Review: Volume 33 - Tudor England

Review: Volume 33 - Tudor England

Did William Shakespeare ever meet Queen Elizabeth I? There is no evidence of such a meeting, yet for three centuries writers and artists have been provoked and inspired to imagine it. Shakespeare and Elizabeth is the first book to explore the rich history of invented encounters between the poet and the Queen, and examines how and why the mythology of these two charismatic and enduring cultural icons has been intertwined in British and American culture. Helen Hackett follows the history of meetings between Shakespeare and Elizabeth through historical novels, plays, paintings, and films, ranging from well-known works such as Sir Walter Scott's Kenilworth and the film Shakespeare in Love to lesser known but equally fascinating examples. Raising intriguing questions about the boundaries separating scholarship and fiction, Hackett looks at biographers and critics who continue to delve into links between the queen and the poet. In the Shakespeare authorship controversy there have even been claims that Shakespeare was Elizabeth's secret son or lover, or that Elizabeth herself was the genius Shakespeare. Hackett uncovers the reasons behind the lasting appeal of their combined reputations, and she locates this interest in their enigmatic sexual identities, as well as in the ways they represent political tensions and national aspirations.


Thomas Cromwell: A Life by Diarmaid MacCulloch review – rise and fall of a cunning ruffian

I f a picture is worth a thousand words, a great portrait must equal some 700 pages of print. Hans Holbein the Younger’s depiction of Thomas Cromwell – dark, brooding, sinister and suggestive – is the likeness that has shaped the tormented afterlife of Henry VIII’s master secretary. That’s the image challenged by Hilary Mantel’s bestselling novels, and it also haunts every line of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s compendious work. Between Holbein on the one hand and Mantel on the other, there is plenty of room for an alternative version. This is the life that professor MacCulloch has set himself to write.

Except that it’s not really a life, more a life and times, the fruit of many years in the archives, a history as much as a biography that weighs in with almost 30 pages of bibliography and 115 dense pages of notes. MacCulloch once sat at the feet of that fearsome medieval historian Geoffrey Elton and cannot quite forget his mentor’s bristling moustache.

In the quest for “the true Thomas Cromwell of history”, this heavyweight volume is intended to be a knockout blow. Mantel’s fulsome pre-publication puff (“the biography we have been awaiting for 400 years”) certainly advertises one satisfied customer. A more dispassionate reading might find the historian-biographer, who must live and die by the written record, swamped by the teeming documents of Henry’s reign. This was a pivotal moment between medieval and modern England to which the IT revolution of the Renaissance contributed a cornucopia of ink and paper. One of the many incidental fascinations of this book is its picture of Cromwell the bibliophile, and the role of print in stoking the furnace of Henry’s extraordinary reign.

As generations of historical novelists, up to and including Mantel, have discovered, Henry VIII is box-office gold. The notorious scenarios of Tudor England remain as potent in our imaginations as the destruction of the Bourbons in the French Revolution or the rise and fall of the Third Reich. The thrilling story MacCulloch sets out subtly to reinterpret is a human drama replete with sickening bloodshed, intrigue, torture and treachery.

Small wonder, then, that even so compelling a figure as Cromwell occasionally gets lost in the maelstrom. This is not MacCulloch’s fault, but the inevitable consequence of his determination to describe the political sacrifices of a great reformer and self-made man who flew too close to the sun. What is not in doubt, a judgment from which MacCulloch never flinches, is that Cromwell was as well equipped as anyone could have been to survive the terrifying unpredictability of Henry VIII and his uniquely toxic regime.

A self-styled “ruffian”, a brewer’s son from Putney, Cromwell became the master of Tudor power politics. But his Achilles heel was his loyalty to the mentor who had first helped him step on to the tightrope of royal service. It was Cromwell’s touching devotion to Cardinal Wolsey, whom he served from his pomp in 1524 to his fall in 1530, that would prove his undoing.

The drama of this tragic career falls nicely into five acts. MacCulloch covers a lot of familiar ground in a fresh and deeply researched way. Cromwell was an old man in 16th-century terms when he first emerged from obscurity to become a royal councillor. His first 40 years become the curtain-raiser to his apprenticeship to Wolsey, his “dear master”. It’s then that he acquired his skills as a diplomat and fixer, with a genius for improvisation and clubbable instincts that served him well around Henry’s court. The second act, his service with Wolsey, shows him at his most effective, taking on Anne Boleyn and her supporters as they plotted to destroy “the Cardinal”. A lesser ruffian might not have weathered his master’s demise.

Cromwell’s dazzling performance in the 1530s is tantalisingly brief, a parable of his trade. The third act opens in 1533 when he becomes chancellor of the exchequer, and it runs to the execution of Anne Boleyn, a swift and savage reversal that MacCulloch shows to have been driven by Cromwell’s need to avenge Wolsey’s downfall.


** Bacon , Francis , “ Of Seditions and Troubles ,” The Works of Francis Bacon , ed. Spedding , James , et. al. , 14 vols. ( London , 1857 – 1874 ), 6: 406 –09Google Scholar . Bodin , Jean , The Six Bookes of the Commonwealth , ed., McRae , K.D. ( Cambridge, Mass. , 1962 ), pp. 543 –44CrossRefGoogle Scholar .

2 Oxford English Dictionary, sub (edition (hereafter cited as O.E.D.).

3 “An aduertisement touching seditious wrytings,” PRO, SP12/235/81. This document—from the early or mid-Elizabethan period-appears to be the draft for a Star Chamber speech, which was customarily delivered by the lord chancellor or lord keeper to the assembled privy councillors, royal judges, and those justices of the peace who happened to be in Westminster at the time.

4 The Case de Libellis famosis, Easter 3 Jac I [1605], The Fifth Part of the Reports of Sir Edward Coke (London, 1738), fos. 125-26.

5 O.E.D., sub sedition Stephen's Commentaries on the Laws of England , ed. Warmington , L.C. ( 21st ed. London , 1950 ), 4 : 141 Google Scholar .

6 16 Carl. I, c. 10. See also Phillips , H.E.I. , “ The Last Years of the Court of Star Chamber, 1630-41 ,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society , 4th series, 21 ( 1938 ): 103 –31CrossRefGoogle Scholar .

7 Eisenstein , Elizabeth L. , “ The Advent of Printing and the Protestant Revolt: A New Approach to the Disruption of Western Christendom ,” Transition and Revolution: Problems and Issues of European Renaissance and Reformation History , ed. Kingdon , Robert M. ( Minneapolis , 1974 ), pp. 235 – 270 Google Scholar .

8 P[ublic] R[ecord] O[ffice], Proceedings of the Court of Star Chamber, STAC 4/6/67, Lovette vs. Weston.

9 A Letter Concerning Toleration , ed. Cough , J.W. ( Oxford , 1966 ), p. 158 ffGoogle Scholar .

10 Russell , Conrad , The Crisis of Parliaments: English History, 1509-1660 ( London , 1971 ), p. 312 Google Scholar .

11 Hawarde , John , Les Reportes del Cases in Camera Stellata, 1593-1609 , ed. Baildon , W.P. ( 1894 ), pp. 176 –77Google Scholar .

12 PRO, SP 10/8/33, printed in England under the Reigns of Edward VI and Mary , ed. Tytler , P.F. , 2 vols ( London , 1839 ), 1: 185 –89Google Scholar .

13 William Lambarde and Local Government: His “Ephemeris” and Twenty-nine Charges to Juries and Commissions , ed. Read , Conyers ( Ithaca, N.Y. , 1962 ), p. 96 Google Scholar .

14 The Works of Sir Francis Bacon , ed. Spedding , James et al. , 15 vols. ( London , 1861 ), 6: 408 – 409 Google Scholar .

15 sThe French ambassador at this time wrote: “It is a strange thing, the hatred in which this king is held, in free speaking, cartoons, defamatory libels-the ordinary precursors of civil war” (“A Proclamation against excesse of Lavish and Licentious Speech of Matters of State,” 24 December 1620, Stuart Royal Proclamations, Vol. I: Royal Proclamations of King James I, 1603-1625 , ed. Larkin , J.F. and Hughes , P.J. [ Oxford , 1973 ], no. 208n.Google Scholar )

16 Elton , G.R. , The Tudor Constitution ( Cambridge , 1960 ), pp. 59 – 60 Google Scholar Bellamy , J.G. , The Law of Treason in England in the Later Middle Ages ( Cambridge , 1970 ), pp. 116-19, 123 CrossRefGoogle Scholar . Meekings , C.A.F. , in his article “ Thomas Kerver's Case, 1444 ,” English Historical Review , 90 ( 1975 ): 331 – 346 CrossRefGoogle Scholar , disputes some of the evidence that Professor Bellamy uses. The first, or King's Bench trial of Kerver was quashed because the jury failed to convict Kerver of attempting to persuade others to murder the king. The second or general commission of oyer and terminer trial made this a specific count in the indictment and a conviction was obtained. The point at issue here is whether the Treasons Act of 1352 comprehended compassing the death of the king through spoken words only as an overt act, or whether the spoken words had to be construed as such, producing ‘constructive’ treason. It is a fine point.

17 Stephen's Commentaries , 4 : 127 – 128 Google Scholar .

18 Emmison , F.G. , Elizabethan Life: Disorder, Mainly from Essex Sessions and Assize Records ( Chelmsford , Essex Record Office Publications , no. 56, 1970 ), p. 39 Google Scholar .

19 Mackie , J.D. , The Earlier Tudors, 1485-1558 ( Oxford , 1952 ), p. 75 Google Scholar .

20 The Fifty-third Annual Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records ( London , 1892 ), appendix II, pp. 32 – 34 Google Scholar .

21 Williams , W. L. , “ A Welsh Insurrection ,” Y Cymmrodor , 16 ( 1902 ): 1 – 93 Google Scholar . Rhys, it is true, previously had drawn his dagger on Henry's representative in Wales, Lord Ferrar, whom his wife and servants subsequently beseiged at Carmarthen Castle, for which actions Rhys was sentenced in Star Chamber to pay a fine for the crime of rebellion.

22 Elton , G.R. , Policy and Police: The Enforcement of the Reformation in the Age of Thomas Cromwell ( Cambridge , 1972 ), p. 275 Google Scholar .

23 Henry , VIII, c. 22 ( Statutes of the Realm [ London , 1810 - 1828 ], 3: 471 )Google Scholar . This act made seditious libel, by writing or printing, treasonable, but did not extend the penalties of high treason to seditious words.

24 Henry VIII, c. 13, printed in Elton , , Tudor Constitution , pp. 61 – 63 Google Scholar .

25 The Second Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England ( 4th ed. London , 1671 ), pp. 225 –29Google Scholar . Coke cites the Statute of 2 Richard II, c. 2. It was actually 2 Richard II, statute 1, c. 5 ( Statutes of the Realm , 2 : 9 Google Scholar ). However, during the Peasants' Revolt in 1381, another statute (5 Richard II, stat. 1, c. 6, Statutes of the Realm , 2 : 20 Google Scholar ) stated that anyone starting a rumor, upon proof of such, was to be adjudged a traitor.

