L'Estrange, Roger (DNB00)
|←L'Estrange, Nicholas||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 33
|Le Strange, Thomas→|
L'ESTRANGE, Sir ROGER (1616–1704), tory journalist and pamphleteer, born at Hunstanton, Norfolk, on 17 Dec. 1616, was second son of Sir Hamon L'Estrange (1583–1652), by his wife Alice, daughter and heiress of Richard Stubbe of Sedgeford (1585–1666). His brothers, Nicholas and Hamon, are noticed separately. Roger was well educated at home, and early showed an aptitude for music. He probably studied for a time at Cambridge. Like all the members of his family he was an ardent royalist. In 1639 he accompanied Charles I and his army to Scotland, and from that instant he wrote, ‘I never declined any hazard, travail, or expense, within the compass of my nature or power, in reference to my duty to the royal interest.’ On the outbreak of the civil war he was at Lynn, which his father, the royalist governor, failed to preserve against the parliamentarians' assault. After its fall Roger went to Oxford, and ‘served in Prince Rupert's troup.’ He subsequently removed to Newark, and while there was invited by Norfolk friends to attempt the recapture of Lynn (To … Clarendon … the Humble Apology of Roger L'Estrange, 1661, p. 4). In 1644 he formed a plan for the purpose, and on going to Oxford to communicate his scheme to Charles I, received a commission, signed by John Digby, earl of Bristol, dated 28 Nov. 1644 from the king, encouraging him to proceed. He was granted the appointment of governor in case of success, and he received a promise that any engagement made by him with the inhabitants should be duly respected. But two of his confederates, ‘a brace of villains by name Lemon and Haggar,’ betrayed the plot. L'Estrange was seized near Lynn; the royal commission was found on his person, and he was sent, by way of Cambridge, to London. The House of Commons resolved (19 Dec. 1644) that he should be proceeded against according to martial law. On 26 Dec. he was brought before the commissioners for martial affairs sitting at the Guildhall; Sir John Corbet was president, and on 28 Dec. Dr. Mills, the judge-advocate, pronounced sentence of death; a day was fixed for his execution, and he was removed to Newgate (Rushworth, Hist. Coll. v. 804–7). He asserts that he was not suffered to speak at the trial, but after receiving sentence he threw a paper among his judges, ‘adding withal that it was his defence.’ On 28 Jan. 1644–1645 a certificate of the sentence was read in the House of Commons (Commons' Journal, iv. 34), and a reprieve of fourteen days was soon afterwards granted, with a view to a further hearing of the case. He declined the offer made by two puritan ministers, who visited him in prison, of a pardon if he would take the covenant, and drew up a series of petitions addressed both to the House of Lords collectively, and to the Earl of Essex, and many peers individually (cf. Hist. MSS. Comm. 6th Rep. 39 a, 41 a and b, 46). No attempt was meanwhile made either to carry out the sentence or release him, and he remained for more than three years in ‘a distressing condition of expectancy.’ Prince Rupert is said to have informed Essex that he contemplated reprisals if L'Estrange were executed (Boyer, Annals, iii. 242). On 22 April 1645 the royalist commissioners of Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire called George lord Digby's attention to the harsh treatment to which L'Estrange was being subjected, and urged that he should be exchanged or his ‘better usage’ procured (Cal. State Papers, 1644–5, p. 424). In July it was stated that he was suffering from a fatal and irrecoverable consumption (Lords' Journals, vii. 506–7). On 8 July 1646 L'Estrange issued a broadside called ‘Roger Lestrange to a Gentleman, a Member of the Honourable House of Commons,’ in which he set forth a statement of his case and of his sufferings (Lemon, Cat. of Broadsides, p. 113). On 7 April 1647 he discussed the same topics in a pamphlet entitled ‘L'Estrange, his Appeale from the Court-Martiall to the Parliament.’ He was still in Newgate in the spring of 1648, but at that date the governor connived at his escape, regarding him as ‘one in whom there was no more danger’ (Clarendon, iv. 333).
L'Estrange took refuge in Kent in the house of a young landowner named John Hales of Hales Place, Tenterden, Kent; straightway flung himself into a projected movement for a royalist rising in the county, and urged Hales to place himself at its head. L'Estrange travelled through the county delivering speeches ‘in a style very much his own, and being not very clear to be understood the more prevailed over’ his ignorant hearers (ib.) He wrote declarations on behalf of the king to be read in churches. But the royalists in London heard of his impetuous proceedings with misgiving, and instructed George Goring, earl of Norwich [q. v.], to take Hales's place. L'Estrange's followers mustered only four hundred horse and foot, and he soon found it politic to fly with Hales to Holland (cf. Gardiner, Great Civil War, iii. 382; Clarendon, Rebellion, iv. 333–6). Friend and foe combined to question his conduct, and he published from Holland in 1649 a tract, in self-defence, called ‘L'Estrange, his Vindication to Kent and the Justification of Kent to the World,’ of which he presented a copy to Hyde (Humble Apology, p. 5). He laid the blame of the fiasco on the precipitancy of his supporters, and on their neglect of his advice. While abroad he seems to have been employed by Hyde in the service of Charles II. He wrote later that he had ‘received many, many benefits under Hyde's roof’ (Memento, 1662, ded.) He was in Germany in June 1653, when Hyde wrote to him from Paris denying reports of Charles's conversion to Roman catholicism (Cal. Clarendon State Papers, ii. 212).
In August 1653 L'Estrange returned to England, ‘and finding himself within the act of indemnity’ he gave notice of his arrival to the council of state. He was accordingly summoned before the council on 7 Sept. 1653, and was strictly examined. A request to visit his dying father was refused, ‘and matters beginning to look worse and worse,’ he sought and obtained a personal interview with Cromwell ‘in the Cockpit.’ According to his own story Cromwell was conciliatory and told him ‘that rigour was not at all his inclination.’ On 31 Oct. following, the council released him from further attendance upon his ‘giving in 2,000l. security to appear when he shall be summoned so to do, and to act nothing prejudicial to the Commonwealth.’ L'Estrange's enemies subsequently stated that he owed his discharge to a distribution of bribes among the Protector's attendants, and that he discredited his old principles by associating on very friendly terms with Cromwell and with Thurloe, the secretary of the council. He replied that after his return to England he came into personal relations with Cromwell only on one other occasion than that when he begged him to procure his discharge. L'Estrange was an accomplished musician, and during the protectorate Cromwell, when paying an accidental visit at the house of John Hingston [q. v.] the organist, found L'Estrange and a few others practising music. ‘He found us playing,’ L'Estrange wrote, ‘and, as I remember, so he left us’ (Truth and Loyalty Vindicated, 1662, p. 50). L'Estrange's confession of participation in this little concert is responsible for his later nickname of ‘Oliver's fiddler.’
