The me’nage

The marvellous Forman material allows us a glimpse into the lives of the Mountjoys, and particularly of Marie Mountjoy, in the later 1590s. We hear something of the people with whom her life is entwined - the adulterous mercer, the pregnant maid, the sonneteer’s mistress, the runaway apprentice, the charismatic magicotherapist. We hear also those names floating out from the starry realm of wealth and courtly elegance to which anyone in Marie’s trade and position must aspire - Lady Hunsdon, whose servant Alice Floyd she knows; Lady Kitson, a potential customer in search of rejuvenating golden locks.

We note too a certain flurry that Marie brings with her. In that first consultation about the missing valuables she mentions three names: shortly thereafter two of them turn up as clients of Forman’s. Next she brings to the consulting room Ellen Carrell, and not long afterwards her own husband consults, twice. She proves useful to Forman; favours are traded. We would call it ‘networking’, though to Marie a ‘networke’ meant only a kind of gauzy threaded material used in head-tires.

This is the world Shakespeare enters when he becomes the Mountjoys’ lodger some five years later - a world of aspiration and contact-mongering, a world of amorous and commercial rendezvous.

Forman adds also to our knowledge of the Mountjoy workshop, whose activities we have yet to look into. We learn of the otherwise unknown apprentice, Ufranke de la Coles, hired at some point before March 1598. We can correlate this with what we know of Stephen Belott’s apprenticeship. In his deposition at the Court of Requests, Humphrey Fludd says he ‘put’ Belott to be Mountjoy’s apprentice shortly after his marriage to Belott’s mother in about 1594. But Noel Mountjoy adds that Belott ‘was a year a border in the defendant’s [Mountjoy’s] house before he became the defendant’s apprentice’. We can thus date the beginning of Belott’s apprenticeship to around 1596.

In early 1598, therefore, Christopher Mountjoy had at least two young apprentices working for him, Stephen and Ufrancke. He may well have had a third, his younger brother Noel, who was then about sixteen. Noel was certainly apprenticed at Silver Street. In his deposition, to vouch for the accuracy of his statements, he says, ‘He did serve the defendant when the plaintiff served him, and knew the truth thereof.’ For a period, in other words, his own apprenticeship overlapped with Stephen’s. Nothing further is heard of Ufrancke after his arrest in the spring of 1598. Possibly the vacancy was filled by Stephen Belott’s brother, Jean or John. The latter is described in 1612 as ‘John Blott, tiremaker’, and may have learned his craft alongside his brother at the Mountjoy workshop. John later emigrated to the Netherlands, where he died in about 1642. He is described in Stephen’s will as ‘Master John Belott, late of the city of Harlem in Holland, ffrench schoolemaster’.69

There is another man in the house of whom we know little more than his name. On 14 January 1601, ‘Joseph Tatton, servant to Christopher Montjoye’ was buried at St Olave’s. In this sort of context ‘servant’ often means apprentice, though the household would undoubtedly have had a male servant in the more general, domestic sense, and perhaps Tatton was one such. A George Tatton, married at St Olave’s in the summer of 1599, was probably a relative.70

This glimpse into the Mountjoy household in the later 1590s shows us eight identifiable people - father, mother and daughter, three apprentices, a manservant and a maid. The maid is a constant, though her identity changes. There was Margaret Browne, who quit (or was dismissed) in about 1597, and later there was Joan Johnson, who said in her deposition that she had known Mountjoy for eight years, and who must therefore have started work at Silver Street in about 1604. She was at that point Joan Langforde. Although she testifies at the Court of Requests as ‘Joan Johnson, wife of Thomas Johnson, basketmaker’, she was not yet his wife when she entered the Mountjoys’ service, nor when she observed the activities of the lodger, ‘one Mr Shakespeare’. The wedding of Thomas Johnson and Joan Langforde took place at St Olave’s on 8 September 1605.71

Thus outlined the Mountjoy me’nage seems to have a compact and industrious air - a family business with some live-in employees - and this sense of solidity is confirmed by Mountjoy’s appearance in the Cripplegate subsidy rolls. In 1599 ‘Cristofer Montioy’ is assessed on goods valued at £5, a respectable sum, and the following year, now ‘Xpofer Monioye’, he is listed again for the same amount.72 The Cripplegate rolls survive only partially, so this may not have been his first appearance in them. But it marks his emergence, by the end of the century, as a fully fledged householder of St Olave’s. It confers on him and his family a certain substance - the more so now we can compare it with that earlier, lowlier appearance as a poll-tax payer in the 1582 subsidy, back in those difficult years of resettlement.

