Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Freedom: Hypocrite - The Real Story?

This contribution to the History Centre's City of Culture blog marks the first in our 'Freedom' series.....

Earlier this year you may have seen Richard Bean’s play The Hypocrite at Hull Truck Theatre (or our more far-flung readers may have seen its transfer to the RSC at Stratford upon Avon). The play is a farce telling the highly fictionalised story of Sir John Hotham, Governor of Hull at the start of the English Civil War. The Sir John of The Hypocrite is a rather hapless figure, bullied by a harridan of a wife and acting out of craven self-interest, before meeting his end on the executioner’s block.

Hollar's plan of Hull showing how the town looked during the 1640s

Our current exhibition at the History Centre, Plots, Intrigue and Treason: Hull in the Civil War, tries to show something of the real story of Hull and Sir John Hotham using some of the documents held here. We’ve also borrowed Sir John and Lady Hotham’s costumes from The Hypocrite, and we have an incredible model of Beverley Gate which you can also see on display.

The story of Hull in the English Civil War (now more properly known as the Wars of the Three Kingdoms) sits rather nicely within the Freedom strand of the City of Culture year. Ideas of freedom run throughout the wars. The Scottish church fought for its freedom when the King and the Archbishop of Canterbury attempted to reform it in 1637-1640. The Irish Confederate Wars began in 1640 as the Irish people tried to free themselves from the English policy of plantation, whereby Irish Catholics’ land was confiscated and given to English or Scottish Protestants to settle. In England, Parliamentarians fought for freedom from a tyrannical monarch, while Royalists fought for freedom from a Parliament overreaching its bounds.

Illustration of Sir John Hotham on horseback [LP.920 HOT]

In Hull, Sir John Hotham famously refused to allow King Charles I to enter the town of Hull on St George’s Day 1642, closing Beverley Gate against him. Was this an expression of freedom against a despotic king, or an act of political self-interest?

Illustration of Charles I [L CWT/1]


Charles proclaimed Sir John a traitor, but Parliament backed his actions. Just 14 months later, though, Sir John was arrested on charges of treason against Parliament. After a court martial, he was executed in 1645. How did this happen? Why not visit the exhibition to find out!

Sarah Pymer, Assistant Archivist (HUA)

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