Knights of India and China, A Masque of the

Anon. (1604)

Historical Records


Correspondence of Dudley Carleton

27 November 1603. To John Chamberlain.

The Court is like to Christmas at Windsor, and many plays and shews are bespoken to give entertainment to our Ambassadors.
(Yorke 1.383; Lee 42)

22 December 1603. To John Chamberlain

We shall haue a merry Christmas at Hampton court for both male and femal-maskes are allready bespoken wherof the Duke is rector chori of th'one side, and the Lady Bedford of the other.
(The National Archives, SP 14/5, fol. 45r)

15 January 1604. To John Chamberlain.

On Newyeares night we had a play of Robin goode-fellow, and a Maske brought in by a Magicien of China. There was a heauen built at the lower end of the hall owt of wch owr Magicien came downe, and after he had made a long sleepy speach to the king of the nature of the cuntry from whence he came comparing it wth owrs for strength and plenty, he sayde he had brought in cloudes certain Indian and China knights to see the magnificency of this court. and theruppon a trauers was drawne and the maskers seene sitting in a vaulty place wth theyr torchbearers and other lights wch was no vnpleasing spectacle. The maskers were brought in by two boyes and two magusitiens who began wth a song. and whilst that went forward they presented themselfs to the king[.] The first gaue the king an Impresa in a shield wth a sonet in a paper to express his deuice and presented a Jewell of 40000/li valew wch the king is to buy of Peter van Lore. but that is more then euery man knew, and it made a faire shew to the French Ambassadors eye whose master would haue bin well pleased wth such a maskers present, but not at that prise. The rest in theyr order deliuered theyr scutchins wth letters; and there was no great stay at any of them saue onely at one who was putt to the interpretation of his deuise. It was a faire horse colt in a faire greene field, wch he meant to be a colt of Busephalus race, and had this virtue of his sire that none could mount him but one as great at lest as Alexander. The king made himself merry wth threatening to send this colt to the stable, and he could not breake loose till he promised to dance as well as Bankes Bankes his horse. The first measure was full of changes and seemed confused but was well gone through wthall. and for the ordinary measures they tooke owt the Queen[,] the Ladies of Darrby, Harford, Suffolke, Bedford, Susan Vere, Suthwell th'elder, and Rich. It the carantoes they ran ouer some other of the yong Ladies and so ended as they began wth a song; and that done, the Magicien dissolued his enchantment and made the maskers appeare in their likenes to be th'Earle of Pembrooke, the Duke, Monsieur d'Aubigny, yong Somerset, Philip Harbert the yong Busephal, James Hayes, Richard Preston, and Sir Hen: Godier. Theyr attire was rich but somewhat too heauy and combersome for dancers wch putt them besides theyr galliardes. They had loose robes of crimsen sett in embrodered wth gold, and bordered wth broad siluer laces, dublets and bases of cloth of siluer; buskins swordes and hatts a like, and in theyr hats ech of them an Indian bird for a fether wth some Jewells.
(The National Archives, SP 14/6, f. 53r-v; cf. Lee 53–54)

The masquers named by Carleton are William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke; Ludovic Stewart, 2nd Duke of Lennox; Esmé Stewart, Lord Aubigny; Thomas Somerset (likely meant by 'young Somerset'; Thomas appeared in Jonson’s Hymenaei [Wiggins, Drama 56]); Sir Philip Herbert (identified as "the yong Busephal" to clarify that he was the knight with the Bucephalus impresa); Sir James Hay; Sir Richard Preston; and Sir Henry Goodere. The jewel used in the entertainment was purchased by the King from Peter Vanlore for £760, which was paid on 18 May 1604 (Devon 19). The "play of Robin goode-fellow" was performed by the King's Men (Cook and Wilson 38) and may have been A Midsummer Night's Dream (see "Robin Goodfellow").

