Silver Mine

Anon. (1608)

Historical Records

Sir Thomas Lake to the Earl of Salisbury

11 March 1608.

His ma’ was well pleased with that which your lo. aduertiseth concerning the committing of the players yt have offended in ye matters of France, and commanded me to signifye to your lo. that for ye others who have offended in ye matter of ye Mynes and other lewd words, which is ye children of ye blackfriars That though he had signified his mynde to your lo. by my lo. of Montgommery yet I should repeate it again That his G. had vowed they should never play more but should first begg their bred and he wold have his vow performed And therefore my lo. chamberlain by himselfe or your ll. at the table should take order to dissolue them, and to punish the maker besides.
(The National Archives [TNA], SP 14/31 f. 166v; qtd. MSC II.2, 149.)

Ottaviano Lotti to Florence

24 March 1608.

A comedy has been acted here by the public players which has given a good deal of displeasure, because it made fun of the new fashion found in Scotland. One expects to see the players banned, and the author of the play has run off in fear of losing his life, probably because he mingled ideas that were too wicked, in which so much was concealed.
(Archivio di Stato di Firenze, Mediceo del Principato, Relazioni con stati esteri, filza 4187; trans. Orrell 164.)

Antoine Lefèvre de la Boderie to the Marquis de Sillery

The French ambassador La Boderie's letter to the French secretary of state, Pierre Brulart de Puisieux, marquis de Sillery, dated 8 April 1608 (18 April O.S.), is preserved in Bibliothèque Nationale, MS. Fr. 15984. It was published in the Ambassades de Monsieur de la Boderie en Angleterre (Paris, 1750), and again in a corrected transcription made by J.J. Jusserand in 1911. La Boderie was writing to inform Sillery about the London performances of Chapman's Conspiracy and Tragedy of Byron around "mid-Lent," which not only contravened La Boderie's prohibition, but also included new and offensive material about the French queen and Madame de Verneuil. La Boderie complained to Salisbury, who took immediate action. The translation below is John Margeson's; the passage in bold was ciphered in the original letter.

And at once he [Salisbury] sent orders to arrest them. However only three were found, who were at once put into prison where they are still; but the principal culprit, the author, escaped. A day or two before, they had slandered their King, his mine in Scotland, and all his Favourites in a most pointed fashion [ilz avoient dépêché leur Roy, sa mine d'Escosse et tous ses Favorits d'une estrange sorte]; for having made him rail against heaven over the flight of a bird and have a gentleman beaten for calling off his dogs, they portrayed him as drunk at least once a day. Having learned this, I thought he would be angry enough against the said players without my making him any more so and that it would be better to attribute their punishment to the irreverence they had shown him than to what they might have said of the afore-mentioned Ladies, and for that reason I decided to say no more about it but simply consider what they did. When His aforesaid Majesty was here, he showed himself greatly annoyed with the scoundrels and commanded that they be punished and especially that a diligent search be made for the author. What is more, he forbade the further performance of any plays whatsoever in London, to lift which prohibition four other companies which are still there are already offering a hundred thousand francs, which could well restore permission to them: but at the very least this will be on condition that they should no longer perform any modern histories nor speak of contemporary affairs on pain of death. If I had believed that there had been any particular incitement in what the aforesaid players had said, I should have made a stronger protest; but having every reason to think the opposite, I thought it best not to stir up matters any further and to leave it to the aforesaid King to take revenge in his own right.
(Margeson 276-77; cf. Jusserand 204.)

Theatrical Provenance

Performed by the Children of the Queen's Revels at the Blackfriars sometime around "mid-Lent" (in 1608, Lent ran from 10 February to 27 March). The furor caused by the satirical representation of the King, compounded with the diplomatic outrage over Chapman's Conspiracy and Tragedy of Byron, resulted in Henry Evans's withdrawal from managing the company and the surrender of his lease of the Blackfriars to the Burbages, whereupon Shakespeare's company began preparations to perform in that space.