26 Henry VIII, c. 14 ( Statutes of the Realm , 3 : 850 Google Scholar ). This statute did not even require that the prophecies uttered or published be proved to be seditious.

27 Reports of the Deputy Keeper of the public records , 75 vols. ( London , 1840 - 1914 ), 3: 237 –38Google Scholar .

28 Furnivall , F.J. , Ballads from Manuscripts, vol. I: Ballads on the Condition of England in Henry VIII's and Edward VI's Reigns ( London , 1868 - 1872 ), pp. 476 –77Google Scholar .

29 Stow , John , Annates, or a General Chronicle of England ( London , 1631 ), p. 582 Google Scholar .

30 Abp. Holgate, president of the Council in the North to Cromwell, Dec. 19, 1537, Brit. Lib., Cotton MSS., Caligula B. III, fos. 157-58.

31 Hall , Edward , Vnion of the two Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancaster and Yorke , ed. Ellis , Henry ( London , 1809 , reprinted New York, 1965), p. 823 Google Scholar (hereafter cited as Hall's Chronicle) see also Stowe , , Annates , pp. 573 –74Google Scholar .

32 Beer , Barrett L. , “ London and the Rebellions of 1548-49 ,” Journal of British Studies , 12 ( 1972 ): 29 Google Scholar .


Oxford Handbook of the English Revolution

The current trend in history publishing for a ‘one stop shop edition’ of essays on a particular subject, variously entitled ‘Handbooks’ or ‘Companions’, is a welcome addition for teachers and students of history alike. These volumes collect together the same number of essays as two or three volumes of Macmillan’s successful Problems in Focus series of old and thus provide the reader with a comprehensive overview of the most recent research and thinking on a historical subject. The Oxford Handbook of the English Revolution edited by Mike Braddick presents a series of 33 essays from leading scholars covering the whole gamut of the political, religious, social and cultural history of this complex and densely studied period between c.1637–1662.

The first apparent oddity, however, as Mike Braddick admits in his introductory chapter is the use of the term ‘English Revolution’ in the title. Since the late 1980s historians have recognised that the mid-17th century political crisis spanned all the British, Irish and colonial possessions of Charles I. As Austin Woolrych’s 2002 popular textbook Britain in Revolution (1) shows, readers have become used to the notion of a British revolution and it is therefore surprising that OUP chose to maintain the English Revolution’ label. Nevertheless, Scotland and Ireland each get three dedicated chapters each along with other chapters discussing three kingdom issues. Given that Braddick has co-edited one of the more useful collections on the British Atlantic world, a standalone chapter on the colonial American and the Caribbean reaction to the Civil Wars and Interregnum would have been a welcome addition, but is sadly missing from this collection.

The collection is opened by an introduction by Braddick collating the themes of the essays and a polemical chapter by Peter Lake locating the historical background to the Revolution in the political and religious tensions of the post-Reformation. Looking to the creation of rival polemical languages and a ‘public’ that could deploy them in the century or so before the Civil War, Lake refuses to outline ‘the causes of the English civil war’ in a sense that might have satisfied Lawrence Stone or Conrad Russell, but shows the potentiality of such languages and structures to tip over into conflict.

The chapters on English political history are kicked off by Richard Cust and Michael Braddick who explore the periods between 1637 and 1642 and 1642 to 1646 respectively. Summarising his own work and that of John Adamson, Cust refreshes the themes that Conrad Russell so profitably explored in the early 1990s, putting a post-revisionist twist to the argument for the functional breakdown of Charles I’s monarchies. Cust also re-iterates the point that the outbreak of civil war in England was not just based on three-kingdom pressure on Charles’ administration but also the emergence of a royalist party formed out of growing abhorrence at the extremist policies of the dissident Parliamentary junto. Braddick’s essay on the first civil war picks up on this extremism stressing the ideological radicalism that emerged as the Parliamentary junto sought to justify its challenge to royal authority. Stressing mobilisation over allegiance, Braddick narrates how King and Parliament, despite attempting to maintain a rhetoric of peace and settlement, grew further apart as the bloody war progressed.

Braddick’s chapter is complemented by Rachel Foxley’s analysis of the variety of parliamentarian positions. As Dr Foxley puts it parliamentarians were thrown into a war of interpretation amongst themselves as to what ‘the cause’ actually meant, giving rise to a series of ‘parliamentarianisms’ ranging from presbyterian confessionalism to the Leveller call for liberty. Ted Vallance’s essay on the political thought in the period picks up on this theme and explores the centrality of notions of liberty and how these ideas progressed in the 1650s in Hobbes and Harrington’s versions of the ideal commonwealth. Alan Cromartie’s essay on the varieties of royalism, a mirror essay to Foxley’s offering, provides a welcome analysis in a book that, as with the academic field generally, is weighted towards Parliamentarianism. As Cromartie notes, many (historians included) underestimated King Charles, inadequate as he was, and misunderstood the force of those who put arguments for him, particularly in matters of religion. The result of this was the emergence of what Restoration historians call Cavalier-Anglicanism, the backbone of which being the reactionary and vindictive country gentry who would ensure that the Restoration settlement was ultimately the persecuting and exclusive settlement that Charles II himself wished to avoid.

English politics in the 1650s and the Parliaments of the three kingdoms are covered in two chapters by David L. Smith. These set out a succinct yet solid analysis of how the institutions of Parliament were subject to the play of events over the revolutionary period. Dr Smith suggests that one future area of research is the nature of personal and network relationships in shaping the power and policy of the three kingdom’s political institutions. This, in some degree, is picked up in J. C. Davis’s chapter on Oliver Cromwell, the one individual who warrants a chapter of his own. Davis stresses the tension in Cromwell’s personality between the more commonly understood godly ideologue and the less well-explored negotiator, seeking without success to find ‘healing and settling’. Davis rightly re-asserts the importance of what Gerald Aylmer called ‘the quest for settlement’ in Cromwell’s politics. In line with the recent reconsideration of Richard Cromwell, Davis tentatively suggests that Richard’s problem was not so much his alleged personal weakness as that he capitalised on his father’s late rapprochement with the civilian, largely presbyterian parliamentarians who had gradually come round to the idea of the Protectorate as the least dire of a bunch of bad options. Although not an essay on Charles I himself, Philip Baker takes up the recently contentious subject of the Regicide, exploring late 1640s politics. Baker summarises the recent debate between those, such as Sean Kelsey, who see the King’s trial as a final attempt at negotiation with Charles and those, most characterised by the late Mark Kishlansky and Clive Holmes, who reject this re-interpretation. Although critical of aspects of Kelsey’s thesis, Baker largely finds it to be the more compelling argument on the subject.

Moving on to the trio of essays on Scotland, Julian Goodare’s chapter provides a very serviceable narrative and analysis of the rise of Covenanter movement in Scotland until the entering into the Solemn League and Covenant in 1643. I stumbled somewhat on Goodare’s suggestion that the Covenanters did not hold to a two kingdom theory but rather accepted parliamentary rather than royal supremacy over the Church. This may have been true of some lay Covenanters, but it was surely not the case for others, such as Archibald Johnston of Wariston or the presbyterian clerics at the heart of Covenanter propaganda such as Alexander Henderson, George Gillespie and Samuel Rutherford. From their first writings these figures advanced the classic 16th-century Calvinist two-kingdom doctrine found in earlier presbyterians such as Thomas Cartwright and Andrew Melville. The other two chapters on Scotland, Laura Stewart’s essay on Scottish politics 1644–51 and Scott Spurlock’s essay on state, politics and society pick up where Dr Goodare leaves off. Both Stewart and Spurlock seek to refocus the historiographical gaze away from the Scottish politicians, clergy and soldiers in England to the history of the Covenanter regime in Scotland. In doing this, both set out a manifesto for future study of the political culture of the Scottish revolution, a scholarship that they admit is unhappily underrepresented at present. These two essays show how the later 1640s witnessed a not-entirely-happy working out of the tense relationship between the political elite, the Kirk and popular (or at least ‘middling’) forces unleashed by the Covenanter movement in the late 1630s. As political stability in the three kingdoms shattered over the issue of how to find peace with the Stuart kings, the Covenanter regime fractured, leading to the divisive Engagement for Charles I in 1648 and an equally hopeless campaign for Charles II in the early 1650s. The consequences of these divisions in the 1650s were not only the Cromwellian conquest of Scotland but the failure of the Covenanter revolution of 1637 itself. Yet, as Drs Stewart and Spurlock point out, the Covenanters set in motion many of the structural and intellectual changes that would affect Scottish society for generations to come.

Unlike the consensus on Scotland, the chapters on Ireland, as Toby Barnard acknowledges in his chapter, show the more divisive character of scholarship on mid-17th-century Irish history. It is generally agreed, however, that internal division in the face of the English Parliament’s war machine was fatal for Ireland. Joseph Cope ably summarises the Irish rising of 1641, giving a helpful analysis of recent work on polemic, history and memory in light of the 1641 depositions relating to the Irish insurgency against Protestant settlers. Cope argues that this evidence points to the Irish insurgents carrying out ethnic targeting of English (as opposed to Scottish) settlers, a fact that contributed to the (already polemic-fuelled) horror of the Irish rising in England. On the other hand, Michael O Siochru, who loosely structures his essay thematically around answering the various critics of his 1999 monograph Confederate Ireland 1642–1649 (2), stresses the remarkable ethnic inclusivity of the Confederate position of the mid-1640s. Read together, these two chapters provide a detailed reminder of the ethnic dimension of the British Revolution that has also been explored in the English, Cornish and Welsh context by Mark Stoyle and Lloyd Bowen. Taking a longer view, Toby Barnard argues that Cromwell and the Cromwellian repression of Ireland was both a product and a step in the tragic and unhappy history of Ireland in the 17th century. The consequences of English ascendancy over its neighbours are analysed by balanced and insightful chapters from Derek Hirst and John Morrill, focusing on the problems that the English republic and its bloody victory over its territorial neighbours unleashed.

Tim Harris’ chapter on the Restoration points out that the problems of the British revolution were not unique to the period and continued into the Restoration settlement, which is ultimately seen as a failure. The edging towards the return of Charles Stuart as King Charles II was a mixed affair, with decisions being made in the chaotic events of late 1659. Seditious words against the new king were not uncommon and the vast majority acquiesced as the only viable way of obtaining peace. Harris concludes that the failure to address the problems of the 1640s and 1650s, and even to exacerbate them, ultimately cost the Stuarts their dynasty. The century long aftermath of the revolution is discussed in chapters by Mark Knights and John Miller who explore the commercial, fiscal, religious and cultural consequences of the mid-seventeenth century crisis. It has sometimes been argued that the British Revolution was of little consequence in the longue durée of British history, but these concluding essays beg to differ.

