Shakespeare Re-invented (1 to 4)

Shakespeare Re-invented


A journey through 400 years of fantasy

by Keith Browning

Tudor Rose

A total new genre – this is a work of ‘friction’

I’m sure it will upset everyone..!!

© 21st December 2012

Updated April 2016


The latest version was published in book format in April 2016 – also available as a PDF – use links above to make a purchase.


Note to my readers:

There are four sections to Shakespeare Re-invented, accessed from the menu to the right. The index to chapter headings is available above, but if you want to search for a particular name or topic I suggest you go to the relevant section and then use the Ctrl F(find) key on your computer. I am gradually adding hyperlinks but this is a monumental task and would have seriously delayed publication.

My narrative builds steadily, but not always vertically, from the ‘Prologue’ before blossoming with a final flourish in the final two chapters. Those of you already experts in the Shakespeare genre may want to cut to the chase and go directly to the chapters of special interest to you. That is your perogative, but be aware that each chapter holds essential pieces of the jigsaw and builds on what has gone before. The majority of the people and places has an important ‘pre-history’ which has significance in the creation of the story of William Shakespeare.

This work includes hundreds of ‘new facts’, many of which aren’t actually ‘new’ at all, just overlooked, ignored or discarded by current literary scholarship. It would help if you can sweep away much of what you know already about the Bard of Avon and his works, but I am realistic enough to realise this is impossible, so instead I just request you try to keep an open mind.

Thankyou and good luck – enjoy the journey.




‘There’s something in the air’

It was in the summer of 2009, that my friends and loved ones became somewhat bemused, by my sortie into the world of William Shakespeare, an obsession which seems to have taken control of my life these past few years. However, it was my wife, Zildeni, who came up with a possible solution, realising the answer must be connected to Sherlock Holmes. He has always been my favourite literary figure, and to support her suggestion, several adventures of Conan Doyle’s great creation, were crafted only a few hundred yards away from where we were sitting, in my father’s home, in Grayshott.

Arthur Conan Doyle built his home, ‘Undershaw’, beside the crossroads at Hindhead, Surrey, where he lived for a decade, at the beginning of the 20th century. ‘Undershaw’ was where he wrote his best known mystery, ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’, and where he succumbed to the demands of his admiring public, and resurrected the great detective, after his tumble into the abyss at the Reichenbach Falls.

Even closer to my keyboard, and only a cricket ball throw away from my father’s home, lived the Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw. These two great authors and literary rivals, creators of Henry Higgins, Eliza Doolittle, Holmes and Watson, came to breathe the bracing air of the Surrey Hills, and so escape the choking smogs of Victorian London.

This extraordinary literary connection to Grayshott parish continues, as both Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Flora Thompson, of ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’ fame, both spent time enjoying the soporific benefits of this otherwise unremarkable village. To complete the wordsmith theme, the village now claims as one of its own, Colin Firth, the 21st century darling of the silver screen, who was born in the village, before his parents moved the family on to warmer climes.


‘Undershaw’, Conan Doyle’s home at Hindhead from 1897 to 1907 – © Undershaw Preservation Trust

The creation of this Shakespeare saga began in North Portugal, in the seaside town of Póvoa de Varzim, another fresh air paradise, this one face to face with the Atlantic Ocean. Póvoa also has a great literary tradition and was the home of several 19th and 20th century Portuguese writers. The best known of these is Eça de Queiroz, who has been ranked alongside Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy as one of the most influential European authors of the period. Remarkably, as this story develops, Póvoa de Varzim wears other historical hats that help to pull the various threads of the plot together.

Queiroz statue

Memorial to Eça de Queiroz in Póvoa de Varzim – photo KHB

 My own literary education began in the 1960s, at the Royal Grammar School, in Guildford, during the period when scholastic merit in the 11-plus examination was the only entry point. The school was originally a creation of the Tudor period, and so my early education had historic links with Shakespeare’s times. However, I feel a deep sense of chagrin, because I wasn’t one of the more diligent pupils at this scholarly establishment, and certainly not a fan of English literature. I can only recall reading one Shakespeare play, ‘Twelfth Night’, and I remember being mightily confused by men playing women playing men, or was it the other way round? Apart from a number of cameo performances in the mathematics classroom, my most meaningful scholastic achievements were mustered on the school’s rugby fields, and on their undulating, grassy, athletics tracks.


Old School Building – RGS Guildford, after restoration in 1965     © Colin Smith

Shakespeare did take my interest much later in life, when in 2005; I had the great slice of luck to be part of the audience at the Globe Theatre, to witness Mark Rylance’s final appearance, as lead actor and artistic director. The atmosphere for this performance of ‘Measure for Measure’ was electric, as everyone in the celebratory crowd seemed to be a Shakespeare diehard, there to salute Mark’s creative achievements and wish him a fond farewell. That was probably the best five pounds, (plus the obligatory £1 booking fee), that I have ever spent on an evening’s entertainment. Quite fabulous..!!

Mark Rylance at the Globe

Mark Rylance – taking the applause at the Globe Theatre – courtesy MR

My lack of Shakespearean expertise in attempting this monumental task is compensated for in a variety of other ways. I bring to the table sixty years of life experiences in a number of contrasting disciplines and most recently in the field of family history research. In genealogy, I seem to have found my vocation, mixing my love of history, geography, jigsaws and detective fiction into one hobby. I have a naturally curious, cantankerous disposition, (the more generous would call it an inquisitive streak), as I frequently charge off, chasing new leads that no-one else has spotted. This could be interpreted as taking an ‘Indiana Jones’ approach to genealogy, not the studious, more methodical approach of a librarian or an archivist.

This can sometimes be seen as a simplistic approach, but it is often the first paragraph of a book or the first few seconds of a television drama that present the best clues and point directly to the guilty party. I frequently use ‘Terry Wogan’s Law’, to help solve the mystery, ‘forget the plot, or the clues, it’s probably the most famous actor who dunit’.

Read on, to discover whether any of these simple techniques, has helped me to RE-INVENT the life and works of the world’s most famous writer, William Shakespeare.


William Shakespeare – never heard of him?                 Shakespeare               

For those of you who have reached your own particular stage of life, without hearing too much about the man regarded as the ‘World’s Greatest Playwright’, here are a few notes to get you started.

William Shakespeare was born in the year 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, a small Midland town, about 100 miles north of London. His life was lived during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) and King James I (1603-1625), during some of the most dramatic moments in English history. This was a time of great changes in society, a time of conflict between the Catholic and Protestant faiths, and decisive debates between the old medieval world and the new scientific discoveries that were to create the modern society we know today. The Spanish Armada of 1588 was defeated and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, proved to be equally unsuccessful in toppling the English Crown. These were two of the notable battles between the forces of Rome and the Church of England.

 This religious rivalry ran in parallel with the early flowering of the English language, which brought romantic poetry and the new genre of the stage play. William Shakespeare’s plays and poems arrived during this time, first appearing on the stage in the early 1590s and they continued to be performed and published over the next thirty years. His works, initially, appeared in haphazard fashion and the plays never came together, in one place, until 1623, when a compendium of plays was published, one now known as the ‘First folio’ – the official title being ‘Mr William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies’.

BUT… and it’s a very big BUT…everything is not what it seems and there have long been doubts about the authenticity of the work of William of Stratford, the Bard of Avon.

There is a notable organisation, the Shakespeare Authorship Trust, with an eminent list of patrons, who all believe there is ‘reasonable doubt’ whether a man called Shakespeare or even a man from Stratford-upon-Avon, ever became involved in writing a play or a poem.

They say the writer, whoever they were, must have had:-

‘extensive knowledge of law, philosophy, classical literature, ancient and modern history, mathematics, astronomy, art, music, medicine, horticulture, heraldry, military and naval terminology and tactics; etiquette and manners of the nobility; English, French and Italian court life; Italy; and aristocratic pastimes such as falconry, equestrian sports and royal tennis’.   (Shakespeare Authorship Trust)

This must have been a very special person to have possessed all these rare skills and lived such a full and colourful life into the bargain…!!

I have had a life-long love of history, but my detailed knowledge of Tudor and Jacobean literature was very limited before I began this project. That shortfall has now improved markedly, having followed up tens of thousands of references, with the internet providing a substantial portion of the information. The professors of the dusty tomes may immediately call foul and denigrate my sources, because I haven’t spent decades leafing through yellowing volumes of obscure publications. I liken their criticism to the camera buffs who, less than 20 years ago, said the digital camera would never catch on.

By approaching the Shakespeare authorship debate from a different direction, I have also not been constrained by the prejudices of many involved in Shakespeare scholarship. My original thoughts about the Shakespeare conundrum were naïve in the extreme and every day I expected to be black-balled in my research. Instead, each freshly unearthed fact has cemented my innovative thoughts rather than subverted them. That has been the pattern since day one of this epic and has continued right through to the end, as each section has been revised and checked for accuracy.

My methodology has been simply to follow a trail from one clue to the next, beginning with the most secure facts and moving on from there. Inevitably there has been some speculation and conjecture in places, but nothing has had to be conjured from thin air. There are so many inter-connecting and confirming threads that it hasn’t been necessary.

To my innocent eyes, this Shakespeare detective mystery seems riddled with doubt as to whether the son of a glove-maker from Stratford-upon-Avon was the author of the ‘great works’ attributed to him. His world followed the M40 corridor to London, so how did he write with such knowledge and passion about people who lived in grand palaces or in more distant lands?

Shakespeare’s ardent supporters say he was a good reader and took ideas from many other writers, whilst his detractors say that if his writing abilities were so influential, why is there no acknowledgement from his peers that he wrote anything at all. There are no signs of any original manuscripts or even contemporary copies of his work, whilst his death, in 1616, was not commemorated by anyone in the literary world. Equally disinterested were his surviving family members, who played no obvious part in proceedings, when his folio of collected works was published, some seven years later?

If William Shakespeare didn’t write his words then who did?

Was the REAL author a single individual or, perhaps, an ensemble of writers? Whoever it was, just like four teenage boys who began humming tunes in a small bedroom, in Liverpool, the creators of the Shakespeare ‘persona’ had no idea what they were about to unleash on the wider world.


Serge de Nîmes – all in the blue genes

Family history research has become one of the ‘must do’ recreations for my ‘hula-hoop’ generation of 1950s ‘baby boomers’. The same people who wore loons and hot pants in the 70s, holidayed in Disney World, Florida in the 80s, now spend much of their spare time researching the antics of dead relatives. The more adventurous family genealogists spend days drooling over fading parchment in County Record Offices, or squinting at crumbling gravestones in the church, where their family worshipped over 200 years ago. The majority, though, are content to trawl through the millions of census and parish records, now available on computer search engines, or perhaps send unsolicited emails to potential relatives, who might now live anywhere from Timbuktu to Tuscaloosa to Tunbridge Wells.
The hobby usually begins as a mild curiosity, with the researcher trying to discover just a little about the antics of grandparents, who always kept their past very much to themselves. Curiosity, then leads to the search for information about a mysterious ‘uncle’, who used to be a frequent visitor to your home, when you were a child (nod, nod, wink, wink..!). High on the agenda, also, is to find an explanation for the choice of your relative’s, strange, middle name, one that doesn’t fit, sensibly, into your family tree.

Finally the hunt is on for the money.

Did the family ever have any?

What happened to it?

Can we (I) still claim a share (the lot)?

When the odd skeleton has been exhumed and the treasure chest proves to be empty, the hunt switches to the more fanciful, and the search for a connection to someone famous. Are you related to a film star, a Prime Minister, or perhaps a famous writer? The current fad is to look for a link into the family tree of William the Conqueror. This, seemingly, well defined 1000 year line of descent includes the Royal family of England and Scotland, as well as most of the crowned heads of Europe.

To connect your own family of forelock tugging peasants, to the elitist, ‘blue-bloods’, you need to find a ‘gateway’ person, where the third or fourth son of a minor nobleman married the daughter of the estate steward or local cloth merchant, and disappeared into the middle of Worcestershire, to tend sheep or perhaps, paint the occasional landscape. Equally, there were many noble ladies, sixth or seventh in the family pecking order, who needed a home and a husband and sometimes found one with the estate stonemason or the local schoolmaster.

My own family research has covered all of the above and much more. I have found plenty of wayward uncles and some extremely wayward aunties, whose activities in Victorian England contrast wildly with the ‘prim and proper’ image portrayed by my grandparents. The ‘Swinging Sixties’ was really the 1860s and Queen Victoria wouldn’t have been amused, if she had known what her subjects were really up to, on the chaise longue, hiding behind those, ubiquitous, lace curtains.

In the search for my ancestors, I uncovered brave soldiers, evangelical socialists and incestuous cousins, recently discovering a relation, who was one of England’s first lady ‘aeroplanists’. Her fragile flying machine bore a striking resemblance to one of those elaborate rotary washing lines, which infested suburban gardens, before tumble dryers became the norm. Despite her adventurous spirit, Edith Meeze lived to be only a month shy of her 100th birthday, which suggests that if we choose our genes carefully and with a little luck, we all have a chance of reaching that magic three figures.

Meeze first flying lesson

Edith Meeze takes her first flying lesson, at Hendon, in 1910

I also found my ‘gateway’ person, into William the Conqueror’s line of descent. I am a sixth cousin to the Royal brother’s, William and Harry, (yes them), thanks to the lusty son of an Earl, who had a romp in the harvest festival hay with my great, great grandmother. The complexity of the administrative cover-up of this ignoble affair, rivalled Nixon’s Watergate, but after a spate of Sherlock style sleuthing, the truth was finally exposed, after 163 years. That was one of my most rewarding searches, taking plenty of dedication and a fair share of luck, to sort out who did what to whom, where and when. Deciphering small clues, like a single word on a photograph, and following up several unlikely hunches, helped solve that particular puzzle. This was more like a Rubik’s Cube than a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle, both of which would be familiar to my hula-hoop generation.

The huge jigsaw puzzle came later, when I started to trace the family of my paternal grandmother, Annie Jaggar. This was already the best researched branch of my genealogical tree, as various cousins had been hunting our ancestors for over forty years. Everyone, including a professional researcher, had drawn a blank prior to 1805, when William Jagger, a coachman, baptised his first child in St Mary’s Church, Marylebone, in London. This son, Henry Jagger, became the first of four generations of master coopers, and his working life was spent in an Oxford brewery, where he was recorded in the official records as ‘Jaggars’ and then ‘Jaggar’, giving three ‘official spellings, in under thirty years.

Making sense of those and other spelling variations is the reason you are reading this story today. This is, really, when wonderful things began to appear, and with little or no effort or intention on my part. I could never have imagined that chasing down a few mis-spellings of my grandmother’s maiden name would land me at the front door of William Shakespeare and brushing shoulders with all the leading characters of Tudor England.

This voyage of discovery, into World of William Shakespeare, began when I realised that THREE very DIFFERENT spelling variations of the Jagger name, were all from the same root.

First, there was William Gager, an acknowledged poet and playwright of Elizabethan England, who wrote almost exclusively in Latin.

Secondly, there was Thomas Jagger, who raised a large family on the estate of Sir Henry Neville, a potential new candidate to be the ‘real’ author of Shakespeare.

Thirdly, quite prominently on my family tree, were William and Isaac Jaggard, the same people who printed Shakespeare’s original folio, in 1623.


This is a complicated story and my biggest task is to keep it both as simple and as accurate as possible. I have avoided adding thousands of footnotes or references to distract the flow of the text, so my reading list at the end gives a clue as to where to look for more information. My best piece of advice is to ‘Google’ anything you don’t understand, just as I have done on countless occasions.

This is very much an internet led research project, with some targeted reading and local field work to take the story to a conclusion. The sections of background reading that are included in the main text, the ‘crammers’, will prove helpful in filling the gaps in the reader’s understanding of life in Shakespeare’s time, and suggesting where this story came from, and where it might be heading.

Everything is relevant, and although occasionally you might be thinking, like one of my previous employers, that ‘Keith is way out in left field’, please stick with it, because William Shakespeare and his ‘comedies, histories and tragedies’, are never too far away. This is not a work of fiction, it’s for real, so keep an open mind and enjoy the ride, because we shall be driving down some difficult roads and entering extremely dangerous territory.

AA Village signs Ludlow


Chapter One         

Preparing the ground


Surnames, Parish records and Deoxyribonucleic Acid

Prior to the ‘Industrial Revolution’, the population of England was tiny compared to the present day, with estimates that the total was well below four million, in 1550. After bubonic plague continued to regularly decimate communities for another century, that number remained below five million, until the agricultural and industrial revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries, which transformed the people and the countryside into the metropolitan society we see today. England alone now has surged past 50 million inhabitants, with a population density of almost 400 per square kilometre. In Tudor times that average density was close to 30, but even this low number disguised the fact that whole tracts of land were wild, desolate and empty. People were still very much at a premium in Shakespeare’s time.

Population of Tudor England

The light scattering of people lived predominantly in villages, each based around a parish church and so providing a home and livelihood for about two hundred individuals. Villages were interspersed with small clusters of cottages, usually associated with a farm or country estate owned by a member of the gentry. Market towns were a focal point for the wider community, to come together, to trade their wares, but these might only provide homes for a population of between 1000 and 1500 citizens.

The number of ‘cities’, with more than 5000 individuals, could be counted on the fingers of one hand, with London being followed by Norwich and then Bristol. Many of the country’s top twenty towns were in East Anglia, including Lincoln, Boston, King’s Lynn, Bury St Edmunds, Colchester and Yarmouth, making this lowland area the economic heart of the Kingdom of England.

Before the Poll Tax debacle of 1378, which led to the Peasant’s Revolt, surnames hadn’t been too important for the average medieval citizen, but that situation changed once new registration systems were introduced by Henry VIII, in 1538. He needed to keep a close eye on his newly created, Protestant world, keep a lookout for foreign spies and ensure that his taxes were collected, in full and on time.

The conquering Norman nobility, who first arrived in 1066, usually replaced their original French ‘nom de plume’, by adopting a surname taken from the place name of their newly acquired English estate.

The home-grown, Anglo-Saxons, took their family surname from diverse sources, perhaps relating to their appearance, their place of abode or their trade – John Brown, William Hill or Richard Baker.

Given these statistics of small medieval numbers, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that a modern surname, now found worldwide in tens of thousands, may have had less than a hundred incumbents in the early 18th century and just a single family unit, at the time of the first English poll tax in 1378.

The statistics of scale also work in London, where the population was broken down into bite-sized chunks, with over 100 separate parishes, where each parishioner was expected to attend church every Sunday. This makes tracking the ancestral tree of a family group, down the centuries, is not as impossible as is often suggested.


Parish records

Each of Henry’s newly branded ‘Protestant’ churches was required to record all births, marriages and deaths, in a parish register. These catalogues began in 1538, but the system had a chequered beginning because of the brief reversion to Catholicism, from 1553 to 1558. However, from the reign of Queen Elizabeth I onwards, the records for the whole of England are largely complete, although the validity of the system depended on the abilities and eccentricities of the local clergymen. One cleric might produce beautiful italic handwriting, giving plenty of extra detail about his parishioners, whilst others scribbled a series of brief entries on a cluttered page, often with only the basic name for reference.

Parish records have been lost, burnt, damaged by water, or eaten by vermin and insects, but overall there still exists a remarkable record of nearly 500 years of English family history, now easily available to researchers at the click of a mouse. These parish records can be linked to other data from the period; court and jury records, deeds of land ownership and a myriad of snippets of information, which all help to create a full and accurate picture of even quite ordinary people who lived their life in Tudor England.

Some genealogists maintain they need a signed birth, marriage or death certificate, before they will add a name or even the smallest detail to their ancestral tree. However, unless your ancestors were rich or they lived next door to Hans Holbein, then the written evidence of any family is likely to be a patchwork of information, often open to questions as to whether you are actually dealing with the right person. There will always be a degree of speculation and doubt when perusing incomplete or faded historic documents, some of which are over four centuries old. So, taking evidence from a variety of sources is a good way of confirming that you are on the right track.


DNA – deoxyribonucleic acid

The latest tool, in the armoury of the family researcher is to compare sequences of DNA, the genetic material that is passed on by individuals from one generation to the next. The impatient family historian might believe this provides an easy shortcut to solving their identity and relationship problems, but things aren’t quite that simple. Although these marvellous tests can map genetic relationships between present day individuals, exhuming ancestors to extract DNA from their crumbling bones, is not really on the agenda, unless your surname is Tutankhamen or Richard III. However, recent studies have shown that the tracking of a simple surname may prove to be just as accurate as matching ‘haplogroups’ of individuals, who each share a similar sequence of DNA.

Professor Bryan Sykes of Oxford, a geneticist turned genealogist, has tracked the spread of surnames across Britain, compared the DNA of people with the same surnames, and found the correlations to be very high. Bryan Sykes has been using DNA to track the spread of man, ‘out of Africa’ and across Europe, so tracking a surname from Leeds to Leicester to Luton, then on to London, is not as difficult as many traditional, paper loving, genealogists seem to think. Even common names, like Smith and Cooper, have a regional component and so the search is normally worth the effort.

It comes down to this. Two people with the same, or even similar, surnames often have common DNA markers, therefore are connected through a common ancestor, back in medieval times. This trail inevitably leads back to their homeland, normally a village or farmed estate where the name originated.

Add this surname evidence to a distinctive pattern of family ‘given’ names, passed on down the generations, and then ally this to a family trade or occupation and you have an almost fool proof way of providing an accurate genealogical tree. It may not be complete, but will certainly point the genealogist in the right direction; to a small town, a village, or even an isolated hamlet. Maps showing the distribution of surnames are now available to help support the search, and these can be as important as birth, marriage and death records in finding out where we all come from.

So, if you meet someone for the first time, a stranger but one who bears the same surname as yourself, then there is a good chance you are related, if you follow the generations back far enough. The correlation is higher when the surname is rare and spelling variations should be treated in a positive fashion and not discarded too quickly. Spelling has never been an exact science..!

I am constantly baffled by the multitude of intelligent people, who tend to assume, that they are NOT related to their new namesake, when all the statistical evidence says they almost certainly are. That was the whole point about the use of surnames from the fourteenth century onwards, to clearly identify a family group and distinguish it from others in the same small community. The eccentricities of spelling during this period also need to be treated positively and if place, occupation and children’s names follow a pattern, then it is likely this spelling variation could be a cleric’s error, made in 1600, or by modern transcribers, who are still making simple mistakes in the 21st century.

In this story, I take a positive assumption about relationships between individuals, who bear the same or similar names. This is clearly at odds with some learned scholars, who dismiss a namesake as, ‘possibly a distant cousin’, or ‘just a coincidence and of little consequence’. I know my approach works, because when written evidence is later found to support my tentative theory (guestimate), my ‘left field’ hunches frequently prove to be correct.

Everyday life, in Tudor England, revolved around the family and there is a well documented spider’s web of noble ‘blue-bloods’, dating back to William, in 1066, (and before), which shows that the aristocracy were/are all related to each other, often two, three and four times over. If this was true at the ‘toff’ end of the genetic marketplace, then why not believe the same is true of us lesser beings?

Again, where there is sufficient data, the genealogy results amongst the Tudor plebs and proles reveals similar intricate family ties, as each layer of society married friends, neighbours and cousins within their own social strata. Merchants and trades people married the offspring of merchants and trades people, and in the maelstrom of Tudor society, businesses grew and changed hands because of marriage settlements, in the same way country estates did amongst the nobility.

The people who inhabited the world of the theatre and the printed page followed similar social rules. Some family connections between members of these literary occupations are well documented, but if researchers had dug a little deeper, they would have found previously unheralded links between members of the wider fraternity of actors, theatre builders, printers and publishers. These are the relationships that hold this story together and many are revealed for the very first time.


Crammer – Coincidences

My wild enthusiasm for discoveries, which seem to have evaded 400 years of scholarly expertise, has frequently been doused by the Shakespearean ‘great and the good’, who have suggested my findings are just a series of ‘coincidences’, and unlikely to be of any academic significance. Whilst their scepticism might have credence if the coincidences were few in number or on the fringe of the story, my novel findings are numerous in the extreme and at the heart of the Shakespeare saga.

Mathematicians and scientists have their own technical term for ‘coincidence’, which they call ‘probability’. These arithmetic number crunchers are confident they can determine whether an event might have happened by chance or whether there was an underlying cause.

‘probability theory is able to predict with uncanny precision the overall outcome of processes made up out of a large number of individual happenings, each of which in itself is unpredictable. In other words, we observe a large number of uncertainties producing a certainty’. Arthur Koestler

The mathematical theory of probability was originally proposed over 300 years ago as a way of improving the odds of winning a game of chance. Yes, it was devised for those indulging in the risky, life-changing pastime of gambling. Today there are many better uses for the theory of probability, frequently to determine the validity of drug trials and now routinely to forecast the weather.

Psychologists suggest ‘coincidence’ might just be in the mind of the beholder and so have no basis in statistical reality. This is the main reason why I have faced criticism, for making random connections that are only in MY imagination. Some scholars even suggest that everything you read in this story, which challenges the accepted norm, is accidental fantasy, the product of my ‘left handed’ brain.

The opposite view is taken by the many religious groups who believe there is no such thing as a ‘coincidence’, that everything in life is determined from a spiritual cause.

Is it a coincidence that our Moon fits exactly across the face of the Sun during a solar eclipse

There is no reason why it should..! No other moon in the Solar System shows this congruence.


Solar eclipse 20th March 2015 – courtesy European Space Agency

Scientists think there must be a logical explanation for this phenomenon, but they can’t find one, so come to the conclusion that this must be just a ‘coincidence’, whilst the holy men of religion suggest that a much higher force has all the celestial bodies under its control.


Well, so am I, because experts in one discipline disagree fervently with those in another.

However, ‘Any coincidence,’ said Miss Marple to herself, ‘is always worth noting. You can throw it away later if it is only a coincidence.’

Another of Agatha Christie’s fictional detectives, Hercule Poirot, also noted that; ‘one coincidence is a coincidence, two coincidences are two coincidences, but three coincidences are a clue’.

 Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie

Professor Sykes’ simple methodology of relating similar names and places together tends to exclude there being too many pure ‘coincidences’ when family relationships are concerned. The population of Tudor England was growing rapidly, but remained small enough to negate too much duplication of identity. Same name, same place – Snap!

Coincidences in this story of Shakespeare are many and varied, but the plot revolves around the same individuals turning up time and time again, and in a very limited number of places. I have made no statistical analysis of my ‘coincidences’, so the reader must make their own mind up. Are they all in my imagination or perhaps, might they just offer a fresh vista on the ‘World of William Shakespeare’.


How do you solve a problem like Mr Shakespeare?

When trying to solve a complicated problem, the simplest solution is usually the favourite, and I have always been a great advocate of the KISS mantra – Keep It Simple Stupid…!

In a more civilised and scientific way the ‘law of parsimony’, sometimes known as Occam’s Razor, is a principle that suggests the hypothesis which makes the fewest new assumptions usually proves to be the correct one and therefore the simplest explanation is the most likely. So, we should always look for the easiest solution first and disprove that before moving on to more exotic or complicated options.

The ‘Razor’ is also a law that tends to preserve the status quo, as new ideas have to overcome the inertia of any previous, well established, hypothesis. William of Ockham (in Surrey), the man with the razor, lived in the 14th century, so these principles are not new and have been frequently tested in the past seven hundred years. Generally they have stood the test of time.

Nevertheless, the human race has a habit of making things more complicated and simplicity doesn’t always come naturally to modern man. Even ancient civilisations created structures, large and small, which we are still unable to understand because of their complexity. So, size and antiquity doesn’t always equate to simplicity.

Engineers have a habit of starting with the status quo and moving on from there, improving by adapting what was already an acceptable machine. It is rare for a designer to start from scratch. Anyone who has seen a steam locomotive being restored to its original condition will be amazed at the chaotic complexity inside, with pipes, valves, rods and pistons, thrown together in seemingly haphazard fashion. Surely, no-one could have designed it that way, because it would break every principle of the Surrey simpleton.

Cab of steam loco

Bulleid steam locomotive © Alex Penfold

When designers do show streaks of innovation it can bring inventions that improve the lot of mankind. Leonardo de Vinci, Thomas Telford, Isambard Brunel, Alan Turing, and even vacuum innovator, James Dyson, all broke the mould and began again. Their novel inventions have themselves been tweaked and improved, producing further more complicated contraptions. Simplicity in many aspects of life is actually a rare commodity, not a common one.

So, what do vacuum cleaners and the internal workings of steam locomotives have to do with the works attributed to William Shakespeare. Well, William of Ockham would probably have wagered a few groats with his local bookmaker on Epsom Downs, that the man from Stratford-upon-Avon was the odds-on favourite to be the author of the compendium, the one with his name on it. It is the simplest solution, and the one that the majority of literary experts, enthusiasts and bystanders believe to be true.

William of Ockham 

William of Occam; the simple man – – photo KHB

Using the same principles of parsimony, those who want an alternative answer, have first to unseat the Stratford season ticket holder, and prove he didn’t do it, before they are allowed to start with their own blank piece of paper. That is the difficult part, because innovative thinking on the subject is considered one of the unlikely variables in these discussions. Most of us humans behave like countless sheep, on a Yorkshire hillside, not like the majestic golden eagle, or those even scarcer beasts; the phoenix, the griffin and the unicorn.

However, IF the Stratford man WASN’T the author of his work, then it suddenly gets very, very complicated. There doesn’t appear to be any middle ground. This complexity is needed because, despite 400 years of research, no-one has come up with a convincing alternative author, at least one who fits all the variables. The big problem for the supporters of William Shakespeare is that he doesn’t fit all the variables either…!!

My story is necessarily complex in places, and does seem to parallel the convoluted workings of a magnificent Bulleid steam locomotive, however when the answer finally drops out the bottom of this story, it will bear the hallmarks of my ‘Keep it Simple’ mantra.


Horological crammer – Gregorian Time

Calendars have changed not infrequently, during recorded history, so your twelve month diary didn’t always look quite the way it looks today. Julius Caesar had introduced his Roman calendar into Europe, in 46 BC, but there was a tiny difference in length between the solar year and the calendar year, a discrepancy which gradually increased over the centuries. In 1582, the Catholic world, ruled by the men in Rome, decided it was time to change, so Pope Gregory’s calendar was born.

The Gregorian calendar moved the date forward by eleven days to catch up with the Equinox, and this Catholic recalculation of the calendar changed the start of the year, from 25th March to 1st January.

The Protestant governments of Northern Europe thought this was a Catholic plot to try to regain the church’s diminishing influence over the ‘civilised’ world, although their own astronomers had long realised their calendars were no longer matching the seasonal equinox. Each of the non-Catholic states adapted the new calendar in their own way and to their own, chaotic, timescale.

As you might expect, in typical ‘wait and see’ fashion, the English didn’t adjust their dating system, from that of Julius Caesar to Pope Gregory, until 1752 – 170 years after the Papal dictat.

During the late Tudor period this meant the first day of the English New Year was 25th March, known as Lady Day, meaning that the last day of the year, 24th March 1594, was followed by 25th March 1595.

However, despite NOT changing their calendar, life in the British Isles became increasingly complex after 1582, because some institutions kept the English calendar, whilst others, such as merchants and diplomats, who had frequent dealings with continental Europe, were obliged to adopt the new dating system if they were to carry out their business effectively.

The Scots, (still a separate kingdom until 1707), made things even more complicated, as they seemed happy to introduce the new start to the year, on 1st January 1600, but they didn’t add on the extra eleven days. We can only guess at the confusion in the Royal Court when the Scottish monarch, James VI, arrived on the English scene in 1603 and took the throne as King James I. However, this does, perhaps, explain why the Scots have traditionally gone overboard with their Hogmanay festivities, whilst the vast majority of English folk, living south of the border, often settled for an early night and wondered what all the fuss was about.

This confusion in dates caused the literate classes to write two dates on their correspondence. The terms Old Style and New Style are used to describe the period when the two systems collided, during the period of overlap, January, February and March each year. e.g. 1st February 1622/23.

This also explains why, when the English government finally adopted the new Gregorian calendar in 1752, they retained the remnants of the Julian calendar in their fiscal year. If you add those extra ten days to 25th March and then add a Julian leap year, which occurred in 1800, you realise why the United Kingdom taxman still begins his annual calculations on 6th April each year. The government didn’t want to lose eleven days of taxation, and they still seem reluctant to change….!

Some ‘helpful’ historians believe they can simplify these dating anachronisms by converting ALL their dating to the current system. However, that seems to add even further confusion because inevitably both systems are in use and bound to collide at some point. Trying to unravel the true dates and sequence of events between 1582 and 1752 is far from easy and mistakes of a year or so abound, in even the most scholarly and well researched volumes.

I have endeavoured to use the dating system relevant to the Tudor and Stuart period, so as an example, the date of 24th March 1591 is followed the next day by 25th March 1592.

In this situation I have written these two dates as 24th March 1591/92 and 25th March 1592

I hope that is clear?? ….. clear as mud, some of you are thinking..!!


Financial crammer – Tudor Money

Understanding the Tudor monetary system and value of money will help you to follow this story.

The basic system of pounds, shillings and pence was exactly the same as used in Britain right through to ‘Decimal Day’, on 15th February 1971.

12 Pennies to a Shilling and 20 Shillings in a Pound, giving 240 pennies in a pound.

The abbreviation for pound was ‘L’, from the Latin, libre, and in Tudor times, the amounts were usually written in Roman numerals, C =100, L= 50, X= 10, v = 5, i =1.

Other noteworthy denominations are the ‘crown’, worth 5 shillings, and the ‘groat’ valued at 4 pennies, or a third of a shilling. There was also the ‘Mark’, which we now associate with German currency and was worth a third of a pound; 6 shillings and 8 pence.

The Mark was a common currency in academic and legal circles and explains why there are rather strange sums of money mentioned in legal documents, as they have been converted from marks to pounds, shillings and pence. (L. S .D. – Libra Solidus Denarius).

All money was minted in gold or silver coin, (no paper), and valued according to weight. The ‘pound’ referred to was a pound weight of sterling silver, made up of 240 silver pennies, a system that had begun in the reign of Alfred the Great, in the 9th century.

BUT the basic unit of money for the average citizen on the streets of London wasn’t the ‘pound’ but the ‘penny’, and there were halfpennies and even a quarter of a penny, the ‘fourthing’ or farthing, which meant there were 960 farthings to a pound.

HalfPenny 1578-82     Tyburn tree

Elizabethan coin                                                       Tyburn tree

Monarchs would debase their coinage and cheat the population by adding non precious metals to the gold and silver, whilst peasants would frequently clip the edges of coins, using the filings to make more coins. Clipping coins was known as ‘coining’ and you would end up hanging on the Tyburn gallows if you were caught. Tyburn was where Marble Arch now stands, and was well outside the metropolis at this time. The bodies were often carted back to the City of London, to be used in the new science of medical research.

Well, hanging was the punishment for men, but women were burnt at the stake for the same ‘coining’ offence. The different methods of execution were designed to protect the modesty of women, as female peasants in Tudor times did not wear knickers. Coiners of the ‘Mr Big’ variety, were hung, drawn and quartered, because their organised criminal activities were regarded as treason against the Crown.

Trying to work out the rate of monetary inflation since the 16th century is difficult, nye impossible, because the relative value of goods, labour and property has changed dramatically. The cost of basic essentials of everyday living was much higher in Tudor times and property worth relatively less.

Food was about ten times more expensive then today, which is why food riots were common in England and continued, spasmodically, right through until the Victorian era. Essential items of food and those necessities of daily living are now relatively cheap, as a result of mechanisation, brought about by the agricultural and industrial revolutions. Who said, ‘you’ve never had it so good’?

Inflation was very high throughout the Tudor period, so prices and wages in 1600, were much greater than a century earlier, perhaps doubling during the time the Tudor monarchs were in charge. This inflation coincided with the rapid growth of the population, especially within the City of London. There were also periods of economic crisis, usually associated with military and trade wars with European neighbours. Nothing much has changed in 400 years…!!

The ‘Measuringworth’ website has a ‘ready reckoner’ that makes the inflation calculation, however it doesn’t offer one simple figure, but instead gives several options, each wildly different. The two easiest to compare are the ‘historic retail price’, based on a bundle of goods that remain constant over time and equates to the current Retail Price Index. The second figure quoted is a calculation for ‘economic status’, based on income per capita, as a proportion of the Gross Domestic Product of the country. This gives an idea of the relative wealth of the individual and so tries to equate Tudor ‘buying power’ with today’s money.

So, during the time of the ‘Dissolution of the Monasteries’, in 1538, the sum of £1 would equate in today’s money to somewhere between £528 for the RPI and the whopping amount of £16,400 for the relative ‘buying power’.

But, by the time of the First folio, in 1623, that £1 had already become £3 10s 0d or £3 1s 2d, meaning inflation had risen by about 300% during the time of Queen Elizabeth and King James, but the cost of basic goods had remained fairly steady, in relation to the growing wealth of the kingdom.

That £1 gold coin, in 1623, would have bought you an unbound version of Mr Shakespeare’s plays and the relative sum now equates to somewhere between £143 and £5,370 – for a single book..!!

Other relevant sums are £50, which was a common legal fine for a serious misdemeanour, metered out to merchants or tradesmen. £50, in 1600, would equate to between £8,700 and £295,000 today.

One major character in this story was fined £10,000, in 1603, as the price for his release from the Tower of London. The calculation here ranges between £1,880,000, and the mind-blowing £56,800,000. The reality was that this wealthy man was financially broken for the rest of his life.

In 1713, the sum of nearly £20,000 was paid for a country estate in Warwickshire. This now equates to somewhere between £2,320,000 and again an eye-watering £53,800,000.

In 1600, a skilled workman might earn a shilling a day, or less than £20 a year, while an unskilled man would earn less than half that sum. Servants were given free board & lodging, but might only earn sixpence a week, less than £2 annually.

The cost of standing as ‘groundlings’ in the ‘Pit’, at the Globe Theatre, was one penny, which equates to between £2 and £59 in today’s money. It cost an extra penny to sit in the lower seats and an additional penny for the higher tiers. The best ‘box’ seats, inhabited by the noble classes, cost one shilling, so twelve times that of the unwashed foot soldiers. This meant that attending the theatre wasn’t cheap, but probably not as much as watching Chelsea or Arsenal play football in the English Premier League.


Therefore, to understand this story better, assume that £5 is a large sum of money, which would only be seen in one lump by the noble and merchant classes. Common legal transactions, including fines and property purchases of £50, would equate to tens of thousands in today’s currency. The landed aristocracy would frequently deal in transactions involving hundreds of pounds; merchants and trades people in sums between £5 and £100, whilst the majority of the population were left counting their pennies and farthings, with no chance of ever contemplating, the judicious purchase of Mr Shakespeare’s fine compendium of plays.


Pennine Wool and the Halifax crocus

Whilst writing anything of substance about Shakespeare of Stratford, I never expected to find that Yorkshire would have much to do with the ‘great man’. I was also surprised to find that the town of Halifax was a stylish place to live and where some of the finest homes in England were to be found. However, when I realised that this remote part of the country played an essential part in the economy of Tudor England then the penny dropped.

21st century billionaires move oil and money around the world, but in not dissimilar fashion, the rich men of Tudor times made their fortunes moving wool and textiles between England and the European mainland. If you, too, are surprised by any of this, then some background is needed to ensure you are up to scratch on wool production and the people who turned it into cloth.

Sheep on the Yorkshire Dales

Hardy sheep on the Yorkshire Hills

 During the centuries that followed the Normans’ arrival on these shores, English wool was regarded as amongst the best in Europe and the textile business became the economic base of the country. The local conditions and breeds of sheep dictated the quality of the wool, with sheep grazed in harsher, hillier conditions producing coarser wool compared to those of the milder lowlands. The most productive areas were East Anglia, Gloucestershire & Somerset, Warwickshire and West Yorkshire.

Cloth production was originally a home based, ‘cottage’ business, but gradually each part of the cloth-making process developed its own skills and accompanying trade guilds and from these simple beginnings evolved a social hierarchy, which led all the way from the shepherd, on the Pennine Hills, to the richest and most influential families in England. They all derived a living from the many millions of sheep, which inhabited the English countryside.

Textile production became highly regulated by the Crown, as medieval monarchs quickly realised the importance of the wool trade to the economy. Each area of expertise was tightly controlled ensuring no-one usurped their position in the chain of power and influence. The trade guilds kept a degree of control over the social structure of the kingdom, and the system of regulations helped the monarchs to collect their taxes. Understanding the wool economy helps to understand Tudor England, so here is a brief summary of the cloth making process of medieval times.

Sheep production was encouraged during the 15th century to the extent that it was estimated there were about fifteen million sheep grazing the land, approximately five sheep to every citizen, but in the wool producing areas this ratio was multiplied many times over.

Fleeces were shorn every summer, from the sheep on the estates of the noble landowner; land which was worked by tenant farmers, often under a copyhold agreement of 21 years or for ‘three lives’.

Packmen transported the fleeces to farm workers in their cottages and then carried the finished cloths to market. They used pack ponies and the carriers were an essential part of the cloth making process.

Carder: sorted raw wool and prepared it for spinning by separating the strands with a comb or ‘card’.

Spinner: spun the wool into thread or yarn, using a traditional spinning wheel.

Weaver: wove the yarn on looms to form the cloth. Narrow looms (one yard wide), were used in home production and made a ‘streit’ of cloth. Broadlooms, (one and three-quarter yards wide), were found in the weavers rooms of purpose built houses, owned by the clothier, and this produced ‘broadcloth’.

Fuller: cleaned the cloth using water and fuller’s earth, a type of marly clay, at a water-powered ‘fulling mill’, situated close to bridging points on the Calder River.

Shearman: finished the cloth and made it ready for sale, smoothing, creating the napp and removing the loose ends. The finished cloth was felt-like and always white, often sold in this un-dyed state.


Shearman at work

Dyeing: the whole cloth was dyed as one piece. It was 100 years before yarn was coloured prior to being woven. White cloth was often taken to Belgium to be dyed, as they specialised in the process.

Clothier: would manage the different processes, often investing in a specialist weaving house, and they then sold the finished cloth to the draper or merchant.

Draper: a wholesaler or retailer, who traded cloth from his business premises.

Haberdasher: sold the small ware; needles, buttons, threads and decorative accessories.

Tailor: made clothes from the cloth. Even small villages had their own tailor.

Mercer: was the cloth merchant who sat at the top of the tree. He imported and exported cloth from the manufacturing centres in England, to the cloth exchanges in London, Belgium and Holland.

These cloth-making terms appear in one of Shakespeare’s plays, ‘Henry VIII’, where there is this insightful speech, by the Duke of Norfolk.

‘The clothiers all, not able to maintain The many to them longing, have put off The spinsters, carders, fullers, weavers, who, Unfit for other life, compell’d by hunger And lack of other means, in desperate manner Daring the event to the teeth, are all in uproar, And danger serves among then!’

Soon after William of Normandy conquered these shores, Yorkshire and the other northern counties had suffered genocide and wanton destruction, carried out in retaliation for their reluctance to accept their new Norman master. The ‘Harrying of the North’ took place in the winter of 1069, when in excess of 100,000 people were murdered and whole villages were laid waste by William’s supporters,

The ‘Black Death’ arrived in 1348, taking another large bite from the population, ensuring any green shoots of re-growth were knocked back. So, even by the end of the 15th century many Yorkshire villages were still struggling to return to their pre-Conquest size and there remained a distinct lack of human beings amongst the Pennine hills and dales.

There is evidence of textile production, as early as the 11th century, in the small Norse settlement of Sowerby, situated at the western end of Calderdale. Despite the political setbacks, wool production grew and provided the major source of income for lord and peasant alike. Proximity to the Pennine Hills meant living conditions in Calderdale were tough, particularly in winter, and the hill dwellers only survived by mixing subsistence farming and cloth-making.

