Category Archives: London

Bankside Entertainment London Playwrights Propaganda Stage Theatre

A Game At Chess

The following is an extract from a letter written by the Spanish Ambassador, in which he outlines the performance of a play at the Globe written by Thomas Middleton. A Game at Chess is a notoriously anti-Catholic play. It was licensed for performance on 12th June 1624, but was not performed by the King’s Men at the Globe until 6th August, by which time James I was out of London. It ran for nine days before being closed by the authorities. In addition to the rabid anti-Catholic slant the ambassador so objects to, and it is important to remember the play was performed at the height of English anxiety about the Spanish Match, his account reveals some fascinating details about production and performance styles on the London stage at this time

The actors whom they call here ‘the King’s Men’ have recently acted, and are still acting, in London a play that so many people come to see, that there were more than 3,000 on the day that the audience was the smallest. There was such merriment, hubbub and applause that even if I had been many leagues away it would not have been possible for me not have taken notice of it…

The subject  of the play is a game of chess, with white squares and black squares, their kings and other pieces, acted by the players, and the king of the blacks has easily been taken for our lord the King, because of his youth, dress and other details. The first act, or rather game was played by their ministers, impersonated by the white pieces, and the Jesuits, by the black ones. Here there were remarkable acts of sacrilege and, among other abominations, a minister summoned St Ignatius from hell, and when he found himself again in the world, the first thing he did was to rape one of his female penitents; in all this, these accursed and abominable men revealed the depths of their heresy by their lewd and obscene actions.

The second act was directed against the Archbishop of Spalatro, at that time a white piece, but afterwards won over to the black side by the Count of Gondomar, who, brought onto the stage in his litter almost to the life, and seated in his chair with a hole in it (they said), confessed all the treacherous actions with which he had deceived and soothed the king of the whites, and, when he discussed the matter of confession with the Jesuits, the actor disguised as the Count took out a book in which were rated all the prices for which henceforwards sins were to be forgiven…

The last act ended with a long, obstinate struggle between all the whites and the blacks, and in it he who acted the Prince of Wales heartily beat and kicked the ‘Count of Gondomar’ into Hell, which consisted of a great hole and hideous figures; and the white king [drove] the black king and even his queen [into Hell] almost as offensively.

It cannot be pleaded that those who repeat and hear these insults are merely rogues because during these last four days more than 12,000 persons have all heard the play of A Game at Chess, for so they call it, including all the nobility still in London. All these people come out of the theatre so inflamed against Spain that, as a few Catholics have told me who went secretly to the play, my person would not be safe in the streets; others have advised me to keep to my house with a good guard, and this is being done.

Don Carlos Coloma to the Count-Duke of Olivares, 10 August 1624.

Cited in Houston, S J., James I, Second Edition (Longman, 1995), 128-9

Death Household London Medicine

All Bed Clothes Of The Infected To Be Burned


Today, some advice on surviving the plague, published in 1603 by a London doctor: Abstain from sex, drink wine for breakfast, and put a clove in your mouth when leaving the house.


Perceiving many in this Citie to weare about their necks, upon the region of the heart, certaine Amulets (as Preservatives against the Pestilence) confected of Arsenicke, a strong poyson, I have thought it needfull to declare briefly my opinion touching the said Amulets: My opinion is that these Placents of Arsenicke carried about upon the Region of the heart, are so farre from effecting any good in that kinde, as a preservative, that they are very dangerous and hurtfull, if not pernicious to those that weare them.

All dead corpses be layd a convenient depth in the ground, and not one coffin heaped upon another. It were necessarie the place of Buriall should be on the South side of the Citie, that the Sunne may draw the vapours from it.

Let care be had that the streets, especially the narrow lanes and allies, be kept from annoyance of dung-hilles, vaults or houses of office, the common sewers and chanels be well purged and scowred, the dung-farmers tyed to their stint of time in Winter, and not suffered (unlesse urgent necessitie require) to perfume the streets all Summer long, especially in this time of contagion. Let not the carkasses of horses, dogs, cats, &c. lye rotting and poysoning the ayre (as they have done) in More and Finsburie fields, and elsewhere round about the Citie.

Let the Pipes layd from the new River be often opened, to clense the channels of every streete in the Citie. Let the Ditches towards the suburbs, especially towards Islington and Pick-hatch, Old-streete, and towards Shoreditch and White-chappell, be well cleansed, and if it might be, the water of the new River to runne through them, as also the like to be done through the Burrough of South-worke.

Let the ayre be purged and corrected, especially in evenings which are somewhat cold, and in places low and neare the River (as Thames street and the Allyes there about) by making fires of Oaken or Ash wood, with some few bundles of Juniper cast into them.

Let men in their private houses amend the aire by laying in their windowes sweet herbes, as Marjoram, Time, Rosemarie, Balme, Fennell, Peniroyall, Mints, &c. Likewise by burning Juniper, Rosemarie, Time, Bay-leaves, Cloves, Cinamon, or using other compound perfumes. The poorer sort may burne Worme-wood, Rue, Time. Let them cast often on the floores of their houses water mingled with Vineger.

Concourse of people to Stage-playes, Wakes or Feasts, and May-pole dauncings, are to be prohibited by publique Authoritie, whereby the bodies of men and women by surfetting, drunkennes, and other riots, the contagion dangerously scattered both in Citie and Countrie.

Let the Bells in Cities and Townes be rung often, and the great Ordnance discharged, thereby the aire is purified.

Touching our regiment and diet, those meats are to be used which are of easie digestion and apt to breed good juice. Such as are of hard concoction are to be avoyded: specially those that easily corrupt and putrifie in the stomacke, as the most part of summer fruit, raw cherries, plums, apples, &c.

The blankets, matresses, flockbeds, and all bed-clothes of the infected, are to be burned, also leather garments, because they hold the infection very long. Alexander Benedictus reports that in Venice, a flockbed used in a contagious time, was after 7 yeares found in an inward roome, the Mistris of the house commanded the servants to ayre and beat it, whereupon the servants were instantly infected with the pestilence and died.

It is not good to be abroad in the ayre early in the morning before the Sunne has purified the ayre, or late in the night after Sunne-setting. In rainie, darke, and cloudie weather, keepe to your house as much as you can.

Let your exercise be moderate. The time of exercise is an houre before dinner or supper, not in the heat of the day, or when the stomacke is full. Use seldome familiaritie with Venus, for shee enfeebleth the body, and maketh it more obnoxious to externall injuries.

You may feede three times in the day, but more sparingly than at other times. Shunne varietie of dishes at one meale: The most simple feeding is the most wholsome feeding.

Goe not forth of your house into the ayre, neither willingly speake with any, till you have broken your Fast. For breakfast you may use a good draught of wormwood beere or ale, and a few morsels of bread and butter with the leaves of sage, or else a toste with sweet salade oyle, two or three drops of rose vinegar, and a little sugar. They that have cold stomackes may drinke a draught of wormewood wine or malmsey, in stead of small beere. But take heed of extreame hot waters, as Aqua vitae.

If you be not accustomed to a breakfast, take the quantitie of a Nutmeg or thereabouts of some cordiall before you set foot out of doores.

As you walke in the streets or talke with any; hold in your mouth a Clove, or a peece of  Angelica.

Once in foure of five dayes take three or foure cordiall and stomachicall pilles by direction of your Physitian, to fortifie the heart and stomacke against all corruption, and to cleanse your body from such humours as may dispose you to the sicknesse.

If any man be bound by Religion, office, or any such respect, to visite the sicke parties, let him first provide that the chamber bee well perfumed, the windowes layd with the herbes afore-named, the floore cleane swept and sprinkled with rose-water and vineger: that there be a fire of sweet wood burning in the chimney, the windowes being shut for an houre, then open the casements towardes the North. Then let him wash his face and hands with rose-water and rose-vineger, and enter into the chamber with a waxe candle in the one hand, and a sponge with rose-vineger and wormewood, or some other Pomander, to smell unto. Let him hold in his mouth a peece of Cinamon, or Citron, or a Clove. Let him desire his sicke friend to speake with his face turned from him.

