For the last couple of weeks we have been looking at England as seen by Foreigners in the days of Elizabeth and James the First, a collection of travels journals and extracts from journals, collected and in some cases translated by William Brenchley Rye and published in 1865. The journals are from the late 16th and early 17th Century.
One of the most interesting extracts is from Itinerarium Germaniae, Galliae, Angliae, Italiae, cum Indice Locorum, Rerum atque Verborum by Paul Hentzner, first published in 1612, but recounting a European tour taken over the course of three years from 1596. Rye of course concentrates just on the English section of the journal, which took place in 1598. Unlike some of the journals written in Latin, Rye did not need to translate this one, as it had already been translated by Richard Bentley for publication in 1757.
Hentzer was a jurist from Crossen, Brandenburg, now Krosno Odrzańskie in Poland, and counsellor to the magnificently titled Duke Charles II of Münsterberg-Oels, but he travelled to England in his capacity as tutor/companion to Christoph Rehdiger, a nobleman from Silesia whose uncle was a renowned collector of rare and valuable books and manuscripts, and founded the library at Breslau.
Hentzer’s journal gives us another insight into the life of Queen Elizabeth I (see also Journals 11).
Elizabeth, the reigning Queen of England, was born at the Royal Palace of Greenwich, and here she generally resides, particularly in summer, for the delightfulness of its situation. We were admitted by an order, which Mr. Rogers (Daniel Rogerius) had procured from the Lord Chamberlain, into the Presence-Chamber hung with rich tapestry, and the floor, after the English fashion, strewed with hay, through which the Queen commonly passes in her way to chapel. At the door stood a gentleman dressed in velvet, with a gold chain, whose office was to introduce to the Queen any person of distinction that came to wait on her…
First went Gentlemen, Barons, Earls, Knights of the Garter, all richly dressed and bareheaded; next came the Lord High Chancellor of England, bearing the seals in a red silk purse, between two, one of whom carried the royal sceptre, the other the sword of state in a red scabbard, studded with golden fleur-de-lis, the point upwards; next came the Queen, in the 65th year of her age (as we were told), very majestic; her face oblong, fair but wrinkled; her eyes small, yet black and pleasant; her nose a little hooked, her lips narrow, and her teeth black, (a defect the English seem subject to, from their too great use of sugar) she had in her ears two pearls with very rich drops; her hair was of an auburn colour, but false; upon her head she had a small crown, reported to be made of some of the gold of the celebrated Luneburg table; her bosom was uncovered, as all the English ladies have it till they marry; and she had on a necklace of exceeding fine jewels; her hands were slender, her fingers rather long, and her stature neither tall nor low; her air was stately, her manner of speaking mild and obliging. That day she was dressed in white silk, bordered with pearls of the size of beans, and over it a mantle of black silk shot with silver threads; her train was very long, the end of it borne by a marchioness; instead of a chain, she had an oblong collar of gold and jewels. As she went along in all this state and magnificence, she spoke very graciously, first to one, then to another (whether foreign ministers, or those who attend for different reasons), in English, French, and Italian; for besides being well skilled in Greek, Latin, and the languages I have mentioned, she is mistress of Spanish, Scotch, and Dutch. Whoever speaks to her, it is kneeling; now and then she raises some with her hand.
Since contracting smallpox as a young woman in 1562, Elizabeth had become dependent on wigs after losing some of her hair to the disease. A toxic concoction of make-up probably worsened the problem. In his notes, Rye mentions some paperwork in the British Museum concerning a payment “to Dorothey Speckarde, our silkewoman, for six heades of heare, twelve yerdes of heare curle, one hundred devises made of heare.” Perhaps jealous of those who could grow more hair than she could, Elizabeth reintroduced a tax on beards that her father Henry VIII had originally put in place! As for her language abilities, Elizabeth of course was provided with the best possible tutors during her early life, and was probably the best-educated woman in England at the time.
In a rather amusing passage, Hentzer describes the solemn and rather over-the-top ceremony with which the queen’s dinner table was set:
But while she was still at prayers, we saw her table set out with the following solemnity: — A gentleman entered the room bearing a rod, and along with him another who had a table-cloth, which after they had both knelt three times, with the utmost veneration, he spread upon the table, and after kneeling again, they both retired. Then came two others, one with the rod again, the other with a salt-cellar, a plate and bread; when they had knelt as the others had done, and placed what was brought upon the table, they too retired with the same ceremonies performed by the first. At last came an unmarried lady of extraordinary beauty (we were told that she was a countess) and along with her a married one, bearing a tasting-knife; the former was dressed in white silk, who, when she had prostrated herself three times, in the most graceful manner approached the table and rubbed the plates with bread and salt with as much awe as if the Queen had been present. When they had waited there a little while, the yeomen of the guard entered, bareheaded, clothed in scarlet, with a golden rose upon their backs, bringing in at each turn a course of twenty-four dishes, served in silver most of it gilt; these dishes were received by a gentleman in the same order as they were brought and placed upon the table, while the lady-taster gave to each of the guard a mouthful to eat of the particular dish he had brought, for fear of any poison. During the time that this guard, which consists of the tallest and stoutest men that can be found in all England, 100 in number, being carefully selected for this service, were bringing dinner, twelve trumpets and two kettle-drums made the hall ring for half-an-hour together. At the end of all this ceremonial, a number of unmarried ladies appeared, who with particular solemnity lifted the meat off the table, and conveyed it into the Queen’s inner and more private chamber, where after she had chosen for herself, the rest goes to the ladies of the Court. The Queen dines and sups alone with very few attendants; and it is very seldom that any body, foreigner or native, is admitted at that time, and then only at the intercession of some distinguished personage.
Elizabeth rarely ate in the presence of others, except for special occasions. The reason for this was quite simple: she could eat without all the ceremonial business of a meal in company, and did not have to put up with being observed while she ate. In other words, if she dribbled gravy down her chin, it didn’t matter.
The second and final part of this article will follow soon. You can keep updated each time I post a new entry by clicking on the follow button on the right of the screen. I welcome any comments or suggestions, and will consider guest posts.