A village called Kersey, much further south, in Suffolk, had developed a simple method of weaving a lightweight English cloth and this manufacturing technique was adopted by the cloth makers around Halifax. The standard size of woven cloth in Calderdale was the ‘streit’, much smaller than the more common English ‘broadcloth’, but making a ‘streit’ of Kersey cloth had a number of practical advantages for the peasant farmers.

 ‘Living in a land very mounteynous, making every week a kersey and selling the same at weekend. With the money received for the same to provide both wool to make another the following week and also buy victuals to susteyne themselves and their families till another be sold’.

These practicalities of local production, led to Halifax becoming the leading wool and textile centre of Yorkshire, attracting cloth merchants from across England and Northern Europe. A main street of grand ‘Halifax’ houses sprang up to house the wealthy merchants and successful local clothiers.

‘Forasmuche as the Paryshe of Halyfaxe beying planted in the Grete Waste and Moores, where the fertilite of the gronde ys not apte to bring forthe any Corne nor Goode Grasse, only by exceedinge and greate industrye of the inhabitants. The same altogether do lyve by cloth making. The greate part of them hathe to repair to the Towne of Halyfax and ther bye wooll and carry the same to theire houses, some iii, iiii, v and vi myles, upon theire Headdes and Backs and so to make and convert the same eyther into Yarne or Clothe, and to sell the same and so to bye more woolle. By means of which industrye the grounde in those parts be nowe much inhabited and above Fyve Hundrethe householders there newly increased within theis Fourtye Years past.      The Halifax Act, 1555.’

‘From Weaver to Web’ – online visual archive of Calderdale history.

These Yorkshire textile folk were known for their down to earth lifestyle, which provided ‘the necessities of life without its superfluities’. Despite their thrifty outlook, the clothiers of Halifax used their hard earned money to rebuild their small 12th century church into a much grander structure, which reflected the success story that was the wool and cloth industry of the 15th century. The church was dedicated to St John the Baptist and he is a Saint who plays a starring role in this saga.

Halifax coat of arms

Piece Hall Gates, Halifax – © LoriPori

The Halifax coat of arms also now bears the head of John the Baptist, topped by a lamb holding a flag, another important Christian symbol and another that bleats more than once in this story. Incredibly, local legend says, that the genuine ‘severed head’ of John the Baptist had been taken to Halifax by crusading knights, who had discovered the holy relic in Jerusalem. This gory fable passed down from the Crusaders seems unlikely, but then strange things happen in this story, so don’t entirely rule it out.

There is another surprise to be found in the Halifax area, one which both puzzles and delights passing travellers and offers a small ‘left field’ clue, to help complete my thousand piece jigsaw. Surprisingly, the clue turns out to be a flower, the Autumn crocus, which is so prolific in the area that it has become known as the Halifax crocus. It is associated with farms that were occupied, from the 12th century onwards, by Benedictine monks, who cultivated the plant to produce saffron. This they used as a medicine, to flavour food, and as a colouring agent for their clothes and their illuminated manuscripts.

The Halifax crocus is a northern hybrid of the more exotic ‘saffron crocus’, found in the Middle East, the corms probably brought back by the returning crusader knights. Saffron is now described as the world’s most expensive spice, so the Halifax variety must have been highly prized in Yorkshire.

Halifax crocus

Remnants of the Hospitaller Knights – Savile Park, Halifax © Pat Hubbard

Halifax businessmen were described by textile rivals, as ‘clothiers of the meanest sort’, but some of the more adventurous journeyed south to London, where they sold their wares at the annual cloth fair in West Smithfield. As trade expanded, this became a weekly cloth market held at the Blackwell Hall, adjacent to the Guildhall, situated in the very heart of the City of London.

The Blackwell Hall had been a trading market since the time of Richard II (1399) and its significance to this story of Shakespeare is that many of my leading characters lived only a few yards from this honey pot of Tudor business life. So, successful clothiers became rich merchants and several of these Yorkshire entrepreneurs made their name in the capital city, becoming Mayors of London and holding other positions of authority in the various City trade guilds. However, overall control of the trade in wool and cloth was in the hands of a much more powerful group of individuals, seemingly under the auspices of the Crown, but in reality a group of merchants who did very much as they wanted – the Company of Merchant Adventurers.


The Company of Merchant Adventurers

The River Calder flows eastwards, from the Pennine Hills into the River Ouse, eventually draining into the Humber estuary, until it widens its mouth and flows into the North Sea. This river system allowed textiles to be transported by small barge and then sailing ship, from Halifax, in the remote heart of Yorkshire, to London, so becoming part of the network of great trade routes of Northern Europe. Perhaps surprisingly, travel during the Tudor period, was much easier and safer by sea, following the coastline, rather than overland by pack horse, battling the thick forests of central England.

Transport was provided by flotillas of ships, owned by ‘The Company of Merchant Adventurers’, who operated under charters from the King, and were the only citizens licensed to export cloth from England. The merchants’ trading headquarters in the North of England was at York, but their main English base was at the Blackwell Hall, in the heart of London. Their European headquarters were across the North Sea, in Antwerp, which gave them easy access to large markets in the Low Countries. These entrepreneurs were prone to flout the rules, often illegally exporting unfinished cloths, which deprived the English cloth workers of their full share of the textile bonanza.

A non-woollen product was also traded, in direct competition with the English cloth business. This was linen, made from the fibres of flax (linseed) and was a specialist textile, made in several Belgian towns. Being close to their headquarters in Antwerp, this was also an attractive product for the merchants to trade in English markets and so linen offered another threat to the wool based English economy.

Their northern headquarters in the City of York survives today, with the Guild still functioning under the same charter it did 500 years ago. This is one of the finest existing examples of a Tudor Guild Hall and gives a hint about the grandeur of the lives of this exclusive breed of men. The Merchant Adventurers show up frequently in this story, and although they often didn’t have an aristocratic heritage, they became men of wealth and gained influence over a wide range of activities in Tudor England.

Merchant Adventurer, York            Merchant Hall York HQ

Merchant Adventurer – © Brett Holman        Merchant Hall – York

Despite their monopoly as cloth exporters, the merchants had other rivals in the textile business. The Merchants of the Staple were appointed by the English monarch and licensed to export wool to Europe. Calais, an English haven on the European mainland, was a base for this trade and generally these were noblemen, who had sought favour with the Crown. The other trading force in northern climes was the Hanseatic League, an association of large ports, who controlled trade in the Baltic and the North Sea.

The history of England, from Tudor times onwards, is very much a story about the battle for trade amongst these various men and institutions, and attempts by the monarch of the day to exert a degree of control over their schemes for wealth creation. Trade in wool eventually gave way to trade in sugar and tobacco, and there was always the hope that the merchants might stumble across a source of gold, silver or precious gems during their travels.


Crammer: EnglandGreat BritainUnited KingdomBritish Isles?

A variety of terminology is used to describe the lands inhabited by a race of war-like humans, living in a world of their own, off the north western seaboard of mainland Europe. Of the 193 countries acknowledged by the United Nations, only 22 states have, so far, not been attacked by the British. Luxembourg, Andorra and Paraguay watch out..!

British Isles

Collective name for over 1000 islands, situated off the coast of mainland Europe.


Name of the largest island of the British Isles.

Great Britain

Abbreviation for the country; United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland.


Kingdom of England: Founded by King Athelstan in 927 and an independent kingdom, until 1707.


Wales came under English control from 1282 and under its legal system from 1535.


Kingdom of Scotland: created by King Kenneth MacAlpin, uniting Picts and Scots, in 843.

1603 – King James VI of Scotland also became King James I of England.

(The two countries had the same monarch but did not unify their governments or legal systems.)

1707 The Act of Union – Parliaments of England and Scotland united to form the United Kingdom.


1542 – King Henry VIII declared himself King of Ireland – but this was not recognised by Rome.

1801 – Ireland joined the United Kingdom

1921 -Southern provinces of Ireland secede to become an independent country.


Crammer – English Kings and Queens: 1066 – 1649

House of Normandy

William I 1066 – 1087

William II 1087 – 1100

Henry I 1100 – 1135

House of Blois – disputed

Stephen 1135 – 1154

Matilda 1141

House of Plantagenet

Henry II                 1154 – 1189

Richard I                1189 – 1199

John                       1199 – 1216

Henry III                1216 – 1272

Edward I                1272 – 1307

Edward II               1307 – 1327

Edward III              1327 – 1377

Richard II               1377 – 1399

Henry IV                1399 – 1413

Henry V                 1413 – 1422

Henry VI                1422 – 1461

Edward IV              1461 – 1470

Henry VI                1470 – 1471 (2nd regnum)

Edward IV              1471 – 1483 (2nd regnum)

Edward V               9th April – 25th June 1483

Richard III             1483 – 1485

House of Tudor

Henry VII               1485 – 1509

Henry VIII             1509 – 1547

Edward VI              1547 – 1553

Jane Grey               6th July 1553 – 19th July 1553

Mary                      1553 – 17th Nov 1558

Elizabeth                1558 – 1603


House of Stuart

James I                   14th March 1602/3 – 1625

Charles I                1625 – 1649



Chapter Two


Roots of the Tree



The Jagger Clan

My grandmother’s maiden name was Annie Jaggar and her father, Frank Bregazzi Jaggar, always insisted their surname must be spelt with a final ‘ar’, although his elder brother, John Jagger, continued to use the original ‘er’ version. Frank is my relation with an unexplained middle name, although I am hot on the trail, searching the 19th century records in England and Italy for a smooth-talking senior army officer from Stazzona, a village on the shores of Lake Como, in the Italian Alps.

I traced my family, from London to Oxford, then on to Burton-on-Trent, in the very heart of England, before they returned south, to the increasing sprawl of south and east London. Three of the four Oxford siblings decided they had seen enough of 1850s England, surviving a hundred day ocean voyage, to start life afresh in New Zealand. Overall, my Jaggar family were an interesting and enterprising lot, with a closet full of heroes, an odd villain and a fair share of skeletons.

The Jagger name is extremely rare and maps of its distribution in the 1881 census of England show just two hotspots and a desert everywhere else. West Yorkshire was clearly their heartland, but there was also a sizable concentration in the London area.

The earliest mention of the Jagger name leads back to the western end of Calderdale, Yorkshire, where the poll tax roll of 1378 showed, a ‘John Jagher’ and his wife, living as a resident of the village of Stainland, four miles south of the textile hub of Halifax. The poll tax also shows a Thomas Jager at Kexborough, to the east, and another John Jagger on the court rolls near Bradford. However, the name became established around Stainland and the worldwide collection of Jaggers appears to have grown from that particular root.

Stainland and Halifax

Dr George Redmonds has explored the West Yorkshire branch of the Jagger family, in some detail, and found that the original John Jagher from Stainland served on a manor court jury in 1373. Dr Redmonds pins down John’s actual residence as being a little to the east of Stainland village, at a place now known as Jagger Green. It may be his widow, Anabel Jagger, who in 1404 paid four and a half pence as an annual rent for ‘a messuage (smallholding), called ‘Green in Lynley’. John was obviously a popular family name as a ‘John’ Jagger represented Stainland parish at the manor court for the next 100 years.

Stainland, meaning ‘stoney land’, is on the southern slope of the Calder valley, on a crossroads of ancient track ways, which followed the high land rather than the marshy and unpredictable valley bottoms. There are several places around Stainland which give a geographical connection to the family and in addition to Jagger Green there is Jagger Green Hall, Jagger Bridge and Jagger Dam.

Jagger Green Lane, Stainland

Jagger Green Lane, an ancient track way – © Humphrey Bolton

The word ‘jag’ or ‘jagge’ is Olde English and means ‘pack’, referring to a pack of wool or other material which was carried on the back of a pony. Much of the language and dialect of this area, close to the Pennines, is derived from ‘old Norse’, which is very different to the Norman French or Anglo-Saxon influence from the south or east of England. So, it was the ‘jagger’ or packman that provided the transport between farm, cottage and market place.

The family were the 14th century ‘logistics company’ of the area and their position at Jagger Green provided an ideal base from which to serve the growing textile community of Calderdale. Aerial photos still show substantial rectangular stone enclosures at Jagger Green, which look likely to be where the ponies were corralled.

The Jagger name is mentioned on a present day tourist sign in Stainland, as people who hauled ‘Jags’ of wool to market, on Galloway ponies. This horse breed was only native to Scotland and Northern England and after cross-breeding, the pure bred Galloway pony died out in the 18th century.

Pack horses

Here, I stumbled across the first of many, quite random and totally unexpected connections to William Shakespeare, because the very first mention of the Galloway breed in English literature, was when Shakespeare referred to ‘Galloway nags’, in his play, Henry IV.

Doll Tearsheet: For God’s sake, thrust him down stairs: I cannot endure such a fustian rascal.
Pistol: Thrust him down stairs! Know we not Galloway nags?

Literary scholars frequently discuss Shakespeare’s need to have close connections with the Royal Court or Renaissance Italy, well what about a working knowledge of local transport in Yorkshire?

Stainland Pony

A present day Stainland descendant of the Galloway nag – © Tim Green

The sequence of ‘John’ Jaggers in Stainland parish was broken in 1524, when the only Jagger taxed on the Subsidy Roll was Richard Jagger. By 1541, there were now five members of the family worthy of taxation in Stainland, with William, Robert, Richard, Edward and Thomas Jagger. This suggests their business was a successful one, growing as the cloth trade expanded. By this time the Jagger name had also spread to several other settlements in the Halifax area. The villages of Sowerby, Mirfield, Kirkburton, Shelf, Honley and Holmfirth all acquired Jagger residents, and have continued to be home to communities of Jaggers through the centuries, where they still find homes today.

In an unusual pattern, we find that the vast majority of the descendants of the original Jagger family have not wandered too far from their roots. Jaggers did spread into the nearby towns of Halifax and Huddersfield, but very few ventured to the other Ridings of Yorkshire, to the southern counties of England, or to the Celtic lands of Scotland and Wales. This loyalty to their home patch does seem remarkable, something I have not seen in other branches of my family tree.

The spelling of the name in Yorkshire also remained remarkably consistent, with just the two variations of ‘Jagger’ and ‘Jaggar’ dominating the parish records. This is a 600 year old, stable community, so the opportunity for error and diversity of spelling has been greatly reduced.

The latest available census of England, for 1911, shows 3,029 individuals claiming the ‘Jagger’ spelling and of those, 2,254 were still living in Yorkshire. The same census gives 269 people spelt ‘Jaggar’, with 215 of those residing in Yorkshire. So, even after the population explosion of the Victorian era, seventy five per cent of the Jagger family, with the two traditional spellings, still lived in Yorkshire.

Therefore, with their deep seated Yorkshire roots, the Jagger men should be wearing flat caps and racing whippets at weekends. They should be very much in tune with the idiosyncrasies of ‘Compo’, ‘Foggy’ or Norman Clegg, with their womenfolk sporting wrinkled stockings and flailing a sharp tongue, like Nora Batty. The Jagger homeland is very much, ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ country.

Southern migrants have been rare and the majority seem to be descended from just one family, who in the early Tudor period, moved to Suffolk and then on to London. There have been a trickle of others over the centuries, with one of the most notable in recent times being Joe Jagger, the father of Sir Michael Jagger of the Rolling Stones. Mick was born in Kent, but his origins can be traced back to the traditional Jagger villages around Halifax.

Originally, I could find no conclusive link between the stable Yorkshire Jagger clan and their itinerant Southern namesakes, who had acquired numerous spelling variations. It was only the on-line release of original parish records, by the London Metropolitan Archives, which made it possible to hunt for the proverbial needles in the rather chaotic haystack of Britain’s capital city.

This release of records meant I was able to conduct a ‘one name’ search and try to account for ALL parish records of the London Jagger clan AND their name derivatives. On-line access to the original documents, rather than second hand transcriptions, also allowed me to check the original spellings and search for entries, which had been missed by modern transcribers. I may not have found them all, and there are still unexplained random entries, but there is certainly no ‘parallel’ family lurking in the shadows, which has totally evaded the radar beams of the computer search engines.

I discovered that the Southern branch of the Jagger clan were a more diverse lot than their Yorkshire namesakes. Some drove the traditional carts for a living, but others moved into a variety of trades, with a few crossing social boundaries, mixing with the high and mighty of the land. There were coopers, grocers, victuallers, chandlers, clothiers, printers, preachers and teachers. There were servants to the nobility, musicians, surgeons, bankers, with many touting a skill of some description. Several had an adventurous spirit and sought a better life overseas, but overall there seems to be consistent trait of honesty and hard work, perhaps even a Puritan zeal, which drove them on to improve their position, on the greasy pole of life.

Jagger or Jaggard or Gager?

The Jagger name was hard to find in the South of England during Tudor times, and the alternative spellings were even rarer still. The name was so unusual that it must have caused problems for the scribes, who were working when the English language was still in its infancy. English in the 16th century was not the exact science I was led to believe in my 1950’s junior school spelling tests.

The Jagger name had Norse origins, and with no ‘J’ in the Latin alphabet, it must have been confusing to pronounce, in the Latinised south. The choice was either to treat the ‘J’ as an ‘I’, pronounced like a ‘Y’, in yacht, or as a ‘G’, which in Latin is always a hard sound, like gold. The Jagger name didn’t fit into either rule, sounding like ‘J’, for jug, and so the confusion caused a multitude of variations to appear in the church records.

In 15th and 16th century documents, it was common to use only one ‘g’; ‘Jager’ or ‘Jagar’, but the spelling quickly evolved into a double ‘gg’. The extra ‘s’ at the end of the word in one branch of the London family, seems to have been acquired because of the cursive nature of 18th and 19th century handwriting, making a flourished ‘r’ appear like the letter ‘s’.

Researchers into a 17th century, American migrant line have found two interchangeable spellings of the same family, with Jagger and Gager both used. Common sense would indicate that both spellings must have been pronounced in a similar fashion. I have found over twenty other variations and one of the most famous of the ‘Jagger’ clan had four documented versions of his own.

The inconsistencies of Tudor scribes have been further compounded by transcription errors made over the past 400 years and which still continue to the present day. Today’s computer world actually accentuates the problem, because once a spelling error gets into the system, it spreads like a virus and is difficult, nye impossible, to correct.

Jaggar – Jaggars – Jagger – Jaggers – Jager – Jagar – Jegar –Jagher – Jugge – Jaggard Jaeger – Jäger – Gager – Gagger – Gawger – Gowgher – Gauger – Gigger – Jigger

The most confusing addition to the dictionary is ‘Jaggard’, which may have been brought about by a hard ending to the sounding of the name, or by a flamboyant swirl to the ‘r’, at the end of the word. Yes, Jagger and Jaggard are from the same root and establishing that fact has played a crucial part in developing my story.

Other variations to be found in the English records include the German spellings of Jaeger and Jäger, (with an umlaut). However, these variations seem absent in England before the 18th century, whilst the German versions are also reassuringly very rare, with their origins being in the Rhineland, where it borders France and Germany.

Several ‘experts’, privy to my early findings, immediately suggested that ‘Jaggard’ is a totally different word to ‘Jagger’ and anyway both sound like a foreign name, and MUST have German roots. Germany was, indeed, one of my initial areas of interest, but after years of exhaustive research, I have found no suggestion, anywhere, that the Jaggers, Gagers or Jaggards, in this story, are of foreign extraction. Their Yorkshire pedigree looks secure, well until someone discovers evidence that proves otherwise..!!

The Gager family of Long Melford

Long Melford, more simply known to the locals as Melford, was and remains today, a prosperous village near the eastern border of the County of Suffolk. It has a truly remarkable disposition, being over two miles long, with the buildings situated either side of a single wide thoroughfare. Television aficionados, who have followed the stories of ‘Lovejoy’, will already know the area well, because this popular series was shot entirely in and around Long Melford.

This part of Suffolk is the only place in England where the Gager version of the name is to be found in significant numbers and is also the earliest place where the name occurs in this form.

Long Melford

Long Melford – the street layout unchanged for 500 years

Three relevant residents are listed in the early records of Long Melford. These are Robert, Richard and James Gager, with Robert being the first to be recorded, when in 1513, he witnessed a will. There are no earlier clues as to the identities of the three, but they could be brothers, although more likely there is a father and son amongst the trio.

The names, Robert and Richard, are reassuringly the names of two members of the ‘Stainland’ Jagger family, dating from exactly the same period. These cannot be the same people, but the Suffolk and Yorkshire families share a similar naming pattern supporting the idea that this is one family group.

From their wills, we know that Robert’s wife was called Cristian and Richard’s named Beatrice, but nothing is known further of the two women’s maiden names. The name is written as ‘Gawger’ on some occasions, which further complicates matters, but the same people were also recorded with the Gager spelling and this became the established use in the area. The ‘Gawger’ version does appear very occasionally in the early Yorkshire records, but this spelling variation does not lead to any separate tree of descendants. It is simply one of those singular clerical variations that were so typical of the period.

All three members of this Long Melford Gager clan were in the textile business, with Robert being the most successful. In a 1522 military survey, Robert is described as a clothmaker, Richard as a fuller, with James Gager named as a shearman. The 1524 ‘subsidy return’ for Suffolk, taxes Robert at £20, but only £3 for Richard and James does not appear worthy of tax at all. A subsidy tax valuation of £20 is a very healthy sum for rural Suffolk, so Robert Gager was one of Melford’s wealthier citizens.

Robert witnessed the will of Richard Gager in 1525, who died that same year, whilst Robert’s will was witnessed by his son, John, who was made the executor, a task he had to carry out in 1528. This would make John at least 21 years old at the time, giving a birth date earlier than 1507, possibly placing the birth dates of Robert and Richard back in the period 1460-75.

Robert Gager’s death in 1528 coincided with one of the most disastrous years in the whole Tudor period. The harvests failed because of summer drought across Northern Europe and the problems of Henry VIII’s war-mongering meant textile exports to Antwerp were halted for several months. This led to riots in Suffolk and other parts of England, as the crop failure caused the price of grain to rise dramatically, at exactly the same time as wages plummeted. This set in motion a downward spiral in the fortunes of the English textile trade, which led to Long Melford, where twenty clothiers did business in 1520, having only three by 1550 and none by 1570.

Robert Gager’s testament named his son, John, as the main beneficiary and inheritor of his property, but for another son, William, he bequeathed just £10. John is mentioned several times in the extensive will, but William is mentioned just the once, suggesting he might have already moved away from home, perhaps having fallen out of favour or no longer in need of a larger legacy.

John and William were the commonest of names in the general community during this period, but again they were present on the Stainland tree. The fortunate son, John Gager married Alice, and he seems to be one of those who diversified away from the cloth trade, because at his death he is documented as a yeoman farmer, owning several parcels of land around Long Melford.

Records name this John Gager as the local excise man and tax gatherer, but I know from elsewhere in East Anglia that tax collecting was a part time job, akin to the modern sub post office, where the incumbent doubles up with another business. It may also have been one of those ‘official’ appointments, like ‘constable’ or ‘aletaster’, which were elected by the local landowners.

The tax collecting function suggests the Gager family were trusted members of the community, if not necessarily the most popular, a trust that is confirmed because John’s cousin, another John, held the post of Long Melford parish clerk.

John Gager’s own will suggests he had kept his father’s house on the main street of grand clothier houses, with the parcels of land around the village let to tenants. John seems to have kept the clothier business going in some form, as there is evidence that one of his children remained in the cloth trade.

John and Alice Gager had six children; the eldest son Robert, second son Gilbert, and four daughters, Elizabeth, Joan, Alice and Margaret. The ‘Gilbert’ first name is extremely unusual anywhere in the Gager/Jagger/Jaggard clan and helps to tie the three different spellings of the surnames together. The records show only six ‘Gilberts’ in 300 years and all fit quite snugly into this story.

I was fortunate to find a Gilbert Gager purchasing quantities of linen cloth, on 20th Nov 1567, direct from Flemish merchant ships at the wharf side in London. Gilbert bought 1400 ells of cloth, (ell was ‘five quarters of a yard’ – 45 inches) , so he had purchased 100 rolls of cloth, for the substantial sum of £32. He must have been in the wholesale drapery business, so I believe this is our Long Melford man.

More computer searches for Gilbert Gager brought up a Gilbert Jaggard, a couple of generations later, born just across the county border in the tiny settlement of West Wratting, near Cambridge. He was one of numerous children of Robert Gager from Suffolk, who is recorded with the name Jaggard after 1560, when the family moved to Cambridgeshire. They also had drapers in this family group and so this could well be the family of Robert Gager, Gilbert’s eldest brother.

The third occurrence of the Gilbert name was in Yorkshire, and parallels the Long Melford crew. There were three consecutive generations of Gilbert Jagger living in the parish of Kirkburton, near Huddersfield, with the earliest born before 1530. Kirkburton is to the east of Holmfirth and Stainland and was an important weaving village in the 15th century, and perhaps could be described as a northern clone of Long Melford.

The use of the ‘Gilbert’ name begins in Yorkshire and Suffolk at about the same time and the rarity in both places is highly suggestive of a connection, rather than just a pure coincidence. My experience in other families in my tree, in this era before widespread literacy, and prior to the free and easy movement of the population, shows that people who had been split for economic reasons, often managed to remain in contact, even generations later.

Lyn Boothman, a local historian from Long Melford, gets the credit for deciphering many of the wills and other documents associated with the Gagers in Suffolk. However, despite our combined efforts the evidence remains incomplete or inconclusive, so the certifiable Gager tree is yet to be confirmed.

What we do know for certain is that, the Jagger name in Suffolk evolved in a messy way, from Gawger to Gager and Jaggard. There were very few examples of each name, with still plenty of gaps, but the available evidence points to all the Suffolk ‘Gagers’, in this account, coming from just one root. Whilst the name similarities, between Yorkshire and Suffolk are not conclusive either way, they do tend towards a positive connection – but we need a little more evidence to be sure, because so far, there are no records of the Jagger spelling in Suffolk.

Finding a confirming link between remote hillside settlements in Yorkshire, and a prosperous Suffolk village originally looked the most impossible task imaginable. However, when I discovered that a significant titled family, who owned property around Stainland, also had strong connections with the successful Cordell family from Long Melford, then things began to look a little rosier.

William Cordell family of Melford inherited land from Henry Savile of Yorkshire and that land was in Stainland parish. Therefore, these, two remote places had amazing links, ones that fitted quite beautifully into my increasingly intricate jigsaw. Add to this there is a marriage between Cordell and Gager, one which was to have major ramifications, not only for the two families, but maybe, for the history of English literature.

T2 Gagers of Long Melford

If a family originally named Jagger had moved south to Suffolk, they probably left Yorkshire sometime in the late 15th or early 16th centuries. Was Richard the father and did his son, Robert, build on the family cloth skills to become a successful clothier in their new homeland?

The stimulus for the family to ‘up sticks’ and move south may have been a business contact at the Halifax cloth exchange, but more likely there was a marriage in there somewhere. Matrimony was very frequently the reason why nobles and merchants moved to a new part of the country and as we have already seen, this family had some status in their Pennine home district.

Discovering the maiden names of Cristian or Beatrice Gager could prove extremely useful in establishing the exact sequence of events. Beatrice is slightly unusual, a ‘posh’ foreign name and very different to the all pervading Elizabeth, Mary and Ann. So far, her heritage and that of Cristina continues to remain a mystery, although potential family origins for the two women and links to other notable Yorkshire families, are discussed as the story develops.


Cockney Jaggers

There was another ‘Jagger’ family living in the south of England during Tudor times, and this one had their home in the very heart of the City of London. William ‘Jegar’ and Agnes Brian were married at St Stephen’s Church, Coleman Street, in January 1537/38, and this family continued to be recorded in the parish records for the next forty seven years.

William Jegar - Marriage 1537/38

Wedding of William Jegar to Agnes Brian, St Stephen’s Church, 26 Jan 1537/38

William and Agnes had three children in quick succession, before Agnes died in 1541, shortly after the birth of Thomas, their third child. The first two offspring, Frauncis and Jone (Joan) born in 1539 and 1540, had already died by the time their mother passed away. William married again, and with quite alarming haste, to Margaret Whiting, in September 1541, again at St Stephen’s Church,. The rapidity in taking on a new wife may have been because William had a new born son on his hands. Soon there were more, as the next child arrived in 1542, followed by another five, including Margery and John. This second tranche were all baptised with the spelling of ‘Jagar’.

John Jagar 1545

Christening of John Jagar – 1545

Second wife, Margaret, died in January 1555/56 and a year later, William married for the third time, to Allys Docwell, at All Hallowes Church, Bread Street. The couple had three children before Allys, died in 1563.

The last records of children at St Stephen’s Church are the death of a young son, William, in 1563, and daughter, Johan in 1568, aged nine. Father William, who was probably born between 1510 and 1520, was buried as William ‘Jagger’, on 7th October 1585, at St Stephen’s Church.

Humphrey Jagar - burial

Burial of Hmfray Jagar 1557, son of William Jagar, hossher

William’s name had changed in the church records from Jegar, in 1538-42, to Jagar, 1542-1560, and finally Jagger, 1562-85. The change always coincided with a new clerical ‘hand’ making the entry, so reflecting the spelling idiosyncrasies of each writer. It seems that the original ‘Jegar’ name was just a one-off spelling and I have found no other examples anywhere, before or since.

Jaggers of Coleman Street

So, William had three wives and twelve children with only, three (Thomas, Margery and John), making it through to adulthood. We can support the idea that this is the same William, because of the death of the wives, and because his occupation of ‘hossher’; an usher, is mentioned at the baptism or burial of several of his children.

The word ‘usher’ could be used to refer to an assistant schoolmaster, but the circumstances of William’s life point towards a much grander position, one that played an essential role in the higher echelons of Tudor life.


Crammer – Gentleman usher

Gentlemen Ushers were a senior class of servant, found in the homes of Tudor noblemen, and were responsible for the smooth running of the house. Their administrative duties included ensuring meals were served in appropriate and timely fashion and that the master’s personal chambers were kept as he wished them. The ‘hoosher’ was probably a literate person, responsible for managing the servants and ensuring the general security of the household. This role often entailed welcoming visitors and special guests to the house, and this aspect of the role is probably how we associate the job title today.

In a large household, the steward would be above the usher, in the pecking order, but in that situation the gentleman usher’s primary role was to look after the personal well being of his lord and master. We still don’t know in which establishment William served as an usher, and with so many notable people and organisations being nearby, he might have been employed by any of them.

The position of Gentleman Usher in the Royal Court was keenly sought after, and taken up by high ranking members of the aristocracy. These were not at the ‘Baldrick’ end of the servant hierarchy, but rather nobles and knights, who are trusted to work in the closest proximity to the Monarch.

‘Gentleman of the Privy Chamber’, was a position created by Henry VIII, which meant the king was surrounded by people he could trust, who would ensure his personal security and general well being. Ushers, who served in households further down the hierarchy of noblemen, also held positions of trust and responsibility. This would seem to have been William Jagger’s place in Tudor society.

Funeral procession of Elizabeth I - William Camden, Clarenceux, 1603

Gentlemen Ushers acting as escort in ceremonial role

So, was this William Jagger of Coleman Street the same person mentioned as receiving £10 in the will of clothier, Robert Gager from Long Melford in 1528? Jegar and Gager make a very similar sound. If we can bring Coleman Street and Long Melford more closely together, then there is a chance that we can demonstrate that this is one extended family, one that reaches from Yorkshire to London, with a stopover in deepest Suffolk.

Crammer – conspiracy theorists – crazy people?

Conspiracy theorists are often described as the people who take pride in being sceptical of the version of events proffered by governments and their official agencies. The term is thought to have been first used to describe those people who didn’t believe in the official version of events relating to the assassination of President John Kennedy, in 1963.

The ‘official’ version often produces ‘definitive headlines’ within minutes of the event taking place, but later takes the form of lengthy reports, produced by third parties, far removed from the event itself, with the whole report process being delayed for months or quite often, several years. You always know the ‘establishment’ has something to hide, when the government offers to hold a ‘judge-led, independent enquiry’. This ensures the event in question, is sanitised, eventually ‘kicked into the long grass’, with the expectation that the passage of time will diminish the culpability or negative impact of any misdemeanour carried out by those in high places.

William of Ockham and his sharp razor then takes over, because this ‘approved’ explanation of events, concocted by seemingly ‘decent, honest, independent men’, becomes difficult, nigh impossible, to overturn. The final stage is when the ‘official’ version, which finally appears ‘on the record’, is then filed away in the National Archives, later to be resurrected by later generations and so enter their history books as a truthful and fully documented account. It must be true..!!.

Conspiracy theorists tend to be wary of ALL statements by those in authority. They are the ‘you can’t fool all of the people all of the time’ brigade, or have genealogical ties to the small boy that noticed the ‘Emperor wasn’t actually wearing any clothes’. Perhaps their attitude to authority is best summed up, by the response of Mandy Rice-Davies during the trial related to the Profumo scandal, of 1963. When the prosecuting counsel pointed out that Lord Astor denied having an affair with her, or even having met her, she replied, ‘Well, he would, wouldn’t he?

The official explanation of events is often couched in the language of a parent talking to a child, or an army major addressing a brand new recruit. The conspiracy theorist feels they are being talked down to and are always supposed to be the stupid or inferior ones. The term ‘conspiracy theorist’ is also used as a form of abuse by establishment figures, accompanied by words like ‘paranoid’, ‘misguided’ or ‘irrational’. However, when history is reviewed decades, even centuries later, and the files marked ‘top secret’ are eventually opened, the reality more often favours the views of the conspiracy theorist.

The original propaganda, spouted by the government spokesmen, turned out to be just that. Authority frequently tries to fob us off with a less than plausible explanation, before becoming very upset when large numbers of ‘vox populi’ just don’t believe them.

George Orwell said in his novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’.

 “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”

 For several weeks, Winston Churchill, British wartime Prime Minister, told the population of London that huge explosions, caused by V2 rockets sent from Germany were just ‘exploding gas mains’.

My great uncle, Charles Jaggar, his wife, Ellen, and eighteen year old son, John were killed by one of those ‘exploding gas mains’ – sent from Germany, at 2000 mph..!!

Endlebury Road 1945

Remnants of the Jaggar family home – Chingford, 1945 – courtesy Chingford Museum

The first statement by an official spokesman of London Transport, on the morning of the 7/7 Tube bombings, suggested this was the result of ‘a fire in an electricity sub-station causing a cascade effect’.

As I headed towards central London on that morning, I was immediately suspicious of this totally implausible explanation and so quickly changed my plans and headed away from the metropolis.

The 21st century seems to have heralded a new dawn for the conspiracy theorist. The explosion in the world of personal communication has meant that government secrets rarely stay that way for long. The wholesale leaking of classified documents, the hacking of phones and computers and the instantaneous transmission of photos and even moving pictures, by the humblest of individuals, has put the cloak and dagger world of governments at threat. The truth is now out in the cold light of day, and the children of the Norman knights don’t seem too happy that the world they created for themselves is now open to scrutiny by the other seven billion citizens on the planet.

The messengers are now the target and the ones being accused of criminal activity, not the ones who have usurped their position of authority and been exposed to the full light of day.

Religious crammer – good and bad habits

Words to describe the various medieval religious orders, such as Benedictine, Cistercian, Dominican, Blackfriar and Greyfriar, are scattered across this tale, and so here is a brief summary of who was who in the world of the monk, friar and the nun, and how they can be identified by the colour of their habits.

Monks lived a life of poverty, remaining within a specific monastery, whilst friars, although they also took a vow of poverty, moved freely amongst the general population. Nuns remained cloistered within their own separate, single-sex community, known as a Convent or Nunnery, but they were known to have help from male servants, to carry out the heavier menial duties..!!.

The first thing to realise is that before 1536, when Henry VIII began to demolish the Catholic monasteries, these religious orders were amongst the largest landholders in England and played a highly significant part in the land use structure of the country, and a key role in the economy. These ‘religious’ lands had all been gifted by King William, in the period after 1066, when he divided his conquered country up between his faithful knights and the abbots of the Church of Rome.

Apart from their religious duties these communities ran hospitals for the sick, farmed the land, maintained orchards and fishponds and developed new strains of crops and livestock. They planted Mulberry trees to feed silkworms, were brewers of beer and fermenters of wine, plus they were the major source of honey, as their bees provided virtually the only sweetening agent of the period. They offered the only form of education, always in Latin, and created a hotel system, providing accommodation or rest stations for pilgrims and commercial travellers. They were also administrators, librarians, diarists and authors, keeping the most complete historical records of the period.

What did those monks, friars and nuns, ever do for us???

Benedictine monks date back as far as the year 529, when St Benedict of Nursia founded his first monastery, at Monte Cassino, in central Italy. Subsequently, communities varied in their adherence to Benedict’s original practices, but Cluny Abbey, in France, founded in the early 10th century, stuck strictly to St Benedict’s rules and created a template for monastic life. The Benedictine legacy in London also began in the 10th century, when they founded the earliest version of Westminster Abbey. Benedictines were especially known for their generous hospitality towards travellers. The Benedictine habit was all black, making them known as the ‘Black Monks’.

Cistercian monks were a break-away group of Benedictines, founded by Abbot Robert, in 1098. He felt that the Cluniac monasteries had drifted away from their religious ideals, as many had become more akin to a palace than a poor house. Cistercians were pledged to stick closely to prayer and the simple life and they took as their uniform a white habit, covered in a black scapular, (an armless body tunic), therefore making them known as the ‘White Monks’.

(Remember that monks stayed at home, whilst the friars went walkabout.)

The Franciscans were a group of friars, formed by Francis of Assisi, in 1209. These were known as the Greyfriars, sometimes called Minorites and they wore a dark grey habit. In London, their home base was at Newgate, close to St Pauls (Powles) Cathedral, whilst the Franciscan nuns, known as the ‘Poor Clares’ or Minoresses, had their convent at Aldgate. One group of ‘Poor Clares’, lived at Denny Abbey, near Cambridge, a place to keep your eyes peeled for later.

Dominican friars were founded by Dominic, a Castillian (Spain), in 1216. These were the Blackfriars, nicknamed after the black cloak they wore over their white habits. The order included both nuns and friars and had already reached Oxford by 1221. One of their earliest and most influential member was Albertus Magnus (1206-1280), who contributed greatly to the theology of the order, by his study of Dionysus the Areopagite, a first century Greek convert to Christianity. Much more about him, later..!

Albertus Magnus

Dominican friar – Albertus Magnus

 In 1276, London’s community of Dominican, ‘black friars’, moved to a place beside the River Thames, on the site of the decaying Montfiquet Tower, and adjacent to Baynard Castle, one of the original Norman forts. Baynard Castle had been granted to the Earls of Clare and later was rebuilt by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. This was where Richard III was offered the English crown and later this became the London home of the Earls of Pembroke. The Dominican’s monastery became known as ‘Blackfriars’ and after their home was ‘dissolved’, King Edward VI granted it to Sir Francis Bryan.

The site has become well known to fans of Mr Shakespeare, as it was at the Blackfriars theatre that the Bard was supposed to have made his acting debut. This theatre had been built by Robert Dudley, in 1578, and amongst his troupe of actors was James Burbage, another crucial name in the ‘creation’ of the Shakespeare story. It was also at Blackfriars, that William Shakespeare was involved in a well documented land purchase. In fact, all the people named above play a pivotal role in my story and several characters feature high on the cast list of Mr Shakespeare’s history plays.

Benedictines – Black monks                              Cistercians – White monks
Dominicans – Black friars                                   Franciscans – Grey friars
Franciscan Nuns – ‘Poor Clares’


Chapter Three


The Knights Templar


Holy Grail

© Stephen Knight


Knights Templar – the genuine article

The order of the Knights Templar is thought by many to be a mythical organisation, so when they entered this story of Elizabethan literature I was rather taken aback. My research was falling neatly into place, but the Templar name kept popping up in the most unlikely places, and when I delved into the early history of William Shakespeare’s own family, I found connections to the Templars everywhere.

What I find strange, is that although the references are clear and unequivocal, I cannot find another researcher who has picked up the baton and made a meaningful connection, between Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon and the infamous knights. The well tutored tourist guides in Stratford-upon-Avon looked at me blankly when I asked them about the Templar link, and yet the Templar ‘Cross’ is visible everywhere, often associated with those same landmarks, now closely linked to the Bard.

So, who ARE the Knights Templar?

They began as a band of nine crusading knights, who were granted a place of refuge at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Their base was adjacent to the Dome of the Rock, a place of worship which had been built on the original site of the Temple of Solomon. This Order of Knights, formed in 1118, was originally known as the ‘Poor fellow-soldiers of Jesus Christ’, then ‘the Knighthood of the Temple of Solomon’, which has since became shortened to the Knights Templar.

Jerusalem - two Temples

 Dome of the Rock (site of Solomon’s Temple) in the centre, Al-Aqsa mosque, the grey dome to left.

 The Templar knights grew to become a major military force, vowed to protect the Holy Land from Muslim invasion. Their first leader, their Grand Master, was Hugh de Payens, who after returning to France in 1127, formalised the Order under a strict code of conduct. This was known as the ‘Latin Rule of the Templars’, a governing code which had seventy two clauses… !

The Templars became allied to the Order of Cistercian monks, whose white habit they adopted, creating their distinctive white tunics, which they emblazoned with a red cross. These holy knights practised their religion according to the original rules of St Benedict, not the more liberal interpretation of monastic life, being propagated by the modernising Benedictines.

This meant the knights were not wild, drunken types, but took vows of poverty and chastity, living the life of monks, when not fighting for their Christian faith. The Templar vow of poverty is exemplified in their famous symbol, often used as a document seal, showing two knights sharing the same horse.

Templar Seal

Templar seal

 Hugh de Payens established a network of local Templar headquarters and way stations right across Western and Central Europe, ostensibly to support and protect pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. The main, fortified, sites were called ‘commanderies’, with the local ones, often no more than a hall and a chapel, being known as ‘preceptories’. Hugh came to England in 1128, establishing a base in Chancery Lane, London, which was later moved to a site alongside the River Thames, where the Templars built a round church, mirroring their headquarters in Jerusalem.

Temple Church KHB

Temple Church, London – photo KHB

In Scotland, Hugh visited his comrade, Henri St Clair, at his home in Roslin and it was here that the ‘Sinclair’ family built the magnificent, Rosslyn Chapel. This is seen, by many, as a mystical place, and one that links the Knights Templar to the Masonic movement, which history books says was created much later. The chapel lay empty for three centuries, but is now being restored to its former glory.

The Templars were also gifted other lands in Scotland, notably at Balantrodoch, near Edinburgh, where exists a village now called Temple. This is only four miles distant from Roslin, but today the Temple church remains only as a derelict monument.


Derelict Templar Church at Balantrodoch

 The Templars were also gifted lands across England, with the most generous donor being Roger de Mowbray, then Duke of Northumberland. Many of these places are still recognisable today because they have the prefix, ‘Temple’ in their name. In fact, whenever you see the name Temple, associated either with a place or a person’s name, think Knights Templar; yes even that 1960’s TV charmer, Simon Templar, who may have lacked the chastity, but was always willing to share his sports car, with a glamorous maiden in distress.

Although the Templars advocated poverty for themselves, as individuals, the Order amassed huge wealth, partly from the rich and powerful men who supported their Christian cause, but mainly from the booty they plundered during their ‘crusades’ The Templars gained official support from the Catholic Church and whenever they were given lands by a local benefactor, it became a condition of acceptance that they would only be answerable to the Papal rule of Rome, and not to the local laws of their place of residence. Their ‘commanderies’ became a repository for treasure, were free of taxes and offered a place of sanctuary for those at odds with the laws of their local ruler. This brought growing distrust from national monarchs, particularly in France, where there was a proliferation of local Templar preceptories, north of Paris, following the banks of the River Seine.

In England, King Henry II (reigned 1154-1189) donated lands to the Templar cause, including the Isle of Lundy, in the Bristol Channel. By then, they already held extensive estates in London, Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Oxfordshire, Cornwall, Lincolnshire, and were at their most numerous, in north and east Yorkshire. Their rights of immunity, to local laws, were confirmed by King Richard I (the Lionheart, 1189-1199) and his successor King John (1199-1216), who continued to treat the Templars in the same generous vein.