The handbook also presents more thematic chapters including a fine chapter on the print revolution by Jason Peacey. Andrew Hopper presents a chapter on the armies of the period and Stephen Roberts tackles localism and the problems of central government in his chapter on state and society. Along with Roberts’ chapter, John Walter’s chapter on crowds and popular politics provides a welcome reminder that the British Revolution was as much about politics ‘out of doors’ as it was about elite institutions and people. Ann Hughes’ chapter on the complexities of the gender and gender politics strikes at narratives of the revolution as being a simple transition from the medieval to the modern. Phil Withington’s chapter on urban citizens in England is a focused essay that explores how citizenship was a critical element in mobilising the Parliamentary cause, particularly from towns and boroughs that had recent grants of charters allowing them to return MPs to Westminster. Professor Withington imports concepts from the ethnography of politics to reconceptualise the various practices and stratagems that were played out in the urban field during the Revolution. He concludes that the period is characterised by a transition from Tudor notions of commonweal to one of partisanship and a politicized consciousness characteristic of later urban politics. John Coffey’s essay on religious thought explores the recent refocusing of scholarly attention away from the ‘radical’ sects toward what Gary De Krey has described elsewhere as ‘Reformed Protestants’ and the resurgence of the non-Laudian episcopalian tradition. Often derided as ‘conservatives’ by a previous generation of historians, the Reformed Protestants held the central place in the religious debates of the period and advanced a confessional vision of the ends of the Civil War that is best encapsulated in the notion of godly rule. Coffey crisply analyses the dynamic between these reformers and those discontented with the totalising vision of a strict confessional reformation.

The art and literature of the revolution are covered by three chapters from Stephen Zwicker (Literature), Timothy Wilkes (art and architecture) and Laura Lunger Knoppers (the reimagining of the revolution in 19th-century art and literature). Zwicker provides a discussion of authors and the book trade, exploring that the ambiguities and contradictions of literary authors writing in the ‘whirlwind’ of the revolution. In surveying the visual art of the period, Wilkes explores the ‘warts and all’ negotiation between godly iconophobia and the continuing demand for aristocratic and military portraiture, as well as a providing a brief critical review of the architectural history of the period. Knoppers’ essay is a finely crafted piece discussing the cultural legacy of the English Revolution in Victorian art and literature. Focusing on Alfred Bate Richards, Paul Delaroche, Sir Walter Scott and Victor Hugo, Knoppers explores the political significant of the 19th-century obsession with the revolution. In line with her research interests, Professor Knopper’s main focus is on images of Cromwell and her discussion of Paul Delaroche’s Cromwell opens the coffin of King Charles I (1831) is an object lesson in the reconstruction of how the past and the (then) present construct the historical imagination. I was slightly disappointed that Knoppers did not have space to discuss other well known works of the Victorian historical re-imagination of the revolution. A wider discussion of works of literature such as Frederick Marryat’s Children of the New Forest (1847) and paintings such as J.R. Herbert’s Assertion of liberty of conscience by the Independents of the Westminster Assembly of Divines 1644 (1847) or the still chilling image of military rule shattering childhood innocence in W. F. Yeames’ And When Did You Last See Your Father? (1878) would have been welcome in this volume.

In conclusion, The Oxford Handbook of the English Revolution covers most of the essential topics of the period and provides a depth of analysis in a single volume that many monographs dedicated to the period miss. I would venture the conclusion that all but the most assiduous or jaded scholars of the period will come away from the volume with a desire to undertake some further study, and for college level students the essays will be very welcome in getting a handle on the debates of the period. Nevertheless, a volume of 33 essays can only provides a first stop for scholars, teachers and students. Fortunately, the inclusion of adequate footnoting and further reading lists make this work a useful starting point for those seeking to expand their knowledge of an increasingly complicated field of study.


Slavery and Cartwright’s Case before Somerset

The case of James Somerset in 1772 is one of the most celebrated episodes in the history of English law. Despite the uncertainties about what, precisely, Justice Mansfield said, his decision in Somerset v Stewart was widely taken to mean that slavery would not exist in England. Even if Mansfield had only declared the illegality of the coerced removal of a slave from England, many people—including some enslaved people, in England, Scotland, and elsewhere—thought the decision affirmed that whatever the laws of other nations, whatever the laws of Britain’s own colonies, slavery had no place in England itself.[1] The 1772 decision turned, in part, on invocations by James Somerset’s counsel of Cartwright’s case, a purported decision in 1569 which declared the air of England too pure for slaves to breathe.[2]

The early case is frequently mentioned in the voluminous literature on Somerset and abolition, but remains a mystery: no contemporary record or report on the trial has yet been found. I still haven’t found it, unfortunately but I have found a previously unnoticed seventeenth-century invocation of Cartwright. This newly-noticed reference to the case has implications for our understanding of discussions of slavery in the decades in which the practice began to take on the institutional shape that subjected James Somerset and millions of people like him to lives in bondage. Whereas the usual source for Cartwright has been read as suggesting that its early use did not refer to personal freedom, this newly found reference did just that.

I’ll start with a brief return to Somerset’s case, though its broad outlines are probably familiar to many readers. In Boston, Charles Stewart purchased an enslaved African, a man known to history as James Somerset, and brought Somerset with him upon his return to England. Not long thereafter, Somerset escaped Stewart secured his recapture, and put him on a ship bound for Jamaica with orders for his sale upon arrival. Friends of Somerset’s sued out a habeas corpus to challenge the legality of his detention, with the noted abolitionist Granville Sharp taking a particular interest in the case. Somerset’s advocates, including Francis Hargrave and William Davy, argued that whatever colonial laws might allow, neither common nor statute law recognized slavery in England itself. And thus, they asserted, Somerset’s detention was illegal. Whereas some precedents might be read as treating enslaved people as property even within England, Hargrave and Davy invoked an older precedent: Cartwright’s case, from 1569, in which a merchant by that name was stopped from flagellating a Russian man he claimed as his enslaved property. In that earlier case, it was said that the judges issued their now famous statement about England’s pure air. The reference to Cartwright’s case was not the only factor in the decision in Somerset’s favour, but it helped.

As such, Cartwright’s case is frequently mentioned in writings on the Somerset decision, but very often in misleading or mistaken ways. We know little enough about the case, but even that is often misstated.

The source Somerset’s lawyers used was John Rushworth’s Historical Collections, a multi-volume compendium of historical commentary and sources written and published from the mid- to late seventeenth century by the lawyer, former member of parliament, and secretary to men as different as Oliver Cromwell and the Restoration-era judge Orlando Bridgeman.[3] In the Somerset trial, Lord Chief Justice Mansfield asked if Hargrave and Davy had other evidence for the existence of the case, but Rushworth was the only source they noted.

So, here’s the passage from Rushworth:

‘In the eleventh of Elizabeth, one Cartwright brought a slave from Russia, and would scourge him, for which he was questioned and it was resolved, That England was too pure an air for slaves to breath in.’

Rushworth mentions the case as a digression in his 1637 section, where he’s discussing John Lilburne’s punishment by the Court of Star Chamber after his arrest for dispersing libellous books. This was the first of the trials that would see ‘Freeborn John’ become associated with the right to free expression and to refuse self-incrimination.[4]

( © British Museum)

Rushworth brings in material from a subsequent discussion in parliament to condemn and reverse the harsh judgement against Lilburne. Already we have here a fascinating bit of history that many references to Cartwright in the secondary literature miss, and the source of a common error: Lilburne’s trials rank alongside Somerset’s as some of the more iconic and significant in English history, yet the link is often not noted. Some of the people who get it wrong today seem not to go back to Rushworth but simply to cite John C. Hurd’s book, The Law of Freedom and Bondage in the United States (1858), or a series of references that can be traced back no further than Hurd, which stated of Cartwright that ‘the only known reference to the case is found in an attack on Star Chamber, uttered as part of the 1640 impeachment proceedings against its judges’. We miss there the connection to Lilburne. And there’s nothing here in the Rushworth passage—or in Hurd, for that matter—to suggest that Cartwright was itself a Star Chamber case, yet that’s another assertion sometimes seen in the literature. [5]

So, some people either don’t go back to Rushworth or read him too quickly, but Rushworth himself made a mistake—as Ted Vallance has noted.[6] This mention of Cartwright was made not in 1637, nor even in 1640 in the parliamentary attack on Star Chamber, but in 1646, when parliament overturned Lilburne’s Star Chamber judgement. Rushworth’s own source was a publication by John Lilburne, A True Relation of the Material Passages of Lieut. Col. John Lilburne’s sufferings, as they were represented and proved before the Right Honourable, the Houses of Peers, in Parliament Assembled, published shortly after the hearing in early 1646.

(© The British Library)

So, the link between Somerset’s and Lilburne’s trials through the invocation of Cartwright, while not much noted, has previously been brought to light. Why, then, am I bringing it up here? Well, because it gives us a lead to follow. Lilburne’s lawyers in 1646 were two men who would become much more famous at the end of the decade: John Bradshaw and John Cook. They became, respectively, the President of the High Court of Justice and the Solicitor General who tried King Charles I as a murderer, a tyrant, and a traitor to his people. (John Cook himself would be executed at the English Revolution’s end for his part in prosecuting the king. [7] )

There’s no mention of the Cartwright case in the recorded proceedings of King Charles’s trial, unfortunately. But we do find John Cook invoking it in one of his publications, a mention not previously noted in the literature. It appears on page 71 in Cook’s 1646 Vindication of the Professors and Profession of the Law, which he republished in 1652 under a slightly different title, The Vindication of the Law.

Two things are interesting about this reference. One, it gives us a bit of a clue to Cook’s own source – though one I’ve unfortunately not yet been able to decipher – with the brief mention of ‘Camb’ in the margin. I know of no law reporter or set of reports that might be abbreviated that way. It might be short for ‘Cambridge’, which might yet help us find the original trial record in the archives of one court or another. I’d wondered if it might be short for Camden, as in the celebrated Elizabethan historian William Camden, whose name was often spelled with a b and sometimes abbreviated this way in contemporary references. There’s nothing in Camden’s published histories of Britain or the reign of Elizabeth that I have found (unsurprisingly, or otherwise someone would have long since noticed it.) There’s a chance that Camden had some reference to Cartwright in the voluminous manuscript notes he compiled when writing his histories – he did show significant interest in the exploits of the nascent Muscovy Company over the 1550s and 1560s, the 1569 Russian ambassadorial visit to London, and such like, and many of his manuscripts were preserved in the library of his friend Sir Robert Cotton, to which John Cook very likely had access. But an admittedly very quick dip into Camden’s manuscripts that survived early theft then the fire in Cotton’s library–now the Cottonian collection at the British Library–didn’t bring anything to light. So this little hint hasn’t gotten me anywhere, but I put it out here in case any readers have ideas that you might want to pass along or to act upon yourselves.

