On the Sign of the Three Kings (1787)

Canvassing for Votes, from The Humours of an Election

An English print featuring street signs.

1755 engraving by Charles Grignion, from oil painting by William Hogarth.

Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.

   This poem appears in seven collections of Pennecuik's work (Digital Miscellanies Index, n.d.), and only in those works, so the attribution is fairly strong.

   It is included partly for its Jacobite content, but also as an illustration of another of Pennecuik's favourite themes: the Edinburgh trades community. Many of his poems focus on or incorporate local businesses and business people, including another inspired by a business sign: "A Poem on the Sign of the Mermaid" (1787, 47-48), which is playfully lewd where the poem below is playfully political. In "Comical Reflections on a Taylor's Sign" (1750), Pennecuik uses the images on another sign to indict the said tailor for bad business practices. In his broadside series on the short-lived 1725 Malt Tax, which was met by widespread discontent in Scotland, Pennecuik illustrates the impact of the increased price of beer on surgeons, barbers, jewellers, chandlers, builders, ropemakers, tailors, weavers, skinners, bakers, pewterers, butchers, spurriers, saddlers, and masons (1725). According to an 1891 history produced at the request of the Incorporated Trades of Edinburgh, Pennecuik's History of the Blue Blanket, which involved careful consultation of historical manuscript sources, was "always . . . looked upon by the Craftsmen with considerable favour," and was accordingly reprinted as an appendix in the same volume because it was "becoming very scarce" (x). The Blue Blanket also displays Pennecuik's Jacobite colours, albeit in coded fashion. 

   The lines below contain a blunt example of what the literary scholar Howard Erskine-Hill termed "two-fold vision," which was "a way of holding the" Jacobite and opposing dynastic "claims simultaneously in the mind” (1997, 921). The jest that the owner of the business represented by the sign has "turn[ed] parliament himself" and made a third king (4) reads as a sardonic remark on the role of parliament in dispossessing the Stuarts and choosing their replacements; in The Blue Blanket, Pennecuik briefly defends absolutism on the grounds that common tradespeople might actually find favour with a king whose rule is not tempered by the aristocracy (1722, 25).

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          On the Sign of the Three Kings.

LONG have we had two kings, I do assure ye,
A George de facto, and a James de jure:1
But here's surprising news; a brave M'Ghie2
Turns parliament himself, and gives us three:
None of them all resemble George or James.                                                             5
O, King Creator! will you tell their names?
We do not know by gazing on their face,
If Norman, German, or Fergusian3 race:
Yet, when we think upon't, we learn the story;
The sign speaks truth by way of allegory.                                                                10
Three kings expos'd to sale! ye've plac'd them there
To show we Scots sell kings like merchant-ware.
Three kings were basely sold for English coin,
One at Dunbar,4 another at the Boyn;5
The third at Sheriff-muir,6 a fatal day,                                                                    15
When Mar7 mar'd all, and Huntly8 ran away.
Buy up the rogues that sold our antient nation;
You'll have the best stock'd shop in all the nation;
And when 'tis known such hellish wares you sell,
The d---l9 will pay the price, and take them all to hell.                                             20

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1 George is king in fact, and James is king by law.
2 Identified in the 1750 edition of Pennecuik's works as Robert McGhie, merchant in Luckenbooths (Digital Miscellanies Index, n.d.).
3 Scottish - for Fergus, regarded in legend as the first king of Scotland.
4 The Battle of Dunbar in 1650. A victory for the English Parliametarians over Scottish Royalists.
5 The Battle of the Boyne (1690) in Ireland, the defeat at which drove James VII and II from the British Isles. 
6 The major battle of the 1715 Jacobite uprising in the name of James VIII and III. Neither side was clearly victorious.
7 John Erskine, Earl of Mar (1675-1732), whose inexperience in command earned him much of the blame for the foundering of the 1715 rebellion (Szechi 2006, 252-53).
8 Alexander Gordon, Marquess of Huntly (1678-1728) - the charge that Huntly abandoned the case was fueled by Huntly himself in the aftermath of the uprising, in order to downplay his own role. He successfully avoided punishment. (Szechi 2006, 186-87).
9 Devil.

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References

Colston, James. 1891. The Incorporated Trades of Edinburgh, with an Introductory Chapter on The Rise and Progress of Municipal Governmet in Scotland. Edinburgh: Colston and Company. http://www.electricscotland.com/books/pdf/incorporatedtrad00cols.pdf.

Digital Miscellanies Index. Leverhulme Trust and Bodleian Library's Centre for the Book. Accessed April 12, 2018. http://dmi.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/?utf8=%E2%9C%93&search_field=default&q=sign+of+the+three+kings.

Erskine-Hill, Howard. 1997. “Twofold Vision in Eighteenth-Century Writing.” English Literary History 64, no. 4: 903-924. https://muse-jhu-edu.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/article/11381.

Pennecuik, Alexander. 1722. An Historical Account of the Blue Blanket: or, Crafts-Mens Banner. Containing the Fundamental Principles of the Good-Town, with the Powers and Prerogatives of the Crafts of Edinburgh, etc. Edinburgh: John Mosman. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. http://find.galegroup.com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/ecco/infomark.do?&source=gale&prodId=ECCO&userGroupName=sfu_z39&tabID=T001&docId=CW3300692601&type=multipage&contentSet=ECCOArticles&version=1.0&docLevel=FASCIMILE.

---. [1725?] "Old-Reekie's Loud and Joyful Acclamation, for Sir John Barleycorn his Restoration." English Poetry, Second Edition. http://gateway.proquest.com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&xri:pqil:res_ver=0.2&res_id=xri:ilcs-us&rft_id=xri:ilcs:ft:ep2:Z300460158:3.

---. 1750. "Comical Reflections on a Taylor's Sign thus Blazon'd, Azure, a Hand Couped, Ruffled Proper, Grasping a Pair of Scissars, Expanded, Ore, Pointing to the Crest, a Meridian Sun of the 2d. Incircled with Motto, Let Work Bear Witness." A Compleat Collection Of All The Poems Wrote by That Famous and Learned Poet Alexander Pennecuik. To Which is Annexed Some Curious Poems by Other Worthy Hands. 28-29. Edinburgh: R. Drummond. English Poetry, Second Edition. http://gateway.proquest.com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&xri:pqil:res_ver=0.2&res_id=xri:ilcs-us&rft_id=xri:ilcs:ft:ep2:Z300460158:3.

---. 1787. "On the Sign of the Three Kings." In A Collection of Scots Poems on Several Occasions, by the Late Alexander Pennecuik, Gent. and Others. 46-47. Glasgow: Alexander Buchanan. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. http://find.galegroup.com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/ecco/infomark.do?&source=gale&prodId=ECCO&userGroupName=sfu_z39&tabID=T001&docId=CW111162849&type=multipage&contentSet=ECCOArticles&version=1.0&docLevel=FASCIMILE. 

---. 1787. "A Poem on the Sign of the Mermaid"  In A Collection of Scots Poems on Several Occasions, by the Late Alexander Pennecuik, Gent. and Others. 47-48. Glasgow: Alexander Buchanan. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. http://find.galegroup.com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/ecco/infomark.do?&source=gale&prodId=ECCO&userGroupName=sfu_z39&tabID=T001&docId=CW111162849&type=multipage&contentSet=ECCOArticles&version=1.0&docLevel=FASCIMILE. 

Szechi, Daniel. 2006. 1715: The Great Jacobite Rebellion. New Haven: Yale University Press. 

The Three Kings