Banks (fl.1588-1637) (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 03
Banks (fl.1588-1637)

by Sidney Lee
The ODNB gives the forename William

BANKS, —— (fl. 1588–1637), a famous showman, to whose ‘dancing horse’ allusion is made by all the best-known authors of his day, was a native of Scotland. He is stated in ‘Tarlton's Jests’ (1600) to have originally served the Earl of Essex, and to have exhibited his horse ‘of strange qualities … at the Crosse Keyes in Gracious-streete’ before 1588. The animal went by the name of Morocco or Marocco. His feats, which are briefly described in an epigram in Bastard's ‘Chrestoleros’ (1598), included, among many like accomplishments, the power of counting money, to which reference is made by Shakespeare (Love's Labour's Lost, i. 2, 1. 53), by Bishop Hall (Toothless Satyrs, 1597), and by Sir Kenelm Digby (Nature of Bodies, 1644, p. 321); of singling out persons named by his master (Tarlton's Jests; Brathwaite's Strappado for the Divell, 1615); of dancing, to which very frequent allusion is made by the Elizabethan dramatists. At the end of 1595 there appeared a pamphlet, of which only two copies are now extant, entitled ‘Maroccus Extaticus, or Bankes Bay Horse in a Trance, a discourse set downe in a merry dialogue between Bankes and his beast, anatomizing some abuses and bad trickes of this age, written and intituled to mine host of the Belsavage, and all his honest guests, by John Dando, the wier-drawer of Hadley, and Harrie Runt, the head ostler of Bosomes Inne, 1595.’ A woodcut represents Banks in the act of opening his entertainment, and the horse standing on his hind legs, with a stick in his mouth and dice on the ground. From the title-page it appears that Banks was at the time exhibiting his horse at the Belsavage Inn without Ludgate, where such entertainments were frequent, and where, as was his custom, Banks charged twopence for admission to his performance (Brathwaite's Strappado). The dialogue, of which the pamphlet consists, deals with the hypocrisy of the puritans and other alleged abuses. It promises a second part, which never appeared. About 1600 the horse is reported to have performed his most famous but hardly credible exploit—that of climbing the steeple of St. Paul's. In the ‘Owles Almanacke’ (1618) it is stated that ‘since the dancing horse stood on the top of Powles, whilst a number of asses stood braying, below seventeen yeares.’ References to the event are to be found in many of Dekker's plays and prose tracts, in Rowley's ‘Search for Money,’ and elsewhere. In 1601 Banks crossed the Channel, and exhibited his horse at Paris; and the best account of Morocco's feats is given by a French eye-witness, Jean de Montlyard, Sieur de Melleray, in a note to a French translation of the ‘Golden Ass’ of Apuleius (1602). The horse's age is there stated to be about twelve years, but he was certainly some three or four years older. The magistrates of Paris suspected that his tricks were performed by magic, and for some time Banks was imprisoned and his horse impounded. But on his master declaring that he had carefully instructed Morocco by signs, they were both released, and Banks was permitted to continue his exhibition. At Orleans, according to Bishop Morton (Direct Answer unto the Scandalous Exceptions of Theophilus Higgons, 1609, p. 11), Morocco was again suspected of being a pupil of the devil, and Banks, to allay the suspicion, ‘commanded his horse’ (who at once obeyed him) ‘to seek out one in the preasse of the people who had a crucifixe on his hat; which done, he bad him kneele downe unto it, and not this onely, but also to rise up againe and to kisse it.’ According to the same authority, Banks, with Morocco, visited Frankfort shortly after this adventure. In 1608 he had returned to England, and was temporarily employed by Henry, Prince of Wales, in the management of his horses (MS. Privy Purse Expenses, 1608–9). In succeeding years Banks, according to references in the works of Ben Jonson, Sir Walter Raleigh (History of the World, 1614, i. 173), Michael Drayton, John Taylor, and Sir John Harington, continued to give his entertainment in London. An elaborate account of ‘how a horse may be taught to doe any tricke done by Banks his curtall’ is given at the end of Gervase Markham's ‘Cavelarice’ (1607). Some mystery has been ascribed to the fate of Banks and Morocco. According to playful allusions in Ben Jonson's ‘Epigrams’ (1616) and in a marginal note to the mock romance of ‘Don Zara del Fogo’ (1656), they were both burned at Rome ‘by the commandment of the pope.’ But no importance need be attached to these statements. The showman is almost certainly to be identified with Banks, a vintner in Cheapside in later years, who is said to have ‘taught his horse to dance, and shooed him with silver’ (Life and Death of Mistress Mary Frith, 1662, p. 75). As a vintner, Banks was evidently alive in May 1637 (Ashmole MS. 826), and mention is made of ‘mine host Bankes’ in Shirley's ‘Ball,’ 1639. Curious allusions to Banks and his dancing horse are found as late as 1664 (Killigrew's Parson's Wedding). An early Lancashire pedigree states that a ‘daughter of … Banks, who kept the horse with the admirable tricks,’ married John Hyde of Urmstone, a member of an ancient county family (Hunter's Illustrations to Shakespeare, i. 265).

[The best accounts of Banks, with numberless references to contemporary authorities, appear in Halliwell-Phillips's folio Shakespeare, iv. 243 et seq., and in his privately printed Memoranda on Love's Labour's Lost (1879), pp. 21–57. The rare tract, Maroccus Extaticus, one copy of which is now in the British Museum, was reprinted with notes by E. F. Rimbault for the Percy Society (No. 47). See also Douce's Illustrations to Shakespeare, i. 212; Corser's Collectanea, i. 152 et seq.; and Frost's Old Showmen, p. 23.]

S. L. L.