Book Review: How to Be a Tudor, by Ruth Goodman

HowtoBeaTudorWhat would Shakespeare have eaten, drunk, slept on, dressed in, and smelled like? When would he have broken his fast or eaten dinner? How was his life different in London than when he was living in Stratford-upon-Avon? How did morality, religion, sex, and money affect his interactions with other people? If you’ve ever wondered about the real daily life of the bulk of the population in the Tudor era, then How to Be a Tudor is the book for you.

The book is arranged to take you, more or less, through an average Tudor day, nearly hour-by-hour. Author Ruth Goodman makes sure that you get a good look at both the uppermost and lowest extremes of society, however, she focuses the bulk of her attention on what a day was like for a farmer or an artisan. There are differences between town and country, men and women, young and old, religious and secular — and Goodman touches on all of them, while still paying attention to the overall worldviews that shape them all.

While the format of the book is a generally sensible way to introduce the reader to different aspects of Tudor life, sometimes her information loops in upon itself. There are some redundancies that probably could have been cleaned up, and a few points where a single topic gets disjointed over multiple chapters (particularly the matter of clothing). These are places where it feels like the book’s structure is working against rather than with the writer — but it’s a small detraction, overall.

The great advantage that Goodman has is that her knowledge is not only scholastic, but practical. To the textual authorities of extant written sources, such as household accounts, ecclesiastical records, and early modern household-advice writers such as the prolific Gervase Markham, Goodman adds not only material culture but her own lived experience. As a re-enactor, a museum consultant, and someone involved with numerous documentaries on the Tudor era, Goodman seriously knows whereof she writes: she has lived the Tudor lifestyle as closely as it is possible to do in the modern age.

One of my favorite tidbits involved early modern cleansing practices. We often hear that Tudor folk must have stank to high heaven because they rarely bathed. What Goodman elucidates is that, much like the ancient Romans with their oil-scraping practices, the Tudors simply had their own way of keeping clean and BO-free. It all has to do with linen. Rubbing the body down with a clean sheet of linen every day, plus wearing fresh linen garments, seems to have adequately combated dirt and odor alike. Goodman has tried this herself and states that there was no appreciable scent difference from our modern method of near-daily showers.

This is just one of the fascinating insights that the book offers. You can also learn how bedding changed from the early to the late part of the period, how to dress yourself in Tudor fashion, how to brew your own ale, how to conduct yourself at an alehouse, and even how to plough a field.

What does this book offer for theatre practitioners? As Goodman herself points out, an understanding of early modern life can help you understand early modern jokes:

As people who have spent many years deep in experiments recreating Tudor life, who cook the food, make the clothes, and drink the beer, my friends, family, and I have, without any conscious effort or thought, acquired a fairly Tudor vocabulary. I am regularly surprised when people treat words that I consider perfectly normal as arcane and mysterious. … When my friends and I go to the Globe to see a performance, it is very obvious that we are laughing at least twice as often as the rest of the audience, and not just at the slapstick elements. Shakespeare really is very funny.

An understanding of the reality behind the jokes can help actors help the audience members who haven’t spent their lives studying these things. It can help costume designers translate the clothing-related humor (of which there is quite a bit). It can help directors shape and hone the presentation. And all of that gets you a more satisfying performance.

Overall, this book is quite readable and includes some surprises even for readers who already know the era fairly well. It’s solid social history with enough interesting details to supply a well-painted picture, but for the reader who wants to know more, Goodman also supplies an extensive bibliography of both primary and secondary sources. I can cheerfully recommend this to Shakespeare enthusiasts and armchair historians alike.

Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords – Preview #10

Greetings from London! As I sit in the world’s nicest airport coffee shop, where tomorrow we will be greeting our NKSC 2016 travelers, I can share with you the final entry in our preview series: Stratford-upon-Avon, home to William Shakespeare himself.

Stratford is a town in Warwickshire roughly the same size as Staunton, Virginia, with about 25,000 residents. It, however, sees nearly 5 million visitors in a year (would that we were so fortunate!), and most of those do come to see the home of Shakespeare and productions by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It began life in the 12th century as a market town, but soon made its fortune off of Cotswold wool and tanning. Actor David Garrick was responsible for starting up the town’s tourism industry when he held the first Shakespeare Jubilee in 1769. Garrick built the first known theatre in the town for the occasion, nearly in the same riverside location as the modern Royal Shakespeare Theatre, but it was subsequently washed away when the Avon flooded.

