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Plays and playcoats: a courtly interlude tradition in Scotland?

The reign of Henry VIII saw a flourishing of court drama in England. Recent critical interest has sharpened our awareness of the varied uses of theatricality at the Tudor court, from performance games and disguising through spectacular revels to more and less elaborately developed spoken plays. Henry's personal interest in performance and his apparent readiness to accept drama as an instrument of debate as well as entertainment seem to have encouraged not only dramatic activity itself, but also the survival of evidence. This evidence suggests an increasing prominence of the courtly interlude through the first half of the sixteenth century: printers published texts from playwrights such as Skelton, Rastell, and Heywood while historical records and anecdotes, along with wardrobe accounts, point to a range of other interludes. Both texts and reports suggest that court theater became a recognized and at times highly developed mode of topical comment. This is a period when court drama played an important role in the assertion, celebration, and critique of royal power. (1)

If we turn away from Henry's court and look north beyond the Tudor kingdom, what theatrical culture do we find in Scotland, England's close but antagonistic neighbor? James IV's marriage to Henry's sister Margaret in 1503 had confirmed relations between the two countries and their monarchs as both intimate and conflicted. Both royal establishments acknowledged and exploited the consciously spectacular court culture of the early sixteenth century. (2) So did the Stewart courts of James IV and James V support any kind of comparably lively and searching interlude culture? The question is hard to address, primarily because of the difficulty besetting any analysis of early drama in Scotland: the notorious lack of surviving pre-Reformation dramatic texts. Apart from a few fragments from quasi-dramatic games, we have only Sir David Lyndsay's Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis, and the two existing versions of that script document, not a court production but large-scale public, outdoor performances in the 1550s. (3) Without scripts the search for a Scottish interlude tradition seems frustrated before it begins.

The picture is slightly less blank than this suggests, however. Lyndsay's text is complemented by a detailed, vivid, and revealing eyewitness account of what is plainly a court interlude, played before the king and queen at Linlithgow on the Feast of the Epiphany in 1540 and widely taken to prefigure the Thrie Estaitis. (4) Dramatizing the complaints of a poor man to a king and his parliament, the play addresses the corruption and oppression exercised by courtiers and, more especially, by the Church. Its vividly direct and immediate acknowledgment of topical events, of its courtly audience and of James V among the spectators, along with the king's apparent knowledge and approval of its content and his use of the performance as a political tool, all mark this as similar in type to the English courtly interlude. (5) Our knowledge of the play rests on a report passed to the English commander of Berwick, Sir Thomas Eure, as evidence of James V's attitudes to Church reform. (6) What can be detected of the play's reception might indeed suggest that the political courtly interlude was by then a familiar form in Scotland. Eure, who sent details of the play to Thomas Cromwell in London, states without surprise: "thay have hade ane enterluyde played"--he is interested in the political content of the play, not by the fact of its performance. In Scotland there is no surviving notice of the interlude at all, and this very lack of any contemporary comment or reflection might imply that its performance was, in itself, nothing out of the ordinary. What the report certainly reveals is that in 1540 a confident and theatrically sophisticated political interlude was performed at James V's court, apparently exciting no surprise. Might this suggest a developed but now lost tradition of court interludes in Scotland?

Apart from playtexts and contemporary descriptions, our chief source of evidence for all kinds of early performance comes from records of expenditure, that is, costs and payments. It therefore seems possible that the Scottish royal Treasurer's Accounts, which survive in a fairly full run through the first half of the sixteenth century, might cast some light on the development of Scottish court performance in this period. (7) The accounts are not organized in a way that makes the search easy. Although Scotland participated actively in the international court culture of the early sixteenth century, it was not wealthy enough to support a court of the size and magnificence of England and had no equivalent of the English offices of the Wardrobe or the Revels, with their own lines of accounting and inventory. Any expenses on court performance are included in the composite accounts of the Lord Treasurer, which cover a wide range of areas from the king's wardrobe, stables, and household, to messengers, shipbuilding, and expenses on alms. (8) While special events such as James IV's spectacular Tournament of the Black Lady and the Wild Knight in 1507 and 1508 might have their own lists of expenses, isolated costs for less elaborate performances are likely to crop up undifferentiated within various more general categories such as expenses on the king's person, expenses by special precept, or expenses on livery. Also, as might be expected, the treasury clerks are primarily interested in accounting for costs rather than in describing or recording the events or objects on which the money had been spent. Any evidence of dramatic activity that can be identified is therefore unlikely to tell us exactly what we would like to know. Nonetheless, the accounts can be illuminating.

References to theatrical activity of various kinds do indeed recur throughout the reigns of James IV and James V: we find expenses for tournament and joust, dance and disguising, Christmas and seasonal revelry, music and song. Among these, between 1508 and 1540 in particular, there are a number of entries in the accounts that mention "plays" or more often, intriguingly, "playcoats." It is clear that in many of these entries the "playcoats" refer to theatrical costumes of some kind, although the accounts are generally frustratingly short on any detail of the exact nature or purpose of the garments or the events for which they were intended. Yet if we explore not just the specific content of these entries but their context within the accounts and beyond, we may begin to glimpse a fuller sense of dramatic performance at the courts of James IV and V. Analogous and adjacent items can help us to interpret the bald statements of expenditure. Moreover, other sources of material or narrative evidence can extend the implications of the paucity of costume details.

