Educational Travellers: Popular Imagery and Public Criticism in Early Modern England

In 1578 Sir Philip Sidney remarked to his brother Robert that “ere it be long … wee travaylers shalbe made sporte of comodies.” #1 Whatever prompted Sidney’s remark, whether his knowledge of the Elizabethan theater and sense of humor or perhaps his desire to warn Robert from youthful extravagances while abroad, it proved, regrettably for the public reputation of travelers, unerringly accurate. Sidney referred to educational travelers (seventy years later popularly labelled Grand Tourists) who, for the duration of the seventeenth century, suffered a particularly unfortunate public reputation that was actively encouraged by popular literature and the theater. Travelers, particularly educational travelers, were not only the comic relief of early modern English drama and popular literature, they were also darkly threatening Machiavellian Italianates, moral degenerates, cultural renegades and habitual liars. #2 Popular tracts and pamphlets and the stage promoted images of educational travelers to a remarkable degree, and it is doubtful that the substantial early modern debate over the relative merits of educational travel would have been quite so extensive if it were not for the exposure travelers received in popular literature and drama. This is particularly apparent in the instance of three images or characterizations. The popular images of the Italianated traveler, the foolish traveler, and the traveler-liar all directly influenced the public debate over educational travel, the first by encouraging and fueling the public debate in its initial stages, the latter two by directly contributing material to that debate.

Although Englishmen had traveled abroad in small numbers for educational purposes for many generations, travel abroad in order to complete a young gentleman’s education rapidly gained popularity during the last decades of the sixteenth century and became an established institution, the Grand Tour, during the succeeding century. Traveling abroad enabled the Englishman to study the political, social and cultural institutions of other nations, knowledge he was unable to learn properly within England. Time spent among other nationalities enabled him either to learn foreign languages or to perfect their pronunciation, essential if he wished to obtain employment in the bureaucratic or diplomatic service, or simply take his place as a sophisticated gentleman within society. A tour abroad also ideally matured a young Englishman, polished his manners and demeanor, and created a more worldly and civil gentleman who could fully participate in public and private life on his return. The experience of the ‘Grand Tour’, as it became known during the seventeenth century, rapidly became a badge of social sophistication for any ambitious young gentleman.

Yet as quickly as educational travel gained popularity among late sixteenth-century Englishmen it began to attract a considerable amount of criticism. Roger Ascham’s bitter attack on Italian travel in The Scholemaster (1570) properly initiated the early modern debate over the practice of educational travel, and by the early seventeenth century Englishmen of many degrees and occupations participated in a spirited and often vitriolic debate over the merits and failings of the tour. Moralists, churchmen, essayists, educationalists, privy councillors and travelers themselves, indeed anyone who thought they had something to offer, contributed their arguments to the public debate. #3 Richard Mulcaster, in his educational tract Positions (1581), debated the merits of educational travel, while both George Pettie and Lewes Lewkenor in prefaces to their translations of continental authors criticized English travelers for their poor behavior abroad. #4 Critics claimed that English travelers returned home corrupt shadows of their former selves, their spiritual, political, moral and cultural integrities, as well as their innate good sense, ruined through sustained contact with corrupt European nationalities and societies. The influence of such corrupt men, they argued, might well disrupt if not destroy the harmony of English society. Many critics completely denied the usefulness of educational travel, claiming that because so many young Englishmen returned corrupted the practice should be denied to all but the most mature and trustworthy men. The criticisms of educational travelers, and their increasingly negative public images, forced apologists for the practice to admit the many dangers of traveling abroad while claiming that the benefits of the tour outweighed the risks. It should be noted, however, that neither criticism or negative public images stopped the many hundreds of Englishmen who participated in educational travel each year.

Many factors ensured both the virility and the longevity of the public debate over educational travel and the continuing criticisms of educational travelers. Traditional xenophobia, an equally traditional belief that most European societies (but particularly those of Italy and France) were morally corrupt, a more recent fear of Catholic enmity, and a growing belief that imported European culture might swamp the traditional English heritage all fed the early modern concerns about sending young Englishmen abroad for their final educational gloss. However, one of the most important factors in the virility of the public debate was the rapid adoption of the educational traveler as a figure of caricature in Elizabethan and Stuart popular literature and the theater. In no small part popular hatred of foreigners, particularly strong in the late sixteenth century and the early seventeenth century, helped to establish the popularity of caricatures of English travelers who, through their absorption of foreign culture, came home Frenchfied or Italianated corruptions of their former identities. The xenophobic London mob continually proved an embarrassment to Elizabeth and her Privy Council, who tried through various proclamations to keep the peace and protect the persons of foreigners within London. #5 The London mob continued to prove an embarrassment to the early Stuart authorities: “Foreigners are ill regarded not to say detested in London,” remarked Horatio Busino in 1617, recalling an incident where a woman had attacked a member of the Spanish embassy with a cabbage stalk, urging the gathering crowd to daub the poor man with the soft stinking mud of the London streets. #6 While this anti-foreign sentiment encouraged popular caricature of travelers who returned home clad in foreign fashions and exhibiting foreign mannerisms, by the mid-seventeenth century the very popularity of these caricatures then encouraged the London mob to single out returning travelers for attacks. In 1658 the London mob attacked the unfortunate Sir John Reresby, just returned from France with his two French footmen, forcing Reresby and his footmen to take refuge in a nearby house. #7

Although educational travel offered its participants considerable benefits, as its defenders constantly argued, the extensive criticism and negative imagery of the educational traveler in the theater and throughout the printed medium (particularly in popular literature) overshadowed the arguments of the apologists and helped to create an environment where criticism flourished. Popular literature and theater not only extended knowledge and discussion of educational travel to the thousands of commoners who crowded the theaters in late Elizabethan and early Stuart England, they also influenced more educated and sophisticated Englishmen. Sometimes decades after popular literature and the theater popularized a particular image of the educational traveler, the same image reappeared in conduct or advice literature as well as more general literature. This particularly applied to the images of the foolish traveler and the traveler-liar. In many instances it appears that authors of these more serious works had little idea that images popularized in the theater and in popular literature in previous decades had influenced their writings.

One of the major factors in the virility (and virulency) of public criticism about educational travel was the popular success of the image of the immoral and irreligious Machiavellian Italianated traveler during the late Elizabethan period. Roger Ascham, sometime tutor to Queen Elizabeth, first presented this threatening image to the English public in The Scholemaster, published posthumously in 1570. Primarily a treatise on the education of young boys, The Scholemaster included a section criticizing the growing practice of sending young men to travel Italy at the end of their formal education. #8 Ascham argued that these young men, perverted by the innumerable pleasures and vices of Italy, returned home corrupted in religion and morals; irreligious and immoral Machiavellian Italianates who would not hesitate to scheme against state and church while outwardly honoring both. Ascham adapted a little known European proverb to personify these wicked travelers, “Inglese Italianato è un diabolo incarnato” [an Italianated Englishman is a devil incarnate]. #9 Drawing upon existing but separate concerns about Machiavelli’s policies, growing official concern about perceived atheism within English society, belief in the subtleties and treacheries inherent within the Italian character, and the negative influences of Italian culture within England, Ascham created a single powerful and extremely threatening character that Elizabethans readily accepted. In a political climate where intricate plots to unseat Elizabeth and restore the influence of the Catholic church abounded in the late 1560s and early 1570s, it is not surprising to find numerous murmurs about Machiavellian Italianates within the highest political circles, #10 but the success of the character in Elizabethan popular literature and the theater encouraged the wider ‘appeal’ of the Machiavellian Italianate generally and the Italianated traveler particularly and focused public attention on the growing practice of educational travel.

While Ascham’s image of the wicked Italianated traveler influenced many commentators on educational travel, #11 the image proved particularly attractive to poets, playwrights and pamphleteers. As George Gascoigne’s comments demonstrate, the description of the Italianated English traveler as a ‘devil incarnate’ appeared very quickly in verse. Writing on the effects of pride on English travelers, George Gascoigne commented in Councell giuen to master Bartholmew Withipall (1572),

Beleeue me, Batte, our Countreymen of late
Haue caughte such knackes abroade in forayne lande,
That most men call them Deuils incarnate,
So singular in theyr conceites they stande. #12
The character of the Italianated traveler, the devil incarnate, became a popular villain of the Elizabethan literature and drama. #13 The Italianate traveler was chiefly recognizable through two principal characteristics: vice always corrupted the Englishman into the Italianate, and the depth of this corruption enabled the traveler to dissemble and scheme against family, neighbor and state. Both William Rankins and Thomas Lodge increased the malevolence of the Italianated traveler as they detailed his destructive capability within English society. Rankins discussed in detail the destructiveness of the English Italian in The English Ape, the Italian imitation, the Footesteppes of Fraunce (1586). Abhorring nature and its divine creation, these Italianates studied methods of mischief and destruction like true Machiavellians. #14 Rankins emphasized the destructive power within English society of the Italianate’s imported viciousness, pride and ambition, castigating the English for their willing acceptance of this evil. #15 In his discussion of the incarnate devils of his age in Wits Miserie and the Worlds Madnesse (1596) Thomas Lodge endued his character of Scandal and Detraction with all the attributes of Ascham’s Italianate, although he did not specifically name the vice Italianate. A widely travelled devil, Scandal and Detraction spoke many languages, read Machiavelli, embraced atheism and enticed discontented men into conspiracies. His daily companions, in fact, were disobedience and rebellion. #16 He generally affected a surly attitude in his daily demeanor, skulking through the back alleys of St. Paul’s with heavy and superstitious looks, his left hand continually on his dagger while he plotted mischief against his neighbor. #17 Scandal and Discontent was particularly malevolent because he hated his country, his prince and the privy councillors, not because he could find any fault with them but from “meere innated and corrupt villanie.” #18

By the late sixteenth century but more noticeable in the early seventeenth century the immoral, dangerous and often Machiavellian Italianated traveler evolved into the utterly polluted and corrupt traveler of popular verse and drama. Although rarely named as Italianate, this character still exhibited many of the attributes of Ascham’s Italianate. John Marston’s corrupted traveler, Bruto, in Metamorphosis of Pigmalion’s Image: And Certain Satires, returned home knowlegeable in the art of poisoning, and carrying the diseases of “Naples pox and Frenchman’s dalliance”. #19 The most recognizable elements of the Italianate in the image of the corrupted traveler was the very depth of his corruption and the threat he posed to society. In Samuel Daniel’s The Qveenes Arcadia (staged in 1605) the corrupt traveler Colax completely poisoned England’s goodness with the infections he brought home from abroad. #20 Colax exhibited strong shades of Machiavellian subtlety, although Daniel never explicitly connected his scheming to Machiavellian policy. George Chapman’s Antonio in Two Wise Men and All the Rest Fooles (staged in 1619) was another corrupt traveler who displayed elements of the Machiavellian Italianate. Corrupted from his previously honest nature by his travels through Italy, Antonio was a cunning and mischievous character who constantly plotted the deceit and ruin of others. Like Colax, Antonio was capable of infecting the whole country with his corruptions. #21

During the 1580s and 1590s the term and concept of malcontent became synonymous with the Italianate traveler. #22 The malcontent not only grafted well to the established character of the immoral Italianate, it contributed several new characteristics. As well as a morally corrupt and irreligious schemer, the malcontent was a discontented, sad man, disillusioned with life and with England in particular. Like John Marston’s Italianated and malcontent traveler, Bruto, the malcontent Englishman dressed in black rather than the usual flamboyant colors of the Elizabethan courtier and affected a grave and somber attitude:

Look, look, with what a discontented grace
Bruto the traveller doth sadly pace
‘Long Westminster! #23
His corruption abroad caused the malcontent’s melancholy and his deep discontent with life itself. #24 Shakespeare’s sad Italianate traveler Jaques in As You Like It (staged 1599), perhaps the best known melancholic traveler of the early modern English stage, explained that his melancholy was the final product of the contemplations of his travels. Yet along with his melancholy, Jaques also carried home “all th’ embossed sores and headed evils” he had collected during his travels. #25 Bruto and Jaques were not simply comical characters; along with their melancholy and “sad array” they carried enough corruptions and harbored enough schemes to disrupt English society.