Stratford-upon-Avon is also the home of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, an organization caretaking those properties relevant to Shakespeare’s life:

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The current buzz in Stratford-upon-Avon is about Shakespeare’s New Place, his family home from 1597 until his death in 1616. The house passed through various owners until the 1750s, when Reverend Francis Gastrell, annoyed with curious onlookers, first destroyed the gardens, then demolished the entire house. The Birthplace Trust, however, has excavated the site and has been able to reconstruct a floorplan of what the house was probably like during Shakespeare’s lifetime as well as before or after. Evidence suggests that not only did he buy the second-biggest house in Stratford — suggesting that his wealth was already considerable by 1597, even before he had written some of his most famous plays — he also made additions and improvements to it. These revelations give a fascinating look at the home lives of middle class English families during the Tudor and Stuart eras, including information on what remodeling and gardening projects would have been considered status symbols at the time. During our trip, we’ll find out what the neighbors would have had to do to “keep up with the Shakespeares.”

unnamed (1)Originally a farmhouse, the building known as Anne Hathaway’s Cottage was in fact home to the Hathaway family for generations. It was constructed in 1463, and someone of the Hathaway line lived there until 1911. Fittingly, the Birthplace Trust uses this location to educate visitors about Tudor-era courtship, so our travelers will be able to learn about them and envision how William and Anne got their start in life.

Since we are, ourselves, educators, we’re excited to visit King Edward’s School. Though the school’s early records were lost in a fire, scholars believe that, as the son of an alderman, William Shakespeare would have attended King Edward’s as a boy. Originally a religious school from the 13th century, it passed into civic hands during the reign and Protestant reformations of King Edward VI. Along with it came lands, whose proceeds were intended to support the school and the education of Stratford-upon-Avon’s youngsters in the future.

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When Shakespeare has Jacques in As You Like It speak of the schoolboy “creeping like snail, unwillingly”, we can imagine young William doing so in the Upper Guildhall, pictured above. During the summer, school began at 6am and would continue until dark; winter brought a bit of a reprieve, with class starting later and ending earlier, though students were still expected to supply their own candles for the dimmer hours. From the age of six or seven, young Elizabethans would learn the trivium of education: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. If a boy stayed in school long enough, he might move on to the quadrivium, considered essential for philosophy: arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. King Edward’s is also likely where Shakespeare picked up the “little Latin and less Greek” Ben Jonson accused him of having, as well as where we can imagine him getting the taste for the stories of Roman authors Ovid, Seneca, and Plutarch.

We’ll also visit Hall’s Croft, the home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and her husband, Dr. John Hall. Described as “a compassionate and diligent physician” by the Birthplace Trust, Dr. Hall preferred the use of herbs and animal extracts in his treatments, as opposed to relying on astronomy or bloodletting. The Birthplace Trust has re-created gardens much like what he may have kept in order to source his own supplies.

Though Shakespeare never wrote of Stratford-upon-Avon in his plays, Ben Jonson made reference to William’s origins in the introductory poem to the 1623 First Folio:

Sweet Swan of Avon! what a sight it were
To see thee in our water yet appear,
And make those flights upon the banks of Thames
That so did take Eliza, and our James!
But stay, I see thee in the hemisphere
Advanc’d, and made a constellation there!
Shine forth, thou star of poets, and with rage
Or influence, chide, or cheer the drooping stage;
Which since thy flight from hence hath mourn’d like night,
And despairs day, but for thy volume’s light.

Hopefully through these locations, we’ll be able to envision the life Shakespeare would have led at home, from boy to man. We’ll also be seeing two Royal Shakespeare Company productions: on July 15th, we travel over from Broadway for The Alchemist, and on July 16th, following our day in Stratford, we’ll enjoy A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

So that, dear readers, is the end of this preview series — but only the beginning of the adventure! If you’d like to follow along as we travel, check out the tag #NKSC16 on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I’ll be posting photos throughout the trip.

Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords — Preview #9

We’re just 20 days out from greeting our #NKSC16 attendees at Heathrow Airport. In this, the penultimate trip preview, I’m going to bring you back to the location that started the series off: York.

unnamed (3)York is very much a city built on its medieval footprint — though its history goes back much farther than that. As I discussed in the first preview email, York dates back nearly 2000 years. Known as Eboracum to the Romans and Jorvik to the Danes, York assumed much of its current shape — and much of its current architecture — in the 13th-15th centuries.

When we visit The Shambles, we’ll see how closely connected modern York is to its elder self. Known as “the most medieval street in England,” the Shambles was for centuries home to York’s butchers and meat markets. The street is mentioned in the Domesday Book compiled by William the Conqueror, and much of its architecture dates to the 1400s, including its famous overhanging buildings and timber-frame structures. (And if the Harry Potter fans are thinking that picture looks a bit familiar, you’re not wrong — The Shambles formed the visual inspiration for Diagon Alley).

The name “Shambles” likely comes from the (somewhat more gruesome) Anglo-Saxon word “fleshammels” — literally, “flesh-shelves”. Though the word long pre-dates Shakespeare, perhaps he did not have Henry VI use the term coincidentally during the opening confrontation in Henry VI, Part 3:

HENRY VI
Far be the thought of this from Henry’s heart,
To make a shambles of the parliament-house.
Cousin of Exeter, frowns, words and threats
Shall be the war that Henry means to use.
Thou factious Duke of York, descend my throne,
and kneel for grace and mercy at my feet;
I am thy sovereign.

unnamed (4)York Castle may not look like much, but for centuries, it had it where it counted: Standing between the River Ouse and the River Foss, this was once a prime fortification in Northeast England. William the Conqueror built it as part of the “Harrying of the North”, during his 1068-1070 campaign to secure this region of England.

York Castle grew from a simple wooden motte and bailey castle to a more complex limestone structure in the 13th century, when both King John and King Henry III used it as a personal fortress. Investment in its maintenance waned in the 15th century, however, and though Richard III intended to make extensive repairs, the Battle of Bosworth Field and his death there interrupted the plans. Queen Elizabeth I was advised that the castle no longer had strategic purpose, and it fell into significant disrepair until it was shored up as a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War. Some buildings were later used as prisons, as was common with decrepit medieval castles, and now all that stands of the original structure is Clifford’s Tower (seen above).

York’s grandest and most famous structure, however, is York Minster.

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The cathedral seat for the Archbishop of York, York Minster is the second largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, and it is another testament to the city’s long history. Christianity had a presence in York from at least the 4th century, though the Venerable Bede mentions chieftain Lucius of Britain calling for missionaries in 180. The first church on the site was built in 627 — a rush job, needed to baptise Edwin, King of Northumbria. Archbishop Walter de Gray began construction of the Gothic cathedral in 1215 and building continued all the way through its consecration in 1472. Despite rebellions, arsonist attacks, and freak lightning strikes that set the roof on fire, York Minster has been continually preserved as the pride of the city. Its flying buttresses were innovative at the time of its construction, and the cathedral features some of the best examples of Gothic sculpture in the country — look for angels, demons, animals, and humans adorning the walls.

unnamed (6)More than half of England’s medieval stained glass stands in York Minster. Across the nation, many of these works of art fell victim to anti-Catholic fervor during the English Civil War, but the stained glass at York Minster appears to owe its survival to the Lord General of the New Model Army himself — Thomas Fairfax, a Yorkshireman. York Minster’s stained glass features the East Window, pictured here, which is the size of a tennis court and depicts the story of the world from Genesis to Revelation; the Five Sisters Window, the nation’s only memorial to the women of Great Britain who lost their lives in the First World War; and a beautiful rose window commemorating the unification of the Houses of York and Lancaster.

The next Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords preview will be the last, and I’ll be discussing the home of the man himself: Stratford-upon-Avon.

Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords – Preview #8

As we sojourn through East Anglia, we’ll travel through two English counties with long and illustrious histories. Norfolk and Suffolk are among the longest-inhabited areas in England — in fact, in 2005, archaeologists found evidence of habitation in Norfolk up to 700,000 years ago. Through Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings, Danes, and Normans, these areas remained vital for their fertile farmland and their proximity to the European mainland.

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Norwich Cathedral, pictured above, is an excellent example of East Anglia’s long and sometimes turbulent history. It stands in an area once inhabited by the Iceni — the famous Celtic tribe whose Queen Boudicca rebelled against the Romans in the first century. Because of the disruption caused by frequent Danish raids (like those seen in Edmund Ironside, a play in the Shakespeare apocrypha), no permanent cathedral could be established until after the Norman Conquest. Work began in 1096 and continued through 1140, using cream-colored Caen limestone brought up the river through a purpose-built canal.

The cathedral was damaged during riots in 1272 and repaired over the next two decades. After that, work began on cloisters, but interruptions to building (including the Black Death visiting England in the 1340s) meant that they were not completed until 1430. Many of the ceilings were redone in the 14th and 15th centuries, and the spire was rebuilt completely after being struck by lightning in 1480. Like London’s theatres, the cathedral fell victim to the Puritans during the English Civil War. A mob stripped the building of its Catholic adornments, destroyed stonework, pulled down monuments, and even fired their muskets into the walls; at least one musketball remains lodged there to this day. Repairs began during the reign of Charles II, and other additions and renovations have continued to the modern day, making Norwich Cathedral a quilt of English architecture through the ages.

Norwich Cathedral also has an unexpected Shakespearean connection in one of the men buried there: Sir Thomas Erpingham, who lends King Henry his clothes to go among the men in disguise in Henry V, was a major benefactor in the 1420s.

unnamed (1)We’ll also travel to Norwich Castle, built by the Conqueror himself sometime before 1075. Norwich Castle was for many years the only castle in the region, and it played a role in the Revolt of 1173-1174, when Henry II’s sons rebelled against him (an event some of you may remember being referenced in The Lion in Winter). Converted to a prison in the 1220s, the castle then became a prison in the 13th century. It retained that usage until it’s conversion to a museum in the 1880s — following some alterations made in the late 18th century by Sir John Soane, whom some of you may remember from visiting his house in London during our 2013 trip.

Fittingly for such an important region of England, the Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk have been influential throughout the centuries. You might remember Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, in Richard II, or the Suffolk who begins as a Marquess in Henry VI, Part 1, is made a Duke in Part 2, becomes Queen Margaret’s lover, and is then murdered by pirates.

