Lewkenor’s influence on Shakespeare’s Richard III

It is interesting to find Lewes Lewkenor describing the very same scene from Holinshed’s Chronicles that is depicted in Richard III, Act III, sc. Vii, written a year or so later. Here is a comparison of the three versions, starting with Lewkenor’s.

‘Upon the death of King Edward the Fourth, the Duke of Buckingham made an eloquent oration in the Guildhall, flattering the mayor and his brothers, and promising them many goodly matters and golden days, in the behalf of King Richard the tyrant. The assembly seeing there was no remedy to prevent the intended mischief, did him reverence with their bodies, but with sorrowful faces and silent tongues; insomuch, that the Duke rebuked their silence, and began his excellent premeditated tale again, half threatening, half begging an applause, but it would not be, not any one that would open his lips to cry, “King Richard,” except a few of his own lackies at the nether end of the hall;[1] so that (as I say) howsoever their bodies may, the minds of men can never be constrained.’

Lewes has drawn this story from the corresponding passages in Holinshed,

‘the recorder so tempered his tale, that he showed every thing as the Dukes words, and no part his own. But all this noting no change made in the people, which always after one stood as they had been men amazed. Whereupon the Duke rounded unto the mayor and said; This is a marvelous obstinate silence: and therewith he turned unto the people again with these words; Dear friends, we come to move you to that thing, which peradventure we not so greatly needed but that the lords of this realm, and the commons of other parties might have sufficed, saying that we such love bear you, and so much set by you, that we would not gladly do without you, that thing in which to be partners is your weal and honor, which (as it seemeth) either you see not, or weigh not. Wherefore we require you give us answer one way or other, whether you be minded, as all the nobles of the realm be, to have this noble prince, now protector, to be your king or not. At these words the people began to whisper among themselves secretly, that the voice was neither loud nor distinct, but as it were the sound of a swarm of bees; till at the last, in the nether end of the hall, an ambushment of the Dukes servants, and one Nashfield, and other belonging to the protector, with some prentices and lads that thrust into the hall amongst the press, began suddenly at men’s backs to cry out, as loud as their throats would give: “King Richard, king Richard!” and threw up their caps in token of joy. And they, that stood before, cast back their heads, marveling thereof, but nothing they said. Now when the Duke and the mayor saw this manner, they wisely turned it to their purpose, and said it was a goodly cry, & a joyful, to hear every man with one voice, no man saying nay. “Wherefore, friends” (quoth the Duke) “sith we perceive it is all your whole minds to have this noble man for your king, (whereof we shall make his grace so effectual report, that we doubt not but it shall redound unto your great weal and commodity,) we require ye, that ye tomorrow go with us, and we with you, unto his noble grace, to make our humble request unto him in manner before remembered.”.’[2]

And the story as told by Shakespeare,

BUCKINGHAM: No, so God help me, they spake not a word;

But, like dumb statues or breathing stones,

Gazed each on other, and look’d deadly pale.

Which when I saw, I reprehended them;

And ask’d the mayor what meant this wilful silence:

His answer was, the people were not wont

To be spoke to but by the recorder.

Then he was urged to tell my tale again,

‘Thus saith the Duke, thus hath the Duke inferr’d;’

But nothing spake in warrant from himself.

When he had done, some followers of mine own,

At the lower end of the hall, hurl’d up their caps,

And some ten voices cried ‘God save King Richard!’

And thus I took the vantage of those few,

‘Thanks, gentle citizens and friends,’ quoth I;

‘This general applause and loving shout

Argues your wisdoms and your love to Richard:’

And even here brake off, and came away.

Richard III: III, vii

All three accounts agree that Buckingham’s servants were at the nether or lower end of the hall, but Lewkenor’s account includes ‘rebuked’ which is not found in Holinshed and is substituted in the play with ‘reprehended’.

After his coronation Richard made seventeen Knights of the Bath and among the usual of roster of noble names of we find Sir Thomas Lekenor (sic) while his cousin, Sir John, received a knighthood. The Lewkenors keep popping up in the Chronicles at the very point Shakespeare has lifted material for his plays. These points of interest would certainly have caught Lewes’ eye on his search for his ancestors. Lewes often expressed his opinion of the value of reading the Chronicles, as he says several times in The Estate of English Fugitives, ‘If such would but read the Chronicles’ and he gives us his opinion of how damning their report could be ‘our chronicles, and all the stories of our time, will for ever, to the shame of their stock and parentage, record them for traitors’. This opinion is shared by Hamlet,

       Good my lord, will you see the players well

bestowed? Do you hear, let them be well used; for

they are the abstract and brief chronicles of the

time: after your death you were better have a bad

epitaph than their ill report while you live.

Hamlet: II, ii

Richard III was not entered onto the Register of the Stationers’ Company until 20th October 1597 (the same day Richard III’s forces had smashed the rebellion in Kent, led by Guildford, who was accompanied by Thomas Lewkenor).

Second Messenger: My liege, in Kent the Guildfords are in arms;

       And every hour more competitors

Flock to their aid, and still their power increaseth.

The bookseller Andrew Wise and the printer Valentine Simmes printed the first quarto, Wise commissioned Thomas Creede to print a second later that same year – this time the play was attributed to William Shakespeare but has all the hallmarks of being a memorial reconstruction by an actor or audience member.

[1] See Richard III and Holinshed/Hall’s Chronicles, [Hoi. iii. 730/ 1/7 1. More, 72/ 1 6.]

[2] Holinshed. V.III p. 393

All That Glisters is not Gold


, , ,

‘But to come to my discourse, to the end  that you and the rest of your opinion, may clearly and plainly discern those things, which hitherto your eyes blinded with the veil of partiality, or perchance misled with a contrariety of affection, have not been able to view; I will begin with the good usage,  honor, and advancement, that you and other gentlemen addicted to the Spanish service are to expect, bringing you for example sundry brave and worthy gentlemen, captains, and soldiers, that have taken the like cause before you; whereby you shall perceive that all is not gold that glistereth faire,  but that whatsoever show the Spaniard make unto us, yet in his heart he mortally abhorreth us, and by all means possible seeketh our destruction, mine, and subversion, as it evidently appeareth by his usage of such troupes and companies of our nations as have served him.’ Lewes Lewkenor, The Usage of English Fugitives under the King of Spain. 1595.

All that glisters is not gold,

Merchant of Venice: II, vii

Unless an earlier source can be found for this phrase it would appear that the author of The Merchant of Venice had read Lewes Lewkenor’s 1595 treatise when writing his play between 1596-98.

Lewkenor’s quote appears to be referring to a passage in the ‘Sermons and Homillies, appointed to be read in churches’ which was issued in several editions from 1546 onwards.

‘Likewise were the vestures used in the church in old time very plain and single, and nothing costly. And Rabanus at large declareth, that this costly and manifold furniture of vestments of late used in the church was fet/set from the Jewish usage, and agreeth with Aaron’s appareling almost altogether. For the maintenance of the which, Innocentius the pope pronounceth boldly, that all the customs of the old law be not abolished, that we might in such apparel, of Christians the more willingly become Jewish. This is noted, not against churches and temples, which are most necessary, and ought to have their due use and honour, as is in another homillie for that purpose declared, nor against the convenient cleanness and ornaments thereof; but aganst the sumptousness and abuses of the temples and churces. For it is a church or temple also that glittereth with no marble, shineth with no gold nor silver, glistereth with no pearls nor precious stones: but with plainness and frugality, signifieth no proud doctrine nor people, but humble, frugal, and nothing esteeming earthly and outward things, but gloriously decked with inward ornaments, according as the prophet declareth, saying the King’s daughter is altogether glorious inwardly.’ Pslam 45.13

It seems that Lewkenor fashioned the phrase from a selection of words used to express the same idea, but he chose to condense the Homily down, and so it would have been here that Shakespeare alighted upon the phrase, which he liked so much he used it in his play.

Shakespeare and The Battle of Lepanto


, , ,

Battle_of_Lepanto_1571The two islands of Cyprus and Crete were an essential part of the Levantine trade routes, controlled by the Venetian Republic, they allowed commerce to thrive between Antwerp and the Far East. Until, in 1571, the island was invaded by the debauched Ottoman Sultan, Selim ‘The Sot’, which precipitated a disastrous war for the Sultan. Selim relished taking the rich Mediterranean island, so fertile in the grape for which he craved, and Cyprus soon began to fall under his control, town by town. The Venetians enlisted the help of Pope Pius V who in turn dispatched an envoy to Philip II urging him to join with the Holy League in a sea battle against the Turks. The Muslim populations of Spain, Granada and Aragon had been suppressed and forced to convert to Catholicism, but the toleration was being slowly rescinded and the Morisco Moors of Granada were in open revolt. The Spanish feared that a Muslim uprising on their doorstep would give rise to an invasion and Philip II dispatched his half-brother, Don John of Austria, to quell the revolt. Spanish fears were calmed when the Sultan withdrew his resources away from the Morisco revolt, leaving Philip free to join his neighbours in an offensive. The Spanish king also had his sights set on the recovery of Tunis where his puppet Muslim government had recently been ousted by the Turks, which in turn threatened the safety of his other important possession, Sicily.

