The Young Shakespeare (pt 6)


The Townley Manuscript

 This countri as yett is verie backward in religion. They that have the sword in there handes vnder her maiestie to redresse abuses among vs, suffer it to rust in the scabarde. Ther is some smale reformation, and we hope will shortly be greater by reason of certeyne spirituall exercises in Lankeshire and Cheshire Thomas Mead


In the last post we managed to place Shakespeare in East lancashire, where our budding bard was showing off to Spenser his knowledge of the then new-fangled Rondelay, a poetic form he had picked up during his sojurn at the Jesuit English College in Douay. His early Catholicism seems certain, & his presence at the house of probably the most noble Catholic of them all – Sir John Townley – is of great significance when attempting to trace the development of Shakespeare’s muse.

Only a mile or so away from Spenser’s Cottage at Hurstwood lies the famously beautiful hall of the Townleys, situated in the most serendipitous grounds just to the south-east of Burnley. Like many other Lancastrians, the Townleys refused to accept the new religion imposed on them by Henry VIII & his daughter Elizabeth. Lancashire was a superstitious, underpopulated county whose noble families were willing to pay fines to the state rather than join a parish congregation onto which a Genevan vicar had been foisted. Anyone not attending a regular Anglican service was termed a recusant, & Sir John  was to be imprisoned several times for his open defiance, paying over £5000 in fines throughout his lifetime in order to avoid attending the Protestant services.  Towneley Hall – now a museum & art gallery – possesses a beautiful painting of Sir John Townley with his family, which is imbibed with the following inscription, dated to 1601.

images This John, about the 6th or 7th year of her Majesty that now is, for professing the Apostolic Catholic Roman faith, was imprisoned first at Chester Castle, then sent to the Marshalsea, then to York Castle, then to the Blockhouses in Hull, then to the Gatehouse in Westminster, then to Manchester, then to Broughton in Oxfordshire, then twice to Ely in Cambridgeshire; and so now of 73 years old, and is bound to appear and keep within 5 miles of Townley his house; and who hath, since the statute of 23 Elizabeth, paid into the exchequer 20 the month and doth still, so that there is already paid above £5,000. A.D. thor.

The Ladywell Shrine
The Ladywell Shrine

According to Peter Dillon, it would seem that John Towneley was too open with his recusant activities. None of his Lancashire friends from amongst the gentry seem to have been in prison as early as 1566. The Elizabethan persecution in the North had scarcely begun by then.’ Although in & out of prison most of his adult life, Sir John never renounced Catholicism, hiding priests in secret chambers at Towneley Hall & even disguising his altar – the Ladywell Shrine – as a wardrobe. Through him we can form a link to his fellow Lancastrians, Cardinal Allen & Simon Hunt, & it would be no stretch of the imagination to see him welcoming the fresh influx of Catholic priests sent to England from Douay, & through that connection find himself accommodating the young, poetically talented Shakespeare.

We now come to perhaps the most important discovery of recent years in the quest for Mr William Shakespeare. During my studies, having placed our bard at Towneley, I began to investigate the theatrical tradition of the place & came across a unique 16th manuscript known as the Townley MS. By facsimile, I might add, for the MS was sold by auction in 1814, & is now housed at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.  It consists of a series of ‘miracle plays’ copied out by an unknown scribe,  which opens up the possibility that Shakespeare could have been the young fellow behind it. To eke out the truth in this notion, I compared the three & a half letters on Shakespeare’s will – which apart from his characteristic signatures are the only samples of his formal handwriting to have survived. Orthographically speaking, we cannot use his flourish-heavy signature as proper evidence, which means all that the Bard left in his own true hand are the four letters of ‘by me’ or even ‘by mr’ that preceed a signature on his will. Of these four letters, only B, Y & M can be used to any satisfaction. At this point you can decide for yourselves by checking out the graphology below & making your own mind up, while remembering four decades would have passed between the inscriptions.


by me

Shakespeare’s ‘By Me’

Some Ms & Ys from the Townley MS
Some Ms & Ys from the Townley MS
A few Bs & a couple more Ys
A few Bs & a couple more Ys

In 1576, the Protestant authorities came down hard on the old religious Mystery/Miracle Plays, the medieval fore-runners to the theatrical tradition forged in the late Elizabethan era by Shakespeare & his contemporaries. These early proto-plays were especially popular in Wakefield, Yorkshire, & it is the populace of that town that the Diocesan Court of High Commission at York ordered;

In the said play no pageant be used or set further wherein the Ma(jest) ye of God the Father, God the Sonne, or God the Holie Goste or the administration of either the Sacrementes of baptism or of the Lordes Supper be counterfeited or represented, or anything plaid which tend to the maintenance of superstition and idolatry or which be contrary to the laws of God or of the realm.

urlThis really ripped the stuffing out of the heavily iconographied Mystery Plays, a death knell that saw this once massively popular national theatre all but banished from the noble Halls & bustling market places of the land. The last play in Wakefield was performed on May 17 1576, of ‘a plaie commonlie called corpus christi plaie,’ after which they were never heard in the town again. The date is significant, for later that year we can now place both Shakespeare & his his hand-writing at Townley. We know by the press-mark on the first page of the  manuscript that Sir John Townley’s son, Christopher (1604-74) was the marked owner of the book. , & with the miracle plays being a Catholic institution, we can imagine Sir John proposing a way to make them safe for posterity, the consequence being a single manuscript in which could be stored the entire cycle.

The anonymous author of the plays has been monickered the ‘Wakefield Master,’ for he peppers the text with local topography such as the reference in the manuscript’s Second Shepherds’ Play to Horbery Shrogys – with Horbery being a town near Wakefield.  Scholars have calculated that the original plays – dating to about 1400  – were rewritten & added to towards the end of that century. The new plays were Caesar Augustus, The Talents, Noah, the First Shepherds’ Play, The Second Shepherds’ Play, Herod the Great, and The Buffeting of Christ, the last 5 utilising the 9-line stanza that could have inspired Spenser when adapting a nine-lien stanza for his epic poem the Faerie Queene.

It makes sense that Sir John was the instrumental force behind the text, preserving the plays for the Towneleys & the other twenty or so recusant families in & around Burnley? If this was the case, & Shakespeare was staying with the Townleys at the time, then we can see how our young poet would have been profoundly affected by witnessing, reading & even copying the 32 Mystery Plays.  At some point after its creation, some protestant mind decided to tamper with the MS -references to the Pope and the sacraments are crossed out, while  twelve manuscript leaves full of Catholic references were ripped out between the two final plays. In what remains, the presence of some north midland forms, rather than the northern forms found in a similar play-cycle found at York, reinforces the possibility that the Warwickshire-born Shakespeare may have had a hand in the matter. Perhaps he was working alongside Spenser, for in the Cycle’s impressive Second Shepherd’s Play, a Nativity burlesque, the regular dialect is north-midlands, while that of a character called Mak heralds from Spenser’s south.

Valiant “RedCross Knight” enters the Cave of Despair
Valiant “RedCross Knight” enters the Cave of Despair

In support of Spenser’s involvement we should first notice that the Cycle’s Hanging of Judas appears in the Despair episode of his epic poem, The Faerie Queene. This may be a coincidence, but digging deeper we discover that the great mind behind the Cycle, the so-called Wakefield Master, utilised a nine-line stanza, while a decade later Spenser also used a nine-line stanza for the Faerie Queene. The Wakefield Master’s plays are also noted for delving into the rural lives of its characters & filling their mouths with colloquial ‘folkspeech.’ If Spenser was working on the Mystery Plays at the same time as the Shepheard’s Calendar, we can see how such a stylistic theme could have seeped into his own composition. Indeed, A.C. Hamilton, in his ‘Spenser Encyclopedia’ remarks, ‘the morality play, like much civic pageantry, introduced allegorical actions with a particular liveliness & presumably energetic acting style. Spenser’s pracrice, especially in the Faerie Queene, likewise involves sharply visualized allegorical scenes that are appropriately comparable to scenes in allegorical drama, which commonly presented personifications of virtues & vices in conflict.’

That Shakespeare also came into contact with the Towneley MS is suggested by the form of Gloucester’s blinding in King Lear, which appears very much like the brutal treatment of Christ found in the Towneley Cycle. Here Caiaphas is stricken with overwhelming desire to put out the eyes of Christ, as in: ‘Nay, but I shall out-thrist / Both his een on a raw.’  Further indications were discerned by Glynne Wickham. Highlighting the Towneley Cycle’s ‘The Deliverance of Souls,’ he states, ‘in the Townley play Rybald receives his orders from Belzabub, in Macbeth, the porter’s first question is, “‘Who’s there, I th’name of Belzebub.’”  Wickham then says, ‘it was Rybald in the Towneley ‘Deliverance’ who cried out to Belzabub on hearing Christ’s trumpets at Hell-gate… Thunder, cacophony, screams & groans were the audible emblems of Lucifer & hell on the medieval stage. Those same aural emblems coulour the whole of II-iii of Macbeth &, juxtaposed as they are with the thunderous knocking at a gate attended by a porter deluded into regarding himself as a devil, their relevance to the moral meaning of the play could scarcely have escaped the notice of its first audiences.’

It may only be a coincidence that these letters are extremely similar, but during my investigations I came to the Townley MS manuscript by following an unconnected flow of evidence. These paper trails have been blown about by the blustery gales of history for many centuries, but when they settle in just the right order, all of a sudden a series of cogent patterns seem to illuminate a path through the murky mists of Shakespearean history.

The Young Shakespeare (pt 5)




After a six-month stint at the English College, the intellectual capacity of our 11-year-old bard would have been swollen no end. This period was one of the first stages of that unique course of education which just so happened to create one of the greatest poets to have ever lived. His time abroad would have helped to mould a mind capable of such epic feats of linguistics that would, later in his career, expand his native tongue with hundreds of loan-words from foreign languages, including French. In addition, Shakespeare’s faculty for the Muses would have defined him as as perfect student to certain Catholic scholars. Edward Campion, himself an excellent poet, defined the perfect student as studying & writing poetry (but not amorous poetry), while becoming intimate with, ‘the majesty of Virgil, the festal grace of Ovid, the rhythm of Horace, & the buskined speech of Seneca.

