Tag Archives: William Shakespeare

Shakespeare buys a house in Blackfriars (1613)


Shakespeare's house plaque - Copy

On  this day in 1613, according to the surviving Deed of Conveyance (*), William Shakespeare bought for £140 a “dwelling house or Tenement with th’appurtenaunces situate and being within the Precinct, circuit and compasse of the late black Fryers London, …  and now or late being in the tenure or occupacion of one William Ireland or of his assignee or assignes; abutting upon a streete leading downe to Pudle wharffe on the east part, right against the Kinges Maiesties Wardrobe; part of which said Tenement is erected over a great gate … ”  [the former entrance to the Black Friars Priory, dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538].

There is no evidence that Shakespeare  ever lived in this particular  house in London, returning to his native Stratford-upon-Avon in 1613, and dying there in  1616, but  he is known to have spent almost the entirety of his productive working life in London, and in truth is much more a London than a Stratford figure.    He is known to have arrived in London  sometime between 1585 and 1592,  and  to have lived in the parish of St Helen, near  “The Theatre” and the “Curtain” in Shoreditch, in 1596; in the Liberty of the Clink in Southwark, near   the “Globe”, in 1599; and in Silver Street, near  the  “Blackfriars”, in 1604.

As Peter Ackroyd put it in his marvellous “Shakespeare – The Biography” (Chatto & Windus, 2005), “Shakespeare did not need to address London directly … ; it is the rough cradle of all his drama”.  However, as Hannah Crawforth, Sarah Dustagheer and Jennifer Young suggest in their thoughtful and thought-provoking “Shakespeare in London” (Bloomsbury, 2014), he may have indirectly referenced the violence of Tyburn in “Titus Andronicus”; the political machination of Whitehall in “Richard II”; the class distinction of the Strand in “Romeo and Juliet”; the legal machination of the Inns of Court in “The Merchant of Venice”; the religiosity of St Paul’s Cathedral in “Hamlet”; the madness of Bedlam in “King Lear”; the misery of imprisonment for debt in the King’s Bench Prison in Southwark in “Timon of Athens”; the strange new world of the “cabinet of curiosity” on Lime Street in “The Tempest”; and the rich variety and cosmopolitanism of one of the first true World Cities in the form of an ever-present back-drop.  Moreover, he did set one of his most famous scenes in London, in Ely Palace: that in “Richard II” in which John of Gaunt utters the immortal words:

“This royal throne of kings, this sceptr’d isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,|This other Eden, demi-paradise,|This fortress built by Nature for herself|Against infection and the hand of war,|This happy breed of men, this little world,|This precious stone set in the silver sea,|Which serves it in the office of a wall,|Or as a moat defensive to a house,|Against the envy of less happier lands,|This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”.

The site of Shakespeare’s Blackfriars house is visited on our “London Wall” standard walk, and on our “Medieval London” and “Tudor and Stuart London” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the “Guided Walks” section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com), or by phone (020-8998-3051).

(*) Readers may be interested to know that the deed, which is one of only a handful of documents to bear Shakespeare’s signature, is currently on display in the “By me William Shakespeare: A life in writing” exhibition in the Inigo Rooms in the East Wing of Somerset House, which runs until May 29th.

It also bears the signatures of Shakespeare’s trustees, namely John Hemmyng and John Jackson, Gentlemen of London, and William Johnson, Citizen and Vintner of London  (and of the vendor, one Henry Walker, Citizen and Minstrel of London).  It is tempting to suggest that  John Hemmyng was the same man who once acted alongside Shakespeare in the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men”, and later, after his death, helped to  put together the First Folio of his works; and William Johnson the same man who was the landlord of the Mermaid Tavern in Bread Street just off Cheapside.

Essex’s rebellion (1601)

Robert_Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex

Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex

February 8th – On this day in 1601, Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex, led an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the then Queen, Elizabeth I, and her court, a treasonous act for which he was later tried, convicted and, on February 25th, beheaded (at the Tower of London). Four of his supporters, Sir Christopher Blount, Sir Henry Cuffe, Sir Charles Danvers and Sir Gelli Meyrick, were also executed, on March 5th, although all the others, including the Earl of Southampton, were spared.

Essex had earlier been publicly disgraced and politically and financially ruined by being placed under house arrest and removed from his office as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, for failing to execute Elizabeth’s orders to him to suppress an insurrection in that country (led by the Earls of Tyrone). It was in Essex House – on the Strand – that he hatched his crackpot plot.

