Dr Simon Forman – a Tudor version of Pepys…with magic and poison

Simon Forman was born on December 30, 1552, near Salisbury. Unlike Shakespeare for whom there is no evidence of attending grammar school we have Forman’s account of his teacher and his education which began when he was seven. Unfortunately Simon’s father died suddenly and the boy had to leave school taking employment with a merchant who sold herbs and drugs.

Ten years later Simon left Salisbury, apparently after an argument with his master’s wife, and went to Oxford to live with his cousins. It appears that although he was eager to continue his education that he was unhappy in Oxford so when back to Salisbury where he became a teacher.

In 1579 things changed, Simon became a prophet! “I did prophesy the truth of many things which afterwards came to pass…the very spirits were subject unto me”. He also moved to London where presumably there was more need for doctoring, astrology and magic – remember these three things weren’t at odds with one another during the Tudor period. What made the real difference to Forman’s career as a doctor was that he remained in London during the plagues of 1592 and 1594. As a result he became known for his skills and the publication in 1595 of a book entitled Discourses on the Plague. He claimed that he was able to work with plague cases because he had caught and recovered from the disease.

Unfortunately the Royal College of Physicians took umbrage because he lacked their training. They described his herbal medicines as “magical potions.” In short they determined that he was a quack, fined him and told him not to call himself a doctor. Forman ignored them but within nine months a man died soon after taking one of his prescriptions and he found himself in prison. He finally gained a licence from Cambridge University in 1603 despite the fact that he had never studied there.

Forman wrote a lot of books and kept a diary which recorded his own life as well as his consultations with people from all ranks of society. He recorded some of his womanising activities even though he’d married Jane Baker in 1599.

William Lilly

We even know how Forman died thanks to another astrologer, William Lilly. In September of 1611, Forman apparently told his wife that he was about to make his last prophesy, namely that he would die the next Thursday evening which he did whilst rowing on the Thames.

That wasn’t the end of Forman though. Frances Howard, Countess of Somerset went on trial in 1616 for the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury in 1613. Whilst she was still Lady Essex married to Robert Devereux. Frances had gone with her friend Anne Turner to see Forman for potions that would keep Lord Essex at arm’s length and another to attract the attentions of James I’s favourite Robert Carr as he seemed a better financial and political bet than the spouse that she had been required to marry when they were both children. Forman was also accused of providing the poison which added to some tarts killed Sir Thomas Overbury whilst he was in the Tower.

Frances Howard, Countess of Somerset

Ultimately Forman’s papers ended up in the care of Elias Ashmole, the founder of the Ashmolean in Oxford and thus his diary which includes visits to the theatre to see Macbeth and The Winter’s Tale survive – though not without some dispute as to their veracity.

Kassell, Lauren (2007) Medicine and Magic in Elizabethan London: Simon Forman: Astrologer, Alchemist, and Physician

Rowse, A.L. (1974) The Casebooks of Simon Forman

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Candlemas on the borders

Edward III

Candlemas or the Feast of the Purification of Mary is February 2 and the date when the baby Jesus was supposed to be presented at the Temple. Jesus is the light of the world – there were ceremonies that involved processing with candles which were often then blessed. These candles were supposed to be helpful in time of illness – they would be decorated and kept throughout the following year. They were also supposed to protect dwellings from storms.

Candlemas is one of those feasts that turns up in a historical context to mark the time of year. It’s not a quarter day but it is an important feast. I’ve come across it most often when reading about the border between England and Scotland. George MacDonald Fraser made the feast famous with his novel The Candlemas Road a story set in the sixteenth century about Lady Margaret Dacre the heiress of Askerton Hall.

Essentially Candlemas was the feast that was half way between Christmas and the Spring Equinox. For the borderers this meant the “light at the end of the tunnel” so to speak – the reivers’ horses weren’t up to the task of raiding from that point onwards.

Portrait of Sir Robert Carey circa 1591 NT; (c) Montacute House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Raiding and reiving seems to have gone on all year but the cycle of the seasons made the winter months particularly noticeable. “The longer the nights grow the worse they will be,” notes Sir Robert Carey in his memoirs of his time as the Deputy Warden of the English West March. George MacDonald Fraser records that from September to November the land was dry and the cattle which had been in the meadows all summer were at their best i.e. it was good riding and the cattle were at their most valuable and thus a greater temptation. As the winter progressed the cattle grew weaker and the weather was often too bad to want to steal them in any case. By February 2nd – forty days after Christmas, the cattle were in their poorest condition and feed was more expensive so it was unlikely that many people would be feeding their horses the oats they required for hard riding – so if you were a law abiding soul you would probably sleep a little easier…until the better weather at any rate.

