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Portrait of Sir John Mason from Memoirs of the Court of Queen Elizabeth, 1825, by Sarah, Countess of Essex

Sir John Mason (1503-1566)

SIR JOHN MASON, statesman, was born in 1503 at Abingdon, Berkshire, which he was subsequently the means of making a free borough and corporation, and where he secured the erection of a hospital, of which he became master. He is said to have been the son of a cowherd by his wife, sister of a monk there, probably the Thomas, abbot of Abingdon, who corresponded with Mason in 1532.1 His early education was apparently entrusted to this uncle, who found Mason an apt pupil, and procured his admission to some college or hall at Oxford. He graduated B.A. on 8 July 1521, being then fellow of All Souls, and M.A. on 21 Feb. 1524-5. Not long afterwards, on the recommendation, it is said, of Sir Thomas More, Mason was appointed king's scholar at Paris, with an annual allowance of £3 6s. 8d.,2 which appears in 1531 to have been doubled, while various other sums were from time to time granted him.3

On 13 Feb. 1531-2 he was presented to the parish church of Kyngeston in the diocese of Salisbury. He was present at Calais during the meeting there of Henry VIII and Francis I in 1532,4 and with a view to future diplomatic service was soon afterwards sent on tour through France, Spain, and Italy, with an increased allowance and instructions to keep himself in constant communication with the king and council, and to forward all the information he could gather about foreign relations and the places he visited. The early part of 1534 he spent in Spain; in July he was at Padua, and thence he proceeded to the chief towns of Italy, Corsica, Sardinia, the Lipari Islands, and Sicily, returning from Messina to Naples in December 1536.5

In October 1536 he was again in Spain, but had apparently returned to Oxford before the end of November,6 and to this date may perhaps be referred those efforts which, according to his eulogists, saved the endowments of his university from confiscation.7 In 1537 he became secretary to Sir Thomas Wyatt, the English envoy in Spain.8 In 1539 he was in the Netherlands, and on 2 April wrote a report on the state of affairs there.9 Next year he was again in Spain as Wyatt's secretary, and was recalled in January 1540-1, when Wyatt was arrested on a charge of treason preferred by Bonner.10 Mason had already made a reputation as a diplomatist. 'None seeth,' said Sir Thomas Audley, 'further off than Sir John Mason;' he outwitted the Italian, and 'out-graved the don in Spain.'

In October 1542 Mason acted as clerk to the privy council, but his definite appointment was not made until 13 April 1543.11 On 16 July 1544 he was made master of the posts in succession to Sir Bryan Tuke, and in the same year became secretary of the French tongue. On 24 Dec. he witnessed the prorogation of parliament for the last time in person by Henry VIII, and graphically described the scene in a letter to Papet.12 Next year he was licensed to import French wares, made several journeys into Norfolk, visited 'Almaign' and was in attendance upon Philip, duke of Bavaria.

The accession of Edward VI brought fresh honours to Mason, and he was dubbed a knight of the carpet either at the coronation on Sunday, 20 Feb., or the Tuesday following, which was Shrove Tuesday. In the same year he visited the county of Rochester as one of the royal visitors, and in 1548 was appointed by the Protector to search the registers for 'records of matters of Scotland' in order to establish the English claim of suzerainty over Scotland. The result of his researches was a collection of instruments preserved in Harleian MS. 6128 in the British Museum. He was paid £20 for his labour.13 In 1549 he gave evidence against Bonner, and was made dean of Winchester. Mason was one of the commissioners who negotiated the treaty with France,14 surrendering Boulogne, 24 March 1549-1550.15

On 18 April 1550 he was appointed ambassador to France, and after being sworn a privy councillor next day, he set out for Paris on 12 May. Thenceforward his letters to the council formed one of the most important sources of intelligence respecting foreign affairs. In September he was negotiating about the Scottish frontier disputes.16 Old-standing complications between England and France, and the growing readiness of the French to interfere in Scottish affairs rendered Mason's post no sinecure. His health, too, was failing, and within a year he petitioned for recall; he had already been granted license to eat flesh during Lent, and early in 1551 he complained of being so feeble that it was pain even to dictate to an amanuensis. On 26 Feb. his appointment was revoked, with expressions of regret for his illness and commendation for his services; but his successor, Sir William Pickering, delayed settling in Paris, and Mason, much against his will, still held office in May, when he and the Marquis of Northampton arranged for the betrothal of Edward VI to Elizabeth, the French king's daughter.17 He appears to have been also sent to the emperor at this time, probably to support the English ambassador, Dr. Wotton.18

