Monthly Archives: October 2015

The Young Shakespeare (pt 9)




 In the last post, I showed how Shakespeare could have arrived in London in the late 1570s. The theory’s plausibility comes from the following factochain based, not on complete CCTV style ‘sightings’ of a William Shakespeare, but what I would moniker ‘halfeties,’ or partial sightings of possible William Shakespeare. These halfeties are two poems written by a certain WS & a boy-poet called Willye which joins the two poems. Thus, when the WS poem of 1574 shows the poet was a Familist, is it a  coincidence that there was a Familist centre at Grindleton near Pendle Hill, the very area which Spenser placed Willye in 1576. Is it also a coincidence, then, that WS turns up in 1577 connected to a London law student only a stones throw from St Paul’s Cathedral, which was run by a Burnley man – Alexander Nowell… & this man’s brother was a sponsor of Edmund Spenser? Possibly, but we are just about to tie this little knot of clues into another similar knot of clues, which together make such a dense mass of interlocking possibilities, that their verity must be an active entity.

I last left Shakespeare at the Newington Theatre in 1579, a possible member of the Earl of Warwick’s players, where Cibber’s comment, ‘some of the players, accidentally conversing with him, found him so acute, & master of so fine a conversation, that, struck therewith, they recommended him to the house, in which he was first admitted in a very low station,’ may have some relevance. Before we move on from that year, I would just like to introduce a certain John Cottam into the mix, for in 1579 he became the headmaster at the Kings College in Stratford. His brother, Thomas, was a student at the English College in Douay, which tells us that Stratford was being used a possible sanctuary for the Jesuit Reconquista – but more of that later on.

Ambrose |Dudley
Ambrose |Dudley

If the Shakespeare I am painting was in London in 1580, then there are four  events that should have been of great significance. Firstly, due to ill health Ambrose Dudley, the Earl of Warwick (brother of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester), pulled out of the Theatre & decamped to his home in Herefordshire.  Records tell us of 5 plays by the company, all lost, which Shakeaspeare may have acted in at some point, being The Painter’s Daughter, The Irish Knight, The Three Sisters of Mantua, The Knight in the Burning Rock, and A History of the Four Sons of Fabius.

The second event of 1580 to effect Shakespeare was the public demise of the Familists. Throughout the 1570s, a series of Anti-familist trachts had galivinsed popular opinion against them, leading to the government coming down hard on the group in October 1580. By the next year a bill was introduced which called for ‘punishment of the Hereticks called the Family of Love’ being, ‘that the professors of the Familye of Love may for the first offence be whipped & for the second branded with this lettre H.N., & the third time judges a felon.‘ In this period the Queen’s Familist bodyguard were removed, while other high-ranking Familists went underground, so to speak. Christoper W Marsh tells us, ‘Familists were inconspicuous. Following Niclaes’s in junctions, they became part of the social fabric, obeying magistrates, serving in ecclesiastical & public offices, being good neighbours & good citizens, but remaining secretive about their religious view & usually only sharing them only within the family.’ The identities of those high-ranking Familists remains a mystery, but in 1645 John Etherington at least tells us, ‘there have been & are great doctors of divinitie, so called, yea, and some great peers.‘ Perhaps one of the peers was the Earl of Warwick, whose ‘illness’ was nothing but a cover to get him out of London, while  there is one Doctor of Divinity who we have connected to Shakespeare already, who is described by Fuller as, ‘Alexander Nowell, Doctor of Dvinity, & Dean of St Pauls in London, born in Lancashire…’

The third event of  1580 relates directly to the religious persuasion of Shakespeare’s poppadom. He had been summoned to the Queen’s Bench in London in June 1580 alongside 220 probable Catholics to answer for a mysterious ‘breach of the peace.’ That he didn’t attend was met with heavy fines, a personal £20 & another £20 for the non-attendance of the Nottingham hat-maker, John Audley, who was in turn fined £60 for non-attendance plus £10 for not bringing John Shakespeare to court. Earlier in the year his name headed a list of ‘gentlemen & freeholders’  expected to contribute financially to the government’s anti-papal efforts of that year, the ‘musters.’ Queer doings indeed, & the two indictments may be connected, as also there may lie in the depths of those fellow 220 a number of Familists. A fertile field for future investigations, one expects.

The fourth event of interest is the disappearance of Jerome Savage from London. Possibly connected to the Earl of Warwick’s packing things in, Savage’s whereabouts for the next seven years are unknown, after which, according to William Ingram in ‘The Business of Playing,’ Savage’s will tells us he was back in London. One would suspect he spent time with some family, which provides us with the vital link to one of the 20th centuries most significant advances in Shakespeareana – the possibility that he was a certain player called William Shakeshaft who turns up in Lancashire in 1581.

The link comes with Savage’s brother, Geoffrey Savage, who married a certain Jennet Hesketh of Rufford in Preston. A probable illegitimate relation – perhaps sister – of Sir Thomas Hesketh, who indeed refers to his ‘bastard brethren’ in his will. It is Hesketh who turns up on the 1581 will of his neighbour, Alexander Hoghton in which we find our ‘William Shakeshaft.’  E. A. J. Honigmann, in his Shakespeare : The Lost Years, tell us that Geoffrey & Jennet, or Janet, were married on August 9th, 1551, at the Parish church of Croston. ‘Jenette’ Savage is later named in the will of Thomas Savage, their son, who will be popping up later on in our Shakespeare quest. Honnigmann adds, ‘in the unpublished records of the goldsmiths company there is an entry that Peter Savage, the son of Geoffrey Savage in the town of ‘Rofforth’’ in the county of Lancaster, weaver, binds himself apprentice for seven years


On top of Jerome Savage & John Cottam’s connections between Catholic Stratford (Savage was a staunch Catholic) & that wee corner of Lancashire, we should also notice the link between the Heskeths & the Townleys, whose families were united in the early 16th century.  The mother of Sir Thomas was Grace Townley, a fact which reinforces the idea of our Shakespeare being connected to the Catholic north for Alexander Nowell’s mother, Douse, was also a Hesketh.

