Shakespeare and the Countess: The Battle that Gave Birth to the Globe
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The colorful story of the creation of the Globe Theatre―as a result of the dramatic confrontation between Lady Elizabeth Russell and William Shakespeare.
In November 1596, a woman signed a document that would nearly destroy the career of William Shakespeare . . .
Who was this woman who played such an instrumental, yet little known, role in Shakespeare's life? Never far from controversy when she was alive―she sparked numerous riots and indulged in acts of breaking-and-entering, bribery, blackmail, kidnapping and armed combat―Lady Elizabeth Russell, the self-styled Dowager Countess of Bedford, has been edited out of public memory, yet the chain of events she set in motion would make Shakespeare the legendary figure we all know today.
Lady Elizabeth Russell’s extraordinary life made her one of the most formidable women of the Renaissance. The daughter of King Edward VI’s tutor, she blazed a trail across Elizabethan England as an intellectual and radical Protestant. And, in November 1596, she became the leader of a movement aimed at destroying William Shakespeare’s theatrical troupe―a plot that resulted in the closure of the Blackfriars Theatre but the construction, instead, of the Globe.
Providing new pieces to this puzzle, Chris Laoutaris's rousing history reveals for the first time this startling battle against Shakespeare and the Lord Chamberlain's Men.
with a message from his secretary, Edward Reynolds, informing him that Lord Cobham’s son, Henry Brooke, had the Queen’s ear and was busy casting a shadow over his exploits in Cadiz. There was no better time for his slanders to take effect. When the English mariners laid siege to the town, they had found the castle and the surrounding houses of eleven of the wealthiest citizens stocked with ducats and fine wares. In addition, merchants’ shops, full to the brim with gold and silver plate,
had risen to even greater prominence under James. Around the time of the conference, on 20 August, he was made Viscount Cranborne, prompting congratulatory commendations from Elizabeth. He would also address his first letter as newly created Earl of Salisbury to her, as his emotional aunt observed, ‘from your own hand’, after being granted the honour on 4 May 1605. It must have been with some apprehension that Shakespeare came face to face with Cecil at this time. The dramatist had previously
his The Appeal of Injured Innocence (1659), pp. 39–40. I owe my knowledge of Elizabeth Russell’s attempt to match Henry Brooke with Bess Russell to John Jowett; see his ‘The Thievejs in 1 Henry IV‘ (1987), pp. 325–33. White’s gossip about the proposed marriage is in Collins, ed„ Letters and Memorials of State (1746), vol. 2, p. 26; see also McKeen, A Memory of Honour (1964), p. 759. For Shakespeare’s apology, see the epilogue to Henry IV, Part Two, ed, Weis (1997), ||. 17–31 • For Wilson’s views
marriage. Shakespeare would have known Edward, Francis and the Arden women as his ‘cousins’ and such was the Shakespeares’ pride in their Park Hall roots that the playwright’s father, John Shakespeare, would attempt to have his newly acquired coat of arms combined with theirs in 1599. The grant would be rejected, for this side of the family had been stained with treason. The Reformation was slow to take root in Shakespeare’s Stratford, and little wonder, for the unrepentantly Catholic
messuages, granges, mills, lands, tenements, meadows, pastures, commons, wastes, fishings, warrens, woods, underwoods, moors, [and] marshes … within the parishes of Bisham and Cookham’. In her petition to the Privy Council Elizabeth went on to say that, upon arrival to inspect the damage to her woodland, she demanded the key to the tenement but was told haughtily that Lovelace had it. It was then that she ‘commanded the door to be broken open and Lovelace’s men kidnapped. These she forcibly