Daily Archives: October 9, 2015

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.