Category Archives: Curiosities


To raise thy fortune, twill be Sheep

Title page to The Dutch Fortune Teller (1600)

This afternoon I’ve been reading a Do IT Yourself book of fortune telling printed in 1600. The books comprises some questions a reader might like the answers to, followed by some sagacious words of wisdom, which apply to the question depending on a complicated set of instructions in the book’s introduction. From what I can understand, a person asks a question (from the list provided), then makes a note of the number and letters next to that particular question. Then a sort of wheel is required, fortunately printed in the back of the book. The letters and numbers next to the question are then located on the wheel, and two dice are thrown. Whatever number the dice reveal is then located on the wheel, which gives the questioner a number. They then look up that number in the list of answers in the book, and thus have the answer to their question. Not at all complicated.

The book gives this rather baffling example of how to use it.

If you throw 12 upon both Dice, look then for the Number 12 in the same Wheel, whereby you shall find written Worms; this signifieth so much unto you, that you shall go from this Wheel to the lesser Globes, and there to look for the Worm-Globe, which is in the Number 70, within is written JASON, under it this Number 92; which sheweth you further, where you, under the title of JASON, and Number 92, shall find your cast, which was 12, and the Resolution upon your Question.

So, clear as mud. A page from the book showing some of the mysterious wheels:

Here are some of the questions listed in the book. Lovely evidence that in 1600, both men and women were as preoccupied with money, sex, and death, as we are today.

Of all the Questions in general

Whether the sick body shall recover Health?
Whether what is said be Truth or not?
Whether the Person who giveth you fair and good words remains constant to you?
What your dreams may signify to you?
What adventures you shall have this Present day?
Whether the Person who is gone to travel shall come in good Health back again.
In what Trade or Traffic you may have best fortune to adventure your estate or money in?

Merry QUESTIONS for Men and Bachelors only

How many wives a man shall be like to have?
What manner of wife he shall get?
Whether that which you now think upon will come to pass?
To know whether you shall live long, increase in Riches, and be fortunate in your age, yea or no?
To know what fortune may happen to a a child newly born, either boy or girl?
Whether she whom you love so dearly and would fain have doth likewise love you?

For Women and Maidens

Amongst what people one may be accepted of?
To know whether you shall have any Children, yea or no, and how many?
If it were good and convenient to marry him you so constantly bear in your mind?
What Husband may be allotted for you?
Whether you shall get him whom you do love?

Now here come some of the answers, in the shape of individual four-line rhymes (no, it’s not one long weird poem). If you want to read your own fortune 17th Century style, ask one of the questions above (don’t bother with the wheel business), close your eyes, scroll down, point at your screen, and open your eyes. Voila! Your future.

Of any Thing which thou canst keep,
To raise thy Fortune, twill be Sheep:
Thou canst not have a better Thing,
Which will to thee more Profit bring.

So many Suitors you have now,
That very well you do not know
Which amongst them for to take,
Nor who you should your Husband make [helpful]

His love is greater unto thee,
Than ever thine to him will be:
And if his Love should now decline,
The Fault is none of his, tis thine.

Friend, to be short, and end the Strife,
Thou must and shall have but one Wife:
Make much and cherish her therefore,
For when she’s dead, thou get’st no more [nice]

A Pigeon-Merchant right you are,
Your Wealth comes flying in from far:
Be sure that once a Month, or least,
Your goods are like to be increased.

The Journey dangerous will be,
And most unhappy unto thee;
If in the same thou dost proceed,
Its good for thee to take great Heed [buy travel insurance]

Breeding of Hogs is such a Thing,
As special Luck will to you bring,
Wash, Bran, or Grains, they feed on all,
Or that which from your Wife’s backside doth fall.

It is not good to trust this Man
With any Thing, for if he can
In private do thee any ill
‘Tis very like that so he will

And my two personal favourites:

Your Husband will be very old,
Of Features grim, and Nature cold;
With rotten Teeth, and stinking Breath,
And you each Day will wish his Death.