Probable Genre(s)

Comedy (Harbage).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

According to La Boderie, the play featured a satirical representation of King James—either literal or allegorical (Wiggins #1586)—depicting him as a quotidian drunk and an intemperate hunter, "rail[ing] against heaven over the flight of a bird" and having "a gentleman beaten for calling off his dogs." The play also targeted James's favourites and his "mine in Scotland."

References to the Play

Information welcome.

Critical Commentary


The most popular candidate for the authorship of The Silver Mine is John Marston. Wilson found that a summary of Privy Council registers recorded that a John Marston was "commited to newgate" on 8 June 1608 (BL, Add. MS 11402, f. 141r; qtd. Wilson 99). Since the offense is not recorded, it has been proposed that this imprisonment was Marston's punishment for having written the anti-Scot satire in 1608: influentially, Chambers had "very little doubt that the maker of the play on the mines was […] Marston" (ES, 2:54; cf. 1:327), and others have followed his judgement (Finkelpearl 256-57; Jackson and Neill xv; Wickham 126-27).

Not everyone, however, agrees. Caputi found Chambers's theory "highly problematical" given the lack of explicit connecting evidence (247). Wiggins finds the record of imprisonment evidence against Marston's authorship, citing Lotti's claim that the playwright fled (491). Knowles is skeptical that the John Marston sent to Newgate was in fact the author at all (ODNB). Munro finds it likely that Marston had already left London to study philosophy for three years before becoming ordained as a deacon in 1609 (182); she proposes John Day as an alternative possibility (176).

The Scottish Mine

Chambers stated that the "mine d'Escosse" mentioned by La Boderie "was no doubt the silver mine discovered at Hilderston near Linlithgow in 1607, and worked as a royal enterprise with little success" (ES, 2.53n). Similarly, Wickham describes the play as "about an ill-fated silver mining enterprise in Scotland" (126). Dutton suggests that a story about a mine that "never brought the king much profit" would have "doubtless allowed scope for traditional jokes about money-minded Scots"; he also speculates, based on Lake's letter, that the bawdy connotations of "mine" might have been exploited, and that the play might even have "hinted at homosexual activity" (188).

Gurr translated La Boderie's phrase as "his Scottish mien" (Shakespearean Stage 36), but later sided with Chambers (Shakespearian Playing Companies 355).

For What It's Worth


Chambers's assumption that the "mine d'Escosse" discussed in the play was the recently discovered silver mine at Hilderstone in Linlithgowshire is plausible; however, pace Chambers, it was not yet officially a royal enterprise, nor was it yet known to be a failure. At the time of the performance by the Blackfriars company, the mine was still an attractive investment prospect, being led by the well-known mining projector Sir Bevis Bulmer, later alluded to in Ben Jonson's Staple of News. The story (summarized by Cochron-Patrick, Tyson, and Smith and Meikle) is worth repeating.

The mine began with an accidental discovery by a collier named Sandy Maund, who happened upon some unusual stones at Hilderstone, including "a peece of brownish sparr-stone" that "was white, and glittered within like unto small white copper-keese" (Atkinson 47). Maund was encouraged by acquaintances to take his findings to Bulmer, who was living in Scotland and agreed to test Maund's findings, which "proved […] wonderous rich" (48). Bulmer, in association with the owner of the land, Sir Thomas Hamilton, began mining, finding "spar powdered with lead" in June 1606 and, in February 1607, some ore with silver (HMC, Salisbury, 19.235). One of the mine's shafts appeared so rich that Bulmer named it "God's Blessing, because of the wonderfull works of God, that he had seene, which never before, the like thereunto, within any of his Majesties kingdoms [were] known to be" (47). In March 1607, Hamilton was granted by royal patent "all and sindrie the mynes, minerallis and metallis of gold, silver, brass, copper, leid and utheris minerallis and metallis of whatsumevir sorte, kynd and qualitie within the haill boundis, merches and ground of the landis and baroneis" of a number of Scottish lands and baronies, including Hilderstone; he was also appointed Master of Metals and Minerals (The National Archives of Scotland [NAS], PA2/17, f. 18v-21r [and translation]; Acts of Parliament of Scotland, 4.391).

