Posts Tagged ‘Blackadder’

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I By Nicholas Hilliard 1586-1587 (V&A museum - click image)

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I By Nicholas Hilliard 1586-1587 (V&A museum - click image)

I was recently looking for a book about Tudor Portraits and came across this book by Maurice Howard. The book doesn’t just cover portraits, there are references to items such as engravings, tapestry and funeral monuments. The author points out that the Tudor period saw an explosion in the production and use of artistic imagery. Some things were designed for private contemplation, for example the portrait minature  (see this wonderful Blog for more about this).  However, many other items seem to have been designed to display wealth and power. Looking through collections of artwork one gets an idea of the competition to acquire the the most elaborate and decorative items.

Pair of Gloves 1603 -1625 Victoria & Albert Museum (click image)

Pair of Gloves 1603 -1625 Victoria & Albert Museum (click image)


It is suprising how many portraits include subjects wearing – or quite frequently just holding gloves. Many of these are very highly decorated and are elongated into lace and pearl covered gauntlets. It seems hard to imagine that it would have been practical (or even possible?) to wear some of these pairs of gloves.

In his biography of Shakespeare, Anthony Holden discusses the playwrights father John who was known to have been a glover. After soaking the hides of deer, goats and sheep he would make the leather into gloves as well as other items such as belts and purses.

Elizabethan glove: little miss sunnydale on Flickr (Click image)

Elizabethan glove: little miss sunnydale on Flickr (Click image)

Over elaborate & a bit odd?

Of course, Stratford was a rural provincial backwater and it seems unlikely that John Shakespeare would have been turning out anything as elaborate as items being produced for use in London. As well as gloves, there are over-decorated shoes, sleeves, hats and of course the ruff. Look at this image from 1613 of the 3rd Earl of Dorset, Richard Sackville. No doubt the Earl dressed in his very finest clothes for the portrait. Clearly, the fashion for elaboration had continued to develop long after John Shakespeares day.

Richard Sackville 3rd Earl of Dorset c1613 William Larkin

Richard Sackville 3rd Earl of Dorset c1613 William Larkin

Really quite odd?

The Saltonstall Family 1636-37. Odd and just a little disturbing - what was he thinking of?
The Saltonstall Family 1636-37. Odd and just a little disturbing – what was he thinking of?

Look at this picture by David des Granges of the Saltonstall family. This painting is a family record which shows Sir Richard Saltonstall with his new wife and baby (seated) as well as his two  children from his first marriage. It has been suggested that the children are painted as they were at the time of their mothers death. The dead mother is lying in bed behind them all – her husband is vaguely waving his gloves in her direction. Can you imagine how such a picture would be recieved today? – it would be quite easy to make this sort of thing in photoshop. Surely this is one of the oddest pictures ever? Would you want it on your wall?

Is it just me, but..

Not for the first time when looking at Tudor images I find myself thinking how, well – odd it all looks. The Tudors really had a very different idea about what looked good – to modern eyes it all looks a little strange. Don’t you think that the Earl above looks just a little ridiculous? For me, the best expression of this came in this episode of Blackadder – have a look at this and ask yourself what Blackadder would have said about the Earl.

What do you think? Comments as ever are really welcome.



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Not far from where I live is a place called Bidford, a lovely old village on the banks of the river Avon in rural Warwickshire. We used to go there with our parents to eat picnics by the river bank and play in the meadow by the river and I have been there with my own kids to do the same.

Bidford Bridge by John Clift on Flickr (Click image) Bidford Bridge by John Clift on Flickr (Click image)

Now that spring is here and the days are getting longer and warmer it is time to start getting out and about –  I love the idea that we are so often following  the same paths that our ancestors explored before us.

There is a story that Bidford was famous for it’s beer drinkers and that one day a group from Stratford came to the village and started drinking with the locals. Amongst the Stratford visitors was a young man called Shakespeare who tried and failed to out drink the Bidford men.

