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Leslie Mahin Oliver

The antagonism that existed so strongly between the theatre and various religious groups during the Elizabethan and Stuart periods, and which achieved its strongest expression, perhaps, in Prynne's Histriomastix and in such plays as The Puritan, may cause us to overlook a minor but definite countertendency of the theatre to play up to the religious interests of a part of the populace. In the earlier decades of the era, mystery and morality plays, though no longer as once under the aegis of the church, remained as reminders to us of the religious origin of the English theatre. We know that down into the 'eighties such plays continued, in diminished numbers, to be written and produced. And from 1590 on, in a theatre increasingly secular and especially anti-Puritan, there were occasional plays that, in whole or in major part, showed a desire in the writers and producers of plays for a raprochement with the bourgeois, church-going elements of the community.

As examples of the tendency we may name Greene and Lodge's A Looking-glass for London and England (printed 1594); Sir John Oldcastle, by Drayton and others (1600); Thomas Lord Cromwell (1602); Heywood's If You Know Not Me You Know Nobody (1605); Rowley's When You See Me You Know Me (1605); Dekker and Massinger's The Virgin Martyr (1622); Shakespeare and Fletcher's Henry VIII (1623); Heywood's England's Elizabeth (1631); his Life and Death of Queen Elizabeth (1639); and Shirley's The Martyred Soldier (1638). In the long roll of lost plays there are a number that, judging by their titles, must belong to the same group. All or a substantial part of the following plays must have been, at least, not utterly repugnant to religious-minded people: Pope Joan (produced ca. 1580-1592); Abraham and Lot (ca. 1580-1594); Haughton's The English Fugitives (? 1600); Judas (1601-2); Rowley's Joshua (1602); Dekker and Munday's Jephtha (1602); and Samson (1602). It may be argued, of course, that these plays could not have been very popular or successful, or they would not


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have been lost; but their mere existence is enough to demonstrate that the minor tendency was present. The period from 1606 to 1621, when no such play is recorded as printed or produced except by such frankly religious groups as that of St. Omers, is the longest hiatus before the closing of the theatres.[1]

Among plays of this sort, and perhaps as good an example of the type as we shall find, is The Duchess of Suffolk, by Thomas Drue, produced at the Fortune Theatre in 1623, and printed in 1631.[2] It is a historical drama, and like most of that sort, it appeals strongly to community pride; but the community in this case is not the nation, primarily, but the strongly Protestant left wing of the English Church—the moderate Puritans.

There is also a very strong vein of local interest in the play and its production in 1623. The Fortune Theatre stood in Golden Lane, Cripplegate. Scarcely a stone's throw away stood the Barbican, the home of the Duchess and the scene of the first part of the play. An ancient watchtower rebuilt into a residence, the house stood near the corner of Red Cross street and what was later known as Barbican street. It had been a possession of the holders of the Suffolk title since the time of Edward III. As late as 1599, Peregrine Bertie, the son of the Duchess, bequeathed to his son a parcel of land on this street, possibly including the old residence. The Barbican was in a state of ruin in 1682, but did not entirely disappear until late in the 18th century. In its later years it was known as Willoughby House, possibly to distinguish it from the street.[3] In Dryden's day the locality was given over to brothels.[4]

The players at the Fortune were the Palsgrave's Company. They had been under the protection of the German princeling Frederick V, Elector of the Rhenish Palatinate, since 1612, when he had come to England to marry the Princess Elizabeth; and they remained under his aegis until 1631. During all this time the Fortune was their special theatre; it burned and was rebuilt (1621-23); it was the scene of riots; the players left it on occasion for excursions in the provinces. But through all their existence as the Palsgrave's Company the Fortune was their center and their home.[5]

The Palsgrave, as the king of Poland, is one of the characters in the play, The Duchess of Suffolk. Presumably the players thus honored their patron by presenting a flattering portrait of his predecessor. The Palsgrave's residence is not known, but his son Prince Rupert is said to have lived in Barbican Street.


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Thomas Deloney, the ballad maker whose version of the Duchess' story, as we shall show, influenced the play, lived in Cripplegate.[6] And John Foxe the martyrologist, from whose Acts and Monuments the material for the play is chiefly drawn, from 1570 to his death in 1587 had owned a house in Grub street, an easy stroll from the theatre, and was buried in St. Giles, which fronts Red Cross street in the same neighborhood. The play, then, knits together a number of neighborhood interests.

The lady whose adventures are the subject of the play was the historical Katharine, Dowager Duchess of Suffolk, born in 1519. She was the daughter of Lord Willoughby and of Mary de Salinas, a Spanish Lady of the court of Henry VIII. At her father's death in 1526 she became Baroness of Willoughby. Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, became her guardian, and married her in 1533. She was the Duke's fourth wife, and by him she had two sons. The Duke died in 1545, and the two boys in 1551. Richard Bertie, the Duchess' second husband, whom she married in 1553, was the son of a prosperous stonemason who, like Shakespeare's father, became a gentleman by act of the College of Heralds when his son came up in the world. Richard was a graduate of Oxford, reputed to be an accomplished student of French, Italian, and Latin, and a man of tact and ability. He had been the Duchess' gentleman usher. In the later period of his life he was a member of Parliament for Lincolnshire.[7]

There can be little doubt that the character named Foxe, who opens the play, was intended to represent the martyrologist. In a play in which practically every character is historical, which is based on his own book and set and produced in his own old neighborhood, it could scarcely be otherwise. The record of Foxe's ordination as a deacon indicates that he was a tutor in the household of the Duchess in 1550.[8] But Foxe, the Duchess' servant in the play, who envies Bertie's good fortune but goes into exile with his master and mistress, has little in common with his historical counterpart. Drue lavished more attention upon him, however, than upon any other minor character in the play, and made him an individual with more than a spark of life in him. He becomes the chief instrument of the Providence that watched over the Duchess. That the sober, studious, godly Foxe should be shown as worshipping his Protestant heroine, foiling the villainous prelates, and smoothing the path of Protestant exile might be taken, not too cynically, as an allegory of the effect of his book upon the Protestant world. At the very least, this is neither the first nor the last time that Foxe the man has been misunderstood. Almost any history of English literature will serve as another example.