He was finally recalled from Paris on 30 June, but only reached England at the end of July. In September he resumed his attendance at the privy council, and about the same time became master of requests. In December, together with Francis Spelman, a connection by marriage, he was granted the office of clerk of parliament. In 1552 he was on a commission to collect 'church stuff',19 and in the same year, profiting as usual by every turn of the wheel, he and his wife were granted lands in Middlesex which had belonged to Somerset, and others in Berkshire and Kent.20 He appears as member of parliament for Reading in 1551-2, for Taunton in 1552-3,21 and on 18 Nov. 1552 became chancellor of Oxford University, a dignity which he resigned in 1556 in favour of Cardinal Pole. Mason was one of the witnesses to the will of Edward VI on 21 June 1553, and signed the letter of the council to Mary on 9 July, informing her that Jane had been proclaimed queen, and counselling submission. He had thus lent himself to the designs of Northumberland. But with his habitual insight he saw how the tide was running, and on 19 July he helped to arrange with the lord mayor for the proclamation of Queen Mary.22 The next day he signed the order of the council requiring Northumberland to lay down his arms.23

Mason was soon high in Mary's favour. Although he held no ecclesiastical office during the reign, his secular preferments were restored to him. He attended the council when in England, and in 1554 he was made treasurer of the chamber, his salary for this office and the mastership of the posts being £240 a year and 12d. a day.24 In the same year he was elected for Southampton, which he represented till his death. In October 1553 he was appointed ambassador to the emperor's court at Brussels, and remained there busily employed until 1556. He arranged for the return of Pole, of whom he spoke highly; had several interviews with the emperor, and was present in October 1555 at the ceremony of Charles's abdication at Brussels, his account of which has been frequently quoted.25 In the same year it was rumoured that he was to be recalled and made chief secretary,26 but a request for leave to return home in July 1556, granted by Mary, was negatived by Philip.27

Mason was on friendly terms with most of the English residents abroad, and in 1556 Dr. John Caius the younger dedicated to him an edition of his 'De Medendi Methodo,' reprinted at Louvain. Early in May Sir Peter Carew and Sir John Cheke, whose wife was Mason's stepdaughter, were arrested between Mechlin end Antwerp, transferred to England, and imprisoned in the Tower. Bishop Ponet subsequently accused Mason of treacherously inviting them to Antwerp with a view to their arrest28—an act which Mason's friendly private relations with Cheke and Cheke's family would certainly render especially discreditable to him.29 But the charge is not proven.30

In September 1556 Mason's repeated requests for recall were granted. He regularly attended the council from November 1556 until the end of the reign, and with his colleagues retained his position at the accession of Elizabeth. In addition to his other offices, he was now restored to the deanery of Winchester, and on 20 June 1559 was reelected chancellor of Oxford University. On 22 Nov. 1558 he was appointed, with Paget, Petre, and Heath, to transact any important business that might arise before the queen's arrival in London; he used his influence in favour of peace with France, and was described by the Spanish envoy as a friend to the French king,31 but before 1560 he had become an advocate of the Spanish marriage, in which he was supported by Paget.32

On 7 March 1558-9 he was despatched to Cateau-Cambresis to correct and supplement the action of the commissioners whose conduct in the negotiations for peace had given offence to the queen.33 He returned on 3 April. Thenceforth he remained in London, directing in great measure the foreign policy of England, and actively engaging in all the ordinary work of the council.34 In 1564 he was commissioned to settle a treaty of commerce with France. On 26 Dec. he re-resigned his chancellorship of Oxford, and he was present at the council, apparently for the last time, on 4. June 1565. He died on 20 or 21 April 1566, aged 63, and was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral, where a monument was erected by his widow on the north wall of the choir, with an inscription in verse by his adopted son, Anthony Wyckes. Owen Rogers obtained a license to print an epitaph upon him.35 He is sometimes stated to have been chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, but on insufficient evidence.

Mason married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Isley of Sundridge, Kent, by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Richard Guildford; Lady Mason was widow of Richard Hill, sergeant of the wine-cellar to Henry VIII, and had had several children by him, including Margaret, married to Sir John Cheke, and Mary to Francis Spelman, who was clerk of the parliament with Mason. Spelman's daughter, Catherine, married William Davison, secretary to Queen Elizabeth. Lady Mason's cousin, Jane Guildford, married John Dudley, duke of Northumberland, with whom Mason was thus distantly connected by marriage.36 Apparently Mason had no issue; but Corser conjectures37 that Jasper Heywood refers to a deceased son in some lines in his translation of Seneca's 'Thyestes,' dedicated to Mason. His principal heir was Anthony Wyckes, a grandson of Mason's mother by a second marriage. Anthony was adopted by Mason, assumed his name, and in 1574 was appointed to the post of clerk of the parliament, which Sir John had held before. He married and had a numerous progeny.

