« ForrigeFortsett »
quietness borne withal and suffered in peace; that anon, by outrage and unsupportable insolency, abusing both Ethelred the King, then, and all estates everywhere beside, at the grievous complaint and counsel of Huna, the King's chieftain in wars, on Saint Brice's night, Anno Dom. 1012 (as the book says, that falleth yearly on the thirteenth of November), were all despatched, and the realm rid. And for because that the matter mentioneth how valiantly our English women, for love of their country, behaved themselves, expressed in action and rhymes after their manner, they thought it might move some mirth to her Majesty the rather. The thing, said they, is grounded in story, and for pastime wont to be played in our city yearly, without ill example of manners, papistry, or any superstition; and else did so occupy the heads of a number, that likely enough would have had worse meditations; had an ancient beginning and a long continuance, till now of late laid down, they knew no cause why, unless it was by the zeal of certain of their preachers, men very commendable for their behaviour and learning, and sweet in their sermons, but somewhat too sour in preaching away their pastime.” The description by Laneham is the only precise account which remains to us of the “old storial show,” the “sport presented in an historical cue.” It was a show not to be despised, for it told the people how their Saxon ancestors had arisen to free themselves from“ outrage and unsupportable insolency,” and “how valiantly our Englishwomen, for love of their country, behaved themselves.” Laneham, in his accustomed style, is more intent upon describing “Captain Cox,” an odd man of Coventry, “mason, ale-conner, who hath great oversight in matters of story,” than upon giving us a rational account of this spectacle. We find, however, that there were the Danish lance-knights on horseback, and then the English; that they had furious encounters with spear and shield, with sword and target; that there were footmen, who fought in rank and squadron; and that “twice the Danes had the better, but at the last conflict beaten down, overcome, and many led captive for triumph by our English women.” The court historian adds, -—“This was the effect of this show, that as it was handled made much matter of good pastime, brought all indeed into the great court, even under her Highness's window, to have seen.” But her Highness, having pleasanter occupation within,
saw but little of the Coventry play, and commanded it therefore on the Tuesday following to have it full out, as accordingly it was presented.” This repetition of the Hock-play in its completeness, full out, necessarily leads to the conclusion that the action was somewhat more complicated than the mere repetition of a mockcombat. Laneham, in his general description of the play, says, “ expressed in action and rhymes.” That he has preserved none of the rhymes, and has given us a very insufficient account of the action, is characteristic of the man, and of the tone of the courtiers. The Coventry clowns came there, not to call up any patriotic feeling by their old traditionary rhymes and dumb-show, but to be laughed at for their awkward movement and their earnest declamation. It appears to us that the conclusion is somewhat hasty which says of this play of Hock Tuesday, “ It seems to have been merely a dumb-show."* Percy, rest
* Collier, ' Annals of the Stage,' vol. i., p. 234.
ing upon the authority of Laneham, says that the performance “ seems on that occasion to have been without recitation or rhymes, and reduced to mere dumbshow.” Even this we doubt. But certainly it is difficult to arrive at any other conclusion than that of Percy, that the play, as originally performed by the men of Coventry, "expressed in actions and rhymes after their manner,”—representing a complicated historical event,—the insolence of tyranny, the indignation of the oppressed, the grievous complaint of one injured chieftain, the secret counsels, the plots, the conflicts, the triumph,-must have offered us regular model of a complete drama.” If the young Shakspere were a witness to the performance of this drama, his imagination would have been more highly and more worthily excited than if he had been the favoured spectator of all the shows of Tritons, and Dianas, and Ladies of the Lake, that proceeded from “the conceit so deep in casting the plot” of his lordship of Leicester. It would be not too much to believe that this storial show might first suggest to him how English history might be dramatized; how a series of events, terminating in some remarkable catastrophe, might be presented to the eye; how fightingmen might be marshalled on a mimic field; how individual heroism might stand out from amongst the mass, having its own fit expression of thought and passion ; how the wife or the mother, the sister or the mistress, might be there to uphold the hero, even as the English women assisted their warriors; and how all this might be made to move the hearts of the people, as the old ballads had once moved them. Such a result would have repaid a visit to Kenilworth by William Shakspere. Without this, he, his father, and their friends, might have retired from the scene of Dudley's magnificence, as most thinking persons in all probability retired, with little satisfaction. There was lavish expense; but, according to the most credible accounts, the possessor of Kenilworth was the oppressor of his district. We see him not delighting to show his Queen a happy tenantry, such as the less haughty and ambitious nobles and esquires were anxious to cultivate. The people come under the windows of Elizabeth as objects of ridicule. Slavish homage would be there to Leicester from the gentlemen of the county. They would replenish his butteries with their gifts; they would ride upon his errands; they would wear his livery. There was one gentleman in Warwickshire who would not thus do Leicester homage-Edward Arden, the head of the great house of Arden, the cousin of William
Shakspere's mother. But the mighty favourite was too powerful for him: “Which Edward, though a gentleman not inferior to the rest of his ancestors in those virtues wherewith they were adorned, had the hard hap to come to an untimely death in 27 Eliz., the charge laid against him being no less than high treason against the Queen, as privy to some foul intentions that Master Somerville, his son-inlaw (a Roman Catholic), had towards her person : For which he was prosecuted with so great rigour and violence, by the Earl of Leicester's means, whom he had irritated in some particulars (as I have credibly heard), partly in disdaining to wear his livery, which many in this county, of his rank, thought, in those days, no small honour to them; but chiefly for galling him by certain harsh expressions, touching his private accesses to the Countess of Essex before she
was his wife; that through the testimony of one Hall, a priest, he was found guilty of the fact, and lost his life in Smithfield.”.
