'My Best Beloved Churchyard', wrote Charles Dickens of St Olave's Hart Street in The Uncommercial Traveller. The plaque outside the parish church on Seething Lane in London's financial district offers a smorgasbord of tempting historical associations. None other than 'MOTHER GOOSE' was interred here in September 1586. Three hundred and sixty-five victims of the Great Plague of 1665 are recorded in the burial register. Samuel Pepys Esq., prodigious diarist and cheese enthusiast, can be found 'Buried in a vault under Ye Communion Table'. Traces of the parish's early modern life surround the church; opposite sits Walsingham house, the family home of the Lord Secretary from which he operated the Elizabethan State's vast intelligence network, now in the midst of a transformation into much needed office space. To the immediate north, the Crutched Friars pub remembers the Carmelite monastery that stood along the titular street, dissolved under Henry and destroyed by the Fire.
Unobserved, but deserving of attention, is the fate of the repurposed monastery buildings between these two events. It was in the hall of the Crutched Friars that the Venetian Jacob Verzelini established a furnace in the early 1570s for the production of a luxury commodity that captured the imagination and loosened the purse strings of England's wealthy elite. Produced using silica, manganese, and soda plant-ash from the Levant, Venetian glass (cristallo) was renowned across Europe for its exceptional transparency and appeared in English royal and aristocratic household inventories throughout the Tudor period. Such were their value that when Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk was sentenced to death in 1571 for his involvement in the Ridolfi Plot, he bequeathed Sir Nicholas Bacon, Sir Walter Mildmay, and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester a single piece of crystal glassware each.
The production of cristallo in England dates back to 1549, when Edward VI invited eight Muranese glassmakers and several Dutchman to establish a furnace near Belsize park in an effort to internalise manufacturing. The emigration of glassworkers had long been forbade by the Venetian authorities, who, on receipt of the knowledge of this trade infringement, demanded their return. In an effort to broker an agreement, the workers were imprisoned in the Tower, where they remained until 1551. All but two returned across the Channel: Guiseppe Casselari and the Dutchman Thomas Cavato. Internal production abated for a while, and in 1558, William Harrison marvelled in his Description of England at the currency of 'Venice glasses' among the rich and powerful, who, as 'is the nature of man generallie [...] most coveteth things difficult to be attained'. Many became 'rich onlie with their new trade unto Murana', writes Harrison, although records do not indicate extensive importing, at least among the English merchants. Just one instance is recorded in the 1567/8 book of imports for London: the English merchant Nicholas Spering, a purveyor of luxury European commodities, imported ’35 doz. crystall glasses’ amongst other items from Antwerp in a vessel carrying the cargoes of sixty-seven other individuals. They may have come in on the galleys of resident Venetians or Genoese, who despite the gradual decline of Italian control of English foreign trade during the sixteenth-century, still dominated Venetian imports. Yet only one fragmented port book survives for the merchant strangers, who kept separate records of ships and cargoes to the native English, and it is too incomplete to garner a thorough analysis.
Yet the English market for glassware was lucrative enough to inspire immigration from the continent. Before coming to London in 1567, the John Carré, a native of Arras, France, was a manufacturer of window-glass in Antwerp. He possessed a shrewd grasp of the market and once settled in England wasted no time in requesting a patent from the Privy Council for the production of both window-glass and Venetian-style crystal for drinking vessels. The application chimed with assurances of locally-sourced materials; everything was to be found within the realm, bar the soda, which must be imported from Spain. He had even already erected a fit for purpose furnace in the City by leave of the Lord Mayor. A monopoly over window-glass was granted, with the proviso that he also trains Englishmen in the skill so that upon expiration, production can continue under native workmen. A monopoly over Venetian glassware, however, was denied.
Carré continued in his cristallo venture anyway, and it appears that by 1570, the furnace was up and running. He may have used his Antwerp connections to bring in the Venetian Ogniabene Luteri to work alongside the veteran Casselari; by December that year, another seven Muranese workmen resided with Carré in the parish of St Benet Fink, Broad Street Ward: Vincent Figlio, Dominic Casselari (potentially a relative of Guiseppe), Marco Guardo, Lawrence Farlonger, Francis Gilio, Biasio Brandarmin (or Brandium), and John Morato. It has long been asserted that Carre was the first proprietor of the glasshouse at the Crutched Friars, although this is uncertain. The fact that both he and his workers lived in St Benet Fink, as opposed to St Olave’s in Hart Street, may suggest that the furnace Carré presumptuously built was located in the north of the City. He also relocated to the parish sometime in the same year as his license application, having previously resided further south near the river in the parish of St Swithen’s, Walbrook Ward. This may be coincidence, but it is worth noting that other Venetian glassblowers connected to the Frenchman's venture also occupied rooms in the parish.
Carré died in 1572. Responsibility for the glasshouse was formally charged to his brother-in-law Peter Campe and his son John Baptist, who were instructed to ‘accomplisht the contract’ made between the dying glassmaker and ‘the Italyans’. Although John Baptist would later operate a furnace in Surrey, it appears that neither party continued to produce glass within the capital. The opportunity was thus presented to the savvy Verzelini to invest in the lucrative business. He had left Venice for Antwerp in the 1550s, where his brother Nicholas was possibly already established in the glass business. He achieved not insubstantial success, as in September 1556 married the minor aristocrat Elizabeth Vanburen, of the House of Mace on her mother's side. Jacob and Elizabeth's movements following their marriage are unclear. Both 1565 and 1570 have been posited as a possible date for their arrival in London, although surviving records indicate that a Venetian surgeon by the name of Jacob Fraunces was a resident of St Olave's Hart Street parish in 1564, and there is reason to believe he and Verzelini are the same person. Fraunces still lived in the parish alongside his wife Elizabeth in 1567, and is found there again in May 1571, this time by the name of Jacob 'Frauncevercelyno'. By November, the alias or middle-name 'Fraunces' had been dropped, and he is found working as a broker, possibly in connection with his brother in Antwerp. He appears to have continued practising as a surgeon throughout his life, and was well-regarded in the profession. During the birth of Robert Sidney, future Earl of Leicester in November 1595, the family physician Doctor Browne took the precaution of sending for the now seventy-three-year-old 'Jacob of the glasshouse' in case of complications.
Sometime between 1572 and 1574, Verzelini had 'sette uppe within [London] one furneys and set of worke dyvers and sondrie parsonnes' in the hall of the Crutched Friars. He secured a patent over cristallo manufacturing with the same proviso as Carre: that Englishmen are trained to continue production upon expiry. For at least the next ten years, however, all those employed appear to have been Venetian. These 'parsonnes' included three of Carré’s workers, Vincent Figlio, Dominic Casselari, and Marco Guardo, who had relocated to St Olave’s Hart Street to live alongside the newly employed Venetians Zatario Brunoro, Satario Moro, Augustin Corona, Marcas Fingamo, Jerolimo Fero, and Baptista Sorte. With this new influx of workers, St Olave's Hart Street became the most concentrated area of Italian immigrants in the city. Vincenzo Guicciardini, the herring exporter, occupied rooms near the church on Seething Lane. Acerbo Velutelli, the exceptionally wealthy Lucchese merchant and close friend of Leicester, resided next door with his five servants: Hippolito, Ascania, and Scipio Velutelli, as well as the Venetian Racheo de Vitello and the Frenchman, John Vidale. Other Italian merchants, factors, and servants all lived and worked within close proximity to the glasshouse. While most of these men have left few traces, evidence of their sociability can be found both directly and indirectly in records pertaining to well-connected Italians.
During the New Year's Celebrations at court in 1577/8, the musician Marc Antonio Galliardo, of neighbouring Portsoken Ward, presented the Queen with 'a viall'; the following year, he gifted 'four Venyse glasses'. Younger members of the Italian dynasties who dominated court music during Elizabeth's reign can be found associating with glasshouse workers. In August 1581, the court musician Joseph Lupo was interrogated by the Consistory of the Italian Church in London on the activities of the silk-dyer Gasperin de Gatti of St Martin Vintry, Vintry Ward, who had been accused of consulting a ‘sorcerer’. Lupo was walking through Crutched Friars when he stopped to talk with Elizabeth Verzelini outside of the glasshouse. Verzelini informed him that de Gatti’s boiler was broken and the tincture was not taking to the material. He believed that they had been enchanted and as such had sent a servant to consult a woman in Rochester on how to lift the enchantment. In August 1585, the court musician Marc Antonio Bassano, son of Alvise, was conversing with the London weaver Valentine Wood and two of Verzelini’s men just beyond Aldgate when they he was attacked and nearly slain by a group of soldiers who took them for Spaniards.
Anti-alien sentiment was not limited to isolated acts of violence. The Crown and City were often at odds in the period over the economic freedoms to be extended to immigrants who took up residence in capital. The latter, concerned with the trade infringements on its constituent Guilds, enacted stringent measures that severely limited the retail practices of stranger craftsmen. Immigrants were disallowed from trading with anyone who was not a freeman of the City of London, a regulation that Verzelini fell afoul of in 1579 when he sold glass to a 'foreigner' from Leicester. The Crown, however, recognised the financial benefit of skilled immigrant labour, particularly that of liberal artisans who catered to the Italian cultural vogue at court. At the interjection of the Privy Council - possibly championed by Robert Dudley, the great defender of England's Italians - Verzelini's glasses were restored. Again in 1581, the Privy Council argued the glasshouse keepers case when one Sebastian Orlandini, a glassblower from Venice, infringed on Verzelini's monopoly by producing cristallo goblets in his furnace at Beckley near Rye.
On occasion, anti-alien sentiment boiled over into acts of violence or destruction of property by English workmen and competitors. Angered by the sudden requirement of to a license fee made payable to Verzelini on all Venetian glass imports, it may have been shopkeepers who started the fire that burned the furnace to the ground 4 September 1575. Fed by an adjoining storeroom containing forty thousand billets of wood, only the buildings outer stone wall prevented the blaze from spreading. Verzelini was forced to set his men working at a temporary furnace at Newgate while the Crutched Friars was rebuilt.
The glasshouse was reopened in 1579, and Verzelini continued to run manufacturing until his retirement in 1592. It is difficult to attribute the dozen extant glasses from the Venetian's furnace to any original owners, although two have ties to aristocratic patrons. The British Museum hold a tankard with silver-gilt lid and base (c.1574) which may have belonged to William Cecil, Lord Burleigh, and a note in an eighteenth-century hand was found in a leather case holding a crystal cup that reads: 'This glass belong'd to Queen Elizabeth, out of which she drank: It has been in Mr Vicker's family Time after mind. In 1726 I was married to Mr Vickers'.
The popularity of his glassware made Verzelini a rich man, and upon his retirement he moved to his large estate in Downe, Kent. It appears that his sons were charged with continuing the business, although the intentions of the proviso in the license that stipulated the training of native Englishmen in the art of cristallo production came to fruition within a few years. The diplomat Sir Jerome Bowes was awarded the Italian's monopoly upon its expiration in 1595 for good service on an envoy to Russia, Although a protracted legal dispute between Bowes and the Verzelini's followed, the Englishman won the suit. By the end of the year, the Crutched Friars glasshouse closed its doors for good.
On 5 September 1687, the University of Oxford offered a banquet in honour of James II at the Bodleian Library. The king seemed to have been less impressed by the pantagruelian menu of 111 hot and cold dishes prepared by the university, than with the Bodleian catalogue. After taking his seat, James asked if the library had a book translated by a Jesuit. The book in question was the Confucius Sinarum Philosophus translated by Philippe Couplet, a Flemish Jesuit who had been touring Europe since 1684 as the procurator of the Jesuit China mission. The king’s request was motivated by his recent encounter with Couplet’s Chinese assistant, Michael Shen Fuzong, who visited England between March and December 1687.
James was particularly impressed by Shen, who had become a sort of celebrity since first arriving in Europe in the winter of 1684. Immediately after landing in the Dutch port of Enkhuizen, Couplet noticed that the rare presence of a Chinese captivated the attention of Europeans, and he used his assistant as an exotic attraction. Shen was always dressed in Chinese clothing in his public appearances, and although the son of Christian parents, Couplet presented the young Chinese Jesuit novice as a convert to illustrate the apparent proselytizing success of the Jesuits, and to instigate the curiosity of crowds, ecclesiastical authorities, scholars and royal courts. In Paris, a large crowd went to Montmartre to attend a mass said by Couplet and the ‘Chinese convert’. In an audience with Louis XIV, Shen appeared in a lavish Chinese silk tunic adorned with dragons, performed a kowtow bow, ate with chopsticks and even taught the French king how to use them. Fascinated by Shen and the array of Chinese curiosities brought by Couplet, Louis XIV ordered to all fountains in Versailles to be turned on as a homage to the ‘Chinese convert’. More importantly, the meeting with the Flemish Jesuit and his assistant paved the way to Louis’ decision to send five Jesuit ‘Mathématiciens du Roi’ to Beijing in 1685.
Shen also caused a sensation in Rome in 1685. He was received by the Father General of the Society of Jesus, prominent Roman aristocrat families, and met Queen Christina of Sweden, who was particularly curious about Chinese tea habits. Pope Innocent XI was also impressed by Shen and the Chinese library that Couplet gifted to the Holy See. Despite the impact caused by the ‘Chinese convert’, the pope refused to take a final decision on the debates over the Jesuit accommodation of Chinese rites and customs, the main reason for Couplet’s tour.
Confronted with the pope’s indecision, Couplet decided to prolong his stay in Europe and continue his propaganda tour of the activities of the Jesuit missionaries stationed in China. The Flemish Jesuit and his assistant visited Florence and other cities in Northern Italy, before returning to Paris where Couplet published his Confucius Sinarum Philosophus. On 7 March 1687, Shen left Paris for London in the company of another Jesuit, the Italian Francesco-Maria Spinola, to prepare Couplet’s visit to the English capital in December. The ascension of James II raised some hopes across Catholic Europe that England would no longer be a champion of Protestantism, and Couplet believed that the English king, like his Portuguese, Spanish and French counterparts, would be interested in supporting the Jesuit overseas missions. Besides, a visit to the English royal court at the precise moment when the Confucius Sinarum Philosophus was being published in Paris could be used as an exceptional moment to publicise a work that the Jesuits believed that would support their accommodationist practices in China. As in Paris or Rome, Shen’s presence in London caused a sensation. Shortly after their arrival, James granted an audience to Shen and Spinola at St James’ Palace. Fascinated with the ‘Chinese convert’, the king instructed Sir Godfrey Kneller to paint a full length portrait of Shen to hang in the king’s private bedchamber. The painting evoked both the exoticism surrounding Shen, as well as the king’s conversion to Catholicism.
Shen’s presence in London coincided with a rising in interest in Chinese culture in England. Works such as John Webbs’ exaggerated and rather fantastical An Historical Essay Endeavoring a Probability that the Language of the Empire of China is the Primitive Language (1669), re-issued in 1678 as The Antiquity of China, and the regular translations of works from Dutch merchants and Jesuit missionaries on subjects from Chinese medicine to philosophy stimulated the interest of English scholars. After being informed about the ‘Chinese convert’, Thomas Hyde, holder of the Hebrew and Arabic chairs at Oxford and under-keeper of the Bodleian Library, invited Shen to visit Oxford and help him to catalogue and annotate the Chinese books and manuscripts in the library, including The Selden Map of China. Shen accepted the invitation, and his four weeks in Oxford are considered to be a seminal moment for English sinology. His collaboration with Hyde allowed English scholars to know, for the first time, the titles and contents of the mysterious Chinese works of Oxford. After cataloguing the Bodleian Chinese books, Hyde developed his interest in China, and planned to write a treatise on Chinese language based on his conversations with Shen. During the banquet held at the Bodleian in homage to James II, Hyde told the king, who was curious about the work of the ‘Chinese convert’ at the library, that he had ‘learnd many things of him’. As a testimony to Shen’s influence on his work, Hyde decided that in his official portrait for the Bodleian Library he should be depicted holding a scroll with Chinese characters.
After finishing his work in Oxford, Shen returned to London where he had regular contacts with curious members of the Royal Society, including Robert Boyle. In April 1688, amid the political turmoil that led to the overthrow of James II, Shen travelled to Lisbon where he took his first vows as a Jesuit on 9 October 1690. One year later he embarked to Goa to complete his training before returning to China, but he died on 2 September 1691, near the coast of Mozambique.
The European reliance on Chinese sources and go-betweens was far from unique. The sixteenth century Portuguese humanist João de Barros counted on his collaboration with a well-educated Chinese, who was probably brought into Portugal as slave, to translate Chinese manuscripts and books. As Shen toured Europe, Emmanuel de Siqueira, also known as Zheng Manuo, a converted Chinese who joined the Jesuits, studied and worked in Rome, Bologna and Coimbra between 1651 and 1688. And in Paris, Shen also collaborated with Melchisédech Thévenot, the librarian of the Bibliothéque du Roi and one of the founders of the Académie Royale des Sciences. However, the encounter between Hyde and Chen offers a rare glimpse of an early modern encounter, and intellectual collaboration, between China and England in particular.
João Vicente Melo
A condemnation of excess, and a praise of the Aristotelian ‘golden mean’, was a rigorous benchmark for self-examination in sixteenth and seventeenth-century moral literature and political thought. Yet gentlemen also praised the desires and passions in a way that subversively celebrated the decadence of sin. ‘The Meane-observer, (whom base Safety keepes,)/Lives without honour, dies without a name,/And in eternall darkness ever sleeps’, declared Samuel Daniel in a sonnet in 1592. Daniel’s poem expressed a commitment to the pursuit of beauty even when its attainment was forbidden. To glut oneself on the sight of beauty and the allures of the flesh was perhaps ill-advised, but desire was also an inevitable part of existence. To many young gentlemen, the mean – golden, venerable, politically preferable – was also boring.
Last year's TIDE trip to Seville and Zafra for the Anglo-Iberian workshop catapulted us into the baroque and its visions of delight. Following in the trail of early modern English travellers to Spain, I began to think about how Protestants confronted the sacred sites of a Catholic country. Here was a world saturated by the emotive, passionate intimacy and yet grandeur of Christian theology – a theology that Protestants had shared with Catholics only a generation before. Gold, silver, and ornate woodwork filled dozens of early modern churches, from the vaulting splendour of Seville Cathedral to La Macarena, a later church filled with seventeenth-century figures and furnishings. Hearts were encased in wrought frames, directing the viewer to consider his or her inward being with somewhat macabre theatricality. Navigating the physical spaces of worship, and thinking about the role of art and architecture in expressing belief, revealed the importance of moving beyond Protestant rhetoric against Catholics in print to understanding the experience of travel and faith. In the messy lived reality of the Tudor and Stuart worlds, the relationship between England and Spain were hardly polarities, and we risk losing a fuller understanding of early modern identities when we fail to consider the formative weight of place, memory, and cross-cultural exchange on the individual.
