Mudlarks: Fact and Fiction

There's a lot of the real 17th-century London in "Mudlarks," but there's fiction that's been woven into the story as well. Here's a place to touch base with historical reality.


  • The river Thames runs through the city of London, England and plays a vital role in almost every aspect of city life. FACT.

The river Thames is an important part of London's history. During the seventeenth century, there was only one bridge over the Thames (London Bridge) and all other traffic was conducted by boat or, on the rare occasion that the river froze over, on foot. London itself is on a stretch of the river which is tidal - that is, the river falls and rises with the ebbing and flowing of the tides. Knowing the time of high tide, or "full sea," at London Bridge was of crucial importance to the men who sailed their craft on the river.

  • Mudlarks, cobs and watermen were all actual professions in 17th-century England. FACT.

The watermen did exist (and in fact formed a professional company) during the 17th century, and the remnants of their stairs can still be seen in London today. Mudlarks also existed, though the term "mudlark" actually dates to the Industrial Revolution. I have had a difficult time tracking down the 17th-century mudlark, but have found vague references to Queen Elizabeth I granting them privledges in 1588. "Cob" is another difficult term to track, but the water-carriers also formed a professional company in early modern England.

  • There was a Temple in London. FACT.

The Temple housed the Knights Templar during the medieval period. After their destruction, the Temple complex passed through various hands and was broken up into three sub-sections (Inner, Middle and Outer). The Middle Temple, which I have chosen to be the headquarters for my Worshipfull Order of Cunning Men, actually fell into the hands of lawyers and is still one of the permier Inns of Court, to this day.

  • Cunning men existed and they practised "magic." MOSTLY FACT.

Cunning men did exist in the 17th century. Their main functions included protecting people against witchcraft, healing, finding lost properties and treasures, predicting the future, and making love spells. They did find themselves at risk of bein accused of witchcraft by displeased customers, but they were never officially incorporated as a professional company, nor did they ever exclude women from their number.

I believe that, if they had been incorporated as an official London company, they would have gradually excluded women from their numbers. This would have been both a natural part of forming an exclusive hierarchical organization, and a defense against charges of witchcraft. Because they would have the most to lose from becoming associated with witchcraft, and because they would form a natural first line of defense against witchcraft, I also believe they would have become rabidly anti-witchcraft and been particularly quick to persecute women with the same talents.

  • All the people in "Mudlarks" are made up. MOSTLY FACT.

I have worked very hard to choose character names that are contemporary. All of the watermen were given the names of actual watermen from the 1629 Muster of Watermen, though anything beyond their names is a product of my imagination. While the "great" do not really appear in my story, I have chosen to retain strict historical accuracy regarding the genealogy and character of the Stuart monarchs.

James VI, King of Scotland, also became James I, King of England, in 1603. He was anti-witchcraft, anti-tobacco, and pro-peace between Catholics and Protestants. Today he is most famous for authorizing the King James Version of the Bible. His eldest son, Henry, died at age 18 and his second son, Charles, ascended the throne as Charles I in 1625. Charles is most famous for getting his head chopped off during the English Civil Wars (January 1649).