Tales of To-day
Sir Christopher Hatton in London
There is in Northamptonshire a very ancient mansion, whose square courts, little towers, and arched cloisters, once announced the architecture of Queen Elizabeth’s days; and its gardens, decorated with labyrinths and small mounts, with walks writhing round them like the turnings of a cockle-shell, equally reminded antiquarians of Theobald’s. Therein lived an aged lady, whose life had been so long protracted, that her heirs were apt to say, as King James often said of Elizabeth—“that he should never come to his inheritance as long as there was an old wife in England, for he verily believed when one died, another was set up in her place.” Being a frugal and prudent man, he chose to live with his venerable aunt, and amused himself with the ancient books that filled her library. They related chiefly to the reign of his family’s patroness, the maiden queen; and during twelve years his daily walk was from the dial to the buttery-court, and from thence to the fountain, with a volume of Stowe, Camden, or Sidney, in his hand. Above all he studied the annals of Sir Christopher Hatton, chief dancer and Lord Chancellor of Queen Elizabeth, and founder of his family. Our modern Sir Christopher meditated on these annals with such extraordinary zeal and research, that his mind began to bewilder itself among its own gleanings. He talked of nothing but perfumed gloves, peaked ruffs, and galliard-dancing; and when his old aunt’s sudden death left him in possession of a fortune immensely beyond his expectations, the torrent of joy mixing with the stagnant pool of learning caused a most ridiculous ferment. He informed the executors of the deceased lady, with great injunctions to secresy, that he had discovered an iniquitous and extensive stratagem in the reigning government. “Gentlemen,” said he, “I am, as you know, the real and identical Sir Christopher Hatton mentioned in all these volumes, and my most royal mistress, like myself, is only disguised. Her successor, or, to speak more fitly, the usurper James of Scotland, has changed his name, and written all these extravagant legends to persuade me that above two hundred years have passed since the fit of lethargy which seized me five or six months ago. I have taken a vow before this cross, which is the same her highness always kept secretly in her closet, that I will never open a book again as long as I live.”—The gentleman to whom he addressed this strange speech was a physician and a man of humour. He had observed and ascertained the progress of his friend’s distemper, and replied very gravely, “My good friend, we must, as one of our old courtiers says, be the willow and not the oak in such times. I am John Harrington, son of Isabel Markham and a good father, yet I am content to put off my spurs and tawny jirkin, and be called a physician. Since James chooses to be called George, and has made his astronomors alter the style of our calendar, we must even be willing to think the world two hundred years older.” Sir Christopher bowed with great respect to Queen Elizabeth’s godson, and asked him what was the news at court since he had been confined in the country, as these forged books told him, with an intermittent fever. “Strange, very strange!” replied Dr. Harrington—“Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh are gone on a new voyage of discovery to the North Pole; Mr. Secretary Davison and my Lord Burleigh have made a coalition; and Dudley of Leicester has brought all the gilt temples, swimming and singing gods, ay and the whole orchestra which was put into a dolphin’s inside when he entertained the queen, to a new place called an opera-house.”—Sir Christopher paused several seconds with a serious air, and answered, “I have one comfort in all this. Since the present ruler of things calls himself but a Regent, there is hope that our good lady and mistress is still living, but not in that ostensible palace where it is said the true sovereign abideth. Now as I bless her memory for her great goodness to me and mine—not to mention the praises she always bestowed on my dancing, I have resolved to visit London in quest of her. To which I am the more minded, because sundry vehicles have passed this way, bearing on their sides in great letters To LONDON, which is a distinct and providential direction.” The physician remained silent, as if meditating on a matter of vast import; then drew his new knight to the chimney-corner, and whispered in his ear, “You have judged right, and she has commissioned me to invite you to her counsels. She lives concealed with ten of her young ladies of honour in a fair house near Marybone Park, where Mountjoy fought Lord Essex for saying, ‘Every fool has a favour now.’ When she is willing and ready to reveal herself to you, for which the time is not quite ripe, she will shew you the fellow to this glove, which I now give you as a token; and the watch-word will be that phrase which she used to my father—‘What fool brought thee! go about thy business.’” Though this was a frame of words not quite so courtly as the gallant master of the queen’s revels would have chosen, he was enraptured to see the very glove in which Elizabeth was painted in her favourite portrait; and only craved to know whether he might not carry with him a high hat, satin doublet, and shoes with green strings, to attend her majesty’s private councils. Dr. Harrington assured him her safety required an exact conformity to the new mode; and as the patriot’s zeal could endure no delay, they set out in the mail to London.
