Dr Forman’s casebook

We are prey to the randomness of historical evidence. Whole tracts of Marie Mountjoy’s life are lost to us; we scrabble around for a few fragments of data, but know nothing of importance about her. She marries young; she works for a tailor; she gives birth to two children, one of whom dies. These things were important to her, of course, but they do not individuate her. What kind of person was she? What did she look like? At this more personal level she is little more to us than she was to the tax-collector who inscribed her as ‘——Mongey’.

And then for a moment we catch sight of her - a chance moment of actuality, recorded and preserved. It is a Saturday evening in the late summer of 1597, and she is looking somewhat vexed as she searches in her purse. ‘In Silver Street Mary Mountioy of 30 years lost out of her purse in the street as she went the 10 of Septembris last between 7 & 8 at night a gold ring, a hoop ring & a French crown.’ A couple of months later, the valuables still missing, she took a course that to us seems quaint but which was then the height of fashion: she went down to Philpot Lane in Billingsgate to consult the ‘cunning-man’ Simon Forman - ‘Oracle Forman’, as Ben Jonson called him - one of whose specialities was the recovery of lost or stolen objects. It is from Dr Forman’s casebook, under the date 22 November 1597, that the brief account above is taken (see Plate 15).38

We can sympathize with her loss. A French crown, a coin which circulated widely in England, had a value of about 7 shillings - perhaps about £70 at today’s prices. Together with the two rings, one of gold and the other possibly set with precious stones, she was down, in our terms, by some hundreds of pounds. To this is now added the cost of Forman’s services. He typically charged 3s 4d for a ‘councell’ or consultation in his surgery. (A course of medical treatment was considerably more - up to £12 - but not applicable on this occasion.)39

A hoop ring (or ‘hop rynge’ in Forman’s spelling) was a single band, usually of gold or silver, and often with a romantic ‘posy’ or motto carved inside it. Such a ring Graziano unwisely parts with in The Merchant of Venice -

a hoop of gold, a paltry ring

That she [Nerissa] did give me, whose posy was 

For all the world like cutler’s poetry 

Upon a knife: ‘Love me and leave me not.’ (5.1.147-50)

Mr Stephen carries one in his purse, in Jonson’s Every Man in his Humour (1598) - a ‘jet ring Mistress Mary sent me’, with the posy, ‘Though fancy sleep, my love is deep’ - and sends her another in return, less felicitously inscribed, ‘The deeper the sweeter, I’ll be judged by St Peter’ (2.2.33-9).

Dr Forman duly performed the astrological calculations, or ‘figure casting’, for which he was being paid, and these can be seen in the entry in his casebook. The figure is a grid of twelve squares, each representing a part (or ‘house’) of the heavens; it is an ‘horary’ figure, based on the position of the planets at the precise hour of the consultation. A later astrologer, William Lilly, notes that Forman was particularly ‘judicious and fortunate’ in ‘horary questions (especially thefts)’, so it seems Mrs Mountjoy had chosen well. She witnesses Forman’s performance - almanacs and ephemerides, consultations and calculations, and perhaps some ‘winking or tooting through a sixpenny Jacob’s staff’ (as Nashe irreverently puts it - a ‘Jacob’s staff’ was a kind of sextant used by astrologers).40 In the diary of the law student John Manningham there is an anecdote about a man who lost his purse, and - much like Marie - ‘resorted unto’ a cunning-man to ‘helpe him to it by figur-casting’. In this case the astrologer performs a little ritual: ‘he caste a paper into the chaffing dishe of coales which he placed before them’ and told the customer ‘he should looke in the glasse to see the visage of him that had it [the purse]’. It turns out this is a prank - the wizard is a friend in disguise - but the procedure may be authentic. A real cunning-man, Abraham Savory (whose earlier career was as an actor), claimed he could find lost or stolen goods ‘with the help of a familiar spirit who appeared to him at night as a naked arm’.41

Another method for finding lost goods was to make a talisman or sigil, as this:

To know wher a thinge is yt is stolen

Take vergine waxe & write upon yt Jasper + Melchiser + Balthasar + & put yt under his head to whom the good parteyneth & he shall knowe in his sleape where the thinges is become.