It is commonplace to highlight the English aversion to Spain during this period, and certainly this existed. The unpopular Catholic reign of Mary Tudor and the Spanish Philip II, reports of the atrocities committed by Spanish armies in the Netherlands, gruesome tales of the Spanish Inquisition and the ‘Black Legend’ circulating in post-Reformation society, and the 1588 Armada all hardened English attitudes towards Spain. Anti-Spanish sentiment reached a fever pitch following the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War in 1618, where James’ daughter, Elizabeth, became enmeshed in the Bohemian revolt against the Hapsburg dynasty. Charles I disguised himself and travelled secretly to Spain to consider the possibility of marrying the Spanish Infanta in 1623; when he returned to England empty-handed, church bells around the country rang to express triumph at God’s intervention.
And yet, while imperial envy and confessional divide led to negative English views of Spain, ignoring the allure of the Iberian Peninsula on English travellers only perpetuates stereotypes of cultural rigidity and difference. English Catholics retained close links with Spanish networks of power, as seen through Jane Dormer, for example, a lady-in-waiting to Mary I who married a Spanish ambassador and spent the next fifty years of her life in Madrid and Zafra. The hatred of Spain emerges most vehemently in the rhetoric of puritan MPs, whereas courtiers and the realm’s Catholics often celebrated the 1604 Anglo-Spanish peace. James’ close friendship with Diego Sarmiento de Acuña, Count Gondomar was a lasting if unpopular one, and merchants traded with Spain for commodities from oranges to the tobacco sourced from the Spanish West Indies. The explorer Walter Ralegh, and the geographer Richard Hakluyt, acknowledged the necessity of learning from the Iberians in their own imperial pursuits, and from an intellectual, humanist perspective, Spain remained attractive in its grandiosity.
Within this context, we begin to see how receptive the English were to the palpable spaces of Spanish churches. ‘I was yesterday as the Escurial [outside Madrid] to see the Monastery of Saint Lawrence, the eighth wonder of the world,’ wrote James Howell of his travels across the Continent in the 1620s, ‘...what I have seen in Italy, and other places, are but baubles to it’. Richard Wynn, another traveller to Spain in the 1620s, described the same monastery as the finest in the world. Howell and Wynn did not, or perhaps could not, comment favourably on what Protestants viewed as a problematic relationship between baroque imagery and biblical truth. Instead, they expressed their admiration by focusing on the ingenuity and architecture of the spaces. Wynn bought a floor plan of the Escorial, modelled after Solomon’s temple, as a souvenir.
The advice of schoolmasters and Protestant polemicists against the attraction of Catholic countries begins to seem less indicative of actual cultural rigidity, and more like a fraught attempt to curb enthusiasm. ‘I was once in Italie my selfe,’ Robert Ascham wrote in 1570, ‘but I thank God, my abode there, was but ix days. And yet I saw in that little tyme, in one Citie, more libertie to sinne, then I ever heard tell in our noble Citie of London in ix yeares...For being unlike in troth of Religion, they must needes be unlike in honestie of living.’ Ascham specifically condemned the dangers brought by beholding excess: in their Churches, Catholics ‘[mask] Ceremonies, to delite the eye’. Thomas Palmer, writing his advice to travellers in 1606, though somewhat less fantastical, gravely condemned those travellers who indulged in Catholic ritual. While it was important to observe certain customs when travelling, Palmer acknowledged, ‘let men avoid to sacrifice or do reverence to any idol...For though many have so large a conscience, that they perswade themselves, so they keepe their hearts to God, they may bend their knee, and bow themselves before such trash without hurt at all, yet God will not forget the hypocrisy’. The Catholic ‘estimation of reliques & images’, Palmer maintained, must be combatted, for a traveller went to new places to gather state secrets and better themselves for the good of their country, not to imperil their souls.
The concerns voiced by Protestant writers point to the way that English travellers engaged with Spain in a manner that had the potential to influence their lives when they returned in England. Tobie Matthew created a stir by travelling lavishly through Europe in the early seventeenth century and converting to Catholicism, despite being the son of a Calvinist theologian and the archbishop of York. Happily ensconced in Italy and Spain, Matthew wrote to Dudley Carleton in 1608 proclaiming that life on the Continent enabled him to ‘eate good melons, drinke wholesome wines, [and] look upon excellent devout pictures’. The English ambassador in Venice, Henry Wotton, was damning of Matthew: he was a leader, Wotton wrote, of ‘a certain knot of bastard Catholiques’, a crew of pleasure-seeking bon vivants who had descended into debauched sensuality. Living in Catholic countries had, as Protestant authorities feared, swayed Matthew into beguiling idolatry, for he ‘appeared stronger in his perversion and professing popery more than ever’, and this influenced his political associations when he returned to London.
The potency of the senses on individual self-fashioning had the capacity to change a subject’s confessional and cultural identity, and it is worth thinking more about how spaces of worship and personal encounters with Catholicism moved English travellers to behave differently, to seek spiritual assurance, to make new friends or to forge political alliances that could endanger their own lives. Gold-encrusted hearts, weeping Christs, wax figures and ‘excellent devout pictures’ moved viewers to inward contemplation and outward action. Some English Catholics returned from abroad to die as condemned traitors on London scaffolds; others were shaped by their travels in the things they translated, or the committees they sat on in parliament. ‘Receive this close embrace’, wrote Luisa de Carvajal, a Spanish Catholic living in London from 1607, ‘with immense love brimming...Repose on the sacred flowering bed and inflame yourself with love so passionate...in my very own arms...you will enjoy what no one has deserved’. The palpability of Catholic space was a risky affair for Protestants, authorities knew, because they encouraged succumbing to intense feeling -- passions that were not directed to the orthodoxy of the Protestant church and the monarch at its head, but to different forms and objects of devotion.
The objects in our next #gateofaccess series may at first seem a world away from the Tudor portraits or the Italianate neoclassicism that often embody the polished appeal of the Renaissance. Here, we present a defence of the ordinary, where the broken, misshapen things found in rubbish heaps, rather than museum displays, reveal subtle but moving insights into the lives of English individuals. Humanists themselves acknowledged that while a correlation between inner virtue and outer beauty remained the ideal, ‘it is rather good to see a man of body imperfect and disproportioned if he be endued with vertues’. Beautiful bodies with corrupted minds, wrote Lodowick Bryskett in his discussion of civility in 1606, were ‘nought else but a gay vessell filled with vice’.
Working in conjunction with the Museum of Liverpool, this series of objects focuses on the excavations at Rainford in St Helen’s, Merseyside, twelve miles from Liverpool city centre. These objects were excavated by archaeologists and volunteers from National Museums Liverpool and the Merseyside Archaeological Society in 2013, after Sidney Meadows, a local resident, found a seventeenth-century vessel in his garden when digging up a pear tree. Assisted by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, this team excavated some 10,000 fragments of pottery and clay pipes in what once served as a kiln dump. Objects from excavations at Bickerstaff, also in Lancashire, are also included here, and reveal the presence of Huguenot glassmakers in local parishes.
The lids, glass, fractured cups and jugs, and colourful pieces of tobacco pipes show the connectedness of local and transatlantic trade, and highlight the influence of continental Europe on production and craft in sixteenth and seventeenth-century England. As our weekly images over the next seven weeks will show, the earthenware display Italian and Germanic styles; glass fragments and parish records testify to the presence of migrant French glassmakers; and attempts at sgraffito suggest a curiosity, or perhaps demand, for Italian techniques in producing clay objects. A Sieburg imitation jug (see image above) resembles the German stoneware so popular in London in the late medieval era, and archaeologists have suggested that potters may have been experimenting with the craft by imitating or adapting the vessels they encountered through popular continental imports. Surviving glass from Bickerstaff indicate the applied furnace decoration typical of the products made by Huguenot glassmakers, many of whom arrived in England from the 1560s, fleeing persecution during a period of devastating confessional strife in France. Tobacco pipes speak to the accelerating appeal of tobacco following increased English activity in the Atlantic from the late sixteenth century, particularly after the establishment of Virginia in 1607. These pipes, in colourful terracotta hues ranging from yellow to green, indicate that although the Pipe Makers’ Company in Westminster held a monopoly on pipe production, local industries used whatever material they had at hand to cash in on an increasingly popular pastime. The particular organic matters of peatland ecosystems made for a specific aesthetic that contrasts to the white Dorset clay pipes used in and around London. All our showcased objects, in fact, offer insight into the convergence between the natural world and man-made things, inviting a consideration of colour schemes and the appearance of domestic interiors as a result of these crafts. Glassware exhibited shades of green created by high levels of iron in the sand used in firing, and the hundreds of coarseware jugs offer a range of hues from dark brown to purple-black. In small, subtle ways, regional firing techniques in artisanal workshops, and the natural resources provided by the peat, moss, coal, and soil in and around Liverpool, offer a way to imagine the aesthetics of the everyday.
These objects hint at broader changes in industry and production, and the role of migration in effecting these changes. They also expose a good deal of law-breaking and questionable morality. The text we show in this series contains the death of a French glassmaker in an entry for December 1600: ‘a stranger slayne by one the glassmen/beinge a frenchman ther workinge’. Profound changes to the glassblowing industry were underway in the Jacobean era, after King James and parliament agreed that using wood for fuel endangered the realm’s forests. Coal, rather than timber, was to be used instead, leading to new firing conditions, and establishing the north as a crucial centre for the realm’s coal production. While the Seiburg imitation jug or French glass demonstrate the influence of Europe on form and technique, the glass and tobacco pipes impel us to face the Atlantic. The Virginia Company made concerted efforts in the 1610s and 1620s to establish glassmaking in Jamestown, where the abundance of timber presented no problems for fuel. The Company employed skilled migrants from Germany and Poland to the colony in 1608, and Italian glassmakers in 1622.
Do small, misshapen objects and mistakes belong in the Renaissance? The answer must be yes. Broken and faulty objects are the humble underbelly of the cultural glory of those Holbeins and Rubens and banqueting halls. They indicate the tireless efforts of craftsmen and artisans as cultural producers. Because the Seiburg jug is ‘a waster, warped and damaged’, it has survived as an example of how, and which, objects were locally produced. Bryskett’s appraisal of human bodies as vessels, and of the possible virtues of imperfection, becomes a fitting way to end as well as begin. The unwieldy clunk of the kiln stilts (below) may have been created purely as props to fire glazed earthenware, but it is because they were never meant to be admired or preserved that they show something remarkable – imprints of the craftsman’s fingers, a reminder of the intimate relationship between people and things, and the power of objects to transmit the past through time.
Lodowick Bryskett, A discourse of civil life (London, 1606; STC 3959).
Sam Rowe and Liz Stewart eds., Rainford’s Roots: The Archaeology of a Village (Liverpool: National Museums Liverpool and Merseyside Archaeological Society, 2014).
Robert Philpott ed., The Pottery and Clay Tobacco Pipe Industries of Rainford, St Helens: New Research (Liverpool: Merseyside Archaeological Society, 2015).
On 20 November, TIDE held its first seminar of the academic year on the theme of ‘English Travellers, Spies, and Diplomats in Foreign Courts’ with Joan-Pau Rubiés (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, ICREA) and Nadine Akkerman (Leiden University). These two excellent papers prompted a great deal of discussion amongst the attendees, despite an unexpected fire alarm.
Joan-Pau Rubiés’s paper, ‘Traveller, observer, spy: assessing the status of English accounts of the Ottoman and Mughal states in the seventeenth century’, explored existing definitions and categories of early modern travellers, as well as the status of knowledge and knowledge production through travel. The most influential and successful collection of travel accounts was that edited by Giovanni Battista Ramusio, who proposed a critical model of systematic verification based on the principle that empirical experiences and observations of modern travellers could correct or update knowledge provided by classical authors. This contributed to the emergence of a new type of traveller: one who travelled motivated by the value of acquiring knowledge for knowledge’s sake and aspired to produce new forms of knowledge for an emerging and cosmopolitan republic of letters, rather than simply fulfilling specific political, economic or religious aims. Examples of this new kind of traveller include Henry Blount, who travelled through the Levant to gain knowledge through ‘ocular’ experience and published his stories in A Voyage to the Levant (1636), and Edward Terry, the chaplain of Sir Thomas Roe’s embassy to the Mughal court, who wrote A Voyage to East-India (1655). Although these authors were engaged with English projects of commercial and colonial overseas expansion, they articulated nationalist rhetoric with cosmopolitan views reflecting the concerns of their wide-ranging audience who, despite different confessional and national backgrounds or allegiances, shared an educational tradition and intellectual practices. Blount’s and Terry’s accounts illustrate how travel writing and the figure of the philosophical travel writer contributed to the formation of a dynamic cosmopolitan intellectual movement which influenced the European Enlightenment. The information provided by these early sixteenth century travel accounts had a profound impact on European intellectual circles, although its accuracy was sometimes uncertain, and as Joan-Pau observed, rumours, exaggerations and ‘fake news’ were alive and well in the seventeenth century. Similarly, such journeys sparked fear that by gaining knowledge of other countries, travellers would be corrupted and lose their connection to home, becoming citizens of nowhere. The political concerns of the twenty first century, it transpires, are not so new after all.
Nadine Akkerman’s paper on ‘Informal Diplomacy: The Correspondences of 17th Century Ambassadors’ Wives and Women Spies’ explored the fascinating role of women as intelligencers in seventeenth century Britain, despite a dramatic interruption by the fire alarm. Women’s letters have traditionally been assumed to contain ‘domestic’ content about marriage and children and so were often overlooked by censors. By the seventeenth century women had established ways of using this status to disseminate sensitive information, with Lady Carlisle hiding the news that ‘10,000 soldiers rise against the King’ amidst exhortations for her husband to return to her and ‘the babe in my belly’. By disguising the contents of their letters, women could use typically ‘female’ discourses about marriage and children to their advantage. The wives of ambassadors – or ambassadresses –occupied central and privileged positions at court and became integral to negotiations. Using the same means as female spies, these ambassadresses similarly manipulated gender prejudices to conceal or pass information, with some performing this role without the knowledge or permission of their husbands. As with men, there was a thin line between diplomacy and intelligencing, and the question rose as to whether an ambassadress could be an honourable spy. They certainly functioned as such, with Countess Rivers, Lady Aubigny and the Percy sisters as particularly prolific examples, though there is no appropriate term for this specifically female power. There are also significant archival issues which make the lives and roles of these women hard to trace as considerably fewer female penned letters have been preserved, while the role of intelligencer also means that sensitive letters may have been destroyed to protect their senders. As Nadine noted, the best spy is the one who leaves no trace – making these women spies some of the best.
TIDE were delighted to welcome Sarah Howe, our visiting writer for 2018, to Liverpool this week for a series of events which drew visitors from across the university and the wider public. Sarah Howe’s first book, Loop of Jade, won the TS Eliot Prize and The Sunday Times/PFD Young Writer of the Year Award, and was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Poetry Prize and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Sarah is also a lecturer in poetry at King’s College London.
Run by the University of Liverpool’s Centre for New and International Writing, the Miriam Allot Visiting Writers Series hosts a diverse range of emerging writers every year. For the second event of this year’s series, the Centre co-hosted a reading with TIDE on 14 November featuring Sarah Howe and Anthony Joseph, the Colm Tóbín Fellow in Creative Writing at the University of Liverpool. Held in the Old Library in the School of Arts, the two authors read selections of their work to a large and appreciative audience of academics and non-academics alike. Anthony Joseph, who kicked off the readings, is a poet, novelist, musician and lecturer, selected in 2005 as one of fifty black and Asian writers who have made major contributions to contemporary British literature. He is the author of four poetry collections as well as six critically-acclaimed albums and a novel, The African Origins of UFOs, and has received an AHRC postgraduate scholarship to complete his doctoral thesis, a ‘fictional biography’ of Lord Kitchener. Rather than the famous Kitchener of WWI war posters, this Lord Kitchener was a Trinidadian calypsonian who arrived on the Empire Windrush, and features in the famous footage of its arrival singing ‘London is the Place for Me’. Anthony shared parts of this work at the reading, sharing emotive and entangled stories that highlighted the resonances between modern Caribbean-British migrations, and TIDE’s focus on issues of transculturality and in-betweenness in the early modern period. This was apparent in Anthony’s poem about the oceanic tides that carried migrants across the Atlantic towards England, and in the extracts he shared from his upcoming novel, Kitch, where characters discuss the differences between Trinidad and London, and the attitudes they are faced with on arrival.
Sarah Howe read select poems from Loop of Jade, and treated the audience to pieces from her newest unpublished work. Sarah’s interest in Renaissance words and images emerged from her introduction to her first reading, which she dedicated to ‘all the early modernists out there’. What followed was a moving poem about memory and human fragility, as she reminisced about sneaking into the Fellows’ Garden at night during her undergraduate days in Cambridge to dance around Milton’s mulberry tree. She read ‘The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia’, a poem imagining the death of the Renaissance poet Sir Philip Sidney in the Netherlands in the 1580s, to the obvious delight of TIDE director Nandini Das. Sarah also introduced her recent work on the BBC Radio 4 series ‘Conversations on a Bench’, where poets choose a bench from which to sit and converse with strangers before transforming their experience of these conversations into verses of their own. Sarah chose the only bench in London’s Chinatown, outside a bubble tea shop on Gerrard Street. Her poems conveyed the experience of a gambler – Gerrard Street being the street with the highest concentration of betting shops in the UK – facing the devastating costs of his addiction, with the struggles of an illegal immigrant desperate to stay with his family, and the story of a young ‘BBC’ man – ‘British-born Chinese’ – struggling with the perception of his identity as a constant state of in-between.
On November 15, TIDE held a workshop with Sarah Howe for creative writing PhD students. The event offered these students the opportunity to share their work with Sarah, who commented on their work and offered feedback in an interactive session. The students unanimously gave glowing feedback afterwards, many commenting on how useful they had found the chance to critically reflect on their work with a professional poet. While not all students had heard of the work done by TIDE before, the workshop generated interest in future events run by the project, and helped them draw links between modernity and early modernity in ways they hadn’t considered – a definite success!
The archival spirit, the impulse and compulsion to dig deep into the past may as well be hardwired given its widespread practice and endurance through time. Even within ancient cultures deemed without libraries that predate big data there were symbols and oral rituals that paid homage to the past as a reliquary of wisdom. For example, the image of the Sankofa bird in Asante Adinkra in Ghana shows a bird that carries an egg on its back and has its head turned backwards as if to protect that egg and with a clear eye on the path behind it. Sankofa comes from the Twi language, and means “go back and get it” The image of the bird and the word function together as symbols with global applications.
Contemporary researchers of the Medieval and Early Modern eras, spared the burden of chaperoning eggs with them during the course of their research, nevertheless practice the same hindsight as that bird, the same looking back in order to understand the nature of one’s forward momentum. But in the case of a history of fragments, where the references are so scant they seem to be precursors of the art of minimalism, a degree of detective work of joining the dots and filling the large gaps appear to go hand-‐in-‐hand with the discovery of hidden gems in the past. It is not just a case of making things up. The links between two salient facts instruct the invention that tries credibly to bridge them.
