The Bacon brothers and the theatres, Part 2 of 2
Bishopsgate, LondonBishopsgate was one of the major entrance ways to the City of London. The tiny parish of St Helen's in Bishopsgate, was William Shakespeare's first home in the city, and was conveniently located for those theatre-types who needed to commute to Shoreditch.
Outside the city gate was the original site of Bedlam, the infamous lunatic asylum (now the site of the ever so slightly saner Liverpool Street Station), along with the White Hart and Dolphin Inns. These three-storey hostels were able to accommodate several hundred guests (and their horses). The area was also home to market stalls selling second-hand clothes, pawnbrokers and metal foundries. The crowded tenement buildings of "Petty France," and a growing community of Jewish immigrants, were also to be found outside the gate.
Inside the gate was a vast and crowded array of Inns, restaurants and the many entertainments required to service the newly arrived visitor to London. Many of the Inns in the area, like the Black Bull, were also home to the small-scale theatres where William himself may have appeared on stage. As with any area that attracted tourists and revelers, Bishopsgate was a hotbed of crime; pickpockets and con men infested every street.
Anthony Bacon rented a house in Bishopgate in 1594 and lived there until his death in 1601. He must have had a particularly strong reason for moving to the house in Bishopgate. Anthony was now a semi-invalid, attacked by pain in both legs. The house sounds like the last place on earth someone in Anthony’s condition should be in:
“The doors which stand to the weather partly rotten with rain….Somewhat melancholy being of brick stepping down to the entrance….The coming to it with draining cock unpleasant….The boarding of great chamber much in decay.”
Lady Bacon was not long in voicing her objection to the whole project:
“Having some speech with Mr. Henshaw after you went hence touching your house taken in Bishopgate Street, and asking him what ministry there, he answered it was very mean. The minister there but ignorant. And he thought you should find the people there given to voluptuousness and the more to make them so, having but mean or not edifying instructions, and the Bull Inn there with continual interludes had even infected the inhabitants with corrupt and lewd dispositions. I marvel you did not first consider of the ministry as most of all needful, and then to live so near a place haunted with such pernicious and obscene plays and theatres able to poison the very godly. And do what you can, your servants shall be incited and spoiled. Good Lord, thought I, how ill follows it out for the choice. No ministry at Twickenham either. Surely I am very sorry you went from Gray’s Inn where there was good Christian company in comparison. But your men always overrule you.”
It has been suggested that Anthony moved there so he could be available for duties provided by Essex, but if that was the reason, his Gray’s Inn lodging would have served as well. A closer look throws light on Anthony Bacon’s motivation. Anthony was almost next door to the Bull Inn, where plays were performed, and near Shoreditch where the Theatre and the Curtain were located. The brothers Burbage were already lodging in Bishopgate with their fellow-actors, which would have included William Shakespeare. It is apparent that Anthony was working for his brother Francis who had, by this time, been deeply involved with the playhouses. Significantly, in 1598 the Stratford man became a lodger in Silver Street. Nicholas Bacon had owned tenements there which he bequeathed to Anthony, and 1598 was when the name William Shakespeare first appeared on a play written by Francis. So there was a need for more secure control over the Stratford man. One suggestion is that the Bacon brothers did this by providing the actor free lodging in Silver Street.
Antonio Perez, the King of Spain's former Secretary of State was Philip II's exiled minister, who defected and escaped Spain to France in 1591. He came to England in 1593 to live in London, persona grata, first at Bishopgate with Anthony Bacon and then at Essex House, where Essex gave Perez a suite or rooms--Perez having offered intelligence to Essex in December 1594. Perez was the model for Don Adriana de Armado in Love's Labour's Lost. A forum post on this topic was posted here sometime earlier.
See page 125 for a diagram of Bishopsgate and its theatre inns:
From page 127:
“The Bishopsgate inns were also centres of theatrical shows. Most famous was the Black Bull, which Shakespeare would have known and where he may have acted. Early in Elizabeth’s reign it was converted into a theatre inn with a permanent stage. The Black Bull had become such a well-known venue when Shakespeare was a boy that John Florio mentions it in his English-Italian phrase book of 1578 (‘Where shal we goe? To a playe at the Bull’). In 1583 it was licensed as a regular London venue for the Queen’s Men and they played here ‘oftentimes’. So if Shakespeare was indeed with the Queen’s Men in the late 1580’s, this is where he would have played in London.