In the South of England, they became particularly well established in Hertfordshire, where in the 1140s, they founded a Templar town, called Baldock. This was built on the strategic crossroads of the Roman, Icknield Way and the Saxon, Great North Road and, in 1199, King John elevated the town to market status. The town’s name was derived from the French ‘Baldoc’, the Templar name for Baghdad, a Muslim citadel which was high on their list of military targets. The memory of the previous owners remains today in Baldock, with the main secondary school now known as the Knights Templar School.

England’s King Henry III (1216-1272) continued the close association with the Templar knights and increased their military, financial and diplomatic responsibilities. His successor, Edward I (1272–1307) treated the Templars with less benevolence, regaining full control of military finances, to pay for his many wars. Edward even raided the treasure chests at the London Temple, to further his ambitions. Edward I was a tall intimidating man, who was known as the ‘hammer of the Scots’ for his treatment of his northern neighbours. He didn’t like Jews much either, so in 1290 he passed a law that expelled them from England, a doctrine that was not officially repealed until 1656.

Usury (money lending) was also banned from this time, but remained as a black market activity until the 16th century, when Henry VIII made laws that legalised the practice, but limited excessive profiteering by the usurers. These revised laws, relating to the practice of usury were to play a significant part in the life of William Shakespeare and his family.

The Crusaders finally conceded the Holy land to the Muslims in 1291, when the Christians were ejected from their last stronghold, at Acre. The Templars retreated to the island of Cyprus, then on to Rhodes, which they turned into their own island fortress. They remained a powerful force in the Mediterranean Sea, where their fleets of ships controlled the important maritime trading routes. As their influence grew, back in their own homelands, their independence grew to such an extent that the French king feared he would lose control of his country.

The greatest concentration of Templar preceptories was along the Seine Valley, in Northern France, and the tension between knight and state eventually caused Philip IV of France to outlaw them in 1307. Philip had already outlawed Jews, the year before, as he saw both groups as a ‘state within a state’. Philip justified this action by accusing the Templars of heresy, which seemed strange as they were followers of Christ, but hundreds confessed, under torture, and led to many being burnt at the stake.

Many of the accused evaded capture and just vanished into thin air, along with their huge chests of treasure. The money was never seen again. Perhaps the most mysterious disappearance was that of a whole fleet of Templar ships, which set sail from La Rochelle, the night before they were to be raided by King Philip’s men. The date of the action was Friday 13th October 1307, said to be the origin of the superstitions surrounding this day. These seafaring knights and their ships were never heard of again.

Some histories say the French Templars escaped with their treasure to Rosslyn or Balantrodoch, in Scotland, whilst others say they headed for Portugal, where previously the Templars had built the elaborate Convent of Tomar, hidden away in the heart of the country. The Tomar fortress had been built as part of a defensive line protecting the north of Europe from the Muslims, who occupied the southern part of the Iberian Peninsular.

In 1312, at the request of the French King, the Pope removed his warrant and abolished the Templars, ordering their lands and other assets, to be confiscated, but then transferred directly to the Order of St John of Jerusalem, commonly known as the Knights Hospitaller, a rival order of religious combatants.

King Philip went further in 1314, and oversaw the ritual execution of the last Templar Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, burnt at the stake, on a scaffold erected on an island in the River Seine in Paris, for everyone to witness. Legend then says, that three Templar knights, searching the site, could find only his skull and femurs. This is said to be the origin of that iconic ‘pirate’ flag, the ‘skull & crossbones’.


Jacques de Molay

 Things were different in Portugal, where at Tomar, in 1317, that the Knights Templar simply changed their name above the door and rebranded to become the ‘Knights of the Order of Christ’. It was here that Henry the Navigator, son of King João I of Portugal, gained his ‘Atlantic Skipper’s Certificate’, whilst other great seafaring explorers, including Ferdinand Magellan and Bartholomew Dias, were also associated with this Portuguese ‘Templar’ base. This has fuelled the idea that it was the Knights Templar who provided both the money and the expertise, to sponsor the famous Portuguese voyages of discovery, which led to the European colonisation of the planet.

Portugal’s, King João I and Henry the Navigator were both Grand Masters of the ‘Order of Christ’ and the Kings of Portugal continued to be closely associated with the re-branded version of this military/religious Order. Very pertinent to this story is that King João I married Phillipa of Lancaster, daughter of English prince, John of Lancaster, more commonly known as John of Gaunt. Phillipa was a step sibling of the Beaufort family, a name that that figures prominently in many of Shakespeare’s history plays, as does Phillipa’s brother, Henry IV of England..! – (‘once more unto the breach dear friends, once more’.)

The English King, Edward II (1307-1327), was more sympathetic to the Templars than his French counterpart, and although he temporarily imprisoned some knights, the majority became quickly assimilated into the newly expanded Knights Hospitaller Order. The close connections between the English kings and the military knights suggest that they may have been more than just sympathetic to their cause. The seal of Edward II is similar to that of Roger de Mowbray and other Templar knights, suggesting that Edward and his Royal predecessors were also, covert, members of the Order.

The Hospitallers had actually founded before the Templars, by Brother Gerard, a Benedictine (black) monk. This was in 1099, very soon after the Christians had taken control of the Holy Land, at the climax of the First Crusade. The Order of St John was named after a hospital for pilgrims that had been built in Jerusalem, in 1023. This was on the site of the ancient monastery of St John the Baptist, under the care of the Benedictine monks. This hospital had operated with the consent of the Muslim rulers of Jerusalem, who had previously been ambivalent to Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land.

The Hospitallers were Benedictine monks who took on a military role, whilst the Templars were primarily knights who worked in harmony with the breakaway Cistercian monks. This explains the distinctive uniforms, with Templars and Cistercians both wearing white coats, contrasting with the black garb of the Benedictines and Hospitallers.

Templar and Hospitaller

Templar and Hospitaller

Brother Gerard and the Hospitallers were also first to set up a series of way-stations across Europe, to support pilgrims on their journey to Jerusalem. The Order was formally recognised by the Pope in 1113, so again pre-dating the Knights Templar, but their public relations department hasn’t been as good and they have kept a much lower profile in history. The Order of St John was also gifted lands, both in the Holy Land and back home in their native lands. The influence of the Hospitallers increased as they added military security to their caring duties, offering armed escort for pilgrims and with both Orders of Knights building massive forts in the Holy Land, to support the establishment of the ‘Crusader states’, which were established after the taking of Jerusalem in 1099.

Krak des Chevaliers 2014

 Hospitaller Castle, now in Syria – Crac Des Chevaliers – surely a wonder of the world!

The hierarchy of both Orders was similar, consisting of three levels; knights, chaplains and sergeants-in-arms. The knights were always from noble families, but they made up less than ten per cent of the muster roll, meaning the majority belonged to the chaplains and the third tier; the sergeants-in-arms. The chaplains administered to the religious needs of each Order, whilst the sergeants-in-arms, the lowest grade, were responsible for the practicalities of organising this huge logistical operation.

The head of the Knights Templar was the ‘Grand Master’, whilst the Hospitallers were led by the ‘Grand Prior’. The leaders were each responsible for a ‘tongue’, as each ethnic division was known. At commanderie level, the Hospitallers were led by a Prior, whilst the ‘bailiff’, was the senior member of the ‘sergeants-in-arms’, who acted as the estate manager for the local ‘preceptory’.

Both the Templars and the Hospitallers created their own banking operations, which was an early model for the system we use today. Their ‘banks’ offered a source of finance for pilgrimages and crusading expeditions, and their local treasure chests ensured security for their assets, whilst they were away from home. Usury or money lending was forbidden by both the Catholic Church and the English kings, but the knights circumvented the rules, by charging ‘rent’ rather than ‘interest’, as payment for their monetary dealings. Today this might be equated with a financial institution’s ‘management fee’.

The tradition of these three contrasting vocations remained in English noble families, through to the Great War of 1914-18. The eldest son would inherit the noble title and estate and gradually take responsibility for its management. The second son would join the military and the third son would take Holy Orders. Further sons might become lawyers, although many opted to serve in the armed forces prior to finding themselves an eligible heiress and a country estate of their own. The younger children were often more creative, with the noble class being the source of artists and writers.

The defeated knights of Acre retreated westward, making the island of Rhodes their fortress home. Most were of French origin and there were rarely more than a dozen knights from England in regular service there. Templars became transformed into Hospitallers and the English members of the Knights of St John helped in relieving the siege of Rhodes, in 1480. However, in 1522, Henry VIII was less accommodating and wouldn’t allow English Grand Prior, Thomas Docwra, to send a contingent of English knights to defend the island and this time the Hospitallers were overrun by Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

Old Harbour - Rhodes

Old HarbourRhodes

The defeated Hospitallers retreated further west, to the islands of Malta and Gozo, where they became known as the ‘Knights of Malta’. As the annual rent for their new lands, they pledged, each year, on All Souls Day, to send a Maltese Falcon to the King of Sicily. This was centuries before Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre arrived on the scene, hunting for a jewel encrusted Golden Falcon, sent by the Hospitallers to Charles V of Spain, as the ‘rent’ for 1539, but which mysteriously disappeared en route.

The code of conduct of the Knights Templar, created by Hugh de Payens, was long and unwieldy but the Hospitallers lived by a much simpler set of values. They were governed by the four cardinal virtues; Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance and were also sworn to preserve the eight Beatitudes; loyalty, piety, generosity, bravery, honour, contempt of death, help for the poor & sick, and respect for the church. These are also the personal traits we should be looking for, in those individuals, who inherited the Hospitaller traditions, but didn’t openly acknowledge membership of the Order.

The Hospitaller headquarters in England had been established at Clerkenwell Priory, beyond the London Wall, near the Cripplegate entrance. This is generally accepted to have been the only Hospitaller building in England, before the Templar demise in 1312, but that isn’t quite true. Much earlier, the Hospitallers had been offered and had accepted estates in another part of the country.

You’ll never guess where!!

Yorkshire was the strongest area of influence for the Knights Templar, but they didn’t have any Preceptories in the western end of Calderdale. That might be explained because as early as 1187, the Hospitallers had arrived, managing a number of farms around Halifax, including two at Shelf and others at Ovenden and Shibden.

The village of Shelf has been home to generations of the Jagger clan, since earliest recorded times. Close-by to Shelf is Jagger Park Wood, adjacent to Ox Heys Farm, and Jagger Wood, next to Coley Hall. These were both well documented, Hospitaller farms, managed by Benedictine monks, with Coley Hall, housing a hospital, situated beside a church, named in honour of St John the Baptist.

Coley Hall, Calderdale

Coley Hall, near Shelf – Copyright Paul Glazzard

Ovenden also had a family of Jaggers living there in the 15th century and there were also Jagger links to Shibden, where there was an early Hospitaller ‘hall house’. This earlier version of Shibden Hall pre-dates the fine 15th century ‘Halifax’ house, which dominates the estate today. Their proximity to the Benedictine managed farms, means the extended Jagger family would have been well aware of Hospitaller ways and traditions, and may well have played an integral part in that religious community.

IHS - monogram of Christ

Hospitaller properties carried their distinctive mark, ‘a monogram of the Christ.

Two families, the ‘de Warren’ and ‘de Lacy’ families, were originally the major land owners in West Yorkshire, but they were eventually usurped by the Savile family, who became adept at marrying lonely heiresses, so scooping up a large number of country estates and eventually becoming the dominant family of the Manor of Wakefield, which included large parts of Calderdale.

So, the Hospitallers did own lands outside London, prior to the demise of the Templars, but the vast majority were inherited from their errant knightly comrades, when they were outlawed in 1312. The transfer of land and property to the Hospitallers was smooth and orderly, the majority of English Templars simply swapped tunics, from a white one, with a red cross, to a rather sombre, black number.

The Knights Templar, with their image of a red cross, nowadays tend to be reserved for fictional medieval adventure stories, whilst the white cross on a black tunic is still familiar today, at every church fete or sporting event, where the St John’s Ambulance organisation is on duty. Yes, the Hospitallers are still very much with us, but few people seem to recognise that fact.

After the ‘disappearance’ of the Templars, there was no need for the Hospitallers to maintain two headquarters in London, so in the 1340’s, the main Temple complex, beside the River Thames, was rented out to civil lawyers. This site later became the Inner and Middle Temples of the Inns of Court, evolving into the epicentre of the legal profession in England. Elsewhere, lands that were excess to Hospitaller requirements, was either offered to secular tenants or just left to decay into ruin. The ravages of the Black Death meant people were at a premium during this period and so to run an effective organisation the Order of St John had to be flexible, adapt its strict rules, to make best use of its extensive assets.

Several of the old Templar sites were never taken up by the Hospitallers, being left to crumble away, with the best materials robbed out for local buildings. However, a notable few were gifted to new owners and carried on their previous Templar ways, almost unaltered. One such place was Bisham Abbey, which is still alive and well, and as you pass by on the River Thames you might notice local landmarks which still bear the name ‘Temple’.

The official story portrayed, by establishment historians, is that the Pope banned the Templars in 1312, so that was the end of their story. Anyone who doubts this official version of events is called a ‘conspiracy theorist’. Yet, most of the land and financial assets, plus the majority of the knights themselves, transferred directly to the new, ‘friendlier’, and supposedly, different organisation, although it is difficult to spot the join.

The Templars in Portugal were less subtle in their approach, with a rough and ready re-branding, by changing the notice on the shop front, but to all intents and purposes, the Knights Templar organisation has survived, in one form or other, till today.

The Hospitallers were themselves, also officially disbanded in England, two centuries later, with their lands redistributed to ‘deserving’ servants of the English monarch. Nonetheless, the Hospitallers arrived at the other side of the Tudor Reformation, with many of their personnel still in positions of authority and some of their most important buildings, intact and functioning as they had previously.

Several of these ex-Hospitaller buildings were rebuilt or refurbished, in the 18th and 19th centuries, their face-lifts associated with Britain’s most notable architects. These great designers were instrumental in creating some of England’s grandest buildings, but they also found time to restore to their former glory, much humbler buildings, many of which had been under Templar and Hospitaller ownership.

Great Victorian architect, George Gilbert Scott is one who figures frequently as a ‘refurber’ of preceptories and another who might well have had Hospitaller affiliations. That view is supported because one of his most lauded creations was All Soul’s Church, in Halifax, which Scott himself described as his best work.

His grandson, Giles Gilbert Scott, was the most notable architect of the early 20th century, with his fabulous portfolio including Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, Battersea Power Station, the Chamber of the House of Commons, and the Red Telephone box.

Red telephone box, Guildford

Building on his family pedigree, Giles Gilbert Scott received excellent training as an architect, being articled to Temple Lushington Moore, himself a great church builder of the 19th century. The clue is probably somewhere in the name!

Another architect, from this same famous Scott stable, made a very special contribution to the Shakespeare story, this one in Stratford-upon-Avon, itself. We shall hear more about her work later.

Modern architecture is still dominated by a small number of outstanding individuals. Norman Foster and Richard Rogers consistently win contracts for some of the world’s most prestigious projects. They were responsible for the Millau viaduct, the Pompidou Centre in France and a variety of airport terminals and grandiose towers across the planet. Both have won the notable Pritzer Architecture prize and share a common heritage as alumni of the Yale University. Architects are now much more common across society, but an ‘outstanding’ few, continue to dominate their profession.


Millau Viaduct, River Tarn – one of Norman Foster’s superb creations

The most famous English architect of all, known for his iconic St Paul’s Cathedral, is Christopher Wren, and quite surprisingly, his is another name that has extremely close connections with this Shakespeare saga. Very few famous figures of history get left out!

The story of Wren’s involvement is part of my end game and leads to significant events still taking place in the 21st century. My story of William Shakespeare is not just a chronicle of the past, but carries through to the present day.

Temple Bar - original position in Fleet Street

Christopher Wren’s, Temple Bar, stood on Fleet Street, gateway to the City of London


Grand Marshal

In both the Templar and Hospitaller traditions, it was the Grand Marshal who was in charge of military operations. This title, Marshal, has long been associated with a similar role in the Royal houses of Europe, but came to mean much more in England because of the dominance of one individual.

William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke (1147-1219), was a knight who served four kings of England, and was the architect of the Magna Carta of 1215. When King John died, William became guardian of the boy-king Henry III and of the kingdom and re-issued Magna Carta under his own seal in 1216 and 1217. Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, described him as the ‘greatest knight who ever lived’. Originally known as William the Marshal, he so dominated the position, he took the title as his family name. The ‘title’ of Marshal was an inherited role, to be passed on to the sons of the incumbent, so both the surname and the title were passed to later generations. However, that succession was rarely straightforward and there were a multitude of deviations along the way.

The original William Marshal was reputedly cursed by an Irish priest, who claimed the knight had stolen lands belonging to his parish church. The curse targeted William’s male line, stating there would be no descendants to carry on the name. This proved to be true as none of his five boys produced male offspring, ensuring the Marshal ‘surname’ became extinct on the death of his youngest son.

Ist and 2nd Earl of Pembroke, Temple Church

Two William Marshalls, father & son – in the Temple Church, London

 The five sons died in turn and without issue, so the ‘title’ of Earl Marshal then passed to Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, the husband of William’s eldest daughter, Maud Marshal. The Bigod line were only able to produce one generation with a male heir, allowing King Edward I to reclaim the title of ‘Earl Marshal’ for the Crown and awarded it to his son, Thomas of Brotherton, along with the title of Earl of Norfolk. Thomas was also, perhaps predictably, unable to produce a male heir and the title of Earl Marshal passed down through two female inheritors to the Mowbray line of the Dukes of Norfolk.

It was the last of that line, Anne Mowbray, who as a five year old, became the child bride of Richard of York, the younger of the two ‘Princes in the Tower’. She died at the age of nine and her Royal husband was murdered, at the age of twelve, in the mysterious coup which put Richard III on the throne.

Holders of the title of Grand Marshal

William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke: 1199–1219
William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke: 1219–1231
Richard Marshal, 3rd Earl of Pembroke: 1231–1234
Gilbert Marshal, 4th Earl of Pembroke: 1234–1242
Walter Marshal, 5th Earl of Pembroke: 1242–1245
Anselm Marshal, 6th Earl of Pembroke: 1245
Roger Bigod, 4th Earl of Norfolk: 1245–1269
Roger Bigod, 5th Earl of Norfolk: 1269–1307
Robert de Clifford: 1307–1308
Nicholas Segrave, Lord Segrave: 1308–1315
Thomas of Brotherton, 1st Earl of Norfolk: 1315–1338
Margaret, Duchess of Norfolk: 1338–1377 (only lone female Marshal)
Henry Percy, Lord Percy: 1377
John FitzAlan, 1st Baron Arundel, Lord Maltravers: 1377–1383
Thomas de Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk: 1383–1398
Thomas Holland, 1st Duke of Surrey: 1398–1399
Ralph de Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland: 1400–1412
John de Mowbray, 2nd Duke of Norfolk: 1412–1432
John de Mowbray, 3rd Duke of Norfolk: 1432–1461
John de Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk: 1461–1476


Anne de Mowbray, 8th Countess of Norfolk: 1476-1483
Richard of Shrewsbury, 1st Duke of York: 1476–1483
Sir Thomas Grey: 1476-1483

John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk: 1483–1485
William de Berkeley, 1st Marquess of Berkeley: 1486–1497
Henry Tudor, Duke of York: 1497–1509
Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk: 1509–1524
Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk: 1524–1547
Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset: 1547–1551
John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland: 1551–1553
Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, restored: 1553–1554
Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk: 1554–1572
George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury: 1572–1590
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex: 1597–1601
Edward Somerset, 4th Earl of Worcester: 1603

Title was ‘in commission’ (abeyance) after James I came to the throne: 1603-22

Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel and Surrey: 1622–1646

The title of Earl Marshal has been passed down to those with Knights Templar traditions and remained associated with the Dukedom of Norfolk, to this day. The curse of the Irish priest seems to have worked extremely well, a tale of male absentee-ism on a very grand scale.

The role of Earl Marshal in England evolved from head of the military, to become the head of the College of Arms, the body concerned with all matters of genealogy and heraldry. The Earl Marshal also became the organiser-in-chief for all state occasions and that role continues to the present day.


The title has had a close affinity to the Norfolk name, ever since Roger Bigod married Maud Marshal. The post continues to reside with the Howard family, in the guise of the Duke of Norfolk, whose home is at Arundel Castle in Sussex. Remarkably the present Duke of Norfolk continues to maintain the family’s Catholic traditions despite nearly 500 years of English Protestantism. Many of his religious predecessors were persecuted, tortured or executed, but someone has turned a very blind eye, for a very long time, to the Catholic ways of the Howard family.


Earls of Pembroke

The Earldom of Pembroke was first created by King Stephen of England, in the 12th century, and was associated with the strategically important Pembroke Castle, in West Wales. The first Earl was Gilbert de Clare, but after its original inception the title has been recreated a further nine times, so this is not a continuous blood-line inheritance – or is it..??

The ‘de Clare’ family were descended from Richard Fitzgilbert, a Norman knight, who had been awarded extensive lands in South and West Wales, and across the water in Ireland. However, immediately after William’s Conquest, their home had been in Eastern England, at Clare in Suffolk, where they built a castle and a Benedictine monastery, and took the name of the village for themselves.

William_Marshal%2C_2nd_Earl_of_Pembroke        Arms of the Earl of Pembroke - 1551

Arms of William Marshall       Arms of Earls of Pembroke    

The individual that interests us first, is yet again William Marshal, who gained the Pembroke title after it was recreated for him through his wife, Isabel de Clare, who was the great granddaughter of Richard Fitzgilbert (de Clare). William inherited Pembroke Castle with the title and is responsible for much of the basic structure seen there today.

Pembroke Castle

Pembroke Castle

 Once William Marshal’s boys had all died without issue, the Pembroke title was lost, but was recreated again and passed to William de Valence, who had married one of William Marshal’s granddaughters. The curse from the Irish priest continued to work, because the Valence line produced no male heir and so the Pembroke name went extinct again.

It arose again with a Valence great grandson, Lawrence Hastings, whose son, John Hastings, married the daughter of Edward III, but that line too died out again a generation later. That marriage had now placed the Pembroke title in Royal hands, where it remained a significant title during the turbulent years of the 15th century.

Duke Humphrey, son of Edward V, was the next to bear the Pembroke standard, which he held in addition to his better known title of Duke of Gloucester. He is another important Shakespeare character, appearing in the earliest history play, featuring Henry VI.

Again there was no male heir, and so the title was passed on to another key Shakespeare man, William de Pole, who briefly held the title of Earl of Pembroke before becoming Duke of Suffolk. He was one of many to meet a premature death, murdered in mysterious fashion during the skirmishes which led up to the ‘Wars of the Roses’. This important period in English history was in reality a family squabble, between different branches of the Royal House of Plantagenet, the ‘wars’ began in 1455 and ended when Richard III was defeated by Henry Tudor, at Bosworth Field in 1485. William Shakespeare’s ‘Henry VI trilogy’ and his ‘Richard III’ tell the story in greater detail.

During the thirty years of conflict, the Pembroke title changed hands between the Lancastrian, Jasper Tudor and the Yorkist, Herbert family. It then returned to the red rose side, when Edward IV, regained the throne, and passed it to his son, Edward V, the other, ill-fated, ‘Prince in the Tower’.

The Earl of Pembroke title was then claimed by the first Tudor monarch, Henry VII, who was actually born in Pembroke Castle. After his death the title went into abeyance, but then, quite strangely, was awarded to Anne Boleyn, who received this male title as a special gift from her husband. Again it brought the holder bad luck and went extinct with her demise on the block.

The title was revived for the final time, and again in favour of the Herbert family, with William Herbert (1501-1570), being made Earl of Pembroke, in 1551, by Edward VI, to whom he had been a guardian. William Herbert had become Henry VIII’s brother-in-law in 1544, when the King married Catherine Parr, sister of Herbert’s wife, Anne Parr. His award of the Pembroke title was seen as appropriate because his father was the illegitimate son of William Herbert of that earlier, 15th century creation. Henry VIII granted William Herbert the derelict monastery at Wilton Abbey, near Salisbury, which he rebuilt as Wilton House, a place that features prominently in this Shakespeare tale.

William Herbert (1503-1570)
Simplified list of the ten creations of the Earl of Pembroke.
First: de Clare (1138)
Second: Marshal (1189)
Third: de Valence (1247)
Fourth: Hastings (1339)
Fifth: Plantagenet (1414)
Sixth: Pole (1447)
Seventh: Tudor (1452)
Eighth: Herbert (1468)
Ninth: House of York (1479)
Anne Boleyn (1532)
Tenth: Herbert (1551)

You might remember the Pembroke, Clare and Shakespeare ownership connections to Blackfriars and Baynard Castle and this leads to the ‘Shakespearean’ section of the Pembroke succession.

William Herbert Earl of Pembroke 1501-70    Baynard's_Castle 18th century

William Herbert owned Baynard’s Castle from 1550.

William Herbert’s son, Henry, first married Catherine Grey, on 25th May 1553, being involved in a ‘double’ marriage, with his bride’s sister, the ill fated, Lady Jane Grey and her betrothed, Guildford Dudley. Somehow, Henry Herbert wriggled out of that scrape, the marriage being annulled by Queen Mary, and instead he married Catherine Talbot, daughter of George Talbot, another on the list of Earl Marshals.

When his second wife, Catherine, died in 1575, Henry then took as his third partner, Mary Sidney, who became the famous, literary lady, the Countess of Pembroke. It was their children, William and Philip Herbert, whose names appeared on the dedication to Shakespeare’s anthology of plays, in 1623. The Herbert family have kept the title of Earl of Pembroke ever since.


Chapter Four



The Famous Cloptons..??


Arms of John Clopton- Stratford

The famous Clopton family – never heard of them!

Whilst the Jagger name is rare and from seemingly humble roots, the Clopton family ought to be one of the most famous names in the land. However, the Clopton name is scarce in the extreme, indeed, you have to cross to the United States to find them in any number. The schoolboy historian would struggle to place a Clopton name at any of the important events in English history and William Shakespeare never mentions them, not even once.

Yet, if you look below the surface, they crop up in abundance, everywhere from the Battle of Agincourt to the Gunpowder Plot, and the more you look the more you find. Even more surprising, is that for the casual visitor to Stratford-upon-Avon, the Clopton name features more prominently around the town, than that of the Bard of Avon. However, if you are to truly appreciate the significance of the Clopton impact on this small Warwickshire town, you need to be extremely strong willed, ignoring the theatricals of the marketing gurus of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Stratford town council.

The Cloptons’ lack of ‘top billing’ in the history books is not hard to explain. It was the female side which married some of the leading names of medieval history, whilst the male bearers of the Clopton banner, had a variety of other problems in establishing the family’s continued identity.
Plague decimated one family group, whilst a generation later, the Clopton men supported the wrong king at the wrong time. Even when it finally seemed to be their chance to shine, fate suddenly turned against them and they were cast back into the Suffolk countryside, to continue building churches or to tend their flocks of sheep. The Cloptons were one of those ‘nearly’ families of medieval England.

My earliest meeting with the Clopton name opened my eyes to the most intriguing possibilities, because I quickly discovered, that in Tudor times, they had two main ‘headquarters’; Long Melford in Suffolk, and Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire. Elsewhere they were thin on the ground.

My initial research was coming from the Suffolk direction, but I soon discovered that the most famous of the Cloptons had done great things for Stratford-upon-Avon. Hugh Clopton had constructed a grand house in the centre of the town, one which later was to become the home of, the one and only, William Shakespeare. The Bard just kept turning up when I was least expecting him and when and where he really had no right to be there.

The Cloptons of Suffolk were descended from Guillaume Peccatum of Normandy, mentioned in the Domesday Book as a tenant in the hamlet of Cloptunna, near Wickhambrook, Suffolk. Using typical Norman naming practice, the family became ‘de Cloptunna’ and eventually Clopton. The family grew in stature to become a major landowner in Suffolk, building houses at Poslingford and a small Augustine priory at nearby, Chipley, which was derelict by 1455.

These Clopton lands were adjacent to the village of Clare, mentioned already in the Marshal/Pembroke section, as the home base of Richard de Clare and his son Gilbert, one of the most powerful families in 12th century England. Clare was their first home before wondrous things began to happen to the family. It was Gilbert de Clare’s steward, Walter Tyrell, who ‘accidentally’ killed King William II (Rufus), when the Royal party were hunting in the New Forest. This allowed Henry I to claim the throne, whilst not unsurprisingly, the fortunes of the ‘de Clare’ family moved rapidly upwards from that day forth.

Seal Gilbert FitzGilbert de Clare 2nd Earl of Pembroke

Seals of Gilbert de Clare of Pembroke with woman carrying a spear ?

Small medieval estates often grew in size because of land gained in marriage settlements, and this was true for the Cloptons when the elderly Sir Thomas Clopton (1310-83), married his second wife, Katherine Mylde, (1343-1403), heiress to the substantial estate of Luton Hall and Kentwell Manor.

Thomas Clopton died in 1383, but there had been time for a son, William Clopton (1375-1446), to arrive on the scene. His widow, Katherine Mylde, quickly married again, to Sir William de Tendring and had three more children, one of whom, Alice de Tendring, married John Howard. This created a family who later transformed into the Dukes of Norfolk, producing three queens; Katherine Howard, Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I.

Their stately home was Tendring Hall, at Stoke-by-Nayland, a tiny dot on the rural landscape of England, but in the 16th century was also the home village of Ralph Agas, a land surveyor, who drew some of the iconic Elizabethan maps, particularly for the cities of Oxford and London.

A 20th century inhabitant of Stoke-by-Nayland was David Hicks, famous as an architect and interior designer of palatial country houses for the rich and famous, including the Royal family. He married Pamela Mountbatten, daughter of Earl Mountbatten of Burma. The first major project of his design career was ‘The Temple’, a house that now stands in the grounds of Tendring Hall.

When Katherine de Tendring died, in 1403, her will left the Kentwell estate to her first son, William Clopton, and this remained the Clopton family seat for the next 250 years. The subsequent sequence of marriages means that the Howard line of Earl Marshals and Dukes of Norfolk and the main Clopton lineage of Long Melford, both lead directly back to that same family matriarch, Katherine Mylde.

Modern leaders of the Western world, including U.S Presidents and British Prime Ministers, can also trace their heritage back to Katherine Mylde,. The ‘unknown’ Clopton family have connections where you least expect them and reach to the highest echelons of ‘Western’ society.

This only son and heir, William Clopton, was present at the Battle of Agincourt, in 1415, alongside his uncle, Sir Thomas Erpingham, who had married William’s cousin, Joan Clopton. The English victory at Agincourt was the most famous by the English over the French in the Hundred Years War. And it was Erpingham, as commander of King Henry V’s archers, who received much of the credit for defeating the numerically superior French army. This great triumph over England’s oldest enemy is still celebrated today, due in no small part, to the play ‘Henry V’, written by Mr Shakespeare.

Battle of Agincourt

Battle of Agincourt – 1415

The ‘St Crispins Day’ speech is a great rallying cry for the English to do battle with the French, and all the great actors of the 20th century tested their oratory skills with the part; Lawrence Olivier, Richard Burton, and Kenneth Branagh being amongst the most notable. The speech has also been used by team captains to rally Englishmen in great sporting contests, when passion and belief was needed to bring the best out of the players and defeat an opposition, often deemed to be the pre-match favourite.

The influence of the female Clopton line now comes to the fore.

Joan Clopton’s first husband had been Roger Beauchamp, and their granddaughter Margaret Beauchamp, married John Beaufort, descendant of John of Gaunt. In turn, their daughter, Margaret Beaufort, married Edmund Tudor and it was their son, Henry VII, born at Pembroke Castle, who began the Tudor line. In some ways, you could, therefore, describe the Cloptons as a ‘gateway’ family, but one which is generally overlooked by modern historians. By marrying into the Beaufort line, the Beauchamp and Clopton families were to create a link into the Royal line that leads back to John of Gaunt and his father, Edward III, perhaps a key to understanding much of the Shakespeare conundrum.

The line of John of Gaunt line is special and rather unusual in English royal circles and needs some explanation. Prince John, the third son of Edward III, had four illegitimate children with his mistress, Katherine Swynford, who he later married as his third wife. The three sons and a daughter were later legitimized, by royal and papal decrees, and given the name Beaufort.

However, their ability to inherit was subverted when a caveat was entered into the decree, by John of Gaunt’s, eldest son, when he became Henry IV (the Agincourt King). By adding the phrase ‘excepta regali dignitate’ (except the state of King), this specifically barred the Beaufort children from directly inheriting the throne of England. This exclusion had little effect, because inter-marriage amongst the nobility meant the Beaufort blood line has remained prominent during the succeeding six centuries of the English monarchy.

The emblem of the Beaufort family was the portcullis, which became prominent in English heraldry during the 16th century, as an emblem of the Royal family and the Westminster Parliament. The portcullis also found its way on to the old twelve sided, ‘thruppnee’ bit, a British decimal, one pence coin, and also on to the ‘device’ of a certain printer of Shakespeare.

1953 - Three Pence piece

As already mentioned in the Knights Templar section, it was John of Gaunt’s legitimate, eldest child, Phillipa of Lancaster, who married King João I of Portugal and created a line of seafarers, who were key members of those name-change Templars, the ‘Order of Christ’.

Gaunt’s eldest son became Henry IV of England and a second daughter, Katherine, by his second wife, married into the thrones of Spain and Portugal, cementing a family connection with the Iberian Peninsular that has survived till today.

William ‘Agincourt’ Clopton married twice. His first family was decimated by plague, in 1420, but by his second wife, Margery Francis, he had a son John Clopton, born in 1423, the man who built Kentwell Hall and became the most famous member of the Suffolk family.

John Clopton had intended to marry Elizabeth Paston, daughter of that wealthy Norfolk family, and financial arrangements were concluded for this political marriage. However, the bride refused to take part in the ceremony, despite being locked in solitary confinement for weeks and receiving regular beatings from her mother. The unflattering portrait of John Clopton, below, might suggest why Elizabeth Paston was so determined to save herself for a better match. The famous ‘Paston Letters’, are an archive of correspondence between the Paston family and others, and provide us with one of the finest chronicles of everyday life in 15th century England.

john clopton - crop

John Clopton – builder of Kentwell Hall – photo KHB

During the Wars of the Roses, (1455-85), John Clopton fought for the Lancastrian side, remaining loyal to King Henry VI, after they had been defeated by the Yorkist king, Edward IV, at the Battle of Towton, in Yorkshire. This was the bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil with over 28,000 combatants killed, and an event that present day history seems to have glossed over.

Lancastrian king, Henry VI, then retreated to Scotland, whilst his wife, Margaret of Anjou, fled back to her homeland, in France. John Clopton was then accused of corresponding with ex-Queen Margaret, was arrested and charged with treason, being sent to the Tower of London, alongside his great friend, John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, his son and heir, Aubrey de Vere and three others. John Clopton was fortunate to be acquitted, but his five companions were all beheaded on Tower Green, in 1462.

After his reprieve from the axeman, John Clopton abandoned his Lancastrian leanings, instead embracing the Yorkist cause with a passion, rallying support for Edward IV throughout East Anglia. Changing sides was not an uncommon occurrence as the fortunes of battle ebbed and flowed between the Red and the White Rose, but this does seem to be a supreme act of treachery to his fallen comrades.

However, the good luck ran out for John Clopton when he least expected it. He was set to be gifted a knighthood, at the coronation of the twelve year old, Edward V, in June 1483. However, the coronation was halted, when the young King and his brother disappeared, in what has become known as the ‘Princes in the Tower’ mystery. This allowed their uncle to take the throne, as King Richard III, and needless to say, John Clopton missed out on his knighthood and immediately high tailed it back to his shepherding and church building duties, in Long Melford.

John’s father, William Clopton, had begun the massive task to rebuild the Holy Trinity Church, at Long Melford, but this was far from completed when he died, in 1446. After his brush with the axeman in 1462, John Clopton took on the job of completing the huge enterprise, but died in 1497, just as the finishing touches were being applied to the Chantry Chapel. Suffolk is a county known for its fine churches, but Holy Trinity, with its cathedral like proportions, is regarded as the grandest of them all.

Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford

Holy Trinity Church, with the Chantry Chapel in the foreground – photo KHB

John Clopton’s brother, Edmund, is described in the records as a ‘Knight of the Rhodes’, another term for a Knight Hospitaller, who by this period had made that island their base. Edmund may well have been one of the English knights involved in the ‘siege of Rhodes’, which took place in 1480. This clearly shows there was a Hospitaller tradition in the Clopton family and might explain why, in 1462, John Clopton was pardoned, when his fellow conspirators, from the de Vere family, were executed.

John’s son, William Clopton, (1458-1531), also fought as a knight for the Yorkist side, in the latter stages of the internecine conflict, but when hostilities ended, he put his efforts into developing the family estate, turning Kentwell Hall into a fine manor house. The house still exists today, still in wonderful repair and is famous for its re-enactments of life in Tudor England.

Kentwell Hall

Kentwell Hall – Long Melford

 In a marriage that was later to have great significance, William’s sister, Anne Clopton, married Thomas Rookwood, creating a line, that three generations later, produced Ambrose Rookwood, a leading conspirator in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Ambrose suffered the most grievous execution of any of the conspirators, as he was believed to be one of the chief organisers. In the weeks prior to 5th November, Ambrose, a horse breeder by trade, had rented a large house in the Midlands, which had extensive stabling facilities, sufficient to support a large body of men. That house was Clopton Hall, close to Stratford-upon-Avon, and home to the OTHER family bearing the Clopton name.

The fortunes of the Suffolk Cloptons mirrored that of the neighbouring village of Long Melford and the county of Suffolk generally. This became one of the wealthiest areas of England during medieval times, wealth that was based on sheep and the cloth trade. The so called ‘wool’ churches of the county are a testament both to their success and how the beneficiaries liked to spend their money.

William Clopton (1458-1531) married his first wife, Joan Marrow, about 1475, a union which produced ten children for him, but the three boys had died by 1541, although there was a grandson, Edward Clopton, who later seems to have played a significant, but unwitting part in this story, occupying a house in London, at the very centre of the Shakespeare literary action.

However, William’s third wife, Thomasine Knyvet, helped him to continue the Clopton line, with a surviving male heir. The Knyvets had a noble pedigree, with further connections to the Howard line, and her distinctive first name is prominent in several branches of the family. The couple’s eldest son, Francis Clopton, inherited the estate, but did not marry, however, he outlived his younger brother, Richard, so the inheritance passed to Richard Clopton’s children.

By his first wife, Mary Bosun, Richard Clopton had a single child, Mary Clopton, and with his second wife Margery Playters had nine children, including a William. The most significant of these, to our story, are Mary Clopton, who married William Cordell, and William Clopton who married Margery Waldergrave, and eventually inherited the Kentwell estate, on the death of his uncle Francis.

Clopton Chronicles

Alongside the entrepreneurial wealth of the Clopton family, literally on the other side of the road, there still existed the monastic lands, owned by the abbots, who had arrived from France, sharing the spoils of the Conquest with the noble friends of William the Conqueror.

In Long Melford this meant Kentwell Hall, to the west of the main road, was owned by the Clopton family, whilst Melford Hall to the east, belonged to the Abbot of Bury St Edmunds. That situation changed when Henry VIII began to dissolve the monasteries in 1536, so Melford Hall was added to Henry VIII’s Royal estate.

Later, Henry made a habit of distributing these annexed lands amongst his personal favourites, and so Melford Hall was to come under the custody of a different type of owner, one who was rise up the greasy pole of Tudors society, faster than anyone could have imagined.

Cloptons in London and Stratford-upon-Avon

The Clopton family became successful landowners in Suffolk, but the name became more famous in Stratford-upon-Avon and in the City of London. Hugh Clopton was born at Clopton Hall, near Stratford, as the youngest of a trio of sons of Sir John Clopton. Hugh left his Midland home to make his fortune in London, becoming one of the most successful of those ‘Merchant Adventurers’, accumulating his money trading cloth to the Low Countries. He was eventually elected to the highest office in London, as the Mayor for 1492. Hugh did not marry and died only four years later, in 1496.

Arms of John Clopton- father of Hugh

Shield of Hugh’s father, John Clopton in Guild Chapel, Stratford-upon-Avon – photo KHB

Hugh Clopton used his wealth to great effect in Stratford, building a magnificent stone bridge across the River Avon, which is still in use today, as the only crossing point in the town. He also refurbished the Holy Cross Guild Chapel, next to Stratford Grammar School, as well as supporting the Holy Trinity parish church. On the opposite side of the road to the Guild Chapel, in the heart of the town, Hugh Clopton built himself a ‘grand house’, which had been renamed ‘New Place’, by the time that William Shakespeare purchased the property, a century later, in 1597.

Guild Chapel, Stratford-upon-Avon

Stratford-upon-Avon’s Chancery Chapel – photo KHB

Hugh Clopton also had a grand London home, in the heart of the City, on the corner of Old Jewry and Lothbury, at the crossroads with Coleman Street and Cat Eaton Street and only a hundred paces from the Blackwell Hall. This grand house had, ‘once been a Jewish synagogue, and later a monastic house, a nobleman’s house, a merchant’s house, and then the mayoral house of Robert Large, mayor in 1439’.

Robert Large, like Hugh Clopton, was also a mercer, and is probably most famous as the first employer of William Caxton, first English born printer, who was his apprentice. Large used his wealth and his time as mayor, not only to improve his home, but to rebuild the nearby church of St Margaret, Lothbury, a few yards to the east of the Coleman Street crossroads.

Two years after Robert Large was mayor of London, another Clopton was elected to the post. This was Robert Clopton, a draper, who owned lands near Cambridge. This initially appears to be Hugh Clopton’s grandfather, and records show Robert Clopton did indeed have a son, John, and a daughter Alice. Hugh’s father, John Clopton of Stratford had three sons, Thomas, John and Hugh, but the link isn’t as straightforward as it seems, because in merchant records, Hugh Clopton indicates that Robert Clopton was a cousin, so these were two different John Cloptons.

The early genealogy of the Clopton family, in London, Stratford and Melford, is most confusing, with reputable sources conflicting as to how the Warwickshire and the Suffolk families inter-relate. Everyone seems to agree they are connected, but no-one seems sure where they join. Both the Suffolk and Stratford lineages have a Hugo and a Robert on the family tree in the late 13th century, which would fit the dates when a potential parting of the waves took place, and so it is possible these are the same brethren on the two family trees.

The ‘British History’ guide gives a version of the Stratford arm of the family, which mentions the Knights Templar, Marshal knights, gifts of lands by Edward I, a marriage to Isabel de Clare, and a name change, from Clopton to ‘de Cockfield’ and back again to Clopton. This fits with the Clopton family of Stratford-upon-Avon, acquiring Clopton Hall at the time of Edward I (1272-1307), probably as a gift for military service.

These other entries, though, don’t make complete sense when comparing this text with the ancestral roll of Hugh Clopton. What should be obvious, though, to any Suffolk geography student, is that the settlements of Cockfield and Clare are adjacent to the original Clopton lands in Suffolk, and that Clare village takes us back to the ‘de Clares’ and the ‘first coming’ of the Earls of Pembroke.

The earliest Clopton in the Stratford-upon-Avon line is named as Robert Clopton and he was said to have married Isabel de Clare. Isabel is a common name in the Suffolk, ‘de Clare’ family and the great William Marshal married a lady of that name. Is the ‘British History’ guide suggesting that the Stratford Cloptons were descended from William Marshall, himself – perhaps they are..!! The British History account certainly brings the Warwickshire and Suffolk clans much closer together.

The confusion between Melford and Stratford even reached Hugh Clopton in London, because it was noted, by a member of the College of Heralds, that the mayoral coat of arms, that was on display in the Mercers Hall, was not the one Hugh had used as mayor, but one belonging to the Suffolk branch. The genealogists studying the Cloptons of Suffolk need to get together with those of Stratford-upon-Avon, to finally get this confusion sorted out.

