Saturday, June 20, 2009

Old Folks Boogie in Herefordshire

What do you get when a dozen octo-, nono-, and cento-genarian senior citizens of Hereford danced the Morris in June 1609? You get a marvelous cultural event more outrageous than the Nine-day Morris, though now almost completely forgotten.

Old Meg of Herefordshire for a Mayd Marian, and Hereford towne for a Morris-dance; or twelve Morris-dancers in Herefordshire of 1200 years old was registered at Stationers’ Hall on June 20, 1609.

The event had taken place that spring. Although the book was anonymous, one modern source states that the work was by Will Kemp, and a sequel of sorts to his Nine Daies Wonder of 1600.

The men dancing ranged in ages from 80 to 108, or so is claimed. The one woman, named Meg Goodwin, at 80 years old, danced the part of Maid Marian. See this page for images related to the Robin & Marian dance.

“But now give way for the Maide-marrian, old Meg Goodwin the famous wench of Erdisland, of whom Maister Weauer, of Burton that was fourescore &: ten yeares old, was wont to say, she was twentie yeares elder then he, and he dyed ten yeares since. This old Meg was at Prince Arthurs death at Ludlow, and had her part in the dole, she was threescore yeares (she saith) a Maide, and twentie yeares otherwise, thats what you will, and since hath beene thought fit to be a Maide-marrian. "

Read the full text of Old Meg here.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Curious Inscribed Slate of 1609 era Discovered at Jamestown in 2009

On June 8, 2009, the National Geographic news service reported that archaeologists excavating a well in Jamestown, Virginia, have found an inscribed slate tablet dating back to around 1609. The slate is etched on both sides with caricatures of people, flora, and fauna, and features enigmatic words and numbers begging for decipherment. The slate measures approximately 5” x 8” inches.

The slate was uncovered down a well at James’ Fort. It is known that Captain John Smith dug a well for the settlement in 1609. By 1611 the well’s water went bad and settlers filled it in with trash. This slate was found below the level of general trash, and among a layer that includes early trade trinkets, so it may have been accidentally dropped in, or tossed in to evade discovery. The slate, now being studied closely, is perhaps the earliest known graffiti record of early English Colonists. (There are earlier inscribed stones in the Americas conventionally described as either native, or forgeries, but in some key instances, may be remnants of early arrivals on the continent by Norsemen, Vikings, Irish, Romans, Greeks, Carthaginians, and Chinese. See links below.)

The curious slate tablet is etched with the words:


Above this sentence are the letters and numbers:

"EL NEV FSH HTLBMS 508," and strange symbols that have, so far, resisted interpretation.

"Minon" is, no doubt, intended as "minion" and can mean anything from "follower," to "sycophant," to "ass-kisser," which might make the slate a critique of a camp officer. Complicating that theory is the fact that minion also referred to a type of cannon (weapon) that was used at Jamestown. Rough sketches on the slate show several flower blossoms and birds that may be attempts to represent native eagles, songbirds, and owls.

A cartoon-like image of a settler smoking a pipe adds humor and a contemporary activity.
An image of a palmetto tree, not native to Virginia at that time --- but widely seen in the Caribbean and more southern areas of North America --- is something a settler might have seen on the way to Jamestown, which often involved a loopy southern route. Another possibility is that the artist of the slate was one of the survivors of the Sea Venture shipwreck. The slate also has images of heraldic lions rampant, as seen in the Arms of England.

Archaeologists relate that slates such as these were used and reused, and while the pencil-like sketch’s surface materials are long gone, the scratches remain, and, as a result, the slate today carries multiple overlapping images. In books and manuscripts such an effect is called a palimpsest. The point is, we are not looking at a single message, but many records overlaid upon each other.
The scientists studying the slate hope to use CT-scan technology to trace the layering and separate out the superimposed images via software.