Bidford on Avon by recursion on Flickr ( Click image)

Bidford on Avon by recursion on Flickr ( Click image)

The group fell into a drunken sleep and the story is that Shakespeare spent the night sleeping under a tree. When he woke next day Shakespeare is said to have declined the offer of more Ale by saying that he had drunk at:

Piping Pebworth, dancing Marston,
Haunted Hillbro, hungry Grafton,
Dudging Exhall, Papist Wicksford,
Beggarly Broom and drunken Bidford.

Take a look at Google maps for the area – it is quite easy to find most of the places mentioned in this rhyme although I am not sure I ever came across ‘Hillbro’ – does anyone know where this was/is? (Update July 2010 – see comments below, thanks to the ‘Hairy Farmer family’ – see link)

If you have never visited any of these places then I can recommend you try to look them out one day – although try to avoid drinking too much in Bidford!

Pebworth, Worcestershire, St Peter. Tudor Barlow on Flickr (Click image)

Pebworth, Worcestershire, St Peter. Tudor Barlow on Flickr (Click image)

PS. Whilst I am on the subject of Tudor era booze ups – is this a good excuse to look at this clip from Blackadder?

For more about Beer see this post


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I was delighted to think of an excuse to show something from Blackadder, especially the “Wise woman” sketch – have there been many funnier TV programs ever? I thought that it would be interesting to think about the truth in this scene.

You may remember that Edmund Blackadder starts his quest for medical help by going to see the Doctor (he was advised to put leeches in his codpiece!). In Tudor towns there were qualified medical practitioners who could have been consulted, especially by wealthier people (such as Blackadder). For ordinary people though, qualified medical assistance may not have been so readily available.

According to Roy Porter most villages would have had their own ‘Wise woman’ or ‘Wise’, or ‘Cunning man’ to whom people could turn for help when illness struck. The state and the church didn’t approve of these people and would sometimes try to discourage or punish practitioners. Despite this disapproval, there often wasn’t anyone else for people to turn to and of course, if there was any medical help available it was often quite ineffective. A little while back, I came across a story which suggested that perhaps the ‘wise woman’ might have been of some benefit.

I attended a meeting at Birmingham University Medical School and noticed a picture behind the speakers on the stage. This picture showed a man holding a foxglove – when I got home I ‘Googled’ the words ‘Birmingham’ and ‘Foxglove’ and came across the story of William Withering.

William Withering

William Withering

Withering who was a surgeon at Birmingham General Hospital from 1775 was also a member of the famous ‘Lunar Society‘ along with people like Josiah Wedgwood, Matthew Boulton and Erasmus Darwin. Withering was also an enthusiastic botanist known for his scorn of traditional herbal lore.

Withering was asked to see a woman who was suffering with ‘dropsy’ (this is now called Oedema in England or Edema in the US) which is a condition in which the person retains fluid and can become swollen – especially around the feet and ankles but also affecting other parts of the body including the lungs. It is a symptom of other problems, often heart or kidney disease – Withering’s diagnosis was that the outlook was bleak for the woman.

He was suprised to find later that she had been cured by a herbal tea – made to a secret recipe that had passed down through the generations. Withering searched the countryside for the secret, obtained the recipe which contained over twenty herbal  ingredients and eventually worked out that the active ingredient came from the Foxglove.foxglove

Withering set to work perfecting his understanding of the use of the Foxglove in a series of experiments that would today gain him both notoriety and a life sentence in prison. He used patients at Birmingham General Hospital as Guinea pigs! many of these people died in the process of his experiments, Foxgloves being very poisonous plants. The active ingredient in Foxglove is a substance called ‘Digitalis’ – a drug still widely used in modern medicine to treat heart disease.

Fortunately for Withering  the ‘wise woman’ he consulted was a bit more effective than the one seen by Blackadder. It is interesting  to think that despite his scorn about herbal lore it led him to his greatest discovery.

(See also ‘Tudor cures’)

(By the way – if you want to read more about the story of the Lunar Society I can really recommend this book.)


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