Hugh Clopton’s personal coat of arms, ‘lion rampant’ & ‘cross patee’, supports the link with Cockfield, the Marshal Knight and the Earls of Pembroke. The ‘cross patee, fitchee on foot’ is the very distinctive cross of the Knights Templar. The ‘fitchee’ is the narrowed base that signifies the cross was taken into battle and planted in the ground, as a symbol of the Christianity of the combatant.

Guild Chapel, Stratford-upon-Avon

Templar Crosses odorn Hugh Clopton’s, Guild Chapel, Stratford-upon-Avon – photo KHB

The Templar Cross does appear quartered on the Long Melford line, although, it is not the main device on their coat of arms. However, the behaviour of both Hugh Clopton and the Melford branch indicates there were strong inherited traits from their Templar forefathers, particularly their willingness to spend huge sums of money building fine churches and to provide facilities for the betterment of the locals.

Hugh Clopton

Hugh Clopton – stained glass effigy in the Guild Chapel – photo KHB

Sometime, after Hugh Clopton’s death, in 1496, his London house, on the corner of Old Jewry, was converted into the Windmill Tavern. The exact date is unknown but may have coincided with the death of Hugh’s heir, William Clopton, in 1521. It was, certainly, recorded as a tavern by 1522, when accommodation was needed for the state visit of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. It must have been a substantial building, as the inventory records that there were ‘fourteen feather beds and stables for 24 horses’. In addition, there must have been sufficient dormitory accommodation for the multitude of servants that tended to the needs of those residing in the five star rooms.

The Windmill Tavern gained literary fame in the late 16th and early 17th century, when it became the haunt of writers and the ‘fast set’ of the period. Ben Jonson’s ‘Every Man in His Humour’, features the Windmill Tavern in the script, and William Shakespeare was said to have an acting role when this play was first performed, in 1598.

This crossroads at Lothbury, Coleman Street and Old Jewry becomes the most important of locations later in this tale, not only for Cloptons and Jaggers but for printers, actors, theatre managers and others involved in creating the Shakespeare story. The Windmill Tavern reappears in a later chapter of this saga, one which is devoted to the City ward of Coleman Street.

Neither of Hugh Clopton’s two grand houses survives today, but they do have a distinct similarity, occupying an almost identical corner plot. Could it be that Hugh Clopton created a ‘country’ version of his London home, when he built ‘New Place’, at Stratford?

The Great Fire of 1666 destroyed the Windmill Tavern, and the foundations of New Place have been robbed out, after its destruction in 1759, leaving little evidence for archeologists to go on. However, a simple sketch of ‘New Place’ was made by George Vertue in 1737, having been described to him by a friend, and it is to Hugh Clopton’s Stratford home that the story heads next.

New Place - Vertue sketch

George Vertue’s sketch of New Place -1737

John Chippendall Montesquieu Bellew, (a five star name if ever there was one), traced the history of Hugh Clopton’s, ‘New Place’ in his book, published in 1863. It is a remarkable volume because not only does it consider the house itself, but also goes into great detail about the families who lived there. As is typical in the rest of the Tudor world, they all seem to be related in some way, and he confirmed this by using their family coats of arms and a variety of legal documents. He showed genealogy links between the influential families in the town; the Lucys, Underhills, Combes and the Cloptons, but although the Shakespeares were an integral part of this Stratford community, Bellew found no direct ancestral relationship between the Bard’s family and these other wealthy families of the borough.

Hugh Clopton bequeathed this large Stratford home to his great nephew, William Clopton, who lived there till his death in 1521. His son, another William, then took the reins, but evidently this generation of Clopton’s didn’t need two large properties in the town, so during the 1540s, ‘New Place’ was rented to Thomas Bentley, physician to Henry VIII. William Clopton and his family continued to live at the more spacious surroundings of Clopton House, on the northern outskirts of Stratford..

This William Clopton died in 1561, and in 1563 ‘New Place’ was sold by his son and heir, yet another William Clopton (1537-92) (third in a row), to William Bott, a lawyer, who was already occupying he house, for the substantial sum of £100. Four years later, in 1567, Bott sold the house on to William Underhill, a wealthy lawyer of the Inner Temple, but the purchase documents are missing, so the sum exchanged in that transaction is unknown. Underhill seems to have been an accumulator of Clopton property, as there are a number of property deals between the two families and he owned a sizeable portfolio of land in this part of Warwickshire. The Underhill homelands were a few miles to the south-east of Stratford-upon-Avon, close to the old Roman road, the Fosse Way, where the family spread out amongst the villages of Ettington, Whitchurch, Pillerton Hersey and Idlicote.

William Underhill died in 1570, but he does give us an unheralded, rather intriguing link, to a couple of recurring figures in his story. They are Francis Bacon and William Cecil, (Lord Burghley), Queen Elizabeth’s first minister. The direct connection to Cecil is made via a complicated inheritance and a remarriage. William Cecil, as chief minister to Elizabeth, was the most powerful man in England for over 20 years, until his death in 1598.

William Underhill had made a great catch with his second wife, Dorothy Newport, nee Hatton, sister of Christopher Hatton (1540-1591). Hatton was an influential figure, a great favourite of Queen Elizabeth and it was suggested by Mary, Queen of Scots, that the two were lovers. Hatton was supposed to have behaved like a Catholic, in all but name, but was a member of Queen Elizabeth’s judiciary who tried Catholic conspirator, Anthony Babington, in 1586. The Queen poured favours upon Hatton; appointed him Lord Chancellor in 1587, and a year later, on the death of that other Queen’s favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, she appointed Christopher as Chancellor of Oxford University, a role he maintained until his death, in 1591.

Due to a succession of unmarried heirs and early deaths, the huge inheritance of Christopher Hatton didn’t pass to a Hatton, but to William Newport (1560-97), the son of Dorothy Hatton, by her first husband, John Newport. Just to confuse things, this William Newport, (step-son of William Underhill) changed his name to William Hatton, when he inherited the estate of Sir Christopher Hatton, in 1591.

William Newport-Hatton then married Elizabeth Cecil, granddaughter to Lord Burghley (via eldest son Thomas Cecil), the product of a short lived marriage between Burghley and his first wife, Mary Cheke. Thomas Cecil had married Dorothy Neville and with her mother being a ‘de Vere’, this brings together a whole series of interesting names and relationships, which continually bubble near the surface of this saga – and the famous names keep coming..!!

When William Newport-Hatton died on 12th March 1596/97, it is said that Lord Burghley took the death ‘very heavily’ and Newport’s death seems to be significant, as it may have set off of a cascade of events which are now regarded as a key part of the Shakespeare biography.

Out of this spider’s web of Underhill, Hatton and Newport inter-marriages, there dropped into the centre of this Stratford human maze, another William Underhill, the son of William, the lawyer, who had died in 1570, and his first wife, Ursula Congreve.

Young, William Underhill, was only sixteen years old when his father died in 1570, making him an orphan, and so he had been placed as a ward of Sir Christopher Hatton, his step-uncle. It was this William Underhill, a noted Catholic recusant, (someone who refused to attend Protestant church services), who sold New Place to William Shakespeare, on 4th May 1597. Many histories relating to New Place seem to show only one William Underhill, when in fact there were two – father and son.

‘New Place’ had been neglected for 25 years, after the death of Underhill, senior, and that might go some way to explain the bargain price of £60, which was agreed between the parties. However, this was still a substantial and desirable plot in the centre of town and therefore seems a very modest sum for the second largest house in Stratford. This transaction confused Bellew and has perplexed many others since, who have studied the sale in minute detail. The cost of New Place in 1563 was £100 and with inflation, over the next 40 years, should have meant a purchase price in 1597, in excess of £150.

This second William Underhill had married a first cousin, Mary Underhill, and she produced six children for him, whilst living at their residence in Idlicote, so explains why he never took active possession of ‘New Place’, after the death of his father, leaving it to gradually decay.

William Underhill’s motives for the bargain basement sale to William Shakespeare never became clear, and what ought to have been a simple legal transaction has become one of the most famous house purchases in history – indeed the ‘Mysterious Affair at New Place’, would do credit to any Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie storyline.

Eight weeks after the sale of ‘New Place’, to William Shakespeare, on 6th July 1597, the 43 year old, William Underhill made his will and the very next day he died, supposedly poisoned by the chief beneficiary, Fulke Underhill, his eldest son. William Underhill is just one of many people in this story, who died before their time, in mysterious circumstances, not living long enough to tell their tale.

In 1599, Fulke Underhill was executed for his father’s murder and by dint of the crime, the extensive Underhill estate was forfeited to the Crown. However, when the next in line, his younger brother, Hercules Underhill, came of age, in 1602, his rights to the lands were restored and a second property deed was signed, confirming the sale of New Place to William Shakespeare. The sum mentioned in 1602 is again £60 and this could be confirmation of the first sum, but looks more likely to be a second payment, giving a more realistic total payment of £120.

There are further intriguing items of relevance to the events surrounding the sale of New Place.

The death of William Newport, in March 1596/97, meant that his widow, Elizabeth Cecil, was now on the market for a new husband and her first suitor was Francis Bacon, one of the great men of the period, and one of the great figures of English history. However, after a protracted ‘wooing’, she rejected the great English philosopher, statesman, scientist, and author, eventually marrying the eminent judge and politician, Edward Coke, in November 1598.

Francis Bacon is one of those most closely aligned with the ‘alternative Shakespeare’ theories and his failed wooing of Lord Burghley’s granddaughter took place at the same time that ‘New Place’ was transferred into the hands of William Shakespeare. Francis Bacon’s interest in gaining the hand of Elizabeth Cecil would have made him familiar with her Newport and Underhill connections, and he would surely have known about the vacant, ‘grand’ but dilapidated house, in the middle of Stratford.

In fact the Bacon and Underhill families had later family connections, which add weight to a causative link to the house purchase. John Underhill, a cousin of the two William Underhills, became a ‘gentleman in waiting’ in Francis Bacon’s London home, at York House, in 1617, working under another of the Bacon family, Nicholas Bacon, who was steward of the house.

T3 Underhills and New Place

(click on diagram to see detail)

Twenty year old, John Underhill seems to have quickly begun an affair with Francis Bacon’s young wife, Alice, who was half the age of her husband. It was only eleven days after Francis Bacon’s death, in April 1626, that the two lovers married, in a very public wedding at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London.

Could John Underhill’s appointment by Francis Bacon, in 1617, the year after Shakespeare’s death, be connected with part of the deal for New Place? We could also ask why he was allowed to carry on with Alice for almost a decade, and in such flagrant fashion. There are theories that Francis Bacon had homosexual tendencies, which might explain why his youthful partner, Alice, in a probable marriage of convenience, was allowed to transgress so blatantly with her family servant.

The Bacon and Underhill families have another, lasting connection, this one in Warwickshire. During the 16th century, members of both families were interred at the chantry chapel, in Ettington, five miles south-east of Stratford-upon-Avon. Thomas Underhill (1521-1603) placed an epitaph in honour of his son, Anthony Underhill, who died in 1587. Thomas was the brother of William Underhill, senior, the man who bought New Place from William Bott. Some observers have likened this poem, dedicated to Anthony, to others by William Shakespeare.

As flowers doe fade and flourish in an houer;
As smoke doth rise, and vapours vanish all
Beyond the witt or reach of human power;
As somer’s heat doth parch the withered grasse,
Such is our stay, soe lyfe of man doth passe.


 My Underhill, Bacon, Shakespeare link will stretch the credibility of most straight thinking Stratfordians, but when you take a look at the pedigree of the Underhill family, they were not only wealthy, but also extremely well connected. How else could William Underhill have gained the hand of Christopher Hatton’s sister?

The Underhill genealogy leads back to John Underhill and Agnes Porter, who moved from Wolverhampton to Warwickshire in the late 15th century. They were recorded in the register of the Knowle Guild in 1492, as residents of Ettington. However, by the middle of the 16th century, they were beginning to thrive in more exalted places and mix with the leading lights of Tudor England.

Each one of the Underhill family mentioned descends from John and Agnes and links directly to leading characters in my Shakespeare saga.

Hugh Underhill (1518-1591)

Keeper of the Wardrobe for Queen Elizabeth at Greenwich Palace and later promoted to be Keeper of the Beds, making him responsible for all the furnishings in this ‘favourite’ of Royal palaces.

Thomas Underhill (1545-1591)

Son of Hugh – appointed Keeper of the Wardrobe for Kenilworth Castle, soon after it was gifted to Robert Dudley, the Queen’s favourite, in 1563. The new owner squandered his vast fortune beautifying his home and gardens, culminating in a ten day extravaganza, in 1575, to entertain Queen Elizabeth.

Dudley's gatehouse

Kenilworth Castle – just the gatehouse..!! – photo KHB

John Edward Underhill (1574-1608)

Served as a youth in Robert Dudley’s militia, in the Netherlands. Courier for confidential documents between Dudley, William Cecil and Queen Elizabeth. Later became a comrade of the Earl of Essex, but fled to Holland after the 1601 revolt. His family eventually became Puritan migrants to America.

Captain John Underhill (1597-1672)

Son of John Edward – lived in Holland from the age of one – emigrated to America as head of the militia, for the 1630 Winthrop expedition, to Massachusetts Bay. A major colonial leader in the early years of this Puritan settlement and eventually moved to the colony at New Amsterdam, (New York).

John Underhill (1545-1591)

Bishop of Oxford; Fellow of New College Oxford, and later Rector of Lincoln College. Controversial figure who fought the establishment, but had a close friend in University Chancellor, Robert Dudley. He debated strongly with Giordano Bruno in 1585, the Italian philosopher and Copernican scientist, who he regarded as a heretic. Underhill was elected as Bishop of Oxford in 1589, on the recommendation of Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster.

Humphrey Underhill (1559-1634)

Matriculated 10th Jan 1574/75, Gloucester Hall, Oxford – an annexe of St Johns College. This made him a contemporary at Oxford as several of my leading characters, including Thomas Lodge, George Peel, William Gager and many more.

If, William Shakespeare was being rewarded with Hugh Clopton’s old home, for his part in a grand deception, then there are plenty of relevant people who knew the Underhill family and would have been able to smooth the path of a sale. Up to this point, the name ‘William Shakespeare’ had never been attached to a play, but it was only a few months later, in 1598, that the first quartos appeared in print, with the name ‘W Shakespere’ attached.

The sale of the house, at the same time as the amorous involvement of Francis Bacon, with an Underhill relation, is just one of the many events, which on their own, might be seen as serendipitous. However, add them all together and even the most conservative minds might start to become suspicious. Then add in the influence of Lord Burghley and links to Queen Elizabeth and Oxford University via Christopher Hatton, the Bishop of Oxford and a host of Oxford literary ‘wits’ and you have a potential for a story that is more than just the sale and purchase of an old, rundown house in a rundown Midland town.

Bellew’s work, analysing the coats of arms of each family, shows that Underhill had intermarried with Combe at some point, and in 1561, Combe married Clopton, when Rose Clopton became the second wife of John Combe. The marriage took place only a few weeks after the death of Rose’s father, William Clopton. This looks opportunistic by John Combe, as she was an heiress. Rose was the youngest child and so carried limited financial advantage, but still offered plenty of local kudos.

So, after the death of her father, in 1561, Rose Clopton married John Combe, whilst her brother, William, who had inherited Clopton House, quickly sold the other Clopton property, New Place, to lawyer, William Bott. There is another Shakespeare connection here, because, by John Combe’s first marriage, there had been a child, also called John Combe, who is the man described later as a ‘friend of Shakespeare’, and who left the Bard £5 in his will.

 It was during the late Elizabethan period that the Clopton name, in Stratford-upon-Avon, reached a nother high point, because in 1580, William’s 18 year old daughter, Joyce Clopton (1562-1635), married George Carew (1555-1629). Joyce had already been taken into the Court of Queen Elizabeth, as a lady in waiting, possibly after the visitation by the Queen, to Dudley’s grand event at Kenilworth.

Joyce inherited Clopton House, on her father’s death in 1592, and the Carew couple retained it as their main country residence for the rest of their lives. Joyce bore him no children, but George Carew had already fathered an illegitimate son, Thomas Stafford, (1574-1655) before the couple were wed.

Thomas Stafford did well for himself, becoming a Member of Parliament and later marrying Mary Killigrew, the widow of Robert Killigrew (1580-1633), of St Margaret Lothbury. The Killigrews rise in importance later, and so does their home at Lothbury, another building only a stone’s throw from the Windmill Tavern.

Despite the initial doubts expressed by her father, Joyce had made a good catch, as George Carew became one of the great statesmen of the period. By the time they married, he had risen to be a Captain in the Navy and had accompanied adventurer, Humphrey Gilbert, on a voyage to Newfoundland. Carew took part in the 1596 expedition to Cadiz, led by the Earl of Essex, and served with great reputation in Ireland. As President of Munster, he drew up plans for a Protestant majority, sowing the seed of the ‘troubles’, which have dogged the emerald isle ever since.

George Carew, Earl of Totnes    Joyce Clopton

George Carew, Earl of Totnes, and his wife, Joyce Clopton   © National Portrait Gallery, London

Carew was a particular favourite of William Cecil and this close family relationship continued later, when with his son, Robert Cecil took over the reins of power, in 1596. Under King James I, Carew continued to be a Royal Court favourite, was appointed vice-chamberlain to Queen Anne and a privy councillor. However, in 1618, he unsuccessfully pleaded for the life of Walter Raleigh, his friend of thirty years, and the great adventurer lost his head. George Carew was a noted writer and antiquarian, being friends with William Camden and Thomas Bodley, leading historians of the period.

The tomb of Baron Carew and his wife is another found at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford, and is in the grandest Renaissance style. The couple lie beside another impressive tomb, created by Joyce for her father, William Clopton, her mother and their seven children. Here is another example of the Clopton family taking top billing in a place that is supposed to be an exclusive shrine to a famous writer.

Lord and Lady Carew, Holy Trinity Church

Tomb of Lord and Lady Carew – KHB

 Slightly off topic, (although maybe not), but certainly with great significance to the history of England, is a further connection between the Clopton family and the Gunpowder Plot, the Catholic conspiracy that was intended to overthrow King James I.

It was George Carew who rented his home, Clopton House, to conspirator, Ambrose Rookwood, in 1605, which was not long after George had been elevated by the monarch, to be ‘Lord’ Carew.

Remember, Rookwood was a Clopton relation from the Long Melford line.

This might seem to be mightily suspicious, but this is not George Carew’s only connection to the treacherous plot to remove Protestant James and replace him with a Catholic.

The official records of this event show that over thirty barrels of gunpowder were involved, weighing around six tons. Gunpowder was an unstable substance and because of its volatility was rarely kept anywhere in large quantities. However, although the conspirators were caught and dealt with in most gruesome fashion, little effort was made to trace the source of the gunpowder, a military ‘weapon’, which was kept under strict government control.

The Lieutenant General of Ordinance during the period, working under the direction of King James’ first minister, Robert Cecil, was a certain George Carew, a man known to be a meticulous record keeper. Why were Cecil and Carew not asked to explain how so much gunpowder was in the hands of the plotters? This oversight is one of the reasons why many modern historians now believe the Gunpowder Plot was a ‘false flag’ event, conjured up by Robert Cecil and his Protestant cronies, as an excuse to subjugate the English ‘recusant’ Catholics. Subsequent to the failed event, all Papists were required to swear an ‘Oath of Allegiance’ to King James, with a charge of high treason and death for those who refused to submit their mark.

Of interest, if not of any obvious relevance, the prosecutor at the trial of the Gunpowder Plotters was Edward Coke, whose second wife was Elizabeth Hatton, nee Cecil, the lady who rejected the advances of Francis Bacon. Coke’s first wife had been Bridget Paston, a member of the famous Norfolk family.

The Clopton family eventually reclaimed ‘New Place’, for themselves, late in the 17th century, after the Shakespeare descendants had retained it for two further generations, after the death of the ‘poet’. Another Hugh Clopton was the last one of that name to own the building and by that time the works of William Shakespeare had gained popular acclaim, so he had opened his home to visitors.

‘New Place’ was famous during the 17th century for having a white mulberry tree in the garden, which, legend claimed, had been planted by Shakespeare, himself. The trees were rare in England at this time, and were usually only found in the grounds of monastic establishments, with the leaves used as a source of food for silkworms. There was a whole grove of mulberries at Clerkenwell Priory, and there still exists an ancient specimen at Wroxall Abbey, a place soon to move to the centre of the action.

Shakespeare’s mulberry tree became a magnet for souvenir hunters, but the next owner of the house, Reverend Francis Gastrell, showed less tolerance to visitors, became fed up with people invading his property and taking pieces of the tree, so he chopped it down. Not stopping there, the surly cleric went much, much further, and after a dispute with the council, about local property taxes, Gaskell razed ‘New Place’ to its foundations. The Reverend then moved into the house next door, previously the home of Thomas Nash, the husband of Shakespeare’s granddaughter, Elizabeth.

This is just one example of a plethora of Shakespeare memorabilia that has ceased to survive into the 21st century. Archaeological excavations by Tony Robinson and his Time Team crew revealed little of any consequence, and even their imaginative production team found very little to enlighten the expectant followers of the Bard.


‘New Place’ – The empty plot – photo KHB

So, Bellew did an excellent job in trying to piece together the relevant families connected to the Shakespeares of Stratford, and those connected with Hugh Clopton’s old house. However, what I find odd, is that here is a meticulous scholar who found references to the other half of the Clopton name, the ones living in Suffolk, and did nothing but dismiss it as irrelevant. He even followed up one Clopton family, who he initially thought was from Stratford, but ended up being from Kentwell Hall.

Bellew might have realised that Kentwell was adjacent to the village of Melford, a place mentioned in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, but no, it didn’t seem to stir him to investigate further. He also noted that Hugh Clopton’s coat of arms was halved with Cockfield, but he never followed up Cockfield, either as a person or a place, and again Melford was only a couple of miles away, in the same part of Suffolk.


This story might seem like a ‘slow burner’, but all these disparate strands are gradually coming together. Already you should be detecting a pattern of the same names and places popping up in different contexts. Unravelling this cat’s cradle of information is not an exact science, with plenty of knots and broken threads appearing, usually when you just don’t need them.

What should be obvious, though, is that several places are taking centre stage; London, Stratford-upon-Avon, Suffolk and West Yorkshire. For Suffolk we should read the settlements of Long Melford and Clare; for West Yorkshire read Stainland and Halifax; and for London, read the ward of Coleman Street, in the heart of the old city. Also, don’t forget the university towns of Oxford and Cambridge, places that continually attract the right people at the right time.

Key places in the story

The cast list is also growing gradually, with Jagger, Clopton, Savile, Beaufort and de Clare, the first names you need to jot down in your notebook. Then, there are the Knights Templar and their clones, the Hospitallers, who both remain with the story throughout. They have not just been added for extra drama – perhaps you thought I was after a ‘Dan Brown’ effect.

The list becomes more specific, when we look at the Underhill connections, with Robert Dudley, William Cecil, Francis Walsingham and Queen Elizabeth entering the fray. Don’t, also, ignore those Oxbridge connections, both literary and religious, with amongst the names that later come to the fore being Thomas Lodge, George Peele, William Gager, Henry Savile, and the Italian Giordino Bruno.

Also keep your eye out for the word ‘Temple’, which you might not think is very common, in 21st century, England, but then perhaps you are not mixing with the right sort of people.

………. and what about Mr Shakespeare, himself ?

He has been hovering in the background till now, but not any longer. We have now reached the meat in the Midlander’s ‘Pukka-Pie’, and although some of this might be old hat to the Shakespeare diehard, all is not what it seems, and you will quickly find there are major challenges to the accepted biography of England’s greatest writer.

Posted in Alternative Shakespeare, Elizabethan theatre, Knights Templar, Literary history, Queen Elizabeth I, Tudor and Jacobean history, Tudor printers, William Shakespeare | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Shakespeare Re-invented (5 to 7)

            Chapter 5     


William Shakespeare – first sightings


Will Kemp – actor and comic dancer

 ‘Let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them’ (Hamlet).

William Shakespeare – at last..!!

The words of William Shakespeare are on the school curriculum in almost every country on the planet and he is one of the most famous names in history. Billions of words have been written about the ‘great man’ and his works, and the analysis and criticism doesn’t seem to be abating. A Hollywood film was released in 2011, suggesting that William of Stratford didn’t write the works attributed to him, and this was immediately met with a flurry of indignation from those who are convinced believers in the legitimacy of the author. My impression is that the most vociferous defenders of his reputation tend to be those whose livelihoods depend on the status quo being maintained.

With the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death upon us, there will be a further rise in the temperature, as literary scholars, the media and the general public, clamour to celebrate this significant milestone. His anniversary will see sales of his works given a boost, and so the gloves will be off in the battle between his supporters, who I call the ‘Stratfordians’ and the ‘doubters’, some may call ‘conspiracy theorists’, commonly known as the ‘anti-Stratfordians’.

My journey into the realm of Shakespeare has brought me into contact with a variety of his admirers, from the ‘great and the good’ of the literary and theatrical world, on to scholarly academia and finally to people like myself, who have started some simple local history or family research and ended up in the arms of the Bard of Avon.

These various commentators seem like decent, honest, often highly educated people, but almost all avoid taking a ‘broad brush’ approach to the subject, but stick to the minutiae. Acknowledged experts in the field have actively discouraged me from taking a wide approach. I have always found that attitude quite strange, as addressing the ‘big picture’ is an essential component in understanding any project. This is especially so when the researcher is trying to unravel the complications of centuries of learned conjecture, mixed in with a measure of conjugated detritus. This is a cat’s cradle of the first order..!!

Established academics tend to approach the discussion from a specific direction and their musings frequently try to justify their beliefs. Academics also strongly believe that supporters of the Bard don’t have to prove the status quo, but any deviation from that entrenched position has to be backed up with evidence of the highest order, coupled with a bibliography of gargantuan proportions. This is not a level playing field, as Stratfordians continue to want to play the game downhill, with the wind at their backs and the referee in their back pocket.

The other glaringly obvious necessity for anyone who wishes to commentate on anything with the name ‘Shakespeare’ appended, is that this must be done in hushed tones and with a certain degree of reverence. Any attempt to do otherwise is treated with disdain, contempt and regarded as an unworthy piece of research. We are dealing with a ‘national treasure’ here so charlatans, conspiracy theorists and those without a raft of academic qualifications must stand well clear. ‘Mind the doors please..!’

Some of the ‘small time’ authors, who actually have new and refreshing things to say about William Shakespeare, talk about being afraid to speak their mind on the subject, just in case it upsets the academic community. This sense of fear has even spread to liberal, free-thinking, literary academics themselves, those who want to openly challenge the status quo, which is being perpetuated by their single minded colleagues. This seems akin to becoming acquainted with the rules of an exclusive Gentleman’s club in Mayfair, or perhaps an august Scottish golfing institution, with admission only available, to the ‘right sort of person’.

Caution sign

The whole subject of Shakespeare, the man and his works, is thus treated with a religious reverence by the ‘clergymen’ of the literary world, who see it as their job to guard its rituals and secrets. This is rather at odds with the welcome sign at the gate to Stratford’s Holy Trinity, a parish church that claims to be the most visited in England. Here, they also do their best to maintain the sense of mystique and theatre, which surrounds their great literary figure.

Welcome to Holy Trinity

In all these billions of words of praise and criticism, the fact and the fiction, the real man and his stories, all seem to get jumbled together. One eminent expert comments on another’s analysis, and if they are of some repute, then this goes on the record as being a definitive truth. I have read material that is third, fourth, fifth, even twentieth hand, and when I trace the reference back to the earliest source, I often find the original premise is woolly in the extreme. The experts’ cast iron journals aren’t quite as well founded as they believe.

The creativity of Shakespeare’s supporters, the Stratfordians, often out-performs the works of their hero, himself. The very few words written about him, by his contemporaries, have been turned into countless chapters and volumes of extrapolation and explanation, often just pure fiction. In my own family’s copy of Shakespeare’s Works, the ‘Henry Irving’ edition of 1899, the introduction by Henry Glassford Bell puts the situation quite succinctly. Bell describes how experts on the subject, ‘fringe an inch of fact with acres of conjecture, many of the facts of which are self-evidently false’.

One of the first people to suggest that William Shakespeare wasn’t the author of the works attributed to him was the Reverend James Wilmot, who in 1780 scoured Warwickshire seeking tangible evidence of the Bard’s existence. After searching in vain, failing to find even a snippet of physical evidence, and covered ‘with the dust of every private bookcase within fifty miles of Stratford, he decided to destroy his notes, fearing that news of his lack of evidence would reach the outside world. However, Wilmot did tell a friend about his misgivings, but these doubts only emerged when the friend’s papers were discovered, some 150 years later, in 1930.

The first person to pose the authorship question in print was Delia Bacon, an American writer who was convinced Shakespeare was a pseudonym for a group of men who had fallen out of favour with the Royal Court. She included Francis Bacon, Walter Raleigh and Edmund Spenser amongst her suspects.

Whenever Delia Bacon and Francis Bacon are mentioned together in this context, there is nearly always a footnote by the author, saying the two Bacons are not related. Has anyone checked, as this seems to be an untested assumption? If the genetic work of Bryan Sykes is to be believed, there has to be a good chance that they are related, if someone was to look back through history? Her grandfather was a church missionary, working with the native, American Indian population, but the family must have migrated from England at some point.

Delia was followed very shortly afterwards by William Henry Smith, who proposed Francis Bacon as the sole author of Shakespeare’s complete canon of work. Both Delia Bacon and William Smith published their work in 1857 and since that time over 5000 contentious volumes have reached the shelves of booksellers like W.H. Smith & Sons; about two every month for over 150 years. Yes, in case you are wondering, the Shakespeare sceptic was also the famous bookseller, William Henry Smith.

Many doubters, the ‘anti-Stratfordians’ have been prominent figures; respectable writers, actors and scholars of their era, but even these luminaries have become the subject of ridicule and scorn. Those that don’t agree with the perceived wisdom have been described as; ‘eccentrics of the most familiar type or wealthy old gentlemen safely indulging a latent hunger to be radical about something.’

Perhaps, there should be a crime of ‘Shakespearean literary heresy’, with the punishment being burnt at the stake in the main square, outside the Stratford Memorial Theatre, fuelled with copies of the author’s own satanic work. I have already felt the ridicule of the Stratfordians, after communicating my findings to some of the leading lights on the subject. My eyes are now wide open, my back covered and my old friend, Barney McGrew, is permanently on standby with his fire engine.

I have also felt the criticism of the flailing tongue of supposed colleagues, in the battle to unearth the truth about the Stratford mystery man. In fact, the doubters can be just as extreme as the Stratfordians. There seems to be very little neutral ground between the two sides.

Plays and poems

With most authors there is a simple, well established chronology to their work, with little doubt about what they wrote or when they wrote it. Newcomers to the Shakespeare genre would expect mountains of documentation and cross-referenced data, but this is William Shakespeare the most famous and yet the most mysterious writer in history. There are so many questions, and rarely do two scholars come to agree on any of the answers.

One reason for the uncertainty is that literary documentation in Elizabethan times was chaotic in the extreme. The performance of a play had to meet the approval of the Master of the Revels, who was the official censor, appointed by the monarch, working under the auspices of the Lord Chamberlain. This was a system of government approval, but matching the name of the play to the content and assigning an author to the work was not an exact science. Plays often had a change of title or the name of the author was not mentioned. Plays also tended to evolve over time, as performances became polished.

The publishing of literary works had to undergo a different process. Plays and poems were supposed to be registered with the Stationers Company, but many never were or those that appeared on the record might not appear in print until years later. Again the names of plays changed between editions and many were recorded without an author.

Thirty six plays were included in the 1623 folio, with eighteen of them published under Shakespeare’s name for the first time. Later folios, published in 1632, 1663, 1664 and 1685, include amendments to the original plays, with an extra tranche being added to the compendium, in 1664. It is these later folios, that were regarded at the time, as ‘new improved’ versions, which add to the confusion. The Bodleian library, in Oxford, sold their 1623 edition, to replace it with the enlarged, ‘director’s cut’, 1664 version, so this esteemed body was as confused as everyone else.

There are two other, pre-1623, collections of work that are attributed to the Stratford man, and both produced by publisher cum printer, William Jaggard. In 1599, he published a collection of poems entitled the ‘Passionate Pilgrim’, which had ‘W. Shakespeare’ named as the author, although on closer scrutiny, the anthology had a variety of named and anonymous contributors. Jaggard reprinted these poems again in 1601 and twice in 1612.

In 1619, Jaggard also printed what has become known as the ‘false folio’, when ten ‘Shakespeare’ plays were bundled together into one volume. William Jaggard certainly seemed to know who his target was, but many scholars take a similar view to that of George Swinburne, who in 1894, described him as an ‘infamous, pirate, liar and thief’, making the family,‘rogue printers’, intent on just making a quick groat or two.

Little did George Swinburne know…!!

Nothing could be further from the truth……. read on..!!

There is a little help in the dating and attribution of Shakespeare’s work from Frances Meres, who listed twelve plays under Shakespeare’s name, in his ‘Palladis Tamia’, or ‘Wits Treasury’, of 1598. This is a rambling summary of the works of Elizabethan playwrights and poets, and Meres comments on the specific strengths of numerous writers, listing them in a loose pecking order.

Palladis Tamia - Wits Treasury,1598

Palladis Tamia – 1598

Royal Court and other official records also offer a source of dating, as they mention performances at significant state events. Generally though, despite hundreds of years of exhaustive scholarly study, the extent and timing of Shakespeare’s literary canon is still a matter of fierce debate.

The earliest evidence of the plays appears from 1592 onwards, but these were in performance only, without attribution to an author, and not yet in print. Indeed, there is no play attributed to Shakespeare, by name, until 1598. Of course, the plays could have been written much earlier, and there is one group of anti-Stratfordians, who suggest they were written a decade prior to their emergence on the stage.

In theory, it ought to be clear what Shakespeare wrote, and what he did not. Surely the plays included in the ‘First folio’ must belong to Shakespeare, because those contemporary compilers were in the best position to know. The printers, Jaggard & son, had been involved with the Shakespeare name over a number of years and so they ought to have known what was genuine and what was not. However, their 1619 folio contained three plays that were not contained in the 1623 ‘official’ edition and many Stratfordian scholars doubt whether two of the three were written by Shakespeare, at all.

So which version was correct?

Literary scholars have long questioned the Jaggards’ credibility in their dealings with the Shakespeare canon and some are bemused how the perpetrator of earlier, what they now regard as scurrilous, unapproved, piratical work, could end up winning the contract for the official version. I leave that till later, because my revelations about the Jaggards will open up whole new lines of enquiry. Indeed the Jaggards might not be the ‘problem family’ frequently mentioned, but rather offer help in finding a solution to this whole mystery.

The Jaggard legacy continued on through to the later folio editions, printed decades later, and these ‘rogues’, also have connections to a number of other creations, attributed to Shakespeare. The ‘apocrypha’, as it is known, are the works not in the 1623 folio, but which have appeared at various times with Shakespeare’s name attached. Modern scholars now pass judgement, on these ‘extras’, which skirt around the edges, and the Juke Box Jury panel of ‘Oxbridge’ literary experts has enough confidence in their ability, to declare them a genuine ‘hit’ or a ‘miss’, 400 years after the event.

There are various theories about how these other offerings arrived at the table. Fraudulent printers seem to get the lion’s share of the blame for most things, whilst more generous commentators suggest that the apocrypha may have been collaborations with other writers, or earlier works that were overlooked by the King’s Men, the company who gained the sole rights to perform Shakespeare’s plays and were able to control their publication.

There are over twenty contentious plays, including several which appeared during Shakespeare’s lifetime and with his name firmly stamped all over them. One of the most interesting is ‘Sir John Oldcastle’, which was originally published by Thomas Pavier, in 1600, with no named author. However, in 1619 the play was attributed to Shakespeare, when it was re-published as part of the ‘false folio’ project. The plot thickens because, theatre owner, Philip Henslowe records in his diary that the play was written jointly by Anthony Munday, Michael Drayton, Richard Hathwaye and Robert Wilson. Surely, in this situation this clear conflict of attribution should sound alarm bells for everyone involved in the debate.

‘A Yorkshire Tragedy’ was published in 1608, credited as the work of Shakespeare, and although not seen fit to be included in the 1623 version, appears in the revised, second edition of the Third folio, in 1664. Many scholars now give Thomas Middleton the credit for this play, but I offer other options.

‘Two Noble Kinsman’ was not published until 1634, being credited as a collaborative effort between William Shakespeare and John Fletcher. This generally gets the thumbs up for authenticity from modern scholars, but it never made an appearance in any of the five folio compilations.

‘Edward III’ was a play originally published anonymously, in 1596, and was only attributed to Shakespeare in a bookseller’s list, some fifty years later. Some scholars credit Thomas Kyd with at least part of the content, but the Royal Shakespeare Company has performed the play in recent years, because it has many hallmarks of their hero.. ‘Edward III’ does seem to be a crucial play in any discussion about the authorship question, because if it had been included in 1623, then few scholars would have challenged its authenticity – but it wasn’t.

There is a smattering of consensus about which plays came first, but there is still no certainty. That honour is fought out between one of the ‘Henry VI’ trilogy, ‘Richard III’, ‘Titus Andronicus’ and ‘Two Gentleman of Verona’, but exactly when they were written or in which order is hotly debated.

The Henry VI trilogy started life as three separate plays, each with very different names, probably written Henry/2, then Henry/1, as a prequel, and finally Henry/3. It is commonly thought ‘Henry VI/2’ might have been the first ‘Shakespeare’ play, but ‘Two Gentleman of Verona’ also has its supporters.

No single publisher or printer was used by Shakespeare and there is no consistency of bookseller either. The rights to publish and print plays were, often, transferred between the various commercial entities, so the path from the stage to the printed page was rarely a straightforward one. Some of the printed material is of dubious quality and there seem to be a number of pirated and incomplete versions. Nothing is clear and simple. There are dozens more points of discussion and with some plays the debate about authenticity gets far more air time than the play itself.

However, the first appearance of the name William Shakespeare, anywhere in literature, was associated with poems not plays. ‘Venus and Adonis’, a love poem based on Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ was registered anonymously with the Stationers’ Company on 18th April 1593, and printed by Richard Field, later that year. This poem contains a dedication, made by William Shakespeare to the Earl of Southampton, and is the first mention of his name attached to a piece of literature.

Venus & Adonis dedication

The following year another poem appeared in print, this one with a much darker theme. The ‘Rape of Lucrece’ was registered with the Stationers Company on 9th May 1594, and printed later that year, again by Richard Field. This poem takes a lead from work by classical writers Ovid and Livy, and has similarities to one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, ‘Titus Andronicus’. Again this poem was registered anonymously and Shakespeare’s name was only attached in the form of a second dedication, again directed to the Earl of Southampton.

Dedication attached to the ‘Rape of Lucrece’.

THE LOVE I dedicate to your lordship is without end; whereof this pamphlet, without beginning, is but a superfluous moiety. The warrant I have of your honourable disposition, not the worth of my untutored lines, makes it assured of acceptance. What I have done is yours; what I have to do is yours; being part in all I have, devoted yours. Were my worth greater, my duty would show greater meantime, as it is, it is bound to your lordship, to whom I wish long life, still lengthened with all happiness.

 Your lordship’s in all duty, WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.

Both these poems were registered anonymously, and significantly in the original editions, Shakespeare’s name is not attached to the poems themselves but only to the dedications. (Later editions did carry the Stratford man’s name.) Writers of the period frequently dedicated their work to their benefactors or even potential sponsors, but there is no evidence of reciprocation between the two men.

However, here we find one of many unfounded ‘truths’ that have entered the Shakespeare biography. Over a hundred years after the event Nicholas Rowe wrote, in 1709, that “There is one instance so singular in the magnificence of this patron of Shakespeare that, if I had not been assured that the story was handed down by Sir William D’Avenant, who was probably very well acquainted with his affairs, I should not have ventured to have inserted; that my Lord Southampton at one time gave him a thousand pounds to enable him to go through with a purchase which he heard he had a mind to.”

£1000 was a small fortune in Shakespeare’s day and payments for poems often amounted to only a pound or two, perhaps £5 for a play. This seems to be an unlikely embellishment to the Shakespeare saga, aimed no doubt, to raise the kudos of the author?


Science to the rescue…?

As well as literary experts, historians and scientists have done their best to help answer the authorship question. These various disciplines have sough the truth by analysing the one million words which make up the complete Shakespeare text and apocrypha. Literary experts have looked at the development of the style, looking for typical signs of a maturing author. They have also compared every word and phrase with those of contemporary authors, and have checked for source material, earlier books which might have given Shakespeare his ideas. Every literary stone has been upturned, perhaps ten thousand times, but still questions seem to outnumber the answers.

Historians have tried to match the content of Shakespeare’s work to the political and social events of the period and this has helped to confirm the order in which the plays were written. This dating method helps a little, but is often compromised by supporters of a particular alternative candidate, who desire to match the plays EXACTLY to the biography of their man. Of course supporters of the status quo likewise try to match the dating evidence to the period, 1564-1616.

Scientists are now using the powerful memory chips of 21st century computer technology, to analyse Shakespeare’s portfolio. Research is slowly leaking out, but has not, yet, provided the definitive, single author answer, which the majority of literary historians seem to demand. Recent results complicate rather than simplify the picture, and some of these are discussed later, when looking at rival candidates.

Twenty five years ago, in the early days of computer analysis, Ward Elliott and Robert Valenza, studying at Claremont McKenna College in California, compared a selection of Shakespeare’s poems and plays with those of fifty eight contemporary authors. The pair of American statisticians took a sample of Shakespeare’s sonnets, poems in plays, and the plays themselves and broke them down into standardised word blocks. Their methodology comes in for criticism today, but mainly because it didn’t produce the answers those critics desperately seek.

The Californians’ results turned out to be quite conclusive, as Shakespeare’s words and phrases came out of the tests as very different to his contemporaries. The closest match was for explorer, Walter Raleigh, but he only had a two per cent chance of him being the author of Shakespeare’s entire canon. The study particularly focussed on the Earl of Oxford, as he was the bookies favourite in the 1990s, and is the one still making the running today.

Elliott and Valenza’s findings:

‘We found Shakespeare’s patterns to be strikingly consistent, and often strikingly at variance with those of other Elizabethan poets. A cross-check of each conventional test against 3,000-word samples from an early Shakespeare play (Richard III) and a late one (Macbeth) indicates very little change in Shakespeare’s profiles, apart from line endings. The old Shakespeare seemed just as likely as the young to pour out hyphenated compound words, to stint on relative clauses, and to write at a given grade level. In general, Shakespeare used compound words and open and feminine endings more frequently than his contemporaries and relative clauses less frequently.’

 ‘Our conclusion was that Shakespeare fits within a fairly narrow, distinctive profile under our best tests. If his poems were written by a committee, it was a remarkably consistent committee. If they were written by any of the claimants we tested, it was a remarkably inconsistent claimant. If they were written by the Earl of Oxford, he must, after taking the name of Shakespeare, have undergone several stylistic changes of a type and magnitude unknown in Shakespeare’s accepted works.’

The Earl of Oxford, the bookies favourite, is given a very hard time, and comes out as a no-hoper. The idea of a collaborative work also didn’t gain favour with the researchers. Consistency is the word that jumps out of the report, and the authors wondered how a ‘committee’ could provide that consistency. The Californians suggest the author is probably one person and conclude that this must either be the man Shakespeare himself, or a total newcomer on the block, a person that has not previously entered the discussion.


