Beggars Bush: A Perambulation through the Disciplines of History, Geography, Archaeology, Literature, Philology, Natural History, Botany, Biography & Beggary

Clause “King of the Beggars”

Clause, King of the Beggars, is a central character in The Beggars Bush (1622) and the later versions of it. At the end of the play it is revealed that he is actually Gerrard, a deposed Earl of Flanders, who before the action starts has rescued his heir Florez and apprenticed him to an English merchant Goswin, whose business and name Florez has inherited. Gerrard has taken the disguise of Clause the beggar, but his natural authority has lead to his election as the King of the beggars, in the episode which formed the droll The Lame Commonwealth. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: May 30th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers, Speculations, The Play | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »


The Beggars Bush Performance History

The Beggars Bush play is important for the both the maintenance and the distribution of the phrase, and therefore its availability as a place name. The text was available not only as a printed source, for which see the Publication History and for example, William Godwin, but also in manuscript form. Although the play is now forgotten it was widely performed, both in London and the provinces. Records of early performances of plays are fragmentary and incomplete; they depend on the chance survival of ephemeral records. When playbills were published and then plays advertised in newspapers records become better for London. We know that plays were performed in the provinces, initially by the main London companies when on tour or when the theatres in London were closed, and then by provincial companies. Even when performed in new editions the play playbills still showed The Beggars Bush. I have compiled a Chronology of Performances, available below. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: May 15th, 2011 | Filed under: The Play | Tags: , , | No Comments »


Izaak Walton The Compleat Angler 1655

Another source which would have kept the phrase alive is Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler, one of the most popular of all English books, and one with much interest to the countryman. It was first published in 1653, and continuously reprinted into the twentieth century.

In the second edition (1655) a group of beggars who, being unable to resolve an argument amongst themselves, decide to refer the dispute for resolution by “old father Clause, whom Ben Jonson in his Beggars Bush created King of their Corporation”. There is no doubt this is the Fletcher & Massinger Beggars Bush, which Walton has misattributed. It shows, and may have helped sustain, the popularity of the play and of the character Clause. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: April 10th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers, The Play | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »


Poor Robin (William Winstanley) An Almanack of the old and new fashion 1694

“Since the King of the Beggars was married to the Queen of the Sluts at Lowzy-Hill near Beggars-Bush, being most splendidly attended by a ragged Regiment of Mumpers.”

The entry is characteristic of the Poor Robin almanacs, reporting the fictional event in splendid style. “Mumper” is a Cant word for beggar. At this time “slut” did not necessarily imply sexual licence, but encompassed slovenly, untidy or disorderly women generally: in this context all are implied I see no reason to assume that this is a reference to a real event. The King of the Beggars was a common character, not just from the Beggars Bush play by Fletcher & Massinger. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: April 9th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »


The Droll The Lame Common-Wealth 1673

This is the droll from The Wits, by Francis Kirkman (1673) which is based on  the text of Act 2, Scene 1 of Beggar’s Bush, by Fletcher & Massinger.The text is take from The Wits, or Sport Upon Sport”, ed. J. J. Elson (1932). The spelling is uncorrected. The notes on canting are based on the glossary in A V Judges, The Elizabethan Underworld. [1]
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Posted: March 28th, 2011 | Filed under: The Play | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »


John Day The Parliament of Bees c.1634

John Day uses the phrase Beggars Bush in the common literary usage twice in publications which cannot be precisely dated. Day was a jobbing playwright, working for Philip Henslowe and others. The old DNB described him as “one of the most neglected playwrights of the Elizabethan period: a distinction which is, for the most part, justified”. Ben Jonson described him as a “rogue” and he probably killed the playwright Henry Porter with a rapier. However, we may have sympathy with his own description of himself that in the end “notwithstanding . . . Industry . . . he was forct to take a napp at Beggars Bushe”.
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Posted: March 27th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »


Sticky: Francis Kirkman The Lame Commonwealth in The Wits 1662 & 1673

The Wits, or Sport for Sport a collection of drolls (short plays) included one based on Act II Scene 1 of The Beggars Bush called The Lame Common-Wealth. This was adapted for informal and small scale performance anywhere. It may have been important in the distribution of Beggars Bush as a place name. At the very least it is an intriguing byway and example of the remarkable entrepreneurial career of the publisher Francis Kirkman. The frontispiece is widely reproduced, and inaccurately described, but demonstrates the popularity of the character Clause from the play & droll.
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Posted: March 20th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers, The Play | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »


John Fletcher & Philip Massinger The Beggars Bush 1622

“The Beggars Bush” is a play written by John Fletcher and Philip Massinger in 1622, but commonly included in the “Beaumont and Fletcher” canon. Through performance, print, characters and development of the original text it was likely to have made a substantial contribution to the survival and distribution of the literary phrase. As to the eponymous Beggars Bush itself the play is vague. It is a meeting place for the beggar characters, some of whom, it is revealed, are not beggars at all. It does not attempt to portray a real location – the play is not set in England but in and around Bruges.

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Posted: March 20th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers, The Play | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »


Thomas Heywood The Rape of Lucrece 1608

Thomas Heywood is significant because he does not use Beggars Bush when he might have done, but he does associate beggars with bushes. This song appears to be the source or have a common source with, a later ballad Londons Ordinary which does refer to Beggars Bush.
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Posted: March 19th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »