Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pictures of Lilly!

I have been away on holiday, to Cyprus, an island which made one think that if Venus rose from the sea during August, she needed a high factor sun-block the moment she hit the beach.

I have put together a set of pictures of William Lilly. The dates (if the portrait is from an almanac) are the dates of the year the almanac was written for, the book itself would usually have been published late on in the year before. Lilly was a clever self-publicist (his house sign announced that the truth-telling Merlin lived within), and from about 1649 had his portrait in publications.

The most elaborate portrait is that from the 1659 edition of Christian Astrology, engraved by William Marshal.

Someone has tried their pen nib all over the 1650 face, where Lilly holds a ‘scheme’ of the heavens drawn up for a reading (the aspects of the planets, etc, at a ‘geniture’), and (I think) the astrological signs. 1651 sees Lilly looking splendid under all the signs of the zodiac against a balustrade. It is rather a surprise that this elaborate image was not apparently re-used once the block had been cut. By 1654 Lilly seems to have decided that his portraits were too saturnine, and his face is wreathed in smiles, like Malvolio. He now carries the motto ‘agunt, not cogunt’ on a piece of paper he holds: (they, i.e. the stars) act, but do not compel. It was increasingly important for the astrologers, under attack from clergymen of all kinds, to deny that they ‘maintained necessity’. Human free will had to have a place in their system. This facial type engraved by Robert Vaughan was closely copied by ‘Cross’ for the 1655 almanac, where Lilly looks even more like the clergyman he had really always wanted to be.

In the Restoration period Lilly suddenly bloats out, and looks like a debauchee. But by 1666, he has rapidly thinned back to what will be the set facial type for his last years. With small variations either due to different inkings or the state of the block (or maybe copied re-engravings), this lasts till the year of his death. The honorific triple portrait of 1683 places Lilly between Cardan and Bonatus, as a combination of the learning and skills of both.

‘Pictures of Lily’ performed by The Who, 1967:

Friday, August 14, 2009

Lucky to have got there in one piece: Sir John Davies, Pangbourne

‘Under part of this monument lyeth the body of Sir John Davis K who received ye hon. of Knighthood & Banneret at the taking of Cales in Spain in the reigne of Q. Eliz.’

A grey monument, carved in chalk quarried at Shooter’s Hill, rubbed by time. Sir John Davies (1560-1625) and his two wives: the first, a widow whose married name was Rowse, and Elizabeth White, his second wife (m.1609). The church is St James the Less, Pangbourne, where the River Pang flows into the Thames.

A sober monument to a remarkable and hazardous life – Davies is in the ODNB, and from there I get most of this information. Considered by William Camden ‘an excellent mathematician’, Davis apparently wrote much on mathematics and astrology, and compiled with John Dee and Matthew Gwinne a volume of letters ‘concernyng chymical and magical secrets’. In London, he picked up more about astrology from Simon Forman.

Finally arrived at court, he joined the entourage of the Earl of Essex, and served under him at the siege of Rouen, at the taking of Cadiz, and on the Azores voyage. As the monument boasts, at Cadiz, Essex knighted the man who had become his surveyor of ordnance – Davies had turned those mathematical skills into military ones. Perhaps he continued to do a quiet bit of astrology for the Earl. Lots of Renaissance nobility seem to have had a kind of occult advisor.

He was in Ireland with Essex, returned when the Earl made his precipitate departure from his Lord Lieutenantship. As Essex fell apart, it was Davis who drew up a serious set of plans that might have made Essex’s rebellion work as a coup: take the Tower of London at the onset, and then use its weaponry to capture the whole court, then the city: “the Tower was alleged, the giving a reputation to the Action, by getting into their hand the principal Fort of the Realm, with the stores and provisions thereunto appertaining, the bridling of the City by that piece, and commodity of entrance in and possessing it, by the means of Sir John Davis. (Francis Bacon’s A declaration of the practises & treasons attempted and committed by Robert late Earle of Essex and his complices.)

When the conspirators opted to go through the city to the Court, again Davies was prompt with detailed planning: “Sir John Davis took Pen, Ink, and Paper, and set down, That some should keep the Hall, some the Court-Gates, some the Guard-Chamber, and some the Presence-Chamber; saying, many of the Guard had been the Earl of Essex his Servants, and were preferred to the Queen by him, and will be more indifferent to deal with than others, and so my Lord shall have a way through his own Guards to come to the Privie-Chamber, and the Presence of the Queen.” (The arraignment, tryal and condemnation of Robert Earl of Essex and Henry Earl of Southampton, at Westminster the 19th of February, 1600)

Essex did not heed any of this, believing too much in his own popularity. He then professed at his trial that Davies’ Catholicism was a complete surprise to him:

“Attorn. Gen. Well, my Lord, what can you devise to say for Sir John Davis, another of your Adherents? that Papist, for he hath confessed that he is a Papist and a Catholic, and drawn in by Sir Christopher Blunt, one of your chiefest Council, and that he called for a Seminary Priest upon his convertment to absolve him.
Essex. If Sir John Davis were such a man, it cannot be but strange to me to hear it; although I cannot search into the Secrets of his Heart to accuse him inwardly, yet I have seen him dutifully come to Prayers, and to the Service of God in my own House with me, and behaved himself very Godlily.”

This was Sir John Davies, then, a man capable of keeping a personal secret by continued dissembling, one of the chief conspirators in Essex’s rebellion. When he came to stand trial, all his doubtful past was remembered: Cecil referred to ‘that traitor knave Sir J. Davies, a conjuror and Catholic, who at Oxford occupied himself in the idle art of figure casting’, and the official ‘Directions for the preachers’ (who were to reduce Essex’s standing in the eyes of the citizens), Davis is described as ‘a traitor now in hold, brought up in Oxford, and by profession a setter of figures’.

Report of what he said under examination is brief:

Sir John Davis's Examination. He saith, that the Earl’s Purpose was, to possess himself of the Court, and to take the Tower of London; and that they had several Meetings of Consultation together with the Earl of Southampton, Sir Ferdinando Gorges, Jo. Littleton, Sir Christopher Blunt, Sir Charles Danvers, and this Deponent. And these Matters (he confesseth) the Earl of Essex set down all with his own Hand, viz. Sir Christopher Blunt to keep the outward Gate of the Court himself, this Deponent the Hall and Water-gate, and Sir Charles Danvers the Presence and Guard-Chamber; then my Lord of Essex and his Forces would have come by Land, and so have possessed the presence of the Queen. The question was asked the Earl of Essex (as this Deponent saith) how he would deal with Offenders, and such as resisted him after he should be possessed of these things. He resolved them by way of Answer, that he meant to admit them all to an Honourable Trial.”

Davies has Essex writing down the plans, rather than making this his own initiative, but does, for what it was worth, try to absolve Essex of planning a bloody coup. By the standards of the time, he was quite rightly convicted and sentenced to death. But after six months imprisonment, he had (probably) ‘saved his life by telling first who was in the deepest’, as the historian R. Ashley puts it. But a covert Catholic and astrologer getting away with being a main instigator in a rebellion? Lucky indeed!

Davis must have continued to go through the motions of Anglican faith: he’s buried in an English parish church after all. He took the Oath of Allegiance. And he had, from somewhere, enough money to buy Bere Court near Pangbourne in 1613. From the quarrels he got into about the trust which was establishing Wadham College, it seems that Davies did profit personally when it was possible to do so, in the manner of his time.

Davies’s son (another Sir John) married Anne, one of the sisters of the poet Sir John Suckling. All three sisters are commemorated with a plaque on the south wall, and a large slab near the entrance to the vestry: ‘Martha was first Maryed unto Sir George Sowthcott of Shillingford in the County of Devon Knight & dyed the Wife of Wm. Clagett of Isleworth in the County of Midlesex Esq shee dyed at the Bath the 29 of June 1661. Anne was Maryed unto Sr. John Davis, sonne of Sr. John Davis both Lords of this Mannor, & dyed ye 24 of July 1659. Mary Suckling dyed a virgine the 17 of October 1658.’

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The breeches of Bussy D'Ambois

One of the great deaths in Jacobean drama is that of Chapman’s Bussy D’Ambois: impelled by his own maniacal courage, which obliges him to disregard all warnings (both human and supernatural), not to answer his lady's summons, Bussy is ambushed in the bedchamber of his mistress by the bravoes hired by his cuckold, the Count of Montsurry. He chases them all out, killing one, then summons the Count to appear in his own quarrel, overpowers him, spares his life at the request of Tamyra, but then is shot from off-stage. Bussy resolves to die like the Emperor Vespasian, standing up, though not held up by menials, but propped up only by his sword.

All this amid some splendid or murky blank verse – Chapman at his rather mixed best:

.. I am up
Here like a Roman Statue; I will stand
Till death hath made me marble: O my fame

Live in despite of murder; take thy wings
And haste thee where the gray-eyed morn perfumes,
Her Rosie chariot with Sabaean spices,
Fly, where the evening from th’Iberean vales,
Takes on her swarthy shoulders, Hecate
Crowned with a grove of oaks: fly where men feel
The burning axletree: and those that suffer
Beneath the chariot of the Snowy Bear:
And tell them all that D’Ambois now is hasting
To the eternal dwellers; that a thunder
Of all their sigh together (for their frailties
Beheld in me) may quit my worthless fall
With a fit volley for my funeral.