On February 7th, 1601 he took a boat from Essex Steps to the “Globe” in Southwark to bribe Shakespeare’s “Lord Chancellor’s Men” to stage a special performance of “Richard II”, overplaying the scene in which the King was deposed, with a view to encouraging support among the watching crowd. The plan began to backfire on the morning of the fateful following day, February 8th, when four of the Queen’s men arrived to arrest him, and he was forced to take them hostage (one of them being Thomas Egerton, the 1st Viscount Brackley, the Lord Keeper). However, he decided to carry on regardless, and, with some two hundred followers, marched from Essex House upon the City. When they arrived at the gates, they met with a hostile reception, having by that time already been denounced as traitors (by Robert Cecil, the 1st Earl of Salisbury, the Secretary of State). At this, most of Essex’s supporters deserted him, and he was forced to return to Essex House, where after a short siege, during which he attempted to destroy any evidence that might incriminate him, he found himself forced to surrender to the Queen’s men (under the Earl of Nottingham).

The site of Essex House is visited on our “Rebellious London” themed special.

Further details of all our walks are available in the “Guided Walks” section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com), or by phone (020-8998-3051).

Jack Cade’s Rebellion and the “London Stone”

November 3rd –  On this day in 1450 Jack Cade, alias Mortimer,  and thousands of armed supporters invaded London “to punish evil ministers and procure a redress of grievances”.  The rebellion ended with the “Harvest of the Heads” of its leaders.

The London Stone

The London Stone

The associated site of the “London Stone” on Cannon Street is  visited on our “Tower to Temple – The Heart of the City” walk.

During the rebellion, Cade struck the stone with his sword, and declared himself to be “Lord of this City”, an act  immortalised thus by Shakespeare in “Henry VI Part II”, Act IV, Scene VI (London, Cannon Street):

“Now is Mortimer Lord of this City.  And here, sitting upon London-stone, I charge and command that, of the city’s cost, the pissing-conduit run nothing but claret wine this first year of our reign.  And now, henceforward, it shall be treason for any that calls me other than Lord Mortimer”.

In the Medieval period, the London Stone stood in the middle of the street, as indicated on the map of 1520, and on the “Agas” one of 1561-70, and was apparently used as a place from which to make important public pronouncements, being evidently richly endowed with  symbolic significance.   Its recorded history extends as far back as the twelfth century, when the first Lord Mayor of London, from 1189-1213, was one Henry Fitz-Ailwyn or FitzAlywn de Londonestone; and it  is possible, although not proven, that before that, it  was associated in some way with  the Roman Governor’s Palace complex that once stood nearby, and now forms part of a Scheduled Ancient Monument substantially under Cannon Street Station.  Indeed, according to one of many romantic myths surrounding the stone, it was the very one from which King Arthur drew the Sword Excalibur, and possessed magic powers; and according to another, it was the one Brutus used to mark the city of Troia Nova, and “So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long will London flourish”.  As Hollis put it, “We will never know [its true origin], and perhaps that is as it should be”.

Please note that any of our walks can be booked by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.co.uk) or phone (020-8998-3051).

The London Stone

The London Stone

Facial Hair through the Ages

November 1st

To mark the beginning of ‘Movember’, here’s a look at some of the facial hair styles adopted by the  Tudors and Stuarts, ranging from “boyish” to “strictly no-nonsense”, by way  of the peculiarly popular “rakish”.

Top row, left to right: Christopher Marlowe; “The Laughing Cavalier”; Francis Drake.

Middle  row, left to right: William Shakespeare; James I; James I’s “favourite” George Villiers, the First Duke of Buckingham.

Bottom row: Henry VIII; William Cecil, Lord Burghley; Thomas Cranmer.

(Click image to see full-sized original)

Facial hair through the ages

Facial hair through the ages

Shakespeare and London

12th September 2013 – I’ve just got back from a fascinating behind-the-scenes tour of the London Metropolitan Archives (www.cityoflondon.go.uk/lma), organised by the London Historians (www.londonhistorians.org).
The highlight was the “Shakespeare and London” exhibition, which features not only “The Shakespeare Deed”, a property deed signed by Shakespeare (one of only six surviving examples of his signature), but also other documents from his lifetime, along with maps, photographs, prints and models which explore his relationship with London.  The exhibition runs until 26thSeptember 2013.
The site of the property to which the deed pertains, in Blackfriars, is visited on our Wednesday afternoon “St Paul’s to Westminster – Priories, Palaces and Parliament” and Friday morning “London Wall – A Story of Survival” walks.
Please note that any of our walks can also be booked at any other time, subject to prior agreement (e-mail lostcityoflondon@sky.co.uk or phone 020-8998-3051).

