Tudor Drama - The Stranger's Case
Creative interpretation - the real-life story behind the play
Where did the ideas for The Stranger's Case come from ?
With the starting point for the script in contemporary issues of religious difference and national identity, writer Kay Douglas and the Education Officers at Bolling Hall needed authentic Tudor characters and circumstances capable of provoking similarly complex questions and offering different perspectives for exploration.
Education Officer Janet Davidson ‘struck gold’ and discovered the Gouthwaite Hall story. After your class visit to see the play at Bolling Hall, you may want to explain to the children about this real story that inspired writer Kay Douglas in her researches.
One of the reservoirs above Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire, covers the remains of the ancient manor house, Gouthwaite Hall—a house similar in size in Tudor times to the Tudor part of Bolling Hall. Gouthwaite Hall was demolished in 1901 when the reservoir was constructed.
At the end of Elizabeth I’s reign, Gouthwaite Hall was owned by Sir John and Lady Juliana Yorke. Sir John was a conforming member of the Church of England (though probably not an enthusiastic Protestant), but his wife was a Catholic. Although the Catholic faith was not legal at this time, many people in England, the North particularly, still secretly worshipped in the Catholic manner.
Some travelling players of the time were also Catholics. One such company was that of Christopher and Robert Simpson of Whitby and they visited Gouthwaite Hall early in James I’s reign (Christmas 1609) and acted the play St Christopher.
One hundred of the Yorke family’s friends, tenants and servants crowded into the Hall to watch the play. The actors decided to include a scene of a dispute between two characters, one Protestant and one Catholic, which ended with the Protestant being dragged to hell and the Catholic going to heaven.
We cannot be sure if the Yorkes knew that this scene would be
included. Most of the audience thought this scene was very funny, but not Elizabeth Stubbs, a former servant at Gouthwaite, and the play was reported to the Justice of the Peace.
Sir John and Lady Juliana were tried before The Court Of Star Chamber in London for allowing a seditious play to be performed. The official accounts of the trial and the witness statements mean that we can learn a lot about what actually happened at Gouthwaite Hall on that winter night in 1609—we would not know these things if Elizabeth Stubbs and others had kept quiet. The Yorkes were fined £1,000 each for allowing the extra scene to be acted, and were imprisoned in the Fleet Debtors’ Prison for three years. They were released in February 1617 when they paid part of the fine. The Yorkes continued to support the Simpsons’ company of travelling players even while the court case was hanging over them.
Kay and the Education Officers asked themselves, 'What if a troupe of traveling players like that had come to Bolling? What would a servant like Joan do faced with this dilemma: does she turn over the troupe of seditious players to the authorities, or does she join her neighbours in the audience and enjoy the play?'