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by Trixie the Cat

Brothers and Sisters of The Shakespeare Code

Tomb Raiders, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu….


….and Laura Croft…

laura croft

Sorry! Your Cat meant Laura Matthias…

laura m

……..have done a magnificent job!

They have managed to persuade the Ecclesiastical Authorities to let them open the Southampton Family Vault….

…..and they presented their findings last night to a packed and excited audience in St. Peter’s Church, Titchfield, Hampshire.

A slide show was part of the presentation, but because of the sensitive nature of the material – many dead bodies – photography was forbidden.

So Your Cat will have to fall back on her descriptive powers….

Now the fact is that most of what The Tomb Raiders discovered is actually in the public domain.

But legend has long shrouded the truth – and the truth really did set us free, last night, in a shocking way.

The tomb was last opened in the 1950s when a Visiting Preacher fell through the floor – and the whole structure of the Church had to be stabilised.

The Vicar of St. Peter’s at the time – Norman Miller – gave an honest account of what he saw in the vault:

Fifteen to twenty great lead coffins, piled one on top of each other, the lower ones being in a poor state of preservation.

This tallies with a description by William Pavey in 1719 – when the vault was still being used….

[The bodies are] in lead coffins or wrapped in lead with inscribed plates indicating their identities and dates of death.

The last internment was made in 1737 and the tomb was sealed. Around 1899 the vault was opened by the Victorians, who had no qualms in taking of the lids of the coffins and reporting that the bodies had been embalmed.

This lead to a journalistic caprice in 1950.

Our Chief Agent, Stewart Trotter, came across a 1950 newspaper article stored in the Winchester Record Office, describing how the lids of the coffins had been taken off – and the bodies found swimming in the purest honey – perfectly preserved.

This story turned into fact – and was included in Church Literature and Guides.

So you can imagine the consternation last night which followed Laura’s photo of the contents of the vault…

….lumpen lead coffins, falling apart, imploding, thrust, higgledy-piggledy and disrespected, into the left corner of the vault.

If the vault had been in this condition when Mary Browne died she wouldn’t have asked to be placed ‘as near as may be’ to her beloved husband: she would have asked to be thrown in his general direction. 

And there is evidence that the vault was always a touch chaotic. It seems to have been a general, public vault, commandeered by the Southampton family.

They built their memorial ‘tomb’ away from the East Wall……


– and, under a slab of stone in front of the tomb, built a stairway and brick passsageway which led to the old vault which may or may not have contained bodies from other families.  

Rev. Norman Miller bricked up the entry to the old vault and removed the Tudor steps down to the crypt. He must have thought that was that.

But it certainly wasn’t. The Tomb Raiders now want to identify the bodies. They have smashed down Miller’s brick wall and re-built the steps.

But DNA tests have been forbidden by the Authorities, so only two bodies have been ‘confirmed’:

  1. Elizabeth Vernon….

eliz vernon old


….who became the wife of Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton….

Harry Southampton old.

2. James Wriothesley, Lord Wriothesley, the son of the Third Earl, who died of dysentery at the age of nineteen, five days before his father. They were onn a military campaign in the Lowlands.

The Tomb Raiders have not identified any remains yet of Mary Browne….



……BUT they do have one the ‘inscribed plates’ William Pavey described in 1719 with Mary’s name on it.

So it seems that her son DID respect her dying wish and allowed her into the family vault.

BUT we don’t know if she or her coffin are still there.

So, as Your Cat said at the beginning…..

Mary Browne’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave. And doesn’t.

Just call me Schrodinger’s Cat!

‘Bye, now!



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A Reminder from Trixie the Cat!


Just a couple of days to Lord Montagu’s talk on the Southampton tomb on Monday!
For Your Cat, the big question is whether Mary Southampton’s coffin was placed ‘as near as may be’ near to her first husband, the Second Earl of Southampton.
Her son, Henry, Third Earl of Southamton. was busy in Titchfield at the time trying to establish industry in the area – and he had never got on with his mother.
In fact Mary went as far as to say that her son ‘never was kind to me’ – and that he had been ‘unnatural and undutiful’.
Mary had married Thomas Heneage in 1594 – but he had died soon afterwards. She went on to a third marriage with William Harvey – who was little older than her son – and the third Earl was furious that she intended to go ahead with the ceremony while he was in jail, for angering the Queen with his own marriage to Elizabeth Vernon.
Mary – when she made her plea in her will to be interred near her first husband –  made Harry a gift of sixteen loose diamonds to be set into a George of gold for him to wear in memory of her – and the ‘best’ part of her goods – if not the ‘most’ which she left to her new husband.
Did the bribe work?
Was she placed near her first husband?
Was her body even placed in the tomb?
Lord Montague will reveal all!

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An Important Statement from Trixie the Cat


Brothers and Sisters of The Shakespeare Code!

Your Cat brings you the most important news for Shakespeare Scholarship this Century!

In September 2021, Lord Montagu, Fourth Baron of Beaulieu….


…was given permission to open the spectatcular tomb of the Southampton family in St. Peter’s Church, Titchfield!


In attendance was the Revd Susan Allman….


….who had been Priest-in-Charge at St. Peter’s Church…..


…..and returned to bless the proceedings.

The Shakespeare Southampton Legacy Trust reported that:

The Southampton monument is supported by a vaulted Tudor passage running its entire length to the north. Access to the Wriothesley vault was re-established through the original acces point on the chapel floor near the organ. Access involved lifting one stone slab that was fully re-instated upon completion.

There are three recumbent figures in alabaster on the tomb.

On the top is Jane, first Countess of Southampton….


[Photo: Ross Underwood]

To her right lies her husband Thomas Wriothesley, First Earl of Southampton…


[Photo: Ross Underwood]

…..and to her left her handsome son, Henry, Second Earl of Southampton….


[Photo: Ross Underwood]

Henry was married to Mary, Second Countess of Southampton, née Browne….


…..who was daughter of Anthony Browne, First Viscount Montagu…..


…….England’s leading Roman Catholic.

On the side of the tomb is depicted, kneeling in prayer, the young Henry Wriothesley – Third Earl of Southampton….