In one instance, where a black woman is hanged in London, many questions arise about the brief reference to the simple fact that a black woman was hanged with nine others in seventeenth century London. It is not just a curious mind nosing around a fragment about a sad matter. Profound and glaring absences surround this woman’s life and brutal death, so much so that they become almost living themselves, bubbling at the site of this fragmentary reference. How did the black woman end up in London? What did she do to make the fledgling state of the day take her life from her? Was she a mother? Married? And so on.
Writers worth their salt see the fragment and feel, at an almost molecular level, a huge sense of outrage on behalf of that poor woman. The questions become an ethical commitment to her, close to a contract so it seems, to help fill in some of the questionnaire about her, even if invention and imagination must supplement the piecing together of those fragments and help to reanimate that lost life.
Simon Schama’s Dead Certainties (1991) shows us that where there is a gap between one fact and another some ingenuity is called for on the part of the researcher who must bridge that gap or abandon the project. The gap is a permission slip for the imagination to get to work and make it possible, by filling in the absence, for the researcher to carry on (and remain calm).
From Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark (1992) we learn that absences are not restricted to mimimalist documentation in history. She writes that black presences in literature are absent presences, a function of being there in the most scant detail in order to glorify whiteness and help white characters in fiction to become actualized (fully realized flesh and blood personas with an interior landscape to boot). Since Morrison’s example is contemporary it lends itself to what I can only call theoretical teleportation, to being applied to any period in any location.
Applied to that black woman who is hanged, it is possible to see her as an absent presence in need of the same imaginative largesse applied to globetrotting whites who benefited from their relations to servile and more stationary blacks. The move back in time to earlier and earlier emblems of black belonging works in exact opposition to claims that blacks do not belong in Britain or arrived there too recently to earn full participation in the civil and political economy.
Our (feeling for her, I cannot help being proprietorial) black woman is international in her body. Clearly from some other place and living in London, she signals that the British part of the transatlantic slave trade may have left large numbers of blacks in the cities and before that trade, it implies that mercantile capital had its black subjects popping up in far flung places as well.
At a genealogical level, were she a mother, we can assume that she left a genetic trail in the city with descendants who have blended into the general populace. She scratched about for a living or she may have had a trade of some kind, who knows? A fiction writer might be able to tell at least one likely trajectory for a black woman in the seventeenth century. She needs a name, an imagined biography and dreams, as counters to her sliver of a record for a life.
Liverpool’s archive goes further, earlier, deeper and more broadly than individual characters. Cartographies, European and global trade routes, ever-‐burgeoning cities, New World epistemologies, and the roots in antiquity of our modernity, comprise some of the projects flourishing there. Other Liverpool University Depart of English faculty who are involved are the writers and researchers, Sandeep Parmar, Deryn Rees-‐Jones and Lucienne Loh.
I was lucky to enjoy a short residency in the city of Liverpool and make use of the facilities of the university. That TIDE is based in the School of the Arts points to the importance of deep research for critical thinking and for the arts of the imagination and belies its many connections to the community. I visited the Slave Museum at the thriving docks, met local writers, David Byrne, Levi Tafari, and many activists at a May Day parade. I conducted a writing workshop as part of the Writing on the Wall Liverpool festival, organized by Madeline Heneghan and Mike Morris. (You won’t meet two souls more committed to the health of the city than Madeline and Mike.) The workshop consisted of a series of writing exercises built around a selection of entries in church registers and other public notices from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
For the Miriam Allott lecture, I read and answered questions at a public event held at the university. In TIDE’s small but vibrant office, a tight ship me-‐maties, aarrh, (I channel a pirate) run by Emma-Louise Whitehead, I had many conversations with TIDE’s three young scholars, Haig Smith, Jõao Vincente Melo, and Lauren Working, and research associate, Roger Christofides, all under the expert tutelage of Nandini Das, project director.
The visit culminated with a discussion at the LRB Bookshop across from the British Museum between broadcaster and historian, David Olusoga, the novelist and historian Catherine Fletcher and me, with Nandini Das as Chair. Here, the talk and Q&A. with the audience forged links with an antique and with an Early Modern past in confirmation of what Faulkner said about history – “the past is never past.”
On the 19th November 2017, the TIDE project and Before Shakespeare are hosting a workshop exploring the diverse audiences of Elizabethan playhouses and their surrounding neighbourhoods, based at the University of Liverpool’s London campus, 33 Finsbury Square. Working with The Dolphin’s Back, we will be looking at a range of plays, archival documents, diaries, and other materials to ask: Who visited Elizabethan playhouses? What might it mean to put non-English characters on stage? What does dramatic engagement with issues of immigration, identity, and belonging tell us about sixteenth-century playing spaces? This blog takes us back to the site of that workshop some four hundred odd years ago, in order to think about the neighbourhoods on the doorstep.
Today, in the heart of the City and amid its glassy towers, Finsbury Square smacks more of balance books than playbooks. Yet it is at the heart of London’s long and crucial history of cosmopolitanism.
Elizabethan England had a mixed relationship with immigration. It welcomed religious refugees and offered patents to immigrant craftspeople settling in the country. At the same time, there were considerable tensions about non-English labour and the government recorded lists of immigrants, demanding reasons for their living in England, their occupation, and their religious proclivities. These recorded lists are often known as the “Returns of Strangers.” In early modern England, “stranger” was a flexible term, but here can be defined as a foreign-born individual resident in a particular parish or community. The mixture of resentment, distrust, fear, and othering often resulted in the persecution of immigrant settlers and their communities.
Here, we introduce some of the Londoners who lived in the surrounding neighbourhoods, ahead of exploring their fictional equivalents in the drama of the late sixteenth century and their and others’ real-life presence among the audiences and neighbourhoods of early playing spaces.
The characters populating the neighbourhoods around Moorgate and who live in the vicinity of the playhouses in Shoreditch are an important factor in thinking about the rise of commercial playing, not least when a number of the earliest plays surviving from those playhouses prominently feature “strangers,” black men and women, European merchants, and debates about the economic, social, and cultural consequences of immigration in London.
Some of the individuals living in and around Moorgate, Bishopsgate, Norton Folgate, and Shoreditch offer intriguing connections between the city and the stage. Robert Wilson is found resident in the parish of St Botolph’s Without Bishopsgate in the 1580s, when he is described in a legal case, rather conspicuously, as a “player” (LMA MJ/SR/0258/56). He appeared alongside fellow actor John Dutton in a tax return for the parish in 1582 and 1587 (TNA E179/251/16, TNA E115/118/24, and E115/403/110).
A few minutes up the road in Norton Folgate, Wilson might have come across one Peter Rastringinge, a buttonmaker from France and his wife Margaret, both born in Armentiers and having lived in England for 12 years. There may well have been a local edge, therefore, to Wilson’s depiction of the character Fraud in his play from the late 1580s, The Three Lords and Ladies of London. In that play, Fraud takes on a disguise as an “artificer” from France, who is selling various gilded buttons. Far from being an outlandish satire or send-up of a foreign merchant, Fraud’s deception speaks very literally to the type of individual audiences would have seen or known. Perhaps Peter Rastringinge, his wife, colleagues, or fellow countrypeople would have seen the play themselves, begging the question of how self-consciously such an episode might have been performed or how inclusive or exclusive such a spectacle might be.
The notion of an “English” person is itself up for debate in this period. London’s city council periodically took pains throughout the 1570s and 1580s to make it clear that children of immigrants retained an immigrant status themselves. These questions are at issue in plays that interrogate the issue of nationhood—including those featuring Englishmen fighting abroad on the behalf of foreign princes, such as George Peele’s The Battle of Alcazar—and also in plays that explicitly think about generational difference itself. In The Three Ladies of London, the eponymous ladies have a more complex relationship to their city and country than the title might initially suggest, as do surrounding characters. Lucre’s grandmother is, audiences are informed, Venetian, and we learn that she is in fact a second- or third-generation immigrant to London. She in turn enquires of Usury, “why came thou to England?”, and Usury replies:
"I have often heard your good grandmother tell,
That she had in England a daughter, which her far did excell:
And that England was such a place for Lucre to bide,
As was not in Europe and the whole world beside...”
In the same exchange, Simony recounts his birth in Rome, where he dwelled with monks and friars, before “they invited me / with certain other English merchants” to visit England.
Exactly this question of generational status, nationhood, and belonging is at issue outside the playhouse. Again, in the same parish as the The Three Ladies’s author, Thomas Wilson, a clerk noted in 1586 the case of a mixed-race child—the baptism of ‘Elizabeth, a negro child, born white, the mother a negro’ (GL MS 4515/1). What exactly is meant by such a description remains unclear. However, the notion of a ‘negro child, born white’ highlights the complicated perceptions early modern Englishmen and women had of identity, status, and indeed the legibility or visibility of an otherness that the parish clerk is keen to mark out. A year later a little further east, at St Botolph Aldgate, twenty-year-old ‘Mary Phillis of Morisco, being a blackmore’ was baptized (GL Ms 9234/6). The parish clerk in detail also noted down Mary’s conversion narrative, describing how she had been in the country for between thirteen and fifteen years after living with ‘one Millicent Porter a seamster’ and was now ‘desyrous to becom a Christian.’
Indeed, the area around St Botolph’s included one of England earliest black communities. On the 22 October 1586, 'Christopher Cappervert, a blacke moore' was buried at the church (Guildhall Library [GL] MS 9222/1). The term blackamoor most often referred to an individual from Sub-Saharan Africa, and put colour at the heart of early modern English conceptions of identity. In his 1600 translation of the North African humanist scholar Leo Africanus’ Description of Africa, John Pory described the ‘principall nations’ of Africa as including ‘the Africans or Moores, properly so called; which last are of two kinds, namely white or tawnie Moores, and Negros or black Moores’(Pory, The History and Description of Africa Ed. Robert Brown, 1896, 20). Grammars and dictionaries of the time made similar associations: ‘The Negro’s [sic], which we call the Black-mores’ (Ralegh, The history of the world, 1614, L2r.)
The following year, 'Domingo, beinge a Ginnye negaro and beinge servaunt to the Right Worshipfull Sir William Winter' was also buried at St Botolph’s after succumbing to consumption (tuberculosis) (GL MS 9234/1, f.127v). Between 1586 and 1596, 8 black men and women were registered by the parish clerk at St Botolph’s as being buried, including 'Suzanna Peavis a blackamore servant to John Deppinois’ (GL MS 9221/1) and a black man 'suposed to be named Frauncis' who was a 'servant to Peter Miller a beare brewer” (GL MS 9223). In 1594, close by in St Stephen Coleman Street (now Gresham Steet), a black woman named 'Katernine' who had been 'dwelling with the Prince of Portingal' was buried (GL MS 28867).
The neighbourhood of St Botolph’s was also home to a variety of European immigrants, including one Peter Favale, 'of Bolyuia de Grace' and one Poll Germall, a Genovese gentleman who lives with Favale. They both attended the English church and had been in the country 30 and 10 years respectively. Individuals also circulated between city and court life. The parish was home to John Baptist Violer, a servant of Queen Elizabeth. Searches have afforded little information about 'Violer,' and 'John Baptist' is a popular name, including among stranger preachers. There is, though, another John Baptist, of Castiglione, who also had status in the royal household at this time; Giovanni Battista Castiglione is described in a letter to Emperor Ferdinand in 1558 as 'one of [Queen Elizabeth’s] favourite and private chamberlains' (qtd Bolland 42, 'Alla Prudentissima' in Leadership and Elizabethan Culture, Ed. Peter Iver Kaufman, 2013). He formed part of a small network of individuals in royal circles the early years of Elizabeth’s reign, and Thomas Blundeville’s dedication to Leicester of an advice manual, A Very brief and profitable treatise, printed in 1570 thanks 'my very friend Mayster John Baptist Castiglion one of the Gromes of hir Highnesse privy chamber' (A2v). The St Botolph’s John Baptist, however, is likely a different man, given his suffix, 'Violer.' Other court-associated immigrants were present down the road in St Alphege parish (in Cripplegate, near the London wall), where Frauncisco Ytalion and Ambrose Ytalion could be found, both musicians to the Queen who had dwelt in England 27 and 30 years respectively by the year 1571.
Moregate, Cripplegate, Shoreditch, and the areas around them are examples of the mixed reception of stranger communities in England. They were home to many foreign artisans, particularly silkweavers. These silkweavers came from various parts of Europe, including a number born in Valencia who dwelt in Shoreditch at St Leonard’s parish in the early 1580s. A list of immigrants from 1571 included one John Deboyse, a Frenchman, who had the curious occupation of 'morispykemaker' (that is, Moorish Pike-Maker, a weapon); he was a denizen and member of the French church.
In some cases, as strangers increasingly settled in these areas in London, anti-immigrant sentiment increased amongst the English population. The most notorious of these incidents were the Evil May Day Riots of 1517, the first documented race riot and worst case of violence against immigrants in early modern London.
Evil May Day is at the centre of the Elizabethan play The boke of Sir Thomas More (which survives in a manuscript composed and revised between c. 1593 and 1600 by Munday, Chettle, Dekker, Heywood, Shakespeare), itself coming out of and responding to increased tensions between English Londoners and “strangers” in the 1590s. In 1517, the areas surrounding Moregate, including Cripplegate, Bishopsgate and Aldgate, did not escape the violence that ripped through London, both during and after the riot, as gallows were erected at the main sites of the riot to execute the perpetrators.
It is not only men who characterise the occupations of these lists of immigrant residents. Norton Folgate was also home to a widow and denizen, Thomasine Barny, who “useth shoemaking.” She was born in “Ortwayes"—perhaps Orthez, in the south west of France, which had a substantial Protestant/Huguenot population and a Calvinist-leaning university; it was also the centre of some gruelling fighting during the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in France, including a major battle (won by the Huguenots) in 1569. Barny had lived in England for 15 years and had two (likely French) servants, John Morsonne and Jakery du Roye (Returns 2: 369). The authority, skills, and commercial savvy of the three ladies in Wilson’s play have their counterparts in the city of London, too.
Up to the east of Finsbury in Hallywell Street in 1583 lived Petruccio Ubaldino, noted in the list of names “of all the Straungers inhabiting within the Precinct of Hallywell Streete” as “an Italian, a gentleman belonging to the Courte, hath been here 27 years” (2: 367). Ubaldini was a soldier who came to England in the 1540s, and he worked as an illuminator while also writing and translating texts. In his years in England in the 1560s, Ubaldini taught Italian and acted in comedies at court, as well as transcribing letters and eventually working on state business across Europe (for more details see ODNB, Cecil H. Clough).
Ubaldini, while being an actor himself, also provides some of the background material for one of the Elizabethan stage’s prominent characters, Thomas Stuckley. Stuckley worked abroad for foreign princes, and features in Peele’s play The Battle of Alcazar fighting for the Spanish. Ubaldini had written for Lord Burghley an account of Gregory XIII’s invasion of Ireland, which started under this infamous Englishman-abroad, in 1577 (TNA SP 9/102 and BL Add. MS 48082, fos. 87-121).Ubaldini was also involved with a printer and bookseller called John Wolfe, who specialised in printing European writings, French news, and Italian books and who worked with international friends and colleagues. Wolfe prints Ubaldini’s description of Scotland in 1588 (STC 24480) and Ubaldini helps the printer in his editing and publication of Machiavelli’s writing (on the latter, see Clough and Michael Wyatt, An Italian Encounter 127).
The area outside and around Cripplegate was home for some years to one Francis Marquino. He is described in 1571 as a “sylkworker,” an occupation he shared with many of his European neighbours, and he lives in (St Michael’s) Wood Street in 1571 with his wife, Levena, having been in England for 12 years. He is noted that year to be a denizen and member of the Dutch church, and he and Levena had 4 children. In 1576, he is to be found in St Peter’s Cripplegate, and by 1583 he has seemingly established an international school in Shoreditch or Hoxton. The list of strangers in the area for that year describes him as a “scolemaster” born in Lombardy, living with Levina (or Lavinia) and now with 8 children (all born in England). He “hath 24 scholars, strangers’ sons, born in England,” as well as an usher named Peter Hurblock (2: 370). It is curious to think that Lavinia and her family may have been part of an early audience for Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, which includes the brutal rape and mutilation of Titus’s daughter, Lavinia. While the Roman and “foreign” subject-matter of Shakespeare’s plays is often said to distance the content from England itself, these names were not wholly exotic and echoed the communities on the doorsteps of playhouses and playwrights.
Francis Marquino, like Ubaldini, also worked as a translator for the printer John Wolfe: he rendered A politike discourse most excellent for this time present: composed by a French gentleman, against those of the League, which went about to perswade the King to breake the allyance with England, and to confirme it with Spaine into English for publication in 1589 (STC 13101). Beyond this, there seems to be little more information about his life. His apparent change of profession may be due to an error in the 1571 return or a new direction for Marquino. (Francis and Lavinia are noted with little information in 1560 and 1561; in the latter list of attendees of the Dutch church, Francis Marquino is called a “caligarius”—a shoemaker—adding confusion to his profession or suggesting a man who liked to change trades (1:274).) The substantial information provided in the 1583 return, however, gives the details particular weight, and a sizeable “stranger” school for second-generation immigrants in the suburbs surrounding Finsbury and the Shoreditch playhouses gives fascinating texture to our understanding of the neighbourhoods north of Bishopsgate.
All of these individuals live in the vicinity of various leisure pursuits surrounding Moorfield. John Stow’s Survey of London (1598) explains that Moorfield was used for recreational activity, in particular walking, shooting, and wrestling. During Henry VIII’s reign, the area was enclosed and populated with impressive summerhouses. In the later sixteenth century, further beyond Finsbury lay part of London’s waste disposal system, and Stow bemoans the “laystalls of dung” with three windmills placed on top, around which “the ditches be filled up, and the bridges overwhelmed” (Z8v). In the later years of the sixteenth century, these areas north of the walls underwent a period of change and growth, especially in the burgeoning suburban neighbourhoods to the east and west of Moorfield and Finsbury. Seeing these surroundings populated by French weapon-makers, Italian courtiers, and black men, women, and children speaks to the diversity of London but also underscores some of the issues about identity, nationhood, and belonging at the heart of so many Elizabethan plays.
We look forward to exploring the role of immigration in Elizabethan plays, thinking about who formed their audiences, and contemplating the sentiment of belonging in these contexts on the 19th November. If you would like to join us, tickets are available on Eventbrite.
Clough, Cecil H. “Ubaldini, Petruccio.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online. Web. 3 Nov. 2017.
Kirk and Kirk, eds. Returns of Aliens Dwelling in the City and Suburbs of London. Parts 1-2. Huguenot Society of London, UP, 1902.
Leadership and Elizabethan Culture, Ed. Peter Iver Kaufman. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
Stow, John. Survey of London. London, 1598. Early English Books Online. Web. 3 Nov. 2017.
Wyatt, Michael. The Italian Encounter with Tudor England: A Cultural Politics of Translation. Cambridge UP, 2005.
