It so happened that one day, many moons ago when the world was young that I thought – how nice it would be to get some people over here to England and have a bit of a tour together! I think this may have been 2018 ish or some such, and I admit to once more being inspired by the example of Mike Duncan, for I had heard of his History of Rome Tour, With some envy, if there is such a thing as Tour envy. Then stuff happened. But destiny had been written on the Chequer-board of nights and days, where Destiny with men for Pieces plays, and in 2022, it finally came to pass. It was I have t say absolute hoot, we all had a great time, despite the fact that the Queen chose that moment t die. Which caused chaos – places like Westminster Abbey were closed for example; though everyone did get to see the most humungeous queue. Anyway, it was great, and you might be interested to know there is a 2023 Tour to boot – which by the time you are listening to this may be ancient history of course.
Now there was one evening when my mate Archaeologist Richard and I tried to entertain the seething masses and we had this idea, which went pretty well actually, it could have been a disaster – of breaking the ice by talking briefly about how we were all part of a long tradition of tourism; and then we’d just had fun with a bit of a Q&A, and have a hoolie. But no dancing, obviously. Anyway, as often happens, I got carried away and wrote this entire shedcast from which to extract 10 minutes of ice breaker. This is the way things go when you have verbal diarrhoea and become a podcaster. Things grow from small, neat ideas into large amorphous jelly like substances, like a monster on Dr Who. Never got to present it actually, but ho hum, waste not want not.
Let me start by stating some obvious, incontrovertible principles that underpin the business of heritage tourism generally. Just so that we can all start on the same page in happy unison.
These statements, then, I would contend to be generally agreed, with regards to leisure time and heritage. Answer Ja order Nein:
- Buildings from the past should generally be preserved because they can teach us of how our ancestors lived, or for their artistic and cultural value
- Getting out into the countryside is a good way of refuelling the batteries, both for exercise and/or by appreciating the beauty of the natural world
- Travel is both educational and recreational, it can broaden the mind and be fun in some circumstances, terms and conditions apply
OK? Three surely uncontroversial statements. And yet would it amuse or indeed surprise you to know that none of these statements have been necessarily yesable at various stages in out history? Would it? And tourism only really appears when they eventually become generally agreed? I mean you probably do realise all of that, because you are a clever lot, and you are not easily fooled. But come on – play along with me. We’ll come back to this question in the next episode – just prepping you.
Actually, there is another universal truth, a slightly more scurrilous truth I read in Ian Ousby’s book The Englishman’s England, Ian contends that there is an attitude shared by all of us when we go travelling about other travellers, and that if we interrogate ourselves about our behaviour, although we might not like it, I suggest it is true. This view is summarised by three points of view, visualising a silent conversation with another tourist you have met
‘I am a traveller, you are a tourist, they are trippers’
That’s a horror is it not? The suiggestion is we don’t thinl other people are quite as serious as we are about our cultural endeavour. But I have caught myself at it, at some rammed tourist destination – what are all these other people doing here don’t they realise I am a serious traveller, not interested in baubles!!? Maybe it’s just me, I am a worm. But Also, someone on Facebook then related it to the immensely, just immensely funny 80s comedy Yes Minister. Bernard I think it is who says this following line; he’s one of the hapless civil servants who tends to put his foot in it, rather than the gnomic Mandarin Humphrey. Anyway, he described something similar as an irregular verb. Irregular in a different sense, as in
It’s one of those irregular verbs, isn’t it: I have an independent mind; you are an eccentric; he is round the twist.”
Very, very funny. Anyway moving on to happier things, the first question, in most podcast episodes, is where to start. The thing about traveling, for anything other than something work related anyway, like being a tinker, is that for most of our history it has been quite a niche affair. It requires a couple of commodities once quite rare – wealth and time. The vast majority of people have not had such things available to them, until around the 1860s in the UK at least, which is really quite recent. So we are talking niche here and also, quite high status; if you are clearly noodling around at your leisure it once said something about you very significant. Whereas now it might just mean you are having a duvet day or having a bit of a bunk off work. We’ll come back to that.