In the autumn of 1659 L'Estrange wrote and published with great rapidity a long series of anonymous broadsides attacking Lambert and the leaders of the army. He approved Sir George Booth's rising in Cheshire, and urged the citizens of London to agitate for a new parliament, which, he cautiously hinted, was likely to lead to a restoration of the monarchy. The titles of some of these pieces ran: ‘The Declaration of the City to the Men at Westminster;’ ‘A Free Parliament proposed by the City to the Nation, 6 Dec. 1659;’ ‘A Letter to Monck purporting to come from the Gentlemen of Devon, 28 Jan. 1659–60;’ ‘The Citizens' Declaration for a Free Parliament;’ and ‘A Word in Season to General Monck.’
As soon as the Long parliament was dissolved (16 March 1659–60), L'Estrange spoke out openly in favour of monarchy, and published his views in ‘A Necessary and Seasonable Caution concerning the Elections,’ and in ‘Treason Arraigned,’ 3 April 1660, an answer to ‘Plain English,’ a tract advocating the continuance of the republic. Finally, on 20 April appeared his ‘No Blind Guides,’ a very scurrilous and personal attack on Milton's ‘Brief Notes upon a late Sermon titled “The Fear of God and the King,” by Dr. Matthew Griffith’ (cf. Masson, Milton, v. 689–92).
L'Estrange's activity received no immediate reward from the restored king, and he openly lamented the leniency of the Act of Indemnity. A petition to the House of Lords begging permission, notwithstanding that act, to proceed in a court of law against ‘Robert Tichburne and others,’ to whom he attributed his misfortunes at Lynn, appears to have been neglected (Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. p. 96 b). He deplored this treatment in a pamphlet printed in June within a few days of Charles's return, under the title ‘L'Estrange his Apology, with a short view of some late remarkable Transactions leading to the Happy Settlement of these Nations.’ Here he reprinted all his recent anonymous broadsides. When James Howell issued in 1661 his ‘Cordial for Cavaliers,’ offering some cold comfort to the king's disappointed supporters, L'Estrange renewed his complaints in his ‘Caveat to the Cavaliers’ (2nd edit. enlarged 13 Aug. 1661); and to Howell's retort called ‘Some Sober Inspections’ L'Estrange replied in ‘A Modest Plea both for the Caveat and the Author of it,’ with some very sarcastic notes ‘upon Mr. James Howell.’ A charge preferred by Sir John Birkenhead in 1663, that L'Estrange had written a book against the king, was probably based on this outspoken pamphlet (Cal. State Papers, 1662–1663, p. 92).
With greater disinterestedness L'Estrange flung himself into the controversy respecting the settlement of the church. In a long series of pamphlets he sought to make the ‘fanatiques’ (i.e. the presbyterians) and their doctrines responsible for the civil wars and the death of the late king. His ‘Relaps'd Apostate, or Notes upon a Presbyterian Pamphlet entitled “A Petition for Peace”’ (1661), professed to prove the inconvenience of any concession. He pursued the argument in ‘State Divinity, or a Supplement to the “Relaps'd Apostate,” wherein is Presented the Discovery of a Present Design against the King, Parliament, and Public Peace, or Notes upon some late Presbyterian Pamphlets,’ London, 1661. There followed his ‘Interest mistaken, or the Holy Cheat, proving from the undeniable Practises and Positions of the Presbyterians that the Design of that Party is to enslave both King and People under the Masque of Religion,’ dedicated to the House of Commons, 1661 (two editions, 4th edit. 1682); this was a reply to the ‘Interest of England in the Matter of Religion,’ by John Corbet (1620–1680) [q. v.] Another presbyterian minister, Edward Bagshaw the younger [q. v.], in his ‘Animadversions upon [Dr. Morley] the Bishop of Worcester's Letter,’ 1661, turned aside to castigate L'Estrange, and retailed rumours of his treacherous conduct under the Commonwealth. L'Estrange appealed to Clarendon to summon Bagshaw before the council to prove the allegations, and published many tracts, full of autobiographic reminiscences, to confute them. ‘To the Right Honourable Edward, Earl of Clarendon, the Humble Apology of Roger L'Estrange,’ dated 3 Dec. 1661, appeared early in the following year. ‘A Memento directed to all those that truly reverence the Memory of King Charles the Martyr, and as passionately wish the Honour, Safety, and Happiness of his Royal Successor,’ was dedicated to Clarendon on 11 April 1662; a new edition appeared, with the last three chapters omitted, in 1682 as ‘A Memento treating of the Rise, Progress, and Remedies of Seditions, with some Historical Reflections upon our late Troubles.’ On 7 June 1662 appeared his ‘Truth and Loyalty Vindicated from the Reproaches and Clamours of Mr. Edward Bagshaw,’ dedicated to the privy council. ‘A Whip for the Schismaticall Animadverter’ (i.e. Bagshaw), London, 1662, 4to, brought this skirmish to a close.