Correspondence of Arbella Stuart

18 December 1603. To Gilbert Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury.

The Queene intendeth to make a mask this Christmas to which end my Lady of Suffolk and my Lady Walsingham have warrants to take of the late Queenes best apparell out of the Tower at theyr discretion[.] Certein Noblemen (whom I may not yet name to you because somm of them have made me of theyr counsell) intend another. Certein gentlemen of good sort an other.
(Steen 197, citing Longleat House, Talbot Papers, Original Letters 2, fols. 210–11)

10 January 1604. To Gilbert Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury.

This bearer having leave for a short time to visit the north, and not giving me time sufficient to write the description of the .3. maskes besides 2 playes plaid before the prince since my last advertisement of these serious affaires, I must beseech your Lordship to pardon the shortnesse of my letter…
(Steen 200, citing Longleat House, Talbot Papers, Original Letters 2, fols. 216-17)

Correspondence of Alfonso Montecuccoli

22 December 1603.

Their Majesties are in good health, and it is only three days since the king arrived at Hampton Court. Each one is busy with the preparation of masques, along with masquerades, to be performed in the Christmas festivities which begin next Sunday, and will last twelve days on end.
(trans. Orrell 158-59)

Correspondence of Sir Thomas Edmonds

23 December 1603. To Gilbert Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury.

Both the the [sic] king's and Queen's ma[jesties] haue an humor to haue some maskes this Christmas tyme And therefore for that [pur]pose both the younge lordes & Cheif g[entle]men of one parte, and the Queene and h[er] ladyes of the other parte, doe seuerallie v[nder]take the accomplishing & furnishing th[ereof?]…
(Lambeth Palace Library, MS 3201, fol. 177r; cf. Lodge 3:83–84)

The letter is damaged and some words are illegible.

Correspondence of Juan de Tassis, Conde de Villamediana

20 January 1604. To Philip III.

…the King, persuaded by some members of his Council friendly to France, resolved to send a private invitation to the said French ambassador. So that, on Sunday the eleventh of this, which according to their usage is New Year’s day, the ambassador would go to dine with him and watch a masque performed by some members of the court, partly because the French ambassador had been involved in its devising, partly for his friendship with the Duke of Lennox, who was leader of the said masque, but also partly to make it possible to invite me on the day of the Epiphany to some other masque of more import that the Queen was doing, as she herself had let me know through third parties that she wanted me to see it.
The King sent the said French ambassador an invitation for the dinner and masque of New Year, but he did not accept it because he intended to attend the Queen’s. However, on that day, when as usual he was in the chambers of the Duke of Lennox watching the lords make themselves ready, they ambushed him, took him to the hall where the Queen danced, and installed him beneath the canopy. Much against his will he stayed to dine with the King and Queen, protesting that he was there by chance so that he intended not to miss the Queen’s masque. And to this end he started plotting, using whatever means and machinations he could while at the Knights’ masque, laughing and talking with the King; and so, as if by accident he said: “Would your Majesty give me licence to attend the Queen’s masque?” To which the King, caught suddenly off guard and forgetting what the Queen had told him, said “yes.”
(Cano-Echevarría and Hutchings 245–46, citing Archivo General, Simancas, document E 842, fols. 147–50)

Correspondence of "Ortelio Renzo" (William Sterrell)

31 January 1604. To "Giovanni Antonio Frederico."

The holye dayes were passed ouer with accustomed Christmas recreations as playinge dancing Masking and the like[.] 2. maskes were famous th[']one acted by noble and principall men on Newyeares daye, th[']other by the queene and 11. honorable Ladyes the sonday after twelfe daye[.] The french Embassador was present at the first, and the Spanish solemply inuited come to the second, albeit much against the french his will, who labored all he coulde to home crossed hym.
(The National Archives, SP 14/6, 86r)

On the identity of "Ortelio Renzo", see Martin and Finnis 207.


Journal of Sir Roger Wilbraham

The first Christmas of worthy king James was at his court at Hampton Ao 1603: wher the French, Spanish & Polonian Ambassadors were severallie solemplie feasted: manie plaies & daunces with swordes: one mask by English & Scottish lords: another by the Queen's Maiestie & eleven more ladies of her chamber presenting giftes as goddesses. These maskes, especialli the laste, costes 2000 or 3000l, the aparalls: rare musick, fine songes: & in iewels most riche 20000l, the lest to my iudgment…
(Scott 66)

The original manuscript of Wilbraham's journal may have been destroyed when Lathom House was demolished (Hartley xxvii).

