Duke of Württemberg visits London’s sights
The late 16th century saw an early German tourist, Frederick, soon-to-be Duke of Württemberg, visiting London. His foreigner’s eye gives far better descriptions of the main sights than any London diarist up to this point. He also writes of the inhabitants being ‘magnificently apparelled’, but ‘extremely proud and overbearing’, and of the women being dressed in velvet though they have no bread on the table at home. While visiting Windsor Castle he took a fancy to being made a Knight of the Garter. He then spent five years lobbying the English crown for the high honour, leading him to be mocked in English society, and to Shakespeare satirising him and Germans in general in his play The Merry Wives of Windsor. Another quirky link between Frederick and London is that he is an ancestor of the current mayor, Boris Johnson!
Frederick of Mömpelgard (now Montbéliard in France) was born in 1557. He studied history and philosophy at the University of Tubingen, and then undertook a tour, including in his itinerary, Bohemia, Denmark and Hungary. Soon after he married Sibylla, a princess of Anhalt, and they were to have more than a dozen children. When Frederick undertook a second tour, this time to England in 1592, he was heir apparent to the dukedom of Württemberg, an area in the southwest of Germany centred around the city of Stuttgart. He succeeded to the title the following year and remained Duke until his death in 1608. He is credited with releasing the duchy from the overlordship of the powerful Habsburg Empire. He also tried to establish a new town, Freudenstadt, in the north of the Black Forest, as the Duchy’s capital since it was closer to Mömpelgard than Stuttgart, but he died before his plans were realised.
Frederick’s diary - or rather the diary written down for him by his assistant - was first published in German as early as 1602. It was given the following title: A concise and faithful Narrative of the Bathing-Excursion, which his serene Highness Lord Frederick, Duke of Wirtemberg and Teck, Count of Mümppelgart, Lord of Heidenheim, Knight of the two ancient royal Orders of St Michael of France, and of the Garter of England, made, in the year 1592, from Mümppelgart to the far-famed kingdom of England; afterwards returning through the Netherlands back again to Mümppelgart. As it was noted down from day to day in the most concise manner at his Highness’ gracious command, by his private secretary who accompanied him.
This was first translated and published in English in 1865 for William Brenchley Rye’s book England as Seen by Foreigners in the Days of Elizabeth and James the First. At the time, Rye was assistant-keeper of the department of printed books at the British Museum. His long introduction begins: ‘Courteous and Gentle Reader, With all becoming respect we beg leave to introduce to your favourable notice a group of “intelligent foreigners,” who, in the ensuing pages, will discourse, if not very learnedly, at least it is hoped pleasantly and profitably, on the fascinating and attractive theme of Old England - its men and manners, its women and their ways, as they were seen and noted by those observing foreigners during the glorious effulgence of the Shakespearian era.’
Rye introduces Frederick’s tour as follows: ‘In 1592, the Count, still intent on the acquisition of wisdom and experience, contemplated another far-distant and more important tour, and this was now in the direction of England. Accordingly, on the 10th of July, he set out with two coaches and several riding horses. His companions included a steward, a counsellor, a physician, grooms of the bed-chamber, his secretary Jacob Rathgeb, the author of the printed journal, with a queue of barber, tailor, &c.’ Of the journal, Rye says: ‘in style and language it is exceedingly obscure and uncouth, the punctuation moreover is wretched. A plentiful crop of difficulties is thereby presented to the translator.’
Of passing curiosity is the name ‘bathing-excursion’ given to the tour. The printer of the original German edition, Cellius, as it happened, was also the poet laureate of Tubingen, and he incorporated into the volume his own verse to explain the term:
‘I am called the Bathing-trip,
For his Highness in a ship
Bathed in ocean all night long,
Winds tempestuous blowing strong;
Roaring waters rushing in,
Drenched his Highness to the skin,
As he shivering sat and sweating,
Fear with fever alternating.
Ye gentlemen of Germany, who live at home in clover,
O think upon our good Duke’s straits within the Straits of Dover.’
Interestingly, while visiting Windsor Castle, Frederick was greatly attracted by the Order of the Garter - the highest order of chivalry in England - and believed Queen Elizabeth had promised to admit him to the order. However, when she subsequently denied this, he never ceased to solicit her, sometimes by letter, usually by embassy, for the fulfilment of her promise. She did, eventually, admit him, after he had inherited the dukedom and become more prominent, but, in a deliberate slight, he was not informed of his admission in time to attend the investiture at Windsor in 1597. For that event, the newly-written play The Merry Wives of Windsor was performed, and, in it, Shakespeare included several satirical references to Germans (stealing horses), and to a Duke in particular, who is clearly modelled on Frederick.
Linking right to the present, the current Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is descended from Frederick. This quirky fact was discovered during research for the BBC’s programme (in 2008) Who Do You Think You Are on Johnson.
Along the Thames into London
10 August 1592
The same post carried us as far as Rochester; from thence nearly half a stage forward to Gravesend. Here, having first dined, a small vessel was ordered, and [we embarked] upon the river Thames, which is tolerably broad, and in which there are many swans; these are so tame that you can almost touch them, but it is forbidden on pain of corporal punishment in any way to injure a swan, for Royalty has them plucked every year, in order to have their down for court-use. Into this river Thames there sets also a tide of the sea, which accordingly every six hours flows up and down. We then sailed towards London. Upon the left-hand side of the river we passed the beautiful and pleasant royal Palace of Greenwich, where the Queen moreover is usually accustomed to receive and to give audience to envoys and ambassadors from foreign potentates.
11 August 1592
London is a large, excellent, and mighty city of business, and the most important in the whole kingdom; most of the inhabitants are employed in buying and selling merchandize, and trading in almost every corner of the world, since the river is most useful and convenient for this purpose, considering that ships from France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Hamburg, and other kingdoms, come almost up to the city, to which they convey goods and receive and take away others in exchange.