It should be noted that there is always an exception! The Scots won the Battle of Nesbit Moor in August 1355 before attacking and sacking Berwick-Upon-Tweed. Edward III was forced to bring an army north in order to defend the castle at Berwick which was under siege. The Scots decided that discretion was a sensible option and backed off before Edward arrived at his destination. Having met with Edward Balliol at Roxburgh, Edward decided to teach the Scots a lesson and in delivered his retribution in February 1356 in the Burned Candlemas Campaign. Basically Edward III set fire to the Lothians and what the English didn’t destroy the Scots did in a bid to force the English back with a burned earth policy. In the end this turned out to be justified as Edward’s fleet was destroyed in winter gales off North Berwick.

Edward expressed his irritation by destroying Haddington Monastery but was eventually forced to turn back.

‘Whitekirk and the ‘Burnt Candlemas’, Rev. Edward B. Rankin in the Scottish Historical Review Vol. 13, No. 50 (Jan., 1916), pp. 133-137

MacDonald-Fraser, George. The Steel Bonnets

Mortimer, Ian. (2008) The Perfect King: the life of Edward III

The Duke of Buckingham’s mistake

Edward_Stafford.jpgEdward Stafford the third Duke of Buckingham really should have known about the dangers of irritating monarchs.  His father the second duke was executed by Richard III and Edward a mere child of five was forced to flee into hiding having been dressed by his mother Katherine Woodville as a girl.

The problem was that Edward was descended thrice over from Edward III despite the fact that his mother was Katherine Woodville.  The Stafford family had been around for centuries whereas the Tudors were Johnny-Come-Late-lies.  This was so much the case that after the death of Prince Arthur in 1502 it was suggested in some quarters that the Duke of Buckingham might make an appropriate monarch.  Not only was Edward a Plantagenet with clear  and legitimate lines of descent but he had also benefitted from a royal upbringing having been made a ward of Margaret Beaufort.

Seven years later  when Edward discovered that his sister had become the king’s mistress he was absolutely furious.  He believed that his family was far to important for Anne to be the mistress of a mere Tudor, a marked contrast to the Duke of Norfolk who would spend most of his political career from the 1520s onwards dangling Howard girls under Henry’s nose.

Buckingham knew how the court worked under Henry VII – a man not admired for his lack of mistresses and had failed to notice that whilst the Plantagenets were first amongst equals – in a country where rulers appointed men to effectively rule their own regions that the Tudors centralised and appointed administrators – that they were absolute rulers for want of a better description.

Henry VII sought to use Edward’s Plantagenet blood in the marriage market when he suggested a marriage with Anne of Brittany but avarice won out when the Earl Northumberland offered the king £4000 for Edward to marry his daughter Eleanor.  By 1509 Edward Stafford had claimed the hereditary right of being Lord High Constable and was on Henry VIII’s newly appointed council having performed in a series of diplomatic and high status court roles.

Buckingham’s sense of self worth was probably reinforced when he received a licence to crenelate, i.e. to fortify a property.  He was treading the path of the fifteenth century over mighty subject who ruled his own domain. He had failed to spot that his second cousin   Henry VIII granted favours to his friends but woe betide them if they didn’t play by his rules.

Thus when Edward heard from Anne’s sister Elizabeth that Anne was conducting an affair with the king he thought that there would be no repercussions when he summoned his brother-in-law and removed Anne to a nunnery some sixty miles from court.  Even worse the affair became common knowledge.  Queen Katherine who was pregnant became very upset and Henry was embarrassed. Anne would return to court and the affair probably continued for another few years if Henry’s New Year’s gift list is anything to go by.  However, the damage was done – Henry knew how to carry a grudge.

In 1520 Buckingham was suspected of treason. It had become clear that Katherine of Aragon was not as fertile as her mother.  A child, Mary, had been born the pervious year but it was unthinkable that a girl might inherit – the Tudors were in danger of dying out.  Edward Stafford was the man, so he said, to take up the Crown –   Henry personally interviewed the witnesses. In April 1521 he was packed off to the Tower for imagining the death of the king and executed on the 17th May. The evidence was flimsy.