Mountjoy was still topographically close to St Martin le Grand, but in another sense he has come a long way from that teeming enclave. There were few ‘strangers’ in the small, well-to-do parishes of St Olave and St Alphege (which were combined for purposes of tax-collection). In 1599 Mountjoy is one of only two; the other is James Moore, probably a Dutchman, who pays a poll tax of 8d. In 1600 it seems the Mountjoys are the only household of foreigners in the parish.

The me’nage as outlined above is broadly the household that Shakespeare comes to know in around 1603. This was a year full of momentous events - the death of Elizabeth, the soaring mortality figures of the plague, the arrival of the new Scottish king, the forging of peace with Spain - but in the narrower spotlight of this study other micro-events hold centre-stage. Stephen Belott completes his apprenticeship; there is talk of marriage with the master’s daughter; there is a new lodger in the chamber upstairs.

This is the way history happens: it is measured out in days rather than epochs. Thus on 14 April 1603 - precisely in the interregnum between the death of the Queen on 17 March and the arrival of King James on 7 May; precisely at the historical fulcrum between the Elizabethan and the Jacobean Ages - Christopher Mountjoy sets out for the French Church on Threadneedle Street, there to attend the baptism of Samuel Clincquart, son of Pierre Clincquart and Marthe n’e Pieterssen. He is there as one of the godparents, so the Clincquarts are presumably friends or business associates. In the immigrant lists is a Louis ‘Clinkolad’, also of the French Church: given the garbling of foreign names he may be of the same family. He was a hatbandmaker from Tournai. Mountjoy had business dealings with this trade - in fact he currently owed over £2 to a bandmaker in the Blackfriars, Peter Courtois, who had supplied him with specialist embroidery work. But in this year 1603 Courtois died, and the outstanding debt was passed on to his successors.73 Whether they ever got the money - blood out of a stone - is not recorded.

These are local events, but there is one rather unexpected international touch. Some time shortly after he completed his apprenticeship Stephen Belott made a journey to Spain. Mountjoy states that after Belott ‘had served this defendant the said time of six years’, he ‘was desirous to travel into Spain, and this defendant did furnish him with money and other necessaries for the journey to the value of £6 or thereabouts’. Belott confirms the journey - his ‘travaile into spayne’ - but not, predictably, the financial contribution from Mr Mountjoy. The date of this journey must be around 1603, a time when Anglo-Spanish hostilities had relaxed but not yet concluded. I can find no clue to the nature of his voyage - possibly he joined a trading expedition; possibly he was attached in some menial way to a diplomatic retinue, in the run-up to the peace negotiations, which formally opened at Somerset House in May 1604.

We get a glimpse of broader horizons, but he is soon back on Silver Street: ‘he returned from his travel unto this defendant again, and was a suitor unto this defendant’s daughter to marry her’.

And so we arrive at the events of 1604 - the ones with which we began, and to which we will return: the courtship of Stephen and Mary, the intercessions of Shakespeare, the wedding at St Olave’s, the non-payment of the promised ‘portion’ or dowry. But I want now to move on past them, and to look briefly at some later aspects of the Mountjoys’ story. Within the chronological focus of this book these are events in the future, but they throw further light on the Mountjoys, and thence indirectly on Shakespeare.

In the case of Marie Mountjoy, sadly, there is not much later story to tell. She died in the autumn of 1606: her burial took place at St Olave’s on 30 October (see Plate 34). We know nothing of the cause or circumstances, or indeed of Shakespeare’s reaction. If the age she volunteered to Dr Forman is broadly correct she was about forty when she died.

The behaviour of her husband in the years following her death does not make very edifying reading. His intransigence on the matter of Mary’s dowry we know from the lawsuit, but other evidence points up what seems a total breakdown of relations with his daughter.

First there is the matter of Mountjoy’s ‘denization’ or naturalization. By becoming a denizen the immigrant acquired certain rights - in particular, he could buy and bequeath freehold property - but he did not attain full parity with native citizens, and he continued to be taxed at the alien’s double rate. Two routes were available, both of them expensive: one could acquire a Patent of Denization, or one could get Parliament to grant an Act of Naturalization. Most foreigners did not bother with either. In the whole of Elizabeth’s reign there were 1,762 patents issued, but most of those were in the early years: between 1580 and her death in 1603 there were just 293 patents, an average of about a dozen a year. Under James the numbers rose, most of the applicants being Scotsmen.

