TT: Global Fire, Fortunate Beer, and (T.) More

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Page back one and take a closer look at the chaos that is a professional writer’s life.  Then join me and Alan as we delve into sex, scandal, fire, and saints.

JANE: Last time I got so caught up in our discussion of historical realities that I didn’t get to mention that this early period of Henry’s marriages is what Shakespeare focused on for his play.  It isn’t his best play, but it’s worth at least mentioning.

Fire Extinguishers

Fire Extinguishers

ALAN: And why not? Everybody loves stories involving sex and scandal. The formula continues to be popular even today!

JANE: Sadly, Shakespeare didn’t do a great job, even with such fine material.  The play is so weak that to this day there is argument as to whether or not Shakespeare even wrote The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eighth.  However, there are a few things that aren’t in doubt at all – one is when the play was written.  Often there is a considerable amount of wiggle room but this is the play that was being performed when a historical catastrophe took place.  Want to make a guess on which one?

ALAN: Well it can’t be the Spanish Armada since that had long been destroyed by that time. So I’m at a bit of a loss. What was it?

JANE: It was the burning down of the Globe Theatre, which occurred on June 29, 1613.  The fire was directly tied to the singular spectacle with which this play was put on.  We tend to think of special effects as a modern obsession, but they’re as old as stagecraft.  In this particular case, a short cannon was fired off as one of the effects.  Apparently, one of the wads of paper with which the cannon was loaded landed in the theater’s thatch.  The smoke was ignored as “but an idle smoke” (to quote eyewitness Sir Henry Wotton) and, by the time anyone realized that there was a fire, it had spread “consuming within less than an hour the whole house to the very grounds.”

ALAN: Given the way people crowded into theatres in those days, that must have been quite terrifying. Was anyone hurt?

JANE: I’m glad you asked.  Wotton touches on this specifically, noting: “only one man had his breeches set on fire, that would perhaps have broiled him, if he had not by the benefit of a provident wit put it out with a bottle of ale.”

ALAN: Beer! Such a versatile fluid.

JANE: Returning to a more serious look at the play (well, as serious as I care to get), the date can also be fixed by the likelihood that the play was written to be performed to commemorate the wedding of King James I’s daughter, Elizabeth, to the Elector Palatine, a leader of the continental Protestants.  This would explain the play’s focus on the rise of Protestantism, the importance of the character of Archbishop Cranmer (who as you noted last time had Lutheran sympathies), and the grand finale, the christening of a certain…

ALAN: Wait!  Before we get to that, there’s someone really important we shouldn’t forget.

JANE: Go for it.

ALAN: You mentioned him a week or so ago, the famous SF writer and Catholic saint, Sir Thomas More.

More was a friend of Henry and a skilled theologian who had helped Henry prepare the arguments supporting his divorce from Catherine. But as Henry moved further and further away from Rome’s authority, More found himself less and less able to support the king’s position.

More was appointed Chancellor in 1529, and he used his position to campaign actively against the progress of the Reformation which he increasingly came to regard as heretical. He spied on suspected Protestants, paying particular attention to publishers who might be printing Lutheran books. He arrested many people who were found possessing, transporting or selling the books of the Reformation. Six people were burned at the stake for heresy during More’s time as Chancellor.

JANE: I’ve always thought it really weird – and completely confusing – that two of the king Henries had close friends called Thomas who initially helped them with their quarrels with the church, then later actively campaigned against them.  The other one is I’m thinking of Henry II with his Thomas Becket.

ALAN: You wouldn’t believe it if you read it in a novel!

Things came to a head when More refused to take an oath rejecting the pope’s jurisdiction over the church in favour of the King’s. His power and reputation, as well as his long friendship with Henry kept him safe from prosecution, for the time being, but the writing was on the wall and eventually he resigned the Chancellorship.

He continued to campaign against Henry’s Reformation statutes and refused again to take the Oath of Supremacy when it became law in 1534. Not even Henry could save him this time, and perhaps he didn’t want to, for by now it was clear that More’s opinions could do the king nothing but harm.

In 1535, Sir Thomas More was found guilty of treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. As an act of mercy for his old friend, Henry commuted this sentence to decapitation.

JANE: Some mercy!

Moving back to Shakespeare for a moment, it’s interesting to note that, although there is evidence that the subtitle of Shakespeare’s play may have been “All is True,” this play takes the most liberties with the flow of historical events of any of the Bard’s English history plays.  The action covers events that happened over twenty years, but compresses them and sometimes even shifts the sequence.

ALAN: Just like the modern movies that claim to be “based on a true story.”  There’s really nothing new under the sun, is there?

JANE: You are so right!

The final spectacle of a play filled with spectacles (not eyeglasses, special effects) is the christening of Henry’s infant daughter with his new queen, Anne Bullen… but I am letting drama get ahead of history.  Let’s move on to this lady – better known by another spelling of her name – next time.

7 Responses to “TT: Global Fire, Fortunate Beer, and (T.) More”

  1. Paul Says:

    Somebody MUST someday do a time travel story in which the protagonist witnesses the fire at the Globe Theatre and douses the gentleman’s pants with the ale. (It’s a wonder the alcohol content didn’t spread the fire!)

  2. Tabitha Ormiston-Smith Says:

    Hello Ms Lindskold. I saw your series on Goodreads and it looks interesting – I wanted to try the first book or at least look at it, but I can’t find it on Amazon or Smashwords. Can you please give me a link or tell me where I can get it? It was Through Wolf’s Eyes I wanted.
    Kind regards
    Tabitha Ormiston-Smith

    • janelindskold Says:

      Thanks for your interest!

      My understanding is that the entire Firekeeper Saga is still in print in paperback. You should be able to order it from any bookseller.

      If you’re interested in a hard cover, I have some available via my website bookstore. I sign for free! My website is

      • Tabitha Ormiston-Smith Says:

        Hi Jane,

        Thanks so much for your prompt reply. I was really hoping for an e-book version, due to space constraints.

        Kind regards,

        Tabitha Ormiston-Smith

  3. janelindskold Says:

    Tabitha —

    I believe an e-book version is available through Tor books. Please let me know if you cannot find it and I’ll check.

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