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The histories of Chester report that in 1563 a "Triumph" of "Aenas and Dido" was presented on the Roodee and the River Dee. Even just a little digging into the times, the people involved and the nature of the associated myth reveals what might be an interesting, and as yet incomplete, story of catholic recusancy and/or protestant politicking.
Chester in 1563
The best known 16th Century dramatic performances in Chester are the Chester Mystery Plays. However, the performance of other works has been noted. Few of these seem to have involved visiting companies of players, and it has been speculated that this was because of a relative geographical isolation. It has also been suggested that Chester was satisfied with the Mystery Plays and had no need for "outsiders" to come and act. However, there is also evidence that the church actively opposed performances by travelling players in Chester, even paying off troupes not to perform in Chester.
Some individuals were particularly opposed to the Chester Mystery Plays. Protestant Christopher Goodman (1520–1603) was not, as Wikipedia says, born in Chester, but he was educated at the Chester School before going off to Brasenose College, Oxford, as many from Chester did, graduating as B.A. 4 Feb. 1541, and M.A. 13 June 1544. In 1547 he became a senior student at Christ Church, Oxford (where his name appears as "Gudman" in the Buttery (Canteen) book), and was proctor in 1549. He proceeded B.D. in 1551, and is said to have become Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity about 1548. The last part of Goodman's long life was spent in retirement at Chester, where he was rector of the parish of St Bridget. Goodman was closely aquainted with John Knox (c. 1513 – 24 November 1572). They were both members of the radical party within the Church of England. On 10 May 1572, the outspoken Christopher Goodman (who hated both Mary Tudor and Mary Queen of Scots) wrote a letter to the Earl of Huntingdon (Mary QoS's jailor) urging that he, as president of the Council of the North, suppress Chester’s annual mystery plays, and presumably other "religious" drama.
One of these "other works" may have been a "Triumph" of Aenas and Dido of Carthage, as performed in the mayorality of Sir Lawrence Smith, although Goodman does not refer to it as such and he was probably living away from Chester before 1570. This 1563 performance is interesting because of the tension over the Chester Mystery Plays at that time (they were eventually to be banned after 1575). The performance schedule of the Chester Cycle in the 1560s and 1570s was erratic - plays were performed only in 1561, 1567, 1568, 1572, and 1575 - and Henry Hardware, for example, did not allow a performance of the plays in his first mayoral term in 1559-60. The reason for not performing the plays may have also been influenced by the fact that the mayors in some of the years when the plays were not performed were members of the gentry rather than members of the guilds (who actually performed the plays), and in 1574 and possibly other years, by the plague. In 1563 London experienced its worst episode of plague during the 16th Century. At least 20,136 people in London and surrounding parishes are recorded to have died of plague during this outbreak: thus around 24% of London's population ultimately perished, but no plague was recorded in Chester. So why the "long gap" in the performance of the Mystery Plays from 1561 to 1567?
Hemingway informs us of the performance of works other than the Mystery Plays at the time:
- "There were besides these scripture dramas, others of a profane character which were acted occasionally on special occasions. The Shepherd's Play was acted in St John's church yard in 1515; in 1529 the play of Robert Cicell was performed at the High Cross; on the Sunday after Midsummer day 1563, the "History of Eneas and queen Dido" was played on the Rood eye, set out by one William Crofton, gentleman, and one Mr Mann, Master of Arts. In l577, the "Shepherd's Play" was performed before the Earl of Derby at the High cross, and other triumphs on the Rood eye. And in 1589, a play was performed at the High cross, called the story of "Kinge Ebranke with all his sonnes."
Hemmingway's seemingly amusing reference to Robert Cecil is actually probably intended to refer to "Robert of Sicily". Ormerod contains essentially the same information, which he lifts directly from Magna Brittanica by Daniel and Samuel Lysons.
"Triumphs", such as the "History of Eneas and queen Dido" were large, spectacular events in which the visual impact was more important than the text. Triumphs on the Roodee were among the entertainments seen by Henry Stanley, earl of Derby, in 1577. There is little surviving information on the 1563 Triumph, but it appears to have been as spectacular as would be expected. As, with one exception, no payments for it are recorded in the Chester corporation or guild records, mayor's book, etc. it may be assumed that it was privately funded. The exception is in the City Treasurers accounts for 1563/4 (ZTAR 1/11) where there is an "item paid master mayre at midsomer for the trivmthe: 26s and 8p". There is an associated note of 14s being spent on gunpowder.