Mason, a typical statesman of the age, 'had more of the willow than the oak' in him; his success he attributed to his keeping on intimate terms with 'the exactest lawyer and ablest favourite' for the time being, to speaking little and writing less, to being of service to all parties, and observing such moderation that all thought him their own. He is said to have been a catholic, but his religious feelings were conveniently pliant; his invectives against 'men's wicked devotion to Rome,' when Edward VI was on the throne, become sneers at the 'new gospellers' after his sister's accession. As a diplomatist he was 'a paragon of caution, coldness, and craft,' but in society his manner was genial if not jovial.38



1. But cf. Visitations of the College of Arms and Harl. MS. 1092, ff. 121-5.
2. £3 6s. 8d. in 1525 was roughly equivalent to £1,600 in 2008. Source: Measuring Worth
3. Visitations of the College of Arms v. 747, 751, 754, 757, g. 119 [49].
4. Chronicle of Calais, Camden Soc., p. 118. [link]
5. cf. account of his travels in a letter to his friend, Dr. Starkey, dated 16 Dec., Cotton MS. Vitell. B. xiv. 157; Letters and Papers, Henry VIII, ed. Gairdner, ix. p. 313, 329.
6. ib. xi. 1186.
7. Lloyd, State Worthies; or, The Statesmen and Favourites of England, pp. 225-233, ed. 1766. [link] 8. cf. Letters and Papers, vol. xii. pt. ii. entries 843, 1087, 1098, 1249.
9. Cotton MS. Galba B. x. 94.
10. Calendar of State Papers, Spanish, 1538-42, p. 308
11. Acts of the Privy Council, 1542-7, p. 118.
12. Froude, History of England, iv. 196-9. [link]
13. Acts of the Privy Council, 1542-7, p. 225; Harl. MS. 6128. £20 in 1548 was roughly equivalent to £7,000 in 2008. Source: Measuring Worth
14. Wriothesley, A Chronicle of England, Camden Society, ii. 31. [link]
15. Cotton MS. Caligula E. iv.
16. British Library Add. MS 6936; Acts of the Privy Council, 1547-1553.
17. cf. Add. MS. 6498, ff. 16-20, 100; Froude, v. 3-5. [link]
18. Edward VI's Journal; Froude, v. 6-7. [link]
19. Strype, Ecclesiastical Memorials, i. 210.
20. ib. pp. 221, 223, 226.
21. Foster, Alumni Oxonienses 1500-1714, vol. iii. p. 983. [link]
22. Nichols, Chronicle of Queen Jane, p. 12. [link]
23. ib. p. 109. [link]
24. £240 in 1554 was roughly equivalent to £57,000 in 2008. Source: Measuring Worth
25. cf. Motley, The Rise of the Dutch Republic, i. 110. [link]
26. Calendar of State Papers, Venetian, vol. vi. pt. i. p. 245.
27. ib. p. 555
28. Strype.
29. Harington, Nugae Antiquae, vol i. pp. 49-51. [link]
30. cf. Cal. State Papers, Venetian, vol. vi. pt. i. p. 488.
31. ib. Spanish, 1558-67, p. 34.
32. Froude, vi. 356 note. [link]
33. Cal. State Papers For. Ser. passim.
34. cf. ib. Foreign, Spanish, and Venetian Ser. passim.
35. Ames, Typographical Antiquities, ed. Herbert, p. 887.
36. See Pedigree in Sir Harris Nicolas's Life of W. Davison, p. 213.
37. Corser, Collectanea Anglo-Poetica, iv. 213, 219.
38. cf. Hoby to Cecil, in Burgon, Life of Gresham, i. 226-8. [link]




      Excerpted from:

      Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. XII. Sidney Lee, ed.
      New York: The Macmillan Co., 1909. 1310-12.