The popular image of the threatening Italianate traveler remained viable only as long as the specter of Italianism remained a threat in English society. The pronounced influence of Italian culture in England waned significantly after the early seventeenth century, and reaction against French influence in society again became the issue for moralists and nationally conscious Englishmen amid the growing French influence at the court of James I. #26 After 1600 characterizations of the Italianated traveller gradually became less sinister as writers invested them with increasing overtones of ridicule. Although appearances the character of the Italianated traveler dwindled during the early Stuart period, its importance as a popular figure of parody cannot be underestimated. The image of the Italianated traveler in moralistic tracts, satire, and popular prose pamphlets reached a wide audience spanning political circles and the court to literate servants and tradesmen. #27 It directly affected discussion, debate and advice about educational travel during the late sixteenth century and established the issue of educational travel as a subject of intense public debate in the seventeenth century. Via the Italianated traveler, popular literature and drama popularized knowledge of the practice of educational travel and promoted the image of the educational traveler among the lower orders of English society, but the image it promoted was overwhelmingly negative. For the 16,000 to 24,000 Londoners who paid a penny each to attend the public theaters each week in late Elizabethan England the predominant image of the educational traveler presented to them was that of the wicked Italianate; occasionally foolish, always corrupt. #28 The real importance of the strong, sometimes inflammatory, image of the wicked Italianate traveler in the theater and popular literature is that it not only propelled the hitherto low-key issue of educational travel to the forefront of public attention and discussion, it badly damaged the public credibility of educational travel. Before the publication of The Scholemaster in 1570 and the subsequent popularity of the image of the Italianated traveler, educational travel had enjoyed a relatively favorable, if low-key, reputation. After 1570 it is very difficult to find public comment about educational travel that is not either outright criticism or defensive apology. Many travelers who printed accounts of their travels felt compelled to defend travel from its critics. Thomas Coryate included a defensive essay praising travel by Hermannus Kirchnerus in his Coryats Crudities, a relation of his travels abroad published in 1611, while Fynes Moryson, directly after the divine Joseph Hall had further attacked travel in 1617, appended a defense of travelers in his Itinerary, answering one by one all of the public criticisms of travelers. #29

The popularity of the wicked Italianated traveler in Elizabethan drama and satire ensured the success of the image of the foolish traveler. Despite the very threatening aspects of so many characters of wicked Italianates, the foolish Italianated traveler surfaced extremely quickly after the publication of The Scholemaster. George Gascoigne’s characterization of devils incarnate in Councell giuen to master Bartholmew Withipall was the first reference to devils incarnate in print after Ascham’s diatribe, yet Gascoigne portrayed these Italianated travelers as foolish rather than wicked:

Nowe, sir, if I shall see your maistershippe
Come home disguysde and cladde in queynt araye,
As with a piketoothe byting on your lippe,
Your braue Mustachyos turnde the Turky waye,
A Copotain hatte made on a Flemmish blocke,
A nightgowne cloake downe trayling to your toes,
A slender sloppe close-couched to your docke,
A curtold slipper and a shorte silke hose:
Bearing your Rapier pointe aboue the hilte,
And looking bigge like Marquise of All-Beefe,
Then shall I compte your toyle and trauayle spilte. #30
As Gascoigne’s characterization of the devil incarnate demonstrates, the Italianate’s affectations of clothes and postures made him a ready subject for parody; he was, in Gabriel Harvey’s words, “a passinge singular odd man.” Harvey, although he employed more biting satire, used imagery similar to Gascoigne’s when he satirized the Italianated Earl of Oxford during the 1570s. Harvey attacked the ridiculous and effeminate mannerisms of the Italianate who appeared within English society with “cringeinge side necke, eies glauncinge, fisnamy smirkinge,” and wearing “Largbellid kodpeasid dubletts [and] unkodpeasid halfehose.” #31 John Lyly, also writing in the 1570s, not only endowed his character Philatus in Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit with Machiavellian and Italianate characteristics but also faulted him for his ridiculous and affected dress that transformed him into a misshapen monster. #32 During the 1590s representations of Italianated and malcontent travelers rapidly gained large measures of foolishness. In 1592 Thomas Nashe gave his malcontent traveler in Pierce Penilesse characteristics of the Italianate as well as ridiculing him as a complete fool; “You shall see a dapper Iacke, that hath been but ouer at Deepe, wring his face round about, as a man would stir vp a mustard pot, & talke English through ye teeth, like Iaques Scabd-hams, or Monsieur Mingo de moustrap.” #33 By the early seventeenth century the follies of the Italianate quickly began to outweigh his more threatening aspects. John Cooke’s foolish Stains in Greene’s Tu Quoque (staged in 1611) and George Chapman and James Shirley’s Freshwater in The Ball (staged in 1632) were more fool than threat. During the first three decades of the seventeenth century the image of the foolish traveler completely absorbed the image of the Italianate.

Fostered by its initial association with the popular Italianate traveler, during the late sixteenth century the foolish traveler gradually became an established character in its own right. Foolish travelers adopted ridiculous fashions, affected equally ridiculous mannerisms, and appeared unable manage a single sentence of English without corrupting it with lisping and foreign words. Following his description of the foolish malcontent traveler in Pierce Penilesse, Thomas Nashe portrayed travelers as fools who wore ridiculous fashions in his novel The Vnfortunate Traveller:

From Spaine what bringeth our Traueller? a scull crownd hat of the fashion of an olde deepe porringer, a diminutiue Aldermans ruffe with short strings like the droppings of a mans nose, a close-bellied dublet comming downe with a peake behinde as farre as the crupper, and cut off before by the brest-bone like a partlet or neckercher, a wide paire of gascoynes, which vngatherd wold make a couple of womens ryding kirtles. #34
Literary and dramatic parodies of the foolish traveler continued to gain popularity during the early seventeenth century. Sir Thomas Overbury’s affected traveler took pains to appear ridiculous, with “his pick-tooth … a maine part of his behaviour”; #35 Ben Jonson’s deformed traveler, Amorphus, in Cynthia’s Revels not only chewed his toothpick, but “[trod] nicely, like the fellow that walkes vpon ropes,” #36 while Barnaby Rich introduced his fantastic traveler in Faultes, Faults and Nothing Else but Faultes with these words:

Heere comes a spruce fellow now, and if hee be not alied to the Fantasticke, yet I am sure the foole and he are so neare a kinne, that they can not marrie, without a Licence from the Pope. Would ye knowe who it is? Mary sir, it is a Traveller. #37
The image of the foolish traveller was so recognizable by 1613 that the “fantastick” traveller who entertained Queen Anne in her progress towards Bath in April of that year needed no props for identification beyond his “silken sute of strange Checker-worke, made vp after the Italian cut, with an Italian hat, a band of gold and silke, answering the colours of his sute, with a Courtly feather [and] long guilt spurres.” #38

Although there was no significant criticism or representations of travelers as fools outside of literary and dramatic ridicule until the 1620s, comments from some far-sighted individuals and concerned parents demonstrated a certain sensitivity about the issue. Rather like Sidney’s comment to Robert, the author of a very late-sixteenth letter of advice for travelers variously ascribed to Sir Fulke Greville, Sir Francis Bacon and Sir Thomas Bodley warned travelers not to indulge in an “infectious collection” of the vices and fashions of people abroad, for these would only be of use to humorists for jests and table-talk. #39 In 1614 Sir John Holles’ instructions to his son John indicate the influence the popular image of the foolish traveler could have on an individual:

Sum empty heads (as our merchants to the Indians carry bells, glasses, knyves, and suche lyke) bring only howme with them crooke shoulders, unstayed countenances, mopps and maws thrusting outte the crupper, and head forward, a shaling pace, affected gestures, curchies, salutations, and odd fashions of apparell speeche [and] diet. #40
About the same time that Holles wrote, Henry, Earl of Northumberland, also briefly cautioned his son Algernon that, “the ends of yowr trauells is not to learn apishe iestures, or fashons of attyres.” #41 Although a few late sixteenth-and early seventeenth-century travelers did return home beribboned and mincing fops, the habit was not widespread (unlike late seventeenth-century travelers). It is probable men like Holles and Northumberland were as much influenced by the public caricature of foolish travelers as they were by actual examples. Despite such timely warnings by a few individuals, the extremely popular image of the foolish traveler of the late sixteenth century ensured that by the early seventeenth century the educational traveler had become a favorite subject both of humorists and of table-talk.

Before the third decade of the seventeenth century general criticism of travelers had focused on their tendency towards moral, spiritual and cultural corruption. Sixteenth-century advice, like that of Sir John Stradling, tended simply to remind the traveller that the “mimicall, and miserable” affectation of fashions and mannerisms was “most vile, base, and of all least beseeming a noble personage.” #42 Only a few essayists included brief criticisms or comments about foolish travelers during the first two decades of the seventeenth century. #43 However, by the 1620s the popular image of the foolish traveller was so well established and influential that many of the defenders of educational travel became particularly sensitive about the difficulty travellers had in maintaining their public credibility and reputation. Criticisms from men like Samuel Purchas, who made use of popular caricature to observe that some foolish travelers brought home nothing but a “few smattering termes, flattering garbes, Apish crings, foppish fancies, foolish … disguises [and] the vanities of Neighbour Nations,” #44 stimulated many authors of advice literature to caution travelers not to provide further encouragement for critics and material for popular parody through irresponsible behaviour.

One of the first authors of advice literature to incorporate the stereotype of the foolish traveler into his work was Owen Feltham who wrote about 1620. Feltham suggested that inherently foolish gentlemen should not travel abroad at all, thus not only saving their own reputation but that of their families and country’s as well. Travel only made the foolish gentleman worse, argued Feltham, for, “It makes a wise man better, and a foole worse. This gaines nothing but the gay sights, vices, exoticke gestures, and the Apery of a Countrey. A Trauailing foole is the shame of all Nations. Hee shames his owne, by his weakenesse abroad: He shames others, by bringing home their follies alone.” #45 In his Instructions for Forreine Travell (1642) James Howell used imagery strongly reminiscent of popular caricature to criticise Englishmen who, by, “their gate and strouting, their bending in the hammes, and shoulders, and looking upon their legs, with frisking and singing do speake them Travellers. Others by a phantastique kind of ribanding themselvs, by their modes of habit, and cloathing … do make themselves knowne to have breathed forraine ayre.” #46 Other seventeenth-century authors of advice literature for travelers like Thomas Neale also incorporated advice for young men not to come home “empty, unskilfull gull-gallant[s] [who] being intoxicated with the heat of vaine-glory, and selfe love … boile out trifles, and ridiculous language.” #47 Neale cautioned that wise travelers should never fall into the trap that caught lesser gentlemen and “babble, wander, discourse foppishly, and ramble without feare or wit from one place to another.” Travellers should only use their tongues to seek knowledge and speak of other men’s actions rather than their own. #48