On Calle Alfonso XII, immediately after Plaza Duque de la Victoria, stand the remains of what was once one of the main references for many English visitors to Seville: the Jesuit College of St. Gregory. Founded on 12 November 1592 by Robert Parsonio, the ‘arch-Jesuit’ feared by the Elizabethan authorities, the college was destined for English students who would be trained to serve in the dangerous Jesuit missions in England. Like the English colleges in Italy or France, the college in Seville offers insight into the lives of English Catholics outside England itself. While state discourse in the post-Reformation period was continually scattered with paranoid references to the networks of Catholic alliances beyond England, TIDE’s recent visit to the college in Seville prompted my curiosity about what the English actually did when they went to study and teach in European colleges, and how this informed both English and Spanish fears about orthodoxy and political stability.
Encouraged by the success of The Royal College of St. Alban, founded in 1589, Roberto Parsonio, as he was known by the Spanish, believed that Seville’s privileged position as the main hub of Spanish colonial trade had the potential to offer to the English Jesuits a much welcomed access to wealthy patrons and to the necessary logistics to travel with relative safety to England. It is interesting to note that the reasons behind Parson’s decision to establish an English college in a busy and wealthy port city like Seville were the same that led many of his Spanish companions to avoid investing in public education. Despite its importance and prosperity, Seville lacked a major university, though the University of Seville was founded in 1505. In 1570, the Andalusian provincial explained that the hesitations of the Jesuits were motivated by the ‘acute but volatile Sevillian mind’. Young Sevillians, wrote the provincial, were ‘brought up in affluence, idleness and luxury’. The city was a place where ‘every day brings many novelties from the land and the sea which distracts the youth from their studies’. This made Seville, as well as all other large urban centres and port cities, ‘incapacitated for learning, because there are many distractions, and many opportunities for vices, carnal joys and continuous novelties’. The provincial’s observations on the Sevillian character, however, seemed to hide another problem: the quality of the few students who entered the only grammar school run by the Jesuits in Seville, and who were described as ‘poor and uncultured’.
Parsons founded St. Gregory’s in a period when Jesuit social and intellectual prestige was boosting in Seville. The Spanish Crown expressed an inclination to help English Catholic exiles for both religious and political reasons. Philip II supported the foundation of St. Gregory’s, and the powerful dukes of Medina Sidonia were among the protectors of the Colegio de los Ingleses. If the political and financial support granted by the Spanish monarchy and grandees ensured the immediate success of the college, the decision of Pope Clement VIII in 1594 to grant to St. Gregory’s the same degrees and titles previously conceded by the Church to Oxford and Cambridge bolstered the prestige of the college.
Also in 1594, St. Gregory’s began to gain the reputation of a cradle for martyrs following the death of one of the college founders and teachers, Henry Walpole, who was executed in London and acclaimed a martyr by the Jesuits. Walpole’s celebrated martyrdom was followed by the death of two students, Robert Waller and Thomas Egerton, for excessive penitence in 1595. In 1600, Thomas Hunt was the first St. Gregory’s graduate to be executed in England. These first martyrs of the Colegio de los Ingleses generated a popular veneration throughout Seville and the rest of Andalusia. Sevillians, wrote Parsons, looked to St. Gregory’s ‘with a kind of admiration of them, to see many Inglish tender youthe al bred and borne in this Queene’s reign and yet so forward and fervent in their religion as to offer themselves to al kinde of difficulties, afflictions and perils of the same’.
The arrest and execution of Henry Walpole in 1594 led the Elizabethan authorities to regard the Colegio de los Ingleses as potential platform for ‘popish’ conspiracies organised by English Catholics with the help of Spain. During his examination, Walpole indicated that St. Gregory’s contained 40 English students, but refused to reveal their names. The college was at times a harbinger of political radicalism – in 1597, it was associated with a supposed plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth, which involved a former English prisoner of the Sevillian Inquisition and the Jesuit Richard Walpole. The plot consisted of poisoning the queen’s gloves with perfume, taking advantage of knowledge about poison, and links to the household of the earl of Essex.
The reputation of the college as politically and religiously subversive was reinforced by the recurrent employment of the members of St. Gregory’s as interpreters for the Sevillian Inquisition. Parsons and the administrators of the college always sought to establish good relations with the Holy Office in order to avoid any sort of suspicion regarding the presence of young Englishmen at Seville, who could be under the influence of heretical ideas. The students of St. Gregory’s were often enthusiastic supporters of the Inquisition. In 1616, Francisco Peralta, the rector of St. Gregory’s, mentioned that one student who was being sent to England, had earlier thanked the Inquisition for protecting the college and declared his desire to see the Holy Office ‘establish in England and other provinces plagued by heresy, in order that by its means religion might be kept pure and undefiled as it was in Spain’.
In spite of their adherence to Catholic orthodoxy, some sectors of the Spanish Church feared that the English Jesuits could not be trusted for coming from a heretic country. Most of these fears originated in xenophobic feelings which depicted the English as a people of ‘barbarous customes and manners’, or conspiracy theories that suggested that the English students of the Valladolid and Seville colleges were spies that wanted to destabilise Spain and spread Protestantism across Iberia.
St. Gregory’s reputation as cradle of martyrs and a bastion of the Counter-Reformation was reflected by the artworks that decorated the college and its church. Painting such as the anonymous Virgen de los Ingleses (1593) or Juan de Roela’s El Triunfo de San Gregorio (1608) represented the prestige of the college, as well as it allowed the English Jesuits to develop an interesting narrative of a devoted Catholic England which would eventually triumph over Protestantism. This message was also transmitted in the pamphlets, accounts, poems and plays written by the members of the Colegio de los Ingleses. Ballads and poems dedicated to St. Gregory’s martyrs such as Henry Walpole and other Catholics executed in England were especially popular. The college was also famous for the plays staged by its members which usually attracted a considerable audience and offered a much welcomed source of revenues.
Money was often a problem for the Colegio de los Ingleses. Though Parsons gained the patronage of Philip II and the Andalusian grandees, the gradual improvement on Anglo-Spanish relations after the ascension of James I, and Parson’s death in 1610, had a profound impact on the wealth and fortunes of the college. As Spain tacitly recognised the triumph of Protestantism in England, St. Gregory’s role as a bastion of English Catholicism lost much of its appeal. Without the capacity to attract wealthy and influential sponsors, the survival of the Colegio de los Ingleses often relied on the alms collected by students in the streets of Seville or Cadiz. One 1626 account of the college mentioned that the alumni of St. Gregory’s sold images of St. Thomas Becket and St. Thomas of Canterbury to the crews of the ships that sailed from the Andalusian ports to the Americas.
Towards the middle of the seventeenth century, Seville also started a slow decline which accelerated the college’s decay. In 1626, the great flood of the Guadalquivir River caused serious damage to the college buildings. The great plague of 1649 decimated a considerable number of students and staff. In order to maintain its existence, the college began to accept Spanish, Irish, and other foreign students. In 1662, the college counted with only five students; in 1692, only two. A year later, there were no English students at St. Gregory’s. The suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1767 was the final death blow of the Colegio de los Ingleses. After the expulsion of the Jesuits from Spain, part of the buildings of St. Gregory’s served as the headquarters of the Real Academia de Medicina of Seville until 1932, when, due to the poor state of the buildings, the buildings were demolished and replace by the present School of Hispanic-American Studies. The church, however, survived, and was leased to the Hermandad del Santo Entierro, one of the brotherhoods of the Sevillian Holy Week, and is today the headquarters of the Mercedarians at Seville.
Today the remains of St. Gregory’s no longer suggest an English presence. But just a few metres from the old Jesuit college and church stands the biggest department store of Seville: El Corte Inglés, ‘the English cut [tailoring]’, on a street where the presence of the English therefore continues to linger.
João Vicente Melo
A guest blog from our TIDE intern, Alex Claridge
Recently, Dr Lauren Working and I travelled to Norton Priory in Runcorn, Cheshire, to view the site and visit its collections. St Christopher, the patron saint of travellers, stood in the entrance hall of the museum to greet us on our arrival, as he had done for many travellers in the centuries before us. J. Patrick Green has suggested that the statue, possibly commissioned on the promotion of the Augustinian priory to abbey status in 1391, was chosen because of Norton’s proximity to the River Mersey, its role in the Mersey crossing, and its encouragement to be hospitable to travellers.
The priory’s reputation for hospitality has not diminished over the centuries, and we were warmly received by Lynn Smith, senior keeper of the collections. We met to discuss possible collaborations between Norton Priory and TIDE, starting with the project’s #gateofaccess social media partnership, which uses artefacts as points of access to tell stories of travel and transculturality in early modern England. During our trip, we found a remarkable range of objects that reveal the connections between Merseyside and the wider world. Norton Priory is the most excavated monastic site in Europe, and it was exciting to be in a hub of such active and ongoing research. The museum incorporates the medieval under-croft with its Norman arches, the Georgian wine cellar, and the first-floor ballroom, which is now converted into exhibition space. The upstairs offers a bird’s eye view of the archaeological site of the priory, where the cruciform shape of the church is easily identifiable, its nine-hundred-year-old foundations exposing a long history of human activity.
While the medieval and the Georgian eras are particularly well-researched, TIDE hopes to shed some light on the objects dating to the period in between, which demonstrate England’s reliance on travel and international connections. Of particular interest for our project were the leather shoes from the Tudor house (built on the site after Richard Brooke’s purchase of the priory in 1545), and the wine bottles, jugs, and seals connected with the later stately house. As with many of the medieval wares, the Tudor items demonstrate the international nature of the site, and include a drinking jug imported from Cologne via Chester and a German Bellarmine jug, decorated with the face of a wild man.
We were given free rein to explore the museum, which includes clay pipes, oil lamps, ceramics, a Tudor tyg (two-handled jug), and a female skeleton. The interactive displays highlight migration patterns and Runcorn’s historic links to Dublin, London, Flanders, Saintonge, Santiago de Compostela, Hippo, Rome and Jerusalem. The museum also contains a number of early modern cooking and dining utensils that further demonstrate the priory’s reliance on European commerce and networks of trade. Our visit concluded with a wander through the garden and the pear orchard. The head gardener guided us through the grounds’ marvellous array of plants, including the recreated medieval herb garden, and pointed out diverse planting typical to early modern English households.
To me, the site visit to Norton Priory offered a glimpse into the value and importance of interdisciplinarity. Visiting historical sites, and having conversations with specialists in other disciplines, including botany and archaeology, broadened my understanding of the historical world beyond texts. Entering the spaces of the past, and seeing its physical remnants, gave me the opportunity to develop new perspectives on the past, ones that can enrich my academic research and my understanding of how humans in the medieval and early modern eras lived their lives. Physical objects can also help instil a sense of the past to non-academics, and can be an important means of providing wider frameworks for text-based research. I was thrilled to find that the visit opened up the possibility for future collaboration, not just for #gateofaccess but through other opportunities to engage with the public through seminars, talks, and even theatre.
The romantic, widely-marketed image of Venus and her luscious island of love casts a respectable veil over the sex and sacrificial killing of ancient myth, orgiastic rites that early modern writers gleefully explored. But, in the later colonial period, there was a more nefarious return to those early modern perceptions of violent, excessive indulgence. Ancient and early modern myths matter, and persisted, in the making and unmaking of modern Cyprus.
When all was well with British rule in Cyprus, Venus was depicted as a friendly and pliant goddess. Punch magazine had her draped in the Union Jack to welcome Sir Garnet Wolseley, the island’s first High Commissioner. This very Victorian goddess – whitened and receptive – is the one most recognisable to us today. But she signified more than love, romance and meaningful gazes: Venus and her people were portrayed as willing subjects of domination. Sir Richmond Palmer, governor of Cyprus in the 1930s, made it clear when explaining that both Cypriots and their goddess ‘expect to be ruled, and, in fact, prefer it’ (quoted in Given: 423). In other words, Palmer expressed that Cypriots liked to be dominated.
In this phallocentric realm of control, Nicosia’s cabaret industry thrived as urbanisation and a heavy military presence overwhelmed the old side-alley brothels, with the house girls especially popular with the ‘Cabaret Government of Cyprus’ (Constantinou: 286). Then, between 1955 and 1959, during the vicious, chauvinistic campaign by EOKA (Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston/National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters) for an end to British rule and union with Greece, the image of Venus became a contested one. For EOKA, the goddess was easy propaganda, her Hellenic form of Aphrodite a sure indicator of what they saw as the island’s eternally Greek nature, justifying independence from Britain and union with the ‘motherland’.
British soldiers and civilians were dying at the hands of EOKA in those ‘emergency years’ and, coincidentally or not, the previously-overlooked issue of prostitution became a concern for the British press too. In the collective psyche, this was again a hazardous place of sexual indecency, just as it was in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This time, however, that perception had effects beyond the stage and the page.
Further, responding to EOKA’s reclamation of the goddess, the colonial government championed her more explicitly Middle Eastern incarnation, Astarte. Late nineteenth-century visitors to Cyprus had often chosen Astarte, rather than Venus, as most appropriate to an island they considered as a non-European site, neither Greek nor Turkish. William Hepworth Dixon said it most straightforwardly: ‘In blood and race both men are Cypriotes’ (20). This was Cyprus as a standalone Middle Eastern site, with the pan-Mesopotamian Astarte as its emblem of diversity. But the colonial administration shifted the emphasis.
Elizabeth Alicia Maria Lewis wrote that Cypriots were more like Astarte than the Europeanised Venus of Punch because, like Astarte, they were ‘oriental’. By this, Lewis meant they were ‘slothful, mendacious, voluptuous’ (202). It was this analogy that the ‘Cabaret Government of Cyprus’ picked up on, an analogy that painted Cypriots as morally degenerate and racially impure, bolting genetic corruption onto the goddess’s ancient immorality. And the morally degenerate and genetically impure cannot govern themselves (see Given: 419–23; Papadakis: 239–40). They’re asking for domination, whether they know it or not. A recent batch of Foreign and Commonwealth Office files released to The National Archives lays bare the intention to polarise the island’s largest communities as racially incompatible, a process that would have to be ‘artificially induced [. . .] over a period of ten years or more’ (The National Archives, FCO 141/4363: ‘Partition’).
It is this vision of Greek-speaking Christians and Turkish-speaking Muslims as diametrically opposed, of their union as impossible miscegenation, which has led to the island’s division since the war of 1974. Those ‘artificially induced’ oppositions – enthusiastically adopted by fanatical Greek and Turkish nationalists and manufactured during British rule – are now so deep-rooted that the July 2017 collapse of the most recent UN-brokered talks for reunification were as unsurprising as they were upsetting. The erotic, bawdy myths surrounding Venus that were titillating inspiration for Shakespeare and other early modern writers have a very different political afterlife on the island, one that contributed to its devastation and ongoing division.
Constantinou, A. C. (2013), ‘Cyprus and the Global Polemics of Sex Trade and Sex Trafficking: Colonial and Postcolonial Connections’, International Criminal Justice Review, 23 (3): 280–94.
Dixon, W. H. (1879), British Cyprus, London: Chapman & Hall.
Given, M. (2002), ‘Corrupting Aphrodite: Colonialist Interpretations of the Cyprian Goddess’, in D. Bolger and N. Serwint (eds.), Engendering Aphrodite: Women and Society in Ancient Cyprus, 419–28, Boston, MA: American Schools of Oriental Research.
Lewis, E. A. M. (1894), A Lady’s Impression of Cyprus in 1893, London: Remington.
Papadakis, Y. (2006), ‘Aphrodite Delights’, Postcolonial Studies, 9 (3): 237–50.
One summer morning, bright and early, the phone rang. It was my cousin, a radio show host. He was running a sketch on different places to visit over the holidays, with minor celebrities arguing the merits of one place or another. Having failed to land anyone recognisable to pitch for Cyprus, he asked me. So I answered the phone in my best Cypriot accent and pretended to be a ‘locally renowned’ bar owner from a coastal town. (We never decided on a specific town. And no one asked, which is just as well.) And then I pitched. Golden sand. Blue sea. The horizon’s still seam of water and sky. Sunsets melting into it. And then what people really want. Romance. Love. A glass of wine on a lonely beach table. An evening dress a-flow and an open shirt unbuttoned just enough. Meaningful gazes. Lastly, the money shot: ‘Leaving Cyprus will break your heart.’ And all of these familiar heteronormative signifiers worked due to the popular conception of Cyprus as the island of love, of Cyprus as Aphrodite’s island. This manufactured image is unavoidable today – the pictures of the goddess on souvenirs; the bars, restaurants and hotels bearing her name; and the Venus de Milo sculpture on the Cyprus Tourism Organisation’s logo above the slogan ‘Cyprus in your heart’. Yet the codes of mainstream romance the goddess embodies are far from how she was perceived in early modern times.
Arthur Golding’s influential translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, read to death by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, paints Cyprus as a place of lusts both unacceptable and violent. This is an exotic island where visitors were said to be sacrificed by pagan cults worshipping Aphrodite, and where a threatening climate of unchecked promiscuity bred children ‘voyd of grace’ (127, 128). The most famous of those children was Hermaphroditus, the intersex offspring of the goddess’s adulterous affair with Mars. Cyprus was a site of transgression, and Venus – to give her the Roman name by which she was then more commonly known – was the mythical embodiment of its transgressive propensity.
Venus’s love affairs and the aggressive sexuality she inspired were common themes. In Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare imagines her at her lascivious best as she desperately tries to seduce Adonis: ‘Graze on my lips, and if those hills be dry, | Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie’ (ll. 233–4). Thomas Lodge, in a poem in Robert Allot’s poetry compendium England’s Parnassus, describes ‘Her louely locks her bosome hanging downe, | Those nets that first insnard the God of warre’ (356). An angry Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing wrongly accuses Hero of unfaithfulness, comparing her alleged waywardness to the ‘savage sensuality’ of Venus (4.1.58–60 (60)). England’s Parnassus has an entire section dedicated to the goddess in which John Harrington’s poem ‘Of Cyprus’ celebrates the island as ‘lustfull, (for dame Venus meete) [. . .] With wanton damsels walking in each street, | Inuiting men to pleasure and repast’ (353). Harrington’s ‘wanton damsels’ were likely inspired by the myth of pre-marriage prostitution, where, as Stephen Batman’s translation of Bartholomaeus’s De Proprietatibus Rerum puts it, fathers offered up their daughters ‘to such straungers as came into the Countrye, to bée by them deflowred’ (fol. 221v). Romance. Love. Meaningful gazes.
That’s not to say that conventional associations with beauty and romance were not present too, but, in a way less apparent to those who read about or visit Cyprus today, Venus invoked orgiastic excess and danger. On her journey from Near Eastern classical myth to the stage and page of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, she became a more complex, sensual and pornographic symbol. This was, after all, the goddess who breathed life into Pygmalion’s statue so that he could ravish her. As Marston put it in The Metamorphosis of Pygmalion’s Image, she was the ‘sacred Queene of sportiue dallying [. . .] Whose kingdome rests in wanton reuelling’ (1598a: 12). And these mythical narratives of licentiousness ran so deep they permeated everyday speech. Venus was also known as ‘Cypria’ and the adjective ‘Cyprian’ signified both the place and the supposed amorousness of its people.
