So welcome Rebecca!
Brits are often stereotyped as being prudish, stiff upper lip types and, as with any stereotype, there are elements of truth in it. Looking back at the Elizabethan period of British history (1558 – 1603), society was very ‘proper’, and anything but limited touching in public was heavily frowned upon. When Elizabeth I took the throne, she reinstated her father’s laws that were repealed by Queen Mary, and this included the 1533 buggery act. The act made homosexuality punishable by death by hanging, although there are only a handful of executions in the records, and strings were pulled for the well-connected!
But despite the laws and perceived proper way to behave, you don’t have to scratch far beneath the surface to find a very different Elizabethan England. Renaissance Italy was well known for its pornography, and young rich Englishmen would travel abroad to widen their ‘education’ and enjoy the illicit material. But not wanting to be out done by the Italians there were also choice pieces of English literature including Thomas Nashe’s Choice of Valentines which featured a man and his prostitute lover … and her glass dildo. And yes, Anthony Crofton, the earl in The Actor and the Earl, has a large private collection of erotica.
London was already a vibrant city by this time, and a part of London called South Bank was known as the seedier part of the city. Here was a warren of streets where the less reputable Londoners could be found. Alongside theatres and the gambling dens were some of the city’s most popular brothels, often called stews after the bath houses they originated in. In Duty to the Crown, Sebastian, who used to be an actor, gives Anthony a unique birthday present.
A couple of tankards of wine had steeled his courage and helped to while away enough time for the evening to set in properly. Long shadows appeared in the wider alleys and in the others, where the sun hardly penetrated even at midday, it was now almost dark. These were the alleys Sebastian was interested in, their darkness a perfect cover for his plan. It was the kind of place Sebastian had frequented only on very rare occasions when he’d lived in London, having been warned off by the tales the other actors had told of cutthroats and pickpockets lurking around every corner. He checked that his dagger was close at hand before heading into the warren of little alleys where London’s least salubrious inhabitants would perpetrate the most disreputable deeds.
Sebastian didn’t stop to worry about what went on behind the closed doors of the buildings on this street; he had no wish to be seen as a nosey passerby and ultimately a body that would need to be disposed of. He rounded the corner briskly, relieved to enter a better-lit area where the local water pump was situated, grateful that he’d found the place he’d been searching for without getting lost.
There were three women gathered outside a bright red door, standing provocatively to show as much of their impressive bosoms as possible. A young man, probably a few years Sebastian’s junior, with wild brown hair sat on the pump’s pedestal, his long legs out in front of him and leaning back as if on display. One of the women, her age obscured by heavy makeup, was talking to a man dressed in expensive, fashionable clothes, whose face was hidden by the brim of a wide hat. Sebastian’s appearance made the other two women, also wearing heavy makeup and low necklines, preen to get his attention, one pouting almost comically while the second leaned forward to flash her cleavage and play with her hair. The young man jumped to his feet as he saw Sebastian approach, but his interest in Sebastian was sidetracked when the gentleman talking to the first woman called him over, and the three of them entered the house with the red door together.
Sebastian hung back as two more men arrived from different alleys and the two remaining women beckoned them over, and after exchanging a few words, led them inside the house, leaving Sebastian on his own. He prayed he wouldn’t have to wait long; his fingers curled around the hilt of his dagger unprompted. Taking off the traveling cloak, he laid it on the pedestal of the water pump, then, checking all the possible approaches, leaned against the pump in a way he hoped would come across as alluring. Sebastian was dressed in a set of clothing on which the tailor had done an amazing job of complementing his build, and he knew that he should make an attractive figure.
The bells of a nearby church rang out, telling the city it was eight o’clock. Footsteps approached, and Sebastian’s heart began to beat rapidly. The shadow preceded the man, and resplendent in his favorite dark red doublet, Earl Anthony Crofton arrived. He grinned as he saw Sebastian, his eyes raking slowly down Sebastian’s lean frame. Sebastian pushed off the water pump and sauntered forward, with a deliberate sway to hips.
“Are you lost, sir? Perhaps I can help.”
“Oh, I am sure your services would be very welcome, but it is not directions I am after,” replied Anthony, standing only inches away.
Sebastian leaned in close to whisper in Anthony’s ear. “There are many things I can offer, sir. Do you have anything particular in mind?”
“That would depend.”
“On whether I can buy you for an hour or a whole night, and if you have somewhere we can go.”
Sebastian bit the inside of his cheek to keep his moan caused by Anthony’s words and the heat in his eyes under his breath. “I have a room at a nearby tavern.”
“Then you can consider yourself bought for the night.”
Sebastian grabbed his cloak and wrapped it back around him. “Follow me.”
He headed into the lanes with Anthony at his heels, and Sebastian could barely contain his excitement. They didn’t talk, keeping in character of the game they were playing. Sebastian led Anthony into the White Lion, a tavern that had seen better days but offered rooms to travelers at an affordable rate. Once upstairs, Sebastian stopped outside a room on the second floor and fished out a key from around his neck and opened the door.
The room could not be described as luxurious but it had a large canopy bed, which was pretty much all it had needed to fit Sebastian’s requirements for the evening he had planned ahead.
Sebastian locked the door behind them and threw his cloak to the floor. “I should warn you, sir, that I am not one of those cheap whores from the stews. You will need to dig deep into your purse for a night with me.”
“Oh, if you are truly worthy of a high price, I will have no issue with handing over payment.” Anthony removed his own cloak. “Now take off your clothes and lie on the bed. I want to examine the wares I have purchased.”
The Actor and the Earl: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3429
Duty to the Crown: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3637
[Just a brief note: Rebecca is trying to respond to comments but for some reason Blogger is not cooperating with her. Those responses should be posted ASAP.]