The fleet gathered from Spain and Venice, from the Duchy’s of Naples and Savoy, descending on Messina in Sicily with one common goal; the destruction of the Turkish fleet and the recapture of their prized islands. Philip’s forces were led by Gian Andrea Doria from the Genoese republic, under the Pope’s admiral, Mark Anthonio Colonna, assisted by the Venetian, Sebastiano Venier. The Colonna family could rank a Pope amongst its members and list Petrarch as a family friend, but among its living members was the intriguingly named Prospero Colonna, who later led forces under the Duke of Parma in the Low Countries during the 1580’s. The armada sailed for Turkey. Doria urged restraint as the winter was coming on, news came that Nicosia had fallen with only the port town of Famagusta holding out. Colonna was keen to press on, but sickness hampered the fleet’s progress until they were forced to head for home, and while Doria was lucky to make port, but the rest of the fleet was battered by tempests and severely damaged.

While the Venetian fleet was repaired, the Pope rallied aid from the Dukes of Tuscany, Parma and Savoy. For the second armada Philip insisted that Don John lead the attack. The failed attempt had led to wrangles among the parties that comprised the Holy League, and again it was late in the season before Don John could set sail from Messina, but playing on the respect with which he was generally held, and no doubt using his own charismatic charm, he cajoled the League on their holy mission, and set sail with two hundred Galleys and six large Galleases. Also joining the armada was Don John’s nephew, Alexander Farnese. The armada encountered Uluj Ali, admiral of the Turkish fleet, off the Greek coast in the Gulf of Lepanto, modern day Nafpaktos, south of the town of Lepanto, and despite the early loss of three ships belonging to the Knights of Malta, Ali and his fleet were routed, while the Holy League sustained the loss of some six thousand men. As evening drew in a tempest again forced the ships to return to port.

Second Gentleman: A segregation of the Turkish fleet:

       For do but stand upon the foaming shore,

       The chidden billow seems to pelt the clouds;

       The wind-shaked surge, with high and monstrous mane,

       seems to cast water on the burning bear,

       And quench the guards of the ever-fixed pole:

       I never did like molestation view

       On the enchafed flood.

MONTANO: If that the Turkish fleet

       Be not enshelter’d and embay’d, they are drown’d:

       It is impossible they bear it out.

       [Enter a third Gentleman]

Third Gentleman: News, lads! our wars are done.

       The desperate tempest hath so bang’d the Turks,

       That their designment halts: a noble ship of Venice

       Hath seen a grievous wreck and sufferance

       On most part of their fleet.

Othello, Act. II. Sc. i

Don John harboured great ambitions: he aimed to reclaim Tunis and to become king, he would then free Mary, Queen of Scots and by marrying her, take the English throne for himself. His delusions were only partly realised with the recapture of Tunis, where he refortified the fortress of La Goletta which had been erected by his father, Charles V. Don John held it briefly until the Turks, led again by Uluj Ali, stormed the fortress and took the island back.

The battle of Lepanto is the background setting for three plays; Much Ado About Nothing, which opens in Messina just after the battle has ended; Othello, who is dispatched to the wars in Cyprus; and it is the events of the aftermath that are detailed in The Tempest, with the wedding of Don John the self-styled ‘King of Tunis’.


Mark Anthonio Colonna


Sebastiano Venier

The characters of Anthonio and Sebastian represent his two Admirals, Mark Anthonio Colonna and Sebastiano Venier, while Prospero is obviously Prospero Colonna. Othello, the Moor fighting for the Venetian State like Jan Baptista del Monte, is a character we should revile as an enemy and a turncoat, but far from being a racist stereotype Othello stalks the stage with supreme dignity. His natural nobility raises him above the common man, above the audience, who witness the cruel destruction of his love for Desdemona by Iago, and cannot but sympathize; that is until he reverts to the Elizabethan stereo-type of a ‘savage’ and kills her in a jealous rage. The story reworks the gossip surrounding Philip II’s court in the Escorial Palace, where Machiavellian events were common currency. Philip was suspicious of the ambitious Don John and on the advice of his secretary, Antonio Perez; he had placed a spy at the Austrian court in the form of Juan de Escobedo, who Perez believed would make a loyal plant. Working as Don John’s secretary, Escobedo had grown loyal to his new master and Perez had used this to fan the flames of Philip’s jealousy.


ANTONIO PEREZ (1539-1611)


As secretary to the Low Countries, Perez was in a position to tamper with Escobedo’s letters to suit his own ends, even writing his own derisive comments in the margins before he presented them to the King. He convinced Philip that Escobedo was fanning Don John’s ambitions and the pair were plotting his overthrow, and that Escobedo should die. The King consented and, when Escobedo came to Madrid on an errand for his master, Perez made several bungled attempts to poison him, eventually hiring assassins from his native Aragon to corner Escobedo in a dark alley and run him through. Perez had chosen his assassins from amongst his loyal servants, and despite absenting himself during the murder, suspicion soon lighted on him. The unexpected death of Don John a few months later gave Philip cause to question his part in the assassination, the blood of Escobedo was equally on his hands, but Perez knew too much for Philip to have him arrested and the family of Escobedo were demanding justice, so the king instructed Perez to pay them off and waited for an opportune moment to place him under house arrest.

A slow judicial process had begun and Perez was gradually relieved of his power, culminating in charges being brought against him for tampering with the king’s ciphered letters. Philip was aware that his secretary had incriminating papers stashed away somewhere and he alternated between offering Perez relative freedom and harsh punishment in an attempt to get them back, eventually resorting to torture.

The confession they elicited from him was vague, but damning for Philip, as it implicated him in the murder of Escobedo, and Perez, who was sure that his days were numbered, organised a daring escape. With the help of his wife, he arranged for two of his loyal servants to break him out of his prison in Madrid and, using the Royal Post horses, they rode through the night for Aragon. Because of his age and the poor condition he was in after his torture, a second group followed, whose purpose was to tire the Post horses should anyone try to pursue them.

Once in Aragon, Perez gathered his loyal followers and demanded to be tried under their laws, thus protecting himself from Philip and the laws of Castile. The king was incensed and immediately began judicial proceedings, accusing Perez of the murder by falsifying the reports and misleading him. In his absence a judge in Madrid found Antonio guilty and sentenced him to death and Philip had his own guards placed around the prison in Aragon. Perez used this infringement of Aragon’s sovereignty to garner support, causing Philip to change tack and accuse him of heresy, thereby avoiding the Aragonese legal system, as the Inquisition had power in Castile and Aragon. Trouble flared when they attempted to move Perez to a prison under the Inquisitions control, riots broke out in Aragon and Philip’s local representative and the Chief Justice were both killed by the angry mob.

The King of Spain was furious at this flagrant rebellion and ordered an invasion by his Castilian troops, causing Perez, disguised as a shepherd, to make his escape to France through the heavy November snow, to seek refuge at the court of Navarre.

Anthony Bacon traveled in Europe in the 1580’s and he also found his way to the court of Navarre, where Henri, and his sister Catherine de Bourbon, welcomed the young Englishman, but a sprained ankle meant his stay was extended for many months, avoiding his return to England where he would have to face the wrath of his mother and ‘the landlady’ Lord Burghley. Anthony was gaining a sordid reputation amongst the locals in Montauban for the goings-on at his lodgings, located near the bridge that vaulted the river, which divided the small town. Young pages were being attacked, bullied, and even raped, by Bacon and his stewards. Daphne Du Maurier, whose research turned up an arrest for buggery that had lain gathering dust for four hundred years in the archives of Montauban, refused to believe the rumours of Anthony’s sadistic sexual appetite. He was far too nice, too genteel, for such beastliness, protested Daphne in her book about the Bacon brothers, Golden Lads. In his absence Anthony’s brother, Francis, was busy trying to improve his own standing at court, despite the Cecil’s continued recalcitrance, but he was being hampered by his wayward brother, who insisted on selling property to pay off his creditors.

In 1593 Perez journeyed to England as an emissary from the King of France, and Elizabeth and Burghley had initially attempted to use him to their ends, with the queen chatting familiarly to him in his native Castilian, which she spoke with some fluency. Still looking for a patron to sell his secrets to, he lodged first with Anthony and then with Francis. His attempts to ingratiate himself with Burghley failed, but he was quickly snapped up by the Earl of Essex, who installed him in Essex House, where the Earl’s secretaries were enamored of his Pedacos de Historia o Relaciones, printed in London in 1594 under one of his fecund pseudonyms ‘Raphael Peregrino’. Perez cited Tacitus’ Histories to justify the Escovedo assassination, bewailed his own persecution, and praised the Aragonese uprising at Philip’s harsh dealings.

