Count Momplegard and the Garter

At the end of the sixteenth century, writes David N. Durant, an ostentatious but simple-minded German Duke began pestering Queen Elizabeth to grant him the noblest of all English Orders.

Frederick, Duke of Wirtemberg (1557-1608) has long been identified as one of the ‘three sorts of cosen garmombles’ in Shakespeare’s 1st quarto edition of The Merry Wives of Windsor. In later editions this was altered to ‘three cozen-Jermans’, and both accounts have obscure references to post horses. The Germans were the subject of some amusing cross-talk between the host of the Garter Inn and Sir Hugh Evans.

Plainly the foreigners were subjects of ridicule - and a ridicule permitted by the Queen’s court. Garmombles is a play on the Duke’s title of Count Momplegard, by which he was correctly known in England, for he did not succeed to the duchy until the death of his cousin Louis in 1593, a year after his visit to England. What is not widely known is why the Duke was in England at all.

Wirtemberg was Württemberg, a duchy in Southern Germany, near the Swiss border and close to the present French frontier. Although of little consequence in the chessboard of late sixteenth-century politics, the duchy was nevertheless Protestant, and therefore friendly to England and Queen Elizabeth in her struggles against the faith of the Popes and the power of Spain.

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