Tag Archives: Shakespeare

The Much-Maligned King

Saint RichardWith the great historical discoveries we’ve had over recent years, there has been some major re-thinking on the history and reputation of one of England’s most hated and maligned kings – and rightly so.

While his mortal remains are now at rest this king’s legacy of evil and wickedness is still debated by eye-rolling, loony historians, fan-girls and sane history buffs on every Facebook page you come across (yes, I’ve checked, he even gets into groups dedicated to historical women *groan*).

He has, throughout, history, been demonised and vilified by historians and non-historians alike. Words such as “tyrant”, “monster” and “murderer” have been slung at this king for more years than I’d like to count.

The main beef for many is the propaganda levelled against this king by subsequent dynasties; the misrepresentation of his actions and the accusations of murder which just refuse to go away.

And mud sticks.

So it’s about time he was given the rights that all Englishmen have – the right to the “assumption of innocence until proven guilty”.

No, of course I’m not talking about Richard III! The man killed his nephews, why on earth should he be allowed to be presumed innocent?holbein henry

I’m referring to that great man of the Renaissance, the Hercules of England, Europe’s very own Alexander; Henry VIII, of course.

With this in mind I thought I would take a new look at the main accusations, strip away the propaganda and look at the deaths involved in their proper light; one at a time, rather than as one great killing spree.

Does responsibility lay at the king’s door?

Were the deaths justified for the good of the realm? Should I leave Cairo and move to more bridal climes? (Oops, sorry, that last was a personal question, not relevant – much – to this essay.)

The first person I looked into was Catherine of Aragon. Of course, Henry is not accused of killing her; but he is accused of treating her shamefully. Catherine married Henry having sworn that she’d never slept with her first husband Prince Arthur, Henry’s older brother. Catherine made thiCatherine_aragons declaration only after Arthur was safely dead – and therefore could not dispute it.

What was her motivation?

Well, Henry was a young, handsome – ok, gorgeous – 18-year-old Adonis who also happened to be king of one of the most powerful kingdoms of Europe, whereas she was a penniless Spanish princess who had been more-or-less abandoned by her own family. So, of course, she only said this out of her love for Henry, rather than any selfish reasons.

There was one problem with Catherine’s declaration; Prince Arthur had once sworn otherwise, declaring one morning, after leaving Catherine’s chamber, that he had “spent the night in Spain” (something no one bothered to tell Henry until many years later). Quite an unequivocal statement from a Prince who had no ulterior motive.

Poor Henry was a devout Catholic and knew that marrying his brother’s wife was a mortal sin and when he finally discovered the truth, what choice did he have but to divorce? And why would he do it with such vehemence and hatred? Surely it’s hard to be kind to someone who has endangered your immortal soul by making you commit such a heinous sin? Henry would have had to be a saint to be able to forgive. And it’s certainly not his fault that Catherine of Aragon stuck to this fib – through thick and thin – but neither is it Henry’s fault that he stuck to his own guns and fought to the very end to obtain a divorce.

So, now, we come to Henry’s “victims”.

Anneboleyn2Let’s look at Anne Boleyn first.

If Anne Boleyn was innocent of the crimes she was accused of – of sleeping with other men, including her brother and of planning the king’s death – then she is a true martyr and Henry is a monster worse than Darth Vader. However, thanks to the Daily Mail, we now know beyond any doubt that Anne did have an affair with her brother, George Boleyn. A French poem, written a few days after Anne’s execution by a Frenchman living in England, proves unequivocally that Anne slept with her brother.

And if one of the charges is true, then surely they all are?

And if Anne was sleeping around, what else could he do but execute her? Imprison her? Maybe, but an example from French history suggests the dangers in doing that. In 1314 the wives of France’s 3 princes were accused of adultery and imprisoned. However, the princes found obtaining divorces difficult (to cut a long story short) and all 3 ruled successively as kings of France, but were unable to  produce the much-desired legitimate male heir and the Capetian line died out.

With such an example from just a couple of hundred years ago, can Henry really be blamed for wanting a swift conclusion to his marriage?

And, to be honest, this same argument stands for Henry’s execution of Catherine Howard the poor chap is proof of the adage that lightning CAN strike twice in the same place).

One of the most heinous crimes that Henry is accused of is, of course, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury. And well, to be honest, I’ll give his accusers that one. Poor Margaret. But, then, every king is allowed one over-reaction; Richard III has Lord Hastings, Henry gets Margaret Pole.

thomas moreAnd then there’s Thomas More…

Well, I have a theory…..