Initially, the terminology of plays and playcoats might seem to suggest a very different kind of dramatic tradition from the political courtly interlude. We first find a "play" mentioned among the expenses recorded for entertainment at James IV's Tournament of the Black Lady in 1508. The word occurs toward the end of a series of payments for what seem to be lavish disguisings, the spectacularly costumed and masked danced displays that frequently followed European tournaments. (9) There is no clear sense of a spoken interlude. Fifty-four shillings were spent on providing "ye franch gunnar" (the French gunner) with four ells of red, white, green, and yellow taffeta "agane the bancat" (for the banquet) while 10 [pounds sterling]/5s went to twenty-two and a half ells "of birge satin Rede and 3allo to be v daunsing cotis agane the bancat" (of red and yellow Bruges satin to be five dancing coats for the banquet). These were enhanced by "cod lases ratland gold ful3ee v dosane small bellis vj dosane gret bellis lattoun wyre xij 1/2 eln blew bukrem xx eln j quarter fren3eis xx fawdoun small toll to ye bancat & for ye play & dans of ye samyn" (codpiece laces [?], rattling gold foil, five dozen small bells, six dozen great bells, brass wire, twelve and a half ells of blue buckram, twenty ells and a quarter of fringe, twenty fathom of thin rope for the banquet, and for the play and dance for the same). (10)

These items suggest that the "dans" was a courtly version of a morris with a team of dancers in particolored coats adorned with bells, who are joined by a fool.The entry for the dancers' coats is bracketed with one for "taffetj to be sleffis to ye fulis cote & hude & taggis to ye samyn" (taffeta to be sleeves to the fool's coat and hood, and tags to the same). It is not clear how the "play" relates to this dance and the other banquet festivity: it is even possible that "play and dans" simply constitute a doublet rather than pointing to two separate activities. Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie, in a history written some sixty or seventy years later, describes a series of different theatrical events at the banquet and does comment explicitly on spoken drama: "betuix everie seruice thair was ane phairs or ane play sum be speikin sum be craft of Igramancie quhilk causit men to sie thingis aper quhilk was nocht" (between each course there was a farce or a play, some by speaking and some by craft of conjuring that caused men to see things appear which were not there). (11) However, while Pitscottie is clearly responsive to theatricality, and it is possible that he may have heard eyewitness accounts of the entertainments, his vivid history is not trustworthy on exact detail. (12) While we cannot be sure of the nature of the "play," the accounts record that for this spectacular occasion a performance garment required about four ells of cloth, and that the predominant materials used were taffeta and satin, both luxurious rather than durable or inexpensive fabrics.

Three years later, the next record to mention a "play" not only associates it this time with a "playcoat," but famously provides the first reference to Sir David Lyndsay in a theatrical context. Lyndsay, then a young man of about twenty-five, went on to become a crucial figure in dramatic activity in Scotland both as a playwright and as a senior herald involved in the organization of a range of ceremonial and theatrical events. On 12 October 1511, we find the following payment among expenses from the King's Purse:
   Item ye xij day of October fra maister Johne of murray ij 1/2 elnis
   blew taffatis and vj quartaris 3allow taffatis to be ane play coit
   to dauid lindesay for ye play playt in ye king and qwenis presencis
   in ye abbay price elne xvj s summa iij li iiij s (13)

   (Item: the twelfth day of October from Master John of Murray two
   and a half ells of blue taffeta and six quarters of yellow taffeta
   to be a playcoat for David Lyndsay for the play played in the king
   and queen's presence in the abbey. Price per ell, sixteen
   shillings, total 3 [pounds sterling]/4s)

No other expenses are apparently recorded for this occasion, suggesting that this play was not part of some larger spectacular revel; on the other hand, the wording implies that although this expense is on a single costume it was not a solo performance by Lyndsay. This impression is supported by the payment later in the account, undated though probably for the Christmas season a couple of months later, of 8 [pounds sterling]/8s for twelve ells of taffeta:
   Item be ye kingis command deliuerit to Sir James Inglis to be hyme
   and his collegis play cotis xij elnis taffatis price eln xiiii s
   summa viii li viij s

   Item for ye sam cotis xij elnis canwes price elne xiiijd summa
   xiiij s (14)

   (Item: by the king's command delivered to Sir James Inglis, to be
   playcoats for him and his colleagues, twelve ells of taffeta. Price
   per ell fourteen shillings, total 8 [pounds sterling]/8s.)

   (Item: for the same coats twelve ells of canvas. Price per ell
   fourteen pence, total fourteen shillings.)

Playcoats, as we find later in the accounts, are more often provided for groups than for single performers. As in the 1508 entry, Lyndsay's costume is allowed four ells of cloth, two and a half of blue and one and a half of yellow. The twelve ells for Sir James Inglis thus sounds as if it represents coats for three performers. The fabric of choice remains the relatively costly taffeta, a silk material used in the king's wardrobe for doublets and decorative linings, although the canvas used for lining or stiffening might possibly suggest something slightly more robust than before. While color is not specified for the Inglis costumes, it is interesting to find that Lyndsay's garment is apparently particolored in blue and yellow. This seems to echo the earlier costumes for the dance and banquet of the Black Lady.

We cannot tell what kind of plays these were. Theatrical terminology at the time is inevitably loose and elastic, and especially in contexts like the accounts writers are rarely interested in generic nuance, making it hard to pin down any formal significance for either "play" or "playcoat." Play is notoriously, in both Scots and English, a broadly applicable term used in contexts of sport, recreation, and even battle, as well as drama. (15) However, it may be possible to detect a certain convention to its theatrical use in these records, even if it remains fundamentally imprecise. One observation is that the common English term interlude is rarely used in Scotland at the time and does not appear at all in the Treasurer's Accounts. Words for theatrical events that do occur include clans, ballat, fars, and maskrie (dance, ballad, farce, and masking) alongside play. Interestingly, Sir James Inglis himself was saluted by Lyndsay in later life as the author of "ballatts, farses, and ... plesand playis." (16) While these three terms chosen by Lyndsay may be primarily a collective trope of rhetorical copiousness, they can also be understood as carrying certain distinctions, although to understand them we need to recognize both contemporary usage and the misleading resonances of modern definitions.

Ballat has a looser sense than our current ballad. It appears to have a musical dimension, being most often associated with sung performance, as in 1492 when three chapel clerks were rewarded for "singyn of a ballat to ye king." (17) Yet it seems that the ballat was equally dependent on words: the poets Dunbar and Henryson both refer to some of their works as ballats, especially those with a narrative focus. (18) In fact, Dunbar seems almost to imply that the ballat falls somewhere between a sung and a dramatic performance, explaining how he can take no pleasure "Off sangs, ballattis and of playis." (19) Defined as a "false friend," fars is one of those terms with a clear modern meaning that can too easily lead us astray. Although the word is widely used in sixteenth-century Scotland, it is rarely if ever associated with the short comic plays it now denotes. (20) In Scottish usage fars may designate anything from serious spoken drama to spectacular pageants and theatrical machinery. (21) The Treasurer's Accounts do not securely differentiate it from play: two months after Inglis's production, Gilleam Tabernar was paid 4/4s [pounds sterling] in February 1512 for "ane fars play to ye king and qvenis gracis in ye abbay" (a farce play for the king and queen's graces in the abbey). (22) More often, however, fars and play are paired in a convention that appears to imply some distinction between them. In references to civic drama fars seems particularly associated with triumphant spectacle and pageantry, as in the "tymmer, canves, and all vther necessaris convenient for the triumphis and fairssis [at] the over trone" (timber, canvas, and all other necessaries convenient for the triumphs and farces at the Upper Tron) to welcome Mary, Queen of Scots in 1561. (23) Pitscottie, who consistently uses the term in this sense, perhaps comes closest to spelling out what may have been a commonly perceived distinction in the quotation from his work above: a fars involves something that may seem like "craft of Igramancie," whereas a play operates "be spekin." Elusive as these shades of difference are, they suggest that play is the word most often used to signify a drama involving dialogue. It certainly seems possible that the Treasurer's Accounts might generally use the term where a writer in England would refer to an interlude.

Like interludes, the unidentified plays of 1511 were presented at court before the king and queen as individual events rather than as part of larger entertainments. They appear to have had small casts--or at least to require small numbers of costumes. Apart from that, the particolored taffeta and the apparent lack of differentiation between the generic "playcoats," if anything suggests something not unlike the earlier set of red and yellow "daunsing cotis." At least in the language of the records the playcoats sound more decorative than individually and dramatically mimetic.

After 1511 there is a gap in allusions to drama through most of the accounts of James V's minority (1513-1528), but as he moved into his personal reign payments for similar sounding "play cotis" begin to recur sporadically. Sir James Inglis is given 40 [pounds sterling] "to by play coitis agane 3ule" (to buy play coats for Yule) in 1526: this is presumably for a rather larger-scale production given the greater sum of money, though there are no more details to flesh out the event. (24) In January 1534, we find forty shillings spent on "ij elnis taphety of the cord reid and 3allow" for "ane play coit to the Kingis son" (two ells of red and yellow corded taffeta for a playcoat for the king's son), the coat lined with red and yellow buckram. (25) Although the particolored taffeta sounds familiar, at two ells this is clearly a child's costume rather than an adult's. By early 1534 James was twenty-one and had probably fathered at least three of his five or six illegitimate sons. From the accounts, where he is provided with other clothing around this time, the likeliest candidate is the eldest, James Stewart, son of Elizabeth Shaw, born about 1529 and so around age five. (26) It may be that this points to a simpler, less verbal kind of performance. The Household Book for the period reveals that James V spent most of January 1534 at Coupar where Andrea Thomas suggests he may have been visiting his young son. (27) The child's playcoat is paid for during this month and may therefore belong to private festivity.

However, it is not impossible that such a young child might take part in an interlude. An item in another section of the accounts from around the same time might point to that possibility:
   Item the last day of December deliuerit to schir michell dysart and
   his marrowis be ye kingis precept to be yaim play coittis agane new
   3eir day xx elnis bukrame Reid and 3allow price of ye elne xxx d
   summa 1s (28)

   (Item: the last day of December delivered to Sir Michael Dysart and
   his fellows by the king's precept to be playcoats for them for New
   Year's Day, twenty ells of red and yellow buckram. Price per ell
   thirty pence, total fifty shillings.)

Although these items are not directly linked, appearing at slightly different dates in the Christmas season, one under expenses on the king and the other under liveries, it is not impossible that they refer to a single performance in which the young James Stewart joined Sir Michael and his colleagues. English parallels suggest that this is a viable scenario for court drama: John Heywood's Play of the Weather, which may well have been performed at the court of Henry VIII the previous year, prescribes for one of its parts, "a boy the lest that can play" (a boy, the smallest who can act), to join with a cast of adult or older child actors. (29) With twenty ells of cloth provided to Michael Dysart, we might assume there were five adult players, their costumes in the same red and yellow as the child's playcoat. An apparently unusual feature is the coarser and cheaper buckram of the adult garments, while the child's coat is made from even more than usually expensive taffeta of the cord. But the account entries offer no other clues as to purposes or effects: the little boy and the adults are both dressed for some kind of performance, but we cannot tell from these entries what sort of play, game, dance, or Christmas revel was involved.

Some slight evidence that the playcoats considered so far form a distinct group associated with some particular form of drama might be suggested by an entry for a different kind of performance garment in 1535. At the Christmas season that year, around twenty-four ells of the much cheaper "Scottish white" and fourteen of "Scottish black" cloth are bought "to be certane play gownis to ye kingis grace to pass in maskrie" (to be certain play gowns for the king's grace to take part in masking). (30) These are again bicolored costumes, the black cloth bought "to be ye tothir half of ye saidis gownis" (to be the other half of the said gowns). However, these costumes much more definitely suggest disguising games, with a troop of maskers including the king himself wearing matching costumes. (31) Unlike the previous playcoats these garments, specifically for the king's use, apparently remained in the royal wardrobe. They reappear in a wardrobe inventory for 1543 that lists "sex play coitis quhite and blak claith" (six playcoats white and black cloth). (32) Many details distinguish these garments from the taffeta playcoats we have encountered so far: the word initially used is "gowns," the material is less luxurious, a "play" is not mentioned, and the king himself is involved. These differences all suggest that the colored taffeta playcoats belong to a different kind of theatrical activity.

Yet overall, the evidence up to this point remains enigmatic: playcoats are relatively frequent; they are often, though not always, specifically associated with performance of something referred to as a "play"; they are usually made of taffeta, and the entries for single costumes suggest they are often particolored. The fact that they are called "coitis" rather than "gowns" and take on average four ells of cloth for an adult suggests something relatively close-fitting; and, possibly significantly, where there is more than one player the costumes seem not to be differentiated. While these references to playcoats testify to a continuing tradition of theatrical performance, they offer no solid evidence as to the plays they dressed. If anything, the impression, although indistinct, might be of decorative spectacle and game rather than formal drama, with the matching "dancing coats" of the first entry in 1508 apparently setting the tone.