So where did Shakespeare go next? The year is important, for in 1576 another great English poet, Sir Edmund Spenser, was composing his Shepheard’s Calendar. This is a series of 12 pastoral eclogues, each named after a month of the year, & it is in the 8th eclogue – August – that something interesting happens. For one month only we find ourselves in the company of a certain poetical fellow called ‘Willy,’ who is performing in a form that had only just been created in France – the Roundelay – as if it were 1812 & the Waltz had just arrived in the salons & dancing halls of England.

PER. It fell upon a holy Eve,
WILL. Hey ho Holiday!
PER. When holy Fathers wont to shrive:
WILL. Now ‘ginneth this Roundelay.
PER. Sitting upon a Hill so high,
WILL. Hey ho the high Hill!
PER. The while my Flock did feed thereby,
WILL. The while the Shepherd self did spill
PER. I saw the bouncing Bellibone;
WILL. Hey ho Bonnibel!
PER. Tripping over the Dale alone,
WILL. She can trip it very well.

Spenser would use the nick-name ‘Willy’ for Shakespeare over a decade later, when referring to the bard’s  writing block in a poem known as The Tears of the Muses;

Our pleasant Willie, ah! is dead of late.
With whom all joy and jolly merriment
Is also deaded and in doleur drent.
But that same gentle spirit from whose pen
Large streams of honey and sweet nectar flow,
Scorning the boldness of such base-born men,
Which dare their follies forth so rashly throw,
Doth rather choose to sit in idle cell,
Than so himself to mockery to sell.

Here Spenser’s ‘large streams of honey and sweet nectar,’ is reminiscent of Francis Meres own description of Shakespeare, in the Palladis Tamia: Wit’s Treasury, as ‘the witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous & honey-tongued Shakespeare.’

Woodcut to the August eclogue - Willy, Perigot & Cuddy in conversation - note Pendle Hill in the far right background
Woodcut to the August eclogue – Willy, Perigot & Cuddy in conversation – note Pendle Hill in the far left background

Willy’s two companions in the August eclogue, Perigot & Cuddy, both connect to Shakespeare presence in Douay in 1576; Perigot is clearly a French name, after the Périgord region at the Dordogne, while Cuddy is northern dialect English for Cuthbert, who could be the Jesuit missionary Cuthbert Payne. He was in the right place at the right time to meet Shakespeare – Douay 1575 – & he also returns to England in time for Shakespeare to make Spenser’s poem. On the 7th February, 1576, Cuthbert obtained the degree of Bachelor of Theology of Douai University. A couple of months later, a day after Shakespeare’s 12th birthday on the 24 April 1576 (which may be significant), Cuthbert set off for England with another priest, John Payne. Splitting up, Payne went to the South East while Mayne went to Cornwall. A year later, in June 1577, he would be arrested in Probus. But did he stay in Cornwall all that time? Did he actually spend some time in the county of Lancashire. a well-known nest of papistry.

Image_3674It has been shown by a number of scholars that Spenser wrote his Calendar in the hamlet of Hurstwood, near the gorgeous East Lancashire town of Burnley, where there is a a tudor building’ known as ‘Spenser’s House,‘ still standing today.  Spenser’s father, John, was also from East Lancashire, an area simply teeming with Edmunds & John Spensers where the two names alternated generation to generation. A will made by Margaret Spenser of Hurstwood in 1605 is a classic example;

Mary, Margaret, and ffrances Nutter daughters of the said Henry, Edmund Spenser son and heir of John Spenser, deceased, ” to him ” all my manure or worthinge,”  Henry Spencer base son of John Spenser, Nicholas Towne and Grace Towne now his wife ” “one churn one Masheknoppe”2 ” Mary Spenser daughter of John Spenser deceased, Richard Cowcrofte to whom I am Aunt, Henry Cowcrofte of Birchecliffe, John Spenser, of Hurstwood, Ellinor now his wife, Edmund Spenser son of the said John Spenser

Edmund Spenser was born in London in 1552 & educated in boyhood at the newly founded Merchant Taylors’ school, and probably entered during 1561. It is through his schooling here that we gain another connection to Hurstwood, the 19th century antiquarian, J McKay, writing;

It may be as well that I should now give my proofs in support of this statement. They are contained in a paper folio in a vellum wrapper, in which are set down the disbursments for various purposes of the executors of Robert Nowell, of Gray’s Inn, who died in 1569. At folio 25 there is an entry of ‘Gownes geven to certeyn poor scholler (s) of the scholls aboute London, in number 32, viz., St. Paul’s, Merchant Taylor’s, St Anthony’s Schole, St. Saviour’s Gramar Schole, & Westminster Schole. Cost of cloth, with making, xixll. Xs. Vijd.’ First on the list of the scholars of Merchant Taylors’ who recived these gifts stands ‘Edmunde Spenser.


image006Robert Nowell, the headmaster of the Merchant’s School in London, was a Burnley man, & related by marriage to Sir John Towneley of Townely Hall, near Hurstwood. These East Lancashire-Spenser connections are supported by the language used  by Spenser in the Calendar, which is in many places akin to the dialect of the area. The Calendar is a sophisticated mini-masterpiece, pregnant with a wide array of references & the first real original English poetic production of any merit since Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Entered on the books of the Stationers’ Company December 5, 1579, on its publication early the next year it became an instant success. Although written in the classical style of the Roman Eclogues, the reading public were intrigued by Spenser’s choice of rustic colloquiallism, most of which was written in the dialect of East Lancashire. John Dryden describes Spenser as a’master of our northern dialect,’ while in a speech to the Historic Society of Lancashire on January 10th 1867, T T Wilkinson listed forty-five words in that ‘folkspeech’ used by Spenser dialect, that were still in circulation in his day. Some of these words have survived in the locality to the 21st century, such as

Brag – boast proudly
Chips – fragments cut off
Clout – blow with flat of hand
To crow over – to boast over someone
Dapper – pretty smart
Latch – temporary fastening of a door
Smirke – smile in a pertor winning maner

Wilkinson adds; ‘The Folkspeech of East Lancashire is somewhat peculiar, both in words and pronunciation, and many of its oldest terms and phrases have a close affinity to the Lowland Scotch. Both contain an admixture of words derived from the Danes and Northmen who conquered and colonized the district… Robert Chambers… in his interesting Book of Days, vol. I, p. 07, asserts that when Spenser tells of a ewe that ” she mought ne gang on ” the green,” he uses almost the exact language that would be employed by a Selkirkshire shepherd, on a like occasion, at the present day. So also when Thenot says ” Tell me, good Hobbinol, what gars thee greete ?” he speaks pure Scotch. In this poem Spenser also uses tway for two ; gait for goat (?) ; mickle for much ; wark for work ; wae for woe ; ken for know ; crag for the neck ; icarr for worse ; hame for home ; teen for sorrow all of these being Scottish terms.’ 


Three other bits of evidence place Spenser in Burnley in 1576. Contemporary gloss to the June eclogue of the Calendar provided by a certain ‘E.K.,’ describes Spenser as composing his poem amidst, ‘those hylles, that is the North countrye, where he dwelt,’ adding that Spenser’s movements after the poem’s composition as being ‘removing out of the Northparts came into the south.’ On this point, TT Wilkinson’s paper  quotes a certain Dr Craik, who in turn is quoting Mr. F. C. Spenser, of Halifax;

Various conjectures have been formed as to the precise locality intended by ‘the north;’ but the most probable one is that urged by Dr. Craik in his elaborate work on Spenser and his Writings. In a communication to the Gentleman’s Magazine for August 1842, Mr. F. C. Spenser, of Halifax, “produces such evidence as can scarcely leave a doubt that the branch of the Spensers from which the poet was descended was that of the Spensers, or Le Spensers, of Hurstwood, near Burnley, in the eastern extremity of Lancashire ; and that the family to which he immediately belonged was probably seated [here, or] on a little property still called ‘ The Spensers,’ near Filly Close, in the ancient Forest of Pendle, about three miles to the northward of HurstwoodThe poet always spelt his surname with an s ; and it appears from the registers that it was spelt in the same manner by the family at Hurstwood ; not only in the reign of Elizabeth, but for a century afterwards ; while even at Kildwick, near Skipton, only about ten or twelve miles distant, it is spelled with a c, in the manner as did, and do, the Spencers of Althorpe.

My bird at Pendle, a couple of miles from Roughlee.
My bird at Pendle, a couple of miles from Roughlee.

To this we can add the ‘Letterbook’ of Gabriel Harvey – to whom the Calendar is dedicated – which according to Alexander Grosart’s interpretation of the corrupted text (MS BM Sloane, 93, fol 37) reads; ‘To be shorte, I woulde to God that all the ill-favorid copyes of my nowe prostituted devises were buried a greate deale deeper in the centre of the ergye then the height & altitude of the middle region of the verye English Alpes amountes unto in your shier.’ To Grosart, Harvey is referring here to Pendle Hill, that great solitary heap of Earth that dominates the East Lancashire skyline, which is indeed in the ‘I’ of the English Pennines, stretching as they do from Cumberland down to Derbyshire. What is interesting for our quest is that near Newchurch, at the foot of Pendle’s northern slopes, the village of Grindleton was home to one of only two nest of Familists in the north of England – the other being in York.  Also, within the Pendle Forest branch of the Spenser family, Lawrences & Edmunds alternated as in the poet’s own descendants – a Laurence Spenser was buried at Newchurch in Pendle in 1584.


December’s woodcut – more Pendle Hill – compare with the next image…
...of Pendle by K Melling
…of Pendle by K Melling
The Pendle town of Colne is on the hill in the left background
The Pendle town of Colne is on the hill in the left background

Finally we have a passage in the calendar which shows Spenser had come into contact with the staunchly Catholic family of Sir John Townley of Townley Hall, who actually gets a cameo in the Calendar.

Truly Piers, thou art beside thy Wit,
Furthest fro the Mark, weening it to hit.
Now I pray thee, let me thy Tale borrow
For our Sir John, to say to-morrow,
At the Kirk, when it is Holiday:
For well he means, but little can say.
But and if Foxes been so crafty, as so,
Much needeth all Shepherds hem to know. 