Alexander Hoghton was a clear recusant, whose brother, Thomas, had played a principle part in the founding of Cardinal Allen’s English College at Douay with the profits from their Alum mines, another link to our Shakespeare. In the year 1577, a letter written by Bishop Downham on the 1st Feb 1575 to the Privy Council places Hoghton alongside Sir John Townley & other notables in the county who, ‘in our opinion of the longest obstanancy against religion & if by your lord’s good wisdoms they would be reclaimed, we think others would as well follow their good example in embracing queen majesty’s most goodly example as they have followed their evil example in contemprising their duty in that behalf.

His will was analysed in 1923 by the antiquarian, Oliver Baker, who noticed that ‘William Shakeshaft,’ well, could he be William Shakespeare. The will, dated August 3rd 1581, reads;

Item. It is my mind and will that the said Thomas Hoghton of Brynescoules my brother shall have all my instruments belonging to music, and all manner of play clothes if he be minded to keep and do keep players.

And if he will not keep and maintain players then it is my mind and will that Sir Thomas Hesketh knight shall have the same instruments and play clothes.

And I most heartly require the said Sir Thomas to be friendly unto Fluke Gyllome and William Shakeshafte now dwelling with me and either to take them into his service or else to help them to some good master as my trust is he will

Of this name-variant, EAJ Honigmann has observed in the Court rolls of College St Mary, Warwick (1541-42), that the poet’s grandfather, Richard, ‘seems to be both Shakstaff and Shakeschafte, as well as Shakspere …in the Snitterfield manor records.’ So, was Shakeshafte Shakespeare? So far there we have observed a number of clues that connect our poet to Lancashire. If it is true & they are the same man, with ‘Shakeshafte’ considered to be a ‘player,’ we can gain more support for the Bard having revealed his dramatical abilities at an early age. Tom Bishop writes, ‘before the rise of ‘performance’, ‘drama’ ‘actor’ & so on, the predominant vocabulary for what went on in the ‘theatre’ was one of playhouses, players & playing.’ We have seen how Shakespeare would have started his theatrical career in one of the boys’ troupes of late 1570s London, & he would remain an actor all his life, from playing a part in Ben Johnson’s, ‘Every man in his Humour (1598), to the ghost in his own play Hamlet, while in 1610, John Davies of Hereford mentioned, ‘he played some kingly parts in sport.’ Of a players functions, Giovanni Della Casa, in his amply- titled, ‘The rich cabinet furnished with varietie of excellent discriptions, exquisite charracters, witty discourses, and delightfull histories, deuine and morrall’ (1616) writes;

Player hath many times many excellent qualities: as dancing, activity, music, song, elocution, ability of body, memory, vigilancy, skill of weapon, pregnancy of wit, and such like: in all which he resembleth an excellent spring of water, which grows the more sweeter and the more plentiful by the often drawing out of it: so are all these the more perfect and plausible by the often practice.

In light of our investigations so far, can it be a coincidence that in 1580, Edward Campion stayed at the home of Alexander Houghton’s brother, Richard. One may even speculate that he was accompanied north by both Jerome Savage AND Shakespeare, especially when we see Campion staying at Lapworth Park in Warwickshire, the seat of Sir William Catesby, a friend of John Shakespeare, whose son, Robert, was one of the chief instrumentalists of the Gunpowder Plot. Campion was in the Hoghton-Hesketh locality chiefly to use the libraries of the Catholic noblemen in order to prepare trachts with which to argue the Catholic cause.  ‘The day is too short, and the sun must run a greater circumference,’ wrote Campion,  before he would be able to ‘number all the Epistles, Homilies, Volumes and Disputations,’ in the Hoghton libraries.

In 1580, Campion was caught by the authorities, who would ban Catholocism outright in January 1581. Later that year Campion would give up his secrets on the rack on July 31st 1581, a couple of days later  on August 2nd , the Sheriff of Lancaster wrote a letter to Sir John Biron asking him to search certain houses, ‘for books & other superstitious stuff; & especially the house of Richard Houghton, wherein it is said the said campion left his books & to enquire what is become of said books.’ These events led the Stratford council to sack John |Cottam – the brother of Campion’s companion, Thomas – from his post at the Kings School. Interestingly, he was replaced by yet another Lancastrian, Alexander Aspinall, from Clitheroe only a wee stroll to the Grindleton Familists.

Oblique support for the Shakespeare-Hoghton connection comes through John Weever’s Epigrammes (1599), in which the poet ingratiates himself with a literary clique centred upon Thomas Houghton’s brother, Sir Richard, & also dedicates this delectable sonnet to Shakespeare.

Honey-tongued Shakespeare, when I saw thine issue
I swore Apollo got them, and none other,
Their rosy-tainted features clothed in tissue,
Some heaven-born goddess said to be their mother.
Rose-cheekt Adonis with his amber tresses,
Fair fire-hot Venus charming him to love her,
Chaste Lucretia virgine-like her dresses,
Proud lust-stung Tarquine seeking still to prove her:
Romea-Richard; more, whose names I know not,
Their sugred tongues, and power attractive beauty
Say they are Saints, although that Sts they show not
For thousands vows to them subjective dutie:
They burn in love thy children Shakespear let them
Go, wo thy Muse more Nymphish brood beget them.


John Weever
John Weever

 The Epigrammes also include an elegy on the death of the death of Ferdinando Stanley, whose family owned another stately seat called Lathom Hall, just to the south of Rufford Old Hall, the seat of Thomas Hesketh.   That Shakespeare was taken on by  Hesketh has no official record, but a family tradition dating to at least 1799 says that he acted at Rufford Old Hall.  Let us now toss John Cottam into the mix, who was an actual legate attending Alexander Houghton’s will. In 1581 his parents were tenants of a property at Dilworth in Ribchester, a few miles to the north-east of Preston. Their landlords were the Heskeths of Rufford Old Hall, led by the aforementioned Thomas, whose descendants maintain to this day that the young Shakespeare acted in their great hall. There is a record in 1587 of ‘Sir thomas hesketh plaaiers,’ in the Earl of Derby’s Household Book, showing that the Heskeths provided theatrical entertainment for the Stanleys, whose noble seat at Lathom was a stone’s throw from the Heskeths… and it is upon the magnificent wings of the Stanley eagle that the rest of Shakespeare’s youth shall be borne. But before then, of course, like any other young teenager growing up in the world, it’s time our young poet got laid.