Jane Parker, Lady Rochford

Jane-Parker.jpgJane Parker or Mrs George Boleyn has gone down in history as the woman who accused her husband and sister-in-law of incest.  She was also the woman who connived to allow Katherine Howard to meet her lover  Thomas Culpepper- resulting in Katherine being executed and Henry VIII changing the law to allow for the execution of the insane so that Jane could share the same fate on the 13th February 1542.

The image at the start of the post is a Holbein. Recent consensus is that this particular Lady Parker is actually Grace Parker – nee Newport the wife of Jane’s brother Henry rather than Jane.

Jane was described by Henry as a “bawd” because she had helped Katherine to meet with Thomas, had passed on letters and kept watch whilst the pair conducted their assignations during the royal progress to York.. It can’t have come as a total surprise that Henry ordered her arrest when he discovered what had been going on. rather unreasonably Thomas Culpepper and Katherine Howard both tried to put the blame on Jane for orchestrating the meetings.  Jane had a nervous breakdown whilst in confinement.

So, what else do we know about her?  She was descended from Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe,  Margaret Beaufort’s mother – making Jane a distant Tudor relation which accounts for her court links. Her father was raised in Margaret Beaufort’s household. Jane first appears in the court records in 1520 pertaining to the Field of the Cloth of Gold.  She would have been about fifteen. She served in the households of Catherine of Aragon, her sister-in-law Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves  and also in Katherine Howard’s.  We know that she appeared in court masques and we know that in 1524 /25 she married George Boleyn.

Warnicke theorises that Jane and George were unhappily married  because of George’s sexuality- certainly something wasn’t right if Jane was prepared to send her husband to the block on some rather unpleasant charges.  The primary source evidence for this comes from George Cavendish’s account of Boleyn.  However to counter this it should be noted that Cavendish was loyal to Wolsey and there was little love lost between the Cardinal’s faction and the Boleyns. It should also be noted that George had a bit of a reputation with the ladies. The only bad thing that Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador, could say about George was that he was very Protestant in his outlook.  It’s safe to say that had Chapuys got a whiff of George being homosexual that it would have been recorded in his letters.

Whatever the family relationship, in 1534 Jane helped Anne to get rid of an unnamed mistress of the king’s and that Jane was banished as a consequence.  This allowed Anne the opportunity to place another potential mistress under Henry’s nose – a Howard girl- possibly Madge Shelton and someone who was unlikely to be used by the conservative faction at court to weaken Anne’s position.  Jane herself was back at court the following year.

Popular history claims that Jane told the king that one of Anne’s lovers was George but whilst the primary sources talk about ‘one woman’ they don’t actually name Jane as the culprit and there is certainly no written evidence to support the idea although that doesn’t preclude the possibility of verbal evidence.  Like so much popular history we think we know what happened but the closer you look at the evidence the more elusive the truth becomes.

Julia Fox, Jane’s biographer states that Jane was only named during the reign of Elizabeth I.  Jane was long dead and who else cold have told such blatant lies – but a mad woman?  Alison Weir on the other hand concludes that Jane was probably instrumental in George’s execution.  It is also true to say that an anonymous Portuguese writer claimed a month after Anne’s execution that Jane was responsible for the incest accusation.  Weir deduces that Jane was jealous of the closeness that existed between her husband and Anne.

It is true though that the evidence of George’s trial points to Jane telling Cromwell that Anne Boleyn had talked of Henry VIII’s impotence which one imagines would have been more than enough to get Anne into serious hot water with her spouse.

Jane didn’t benefit from her husband’s death.  Thomas Boleyn refused to pay Jane’s jointure.  She was forced to write to Cromwell asking for help.

And whilst we’re at it we should perhaps also look at the idea that Jane was insane at the time of her execution.  Primary evidence supplied by Ottwell Johnson reveals a woman who went to her maker calmly and with dignity despite the fact that no one in her family had attempted to intervene on her behalf. Lord Morley (Jane’s father) and his son Henry perhaps realised the extent of Henry’s anger.

Finally – just to make life that little bit more interesting in 1519, the year before the first written account of Jane at court Henry VIII had a fling with  “Mistress Parker” or at least court rumour said he did.  At fourteen Jane fitted Henry’s liking for young mistresses best typified by Katherine Howard.  Jane like so many other of his mistresses was related to him and like many other of his mistresses a large wedding gift was given.  Alternatively maybe Mistress Parker was Jane’s mother Alice St John?

