Category Archives: Court

Clothing Court Marriage

Upon her heade a crowne of refined golde

These fragments come from an account of the marriage of Elizabeth, daughter to James I, and Frederick V of Palatinate ( a region of Germany), on 14th February 1613 at the Royal Chapel, Whitehall.  The celebrations began on the Thursday with a spectacular firework display on the river Thames, and continued into the weekend with mock sea battles, masques, and all manner of ‘triumphant sportes’.  The weekend culminated in the royal wedding itself.

The Court being placed full of people of many Estates, sortes, and Nations, first came the Bride-groom from the newe built Banquetting-house, attired in a white Satten sute, richly beset with Pearle and Golde, attended on by a number of young gallant Courtiers, both English, Scottish, and Dutch, all in rich manner, every one striving to exceede in sumptuous habilliaments, fitte for the attendants of so princely a Bride-groome.  After came the Lady Elizabeth, in her Virgin-robes, clothed in a gowne of white Satten richly embroidered, led betweene her royall brother Prince Charles, and the Earle of Northampton.  Upon her head a crowne of refined golde, made imperiall by the Pearles and Dyamonds thereupon placed, which were so thicke beset that they stood like shining pinnacles.  Upon her amber coloured haire, hanging plaited down over her shoulders to her Waste, betweene every plaight Gold spangles, Pearles, Riche stones, and Diamonds, and many Diamonds of inestimable value embroidered upon her sleeves, which dazzled and amazed the eyes of the beholders.  Her traine in most sumptuous manner carried up by fourteene or fifteene Ladies, attired in white Satten gownes adorned with many rich Jewells.


After went a traine of Noble-mens Daughters, in white Vestements, gloriously set forth.  These Virgin Brides-maides attended upon the Princesse like a skye of Celestiall starres.  After them came another traine of gallant young Courtiers in sutes embroidered and Pearled, who were Knightes, and the sonnes of great Courtiers.  After them came four Heralds at Armes, in their rich coates of Heraldrie, and then followed many Earles, Lords, and Barrens, of Scotland as well as England, in most noble manner, then the king of Heralds bearing upon his shoulder a Mace of Golde, and then followed the honourable Lords of his Highness privie Councell, which passed along towards the Chappell.  And then came four reverend Bishops of the Land in their Church habilliaments.  After them four Seargiants of the Mace, bearing upon their shoulders foure riche Enamelled Maces.

Then followed the right Honourable the Earle of Aundell carrying the kings Sword. And then in great Royaltie the Kings Majestie himself in a most sumptuous black sute with a Dyamond in his hatte of a wonderfull value.  Close unto him came the Queene attired in white Satten, beautified with much embroidery and many Diamonds.  Upon her attended a number of married Ladies, the Countesses and wives of Earles and Barrons, apparelled in most noble manner which added glory into this triumphant time and Marriage. Then went the passages of our States of England, accompanying the princely Bride and Bridegroome to his Highness Chappell, where after the celebration of the Marriage, contracted in the presence of the King, Queene, prince Charles and the rest, they returned into the banquetting house with great joy.


The Lady Elizabeth thus being made a Wife was led backe by two Batchellors as before.  At the Bridegrooms returne from Chappell went five of his own Country gallants clad in crimson Velvet laide exceedingly thicke with gold lace, bearing in their hands five silver Trumpets. They presented him with a melodious sound of the same, flourishing so delightfully that it greatly rejoyced the whole Court, and caused thousands to say at the same time ‘God give them joy, God give them joy’.  Thus preparing for dinner they passed away a certain time and after fell to Dancing, Masking, and Revelling, according to the custome of such Assemblies, which contined all the day and part of the night in great pleasure.

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Court Travel

Twice every week Elephants fight before him

These fragments come from Thomas Coryat (1577?-1617), an English travel writer responsible for introducing the idea of the Grand Tour to the English. In 1616, just a year before his death, his account of his travels in India were printed in London. What follows are his comments on the court of the Maharajah, usually resident in Agra, now home to the Taj Mahal, but then temporarily located in the town of Ashmere (modern day Ajmer near Pushkar).