It is a very populous city, so that one can scarcely pass along the streets, on account of the throng.
The inhabitants are magnificently apparelled, and are extremely proud and overbearing; and because the greater part, especially the tradespeople, seldom go into other countries, but always remain in their houses in the city attending to their business, they care little for foreigners, but scoff and laugh at them; and moreover one dare not oppose them, else the street-boys and apprentices collect together in immense crowds and strike to the right and left unmercifully without regard to person; and because they are the strongest, one is obliged to put up with the insult as well as the injury.
Velvet clothes but no bread
The women have much more liberty than perhaps in any other place; they also know well how to make use of it, for they go dressed out in exceedingly fine clothes, and give all their attention to their ruffs and stuffs, to such a degree indeed, that, as I am informed, many a one does not hesitate to wear velvet in the streets, which is common with them, whilst at home perhaps they have not a piece of dry bread. All the English women are accustomed to wear hats upon their heads, and gowns cut after the old German fashion - for indeed their descent is from the Saxons.
In the city there is among others a large and remarkable church, called St Paul’s, where there are two choirs or churches, one over the other, but otherwise there is nothing of importance to be seen in it. There are also many other churches here and there; in particular three, where they preach in the French, Italian, and Dutch tongues.
The Exchange (La Burce) is a palace, where all kinds of beautiful goods are usually to be found; and because the city is very large and populous, the merchants who transact business together appoint to meet each other at that place, of whom several hundreds are constantly to be met with congregated there.
The sweet water is preserved in various parts of the city in large well-built stone cisterns, to be drawn off by cocks; and the poor labourers carry it on their shoulders to the different houses and sell it, in a peculiar kind of wooden vessels, broad at the bottom, but very narrow at the top, and bound with iron hoops.
Thirty-four heads on London Bridge
13 August 1592
Over the river at London there is a beautiful long bridge, with quite splendid, handsome, and well-built houses, which are occupied by merchants of consequence. Upon one of the towers, nearly in the middle of the bridge, are stuck up about thirty-four heads of persons of distinction, who had in former times been condemned and beheaded for creating riots and from other causes. [This practice of dipping the heads of executed men in tar and displaying them on pikes had been going on since the 14th century and would not stop until the mid-17th century.]
14 August 1592
His Highness and suite went in wherries [gondolas] to the beautiful and large royal church called Westminster, situated at the end, outside the city. In order to inspect the same. It is a very large structure, and in particular has a chapel within it which was built eighty years ago by King Henry VII, arched over with carved stone, so elegantly wrought that its equal is not easily to be found: there are inside some beautiful tombs of deceased Kings and Queens, covered all over with gilding, and executed in a most beautiful manner.
In front of this chapel, outside in the choir, are many other monuments of Kings made of marble, of all kinds of curious colours; [ . . .] In this choir stands also the chair in which, for several centuries past, all the Kings and Queens have been crowned: underneath lies a large stone, which is said to be the very one upon which the patriarch Jacob reposed when he saw the angels ascending and descending a ladder reaching to heaven. In the same choir was also shown the sword which King Edward III is said to have carried and used in battle and war; it is an immense blade, like a double-handed sword, so heavy that one can scarcely lift it. [. . .] In this beautiful church the English Ministers, who are dressed in white surplices such as the Papists wear, sang alternatively, and the organ played.
The most magnificent royal palace
21 August 1592
In the afternoon his Highness was conducted to see the grand and truly beautiful royal Palace called Hampton Court.
Now this is the most splendid and most magnificent royal Palace of any that may be found in England - or, indeed, in any other kingdom. It comprises ten different large courts, and as many separate royal or princely residences, but all connected; together with many beautiful gardens both for pleasure and ornament - some planted with nothing but rosemary; others laid out with various other plants, which are trained, intertwined, and trimmed in so wonderful a manner, and in such extraordinary shapes, that the like could not easily be found. In short, all the apartments and rooms in this immensely large structure are hung with rich tapestry, of pure gold and fine silk, so exceedingly beautiful and royally ornamented that it would hardly be possible to find more magnificent things of the kind in any other place. In particular, there is one apartment belonging to the Queen, in which she is accustomed to sit in state, costly beyond everything; the tapestries are garnished with gold, pearls, and precious stones - one tablecover alone is valued at above fifty thousand crowns - not to mention the royal throne, which is studded with very large diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and the like, that glitter among other precious stones and pearls as the sun among the stars.
Many of the splendid large rooms are embellished with masterly paintings, writing-tables inlaid with mother-of-pearl, organs, and musical instruments, which her Majesty is particularly fond of. Among other things to be seen there, are life-like portraits of the wild man and woman whom Martin Forbisser the English captain, took in his voyage to the New World, and brought alive to England.
In the middle of the first and principal court stands a splendid high and massy fountain, with an ingenious water-work, by which you can, if you like, make the water play upon the ladies and others who are standing by, and give them a thorough wetting.
The baiting of bulls and bears
1 September 1592
His Highness was shown in London the English dogs, of which there were about 120, all kept in the same enclosure, but each in a separate kennel. In order to gratify his Highness, and at his desire, two bears and a bull were baited; at such times you can perceive the breed and mettle of the dogs, for although they receive serious injuries from the bears, are caught by the horns of the bull, and tossed into the air so as frequently to fall down again upon the horns, they do not give in, that one is obliged to pull them back by the tails, and force open their jaws. Four dogs at once were set on the bull; they, however, could not gain any advantage over him, for he so artfully contrived to ward off their attacks that they could not well get at him; on the contrary, the bull served them very scurvily by striking and butting at them.