Continuing the serialization of
Damian Beeson Bullen’s
In which a few more of the world’s greatest mysteries… are finally solved
Available to buy in book form
In the Chisper Effect, I focuss’d my attention on the period of the Grand Tour undertaken by Shakespeare with the young English nobleman, William Stanley. Plunging in media res, I very much neglected to deposit any information as to how Shakespeare ended up in such a situation. However, just as it was possible to trace Shakespearse course across the continent, so shall we be able to follow the course of Shakespeare’s youth up to the moment in 1585 when he finds himself in the retinue the Earl of Derby, William Stanley’s father. An important key to unlocking the puzzle can be found with another of the great Elizabethan poets, Edmund Spenser of the Faerie Queen fame, to whom chispology may also unearth some long lost knowledge. As in the Chisper Effect I shall present the information in chronological order…
1525: Shakespeare’s family lands
In 1525, Richard Shakespeare, our poet’s grandfather, possessed lands at a place called Wroxall, between Coventry & Birmingham. Eight miles to the north of Wroxall lies the manor of Meriden, known to have belonged to the Earl of Derby, who possessed, according to Thomas Aspden;
The ancient seats of Lathom and Knowsley, with all the houses, lands, castles, and appurtenances in Lancashire, Cumberland, Yorkshire, Cheshire, and many in Wales ; also the manor of Meriden, in the County of Warwick, with the old seat in Cannon Row, Westminster (afterwards called Derby Court), and also the advowson of the Parish Church of the Holy Trinity, in the city of Chester.
It is only a loose connection, but we can positively determine how the ‘antecessors’ Stanley & the Shakespeare were, in essence, nieghbours.
1552: Edmund Spenser born
Edmund Spenser was born to Lancastrian parents, but down in the nation’s capital. Spenser’s father, John, originally from the Burnley area (like me), had moved to London to seek work, appearing in the Merchant Taylor’s school annals as a free ‘journeyman, clothworker.’ In the Spenserian epoch, East Lancashire was simply teeming with Edmunds & John Spensers, the two names alternating from generation to generation, as seen in a will made by Margaret Spenser of Hurstwood in 1605;
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” ” 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
In the gorgeous wee hamlet of Hurstwood, near Burnley, there is a tudor building known as ‘Spenser’s House’ still standing today. In and around Hurstwood, & at Extwistle-and-Briercliffe in Burnley, the Spensers, formerly Le Spensers, had long held property. In the Gentleman’s Magazine of August 1842, Dr Craik cites the research of a certain FC Spenser of Halifax, who declared;
The 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.
1557: John Shakespeare marries into the Arden family
Shakespeare’s father turns up in Stratford on June 17, 1556, brought to court by a certain Thomas Such for the recovery of £8. He is described as, ‘John Shakyspere of Stretforde, in the county of Warwick, glover.’ After three hearings that summer, the case was eventually dismissed when Thomas Such, ‘did not complete the action he embarked on.’ A year later he marries Mary Arden in Stratford-upon-Avon, whose family were staunch Catholics under a Catholic queen, Mary Tudor. 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,’ adding that Shakespeare’s mother, ‘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.’ It seems the old faith would never really leave their son, William, whom according to the Rev. Richard Davies, the rector of Sapperton (1695), ‘dyed a papist.’
Mary Tudor died in November 1558. During her time as queen she had reversed her father’s establishment of the Protestant Church of England & ruled as a Catholic, burning a whole heap of Protestants along the way. Her sister & successor Elizabeth would re-establish her Henry VIII’s ‘Church of England,’ which at a stroke sent Catholic families such as the Ardens into secret worship once again. In the middle of this religious schizophrenia that was western Christendom in the 16th century, one sect fluttered about like a butterfy in a hurricane, preaching peace & unity of faith. The Familists were a radical, non-sectarian religious group known as the ‘Family of Love,’ who embraced both Catholics AND Protestants – the perfect alternative for the schismatic psyche of the Tudor state. Familism began to take hold in England during the 1550s, led by a certain Christopher Vittels, who had been a disciple of the Dutch Familist leader, Henry Niclaes. Worshipping in secret, the Familists would conceal their true beliefs while putting on a show of conformity for the outside world. If they were ever outed, they would stringently deny it, realizing it was better to briefly lie & stay alive in order to continue the worship of God, rather than let pride lead them to the bonfire.
1559: The establishment of Douay University
The small town of Douay lies on the River Scarpe, twenty miles south of Lille in northern France. A flourishing, medieval conurbation; it had become stuffed full of English Catholics in exile, hoping to save their country from the ‘heathen’ protestant church. In1559 the town established a university, with its first chancellor being the exiled Dr. Richard Smith, former Fellow of Merton and regius professor of divinity at Oxford.
1560: John Shakespeare signs his Catholic Spiritual Testament
In the 18th century, in the rafters of the house on Henley Street, Stratford, was found ‘The Sacred Testament,’ a handwritten personal dedication to the Catholic faith, signed by Shakespeare’s father himself. That our bard at some point in his life encountered the Testament seems quite likely, based upon the strikingly similar parallels between Article I of the Testament and the Ghost’s words in Hamlet;
I may be possibly cut off in the blossom of my sins, and called to render an account of all my transgressions externally and internally, and that I may be unprepared for the dreadful trial either by sacrament, penance, fasting, or prayer, or any other purgation whatever
Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,
Unhousel’d, disappointed, unanel’d,
No reckoning made, but sent to my account
With all my imperfections on my head:
In the Testament, where John Shakespeare beseeches,‘all my dear friends, parents, and kinsfolks,’ the pluralization of parents means the testament must have been made before 1561, the year when John’s father Richard, died.
1564: Birth of William Shakespeare
In April 1564, just as the season of spring was beginning to flood the British Isles with scent & colour, a certain Mary Shakespeare has just given birth to a boy. Holding her hand is her husband, John Shakespeare, excited at the prospect of their baby, 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 when ‘Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakspere’ was scribbl’d in the Baptismal record of Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church on the 26 April 1564. It turned out that John & Mary had no need to worry, even when three months later the plague struck Stratford. By the end of the year over 200 people had been buried, about one fifth of the population of the town, but thro’ fate or fortune baby Will survived the outbreak, & would eventually grow up into one of the finest young men in the kingdom.