This appears, oddly enough, in the diary of the theatrical impresario Philip Henslowe, among the box-office receipts and cash advances to needy authors which are the diary’s more customary contents. The note is from an undated section of the diary, but nearby folios have records from 1596. It is possible the instructions for this talisman were provided by Dr Forman himself, for in 1596 Henslowe consulted him about some goods stolen from his house.42 We may tentatively add a little sequel to Marie’s visit to Forman - the inscribing of words and letters on a little sigil of ‘virgin wax’, the placing of it under her pillow in her bedroom on Silver Street.

I do not want to add credulousness to our still-meagre list of attributes for Marie Mountjoy. Forman was consulted by Elizabethans of all walks of life (except the poorest, who could not afford his charges). His surviving casebooks, which cover nearly six years, record over 8,000 consultations.43 We may smugly call him a charlatan, but he was genuine in his beliefs - he was not, as many were, a deliberate trickster - and probably had genuine qualities as a healer. A self-taught man, he was hounded by the Royal College of Physicians as an unlicensed practitioner. He criticized their methods, disdaining diagnosis by ‘paltry pisse’ (urinoscopy) and advocating moderate use of blood-letting. He speaks defiantly of his efficacy - and his courage - in treating victims of London’s plague epidemics:

Then cam the plague in sixtie thre [1603] 

Whence all theis Docters fled. 

I staid to save the lives of many 

That otherwise had bin ded.44

He was a small, ugly, pugnacious man with a ferocious sexual appetite, to which many women, both patients and otherwise, responded. Various liaisons and seductions are discreetly recorded in the casebooks, tuned like everything else to the ‘horary’ disposition of the planets. His codeword for sexual intercourse was ‘halek’, which according to Jonathan Bate ‘has lexical resemblances to the Greek for “to grind” and “to fish”, both Elizabethan slang for having sex’, but which John Bossy derives more straightforwardly from Greek alektur, ‘cock’.45

The locus classicus of Forman studies is still A. L. Rowse’s Casebooks of Simon Forman (1974). Though supplanted and sometimes corrected by later studies, it was the first to sample the rich, dense sociology of the casebooks, which were then little known (and which are still unpublished). It was Rowse who spotted the Mountjoy entries, which he announced in an article in The Times, ‘The Secrets of Shakespeare’s Landlady’, on 23 April 1973. His chief quarry in the casebooks, however, was Emilia Lanier, the Italian-Jewish musician’s daughter whom he proposed, for seemingly cogent reasons, as the ‘Dark Lady’ of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. But Rowse’s research was flawed by a certain magisterial carelessness, and it was soon pointed out that Forman had not actually described Emilia Lanier as ‘brown’ (dark), but as ‘brave’ (beautiful, with an overtone of showiness), and that he did not give her husband’s forename as William (which would tie in neatly with wordplay on ‘will’ in the Sonnets) but as Alfonso.46 There are also some misreadings in Rowse’s information on the Mountjoys. Forman resembles modern doctors in at least one respect - his handwriting can be very difficult to read.

Forman consulted the stars to locate lost objects, but would also have employed more terrestrial methods. We may suppose he asked Mrs Mountjoy something further of the circumstances, rather as a policeman or detective might do. Whom did she see around the time that the objects went missing? Was there anyone she suspected of stealing them? Some such questions, perhaps, lie behind an interesting list of three names written down by Forman immediately below the astrological symbols. They are:

Henri Wood in Colman Street 

Alis Floyd w[ith] my Lady of Hunstdean 

Margaret Browne that was her servant

Mr Wood of Coleman Street we will meet shortly, and find that Forman had good reason to note him down as a figure of importance in Marie’s life. For the moment it is the two women, not mentioned by Rowse, who interest me.

Margaret Browne’s relationship to Mrs Mountjoy is explained in Forman’s note: she was an ex-servant. She is doubtless the Margery Browne who was baptized at St Olave’s on 14 February 1574: a local girl. Beneath her name Forman scribbles a brief description: ‘a talle wentch freckled face’. One should resist hearing a pejorative overtone in the word ‘wench’; it simply meant a girl or young woman (Middle English wenchel, ‘child’). The interest of the description is its provenance - Forman is quoting, or at least summarizing, the words of Marie Mountjoy. In the Belott- Mountjoy suit we hear her only faintly and retrospectively: she died some years before the case came to court. Here the phrasing comes from her direct. She is there in Forman’s fusty consulting room, among the sinister trinketry of his trade; she speaks and he writes. If I want to summon up a sense of Marie I imagine her saying the word ‘freckled’ in a French accent.