That being said, the next playcoat entry in the accounts sheds a quite new light on Scottish court drama, and perhaps invites us to rethink the implications of those earlier entries. We reach January 1540, which is the date of the Epiphany "enterluyde" described by a Scottish onlooker to English authorities. Here at last we have a full and detailed eyewitness account of a sophisticated Scottish courtly debate-drama, engaging eloquently and forcefully with current political affairs. It might seem that nothing in the previous surviving records would have prepared us for this confident and penetrating speech-based drama with its varied cast of characters and its lively awareness of debate and critique. It seems closer to Skelton's Magnyfycence, Heywood's Play of the Weather, or Bale's Kyng Johan than to anything we might deduce from the multicolored taffeta playcoats. Yet the play is likely to be less of an innovation than it might appear.

Particular political circumstances led to our uniquely detailed eyewitness account of this interlude. If that report had not survived, would we know anything of this performance from the Treasurer's Accounts? Intriguingly, there is a record of a rather familiar-sounding payment for playcoats specifically for Epiphany 1540. On 3 January, "vij elnis half eln reid and vij elnis half eln 3allow taffites of cord" are recorded as delivered to the king's master tailor Thomas Arthur, "to be iij play cotis agane vphalyday" (seven and half ells of red and seven and a half ells of yellow corded taffeta to be three playcoats for Epiphany). (33) Here is the same theme again of apparently particolored matching taffeta costumes; these are, though, possibly slightly more elaborate garments since five ells were allowed this time for each coat and a further two ells of red and yellow taffeta were supplied "to draw ye talis of ye saidis play cotis" (to decorate the tails of the said playcoats). Unusually, the expenses are then elaborated further. In addition to the red and yellow cloth, Arthur has "deliuerit to him to be ane syde cape to ane of ye playaris vj elnis purpur taffites of corde and ane eln of reid taffites to be ane hude" (delivered to him, to be a long cape for one of the players, six ells of purple corded taffeta and one ell of red taffeta to be a hood). He is then separately paid twenty shillings "for making of ye saidis play cotis and cape" (for making the said playcoats and cape).

While the cape is a new departure, apart from this the record might not seem significantly different from previous expenses on playcoats. However, if we set the entry in the context of our external information about the interlude, and indeed in the wider context of the accounts themselves, something rather different begins to emerge. The eyewitness report of the interlude allows us to hazard reasonable guesses at the purposes of these costumes. (34) The cast comprised: Solace (a cheerful and jesting MC); the King (who took little part in the action but at the end ratified "as in playne parliament" the outcome of the debate); three flamboyantly satirized courtiers, "Placebo, Pikthanke, and Flatterye"; representatives of the three estates--a man at arms, a bishop, and a burgess; the expositor, Experience ("clede like a doctor" of law); and the Poor Man (who brought complaints to the parliament). Thomas Arthur clearly did not clothe this whole cast, but it seems likely that appropriate clothing for many of them--the poor man, the three estates, the doctor of law, for example--might have been fairly readily available elsewhere. The costumes mentioned in the accounts, though, do appear to match specific characters in the interlude.

The three matching red and yellow playcoats are most likely to have been designed for the three caricatured courtiers. Red and yellow have, of course, already appeared among playcoat entries. They had been heraldic colors of the Scottish crown for a considerable time, and long connected with courtly display. It is in the 1530s, however, that they seem to have become fully established as the standard household livery colors for James V. (35) The combination appears to have become the norm especially for musicians and performers: in the 1539-40 Christmas season of the interlude, five ells of red and yellow cloth are provided for liveries for each of three violers, four trumpeters, two tabor players, and John Lowis, a fool. The colors are not exclusive to these groups; various other court servitors--lackeys, children of the stable, muleteers--are given the same red and yellow liveries, both at this Christmas season and in the immediately preceding years. (36) Those receiving these liveries are not the highest-ranking members of the court. Nobles and superior household officials were provided with individual gowns made from a variety of colors and fabrics. There even appeared to be a certain class consciousness about the uniform liveries. The previous Christmas the chief tabronar, Antoun, was provided with money to buy alternative clothes "becaus yat he wald nocht were reid and 3allow as his seruandis" (because he would not wear red and yellow like his servants) while the lead violer, Jakkis, was also distinguished from his bicolored colleagues "becaus his loueray Is reid" (because his livery is red). (37)

It looks as though red and yellow play costumes might clearly signal, to the intended audiences, middle-ranking members of the king's household, possibly especially those involved in entertainment. This would certainly be appropriate for the self-important, comic courtiers of the Epiphany interlude. The playcoats were apparently slightly more elaborate than usual, especially given the extra taffeta supplied for the "tails" There was a fashion for tailed or trailing clothes for both men and women, which from the evidence of the Treasurer's Accounts appears to peak in the 1530s. (38) The king himself had a tailed doublet and a riding coat with tails delivered to Linlithgow, for this Christmas season. (39) The fashion also attracted some ridicule. Sir David Lyndsay wrote a contemptuous satirical poem on the flamboyant excesses of women's "side (long) tails" at around this time, condemning the waste of cloth as they trailed costly fabric through the dirt. (40) Such elaborated playcoats seem particularly apt for the ridiculously boastful Placebo, Pikthanke, and Flatterye: "one swering he was the lustiest, starkeste, best proporcioned and most valiaunte man that ever was ... and so furthe during thair partes" (one swearing he was the liveliest, strongest, best proportioned and most valiant man that ever was ... and so forth during their parts). (41) The fashionable though essentially subordinate costume suits their improperly self-flaunting characterization.