Think on no second Marriage-Bed,
Your husband is already dead;
Prepare yourself, for you, his Wife,
Shall quickly after leave this Life [charming]

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Curiosities Exploration Shakespeare Stage

For keeping two white bears

While reading Ian Donaldson’s splendid new biography of Ben Jonson, Ben Jonson: A Life (OUP, 2011), I was fascinated to note his reference to two potential white polar bears on Bankside supposedly brought back from the Arctic by Jonas Poole in 1609. Donaldson cites an article by Tessa Grant (1) in which Grant poses the view that these bears could perhaps have been used on the London stage. While reading the Calendar of State Papers last autumn, I came across a reference to Henslowe being awarded a license to keep two white bears, prompting further investigations (which also led to Simon Leake’s guest blog post on the little known sport of Horse-Baiting on Bankside). The CSPD contains the following entry:

Warrant to pay to Phil.Henslow and Ed.Allen, Musters of the Game at Paris Garden, 42I.10s and 12d per diem, in future for keeping two white bears and a young lion (2)

Ultimately intrigued by the idea of polar bears appearing on the Jacobean stage, I decided to investigate a little of the life of Jonas Poole. Poole (bap.1566-d.1612) was an English sea captain who volunteered to travel to the arctic circle and beyond in order to further English understanding of exploration and commercial whaling. On 10th April 1603, he set sail for Archangel in the Grace under the leadership of Stephen Bennet, the Grace having been refitted for the journey at the expense of Sir Thomas Cherry, governor of the Muscovy Company. The ship returned in September of the same year, and Poole subsequently travelled to the arctic five more times before 1609. In fact, so successful were Poole’s trips, that he sailed with the first American colonists to Jamestown in 1607. Between 1603 and 1612, Poole sailed to walrus and whaling grounds in the waters of the arctic every single year bar 1607. His accounts of his travels were given to Richard Hakluyt in 1610, and were subsequently published in 1625 by Samuel Purchas (3).

The following is an early 17th Century polar explorer’s description of an encounter with a polar bear:

There came a great bear towards our house, which made us all goe in, and wee levelled at her with our Muskets, and as shee came right before our door, we shot her into the breast, clean through the heart, the bullet passing through her body, and went out againe at her tail, and was as flatted as a Counter, the Beare feeling the blow, leapt backwards, and ran twentie or thirty foot from the house, and there lay down, wherewith wee leapt all out of the house, and ran to her, and found her still alive, and when she saw us, shee rear’d up her head, as if she would gladly have done us some mischief, but we trusted her not, for that we had thread their strength sufficiently before, and therefore we shot her twice into the body again, and therewith shee dyed. Then we rip’d up her belly, and taking out her guttes, drew her home to the House where we flayed her, and took at least one hundred pounds of fat out of her belly, which wee molt’d and burned in our Lampe. This Grease did us great good service, for by that meanes we still kept a Lampe burning all night long, which before wee could not doe, for want of Grease, and eery man had meanes to burned a Lampe in his Cabbin, for such necessaries as he had to doe. The Beares skin was nine foot long, and seven foot broad (4)

Hair-raising stuff. Poole himself speaks of numerous encounters with polar bears while on Cherry Island (Svalbard) in 1609. His account contains references to the killing of bears, foxes, seals, and other wildlife. In one entry, he describes seeing a mother bear with her cubs and yet is unable to kill the cubs because they are only ‘of a month old: they skipped about their dams neck, and played with one another very wantonly’ (5). On 30th May he and his party

slue 26. Seales, and espied three white Beares: wee went aboard for Shot and Powder, and coming to the Ice again, we should see a shee-Beare and two young ones: Master Thomas Welden shot and killed her: after shee was slyane, wee got the young ones, and brought them home into England, where they are still alive in Paris Garden (6).

It’s shocking to imagine explorers like Poole surviving in the hostile environment of the arctic without GPS, modern protective clothing, and access to a plane and medical supplies, but it’s simply astonishing that he should risk bringing two live polar bears, albeit cubs, back to England. Of course, exotic animals were par for the course at court and at the Tower, but nevertheless, Poole’s decision does seem to modern sensibilities either slightly fool-hardy or quite mad.

In 1611, Poole suffered a broken skull and collar bone on Cherry Island while handling his cargo of walrus ivory and whale fat. He was brought home by a rival whaler and recovered sufficiently from his injuries to return to the arctic the following year. However, Poole’s career as a whaler was cut short in September 1612 when he was murdered in Wapping in August, having returned home from what became his final voyage. Poole was survived by his wife and two sons, and his grandson, Jonas, went on to have a successful naval career from 1652 to 1665 (7).

In an interesting addendum, Tessa Grant comments that the water poet John Taylor provides a list of the names of the bears at the Paris Garden (8). Taylor refers specifically to two white bears named Mad Bess and Will Tookey (9). Could they be the Jonas bears? A quick delve into the FAQ at Polar Bear International reveals that in the wild, polar bears live on average 15-18 years. However in captivity they may live well into their late thirties. If the Paris Garden bears are the Cherry Island bears brought back by Jonas, then in 1638 they would have been 29 years old. Grant suggest the Jonas bears retired from the stage in 1612 (9), but it is of course entirely possible they may have lived on as part of the spectacle at the bear gardens for many years to come. And most intriguingly, Simon Foreman records seeing The Winter’s Talein May 1611, just weeks after Henslowe and Allen were granted their warrant to keep ‘two white bears’. It’s a fanciful notion, but perhaps it was the Jonas bears that inspired Shakespeare to write his famous stage direction, ‘Exit, pursued by a bear.’

It is worth noting that there is a second scholarly article on the white bears; Barbara Ravelhofer, “Beasts of Recreation”: Henslowe’s White Bears, English Literary Renaissance, 32 (2002), 287-323
Unfortunately I have been unable to access the article due to the vagaries of the university server. I hope to read it soon, and perhaps update this post.

For more on bears on Bankside see Drunken Cocks and Bear-Baiting

1) Teresa Grant, Notes & Queries, 246 (2001), 311-13
2) CSPD, entry dated March 20th 1611
3) DNB, R C D Baldwin
4) cited in Samuel Purchas, His pilgrimes In fiue bookes (Vol 3), London (1625), 502
5) Ibid 560
6) Ibid 562
7) Baldwin
8) Grant, 312
9) John Taylor, Bull, beare, and horse, cut, curtaile, and longtaile. VVith tales, and tales of buls, clenches, and flashes. As also here and there a touch of our beare-garden-sport; with the second part of the merry conceits of wit and mirth. Together with the names of all the bulls and beares, London (1638),  E.v
10) Grant, 312

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Curiosities Entertainment Sport Theatre

Delightfully worried to death by dogs

Today’s post comes from guest blogger Simon Leake, who explores the curious and often over-looked early modern bloodsport of Horse Baiting.

There are many surviving eyewitness reports of bull and bear-baiting throughout England from the Middle Ages to the early 19th Century. The baiting of horses however seems to have been much less frequent, or less frequently described. Joseph Strutt, in The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England from the Earliest Period (1801) reproduces this image of “the cruel diversion of baiting a horse with dogs, from a fourteenth century manuscript.”

Strutt’s claim is repeated in several subsequent books on the subject, and even finds its way into Chamber’s The Medieval Stage (1903). In more than one of these later books, the baited animal in the image is given a mane

but closer examination of the manuscript upon which Strutt bases his claim, ‘The Queen Mary Psalter’ (MS Royal 2.VII), reveals that the animal in question is clearly a horned bull (see title image) and not a horse.

When horses appear in the Bear Gardens of 16th Century London, they are usually at the end of the bill, sent into the ring with apes tied to their backs. A report from an attendant to the Duke of Nájera, visiting London in 1544, shows that this entertainment was not without violence:

Into the same place they brought a pony with an ape fastened on its back, and to see the animal kicking amongst the dogs, with the screams of the ape, beholding the curs hanging from the ears and neck of the pony, is very laughable.

On the 23rd of August 1584 the German traveller Lupold von Wedel crossed the river to Southwark to see a bear baiting. After watching three bears fight with dogs, but before the baiting of a bull, “a horse was brought in and chased by the dogs.” The performance ended with dancing, fighting, a shower of bread and apples, and a fireworks display.

During the first half of the 17th Century horses continued to have a secondary role in the bloody business of the bear-garden. In his ‘Bull, Beare, and Horse, Cut, Curtail and Longtail’ (1638) John Taylor, the Water Poet, describes the appearance of the mounted ape on his Bear Garden palfrey:

Where Iack-an-Apes his horse doth swiftly run
His circuit, like the horses of the Sun.
And quicke as lightning, his will trace and track,
Making that endlesse round his Zodiacke,
Which Iacke (his Rider) bravely rides a straddle,
And in his hot Careere perfumes the saddle

It is in Restoration London that we find specific references to the baiting of horses, and these events seem to have caused a degree of anxiety that was absent from the baiting of bears and bulls. In both of the following examples the promoters of the event take pains to emphasise the unnatural viciousness of the animal, perhaps attempting to justify the baiting as a form of execution as much as a sport. On the 17th of August 1667 John Evelyn wrote in his diary:

There was now a very gallant horse to be baited to death with doggs; but he fought them all, so as the fiercest of them could not fasten on him, till they run him through with their swords. This wicked and barbarous sport deserv’d to have ben punish’d in the cruel contrivers to get mony, under pretence that the horse had kill’d a man, which was false. I would not be persuaded to be a spectator.

