Daily Archives: October 21, 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.