So should you happen to be in Cyprus having a drink served to you by a locally-renowned bar owner on the golden-sanded beach of a coastal town, perhaps overlooking lovers swimming beneath the Rock of Aphrodite, where the story goes she was born from the foam of the sea, consider the difference between our perception of the goddess and her birth place and that of early modern Englanders. When thinking about Cyprus, Shakespeare’s pitch for visiting Venus’s isle might have ended with a very different kind of money shot to mine.
Allot, R. (ed.) (1600), Englands Parnassus: or, the choysest flowers of our moderne poets, London: for N. L[ing], C. B[urby] and T. H[ayes].
Bartholomaeus, A. (1582), Batman vppon Bartholome, his booke De proprietatibus rerum, trans. S. Batman, London: Thomas East.
Marston, J. (1598), The metamorphosis of Pigmalions image, London: Edmond Matts.
Ovid (1567), The. xv. bookes of P. Ouidius Naso, entytuled Metamorphosis, trans. A. Golding, London: William Seres.
Shakespeare, W. (2011), The Arden Shakespeare Complete Works, R. Proudfoot, A. Thompson and D. S. Kastan (eds.), London: Bloomsbury.
Early modern individuals frequently expressed the inevitability of physical decay. ‘The World it Selfe is dying and decaying’, wrote the poet Josuah Sylvester in the 1610s. ‘In all This World, All’s fickle: nought is Firm’. In many ways, it is remarkable that anything from the seventeenth century survives at all. Centuries later, the studs, posts, frames, and bricks from many early colonial houses quietly, if precariously, endure. Doors, staircases, chimneys, and makers’ marks etched on beams evoke, and often allow us to step into, a four-hundred-year-old past.
A recent trip to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire piqued my interest in some of the questions around restoration and preservation. Since the best way to reach Dartmouth requires taking a coach from Boston, I had the opportunity to visit several historic sites in New England. Some of the earliest surviving timber-frame houses in North America are in Massachusetts, built in the recognizably post-medieval style of late Tudor and Jacobean England. The historic landmarks in the coastal city of Salem, officially incorporated in 1629, expose some of the complexities inherent in heritage preservation, raising issues of both tangible and intangible heritage and revealing ongoing debates about early colonial identity, English and American history, and heritage management.
The seventeenth-century ‘Witch House’, once belonging to the witch trial judge Jonathan Corwin, has the timber framing, chimney, and gabled roof that at first glance suggests it to be a ‘typical’ early colonial structure. Recent visitors to the house posted reviews on Trip Advisor that maintain, as do reports in the Library of Congress archives, that the house authentically dates to the mid-to-late seventeenth century, and provided the locus where the witch trials were partially conducted. Yet no documentary evidence suggests that any proceedings occurred there, and images of the Corwin house in the 1930s show a very different structure, one that has been inhabited and remodelled extensively over the course of its history (see image below). Restoration work in the 1940s therefore required a committed large-scale project that involved moving the house 35 feet to its current location, altering internal and external features including the roof and windows, and painting the wooden facade black to resemble the ageing effect of timber, casting a mood that well suits the house’s sombre evocation of the trials.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the act of restoring as ‘to return a thing to a former state or position…[t]he action of bringing back into existence; re-establishment, reinstitution.’ To bring back, however, is not quite the same as preserving or conserving: can a four-hundred-year-old house be ‘brought back’ into existence after it is gone, and if so, whose or what purpose does it serve? The Corwin house has been an important part of Salem’s gradual move, in the later twentieth century, towards embracing its dark heritage and encouraging a local tourism industry. The playwright Arthur Miller, visiting the city in the 1950s to write The Crucible, noted a disconcerting silence regarding the history of the 1692-3 witch trials. Bolstered by the filming of the sitcom Bewitched in the 1970s, the stories of the twenty executed individuals, and the two hundred others accused of witchcraft, are now an integral part of the town’s touristic appeal. Heritage and tourism overlap, but do not align completely. The cultural landscape now evokes the rise of seafaring mercantilism and the authority of a fledgling puritan presence in America alongside modern celebrations of the spectral. The latter greatly differs from the climate of social malaise and spiritual uncertainty that fuelled the historical witch trials, and the Corwin house sits at the crux of these pressures. How much can, or should, a house be altered to produce an entity that now looks seventeenth-century – and in some parts still is – while conforming to contemporary notions of what an early New English home should look like? Regional identity becomes tied to public perceptions of what the past is, what it looks like, and how relevant or applicable it is to the contemporary.
The House of the Seven Gables, also in Salem, has its own visitors’ expectations to contend with. It is widely assumed to be the inspiration for the author Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The House of the Seven Gables (1851). Hawthorne’s works, with their mix of puritanism and nineteenth-century romanticism, evoke the radical Protestant reformer Martin Luther, the 1615 Overbury scandal at the Jacobean court, and the ‘apostle to the Indians’ John Eliot, who translated the bible into Algonquian and dedicated it to Charles II. Hawthorne even named his first daughter Una, after the Elizabethan Protestant epic, The Faerie Queene. In the words of the National Parks Services report, the House of the Seven Gables contains ‘layers of architectural significance’ ranging across four centuries. John Turner, for whom the house was built in 1668, had grown prosperous enough to commission additions within years of building the house, in a process of renovation and extension that continued into the eighteenth century. In a remarkable example of art transforming life, the house underwent further changes in the twentieth century, with new gables (‘the vertical triangular piece of wall at the end of a ridged roof’, OED) included to make seven, and where an ersatz shopfront was added to resemble the one used by a fictional character. The museum at the House of the Seven Gables is forthright about the structure’s elements of restoration. Architectural models contain puzzle-like pieces that show the layers of renovation over time, and the tours point out the original elements of the structure, while also noting Georgian additions like sash windows and turquoise wood panelling.
Finally, as a contrast, I was charmed but somewhat disoriented when I encountered the Stuart-style mansion of Castle Hill. Its features reflect the tastes and fashions of many of the later Stuart elite – landscape gardens, classical-style avenues, bathhouses, an abundance of brick and stonework, and carvings imported from England. Though the site had been marked out as a place of settlement by colonists from the early seventeenth century, the house was built in the 1910s and 1920s. It is a remarkable instance of golden age luxury and early modern grandeur. Yet the estate, even when meticulously conforming to early modern architectural principles, looks like the fantasy home it was created to be. It is the simple, at times seemingly rustic architecture, expanded and fashionably furnished to reflect the rise of mercantile advancement as a result of its coastal topography, that remains at the heart of eastern American notions of its foundations. In its opulence, Stuart neoclassicism seems out of place.
Historic architecture in New England reveals the lasting influence of early modern transculturality, and offers a case study into how mobility and settlement – as well as ideas of home – profoundly influence the character and culture of geographical spaces. Early modern architecture, like objects and texts, begin to appear as active agents in shaping individuals and national stories, though their survival shouldn’t be taken for granted: these are the result of decades, centuries, of human maintenance and care. The House of the Seven Gables also testifies to the power of storytelling and regional memory in how individuals engage with and interpret the past. Hawthorne added a ‘w’ to his surname to disassociate himself from the merchant and magistrate John Hathorne, an ancestor who remained unrepentant about his role in condemning women in the witch trials. The houses discussed here raise a series of related questions: what should we commemorate or remember? Is it right to modify a building to restore it, even if little of the original remains? How can heritage sites attain levels of transparency and authenticity while still drawing visitors, a pressure that is applied by local and national institutions including, increasingly, city planners and government agents? What is the best practise for adapting and preserving historic buildings in ways that speak to current and future needs? How is the ‘essence’ or historical character of a building actually maintained? How, in the words of James Marston Finch, do we balance public and private pressures and manage the built world we inhabit? In a world of copies and digital representations, of pastiche and mass production, the real thing matters.
On 26 June, TIDE organized its second seminar of 2017 on the theme of ‘Turks and Mahometans: Presence and Perception in Early Modern England’ with Jyotsna G. Singh (Michigan State University), Matthew Dimmock (Sussex University) and Eva Johanna Holmberg (University of Helsinki; Queen Mary, University of London).
Jyotsna G. Singh’s paper, ‘English Encounters with Islam in Mughal India’, explored the perceptions of Islam and Mughal sociability in the accounts written by Sir Thomas Roe and Edward Terry during the reign of Emperor Jahangir (1605-1627). The self-entitled ‘Conqueror of the World’ ruled over a period of prosperity and cultural dynamism. As the ruler of an ethnically and religiously diverse empire, Jahangir continued the policy of religious tolerance adopted by his father, Akbar, which instigated a series of debates between different Islamic orthodox and heterodox factions. Islam and the thriving Indo-Persian culture of Jahangir’s court were, however, marginal topics in the first English accounts of Mughal India. Although the chaplain of Roe’s embassy, Edward Terry rarely analysed the Islamic movements or the theological debates that agitated the Timurid court, and his account is more concerned with ethnographic observations that could be relevant to the practical interests of the East India Company. Although not interested in the religious life of the empire, Roe was rather interest in Mughal practices of sociability. His regular contacts with relevant courtiers and officials were reflected in several passages where he described court rituals and the hospitality he received from Mughal grandees. Indeed, throughout his account of the hospitality offered by Jamaluddin Hussain, the governor of Bengal, Roe presents an image of Muslim civility and society that contrasted to the negative perceptions of Islamic peoples that circulated in early modern Europe.
On ‘Mahomentans invoking Mahometanism in Early Modern England’, Matthew Dimmock explored the experiences of Muslims based in England during the Elizabethan period. Early modern English works on Turks and Mahometans often reflected several tensions between the polemicist literature which depicted Islam as an erroneous belief, the emergence of England as a leading Protestant power against Catholic Europe, and the importance of expanding English trade to Islamic regions. The shared geopolitical interests between England and powers such as Morocco or the Ottoman Empire often influenced more or less positive views of Muslim peoples which, albeit refuting the supposed errors of Islam, highlighted the opposition of Turks, Moors and other Mahometans against the Catholic rivals of England – Spain, Portugal and France. An example of this perception is the sermon read in 1586 by Meredith Hanmer to celebrate the conversion of Chinano, a Muslim Ottoman born in Greece who was among a group of Turks enslaved by the Spanish that were captured by Sir Francis Drake in the West Indies. Unlike his companions, who returned to the Ottoman Empire, Chinano remained in England. Hanmer celebrated Chinano’s decision as both a triumph of Protestant Christianity over Islam and an English victory over Spain, but his The Baptizing of a Turke is particularly interesting for devoting several pages to the life of Muhammad in which Hanmer refutes the Prophet and the Alcoran, suggesting at the same time that Islam and Catholicism were two variants of an erroneous monotheistic belief based on idolatry. Hanmer’s diatribes against Muhammad suggested that ‘Mahometanism’ could be a stepping-stone to true Christianity, but they also served as pretext to use the conversion of Chinano as an allegory for the triumph of English imperial ambitions and Protestantism over Spain and the Catholic Church.
Eva Johanna Holmberg examined the English perceptions of non-Muslim communities in the Levant. Her paper, entitled ‘Slaves of the Sultan: Perceiving the Non-Muslim peoples of the Levant’, examined the English perceptions of the ethnic and religious minorities of the Ottoman Empire. English interest in the Levantine populations was motivated by the emerging literature with recommendations for travellers to gather information on geography, languages, government, religions, peoples and manners. English observers of the Levant were often impressed by the mobility and diasporic movements of the Greek, Armenian and Jewish communities of the Ottoman Empire. The fact that these communities lived under the rule of an Islamic polity, and the widespread use of Arabic by the Christian communities, was often perceived as a worrying sign of Islamization that undermined their unique identity and revealed a committed allegiance or acceptance of the rule of the Great Turk. The fact that the biblical regions between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan were under Muslim rule, and occupied by a diverse population formed by Muslims, Jews, Orthodox Greeks, Armenians, Catholics and Syriac Christians, favoured the development of an idea of moral decadence of the heartlands of Christianity which simultaneously praised the superiority of England and Protestant Christianity. Jerusalem and the Holy Land were also considered to be the most adequate places to examine in situ the Jews, since this region was their ancestral home, and their customs less exposed to alien influences. Such concerns with the religious and ethnic integrity of the non-Muslim peoples of the Levant often reflected growing English anxieties related to the occupation of Ireland, the fragmentation of English Protestantism into different churches, and the commercial and colonial expansion in the Atlantic and Asia.
A roundtable coordinated by Nandini Das (TIDE) closed the seminar. The three speakers were invited to comment on the state of their field. Jyotsna G. Singh stressed the need to study the historical evolution of Islamic societies, in particular the Safavid and Mughal empires, and their connections to regions outside the influence of Islam as a central part of the early modern and contemporary worlds. Together with the need to explore with more detail Robert Cecil’s influence in the English efforts to extend diplomatic contacts to China and the Islamic world, Matthew Dimmock emphasized the relevance of understanding the evolution of English taxonomies employed to describe other peoples and religions, especially through comparative studies of English and other European experiences. Following these observations, Eva Johanna Holmberg accentuated the importance of collaborative works between different experts in the field, giving as an example the growing interest in merchant cultures and networks in the study of cross-cultural exchanges.
The issues and concerns raised by the speakers during the roundtable echoed the recent scholarly debates on Anglo-Islamic relations such as the panels on 'Globalism' and 'England and Islam' at the last annual meeting of the Renaissance Society of America (30 March – 1 April 2017), where scholars of the Islamic world have noted that the establishment of cross-linguistic collaborations between English scholars and experts on Islamic polities are renewing the field.
João Vicente Melo
Between 23 April and 5 May, TIDE welcomed Fred D’Aguiar as the first TIDE visiting writer. Poet, novelist and playwright Fred D'Aguiar was born in London in 1960 to Guyanese parents. He lived in Guyana until he was 12, and returned to England in 1972. He is currently Professor of English at UCLA.
His two first collections of poetry, Mama Dot (1985) and Airy Hall (1989) were published to much acclaim and won the Guyana Poetry Prize in 1989. Continental Shelf (2009), a U.K. Poetry Book Society Choice, was shortlisted for the UK’s T.S. Eliot Prize in 2009. His first novel, The Longest Memory (1994) won both the David Higham Prize for Fiction and the Whitbread First Novel Award, and was made into a film by Channel 4 (UK). His play, A Jamaican Airman Foresees His Death, was performed at the Royal Court Theatre (London) in 1991. Days and Nights in Bedlam, a radio play commissioned by BBC Radio 3, was broadcast and webcast in October 2005. Recently, he has published his seventh poetry collection, Rose of Toulouse (2013), and Children of Paradise (2014), a novel on the Jonestown killings.
During his residency in Liverpool, Fred took part in several activities organised by TIDE and the Centre for New and International Writing (University of Liverpool), including a public reading of his poems as part of the Miriam Allott series, a graduate masterclass, a creative writing workshop (in collaboration with the community organisation, Writing on the Wall), and a talk held at the London Review Bookshop with the historian, Catherine Fletcher (Swansea University), historian and broadcaster, David Olusoga, and TIDE Director, Nandini Das (University of Liverpool). Throughout his two weeks in Liverpool, Fred worked closely with TIDE’s research team, attended research meetings and seminars, and responded to the research material the TIDE team are currently collecting and analysing about the status of Africans in early modern England. Fred’s collaborative work with TIDE will result in the production of new writing in response to the team’s research.
To celebrate and mark the presence of our first Visiting Writer, TIDE interviewed Fred on his collaboration with TIDE, and the influence of history, transculturality, and mobility in his writing.
What are your impressions of TIDE and your time in Liverpool?
TIDE is a part of an old and venerable Northern institution, the University of Liverpool. If you think of universities outside London when you head up the M1, Liverpool is there, together with Newcastle, Manchester, and so on. And it is a coastal city in which, historically, I have always been interested because of the trade. It was one of the most important ports. And I was also interested because in the early 1980s, when we had all the rioting, if people had to name three cities, they would say the Brixton riots, and then they might say Toxteth, and then they might mention Bristol’s St. Paul’s. People would name Liverpool because the Toxteth uprisings were a signal that there was a black community that had the critical mass of numbers to stage a riot to be noticed. And then we realised that something was going on outside London in terms of a black presence because of that disturbance. So Liverpool has been there as a historical and cultural centre with a presence and significance for me.
I study TIDE because the project has two roles. The first is an institutional one, in that TIDE is a project within the university system of research and recovery. The second role seems to be a communal one, which is something I have been trying to do in my residency, by addressing those in forwards and backwards currents between the university and the community, particularly in terms of what TIDE has uncovered about black presences in Britain that predate the Atlantic trade. Within the community, things like the writing workshop that we did, (which I feel put people in touch with that early history), are really necessary. Also, you have a group of historians of different backgrounds and expertise, present in an English Department, another important crosscurrent. I think this is deeply inter-disciplinary in a really healthy way, because departments talk about cross-disciplinary practices, but it is very hard to make it a reality. My impressions are of a firm and memorable project with the capability of making waves academically and leaving a lasting imprint within the academy and in the community.
How did mobility and transculturality influence you as a writer?
Black Britishness is inherently transnational. If you look at a black presence in Britain, you then have to research the journeys made to the UK, and then it is interracial, because blacks married whites, there were christenings, births and deaths in church records. Diaries, such as the one kept by Pepys, mention black people as courtiers, and there are many narratives told through intermediaries or self authored (written by himself, herself) etcetera. So many sources, in fact, that you soon realise how interpretations of blackness become crucial to our understanding of a black presence on the island. So recovery is both a task of a cataloguing of blacks (who were they? Where were they? What did they do? How did they get here?) alongside questions about who helped them and who interpreted their behaviour and made it possible for them to live or not live.
I grew up in the Caribbean, I have a grandfather from Madeira, and these things are very interesting to me as cultural and geographical markers. I like the in-between-ness caused by mobility. It is very fertile ground for a writer. I think if you have a certain landscape, as I do with the US – same threshold relationship, of being there, but not quite there – you have this ‘in-between-ness’, this pivot between these places, where you make something that is quite fertile. It’s not just about building bridges between them; there is another territory that is created and imagined by virtue of this pivot. So I like that in-between-ness, and I like that threshold culture of moving from one place to another as something unresolved, in perpetual motion. What you carry, what you learn and pick up when you arrive, how you belong or do not belong, seems to be a continuous dance of being human. I am glad to have a third landscape. Before the US came into the picture, the Caribbean/UK nexus was a bit of a binary, (between Guyana and the UK). As a writer, I was not satisfied with it because there was always a third place, that I imagined, that could break that binary. And now, with the US, I have a geographical third space, and I am more contented with a trinity, not quite happy as a clam, but in awe of a rich complication of territories. It brings with it another tension, more nuances, another listening ear.
Your poetry and novels are inspired by historical events. How do you engage with historiographical works and materials from the past?
