Tuesday, 28 August 2018

When the gloves were off for Raleigh


Image courtesy of Dents Museum

This pair of beautifully decorated gloves associated with Sir Walter Raleigh is among the highlights of Fairlynch’s exhibition to mark the 400th anniversary of the Elizabethan explorer’s death.

Described as ‘off-white doeskin, embroidered with gold and silver metal threads, tiny “spangles” and edged with silver gilt fringing’, the gloves have been dated as made in about 1600.  They are on loan from Dents Collection, based at the centuries-old Warminster-based firm of glovemakers.

Highly decorative gloves were a demonstrable sign of status and wealth, often given as gifts as a reward for service or supplication for expected favours. These gloves were not for wearing – hence their survival in such good condition.

‘There were few tokens of bonding and friendship that were as important in early modern culture,’ writes Felicity Heal in her 2014 book The Power of Gifts: Gift Exchange in Early Modern England. ‘The hand gesture as a mark of amity made these relatively simple gifts rich in symbolic power.’

Image of Bess, Lady Raleigh, as featured at Fairlynch Museum  
It was around 1600 that Raleigh’s wife Bess had made gloves for Sir Robert Cecil, Queen Elizabeth’s Secretary of State. 

One of the most powerful and the most calculating politicians of the time, he was a man whom both she and Walter regarded as their friend. In a letter to Cecil at this time Raleigh wrote that Bess ‘says that she must envy any fingers whosoever that shall wear her gloves but your own.’

Sir Robert Cecil, created 1st Earl of Salisbury by King James I    Image credit: National Portrait Gallery

What neither Bess nor Walter realised was that their supposed friend was actively engaged in their destruction. The Tudor dynasty was nearing its end, to be succeeded by the House of Stuart. 

Aware that the most likely successor to the increasingly frail Queen would be the King James VI of Scotland, Cecil was making plans for a transfer of power in which Raleigh would be sacrificed.  

It was important, he saw, that the character of the old Queen’s favourite be blackened in the eyes of the Scottish king so that Cecil would be seen as a supporter of the new regime.

King James I of England and VI of Scotland, c.1606, after John De Critz the Elder (c.1551-1642) National Portrait Gallery

Raleigh’s reputation as a smoker was bad enough to inspire the Scot’s disgust at such a habit. Sir Walter’s enjoyment of tobacco was well known at court. More serious for him was his reputation as an atheist, and it was this that Cecil used to encourage James’ mistrust of Raleigh. 

Since the beginning of May 1602 the Secretary of State had been engaged in a treasonable correspondence with James’ ministers in Scotland, using a secret code of numbers. The Queen was 24, James was 30, Raleigh was 2. Cecil himself was 10. 

It was in a letter of this time that Cecil wrote to King James about his supposed friend that he was a person ‘whom most religious men do hold anathema’. The underhand accusation was, as described by Sir Walter’s biographer Raleigh Trevelyan, a ‘stunningly disloyal’ act.   

St Mary’s Church, Cerne Abbas
Image credit: Chris Downer

It was true that Sir Walter, a relatively freethinking man for his age, had been accused of atheism. A commission had been set up in 1594 at Cerne Abbas, close to his home at Sherborne Castle, to deal with accusations that Raleigh and his circle of intellectuals, known to some as ‘The School of Night’, had denied the reality of heaven and hell.  He was acquitted, but the accusation of atheism was again raised at his trial for treason in 1603. 

It is likely that this contributed to the guilty verdict reached by the court, a verdict which would prove fatal after the failed 1617 expedition to Guiana.

Rosemary Harden supervises the installation of the gloves in the Raleigh 400 display, with Fairlynch Museum Trustee Martyn Brown. Rosemary, curator of the Fashion Museum in Bath, worked with Dents Collection on the Museum's loan request for the gloves  

These gloves are fabulous. You can imagine Bess Raleigh’s hands at work as she gives the finishing touches to a similar pair destined for the hands of her husband’s supposed friend Robert Cecil. 

Maybe this is at a time when Bess and Walter are caring for Cecil’s young son Will at Sherborne Castle.  The boy’s mother, Elizabeth Cecil had died in childbirth, aged only 34. Walter has poured his deepest and most poignant reflections into a letter to Robert Cecil dated 24 January 1597, written to console the distraught widower. 

But you can also reflect on the thoughts that cross Bess’ mind as she wonders how far she and Walter can trust him. Perhaps you can imagine the gloves discarded; those clever hands and fingers will be at work within just a few years on a treasonable correspondence with a foreign king. It will ultimately take Walter to the scaffold.   


Re-enacting ‘The Boyhood’: Take 2

Continued from

Continuing my August Bank Holiday appearance as Sir Walter I arrived at the Raleigh Wall from East Budleigh’s Street Party to find that the stage was already set for the repeat re-enactment of Millais’ Boyhood of Raleigh.

Pebbles, galleon, starfish and anchor were in place. Millais (John Washington, of Budleigh Art Club) was at his easel. 

The Sailor (Nick Speare) was there with his outstretched arms and had grown a moustache since his last appearance on 28 May earlier this year. 

‘Young Walter’ in his green costume was already there, later joined by another model as Raleigh’s half-brother Humphrey.

But I’d forgotten the toucan aka puffin. Once he was in place the picture was complete. You can see it above.

The models were given this great scroll, designed by ‘Millais’ himself. It's on sale in Fairlynch Museum. 

Passing visitors were welcome to discuss the painting with the artist at work.

The Sailor had the same problem with fake facial hair that I’d had back in May.

A view of ‘Sir John Millais’; he didn’t seem to have any problem with the sideburns. Not sure about the dark glasses. But the sun had really come out by now. 

Image credit for the above three photos: Martyn Brown

I reckon that dog wants to be in the painting.

A successful day!  It didn’t rain, and Sir Walter’s history lessons to the passers-by seem to have done their stuff judging by admissions to the Museum that afternoon.  There were over 90 visitors to Fairlynch - certainly a record in recent years!’ noted Chairman Trevor Waddington.

And perhaps best of all we'd introduced young Devonians to the story of one of the most interesting and complex figures of the county's history. 



Raleigh's Birthplace Remembers

When that Millais fellow did his famous painting of young Walter and Humphrey on the famous pebble beach in 1870 he no doubt persuaded many people that the Great Elizabethan Explorer had been born in the town of Budleigh Salterton

Some no doubt even thought that Raleigh had sailed off to North America from Budleigh to bring back his potatoes and grow tobacco.

Of course he was actually born just outside the village of East Budleigh, at the farmhouse of Hayes Barton. Picturesque though it is, the building, at the time of Raleigh’s birth between 1552 and 1554 was, according to some historians who always want to bring us down to earth, probably a one-storey affair.

But never mind those details. East Budleigh celebrated its local hero in style with a street party on Bank Holiday Monday 27 August. I paid my respects to Sir Walter on his plinth, feeling more confident this time after previous issues with a fake beard during the last Bank Holiday heatwave.

Arranging any outdoor event during an English summer is always a bit of a nightmare because the weather can let you down at the last minute. You can see from the poster how much effort had gone into planning the event.

I met my Queen

Elizabethan costumes, music and dance had all been arranged and the High Street closed off to traffic. Tables were provided but people were asked to bring their own chairs, food and drink. It worked brilliantly. And after the early morning drizzle the sun came out.  

We admired each other’s costumes

A barrow of my special Raleigh 400 ale was one of the prizes

The celebrations included a comprehensive exhibition of text and images illustrating the major aspects of Sir Walter’s life.

East Budleigh resident Charles Abram at East Budleigh's Raleigh 400 exhibition

Set up in the village hall it was put together with many hours of painstaking effort by local residents including Stephen Jones, Maria Malinowska, Charles Abram and Cathy Moyle.

Raleigh is just one of the interesting figures from East Budleigh’s rich historical past who deserve to be better known. Forget the ‘spuds and ciggies’ stories: he was more important than that.

And then there’s Roger Conant, one of the founding fathers of the American city of Salem MA; the French Huguenot refugee and East Budleigh vicar Daniel Cauniรจres; the so-called ‘smuggling vicar’ Ambrose Stapleton.  And of course all the people buried in All Saints churchyard: they include HMS Agamemnon captain Admiral G.W. Preedy, the wealthy London bookseller James Lackington and members of the Tanqueray family of gin-making fame. 

Sadly I had to leave the street party when it was just getting going. So I missed all the other events in the afternoon: falconry, tug o'war, Morris Men and the rest. I had a pre-arranged appearance to make at the Raleigh Wall in Budleigh Salterton. 

Continued at http://raleigh400.blogspot.com/2018/08/re-enacting-boyhood-take-2.html


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