The Young Shakespeare (pt 8)




In the April of 1577 Shakespeare turn’d 13, & became a bona fide tantrum-throwing precocious teenager. I also believe that it is in this same year that he enter’d the world of the London theatre for the first time. The main piece of evidence for this is the printing, in 1577, of a book of prose & poetry called The Golden Aphroditis by John Grange. In the title to the book he calls himself a ‘Student in the Common Lavve of Englande,’ which places him at one or more of the four Inns of Court in London. The connection between the capital-based Grange & Shakespeare comes through the following introductory poem to his book;

W.S. in Commendation of the author begins

Of silver pure thy penne is made, dipte in the Muses well
They eloquence & loftie style all other doth excell:
Thy wisedom great & secrete sense diffusedly disguysde,
Doth shew how Pallas rules thy minde, & Phoebus hath devisde
Those Golden lines, which polisht are with Tagus glittering sandes.
A pallace playne of pleasures great unto the vewers handes.
Thy learning doth bewray itselfe and worthie prayse dothe crave,
Who so thee knew, did little think such learning thee to have.
Here Vertue seems to checke at Vice, & wisedome folly tauntes:
Here Venus she is set at naught, and Dame Diane she vauntes.
Here Pallas Cupid doth detest, & all his carpet knightes:
Here doth she shew, that youthfull impes in folly most delightes.
And how when age comes creeping on, with shew of hoary heares,
Then they the losse of time repent, with sobbes & brinish teares.
Thou Ambodexter playste herein, to take the first rebounde,
And for to shew thy minde at large, in earth doth the same compound.
So that Apollo Claddes his corps all with Morycbus clothes,
And shewes himself still friendliest there, wher most of all he lothes.

f1e590f761c1e6ead460fe2080a38e53Scholars have wondered whether W.S. was William Shakespeare based upon the juvenilian feel to the poem, but its sheer earliness has left many doubters. But our Shakespeare is different, & the mention of Virtue & Vice a clear nod to his work, in 1576-77, with the mystery plays of the Townley MS. At this juncture we should also remember for a moment another epoch-breaking genius, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who composed his first opera, Bastien und Bastienne, at the age of twelve. Excellent poetry is not beyond the ability of the teenage mind;  some of Arthur Rimbaud’s stuff as a paltry 15-year-old is quite phenomenal, while in recent times (Feb 2014), a short Palindromic was composed by 14-year old American Jordan Nichols, which pricked the twittersphere 100,000 times in 24 hours. Readable both backwards & forwards, it is a piece of pure genius in a lad only a year older than Shakespeare would have been if he was the WS of the Golden Aphroditis poem. It reads;

Our Generation

Our generation will be known for nothing.
Never will anybody say,
We were the peak of mankind.
That is wrong, the truth is
Our generation was a failure.
Thinking that
We actually succeeded
Is a waste. And we know
Living only for money and power
Is the way to go.
Being loving, respectful, and kind
Is a dumb thing to do.
Forgetting about that time,
Will not be easy, but we will try.
Changing our world for the better
Is something we never did.
Giving up
Was how we handled our problems.
Working hard
Was a joke.
We knew that
People thought we couldn’t come back
That might be true,
Unless we turn things around

(Read from bottom to top now)

That the Shakespeare I am painting in these blogs is WS is supported by the fact that John Grange was an attendee of the same Roman Catholic seminary at Douay in which we have earlier placed our fledgeling bard! Grange clearly moved in the same circles, & it is possible he is referring to Shakespeare himself in a little anecdote appertaining to the title of his work, where ‘certen yong Gentlemen, and those of my professed friendes, … requested me earnestly to haue it intituled A nettle for an Ape, but yet (being somevvhat vvedded as most fooles are to mine ovvne opinion vvho vvould hardly forgoe their bable for the Tovver of London) I thought it good (somevvhat to stop a zoilous mouth) to sette a more cleanly name vpon it, that is, Golden Aphroditis.

Blackfriars Theatre
Blackfriars Theatre

Connecting Grange to Shakespeare in ’77 gives our wee bard a direct spike into the heart of London, where the Inns of Court were but a walking distance from the Blackfriars Theatre. Built by court composer Richard Farrant the previous year, Blackfriars was one of three permanent playhouses erected in 1576 (a fourth, the Curtain, would be built in 1577), the second being sited a mile south of the Thames at Newington, while the third – the appropriately named ‘Theatre’ – was raised at Shoreditch. Also used as a playhouse was St Paul’s Cathedral, where a troupe known as ‘St Pauls Boys’ thrived upon the middle-Elizabethan vogue for boy actors. In Elizabethan England, watching such cherubs play out serious-minded drama was one of the main past-times of the upper classes & intelligentsia. If Shakespeare was in London in 1577, he would have been 12 or 13, which means if he was there in a theatrical context, he would have been a member of one of the boys troupes. According to Andrew Gurr in his ‘Shakespearian Playing Companies,’ in the 12 years prior to 1576, more than 40 plays by boys had been performed at court, & although there is no direct evidence, the placing of Shakespeare in one of these companies proves to be the long-looked for link in the biographical chain of our poet’s lost years.

Having shown that Shakespeare was at Townley in 1576, & then London the next year, the simplest way to move him ‘dahn sahf’ comes through Alexander Nowell, the half-brother of Sir John Townley. Let us recall how Robert Nowell, Alexander’s full brother & the attorney of the Court of Wards, was the very gentleman who provided financial support for another poet, the young Edmund Spenser. Upon Robert’s death in 1569, both John & Alexander became the executors of his will, & distributed linen and woollen cloth among the poor of the parish-dwellers of Burnley to satisfy the requirements of the will. It is no stretch of the imagination, then, to move Shakespeare from John Townley in Burnley to his brother in London.