Of course, the well heeled had always travelled, and quite a to-do it was; kings were permanently peripatetic, and would take with them mighty household carriages coaches and all. This kind of tour was described that Walter Map, 12th century courtier, and the perennial model of the weary courtier, as the very template of hell. One of the things more ordinary travellers could rely on in the medieval world, was a tradition of hospitality. It might vary according to who you were and why you were travelling – so it might be a monastery, who would often have a room or set of rooms outside the enclosed, secluded world of the monks for the weary traveller. But it might be also that you would call at the halls of the mighty; your social status might define how welcome you would be and the quality of the reception, but it would be expected you would have some sort of succour. The role of the gatekeeper, housekeeper who ever is crucial in making the evaluation that put you into the relevant social pigeonhole, and therefore define the kind of reception you’d receive, so just FYI probably worth taking off the slops and putting on your Sunday best before you approached the gate.
If you happened to be Sir Gawain on a quest for the Knight of the Green Chapel, whose address you didn’t actually know incidentally which I always thought was a slightly absurd thing; I mean wouldn’t you have asked where the Green Chapel was at the previous year’s feast after you’d failed to cut off the Green Knight’s head and knew a return match was due? Anyway, he didn’t and hey maybe it wouldn’t have been in the heroic idiom to ask for directions. Anyway, if you were said Gawain of King Arthur’s round table, then your welcome might be pretty grand. Sir Bertilak indeed was pleased to see such an august visitor in the poem, for sure
You are welcome to your wish to dwell here
What is here, all is your own to have in your rule and sway
Sir Gawain is royally treated
Soups they served of so many sorts, seasonly most choicely
In double helpings, as was due, and divers sorts of fish
Some baked in bread some broiled on the coals
Some seethed some on gravy savoured with spices
And all with condiments so cunning that caused him delight
If I remember the tale, he also gets an offer of a bit of nookey later doesn’t he, slap and tickle and all that from the lady of the house? Before the big Green Giant had a hack at his neck with a large green axe, obviously. So, what I am saying it, there is a tradition of hospitality for travellers which is part of the fabric of visiting.
However; the question you would need to ask in Medieval times would be; why would you want to do that, even if you could? Go travelling I mean. Roads were often appalling. Carriages deeply uncomfortable. According to foreign travellers even our saddles were small, pokey and uncomfortable. There were no maps, and people’s horizons were limited; you would constantly have to ask for directions, and very often they wouldn’t know the place just a few miles away or you’d get the standard ‘Why do you want to go there? Either way if you did, I wouldn’t start from here’ beloved of locals. There are few greater joys than delivering such a line. Essentially travelling was hard work, and there had to be a reason for doing it; business, official duties, heroic quests, that sort of thing.
So when all is said and done, I think the best place we can really kick things off is with a prologue for such an activity which did have a compelling reason once upon a time. I have been practising said prologue, obviously:
1 Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
When April with its sweet-smelling showers
2 The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
Has pierced the drought of March to the root,
3 And bathed every veyne in swich licour
And bathed every vein (of the plants) in such liquid
4 Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
By which power the flower is created;
5 Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
When the West Wind also with its sweet breath,
6 Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
In every wood and field has breathed life into
7 The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
The tender new leaves, and the young sun
8 Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,
Has run half its course in Aries,
9 And smale foweles maken melodye,
And small fowls make melody,
10 That slepen al the nyght with open ye
Those that sleep all the night with open eyes
11 (So priketh hem Nature in hir corages),
(So Nature incites them in their hearts),
12 Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
Then folk long to go on pilgrimages,
13 And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
And professional pilgrims to seek foreign shores,
14 To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
To distant shrines, known in various lands;
15 And specially from every shires ende
And specially from every shire’s end
16 Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,
Of England to Canterbury they travel,
17 The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
To seek the holy blessed martyr,
18 That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.
Who helped them when they were sick.
There we go How’d I do? Surely that has got to have the longest sub clause in the torturous and well trodden history of Sub clauses? We always reckoned that the Caunterbury Talers had a close affinity with the East Midlands accent when I was at Loughborough Grammar, but maybe not, and our Geoff was a Londoner I believe.