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Hundred Years' War (1337-1453)

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Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland
Sir Henry Percy, "Harry Hotspur"
Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester
Owen Glendower
The Battle of Shrewsbury, 1403
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John Mowbray, 2. Duke of Norfolk
Thomas Fitzalan, 5. Earl of Arundel
Henry V
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Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester
John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury
Richard, Earl of Cambridge
Henry, Baron Scrope of Masham
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Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter
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Sir John Fastolf
John Holland, 2. Duke of Exeter
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Archbishop John Kemp
Catherine of Valois
Owen Tudor
John Fitzalan, 7. Earl of Arundel
John, Lord Tiptoft

Charles VII, King of France
Joan of Arc
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The Battle of Castillon, 1453



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The Rout of Ludford, 1459
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The Battle of Wakefield, 1460
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The 2nd Battle of St. Albans, 1461
The Battle of Towton, 1461
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The Battle of Hexham, 1464
The Battle of Edgecote, 1469
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The Battle of Barnet, 1471
The Battle of Tewkesbury, 1471
The Treaty of Pecquigny, 1475
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The Battle of Stoke Field, 1487

Henry VI
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Edward IV
Elizabeth Woodville
Richard Woodville, 1. Earl Rivers
Anthony Woodville, 2. Earl Rivers
Jane Shore
Edward V
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William Neville, Lord Fauconberg
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Margaret Beaufort
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Thomas, Lord Stanley, Earl of Derby
Sir William Stanley
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William, Lord Hastings
Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter
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John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester
Thomas Grey, 1. Marquis Dorset
Sir Andrew Trollop
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Richard de la Pole
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James Touchet, 7th Baron Audley
Walter Blount, Lord Mountjoy
Robert Hungerford, Lord Moleyns
Thomas, Lord Scales
John, Lord Lovel and Holand
Francis Lovell, Viscount Lovell
Sir Richard Ratcliffe
William Catesby
Ralph, 4th Lord Cromwell
Jack Cade's Rebellion, 1450


Tudor Period

King Henry VII
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Arthur, Prince of Wales
Lambert Simnel
Perkin Warbeck
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King Ferdinand II of Aragon
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Mary Tudor, Queen of France
Louis XII, King of France
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The Battle of the Spurs, 1513
Field of the Cloth of Gold, 1520
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
Eustace Chapuys, Imperial Ambassador
The Siege of Boulogne, 1544

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey
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Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex
Thomas, Lord Audley
Thomas Wriothesley, E. Southampton
Sir Richard Rich

Edward Stafford, D. of Buckingham
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Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk
John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland
Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk
Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire
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John Russell, Earl of Bedford
Thomas Grey, 2. Marquis of Dorset
Henry Grey, D. of Suffolk
Charles Somerset, Earl of Worcester
George Talbot, 4. E. Shrewsbury
Francis Talbot, 5. E. Shrewsbury
Henry Algernon Percy,
     5th Earl of Northumberland
Henry Algernon Percy,
     6th Earl of Northumberland
Ralph Neville, 4. E. Westmorland
Henry Neville, 5. E. Westmorland
William Paulet, Marquis of Winchester
Sir Francis Bryan
Sir Nicholas Carew
John de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford
John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford
Thomas Seymour, Lord Admiral
Edward Seymour, Protector Somerset
Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury
Henry Pole, Lord Montague
Sir Geoffrey Pole
Thomas Manners, Earl of Rutland
Henry Manners, Earl of Rutland
Henry Bourchier, 2. Earl of Essex
Robert Radcliffe, 1. Earl of Sussex
Henry Radcliffe, 2. Earl of Sussex
George Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon
Henry Courtenay, Marquis of Exeter
George Neville, Baron Bergavenny
Sir Edward Neville
William, Lord Paget
William Sandys, Baron Sandys
William Fitzwilliam, E. Southampton
Sir Anthony Browne
Sir Thomas Wriothesley
Sir William Kingston
George Brooke, Lord Cobham
Sir Richard Southwell
Thomas Fiennes, 9th Lord Dacre
Sir Francis Weston
Henry Norris
Lady Jane Grey
Sir Thomas Arundel
Sir Richard Sackville
Sir William Petre
Sir John Cheke
Walter Haddon, L.L.D
Sir Peter Carew
Sir John Mason
Nicholas Wotton
John Taylor
Sir Thomas Wyatt, the Younger

Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio
Cardinal Reginald Pole
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Edward Fox, Bishop of Hereford

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Pope Pius V

Pico della Mirandola
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Thomas Tallis
Elizabeth Barton, the Nun of Kent
Hans Holbein, the Younger
The Sweating Sickness

Dissolution of the Monasteries
Pilgrimage of Grace, 1536
Robert Aske
Anne Askew
Lord Thomas Darcy
Sir Robert Constable