The other interesting thing about Cook’s invocation of the Cartwright case is the way he used it. Historians interested in the Somerset case who did go back and read Rushworth have noted that in its appearance in the Lilburne hearing, Cartwright’s case was raised to note the extremity of the whipping, not the illegality of slavery. Ted Vallance suggests that in contrast to Somerset’s lawyers, for whom Cartwright’s case affirmed that a slave’s presence on English soil freed him, for Rushworth, the point was that Lilburne’s treatment by Star Chamber reduced him to the status of a slave. George van Cleve wrote much the same in his article on Somerset and its antecedents, noting that in its seventeenth-century appearance, Cartwright’s case ‘was regarded as establishing limits on the punishment of slaves in England, not as providing emancipation’. Dana Rabin and others, too, have said much the same.[8] And that is a reading largely consistent with the Rushworth passage. (It’s also the reading that Stewart’s lawyers used in 1772.) But in Cook’s other mention of the case, we see it used to more expansive ends. Here he’s condemning the imprisonment of debtors, a focal point for would-be law reformers of the revolutionary era. He notes that it’s almost ‘a proverb beyond sea, or rather a prodigy, that an English usurer may have as many slaves as he please, though a lord could not imprison his villain’. It is precisely in support of personal freedom that Cook invokes the Cartwright case in this second reference.

This sort of assertion of rights to personal freedom and the wrongs of slavery as early as the 1640s fits with recent studies of the intellectual and cultural ferment of the mid-seventeenth century. True, abolitionist discourse only gained coherence and traction in the eighteenth century, but we do see signs of its earlier roots even in the very years that chattel slavery was just beginning to take hold in English colonial ventures. John Donoghue’s study of the English Revolution in its broader Atlantic context builds upon earlier work by Carla Gardina Pestana, Susan Amussen, and others to make a case for the Revolution having birthed capitalist programs of imperial conquest premised on racialized slavery, yes, but also the first stirrings of abolitionist defenses of personal freedom. The latter grew in part from a popular republicanism rooted in lived experiences, such as the actions of people who fought the transportation of children for bonded service or the resistance of impressed soldiers and sailors who mutinied for fear they were to ‘be shipped and sold as slaves’. An ardent hostility to slavery survived at the very least as a ‘fire under the ashes’ of the failed revolution-within-the Revolution.[9]

So, we see Cartwright’s case being invoked in defense of personal freedom even in the seventeenth century, not just at the end of the eighteenth century. But, of course, one nagging question has always lurked around mentions of Cartwright’s case: did it actually happen? Trade contacts were blossoming between England and Russia around 1569, and a form of slavery did exist in Russia at the time.[10] It’s plausible, then. Other late sixteenth-century references to England’s ‘pure air’ and absence of slavery have been read as echoes of this mystery case, but might just as easily refer back to an earlier and broader tradition of talk of ‘free air’ and free people, in England and elsewhere.[11] That Cartwright appears in no reported slave law cases before Somerset has prompted doubts, but on the other hand, law reporting was still in its infancy in the late sixteenth century. Many of the law reports that were made remain in manuscript. And the legal history of the years of the civil wars and Revolution remains something of a black hole. It’s possible, then, that other reports and mentions of the case may yet come to light.

Or maybe John Cook did just invent it or misunderstand some other case, creating a usable past for his defense of John Lilburne and attack on debt-bondage. But, strikingly, whatever the actual history of a merchant called Cartwright and the Russian he reportedly claimed as his slave back in 1569, the story went on to be a precedent in not one but two signal episodes in the development of personal rights and freedoms, passing through the hands of a man who prosecuted perhaps the most controversial trial in English history.

Feature image: Frontispiece to Theodorus Verax (Clement Walker), The Triall of Lieut. Collonell John Lilburne (1649) British Museum AN514450001, © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Second image: Frontispiece from Anon., The True Characters of the Educations, Inclinations, and Several Dispositions of all and Every one of those Bloody and Barbarous Persons who sate as Judges upon the Life of our late Dread Soveraign King Charles I (1661), General Reference Collection E. 1080 (15). © The British Library Board.

[1] Most significantly, Joseph Knight, a man living as a slave in Scotland, came to this conclusion and sought his own freedom accordingly. His efforts prompted the Scottish case of Knight v Wedderburn (1778), which produced a more emphatic declaration against slavery on Scottish soil. See John W. Cairns, ‘After Somerset: The Scottish Experience’, Journal of Legal History 33 (2012): 291-312.

[2] Some of the contemporary material on the Somerset case has now been helpfully compiled by Andrew Lyall, ed., Granville Sharp’s Cases on Slavery (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2017). For references to Cartwright, see pp. 22, 170, 192, 198. For more historical discussion of the case, in addition to the other works cited in these notes, see Ruth Paley, ‘Imperial Politics and English Law: The Many Contexts of “Somerset”’, Law and History Review 24.3 (2006): 659-664 Daniel J. Hulsebosch, ‘Nothing but Liberty: “Somerset’s Case” and the British Empire’, Law and History Review 24.3 (2006): 647-657 M.S. Weiner, ‘New Biographical Evidence on Somerset’s Case’, Slavery & Abolition 23.1 (2002): 121-136 William R. Cotter, ‘The Somerset Case and the Abolition of Slavery in England’, History 79 (1994): 31-56 James Oldham, ‘New Light on Mansfield and Slavery’, Journal of British Studies 27.1 (1988): 45-68.

[3] John Rushworth, Historical Collections, II (London 1680), p. 468.

[4] The literature on Lilburne is voluminous, but see most recently Michael Braddick, The Common Freedom of the People: John Lilburne and the English Revolution (Oxford, 2018).

[5] John C. Hurd, The Law of Freedom and Bondage in the United States (1858), p. 179. See, e.g., Jonathan A. Bush, ‘The First Slave (And Why He Matters)’, Cardozo Law Review 18 (1996): 610, which cites Hurd and Robin Blackburn’s Overthrow of Colonial Slavery (London, 1988), which also misreads Rushworth, and describes Cartwright as a 1567 Star Chamber case, a set of errors in turn repeated in Michael Guasco, Slaves and Englishmen: Human Bondage in the Early Modern Atlantic World (Philadelphia, 2014), p. 32.

[7] Cook has received some posthumous glory thanks to Geoffrey Robertson’s The Tyrannicide Brief: The Story of the Man Who Sent Charles I to the Scaffold (London, 2005).

[8] George van Cleve, ‘”Somerset’s Case” and Its Antecedents in Imperial Perspective’, Law and History Review 24.3 (2006), 614 Dana Rabin, ‘Empire on Trial: Slavery, Villeinage and Law in Imperial Britain’, in Legal Histories of the British Empire, ed. Shaunnagh Dorsett and John McLaren (New York, 2014), p. 205.

[9] John Donoghue, Fire under the Ashes: An Atlantic History of the English Revolution (Chicago, 2013). See also Carla Gardina Pestana, The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution, 1640-1661 (Cambridge, Mass., 2004) and Susan Dwyer Amussen, Caribbean Exchanges: Slavery and the Transformation of English Society, 1640-1700 (Chapel Hill, 2007). Donoghue’s arguments for the popular roots of anti-slavery discourse also build upon Robin Blackburn’s classic The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776-1848 (London, 1988).


Rain, Blow, Rustle

On the evening of 29 August 1952 a crowd of avant-garde aficionados and local music enthusiasts filed into the Maverick Concert Hall near Woodstock to hear a piano recital by the young virtuoso David Tudor. That they should be here, tucked away in the Catskills, was already extraordinary. The Maverick is more hermitage than concert hall: a wooden, barn-like structure, set &ndash in 1952 at least &ndash in several acres of woodland. Water Music by John Cage, a Californian composer whose recent work had been feted in New York, opened the programme and baffled its audience. It involved Tudor performing various actions at seemingly random intervals: blowing a duck-call, tuning a radio, shuffling and dealing playing cards. After subdued applause, Tudor sat back down at the piano. He played pieces by Christian Wolff, an 18-year-old student of Cage&rsquos, and by Morton Feldman, Cage&rsquos friend and thundered through Pierre Boulez&rsquos fiendishly difficult first sonata. The penultimate piece on the programme was Cage&rsquos latest, 4&rsquo33&rdquo. Tudor shut the piano and sat still. The wind rustled in the maples. Half a minute later he reopened the lid, then shut it. The summer rain could be heard falling on the Maverick&rsquos wooden roof. Another couple of minutes &ndash Tudor opened and shut the lid again &ndash and muttering broke out in the hall. People began shuffling towards the exit. Four minutes and 33 seconds without a note played and Cage had stamped himself on music history with the most radical contribution of his generation. At the end of the concert, a local artist drew himself up and bellowed: &lsquoGood people of Woodstock, let&rsquos drive these people out of town.&rsquo

Cage had been thinking about silence from an early age. In 1928, as a geeky 16-year-old high-school pupil in LA, he won the Southern California Oratorical Contest with a speech on Pan-American relations entitled &lsquoOther People Think&rsquo. It ran:

One of the greatest blessings that the United States could receive in the near future would be to have her industries halted, her business discontinued, her people speechless, a great pause in her world of affairs created, and finally to have everything stopped that runs, until everyone should hear the last wheel go round and the last echo fade away &hellip then, in that moment of complete intermission, of undisturbed calm, would be the hour most conducive to the birth of a Pan-American Conscience.

The speech has since been enshrined as the founding document of Cage&rsquos aesthetics, though at the time there was little indication he would choose a career in music. His childhood had been awkward, shadowed by his father&rsquos failure: John Cage Sr, an inventor, had been bankrupted trying to develop a submarine for use in the First World War an accident sustained while working for an aircraft company, in which he lost the full use of one of his arms, compounded the disappointment. John Jr started school under a cloud. He was bullied so badly that his parents were forced to transfer him to an experimental school at UCLA, but he suffered there, too. On top of the bullying his teachers disapproved of his bookishness and nagged him to play sport and be &lsquobetter adjusted&rsquo. Still, Cage was a brilliant student: he excelled at Latin and Greek and finished high school as valedictorian of his class. He also took piano lessons, from his aunt Phoebe and from an eccentric composer called Fannie Dillon who was obsessed by birdsong. But his voice was thought so terrible that he wasn&rsquot allowed to join the school glee club, and he hated practising technical exercises. Indeed he hated practising at all, preferring to pound his way, sight-reading, through the staples of the repertoire.