Although the influence of popular caricature of the foolish traveler is clearly evident on the seventeenth-century debate about educational travel, the process is even more apparent with popular parody of the traveler-liar. From very early in the medieval period critics identified the vice of lying with travelers. #49 By the fourteenth century English poets closely associated the vice of lying with pilgrims, and both Chaucer and Langland personified pilgrims as habitual liars. #50 In the fifteenth century the association of lying with pilgrims even entered Lollard invective. #51 The medieval pilgrim’s reputation for lying continued into the early sixteenth century; at least two texts included the image of the pilgrim-liar. #52 The first Elizabethan to publicly resurrect the idea that travelers related fantastic tales was William Bullein in his Dialogue against the feuer Pestilence (first published 1564). Since Protestant Englishmen no longer participated in pilgrimage, Bullein connected the habit of lying to a secular traveler, Mendax, who told outrageous tales of his travels abroad to his eager if naive dinner-table companions. Mendax swore that he had witnessed mermaids climb trees, parrots play chess, strange women who hatched their children from eggs, and men, even stranger, who shed their skins like snakes. #53 Other Elizabethan writers quickly adopted the image of the lying traveler, often connecting it with the name of the medieval Sir John Mandeville, the author of an extremely popular, if fantastic, book of tales. #54 The vice of lying rapidly became associated with the popular character of the educational traveler, especially the character of the foolish educational traveler. Sir John Melton’s traveler compounded his foolishness by lying in the effort to appear a wise and learned man; #55 Ben Jonson’s foolish and deformed Amorphus lied “cheaper then any begger, and lowder then most clockes;” #56 and Barnaby Rich’s farcical travelers emptied themselves of what little wit they had originally possessed, returning home sprouting lies along with their other foolish faults. #57 George Chapman and James Shirley’s Freshwater, who epitomized the foolish traveler with his affected gait, speech and toothpick, also suffered the embarrassing personal problem of extreme bad breath that hindered his ability to tell lies convincingly. #58

In prose, drama and verse authors portrayed travelers as habitual liars. In Nicholas Breton’s An Olde Mans Lesson and a Young Mans Loue (1605) Chremes asked his son to relate truthfully his observations made during his travels, “for Trauailers are giuen (some say) to begull the worlde with gudgins.” #59 In 1578 John Lyly somewhat ruefully commented in Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit, “alas, Euphues, what truth can there be found in a traveller.” #60 As the character of Freshwater demonstrates, the traveler-liar provided as useful an image for playwrights as it did for pamphleteers and essayists. “Hast learned any wit abroad?” Rhetias caustically asked Menaphon in John Ford’s The Lover’s Melancholy (staged in 1628), “Canst tell news and swear lies with a grace, like a true traveller?” #61 Shakespeare, who incorporated so many of the popular images of the educational traveler into his plays, included a brief satirical defense of traveler-liars in The Tempest (staged 1611). Having witnessed the entrance of some strange apparitions, Antonio exclaims that now he can believe anything, even the lies of travelers. #62 The image of the traveler-liar was the strongest of all the images of the traveler in jests and merry tales, although the travelers personified were often not specifically educational travelers. Jests and merry tales usually revolved around the character of a rather foolish traveler who normally did not realize that his audience saw straight through his lies. Anthony Copley included a typical example in Wits Fittes and Fancies in 1595:

A Trauailer vsed to tel monstrous lyes of his iourneyes, and of the places and things he had seene. And being one day in conuersation with many Gent. & bosting that he had seen these & these places: One of them said vnto him: Belike you are seen in Cosmography: No (he answered) I neuer was in that City yet, but indeed I remember I once trauailed in sight of it, leauing it somwhat on the left hand, but such was my hast, that I ouerpast it, as I haue done many a faire citie more in my dayes. #63
This jest is only one of many examples scattered throughout the jest books and books of merry tales of early modern England.

In a similar reaction as that to the image of foolish travelers, concerns about the traveler’s reputation for lying began to appear among individuals before it appeared in the public debate. In the instance of lying travelers it was travelers themselves who, by the late sixteenth century, began to publicly demonstrate their sensitivity to the image of the traveler-liar. In 1590 Edward Webbe protested the truth of his adventures when he published an account of his travels. Webbe claimed that,

in this booke there is nothing mentioned or expressed, but that which is of truth: and what mine own Eies haue perfectly seene. Some foolish persons perhaps will cavel and say, that thiese are but Lies and fables: and that it conteyneth nothing else: but to those I aunswere, that whatsoeuer is herein mentioned, he whosoeuer he be, that … doubt of the trueth hereof, let him but make inquirie of the best and greatest trauellers and Merchants about all this land: and they doubtles will resolue them that it is true which is here expressed. #64
Webbe then proceeded to belie his words and further tarnish the reputation of the traveler by relating tales of Prester John’s court, beasts with four heads, and wild men chained to posts who devoured every man, woman and child who were foolish enough to come within reach. #65 In 1601 William Parry published his account of the travels of Sir Anthony Sherley. He began his account with the words, “It hath beene, and yet is, a prouerbiall speech amongst vs, that Trauellers may lie by authority.” Most travelers were honest, argued Parry, but their inexperienced listeners often branded them liars because they could not understand what they heard. #66

After approximately forty years of popular caricature and some concern among travelers themselves the image of the traveler-liar proved strong enough and accepted enough to appear in general criticisms of travelers and in advice literature for travelers. In 1617 in his book Quo Vadis? Joseph Hall contemptuously dismissed the habit of some travelers to “tell wonders to a ring of admiring ignorants.” #67 In the same year, Fynes Moryson advised travelers not to be too quickly drawn by the promise of a crust of bread to relate their journeys and observations, believing that the tales of a few imposters had tarnished genuine travelers’ reputations. #68 James Howell also advised travelers not to exaggerate what they had seen on their return; some, it appeared, had a custom to relate strange tales and wonders in the manner of Sir John Mandeville. #69

Other works of conduct literature mentioned traveler-liars, and a few warned educational travelers about exaggerating their stories on their return home. Sir Francis Bacon recommended that travelers be reticent in telling stories on their return home, Thomas Fuller cautioned travelers not to report improbable truths, “especially to the vulgar, who insteed of informing their judgements will suspect thy credit,” #70 while Richard Brathwaite included in The English Gentleman (1630) a warning to all men employed in state business to beware of travelers and their lies. No men were more subject to relating strange tales, he cautioned, than travelers, who “arrogate to themselves a libertie of invention in this kinde.” Statesmen should always be wary of giving credence to the foreign news they heard, “for divers there be who presuming of the distance of place, will invent and vent their inventions to curry favour.” Brathwaite advised the virtuous statesman to interrupt these traveler-liars and shame them by telling even more outrageous tales. #71 A few years later Brathwaite not only legitimized the image of traveler-liars in his Survey of History, but felt it necessary to explain the reasons for their fault:

Such as lye on their Travaile, either doe it for admiration, or having run upon the adverse shelvs of a deplored fortune, are enforced to invent strange things for the reliefe of their dejected estate. Such as publish lesse than they have seene, (omitting things of the greatest consequence, to satisfie our humors with trifles) doe it to gaine pregnancy, or singularity rather of conceit … they insert frivolous occurents, borrowed, or (it may be) invented by their own phantasticke braines. #72
Once authors like Brathwaite incorporated such statements in their treatises, the traveler-liar had completed the transition from imaginary character to legitimate public nuisance.

The early modern debate over educational travel encompassed other issues besides those discussed in this paper. The danger to the traveler’s spiritual integrity (whether from the forces of Catholicism or irreligion), his moral integrity and his national and cultural identities all concerned many English men and women, and were widely debated throughout the seventeenth century. In these issues popular literature and drama reflected and promoted, rather than influenced or shaped. In the instances of the images of the Italianated, foolish and lying travelers, however, popular literature and drama played a far more active and influential role. The promotion of the image of the Italianated traveller after the publication of The Scholemaster actively encouraged discussion about educational travel and gave this discussion a predominantly negative bias. Promotion of the images or characters of the foolish and lying travelers actively contributed material to later generations’ criticism of and debate over educational travel. Yet a similar relationship between popular parody and public criticism or professional comment does not always appear for other groups or professions. In the instance of lawyers and physicians, two of the most popular figures of parody in Elizabethan and early Stuart England, popular literature and the stage simply reflected established public and professional opinion. Popular satire of the legal profession during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries attacked lawyers for the obscure language they used, the bribes they accepted, and for their habit of ignoring the just cause of the poor client in favor of the unjust cause of the rich client. Likewise physicians also employed obscure language, were avaricious and often refused to treat the poor. In all these instances, however, centuries of profesional debate over the corruptions of legal and medical practitioners influenced early modern caricature. Popular imagery did not to any significant degree shape or contribute to the public debate surrounding the legal and medical professions. #73 So why was popular literature and the stage so influential in its relationship with the public debate over educational travel? The most significant factor is that not only were groups like the legal and medical professions established and well recognized by the late sixteenth century, but criticism, advice and even caricature of these practices had also been established for generations, if not centuries, by this time. To a large extent, public opinion was already well formed by the time the lawyer and physician became two of the most popular subjects for caricature in the rapidly expanding market for popular literature in the Elizabethan and early Stuart periods. The opposite is true in the instance of educational travel, and this was primarily because educational travel was a relatively new practice in Elizabethan England. There was very little established opinion, advice or criticism (or even general public awareness) about educational travelers before 1570 (apart from some generalized approval). To a significant degree, general public awareness and subsequently opinion of educational travel developed because of popular parody. The vast majority of English men and women would have known very little, if anything, about the practice of educational travel before they met the Italianated traveler upon the Elizabethan stage and in popular pamphlets. Very few positive representations of educational travelers appeared in the theater; corrupt or foolish travellers usually overshadowed any strong and wise travellers within the same play. #74 There are many other factors, mentioned earlier, which fed the debate over educational travel, but among them, the role of the popular theater and press cannot be underestimated. The public reputation of the developing practice of educational travel in early modern England proved particularly vulnerable to popular parody.

1. Philip Sidney to Robert Sidney, 1578, Albert Feuillerat, ed., The Prose Works of Sir Philip Sidney (Cambridge, 1962), III, p. 125. I am indebted to Prof. J. H. Forse for his comments and suggestions regarding this article. CHECKED

2. For an extended discussion of the seven major images of educational travelers in early modern England see Sara Warneke, “A Ship of Shadows: Images of the Educational Traveller in Early Modern England,” unpublished Ph. D. thesis, University of Adelaide, 1991.

3. See ibid for a discussion of the public debate over travel as it related to the images of travellers; also Clare Howard, English Travellers of the Renaissance (London, 1914), Lewis Einstein, The Italian Renaissance in England (New York, 1902), Chapter III, “The Traveller,” pp. 115-154, and George Brauer, The Education of a Gentleman (New York, 1959), for some summaries of the criticisms of travellers.

4. Richard Mulcaster, Positions Wherin Those Primitive Circvmstances be Examined, Which are Necessarie for the Training vp of children, either for skill in Their Booke, or health in their bodie (1581), Robert Herbert Quick, ed. (London, 1888), pp. 208-212; Steeven Guazzo, The Civile Conversation of M. Steeven Guazzo (1581 translation), Sir Edward Sullivan, ed. (London, 1925), 2 volumes, first three books translated by George Pettie, the fourth by Barth. Young, I, pp. 9-10; Gasper Contareno, The Commonwealth and Government of Venice, Lewes Lewkenor, trans. (London, 1599), “Preface to the Reader”, folio A.

5. “Proclamation for Keeping the Peace in London”, 13 August 1559, and “Proclamation for the Good Teatment of the French Ambassador”, 18 April 1581, are two examples.

6. Relation of Horatio Busino, State Papers and Manuscripts Relating to English Affairs. Venice and Northern Italy, XV (1617-1619), pp. 60-61. Zera S. Fink, “Anti-Foreign Sentiment in Tudor and Early Stuart Literature”, unpublished Ph.D. dissertaion, Northwestern University, 1931, throughly examines anti-foreign sentiment in early modern English literature.

7. James J. Cartwright, ed., The Memoirs of Sir John Reresby (London, 1875), p. 37. CHECKED

8. Roger Ascham, The Scholemaster (1570), Dr. Giles, ed., The Whole Works of Roger Ascham (London, 1864-1865), III, pp. 147-167.

