Wednesday, 6 June 2007
Escape from Court
Last night a long discussion in Croix Rousse about why we travel, and what that means, with a cast from Ireland, England, Canada via Hong Kong, France and Morocco…the pathways and digressions of the conversation later. Now, waking up in the house of a man from Dublin and a woman Regina, Canada, I’m struck with renewed thought that Tom left England to escape “Englishness” – is it true? Was he, as a man betwixt classes, and working (at Court) in an environment as competitive as a McKinsey corporate away-day, just feeling squeezed; believed that travel would arm him with stories and visions that provided cultural currency? Perhaps he was daunted by the sheer volume and industry of his friends, of Ben Jonson or Shakespeare, the sophistications of Inigo Jones. Or King James, himself - that most unusual phenomenon among crowned heads - an active and practicing writer.
All his life he wrote, imagine the Queen doing the same: there were occasional variations in subject matter, such as probably the first anti-smoking leaflet in history, the "Counterblast to Tobacco", but mostly James wrote about what he knew best: the business of being a King, in books such as “Basilikon” and “The Trew Law of Free Monarchies” of 1598…
In 1610 James called the House of Commons, “This rotten seed of Eygpt…[where] these seven years past…our fame and actions have been daily tossed like tennis balls amongst them, and all that spite and malice might do to disgrace and inflame us hath been used…”
Corruption, Peerages being bought (a James invention, there was even a price list – I’ll try and find it: £1000 for a Dukedom…that kind of thing), sexual licence, “Ruff” culture, the precursor of “Bling”. Did anyone enjoy being at court? Apparently not, Sir Walter Raleigh’s famous phrase: “it shone like rotten wood”, is sometimes dismissed as evidence of the disappointed in preferment. After all, the King wasn’t a smoker. But the party for James' Brother in Law, Christian IV of Denmark in 1606, and John Harrington’s vivid account of its drunkenness, sex and debauchery, is described in the "Dictionary of National Biography" as “the stock quotation for the intemperance of the court of James I…Gambling and feasting and lavish weddings became the commonplace…”
Sometimes 400 years ago seems so… “contemporary.” Was Tom, going to see a brand new world and criticising Popery and “Ethinicke” religions from beyond “Christendom”, actually seeking the solace of the “pure”?
The illusory "unique" experience of being in far away places, lonely, but resilient? Many can do this now, "getting away from it all". This is why New Europe is the challenge: what do we not know about it? Apart from almost everything?