Sir Thomas More was Henry’s friend. What if he committed an unforgivable betrayal. I’m not referring to his refusal to swear allegiance to the Act of Succession, rather I’m referring to his abominable, slanderous book about Richard III.

We all know Henry loved his mother dearly, and spent most of his childhood sat on her lap, listening to her stories about her childhood, her father and her wonderful uncle, Richard. We always think of the Tudors hating Richard III, but in Henry’s time the slanderous, legend blackening work of Shakespeare is still decades in the future. What if Henry knew of the gentler side of Uncle Dickon? What if he saw him as the loving uncle of a fatherless teenage girl, who gave her gifts and danced with her at Christmas.

EoY portraitThis is the intimate picture of Richard III that Henry grew up with, knowing him and loving him as a favourite great-uncle. And then his friend presents him with a manuscript saying “I’ve put together some ideas, have a look at it, just let me know what you think.”

Of course, Henry reads it and goes ballistic. How dare More write such hateful things about this great king, this hero, this Son of York, this man who saved the kingdom from the disasters that would, almost-definitely, have befallen the land had a child-king been allowed to live …. er, I mean, to reign?

Henry had no choice, More brought it on himself. Henry had to have him executed in order to prevent More’s slanderous work from reaching a wider audience. It was the only way to prevent publication.

It’s not Henry’s fault the “facts” still got out…

By Jeff R Sun

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Jeff R Sun has been supporting the Richards for years – I’m thinking of changing my allegiance to the Henrys. All advice appreciated.

If you would like to be the first to see the Jeffs’ latest blog posts, please like the Double History Facebook page.

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Photos: Wiki

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Sources: Measly Middle Ages; Terrible Tudors; Slimy Stuarts; Wiki; Daily Mail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “Tudor” Propaganda of William Shakespeare

Tudor propaganda is a word that is sometimes thrown about, and it´s usually associatedShakespeare_Droeshout_1623 with two names, Thomas More and William Shakespeare, both of them in certain quarters seen as nothing but tools of the reigning Tudor monarch at the time. The purpose of the propaganda probably doesn´t even need to be mentioned, but I will do it anyway; it is to blacken the memory of Richard III. Here I will focus on the alleged propaganda distributed by William Shakespeare through his play Richard III, thought by some to have been written to please, or maybe even commissioned by, Elizabeth I

This has caused rift between what would otherwise have been sane people where one side will claim to be the voices of reason and ask why Elizabeth I, the 5th Tudor monarch on the throne, would towards the end of her reign, feel the need to blacken a king that had been dead for over a century and therefore couldn´t make a claim for the throne even if he wanted to, when she obviously had more pressing matters at hand, such as real live pretenders to the throne and the problem of succession to solve.

Then we have the other side, who will see much more sinister forces at work, for reasons that remain unknown, aiming to utterly discredit “their” king with withered arms, limp and a hunchback and not to mention a murderous mind.

Feeling somewhat uncomfortable by the constant bickering back and forward I, Jeff Sixwhotsitdorf, decided to dedicate myself to an extensive and – as it turned out – ground breaking research into the subject, and what I have found is astonishing.

It has come to light that the so called propaganda had nothing to do with Elizabeth I what so ever. She in fact tried to stop the play, being slightly clairvoyant herself and also having access to the astrologer John Dee she predicted a future where a limping, hunchbacked and generally crippled king opened the door for herself being portrayed with a ridiculously white face, huge wigs and an unstable temperament. She did not want to see that happen, for she actually was vain, that much is true.

But “hell hath no fury like a man whose ancestors has been offended” (ancient saying carved into the wall of a cave that was once passed by by Etruscan migrants, later changed and used for his own purposes by the 17th century playwright William Congreve).

There was simply no stopping Shakespeare. But what was it that had actually happened?

Carefully studying the appropriate sources show us that at one point – at the time very young – Richard Plantagenet once passed through the little village Stratford-upon-Avon, during the mid-15th century so small that you could pass it without noticing. But there it was, and there was also a man by the name of Geffron Shakespeare, father of Hugh Shakespeare and brother of Richard Shakespeare, one day to be referred to as the great grandfather of The Bard.

Geffron had a small establishment serving travelling parties a hearty meal, and this is where his path was to be crossed by a young future king on his way to Southampton for further distribution to the continent, away from the ravings of war (the party had gotten slightly lost due to their drunk guard).

Feral_goatThe boy, only aged eight, starred at the innkeeper, who was slightly disfigured due to an unfortunate run-in with an angry bull in childhood, and started mocking him, maybe out of exhaustion from the long journey because history – at least some versions of it – has taught us that Richard was an epiphany of chivalry.