Tacitism was popular amongst Essex’s followers and they employed the services of Richard Field to print Perez’s Pedaco, although under a fake imprint and with Field’s dishonest proviso that he published the volume ‘with little knowledge of the Spanish language’. The earl’s secretariat saw Perez as the model tutor for the study of Tacitism, publishing his Relations in which Perez used his own mode of political inquiry to examine the tyrannical rule of the Spanish King, thus furthering the republican ideals of the Essex circle. Anthony Bacon, Essex’s foreign secretary, oversaw Arthur Atey’s English translation of Perez’s betrayal of the Spanish King, while Henry Wotton produced a synthesized English version. Antonio became the centre piece at Essex House, where he gained a reputation for his voluminous correspondence, which he wrote in Latin and Spanish, praising the members of Essex’s circle, and in particular the Lady Rich, on whom he lavished his prolix prose, writing to her in Spanish, and declaring her to be his muse. It is Antonio’s relationship with Francis Bacon that caused a flurry of letters from his mother, Anne Bacon, to Anthony, urging her sons to conduct themselves in a more appropriate manner and not to consort with ‘cormorant seducers’ like Perez, who shared Francis’ private rooms at Gray’s Inn, and Anne knew the two were committing ‘foul sins’. In a letter Perez wrote to Anthony Bacon, he implies that he and Francis have had a homosexual encounter;

Your brother invited me to dinner. He has wounded me in writing – his pen being the most rabid and biting of teeth. As if he himself were above blame – some kind of chaste vestal virgin. You can tell immediately what this imagined modesty of his is all about. For I am just the same. Those who claim to love modesty are in fact the most bold of men, and submit to force, and enjoy the excuse of being taken by force, like the Roman matron in Tacitus who consented to be raped by her lover.

There was no pulling the wool over Anne Bacon’s eyes, she wrote of her concerns to Anthony, ‘Though I pity your brother, yet so long as he pities not himself, but keepeth that bloody Perez, yea as a coach companion and bed companion, a proud, profane, costly fellow, whose being about him I verily fear the lord God doth mislike, and doth bless your brother in credit and otherwise in his health, surely I am utterly discouraged, and make conscience further to undo myself to maintain such wretches as he is, that never loved your brother but for his own credit, living upon him.’

It is Antonio Perez’ visit to Cambridge in February 1595 that provides the background setting for Love’s Labour’s Lost when the Earl of Essex and his circle descended on Cambridge for the B.A. Commencement celebrations. The itinerary for their three-day visit included academic discussions and the performance of several plays staged at Trinity and Queen’s, culminating with the awarding of honorary M.A. degrees on a dozen of Essex’s retinue, including Perez and the Venetian Merchant, Giovanni Battista Basadonna. Bassadonna was the Venetian republic’s agent at court and a nobleman with literary pretensions. He was, no doubt, one of the people who Lewes referred to for information he was gathering for his translation of Gasparo Contarini’s The Commonwealth of Venice.

Bassadona presided over his own miniature Venetian court in London, at which Anthony Bacon represented the Earl of Essex, allowing Perez to initiate his scheme to establish a spy network in Italy for the Earl, using Bassadona as their financial backer taking advantage of his large merchant fleet which sailed under the Venetian flag from the port of London. The character of Don Adriano de Armado is a direct parody of Antonio Perez, taking swipes at his letter writing, his linguistic peculiarities and aphorisms, and painting him as an archetypal Spanish braggart straight out of the Commedia dell’arte. Placing him at the court of Navarre, where the King, Ferdinand (although in reality the King of Navarre at that time was the future Henry IV of France) says of him;

Our court, you know, is haunted

With a refined traveller of Spain,

A man in all the world’s new fashion planted,

That hath a mint of phrases in his brain,

One who the music of his own vain tongue

Doth ravish like enchanting harmony,

A man of compliments, whom right and wrong

Have chose as umpire of their mutiny.

This child of fancy, that Armado hight,

For interim to our studies shall relate

In high born words the worth of many a knight

From tawny Spain, lost in the world’s debate.

How you delight, my lords, I know not, I,

But I protest I love to hear him lie,

And I will use him for my minstrelsy.

Love’s Labour’s Lost: I, i

If we are in any doubt that the person aimed at is Antonio Perez we need look no further than the London edition of his Pedacos de Historia o Relaciones, were we find inscribed the telling phrase ‘the worth of many a knight from tawny Spain, lost in the world’s debate’.

Anne Askew and The Rape of Lucrece


, , ,

askewAnne Askew was an English poet and Protestant who was persecuted as a heretic and earned the unfortunate fame of being the only woman on record tortured in the Tower of London – before the relief of being burnt at the stake. Born into a notable family in Stallingborough, Lincolnshire, the second daughter of Sir William Askew. When her elder sister died, her father forced Anne to marry her sister’s fiancé, Thomas Kyme, when she was just fifteen. Anne rebelled against her husband by refusing to adopt his surname and left her two children to go to London to preach against the doctrine of transubstantiation. When she returned her husband turned her out of the house and she went back to London to seek a divorce, justifying it from scripture (1 Corinthians, 7.15), on the grounds that her husband was not a believer. In London she preached sermons and distributed banned Protestant texts which led to her arrest and her husband was ordered to take her home to Lincolnshire, but Anne soon escaped and returned to London. She was arrested again, unwittingly caught up in a factional power struggle that waged in the Privy Council.

In 1540 Henry VIII had chosen to appoint two principal secretaries, Sir Ralph Sadleir, a devout Protestant, and Thomas Wriothesley, a Catholic; both men had grown up together in the household of Thomas Cromwell and Henry saw it as a convenient solution to the rift caused by the Reformation. Divisions still festered and by 1546 Thomas Wriothesley and Richard Rich were attempting to build a case against Catherine Parr and the Protestant party. Sir Anthony Kingston, Constable of the Tower of London, was ordered to torture Anne in an attempt to force her to name other Protestants. Before racking a prisoner it was customary to take them to the racking room were they would be shown the fate that awaited them if they didn’t talk. This was a tried and tested method for loosening the tongue without resort to the rack but as Anne was a woman it was deemed unwholesome for her to view men in such extremity and so, early one morning, she was taken straight from her cell to the lower room of the White Tower where the only rack in England awaited her. Kingston showed her the rack and asked her if she would name any that believed as she did. He obviously expected fear to overwhelm her, but Anne refused to name anyone. She was ordered to remove all her clothing, save her shift, and was then bound at the wrists and ankles to the dreadful machine. Sir Anthony Kingston was not a feint-hearted man, he was able to order the slitting of ten thousand throats, and, perhaps, now aware of the infamy that stained his character, he cited the precedent that no woman of noble birth had ever been tortured in the Tower before, refused to operate the rack and participate in the abominable act. He left Wriothesley and Rich to their evil deeds and went into hiding, although he was risking the king’s wrath and inevitable execution, he wrote to Henry VIII asking for a meeting at which he would explain his position and seek the king’s pardon. Despite Henry’s own record with women, he pardoned Kingston, but allowed the torture of Anne Askew to continue.

Anne’s own account, written in the Tower during her interrogation, makes harrowing reading. After Kingston left, Thomas Wriothesley and Richard Rich operated the rack themselves; the one barking at her, as she writhed in pain, to give up the names they wanted; the other twisting the wheel of the rack, one excruciating turn after another. Anne fainted with the pain and the two Privy Councilors had to remove her from the rack to revive her. Racking constricts the flow of blood to the hands and feet, causing bleeding from the nails, as well as popping bones from their joints. In the adjacent garden of the White Tower, the Lieutenant’s wife and daughter were taking the air, but the air today was heavy with the piteous cries of Anne Askew, and they were forced to return indoors and shut the windows.


Richard Rich


Thomas Wriothesley

The third time they removed her from the rack to revive her, the Lieutenant of the Tower, a man whose daily grind was the hideous torture of men, could stomach no more and went to complain to the King. Anne refused to name anyone, leaving Wriothesley and Rich in a sticky situation; they had been the first to torture a woman in the Tower of London; but to no effect. Anne Askew’s fruitless torture finally came to an end when the Lieutenant returned from the king with orders to return her to her cell. The conniving Privy Councilors had to cover their tracks and so they hurriedly convened a trial that resulted in an inevitable execution. Anne was unable to stand and had to be carried to execution in a chair, the guards were then ordered to drag her to the stake where a seat had been attached to support her frail body, which she was forced to sit astride while they bound her. Anne was burnt alongside two men whose screams began as soon as the fire licked at their feet, but it wasn’t until the flames reached above her waist that Anne Askew cried out. Many in the crowd, including Lady Jane Grey, marvelled at her courage as she went to heaven in a fiery chariot.

