The loathsome and odious sin of drunkenesse

These entertaining fragments from the mid 17th Century warn of the terrible dangers of drinking. Drunkenness and swearing had become such a problem that by 1644 the government was forced to issue a statute setting out fines for uncouth behaviour:

Whereas the loathsome and odious sin of drunkennesse is of late grown into common use within this realm, being the root and foundation of many other enormous sins, as bloodshed, stabbing, murder, swearing, fornication, adultery, and such like; to the great dishonour of God, and of our nation. Be it therefore enacted by the Kings most Excellent Majestie, that all and every person or persons, which shall be drunk, and of the same offence of drunkennesse shall be lawfully convicted lose five shillings (£21) of lawfull Money of England, to be paid within one week next after his, her, or their conviction thereof, to the hands of the church-wardens of that parish. And if the said person or persons so convicted, shall refuse, or neglect to pay the said forfeiture, as aforesaid, then the same shall be from time to time, levyed of the goods of every such person or persons so refusing or neglecting to pay the same. And if the offender or offenders be not able to pay the said sum of five shillings, then the offender or offenders shall be committed to the stocks for every offence, there to remain by the space of six houres. And it is further enacted that if any person or persons, being once lawfully convicted of the said offence of drunkennesse, shall after that be again lawfully convicted of the like offence of drunkennesse; then every person and persons so secondly convicted of the said offence of drunkennesse, shall be bounden with two sureties to our Kings Majestie, the obligation of ten pounds (£850!), with condition to be from thence forth of good behaviour.

A similar statute was issued for swearing, although the fines were not quite so severe:

Swearing and cursing is forbidden by the Word of God; Be it therefore enacted by the Authority of this present Parliament, That no person or persons, shall from henceforth prophanely swear or curse. And if any person or persons, shall at any time or times hereafter offend herein, either in the hearing of any Justice of Peace of the County, or of any Major, Justice of Peace, Bailiff, or head Officer of any Citie or Town Corporate, then every such offender shall for every time so offending, forfeit, and pay to the use of the poor of that Parish, where the same offence is or shall be committed, the sum of twelve pence (about £4).

Anyone over the age of 12 years who failed to pay the fine was placed in the stocks for three hours, but those under 12, were ‘whipped by the Constable or by the Parents, or Master in his presence’. Not only were there stiff fines for being drunk and/or disorderly, warnings about the dangers of drink were printed everywhere. The following snippets come from a thunderous text which exposes the character and nature of a drunkard:

Those being robbed of their strength and senses by drinke, are frequently subject to all fearefull accidents, and miserable mishaps. Some being drunke fall into the fire, and are burned. A Gentleman of worth, rising to make water, could finde no fitter place to do it in than the chimney; where, being a few live embers, he fell downe, and not being able to rise againe, had his belly puckerd together like a sachell before the Chamberlaine could come to helpe him. Whereupon, being in great torture, he dranke twenty two double jugs of beer, and so died, roaring and crying that he was damned. Some fall down dead as a dore naile. Some againe fall into the water, and are drowned, as is commonly seene. Some fall and batter their faces, bruise their bodies, breake their armes, their legs, and many breake their necks in the very act of drunkennesse. Others are wounded, beaten, and many times murdered, as often times they stab and murder others.

The drunkard commonly hath a swollen and inflamed face beset with goodly jowles; swimming, running, glaring, goggle eyes, bleared and red; a mouth nasty with offensive fumes, alwayes foaming, or drivelling; a feverish body; a sicke and giddy braine; a mind dispersed; a boyling stomacke; rotten teeth; stinking breath; a drumming eare; a palsied hand; gouty, staggering legs, that would go, but cannot; a drawling, stammering, tongue, clamped to the roofe and gumms; (not to speake of his odious gestures, lothsome nastinesse, or beastly behaviour, his belching, hickups, vomitings, ridiculous postures, and how easily he is knocked down).

And finally, this sobering thought:

Wine so inflames the drunkard with lust, that were his power equall to his desire, were his dreames and wishes all true, hee would not leave a virgin in the world.

See also Hops and Hogsheads, A Warning Piece to all Drunkards & Sack hath the power to make me mad. Or check out the label Booze.

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved


  • Martin McDonald
    May 24, 2011 - 10:03 am | Permalink

    We’re still saying this now “[the] Odious sin of drunkennesse is of late grown into common use within this realm” Plainly nothing changes.

  • May 22, 2011 - 10:11 am | Permalink

    Thanks for your comments, being in the stocks can’t have been a picnic. You’ve given me an idea for a new post!

  • May 22, 2011 - 1:13 am | Permalink

    God that description of drunkenness brings back memories Haha! Wonder what happened to people, when they were put in the stocks. No way to protect your face, doesn’t bear thinking about. I remember reading an account of Jack Aubrey in the Patrick O’Brian novels, being pilloried. That was going to be quite an ordeal, if his friends and ship mates had not rallied round to protect him. This would have been much later of course. Around 1812. Great blog very interesting and amusing as usual. thoroughly enjoyed it.

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