Geffron had since long had quite enough of that sort of behaviour and chased the boy out into the yard. Little Richard (a name later adopted by a performer of the kind of music that would have gotten him burnt at the stake during this time) was dancing around Geffron in a taunting manner with the result that Geffron in his agitated state tripped over a goat which out of sheer fright retaliated with a pair of well-placed horns in the region of Geffron´s bottom that sent him flying to the other end of the well trampled road.

If fate had been kind, it would have allowed Geffron to land relatively soft by the side of the said road. This did not how ever happen. Geffron got stuck in a pane less window of the local baker, head halfway into the oven. Local chroniclers confirm that this was not a pretty sight.

The Plantagenet party scrapped the kids together (the older brother George had been laughing like a madman through the whole debacle) and fled the scene, while the family of Geffron Shakespeare, once the initial shock had abated, swore to seek revenge.

This would eventually tear the family apart, with Geffron´s son Hugh feeling increasingly humiliated by his father´s spectacular demise. He would in time study at Morton College in Oxford, a time during which he in took the opportunity to change his name from Shakespeare to Sawndare, explaining his decision by stating that his former name was of “vile reputum”.

Geffron´s brother Richard though, the great grandfather of William, decided to make good on his vow to revenge his brother and joined the ranks of Henry Tudor, with such success that he was later granted land in Warwickshire by the new king Henry VII and also laid the foundation for the application made by Shakespeare´s father and later Shakespeare himself for a coat of arms.

But William Shakespeare was, like all great artists, a person of a moody nature and Kathryn_Huntersometimes his glass wasn´t even half empty, it was smashed against a wall of a bakery in Stratford. It was during one of these periods he decided to get even once and for all, if not with the actual little brat that had ended the life of his great grand uncle, but also alienated his distant cousin Hugh from the rest of the family, so at least with the posthumous reputation of the brat in question.

He sat down with his pen and paper and gave the last of the Plantagenet king all the crippling features that once a bull had given Geffron Shakespeare during his early years. And he laughed and laughed, convinced that he had for many centuries into the future blackened the reputation of Richard III.

It should be said that Elizabeth I was utterly disgusted by the play, and had she known it would come to somehow have been thought of something she herself had ordered, she would have thrown a tantrum.

Jeff Sixwhotsitdorf,

still in a state of being astonishingly astonished

Sources:

The forgotten grave stone of an unknown relative of someone you´ve never heard of (and for good reasons!)

The backside of a black cow

The front of a very old goat

The very hazy table of ancestry of William Shakespeare

The bottom of a wine bottle

Scribblings on a handkerchief thought to once have belonged to William Congreve, ranging from the quote above via “hell hath no fury like a squirrel who lost his nuts” to the more famous “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”

The last meal of a dissected carrot

The phone call no one ever made (me neither)

The content declaration of Ramen Noodles, mushroom flavour

A dream I had

The dark alley medium I found online

The Real Dark Lady: Was Shakespeare Enamoured of a Moor?

african

It is an accusation often levelled against Mr William Shakespeare that a married man in want of an education must also be in want of a life. Some people wonder how he could have written so many plays, with such wide and varied references, drawing on law, mythology, history and the classics? The answer is simple. Shakespeare was a genius. Not only this, but he was a genius who frequented the London taverns, which were full of merchants, sailors, lawyers from the Inns of Court, and the coterie of actors and writers who drew from popular culture and book learning alike.  He knew a hawk from a handsaw. He wrote about the world he knew and his plays represent popular concepts of history and learning in the Elizabethan period, aspiring from his lowly position to be the sort of Renaissance man whose style and learning he aspired to, and aped with such skill. And yet, perhaps there was another influence.

In 2013, Dr Aubrey Burl of the Society of Antiquities published his findings after years of analysing Shakespeare’s work. For years the mysterious dark lady, to whom the poet refers in his sonnets, has been identified by scholars as poetess Emilia Lanyer or Lanier. The mistress of Henry Carey, she was unhappily married to her cousin in 1592, when pregnant by Carey. Another candidate is Mary Fitton, lady in waiting to Elizabeth, known for her affairs with leading courtiers. Now Burl believes she was actually an Aline Florio, who was married to an Italian translator. As his wife, she would have had access to the many books he used, past and present. As Shakespeare’s mistress, she could have passed that information on. Born Aline Daniel, she lived with her husband in Shoe Lane, near the River Fleet and would probably have met Shakespeare at Titchfield, the home of the Earl of Southampton. There has also been mention of a Lucy Morgan, a fallen woman also known as Lucy Negro. However, this name might belie a more controversial truth. Resident in London’s Cheapside in the 1590s, was another woman named Lucy, who was also referred to as “negro.” Could Shakespeare’s mistress have actually been black?

