Among Strangers

’coutez: d’hand, de fingre, de nayles, d’arma, de bilbow . . .

Henry V, 3.4.26-7


Blackfriars and Navarre

When he moved into the Mountjoys’ house in around 1603 Shakespeare was making a choice somewhat unusual among his contemporaries - he was choosing to live with foreigners. We find him among strangers. Is this a matter of chance and convenience, or does it tell us something about him? Or - to put the question in more practical form - what else do we know about his relationship with foreigners, and particularly with French people?

One of the first foreigners Shakespeare knew in London was a Frenchwoman, Jacqueline Field, the wife of the printer and publisher Richard Field. Field has a place in literary history as the publisher of Shakespeare’s first printed work, the narrative poem Venus and Adonis (1593); he also printed, for another publisher, Shakespeare’s follow-up, Lucrece (1594). The connection between them went back to childhood, for Field was a Stratford man, a couple of years older than Shakespeare. They were of much the same social class, a tanner’s son and a glover’s son, and for a time they were schoolfellows at Stratford grammar. When he was eighteen Field left for London, and there served apprentice with the Huguenot printer Thomas Vautrollier, who had a printing-shop in the Blackfriars. By the time Shakespeare himself arrived in London, Field’s circumstances were changing rapidly - in February 1587 he completed his apprenticeship; in July 1587 his master Vautrollier died; in 1588 he published his first book, in partnership with Vautrollier’s widow, Jacqueline; and on 12 January 1589 he cemented this new arrangement by marrying her. It is very likely Shakespeare knew the Fields at this stage, as he certainly did in 1593 when Field became his publisher.1

What do we know of Jacqueline? As she had a child by Richard Field in 1590, she cannot have been born much before 1550. Her maiden name was Dutwite. Her father, James, was living in the immigrant enclave of St Martin le Grand when he died in 1591. He may have known the Mountjoys, who were living in the area in the 1580s.2

Jacqueline’s first husband Thomas Vautrollier, a native of Troyes, was probably rather older than her. He had come to England in the late 1550s - he is first recorded working as a bookbinder - and was granted denizenship in 1562. They had at least four children. Vautrollier was a high-class printer, and business thrived: in the mid-1570s he was employing ‘six woorke-men, Frenchmen or Duchemen’ in his shop. He expanded his business into Scotland, and when he was away the busy Blackfriars printing-shop was managed by Jacqueline. In 1581 the Stationers’ Company noted that she was printing an edition of Cicero’s Epistles ‘in her husband’s absence’.3 Whether she also dallied with apprentices in her husband’s absence is not known - her later marriage to Field was obviously de convenance, a business partnership, whatever else it was. They had a son, Richard junior, in 1590. ‘Mr Field’s wife’, presumably Jacqueline, was buried at St Anne’s, Blackfriars, on 9 March 1611.

One would like to know more, but what there is seems to suggest some similarities between Jacqueline and Marie Mountjoy. Not personal similiarities, which we cannot know, but professional ones. They are two women very much involved in their husband’s business: energetic, capable, engage’es. It is sometimes thought that Shakespeare came to know the Mountjoys through his prior acquaintance with their compatriot Jacqueline, though in my view a theatrical connection is more likely. Both women considered their husband’s apprentice a good match - though in Jacqueline’s case a match for herself rather than for a daughter. And both, of course, were alluringly French.4

Shakespeare’s association with the Fields brought him into contact with a range of French news and views. Vautrollier had been a major producer of books in French or about French affairs. He had been encouraged in this by Lord Burghley, who saw propagandist advantage in a controlled output of French news at a time when English troops were supporting the Huguenot cause. Field inherited this role enthusiastically.5 At the Blackfriars shop Shakespeare could read French news and French philosophy, and - on a more practical note - the French language-manuals printed by Field such as Claude Hollyband’s French Littleton (1591) and G. de la Mothe’s French Alphabet (1592).

Field’s French connections - his wife, his authors, his publications - may be reflected in Shakespeare’s early comedy, Love’s Labour’s Lost, one of three plays he set in France (the others are As You Like It and All’s Well). The play’s location is the royal court of Navarre in southern France. It has a king who is named Ferdinand in the play, but who inevitably calls to mind the real king, Henri of Navarre; and a visiting French princess who has elements of Henri’s wife, Marguerite de Valois; and the King’s three companions (Berowne, Longaville and Dumain), who are named after actual followers of Henri (the Ducs de Biron, de Longueville and d’Aumont). A series of correspondences between the play and historical events in Navarre was worked out by Abel Lefranc in 1918, and though some are tenuous, there are striking parallels. The play’s ‘little Achademe’ of philosophical noblemen reflects Henri’s own academy, to which Marguerite refers humorously in a letter of 1582, and the arrival of the Princess of France reflects real embassies from Marguerite to Henri prior to their marriage. Before one such, at Nirac in 1578, the Duc de Sully promised: ‘On se livra au plaisir, aux festins et aux fˆtes galantes, ne nous amusant tous qu’à rire, danser et courir la bague’ (We will give ourselves up to pleasure, parties and pageantry, and do nothing but laugh, dance and gallivant).6 This is the festive, arcadian mood of Love’s Labours, set in a comedic version of Navarre - or rather, perhaps, set in a lost Navarre, for Henri was now King of France and the days of his ‘little Achademe’ were past.

