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JAMES I.'S CHRISTMAS ENTERTAINMENTS.
JAMES I. had not been long on the throne of England before, desiring to behold in turn all the palaces of his new kingdom, he came from Windsor Castle to reside for a short time at Hampton Court. He had been here only a day or two, when he issued a proclamation which must have brought home with clearness to the minds of his new subjects, how the rule they had now come under differed from that of Queen Elizabeth, and how completely the romantic element that had invested her era with such lustre was closed for ever. During the past reign the dignity of knighthood had been conferred only as a special mark of royal favour on men distinguished for great and gallant services to their sovereign and country, and it was an honour that heroes bearing names of such imperishable renown as Sir Philip Sidney and Sir Walter Raleigh were ambitious to deserve, proud to receive, and jealous to guard. It derived likewise a special value from being a personal, and not an hereditary distinction. But the canny Scotch King James, with the sordid and mercenary ideas that tainted even that which most nearly concerned his kingly honour, saw in it only a means of lining with good English gold his by no means too amply filled pockets. It must be said, however, that the suggestion is stated to have first come from the Earl of Salisbury, who is credited with having urged it on James, telling him "he should find his English subjects like asses, on whom he might lay any burden; and should need neither bit nor bridle, but their own asses' ears." When the King objected that it might discontent the generality of the gentry: “Tush, Sire," he replied, "you want the money, that will do you good; the honour will do them very little harm.”
Thus it was that on the 17th of July, 1603, he issued from Hampton Court a general summons to all persons
HUNDREDS OF NEW KNIGHTS.
who had £40 a year in land, or upwards, to come and receive the honour of knighthood (of course with the obligation of paying the necessary fees); or, if they declined a proffered dignity thus cheapened and vulgarized, they were enjoined to compound for the audacity of so doing by the payment of substantial fines to the Royal Commissioners appointed for that purpose. Three days after, in compliance with the King's gracious summons, two gentlemen, Mr. John Gammes of Radnorshire and Mr. William Cave of Oxfordshire, presented themselves at Hampton Court, and were the first to receive knighthood at the hands of his Majesty. These two, however, were but a small and insignificant advance guard, when compared to the vast main body of troops of country gentlemen already on the march towards London from all parts of England and Wales. They flocked, indeed, in such numbers, that six days after the issue of the summons there were awaiting the King's pleasure several hundred would-be knights. Accordingly James came up, on the 22nd of July, from Hampton Court to Whitehall; and there, on the following day, disposed of the first batch of no less than three hundred knights. The exertion of giving the accolade to so many persons would naturally be a very laborious one on a hot July day; so the ceremony was appointed to take place in the Royal Gardens.
In addition to this, as will be remembered, King James, later on in his reign, when rather hard up for cash, hit upon the expedient of founding "the noble order of Baronets,” who were each of them to pay a fee of £1,000 on creation, and were in return for the honour conferred on them, “to defend and ameliorate the condition of the Province of Ulster, aid towards the building of churches, towns, and castles, and proffer their lives, fortunes, and estates to hazard in the performance of this duty,” and “maintain and keep thirty soldiers there.” Some of our modern baronets would be rather aghast if called on to render
any such services in return for the honours they bear! In the meanwhile the King had also been proportionately lavish with the higher honour of the peerage ;
and on the 21st of July he created, with great ceremonial, in the Great Hall of Hampton Court, eleven peers, in the presence of
the Queen and the Court. Altogether during his reign he conferred as many as a hundred and eleven peerages, about seven times as many, in a reign of twenty-two years, as his predecessor, Queen Elizabeth, had created in a reign of twice that duration.
Soon after this the King and Queen went on a progress in the southern counties, until about the beginning of the month of December, when they resolved to move to Hampton Court for the ensuing festive season. Probably the recollection of the splendid entertainments of which this palace had been the scene during the reigns of the Tudor sovereigns, and especially of the late Queen, suggested it as the most appropriate royal residence in which to celebrate their first Christmastide after their advent to the throne. Of all the English palaces it was then, as it is now, the most spacious; and, with its magnificent suite of reception rooms, the most adapted for brilliant Court gaieties. The desire of the King and Queen to rival the splendour of their predecessors doubtless had weight with them in selecting a grand masque, to be written by Samuel Daniel, as the principal feature of the festivities, for it was just about this time that these entertainments were beginning to be popular. Towards the close of Queen Elizabeth's reign they had gradually tended towards the form they eventually assumed under the skilful hands of Ben Jonson, and were, in fact, developing from mere masquerades or mummings into dramatic representations of a high lyrical order, which found their noblest embodiment in Milton's sublime poem, “Comus.” It will be interesting, therefore, not only to give some account of the Court festivities at this season, but also to give a description of Daniel's masque, because it was, in a certain sense, the first true masque ever presented, and because it holds a position midway between the earlier revels of Tudor times and the more finished compositions into which they afterwards developed.