SUFFOLK:
Come, soldiers, show what cruelty ye can,
That this my death may never be forgot.
Great men oft die by vile bezonians:
A Roman sworder and banditto slave
Murder’d sweet Tully; Brutus’ bastard hand
Stabb’d Julius Caesar; savage islanders
Pompey the Great; and Suffolk dies by pirates.

The Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk were important in the Tudor Era as well: Charles Brandon, the first duke in the title’s second creation, was a close friend of Henry VIII and later his brother-in-law, after he married Henry’s youngest sister, Mary. (Fans of The Tudors will remember the handsome Henry Cavill in the role). All of Brandon’s sons died either before him or shortly thereafter, and the title was briefly recreated for Henry Grey, father of Lady Jane Grey — who was executed for treason a mere three years later, after trying to place his daughter on the throne.

The Dukes of Norfolk were, if anything, even more notorious during the Tudor reign, patriarchs as they were of the tumultuous Howard dynasty, a wide-spread, highly politically-involved, and recalcitrantly-Catholic family. The first duke (of this, the third creation of the title) died at Bosworth Field, fighting on the side of Richard III; his son eventually got the forfeit title restored to him. The third duke (pictured below in a portrait by Hans Holbein) was among those who maneuvered to make his niece, Anne Boleyn, Queen of England — as depicted in Shakespeare and Fletcher’s Henry VIII — and who then turned on her when Henry tired of her, even presiding over her trial. Another niece, Catherine Howard, became Henry’s fifth wife — and also fell from grace, almost taking the entire Howard family down with her.unnamed (2)

What finally landed the third duke in the Tower was his connection to the Earl of Surrey, who tried to overthrow Henry late in his reign. He narrowly escaped execution for treason, saved only when Henry VIII himself died before the sentence could be carried out. He remained in the Tower throughout the reign of Edward VI, only released and restored to his properties by Queen Mary. The fourth Norfolk couldn’t keep out of trouble, either: in 1569 he was imprisoned for plotting to marry Mary, Queen of Scots, and in 1572, he was implicated in the Ridolfi plot to put King Philip of Spain on the throne with Mary, restoring Catholicism to England, and was subsequently executed. The title lay in abeyance until restored to the Howard family by King Charles II.

We’ll finish the day with tea in Lavenham, a sweet little village in Suffolk known for its well-preserved medieval and Tudor architecture. Once one of the wealthiest merchant towns in England, thanks to its wool trade, Lavenham is now a prime day trip destination for anyone exploring East Anglia.

Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords – Preview #6

While in Northumberland, we’ll spend some time along the erstwhile borderland between Roman Britain and those people that the Romans considered barbaric, uncivilized, and uncouth in the extreme — the Scots. Or, more accurately, the Caledonians, as the Romans termed the people described as “red of hair and long of limb” by the historian Tacitus.

Rome endured uprisings from the conquered British tribes and raids and invasions from the northern Caledonians for most of the first century. Their territory in Britain reached its greatest bounds in 84 CE, when the general Agricola won a massive victory over the Caledonians in northern Scotland. A generation later, however, the Romans had to pull back to Northumberland — likely because Emperor Trajan was pulling legions from Britain to serve in his Dacian Wars. By the time Emperor Hadrian arrived in 120 CE, he determined that the Romans should build a defensive wall 80 miles long, demarcating the border between Rome and the wilds beyond. (Re-enactments of battles between the Romans and the Caledonians take place regularly along the wall today, as you can see below.)

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The exact purpose of the wall is questionable, however. In many places, it is not high enough to serve as a reliable defense, and though the Romans had small forts every five miles along the wall, the expense of patrolling all 80 miles would have been prohibitive. Some scholars have theorized that the wall’s purpose was more symbolic in nature, as Hadrian expressed an interest in defining Rome’s boundaries rather than continuing expansion — and indeed, the Empire began shrinking in size after his reign. Hadrian’s Wall may also have been a way of controlling trade for the purposes of taxation more than repelling invaders.

Hadrians-Wall-007The first major breach of the wall occurred in 180 CE, when the Picts crossed the border, murdered the Roman governor, and initiated the most serious war of the reign of Emperor Commodus. (Commodus is best known for the villainous role he plays in Gladiator, portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, but the film Centurion better depicts the war in Britain). By 410 CE, Roman rule in Britain was at an end.

Over the centuries, portions of the wall were lost to building projects and road construction — including a road built to put down another Scottish rebellion, the Jacobite insurrection of 1745. What remains of the wall owes its survival to a lawyer from Newcastle, who bought large sections of land in the 1830s and began restoration projects. In 1987, Hadrian’s Wall was declared a World Heritage Site.

