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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…..

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……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 Liliput, 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?

Hated by Gibbs and Swift and Pope at least…

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 V. 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 are stopped from speaking the truth and both are 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 He asks the ‘thrice crown-ed queen of night’ (= the Moon = Diana = The Virgin Queen Elizabeth) to ‘survey/with they 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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( A Programme Note for the production of the play by the Titchfield Festival Theatre)

In 1964, George P. V. Akrigg, a Canadian academic, visited Titchfield. He was doing research for his book, Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton, and called in at St. Peter’s Church, where he noticed a ‘little guide’ to the Parish which was ‘sold at the door there’.   Written by Rev. G. Stanley Morley – the Vicar of Titchfield for nineteen years – it had been published in 1934, cost sixpence and put all of Akrigg’s research into doubt.

Morley reported there was a tradition at Titchfield that the Third Earl of Southampton’s ‘romance’ with Elizabeth Vernon – a Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Elizabeth……

…….had inspired William Shakespeare to write Romeo and Juliet’ and that it ‘was acted for the first time in Titchfield.’

Akrigg wrote that this story was ‘too late to have any authority’ and cites the anthropologist, Lord Raglin, who pours scorn on ‘local traditions’ offered by ‘rural’ clergymen with only a ‘smattering of history’. What Akrigg didn’t mention was that Morley was a Cambridge M.A. and an Inspector of Schools – and what Akrigg didn’t know was that there was a long established tradition of staging plays at Titchfield.

Jane Wriothesley, 1st  Countess of Southampton……

Photo Ross Underwood

……hosted Christmas entertainments for the local people even before the Abbey had been converted and her husband, Thomas Wriothesly, later 1st Earl of Southampton, had been a keen amateur actor at Cambridge.

Photo Ross Underwood

Their son, the 2nd Earl of Southampton……

Photo Ross Underwood

……..married Mary Browne…….

……the daughter of Anthony Browne – who in 1554 had been created Viscount Montague by Philip of Spain, then also King of England.

Lord Montague was sent to Italy the following year on diplomatic service – and here he would certainly have learnt about the family feuds of ‘I Montecchi’ and ‘I Capuletti’ which stretched back to Dante in the fourteenth century.

By 1562, an English translation of the Italian tale had turned the families into the ‘Montagews’ and ‘Capalets’ – and when Lord Montague’s son and daughter (twin brother and half-sister of Mary Browne/Southampton) married in a double wedding, George Gascoigne wrote a masque for the event based on the old feud story. But he turned the Veronese Montagew into a Venetian for the duration because the family had ‘bought furniture of silks, etc., and had caused their costumes to be cut of the Venetian fashion’.

As Queen Elizabeth’s reign progressed, Place House in Titchfield became a centre of the arts and learning. Elizabethan aristocrats disliked living in smelly, crowded London – and the men were addicted to hunting deer, boar and hare on their estates. The women needed something to occupy their minds – so they many of them engaged in amateur acting, employing professional actors and writers – like William Shakespeare – to up their game.

Mary Southampton also employed Shakespeare as tutor to her teenage son, the 3rd Earl, Harry Southampton……

…..and commissioned him to write seventeen sonnets to celebrate her son’s seventeenth birthday and encourage him to marry Elizabeth Vere – the grand-daughter of his guardian, Lord Burghley. But there was a problem: Harry wasn’t interested in women. And there was another problem: Harry was interested in Shakespeare. We know all this from reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets – which tell us that Shakespeare wanted to keep the relationship with Harry Platonic. It seems Shakespeare had been initiated into gay life by Christopher Marlowe in London……..

……..but an affair with Harry would have clashed, to say the least, with his working brief from Mary Southampton.

Queen Elizabeth – and all her court and soldiers – went on one of her Progresses to Hampshire in 1591. Lord Montague staged an entertainment for her – in which he and his wife took part – over several days in the grounds of Cowdray Castle. In the Queen’s entourage was the beautiful, dark-skinned, mixed race musician – Aemilia Basanno – who forms the subject of the plays in the Great Barn’s Shakespeare Season. It was with her that Romeo and Juliet had its beginnings…..

Shakespeare fell madly in love with her – even though she was the mistress of the Queen’s cousin, old Lord Hunsdon…….

Shakespeare made a play for her at Titchfield by casting her as the coquettish, black-eyed Rosaline in Love’s Labour’s Lost and himself as her wooer Berowne – an anagram of the Browne family name.

But Rosaline/Aemilia was having none of it: her cap was set at young Lord Harry – and she teased and flirted with him till he fell in love with her as well. Shakespeare in an agony of jealousy went off on tour – imagining the two of them in bed together, in the way Othello does with Desdemona and Cassio. But, in a torment of passion, he came to realise that he was more in love with the boy than the girl. Aemilia became pregnant and was hurriedly married off to a ‘minstrel’ and Shakespeare declared his love for Harry in the great sonnet, ‘Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day?’.

Mary Southampton soon twigged what was going on – but Shakespeare reminded her that she, in her youth, had loved in an unconventional way. She had fallen in love with ‘a common person’ and her husband had snatched her son Harry away from her. There was war between the Southampton and Montague families – and their servants took part in street brawls so seriously they were put in jail. Compare this with the first scene of Romeo and Juliet.

When he came into his early 20s, Harry was expected to reside at Queen Elizabeth’s Court – and everyone assumed he would take over the Earl of Essex’s role as the Queen’s lover. Essex – codename ‘The Weary Knight’ – was more than happy to hand over to his younger friend. But Harry fell in love with one of Elizabeth’s beautiful, young, Ladies-in-Waiting, Elizabeth Vernon. As a consequence:

  1. Mary Southampton was thrilled as it meant the Southampton family name would continue.
  2. Essex was delighted because Elizabeth V. was his poor cousin.
  3. The Queen was furious because she was being upstaged by one of her attendants.
  4. Elizabeth V. was uncertain because she was highly strung and uncertain about her feelings and..
  5. Shakespeare was downright ambivalent. He wanted Harry to marry – but he didn’t want Harry to marry.

The combined forces of Mary Southampton and Essex persuaded Shakespeare to write a play to persuade Elizabeth V. to accept Harry as her lover. So Romeo and Juliet was born. Harry played Romeo, Elizabeth V. played Juliet, Shakespeare played Mercutio and the whole thing was staged as a wooing game at Place House.


P.S. Half a Dozen Things to Look Out for in Romeo and Juliet.

1. Everyone was worried that Harry might still have some vestigial love for Aemilia/Rosaline. That’s why Romeo is presented at first as being in love with Rosaline – but then becomes convinced that Rosaline/Aemilia is, in fact, ‘a crow’.

2. There is a coded attack on Queen Elizabeth in the play. The Virgin Queen was referred to as ‘the Moon’ so when Romeo/Harry says to Juliet/Elizabeth V. ‘Arise fair sun and kill the envious moon/Who is already sick and pale with grief/That thou her maid art far more fair than she’ it is a reference to the Queen’s jealousy of her Ladies-in-Waiting – and the beginnings of the Essex/Southampton plot to overthrow the Queen.

Romeo/Harry then goes on to advise Juliet/Elizabeth V. to give up her her position as attendant to the Queen: ‘Be not her maid since she [Queen Elizabeth] is envious/Her vestal livery is but sick and green/And none but fools do wear it’.

3. Juliet/Elizabeth V. famously says: ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’. Shakespeare, in his Sonnets calls Harry ‘my rose’ – a reference to the Southampton rose and the way Harry pronounced his family name ‘Wriothesley’. The cadet members of the family pronounced it ‘Risley’ and used this spelling in their letters. But we know from the Titchfield Parish Register that Harry pronounced it ‘Ryosely’ – and possibly even ‘Rosely’

4. Christopher Marlowe who had been killed by the time Romeo and Juliet was written – had a tremendous influence on Shakespeare’s notions of love. In his poem Hero and Leander he writes|: ‘Whoever loved who loved not at first sight?’ and Shakespeare’s play makes this idea central. Shakespeare himself, in his Sonnets, writes about the moment his ‘eye’ first ‘eyed’ young Harry.

5. Elizabeth V.’s emotional turbulence was to prove a problem for the next few years – and the relationship was nearly broken off at one point when Harry thought she was having an affair with another man. So Shakespeare creates a woman in Juliet who is CERTAIN of her love – and her passion – for Romeo in the hopes that it might rub off on Elizabeth V. herself. It did. She proved a warm and loving wife to Harry.

6. John Dryden reports that Shakespeare said that he had to kill Mercutio off or Mercutio would have killed him. Shakespeare IS Mercutio – with all his wild, dark fantasy and over-whelming love for Romeo/Harry. There are times when Shakespeare’s sonnets are filled with despair and desire for death – and the play itself – written at time of political turbulence when the Queen had imposed Martial Law – deals with a society that is consumed with violence and betrayal. Shakespeare in the play seems to be saying the only thing that is real in life is your emotions. To be authentic, you must follow them to the very end.

P.P.S. The moment this Programme Note was submitted, the most important idea came into my head! I have argued that, as a Roman Catholic, Shakespeare believed that the living could influence the fate of the dead – that’s why Requiem Masses were celebrated and the well-being of souls were prayed for. Mary Southampton and her husabnd the 2nd Earl of Southampton were ardent Catholics – but they died with their quarrel unresolved: the Houses of Montague and Southampton were still, spiritually, at war. The 2nd Earl had snatched away their son, Harry, in 1580 – and banished Mary from their house. My belief is that A Midsummer Night’s Dream – with its war between Oberon and Titania over the little changeling boy, reflects the war between Mary and her husband. And that the reconciliation of the Fairy King and Queen represents Shakespeare’s attempt at a spiritual reconciliation between the dead husband and a living wife. Similarly, I know feel that by resolving the family feud of the Montagues and Capulets, Shakespeare is attempting the same spiritual reconcilaition of the houses of the Montagues and Southamptons.


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Brothers and Sisters of The Shakespeare Code

Your Cat is addressing you from a secret location in West London.

Word has just reached us that The Shakespeare Code has received its…..

350,000th VIEW!!!

Yes ……


Our Chief Agent, STEWART TROTTER…..


…….famed for his modesty even as a Schoolboy…….

……has gone to ground….

……to avoid the inevitable Press clamour.

But he has asked Your Cat to thank you all for your support and interest.

In the words of Queen Elizabeth I….

he has…..

Reigned with your loves….

Your Cat is now off for a night on the tiles……

God bless….

And ‘bye now….

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Brothers and Sisters of the Shakespeare Code…

This is the third and final Interval Talk this season – a collaboration between The Shakespeare Code and….

The Season has been a huge success and has given us the opportunity of presenting entirely new material online.

We hope that this will be the start of manny collaborations with the remarkable Kevin Fraser.

‘The Taming of THE Shrew’ – the Inside Story.

On Valentine’s Day, 1598, Sir Gilly Merrick……

made a very great supper

…….at Essex House in the Strand….

Present were the Second Earl of Essex, his mother, his sisters, Lord Mountjoy and many ‘other Lords’.

Two plays were performed which kept everyone up till 1 a.m. The Titchfield Festival Theatre and The Shakespeare Code believes they were the premieres of Much Ado about Nothing and The Taming of the Shrew.

THE Shrew – not A Shrew. The Taming of a Shrew is an earlier play, written at the time of the Spanish Armada, by Thomas Kyd and William Shakespeare. We know this because Thomas Nashe tells us so, in code, in his Preface to Robert Greene’s Menaphon, published in 1589.in code, in his Preface to Robert Greene’s Menaphon, published in 1589. Nashe attacks the writers – both mere ‘grammarians’ – that is, grammar school boys – for writing a line in A Shrew about…

the icy hair that grows on Boreas chin…..

Boreas was the North Wind, and Nashe found it ridiculous that wind could have a chin.

We also know that the two grammarians were Kyd and Shakespeare because Nashe writes in his Preface about…

the Kyd in Aesop


kill-cow conceit.

John Aubrey…..

…records how Shakespeare, as a boy…..

when he killed a calf would do it in a high style and make a speech…

Nashe also tells us that Kyd and Shakespeare lodged together at Westminster……

………worked during the day as lawyers’ clerks, and wrote pamphlets and plays in the evening by candlelight. They would then starch their beards – just as Bottom does in A Midsummer Night’s Dream – and make their way along the Strand into the City.

Here they would….

turn over French dowdie.

Some scholars think ‘French dowdie’ means French books.

Others, French women.

The Taming of A Shrew has a different setting to The Taming of The Shrew. We are in Ancient Athens, in the age of Plato and Aristotle, and time scheme is over two days.

Christopher Sly appears…..

….with the same name, but stays to the end of the play. He is put back into his old clothes when he is asleep and believes he has had….

the best dream he ever had in his life

He also now knows…..

how to tame a shrew.

Structurally, the old version of the play is better than the new, where Sly slips out of the action.

The Shrew is also called ‘Kate’, but her suitor is called ‘Ferando’. She decides to marry him because…

she has lived too long a maid…

….but determines to….

match him too.

She plays the lute and threatens to strike her serving-maid, Valeria.

Queen Elizabeth also famously played the lute……

…and famously struck her Ladies-in-Waiting. It soon becomes clear that the battle of wills between Kate and Ferando is a satire on the fights between Elizabeth and her first lover, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester….

Ferando feeds Kate meat from his dagger – as Tamburlaine does to a conquered king in Christopher Marlowe’s play….

….and decides to divide power between Kate and himself. She will rule one day – and he the next.

One bystander believes the two are well-matched – but another predicts Ferando will never tame Kate…

for when he has done she will do what she list..

A third adds….

her manhood is good

….promoting the ideas that Elizabeth was really a man.

But Kate does tread her cap underfoot when asked to and gioves a |Biblical rason why every woman should obey her husband:

Then to his image did God make a man,

Old Adam, and from his side asleep

A rib was taken of which the Lord did make,

The woe of man so termed by Adam then,

Woman for that, by her came sin to us,

And for her sin was Adam doomed to die,

As Sara to her husband, so should we,

Obey them, love them, keep and nourish them…

This is very much a criticism of Elizabeth. Many men, especially Roman Catholics, believed that by ascending the throne of England, and then creating herself the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, Elizabeth was usurping the power and authority God had given to males.

A lot of women thought the same – including the Countess of Pembroke, living at Wilton….

She was a Protestant, but hated Elizabeth because she had destroyed the political career of her brother, Sir Philip Sidney…

Under her older husband’s name and title, she ran a company of players who performed anti-Elizabeth plays and who toured The Taming of a Shrew right up to 1596.

When Shakespeare came to re-write The Taming of a Shrew in 1598 he changed the setting of the -play from Ancient Greece to contemporary Italy.


Well, one of the reasons, we believe, was he had been there.

Henry Wriothesley – or ‘Harry Southampton’ as he signed himself –

……..wrote a letter from Dieppe to the Earl of Essex, offering his services to him. It is dated 2nd March but with no year marked.

We believe that year to be 1593 – and that Harry, Shakespeare and little Tom Nashe – now on board as a collaborator rather than a critic – travelled to the Lowlands, Spain and Italy as secret spies for Essex. This isn’t as odd as it might appear: Christopher Marlowe….

……openly gay and openly atheist – had already worked as a spy for the government and Harry Southampton was was to be officially recruited as a spy by Lord Burghley in 1598.

This trip changed Shakespeare’s life. He saw Titian’s Venus and Adonis……

and Rape of Lucrece…..

…….in Madrid and thei9r depth and psychological complexity inspired him to write two long, narrative poems based on them. He even used the same colours in his verse as Titian had used in his paitings.

Before 1593, Shakespeare hadn’t set a single play in Italy: by 1616 there were eight of them. He lifted sixteen of his plots from Italian novellas, one, at least, only available in Rome, and referred to Italy more than 800 times.

He also filled his plays with local detail – detail so accurate people thought they were mistakes. In The Two Gentlemen of Verona Valentine sails from Verona to Milan. Both cities are inland – but it was perfectly possible to do this as the two cities were linked by canals. Canals made journeys quicker and safer – and Harry later dug one at Titchfield….

The Titchfield Canal. The three mile walk from St. Peter’s Church to the Solent is one of the most beautiful in the world.

……only the second canal in England.

Similarly in The Taming of the Shrew Tranio is described as the son of a sail-maker in Bergamo. Bergamo is land-locked – but it contains two lakes and three rivers. A glance at Google will show that Bergamo boasts of ship-building industries to this day….

Shakespeare knows Lombady was called…

the garden of Italy

…as it is by the Italian Tourist Board to this day – that Padua was close to Venice and in its protection – which Mantua was not.

But the other more pressing reason for re-writing the play was the personal and polical pressure Shakespeare and Harry were under in 1598.

When the trio got back to England, they heard that Marlowe had moved in with Kyd into Shakespeare’s old Westminster lodgings. But the next thing they heard was that Marlowe was dead – killed in a gay brawl in Deptford – and that Kyd was all butm dead, tortured on the rack in the Tower of London…

An anonymous author had penned an anti-immigrant poem and pasted it on the doors of the Dutch Church in London. The secret police had ransacked the Westminster lodgings to see if Marlowe or Kit were the author. They found no evidence of this – but they did find…..

atheistical papers.

Kyd confessed on the rack that they belonged to Marlowe. This we now know to be true, but Shakespeare never forgave Kyd. The Countess of Pembroke tried to reconcile the two men, but Shakespeare was having none of it. He even mocked lines from Kyd’s big hit The Spanish Tragedy when he came to write A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1594.

Kyd died at the end of the year, with many debts unpaid. Ben Jonson…..

……who was ambivalent about Kyd to say the least – published a poem which described as….

the poet-ape who would be thought our chief

He describes how Shakespeare would….

pick and glean

…from other men’s works and….

and buy the reversion of old plays…

…that is, buy the rights to them.

It is our belief that Shakespeare bought the rights to Kyd’s plays from his family – plays that included early versions of King Lear, Hamlet, Henry V and, of course, The Taming of the Shrew.

‘Famous Kyd’ as he was known at the time and whose plays at the time were far more popular than Shakespeare’s, became entirely forgotten until he was ‘re-discovered’ by a scholar in 1773.

1594 was also the year when Henry came of age and was expected to attend Elizabeth’s court. This was an expensive business – but it gave him access to the Queen. Essex had become Elizabeth’s lover when the Earl of Leicester died in Armada year, but the two were tiring of each other – so Essex was setting Harry up as his successor.

The gentle and debonair…

….Harry soon caught the Queen’s eye – but one of her young Ladies-in-Waiting caught his. As we have seen, Harry changed the habit of a lifetime and in 1595 began to court the beautiful, but highly-strung, Elizabeth Vernon….

…a poor cousin of the Earl of Essex – with what a gossipy courtier, Rowland Whyte, described in a coded letter as…

too much familiarity.

The Queen found out and flew into a jealous fury. When Harry attempted to help her mount her horse, she refused his help. Harry flounced out of the court. He soon returned, but was never in the Queen’s full favour again.

Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet as part of Harry’s wooing-process – and urged Elizabeth Vernon – in code – to leave the service of the Queen…

since she is envious [that] thou her maid are fr more fair than she.

But things between the lovers started to go wrong. Harry – who was an expert jouster – wanted fame and honour which could only be truly gained in battle. The Queen did not want to risk the lives of her handsome young men – and nor didElizabeth Vernon want to risk that of her Harry. The Queen forbad Harry to accompany Essex on the Cadiz expedition in 1596: but she relented and allowed him to go on the Islands Campaign the following year.

Harry distinguished himself: he took part in a daring expedition to cut the ropes of the harbouring Spanish ships and managed to sink a man of war. He was knighted at sea by Essex – but on return received no thanks or honours from the Queen. In fact she ordered him to leave the court at the end of 1597.

But circumstances changed completely at the beginning of 1598. Whyte writes on 14th January, again in code….

I hear my Lord Southampton goes with Mr. Secretary to France and so onward in his travels; which course of his doth extremely grieve his mistress that passes her time in weeping and lamenting…

Things got much worse five days later. Whyte writes:

I heard of some unkindness should be between the Earl of Southampton and his mistress occasioned by some report of Mr. Ambrose Willoughby. The Earl of Southampton called him to account for it, but the matter was made known to the Earl of Essex and my Lord Chamberlain, who had them under examination; what the cause is I could not learn for it was but new; but I see the Earl of Southampton is full of discontentments.

Willoughby was suggesting Elizabeth Vernon was seeing another man….

In a letter to Sir Robert Sidney, Whyte describes – how after a card game with the Queen, Southampton and Willoughby – Southampton struck Willoughby near the tennis court. Willoughby responded by snatching a lock of Southampton’s shoulder-length hair.

The Queen took Willoughby’s side and banished Harry from the court – but he was back by 28th January.

On 1st February Whyte writes:

My Lord of Southampton is much troubled at her Majesty’s strange usage of him. Somebody hath played unfriendly parts with him. Mr. Secretary hath procured him Licence to travel. His mistress doth wash her fairest face with many tears. I pray God his going away bring her no such infirmity which is, as it were, hereditary to her name.

Dorothy Vernon – whose Roman Catholic father had been Elizabeth’s grandfather – had defied her parents and eloped, on horseback, with John Manners – a second son and a Protestant.

From the opera based on that event, ‘Haddon Hall’.

Whyte is implying that with Harry away, Elizabeth might ride off with somebody else.

