him quiet for long.

Mercurius Pragmaticus and royalism

By 1647 Nedham had been practising as a physician for at least a year, and supported himself with this occupation for a while. But the call of the press brought him before the king at Hampton Court in 1647. Having obtained royal forgiveness he undertook a new weekly newsbook,   Mercurius Pragmaticus   . Written in a more vitriolic vein than   Britanicus , ‘Prag' was for a while the darling of the royalist cause. Nedham was probably assisted by others it is probable that he abandoned his editorship in January 1649, but his name was exclusively associated with the title. In editorials Nedham denounced the English parliament and the Scots for betraying their king and suggested that they conspired to murder him; he condoned the royalist war effort as a second civil war broke out in spring 1648; and he satirized the army grandees and mocked the inability of the London authorities and the press to hunt him down. This was fundamental to his rhetoric when writing for parliament, king, or republic: he would couch serious political analysis and argument in a jocular style. Each issue began with a short facetious ballad; Nedham, later seeking to curry favour with Charles II, gathered these into a single narrative and published them as   A Short History of the English Rebellion   (1661).   Pragmaticus   also contained surprisingly detailed reports on parliamentary proceedings, particularly in the lower house, and it seems possible that he had a mole in the house, perhaps Speaker William Lenthall, a fellow Burford man. During the same period Nedham may have edited another royalist newsbook,   Westminster Projects, or, The Mysterie of Darby House, Discovered   (March–June 1648).

The reasons for Nedham's change of political allegiance are unclear. In the light of his later alterations hostile pamphleteers would accuse him of being an unprincipled turncoat, a man who would serve any munificent master; and historians have for the most part assented to this view

Nedham's critique of Pride's Purge and the ensuing move to try the king was impassioned. As the inevitable indictment and execution approached he became dispirited and relinquished his editorship, though he returned briefly with   Mercurius Pragmaticus (For King Charles II)   (April–May 1649). His circumstances, in hiding in London , were less than commodious, and the pursuit of the authorities was discomforting. One incident caused him to flee the metropolis and hide at the house of Peter Heylyn, at Minster Lovell near Burford. Eventually the council of state succeeded in tracking him down; on 15 June 1649 it ordered the serjeant-at-arms to apprehend him, which was accomplished several days later.

Classical political theory and service to the republic

Nedham spent three months imprisoned in Newgate, though he escaped and was re-arrested in August. Anthony Wood suggests that at Newgate he was ‘brought into danger of his life' but was pardoned at the intercession of Lenthall and John Bradshaw. These friends may have been responsible for provoking another change of heart: on 14 November he took the engagement and was released. On 8 May 1650 his conversion to republican principles was announced with the publication of   The case of the Common-Wealth of England . This used interest-theory to counsel royalists, Scots, presbyterians, and Levellers to submit to the new regime.

The council of state quickly rewarded Nedham, with a payment of £50 for his writings, to which was added an annual salary of £100. In return Nedham presented them with a prospectus for a new state newsbook,   Mercurius Politicus   (June 1650 – April 1660). By this means he publicized and promoted in a highly accessible form the political theory of late humanism. In editing   Politicus   Nedham had at hand the resources of the office of John Thurloe, secretary to the council and head of the republic's secret service. This provided an excellent basis for foreign reporting, reflecting the government's interests and foreign policy. Nedham supplemented this very substantial intelligence network with other correspondents distributed across Britain and continental Europe . In its early months   Politicus   was the doyen of the Commonwealth's radicals, making remarkable proposals for political reform, including, in January 1651, political union with the Netherlands . From October 1651 until August 1652 Nedham included a new series of editorials which were later published, in subtly revised form, as   The Excellencie of a Free State   (1656). None the less, through the ten years of   Politicus   this radicalism declined, particularly when Nedham was called upon to support an entrenched protectorate.

Protectorate writings and career

Nedham soon turned against the Rump of the Long Parliament, owing to its prevarication and failure to introduce fresh elections. When Cromwell dissolved the Rump in April 1653 Nedham was relatively quiet. During the nominated assembly that followed Nedham began working as a spy, motivated by his own political convictions, to detect the underground activities of Fifth Monarchists; he disliked the strong religious influence on government and was concerned that the assembly would impose a religious settlement contrary to liberty of conscience. In a report on 16 November he called for the introduction of ‘some solid Fundamentals, in reference to the State both of Religion & Politie' . The ‘Instrument of government', the constitution of the protectorate introduced in December 1653, realized this suggestion. Nedham penned a cogent defence of the constitution,   A True State of the Case of the Commonwealth   (1654), which presented the instrument sympathetically and emphasized its republican elements.

The formal innovations for which Nedham was responsible as a news editor included the introduction of regular advertising of diverse products and services. Nedham would later edit the first periodical devoted solely to advertising, the   Public Adviser   (May–September 1657). This made   Politicus   highly profitable.   Politicus was read widely, not only across Britain but also throughout Europe , and not only among expatriates and those sympathetic to the Commonwealth and Nedham's politics.