In 1519 Henry was in the midst of his affair with Bessie Blount the mother of his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy. Mistress Parker was a diversion whilst Bessie was pregnant.  Could Alice have been Henry’s mistress and gained her daughter a place in Catherine of Aragon’s household?  It’s possible.

Alice outlived her daughter and like her husband she did not publicly mourn the death of Jane.

Fox. Julia,  (2008) Jane Boleyn: The Infamous Lady Rochford

Retha M. Warnicke “The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Politics at the Court of Henry VIII”

Anne Plantagenet and the duke of Norfolk

princess anne plantagenet framlinghamAnne was the fifth daughter of Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV, born in 1475 had her father not died in April 1483 she would have found herself married to Philip of Burgundy.  However, Edward IV died unexpectedly and the treaty with Burgundy was never ratified.  Had she married Philip she would have gone to live in the court of her aunt Margaret of Burgundy.

Instead, Anne’s uncle Richard arranged a betrothal to Thomas Howard who would one day become the 3rd Duke of Norfolk.  Once Richard III was overthrown in 1485 Howard petitioned for the betrothal to stand – meanwhile Anne served her sister Elizabeth of York as a lady-in-waiting. She featured during the baptism of both Arthur and Margaret.  The problem was that the Howards were not supporters of the house of Lancaster.

John Howard, Thomas’s grandfather, served Edward IV and was knighted by him. Richard ennobled John making him the Duke of Norfolk on 28th June 1483 with Thomas’s father another Thomas, becoming the Earl of Surrey at the same time thus ensuring their continued loyalty.  In fact John, the 1st Howard Duke of Norfolk was killed at the Battle of Bosworth as he commanded the vanguard of Richard’s army by an arrow which struck him in the face.  The Earl of Surrey spent the next three years in the Tower until he convinced Henry VII of his loyalty.

3rd duke of norfolk framlinghamMeanwhile Anne married Thomas junior on 3rd February 1495. She was never the Duchess of Norfolk  Anne died in 1510 or 11 depending on the source.  It was only in 1514 that the Earl of Surrey was allowed to inherit his father’s title which had been made forfeit by his attainder following Bosworth.

Hans_Holbein_the_Younger_-_Thomas_Howard,_3rd_Duke_of_Norfolk_(Royal_Collection)As for Anne’s widower depicted above -Thomas junior- he would remarry Lady Elizabeth Stafford but would go down in history as the rather brutal third Duke of Norfolk, uncle of Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard and arch-Tudor politician.  Anne had a son who died young but the Howard heirs came from the third duke’s marriage to Elizabeth Stafford (the eldest daughter of the Duke of Buckingham who revolted against Richard III and Eleanor Percy the eldest daughter of the Duke of Northumberland – and thus having more sound Lancastrian credentials.)

Anne was buried originally in Thetford Priory but upon the Dissolution of the Monasteries she was reinterred in Framingham Church.  Thomas Howard 3rd Duke of Norfolk managed to survive both his nieces’ downfalls, topple Thomas Cromwell from power  and generally demonstrated more political wiliness than a cat with nine lives but he was ultimately charged with treason and was sent to the Tower to await his execution.  Henry VIII died the night before he was due to be executed.  He eventually died in 1554 having been freed by Mary Tudor.

His tomb is in Framingham next to Anne who lays on his righthand-side because she, as a princess, is more important than a mere duke.

 

The Church of St Michael Framingham guidebook

 

The man who made priest holes

DSC_0094.jpgYesterday I found myself in the garderobe, sliding into a small space, ducking my head to avoid a low beam and then straightening to find myself in a priest hole.  Fortunately for me no one was going to slam the lid back into place and leave me in total darkness until it was safe for me to emerge or I was discovered and dragged off to the Tower.  I was enjoying a sunny afternoon at Oxborough Hall.

 

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During the reign of Elizabeth I Jesuits priests were feared as enemies of the state and hunted down by pursuivants.  Catholic priests moved from Catholic household to catholic household, often purporting to be cousins or other distant relations.  Wealthy families built hiding places in their homes so that when the priest hunters came calling there was somewhere to hide their illicit guest.

