July 12th – On this day in 1623, John Chamberlain* wrote in a letter to Sir Dudley Carleton:
“The Spanish Ambassador is much delighted in beare baiting: he was the last weeke at Paris garden [in Southwark], where they shewed him all the pleasure they could … and then turned a white [polar] beare into the Thames, where the dogges baited him swimming, which was the best sport of all”.
The Swiss visitor Thomas Platter had written of the practice of bear-baiting earlier, in 1599:
“Every Sunday [!] and Wednesday in London there are bear-baitings. … The theatre is circular, with galleries … for spectators, [and] the space … below, beneath the clear sky, … unoccupied. In the middle of this place a large bear on a long rope was bound to a stake, then a number of English mastiffs were brought in and first shown to the bear, which they afterwards baited … . [N]ow the excellence … of such mastiffs was evinced, for although they were much … mauled by the bear, they did not give in, but had to be pulled off by sheer force … . The bears’ teeth were not sharp so to they could not injure the dogs; they have them broken short. When the first mastiffs tired, fresh ones were brought in … . When the bear was weary, another one was supplied … . … When this bear was tired, a … bull was brought in … . Then another powerful bear … . Lastly they brought in an old blind bear which the boys hit with … sticks; but he knew how to untie his leash and … ran back to his stall”.