Some reading on the world the cats lived in. Digitised versions of the works published pre-1930 can be found free online at the Internet Archive or/and Google Books or/and the HathiTrust Digital Library.
I’ll be adding to this section over time. Scroll down the page to check for new books and topics.
Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800 (1983). Fascinating. Though people who are very fond of animals should be wary, because attitudes to them involved a lot of cruelty, both casual and calculated. As did attitudes to humans, of course.
William Baldwin, Beware the Cat (1584). First published in 1570 but thought to have been written in the 1550s. Perhaps not for the squeamish, but creepy, satiric, trippy, and comic by turns.
Four men sharing a room discuss whether or not birds and beasts have speech and reason. Mr Streamer tells his chamber-fellows about the speech of cats and how he concocted and took a potion that enabled him to eavesdrop on Mouse-Slayer’s very funny life story. I wish this had been in the syllabus when I was studying English Lit.
HENRY WRIOTHESLEY, THIRD EARL OF SOUTHAMPTON
Charlotte Carmichael Stopes, The Life of Henry, Third Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare’s Patron (1922). A remarkable achievement, completed towards the end of her long life when her eyesight was failing. While she’s been criticised for inaccuracies in her reading and/or quoting of sources, the amount of her research is impressive. I’m indebted to her and to G.P.V Akrigg (below) for transcriptions of or quotes from contemporary documents not available online.
G.P.V. Akrigg, Shakespeare & The Earl of Southampton (1968). Part I contains an account of the Earl’s life. Akrigg had access to more material than did Mrs Stopes, though he doesn’t go into the Earl’s later years in detail. His chapter on the Earl in Ireland is particularly interesting. Part 2 is entirely speculative, and deals with the Earl’s possible (and to my mind largely improbable) influence on Shakespeare.
Well, speculation can be fun. As Akrigg notes in his Preface, “All that is required is that neither author nor reader confuse speculation, however interesting, with proven fact.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t always take his own advice. (Even more unfortunately, the entry for the Earl of Southampton in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography reiterates some of Akrigg’s opinions from Part 1 as though they’re facts.)
Both biographers were primarily in pursuit of somebody else, i.e. William Shakespeare, who dedicated one long narrative poem to the Earl in 1593 and another in 1594. Neither found evidence of any other connection between the two men. However, Mrs Stopes’ biography displays a genuine interest in the Earl for his own sake.
In 1977 G.P.V Akrigg contributed Something More About Shakespeare’s Patron to the Shakespeare Quarterly (Vol 28, No.1 Winter 1977). The “something more” was two research finds. The first, an early 17th century report by a French agent on the religious loyalties of several English noblemen, suggests that the Earl of Southampton was of no particular religion. Interesting (though Akrigg doesn’t say this), because the Earl’s supposed Catholicism is sometimes used to suggest that Shakespeare was a Catholic.
The second find was a small cache of the Earl’s personal correspondence relating to political and financial dealings from 1608 to 1621. True to form, Akrigg concludes: “If in the files there were letters from an actor named Shakespeare, they were presumably deemed unimportant and not preserved.”
A. L. Rowse, Shakespeare’s Southampton, Patron of Virginia (1965). Although A.L. Rowse was a professional historian, he saw no need to hunt for evidence of friendship between the Earl and Shakespeare. For him, personal conviction was evidence enough.
This book doesn’t add much to that by Mrs Stopes, and Rowse’s writing style has dated, but there are some interesting observations about the Earl’s political sympathies and his career at the court of Queen Elizabeth’s successor, King James VI (of Scotland) and I (of England).
Meanwhile the Earl of Southampton, who received many dedications from a variety of writers, remains an enigmatic figure deserving of a biography by someone other than a Shakespearean scholar. Or a cat.
POLITICAL & RELIGIOUS CLIMATE
John Guy, My Heart is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots (2004) and Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years (2016). The first is a biography with more emphasis on Mary as Renaissance Queen, less as hapless victim.
The second concentrates on the last two decades of Elizabeth’s reign. Readers without a good handle on Elizabethan history might find it hard to get into, because the earlier chapters don’t deal with events in chronological order.
Worth persisting with for Guy’s perspective on the ageing queen and the power struggles going on around her, though when it comes to the Earls of Southampton, Essex, and friends he repeats a number of oft-told tales from questionable sources. Check out John Guy’s website for more of his work.
Stephen Alford, Burghley: William Cecil at the Court of Elizabeth I (2008) and The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I (2012). The title of the first book is self explanatory. A long read, more for history nerds than general readers, but well worth the effort for anyone interested in William Cecil and his career.