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The most successful priest holes were built by Nicholas Owen – not that he built the hole at Oxborough. Owen, an Oxfordshire man, was born in 1562.  He had three siblings one was a Catholic priest and another printed illegal Catholic books.  The brothers’ father was a carpenter and Nicholas in his turn was apprenticed to a joiner.  By the time he was in his mid twenties he was working for Father Henry Garnet and had become a lay brother in the Jesuit order.  He suffered from ill health including a limp from a poorly set bone and a hernia. Despite his physical frailty he travelled from house to house constructing priest holes.   Most of the people he worked for didn’t know his real name – to them he was Little John.  He worked by night in total secrecy to create his hiding places.  Many of the priest holes were so well concealed that they were only discovered in later centuries when houses underwent renovation.  Unfortunately the occasional hole is still found with its occupant still in situ.

 

Owen’s favoured locations seem to have been behind fireplaces and under stairs.  The pursuivants were men who could judge if an interior wall looked shorter than an exterior wall so Owen had to be very careful as to where he located his priest holes.

 

Nicholas was a man strong in faith.  He was eventually captured in 1606 at Hindlip Hall in Worcestershire in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot.  It is thought he allowed himself to be captured in order to distract attention from Father Henry Garnet who was hiding nearby.

There were rules about torturing people with disabilities but this didn’t stop Robert Cecil from demanding that Owen be taken to the Tower and taxed about his knowledge by Topcliffe.  He was racked.  This caused his intestines to bulge out through his hernia.  Topcliffe ordered that they be secure by a metal plate. This cut into the hernia and he bled to death in his cell. He died rather than give away his secrets and the lives of the men who depended upon him keeping them.  The State announced that he had committed suicide.

St Nicholas Owen was canonised in 1970 and is the patron saint of illusionists and escape artists.

san-nicolas-owen.jpg

Hogge Alice.  God’s Secret Agents

Reynolds, Tony. (2014) St Nicholas Owen: Priest Hole Maker

https://soul-candy.info/2012/03/mar-22-st-nicholas-owen-sj-d-1606-martyr-artist-builder-of-hiding-places-for-priests/

Margaret Bostock Cavendish and daughters

250px-william_cavendish_c1547Have you noticed the way that wives simply don’t count in the historical record unless they bring oodles of cash or have heirs and spares?   Sometimes it really does look like “his story.” There certainly aren’t any pictures  of Margaret or her daughters so this post will have to make do with William Cavendish.  Margaret was William’s first wife.

Anyway, Margaret Bostock was born in Whatcroft in Cheshire. Margaret’s father, Edmund, came from a family that claimed its descent from the Norman Conquest.  She married William in 1532 as Cavendish began his career in the employment of Thomas Cromwell.  She died on 9th June 1540, the day before Cromwell was arrested. It should have made for a grim year for Sir William, instead he was promoted and sent to Ireland to survey the king’s lands.

The couple had five children but only three survived to adulthood:

  • Catherine married Thomas Brooke, the son of Lord Cobham which sounds very grand but he was son number four or five. Lord Cobham, a soldier and courtier, fathered fourteen legitimate children.  He was an associate of the Seymours and would benefit from the dissolution of the monasteries. When she married Thomas, Catherine became the sister-in-law of William Parr who was married to Thomas’s sister Elizabeth.  William was Queen Katherine Parr’s brother.  It demonstrates that William Cavendish or rather Bess of Hardwick  was upwardly mobile, associated with the New Learning of the period and knew how to find a husband which would improve those all important social and career prospects.  Even more noticeable, on further inspection, is the chain of kinship connections that Bess of Hardwick wrought between her children and the Cobhams.

Thomas managed to get himself sentenced to death twice – once for treason and then for piracy and was charged with a murder in Blackfriars.  He got himself caught up in Wyatt’s Rebellion in 1554 (it was a family affair given that Cobham was Wyatt’s cousin) and on his release set off for a life of adventure on the high seas – by which I mean piracy which didn’t amuse the Spanish very much. eventually he was re-arrested and sent back to the Tower where he was sentenced to death.  On this occasion he didn’t have to rely on the clemency of the monarch – he pleaded benefit of the clergy.  All of which is very Elizabethan, he could even claim a degree of kinship with Sir Walter Raleigh but there’s no sign of Catherine in the tale.

 

  • Mary died in 1547
  • Anne married Sir Henry Baynton in 1561. The Bayntons were a Wiltshire family.  The marriage was arranged by Bess of Hardwick, Anne’s step-mother. Sir Henry was actually the brother-in-law of Bess’s new husband William St Loe. Like Lord Cobham, Baynton’s father was a courtier to Henry VIII and had been present at the baptism of Prince Edward.