Dido in Rome: Virgil's plot
Dido (/ˈdaɪdoʊ/ DY-doh; Ancient Greek: Δῑδώ, Latin pronunciation: [ˈdiːdoː]) was, according to ancient Greek and Roman sources, the founder and first queen of Carthage: a city noted for its wars with Rome. She is primarily known from the account given by the Roman poet Virgil in his epic Aeneid. In some sources she is also known as Elissa (/iːˈlɪsə/ ee-LISS-ə, Ἔλισσα). There is some very slight archaeological evidence that Dido may actually have existed, although she is generally considered to be a mythic figure.
In Virgil's poetic version a fleet, led by the escaping Trojan Aeneas, is on a voyage to find a second home, after the convenient, if somewhat mysterious, death of his wife: Creusa of Troy during the fall of Troy. It has been foretold that in Italy he will give rise to a race both noble and courageous, a race which will become known to all nations. The Gods intervene and, "tossed over so many seas by the wrath of Juno", Aeneas finds himself in Carthage where he seeks and gains the favor of Dido, queen of the city. The city has only recently been founded by refugees from Tyre ("the double-tongued Phoenicians") and will later become a great imperial rival and enemy to Rome. Aeneas recounts to Dido the events that occasioned the Trojans' arrival, including the fall of Troy, and his subsequent wandering. Dido realises that she has fallen in love with Aeneas and he returns the feeling ("Juno’s storm-cloud wraps the day in darkness; they are united in a cave"). He then prepares to leave Carthage. Dido discovers his impending flight, ("she laments, she begs, she rants, she rages") unmoved, he sets sail anyway. Dido commits suicide by placing the bed she shared with Aeneas atop a pyre and stabbing herself upon Aeneas's sword: while cursing that Carthage would never have peace with the Trojans or whatever they became:
- "From yonder sea may his cold Trojan eyes discern the flames that make me ashes! Be this cruel death his omen as he sails!"
After many adventures, including trips to the underworld (where he meets the shade of Dido), Aeneas arrives near where Rome would later be built, kills an enemy (in a scene which reflects many features of the death of Dido) and the play comes to a seemingly abrupt end. Scholars have speculated that Virgil, who became fatally ill while travelling, died before he could finish (or burn) the poem. Fortunately his dying request to have the poem burned was disregarded. Emperor Augustus himself ordered Virgil's literary executors, Lucius Varius Rufus and Plotius Tucca, to disregard that wish, instead ordering the Aeneid to be published with as few editorial changes as possible, perhaps as a warning that the fate that befell Tyre, Troy and Carthage might yet befall Rome, whose story was also "unfinished".
The Aeneid is a cornerstone of the Western canon, and at an early date (at least by the 2nd century AD) became one of the essential elements of a Latin education, often required to be memorised. It was widely held to be the pinnacle of Latin literature, much in the same way that the Iliad, also set in the Trojan war, was seen to be supreme in Greek literature. Along with the Odyssey, the Iliad is among the oldest extant works of Western literature, and its written version is usually dated to around the 8th century BC. In England the myth developed a perculiar local aspect. Brutus of Troy, a legendary descendant of the Trojan hero Aeneas, was known in medieval British history as the eponymous founder and first king of Britain. This legend is best known from the account given by the 12th-century chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia Regum Britanniae.
Troy and Tyre
Tyre (Arabic: صور Ṣūr), is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, though in medieval times for some centuries by just a tiny population. It was one of the earliest Phoenician metropolises and the legendary birthplace of Europa, her brothers Cadmus and Phoenix, as well as Carthage's founder Dido. According to the myth and attempts at chronology, the Northern African city of Carthage (Qart-Hadašt = "New City") was founded in 814 BCE by Tyre's Princess Elissa, commonly known as Dido ("the wanderer"), who escaped after a power struggle with her brother Pygmalion with a fleet of ships. After the fall of Phoenicia to the Babylonians and Persians, Carthage became the most powerful Phoenician colony in the Mediterranean. Homer's Troy is generally (but not exclusively) accepted to be Troy VII an archaeological layer of Troy that chronologically spans from c. 1300 to c. 950 BC. It coincides (roughly) with the collapse of the Bronze Age and the start of the Greek Dark Age followed by the Archaeic Period leading to Classical Greece. It was a walled city with fortified towers reaching a height of 9 metres.
It is sometimes said that the oldest English play written on the subject of Dido is Christopher Marlowe's "Dido Queen of Carthage" (with possible contributions by Thomas Nashe). As is discussed in detail below this is strictly true, but a little deceptive. The Marlowe play was probably written between 1587 and 1593, and was first published in 1594, a year after Marlowe's untimely death in Deptford, although it may have been the first of his plays to be written, it is often considered an apprentice work and a box-office flop. Prior to Marlowe, there had been relatively recent plays on the same subject, but in Latin.
William Gager's latin tragedy "Dido Tragoedia" dates from 1583. The original performance was by Oxford students in the dining hall at Christ Church college: all of his works were produced at the University of Oxford, from 1582 to 1592. He was considered one of the major dramatists of the late sixteenth century. Apart from one comedy, Rivales (1582), which has not survived, his works were all Latin tragedies. They include Oedipus (1582), Meleager (1582), Dido (1583) and Ulysses Redux (1592). Dido, 1583, is adapted from Virgil and has suggestive hints of analogies to Elizabeth as a chaste queen who is piously fit to govern (though Dido dies as a chaste widow, not a virgin). Gager at times even uses "Eliza" for Dido: recall she is also known as Elissa (/iːˈlɪsə/ ee-LISS-ə, Ἔλισσα). Gager is a complex figure with "something approaching an obsessive interest in the theme of chastity".
This was not the only early "Dido", on 10th November 1527 King Henry VIII had such a play (by John Rightwise) acted at his palace in Greenwich. This article is mainly concerned with two other notable performances of "Dido" which took place in 1563 (at Chester) and 1564 (at Cambridge).
The Alderersey's are described as a "tenacious" county gentry family, who acquired a moiety of the manor of Aldersey (Cheshire) in 1281/82 and the remainder in the late 17th century. William Aldersey (fl. mid 15th cent.) married the daughter and heir of John Stalker of Lower Spurstow (Cheshire), and for four hundred years the family owned both estates. The elder sons were seldom of particular note in the county or on a wider stage, but over several generations there was a tradition of younger sons going into trade as merchants, first in Chester and later in London, and a number of them for example Thomas - 1521/22 – December 1598) became successful and prominent citizens.
In the 16th and 17th centuries the family was divided in its religious beliefs. Exposure to Protestant Reformist speakers in London, including Cestrian Christopher Goodman and the Pole Jan Łaski, led Thomas Aldersey to become a Protestant. Catholic Mary I's accession in 1553 made Thomas Aldersey's religious and political convictions dangerous, and in 1555 he was charged over his attention to Christopher Goodman's writings. His efforts, which continued throughout his life, to aid the Protestant exiles who left England for Emden in Germany by establishing trading relationships gained him the support of William Cecil and other prominent Protestants.
As noted, the Alderseys were split along religious lines. Randel Aldersey (d. 1600) was fined repeatedly for Recusancy in the 1590s, while his nephew, Samuel Aldersey of London (d. 1633), was a prominent Puritan and a founder member of the Massachusetts Colony and associated trading company. The population of the Colony was strongly Puritan and saw about 20,000 people migrating to New England in the 1630s. Randle’s son, John Aldersey (c.1569-1647) was succeeded by his son Thomas (1600-75), who was a Crown escheator in Cheshire, and he was succeeded in turn by his son Thomas (1635-1715), a barrister and "godly Christian" who debated points of doctrine with his son, Rev. Samuel Aldersey (1673-1742). Samuel was rector of Wigan (Lancs), but is said to have rebuilt Aldersey Hall as a country house, presumably on inheriting the estate. The house was demolished in 1958.