Creating Shakespeare by committee

What seems obvious to me, and is mentioned by an increasing number of commentators, is that ‘Shakespeare’ could well be the product of a co-operative venture. This seems to be the only solution that makes complete sense, when you take into account all the ponderables. Yet, the analysis, by tens of thousands of scholars, and by that Californian research team, shows a remarkable consistency of writing. So much so, that certain plays are discounted by modern literary scholars, as definitely not attributable to the Bard, despite having his name firmly attached to them during his own life time.!!

Even amongst the anti-Stratfordians, the strongest advocates are very much for the ‘single persona’ theory, and few can comprehend how it is possible to persuade a group of free thinking authors to write as one coherent brand name.


In fact, the group dynamic is the norm in modern creative writing for the television screen. Books are, generally, written by single individuals, but many of the most successful television ‘light dramas’, are created by partnerships of two people, and in the case of innovative comedy during the 20th century, frequently by groups of writers, often in a seemingly unregimented environment.

Ground breaking comedy fits that pattern, with the Goon Show, Cambridge Footlights and Monty Python, each working off a strong group dynamic. Then there was that huge list of American screenwriters that seemed to roll on forever, in the final credits to ‘Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In’. This used to bring a smile to the British audience, even if the jokes seemed less than funny, to the more sophisticated natives, living on this side of the pond.

Successful single comedy writers are rarer and often the very best exhibit personal flaws. Stephen Fry and Victoria Wood have openly expressed doubts about their own literary abilities, whilst Ronnie Barker, who I regard as one of the most creative wordsmiths of my lifetime, was so unsure of his writing skills that he donned the persona of ‘Gerald Wiley’, keeping the secret long into his acting career. In what was an ‘ensemble’ scriptwriting team, many of the funniest sketches of the ‘Two Ronnies’ and all the trademark communal songs were contributed by the reticent, ‘Gerald Wiley’.

Writers such as Alan Bleasedale, Alan Plater, Dennis Potter and Alan Bennett, working at the more serious end of popular drama, tend to prefer their own company. Much of their output is personal and emotional and sometimes with a strong political or social message. They have been praised for the realism shown in the literary portraits they paint, but their work has been criticised strongly, by those who hold different political views. In other regimes and in earlier generations, all might well have experienced the inside of a prison cell, for openly expressing such individualistic views, which challenged the government policy of the day.

Literary critics have a tendency to want to give labels to writing genres, but often comedy and tragedy are two sides of the same coin, with some of the best writers managing to mix the two, almost seamlessly. When David Renwick was asked why his hit comedy series, ‘One Foot in the Grave’, often had extreme moments of violence and melancholy, he responded by saying, probably with a little tongue in cheek, that he had never thought of the program as a comedy show! Shakespeare’s plays demonstrate that same strong mixture of tragedy and comedy, with the odd romantic touch thrown in for good measure.

However, the question posed by the Californian analysts was how is it possible to get such literary consistency from a diverse group of people, writing under one name. Well, this is how it could be done and I know because, at one point, I was an integral part of such an ongoing literary operation.

One of my tasks as a training specialist, working for an international pharmaceutical company, was to compile and update the medical manuals, which were used to train our 200 sales people. Two or three of the training department always had a ‘manual’ project on the go, and with plenty of new products being added to the portfolio, it was always one of the first jobs given to a new member of the team.

When I got down to the task, it soon became obvious this was not just an extended essay and that I was not merely an author, but a project manager. The task seemed daunting in the extreme, because I had never written a training manual before, indeed, I hadn’t written anything longer than a sports report for a local newspaper, since my time at university.

I quickly realised, there was a very strict formula and all the manuals had a similar look and feel to them. It was also clear there had been several rebirths of the original format, so not only was it important to retain an overall style, but also necessary to keep abreast of the latest educational trends.

Despite my paucity of experience, there was plenty of guidance available from colleagues, plus there were ten manuals in regular use, and many more on the dusty archive shelves, all to be used as guides and comparators. Each section of the manual needed specialist content,, which had to be scientifically accurate and verifiable. To be assured of the accuracy of the technical detail, I was going to have to rely on the input of qualified doctors from our medical department, and a variety of medical journals.

The company was also obsessive about its image, which meant they demanded consistency of literary style for all written material, both formal publications and even simple memorandums to colleagues. These were the days before personal computing and email, which meant that every typed letter and document, produced in the company’s name, had to be ‘signed off’, by at least one line manager.

Finally, there were the guys with the red pens, two ex-Fleet Street proof readers who were notoriously good at their job. Their guide to uniformity was a thick glossary that ensured a world wide standard was maintained, all the way from Hoddesdon to Honolulu. Punctuation, numbers, capital letters and layout were all covered in the bulky tome. My first humble offering, a simple one paragraph letter to a regional manager, was returned with a laugh and more red marks than I had words on the page. I learnt quickly and a week later, I was almost red line free and close to their idea of ‘acceptable’.

Each section of the training manual had to be signed off by my head of department, and this was then passed around to the other section leaders, who had a vested interest in my work. The whole process sanitised my efforts, removing my personal idiosyncrasies, and kept the writing and content at the required standard. It was an unforgiving process and so by the end, my completed manual looked like all the others. Yes, it was really my piece of work, I wrote every word, although my name did not appear on the finished item, just the trademark of the company.

So, could a similar process have been used to create William Shakespeare’s plays? Does the pen-name, ‘William Shakespeare’, really have to be one person or could it be the pseudonym for a collective of Elizabethan writers, produced, in not dissimilar fashion to my corporate training manuals?

The original format for Elizabethan plays would have been the starting point of the process, one that was provided by the classical authors of Greece and Rome. The ‘Seneca’ play had a strict format, and there were also ‘Aristotle’s rules’, which were seen as a model for all playwrights.

Therefore, writing to strict guidelines was nothing new to the classically educated writers of Tudor England. Some writers had been brave enough to develop this further, to reflect the more liberal Renaissance mood, but there were still unwritten rules and overall Elizabethan writers adhered to an accepted formula.

Members of a ‘Shakespeare playwright team’ would need some agreement to moderate their writing style, but as with my own experience, the co-operative system brought us together to write with one ‘voice’. If the plays were being produced in a workshop situation, in the convivial surroundings of a grand house or university, then this convergence would happen naturally.

Imagine a group of literary friends together in a grand Tudor drawing room and you have the beginnings of a successful writing ensemble.

This corporate approach was clearly explained by the actor and director, Mark Rylance, at a conference to discuss the ‘authorship question’. He said that different writers have different strengths; ‘some are good at plot, others at characterisation, whilst others adept at timing, humour or the mechanics of stage production’.

Finally, there would need to be a proof reader or editor, someone that acted like a shearman in the textile industry, removing the unwanted bits and pieces, smoothing the text, and who signed off the work before it was handed over to the actors. This would be the ‘William Shakespeare’ figure, the editor-in-chief, and that position might have changed hands over the twenty plus years of the project, something suggested by a change of style in the later plays.

Whilst some authors kept their own ‘fair copy’ notebooks, it is likely that the finished work was dictated and that a scribe did the writing. Employing a copywriter, seems to be an essential part of any ruse. It was no good attempting to be incognito if your handwriting was all over the work. This would explain why not a single word has been found in the authenticated ‘hand’ of William Shakespeare.

The text could certainly be influenced by the final copywriter, the man who wrote out neat copies of the original scribblings and ensured a consistency of grammar, spelling and punctuation. He was the equivalent of my Fleet Street men with the red pens, but he may have had a little extra input, and yes even the Shakespeare diehards accept this might have happened, but with their man as the main author.

The majority of the people, who I believe were involved in the Shakespeare conspiracy, worked as government officials, foreign ambassadors, had secret lovers, or were simply members of that political cauldron, the Royal Court. Passing covert messages and keeping their identity secret was an everyday part of the lives of so many of these individuals. For most courtiers, ‘covert’ was their middle name, and for those caught out, a heavy fine or even a visit to Tower Green was their potential reward.

Indeed, at the same time Shakespeare’s plays first appeared on the stage, there was already a major co-operative work underway. The King James Bible, eventually published in 1611, was the culmination of a 20 year project and the work of forty seven of the most learned and religious men of the period.

This was a translated work, not a totally creative one, but it was important to maintain a house style, one that kept the writers speaking with a single voice, all the way from Genesis to Revelations. On completion, their great Bible, like my training manuals, was published anonymously.

Interestingly for my story, the only member of the translation team, who wasn’t a member of the clergy, was Henry Savile. He was a Greek tutor and mathematician at Oxford University and the leader of a four year journey around classical Europe, which included visits to Vienna, Venice and Verona and from Paris to Padua. Quite coincidentally, Henry Savile was born on a rather inconsequential family estate, just a couple of miles from Halifax… at Bradley Hall, Stainland..!!


View halloo….?

Like so much about Shakespeare’s literary life, there is great debate about when his name was first mentioned as an author. His name is clearly associated with the two poems, ‘Venus and Adonis’, registered in 1593, and ‘The Rape of Lucrece’, in 1594. Both were originally printed by Richard Field, in London, not long after the poems had been registered with the Stationers Company. Field adds extra colour to the story, because he was, ‘by chance’, also a native of the same, Warwickshire town, as the Bard, himself.

As we saw earlier, there is a separate page of dedication attached to each poem, and these are addressed to the 21 year old, Earl of Southampton, by the signee, William Shakespeare, although there is a slight look of a 1960’s, ‘John Bull printing set’ about the addition of his name at the bottom. Shakespeare’s name does not appear directly attached to the poems till later editions were published, and their original registration with the Stationers Company makes no mention of an author’s name.

However, there is a strange reference to a ‘hyphenated’ Shake-speare in another poem, which was registered on 3rd September 1594, very soon after the ‘Rape of Lucrece’ must have been published, as it was only registered, a few weeks earlier, on 9th May. This poem, published as a pamphlet, was titled, ‘Willobie his Avisa’, the story of the wooing of a woman called Avisa, by H.W., who sought advice from W.S ‘the old player’, a previously unsuccessful suitor of the same old maid.

The poem is believed to have been written by Henry Willobie, a native of West Knowle, in Wiltshire, who was an undergraduate at St John’s College, Oxford, from 1591 to 1595, a man who would have been living amongst those Oxford ‘wits’ , who appear, regularly, throughout my saga.

The poem is interesting in several ways, all of which are relevant to the Shakespeare story.

At the end of one stanza there is the phrase ‘And Shake-speare paints poore Lucrece rape’, which is clear reference to the freshly published poem, dedicated to the Earl of Southampton. Some scholars speculate that Willobie is also referencing Shakespeare, in his use of the initials, W. S., and that the H.W. might refer not to himself, but to Henry Wriothesley (the Earl of Southampton).

Curiously, in 1596, Henry Dorrell wrote an ‘apology’, (an explanation of the story behind the poem), which seems intended to create a smokescreen around the ‘Avisa’ poem. Dorrell said the author, Willobie, had ‘now of late gone to God’, and his poem had been written 35 years earlier. Most of Dorrell’s ‘apology’ seems like nonsense, as Willobie was born in 1574 and died in 1596 and ‘Lucrece’ had only been published just days before the Avisa poem must have been written.

If Dorrell is correct, and the ‘old player’ is really ‘old’, then Willobie was not the author, and so we are dealing with another pseudonym, one that was invented to challenge that of the name ‘William Shakespeare’, which appears on the two dedications to the young Earl of Southampton.

The refusal to wed a number of suitors, suggests that the maiden, Avisa, may be intended to represent Queen Elizabeth – and that idea is strengthened because Elizabeth’s personal motto was ‘Semper eadem’, (always the same), and the heroine of the poem signs her letters ‘Alwaies the same, Avisa’

This was obviously a satirical work, intended to mock the use of Shake-speare’s name and to use Avisa as a caricature. Eventually there reached a tipping point, because an entry to the Stationers’s Register dated 4th June 1599, says that ‘Willobies Adviso’ is to be ‘Called in’, which indicates the pamphlet was censured, and probably to be burned. However, that wasn’t the last that was heard from ‘Avisa’, as the pamphlet was reprinted several times more, after the death of Elizabeth, in 1603.

Clearly, there are word games being played between the intellectual elite of Oxford, and the courtiers, represented by the Earl of Southampton, and at the heart of it all is Good Queen Bess. No-one has yet contrived a suitable explanation for these literary shenanigans, but it is the first time that Shakespeare’s name is written as Shake-speare, suggesting that there was a plot afoot to use the name of a man from Stratford-upon-Avon, in a clandestine way. Note too that date, 1596, the year of the ‘apology’, which I believe is the most significant year in this whole Elizabethan melodrama.

Overall, this simple pamphlet rather muddies the waters rather than produce a crystal clear stream of understanding. If this was intended to be a parody of Elizabeth’s love life, why did the censors wait for five years before banning the work. Previously the punishment for questioning the Queen’s decision making had been swift and more draconian to the perpetrators, be they writer, publisher or printer.

When the Shakespeare conundrum is finally exposed to sun drenched daylight, I’m sure ‘Willobie’s Avisa will make sense, but till then it can be put to one side, as one of Poirot’s unexplained clues.

BUT – these are poems, and there is no written connection between William Shakespeare and any of ‘his’ plays until 1598. So, to fill that time gap, the Stratfordians need something more substantial to support their cause and hold back the growing tidal wave of anti-Stratfordian sentiment. Their single straw in the wind and a single crumb of comfort, is the word, ‘shake-scene’.

The hyphenated word appears in a letter, written by the author, Robert Greene, who died in 1592, at the very beginning of the ‘Shakespeare era’. ‘The word, ‘shake-scene’ and other confirming lines are part of a posthumously published letter that was addressed to three friends and fellow poets, Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Nashe and George Peele, to whom Greene administers a ‘gentle reproof’ and offers advice as to how to move forward with their lives.

Green admonishes Marlowe for being a non-believer in God, whilst to Nashe, he suggests he lightens his verse a little and write a comedy, and to Peele; he says he has more talent than the others, and not waste time writing for the theatre.

Even these few lines by Greene, written to friends and colleagues, aren’t as simple as they might be. The letter is contained in a work entitled; ‘Greenes, Groats-worth of Witte, bought with a million of Repentance’, published by author, printer and publisher, Henry Chettle, ostensibly, as the work of the ‘recently deceased writer Robert Greene’.

This work, attributed to Greene, is a compilation of poems and prose with much revision and addition by Chettle, and was entered at Stationers Hall on 20th September 1592. How much is Greene and how much Chettle is still hotly debated, but there is clearly a fair smattering of both.

‘Base minded men all three of you, if by my miserie ye be not warned; for unto none of you, like me, sought those burrs to cleave; those puppets, I meane, that speake from our mouths, those antics garnisht in our colours. Is it not strange that I, to whom they all have been beholding, shall, were ye in that case that I am now, be both at once of them forsaken? Yes, trust them not; for there is an up-start crow, beautified with our feathers, that, with his Tyger’s heart wrapt in a Player’s hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you; and being an absolute ‘Johannes Factotum’, is in his own conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrie’. ‘But now returne I againe to you three, knowing my miserie is to you no news; and let me heartily entreate you to be warned by my harme. For it is a pittie men of such rare wits should be subject to the pleasures of such rude groomes.’

…. ‘the upstart crow…….. the only Shake-scene in the country’.

The Stratfordians, almost without reservation, take this to mean Greene is addressing his three friends and making reference to Shakespeare, who MUST be the ‘upstart crow’.

Nearly a century ago, William C. Chapman, a Canadian scholar, expended several thousand words analysing these ‘shreds of evidence’, which the Stratfordians hold so dear and Chapman pulls to pieces the suggestion that the phrase ‘shake-scene’, has anything at all to do with William Shake-speare.

The connection between ‘shake-scene’ and Shakespeare was never a contemporary one, but made over a century later, when the study of his plays became popular. Thomas Tyrwhitt (1730-85), seems to be the first to make a connection and this is now treated by ‘Stratfordians’, as one of those ‘irrefutable facts’ that cannot be challenged, but without any evidence to support it.

Chapman suggests the ‘upstart crow’ is NOT Shakespeare at all, but clearly identifiable as William Kemp, the celebrated comic actor, jig-dancer, and jester, who was in his own admission, the ‘only shake-scene in a country’ – referring to his abilities as a comic jig-dancer.

Will Kemp became established as a leading actor in the Elizabethan theatre, during the 1580s, but also acted the clown and for many theatre-goers his dancing jigs, accompanied by comic words and music, were the highlight of the entertainment.

Kemp was a popular performer as early as 1589, and was in the habit of not sticking to the script, making him unpopular with the playwrights, whose work he spouted with such gay abandon. His performances wouldn’t have been out of place at a performance of the ‘Good Old Days’, at the City Varieties Music Hall, in Leeds, or perhaps a 1950s ‘End of the Pier Show’, at Margate.

Will Kemp, in his only published pamphlet, ‘The Nine Days Wonder’, written in 1599, turned upon his high brow critics, and in retaliation, called them ‘shake-rags’. Shakespeare was an unknown and unheralded name in 1592, whilst Kemp already had a growing reputation. So, Chapman believes the face of William Kemp fits far better than William Shakespeare, on the photo-fit of the ‘upstart crow’.

The final nail in the ‘shake-scene’ coffin, is that there is no mention anywhere of William Shakespeare as an actor, writer or theatre owner during Robert Greene’s lifetime, so any connection between the two is unrecorded, and would not seem worthy of note, in such a cryptic way.


More poems

Shakespeare’s poems are regarded as a major part of his writing and reputation and one particular format of poetry, the sonnet, goes hand in hand with the ‘Shakespeare’ name. The connection between the sonnet format and Shakespeare was first established in William Jaggard’s ‘Passionate Pilgrim’, an anthology of twenty poems attributed on the front cover to ‘W. Shakespeare’, although inside there are a variety of credits to other poets, including several with none – ‘anon’.

Shakespeare’s Sonnets, numbers 138 and 144 appear for the first time in ‘Passionate Pilgrim’, but after due consideration, although Jaggard, quite clearly credited Shakespeare with 13 of the 20 poems, the jury of experts now attribute only five ‘hits’, to the alleged author.

The next mention of Shakespeare, allied to a piece of poetry, is the mysterious allegorical poem that appears in an anthology of poems, under the title, ‘Loves Martyr or Rosalins Complaint’.
It was ‘imprinted for E.B’ in 1601; the publisher being Edward Blount, who 20 years later had his name, writ large, on the front of Shakespeare’s First folio. The printer was Richard Field, who had been the printer of ‘Venus & Adonis’ and ‘Rape of Lucrece’. This anthology was never registered with the Stationers Hall, but the author of the main poem appears to be an unknown poet, Robert Chester.

The ‘Phoenix and the Turtle’, are the subjects for ‘Loves Martyr’, an allegorical tale that includes the story of King Arthur. This is thought to allude to another of Queen Elizabeth’s failed love affairs, her favourite brooch being the Phoenix jewel. The single poem, commonly attributed to William Shake-speare, also takes the ‘Phoenix and Turtle’ theme. Poems by the other named contributors, Ben Jonson, George Chapman, John Marston, also follow the same theme.

Loves Martyr - 1601

However, I am going to attract plenty more controversy here because on reading a facsimile of ‘Loves Martyr’, it doesn’t seem to reflect EXACTLY, the sections attributed to William Shake-speare. Almost all current texts give a title to the work, but in my facsimile copy, there is NO title – it just begins:

 LET the bird of loudest lay,
On the sole Arabian tree,
Herald sad and trumpet be,
To whose sound chaste wings obey.

This is then followed by thirteen further stanzas, each with four lines and a rhyming pattern; abba.

There is no author mentioned at the bottom of this page..!!

On the next page there is a new poem, blocked by a woodcut, top and bottom, which bears the title:

‘Threnos’, (meaning lamentation).

Beauty, truth, and rarity,
Grace in all simplicity,
Here enclosed in cinders lie.
Death is now the phoenix’ nest;
And the turtle’s loyal breast To eternity doth rest,
Leaving no posterity:
‘T was not their infirmity, It was married chastity.
Truth may seem, but cannot be:
Beauty brag, but ’tis not she;
Truth and beauty buried be.
To this urn let those repair
That are either true or fair;
For these dead birds sigh a prayer.

The attribution to William Shake-speare appears at the bottom of the ‘Threnos’ page, and in my understanding of the layout of the pamphlet, this does not relate to the poem on the previous two pages. ‘Threnos’ is short and simplistic, in the extreme, with a rhyming scheme that wouldn’t be out of place in the notebook of a ten year old ‘apprentice’ poet, not one attributed to the world’s greatest writer…??

The style and content of the longer poem, which most scholars attribute to Shakespeare, doesn’t bear his name, nor does it fit any of the other work attributed to the great Stratford poet.

It looks to me that modern scholars have got it horribly wrong – the first poem being a total irrelevance and that the short and simplistic, ‘Threnos’ poem has been written by another of the anthology’s contributors, possibly Ben Jonson, included as an in-joke amongst those in the know, thereby ridiculing the fakery of the Shakespeare brand, following on from the ‘mustard’ reference in 1598.


However, the bulk of Shakespeare’s poetry is contained in the 154 sonnets, which were first published , in its entirety, in 1609. The sonnet is a poem of fourteen lines, ending in a rhyming couplet. The name ‘sonnet’ means ‘little song’ and had its origins in the south of Italy, during the 13th century. The format moved north, to Tuscany and Venice, where the English were frequent visitors in the 16th century.

Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard were the first Englishmen to use the sonnet style and the ‘little song’ appeared in print for the first time in England, in 1558, as Tottel’s Miscellany of ‘Song and Sonettes’. The form was not used again until it was adopted by Philip Sidney in the 1580s and then a decade later when 23 of the 79 poems in the ‘Phoenix Nest’ anthology, published in 1593, used the ‘sonnet’ format. In later centuries, many of the great English poets used the sonnet form, including William Wordsworth, John Milton and my namesake, Robert Browning.

There is mention, by Francis Meres, that a number of Shakespeare’s sonnets were being circulated amongst the ‘smart’ set, in coffee shops and taverns, during the 1590s, but apart from the two which appeared in the ‘Passionate Pilgrim’, there is nothing to offer a clue as to when they were composed.

Shakespeare’s Sonnets were first published in 1609, by Thomas Thorpe, but there was an additional poem added to that volume, entitled, ‘A Lover’s Complaint’. This poem comprised forty seven stanzas, each of, seven-lines, but written in ‘rhyme royal’, the same metre that had been used in ‘Rape of Lucrece’. Modern day experts regard this additional poem as very ‘un-Shakespearean’ and probably not connected with the person who wrote the ‘Sonnets’. Again doubts are being raised, even by Strafordians, and here are more ‘expert’ judgements being made in the modern era, on work that clearly says ‘Shakespeare’ on the cover..!!

Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnets’ ought to have been a popular work amongst the dandy courtiers of the period and to prove the point, the ‘Passionate Pilgrim’ was reprinted in 1601 and 1612, (twice). However, after its initial release, in 1609, the Bard’s sonnet anthology seems to have gone into hibernation, for a number of years, with no mention by contemporary sources, and no reprint made until 1640.

Then, the ‘little songs’ re-appeared in a different format, as ‘Poems: Will. Shake-speare, Gent’, published by John Benson of St Dunstan’s Churchyard and printed by Thomas Cotes, printer of the Second folio of 1632. Benson rearranged the sonnets into groups, added titles and generally tampered with the original concept of the 1609 version. Poems by other writers, associated with the Shakespeare canon, were also added, and six original sonnets were omitted. Benson may have felt freedom to edit the original volume because Thomas Thorpe had died in 1635, causing the copyright to lapse.

Sonnets - 1609   Poems cover-1640

     1609 edition                                                 Benson’s 1640 version

Shakespeare’s sonnets seem to be autobiographical, and a very personal record of the feelings of one person towards others, famously with mention of a ‘fair youth’, the ‘rival poet’, and the ‘dark lady’. The dedication at the beginning of the original, 1609, edition is framed in a pyramidal format and addressed to ‘Mr W.H.’. Many readers regard the dedication itself as cryptic and the mystery of ‘Mr W.H.’ has still not been solved and has brought dozens of suggestions as to the owner of these initials.

The case has been made for lovers (of both sexes), a variety of noble lords and the publisher’s financial sponsor, with the intriguing dedication, itself, being analyzed by everyone, from code breakers in Cheltenham to the crossword experts of the Waterloo & City line. This puzzle-solving exercise is one where every contestant seems to believe they have found the correct solution, despite the vast array of answers being proffered to the panel of adjudicators, no prizes have yet been awarded

One novel suggestion, and one which appeals to me, because of its simplicity, is by American Shakespeare theorist, Alan Tarica. In his treatise, ‘Forgotten Secret’, Alan has made a strong case for reversing the order of the original 154 poems, then reading them in sequence from 154 to 1. You might say he has turned Shakespeare on his head.

Sonnet 154

The little Love-God lying once asleep,
Laid by his side his heart inflaming brand,
Whilst many Nymphs that Vow’d chaste life to keep,
Came tripping by, but in her maiden hand,
The fairest votary took up that fire,
Which many Legions of true hearts had warm’d,
And so the General of hot desire,
Was sleeping by a Virgin hand disarm’d.
This brand she quenched in a cool Well by,
Which from love’s fire took heat perpetual,
Growing a bath and healthful remedy,
For men diseased, but I my Mistress thrall,
Came there for cure and this by that I prove,
Love’s fire heats water, water cools not love.

This would seem to read as an introduction to a sequence of poems, not the end, whilst the reverse is certainly true of Sonnet ‘Numero Uno’, which could easily be read as a melancholy finale.

Sonnet 1

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s Rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed’st thy light’st flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel:
Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament,
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content,
And tender churl makest waste in niggarding:
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee.

Alan Tarica is a proponent of the idea that the Earl of Oxford wrote the Sonnets, as a secret correspondence with his lover, the ‘virgin’ Queen, Elizabeth. He postulates that the poems are a plea from Oxford to Elizabeth that their ‘love-child’, Henry Wriothesley (the Earl of Southampton) should be made her successor to the throne of England. This might seem far too much ‘conspiracy’ rolled up into one story, but covert references to Elizabeth’s inability to find a mate, litter the writing of the period, and may well have inspired the creation of the Shakespeare pseudonym.

I make the point because there is plenty of innovative thinking which surrounds the work of ‘Mr Shakespeare’, but most is actively ignored by those who think they know better. Here, by simply reversing the order, a new meaning is revealed, and without the need to decipher complicated codes. Is Alan Tarica right or wrong about the deeper meaning of the Sonnets? I have no idea, but his theory does make more sense than many that have gained far greater prominence and given more credence by mainstream Stratfordians.

Shakespeare’s Sonnets, instead of being simpler to unravel than the plays are actually just as complex, continuing to ask questions at every level. Nothing is simple – from the pen first hitting the paper, through to the dedication, the relevance of the order of the poems, and finally to their later printing and distribution. The plays are a mystery, the poems are a mystery, the publishing and printing of his works befuddles many learned minds, and so what about the man himself?


Barney McGrew and his mates – on hand to help – just in case I have upset someone..!!



Chapter Six


Shakespeare – the man


Shakespeare sign

The Bard’s Biography

The simple biography of William Shakespeare, the one I was taught at school, talked of a clever man, even a genius, who was the greatest playwright and poet of the English speaking world. He was said to be born in Stratford-upon-Avon on 23rd April 1564 and died in the town, on his birthday, in 1616. His father was a glovemaker and after marrying Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare moved to London and became a writer. Shakespeare was also an actor and a part owner of a theatre and a complete collection of his plays was published, posthumously, in 1623. He is also famous as a poet, writing the ‘Sonnets’.

There isn’t too much detail, but all the ‘facts’ seem to be correct. I could have mentioned that William’s father, John Shakespeare, was Mayor of Stratford, and his mother was Mary Arden, from a distinguished Warwickshire family. ‘Will’ wrote poems and three types of plays; history, comedy and tragedy. Ben Jonson was another famous writer of the period and the two playwrights would frequently be found discussing literary and theatrical matters in one of London’s taverns. William Shakespeare’s nickname was the ‘Bard of Avon’ and in his will, he left his ‘second best bed’ to his wife.

That’s a total offering of nearly 200 words, which seems rather basic information about England’s greatest writer. There must be a multitude of books written about his personal life, his family and his career as a writer. Where is the detail? Well, if you visit Stratford-upon-Avon today, you will find a whole industry based around these few simple facts. No more, no less.

Corporate Stratford

Shakespeare in Stratford – here, there and everywhere..!! – photo KHB

Despite this wafer thin biography, William Shakespeare’s plays and poems are on the curriculum of every education system across the planet and his name must be in the ‘top ten’ most famous names of all time. The Bard’s collected works, along with the Holy Bible, are included as essential reading on the BBC Radio program, Desert Island Discs, making an assumption that everyone would want to take them to their paradise isle.

Yet, 150 years ago, the famous American author, Mark Twain, was sceptical whether there was a scrap of evidence to prove, even the existence, of a man called William Shakespeare. Rather bizarrely, Mark would debate this issue with an old steamboat pilot, who was training the future writer, to take on that responsible role, of navigating a safe passage through the sandbanks of the Mississippi River.

Mark Twain

 Mark Twain

It was another 50 years before Twain published his thoughts on the subject, in his book entitled: ‘Is Shakespeare really dead?’

‘Isn’t it odd, when you think of it: that you may list all the celebrated Englishmen, Irishmen, and Scotchmen of modern times, clear back to the first Tudors; a list containing five hundred names, shall we say. You can add the details of the lives of all the celebrated ecclesiastics to the list; all the celebrated tragedians, comedians, singers, dancers, orators, judges, lawyers, poets, dramatists, historians, biographers, editors, inventors, reformers, statesmen, generals, admirals, discoverers, prize-fighters, murderers, pirates, conspirators, horse-jockeys, bunco-steerers, misers, swindlers, explorers, adventurers by land and sea, bankers, financiers, astronomers, naturalists, claimants, impostors, chemists, biologists, geologists, philologists, college presidents and professors, architects, engineers, painters, sculptors, politicians, agitators, rebels, revolutionists, patriots, demagogues, clowns, cooks, freaks, philosophers, burglars, highwaymen, journalists, physicians, surgeons; you can get the life-histories of all of them but ONE. Just one, the most extraordinary and the most celebrated of them all; Shakespeare!’

Mark Twain is of course correct, because when the tangle of 400 years of celebrity is cleared away, there is very little left of substance, apart from a very scratchy biography and the plays and poems themselves.


Footprints in the sand

Not only is Shakespeare one of the most famous of all Mark Twain’s ‘names’, he is also the most widely researched. Generations of scholars have avidly sought more information about the great man, but although a trickle of new material has been uncovered about his personal life, there is nothing new to support his credentials as a dramatist. Many have tried, but the success rate hovers close to zero.


Writers have long used pseudonyms to hide their identity and Samuel Clemens is one of the better known, prominent amongst a list that includes the Bronte sisters, George Elliot and Lewis Carroll. There must be a multitude of reasons why an author doesn’t wish to attach their real name to their own work, but Clemens was somewhat of a comedian, and his first use of the name, Mark Twain, was just a bit of escapist fun. This was just one of a number of different names he attached to his early work, when a cub reporter with his local newspaper. Insecurity may have been part of his initial motivation to use pseudonyms, an emotion felt by many creative people, when offering their work to public view.

Agatha Christie was her own name, but the famous writer of detective fiction, used another personna, that of Mary Westmacott, when writing romanctic novels. Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, took the same avenue, creating a new personna, when she followed Christie in the other direction, trying her hand at detective fiction, rather than the world of child magicians.

Many other use a ‘false’ name because they are fearful of the political or social consequences of challenging authority or even just the social conventions of the day. This was, indeed, very much the situation in Shakespeare’s time, as government laws and social conventions dominated all aspects of life. To make things more complicated, the rules might change in a trice, as monarchs and subsequent allegiances often changed with the swing of an axe.

Modern autobiographies are, increasingly, being written by ‘ghost writers’, especially when the ‘A list’ storyteller has limited literacy skills. Here the dictated words of the celebrity and the scribblings of the real author become inter-twined, so it becomes difficult to tell them apart. Most published material is actually an amalgam to some extent, as the proof reader or sub-editor wields the red pen of correction and deletion.

Surely, though, the expectation has to be that any author (noteworthy or otherwise) would wish to be associated with his work at some point. Both the heralded and the anonymous writer would inevitablyt leave a trail of personal and literary footprints throughout their writing career. My own contribution to the William Shakespeare debate contains a plethora of autobiographical material, which includes snippets from my earliest days, and then onwards, to shape my present day view of the world.


 A few literary tracks I would expect to find with any writer:

Education commensurate to their literary skills.
Variety of life experiences, reflected in their work.
Literate family environment, parents, siblings, children.
Travel experiences reflected in literary content.
Survival of ‘other’ written material; short notes, letters to friends & family.
Original manuscripts written in the author’s hand.
Literary ability mentioned by friends and family in their own letters.
Unfinished manuscripts, notes, etc, found after death.
Mention of own literary work in own will and testament.
Recognition during lifetime, by place of birth or place of abode.
Dedications to family and friends on published work.
Family show interest in literary work, especially after death.

The list is long and certainly not inclusive of all the possibilities. Famous playwrights and authors of the last 100 years might not tick every box, but the ones I have perused seem to tick most of them.

Noel Coward, Tom Stoppard, Alan Bennett, Arthur Miller, Alan Plater, Alan Ayckbourn, Frank Muir, W.H. Auden and Harold Pinter were writers in various genres, which I have checked in some detail and all have clear literary and personal biographies. I then, quite randomly, chose other names from a Wikipedia list of international authors, none of whom I had previously heard about. The list included Vasile Alecsandri, Ugo Betti, Nick Enright, Max Frisch and Jack Gelber – but I soon got bored with the exercise, because the picture was identical every time, their lives and works were easily detectable, albeit to a greater or lesser extent.

The majority of these great writers hailed from wealthy, privileged or literate backgrounds, but there was a minority who found literary fame from illiterate, poor or rather discouraging homes. The disadvantaged ones seized their opportunity at some point, often with the opportunistic help of a friend, relation, tutor or mentor, who championed their attempt to express themselves on the printed page.

All tended to begin their writing in a small way and developed their skills with age. Once they had begun to write, they all left clear trails, showed development in their work and left a few tangible pieces of paper to show they really had put pen to paper. My list is not exhaustive, but the creative writer who ticks the fewest boxes, leaving little or no trail at all, is William Shakespeare.

I have often heard it said that a writer’s first work is almost always autobiographical, and for many authors, all their writing is based on personal experiences or based around people they have known. Charles Dickens based his wonderful characterisations on real people, and Arthur Conan Doyle did the same, with his great detective character, being an amalgam of friends, colleagues and included large traits of himself, in both Holmes and Watson.

  Dr Joseph Bell  Arthur Conan Doyle

 Dr Joseph Bell, the Edinburgh doctor, (left) inspiration for Conan Doyle’s great detective

Indeed, autobiographical tracks must, surely, be a clue to the provenance of any author’s output. Is there such a trail in Shakespeare’s great works? Well, amongst nearly one million words you would expect there must be a clue to the author’s identity in there somewhere. Of course there is, but does that trail lead back to Stratford-upon-Avon or should we be looking for inspiration somewhere else?


William Shakespeare and his Dad

Mark Twain doubted even the existence of a man called William Shakespeare, but I feel confident there was such a person, although whether this man had any literary skills, I have become, very much, a ‘Doubting Thomas’.

The quantity of evidence has increased a little since Mark Twain’s time, as more documents are discovered in the dingy basements of libraries, legal store cupboards or the recesses of county record offices. More is now known about William the man, and his family, than appeared in my brief schoolboy summary, so here is an updated, extended version of the ‘official’ evidence.

William’s father, John Shakespeare, was probably born about 1530, and certainly by 1552, he was living in Henley Street, in Stratford-upon-Avon, where he was fined by the local council for failing to remove a pile of horse dung, from in front of his house. This was the first of several brushes with the authorities, which John Shakespeare had during his life, and it is this tranche of legal records which provide the most conclusive evidence about the existence of John, Mary, William and the family.

John Shakespeare married Mary Arden, although we don’t know when or where, as parish registers were not routinely kept during the Marian period (1553-58). The suggestion by historian, Michael Wood is that they married in 1556 or 1557, possibly at Aston Cantlow church. Mary had inherited land at Wilmcote village (a couple of miles outside Stratford), from her father, Robert Arden. He was a member of a prominent Catholic family and she was the youngest of eight daughters, by Robert’s first marriage. John Shakespeare proved to be an astute businessman, which he demonstrated in his choice of trade, his choice of friends and his choice of marriage partner.

The Stratford parish records only began in 1558, at the time when Elizabeth took the throne after the death of her Catholic sister, Queen Mary. It has always been supposed that John and Mary Shakespeare’s first two children were Joan and Margaret, born in 1558 and 1562. Both died a few months after their birth and the first to survive infancy was William, born in 1564, and baptised on 26th April. An outbreak of bubonic plague hit the town that following summer, so William and his family were lucky to avoid being one of 250 victims of the disease, which took about a fifth of Stratford’s population.

Shakespeare traditionalists have always celebrated his birthday on 23rd April, which is St Georges Day, and very conveniently for the patriotic types, is the patron saint of England. Traditionally, St George’s was the Catholic feast day when artistic merit was celebrated and dates back to medieval times.

Two centuries earlier, on St George’s Day, in 1374, Geoffrey Chaucer, another great English writer, was rewarded for his literary efforts with a ‘gallon of wine, daily for life’. The Shakespeare marketing department couldn’t have done a better job, if they had actually chosen the date themselves..!

Shakespeare Festival stamps

British stamps to commemorate the 400th birthday, in 1964.

John Shakespeare’s political star rose quickly during his first years in the town. He held several responsible positions in the newly created, Borough of Stratford, being elected ‘aletaster’ (the weights and measures inspector) in 1556, constable in 1558, chamberlain of Stratford in 1561, voted an Alderman in 1565, High bailiff (mayor) in 1568 and Chief Alderman, in October 1571. He was obviously a trusted and successful member of the community during these years.

During John Shakespeare’s advancement through the ranks, more children arrived. So, Joan, born 1558, Margaret; 1562 and William; 1564 were followed by Gilbert, 1566; Joan, 1569; Anne, 1571; Richard, 1574 and Edmund, 1580, all clearly recorded in the Holy Trinity church register.

However, in the early 1570s, John Shakespeare had several brushes with the law, charged with illegal wool dealing and money lending. His involvement with usury probably began as an extension of his trading business, but also because of his association with the Combe family, who were also in the same unsavoury occupation. Despite Henry VIII legalising usury, in 1545, the whole principle of money lending was regarded by the Protestant and Catholic churches as immoral and by the population at large, as a dubious business. John also made an application to the College of Heralds, to bear his own coat of arms, but his application, made in 1570, was eventually rejected.

Researcher, Donato Colucci, a professional magician (!!!) by trade, suggests a sequence of events which explains John Shakespeare’s rise to fame, followed by his meteoric fall. From 1578 onwards, the family came under severe financial pressure, as John failed to pay his taxes for ‘Poor Relief’ and Mary’s inherited lands, including ‘Asbies’ at Wilmcote, were mortgaged.

Colucci’s study of the original records for Stratford Borough, found that John was originally apprenticed to master glovemaker, Thomas Dixon, who owned the bespoke Swan Inn. The innkeeper did well, so he ‘passed’ his leather business to John Shakespeare, an enterprise which included the preparation and trading of animal skins, and the bleaching process, known as whittawing.

After 1565, John diversified his business, adding wool dealing and money lending to his portfolio, so making his main occupation that of a ‘brogger’, a middle man (wholesaler) dealing in wool. Brogging was a very lucrative occupation, taking much of the profit that had originally gone to the yeoman and tenant farmers. Wholesaling in wool was taxed, from 1552 onwards, with the intention of dissuading participation in the business, but the regulations were rarely enforced locally.

John Shakespeare was warned by local magistrates, in 1569, for charging £20 interest on a loan for a partner to purchase wool, and in the early 1570s was, himself, charged with illegally purchasing wool. Usury and brogging would explain how John became a rich and successful man, but Colucci thinks he has discovered why the business suddenly nose-dived in spectacular fashion.

On 28th November 1576, Queen Elizabeth made a proclamation, that because of excessive exporting of wool to Europe; ‘no licensee shall buy any wool until 1st November 1577.

This meant the ‘official’ wool trade was halted for nearly a year, but this also ensured that unofficial ‘broggers’, like John Shakespeare, were affected, with only Merchants of the Staple being able to trade in wool. The law was rigorously enforced the following summer (1577), at sheep shearing time, and to discourage any attempt to break the regulations all ‘wool traders’ were bonded to deposit the substantial sum of £100, with the local court, as a guarantee against any indiscretion. The government placed much of the blame for the problems in the wool trade on the shoulders of the dealers in animal skins, who had illegally moved into the wool trading business. The regulations were specifically aimed at people like John Shakespeare.

John attended the Stratford council meeting on 5th December 1576, but was marked absent at the next one, held on 23rd Jan 1576/77. He remained away from the council from then onwards, failing to pay as dues as an Alderman, in 1578. The lucrative side of his business was in ruins and he and the family must have been forced to return to their leather and tanning business, which might also explain his possible diversification into butchery. Things got even worse, because, in 1580, John was fined £40 for failing to appear at a debtor’s court case, and for much of the next decade he regularly seems to have been in financial difficulties and unable to pay his dues. John Shakespeare was finally struck off the council list of Alderman in 1586, having not attended the meetings for ‘many years’.

William Shakespeare’s school days?

So, William Shakespeare was the offspring of successful parents whose prosperity came to an abrupt halt during his early teenage years. John Shakespeare’s trade and civic position in the town should have given his boys access to the King Edward VI Grammar school, situated next to Hugh Clopton’s Chantry Chapel, in the centre of Stratford-upon-Avon. There had been a school on the site since the 13th century, but it became the very last of Edward VI’s endowed grammar schools, chartered at the same time that the town was given borough status, and only days before the young King died, in 1553.

These were not totally new schools, but upgraded and re-branded with the King’s seal of approval, and granted the right to display the Tudor Rose. Education was conducted entirely in Latin with long, twelve hour, days, which provided a high standard of education for those lucky enough to receive it.

Stratford Grammar School - beside the chapel    Leather tanner 1609
Was Will, a pupil at Stratford Grammar School, or helping his father, prepare the skins?

 Supporters of Shakespeare’s claim to be a writer, the Stratfordians, assume William must have attended this school, because if he was the author of thirty six plays and a multitude of poems, then at some stage in his life he needed to have acquired the skills and knowledge to have written them. There are no school records for the period, and there is no evidence to show that William, Gilbert, Richard or Edmund Shakespeare, were ever in attendance. It seems logical to us that John, a senior town official, would educate them to a high standard, but most children were set to work from the age of six or seven, especially if there was a family business to run.

Illiteracy was the norm in the population as a whole, and that shortcoming also reached the higher echelons of society. The sudden collapse in the family fortunes, when William was aged twelve, puts in grave doubt whether he or his brothers attended school after 1577, as all hands would have been needed to support father’s failing enterprise.

The most gifted pupils at the grammar school could win scholarships, to move forward to the universities of Oxford or Cambridge, or possibly to study law in the Inns of Court, in London. The majority of these varsity students were from the wealthiest sections of society but ‘bright’ pupils from humbler homes did make it through. These poor boys would have needed to find a suitable sponsor, someone of substance who recognised their latent abilities and could afford the costs of university life.

To complete their education, the young sons of the aristocracy travelled to Europe and occasionally even further afield, to the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East or as part of an expedition to the New World. The young bucks visited the classical high points and also took advantage of the seedier, less salubrious ones, en route. Their journey abroad was a costly business, only available to the sons of the wealthy, and each trip had to be expressly authorised by the monarch. Many of the main characters in my story were widely travelled, but William Shakespeare’s travel log seems to have taken him no further south than Southwark, on the south bank of London’s River Thames.