 

The Catholic north in 1569

pilgrimage-of-grace-banner.jpgEngland had been Protestant since the death of Mary Tudor in 1558.  The majority of the population had quietly got on with the change from Protestantism under Edward VI to Catholicism under Mary and then back to Protestantism with the ascent of Elizabeth.

On 14 November 1569 the Northern Earls led by the earls of Northumberland and Westmorland revolted.  They and their followers arrived at Durham Cathedral and celebrated a Catholic Mass having first of all overturned the communion table and destroyed Protestant books.  They rapidly acquired some 6000 men who marched under the old Pilgrimage of Grace (1536) banner – the five wounds of Christ shown at the start of this post. No one is quite sure how many people flocked to follow the banner – numbers have been put as high as 20,000.

What is interesting, aside from the insurgency itself, is the number of people who chose to go to the mass and what the state of religious belief actually was.  The cathedral was packed.  Perhaps its not so surprising.  Cuthbert Tunstall had been Bishop of Durham in 1559 but had been deprived of the diocese when he refused the Oath of Supremacy. He had been replaced by James Pilkington an unpopular but conformist Puritan.  That said there were a large number of parishes, many of them impoverished and subject to border raids, not to mention a shortage of clergy.  In many places the vicar had to serve several parishes or there were none.  It was even noted that “vagabond Scots” did the work of preaching.  It is perhaps not surprising that people continued to believe what they had always believed, irrelevant of what Protestant London might like. Effectively circumstance and geography ensured that religious belief in the north remained conservative.

The stated aim of the Northern Rebellion was to topple Elizabeth and replace her with Mary Queen of Scots – returning Catholicism to the country once again. By the 20th of December the Earls of Westmorland and Northumberland had fled across the border into Scotland and the churches which had toppled their communion tables and celebrated mass had some explaining to do. The Durham Consistory Court was busy.  Charges related to destroying Protestant books and altars, setting up Catholic altars and holy water stones that should have been destroyed previously but which had simply been hidden away, taking part in a Catholic mass and other Catholic rites.  Not everyone attended a mass because they wanted to. People in Darlington were forced to attend the event and so far as the Durham clergy were concerned a number of them testified that they had taken part in the old rites by compulsion rather than desire.

The numbers of churches destroying the paraphernalia of Protestantism in Yorkshire was even higher than it was in County Durham. It’s worth noting that the Earl of Northumberland’s territory stretched far into Yorkshire. Inevitably with statistics it is impossible to know how many of the men who burned books did so under duress or had simply become carried away on a tide of destruction rather than having genuine belief into the rights and wrongs of the matter.

As for the altars and water stones there is evidence that when it became clear that the rebellion was failing that a number of them including the water stones placed by the doors in Durham Cathedral were quietly returned to their hiding places.  When questioned no one admitted to knowing what had happened to them.

Texts identify the fact that in the years that followed numbers of Northern magnates opened their homes to Jesuits and the problem of clergy numbers remained in the north alongside impoverished livings.

Doran, Susan, and Durston, Christopher (1991)Princes, Pastors and People: The Church and Religion in England, 1529-1689 London: Routledge

Duffy, Eamon (1992)  The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580, New Haven: Yale University Press

Kesselring, Krista J. (2007) The Northern Rebellion of 1569: Faith, Politics and Protest in Elizabethan England, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Two turtle doves…or in our case one phoenix, a turtle and Mr Shakespeare.

elizabethphoenix

The turtle dove has been in steep decline during the last century.

The Phoenix and the turtle was written in 1601 to go in an anthology entitled Love’s Martyr.  All the works in the anthology have the theme of the two birds.

Essentially the phoenix is married to the turtle dove. The pair love each other so completely that they grow like one another over the duration of their relationship. But times are changing. The pair die and when they die true love dies along with them – there will be no one as virtuous or in love as them ever again. They have been married but chaste – so they leave no children. They are buried and a variety of other birds come to mourn at the funeral. It is the end of a golden age.

There are lots of different interpretations and arguments which this post has no intention of covering. Suffice it to say each bird is the subject of academic speculation.  It doesn’t help that Love’s Martyr is dedicated to Sir John Salusbury – a fairly obscure personage.  In which case he logically should be the phoenix and his wife Ursula the dove.  In any event there wasn’t a great deal of chastity involved as they had ten children. And let’s not get into the whole who was Shakespeare thing!