Dido in Chester
Only a very few records in Chester refer to the staging, in 1563, of the "History of Aeneas and Dido". As Marlowe was born 1563/4 he could have had nothing to do with the Chester performance. The mayor's list of expenses (BL: Harley MS2125) refers to it as:
- "this year the sunday next after midsomer there was a triumph deuysed by willian Crofton gentleman & mr mane master of Art of the history of Aeneas & dido of carthage which was played on the Rode eye & 2 forts Raysed & a ship on the water with sundrey horsmen well apoynted"
From the mayor's book (BL: Addit MS 29777) we also learn that "Man" was "a schoolmaster of the ffree Schole" - i.e. the King's School based at the Cathedral in Chester. He appears to have been headmaster at the school from c1560 to c1565 and to have been a scholar under the first master of the school in 1546-7. In 1551 he was enrolled at Christs Church, Oxford. William Man would therefore have been very familar with the Aeneid. We do not know how much of the entire Aeneid was played in the "triumph" but it is likely from the description that only the Dido/Aeneas section was used. William Man may be the son of Henry Man who was the second Dean of Chester and afterwards served as the Bishop of Sodor and Man (1546-56).
We have some further information on William Crofton. Harley MS 2133, f 42v and also CL/107/90 records a:
- "Bill of Complaint exhibited in the Court, as to Robert Earle of Leycester Chamberleyne of the Com. Palentyne of Chester; by William Crofton Gent. one of the Quenes Serjants & Officer within the said Countie, and Anne his Wiffe, late the Wiffe of Alderman Raffe Aldersey decessed: against certain Persons Tenants of one Mesuage, diverse Shoppes, and other Tenements in Chester, which accrued to the said Anne from the Possessions of the said Raffe Aldersey: because of their denial to pay some Rents due, upon the Instigation of William Aldersey, Son & Heire of the said Raffe; to whome the Premysses were to discend, in Reversion after the Deathe of the said Anne."
Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, will turn up again later in this story. Robert had clear links with Chester and appears to have made successful efforts to infiltrate "his men" into the local political scene. We have yet further information from the funeral certificate of Mary Aldersey, who died in 1615:
- "Mrs MARY ALDERSLEY, late wife of Mr William Aldersey of the Citty of Chester, Alderman, and was twise Maior therof, first 1595 and in 1614. Shee dyed on the Viijth day of January 1615, and lyeth interred in Christes Church in the said Citty. Shee was daughter to John Brerton of Wettnall, in the Country of Chester, Esq, and had yssue by her husband Raffe Aldersey (Jane Aldersey, Marie, Randall and Robert Aldersey all wch dyed young. Hugh Aldersey dyed sans yssue. Richard Aldersey maryed Elizabeth, daughtr of Thomas Barnardston of Churton, in the County of Chester, gent., they haue yssue Mary Aldersey. Robt. 4th dyed young. Jane Aldersey, daughtr of Willm and Mary, dyed young, ....(document damaged).....Ales maryed to John Leech of Carden, in the County of Chester, gent., the haue yssue John Leech."
What is at once apparent is that William Crofton is very well connected in Chester, being married into the Aldersey's. William Aldersey of Aldersey, a wealthy Chester merchant, was the grandson and nephew of the Mayors of Chester in, respectively, 1560 and 1594, and he was himself to be Mayor of Chester in 1613. He died in 1625, leaving among other issue a daughter, Alice, who married John Leche of Carden, Serjeant-at-law for the County Palatine of Chester, and associated with Leche House. Over the years Leche House has attracted several associations with odd religious symbolism, priest holes and spy-holes. Matters are not made clearer by the property having been for many years the home of an antiques business (Simpson gives the owners name as Crawford) which might just have seeded a few myths of it's own to entertain prospective customers. The property remained an antique dealers for many years under Harry Kenyon and later Gerald Kenyon (until 1969).