Mr and Mrs William Shakespeare

There was still no evidence of William Shakespeare’s literary ability, when at the age of 18, sometime in November 1582, he married the pregnant, 26 year old, Anne Hathaway. Even the details of this marriage are strange and unclear, as a marriage licence for a William Shakespeare to marry Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton was granted, but then a day later a financial bond of £40 was made for William Shakespeare to marry ‘Anne Hathwey’. Perhaps he wanted to marry the Whateley woman, but the friends of Anne Hathwey got wind of his intentions and stepped in, to make sure he stood by his pregnant assignation. No-one has yet found the registration for an actual marriage, or in which parish church a ceremony might have been performed, so this is just another of the many conundrums that keep Shakespeare theorists fully occupied.

The ‘bulge’ turned into Susanna Shakespeare, who was born to William and Anne, in 1583, a few months after the presumed marriage. Two years later, twins Hamnet and Judith, arrived on the scene, probably named after family friends, Hamnet Sadler, a local baker, and his wife Judith. (Hamnet Sadler was still around in 1616, when he was a witness to William’s will.) No more children are recorded for William and Anne Shakespeare, and his wife is raely mentioned with his again, only in a legal document and finally when her name appeared as an inter-lined afterthought, near the end of the Bard’s amended ‘last will and testament’.

In 1588, William, now aged 24, was named in another document, the first mention since his baptism, when he was a witness in a legal action taken by his parents against John Lambert, concerning land at Wilmcote. This is frequently mentioned as a reference to an ‘eldest son’, but the Latin text just says ‘son’, and being a witness, might suggest he was able to read, although he did not sign the document.

 ‘Johannes Shackespere et Maria uxor eius, simul cum Willielmo Shackespere filio suo.’

(‘John Shakespeare and Mary, his wife, at the same time with William Shakespeare, his son’.)

The legend of Shakespeare, the writer, begins at this time, because William then disappears from the Stratford records, before reappearing in London, six years later. These are the ‘missing years’, which themselves have been the subject of much debate and a fair lathering of myth and fable.

There is a long held story that William ran away to London, after he was caught poaching deer on the nearby estate of Sir Thomas Lucy. Deer parks were under the close control of the monarch and there are no documents to indicate that Sir Thomas Lucy was allowed to keep deer on his lands.

Others have suggested Shakespeare became a country schoolmaster, perhaps in Lancashire, where he became known as ‘Shakeshaft’. This variation of the name is common in Lancashire, but there is no known connection between the two family groups. This is all good romantic stuff, which might plug a few holes in his biography, but nothing with any golden shred of evidence to support the fiction.

It is frequently suggested that Will left home after a troup of actors visited Stratford, and there is a snippet of evidence to support this, but it pre-dates his witnessing the Wilmcote legal wrangle.

In 1587, Robert Dudley’s personal troup of actors, the Earl of Leicester’s Men, toured a number of major towns, beginning in Dover, then on to Canterbury, Oxford, Marlborough, Southampton, Exeter, Bath and Gloucester. It is the final few legs that are of most interest, as the next stop was Stratford-upon-Avon, and then to the Earl of Derby’s home, at Lathom House, Ormskirk, in Lancashire. They performed at Lathom House from 11th to 13th of July, before heading back south to Coventry and finally the town of Leicester.

No doubt most of the citizens of Stratford turned out to watch Leicester’s Men perform, that summer, a troup that included several actors, who would later, in the 1590s, perform ‘Shakespeare’ plays with other bands of Men. Thus it would have been possible for the 23 year old, Will, to tag along with the acting entourage, as they headed north, to perform at the home of the Earl of Derby household. He could then have returned home to Stratford, after the next performance at Coventry.

Was this the moment that the name of William Shakespeare began a 400 year association with the theatre, and was it during these few days that friendships were forged, and which led, much later, to his name being used by these same friends and associates, in a clandestine way.

This is all open to total speculation, but, indeed, even the hardest facts, about William and his family, are open to question. This is no better exemplified than the discovery, by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust themselves, as recently as the year 2000, that the house, long regarded as the childhood home of Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden, is in fact not the grandiose structure pictured on the billboards, but actually the building next door. This all sounds a little like the main plot line from the Monty Python film, ‘Life of Brian’. When looking for the baby Jesus, the Three Wise men knocked on the house next door, mistaking new born Brian, for the Messiah…!!


Mary Arden’s childhood home,well until 2000 – photo KHB



Her family actually lived in the more mundane dwelling next door. – photo KHB

William Shakespeare – Protestant or Catholic

John Shakespeare’s in-laws, the Ardens, were staunch Catholics, and so were several leading families in this part of Warwickshire. These Catholic families, who had refused to accept Henry’s Church Reformation in 1536, had briefly prospered again during the short reign of Queen Mary (1553-58), but were forced back into clandestine prayer after Elizabeth came to the throne.

Several of the most respectable Warwickshire families were vociferous in defending the Catholic cause and they also constructed some well contrived ‘priest holes’, in their grand houses, allowing them to continue to receive the sacraments from a Catholic clergyman and maintain their allegiance to Rome.

Priest hole

They began to find their rebellious feet again, for what proved to be the final time, ten years into Protestant Elizabeth’s reign, being bolstered by sabre rattling from Spain and other parts of Catholic Europe. The thirty five years, from 1570 till 1605, saw a whole series of Catholic plots, aimed at unseating the monarch, but each time, the failed attempt was quickly followed by the most brutal reprisals. These all came to a dramatic conclusion, in 1605, featuring Clopton House, in Stratford-upon-Avon, as a starring role. William Clopton, who sold New Place, was a recusant Catholic as were the Underhill family, who eventually sold the house to William Shakespeare.

With that background, common sense would suggest that ‘William Shakespeare’ must be a Catholic or at least had Catholic sympathies. However, despite this evidence, many literary scholars assume he was a Protestant, otherwise how did he survive imprisonment, or worse, when his plays hit the headlines. Others suggest William was a ‘closet’ Catholic, but no-one seems certain.

As a man and a writer he appears to have been middle of the road, even agnostic on the matter, a stance that was also illegal, as heretics had a habit of being burnt at the stake. Life at all levels of Tudor society was lived on a swaying, rather greasy tightrope of religious and political preference. You needed to keep supporting the winning side, but as the rules of the game kept changing that was a near impossible task, and so adding your name to any written work, particularly if you had Catholic tendencies, was fraught with potentially fatal risks. However, despite the great breadth and social challenge of his work, there was never a government challenge to any of his plays or poems.

The Bard’s work is also noted for its large number of Biblical references, upwards of a thousand and counting, and all the plays were written before the revised, King James Bible, appeared on the scene in 1611. English translations of the Bible had become more widely available after the ‘Geneva Bible’ appeared in 1560, the Protestant enclave, where it had been conceived by the Marian exiles, between 1554-58. Initially, all copies of the Geneva Bible were printed in Europe and imported to England, and it wasn’t until 1576 that the first editions were printed on home soil. These came from the presses of Christopher Barker, who gained the rights to print Bibles, at his Tiger’s Head shop, in Paternoster Row, close to St Paul’s Cathedral.

The Geneva Bible was produced by Calvinists, a Protestant religious group who wanted to move the authority of the church from the bishops to lay preachers. Their version contained a number of annotations in the margins, to accompany the key texts, and this ‘graffiti’ upset the mainstream Anglicans of Elizabeth’s church.

In retaliation, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Mathew Parker commissioned his own translation, which was an updated version of the ‘Great English Bible’ of 1538. This became known as the Bishop’s Bible, was first produced in 1568 and revised in 1572, later becoming the basis for the King James version of 1611. The Bishop’s Bible became the standard text for use in every local parish church in England, but the Geneva version remained the market leader for those Protestants who were wealthy enough to afford their own copy.

Shakespeare’s early work takes text from the government approved, Bishop’s Bible, but for the later plays, which appeared after 1598, the great author takes his lead from the Geneva Bible. That ought to be quite telling and suggests to me that at least two different people or groups of people were involved. Shakespeare scholars merely suggest that Shakespeare just had access to a different Bible…!!

Take your pick, but remember your choice of Bible made a statement about your religious and political leanings and your upbringing. If you were a writer, it would be difficult to ‘unlearn’ one version and replace it in your consciousness with another, but that is what Shakespeare is supposed to have done.

The printing of Bibles during the Tudor period does have added significance in my story, because the official Bible printer of the early Elizabethan age was Richard Jugge, a name that sounds as though it might have a familiar ring to it. When Richard Jugge died in 1576, his patent for Bible printing was passed to Christopher Barker at the Tiger’s Head printing house and bookshop.

So, whilst the Shakespeare family had Catholic leanings, the plays suggest they were written by a ‘middle of the road’ Protestant. The use of two different versions of the Bible, suggests we are probably dealing with more than a single author, whilst a lack of any attempt by the authorities to censor any of these great works, suggests that the ‘author’ had influence close to the centre of government, in the reigns of both Elizabeth and James.

The Affair of the Coat-of-Arms

On 20th October, 1596, John Shakespeare was finally awarded his own coat of arms, by the College of Heralds. Remember please, this is the father, NOT the ‘playwright and poetry spouting’ son.

The affair of the coat of arms is one of the most poured over events of John Shakespeare’s life and what ought to be a simple story, yet again, has hurdles and pitfalls everywhere. Most scholars attribute John’s earlier application in the 1570s, to his rise through the hierarchy of the town and desire to be labelled a ‘gentleman’. They usually attribute the failure of his application, to his rapid monetary demise. The timings don’t quite fit that scenario, but it should be noted that during the time his first application was being processed, John got into hot water over a number of legal improprieties.

Onlookers to the Shakespeare story often assume that the eventual grant of arms, made in 1596, was a natural reward to the whole family for the literary skills of their son, akin to the Queen’s Honours lists of the present day. No, things didn’t work quite like that in Tudor times, although the term, ‘cash for honours’, was very much alive and well, and certainly wasn’t the invention of 20th century British Prime Ministers, David Lloyd George and Tony Blair.

In the 16th century, the award of a coat-of-arms was granted by the monarch as a reward for service to the Crown. That service usually meant military service, but previous bailiffs of Stratford had received the honour and that was, indeed, part of John’s initial application.

It should also be noted, that the guidelines for approval allowed,

Whosoever can live without manual labor, and thereto is able and will beare the port, charge, and countenance of a gentleman, he shall for monie have a cote of armes bestowed upon him by heralds.

This suggests that by 1570, John was no longer making gloves or tanning hides himself, but making his way in the world as a wool trader and businessman.

His wealth and heritage is mentioned in the second part of the application for 1570.

‘Justice of the Peace and Bailiff, chief of the town of Stratford-upon-Avon. He hath lands and tenements of good wealth and substance; 500 pounds. He married a daughter and heir of Arden, a gent of worship.’

25 years later, the application had been modified to include particular reference to the military service of ancestors, and the grant of arms was finally approved on the basis of:-

 ‘the faithefull & approved service to Henry VII’, by John Shakespeare’s (unnamed) great-grandfather.

The ancestor who best fits this description of ‘great-grandfather’ is Thomas Shakespere, who was on a muster roll of troops, under the command of Henry Lord Grey, taken on 27th Aug 1478. This was at the time of a well documented event, when Edward IV sent Lord Grey and 300 archers to take control of Dublin Castle. They failed to accomplish the mission, when the governor of the castle destroyed the drawbridge and told them to ‘go away’. Lord Grey was, therefore, unable to obtain the ‘Great Seal of Office’ and was recalled by the King. Seems like another Pythonesque – Holy Grail, scenario, I think?

This event took place before Henry VII took the throne in 1485, but Lord Grey was one of those ‘turncoat’ rose wearers, supporting both sides at various times. Grey was astute enough to retain the favour of Richard III and Henry VII, who both granted him land. With these contorted allegiances of Lord Grey, this might well have led to the sponsors of John Shakespeare to have been economical with the truth about his great-grandfather, particularly as over a century had passed in the meantime.

The description of the ‘coat of arms’ awarded to John Shakespeare is as follows:

‘Gold, on a bend sable, a spear of the first, steeled argent; and for his crest, a falcon his wings displayed argent , standing on a wreath of his colours supporting a spear gold, steeled as aforesaid, set upon a helmet with mantles and tassels’.

Coat of Arms on Shakespeare centre

The main emblems are a silver tipped spear, which dominates the shield, topped by a falcon, a noble beast, which also appears on the ‘arms’ of Anne Boleyn, her daughter, Elizabeth I, and was the highly prized mascot of the Knight Hospitallers, during their occupation of the island of Malta.

Then there was the Shakespeare motto:- ‘Non sanz droict’ or ‘Not without right’.

The motto seems to be nonsensical, and mischievous scholars have suggested that the College of Heralds were making this award under pressure from elsewhere, and so retaliated by making a fool of the Shakespeares. It has been said that the 1570 application was rejected and the document filed away with, ‘No, without right’, written across the top, by the Heralds.

When John’s application was reactivated, these words of rejection were used as the family motto, and the illiterate John Shakespeare knew no better. The final sketch also had the word ‘player’, clearly written at the bottom. This is also odd because this was John Shakespeare’s application, not that of his son. There is still no mention of a ‘writer’, famous or otherwise.

   Coat of arms sketch   'Player' coat of arms

The application would have cost the sizeable sum, for a commoner, of £30, and no doubt there would have been other expenses involved in implementing the use of the award. The coat of arms was for the personal use of John and his heirs, for posterity, and they could now call themselves ‘gentlemen’. This meant that only direct blood descendants of John Shakespeare could legally display the award.

 ‘it shalbe lawfull for the said John Shakespeare gentilman and for his children yssue & posterite (at all tymes & places convenient) to beare and make demonstracon of the same Blazon or Atchevment vppon theyre Shieldes, Targetes, escucheons, Cotes of Arms, pennons, Guydons, Seales, Ringes, edefices, Buyldinges, utensiles, Lyveries, Tombes, or monumentes or otherwise for all lawfull warlyke factes or ciuile vse or exercises, according to the Lawes of Arms, and customes that to gentillmen belongethe without let or interruption of any other person or persons for vse or bearing the same. In wittnesse & perpetuall remembrance hereof I hav here vnto subscribed my name & fastened the Seale of my office endorzed with the signett of y Arms.

 At the office of Arms London the xx daye of October the xxxviiith yeare of the reigne of our Soveraigne Lady Elizabeth by the grace of God Quene of England, France and Ireland Defender of the Fayth etc. 1596.’

The award should soon have become defunct and gone into abeyance, as William inherited the right from his father, but had no surviving male heirs, as he is supposed to have outlived his, unmarried, brothers. The ‘coat of arms’ could have been used by a sister or a daughter, but only if they were incorporated into a husband’s shield. No such halved or quartered shield exists.

Nevertheless, other Shakespeares began to display the exact same coat of arms, and also thought fit to title themselves as ‘gentleman’, at a time when misuse of both was a serious matter. Perhaps, they were also descendants of archer, Thomas Shakespeare, who had given service to King Edward IV, but they were not at liberty to make that decision themselves. Their flagrant use of the coat of arms meant they believed they were direct descendants of John Shakespeare, bailiff and glove-maker of Stratford.

More strange things happened with this award, because John made a further application, in 1599, asking for the addition of the Arden name to the Shakespeare shield. The wording in this application was now changed from ‘great grandparent’, to say ‘parent, great grandparent and late antecessor’, so more military connections had been ‘discovered’. The 1599 application was never implemented and the Arden coat of arms never became incorporated into the Shakespeare shield.

In 1602, the year after the death of John Shakespeare, a formal objection to this award, together with that made to twenty two others, was made by Peter Brooke (York Herald), in what was seen as a test case. Brooke accused William Dethick (Garter King-of-Arms) and his deputy, William Camden, (Clarenceux King-of-Arms) of ‘elevating base persons, and assigning devices already in use’.

The complaint, which was dismissed, was aimed at trying to remove Derrick from his post, rather than being a direct attack on the Shakespeares and others, who had benefited from the generous interpretation of the heralds. Peter Brooke later became a thorn in the side of another member of my Shakespeare cast, when he questioned the professional integrity of the Jaggard printing business, at the same time they had another important job on the go.

Shakespeare’s fellow thespians also joined in with the coat of arms saga, seeming to make merriment at his expense. One line in Ben Jonson’s play, ‘Every Man in His Humour’, uses the phrase, ‘let the word be, not without mustard’, in a scene involving the purchase of a coat of arms. The Bard, himself, was noted as an actor in this play and this piece of theatre seems to be the author ‘sending up’ the newly created, Shakespeare family award.

Many commentators regard this long and lingering ‘coat of arms’ process as a fraudulent attempt by the Shakespeares to bring a degree of respectability into an otherwise average family. Those who have no belief in Shakespeare’s authorship also rubbish everything else about him, and then concentrate on singing the praises of their own candidate. Personally I think there might be a chink in the armour here and the Shakespeare clan may not be quite as ‘average’ as is generally believed, by his detractors.

John Shakespeare didn’t get too many years to enjoy his rank of ‘gent’, although he did make it back to the Stratford Borough Council. He died in 1601, but no will has been found, and if one existed it would be a very useful document, indeed, as gaps and anomalies in his family history might be clarified. Yet another key part of the Shakespeare saga has gone missing..!!

Cooked book

The conclusion of the heraldic machinations, concerning the Shakespeare coat of arms, took place after the death of Robert Cooke, Clarenceux, King of Arms, who had been in post, from 1567 to 1594.

One of the responsibilities of the College of Heralds was to ensure the correct people were using the correct emblems and Robert Cooke was one of those who made visitations to the English provinces to ensure order was kept. The findings were published county by county and the whole operation took several years.

Robert Cooke had visited Warwickshire in 1563, when still in the junior post of Chester Herald. This was at the time John Shakespeare was nearing the peak of his climb up the greasy pole of Stratford life. Cooke was promoted to the important and influential role of Clarenceux King of Arms in 1567, just ten years after leaving St Johns College, Cambridge. He was the official that dealt with John Shakespeare’s initial coat of arms application, but he had died before the arms were finally approved.

Cooke’s 30 year career, in the College of Heralds, included one year as acting Garter Herald, the top job. His career was dogged by accusations that he awarded arms for monetary gain, and with over 500 new awards approved during his time as a herald, his accusers had a point. Robert Cooke is one of those mysterious characters who pepper this saga, one of those people who rose rapidly to great heights, from seemingly very humble beginnings.

Robert Cooke was said to be the ‘son of a tanner’, brought up as a ward of court, in the household of Edmund Brudenell, a rich landowner, who sponsored expeditions to Newfoundland, notably by Humphrey Gilbert, a step brother of Walter Raleigh. Brudenell was well regarded by Queen Elizabeth, who knighted him in 1565, and visited his home at Deene Hall, Northamptonshire, in 1566, just a year before young Robert Cooke gained promotion to this influential office. Visits by the monarch were often quickly followed by promotions or favours, dished out to ‘mine host’ or to their entourage of kinsfolk. Often it was the children, who suddenly found themselves, almost forcibly removed from home, to work as servants in the royal household.

Robert Cooke was identified by the London diarist, Henry Machyn, a member of the Company of Merchant Taylors, as previously having been a servant of Queen Elizabeth’s favourite, Robert Dudley. Henry Machyn was particularly active in his writing during the turbulent 1550s, at the time of Lady Jane Grey’s succession to the Crown. His diaries give precise detail about both notable and mundane events of the period. Machyn offered advice to anyone who wished to maintain a position in public life, suggesting, that they ‘do not speak up for the losing side’.

This is just one of many ‘Cooke’ interventions that litter this saga. You can certainly add the Cooke surname to your notebook, and I would allow at least a couple of pages, to make sure you have enough space. They continue to turn up, almost always associated with just the right people.

From Stratford to London and back again

My ‘Jagger’ research has uncovered over twenty different spelling variations of my forefathers’ name, but usage and corruptions of the Shakespeare name are far more frequent. Our man from Stratford is recorded more often as ‘Shakspere’ or ‘Shackspear’ than our now routine spelling of ‘Shakespeare’.

‘Shagspear’ and ‘Shaxpere’ add to the mix, and then there is the problematic ‘Shake-speare’. The hyphen is said to offer conclusive proof that we are dealing with a pseudonym and the discussion concerning that single horizontal mark occupies acres, or should that be hectares, of space.

There is no trace of William Shakespeare, under any of these spelling variations, between witnessing the legal document of his father, in 1588, and a mention of him being in London, in December 1594.

Chamber Account to Shakespeare

A Royal Court record of 15th March 1594/95, shows payment of £20 to ‘Will Kempe, Will Shakespeare & Richard Burbage’ for plays performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, before the Queen on the 26th & 28th December 1594.

This very first mention of William Shakespeare, in Royal Court records, immediately causes problems, because it is noted elsewhere that the very first performance of the ‘Comedy of Errors’, then named ‘the Night of Errors’, was also performed on 28th December, at Gray’s Inn, for the benefit of the gentlemen of the Royal Court. Shakespeare acting in one place and having a play debut elsewhere seems an unlikely scenario. The discussions and debate about this obvious conflict of interest has seen the death of many forests, and some scholars even suggest the record shown above is a complete forgery, added later to the official records, so adding weight to the idea of a conspiracy.

From that 1595 document onwards, a steady flow of material indicates William Shakespeare lived in both London and Stratford-upon-Avon, but none show any connection to a man of literature. Most are legal documents, some are connected to the theatre, whilst the ones back in Stratford would suggest that William had inherited his father’s acumen for trading goods, land purchase and money dealing. This trail of documents is now quite extensive and heading towards the century mark.

In London, they tell of an actor and investor, with his name at the top of some playbills. However, there is no mention of him at any of the literary social clubs, such as the Mermaid or Mitre, and he is also absent from random lists of attendees at various social functions, where he might have been expected to have shown his literary face, even if only once.

There is an inauspicious event, recorded in London in November 1596, when William Wayte swore an oath, before the Judge of the Queen’s Bench, that he stood in ‘danger of death, or bodily hurt’ from Will Shakspere, Francis Langley, (builder of the Swan theatre), and two women. The four accused were found guilty and bonded to keep the peace.

This story is revived later, when a fuller biography of William Wayte is revealed, one that might surprise even the most expert of Shakespeare scholars.

In what proved to be an ongoing saga, Shakespeare seemed unwilling to pay the poll tax for his stay in Bishopsgate parish, London. His default began in 1597 and continued for another three years. Despite having moved across the Thames, to Southwark, the Bishopsgate parish officials were not to be denied and in 1600, Will Shakespeare was summoned to the Court of the Bishop of Winchester, where his dues were eventually paid. This clearly shows how seriously record keeping and tax collection were treated in Tudor times, but does beg the question why a supposedly wealthy man, did not pay these relatively modest dues, much sooner.

There are also a number of records noting his involvement with the theatre, as an investor and an actor. Shakespeare owned a one eighth share in the ‘Theatre’, at Shoreditch, and this involvement continued after the building was re-assembled across the river and renamed the ‘Globe’. His financial interest also continued after the original Globe theatre was burnt down, in June 1613, and then rebuilt again on the same spot. This shareholding lasted until at least 1614, although his share by then was smaller because of additional partners. However, his investment in the Globe is not mentioned in his will.

As mentioned earlier, in 1598, Ben Jonson noted Shakespeare as an actor in ‘Every Man in his Humour’ and in 1605, Augustine Phillips, a musician, actor and fellow shareholder, left him a thirty shilling gold coin in his will. There are surviving playbills, for both comedy and tragedy, which show his name at the ‘top of the bill’. Where else would it be?

Principle comedians

The most auspicious entries are his royal connections, when Will was one of nine actors named in the grant of patent by King James I, when the Lord Chamberlain’s Men were transformed into the King’s Men. Soon afterwards, in July 1603, Shakespeare and his eight colleagues were festooned in purple, as they were appointed, ‘Grooms of the King’s Chamber’, at the coronation of the new monarch.

On 10th March 1612/13, William was involved in a complicated property deal, to purchase the Gatehouse at Blackfriars, in London. The vendor was Henry Walker, citizen and minstrel of London, with William Shakespeare named as the purchaser, and William Johnson, vintner of London, John Jackson and John Hemming, named as trustees. Johnson may have been the landlord of the Mermaid Tavern, John Heminges, an actor-manager and John Jackson, a shareholder in the Eliot Court printing consortium and publisher of the ‘Phoenix Nest’ anthology. The next day Shakespeare mortgaged the property for £60, the sum to be repaid by the following September, but there is no record of that event.

This gatehouse, adjacent to Baynard Castle, had previously been owned by Anne Bacon, step mother of Francis Bacon and mother of Matthew Bacon. In 1614, the young Matthew filed a lawsuit disputing the ownership of the Blackfriars property, but it remained in Shakespeare hands. An earlier owner was Francis Bryan, who had gained the property during Henry VIII’s carve-up of clerical London, in 1538, and prior to Ann Bacon’s occupation, it was owned by Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland. Every one of these previous owners and trustees connect directly to my story of intrigue and potential ‘conspiracy’, so Shakespeare’s name does not seem to be involved in this transaction, just by accident.

The story about Shakespeare remaining in London and abandoning Stratford, doesn’t seem to be as clear cut as the guide books would have us believe. In 1598, he is listed as resident in Stratford’s Chapel Street Ward, which included New Place, and later the same year he was accused of hoarding eighty bushels of malt and corn during a food shortage. William seems to have inherited his father’s trading skills, but turned to dealing in basic foodstuffs, which were increasingly scarce during this time.

In September 1601, John Shakespeare died and William inherited the family house in Henley Street, Stratford, where his daughter, Susanna then took up residence. Another illuminating record, in 1601, has the shepherd to the Hathaway family, claiming in his will that William and Anne Shakespeare still owed him 40 shillings, which would have been a fortune at the time for the poor sheep watcher.

A year later, William paid John Combe the vast sum of £320, for the freehold to 107 acres of farmland, near Stratford, and also a second conveyance for New Place was drawn up, the one signed by Hercules Underhill, with the Bard’s new title of ‘gentleman’ added. William, later, paid the even larger sum of £440, for a quarter of the lease to Bishopton tithes, a hamlet near Stratford. This also brought with it rights to be buried within the confines of the Holy Trinity church.

Shakespeare’s mean and careful streak also appears, when he sued the Stratford apothecary, Philip Rogers, for the sum of £1 19s 10d, for ‘malt supplied but not paid for’, which incidentally was almost exactly the sum he owed that poor shepherd. William was back in court again, and in a most vindictive way, when he sued John Addenbrooke, as a debtor, ensuring he was imprisoned for the offence. When Addenbrooke absconded, Shakespeare made claims against his surety, the local blacksmith.

Mr Shakespeare, gent, – not ‘Mr Popular’ in downtown Stratford, I think.

In 1614, John Combe, step-son of Rose Clopton, reportedly one of the richest and meanest men in Stratford, died leaving William Shakespeare the sum of £5 in his will, and it was not too long before the Bard of Avon was heading in the same direction.

Plenty of legal matters and plenty of property deals, in both London and Stratford, and plenty of indication that he was continuing to be active in Warwickshire, as well as keeping his business interests in the London theatre. There is no indication, whatsoever, that he was earning money as a writer.

There is also no sign of anyone receiving a letter from him, but one was found that had been addressed to him, although it was never sent.

Richard Quiney wrote a letter asking ‘Mr Shackspre’ for a £30 loan.

 ‘To my Loveinge good ffrend & contreymann mr wm Shackespre’ who ‘shall ffrende me muche in helpeing me out of all the debettes I owe in London I thancke god & muche quiet my mynde which wolde nott be indebeted’.

Perhaps, Richard Quiney thought better of the idea, given the Bard’s record of wanting his ‘pound of flesh’, when the debt became due.

Richard Quiney’s reluctance to send the letter might have been prompted by this telling quote, from his father which says;

 ‘if you bargain with William Shakespeare or receive money bring your money home that you may’.

Author, Diana Price, in ‘Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography’, thinks it strange that:

‘he had a well documented habit of going to court over relatively small sums, but never sued any of the publishers pirating his plays and sonnets, or took any legal action regarding their practice of attaching his name to the inferior output of others.’

Probably the best known transaction made by Will of Stratford was the purchase of his main residence. After a mention as an actor in London, at the end of 1594, he reappeared back in Stratford, in 1597, to purchase the house built by Hugh Clopton a century before. This was the second largest house in Stratford and as mentioned in detail earlier, was purchased from William Underhill for £60.

The house was in a derelict state and Shakespeare paid for the refurbishment, to a high standard, as decades later, it was deemed suitable to house the Queen of England, on a visit to the town.

This house purchase is one of the best documented parts of Shakespeare’s biography, but no-one seems to have looked too closely at the peripheral members of the Underhill family; those inconsequential names, such as William Cecil, Francis Bacon and Christopher Hatton..!! There is also the death of two relevant characters to consider, one pre-dating the sale and another, that of the vendor himself, poisoned only a few weeks after the transaction was completed. Now, with the addition of these ‘A list’ celebrities on to the New Place scene, this makes the whole transaction sound very fishy, if you ask me.

The history books and even the latest television documentaries describe this as a simple property purchase, with the Bard reaping the rewards of his literary skills. Well, writing plays wasn’t well paid and the most a theatre manager would pay to a writer was about £5, the purchaser then owning the rights to further performances and publication.

Diana Price notes in her book that, ‘there is no evidence Shakespeare of Stratford was ever paid for writing anything’.

To find the source of William Shakespeare’s money we must look elsewhere.


The Death of a Stratford wheeler-dealer and part-time actor

Mark Twain wrote:

‘When Shakespeare died in Stratford it was not an event. It made no more stir in England than the death of any other forgotten theatre-actor would have made. Nobody came down from London; there were no lamenting poems, no eulogies, no national tears; there was merely silence, and nothing more.’

This was in striking contrast to what happened when Jonson, Bacon, Spenser, and the other literary folk of Shakespeare’s era, passed away. Francis Beaumont, an acknowledged writer of the period, also died in 1616, and warm tributes were paid to him, by his friends and literary colleagues. Forty eight days after Beaumont’s decease, William Shakespeare was buried inside Holy Trinity church, at Stratford, in a prime plot, situated in the chancel, the rights obtained as part of his land purchase deals. The graves of Will and others in his family, continue to dominate the chancel of the Stratford church, until today.

His death was marked by a deafening silence from anyone with a theatrical or literary bent, but now his tombstone must be the most photographed in Britain, although it doesn’t bear his name..!!

The slab over his body is inscribed with these threatening words:

‘Good friend, for Jesus sake forbeare
To digg the dust enclosed here
Bless be ye man yt spares this stown
And curst be he yt moves my bones.’

Perhaps this is the real poet, the real William Shakespeare at work. Not fluent and poetic in verse, but rude and uncultured. The verse is of similar quality to that found on the tomb of his rich friend and money lender, John Combe, who had died a couple of years earlier. There are records of association between the two families and so if William Shakespeare wrote one, he might well have written both.

‘Ten-in-a-hundred lies here ingrav’d.
‘Tis a hundred to ten his soul is not saved.
If any man ask, who lies in this tomb?
Oh! ho! quoth the devil, ’tis my John-a-Combe.’

Grave of William Shakespeare  Tombs of Shakespeare family - Stratford

William Shakespeare and the family taking pride of place – photos KHB

Shakespeare was clearly fearful that someone might disturb his grave, and he was well aware that his business and money lending activities were not liked by the community. He was certainly hard on debtors and, at the time of his death, was in the process of attempting to enclose ‘common land’. This land grab was fiercely resisted by the townspeople and subsequently the plans were dropped.

But – again things aren’t quite as them seem, because although most people would expect to be buried, six feet under, in the churchyard, or in a family crypt, below the floor of the chancel, William Shakespeare’s resting place is plagued by anomolies. Surprise, surprise…!!

The slab bearing the threatening inscription is split in two, with one section appearing to be a later repair. Neither piece bears William Shakespeare’s name, so we have to take the word of the church authorities that we are ‘worshipping’ in the right place.

There are stories of the grave being disturbed, in each of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, and there was a non-invasive attempt to discover the truth about what lay below ground, during a radar scan of the slabs, in 2016, when the results were laid before a TV audience. It was confirmed that the row of five family grave slabs, did not conceal a family crypt, but that the bodies were buried in soil, just three feet below the surface. There were no signs of any coffins, so it was conjectured that the bodies must have been originally wrapped in woven cloth.

These modern archaeologists were following up an old story, that his grave had been robbed by trophy hunters, in 1794, in response to a 300 guinea bounty being offered for the recovery of Shakespeare’s skull. The bizarre practice of recovering the skulls of famous people was common place at the time, as learned gentlemen wanted to discover what made these people different to the rest of the population.

The radar scan did show ‘a strange brick structure’, where Shakespeare’s head should be, but nothing to confirm whether his head, or the rest of his body, was still in the grave. There are records of the grave stone subsiding during the 19th century, and being topped up, which could be when the new piece of stone and the ‘strange brick structure’, were added. There was no mention of a missing skull at the time, and that wasn’t mentioned until 1879, when an article appeared in the Argosy Magazine.

Another newspaper story from this same period, suggested that Shakespeare’s original grave had been ‘seventeen feet’ deep, way down below the chancel floor. For a number of reasons that seems incredible, least of all, why go so deep? To dig a hole of that depth in the alluvial soil of the River Avon, would need some serious engineering, and this would also have taken him well below the water table. The ‘seventeen feet’ story emerged in ‘The New York Times’, in July 1884, when historian, Halliwell-Phillips, published news of a discovery, made by ‘Mr Macray’ at the Bodleian library, in Oxford. Macray had found a letter, written on 2nd Jan 1694/5, by William Hall to Edward Thwaites., both antiquarian scholars, Hall suggests that Shakespeare did not wish to be removed to the charnel-house, where the bones of many old graves ended their days. The modern radar scanning did not go down to that depth, so we don’t know whether the real body of the Bard is still down there.

Whatever the truth, Shakespeare’s grave appears to have been disturbed on at least two occasions, and has certainly been a focus of morbid attention since he was incarcerated there. Shakespeare’s head may now be a prized possession, adorning a cabinet in a secret room, or far more likely, lying in a box in a dusty cellar. However, even with these new discoveries, the full story of Shakespeare’s grave remains unsolved, with the answers, just out of reach, below those cursed flagstones.

Will’s last Will

The final legal document of William’s life was his ‘last will and testament’, and this offers the most detailed piece of evidence we have about the man. This must be the most chewed over ‘last will’ in history, and every schoolboy English scholar knows that Shakespeare left his wife his ‘second best bed’, and nothing much else.

Yet again, this is not a straightforward document, as it was initially drawn up in January 1615/16, but then amended soon afterwards, on 25th March 1616 (the first day of the Julian New Year). The changes were possibly prompted by the marriage of his daughter, Judith, to Thomas Quiney, on 10th February, and the subsequent events surrounding the legality of this marriage, that ensued after an admission of adultery, by the bridegroom.

The March version of the document contains a series of additions and alterations, but a fair copy was never made. Several of the additions are inter-lined, and therefore not part of the original January document, whilst several deletions are still decipherable. There is no indication when the inter-linings were made or who made them. Despite these discrepancies, the document was accepted as valid when it was proved at the law courts in London.

Here are some of the most interesting and relevant points in this detailed, three page document.

His name is written by the lawyer or the legal scribe as William ‘Shackspeare’.

William’s younger daughter Judyth is the first beneficiary, with a sum of money and an annuity, mentioning ‘interest’, which is couched in the language of a money-lender.

‘with consideracion after the rate of twoe shillings in the pound for soe long tyme as the same shalbe unpaied unto her after my deceas, and the fyftie poundes residwe thereof upon her surrendring of, or gyving of such sufficient securitie as the overseers of this my will shall like of’

Judyth’s husband, the new and errant son-in-law was erased as a beneficiary in the March revision.

Shakespeare left a ‘parcell or holden of the mannour of Rowington, unto my daughter, Susanna Hall and her heires for ever’.

There is further detail of substantial sums of £50 and £100 left to his niece and his sister Joane. Again there are detailed caveats that only a man well acquainted with monetary transactions would make.

His sister, Joane (Hart), also received all his clothes and a bequest for her children of £5 each.

£10 was to be given to the poor of Stratford.

His sword was left to Mr Thomas Combe, (a nephew of John Combe the money lender). This item would normally have been left to an eldest son, but Hamnett was deceased.

Money was to be set aside to buy memorial rings for Hamnett Sadler, William Raynoldes; gent, William Walker; godson, and Anthony Nashe; gent.

There is a significant inter-lining, addition, which is the only part that has a theatrical connection: ‘and to my fellowes John Hemynges, Richard Burbage, and Henry Cundell, 26 s. 8.d.(4 marks) a peece to buy them ringes,’

Daughter, Susanna Hall was given his Stratford home, New Place, and any land or other buildings he owned in Warwickshire. He also mentions the property in Blackfriars, near the Wardrobe, which was occupied, at the time, by John Robinson.

There is mention in a most pedantic way, how he wished the inheritance to be passed down to the sons of his daughter, mentioning fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh sons. (This was all in vain as she had none.) His default to that eventuality was for his estate to pass to his niece, Elizabeth Hall.

Just before the end of the document, there is an inter-lined addition, very much an afterthought.

 ‘I gyve unto my wief my second best bed with the furniture’.

This is the only time his wife is mentioned, and indeed the only reference, to her by him, at any time.

It is suggested, by some, that she wasn’t mentioned in more detail because, by law, she was entitled to a proportion of William’s estate. That is at odds with other wills of the period; where I always found the wife to be prominent in a husband’s bequest and usually near the top of page one.

Final page of William Shakespeare’s will

The remainder of his goods and chattels were left to his daughter, Susanna, and son-in-law, John Hall, who he made executors of his estate.

Shakespeare will - last page

He appointed Thomas Russell and Francis Collins as overseers of the will.

The will was witnessed by: Francis Collins, (lawyer), Julius Shawe, John Robinson (Blackfriars tenant), Hamnet Sadler (baker), and Robert Whattcott.

John Hall proved the will in London on 22nd June 1616, and this was accepted, which is perhaps surprising, considering all the irregular changes.

The Signatures

Three of the six attributed examples of William Shakespeare’s handwriting appear at the bottom of each of the three pages of the will, whilst two others were connected to the purchase and mortgage of the Blackfriars Gatehouse. The final one is, when Shakespeare was a witness in a matrimonial dispute about a dowry, although interestingly, his testimony stated he could not remember the key financial arrangements of the marriage, supposedly one of his areas of expertise.

Shakespeare signatures

The three rather shaky signatures on his will compare with the more cultured hand of the lawyer or his scribe.. Handwriting experts have even suggested that the three ‘will’ signatures are by three different people and to the untrained eye, the six don’t seem to belong to the same person. Was this a man who was suffering a terminal illness, or the signature of a man who was shakily literate? Certainly he wouldn’t have been top of the class in the Stratford Grammar School handwriting tests. Whoever these signatures belong to, it would be difficult to imagine they had belonged to a man who had written one million words of flowing and most colourful English.


Not a Pretty Picture

Overall, the number of legal challenges and matrimonial improprieties in the Shakespeare household seems extraordinary, but it has given us an enhanced record of the man and his family, although it isn’t a pretty picture. His father was on a roller coaster of success and failure, and William’s own irregular, shotgun marriage, with a licence to marry one woman, then bonded to marry another, and no sign of a ceremony to either, is unusual in the extreme. His daughter, Judith seems to have had similar problems with the paperwork and legality surrounding her own marriage.

How literate William Shakespeare was is unclear, but he was certainly numerate, because his understanding of money and inheritance law comes over strongly in his will and other legal dealings. William seemed reluctant to pay his tax dues in London, but was willing to invest in the risky venture of theatre ownership. Back in Stratford, the Bard was purchasing land for substantial sums of money., but failing to pay his dues to the poor shepherd. His best friends seem to be the wealthy, Combe family, who made their money at the expense of many in the community. The two families’ lack of respect for the locals was shown when, together, they began the process to enclose common land around the town.

Compare this to the original creator of New Place, Hugh Clopton, who spent much of his wealth building a stone bridge across the River Avon, and making improvements to the churches and other public buildings of the town. Hugh was a great benefactor and is fondly remembered five centuries later and the stone bridge is still there. In contrast William Shakespeare left the people of Stratford a miserly ten quid, and built them nothing, although in the long haul they probably haven’t done too badly from his legacy….!!!


Hugh Clopton’s grand bridge across the River Avon – photo KHB

Are the words of his will, the words of the man who wrote ‘Macbeth’, the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’ and ‘Venus & Adonis’, or those of a trader and money-lender, from a small Midland town? They sound like the words of a man who liked to guard his money carefully, and in a most un-theatrical way. Perhaps though his last testament was this just the archane, legal mumbo-jumbo of his lawyer, leaving the Bard totally lost for words…!

There is no evidence that Shakespeare’s published plays and poems ever reached as far as Stratford-upon-Avon, during his lifetime, or ended up in the hands of his kinsfolk. There was no presentation copy of his 1623 folio, given to the Holy Trinity church, by the King’s Men, or any mention by visitors to his home, of a well thumbed version of ‘Macbeth’ or the ‘Passionate Pilgrim’ lying around on the coffee tables at New Place. Not even dog-eared copies of ‘Hamlet’ quartos hanging in the garderobe.

Dr. John Hall, who inherited New Place, through his wife, Susannah Shakespeare, failed to mention his father-in-law in his ‘cure-book’ of remedies and observations. There are cures for his wife and their daughter, Elizabeth and there is also mention of the illness of Mr Drayton, who Dr John describes as ‘an excellent poet’; just the very phrase that every Shakespeare supporter has been desperately seeking.

This is almost certainly Michael Drayton, a Warwickshire lad, who collaborated with others, to create several plays for Philip Henslowe and became a well respected poet in the latter part of Elizabeth’s reign. That makes it seem even stranger, why there is no mention in the Shakespeare household of their famous father, when there is mention of a man, with a similar, literary, biography.

There is one more significant event that needs attention, one that took place many years after the death of William Shakespeare. In 1643, during the first impasse between King Charles I and Parliament, his Queen, Henrietta, led an army of 3000 men to relieve her husband, who was marooned, near Oxford. On the way back she spent two days, in Stratford-upon-Avon, staying at New Place, complete with her entourage. Charles was known to be a fan of Shakespeare’s works and Henrietta was a fan of the theatre and had appeared in Court masques herself, written by Ben Jonson. She was also a great letter writer, but amongst the hundreds of surviving letters, she wrote to her husband and to nephew, Rupert, she never once mentioned she had stayed in the home of her husband’s hero. Perhaps Ben Jonson had let it be known that the Stratford connection to Shakespeare was all a complete scam.

I get bored saying it, but nothing about William Shakespeare seems straightforward. There are a multitude of questions about William and his family, and very few definitive answers. So, the plays and poems are a mystery and, so far, the man himself has proved equally elusive on the writing front.

But what about the ‘outlaws’ – the wider members of the Shakespeare family?


Chapter Seven



Plenty more Shakespeares


Benedictine nuns


Genealogy of the Shakespeare Clan

Historians have taken a different tack, to their literary equivalents, in the search for the truth behind William Shakespeare. They have examined the Shakespeare family tree and their work has thrown up a number of other Shakespeare families in Warwickshire, mainly in the villages to the north of Stratford. Again using the ‘Bryan Sykes rule’ of name and place, added to first names and occupations, it ought to be possible to formulate a reasonably accurate tree for the extended Shakespeare family.

There is plenty of information to chew over, some of it extremely detailed, but because of the age of the data there are inevitably pieces missing in vital places, or which don’t fit together perfectly. The wealth of information, collected prior to the internet revolution, was uncovered by the hard graft of researchers, in libraries and record offices, or found by chance amongst documents kept in legal storerooms or historic collections of the aristocracy. The internet has filled a few gaps, but the Shakespeare tree is still far from perfect and as with my own family research, there are far too many ‘Johns’, who I believe were baptised into this world just to make the job of genealogists more difficult.

Michael Wood in his BBC series, in 2003, spent four programmes hunting for Shakespeare’s extended family and the roots of the Bard. The information he presented wasn’t new or ground breaking, but he did open a window, allowing the wider world to view the Warwickshire Shakespeare clan.

