The ‘Affair of the Three Cranes,’ 1640

John Glanvill (1586-61), Speaker and King's Serjeant

‘Here’s a Health to the confusion and destruction of my Lord’s Grace of Canterbury’

Roughly where the Sarastro restaurant’s vivid flower baskets brighten up a corner of Drury Lane and Kemble Street is the site of a forgotten
London hostelry.

Here, in the mid c17th, were the premises of the Three Cranes, namesake of the far more noteworthy hostelry in Vintry so beloved of Ben Johnson and Samuel Pepys.

Theatreland’s Three Cranes was shorter-lived and less celebrated, but it did scandalise its way into the State Papers Domestic in 1640. If that year wasn’t Charles I’s first choice as ‘annus horribilis,’ it would certainly make it to boot camp.

Two years before standards were raised in the Civil War, he was despised and strapless, and forced to recall Parliament for the first time in 11 years in order to pass laws to raise cash. There were two Parliaments that year: the Short and the Long. My ancestor, Tavistock-born senior judge John Glanvill, was MP for Bristol and Speaker during the Short Parliament.

He was a pragmatist who had vehemently opposed Charles’s excessive tax-raising but was equally distrustful of the Puritans and their objectives. As Speaker – and the King’s Serjeant, a key legal adviser – he walked a political tightrope while England quarrelled its way towards death and destruction.

What he may not have needed at that juncture was for his tearaway son, John the younger, to stir the political ferment further for him. Yet that is exactly what young John did, and the scene of his misdemeanour was the Three Cranes, not far from the Chancery Lane residence of the Glanvills.

Young John was 21 and studying law at nearby Lincoln’s Inn – his father’s alma mater. He was out drinking with fellow trainees at the inn on 3 July 1640 when a row broke out with several ‘mechanicks’ in the employ of the influential Earl of Northumberland. The incident led to injury, theft, dampness, and a hearing at Whitehall in front of the king and his council.

Events are detailed in a surviving account of the inquiry a fortnight later. The king and his advisers were told how John and his pals had imbibed plenty of sweet Canary wine, then intimidated, fought and finally ‘pumped’ (ie half-drowned under a water pump) the Earl’s retainers. John himself was heard outrageously to raise a toast against ‘my Lord’s Grace of Canterbury’ – the controversial and hated Archbishop William Laud.

With England on the brink, Laud and Northumberland were not people to cross. The Earl – Sir Francis Windenbank, MP for Oxford University, King’s councillor, Roman Catholic sympathiser and conspirator – had Charles’s ear (and possibly even both).

Archbishop of Canterbury Laud was a friend and confidant of ‘the subtle whirly Windebank’ and Charles Stuart, and behind several anti-Puritan purges. Clearly Glanvill senior would have been desperate to avoid being dragged into a political scandal at such a time.

Serjeant Glanvill’s son was in dynamic company. Among his group were Winston Churchill (father of the first Duke of Marlborough, ancestor of the cigar-smoking World War II hero), Robert Warcup (called to the bar five years later, elected MP for Southwark under Cromwell in 1654), and an unnamed ‘tall blacke man’, also from Lincoln’s Inn.

Several of those involved gave evidence. Interpretation of events, all too familiar to today’s pub-goers, centred around the spilling of a drink and who did what in the melee that ensued.

Northumberland’s ‘picture-drawer’, Stephen Hosier, claimed that his friend John Skelton had reacted angrily to a glass of wine thrown over his head by one of the legal trainees at a nearby table. When a second glass of liquor ‘lighted upon’ his colleague William Rochester Hosier said he demanded an apology, at which ‘two or three of them fell upon’ and beat him.

He then alleged that, thus subdued, he was helpless as Glanvill ordered a bottle of Canary and, filling a glass, raised the controversial toast: ‘Here’s a Health to the confusion and destruction of my Lord’s Grace of Canterbury’, which went round.

Hosier and his pals felt compelled to join in the anti-Canterbury toast, ‘for, if they had refused it, they verily beleeve they would have knockt them down with the wine potts, or done them some other mischief’.

Most of Northumberland’s men sloped off, but Hosier claimed he was grabbed again, robbed him of his cloak and handed it to the vintner’s wife, relived of its contents, including a £300 bill.

The trainee lawyers took him out into the street to a nearby water pump and forced under the water stream, to perform the toast again. The black man was said to have cried that had the Earl himself been there they would have pumped him too.

Then they all ‘fell on [Hosier] and beat him, soe as he never was since he was borne, for which he hath kept his bed divers days since, and is yet very sore.’

The physical aggression was one scandal; the public denigration of the king’s allies and the head of the church quite another, especially for Glanvill’s father.

The young men of Lincoln’s Inn offered eloquent defence, deflecting all charges. The second glass had been thrown as a result of Skelton using ‘unseemely language’ and holding a pot to Churchill’s face. The cloak was not stolen or plundered.

Yes, they fell upon Hosier to begin with as a result of his group’s aggression, but had no idea that he was the Earl of Northumberland’s man. The water pumping and beating were nothing to do with them.

Then to the awkward issue of abusing the Archbishop:

‘As to the healthe charg’d to be dranke by mee,’ attested Glanvill junior, ‘I doe and shall deny forever. If trewe, I doe acknowledge that to have soe farre forgot myself as yet I could expect any remition for soe great an offence, having herde my father seriously accknoweledge his Grace’s extraordinary favors to him.’

The deference shown may have worked. The inquiry accepted most of the Lincoln’s Inn version, reprimanded the trainees, but discharged them. Presumably the outcome was a great relief to the King’s Serjeant.

However, soon after war broke out in 1642, Glanvill senior would be imprisoned at the Tower of London as a follower of the king.

Son John was not too damaged by the incident. He was called to the bar in 1647 and attained fame and wealth as a lawyer, marrying well and dying, aged 70, in 1688.

Further reading: State Papers, Domestic, Charles I, vol. 460, no. 24; ‘The Black Books of Lincoln’s Inn’ (1897),