Category Archives: Propaganda

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 Propaganda

These Papist Priests Were Drawne Along

These fragments come from a popular ballad on the death of two Jesuit priests. The death of traitors in England was particularly gristly and involved hanging, drawing, and quartering. A description and explanation can be found here.  The combination of such horrifying subject matter with a catchy and memorable melody – this ballad was to be sung to the tune of ‘A Rich Merchant Man’ – reveals the fascinating way in which death was regarded in early modern England. Everybody would have had access to ballads such as this because they were mass produced and very cheap. A source of entertainment to many, but also a powerful means by which the government could demonise Catholicism and warn of the dangers of Popish practises.

A Warning to All Priests and Jesuits

Then Jesuites, Priests, and Fryers,
to Rome make haste away,
Least that the Gallowes doe prove your hires
if you in England stay.

The names of these two Priests
like Traytors Judg’d to die,
Shall herein briefely be exprest,
to you immediately.

They that our Lawes contemn’d,
the one call’d Albert Roe,
And Father Renals being condemn’d,
above seven yeares agoe.

From Newgate they were sent
like birds both of one feather.
And lovingly up Holborne went
both on one fledge together.

Fast bound and guarded strong,
unto their dying place,
These Papist Priests were drawne along
to suffer in disgrace.

Then hang’d till almost dead,
and so immediately,
Were both cut downe and quartered,
as Traitors use to die.

Then Jesuites Priests and Fryers,
to Rome make haste away,
Least that the Gallowes prove your bires,
if you in England stay.

Their members and their hearts,
were all in fire burn’d,
Their guts, and all their inward parts,
were straight to ashes turn’d.

Thus with a shamefull end,
they finisht up their dayes,
So must the rest which dares offend,
in such presumptuous waies.

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved
Booze Crime Propaganda Sex Vice

Drinking, fiddling, prostitutes, hangings

Final snippets from Thomas Platter’s observations of London in 1599.

There are a great many inns, taverns, and beer-gardens scattered about the city, where much amusement may be had with eating, drinking, fiddling, and the rest, as for instance in our hostelry, which was visited by players almost daily. And what is particularly curious is that the women as well as the men, in fact more often than they, will frequent the taverns or ale-houses for enjoyment. They count it a great honour to be taken there and given wine with sugar to drink; and if one woman only is invited, then she will bring three or four other women along and they gaily toast each other; the husband afterwards thanks him who has given his wife such pleasure, for they deem it a real kindness.

In the ale-houses tobacco or a species of wound-wort are also obtainable for one’s money, and the powder is lit in a small pipe, the smoke sucked into the mouth, and the saliva is allowed to run freely, after which a good draught of Spanish wine follows. This they regard as a curious medicine for defluctions, and as a pleasure, and the habit is so common with them, that they always carry the instrument on them, and light up on all occasions, at the play, in the taverns or elsewhere, drinking as well as smoking together, as we sit over wine, and it makes them riotous and merry, and rather drowsy, just as if they were drunk, though the effect soon passes — and they use it so abundantly because of the pleasure it gives, that their preachers cry out on them for their self-destruction, and I am told the inside of one man’s veins after death was found to be covered in soot just like a chimney. The herb is imported from the Indies in great quantities, and some types are much stronger than others, which difference one can immediately taste; they perform queer antics when they take it.

This city of London is not only brimful of curiosities but so populous also that one simply cannot walk along the streets for the crowd.  Especially every quarter when the law courts sit in London and they throng from all parts of England for the terms to litigate in numerous matters which have occurred in the interim, for everything is saved up till that time; then there is a slaughtering and a hanging, and from all the prisons (of which there are several scattered about the town where they ask alms of the passers by, and sometimes they collect so much by their begging that they can purchase their freedom) people are taken and tried; when the trial is over, those condemned to the rope are placed on a cart, each one with a rope about his neck, and the hangman drives with them out of the town to the gallows, called Tyburn, almost an hour away from the city; there he fastens them up one after another by the rope and drives the cart off under the gallows, which is not very high off the ground; then the criminals’ friends come and draw them down by their feet, that they may die all the sooner. They are then taken down from the gallows and buried in the neighbouring cemetery, where stands a house haunted by such monsters that no one can live in it, and I myself saw it.  Rarely does a law day in London in all the four sessions pass without some twenty to thirty persons — both men and women — being gibbeted.

And since the city is very large, open, and populous, watch is kept every night in all the streets, so that misdemeanors shall be punished. Good order is also kept in the city in the matter of prostitution, for which special commissions are set up, and when they meet with a case, they punish the man with imprisonment and fine. The woman is taken to Bridewell, the King’s palace, situated near the river, where the executioner scourges her naked before the populace. And although close watch is kept on them, great swarms of these women haunt the town in the taverns and playhouses.

More from Thomas Platter on Bears and Cock Fighting here, and on attending the theatre here 

Medicine Pope Propaganda

A childe without a head

These snippets come from a marvellous propaganda pamphlet entitled A DECLARATION of a Strange and Wonderfull MONSTER published in 1645, which recalls the account of a woman who gave birth to a monster as a direct consequence of cursing the Roundheads.  The account, according to the title page, was subsequently presented to Parliament, complete with a certificate of authenticity signed by a minister, a midwife, and ‘divers other eye-witnesses’.

The Dukedome of Lancashire is the County where this Monster was brought forth.  The people that live there are a mixt number, some precious godly people, but for the most part very bad.  No parts in England hath had so many witches, none fuller of Papists. The Gentlewoman (for so she is both by Birth and Marriage) was delivered of this Monster at her Husbands house in Kirkeham, where the Midwife being sent for, came to her, and delivered her in that house; the child (or rather Monster), was born but dead, and there it was shewed, and from thence carryed into the Church-yard a day or two after, and there buried.  After which some (in Gentlemans habit) were seen to go in, supposed to be Popish Priests and Fryars.

For the course of life which the woman lived, who bore this Monster, it hath been much spent in Popish devotion, and some times in company with her neighbours, the gentlewomen and farmers wives that lived about her. She hath often been heard to curse against the Roundheads, also to revile the Parliament, and she hath been heard to wish that she and hers might never live to be Roundheads, and that the Puritans deserved all to be hanged; and many such like expressions would often fall from her. Amongst the rest, one speach of hers was most notorious, ‘I pray God that [should] I shall be a Roundhead, or bear a roundhead, I may bring forth a Childe without a head.’

Rumours of this headless child quickly spread, and a govenment official eventually order the exhumation of the little body:

Mr Fleetwood caused the grave to be opened, and the childe to be taken up, and laid to view, and found there a body without an head, as the Midwife had said; only the childe had a face upon the breast of it, as you may see in the portraicture.

A certificate of authenticity was

shewed before divers of the Committee, and by Collonel More a Member of the House of Commons, brought up to London, and shewed to divers of the House, who have commanded it to be printed, that so all the Kingdome might see the hand of God herein, to the comfort of his people and the terror of the wicked that deride and scorn them.

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