1566: Sir John Townley imprisoned for Catholicism
‘This countri as yett is verie backward in religion’ wrote Thomas Mead,’they that have the sword in there handes vnder her maiestie to redresse abuses among vs, suffer it to rust in the scabarde,’. He was talking about Lancashire, probably the most staunchly Catholic county in England. Lancashire was a superstitious, underpopulated region, where almost all of the gentry refused to accept the new religion imposed on them by Henry VIII & his daughter Elizabeth. They were more than willing to pay fines to the state rather than join a parish congregation onto which a Genevan vicar had been foisted. Of these nobles, the most prolific offender was Sir John Townley of Towneley Hall, whose gorgeous mansion was situated in the most serendipitous grounds just to the south-east of Burnley.
Anybody who did not attend the regular Anglican services 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 Protestants. He would worship the Old Faith in secret at Towneley Hall – now a museum & art gallery – where one can still see the secret chambers where the Catholic priests were hidden. The hall also possesses a beautiful painting of Sir John Towneley sitting with his family, which is imbibed with the following inscription, dated to 1601.
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.
1568: The English College founded in Douay
This year sees a bunch of Lancastrian Catholics make a sideways attempt at bringing their country back under the fold of the Vatican. The plan was to train up hundreds of Jesuit priests in Douay, who would return to England as the vanguard of a spiritual reconquista. The brains behind the scheme was a certain Lancastrian Catholic called William Allen, while funding for the college also came from Lancashire, where a certain gentleman called Thomas Hoghton diverted profits from his Alum mines to France. In a flash Douay was filled with cardinals, scholars & would-be priests, 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.
1568: John Shakespeare becomes chief bailiff of Stratford
The first decade of William’s life saw his father grow in influence & affluence all about their home town. In July 1565 he was elected one of the 14 alderman of Stratford, becoming chief bailiff between the autumns of 1568 & 1569. 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 very young Shakespeare observing the theatrical spectacle for the first time, a lightning bolt of electricity which would sear his soul with the sheer wonder of it all.
1569: Death of Robert Nowell
Another member of the Lancastrian Catholic community was Robert Nowell, a half-brother of Sir John Townley. Upon his death in 1569, to satisfy the requirements of the will both Sir John & Robert’s full brother, Alexander Nowell, distributed linen and woollen cloth among the poor of the parish-dwellers of Burnley. Among the ‘poor kynsfolkes’ who benefited from other parts of the will were Lyttis Nowell of Castle Parish in Clitheroe, who had married a certain Lawrence Spenser. Another Spenser to benefit would be our young poet down London, for Robert Nowell was also the headmaster of the Merchant’s School in which the young Spenser was attending. The 19th century antiquarian J McKay writes of the will;
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.’
1570+: Spenser enters Familist Circles
Throughout the 1570s, the writings of the de facto Familist leader, Henry Niclaeus, were translated by Christopher Vettels & disseminated throughout England. The brains behind the move, according to popular feeling at the time, were the Jesuits, 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.’ That a certain Dutch poet, Sir Jan van der Noot, was among their number can be discerned through his 1576 book, ‘Das Buch Extasis,’ which contains many Familist elements. In 1569 we gain the first hint of Spenser’s own connection to the group, for as a young man he became the English translator of der Noot’s ‘Theatre for Wordlings.’ Spenser admitted to such in 1591 when he reworked & reprinted the verses under his own name, stating them as being ‘formerly translated.’ Van der Noot’s use of embletic woodcuts throughout the 1570s would also inspire Spenser’s series which decorate the months of his Shepheard’s Calendar. We may also observe that in the extreme vicinity of Pendleside – where a Lawrence Spenser who died in 1584 seems to have been the poet’s grandfather – the hamlet of Grindleton was home to one of only two known nests of Familists in the north of England.
1570 : Shakespeare starts school
Of Shakespeare’s schooling, Nicholas Rowe (1674-1718) writes, ‘his Father…. had bred him, ’tis true, for some time at a Free-School.’ This statement comes from Rowe’s introduction to his 1709 edition of Shakespeare’s plays in which he acknowledges, ‘the most considerable part of the passages relating to this life,’ were given him by the actor Thomas Betterton (1634-1710), who had made, ‘a journey to Warwickshire on purpose to gather up what remains he could, of a name for which he had so great a veneration.’ Founded in the 14th century, Stratford Grammar School is still standing today, kept in a good condition by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. In 1568, according to the chamberlain’s accounts of the town for that year, we see money being spent on ‘repairing the scole,’ ‘dressing and sweeping the scole-house,’ ‘ground-sellynge the old scole, and taking down the sollar over the school,’ which means Shakespeare’s schooling had begun just after a big paint job. He would have started attending from about the age of 6, force fed a diet of endless Latin repetitions with a heavy emphasis on the Roman writers Ovid, Plautus & Seneca. He would also have been made to learn Greek in order to study the scriptures in their original form, being drilled in the Bible until it became second nature to him. Shakespeare even gives us an accurate glimpse into his own schooldays, one expects, when in The Merry Wives of Windsor the headmaster tests the knowledge of a pupil named, appropriately, William.
Sir Hugh Evans
Show me now, William, some declensions of your pronouns.
Forsooth, I have forgot.
Sir Hugh Evans
It is qui, quae, quod: if you forget your ‘quies,’ your ‘quaes,’ and your ‘quods,’ you must be preeches. Go your ways, and play; go.
1570: Queen Elizabeth excommunicated
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.’
1574: John Shakespeare is doing rather well for himself.
John Shakespeare’s profession, as tradition holds, was a butcher (Aubrey), a glover (official records), a wool merchant (Rowe), or most likley he was employed in all three. By 1574, enough money had been made to pay Edmund & Emma Hall £40 for two freehold houses, complete with lovely tudor-style gardens & orchards. Also in the property portfolio, the family home was still at Henley Street, while the Shaksepeare’s were still the owners of properties which Mary had inherited.