‘The Shakespeares’ ancestors came from around the village of Balsall with its old chapel and hall of the Knights Templars. There is still a red-brick farm house, where Adam of Oldeditch lived in the 14th Century. His son gave himself the surname Shakespeare. There were still Shakespeares at Oldeditch 100 years later, and almost certainly the clan descended from them’.        Michael Wood

The Knights Templar also owned other lands in Warwickshire, but it was at Balsall they built their main commanderie, which served as the regional headquarters for this extensive farming operation.

 ‘By 1185 we have a picture of a largely developed manor with 67 tenants with some 640 acres of arable parcelled out in virgates and irregular enclosed crofts, and with ‘customs’, those local bylaws that regulated the relationship between the lord of the manor and his tenants.   Leveson Foundation

These lands briefly returned to the Mowbray family after the official demise of the Templars, in 1312, and it wasn’t until 1322, on the death of John Mowbray, that the Knights of St John took possession of Temple Balsall, continuing to run the estate much as had been done in Templar times.

‘The house of Templars beyond the bridge at Warwick, founded by Roger, Earl of Warwick, in the time of Henry I, was united with the preceptory of Balsall when the Templars were dissolved. The return of 1338 gave its receipts as £18 3s. 4d., and the expenses as £12 6s. 8d., leaving a balance for the general treasury of the Hospitallers of £5 16s. 8d. The expenses show that 5 marks was the salary of the chaplain and 20s for a bailiff who took charge of the lands and meadows.’


Old Hall, Temple Balsall – photo KHB

The Shakespeares remained in Temple Balsall for another 250 years, surviving longer than the Hospitallers, who were briefly removed in 1470, and seemingly on a permanent basis in 1536. The inter regnum involved Sir John Langstrother, who was not only Prior at Temple Balsall, but from 1467 to his death in 1471 was Grand Prior of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem in England, with his base at their headquarters in Clerkenwell. Langstrother had been assigned to provide protection for Margaret of Anjou, wife of Lancastrian king, Henry VI. The Prior fought his last battle at Tewkesbury, in 1471, being one of several captured knights, who were taken from sanctuary, in the abbey and executed.

Lady Margaret Beaufort

Margaret Beaufort, Lancastrian matriarch – © National Portrait Gallery, London

The Battle of Tewksbury was a key event of the Wars of the Roses and led to the decimation of the male line of the House of Beaufort, leaving only Margaret Beaufort and her son Henry Tudor, to continue to fight on, in what seemed like a hopeless cause. The Grand Prior had done his job, protecting the Queen, but at mortal cost to himself.

After the execution of John Langstrother, the Temple Balsall estate was leased to John Beaufitz, who acted as a local enforcer for King Edward IV, in Warwickshire. John Beaufitz died in 1489 and the Knights of Malta then reclaimed the Balsall estate for themselves, but their occupation only lasted until 1496, when John Kendall, the new Grand Prior, leased the Balsall estate to Robert Throckmorton.

The lease was to be renewed every three years, to the term of twenty years, if the Grand Prior should live so long. The Throckmorton family were bound, ‘to keep due and convenient hospitalitie and one honest and able priest to minyster dyvine service in the said commandrie.’

However, when Prior Kendall died, in 1503, his successor, Prior Thomas Docwra, refused to renew the lease, but allowed Robert to stay one more year, but must leave, if any knights returned from Rhodes.

When Sir Thomas Sheffeld and Sir Launcelot Docwra, returned to take over the commanderie, Robert and his brother, Richard Throckmorton, added fortifications to the manor house and refused to go. The matter went to the courts and the solution agreed was to install a ‘neutral’ chaplain, who continued to run the estate along Knight Hospitaller lines.

So, Temple Balsall continued to operate in the spirit, if not the letter, of the order of Knights, but met a more challenging hurdle when Henry VIII, in 1536, began to dismantle the monasteries, stone by stone. Henry had previously confirmed the special privileges of the Knights Hospitaller, but when they showed little appetite for reform, he dissolved the order, because they; ‘maliciously and traitorously upheld the Bishop of Rome to be Supreme Head of Christ’s Church’.

In the typical carrot and stick approach of Henry VIII, he granted generous annuities to the last Grand Prior, William Weston and his fellow officers, which allowed them to retire to their stronghold on Malta. Three knights didn’t accept the terms and were executed as traitors; one hung, drawn and quartered, the other two beheaded. Much of their old London headquarters was robbed out for building materials, leaving only the gatehouse intact. The Clerkenwell estate was then granted to John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, on payment of a fee to the King of £1,000.

Back in Temple Balsall, Henry VIII disposed of the estate, as part of the marriage settlement to his sixth wife, Katherine Parr. On her death, in 1548, the property reverted to the Crown again, now under boy king, Edward VI. He granted the Balsall lands to his uncle, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, but he didn’t last long, as in 1552, he was executed on trumped up charges brought by John Dudley. Somerset’s daughter, Anne Seymour, had already married his protagonist’s son, John Dudley (junior), so father-in-law executing father must have made for some interesting breakfast table conversations.

Almost immediately, the Dudley family became embroiled as prime movers in the Lady Jane Grey succession, with John Dudley the elder losing his head, whilst his son, John died, soon after being released from the Tower of London. Queen Mary took the throne instead of Lady Jane and Catholicism in England was to have one last and final, hurrah…!!

The period, 1536-53, saw the monastic influence in the area surrounding Temple Balsall, dissolve away and the way of life and land use structure of the area, that had been so successfully cultivated for nearly 300 years, collapsed in a single generation. However, there was nearly a reprieve for Temple Balsall and Clerkenwell, as the Catholic Queen, ‘Bloody’ Mary, petitioned the Pope and set in motion plans to reinstate the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem. Mary died before this was implemented and Queen Elizabeth soon quashed the idea, finally removing all visible signs of her sister’s faith.

Instead, in 1572, Elizabeth returned the Balsall property to the Dudley family, in the guise of her favourite man, Robert, Earl of Leicester. When he died in 1588, his brother, Ambrose Dudley, took control, but he only survived two years longer and a caveat in his brother’s earlier will, stated the estate should then go to Robert’s illegitimate son, Robert Dudley.

Young, Robert had an adventurous spirit and led expeditions abroad. The Spanish would have described him an English pirate. He was contracted, with the Queen’s approval, to marry Anne Vavasour, but instead secretly married Margaret Cavendish and was banished from the Royal Court.

On Margaret’s early death, Robert married Alice Leigh, who produced four daughters for him. In a massive court case, with over a hundred witnesses, Robert failed to establish his own legitimacy, and quickly fled to Italy, with his lover, Elizabeth Southwell, where he fathered thirteen more children. The deserted wife and mother, Alice Dudley, continued to fight to regain possession of her title and the lands, which went with them, but it wasn’t till 1644, that she became a duchess in her own right.

Meanwhile the manor had passed to two of young Robert’s daughters. The first, Lady Anne Holbourne, widow of Sir Robert Holbourne, Solicitor General to Charles I, began to restore the Temple Balsall church, and in her will of 1663, left £500 to complete the work, with an endowment of £50 a year for a minister. Lady Katherine Leveson of Trentham Hall, Staffordshire, then bought up her sister’s share in the manor and in her will of 1671, founded a hospital for, ‘20 poor women, widows or unmarried’.

‘The Foundation of Lady Katherine Leveson in Temple Balsall is a Christian Foundation, with a fascinating past, lively present and an open future. The history of Temple Balsall is focussed on the Old Hall which was the headquarters for the Knights Templar from the 12th Century and The Church of St Mary the Virgin, built about 1340 by the Knights Hospitaller, who succeeded the Templars and was later restored by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in 1849.(Scott alert!!) The present work of the Foundation is focussed on Lady Katherine Housing and Care which provides supported and residential care for older people, the education of children in the School, and the local community.’


Shakespeares in Temple Balsall, Wroxall and Rowington

So, in a convoluted way, the property remained with the Dudley family and the work of the Knights Hospitaller continued with only slight interruption and they are still around today, offering the same wholehearted support for the needy of the parish. The function of Temple Balsall has barely changed in 800 years. It is also interesting to note that the ‘Order of the Knights Templar’, is still alive and well, with meetings of this elite group taking place four times a year, at the Temple Balsall preceptory. This is very much in the spirit of the organisation that was supposedly disbanded 700 years ago.


Temple Balsall Hospital, built for 20 poor women – photo KHB

The original Shakespeare family home, mentioned by Michael Wood, was known as Olditch House Farm and it still exists today, modernised, but still retaining several of its original medieval features. It is thought Adam de Olditch was given the house around 1350, as a reward for his military service and it was his son who called himself, Adam Shakespeare. The first mention of a William Shakespeare, probably Adam’s brother, was in 1385, when he sat on a coroner’s jury in Temple Balsall.

The style of ownership is unclear, as there were special rules of tenure on these Knights’ estates. There is mention of Shakespeares owning and selling holdings, but the meaning may be different from today. A monastic charity or a noble family usually held the original title to the land, the origins of which trace back to post Conquest gifts, handed out by of William of Normandy.

The most common system of land tenure, on large English estates, was a ‘copyhold’ tenancy agreement, made between the land owner and the tenant. Copyhold tenancy allowed for secure, on-going occupancy, which was renewed usually every 20 years or sometimes with a caveat for ‘three lives’ (three generations). In this way the land rights could be, smoothly, passed on to the next generation, but they could still be sold on to another party, with the landowner’s consent.

Oldwich House Farm

Olditche House Farm – © Robin Stott

The Shakespeare family spread into the neighbouring parishes of Baddesley Clinton, Wroxall and Rowington and several people bearing the family name joined the Guild of St Anne, at Knowle. This religious establishment combined a place of worship with a meeting hall and also acted as a college, to educate the clergy. It had gained special authorisation from Rome, because the local parish church was three miles away, across a ford, over an unpredictable river.

The Guild was founded in 1415, by Walter Cooke and was managed by a board of trustees, who were also responsible for the construction of a new church, next door. The Guild kept excellent records of membership, although did not specifically record baptisms, marriages or deaths. The Knowle Guild eventually ceased to function in its original form, in 1550, another victim of the Protestant Reformation.

So, Walter is another man called Cooke, holding a responsible position, who played a significant part in this Shakespeare story. Another in the locality was Richard Cooke, a gentleman of Wroxall parish, who made a will, in 1538. These estate lands have connections to the Dudley family, who had Robert Cooke, later herald at arms, as a servant, but the inter-relationship between these members of the Cooke clan is not known. This is discussed later, when the Cooke clan feature in the headlines.

Shakespeares from both Rowington and Balsall were members of the Knowle Guild.

1457        Pro anima Ricardi Shakespere et Alicia uxor ejus de Woldiche.
1464        Johnannes (John) Shakespeyre ejusdem villae (Rowington) et Alicia

1476        Thomas Chaksper et Christian cons suae de Rowneton

1486        Payment for soul of Thomas Schakspere (indicating decease) and payment for Thomas  Shakspere (his son and the replacement member)


Knowle Guild House – photo KHB

The Knowle Guild connection, with the Shakespeares, had long been known about by Victorian literary historians, but they had been confused with the phrase ‘of Woldeiche’. This place appeared in the Guild records for members of the Shakespeare clan and it was only in the 1880s, that the connection was made with Olditch House Farm, in Temple Balsall parish.

The authorship problem is clearly demonstrated here, because when the great Victorian Shakespearean scholar, James Halliwell-Phillips (1830-99) was told about the ‘discovery’ of Olditche, in 1887, he assured the messenger that; ‘Shakespeare, the poet, was in no way connected with the family of that name, at Rowington or Balsall’ – despite, of course, the Bard mentioning Rowington in his will.

The messenger was George Russell French, who wrote his ‘Shakespeareana Genealogica’, in 1869. This was a major attempt to make sense of the Shakespeare family tree, but there were errors a plenty in French’s work, including one instance where two sons, who he names as John Shakespeare, were actually daughters called Joan.

Halliwell-Phillips has other literary claims to fame, as he was a great collector and publisher of ‘Nursery Rhymes and Fairy Stories’, introducing the wider world to the ‘Three Little Pigs’. He was also a collector of books and manuscripts and was banned from the British Museum and other libraries, as he was suspected of permanently ‘borrowing’ items and adding them to his own collection.

So, we have the narrow mindedness and fairy tale imagination of one great scholar and simple errors being made by another. Despite these shortcomings, the work of these two Victorian scholars provides much of the bedrock on which current Shakespeare history is based. This does not seem to offer a great recipe for revealing the truth about the Shakespeare conundrum.

Shakespeare homeland

Some of the Shakespeare smallholdings, although in different parishes, were very close to one another and perhaps only a decent long bow shot apart. Olditch House Farm continued to be occupied by Shakespeares, but by the late 15th century the main focus of the family had moved a couple of miles south, to Wroxall Priory and Rowington. The estate of the Priory of St Leonard, at Wroxall, was run by Benedictine Nuns, and Shakespeares were important in that society, as Isabel Shakespere was Prioress of the Abbey, in 1500 and Joan Shakspere was the sub-prioress in 1524, and she remained in post until the dissolution, in 1536. The Priory estate wasn’t entirely female, with the farming tenants consisting of normal family groups, all run on similar lines to the Balsall commanderie.

‘At the court of the Lady Isabella Shakspere, the prioress held there on Wednesday the Morrow of All Saints in the 23rd year of the reign of King Henry the Seventh (3 Nov. 1507) came John Shakespeare and took of the said Lady one messuage, 4 crofts and one grove with the ‘crosseffilde’, with their appurtenances, in Wroxale. To have to him, Ellen his wife and Anthony, son of the same. To hold to them according to the custom of the manor there. Paying therefor yearly to the Said Lady and to her successors 17s. 2d. And he is admitted. And he did fealty (swore an oath).’

Two year earlier, in 1505, there are records of Shakespeares, from Wroxall, selling their copyhold on the Balsall estate, soon after Thomas Docwra and the Throckmorton household were in dispute over the property rights. The earliest Shakespeares known to be living in Wroxall, were in the mid 15th century, so this was a gradual drift away from the home preceptory and not a sudden migration. The movement away from Balsall continued over time, until most of the parishes in the area had a Shakespeare family in residence. The distances involved were quite small, with Olditche House lying half way between the Balsall and Wroxall Priory, both being about a mile distant.


The End is Nye

The Templar and Hospitaller tenure and hierarchy system created a stable, organised community for countless generations. Land was passed on from one family to another as it was needed, and there seems to have been no attempt by one individual to create their own large holding, indeed the system actively prevented it. Henry’s dissolution of the monasteries, in the 1530’s, and the subsequent dissolution of Knowle Guild, in 1550, changed the way of life for everyone, as the security of their well ordered lives was lost, to be replaced by a new age, perhaps even a new world order.

Joan Shakespeare and her fellow Wroxall Priory nuns, were cast out on to the green lanes of Warwickshire, to make their way the best they could. This must have been the stimulus that caused the family to scatter, because from that time onwards, Shakespeares become more difficult to find, and they begin to turn up in much larger centres of population, such as Warwick, Stratford-upon-Avon and the mushrooming metropolis of London.

In the final years, before the dissolution, the Shakespeare family had been on a rising curve. There were the two Prioresses of Wroxall Priory, whilst Joan’s brother, Richard Shakespeare, became Bailiff of Wroxall, After their forced removal, Richard the bailiff and Joan, the sub-prioress, both ended their days, not too far away, just across the parish boundary, in Haseley, on land that had previously been part of the Wroxall Priory charity lands.

Other offshoots of the Shakespeare family ended up on a small estate called ‘Mousley End’, at Rowington, which became known as Shakespeare Hall. This building is still in existence today, although like most of these 400 year old survivors, little of the original structure is in evidence.

This house was only a mile or so west of Wroxall and had previously, been part of the Wroxall Priory estate. Thomas Shaxpere and his wife Annis (nee Scott) held it until his death in 1591. Their recorded children were; Richard, who died in 1592, Thomas, Joan, Eleanor and Annis. Another large Shakespeare family arose in Packwood parish, where Christopher had a family of nine. As we see later, a Shakespeare family did return to Wroxall, but lacked the status of pre-Reformation times.

Mousley Hall

Shakespeare Hall, Mousley End, Rowington – courtesy of Warwickshire Record Office

One Shakespeare family still seemed to occupy the Olditch House property throughout this period, but the last mentions of any of them living in Balsall, was John ‘Shakeshaft’, in 1543-9, and then the transfer of a copyhold in Balsall, to his wife, in the will of Thomas Shakespeare of Warwick, which was proved in 1577. The sale of this copyhold, in 1596, by a John Shakespeare, finally ended the Balsall connection.

The trail of 16th century Warwickshire Shakespeares, clearly leads back, via many Johns, Williams, Thomases and Richards, to the complex of parishes at Rowington, Wroxall and Temple Balsall. Given this evidence of continual tenure, it seems to be obvious the Shakespeares had Knights Hospitaller origins, and probably Templar connections before that. No, not knights and noblemen, but sergeant grade and rising to the rank of bailiff and prioress, on the adjacent Wroxall Priory. They were, without any doubt, people who were respected and had a degree of status in their communities.

The cross-over of names, places and occupations, ranging across a multitude of wills and other documentation indicates this is a single family group. William of Stratford mentions property in Rowington in his will, and it seems clear that the extended Shakespeare family held rights to small parcels of land in several adjacent parishes. William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon was descended from the Shakespeares of this former Templar stronghold at Temple Balsall.

‘And Now for Something Completely Different’

The family tree of William Shakespeare of Stratford seems to have been cast in stone, by his Victorian biographers, but the original facts on which they based their genealogy were assembled many decades after his death, by historians living early in the 18th century. Assumptions were made at that time, and they have become a definitive and entrenched truth. John Aubrey and Nicholas Rowe fabricated a story and then Halliwell-Phillips embellished the fable and despite the efforts of French and a whole raft of modern investigators, the story has changed very little. The accepted Shakespeare genealogy, shown in the Stratford guidebooks, must therefore by correct, mustn’t it?

However, what I have discovered calls into question several of these established truths. Most of the information was easily found, so there is little that is totally new, although no-one else seems to have assembled the pieces into one story. I’m going to use this ‘new’ information to try to create an improved Shakespeare tree, using a few basic rules, ones which have served me well, in creating my own family tree of over 10,000 individuals.

The guidebooks say that William’s grandfather was Richard Shakespeare, a copyhold farmer, who lived in Snitterfield, a small settlement about half way between Stratford and Warwick. However, there is no mention of a Richard in any documents related to William and his father, John, but conversely a John Shakespeare is mentioned frequently in documents relating to Richard Shakespeare of Snitterfield. The evidence comes from one direction only, not corroborated from the other side.

The assumption, therefore, has been that these two Johns are the same person, and that impression is strengthened when you realise the Arden family owned land, close to where Richard Shakespeare farmed his copyhold. This Richard Shakespeare was also a respected member of the community, chosen to take responsibility for valuing the estates of deceased friends and neighbours.

In 1560, when Sir Thomas Lucy held an inquisition in Warwick, into the estates of Robert Throckmorton, Richard Shakespere was a member of the jury. At the time of his death, in February 1561, Richard’s estate was valued at £38 17 shillings, with the inventory indicating he held the land between his house on the High Street and the small stream, which flowed through Snitterfield village.

Stephen Pearson, a family history researcher, was puzzled why the John Shakespeare, clearly identified with Richard’s estate in Snitterfield, is referred to as ‘agricola’ (farmer), ten years after John the glovemaker, money lender and trader in wool, was living in Stratford. John ‘agricola’ Shakespeare appears to have spent much of his life in the nearby village of Clifford Chambers, and it also appears that this John of Snitterfield, son of Richard, died, leaving a will, in 1610. Whilst the ‘small parcel of land theory’ means that John the glovemaker could appear in the records of several places at once, when all the documentation for Richard’s family is assembled it looks certain these are two different John Shakespeares and William Shakespeare’s grandfather was not Richard of Snitterfield.

So, if John Shakespeare the glovemaker did not come from Snitterfield farming stock, then who was his father and where was he born? The answer must be amongst our multitude of other Johns, and to find the answer, we need to delve deeper into other branches of the Shakespeare clan.

A similar analysis could be used on the previous generation as well, because there appear to be two Richard Shakespeares, one we have seen as ‘bailiff of Wroxall’ and the other who farmed at Snitterfield. Originally scholars thought that ‘Wroxall Richard’ was grandfather of the Bard, and then they thought the two Richards might be the same person. Now, modern researchers are sure they are two different people, and I believe neither are the Bard’s grandfather, so, perhaps we need to look at all these Shakespeares with fresh eyes, and be prepared to test these and other long held assumptions.

In 1709, Nicholas Rowe published his version of the Shakespeare plays and included a biography of the Bard. His account, compiled over a hundred years after the events, became the standard 18th century history and is the basis for almost everything that takes place in Stratford-upon-Avon today. However, in Rowe’s initial history, he actually believed that William Shakespeare was one of TEN children, not the eight now verified in the parish records and who appear in the current history books.

The source of Rowe’s information was the actor, Thomas Betterton (1634-1710), ‘who made a journey to Warwickshire to gather up any remains he could, of a name for which he had such veneration.’

Betterton sought out the most elderly inhabitants, who convinced him there were TEN children.

Was this a mistake, caused by the fading memories of some very old folks?

If there were ten, then who are these two missing children?

Did they die as infants or should we be looking for adult siblings that have, so far, evaded the radar?

John the glovemaker, was known to be living in Stratford from 1552 onwards, because he was fined for failing to remove his dung heap. The parish records of birth, marriage and death, were not begun in the town, until Queen Elizabeth came to the throne, in November 1558, and so there is ample time for an unrecorded marriage to Mary Arden, and for earlier children to have arrived on the scene. Six years in fact, and that was a long time in the lifespan of a Tudor Stratfordite.

The estimate has always been that John Shakespeare was born around 1530, but that was based on Richard of Snitterfield being his father, and so after that reappraisal, there is ample room for a couple more kids and possibly another wife and even step children. Despite a thorough search, no record of another child has been found, so where next?

Crammer – Naming patterns before Kylie and Romeo

Naming patterns in English families, affecting all rungs of the social ladder, were incredibly important, right through to the end of Victorian England, and it is only in recent times has this traditional approach been overtaken by a more liberal method of name calling. Some Americans of English descent still keep the traditions alive today, using the patterns of their Puritan migrant ancestors, but such strict conformity has rarely been seen in England, since the early years of the 20th century.

After 1700, through to the late Victorian period, there was a fairly standard naming formula used in most families. The eldest son was named after the father’s father; 2nd son: mother’s father; 3rd son: father. There was a similar naming pattern on the mother’s side, with the female side of the tree being the place to look, when a brand new ‘given’ name enters an established family genealogy.

Prior to 1700, the naming pattern was more heavily biased towards the male side and you would expect a father to use his own name and that of his father for his first two boys. If a child died in infancy, then the name might be used immediately on the next born, and I have seen examples where the first three children were all baptised with the same name. If a child died as a teenager, then the name might be re-used again at the end of the line. If the name was important, then you tried not to lose it.

The system preserved the heredity of the family, but did have its down side, as the names John and William began to dominate, and in the 15th century at least a third of the male population, answered to these two names. After a trio of kings, Richard also became popular, and with war and plague decimating the population, families rarely became too adventurous when choosing a child’s name.


John Shakespeare’s tribe

John Shakespeare and Mary Arden named their children in this order; Joan, Margaret, William, Gilbert, Joan, Anne, Richard and Edmund. Therefore, with a Joan up first, repeated again later, then a Margaret, followed by William, as the first boy, the names should already be telling a family story.

So, according to the rules of the period, we should be looking for either a Joan or Margaret to be the mother of John Shakespeare. More often than not, we would know the first name of John’s mother, but in typical Shakespeare fashion, that simple piece of information hasn’t been passed down to us. Mary Arden’s mother was also called Mary, but her name is not on the list at all. Very strange..!!

William was the first named boy, but there is no John amongst four boys; surely, there must be a John…!! If a John had died as an infant, first born, then the name would have been repeated later. The list suggests that William ought to be the name of John’s father and that at least one from Gilbert, Richard and Edmund should be the name of at least one of John’s siblings. If Richard was his father, as the experts tell us, it would be an insult in the extreme to put him third in the order, and after Gilbert.

Gilbert is unique in the Shakespeare clan, and so could be a first name taken from the maternal side, or possibly, a surname reused as a Christian name. This would often happen when a sister married and her new surname was then incorporated as a first name, by the families of her siblings.

Mary’s father was Robert Arden and her maternal grandfather was John Alexander Webb, giving another reason to add a John to the list. Mary did have a sister, Margaret, and that seems an obvious source of the name of the second infant. That would leave the two Joans, who seem likely to be John Shakespeare’s mother’s name or possibly a sister, or quite likely, the name of both females.

So are there any likely candidates for a missing John, and possibly a mother or sister, called Joan?

Well there are, and one of them is very close to home.

There were TWO John Shakespeares living in Stratford-upon-Avon, during the second half of the 16th century and one was a generation older than the other. John Shakespeare, a shoemaker, has long been known about, but along with other Shakespeares who don’t match the approved biography, he seems to have been disregarded as ‘connected in a far-off degree’, very much the Halliwell-Phillips school of lateral thinking!

Peter Lee, an experienced Warwickshire family historian, has argued a strong case for making John the shoemaker, the missing elder brother of our infamous William Shakespeare, of Stratford. This John Shakespeare was an apprentice shoemaker and after his master, Thomas Roberts, died, he took over the business in Stratford, by marrying the shoemaker’s widow, Margaret Roberts, (nee Lawrence).

Margaret had married Thomas Roberts in 1570, so she was probably in her early 30s when she married this John Shakespeare, in 1584. John Shakespeare had paid £3 to join the Company of Shoemakers and Saddlers, in 1580; was elected ale-taster for Stratford in 1585; paid for his freedom as a shoemaker on 19th Jan 1585/86, before being elected the Constable for Stratford, late in 1586. His wife, Margaret, was buried on 29th Oct 1587, and the following year, 1588, John Shakespeare became the legal guardian of the two boys his widow had produced with Thomas Roberts.

John Shakespeare must have married again immediately, because three children then quickly appeared on the scene. These were Ursula, baptised 11th March 1588-89, Humphrey, 24th May 1590 and Phillip, 21st Sept 1591. John and his new family remained living in the old Roberts house until 1594.

Researchers have always linked this John Shakespeare to the Thomas Shakespeare, who was a shoemaker in Warwick, some ten miles away. Few scholars have dared suggest that John Shakespeare, the shoemaker, was in fact, William Shakespeare’s elder brother…!!!

However, if this was just any other family, you probably wouldn’t hesitate too long in adding him to the Bard’s tree. John, the younger, could easily have been born before the Stratford parish records began, in 1558, or even as an unrecorded boy, in the years between Joan and Margaret. This John also became ale-taster and constable for Stratford, following on in the tradition of John, the Bard’s father. The leather skills of a shoemaker have obvious similarities to those of a glove-maker.

Over in that Warwick family, Thomas Shakespeare, the shoemaker, named three sons in his 1557 will; John, William and Thomas. It is this Thomas Shakespeare, senior, who died in 1577, leaving his wife, Agnes, with the rights to his copyhold in Temple Balsall. Thomas the elder was described as ‘from Rowington’, but as we know from the records of the area, this is ambiguous and could also refer to the Wroxall Priory charity lands.

We also find that Thomas the shoemaker had been the bailiff for Warwick, the same job that John the glovemaker held in Stratford. There is a record of John (named as bailiff of Stratford) and Thomas Shakespeare, both sitting on the same jury in Warwick, one which adjudicated on a land dispute in Rowington. This also suggests that John the glovemaker had a previous association with either Warwick or Rowington, or both.

Now, what about those three sons of Thomas, the Warwick shoemaker?

One son, William, tragically drowned in the River Avon, on 6th June 1579, leaving two other brothers.

Historian, Arthur Mee, writing in 1936, discovered that Thomas, junior, became a butcher, in Warwick and that he had a son, John, who became an apprentice printer. Thomas the butcher, took a copyhold on a business in Smith Street, Warwick, in 1585, and bought other property in the town in 1597, before marrying Elizabeth Letherbarrow, daughter of the bailiff of Coventry, a year later.

In 1601-02, Thomas acquired land in the nearby parish of Bishop’s Tachbrook and followed his father, being elected bailiff of Warwick, in 1612. Certainly the Shakespeares were men of influence in this important Midland town, one that gave its name to the county.

The third brother, John, is the one that traditionalists believe to be the Stratford shoemaker, but is he? There is a John Shakespeare and a Thomas Shakespeare recorded as being assessed for ‘Poor Rate’ (local property tax) in Warwick, in 1582. Was this the same John who was an apprentice shoemaker in Stratford, who then married the boss’s widow two years later? That is what serious Shakespeare historians expect us to believe..!

This John Shakespeare had married in Warwick, in 1579, and yes it would be possible for him to be widowed and marry again in Stratford, in 1584. However, apprentices were usually, young and single and marriage was forbidden, as it would affect their training.

I have a long list of my own family who were apprenticed in skilled trades and married their sweetheart, the same year they finished their training and gained their ‘freedom’ from their ‘master’. Little did they realise what they had let themselves in for..!!

The details of this man, though, don’t quite fit the normal routine you would expect of a trade apprentice. The John Shakespeare, shoemaker, who became ale-taster and constable for Stratford, would seem to be much older than the normal apprentice age, particularly as he had married his boss’s widow and taken on the business, BEFORE achieving his ‘freedom’ – his qualifications.

This could be the Warwick man, marrying in 1579, immediately moving to Stratford and going through wives in quick succession, but why was he assessed for Poor Tax in Warwick, in 1582. We also know he was alive in 1557, when his father made his will. Why didn’t he train as a shoemaker under his father in Warwick, because he would be fully qualified and have gained his freedom by 1579, which is, indeed, the year when John of Warwick did get married, in Warwick!

What seems more likely is that the eldest child of John, the Stratford glove-maker and brother of the Bard, probably intended to follow in his father’s wool trading business, but because of the disastrous years, from 1577 onwards, he decided to change career. A date of birth just prior to the beginning of the Stratford parish records, say 1557, would make him a shoemaking apprentice at 23, married aged 27, ale-taster at 28 and constable at 29. This was not a youth, but a mature individual, who must also have had the backing of the local Stratford community, probably because his father had previously held the same positions.

The final piece of evidence to suggest that John Shakespeare the shoemaker was the Bard’s older brother, is in a document relating to the Field family. John Shakespeare the glovemaker was a witness to the inventory of effects of Henry Field, a local tanner, and in this document, John is described as John Shakespeare, senior.

Now, the problem of ‘too many Johns’, was a recurring issue for lawyers and clergymen of the period, but they generally overcame the problem like this. If they were father and son they would call them John, senior and John, junior and, of course, that tradition still continues in America today. If the relationship was less clear cut, perhaps a cousin or uncle, then it would be John the elder or John the younger. This system of identification was routinely used in parish records, right through till the Victorian era.

When all this basic evidence of genealogical research is added together, then it does strongly suggest that scholars have been wrong, William did have an elder sibling and his name was John Shakespeare, the Stratford shoemaker.

In addition, if Rowe’s findings are correct, there might be another missing sibling, still out there to be discovered, and might that missing person be Mary Shakespeare, the name that occurred in successive generations on the maternal side. Someone who still needs to be found..!

Now, recall that Thomas Betterton did some field research in the 17th century, when he was one of the first people to go hunting for traces of the Bard. He was told there were ten children, but another helpful, elderly resident told him that William Shakespeare was a ‘butcher’s apprentice who had run away to London’. Are these just the indistinct memories of aging residents or is there a grain of truth emerging here. My own experience is that old people have good memories of their childhood, but struggle with memories of what they had for breakfast that morning. Could the Bard really be a truant apprentice butcher, who ran away and became an actor?

The historian, John Aubrey (1626-1697), also believed that John the glove-maker was a butcher, and suggested that, in a rather thespian way, his son, William Shakespeare, would make a speech before dispatching a calf. Aubrey was noted for his colourful biographies, rather than his accuracy, but there is usually no smoke without a little fire. We have already seen good reasons why the Shakespeare family might have diversified into other branches of the sheep and cattle business, after they hit hard times, so butchery might well have been one of them.

Aubrey, author, antiquarian and biographer, is still the source of much of Shakespeare’s story line which appears in the text books of today. John Aubrey is also the rock which any ‘new kid on the block’ has to remove, before any semblance of truth can be propagated to the literary world at large.

There are two other strong similarities between the Warwick and Stratford families. They both have a William near the top of the list of children, which suggests the father or grandfather of both John the glovemaker and Thomas the shoemaker was a William. There was also a sister to the Warwick boys, and her name was Joan, the same name that was first up in Stratford John’s family, and was repeated, when the first child died in infancy. Could this be the name of their mother, and could this be the same Joan, making John and Thomas brothers?


Tudor shoes


Fall-out from the coat-of-arms saga

There is still plenty of room for speculation and there is no confirmed data to support my very different interpretation of the Warwick and Stratford Shakespeare families, but it does make much more sense than the one in the Stratford guide books. This reconfiguring of the genealogy also offers possible solutions to other previously, unsolvable, conundrums in the Shakespeare story. By adding an eldest son to John Shakespeare’s family, this also explains how the Shakespeare coat of arms began to spread more widely than was possible under the old chronology.

John Shakespeare, the shoemaker, had three children, each baptised in Stratford-upon-Avon; Humphrey, Phillip and Ursula. (1589-91). Two of these are rare names in the Shakespeare clan and the third one unusual enough that it may help to mark out a distinctive trail.

You might ask why there was no John on the list? That could be explained because John’s first wife, widow Margery, already had two children by her first husband, Thomas Roberts. The two step-children, Thomas and John, were adopted by John Shakespeare, in 1588, after their mother’s death. Did they remain as Thomas and John Roberts, or did they become Thomas and John Shakespeare? That is an interesting question that, potentially, has further ramifications.

Ursula is a unique name in the Shakespeare clan, so to find an Ursula Shakespeare recorded on 12th April 1624, at Allesley church, as baptising an illegitimate son, Hezekial, suggests this is John’s daughter. The name is absent elsewhere, until it appears, later, in the family of Humphrey Shakespeare of Preston Bagot, one of those who felt free to use the coat of arms of John Shakespeare.

Adjacent to Allesley parish is the hamlet of Little Packington and it is in this tiny rural parish that the Shakespeare arms are again clearly displayed, on a memorial to George Shakespeare, who died in 1658. Nearby is Fillongly, which was the home parish of another George Shakespeare, who died in 1699. His descendants proudly claim they were descended from ‘a brother of everybody’s Shakespeare’. Their claim is of descent from a Phillipa Shakespeare, whose family originally came from Stratford-upon-Avon.

Little packington monument     Fillongly plaque

Monuments to Shakespeares at Little Packington and Fillongly – with the coat of arms – KHB

The story of a link to Phillipa Shakespeare goes something like this.

Reverend John Dyer married Sarah Ensor (1712 -1760), the sister of John Strong Ensor, and amongst the papers of an Ensor family historian, in America, is this quote:

 ‘In 1756, Rev. John Dyer, wrote to a friend, ‘My wife’s name was Ensor, whose grandmother was a Shakespear, descended from ‘a brother of everybody’s Shakespear.’

Phillipa’s father was called Adrian, who was supposed to have been a ‘gent’ from Stratford-upon-Avon. So, was Adrian the son of Philip Shakespeare and so feminising the name of a daughter, to Phillipa? It was not unusual, to feminise a father’s name, if there were no boys. The Dyers and Ensors were people of some repute and the Shakespeare tradition remained in different branches of the family for several generations.

So we have the possible descendants of Ursula and Phillip displaying the coat of arms prominently and claiming a direct line back to the Bard. What about Humphrey?

Well, Humphrey is a family name that both pre-dates and post-dates, John the Stratford shoemaker’s family. An early Humphrey name turns up in the family of Christopher Shakespeare, who had nine children in the early 16th century and was a member of the Knowle Guild. He moved the short distance from Rowington to Lapworth and one of the nine was John Shakespeare, whose children were, called Humphrey, George and William. The Humphrey name continued in Lapworth, into the 17th century.

Warwick & Stratford

This also gives a good reason for Georges to appear later, in Little Packington and Fillongly, as it was a Shakespeare family name. You might suspect that John the shoemaker is more likely to be a direct descendant of Christopher Shakespeare, but there is no obvious place to fit him in the tree, and then how do you explain the use of the coat of arms in the 17th century. I think what it does suggest is that the Shakespeare families of Balsall, Wroxall and Rowington were a small close-knit group, who maintained contact and allegiances during the dark days of the destruction of Wroxall Priory.

Perhaps, more interestingly, the Humphrey name turns up in Clerkenwell, London, in a family that gets much closer to the literary Shakespeare than most observers realise. This may also be another family which uses the coat of arms in later generations. Could the Humphreys help us to unscramble these different lines of Shakespeares?

According to the conventional genealogy, these displays of the Shakespeare shield should be totally impossible. The male line of William’s tree died out with his death and only his sister Joan outlived him. There should be no direct male offspring from John Shakespeare the glove-maker, and there should be no subsequent bearers of arms, as displaying them would be totally illegal.

BUT if John the shoemaker was William’s elder brother, things would be very different, and these claims do seem to have great validity. This evidence suggests that all the descendants of John Shakespeare the shoemaker, genuinely believed they were entitled to display the coat of arms.

There also seems an obvious leather and bailiff, cum William and Joan connection, between the Warwick and Stratford families. Thomas, the elder shoemaker, and John the glove-maker could be brothers or step-brothers and this fits well into a line in Mousley End, Rowington, where there is a Thomas and a John who had a widowed mother Joan, who in 1548 was occupying two copyholds, at Haseley and Hatton, parishes on the outskirts of Warwick. Hatton was a charity holding, a detached part of Wroxall Priory, which was where the bailiff and sub-prioress fled, after the Priory closed down..

These notes were made by historian E. K. Chambers (1866-1954) about the Wroxall Shakespeares.

 ‘I take Joan to have been the widow of John (i) and mother of John (ii), and the Johanna who, with a husband John, joined the Guild of Knowle in 1526-7. Joan made a will, now lost, in 1557,and died a little later, as her son Thomas continued to pay rent for ‘Lyance’ (Moat Farm, Haseley) up to 1560.’

Is this the Thomas that went to Warwick and died as a shoemaker in 1577? Chambers thinks it might be, as Haseley was not too far from Warwick. Actually, Lyance (Moat Farm) is only half a mile from Wroxall Priory and on the boundary of Haseley parish. Shakespeares might have been expelled from the Priory, but they didn’t wander too far away from their home patch.

Investigators also need to look closer at John ‘Shakeshaft’, recorded in Balsall from 1543-49. The spelling is very much a one-off, but the timings suggest this could actually be the Bard’s father, who then moved on to Stratford-upon-Avon, after the Knowle Guild closed in 1550, and was in situ to clean up his dunghill, in 1552.

Do we have ‘lots of undocumented Johns’ or is this just the same person mentioned by Chambers?

Was this ‘John Shakeshaft’, also the son of one of the two Williams of Rowington, (older and younger), associated with the Knowle Guild. They have an interesting pedigree and one that has a familiar ring to it.

The Archers – an everyday story of Shakespeare folk

A William Shakespeare had moved from Wroxall to Rowington in 1504 and it may be his son, William Shakespere, with a wife Agnes and an unnamed son, who took a copyhold for three lives in 1530. William is traceable to subsidy rolls up to 1546 and maybe the William, in Rowington, in 1548. It is probably also this couple who joined the Guild of Knowle, in 1526-7 and interestingly, he is described as an archer in a muster roll of 1536-7. The other military item to note is that Richard the bailiff of Wroxall was rostered as a billman in 1536 (a bill was a short pike carried by soldiers), so further evidence that the Wroxall Shakespeares were still fighters, as well as farmers and priestesses.

So, we have Johns and Williams all residing close to each other at Wroxall, but for Thomas we have to go back to Balsall, in 1486, when Thomas and Alice of Balsall, joined the Knowle Guild, and in 1511, when Alice paid for the soul of Thomas, indicating he had died.

This provides potential dating to be the Thomas, who was with Lord Grey and his 300 archers in Ireland. However, the man, who failed to take Dublin Castle, in 1478, is, perhaps, more likely to be his father, Thomas, who died in 1486, just after Henry VII and his Tudor dynasty arrived on the scene. Either way, could it be that archer is an inherited occupation, passed down to sons and grandsons, with William from Rowington, also recorded as a bowman. William Shakespeare of Stratford mentioned lands in Rowington in his will, no doubt passed down from his father, John, and so was William the Rowington bowman, the Bard’s grandfather?

The ‘great grandfather’ mentioned in the coat of arms application, must come from a generation that lived towards the end of the 15th century, maybe during the time when the Plantagenets became Tudors.

Now add all this, to the other information about Wroxall, with William the copyholder and archer and Thomas making an abortive attempt to take Dublin Castle. We also have a Joan for a mother of Thomas and John, making it an obvious choice for both the two sons. As you can see below, the fit isn’t perfect and there are options..!

What seems to be missing are ‘second spouses’, because they were the norm, rather than the exception at this time, so just adding an extra wife to one of these Shakespeare men might allow the jigsaw to be completed, with a degree of confidence.

1 New Shakespeare tree

This family group from Wroxall appears to be the family of John of Stratford and Thomas of Warwick, with all the right names beginning to appear and all having a similar status in their society. However, this pair might be cousins, with their fathers being John from Lyance Farm and William of Rowington. Nothing is confirmed, because the records are not complete, but it makes much more sense than the one accepted by the Shakespeare Trust in Stratford.

Evidence for John, shoemaker of Stratford as elder brother of William Shakespeare.

  1. Ten children not eight
  2. Missing name ‘John’, in the Bard’s family
  3. Eldest son named William, in both Stratford and Warwick
  4. The family tradition of using the coat of arms
  5. The continuation of official roles in Stratford; ale-taster and constable
  6. Same surname, same place. (Bryan Sykes rule)
  7. Similarity in occupations, glove-making and shoemaking
  8. Anecdotal butcher connections in Stratford and Warwick
  9. Marriage and apprenticeship records in Stratford & Warwick
  10. John Shakespeare, the ‘elder’, on Henry Field’s inventory

So, if you disconnect John the glovemaker from Richard of Snitterfield, and add in another son, John the shoemaker, then things begin to flow more easily. Tracing your family line back to the Wroxall Priory and to the time of the Balsall commanderie and the Knights Hospitallers, would give plenty of credibility, making you a good choice to be bailiff of any Warwickshire medieval town.

John Shakespeare the shoemaker had moved away from Stratford by 1596, to where we don’t know, and with William (the poet?) already having deserted the town by the late 1580s, this may have been connected with the sorry place the town had become at the latter end of the century.

‘In October 1590 the Corporation petitioned the Lord Treasurer for the nomination of the Vicar and schoolmaster and an additional fair. The petition speaks of the town as ‘now fallen into much decay for want of such trade as heretofore they had by clothinge and making of yarn’.’

John Shakespeare, from Warwick, also went missing after 1596, and so there are two Johns on the loose. There might even be three, if John and Thomas Roberts had become John and Thomas Shakespeare, after they were adopted in 1588. We know William Shakespeare went to London to seek his fortune, so that might be an obvious place to look for the missing Johns, two from Stratford and one from Warwick. There was one John Shakespeare, who we know did make that journey, and he went to work for a famous printer.

Yet more Shakespeares

The name Shakespeare is not unique to Warwickshire and versions of the Shakespeare/Shakeshaft name are found spread right across England. Genealogists do try to make a decision whether these are spelling variations of the Warwickshire clan or different, unrelated families.

The uncertainty did send Michael Wood scurrying up to Lancashire, checking out a large family group of ‘Shakeshafts’, who may have had a country schoolmaster among their number. He might also have been hoping to find long lost copies of ‘Hamlet’ and a ‘Midsummer Nights Dream’ in the outside ‘privies’ of terraced houses in Blackburn and Bolton. He found nothing.