The second’s an easier read, and tells you a lot about the dark and devious world of Elizabethan spies and spyery.
Jessie Childs, God’s Traitors: Terror & Faith in Elizabethan England (2014). There’s an excellent review of this on writer and historian Mathew Lyons’ blog. Plus, Mathew’s blog is full of very readable articles on Elizabethan politics, plots, and conspiracies, writers, the theatre, and the Shakespeare authorship controversy.
Both book and blog are highly recommended.
A dangerous world. In addition to Stephen Alford’s The Watchers (above), Charles Nicholl’s more speculative The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe (1992) is fascinating.
SCANDAL IN HIGH PLACES
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was Queen Elizabeth’s close friend and long-term favourite. In 1584 he was the target of a booklet purporting to be a letter written by a Master of Arts in Cambridge to a friend in London. In fact, it was a choice piece of Catholic propaganda, printed in France and smuggled into England. Nowadays it’s referred to as Leicester’s Commonwealth, from the title it was given in 1641 when it was finally published in England.
It starts innocently enough, with a discussion about the need for religious tolerance, then launches into a lurid attack on Leicester as an evil genius with an insatiable sexual appetite and a propensity for arranging the death of anyone who gets in his way. Including his first wife, Amy Robsart.
Needless to say, it was banned. However, given the general taste for reading scandalous accounts of the doings of the rich and famous (then as now), I suspect that many Protestants as well as Catholics lapped it up. For a more balanced consideration of Amy Robsart’s death (accident, murder or suicide?) there’s Chris Skidmore’s Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley, and the Mysterious Fate of Amy Robsart (2010).
SEAFARERS, PIRATES, & WAR
Philip Gosse, The History of Piracy (1932). An overview of piracy around the world from classical times to the late 19th century. It’s an enjoyable classic that often appears in the bibliographies of more recent works.
Sir Francis Drake’s Memorable Service done against the Spaniards in 1587 by Robert Leng, Gentleman, one of his co-adventurers and fellow-soldiers. Edited by Clarence Hopper, this is a contemporary account of Drake’s attack on Cadiz. Hopper also includes Appendices of official papers and correspondence relating to the raid, including the San Felipe‘s cargo and the division of the spoils. Published in 1863 by the Camden Society.
The legendary Sir Francis Drake has been the subject of many biographies. George Malcolm Thomson’s Sir Francis Drake (1972) is not as adulatory as some, but still rose-tinted. A ripping yarn.
Harry Kelsey’s Sir Francis Drake: The Queen’s Pirate (1998) is a thoroughly-researched and altogether sharper view of Sir Francis. However, Kelsey’s eagerness to make clear that he’s debunking myths about Sir Francis, few of which were held dear by the time this was published, can be irksome.
For accounts of the Armada of 1588, there’s Robert Hutchinson’s The Spanish Armada (2013), and The Spanish Armada by Colin Martin and Geoffrey Parker (1988; more recent revised versions). The latter has great illustrations, with information about the wrecks and photos of recovered items.
A vivid sense of the scramble to prepare for the Armada, and the plight of the mariners left to starve or die of disease afterwards, is conveyed in the Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of Elizabeth I 1581-1590, edited by Robert Lemon (1865). The brief entries (between pp 466-541) for Lord Admiral Charles Howard’s letters indicate his increasing frustration with the Queen’s seeming failure to grasp the approaching danger; his post-Armada pleas for help for his men are disturbing even at this distance in time.
Sources relating to Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, are listed further down this page, but I’m including his sea voyages here.
A Briefe and True Report of the Honorable Voyage unto Cadiz 1596, of the Overthrow of the King’s Fleet, and of the Winning, Sacking, and Burning of the Citie, with all other accidents there unto appertaining. Written by an Essex supporter, probably his secretary Henry Cuffe. The political and personal tensions following the 1596 Cadiz expedition meant that publication of all such accounts was banned.
However, this one was included in Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation, collected by Richard Hakluyt (1598) and later edited by Edmund Goldsmid and republished (vol VII 1888). A slightly different version is in Hakluytus Posthumus, or Purchase his Pilgimes (vol XX, reprinted 1907).
There are several contemporary accounts of the Islands Voyage of 1597. All differ on the details and are sometimes contradictory, as you would expect. The people who wrote them were on different ships. The naval historian Sir Julian S. Corbett draws on them for the relevant chapters (VII to IX) in The Successors of Drake (1900).