In 1663 L'Estrange's fortunes improved. In his ‘Modest Plea’ and elsewhere he had ascribed the prevalence of dangerous opinions to the license of the press, and on 24 Feb. 1662 he had obtained, if the document be correctly dated, a warrant to seize all seditious books and libels, and to apprehend the authors, and to bring them before the council (ib. 1661–2, p. 282). On 3 June 1663 he discussed exhaustively the position of the press in his ‘Considerations and Proposals in order to the Regulation of the Press, together with diverse instances of Treasonous and Seditious Pamphlets proving the necessity thereof.’ This extravagant denunciation of the liberty of the press was dedicated to Charles II, and recommended a stringent enforcement and extension of the licensing act of May 1662. Master-printers, L'Estrange argued, should be reduced in number from sixty to twenty, and all workshops should be subjected to the strictest supervision. Severe penalties should be uniformly exacted, and working printers guilty of taking part in the publication of offensive works should on conviction wear some ignominious badge. L'Estrange warmly condemned the weakness of the licensers of the press in permitting the issue of the farewell sermons by the ejected ministers of 1662. On 15 Aug. 1663 he was rewarded for his vehemence by his appointment to the office of ‘surveyor of the imprimery,’ or printing presses, in succession to Sir John Birkenhead (ib. 1663–4, p. 240). All printing offices in England, and vendors of books and papers, were under his control, and he was authorised to enter and search their houses. He was also one of the licensers of the press, and had the sole privilege of writing, printing, and publishing anything of the character of a newspaper or public advertisement. His predecessor had issued since 1660 a weekly sheet called ‘The Kingdom's Intelligencer,’ but L'Estrange discontinued the periodical and started on Monday, 31 Aug. 1663, ‘The Intelligencer, published for the satisfaction and information of the people.’ A copy of the first number is in the Public Record Office (ib. p. 260). It is a single quarto sheet, and its price appears to have been a halfpenny (cf. Nichols, Lit. Anecdotes, iv. 54–5). The first issue was chiefly occupied by a prospectus, in which L'Estrange wrote: ‘Supposing the press in order, the people in their right wits, and news or no news to be the question, a public mercury should never have my vote, because I think it makes the multitude too familiar with the actions and counsels of their superiors, too pragmatical and censorious, and gives them not only a wish but a kind of colourable right and license to the meddling with the government.’ He only justified his own experiment by the reflection that the people at the time were disturbed in their opinions, and required prudent guidance. Pepys bought a copy on the day of issue, and thought that L'Estrange made ‘but a simple beginning’ (Diary, ii. 36). On the Thursday following L'Estrange published a similar sheet entitled ‘The News,’ and he continued to publish the ‘Intelligencer’ on Mondays and the ‘News’ on Thursdays till the beginning of 1666. Pepys relates how L'Estrange sought his acquaintance on the exchange on 17 Nov. 1664 in order (Pepys wrote) ‘to get now and then some news of me which I shall, as I see cause, give him’ (ib. ii. 192). In the course of the following year the authorities complained of some ‘miscarriage’ of L'Estrange's ‘public intelligence.’ He wrote to Arlington, the lord chamberlain (17 Oct. 1665), that he was receiving only 400l. a year from his newspaper, and was spending 500l. in ‘entertaining spies for information,’ and would be ruined if forced to relinquish the undertaking (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1665–6, pp. 17, 20, 22). In November 1665, when the court removed to Oxford to escape the plague of London, Arlington licensed the issue of a new periodical called ‘The Oxford Gazette,’ which appeared bi-weekly, and was reprinted in London. L'Estrange, who stayed in London throughout the plague, vainly tried to withstand this infringement of his rights by changing the title of his ‘Intelligencer’ to ‘The Public Intelligencer’ (28 Nov.), and imitating the form of his rival at all points. But he was worsted in the struggle, and his journal ceased on 29 Jan. 1665–6, when the ‘News’ appeared for the last time. The rival gazette was continued on the king's return to the capital (4 Feb. 1665–6) as ‘The London Gazette,’ and became a permanent institution. In November 1675 L'Estrange encouraged, if he did not project, the publication of a new periodical called ‘The City Mercury, or Advertisements concerning Trade.’
L'Estrange rigorously performed the other duties of his office. In October 1663, soon after assuming his post, he made midnight raids on many printing offices. In one owned by John Twyn, in Clothfair, he found a seditious work entitled ‘A Treatise of the Execution of Justice’ in process of printing; caused Twyn's arrest, and gave evidence at the trial, when the man was convicted on a capital charge, and was executed (cf. State Trials, vi. 522 sq.) He regularly encouraged informers by money bribes, which he paid at his office, the Gun, in Ivy Lane. In dealing with such manuscripts as came under his supervision, he carefully excised expressions of opinion directly or indirectly obnoxious to the government or to the established church, and often modified attacks on Roman catholicism. He is said to have expunged from the almanacs submitted to him in 1665 all prophecies of the fire of London of 1666 (Pepys, Diary, iii. 56; Ward, Diary, p. 94). In 1672 L'Estrange was compelled, much against his will, to license the second edition of Marvell's ‘Rehersal Transprosed.’ The king admired its wit, although its principles were not those favoured by L'Estrange, who introduced some changes into the manuscript, and afterwards complained that they were incorrectly printed (Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. pp. 5, 17–18). Some correspondence which passed between L'Estrange and John Nalson [q. v.], the author of anti-presbyterian pamphlets, illustrates the conscientious care with which L'Estrange read work submitted to him, even by supporters of his own views, as well as his anxiety to ‘sweeten’ adverse criticism of the papacy (cf. Nichols, Illustrations, iv. 68–70, 83). In 1679 he made important changes in Borlase's ‘History of the Irish Rebellion,’ so as to avoid imputations on the memory of Charles I (see Borlase, Edmund, and Hist. MSS. Comm. 8th Rep. pt. iii. p. 39a; cf. The Loyal Observator, 1683; Letters to Joseph Williamson, Camd. Soc. i. 41; and Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. v. 462). According to Dunton, L'Estrange was always susceptible of female influence, and ‘would wink at unlicensed books if the printer's wife would but smile on him’ (Life and Errors, p. 266).