…..known as ‘Harry Southampton’ – the son of Mary, Second Countess of Southampton and Henry, Second Earl of Southampton.

A St. Peter’s Church tomb was commissioned by Henry, Second Earl. But when he died in 1581, his orders were not carried out by his widow.

He wanted a tomb for his father Thomas and mother Jane – and a tomb for himself…..


This was intended to be a direct insult to his wife Mary – who he believed had commited adultery with a lower-class person – a charge she swore in a letter to her father, Viscount Montague – was untrue.

But she added:

He may blame me of folly, but never justly condemn me of fault.

The ‘folly’ The Shakespeare  Code believes, was to fall in love.

Mary disregarded her husband’s wishes – and ordered a single tomb – the one we have now – thirteen years later in 1594.

That was also the year her son – Harry Southampton – came of age and might have his own ideas about the family tomb….

For the Second Earl had snatched little Harry at the age of six away from his mother – and taught him to hate her – and, it seems to hate all women.

Mary confessed to her father her husband had made her so unhappy that she wanted to die…..

…..but in a way she was glad he had been so horrible to her because it meant she could forget him all the sooner.


…in her will she asked to be interred…..

as near as may be unto the body of my honorable and dearly beloved Lord and Husband, the Late Earl of Southampton.

So what had happened?



We believe at The Shakespeare Code that in 1590 Shakespeare took up residence in Titchfield – as part of the Southampton family entourage.

Among his duties was tutoring Harry Southampton and Mary Southampton commissioned Shakespeare to write 17 sonnets on Harry’s seventeenth birthday to persuade him to get married.

However, the sonnets had the reverse effect……

Harry and Shakespeare became long-term lovers.

In 1594 Mary Southamton also re-married, and we believe she commissioned Shakespeare to write an entertainment to celebrate the wedding…

But Shakespeare – a Roman Catholic like Mary and her son – and indeed her dead husband the Second Earl – believed that the spiritual discord of Mary’s first marriage needed to be healed before the second could prosper.

For Elizabethan Catholics, the Fairy World – with its blessing,benedictions and enchantments – had become a substitute for Roman Catholicism….

…indeed, Bishop Richard Corbett – who would have been twelve years old when the play was written – went so far as to observe that, though Fairies had been seen in the reign of Queen Mary, they had not been seen in the reigns of Elizabeth or James….

By which we note that fairies were of the old profession/Their songs were Ave Maries/Their dances were procession.

The ‘old profession’ was the ‘Old Faith’.

With all this in mind, Shakespeare set about writing….



The Fairy Protagonists – Oberon the King….


…..and Titania the Queen…..


…like Mary Southampton….


……and the Second Earl…..


…..are in a fight over a little boy……


….like the fight over the young Harry Southampton……


Also Titania suffers the ‘folly’ of falling in love with an ass…..


The contention between the Fairy King and Queen creates disorder in the seasons in the play….

…..and in real life the summer of 1594 was the coldest and wettest anyone could recall…

But order is restored when Oberon and Titania fall back in love…

…and dance together….


……and the fairies bless the house, not with holy water, but with field dew….blessing-fairy

Shakespeare by writing the play has reconciled the souls of Mary and the Second Earl.

He has performed the role of a Priest.

Whether Mary’s wish was honoured – to be interred ‘as near as may be’ to the body of her dead first husband…..

…..or whether her body had even been interred in the tomb…..

……will be revealed by Lord Montagu in Titchfield on Monday night…..

Your Cat will certainly be there!

Swooning at his Lordship’s feet….

So watch out all Church Mice…..

Your Cat wouldn’t miss this for the world!!!

‘Bye, now…




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[Photograph by Jianwei Chen]

Once on a morning of sweet recreation

I heard a fair lady a-making her moan,

With sighing and sobbing and sad lamentation,

Aye singing, ‘My Blackbird for ever is flown!

He’s all my heart’s treasure, my joy, and my pleasure,

So justly, my love, my heart follows thee;

And I am resolved, in foul or fair weather,

To seek out my Blackbird, wherever he be.

This song was sung in Scotland both before the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion and after it – and as the Editor of ‘The Jacobite Songs and Ballads’ (1861) makes clear, ‘The Blackbird’ was the nick-name his friends gave to the Old Pretender – James Frances Edward Stuart.

He had a very dark complexion – a characteristic he shared with his father-in-law, Charles II, who was named ‘The Black Boy’ by his mother – and described as a ‘tall, black man’ on Wanted Posters after his escape by hiding in Boscobel Oak.

Both men probably inherited their dark skins from Charles II’s Spanish maternal grandmother, Marie de Medici…

‘Black Boy’ Taverns sprung up for people loyal to King Charles to drink in – and people later loyal to the Old Pretender did the same thing…

Rich Jacobites would also include black page-boys in the household to show their loyalty to the Stuart cause.

James Gibbs began his decoration of St. Mary le Strand after the failure of the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion – which was led by his Patron John Erskine, the Earl of Mar…

Gibbs worked as a secrent Jacobite agent for Mar – telling him about the loyalty and strength of the Jacobites in both England and Scotland – and used the language of architecture as a code.

‘Lodge’ for example didn’t mean a house or a villa – as historians used to think it meant. It signified a secret enclave of Jacobites, prepared to over-throw the monarchy.

Gibbs – as we have seen – used symbols to promote the Jacobite cause – symbols that could mean one thing or another.

The bird, for example in the apse…

……has been taken to represent the Holy Spirit that descended on Jesus…..

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is holy-spirit-on-jesus.jpg

……and the dove returning to Noah on his ark, carrying an olive branch…..

But the problem is that the bird is not descending on Christ, neither does it have an olive branch in its beak…..

So what does it represnt?

The answer, strangely, lies in a parody William Hogarth made of William Kent’s altarpiece to the church neighbouring St. Mary le Strand, St. Clement Danes….

….which is a Christopher Wren Church – but the steeple of which Gibbs designed – under duress.

Gibbs HATED steeples!

William Kent – a Jacobite Freemason –

…….painted an altar-piece of Saint Cecilia for this church in 1725….