According to Stephen Atkinson, one of the workers at the mine, Robert Cecil's interest was piqued when Atkinson's uncle showed him a sample of the Hilderstone ore, and Salisbury found it "the best token that ever I received out of that kingdom, or any other kingdom of that quality" (48-49). By April 1607 samples of the Hilderstone ore were sent to London to be tested (HMC, Salisbury, 19.103; TNA: SP 14/27, ff. 22v-23r), and by November Bulmer and five others were sent by the King to Scotland to raise ten tons of ore from Hilderstone for further trials. On 17 December 1607, Bulmer and his companions presented the Scottish privy council with the King's letter with a commission "to go to that siluer myne laitlie discouerit by oure Aduocat [i.e. Hamilton] thair to digg and tak furth thairof suche quantitie of the vres and mettallis of the same as thay ar willed to do by our vther warrand directit vnto thame for that effect." The privy councilors were wary, "finding it a mater of a very dangerous preparatiue and example to gif thair directioun and allowance for digging or taking of ony vre furth of the said myne without the consent of the heritable proprietair and awnair of the same" (NAS, PC1, Acta 1607–8, p. 614; qtd. Cochran-Patrick 118-20). Sir Thomas Hamilton, however, complied. By January 1608 the ten tons of ore had been procured, and by 2 February it was weighed and barreled for transport to London.

When The Silver Mine was staged at Blackfriars around "mid-Lent," then, Hilderstone still in the process of being considered as a royal acquisition (although, its silver deposits made it technically a "mine royal" by a 1424 act of Parliament, and a tenth of the metal extracted was already reserved by the King [Cochran-Patrick 2, 117]). It wasn't until April of that year that Sir Thomas Hamilton relinquished his ownership of the mines to the King, and Bulmer was appointed by letters patents as the "maister and surveyair of the earth werkis of the lait discouerit siluer myne" (NAS, PC1, Acta 1607–8, p. 780, 818; qtd. Cochran-Patrick 125-26; CSP Domestic 1603-10, 424). It also wasn't yet apparent that the Hilderstone project would be a failure. In January 1608, the Earl of Dunfermline wrote to the Earl of Salisbury that he was convinced that deeper mining might yield even purer silver (HMC, Salisbury, 20:4). Sir William Boyer wrote in August that the mine "far exseeds annye that euer was in Garmanie (TNA, SP 14/35 f. 58; Cochran-Patrick 128). It was only later discovered that the vein was becoming less and less rich in silver. As Atkinson wrote retrospectively, this coincided with the King's possession of the mines (49).

Knights of the Golden Mines

Chambers seems to be right that the Hilderstone project would have been the most topical mining reference for a play performed in February-March 1608. It may be also be worth mentioning another context that potentially sheds some light on why a reference to mining might have been controversial.

Not long after his coronation, the King summoned Bevis Bulmer to hear about the prospect of locating further gold mines in Scotland for the profit of the kingdom. According to Bulmer, who recounted the anecdote to Atkinson, the King was worried about the depletion of England's silver mines and "devised a Plott how the gold Mines may be sett open, and thereby become profitabler then heretofore" (44). James's plot was based on Bulmer's recruitment of wealthy investors, who would in return would be dubbed Knights of the Golden Mines.

