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 variations 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.

Although his position follows the archetype of the “Upright Man” from Elizabethan rogue literature Clause appears to have no antecedents as a named character before Fletcher and Massinger. The popularity and later appearances of the character of Clause demonstrate the popularity of the play.

Izaak Walton

Izaak Walton’s mention of The Beggars Bush in The Compleat Angler (1655) involves Clause as an arbitrator for the beggars. Walton notably treats beggars and gypsies as distinct groups.

The Lame Commonwealth

Clause and his election formed the basis for The Lame Commonwealth (1662) a droll based part of the play. The frontispiece to The Wits, in which the droll was published by Francis Kirkman shows seven characters from six different works on stage at once; downstage are Falstaff with Mistress Quickly and Clause.

It has been suggested that the images of Clause & Falstaff are derived from the popular engravings of Jacques Callot, and therefore the image of Clause may not give a faithful portrayal of the character as played on stage. There is just as much reason for costume designers to use archetypes as for artists. Costumes would be designed to match the popular image of a character, so the relationship of the frontispiece to any earlier prints may be indirect, and may show how the character was presented. Clause wears ragged clothing, as would any beggar; he has a crutch, which is mentioned in the text, but also has a mechanism for lifting his left leg to feign disability, which is not. This suggests the actors playing him made full use of the opportunities for stage “business”.  His inclusion, placing and presentation all suggest he was a popular & well-known character. This depiction of the device suggests that the engraver was using elements he had actually seen, or of which he had been told, which originated from actual performances of the part.

Clause took on a life of his own, appearing as a literary and a real character. Samuel Butler (d.1680) wrote series of “Characters” including “The Court Beggars“ of whom he says “He values himself and his place not upon the honour or allowances of it, but the convenient opportunity of begging, as King Clause’s courtiers . . .“. The Swiss lexicographer Guy Miege refers to Clause as King of the Beggars, in his “Miscellanea: Or, a Choice Collection of Wise and Ingenious Sayings . . .” (London, 1694). (Miege also appears to be the origin, through misattribution, of the association of the Godmanchester site with “a rendezvous for beggars”.)

A broadside published in Dublin in 1735 is described as “A letter from the city mumpers, to the liberty beggars, on the coronation of their King Clause”. This may have been prompted by a noted performance of The Beggars Bush in Dublin in 1734

Bampfylde Moore Carew

He also appeared as Clause Patch in many editions of The Life and  Adventures of Bampfylde Moore Carew (1745) the supposed autobiography of a vicar’s son who takes to the open road, possibly written by Carew himself, and also in An Apology for the Life of Bampfylde Moore Carew (1749), a separate work probably written by the Sherborne publisher Robert Goadby. In both Carew claimed to have been elected by a great convocation of beggars on the death of Clause Patch, King of the Mendicants, who appears as a real character. The scheme of this appears to be based on the scene in The Beggars Bush and The Lame Commonwealth. It is celebrated with an adaption of the Song, “Cast our caps and cares away” from the play, which is not included in the droll, suggesting that the play is the source.

Carew’s story went through numerous editions during the eighteenth century, often with a Canting Dictionary appended. The extent to which any of this picaresque work is based on real events involving Carew remains unresolved. Much of the later work is plagiarised. Parts of the earlier work can be linked with recorded events, though Carew’s presence at most of them cannot be determined. It can be said without question that he did not succeed a fictional character to any real position, even if such a position existed.

Lord Byron

Lord Byron refers to him, although in his fictional character in the new version of The Beggars Bush called The Merchant of Bruges (1815) written by his friend Douglas Kinnaird, apparently after being directed to the original play by Charles Lamb. In a letter to John Cam Hobhouse 1st May 1816 — Bruges first – where you may tell Douglas Kinnaird – on entering at Sunset – I overtook a crew of beggarly looking gentlemen not unlike Oxberry – headed by a Monarch with a Staff the very facsimile of King Clause in the said D. K’s revived drama.”

William Oxberry 1784-1824 was an actor, publisher and critic. DNB says he was a regular member of the Drury Lane company between 1812 and 1820. He may have played Clause, but Dramatis Personae in the 2nd edition of the play lists his name against “Orator” Higgen.


Elson, J. J. (ed) (1932) The Wits, or Sport Upon Sport, Ithaca: Cornell University Press

Dorenkamp, J. H., (ed.), (1967) Beggars Bush, Paris & The Hague,

Astington, J,, (1993) The Wits Illustration, 1662, Theatre Notebook 47, p.128

Bevan, Jonquil, Stage Influences in The Compleat Angler, The Review of English Studies New Series, Vol. 34, No. 136 (Nov., 1983), pp. 452-457

Anon A letter from the city mumpers, to the liberty-beggars, on the coronation of their King Clause. [Dublin]. Printed in the year, 1735 2p.; 1/20. New York Public Library Broadsides Verse – “Since you, poor knaves, have scrap’d some pence and pity”. Foxon L134. REFERENCE: ESTCN5740.

Berson, Joel. S., The Memoirs of Bampfylde-Moore Carew: Additional Plagiaries and Dateable Events, Notes and Queries (2007) 54 (4): 456-464.

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

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