Monday, 17 April 2017

The Streets of Old Southwark: East Bankside - Blood Sports and Theatres

A visitor to London, following the south bank of the River Thames from London Bridge towards Westminster Bridge, emerges from Clink Street onto Bankside. Today, this stretch of the riverside is crowded with tourists, attracted by its bar and restaurants, as well as by cultural institutions, including the reconstructed Shakespeare's Globe and Tate Modern.

The reconstructed Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, Bankside. Photo: ChrisO (licensed under GNU).

Throughout much of the Twentieth Century, however, Bankside was very much part of the working environment of the London Docks. The blog-site, "A London Inheritance," has an extensive collection of "then and now" photographs (the former inherited by its author from his late father), which can be seen here and here. Ironically, however, if we imagine ourselves back to the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, the atmosphere of the area would have been more akin to that which we experience today, albeit with a rather different range of attractions.

Bankside incorporates parts of two ancient "liberties," that of The Clink, and that of Paris Garden, both of which fell outside the jurisdiction of City and Shire authorities, and in both of which were consequently to be found numerous brothels, gambling dens, and rowdy taverns. Other popular entertainments, from the mid-Sixteenth Century onwards, included bull-baiting and bear-baiting.

Bull and bear-baiting rings on Bankside, c1580. William Smith's manuscript of The Description of England (image is in the Public Domain). 
The Bear Garden, Bankside, before 1616, Visscher's Map of London (image is in the Public Domain).
Bear-baiting, by Abraam Hondius, 1650, private collection (image is in the Public Domain).

In the 1580s, two entrepreneurs, Philip Henslowe and John Cholmley, both of whom had financial interests in brothels and blood-sports, embarked on what might, today, be called a "brand extension," investing money in the construction of The Rose Theatre, in the liberty of The Clink. The commercial theatre was a relatively new (and uniquely English) phenomenon, but earlier theatres had, for the most part, been situated to the north and east of the City of London.

London's early play-houses (image is in the Public Domain).

The Rose was used by the Lord Admiral's Men, and produced plays by, among others, Christopher Marlowe. Its foundations have been partially excavated, and small-scale productions are staged there - an unforgettable experience for a modern visitor to London. Henslowe's "diaries" (actually more of a ledger-book) are also preserved, with records of loans and payments to writers, including Thomas Middleton, Thomas Dekker, and Ben Jonson.

The Rose Theatre today, with the outlines of stage and stalls picked out by lights. Photo: David Sim (licensed under CCA).
Henslowe's "Diary," Dulwich College (image is in the Public Domain).

Henslowe built The Hope Theatre with another business partner, Jacob Meade, in 1613-14, on the site of the old Bear Garden (they equipped it with a removeable stage, so that it could still be used for blood-sports, as well as for theatrical performances). It opened on 31st October 1614, with a production of Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair.

When Philip Henslowe died in 1616, his share in the theatres passed to his son-in-law, Edward Alleyn, an actor who had made many of the great Marlovian roles his own (Doctor Faustus, Tamburlaine, Barabas in The Jew of Malta). When Alleyn's first wife (Henslowe's step-daughter, Joan) died, he married Constance Donne, the daughter of the poet, John Donne, who was also the Dean of Saint Paul's, but her father disapproved of the union: perhaps he thought that some of Alleyn's business interests made him an inappropriate husband for a clergyman's daughter; or perhaps he suspected that the affection between them had begun before Joan's death, making it adulterous, in thought, if not in deed.

Edward Alleyn, 1626 (image is in the Public Domain).

The Swan Theatre, meanwhile, had been built by another impresario, Francis Longley in the liberty of Paris Garden. Johannes de Witt, a Dutchman who visited in 1596, described it as having a capacity for 3000 spectators.

The Swan Theatre, 1595, Arnoldus Buchelius, after Johannes de Witt (image is in the Public Domain).

The Globe Theatre was opened in 1599 by William Shakespeare's company, The Lord Chamberlain's Men, and probably saw the first performances of Henry V and Julius Caesar during the course of that year. The theatre burned down in 1613, during a production of Henry VIII, the fire apparently caused by the discharge of a theatrical cannon.

The Globe, 1647, by Wenceslaus Hollar (image is in the Public Domain). The adjoining buildings were used to prepare food for sale to theatre audiences.

The theatrical attractions of Bankside were to be short-lived, however. The fictional character of Malvolio, in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, prefigured the rise of the historical Puritans, who banned play-acting, bear-baiting and bull-baiting in 1642. When the English theatre was given new life, under the restored monarchy of Charles II, it was in the very different environment of Covent Garden's indoor theatres (no bull or bear-baiting there), with the female roles played, for the first time, by actresses, rather than by boys.

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.


Sunday, 9 April 2017

The Streets of Old Southwark: Of "Liberties" and Prisons

A visitor to London, following the south bank of the River Thames from London Bridge towards Westminster Bridge, on passing the Medieval ruins of Winchester Palace, finds himself or herself in Clink Street, so-called after the prison that stood here from the 1140s until it was burned during the Gordon Riots of 1780. When King Stephen granted the Manor of Southwark to the Bishops of Winchester, it came with a substantial estate, designated a "Liberty," since it fell outside the jurisdiction of City or Shire authorities. Successive bishops took advantage of this freedom in several ways, most famously to license brothels, which were forbidden to operate on the other side of the river, within the City of London (I try to avoid duplicating the work of others, and will thus refer the reader to Jessica Cale's excellent blog-post on Medieval prostitution in Southwark).

The bishops also had the freedom to deprive others of their liberty, both in their capacity as ministers of the Crown (Bishops of Winchester served variously as Lord Chancellor and Lord Treasurer of England); and, as prelates, presiding over ecclesiastical courts, to imprison people for heresy, and other crimes against the Church. Notable inmates of The Clink included Anne Askew (a Protestant martyr under Henry VIII, burned at the stake at Smithfield in 1546); John Hooper and John Bradford (Protestant martyrs under Mary I, burned at the stake in 1555 - both prosecuted by Bishop Stephen Gardiner); and John Gerard and George Blackwell (Catholic martyrs executed under Elizabeth I and James I).

John Bradford, with fellow Protestant prisoners, from John Foxe's Book of Martyrs, 1563 (image is in the Public Domain).

The Clink was not the only prison in the vicinity: on emerging from a tunnel at the western end of Clink Street, our visitor may turn left into Park Street, and then right into Redcross Way, leading into a district whose street names evoke, in Charles Dickens's phrase, " ... the crowding ghosts of many miserable years:" Marshalsea Road (the Marshalsea Prison stood here from 1373 until the Nineteenth Century); Little Dorrit Court (Dickens's character, Amy Dorrit, like the author himself, had a father imprisoned there for debt - throughout much of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, half of England's prison population were incarcerated as debtors).

The Marshalsea Prison in the Eighteenth Century (image is in the Public Domain).
The Marshalsea Prison in 1773 (image is in the Public Domain).

Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century prisons were run as private enterprises, and the treatment of individual prisoners depended upon their means, and upon the generosity of relatives (the young Charles Dickens worked in a shoe-polish factory to earn money to alleviate his father's position). The Marshalsea had two distinct wings: the "Master's Side," where those prisoners who could afford to could rent superior rooms; and the "Common Side," in which three hundred poor prisoners were crammed into nine small wards.

Facilities on the "Master's Side" included a coffee shop, run by a prisoner named Sarah Bradshaw; a steak-house called Titty Doll's, run by a prisoner, Richard McDonnell, and his wife; a tailor's shop; a barber's shop; and a tap-room serving beer. Debtors could even purchase "The Liberty of the Rules," allowing them to rent private accommodation in the streets surrounding the prison.

The more fortunate prisoners on the "Common Side" were hired as servants by those on the "Master's Side," but a Parliamentary Committee in 1729 found that others, perhaps especially those unfit for work, were routinely starved to death. The situation may have improved somewhat by 1774, when the Marshalsea was visited by the penal reformer, John Howard, but he nonetheless lamented the lack of healthcare facilities, and the prevalence of bullying, both by prison staff, and by prisoners on other prisoners.

The Sick Mens' Ward of the Marshalsea Prison in 1729 (image is in the Public Domain). 

The prison reformer, John Howard, portrait by Mather Brown, 1789, National Portrait Gallery (image is in the Public Domain).

By the late Nineteenth Century, thanks to the efforts of writers such as Dickens, and of reformers, including the Quaker, Elizabeth Fry, public opinion had turned decisively against the worst abuses of the prison system. The Clink never reopened after its destruction by the Gordon rioters; the Marshalsea closed in 1843; imprisonment for debt was outlawed in England in 1869. Nothing of The Clink can be seen today, apart from a blue plaque and a small private "museum;" whilst, of the Marshalsea, only a few walls remain.

Plan of the Marshalsea in 1843, J. Shuttleworth (image is in the Public Domain).

The Clink Prison "Museum." Photo: Sir James (licensed under GNU).

