New Hall Entertainment

Anon. (1579)

Historical Records

Correspondence of Sir Edward Clere

The entertainment at New Hall was described in a letter, dated 22 September 1579, written by Sir Edward Clere (1536–1606), a prominent member of the Norfolk gentry, to Bassingbourne Gawdy (British Library, Add. MS 27960, f. 12ff). Clere's letter describes the arrival of the Queen to New Hall, where she was greeted by music and a mythological entertainment:

At the cumming in towardes the hall was a scaffolde erectid; And theruppon when her highnes approchid was a resemblance of the opening the ayre, Thunder lightning light & siche apparance as be seene when the Aire is obfuscate & trowblid, in siche seasons; aptly counterfeete.
   Hereuppon steppid forthe Jupiter & delivred some reason of the trowble of the gods & motion of the heavens in maner aforsayd, which was there the greater in as miche as he had signification of the approche of siche a creature thither whose nature was moste congruent to a divine spirit, & it trowble him & so the reste of the divine power to admitt the society of siche consideringe all things now framid in perfection in heaven, And therfore this of sodein was set owt by his power to expresse the Terror things above, & that the creatures terrefied sholld nat further aproche to Deyte.
   Butt seing that he founde that this wrought nat so great effect as hathe ensuid in like case, And it semid this divine creature so neerely had resemblance with the nature of the gods, And in some degree excellid, he wollde call the other company of his heavenly sphere & they wollde eache counsell with other promising his favour, for the continuance in earthe of ^a thing^ so excellent a nature.
   Then at the call cam the other company: & descrieng that this creature was the Queen's Majestie it was put over to the wemen goddesses, to yellde their reasons for continuance of that excelling nature, according to Jupiters determination
   Emong the reste all concurryd of the superexellencye of the creature & espetially yeldid to her in this that beinge conversant emong men, & bothe publikely & privatelye frequentinge companye of choyse men, yet was she nat for all this alluryd or perswadid by siche company in other manner then as a creature immaculate & yet now at lenghthe [sic] consideringe the Gods all had joyned in one resolution that they all favouryd the continuance in earth of siche divine nature Therfore meete it were that she that was so divinely enspired sholld assente herin to siche purpose of the gods: And the meane was to admitte siche a matrimoniall conviction as were meete; to the which she sholld find all the divine powers bent to make it fortunate.
(qtd. Younger 363–64)

The next day, Elizabeth was treated to jousts, followed by another entertainment:

This done commith in a knight layd in a chariot guidid by a Damoysell compleynenge that the knight was enchantid & that she by these chalengers had bene hindred to seke remedy for this knight & that was none other but in that a Virgin Queen wolde vouchesafe to sprinkle water on him: when many had tryed to help the knight the Queen’s fortune was to disannull this enchantment: And then he assayed his prowesse ageinste the chalengers: And did verye well as the same was spredd.
(qtd. Younger 364)

Clere's letter, preserved in a folio volume of correspondence at the British Library (Add. MS 27960), was brought to the attention of scholars by Neil Younger in 2015.

Theatrical Provenance

The entertainment was performed during Elizabeth's visit to New Hall (an estate owned by Thomas Radclyffe, third earl of Sussex, near Chelmsford, Essex), which likely took place on 17 and 18 September 1579 (Younger 344-45).

Probable Genre(s)

Royal Entertainment.

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

(Content welcome.)

References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

Elizabeth and the Duke of Anjou

Younger contextualizes the New Hall entertainment within the tradition of Elizabethan performances, such as Gorboduc, in which the Virgin Queen was encouraged to marry. The key context for the New Hall entertainment specifically is the debate surrounding the prospective match of Elizabeth with Francis, duke of Anjou, which reached its peak in the aftermath of Anjou's visit to England in August 1579. There was sharp disagreement, both among courtiers and throughout England, about whether the match was in the best interests of the queen and country. Those concerned with national security were attracted to the diplomatic and military advantages of a French alliance, especially to strengthen English influence in the Dutch revolt. Those who prioritized national Protestantism worried that a match with Anjou would effectively make Catholicism tolerated in England. The earl of Sussex himself was in favor of the match and, in light of an increasing opposition, the first entertainment at New Hall, with its divine guidance to "admitte siche a matrimoniall conviction as were meete," can be interpreted as a strong encouragement for Elizabeth to accept Anjou. The second entertainment is less clear, but the "most obvious way to explain this would be to identify the knight with Anjou: his predicament may suggest that he was enchanted with love for Elizabeth, and that he would obtain release by marrying; or alternatively that he needed the Virgin Queen to empower him to embark on military feats" (353). This interpretation is strengthened by the fact that the other aristocratic attendees were largely in favour of the marriage and who may have presented themselves as "powerful, well-established nobles, currently excluded from the heart of the regime, but clearly capable of serving" (355). (Younger suggests that Burghley's presence constitutes suggestive evidence of his support for the match despite historians' divided assessment of his attitude [356].)

Younger argues that the New Hall entertainment "provides one of the clearest examples yet found of the political use of drama in royal entertainments" and the historical record "gives a remarkably vivid sense of how court festivals and hospitality could be used for deeply sensitive political ends" (344). In the specific case of Elizabeth's marriage to Anjou, however, the private performance at New Hall represents a markedly different form of counsel than the stridently anti-Anjou pamphlet, The Discoverie of a Gaping Gulf whereinto England is like to be Swallowed by Another French Mariage written by John Stubbs and soon banned by royal proclamation. Younger comments: "It is striking that whilst the anti-Anjou forces appear to have been able and willing to make use of the 'public sphere', of popularity, to advance their cause, the pro-marriage forces were not, and instead seem to have focused primarily on persuading the queen, in the approved, conventional fashion" (359).

For What It's Worth

Sussex as Dramatic Patron

Younger notes that Sussex was a patron of an acting company (Chambers, ES, 2:92–96) and had commissioned an earlier entertainment, on the occasion of his sister's wedding in 1566, that similarly celebrated marriage over chastity and which was performed in the presence of Elizabeth (351).

Works Cited

Younger, Neil. "Drama, Politics, and News in the Earl of Sussex's Entertainment of Elizabeth I at New Hall, 1579." The Historical Journal 58 (2015): 343–66.

Site created and maintained by Misha Teramura, University of Toronto; updated 17 July 2016.