Shakespeare’s knowledge of the Navarre court is not particularly inside knowledge, but it must have come from somewhere. No printed source has been identified (the memoirs of Marguerite de Valois, on which Lefranc drew for some of his parallels, were not published till 1628). Perhaps the source was a place - the Fields’ house in Blackfriars, where there were French people to talk to, and French books to consult, among them news pamphlets about Henri of Navarre such as the Oration and Declaration of Henrie IV, printed by Field in 1590.7 Love’s Labours is broadly dateable to c. 1593-5, composition thus coinciding with the printing of Venus and Lucrece at Field’s shop. The 1593 quarto of Venus is ‘exceptionally free’ of misprints, which probably means the author was on hand to correct the proofs.8

Venus was on the bookstalls by 12 June 1593, when an elderly civil servant named Richard Stonley noted his expenditure of a shilling ‘for the Survey of ffraunce with the Venus & Adhonay p[e]r Shakspere’. The book thus coupled with Shakespeare’s was John Eliot’s Survay or Topographical Description of France (1592) - more French news. It was published by John Wolfe, whose printing house in St Paul’s Churchyard was another centre of foreign-interest books. Eliot was a colourful Grub Street character and passionate Francophile, who was also - like Shakespeare and Field - a native of Warwickshire. He is another plausible source for Shakespeare’s interest in French affairs.9

One of the enigmatic jokes which litter Love’s Labour’s Lost refers to a ‘French brawl’ (3.1.7), and given the probable date of the play it has been suggested that this alludes to London’s anti-immigrant riots of April-May 1593. Shakespeare’s festive evocation of Navarre is set against the reality of London in 1593, where gangs of apprentices marched the streets chanting those murderous anti-French slogans -

Weele cutt your throates in your temples praying 

Not Paris massacre so much blood did spill.

These commotions are exactly contemporary with the printing of Venus and Adonis at the Blackfriars press of Richard Field, where the Frenchwoman Jacqueline would have felt their shockwaves.

The France of Love’s Labours - a locus of philosophical noblemen, ingenious repartee, coquettish court ladies, over-elaborate courtesies, masques, hunts, picnics - is a kind of riposte to current anti-French hysteria. I do not suggest Shakespeare wrote it to this end, but in writing it he gives a view of the French very different from the views of the xenophobe mob, and indeed different from his own jingoistic sorties against the French in his early Henry VI plays. There his view was determined by historical requirements, but in comedy he is free to roam in this rose-tinted France of the imagination, where love wrangles with philosophy.

Also connected with the anti-immigrant riots are some lines attributed to Shakespeare in the ‘Booke of Sir Thomas More’. This play about the great Tudor humanist and martyr, apparently never published and perhaps never performed, survives in a remarkable manuscript in the British Library, complete with marginal notes in the hand of Sir Edward Tilney, Master of the Revels, demanding cuts in the text (‘Leave out ye insurrection wholy and ye causes theroff,’ reads one curt instruction). The manuscript is written in six different hands, one of which - ‘Hand D’ - is argued on strong palaeographic evidence to be Shakespeare’s. In the single scene he contributed, he shows More pacifying the rioters of the ‘Ill May Day’ riots of 1517. The events depicted are parallel with the riots of 1593, and the play was possibly written around that date - hence the censor’s nervousness.10

In the scene, the leader of the aggrieved mob, John Lincoln, calls up the spectre of rising prices attributed to the influx of ‘strangers’. ‘He that will not see red herring at a Harry groat, butter at eleven pence a pound, meal at nine shillings a bushel, and beef at four nobles a stone, list to me.’ It will come to this, another adds, ‘if strangers be suffered’. Lincoln also complains about the foreigners’ eating habits. They ‘bring in strange roots, which is merely to the undoing of poor prentices, for what’s a sorry parsnip to a good heart?’ These exotic vegetables - ‘pumpions’ are also mentioned - are said to ‘breed sore eyes’, and to cause infection because they ‘grow in dung’. This is both ironic and authentic: the invented grievances of racism.

More replies with a finely argued plea for tolerance. The rioters want the refugees ‘removed’ - the perennial rhetoric of repatriation - but More asks them to contemplate the human reality of this expulsion:

Imagine that you see the wretched strangers, 

Their babies at their backs, with their poor luggage, 

Plodding to th’ ports and coasts for transportation . . .

And he cleverly asks them to imagine what it might be like to be a ‘stranger’, for this is exactly what they will be when they have been banished for their riotous behaviour. Thus he draws them into sympathy and identification. What would it feel like to be rejected by ‘a nation of such barbarous temper that . . . would not afford you an abode on earth’? To be subjected to acts of violence by people who ‘whet their detested knives against your throats’ and ‘spurn you like dogs’?

What would you think 

To be thus used? This is the strangers’ case, 

And this your mountainish inhumanity.

‘Mountainish’ is not found elsewhere in Shakespeare, but compare Coriolanus’ phrase ‘mountainous error’ (2.3.119), from a comparable scene in which he addresses a fractious mob; and also ‘waterish’ in King Lear (1.1.258).

Thus by a quirk of palaeographic fate, the only surviving literary manuscript by Shakespeare contains a compassionate speech on behalf of London’s immigrants, just as the only surviving record of his spoken words contains a reminiscence of events in the house of an immigrant family in London.

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