‘Christofer Monioy’ received his Letter of Denization on 27 May 1607. He is described in the patent roll as ‘a subject of the French king and born in the town of Cressey’. He is one of thirty-one denizens created in that regnal year; also listed is another man with a connection to Shakespeare - ‘Martin Droeshout, painter, born in Brabant’, of whom more later.74

Mountjoy had by now been in England for at least twenty-five years, and one wonders what motivated him to apply for denizenship at this point. The cynical but plausible answer would connect it with the death of Marie. In late 1606 Mountjoy becomes a widower, which also means he becomes marriageable again. A few months later he acquires the rights of denizenship, including the right to buy property, thus increasing his eligibility in the marriage-market. This is in itself no more than pragmatic, but there is a further implication concerning inheritance. The denizen could bequeath any real estate he had bought, but with one broad qualification - only children born to him after he became a denizen were eligible to inherit. One of the implications of his denization, therefore, is a desire to disinherit his daughter Mary.

In fact it was another eight years before Mountjoy remarried. In the interim, as we learn from the scandalized comments in the ledgers of the French Church, he lived in sin with his maidservant. Mountjoy’s second wife was one Isabel Dest. They were married on 21 August 1615, at another St Olave’s, the one on Hart Street, possibly Isabel’s parish.75 She sounds French (probably Isabelle d’Est) but I have not found her family. A connection with the famous Italian dynasty, the d’Este of Ferrara, is extremely unlikely. It may be further to his marriage that Mountjoy left Silver Street, for when he came to draw up his will he was living outside the walls, in the neighbouring parish of St Giles, Cripplegate.

Mountjoy’s will, dated 26 January 1620, survives in a contemporary register-copy; it is published here for the first time (see Plate 35). It names Isabel as his sole executrix. It makes no mention of freehold property, only his ‘goods and chattels’, which are unfortunately not further specified. It contains this extraordinary bequest:

Three third parts of my goods and chattels (the whole being divided into four third parts) I give and bequeath unto my well-beloved wife Isabel. And one other third part of the said four third parts I do hereby give and bequeath unto my daughter Mary Blott the wife of Stephen Blott.76

It appears that this surreal arithmetic, in which his estate is divided into four ‘thirds’, is designed once more to diminish the inheritance of his daughter and son-in-law. To avoid interminable contestings, the City of London customs (which charged duty on inheritances) directed that a testator should allot at least a third of his estate to his widow, and a third to his surviving children, leaving the last third to be disposed of elsewhere if he wished. Faced with the prospect of the detested son-in-law getting a third of his goods and chattels, Mountjoy and his solicitors hit on this brilliant or half-mad solution of making the thirds smaller than they should be, for the only proper definition of Mountjoy’s ‘thirds’, since there are four of them, is that they are quarters. A quarter by any other name doth weigh the same, and these last recorded words of Christopher Mountjoy are a further attempt to defraud his own daughter. Fifteen years after the wedding, seven years after the lawsuit, he cannot climb down. It is as he had said, in the hearing of the mercer Christopher Weaver: ‘he would rather rott in prison than geve them any thinge more than he had geven them before’.

These later documents confirm what both the plaintiff and the witnesses keep telling us in the lawsuit of 1612 - that Christopher Mountjoy could have paid up the dowry, and the reason that he did not was that he was a hard, mean, stubborn man: what Thomas Nashe calls a ‘pinchfart penny-father’. It may be there was some specific falling-out which caused him to withhold the money in the first place, but to continue to withhold it so long and so doggedly makes him seem flint-hearted: a man incapable of giving; an uncaring father whose feelings for his daughter were subordinate to his own material comforts.

We learn a little more about Christopher Mountjoy, and none of it encourages us to like him. We might sympathize with the upheavals he has been through, we might admire him as an immigrant ‘success story’, we might furnish him with several layers of Gallic charm to which the record gives no clue - but as it stands we just cannot like him. This matters little to us, and even less to him - its more interesting corollary is to wonder how much Shakespeare liked him. But Shakespeare’s dealings would mostly have been with his landlady. It is she, typically, who oversees the circumstances and the day-to-day requirements of the lodger; and it is she, in this particular case, who is more probably the one that Shakespeare liked.

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