Now you might object, and point out that a pilgrimage was a serious business carried out for a purpose. The idea was long established that the physical contact with a shrine or religious object delivered a stronger line of communication with the desired deity, is not specific to Christianity. It might be that you needed healing, and this was the most common reason; you would head for a shrine to a saint with particular characteristics or talent, as local as possible. Such as Adelita in 1180, in Oxford who went to see St Frideswide, which was a good thing because as she
lay prostrate in prayer on the tomb of the blessed virgin, suddenly the eight on her eyelids was rubbed away…and she recovered perfect sight
Praying for fertility was another critical life event for which the saint’s help might be asked, or in advance of childbirth, so the saint could intercede to smooth progress. Or it might be that you were required to do some sort of penance; by your confessor which again might be just the local shrine, or a particular shrine for a particular sin. So there was a reason to go. But then we all know our Chaucer…well, a bit, at least we know that there was fun and laughter and stories involved along the way of the pilgrimage to boot.
Pilgrimages were seriously popular events, notwithstanding the major practical impediments that stood in your way, in terms of cost, trouble, and being able to leave at all; but just to give you some sort of scale, one of Christendom’s most popular destinations at the height of the middle ages, Santiago de Campostella in Northern Spain received over 500,000 pilgrims every year. So it’s popular. There was also a hierarchy involved here, in a couple of ways. Firstly, the prestige of the place. Jerusalem was obviously a premiere league destination, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was the very birthplace of Christianity; as was Rome, the home of the founding fathers of the church; and then Santiago, which claimed the bones of the Apostle James. Santiago was the later comer to the tradition; the first English visitor is recorded around 1100.
Then there were the more domestic shrines, among which two drew the most international and well as domestic traffic in blighty. The most famous and popular was the Shrine of Thomas Beckett at Canterbury, which drew something like 200,000 visitors a year including our friends and Chaucer’s. There were more than 400 relics at the shrine, 12 bodies of saints; one of which was a duplicate since St Winifred’s body was also at Ripon – the list goes on, but the experience itself must have been like arriving in heaven, an incredible sight for your ordinary soul used to the inside of a 2 roomed medieval hall cottage, full of smoke most of the time, smelling slightly of damp and rat’s wee. Bright with precious metal and stones. In north Norfolk was the second most important – the Priory Church at Walsingham, whose main attraction was the Holy Milk of the Virgin Mary – though the piece of Satan’s tail would also have excited awe. But there were may and various shrines across the country; and there was a pride for many noble families in visiting their local shrine, and donating to it to have it beautified and decorated. It brought honour and reputation to their home turf, and home turf was all. Here’s a description of the shrine of St Ethelreda of Ely, in the Cathedral church
The shrine is of silver, with raised images of gold…the side consists of a wall of silver, with sixteen raised gilded images, 94 great crystals and 149 smaller stones of crystal and glass…
These were shining wonders almost from another world. The people who went could, in theory, be anyone; Chaucer’s pilgrims represent all the classes, the church, merchants, nobility but also peasantry in the form of the Ploughman and Franklin. Going on pilgrimage might not be a dramatic event, it might be a workaday drop in to help with some business or other; a Newcastle merchant for example, went to the Shrine of St Oswain at Tynemouth before going on a voyage,
‘commending himself and his goods to the protection of the saint.
Like ticking the insurance box when you book an international flight. But in practice, going on a pilgrimage to a further location was a big undertaking and limited to the better off; going to an international shrine was a massive task, beset with risk, but people managed it. Godric of Finchale managed to visit both Jerusalem and Compostela in the 1140s, by dint of combining the role of merchant and pilgrim; a few years later, Botilda the wife of the cook at Norwich priory travelled with a party of pilgrims to St Giles, Seles, and Santiago. Such trips could take many months or even a year; the pilgrim might die on the way, and so provision or a will would often be made before they left. The occasion might be of such significance and cost that it was the subject of feudal grant, permission to make the attempt.
Once you got out on your pilgrimage – other factors might come into play. Essentially – a good time might be had by all, and the golden scenario might emerge of combining work with pleasure; being holy on a hoolie, as it were. The 15th century Lollard William Thorpe did not approve.
They will ordain beforehand to have with them both men and women that can well sing wanton songs; and some other pilgrims will have with them bagpipes. So that every town they come through, what with the music of their singing, and with the sound of their piping, and with the jangling of their Canterbury bells and with the barking out of dogs after them, they make more noise than if the king came there away, with all his clarions and many other minstrels
All sounds rather fun. William had written in protest to Archbishop Arundel about all this., and the Archbish wrote back; and to Thorpe’s great dissatisfaction no doubt, he was rather less critical than the Lollard, which is interesting
Thou considerest not the travail of pilgrims…I say to thee that it is right well done, that pilgrims have with them both singers and also pipers; that when of them that goeth barefoot striketh his toe upon a stone and maketh him bleed, it is well done that he or his fellow begin then a song or else take out of his boson a bagpipe
What a charitable view by the good Archbish.
The sheer extent of the activity bred an entire industry around the whole experience. There was a well established chain of events you’d go through when you reached your destination – we have Erasmus’s description of visiting Walsingham for example, with attendants and guides that received him, the presentation of the relic, and the description of it – which required a small reward for the attendant each time for the trouble, obviously. The whole thing was a combination of piety and showmanship and business.
And the paraphernalia and infrastructure was available well before you reached your destination; not simply the Taverns and inns along the way, but as you pulled into the town or village around the shrine there would be stalls, street vendors, inns, lodging houses, all dependent for their survival on the visitor’s penny. And souvenir sellers – you would almost certainly buy yourself a pilgrim badge, so that, in the words of William Langland
Men should know
And see by his signs what shrines he had sought
There was even some careful branding going on; St James’ shrine had a distinctive Scallop shell, encased in pewter or lead; Canterbury had a badge with the sign of St Thomas, such as a Canterbury bell. Or you could take away some of Thomas’ diluted blood, with miraculous healing powers and yours for a few pence.
That’s probably enough, and it’s easy to take the tourism aspect of pilgrimage too far; at its heart were very genuine motives based on a deeply engrained culture of belief and piety on which it depended. But there are parallels between Pilgrimage and Tourism. There was a well established pattern of social activity and multiple motives – amongst which recreation certainly figured. A group got together and took an agreed path towards a communally agreed goal. There was an element of status involved in the process which would re-appear – especially if you’d made one of the more distant shrines; visiting Rome was officially designated, for example, as being worth the penance value of 2 trips to St David’s in Wales for one pilgrim. And there was an industry that grew up around the activity to support it, just like the tourist industry of course.
Even in that religious goal, maybe there’s a parallel in tourism; people don’t just go for fun to country houses these days or ruins or nature – they also go for something, an experience, that will uplift them in some way, or educate them. There’s something else going on too. I feel a Samuel Johnson quote coming on which will happen constantly for the next few centuries I am sure
The use of travelling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.
For Johnson, travel was itself a thing of use, in the spirit of inquiry.
Anyway, pilgrimage was all swept away in the dissolution and reformation. But something had to replace it – a secular pilgrimage as it were. There’s more than one candidate; one of the earliest being the literary shrine. The start of that might be taken as Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey, when Chaucer was buried outside the chapel of St Benedict in 1400 although it’s not until 1550 when a big new tomb was made. The playwright Francis Beaumont followed, and Edmund Spenser; though it took until 1740 for the campaign to install Shakespeare to succeed, and the name Poet’s Corner to be coined by Oliver Goldsmith in 1760. By which time Stratford itself was in the business of becoming a shrine to the man all of its own; I am told the first time a Shakespeare play was performed in his home town had to wait until 1749 – a performance of Othello. The whole history of Shakespeare and the tourism industry is a bit of a hoot; not sure I have the space here for it. But I do like the grumpiness of Francis Gastrell who bought Shakespeare’s old house New Place without really knowing what he’d let himself in for. He found himself swamped by visitors coming to see the Mulberry bush reputedly planted by the Bard – and so in 1759 he cut it down, then demolished the whole house, and fled the scene
‘amidst the rages and curses of the inhabitants’.
Before he did, he’d sold the mulberry wood to a local trader who made full use; producing trinkets for sale made of it, to the extent that his business rivals pointed out he would have depopulated an entire forest.