The date of Margaret Browne’s birth encourages the possibility that she is also the ‘Mary Browne of 24 yeares’ who consulted Forman a few weeks later, on 27 December 1597. (The variant forename is quite normal - John Heminges’s daughter Margeret is called Mary in the marriage registers of St Mary Woolnoth; and Forman’s own grandmother appears indifferently in his writings as Marian and Margery.)47 This Mary Browne came to Forman because she thought she was pregnant. He notes, ‘She hath much gravell in her Reins & heat of the back, pains stomach; she supposeth herself with child.’

If this is indeed Mrs Mountjoy’s former servant, she was apparently having premarital sex, since Margery Browne of St Olave’s did not marry until November 1600, nearly three years later. Perhaps she and her future husband, who lived in neighbouring Aldersgate, were already lovers. Or perhaps - equally possibly - this tall, freckled maidservant had received, willingly or otherwise, the sexual attentions of the master of the house, Mr Mountjoy. There are other instances in the casebooks of serving girls pregnant by their master.48 As we have seen, Mountjoy would be ‘censured’ for exactly this, by the elders of the French Church - ‘[Il] fut censure’ . . . d’avoir eu 2 bastardes de sa servante.’ This refers to a much later liaison, when he was a widower: a different time and a different servant,49 but adding some colour to the possibility that the pregnant maid Margaret Browne was another of Mountjoy’s amorous accomplices or victims.

This is unsubstantiated tittle-tattle, just like the idea that Marie’s own baby, born and buried the previous year, was illegitimate. We are in search of facts but we listen also to the whispers - and this is the second such whisper suggestive of a certain sexual looseness in the Mountjoys’ marriage. The French Church elders also state that Mountjoy had been brought before a magistrate for his ‘lewd acts and adulteries’ (paillardises & adultères), but they do not say when. The word ‘adultery’ makes one wonder if this happened during Marie’s lifetime. Probably not - the context would connect it to his later relationship with the maid and the bastardes produced by it. But again it throws a questioning light back on to the Mountjoys’ marriage.

The other woman mentioned by Marie, ‘Alis Floyd with my Lady of Huntsdean’, adds a rather different frisson of interest. Alice Floyd is also a servant - that is the meaning of ‘with’ in this context - but she is a servant or follower of a very illustrious mistress. ‘Huntsdean’ is Forman’s spelling of Hunsdon, as found elsewhere in the casebooks - ‘my old Lord of Hunstdean that was Chamberlain’.50 In that case he was referring to the 1st Lord Hunsdon, Henry Carey, who was Lord Chamberlain until his death in 1596. But when he writes of Lady ‘Huntsdean’ in November 1597, he is referring to the wife of the 2nd Lord Hunsdon, George Carey. She was Elizabeth n’e Spenser, and was noted as a patroness of writers. Among those who sing her praises were Edmund Spenser, who claimed kinship with her; Thomas Nashe, who dedicated to her his religious pamphlet of 1593, Christ’s Tears over Jerusalem; and the musician John Dowland, whose First Book of Songs and Ayres - dedicated to Hunsdon, and published this year 1597 - refers to her ‘singular graces towards me’.51

It is only a fleeting reference, but this is a first hint of contact between Marie Mountjoy and Shakespeare: an intersection of circles. George Carey, 2nd Lord Hunsdon, was the patron of Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. His father had been their first patron, when the troupe was inaugurated in 1594; George inherited both the company and, in early 1597, the Chamberlainship (which was a relief to the players, as the interim Chamberlain, Lord Cobham, was no friend to the theatre). In March 1597 the company put on Shakespeare’s comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor, hastily written to celebrate Hunsdon’s forthcoming investiture as a Knight of the Garter. It was performed before the Queen, at Whitehall Palace - Hunsdon was her cousin (he was a great-nephew of Anne Boleyn) and a favourite. According to tradition, it was she who suggested the basic theme of the play: ‘Falstaff in love’.52 Lady Hunsdon would have been a guest of honour at this gala performance, and perhaps her servant Alice Floyd was somewhere in the audience as well.

