The Food of Love, or King Alfred’s Last Resting Place

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Last week I had the privilege of performing in St Bartholomew’s, Hyde, a medieval church in Winchester. Rather confusingly the performance was commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death as  part of the Hyde900 festival, which originally commemorated the 900th anniversary of the foundation of Hyde Abbey where Alfred the Great was buried, but is now an annual festival. The occasion was a semi-dramatised performance of Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, which is really rather risqué for a church setting.

Winchester was the capital of King Alfred’s Wessex, and he was originally buried in its minster (the Old Minster), but, shortly after the Conquest, the Normans wanted to build a larger cathedral and Alfred’s body, together with those of his wife, Alswitha, and their son, Edward the Elder, was moved to the newly-built abbey at Hyde.

hyde-doorway

The Norman doorway

 

A church was built near the abbey gate around 1110 by the monks as a place where their tenants could worship, but it was probably destroyed in a fire in 1141. A new church was completed by about 1185. After the abbey was dissolved in 1539 some stones were salvaged to be used in the church, which was left to serve the parish, but the church fell into disrepair fairly early on and apparently fell out of use altogether during the Commonwealth. It wasn’t until 1690 that regular services were held again. Despite this, the necessary repairs were not carried out. As the diocesan website remarks succinctly “The Church was extensively repaired by the Victorians”.

14th-century-tiles

These encaustic tiles from the abbey were on display as part of the Hyde900 weekend.

 

Hyde’s connection with Shakespeare is that it was part of the estate of the earls of Southampton. The first earl was partially responsible for the demolition and ’looting’ of the abbey and received the abbey’s estates in return.  The earl also took over the estates of two other wealthy abbeys: Beaulieu in the New Forest and Titchfield to the east of Southampton. Titchfield became the seat of the earls of Southampton. The third earl was Shakespeare’s patron for a time and Venus and Adonis was dedicated to him. As one of the festival organisers remarked, with a trace of bitterness, it was the first earl’s looting of Hyde Abbey that gave the third earl enough money to be a patron to Shakespeare. This allowed Shakespeare to write poetry, a gentleman’s pursuit. Writing plays was not something that a gentleman did, apparently.

capitals-from-hyde-abbey

Stonework salvaged from Hyde Abbey

 

“The food of love” is a quotation from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night – “If music be the food of love, play on”. Since we were providing the musical interludes for Venus and Adonis, this seemed an appropriate name for our sextet.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “The Food of Love, or King Alfred’s Last Resting Place

  1. Oh, April!
    Sad to say, there’s no historical evidence that the third Earl of Southampton ever gave Shakespeare any money – though Shakespeare’s fulsome dedication to “The Rape Of Lucrece” suggests that he may have been paid a little something for its predecessor, “Venus & Adonis”.

    And as for gentlemen not writing plays? Of course they did. Anybody with a university education became a gentleman, regardless of the circumstances of their birth. Many, if not most, 16th century playwrights were gentlemen. William Shakespeare (glover’s son) and Ben Jonson (master bricklayer’s stepson) were two notable exceptions. W.S seems to have wasted little time in establishing his status as a gentleman by forking out for a questionable coat of arms. (Upstart Crow indeed.) B.J, not lacking in confidence, wasn’t didn’t bother.

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    • I was quoting Shakespeare scholars – what can I say? There was a short talk at the beginning and another at the end. One of them also wrote something for the programme along those lines. I might, however, have misrepresented the point about gentlemen. It was more that only gentlemen wrote poetry, not that they didn’t write plays.
      We were also encouraged to imagine Shakespeare escaping the plague in London and staying in Titchfield. People like to grasp at a local connection with Shakespeare, however tenuous.

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      • OK. First, let’s rejoice. Anybody who matriculated back then (i.e. entered a university, never mind if you stayed long enough to get a degree) became a gentleman. Taking this forward (and allowing for the ever-shifting status of women) I and many of my blogger friends are (woohoo) gentlewomen.

        And as for writing plays? There are contemporary references to both the Earl of Derby (William Stanley, the chap who married the lady that the Earl of Southampton turned down) and Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (father of said lady) writing plays. But who knows what they wrote? Nothing under their names has survived, but back then writing plays were no big deal anyway.

        I’m all for Titchfield being on the tourist trail, but I know I wouldn’t be the only tourist who prefers fact to fiction.

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        • I prefer facts, as well. It’s not as if Hampshire has to grasp after Shakespeare for a bit of literary greatness. We’ve got Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, although he was only born locally.

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          • This is getting to the heart of writing historical fiction. There’s no doubt that the dead deserve the truth. But, as Gib’s friend Linkin the Law Cat once observed, truth and entertainment don’t lie well together.

            The 3rd Earl of Southampton is interesting enough in his own right for Titcgfield and thereabouts to take pride in him. Even though he did stuff to the harbour.

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            • The dead do deserve the truth, but often getting to the truth is impossible. Who do you trust? If a contemporary chronicler says that a king is tall and good-looking do you believe him? If Holbein painted a portrait of Henry VIII with very odd proportions, can you then accept that his portraits of Cromwell and More are accurate, or do you think he’s making political (or some other kind of) statements? If a contemporary says that 3,000 people were killed in some event do you believe them or the historian who says that medieval people either couldn’t count or exaggerated.
              Working your way through all of that is fun if you’re writing fiction, but not so much fun when you’re writing a blog and have to qualify every other statement.
              The more I find out about the young earl (mainly from you, but he does seem to be cropping up all over the place these days) the more I think he is interesting in his own right.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. Whops! Sorry for the spelling. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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