The Duchess of Suffolk comes near the end of a surprisingly long list of plays


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whose plots, in whole or in part, are drawn from the pages of Foxe.[9] In this case, the entire plot, with only minor modifications, is from the Acts and Monuments. Indeed, the play's indebtedness to Foxe is so obvious that its source was probably known and recognized from the beginning. The story of the Duchess' exile on the continent during Mary's reign was not reported in the 1563 edition— the first in English—of the "Book of Martyrs." The only reference to it occurs in a marginal note on page 1680: "Lady Francis, Duchess of Suffolk, who hazarding bothe life, lands, and so great possessions fled her countrey with her husband in cause of her conscience." Foxe, or more probably the translator who Englished his 1559 Latin version, had confused the Dowager Duchess with her stepdaughter.[10] The detailed story was inserted, when the book was revised for the second (1570) edition, among other accounts dealing with "divers saved by God's providence"—persons who, in spite of strong Protestant sympathies, had survived Mary's reign by one means or another.[11] It remained substantially unchanged in succeeding editions. The Dictionary of National Biography asserts, quite plausibly but without offering any proof, that the account was written by Richard Bertie.[12] The whole story is copied, word for word, by Holinshed's editors in the second edition of the Chronicles.[13]

Foxe's account tells of the Duchess' flight with her husband and children to escape the enmity of Bishop Gardiner. They made their way by slow stages, suffering hardships and meeting many adventures, to Poland. There they were befriended by the king and allowed to remain in security until the death of Mary made their return to England possible.

The story of the Duchess' wanderings had been made into a ballad by Thomas Deloney, and published in 1602 or earlier.[14] Deloney had taken some liberties with the story as told in Foxe, and it is possible, as a result, to say with certainty that the dramatist Drue knew and used the ballad version as well as Foxe's book. Drue follows Deloney rather than Foxe in including an attack by thieves on the Duchess and her party. Foxe has nothing of this. Foxe had told of the party's taking refuge in the church-porch at Wesel; Deloney added that the sexton came and tried to drive them out. Bertie "wrung the churchkeys


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out of his hand," and beat the drunken janitor over the head with them. This incident also is used by Drue.

Deloney also had told of the son, Peregrine, born to the duchess during the early days of the exile, and had named the daughter, Susan, a babe in arms at the time of their flight, who afterward became Countess of Kent. These facts are used in the play, and Drue may have taken them from the ballad. But it is highly probable that Drue had later and more direct sources of information about the personages in the Willoughby family.

The influence of the Acts and Monuments upon the play is not confined to Foxe's story of the Duchess' flight and exile. Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer, Marian martyrs, and Dr. Sands, an exile, appear on the stage. Sands, with little effect on the plot but with much damage to his academic and ecclesiastical dignity, is pursued onto and off the stage so often as to become ridiculous. Foxe's story of Dr. Sands is told a few pages after that of the Duchess, but the two stories are not connected. Historically, Sands and Katharine were friends, and they may have met on the continent. The connection may have been suggested to the dramatist by this sentence in Foxe: "Dr. Sands . . . conveyed himself by night to one master Bartly's [i.e., Bertie's?] house, a stranger, who was in the Marshalsea prison with him for a while; he was a good Protestant, and dwelt in Mark-lane."[15] But Bertie was not a "stranger," never was in prison, and did not live in Mark lane. In one speech in the play Sands is called Saunders; a man of that name, according to Foxe,[16] had been Sands' prison-mate. These minor elements of the play are confused and confusing, but the whole complex suggests the hack-dramatist searching out details to fill up his scenes without too much regard for verisimilitude where his main character is not concerned.

Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer are introduced in the fourth act, where the dramatist compresses into a single scene the stories of the three martyrs. These he would have found in great detail in Foxe.[17] Historically, the Duchess was a staunch friend of Latimer, and some of his volumes of sermons are dedicated to her. Presumably the playwright's purpose in bringing in these characters is to show dramatically what the Duchess escaped by her flight, and perhaps also to associate her more closely with the main stream of historical events. But the connection is not made obvious in the drama, and the playwright lost a real opportunity to knit his story more closely together when he failed to bring Latimer into an earlier and more organic association with the main plot. To make room for him, Sands could have been eliminated entirely; he is never necessary to the action. One suspects he is present because a part had to be made for one of the comedians of the company. Perhaps the groundlings would have been less pleased, but the development of Latimer's part and the exclusion of


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Sands would have caused less pain to the Muse of History than she suffers from other things in the play. The burning of Cranmer's hand, for instance, is distorted completely out of its true significance to provide a momentary dramatic sensation.

Sir Henry Herbert's Revels Book contains the following entry:

For the Palsgrave's Company; The History of the Dutchess of Suffolk; which being full of dangerous matter was much reformed by me; I had two pounds for my pains; Written by Mr. Drew.[18]
It would be interesting, if it were possible, to know what "dangerous matter" Sir Henry excised from the play. Perhaps—this is offered as pure speculation— he softened the anti-prelatical elements of the play, which would have been displeasing to the then-crescent high-church party.

In 1600 Philip Henslowe listed thirty shillings as paid to William Haughton in earnest of a play called The English Fugitives. Collier assumed that this play was a dramatization of the Duchess of Suffolk's story. Greg, however, thinks it more probable that the play dealt with other matters.[19]