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Cardinal’s Hat (Southwark)

The Cardinal’s Hat was located south of the Thames and west of the London Bridge in the ward of Southwark. It was part of a row of twelve licensed brothels or stewhouses along Bankside that were permitted by King Henry VII to operate after temporary closure in 1506 (Stow 1598, sig. Y6v). In 1546, King Henry VIII, considering that the dissolute and miserable persons who have been suffered to dwell beside London and elsewhere in places called the Stewes Gap in transcription. Reason: […] has with advice of his Council decided to extinguish such abominable license (Henry VIII). Although the brothels were proclaimed by sound of Trumpet, no more to be priuiledged, and vsed as a common Bordell, they continued to operate beyond 1546, unlicensed by the state (Stow 1598, sig. Y6v). The Cardinal’s Hat has multiple alternate spellings; it is known also as the Cardinal’s Cap, the Cardinals Hat, the Cardinal’s Hatte, the Cardinall’s Hatt, the Cardinals Hatte, the Cardinales Hat, the Cardinalles Hatte, the Cardinallshatte, the Cardynals Hat, the Cardenallys Hatt, the Cardynall Hatt, the Cardynall Hatte, the Cardenaleshat, and the Cardenalshat. Over the years, folk etymology has attributed the name to a supposed ironic resemblance of shape and color between the traditional cardinal’s hat and the tip of the penis (Ackroyd 351).
Although the Cardinal’s Hat is not located on the Agas Map, Martha Carlin maps out Bankside circa 1500 based in part on Plate 59 of Survey of London XXII, placing it west of the Bear Garden and east of the Great Pike Garden, near the other brothels of the Fleur de Lys, the Cross Keys, and the Boar’s Head (Carlin 27). In present-day London, there is a Cardinal’s Cap Alley located next to the Globe Theatre. The alley extends inland from Bankside and is located west of the London Bridge and Southwark Bridge, although the latter did not exist during the early modern period. William Toone, who in 1832 wrote A Glossary and Etymological Dictionary of Obsolete and Uncommon Words indicates the alley’s direct connection to the brothel of the same name in his definition of Bankside: There is yet on the Bankside an alley called Cardinal Cap Alley, from the sign of one of the brothels being The Cardinal’s Cap (Toone 80). Indeed, the address No. 49 Bankside looking out over the Thames is considered the precise location of the former brothel (Plate 55). Although it is possible that some of the old Elizabethan structure of 1579 remains, the house was rebuilt in whole or in part in 1710, according to a Catalogue of Sale of Cardinal’s Cap Wharf (Burford 157).
John Stow mentions the Cardinal’s Hat brothel only briefly in his Survey of London. It is listed along with seven other brothels: These allowed Stew-houses had signes on their fronts, towards the Thames, not hanged out, but painted on the wals as Boares head, the Crosse keyes, the Gunne, the Castle, the Crane, the Cardinals Hat, the Bell, the Swanne, &c. (Stow 1598, sig. Y6v). In addition to the Southwark brothel, though, several other places of business, such as inns and taverns, also operated under the name Cardinal’s Hat or similar designations. For instance, Stow writes of a Cardinals Hat Tavern on Lombard Street in the ward of Langbourn (Stow). There also was an inn called the Cardinal’s Hat in Southwark, not in the Stews but in the High Street, across from the Cross Keys Inn. It was later called the Pope’s Head, and then, by 1542, the King’s Head (Kelly 357). Thus, documents mentioning a place called the Cardinal’s Hat, Cardinal’s Cap, or any variant spelling carry the possibility of being associated with one of the more reputable taverns located elsewhere in the city rather than the Bankside brothel.
The Cardinal’s Hat is said to have had a continuous existence since 1360 (Burford 100), but it is more likely that it instead experienced sporadic openings and closings over the centuries (Kelly 369). Nor is it clear that the establishment by this name was always a brothel. Early mentions of the Cardinal’s Hat describe it as simply a tenement (Deeds) or a stew (Kelly 355). Although stew was a common synonym for brothel in the sixteenth century, early uses could refer to public bathing houses (Cerasano 96) or ponds maintained by fishmongers (Kelly 351). The earliest recorded usage of the word stew meaning brothel was not until the rolls of Parliament for 1436, referring to stywehouses in Southwark (Kelly 353). No references to stews before this date can confidently be translated as brothels.
A Cardinal’s Hat was in 1470 built on voyd ground by John Merston (Burford 155). Between 1470 and 1579, Burford notes a gap in history before the Cardinal’s Hat appears again in a lease to John Raven (Burford 156). However, a poem from 1522 contains the first definite reference to prostitution at the Cardinal’s Hat during this supposed gap. In John Skelton’s Why come ye not to court? he writes,
What new what news Gap in transcription. Reason: […]
But at [he] naked stewes
I vnder stande how that
The syne of the Cardynall hat
That Inne is now shyt vp
With gup whore gup/now gup
(Skelton 226-232)
Skelton’s poem refers to a closure in 1522, suggesting that the Cardinal’s Hat experienced at least one other temporary hiatus as a brothel in its history prior to Henry VIII’s 1546 proclamation to cease state licensing.
The economic history of Bankside is fluid and often unclear. Properties changed hands frequently from 1562 onwards (Burford 148). Tenements were erected in what had been gardens, which led to the creation of alleys mostly running from Bankside through to Maiden Lane (Burford 148-149). It is thus possible that during this time, Cardinal’s Cap (or Hat) Alley came into existence. Following John Raven’s death in 1596, his widow operated the premises until 1599—a year after the first publication of Stow’s Survey (Burford 156). It then passed hands to John Powell, who ran it until 1615 (Burford 156). Thomas Mansfield next owned the Cardinal’s Hat, from 1615 until his death. During his ownership, in 1617, Edward Alleyn, a famous actor in Elizabethan theatre, dined at the Cardinal’s Hat, once with business associates and another time with the vestrymen of St. Savior’s parish (Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 100). During Mansfield’s ownership, the Caridnal’s Hat is described as an inn, implying that at some point, the Cardinal’s Hat turned to renting out only rooms, and not women too (Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 100). Mansfield’s widow thereafter leased the building to Melchizedek Fritter in 1624, whose widow then gave it to Sarah Humphreys. This exchange shows a change in name, from Cardinal’s Hat to Cardinal’s Cap (Burford 156-157). Although Humphreys and her family were tenants, the property officially belonged to the Browker family, who sold it in 1667 to Thomas Hudson, who willed it to his sister, Mary Greene (Burford 157). The Sells family bought and owned the house until 1830. It was then bequeathed by Edward Sells to his son Vincent in 1841 (Bankside).
Even though the its history is at times unclear, there are frequent allusions to prostitution associated with the Cardinal’s Hat in early modern literature. Beyond Skelton’s Why come ye not to court? the Cardinal’s Hat is referred to in an anonymous 1660 satirical poem entitled Vanity of Vanities, or Sir Harry Vane’s Picture. Although it is possible that the poem is not referring directly to the brothel, language of prostitution is used throughout; the opening line is Have you not seen a Bathol’mew Baby (Vanity of Vanities 1) and the second stanza begins discussing a prostitute sight (Vanity of Vanities 5). Bartholomew Baby was a term sometimes used to describe a prostitute, so it is possible that the references to prostitution imply that the Cardinal’s Hat mentioned in later lines refer to the Southwark brothel: They talk’t of his having a Cardinalls Hat, / They’d send him as soon an Old Nuns Twat (Vanity of Vanities 65-66). Shakespeare’s King Henry VI, Part I also refers to the Cardinal’s Hat. The Duke of Gloucester1 warns the Bishop of Winchester:2
Stand back thou manifest conspirator.
Thou that contrived’st to murder our dead lord,
Thou that giv’st whores indulgences to sin,
I’ll canvas thee in thy broad cardinal’s hat
If thou proceed in this thy insolence
(Shakespeare 399-403)
Lines later, Gloucester3 aggressively calls Winchester4 a Winchester goose (Shakespeare 421), which is yet another term used to describe prostitutes, since the Bishop of Winchester is rumored to have derived a portion of his revenue from the brothels (Toone 80).
Despite the uncertainty surrounding it, the many allusions to the Cardinal’s Hat as a brothel suggest that, even if it was not continually in business as a brothel over the centuries, it made enough of an impression on contemporary writers that it permeates their works as a known cultural reference.