1574 : Shakespeare writes for the Familists
When Joseph Walford Martin described certain Elizabethan references as being, ‘explicit in their charge that Familist at least incline toward Rome,’ we may now plant a hyperbasis of the pro-Catholic Shakespeares, in fear of persecution but hardly wanting to conform to the Anglian church, beginning to dabble with this new-fangled ‘Familsm’ in the early 1570s. It is in this year of his John Shakespeare’s greatest financial 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. Only two years ago, in 2016, a certain Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu became the youngest ever International Master (the level below Grandmaster) in history, at the age of 10 years, 10 months & 19 days. It makes sense that the greatest ever writer in the English language would have shown some intimations as to his talent at an early date. 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. Such roots run deep, & when analyzing the Shakespearean metaphysic, we must assume that his own would have ran stretched into startlingly far corners.
There are two ballads printed in 1574 which reflect Shakespeare’s youthful knowledge of the Bible as aqcuired at school. Accredited to a certain W.S., each contains a number of rather neat, but not amazingly written stanzas. The ballads are packed full of semi-quotations from the bible, & it seems to be a learning tool straight from the cloisters of grammar school academe. Printed in Cologne, they made their way to Germany & into the hands of the Familist Hendrik Niclaes, who printed these along with many of his own poems that year, such as his Exhortatio, Evangelium Regni & Epistola. Margaret Healy highlights some of the influence that Niclaean teaching had 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).
Almost 450 years later, only single copies of the ballads remain, housed in the Bodleian library at Oxford. The first two stanzas from each poem are given here, when the author, W.S., is named in the Latin statement; Per W.S. Veritatis Amatorem. Anno. 1574. Reading through these ballads, one can feel the youth of their composer, while also sensing the indescribable talent burgeoning with the promise of beautiful verses yet to come. Note the appearance of the initials of Henry Niklaes (HN).
A new balade or songe of the Lambes feast
I Hearde one saye:
Coma now awaye /
Make no delaye:
Alack / why stande yee than?
All is doubtlesse
In redynesse /
There wantes 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 /
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
the 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 /
Toe geeve us Light // And guyde us right /
Eaven out of that darke Lande a.
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, As You Like It’s;
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
1575: Shakespeare taken out of school
What comes up must come down, & in 1575 John Shakespeare began to tighten his belt, pulling his eldest son out of school. Rowe tells us; ‘the narrowness of his Circumstances, and the want of his assistance at Home, forc’d his Father to withdraw him from thence.’ Confirmation of Shakespeare’s premature departure from grammar school is found in a pleasant eulogy made by Shakespeare’s fellow playwright, Ben Jonson, which reads, ‘and though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek, from thence to honour thee I would not seek.’ Later on in the 17th century, Thomas Fuller 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.’
1575: Shakespeare leaves Stratford
In 1575, two events conspired to propel the eleven-year-old Shakespeare out of his hometown. The first echoes the modern truanting teenager, whose idle, juvenile sporting lands them in trouble with the local authorities. In the case of Shakespeare, it was a spot of poaching that landed him in hot water, when according to Rev. Davies our young bard, ‘was much given to all unluckiness in stealing venison & rabbits, particularly from Sir Thomas Lucy, who had him oft whipt, & sometimes imprisoned, & at last made him fly from his native county to his great advancement.’ A transchispering remembrance of these incidents with Sir Thomas bubble to the surface in both Henry IV pt.2 & the Merry Wives of Windsor, in which a certain vain & self-delusional character known as Justice Shallow seems very much modelled on Lucy. Where Shallow says his coat-of-arms depicted ‘luces’, i.e the fish called pikes, so did the Lucy’s of Charlecote. This was not the first time that Lucy would inspire Shakespeare’s words, as discern’d from Rowe’s account of the poaching episode,
He had, by a Misfortune common enough to young Fellows, fallen into ill Company; and amongst them, some that made a frequent practice of Deer-stealing, engag’d him with them more than once in robbing a Park that belong’d to Sir Thomas Lucy of Cherlecot, near Stratford. For this he was prosecuted by that Gentleman, as he thought, somewhat too severely; and in order to revenge that ill Usage, he made a Ballad upon him. And tho’ this, probably the first Essay of his Poetry, be lost, yet it is said to have been so very bitter, that it redoubled the Prosecution against him to that degree, that he was oblig’d to leave his Business and Family in Warwickshire, for some time, and shelter himself in London
Rowe is here seguing into one story two known facts about Shakespeare’s early life, that he (i) left Stratford after getting into trouble & (ii) settled in London. Between these events I believe that Shakespeare did a lot more living. The trail begins in 1575, when Lancashire-born Simon Hunt gave up his post as Stratford schoolmaster after three years in the post.The First Douay-train’d Jesuits had arrive in England in 1574, cavorting from priest-hole to priest-hole, giving masses in secret to all the favorable nests of papistry. Arriving in Stratford, they struck had been struck to his holy Catholic core, who decided to enroll at the English College in Douay. Accompanying him was Stratford youth, Richard Debdale of Shottery, & also, we shall here conject, Shakespeare, whose early blossoming in the poetic arts, such as the Familist ballads & the satire pinned at Charlecote, marked him out as a special talent. This faculty for the Muses would have defined him as the perfect student for a certain Douay Jesuit called Edward Campion, who described the imbecabillity of writing poetry (but not love poetry) during one’s youthful studies, while at the same time becoming intimate with, ‘the majesty of Virgil, the festal grace of Ovid, the rythm of Horace, & the buskined speech of Seneca.’
1575: Shakespeare attends the English College in Douay
Douay was to be a fertile bedsoil in which our poetical prodigy suddenly found himself; heated & passionate rhetoric would have abounded on all sides, infiltrating our wee bard’s psyche with the rhythmic pulsations of intelligent conversazione. The academic atmosphere he found himself among is perfectly described by a grandee at the English College, Rev. Gregory Martin, who described how 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.