Oath of Supremacy
The Act of Supremacy, 1534
The First Act of Succession, 1534
The Third Act of Succession, 1544
The Ten Articles, 1536
The Six Articles, 1539
The Second Statute of Repeal, 1555
The Act of Supremacy, 1559
Articles Touching Preachers, 1583

Queen Elizabeth I
William Cecil, Lord Burghley
Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury
Sir Francis Walsingham
Sir Nicholas Bacon
Sir Thomas Bromley

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester
Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick
Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon
Sir Thomas Egerton, Viscount Brackley
Sir Francis Knollys
Katherine "Kat" Ashley
Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester
George Talbot, 6. E. of Shrewsbury
Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury
Gilbert Talbot, 7. E. of Shrewsbury
Sir Henry Sidney
Sir Robert Sidney
Archbishop Matthew Parker
Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex
Penelope Devereux, Lady Rich
Sir Christopher Hatton
Edward Courtenay, E. Devonshire
Edward Manners, 3rd Earl of Rutland
Thomas Radcliffe, 3. Earl of Sussex
Henry Radcliffe, 4. Earl of Sussex
Robert Radcliffe, 5. Earl of Sussex
William Parr, Marquis of Northampton
Henry Wriothesley, 2. Southampton
Henry Wriothesley, 3. Southampton
Charles Neville, 6. E. Westmorland
Thomas Percy, 7. E. Northumberland
Henry Percy, 8. E. Northumberland
Henry Percy, 9. E. Nothumberland
William Herbert, 1. Earl of Pembroke
Charles, Lord Howard of Effingham
Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk
Henry Howard, 1. Earl of Northampton
Thomas Howard, 1. Earl of Suffolk
Henry Hastings, 3. E. of Huntingdon
Edward Manners, 3rd Earl of Rutland
Roger Manners, 5th Earl of Rutland
Francis Manners, 6th Earl of Rutland
Henry FitzAlan, 12. Earl of Arundel
Thomas, Earl Arundell of Wardour
Edward Somerset, E. of Worcester
William Davison
Sir Walter Mildmay
Sir Ralph Sadler
Sir Amyas Paulet
Gilbert Gifford
Anthony Browne, Viscount Montague
François, Duke of Alençon & Anjou

Mary, Queen of Scots
Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley
James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell
Anthony Babington and the Babington Plot
John Knox

Philip II of Spain
The Spanish Armada, 1588
Sir Francis Drake
Sir John Hawkins

William Camden
Archbishop Whitgift
Martin Marprelate Controversy
John Penry (Martin Marprelate)
Richard Bancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury
John Dee, Alchemist

Philip Henslowe
Edward Alleyn
The Blackfriars Theatre
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The Swan Theatre
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Citizen Comedy
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Oyer and terminer
Praemunire


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Anne of Denmark
Henry, Prince of Wales
The Gunpowder Plot, 1605
George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham
Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset
Arabella Stuart, Lady Lennox

William Alabaster
Bishop Hall
Bishop Thomas Morton
Archbishop William Laud
John Selden
Lucy Harington, Countess of Bedford
Henry Lawes

King Charles I
Queen Henrietta Maria

Long Parliament
Rump Parliament
Kentish Petition, 1642

Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford
John Digby, Earl of Bristol
George Digby, 2nd Earl of Bristol
Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax
Robert Devereux, 3rd E. of Essex
Robert Sidney, 2. E. of Leicester
Algernon Percy, E. of Northumberland
Henry Montagu, Earl of Manchester
Edward Montagu, 2. Earl of Manchester

The Restoration

King Charles II
King James II
Test Acts

Greenwich Palace
Hatfield House
Richmond Palace
Windsor Palace
Woodstock Manor

The Cinque Ports
Mermaid Tavern
Malmsey Wine
Great Fire of London, 1666
Merchant Taylors' School
Westminster School
The Sanctuary at Westminster
"Sanctuary"


Images:

Chart of the English Succession from William I through Henry VII

Medieval English Drama

London c1480, MS Royal 16
London, 1510, the earliest view in print
Map of England from Saxton's Descriptio Angliae, 1579
Location Map of Elizabethan London
Plan of the Bankside, Southwark, in Shakespeare's time
Detail of Norden's Map of the Bankside, 1593
Bull and Bear Baiting Rings from the Agas Map (1569-1590, pub. 1631)
Sketch of the Swan Theatre, c. 1596
Westminster in the Seventeenth Century, by Hollar
Visscher's Panoramic View of London, 1616. COLOR
c. 1690. View of London Churches, after the Great Fire
The Yard of the Tabard Inn from Thornbury, Old and New London




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