Lambe, John (d.1628) (DNB00)

For works with similar titles, see Lambe, John.

LAMBE, JOHN (d. 1628), astrologer, seems to have belonged to Worcestershire. In youth he was tutor in English to gentlemen's sons, and afterwards studied medicine, but soon fell 'to other mysteries, as telling of fortunes, helping of divers to lost goods, shewing to young people the faces of their husbands or wives that should be in a crystal glass,' and the like. While practising his magical arts at Tardebigg, Worcestershire, he was indicted early in 1608 for having, on 16 Dec. 1607, practised 'execrable arts to consume the body and strength of Th. Lo. W.,' apparently Thomas, sixth lord Windsor of Bromsgrove. He was found guilty, but judgment was suspended, and he soon gained his liberty. In May 1608 he was residing at Hindlip, Worcestershire, and on the 13th of the month was arraigned at the assize on a charge of having invoked and entertained 'certain evil and impious spirits.' It was proved that he caused apparitions to proceed from a crystal glass, and prophesied death and disaster with fatal success. He was again convicted and was imprisoned in Worcester Castle. It was asserted that after his second trial 'the high sheriff, foreman of jury, and divers others of the justices gentlemen then present of the same jury died within a fortnight.' The local authorities consequently petitioned for his removal to King's Bench prison in London. He was taken thither, and was apparently kept there in easy confinement for some fifteen years. His fame as an astrologer rapidly spread through London, and he was allowed to receive his numerous clients in the prison. On 10 June 1623 he was indicted on a charge of seducing, in the King's Bench, Joan Seager, a girl of eleven, and although he was found guilty he was pardoned and released.

Lambe doubtless owed this lenient treatment to the influence of the Duke of Buckingham, the king's favourite. Buckingham and his mother had been attracted by Lambe's popular reputation, and Buckingham had consulted him about 1622 respecting the insanity of his brother, Sir John Villiers, viscount Purbeck. Thenceforth Buckingham was a constant client of Lambe, and 'the doctor,' as he was called, shared the growing unpopularity of his patron. On Monday, 12 June 1626, London was startled by a fearful storm of wind and rain, and a mist hung over the Thames, in which the superstitious discerned many mystical shapes. Lambe appeared on the river during the day, and to 'his art of conjuring' the meteorological disturbances were attributed (Rushworth, Hist. Coll. i. 391). When Sir John Eliot and his friends were attacking Buckingham in parliament early in 1628, ballads were sung about the London streets, in which Lambe's evil influence over the duke was forcibly insisted upon, and 'the doctor' was charged with employing magical charms to corrupt chaste women so that they might serve the duke's pleasure. The populace was excited by such reports, and on Friday, 23 June 1628, as he was leaving the Fortune Theatre in Finsbury, Lambe was attacked with stones and sticks by a mob of apprentices, who denounced him as 'the duke's devil.' He hurried towards the city, appealing to some sailors on the way to protect him. He reached Moor Gate in safety, but the crowd pursued him through Coleman Street to the Old Jewry, and his efforts to seek refuge in an inn and in a lawyer's house proved of no avail. Nearly beaten to death, he was at length rescued by four constables and conveyed to the Counter in the Poultry, but he was fatally injured about the head and died next morning. He was buried the following day in the new churchyard near Bishopsgate. Upon his person were found a crystal ball and other conjuring implements.

The vengeance meted out to Lambe served to indicate the popular hatred of his patron.

Let Charles and George do what they can,
The duke shall die like Doctor Lambe,

became the common cry of the London mob. Buckingham at once exerted all his influence to discover those who had been guilty of Lambe's murder. On 15 June two days after the event the privy council announced to the lord mayor the king's indignation at the outrage, and directed that the guilty persons should be arrested and treated with the utmost severity. But no one was apprehended on the charge, although many constables and others were committed to prison for neglect of duty in failing to protect the doctor (Overall, Remembrancia, p. 455). The lord mayor was afterwards summoned before the king in council and threatened with the loss of the city's charter. Ultimately the corporation was fined 6,000l., but the amount was soon reduced to fifteen hundred marks.

Buckingham was himself assassinated on 23 Aug., rather more than two months after Lambe's death, and popular sentiment celebrated the occasion in the lines—

The shepheard's struck, the sheepe are fled,
For want of Lambe the Wolfe is dead.

'A Dialogue between the Duke and Dr. Lambe after Death' formed the subject of a contemporary ballad (cf. Randolph, Poems, 1638, p. 53).

[Lambe's career is sketched in a very rare pamphlet, of which two copies are in the British Museum, entitled A Briefe Description of the notorious Life of John Lambe, otherwise called Doctor Lambe, together with his ignominious Death. Printed in Amsterdam 1628. A woodcut on the title-page represents the fatal scuffle in the streets. Poems and Songs relating to George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, and his Assassination, ed. Fairholt (Percy Soc. 1850), contains many references to Lambe. See also Gardiner's Hist. vi. 318–19; Forster's Sir John Eliot, i. 576, ii. 315–17; Court and Times of Charles I, i. 363-5; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1628-9, pp. 94, 169, 172.]

S. L.