Had Sir Christopher Hatton, who ended his honest life in 1591, been suddenly wafted to Piccadilly, and awakened after a sleep of 200 years, he could not have been more ignorant of its customs, or more astonished at its extent, than his modern namesake, whose farthest journies had never before exceeded a mile from his Stoke-Pogeis. But as every man ought to speak for himself, and the fashion of keeping journals seems to have been as prevalent among Queen Elizabeth’s courtiers as modern travellers, we will give Sir Christopher’s, as he framed it in a letter to his housekeeper, probably on the model of his friend, Sir John Harrington’s.
“How shall I speak what I have seen or what I have felt—thy good silence in these matters emboldens my pen. For thanks to the sweet god of silence, thy lips do not wanton out of discretion’s path, like the many gossipping dames we could name, who lose their husband’s fast hold in good friends rather than hold fast their own tongues. Now whilst thou dost brood over thy young ones in the chamber, I will trust thee with great assurance; and first, be it known to thee in secret, that Sir John Harrington and I have entered into the great house of parliament, where I looked in vain for my Lord Burleigh and my grave and excellent friend Bacon. But there was much cunning speech and many benchers of the temple, well learned and eloquent; yet there were also knights of the shire that minded me of Sir Nicholas when he was asked how he liked the speaker’s oration: ‘Marry,’ quoth he, ‘methinks I have not heard a better alehouse tale told this seven years.’ Then as thou knowest it is behoveful for a man to look to his own, I had a huge mind to go from the house and see what these busy knaves had done with my garden and orchard in Holborn, which the proud Bishop of Ely built his place on, which caused my good mistress to say she would unfrock him: but my careful friend carried me first to Paul’s Walk, where all the gallants meet; howbeit, they and the walk too go by other names now. Truly, Mall, there is not much change in the fine-fingered rufflers with their sables about their necks, ay and a hoop not unlike thy farthingale, corked slippers, and trimmed buskins, costing more in apparel than their fathers kept a good house with. It was her highness’s good pleasure in my day to cut off the ends of their frills and long swords where they were of superfluous length, and I marvel that there are no scissars kept for such fopperies here. Now cometh the great secret which must lie in the lap of thy wisdom. He whom they call master here hath a daughter, whom he keeps with great care; and there are such promises and tokens in her aspect, that some light-minded gossips have gone about to say she is more akin to Queen Elizabeth than to him. Wherefore I had a most rash curiosity to see her, and my good comrade Harrington having much sway at the new court, made a fitting pretext to get egress. For as he saith, he acts on my good Lord Burleigh’s maxim, ‘Ever keep a great man thy friend, and give him presents that cost little,—small ones and often.’ Pray thee, Mall, make no discourteous jest when thou shalt hear that I went to this royal lady in the apparel of a young gentlewoman, having a vellum book fairly gilt and full of conceits in rhyme to make an offering. Truly it was a narrow street and little fitting a palace where my coach turned to her gate; howbeit the court-yard had two musqueteers in red jerkins, and a comely fair spoken gentleman-usher went before me into a broad hall, and up many steps into a chamber of no rare size. There was a Turkey carpet on the floor, chairs of an easy fashion and cotton coverings, and one mirror, but neither tapestry nor curious paintings: and a dame of good presence sat on the couch. Thou may’st think, Mall, that I, Sir Christopher Hatton, being mindful of my true-self, was shamefaced and strange in my womanly garments; but I say in thine ear, the woman’s garments of this day are no wise unbefitting a man who has been used to wear slashed sleeves and a satin doublet, not to mention a hat pertly looped with choice feathers. Therefore I carried myself nothing bashfully, and the reverend lady said many courteous things of the nobleman whose passport I bore, and of her princely pupil. Then she shewed me from a large window (no wise like the little casements of our times) a fair garden with green plants, which, as she said, belonged to the great prince, who came nightly through a back door to visit his daughter: and being Saturday, she said moreover, that she was going forth to a place they call Blackheath to see the lady her mother, as she has custom and license. Then this good lady went forth and brought in the princess, being to my thought in her sixteenth year. Truly as she walked in before her governess with a light forward step and a sweet merriment of countenance, I bethought me of our Lady Elizabeth’s own pleasant aspect. And this young maiden has her wide forehead, and crisp curls of pure flaxen; blue eyes, round and well set under high brows arched as it were with a silver pencil. The mouth has a pretty pouting plumpness, but little red; and it should seem as if her arms and all of her neck that her kirtle shewed, and all of her face, except those ripe lips, had been made of wax thrice refined, or the white pulp of a peach before the sun has reddened it. As for her dress, Mall, which thy woman’s curiosity will ask to know, else a wise man heedeth not such vanities, it was what tiremakers here call a frock of fine lawn without muffler or mittens, or fine lace or fringe or jewels such as merchants’ wives make themselves gaudy with at noon day; but stitched plain and close; shewing, however, an ancle of such neat turn that it might have fitted my best coranto, and such an arm and hand as would have made the virginals proud. Marry, I tell thee, if she had worn our Lady Elizabeth’s best stomacher and sleeves of knotted pearls, no man would have seen any pearl but herself. So she stepped forwards toward me with a sweet composure of aspect, and holding out her fair hand for my gift, she asked me many questions of my love for poesy, and spoke so shrewdly of some that she had read, I bethought me it was pity my Lord Herbert and Sir Philip Sidney had not lived to hear her, for they would not have wanted inspiration. Whereupon I said she excited poets by loving poesy; and she said laughing, that none but me had thought fit to bring a poor recluse like her an offering. Then her governess bid her bethink herself of her drawing-master, as her time for study would soon be at an end; to which she made answer, lovingly twining her arm under the lady’s, ‘Ah! but when there are visitors, it is a holiday.’ And this reverend lady’s lovingness to her pupil minded me of our great Elizabeth’s governess at Hunsdon House—the Lady Bryan of blessed memory; more, especially when she asked me, with her hand laid under the princess’s cheek, if I had not seen a royal face much like at Windsor. I made answer, bowing as when I was vice-chamberlain of the court—‘I have never seen Windsor, my lady, but there once lived at Greenwich a queen of the same aspect’—At which the princess smiled, and I asked her good leave to compare her countenance with a painting I had brought, that I might mend the resemblance. Which she kindly granted; and being made bold with presumption, as is the way among old courtiers, I said there was a young damsel in my coach wondrously eager to see her highness, and I prayed that she might see the princess step into . ‘It would not be fit,’ she answered, ‘that those who come with my friends should wait to see me in a court-yard. She shall come here, and know herself welcome.’ And when my friend’s fair little niece stood in the presence, she cheered her with such kind words as a queen should use who knows she is most great when she lifts up the lowly. Then she walked with us through the ante-room to the great stair-case, laughing and mixing a pleasant jest with her farewell—that it grieved me to see her turn away, and I said to myself, as our prelate said of our lady, ‘When this snow melts, there will be a dark flood.’
“Master Harrington waited for me in St. James’s-street, as the rogues of this day call their Paul’s Walk, and was hugely pleased when I likened the princess and her governess to old Lady Bryan and Queen Elizabeth, my good mistress. But I did not forget the purpose of my coming to this vile town, where there are nothing but shops crammed with as much finery as would have served the feast at Richmond when she dined under a pavilion of green sarsnet powdered with gold, and ate from a pomegranate-tree made of confectionary. And I reminded my loyal friend of his promise to shew me the queen’s secret place of refuge at Marybone Park, but he would needs shew me first a great show going to my Lord Mayor’s. There was store of gilt carriages and men harnessed in shirts of mail; but I liked better our good queen’s procession with drums and trumpets, morris-dancers and a cart with two white bears, when she visited St. Mary’s Church, in Bishopsgate- street. And one might have thought every dame in the street had been one of her court, there was such store of outside-skirts made of velvet and silk or russel damask, and bonnets of silver cloth tasseled and feathered. ‘Marry,’ said I, ‘there is more gold abroad than when Burleigh was treasurer.’—‘Ay, truly,’ quoth he, ‘more abroad but less at home.’—Now, it happened we rode through Drury-lane, where the ambassadors used to live; and seeing many gaping and staring gossips, as always will be where great men abide, I urged Sir John to shew me Secretary Walsingham’s abode. He made a little pause, and said, ‘Sir Francis Walsingham has taken a strange freak. Thou knowest, friend Christopher, what vast acquisitions he made of foreign learning while he was our queen’s ambassador in France: but as no king careth for a wise counsellor now, and he has no mind to be either Whig or Tory, which all men are expected to choose between, he has put on women’s attire, and has been well received at court as a German Baroness.’—‘And does he give advice too?’ asked I.—‘A great deal in print,’ quoth he, ‘which would not have been minded had he wrote like a man; but as a tolerable wit makes a marvellously clever woman, every body is astounded at the masculine knowledge of a female politician. But since he put on a lady’s garments, he has put off his own wisdom, and is as vain as if he had always worn a hood and tucker. Nothing will please his fancy so much as to wait upon him in this attire, as if your journey from your country-house had been solely to gaze at and hear him. Say nought of your real name, and let me manage the scene.’—Thereon we stopped at a gay house, near a square, and honest John Harrington left me in the coach while he prepared my way into Sir Francis Walsingham’s presence.—‘Will he not be amazed,’ I said, ‘to see Sir Nicholas Hatton in a while silk boddice and a red skirt, instead of a wrought jerkin, a tall hat, and a spruce orange-tawny beard?’—‘Tush,’ quoth he, ‘if Sir Francis Walsingham wears an old wife’s apparel, he will be glad to see thee no wiser than himself.’—With that, he made a long step into a room finer than any in Theobald’s palace, and bowing thrice, presented me to the Baroness de Holstein. Truly, Mall, I saw small change in Sir Francis, saving that his chin was well shaven, for his hat was as high-crowned and shrewdly perched on his head as in our lady’s day, and his tawny doublet was, as I verily think, the same he used to wear; but his ruff was sorely missed, for his skin is the worse for time, and looked, as my crony Shakspeare used to say, like a wet cloak ill laid up. I may say without vanity I looked the prettier damsel of the two, and it made my sides swell with pent laughter to see Sir Francis’s false locks curled so like a girl’s while he talked on the politics and the learning and the legislation of other realms. Then I brought to use my courtierly breeding, and said much of my admiration and love for his great wit, which had brought me from mine own house; and besought him to give me his hand and his blessing. Which he gave very graciously, lifting up my chin with both hands, and kissing it in the French fashion with great affection, till mine eyes watered, and I vowed to keep the kiss as a relic in the wreck of these sorrowful times. Which so touched Sir John, our stander-by, that he was fain to hide his face in his handkerchief, and made divers rueful twistings of his features as we rode home; I, all the while weeping to think that our queen’s prime counsellor, the flower of his age and the mirror of politicians, should come to wear a cap and hanging sleeves, and be deemed no better than a woman-wit.