When we visit Hadrian’s Wall, think of what Shakespeare has to say about the conflicts between the English and the Scots — a contentious relationship, even after the union of the countries under King James. In Henry IV, Part 1, Prince Hal imagines the life of Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, living on the border:

HAL: I am not yet of Percy’s mind, the Hotspur of the north; he that kills me some six or seven dozen of Scots at a breakfast, washes his hands, and says to his wife ‘Fie upon this quiet life! I want work.’ ‘O my sweet Harry,’ says she, ‘how many hast thou killed to-day?’ ‘Give my roan horse a drench,’ says he; and answers ‘Some fourteen,’ an hour after; ‘a trifle, a trifle.’

We’ll also visit Dunstanburgh Castle, an important outpost on the sea. In the 13th and 14th centuries, this castle served as a garrison both for Englishmen fighting the Scots and for Englishmen fighting each other. Possession of the castle switched sides several times during the Wars of the Roses, and by the late 15th and early 16th century, Dunstanburg was falling into disrepair. It was used as a haven for pirates for some time, and though many different owners made efforts at repair, the castle was never fully restored. By the 1800s, poets and artists found it an inspirational destination, representing natural beauty, romantic decay, and the wilds of Scotland.Dunstanburgh_Castle_-_geograph.org.uk_-_924510

In the 20th century, Dunstanburgh became unexpectedly important again, as the bays to its north were deemed vulnerable to amphibious assault during World War II. Sir Edmund Ironside oversaw the construction of defenses, including lines of barbed wire, slit trenches, and concrete pillboxes — which still stand north of the castle today.
Today, Dunstanburgh is owned by the National Trust and maintained by English Heritage. It has become a focus for archaeologists, who have discovered evidence of habitation on the site dating back to the Iron Age. It has also become an important site for conservationists, who advocate allowing the area to remain waterlogged to provide a habitat for numerous bird, amphibian, and insect species.

Next time on the NKSC Preview: the gentle beauty of the Cotswolds!

There’s still time for a few more intrepid travelers to join us on our trip, so if you or any of your friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, or coworkers are interested, learn more on our website — or ask me for more information!

–Cass Morris
Academic Resources Manager

Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords – Preview #5

AttractionsThe northward leg of our journey will take us to Northumberland, land of the Percys. The family’s most famous son is also the Percy who features most heavily in Shakespeare’s works: the fierce and bellicose Hotspur, one of the chief antagonists of Henry IV, Part 1. Shakespeare places him in opposition to Prince Hal, the future Henry V, going so far as to have Henry IV lament:

Henry IV: Yea, there thou makest me sad and makest me sin
In envy that my Lord Northumberland
Should be the father to so blest a son,
A son who is the theme of honour’s tongue;
Amongst a grove, the very straightest plant;
Who is sweet Fortune’s minion and her pride:
Whilst I, by looking on the praise of him,
See riot and dishonour stain the brow
Of my young Harry. O that it could be proved
That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged
In cradle-clothes our children where they lay,
And call’d mine Percy, his Plantagenet!
Then would I have his Harry, and he mine.
But let him from my thoughts.

The Percy family is one of England’s most enduring, and Alnwick Castle (pictured in a 1750 painting, below) has been their seat of power since they were mere barons in the early 14th century. They were raised to the earldom by Henry IV, whom they later rebelled against, but found royal favor again during the Wars of the Roses, where they first supported the Lancastrian cause of Henry VI. The second earl (Hotspur’s son) died at the Battle of St. Alban’s, and the third earl died in the Battle of Towton. Shakespeare dramatizes both of these battles: Henry VI, Part 2 ends with St. Alban’s, and Act 3 of Henry VI, Part 3, featuring the famous scene where a father kills his son and a son his father. After Towton, the family briefly lost their title, but the fourth earl got it back by pledging fealty to Edward IV. From then, the Percys became Yorkists, fighting for Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Though taken prisoner after that battle, the fourth earl evidently won Henry VII’s regard, as the king released him and entrusted him with several prominent government posts during his life.

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The family fared less well under later Tudors. The sixth earl was briefly engaged to Anne Boleyn, until Cardinal Wolsey scolded him into jilting her — perhaps because Henry VIII had already expressed interest in Anne. His brother Thomas took part in the Pilgrimage of Grace uprising against Henry VIII, was convicted of treason, hanged, drawn, and quartered — though considered a Catholic martyr. The seventh earl led the Rising of the North, an attempt to replace Queen Elizabeth I with her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots. When the plot failed, he fled to Scotland, was captured, and beheaded at York. The Percys’ apparent inability to pick a winner continued into the 17th century. The ninth earl took part in the Gunpowder Plot against King James I, and the family supported first the royalists, then the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War.

After what could be regarded as two centuries of bad decisions, the Percys settled down, with the family raised to the dukedom in the 1700s. The Percy name has twice fallen extinct in the male line, but been revived when husbands of Percy daughters chose to take the surname — a testament to the family’s enduring legacy. They also have a few interesting American connections — one Percy was an early governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the illegitimate son of the first duke was James Smithson, founder of the Smithsonian Institute.