That the creative sponge of Shakespeare’s young mind was occupied by Douay is suggested by Cardinal Allen, who stated, ‘we preach in English, in order to acquire greater power and grace in the use of the vulgar tongue’. Of all those listening in 1575, there was one wide-eyed boy in a corner who was acquiring that very‘greater power & grace’ by the minute.
1576: Shakespeare returns to England
After a six-month stint at the English College, the intellectual capacity of our young bard would have been swollen no end. This period was one of the first stages of a 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 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. His departure from Douay, I believe, was with a certain Cuthbert Mayne, who had qualified as a Bachelor of Theology on the 7th February 1576. Two months later, on the 24 April 1576, Shakespeare turn’d twelve. The following day, Cuthbert Mayne set out for England with another priest called John Payne; & let us hyperfact Shaksepeare in that small party also. On arrival in England, Payne went to the South East, while Mayne & Shakespeare spent a short period in Cornwall. As we shall soon see, there is oblique evidence for them heading north to the relative safety of Catholic Lancashire.
1576: Edmund Spenser writes the Shepheard’s Calendar in East Lancashire
On graduating from Pembroke College in Cambridge, like any other student making their first steps into the world, Edmund Spenser went home. Proof comes from the contemporary gloss to the June eclogue of the Shepheard’s Calendar, Spenser’s first major work written in 1576. Provided by a certain ‘E.K.,’ the gloss describes Spenser as composing his poem among, ‘those hylles, that is the North countrye, where he dwelt,’ adding that after the poem’s composition Spenser removed, ‘out of the Northparts’ & then, ‘came into the south.’ According to the ‘Letterbook’ of Gabriel Harvey – the same gentleman to whom the Calendar is dedicated – Spenser’s home ‘shier ‘ is described as being, ‘the middle region of the verye English Alpes.’ It seems certain that the Lancashire sections of the Pennines are meant, which chain stretches from Cumberland down to Derbyshire.
It is while staying at Hurstwood, near Burnley, that Spenser created his sophisticated mini-masterpiece. The Shepheard’s Calendar is pregnant with a wide array of references, & the first real original English poetic production of any merit since Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Wishing to emulate the dorick transfusions as enacted by Theocritus in his own Roman pastorals, Spenser also daubed his creation with a great deal of the lilting local patter of East Lancashire. Where John Dryden describes Spenser as a,‘master of our northern dialect,’ Dr Grosart identified 550 words in the Calendar unique to East Lancashire & West Yorkshire. TT Wilkinson, in a speech to the Historic Society of Lancashire on January 10th 1867, listed forty-five words in that ‘folkspeech’ used by Spenser that were still in circulation in his day. As I can personally attest, some of these words have survived in the locality even 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 smugly winning manner
There is even a passage in the Calendar which shows how Spenser had come into contact with Sir John Townley, who is given a quiet cameo. We get the sense that Spenser is alluding to Sir John’s enforced silence in the face of a Protestant England, & that the Shepherds mentioned by Spenser are actually Catholic priests.
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.
In the Calendar, Hobbinol’s mentions of wastefull hylls, bogs & glens, invokes quite accurately the East Lancashire Pennine landscape. 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.
The publish’d poem contains a woodcut for each month, painted by the enigmatic ‘E.K.,’ whose pictorial accuracy is proclaimed by Spenser in a 1580 letter to Gabriel Harvey;
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.
When comparing the woodcuts with photographs I have made of Pendle from similar angles, even the staunchest opponents of Spenser coming from Lancashire must become visibly silent.
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.’
1576: Spenser encounters Shakespeare
While Spenser is writing his Calendar, it appears that Cuthbert Mayne & Shakespeare arrived in the area, most probably staying at the pro-Catholic Townley Hall. The previous year, in a letter written by Bishop Downham on the 1st Feb 1575 to the Privy Council, Sir John Townley is placed alongside other notables in Lancashire 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.’ That Townely was receiving Jesuit priests such as Cuthbert Mayne is suggested by Spenser’s August eclogue, where we see a certain Cuddy – northern dialect English for Cuthbert. With him are shepheards boyes’ called Perigot & Willye, who also conduct a rhymed discussion in the March eclogue. The youthful appearance of Willye clearly matches the 12-year-old Shakespeare. Spenser would even use the same nick-name for Shakespeare over a decade later, when referring to the bard in a poem known as The Tears of the Muses.
In the August eclogue, ‘Willye’ is speaking in a poetic form known as the Roundelay. This 24-line form had been devised in France only in 1570, & while in Douay a young & poetically minded Shakespeare would have been keen to have kept abreast of the latest developments in the poetic arts.
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.
1576 – Theaters spring up across London
While Shakespeare was in East Lancashire, three theaters were built just outside the city limits of London (a fourth, the Curtain, would be built in 1577), where beaurocratic regulations did not apply. The first to be erected was the Newington Butts Playhouse, a mile south of the Thames, which stodd roughly on the east side of Walworth Road near the junction with New Kent Road. The landlord was Richard Hickes, one of Queen Elizabeth’s bodyguards – the Yeomen of the Guard – most of whom were secret Familists. Hickes sublet the theatre on the 25th March 1576 to a certain Stratford man called Jerome Savage, described by his contemporary, Peter Hunningborne, as a, ‘verrie lewed fealowe’ who ‘liveth by noe other trade than playinge of staige plaies and Interlevde.’ Very much a man of the vernal Elizabethan theatre, Savage also ran a troupe of actors for the Earl of Warwick, known as Earl of Warwick’s Players.
Three weeks after the Newington Butts Playhouse began its life, a second permanent playhouse was erected at Shoreditch, called rather appropriately the ‘Theatre.’ Later that year, the third London dramahouse was built by court composer Richard Farrant, at Blackfriars, upon a section of the site of the monastery disolved by Henry VIII. Circular & made of wood, these theatres could comfortably hold several thousand people, who would drop a penny into a box (2 for a cushion) as they entered. Later on, this box would be taken to a room, the contents emptied & leading to the phrase ‘Box Office’ of modern theater. The atmosphere created by the circular auditorium, & the closeness of the audience, manifested itself into something akin to that of a modern football match – theater was now popular entertainment, when the lowest & the highest born would rub shoulders together for a couple of hours of fantasy & drama. Just as today, they would had their opinions as to what they were watching – some of the poorer actors & productions had abuse & rotten vegetables hurled at them.