There is an essay by Toni Morrison,‘The Site of Memory’, in which she talks about the need to write the interior lives of people whose presences were sketched out too thinly, and so while their humanity is absent in the sketch, that same humanity is present in the stuff you do as a writer when you imagine a biography for them. Morrison’s essay, is about imagination and vision. For me, in the creative writing exercises at our workshop, I want people to really try to imagine some life for the people they are looking at as statistics, fragments, imagine an interiority for them, which amounts to the beginnings of a full life. As a writer, you jump across the divide between you and the material you recover or find. The act of recovery is not just pulling out a name, a date, a quotation or a location. It is really about a missing biography that you have to see, presume, imagine, and then envision on their behalf, because that fragment is all those badly represented subjects left as evidence that they were alive. For a writer that fragment becomes fertile territory. A second useful book, which compliments the Morrison essay is Simon Schama’s book, Dead Certainties. When facts end and you need to know more, how much can you imagine as a way to get from one piece of evidence to another? What is probable and likely is based on what you know. You can imagine a trajectory for that information on behalf of the character, because something is missing between two events. The act of imagination is to write a logical course for the person. But there is a kind of truth that researchers have to obey, which writers don’t have to be loyal to in order to function legitimately. Writers tend to take liberties with fragmentary evidence partly because we see our own location as a conversation with that fragmented information.
How do you think your work with TIDE will evolve?
I quite liked the creative writing workshop we did with Writing on the Wall. Many of the people who were there had never seen that material before, and I really liked some of their responses to the material. First of all we all arrive at the workshop with different expertise – PhDs, people currently studying for PhDs, people who left school early, poets, memorialists, novelists, people who write short stories, everybody was in the room. The great unifier of difference is vulnerability, so I thought the early material was good for them, because it was very unlikely that anybody would have seen it. It made people think ‘wow this way back, it is not something recent’, so that gave people a chance to respond in any form they wanted. It felt like a place where they could play with their imagination and take their chances, because everybody else was doing the same thing.
I want to see what everybody wrote and build something from there. It is unusual to have multiple responses to this type of material from the community, from different walks of life. And of course, I am going to think about what I wrote, what they are writing, and see what can be developed from there. And I will write something about the Slavery Museum and the May Day march which I found really a wonderful thing to do. I can see some parts to what I am going to do, and I am thinking about those parts, and this notion about academia and the community in some sort of dialogue.
I am fascinated by this early period in English history, a time in which gaps abound and where tracks lead back to Roman times. I would love to see a museum exhibition that really acknowledges black presences in Britain before the slave trade and its horrors, something before the de-humanisation of the process of slavery, something of human exchange, possibly assimilation as well. I think that it is important for school kids to see something of themselves that predate painful bondage. That’s one thing I took away from TIDE. That kind of presence, a human presence, before de-humanising slavery became dominant. The conversation with the present where groups want to claim space as theirs and exclude others, makes that early history a crucial one of perpetual cross currents, comings and goings and complex facets to acts of belonging.
1 May 2017 marks the five hundredth anniversary of the first documented race riot and greatest outbreak of violence against immigrants in early modern London. Its story is one of anxiety and frustration that was directed as much at the state as it was at the foreigners themselves. In our own climate of fear and insecurity, its themes seem strikingly familiar, but it also inspired one of the most impassioned pleas for the protection of refugees in the English language.
The May Day riot of 1517 had disclosed a rift within English society. At the time, London’s immigrant community accounted for about 6% of the total population. The English cloth industry in particular offered a ready job market for Flemish and Dutch cloth workers, but there were also affluent communities of French, German, and Italian or ‘Lombard’ merchants who ensured English access both to European markets and trade, and to the crucial continental banking that governed that trade. However, while ostensibly setting the native English against foreigners and immigrants, the 1517 riot was much more fundamentally about widespread frustration among the common people with the state and the Tudor establishment itself. It set poor apprentices and labourers against what they perceived to be the affluent guilds and merchant networks of the city, and it set the city against the court. It fed on rumours of secret negotiations of the powerful, which lined the pockets of the already-rich, both English and foreign, at the cost of the livelihood of the ordinary Englishmen. Even a year earlier, on 28 April 1516, an anonymous bill stuck to the door of St Paul’s had accused the king and his council of financial collusion with foreigners ‘to the undoing of Englishmen’. The riot put both London’s status as a centre of trade and Henry’s own authority as a monarch at risk, and the nature of the uprising meant that the news was likely to circulate all the more widely internationally. It is probably only to be expected that the strength of the response of the authorities was as striking as the lack of preventative action leading up to the event.
In the early hours of May morning, as the rioters started dispersing, the Mayor and his men arrested almost 300 people. Around 5 o’clock in the morning, the king’s forces led by the Duke of Norfolk and others entered the city, and the business of dispensing punishment began. The first trials took place on 4 May. The prisoners were charged not with rioting, but with the much more serious crime of high treason, on the grounds that attacking foreigners both breached the King’s peace within England, and put at risk the peace that Henry had established with all other Christian princes in continental Europe. It is not clear exactly how many men were executed. The two major contemporary historiographers, Edward Hall and the Italian humanist Polydore Vergil, mention 17 and 15 respectively, the Venetian ambassador, Sebastian Justinian mentions 20, while the Papal nuncio or representative, Francesco Chieregato, claimed the much higher figure of 60.
London was still essentially under a 24-hour curfew, with city proclamations specifying that women were to be controlled as strictly as the men, and were not allowed to ‘come together to babble and talk’ (Hall). Over 1300 soldiers brought by the Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Surrey roamed the streets, and according to Hall, they ‘spake many opprobrious words to the citizens, which grieved them sore’. Hall’s account claims that most of the watermen, priests and servingmen guilty of rioting escaped, and only the ‘poor prentices were taken’, and that some of the boys arrested were little more than children, no more than thirteen years old. Even the account of Polydore Vergil, whose own immigrant status in England understandably made him far more critical of the rioters than Hall, noted in his History of Britain that some who were punished ‘had fallen in with that rabble…more by chance than any deliberation.’ However, Edward Howard, Knight Marshall and youngest son of the Duke of Norfolk ‘showed no mercy, but extreme cruelty to the poor younglings in their execution’. The Mayor and the King’s representatives then arranged to have 11 pairs of gallows to be set up at the main sites of the riot, from Aldgate and Blanchappleton, to Saint Martin’s and Newgate. According to Polydore Vergil, ‘This was a sight unseen in all previous ages, to see so many gallows erected at the same time throughout the city, and it distressed the townsmen’s minds so much that these were removed two weeks later.’ In the meantime, ‘like true subjects’ the people ‘suffered patiently,’ despite easily outnumbering the soldiers (Hall). It was clear that Henry and Wolsey would need to do something quickly to recoup both international prestige and peace in the city.
That political turn began on 7 May, when John Lincoln was brought to court. In his defence, he claimed, ‘My Lords, […] you knew the mischief that is ensued in this realme by strangers, […] many times I have complained, and then I was called a busy fellow: now our lord have mercy on me’. He was executed, but then there was a carefully-engineered dramatic last minute reversal of fortunes. A message of pardon from the king arrived to save the handful of other rioters scheduled to hang after him even as they had ‘the rope about their neckes’, and ‘then the people cried, ‘God save the king’. This was simply a practice-run. On 22 May, Henry followed this with a great public performance of royal power and mercy in the great hall at Westminster, specially hung with tapestry of cloth of gold and decorated with a canopy of brocade for the occasion. This was apparently the result of an intercession by Henry’s wife, Catherine of Aragon, but it is quite likely that the move was masterminded by Wolsey and Henry himself as a way of defusing the standoff between the people and the state. In front of fifteen thousand Londoners, the mayor and representatives of the city, and key courtly figures and lords of the realm, the king and Cardinal Wolsey rebuked both the city and the people for the riot and the danger that it had posed to the King and the state. Then the 400 men and 11 women arrested in the aftermath of the riots were brought in. They had been stripped to their undershirts, and each had a noose around their neck, as if about to be hanged. They threw themselves on their knees, crying for mercy. Cardinal Wolsey and the lords publicly interceded on their behalf, the king appeared moved, and finally relented, but not before more speeches about the rightful duties of citizens had been delivered, and ‘everybody wept for joy’ (Chieregato). Henry and Wolsey had managed to re-engineer the riot against aliens and immigrants into a means of publicly asserting royal power both over the city’s wealthy merchants and guildsmen, and the ordinary labourers, workers and apprentices.
Riots would continue to occur in London from time to time, but the ‘Evil May Day’ of 1517 became notorious, as many historians have pointed out, because such violent outbreaks of resentment against foreigners was an exception in London, not the norm. Years later, however, as waves of Protestant religious refugees from trouble-torn Europe kept seeking shelter in the post-Reformation England of Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I, radically changing the very nature of its neighbourhoods, and civic unrest became more frequent in the city once more, a group of writers would raise the ghost of that first race riot once again. More’s involvement in the events of the May Day riot forms a substantial part of The Booke of Sir Thomas More, co-written by Anthony Munday and Henry Chettle in the 1590s. Famously, it was criticized by the Master of Revels, Sir Edmund Tilney, who had the power to stop plays from being performed. On the top of the first page of the still-existing manuscript is his hand-written note, ending in what amounts to a thinly-veiled threat: ‘Leave out…the insurrection wholly and the cause thereof, and begin with Sir Thomas More at the Mayor’s sessions, with a report afterwards of his good service done, being Sheriff of London, upon a mutiny against the Lombards – only by a short report and not otherwise, at your own perils.’
Yet the revisions by multiple writers in the manuscript show no sign that his edict was obeyed. And in one of the most substantial additions, a three-page section that is now generally accepted to be in the hand of William Shakespeare, More addresses the rioting mob and invites them – and the audience – to engage in an act of collective empathy. Instead of the poor Englishman railing against the affluent foreigner, ‘Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,’ his More tells the crowd, ‘Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,/ Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation,/ And that you sit as kings in your desires […]’. Instead of the foreigner arriving on English shores, he asks them to imagine banishment, spurned like dogs from door to door, ‘like as if that God/ Owed not nor made not you’:
What would you think
To be us’d thus? This is the strangers’ case
And this your mountainish inhumanity.
There is no record to show that The Booke of Sir Thomas More was ever performed, but quite understandably in our current climate of anxiety, More’s speech has gained a new popularity. Its humanity seems fresh and contemporary, its image of the ‘stranger’s case’ uncannily prescient, but perhaps its greatest achievement is one that remains implicit. In its very existence, in its insistence on acting as a mirror in which a harried, troubled, anxious English public sees its own face reflected in the face of a stranger in need, the play claims back the May Day riot from Tudor statecraft, which had tried so hard to turn it simply into an instrument of political maneuvering.
1st May 2017 marks the five hundredth anniversary of the first documented race riot and greatest outbreak of violence against immigrants in early modern London. Its story is one of anxiety and frustration that was directed as much at the state as it was at the foreigners themselves. In our own climate of fear and insecurity, its themes seem strikingly familiar, but it also inspired one of the most impassioned pleas for the protection of refugees in the English language.
Fights among drunk young apprentices was common enough on the May Day holiday in London, but in the days leading up to the end of April, 1517, there were whispers on the streets about bigger trouble brewing. Following a tough winter and a severe outbreak of the dreaded sweating sickness, there was a rising sense of discontent among the ordinary people, and foreign merchants and workers became popular targets of that frustration.
Edward Hall (1497-1547) was a twenty-year-old student at King’s College, Cambridge, at the time. The report he would write subsequently in his Chronicle is inflected by his mistrust of foreigners and his bias against the Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, but it gives us the clearest account of the events. According to Hall, things had been set in motion over two weeks earlier by a disgruntled broker called John Lincoln, who blamed the foreign merchants and workers in London for everything that was arguably wrong with the city. He tried to get Henry Standish, the preacher appointed to deliver the hugely popular Easter Monday sermon at St. Mary Spitall in Bishopsgate, to drum up popular support for his cause. When Standish turned him down, he approached the designated preacher for the Tuesday, a Dr Bell or Beale. On the day, Bell began his sermon with a ‘pitifull bill’ about the ‘extreme povertie’ of the king’s subjects. The ‘aliens and strangers eate the bread from the poore fatherless children, and take the living from all the [artisans], and the entercourse [business] from all the merchants’, he claimed, and the only solution was a public uprising: ‘as the hurt and damage grieveth all men, so muste all men set to their willing power for remedy, and not to suffer the said aliens so highly in their wealth’. After all, God gave this land to Englishmen, ‘and as birds would defend their nest, so ought Englishmen to cherish and defend themselves, and to hurt and grieve aliens for the common weale’.
Small acts of violence started soon after, till on 28 April, a small group of young Englishmen were arrested for assaulting ‘Aliens as they passed by the streets’. That triggered what Hall describes as a ‘common secret rumour’ about a planned insurrection on May Day, when the city would ‘rebel and slay all Aliens’. Foreigners in London were obviously anxious. Hall mentions that many of them ‘fled out of the city’ as a precaution, and the Venetian Ambassador, Sebastian Giustinian later wrote back in his report to the Venetian Signory that he ‘represented this state of things to the Cardinal [Wolsey], who promised to make provision against any accident on that day’, but Wolsey and the Tudor establishment showed no actual signs of responding to the threat.
What happened next on 30 April 1517, the day before the riot, shows every sign of an administrative fiasco, in which a last-minute scramble to put safeguards in place to ensure civic safety ended up instigating the very thing it wanted to avoid. That morning, frustrated that despite his reassurances, Wolsey showed no signs of taking the threats seriously, Giustinian the Venetian ambassador decided to take matters in his own hands. His report to the Signory notes that ‘being warned of many threats used by the populace, and having witnessed many acts of violence perpetrated by them, [he] went to Richmond, where the King was residing, and showed him the peril to which all foreigners were exposed.’ Henry’s response was to assure Giustinian that he would ‘take every precaution’, although all he did was to spread the news that he was going to return to London with a large army to impose peace, ‘though in reality he never quitted Richmond’. Giustinian’s audience with the king, however, obviously got Wolsey to act: he summoned the mayor of London and the city council, and demanded if they knew anything about the rumours of the planned riot. ‘”No surely,” said the Mayor,’ according to Edward Hall’s account, ‘and I trust so to govern them that the king’s peace shall be observed.’ Then he hurried back to find out whether city officials were aware of the rumour. By this time it was 4 o’clock in the afternoon. By 7 o’clock in the evening, the Mayor and the city officials had panicked enough to hold an emergency meeting in the Guild Hall to decide on the measures to be taken. After much debate, they decided that the two options were to either impose a curfew or organise a ‘set of honest persons [and] householders’ to patrol the streets, and a message was sent to Wolsey just before 8 o’clock in the evening for his order. Half an hour later, Sir Thomas More, then undersheriff of London and Richard Brooke, Sergeant at Law, arrived with Wolsey’s decision, that a curfew would be imposed till 7 o’clock the next morning.
With the drinking and the festivities on the eve of the holiday already in full flow on the streets of the city, the aldermen of London now had barely half an hour to impose that curfew and get everyone back in their houses. One of the aldermen to rush back to their wards was Sir John Monday [or Munday], who saw two young men indulging in a bit of impromptu fencing or ‘playing at bucklers’ while surrounded by a large group of spectators. He asked them to leave, and when one of them irreverently asked why, he made the mistake of trying to drag him away physically by his arm. That small spark was enough: the standard rallying cry of apprentices, ‘Prentices and clubs,’ immediately started up around them. Munday managed to escape with his life, but the damage was done; the riot had begun. By 11 o’clock at night there were about seven hundred angry Londoners in Cheapside, from ‘serving men and water men [to] courtiers’, and within a short space of time their number had more than doubled to over a thousand. The mob stormed Newgate prison and took out the men who had been put under arrest on 28 April for attacking foreigners.
At Saint Martin’s, where a large number of mostly Dutch and French artisans lived, Sir Thomas More, in his capacity as the under-sheriff of London, almost persuaded the rioters to stop. However, in a moment of dramatic misunderstanding, some of the bricks and hot water that the besieged householders of Saint Martin’s had started throwing out on the mob struck a sergeant of arms called Nicholas Downes who was standing with More. His angry response, crying ‘Down with them’ in pain, was picked up immediately by the mob, and the riot continued.
At Leadenhall, they attacked the house of John Meautys, a merchant from Picardy and a secretary to King Henry VIII, who was suspected of harbouring French pickpockets and unlicensed foreign wool-workers. According to a report in the chronicle of the Grey Friars of London, Meautys barely managed to escape with his life by apparently hiding in the gutters of his house, but his house was looted. In Blanchappleton near Aldgate, the mob looted the houses of foreign shoemakers, and threw their stock into the streets. Although no deaths were reported, hundreds were injured – both foreigners and well-meaning Londoners who tried to pacify the rioters – and a swathe of destruction and unrest continued to spread across the city for over four hours. Worried about things going completely out of control, the Lieutenant of the Tower of London, Sir Richard Cholmeley, ordered his men to fire ordnance into the City, but ultimately the riot ran out of steam naturally. By 3 o’clock on May Day morning, peace had been restored in London. Now it was time for both the city and the Tudor establishment to pick up the pieces.
[To be continued…]
As 2016 drew to a close, Acton in West London hosted a number of dignitaries for the consecration of the first Syriac Orthodox Cathedral in Britain, St Thomas Cathedral, an event which at the time received very little media attention. Amongst the many notable figures in the congregation, were Prince Charles, Richard Chartres, the then Bishop of London, and the Patriarch of Antioch, His Holiness Mor Ignatius Aphrem II. The occasion was both a celebration of the flourishing Syriac community in Britain, and a sombre reminder of the plight of a community who having fled their homeland, in Syria and Iraq, have settled in Britain. To historians of migration, the position of the Syriac community in Britain today is a familiar story shared by differing religious communities across the centuries.
In his short speech to the congregation Prince Charles noted the dual symbolism of the occasion. Not only did the consecration of the Cathedral mark a ‘deeply encouraging’ moment for the Syriac community in Britain, but it also highlighted the ‘unbearable misery and anguish that have been so cruelly inflicted upon’ the Syriac Christian community in the Middle-East. The leader of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the UK, Archbishop Mor Athanasius Toma Dawod, noted that although a celebration the event was bitter sweet as ‘our joy has not been complete, as all our churches have been left in ruins after ISIS destroyed them.’
Refugees fleeing religious persecution is an old story. Since the middle of the sixteenth century, Europe was engulfed in repeated religious conflicts which reached its climax during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), and displaced thousands of people across the continent. One of the most influential moments in triggering mass religious migration was sparked by the Edict of Fountainebleu in 1685 (also known as the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes). The Edict, which significantly curtailed the rights of the Calvinist Protestants of France (also known as Huguenots), marked the high point of two centuries of intermittent persecution against communities on the basis of religion in continental Europe.