Extant Music?

Two manuscript partbooks transcribed by Nicholas L'Estrange include music for "Hampton Court Masque" (British Library, MS Additional 10444, fols. 23r [treble], 76r [bass]). The music is normally attributed to The Vision of the Twelve Goddesses, although it may just as likely have been performed for either the present masque or the "Masque of Scots."

Theatrical Provenance

Performed at Hampton Court on 1 January 1604 by a group of noblemen before an audience that included the King, Queen, and the French ambassador, Christophe de Harlay, Sieur de Beaumont. (See Carleton's letter above). It was preceded by a play performed by the King's Men. Later in the Christmas season, the "Masque of Scots" was performed on 6 January and Samuel Daniel's The Vision of the Twelve Goddesses on 8 January.

Probable Genre(s)


Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Soon (177–79) notes that the pairing of envoys from both China and India may have been inspired by Lucius Annaeus Florus's Epitome of Roman Histories, in which the emperor Augustus is visited by a succession of ambassadors seeking friendship:

the Seres [i.e. Chinese] too and the Indians, who live immediately beneath the sun, though they brought elephants amongst their gifts as well as precious stones and pearls, regarded their long journey, in the accomplishment of which they had spent four years, as the greatest tribute which they rendered; and indeed their complexion proved that they came from beneath another sky.
(Florus 348, 350)

Soon proposes that the presentation of the jewel to James may have inspired by the "precious stones and pearls" mentioned by Florus.

References to the Play

Possible Publication

On 2 February 1604, Edward Somerset, Earl of Worcester, responded to Gilbert Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury's request to be informed about the recent Christmas masques at court by sending a copy of Samuel Daniel's The Vision of the Twelve Goddesses, writing:

Whereas youer Lordship saythe youe wear never perticulerly advertised of the Maske, I have been at 6d. charge with youe to send youe the booke, which wyll inform youe better than I can, having noted the names of the Ladyes applyed to eche Goddes; and for the other, I would lykewyse have sent youe the ballet, yf I cowld have got yt for money; but these bookes, as I heare, are all cawlled in, and in truthe I wyll not take uppon mee to set that downe which wyser then myself doe not understand.
(Lambeth Palace Library, MS 3201, fol. 182v; qtd. Nichols 317)

Worcester's comment that he would have sent "the other" (namely, the "Masque of the Knights of India and China") but that "these bookes […] are all cawlled in" suggests that the text of the present masque might have been printed.

Critical Commentary

Knapp interprets "Indian" as referring to the Americas and finds that the masque's "unusual combination of America and magical excursions" anticipates The Tempest (222).

Barroll (81–3)

Butler points out that, although the text is lost, the masque "initiated motifs that would resonate through forty years' masquing, so embedded were they in the Stuart court's social protocols" (64). The casting of the eight knights—four English gentlemen of the Privy Chamber and four Scottish gentlemen of the Bedchamber—"celebrated the ties of love and affinity amongst James's inner circle, while bridging the gap between his English and Scottish establishments," a gesture of "international accord" (64, 95). Philip Herbert, one of James's favorites, offered an impresa that figured Herbert as James's mount, thus "hint[ing] in a deliciously insouciant manner at a homoerotic relationship," foreshadowing Buckingham's ability to put the spotlight on his own relationship with James in later masques (65). "The masque's aesthetic and political task was to manage the personal and factional difference between the King's various 'families' and fuse them into an integrated whole" (66). While many elements would be subsequently repeated through the decades ("the entry of outsiders, their exotic and chivalric disguises, their approach, gift-giving, homage, and social dancing"), it also lacked a disruptive antimasque that would characterize later Jacobean masques (67-68).