“Now it was the second night of my stay in town, and behold! a page brought me a perfumed packet, containing the left-hand glove which my dear mistress promised as a token. Thereupon we went secretly, and at a safe hour, to the house in Marybone Park, where we found her sitting on cushions with some damsels round her, and they looked at me as if they had all learnt those rhetorical figures which Puttenham recommends in his Art of Poesy—‘the fleering frump—the broad flout, and the sly nip.’ For mine own part, I kissed her hand as my custom ever was, and she putting aside her cards, for she always loved them for her recreation, asked me what I thought of her maidens.—‘Truly, madam,’ said I, ‘it seemeth to me that they are all as ill off as your grace was at Hunsdon, when your governess was fain to beg my Lord Cromwell to let you have wherewithal to make body-stitchets and kerchiefs, having none left.’ Whereto she made answer that her ladies were learning Greek, Latin, Spanish, Italian, and French, besides handling lutes, citharnes, pricksong, and all kinds of music.—‘They learned all that in your grace’s court,’ said I—‘but if there be any tongue among them as skilled in learning as your own, it will make the proudest man quake like Zisca’s drum.’ Then Sir John bade me hold my peace, for that sentence was written by a bishop for the last part of a funeral sermon.—‘I know that,’ said I, ‘and there is never any thing good in a funeral sermon but the text and the conclusion.’—The queen laughed, and bidding me stand before her, asked what a man was thinking of who thought of nothing.—‘May it please your highness,’ said I, ‘of a woman’s promise.’—‘Well said,’ quoth she; ‘anger makes a fool witty, but it keeps him poor. Nevertheless, Sir Christopher, I keep in mind my word that thou should’st always be my master of the revels, and I sent for thee to teach these girls dancing.’—‘Madam,’ I answered, ‘your grace well knows that I have not danced since your successor came to the throne, and old wood is stiff; and I have not the little fiddle to which it often pleased your highness to dance when you had a mind to vex the Scotch ambassador.’—At this—the queen stepped forth, and giving me such a blow as she was wont to give her favourites, bid me go about my business. But as this was the signal or watchwords agreed on by Sir John, I bowed humbly, and waited her farther pleasure.—‘Ods’death,’ quoth she, laying another box on my ear, ‘I will be mistress here, and have no master—Do, my bidding, or be hanged.’—One of her handmaids, an envious minx I doubt not that bore me a grudge in my young days, sayed, ‘Mayhap a little whipping and a dark chamber to fast in would not be amiss.’—Would’st thou think it, Mall? This withered and wrinkled old queen, whom I have served so long, ordered me forthwith to be beaten with rods, and fed on water-possets thrice a day till I danced at her bidding. Which I endured manfully seven days and eight hours, till I bethought me that the mayor of Colchester does as much at any king’s bidding for his town’s charter. Whereupon I have resolved to-morrow to dance if she wills it, and to return home to thee, think no more of kings or queens, mind my books, and make my jests, but take heed who they light on.
“Thine in all love,
- Gray alludes to Sir C. Hatton dancing after he was Lord Chancellor—
“My grave Lord-keeper led the brawls,↩
The seals and maces danced before him.”
- Sir Christopher’s imagination seems to have appropriated to himself the particulars of one of the interviews really granted to a young lady; the words and actions of the princess being exactly repeated. ↩
- In 1557, when her sister Queen Mary entertained her. ↩
- Here again the poor knight seems to have adapted a real occurrence to his story. ↩