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Pix & Notes: Beards

I got all tangled up in the beards of my red herrings while writing my last book, which was exactly as messy and confusing as it sounds. You can’t just pick beards out of a hat, you know; not if you’re writing historical fiction. If you’re a woman, you can’t experiment with your own chin and then go look in the mirror either.

Men have restrictions on how much they want to alter their features for experimental purposes too, of course. Try asking a guy with a long-established beard to shave it off so you can watch it grow back and take notes! Better to get out there and do your homework.

Prehistoric beards

These are poorly documented. Cave painters didn’t do self-portraits. The Short History of Beards stone_knivesmakes this rather disingenuous claim: “Prehistoric men grew beards for warmth, intimidation and protection. Facial hair kept prehistoric men warm and it also protected their mouths from sand, dirt, the sun and many other different elements. A beard on a man’s face creates the look of a stronger looking jaw line; this exaggeration helped them appear more intimidating.”

Hm. Perhaps. I’m curious about those “many other different elements.” Lips, perhaps? It also may have had something do with the discomfort experienced after shaving with a stone knife. Obsidian rash can be so uncomfortable.

Ancient beards

beard_Tutankhamen
You’d expect Egyptian royalty to be extreme in all matters of fashion and King Tut does not disappoint. Of course this is a false beard made of metal and tied on with ribbons, but it’s still very manly!
beard_assyrian
Assyrians were serious about their beards. They used curling irons and oils to achieve architectural effects.
beard_epicurus
Bust of Epicurus, the Greek philosopher (341–270 BC.) For a guy who advocated peace and happiness, he sure looks cranky.
beard_augustus
Roman emperor Augustus, beardless and, unrelatedly, noseless. Sophisticated Romans who were not philosophers preferred a clean chin.

A Potpourri of Beards

beard_chinese
A Chinese emperor with a mighty bristle! Might be Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. Bound to be a stressful job. Those beads dangling from his hat-platform would drive me batty. Maybe that’s why he looks so cross.
beards_mohammed_kaaba_1315
Here’s an assortment of chin styles from 1315. Miniature from Rashid-al-Din Hamadani’s Jami al-Tawarikh, c. 1315, illustrating the story of Muhammad’s role in re-setting the Black Stone in 605.
beard_van-dyck
Three images of Charles I, sporting a van dyck beard, by Anthony Van Dyck, presumably wearing a matching beard whilst painting, in 1635-36.

 

Elizabethan beards

My problem was that the beard was a clue to my murderer’s identity. I wanted a notable style, therefore; something fashionable. I started out thinking about a sharply pointed beard like Sir Walter Raleigh’s in the dishy miniature shown below, but I doubeted they were stylish yet in 1589. It’s mainly a 90’s style, or so I thought, at least until the Earl of Essex returned victorious from the Battle of Cadiz with a long, square-cut beard.

I had to observe the rules about beards and other elements of fashion at Gray’s Inn. According to Wilfred Prest in his indispensable The Inns of Court under Elizabeth I and the Early Stuarts (1972, Longman), gentlemen in residence were expected to shave, at least on a semi-monthly basis. “That none of the said companies, under the degree of a knight, being in commons, do wear any beard above three weeks growing, upon pain of xl s. and so double for every week after monition.”

That’s a fine of 40 shillings, which seems incredibly steep. I must have mis-read and mis-typed that note. You only had to pay 3 shillings and 3 pence for wearing “breeches of any light color nor coifs of English lawn, velvet caps, scarfs, or wings on their study gowns,” double cuffs on your shirt, or feathers or ribbons in your caps. Of course, you also had to forfeit your finery and could be expelled for a second offense.

But these rules come from the 1570s. I also have a note saying that long hair and beards became increasingly fashionable in the 1590s. Maybe the governors of Gray’s Inn just finally gave up? To be on the safe side, I gave both Francis Bacon and his sidekick, Thomas Clarady, a nice brushy rill of two-week’s growth. You wouldn’t want the constant itch of a brand new beard, nor would you want to visit the barber every day, although I’ll bet there were several barbers in Holborn who specialized in the Inns of Court regulation style, whatever it was at the time. (And now I’m thinking about a barber shop scene…. why haven’t I done that?)

bacon_1617
Bacon in 1617. He’s Lord Chancellor now; he can grow whatever he likes on his chin. And although he looks stiff and uncomfortable, I’m pretty sure that’s personality, not costume. Ruffs are not unpleasant to wear, even with a super-stylish pointed beard.
essex2
The Earl of Essex, by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger ca. 1596, with his trend-setting long square beard.
raleigh_hilliard
Sir Walter Raleigh, miniature by Nicholas Hilliard ca. 1585. Hey, so those pointed beards were in style for my 1589 book! I know I looked at this portrait, but I clearly failed to note the date. That’s the kind of tangle I was in. And look — he has flowers in his hair. You have to be very secure in your masculinity to deck yourself out like this.
anonyman
Unknown Man Clasping A Hand From A Cloud, Nicholas Hilliard, 1588 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. This guy looks a lot like Tom, but his beard is clearly more than 3 weeks’ long. Love the hat!

