Swift Hands and Slow Tongues


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The first English term for shorthand was charactery (writing by brief characters). It was coined by Timothie Bright (1551-1615) to describe a system first presented by him in 1586 for the approval of Robert Cecil, a future secretary of Queen Elizabeth.


Did Cecil approve? No idea, but in 1588 Bright brought out the first printed work on shorthand, An arte of shorte, swifte, and secrete writing by Character, which elaborated on his system with the use of 500 arbitrary symbols. Continue reading


Tudor Link Love


Diddle Diddle Dildo


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Thomas Morley wants to know, Will you buy a fine dog? (1600) …

Deadpan presentation of a cheeky song, with Morley recreating the patter of a pedlar of saucy wares.

There’s something similar in The Winter’s Tale (IV iv 2086), and so close to Morley’s lyrics that the influence on Shakespeare is an easy inference. (Also – ‘Whoop, do me no harm, good man’ – the earliest motto of British humour?)

The dog “with a hole in his head” is probably a Tudor version of the one-eyed snake.

And then we come to that word

The first printed record in English is in The Choise of Valentines (or Nash his dildo) an erotic poem composed by Thomas Nash (c.1593) and dedicated to the Earl of Southampton. The word you’re desperately seeking is in line 239.


Poxy Tudors


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I am like a night-raven in the house

Psalm 101:7 – for those in affliction.


A prayer for a lonely woman. Her story is a bit involved, so bear with me.


First, a list of relatives of Henry VIII infected with smallpox*:

Margaret, Queen of Scots – sister.
Mary, Queen of Scots – great niece.
Anne of Cleves – wife (infected before marriage).
Edward VI – son.
Elizabeth I – daughter.

Just one fatality: Edward, who died from complications after recovering from this awful disease.**

Smallpox was fatal in up to 30% of cases, but most deaths were among little children, so the survival rate of the infected adults of the Tudor dynasty is not remarkable. Of course there may be others to add to that list, but the point is that smallpox struck even the most privileged.

To the last name on the list, Elizabeth: she was infected in 1562, during the Anjou marriage controversy, and was given the red treatment, which seems to have involved wrapping her body in a red blanket. That treatment is depicted in the BBC’s excellent Elizabeth R (1971), starring Glenda Jackson, but I can’t give an original source for the incident, nor for the claim that the queen tried to disguise the pockmarks with heavy makeup.

But this prayer is not for Elizabeth. Our lonely woman is Mary Dudley (1532-1586), a lady-in-waiting who attended on the queen during her illness. Mary was a sister of the Earl of Leicester, and was given the nickname “Old Moll” by Elizabeth. She married Sir Henry Sidney, who was a stalwart in the royal governments of Ireland and Wales.

An impressive woman … Continue reading

Tudor Link Love


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  • The BBC is adapting Phillipa Gregory’s The White Princess and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall for TV (article in The Guardian).
  • And Gregory does a short promo vid for The White Princess. I think she’s on take … seventeen? You can see it in her eyes: “Get me out of here!” (Youtube 1:11).
  • IMDB list of Tudor-era Period Dramas – mostly Tudor England, but it includes a few on the Borgias, Ivan the Terrible etc. Still, 70 movies/TV series is a lot.
  • The White Map –  “Tom Holland meets up with the Map Librarian of the British Library, Peter Barber, to look at a late sixteenth century map commissioned by Walter Raleigh and drawn by the artist and colonist John White. It shows Roanoke island and the proposed colony of Virginia. But what is interesting researchers today are two patches on this map which appear to show where the British settlers might build forts. They were never built.” Actually, it’s more interesting than that, with speculation about spy-master Francis Walsingham and invisible ink. (Short slot on the Making History show on BBC Radio 4 show plus the British Museum link.)