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Fribbling report part 5

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...

1588, London

To Sir Francis Walsingham

The Four Swans Inn, Bishopsgate, London, circa 1900
The Four Swans Inn, Bishopsgate,
Sir, I write to you after a busy evening sniffing out sedition around the inns, bear pits and brothels of London. I find myself the poorer, less able to competently walk in a straight line, and suddenly possessed of a curious itch. I am happy to report, nonetheless, that in the grand spectacle of capering drunks, decapitated dogs, harried bears and wanton prostitution that I can find no hint of any seditious activity.

I have also recently taken in Thomas Kyd's rip roaring new play at the Theatre, which is a most impressive structure, and also the Curtain the night before that. Thankfully both theatres lie well outside the city walls and are therefore immune from censure by those stiff-necked Puritans. While I was most entertained, I was not able to see neither hide nor hair of my elusive quarry, young William Shakespeare, rumoured to be employed in these parts.

I am currently lodging in Shoreditch which is rougher than a bear's arse, and have taken to wearing a sword (price five shillings – receipt enclosed). It's a rum old place and no mistake, people of every hue, and all babbling away in languages I don't understand so that its hard to distinguish between their idle chatter and the blatherings of the lunatics in Bedlam. There's smoke from the braziers getting up your nose alongside the stink from the sewers, and more inns and places of entertainment than I have ever seen before.

I bumped into one very happy man just emerging from a private meal where he had been attended to by semi-clad young women. I must say I can't see that catching on. I imagine it would quite put you off your pastry.

If young William is here down amongst these city goings on then his head must be fair spinning. Him a nice Catholic country boy in a place where you're never sure who's going to flash their chest at you or stick a knife between your eyes. I wonder if he doesn't miss the countryside with its gentler pace and the opportunity to rest his head in his wife's lap and speak of country matters?

Well I shall find him soon. Tomorrow I mean to stake out the Black Bull and the Cross Keys in Bishopsgate where the Queen's Men are regular players. If he's among their number (and not disguised as woman as these actor types too often are), then I shall soon know.

On another matter, I regret to inform you that my State issue lute, with which I was able to gain employ as a balladeer is no more. In some bizarre accident that took place while I was face down in a game pie, the lute seems to fallen onto the floor, rolled out of the inn, and into the path of several carts where it was rolled over repeatedly. After this it seems the sad instrument's remains were accidentally cremated on an open fire, broken into tiny bits of charcoal and then placed inside a duck, which was itself then buried under a small house.

As I say, a most bizarre accident! Could you ask that nice Mr Q to send along another lute please?

Your faithful and most covert servant

John Fribbling

PS: No seditious activity observed. Well, not much anyway.

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

Sir Francis Walsingham portraitSir Francis Walsingham


The Oxford Arms near Bishopsgate, London, circa 1900Shoreditch, London

exterior of St Helens, Bishopsgate, London, circa 1900Bishopsgate, London

The River Thames, LondonShakespeare's London

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