Cage continued his studies at Pomona College in nearby Claremont, where, by the end of his second year, his rebellious nature began to show. Rather than plough through the reading list assigned by his professor, he went into the library to read the first book he could find written by an author whose name began with Z &ndash his first recorded flirtation with chance as method. He was given an &lsquoA&rsquo in his end of year exams anyway, which convinced him there was something wrong with the system, and he left Pomona for Europe, abandoning his plan to follow his grandfather into the Methodist Church. In Paris he studied architecture with Ernö Goldfinger, then continued his wandering. Capri, Biskra, Madrid, Berlin, Italy, North Africa: as the world blurred by, Cage made his first faltering attempts at composition, using knotty mathematical systems inspired by Bach.

As he later told his biographer David Revill, the modern art he had begun to explore in Europe &ndash cubism, German expressionism, surrealism &ndash had given him the feeling that &lsquoif other people could do things like that, I myself could.&rsquo He moved back to California, at the bluest ebb of the Great Depression, convinced his future lay in music. In 1933 he sent a clarinet sonata to the pianist Richard Buhlig who, impressed by its maturity, sent it on to the composer Henry Cowell, then a major figure in the American avant-garde and an outspoken advocate of non-Western musical traditions. He liked the piece enough to include it in a concert programme and encouraged Cage to visit him in New York. Cowell hired Cage as his assistant and, crucially, advised him to study with Schoenberg, then teaching at the University of Southern California.

Cage joined Schoenberg as a pupil in 1935 and became fascinated by the dispassionate rigour of serialist composition. To a young man who had dreamed of a &lsquoPan-American Conscience&rsquo, the serialist movement&rsquos anti-individualism was attractive. He idolised Schoenberg &ndash by his own admission, &lsquoworshipped him like a God&rsquo &ndash even though the great man&rsquos indifference bordered on victimisation: &lsquoAll the time I studied with Schoenberg, he never once led me to believe that my work was distinguished in any way,&rsquo Cage recalled. &lsquoHe never praised my compositions, and when I commented on other students&rsquo work in class he held my comments up to ridicule.&rsquo Many years later Schoenberg said of him: &lsquoOf course, he&rsquos not a composer, but he is an inventor &ndash of genius.&rsquo In the eyes of his first mentor, Cage was continuing the work his father had been unable to finish.

Inspired by the futurist Luigi Russolo&rsquos tract The Art of Noises, which argued for the creation of new instruments that could represent the clamour of industrialised modernity better than the strings, brass and woodwind of classical tradition, Cage began to experiment with non-standard instrumentation. The early 1930s fashion for percussion had led to such works as Varèse&rsquos Ionisation for 30 percussionists, and Antheil&rsquos Ballet mécanique, which featured seven electric bells, three propellers, a siren and a tam-tam. Cage wanted to extend the logic. In a lecture he gave to the Sonic Arts Society in Seattle &ndash where, through Cowell, he had secured a temporary teaching job at Cornish &ndash he outlined his radical thoughts on instrumentation: &lsquoWherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating. The sound of a truck at 50 miles per hour. Static between the stations. Rain. We want to capture and control these sounds, to use them not as sound effects but as musical instruments.&rsquo He began to experiment energetically with new sound sources, in compositions like Imaginary Landscape No. 1, which used the frequency tones on a set of variable-speed turntables he had purloined from Cornish, and Credo in US, scored for tin cans, gongs, electric buzzer, tom-tom, piano and phonograph. He prepared a piano for the first time in March 1940, for a performance by the dancer Syvilla Fort. She wanted to dance to percussion music but the hall she was to perform in was too small for an ensemble, so Cage wedged screws and weather-stripping between the strings of the piano, effectively transforming it into a small percussion orchestra.

That September he moved to San Francisco with his wife Xenia, an Alaskan sculptor and bookbinder he had married while studying under Schoenberg. He had hoped to find a job with the Works Projects Administration, the organisation founded by Roosevelt to employ artists during the Great Depression, but they refused to acknowledge him as a musician since he wrote for percussion, and denied him a post in the music department. They did, however, hire him as a &lsquorecreation leader&rsquo, sending him to entertain the children of visitors at one of the city hospitals. &lsquoThat may have been the birth of the silent piece,&rsquo Cage said in an interview in 1982: he wasn&rsquot allowed to make any noise for fear of disturbing the patients, so invented counting games that involved moving rhythmically round the space, in silence. In San Francisco, Cage found himself part of a thriving musical avant-garde that included Cowell, Lou Harrison (who shared his interest in unusual percussion), the micro-tonal composer and vagabond Harry Partch, and the prolific symphonist Alan Hovhaness. He also met Moholy-Nagy, who invited him to teach a course at his New Bauhaus School (later the Institute of Design) in Chicago. Cage delivered an ambitious series, described in the trimester handbook as the &lsquoexploration and use of new sound materials investigation of manual, vocal, mechanical, electrical and film means, for the production of sound sound in the theatre, dance, drama and the film group improvisation creative musical expression rehearsal and performance of experimental music.&rsquo

Among those impressed by Cage in Chicago was Max Ernst, who arranged for his wife, Peggy Guggenheim, to celebrate the opening of her new gallery in New York with a concert of Cage&rsquos percussion music. So John and Xenia upped sticks yet again, arriving in the city in the spring of 1942 with 25 cents between them, all they had left after the bus fare. Plunged into the New York art world, amid the cluster of abstract expressionists round Guggenheim (Gorky, Pollock, Mondrian and Motherwell), Cage was well placed to soak up ideas. He played chess with Duchamp, and befriended Robert Rauschenberg, whose notorious White Paintings &ndash a series of rectangular canvasses painted plain white &ndash have often been seen as the visual counterpart to 4&rsquo33&rdquo. Cage recognised that the &lsquoemptiness&rsquo of Rauschenberg&rsquos paintings was no such thing, writing later that he saw them as &lsquoairports for the lights, shadows and particles&rsquo. They turned visual minutiae that would usually go unnoticed into objects of aesthetic appreciation, suggesting, as Duchamp had, that art isn&rsquot necessarily a matter of objects in themselves but lies in the way we look at them.

The Guggenheim concert never happened. Cage, somewhat overzealously, managed to organise a show under his own steam at the Museum of Modern Art, featuring music by himself and by fellow-travellers Cowell and Harrison. He had thought Guggenheim would be thrilled but she saw the concert as a rejection and withdrew her patronage. Nonetheless, the MoMA show was well received by the critics: a sympathetic two-page spread in Life magazine talked of Cage&rsquos wish to persuade his audience to &lsquofind new beauty in everyday modern life&rsquo by making them listen to the music in the sounds around them. But just as people were beginning to understand what he was doing, Cage&rsquos marriage was falling apart. He had fallen in love with Merce Cunningham, whom he had first met back at Cornish. In a vain concession to marital fidelity the two men attempted a ménage à trois with Xenia, but Cage&rsquos sexual preference was all too obvious, and she was slowly, inexorably frozen out. Cage&rsquos compunction flooded into a series of vexed, emotionally charged works for prepared piano, The Perilous Night, A Valentine out of Season, Daughters of the Lonesome Isle. When the couple divorced in 1945, his depression deepened.

Then, as he put it himself a couple of years later, &lsquoin the nick of time, Gita Sarabhai came from India.&rsquo Sarabhai was a wealthy woman who had taken it on herself to rescue the musical traditions of India from the hegemony of the Western classical tradition and had come to New York to get to know her enemy. Cage offered to teach her European-style music theory in exchange for lessons in Indian music and the culture surrounding it. She introduced him to Asian thought via an extensive reading list &ndash Aldous Huxley&rsquos The Perennial Philosophy, Ananda Coomaraswamy&rsquos The Dance of Shiva, Huang-po&rsquos The Doctrine of Transmission of Mind, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna &ndash and encouraged him to attend the Buddhist scholar Daisetz Suzuki&rsquos lectures at Columbia. All of which, Cage later said, soothed his distress. Certainly, the pieces he wrote after meeting Sarabhai reflected a new tranquillity: The Seasons, for instance, a gentle, ambling work for full orchestra laced with fragile celesta solos, or Dream, a single melodic line picked out on the piano along a simple diatonic scale. More important, Zen lent philosophical ballast to the aesthetics Cage was already tending towards: the injunction to dissolve the ego in order to transcend suffering gave him another reason to remove himself from the music, to pursue an art of self-erasure.

From 1946 to 1948 Cage worked on the piece that many still consider his masterpiece, the Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano, which used the same piano-as-percussion-orchestra technique he had pioneered with Syvilla Fort a decade earlier. This series of delicate miniatures, influenced by the Asian classical music he had explored with Sarabhai, was a great success, establishing him in the eyes of many of his contemporaries as the most exciting composer of the avant-garde. But it was the piano piece, Music of Changes, written in 1951, that had the bigger impact on music theory and cemented the link between Cage&rsquos name and &lsquochance operations&rsquo. He wrote the piece using the I Ching, the ancient Chinese &lsquoBook of Changes&rsquo, assigning pitch, duration, dynamic and tempo values to the book&rsquos 64 auguric images, and flipping coins in order to choose between them, patiently building the piece chord by chord. When he came to structure his silent piece, he used the same technique, but this time only its length, and the length of its movements (marked by Tudor&rsquos opening and shutting of the piano lid), needed to be determined. The period four minutes and 33 seconds was decided by chance it had nothing to do, as was popularly believed, with the temperature at absolute zero, -273 °C.

Tudor gave Music of Changes its premiere in January 1952. That summer, Cage had a residency at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where he orchestrated what has come to be known as the first ever &lsquohappening&rsquo, a multimedia piece in which he lectured to the concert hall from the top of a ladder while Tudor played the piano, Cunningham and his troupe danced through the audience, and Rauschenberg played old Edith Piaf records from in front of his White Paintings. It was at Black Mountain that Cage composed Water Music. Just a few days later, he made his famous visit to the anechoic chamber at Harvard, a room built to absorb sound reflections and so create absolute silence. &lsquoIn that silent room,&rsquo as Cage never tired of explaining, &lsquoI heard two sounds, one high one low.&rsquo When asked what they were, the engineer in charge of the room replied that the high sound was Cage&rsquos nervous system, the low one his circulation. The revelation that silence and sound weren&rsquot opposites but part of a continuum, that there would always be something to listen to, was the final nudge. Two weeks before the Maverick concert, with Tudor&rsquos encouragement, Cage prepared the first score for 4&rsquo33&rdquo.