Alice herself remains elusive. She does not feature in Hunsdon’s will, where the only female servant of Lady Hunsdon mentioned is ‘Teesye Purdue my wives Gentlewoman’.53 The surname is Welsh, a variant of Lloyd, and is also found as Fludd or Flood. Perhaps Marie knows her because she is a relative of Humphrey Fludd, the stepfather of their apprentice, Stephen Belott. Another Elizabethan clan was the Fludds of Bearstead, Kent. Sir Thomas Fludd was a wealthy civil servant; his son was the future philosopher Robert Fludd, currently a student at Oxford, and soon to be established as an astrologer-physician like Forman. The Jane Fludd who appears in Forman’s casebooks is Robert’s sister-in-law, a rather racy young lady. It is possible Alice was related to these Fludds, though she was not one of Sir Thomas’s three daughters.54

That Marie knew Lady Hunsdon’s servant Alice Floyd in 1597 does not, of course, mean that she also knew Lord Hunsdon’s servant William Shakespeare in that year. We do not quite get contact, but we are close. This briefly mentioned and otherwise unknown Alice brings the two protagonists of this story into proximity with one another, and suggests the kind of courtly theatrical context in which they might have met: the tirewoman and the playmaker, not so very different in status.

Just ten days later, on 1 December 1597, Mrs Mountjoy is back in Dr Forman’s consulting room. This time she has a rather different matter to discuss, for she thinks she might be pregnant. ‘Videtur esse gravid x xi hebdomadas,’ Forman writes - she seems to be ten or eleven weeks pregnant. He briskly notes her symptoms: ‘pains head side stomach . . . swimming in the head, weakness in the legs’. He thinks she will miscarry: ‘7 weeks more’ and then it will ‘come from’ her.55

Marie was accompanied by another woman who also ‘seems to be pregnant’ - Ellen Carrell or Carowle (Forman gives both spellings). The lay-out and wording of the entry shows that the two women were seen together - perhaps a precaution, given the Doctor’s goatish reputation. This friend of Marie Mountjoy’s leads us once again into the literary world of late Elizabethan London. In this year 1597 there appeared on the bookstalls a collection of love-lorn sonnets entitled Laura: The Toyes of a Traveller, by ‘R.T., gentleman’. The author was one Robert Tofte, a dilettante poet and translator who had travelled on the continent for some years. The poet bewails, in standard Petrarchan vein, the cruel indifference of his mistress, and he drops some teasing hints as to her identity. In a prefatory poem she is called ‘la bellissima sua signora E.C.’ - ‘for thee only’, he says, the ensuing sonnets ‘were devisde’. This beautiful ‘E.C.’ - an older married woman - is further identified in some heavily signalled word-play in Sonnet 33 of Laura, where his passion for her:

gainst all sense makes me of CARE and IL 

More than of good and ComfoRT to have will.

The capitalized letters spell out the surname ‘Careil’ and then his own initials ‘R.T.’. Her name is confirmed in Tofte’s follow-up, Alba: The Months Mind of a Melancholy Lover (1598), where a similar crossword-clue -

Then constant CARE not comfort I do crave 

And (might I chuse) I CARE with L would have

- gives her surname as ‘Carel’. (The Elizabethans, I should add, loved this sort of à clef stuff.)56

Literary historians have sought in vain for Tofte’s mistress - W. C. Hazlitt thought her forename was ‘Euphemia’, but neglected to say why; Tofte’s Victorian editor, A. B. Grosart, thought she might be connected with Sir Edward Caryll of Bedstone, Sussex, but no suitably initialled female could be found. Here, surely, she is - Ellen Carrell, accompanying Marie Mountjoy to Dr Forman’s in December 1597. She has the right name; she is of the right sort of age (forty-two in 1597, according to Forman, some seven years older than her cavaliere servente Tofte); and she is in the right sort of social milieu. Tofte had spent three years in Europe, and his translations show him fluent both in French and Italian - he is one of those fashionably (or affectedly) continental Elizabethans who are guyed by satirists like Nashe. It would not be at all surprising if he and his ‘mistress’ knew the Mountjoys. Perhaps Ellen Carrell was one of their customers, as Alice Floyd and Lady Hunsdon may have been. Whether her pregnancy in December 1597 has also to do with Tofte cannot be known.