We get the sense here that Spenser is alluding to Sir John’s enforced silence in the face of a Protestant England, & also the possibility that the Shepherds mentioned are Catholic priests. Adding everything together, through Spenser we can place the pro-Catholic ‘Willy’ Shakespeare in one of the most fervent Catholic hot-beds in the country, Townley, in August 1576. Coincidence or not, there was a manuscript produced at that place, & at that very time, which just so happens to have some of Shakespeare’s handwriting on it…

Townley Hall
Townley Hall

The Young Shakespeare (pt 4)




In the Autumn, or so, of 1575, William Shakespeare left his native islands for the first time. His destination was the small town of Douai on the River Scarpe, twenty miles south of Lille in northern France. A flourishing, medieval conurbation, it had become a little Catholic Benidorm, stuffed full of English exiles hoping to save their country from the ‘heathen’ protestant church. Since 1559, the town had had a university as well, with its first chancellor being the exiled Dr. Richard Smith, formerly Fellow of Merton and regius professor of divinity at Oxford. Douai was to be a fertile bedsoil for an 11 year-old prodigy to suddenly find himself; heated & passionate rhetoric would have abounded on all sides, infiltrating our wee bard’s psyche with the rhythm pulsations of intelligent conversazione.

 The English College had been set up in 1568 by Cardinal  William Allen who, when seeking a home for a projected English college abroad, turned his eyes towards Douai. A charming fellow, it wasn’t long before cardinals, scholars & would-be priests had flocked to his colours, a hectic band whose sole purpose was to reclaim English spirituality in defiance of Protestant law. There would be blood, but there would be prayer. Cardinal Allen, in a letter to  D’Vendeville , writes of the,  ‘gentlemen’s sons, who were studying humanities, philosophy or jurisprudence, and who either of their own accord or through the exhortations of catholic relations and friends had been moved by the fame of the seminary to seek here a catholic education, were kept by us in the college for a time, but at their own not the common charge, until according to their age and condition they had been duly catechised and reconciled to the church by penance for their previous life and schism.’ (literae D alani ad D Vendevillium sept 16 1578 or 1580)

 A diary at the English College’s branch in Rome contains a number of brief biographies in which the thoughts of the students were stored as they arrived at Douay. For example, in 1607 Father William Whittingham, from Whalley in Lancashire, wrote at the age of 17 years; ‘I fell into the superstitions of the heretics, and, without the least necessity, accompanied my schoolfellows to their churches. But afterwards, returning home in half a year, by reading pious books was restored to the ancient faith, and, before the lapse of another year, crossed over to Douay with my father’s consent. Both my parents are of respectable families, and well-to-do, and, what is better than all, are Catholics.’ 

Allen had no funds of his own, & depended very much upon the generosity of friends in France, secret benefactors back in England & pension from the pope himself of 100 golden crowns per month, which was paid, incidentally, right the way down to the time of the French Revolution. What comes to my notice here is that if John Shakespeare is sending his Sacred Testament to Campion, then is there any chance he was also sending money to Campion also. It is interesting to notice that after 1575, John Shakespeare’s situation in Stratford appears to disintegrate – he starts to accumulate debts, begins to fudge on financial contributions which he ~& his fellow bailiffs were expected to pay, & also ends up mortgaging out his Wife’s properties. No satisfactory explanation for this has been made, but for me the holy jihad called by Allen would have been enough to drain any devout papist of his, & his similarily Catholic wife.


In 1575, when Shakespeare & Hunt arrived in Douai, there were 150 students at the College. Also arriving that year – according to the ‘First & Second Diaries of the English College’ edited by Thomas Francis Knox (1878) was a certain Cutbertus Mainus, Cuthbert Mayne, who in the next post shall become a most important player in the quest to find our young Shakespeare. Until then, let us try & get a feel for the academic environment our wee Willy has found himself a part of. The Rev. Gregory Martin described that at mealtimes,  ‘the reader from the pulpit reads aloud the portion of the old Testament which occurs in the Roman breviary at the time… so that the whole bible is easily gone through in one year. Twice a day at the end of each meal they will have the usual explanation of a chapter; only it is done more perfectly than formerly, not merely on account of the pains which Richard Bristow takes, and his knowledge which was always very great, but also because of the increased authority and maturity which is implied in the degree of doctor in divinity lately conferred on him.’ 

 Let us now look at a statement by Cardinal Allen, who tells us that, ‘on every Sunday and festival English sermons are preached by the more advanced students on the gospel, epistle or subject proper to the day. These discourses are calculated to inflame the hearts of all with piety towards God and zeal for the bringing back of England from schism to the path of salvation. We preach in English, in order to acquire greater power and grace in the use of the vulgar tongue,a thing on which the heretics plume themselves exceedingly, and by which they do great injury to the simple folk. In this respect the heretics, however ignorant they may be in other points, have the advantage over many of the more learned catholics, who having been educated in the universities and the schools do not commonly have at command the text of Scripture or quote it except in Latin. Hence when they are preaching to the unlearned, and are obliged on the spur of the moment to translate some passage which they have quoted into the vulgar tongue, they often do it inaccurately and with unpleasant  hesitation, because either there is no English version of the words or it does not then and there occur to them. Our adversaries on the other hand have at their fingers’ ends all those passages of Scripture which seem to make for them, and by a certain deceptive adaptation and alteration of the sacred words produce the effect of appearing to say nothing but what comes from the bible.


 Here Allen is scoffing at a Protestant Minister’s ability to make things up as he goes along, deviating from the ‘true word’ of God as found in the Bible. The key phrase here is ‘We preach in English, in order to acquire greater power and grace in the use of the vulgar tongue,’ & of all the folk listening in 1575, there was one wide-eyed boy in a corner who was acquiring that ‘greater power & grace’ by the minute. Indeed, that bible’s ability to come out with some complex latinate diction is positively shakespearen. We also have a great deal of latinized words, a for-runner perhaps of Shakespeare’s own etymylogical experiments.  Nassed shaheen lists; ‘a few of the many words of latin origin employed by the rheims New testament are : ‘supererogate for spend more; prefnition of worlds for eternal purpose; exin-anited for made himself of no reputuaion; depositum for that which is committed; neophyte for nivice & prescience for foreknowledge.’

One of the chief missions of the English College was the production a a New Testament, named after Rheims, the town where the College moved was situated from 1578. A number of passages in the plays match moments in the Rheims, such as the word ‘cockle’ (Matt 13.24-25) which appears in Coriolanus (3.1.70)-: ‘the cockle of rebellion.’ ;I 1946, John Henry De Groot’s ‘Shakespeare and the ‘Old Faith.’ showed how the phrases ‘narrow gate,’ and ‘not a hair perished‘ were also peculiar to both Shakepseare & the Rheims. That Shakespeare used this ‘illegal’ bible AND protestant versions such as the Geneva, has always baffled scholars, but knowing that Shakespeare’s upbringing was influenced by the non-sectarian Familists, we can see how he would have used both texts freely without pricking his religious conscience.

 St. Aloysius

Shakespeare’s time at such a vivid Catholic institution left him with a fondness for the ‘Old Faith’ throughout his writings. De Groot writes, ‘there are many signs of respect for Catholocism, Priests, friars, nuns are generally idealised & never ridiculed, while pasons are always treated with levity… Shakespeare’s exact understanding of & deep respect for the ‘Old Faith’ are shown in the whole presentation of the Catholic Middle Ages in the History plays & of Catholic Europe in the comedies.’ In the Winter’s Tale we also have a nod to the confessional tenets of the Roman version of Christianity.

I have trusted thee, Camillo,
With all the nearest things in my heart, as well
My chamber-council wherein, priest-like, thou
Hast cleaned my bosom : I from thee departed
Thy penitent reformed

 OK folks, this is where the fun begins. Having spent the Autumn of 1575 at Douay, & the winter also, let us place him now in the company of a certain Jesuit missionary, who is just about to return to England from Douay in April 1576. His name is Cuthbert Mayne, & through an astonishing series of connections, we are now going to follow Shakespeare to a beautiful part of East Lancashire, after which – & a year later –  he would appear at a theatre in London for the first time.

The Young Shakespeare (pt3)



On the Road


The year is now 1574, & so far we have ascertained that the pro-Catholic Shakespeares have embraced the ‘Familist’ sect of Christianity, for whom their young prodigy has composed a couple of pretty little Biblical ballads. Since Elizabeth took the throne, Catholocism had been more or lass banned in England by a paranoid English government. In 1569 a rebellion of Catholic Northern Earls was brutally quashed by Elizabeth, & a year later the Pope excommunicated the Queen, which initiated, according to Stephen Greenblatt (Will in the World 2005),’a nightmarish sequence of conspiracy & persecution, plot & counterplot that continued throughout Elizabeth’s long reign.’ In response, a brave soul named Cardinal Allen had founded a Jesuit seminary in Douay, Northern France, in order to train up a legion of priests to spearhead the spiritual reconquista of England. In 1574 the first batch arrived, cavorting from priest-hole to priest-hole, giving masses in secret to all the favorable nests of papistry.

Having secured the connection between John Shakespeare & the Jesuits through the Sacred Testament, let us imagine for a moment that one of these priests reached Stratford. Support for this reasoning comes through the personage of Simon Hunt, the very headmaster of the Kings School in Stratford, whose lessons Shakespeare must surely have attended. Indeed, one of the earliest Shakesperean biographers, Nicholas Rowe (1674-1718), writes,’ His Father…. had bred him, ’tis true, for some time at a Free-School, where ’tis probable he aquir’d that little Latin he was Master of.

Big Ben Jonson
Big Ben Jonson

Rowe is here referring to the eulogy made by Ben Jonson in the First Folio, printed seven years after the Bard’s death, which reads, ‘And though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek / From thence to honour thee I would not seek.’ Fuller, in his ‘Worthies of England,’ published posthumously in 1662 adds, ‘He was an eminent instance of the truth of that rule, poeta non fit, sed nascitur; one is not made, but born a poet. Indeed his learning was but very little.’ With grammar school children being force-fed a repetitive diet of Latin & Greek, if Shakespeare’s learning ‘was but very little‘ as Fuller says, we may suppose that he was taken out of his school before he got a chance to complete his classically-bent grammar school education. This neatly connects with what his headmaster decided to do with his life the year after the first Jesuit missionaries arrived in England.