[The only remaining photograph, copied from Ricky Pound’s excellent article ‘Jacobite Symbolism at Chiswick House’]

The congregation rebelled because they thought – rightly – that ‘Saint Cecilia’ – on the right of the painting on the keyboard – was in fact the Old Pretender’s striking wife – Maria Clementina Sobieska….

In 1725 Sobieska had rowed with her husband about how Bonnie Prince Charlie should be educated in religion – and had taken shelter in the Nunnery di Santa Cecilia in Travestere in Rome.

She was to remain there for two years – watching the services at the adjoining Basilica from her room.

The congregation of St. Clement’s Dane were loyal to their new King George I – and demanded the painting was removed. It was stored in the Vestry of the Church – and hired out for clandestine Jacobite celebrations – until it was destroyed by enemy action in WWII.

William Hogarth had a satirical response to all this.

He issued his own version of the painting – with Sobieska, now an ‘angel’, off keyboards and playing a harp – in which he claimed it was NOT Sobieska and her children…

The statement at the bottom reads:

The Print is exactly Engrav’d after the celebrated Altar-Piece in St. Clement’s Church which has been taken down by order of the Lord Bishop of London as tis thought to prevent disputes and laying of wagers among the Parishoners about the artist’s meaning in it. For public satisfaction here is a particular explanation of it humbly offered to be writ under the original that it may be put up again by which means the parishes 60 pounds which they nicely gave for it may not be entirely lost. Tis not the Pretender’s Wife and Children as our weak brethren imagine – nor St. Cecilia as the Commoisseurs think, but a choir of angels playing in consort.


Hogarth’s denial, of course, re-inforces the idea that it IS Sobieska and her children.

But the really interesting thing about this parody is the upper section…

The flying bird and the Cherubs are nowhere to be seen on the original painting. Hogarth has added them. And they correspond completely to the apse of St. Mary le Strand…

…….with its cherubs….

……and its flying bird…..

If we look at the Hogarth parody again…..

….we can see that the flying bird is casting down its light and power on the Old Pretender’s wife and children….

It is my contention that the bird – although gold! – is in reality the Old Pretender – the ‘Blackbird himself!

The beloved King Over the Water – waiting to fly back to his land and his people – and siring Stuart heirs a-plenty – because it is the will of God.

But what are we to make of the Cherubs? Two of them are so stupid they are colliding together….

Could they possibly be what Alexander Pope calls ‘Dunce the First’ and ‘Dunce the Second’?

George I and George II who famously were ‘at loggerheads’.

The cherubs near to the viewers are attractive – and might even represent the young Bonnie Prince Charlie with his ostrich feathers as Prince of Wales….

The Cupids in St. Mary le Strand become more unprepossessing the higher up in the apse they are carved – and the further away from the viewers….

……and here’s one from the same group that looks positively demonic!

Gibbs had designed St. Mary le Strand to re-create the Temple of Solomon – so the inhabitors of the Holy of Holies should, strictly speaking, be Cherubim – NOT Cherubs!

Cherubim were second down to Seraphim in the ranking of angels – and although descriptions of them differ – they are meant to be adults with long wings – sometimes with faces that combine the human and the animal…

The other job of the Cherubim was to guard the Gates of Eden – hardly a job you’d leave to grumpy toddlers….

So what is going on? Johnathan Swift satirises George I as the King of Lilliput, wearing shoes with the lowest heels in the Kingdom and with….

….an Austrian lip and an arched nose…

Is Gibbs engaged in satire as well? Is he carrying on the fine old tradition of the Masons who built the Cathedrals – and carved caricatures of living people into the stonework?

Are the chubby cheeked Cherubs – with their prominent lips and noses – satires on an immature monarch who – when angry would throw his wig onto the fire?

Are the dozens of Cherubs dozens of satires on the hated monarch, George I?

His wife-to-be, Sophia, when shown a miniature of George, famously cfried: ‘I will not marry the pig snout’

Is this Cherub – high up in the corner of the ceiling – pig snout himself?

I leave it to you.

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The Lion and the Unicorn

At the Parish Church of St. Mary le Strand, nothing is quite as it first appears!

Here, for example, is the ‘official’ photograph of the Hanoverian Crest of King George I which sits above the apse…..

But we asked our photographer, Jianwei Chen, to photograph the crest from a different angle – and this is what we discovered…..

A unicorn with a monster-sized horn – almost hidden from viewers on the ground.

Remember, the decoration of the interior of St. Mary le Strand began in 1719 – after the failure of the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion, led by John Erskine, 6th Earl of Mar….

James Gibbs – the designer of St. Mary le Strand….

……..described here in the Latin as ‘Jacobus Gibbs’…..was also a convinced Jacobite, determined, as a Roman Catholic, to bring the Catholic friendly – and indeed Roman Catholic – Stuart family back to the throne of Britain….

He worked as a Jacobite agent for Mar in London – while posing as loyal to the new Hanoverian King, George I…

He went so far as to write in his introduction to his book on architecture…..

designs should not be altered by the caprice of ignorant, assuming Pretenders

…..but by ‘Pretenders’ he didn’t mean the Stuart ‘Old Pretender’ and ‘New Pretender’….

He was referring to Georges I and II who, in his view, had no right to the British throne whatsoever!

So in his design of the the Church’s interior, Gibbs is often supporting the Jacobite cause – codedly!

…and making fun of the Hanoverian one.

The unicorn’s unbelievably long horn is a case in point.

The Jacobite fight was, in part, the fight between the Scots – protecting the Scottish Catholic Stuart family……

….and the English – protecting the English, Protestant Hanoverian family….

In the crest, the Lion has always represented England and the Unicorn Scotland…..

And so with the unicorn’s horn, Gibbs is making the Scots more powerful than the English to encourage further Jacobite Rebellions.

But there is always a further meaning with Gibbs….

In Jacobite songs, King George is referred to as ‘cuckold Geordie’ – so the Unicorn’s gigantic horn is also a cuckold’s horn.

When he was Elector of Hanover, George had married the beautiful, buxom, Princess Sophia Dorothea of Zell…..