9. Ibid., p. 156. See H. E. G. Rope, “The ‘Italianate’ Englishman,” The Month, new series, XI (1954), pp. 93-94, and George B. Parks, “The First Italianate Englishman,” Studies in the Renaissance, VIII (1961), pp. 199-200, for the origins of this proverb.

10. Warneke, “Ship of Shadows,” pp. 115-116.

11. William Harrison, The Description of England (1587), Georges Edelen, ed. (New York, 1968), pp. 114-115, Bartholomew Batty, The Christian Mans Closet (London, 1581), pp. 51-52, the anonymous author of The Office of Christian Parents (London, 1616), pp. 134-135, and Thomas Fuller, The Holy State and the Profane State (1642), Maximilian Graff Walten, ed. (New York, 1966), II, p. 159, are but four examples.

12. George Gascoigne, Councell giuen to master Bartholmew Withipall a little before his latter iourney to Geane (1572), William Carew Hazlitt, ed., The Complete Poems of George Gascoigne (London, 1870), I, p. 375.

13. Among many others, the pamphleteers Thomas Nashe and Robert Greene used the character of the Italianate traveller in their works, as did the playwrights William Shakespeare, Samuel Daniel and George Chapman. Examples below.

14. W[illiam] R[ankins], The English Ape, the Italian imitation, the Footesteppes of Fraunce (London, 1588), p. 5.

15. Ibid., pp. 2-8.

16. [Thomas Lodge], Wits Miserie and the Worlds Madnesse (London, 1596), p. 18.

17. Ibid., p. 17.

18. Ibid.

19. John Marston, Metamorphosis of Pigmalion’s Image: And Certain Satires (1598), “Satire II,” in A. H. Bullen, ed., The Works of John Marston (London, 1887), III, pp. 274-275.

20. Samuel Daniel, The Qveenes Arcadia, Alexander B. Grosart, ed., The Complete Works in Verse and Prose of Samuel Daniel (London, 1885), III, pp. 227-228. In citing the date of the first known production of plays I use the dates listed by Alfred Harbage, Annals of English Drama, 975-1700, revised by Samuel Schoenbaum and Sylvia Stoller Wagonheim (London, third edition, 1989).

21. George Chapman, Two Wise Men and All the Rest Fooles (London, 1619), p. 32, and throughout.

22. See Fink, “Anti-Foreign Sentiment”, pp. 237-252. Both Rankins and Lodge associated the word malcontent with their Italianate characters; Rankins, p. 8; Lodge, p. 17.

23. Marston, Metamorphosis of Pigmalion’s Image, “Satire II,” p. 274.

24. Fink, “Anti-Foreign Sentiment,” p. 245. See Lawrence Babb, The Elizabethan Malady (East Lansing, 1965), pp. 73-76, for his discussion of melancholy, malcontents and the traveller. The Italianate traveller, he states, was the immediate cause of the melancholia in English life and literature. L. C. Knights, Drama and Society in the Age of Jonson (Harmondsworth, 1962), Appendix B, pp. 261-274, also includes a discussion of seventeenth-century melancholy.

25. William Shakespeare, As You Like It (staged 1599), Act II, scene vii, Act IV, scene i.

26. Lewis Einstein observed that by the early seventeenth century the Italian influence in England was stationary, if not actually waning; “the want of fresh vigor to reënforce its claims, perhaps no less than the attacks of the moralists, had brought it to a standstill.” French and Spanish cultural influences, then growing in strength, filled the vacuum; The Italian Renaissance in England (New York, 1902), p. 175. See also David Starkey, et al, The English Court from the Wars of the Roses to the Civil War (London, 1987), pp. 173-225, for complaints about the ‘French’ nature of James’ court.

27. Sandra Clark, The Elizabethan Pamphleteers (London, 1983), pp. 17-25, for the audience reached by pamphlet literature.

28. Peter Burke, “Popular Culture in Seventeenth Century London,” Barry Reay, ed., Popular Culture in Seventeenth Century England (London, 1985), pp. 39-40, for the type and numbers of Londoners attending the public theaters in 1600. In 1599 Thomas Platter noted that in London two or three plays ran daily at two o’clock in the afternoon; Leonard R. N. Ashley, ed., Elizabethan Popular Culture (Bowling Green, 1988), p. 7. In 1600 so many unlicensed theaters and actors lured “the people dayly from their trade and worke to mispend their tyme” that the Privy Council attempted to restrict the numbers of both theaters and actors; minutes of the Privy Council, 22 June 1600, Acts of the Privy Council of England, XXX (1599-1600), pp. 395-398.

29. Hermannus Kirchnerus, “An Oration” in Thomas Coryate, Coryats Crudities (London, 1611), and Fynes Moryson, An Itinerary (London, 1617), Part III, Booke 1, Chapter 1, pp. 1-11. Joseph Hall, Quo vadis? A Ivst Censvre of Travell as it is commonly vndertaken by the Gentlemen of our Nation (London, 1617). .See also discussion of Edward Webbe and William Parry below, p. [ ].

30. Gascoigne, Councell…, Poems, I, p. 375.

31. Gabriel Harvey, Letter-Book of Gabriel Harvey, Edward John Long Scott, ed. (London, 1883-1884), p. 98.

32. John Lyly, Euphues: the Anatomy of Wit, Euphues & His England (1578 and 1580), Morris William Croll and Harry Clemons, eds. (New York, 1964), p. 165. Like Harvey, Lyly no doubt aimed his barbs at members of the court and the Inns of Court circles who sometimes returned home from their travels in the late sixteenth century clad in outlandish fashions

33. Thomas Nashe, Pierce Penilesse his Svpplication to the Divell (1592), R. B. McKerrow, ed., The Works of Thomas Nashe (Oxford, 1958), I, p. 169.

34. Thomas Nashe, The Vnfortvnate Traveller (1594), H. F. B. Brett-Smith, ed. (Oxford, 1927), pp. 95-96.

35. [Sir Thomas Overbury?], The Overburian Characters (1614), W. J. Paylor, ed. (Oxford, 1936), p. 11.

36. Ben Jonson, Cynthia’s Revels (staged 1600), C. H. Herford and Percy Simpson, eds., Ben Jonson (Oxford, 1925-1952), IV, Act II, scene iii, pp. 72-73.

37. Barnaby Rich, Faultes Faults and Nothing Else But Faultes (1606), Melvin H. Wolf, ed. (Gainesville, 1965), p. 8.

38. Thomas Campion, A Relation of the Late Royall Entertainment Given by the Right Honorable the Lord Knowles (London, 1613), folio A2 verso.

39. Sir Fulke Greville, Certaine Learned and Elegant Workes (London, 1633), pp. 297-298. This is the first publication of a widely circulated late sixteenth-century manuscript letter of disputed authorship. James Spedding, in James Spedding, Robert Leslie Ellis and Douglas Heath, eds., The Works of Sir Francis Bacon (London, 1868-1890), IX, pp. 2-5 and 16-19, ascribed it to Bacon. In the late seventeenth century Richard Parr claimed Sir Thomas Bodley was the author; Life of … James Usher (London, 1686), pp. 17-19 (after main body of text). See also Hugh Maclean, “Reliquiae Bodleianae: Letter CCXXXII,” Bodleian Library Record, VI (1960), pp. 537-541.

40. John Holles, “Instructions for travell that my father gave me the 22 July 1614,” P. R. Seddon, ed., Letters of John Holles 1587-1637, Thoroton Society Record Series, XXXI (Nottingham, 1975), p. 52. Conduct literature did not promote the image of the foolish traveller at the time Sir John wrote his instructions.

41. “Instructions for the Lord Percy, in His Trauells; Given by Hen. E. of Northumberland,” Antiquarian Repertory, IV (1809), p. 374.

42. Sir John Stradling, A Direction for Trauailers (London, 1592), folios C verso – C2.

43. For example, John Melton, A Sixe-Folde Politician (London, 1609), pp. 52-53, and Anthony Stafford, Meditations, and Resolutions, Moral, Divine, Politicall (London, 1612), p. 60.

44. Samuel Purchas, Hakluytus Posthumus, or Purchas His Pilgrimes (Glasgow, 1905-1907), I, p. xliv, originally published 1625.

45. Owen Feltham, Resolves, a Duple Century (London, 1628), p. 271.

46. James Howell, Instructions for Forreine Travell (1642), Edward Arber, ed. (London, 1869), p. 65.

47. Thomas Neale, A Treatise of Direction, How to travell safely, and proftably into Forraigne Countries (London, 1643), pp. 36-37.

48. Ibid., pp. 36-42.

49. For some eighth-century criticism of wandering scholars as habitual liars, see the passage cited in Helen Waddell, The Wandering Scholars (London, 1927), p. 164.

50. Geoffrey Chaucer, The Hous of Fame (circa 1375), Albert C. Baugh, ed., Chaucer’s Major Poetry (London, 1963), Book III, ll. 2123-2124; William Langland, The Vision of William concerning Piers the Plowman (circa 1387), the C text, Rev. Walter W. Skeat, ed. (London, 1873), p. 3.

51. The Examination of Master William Thorpe, priest, of heresy, before Thomas Arundell, Archbishop of Canterbury, the year of our Lord, M.CCCC. and seven, in Alfred W. Pollard, ed., Fifteenth Century Prose and Verse (Westminster, 1903), p. 141.

52. Alexander Barclay’s adaption of The Ship of Fools (1509), T. H. Jamieson, ed.? (New York, 1966), II, p. 68; Desiderius Erasmus, “The Religious Pilgrimage,” The Colloquies of Erasmus, E. Johnson, ed. and N. Bailey, trans. (London, 1878), II, pp. 1-37.

53. William Bullein, A Dialogue against the Feuer Pestilence, Mark W. Bullen and A. H. Bullen, eds. (London, 1888), pp. 94-111. The 1888 edition is a collation of the 1564, 1573 and 1578 editions of A Dialogue.

54. For instance Joseph Hall, Virgidemiae (1598), Geoffrey Grigson, ed., The Oxford Book of Satirical Verse (Oxford, 1980), p. 36.

55. Melton, A Sixe-Folde Politician, pp. 52-53.

56. Jonson, Cynthia’s Revels, Act I, scene iii, pp. 72-73.

57. Rich, Faultes, pp. 8-9.

58. George Chapman and James Shirley, The Ball (London, 1639), Act II, folio C, first staged 1632.

59. Nicholas Breton, An Olde Mans Lesson, and a Yovng Mans Loue (1605), Alexander B. Grosart, ed., The Works in Verse and Prose of Nicholas Breton (Edinbugh, 1879), II, p. 13.

60. Lyly, Euphues, p. 61.

61. John Ford, The Lover’s Melancholy (staged 1628), in Havelock Ellis, ed., John Ford (London, 1888), Act II, scene i, p. 32.

62. Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act III, scene iii.

63. Anthony Copley, Wits Fittes and Fancies (London, 1595), p. 42. Copley translated this jest book from a Spanish jest book, but he inserted many of his own. These are easily discernable from the Spanish jests for, as Copley wrote himself, “they taste more Englishlie,” Epistle Dedicatory, folio A2 verso. This example is one of Copley’s own jests.

64. Edward Webbe, Edward Webbe … His Trauailes (1590), Edmund Goldsmid, ed. (Edinburgh, 1885), “The Epistle to the Reader,” p. 9.

65. Ibid., pp. 23-24.

66. William Parry, A new and large discourse of the Trauels of sir Anthony Sherley Knight, by Sea, and ouer Land, to the Persian Empire (London, 1601), pp. 1-2. The proverb originated in Barclay’s Ship of Fools, II, p. 68.