The only evidence of Nedham's first marriage is the baptism of his only known child, a son named Marchamont, on 6 May 1652 at St Margaret's, Westminster . The mother's name was given as Lucy Nedham. Nothing further is known about either wife or son. On 7 July 1652 Nedham was admitted to Gray's Inn, the register recording that he then resided in ‘the City of Westminster '. Among other activities during the years of the Commonwealth Nedham translated a number of books. Translating commissions appeared at this time, and it was during these years that he developed his close friendship with John Milton, secretary for foreign tongues to the council of state. Milton 's nephew Edward Phillips later described Nedham as a ‘particular friend' of Milton ; Wood as his ‘great crony'. The council relied on Nedham, like Milton , to liaise with members of the book trade. On 7 August 1654 Nedham reported to the court of the Stationers' Company, then in turmoil, on ‘the proceedings in the Companies affaire depending before the Councell'; for this they gave him a gratuity of £20. On 17 April 1655 the council took his salary away, along with John Hall's, while Milton 's was lowered. This may have prompted Nedham to submit a paper recommending reform of the press, to discuss which the council of state appointed a committee on 24 April 1655. By 4 May his salary was restored, and between August and October the council introduced new orders regulating printing. One of the consequences of these was that Nedham enjoyed, from October 1655, a monopoly of periodical news, though it is doubtful that he was the architect of the new regulations. That same month Nedham produced a partner journal to Thursday's   Politicus, The Publick Intelligencer , appearing on Mondays and reproducing much of the same material, but none the less a commercial success.

The publication of revised   Politicus   editorials as   The Excellencie of a Free State   in 1656 may have involved a political miscalculation, as it aligned Nedham with the republican opposition in the spring of that year.   Excellencie   championed popular sovereignty and the rotation of political offices in government as a necessary preventative of corruption. Like Milton, Nedham felt disenchanted with Cromwell and the conservative tendencies of the protectorate, but the following year he conducted himself more prudently, not objecting to ‘The humble petition and advice', and defending its religious arrangements. When John Goodwin attacked the triers and ejectors system of clerical appointment Nedham responded with   The Great Accuser Cast Down   (1657), a work which contradicted his previous critiques of the established church and the interference of the secular magistrate in propagating the gospel. A pamphlet response described Nedham as ‘that mercenary soul that for an handful of earth shall be hired to assassinate the greatest fame and reputation' Goodwin denounced him as ‘a man that curseth whatsoever he blesseth, and blesseth whatsoever he curseth'.

The Restoration: victim and apologist

Even before Cromwell's death Nedham began writing anti-restoration propaganda, aware of the shaky foundations of the government. On 23 November he walked in Cromwell's funeral procession. On 13 May 1659, however, he fell victim to conflict within the government, when parliament suspended him from his editorship of   Politicus . Nedham was by no means silenced, and his   Interest will not Lie   (1659), a pamphlet arguing that a Stuart restoration would be contrary to the interests of all parties, was published three days before the restoration of his own editorship on 15 August. His tenure was not to last for long. After Charles Stuart's declaration of Breda on 4 April 1660 Nedham's case was hopeless, and on 9 April the council of state once again dismissed him from his editorship. His final parting shot was a fictional, satirical letter,   Newes from Brussels   ( c .23 March 1660), purporting to be written by a cavalier anticipating the revenge that he and his king would exact if and when they returned to England .

Nedham went into hiding; printed pamphlets suggested he had fled to the Netherlands . The vociferousness of the numerous attacks on Nedham at the Restoration—many of which associated him with Milton —testified to his effectiveness as an editor and pamphleteer.


Two contemporary descriptions of Nedham's appearance survive, both hostile: a ballad describes Nedham at Amsterdam as ‘hawk-nos'd', long-haired, and wearing two earrings—‘His Visage smeager is and long, / His Body slender; but his Tongue / … has a Grace, / Becomming no such Traitor's face'. No known portrait survives.

It was a surprise to many, certainly to the authors of hostile pamphlets, that Nedham was not exempted from the   Act of Oblivion   or   Bill of Indemnity   in August 1660. In September he obtained a pardon under the great seal and returned to London ; this enabled him to save his neck when set upon, as in Oxford in 1661 when he was assailed at St Mary's Church. No one was surprised when he published royalist propaganda. In April 1663, aged forty-two, Nedham, then living in St Andrew Undershaft, remarried. His bride was Elizabeth Thompson ( b . 1630/31,   d . after 1678) of the parish of Holy Trinity, London , a widow aged thirty-two.

Physician and anti-whig pamphleteer

Nedham had resumed his career as a physician. His major contribution to medical theory was the controversial   Medela medicinæ   (1665), which acknowledged ‘M. N. Med. Londinens ' as its author. In this he argued that Galenic principles of medicine were corrupt and useless, that modern diseases were different from ancient, and that liberty should be permitted in the practice of physic in order rationally to develop new chemical remedies.


Nedham thereafter practised quietly for most of his remaining years. Nothing is heard of him after 1665 until 1676, when, in probably the strangest of his shifts in allegiance, he wrote three pamphlet attacks on the earl of Shaftesbury. Their primary aim was to play upon fears and memories of the civil wars by linking Shaftesbury's allies with the ‘ Old Faction ' of 1641, the ‘good old cause' of which Nedham had himself once been an ally. Nedham spoke against his former political commitments by justifying the long prorogation of parliament, defending bishops, and showing himself prepared to speak in favour of divine right monarchy; yet he continued to blame presbyterian conspiracy as the root of the troubles.

Nedham died intestate, ‘suddenly' , in the house of one Kidder in D[ev]ereux Court near Temple-bar in London , in 1678 and was buried on the 29 th   of November at the upper end of the body of the church of St. Clement 's Danes, near the entrance into the chancel.


1 Joad Raymond, ‘ Nedham , Marchamont   ( bap.   1620,   d.   1678) ',   Oxford Dictionary of National Biography , Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 []










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