Now I am at the Moguls Court, I think you would be glad to receive some narration thereof from me, though succinctly handled: for I meane to be very compendious.  This present Prince is a verie worthy person, by name Selim, of which name I never read or heard of any more than one Mahometan King, which was Suliam Selim of Constantinople, that lived about 80 years since; the same that conquered Jerusalem and Damascus.

He is 53 yeares of age, his nativitie day having beene celebrated with wonderfull pompe since my arrivall here. For that day he weighed himselfe in a paire of golden Scales, which by great chance I saw the same day (a custome that he observeth every year) laying so much golde in the other scale as countervaileth the weight of his body, and the same he afterward distributed to the poore. He is of complection neither white nor blacke, but of a middle betwixt them. I know not how to expresse it with a more expressive & significant epitheton then Olive: an Olive colour his face presenteth.  He is of a seemelie composition of bodie, of a stature little unequall (as I guesse not without grounds of probabilitie) to mine, but much more corpulent then my selfe.

The extent of his Dominion is verie spacious, beeing in circuite, little lesse then 4000 English miles, which verie neere answereth the compass of the Turks territorie. In these two thinges hee exceedeth the Turks, in the fatnesse (as I have said) of his Land, no part of the world yeelding a more fruitfull veine of ground then all that which lieth in his Empire, saving that part of Babylonia, where the terrestriall Paradise once stoode/ Whereas a great part of the Turkes Land is extreme barren and sterill, as I have observed in my peregrination thereof, especially in Syria, Mesopotamia and Armenia; many large portions thereof beeing so wonderfull fruitelesse, that it beareth no good thing at all. Secondly, in the conjunction and union of all his Territories, together in one & the same goodly continent of India, no Prince having a foote of land within him.

Hee speaketh very reverently of our Saviour, calling him in the Indian tongue, Ifazaret Eesa, that is, the great Prophet Jesus. And all Christians, especiallie us English, he useth so benevolently as no Mahometan Prince the like.  Hee keepeth abundance of wilde Beasts, & that of diuers sorts, as Lyons, Elephants Loepards, Beares, Antlops, Vnicornes; whereof two I have seene at his Court, the strangest beasts of the world: they were brought hither out of the Countrie of Bengala, which is a kingdome of most singular fertilitie within the compasse of his Dominion, about foure moneths journey from this, the midland parts therof being watered by divers channels of the famous Ganges, which I have not as yet seene, but (God willing) I meane to visite it before my departure out of this Countrie, the neerest part of it beeing not aboue twelve daies journy from this Court.

The King presenteth himselfe thrice every daie without faile to his Nobles, at the rising of the Sunne, which he adoreth by the elevation of his hands; at noone, and at five of the clocke in the evening: but he standeth in a roome aloft, alone by him selfe, and looketh uppon them from a window that hath an embroidered sumptuous coverture, supported with two silver pillasters to yeeld shaddowe unto him. Twice every week Elephants fight before him, the bravest spectacle in the worlde: many of them are thirteene foot and a halfe high; and they seeme to justle together like two little Mountaines, and were they not parted in the middest of their fighting by certaine fire-workes, they would exceedingly gore and cruentate one another by their murdering teeth.  Of Elephants the King keepeth 30000 in his whole Kingdome at an unmeasurable charge; in feeding of whom, and his Lyons, and other Beasts, he spendeth an incredible masse of money, at the least ten thousand pounds sterling a day. I have rid upon an elephant since I came to this Court, determining one day (by Gods leave) to have my picture expressed in my next Booke, sitting upon an Elephant. The King keepeth a thousand women for his own body, whereof the chiefest (which is his Queene) is called Normal.

A good piece on Coryat in India can be found here

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved

Art Biography Court Love

The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs

As regular visitors to Fragments will know, I’ve recently returned from a tour of 17th century India. Taking in the forts, mosques, temples and buildings of mogul Rajasthan brought new layers of meaning to my research into early modern England.  For example, every day goods such as cloves, pepper and nutmeg, and fabrics like silk and calico, were finding their way into the homes of Shakespeare’s London via the East India Company, which was founded in 1600 and given a royal charter by Elizabeth I.  That trade links between England and the Indian sub-continent had been established so early came as something of a surprise to me, and as I delved a little deeper, by way of a little bookshop in Jaipur, in which I spent embarrassingly large amounts of rupees, one name in particular came to the fore again and again. The 17th century mogul emperor Shah Jahan. I became quite fascinated by Shah Jahan, quizzing the Indian historians I met over Kingfisher beers late at night, and poring over accounts of his building works as well as his love life.  His name will no doubt be unfamiliar to many, but his achievements certainly will not. It was Shah Jahan who oversaw the construction of the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world, and possibly the most beautiful building on earth.  I visited the Taj Mahal on Independence Day, which somehow lent the occasion a certain gravity.  I was both awe-inspired, and humbled, and the story behind this most famous of monuments is as enduring as the building itself.

Shah Jahan (1592-1666), became the fifth Mogul ruler of Rajasthan when he succeeded his father, Jahangir, in 1628. Born in Lahore, Prince Shihab-ud-din Muhammad Khurram came to the throne at the age of thirty-five. He was a clever and intelligent, and had already impressed many with his flair for building works, having enlarged the fort at Agra, home of the then royal court, at the age of 16. In 1607, he became engaged to Arjumand Banu Begum, the daughter of a Persian noble.  The legend goes that their eyes met in the marketplace and it was love at first sight. After the wedding, Khurram nicknamed his wife Jewel of the Palace, or Mumtaz Mahal.

Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan 

On Khurram’s accession to the throne, the court at Agra, which he preferred to that at Delhi, was greatly expanded. He built public and private audience halls, a residential hall known as the Court of the Grapes overlooking the river, and a congregational mosque known as the Pearl Mosque.   In 1638 Jahan moved the court from Agra to Delhi, forming a new city known as Shahjahanabad.  Its design was undertaken by Ahmed Lahwari, the chief architect of the Taj Mahal.  This walled city included water courses, homes for the nobility, mosques, gardens, and a fortified palace known as the Red Fort.

Red Fort at Delhi

During their marriage, Mumtaz and Shah Jahan were inseparable.  She was not his only wife; he married two other women during his reign, but his relationships with these wives was said to be nothing more than ceremonial. Mumtaz was the true love of his life. But while on campaign with her husband in 1631, she died giving birth to their fourteenth child.  Khurram was utterly grief-stricken. It is said he ordered his court into a period of mourning from which he emerged white-haired and broken.  Rumours abound that Mumtaz, on her deathbed, demanded that Khurram build her a lasting monument, a building unrivalled throughout the world, in order to demonstrate his love for her.  Whatever the truth, Shah Jahan began construction of a mausoleum for Mumtaz in 1632 on the banks of the river Yamuna in Agra.  ‘He intends it shall excel all other,’ wrote an East India employee travelling through Agra in the 1630s. ‘The building goes on with excessive labour and cost, prosecuted with extraordinary diligence, gold and silver [being] esteemed common metall and marble as ordinarie stone.’

The design of the Taj Mahal is purely Islamic.  It is said to represent the image of the Throne of God; the marble dome which sits over Mumtaz’s tomb is 35 metres high, and the four minarets set at each of the four corners are over 40 metres high.  Earlier buildings overseen by Shah Jahan were constructed from red sandstone, but the Taj Mahal was built entirely from white marble, inlaid with semi-precious stones.  As a Muslim tomb, pictorial representations were strictly forbidden, so in addition to the exquisite patterns laid into the marble, verses from the Koran decorate and adorn the building.   The Taj Mahal was completed in 1643 and was instantly considered a masterpiece.

In 1657, Khurram’s son, Aurangzeb, seized power and imprisoned his father in the fort at Agra with a small retinue.  Now in poor health, and under house arrest, Shah Jahan spent the remainder of his days in a small suite of rooms which overlooked the river and his monument to Mumtaz.