67. Joseph Hall, Quo vadis?, pp. 35-38.

68. Fynes Moryson, An Itinerary, Part III, Booke 1, Chapter 2, p. 36.

69. Howell, Instructions, p. 64.

70. Sir Francis Bacon, “Of Travel,” Works, VI, p. 418; Fuller, II, p. 161.

71. Richard Brathwaite, The English Gentleman (London, 1630), pp. 137-139.

72. Brathwaite, A Survey of History: Or, a Nursery for Gentry (London, enlarged edition, 1638), pp. 36-37.

73. Apart from popularizing certain terms: ‘petty-fogger’ in the case of legal practitioners, and ‘quaksalver’ or quack in the case of medical practitioners are the two best examples.

74. For example, the Italianated traveller, Antonio, overshadowed the wise traveller, Proberio, in George Chapman’s Two Wise Men. An exception to this rule was Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher’s Queen of Corinth (staged in 1617) in which two foolish travellers only enhanced the positive image of the two wise travellers (especially Act II, scene i).

©1996 Sara Warneke / Sara Douglass Enterprises

A Taste for New-Fangleness: The Destructive Potential of Novelty in Early Modern England

The sixteenth century was a troubled time for the English people. Religious turmoil, political uncertainty and deep social tensions placed enormous pressures on traditional structures and values; dire predictions of the imminent breakdown of English society litter late sixteenth-century social commentaries and treatises. Seeking explanations for the breakdown of traditional values and society, many early modern writers seized and further developed the medieval idea that the English character was flawed by the nature of the elements about them. Some believed that as an island people, the English were so negatively influenced by the waxing and waning of the moon and the ebb and flow of the tides that they were completely unable to remain constant to their monarch, their social hierarchy, their religion or their culture. Doomed to inconstancy, the English became a people addicted to novelty, to ‘new-fangleness’, an addiction that many early modern Englishmen feared would result in the inevitable destruction of English society.

Medieval and early modern popular thought traditionally assigned certain characteristics to different nationalities.1 The Italians were subtle, crafty and treacherous. The Spaniards were proud, the Scandinavians were trusty warriors, the Italians were jealous and given to whoring, while the Germans and Dutch suffered the embarrassing reputation of drinking so heavily that “they wyl pysse as they doo syt, and other whyle the one wyll pis in a nother shoes.”2 Both European and English writers portrayed the English people as an inconstant race, a people so continually fascinated with novelties they were always ready to abandon the old and trusted at the first glimpse of the new-fangled. The association of the English people with a love of novelties and an inconstant nature dates back to the medieval period. One of the best medieval descriptions of the English people’s flawed character came from the pen of the fourteenth-century chronicler Ranulph Higden in his Polychronicon, a chronicle that remained very popular for three hundred years:3

The peple of Englonde is fulle curious to knowe straunge thynges by experience, deprauenge theire awne thynges [thei] commende other straunge, vnnethe other neuer contente of the state of theire degre, transfigurenge to theyme that is congruente to an other man.4
Higden also believed the English were a people “apte moche to wylenes and decepcion, but importune a fore the dede, levenge [lightly] a thynge y-begunne.” It was this characteristic, Higden continued, which made Pope Eugenius state that the English were an inconstant people, “apte to euery thynge.”5 Significantly, this meant that while the English were almost invincible abroad, they could be easily defeated within their own land.6 While the English seemed capable of uniting against a foreign enemy, when left to their own company it appeared that civil dissension would come easily to these flawed people.

The medieval concept of the English people’s flawed character might have faded into obscurity had it not been for the witty reworking of the image by Andrew Boorde during the 1540s. In the Introduction of Knowledge (written about 1542), a work that repopularized the idea that certain characteristics could be identified with certain peoples or nationalities, Boorde firmly saddled the English people with the label of inconstancy. Beneath a drawing of a naked Englishman holding a length of cloth in one hand and a pair of tailor’s shears in the other, and completely unable to decide what type of garment to fashion, Boorde wrote,

I am an English man, and naked I stand here,
Musyng in my mynde what rayment I shal were;
For now I wyll were thys, and now I wyl were that;
Now I wyl were I cannot tel what.
All new fashyons be plesaunt to me;
I wyl haue them, whether I thryue or thee.7
Boorde was not only concerned with the social aspect of the Englishman’s inconstancy in fashion (although many writers would later deepen this association). It was the novelty in fashion that delighted, yet confused, the Englishman. Boorde’s image of the indecisive Englishman, torn this way and that by the lure of novelty, proved immensely popular, and successive writers referred to it when discussing the Englishman’s flawed character.8

From the mid-sixteenth century the characterization of the inconstant Englishman, corrupted by the lure of novelties and new-fangleness, quickly became a standard image, increasingly used by many English authors to explain the changes around them. Moralists might criticise courtiers for their new-fangled fashions, and both state and Church might attack the lower orders for adopting novelties in social and political behaviour, but many critics were quick to argue that the entire English race was given to novelties. From bookseller to privy counsellor, from balladeer to antiquary, men muttered about their compatriots’ inconstant natures and love of novelties. Robert Copland lamented that books of virtue lay unsold on shelves as readers clamoured for “tryfles” and “wanton toyes.” For the old they had no use; they sought for “thynges a-new.”9 By the 1560s the image of the indecisive Englishman addicted to novelties was sufficiently established to be cited in private correspondence; in 1567 Edward Moorcroft wrote Sir William Cecil that “every country has its fashion of vice … our country folks in new fangledness.”10 Moralists often complained that it was a fault of humankind generally to be drawn towards novelties, but it seemed to be more specifically a fault of the English. While this was bad enough, it also appeared, as William Harrison pointed out in the late 1580s, that the English had a particular love for foreign new-fangles.

such, alas, is our nature that not our own but other men’s do most of all delight us; and for desire of novelty we oft exchange our finest cloth, corn, tin and wools for halfpenny cockhorses for children, dogs of wax or of cheese, twopenny tabors, leaden swords, painted feathers, gewgaws for fools, dogtricks for dizzards, hawkshoods, and suchlike trumpery.11
Novelties of any nature were attractive, but those from foreign lands were almost irresistible. “But tis our English manner to affect Strange things,” a character in Robert Yarington’s 1594 drama Two Lamentable Tragedies observed, “and price them at a greater rate, Then home-bred things of better consequence.”12 Novelties fascinated the English people whose ‘natural vice’ was to prefer foreign commodities before their own.13 Similarly, in 1617 Joseph Hall, later bishop of Exeter and Norwich, took his countrymen to task for their readiness to prefer foreign goods and ideas before their own: “It is an humerous giddinesse to measure the goodnesse of any thing by the distance of miles, and where there is equalitie of worth, to neglect the neerest. I slander our Nation if it be not sicke of this disease.”14 As economic, intellectual and cultural contacts between England and Europe grew during the sixteenth century, many observers derided the English for adopting indiscriminately foreign novelties. Their concern was not simply xenophobic. Many commentators worried that the English people’s preference for foreign goods would adversely affect the nation’s political, religious, social and cultural integrities. A fascination for foreign novelties to the detriment of English products would also impact negatively on England’s trade imbalance; yet, surprisingly, rarely did writers remark on the destructive potential the Englishman’s love of novelty might hold for England’s economic health. A trade imbalance appeared the least of their worries amid growing concern that new-fangles might well cause English society to completely self-destruct.

The English were not alone in reviling their vice of new-fangleness. During the sixteenth century many foreigners, from Popes to German tourists, commented on the English people’s peculiarly inconstant nature. A French ecclesiastic, Stephen Perlin, in 1588 remarked on the English people’s flawed character,15 while Pope Julius III apparently believed the English Reformation was due partly to the fact that the English were given to novelties.16 “The English,” remarked Emanuel van Meteren in the late sixteenth century, “are a clever, handsome and well-made people, but, like all islanders, of a weak and tender nature.”17 Handsome and well-made they might be, but, Meteren continued, the English were also inconstant, rash, deceiving, suspicious and very desirous of novelties, particularly noticeable in their constant changing of fashion.18 To their shame, many Englishmen were well aware that their reputation for inconstancy and new-fangleness had spread across the Channel. In The Court of Virtue (1565) John Hall complained that while other nations remained steadfast to their heritages, the English, addicted to new fangles, were the laughing stock of Europe:

But we here in England lyke fooles and apes,
Do by our vayne fangles deserue mocks and iapes,
For all kynde of countreys dooe vs deryde,
In no constant custome sythe we abyde.19
A few years later Phillip Stubbes, in remarking that no race in the world exceeded the English in their love of new fangles, observed that the English people’s “new fangles and toies, are occasions, why all nations mocke, and flonte vs.”20 Harrison likewise believed that because of the English people’s desire for novelties they reaped “just mockage and reproach in other countries.”21 By the mid-sixteenth century (or well before, if Higden’s comment regarding Pope Eugenius is to be believed) discussion of the English flawed character was not confined to England. It was not only the English who sought to explain the changes about them by characterizing the English race as inconstant and given to novelies. Foreigners, of many nationalities and degrees, were equally willing to cite the English love of new-fangles as reason enough for whatever political and religious turmoil the English nation experienced.22

As the reputation for English inconstancy and love of novelty grew, many writers, medieval and early modern, tried to explain the origins of this peculiar flaw. Some medieval writers believed that island peoples were more subject to the influence of heavenly bodies, particularly the moon, than landlocked peoples. As the waters that surrounded islands ebbed and flowed under the influence of the moon, so too would an island people’s minds vacillate back and forth. Tastes, ideas, behaviours and loyalties would first teeter one way then totter the other as the shifting waters lapped the shores of their island. This was a theory that not only medieval, but early modern commentators, found hard to resist. During the mid-twelfth century Peter of Blois applied it to the people of Sicily in a letter he wrote to Richard, Bishop of Syracuse: “as it is written that all island peoples are generally faithless, the inhabitants of Sicily are indeed deceitful friends, and secret and abandoned betrayers.”23 Some years later Peter of Celle applied specifically to the English the theory that island peoples found it difficult to remain constant to any one idea in a letter to Nicholas of St Albans:

Your island is surrounded by water, and not unnaturally its inhabitants are affected by the nature of the element in which they live. Unsubstantial fantasies slide easily into their minds. They think their dreams to be visions, and their visions to be divine. We cannot blame them, for such is the nature of their land.24
The idea that the moon, through the action of the tides, affected the minds and actions of the English remained current throughout most of the medieval period and well into the seventeenth century. In the late fourteenth century John Gower wrote in Confessio Amantis that the influence of the moon on the English people literally made them so restless that they were predisposed to wander many lands.25 A century later William Caxton mused that perhaps the effects of constant ‘wavering and weaving’ of the moon not only caused the English language to alter constantly from generation to generation, but was also responsible for the various dialects of English spoken in different shires.26 During the early modern period concern for the effects for the English people’s flawed character generally outweighed any intellectual curiosity about its origins, but two or three commentators occasionally attempted to explain why the English were so inconstant. William Camden relied on medieval theories to speculate that the English were so inconstant because they were all “Lunares or … Moones men.”27 Joseph Hall, observing that the English nature seemed naturally to absorb infection, remarked somewhat ambiguously that “Ilanders haue been euer in an ill name.”28 In the mid-seventeenth century James Howell, somewhat tongue in cheek, put into Lord Daniel von Wensin’s mouth the words, “’tis well known, as the sea tumbleth perpetually about [Great Britain], so their braines do fluctuat in their noddles, which makes [the British] so variable and unsteady.”29 Even as late as the 1670s men were not only remarking upon the English people’s love of novelties, but the reasons for it. In 1676 Sir Thomas Baines informed Sir Heneage Finch that “The mutability of air in an island contributed to mutability of thought”; thus the English were “a changing fluctuating people by nature, increased by diet, with the addition of rashness to it.”30 For those men who believed that, as an island race, the English were doomed to inconstancy, the implications must have been worrying: as the waxing and waning of the moon and of the tides about England could not be halted, neither would the English people’s predisposition for novelties be assauged. Under these circumstances, neither political, social, religious or cultural stability could be assured.

