The 1600s: A Fun Century to Illustrate

Pilgrim’s family climb over the stile to call him back. From Dangerous Journey.

This is why I love home schooling. I learn so much.

I can’t say the 1600s (also known as the Seventeenth Century) were covered very well in my own education. I heard, dimly, of one or two events, like the First Thanksgiving and the Salem Witch Trials (which took place near the end of the century, 1692). I was exposed to a kids’ version of Pilgrim’s Progress. In other contexts, unconnected from history lessons, I heard the names of a few notables from the century such as Bach, and saw a picture of a Cavalier or two. But all these things were floating around without any context. I had no idea of how they were connected to each other, or even that they were happening around the same time. They were, frankly, all mixed up with things from the following century.

Now, studying it in chronological order with my kids, I have to say that I like learning about the 1600s. A lot of really horrible things happened, like the beginnings of colonization and of the Atlantic slave trade. (That’s extremely hard to read about.) But many really interesting things were happening too. Some of them, like the English Civil War, I had barely heard of. Also, this was an amazing century for music and art.

And the clothes. My goodness, the clothes! Long curly wigs, big white collars, hundreds of buttons! They must have been extremely inconvenient to wear (and to wash. Especially in brackish water. After you’d been on the Mayflower and hadn’t washed for three months). But they look so cool, so dignified, in illustrations! And there is the contrast between the colorful, swashbuckling Cavalier look and the restrained, clean-lined, monochromatic Puritan Sunday best.

The pictures in this post are taken from Alan Parry’s 1985 illustrations of Pilgrim’s Progress in the children’s book Dangerous Journey. I love the 17th-century clothing and the way that the illustrations suggest etchings, which were being done in the 17th century by the likes of Rembrandt.

Pilgrim, still wearing the burden on his back, meets Mr. Worldly Wise.

A few highlights of the 17th Century:

  • The founding of Jamestown, Virginia (1607). Jamestown was first run along communist lines, and it was a disaster. In order to get the ne’er-do-wells there to actually build a fort, grow their own food, etc., they needed John Smith to whip them into shape, plus a boatload of mail-order brides (really!), plus allowing private property.
  • The founding of Plymouth, Massachusetts (1620). Interestingly, the Massachusetts colony also tried communism. Their contract with the London Company stipulated that for seven years, the products of the colony were to be put in a common fund to be shared by all the colonists. But after only three years they had to stop this arrangement and give each family their own plot of farm land.
  • The English Civil War (1642 – 1651). Cavaliers (Royalists) vs. Roundheads (Parliamentarians). The English got rid of their tyrant (Charles I), only to have him replaced by an ideologue (Oliver Cromwell). When Cromwell died, they were relieved to go back to just a regular tyrant (Charles II).
  • John Bunyan (1628 – 1688). Bunyan was a traveling tinker, yet he wrote one of the world’s top best sellers, Pilgrim’s Progress. He also wrote his spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. (Is that a great title for an autobiography, or what?)
  • The Great Fire of London (1666). It burned for three days. Four-fifths of London burned down. “Hundreds of people fled to St. Paul’s Cathedral. But the flames swept up the walls, burning timbers and melting the lead in the roof until it ran down toward the river like molten lava. The stones in the walls themselves began to explode from the heat!” (Wise Bauer 126).
  • Rembrandt van Rijn (1606 – 1669). Art!
  • Vivaldi (1678 – 1741), Bach (1685 – 1750), and Handel (1685 – 1759). I might be sort of cheating, including Bach and Handel in this century, since they were only 15 when it closed. But both these geniuses were born and educated during the 1600s.

Sources

Bauer, Susan Wise. The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, vol. 3: Early Modern Times: from Elizabeth the First to the Forty-Niners. Well-Trained Mind Press, 2004.

Demar, Gary, et. al. Building a City on a Hill. American Vision, 1997, 2005.

Hannula, Richard. Trial and Triumph: Stories from Church History. Canon Press, 1999. “Chapter 30: John Bunyan,” p. 181 ff.

Hunkin, Oliver, ed., & Alan Parry, illustrator. Dangerous Journey. Text copyright 1985 Yorkshire Television Ltd.. Worldwide coedition by Lion Hudson plc, Mayfield House, Oxford. US edition by Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 2012.

Stebbing, Barry. God & the History of Art I. How Great Thou ART Publications. “Rembrandt van Rijn: A Man of Sorrows,” p. 65 ff.

6 thoughts on “The 1600s: A Fun Century to Illustrate

  1. Benjamin Ledford

    Great post! Earlier this year, Michelle and I realized that the books each of us were reading and the painting (or print of a painting) hanging on the wall above us were all created in the same decade of the 17th century.

    I take it that Rembrandt is representative of all the Dutch masters, and a worthy representative to be sure.

    A rather Anglo-centric post, but that may be appropriate given how significant the 17th century was for the English language. In the 17th century we get:
    – William Shakespeare
    – The King James Bible
    and
    – John Milton

    Essentially, the three most influential forces in the development of the English language. Truly, an achievement not to be o’er looked!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, actually Rembrandt is the only one of the Dutch masters about whom I know anything.

      Thanks for pointing out the literary greats. But, I thought Shakespeare was from the previous century?

      Indeed. If you can’t be Anglo-centric in the 17th century, when can you be?

      Like

  2. Benjamin Ledford

    And what kind of Presbyterian doesn’t mention the creation of the Westminster Standards?
    😉

    And don’t forget the Great Plague (ended by, and possibly the cause of the Great Fire of London).

    Really a fascinating century. Wouldn’t have wanted to live through it, though.

    Liked by 1 person

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