Staging the Henrician Court : Topical significance of the Laundress

This page last changed on Aug 28, 2009 by Eleanor Rycroft.

The significance of the Laundress is perhaps heightened by the fact that one of Henry’s reported bastards was supposedly fathered with his royal laundress, Joan or Joanna Dingley. Miller and Yavneh contend that Ethelreda Malte (born c.1527-9), despite being claimed as the daughter of the tailor, John Malte, was actually acknowledged by Henry as his own. Henry arranged a marriage in 1546 between John Harington and the illegitimate Ethelreda, who was also a lady of the court, and at the time bequeathed her, “a large grant of forfeited monastic land, which Harington inherited on Ethelreda’s death” (2006, p86). The inclusion of a Laundress in 'The Play of the Weather' therefore seems an exceptionally risqué move for Heywood if the play was performed before Henry. Does it constitute an element of the licensed merriment of the play, or gesture towards one of the open secrets of the court? Or was it something added at the point of publication, dialogue meant to be performed in other venues such as the Inns of Court, the Guild Halls or on Rastell’s Finsbury stage? It is certainly one of the enigmas of the text if it was a courtly play.

(Excerpt from the paper 'Gender and Status in 'The Play of the Weather'' delivered at the conference 'Henry VIII and the Tudor Court 1509-2009', 13th July 2009)

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