Although some Englishmen tried to determine exactly why their countrymen were so inconstant, most commentators generally remarked on the effects of this inconstancy rather than its origins. A love of novelty among the English people might well predispose England to political, religious, social and cultural instability. One of the more disturbing effects of the Englishman’s flawed character was that it increased his likelihood to rebel against his monarch and current political regime. The Tudor authorities were almost paranoid about ‘agreement of minds’, considering novelties in any form, but especially in ideas that promoted ‘diversities’ of minds, to be closely associated with treason and social instability.31 Nothing illustrates this paranoia more than Sir Nicholas Bacon’s address to the Star Chamber in November 1567. Translations of foreign works, Bacon warned, created diversities of mindes, and “diversytes of myndes makethe seditions, seditions bringethe in tumultes, tumulte makethe insurrections & rebellyon, insurrections makethe depopulacions & bringeth in vtter ruyne & destruction of mens bodies goods & Lands.”32 Novelties, therefore, could precipitate the utter destruction of the realm. Naturally, any suggestion that the English character had a peculiar predisposition to the lure of novelties (especially novelties in ideas about political leadership) particularly disturbed the authorities.

Many commentators closely associated the Englishman’s flawed character with civil dissension and seditious activities. While both the chronicler William of Malmesbury and Ranulph Higden believed that if the English were almost invincible abroad then they were easily defeated within their own country, Higden clearly identified this problem with the English characteristic of inconstancy.33 Sir Thomas Malory, took the worrying connection between the Englishman’s flawed character and a tendency for sedition even further in Morte Darthur. When Englishmen supported the rebellious Sir Mordred against their noble King Arthur Malory commented, “Alas! thys ys a greate defaughte of us Englysshemen, for there may no thynge us please no terme.” Thus, “the moste party of all Inglonde hylde wyth sir Mordred, for the people were so new-fangill.”34 In case his readers might suppose indulgently that the English had outgrown their unfortunate fascination with new-fangleness and consequent disloyalty to their king, Malory remarked somewhat darkly that many men still believed that “we of thys londe have nat yet loste that custom.”35 Significantly, considering the political unrest of Tudor England, Andrew Boorde’s very popular image of the inconstant Englishman did not stop at connecting his inconstancy with an irritating tendency to constantly vary the manner of his dress. As Higden had implied centuries earlier, Boorde now asserted that much of the civil disturbance among the English was because of their flawed nature. The Englishman, unable to ‘sit still’, meddled in political and religious matters not his concern. Driven by the ideas “rolling in [his] pate,” the inconstant Englishman not only disrupted his family and friends, but destablized society.

I had no peere, yf to my selfe I were trew;
Bycause I am not so, dyuers times I do rew.36
No matter how strong the fortifications built by the king to repel foreign invaders, the English remained deeply vulnerable to internal disturbance. Despite being a strong and handsome people who lived in a bountiful land, the English seemed disinclined to enjoy their good fortune. “Treason & deceyt among [the English] is vsed craftyly, the more pitie,” continued Boorde “for yf they were true wythin themselfs, thei nede not to feare although al nacions were set against them.”37

Perhaps the most unsettling element in the English people’s inconstancy was that they did not have to be particularly dissastisfied with a monarch to plot treason against him or her. The Tudors certainly had good cause to regard their subject’s allegiance with some wariness. Not only did various factions within the nobility plot against their monarch but the ordinary people of England also tended, as Edward Hall remarked in his mid-sixteenth-century chronicle of the kings of England, to “wauer with the wynde.”38 Even foreign visitors remarked upon the English people’s tendency towards sedition. In 1558 the French ecclesiastic Stephen Perlin observed that “England is a good land with bad people …. [they] are proud and seditious, with bad consciences, and are faithless to their word … although they have a good land and a good country, they are all constantly wicked and moved by every wind; for now they will love a prince; turn your hand, they will wish him killed and crucified.”39 A year later the Venetian ambassador to England, Michael Sociano, summarized the Englishman’s character in a report to the Doge:

The English are universally partial to novelty, hostile to foreigners, and not very friendly amongst themselves; they attempt to do everything that comes into their heads, just as if all that the imagination suggests could be easily executed; hence a greater number of insurrections have broken out in this country than in all the rest of the world.40
After listing the ‘incredible’ number of English people who had met violent deaths over the past twenty years, Sociano remarked that the English were virtually an unmanageable race and counselled that no foreigner could hope to “rule this kind of people.”41 It might perhaps be expected that French and Italian observers would make somewhat unfavourable remarks regarding the English, but even German tourists made similar observations. Frederick, Duke of Wirtemberg, while travelling through England in the late sixteenth century, observed that many internal fortifications had been razed so that “the subjects, who are naturally inclined to sedition, should in no case find an opportunity to rebel and rise up against the government.”42

Faced with serious rebellion during the late 1560s and continued instability throughout the early 1570s, Elizabeth I and Sir William Cecil were unable to resist blaming their subjects’ rebellious tendencies on their love of novelties.43 In a draft of a declaration to her subjects regarding the suppression of the 1569 rebellion, Elizabeth stated that she believed wicked whispers enticed the “vulgar and common sort of people to fansy some noveltyes and changes of Lawes and rulers” and to support the rebellious Earls of Northumberland and Westmorland.44 From the mid-to late sixteenth century observers, ranging from foreign visitors to the English monarch herself, repeatedly remarked that the English people’s love of novelties led them into seditious conspiracies and rebellions. Amid the Tudor paranoia about agreement of minds, the authorities had no trouble believing that the English people’s love of novelty would lead them into such ‘seditions, tumults and insurrections’ that the complete destruction of England’s political and social orders was a frightening possibility.

If the civil authorities worried about the political allegiance of the English people, then the ecclesiastical authorities worried no less that a love of novelties might entice the English away from their allegiance to the English Church or, more likely, away from God altogether. While English Protestant authorities took some decades before they began seriously to suspect that novelties might lure the English away from their religious loyalties, foreign Catholic authorities had leaped to that conclusion during the 1550s. In 1553 Cardinal Morone wrote that Pope Julius III believed that the English were by nature fierce and unruly and given to novelties in matters of religion.45 Sociano not only blamed the English people’s love of novelties for internal insurrections, he also blamed their love of novelties for their change of faith, and suggested that such a change would ultimately result in a revolution in the entire social, legal, cultural and political structures of England.46

Later English commentators tended to believe that a love of novelty, which most argued would lead to pride and subsequently moral depravity, would more likely result in irreligion rather than a return to Catholicism. John Hall, who had pointed out in 1565 that other nations mocked England for its inhabitants’ love of “vayne fangles”, argued that such a fault invariably led to moral decay, from where pride initially made people forget obedience to God’s law and then inevitably made them strive to “blot and put out” His image as best they could.47 In 1582 Stubbes believed that the English studied more in one day for the invention of new toys than they did in their entire lives for the knowledge of God’s word,48 their novel inventions and new-fangled fashions making the English “resemble sauadge Beastes and stearne Monsters, then continent, sober and chaste Christians.”49 Ten years later Thomas Lodge argued that impiety would follow close behind the devil of Novel-monger as fashion and vanity replaced God and conscience.50 In 1617 Joseph Hall complained bitterly that the Englishman’s love of novelties had drawn atheism into the country: “Where that close Atheisme, which secretly laughes God in the face, and thinkes it weaknesse to beleeue?”51 In an age of religious instability, particularly a perceived trend towards unbelief, Catholic and Protestant alike feared the impact new and diverse ideas might have on a people traditionally vulnerable to novelties. Catholic commentators found it easy to blame the English Reformation on the English people’s inconstant natures, while Protestant commentators feared such natures would lead the English people into such moral turpitude they would turn their faces from God completely. Church authorities rested no easier than civil authorities when it came to contemplation of the English people’s inconstancy and the changes such inconstancy might engender.

If many early modern commentators believed that novelties would undermine the political and religious orders, then it is hardly surprising to find them warning that the English people’s love of novelty would undermine the social order as well. Perhaps because of Boorde’s highly popular image of the indecisive Englishman torn between novelties in fashions, but also because of the wider contemporary debate about inappropriate dressing, many commentators focused on the Englishman’s eclectic fashion sense to discuss how the English love of novelties would disrupt, if not destroy, England’s social integrity.52 New fashions were a symptom of the breakdown of the social order as well as the moral order. Both medieval and early modern authorities considered that a clearly defined social order was vitally important. From 1337 until controls were abandoned in 1604 sumptuary laws attempted to enforce standards of dress on the various social orders of English society.53 In another manifestation of the Tudor paranoia about ‘agreement of minds’ and conformity in action, both state and Church expected people to act and dress according to their rank and discouraged them from overstepping clearly defined boundaries in social behaviour. Once people violated these boundaries, the authorities feared they could just as easily disregard the laws of God and state, inevitably plunging society into chaos. Yet social mobility and social ambition were becoming more pronouced as feudal society broke down and a money economy grew. From the fourteenth century English society was characterized not only by a growth in the number of different stations in life, but also by an escalation in the rate of change of fashions by an expanding proportion of society.54 English civil and ecclesiastical authorities, as well as moralists, grew increasingly distressed at the number of people dressing and acting beyond the boundaries of their traditional rank. A tendency toward inconstancy and new-fangleness would thus only encourage the breakdown of traditional society. After all, “discrete nations”, as John Hall had noted, still kept to “Theyr old guyse, what euer fond folkes do inuent.”55 For the early modern authorities discretion was by far the better part of government. Diversity, in whatever guise, could only presage the ‘utter ruin and destruction’ of English society.

Englishmen concerned at people adopting new fashions beyond their degree levelled their complaints at all ranks of society, and neither ploughboy nor courtier escaped criticism. In his late sixteenth-century condemnation of the devil “Superfluous Inuention,” or “Nouel-monger,” Thomas Lodge inveighed against ploughmen who abandoned their russet for fashionable doublets with “wide cuts” and silken garters to wear on Sundays.56 Likewise, in A Quip for an Upstart Courtier Robert Greene derided “euery lowt” who aspired to a higher social position. Now, Greene complained, no farmer was content that his son should hold the plough and servile drudges rustled in their silks; these “dunghill drudges waxe so proud, that they wil presume to wear on their feet, what kings haue worne on their heades.”57 Social critics were not simply concerned with the lower orders of society, many believed the higher orders were also at fault. Gentlemen and courtiers were as guilty of succumbing to new-fangleness and novelty in fashion as their meaner neighbours (who were then further encouraged to adopt new fashions by the behaviour of their social betters). The anonymous author of The Institucion of a Gentleman (1555) believed that English gentleman and yeomen had abandoned their old manners “which wer approued & knowen to be good.” Ignorance had made them accept “straunge inuentions”; consequently the estates of the yeomen and gentlemen had decayed from their former heights.58 Courtiers and ‘gallants’ often received particular criticism, but not simply for the variety of their affected mannerisms and fashions that they copied from foreign countries. The courtier’s fascination with expensive foreign fashion might impact negatively on the economic health of the lower orders of society. In his Quip Greene attacked Italianated courtiers who, adopting ever finer fashions, lost themselves in pride and forgot their duty to the poorer members of society. Greene’s Italianated courtier, Velvetbreeches, had been brought into England by his “companion Nufanglenesse.”59 Velvetbreeches had caused vast misery within English society, raising rents in an effort to finance his expensive lifestyle. Costly velvets, vainglory and pride reigned at the expense of dignity, charity and the honest country life. No longer was ‘public commodity’ foremost in the ‘upstart’ gentleman’s mind, but only private gain.60 In this new England pride had replaced charity, and virtue and social harmony was destroyed.61 Greene’s message was clear: through their love of foreign new-fangles and fashions, English Italianated courtiers had adopted novelties that were destroying traditional English society.