Cite this page

MLA citation

Allison, Emily. Cardinal’s Hat (Southwark). The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 7.0, edited by Janelle Jenstad, U of Victoria, 05 May 2022, mapoflondon.uvic.ca/edition/7.0/CARD3.htm.

Chicago citation

Allison, Emily. Cardinal’s Hat (Southwark). The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 7.0. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Accessed May 05, 2022. mapoflondon.uvic.ca/edition/7.0/CARD3.htm.

APA citation

Allison, E. 2022. Cardinal’s Hat (Southwark). In J. Jenstad (Ed), The Map of Early Modern London (Edition 7.0). Victoria: University of Victoria. Retrieved from https://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/editions/7.0/CARD3.htm.

RIS file (for RefMan, RefWorks, EndNote etc.)

Provider: University of Victoria
Database: The Map of Early Modern London
Content: text/plain; charset="utf-8"

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ED  - Jenstad, Janelle
T1  - Cardinal’s Hat (Southwark)
T2  - The Map of Early Modern London
ET  - 7.0
PY  - 2022
DA  - 2022/05/05
CY  - Victoria
PB  - University of Victoria
LA  - English
UR  - https://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/edition/7.0/CARD3.htm
UR  - https://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/edition/7.0/xml/standalone/CARD3.xml
ER  - 

TEI citation

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