What we do know is that Crofton had married a widow of the Aldersey family. Many of the Aldersey's were Catholic recusants who were even dragged before the Diocesian High Commision or thrown into prison. These included Fulk Aldersey (1562), Jane "daughter of recusants William and Mary Aldersey" fined for not turing up at quarter sessions (1579), Margaret and William (q.v.) for "concealing an image" and using a latin primer (1562). Many others of the Aldersey's of Chester were accused, several of whom were inhabitants of St Bridget's parish (where Christopher Goodman) eventually became Rector. Another Aldersey active at the time was William Aldersey born in 1513: he was reported upon in 1564 by the archbishop of York (Thomas Young), who adjudged him "not favourable to the established religion". Thomas Young's report was based on information from Bishop Downham of Chester - he cast doubt on the religious loyalties of several aldermen, including the then mayor, Richard Poole (1564-5) and three of his predecessors: John Smith (1555-6), William Aldersey (1560-1), and Randle Bamvill (1562-3). As noted above, other members of the Alderseys were strongly Protestant
Mayors were elected on the Friday after the feast of St Denis (October 9th), so Sir Laurence Smith had plenty of time to oversee the preparations for the 1563 "Triumph" - which may have been time-consuming given the complex staging with forts and a ship. Although Downham had been chaplain to Elizabeth during the reign of her sister Mary he was considered rather ineffectual against the Roman Catholics, preferring not to offend the gentry.
The religious inclinations of William Crofton is not known, but it is useful to enquire whether there is anything suspicious about the choice of "Dido" that might point to hidden religious or political symbolism, either towards the Protestants or towards Rome and Rome's Catholic allies.
One fairly obvious interpretation is that an actual physical and political union between Dido and Aeneas could have been of great benefit to both. Similarly, in 1563 Robert Dudley (who happened to also be chamberlain of Chester from 1565 to 1588) had been pursuing Elizabeth I for some time, matters were complicated by proposals to marry him to the widowed Mary, Queen of Scots and the convenient, if somewhat mysterious, death of Dudley's wife: Amy Robsart. In many ways Dido might be seen as a very provocative alternative to the Mystery Plays. Much might also depend on how, if at all, Dido was portrayed in detail, including her costume and lines - of which nothing apparently survives.
On the other hand, Dido promises revenge "hereafter, at whatever time ..the strength will be afforded" - the play can be read as Elizabeth (Eliza) enacting the eventual triumph of Dido (Elissa: Ἔλισσα) over "Rome", something which Virgil incorporates as a kind of prophesy in his poem. Virgil was very widely revered as a "virtuous pagan" prophet from late antiquity onwards.
There are other interpretations. Chester is a walled city, as was Troy. Troy's fall became possible when Odysseus (Ulysses) carried off the Palladium of Athena by means of the city’s underground sewers, thus sealing the fate of the city to the well-known ruse involving the Wooden Horse. The Trojan Palladium was said to be a wooden image of Pallas (whom the Greeks identified with Athena and the Romans with Minerva) and to have fallen from heaven in answer to the prayer of Ilus, the legendary founder of Troy. Chester had a statue of Minerva as well - and legends about extensive underground sewers. Perhaps more importantly Chester had the legend of Werburgh and her protective shrine: which like the Palladium could supposedly strike men blind (as in the case of Welsh king Gruffudd ap Llywelyn). It is reasonable to assusme that anyone familiar with the Trojan legend, would see see the link between the Palladium of Troy and the shrine of Werburgh (which was removed at the reformation). This might have contained other allusions which would have been familiar to the audience: as Augustine of Hippo wrote in the "City of God":
- "Did not Diomed and Ulysses having slain the keepers of the citadel seize the sacred statue and with blood stained hands dare to touch the fillets of the virgin goddess"
"Dido" is therefore perhaps not a politically neutral play. It has a protagonist who comes from the east to help found Rome. It has the "theft" of holy protective relics and even has a link to the supposed origin myth of the British (as exiled Romans). Even William Crofton, the person most closely involved with the staging of the play, married into a family of both recusants and Puritans. Perhaps most telling of all it portrays the death of a queen who might be seen to share much in common with Elizabeth, and even has a related name.
Years later Purcell's Dido and Aeneas was to become politicised as, among other things, an allegory of monarchs William and Mary. This may be the reason why it was never given a public performnce in Purcell's lifetime - was it really seen as a blunt warning to William III, not to mistreat his English queen Mary and her people? However, the play was arguably a political allegory from the time of Virgil and may also have been seen as such in Chester in 1563. Nowadays, Purcell's Dido's Lament is played annually in London by the massed bands of the Guards Division at the Cenotaph remembrance parade in Whitehall.