When he goeth forth, let him wash his hands and face with rose vineger and water as before, especially if he have taken his friend by the hand as the manner is: and going presently to his owne house, let him change his garments, and lay those wherein he visited his friend, apart for a good time before he resume them againe.

Let him not forget upon his returne home or before, to take a convenient quantitie of his cordiall, and forbeare meat an houre or two after it.


Published list of plague deaths by London parish, 1603 

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London Maps Shakespeare Theatre

Shakespeare in Cripplegate

I’ve been chasing Shakespeare around London in an attempt to trace his various homes from the early 1590s until his retirement in 1613. I thought it might be fun to compare his approximate locations on the map created by Ralph Agas, who surveyed London in the late 16th and early 17th Centuries (c.1570-1605), with current equivalent locations in modern London. What follows are a series of map locations and images related to Shakespeare’s known accommodation during these years.



Firstly, Shakespeare in Bishopsgate. He is known to have been living here in 1596, when he was assessed on goods valued at £5, and subsequently taxed 5 shillings. We don’t know the exact address at which he lived, but he was recorded as being resident in the parish of St Helens.





Bishopsgate c.1595

The arrow indicates the church of St Helens.



Bishopsgate 2012

St Helen’s church today, indicated by the arrow.



By 1599, Shakespeare had left Bishopsgate and moved across the river to Bankside. He is believed to have lodged in the liberty of the Clink in Southwark, just down from the newly-built Globe theatre.





Liberty of the Clink c.1599



Clink 2012



Bankside before 1599



Bankside 2012



The Globe 2012




In 1604, Shakespeare was living with the Mountjoy family on Silver Street, Cripplegate.


City of London



Cripplegate c.1600

The arrow indicates Shakespeare’s lodgings, in the house at the corner of Silver Street and Monkwell Street.



City of London 2012

The arrow indicates the approximate site of Shakespeare’s Cripplegate lodgings today, on the corner of Noble Street and London Wall.



In March 1613, Shakespeare bought the Blackfriars Gatehouse. It is unclear whether he ever lived in it, but after his death in 1616, it passed to his daughter Susanna:

And also all that tenemente with the appurtenaunces, wherein one John Robinson dwelleth, lying and being, in the Blackfriers in London, nere the Wardrobe. And all my other landes, tenementes, and hereditamentes whatsoever.





Blackfriars c.1600

The site of the Blackfriars theatre. Shakespeare owned the Gatehouse nearby.



Blackfriars 2012



Finally, I’ve highlighted many of the theatres familiar to Shakespeare’s audiences on the Agas map.

 Left to Right top Row:

1)The Phoeneix/Cockpit, Drury Lane 2) The Red Bull, Clerkenwell 3) The Fortune, Whitecross Street
4) The Curtain, Shoreditch, and above it 5) The Theatre

Left to Right Middle Row:

1) Whitefriars 2) Blackfriars

Left to Right Bottom Row:

1) The Swan 2) The Hope 3) The Rose 4) The Globe



Source for Shakespeare’s addresses: Charles Nicholl, The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street (Penguin, 2007). Nicholl’s book provides lots of fascinating detail about Shakespeare’s life in Cripplegate.

Explore the Agas map in detail here

Books Church London

Old St Paul’s Cathedral


Today, some gorgeous engravings of the exterior and interior of the old St Paul’s Cathedral, which burned down during the Great Fire in 1666. The engravings come from William Dugdale’s History of St Pauls (1658), and are by Wenceslas Hollar. The building known as Old St Paul’s was the fourth church in this location, and it was begun in 1087. The church was consecrated in 1240, but work continued on St Paul’s until 1314, when it became the third-longest church in Europe. By the sixteenth century, it was falling into disrepair, and with the dissolution of the monasteries, many buildings in the churchyard were sold as commercial properties, particularly bookshops. It was here where Shakespeare would probably have bought his paper, books, and quills, and where Londoners gathered to catch up on all the latest gossip and listen to public sermons. In 1561, the spire was destroyed by lightning, and was not replaced. The outdoor pulpit known as St Paul’s Cross can be seen here. Inigo Jones added the west front to the cathedral in the 1630s.


From the West



From the South



From the East



From the North



Rose Window






Lady Chapel






Chapter House and Choir



Monument to John Donne


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