Wiggins (Drama) discusses the political dimensions of the masque as described by Carleton. The Chinese magician's description of Britain's greatness would have been "substantially intended for ambassadorial ears" (54), just as the spectacular gift of the diamond was designed to impress the French ambassador with an extravagant display of a subject's devotion while concealing the fact that the King intended to purchase the diamond himself (55). The eight young men who played the knights—four English, four Scottish—symbolically combined the new union of kingdoms, reflected in the mix of Chinese and Indian knights: their harmonious dancing together represented a dream of concord among James's English and Scottish subjects, "an ideal invoked to confute the messy reality of racist backbiting and squabbling over office" (57). That both Indian and Chinese knights shared identical costumes emphasized their similarities and the exoticism of the knights "shrank the cultural differences between the English and the Scots"; on the other hand, the fact that they were differentiated "worked to contradict contemporary concerns that English and Scottish national identities might be extinguished or superseded by the two peoples’ new shared identity as Britons" (59).

Andrea compares the 1604 masque to that of the Tartar king Rodomandro in The Countess of Montgomery's Urania by Mary Wroth, whose cousin William Herbert was one of the masquers (80–81).

Daye notes the French influence in this first Stuart masque, which the Earl of Worcester called a "ballet," specifically drawing a comparison with the Ballet des Princes de la Chine that was performed in Paris in 1601, and would have been seen by Esmé Stewart, one of the masquers, when he resided at the French court (147).

Lux argues that the masque emphasized to the French ambassador England's growing trade ventures with China and India (as exemplified by the first voyage of the East India Company, which reached China) and discusses the masque in relation to "utopian sinophilism," an early modern conception of China as "a fiction of ideal ordering, of provocative new social policies, of great public works, virtuous sovereigns, erudite government, superior technologies, vast wealth, and trans-historical cultural exemplarity" (15–16).

Soon discusses the masque in relation to the role of China and India in the English political imaginary and James's self-fashioning as Elizabeth's successor. The masque picks up on tropes of Elizabethan entertainments, not just in its presentation of imprese, but also the praise of Asian ambassadors: James receives not just one but two admiring envoys, thereby "assert[ing] his superiority not just to Elizabeth but also to all other European rulers" (176). Herbert's device, with its conceit featuring Alexander the Great's horse, "presumably meant to imply that James was as mighty as the Macedonian conqueror, famed for having extended his empire all the way to India" (174), and the fact that James is "as great at least as Alexander" implies that his conquest may extend even to China (176). The joint Sino-Indian embassy may also align James with the Roman emperor Augustus, and the fact that "[a]t least three of the masquers were interested in Anglo-Asian commerce" suggests that the masque may have encouraged James to "expand[ ] his kingdom’s global connections" (180). Seen in context of Britain's early colonial history, the reverence and wonder associated with China and India serve in part to uphold the superiority of the West: "however splendid the Asian knights appeared to be, the masque portrays them as coming to pay homage to James, thus implying that the English court was mightier than even the Ming and Mughal dynasties" (182).

For What It's Worth

(Contributions welcome.)

Works Cited

Andrea, Bernadette. "The Tartar King's Masque and Performances of Imperial Desire in Mary Wroth's The Countess of Montgomery's Urania." In Bernadette Andrea and Linda McJannet, eds. Early Modern England and Islamic Worlds. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. 73–95.
Barroll, J. Leeds. Anna of Denmark, Queen of England: A Cultural Biography. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2001.
Butler, Martin. The Stuart Court Masque and Political Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008.
Cano-Echevarría, Berta, and Mark Hutchings. "The Spanish Ambassador and Samuel Daniel's Vision of the Twelve Goddesses: A New Document." English Literary Renaissance 42 (2012): 223–57.
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Lux, Jonathan E. The Invention of China in Early Modern England: Spelling the Dragon. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021.
Martin, Patrick, and John Finnis. "The Secret Sharers: 'Anthony Rivers' and the Appellant Controversy, 1601–2." HLQ 69 (2006): 195–238.
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Soon, Emily. "Staging China and India in Jacobean Court Masques: Negotiating Antiquity, Admiration, and Authority in 1604." In Su Fang Ng and Carmen Nocentelli, eds. England's Asian Renaissance. Newark: U of Delaware P, 2022. 169–89.
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