Although Greene’s work was probably the more popular,62 William Rankins’ The English Ape, The Italian imitation, the Footesteppes of Fraunce (1588) remains one of the best examples of a treatise that predicted the complete destruction of English society should the English love for novelty go unchecked. Among Rankins’ primary concerns was the increasingly fractured social structure of England. He complained bitterly about men who dressed and acted well above their station in life:

Haue we not such amongst vs whose attire rather shew them to be Monarchs then meane men, Kings then subiects, whose minds are neither suppressed with the loyalty of their duety, nor with the modest regarde of their meane estate. 63
Once such ‘meane men’ began to flaunt the boundaries of social distinction, ambition and pride would soon follow, and ambition and pride would prove the death of the kingdom: “Oh ambition the nource of mischeefe, the fosterer of vyle dissention: The ruine of cities, the ouerthrow of common wealthes, the disturber of all estates, and the finall confusion of al peaceable gouernements.”64 Pride, itself as destructive as ambition, and borrowed “from euery base inferiour climate,” transformed those Englishmen it corrupted into savage beasts.65 Whether ploughboy or courtier, an addiction to novelty was the first step towards a loosening of moral values and eventual social disorder as people forgot their duty to, and their place within, the commonwealth of England.

Although many Englishmen feared that novelties in fashion and social behaviour might upset the social stability of England, others appeared just as distressed, if not more so, by the damage done to England’s cultural integrity through the wanton adoption of foreign fashions and other novelties by their faithless countrymen. Their sense of cultural and national pride was as affronted as their concern about the blurring of social distinctions through inappropriate dressing. A growing number of early modern Englishmen, anxious that European cultures threatened their traditional English heritage, expressed deep resentment at the affectation of French and Italian culture and manners by members of fashionable society. At the heart of many of their complaints was the belief that the English people, addicted to novelty (and foreign novelties at that), would corrupt and destroy traditional English culture.

Fears that foreign culture was undermining traditional English culture had been growing since the early sixteenth century.66 Many Englishmen, along with the character of Vincent in Cyuile and vncyuvile life (1579), were “sorye to see Englishmen, so apte to leaue their auncient good fashions, and fall into forrayne manners.”67 As the sixteenth century drew to a close the sense that foreign cultures theatened English culture had become almost overwhelming.68 Inevitably, many authors connected the decline in their English cultural integrity with the Englishman’s flawed nature — his love of novelties, particularly foreign novelties. As with the early modern connection between sedition and the Englishman’s flawed character, the undermining of England’s cultural identity and its link to the Englishman’s love of novelties had deep roots in the medieval past. In the early twelfth century the scribe of the Laud Manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle critised the mid-tenth-century Anglo-Saxon Edgar for his fondness for foreign customs that eventually led to harmful elements entering England.69 William of Malmesbury, writing about 1135, also spoke of the corruption of English culture during Edgar’s reign.70 Malmesbury commented that Edgar was so famous that many foreigners came to his court; yet their presence was highly prejudicial to England’s cultural and social integrity:

from the Saxons [the English] learned an untameable ferocity of mind; from the Flemings an unmanly delicacy of body; and from the Danes drunkenness; though they were before free from such propensities, and disposed to observe their own customs with native simplicity rather than admire those of others. For this history justly and deservedly blames [Edgar].71
By the early seventeenth century it appeared that no aspect of English life was safe from corruption by foreign novelties. George Wither connected the Englishman’s flawed character with the corruption of traditional English life in his Abuses Stript and Whipt (1613). Englishmen did not value anything unless it was a foreign import, whether clothes, food, medicines, or other “new deuised forraine trash.” It was an idle humour, declared Wither, which made Englishmen prefer foreign wares before their own goods which were not only of a better quality, but “moore neere at hand.”72 English food and drink was no longer good enough for a nation addicted to foreign novelties: “Wee, that once did feed / on homely rootes and hearbes, do now exceed / The Persian Kings for dainties.”73 Foreign wines now filled cellars where once the English had been satisfied with their cider and ale.74 The English even abandoned traditional English sword-play for continental styles. In 1599 George Silver defended the honourable English tradition of fencing and attacked gallants who forsook their traditional short swords and staves to lust like men sick of a “strange ague” after the “long Rapiers [and] frog pricking Poiniards” of Italian and French fencers.75 Many feared the English people’s indiscriminate borrowing from other nations would finally result in the English becoming a corrupted people who had virtually no individual cultural identity. John Deacon’s list of the final result of the English people’s indiscriminate borrowing from other cultures, published in 1616, is a typical example of what some early modern Englishmen feared might happen to the English nation:

our carelesse entercourse of trafficking with the contagious corruptions, and customes of forreine nations [has led to the fact] that so many of our English-mens minds are thus terriblie Turkished with Mahometan trumperies … thus spitefully Spanished with superfluous pride; thus fearefully Frenchized with filthy prostitutions; thus fantastically Flanderized with flaring net-works to catch English fooles; thus huffingly Hollandized with ruffian-like loome-workes, and other like Ladified fooleries; thus greedily Germandized with a most gluttenous manner of gormandizing; thus desperately Danished with a swine-like swilling and quaffing; thus sculkingly Scotized with Machiauillan proiects; thus inconstantly Englished with euery new fantasticall foolerie.76
Could an English identity survive if the English indiscriminately copied every foreign fashion, manner and vice that they could lay their hands on? John Lyly apparently thought not, remarking with some sadness in the prologue to Midas; “Trafficke and trauell hath wouen the nature of all Nations into ours, and made this land like Arras, full of deuise, which was Broade-cloth, full of workemanshippe.” 77

Obviously many patriotic Englishmen believed that their inconstant compatriots’ preference for foreign wares would have a devastating effect on their native heritage. It appeared very likely that many English people would abandon their native culture, believing it uncivilized, for more sophisticated European cultures. Englishmen travelling abroad sometimes came home favoruing the French, Italian and Spanish languages, so alienated from their native tongue that they declared it a barren and barbarous language.78 As in language, so also in ideas and education. Even those who stayed at home sometimes thought the worst of their own nation in learning, experience, common reason, or wit, “preferring always a stranger rather for the name than the wisdom.”79 In 1592 Sir John Stradling explained that it was a particular fault of the English that, “as we admire and entertaine strange artificers before our owne, so wee wonder at, and more willingly intreate of learning with the learned forrainer, then with our own natiue countrey man.”80 Forty years later the playwright John Ford connected the Englishman’s traditional inconstancy with a disturbing uncertainty about the value of his own culture. Englishmen thought their own products and customs were ‘nothing’ when compared to those of foreign lands. Rather than “fantastic,” Ford portrayed the English as an uncertain people who disparaged their own “fair abundance, manhood [and] beauty.”81 In the 1570s Gabriel Harvey attacked Englishmen who had transformed themselves into French Monsieurs and Italianate Seigniors:

… nothinge is reputid so contemptible, and so baselye and vilelye accountid of as whatsoever is taken for Inglishe, whether it be handsum fasshions in apparrell, or seemely and honorable in behaviour, or choise wordes and phrases in speache or anye notable thinge else in effecte that savorith of our owne cuntrye, and is not ether merely or mixtely outlandishe.82
Like so many others, Harvey feared that the Englishman’s preference for foreign novelties would have a devastating effect on England’s traditional culture. The English people’s love of novelties would allow them no confidence in their own heritage, and many commentators feared the impending destruction of the English people’s sense of cultural identity and even of their sense of national self-respect. No indigenous culture could survive its people’s addiction to foreign new-fangles.

Much of this concern about the Englishman’s fascination for foreign goods, for novelties, occurred because of the increased contact with European ideas, cultures and goods from the sixteenth century on. Today we might view the English community’s delight with European goods, customs and ideas less as an inherent flaw in their character, than a natural delight in an increased access to foreign markets. We live in an age where novelty and new fashion — in whatever sphere — is commonplace and generally accepted. Yet what we might regard as a natural reaction to increased choice, early modern peoples often regarded with horror as a socially destructive phenomenon. Even as late as 1673 a popular adage accounted those men who adopted novelties as the principal danger to the commonwealth.83

Attitudes toward change in early modern England were ambivalent; while many English men and women eagerly embraced changes, or novelties, many oth ers deplored their compatriots’ actions. For the English people of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with no experience other than that of a society and culture used only to slow change and adaptation, and existing in a traditionally isolated community, the growing influence of new and strange customs and ideas in their homeland was inherently threatening, while their countrymen’s seeming addiction to novelties simply deepened the threat. In reaction, some commentators turned to the convenient medieval explanation of the Englishman’s naturally unsteady character. For many Englishmen, the sole explanation they could find for a rapidly changing society was that the English character was so unsteady, or faithless, that the English were preoccupied with novelties in goods, ideas and culture: a situation that they believed had only a disastrous potential for the continuing stability of England’s political, religious, social and cultural orders.

1 One of the most recent discussions of medieval national characteristics is by Paul Meyvaert, “‘Rainaldus est maul scriptor Francigenus’ — Voicing National Antipathy in the Middle Ages”, Speculum 66 (October, 1991): 743-763. For one of the wittiest early modern examples of descriptions of the various European nationalities see Andrew Boorde, Introduction of Knowledge (written 1542), ed. Frederick J. Furnivall (London, 1870).

2 Boorde, pp. 156-157. In all my citations from medieval and early modern sources I have expanded abbreviations but have otherwise left the original punctuation and spelling intact.

3 William Camden quoted Higden in 1605 when referring to the Englishman’s flawed character; Camden, Remains Concerning Britain (1605), ed. R. D. Dunn (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1984), p. 19. See pp. xii-xiii for Dunn’s comments on the popularity of Higden’s Polychronicon. In 1642 James Howell alluded to certain ill-favoured prophecies of England regarding the Englishman’s inconstancy in apparel that Higden recited; Instructions for Forreine Travell (1642 and 1650), ed. Edward Arber (London, 1869), p. 68; Ranulph Higden, Polychronicon Ranulphi Higden Monachi Cestrensis, ed. Churchill Babington (London, 1869), II, the text of the anonymous fifteenth-century translator, p. 173. All further citations from Higden are those of the fifteenth-century translator.

4 Higden, II, pp. 169 and 171. In volume I, p. 357, Higden also claimed that the Irish were an inconstant and variable people.

5 Ibid., p. 169.

6 Ibid., p. 169.

7 Boorde, p. 116.

8 John Lyly, Euphues and his England (1580), eds. Morris W. Croll and Harry Clemons (New York: Russell & Russell, 1964), p. 421; William Harrison, The Description of England (1587), ed. Georges Edelen (New York: Folger Shakespeare Library, 1968), p. 145; Camden, pp. 20-21; Thomas Dekker, The Seuen deadly Sinnes of London (1606), ed. Alexander B. Grosart, The Non-Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker (London, 1885), II, the essay on “Apishness”, p. 59; and [Robert Codrington], A Discourse upon some Innovations of Habits and Dressings, appended to Francis Hawkins, Youths Behaviour, or Decency in Conversation Amongst Men (London, eighth edition 1663), p. 54 are only a few of the authors who mentioned Boorde’s characterization of the uncertain Englishman.

9 Comment by Robert Copland in the mid-sixteenth century, cited in Edwin Haviland Miller, The Professional Writer in Elizabethan England (Cambridge, Mass., 1959), p. 70.