1576 : The Protestant authorities came down hard on the Catholic Mystery Plays
The Mystery plays were 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.
This 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 performed in Wakefield was, May 17th 1576, was the ‘commonlie called corpus christi plaie,’ after which the Mysteries were never heard in the town again.
1577 : Shakespeare works on the Towneley Manuscript
While at Townley Hall, Shakesepare & Spenser are given the task of copying various Catholic ‘Miracle Plays’ recently banned by the Government. A manuscript was prepared which stored the entire cycle of 32 plays for posterity, with the press-mark on the first page of the only manuscript stating Christopher Townley (1604-74) was the owner of the book. I believe his father, Sir John, was the instrumental force behind preserving the plays for the Townleys & the other twenty or so recusant families in & around the Burnley area.
The anonymous author 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 Shrogeys – 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 unique mansucript was sold by auction in 1814, & is now housed at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California, & it just so happens to contain the handwriting of William Shakespeare. This is evinced by the matches on the MS with the three & a half letters on Shakespeare’s will – 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. These letters were written in 1616, four decades after the Townley MS was created, yet individual handwriting styles are set in stone at an early stage, & linger throughout one’s life.
Of the 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 taking into consideration that four decades would have passed between the inscriptions.
Shakespeare’s ‘By Me’
The presence of some North Midland forms, rather than the northern forms, supports the Warwickshire-born Shakespeare as working on the manuscript. Spenser may have assisted at some point, 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. A remembrance of Spenser’s his time with the Towneley manuscript seems to have inspired the Despair episode of his Faerie Queene, which contains the almost identical essence of the Cycle’s Hanging of Judas.
While working on the Cycle, we can see how Shakespeare was to be profoundly affected by the Mystery Plays. In later years, Gloucester’s blinding in King Lear appears very much like the brutal treatement of Christ found in the Towneley Cycle, where Caiaphas is stricken with an overwhelming desire to put out the eyes of Christ: ‘Nay, but I shall out-thrist / Both his een on a raw.’ Highlighting another Shakespeare-Cycle connection, Glynne Wickham, referring to the Cycle’s ‘Deliverance of Souls,’ 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… it was Rybald in the Towneley ‘Deliverance’ who cried out to Belzabub on hearing Christ’s trumpets at Hell-gate
… come ne,
ffor hedusly I hard hym call
Thunder, cacophony, screams & groans were the audible emblems of Lucifer & hell on the medieval stage. Those same aural emblems colour 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.’
Shakespeare would continue to be influenced throughout his career by the Mysteries motifs. Dramatic actions; the providential structurality of history; the emblemeatic allusions to moralties such as Time, Death & the Wheel of Fortune; all appear in some form or another. The Mysteries were also bloody, visceral affairs; in the mid-seventeenth century the preacher, John Shaw, remembers seeing in his childhood, a Corpus Christi play, where there was a, ‘man on a tree, & blood ran down.’ Such gruesome scenes would permeate Shakespeare’s own work.
1577 : Shepheard’s Play performed at Chester
Despite being banned in Yorkshire the previous year, one of the Mystery plays was performed in Chester in 1577.Archdeacon Rogers upon Chester recorded (Harl. MS. 1944)
1577, the Earle of Darbie did lye 2 nightes at his [the mayor of Chester’s] house; the Shepheardes play, was played a the highe crosse, with other triumphes
Accompanying the 4th Earl that day was his son Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange. If this particular version of the Shephearde’s Play was taken from the Townley MS, we gain our first possible theatrical connection between the Stanleys & Shakespeare.
1577: Shakespeare goes to London
In 1576, Sir John Townley was imprisoned once again for his stubborn devotion to recusancy. The authorities were coming down hard on the Catholics in Lancashire, forcing Cuthbert Mayne to return to Cornwall where he would be arrested in Probus, June 1577. For Shakespeare, the flight from Lancashire occurred with the assistance of Sir John’s half-brother, Alexander Nowell, under whose wings he now found himself at the tender age of 13. To the modern world, Alexander Nowell should be immortally famous as the first man to discover the benefits of bottling beer. In his own day, however, he was more famous for being the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, & by proxy the ultimate boss of the St Pauls Boys troupe of actors. Their leader was a certain Sebastian Westcott, the cathedral’s organist who had converted the site’s Almoner’s hall into a playhouse.
‘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. In the Repertories of the Court of Common Council (December 8th 1575), a complaint was lodged against Westcott, who was 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. The anonymity of a cosmoplitan city was a far safer place to practise one’s secret Catholocism, a far cry from the whispering heaths of the hilly north country.
We may ask the question how Westcott vould get away with being a Catholic, despite being a very public figure in the heart of the nation’s heart-beat. An explanation comes through Queen Elizabeth’s secret leniency towards the Familists, among whom the yeomen of her personal guard were to be counted. The only time he got into trouble for recusancy was in 1577, when he was imprisoned in the Marshalsea. Luckily for him, 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.
1577: Shakespeare writes a poem for John Grange
The London that Shakespeare came to as a boy held 300,000 inhabitants, cramming into two-storey timber houses with high, gabled red rooves. Most of London lay upon the north bank of the river, but there was also Southwerke, connected to London via a single bridge across the Thames, the original London Bridge. Not far away rose the first Saint Paul’s Cathedral, stood only a stone’s throw from the Inns of Court where a certain John Grange, a ‘Student in the Common Lavve of Englande,’ was making his studies in 1577. Shakespeare would have already met John Grange the previous year in Douay, where recognizing our young poet’s talents Grange asked Shakespeare to add a few lines of poetry to his 1577 book of prose & poetry, The Golden Aphroditis.