Downton AbbeyBecause the Percys’ Alnwick Castle is in better condition than many castles from the same period, it has enjoyed fame through film and television, appearing in Becket, Black Adder, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. More recently — and perhaps more notably — its exterior played the part of Hogwarts Castle in several of the Harry Potter movies, and fans of Downton Abbey may recognize it as Brancaster Castle, site of the 2014 and 2015 Christmas specials.

Next time on the NKSC Preview: Hadrian’s Wall and a castle by the sea.

We  do still have a few slots on the trip open, so if you find these previews enticing and have been sitting on the fence, register now to join us in July!

Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords — Preview #4

Before I begin today’s itinerant interlude, a note: We do still have a few slots open, so if you’re enticed by what you’ve been reading on the blog, register now to join us in England in July!

Cambridge University is the second-oldest university in England, founded in 1209 by scholars who fled Oxford University in the wake of a dispute with the townsfolk there. Until the 1820s, Cambridge and Oxford were the only universities in England — unusual for a Western European country. During Shakespeare’s lifetime, the universities featured prominently (along with the printing press in London) in the development of humanism and the classical revival. Education was conducted in Latin and focused on the seven classical liberal arts — grammar, logic, rhetoric, math, music, astronomy, and geometry — along with history, philosophy, ethics, and poetry. While Shakespeare never attended university, many of his contemporaries did — including Christopher Marlowe, an alumnus of Christ’s College at Cambridge.

Playmaking had its place at the university, too, as Shakespeare mentions in Hamlet.

Hamlet. No, nor mine now. My lord, you play’d once i’ th’ university, you say?
Polonius. That did I, my lord, and was accounted a good actor.
Hamlet. What did you enact?
Polonius. I did enact Julius Caesar; I was kill’d i’ th’ Capitol; Brutus kill’d me.
Hamlet. It was a brute part of him to kill so capital a calf there. Be the players ready.
Much of our information about early modern theatre comes not from the public playhouses but from the universities, as they were often better at preserving documents, including scripts and actors’ parts.

We’ll begin our scholastic sojourn at King’s College, founded by King Henry VI — subject of three of Shakespeare’s plays — in 1441. Famous alumni of King’s include Robert Walpole (the first British Prime Minister), Alan Turing, John Maynard Keynes, George Santayana, and many famous writers, including Salman Rushdie, E. M. Forster, and Zadie Smith.

2016-03-31With its enormous fan vault, stained-glass windows, and elaborate wooden chancel screen, the King’s College Chapel is one of the finest examples of English Gothic architecture. King Henry VI began work on the chapel in 1446. Construction was slowed, however, and eventually halted by the Wars of the Roses. When King Henry was deposed in 1461, the walls were only half-finished. King Richard III resumed construction during his short reign, stating that “the building should go on with all possible despatch.” Henry VII took up the job in 1508. Each time construction restarted, builders had to use stone from a different source, resulting in a visible line between the older, lighter stone and the newer, darker stone (much like that we Americans are familiar with on the Washington Monument).

The interior of the chapel was finally completed under King Henry VIII, who added the wooden screen in celebration of his marriage to Anne Boleyn. To put their own stamp — quite literally — on a project begun by a deposed predecessor, Henrys VII and VIII added Tudor rose embellishments throughout the chapel. Be sure to look for these during our visit!

Our collegiate tour continues at the Wren Library of Trinity College. Though founded in 1546 by King Henry VIII, Trinity’s importance stretches for centuries both before and after. Henry VIII actually formed Trinity out of two older schools: King’s Hall, founded by Edward II, and Michaelhouse, a smaller and less wealthy school. Today, at over 1000 undergraduates, grad students, and fellows, Trinity is the largest college at either Oxford or Cambridge. Alumni include Francis Bacon (once a popular focus of Shakespeare authorship conspiracies), Isaac Newton, John Dryden, Lord Byron, several Prime Ministers, a host of Nobel Prize winners, and HRH The Prince of Wales. Much of the famous architecture dates to the late 17th-century, including that of the Wren Library, designed by Christopher Wren. Those of you who were with us in 2013 saw St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, also designed by Wren (and Virginians may be familiar with his work here in America, as the oldest building at the College of William and Mary is also his design).

The Wren Library boasts over 1250 medieval manuscripts and over 70,000 books printed before 1800, including an eighth-century manuscript of the Epistles of St. Paul, a 14th-century manuscript of The Vision of Piers Plowman, Isaac Newton’s 1659-1661 notebook and a first edition of his Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, where he set out his laws of motion and gravity, and the Capell collection of early Shakespeare quartos.

Newton Apple Tree

Speaking of Isaac Newton: not only was he an alumnus of Trinity College, but a tree on its grounds is said to be the one which inspired his theory of gravity (or a grafted descendant of the original arboreal muse). Unfortunately, the story is apocryphal, as Newton was likely not living in Cambridge, but in Lincolnshire at the time of his inspiration — but, as Shakespeare knew, sometimes true history needs a little legendary embellishment! The tree is located beneath the window where Newton lived and studied while he was at Trinity.

