Notes and Queries, Sept 1998 v45 n3 p370(2)

Thomas Hobbes in Ben Jonson's 'The King's Entertainment at Welbeck.' Martinich, A.P.

Abstract: English playwright Ben Jonson's 1633 play 'The King's Entertainment at Welbeck' (also known as 'Love's Welcome at Welbeck') features a character named Fitz-ale played by an actor whose identity was previously not known. It appears and is quite plausible that Fitz-ale was portrayed by philosopher Thomas Hobbes. No other person than Hobbes comes close to fitting the information scholars have unearthed about Fitz-ale.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1998 Oxford University Press

During his journey north in 1633, Charles I stopped at Welbeck Abbey, a principal residence of the Marquis of Newcastle. Newcastle employed Ben Jonson to write the entertainment for the evening. This work is known both as Love's Welcome at Welbeck and as The King's Entertainment at Welbeck.

The middle part of the entertainment is a dialogue between two characters, Accidence and Fitz-ale, 'performed by the gentlemen of the county'.(1) It is plausible that Fitz-ale was played by the philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679).

Hobbes had been employed by the family of Newcastle's cousin, the Cavendishes of Chatsworth and Hardwick Hall from 1608-28. He had been tutor, friend, and secretary to the second earl of Devonshire. When the latter died in June, 1628, Hobbes took temporary employment with Gervaise Clifton; and it is generally held that he obtained this appointment through the good graces of Newcastle. In any case, Hobbes was closely associated with Newcastle's circle by 1630. Although he was again an employee of the Chatsworth Cavendishes after 1630, Hobbes's intellectual home was Welbeck.(2)

Accidence and Fitz-ale appear on the scene after dinner. Fitz-ale is described by his companion as 'herald of Derby, light and lanthorn of both counties'.(3) Since there was no office of herald in the counties, Jonson probably means no more than that Fitz-ale was a master of ceremonies, one of the principal functions of the original heralds.(4) Calling Fitz-ale a herald also allows Jonson to design a heraldic costume for Fitz-ale. The costume is described as 'pasted over with old records of the two shires'. In fact, Hobbes was a 'light and lanthorn of both counties'. He had distinguished himself in Derbyshire as the translator of Thucydides' history of the Peloponnesian Wars (1629) and as a scientist in Nottinghamshire, as a member of Newcastle's circle.

Fitz-ale is also called 'conserver of the records of either forest, as witnesseth the brief taberd, or coat-armour he carries, being an industrious collection of all the written or reported wonders of the Peak'. There is a strong connection between Hobbes and the Peak District. In 1626, Hobbes and several others toured the Peak District. In commemoration of the trip, he wrote a long Latin poem, 'De Mirabilibus Pecci', which was published in 1636 but presumably was well-known in the area before that. This poem described the so-called seven wonders of the Peak, which included St Anne's well at Buxton, Elden Hole, Poole's Hole, and the Devil's Arse (now 'Peak Cavern'). Hobbes also described the life of the miners of the district. These facts are significant because Accidence describes Fitz-ale as having reported on 'Wonders of the Peak'. Accidence then recites a short poem that begins with a catalog of several of these 'wonders':

Saint Anne of Buxstons boyling Well, Or Elden, bottomlesse, like Hell: Pooles Hole, or Satan's sumptuous Arse. (Surreverence) with the Mine-men's Farce.

I do not know of any connection between Hobbes and Sherwood Forest; but then I do not know of any significant connection between anyone else of the period and that forest.

After his recitation on the poem, Accidence says

Father Fitz-ale Hath a daughter stale In Derby town.

It is not necessary to attribute a daughter to the person who played Fitz-ale, because the mock wedding ceremony was a conventional element in Jonson's performance works.

There are two other facts that cohere with Hobbes's possible part in The King's Entertainment although they do not count as evidence for it. One is that John Aubrey mentioned that the next year, during Hobbes's last visit to the Malmesbury area, the philosopher bragged about knowing Jonson.(5) The other fact is that Aubrey reported that Hobbes declined to have a coat of arms made for him.(6) Perhaps, wearing Fitz-ale's coat of arms had been more than enough for Hobbes.

Could Hobbes have played Accidence? I don't think so. Accidence is described as 'Schoolmaster of Mansfield'.(7) Although Hobbes was tutor to two Cavendishes, and chaperone to the younger Gervase Clifton, he cannot rightly be described as a schoolmaster. Also, I do not know of any special connection between Hobbes and Mansfield.(8)

Scholars now know quite a bit about the learned employees of the Chatsworth and Welbeck Cavendishes during the 1630s. No one comes close to fitting the information we have about the person who played Fitz-ale, other than Hobbes; and he is a close fit.

A. P. MARTINICH The University of Texas at Austin

1 The Works of Ben Johnson, ed. William Gifford, 8 vols (London, Bickers and Son, 1875), VIII, 118.

2 Thomae Hobbes . . . Opera Philosophica Quae Latini Scripsit Omnia, ed. William Molesworth, 5 vols (London, 1839 45), I, xiii, lxxxvi-ii; John Aubrey, Brief Lives, ed. Andrew Clark, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898), I, 324, 330; The Correspondence of Thomas Hobbes, ed. Noel Malcolm (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 813; and Arnold Rogow. Thomas Hobbes (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1986), 57-77.

3 Ben Jonson, ed. Herford and Simpson, 7 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press) VII, 794.

4 Arthur Nason, Heralds and Heraldry in Jonson's Plays (New York: n.p., 1907), 64.

5 Aubrey, Brief Lives, I, 332.

6 Aubrey, Brief Lives, I, 354.

7 Ben Jonson, VII, 794.

8 Scholars with access to records of Mansfield School or Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, may be able to identify the person who played Accidence. (The Earl of Newcastle was also Viscount Mansfield.)