Elizabethan London

Elizabethan London
Tyburn was an infamous execution spot west of London, used since medieval times. The Tyburn "tree" - a unique, multi-person gallows - erected in 1571 became a popular public spectacle, drawing crowds of thousands.Tyburn Tree blog is less blood-thirsty but hopefully topical, interesting and informative, if slightly bent to my personal topics of interest - books, writing, history, technology, with a smattering of politics and dash of pop culture, science and the downright strange. So "take a ride to Tyburn" and see what happens...

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Curtain Rises....

Earlier this month archaeologists in London reported that they had uncovered the remains of the Curtain, one of the first permanent theatres built in London.
Remains of Shakespeare’s Curtain theatre are uncovered in Shoreditch, London

Opened in 1577 in Shoreditch, the theatre became home to Lord Chamberlain's Men  - William Shakespeare's troupe - in 1597.  It is widely believed that both Romeo and Juliet and Henry V were premiered on the Curtain's stage.

Both the Curtain and its neighbour, the Theatre, were built outside of the precincts of London proper, beyond the authority of the very Puritan Corporation of London which despised the theatres.

Sir John Spencer, Lord Mayor of London, vividly described the theatres in 1594 as "places of meeting for all vagrant persons and maisterles men that hang about the Citie, theeves, horsestealers, whoremoongers, coozeners, connycatching persones, practizers of treason and other such lyke."

The Curtain itself was immortalized by Shakespeare in Henry V:

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
 The brightest heaven of invention,
 A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
 And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
 Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
 Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
 Leash'd in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
 Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,
 The flat unraised spirits that have dared
 On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
 So great an object: can this cockpit hold
 The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
 Within this wooden O the very casques
 That did affright the air at Agincourt?

That "wooden O" is now reduced to a few foundation walls and yard, but in these tantalizing clues, archaeologists hope to fully understand the true dimensions and structure of the building.

If the Renaissance in Italy expressed itself in art and architecture, the Renaissance in England was theatrical and literary in its expression.  The Elizabethan theatre and playwrites set the stage for 500 years of popular entertainment and literature, helping tread the path to modern fiction and the multiplex.

For more info, check out the article in The Guardian.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal: Building St. Peter's

Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal: Building St. Peter's by R. A. Scotti

Despite a great deal of background on the history of the period, I think I failed to appreciate how much of the Reformation was driven by the cost overruns of a construction project...

The design, development and building of the Basilica of St. Peter must stand as one of the superlative achievements in the history of mankind. Begun in 1506 and completed in 1626, the Basilica reads like a "who's who" of Renaissance artistry and architecture including Bramante, Michelangelo, Bernini, and Raphael, among countless others.

Scotti's book is an engaging, deftly written page-turner that delves into both the technological and architectural challenges and into the characters and personalities of the architects, builders, artists and their Papal patrons that, over 120 years, created a sublime masterpiece.

I recommend the book and, if you have (as I have) never had the opportunity to visit in person, check out the terrific virtual tour online for a first-hand look. It is spectacular. 

All images used in this post are courtesy of the Vatican website (http://www.vatican.va).

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


I was wandering through the Met's extraordinary medieval art and armour collection, when I was genuinely startled to find myself confronted by Henry VIII's armour. 

Technically this was his field armour, probably less ornate than his wear for ceremonial purposes but, after studying the man and the era for the last six or seven years, it was startling to have a sudden intrusion of his actual armour into my day, particularly as I had no inkling it as part of the collection.  According to the Met, the armour dates to 1544 and was probably worn by Henry at the siege of Boulogne.  The first impression was that Henry must have been, true to his reputation and his portraits, a fairly stout individual.  The armour was 51 inches across the chest and 49 inches around the waist.  The suit resembles an ornate steel-clad gorilla and gives you a sense of the strength of the man.  It weighs more than fifty pounds, so I expect it was not worn lightly.

Henry was a man often unfairly castigated for certain actions and undeservedly praised for others.  Most famous for his succession of wives and mistresses, and for his role in the English Reformation, Henry was very much a man who believed in his own eminance and  God-given divine right to rule as King.  Self-doubt was never a very apparent weakness and Henry had, if anything, an utter belief in the rightness of his own positions, even when he hadn't clearly articulated them.  He was also an extravagent spend-thrift who took a fiscally sound kingdom under Henry VII and turned it into a nearly bankrupt state.  Henry's fiscal state was as much a driver of the English Reformation as was Henry's need for a divorce.

Still, the Met's Armory and Henry's pugnatious field armour are a fascinating and spectacular surprise.  I highly recommend taking a look.

GoT Syndrome

I think I'm suffering Game of Thrones withdrawal.

My Sunday nights are now empty (sorry HBO, True Blood just doesn't quite cut it), and I don't know if I can withstand at least another nine months of no Tyrion / Bronn quips.

Tyrion: Let's play a new game.
Bronn: There's a ... knife game I can teach ya.
Tyrion: Does it involve the potential loss of fingers?
Bronn: Not if you win.

Last year there was the solace of  George R.R. Martin coming out with A Dance of Dragons  to alleviate things but he is probably at least another two years away from his next book...and I've got nine months of no HBO Game of Thrones to endure.

Any recommendations?  Books, movies, games?