By 1575 Lancashire-born Hunt had been teaching in Straftord for three years, but something must have struck him to his holy core about that time, for the following yearhe found himself journeying to Douay in order to train as a Jesuit priest. That Shakespeare went with him is made possible by a comment made in 1695 by the Rev. Richard Davies, rector of Sapperton, who stated that Shakespeare, ‘Dyed a papist.’ In addition, the excellent essay, “To Be or Not to Be (Catholic, That is),” by Daniel Wackerman shows how Shakespeare’s maternal grandfather, Edward Arden, ‘was said to have secretly kept his own catholic priest, disguised as the family gardener.’ He adds that Mary Ardene, “made specific mention of the Blessed Virgin Mary in her will, a practice long out of fashion for all save Catholics in 16th-century England.”

Proof that our wee Catholic bard went to France with Hunt shall appear in a couple of posts, but for now let us join our 11 year-old bard on what is probably his first journey to the capital & beyond. En route the lads would have slept in an English inn or three, of which Fynes Moryson, who was acquainted with the inns of Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, asserts in his Itinerary of 1617;
The world affords not such Inns as England hath, either for good and cheap entertainments at the guest’s own pleasure, or for humble attendance on passengers… as soon as a passenger comes to an Inn the servants run to him, and one takes his horse and walks him till he be cold, then rubs him and gives him meat, yet I must say they are not much to be trusted in this last point without the eye of the master or his servant to oversee them. Another servant gives the passenger his private chamber and kindles his fire, the third pulls off his boots and makes them clean. The Host or Hostess visits him, and if he will eat with the Host, or at a common table with others, his meal will cost him sixpence, or in some places but fourpence (yet this course is less honourable, and not used by gentlemen) : but if he will eat in his chamber, he commands what meat he will according to his appetite, and as much as he thinks fit for him and his company, yea, the kitchen is open to him to command the meat to be dressed as he best likes: and when he sits at table, the Host or Hostess will accompany him, of courtesy to be bid sit down: while he eats, if he have company especially, he shall be offered music, which he may freely take or refuse and if he be solitary, the Musicians will give him the good or if they have many guests will at least visit him

engrogueWilliam Harrison (d.1593), in his Description of England, describes inns lodging up to 300 folk & their horses, with some towns having more than 12 inns, the competition from which ended up in the provision of clean & comfy accommodation accompanied by very fine food & wine. Between these oasi, travel along Elizabethan highways was a most precarious venture. Dodgy roads & bridges & the occasional robber plagued the journey, with organized gangs operating all around London. Shakespeare may even have remembered such a scene, when in Henry IV he depicts;

I am accursed to rob in that thief’s company: the
rascal hath removed my horse, and tied him I know
not where. If I travel but four foot by the squier
further afoot, I shall break my wind. Well, I doubt
not but to die a fair death for all this, if I
‘scape hanging for killing that rogue. I have
forsworn his company hourly any time this two and
twenty years, and yet I am bewitched with the
rogue’s company. If the rascal hath not given me
medicines to make me love him, I’ll be hanged; it
could not be else: I have drunk medicines. Poins!
Hal! a plague upon you both! Bardolph! Peto!
I’ll starve ere I’ll rob a foot further. An ’twere
not as good a deed as drink, to turn true man and to
leave these rogues, I am the veriest varlet that
ever chewed with a tooth. Eight yards of uneven
ground is threescore and ten miles afoot with me;
and the stony-hearted villains know it well enough:
a plague upon it when thieves cannot be true one to another!

They whistle

Whew! A plague upon you all! Give me my horse, you
rogues; give me my horse, and be hanged!

Peace, ye fat-guts! lie down; lay thine ear close
to the ground and list if thou canst hear the tread
of travellers.



It is likely that Shakespeare & Hunt would have entered London – a place Shakespeare would fall in love with & would soon call home. Perhaps on this particular visit, Hunt would have taken Shakespeare to Saint Paul’s Cathedral, one of only three places in the country where one could legally buy books. Perhaps it was as they browsed through the printed wonders on offer that Shakespeare stumbled across George Gascoignes ‘Posies,’ released only that year. Hunt could have bought the book for his budding wee poet, for in those pages we find Gascoigne’s definition of a sonnet as being, not of the Italian model, but that made famous by the Bard himself, which consists of;

Fouretene lynes, every lyne conteyning tenne syllables. The first twelve to ryme in staves of foure lynes, by crosse metr & the last two rhyming togither, do conclude the whole

That Shakespeare experienced the wonders of the London stage during this visit is an unlikely circumstance. In 1575 the profession to which his destiny was intrinsically bound was in a sorry state indeed. The previous December, the puritan-dominated London common council had banned all public dramatic performances from the city, announcing;

Sundry great disorders & inconveniences have been found to ensue to this City by the inordinate haunting by great multitudes of people, specially youth, to plays, interludes & shows, namely occasion of frays & quarrels, evil practices of incontinecy in great inns, having chambers & secret places adjoining to their open stages & galleries, inveighing of maids, specially orphans & good citizens children, to privy & unmeet contracts, the publishing of unchaste, uncomely & unshamefast speeches & doings. Withdrawing of the Queen’s Majesty’s subjects from Divine service on Sundays & Holy days.

The thing is, once Shakespeare got back from France the next year, all this was about to change, a moment in history that would penetrate the puberty of our budding dramatist at just the right moment in his development, a fusion of zeitgeist & genius that would soon mean that Elizabethan theatre & William Shakespeare of Stratford were one & the same spirit.

The Young Shakespeare (pt 2)


The Boy Poet


Throughout this series – which I have decided to continue up until anniversary of Shakespeare’s death next April – the knowledge that Shakespeare was born into a  passionately Catholic family will prove to be a most significant travelling companion. Yet great masterpieces are rarely written in a church, & we must look elsewhere for the inspirations that would diffuse their mimesi all thro’ his majestic ouvre. To do that we must attempt a journey thro Shakespeare’s life, turning over most of the stones we come to, for it is only thro’ a professional litological dig that we may unearth the bones of our illustrious bard.

In April 1564, just as the season of spring was beginning to flood the British Isles with scent & colour, in a small market town in the British midlands called Stratford-Upon-Avon, a certain Mary Shakespeare (nee Arderne) has just given birth to a boy. Holding her hand is her husband, John Shakespeare, excited at the prospect of their baby boy, but nervous as to whether he would survive the rigors of infancy. Their first two swaddling baby girls had pass’d away before they could walk, & it would have been with doubtless trepidation that they scribbled their baby’s name in the Baptismal record of Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church, where on the 26 April 1564 we may read “Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakspere.” It turned out that John & Mary had no need to worry, even when three months later the plague struck Stratford. But, by fate or by fortune baby Will survived the outbreak, & would eventually grow up into one of the finest young men in the kingdom.



Stratford Baptism records
Stratford Baptism records 1564

The first decade of his life saw John Shakespeare grow in power & affluence in their home town. In July 1565 he was elected one of the 14 alderman of Stratford, becoming chief bailiff between the autumns of 1568 & 69. It was on his watch that the Stratford corporation paid for its first ever set of travelling actors to perform in the town, the Queen’s Players. One can imagine the young Shakespeare observing the theatre for pretty much the first time, a lightning bolt of electricity which would sear his soul with the sheer of it all. Four years later, in 1573, the Earl of Leicester’s Players strolled into town, & were paid 6 shillings for their efforts. Their leader was a certain James Burbage, who would three years hencewards build one of the first permanent theatres in London.

A year later, Mr John Shakespeare was definitely well-off –  His profession, tradition holds, was a glover, while another anecdote that trinkled through time suggests he was a butcher. Whatever he did, however, he had made enough money by 1574 to pay Edmund & Emma Hall £40 for two freehold houses, complete with lovely tudor-style gardens & orchards. Still living at Henley Street, & the owners of properties which Mary had inherited, the Shakespeares were doing rather well for themselves.

Yew Tree - Whittinghame
Yew Tree – Whittinghame

It is in this very year of prosperity that the first official works of William Shakespeare came to light. He was ten at the time, an age where massive minds such as his should have been revealing their first glimmers of genius. If we see creative output as vegetation, Shakespeare’s would be something akin to the vast & ancient yew tree found on the Whittinghame Estate, East Lothian – with a tangled canopy of green & a root system spreading half a mile or more. Those roots stretch deep & far, & when analyzing the Shakespearean metaphysic, we must also follow his roots into his earliest, for as Wordsworth stated;


‘The Child is father of the Man.’


The Horn Book - an essential tool at Elizabethan schools
The Horn Book – an essential tool at Elizabethan schools

In all probabilty Shakespeare would have attended his local grammar school from the age of 5, & force fed a diet of endless Latin repetitions.  After analyzing the Ipswich Grammar School’s course of study held in the 1520s, John Churton Collins, in his essay ‘Shakespeare as a classical scholar’ (The Fortnightly Review 1903) declared Shakespeare would have studied the Roman writers Ovid, Plautus & Seneca. The boys would also be made to learn Greek in order to study the scriptures in their original forms. Lu Emily Hess Pearson, in her Elizabethans at Home, writes, ‘most boys were supposed to be drilled in the Bible until it became common knowledge to them.

A poet creates his talent through exercise, & understanding Shakespeare’s youthful knowledge of the Bible there are two ballads printed in 1574 that could well have been the product of this time. Accredited to a certain W.S., they are  both contain a number of  rather neat, but not amazingly written stanzas. The ballads are packed full of semi-quotations from the bible – in all essence it is a learning tool straight from the cloisters of academe. Printed in Cologne, they seem to have made their way to Germany in the hands of the Dutch spiritualist, Hendrik Niclaes, who printed many of his own poems at the same printers that year; including his Cantica & religious productions such as Exhortatio, Evangelium Regni & Epistola. He was the leader of a radical non-sectarian religious group known as the ‘Family of Love,’ who embraced both Catholics AND Protestants – the perfect group for the schismatic psyche of the Tudor state. Appealing especially to the intelligentsia of Elizabethan society, Margaret Healy, in her ‘Shakespeare, Alchemy and the Creative Imagination,’ highlights some of the possible influences of Niclaean teaching on Shakespeare.