“This Woodden O”

12th June  – According to the Shakespearean scholar Steve Sohmer, on this day in 1599, the original  “Globe Theatre” was opened in Southwark (see also the April 22nd blog on “Shakespeare in London”).   

The site of the original “Globe” is visited on our Thursday afternoon walk “Historic Southwark – Shakespeare’s London and more”, together with Sam Wanamaker’s reconstruction  on Bankside.

A special themed walk on “The London that Shakespeare knew” is also available on request.
Romantic antics during a back-stage tour of the Reconstructed Globe
To book a place on any scheduled walk, or to arrange a private walk, please email lostcityoflondon@sky.com or ring 020 8998 3051
Further information  is available from other parts of our website www.lostcityoflondon.co.uk And for updates, news and promotions, why not visit (and ‘Like’) the Lost City of London Facebook page

‘Immortal with a Kiss’

1st June –  On this day in 1593, the colourful Christopher Marlowe, poet, playwright and supposed spy, was buried in an unmarked grave in the church of St Nicholas in Deptford. Born the same year as Shakespeare, Marlowe was only 29 when he died. He had been fatally stabbed (on or around 30th May) under mysterious circumstances in a tavern also in Deptford. The Coroner’s Inquisition at the time concluded that he had been killed by Ingram Frizer in self-defence, during an argument about a bill (or ‘reckoning’) – for further information, follow the link at the end of this blog post.

Plaque in St Nicholas’ graveyard

St Nicholas Church, Deptford
It is believed that Marlowe’s tragic death is alluded to, as “a great reckoning in a little room”, in his friend Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
The “Rose Theatre” in Southwark, where Marlowe’s plays, including Tamburlaine, Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Malta, Massacre at Paris and possibly also Dido, Queen of Carthage, were performed, alongside Shakespeare’s, is visited on our Thursday afternoon walk “Historic Southwark – Shakespeare’s London and more” (see also April 23rd blog post).
The London of Shakespeare and his contemporaries is covered on all of our walks, perhaps most particularly our Thursday morning one “Aldgate, Bishopsgate and beyond – Priories and Play-Houses” and the Thursday afternoon one “Historic Southwark – Shakespeare’s London and more”.
A special themed half-day walk on “The London that Shakespeare knew” is also available on request.
Reservation is required for both scheduled and private walks. To book a place, please email lostcityoflondon@sky.com  or ring 020 8998 3051
Further information about this and our other walks is available from other parts of our website www.lostcityoflondon.co.uk
And for updates, news and promotions, why not visit (and ‘Like’) the Lost City of London Facebook page
* * * * * * * * * * *
Christopher Marlowe

There are some who assert (unconvincingly, in my view) that Marlowe was in fact the true author of all the plays attributed to Shakespeare, and that he did not really die in 1593, but carried on writing secretly while hiding in Italy, shipping back the works supposedly written by Shakespeare. Putting that aside, Marlowe’s literary influence on Shakespeare is widely acknowledged, and indeed some linguistic scholars have pointed to internal evidence that Marlowe may have contributed significantly, as a co-author, to some of Shakespeare’s early dramas, such as Titus Andronicus. 

As mentioned above, Shakespeare references Marlowe in ‘As You Like It’ – believed to have been written in 1599. The play includes lines thought to refer to Marlowe’s death, spoken by the clown Touchstone: 

When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a
man’s good wit seconded with the forward child
Understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a
great reckoning in a little room. Truly, I would

the gods had made thee poetical.

William Shakespeare

The play also includes a direct quotation from Marlowe’s ‘Hero and Leander’ (published posthumously in 1598, but possibly available to Shakespeare earlier in manuscript form).

Phoebe, besotted with Rosalind dressed as Ganymede, says as an aside:

 Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might:
‘Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?’ 

Allusions to Marlowe, and quotations from his work, also appear in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado about Nothing and the Merry Wives of Windsor, among others.

Further information about the relationship between Marlowe’s work and that of Shakespeare, and about the peculiar circumstances of Marlowe’s death (leading some to think it was an assassination, and others to infer that the death was faked), can be found  on the Marlowe Society’s website here  including the (translated) text of the Coroner’s Inquisition here – a document not discovered until 1925.