……but he preferred the company of his mistresses. Sophia in turn, had taken a lover, Count Koningsmark……

When George found out about this, he tried to strangle Sophia and had Koningsmark assassinated. Sophia was incarcerated and reduced to the title of ‘Duchess’ – and when he arrived in England, George was accompanied by two mistresses – nick-named the Elephant and the Maypole…..

George was tubby and small – a ‘wee, wee, German Laidie’ – and no match for the sweep and style of ‘King James the VIII’!

George’s ‘horns’ are referred to directly in another Jacobite song that compares him to a ‘huge, black bull’

We’ll twist his horns out of his skull

And drive the old rogue to Hanover.

But if you look carefully, the ‘Hanover Crest’ becomes even more subversive….

Surrounding the Lion and the Unicorn are leaves that might possibly be oak….

…..as there are on many of the wood-carvings in St. Mary le Strand, such as the pulpit….

Oak-leaves were important to the Jacobites because they symbolised the House of Stuart.

After the Battle of Worcester in 1651, King Charles II disguised himself as a peasant…..

…..and hid in an oak-tree at Boscobel……

On his return to England in 1660, King Charles wore a garland of oak-leaves as he rode on horseback in his procession down the Strand on his birthday, 29th May – and Royalists held breat branches of oak to celebrate his escape.

Oak-leaves became very subversive during the reign of the two George’s – people were imprisoned for wearing them – so for Gibbs to decorate the Hanoverean crest with them – however high up in the air – was a truly dangerous, anarchic act.

But equally anarchic was another symbol that appeared in the crest…..

Beneath the Unicorn – and above ‘mon droit’ [my right] you can see a thistle – entirely invisible to viewers on the ground – but known to the Jacobite carvers and plasterers!

The thistle was the ultimate Jacobite Symbol and its use entirely banned in Hanoverian England.

When the Earl of Mar raised the blue Jacobite Standard at Braemar on 6th September 1715 – on one side, wrought in gold – were the arms of Scotland – and on the other side, the thistle.

And beneath the Lion, you can see a Stuart rose, also invisible to viewers on the ground.

In the Jacobite Song ‘The Gathering of the Hays’ these two lines appear:

Dark as the moutain’s heather wave

The rose and the thistle are coming brave….

But it was one thing to put ‘the rose and the thistle’ way out of sight – but Gibbs has put thistles at ground level – but hidden in plain sight!

If you look at the stone piers at the entry to the Church Garden……

You will see a couple of tassles…..

But invert them – and hey presto! Thistles!

And if you look at the pier again…..

……you will the Saltire – the Cross of St. Andrew!

Gibbs also used the saltire as the basis for a castle he designed – but never built – for the Earl of Mar…

Compare with…..

The two piers are a bit of a mystery. They appeared around 1720 – and there is no evidence that the Church had paid for them.

1720 was the year the Young Pretender was born – and it is possible the piers were a Jacobite gift.

The cherubs have wings that look suspiciously like ostrich feathers…..

The Young Pretender – Bonnie Prince Charlie – was created the Prince of Wales the day he was baptised…..

…and the cherubs on the church ceiling have something on their heads – possibly crowns….

The piers are also decorated with Jacobite roses…

James Gibbs was next given St. Martin-in-the-Fields to design. He originally wanted to build a round, Knight’s Templar Church……

– but it proved too expensive.

James Anderson – a fellow Aberdonian – reports in ‘The Constitution of the Masons’ (1738) how ‘Brother Gibb’ joined a masonic procession – with full aprons – in 1721 to celebrate the placing of the Foundation Stone.

He repeated his Unicorn horn joke – in a slightly modified form – in the external Hanoverian Crest…..

And he created another starburst – only recently re-discovered –

…..to celebrate the birth of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1720…..

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  1. The Golden Triangle in the Apse.

[Photograph by Jianwei Chen]

The Golden Triangle – with the first two Hebrew Letters for ‘God’ – is associated with the Knights Templar. They were said to have found the ‘Delta of Enoch’ hidden in a sacred vault in the Temple of Solomon – and brought it to Scotland when they fled persecution in France. In gratitude, the Knights fought with Robert Bruce against the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 – and won!

John Graham of Claverhouse – the great Jacobite hero ‘Bonnie Dundee’ –

…….was said to have worn the Knights Templar Cross beneath his breastplate at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689. He was shot dead at the height of his victory in the battle……

……..so John Erskine, 6th Earl of Mar ……

– the patron of St. Mary le Strand’s architect, James Gibbs – revived this Order of the Temple and recruited all the Chieftains of the Scottish Clans to restore the House of Stuart to Britain.

When the Earl of Mar died in exile in Germany in 1732, Charles Edward Stuart – ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ – took over Leadership of the Order – and on 30th September, 1745, during the last Jacobite Rebellion – held a private audience for the Knights of the Temple in Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh.. Of this gathering the Duke of Perth wrote to Lord Ogilvy that:

‘It is truly a proud thing to see our Prince in the Palace of his fathers with all the best blood in Scotland around him. Our noble Prince looked most gallant in the white robe of the Order and took his profession like a worthy Knight.’

2. The White Flowers on the Ceiling

[Photograph by Jianwei Chen]

On 10th June 1714 – just before Queen Anne died – Northern Jacobites met at the ruined Auchindoun Castle in Scotland…..

– which had been the temporary headquarters of Bonnie Dundee during the 1689 Rebellion – to celebrate the birthday of James Francis Edward Stuart – ‘the Old Pretender’.

The men and women drank the health of ‘Jamie the Rover’ – then picked white roses and wore them on their breasts.

When they came to fight in both 1715 and 1745 – they wore white cockades – bunches of white ribbon – on their bonnets.

In a Jacobite Song a woman exclaims:

Betide what may, my heart is glad

To see my lad with his white cockade.

3. Starbursts – with Cherubs – in the Apse

[Photograph by Jianwei Chen]

After the failure of the 1715 Rebellion, the Old Pretender lost heart – but on 31st December, 1720 – Hogmanay! – Charles Edward Stuart – ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ – was born in Rome. He was baptised the same day by the Bishop of Montefiascone…..

– and created the Prince of Wales.

The Jacobites claimed that a new star had appeared in the sky – which proved that God was on the side of the Jacobites.

After 1720 starbursts began to appear on Jacobite glasses….

Bonnie Prince Charlie always appeared with a star pinned onto his chest – the Order of the Garter.

A Jacobite Song claims that:

on his breast he wears a star

You’d take him for a God of War.

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St. Mary Le Strand Speaks!

Dear Visitors! Welcome! Might I be allowed to introduce myself?

I am the Parish Church of St Mary le Strand – and I have stood on this spot for three hundred years. 

How I came to be here – stuck in the middle of the Strand – is a question I’m often asked.  I hope to answer it briefly – well, as briefly as a very old building can – but I’d advise you to take a pew.

In Queen Anne’s time – at the start of the eighteenth century – so many people in London wanted to go to Church there weren’t enough of us to go round. So a Commission was set up – composed of the great and the good – to build fifty more Churches – of which I was one of the first – and, some might argue, the best….

I am, after all, Grade One Listed….

In the space right in front of me there was a huge maypole, hung with ribbons, which people loved to dance round. 

There were theatres and taverns, and everyone was out for a good time.

It was, in short, the most notorious red light district in London.

Queen Anne – famous for her piety…..

……..wanted to raise the tone of the place – so she gave orders to build me. She also wanted to upstage the maypole – by erecting a column of stone and putting a statue of herself right at the top….

The column was started – but never finished. Anne died in 1714. That’s when the trouble began.

Anne had no children – despite nineteen pregnancies – and never named her successor. So factions had formed everywhere – even in the Commission for Building Fifty Churches…

Especially in the Commission for Building Fifty Churches.

Queen Anne’s nearest relative was James Francis Edward Stuart – later nick-named ‘The Old Pretender’ – from the same Stuart family as Anne…..

But he was a Roman Catholic, and so in exile, barred by an Act of Parliament from becoming King. In spite of that, he called himself James the Third….

The members of the Tory Party on the Commission favoured his succession, hoping he would turn into an Anglican. They were called Jacobites because Jacobus was the Latin name for James.

Anne’s nearest non-Catholic relation was Prince George of Hanover – a strict Lutheran Protestant.

The members of the Whig Party on the Commission favoured his succession – hoping he would learn to speak English. They were called Hanoverians because they backed the House of Hanover.

The Jacobites believed in religious tolerance for all – including Roman Catholics and Jewish people.

The Hanoverians believed Britain should be strictly Protestant and were anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic.

The Tory party was, as usual, hopelessly divided – so the Whigs won. Prince George of Hanover became King George the First of Great Britain and Ireland.

So when they finally came to design me, everyone thought I would be very Lutheran, very Protestant, very Plain Jane.

But just look at me! Look at my ceiling, arched like the sky!

Look at my gold, real gold, cascading down to the altar!

Look at my cherubs! Look at my star-bursts!

And if the architect had had his way, my ceiling would be awash with blue…….

……..and my walls swirling with paintings….

(The Chapel at Wimpole – which Gibbs designed without the constraints of the Commissioners)

A lot of people ask if I’m Roman Catholic. No – I’m an Anglican Parish Church – and proud of it.

So how did I come to look like this?

For a start, my Scottish architect, James Gibbs, was a devout Roman Catholic – so devout he travelled to Rome to be ordained. But he left after a violent argument with the Rector of the College there – and pursued his other great love – architecture.

He returned to Britain in his mid-20s and, like many Scotsmen before him, came down to London to seek his fortune.

To begin with he starved – but within a few years he was appointed Surveyor to the Commission for Fifty Churches – then, at the age of 30 – he was given the great honour of designing me.

He had never built a public building in his life – and he won the commission in direct competition with Sir John Vanbrugh…..

– who had built Blenheim Palace and had been knighted by King George.

How could this possibly have happened?


The young Gibbs was personable…….

…..and gregarious – people called him ‘Signor Gibbi’ – and he was a Jacobite Tory. But of even more use, he was a Freemason. A Jacobite Freemason.

Even the Freemasons split up into Jacobites and Hanoverians…

The Earl of Mar – a fellow Scot –

Kneller, Godfrey; John Erskine (1675-1732), 6th Earl of Mar;

…….put pressure on fellow Jacobite Freemason Christopher Wren to promote Gibbs.

Wren stacked the Commission meetings with his placemen – including his son – and pushed Gibbs’s appointments through.

In defiance of King George – who wanted all the Jewish people to leave England – Gibbs based my design on the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. 

Outside, you can see I have two pillars……

……and a porch….

Inside, an inner sanctum with high windows….

….. and a Holy of Holies…..

The Temple of Solomon was special to Freemasons, for whom it represented the highest point in human civilisation.

But it was also special to the Stuart family. King James the Sixth of Scotland……

…….way back in the sixteenth century – had built his own Temple of Solomon at Stirling Castle –

…..and when he became King James the First of England, he was painted as King Solomon on the ceiling of the Banqueting House in London. 

King James the Second – his grandson…..

……was pushed from the throne in 1688 for being a Roman Catholic and forced to flee abroad. He compared his Stuart family to the Jews in exile. Gibbs – by re-creating the Temple – was willing the Stuarts – by magic almost – to return to the land that was rightly theirs.

But everything nearly fell apart for Gibbs.

In 1715 the Earl of Mar – Gibss’s champion, led a Jacobite rebellion to bring the Old Pretender back to the throne. Gibbs, was accused by a rival Scots architect of being a ‘disaffected person’ – a charge he vigorously denied. But the truth is, he worked as a Jacobite agent for Mar.

He was sacked from the Commission – now completely Hanoverian – but offered to complete me entirely for free.

This was an offer the Commission could not refuse – but they lived to regret it. By not paying Gibbs, they had no control over him – so as well as bringing Jerusalem to the Strand, he brought the Vatican.