And if Marie’s friend is indeed Tofte’s muse, she swiftly brings us - as Alice Floyd did - to a contemporary performance of a Shakespearean comedy, for the chief reason why Tofte’s outpourings have not been long ago forgotten is that a sonnet in Alba contains the earliest-known allusion to Love’s Labour’s Lost:

Loves Labor Lost, I once did see 

A play ycleped so, so called to my paine, 

Which I to heare to my small joy did stay, 

Giving attendance on my froward dame, 

My misgiving mind presaging to me ill, 

Yet was I drawne to see it gainst my will.

There is, of course, no guarantee that Tofte is reporting an actual occasion, but we can at least take it as another literary clue about his troublesome (‘froward’) mistress, Mrs Care-ill or Carrell. She is a playgoer, and a ‘pleasant conceited comedie by W. Shakespeare’ - as Love’s Labours is described in the 1598 quarto - is just the kind of play you might see her at.57

Tofte’s fondness for semi-cryptic identifications is found else-where - in one poem he puns on the name of his landlady, Mrs Goodall; in another he calls the poet Samuel Daniel ‘him that title beres of prophets twaine’ - but one that catches my eye is not a literary pun but a handwritten annotation in Tofte’s own copy of the 1561 folio edition of Chaucer. There, beneath the prologue to Chaucer’s Testament of Love, Tofte wrote: ‘In lode de la Madama Marie M—donzella bellessa et gentildonna’ (In praise of My Lady [or Madame?] Marie M—, damsel, beauty and gentlewoman).58 ‘Damsel’ and ‘gentlewoman’ are hardly appropriate for her (if taken literally), but I am still tempted to wonder if the roving eye of Robert Tofte had alighted on Marie Mountjoy, the friend of Ellen Carrell. If so - and it is no more than an ‘if’ - we would learn for the first time that Marie was a ‘beauty’.

On 7 March 1598 Marie is back with Forman - her third and last visit, and one that would have required crossing the river to Lambeth, where Forman had moved at Christmas 1597, and where he lived till his death in 1611. She comes to ask if her husband will be sick: ‘Mrs Mountioy p [pro] marito suo Utrum egrotet.’59

Marie’s enthusiasm for the astrologer’s skills seems to have worked on her husband, for now ‘Mr Mountioy’ himself appears in the casebooks, twice, asking about his apprentice. The apprentice is not Stephen Belott but a young man called Ufranke de la Cole or Coles. The first entry, on 22 March, reads simply: ‘Mr Mountioy for his man qui abscurr’. The last word is a contraction of ‘abscurrit’ - Mountjoy’s question concerns an apprentice ‘who has absconded’. (Rowse tripped up here, misreading the Latin ‘qui abscurr’ as a name, ‘Gui Asture’, thus providing Mountjoy with an extra, fictitious French apprentice.) The second entry, a week later, tells us more: ‘Mr Mountioy for his man Ufranke de la Coles 1598 the 29 March. Qui abscurrit. He was in St Katherine’s and he came new [returned] unto Mountjoy’s house about the 29 March being Friday where he was taken & committed to prison.’60 It is not quite clear what the story is. Was Coles arrested because he had run away, thus breaking his indenture as an apprentice? Or had he run away in the first place to escape arrest for some other offence?

Coles may be related to Peter Coale, ‘picture-maker’, listed in the 1593 Return of Strangers. He was from Antwerp, but was French speaking, and a member of the French Church. He lived near by, in the parish of St Botolph’s, Aldersgate, and was himself in prison in 1593.61

Part of what makes Forman’s casebooks so vivid is the fact that they were written down live, on the spot, currente calamo. He asks, he listens, he observes, he writes. The words he writes are often formulaic - thus when a woman ‘supposeth herself with child’, a frequent formula, the phrase is Forman’s not hers - but nonetheless these entries in his casebooks are redolent of the physical presence of Marie Mountjoy as she explains to him the small dramas of her life and her body: the lost rings, the freckled wench, the swimming in her head, the ever-present possibility of pregnancy.