Pix & notes: Coughton Court

I visited Coughton Court in 2009, on the first trip I made purely for book research. It was June Coughton Courtand every rose in England was blooming. I was staying in Stratford-upon-Avon and eccentrically insisted on using public transportation to get around. The bus driver on the A435 seemed surprised and disgruntled at having to stop at this unusual place to let me off and rigorously refused to understand my English. Luckily, some of the passengers — old folks with shopping baskets — leapt to my assistance. You don’t get that kind of fun when you drive!

The Throckmortons

Sir_Nicholas_Throckmorton_from_NPG
Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, from the National Portrait Gallery

Members of this illustrious family have been living in this spectacular house since the mid-sixteenth century, which makes them ancient in our day, but newly feathered in Francis Bacon’s. The gatehouse was built by Sir George Throckmorton, who found time between sessions of Parliament and opposing King Henry VIII’s break with Rome to father 8 sons and 9 daughters. A busy man!

And a long-suffering wife, Katherine Vaux, daughter of the first Baron Vaux of Harrowden and Elizabeth FitzHugh, descendant of Edward III. Sir George spent some harrowing months in the Tower for his pro-Catholic words and deeds, but he managed to escape hanging, probably thanks to his wife’s excellent connections.

raleigh_hilliard
The irresistible Sir Walter. Portrait by Nicholas Hilliard, from the National Portrait Gallery.

 

His successor at Coughton Court, eldest son Robert, was equally committed to the Catholic cause. His Wikipedia page has obviously been edited by a Catholic — the word ‘persecution’ appears repeatedly. Watch out for those loaded words, boys and girls! ‘Prosecute’ is a neutral term describing a legal action. ‘Persecute’ is a drama word, identifying a villain and a martyr. Since two of Sir Robert’s grandchildren and one of his sons-in-law were actually convicted of conspiring to assassinate the queen, I would suggest the phrase “justifiably suspicious of” to describe the attitude of the government toward the Throckmortons of Coughton Court.

Sir Nicholas Throckmorton was the fourth of Sir George’s sons. He was brought up in the household of Catherine Parr, Henry’s last wife and a committed Protestant. (This was undoubtedly one of those child-rearing exchange programs the upper class engaged in back then.) He thus had the advantage of being on board with the new religion from the get-go. He became one of Queen Elizabeth’s most trusted diplomats. His daughter Elizabeth married Sir Walter Raleigh in 1591, getting both her and Sir Walter in hot water with the queen.

The National Trust has owned the house since 1946, although Throckmortons continue to live there today and manage the nursery.

The gatehouse

dining room Coughton CourtI scanned these photos from the National Trust souvenir book. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the house ourselves. The exterior pix are all mine. That’s the gatehouse from the front at the top of this post.

The house has a priest hole, but those things are deuced difficult to take pictures of. There is also a winding stone staircase leading up to the roof, whence you’ll find a magnificent view. Apparently this was a popular destination for dinner guests in the eighteenth century. I can imagine women in Regency dresses climbing that stair, or women wearing bum rolls to bell their skirts, but I don’t see how Georgian panniers could possibly fit.

The dining room, like most of the gatehouse, was extensively repaired and remodeled in 1956, bedroom coughton_courtpresumably by the National Trust. The lovely oak paneling and the marble chimney-piece date from the time of Charles I, who was James I’s second son. Bacon must have known him.

This room, called the Tapestry Bedroom, is a composition of Victorian elements. In earlier centuries, that tester would have been the real thing, covering the whole bed to keep rats and other things from falling on you while you sleep. It would support full curtains too, to keep out those dangerous drafts.

The gardens

The house is interesting, but it’s far from the main draw. Coughton Court has extensive grounds and several connected walled gardens, all of which are breathtakingly beautiful, especially in late June, when I was there. The grounds are 25 acres and every inch is beautifully landscaped. There isn’t a view on the property, any way you might turn, that isn’t stunning. I’d love to visit again in a different season.

References

National Trust. 2002. Coughton Court Warwickshire: House and Gardens. Norwich: Jarrold Publishing.