By 2nd February, things had changed a bit…

it is secretly said that my Lord Southampton shall be married to his fair mistress, but he asked for a little respite…

On 6th February, the Queen gave Harry permission to travel for two years, with ten servants, six horses and £200. On 10th February he left with Robert Cecil on a diplomatic mission to Henri IV in France.

On 12th February Whyte writes:

My Lord of Southampton is gone and left behind him a very desolate Gentlewoman that almost wept out her fairest eyes. He was at Essex House with the Earl of Essex and there had been much private talk with him for two hours in the court below.

Two days later, Much Ado About Nothing and The Taming of the Shrew were performed in the very same place. It is our view that that Harry and Elizabeth had seen run-throughs of the plays before Harry left for France – and that Shakespeare, by writing them, intended to influence the course of events. The very titles suggest what Shakespeare thought of the situation- and what the solution should be!

Shakespeare had attempted to influence Harry many times before. His first seventeen sonnets were written as a commission from Mary, 2nd Countess of Southampton…

…to persuade young Harry to marry. Romeo and Juliet had been a continuation of that process.

There was ambivalence on Shakespeare’s part: part of him wanted to keep Harry for himself. But he knew that, as an aristocrat, Harry needed to produce a son and heir. Also Shakespeare’s own son, Hamnet, had died less than two years before – so Shakespeare knew how valuable family life was. In his grief, Shakespeare had even turned Harry into his own surrogate son.

Much Ado – which editors agree was first performed in 1598 – is almost a blow by blow reconstruction of what had been happening in court. Like Essex, Don Pedro and his men have returned from the wars and are trying to adjust to a peace. There is little to do and there are spies everywhere.

Like Harry, Claudio has distinguished himself in the wars – and, like Harry, falls in love. But there is a villain who wants to upset things and who persuades him that his loved one is untrue….

The play is critical of Claudio’s gullibility – as Shakespeare is of Harry’s – and the play is partly a reprimand to him. Benedick is described as Don Pedro’s jester….

…and Shakespeare also takes up this role – speaking truth to power.

But the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick is also a gloss on the Harry/Elizabeth V. relationship. Both have been engaged in a war of words and both are independently minded. Shakespeare wants to show that, happy as they claim they are, they would be much happier together.

Their love is tested by Beatrice’s order to Benedick to…

Kill Claudio!

…but it holds and play ends in festival, merriment and fulfilment. It is a world where even incompetent policemen make the right arrests.

With The Taming of the Shrew Shakespeare transforms a political satire into a profound examination of the battle of the sexes. Katherine and Beatrice are sides of the same coin – and both believe they are destined to….

lead apes in Hell…

….that is, die childless. Beatrice thinks he is happy about this – but Katherina knows she is not. She is clearly miserable with life and is jealous of the love her father gives to Bianca.

Petruchio knows he can make Katherina happy – but has to take her to a deep and dark place first. Shakespeare is advising Harry not to…

seek a little respite

…..from Elizabeth – that would be fatal. But to confront her head on. He must smash the carapace she has grown around herself so she can transform and grow.

This control of a woman’s destiny by a man – however lovingly intended – horrified the Feminists in the 1970s….

And when Petruchio compares Katherina to a falcon he must tame, the past really is another country. But before we dismiss this part of the play as hopelessly chauvinistic, remember that Elizabethan men loved hunting – and the animals they hunted with – beyond life and death. To train a falcon, you had to make it part of your whole being…

Falcons even appeared in the Southampton family crest…..

…..and in the Shakespeare.

Equally problematic is Kate’s last speech when she speaks about the…

painful labour both by sea and land…

…that men do while women lie….

warm at home, secure and safe.

But again it must be remembered that she is talking about a pre-industrial age when brute strenght was often a pre-requisite of work. And when Kate argues for female subservience to men, she is not, as in A Shrew, making a theological point.

She is making an erotic one.

When she describes a woman putting her hand beneath a man’s foot….

to do him ease….

….’foot’ had a sexual meaning lost on us today.

But when, in Franco Zefirelli’s masterly film of the play, you watch Elizbath Taylor kneeling before Richard Burton…..

something of this comes across.

It is impossible to say who is dominating whom….

But the important question to ask is: What effect did these plays have on Harry and Elizabeth?

Life-changing. Literally…

On 8th November, 1598, Elizabeth, by then 3rd Countess of Southampton….


…gave birth to a little girl.

Harry and Elizabeth must have made love directly after seeing the plays….

© Stewart Trotter September, 2021.

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