Alexander Nowell was not only the first man to discover the benefits of bottling beer, but also the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, & so by proxy the ultimate boss of the St Pauls Boys. For me, Alexander provides the vital link between the young Shakespeare & the long-standing tradition that the young Shakespeare’s first taste of the London theatre world was holding the horses of the playgoers, which had something of the nature of a car-park attendant. It must be noted that the version of the story we have heard has flown along a two century-spanning chain of chispers (chinese whispers), as in;

Sir William Davenant (actor)
Betterton (actor)
Nicholas Rowe (actor)
Alexander Pope (a poet)
Dr Newton (editor of Milton)
Samuel Johnson

urlThe main points of the tale are that when Shakespeare came to London he earned money by holding the horses of gentlemen outside the theatres, & excelled in the efficiency of his keeping. The story goes that on the success of his business, he employed other young lads to help him who became known as ‘Shakespeare’s boys.’ Samuel Johnson’s version, as found in his Prolegomena to Shakespeare (1765) reads, ‘in the time of Elizabeth, coaches being yet uncommon, and hired coaches not at all in use, those who were too proud, too tender, or too idle to walk, went on horseback to any distant business or diversion. Many came on horseback to the play, and when Shakespeare fled to London from the terrour of a criminal prosecution, his first expedient was to wait at the door of the play-house, and hold the horses of those that had no servants, that they might be ready again after the performance. In this office he became so conspicuous for his care and readiness, that in a short time every man as he alighted called for Will. Shakespeare, and scarcely any other waiter was trusted with a horse while Will. Shakespeare could be had. This was the first dawn of better fortune. Shakespeare finding more horses put into his hand than he could hold, hired boys to wait under his inspection, who, when Will. Shakespeare was summoned, were immediately to present themselves, “I am Shakespeare’s boy, Sir.” In time Shakespeare found higher employment, but as long as the practice of riding to the playhouse continued, the waiters that held the horses retained the appellation of Shakespeare’s boys.

By the time the story was written down properly for the first time, in Theophilis Cibber’s Lives of the Poets, 1753, it has pass’d thro’ six different re-tellings, opening up the possibility of corruption. Looking at the number of mouths which the story has passed through, we should witness at least a few chispological changes en route. It is likely the truth behind this tale is that Shakespeare was part of a company of boy actors to which he was initially & genuinely attached in the role of a horse-holder. The key facts, though, are Shakespeare’s holding go horses outside a theatre, & the key word ‘BOYS.’ For me, this connects Shakespeare’s to the acting troupe Saint Paul’s Boys, for the dean of St Pauls was our own Alexander Nowell, & the cathedral only a stone’s throw from the Inns of Court where John Grange made his studies. Then, what was the ‘terrour of a criminal prosecution’ that had driven Shakespeare to London. Knowing his Catholic sentiments, one expects it should be connected to this, & indeed Sir John Towneley was imprisoned in 1576 (he was in & out of jail for recusancy between 1573 and 1594). This would also explain why Cutbert Payne removed himself from East Lancashire & returned to Cornwall, where he would be arrested in June 1577.

The leader of the St Paul’s mob was a certain Sebastian Westcott, the cathedral’s organist who converted the cathedral’s Almoner’s hall into a playhouse. In the Repertories of the Court of Common Council (8 Dec 1575), a complaint was lodged against Westcott, who is admonished for not communicating, ‘with the Church of England’ & that he ‘kepethe playes & resorte of the people to great gaine & peryll of the Coruptinge of the Chyldren with papistrie.’ A perfect place, then, for the son of John Shakespeare to go. At least as far as the authorities were concerned Alexander Nowell was a staunch Protestant, but nothing is clear cut in the religious conflict of those days, & for him to keep on an obvious & obstinate heretic at the cathedral suggests a hint of papal compliance.


‘Master Sebastian’ as he was more famously known,  was an avowed Catholic who had arranged the music for the formal restoration under Queen Mary of Catholicism at St. Paul’s, in November 1553. Somehow the guy got away with being a Catholic despite being a very public figure in the heart of the nation’s heart-beat. Are we seeing here another aspect of Elizabeth’s familist-inspired secret leniency.  Coincidentally, the only time he got into trouble fro recusancy was in 1577, when he was imprisoned in the Marshalsea,  but the Queen missed her customary Christmas plays by the choristers of St. Paul’s, which led to Westcott’s release the following March. If you could please the queen with a good enough play, it seemed, even the vile phantom of Rome would be tolerated.

 In later posts we will be looking at the homosexuality of Shakespeare, but until then it is perhaps as a part of the St Paul’s Boys troupe that Shakespeare would have had his first taste of same-sex, well, sex. WR Gair, in his ‘Children of Paul’s: The Story of a Theatre Company, 1553-1608’ writes; ‘As far as the boys themselves were concerned Philip Stubbes in 1583 had already suspected them (& players generally) of numerous fleshy offences; they ‘in their secret conclaves (Covertly)…play the Sodomits or worse… the dramatists were well aware of the homosexual appeal of the youth & beauty of the Children of Paul’s.’

That Shakespeare was a boy actor never left his art; according to Stanley Wells & Sarah Stanton (The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Stage), ‘Shakespeares dramatic persona include more boys than any other major body of drama: Sir John’s page in Henry IV, Merry Wives & Henry V, one ‘young Lucius’ in Titus & abother in Ceasar, young Martius in Coriolanus, William Page in Merry Wives, & many anonymous pages in other plays.’ But Shakespeare eventually began to become a young man, & at some point in the late 1570s, I believe that Shakespeare made a move south of the river to the Newington Theatre. In the next blog I shall elucidate my reasoning a little more clearly. For now, let us examine these pointers as to why Shakespeare crossed the water.

1 – The Newington, which was still standing in 1594 (according to Henslowe’s diaries) was built by Richard Hickes near the entertainment district of St. George’s Fields.   Hicks was a  member of the Queens’s retinue, described as a ‘yeoman of the guard’ in 1558/59. In the last post I stated how the Queen’s yeoman bodygaurd were Familists, & it is through this connection that we can see Shakespeare’s own Familist roots being replanted at Newington.

2 – In 1576, Hicks sublet the theatre to a certain Jerome Savage, who is a most important link in the Shakespeare chain. Hick’s son-in-law Peter Hunningborne described Savage as ‘a verrie lewed fealowe‘ who ‘liveth by noe other trade than playinge of staige plaies and Interlevdes.’  Like Shakespeare, Savage was Stratford man, & ran a troupe of actors for the Earl of Warwick known as Earl of Warwick’s Player.


3 – The Newington Playhouse was a mile south of the Thames, & it is likely that this distance was covered by men on horseback – connecting to the horse=holding Shakespeare.



For the benefit of future students, here follows a list of the performances made at court by both The Children of Pauls & the Earl of Warwick’s Men from 1577 onwards;


February 18 : The Irish Knight, by Earl Warwick’s servants, on Shrove Monday.