L'Estrange's official duties temporarily impaired his activity as a pamphleteer. But in 1663 he published an anonymous dialogue between Zeal, Conformity, and Scruple, entitled ‘Toleration Discuss'd,’ London, 4to, where he tried to show that the dissenters' plea for liberty of conscience was a claim for liberty of disorderly practice, and that toleration to be logical ought to extend to other than christian creeds. He seems to have reissued at the same time under his own name ‘Presbytery Display'd,’ a tract previously published anonymously. In 1674 he published a sensible and non-controversial ‘Discourse of the Fishery,’ London, 4to, in which he urged the government to encourage and organise the pursuit, and showed the value, of herring, cod, and ling. In 1679 he set to work to meet the attacks of Shaftesbury and his friends on Charles II and his government. The cry for the exclusion of the Duke of York from the succession he denounced in ‘The Case Put,’ 1679 (three editions). In an anonymous ‘Answer to the Appeal from the Country to the City,’ 1679, by Charles Blount (1654–1693) [q. v.], he attacked the ‘addressers’ who were petitioning the king to summon a new parliament. In the ‘Free-born Subject, or the Englishman's Birthright against all tyrannical Usurpation either in Church or State,’ London, 1679, anon., he urged the government to suppress more rigorously public avowals of discontent. To Andrew Marvell's ‘Account of the Growth of Popery and arbitrary Government,’ he replied in ‘The Parallel, or an Account of the Growth of Knavery under the pretext of arbitrary Government and Popery’ (London, 1678, anon., new edit. 1681, with author's name). Here he compared the policy of the contemporary whig leaders with that of the parliamentary leaders in 1641—a comparison which became a favourite cry with the tories. Two other of his pamphlets, entitled ‘Citt and Bumpkin,’ parts i. and ii., 1680, expressed similar sentiments, and were parodied in a scurrilous broadside entitled ‘Crack upon Crack, or Crackf—— Whipt with his own Rod.’ L'Estrange's energetic support met with favour at court. In March 1680 he was made a justice of the peace for Middlesex, and he received secretly a gift of 100l. (Secret Services of Charles II and James II, p. 42; Luttrell, i. 39).
Meanwhile L'Estrange was subjecting to very searching criticism all the evidence adduced in the law-courts to prove the existence of a ‘Popish Plot,’ and he sought to moderate the storm of fanaticism against the Roman catholics excited by the murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey in October 1678, and by Titus Oates's alleged revelations. In the ‘History of the Plot’ (1680, fol.), he merely reported at length the trials of seventeen persons convicted of complicity, but in ‘A further Discovery of the Plot, dedicated to Dr. Titus Oates’ (1680), he freely expressed the opinion that Oates and his witnesses were unworthy of belief. In ‘A Letter to Miles Prance’ L'Estrange ascribed Godfrey's death to suicide, and the testimony of Prance, which had secured the conviction of three men for the alleged murder of Godfrey, was, he insisted, wholly false. Oates's friends were at first content to counteract L'Estrange's strictures by issuing a pamphlet called ‘Discovery on Discovery, in Defence of Titus Oates;’ but finding this expedient unavailing, they took a bolder step. A young man named Simson Tonge, son of Ezerel Tonge [q. v.], a friend of Oates, and author of ‘Jesuits Assassins,’ 1680, and of other works in behalf of the plot, was in the autumn of 1680 arrested on a charge of having publicly expressed doubts of Oates's good faith. In order to mollify his prosecutors, Tonge readily agreed, at Oates's suggestion, to swear falsely that L'Estrange had given him one hundred guineas to defame Oates and his friends (cf. The Narration of J. Fitzgerald, 1680, fol.). Prance and his friends backed up Tonge's charges by filing affidavits stating that L'Estrange was a papist, and had worshipped at the Queen's Chapel in Somerset House in June 1677. Accordingly, in October L'Estrange was summoned before the council. Tonge alone gave evidence. He showed that L'Estrange had some previous acquaintance with him. L'Estrange had refused to license a book called ‘The Royal Martyr,’ by Tonge's father (The Shammer Shammed), and the young man had sought an interview with him as a justice of the peace in order to swear a deposition against Oates, but L'Estrange had shown reluctance to take Tonge's testimony. But Tonge's directly incriminating evidence was so confused, and the king was reported to have expressed himself so strongly in L'Estrange's favour, that he was at once acquitted (Luttrell, i. 57). The state of public opinion, however, rendered his position dangerous, and in November he fled the country (Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. pt. ii. pp. 167–246). The government, bowing to the storm, seems to have removed him from the commission of the peace. Before leaving England he replied to his accusers in a pamphlet, ‘L'Estrange's case in a Civil Dialogue betwixt Zekiel and Ephraim;’ and in ‘A short Answer to a whole Litter of Libellers,’ chiefly aimed at Edmund Hickeringill [q. v.] A sarcastic ‘Letter out of Scotland from Mr. R. L. S.’ (10 Jan. 1680–1), represented that he had escaped to that ‘cold country,’ and was learning the bagpipes; but he soon made his way to the Hague. While in Holland he printed a letter addressed to Ken (1 Feb. 1680–1), chaplain to the Princess Mary of Orange, in which he announced his intention of taking the sacrament at Ken's hands the next day, and a postscript added that he fulfilled his intention.
On 17 Nov. 1680 he was burnt in effigy by the London mob, who gave him the sobriquet of ‘the Dog Towzer,’ apparently in reference to reports of L'Estrange's immoralities. In ‘The Solemn Mock Procession of the Pope, Cardinalls, Iesuits … 17 Nov. 1680,’ he is depicted in a woodcut as a dog holding a violin and bow, and the figure is labelled ‘Old Nol's Fidler.’ In ‘Strange's Case strangely altered’ (dated October 1680), he is similarly represented; and in an appended mock ‘Hue and Cry’ it is said of him, ‘He has a thousand dog tricks, viz., to fetch for the Papists, carry for the Protestants, whine to the King, dance to Noll's Fiddle, fawn on the courtier, leap at their crusts, wag his tail at all bitches, hunt counter to the Plot, tonguepad the evidence, and cring to the crucifix, but above all this he has a damn'd old trick of slipping the halter’ (cf. A new dialogue between Heraclitus and Towzer, 1681?; A New Year's Gift for Towzer, 1682; The Timeservers … a dialogue between Tory, Towzer, and Tantivee, 1681; Towzer's Advice to the Scriblers, 1681; and Dialogue upon Dialogue, or L'Estrange no Papist nor Iesuit, but the dog Towzer, 1681). The appellation of ‘the dog Towzer’ was long remembered. Defoe, writing in 1703, complained that a portrait prefixed to a pirated edition of his works no more resembled him than ‘the dog Towzer’ resembled L'Estrange. On 21 Feb. 1680–1 appeared in the form of a newspaper what purported to be the first number of a periodical, called ‘News from the Land of Chivalry, containing a Pleasant and delectable History, and the wonderful and strange Adventures of Don Rogero de Strangemento, Kt. of the Squeaking Fiddlestick.’ Twenty- four numbers were announced if the venture met with public approval, but only three appeared.
