Thursday, 18 January 2018

18 January, 1594 - King Lud

Here's what the Earl of Sussex's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: R at kinge lude the 18 of Jenewarye 1593 ... xxijs 

In modern English: Received at King Lud, 18th January, 1594 ... 22 shillings

Today, Sussex's Men introduced yet another play to the Rose audience. King Lud is now lost, but it must have been about the mythical pre-Roman king of the Britons after whom London is named. The audience would therefore have come to the theatre expecting a dramatization of local history. So, what might a play about King Lud have been like?

The legend of King Lud

The audience that gathered at the Rose would already have had a strong image of King Lud in their minds. Just a few years ago, in 1586, Ludgate, the great archway next to St Paul's Cathedral, had been enhanced with brand new statues of Lud and his two sons. You can still see these statues today: although Ludgate itself was demolished in the eighteenth century, Lud and his sons can be found standing awkwardly in the porch of the nearby church of St Dunstan in the West.

King Lud and his two sons -St. Dunstan-in-the-West

Ludgate, from Wenceslas Hollar's map of
London (late 17th century)
Why did Lud deserve a statue? According to legend, London was founded by Trojan exiles who named their city Troynovant ('New Troy'); Lud was one of their descendants and made London the great city that it is today. According to the 16th century historian Raphael Holinshed, Lud began his reign in 72 BC. He was a virtuous monarch, whose achievements included "amending the laws of the realm that were defective, abolishing evil customs and manners used amongst his people, and repairing old cities and towns which were decayed".

Lud was most famous for his beautification and enlargment of Troynovant, "which he compassed with a strong wall made of lime and stone in the best manner, fortified with diverse fair towers, and in the west part of the same wall he erected a strong gate, which he commanded to be called after his name, Lud's Gate, and so unto this date it is called Ludgate".

The area of Ludgate and St Paul's, from the 'Agas
Map' (1563)
Holinshed describes how Lud enhanced the surrounding area by causing "buildings to be made betwixt London Stone and Ludgate, and builded for himself not far from the said gate a fair palace ... He also builded a fair temple near to his said palace, which temple (as some take it) was after turned to a church, and at this day called Paul's."

For this reason, it was only natural that the city took his name; as Holinshed explains, "the name was changed so that it was called Caerlud, that is to say, Lud's Town, and after, by corruption of speech. it was named London".

None of this is actually true, but it was a good story, and was deeply embedded in London folklore.

The play

Although Lud was a beloved figure for Londoners, it is hard to imagine the plot of this lost play, because there is no drama or conflict in his legend. For Holinshed, Lud was simply a perfect king: "strong and valiant in arms, in subduing his enemies, bounteous and liberal both in gifts and keeping a plentiful house, so that he was greatly beloved of all the Britons". Perhaps the playwright manufactured an imaginary story about Lud and his subjects and used the building of Ludgate and St Paul's as a spectacular climax.

Whatever its story, King Lud did not draw large crowds to the Rose. The theatre was only half full and the company never performed it there again.

What's next?

There's no record of a performance at the Rose tomorrow, or the day after (which was a Sunday), so Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will return on the 21st, for a week that will include the return of Shakespeare to the Rose. Stay tuned!


King Lud information

Henslowe links


Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!

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