The former Village Voice critic Kyle Gann&rsquos new book traces the &lsquomultiplicity of routes&rsquo by which Cage arrived at his great statement. Most of them, as he shows, were there in the programme for the Woodstock concert, laid out like the premises of a syllogism: Schoenberg and serialism were present via Boulez, the movement&rsquos latest advocate Russolo&rsquos ideas were implicit in Water Music. Gann also argues convincingly for Cage&rsquos place in the early 20th-century quest to define an authentic, national American music, situating him in a line of pioneers including Dvořák, for his New World Symphony, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the first composer to draw on the rhythms of America&rsquos non-Caucasian settlers, and Cowell, who used the geometric patterns he discovered in the American landscape to structure his pieces. Cage, Gann argues, decided that the most effective way to capture the landscape was by letting it sing &ndash rain, blow, rustle &ndash for itself. The American nationalists were represented at the Maverick, for those who hung around to hear it, by Cowell&rsquos The Banshee, the evening&rsquos finale.

Despite being widely panned following its New York debut &ndash the New York Times wrote it off as &lsquohollow, sham, pretentious Greenwich Village exhibitionism&rsquo &ndash 4&rsquo33&rdquo, and the thought behind it, has been influential. This is largely thanks to Cage&rsquos skill, rare among musicians, at presenting his ideas &ndash his youthful eloquence never left him. Six years after the Maverick, Cage was invited to take up a residency at the Darmstadt International Summer Courses for New Music, the laboratory for the post-serialism of Stockhausen and Boulez, who had lectured there in previous years. Cage confronted the Darmstadters with a very different way of looking at things. He lectured on silence as sound (&lsquoThese sounds, which are called silence only because they do not form part of a musical intention&rsquo), and on indeterminacy as a way to devolve power over music-making from the composer to the performer and to liberate music from the strictures of pulse. The third part of his series, entitled &lsquoCommunication&rsquo, was the weirdest, beginning with 32 questions (&lsquoIs communication something made clear?&rsquo, &lsquoIs what&rsquos clear to me clear to you?&rsquo) rattled off one after another, and ending with a story by the ancient Chinese philosopher Kwang-tse about an eccentric priest whose wisdom leads him to ramble the forests &lsquoslapping his buttocks and hopping like a bird&rsquo.

In 1961 Cage was appointed a fellow at Wesleyan University, and managed to persuade the university press to publish the Darmstadt lectures and some of his other writing under the title Silence. The book became a fund of inspiration for emerging artists. The early conceptual art movement Fluxus embraced Cage&rsquos notion that a piece of music could be defined by an idea and notated using only words &ndash like the version (there are several) of the 4&rsquo33&rdquo score also published in 1961, which just bears roman numerals specifying the length of the silences, followed by the word &lsquoTACET&rsquo. In the hands of the Fluxus artists this became the idea that any experience, of any duration, could be the object of aesthetic contemplation &ndash a piano being fed a bale of hay, for instance, as in one of La Monte Young&rsquos more extreme compositions of the late 1960s. The Minimalists picked up on Cage&rsquos use of inaudible processes &ndash using the I Ching to determine duration, for example &ndash but aimed to make them audible. Drawing the distinction between his work and Cage&rsquos, Steve Reich wrote: &lsquoWhat I&rsquom interested in is a compositional process and a sounding music that are one and the same thing.&rsquo

Cage couldn&rsquot very well write another silent piece, but his obsession with chance and indeterminacy would define his work for the rest of his life. In his pieces with Cunningham, composition and choreography were performed independently of each other, making any rhythmic synchrony between dance and music purely a matter of coincidence. His final compositions were the Number Pieces, in which individual pitches and the range of pitches used were fixed by chance procedures, while the durations of the notes were often left to the performer. When Cage died, on 12 August 1992 following a stroke, the flood of obituaries &ndash by this time he had settled comfortably into eminence &ndash nearly all mentioned 4&rsquo33&rdquo. The New York Times, so sceptical in the 1950s, wrote that the piece had &lsquoa philosophical agenda &hellip to call attention in a formal context to the richness of ambient sound&rsquo, and the Independent that listeners to &lsquothe notorious silent piece 4&rsquo33&rdquo are invited to discover music wherever they may within the ambience of the &ldquoperformance&rdquo&rsquo. There will always be those who can&rsquot get past the piece&rsquos lack of audible artistry, who see it as a joke or, worse, as an insult but as Gann notes, and as the obituaries attest, &lsquo4&rsquo33&rdquo is one of the best understood pieces in avant-garde 20th-century music. Cage got his point across.&rsquo Because, though so many artists and ideas influenced it, his point is beautifully simple. We are never without music, Cage says, whenever we remember to listen &ndash the composer doesn&rsquot need to create it, so much as let it happen.


Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition: Religion and Conflict in the Tudor Reformations

In Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition, Eamon Duffy has pulled together a collection of lectures and previously published essays from the last decade of his career into a single statement of Tudor religious culture. Few people understand and can communicate the nature of late medieval and early modern English religion with quite the same rigor and spirit as Duffy, which is why this volume deserves as wide an audience as possible. However, it is not without its shortcomings, as some of the chapters deliver much more than others.

Duffy first established himself as a leading British historian in the 90s with his book Stripping of the Altars, which he acknowledges was a ‘self-consciously polemical book’ (p. 4).&l(1) Stripping of the Altars put him at the forefront of English Reformation revisionist scholarship. Revisionist scholars challenged the prevailing notion of a triumphant reform movement that quickly swept across a grateful English nation longing to be rescued from the foreign authority of Rome, which was already eroding in cultural and spiritual potency before 1534. Instead, as Duffy argues here, they see the Reformation as something that

dug a deep ditch, deep and dividing, between people and their religious past, and in its rejection of purgatory and of the cult of the saints, of prayer to and for the holy dead, it reduced Christianity to the mere company of the living. Overnight, a millennium of Christian splendour … became alien territory, the dark ages of popery (p. 33).

While Duffy’s most recent instalment does not reach the heights of scholarly insight or polemical verve that Stripping delivered, nevertheless it is a significant instalment in his relentless campaign against the traditional view of the Reformation in England.

The 11 chapters address a wide range of topics. Duffy handles each deftly with his accomplished hand, and through it all, he weaves together a narrative of Catholic unity, pervasiveness, and persistence, depicting Catholicism as something that was fundamental to early modern English religion long after Elizabeth I ascended the throne. Taken together as the religious and cultural equivalent of so many different snapshots, the volume does serve as something of a family picture album, a historical collage commemorating both the highlights and the everyday happenings of English Catholic life in the early Reformation. Here, we are witnesses to pre-Reformation Catholic parishes taking special care of the iconography in their roodscreens, to the devotion and attention that parishioners like those at Salle Church (Norfolk) paid to the fixtures of their church, to the physical and material impact the iconoclasm under Edward VI had on different parishes, to certain ‘neglected giants’ of English Catholicism like Cardinals John Fisher and Reginald Pole, and to the prolific conservative voices like Myles Hogarde and Roger Edgeworth that filled important sections of Tudor print culture.

Amidst this variety, the volume presses upon the reader a singular purpose, to demonstrate that ‘Hostility to the papacy was not the cause of the Reformation, it was one of its consequences’ (p. 9). Traditional Reformation historiography portrayed the Reformation as a popular response to the claims the papacy was making on England and to the waning of the potency of late medieval religion. The Reformation, so this traditional narrative goes, was a revolt against the pope as a foreign power who was increasingly usurping the liberty of England by asserting his authority over the king and the people. Here, Duffy rehashes revisionist challenges to this traditional interpretation that were first asserted by Christopher Haigh and J .J. Scarisbrick several decades ago.(2) Perhaps this volume’s most significant contribution to Duffy’s view of the Reformation is its demonstration that the nascent national identity in early modern British culture was something more than a Protestant phenomenon. It is well known that Protestants employed arguments of English exceptionalism in order to oppose the papacy. Catholics, however, used similar arguments, which were based in a rich narrative of English pride and exclusivity to defend their theology of papal authority. Although Duffy warns, ‘It would be anachronistic to speak of a nation state in the sixteenth century’, there is admittedly a significant amount of English exceptionalism that characterized both Protestant and Catholic narratives during the 16th-century reforms (p. 17). Hearkening back either to the missionary activities of Augustine of Canterbury or to the more legendary tales of King Lucius’s conversion in the second century, Catholic leaders in Tudor England celebrated ‘God’s special regard and providential care for the English Church and nation’, as long as England remained loyal to the papacy (p. 26). They also pitched reformed thought as something that was foreign to English shores. For example, in his debates with William Tyndale in the early 1530s, Sir Thomas More set out the argument that the ‘Reformation’ rather than the papacy was ‘an alien import’ to the British Isles (p. 18). Whether it was coming out of Wittenberg or Geneva, Protestant reforms were identified as the equivalent of intellectual and spiritual invasions, encroaching upon the long-established alliance between Rome and Canterbury.

Duffy develops this line of argumentation in several of the chapters, particularly toward the end of the book, where he disputes the view held by some scholars that, after 1550, English Catholics began to devalue the importance of papal obedience to English religion, relegating it to second-class importance. Although Duffy argued this in a more substantial way in his book Fires of Faith, it is a point that is worth restating. In chapter nine of this volume, Duffy contests the view set out by scholars like Lucy Wooding that ‘the return to papal obedience was an unwelcome irrelevance’ to Catholics in Marian England (p. 199). This interpretation Duffy mockingly refers to as the ‘Bourne Supremacy’, in reference to Mary’s secretary of state Sir John Bourne who openly minimized the importance of papal supremacy. Granted, there is a certain level of indefensibility to Wooding’s position (as Duffy has demonstrated in Fires of Faith and now here), as Bourne was a minority voice at court. Duffy, however, is not satisfied with this. He is committed to not only eliminating any possible misunderstanding over the centrality of papal obedience during the Marian regime, but also demonstrating that ‘Mary’s regime almost literally attached bells and whistles to the whole notion of papal authority’ (p. 200). This celebration of papal authority and its significance to the English church is most evident in the career and activities of Reginald Pole as Archbishop of Canterbury from 1556 to 1558, to which Duffy devotes two of his chapters.

The most engaging and thoughtful moments in the book come with the analysis of the life and thought Cardinal John Fisher. All too often, Fisher is segregated to a second-tier position in Reformation historiography, overshadowed by Protestant adversaries like Thomas Cranmer, who Duffy describes as a ‘lesser’ adversary (p. 14). Duffy reminds us of the historical importance of this stalwart bishop who, alone among the English bishops, openly opposed the king’s efforts to divorce Katherine of Aragon. Fisher was the worst enemy of the divorce that Henry could have asked for. His piety was renowned, and his learning and acumen rivalled the best continental theologians. Whether the pope’s ‘award of the Red Hat’ of a cardinal, which he granted Fisher shortly before Henry condemned him to death, was actually ‘the last straw’ for the king or not, Fisher would die a traitor and martyr in June 1535, becoming the first of many victims of the religious conflicts in 16th-century England (p. 149).