In February 1681 L'Estrange returned to London to face the storm of abuse. ‘Portraicture of Roger L'Estrange, drawn to the Life as it was taken in the Queen's Chapel,’ London, 1681, fol., and ‘L'Estrange a Papist,’ London, 1681, fol., collected the depositions of Miles Prance, Lawrence Mowbray, and their allies. L'Estrange answered them in ‘L'Estrange no Papist,’ where he complained that the ‘whole kennel of libellers was now let loose upon him as if he were to be beaten to death by Pole-Cats.’ A more elaborate defence he entitled ‘L'Estrange his Appeal humbly submitted to the King's most Excellent Majesty, and the three Estates assembled in Parliament.’ About the same time Tonge confessed the falsity of his accusation, and L'Estrange issued ‘The Shammer Shamm'd, or A plain Discovery under young Tonge's own Hand, of a Design to trepan L'Estrange into a pretended Subornation against the Popish Plot,’ 1681. It was reported in June 1681 that the graduates of Cambridge University collected 200l. to present to L'Estrange as an acknowledgment of his services to the church of England (Luttrell, i. 93). On Easter Sunday, 16 April 1682, L'Estrange and Prance both took, according to Luttrell (i. 178), the sacrament at the church of St. Giles-in-the-Fields, when Prance solemnly reaffirmed his charge that L'Estrange had attended mass, and L'Estrange with equal solemnity declared the accusation false. A similar story, told by Echard, on the authority of Sharpe, the rector of St. Giles's, represents L'Estrange, Prance, and Richard Baxter as approaching the communion table together. In July 1683 L'Estrange was again placed on the commission of the peace (Luttrell, i. 265).
Meanwhile L'Estrange continued with unabated bitterness his attacks on the dissenters. ‘The Casuist Uncas'd, in a Dialogue betwixt Richard and Baxter, with a Moderator between them for quietness' sake’ (London, 1680, 4to, two editions) is a smart assault on Baxter's position. There followed ‘A Seasonable Memorial in some Historical Notes upon the Liberties of the Presse and Pulpit,’ 1680; ‘The Reformation Reformed; or a short History of New-fashioned Christians, occasioned by Franck Smith's Yesterday's Paper of Votes’ (2 Sept. 1681); ‘The Dissenters' Sayings in Requital for “L'Estrange's Sayings” [the title of a tract against L'Estrange], published in their own Words for the Information of the People’ (1681, three editions). In the last tract L'Estrange collected passages which he deemed seditious from the writings of well-known nonconformists; it was answered in ‘The Assenters Sayings by an Indifferent Hand’ (1681), and was translated into French as ‘Le Non Conformiste Anglois dans ses ecris, dans ses sentimens et dans sa pratique,’ London, 1683, 4to. In ‘A Word concerning Libels and Libellers, presented to Sir John Moore, Lord Mayor, and the Court of Aldermen’ (1681), he complained of the small number of prosecutions begun against his whig enemies in the press, and he repeated this complaint when sarcastically dedicating a second part of his ‘Dissenters' Sayings’ to the grand jury of London, 29 Aug. 1681. He also issued later in the year ‘An Apology for the Protestants, being a full Justification of their departure from the Church of Rome, with fair and Practicable Proposals for a Reunion, done out of the French.’ At the same time he defended James, duke of York, once more in ‘The Character of a Papist in Masquerade, supported by authority and experience in answer to the Character of a Popish successor.’ An answer elicited from L'Estrange ‘A Reply to the Second Part of the Character of a Popish successor,’ 1681. He likewise supported the government in ‘Notes upon Stephen College, grounded principally upon his own Declarations and Confessions’ (1681, two editions); and in ‘The Accompt Clear'd: an answer to a libel intituled A True Account from Chichester concerning the Death of Habin the Informer,’ London, 1682.
But L'Estrange sought a more effective vehicle for the expression of his views. He seems to have been concerned in a weekly sheet published from February 1681 to August 1682, entitled ‘Heraclitus Ridens, or a Discourse between Jest and Earnest, where many a true word is pleasantly spoken in opposition to Libellers against the Government.’ But he soon began the publication of a periodical all of his own workmanship. It was a folio double-columned sheet, and was called at first ‘The Observator, in Question and Answer.’ The first number appeared on Wednesday, 13 April 1681, and it was originally designed to appear twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays. But after No. 30 (6 July 1681), when the title was changed to ‘The Observator in Dialogue,’ and the interlocutors were named Whig and Tory, three or four numbers usually appeared each week. No. 113, on 18 March 1681–2, bore as its sole heading ‘The Observator,’ together with a list in small type of the subjects treated in the sheet. The first series ended on Wednesday, 9 Jan. 1683–4, with No. 470. In the second series, begun on Thursday, 10 Jan. 1683–4, the interlocutors were renamed Observator and Trimmer. This series ended on Saturday, 7 Feb. 1684–5, with No. 215. The third and last series, beginning on Wednesday, 11 Feb. 1684–5, ended with No. 246 on Wednesday, 9 March 1686–7. Each series on its completion was reissued separately in volume form with indexes, and to the third volume (London, 1687) was prefixed ‘A brief History of the Times,’ dedicated to posterity, in which Oates and his plot were finally exposed.
In this periodical L'Estrange dealt unsparingly with dissenters and whigs. In Nahum Tate's contribution to ‘Absalom and Achitophel,’ pt. ii. (published in November 1682), L'Estrange, under the name of Sheva, was extravagantly praised for his loyal zeal in meeting in his paper the attacks on the government of ‘factious priests and seditious scribes.’
‘He with watchful eye
Observes and shoots their treasons as they fly,
Their weekly frauds his keen replies detect,
He undeceives more fast than they infect.’
