Friday 23rd June. 2.00 PM – ‘B’ Stage, Shepperton Studios. B stage has become the map room where Elizabeth and her councillors discuss the imminent arrival of the Spanish Armada.
Rather than explain the armada’s strategy with plans on tables, the whole of the floor of this room has been designed as a Tudor map (or rather chart) of Europe, created in the form of a tile pavement. On this spectacular floor replicas of elaborate period salt cellars are redeployed as playing pieces for a truly royal ‘war game’. The centrepiece amongst these is a beautiful replica of the Burghley Nef, a salt cellar made from parcel-gilt and nautilus shell in the form of a ship. The original of this is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and dates from between 1527 and 1528.
Salt was still and expensive commodity in the sixteenth century so cellars could be very elaborate. As well as displaying the wealth of their owner, their position on the table indicated the status of those sitting around it. To be ‘above the salt’ i.e. on the owner’s side of it was a sign that you were someone to be noted. Being ‘below the salt’ suggested you weren’t.
But our salts have been temporarily requisitioned as playing pieces in Elizabeth’s battle plan and the queen paces around them, surrounded by her councillors, considering her next move. Her problem is simple. If the armada were to meet up with the Duke of Parma’s army in the Netherlands and escort it across to England then all looks likely to be lost. Elizabeth’s only hope is to attack the Spanish fleet whilst it is still at sea. But with her own fleet made up of much smaller ships (many not even specifically designed for war) set against the powerfully armed galleons of her opponents, is there really any hope of success?