One more Shakespeare story because this is really a digression I find myself in, sorry about that. I also like the story of David Garrick the famous actor who organised a jubilee to the Bard in Stratford as a fund raiser in 1769, with a procession of musicians, ringing church bells, Oratorio in the church, and dinner at the Rotunda in the evening, all followed by yet more outside entertainment the following day. At which it poured with rain, obviously, so that the place was a quagmire by the time it came to leave. Still, it had been a great success and the Corporation invited Garrick to return and do it all again. He appeared initially to thank them generously in his note, but the memory of the quagmire was still fresh and painful, and unfortunately, he ended the letter with a bit of a twist
That the town which gave birth to the first genius since the creation is the most dirty, unseemly ill payd, wretched-looking town in all Britain
Which I think is a no, could be wrong.
Anyway, I didn’t mean to go down that route really. Actually, the route back to tourism lay not so much in literary pilgrimage, though obviously there is a strand there, but in the ancient tradition of noble hospitality, and the equally and probably more powerful tradition of showing off your wealth and status, and cutting a dash in the world.
But before the tradition of hospitality could support the urge to travel, there had to be an interest in seeing other places, of going to visit heritage. And so I would like to wander into a side street, parallel to the main grand river of our narrative, but which feds it as the Avon Feeds the Severn. Am I overdoing the river metaphor? Be honest with me. I would like to speak about the appearance in Tudor times of the antiquarian and cartographer – John Stow, John Leland, William Harrison, John Speed, William Camden. I could go on about it to your collective distraction, but I’ll try to keep in snappy, though honestly, I don’t have a good track record at brevity. But I promise I’ll make it relevant. Don’t quite know how at the moment, but I will by the time I get to the end. The point I guess is that antiquarianism fed off and fed into an interest in history, which could then be satisfied by visiting history.
OK how much did you become a member of the History of England just to be able to hear about Elizabethan English Antiquarians? Be honest with me. On a scale of 1 to 10. But you know you’ll love it, and as my mother used to say when inflicting some new indignity on me, it’s good for the soul. Your soul, gentle listener, will soon shine like a supernova.
John Leland, let’s start with him on the Mary Poppins principle, 1503 -1552, odd choice of millinery frankly, but a poet and antiquarian London lad, St Pauls school Oxford, studied abroad in France to boot before coming home. Somehow, he managed to get himself a commission from Henry VIII ‘to peruse and dylygentlye to searche all the lybraryes of monasteryes and collegies of thys your noble realme’, and he probably carried this document around with him. Because John got on his horse and duly set off to create a record of Henry’s realm, in his words ‘totally inflamed with a love to see’ everything he could of the country in which he lived, and on the way ‘noted a whole world of things very memorable’. What a fantastic way of carrying on, sign me up. In 1544 he presented the work he’d done so far to Henry, ‘The laboryouse journey & serche of Johan Leylande for Englandes antiquitees’, but he then kept on trucking, and left us all his notebooks, his itineraries, which have been published, and you can get them on the line for free. And it’s fun to see if John came down your way; he went to Lougborough and spoke quite highly of the old place, and then up to Braggie Park and Wiggy Woods where we used to walk the dogs in the days of my youth. He also went to Ewelme, near my current place and very grand at the time – don’t forget you can see my short video of Ewelme on the history of England. You don’t get much by way of description for each place – but it’s a thrill. Basically, John Leland loved the country he lived in, and wanted to record its ways for posterity.
He spawned, did John. Other folks thought hey, that’s a good idea, we do things down here I’d like other people to know about. So William Lambarde, another Londoner and a draper, hopped on a horse and started one of England’s finest traditions. We have a thing here, should you know it, called the Victoria County Histories. They are, at their best, the most amazingly researched local histories, parish by parish, and are a celebration of the English love of their neighbourhood. I am sure it is a quality shared with most other nations of the world – but do they have the Victoria County Histories I ask you? I would be interested to know actually -maybe they have something better. Anyway, William Lambarde produced the very first county history, Perambulations around Kent in 1576.
Then there was Richard Carew, who produced a survey of Cornwall in 1602, and George Owen and his Description of Pembrokeshire in 1603. So we are off and running on local histories and a love of antiquaries
John Stow, then, born in 1525, possibly at the age of 1, because he might have been born in 1524. Maybe its because he was a Londoner that he loved London so, because he wrote the Survey of London, as well as The Chronicles of England, The Annales of England. There’s a monument to him in the Merchant Taylor company chapel, which makes him look distinctly constipated, as though he’s just eaten one bun too many. Have a look at it on t’internet and tell me I’m not right.
I know a story about John Stow, or I am sure I read it. He lived next to Thomas Cromwell, who was on the up at the time. And being on the up, Thomas was beginning to think that the size of his back garden wasn’t quite reflective enough of his status. So, one day when John Stow came home, he found his neighbour had stolen 20 feet from his garden. And there wasn’t a darned thing he could do about it. I always thought that tells you everything you need to know about power in Tudor England, and Thomas Cromwell.
When he died, this was the monument his wife erected to him:
Sacred to the memory. John Stow, London citizen, piously awaits resurrection in Christ. Who having employed most careful diligence in bringing to light records of antiquity, deserved well both of his own time and of posterity in writing with distinction the annals of England and the survey of the city of London. Having devoutly run the course of his life, he died in his eightieth year, on 5 April 1605. His wife Elizabeth [erected this monument] lamenting as perpetual witness of her love
Which is nice and tells you most stuff you need to know, he dies at a grand old age, lived in London all his life, never had a lot of money. And he collected records. Historical records. Such as Dudley’s Tree of the commonwealth. He shared stuff with other interested people and they loved him for it. ‘Honest John Stow, who could not flatter and speak dishonestly’ said George Buck. He published his A Survey of London in 1598 which displays all the pageantry of the sixteenth-century city, and which has remained in print ever since. He was accurate, true to history. And loved the city he lived in, and its ways, and because of him, we have a picture of it as it used to be.
Probably the most famous though of all was William Camden; an influential chap too – for example I have often looked up stuff from the later formed William Camden Society. A son of Lichfield, ending up in London again. In 1587 after 10 years work, he published he first edition of Britanniae. Camden toured large areas of Britain, wrote down what he saw, recorded what people said, and produced a topographical and historical survey of Great Britain and Ireland. His aim was “restore antiquity to Britaine, and Britain to his antiquity” which is a fine objective. I had a look at Loughborough again; I suspect he copied Leland, but I also think he might have been there on person; because he added Mountsorrel in some detail which was then, and in my early youth, a dramatic outcrop of granite. Now a very large hold in the ground because people wanted the granite for their kitchen tops.
By the way, listening to what local people said and recording it as history is sometimes dangerous. When we were writing something about our parish, we came across the 1892 OS maps, boldly marked with ‘Remains of monastery’. Now the OS maps are authoritative, so we thought Ha! But it transpired that they often listened to local folks; who saw some ground based lumps, knew the Abbey of Bec had the estate for 350 years, put together 2 and 2 and arrived, as you do, at 3, but proceedeth not to 4, and cried instead ‘Monastery!’. There was never a monastery at Swyncombe, just estate buildings. So you know, when you hear local gossip about who’s sleeping with who – beware
Camden produced other works – a history of Elizabeth at the behest of William Cecil, and the Remaines, a series of essays on British history.
I am told that Camden heavily influenced historical writing in England, with a combination of tradition and formal innovation, but crucially with a strong reliance on primary sources. But for us, apart from being part of that tradition of loving the place you are in, Camden and this group of antiquarians are in this podcast because they fostered a notion of the value of the remains of the past; which despite our agreed incontrovertible at the start was far from a gimme back then, as we will hear. But mainly because they encouraged those that could, to get out there and explore their own country for themselves. It is a sentiment that will increasingly recur.
Before getting back to that trail I left about hospitality let me finish this bit with John Speed, a cartographer who produced and published a set of maps for James I for his new kingdom of Great Britain, Wonderful wonderful things they are, and freely available digitally. They use Camden’s work for descriptions, have detailed town maps, and for the first time hundred boundaries, and features like deer parks. They really are works of beauty. However. They have one very revealing absence – there are no roads, and the mentality of that seems interesting to me. These are not meant to be used for navigation he didn’t for a moment assume he was producing something that could be used for tourists – because there weren’t any! By 1675, that mentality will have changed.