We might look again in this context at the line in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 124, which seems to designate religious martyrs (those who ‘die for goodness’), rather unheroically, as ‘fools of Time.’ One’s inner spiritual state was crucial, outward appearance was mere show (it is intriguing to recall the line in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 102, ‘I love you not less, though less the show appear’, in relation to this). H.N. believed that through Christ & the Resurrection every man could become spiritually regenerated & godded with god or ‘deified’ (an odd word, which appears in A Lover’s Complaint, line 84).

urlTraces of the Familists in Shakespeare’s work indeed. Worshipping in secret, they would conceal their true beliefs while putting on a show of conformity for the outside world. If they were ever outed as a familist, they would stringently deny it, realizing it was better to briefly lie & stay alive in order to worship god rather than let pride lead them to the bonfire. Familism in England began to take hold in the 1550s, led by a certain Christopher Vittels, a former joiner, who had been a disciple of Niclaes in Delph (Holland). It was Vittels who translated Nicaels work into English, through which the Familist doctrine spread throughout England. William H. Brackney, in his ‘Historical Dictionary of Radical Christianity,’ tells us;

English adherents were drawn from the ranks of traders, clothiers, basketmakers, weavers, musicians, & other ‘mean people’ in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridge & Essex. Queen Elizabeth I issued a proclamation against Familism in 1580, but there were closet Familists at court under the Stuarts. By the 1590s, there were known underground Familist gatherings in East Anglia & the North of England.

Returning to that printers in Cologne in 1574, let us now imagine that through certain secret Familist channels, perhaps a cell in Stratford itself,  two poems written in English came into the possession of Henry Niclaes. Almost 450 years later, only single copies remain, housed in the Bodleian library doon Oxford (Bod6248), the first two stanzas from each poem are given here, Per W.S. Veritatis Amatorem. Anno. 1574.

A new balade or songe of the Lambes feast

(ESTC: S121843)


I Hearde one saye:

Coma now awaye /

Make no delaye:

 Alack / why stande yee than?

All is doubtlesse

 Inb redynesse /

 There wants but Gesse /

 To the Supper of the Lamb.

 For Hee is now blest // in verye deede /

Thats found ad Gest // in the Mariage-weede.


THE Scriptures all /

 Perfourmede shall

 Bee, in this my Call /

 Voyced-out by H.N. (than):

I am Gods Love/

 Com from above /

 All Men to move /

To the Supper of the Lamb.

For Hee is now blest // in verye deede /

Thats found ad Gest // in the Mariage-weede.




Another, out of goodwill



The Grace from God

     thea Father hye /

Which is of Mightes most a /

The Mercye eake from Christ our Lorde /

     And Peace from the holye Gost a /

Com to All // That now shall /

     In Love with us agree a /

And consent // With whole Intent /

     To the Loves Soscietee a.



LOVE the Lorde above al-thinge /

     Is the first Precept by name a:

Love thy Neyghbour as thy-selfe /

     The seconds lyke the same a.

Thus wee see // Love to bee,

     Written with Gods-his owne Hande a /

To geev us Light // And guyde us right /

     Eaven out of that darke Lande a.


A young genius at work (Motzart)
A young genius at work (Motzart)

Amongst all the fractious scholarly squabbling that surrounds the Shakespearean mythos, there’s one thing that everybody agrees on – the guy was pretty good. The best, even. Poetically, he was so far ahead of his peers – & everybody else ever since – that we should really assume one thing… this guy started early. Look at Tiger Woods: his dad first put a club in his hand at 2 years old & by the age of 8 he could shoot below an 80 – an effort millions of golfers across the planet could only dream of emulating. Child prodigies exist : & can also develop mature works of great genius. A classic example is Amadeus Motzart, who at 8 years old wrote his first symphony, At that same age Sylvia Plath had the following poem printed in the Boston Herald (1941):

Hear the crickets chirping.

In the dewy grass.

Bright little fireflies.

Twinkle as they pass.


We must remember that we are searching for England’s greatest poet at work, & his genius would have taken time to develop. But develop it inevitably did, & reading through the 1574 poems one can really feel the youth of their composer, but also the indescribable talent bursting to break out. When Joseph Walford Martin, in his ‘Religious Radicals in Tudor England,’ describes certain Elizabethan literary references as being ‘explicit in their charge that Familist at least incline toward Rome,’ then the possibility seems that the pro-Catholic Shakespeares, in fear of persecution but not wanting to conform to the Anglian church, were dabbling with this new-fangled ‘Familsm’ in the early 1570s. The brains behind it all, according to popular feeling at the time, were Edmund Campion’s Jesuits, with whom the Welsh clergyman Meredith Hanmer (1543–1604) declared did ‘shaketh hands’ with their ‘brethren,’ the Familists, a ‘detestable’ society of ‘like antiquity… who say that God is hominified in them & they deified in God.’  

The Young Shakespeare (pt 1)


The Sacred Testament of John Shakespeare


Late last year I serialised my discoveries as to Shakespeare’s so-called ‘lost years’ (18 parts) in which I showed how the bard toured Europe with William Stanley (1585-87), the latter being the Handsome Youth of the sonnets, in which a Turkish noblewoman they met in Constantinople was the Dark Lady.  Throughout 2015 I have been working on Shakespeare’s earlier years, & made a number of other important discoveries which placed Shakespeare at the English College in Douay & also in East Lancashire, 1576. En route I have even found his handwriting on certain manuscripts hitherto unconnected to the bard.  Having returned to Edinburgh & its wonderful National Library, I have embarked on my second Shakespearian series which begins the noo.
The problem with the Shakespearean problem is that there are too just many problems, & with these problems comes speculations & their inevitable academic cul-de-sacs. If a speculation is based on falsehood, then the trains of thought can only lead to nowhere, or the secluded maisonettes on said safe little cul-de-sacs where Shakespearean scholars sit & drink tea waffling on about their theories.
For me, one of the most glaringly obvious errors appertaining to Shakespereana is the juvenile handling of the ‘The Sacred Testament’ found in the rafters of Shakespeare’s dad’s roof on Henley Street, Stratford. Found in the 18th century, and transcribed by the scholar Edmond Malone, that our bard at some point in his life read the Testament can be of no doubt, based upon the strikingly similar parallels between Article I of the Testament and the Ghost’s words in Hamlet


 I may be possibly cut off in the blossom of my sins, and called to render an account of all my transgressions externally and internally, and that I may be unprepared for the dreadful trial either by sacrament, penance, fasting, or prayer, or any other purgation whatever 

Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,
Unhousel’d, disappointed, unanel’d,
No reckoning made, but sent to my account
With all my imperfections on my head:
O, horrible! O, horrible! most horrible!

In Hamlet, the ghost is the main protaganist’s father, to whom Shakespeare may have been making some Freudian nod. But let us not drift into the metaphysics of Shakesperean composition just the noo.

After Malone handled the Testament, it went mysteriously missing, leading later scholars to announce it as a fake. Instead, several copies of the text to be found in the 20th century… one was in English, while a Spanish version was also found in the British Museum in 1923, drawn up by Carlo Borromeo, the cardinal of Milan who died in 1585. It is at this point that academia entered a cul-de-sac.
Federico Borromeo

It has been presumed that the testament of Borromeo arrived in Britain in the hands of the Jesuit missionary Edmund Campion, who had visited Borromeo in 1580. It was also presumed that Campion had made a copy of the Testament, which he distributed on his return to Britain that same year,  & that it came into the hands of Shakespeare’s father via Thomas Cottam. He was a missionary who travelled with Campion, & whose brother, John, was headmaster of the Kings School in Stratford in 1580….

There is no physical evidence at all for the Testament having been distributed by Campion. When in June 1581, William Allen, rector of the English College at Rheims wrote to Alphonsus Agazarri at the English College in Rome, reporting that Father Robert Parsons in England, ‘wants three or four thousand or more of the testaments, for many people desire to have them,’ it is incredible to not think that this would be the Douay-Rheims New Testament in English, which would be distributed throughout England en masse the next year. For these we have a definite physical presence.

Returning to John Shakespeare’s Testament, the English translation had been printed in 1635, with the Spanish version by Borromeo being printed in Mexico City in  1661. Analyzing this scanty evidence, I believe that the Testament drawn up by John Shakespeare, which was HANDWRITTEN, could well have been one of the earliest versions.  The key section in the Testament reads

Item, I, John Shakspear, do in like manner pray and beseech all my dear friends, parents, and kinsfolks, by the bowels of our Saviour Jesus Christ, that since it is uncertain what lot will befall me, for fear notwithstanding lest by reason of my sins I be to pass and stay a long while in Purgatory, they will vouchsafe to assist and succour me with their holy prayers and satisfactory works, especially with the holy sacrifice of the mass, as being the most effectual means to deliver souls from their torments and pains; from the which, If I shall by God’s gracious goodness and by their virtuous works be delivered, I do promise that I will not be ungrateful unto them, for so great a benefit.
If we are to take this passage literally, & there is no reason to create a conspiracy theory as to not do, then when John Shakespeare pluralizes ‘parent’ we must assume the Testament was made before 1561. This was the year his father Richard, died; with his mother, Abigail nee Webb, passing away in 1595. This allows us to make the following timeline;
1557 – John Shakespeare marries into the pro-Catholic Arden family
1558 – Queen Elizabeth I comes to the throne – establishes the Protestant church
Early 1559  – Daughter, Joan, dies in infancy… possibly alluded to in the Testament’s, ‘calling to mind the uncertainty of life and certainty of death.
Before 1561 – John Shakespeare creates his Catholic Spiritual Testament
1580 – The Testament comes to Borromeo via Edmund Campion
1635 – An English version is printed

1661 – A Spanish version is printed


Edmund Campion
Edmund Campion

The only speculation I have made is that Campion gave a copy of John Shakespeare’s Testament to Borromeo in 1580, through whom it would be disseminated to Mexico a century later.  What all this actually does really is to give us our first credible link between Shakespeare’s family & the Jesuit Edmund Campion, BEFORE 1580 - a decisive connection that is just about to open up the first two decades of Shakespeare’s life….