The author of The Rape of Lucrece is making a theological point with the choice of his characters which is highlighted throughout the plays, that point is one of religion, that a sin cannot be committed using Catholic absolution as an excuse; Sir Anthony Kingston was a man with limits, however barbarous those limits may appear to us; he was a man of war, appointed to take strong measures against a rebellion. In their attempt to depose the monarch, and return the country to the old religion, Thomas Wriothesley and Richard Rich exhibited a barbarity that went beyond the calling of their office. From this viewpoint we can see that the dedication of the poem, The Rape of Lucrece to the young Henry Wriothesley was a barbed reminder to the grandson of Thomas Wriothesley – a man who had tortured and burnt to death an innocent woman because his Catholic faith allowed him absolution – to choose his religion wisely, because, as the Protestants would have it, Thomas was wrong on this point of religion and had paid the ultimate price within four years, only conforming to the new religion on his deathbed.

Theatre directors attempting to stage Hamlet sense a missing scene between Hamlet and Ophelia that would explain the dynamic of their relationship, I think they would do well to imagine that the story of Tarquin and Lucrece completes the picture.

The First Night of Ur-Hamlet


, , , , , , ,

The original source for Hamlet is a 13th century text Amlethus which appeared in Gesta Danorum (Deeds of the Danes) by Saxo Grammaticus. Several Latin versions were printed in the 16th century and it was later translated into Italian by Matteo Bandello with a French translation by François de Belleforest published in 1570 who extended the text to twice the length of the original and introduced several elements that are found in the later Hamlet of 1602.

78205470An earlier version of the play, known as Ur-Hamlet, is thought to have been performed in the late 1580’s based on a comment by Thomas Nashe in his introduction to Robert Greene’s Menaphon (1589),

‘English Seneca read by candle light yields many good sentences, as Blood is a beggar, and so forth; and if you entreat him fair on a frosty morning, he will afford you whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls of tragical speeches’.

This mention of Hamlet, in the context of ‘tragical speeches’ immediately excites comparisons to the later play and the phrase ‘entreat him fair on a frosty morning’ appears to refer to the opening scene of the play and the appearance of the ghost of Hamlet’s father.

A play called Der bestrafte Brudermord oder: Prinz Hamlet aus Dännemark was performed at the official opening of Kronborg castle on Sunday, 13thJune, 1585, and it is this play which provides us with the lost Ur-Hamlet.

In 1582 the Duke of Anjou and Alençon had been in England soliciting for the queen’s hand and Peregrine Bertie was commissioned to escort the ‘little frog’ from Canterbury to Antwerp and in the summer months, when the crossing was easiest, he was sent to Denmark to invest Frederick II with the Order of the Garter. The Dane was a cultured but extravagant man, patron to the Astronomer, Tycho Brahe, but his love of alcohol would lead him to an early grave before the end of the decade. Arriving at Elsinore Castle on 22nd July, Peregrine was sumptuously entertained, all the while pressing his secret purpose to obtain an agreement protecting English merchant ships from being molested while in Danish waters, and, after several weeks of toasting and dancing, Bertie finally departed for England on 27th September.

The original play is now lost but the text survives in a single copy of 1710 which was first published in the periodical Olla Potrida in Berlin in 1781. The play was written in German by an anonymous author – apparently an Englishman as many English words are substituted for the German (eg. Castel instead of Schloss) and many Latin loan words are used that were not normally used in German.

Carl Nordling has pointed out several unique elements that make Prinz Hamlet undoubtedly the pre-cursor to our English Hamlet, and we do know that two of William Shakespeare’s ‘Ffellowes’ were among the company that performed at Elsinore that summer, and both were listed in First Folio among the other players who had performed in Shakespeare’s plays.

The unknown author was familiar with Danish constitutional law and the political situation circa 1583-6; Nordling highlights references to the Danish succession and a rebellion that was brewing in April, 1585. Some scholars have attempted to date the play later, to 1589, based on a line spoken by Hamlet ‘just send me off to Portugal, that I may never come back again,’ which is thought to be a reference to the disastrous English mission to Portugal in 1589, but as Nordling points out ‘the actual event behind these allusions is probably the death in 1578 of the English Captain Stucley when on duty in Portugal. The same allusion appears in an English play from about 1585, The First Part of Jeronimo and George Peele’s The Battle of Alcázar of 1590 also deals with this incident. Nordling notices that the plays prelude, which is based on the Senecan model, was a feature of some English dramas of the time, but did not appear in any contemporary German plays.

The dumb show (play-within-a-play) in Prinz Hamlet depicts a King murdered by poison, a feature also found in the first English tragedy Gorboduc written by Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville, Earl of Dorset, circa. 1561. It is possible that this Hamlet was written by Thomas Kyd, who had worked as secretary to the Earl of Sussex, or it may have been penned by Peregrine Bertie himself. The existence of this Hamlet in 1585 takes away much of William Shakespeare’s connection to the play. Carl Nordling notes that when the King tells Hamlet ‘We have determined to send you to England….so that you may cool down there somewhat, since the air is wholesomer, and may aid your recovery better than here’ this is a very English sentiment, and was not the continental opinion of English weather! Nordling concludes ‘So many allusions to English circumstances and such tangible influences from English usage cannot be pure coincidence. We are forced to assume that Prinz Hamlet was written in German by an Englishman.’

The German play contains two striking similarities to the first and second quartos of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in Q 1 we find the queen’s advisor is called Corambus, as he is in the German play, but he later becomes Polonius, and in Q 2 we have a second friend besides Horatio, who is called Francisco, who also appears in Prinz Hamlet and shares some of the dialogue later divided between Hamlet and Horatio. These two minor, but marked, differences are enough to conclusively prove the debt owed to Prinz Hamlet by the later Hamlet. Polonius is a caricature of Lord Burghley which is confirmed even in the German version, as Corambus appears to be a derivation from the Latin cor ambis meaning ‘double-hearted’, which seems to be taking a swipe at Lord Burghley’s own motto Cor unum, via una (one heart, one way). There are several differences between the two plays; the death of Ophelia has none of the poetry of the later version as she falls from a hill rather than drowning and the play lacks the famous gravedigger scene and the multiple deaths at the end – scenes which reflect on the events surrounding Mary, Queen of Scots death and the destruction of the Tudor line which allowed James VI accession to the English throne.

The Earl of Leicester’s attempts to woo Elizabeth and prove himself a worthy suitor gained some impetus when the queen appointed him commander of the English troops in the Netherlands in 1585, finally allowing her favourite and boon companion to prove his mettle at the head of an army. Elizabeth was in an awkward position, she had been offered sovereignty over the Dutch States if she provided them with protection against the Spanish, but this would lead to immediate war, a war she could ill-afford with continued trouble in Ireland, Scotland, as well as her support for Navarre all taxing her coffers. But the ‘grievous cruelty’ of the Spaniards could not be ignored. When the Duke of Parma took Antwerp – thereby destroying England’s cloth trade – she promised the States General that she would provide 5000 foot and 1000 horse, under a General of notable character. Elizabeth’s decision to protect the Netherlands led the King of Sweden to say that she ‘had now taken the Diadem from her head, and set it upon the doubtful chance of war’.

Leicester’s Men ceased touring in 1583 and it appears that the Earl’s patronage had shifted, as his household accounts only record payments to The Queen’s Men, a new troupe created for the queen by her Master of the Revels, Edmund Tilney. With his military success a foregone conclusion, Leicester set about enamoring his queen with a lavish gala week of parties, pageants, and plays held at Oxford, but Leicester was about to commit a grievous error of judgement by accepting the governance of the Dutch States, contrary to his express instructions from his queen.

Peregrine Bertie returned to Elsinore in the summer of 1585 on a mission to press the Danish King to aid Elizabeth and Henry of Navarre against the Spanish in the Low Countries. Peregrine wrote to Sir Francis Walsingham to complain about the cost of his embassy and begged for money to relieve his situation. After several weeks of badgering the Danish King, Bertie managed to convince Frederick to provide 2,000 horse to aid the English forces and to write a letter to Philip II asking him to retreat from the Low Countries. After ten weeks of hard negotiations, Peregrine set sail for England, by way of Hamburg, Emden and Amsterdam.

Upon the removal of the Earl of Leicester he was made General of the English forces in the United Provinces following the Battle of Zutphen, taking command of the army when Leicester was recalled by his irate monarch. Peregrine commanded well, winning respect for his actions in Flanders prior to the Armada, and the following year he went at the head of an auxiliary army to assist Henry of Navarre and the French Huguenots. He might have risen high as a courtier, but was wont to say that he ‘was none of the reptilia’; he therefore preferred a life of retirement.