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.
Here we can see a marked development of Shakespeare’s poetry. It is still Juvenilian, yes, but is starting to expand in scope & metre. Some scholars have wondered whether W.S. was William Shakespeare based upon the juvenilian feel to the poem, but its sheer earliness has left many doubters. Yet, if another illustrious, epoch-breaking genius such as Mozart could have composed Apollo et Hyacinthus, at the age of 11, & Bastien und Bastienne at twelve, the Golden Aphroditis poem was well within the capabilities of the world’s finest poet. We may even see the young Shakespeare being described by Grange in a little anecdote appertaining to the title of his work, where ‘certen young 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.’
1577: Shakespeare gets a job in the London theaters
Shakespeare’s first entry into the London theatre scene could be connected to Cibber’s comment that, ‘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.’ In his Prolegomena to Shakespeare (1765), the megalithic literary giant of 18th century Britain, Dr Samuel Johnson, recalled a long-standing tradition that Shakespeare’s first taste of the London theatre world was holding the horses of the playgoers, something of the nature of a modern-day car-park attendant.
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.
The ‘terrour of a criminal prosecution’ experienced by Shakespeare was not the Charlecote incident, but was instead connected to his & his Lancashire hosts’ Catholicism. That horses were needed to attend the theatre points towards the Newington Butts Playhouse ran by Jerome Savage, situated more than a mile to the south of the Thames. The main patron of the theatre was the Earl of Warwick, suggesting Shakespeare got the job through familial or social connections based in Stratford. These backscratching links would run deep, for Jerome’s nephew, Thomas Savage, would in 1599 take a part share in the Globe Theatre alongside Shakespeare. Thomas Savage owned two houses which we may offer Shakesperean connections; a house in the parish of St Olave Silver Street, the same locality in which Shakespeare lodged for a time in Silver Street at the house of Christopher Mountjoy; & another which was occupied by the actor John Heminges, who also edited the First Folio.
1579: Shakespeare commences his acting career
The timing of Shakespeare’s arrival in London, at just that point in history when stage-crafted drama was beginning its primal blossoming, was impeccable in the sweetest sense. The burgeoning dramaturgy 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. Aubrey tells us that Shakespeare eventually outgrew his horse-tending job, & reinvented himself as an actor; ‘this William, being inclined naturally to Poetry and acting, came to London… and was an Actor at one of the Play-houses, and did acte exceedingly well.’ That Shakespeare was a boy actor left an indelible imprint on his his art. According to Stanley Wells & Sarah Stanton, ‘Shakespeare’s 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 & another in Ceasar, young Martius in Coriolanus, William Page in Merry Wives, & many anonymous pages in other plays.’ It must be noted that int he same year that Shakespeare began to act, his Stratford nieghbour 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.
1580: Shakespeare goes to Lancashire
Throughout the 1570s, a series of Anti-familist trachts had galivinsed popular opinion against the group. Come 1580, the Elizabethan government began to crack down against the Familists, which may have been the trigger for the Earl of Warwick’s pulling out of London for ‘health reasons.’ Also that year we see the disappearance of Jerome Savage from London, most likely connected to the Earl of Warwick’s departure. 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 had returned to London. His departure from London, however, provides a missing piece of the jigsaw of Shakespeare’s early years. I believe that the now 16-year-old Shakespeare. went north with Jerome, staying with Jthe latter’s brother, Geoffrey Savage, who had married into the minor gentry of Lancashire. His wife was Jennet Hesketh of Rufford Old Hall, near Preston, the illigitimate sister of a minor gentryman called Thomas Hesketh, described as ‘bastard brethren’ in his will.
While staying in that part of Lancashire, Shakespeare was introduced into the service of a neighbour of the Heskeths, Alexander Hoghton. Other neighbours, at Dilworth in Ribchester, were the Cottam family, of whom John, perhaps not so suprisingly, had become the headmaster of Stratford Grammar School in 1579. It seems that Shakespeare’s hometown was being used a secret sanctuary for the Jesuit Reconquista, with the Shakespeares very much a part of the chain, for John’s brother, Thomas, was training to be a Jesuit priest during the very period that Shakespeare was in Douay. Indeed, when Thomas Cottam was arrested at in May 1580, he was on his way to Shottery near Stratford with messages for the Debdale family from Shakespeare’s schoolmate, Robert Debdale, now a seminarian in Rome.
1580 – Shakespeare receives the Jesuit New Testament
In 1580 a couple of the Douay big-hitters were in England preaching the cause, namely Robert Parsons & Edward Campion. Three decades later Parsons would be associated with Shakespeare by historian John Speed (The Theater of the Empire of Great Britain 1611), as ‘this papist and his poet.’ Parsons’ father-in-law was an Arden, & related to Shakespeare, while his wife was a Throckmorton, recusants who lived 8 miles from Stratford. With Parsons & Campion came copies of a freshly translated version of the New Testament known as the Douay-Rheims. When in June 1581, William Allen, rector of the English College at Rheims wrote to Alphonsus Agazarri at the English College in Rome, reporting that Father Robert Parsons in England, ‘wants three or four thousand or more of the testaments, for many people desire to have them.’ These would be distributed throughout England en masse in 1582.
The Douay-Rheims contains great deal of latinized English words, a fore-runner of Shakespeare’s own etymylogical experiments in the language. Nassed Shaheen lists; ‘supererogate for spend more; prefnition of worlds for eternal purpose; exin-anited for made himself of no reputation; depositum for that which is committed; neophyte for novice & prescience for foreknowledge.’ 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 as ‘the cockle of rebellion.’ 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 Shakespeare & the Rheims. That Shakespeare used this as well as protestant versions such as the Geneva has always baffled scholars, but with Shakespeare’s upbringing being influenced by the non-sectarian Familists, he would have used both texts freely without pricking his religious conscience.