And then there are the revelations about her love-life. Beneath Forman’s brusque account of the missing valuables appears the name Henry Wood - a name volunteered by Marie. Was she visiting him on that September evening, when she lost those things from her purse ‘as she went’? It is not unlikely, for Wood himself soon makes an appearance in Forman’s casebooks, and one of his visits evokes a tremor of romance (see Plate 17) -

Mr Wood p [pro] Mari M 

Vtrum gerit Amorem erga 

alterum noc [nocte] 1598 the 

20 march62

There is no doubt that this ‘Mari M’ is Marie Mountjoy. Mr Wood comes to Forman after dark (nocte, ‘at night’), and he asks ‘whether she bears love towards the other man’ - a question which immediately suggests his own romantic involvement with her, and his fear of a rival. One perceives the hint of a narrative. In December 1597 Marie fears she is pregnant, which Forman seems to confirm - she is ten or eleven weeks gone. He also predicts she will miscarry, and as there is no evidence of any child born to Marie in 1598 we might think he was right. A few months later her lover Henry is fretting that she no longer cares for him. Perhaps the alteration in her feelings was precipitated by this narrow escape from the personal and practical difficulties of an illicit pregnancy - possibly not her first. This is speculation, but that Marie had some kind of affair with Wood seems fairly certain from the wording of his query.

Henry Wood, as we learn from other entries in Forman’s casebooks - which concern affairs of business rather than the heart - was a ‘mercer’, by definition a general trader but in Elizabethan usage a trader in cloth. He was born on 18 August 1566, a punctilious piece of information (Forman usually only gives a querent’s age in years) which perhaps reflects a punctiliousness of Mr Wood’s. He was thus about the same age as Marie. He was himself married, so if there was an affair between them it was doubly duplicitous. The Woods lived down Swan Alley, a little sidestreet off Coleman Street too insignificant to appear on the Agas map or in Stow’s Survay. Coleman Street itself, running up from Cheapside to Moorgate, was an important street of well-to-do merchants’ houses. It could be reached from Marie’s house in about ten minutes, walking east along Addle Street and across Aldermanbury.

We learn a little of Henry Wood’s dealings in the import- export business. In early December 1597, while Marie worries about pregnancy, Wood sails to Amsterdam with two ‘hoys’ (small trading vessels), the Paradise and the Griffin. A few weeks later he is asking Forman if he will get a good price for his ‘Holland cloth’ in France. He also asks if he should buy a consignment of ‘bay salt’ (salt from the Bay of Biscay). In the summer of 1598 he has business problems: ‘It seemeth that his goods will be attached [confiscated].’ But perhaps the malaise is personal too - Forman divines, ‘Some great enemy will proffer him friendship but treachery will follow.’ Wood was a householder and a businessman, but not a very big fish: in the Coleman Street subsidy lists of 1599 he is assessed on goods valued at £3.63

Sometimes it is Mrs Wood who visits Forman, anxious for Henry’s safety on his trips abroad. On one occasion, she fears he has been ‘taken by the Dunkirkers’ - pirates in the English Channel. Forman reassures: ‘They away shall arrive safe, so shall himself also, & let him take heed & look well, and he shall pass very swiftly within these 3 days.’ And then there is a further twist, as Mrs Wood comes to ask Forman if she should ‘keep shop’ with Marie Mountjoy. ‘They may join,’ he opines, ‘but take heed they trust not out their wares much, or they shall have loss.’ We can surmise that the shop would combine the cloths imported by Henry Wood with the couturier skills - and perhaps the upmarket clientele - of the Mountjoy workshop. The relationship between Henry and Marie is thus commercial as well as carnal. Mrs Wood discusses a partnership with Marie, apparently unaware of any backstairs intrigue between Marie and her husband. Marie is a deceiver in this, though of course her relationship with Henry may now be over.

On the last page of Forman’s casebook for 1597 is another brief note about Marie Mountjoy (see Plate 18).64 The contents of the page are miscellaneous - fragments of information and gossip, non-astrological, generally mundane. There are five distinct chunks of writing; the first two, which fill up most of the page, are dated early January 1598. The others, more in the nature of jottings, are not necessarily the same date, but are likely to be before 20 February, when Forman began a new casebook.