The phoenix is often, but not always, seen as straight forward enough – Elizabeth I was linked to the phoenix on more than one occasion.    Most famously in 1575 Elizabeth featured in two portraits by Nicholas Hilliard.  In one she is holding a pelican pendant – pinched from Catholic iconography- Elizabeth is stating that she is the mother of her nation and that like the pelican which wounds itself to feeds its young so she has made a great sacrifice for her people – i.e. her unwed state.  The Phoenix Portrait pictured at the start of this post is a reminder that Elizabeth is unique and that having been consumed by the flames the phoenix arises from the ashes.  This could be a reference to the near disaster of her mother’s fall from favour and the dangers she faced during the reign of Mary I.  It could also reference the idea that the people of England should not fear for the future because a) the phoenix lives for 500 years before going up in smoke and b) just as the phoenix regenerates so the Crown will be reborn.  Unfortunately in 1601 it was clear that Elizabeth wasn’t going to last much longer and there was the small issue of who would succeed her.

Which brings us neatly to the other birds in the poem, the mourners.  One of them, the “bird of the loudest lay,” could very well be James VI of Scotland whilst the crow is often interpreted as being Shakespeare himself.  Essentially its important to have some understanding of bird lore before attempting the allegorical meaning behind the poem.  And many scholars take the view that it really is not the point of the poem to try and decipher the bird code at all.  It could simply be that Shakespeare was effectively whistling very loudly whilst writing about the intangibility of true love and trying to distance himself from the Earl of Essex’s Rebellion.  He must have been very aware of the possibility he would be associated with treason given that on the 7th February 1601 his players performed Richard II (and that didn’t end well for the monarch in question).  Shakespeare was paid forty shillings by some of the earl’s supporters, the Earl rose in rebellion the following day  with 300 supporters and marched on London – the play was some kind of signal- but Londoners didn’t take the hint.  Shakespeare must have spent some time afterwards checking that his head was still on his shoulders.

 

2nd earl of essexSo – let us get on to the turtle dove who is after all supposed to be the centre of this post.  In Tudor times the turtle dove represented fidelity.  If Elizabeth is the phoenix who then is the dove?  Robert Devereux the 2nd earl of Essex remains a popular choice.  The idea gained popularity in the 1960s with the analysis of William Matchett. Although, quite frankly, how rushing off  to fight the Spanish in 1586 without permission, getting married without Elizabeth’s approval, referencing the queen’s “crooked carcass,” arriving back from Ireland uninvited, unannounced and bursting into the royal bedchamber before finally revolting and getting oneself beheaded could be described as fidelity is another matter entirely.  One view is that the phoenix and the turtle dove have burned out their love for one another.  It is then argued that Shakespeare was not writing a straight forward poem at all. He was doing something very dangerous –  he was writing a pro Essex poem which basically turns the earl into a hero in the aftermath of his failed rising and subsequent execution on 26th February 1601.

And yes – there are many more theories about who the turtle dove might be but I think it’s time to move away from the topic as I could go around ever decreasing circles for some considerable time.

Incidentally Salusbury was knighted for his part in the suppression of Essex’s rebellion whilst his brother  got himself executed in 1586  for supporting Mary Queen of Scots.

 

 

Bednarz, J. Shakespeare and the Truth of Love: The Mystery of ‘The Phoenix and Turtle’

 

King James and Ireland

king-james1Where do I begin? I suppose considering James’ view would be as good a starting point as any.  James was king of England, Scotland and Ireland.  They were three separate kingdoms – i.e. they had parliaments and laws of their own.  The union within the person of James as monarch was an imperfect one, unlike Wales (and I apologise in advance – I’m stating James’ point of view  not mine) which was a perfect union because it had no parliament. Its laws were those of England – Edward I and Henry IV had seen to that. James also began with the view that Ireland was just like his other two kingdoms in that he believed that it had a hierarchical system that worked on a pyramid principle with the king at the top, then the nobility. He was of the view that the nobility were essential for the sound governance of the regions – the only thing was that the Irish hierarchy didn’t work in quite the same way as the English and Scottish systems (more on that shortly).

The Anglo-Norman arrival in Ireland during the medieval period was an invasion but it wasn’t a conquest.  Various Plantagenet monarchs invested men and money in Ireland but the effect was to create independent Anglo-Norman magnates who married the locals and ruled from Dublin in an area known as the English Pale.  They did not take kindly to royal interference.