Parodies on the periodical abounded. One was entitled ‘The Loyal Observator; or Historical Memoirs of the Life and Actions of Roger the Fiddler, alias The Observator,’ in dialogue between Ralph and Nobbs (London, 1683, 4to; reprinted in ‘Harleian Miscellany,’ vi. 61–4, 1745). Another broad sheet was called ‘The Gyant whipped by his Godmother, in a loving Epistle wrote to the most notorious Observator, Monsieur L'Estrange.’ A third, an essay in Rabelaisian humour, with a text from Pantagruel, was called ‘A Sermon prepared to be Preached at the Interment of the Renowned Observator, with some remarques on his Life by the Reverend Toryrorydammeeplotshammee Younkercrape, to which is annexed an Elegy and Epitaph by the Rose-ally-poet and other prime Wits of the Age,’ London, 1682. In a mock petition ‘of the loyal dissenters to his majesty’ (1683) it was satirically demanded that ‘L'Estrange and all that write for King, Law, and Government,’ should be hanged (Lemon, Cat. of Broadsides, p. 136).
The declining popularity of the whigs led to no abatement in the fury of the ‘Observator's’ blows. In the autumn of 1683 L'Estrange defended the government's attitude to the Rye House plot in ‘Considerations upon a printed sheet entitled the Speech of the late Lord Russell to the Sheriffs, together with the Paper delivered by him to them at the Place of Execution on July the 21st, 1683,’ London, 4to (cf. Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. p. 365 b). On 24 Feb. 1683–4 Titus Oates petitioned the privy council to prevent L'Estrange from continuing his attacks on him in his periodical. But Oates was now to be finally discredited. On 20 June 1684 informations involving him in serious offences were laid before L'Estrange (Luttrell, i. 311), and next year he was convicted of perjury, largely owing to L'Estrange's activity. On 30 Jan. 1684–5, L'Estrange wrote to a friend, the Countess of Yarmouth: ‘The press of Oates's business lying wholly upon my hand takes up every moment of my time in some respect or other, what with attendances and informations’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. p. 534).
On the death, in January 1685, of William Jenkyn [q. v.], the dissenting minister, in Newgate, L'Estrange replied in the ‘Observator’ (29–31 Jan.) to expressions of popular sympathy with the old man's sufferings, by denouncing him as a blasphemous impostor who had received a righteous punishment. He vowed to wage war on all mock saints and martyrs, whether dead or alive. The savagery of his polemics was approved by the clergy, who believed in his reiterated cry of the ‘church in danger,’ and according to Burnet he received frequent gifts of money from them or their patrons. The ‘minor clergy’ at this period is said to have thronged Sam's coffee-house in order to listen to L'Estrange, who sat among them ‘prating’ to them ‘like a grave doctor’ (State Poems, ii. 182). But some sober-minded critics still believed that his action was prompted by his leanings to Rome. A ‘new ballad with the definition of the word Tory’ (1682) called him ‘The English Bellarmine,’ and on 7 May 1685, when the whigs had been temporarily routed, Evelyn wrote of his policy in the ‘Observator:’ ‘Under pretence to serve the church of England he gave suspicion of gratifying another party by several passages which rather kept up animosities than appeased them, especially now that nobody gave the least occasion’ (Diary, ii. 463). In ‘The Observator Defended’ (1685) L'Estrange appealed to his diocesan, Henry Compton, bishop of London, to protect him from such calumny (cf. Ranke, Hist. iv. 267–8).
James II generously acknowledged L'Estrange's services. On 16 March 1684–5 he was elected M.P. for Winchester, and Bishop Ken stated in a private letter that the election was in accordance with the king's wish (Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. pt. v. p. 123). On 30 April 1685 L'Estrange was knighted (Luttrell, i. 340). On 21 May a warrant was issued directing him to enforce strictly the regulations concerning treasonable and seditious and scandalous publications (Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. p. 409 a), and rumour reported that he was to be made a peer (ib. p. 499 b). In June 1686 he was sent by the king to Scotland, and lodged at Holyrood, to aid by his pen in the attempt to force on the Scottish parliament a repeal of the Test Acts. But L'Estrange was no friend to the principles of toleration involved in the Declaration of Indulgence of 1687. In the latest series of his ‘Observator’ (iii. 47) he was still arguing that liberty of conscience was ‘a paradox against Law, Reason, Nature, and Religion,’ and the divergence between his views and those of the government led to a cessation of his periodical in March 1687. It was reported that he received an order from the government prohibiting its further publication (Luttrell, i. 392–6). A vigorous satire in verse called ‘The Observator’ ridiculed L'Estrange's awkward position (State Poems, ii. 180–3). But L'Estrange found a congenial task in supporting the king's claim to the dispensing power, and set forth his opinions on that subject in an ‘Answer to a Letter to a Dissenter upon occasion of His Majesty's late gracious Declaration of Indulgence,’ 1687; the ‘Letter’ Macaulay assigns to Halifax. In 1688 L'Estrange received a grant of 112l. from the king in consideration of his services (Secret Services, Camd. Soc., p. 206).
L'Estrange was naturally no friend to the Revolution. He was deprived of his office of licenser, and for his avowed hostility to the Prince of Orange he was committed to prison 16 Dec. 1688 (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. i. 126). In a tract by Tom Brown, ‘Heraclitus Ridens Redivivus, or a Dialogue between Harry and Roger concerning the Times’ (1688), he was represented as confessing to his pamphleteering rival, Henry Care [q. v.], a sense of remorse for his assaults on the dissenters (cf. Tom Brown, Works, v. 118). Queen Mary is said to have extracted the acrostic ‘Lye, Strange Roger,’ out of his name. In March 1691 he was again taken into custody, but was soon released on bail (Luttrell, ii. 189), and although he appeared before the court of king's bench pursuant to his recognisances on 13 April 1691, no further proceedings seem to have been taken (ib. ii. 217). In April 1692 an apoplectic fit nearly proved fatal (ib. ii. 414). Nine years before he had had a similar attack (ib. i. 252). In July 1693 he wrote to his grand-nephew, Sir Nicholas of Hunstanton, that he was suffering much from gout, and begged for ‘a pot of conserve of hips’ as a remedy (Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. pt. vii. p. 111). But he was sufficiently recovered to be suspected of complicity in Fenwick's plot of 1695. He was arrested on 3 March 1695–6 (ib. iv. 24), and was committed to Newgate. On 19 March he wrote to his grand-nephew solemnly declaring that he was ‘clear of contriving, fomenting, or being privy in any point of the plot now in agitation’ (ib. pt. vii. p. 112). He was removed to the Marshalsea, and was released in May 1696.
