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Don't lose your head as you brush up your Shakespeare

The BBC website today reported the discovery of what is thought to be "The Red Lion" - London's earliest theatre. The story links the theatre with the acting troupe "The King's Chamberlain's Men" and performances of Shakespeare's plays. Shakespeare was himself a member of the troupe.

My blog entries have often mentioned local links to Shakespeare - particularly purporting to events and residents of Caludon Castle. The BBC reference to the King's Chamberlain's Men brought these links back to mind.

The Berkeley family were the last aristocratic family to reside at Caludon and during their time the site was a centre of the arts, science and sporting pursuits. Lady Katherine Berkeley owned a telescope and globe and had an interest in astronomy.

There is very strong evidence that Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was commissioned for a performance at the wedding of Lady Katherine’s son Thomas and Elizabeth Carey.

Elizabeth's father was a patron of Shakespeare's players, "The King's Chamberlain's Men" and Thomas' maternal grandfather (Lady Katherine Berkely's father) Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey had introduced the sonnet to England and developed it into the form which later became known as the "Shakespearean Sonnet".

In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Shakespeare also made reference to Thomas Nashe's work "The Terrors of the Night" which dealt with the theme of dreams and had been dedicated to Elizabeth Carey who had a keen interest in the subject. Both Thomas and Elizabeth were godchildren of Queen Elizabeth I and Thomas' father Henry was godson to Henry VIII.

There are records of The King's Chamberlain's Men playing at Coventry's St Mary's Hall and a sculpture of the bard's head looks towards the hall from the Cathedral wall just on the other side of Bayley Lane. The Hall was the seat of local government and Thomas Berkely would have been very familiar with the building as he sat on the forerunner of the city council as a representative for the Gosford St area.

Thomas was later to play a part in the invitation to James Stuart to the English crown. Thomas' godmother Queen Elizabeth I had ordered the holding of Mary Stuart (Queen of Scots) to be held at St Mary's Hall. On another occasion she had ordered the execution of Thomas' uncle for supporting Mary. Elizabeth was continuing her father's habit of beheading aristocrats. Henry VIII (godfather to Thomas' father Henry Berkely) had ordered the execution of Thomas maternal grandfather - Henry Howard - who we have seen to have been influential to the works of Shakespeare with the introduction of the English / Shakespearean sonnet. Despite her closeness to the Tudor monarchs Katherine Berkely lost both her father and brother to the royal axeman and was said to have taken to solitary melancholic walks around the Caludon gardens following the demise of her sibling. There was a very tangled web of intrigue, allegiances and treachorous acts between the aristocrats and royalty of the time!

Lady Katherine would surely have been pleased with the naming of the moons of Uranus after characters from the play wriiten for her son's wedding. Astronomer William Herschel discovered two of the planet’s moons in 1787 and named them Oberon and Titania. Another moon was discovered in 1985 by the Voyager 2 mission and was named “Puck”.

Shakespeare's birthday and death are both recorded as St George's day and our national saint features in a famous quote from another of the Bard's plays - the rallying call to Henry V’s men at the Battle of Agincourt:

“I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,

Straining upon the start. The game's afoot;

Follow your spirit: and upon this charge,

Cry — God for Harry! England and Saint George!”

There is a local tradition which links the story of St George and the dragon which I have explored in my previous blog post "St George - Dragon Slayer and Wyken Boy

Less tenuous links with Caludon and Coventry feature in the histories of Richard II, Henry IV and Henry VI. Early scenes from Richard II portray Thomas Mowbray's short ride from Caludon Castle to his aborted duel at Gosford Green with Henry Bolingbroke. Richard banished both of the intended combatants only to be later overthrown by Bolinbroke who became Henry IV.

Coventry has acted as the nation's capital in the sense that both Henry IV and Henry VI held English parliaments in the Chapter House of the Priory which was disolved along with all of the other monastries in the city on the orders of Henry VIII.

After the dissolution of the monastries the civil servant, high ranking aide to Henry VIII and property developer John Hales came into ownership of the Priory, St Mary's - Coventry's first cathedral of three - and Whitefriars monestry which he reanmed "Hales House".

Hales House saw a famous visit by Queen Elizabeth I who addressed the citzens from a bay window. Lord Henry and Lady Katherine Berkely also accepted an invitation for a prolonged stay there during extensive building work and improvements to their Caludon Castle home.

As lockdown restrictions are eased I shall start to be offering my guided walks again - initially to individuals and small groups. I'll be expanding on some of the themes outlined in this blog during my walk "The Bard, The Blitz and the Tudors". Details can be found on the "walks" section of my website.

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