The sixteenth century saw a change in the Anglo-Irish relationship because suddenly the English were officially Protestant whilst the Irish remained Catholic.  Ireland became a potential jumping off point for a Spanish invasion.  Henry VIII negotiated with the Irish with no understanding of the way land was viewed or the way in which people elected new chieftains — who weren’t always the son of the previous one. The English began to try to impose their will on the Irish.  Inevitably there was a rebellion which only escalated under Elizabeth.  1594-1603 saw The Nine Years War and Sir Humphrey Gilbert who would have found himself at the Hague being found guilty of war crimes – he had the path to his tent lined with the decapitated heads of men, women and children.

James began his reign somewhat differently to the Tudors by issuing pardons all round- remember he believed that a country needed its nobility to act as the arms and legs to the royal head- but Ulster lost its O Neil chieftain and the English declared the old Irish laws to be abolished.  Cutting a long story short,  a number of earls fled the country and were immediately declared traitors which meant that under English law their lands were forfeit to the Crown.   Sir John Davies, the attorney general in Ireland, wrote “[You] have a greater extent of land than any prince in Europe has to dispose of.” He recommended that it be planted on a large scale, because it would not work ” if the number of civil persons who are to be planted do not exceed the number of natives who will quickly overgrow them as weeds overgrow the good corn”.

James liked the idea of the Ulster Pale – it would reward men who had fought in Ireland, provide land for those turned off it in England, provide a force to keep those pesky Spanish at bay and also break the links between the Scottish Gaelic speaking highlanders and their Celtic counterparts in Ireland.  It was also be an opportunity for him to prove his Protestant credentials because ultimately he believed that the Irish would leave off being Catholics and become good Protestants if only thy were provided with education.  It would, in theory, also turn a profit for him.

In 1609 there was a survey and the land in Ulster divided into Church land and Crown property.  The Crown property was divided into estates of 1,000, 1,500 and 2,000 acres. 59 Scots and 51 English landlords undertook to transport at least ten families to Ulster. They were also permitted to rent out to native Irish tenants.  These wealthy landlords were called undertakers. Undertakers were also required to build a sturdy stone house for every 1500 acres.  These were designed to keep the Irish out in the event of armed conflict.

There were also a group of men called servitors. These men had been soldiers and were being rewarded for their service.

And of course not all the settlers were men – Davies wanted growing communities to counterbalance the Native Irish.

The third group were the “deserving Irish” – who were deserving because they hadn’t recently done much in the way of rebelling.  Many Irish were relocated specifically to be closer to Protestant churches – and garrisons.  To describe the Irish as becoming increasingly disgruntled is something of an understatement. James’ representative in Ireland, Sir Arthur Chichester, became ever more concerned that the rights of the native Irish were being ignored, especially when more land was acquired by the English when they claimed that inheritance through gavelkind (inheritance in equal part by all children) wasn’t an English way of doing things and only led to confusion – so confiscated property divided this way.  Davies claimed that Brehon Law which included gavelkind was a “lewd custom.”

There was also a lack of understanding about the way in which the land was farmed  and the fact that there were no walled towns which was regarded as backward.   Essentially the English were warming up to declare the Irish a bunch of barbarians in need of a spot of civilising – a legal conquest justified by a failure to recognise the way that Irish society worked.

Inevitably there was conflict between the settlers and the Irish.  In Munster the settlers were forced to flee and whilst there had been enthusiasm for resettlement in Ireland initially- it being closer to home than America- it rapidly became clear that rents and hostile locals were rather large flies in the ointment. There was also the issue that not all the land was that desirable. It wasn’t long before some of the settlers arranged themselves on land that had been designated as belonging to the Irish because it looked more appealing that the patch with which they had been issued.

All of this, is of course, a very straight forward account. It does not take account of revisionist views nor does it look at the complexities of Irish politics – or the generations of conflict that would ensue. Religious identity  of either variety would be enough to get you killed, if you happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, for centuries to come and its consequences still resonate.  James I changed the population of Ireland whilst the armies that followed throughout the seventeenth century did nothing to help the situation.

Fergal Keane’s 2011 Story of Ireland which is currently being repeated on television presents the brutality of Irish history alongside the resilience and creativity of its peoples.  It is a good starting point for anyone wanting to find out more.