The long purple cape with red hood is most likely to have been the costume for the player king. It took seven ells of cloth in all, so was clearly relatively lavish. The term "side cape" is not repeated elsewhere in the accounts, and "cape" itself is uncommon, so it is not easy to envisage this costume precisely; but there are features to link it persuasively to the player king who presides over a parliament in the interlude. Sir David Lyndsay, often assumed to be author of the interlude, was a senior herald who would be familiar with the ceremonial of the Scottish parliament. While we do not know a great deal about this ceremonial until much later in the century, the Treasurer's Accounts show that in 1504 King James IV wore the "rob rall" or robe royal for the occasion. (42) At the time of the Epiphany interlude Thomas Arthur was actually in process of renewing James V's own "robe royal" in preparation for the queen's coronation in February. On the very next page of the accounts we find delivered to Arthur on 21 January: "to be ye kingis graces rob ryall kirtill and hude xxxviij elnis purpur veluet" (to be the king's grace's robe royal, kirtle and hood thirty-eight ells of purple velvet), at a cost of 123 [pounds sterling]/10s. (43) At the same time, dozens of ermine skins are bought to line the kirtle, and "to complete ye kaip and hwde" (to complete the cape and hood) of the ceremonial robe. While in terms of expense we are clearly in a radically different league here, the purple taffeta cape with its hood provided for the player king sounds like a deliberate visual allusion to the purple velvet cape and hood of the robe royal. This suggests a quite specific theatrical invocation of the power of the monarch, especially in parliament and in relation to the three estates.

The conclusion that the costumes recorded in these entries were specifically designed for the Epiphany interlude is hard to resist. The account entry appears to be the only instance of Thomas Arthur, the king's master tailor, being personally involved in the making of play costumes. Along with the placing of the account entries among "expensis debursit vpoun ye king and quenis personis" (expenses paid out upon the king and queen's persons [fol. 31v]), this might also be read as supporting Thomas Eure's claim that the interlude had James V's personal sanction: it was, he reported, played "by the Kings pleasour, he being prevey thereunto" (by the king's pleasure, he being privy thereunto). (44) However, superficially there is little to distinguish the costumes mentioned here from previous playcoat entries, and this could well imply that the earlier plays were closer to the apparently innovative form of this interlude than we might have guessed. A tradition of debate interlude could have been flourishing at the Scottish court, concealed under the apparently decorative playcoats.

It seems quite possible that Lyndsay's blue and yellow coat and the taffeta costumes for Sir James Inglis and his colleagues in 1511, the 1526 playcoats, Sir Michael Dysart's red and yellow buckram, and even the child's costume of 1534 could similarly have contributed to court interludes. The limited number of costumes provided on most of these occasions seems less problematic if we can assume that, as in 1540, costumes for other kinds of role might be available elsewhere. The puzzling suggestion of matching costumes in several of these records, along with the implied connection with the more serviceable particolor red and yellow livery clothes, might be seen in a different light if we make a comparison with the parts of the three foolish courtiers of the Epiphany interlude. Such playcoats might even suggest a courtly manifestation of the kind of role that came to be known in England as the "Vice" While we tend to associate dramatic Vices with moral allegory, the term initially does not seem to have been primarily moral. (45) The first character officially recorded as a Vice is John Heywood's Mery Reporte in the court interlude, The Play of the Weather, probably performed in 1532-33. Although irreverent and perhaps mischievous, Mery Reporte is scarcely vicious. He is rather an articulate, theatrically comic household insider on intimate terms with members of the court in both the play and the audience, and often a satirical commentator on court affairs. Somewhat similar, if more obviously vicious, characters appear in English courtly interludes of the period, specifically representing the dangerous qualities that might infest the great household. The quartet of vices in Skelton's Magnyfycence--Counterfeit Countenaunce, Crafty Conveyance, Cloked Collusion, and Courtly Abusion--or Godly Queen Hester's Vice Hardy-Dardy, eager for Aman's "bage and marke" (badge and mark), are all masters of comic routine who might, like Placebo, Pikthanke, and Flatterye, appropriately appear in household livery. (46) While such characters are more seriously concerned with moral and political corruption, they also share the lighthearted self-satirizing of the household and its members that seems characteristic of court literature. Skelton and Heywood in England, Dunbar and Lyndsay in Scotland, all offered the court opportunities to laugh wryly at itself and its own behavior, in poetry as well as drama. The Epiphany interlude suggests that the red and yellow playcoats could represent a theatrical manifestation of such institutional playfulness and self-critique.

The 1540 Epiphany interlude openly engages with a particular political issue of its moment, the accusations of oppression and corruption in the Church. Without the survival of the report transmitted to England we would not know this, and it is similarly impossible to know whether any earlier interludes might have addressed topical concerns. The Treasurer's Accounts do, however, offer a few tentative clues toward recovering some possible contemporary contexts for performances. The 1511 blue and yellow playcoat for David Lyndsay is slightly unusual in that it appears to be ascribed to a date in mid-October not traditionally associated with theatrical performance. Two fragments of evidence, certainly purely circumstantial, might be adduced in relation to this moment. The item almost immediately following the entry concerning Lyndsay's playcoat records:
   Item ye sam day to Schir dauid Spens at he debursat to iij scottis
   trumpatis playand at ye outputting of ye kingis gret schipe xiiij s

   (Item: the same day to Sir David Spens that he paid out to three
   Scots trumpeters playing at the launch of the king's great ship,
   fourteen shillings.)

Sir David Spens paid for trumpeters at the "outputting" of the Great Michael, James IV's prized flagship, a vessel on which expense and workmanship were lavished throughout this period. (48) The outputting does not appear to be the official launch, as work continued on the ship thereafter, but it clearly indicated some significant moment in the construction of the highly valued and famous vessel. An intriguing entry from late September offers another faint verbal resonance. At that point five ells of relatively costly red and yellow cloth were bought "to be Johne of buit ane Coit of ye fassoun of ye sey wawis" (to be a coat in the fashion of the sea waves for John of Bute). (49) John of Bute was one of the court fools, more usually dressed in standard household clothes. This coat, in familiar red and yellow but fashioned like the waves of the sea, is clearly a garment intended to create a special effect. The cloth cost 3 [pounds sterling]/11s and one of the tailors, Thom Edgar, was paid ten shillings "for ye fassoun of it," when his normal fee for making a coat of five ells is only four shillings. The entry remains entirely enigmatic, but conceivably the conjunction of the ocean wave coat with the Great Michael and the blue and yellow playcoat is more than accidental.