It has been the view of scholars for decades that going by his 1603 play Othello, Shakespeare followed contemporary views about the savage passions and intense rages of “moors.” Leo Africanus, a north African who was captured by Venetian pirates and long considered an influence on the characterisation of Othello described moors as “very proud and high-minded, and wonderfully addicted unto wrath… they will deeply engraven in marble any injury be it never so small… their wits are but mean and they are so credulous that they will believe matters impossible which are told them…. they speak always with angrie and lowd voices.” And so the stereotype goes on. It seems like a perfect model for the character of Othello, but there is also a chance that Shakespeare was referring to a real man, a man he knew: Lucy the Negro’s father.

Little information survives about Lucy’s family. They are recorded as living in Cheapside from 1597, with her father listed as John the Negro, practising as a cobbler, or cordwainer. He shows up in the records for that year when the rents on the house were due and again for the following two years. In 1599, he attempted to join the London Guild of Cordwainers, who got their license in 1439 and in 1493, established their first hall in Maiden Lane, near St Paul’s.  John’s application, for whatever reason, was declined in the spring of 1599.He may well have been blacklisted. Influential men may have spoken against him because it appears that, in that year, he had a falling out with Shakespeare.

shakey

John appears in the London Assize records for November 1599, being bound over to keep the peace against brothers Richard and Cuthbert Burbage and William Shakespeare. The Burbages had taken over the Blackfriars Theatre on their father’s death in 1597 and would be responsible for building the Theatre and the Globe, working closely with Shakespeare. A fragment of the records that survive for Blackfriars in September 1599 show that money was set aside for repairs “against the anger of Mr John.” It was common for moors in London to be referred to by their first names, in a similar way to servants, and Lucy’s father would have been known to those who were his social superior simply as Mr John. This is also how he appears in the rent books, whilst for the Cordwainers, he is Mr John, cobbler of Cheapside. Why had Lucy’s father turned up at Blackfriars in such a rage that he caused damage to the sum of 20 shillings ? Perhaps because he had found out about the affair she was having with Shakespeare and chose to confront him there.

The sonnets themselves support the notion that Lucy Negro is the woman referred to. They describe the lady as having dark hair and “dun” coloured skin; a shade of brown traditionally associated with cows. It comes from the old English “dunn”, synonymous with dingy-brown or bark-coloured. No English woman would have found this flattering.  The collected sonnets were published in 1609 but at least two of them had already been printed as early as 1599. This included Sonnet 138; “When my love swears that she is made of truth, I do believe her though I know she lies,” which inverts the racial stereotype to make Shakespeare the credulous lover, instead of Leo Africanus’ portrayal of moors as gullible. In this way, Shakespeare was paying a deft compliment to Lucy in 1599, but also signalling that their relationship was troubled and that she was possibly being torn between her father and her lover. This poem also makes clear that the relationship was a physical one, amid the puns of falsehood: “therefore I lie with her and she with me.” Even more telling is his unrhymed, thus disharmonious, couplet in Sonnet 144:

“The better angel is a man right fair , The worse spirit a woman colour’d ill.”

If Mr John had heard of the poems, which were in circulation in the London Inns, or worse still, had read them, it would have been sufficient to provoke the rage he exhibited at Blackfriars. This memorable performance may have found its way into Othello, which was composed a couple of years later. Perhaps it was the playwright’s revenge for Lucy’s father’s brutality.

othello

Lucy disappears from the records in 1608. No account of her marriage or move from Cheapside survives, so it is likely that this was the year of her death. The London playhouses were regularly closed when plague reached dangerous levels in the city and this happened in 1593, 1603 and 1608, so Lucy may well have been a victim, perhaps after keeping a tryst with her lover at the Theatre, or mingling with the infected crowds. It may be that Shakespeare waited until her death to publish the remainder of the letters.  Mr John was never admitted to the Cordwainer’s company and outlived Shakespeare, dying in 1619. The true identity of the Dark Lady may never be known, but the internal evidence of the letters, their dating, and the records of Mr John and his family from Cheapside make Lucy as likely a candidate as any.

Sources

Othello

Shakespeare’s Songs and Sonnets.

Cordwainer’s Record Books 1589-1601, 1601-1611

Light transmitting diode

Oracle at Delphi

Jeff R Vescent knows no bounds.