Let's explore Life at Court! Welcome to Episode #001, the Pilot Episode, of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the life of William Shakespeare.

I believe that if you want to understand Shakespeare's plays, then understanding the life of William Shakespeare is essential. This podcast will help you explore early modern England as Shakespeare would have lived it by interviewing the historians, performers, authors, and experts that know him best.

To get started, we dive into the world of life at court. For instance, William Shakespeare performed many times “at court” before Queen Elizabeth. Later, under the official royal patronage of King James, Shakespeare enjoyed a prosperous career. But what was life at court really like?

Our guest this week, Philippa Brewell, owner and lead historian at British History Tours joins us this week to set the stage and share with us what Shakespeare would have experienced when appearing at court.

Join the conversation below.

Philippa Brewell specializes in helping historians of all levels explore the real places behind the history you read about through expertly curated tours, and most recently, an online membership forum featuring expert interviews, virtual tours, and printable guides to the world of British History. Learn more about British History Tours here.

Inside this episode, I ask Philippa about:

  • The purpose of holding court
  • The significance of White Hall palace
  • The role of the Master of the Revels
  • the surprising myth about Shakespeare's patronage you may not realize is true!

Books Philippa Recommends:

Julian of Norwich – Dr Janina Ramirez (Read Philippa's Review here)

Glory and Bollocks – Colin Brown

Resources mentioned in today's episode:

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Here's what's inside the detailed show notes:

  • Philippa's latest project including her next tours!
  • See a video tour of the HMS Warrior
  • 1675 painting of Whitehall Palace
  • 1544 Sketch of Whitehall Palace
  • Shakespeare at Court
  • Portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh
[ppp_patron_only level=”5″]
life at court, painting of Whitehall Palace a popular location for Queen Elizabeth to hold court
The Palace of Old Whitehall, with Banqueting House visible off to the left. | “The view is from the west, in St. James's Park. The Horse Guards barracks are on the extreme left, with the taller Banqueting House behind it. The four-towered building left of centre is the palace gatehouse, the “Holbein Gate”. | Hendrick Danckerts  (1625–1680) | Public Domain | Source

What is Court, anyway?

For a monarch to “hold court” was essentially anywhere the monarch was at the moment when they decided to hold proceedings. Courtiers were people who travelled around with the monarch as ambassadors, gentlemen, ladies of status, and other politicians in the country.

Whitehall Palace was the main palace where Queen Elizabeth's court sessions were held but she could hold court anywhere she was physically located.

life at court, palace at whitehall, sketch 1544 by William Benham
Palace at Whitehall, sketch by by Antony van den Wyngaerde, circa 1554 -57 | From William Benham, Charles Welsh: “Medieval London” (1901) | Public Domain | Source

What was the point of life at court?

Life at Court, William Shakespeare appears before Queen Elizabeth I and her royal court
Shakespeare performing before Queen Elizabeth and hr court, as imagined in a nineteenth-century American engraving | Anonymous Engraver | Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, 1839 | Public Domain | Source

Would Shakespeare have appeared at court?

The portrait above of William Shakespeare performing for Queen Elizabeth I is entirely fictional, but it remains one of my favorite portraits associated with Shakespeare's history. While the bard may not have performed for Elizabeth the way this picture shows (though he might, we really don't know), what we do know is that Shakespeare's playing company was frequently requested to perform for the queen. It is plausible to think Shakespeare would have been with the company on more than one occasion for these performances.

It's equally true that performing before the royal court was a very intimate affair. There was usually a section of a large room that would be retrofitted to suit a performance, but there would not have been risers or other kinds of bleacher type seats (beyond what would have been provided for the rest of the Queen herself). The audience would be crowded around the performance space and the actors situated a mere inches from their audience. If Shakespeare was there, the Queen could hardly have missed his presence.

Life at Court, Sir Walter Raleigh, prominent member of Queen Elizabeth I's court
Anonymous Portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh, a prominent member of Queen Elizabeth I's court. | Dated 1588 | Public Domain | Source

See a list of members of Queen Elizabeth I's court here.

Philippa's Latest Project:

You can join British History Tours membership and get great discounts on Philippa's travel tours, not to mention the enormous fun of learning history in a fun, dynamic, atmosphere, all by joining now! She's running a special for the next few months where your first month as a member is just £1 (that's $1.40 USD), cancel anytime. When you join, tell her That Shakespeare Girl sent you!

Philippa in Action: