Among the cases before the magistrates at the Middlesex Sessions of 1 December 1613 was one which involved three French 'goldworkers' resident in the parish of St Giles without Cripplegate, and a woman from Whitechapel called Frances Williams. The charge was fornication. Though not in itself unusual, the charge had an extra twist, repeated with minor variations in most of the entries relating to it: 'they were all 4 seene in bed together at one tyme.' The documentation is scanty, and we have no Jacobean tabloids to furnish us with further juicy details - 'Immigrants in Group Sex Romp!' - but one fact which makes the case worth pursuing is the involvement of Shakespeare's former landlord Christopher Mountjoy. There is an obvious link: like the three goldworkers, Mountjoy was French. Also like them, he lived in the Cripplegate area (though his house was within the London city walls, on respectable Silver Street, whereas the alleged fornicators lived out in the rougher extramural suburb of St Giles). These are community connections. But what else - what more specifically - has drawn him into this prosecution, and into the rather murky story that lies behind it?
LRB 24 June 2010 | PDF Download