Clara Longworth de Chambrun’s Shakespeare Rediscovered (Scribner’s, 1938) : “A small circumstance, but one of singular interest, indicates that when William Shakespeare made use of the Parable of the Sowers from the Gospel of St. Matthew he had the Reims translation in mind, and not either the socalled ‘Breeches’ or ‘Bishops’ Bible. Though verbal, the evidence is striking. Down to the present day all Protestant Bibles employ the word tares in speaking of the ill-weeds sown among the wheat, whereas the Catholic texts use cockle. Now, in the whole course of Shakespeare’s work the word tares is never found, but when he recalls the parable of the sowers the word cockle appears in its place, as in the Reims translation. . . . In Love’s Labour’s Lost we find : ‘Sowed cockle reaps no corn,’ and again in Coriolanus the same term appears in similar connection : ‘That cockle of Rebellion, Insolence, Sedition, Which we ourselves have ploughed for, sowed and scattered.'”
1580 – Edward Campion visits Lancashire
In 1580, Edward Campion stayed at Lapworth Park in Warwickshire, the seat of Sir William Catesby, a friend of John Shakespeare. On reaching Lancashire he stayed at the home of Alexander Houghton’s brother, Richard. The Jesuit was in the Hoghton-Hesketh locality in order to use the libraries of the Catholic noblemen to prepare tracts with which he could 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,’ which lay in the Hoghton libraries.
Campion’s influence on Shakespeare may be traced through our bard’s familiarity with the Mulberry tree in plays such as Coriolanus and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. One wonders how such an exotic and rare specimen, introduced to England by Queen Elizabeth or James I depending on which story is to be believed, would find its way into the imagery of the rustic bard Shakspeare writing in London surrounded by the dirt and grime of city streets. Later, when he retired to Stratford, he is rumoured to have planted a specimen which was later chopped down by a subsequent owner of “ New Place”. Campion also wrote a poem on the nature of the human soul. subject in Latin called De Anima, a concept which finds its way into such plays as Twelfth Night, Hamlet and Troilus and Cressida.
1580: John Shakespeare fined
There is an 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.
1580: The Capture of Campion
Campion was soon enough caught by the authorities, followed not long after by Thomas Cottam, leading to the Stratford council’s sacking of John Cottam from his post at the Kings School. By 1581, Catholocism would be banned outright in England, & with the execution of Campion, the Jesuit Reconquista of England was dead-in-the-water. If Shakespeare was involved in the Jesuit cause, this was the time he would have buried his head in the sand, the brutal beheadings of Campion & co. putting him off any public outpourings of pro-Catholicism for the rest of his life. Yet, we do hear a faint echo of Campion’s Trial Speech in The Winter’s Tale;
Since what I am to say must be but that Which contradicts my accusation and The testimony on my part no other But what comes from myself, it shall scarce boot me To say ‘Not guilty’. (4.3..2)
1581 – The English government comes down hard on the Familists
In 1581 a bill was introduced for the ‘punishment of the Hereticks called the Family of Love… 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.‘ About this time the Queen’s Familist bodyguard are removed, while the rest 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…’
1581 – Alexander Houghton names Shakespeare in his will
Alexander Hoghton was a clear recusant, whose brother, Thomas, had helped to fund the English College in Douay. His will is of great interest to us, dated August 3rd 1581, attended by John Cottam, who was an actual legate attending Alexander Houghton’s will. The timing of the will-making is important. Three days earlier, on July 31st Campion, finally gave up his secrets on the rack, while 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.’ It was in this quite uncertain climate that Hoghton made his will. In it we obtain a rare glimpse of the young Shakespeare.
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 Shakespeare’s variant family name, EAJ Honigmann observed that in the Court rolls of College St Mary in Warwick (1541-42), the poet’s grandfather, Richard, ‘seems to be both Shakstaff and Shakeschafte, as well as Shakspere …in the Snitterfield manor records.’ That this ‘Shakeshafte’ is considered to be a ‘player,’ fits perfectly with our young bard having just strutted his stuff on the London boards. . 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.
Fulk Gyllome and his father, Thomas Gyllome, were from an old family of pageant organisers. The Gyllome’s were responsible for producing the mystery plays in Chester, which I have already flagged up as interesting in 1577.
1581: Shakespeare & the Heskeths
If the young Shakespeare was working as William Shakeshaft in Lancashire, his job would have been very much like that of a musician on a modern cruise-liner, & Shakespeare’s wages were probably sent home to Stratford to support his father’s growing family – another son, Edmund, was born in 1580, bringing the total number of dependancies to six. 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 Thomas Hesketh’s seat at Rufford Old Hall.
It is here that we find ourselves a significant step closer to William Stanley & the Grand Tour. The Hesketh’s were the noble neighbours of the Stanleys, that great northern court of Elizabethan England, whose seat at Lathom Hall, near Ormskirk, was a stone’s throw from Rufford. 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 in that period. 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, which reinforces the idea of our Shakespeare being connected to the Catholic north where Alexander Nowell’s mother, Douse, was also a Hesketh.
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. Alongside literary paeans such as that on the death of Stanley’s brother, Ferdinando, Weever 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.
1582 Debdale returns to Shottery
In September 1581 a young woman called Anne Hathaway became evidently more attractive, for her father left a clause in his will giving her £6 13s 4d if and when she married. Of Shakespeare’s wife-to-be, Rowe tells us she, ‘was the Daughter of one Hathaway, said to have been a substantial Yeoman.’ The Hathaways were from Shottery, a hamlet close to Stratford, as was Richard Debdale who had gone with Shakespeare to Douay in 1575. On Debdale’s return to England in 1580, he was immediately arrested & imprisoned for two years, being discharged on the 10th September 1582. Going home directly home to Shottery, he would have arrived on September 12th or 13th, whose homecoming party the young Shakespeare may have attended. Doing the natal maths on ovulation dates & periods & stuff, if Shakespeare & Anne got down to it at this occasion for festivity, then any babies thay had conceived in a drunken corner of party would have been due roundabout the 5th June. This virginial moment was surely remembered when he wrote of the seven stages of life in As You Like It;
At first the Infant
Mewling and puking in the Nurse’s Arms:
And then, the whining School-boy with his Satchel,
And shining Morning-face, creeping like Snail
Unwillingly to School. And then the Lover
Sighing like Furnace, with a woful Ballad
Made to his Mistress’ Eye-brow.
