Henry Wotton and the burning of The Globe

From a July 2 1613 letter of Henry Wotton to his nephew Edmund Bacon, found through Frances Yates’ Shakespeare’s Last Plays (and widely quoted elsewhere) but originally from Reliquiae Wottonianae. It somehow never hit home until today that this Wotton is the same ambassador to Venice who so constantly pops up in the accounts of early English travelers to Italy. But for such an interesting figure in so rich a time there’s curiously little written about him. When I went looking a few years back, all I could find were an excellent brief life by his contemporary and good friend Izaak Walton (who also quotes him frequently in his Compleat Angler), two turn of the century biographies (Sir Henry Wotton: A Biographical Sketch by Adolphus Ward and The life and letters of Sir Henry Wotton by Logan Pearsall Smith), and a more recent overview in Harold Acton’s Three extraordinary ambassadors

The King’s players had a new play, called All is True, representing some principal pieces of the reign of Henry VIII, which was set forth with many extraordinary circumstances of pomp and majesty, even to the matting of the stage; the Knights of the Order with their Georges and garters, the Guards with their embroidered coats, and the like: sufficient in truth within a while to make greatness very familiar, if not ridiculous. Now, King Henry making a masque at the Cardinal Wolsey’s house, and certain cannons being shot off at his entry, some of the paper, or other stuff, wherewith one of them was stopped, did light on the thatch, where being thought at first but an idle smoke, and their eyes more attentive to the show, it kindled inwardly, and ran round like a train, consuming within less than an hour the whole house to the very ground.

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