 Shah Jahan’s rooms at Agra Fort
View of the Taj Mahal from Agra Fort

It is said that Khurram planned to build a mirror monument to himself in black marble across the river from the Taj Mahal, but this claim has yet to be substantiated. He said of his wife’s tomb:

Should guilty seek asylum here,
Like one pardoned, he becomes free from sin.
Should a sinner make his way to this mansion,
All his past sins are to be washed away.
The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs;
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.
In this world this edifice has been made;
To display thereby the creator’s glory.

On his deathbed in 1666, Shah Jahan reportedly kept his eyes fixed firmly on the Taj Mahal. After his death he was buried alongside his beloved Mumtaz in the dazzling building he had erected in her memory.

Sources for this post are largely confined to the many people I spoke to in India. However some biographical information and other details comes from John Keay’s authoratitive India: A History, Harper Collins, India (2004).
© 2009-2014 All Rights Reserved
Biography Court Elizabeth London

The life of Sir Walter Ralegh

Today’s fragments form an overview of the life of one of England’s most famous explorers and courtiers.

Walter Ralegh (1554-1618) was born at Hayes, near East Budleigh, in Devon. He was the second son of Walter Ralegh and his third wife, Katherine. The Raleghs were an old-established Protestant family; Walter senior was the deputy vice-admiral under Mary I from 1555 to 1558, and Katherine Ralegh’s children from her first marriage included the famous mariner and soldier Sir Humphrey Gilbert, whose career greatly influenced Walter.

Little is known of Walter’s early life. It is thought he was an ‘indefatigable Reader’, and remarks gleaned from his History of the World, which he published in 1614, suggest he served as volunteer with the Huguenot armies in France from about 1569.

Walter attended Oriel College, Oxford in 1572, and left without a degree, being admitted to the Middle Temple in 1575. His first published poem appeared in George Gascoigne’s The Steel Glass in 1576.

Walter’s mother’s elder sister, Katherine Astley, had been governess to Elizabeth I from 1544, and she became her chief gentlewoman in 1558. It may have been this connection which offered Ralegh his initial introduction at court. In 1578, Walter’s step-brother Humphrey secured a patent to discover ‘remote, heathen and barbarous lands’ and Walter sailed in his fleet as captain of the Falcon. The expedition was beleaguered with storms and desertions, but Ralegh continued on into the Atlantic in search of adventure, eventually returning to Plymouth in 1579.

In 1580, he secured a captain’s commission and was sent to Ireland to tackle the Desmond rebellion.  Serving under Arthur Grey in county Kerry, Ralegh oversaw the slaughter of a force of Italian and Spanish adventurers who had landed in support of the Irish rebels. It was at this time that he fathered his first child, of which little is known; it has been suggested that Ralegh later betrothed the child to Daniel Dumaresq, his page, and that the girl died of plague.


Walter returned to court in 1581, and soon attracted the attention of the queen. He was a tall man, with dark hair and attractive features. The famous story of him spreading his cloak over a puddle to allow the Queen to walk without getting her feet muddied is probably no more than gossip recorded by Thomas Fuller. Nonetheless, Walter quickly became one of the queen’s favourites, and he wrote her elegant, courtly poems, one of which, Farewell false love, was read widely during the early 1580s. In 1583, Elizabeth granted Ralegh one of her favourite palaces, Durham Place on the Strand. It came complete with a lantern tower which had views across London ‘as pleasant perhaps as any in the world.’

Humphrey Gilbert died in 1583, and Ralegh took up his half-brother’s ambitious plans to colonise the New World. In 1585, having secured his patents, Ralegh set off on his expedition, taking four ships and 600 men, including his cousin, Sir Richard Grenville. Ralegh’s grand plans to reach Virginia came to fruition under Grenville, who left men to settle on Roanoke Island, while he himself went on to pursue a private voyage in search of wealth and plunder. By the summer of the following year, the colonists were on the point of starvation, and many chose to return home with Sir Francis Drake, who had anchored at Roanoke on his return from the Caribbean. In 1587, Ralegh embarked on another expedition to the New World, however this enterprise was as unsuccessful as his last; the colonists suffered the same fate as the inhabitants of Roanoke, and by 1590 the settlement was deserted.

