This remarkable friendship album was put together by a man named Michael van Meer, who seems to have lived in Hamburg and travelled to London around 1614–15. Like an early autograph album, it contains an impressive collection of signatures of famous people including monarchs and nobles from England and the continent. Kings James, his son Prince Charles, his wife Queen Anna, and her brother Christian IV, King of Denmark, have all signed these pages.
The album also showcases an extraordinary range of paintings of Jacobean London, giving us a unique glimpse of Shakespeare’s world, from the everyday to the regal. There is a lift-the-flap painting of passengers in a coach, as well as depictions of women walking home from market, a Virginian Indian in St James Park, King James in procession, Windsor Castle and the Tower of London.
What were friendship albums?
From the mid-16th century, German and Dutch-speaking students would often embark on a tour of other European cities to complete their studies. As mementos of their travels, they began to keep personalised albums like this one, known in Latin as album amicorum or in German as Stammbucher.
The albums included signatures, coats of arms and mottoes from friends and dignitaries, as well as vivid watercolour paintings. The new acquaintance would often pay a professional local artist to draw (or copy a stock image) on their behalf. Friendship albums were carefully constructed to present their owners as cosmopolitan and multilingual with a distinguished circle of contacts.
Which images are shown here?
- James I’s signature, coat of arms and Latin inscription meaning ‘To spare the humble and subdue the haughty’ (f. 2r)
- Anna of Denmark’s signature, coat of arms and an Italian inscription meaning ‘My greatness comes from the Lord’ (f. 4r)
- Prince Charles’s signature, coat of arms and a Latin inscription meaning ‘If you would make all subject to you, subject yourself to reason’ (f. 6r)
- Christian IV, King of Denmark’s signature with a French inscription meaning ‘All for God and my dear Queen’ (f. 15r)
- St George’s day procession, with King James under a canopy attended by Knights of the Garter, chaplains, choirboys and others (ff. 43v–44r)
- An Englishwoman with a hat and fan (f. 145r)
- Three women walking home from market (f. 146v)
- King James riding to parliament with three noblemen (f. 149v)
- King James in the House of Lords, with Prince Charles at his side (f. 154v)
- Windsor Castle, with a deer hunt in the park (f. 169r)
- A lady with a dog (f. 194v)
- A Virginian Indian at the Zoological Gardens in St James’s Park (f. 254v) – one of a small number of Native Americans brought to England by explorers, and exhibited as curiosities. In The Tempest, Trinculo says that English viewers will give ten doits (or low value coins) ‘to see a dead Indian’ (2.2.32–33).
- A coach with the flap, closed and open (f. 256v)
- A woman nursing a baby (f. 283v)
- The Tower of London, with a merchant ship on the Thames (f. 346r)
- A cockpit with cocks fighting and spectators betting gold coins (f. 378v). The seated man with the beard and hat is probably King James.
- A couple riding a horse (f. 381r)
- London Bridge, with rowers carrying passengers across the Thames (f. 408v)
- A knight in armour (f. 455v)
- A horse and cart and a porter carry wares through London’s streets (f. 494v)
- The bindings of the album, and a page showing Michael van Meer’s coat of arms