One seventeenth century minister graphically wrote of the plight of the people caught up in the upheavals. John Bulteel, a migrant minister, wrote of ‘the Churches of Germany swimming in their own blood, those of France in their tears, all in the midst of their ruin and apprehensions of greater dissolution.’ In England, he concluded, ‘these poor flocks’ had been ‘received, and put under covert as in a place of refuge and sanctuary of a holy temple.’
The idea that Britain was a religious sanctuary for persecuted religious communities was popular motif in the seventeenth century. One Armenian migrant, and merchant proclaimed that “the English nation hath always been esteemed in foreign countries for their civility towards strangers.” In a petition to Oliver Cromwell in the Spring of 1656 a group of French and Dutch Protestants wrote how they fled to England’ thereby swapping ‘persecution for protection’ And where, living under the protection of Cromwell and the English government the petitioners they ‘accounted themselves most happy.’
That said, then as now, refuge was often accompanied by hostility. For, many of those who arrived in England continued to face public paranoia and hostility. While the 1656 petitioners expressed their happiness to have escaped oppression in Europe, the main body of their petition detailed the behaviour of local English people, who on several occasions burned down their Church and burned carrion on their consecrated ground. Even the Armenian merchant primarily complained that he had been tricked out of money and left destitute by an Englishman.
In her letter to the congregation at St Thomas,’ the Prime Minister, Teresa May declared that ‘the appalling violence that has afflicted so many areas of the Middle East reminds us how fortunate we are to live in a country where different religious beliefs are not only tolerated, but welcomed.’ That may well be, but many in the congregation would have noted that her government had refused to allow three Archbishops from the Syriac Church to enter Britain to attend the cathedral’s consecration. Britain may be proud of its history of religious tolerance, but this is by no means an unproblematic legacy.
On 20 March, TIDE organized its first seminar of 2017 on the theme of ‘Catholic Transculturality in Early Modern Europe’ with Jane Stevenson (King’s College, University of Aberdeen) and Peter Davidson (Campion Hall, University of Oxford). ‘The Royal Nun: religion and exile’, the paper presented by Jane Stevenson, examined an oratorio performed and probably written in St Monica's, an English Augustinian convent in Louvain. Peter Davidson’s paper, ‘Cultural bilinguality in baroque America?’, explored the connections between the European baroque and the Mexican and Andean visual imagery. The following text and images are an excerpt of Peter Davidson’s paper that show us how the dialogue between the visual imagery of Europe and America created hybrid works of art that could be read in two visual languages simultaneously.
These four images raise a fascinating possibility, that Peter Paul Rubens had seen the culturally-hybrid Andean image originating from what is now Bolivia known as The Virgin of the Cerro Rico of Potosí. Rubens certainly changed his design between his first sketch and the final version to alter the outline of the mountain and to add the sun and the moon on the columns. The more the two images are contemplated, the more the possibility of influence from America to Europe seems worth considering. Certainly, Rubens was working for the Antwerp Jesuits at this time in his life, and Jesuits from the Flemish province had taken part in the missions in South America. Further food for thought is offered by the presence in the carving of the marble altar-rails (dated 1653) of the Antwerp Jesuit church of the grain plants of the Americas: maize, quinoa and amaranth, an iconography remarkable in its implications of dialogue and cultural inclusion.
Those who visit the Saint Roch Church in Lisbon would probably pay more attention to the extravagant baroque chapel of St. John the Baptist, than to the little tomb of an Englishman who died in 1608 named Francis Tregian. Some four hundred years ago, the resting place of the first Catholic recusant to lose his entire estate under Queen Elizabeth attracted several visitors who hoped to be blessed by a man who died in the odour of sanctity.
Tregian was one of the wealthiest men of sixteenth century Cornwall, with an estimated estate worth three thousand pound, a considerable amount for the period. His wealth and support to persecuted recusants made him an obvious target during the Elizabethan repression of Catholics. On the night of 8 June 1577, Tregian was arrested for lodging Cutberth Mayne, an English missionary from Douai accused by the Elizabethan authorities as a Papal agent sent to prepare a rebellion against the Queen. However, Tregian’s biographer, probably inspired by the growing reputation of Elizabeth as a depraved woman across Catholic Europe, suggested that real motive behind his arrest was his refusal to the Queen’s improper advances.
Doubts surrounding Tregian’s trial forced the initial death sentence to be remitted to life imprisonment and the definitive confiscation of his estate. After almost twenty-eight years as an itinerant prisoner, Tregian was released by James I in 1606 and permanently banished.
Like many Catholic exiles, Tregian’s first stop was Douai. He then travelled to Madrid where he was received by Philip III, who granted him a life pension for his staunch defence of Catholicism against Elizabethan heresy and repression. After receiving his pension, Tregian settled in Lisbon with his family.
The Portuguese capital, then under Spanish Habsburg rule, was one of the main destinations for Catholics fleeing England. The city was easily accessible from the north Atlantic and, was one of the main economic hubs of early modern Europe which had long-established trade links with England, and offered many economic possibilities. Lisbon also offered another precious advantage as a Catholic refugee. Iberia was not troubled by the religious wars afflicting the Low Countries and France, which had been the initial destination for the first waves of English recusants. It was precisely the relative safety of Lisbon that led a group of English Bridgettine nuns to settle in the city in 1594, after a peripatetic existence between England, Flanders and France.
The arrival of the wandering English nuns was a propaganda coup for Spain, a clear demonstration of Philip II’s role as the leader of the Catholic world. However, the English Bridgettine became a serious problem for the Portuguese ecclesiastical authorities. Regarded as the last survivors of the English religious order, the nuns developed a particular institutional and national identity. During the exile in Spanish Flanders, the English Bridgettine sought to segregate themselves from their foreign sisters and to recruit only English women. These isolationist practices troubled the archbishop of Lisbon, who refused to grant such privileges, considering that they violated the rules of the Bridgettine Order and the decrees of the Council of Trent. The dispute would only be solved after the intervention of Pope Clement VIII, who decided to place the English nuns under papal protection, ensuring that they would always be allowed to only recruit their countrywomen.
The efforts made by the English Bridgettine nuns to preserve a distinct English identity was something shared by other Catholic refugees. The increasing association between Protestantism and Englishness made the identity of Catholic exiles extremely complex. In the eyes of many English Protestants, the fact that some recusants decided to leave England, and embrace the life of and exile under the protection of foreign rulers, made their Englishness and actions particularly suspicious. Such accusations led some exiles, like the Bridgettine nuns, to develop a sense of Englishness based on an ostentatious rejection of the cultural practices of their host societies, an attitude that, as the reaction of the archbishop of Lisbon reveals, often clashed with the cultural inclusiveness of the early modern Catholic world. Others, however, sought to accommodate their English identity with foreign cultural currents and modes of sociability. Students of the English colleges of Rome and Valladolid, for example, often used Italian and Spanish as their preferred idioms.
When Francis Tregian’s tomb was exhumed in 1625, the local English Catholic community sensed a rare opportunity to solve the tension between their national identity and Catholic universalism. Tregian’s body was found to be uncorrupted, confirming the odour of sanctity that surrounded his death. The news of the uncorrupted body attracted many Lisbonians to Saint Roch’s Church and rumours of miracles associated to the English recusant started to circulate across the city. Aware that Tregian could generate a popular cult and had the potential to be canonised, the English exiles staged a solemn ceremony to rebury the body. Attended by many locals, the ceremony celebrated Tregian as an English Catholic hero. The body was buried standing up (an allegory to his resistance to Elizabethan repression) in a new elegant, but discrete tomb in the west pulpit. While the epigraph was in Portuguese, the text celebrated the heroic and moral virtues of an Englishman who resisted against Protestant heresy. This option allowed the English Catholics of Lisbon to accommodate their Englishness to the host society, as well distinguish themselves from their Protestant countrymen who also lived in the city. In other words, Tregian’s tomb was creatively used as a symbol of Catholic Englishness which allowed exiled recusants to state their national identity and be a part of their host society.
João Vicente Melo
What is #Gateofaccess?
‘Any object, intensely regarded,’ observes Buck Mulligan in James Joyce’s Ulysses, ‘may be a gate of access to the incorruptible eon of the gods’.
We’ll leave presumptions about the eon of the gods to neoplatonists, but we at TIDE thought ‘gate of access’ aptly conveyed the importance of objects in engaging with the past, and, with it, the human condition. The term evokes the potency of objects and texts as artefacts, which transport us beyond what we think we know and push us to new knowledge.
In light of this, we’ve designed our new Twitter hashtag, #Gateofaccess, to focus on objects from English collections that enrichen our understanding of transcultural exchange in the early modern period. A sixteenth-century glove, for example, worn by an Englishman but stitched with Venetian silk using Indian chintzes, indicates the influence of other cultures on consumerism and taste in Elizabethan England. Africans in Stuart portraiture, or English governors or ambassadors depicted wearing Native American or Persian accessories, might be used to raise questions over ethnic difference and social status. How, we might then ask, do these examples of cultural hybridity complicate the anxieties about foreign influx and influence so often depicted in printed works?
One day a week, in series that last four to six weeks, our Twitter account, @ERC_TIDE, will exhibit objects in partnership with a particular museum or collection. Working closely with curators and archivists, these tweets will showcase objects of transculturality while highlighting the archives belonging to a range of local and national galleries and libraries. By working with various cultural institutions and research departments, #Gateofaccess will explore how objects can help foster a dialogue about the past, while encouraging more people to engage with their history through art and cultural institutions.
Our first showcase: tobacco and global competition
Our first #Gateofaccess is a collaboration between TIDE, Liverpool Special Collections and Archives, and the National Pipe Archive. Thanks to the robust efforts of John Fraser (1836 – 1902), secretary of printing and publishing for Cope’s Tobacco Company in nineteenth-century Liverpool, the university owns an abundance of early modern tobacco treatises and pamphlets. Beyond printed works, the National Pipe Archive houses their vast collections of pipes, tins, jars, and related objects, at the University of Liverpool’s Department of Archaeology.
These objects reveal the transcultural elements inherent in sixteenth and seventeenth-century debates about health, morality, imperialism, and pleasure. Mingling concerns over global competition, religious orthodoxy, and a fierce sense of national pride, tobacco became a battle ground over which English anxieties over identity were fought.
Medicinal texts like John Frampton’s translation of Nicolas Monardes’ Joyfull newes out of a new-found world (1596) explored fundamental questions about the properties and effects of tobacco. Did tobacco ‘corrupt’ the body? If it was indeed ‘healthful’, as some doctors claimed, did it corrupt the soul? A copy of Monardes’ Joyfull newes in Special Collections here at Liverpool indicates that the owner of the treatise actively used the book to solicit medical advice. The marginalia notes the cures that American commodities might provide for such ailments as the ‘gut & sweat’. Treatises about tobacco highlight both texts as objects, passed around and annotated, and illustrate the transculturality of tobacco debates: Englishmen were reading texts written by the Spanish and French, about a plant cultivated in America and smoked by ‘pagans’.
As for the pipes themselves, they show us that beyond written debates about medicine and the ethics of smoking, the material object influenced English social rituals and reflected the successes of imperialism through the booming tobacco trade. Pipes with the smallest bowls were made in the early seventeenth century, while the larger pipes indicate the availability and low cost of tobacco by the later seventeenth century, as English tobacco exports from the colonies escalated. The historian Edmund Morgan went so far as to liken the Virginia of the 1620s to the rough frontier towns of the Klondike during the 1890s gold rush, a ramshackle world where merchants, labourers, and surveyors arrived with dreams of striking rich.
The colour of the clay, too, tells a story of cultural difference. While keeping the overall form of the bowl and stem, the English rejected pipes modelled on those of the Algonquians who taught them to cultivate the plant in North America. Rather, pipes in England, from the earliest examples, were made of the whitest possible clay, eschewing overt associations with Native American ritual. Of the thousands of tobacco pipe fragments that survive, there is no evidence of a single example of a Native American pipe, characterised by darker clay and thicker, larger bowls. The absence of evidence in the archive can be as indicative as what is included in it.
Our #Gateofaccess series launches on Twitter this week @ERC_TIDE. Don’t hesitate to contact the project’s public engagement coordinator, Dr Lauren Working (firstname.lastname@example.org), to discuss #Gateofaccess collaborations in more detail.
On 1 February, the Global History and Culture Centre of the University of Warwick held a workshop on Cross-Cultural Diplomacy Compared: Afro-Eurasian Perspectives (16th-18th Centuries), part of a series of events organized by the Leverhulme Trust funded project Cross-Cultural Diplomacy Compared led by Guido van Meersbergen. Focusing on the diplomatic interactions between Europeans and South Asians, this project aims to expand our understanding of early modern cross-cultural exchanges and develop a truly global perspective on the transcultural dimensions of early modern diplomacy.
The workshop gathered a number of specialists in diplomatic, cultural, and global history to discuss their own work and the recent trends in Global History and New Diplomatic History. Joan-Pau Rubiés surveyed the conceptual and methodological questions surrounding the study of cross-cultural diplomacy and transculturality, proposing an approach that measures cultural distance by exploring diplomatic interactions as a complex process of cultural learning that helped to create a common ground of understanding between agents from different cultural backgrounds. Such an approach requires a careful study of the specific political and economic (and sometimes individual) agenda behind these contacts, as well as the coeval concepts that influenced the perceptions and attitudes of different agents. Rubiés also emphasized the need to develop a model of skeptical calibration based on case-studies in which it is possible to confront both European and local sources. Christine Vogel gave a paper the ritual and performative dimensions of early modern cross-cultural diplomacy. Focusing on her research on European diplomatic interactions with the Ottoman Empire, Vogel proposed the use of semiotic analysis of cross-cultural diplomatic rituals to better understand how the communication and negotiations between agents of different cultural backgrounds emerged.
Other papers focused on specific case-studies of cross-cultural diplomacy in West Africa and South Asia. Following his recent comparative studies of the diplomatic practices of the Dutch and English East India Companies in Mughal India, Guido van Meersbergen proposed a typology of six modes of diplomacy based (1) royal embassies, (2) high profile embassies led by company agents, (3) small-scale petitioning at the imperial court, (4) the employment of local brokers, (5) provincial diplomacy and (6) local diplomacy. These different types of diplomatic contacts allow us to better understand how the Dutch and English companies adopted elements from the local diplomatic practices that made them able to operate in the Mughal political landscape. Lennaart Bes presented four examples of protocol breaches in the Dutch interactions with Ikkeri, Madurai, Tanjavur and Ramnad, in order to examine how the diplomatic rituals and etiquette performed at these South Indian courts were used to reinforce, maintain or change relationships. The paper given by Christina Brauner examined the uses of concepts of statehood in the treaties signed between European and African powers noting the existence of a semantic change in the descriptions of African sovereigns and polities which often echoed the early modern European debates on republics and monarchies, the emergence of Orientalism and the profound transformations of the West African political landscape.
The workshop concluded with a roundtable formed by Nandini Das, Zoltán Biedermann and Guido van Meersbergen. The three discussants reviewed the many issues raised throughout the previous panels. Nandini Das opened the debate by arguing that the study of cross-cultural diplomacy should take into account the individual perceptions and emotional reactions of those who participated in cross-cultural interactions. Besides the analysis of personal affective narratives, the cumulative influence of the experiences and memories of diplomatic agents should also be explored with more detail, in order to better understand the connections between diplomatic practices, cultural memories and the movement of people. Another important question that needs to be explored with more attention is the reaction that host societies had to the diplomatic practices brought by Europeans, and the ways in which the host nations also passed through a process of learning and accommodation. Zoltán Biedermann’s intervention underlined the methodological difficulties in identifying and analysis personal feelings in the existing sources. Biedermann also noted that the difficulties faced by most Europeans in imitating or adapting to South Asian diplomatic practices. Such problems reveals that there was a long and complex process of learning specific diplomatic modus operandi, one that mobilized different cultural experiences and political traditions which requires a careful use of concepts such as ‘connected histories’ and ‘mondialisation’. Guido van Meersbergen’s comments highlighted the need to consider the existence of a Eurasian continuum while analyzing the many ways how Europeans developed practices based on Islamic diplomatic culture. The role of prejudices in cross-cultural diplomatic encounters should also be reconsidered, especially when examining the performance of rituals, the exchange of correspondence or the classifications of social and ethnic groups.
The discussions raised by the papers and the roundtable focused around several key aspects of the recent studies on early modern cross-cultural diplomacy, suggesting future paths for research. All the participants pointed out the need to develop comparative studies based on a cross-geographical focus, as well as on the confrontation of different types European and Asian or African sources. The success of such an approach will necessarily require collaborative works joining scholars studying different regions and with varied linguistic skills. Another issued debated throughout the workshop was the importance of understanding the differences between the figure of the ambassador and the practices of diplomacy, which often involved a myriad of other formal and informal agents that played a pivotal role in establishing contacts and negotiations. The discussions also pointed out the need to examine the importance of religion in diplomatic rituals, as well as the role of religious figures as diplomats.
Cross-Cultural Diplomacy Compared was indeed an excellent space for discussion which allowed the authors of the most recent ground-breaking studies in early modern cross-cultural diplomacy to reassess their work and explore future avenues of research.
João Vicente Melo
Teaching recommenced this week at the University of Liverpool, and the TIDE project is likewise gearing up for a busy calendar over the coming spring and summer. The first weeks of 2017 have been a time of concentrated planning for the team, and we have been fortunate enough to be joined for several of these sessions by partners we have gained during our first semester. In the course of consolidating our plans and vision for TIDE, we have looked back across our first months, as well as forward to the months to come: something of a double blog here, then, to make up for the holiday break.
Our first term as a project concluded, just ahead of Christmas, with our formal launch. Held in the Old Library, School of the Arts, we were joined by School and Faculty colleagues from across a number of disciplines. Guests also included University engagement and development staff, postgraduates, academics from John Moores and Liverpool Hope universities, and representatives from community arts and regional cultural initiatives.
We were also delighted to host the award-winning poets Vahni Capildeo and Sarah Howe, as well as actors and staff from our neighbours, the Everyman Theatre. Our aim was to engage attendees creatively with some of the project’s central concerns. After a brief introduction to our work from Nandini Das, Project Director, and a welcome from Professor Paul Simpson, Head of English, each of the poets performed a selection of their recent works, before the actors read aloud extracts from a number of primary materials chosen by the team.
Our poets’ readings suggested some of the intricacies attached to human movement and travel. For its ‘enthralling exploration of self and place, of migration and inheritance’, Howe’s first full collection was awarded the T. S. Eliot Prize in 2015. Awarding Capildeo’s latest collection its 2016 winner, the Forward Prize for Poetry said of the volume, ‘When people in the future seek to know what it's like to live between places, traditions, habits and cultures, they will read this’. It was a real pleasure to meet the poets, and we are delighted that Sarah Howe will return to TIDE in 2018, as our Visiting Writer.