Laneham asks a question which in his giddy style he does not wait to answer, or even to complete :-“And first, who that considers unto the stately seat of Kenilworth Castle, the rare beauty of building that his Honour hath advanced, all of the hard quarry-stone; every room so spacious, so well belighted, and so high roofed within ; so seemly to sight by due proportion without; in day-time on every side so glittering by glass; at nights, by continual brightness of candle, fire, and torch-light, transparent through the lightsome windows, as it were the Egyptian Pharos relucent unto all the Alexandrian coast,”—who that considers (we finish the sentence) what Kenilworth thus was in the year 1575 will not contrast it with its present state of complete ruin? Never did a fabric of such unequalled strength and splendour perish so ingloriously. Leicester bequeathed the possession to his brother the Earl of Warwick for life, and the inheritance to his only son, Sir Robert Dudley, whose legitimacy was to be left doubtful. The rapacious James contrived, through the agency of the widow of the Earl of Leicester, to cheat the son out of the father's great possessions. The more generous Prince Henry, upon whom Kenilworth was bestowed, negotiated for its purchase with Sir Robert Dudley, who had gone abroad. A fifth only of the purchase-money was ever paid ; yet upon the death of his brother, Charles took possession of the castle as his heir. A stronger than Charles divided the castle and lands, thus unjustly procured by the Crown, amongst his captains and counsellors; and from the time of Cromwell the history of Kenilworth is that of its gradual decay and final ruin. No cannon has battered its strong walls, “in many places of fifteen and ten foot thickness ;” no turbulent soldiery has torn down the hang
Dugdale's 'Warwickshire,' p. 681.
ings and destroyed the architraves and carved ceilings of “the rooms of great state within the same ;” no mines have exploded in its “stately cellars, all carried upon pillars and architecture of freestone carved and wrought.” The buildings were whole, and are described, as we have just quoted, in a survey when James laid his hand upon them. Of many of the outer walls the masonry is still as fresh and as perfect as if the stone had only been quarried half a century ago.
Silent decay has done all this work. The proud Leicester, who would have been king in England, could not secure his rightful inheritance to his son, undoubtedly legitimate, whom he had the baseness to disown whilst he was living. No just possessor came after him. One rapacity succeeded another, so that even a century ago Kenilworth was a monument of the worthlessness of a grovelling ambition.
The historian of Warwickshire has given us “the ground-plot of Kenilworth Castle as it was in 1640. By this we may trace the pool and the pleasance; the inner court, the base court, and the tilt-yard ; Cæsar's Tower and Mortimer's Tower; King Henry's Lodgings and Leicester's Buildings; the Hall, the Presence Chamber, and the Privy Chamber. There was an old fresco painting, too, upon a wall at Newnham Padox, which was copied in 1716, and is held to represent the castle in the time of James I. Without these aids Kenilworth would only appear to us a mysterious mass of ruined gigantic walls ; deep cavities whose uses are unknown; arched doorways, separated from the chambers to which they led; narrow staircases, suddenly opening into magnificent recesses, with their oriels looking over corn-field and pasture; a hall with its lofty windows and its massive chimneypieces still entire, but without roof or flooring; mounds of earth in the midst of walled chambers, and the hawthorn growing where the dais stood. The desolation would probably have gone on for another century ; the stones of Kenilworth would still have mended roads, and been built into the cowshed and the cottage, till the ploughshare had been carried over the grassy courts; had not, some twenty-five years ago, a man of middle age, with a lofty forehead and a keen grey eye, slightly lame but withal active, entered its gatehouse, and, having looked upon the only bit of carving left to tell something of interior magnificence, passed into those ruins, and stood there silent for some two hours.* Then was the ruined place henceforward to be sanctified. The progress of desolation was to be arrested. The torch of genius again lighted up “every room so spacious,” and they were for ever after to be associated with the recollections of their ancient splendour. There were to be visions of sorrow and suffering there too; woman's weakness, man's treachery. And now Kenilworth is worthily a place which is visited from all lands. The solitary artist sits on the stone seat of the great bay-window, and sketches the hall where he fancies Elizabeth banqueting. A knot of young antiquarians, ascending a narrow
* A few years ago there was a venerable and intelligent farmer, Mr. Bonington, living in the Gatehouse at Kenilworth. He remembered Scott's visit, although he knew not at the time of the visit who he was; and the frank manners and keen inquiries of the great novelist left an impression upon him which he described to us. The old man is dead.
staircase, would identify the turret as that in which Amy Robsart took refuge. Happy children run up and down the grassy slopes, and wonder who made so pretty a ruin. The contemplative man rejoices that the ever-vivifying power of nature throws its green mantle over what would be ugly in decay; and that, in the same way, the poetical power invests the desolate places with life and beauty, and, when the material creations of ambition lie perishing, builds them up again, not to be again destroyed.