The courtyard of the former Marshalsea Prison in 1897. Photo: John Lawson Stoddart (image is in the Public Domain).
A surviving wall of the Marshalsea Prison. Photo: Russell Kenny (licensed under CCA).

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

The Year in Medieval Art: April

The month of April, like that of March, was a difficult one for a Medieval artist to represent. An illuminated manuscript, such as a book of hours, was an expensive gift, intended not only to last a lifetime, but in due course to become an heirloom. In some years, however, the Christian solemnities of Easter fell in March, allowing April to be devoted to secular pleasures, including courtship (the priorities of young men and women reflecting those of the wild birds and animals around them); whilst in other years (like this one), these solemnities fell in April, in which case people were expected to remain focused on devotional themes.

With lambing completed, and flocks released into the meadows once again, pastoral scenes might be thought of as appropriate in either case: since they could be seen either as straightforward representations of a stage in the agricultural year; or, metaphorically, as symbolic of "the lamb of God."

Calendar page for April, from the Huth Hours: a sheepdog dances to a tune played by the shepherd. British Library, Add. Ms. 38126f4v (image is in the Public Domain).

In those years in which Easter fell in March, the month of April was dedicated to the Holy Spirit, reflecting the ethos of Pentecost, and the acts of the apostles, inspired by the spirit.

The Holy Spirit, from the De Grey Hours, c 1390, National Library of Wales MS 15537c (licensed under CCA).

Easter itself, however, was always marked by a commemoration of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. The Franciscan orders had introduced the "Stations of the Cross," as a physical re-enactment of these events, first of all in the holy places of Jerusalem itself (which were in the care of the Franciscans), but subsequently in Franciscan priories across Europe, and even in parish churches, with priests or friars leading the faithful from one "station" to another, each representing a particular stage in Christ's journey to the cross. These stages were similarly depicted in the books of hours that the wealthy used as an aid to their private devotions.

The Last Supper, from the Hours of Charles d'Angouleme, late 15th Century. The artist, Robinet Testard, has, in effect, plagiarised the composition of the engraver, Israhel Van Meckenham, pasting it onto the vellum and adding colour. National Library of France, Latin MS. 1173. Image: Cardena2 (licensed under CCA).

The Arrest of Jesus (left) and the Annunciation (right), from the Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux, 1325-1328. The artist is Jean Pucelle. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (image is in the Public Domain).

Christ led to judgement, from Le Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, Musee Conde, Chantilly (image is in the Public Domain). 

Christ is assisted by Simon of Cyrene, from the Hours of Charles d'Angouleme. Image: Cardena2 (licensed under CCA).

The Crucifixion, from the Black Hours, c 1480, Pierpoint Morgan Library MS. 493 14v/15r (image is in the Public Domain).

The Lamentation of the Virgin, from the Rohan Hours, c 1435. National Library of France Latin MS 9471 (image is in the Public Domain).

The Harrowing of Hell, from Les Petites Heures du Duc de Berry (image is in the Public Domain).

The Resurrection of Christ, from the Hours of Charles d'Angouleme. Image: Cardena2 (licensed under CCA). 

The Feast of Saint Mark falls on the 25th April, by which time the solemnities of Easter would, in almost all cases, have been completed, allowing secular concerns to come once more to the forefront of people's minds.

Saint Mark, from the Sforza Hours, c 1519. The artist is Gerard (or Lucas) Horenbout. British Library Add. MS 34294 (image is in the Public Domain).

April from Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, Musee Conde, Chantilly (image is in the Public Domain). In the foreground, a young man and woman are engaged: the castle in the background is believed to be that of Dourdan near Paris.

Calendar page for April, from the Huth Hours, with a courting couple in a garden. British Library Add. Ms. 38126f4v (image is in the Public Domain).

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

A History of the World in 50 Novels: 48 - "A Man of the People," by Chinua Achebe

The country that we know today as Nigeria first fell within the sphere of influence of the British Empire in the late Nineteenth Century. The global suppression of the slave trade was a key priority for successive Victorian governments, but it soon became difficult to disentangle such noble political imperatives from more straightforward commercial ones: in 1886, the Royal Niger Company was established, under Sir George Taubman Goldie, with a mandate to ship palm oil, cotton, timber, ivory and beeswax back to the "mother country."

British stamps used at Akassa, Nigeria. HMSO (image is in the Public Domain).
The war canoe of King Koko of the Nembe, an antagonist of the Royal Niger Company in the 1890s. Daily Graphic (image is in the Public Domain).

The British administered its Nigerian territories (a Northern and a Southern Province, together with the "Lagos Colony") via a system of "indirect rule," with a relatively small number of English Residents" and District Officers, supported by a native elite of regional and village chiefs (Emirs in the Northern Province), who were granted educational and financial privileges in return for their loyalty.

Yoruba sculpture, satirising "indirect rule." Image: Tropenmuseum (licensed under CCA).

In contrast to many other colonies, including Kenya, Nigeria did not undergo a long and violent struggle for independence. Realising that the World had changed since the end of the Second World War, and that Nigeria, specifically, was unlikely to be susceptible to the influence of Soviet or Chinese Communism, the British authorities negotiated what was intended to be a smooth transition to independence and democracy. The only problem was that "Nigeria," as a geographical or political concept, meant little to most of the people who lived there. Loyalties operated on a far more local basis, and, when elections were held, most people voted for members of the same tribal elites that had held power under the British.

Linguistic map of Nigeria. Image: Hel-Hama (licensed under CCA).

A federal republic was proclaimed in 1963, but, in the elections that followed, different parties emerged to represent the predominantly Muslim Hausa and Fulani people of the north; the Yoruba people of the south-west; and the Igbo people of the south-east. Smaller parties were pushed aside, amid widespread complaints of corruption and intimidation, and those who had been elected by communities with very different priorities struggled to find common cause with one another.

The Nigerian military staged a coup in 1966, which was followed by a bloody civil war. A second republic, proclaimed in 1979, lasted only for four years; a third lasted for just a few months in 1993; and the fourth, declared in 1998, following the death of the military leader, General Sani Abacha, continues to this day, but has faced significant challenges throughout its nineteen years of existence.

The Nigerian Civil War (image is in the Public Domain).
Election in Nigeria, US Agency for International Development (image is in the Public Domain).

Chinua Achebe's novel, A Man of the People, published just weeks before the 1966 coup, is set in a fictional rural district of an unnamed African country, but it feels very like the Igboland in which its author grew up. An educated, idealistic and naive young man, Odili Samalu, is teaching in a village school, when it receives a visit from the Minister of Culture, his own former teacher, Chief the Honourable M.A. Nanga MP. Nanga takes an interest in Odili, and invites him to his home. A bright future n public service seems in store for Odili, but he soon learns the true price of patronage, and when, with a group of friends, he decides to challenge Nanga for his parliamentary seat, he not only discovers the corrupt and brutal underside of the politics of his country, but is also forced to confront his own motivations, and to ask whether he, himself, has not been compromised by the system that he set out to change.

"No one can deny that Chief the Honourable M A Nanga, MP, was the most approachable politician in the country. Whether you asked in the city or in his home village, Anata, they would tell you he was a man of the people. I have to admit this from the outset or else the story I'm going to tell will make no sense."

"My father was a District Interpreter. In those days when no one understood as much as 'come' in the white man's language, the District Officer was like the Supreme Deity, and the interpreter the principal minor god who carried prayers and sacrifice to him. Every sensible supplicant knew that the lesser god must first be wooed and put in a sweet frame of mind before he could undertake to intercede with the Owner of the Sky. So interpreters in those days were powerful, very rich, widely known and hated. Wherever the DO's power was felt - and that meant everywhere - the Interpreter's name was held in fear and trembling."

"The appearance of comparative peace which Max's house presented to me that morning proved quite deceptive. Or perhaps some of Chief Nanga's 'queen bee' characteristics had rubbed off on me and transformed me into an independent little nucleus of activity which I had trailed with me into this new place. That first night I not only heard of a new political party about to be born but got myself enrolled as a foundation member. Max and some of his friends having watched with deepening disillusion the use to which our hard-won freedom was being put by corrupt, mediocre politicians had decided to come together and launch the Common People's Convention."

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

A History of the World in 50 Novels: 47 - "Earthly Powers," by Anthony Burgess

For more than a thousand years, through the Middle Ages and the Early Modern era, the lives of most people in Europe west of the Aegean resonated to the rhythms, chants, melodies, and prayers of the Roman Catholic Church. In cathedrals, abbeys, and parish churches, from the Arctic Circle to Malta, and from Poland to Portugal, bells, incense, and the words of the Latin Mass, coalesced to provide a fixed point in lives all too often disrupted by the uncertainties of plague, famine, and war. Although convulsed by the Protestant Reformation of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries; by the anti-clericalism of the French Revolution, and parallel movements elsewhere in the world; and by the advance of scientific rationalism and secularism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries; the Roman Catholic Church remains, to this day, one of the largest organisations in the World, with an estimated 1.27 billion members.