By Robert Sean Brazil, June 18, 2009

PS- If you are interested in the idea that there may be evidence of Pre-Columbian visitors to the Americas see the following web-pages for starters:

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Arabella Stuart's Letter to Shrewsbury

Arabella Stuart (1575-1615), cousin of King James I of England, had also been considered a successor to Queen Elizabeth I, as she was also directly descended from Henry VII. In 1582 she became one of the wards of William Cecil, Lord Burghley. She was housed mostly in the care of the famous Bess of Hardwick, but she also must have been a familiar to fellow ward Henry Wriothesley (3rd Earl of Southampton, born 1573) at times.

After James’ succession there was a plot (The Main Plot), implicating Raleigh, to get rid of James and put Arabella on the throne.
Arabella (sometimes spelled Arbella) was a prolific letter writer.

On June 17, 1609, she penned a curious letter to her uncle, the Earl of Shrewsbury. The holograph letter still exists, shown below.
The Earl of Shrewsbury in question was George Talbot 7th Earl, son of George Talbot 6th Earl ((1528–1590) and his wife, Gertrude Manners, daughter of the 1st Earl of Rutland. The 7th Earl married Mary Cavendish, daughter of his stepmother, Bess of Hardwick who had become the 6th Earl’s second wife.

George Talbot 7th Earl of Shrewsbury

While of only minor historic importance, this letter has a few fascinating features. We see Arabella’s literary flair. “Idle lines” resonates with the sonnets of Thomas Watson and Shakespeare’s poetry. We see her wicked dry sense of humor at play as she compares herself to Pope Joan. And I find charming Arabella’s description of some sort of illusion show in which two virginals (small harpsichords) were seen and heard to play by themselves. Another contraption heated a glass invisibly.

To the right honorable my very good uncle the Earl of Shrowsbury,

"Because I know not that your lordship hath forsaken one recreation that you have liked
heretofore, I presume to send you a few idle lines to read in your chair, after you have tired yourself either with affairs or any sport that bringeth weariness; and, knowing you well advertised of all occurrents in serious manner, I make it my end only to make you merry, and show my desire to please you even in playing the fool, for no folly is greater, I trow, than to laugh when one smarteth; but that my aunt's divinity can tell you St. Lawrence, deriding his tormentors even upon the gridiron, bade them turn him on the other side, for that he lay on was sufficiently broiled, I should not know how to excuse myself from either insensibleness or contempt of injuries. I find if one rob a house and build a church with the money the wronged party may go pipe in an ivy leaf for any redress ; for money so well bestowed must not be taken from that holy work, though the right owner go a-begging. Unto you it is given to understand parables or to command the comment ; but if you be of this opinion of the Scribes and Pharisees, I condemn your lordship, by your leave, for an heretic, by the authority of Pope Joan; for there is a text saith, you must not do evil that good may come thereof. But now from doctrine to miracles. I assure you within these few days I saw a pair of virginals make good music without help of any hand, but of one that did nothing but warm, not move, a glass some five or six feet from them. And if I thought thus great folk, invisibly and far off, work in matters to tune them as they please, I pray your lordship forgive me, and I hope God will, to whose holy protection I humbly recommend your lordship. From Broad Street, June 17, 1609.

in margin:

"I humbly pray your lordship to bestow two of the next good personnages of yours
shall fall on me; not that I mean to convert them to my own benefit, for though I go rather for a good clerk than a worldly-wise woman, I aspire to no degree of Pope Joan, but some good ends, whereof this bearer will tell your lordship one. My boldness shows how honourably I believe of your disposing of such livings.
Your lordship's niece, "ARBELLA STUART."

Although her political ambitions were thwarted, Arabella successfully made a killing in commodities through monopolies granted by James. For a time she had rights to control imports of wine and spirits into Ireland, and sought the the grant for exclusive rights for licensing, brewing and selling beer in Ireland! Now that’s a profitable market!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Shakespeare v. Addenbrooke lawsuit ends in Stratford

As previously mentioned here, Wiiliam Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon entered into a law case against John Addenbrooke on August 17, 1608. There are numerous surviving Stratford court documents for this case. Not much is known about Addenbrooke. Schoenbaum found a reference dated 1600 for an Addenbroke in Warwickshire who was selling starch licenses. [Which leads me to imagine the following interchange: ‘What are you doing there, ma’am?' – ‘Starching shirts, guvnah.’ – ‘Let me see your starch license!’]