Therefore, lett Bulmer procure or move 24 gentlemen within England, of sufficient lands and livings, or any other his freinds of Scotland, that shall be willing to be Undertakers thereof, and to be adventurers towards the discovery thereof; and see that all these gentlemen, be of such sufficencie in lands, goods, or chattelis, as the worst be worth ten thousand pounds starling, else £500, per annum starling. And all such gentlemen to be moved to disburst £300, starling each man in monies, or victuals, for maintainnance of the gold mynes in Scotland; for which disbursement each man to have the honour of Knighthood bestowed uppon him, and so for ever to be called the Knight of the Golden Mynes, or the Golden Knight. (45)

The plan was, however, a nonstarter. Bulmer sadly reported that soon after his conversation with the King, Robert Cecil "crossed all his expected fortunes in his future busines" and "thus the dubbing of those 24 Knights was ended, and the golden Mynes was not spoken of for that time any more" (46). Although the plan was not fulfilled, one golden knight was in fact created: "Sir John Cleypoole," who had already ventured "£500, starling at the gold Mynes in Scotland" (46). (Claypoole seems to have been knighted by 1606 at the latest: see National Archives, E 115/81/123.)

If James's mercenary creation of knights could be the subject of satire in a Blackfriars play like Eastward Ho—featuring the ridiculous Sir Petronel Flash as one of James's "thirty-pound knights"—then perhaps the subject of mines might have provided a similar opportunity for joking about the purchase of "golden" knighthoods. It is of course worth remembering that none of the extant historical records of the 1608 play specify silver mines as such.

Works Cited

Atkinson, Stephen. The Discoverie and Historie of the Gold Mynes in Scotland. […] Written in the Year M.DC.XIX. Ed. Gilbert Laing Meason. Edinburgh, 1825. (This edition is based on National Library of Scotland [NLS], Adv. MS 33.2.6. There is another copy in BL, Harley MS 4612 [mistakenly given as "MS 4621" in this edition].)
British Museum. A Catalogue of the Harleian Manuscripts in the British Museum. 4 vols. London: 1808-12.
Caputi, Anthony. John Marston, Satirist. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1961.
Cochran-Patrick, R.W. Early Records Relating to Mining in Scotland. Edinburgh, 1873.
Dutton, Richard. Mastering the Revels: The Regulation and Censorship of English Renaissance Drama. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1991.
Finkelpearl, Philip J. John Marston of the Middle Temple: An Elizabethan Dramatist in His Social Setting. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1969.
Gurr, Andrew. The Shakespearian Playing Companies. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996.
Gurr, Andrew. The Shakespearean Stage 1574–1642. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 1970.
Historical Manuscripts Commission. Calendar of the Manuscripts of the Most Hon. the Marquis of Salisbury. 24 vols. London: HMSO, 1883-1976.
Jackson, MacDonald P. and Michael Neill, eds. The Selected Plays of John Marston. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986.
Jusserand, J.J. "Ambassador La Boderie and the 'Compositeur' of the Byron Plays." Modern Language Review 6 (1911): 203-5.
Knowles, James. "Marston, John (bap. 1576, d. 1634)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford UP, 2004. Web. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/18164
Margeson, John, ed. The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron by George Chapman. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1988.
Munro, Lucy. Children of the Queen’s Revels: A Jacobean Theatre Repertory. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005.
National Library of Scotland. Summary Catalogue of the Advocates' Manuscripts. Edinburgh: HMSO, 1971.
Orrell, John. "The London Stage in the Florentine Correspondence, 1604–1618." Theatre Research International 3 (1978): 157–76.
Smith, Richard and T. Kemp Meikle. "The Smelting of Silver Ore from Hilderston Mine at Linlithgow, Scotland." British Mining 61 (1998): 5-19.
Tyson, L.O. "Sir Bevis Bulmer: An Elizabethan Adventurer." British Mining 57 (1996): 47-69.
Wickham, Glynne. "Part One: Documents of Control, 1530–1660." In English Professional Theatre, 1530–1660. Ed. Glynne Wickham, Herbert Berry, and William Ingram. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000. 15–149.
Wiggins, Martin, in association with Catharine Richardson. British Drama 1533–1642: A Catalogue. Volume V: 1603-1608. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2015.
Wilson, F. P. "Marston, Lodge, and Constable." Modern Language Review 9 (1914): 99-100.

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