Wednesday, November 11, 2015

P is for Progress GLORIANA! The ABC's of the Reign of Our Most Gracious Sovereign, Elizabeth

In the sixteenth century, a summer progress accomplished several items on an English monarch's to-do list:
  • avoid the 'plague season' in crowded, filthy London? Check.
  • change of scenery? Check.
  • avoid paying for building new palaces by staying with courtiers whose homes were in scenic parts of (southeast) England? Check.
  • keep an eye on sneaky, not-so-trusted courtiers by plopping oneself in their spare room for a few weeks? Check. 
  • remind subjects how much they love their queen by showing up in their town with all the splendor and spectacle they expect to see? Check.
Elizabeth I on progress; a time for off-loading daily expenses onto the bank accounts of her hosts.
While on progress, *technically* the queen's household treasury was responsible for expenses like feeding the queen and hundreds of courtiers, friends, entertainers, servants, servants of servants, and other hangers-on.

In reality, though, Elizabeth I had inherited her grandfather, Henry VII's parsimonious tendencies. 

In other words, she saw no good reason to pay for expenses she could foist off onto courtiers.

Why take on the expense to build palaces, as her father had done, when she owned many - but also had the option of staying in the palace-like homes of her courtiers?

Elizabeth I showing up at a courtier's home didn't involve just incidental spending; it meant putting down serious coin in order to NOT give offense to the queen, which might (definitely would) derail the courtier's future career.
Having her as a guest was no guarantee she'd give the host any special consideration when in the running for a lucrative royal position.
It was a lose/lose proposition and there was almost no getting out of it. 

The average noble host sighed, got out his wallet, and paid for:
Food - all the best. Enough to feed 600, twice a day. And much of it prepared creatively, whimsically, even - in order to entertain as well as to eat.
MPC Conjures a Taste of Magic for M&S Food's Christmas Spot
"Of course we eat this way every single night of our fabulous lives!"

Music - hire the best musicians; write lyrics extolling (or, just possibly, gently teasing - all in good fun, of course) the queen. Or hire someone to do it. They should be good at it, as well. Very good. Pressure, much?
"Of course we party this way every single night of our fabulous lives!"

Decoration - not just slapping a new coat of paint on the spare room's walls; if the queen were coming to visit, tapestries were woven, gardens begun, topiaries wrought, rivers diverted or ponds dug as part of pageantry entertainments, windows washed, everything that could be gilded or monogrammed (with guess whose initials?) was gilded or monogrammed, all details pleasing to the eye.
Elizabethan Garden, Kenilworth Castle
"Of course our garden always looks like that!"

Cleaning - clean out all rooms, sweep all floors, strew straw mixed with fragrant herbs on the floor of the great hall, make room for the queen's bedstead and dig an extra-deep trench for dealing with the inevitable product of a large number of people eating and drinking excessively.
DAY row of porta potties | Flickr - Photo Sharing!
"Of course, we always have that many toilets in the back yard!"

Entertainment - hire musicians, anyone in the family with any talent whatsoever practised their talent for showcasing it in front of the queen, have a play written and hire performers; plan outdoor tableau praising the beauty, the worthiness, the chastity of the queen - no expense spared; roughly the equivalent of staging a Beyonce show in the back yard
"Of course, we always have Beyonce onstage in the garden!"
 - and that would be one evening's entertainment. There would be thirteen or twenty-seven more nights to follow, depending on the length of the royal guest's visit. 

Those who hoped for a visit from the queen might try to entice her by building an architecturally interesting residence; one featuring many expensive glass windows, for example, or one shaped like an "E." 

(See 'monogram everything,' above.)
"Of course we've always had that over the front door!"

The expense and trouble it took to build an entire, impressive house  was no guarantee she'd take the time to visit; indeed, Elizabeth I's inheritance from her father, Henry VIII was being a crowd-pleaser.
Some people have an instant affinity for others and instinctively know the exact, right thing to say at all times.
Henry VIII had it, and so did his daughter.
She also had a bit of his capricious nature, and that showed itself in her habit of disregarding whatever progress course had been planned - and visiting towns not on the itinerary.
This led to much grumbling behind her back about costs associated with transitions to places not expecting a royal visit.
Elizabeth I paid roughly the same amount of attention her father did when his advisers grumbled. (Not much. Attention, that is.) 
 giphy (10)
By the time the visit to a private home drew to a close, host and hostess had serious worry over how much further in debt they could afford to go should the queen stay longer than expected.
When every dish was dirty, 
all the wine was gone and the barrels of ale were a memory;
"Of course! We always drink like this!"
when bones of oxen and sheep and swans and rabbit and whatever other critters had been served on dinner plates piled up, when not a clean bit of linen lay in any of the linen cupboards,

 when toilet facilities were filled to disgusting capacity, straw in the home's great hall, strewn with herbs to disguise smells whose sources are not talked about in polite company matted down and became dank, 
when host and hostess were reduced to exhausted shells of their former selves,
lack of energy
Yes. That tired.

 - then the queen moved on.
"Ta-ta, y'all, it's been simply too sublime for words!"

Little wonder her courtiers, in what had to have been a diplomatic verbal dance awesome to behold, begged the queen to not visit their home.

No God! Please No!
"And I mean 'please, NO!' in the nicest possible way."


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