The note on Marie consists of three words, of which two are her name. Rowse comments: ‘A tantalizing marginal note reads: “Mary Mountjoy alained” - which means concealed.’ I am unconvinced by this reading. First, ‘alain’ is not a word recognized by any dictionary I have consulted, including the OED, which sails serenely from ‘alaik’ (an obsolete form of ‘alack’) to ‘alala’ (a Greek battle-cry). Second, the orthography does not support the reading. The word is hard to read because it is written in an oddly narrow, squashed-up script, and because much of it is a series of minims almost impossible to differentiate. In my view, what Forman wrote after Marie Mountjoy’s name is not the tantalizing but non-existent ‘alained’, but something rather more prosaic - her address. The word is ‘olaive’, referring to her parish of St Olave.65 Addresses feature in other memoranda on the page.

Immediately below this is another line, almost certainly written at the same time, so in effect Forman has written a short list, as follows:

mari Mountioy / olaive / 

madam Kitson yellow haire /

This ‘Madam Kitson’ may be connected to the wealthy Catholic Sir Thomas Kitson. If so she is a relative of another woman found in conjunction with Marie in the casebooks - Lady Hunsdon, who was Sir Thomas Kitson’s niece. Sir Thomas and his wife Elizabeth lived in a stately pile in Suffolk, Hengrave Hall, but they were frequently in London. Their town-house was on Coleman Street, just round the corner from Marie’s lover and business partner Henry Wood. We see them in twin portraits by George Gower, commissioned in 1573 - he black bearded and high ruffed, she haughty and handsome with a tall plumed hat and a fur-collared gown. They were noted patrons of music, and had the madrigalist John Wilbye as their resident musician in Suffolk and London.66

Was Elizabeth herself the ‘Madam Kitson’ of Forman’s note? As the wife of a knight she was correctly addressed as Lady Kitson, so Forman’s ‘Madam’ (= ‘My Lady’) would be appropriate. It would also have been the form naturally used by a Frenchwoman: ‘Madame’. But what about the ‘yellow’ hair? If Gower’s portrait of her is accurate, Lady Kitson’s hair was ginger or auburn, and by early 1598, when she was in her early fifties, she was most likely grey.

But Forman’s jotting does not necessarily mean that Madam Kitson had yellow hair. This was my immediate interpretation, together with a suspicion of lechery in Forman’s noting of the fact. It may rather mean that she wanted some yellow hair - in other words, a blond wig or hairpiece. The use of ‘hair’ or ‘hairs’ to mean a wig was common, as in ‘a yellow hair and another like black’ which the Queen received as New Year’s gifts from the Countess of Essex.67 Or as in this bit of London repartee from Dekker’s Shoemaker’s Holiday (1600) -

MARGERY: Can’st thou tell where I may buy a good hair?

HODGE: Yes, forsooth at the poulterers in Gracious street.

MARGERY: Thou art an ungracious wag, perdy. I mean a false hair for my periwig. (3.4.47-50)

This would explain Forman’s apposition of Kitson’s name with Marie Mountjoy’s. Head-tires of the kind made by the Mountjoys often incorporated human hair, and the tiremaker’s skills included wigmaking. In Randall Cotgrave’s French dictionary of 1611, the skills are synonymous: he defines perruquière as ‘a woman who makes perriwigs or attires’. And it is also clear that blond hair was particularly prized in this respect. Shakespeare’s own references to female wigs envisage them as ‘golden’. In Sonnet 68 he writes of ‘golden tresses’ which ‘live a second life on second head’, and again, in The Merchant of Venice, ‘crisped snaky golden locks’ become ‘the dowry of a second head’ (3.2.92-5). Thomas Middleton refers to blond ‘periwigs’ worn by old courtiers, who ‘take it for a pride in their bald days to wear yellow curls on their foreheads’. Also apposite, though somewhat later, is an advertisement of 1663, in which a ‘perriwigge-maker’ announces that ‘anyone having long flaxen hayr to sell’ should ‘repayr unto him’.68

This is an odd but I believe plausible interpretation of Forman’s puzzling little memorandum. Its nature is entrepreneurial. It names a supplier and a customer; it summarizes a potential little deal that will do a favour to both, and thus to Forman. The commodity in question is a quantity of blond hair - not quite the elixir of youth sought in his alchemical activities, but more immediately obtainable.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at admin@erenow.org. Thank you!