There is a curious sequel to the staging of the Triumph in Chester in 1563. In August 1564, Elizabeth visited Cambridge and the entertainments laid on include a specially written play by former King's College fellow Edward Halliwell. It was a Latin version (since lost) of Dido and Aeneas. Dido's tragic love affair with Aeneas perhaps offered a potential warning to the Queen about the dangers of a foreign consort, and Robert Dudley, suitor to the Queen (who was Lord High Steward of the University and had been involved in the preparations for Elizabeth's visit) was standing on the stage throughout the performance.
The staging of "Dido" at Chester in 1563 can be considered as something other than simply an acceptable alternative to a Mystery Cycle which was even then becoming a political issue. William Crofton, the man who was the driving force behind the play married into a wealthy and influential family of Chester recusants and Puritans. Much of the symbolism in both the Aeneid and in the extracted "Dido" might resonate with a Chester audience. During the reign of Elizabeth the death of a queen betrayed by foreign (Roman) powers, whose country will become the implacable enemy of Rome, or indeed discussion of "what might have beens" had she wed, were hardly the stuff of light entertainment.
- Chester Mystery Plays;
- Bishop Lloyd's House;
- Leche House;
- Watergate Street;
- Minerva Shrine and Edgar's Field;
Sources and Links
While much has been published on the separate elements of this story, comparatively little other than a brief mention can be found on the "Triumph" performed in Chester in 1563. Other than the brief description in the mayor's book there is nothing found on what the "Triumph" comprised and how it was recieved. Apart from a brief mention in the court records nothing is known about William Crofton, including whether he had strong religious beliefs or not.
Robert Dudley never married Elizabeth I. After the Armada he rode in splendour through London "as if he were a king", and for the last few weeks of his life he usually dined with the Queen, a unique favour. On his way to Buxton in Derbyshire to take the baths, he died at Cornbury Park near Oxford, on 4 September 1588. Leicester's health had not been good for some time; historians have considered malaria and stomach cancer as causes of death, which came unexpectedly. Only a week earlier he had said farewell to Elizabeth. She was deeply affected and locked herself in her apartment for a few days until Lord Burghley had the door broken. Elizabeth kept the letter he had sent her six days before his death in her bedside treasure box, endorsing it with "his last letter" on the outside. It was still there when she died 15 years later on 24 March 1603.
- Dido, Queen of Carthage: by William Gager (trans. Elizabeth Sandis);
- Dido: "When cold death has parted my soul from my body, my spectre will be wherever you are. You shall pay for the evil you have done me.";
- The Chester Cycle in Context, 1555-1575: Religion, Drama, and the Impact of Change;
- Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas;
- Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Virgil’s Aeneid:Roman Mythology Seen Through an English Restoration Lens;
- Journal of Neo-Latin Studies: page 145ff;
- The cultural politics of Dido and Aeneas;
- Social and Political Values in the Dido Narrative of Aeneid;
- The Progresses, Pageants, and Entertainments of Queen Elizabeth I;
- Neoclassical Tragedy in Elizabethan England;
- The foundation of Carthage;
- Analysis of the "November" Eclogue of Edmund Spenser's Shepheardes Calender: was Dido a reference to Elizabeth?;
- Aldersey of Aldersey Hall:from "Landed families of Britain and Ireland";
- Partial Aldersey pedigree from Ormerod;
- Cheshire and Lancashire Funeral Certificates: By John Paul Rylands;
- CHESTER CUSTOMS ACCOUNTS 1301-1566;
- Elizabethan Recusancy in Cheshire, Volume 3; Volume 19;
- Cheshire and the Tudor State 1480-1560;
- William Glasier (sometimes in the Mayor's book "Glaseor"): a possible link between Dudley and Chester in 1563;
- John Yerworth: a possible link between Dudley and Chester in 1563;
- The Deva Pentice has an article on William Aldersey;
- Frank Simpson, Journal of the Chester and North Wales Archaeological & Historic Society 1913;
- Robert Dudley, Earl Of Leicester: long time favorite of Elizabeth I;
- Puritanism in North-West England: A Regional Study of the Diocese of Chester;
- Some more on Glaseor and Crofton;
- HMS Dido: just in case you were looking for the ships;