February 19 : The History of Titus and Gisippus, by the children of Paul’s, on Shrove Tuesday.


Dec. 26. : At Richmond. An invention or play of The three Sisters of Mantua on St. Stephen’s day was enacted by Warwick’s servants.


Jan. I. A History of the Four Sons of Fabius on New Year’s day by the Earl of Warwick’s servants.

Jan. 4. : A moral of the Marriage of Mind and Measure on the Sunday after New Year’s day by the children of Paul’s.

Feb. 2. ” The history of .. by the Earl of Warwick’s servants; still at Whitehall

Mar. I. : The history of the Knight in the Burning Rock, on Shrove Sunday, by the Earl of Warwick’s servants

Mar. 18. payment – “To the Earl of Warwick’s players for a play ” that should have been played on Candlemas day


Jan. I : A History of the Four Sons of Fabius on New Year’s day by the Earl of Warwick’s servants.

Jan. 3. : The History of Scipio Africanus on Sunday after New Year’s day by the Children of Paul’s.


Jan 6. ” A story of Pompey on Twelfth day. Children of Paul’s.


Stephen Gosson, in his The School of Abuse 1579, describes the theatrical experience as being; ‘In our assemblies at plays in London, you shall see such heaving, and shoving, such itching and shouldering to sit by women: such care for their garments, that they be not trod on: such eyes to their laps, that no chips light in them: such pillows to their backs, that they take no hurt: such masking in their ears, I know not what: such giving them pippins to pass the time: such playing at foot-saunt without cards: such tickling, such toying, such smiling, such winking, and such manning them home, when the sports are ended, that it is a right comedy to mark their behaviour, to watch their conceits, as the cat for the mouse, and as good as a course at the game itself, to dog them a little, or follow aloof by the print of their feet, and so discover by slot where the deer taketh soil. If this were as well noted as ill seen, or as openly punished as secretly practised, I have no doubt but the cause would be seared to dry up the effect, and these pretty rabbits very cunningly ferreted from their burrows. For they that lack customers all the week, either because their haunt is unknown, or the constables and officers of their parish watch them so narrowly that they dare not quetch, to celebrate the sabbath flock to theatres, and there keep a general market of bawdry. Not that any filthiness in deed is committed within the compass of that ground, as was done in Rome, but that every wanton and his paramour, every man and his mistress, every John and his Joan, every knave and his quean, are there first acquainted and cheapen the merchandise in that place, which they pay for elsewhere as they can agree.’ Full of life & colour, there is a list of props given by Blagrave (January 6, 1575) utilsed by performers at the court, which gives us a good idea of dramaturgical acoutrements were used in that period, being : ‘Monsters ; Mointains ; Forests; Beasts; Serpents; Weapons for war, as Guns, Dags, Bows, Arrows, Bills, Halberds, Boarspears, Fawchions, Daggers, Targets, Pllaxes, Clubs; Heads and Head pieces; Armour counterfeit; Moss, Holly, Ivy, Bays, Flowers; Quarters; Glue, Paste, Paper, and such like; with Nails, Hooks, Horsetails, Dishes for Devils’ eyes. Heaven, Hell, and the Devil and all: the Devil, I should say, but not all. ; ^I2, 14s. 4d.’

 That same year – 1579 – was an interesting one for Shakespeare’s future, I believe, for it was when his Stratford neighbour Richard Field, arrived in London to begin his career as a book-printer…. which would lead a decade & a half later to him publishing Shakespeare’s long poems, Venus & Adonis & Lucrece. Also that year saw the earliest inklings of Spenser’s great epic, the Faerie Queene; In the letter to Harvey of April 2, 1580, he writes: ‘Nowe, my Dreames and Dying Pellicane being fully finished … and presentlye to bee imprinted, I wil in hande forthwith with my Faery Queene, whyche I praye you hartily send me with al expedition, and your frendly letters and long expected judgement wythal, whyche let not be shorte, but in all pointes suche as you ordinarilye use and I extraordinarily desire.’

The FQ is divided into books in which different knights go in search of different virtues, &  it may only be a coincidence, but on Shrove Tuesday, 1579, the Earl of Warwick’s players performed ‘The history of the Knight in the Burning Rock.’ On January 6th, 1581,  we also hear of ‘A story of Pompey’ performed by the Children of Paul’s. The next year the play was performed at the Theatre, where it was given the name ‘the history of Caesar and Pompey’ by Stephen Gosson in his ‘Plays Confuted in Five Actions (1582).’

if a true Historie be taken in hand, it is made like our shadows, longest at the rising and falling of the Sunne, shortest of all at hie noone. For the Poets driue it most commonly vnto such pointes, as may best showe the maiestie of their pen, in Tragicall speaches; or set the hearers a gogge, with discourses of love; or painte a fewe antickes, to fitt their owne humors, with scoffes & tauntes; or wring in a shewe, to furnish the Stage, when it is to bare; when the matter of it selfe comes shorte of this, they followe the practise of the cobler, and set their teeth to the leather to pull it out.
So was the history of Caesar and Pompey, and the Playe of the Fabii at the Theater, both amplified there, where the Drummes might walke, or the pen ruffle, when the history swelled, and ran to hye for the number of ye persons, that shoulde playe it, the Poet with Proteus cut the same fit to his owne measure; when it afoorded no pompe at al, he brought it to the racke, to make it serue. Which inuinciblie proueth on my side, that Plays are no Images of trueth, because sometime they hādle such thinges as neuer were, sometime they runne vpon truethes, but make them séeme longer, or shorter, or greater, or lesse then they were, according as the Poet blowes them vp with his quill, for aspiring heades; or minceth them smaller, for weaker stomakes.

Cesar & Pompey was played at the Theatre alongside the ‘Playe of the Fabii,’ surely the ‘History of the Four Sons of Fabius’ played by the Earl of Warwick’s servants on New Years Day 1579. In 1580, a text called ‘A Second and Third Blast of Retreat from Plays and Theatres’ tells us;

The writers of our time are so led awaie with vaineglorie [*Against Auctors of plaies], that their onlie endeuor is to pleasure the humor of men; & rather with vanitie to content their mindes, than to profit them with good ensample. The notablest lier is become the best Poet; he that can make the most notorious lie, and disguise falshood in such sort, that he maie passe vnperceaued, is held the best writer. For the strangest Comedie brings greatest delectation, and pleasure. Our nature is led awaie with vanitie, which the auctor perceauing frames himself with nouelties and strange trifles to content the vaine humors of his rude auditors, faining countries neuer heard of; monsters and prodigious creatures that are not: as of the Arimaspie, of the Grips, the Pigmeies, the Cranes, & other such notorious lies. And if they write of histories that are knowen, as the life of Pompeie; the martial affaires of Caesar, and other worthies, they giue them a newe face, and turne them out like counterfeites to showe themselues on the stage. It was therefore aptlie applied of him [*The best thing at plaies is starke naught], who likened the writers of our daies vnto Tailors, who hauing their sheers in their hand, can alter the facion of anie thing into another forme, & with a new face make that seeme new which is old. The shreds of whose curiositie our Historians haue now stolen from them, being by practise become as cunning as the Tailor to set a new vpper bodie to an old coate; and a patch of their owne to a peece of anothers.

caesar_and_pompeyTwo decades later, the play seems to have been acted out in the mid 1590s by the Admiral’s Men (Henslowe’s Diary) while a play called ‘The tragedie of Cesar & Pompey – or Cesars revenge,’ was entered on the stationers register in 1606, & printed next year. Donna N. Murphy, in her The Marlowe-Shakespeare Continuum, gives many similarities between the Faerie Queene & ‘Cesar’s Revenge,’ such as the archaic expression ‘for to’ used 80 times in the FQ & over 30 in CR.

The simplest solution to the riddle is that Spenser, in 1579, after his handling of the Townley mystery plays, had turned his muse to the theatre, but a diplomatic placing in in Ireland in 1580 soon nipped that in the bud, & left him free to focus solely on his poetry. Indeed, the same phrase ‘for to’ is found in another anonymous Elizabethan play, The moste famous Chronicle historye of Leire king of England and his Three Daughters, which was performed at the Rose Theatre on 6 and 8 April 1594 (Henslowe) entered into the Stationers’ Register that May & printed in 1605. The title page declares that the play ‘hath been diverse and sundry times lately acted.’ It was about that time that Shakespeare would pick up the play, add a subplot about Gloucester, Edgar, and Edmund, & make King Lear his own. However, the ‘for to’ phraseology gives a possible 1579-ish date for the original play, which links it to Spenser’s FQ. Is it a coincidence, then, that in Canto 10 of Book II of the FQ, we get the Lear story in microcosm;

Next him king Leyr in happie peace long raind,
But had no issue male him to succeed,
But three faire daughters, which were well vptraind,
In all that seemed fit for kingly seed:
Mongst whom his realme he equally decreed
To have diuided. Tho when feeble age
Nigh to his vtmost date he saw proceed,
He cald his daughters; and with speeches sage
Inquyrd, which of them most did loue her parentage.

The eldest Gonorill gan to protest,
That she much more then her owne life him lou’d:
And Regan greater loue to him profest,
Then all the world, when euer it were proou’d;
But Cordeill said she lou’d him, as behoou’d:
Whose simple answere, wanting colours faire
To paint it forth, him to displeasance moou’d,
That in his crowne he counted her no haire,
But twixt the other twaine his kingdome whole did shaire.

So wedded th’one to Maglan king of Scots,
And th’other to the king of Cambria,
And twixt them shayrd his realme by equall lots:
But without dowre the wise Cordelia
Was sent to Aganip of Celtica.
Their aged Syre, thus eased of his crowne,
A priuate life led in Albania,
With Gonorill, long had in great renowne,
That nought him grieu’d to bene from rule deposed downe.

But true it is, that when the oyle is spent,
The light goes out, and weeke is throwne away;
So when he had resigned his regiment,
His daughter gan despise his drouping day,
And wearie waxe of his continuall stay.
Tho to his daughter Rigan he repayrd,
Who him at first well vsed euery way;
But when of his departure she despayrd,
Her bountie she abated, and his cheare empayrd.

The wretched man gan then auise too late,
That loue is not, where most it is profest,
Too truely tryde in his extreamest state;
At last resolu’d likewise to proue the rest,
He to Cordelia him selfe addrest,
Who with entire affection him receau’d,
As for her Syre and king her seemed best;
And after all an army strong she leau’d,
To war on those, which him had of his realme bereau’d.

So to his crowne she him restor’d againe,
In which he dyde, made ripe for death by eld,
And after wild, it should to her remaine:
Who peaceably the same long time did weld:
And all mens harts in dew obedience held:
Till that her sisters children, woxen strong
Through proud ambition, against her rebeld,
And ouercommen kept in prison long,
Till wearie of that wretched life, her selfe she hong.

The Young Shakespeare (pt 7)


Spenser’s Pendle

Before we head off to London with our just-turn’d-teenage Shakespeare, I thought I’d nip down home to Burnley to investigate my Spenser-in-Lancashire discovery a bit more. Unfortunately it was chucking it down, so I didn’t get a chance to wander all about Pendle Hill attempting to find matches for the woodcuts on the Shepheard’s Calendar of 1579. Still, there is definitely two woodcuts I didn’t show a couple of posts back which are surely Pendle Hill

pendle - february.

Pendle is to the left of the picture next to the guy's head - notice the lines are a match for the gouges in the flanks of Pendle in the photograph
Pendle is to the left of the picture next to the guy’s head – notice the lines are a match for the gouges in the flanks of Pendle in the photograph
Pendle's very distinctive slant can again be seen to the left of the picture, next to the kirk
Pendle’s very distinctive slant can again be seen to the left of the picture, next to the kirk
Pendle's distinctive slope (from the south)
Pendle’s distinctive slope (from the south)

 What I did get to look down in bonnie Burnley was James McKay’s ‘Pendle Hill in History & Literature’ & I also thought I’d have a look at the Calendar as well. I’ve never actually read the poem, but with it being a massive keystone to my Young Shakespeare theory I thought I’d better check it out, innit. In the latter Hobbinol’s mentions of wastefull hylls, bogs & glens & dark invoke the East Lancashire landscape, while the rife superstitions are a perfect match for an area just about to hang 17 women at Lancashire, the so-called Pendle Witches. Also, having showed how the Calendar’s Willye was in fact the 12-year old William Shakespeare, on reading the whole text I discovered that he turns up twice, in March & August. In the March eclogue, we are told that Shakespeare is one of ‘two shepheards boyes’ confirming my supposition that it was the 12-year old Shakespeare. We also have the following exchange which indicates that in the locality of the Calendar, a few Wolves were still clinging to English soil.