Saint Peters Basilica, Rome. Photo: Alberto Luccaroni (licensed under GNU).

In order to maintain its position, however, the Church has had to adapt. Until the unification of Italy in 1870, the Pope was a secular ruler, as well as a spiritual leader, controlling lands centered on the city of Rome itself. He retains the title of Pontifex Maximus, once held by Julius Caesar, but his territorial remit is now confined to the Vatican City itself, the result of a treaty between the Church and the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, which could hardly have failed to compromise the integrity of the Holy See. In the dark days of the Second World War, some clergy played a heroic role, sheltering Jews and other refugees from the Nazi and Fascist regimes; others collaborated enthusiastically; whilst many more walked a precarious tightrope between collaboration and resistance.

Souvenir of the Lateran Treaty of 1929 (pictured are King Victor Emmanuel III, Pope Pius XI, and Benito Mussolini). Image is in the Public Domain). 
The territory of the Vatican City, as defined under the treaty (image is in the Public Domain).

By the 1960s, with the physical and political reconstruction of Europe well underway, the Church was ready for reform. Pope John XXIII (reigned 1958-1963) surprised the Catholic world by summoning the Second Vatican Council, which would replace the Latin Mass with services in the languages of ordinary people; and sweep away many of the material trappings of Medieval ritual; whilst stopping short of the reforms that some of the most liberal commentators might have wished to see (married clergy, reproductive freedoms for the laity, an enhanced role for women within the Church). It continues to influence the shape of Catholic policy today: those who played prominent roles in the Council included the future Popes Paul VI, John-Paul I, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI.

Pope John XXIII receiving Father James Alberione, an Italian priest credited as a pioneer of the Church's use of mass-media. Photo: (reproduced with permission). 

The Second Vatican Council. Photo: Lothar Wolleh (Licensed under CCA).

Anthony Burgess's novel, Earthly Powers, spans the first eight decades of the Twentieth Century, including both world wars, and the years following the second. Its unreliable narrator is Kenneth Toomey, a revered English man of letters, thought by many to have been styled on W. Somerset Maugham. Toomey is homosexual, one of the first generation of gay men to have lived more or less openly as such, without suffering the active persecution visited upon predecessors such as Oscar Wilde.

Toomey's sister marries an Italian-American musician, Domenico Campanati, whose brother, Carlo, is an ambitious and reforming churchman, destined to ascend the Throne of Saint Peter as Pope Gregory XVII (he is not exactly a cypher for John XXIII, but there are clear parallels, including the broad timing of his reign). In the background however, is the darker figure of an American evangelist, Godfrey ("call me God, it's just an abbreviation, after all") Manning, with surprising links to the reforming Pope. The novel is a half-serious, half-comic, meditation on power, secular and sacred, set against the background of the world-changing events and vibrant literary personalities (Hemingway, Joyce) of the Twentieth Century.

"It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me. 'Very good, Ali,' I quavered in Spanish through the closed door of the master bedroom. 'Take him into the bar. Give him a drink ... Give his chaplain a drink also.'"

"Don Carlo's telegram had said he was coming for five days, but in fact he stayed well over a week. He had been gaining a reputation, I gathered, in the field of exorcism, and there was a tough job of exorcism to perform just outside of Nice. The Bishop of Nice had requested his services ... Don Carlo was said by His Grace to be the best man in Europe at fighting the devil, and this was meant very literally. The devil was no metaphor to some of these churchmen but a palpable entity, or rather a well-structured army of entities (hence the name Legion, as in British Legion), with the Son of Morning as generalissimo in charge of Belial and Beelzebub and Mephistophilis, as well as a large number of NCOs and privates eager to fight the bad fight and gain promotion. A lot of nonsense I thought at the time, but Don Carlo was ready to march in with the Rituale Romanum and, so to speak, knock hell out of these minor devils that had camped in the bodies of the innocent."

"On that early October evening in 1958 Carlo Campanti left my life and his ample flesh spilled over from the confines of memoirs into the arena of history. You know as much about Pope Gregory XVII as I. Henceforth I was to see him only blessing fatly in the media, kissing the feet of the poor, weeping with earthquake widows, treading the Via Crucis, embracing criminals and communist leaders, inaugurating the Vatican Council, which, under his leadership, his goading and coaxing and bullying, rather, was to modernise the Church and bring it closer to the needs of the people ... There were strip cartoons in which he was the hero. Kids in jeans and teeshirts sang songs about him:

Pope Gregory Pope Gregory
Free our souls from sin
Rescue the world from beggary
Let the light shine in."

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.