In the June 7, 1609, final document of the case the name of the plaintiff is spelled, "Willielmus Shackspeare" and "Willielmo Shackspeare."

What happened is that Addenbrooke, a local tradesman, was sued by Shakespeare in the Stratford court of record to recover a debt of £6. It is not clear whether the six pounds was a straightforward loan or was tied to some prior business dealings.

On June 7, 1609, the case, now in its tenth month, reached a kind of conclusion. In earlier parts of the case, Addenbrooke was arrested and later released when the local blacksmithand alehouse-keeper, Thomas Hornby, stood “surety” (bondsman) for the defendant. Addenbrooke promptly disappeared from the face of the earth and now, on June 7, “Shackspeare” attempted to get Hornby to pay up. The court had found in favor of Shackspeare, awarding him the original £6, with 24 shillings added for damages. It is unknown whether Shackspeare ever collected from Hornby.

Of these proceedings Samuel Schoenbaum wrote (in A Documentary Life),

“His persistence may strike moderns as heartless, but the course Shakespeare followed was normal in an age without credit cards, overdrafts, or collection agencies.”

That’s true Sam, but was it normal for a man thought to be the nation’s leading playwright, who could have been making much more money in London, to spend ten months in the boondocks chasing £6 that turned out to be uncollectable?

Prinary Sources: Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Records Office, Misc. Doc. V, 116; Misc Doc V, 139; Misc Doc V, 127a; Misc Doc V, 127b; Misc Doc V, 115; MS. ER 27/6; MS. ER 27/7).


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Voyage and Wreck of The Sea Venture

Model of the Sea Venture in Bermuda Maritime Museum

As I have outlined in previous installments, in the spring of 1609 news from the Jamestown Colony in Virginia was bleak. The colony needed more able-bodied workers, soldiers, food, supplies, and money. The Virginia Company council enlisted churchmen to give sermons on the necessity of colonial “outreach” and used contacts in the Stationers’ Guild to rush these sermons and other pro-Virginia propaganda to press. With hordes of new investors, and a sweeping re-chartering of the enterprise on May 23, 1609, the funds were in place to roll out the Third Supply mission, as it was formally named. Sea vessels were already under construction and now were rushed to completion.

The 1609 fleet comprised eight ships, of which the flagship was the Sea Venture, built by master shipwright, Christopher Newport. The three men in charge of the mission were Admiral Sir George Somers, Samuel Jordan, and Sir Thomas Gates. On board the ships were as many as 600 people.
The Sea Venture is said to have been England’s first built-to-order emigration vessel…a tradition that climaxed in the industrial age when thousands of Scots and Irish were forcibly uprooted and relocated to Nova Scotia and other destinations. The Sea Venture displaced 300 tons and had an innovative new design that placed her 24 defensive cannons on the main deck. However, with all this high technology employed, the Sea Venture’s fate was similar to the ill-fated Titanic. Both vessels did not survive their maiden voyages.

The Sea Venture set sail from Plymouth on June 2, 1609, bound for Jamestown, Virginia. Everything was going smoothly until the flotilla ran into a monstrous hurricane. By July 24, the winds had driven the vessels apart from each other and it was each ship for herself. Because the Sea Venture was brand new, the caulking and joining was still loose and the great vessel began coming apart and leaking. They threw the heavy guns overboard. On July 25, with water in the hold rising fast, Admiral Somers spotted land and purposely drove the ship ashore. He wrecked his vessel but discovered Bermuda.

Bermuda's 1987 commemorative $5 coin shows wreck of the Sea Venture

About 150 survivors made it safely to shore, including Lieutenant-General Gates, Christopher Newport, Sylvester Jordain, and the voyage’s clerk, William Strachey.
The shipwrecked band stayed on Bermuda (at first called the Somers Isles) for about nine months. Most of their time was spent disassembling what was left of the Sea Venture and using the salvaged rigging, hardware, and other materials -- along with cedar timber from the island -- to build two small ships, which they named the Deliverance and the Patience. The company also sent out one Henry Ravens and a crew in a small boat to try to find the way to Virginia. They were never heard from again. Thus begins the saga of the Bermuda Triangle. Mariners, Steer Clear!