The performed extracts provided another stimulus for approaching cross-cultural encounters and exchange. Hearing first-hand written accounts, also read aloud, lent a new immediacy to these individual transcultural navigations, into and out of early modern England. A hat-making Flemish refugee writes to his wife on the attractions of Norwich – with a shopping list of items missed from home; an African scholar, by turns traveller, hostage, and convert, wryly invokes fable to consider our shifting motivations to belong. The rehabilitation and analysis of such voices, whether famous or forgotten, is core to the work envisioned for TIDE. This will be pursued, particularly, through our planned 24 case studies, running from the project’s second year.
Following these readings, attendees were invited to browse our displays, which posed questions underpinning our various research strands and detailed our current work, including that on Keywords (on which, more below). These stands prompted lively discussion amongst attendees, and highlighted many possibilities for partnership, outreach, and further project research.
We were keen to use the evening to prompt interaction with our work, rather than merely to present it, so attendees were invited to chart their geographical histories onto a bespoke 1641 world map, using pins and string. Of the finished result, Professor Das wrote: ‘the map provided a potent visual example of . . . entangled trajectories; bringing to life the global connections between peoples and countries that the project seeks to illuminate’.
The launch also marked the arrival of our third postdoc. Joining us from Barcelona, João completes our initial team, and the launch seemed a fitting way to welcome him full-time onto the project. The international make-up of the TIDE team is, we feel, a strength of the project. As the project progresses, our planned activities across Europe, America, and Asia will no doubt benefit from the global links already represented within the TIDE office. With most of us travelling to take up our positions with TIDE, it seemed a fitting celebration when the team too, all now in situ, added our travel threads onto the map. This now holds pride of place – fully pinned, and a real conversation starter – over the office mantelpiece.
Finally, it was important to thank the strategic and support staff who assisted with establishing TIDE and the project office here in the School of the Arts in 2016. As TIDE’s administrator, I would like to extend our thanks, again, for the many forms of support offered so generously to us during our earliest days.
To read the University’s own coverage of the event, with details of our research and engagement aims, plus our Visiting Writers programme, please click here.
Moving on, we are particularly pleased to have now begun work with our departmental linguists, in consultation with linguistics-led projects further afield, on our Keywords strand. You can follow our progress through our chosen catalogue via #TIDEKeyword, on our Twitter account; we will be building an open access web resource in order to share our findings, over summer 2017.
On social media, also look out for our upcoming #Gateofaccess digital media partnership, launching mid-February. TIDE will be working with curators and archivists to showcase early modern artefacts, in particular those objects which are lesser-known or not on permanent display.
We are currently working with Special Collections staff at the University of Liverpool itself, before expanding the series into partnership with other local, national, and international collections. This week the postdocs have been lucky enough to delve through the University’s museums and libraries holdings, and were surprised by some of the objects our archivists had uncovered. We hope that by sharing these objects, all from 1550-1700, and, moreover, by examining their untold stories and contexts, the project will illustrate new and unusual routes into understanding the period.
And while you are online, watch out for a flurry of #TIDEtravels tweets over the next few months. Having started with a workshop in Warwick and meetings in Oxford last week, members of the team are soon off to a number of events in Manchester and London, with conferences in Barcelona, New Hampshire, and Illinois already scheduled in between now and June. Our social media will cover our out-of-office research trips: check out our Twitter and new Instagram pages for a peek at where we’re headed and what we’re up to.
As well as travelling ourselves, we look forward to the arrival in late April of our first Visiting Writer, novelist, essayist, poet, and playwright Fred D’Aguiar, Professor of English at UCLA. Fred D’Aguiar will fly from Los Angeles for a fortnight’s residence at TIDE, taking in both our Liverpool and London campuses.
Right now our postdocs are surrounding themselves with archival materials, and collating their best findings to spark Fred’s imagination with insights into the diversities of early modern London, and just some of its many voices, before he joins us later this spring. Fred will then produce new creative work over the following six months, in response to his time spent with the project.
Either side of Fred’s visit, and again across our Liverpool and London sites, we are also planning half-day research seminars, in March and June. Aware of how swiftly our first year is passing, we also look ahead with excitement to the expansion of our team in our second year. Do check back in with us for further news of this, as well as events in the pipeline for autumn, very soon. With best wishes from all at TIDE!
Emma-Louise Whitehead (Project Admin)
Image: The British Library
A small boy sits in his mother’s lap. Around them is a scene of great rejoicing. Music plays, people holding gifts and wearing turbans look on in adoration. But at the centre, the child and his parents gaze at each other with single-minded focus: for them, nothing else exists. The parents have wandered long as exiles, dependent on the charity of others, but now a great moment of change is finally upon them. The boy’s father looks deceptively calm, but he points his hand towards the child, as if to say – look, here he is – the boy who will be the shelter and refuge of the whole world.
The setting may sound terribly familiar when I put it this way. Not all is as it seems, though, because the actual painting that I am describing is very far from the image that a description like this is bound to evoke in this season. There are no stars here, no shepherds, and certainly no farm animals. Instead, there is the glint of the two swords that the juggler in center foreground holds in his hands. A group of musicians to our left play kettledrums and bugles. In the middle distance, there are dancing girls. The child and his parents sit in a rich pavilion of scarlet and gold.
But if you squint and peer beyond them in this small painting, which can be seen on the British Library’s superb digitised manuscripts site, on the walls of that pavilion you’ll see yet more paintings – tiny murals. In the first of these, there are men on horseback in a more familiar countryside setting. In the next panel, the three men have dismounted, they now kneel in front of what looks like a tiny figure with a child on her lap. That, now, looks like the familiar Adoration of the Magi. But what it is doing here takes us back to a moment when two very different worlds came together more than 400 years ago.
Jalal-ud-Din Akbar, Jahanpanah (‘Shelter of the World’), Shahanshah (‘King of Kings’), the third and perhaps greatest ruler of the sprawling empire that dominated the subcontinent from the sixteenth century till the 1850s, commissioned this book, the Akbarnama, in the late 1590s, and the manuscript in question was probably prepared around 1602-03. One of its most striking early stories tells us how Akbar, separated as a baby from his parents when his father Humayun had been exiled from India, was reunited with them at the age of three. The painting I described accompanies that story, showing the moment when, in a test devised by his father, Akbar demonstrated his ‘divine light’ by recognising his mother in a crowd of women after the long separation – and rushed unhesitatingly into her waiting arms.
The scene in the mural behind the mother and child might be a tacit acknowledgement of the shared elements between Islam and Christianity, but to leave it at that would only be half the story. Akbar’s curiosity about other cultures and religions was well-known. He commissioned translations from Sanskrit and other languages into Persian, the official language of the Mughal empire, and experimented with the idea of a syncretic religion. One of his radical ideas was the establishment of a debating hall, the Ibadat-khana, where intellectuals of all faiths came to discuss matters of philosophy and religion. It is here, in 1580, that some new guests arrived, like a very different journey of the magi – three Jesuit fathers whom Akbar had invited from the newly established Portuguese settlement in Goa. The Jesuits knew Akbar’s reputation as a great connoisseur, so instead of trivial gifts, they brought books and paintings – Albrecht Durer’s ‘Virgin and Child’ was among them, and a copy of a multi-volume illustrated Bible. They celebrated Christmas in Akbar’s presence, and displayed a crib decorated with religious paintings. In the extreme right-hand corner of those tiny inset wall-murals in the Mughal painting of Akbar’s childhood, you can see a figure, dark-robed like a Jesuit priest, looking on.
The Jesuits were of course keen to convert the Mughal emperor, but despite their hopes and hours of conversation, that did not happen. What did occur, however, was much more interesting. At the studios of the Mughal court, Hindu and Muslim artists pored over accumulating examples of ‘exotic’ European images and techniques. The result is a breath-taking fusion of cultures. Among the albums of paintings produced at successive Mughal courts, therefore, we find exquisite pieces that range from copies of Durer’s engravings and Michelangelo’s Noah from the Sistine Chapel, to European elements seamlessly absorbed into Mughal matter – angels and haloes, cherubs with wings, flowers, gowns, European-style cross-framed chairs.
And then, of course, there are paintings like this one, where the conversation among cultures almost goes unnoticed. Between the child and mother in the foreground, and the pair we can only just make out in the background, there is a world of difference. Yet there is acknowledgement of an innate human connection as well, an acknowledgement of displacement and exile, of losing homes and coming home. This painting, now digitised like many items in the British Library’s collection of Indian art and manuscripts, is evidence of the extraordinary creativity of the court with which Europe, and especially the British, would have a close but tumultuous history of interaction in centuries to come. But more importantly, it is evidence of a kind of curiosity – of the ability to ask, to listen, to enter into a conversation and to draw connections rather than boundaries – that no written record can convey.Nandini Das
The geographer and clergyman Richard Hakluyt died in good company: 1616 also marked the death of two internationally-renowned writers, William Shakespeare and the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes. Shakespeare's iambic pentameter and Cervantes' re-working of chivalric romance have continued to grace school curricula and playhouses around the globe; by comparison, Hakluyt's impact is less immediately apparent.
The Hakluyt Society, in conjunction with the Bodleian Library and Museum for the History of Science in Oxford, held a two-day conference in November 2016 to examine Hakluyt's legacy at the four-hundredth anniversary of his death. His two editions of The Principal Navigations, Traffiques, and Voiages of the English Nation (1589, enlarged 1598-1600), have long been considered some of the most important collections of English travel writing ever published, and the conference assembled an international cohort of speakers who presented current research on their work for the forthcoming Hakluyt Society edition of The Principal Navigations. A number of scholars discussed the particularities of English interactions with indigenous peoples, from Africans in Guinea to the Algonquians in Virginia. Mary Fuller examined the casualties of Anglo-Inuit exchange in the English search for the Northwest Passage, and complicated the "us" vs. "them" mentality of English voyages by highlighting the heterogeneity and factions among ship crews. Other papers engaged with the continuity between state policy and trade in the late middle ages and early modern period through Hakluyt's inclusion of a fourteenth-century poem; the importance of naval history and the experience of seamen in effecting expansion; the mercantilist emphasis of Hakluyt's second edition; and the English desire to exploit global markets, such as Indian cotton. Joyce Chaplin delivered a keynote lecture that argued that English attitudes towards natural resources and climate-based notions of human physiognomy set the groundwork for the enslavement of non-European peoples, to disastrous consequences.
The discussions that emerged from the papers centred around several key aspects of early modern global historiography, suggesting future avenues for research. One is the continuing development of environmental studies and ecocriticism as important approaches in the history of expansion, which was, after all, fundamentally about land and the exploitation of its resources. As Joyce Chaplin put it, pro-imperial authorities and their agents saw a relationship between economies and ecosystems. The Greek oikos and the Latin oeco were terms that denoted households, but also the management of the estates themselves. Secondly, papers highlighted the need to reconstruct the experience of non-European peoples, especially their capacity to dictate the terms of Anglo-indigenous exchange. Surekha Davies pointed out that instances of the passive voice in Hakluyt might offer hints as to moments when indigenous peoples dominated colonial encounters, at times when Europeans struggled to successfully dictate the terms of the exchange. Related to attempts to recalibrate approaches to intercultural encounters, other papers emphasised the value of using non-English language sources to enhance and complicate global historiography. Persian accounts of English diplomatic missions, such as Anthony Jenkinson's in the 1560s, both offer correctives to the source manipulation of Safavid chronicles while offering new perspectives on English writings about diplomatic encounters in the east. Finally, presenters stressed the ongoing importance of tracing the intimate networks between patrons, merchants, gentlemen, and travel writers who produced knowledge about, and effected, empire, which was nothing if not a collaborative effort.
The conference concluded with a public lecture by the historian and BBC broadcaster Michael Wood, who used early modern travel narratives from Asia and South America to question the very idea of discovery: who, he asked, really "discovered" whom in any given exchange?
Scholars today are wary of celebrating Hakluyt's use of geography, given his imperial aims, but Principal Navigations remains a rich source for accessing the lives of individual agents, and for understanding large-scale historical change. To Hakluyt, the English would not thrive from insularity, and could only find themselves by engaging with the rest of the world.
I recently returned from a warm and fruitful summer at the Huntington Library in California. As a short-term research fellow, I went to explore how English attempts to ‘civilise’ other peoples in the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras informed the way writers and policy-makers articulated their own civility and conceived of their political responsibilities, at a time when the success of English colonisation was by no means secure.
The first age of expansion exposed English men and women to diverse cultures, but it also forced the English to see their own values in relation to the peoples they encountered. A strange mix of curiosity and disdain, vulnerability and superiority mark many speeches, plays, and political discourses from this time. The Scottish king James VI’s ascension to the English throne in 1603 created intense, often xenophobic concerns over the influx of Scots in England, for example. Libels and satires mocked the king’s Scottish entourage at court, and in Calvin’s Case (1608), the highest justices of the realm debated whether the king’s Scottish subjects were entitled to English privileges, such as land-holding in England, or whether they remained legal ‘aliens’. Debates over how to categorise or assimilate foreigners were accompanied by images that perpetuated assumptions about the perceived inferiority of those beyond England, whether in the Highlands or in America:
Authorities in Protestant England attempted to enforce strict codes of personal behaviour as a means of social control: civility became an important component to creating a godly, obedient society, and intercultural encounters played a role in how these manners were articulated. Moral literature probed the tensions between virtue and travel, between the exoticism of other cultures and fears of internal corruption. At the Huntington, I found that conduct books, with their discussions over the rising fashion for tobacco smoking, provided rich sources for thinking about the influence of intercultural exchange on the social lives of London gentlemen.
In 1617, Richard Brathwaite translated a humorous Continental drinking manual into English, adding a unique component of his own. Dedicating half the text to the subject of tobacco, Brathwaite framed the urbane gentleman as one informed by, and invested in, the world beyond him. The text mentioned Africans and Bermuda, Ireland and navigation. It also expressed an awareness of status – not just between Englishmen and non-Englishmen, but between the elite and non-elite. Projecting stylish gentlemen as witty versifiers and frequenters of tobacco houses, juxtaposed against the ‘common sort’ who visited alehouses and who failed to follow the carefully-prescribed rituals of gentlemanly social interaction, Brathwaite’s text insinuated that members of the ruling elite were those who possessed the necessary civility and political acumen to successfully oversee colonization: that even the potentially destabilising influence of an indigenous commodity like tobacco might be artfully incorporated into the rites of sociability and informed discourse.
Early colonial texts and maps are among the many celebrated collections at the Huntington, but its costume books and conduct literature offer some clues as to how the ideas behind empire and state were conceived and enacted – not beyond the realm, but within it. As TIDE aims to investigate in coming months, the intermingling of cultures shaped domestic institutions, discourses, and narratives through relationships and processes that must be approached beyond oppositional terms like ‘self’ and ‘other’, or ‘European’ and ‘native’, to those in between.
When most people think of the great age of travel and discovery in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, they think of great ships, of voyages and new worlds. They think of intrepid adventurers going out to discover new countries and new peoples, of colonisers laying claim on places whose very existence had been unknown to Europe before their arrival. But that’s only part of the story.
The great age of travel and discovery was also a period when cross-cultural encounters led to radical developments in the way we think about human identity. Human movements across borders increased under the combined impact of multiple political, economic, religious and social factors throughout this period. And as they did, the ways in which we think about difference – between countries, between races, between one human being from this part of the world and one from another – developed rapidly as well, and began to take recognisable shapes and forms.
This is an active, rapidly growing field of scholarship. We are increasingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, attending to the impact of such cross-cultural encounters from a number of disciplinary perspectives. However, in a field that tends to be framed predominantly in terms of cultural clash and boundaries, there is both room and a need to explore a different story: the story of transculturality and betweenness. In a period marked by mobility, what did it mean to belong, or not to belong? What did it mean to move between cultures, countries, languages, faiths? How did you see yourself, and how did others see you, when you did so? Were assimilation and segregation the only two options available? Could one not be both this and that, a third thing, both part of the world one had left and the world one occupied? These questions seemed urgent enough when the idea of TIDE was formulated a few years ago, but against the backdrop of the unprecedented scale of crisis and anxiety about human mobility and migration that has unfolded since then, they seem even more important to ask, and to understand today.
In sixteenth century England, such questions brought up some of the earliest debates about nationhood, birth-right, about the impact of such human movements – be it willing or forced – on economic stability. Elizabeth I’s repeated licenses granted in the 1590s to the merchant Casper van Senden to deport black strangers brought over to England strike a strangely familiar note. They are ‘to the great annoyance of her own liege people,’ she writes, who ‘co[vet] the relief which these people consume’. English social history is full of that invisible black presence which has only recently begun to be excavated.
Elsewhere, English movements abroad also brought up issues about identity, contending loyalties, and the fraught boundaries between religious and national affiliations. When an Englishman changed his faith, was he still an Englishman? In the summer of 1586, the first English ambassador to the great Ottoman empire, William Harborne, wrote a letter pleading for the release of some English sailors taken prisoner by the Ottomans. His letter is addressed to ‘Assan Aga, Eunuch & Treasurer to Hassan Bassa king of Alger, which Assan Aga was the sonne of Fran. Rowlie of Bristow merchant, taken in the Swalow’. Suddenly, what seems to be international diplomatic correspondence becomes a letter from a Norfolk-man to the lost son of a Bristol merchant, exhorting him to be ‘another Joseph’ and do his utmost to help the English cause.
At home, literature provided a means through which such questions and anxieties could be probed, tested, and pushed to their limits. What does it mean when Shakespeare has his Moorish convert Othello say at the end of his play:
Set you down this And say besides, that in Aleppo once, Where a malignant and a turban’d Turk Beat a Venetian and traduced the state, I took by the throat the circumcised dog, And smote him, thus.
The incident in Aleppo involved a Muslim Turk who attacked a Christian Venetian. Othello says that he then smote that “circumcised dog” for hitting a Christian – so is he now, as he stabs himself, seeing himself as the Christian protector of Venetian honour, or the “malignant [...] Turk” who had raised his arms against Venetian honour and was therefore punished? What does our interpretation, and our affective response to Othello at this moment say about us?
And as both the playwright and his audience would have known, it did not require a different skin colour, or language, to make a ‘stranger’ of a human being. Shakespeare himself was legally a ‘stranger’ in the city of London – as would have been a good cross-section of his audience – economic migrants from other parts of England, whose collective presence made London the metropolis it was to become.
Over the next five years, I hope that TIDE’s investigation will help us to break new ground in understanding cross-cultural encounter from the perspective of its most involved agents: what it meant to be an alien, a foreigner, a stranger; how these terms – so supremely value-laden today – evolved; and how institutions of law, religion, society, and economy, and the human imagination through art and literature dealt with such figures. The outlines etched by that macroscopic enquiry will be filled in by our excavation of the trajectories of individual figures, by the illumination of the lived worlds of the people whom such terms attempted to encapsulate. And because such issues remain as potent and alive today, we will work closely with poets, novelists and artists who will help us to look at this material with fresh eyes. Even as our academic work attempts to rethink our current understanding of cultural differentiation and assimilation in this defining period, the writers’ meditations on the project’s themes, and imaginative responses to the project’s findings will provide a lasting legacy – an imaginative resource for the border-crossings of the future.