Fye on thee Diggon, and all thy foule leasing,
Well is knowne that sith the Saxon king,
Neuer was Woolfe seene many nor some,
Nor in all Kent, nor in Christendome:
But the fewer Woolues (the soth to sayne,)
The more bene the Foxes that here remaine.

Yes, but they gang in more secrete wise,
And with sheepes clothing doen hem disguise,
They walke not widely as they were wont
For feare of raungers, and the great hunt:
But priuely prolling too and froe,
Enaunter they mought be inly knowe.


werewolf engraving 16th century

In the 16th century the English wolf, exterminated in almost all of the country, still clung on in a couple of spots, one of which was Lancashire. Joseph Strutt, in ‘The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England’ writes, ‘it seems most probable that Wolves became extinct in England during the reign of Henry VII, or at all events they were exceedingly rare after that reign. The Lancashire forests of Blackburnshire & Bowland, the wilder parts of the Derbyshire peak, & the wolds of Yorkshire were among the last retreats of the wolf.’ Little nuggets like these go to show just how cool a time capsule the Calendar is, & its 12 woodcuts are perhaps some of the earliest ‘tourist photographs’ ever mate. To these, if we now examine McKay’s Pendle book,  we glean the following new nuggets;

The Shepheard’s Calendar & other works show the idiomatic employment of Pendle dialect words & phrase, as only a native could have employed them, thus affording intrinsic evidence that Spenser was of a stock lately sprung from under the shadow of Pendle

In Spenser decoration of the ‘kirk’ – the church in Pendle Forest is ‘kirk’ yet – we have a reflection of the Pendle rushbearings; it is certainly a remarkable coincidence that a name so common as ‘Lettice’ in the Pendle county is introduced in the third eclogue as that of ‘some country lass’

In the imprint of the 1599 Quarto edition of the Shepheard’s Calendar the name of the Hugh Singleton, whose name occurs in the Preston Guild Roll of 1542
His name was removed because he became a printer in London

Another connection McKay makes between Spenser & Pendle is through the Merchant School,  where it is likely that the John Spenser mentioned in the school annals as a free ‘jorneyman, clothworker’ was the poet’s father who had moved to London to seek work. This connects Edmund Spenser to Robert Nowell, the guy who funded the boy at the Merchant’s Taylor school. I On Nowell’s death, among his ‘poor kynsfolkes’ who benefited from his will in the summer of 1569, were Lyttis Nowell of Castel Parish in Clitheroe. She had married a certain Lawrence Spenser, to whom the poet may have been related.

I’ve also been looking at the Familist connection to Spenser. Its growing clear that the ‘Family of Love’ was kicking about Shakespeare, a quite masonic sect that infiltrated the private bodyguard of the Queen herself. Now then, in all the corners of the north they could have set up shop it is amazing that other than in the metropolis of York, the only place they got to was Pendle. They went on to form a little subsect of their own known as the Grindletonians, of whom McKay writes; Grindleton, at the foot of the big end of Pendle, is a place of note, being the birthplace of that strange fanatical set in the Grindletnoians, whose queer performances made a great stir in the country some centuries ago. Roger Brearley, who was for some six years incumbent of Burnley, was in his day a conspicuous man, an author & a poet



The Familist angle then leads us neatly to the identification of  a certain EK. The Shepheard’s Calendar was printed with a dedication & a preface by a man with these initials, who made the following prophetic introduction to the new poet. ‘I doubt not, so soone as his name shall come into the knowledg of men, and his worthines be sounded in the tromp of fame, but that he shall be not only kiste, but also beloued of all, embraced of the most, and wondred at of the best.’ Examining the Calendar, we discover that EK has a lot to say about Spenser being from the north, all of which is inspired by the following speech of Hobbinoll.

Then if by me thou list aduised be,
Forsake the soyle, that so doth the bewitch:
Leaue me those hilles, where harbrough nis to see,
Nor holybush, nor brere, nor winding witche:
And to the dales resort, where shepheards ritch,
And fruictfull flocks bene euery where to see.
Here no night Rauens lodge more blacke then pitche,
Nor eluish ghosts, nor gastly owles doe flee.

EK’s gloss; 

Forsake the soyle : This is no poetical fiction, but vnfeynedly spoken of the Poete selfe, who for speciall occasion of priuate affayres (as I haue bene partly of himselfe informed) and for his more preferment remouing out of the Northparts came into the South, as Hobbinoll indeede aduised him priuately.
Those hylles : that is the North countreye, where he dwelt.

The Dalesthe Southpartes, where he nowe abydeth, which thoughe they be full of hylles and woodes (for Kent is very hyllye and woodye; and therefore so called: for Kantsh in the Saxons tongue signifieth woodie) yet in respecte of the Northpartes they be called dales. For indede the North is counted the higher countrye.



EK also elaborates on the Calendar’s very real ‘Rosalinde’ with whom Spenser fell madly in love, the poet stating; ‘A thousand sithes I curse that carefull hower / Wherein I longd the neighbour towne to see.’ Which ‘neighbour towne‘ Spenser refers to is open to investigation, as is Rosalinde’s identity. EK tells us that hers is a, ‘feigned name, which being wel ordered, wil bewray the very name of hys loue and mistresse, whom by that name he coloureth.. this generally hath bene a common custome of counterfeicting the names of secret Personages.’ Grosart here suggests it was a certain Rose Dinely, of Downham at the foot of Pendle near Clitheroe, who is a serious contender. EK adds that Spenser, ‘calleth Rosalind the Widowes daughter of the glenne, that is, of a country Hamlet or borough, which I thinke is rather sayde to coloure and concele the person, then simply spoken. For it is well knowen, euen in spight of Colin and Hobbinoll, that shee is a Gentle woman of no meane house, nor endewed with anye vulgare and common gifts both of nature and manners.’  As to all this, as Churchill declared of Russian intentions in WW2,  is ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key,‘ the key being, I believe, the pictorial woodcuts of the 1579 Calendar.

The identity of EK is as yet unascertained. For me, the Familist angle suggests that a certain Edward Kelly was the man, for this fellow became a great companion of the magus John Dee, conducting alchemical experiments together. Dee was a Mancunian, while , Edward Kelly can also be placed in Lancashire, where he was pilloried in Lancaster for fraud – proving his artistic sensibilities –  having his ears ‘cropped’ as a punishment. That puts him in the right place, then, to produce the woodcuts, of which Spenser himself writes, in a 1580 letter to Gabriel Harvey… ‘ my Calendar. Therin be some things excellently, and many things wittily discoursed of E.K., and the pictures so singularly set forth, and purtrayed, as if Michael Angelo were there, he could (I think) nor amende the beste, nor reprehende the worst.’

Edward Kelly
Edward Kelly

Through Kelly we get to John Dee,  whose decidedly opaque  outlook on religion indicates a possible Familist background. These connections, including;

1 – He was associated with many Continental Familists, including Christopher Plantin, the Antwerp printer who published the works of Niclaes) & the Antewerp bookseller Arnold Birckmann,

2 – In 1577 Dee suggested to the cartographer Abraham Ortelius, another Familist, that correspondence could reach him via Birckmann’s servants.

3 – Familists married within the group, & if widowed would quickly remarry, with age having no bearing on the choice. John Dee married three times, with little space between them, his third wife, Jane Fromond, being 28 years younger than him.

4 – Dee & Kelly were friends with the Familist Francesco Pucci, spending time together in Krakow in 1585, & Prague the following year.

5 – Dee & Kelly were also on excellent terms with Prince Albert Laski of Poland, whose relation, Johannes Alasko, lived in the Familst ‘capital’ of Emden.

6 – Dee was a big favorite of Queen Elizabeth, whose own personal Yeomen Gaurd were Familists. In the anonymous Supplication of the Family of Love (1606) we read, “It appeareth that she [Elizabeth] had alwayes about her some Familistes, or favourers of that Sect, who alwaies related, or bare tidinges what was donne, or intended against them.” 


We know how a big a connection there is between Dee & Elizabeth – the Faerie Queene is an allegory of her perfect majesty, & he was royally rewarded for the poem. Looking at the actual Familist  influence on Spenser, the work of Ortelius inspired the cosmology of Spenser’s Ruins of Time, while in his Magical Diary, Dee transcribes his “seances” in which Kelly recited visions. These otherworldly conjurations feel rather like the allegorical mindscapes extolled by Spenser in the Faerie Queene, & one must ask oneself now just how much influence Dee exerted over Spenser in the earliest stages of that poem’s composition. In that peom’s second book, Spenser places Dee in the Castle of Temperance, amidst a room full of pictures of “famous Wisards“, & “All artes, all science, all Philosophy”. Spenser’s Dee has meditated “all his life long, /That through continuall practice and usage, /He now was growne right wise, and wondrous sage.

Spenser was also connected with the the Dutch poet, Sir Jan van der Noot, whose 1576 book ‘Das Buch Extasis’ contains elements of Familism. The connection between the two poets is perfectly elucidated by Tiemen de Vries, in his ‘Holland’s Influence on English Language and Literature (1916),’ who highlights the influence on Spenser of a 1569 book of poems called ‘A Theatre’. Spenser went on to rework & reprint the verses under his own name in 1591, defining them as ‘formerly translated.’ De Vries suggests that van der Noot, ‘for his English version, used the assistance of Spenser, at that time a poor young student, hardly seventeen years old, whom he probably paid one penny for each line, just as Rubens used the assistance of his pupils for some details of hundreds of his pictures which were sold under his name, could not be such an important fact for the author, who was the master of the whole work. The young assistant ‘was in no way a principal in the main undertaking when the volume came out, therefore, it nowhere gave his name. He had done his work, and received his pay – there was no need to acknowledge his services.’1 At that moment Van der Noot could not imagine that the name of his young assistant would one day become famous, and that those translations would play an important part in English literature. As a principal he did what, all over the world, principals do with their young assistants, and with their work. By getting his pay, and no further recognition at that moment, Spenser got just what every young man gets, when the master honors him by asking his assistance.’

‘The ideas of the Theatre, adds De Vries, ‘as Van der Noot laid them before the young Spenser, and explained them to him, these great ideas of the world’s vanity, of the struggle and sufferings of Christians, and of their final triumph, and their eternal happiness, have remained with Spenser; they have formed the center of his life-system, and are to be found in all his later works…. with the Eclogue for September, in which we find the dialogue between Diggon Davie and Hobbinol. This Diggon Davie is, according to Kirk’s Glasse, ‘the very friend of the author and this friend had been long in foreign countries.’ We can also see the influence on Speser of Van der Noot’s use of embletic woodcuts in the 1570s in the English poet’s own series throughout the Calendar.

Returning to Shakespeare, it has been long-observed how the writings of the Familist,  Justus Lipsius, had a profound effect on our bard’s political thought, especially his 1584 translation of the treatise De Constantia. In that text, when Lipsius quotes Petronius’ ‘the whole world is a stage-play’ we get the seedlings of one of Shakespeare’s most famous passages, the ‘All the world’s a stage’ of As You Like It.

The object of this post has been to reinforce the triangular connection between Spenser, Shakespeare & Familism – & also to introduce a certain John Dee into the mix, who most scholars assume was the wizard Prospero in the Tempest. That he was, we shall ascertain in a future post, but for now let us leave the drizzly heaths of East Lancashire & skipple down to the sun-kiss’d capital where our teenage Terence is just about to tackle his first tatse of the theatre.

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. Thomas Jenkins – the headmaster at the King’s School Stratford 1575-79 also has connections to Spenser’s Merchant Taylor’s School, for he was, according to MC Bradbrook (Shakespeare: The Poet in his World) ‘servant to Sir Thomas White. Sir Thomas had founded St. John’s College in Oxford and was also a great benefactor of the Merchant Taylors’ School in London.‘ It is through Spenser’s 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 Dr Grosart identified 550 words in the Calendar unique to East Lancashire & West Yorkshire. 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. The rolling hills to the left are highly similar to a Calendar woodcu… followed by a few more examples. The last one is taken from Castlelaw Hillfort whIich offers the best matching perspective for the woodcut






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. Throughout that decade, the writings of Henry Niclaeus were translated by Christopher Vettels & disseminate throughout England. 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.’