In A health to the gentlemanly profession of servingmen, Gervase Markham argued that hospitality ‘is the harbourer of two hopes, prayse, & prayers’.[1] Like many other sixteenth and seventeenth-century discourses on the topic, Markham’s text presented hospitality as a sign of superiority and excellence in a gentleman’s household. Some years earlier, around 1573, Thomas Tusser associated hospitality to the moral and social reputation of a household: ‘What good to get ryches, by breaking of sleepe,/ but (having the same) a good house for to keepe … Of al other doings, house keping is chiefe,/ for dayly it helpeth, the poore with releife./ The neighbor, the stranger, & al that have neede,/ which causeth thy doings, the better to speede.’[2] The reference to the ‘stranger’ is telling: travel did not just involve mobility, but rest, and the figure of the host became an important facilitator in a traveller’s geographical advancement and socio-cultural experience.

These ideas echoed the works of Aristotle, Cicero, and Seneca, who argued that generosity and liberality were the quintessential virtues of a good host. Aristocrats and wealthy individuals were ethically obliged to be generous to their guests and strangers by offering the best that their household could offer. One’s inner nobility was demonstrated by such munificent and liberal behaviour towards visitors. Good hospitality was also a demonstration of piety and devotion. In a Treaty of Christian Beneficence (1600), Robert Allen mentioned that St. Paul in the Epistle to the Hebrews instigated Christians to ‘not be forgetful to lodge strangers’ since the first followers of Christ ‘for a fruite and blessing of their hospitality received Angels into their houses at unawares in steede of men’.[3] Another essential characteristic of a host was trustworthiness. Those who were strangers or guests in unknown places were often unsure of the true intentions of their hosts. While discussing the virtues of charity and wisdom, John Dod, in his A plaine and familiar exposition (1608), provided an example of the doubts surrounding hosts: ‘We are not willing to be blindfolded at our meat, nor to eate our supper without a light, especially in strange places where we neither know well the fidelity of our host, nor what dishes are set before us’.[4] In 1615, a pamphlet entitled Certaine wholesome observations and rules fo [sic] inne-keepers, and also for their guests evoked Matthew 25:34-6, advising innkeepers that ‘in serving and loving your guests, remember you do serve and love God, who takes all as done to himselfe, which for his sake is done to his’.[5] The association between Christian virtue and hospitality allowed William Camden to explain Elizabeth I’s decision to shelter Dutch Protestant refugees as an act of royal and English magnanimity and piety. According to Camden, the queen, compassionate towards this ‘poore miserable people of no note’, believed that ‘she should commit a great inhumanity, and violate the lawes of Hospitality’ had she not extended her sovereign care.[6] Although aristocrats, due to their wealth and status, were expected to be perfect hosts in a cosmopolitan sense, English writers often praised good hospitality as one of the defining characteristics of the English nation in particular. ‘The use and auncient custome of this Realme of England’, wrote the anonymous author of Cyvile and Uncyvile Life in 1579, was that ‘all Noble men and Gentlemen … from age to age, and from Auncester, to auncesters’ offered their hospitality ‘which got them great love amonge their Neighbours, releeved many poore wretches, and wrought also diverse other good effects’.[7] Country houses, the author maintained, could ‘be frequented as honourable hostries’.[8] The widely-travelled Fynes Moryson, while comparing the quality of the inns he encountered across Europe, commented that the ‘prodigalitie’ of the Elizabethan and Jacobean elites and ‘the old custome of the English, make our tables plentifully furnished, whereupon other Nations esteeme us gluttons and devourers of flesh, yet the English tables are not furnished with many dishes, all for one mans diner, but severally for many mens appetite, and not onely prepared for the family, but for strangers and reliefe of the poore’.[9] Sir Henry Wotton, in his Elements of Architecture (1624), a treatise that aimed to introduce in England the architectural styles developed in Italy, mentioned that ‘the natural hospitality of England’ could make the adoption of some Italianate elements difficult. While in Southern Europe the service rooms, storerooms and kitchens were usually hidden or located in the basements, in England, observed Wotton, ‘the Buttery must be more visible; and we need perchance for our Ranges, a more spacious and luminous Kitchen’. [10] That same idea of hospitality as a precious — if increasingly elusive — national characteristic was powerful enough to shape a distinct literary genre, the country-house poem. Its earliest example, Geoffrey Whitney’s ‘To Richard Cotton, Esq.,’ which accompanies Whitney’s Choice of Emblemes (1586), opens with a Latin motto, Patria cuique chara (‘Every man's native land is dear to him’), emphasising the attraction of this idea for the stranger and the English traveller alike. Whitney praised Cotton's Combermere Abbey as a microcosm of a perfect commonwealth, comparing it to a thriving beehive which tempts wandering bees to return. Later still, from Ben Jonson’s ‘To Penshurst’ (1616) and Thomas Carew’s ‘To Saxham’ (1640), to Andrew Marvell’s ‘Upon Appleton House’ (1681), the hospitality of the country house and its host would become interchangeable tropes through which the English would continue to interrogate concepts of both state and nature. In the wider world beyond England, the idea that other nations had different notions of hospitality is present, for example, in Jerome Turler’s advice to those who wished to travel across Europe, and who were warned that ‘towardes straungers the Germans are roughe and inhospitable, the Frenchmen gentle, the Spaniardes curteous, and the Italians diligent’.