L'Estrange had many domestic difficulties. His wife gambled; he had always suffered pecuniary embarrassments. His grand-nephew, he admits, did him ‘many charitable offices,’ and he received frequent presents from admirers personally unknown to him in acknowledgment of his public services (cf. ib. p. 113). Pope's sneer in a letter to Swift, that the tory party ‘never gave him sixpence to keep him from starving,’ does not seem wholly justifiable (Pope, Works, ed. Elwin and Courthope, vii. 5). But he had to depend for his livelihood mainly on his pen, and the hackwork that he did for the booksellers as a translator only brought him a precarious income. Apart from these troubles the religious vagaries of a daughter—‘that addle-headed, stubborn girl of mine,’ he calls her—caused him much anxiety from 1693 (Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. pt. vii. p. 111). On 16 Feb. 1702–3 L'Estrange, in a letter to a friend, Sir Christopher Calthorpe, announced, with every sign of distress, ‘the late departure of his daughter from the church of England to the church of Rome.’ ‘It wounds the very heart of me,’ he wrote, ‘for I do solemnly protest in the presence of Almighty God that I knew nothing of it. … As I was born and brought up in the communion of the church of England, so I have been true to it ever since, with a firm resolution with God's assistance to continue in the same to my life's end’ (ib. p. 118; cf. Sloane MS. 4222, p. 14). This paper L'Estrange asked his friend to employ in case the old scandal respecting his alleged connection with Rome should be revived after his death. L'Estrange died 11 Dec. 1704, within five days of his eighty-eighth birthday, and was buried in the church of St. Giles-in-the-Fields. Verses lamenting his death, entitled ‘Luctus Britannici,’ appeared in 1705.
L'Estrange married Mary, daughter of Sir Thomas Doleman of Shaw, Berkshire. His wife died on 7 April 1694. ‘Play and gaming company,’ L'Estrange wrote to his grand-nephew when announcing her death, ‘have been the ruin of her wretched self, her husband, and her family, and she dies with a broken heart … but … after all never any creature lost a dearer wife’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. pt. vii. p. 112). Besides the daughter already mentioned, L'Estrange had a son, Roger, perhaps the child of his who was christened on 30 April 1685, when the Bishop of Ely and Sir Thomas Doleman stood godfathers (Luttrell, i. 340). His father was seeking to make provision for his education early in 1697, but the boy survived L'Estrange only a few months, dying in March 1705 (Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. pt. vii. p. 114).
L'Estrange's portrait was painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller in 1684, when he was sixty-eight years old. An engraving by R. White is prefixed to his ‘Æsop's Fables’ in 1692. Another portrait by Sir Peter Lely was exhibited at South Kensington in 1868 (No. 714 in Cat.). A third picture is at Hunstanton. A mezzotint engraving by P. Tempest is dated 1684.
L'Estrange continued through life a good musician. North describes him as ‘an expert violist’ (Memories of Musick, p. 123). Under the Commonwealth he not only played at Hingston's house before Cromwell, but entertained at his own residence Thomas Baltzar [q. v.], the distinguished violinist (Evelyn, Diary, 4 March 1655–6, ii. 82). L'Estrange was also one of the virtuosos who patronised Nicolas Matteis, called by Pepys ‘that stupendous violin.’ In 1673 Matthew Locke [q. v.] dedicated to him his ‘Melothesia,’ and spoke of him as a warm encourager of ‘musical professors.’ In 1678 John Banister dedicated to him ‘New Airs and Dialogues.’ Ned Ward, in his account of the musical club conducted by Britton, the ‘small coalman’ in Clerkenwell, says this club was first begun, or at least continued, by Sir Roger L'Estrange, ‘a very musical gentleman, and who had a tolerable perfection on the base-viol’ (Satiric Reflections on Clubs, 1709).
L'Estrange's chief literary work, apart from his political pamphlets and periodicals, was ‘The Fables of Æsop and other eminent Mythologists, with Moral Reflections,’ London, 1692, fol., with portrait. This is the most extensive collection of fables in existence. Each fable is followed by a ‘moral’ and a ‘reflexion;’ other editions are dated 1694, 1699, 1704, 1712, 1724. A French version appeared in 1714, and a Russian one in 1760. A verse rendering by E. Stacey is dated 1717 (cf. Æsop, ed. Jacobs, ii. 191–2). Another large undertaking was ‘The Works of Flavius Josephus compared with the original Greek,’ with two discourses by Dr. Milles (a folio volume of 1130 pages), London, 1702; other editions 1717, 1732, and 1733. The translator received 300l. for the work, with twenty-five copies of the book in ordinary paper, and twenty-five in royal. The subscription price for the ordinary copies was 25s., and for the royal paper copies 45s. A sixth part of the profit on the sale of the whole impression was also assigned to L'Estrange (Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. pt. vii. p. 113). A new edition in three volumes in Elzevir type was burnt in John Bowyer's printing office on 30 Jan. 1812 (Nichols, Lit. Anecdotes, i. 56).