The payment to Sir James Inglis in 1526 of 40 [pounds sterling] to buy playcoats is a significantly large enough sum to suggest a substantial theatrical production. There is even less information than usual about the nature of these coats, however, as the entry lists money for purchase only, rather than materials, so it is difficult to hazard any guess at topical relevance. The broader context may, however, be relevant. The young James V had reluctantly been taken into the control of his stepfather, Archibald Douglas, earl of Angus in 1525, and through 1526 there was considerable tension between Angus, James, other factions among the nobles, and James's mother, Queen Margaret, over the custody of the monarch. In September 1526 an unsuccessful attempt was made to rescue the fourteen-year-old king from Angus, resulting in an armed confrontation. This was short-lived and by the end of November it appears that James and his mother were lodged together in Edinburgh and spent the Yule season at Holyrood. (50) It is possible that lavish Christmas celebrations at court were a ploy to assert the well-being of the court and the regime in the face of tension, and even to distract James from his antagonism to Douglas governance. According to Sir David Lyndsay such diversionary techniques had been used by controllers of the young king ever since he was first nominally declared in adult rule at the age of twelve in 1524. (51)

Lyndsay's account of this manipulation of the monarch in his poem "The Complaint" itself floats another fragment of potential evidence for the nature of these 1526 Yule celebrations. Describing the ways in which James was seduced from attempting serious kingship by sports and games, sexual adventures and festivity, Lindsay mentions how "Jhone Makerery, the kingis fule, / Gat dowbyll garmoundis agane the Yule" (John McCrery, the king's fool, / Got double garments for Yule [lines 283-84]). The Treasurer's Accounts for 1526 list livery clothes for McCrery amounting to about 12 [pounds sterling]. In overall cost this is in fact no more than he is given for livery in the years preceding and following; yet at these other Yule seasons he (along with lists of other recipients) was awarded money in lieu of clothing. For this particular Yule he is individually supplied with eight ells of costly red and yellow cloth--six ells of fourteen-shilling camlet and two of fifty-shilling velvet--along with a fashionable "double neked" bonnet. (52) Conceivably this is what Lyndsay alludes to, and we might see the 40 [pounds sterling] spent on playcoats as part of an overall strategy of festive distraction.

The 1534 playcoats are even harder to interpret. By this time James was well established in his adult rule. There is good evidence that Scotland in the 1530s was no stranger to drama as an instrument of politics beyond the court, and James himself appears to have been adept at exploiting the topical relevance of both literature and performance. (53) The sources of information specifically for events and affairs of 1533-34 are, however, thin. In the last months of 1533, surviving official letters refer to the truce with England established in September that eventually led to a peace treaty the following year and to the beginning of James's serious testing of the marriage market. England was also beginning to try out Scottish opinion on the issue of Henry VIII's divorce, remarriage, and relations with the pope; but we have little evidence of the domestic preoccupations of James V's court in these months. (54) The adults' and child's Yule season playcoats may have contributed, separately or together, to any kind of entertaining performance, although the modest outlay on costumes totaling only about 5 [pounds sterling] may not suggest any very serious or public engagement with affairs of state.

The personnel associated with this series of plays and playcoats reinforces the emerging sense of a theatrical tradition that is more than simply amusement or transient revel. Three individual names appear. Sir David Lyndsay, one of James IV's "spetiall serwandis" (special servants) as a young man, became a respected senior courtier, herald, writer, and dramatist with an international reputation. (55) Sir James Inglis similarly occupied a senior position; as Clerk of the Closet to James IV and Chaplain to the infant James V, he was involved in the political life of the court and as Lyndsay records was admired for his writing and dramatic composition. (56) Significantly, Sir James also served as Chancellor of the Chapel Royal from 1515 to 1529. Sir Michael Dysart, the third name associated with playcoats, was also a canon of the Chapel Royal. Although we know less about his career, he apparently attended James V's deathbed, suggesting that he too remained a respected figure at court. (57) All three men specifically associated with court drama thus had important roles in court and public life. The involvement of both Inglis and Dysart in mounting performances also offers evidence for an involvement of the Scottish Chapel Royal with secular dramatic activity that Anna J. Mill's classic study looked for in vain. (58) This involvement may move beyond a purely individual level since Inglis's "colleges" paralleled by Dysart's "marrowis," could well suggest the participation of groups of members of the collegiate chapel. We know that the Scottish Chapel Royal had a significant and influential association with poets and writers as well as visual art and music that moved beyond the sacred. (59) It would be no surprise if, like its English counterpart, the Chapel also supported the development of a courtly interlude tradition.

The evidence remains tantalizingly incomplete. We cannot prove that the Scottish court fostered any emerging tradition of court interlude and political drama through the early decades of the sixteenth century. It is clear from the Epiphany interlude that by 1540 the royal court of Scotland had become familiar with the traditions of allegorical debate drama and was able to exploit them in forceful and sophisticated ways. Some of that familiarity may have been developed from France where allegorical and political moralites were well-established. Members of the court, including the king himself as well as Sir David Lyndsay, had spent much time in France during the 1530s particularly in relation to James V's extended marriage negotiations, and one of the key members of the audience in 1540 was James's second French wife, Mary of Guise. Lyndsay's later play, Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis, has often been argued to show influence from French dramatic traditions. (60) Yet the description of the 1540 interlude implies something closer to the traditions of English court and household interludes than to the French genres of moralite, sottie, and farce. If Lyndsay had spent significant time in France, he had also visited London both in 1532 and in 1535. This was a period when debate drama associated with Henry VIII's court and addressing topical issues was flourishing, and drama itself was being seriously considered as a useful weapon of political propaganda. (61) It is tempting to believe that Lyndsay, passing through London in 1532, could even have encountered Heywood's The Play of the Weather: its playful, level-headed yet suggestive engagement with the politics of Henry's exercise of power seems congenial to Lyndsay's own modes of poetic and dramatic writing. More important than any particular production, though, is the general sense of Scottish exposure to a court that supported the performance of topically engaged and advisory interludes. (62) The Treasurer's Accounts offer fascinating hints of a similarly established local tradition in Scotland, evolving out of an intimate relationship with the court it entertained and responsive to that court's immediate preoccupations. The fragments of material evidence we can gather from the records all help to support the possibility that a drama of courtly interlude may have been more fully developed at home in the Scottish court than we have yet been able to recognize.

