Some reading on the world the cats lived in. Digitised versions of the works published pre-1925 can be found free online at the Internet Archive or/and Google Books.
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 a little 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.
BIOGRAPHIES OF THE 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 quoting of sources, her research is impressive. I’m indebted to her and to G.P.V Akrigg (below) for transcriptions of or quotes from contemporary documents that aren’t available online.
G.P.V. Akrigg, Shakespeare & The Earl of Southampton (1968). He had access to more material than did Mrs Stopes, and his biography of the Earl in Part 1 of his book benefits, though it’s too brief. Part 2 is entirely speculative, and deals with the Earl’s possible – and to my mind largely improbable – influence on Shakespeare’s work. 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.
Both authors were primarily in pursuit of someone 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 Southampton was of no religion. Interesting (though Akrigg doesn’t say this), because the Earl’s supposed Catholicism has been used to suggest that Shakespeare was also 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 a friendship between the Earl and Shakespeare. For him, personal conviction was evidence enough. His book doesn’t add a lot to that by Mrs Stopes, but contains some interesting observations and references to contemporary sources, particularly about the Earl’s political sympathies and his career at the court of King James VI and I.
Meanwhile the Earl, 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
Robert Persons, A Storie of Domesticall Difficulties in the Englishe Catholicke Cause in Catholic Record Society Miscellanea Vol 2: Father Persons’ Memoirs, edited by the Rev. J.H. Pollen, S.J. (1906). See Domestic Difficulties for more about Fr. Persons.
Check out John Guy’s website for more of his books.
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 (more for history nerds than the general reader) is self-explanatory.
The second 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, as well as on 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 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 printed version of “A Leter…” purportedly written by a Master of Arts in Cambridge to a friend in London. In fact, the booklet 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 view on 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, WARFARE, & PIRATES
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. It’s a lively read, all the same. Harry Kelsey’s Sir Francis Drake: The Queen’s Pirate (1998) is a thoroughly-researched and sharper view of Sir Francis, though sometimes Kelsey’s eagerness to make clear that he’s debunking myths (few of which were held dear by the time his book was published) can be irksome.
For detailed accounts of the Armada, 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 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, this purports to be an eye-witness account. The political and personal tensions following the Cadiz expedition meant that publication of all such accounts was banned, but this was included in Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation, collected by Richard Hakluyt (1598), edited by Edmund Goldsmid and republished in 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, and witnessed different things. 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. Reprinted in Vol XX of Hakluytus Posthumus, or Purchase his Pilgrimes (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 a very readable overview of England’s military development in light of its limited resources. This book’s particularly interesting in its appraisal of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, as military organiser and strategist, and on the challenges Elizabeth faced as that rarest of beings: a sole woman ruler, and one who preferred 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
One of the earliest books 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, 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 Elizabeth’s senior ladies, but a maid of honour who conducted herself well could have a long and successful career at 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 detailed and 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 a lot of 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 Rowland Whyte’s letters kept him up with all the news. 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 in 2 vols by Arthur Collins (1740).
A collection of the letters with modernised spelling was 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 of the modern edition of the letters) was well-connected. His mother Mary Dudley was the Earl of Leicester’s sister; his older brother was 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 gossip from highly-placed sources.
Sir John Harington’s Nugae Antiquae, being a miscellaneous collection of old papers… Edited in 2 vols by Thomas Park (1804). Sir John was one of Elizabeth I’s many godchildren, and she seems to have been genuinely fond of him even though he often annoyed her. His mother, Isabella Markham, was a long-serving Lady of the Queen’s Bedchamber. Once again, a gossip with good sources, though I suspect Sir John may have liked to make a tale worth its telling.
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 a careful news-gatherer who wrote regular and engaging letters to his friends. The majority of his letters were written during the next reign (James VI of Scotland and I of England).
A. L. Rowse, The Case Books of Simon Forman: Sex and Society in Shakespeare’s Age (1976). Unfortunately, Shakespeare seems not to have consulted astrologer/medical practitioner Simon Forman, nor is he mentioned in the actual case books. Even so, A. L. Rowse was convinced he’d discovered the Dark Lady of the sonnets among Forman’s clients. Nowadays the case books are available on line, but Forman’s handwriting is very hard to decipher. Rowse may well have read some things wrong and been carried away by his imagination, but his book provides an interesting glimpse into the everyday preoccupations of the Elizabethans who did consult Forman.
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.