Its time to get busy

Gemini Dragon Live

Here’s the best of my musical you-tube videos…

Seven Fifty – The Cowshed, Edinburgh, 2015
Wisdom Man – The Safari Lounge, Edinburgh, 2015
Tinky Disco – Kijiji, Gifford 2010
Poppadom – Studio 24, Edinburgh 2013
Shuriken – The Forest Cafe, Edinburgh 2009
Way Out – Tipifest 2014
Disco Gold – Studio 24, Edinburgh 2013
Seminal Lives – somewhere near Aberdeen 2009
Freedom of your Love – The Safari Lounge, Edinburgh, 2015
Monkey Messiah – The Ferry, Glasgow 2010
Faith, Love & Understanding – Linkey Lea 2014
Saraswathi Live @ Linkey Lea 2010
Psychedelia – The Ferry, Glasgow 2010




Dark Age Candles (vii)


 King Caw

Dumbarton Rock
Dumbarton Rock

A few posts back I showed how King Coel, the patriarch of a number of Dark Age north-Brittanic dynasties, was originally a king of Norway. It is now time to look at his son & grand-son, an analysis of whom will help us fill in a few more gaps in the black-hole tapestry of the Dark Ages. According to the genealogy known as ‘Descent of the Men of the North,’ King Coel was followed by a certain Ceneu. Using chispology, we can start to see how this particular name was written in different places. For example Peniarth 75 MS gives us;

Enniawn ap Masgwic Kloff ap Kanaui ap Koel Godeboc

Here Ceneu is spelt ‘Kanaui,’  the Naui element of which is more or less given  in the 12th century vita of Gildas by Caradoc of Llancarfan;

Nau, the king of Scotia, was the noblest of the kings of the north. He had twenty-four sons, victorious warriors. One of these was named Gildas, whom his parents engaged in the study of literature

In several Welsh Tales, such as ‘Culhwych & Olwen,‘ ‘The Dream of Rhonabway’ & ‘Gereint & Enid,‘ the same saint is known as ‘Gildas son of Caw.‘ Putting Caw & Nau together gives us something highly akin to Kanaui, as in



Caw Nau is also extremely similar to a certain ‘Cawr Nur’ who gets a couple of mentions in ancient Welsh poetry, each time appearing in an Arthurian context.

Did not he lead from Cawrnur
Horses pale supporting burdens?
The sovereign elder.
The generous feeder.
The third deep wise one,
To bless Arthur,
Arthur the blessed,
In a compact song.

 The Chair of the Sovereign


Have I not been accustomed to blood about the wrathful,
A sword-stroke daring against the sons of Cawrnur?
I shared my shelter,
a ninth share in Arthur’s valour.

The Death Song of Uther Pendragon


Stirling Casteel - most likely the Mount Bannoch of St Cadog's vita
Stirling Casteel – most likely the Mount Bannog of St Cadog’s vita

In both poems we get a hint of a conflict between Arthur fought against  Cawrnur himself & also his sons. Both the curious spelling of ‘Cawr’ & the fact that he had relatively famous sons can be connected to a certain King Caw, a famous king of Strathclyde. We have already seen how King Caw had 24 sons, while in the vita of St Cadog, we encounter the phantasm of Caw, who heralds from beyond Mount Bannog, i.e.  the highlands to the north of Stirling where flows the famous Bannockburn. He tells us;

Beyond mount Bannog formerly I reigned for very many years. It happened that by devilish impulse I with troops of my plunderers arrived on these coasts for the sake of pillaging the same and wasting them. But the king who at that time reigned over this kingdom, pursuing us with his army, slew me and my host, when we had joined battle together… The man of the Lord asks by what name he was called. And he replies, ‘Caw Prydyn, or Cawr, was I called formerly

Combining all the evidence we can now assume that the son of King Cole was King Caw, whose name appears in variants such as Cawrnur & Ceneu. He had at least one famous son, Saint Gildas, but it is to another of his boys that we must now avert our attention. His name is Hueil, of whom the Welsh triads (#21) tell us was one of the, ‘Three-Battle Diademed Men of the Island of Britain’ alongside Cai and Drustan (but inferior to Bedwyr).


Just as changed the spelling of the name of King Caw & countless other Dark Age figures, so in the Breton Vita Gildae, Caw was succeeded as king by his warlike son Cuillus, which must surely be Hueil. The ‘Cuill’ element of Cuillus leads us neatly to the Cuillin hills of Skye, a range named after, as I have stated in an earlier post,  a certain Herulo-Pictish king known as Galan Erilic. This now leads us to a certain Celin, who appears among Caw’s children, as recorded in Culhwch and Olwen, & seems to be the etymylogical root of Twrcelyn in Anglesey. This place was the site of a monastery of St Cadog himself,   where three miles away once stood the oratories of Egreas, Alleccus & Peteova, three more of the children of Caw.

The idea is that Hueil, Cuilin, Celin and Galan Erilic are all the same person. This makes the son of King Caw a Herulian, which indicates that Caw, & his father King Cole, should have been Herulian also. The Cawr spelling of Caw actually translates as ‘giant’ which fits in perfectly with the description of the Herulians given in the 6th by Jordanes in his Geatica;

Now in the island of Scandza, whereof I speak, there dwell many and divers nations… the Dani, who trace their origin to the same stock, drove from their homes the Heruli, who lay claim to preëminence among all the nations of Scandza for their tallness.



To conclude this post, I would just like to highlight the connection between the name Cawrnur & the Njars, a Dark Age Swedish tribe. If Cawr means giant, then Cawr Nur would mean ‘Giant Nur.’ This leads is to the original ‘Ner’ used instead of Njar in the Old Norse sources. Their homelands were in the province of Närke, south-central Sweden, & their appearance in the ‘Lay of Weyland the smith,’ appears to be of interest to British history. It places a certain Níðuðr as a king in Sweden.

When the Lord of the Njars, Nidud, heard
That Völund sat in Wolfdale alone,
He sent warriors forth: white their shield-bosses
In the waning moon, and their mail glittered. 

For me, that the name Níðuðr contains the phonetics of places like Nithsdale in Galloway can be no coincidence…

Dark Age Candles (vi)


Raisin’ Rheged

There will not be found a match for the chief of the glittering west
The Death Song of Owain
My bird at Pendle, a couple of miles from Roughlee.
My bird at Pendle, a couple of miles from Roughlee.

I am currently sat in Preston library on my way back to Scotland. In front of me is the Shakespeare-connecting ‘History of the House of Stanley,’ of Seacome (1793) which has been clicking my history head back into shape & reminded me I had started this little series of investigative nuggets called Dark Age Candles. Getting back into the groove, then, I’d like to show you something I noticed only as recently as last week. The game begins earlier this year,  when I managed to place Germanic tribes in East Lancashire, namely the Wends & the Rugii. I had shown that their possible arrival in Britain occured in the late 3rd century after their defeat upon mainland Europe the Romans & their subsequent resettlement in in the Lancashire wilderness.  I showed how another name for the Wends – the Sorbs – appears in Sabden, to which we can also add the River Hodder in Bowland, a lovely match to the River Oder of the continental Wends. Also among the Wendish peoples were the Rugii, whose name appears in Roggerham near Burnley, & also – as I discovered last week on a drive round Pendle with my bird – at Roughlee – which was originally known as Rugelea.

The general dynamic of this series is that of showing the Gothic & Nordic roots to the British kingdoms that rose up in the wake of the Roman evacuations. I have already shown in the last post how the grand-daddy of them all – Old King Cole – was in fact a Norwegian sea-raider, & in the next post we shall be looking at his descendants in more detail.  Before then, I would just like to examine this new placing of the Rugi in the Pendle area & check its ramifications for the rest of British history.

Roughlee Hall
Roughlee Hall

Through the chispological process, a natural babel-chain would appear as;

Rugi – Ruge (lea) – Rege 

Rege then leads us quite neatly to Rheged- a famous dark-age kingdom whose territories are only suspected. The only place for certain we can connect to Rheged seems to be about the River Lyvennet near Penrith in Cumbria, for in the Book of Taleisin we read;

To me has been extended.
The lofty Llwyvenydd 
(A Song for Urien Rheged)
Urien will not refuse me
The lands of Llwyvenydd
(The Satisfaction of Urien)
Like a wave that governs Llwyvenydd.
(The Spoils of Taliesin)

numbria7BigFor me, Rheged is the kingdom carved out by the Wends / Rugi – which gives us an excellent explanation for the etymology of Windemere – the lake of the Wends – only a few miles from the River Llwyvenydd.  Modern academical  leanings have suggested that the kingdom stretched as far as Dunragit, in Galloway, & to Rochdale in the south which was originally ‘Recedham.’ (The River Roch was recorded in the 13th century as Rached or Rachet). With Rochdale being only a  few miles from Roggerham & Roughlee, we gain some sort of sense that the core area of Rheged was between East Lancashire & north Cumbria. Support for this comes from the Taliesinian poem, ‘In praise of Rheged,’ which describes Urien fighting battles beyond his territories, in Ayrshire (Aeron) SE Scotland (Gododdin) & NE Wales, as in;

Urien came in his day to Aeron,

There was no warrior, was no welcome,

Noble-browed Urien, against Powys…

…Bold against Gododdin, bright leader.


Returning to the river Lyvennet, we see that its channel flows into the Eden & subsequently the Solway firth, at the northern sea-end of which stands Dunragit. Now, if Eden is etymologically drawn from Woden or Odin, as is likely, we can infer that the Rhegedians were Odin worshippers – which makes them either Teutonic or Nordi. In all likelihood, Rheged means – ‘place of the Rugii’, & in support we must acknowledge that the Rugii were based in both the German areas of central Europe & also believed to have inhabited Rogeland in Norway. The latter area is only a hundred miles  south of  Gulen, where I believe the name Guletic to come from, by the way, & was a core territory of King Cole.



It seems his territories covered major swathes of North Britain, & along two branches of his lineage we see two kings of Rheged; Urien & a king of South Rheged known as Llywarch Hen, the latter given in the 10th century Laws of Hywel Da. The division between North & South Rheged seems to have been made at the death of King Merchian, as in;






North Rheged                       South Rheged

Cynfarch                                     Elidir Lydanwyn

Urien                                                      Llywarch Hen

That Urien was king of ‘North Rheged’ is supported by the ‘Mote of Mark’ hillfort in Galloway, named after Cynfarch, the Brythonic name for Mark. With Urien’s capital being near Penrith, then it makes sense that Llywarch Hen’s capital would have been to the south of here; perhaps Bowland but at least  East Lancashire. The region about Rochdale contains a proliferation of connecting tribal names, including the River Win & Vinheath near Burnley.  In support of Llywarch’s reign there, after being driven out of his kingdom by the invading Bernicians, he sought the safety of Powys – a neighbouring kingdom of North Wales.
Walton Spire
Walton Spire
To finish this post I’d like to speculate on the details of a battle I believe was fought near Burnley, in which Urien fought a slew a Welsh king in 534AD.  We begin with a Taliesn poem, ‘In Praise of Rheged’ which places Urien at a battle site known as ‘Prysg Catleu.’ With Prysg meaning ‘brushwood,’ we get the idea of a funeral pyre for a certain Catleu. In the vita of Bishop Wilfrid, we gain another mention of Catleu, as in;
Iuxta rippel et ingaedyne et in regione dunitinga et incaetlaevum
 This translates as, ‘they gave Wilfrid land round Ribble, Yeadon, Dent, and Catlow,’ which places Catlow in the central Pennines. The obvious choice is Catlow, near Burnley, where just underneath a dark-age ‘Walton’s’ monument on Shelfied hill, we have two tumului – a very large one, & a smaller mound to its side. Does the smalller mound mark the brushwood-pyre of Catleu, & the larger one the rest of that battle’s casualties? If so, the best candidate for  Catleu is King Cadwallon Lauhir, the father of the famous Maelgwyn Gwynned, who according to the 12th century Annals of Redon made by Robert Torigny, died in 534. A variant name is Catgollaun, as given in the Gwynned king-list found in Harleian MSS, 3859.