University of Edinburgh


(1) For theatrical performance at Henry VIII's court, see David M. Bevington, Tudor Drama and Politics: A Critical Approach to Topical Meaning (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968), Sydney Anglo, Spectacle, Pageantry and Early Tudor Policy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), W. R. Streitberger, Court Revels, 1485-1559 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994), Greg Walker, Plays of Persuasion: Drama and Politics at the Court of Henry VIII (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), and The Politics of Performance in Early Renaissance Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). Both Bevington and Walker demonstrate the increasing development and prominence of the courtly interlude as a form in spite of an apparent shift in emphasis at Henry's court from verbal to visual and physical performance, as suggestively documented by Streitberger, 88-89. See too Jeanne H. McCarthy, "The Emergence of Henrician Drama 'in the Kynges absens'," English Literary Renaissance 39 (2009): 231-66.

(2) For Scottish court culture, see Andrea Thomas, Princelie Majestie: The Court of James V of Scotland, 1528-1542 (Edinburgh: John Donald, 2005), Carol Edington, Court and Culture in Renaissance Scotland: Sir David Lindsay of the Mount (East Linton: Tuckwell Press, 1995), Louise Olga Fradenburg, City, Marriage, Tournament: Arts of Rule in Late Medieval Scotland (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991).

(3) The play exists in two versions: extended extracts from what appears to be the Cupar version were copied into the Bannatyne manuscript in 1568, and a full text of what seems to have been the Edinburgh version was printed by Robert Charteris in 1602. For both texts, see The Works of Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, 1490-1555, ed. Douglas Hamer, Scottish Text Society, 4 vols. (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1931),in 2 and 4. For paradramatic textual survivals, see "The Maner of the Crying of ane Play;' in The Asloan Manuscript, ed. William Craigie, Scottish Text Society, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1923), 2:149-54, Helena M. Shire and Kenneth Elliott, "Pleugh Song and Plough Play," Saltire Review 2 (1955): 39-44.

(4) Most scholars accept that the interlude action described has close enough parallels to the Thrie Estaitis to establish it as an earlier version of David Lyndsay's play. For a counterview, see Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis, ed. R. J. Lyall (Edinburgh: Canongate, 1989), x-xii.

(5) For the political engagement and implications of the interlude, see Walker, Politics of Performance, 125-38.

(6) BL MS Reg. 7.C. xvi, fols.136-39; for a printed edition and further information, see Medieval Drama: An Anthology, ed. Greg Walker (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), 538-40.

(7) National Records of Scotland, series E21 (hereafter cited as NRS). Accounts between 1473 and 1580 have been published in extensive selections though with silent omissions as Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, 13 vols. (Edinburgh: HM General Register House, 1877-1978) (hereafter cited as LHTA).

(8) Expenses from the king's privy purse were sometimes kept in separate and now largely lost accounts (see A. L. Murray, "Accounts of the King's Pursemaster, 1539-40," Scottish History Society Miscellany 10 [1965]: 13-51), while expenses of the Master of Works and the daily expenses of the Household have separate records.

(9) For an account of disguisings, see Meg Twycross and Sarah Carpenter, Masks and Masking in Medieval and Early Tudor England (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002), 128-50.

(10) NRS E21/9, fols. 19r, 58v, 93v (LHTA, 4:23, 64, 125).

(11) Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie, The Historie and Cronicles of Scotland from the Slauchter of King James the First to the Ane Thousande Fyve Hundreith Thrie Scoir Fyfiein Zeir, ed. A. J. G. Mackay, Scottish Text Society, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1899), 1:244.

(12) Pitscottie was a younger kinsman of David Lyndsay; he acknowledges his elder kinsman in the preface to his history as one of the authors by whom he was "instructed and learned and laitlie informit" (Historie, 1:2).

(13) NRS E21/10, fol. 97v (LHTA, 4:313).

(14) NAS: E21/10, fol. 100v (LHTA, 4:321). The item appears in a list of mixed expenses between entries dated 10 and 19 December.

(15) See Streitberger, 301 n 1; John Coldewey, "Plays and 'Play' in Early English Drama," Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama 28 (1985): 181-88.

(16) David Lyndsay, "The Testament of the Papyngo" (line 41), in Sir David Lyndsay: Selected Poems, ed. Janet Hadley Williams (Glasgow: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 2001), 59.

(17) NRS E21/2, fol. 93v (LHTA, 1:184).

(18) Contemporary titles for Dunbar's poems include "Ane Ballat of Our Lady" and "A Ballat of the Abbot of Tungland," and he refers to himself as one who "can bot ballattis brief" (can only write ballads), line 48 in "Schir, 3it remember," and "ballat wyse complaine," line 69 in "This hinder nycht"; see The Poems of William Dunbar, ed. Priscilla Bawcutt, 2 vols. (Glasgow: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 1998), 1:225-28, 240-44. Henryson refers to his own Testament of Cresseid as a "ballet schort" (line 610); see The Poems of Robert Henryson, ed. Denton Fox (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).

(19) "In to thir dirk" (line 5). Bawcutt, Poems of William Dunbar, 1:109.

(20) The term was probably adopted from France where its definition was similarly wide. According to Werner Helmich, "ce mot ne designe pas forcement un genre dramatique oppose d'autres, mais une piece quelconque, courte, destinee a la representation" (this word [farce] does not necessarily designate one dramatic genre as distinct from others, but a play of whatever kind which is short and designed for performance); Moralites francaises: reimpression fac-simile de vingt-deux pieces allegoriques imprimees aux XVe et XVIe siecles, 3 vols. (Geneva: Slatkine, 1980), 3:ix.

(21) The entry for farce in the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue offers a useful survey of contemporary usage. See

(22) NRS E21/10, fol. 104v (LHTA, 4:330).

(23) Anna J. Mill, Mediaeval Plays in Scotland (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1927), 188.

(24) NRS E21/22, fol. 24r (LHTA, 5:316).

