Tag Archives: Catherine of Aragon

The Streets Of London – Part Eighty Eight

Cardinal’s Cap Alley, SE1

Towards the western end of Bankside and to the west of the Globe Theatre is to be found the quaintly named Cardinal’s Cap Alley, which then joins Skinmarket Place. When I went to take a look at it, it was gated off but never mind. It sheds a fascinating light on the seamier side of the area’s history.

Bankside, as the southern side of the Thames was called, was outside the jurisdiction of the City of London and was notorious for activities that were frowned upon in the City, not least public theatres, bull and bear baiting pits and its stews, as the brothels were called. Each stew had the name of the establishment painted on the wall facing the Thames, as a form of advertisement or, perhaps, as a two-fingered gesture to the prudes on the other side of the river.

Up to twelve brothels operated under licence from Henry VII but in 1546 Henry VIII thought enough was enough and decided to “extinguish such abominable license.” With great ceremony the brothels were proclaimed by “sound of trumpet, no more to be priuleged, and vsed as a common Bordell,” but you cannot keep a good man down. Brothels, albeit unlicensed, continued to ply their dubious trade.

One such brothel was called the Cardinal’s Cap or Hat, which almost certainly stood at the site occupied by No 49, Bankside and which is the entrance to the modern-day alley. It is possible that an establishment stood there from at least 1360 but even allowing for the vagaries of royal licence, it seems to have had a precarious existence. John Skelton, in his poem Why come ye not to court from 1522, noted, “but at the naked stewes. I vnderstande how that/ the syne of the Cardynall hat/ that Inne is now shyt vp/ with gup, whore, gup, now, gup.

As late as the mid 17th century the Cardinal’s Hat was associated with prostitution, as this rather bawdy couplet from the anonymous play, Vanity of Vanities, from 1660, shows: “they talk’t of his having a Cardinalls Hat, / they’d send him as soon an Old Nun’s Twat.

Given its proximity to the Globe Theatre it is tempting to think that the Bard of Stratford popped in for a refreshing drink and to take in the rather picaresque atmosphere. In King Henry VI, Part 1, he makes an allusion to prostitution and the headwear of a cardinal, the Duke of Gloucester warning the Bishop of Winchester thus; “thou that giv’st whores indulgences to sin,/ I’ll canvas thee in thy broad cardinal’s hat/ if thou proceed in this thy insolence.

Why cardinal’s cap or hat?

There were a number of establishments in and around London through the ages with that name. Samuel Pepys popped into one in Lombard Street for a drink on June 23, 1660. So it may just have been a common pub name with no specific associations with the area. Others, though, think it may be a reference to the fact that Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, who was appointed a cardinal, once owned it or that it is an ironic allusion to the similarity between a cardinal’s hat and the tip of a penis. I suspect there is no specific allusion in the name but who knows for certain?

After the Great Fire of London in 1666, Sir Christopher Wren based himself in Bankside while supervising the reconstruction of the city. It affords a superb view of St Paul’s, his crowning glory. There is even a plaque on No 49, Bankside which states “here lived Sir Christopher Wren during the building of St Pauls Cathedral. Here also, in 1502, Catherine, Infanta of Castille & Aragon, afterwards the first Queen of Henry VIII, took shelter on her first landing in London.

Modern research suggests that this was not where Wren was based but rather somewhere slightly to the east, behind what is now the Founders Arms. The then owner, Malcolm Munthe, rescued the plaque from the Wren house when it was about to be demolished and put it on his house, No 49. Nevertheless, this false attribution has helped the preservation of a splendid house, the present incarnation of which was built in 1710, from the predations of so-called developers.

And finally, before we leave this fascinating area of London, we should note that it was much nearer the banks of the Thames. In the 1970s the Greater London Council, in their wisdom, altered the waterline to construct the pedestrianised area that exists today.

Book Corner – February 2019 (4)

Thomas Cromwell – Diarmuid MacCulloch

Apart from the two World Wars is there an era of history that has been racked over so often and so extensively as the Tudor period? I can imagine that in a couple of decades or so there will be myriad books exploring how the hell we got into the Brexit mess but that is another story. The story of Henry VIII and the main characters of his reign are so well known, at least we think they are, that it is a brave writer who sets out to put a fresh spin on hackneyed material.

Not only is Diarmuid MacCulloch brave but on the whole he pulls it off, giving us a fresh and more complete perspective on Henry’s go-to-man of the 1530s. It is a massive and magisterial book and MacCulloch wears his scholarship lightly. But it would be wrong to suggest that it is a light read for the general reader. It is witty and acerbic but there are turgid passages when the historian explores the dynastic and genealogical complexities of the Tudor court and there is more about Tudor sewerage systems and navigation channels than you would care to shake a stick at.

Cromwell is a difficult character to rehabilitate. MacCulloch makes a brave attempt but I’m not entirely convinced by his case. Yes, Cromwell was brutal but, by the standards of the day, no more brutal than anyone else, given the chance. Part of his problem was that his boss, Henry VIII, changed policy and direction as often as he changed codpieces, perhaps more frequently. There is more than a hint of Trump in MacCulloch’s portrait of the monarch. Just to remain in post, Cromwell had to be nimble on his feet and not too fixed in his policies and trenchant in his views.