The official version, probably written by Sir Arthur Gorges but signed by the Earl of Essex and his senior officers, is The Voyage to the Iles of Azores, under the conduct of the Right Honorable Robert, Earl of Essex, 1597 and is reprinted in Hakluytus Posthumus, or Purchase his Pilgrimes (vol XX 1907). Following it as Part II is Gorges’ more chatty A larger Relation of the said Iland Voyage, written some ten years later.
Sir William Monson captained the Rainbow on the voyage. His version of events, also written some years later, is in The Naval Tracts of Sir William Monson (vol II, edited with a commentary by the naval historian M. Oppenheim 1902).
Paul E. J. Hammer, Elizabeth’s Wars: War, Government and Society in Tudor England, 1544-1604 (2003) provides an overview of England’s military development in light of its limited resources.
Particularly interesting on the challenges Elizabeth faced as that rarest of beings: a sole woman ruler in an age when women weren’t thought fit to rule, and the tensions arising from her preference for a defensive (rather than offensive) war strategy.
QUEEN ELIZABETH’S ROYAL VISITS
John Nichols, The Progresses and Public Progressions of Queen Elizabeth (1823). Along with details about some of the progresses, John Nichols includes accounts of other events and entertainments, lists of New Year gifts given to and by Elizabeth, expenditure in the royal household, correspondence, and poems written to the Queen. Volume III contains a reprint of a contemporary pamphlet (1591) which describes her reception at Cowdray House by Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montague and Lady Montague.
Zillah Dovey, An Elizabethan Progress: The Queen’s Journey into East Anglia 1578 (1996?). A detailed account of an 11-week journey from Greenwich to Norfolk and back. The places, the people, and the work done by the Privy Council, who were expected to maintain business-as-usual while they accompanied her.
QUEEN ELIZABETH’S LADIES & GENTLEWOMEN
An early book about the women of Elizabeth’s Court is Violet A. Wilson’s Queen Elizabeth’s Maids of Honour and Ladies of the Privy Chamber (1922). Although it contains a few errors and unlikely stories – almost inevitable for anyone writing when historical research was far more labour intensive than it is in our electronic age – it’s a useful starter that often appears in lists of sources consulted by modern historians.
The emphasis is more on the maids than on Queen Elizabeth’s senior ladies, but a maid of honour who conducted herself well could rise higher and have a long career at her Court.
Anna Whitelock’s Elizabeth’s Bedfellows: An Intimate History of Elizabeth’s Court (2013) corrects the balance. The bedfellows are the select Ladies of the Bedchamber, the inner sanctum of Elizabeth’s household.
However, this book isn’t a collection of their stories, but a very readable account of Elizabeth’s reign that references the roles, influence, and occasional falls from favour of her often forgotten female courtiers. It also includes behind-the-scenes snippets about life in her palaces. See this review in History Today.
SOURCES OF GOSSIP
Rowland Whyte was the London agent of Sir Robert Sidney. In 1589 Sir Robert was appointed Governor of Flushing (Vlissingen), and Whyte’s letters kept him up with all the Court news and gossip. They’re printed in Letters and Memorials of State, in the Reigns of Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, King James, King Charles the First… Written and collected by Sir Henry Sidney… Edited by Arthur Collins (2 vols, 1740), and available online.
Whyte’s letters, with modernised spelling, were also published in 2013 by the American Philosophical Society: The Letters (1595-1608) of Rowland Whyte, edited by Michael G. Brennan, Noel J. Kinnamon, and Margaret P. Hannay.
Sir Robert Sidney (pictured on the cover) was very well-connected. His mother Mary Dudley was the Earl of Leicester’s sister. His older brother was the Renaissance male role model Sir Philip Sidney, whose widow married the Earl of Essex. His sister was the poet and scholar Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, and his aunt was Anne, Countess of Warwick.
Many doors were open to Rowland Whyte, and he got his information from highly-placed sources.
Sir John Harington’s Nugae Antiquae, being a miscellaneous collection of old papers… edited by Thomas Park (2 vols, 1804). Sir John is another with good sources, though I suspect he liked to make a tale worth its telling. His mother, Isabella Markham, was a long-serving Lady of the Queen’s Bedchamber, and he was one of Queen Elizabeth’s many godchildren. She seems to have been genuinely fond of him, though at times he annoyed her.
Sir John’s letters and his report on the Earl of Essex’s 1599 Ireland campaign are also in The Letters and Epigrams of Sir John Harington, edited with an introduction by Norman McClure (1930).