There is an historical myth which claims it was Ralegh who introduced both tobacco and the potato to England. However there is nothing in print to link the potato, which originated in Peru and arrived in Spain by 1570 and wider Europe thereafter, with Ralegh until at least 1699. Likewise, Ralegh’s links with tobacco, which is first mentioned by Christopher Columbus in 1492, and was introduced into Europe by Andre Thevet in the mid fifteenth century and was being smoked in England by c.1571. While Ralegh was not responsible for the introduction of smoking in England, he is thought to have popularised it at court.

In 1591, Ralegh began a liaison with Bess, one of the Queen’s maids of honour, and daughter of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton. On discovering Bess was pregnant later that same year, Ralegh and she were married in secret, knowing full well that news of their union would greatly displease Elizabeth I. Ralegh worked hard to quash rumours of the marriage, but the couple’s son was born in March 1592, after which Bess returned to court, while Ralegh set sail on yet another expedition. By May, he was back in England, and news of his illicit marriage broke. His son was brought to him by his nurse at Durham Place, perhaps the only time the two were together. Ralegh’s wife was placed in the custody of Sir Thomas Heneage, and Ralegh was committed to the custody of Cecil. Ralegh made a variety of pleas to the Queen which only worsened the situation, and on 7th August 1592, both he and his wife were committed to the Tower. Fortunately, one of Ralegh’s overseas expeditions returned home the following month with a huge treasure hoard, and Ralegh was released to oversee the division of the loot. Elizabeth I allowed him to keep a tiny share of the spoils, and it appears she had softened her attitude towards Ralegh, even permitting Bess to be released from the Tower in December of that year.



Unfortunately Ralegh and Bess’s son died in infancy, but their second child, Walter, was born in November 1593. The couple was still banished from court (and Ralegh would remain so until 1597), but Ralegh spent his time in politics, representing Dorset in Parliament. During these years he also began to plan an expedition to discover El Dorado, the mythical lost city of gold. In 1595, he set sail from Plymouth, arriving at a Spanish colony on Trinidad, before travelling on to Orinoco. However, despite his efforts, he arrived home seven months later empty-handed, to the mockery of both Queen and court.

The following year, he was still much in disgrace but the mounting fear of an attack from Spain brought a demand for Ralegh’s maritime experience and he returned to court. The Queen, fearing an invasion, insisted on including Ralegh in the expedition to Cadiz in 1596, which became one of the triumphs of her reign.

In 1603, Elizabeth died, and Ralegh, having by now made some dangerous enemies at court, was quickly rebuffed by the new king, James. He was stripped of his monopolies and told to leave Durham House. In the summer of the same year he was detained for questioning on treason charges, and placed under house arrest. Implicated in the Main plot, which intended the death of the King and a Spanish invasion, Ralegh was sent to the Tower. In intense despair, he attempted a failed suicide bid, and lived as a prisoner at the Tower until 1612. He was permitted two rooms in the Bloody Tower (which can still be seen today), books, and a garden. During his imprisonment he wrote his major work, The History of the World, which he began writing in 1607. It was eventually published in 1614.


Ralegh’s room, preserved at the Tower of London

Ralegh was finally released from the Tower in 1616, and he at once began plans for another expedition to find El Dorado. He set sail in August, but illness, desertion, and a demoralised crew ensured that Ralegh eventually returned to England empty-handed, and something of a broken man. This last failure was a hard blow, ‘My braines are broken,’ he wrote to Bess on 22nd March, ‘and tis a torment to me to write.’

In 1618, Ralegh was once more arrested, this time over reports that activity during his final expedition had placed the peace between England and Spain in jeopardy. Placed under house arrest, Ralegh made a failed escape bid to France, and was once again sent to the Tower. Despite moving speeches and entreaties, Ralegh’s pleas for clemency were ignored, and he was executed on 29th October 1618 at Westminster. His head, severed after the second blow, was placed in a leather bag, and kept by his wife, while his body was buried at St Margaret’s, Westminster.

In the years following his death, Ralegh’s popularity as a poet and adventurer grew. His works were published and republished, and he developed a cult status as a gentleman explorer and pioneer which continues to this day.

Source: Mark Nicholls, DNB.

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