Run map Mailcun map Catgolaun Lauhir map Eniaun girt


We now come to Saxo Grammaticus, in whose Danish History we come to the following extended account of a Scandinavian incursion, led by the famous Frodo,  into Britain & Ireland.


This it was that chiefly led Frode to attack the West, for his one desire was the spread of peace. So he summoned Erik, and mustered a fleet of all the kingdoms that bid him allegiance, and sailed to Britain with numberless ships. But the king of that island, perceiving that he was unequal in force (for the ships seemed to cover the sea), went to Frode, affecting to surrender, and not only began to flatter his greatness, but also promised to the Danes, the conquerors of nations, the submission of himself and of his country; proffering taxes, assessment, tribute, what they would. Finally, he gave them a hospitable invitation. Frode was pleased with the courtesy of the Briton, though his suspicions of treachery were kept by so ready and unconstrained a promise of everything, so speedy a surrender of the enemy before fighting; such offers being seldom made in good faith. They were also troubled with alarm about the banquet, fearing that as drunkenness came on their sober wits might be entangled in it, and attacked by hidden treachery. So few guests were bidden, moreover, that it seemed unsafe for them to accept the invitation; and it was further thought foolish to trust their lives to the good faith of an enemy whom they did not know.

When the king found their minds thus wavering he again approached Frode, and invited him to the banquet with 2,400 men; having before bidden him to come to the feast with 1,200 nobles. Frode was encouraged by the increase in the number of guests, and was able to go to the banquet with greater inward confidence; but he could not yet lay aside his suspicions, and privily caused men to scour the interior and let him know quickly of any treachery which they might espy. On this errand they went into the forest, and, coming upon the array of an armed encampment belonging to the forces of the Britons, they halted in doubt, but hastily retraced their steps when the truth was apparent. For the tents were dusky in colour, and muffled in a sort of pitchy coverings, that they might not catch the eye of anyone who came near. When Frode learned this, he arranged a counter-ambuscade with a strong force of nobles, that he might not go heedlessly to the banquet, and be cheated of timely aid. They went into hiding, and he warned them that the note of the trumpet was the signal for them to bring assistance. Then with a select band, lightly armed, he went to the banquet. The hall was decked with regal splendour; it was covered all round with crimson hangings of marvellous rich handiwork. A curtain of purple dye adorned the propelled walls. The flooring was bestrewn with bright mantles, which a man would fear to trample on. Up above was to be seen the twinkle of many lanterns, the gleam of lamps lit with oil, and the censers poured forth fragrance whose sweet vapour was laden with the choicest perfumes. The whole way was blocked by the tables loaded with good things; and the places for reclining were decked with gold-embroidered couches; the seats were full of pillows. The majestic hall seemed to smile upon the guests, and nothing could be noticed in all that pomp either inharmonious to the eye or offensive to the smell. In the midst of the hall stood a great butt ready for refilling the goblets, and holding an enormous amount of liquor; enough could be drawn from it for the huge revel to drink its fill. Servants, dressed in purple, bore golden cups, and courteously did the office of serving the drink, pacing in ordered ranks. Nor did they fail to offer the draught in the horns of the wild ox.



The feast glittered with golden bowls, and was laden with shining goblets, many of them studded with flashing jewels. The place was filled with an immense luxury; the tables groaned with the dishes, and the bowls brimmed over with divers liquors. Nor did they use wine pure and simple, but, with juices sought far and wide, composed a nectar of many flavours. The dishes glistened with delicious foods, being filled mostly with the spoils of the chase; though the flesh of tame animals was not lacking either. The natives took care to drink more sparingly than the guests; for the latter felt safe, and were tempted to make an orgy; while the others, meditating treachery, had lost all temptations to be drunken. So the Danes, who, if I may say so with my country’s leave, were seasoned to drain the bowl against each other, took quantities of wine. The Britons, when they saw that the Danes were very drunk, began gradually to slip away from the banquet, and, leaving their guests within the hall, made immense efforts, first to block the doors of the palace by applying bars and all kinds of obstacles, and then to set fire to the house. The Danes were penned inside the hall, and when the fire began to spread, battered vainly at the doors; but they could not get out, and soon attempted to make a sally by assaulting the wall. And the Angles, when they saw that it was tottering under the stout attack of the Danes, began to shove against it on their side, and to prop the staggering pile by the application of large blocks on the outside, to prevent the wall being shattered and releasing the prisoners. But at last it yielded to the stronger hand of the Danes, whose efforts increased with their peril; and those pent within could sally out with ease. Then Frode bade the trumpet strike in, to summon the band that had been posted in ambush; and these, roused by the note of the clanging bugle, caught the enemy in their own trap; for the King of the Britons, with countless hosts of his men, was utterly destroyed. Thus the band helped Frode doubly, being both the salvation of his men and the destruction of his enemies.


That the King of the ‘Angles’ was Cadwallon is hinted at by his core territory in Gwynned (North Wales), where the island of Anglesey remembers the presence of the Angles. More support comes through a litological analysis of  the rest of Frodo’s chevauchee through the British Isles.


Meantime the renown of the Danish bravery spread far, and moved the Irish to strew iron calthrops on the ground, in order to make their land harder to invade, and forbid access to their shores. Now the Irish use armour which is light and easy to procure. They crop the hair close with razors, and shave all the hair off the back of the head, that they may not be seized by it when they run away. They also turn the points of their spears towards the assailant, and deliberately point their sword against the pursuer; and they generally fling their lances behind their back, being more skilled at conquering by flight than by fighting. Hence, when you fancy that the victory is yours, then is the moment of danger. But Frode was wary and not rash in his pursuit of the foe who fled so treacherously, and he routed Kerwil, the leader of the nation, in battle. Kerwil’s brother survived, but lost heart for resistance, and surrendered his country to the king (Frode), who distributed among his soldiers the booty he had won, to show himself free from all covetousness and excessive love of wealth, and only ambitious to gain honour.



The obvious candidate for Kerwil would be the Irish king, Cairell mac Muiredaig Muinderg. According to the Annals of Tigernach, he was succeeded by Eochaidh son of Connlac, king of Ulaid in 532. In the year previously Tigernach tells us

531 – The battle of Éblenn won by Muircheartach son of Erc; the battle of Mag Ailbe gained over Leinster, and the battle of Aidhne over Connacht, and the battles of Almain and Cenn Eich over Leinster, and the plundering of the Cliu in one year

That the Irish Annals are  slightly inaccurate & discrepant is widely recognized, each date is always open to movement a year or two in either direction , & only truly accepted if supported by other historical records. In this particular case, I would just like to point out that the events as described by Tigernach for 531, are given the date 533 by the Annals of Ulster, as in;

533 The battle of Ebblenn won by Muirchertach; and the battle of Mag Ailbe won against the Laigin, and the battle of Aidne against the Connachta, and the battle of Almuin, and the battle of Cenn Eich against the Laigin, and the ravaging of Clui in one year.

According to the Ulster chronology, Eochaidh son of Connlac would have come to the throne of 534AD, meaning his father Cairell would have died in the same year. If he is the same man as Kerwill, then a king of the Angles also died in 534 – which must surely have been the Anglesey based Cadwallon Lauhir, king of Gwynned. One also suspects that the large mound under Walton’s spire contains the remains of the feasting hall burnt by Frodo. All this reinforces my slowly-building theorum that the British Isles were taken over almost completely by invading continentals, not only those in the south & east. This supports that long-unacknowledged reference by Procopius of the ‘Goths’ having partioned Britain by the 530s. The information is contained in a letter of negotiation between the Goths besieged in Rome by Belisarius in 538.


 And the bararians said: “That everything which we have said is true no one of you can be unaware. But in order that we may not seem to be contentious, we give up to you Sicily, great as it is and of such wealth, seeing that without it you cannot possess Libya in security.” And Belisarius replied: “And we on our side permit the Goths to have the whole of Britain, which is much larger than Sicily and was subject to the Romans in early times. For it is only fair to make an equal return to those who first do a good deed or perform a kindness.”


Dark Age Candles (v)


Maserfield & Brune

St Oswald being killed at Maserfield
St Oswald being killed at Maserfield

So that’s me back in the mother-ship, Burnley, where I’ll be working from a distance on The Mumble for the coming cultural orgy that are the Edinburgh festivals. I’ll also be lighting a few of these Dark Age Candles while I’m down here, starting with something remarkable that has grown out of my recent investigations into the site of Brunanburh, that great 10th century battle which settled the native nature of the British Isles forever. Since I completed the dig, back in April I received an email from the much-maligned but incredibly keen-minded New Zealand Litologist,  Sean Bambrough, which contained the following sentence;

Could ‘this place called Brune,’ in chapter 10 of Geoffrey of Monmouth be your Burnley?

Could it indeed? I’d never see it before, thinking the Annales Cambrae use of the word Brune – as appertaining to the battle of Brunanburh – was the only use of the name, as in;

938  Bellum Brune

It was time to get my litological hands dirty again, & finding the passage in  Big Geoff’s History, I observed that the name Brune was given to a place where the Northumbrian king, Oswald, was slain in battle.  When I discovered that variant editions of Big Geoff, such as the Harlech,  give us Burne, I’m like, this really does feel like Brunley/Burnley. Looking into Oswald’s death, I discovered that it took place about the year 642, where King Penda of Mercia met & slew Oswald at a place called Maserfelth, as in Bede’s; ‘Oswald was killed in a great battle, by the same Pagan nation and Pagan king of the Mercians who had slain his predecessor, Edwin, at a place called in the English tongue, Maserfelth, in the thirty-eighth year of his age, on the fifth day of the month of August.’