It has also been suggested by Carl Nordling that the two female parts mentioned by Charles, the leader of the actors, could have been played by the King’s two daughters, Elizabeth and Anna. It is this Danish princess who would later marry James VI at a ceremony in Oslo on 23rd November 1589. During the couple’s nuptial celebrations James made four ‘negroes’ dance naked in the snow before the Royal carriage and the watching crowds, all of whom died within a few days from the cold. The couple stayed at Kronborg Castle in Elsinore before returning to Scotland in June 1590 and Anna would become Queen of England in 1603. Two of the male parts may have been acted by noble boys attending the Court, such as Frederik Rosenkrantz (1571-1602) and Knud Gyldenstierne (1575-1627) who both journeyed to England in 1592. It was under the patronage of Frederick II that Tycho Brahe undertook his observations of the stars that led to his discovery of Supernova 1572A (named after the year of its discovery) and his detailed observations of the Great Comet in 1577. This appears to be mentioned in the first act of Hamlet:

Last night of all,

When yond same star that’s westward from the pole

Had made his course to illume that part of heaven

Where now it burns

And later in the same scene Horatio says:

       As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,

       Disasters in the sun; and the moist star

       Upon whose influence Neptune’s empire stands

       Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse:

       And even the like precurse of fierce events,

       As harbingers preceding still the fates

       And prologue to the omen coming on,

       Have heaven and earth together demonstrated

       Unto our climatures and countrymen.

The comic actor William Kempe was a member of the newly augmented Leicester’s Men who accompanied the earl on his mission in the Low Countries. Kempe and his fellow actors arrived at Dunkirk on 15th November, while Leicester landed at Flushing on 10th December. As he made his progress to Utrecht, the actors heralded him with lavish pageants praising their noble lord and master, and here they performed The Forces of Hercules on 23rd April, ‘which gave great delight to the strangers’ and they then traveled on to Leiden and The Hague. The company of fifteen included Robert Browne, from Worcester’s Men and Robert Wilson who had left The Queen’s Men to join Leicester’s Men in the Netherlands, but despite these additions to his acting roster, the remainder of Leicester’s Men still continued to tour in England in his absence.

Sir Philip Sidney had sent letters home by ‘Will, my Lord of Lester’s jesting player’, sometimes thought to have been William Shakespeare, now proven to have been Kempe, who returned to England with Sidney’s letters (which he delivered to the wrong person!).

King Frederick’s love of English plays continued the following year when seven English actors performed at Elsinore, in August of 1586 Will Kempe and his lad ‘Daniel Johns’, accompanied by the fellow actors Leicester had recommended to Frederich II, Thomas Stephens, Thomas King, Robert Percy, George Bryan and Thomas Pope,[1] went on an embassy to the Castle of Elsinore.

Thomas Heywood, in An Apology for Actors (1612) reports, ‘at the entertainment of Cardinal Alphonsus and the Infanta of Spain into the Low Countries, they were presented at Antwerp, with sundry pageants and plays: the King of Denmark, father to him that now reigns, entertained into his service, a company of English Comedians, commended unto him by the Earl of Leicester.’

Cade’s Rebellion and the Lewkenors


, , , , , ,

I am indebted to Malcolm Mercer for his article Driven to Rebellion, published by the Sussex Archaeological Society, for the following information.

Henry IV’s most endearing character is Falstaff, a bumbling drunkard and a cowardly thief, the very figure of ‘Riot’ personified. The real Sir John Fastolf, of Caister in Norfolk, was an experienced soldier who had fought in all of Henry VI’s military campaigns in France, becoming governor of the province of Maine and Anjou, and a knight of the Garter. Bad handling of the army’s finances saw him replaced by John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, and Fastolf was sent back to England under a cloud. When he returned to the field on the 12th February 1429, he commanded the convoy for the English army before Orléans and went on to defeat the French and the Scots at the ‘Battle of the Herrings’. At Patay they ran into trouble and bad decisions by Talbot lost the day, Fastolf fled the field when it became obvious that they were being overrun, or so he claimed. Talbot and John Russell, Duke of Bedford, accused him of cowardice, and he was deprived of his Order of the Garter. Again Fastolf returned to England in disgrace, but an enquiry later cleared him and he was soon back in France. One of his servants later wrote of him, ‘cruel and vengible he hath been ever, and for the most part without pity and mercy’.[1] But there must have been something likeable about the old rogue, John Russell forgave him and trusted him, as did Richard of York, even though he was making a large profit from the war by supplying mercenaries. After his return to England at the age of sixty he was accused of diminishing the resources of the army while in command of the Normandy garrisons, causing the English possessions to be lost to the French, and it was this series of events that incited Jack Cade’s rebellion.

The Lewkenor family traces its roots back to the Norman invasion of 1066, originally spelt de Leuknore, they established themselves in Sussex where they formed part of the administrative elite as Justices, M.P.’s, Bailiffs and local government officers. We shall begin by examining Lewes Lewkenor’s family history in an attempt to establish his place in the Tudor hierarchy into which he was born.

Sir Thomas Lewkenor of Trotton had fought alongside Henry V at Agincourt and later served as sheriff of Surrey and Sussex, holding the post at the time of Black Jack Cade’s rebellion and although Cade had raised most of his rebels in Kent there were over four hundred Sussex men among the musters, which were carried out in many Hundreds with military efficiency organized by the local constables. Cade and his followers accused the king of cronyism, they blamed the loss of Normandy on the king’s ill health and sought a new and stronger monarch. The rebels marched on London and Henry VI was forced to flee his capital, which Cade and his men managed to hold for three days. Thomas Cooke, a London Draper, was Cade’s agent in the capital and from him were descended both Francis Bacon and Robert Cecil who will feature throughout our story.[2] Cade was no sooner in control of London than he succumbed to the lure of tyranny, striking his sword on London stone, he proclaimed himself Mayor of the City. At the beginning of June Humphrey and William Stafford were slain. William Stafford’s wife, Katherine, would later marry Sir Roger Lewkenor and their deaths are mentioned in Henry VI, pt. 2:

       Sir Humphrey Stafford and his brother’s death

       Hath given them heart and courage to proceed:

Henry VI, part II: IV, iv

The portrayal of the rebellion in Henry VI, pt.2 is a travesty of the honest grievances that the rebels expressed and it is obvious that the author of Henry VI is not in agreement with their cause, but the vicious murder of Lord Say and his son-in-law William Crowmer, Sheriff of Kent, goes to show the extent to which a mob will commit barbarous acts. Cade and his men were eventually routed at London Bridge and forced to escape the city into Sussex. The king issued a pardon, delivered by the Cardinal Archbishop of York, John Kempe, son of Lady Beatrix Lewknor, herself the daughter of Sir Thomas Lewkenor:[3] Cade refused to submit and a price of 1000 Marks was placed on his head, ‘disguised in a strange attire, he privily fled into the wood country, beside Lewes in Sussex, hoping to escape’. Hot on his heels was the newly appointed Sherriff of Kent, Alexander Iden, who caught up with him at Heathfield on 12th July, 1450. Iden took Cade hiding in a garden (Henry VI, p. II, Act IV, sc. x) and wounded him so severely that the rebel did not survive the cart ride to London. It is possible that Cade was seeking aid from Thomas Dacre of Bailey Park, Heathfield, in whose service he had been, while Alexander Iden had grown up on the Lewkenor estate at Iden where the church of All Saint’s still bears their coat of arms. The arrival of Cade’s rebellion in Sussex sparked off a second wave of unrest, a group of local men took up Cade’s demands, threatening to kill the king and place twelve of the rebels in control. Sir Thomas Lewkenor was later rewarded for his efforts to rout these rebels.[4] Representing the county in the parliaments of 1422 and 1425, we find Thomas serving as a squire in the royal household by the 1440’s, alongside his brother, Richard Lewkenor of Brambletye, but he disappears from the Wardrobe books after 1445, when he was rewarded with the appointment of forester of Batales Bailly in Windsor Forest. The first recorded instance of the legend of Herne the Hunter occurs in The Merry Wives of Windsor but there are no known references in any earlier sources;

       There is an old tale goes that Herne the hunter,

       Sometime a keeper here in Windsor forest,

       Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight,

       Walk round about an oak, with great ragg’d horns;

Merry Wives of Windsor: IV, iv

Sir Thomas had four sons, and at least two of them served Margaret of Anjou, who Shakespeare calls ‘the she-wolf of France’. Margaret had been taken prisoner along with Joan of Arc and placed in the custody of the Earl of Suffolk, who had fallen in love with the beautiful young princess. Being married himself he decided to make her his paramour by marrying her off to Henry VI and manipulating the realm through her. Walter Lewkenor was a squire in the household of Queen Margaret during the early 1450’s while his elder brother, Sir Roger Lewkenor of Trotton, chose not to enter royal service, but was knighted at Greenwich on 5th January 1450, during the same ceremony as Edmund and Jasper Tudor, half-brothers to Henry VI. Sir Roger may have been a Lancastrian as his son later fought on their side. If so, the Lewkenors loyalty was put to the test when Edward of York took the crown.

