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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 July, 2004, 08:51 GMT 09:51 UK
Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1669
By Jennifer Quinn
BBC News Online Magazine

You may think binge drinking is a modern curse, but there were worries about Britain's booze intake in the 17th Century. The difference? Then, drinking was a way of showing loyalty to the King. So take that, David Blunkett.

Modern gals at local bar
'Mead? That is so 17th Century'

There's at least one thing the home secretary can be grateful for: today's binge drinkers aren't carrying swords.

They may have loud mouths and spend Saturday evenings staggering from pub to bar to club - a journey that can make Sunday morning in the city centres look like an invading army has rampaged through - but they tend not to behead each other or fill their cups with their own blood.

Even in today's culture of abandon, that might be excessive.

Royalists - fun!

But that's exactly what the binge drinkers of the 17th Century used to do, a researcher at the University of Warwick says.

Angela McShane-Jones, a lecturer in the university's history department, says that boozing it up in the late 1600s was a way for hardcore Royalists to demonstrate their loyalty to the crown during the civil war.

He that denies the brimmer
We'll drown him in canary and make him all our own.
When his heart is merry
He'll drink to Charles in's throne

17th Century drinking song

At the opposite end of the spectrum, says Ms McShane-Jones, the Puritans looked down on drinking - stuck to coffee, mainly, or imbibed secretly - so hoisting a cup of wine was a political statement.

"Because of the Puritan regime really thumping down on drinking... when the King came back in the 1660s, all of these Royalists who had been drinking secretively - and riotously - let loose," Ms McShane-Jones says.

"It wasn't helped by the fact that you had conduits running with wine in the city when the King actually came back."

Puritans - less fun

So drinking was a good thing, and those who enjoyed a tipple were then - like now, really - considered to be good fun, and up for a laugh. They were also thought to be politically correct, as raising a jug of wine was an expression of loyalty to the church and the crown.

Tony Blair with pint
Loyal to the government

But there was a much darker side.

"This riotous drinking became really quite dangerous, because, obviously, these men were armed," she says.

"Imagine a group of football supporters, except these men are pro-King. They'd all be drinking, and if you won't drink with them, a brawl would ensue and somebody would likely die."

That was the case when Royalists played a "game" in a Bedfordshire pub that involved slicing their skin and drinking their own blood instead of wine. One drinker got a bit over-involved in the game and died, Ms McShane-Jones' research says.

It was easier for people then to get intoxicated because the drink of choice for people during the day was beer, meaning that by the time the Royalists got down to some serious drinking, they were already partly half-cut, Ms McShane-Jones says.

Her research backs up the notion that when it comes to social problems like binge drinking, there's really nothing new under the sun.

"You can't look at drunkenness as something that's come out of liberal attitudes," Ms McShane-Jones says. "Drunkenness has been a permanent problem for the Brits. I mean, when the Normans invaded in the 1060s, the Brits had a reputation for drunkenness."


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