Cromwell’s chameleon-like political persona owed much to his religious stance. He was what MacCulloch describes as a Nicomedian, a term drawn from Nicodemus, a Pharisee who came to see and learn from Jesus at night. After all, in his early years he defended the Boston guild’s right to sell indulgences. In later years Cromwell was, probably, a revolutionary Protestant, more inclined sympathetically to the teachings of Huldrych Zwingli of Zurich than Luther, but one who was able to hide his true sympathies behind conventional religious practice until the time was right. So turbulent were the times that the wisest counsel was to follow this course.

Irrespective of your view of Cromwell, it is incontrovertible that he played a major part in fixing the Catherine of Aragon problem and in the dissolution of monasteries and the expelling of the most egregious and usurious practices of an outmoded and corrupt Churches. But, MacCulloch argues, Cromwell was not the architect of the policy, more the organising genius who enabled what seemed to be a worthwhile (and immensely profitable) policy to be implemented. It was interesting to read that the origins of the policy dated back to Wolsey’s dissolution, Cromwell did the dirty deed, of a couple of monasteries to fund the building of a couple of colleges to commemorate the Cardinal.

MacCulloch argues, convincingly, that Cromwell and Ann Boleyn were always daggers drawn, Cromwell’s animus due to the part that Boleyn and her supporters played in the downfall of his master, Wolsey. The second half of the 1530s saw Cromwell almost fall from power following the Pilgrimage of Grace, effectively a civil war in the northern parts of England fuelled by opposition to his religious reforms, and hanging precariously on to power, defying the machinations of his foremost enemy, the Duke of Norfolk.

What did for Cromwell was his advocacy for Anne of Cleves as Henry’s fourth wife, prompted mainly by his reluctance, once his son had married into the Seymours, to see another English family usurp his position by marrying their daughter to the King. Those who live by the sword die by the sword and Cromwell’s downfall was swift and brutal.

But Cromwell’s legacy remains with us. He did much to fashion the Protestant church in England, even as it exists today.

I’m glad I read the book but would not recommend it to the general reader.

A La Mode – Part Three

The crinoline cage

Amelia Bloomer may have consigned the first phase of her eponymous garment to the bin of fashion history by adopting the new craze for the crinoline cage but, in truth, wide and full skirts were a la mode since the 15th century. The Queen Consort Joan of Portugal popularised the hoop skirt, wearing it at court, although the court gossip-mongers speculated that it was to hide an illegitimate pregnancy.

Known as the verdugado, corrupted as the English have a habit of doing so to farthingale, the dress was introduced to Blighty by Catherine of Aragon. The Spanish farthingale consisted of a linen petticoat with bands of cane or whalebone inserted horizontally to produce a cone shape running from waist to hem.

Crinoline is an example of a compound word which means precisely what its parts indicate, crin being the French for horsehair and lin for linen. So the original crinoline consisted of horsehair and linen and in the 1840s the material was used to support the weight of the petticoats under the full, bell-shaped skirts that were the vogue at the time.

But what really kick-started the rage for crinoline cages was the development of the steel-hooped crinoline cage, patented in April 1856 in Paris by R C Milliet and, a few months later, by his agent in London.  Consisting of spring steel, they were surprisingly flexible, could be compressed and, for the wearer, extremely liberating as they could dispense with the burdensome layers of heavy petticoats. No wonder Ms Bloomer approved.

The crinoline cages appealed to women of all classes and flew off the shelves. In America one of the biggest manufacturers, Douglas and Sherwood’s Hoop Skirt Factory in New York, employed 800 women, producing in excess of 8,000 hoop skirts a day. The Lady extolled the virtues of the fashionable garment in its April 1863 edition, commenting “So perfect are the wave-like bands that a lady may ascend a steep stair, lean against a table, throw herself into an armchair, pass to her stall at the opera, and occupy a further seat in a carriage, without inconveniencing herself or others, and provoking the rude remarks of observers thus modifying in an important degree, all those peculiarities tending to destroy the modesty of Englishwomen; and lastly, it allows the dress to fall in graceful folds.”

At its widest point the circumference of the crinoline could reach six feet and they guaranteed a large amount of personal space for the wearer. The satirical magazine, Punch, could not resist having a pop at this latest fashion.  “Emily: Madame Bonton says the Circumference of the Crinoline should be Thirty-Six Feet! Caroline: Dear me! – I’m only Thirty-Two! I must Inflate a little!” and was quick to point some of the hazards for the unwary. “Take care that the Ends of your Hoops be secure; they have been known to give way—to the great alarm and discomfiture of the Lovely Wearer.”

And dangerous they were too. In England alone it was estimated that between the late 1850s and late 1860s some 3,000 women died in crinoline-related fires and in 1864 the Bulgarian poet, Petrok Slaveykov reckoned that globally in the previous 14 years the suspiciously precise figure of 39,927 had perished this way. Perhaps the worst case was a fire at the Church of the Company of Jesus in Santiago, Chile on 8th December 1863, where between two and three thousand worshipers died, many of whose deaths were attributable to crinoline dresses. Fire-proof material was available but it was not deemed to be as attractive.

If they did not kill you, crinoline dresses could get stuck in doors, carriage wheels or caught by sudden gusts of wind, blowing the wearer off their feet. The poor Duchess of Manchester tripped on a stile, her skirt flew over her head to reveal her scarlet drawers to the assembled company. At least they matched her face.

From 1862 a more sensible fashion was introduced, the crinolette, which was composed of half hoops of spring steel and created a shape that was flat at the front and bell-shaped at the back.

Now, why didn’t they think of that before?