In 1462 John Lewkenor was charged to arrest ‘certain persons who wander about the counties of Surrey and Sussex with masked and painted faces’, and secondly, to make an inquisition into the Duke of Norfolk’s lands in Surrey and Sussex. In May 1471 Sir John Lewkenor of West Grinstead in Sussex was killed fighting for Queen Margaret with the Lancastrian forces at Tewkesbury. In a hard fought encounter, Sir John, who had probably been knighted on the eve of the battle, was just one of a number of Lancastrian supporters left dead on the battlefield. It is a point of interest for our research to note that this episode is described in Henry VI, but the play leaves the action as the heat of the battle is about to rage and we are required to go to The Chronicles of Hall and Holinshed to find out what happened;

The Chronicles, Holinshed, v.iii p.320

In the winning of the camp, such as stood to it were slain out of hand. Prince Edward was taken as he fled towards the town, by Sir Richard Crofts, and kept close. In the field and chase were slain, the lord John of Summerset, called marquess Dorset, Thomas Courtney Earl of Devonshire, Sir John Delves, Sir Edward Hampden, Sir Robert Whitingham, and Sir John Leukener, with three thousand others.


Margaret of Anjou later took refuge in Tutbury Castle in Warwickshire which she had strengthened and from where she was able to seize back the crown from the usurper Edward; this same castle also served as a gaol for Mary, Queen of Scots, and therefore would have excited comparisons in the minds of the audience with Mary’s stronger claim to the English throne. Margaret was a strong female monarch who had to seize power in order to stabilize the realm, a subject that would have displeased Queen Elizabeth, as Mary, Queen of Scots, was at that time attempting to repeat the very same story. Margaret appears across four of Shakespeare’s plays – the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III – given more lines than any other leading female part, she is a terrifying representation of a woman scorned. Another Sir John Lewkenor attended Richard III and Queen Anne at their coronation on the 6th of July 1483. On this historic occasion his cousin, Thomas Lewkenor, Lord of Goring, was made a Knight of the Bath while his brother, Richard Lewkenor of Brambletye, also adhered to Richard III; but their nephew, Thomas Lewkenor of Bodiam and Trotton, took part against the Yorkists, assembling men-at-arms to assist the Earl of Richmond after his landing and making traitorous proclamations. His castle at Bodiam was besieged and taken by the crown, confiscated in the first year of Richard III’s reign along with his other estates; although his lands were restored by Henry VII the Lewkenors were never again to reside at Bodiam.[5]

At Christmas, 1505, Sussex records show twelve pence ‘paid to reward Mr. Lewkenor players’ but we know no other facts of this entry. A darker story grabs our attention two years later when ‘a Sussex gentleman, Roger Lewkenor, was indicted for murder at Horsham on 13th July 1507,’ in a deal brokered by Edmund Dudley, Roger paid the king £200 for his pardon. Dudley had acquired all of Roger’s land by 1509, and it seems from the details of the court case that he felt he deserved recompense for helping him escape a prison sentence, “Who paid for his meat and drink while he was in prison and such fees as belonged to the officers of the prison; And for such apparel as he had new made for him when he was delivered out of prison; Item who got him his charter; And what his charter cost; And who paid for it; who paid the fees and charges when he pleaded his charter; And who agreed with the heir of the man that was murdered?” In his Will Edmund Dudley instructed his executors to allow Roger to buy back his lands.[6]

Another branch of the Lewkenor family provides us with Edward Lewkenor, who served in the house of Thomas Howard, 3rd Earl of Norfolk. Norfolk’s intrigues against his archenemy, Cardinal Wolsey, and his successful manipulation of the king through the introduction of his niece, Ann Boleyn, form the story of the play Henry VIII.

Second Gentleman: And that my Lord of Norfolk?

First Gentleman: Yes;

Second Gentleman: Heaven bless thee!

Henry VIII. IV, I

Edward first appears in the records in December 1545 when he was arrested for fighting with the Earl’s treasurer, Thomas Hussey, near the palace of Westminster, and the pair were committed to the Fleet prison.[7] The story of Norfolk’s intrigue to depose Thomas Cromwell from his place at Henry VIII’s side forms the basis for the apocryphal Shakespearean play, Thomas, Lord Cromwell. The provocative behaviour of Norfolk’s son, Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, towards the king, caused the pair to be arrested. Surrey lost his head in 1547 while Norfolk was kept in the Tower. Henry Howard and his friend Thomas Wyatt were two of the greatest poets that England had ever produced, their development of the Sonnet form would later pass to Sidney, Spenser and Shakespeare, but both were executed by Henry VIII and a wise man following in their footsteps would have chosen to publish anonymously.

After the fall of Norfolk, Edward Lewkenor inherited some of his estates in Sussex and he married Dorothy, the daughter of his guardian, Robert Wroth. But within two years Edward was implicated in a conspiracy led by Sir Henry Dudley, who asked him to get his hands on a copy of Henry VIII’s will in an attempt to prove the queen’s illegitimacy. Edward was arrested, tried at the Guildhall, and sentenced to death for treason, but his execution was deferred and he died before his pardon could be issued, and thus his son, Edward, was restored in blood in March 1559.

During the reign of Henry VIII Lewes’ great-grandfather, Sir Richard Lewkenor, had been granted the lease of Selsey Park ‘for three lives’ and his grandson, Thomas Lewkenor, had leased the adjacent Selsey Grange from the Crown. The Lewkenor family demonstrates the religious rift caused by Henry VIII’s reformation of the Roman Catholic Church as well as any family we may choose to look at. This schism tore many families apart, and the three sons of Edmund Lewkenor of Fyning were typical examples of the religious divide; Richard, the eldest, was an eminent lawyer and a stout anti-papist; Thomas (the father of our subject), who served as M.P. for Midhurst in 1586, was an ardent Papist; and the youngest, Edmund, was tutor to the Jesuit priest John Gerard at Oxford. Edmund must have seen something special in his pupil; when Gerard’s education finished his tutor followed him home to continue his instruction and the pair visited Rome together in the 1580’s.

[1] Paston Letters and Papers of the fifteenth century, V i. P.389

[2] Illustrations of Jack Cade’s Rebellion, from researches in the Guildhall records. Benjamin Brogden Orridge. 1869. P. Preface, V.

[3] ibid. P. 74

[4] PRO. E404/68/137

[5] Sussex Arch. Col. v.ix / Rot. Parl. iv. p.245

[6] Dr Steven Gunn of Merton College, Oxford, from his unpublished book on Henry VII’s new men and the making of Tudor England.

[7] HOP. Edward Lewkenor.

The Droeshout engraving and Lewes Lewkenor


, ,

The famous portrait of William Shakespeare that graces the First Folio was provided by Martin Droeshout, a London engraver who was originally from Brabant, but why did the compilers of the folio chose Droeshout? By the time he came to make his engraving William Shakespeare had not been seen in the city for a decade and was seven years dead, so it is impossible for the two men to have met.


Martin’s father, Michael Droeshout, had trained in Brussels as a copper engraver and came to London in 1590. As a foreign craftsman he was subject to stringent regulations and forced to join the Goldsmith’s Company in 1617, but he was ‘paid nothing quia pauper’. Meanwhile Martin became a freeman of the Painter-Stationers’ Company and was called upon to produce the famous engraving of William Shakespeare in 1622.

The quality of the work has rightly been ridiculed, the head is too large for the body and the cartoonish face seems to float above, resting on the platter of the unusual ruff. The ruff is shovel shaped and seems to have seperated the head from the unusual body. In 1911 the engraving was shown to The Tailor & Cutter and The Gentleman’s Tailor in order to fathom the bizarre doublet, their conclusions were identical: the doublet comprised a front view and back view of only the left arm. So we have a bloated cartoonish head floating above the representation of a single left arm, what could this signify?

If Lewes Lewkenor was the author, then perhaps the clue is pointing to our one armed Master of the Ceremonies?

Lewes Lewkenor lost his right arm while fighting for the Spanish Catholics in the Low Countries, a letter found in the Brussels archives pleading poverty in 1587 gives us some details,

‘Remonstrance with humility Captain, Loys Lewkenor, Englishman, since the banishment from his homeland and the confiscation of his property and whole means, because he followed the catholic church, apostolic and Roman, now has to his whole nation become manifestly notorious: he is so employed in the service of her Majesties government, besides several grievous injuries he has received, the lingering illness and the crippling of his right arm and hand’.[1]

Lewes Lewkenor and Michael Droeshout both arrived in London from Brussels in 1590, and so there is a possibility the two men were acquainted, the timing is synchronous, at least. The fact that they had been in Brussels and London at the same time certainly gives us ground to suggest that if they met they would have had enough in common to trigger an acquaintance.

After his injury Lewkenor’s friends urged him to continue writing, so we may assume that he was left-handed as he wrote several letters in the aftermath of his injury, including the lengthy treatise published as The Estate of English Fugitives in 1594.

At some point Lewkenor had his arm amputated as Robert Dallington laments in his dedicatory poem prefaced to Lewkenor’s translation of The Resolved Gentleman in 1594.

Inforced cause unfeigned love, prove both constraint in me,

to raise my muse (oh worthless muse) to sing the worth of thee:

But what I sing is what I see, what I assured ever,

Hopes of your friends are springing still,

Sweet Lewes do still persevere.

And though nor arms (oh loss of arm),

Nor muses now are minded, despair not friend,

men worthy know, that now the time is blinded.  

Robert Dallington

James I knighted Lewkenor and created the post of the Master of the Ceremonies especially for him. He wore a gold medallion of office that represented peace on one face with the motto ‘Beati pacifici’ (Blessed are the peacemakers)[2] and on the other an emblem of war with the motto ‘Dieu et mon droit’ (God and my right). Another translation is ‘God and my right hand’, a fitting pun for a man whose right-hand had been destroyed in the wars and who was to be the King’s right-hand man.[3]

The balding pate and rounded bush of hair above the ears bares some resemblance to the bust of the Stratford monument, so we may be sure we are looking at the same man, William Shakespeare, the actor. But the face in the engraving has the double-edge of a mask, decapitated by the gravedigger’s shovel, (‘Alas, poor Shaxspere’!) while below, a coded representation of a left-arm hangs in space like a question mark.

[1] Archives Generales du Royuame, Brussels, Papiers D’ete et du Audience-  A.G.R, P.E.A 1830/3 n.f. depositions of 9 and 13th of Feb. 1587; 23rd July 1588.

[2] For blessed are the peacemakers on earth. Henry VI, part II: II, i

[3] Come on my right hand, for this ear is deaf, and tell me truly what thou think’st of him. Julius Caesar: I, ii


The Moor at Elizabeth I’s Court


, , , ,

In the year 1600 an embasy arrived on the shores of England from Barbary (modern day Morocco). The leader of the party was Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud, a fantastical figure resplendent in black robes, white cotton chemise and turban, with his golden scimitar flashing at his side as he strode the quayside in his fantastically curled slippers.

Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud ben Mohammed Anoun

Elizabeth, ‘Sultana Isabel’, wrote friendly letters to Mulay Ahmad al-Mansur, who in turn tried to woo her into an alliance against Spain by offering his support for the planned expedition to place Don António on the Portuguese throne. Al-Mansur had beaten the Portuguese at the battle of Ksar El Kebir, where the death of his brother had left him King, and this was later the subject of a play by George Peele The Battle of Alcazar which was being performed in 1593 by Lord Strange’s Men and had recently been revived by The Lord Chamberlain’s Men between 1598-1600.

Al-Mansur had built a magnificent palace for himself Al Baadi ‘the marvelous’ in Marrakech, from where he instructed his ambassador to offer 150, 000 ducats and military assistance in return for English support against his Muslim neighbours, but the queen chose to keep the relationship to a trading partnership, supplying English guns to the Muslims much to the annoyance of Rome. The Portuguese expedition failed, but trade continued, and good relations were fostered between the two countries, although Elizabeth petitioned al-Mansur for the return of nine prisoners from the Low Countries.

Al-Mansur continued to seek an alliance, and, following the Earl of Essex successful raid on Cadiz in 1597, he dispatched his secretary, Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud, on a secret embassy to the English Court. The plan he was to put to the queen was an audacious one, the complete conquest of Spain and the division of the Indies. Under the guise of a trading party the group of sixteen ‘Barbarians’ set out in the scorching summer heat on their voyage north aboard The Eagle, each issued with a passport by the queen, and escorting the nine returned prisoners, a good-will gesture on behalf of al-Mansur. On 8th August 1600, the embassage arrived at Dover, Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud.

Abdul Guahid, as the English called him, was forty-two years old, an experienced secretary and a man who knew his position. His portrait shows an imposing figure, a slightly furrowed brow and a half smile hint at his intelligence, and a wry sense of humour; but the artist has given us another message, a religious one; the figure stands with his hand on his right breast, not on his heart, while his left hand points to the ground; he is untrue and will go to hell. George Tomson described him as ‘a natural Moor born’ although he was a Fessian, which ‘the natural borne Moor holdeth baseness’. Tomson found him conceited, a man who would flatter to deceive, which he seems to have managed, as Tomson complained ‘Here it is so secret that none knoweth the ground of their going’. He was accompanied by two merchants, whose business in Aleppo was the cover for their journey, the older of the two, al Hage Messa, had fallen into disgrace with al-Mansur for hiding two Balas rubies he had purchased abroad and had been sent on the mission as a punishment, his younger assistant was al Hage Bahanet.

The interpreter for the party was Abd el-Dodar, an Andalusian by birth ‘of more sense than all the rest and a very honest man’ who had been a soldier in Italy, he would speak Italian to the queen, although he normally spoke Spanish. The ambassador also spoke some Spanish, but only to inferiors. The queen would require her own interpreter to provide the English. A group of merchants met them at Gravesend on 14th August and accompanied them into London on the following evenings tide. The Moors were to be entertained ‘without scandal, and for that purpose they are lodged in a house apart, where they feed alone.’ The sixteen ambassadors arrived in London ‘very strangely attired and behaviored’ as Rowland White put it in his regular dispatch to Robert Sidney.

The Moroccans eventually received an audience with the queen at Nonsuch Palace on 19th with Lewes Lewkenor performing the role of Spanish interpreter.Lewes Lewkenor had been hard at work on his translation of The Commonwealth of Venice and by early 1599 the volume was in preparation for the press. The influence of his translation on both The Merchant of Venice (1598) and Othello (1603) can only be satisfactorily explained if William Shakespeare had read Lewkenor’s manuscript. But it is Lewkenor who is present at the meeting between the Barbary ambassador and the queen, the most significant example of a group of Muslims visiting England and behaving as Muslims, and it is from this visit that the character of Othello appears to have been drawn. Lewes Lewkenor had served as a captain in the Low Countries under Baptista del Monte, who was the current General of the Venetian Republic, the position held by the fictional Othello, which completes a compelling picture with Lewes Lewkenor at the centre.

‘The Ambassador of Barbary had audience upon Wednesday last; here was a royal preparation, with the manner of his receiving; rich Hangings and Furnitures sent for from Hampton Court; the Guard was very strong, in their rich Coates; the Pensioners with their axes; the Lords of the Order with their collars; a full court of Lords and Ladies. He passed through a Guard of Halberds to the Counsel Chamber, where he rested; he was brought to the presence, so to the Privy Chamber, and so to the Gallery; where her Majesty sat at the further end in very great State, and gave him Audience. Mr. Lewkner was interpreter for the Spanish tongue; but here they departed, the Interpreter of the Embassy spoke in Italian, and desired to deliver some thing in private, which her Majesty granted. On which Mr. Lewkner and the Lords removed further off. It is given out, that they come for her Majesty letters from the Turk, to whom a brother of this King of the Barbary’s is fled, to complain against him.’

‘At the end of his Audience, her Majesty for a little further grace to the States Agent, caused him to be present, and so she received [the nine captives] of the Barbarian with one hand, she gave them to him with the other.’ Messaoud requested another audience on 31st August, apparently anxious to secure their departure, perhaps he found living among the infidels distasteful, the party were known to be slaughtering their own animals behind closed doors at their lodgings. He was admitted to the royal presence on 10th September at Oatlands amidst great secrecy, as Rowland White informed Cecil, the matter of the Moors ‘hath been very secretly handled, which hath not yet come to light’ but White had a clue, ‘it is supposed, that he makes good offers to her Majesty, if she will be pleased to aid him with shipping, for his ports, to conduct in safety some treasure he hath by mines, in part of the Indies conquered by him, which now he is forced to carry by land, and to maintain an army to safe-conduct it, and sometimes it is taken from him by force.’

John Chamberlain wrote to Dudley Carleton on 15th October ‘The Barbarians take their leave sometime this week, to go homeward, for our merchants nor mariners will not carry them into Turkey, because they think it a matter odious and scandalous to the world to be friendly or familiar with Infidels but yet it is no small honour to us that nations so far removed and every way different should meet here to admire the glory and magnificence of our Queen of Sheba.’ A week later he wrote again, ‘The Barbarians were yesterday at Court to take their leave and will be gone shortly; but the eldest of them, which was a kind of priest or prophet, hath taken his leave of the world and is gone to prophecy apud infernos and to seek out Mahound their mediator.’