A possible glimpse into the budding love of Shakespeare & Anne Hathaway can be found in Shakespeare’s sonnets. Printed in 1609 – when he was forty-five – they are a compilation of both individual poems & sequences written throughout his early years. Of these, sonnet 145 sticks out like a sore thumb, both technically & artistically. Although fine enough verse, when compared to the other masterpieces in the collection, Andrew Gurr calls it, ‘arguably the worst of all the Shakespeare sonnets.’ Sonnet 145 is written in a different meter to the rest (Iambic Tetrameter), while the versification, vocabulary, syntax & stylistics seem less mature. It reads;
Those lips that Love’s own hand did make
Breathed forth the sound that said “I hate”
To me that languished for her sake.
But when she saw my woeful state,
Straight in her heart did mercy come,
Chiding that tongue that, ever sweet,
Was used in giving gentle doom,
And taught it thus anew to greet:
“I hate” she altered with an end
That followed it as gentle day
Doth follow night, who like a fiend
From heaven to hell is flown away.
“I hate” from hate away she threw,
And saved my life, saying “not you.”
Gurr proposed this sonnet was actually written for Anne Hathaway, noticing a possible pun in ‘hate away’ & Hathaway, while ‘and saved my life’ was a phonetic match to ‘Anne saved my life.‘ The editor of Gurr’s essay, FW Bateson, adds, ‘in Stratford in 1582 Hathaway & hate-away would have been a very tolerable pun.’ With Shakespeare’s name appearing elsewhere as ‘Shagspere,’ pronunced with a short vowel like the ‘a’ in cat, we can see how the Warwickshire vowel lengths were interchangeable, & that Hathaway could easily have become Hate-away. If Shakespeare is writing this sonnet to Anne, we can see how he had developed a teenage crush for her, after which he, ‘languished for her sake.’ His advances seem to have at first been spurned, gaining a few verbal backlashes from Anne’s, ‘tongue that, ever sweet / Was used in giving gentle doom.’ The sonnet then describes how Anne, seeing his ‘woeful sake’ seems to have taken pity on the pining lad, when, ‘in her heart did mercy come.’
Nov 1582 – Shakespeare marries Anne Hathaway
Like any any other 18-year-old, Shakespeare had found a great romance in his earliest carnal occasions, a romantic dalliance which had resulted in Anne’s pregnancy. As soon as she began to show, a rapid wedding between the two youngsters was organised. The Episcopal register at Worcester, dated to November 28th, 1582, gives us a record of the marriage.
The condicion of this obligacion ys suche that if herafter there shall not appere any Lawfull Lett or impediment by reason of any precontract consanguinitie affinitie or by any other lawfull meanes whatsoeuer but that William Shagspere on thone partie, and Anne Hathwey of Stratford in the Dioces of Worcester maiden may lawfully solennize matrimony together and in the same afterwardes remaine and continew like man and wiffe according vnto the lawes in that behalf prouided
Six months later, the baptism record tells us that Shakespeares’ first child, Susanna, was christened on May 26th, 1583.
1584: Shakespeare joins the Earl of Derby
Just as Shakespeare’s twins were about to take their earliest gulps of natural air the 4th Earl of Derby, & just about half of the Lancashire nobility, were readying themselves for an epic visit to the court of the French King. Having connected Shakespeare to the Stanleys of Lathom Hall through their neighbours, the Heskeths, this presents us with the perfect opportunity to pack Shakespeare & Stanley off together to the Continent, as parts of the great entourage accompanying the Earl of Derby to Paris. His mission was to present the French King the Order of the Garter on behalf of Queen Elizabeth, which was an event of extreme magnitude in those days. There are several manuscripts extant which contain a list of the leading members of the company, where unfortunately neither Shakespeare nor Stanley are mentioned in the retinue. However, our Bard may have been one of the un-named servants listed alongside the gentry, & there was a steward present called Thomas Arderne – the very cousin of Shakespeare’s mother, Mary! As for William Stanley, he would probably been the list’s ‘Stanley of Chelsea,’ for in later years he is known to have lived in that part of London.
January 1585: Shakespeare’s twins are born
In January 1585, Shakespeare’s twins, Hamnet & Judith arrived in the world, named after Shakespeare’s friends & neighbours in Stratford. They were baptised on the 2nd February, 1585, on occasion which was missed by their father, who was now in France with the Earl of Derby. It would be almost 3 years before he would hold his twins in his arms. In the thre intyening years I believe that Shakespeare made meticuolous notes concerning his journeying, a great deal of which would find its way into his plays. ‘Let him carry with him also some card, or book,’ suggested Sir Francis Bacon to the young travelers of the age, ‘describing the country where he travelleth, which will be a good key to his inquiry; let him not stay long in one city or town, more or less as the place deserveth, but not long: nay, when he stayeth in one city or town, let him change his lodging from one end and part of the town to another, which is a great adamant of acquaintance.
Next Wednesday, 14/03/18
Chapter 8: Shakespeare’s Blossom
Chapter 1: The Exodus
Chapter 2: The Aryan Invasion
Chapter 3: The Mahabharata
Chapter 4: Agastya
Chapter 5: The Picts
Chapter 6: Brunanburh
Chapter 7: The Young Shakespeare
Chapter 8: Shakespeare’s Blossom
Chapter 9: The Badon Babel Tree
Chapter 10: The Saxon Advent
THE CHISPER EFFECT
Chapter 1: Chispology
Chapter 2: Princess Scota
Chapter 3: The Ithica Frage
Chapter 4: The Jesus Jigsaw
Chapter 5: Asvaghosha
Chapter 6: Dux Bellorum
Chapter 7: Dux Pictorum
Chapter 8: The Holy Grail
Chapter 9: The Mandylion
Chapter 10: Shakespeare’s Grand Tour
Chapter 11: The Dark Lady
Chapter 12: The Ripper Gang