The Commission got alarmed – and demanded to see his designs – but Gibbs carried on, regardless. He covered my walls and ceiling with cheeky Jacobite symbols – and added more when the Old Pretender gave birth to the Young Pretender in 1720 – Bonnie Prince Charlie…

I’ll talk about these symbols when we next meet …

Bonnie Prince Charlie led another rebellion against the English in 1745. But it failed – and ended in the carnage of Culloden…

Five years later the Young Pretender travelled secretly to London – and David Hume, the Scottish philosopher…..

who had a house on the Strand….

…….says that Bonnie Prince Charlie paid me a visit…

Some modern historians have pooh-poohed this story – but I am here to tell you that it’s true – and that Signor Gibbi – by then in the last years of his hugely successful life – was waiting in the shadows to kneel before the man he considered to be the true Prince of Wales.

And here’s a thought: if the Young Pretender had been crowned, he would have become King Charles the Third…

Anyway, that’s how I remember it all. But as I said at the beginning – I’m a very old building…

When we meet again, I’ll tell you more of my tales – but for the moment, God bless – and stay safe….

© Stewart Trotter 15th December 2022.

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As You Like It was written, we believe, to celebrate the wedding of Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton (‘Harry Southampton’)……

……..and Elizabeth Vernon, a poor cousin of the Earl of Essex…….

Elizabeth Vernon preparing for her wedding. Brides wore their hair down for the ceremony – and afterwards covered their bosoms. with the ruff and frontpiece depicted here. Because she never wed, Queen Elizabeth kept her front bare.

……at the end of August,1598.

It was originally given an outdoor performance in the grounds of a stately home, with its greenwood trees and brawling brooks serving as a background, but this time the stately home was NOT Place House in Titchfield.

Harry Southampton had taken up residence in Queen Elizabeth’s Court in 1595 at the age of 22. Everyone expected him to become the ageing Queen’s new lover, replacing an exhausted Earl of Essex…..

…….but he had fallen for one of her young Ladies-in-Waiting – the beautiful, but volatile Elizabeth Vernon. The Queen was furious when she found out and banished Harry from the Court: but Harry persisted in his love-suit, and commissioned William Shakespeare to write Romeo and Juliet as a way of wooing her.  

Despite the play, or perhaps because of it, Harry and Elizabeth V. continued to have a stormy, off-on relationship – and at one point it was rumoured Elizabeth had run off with another man.

Harry himself was ambivalent, insisting he needed time to think about the relationship – and in 1598, the Queen gave him permission to travel to Europe as a spy. Elizabeth V. responded to this with tears and tantrums – and the two ended up in bed.

By the end of August Harry was back in England, having docked at Margate to keep his visit a secret: Elizabeth V. was pregnant. Harry wrote to her uncle, the Earl of Essex, asking for a clandestine meeting. We know from Essex’s reply on 25th August that Harry had ridden straight down to Leaze Priory in Essex – where Elizabeth V. was staying with Penelope Rich, Essex’s sister……

unknown artist; Penelope Rich (1563-1607), Countess of Devonshire; Lambeth Palace; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/penelope-rich-15631607-countess-of-devonshire-87194

– and married her on the spot.

As a consequence, Harry was on a direct collision course with the Queen, who insisted that every aristocratic wedding be vetted by her.  Harry had hoped that Elizabeth V.’s uncle, the Earl of Essex, would intercede on his behalf. But Essex himself had been banished from the court for daring to turn his back on the Queen. 

We know that Harry was back in France by September 3rd because Robert Cecil wrote a letter to him on that date, telling him the Queen was ‘grievously offended’ by his coming and going so ‘contemptuously’ and his marriage to a Lady-in-Waiting ‘without her privity. She ordered Harry to return to England and wait to be summoned.

What had Harry done between August 25th and the beginning of September? We believe that, in an act of reckless bravura, Harry had thrown a wedding celebration at Leaze Priory and had asked Shakespeare to rush together an entertainment. The title – As You Like It – might well have been a dig at Her Majesty: this was something she wouldn’t like at all!

The play has all the signs of hasty composition. There are no real sub-plots, the passage of time is crudely marked with songs and deer hunts, and two of the characters even have the same name. But the rapid composition does give the entertainment a spontaneous, improvisatory quality – and a ring of truth.

We believe Shakespeare has based the characters in the play – mostly exiles from the Court of Duke Frederick – on the wedding guests at Leaze Priory – mostly exiles from the Court of Queen Elizabeth. Shakespeare got them to play themselves, proof positive that all the world really was a stage.

So who played what? We think John Harington……

– a friend of Harry’s who had the distinction of inventing the water-closet – played the melancholy Jacques – and that the name Jacques/Jakes is a jokey reference to his invention.

Jacques is accused of being a libertine by Duke Senior – so was Harington by the Queen when he was found distributing erotic poetry by Ariosto to her Ladies-in-Waiting.

Jacques is in exile from the Court: so was Harington, forced by the Queen to stay away till had translated the whole of Orlando Furioso as a ‘punishment’.

Both Jacques and Harington are wry, outside observers of the absurdities of life, both stopped from speaking the truth and both known as ‘The Traveller’.  

Tom Nashe, the pamphleteer………

……..we believe, not only played the role of Touchstone: he wrote the part as well.  

Touchstone’s words ‘roynish’ and ‘horn-beast’ appear nowhere else in Shakespeare – but they do appear in Nashe’s pamphlets. Some editors argue that Shakespeare lifted Touhchstone’s phrase ‘false gallop’ from Nashe’s Strange Newes : but it is much more likely that Nashe was Shakespeare’s gag-writer.

Like Touchstone, Nashe had been banished from the Court after writing a satirical play, with Ben Jonson, about the Privy Council.

Touchstone doesn’t care for living in the country – and neither did Nashe!

The part of Duke Senior – banished to the Forest of Arden – was played by the Earl of Essex – banished by the Queen to Wanstead. Both Essex and Duke Senior were very attracted to the reclusive country life – and both have a highly developed sense of chivalry and courtesy: when Orlando threatens him with violence, he invites him to sit and eat.

Essex was in constant communication with King James VI who was developing these ideals at his Scottish Court – and, fully believing in ‘second sight’, encouraged the practice of rites, rituals and magic in the open air.

It is thought that when he became King of England as well as Scotland, King James attended a performance of As You Like it at Wilton – the Pembroke family home.