University life wasn’t, however, all work and no play. Students had a less-than-glorious reputation in the early modern era. Various plays of the period portray university students as profligate spendthrifts, always writing home for money, and as drunken debauchers, enjoying a life of little restriction, far from their homes. Shakespeare tells us as much through Vincentio in The Taming of the Shrew, who laments:

“While I play the good husband at home, my son and my servant spend all at the university.”

Some early modern writers also noted the pompous airs that university students put on, as in Thomas Middleton’s A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, where Tim, recently returned from Cambridge, disdainfully insists his mother call him ‘Timotheus’. He gets comeuppance for his snobbery when he speaks in Latin to his intended wife, the Welsh Gentlewoman (actually a knight’s cast-off mistress), who, thinking he cannot speak English, tries speaking back to him in Welsh, and whereupon he takes her for “a good scholar.”

DSC07031-1We’ll have a taste of traditional Cambridge entertainment when we go punting on the Cam. If you were with us in 2013, you’ll remember our adventure on the Isis at Oxford (picture at left). From what I gather, the River Cam is wider, shallower, and boasts far fewer obstacles in the way of overhanging trees and snarled underwater thickets.

Cambridge will be the last stop of our trip, and we’ll cap the day off with a fine feast of which any starving undergraduate would be envious.

Next time on the NKSC Preview: Northumberland, home of Hotspur and Hadrian’s Wall.

And remember — you can still register to join us!

Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords – Preview #3

In this edition of our Land of Lords preview, I’ll be taking you into Derbyshire. While Jane Austen fans may know it as the home of Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s romance-inducing estate, for those of us of an early modern bent, it’s home to Hardwick Hall, one of the finest examples of Elizabethan architecture.

Hardwick1Hardwick Hall is fascinating both in its own architectural right and because of the personal history of the woman for whom it was built, the formidable and much-married Bess, Countess of Shrewsbury. The architect was Robert Smythson, who integrated Florentine Renaissance designs with the English Gothic style. Built in the 1590s by one of the richest women in England, Hardwick Hall was meant to show off its owner’s status and wealth.

As you can see in the picture above, Hardwick Hall’s windows are among its most stunning features. Large windows were not yet common, even in English great houses, and Hardwick Hall became famous for them, leading to a popular saying: “Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall.”

Unlike most English great houses up to this point, Hardwick Hall was built with the great hall — the sort of space playing companies might perform in — through the axis of the house, rather than at an angle to the entrance. Each floor of the house has higher ceilings than the one below it, pointing to the domestic tendencies emerging at the time. Less prestigious spaces were located downstairs: the ground floor is home to the kitchen, buttery, and pantry, among other rooms. The first floor had some dining rooms and parlors, but the second floor boasted a long hall that was nearly the length of the entire building (pictured below), grand chambers, and the finest bedrooms. Above these were six banqueting pavilions, used exclusively for entertaining and accessible only across the roof leads, each topped with Bess’s initials: ES.

Room view of the whole of the Long Gallery at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, with the Gideon tapestries on the left

Room view of the whole of the Long Gallery at Hardwick Hall with the Gideon tapestries on the left. It measures to 162 feet long and 26 feet high. The Hardwick gallery is the largest of surviving Elizabethan long galleries.

So what sort of woman made Hardwick Hall her home? Bess came from relatively humble origins, born to gentry in Old Hardwick Hall, now a ruin nearby the great house she later built — but her life was certainly upwardly mobile. Her first marriage, to a local boy, was probably never consummated, as bridge and groom were 13 and 14 at the time. At age 20, she married Sir William Cavendish. They had eight children in ten years, six of whom survived. Bess managed to arrange good marriages for several of them, ensuring that many of her descendants would be Dukes and Earls (and, in fact, Queen Elizabeth II!). Bess claimed the bulk of Cavendish’s property upon his death, then two years later married Sir William St Loe. He died six years later, under suspicious circumstances (likely poisoned by his brother), and Bess again claimed her late husband’s property. Now a wealthy woman, Lady of the Queen’s Bedchamber, and still in her 30s and attractive, Bess waited a few years to re-marry.

Bess’s fourth marriage was her most famous. George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, was one of the foremost lords of the realm — and for this reason, when Mary, Queen of Scots, was forced to abdicate in favor of her one year old son James and had to flee to England, Queen Elizabeth put Mary in Shrewsbury’s charge. For fifteen years, Mary lived at the Shrewsburys’ various properties. She and Bess seem to have gotten on well for a while, but by 1580, Mary seemed to be causing trouble in the Shrewsbury marriage. Bess claimed that the exiled queen and the earl had an affair, though most historians think this was a falsehood. Mary does seem to have played some part in their eventual estrangement, however, and in 1585, the queen moved Mary to another custodian.

bessofhardwick1Bess wasn’t finished with politics, though — her granddaughter Arbella Stuart was, on her father’s side, also a great-great-granddaughter of Henry VII, and thus in line for the English throne. Bess aspired for her to become queen and kept her under strict governance, eventually locking her up to keep her from eloping. Arbella eventually rebelled and tried to run away, after which Bess cut the girl from her will and begged the queen to take Arbella off of her hands. (Arbella herself has a potential Shakespearean connection — her later life involved even more scandal, including cross-dressing to try to flee to France, and some scholars have seen the character of Innogen in Cymbeline as referring to her in part).