10 Edward Moorcroft to William Cecil, 1 January 1567, Calendar State Papers Foreign (1566-1568), item 879, p. 161. Following established concepts, Moorcroft also connected the French with pride, the Spanish and Italians with whoring, the Sicilians and Irish with thieving, and the Flemings and Germans with heavy drinking.

11 Harrison, p. 359.

12 Robert Yarington, Two Lamentable Tragedies (produced 1594), in A Collection of Old English Plays, ed. A. H. Bullen (New York, 1882-1889), IV, p. 12.

13 Ibid., p. 357.

14 Joseph Hall, Quo vadis? A Ivst Censvre of Travell as it is commonly vndertaken by the Gentlemen of our Nation (London, 1617), p. 40. Hall included a long list of the evil fruits of his countrymen’s tendency to borrrow from other nations, pp. 75-80.

15 Stephen Perlin, Description of the Kingdoms of England and Scotland, in R. B. Morgan, ed., Readings in English Social History (Cambridge: C.U.P., 1923), pp. 254-255.

16 Cardinal Morone to Cardinal Pole for Julius III, 21 December 1553, cited in G. B. Parks, “The First Italianate Englishman,” Studies in the Renaissance 8 (1961): 214 and note.

17 Cited in William Brenchley Rye, ed., England as Seen by Foreigners (New York: Benjamin Blom, 1967), p. 69.

18 Ibid., pp. 70-71.

19 John Hall, The Court of Virtue (1565), ed. Russell A. Fraser (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1961), pp. 351-352.

20 Phillip Stubbes, The Anatomie of Abuses (London, 1583), folios C and Gvii (margin comment). As a Puritan, Stubbes was particularly distressed by his countrymen’s addiction to new-fangles.

21 Harrison, p. 359.

22 For some examples, see discussion below on political and religious changes within English society, pp. 9-11.

23 Peter of Blois to Richard, bishop of Syracuse, mid-twelfth century, in G. B. Parks, The English Traveller to Italy (Rome: Edizioni di Storia E Letteratura, 1954), I, p. 220.

24 Peter of Celle to Nicholas of St Albans, ca. 1178, in R. W. Southern, Medieval Humanism and Other Studies (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1970), p. 146. For a slightly different translation and commentary see Meyvaert, p. 750.

25 John Gower, Confessio Amantis, ed. Reinhold Pauli (London, 1857), III, pp. 109-110.

26 William Caxton, transl. and pub., Eneydos (1490), folio A verso.

27 Camden, p. 198.

28 Joseph Hall, pp. 79-80.

29 James Howell, A German Diet: Or, the Ballance of Europe (London, 1653), pp. 53-54. Howell used the pretence of reporting the speeches of sundry German princes to express his own views both on English and on European affairs.

30 Sir Thomas Baines to Sir Heneage Finch, June 1676, Historical Manuscripts Commission, Finch, II, p. ix.

31 Lacey Baldwin Smith argues in Treason in Tudor England that the Tudor authorities were so paranoid about treason that they considered anything outside the ‘norm’ inherently treasonous because it might shatter the fragile harmony of the realm; (London: Jonathan Cape, 1986), particularly chapter III, “The Agreement of Its Minds”.

32 “The Coppye of the L. Keepers oration in the Starre Chamber vttered before divers of the Counseyle & others the xxviiith daye of Nouember, Ano 1567,” PRO SP 12/45/3.

33 Higden, II, p. 169; William of Malmesbury, Chronicle of the Kings of England, ed. J. A. Giles (London, 1847), p. 291.

34 Sir Thomas Malory, Morte Darthur, in Malory Works ed. Eugène Vinaver (London: O.U.P., London, 1971), pp. 708-709. These remarks are Malory’s own contribution rather than ideas he borrowed from French and English sources; Vinaver, ed., The Works of Sir Thomas Malory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), III, p. 1647.

35 Ibid.

36 Boorde, p. 117.

37 Ibid., p. 119.

38 Edward Hall, Hall’s Chronicle (New York: AMS Press, 1965 facsimile ed. of 1809 edition), p. 359.

39 Perlin, pp. 254-255. See Boorde, p. 118, for the Italian proverb that “the land of England is a good land, but the people be yl.”

40 Calendar State Papers and Manuscripts relating to English Affairs: Venice and Northern Italy, VII (1558-1580), p. 328. Report concerning King Philip of Spain, presented by Michiel Sociano (Surian), late Ambassador with his Majesty, to the most Serene Signory.

41 Ibid.

42 Rye, p. 13.

43 Not only may Cecil have remembered Moorcroft’s letter, he and Elizabeth may particularly have had Malory’s words in mind. Roger Ascham (who was certainly in a position to know) remarked in The Scholemaster (written between 1564 and 1567) that he knew a time when God’s Bible was banished at court, and “Morte Arthur received into the prince’s chamber”; Roger Ascham, The Scholemaster (1570), inThe Whole Works of Roger Ascham, ed. J. Giles (London, 1864-1865), III, p. 159.

44 February? 1570, PRO SP 12/66/147 verso, corrections in Sir William Cecil’s hand. Somewhat prophetically for a later monarch, in 1617 Joseph Hall claimed that the English, through their love of novelties, had learned the “bloudy and tragicall science of King-killing; the new diuinitie of disobedience and rebellion”; Hall, p. 79. Hall produced a long list of the evil fruits of his countrymen’s tendency to borrrow from other nations, pp. 75-80.

45 Cardinal Morone to Cardinal Pole for Julius III, 21 December 1553, cited in Parks, “The First Italianate Englishman,” p. 214 and note. Morone’s exact words were, “quei popoli di natura feroci et instabili et assuefatti alle novità”; Parks translated this as “by nature fierce and unruly and given to change”, but an equally correct and more literal translation is “by nature fierce and unruly and given to novelties”.

46 SP Ven., VII, p. 328.

47 John Hall, pp. 352-353.

48 Phillip Stubbes, The Second Part of the Anatomie of Abuses , ed. Arthur Freeman (New York: Garland Press, 1973), folio E8 verso.

49 Stubbes, The Anatomie of Abuses, folio Bvii verso.

50 Thomas Lodge, Wits Miserie and the Worlds Madnesse (London, 1596), p. 14.

51 Joseph Hall, p. 79.

52 In itself, complaints about inappropriate dressing were closely linked with concerns over the stability of the social heirarchy. See N. B. Harte, “State Control of Dress and Social Change in Pre-Industrial England,” in D. C. Coleman and A. H. John, eds., Trade, Government and Economy in Pre-Industrial England (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1976), pp. 132-165, particularly pp. 134-148, and Joseph Strutt, A Complete View of the Dress and Habits of the People of England (reprint of 1842 edition, London: The Tabard Press, 1970), II, p. 117. See also David Cressy, “Describing the Social Order of Elizabethan and Stuart England,” Literature and History, vol. III (1976), pp. 29-44, for some of the ways early modern commentators defined ranks within their society.

53 It was not only concerns regarding the social order of society that drove the English government to enact these sumptuary laws, but also a concern with the balance of payments. Imported cloth and clothing impoverished the English realm while foreign nations profited. Nevertheless, economic motives remained secondary, the Acts of Apparel were primarily intended to impose order on society, “a person’s dress should reflect his station in life”; Harte, pp. 137-139.

54 Harte, pp. 139-140.

55 John Hall, p. 352.

56 [Thomas Lodge], Wits Miserie, and the Worlds Madnesse (London, 1596), pp. 13-14.

57 Robert Greene, A Quip for an Upstart Courtier (1592), in The Life and Complete Works in Prose and Verse of Robert Greene M.A., ed. A. B. Grosart (London, 1881-1886), XI, p. 238. The Quip was an expanded version of the lesser known and anonymous The Debate Between Pride and Lowlines (London, ca. 1570).

58 The Institucion of a gentleman (London, 1555), folio Giii.

59 Greene, p. 294.

60 Ibid., p. 260.

61 Ibid., pp. 234-235.

62 A Quip went through many editions in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

63 [William Rankins], The English Ape, The Italian imitation, the Footesteppes of Fraunce (London, 1588), p. 7.

64 Ibid., pp. 9-10. See also p. 13.

65 Ibid., p. 19.

66 In an epigram written about 1513 Thomas More derided Frenchified Englishmen who scorned their native heritage in preference for French clothes and manners; Thomas More, Latin Epigrams (written about 1513), in The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, eds. C. H. Miller, L. Bradner, C. A. Lynch and R. P. Oliver (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1984), vol. III, Part II, pp. 153-155. An early 1520s ballad, Treatyse of this Galaunt, satirized the Frenchified gallant who imported into England new-fangled fashions, ideas, manners and vices that were rapidly destroying traditional English society; F. J. Furnivall, ed., Ballads from Manuscripts (London, 1868-1872), I, pp. 445- 453. Another contemporary poem, Now-A-Dayes, also blamed the importation of French wares as well as the vice of ‘new fangle’ for the moral decay of English society, ibid., p. 99. These are only a few examples of early sixteenth-century concern.

67 Cyuile and uncyuile life (London, 1579), folio B verso.

68 For a discussion of anti-foreign sentiment in Elizabethan England see Richard Lindabury, Patriotism in the Elizabethan Drama (Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1931), especially chapter VI, “Foreign Manners and Morals” and Chapter VII, “The Alien Invasion”; and Zera Silver Fink, “Anti-Foreign Sentiment in Tudor and Early Stuart Literature,” unpublished Ph. D. dissertation, Northwestern University, 1931. For expressions of cultural anxiety and some attempts to clearly define an English cultural identity during the early modern period, see Richard Helgerson, Forms of Nationhood (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1992); J. D. Alsop, “William Fleetwood and Elizabethan Historical Scholarship”, Sixteenth Century Journal 25 (1994): 155-176 is briefly useful. See my Images of Educational Travellers in Early Modern England (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995), Chapter VII, for a more detailed discussion of the early modern belief that the English people’s love of novelties corrupted England’s traditional culture and heritage.

69 G.N. Garmonsway, ed., The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (London: Everyman, 1953, reprint 1990), p. 115.

70 Malmesbury had undoubtedly read the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and probably took some of his material from that source.

71 Malmesbury, p. 148.

72 George Wither, Abvses Stript, and Whipt (London, 1613), Book II, “Satyre I,” p. 155. See pp. 150-157 for a full discusion of imitative English men and women.

73 Ibid., p. 152.

74 Ibid.

75 George Silver, Paradoxes of Defence (London, 1599), folio A4-A4 verso.

76 John Deacon, Tobacco Tortvred … (London, 1616), p. 10.

77 John Lyly, Midas, in The Complete Works of John Lyly, ed. R. Warwick Bond (Oxford; Clarendon Press, 1902), III, p. 114. First produced 1589.

78 George Pettie, trans., The Civile Conversation of M. Steeven Guazzo (1581), ed. Sir Edward Sullivan (London: Constable & Co. 1925), I, translator’s preface to the reader, pp. 9-10. See also Thomas Wilson’s comments in his Arte of Rhetorique (1560), ed. G. H. Mair (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1909), p. 162. I have not the space here to discuss the extensive debate about the merits (or not) of the English language in early modern England; see Albert C. Baugh and Thomas Cable, A History of the English Language (London: Routledge, third edition 1990), esp. chapter 8, “The Renaissance, 1500-1650”; for a recent discussion of some aspects of this debate see Helgerson, Chapter I.

79 Lyly, Euphues and his England, pp. 423-424.

80 Sir John Stradling, A Direction for Trauailers (London, 1592) folio B3.

81 John Ford, Love’s Sacrifice (produced 1632), Act I, scene i, in John Ford, ed. Havelock Ellis (London, 1888), p. 290.

82 Gabriel Harvey, The Letter-book of Gabriel Harvey, ed. E. J. Long Scott (London, 1883-1884), p. 66.

83 [Richard Head], The Canting Academy (London, 1673), p. 157.

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