During my dig, I’d shown how the Burnley area was some kind of border zone prone to warfare, such as the battle of Winfeld.  Was it possible that Maserfield was also fought in the area? At first glance,  nothing popped up. But I was aware of the name Marsden from the Nelson area, the town just to the north of Burnley into which its terraces blend seamlessly. I also knew that where ‘den’ means ‘narrow valley,’ felth means ‘open space’ – rendering it possible that there once was a Marsfield connected to Marsden. Andrew Breeze comments on the Northern-ness of this word when he writes;  ‘The element -felth might direct scholarly attention towards the northern part of the conflict zone, the southern portion of Yorkshire being an area where place names containing “-field.’ He also adds that the battle must have taken place on or near the Northumbrian border – which Burnley was by the way – as in;

By telling his readers that Oswald was slain pro patria dimicans, “fighting for his fatherland,” Bede seems to be suggesting that Maserfelth was a battle fought in defence of Oswald’s core territory (HE 3.9)… Taken at face value, this might direct the reader to envisage the site of the king’s death as a place within Northumbrian territory or close to its frontier… In this context, Oswestry seems an unlikely candidate, being situated not only a considerable distance from Northumbria’s nearest border but closer to the core territory of her foes.

Marsden Park, Nelson
Marsden Park, Nelson

Its now time for a spot of chispology, through which we can ascertain that Maserfield was indeed fought in a field next to Marsden. Looking into ‘A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 6 (1911)’ we find the following names for the township of Marsden’

Merkesden, 1195;

Merclesden, Merkelstene, 1242;

Merclisden, 1258.

Which we can compare with Maserfield variant  names, such as John of Brompton’s Maxelfeld (15th C) or better still  the Marcelde’s field found inscribed on an ancient well dedicated to Saint Oswald.  Mr. Baines says

Little more than half a mile to the north, on the road to Golborne and Wigan, is an ancient well, which has been known from time immemorial by the name of ‘St. Oswald’s Well.'” This well is still in existence, and a certain veneration at the present time hovers about it in the minds of others than the superstitious peasantry. On the upper portion of the south wall of the church is an inscription in Latin, purporting to be a “renovation” of a previous one, by a person named Sclater, in the year 1530, in the curacy of Henry Johnson. On a recent visit, this inscription, as well as other portions of the edifice, I found had undergone further renovation. Gough translates the first three lines as follows

This place of old did Oswald greatly love: Who the Northumbers ruled, now reigns above, And from Marcelde did to Heaven remove.

Mr. Beamont gives the translation of the inscription as follows:

This place of yore did Oswald greatly love, Northumbria’s King, but now a saint above, Who in Marcelde’s field did fighting fall, Hear us, oh blest one, when here to thee we call.

(A line over the porch obliterated.) In fifteen hundred and just three times ten, Sclater restored and built this wall again, And Henry Johnson here was curate then.

This, and its repetition by Hollingworth in his “Mancuniensis…,”The inscription does not, as some have assumed, state the church is built in, on, or near Marcelde. It merely asserts that Oswald died at a place so named.

The actual battle site, I believe, is to be found at Whitefield in Nelson, which connects smoothely with the 12th century historian, Henry of Huntingdon’s account of the battle: “It is said the plain of Maserfeld was white with the bones of the Saints.” We can also connect the area with the Welsh name for the battle – as in the Canu Heledd’s; ‘On the ground of Maes Cogwy, I saw armies, battle affliction,‘ & the Historia Brittonum’s, ‘Battle of Cocboy.’ About a mile from Marsen, in the direction of Burnley, one comes to a valley called ‘Cockden,‘ whose first semantic element matches both ‘Cog‘ & Coc.’



More evidence comes from the village of Oswaldtwistle, about 5 miles from the field. According to Halliwell’s dictionary, ‘twistle‘ means – ‘that part of a tree where branches divide.’ This connects to the grisly demise of Oswald, who according to Bede had his limbs & heads torn from him & put on stakes – i.e. the branches were divided from his body.  That this took place at Oswaldtwistle is confirmed by a certain rivulet known as the White Ash Brook, which flows through the village. White in ancient Welsh is the same as ‘holy,’ thus once it would have been the Holy Ash Brook which connects with Reginald of Durham’s account of a miracle concerning Oswald’s right arm.

The arm, with its consecrated right hand, fell on the bare hard rock. All at once, through God’s wonderful power, from the spot where the holy arm touched the ground in its fall, there gushed out a clear unfailing spring… It so happened that Oswin the king, prompted by a message from God, found his way to this spring… He took the arm and hand out of its waters, and as the vision had commanded, he bore away the most holy head with its arms and hands. On this spot, right up until today, miracles are worked through the power of God and the merits of St Oswald. Here sick people receive the gift of health; the mad who come here are freed of their demons; and through drinking the consecrated waters, many kinds of illness are redeemed. The Life of St Oswald by Reginald of Durham (1165) 

White Ash Brook
White Ash Brook

More miracles are recorded about the death of (Saint) Oswald, which we can now give a location as the Whitefield in Nelson, Lancashire. Bede tells us;


OSWALD, the most Christian king of the Northumbrians, reigned nine years, including that year which is to be held accursed for the brutal impiety of the king of the Britons, and the apostasy of the English kings; for, as was said above, it is agreed by the unanimous consent of all, that the names of the apostates should be erased from the catalogue of the Christian kings, and no date ascribed to their reign. After which period, Oswald was killed in a great battle, by the same pagan nation and pagan king of the Mercians, who had slain his predecessor Edwin, at a place called in the English tongue Maserfield, in the thirty-eighth year of his age, on the fifth day of the month of August.

How great his faith was towards God, and how remarkable his devotion, has been made evident by miracles since his death; for, in the place where he was killed by the pagans, fighting for his country, infirm men and cattle are healed to this day. Whereupon many took up the very dust of the place where his body fell, and putting it into water, did much good with it to their friends who were sick. This custom came so much into use, that the earth being carried away by degrees, there remained a hole as deep as the height of a man. Nor is it to be wondered that the sick should be healed in the place where he died; for, whilst he lived, he never ceased to provide for the poor and infirm, and to bestow alms on them, and assist them. Many miracles are said to have been wrought in that place, or with the earth carried from thence; but we have thought it sufficient to mention two, which we heard from our ancestors.

It happened, not long after his death, that a man was traveling near that place, when his horse on a sudden began to tire, to stand stock still, hang down his head, and foam at the mouth, and, at length, as his pain increased, he fell to the ground; the rider dismounted, and throwing some straw under him, waited to see whether the beast would recover or die. At length, after much rolling about in extreme anguish, the horse happened to come to the very place where the aforesaid king died. Immediately the pain ceased, the beast gave over his struggles, and, as is usual with tired cattle, turned gently from side to side, and then starting up, perfectly recovered, began to graze on the green herbage; which the man observing, being an ingenious person, he concluded there must be some wonderful sanctity in the place where the horse had been healed, and left a mark there, that he might know the spot again. After which he again mounted his horse and repaired to the inn where he intended to stop. On his arrival he found a girl, niece to the landlord, who had long languished under the palsy; and when the friends of the family, in his presence, lamented the girl’s calamity, he gave them an account of the place where his horse had been cured. In short, she was put into a cart and carried and laid down at the place. At first she slept awhile, and when she awaked found herself healed of her infirmity. Upon which she called for water, washed her face, put up her hair, and dressed her head, and returned home on foot, in good health, with those who had brought her.


ABOUT the same time, another person of the British nation, as is reported, happened to travel by the same place, where the aforesaid battle was fought, and observing one particular spot of ground greener and more beautiful than any other part of the field, he judiciously concluded with himself that there could be no other cause for that unusual greenness, but that some person of more holiness than any other in the army had been killed there. He therefore took along with him some of that earth, tying it up in a linen cloth, supposing it would some time or other be of use for curing sick people, and proceeding on his journey, came at night to a certain village, and entered a house where the neighbors were feasting at supper; being received by the owners of the house, he sat down with them at the entertainment, hanging the cloth, in which he had brought the earth, on a post against the wall. They sat long at supper and drank hard, with a great fire in the middle of the room; it happened that the sparks flew up and caught the top of the house, which being made of wattles and thatch, was presently in a flame; the guests ran out in a fright, without being able to put a stop to the fire. The house was consequently burnt down, only that post on which the earth hung remained entire and un- touched. On observing this, they were all amazed, and inquiring into it diligently, understood that the earth had been taken from the place where the blood of King Oswald had been shed. These miracles being made known and reported abroad, many began daily to frequent that place, and received health to themselves and theirs.


Saint Oswald Durham Cathedral
Saint Oswald Durham Cathedral



This is a wonderful moment in Anglo-Saxon studies, for now not only can we finally confirm the contentious sites of Brunanburh & Maserfield, but we gain more insights into the lost but very real Anglo-Saxon presence in Lancashire. It is also a great confirmation for the power of words to hold the keys of history in their meagre letters, & I shall leave this post with the words of Professor Dwight Whitney, who in his “Life and Growth of Language,” says, ‘It must be carefully noted, indeed, that the reach of phonetics, its power to penetrate to the heart of its facts and account for them, is only limited. There is always one element in linguistic change which refuses scientific treatment, namely, the action of the human will. The work is all done by human beings, adapting means to ends, under the impulse of motives and the guidance of habits which are the resultant of causes so multifarious and obscure that they elude recognition and defy estimate… Every period of linguistic life, with its constantly progressive changes of form and meaning, wipes out a part of the intermediates which connect a derived element with its original.

As linguistics is a historical science, so its evidences are historical, and its methods of proof of the same character. There is no absolute demonstration about it: there is only probability, in the same varying degree as elsewhere in historical enquiry. There are no rules, the strict application of which will lead to infallible results. Nothing will make dispensable the wide gathering-in of evidence, the careful sifting of it, so as to determine what bears upon the case in hand and how directly, the judicial balancing of apparently conflicting testimony, the refraining from pushing conclusions beyond what the evidences warrant, the willingness to rest, when necessary, in a merely negative conclusion, which should characterize the historical investigator in all departments.