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Fribbling report part 1

John Fribbling is a fictional character. Despite his non-existence, the characters and events that he describes are, to the best of our knowledge, true and accurate...

1584, Stratford-upon-Avon

Your Worshipful Sirship Walsingham Sir,

I have a lump the size of an Alderman's backside on my head, and I strongly suspect that young Shakespeare lad is to blame.

Warwickshire landscape
Warwickshire landscape
I have as you commanded through your most distinguished and may I say handsome and heroically proportioned servant the Earl of Leicester, been amongst the townsfolk of Stratford upon Avon for some weeks now. I have, as you in your almighty wisdom commanded, been carrying out covert surveillance on known and suspected papist sympathizers in my guise as a travelling balladeer.

Upon reflection my choice of a disguise may have been less than wise on account of my having no skill in playing a musical instrument, and having the singing voice of a cow in labor. Still I find that if I put off my merry entertainment until the local Inn is near to closing, everyone is so full of Old Dragon Fart that no-one really cares if I am attempting to sing or merely butchering a cat. Last week I made sixpence! But I digress.

sketch of Anne Hathaway
One Anne Hathaway
Thanks to the industry of his Earlship's man who preceded me in this duty – an artist of some skill – I have pencil-drawn portraits of most of the subjects whom I have been instructed to keep an eye on - all bar one. Seems that this artist was affected by a terrible melancholy shortly before he was recalled to London. Instead of leaving me with a portrait of the final subject – one William Shakespeare – like he was supposed to, he instead left me with a fetching painting of the local innkeeper's daughter... or at least those parts of her that he liked: the breasts.

Thus I am clueless as to what this William Shakespeare actually looks like. But do not be downhearted sir, for I am going to employ all the latest sciences and technologies to render a physical likeness of him.

I know him to be in his nineteenth year, and I have a good likeness of both his father and his mother. Being young his complexion may be nearer to that of a woman's, and so using a pencil, no less, I shall shade in a shaving shadow on the picture of his mother and attempt to identify him that way.

exterior of Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon
Possible hotbed of rampant
Catholicism on Henley Street
So far I have shown the likeness to but a few local men who have all remarked that they do not know the person represented, but if she ever finds herself lonely on a hot summer night...

Despite these early setbacks to my investigation I am not yet dismayed.

So far I have not had cause to pursue the matter further. The Shakespeares are old papists, of that I'm sure. But they're not the kind to rise up. Then the other day I heard tell of some upset on Sir Thomas Lucy's land.

According to local gossip, young Will Shakespeare had been poaching rabbits and deer when he was happened upon by Lucy's men and given a right old kicking. Some say he spent a night or two in prison.

Charlecote House
Charlecote Park, home to Sir Lucy
Well, Will wouldn't have liked that. The Shakespeares and Sir Thomas are neighbors but there'll be no love lost there, what with Sir Thomas leading every time there's a raid on the local Catholics, and in particular him hounding that Edward Arden. From all accounts William had been simply trying to put a little food on the table for his family. Times have been hard for his folk of late.

Anyway, the gossips say that so fired up was he by his rough treatment at Lucy's hand that he dashed off this right prickly little ballad, full of venom and spite and insult, and pegged it up on Sir Thomas' front gate. I regret to inform you your most grand Sirness that the ballad was quickly and rightly destroyed before it could be used in evidence. But I am reliably informed that contained within the ballad were suggestions as to what Sir Thomas could do with his rabbits. I am confident that most of these suggestions were probably physically impossible and most likely against God's law too!

As I had witnessed none of these events myself I took myself to Sir Thomas' land to see if I could recover any evidence. It was while bending to inspect a hole in the ground, which I suspect may have been home to some of the rabbits in question that I heard the words: "Hello, here's another one of the buggers." After which I felt a sharp blow across the back of my head.

I awoke sometime later with a mouth like Satan's armpit and a terrible pain in my head. It was only after some negotiation and quite a lot of shouting that I managed to convince Sir Thomas' men that I wasn't in fact a poacher but instead a loyal servant of yourself.

Upon my release I was granted a gruff apology, though both men suggested that next time I go creeping about on private land I wear some badge of identification to prove that I be of sound character and about State business. I think these rural types have not an ounce of the sophistication like what we have, your grace.

Since the events that took place on Sir Thomas's land I have learned no more. Now some of the men who told me straight it was young Will who was to blame are not so sure when I press them on it. They look after their own, these country papists.

Whatever the truth I fear young Will seems to have disappeared. But have no fear my lord, for armed with my amended portrait of his mother I am sure to find him soon.

Your unworthy servant in stealth

John Fribbling

PS: No seditious activity observed.

Fribbling Reports

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10


portrait not availableJohn Fribbling

portrait not availableRobert Dudley, The Earl of Leicester

Sir Francis Walsingham portraitSir Francis Walsingham

Sir Thomas Lucy's bustSir Thomas Lucy

portrait not availableEdward Arden

sketch of Anne HathawayAnne Hathaway


exterior of Charlecote HouseCharlecote Park, Warwickshire

The River Thames, LondonShakespeare's London

Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-AvonStratford upon Avon, Warwickshire

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