Duffy develops this well-known narrative into a three-dimensional figure of a holy man who is too large to fit into the typical, stoic caricatures of his personality. Often remembered by Hans Holbien's deathly, spectral portrait of the aged bishop, the Fisher in Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition is something of a welcome stranger. Duffy writes

If he was a saint, he was no plaster saint … but a lover of community, a cheerful host … He was a man of the library, but not a solitary … He had a sense of humour, even if it was sardonic and biting in the Yorkshire manner (pp. 149–150).

Like his fellow martyr Sir Thomas More, Fisher despised the corruption of the church, but he believed that only Catholic unity could provide a check on the covetous appetites of secular governments. Above all, as Duffy emphasizes, John Fisher remained loyal to the Roman church as the body of Christ, and all of his ecclesiastical efforts were directed toward to sustaining the catholic union of Christendom. The heart of Duffy’s analysis centres on how the example of Fisher highlights the complexity of the broader streams of late medieval religious thought. While he was a conservative theologian and scholar, he was known for his affinity for humanist learning and advocated for Greek and Hebrew at the universities. His traditional piety, which Duffy discusses at length in chapter seven, was neither mindless nor stodgy. He hated the blind abuse of Catholic practices as much as he hated heresy however, for all of his love of unity, he never burned a heretic as the bishop of Rochester.

This look at Fisher is muddled somewhat by a dispute Duffy opens up over the differences between the academic labels ‘medieval’ and ‘humanist’. The polemical tone of chapter seven seems entirely unnecessary, and I wonder why Duffy even engaged in it. He contests, ‘Humanist and medieval religious ideals are not so readily or so starkly contrasted as has been assumed’ (p. 152). This is a fair point, but Duffy’s use of C. S. Lewis as the initial point of attack – because Lewis identified Fisher as a medieval thinker – seems a bit unfair. After all it was Lewis in his inaugural lecture who argued that the medieval / Renaissance divide was almost entirely arbitrary outside the world of art.(3) It would have been nice to see Lewis receive some credit here, since he was one of the earliest scholars to suggest the kind of arbitrariness that Duffy is pointing to. Nevertheless, since Fisher does not fit into what Duffy describes as the ‘Erasmian straightjacket’ of ‘humanist credentials’, he typically is relegated to the late medieval circles of piety and learning (p. 177). Duffy’s own analysis places Fisher’s spirituality securely in the tradition of the medieval church, but Duffy advocates for a more complex view of humanist learning that can accommodate figures like Fisher who advanced the humanist ad fontes program but who did not share Erasmus’s disdain for religious institutions. Unfortunately, this complexity is easily overshadowed by the wrangling over labels, periodization, and the pedantic disputes of terminology that distract from Duffy’s otherwise enlightening chapter.

More significantly, the final chapter fails in many respects. Toying with Shakespeare's Sonnet 73 and its immortal phrase ‘bare ruin'd choirs’ as a metaphor to capture the spirit of Elizabethan and post-Reformation English religion, Duffy sets out a vision of Catholic significance after the reign of Queen Mary. If Duffy intended this chapter as a supplement for a strong conclusion, it is too speculative in its analysis. While Duffy points to the importance of several conservative and Catholic voices, we are given only snippets and never receive a clear, overarching vision of the place or role of Catholicism (or even conservative religious voices) in the religious landscape. Figures like the historian John Stowe, who chronicled the effects of reform on London's parishes, are insightful and exciting examples of how individuals adapted to this new religious universe without entirely embracing Protestantism. But the chapter does not fully address where these individuals fall in the religious landscape, nor does it engage much recent scholarship like Nicholas Tyacke and Kenneth Fincham's study of avant-garde conformists and other groups.(4) Finally, the chapter, almost whimsically, speculates about the bard himself, seeking to include him in this expanding cabal of conservative voices. Despite Duffy's disclaimer that he is not arguing ‘that Shakespeare was a Catholic’, he does interpret Sonnet 73 as one that ‘decisively aligns Shakespeare against the Reformation’ (pp. 253, 250). Assuming this is true, that a single sonnet captures Shakespeare’s views of the Reformation, which is a grand and hasty assumption, Duffy does not propose what this means for the Stratford dramatist’s religious creed. Duffy’s argument is little more than a playful suggestion, based upon a single line in a single poem, but it is, in the end, more a scholarly flight-of-fancy than the kind of historical nuance we have come to expect from Duffy’s analysis. Moreover, it is a somewhat limp method of wrapping up the entire book, leaving readers with something much more akin to a sigh than a bang.

In the past, Duffy has been criticized for letting his own Catholic beliefs soak through his scholarship. I have found such commentary, usually accompanied by snide undertones, generally unhelpful and little more than ad hominem arguments. It seems to me that a more useful way of looking at it is that because of his beliefs Duffy is able to offer a more sympathetic and forceful account of English Catholicism. This he does better than most, which is best exemplified here in things like his studies of parish records and the life of Cardinal Fisher. As a result of the reforms that followed Henry VIII’s break with Rome, Duffy argues, ‘another and different England was hammered into oblivion in those terrible years’ (p. 51). Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition offers readers a glimpse at what that different England looked like and how the people that mourned the loss of that England adapted to their new circumstances. It is unfortunate that the volume does not deliver a more coherent vision of the long-term shape and contours of those adaptations or a more conclusive summation of English Catholicism after the ascension of Elizabeth I. That said, Duffy’s excellent scholarship and penetrating insight are present in almost every chapter, and several of the chapters offer brilliant studies of the Catholic culture in England, making this volume an exciting and important contribution to the field.


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The Spanish Farthingale

In Tudor and Elizabethan times, The Spanish Farthingale was a bell-shaped hoopskirt worn under the skirts of well-to-do women. It played an important part in shaping the fashionable sillhouete in England, from the 1530s until the 1580s.

Origins

The first Spanish verdugados are mentioned in the 1470s. By the 1480s and 1490s, they were a fixture of noblewomens' dress. A verdugado could have a series of single hoops, a series of doubled hoops, or in some cases, even three hoops set together at the bottom of the skirt. In some cases, the rigid hoops were replaced by bands of fabric trim or cord, reflecting the look of the verdugado without the stiffness.

Hoops of cane covered with what appears to be velvet are applied directly to the outer skirts of the womens' gowns.
Detail from The feast of Herod, by Pedro Garcia de Benabarro, c. 1475.

Note the doubled bands on Salome's verdugado. The brocade pattern continues over both bands, suggesting that one strip of fabric was wrapped around two canes, and the hoop stitched to the skirt between the canes.
Detail from The Decapitation of John the Baptist, by the Maestro of Miraflores, c. 1490.

A skirt with stiffened bands of fabric applied in lieu of verdugos (willow canes).
El Cancionero by Pedro Marcuello,1495. Museo Condé Chantilly, France

Note the puckering on the leftmost woman's skirt, where the hoops have been attached. Also, the bottommost two hoops are doubled, for strength.
Detail of Spanish Women from The Trachtenbuch of Christoph Weiditz, 1505.

The Spanish Farthingale comes to England

    ". her gown was very large, bothe the slevys and also the body with many plightes, much litche unto menys clothyng, and aftir the same fourme the remenant of the ladies of Hispanyne were arayed and beneath her wastes certayn rownde hopys beryng owte ther gownes from the bodies aftir their countray maner."

Catherine Parr by Master John, 1545

Elizabeth I by William Scrotts, 1546

Mary I by the English School after Hans Eworth, c. 1550s

Mary I by Hans Eworth, 1554

In the mid-sixteenth century, the Farthingale also enjoyed popularity in France. It appears in several portraits and books of fashion from the mid-sixteenth century.

Catherine de' Medici, Anonymous, c. 1550s

A Frenchwoman in the Frauen Trachtenbuch by Jost Amman, 1577

Detail from a plate showing the city of Orleans, France, from the book Civitates Orbis Terrarum c. 1588

The woman to the left wears a farthingale with doubled hoops the woman to the right wears none. Detail from a plate showing the city of Orleans, France, from the book Civitates Orbis Terrarum c. 1588

The silhouette of the farthingale stayed for the most part the same through the 1560s and 1570s, widening slightly. It was worn under several styles of gown: the "French Gown", with its low square neckline and gathered skirt, as well as the English Gown and Strait-bodied gown, high-necked gowns with boned sleeves.

Margaret Audley wears a farthingale beneath her English Gown, with its boned upper sleeves and high-necked bodice with a turned back neckline.
Margaret Audley by Hans Eworth, 1562

Queen Elizabeth here wears a French Gown of crimson velvet with a farthingale beneath. The swelling at the hips was accomplished by padding the pleats with heavy frieze or wool batting, as well as by stitching a small padded roll around the inside of the pleats.
The Hampdon Portrait of Elizabeth I by Stephen van der Meulen, 1563

In this allegorical painting, Queen Elizabeth wears a farthingale beneath her kirtle and gown.
Elizabeth I and the Three Goddesses by Hans Eworth,1569

Queen Elizabeth out Huntting, detail from the Book of Hunting by George Turbervile.

Keep in mind, however, that the Spanish farthingale was worn by the wealthy. Commoners and even well-to-do merchants are frequently shown wearing gowns without farthingales. in The Fete at Bermondsey, one can see noblewomen to the left wearing farthingales, and commeners and merchants elsewhere who are definitely wearing none.

The Fete at Bermondsey by Joris Hoefnagel, 1569

The gentlewomen here are clearly wearing no farthingales beneath their gowns.
Gentlewomen of London and a Countrywoman by Lucas de Heere, 1570

The Spanish Farthingale continued to be worn in England through the 1580s, although its popularity waned as the French Farthingale gained in popularity. Even so, there are some images from the 1580s of Queen Elizabeth wearing a Spanish Farthingale, even after she had several French Farthingales in her wardrobe. Two of the portraits below show the difference in silhouette between the Spanish and French Farthingales: The first, by Gheerarts, shows the Queen wearing a gown with a Spanish Farthingale beneath it. To its right is the same image painted five years later, updated with a more fashionable French Farthingale'd silhouette and a wider ruff.

Here, Queen Elizabeth wears a rather unrealistic FOUS (Farthingale of Unusual Size). Elizabeth I Hilliard, 1585

The Welbeck Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I by Marchs Gheerarts, 1585

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth after Marcus Gheerarts, 1590.

What were farthingales made of?

