History Trivia #9: Journalism, Coffee, and Distracting the Masses

The following passage comes from an article, “‘Coffee Politicians Does Create’: Coffeehouses and Restoration Political Culture” by Steve Pincus. It describes a case from the early days of periodicals (1659 specifically) when the ruling classes expressed concern at how news plus coffee equaled political awareness*, and that perhaps they should “radically restrict” the news so people will talk about sports instead.

“Every man is now become a state man,” the marquis of Newcastle warned Charles II before his Restoration. He consequently recommended that the king—in order that his subjects “be ever ready to serve your Majesty”—should radically restrict the availability and circulation of “either domestic or foreign news” so that “all our discourse will be of hunting and hawking, bowling, cocking and such things.” ‘ Newcastle’s hopes, however, were not realized**. Not much more than a year after Charles II’s return to his native land, the Oxford antiquary Anthony Wood observed that “nothing but news and the affairs of Christendom is discoursed of, and that also generally at coffee-houses.” Almost two decades later coffeehouses were full of discussions “of religion and government,” for “’tis all the discourse now, from the Lord to the fiddler, all are grown states-men” (Pincus).

*For what it’s worth, the first printing press in England arrived around 1476, while the first coffee house in England began in 1652.

**Charles eventually took another approach, attempting to ban coffee houses in 1675, but he stopped due to overwhelming public backlash.


Pincus, Steve M. “‘Coffee Politicians Does Create’: Coffeehouses and Restoration Political Culture.” The Journal of Modern History, vol. 67, no. 4, University of Chicago Press, Dec. 1995, pp. 807–34.

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