Marchamont Nedham (1620-1678) was ‘the world’s first great journalist’ in the view of American historian Paul Rahe. He wrote more than 30 books and pamphlets as well as editing three newspapers over the course of the English Civil War from 1640 to 1660.
Prof Rahe says he was ‘one of the minor wonders of the age’. Even his contemporaries – many of whom hated him – admitted his talent. One rival, Sir John Birkenhead, called him ‘the Goliath of the Philistines’.
Prof Rahe credits Nedham with influencing the republicanism of the French and American revolutions, writing: ‘If we live in secular republics distinguished by a separation of church and state, if we are no longer in thrall to a condominium of princes and priests, it is in part because of the challenge laid down in the 1640s and 1650s by a disreputable journalist who shifted his political loyalties almost as often as he changed his shirts.’
Nedham is scarcely remembered these days, partly because he switched sides several times. His first paper, “Mercurius Britanicus” supported Parliament’s rebellion against the King; his second, “Mercurius Pragmaticus”, he wrote on behalf of King Charles I and, later King Charles II; his third, “Mercurius Politicus”, backed Oliver Cromwell and the King-killers.
Nedham was jailed twice before fleeing the country in fear for his life. He bribed his way back to Britain after the Restoration of Charles II and worked as a doctor. He bigamously married three women.
His memoirs were recently discovered in an Oxfordshire farmhouse and while they are being transcribed and prepared for publication, we have compiled these pages to give the reader an idea of the wit and wisdom of Marchamont Nedham.