The scenery and mechanical appliances for the masque were probably designed by Inigo Jones. He had just re turned from Denmark, where he had been staying with the Queen's brother, Christian IV., from whom he brought letters of recommendation that soon procured him the office of architect to the Queen. His name is frequently men
A GRAND MASQUE ORDERED.
tioned in subsequent years as the designer of the scenic effects in the many masques given at Court, nor was his share in them considered of less importance than that of the author. The great architect, indeed, seems to have taken considerable pride in his contributions to these entertainments; and Ben Jonson's omission on one occasion to confess the value of his assistance nearly led to a serious breach between them. Once, when the principal effect was obtained by the revolving of a large globe, on which various pictures were represented, Inigo Jones did not disdain to do the duty of scene-shifter and turn the machinery himself, so important did he regard these matters.
With respect to the music of the masque, nothing positive can be ascertained. All that we know is, that Master Alphonso Ferrabosco, “a man planted by himself in that divine sphere and mastering all the spirits of music,” as Ben Jonson says of him, was a frequent composer of the music of the marches and songs interspersed in these charming trifles. What remains of his compositions leads us to endorse the high opinion held of him by his contemporaries, and he may well have employed his talents on this occasion.
Samuel Daniel, the author of the masque, was born in 1562, and by the time of which we are treating, had achieved a very considerable reputation as a writer of graceful and polished verse.
He was a great favourite with the Queen, and she soon made him a gentleman-in-waiting extraordinary, and afterwards a groom-in-waiting of her privy chamber. He was also appointed “Master of the Queen's Children of the Revells," who were to be trained for the acting of stage plays, and whose education he had to supervise.
Among the Record Office papers, in an old account, halt worm-eaten and decayed with damp, there is an entry for work done in relation to this masque:
Item, Faid for making readie the lower ende, with certain Roomes of the Hall at Hampton Court for the Queene's Maty and ladies against their masque by the space of three dayes.
From this we gather that the old pantry behind the screens at the lower end of the hall was set apart as a “ tyring-room,” or green room, for the Queen and her ladies, and the Great Watching Chamber at the upper end put at their disposal for rehearsals—as had been the custom in Queen Elizabeth's time.
In the meanwhile there was no lack of amusement and occupation for the rest. The whole world was flocking to Hampton Court; ambassadors to offer their congratulations, nobles and gentlemen to testify their loyalty to their new sovereign, and crowds of needy adventurers on the look out for the honours, pensions, and places which were being showered in such profusion by James on his new subjects. The crowd was so great that even with upwards of 1,200 rooms, besides outbuildings, the palace could not contain the numbers of retainers and servants that congregated here, so that tents had to be set up in the park to shelter them. Every day there were festivities : banquets, receptions of ambassadors, balls, masquerades, plays, tennis matches, and a grand running at the
The plays were performed by the “King's Company of Comedians," who had been incorporated by a warrant of King James a few months before this. Prominent among their names—coming, in fact, second on the roll--is that of William Shakespeare; and we make no doubt that he was staying with the rest of his company in this palace at this Christmas time, and that his plays were performed before the Court. They were “freely to use and exercise the arts and faculty of playing comedies, tragedies, histories, enterludes, moralls, pastoralls, stage plaies, and such other like, as thei have already studied, or hereafter shall use or studie, as well for the recreation of our loving subjects, as for our solace and pleasure, when we shall think good to use them.” That they were at Hampton Court this Christmas is evident from the “Accounts of the Treasurer of the Chamber."
It was at the lower end of the hall in front of the “screens," as they were called, that the stage was always erected when the plays were enacted here, and many a time the players in Shakespeare's company, including probably himself
, made their entrances and exits through the openings shown in the subjoined sketch.
The festivities culminated on Sunday the 8th of January, 1604, with the grand representation of Daniel's “Vision of