Letters Written by John Chamberlain during the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, edited by Sarah Williams (1861). John Chamberlain seems to have been a gentleman who liked the quiet life, but he was also an assiduous news-gatherer with a dry sense of humour.
A. L. Rowse, The Case Books of Simon Forman: Sex and Society in Shakespeare’s Age (1976). Despite the title, Shakespeare didn’t consult astrologer/medical practitioner Simon Forman. Nor did any of Forman’s clients mention him. Even so, A. L. Rowse was convinced he’d discovered the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets among Forman’s clients (Emilia Lanier, nee Bassano). Nowadays the case books are available on line, but Forman’s handwriting is impossible to decipher.
Rowse may well have read some things wrong and been carried away by wishful thinking, but he provides a glimpse into the everyday preoccupations of Forman’s clients. The glamorous (but not dark) Mrs Prannell (nee Frances Howard) definitely had her eye on the Earl of Southampton.
ROBERT DEVEREUX, SECOND EARL OF ESSEX
Historians have traditionally taken a bleak view of the Earl of Essex as an over-ambitious lightweight whose chief claims to fame were being Elizabeth I’s last favourite, leading a rebellion, and losing his head. An exception is Charlotte Carmichael Stopes, who praises him in her biography of the Earl of Southampton.
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography provides a balanced account of Essex’s life, but access to the DNB on line requires a subscription.
Many letters to, from, and about him are included in W. B. Devereux’ Lives and Letters of the Devereux, Earls of Essex, in the reigns of Elizabeth, James I and Charles I, 1540 – 1646 (2 vols, 1853)
Robert, Earl of Essex: An Elizabethan Icarus (1971) by Robert Lacey is the most recent biography. Aimed at the general reader, its style is sometimes overly dramatic, and it repeats a few questionable tales, but it’s a useful introduction to Essex’s story.
Paul E.J. Hammer’s The Polarisation of Elizabethan Politics: The Political Career of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, 1585-1597 (1999) challenges the traditional view of Essex, and covers his career from his arrival at Queen Elizabeth’s Court in 1585 to his appointment as Earl Marshal in 1597.
Don’t be put off by the title. This is a scholarly work, but Hammer’s writing is engaging. The footnotes – on the same page rather than at the back of the book, always a plus – are often as interesting as the text.
A must for anyone seriously interested in Essex. I’m looking forward to a subsequent book on the next (and last) years of his career.
That said, I’m happy to make an exception for this. There’s no question that 1599 was a definitive year in the life of the Earl of Essex, and Shapiro captures it well. In this article from The Irish Times, he outlines the background to his own thinking, and how the contemporary preoccupation with the war in Ireland is reflected in several of Shakespeare’s plays. I don’t agree with Shapiro’s assessment of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, as a better military tactician than Essex: Tyrone had other, different advantages.
Richard Bagwell’s Ireland under the Tudors (vol III, 1890) provides a very well-referenced account of the 1599 campaign.
Contemporary sources include the Calendar of the State Papers relating to Ireland… 1599 April – 1600 February (1899), the Calendar of the Carew Manuscripts 1589 – 1600 (1869), Sir John Harington (already noted under Sources of Gossip), and John Dymmok’s A Treatice of Ireland. Harington and Dymmok compared notes: their reports on Essex’s first excursion south of Dublin are almost word for word.
Alexandra Gajda’s The Earl of Essex and Late Elizabethan Political Culture (2012) opens with an account of the Essex rising in February 1601, then goes back to explore the cultural climate of the 1590s and Essex’s role in it.
An aged Queen, unwilling to name her successor and considered by some to be governed by an unscrupulous few with little interest in the good of the realm.
Peace with Spain (or not). Religious divisions, and the possibility of religious toleration. The influence of Roman writers and the popular stage on Elizabethans’ understanding of history… The book’s academic style is more for history nerds than general readers, but the use of a wide range of contemporary sources make it fascinating.
WARDS & WARDSHIPS
H.E. Bell’s An Introduction to the History and Records of the Court of Wards & Liveries (1953) is in the series Cambridge Studies In Legal History. The emphasis is on the workings of the Court: its officers, revenues, and judicial business, but the chapter on The Welfare of Wards and Idiots gives a good insight into why the Court became so unpopular.
Joel Hurstfield’s The Queen’s Wards: Wardship and Marriage under Elizabeth I (1958) focuses more on the people involved and the personal and social consequences of the buying and selling of wardships and rights to the wards’ marriages.