[11] Inspired by the success of Thomas Coryate’s travel accounts, John Taylor travelled to Germany in August 1616 in the hope of publishing an account of his travels between London and Hamburg. Exhausted by the onslaught of new sights and experiences en route, Taylor welcomed with obvious relief the hospitality of the so-called English House of Hamburg, where he found ‘a kinde Host, an honest hostesse, good company, store of meat, more of drinke, a true Tapster, and sweet lodging’.[12] Yet English reliance on the hospitality of others in their European travels also revealed anxieties over the potential influence that hosts might have on their lodgers. In a deposition by one Jacques Hermishaw against Andrew Smale in 1603, Hermishaw accused Smale of being a Catholic, perhaps a priest. Hermishaw maintained that when embarking back to England from France, Smale realised he still carried a rosary on his person. Fearful of carrying it into England, Smale desperately asked Hermishaw to bring the beads ‘unto his hostes dwelling at the sign of the Pyne Aple in Callais’.[13] The exchange offers a glimpse into the fears of Catholics living in Protestant England, and also into the comfort they must have received when staying with hosts in Catholic countries. Smale ‘desyred [Hermishaw] to deliver the said beades to his hoste’, asking that she pray against the plague and for charity for the souls of the dead, which ‘is the manner of all Catholiques when they travayle, or feare any danger’.[14] Months later, authorities reported to Robert Cecil that Hermishaw continued to stand by his accusations, and Smale continued to deny that his Catholicism had led him to denounce the king as a heretic. Smale admitted only that ‘he desyred his hoste should cause certaine masses to be sayd for him at his dep[ar]ture out of France’.[15] The corrupting influence of hosts were also manifest in dangerous relations or poor company. The ‘bawdye [h]oste’ William Winston, Paul de la Haye complained, was offering ‘sinister counsel’ to his sister.[16] In other cases, hosts served as go-betweens, delivering goods and letters between travellers. ‘[M]y Host sent the Holland cheese’, Thomas Nichols reported in 1596 from London, while Bartholomew Biston reported from Saint-Malo in France to the earl of Essex in 1598 that ‘his host, one called Mallo’, had kept a packet of letters for him.[17] The connection between conspicuous consumption and hospitality also invited criticism. Camden’s chronicles of Elizabeth’s reign, for example, condemned the adoption of foreign fashions — a ‘[v]ice peculiar to the Nation, which pleaseth it selfe by imitating others’ — for the lavish ostentation of English elites ‘which grew to a greater height of insolency, & was immediately traced by the riotousnesse of Feasts, and splendor of Buildings … more magnificent, ample, and faire Countrie houses of Noble-men and private men have beene raised up in England, then in any other Ages whereby (truly) the Kingdome was greatly adorned, but the glory of Hospitality greatly decreased’.[18] Thomas Adams, around 1633, also censured the lavish habits of the affluent English, mentioning that ‘[o]ne said of our Countrey, that it had faire houses, but bad chimneyes, because they have so little smoke of hospitalitie’.[19] The extravagance of the elites and the growing influence of foreign cultural habits in the seventeenth century allowed puritans to criticise the Stuart and Anglican establishment by contrasting the lavishness, liberal and foreign lifestyle of gentlemen against the widespread perception of hospitality as a fundamental demonstration of modest English piety. In spite of the different visions of hospitality instigated by the religious polemic of the seventeenth century, or the growing exposure of English society to European cultural trends through travel, natural law provided a shared perception of hospitality as necessary and good. According to Christopher Wandesford, the ‘Law of Nature’ required individuals to be bonded by a ‘common Rule of Hospitality’ which enforced them ‘to Bounty, and all kind of fair Treatment of Stranger’.[20] Although hospitality was generally perceived as an essential trait of the English nation, this idea that natural law impelled all individuals to be good hosts or to be inclined to hospitable behaviour influenced English perceptions of foreign societies, especially those beyond Europe and Christendom. By evaluating the hospitality of foreign peoples, one could measure their levels of civility. Sir Thomas Roe, despite his diatribes against Jahangir and the court in Mughal India, praised the hospitality of Mir Jamal-ud-Din Husain, the viceroy (subahdar) of Patna. Roe, who complained that he was received with little courtesy in the Timurid court, eulogised the subahdar for being the Mughal grandee ‘of more understanding and curtesye then all his Countriemen, and to be esteemed hospitable and receiver of strangers’ and receiving a foreigner like Roe ‘with extraordinary familiarity and kindnes’ which included a gift of a ‘leeck of rupias and such other Curtesyes so great that they beespake their owne refusal’.[21] As Roe told his readers, after his experiences at the Mughal court he ‘resolved’ that Mir Jamal-ud-Din ‘was a good natured and right hearted old man’ — words that could be easily used to describe an English civil, magnanimous, and gentlemanly host.[22] The English agents of the East India Company (EIC) in Japan used the term ‘host’ to identify the brokers and mediators appointed by the local rulers to monitor and spy their activities. Indeed, the English were regarded by Japanese authorities as guests who had to follow specific and highly reclusive norms. EIC servants in Japan were usually lodged in buildings supervised by these Japanese gentlemen, and all their contacts with local merchants and other members of the population were uniquely mediated by these ‘hosts’. The need to accept the demands of local authorities led John Sarris to believe that Japan was a ‘place exceedingly peopled, very Civill and curteous’ and inclined to hospitality.[23] Other writers recognised the English dependence on their hosts, and acknowledged that a good host also demanded a gracious guest. ‘[A] stranger must be thankfull to his publick hoste,’ wrote Caleb Dalechamp, ‘that is, to the Prince or Magistrate in whose Dominions he sojourns’.[24] Hospitality could thus be not only act of piety or generosity, but also a way to establish relations of dependence or establish a difference of power.