But here’s a different telling of the death, which I came across in A pleasant treatise of witches their imps, and meetings, persons bewitched, magicians, necromancers, incubus, and succubus's, familiar spirits, goblings, pharys, specters, phantasms, places haunted, and devillish impostures : with the difference between good and bad angels, and a true relation of a good genius (1673). I don’t quite know where the anonymous author got this from: it seems to be a mix of recollections of the play, and a historical source unknown to me. This was probably The Amours of Solon, Socrates, Julius Caesar, Cato of Utica, D'Andelot, Bussy D'Amboyse newly translated out of French (1673), but EEBO does not have any page images yet (but notice the coincidence of dates, which makes me think it will prove the source of the story).

Henry the third King of France, had a brother called the Duke of Allenzon, who came to England formerly to be a suiter to Queen Elizabeth, in whose retinue was the Valiant Busidamboyes who took the Dukes part, between whom and the King was a perpetual feud. The King, therefore by nature timerous and suspicious, was always afraid of this valiant person, and after his return into France, devised several means to take him out of the way …

… there being a constant report at Court that Bussidamboyes was in favour with the Earl of Monsurrous wife, he sent for an Italian Negromancer, famous at that time, and called Triscalino. Of him he enquires if he could shew or declare to him, what Bussidamboyes was then doing, which the Magician after certain conjurations shewed him in a Glass, where was Bussidamboyes in bed with a Lady. Hereupon the King sent for his Courtiers, amongst whom was the Earl of Monsorrou at that time, and asked if they knew that Lady. The Earl much abased, replyed, it was his wife. Then said the King, I will have no Cuckolds to be my Courtiers. To which the Earl made answer, that to hinder what was done was not in his power, but that it was in the Kings, to give him leave to avenge himself, which he earnestly requested.

The King glad to be any ways rid of Bussidamboyes, gave his assent, and the Earl posted away immediately to his own house; and coming betimes in the morning to his wife, as she lay in bed, offered her the choice of three things, either a draught of Poyson, a Dagger to kill her self, or to write such a Letter as he would dictate to her. The miserable woman terrified with the thoughts of death, consented to the Latter; and, according to her husbands dictating, sent for Bussidamboyes, who suspected nothing, to come unto her. In the mean time the Earl concealed himself in the house, armed with six more, and behind the Curtains in her chamber. Bussidamboyes came not long after, and offering to go up stairs in his accustomed manner, was desired by a Page, set for that purpose, to leave his Spurs and his Sword below, because his Lady was ill, and the least noise disturbed her. This he did, not mistrusting what would follow; but as soon he entred the Chamber, the Lady gave a sign, and all rusht in upon him. Nevertheless, being of an undaunted courage, he took the first chair he found, and so behaved himself with that weapon, by reason of his great strength, that he kild two of them; and then being wounded in divers places, he leapt out of the window into the Garden. But fell by misfortune upon a pole that prop’t up a Vine, and there stuck fast by the Breeches, which the Conspirators perceiving, ran down and made an end of him there.”

Somehow, being caught by the trousers on a vine pole after jumping out of a window has a ring of truth to it – and of course Chapman reworked this ignominious end.

I got the purported portrait of Bussy from the French Wikipedia (it is a 19th century effort, but perhaps based on an earlier):

Chapman’s play was admired, and revived in the restoration period. I came across an allusion to it in James Blackwel’s splendidly malicious The Nativitie of Mr Will Lilly astrologically performed shewing how he hath lived, and what death he may probably die. For the satisfaction of astrologers and others (1660), where the writer congratulates himself:

“Let Mr Lilly tell me whether I have not dealt like a faithful friend by him, and as truly as Damboyse, and the Kings Brother did by each other in the Tragedy. Here are no Sycophantic tow’ring strains, nor have we flattered Lilly in hopes of reward, as he hath done so many to their ruine.”

This appears on the pages numbered 13-14 (it is a chaotically paginated pamphlet).

The allusion is to the scene at the end of Act 3 where Monsieur and Bussy tell one another exactly what they think – Monsieur denouncing Bussy as a slave to his own ‘cannibal valour’, Bussy telling his jealous patron that all the evil in the kingdom flows from his ‘political head’, and that he also has a breath that will ‘kill to that wall a spider’. It obviously struck people at the time, and rightly.