(25) NRS E21/28, fol. 14v (LHTA, 6:186)."Tafetta of the cord" refers to the weight of the cloth, being a relatively superior version of the fabric.

(26) See Thomas, 41-42. Interestingly, however, five ells of velvet are provided for a more expensive and elaborate coat for this young child on the previous page of the accounts. Fabrics were, however, woven in different widths not specified in the accounts.

(27) NRS E31/5, fol. 29r; Thomas, 51-52.

(28) NRS E21/28, fol. 38r (not included in LHTA).

(29) John Heywood, The Play of the Weather (London: W. Rastell, 1533), Air. Thomas Betteridge suggests in a recent discussion a date of late 1532 for the performance of this play, a moment when Sir David Lyndsay was passing through London returning from a diplomatic mission to France. See, Letters and Papers: Henry VIII, vol. 5, 1543.

(30) NRS E21/29, fol. 15r (LHTA, 6:255).

(31) See Twycross and Carpenter, 128-50.

(32) John Harrison, "The Wardrobe Inventories of James V" (particularly BL Royal 18C XIV fols. 184-215), Stirling Castle Palace: Archaeological and Historical Research 2004-2008, Historic Scotland ( james%20v.pdf), 52(fol. 215r). The list containing these garments was compiled 26 February 1543, and appears to record items kept at St. Andrews, Falkland, and Stirling where James had spent the Yule 1535 holiday.

(33) NRS E21/37, fol. 32r (LHTA, 7:276-77).

(34) Anna J. Mill assumes that these costumes cannot be intended for the Epiphany interlude on the grounds that they appear in a section of the accounts listed as Expenses on the King's Person (Mill, Mediaeval Plays, 59). This view seems to place too firm a trust in the categories used in accounting, however.

(35) See LHTA, 6:lxxviii.

(36) Earlier in the period the colors for liveries varied, presumably according to the available cloth: red and yellow sometimes appears for individuals, but monochrome tanny, grey, and russet are all recorded for standard livery issue in earlier years.

(37) NRS E21/36, fol. 40r (LHTA,7:119); E21/37, fol. 26r (LHTA, 7:271).

(38) References to tailed clothing seem to begin from around 1525, petering out after the king's death in 1542.

(39) NRS E21/37, fols. 18r, 31v.

(40) "Ane Supplicatioun directit frome Schir David Lyndesay, Knicht, to the Kingis Grace, in contemptioun of Syde Taillis" in Works, ed. Hamer, 1:118-22. (See note 3 above.)

(41) Walker, Medieval Drama, 539.

(42) "Item ye x day of merch for ane cote of kentdale to ye king quhilk he vsit to were vndir ye Rob Rall [sic] at the parliament" (Item: the tenth day of March for a coat of Kendal cloth for the King, which he used to wear under the Robe Royal at the parliament), NRS E21/6, fol. 27v (LHTA, 2:224). See Thomas Innes of Learney, "The Scottish Parliament: Its Symbolism and Its Ceremonial;' Juridical Review 44 (1932): 87-124. For Henry VIII's contemporary royal and parliament robes, see Maria Hayward, Dress at the Court of King Henry VIII (Leeds: Maney, 2007), 130-31, 138-40.

(43) NRS E21/37, fol. 32v (LHTA, 7:277).

(44) Walker, Medieval Drama, 538.

(45) For an overview, see Peter Happe, "Deceptions: 'The Vice' of the Interludes and Iago," Theta VIII (2009): 105-24,

(46) The same theatrical role is adopted by the political vices of Respublica--Avarice, Oppression, Insolence, and Adulation--although their identity as corrupt government ministers lifts them beyond the liveried household.

(47) NRS E21/10, fol. 97v (LHTA, 4:313).

(48) Norman Macdougall, "The Greattest Scheip That Ewer Saillit in Ingland or France': James IV's 'Great Michael'," in Scotland and War, AD 79-1918, ed. Norman Macdougall (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1991), 36-60.

(49) NRS E21/10, fol. 70v (LHTA, 4:263)

(50) See Calendar of Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, vol. 4.2, ed. J. S. Brewer (London: Longmans H.M.S.O., 1872), 2449, 2487, 2575, 2678.

(51) David Lyndsay, "The Complaint," (lines 131-290), Selected Poems, ed. Williams, 45-50.

(52) NRS E21/22, fol. 21v (LHTA, 5:312).

(53) See Sarah Carpenter, "Drama and Politics: Scotland in the 1530s," Medieval English Theatre 10 (1988): 81-90.

(54) Letters and Papers, 6:1069, 1161, 1487, 1571.

(55) Pitscottie, 259; for Lyndsay's career, see Edington (see note 2).

(56) Edington, 14-15.

(57) For Inglis as Chancellor of the Chapel Royal, see M. Livingstone, ed., The Register of the Privy Seal of Scotland, Vol 1 1488-1529 (Edinburgh: HM General Register House, 1908), 2573, 4119; Dysart is mentioned as capellanus at 926. He was also named as one of the witnesses to the notarial instrument apparently drawn up at James V's deathbed in 1542: Historical Manuscripts Commission Eleventh Report, Part VI, The Manuscripts of the Duke of Hamilton (London: Longmans H.M.S.O., 1887), 219-20.

(58) Mill, Mediaeval Plays, 56-59.

(59) See Theo van Heijnsbergen, "The Scottish Chapel Royal as Cultural Intermediary between Town and Court," in Centres of Learning: Learning and Location in Pre-Modern Europe and the Near East, ed. Jan Willem Drijvers and Alasdair A. MacDonald (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1995), 299-314.

(60) See Anna J. Mill, "The Influence of the Continental Drama on Lyndsay's Satyre of the Thrie Estaiti," Modern Language Review 25 (1930): 425-42; see also Lyall, Satyre, xxiii-xxv.

(61) See Sydney Anglo, "An Early Tudor Programme for Plays and Other Demonstrations against the Pope" Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 20 (1957): 176-79. Record of Henry's attendance in 1535 at an antipapal interlude that dramatized himself attacking the bishops might also have some relevance for the Epiphany interlude. See Letters and Papers, 8:949.

(62) For the influence of Lyndsay's visits to London at this period, see Edington, 165-66.
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