Celia was played, we think, by Penelope Rich and Rosalind by Elizabeth V. Both were best friends in real life: Elizabeth V.’s daughter was later named Penelope and Penelope became the baby’s Godmother.

Penelope, who we think played the Princess of France at Titchfield – with plays on her surname – was famously tall, as is Celia in the first mention of her height by Le Beau the First Folio edition of the play.

There is also a play on her name and features in Rosalind’s phrase ‘rich eyes’: Penelope was renowned for her black eyes and fair hair….

(c) Lambeth Palace; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Elizabeth V. certainly looks tiny in the paintings of her, and Orlando says she comes ‘up to my heart’ – though other mentions of Rosalind in the play suggest she was in fact taller than Celia. We believe this is because in later productions of the play, Rosalind was played by a taller boy actor, and the text hasn’t been properly amended.

Celia calls Rosalind ‘my Rose’ and ‘my dear Rose’[Shakespeare’s italics] in honour of Elizabeth V. new family name – Wriothesley – pronounced (by Harry and Shakespeare at least) – as ‘Rosely’. And she is given a coded identification when Orlando asks the ‘thrice crown-ed queen of night’ (= the Moon = Diana = The Virgin Queen Elizabeth) to ‘survey/with thy chaste eye, from thy pale sphere above/Thy huntress name that my full life doth sway’. ‘

Huntress’ = Maidservant of Diana = Lady-in-Waiting to Diana = Elizabeth V.)

There is no doubt at all that Orlando was played by Harry. Orlando’s hair is described as ‘chestnut ’in the play: in the sonnets, Harry’s hair is likened to ‘buds of marjoram’.  Orlando is a bad time-keeper – so was Harry as we know from Sonnet 57 where Shakespeare describes himself as being Harry’s ‘slave’ and ‘watching the clock’ for him.

So what was Shakespeare’s intention in writing As You Like It? We think it was like a modern day Best Man’s speech – which both celebrates the bride and groom and sends them up.

Shakespeare and Harry had their own love for each other – an affair that lasted, off and on, for fifteen years. Harry had a life-long weakness for lower class young men which was the source of his ambivalence about Elizabeth V.

So in the play Shakespeare pours sunlight on this shadow – and dresses Elizabeth up as a pretty youth – everything Orlando could possibly want. But at the end of the day, it is Rosalind/Elizabeth V. that he wants. Shakespeare has made his mind up for him.

What of Shakespeare himself?

The tradition in Stratford was that he played Old Adam. Now Shakespeare might well have been taken with the idea of being carried in the arms of his own Lord and Patron.

But the TFT thinks that he also played William – who, like Shakespeare, lives in the Forest of Arden. William has clearly taken his hat off when he speaks to Touchstone, so the audience would have seen his hair – which we know from Sonnet 73 had largely fallen out like ‘yellow leaves’ from a tree……

So when asked his age, and William replies ‘25’, it most probably brought the house down.

But there is a darkness over this sunlit play.

Duke Frederick, with his capriciousness, his jealousies, his paranoias, his banishments and his suspicions – is Queen Elizabeth in drag.

Roman Catholics, like Harry and Shakespeare, hoped Elizabeth would convert to the Old Faith – and in the play Duke Frederick does.

But this was not to be in real life. Within three years of this play, the Earl of Essex was to lead a rebellion against the tyrannical Queen – and within three years he was to have his head cut off in the Tower of London.   

The brawling brook that runs runs by Leaze Priory

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(A Programme Note for the production of the play by the Titchfield Festival Theatre)

The existence of Titus Andronicus is one of the strongest pieces of evidence we have that Harry, Third Earl of Southampton……..

……and William Shakespeare……..

…..visited Europe in the Spring of 1593.

The play’s first mention is in London Theatre Manager Henslowe’s diary as a ‘new’ play on 23rd January, 1594. At that time the story only existed in a chap-book, written in Italian and only available in Rome. The most simple and obvious deduction is that Shakespeare picked up the book when he was in the Eternal City – along with a lot of other Italian novellas that he recycled, uncredited, into plays.

Titus Andronicus might have been ‘new’ to Henslowe, but the Shakespeare Code believes it is one of the plays that had its first performances in Titchfield. With its pit, elder tree, horse-riding and arrow shooting, it is more suited to ‘outdoor’ performance than ‘indoor’. It is also full of references to the Earl of Southampton’s entourage.

For example, there is no ‘Aemilius’ mentioned in the source of the play, nor is there a ‘Bassianus’. But there was a dark-skinned, Jewish musician who had been involved in a love-triangle with Shakespeare and Southampton at Titchfield –  and her name was Aemilia Bassano.

Similarly, there is no ‘Saturninus’ in the source – but ‘Old Saturnus’ was the nick-name given to Southampton’s pompous guardian, Lord Burghley……..

…….who was Queen Elizabeth’s right-hand man. Shakespeare even makes a mocking reference to him in Sonnet 98:

‘Old Saturnus’ had helped Princess Elizabeth rise to the top, as Saturninus helps Tamora, Queen of the Goths, to do the same.

From you [Harry Southampton] I have been absent in the spring

When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,

Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,

That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him.

The play also mirrors the political pressures on the Southampton entourage. Queen Elizabeth had refused to name her successor and people were terrified civil war would break out on her death – as it does at the beginning of Titus Andronicus.

The Countess of Southampton…….

…… and the Countess of Pembroke…….

……(at nearby Wilton) pooled resources to commission plays and poems which examined the situation – and criticised the conduct of the Queen. The Southamptons were committed Catholics and so the natural enemies of Elizabeth – but the Protestant Countess of Pembroke – who had been banned from the Court – hated Elizabeth for another reason: the Queen had destroyed her brother, Sir Philip Sidney’s, career as a soldier and politician……

…….He had been forced into the humiliation of becoming a poet….

There can be no doubt that Tamora, who is compared in the play to Phoebe and Diana and who rides a white horse – is a savage caricature of Queen Elizabeth – who was also compared to Phoebe and Diana and who also rode a white horse.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is elizabeth-at-tilbury-001.jpg

Both Tamora and Elizabeth had also experienced public humiliation: Tamora at the beginning of the play has ‘to kneel in the streets and beg for grace in vain’ while Elizabeth, when a Princess, had to sit on a stone, in the rain, outside the Tower of London. Tamora takes vengeance on the Andronicus family when Titus kills her son – and Elizabeth took vengeance on the Roman Catholics in England who had tried to chop off her head.

There is also – in Catholic eyes at least – a similarity in the sexual tastes of the two Queens. Aaron describes how, when he told Tamora he had sent back the two heads of his sons to Titus…

She sounded [swooned] almost at my pleasing tale

And for my tidings gave me twenty kisses.

Tamora is sexually excited by violence in the way Catholics claimed Elizabeth was. Elizabeth had ordered two men (who had written and circulated pamphlets criticising her) to have their right hands amputated. She had set up  the block beneath the window of her bedchamber.

A Jesuit Priest called Thomas Pormont had also reported how Elizabeth’s hangman – Richard Topcliffe – boasted to him that he would fondle the Queen’s breast and ‘belly’ as he described the tortures he had inflicted on Catholics. As a reward, the Queen had presented him with ‘white linen hose wrought with white silk’.

Tamora pretends to be good-hearted but slaughters her enemies. Elizabeth – who claims she wants ‘to make no windows into men’s hearts’- does exactly the same. Her victims included Edward Arden, a relative of Shakespeare’s mother, and the Jesuit Robert Southwell, who described Shakespeare as his ‘cousin’. Elizabeth even hanged the Southampton family’s old friend and Titchfield schoolmaster, Swithin Wells, right outside the Countess’s London home.

So if the play seems overly violent it is partly because the times were overly violent. And the most violent character of all is Aaron the Moor – a caricature of Elizabeth’s lover and henchman, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester……

…… known as ‘the Gipsy’ because of his dark skin.

Leicester had died in Armada year, six years before the play – so Shakespeare was able to lampoon him without ending up hanged, drawn and quartered. For, according to a Jesuit book – Leicester’s Commonwealth – Leicester had done everything that Aaron does. He poisoned rivals, he poisoned their wives and used magic spells to get his way. He rose to power by nailing his colours to Princess Elizabeth’s mast – as Aaron does in the play to Tamora’s:

I will be bright and shine in pearls and gold,

To wait upon this new made empress.

One of the Gipsy’s poison victims had been the First Earl of Essex…….

Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex 1539 – 76 (1572). Unknown 16th century. Date: 1572

….. who, like Titus, had been fighting for his country abroad.  His son, the Second Earl of Essex…….

…..was a close friend of Harry Southampton and his entourage – so would certainly have seen Titus Andronicus. Shakespeare portrays him in the play as Lucius, the son of murdered Titus – and when he shows Lucius attacking Rome it’s a hint to Essex that he should do the same in London – and over-throw Elizabeth with a foreign army.

Rome – ‘a wilderness of tigers’ – was often used in Elizabethan times as a satirical name for ‘London’ – but where in the play does the satire end and the ‘tragedie’ begin?

When Shakespeare returned to England in 1593 he encountered two more real life horrors – the murder of Christopher Marlowe in a drunken brawl in Deptford……

…… and the brutal torture of Thomas Kyd in the Tower on suspicion of atheism. Both playwrights were friends who had a pronounced influence on Shakespeare – Marlowe with his passion and his violence and Kyd with his suicides and revenge. There are whole passages in Titus Andronicus that could have been written by either of these men. But we see in the play Shakespeare struggling to find his own voice. He wanted to create a more mature form of tragedy than had existed before.

The German philosopher, Hegel……

…… thought that true tragedy springs from the conflict of two irreconcilable ‘rights’. Titus is ‘right’, in terms of his Pagan religion, to sacrifice Tamora’s son to liberate the souls of his own sons: but Tamora is also ‘right’ to seek revenge for the murder of hers.

We know from his Sonnets that Shakespeare was not above seeking revenge in real life – but his plays were ‘better’ than he was. His characters often struggle hard to forgive others and to empathise with them. Titus, for example, displays a dark certainty and terrifying grandeur as he slits the throats of Tamora’s sons and bakes their heads in a pie. But he transforms into a sublime force of nature itself when he pities his mutilated daughter:

I am the sea. Hark how her sighs doth blow;

She is the weeping welkin, I the earth:

Then must my sea be moved with her sighs

Then must my earth with her continual tears

Become a deluge, over-flow’d and drown’d;

For why my bowels cannot hide her oes,

But like a drunkard I must vomit them.

And even Aaron realises that the loving, loyal Lucius has a spirituality he lacks:

Yet for I know thou [Lucius] art religious

And hast a thing within thee called conscience,

With twenty popish tricks and ceremonies

Which I have seen thee careful to observe…

And though Aaron hates the whole of mankind, he adores the baby he has produced with Tamora. Even the most evil of people can be touched by the love for their own flesh and blood – and that, for Shakespeare, dignifies and ennobles the worst of human kind. They are, in some way, redeemable.

Shakespeare is striving to invent Christian Tragedy.

But the play has a huge, perhaps irredeemable, flaw for a modern audience. When Aaron says…..

Aaron will have his soul black like his face

…..he is equating ‘black’ with ‘bad’. And so, it seems, is Shakespeare.

But, when he was in love with the dark skinned Aemilia Bassano, he argued that ‘black was beautiful’.

He acknowledges, in Sonnet 127, that in the olden times, a black skin was not thought of as ‘fair’ – but now white skinned women so ‘slander’ their beauty with wigs and make-up that the purity of a black skin, brows and eyes has become the new ‘fair’ – and….

 ….every tongue says beauty should look so.

Aemilia was much more interested in handsome, young, rich Harry Southampton and so dumped Shakespeare. In a hurt fury, Shakespeare started to use black in the Sonnets as a term of abuse.

But the fact that Shakespeare invents an Aemilius and a Bassianus – and even gives the Moor Aaron a Jewish name – shows that Aemilia was still very much on his mind – or at least his unconscious mind.

And that part of him still found her the most beautiful woman on earth.

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