From the other end of the telescope though, there were people who came to see us of course, mainly from Germany and western Europe. Rather remarkably, they came as part of their own Grand Tour; we are of course going to talk next time about our gilded youth doing such a thing; I must admit it never crossed my mind that people would want to come to England when the glories of Italy, Spain and France were waiting for them, but apparently there were a few who came, plus of course diplomats forced to come here. The abiding impression I have is that they didn’t think much of our saddles. Jacob Rathgeb, in the party of the Duke of Wurttemberg in 1592 reported that
The saddles being in these parts so small and covered only with bare hide
They build buttocks tough in blighty, pal. They also didn’t think much of the English guides, and many visitors assumed they were in the process of being diddled; so headed for the local German enclave, the Steelyard in London, the centre of the Hanseatic league, and found one of their own. Though interestingly if they did dare to trust a local, they found a couple of things to help them; there were phrase books appearing, which rather assumes quite a significant traffic to justify it; these included muti-lingual manuals with texts in Flemish, German, Latin, Italian, French and Spanish. With useful phrases such as my helicopter is full of eels. The other thing they found was that Latin still survived as an international language. So when the young Baron Waldstein got lost in Oxfordshire, he eventually found an inn and then
Frederick Gershow found a learned parson in the village, who procured everything we needed, and even for a short time, left some of his own guests…and thus showed great honour and kindness. That day I would not have missed knowing Latin for a thaler.
There was a quite established itinerary; and I am sure you’ll be cross to learn that of course it was focussed on the south east, not one person was going to Barnsley or Shropshire. They’d cross to Dover, usually in August or September; hire post horses and go to Canterbury, then on to Rochester and Gravesend. A boat up to London. Usually, the theatre would figure though there don’t seem to be any reviews of good or bad, then they might do Oxford and or Cambridge, and the great prodigy houses not too far from London – Christopher Hatton’s Holdenby, Cecil’s Theobalds and Burghley. On the way up and down, Sittingborne in Kent figures highly. It’s on Watling Street, so the best road; it’s a useful stopping off place to see the Canterbury Bling for pilgrims too, and so had a tradition of providing a stop over and pit stop – it gets a mench in the Wif of Bath’s taler – alongside the only line I remember from O Level Chaucer when I did the Wif of bath, ‘in women vinolent is no defense, This knowen lecchours by experience’ make of that what you will gentle listener, I was 15.
The main thing folks came to see were all the royal palaces though, and I have a couple of observations to make on that. Firstly, there’s a pretty well established process already in Tudor times; the visitor would rock up, and unless actively drunk or smelly, the rules of hospitality would admit of entrance, and they’d be taken round; and a tip would be required for all. Visitors found the constant demand for tips on being shown some Godforsaken tapestry irritating, and this is definitely a theme we’ll hear all over; Thomas Platter here
We gave largesse for the third time…we gave the fifth gratuity…having now for the eighth time also made a gratuity to the soldier we returned to our hostel
These visitors came by and large it seems for something other than social or political motives; they came to see and experience, and in some way to broaden their minds. The historical knowledge they found there was execrable – the Tower of London, they were told, was
An old but strong castle built by Julius Caesar
Actually, no it wasn’t! Though Julius Caesar seems to have bult most things in his short and strikingly unsuccessful visits according to the historical view of the time. Although I suppose this is a long tradition – I had a colleague who worked as a tour guide when a student to make a few extra quid, and good lord the tripe he made up! Criminal. Back then, these visitors were not critical, in the sense of looking at the Architecture and evaluating its quality or thinking about its influences or genesis, and this is interesting because it applies to English visitors too. But that does change; as early as 1624 there is at least a framework for thinking about architectural styles, written by Henry Wootten, the same chap who created the bon mot that an ambassador ‘is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.” He wrote ‘The Elements of Architecture’; it’s a renaissance driven work, focussing on the values of symmetry and harmony; the idea was very much that by the application of a set of criteria, it was perfectly possible to arrive at an objective assessment of a bit of architecture, good or bad.
For the moment though as we will see, this is not the focus of visitors looking at architectural wonders of the rich and famous either at home or abroad. But where it was, such as in Wootten’s works, let me tell you the Elizabethan and Jacobean world did not value two things inherent in our list of incontrovertible truths earlier – nature, and preserving the past.
We will talk about that, and what travellers did now come to see, in the next episode. Until then – a couple of weeks I think at time of writing – I would like to thank you from the bottom of your heart for your support by being members. If you have any comments or questions, I always love to hear them so come to the history of England, or the Facebook group or drop me an email. Failing that – good lucj and have a great week!