Unlettered means illiterate. In Elizabethan times literacy levels were much lower than today. Working class boys would start working from an early age rather than attend school; education tended to be restricted to the rich. Most school pupils were boys; wealthy girls might be taught at home by a tutor or governess, as well as learning from their mother how to run a household.
Rich Elizabethan women wore many layers. First there was a smock and petticoat, and over this a bodice and skirt. Hoops and padding (farthingales) were used to bulk out the skirt into the desired shape. An outer bodice and skirt were then added, and finally a long gown that stretched to the floor. A ‘stomacher’ might be tied to the stomach to keep it flat. The bodices were designed to pull in the waist and give it as narrow an appearance as possible.
Separate sleeves and cuffs might be added. Sleeves were often puffed at the shoulders. Larger neck ruffs became fashionable; at one point they were so big that meals had to be eaten with a long-handled spoon! Married women were expected to cover their head with a hat or bonnet. This might be a close-fitting cap called a coif, a hood, or even a hat similar to a man’s, usually worn over a coif. Hair would be worn coiled and pinned up.
Excommunication is the official expulsion of a person from the Catholic faith. The person is informed that they are no longer acting according to the faith, and that they will not be allowed to receive the sacraments any longer. An excommunicated person may attend church, but would not be allowed to take the Eucharist (the bread and the wine). Excommunication is not a permanent punishment; if the person repents and reaffirms their faith then they will be allowed to receive the sacraments again.
The Dominican order is a Catholic religious order of friars and nuns, established to preach the gospel and take it to the people. Dominicans in England were known as Black Friars because of the black cloaks they wore over their white habits. As friars, Dominicans served a community, rather than living cloistered away. This distinguished them from monks, who lived in asceticism and private devotion, in self-sufficient monasteries isolated from the world. It is therefore not technically accurate to refer to Bruno as an ex-monk. Friars, like monks, took vows of celibacy and poverty.
Seneca was an ancient Roman writer and Stoic philosopher. He wrote works of philosophy, morals and meteorology, as well as nine tragedies and a satire. As a Stoic he believed that there was a divine and rational purpose behind life, that enduring suffering would improve the soul, and that a simple, balanced life of study and learning was the best route to happiness. He also discussed the best ways to approach death. Seneca was looked on favourably by the early Church, and printed copies of his writing became common in the Renaissance.
Heraldic emblems are symbols that represent an important individual or family. They were strictly regulated by heralds, from the College of Arms and the Court of Chivalry. The officers of arms were responsible for studying coats of arms and heraldic badges, ruling on questions of rank, and granting new arms. A coat of arms was used exclusively by the individual to whom it belonged. Heraldic badges were worn or carried by servants, followers, retainers and other people wishing to show their allegiance to a particular person or family. They would also be attached or embroidered on standards, banners, uniforms, horse trappings and other property.
When Mary, Queen of Scots was forced to abdicate her throne in favour of her son James, he was only one year old. He did not gain full control of his government until 1581; four different regents held power during his minority. He was not raised by his mother and had little contact with her, as she remained a prisoner in England.
At this point in the story (the year 1583) he is 17. As Mary has been forced to abdicate, and Elizabeth has no children, James is set to inherit the English throne after Elizabeth’s death.
James was a scholar and a writer, authoring several books in his lifetime. He was reportedly very fond of the company of his male courtiers, leading some historians to speculate on the nature of these relationships. Others argue that these men were not his lovers, pointing out that he lists sodomy as an unforgiveable sin in his book Basilikon Doron, and that he married and had seven children with his wife. He was a Protestant, but exercised tolerance towards Catholics.