Bess built Hardwick Hall in the 1590s, following the death of the Earl of Shrewsbury. She died in 1608, and Hardwick Hall stayed in Bess’s family through the mid-20th century, via the Dukes of Devonshire, and was then handed over to the National Trust. As such, it now holds centuries’ worth of artwork, tapestry, furniture, and embroidery, much original to the 1601 inventory of the home.

And, as a bonus bit of information for any Harry Potter fans — you may recognize Hardwick Hall as the exterior of Malfoy Manor, seen in Deathly Hallows, Part 1 and Part 2.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip into Elizabethan opulence — and the political tangles that often accompanied such grandiose personages. Next week: a peek into early modern university life.

Interested in joining us as we travel this summer? There are still a few spots on the trip open, so register now!

Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords – Preview #1

This is the first of a series about No Kidding Shakespeare Camp 2016: Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords. Over the course of the ten-day trip, we’ll be staying in three wondrous hotels. The farthest north of those is Middleton’s in York. York has been a center of power throughout the history of the British Isles. During the Middle Ages, its distance from London meant that it could almost function as a separate political entity. Understanding the city better will be a way of getting a grip on the War of the Roses that Shakespeare stages in the plays about Henry VI and wraps up with Richard III.

Among the things we’ll do is walk some of the walls of York, which are a mere 7 minutes from our hotel. ​​York has more miles of intact city walls than anywhere else in England. While city walls were once common, even crucial to York2a city’s survival, most have deteriorated in the modern age. York’s extant walls are not entirely contiguous, nor all from the same era. The first walls were built in 71 AD, around a Roman fortress on the River Ouse. Little of this original stonework remains, but some can be seen in the Multangular Tower in the Museum Gardens.

A legion at the time encompassed 5500 men, and their presence encouraged trade with enterprising locals. Through these interactions, the fortress eventually grew into the city of Eboracum, a busy port and cosmopolitan provincial capital. The Emperor Hadrian visited this fortress in 122, on his way north to plan his great frontier wall (the focus of a future Preview Email!), and Emperor Septimius Severus made it his base of operations for campaigning in Scotland in 208.

The city went into decline following Rome’s withdrawal from Britain. By the 9th century, the walls were in poor repair, and when the Danes (“the Great Heathen Army”) invaded in 867, renaming the city Jorvik, they demolished all the towers except for the surviving Multangular. The Danes buried what was left of the Roman walls beneath earthbanks and wooden palisades. These were badly mangled during the 1069 “harrying of the North” that followed the Norman invasion and brought the northern counties under William the Conqueror’s control. The majority of the remaining walls, encircling the medieval city, date to the 12th-14th century and were built during the reigns of some early Plantagenets: Henry III and the three Edwards.

York1There are four main gatehouses, or “bars”, which restricted traffic in medieval times and served as tollbooths. Initially the walls also had 6 secondary gates and 44 intermediate towers, stretching over 2 miles encompassing the city and castle. York was an important outpost during the Plantagenet wars with Scotland, so much so that Edward I actually moved the seat of government to York in 1298. In the 15th-17th centuries, York and the surrounding county were the sites of many battles and sieges during the Wars of the Roses, various Tudor rebellions, and the English Civil War. (The map at left dates to 1617).

The walls of York play their largest role in Shakespeare in Henry VI, Part 3, which features several scenes that actually take place on the walls as the two factions, each a branch of those ever-contentious Plantagenets, struggle for control not just of the city but of the nation. Early in the play, the Duke of York is captured by the Lancastrians, and in giving his execution order, Queen Margaret taunts:

Off with his head, and set it on York gates,
So York may overlook the town of York.

Margaret’s later reference to the head, when welcoming Lord Clifford to York, suggests that a prop may actually have been placed upon the “walls” — the gallery above the stage — to add to the gruesome spectacle:

Welcome, my lord, to this brave town of York.
Yonder’s the head of that arch-enemy
That sought to be encompass’d with your crown:
Doth not the object cheer your heart, my lord?

We’re unlikely to encounter anything so appalling on our trip, but we may pass by the very spot at Micklegate Bar (below) where the Duke’s head once stood, bearing a paper crown.

Micklegate_Bar

In 1800, the Corporation of York applied for an Act of Parliament to demolish their walls, as London and other cities were doing (since none of them had been invaded by ground in quite some time). They were met with fierce opposition from the populace, however, and instead of being torn down, were restored starting in the mid-19th century. Today they are a Scheduled Ancient Monument — just waiting for us to tread the same paces that legionaries, nobles, rebels, and monarchs have for nearly 2000 years!

For more on the history of York and some great interactive maps of the city and its walls, visit historyofyork.org — or join us to see for yourself in July!