L'Estrange was also author of: 1. ‘The Visions of Don Francisco de Quevedo Villegas, Knight of the order of St. James,’ licensed 26 March 1667, and published in that year. Pepys bought a copy on 29 Dec. 1667, and described it as ‘a merry satire … wherein there are many pretty things’ (Diary, ii. 145). A third edition is dated 1668. It reappeared in Hudibrastic verse, ‘burlesqu'd by a person of quality,’ in 1702. Ticknor, in his ‘History of Spanish Literature,’ ii. 271, says that it is the best translation extant of ‘Quevedo,’ or ‘at least the most spirited,’ but L'Estrange was not always faithful when he knew the meaning, and he is sometimes unfaithful from ignorance. ‘He altered some of the jests of his original to suit the scandal and tastes of his times by allusions entirely English and local.’ 2. ‘Five Love Letters from a [Portuguese] Nun to a [French] Cavalier, from the French,’ licensed 28 Dec. 1677, London, 1678, 12mo, and 1693; another edition, called the second, in both French and English, appeared in 1702. A second part, ‘Five Love Letters written by a Cavalier in Answer,’ London, 1694 (2nd edit. 1701), is also assigned to L'Estrange. 3. A disagreeable work, ‘Love Letters between a Nobleman and his Sister, viz. F——d Lord Gr—y of Werk and the Lady Henrietta Berk—ley, under the borrowed names of Philander and Silvia, by the author of the “Letters from a Nun to a Cavalier”’ (2nd edit. 1734), is also ascribed to L'Estrange. The work refers to the elopement of Forde, lord Grey [q. v.], with his sister-in-law, Lady Henrietta Berkeley, in 1682. 4. ‘The Gentleman Pothecary; a true Story done out of the French,’ London, 1678, a volume of curious indecency; a second edition, by Curll, is dated 1726. 5. ‘Tully's Offices in three books,’ London, 1680; 6th edit., revised by John Leng [q. v.], bishop of Norwich. 6. ‘Twenty select Colloquies of Erasmus Roterodamus, pleasantly representing several superstitious levities that were crept into the Church of Rome in his days,’ London, 1680; 2nd edit., with two colloquies added, 1689. 7. ‘A Guide to Eternity, extracted out of the Writings of the Holy Fathers and Ancient Philosophers,’ by John Bona, 2nd edit. 1680. 8. ‘The Spanish Decameron, or ten novels made English,’ London, 1687 (licensed 17 Feb. 1686–7). 9. ‘Seneca's Morals by way of abstract,’ 5th edit. 1693. L'Estrange is also credited with having begun in 1680 a translation from the Spanish of Don Alonso de Castillio Sovorcano of ‘The Spanish Polecat, or the Adventures of Seniora Ruefina, in four books, being a Detection of the Artifices used by such of the Fair Sex as are more at the Purses than at the Hearts of their Admirers.’ This was completed by Ozell in 1717, and published by Curll. It was reissued as ‘Spanish Amusements’ in 1727.
L'Estrange was also one of the ‘hands’ who were responsible for ‘Terence's Comedies made English,’ London, 1698, 2nd edit., and for the translation of ‘Tacitus’ in the same year (Hatton Correspondence, ii. 235). He was author of ‘A Key to Hudibras,’ printed in Butler's ‘Posthumous Works,’ vol. ii. (1715), from an exact copy supplied by ‘the learned Dr. Midgeley;’ and he wrote the preface to Fairfax's translation of Tasso's ‘Gerusalemme Liberata,’ 1687.
Clarendon speaks of L'Estrange as ‘a man of a good wit and a fancy very luxuriant, and of an enterprising nature’ (Rebellion, iv. 334). Pepys calls him ‘a man of fine conversation I think, but I am sure most courtly and full of compliments’ (Diary, 17 Dec. 1664, ii. 192). Evelyn describes him as ‘a person of excellent parts, abating some affectations.’ Fuller respected him and dedicated to him his ‘Ornithologie, or Speech of Birds’ (1655). L'Estrange was well acquainted with contemporary French and Spanish literature, and his frequent references to Bacon's ‘Essays’ and his occasional quotation from a poet like Lord Brooke show that he was well read in English. Despite his quarrel with Milton, his name figures among the subscribers to the fourth edition of ‘Paradise Lost’ in 1688. According to all accounts, he was personally attractive, and as a professional journalist he adhered to his principles with creditable tenacity, although he was a coarse controversialist, and sinned repeatedly, as in his attacks on Milton and Baxter, against the canons of good taste and feeling. Boyer, a contemporary biographer, writes that ‘he was certainly a very great Master of the English Tongue’ (Annals, iii. 243). Burnet, an unfriendly critic, draws attention to his ‘unexhausted copiousness in writing.’ His fluency was undoubtedly irrepressible. He wrote clearly, but in his endeavours to make himself intelligible to all classes he introduced much contemporary slang. Granger writes that ‘he was one of the great corrupters of our language by excluding vowels and other letters not commonly pronounced, and introducing pert and affected phrases’ (Biog. Hist. iv. 70). Macaulay (Hist. i. 186) calls his literary style ‘a mean and flippant jargon.’ Hallam, who regarded him as ‘the pattern of bad writing,’ yet credited him with ‘a certain wit and readiness in raillery, which, while making him a popular writer in his own day, enable some of his works to be still read with some amusement’ (Lit. of Europe, iii. 555–6). In the history of journalism he holds a prominent place. Dr. Johnson regarded him as the first writer upon record who regularly enlisted himself under the banners of a party for pay, and fought for it through right and wrong (Lit. Mag. 1758, p. 197). The influence of his ‘Observator’ was far-reaching. Its title and form were plagiarised by journalistic disciples even in his own lifetime (cf. Nichols, Lit. Anecdotes, i. 79 sq.; and art. Tutchin, John). It was familiar to Defoe, Addison, and Steele, and suggested much of their own work in the same direction. But L'Estrange is seen to best literary advantage in his translations. Occasionally, as in his ‘Quevedo’ and ‘Æsop,’ he foisted on them his own views and unwarranted allusions to current events. But although not literal they are eminently readable. He was not more moral than his contemporaries, and his choice of contemporary French authors for purposes of translation is not above reproach.
[Authorities cited; Biog. Brit.; Burnet's Own Time; Ranke's Hist.; Macaulay's Hist.; Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. pt. vii. (L'Estrange Papers at Hunstanton); Pepys's Diary; Evelyn's Diary; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1660–7; L'Estrange's Tracts; Cat. Satiric Prints in Brit. Mus., div. i. pt. i. esp. p. 631; Boyer's Annals of Anne, iii. 242; North's Memoires of Musick, ed. Rimbault; Blomefield's Norfolk, x. 314; Carthew's Hundred of Launditch, i. 139–45; Cole MSS. in Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 5895, ff. 32, 80, 82; Birch's Tillotson, iii. 4–5; Orme's Life of Baxter; Masson's Milton; Fox-Bourne's English Newspapers; Halkett and Laing's Dict. of Anon. and Pseudon. Lit.; Watt's Bibl. Brit. s.v. ‘Estrange.’]