On May 10, 1610, almost a year after setting out from England, the Sea Venture survivors boarded the Deliverance and the Patience and set a course to Virginia, arriving without complications on May 23, 1610. Quite a few Sea Venture colonists had died and were buried in Bermuda including the wife of John Rolfe. This unexpected widower-hood allowed him to woo and win the abducted Pocahontas a few years later. To maintain the Crown’s claim on Bermuda, two colonists were left behind to keep the fort.

National flag of Bermuda and close-up of the Bermuda arms, which show the wreck of the Sea Venture.

Arriving in Jamestown, the Virginia Company discovered that there were only about 60 survivors from the 500 who were crossing on the other ships of the fleet. Many of the original colonists had also died. The time was called the “Great Starving” and was the darkest period in Jamestown’s history. As the emigration of skilled workers was one of the prime reasons for the re-supply mission, this was nothing short of a second disaster. The officers decided the project and plantation was doomed for the moment. They decided to abandon the colony and ship all survivors back to London. So much for stiff upper lips and steely resolve.

But wait, just as the cowardly brigade was sailing down the James River for open seas, they encountered the relief mission of Governor Baron De La Warre! He talked sense into the scurrying scurvy lot, and all turned around back to Jamestown.
Needing more fresh food, Admiral Somers volunteered himself to return to Bermuda on the Patience to secure more wild pig. However, Somers died in Bermuda in 1610.

The misadventures of the Sea Venture flotilla were documented by two of the participants, Sylvester Jordain, and William Strachey.

Sylvester Jordain's A Discovery of the Barmudas was printed in 1610.
Title page below.

William Strachey’s account (in the form of a letter) wasn’t printed until 1625 (in Purchas his Pilgrimes. v.4. by Samuel Purchas, London, 1625). It is widely known and referenced as "A true reportory..."

It has been a commonplace in English literary criticism that Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, was modeled on these accounts. If this were true, Shakespeare would have had to have seen Strachey’s report in manuscript. However, this common wisdom is almost certainly a falsity. A monumental error. The argument that Shakespeare used these texts would appear to rest on actual similarities between the historical accounts and the narrative in The Tempest.

Research published in the last ten years shows that these alleged parallels are false. Other, earlier books show stronger parallels, and that the likely existence of a staged version of The Tempest, circa 1600, or nine years before the wreck of the Sea Venture, makes such speculation moot.

Here are some web resources if you are interested in looking into this complex matter more closely.

Researcher Nina Green has published an excellent 94-page paper on the web (note- it’s in PDF format) rebutting the claims of Dave Kathman, who is a defender of the Strachey-influenced-Tempest theory.
Nina’s argument is comprehensive and well referenced.

Dr. Roger Stritmatter and co-author Lynne Kositsky offered a fresh look on the Strachey claim in 2007: "Shakespeare and the Voyagers Revisited " Review of English Studies, 2007; 58: 447-472.

Stritmatter and Kositsky wrote another article, "Dating The Tempest: A Note on the Undocumented Influence of Erasmus' "Naufragium" and Richard Eden's 1555 Decades of the New World." This is on the web here:

And a summary by my colleague, Mark Anderson here:

The standard view is found in Alden T. Vaughan:
 William Strachey's "True Reportory" and Shakespeare: A Closer Look at the Evidence
Shakespeare Quarterly - Shakespeare Quarterly, Volume 59, Number 3, Fall 2008

And, on the web, Dave Kathman's foaming diatribe:

In sum, the voyage and wreck of the Sea Venture was a momentous event in the history of America, of the emerging British Empire, and of the island of Bermuda. The one hero in the mix, De La Warre, became the namesake of the State of Delaware.

Robert Sean Brazil c. June 2, 2009