On the 7th of April 1682 the following advertisement ran in Nathaniel Thomson’s newspaper, The Loyal Protestant and True Domestick Intelligence:

London, April 7. At the house on the Bankside, being his Majesties Bear-garden, on Wednesday the 12th day of this instant April, at one of the clock in the afternoon, will be a Horse baited to death, of a most vast strength and greatness, being between 18 and 19 hands high, formerly belonging to the Earl of Rochester, and for his prodigious qualities in killing and destroying several horses, and other cattel, he was transmitted to the Marquiss of Dorchester; where doing the like mischiefs, and also hurting his keeper, he was sold to a brewer; but is now grown so headstrong they dare not work him; for he hath bitten and wounded so many persons (some having died of their wounds) that there is hardly any can pass the streets for him, though he be fast tied; for he breaks his halter to run after them (though loaden with eight barrels of beer), either biting or treading them down, monstrously tearing their flesh, and eating it, the like whereof hath hardly been seen. And ’tis certain the horse will answer the expectation of all spectators. It is intended for the divertisement of his Excellency the Embassadour from the Emperour of Fez and Morocco; many of the nobility and gentry that knew the horse, and several mischiefs done by him, designing to be present.

The venue for this event was Philip Henslowe and Jacob Meade’s Hope Theatre, which had opened in 1614 on the site of the earlier Bear Garden as a dual-purpose venue. By 1682 the Hope was used exclusively for bloodsports, but this event did not go exactly according to plan and the monstrous, murderous horse almost won a reprieve:

London, April 15. This day, the great Horse mentioned in our last being brought to the Bear-garden, several dogs were set upon him, all which he overcame, to the great satisfaction of all the spectators. But, after a little time, a person resolving to save his life, and preserve him for another time, led him away; and being come almost as far as London bridge, the Mobile then in the house cryed out it was a cheat, and thereupon began to untyle the house, and threatened to pull it quite down, if the Horse were not brought again and baited to death. Whereupon the Horse was again brought to the place, and the dogs once more set upon him; but they not being able to overcome him, he was run through with a sword, and dyed. It was designed principally for the entertainment of his Excellency the Embassadour from the Emperour of Fez and Morocco; but, by reason of bad weather, he was not there.

Soon after the baiting of the Earl of Rochester’s horse the Hope appears to have been abandoned as a venue for bloodsports. A new Bear Garden opened at Hockley-in-the-Hole, Clerkenwell, where animals were baited and men fought until the 1730s:

At the Bear-garden in Hockley in the Hole, near Clerkenwell Green, 1710. This is to give notice to all gentlemen, gamesters, and others, that on this present Monday is a match to be fought by two dogs, one from Newgate-market, against one from Honey-lane market, at a bull, for a guinea to be spent, five let-goes out of hand, which goes fairest and fastest in, wins all. Likewise, a green bull to be baited, which was never baited before; and a bull to be turned loose with fireworks all over him. Also a mad ass to be baited. With a variety of bull-baiting and bear-baiting, and a dog to be drawn up with fireworks. To begin exactly at three of the clock.

A much later reference to horse-baiting, from the notes to Alexander Chalmers 1822 edition of The Tatler shows how attitudes to some bloodsports began to change as the 18th century drew to a close:

…it was advertised in 1785, that a fine horse, brought at great expense from Arabia, would be delightfully worried to death by dogs, in an inclosure near the Adam and Eve, in Tottenham-court-road; and to exclude low company, every admission-ticket was to cost half-a-guinea. But the interposition of the magistrates, who doubted of the innocence, or of the wisdom of training dogs and horses to mutual enmity, put a stop for once to that superfine exhibition.

Simon Leake lives in Seattle with his wife and daughter. He tries to be kind to his cat. You can follow him on Twitter here

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Written in ‘orenge’ juice

A secret letter written in orange juice from 1606

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