The Lord Mayor of London wrote to Cecil ‘I have thought good, before the departing of the Barbary Ambassador, to let your honour understand that, upon your honours letters for repayment, I have caused to be delivered unto Captain Primme, at sundry times, the sum of 230 towards the defraying of the Ambassadors charges, which will not discharge all that is owing. And Mr. Ratcliff, in whose house he is lodged, expecteth some consideration for the use of his house, and spoil made by them.’ The Ambassador and his party were entertained on Queen’s day at Whitehall where a special place was built to house them to view the triumph. Stow observed that the Barbarians, ‘Notwithstanding all this kindness shown them together with their diet and all other provisions for six months space wholly at the queen’s charges, yet such was their inveterate hate unto our Christian religion and estate as they could not endure to give any manner of alms, charity, or relief, either in money or broken meat, unto any English poor, but reserved their fragments and sold the same unto such poor as would give most for them,’ and he continued ‘during their half years abode in London…used all subtleties and diligence to know the prices weights measures and kinds of differences in such commodities as either there country sent hither or England transported thither. They carried with them all sorts of English weights measures and samples of commodities.’ Stow also hinted that the interpreter, Abd el-Dodar, had been poisoned upon their return to Barbary, because he ‘commended the estate and bounty of England’. The Ambassador took with him one John Roiliffe, a learned man, and Richard Edwards, an apothecary, to serve al-Mansur.

At the end of his six-month embassy, Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud had managed to secure several lucrative trade agreements, but no solid military backing for the attempt on Spain. The queen found the idea ridiculous, past hurts in France had proved that even if the conquest was a success, holding the country against the French would be impossible, and if the attempt failed, a weakened Spain would open the door to a French invasion and so diplomatically she declined al-Mansur’s alliance. The queen required an advance payment of 100, 000 ducats to provide a fleet, and al-Mansur asked that a Tall ship be sent to collect it.

Perhaps we can judge the true affect of this embassy by a decree issued by the Privy Council soon after the departure of Messaoud for the deportation of ‘Negars and Blackamoores’, the affect of which had disastrous consequences for the nation, as it brought about reconciliation between Barbary and Spain.

Twelfth Night at the Middle Temple, 1602.


, , , , , ,

Lewes Lewkenor and the Shirley Brothers

Twelfth Night was performed at court in January 1601 for the entertainment of the visiting Duke of Bracchiano, Don Virginio Orsino, who was attended by the Master of the Ceremonies, sir Lewes Lewkenor. The second (but first recorded) performance occurred at the newly-built Middle Temple hall at Candlemass 1602 and had added legal jokes tailored for the audience of lawyers. The treasurer of the Inn, John Shirley, was vying for a promotion to Serjeant-at-Law and as part of his campaign to win the post he hosted a lavish celebration by staging Twelfth Night. This key piece of information tells us that the play was actually commissioned for a specific occasion with the writer having foreknowledge of his audience.

The Shirleys, like the Lewkenors, were established in Sussex where they served as local Justices and negotiated the winding stair of courtly advancement. [2] The connection between Lewes Lewkenor and the treasurer, John Shirley, is attested by their selection to sit on a committee in June 1604, ‘The Bill for the Frustrating of a Release, unduly procured by Edmund Penning…committed to Sir Lewis Lewknor, Sir John Shirley..etc.’. According to Antonio Foscarini, the Venetian Ambassador, Lewes claimed to be related to the Shirley brothers, although I have been unable to turn up any direct link, the intermarriage of Sussex families would account for some connection.

Mention is made of Sir Hugh Shirley in I Henry IV who had fought for the king at Shrewsbury,

PRINCE HENRY: The spirits of valiant Shirley, Stafford, Blunt, are in my arms.

King Henry IV, part I: V, v

There were two distinct branches of the family in Sussex although distantly related they considered each other cousins and the family lines were reunited in 1595 by the marriage of the Treasurer’s nephew, John Shirley, and Jane Shirley, sister to the two famous brothers, Anthony and Robert. The Shirley brothers were followers of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, who sent them to Italy in 1598 with a group of volunteers to aid the Duke of Ferrarra’s son in his war with the Pope, but the dispute was over by the time they arrived so they continued to Venice where Anthony converted to Catholicism and borrowed large sums of money from English merchants in the name of the Earl of Essex to fund his onward journey to visit the Shah of Persia, Abbas the Great, known as the Sophy. En route they travelled through Crete, Cyprus, Tripoli, Aleppo, and Baghdad raising money to aid the Persians in their war with the Turks. They found Abbas at Qazvin and on arrival the brother’s trained the Shah’s army in modern warfare and helped them achieve their first major victory which endeared them to the Shah, who made Anthony a Mirza or prince and they also negotiated a trading agreement for all Christian traders.

Anthony was dispatched to Europe as the Shah’s ambassador while Robert and fourteen others remained behind for several years as the Shah’s nominal prisoners.

While he enjoyed the sights of Rome one of Anthony’s party had already arrived back in London and in 1600 an anonymous account A True Report of Sir Anthony Sherley’s Journey was published in London and then again in 1601 by Ralph Blore for John Jaggard but on both occasions the pamphlet was suppressed as the printers had failed to secure the proper permission.
In 1601 William Parry (not to be confused with the English courtier and spy) published an enlarged account The True Report of Sir Anthony Shirley’s Journey, ensuring the adventures of the two brothers at the court of the Sophy was hot on everyone’s lips.

Anthony was given a pension on 30 000 crowns from Shah Abbas, and so the placing of references to the Sophy in Twelfth Night suggests that they were of particular interest to an Inns of Court audience who would have been aware of their Treasurer’s intrepid relatives.

FABIAN: I will not give my part of this sport for a pension

of thousands to be paid from the Sophy. Twelfth Night: II, v

TOBY BELCH: Why, man, he’s a very devil; I have not seen such a

firago. I had a pass with him, rapier, scabbard and

all, and he gives me the stuck in with such a mortal

motion, that it is inevitable; and on the answer, he

pays you as surely as your feet hit the ground they

step on. They say he has been fencer to the Sophy.

Twelfth Night: III, iv


Sir Robert Shirley by Sir Anthony van Dyck. 1622

Meanwhile, Robert was enjoying his stay at the exotic Persian court, he fell in love with the daughter of a Safavid prince, Sampsonia Khan,[3] whom he wed in 1607. The Shah dispatched him on an embassy to unite a confederacy of European princes against the Turks which saw him follow a similar to route to his brother, arriving in Spain in December 1609.

The Venetian ambassador in Spain reported, ‘The Persian Ambassador, who is brother of Don Anthony Shirley, now cruising with the Sicilian galleys, arrived in Alcalà twenty days ago. He went to Aranjuez to kiss hands, and three days ago he arrived at Madrid. He is lodged and fed at the royal charges. At his first audience he presented credentials from the King of Persia, and said he came on purpose to inform his Majesty of the great Persian victories, of the size of the territory which the Persian has recently won from the Turk, that its revenue amounted to six millions of gold. He urged the King of Spain to join the Persian in attacking the Turk.[4]

By 1611 he was back in London with his Persian princess and their new-born son in tow. Court gossip warned that ‘he wears as I understand a Turban on his head’.[5]

Antonio Foscarini wrote to the Doge and Senate, ‘On Saturday morning Lewkenor came to fetch me and accompany me to Hampton Court and back to London. I received marks of special favour. The question of Shirley’s audience came up. He claims to be admitted as Ambassador of the King of Persia. After many difficulties the Earl allowed him to have audience and agreed that he should go as he chose, though at first the Persian dress was vetoed. Lewkenor did all he could to help Shirley, who is a relation.’[6]

Shirley had his first audience at Hampton Court on 1st October, where he presented his credentials from the Sophy of Persia. He was well received by King James, much to the chagrin of his friends in Spain and his business propositions in the Levant had made him enemies amongst the Levant merchants. Gossip of the day suggests that his audiences with the king eventually fell on deaf ears. He served many years as a Persian Ambassador and died in 1628 at Cazbyn, Persia. His wife, Lady Teresia retired to Rome after his death.


Teresia, Lady Shirley, by Sir Anthony van Dyck.

[1] Shakespeare and the Prince of Love: The Feast of Misrule in the Middle Temple. 2000.

[2] ‘Shurley was appointed to 56 committees, made five recorded speeches and delivered three reports in the 1604-10 Parliament. On 22 March 1604 he moved for privilege to be granted to Sir Thomas Shirley I, whose daughter had married Sir John Shurley and who had been returned for Steyning only to be arrested for debt shortly before Parliament met. Five days later Shurley was named to a committee to consider the case. As a serjeant-at-law, Shurley was entitled to attend the committee for the continuance or repeal of expiring statutes that was named on 24 March. http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1604-1629/member/shurley-john-1546-1616

[3] She became known as Lady Teresia Sampsonia Shirley.

[4] Girolamo Soranzo, Venetian Ambassador in Spain, to the Doge and Senate. Madrid, 14th February, 1609.

[5] See Winwood, Memorials III. 104.

[6] Antonio Foscarini, Venetian Ambassador in England, to the Doge and Senate. London, 14th October, 1611.