Philemon and Baucis Giving Hospitality to Jupiter and Mercury by David Ryckaert, unknown date [25]
See also:
1. Gervase Markham, A health to the gentlemanly profession of servingmen (London, 1598; STC 17140), sig. B4r.
2. Thomas Tusser, Five hundreth points of good husbandry united to as many of good huswiferie (London, 1573; STC 1717:28), sig. D2r.
3. Robert Allen, A Treatise of Christian Beneficence (London, 1600, STC 367), p. 56.
4. John Dod, A plaine and familiar exposition of the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of the Proverbs of Salomon (London, 1608; STC 6959.5), p. 110.
5. T.W., Certaine wholesome observations and rules fo [sic] inne-keepers, and also for their guests (London, 1615; STC 24916.7) [single broadsheet].
6. William Camden, Annales the true and royall history of the famous empresse Elizabeth Queene of England (London, 1625; STC 4497), pp. 351-2.
7. Cyvile and Uncyvile Life (London 1579; STC 15589.5), sig. Biiv.
8. Ibid., sig. N4r.
9. Fynes Moryson, An itinerary (London, 1617; STC 18205), p. 151.
10. Henry Wotton, The elements of architecture, collected by Henry Wotton Knight, from the best authors and examples (London, 1624; STC 26011), sig. I4.
11. Jerome Turler, The traveiler of Jerome Turler (London, 1575; STC 24336), p. 41.
12. John Taylor, Three weekes, three daies, and three houres observations and travel, from London to Hamburgh in Germanie (London, 1617; STC 23807), sig. B2v.
13. 'The informac[i]on of Jaques Hermishawe against Andrewe Smale, w[i]th the answeres, 1603', Hatfield House, CP 103/14r.
14. Ibid.
15. 'George Fane to Robert Cecil, 7 November 1603', Hatfield House, CP 102/12r.
16. 'Paul de la Haye to Richard Percival, 23 July 1598', Hatfield House, CP 23/2r.
17. 'Thomas Nicols to Peter Halyns, 19 November 1596', Hatfield House, CP 46/62r; 'Bartholomew Biston to the Earl of Essex, 29 April 1598', Hatfield House, CP CP 60/98r.
18. Camden, Annales the true and royall history of the famous empresse Elizabeth, pp. 347-8.
19. Thomas Adams, A commentary or, exposition upon the divine second epistle generall, written by the blessed apostle St. Peter (London, 1633; STC 108), p. 198.
20. Felicity Heal, ‘The Idea of Hospitality in Early Modern England’, Past & Present, 102 (1984), 66-93 (p. 73).
21. Thomas Roe, ‘Observations collected out of the Journall of Sir Thomas Roe’, in Samuel Purchas, Purchas his pilgrimages (London 1625; STC 20509), p. 549.
22. Ibid.
23. John Sarris, ‘Captaine Saris his Journey to the Court of the Japonian Emperour, and observations there, and by the way’, in Purchas, Purchas his pilgrimes, p. 371.
24. Caleb Dalechamp, Christian hospitalitie handled common-place-wise in the chappel of Trinity Colledge in Cambridge (London, 1632; STC 6192), pp. 112-3.
25. Philemon and Baucis Giving Hospitality to Jupiter and Mercury by David Ryckaert, unknown date
Usage Examples
'But I being entred the City of Hamburgh on the Saturday, I was presently conducted to the English house, where I found a kinde Host, an honest hostesse, good company, store of meat, more of drinke, a true Tapster, and sweet lodging. And being at dinner, because I was a stranger, I was promoted to the chiefest place at the Table'