In the inventories and wardrobe accounts of the time, the majority of the farthingales listed are made out of silk fabrics such as satin or silk taffeta, with the hoops covered with velvet, taffeta or satin. Frequently the color of the farthingale and the color of the fabric covering the hoops were the same (for example, Queen Elizabeth I had a white satin farthingale with the hoops covered in strips of white velvet), but the farthingales could be quite colorful. Elizabeth also had a green farthingale with pink bands over the hoops, a blue farthingale with yellow bands over the hoops, and even an orange and purple striped farthingale! This excerpt from Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Accounts, listing all the farthingales made and altered in the first half of 1579, gives some idea of the variety found in materials:

" for .. enlarginge styffenynge and making lyter of a verthingale of carnacion satten the bent covrid with grene vellat layed with carnacion silke lase with bent : for styffenynge of a verthingale of oringe color taphata striped with purple & carnacion silke the bent covrid with like taphata: for enlarginge with a newe hind parte & styffenynge of a verthingale of carnacion satten layed on with brode lase and frenges of venice golde & silver with bent to it: for styffenynge & lyninge the foreparte of a verthingale of skeye color taphata the bent covrid with oringe color vellat: for styffenynge & lyninge the foreparte of a verthingale of white satten the bent covrid with white vellat: for thre sevrall tymes styffenynge of a verthingale of strawe color & watchett taphata the bent covrid with like taphata: for altering of a verthingale of carnacion satten and making it lesser: for translating of a verthingale of oringe tawnye taphata and making it longer: for styffenyng and enlarginge with a newe hinder parte of a verthingale of blak tufte taphata the bent covrid with like taphata: for making of a verthingale of strawe color buckeram the bent covrid with like colorid cloth

The woman here is wearing what appears to be a skirt stiffened with a continuous band of bent rope or other stiffening.
Detail from Il Libro del Sarto (The Tailor's Handbook), Anonymous, c. 1580

  • Item iii elnis bukram to be hir ane wardegard, the elne iiis (1552) Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer, Vol X
  • Item, ane wardegard of gray fustian to hir, liiiis (1552) Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer, Vol X
  • Item, vii elnis of tafeteis of the foure threidis to dowble ane werdingale (1562) Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer, vol XI

THe most common material for stiffening farthingales in the 16th century was "bent rope". This was a light, springy and flexible rope made out of the reeds known as bent grass. Queen Elizabeth used bent rope exclusively for her fartuingales until, in the 1580s, we begin to see references to whalebone used to stiffen her spanish farthingales.

  • 12 bowtis of quhaill horne to be girdis to the werdingallis (1563) Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer, vol XI
  • Item, ane verdingale iiili xs Item, v balling of quhail (1562) Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer, vol XI

Most recreation farthingales are made using hoopskirt boning. Hoopskirt boning is 1/2 inch wide stiffened canvas or plastic with spring steel along the edges. It is very stiff and can hold out the heaviest of skirts, yet is lighter than other boning materials. Because it is flat, rather than rounded, it doesn't create the bumps or ridges sometimes seen with farthingales made of period materials. Hoopskirt boning can be cheaply bought ($10.25 for 12 yds of boning) from mailorder costuming supply houses such as Greenberg & Hammer, which are listed on the Costuming Supplies Page. Others choose to use lengths of rope, timber strapping, artificial whalebone, or other modern equivalents. For a more authentic reproduction, you can make your own "bent rope": take 20 pieces of 00 basket reed and bind them together into a long length with heavy thread, replacing individual reeds as you come to the end.

How were they made?

"To cut this farthingale in silk, fold the fabric in half lengthwise. From the left, the front (Piece A) and then the back (piece b) are cut from the double layer. The rest of the silk should be spread out and doubled full width to intercut the gores. Note that the front gores (A ) are joined straight to straight grain, and the back gores (B) are joined bias to straight grain, so that there will be no bias together on the side seams and they will not drop. The front of this farthingale has more at the bem than the back. The silk left over may be used for a hem. The farthingale is 1 1/2 baras long (49.5 inches) and the width round the hem slightly more than 13 handspans, which in my opinion is full enough for this farthingale, but if more fullness is required, it can be added to this pattern."

This used 6 Castilian Baras (5 1/2 yards) of silk fabric which was 22 inches wide. The large, squarish shape of the front (piece A) has the two gores marked A sewn to either side of it to create a flaring triangular front half. The two triangular gores are sewn to the front with their selvegde edges. The two triangular pieces marked B are sewn to the large B back piece by their bias-cut edges. Then the back half is sewn to the front, the straight selvedge edge of the B gore being sewn to the bias-cut edge on the A gore. As Alcega notes above, this results in no bias seams being sewn to eachother and eliminates the sagging which two bias seams sewn together would inevitably experience.

Once everything is sewn together, the farthingale would have been gathered at the top and the raw edges bound with a strip of fabric.As the triangular B gores are wider, and contain a few inches of fabric at the top, the back will have more fabric to be gathered than the front. There is no indication of where the opening is for this skirt (as is the case for all of Alcega's skirt & gown patterns), but given that there are references to farthingales being laced to corsets, it is reasonable to say that the opening would have been in the back or in the front for a front-lacing corset.

But was this spanish farthingale pattern the same used for English farthingales? The evidence is suggestive 5 baras of 2/3-bara wide fabric was used in alcega's pattern. A bara is 33" inches long, giving us 25.2 square feet of fabric to work with. If you eliminate the extra 10 inches in length that Alcega's farthingale includes for women wearing chopines, the pattern uses 20.625 square feet of fabric.

The mid-16th century reference to "three ells of buckram" for a farthingale, if the flemish ell of 34" is used and the buckram is the expected yard in width, uses 20.25 square feet. It is very likely that a similar layout and pattern was used for making English farthingales.

Arnold's sketch of a farthingale made up based upon Alcega's pattern. from Patterns of Fashion 1560-1620

A farthingale made from Alcega's pattern. From Patterns of Fashion 1560-1620

Janet Arnold's analysis of Alcega's farthingale pattern explained the unusually long length--10 extra inches in length-- by taking up 10 inches of the length by sewing tucks in the farthingale for the hoops. This method has been adopted by many who want to reproduce a period farthingale. I disagree with this analysis, as all of the kirtles, skirts and gowns in Alcega's pattern book have the same unusual length to them it was not peculiar to farthingales. A more likely explanation is that the skirts and farthingales were cut to accomodate the high chopine shoes worn by Spanish ladies. When worn without these shoes, the farthingale--and skirts worn over it--were tucked up near the hem, resulting in the front-tuck seen in several Spanish portraits of the late 16th century.

Farthingales--Get One of your Own!

Or, if you aren't up to making a farthingale, you can buy them from several places on the web, including Historical Clothing Realm, Star Costumes or Designs by Rhenn.


Mary (Tudor) Brandon (1496 - 1533)

Mary Tudor was the youngest daughter of King Henry VII of England. She became Queen of France at her marriage to King Louis XII, and after his death, she married Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk.

Mary Tudor was the fifth child of Henry VII of England and his queen Elizabeth of York, and their youngest surviving daughter. to survive infancy. She thus became the youngest sister of King Henry VIII. She was born about 18 March 1495/6 at Richmond Palace. [1]

Marriage to France

Mary was from all accounts a particularly beautiful girl, and in 1507 she was betrothed by her father to Charles of Castile (also of Burgundy and of Austria), grandson of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian (he would become Emperor Charles V) - a boy about four years her junior. [2] This marriage was celebrated by proxy at Richmond on 17 December 1508, after which Mary was styled "Princess of Castile." [3] [4] [5] In sealing the betrothal, Henry made Charles a Knight of the Garter on 20 December 1508. [6]

In 1509, Henry VII succeeded to the throne of England and decided to make war on France, in which he joined Pope Julius II, his father-in-law Ferdinand of Aragon and the Emperor Maximilian. However, in 1514, when the marriage of Mary and Charles was scheduled to be made official, Charles then coming of age, Maximilian decided to make a separate peace with France, following the election of a new Pope, who also pressed Henry to make peace. Repudiating the marriage to Charles, Henry instead married his sister to the moribund Louis XII of France. [7] [4] [5]

Mary was greatly distressed at this abrupt change of plans, and she is said to have agreed to the marriage only on the condition that she be allowed to take a husband of her own choice after the death of Louis - which was indeed imminent. [5] [8] She was married by proxy, first at Greyfriars Church Greenwich on 13 August, secondly, again by proxy, on 2 September at the Church of the Celestines in Paris, and finally in person on 9 October at Abbeville Cathedral, after which Louis dismissed all her English attendants. She was crowned 5 November at St Denis's Cathedral in Paris, after which there were weeks of jousting in her honor. [1] [4] [9]

Marriage to Suffolk

On 1 January, Louis XII died, leaving his new queen a widow. Mary was now in a desperate position, as she feared with good reason that both the new king of France, Francis I, and her brother Henry might attempt to marry her off to another suitor. At stake was the large fortune she had brought to France as her dowry Henry wanted it back. [10] [11] Henry's favorite companion, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, was sent to retrieve both widow and fortune, but instead he ended up marrying her himself. The precise course of events is disputed. The official story is that Mary pressed Suffolk to marry her to keep her from a worse fate Suffolk told Henry, "I newar sawe woman soo wyepe." [12] They were remarried on 13 March 1515 in Greenwich, in the presence of witnesses from the English court. But it was an expensive marriage, as the Suffolks had to bind themselves to repay Henry the vast sum of the dowry, including plate and jewels, all left in France. This debt would hang over the family for the rest of their lives. [4] [5]

For the next decade, Mary, still known as "the French Queen", divided her time between the splendors of her brother's court and the quiet of the Suffolk estates, notably his seat of Westhorpe Hall. The marriage appears to have been a fond one letters testify to the unwillingness of husband and wife to be parted for long. [13] In 1520, they both played prominent roles at the extravagant pageant known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold, at which the kings of England and France competed to see which one could exceed the other in expenditure. [14]

During this period, Mary gave birth to the following children: [1]

  1. Henry Brandon, b. 11 Mar 1515/16, d. before 1522
  2. Lady Frances Brandon b. 16 Jul 1517, d. 20 Nov 1559
  3. Lady Eleanor Brandon b. 1519/20, d. 27 Sep 1547
  4. Henry Brandon b. 1522, d. Mar 1533/4 1st Earl of Lincoln 1525

When at court, Mary became increasingly close to her sister-in-law, Catherine of Aragon. In 1525, her son Henry, second of his name, was created 1st Earl of Lincoln. [15] But after that year relations became increasingly strained as King Henry grew distant from his wife and turned toward one of his ladies-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn. The Suffolks, Mary in particular, took the side of Catherine as the pressure from the king to divorce his wife intensified. [16] At this time, in 1528, the insecurity this caused in Mary caused her to insist that her husband obtain a Papal Bull to confirm the invalidity of one of his prior marriages, to Margaret Neville, Lady Mortimer. [17]

Mary died at Westhorpe Hall, Westhorpe, Suffolk on June 25, 1533, and on 21 July had a magnificent funeral, befitting a queen. [18] [19] Her coffin bore her personal motto: "La Volonté de Dieu me suffit." She was initially buried at the abbey of Bury St Edmunds, but after Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, her body was moved to nearby St. Mary's Church.

In September, Charles Brandon married their son's fiancée, who was also his ward, fourteen-year-old Catherine Willoughby, by whom he had two sons, who briefly succeeded to the Dukedom. [20]


Watch the video: Death in Tudor England