In the South of England other examples of the Shakespeare name are more random and don’t lead to a recognisable family group. Most just appear as single names in a military or church record.

Selected entries, which were all recorded in London:

William Schakesper by his will of 1413 desired burial in the Hospital of St. John. (Clerkenwell)

Peter Shakespeare witnessed a deed in Southwark in 1484.

John Shakesper had a lease in the sanctuary at Westminster shortly before 1506.

William Shakesper was buried at St. Margaret’s, Westminster, on 30 April 1539.

Roger Shackespere was appointed a Yeoman of the Guard in 1547.

Now that we know that the Shakespeare family has Templar and Hospitaller origins, then nothing in these records should be a surprise. The knights originally served the military and the church, whilst some became accomplished copyhold farmers. Their self-sufficient estates meant they needed multi skilled craftsmen, to provide all the necessities of life. Therefore, the Shakespeare line of bailiffs, traders and leather workers, ready to serve the monarch in times of military need, was very much in the Hospitaller mould and these traditions of service were passed on down through the generations.

In Dr Chapman’s study of the Bard, made in the early 20th century, he believed the only Shakespeares recorded in London were William and his brother, Edmund. He was totally unaware there was a whole family, known as the ‘Stepney Shakespeares’, hiding in the wings. This is a well documented group, who established themselves in East London, from 1620 onwards. The Stepney Shakespeares also proudly claimed the family coat of arms and so they too must have believed they were direct descendants of John Shakespeare. This family became rope makers in the 1640s, but they weren’t just any old ropemakers, gaining the Royal warrant from the King, with extensive facilities, along side the Thames, at ‘Rope Walk’, in Shadwell.

Then there is a Thomas Shakespeare, gent, married in St Giles, Cripplegate, in 1618 and with two children, John and Thomas, baptised in St Gregory by St Paul, in 1619 and 1620. St Giles Church was next door to the Barbican Tower, part of the original London Wall. It is this John, born in 1619, who seems to be the ropemaker, but the father, ‘gentleman’ Thomas, is more problematic.

St Giles Cripplegate

Thomas calls himself a gent, in 1618 and that would concur with the Shakespeare coat of arms turning up in Shadwell. The only Thomas Shakespeare who fits the bill, is John’s adopted son, Thomas Roberts, who would be in his forties, by this time. Could adopted sons use the coat of arms? Probably, but it does add an interesting aspect to solving the problem.

The church at St Giles, Cripplegate claims on their website, today, that Edmund Shakespeare, brother of the Bard, was a resident there and that he also had two children. Was one called Thomas, and therefore does he provide the link and the legitimacy to the ropemaker family? This does seem the most likely scenario, although the perceived wisdom has been that none of William Shakespeare’s brothers produced any offspring. Is anyone sure this is correct?

Edmund Shakespeare 1607 - Copy

Edmund Shakespeare – buried 31 Dec 1607 – St Saviour’s, Southwark

The belief that the Bard had more nephews and nieces, also extends to another of the Bard’s brothers, Gilbert, who was thought to have died childless, in 1612. However, family tradition, in the Stepney line, has it that Gilbert died an old man, not a 48 year old. Do we need to rethink that scenario too?

There is also a Roger in Christopher of Lapworth’s family and he fits beautifully to be that oddball entry, as ‘Yeoman of the Guard’, in London. This corps was created by Henry VII and they are still a familiar site today as they are the famous ‘beefeaters’, who continue to wear Tudor style uniform, as they protect the Tower of London, with the help of their ravens.

On the scene much later is a Leonard Shakespeare, living to the west of London. He was married in Sunningwell, Berkshire in 1614, and brought up a family in Isleworth, for the next decade. This parish, then in rural isolation on the banks of the River Thames, was dominated by the Syon Monastery, which in Leonard’s time was in the hands of Henry Percy, Duke of Northumberland and his wife, Dorothy Devereux, youngest sister of the Earl of Essex.

There is a John and William at the top of Leonard Shakespeare’s family of eight children, but no indication of where he hailed from previously. Lest we forget that the Wroxall Priory was dedicated to St Leonard.

The other intriguing family group, in London, is that of John Shakespeare, the King’s ‘bitmaker’. This seems to be an occupation making ornate harnesses for the Royal household, and gives another leather-making connection. There were actually two generations of ‘bitmaker’, with the earlier one marrying in February 1604/05 and having a son, yet another John, a year later. ‘John the bitmaker’ (senior), died in 1633, the year after his son had married and taken over the business.

This could be John the shoemaker of Stratford moving up in the world, and with yet another new wife, because he had disappeared from the records in Stratford, in the mid 1590s. Could it instead be his adopted son, John Roberts, using the Shakespeare name, born about 1574, putting him in his late 20s, in 1604.

Royal Mews - Gold State coach

Gold State Coach, London Mews – photo by Mandy Hill

The Shakespeare ‘bitmaker’ family did extremely well for themselves, because at the death of the younger, John Shakespeare, the Kings treasurer owed him, the princely sum of £1612, over half a million pounds in today’s currency. A warrant for that amount was signed by the Earl of Denbigh, Master of the Wardrobe, and delivered to his widow.

The only Shakespeares I have found in similar trades to ‘bitmaker’ are the leather workers from Warwick and Stratford. Discovering who ‘John the bitmaker’ was and where he came from, would fill in some mighty gaps, but this is another example of the Shakespeare clan becoming a family of substance, but mainly AFTER the family began to use the term, ‘gentleman’.

Charlotte Carmichael Stopes gets the credit for the original research into the London Shakespeares, back in 1901, but others have since picked over her findings and annotated, in places. She discovered more Shakespeares than any other researcher of the period, but she was again greatly confused by an excess of Johns. She tried to tie in her findings with the biography of Shakespeare, as written by French and others, but doesn’t seem to have questioned, too much, either the Stratford family tree or William’s ability to write the plays. What is beyond doubt is that she did discover several families of pedigree, who were doing very well for themselves in London, during the reign of James I and beyond. This information has been around for over a century, but mainstream Stratfordians seem to have totally ignored this important aspect of the Shakespeare story.

We are, now, getting towards the business end of this chapter, and there are a couple of surprising, even remarkable stings in the tail.

The authors of the Stratford guidebook might suggest these few words as a resume of the Shakespeare family you know and love.

 ‘Snitterfield farmer sires a leatherworker cum trader cum bailiff cum moneylender, who becomes wealthy and then loses it all. All turns out well in the end as, he in turn sired a genius son who becomes a prolific writer, buys a big house and becomes one of the most famous names in history’.

This sounds like a public relations consultant’s dream scenario, creating a rags to riches story, based on someone’s inate abilities as a genius author. Too good to be true some would say..!!

My scenario is very different.

‘William Shakespeare was directly descended from a line that leads straight back to the early days of the Knights Templar and the Knights of St John. The family mixed all the skills and qualities of those Orders and they were always a respected part of their Warwickshire community.

 Life changed for all the Shakespeares when Henry VIII dissolved Wroxall Abbey, shattering their ordered way of life, forcing the family to look elsewhere for their future prosperity. The majority remained in Warwickshire, in the vicinity of Rowington, Packwood, Warwick and Stratford, whilst others did what so many other Englishmen did during the Tudor period, they headed for the square mile of the City of London.’

It is now clear that the Shakespeares weren’t ‘ne’r do wells made good’, but an established family, with Templar traditions, which suddenly had to regroup and start their lives again. What is obvious is that they couldn’t have done this without a fair degree of help, and this would seem to have come from members of the noble community, who wanted the Templar and Hospitaller traditions to carry on, just as they had after the first local difficulty, back in 1312.

So what has any of this wider Shakespeare genealogy got to do with ‘The Comedy of Errors’, ‘Titus Andronicus’, ‘Henry V’ or any of the other works of the Bard?

Well, there are two extra pieces of information you need to know.

Firstly, that John Shakespeare, the young son of Thomas the butcher, from Warwick, undertook his printing apprenticeship in London, and for none other than William Jaggard, the man who printed the false folio in 1619 and the genuine article in 1623. John Shakespeare was an apprentice in the Jaggard print shop between March 1610 and May 1617.

Although, there is no confirmation that he continued to work for the Jaggards after the end of his apprenticeship, he is recorded as receiving a Stationers Company pension in the 1640s, and so he must have continued in the printing trade, working somewhere.

That piece of information is well known, but generally ignored, in true Halliwell-Phillips tradition, and John Shakespeare is usually labelled in the literary history books, as ‘probably not a close relation’.

Well, first cousin to the Bard sounds a pretty close relation to me..!

There were around twenty licensed printing businesses in London to choose from, so why chose the Jaggard press, indeed why not choose Richard Field, born in Stratford-upon-Avon, and already a family friend of the Shakespeares, and printer of those two early poems composed by the Bard.

Surely, it cannot be just yet another coincidence that John Shakespeare left his home area, to end up 100 miles away working with the very people, who eventually printed the First folio. Why choose to break with the family tradition of leather and butchery anyway? There must have been a reason for this dramatic change of occupation and that catalyst might also have caused master printer, Richard Field, to leave his roots and head south, some years before.

Everyone seems to know that Richard Field was the first printer of anything to do with Shakespeare, but no-one seems to have asked the question as to why Richard Field, son of a Stratford tanner, made that initial move to London to become a printer. The possible answer to that question has interesting ramifications for the whole Shakespeare saga, but you will have to wait till we reach my musings about ‘printers’, to find the answer, although you have already passed a couple of clues in the text.

The second, extra, piece of information, you need to know, is that Mathew Shakespeare of Clerkenwell married Isabel Peele, at Christ Church, Newgate, London, on 5th February 1566/67, or possibly, 1569/70. There have been alterations to several of the year dates in this section of the parish record, and it seems that a copy scribe got confused, became three years out in his transcription, and someone later attempted to rectify the error.

The parish record itself is definitely open to closer scrutiny and has other anomalies. It is a transcript of the original ledger and it is clearly fire damaged, but we are lucky to have the central sections still very readable. The Peele entry is badly mis-spelt on the ‘Mormon IGI family history index’, making it difficult to trace, and very curiously, is one of only four entries on that particular page, which have NOT been transcribed by the London Metropolitan Archives.

That means, I have been very lucky to find it.

Now, that is definitely one for the conspiracy theorists to ponder…!!

Mathew Shakespeare marriage cert

 Remnants of Christ Church records showing the marriage of a Peele to a Shakespeare

 Mathew Shakespeare marriage cert - Copy

Marriage of Mathew Shakespeare and Isabel Peele

If the 1569/70 date is correct, this appears to have been slightly late in the day, as the couple in question had a daughter, Joan Shakespeare, baptised at St James, Clerkenwell, a few days earlier, although sadly the child died, only surviving three days. However, I have found another reference to the same marriage record, which uses the 1566/67 date, and so makes young Joan quite legitimate.

The status of the bride, in this Newgate community, means that the earlier date is far more likely to be correct. This was a special marriage because the church was part of Christ’s Hospital School, and the clerk of the school and the parish, was the bride’s father, James Peele. He was also well known in other fields, as a merchant, teacher, accountant, writer and organiser of City of London pageants. Mathew Shakespeare must have been deemed suitable material to be the son-in-law of this high profile figure.

Mathew and Isabel were unlucky with their children, as the first six died within weeks of birth and only the last one, Thomas, appears to have survived. They were all born and died in St James, Clerkenwell, a parish which has already featured in this story, as Clerkenwell Priory was the headquarters of the Knights Hospitallers in England. The remnants of the Priory can still be seen today in the impressive structure known as St John’s Gate.

The name of the place, Clerkenwell, also gives a clue to its origins, because this was a meeting place for the clerks of London, ‘by the well’. The name ‘clerk’ meant clergyman or literate person, not the jobsworth pen-pusher, we associate with the name today. The London Parish clerks performed their Biblical ‘Morality’ plays, at Clerkenwell, which were the first plays to be performed in London.

Queen Elizabeth installed Edmund Tilney, as her Master of the Revels, and he was based in the Clerkenwell Gatehouse. Tilney’s title meant he was the censor and overseer of all drama and banned anything that contained political or lewd content of a controversial nature. Tilney’s career (1579–1610) spanned some of the most eventful years of Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre, with almost the entire writing career of William Shakespeare, being under his jurisdiction. Tilney licensed over thirty of Shakespeare’s plays, so you would have thought he might have known the author, quite well.

St Johns Gate

St John’s Gate, Clerkenwell, survived the Dissolution – photo KHB

 Restored in Victorian times, by John Oldrid Scott, son of George Gilbert Scott. (Scott alert!)

The English clergy were given permission to marry, by Edward VI, in 1549, and in the first year it is thought over 1000 clerics took advantage of the new law. The avalanche of married clergy was stopped in its tracks by the arrival of Queen Mary on the scene and the newly conjugated clerks were not made welcome into the celibate Church of Rome, and all were expelled from their parishes.

The records for that Marian period are scant indeed, as the Protestant registers were left to gather dust in many parishes, with a number being destroyed. Therefore, we don’t know the sequence of events, but it must be likely that Mathew Shakespeare, or maybe his father was a clerk, and so had an introduction to Isabel Peele, a clerk’s daughter. Finding ways in which Mathew Shakespeare ended up marrying a cleric’s daughter in London, doesn’t seem too difficult.

A Shakespeare remnant from Wroxall Priory might have easily ended up at Hospitaller headquarters during Queen Mary’s time of Catholic renewal. Mathew must have been born some time around 1545, and the two unusual names in his family, Humphrey and Francis, point to him being from Christopher Shakespeare’s line, possibly via his son, John Shakespeare of Lapwood, who had a Humphrey in his family. There was also a Robert amongst the short lived family, and he may well have been named after Robert Shakespeare, a trustee and brewer from Wroxall, in the 1550s

The name, Mathew, was unique in the Shakespeare family, till that point, although it was recreated, much later, in the Stepney line. Obviously he could have been named after St Mathew the Evangelist, or perhaps someone with a surname Mathew, and yes, there was a prosperous family bearing that surname, in Rowington, in the mid 16th century. Finding just one more record for Mathew Shakespeare would be extremely useful in mapping out the connection between London and Warwickshire.

Now, James Peele had a more famous child than Isabel, and he was George Peele, one of the best catalogued writers of the Elizabethan era. He was one writer who was never afraid to add his name to his work, and he also boasted one of the widest literary portfolios of anyone of the period. George was right at the heart of Elizabethan drama and is right at the heart of this Shakespeare story, even acknowledged by some of the most loyal Stratfordians, to have written a section of ‘Titus Andronicus’, one of the earliest plays attributed to Mr William Shakespeare. George Peele was the brother-in-law of Mathew Shakespeare, and that should start bells ringing in the minds of all literary scholars.

So, although I can’t find a single word to link William Shakespeare with his plays, I do have a member of his extended family working in the Jaggards’ print room and another living and marrying into a perfect environment for any budding author. No longer is William Shakespeare just an apprentice butcher, who ran away with a troupe of wandering actors. The family already had excellent connections, down in the growing metropolis, all this at a time when the young William Shakespeare was only a two year old, toddling round his father’s leather shop, in Stratford-upon-Avon.


John Shakespeare’s home and business, Henley Street, Stratford – photo KHB

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Shakespeare Re-invented (8-13)

 Chapter Eight 

Noble Beasts


Born on the ‘wrong side of the sheets’

This debate about the legitimacy and authenticity of William Shakespeare might be as much about the pedigree of royal bastard children, as about the Stratford man and his plays. This idea is not a new one, as Shakespeare conspiracy theorists have long associated their list of ‘alternative’ candidates, with tales of illegitimacy and moral wrongdoing by the monarch and her aristocratic subjects.

The Tudor nobility were a randy old lot and their bed hopping adventures makes anything you read about in the 21st century media, concerning the sex lives of footballers and film stars, pale into insignificance. Adventurers and warmongering knights, away for extended periods, were not best pleased to return home to find their wife had produced a new born child. These sexual indiscetions caused a problem for a succession of monarchs, their wives and mistresses, and many cynics suggest that the royal line of succession isn’t worth the cost of the parchment scroll.

The punishment for being discovered could be severe, for both sexes, so if you were caught in the wrong bed at the wrong time, your head could be hung out to dry on London Bridge, not just provide titillating gossip for the Sunday breakfast table. Noblemen also had to be sure their latest conquest hadn’t entered the King’s bed recently, as monarchs took a dim view of their mistresses, two or three timing them, with other lovers. Henry VIII was particularly brutal with his wives, notably the Boleyns and Howards, as randy young bucks and their paramours lost their heads in retribution for their liberal ways with the King’s property.

One of the biggest problems facing any society is what to do with its illigitimate and unwanted children? Generally, the response has been to create religious and legal codes, which attempt to moderate the procreative tendencies of their own section of the planet’s population. These codes usually centre on the ceremony of marriage, with a carrot and stick approach to ensuring the population sticks to the rules. For the lower classes the guidelines were based on religious teachings and for those further up the social stratum, finance becomes more important, with a dowry, often including a landed estate, being attached to the wife, with the woman gaining the security of her husband’s status.

The problems begin when people break the rules and different societies have dealt with this at different times and in different ways. Children born outside a marriage were traditionally pushed to the edge of that society and declared illegitimate. Nowadays, an increasingly secular world has reduced the problem by improved contraception and by relaxing the social rules. However prior to the 1960s, illegitimacy in Britain was very much a problem for both mother and child, but seen as much less so for the errant male of the species.

Early in the 20th century, children were often removed from their mother and sent for adoption by religious charities, with the mother, for her ‘mortal sins’, being committed to a psychiatric institution. Even as late as the 1950s, large numbers of illegitimate children were sent to orphanages in the old British colonies of Australia and Canada. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’…!

The Victorians coped with these unwanted children by confining them to the workhouse or farming them out to the aunts or grandparents of the poor, unfortunate girl. The mothers might be ostracised from their family, but sometimes managed to start a new life in the rapidly expanding industrial conurbations of 19th century Britain. They were the lucky ones because the suicide rate for ‘fallen women’ was enormous, with infanticide also conducted on a similar horrific scale. The infant might be drowned or smothered, then disposed of in the kitchen fire. In previous centuries, the British have been even harsher on the fair sex, with the mother’s of ‘base-born’ children, hanged or drowned as witches, particularly if the child was malformed.

The ‘rule makers’ have always found themselves in a difficult position, because as they tried to control the sexual excesses of the peasant and middle classes, they found the problem was actually far greater on their own doorstep. However, as with every other aspect of life, the rich manufacture ways to circumvent their own regulations and have systems in place, to cover up their indiscretions.

Many books have suggested that the Royal line of succession,the one that has been in place since William the Conqueror arrived at Pevensey Bay, is peppered with illegitimate heirs, who mysteriously disappeared or died under suspicious circumstances. William himself was known as William the Bastard and for the next thousand years the Royal ancestral roll is littered with them. The recent discovery of the body of King Richard III, has shown that his genes are not quite what they are supposed to be. Europe would have been a much safer place, with fewer wars and internecine disputes, if the ‘blue bloods’ had conducted their liaisons according to the rules they drew up for the rest of us.

The marriage practice, 400 years ago, in Tudor times, was much like today. A couple would become betrothed by a verbal bond or, for the rich, they signed pre-nuptial legal agreement, before being married in the local parish church, in a public religious ceremony. Any land, title or chattels, brought together by the marriage would usually be passed on to the children of that marriage.

The inheritance system, known as ‘primogeniture’, favoured eldest boys, so they went to the top of the pile in the batting order, taking precedence over any elder sister. The girls could eventually get their hands on the landed estate, but only if all their male siblings had died. In this case, the noble title (lord, duke or earl) would revert to the Crown and be held in abeyance. This system also encouraged males, of all ages, to actively seek surviving heiresses of large estates. This explains how the aristocracy accumulated tracts of lands in diverse parts of the country and why 70 year old noblemen married women a fraction of their age. Bizarrely, young children, aged as young as six, also became engaged to their ‘life partner’, as part of a business agreement, arranged by the parents of the ‘loving couple’.

If everything was that simple there would have been relatively few problems, but life was complicated by the high mortality rate, which created havoc with the avarage family tree. The aristocracy were better off than the peasants, but they were not immune to the terrors of bubonic plague, small pox and syphilis, plus a variety of other conditions, that come under the generic term, the ‘sweating sickness’.

The male death rate from the many wars was also high, while the women folk had to survive their constant battle with pregnancy, in an unsanitary world, devoid of running water, and with few effective methods of pain relief.

The other major contributor to the high mortality rates was the excessive number of executions. This was a barbaric world, where a peasant could lose their life for the most trivial offence, and for the upper echelons, a wrong word uttered in the Royal Court could be used by your rivals to mount a case for treason, and an eventual visit to the executioners block on Tower Hill.

The high rate of mortality led to the surviving men and women quickly remarrying, often within days of the death of their spouse. Individuals of both sexes might marry three and four times, so further complicating any tree of inheritance. The tree was further entwined because the aristocracy, almost exclusively, married their own kind, and as the generations moved forward their family tree became a thicket of inter-relationships, and a pretty dense one. Any political or legal dispute would inevitably match brother against brother or cousin against cousin, so even if you had lived a fairly docile existence, the behaviour of your brothers and sisters could land you in very hot water. There was little presumption of benign innocence when family matters were concerned.


Crammer – hanged, drawn and quartered

This ritual method of execution, being hanged, drawn and quartered, was the standard punishment, during Tudor times, for men convicted of high treason, against the English Crown. This was routinely carried out after 1351, but had begun during the reign of King Henry III (1216-1272). The guilty man was fastened to a wooden hurdle and dragged through the streets, by a team of horses, to the place of execution, where they were hanged (almost to the point of death), then disembowelled, beheaded and their body chopped into pieces.


The human remains were then displayed in prominent places, the heads mounted on poles at major crossroads, or in London, on the bridge across the Thames. Sometimes the body parts were dispersed to the four corners of the kingdom, as a warning to the population at large. There was also the gory belief held amongst many, that the blood of an executed person held special properties. This meant there was a crush to get as close to the savagery as possible, hoping to get splashed in the victim’s blood. It wasn’t until 1817 that the last execution using this method was carried out, in England, at Derby gaol, where three members of the Pentrich Uprising met their fate in this way.

For reasons of public decency, women convicted of high treason were ‘burnt at the stake’. (Elizabethan peasants didn’t wear knickers). This was also the ritual method of execution for men of religion, who were sent to meet their maker, with a firey end, again in a public place. The executions became major spectacles, with thousands in attendance. Sometimes the peasant masses were there to cheer on the death of a particular blaggard, but at other times, there to mourn the loss of one of their heroes or heroines. Public executions of important religious figures were often accompanied by lavish ceremonial, notably those 300 clerics who were sentenced to death by ‘Bloody’, Queen Mary.


Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, burned at the stake in Oxford, in 1556.


Medical crammer – Syphilis

No, this is not a page misappropriated from a medical textbook, but an essential part of understanding how Tudor families developed the way they did. Syphilis was rife in Tudor England and affected up to one fifth of the population. The disease was known as the ‘pox’ or ‘great pox’, and sometimes the ‘French disease’, named after French soldiers, who were blamed for spreading it across Italy, after they had attacked Naples, in 1494. The disease may have been brought back from the Americas by returning seafarers from the Columbus expedition of 1492, and first gained the name syphilis in 1530, when identified by an Italian physician. The Tudors did not, initially, associate the disease with sexual intercourse and so this was just an unforeseen consequence of their rapacious lifestyle.

Syphilis manifests itself in different ways and can vary in its effect as the disease progresses. Symptoms can be mild and often appear as an imitator of other diseases. Skin rashes and ulceration are common, but there is often just a general weakening of the body systems. Syphilis was frequently an underlying cause of death, compounded by a world which lacked fresh water and sanitation, in urban areas, or anything resembling effective medicines in the world at large.

The disease can be carried by a pregnant woman and passed directly from mother to child at birth, causing infants to be weak or disabled. Infected children might struggle through to their first birthday before dying soon afterwards. Sometimes, the disease remained dormant, leaving the mother relatively unaffected and able to bear more, sickly, offspring. Eventually, the disease becomes less virulent, so child number six or seven might be born healthy and live a long life. Conversely, other children initially symptom-free might carry the disease, and then develop symptoms in their teens or even middle age. This ‘slow-burner’ effect commonly produced paralysis for the aging adult, often moving to affect the brain, causing uncontrollable, ‘madness’.

The toxic substance, mercury, spread on the lesions like a paste, was the only treatment known to Tudor physicians and entailed a period of isolation of three to four weeks. The cure was frequently more deadly or debilitating than the disease, as the effects of mercury poisoning took centre stage, causing blindness, further skin problems, including redness, sweating, loss of hair, nails and teeth and a general lessening of the senses.

Henry VIII was thought to have died of syphilis, but commentators are reluctant to make any definitive diagnosis. However, judging by the antics of his wives and mistresses, and others around him in the Royal Court, then he would have had to be a very fortunate man not to have caught the disease. There are several families, central to this story, where later children survive, after earlier siblings died, or where paralysis and mental disturbance struck in later life. They are probably the major clues when making a medical diagnosis, nearly 500 years after the event.


Woodcut of early treatment – Vienna, 1496

Wards of Court

The Tudor aristocracy had their own system of caring for their orphan children and the more sensitive leftovers of unwanted parenthood, and they even had a government department to ensure all was handled with decorum. This agency was the Court of Wards, which was ostensibly designed to sort out the financial affairs of children, whose parents had died before they reached the age of majority, at 21. The Court’s secondary roles were to ensure the correct titles and privileges were handed on to these youngsters, and that their welfare and educational needs were met.

Children might become wards in several different ways. It could be that the mother died and the father was then unable to cope with his leftover brood, but in this dangerous age, often both parents died relatively young. The Court could place the needy children in the charge of a close relation, perhaps an unmarried or widowed aunt, and there were many suitable noble households available, in this vast spider’s web of family relations. Some households became a repository for a nursery full of wards. So, distantly related cousins could find themselves spending the first years of life together, in a big London house, or perhaps on a country estate, in the ‘Home Counties’.

There was also a ‘market’ for wards, as rich nobleman thought it might further their own ambition by taking charge of a particular child, who was the heir to property or had a title to his name. Wards could also be bought and sold, and so some children found themselves ‘owned’ by two or three different guardians before they reached their majority.

The illegitimate offspring of senior members of the Royal family, including the monarch, were often treated in a different way, not as wards, but placed as the natural child of a trusted family, reared and educated as one of their own. The head of the family then received lands, honours and lucrative government positions, which would amply reward them for their trouble and discretion.

These regal excesses are now difficult to spot, as the Tudor social system did a good job covering them up. Some were open secrets at the time, but later generations of ‘establishment’ historians have sanitised the contemporary accounts. Scholars have long argued about who are the most likely candidates, and there are tell tale signs, which indicate all is not what it seems, on the ancestral scroll.

The ‘foster father’, of the Royal love-child, was usually a lesser member of the nobility, possibly with merchant connections to the City of London, with his home base a discreet distance away, perhaps in East Anglia, the Midlands or the West Country. There would almost certainly be an academic streak in the family, and many of these foster parents are noted for their literary skills. They were rarely enterprising risk takers, but the more reliable, sensible sort of personality. The maternal side was also important and the foster mothers often held the distinguished noble pedigree, which their husbands lacked. Many of these ‘changeling’ children became extremely long lived and well documented people, yet, the circumstances of their birth still remain rather blurred, often lacking a specific time or place.

The children of these blue-blood offshoots, received outstanding education, with access to a tutor at home, (often one of the foster parents), and then on to a school of some note, with Westminster, Eton College or Merchant Taylor’s being the favourites. Then to university at Oxford or Cambridge, with Christ Church, Trinity and two St John’s Colleges being the most popular. Usually there was a law degree in there somewhere too, or at least time spent in London’s, Inns of Court.

Significantly, these ‘changelings’, lacked the parental interaction you would expect in later life, often being omitted from their foster father’s will. Their relationship with the monarch of the day often transcended their stated position in the tree of life, frequently beginning with a Royal visit to the family seat, when the child was just a toddler. There was usually ongoing evidence of respect and affection, with tokens being exchanged between the sovereign and the seemingly ‘average’ subject.

The girls became ladies-in-waiting to the queen of the day, whilst the boys gained important positions in the government, early in their adult life. Once abandoning their nest, these male cuckoos would make a rapid, often meteoric, rise through the ranks of whatever profession they chose, or was chosen for them. Some quickly gained a leading military position in the Army or Navy, often allied to a role as royal messenger or foreign ambassador.

The academic types moved into positions of administrative power, close to the heart of government, as close confidentes of the monarch. Some used their superb education to enter the church, whilst others became experts in the blossoming world of science and technology. Most relevant to this story, it was common for participants, from all these various disciplines, to become influential in the world of literature and the arts. The more righteous and less suspicious amongst you might believe that the most talented individuals could achieve these great positions of their own accord, but this was a time when parentage and patronage decided your life chances, and ‘rags to riches’ was rarely what it seemed.

The other place to spot the undercover royals is in their portraiture. Inherited traits such as ginger hair and a hooked nose would be difficult to disguise, so the portrait painter had a delicate line to walk to ensure that everyone involved was happy with his work. Red hair is a feature that streaks through many, seemingly, unconnected individuals in my story.

There had been opportunities for new blood to fill the void, left by the ravages of the Black Death, and further gaps in the noble lines continued to appear as plague and other diseases decimated the population, as did the high mortality associated with fraternal and international wars. Successful members of the merchant classes took every available opportunity to marry into the noble families of Norman descent, but their presence only diluted the blue-bloods, it didn’t replace them.

The nobility did a good job of filling the void themselves, with the Howards and Nevilles especially noteworthy for producing vast numbers of children, with families of 15-20 children not uncommon, thanks to a succession of wives and mistresses. Their offspring spread out in succeeding generations, multiplying in similar fashion, so keeping both these families to the fore in any matrimonial liaisons.

The conclusion must be, that any individual, claiming an unlikely ‘rags to riches’ story, must be looked upon with a certain degree of suspicion, particularly where their origins are a little misty or when the ‘son of a tanner’ found himself as a ward in the home of a leading statesman of Tudor England.

The Williams

Early in the reign of Henry VIII, the job of overseer of the lonely, lost and unwanted children was known as the Master of the King’s Wards. William Paulet gained this post in 1526, and his own biography ticks many of the boxes on my ‘likely bastard’ checklist. William’s father is named as Sir John Paulet, of Basing in Hampshire, from a family with roots in Somerset, but this background doesn’t justify the amazing career of his son.

William lived to a great age, possibly in excess of 90 years old, but despite living a long and well documented life, and creating a dynasty of over 100 descendants in his own lifetime, William Paulet’s place of birth is unknown and date of birth variously recorded between 1475 & 1485.

David Loades, who wrote a book about this significant individual says, ‘Paulet is a frustrating subject. There is not the evidential base for a meaningful biography’.

Sir William Paulet,1st Marquess of Winchester

William Paulet, 1st Marquis of Winchester – fine red hair..!!

William Paulet was a special individual, who was created Marquess of Winchester, and served Henry VIII and the FOUR succeeding Tudor monarchs, holding a number of high profile positions, including Lord High Treasurer, a post he kept from 1550 to 1572, through the most turbulent years of Tudor rule. Paulet always kept himself on the right side of any religious or family rivalry, changing course three times in his religious beliefs, to match the fluctuating world in which he lived. He put his survival down to ‘being a willow, not an oak.’

Paulet’s biography looks to me, to fit the profile of a man who was the illegitimate son of the first Tudor monarch, Henry VII. No-where, have I seen that suggested, but my wild assumption would make him the half-brother of Henry VIII and the great uncle of Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth. It would certainly explain Paulet’s position in Tudor society and the reverential way he was treated, by successive sovereigns. This would have also made him the ideal gatekeeper of the Royal bedroom secrets, during his time as chief warder of the wards. He was one of the most influential men in England, for over 50 years, and he also had a fine head of ginger hair in his younger days.

When the King’s Wards became the Court of Wards, in 1540, Paulet continued in the post and remained there until succeeded by William Parry and then the infamous, William Cecil.

William Cecil and Court of Wards 1560

William Cecil and the Court of Wards

There seems to have been an acceptance by later Tudor monarchs that the sins of their fathers should be forgiven, and the illegitimate offspring continued to be well cared for in the Royal fold. One illegitimate child who was attributed to Henry VII, was Roland de Velville. He was knighted and lived quietly, till his death in 1535, as constable of Beaumaris Castle,. But were there others?

Whilst the indiscretions of Henry VII, probably didn’t affect this Shakespeare story directly, those of his son, Henry VIII, and his granddaughter, Elizabeth, certainly did. I frequently read that Henry VIII had ‘many mistresses’ and ‘many illegitimate’ children, but current historians seem unable to confirm their identities. Mary Boleyn and Bessie Blount are the names most frequently mentioned as Henry’s mistresses, but with only one ‘acknowledged’ illegitimate child between them.

However, my check list keeps throwing up rather lonely looking children, who did rather well for themselves, despite lacking the family credentials needed to succeed in Tudor society. If these self-made men and women didn’t have the right genes then they were very talented or extremely fortunate. Lucky enough to gain an important role early in life and then hang on to it for decades, lucky enough to survive about-turns in religious beliefs and political policy, lucky enough to serve four or even five different monarchs and maintain their position with each. Finally they were lucky enough to escape the block on Tower Hill, when many of their family, friends and colleagues met a gruesome end, for holding not dissimilar views.

Virgin Queen?

The image of Elizabeth, the ‘Virgin Queen’, is something which history books have used as a standard theme for centuries. This picture, particularly suited the prim and proper Victorians, and also those who wrote the text books for English schoolchildren during the 20th century. This virtuous image was based on two givens; that Elizabeth did not marry, and therefore did not have any children. To suggest any moral impropriety by, perhaps, the greatest of all England’s monarchs, would take a little explaining in the prudish and conservative classrooms of Middle England.

However, before she became queen, Elizabeth had already been suspected of a teenage fling with her guardian, Thomas Seymour, the first husband of Catherine Parr, and throughout her life there is little evidence that she was a dour, asexual, virginal woman. Far from it, as Elizabeth would encourage the attentions of the most gallant and adventurous men of her realm. Her light hearted portrayal by Miranda Richardson, in the ‘Blackadder’ television series, seems nearer the mark than the classroom image of a spinster Queen.

Elizabeth had been expected to marry, when she acceded to the throne, in November 1558, and there were ny number of eager foreign suitors, waiting in the wings. However, in her coronation speech, Elizabeth announced she was married to her country and to her people, and would not be diverted from her responsibilities by taking a husband. Marriages were proposed, but mainly by those who wanted to return England to the Catholic fold. None materialised, but not for want of vociferous voices for and against, including one that ended with a challenge to a duel between two leading figures of the day, Philip Sidney and Edward de Vere.

In another event relating to the marriage debate, two printers had their hands chopped off for publishing strongly worded material about the merits of one particular suitor. In this case they were actually supporting the Queen and the Protestant Church, but their indiscretion in publishing comments on the matter, was not welcomed in royal circles.

It was Elizabeth’s potential indiscretions, not necessarily her marriage plans, which fuel the imagination of the Shakespeare conspiracy theorists. The names and numbers of Elizabeth’s potential children vary from one to seven or even eight…!! Whilst the latter would seem unlikely for a ‘Virgin Queen’, the problems of a visibly pregnant Queen could be obscured by the costumes of the day and her ability to ‘spend time in the country’, whenever she so wished.

There is speculation, by Paul Streitz, that her teenage association with Thomas Seymour produced Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. More widespread is the idea that Elizabeth had a life-long love affair with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and one that might have involved a secret marriage, and several children, including Mary Sidney, Robert Cecil, Robert Devereux and Elizabeth Leighton. The supporters of Francis Bacon all seem certain their man was born of Elizabeth, whilst an Arthur Dudley, captured by the Spanish, swore that he was an illegitimate son of Elizabeth and Robert Dudley..

There is also rather incredulous speculation that the Earl of Oxford had an affair with his own mother, (Queen Elizabeth) which produced Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton. This is the ‘Prince Tudor’ theory, championed by one leading group of Oxfordians, who believe that the Earl was the real face of William Shakespeare and that the Sonnets were written as love letters from Oxford to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth I - Phoenix portrait

Queen Elizabeth, wearing her Phoenix jewel

The ‘official’ response to these claims, has been the one commonly dished out to conspiracy theorists, calling the proposals, ‘malevolent’, ‘ludicrous’, ‘breathtakingly stupid’, based on ‘heinous rumours put about by the enemies of the state’. In some ways they are correct, because the list of Elizabeth’s potential assignations is long and impressive, but its extent seems fanciful in the extreme.

However, there is rarely smoke without fire and there is plenty of evidence, in state papers, that shows there was close, personal contact between those concerned. Supporting evidence for the existence of these children is piecemeal, based partly on the physical attention given by the Queen to the relevant individual, including the exchange of gifts and favours. The second was an abundance of red heads, a hair colour that had been dominant in the Welsh Tudor line. The hearsay of the time is also regarded as valid evidence, and surprisingly, became part of a written history of Victorian England.

The ‘Dictionary of National Biography’, published in 1895, under the heading, ‘Dudley’ stated:

‘Whatever were the Queen’s relations with Dudley before his wife’s death, they became closer after. It was reported that she was formally betrothed to him, and that she had secretly married him in Lord Pembroke’s house,(Wilton House) and that she was a mother already in January 1560-1’.

‘In 1562 the reports that Elizabeth had children by Dudley were revived. Robert Brooks, of Devizes, was sent to prison for publishing the slander, and seven years later a man named Marsham, of Norwich, was punished for the same offence.

A.L. Rowse, in ‘The Elizabethan Renaissance’ says; ‘of course, in the country and abroad, people talked about the Queen’s relations with Leicester. In 1581 Henry Hawkins said that my Lord Robert hath had five children by the Queen, and she never goeth in progress but to be delivered.’

Most, if not all, the names put forward as Elizabeth’s children, were later involved in the Elizabethan theatre, and the names include leading candidates in the Shakespeare authorship debate. Logic also says that if you can keep the birth of five or six children under wraps for 400 years, then keeping an author’s name secret should be child’s play.

Evidence of Elizabeth’s secret marriage to Robert Dudley was presented to Queen Victoria, in 1860, during a visit to Wilton House, home of the Earl of Pembroke.

Pembroke told the Queen that there was a document in the muniment room which provided evidence that Dudley married Elizabeth in a secret marriage and that she was pregnant at the time. Victoria asked to see the document and her response was to throw it in the fire, saying, ‘one must not interfere with history’.

Crammer – Royal Court

The term, Royal Court, was used to designate the place where the monarch of the day happened to be in residence at the time, and did not refer to one particular palace or castle. Queen Elizabeth spent most of her time in her palaces at Whitehall, Hampton Court, Greenwich and Windsor Castle, but at times she went on ‘progress’ visiting her most loyal supporters, on their own country estates. Elizabeth moved around her palaces with the seasons, usually to be found at Whitehall during Christmas time and Windsor at Easter.

Each monarch had their own inner circle of special servants, with ‘Gentlemen of the Bedchamber’, for the King, and ‘Ladies-in-Waiting’, for the Queen of the day. The Court was also made up of noblemen (known as courtiers) and their personal servants, plus an array of foreign ambassadors and their own entourages. The grand total might exceed a thousand ‘A’ list’ personnel, plus there were ‘camp followers’, providing services for the ‘courtiers’. Everything was to hand, from saddlers to blacksmiths, to cooks and bakers, entertainers, including actors and minstrels plus a fair number of ladies of the night, to add to the following.

Elizabeth I, procession at marriage of William Herbert - 1600

Elizabeth in procession with her Court, at the marriage of William Herbert- 1599.

The Royal Court was moved regularly for practical reasons, as sanitation could at best be described as ‘inadequate’, and with no running water, there was an urgent necessity to clear out the contents of the garderobes, after a few weeks of unbroken revelry. The Romans had developed excellent systems of water management, over 1500 years earlier, but the technology had been lost and was not rediscovered again until the time of Queen Victoria, when Joseph Bazalgette and Thomas Crapper gave us clean running water and an operating sewerage system. Henry VIII did improve the water systems during his reign, and he installed quite sophisticated baths, for his own personal use and that of his wives.

At Hampton Court Palace, ‘the baths were made by a cooper and were attached to the wall; they were supplied by two taps, one for cold water and one for hot. Directly behind the bathroom, in another small room, was a charcoal- fired stove, or boiler, fed from a cistern on the second floor which was filled by a conduit.’

Cardinal Wolsey had turned York Place, his house beside the River Thames, into one of the largest in the country, but in 1530, Henry VIII thought this luxuriating had gone too far, appropriating the house for himself. When Henry took over he renamed it Whitehall Palace, and continued building to create the largest palace in Europe, bigger even than Versailles or the Vatican, eventually extending it to fifteen hundred rooms, with the grounds spread out over twenty acres.

Whitehall Palace had replaced the Palace of Westminster, which was partly destroyed by fire in 1512, and the surviving buildings then became the home of the English Parliament. The Whitehall complex, itself, was destroyed by fire, in 1698, all that is except the ‘Banqueting House’, which still exists today. The palace site is now occupied by the government buildings, now known collectively as ‘Whitehall’.

This surviving relic was a later addition in the time of James I, designed by the famous architect of the day, Inigo Jones, another who has connections to the theatre, and to this Shakespeare mystery.

NPG D1306,The execution of King Charles I,after Unknown artist

Charles I, executed outside the Banqueting Hall, in 1649


The Royal House of Dudley – so near but so far

Whilst the Cookes, the Jaggers, the Cloptons and the Shakespeares, might have some part to play in Tudor happenings, they pale into insignificance when we consider the impact of the Dudley family. The others were merely facilitators, whilst Edmund Dudley, his son, John Dudley, and grandson Robert Dudley, were marksmen in the front line of the action. They also create an ongoing link between the Shakespeare’s homeland in Warwickshire, and events in Oxford and London.

Edmund Dudley (1471-1510) was not of noble blood, but his father was rich enough to provide him with an education at Oxford University and Gray’s Inn. Edmund came to the notice of Henry VII, in 1492, whilst negotiating a treaty with the French, and continued to assist the king with legal matters. Edmund soon entered Parliament and ten years later was elected Speaker of the House.

Dudley became a leading member of the ‘Council Learned in the Law’, an organisation designed to protect Henry VII’s status as King, and to collect tax and enforce debts, especially from those who challenged his legitimacy. This made Edmund Dudley a rich man, but also extremely unpopular with the feudal Barons. They felt Henry Tudor had been opportunist in taking the English crown at Bosworth, with very modest blood credentials, via the Beaufort line of his mother, Margaret Beaufort.

So, Edmund Dudley was a hated ‘enforcer’ for the new Tudor dynasty, and when Henry VIII succeeded his father, in 1509, Edmund became a prime target for his noble enemies, was charged with financial impropriety, and became one of Henry’s first loyal subjects to have a rendezvous with the axe-man.

Members of the nobility, executed for treason, usually had their title, land and property confiscated, so the family of the victim also suffered financially as well as facing the shame of the charges laid against their father. The land and title might be restored after a suitable interval, or after due penance had been paid, but that was only done at the whim of the monarch.

Edmund’s young son, John Dudley (1504-1553), by his second wife, Elizabeth Grey, was only seven at the time of his father’s execution and was made a ward of Edward Guildford. John Dudley proved to be an ambitious young man and was knighted by Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, during his first major military campaign, at the age of just nineteen. Young Dudley was noted for his athletic and combat skills, both on foot and horseback, winning prestigious tournaments at the Royal Court.

In 1525, John married his guardian’s daughter, Jane Guildford, four years his junior and his former class-mate during his time as ward. The young Dudleys were a new breed of parent, who brought up their thirteen children, both boys and girls, in the new Renaissance learning of humanism and science. The focus was the study of Classical Greek and Latin, but science, based on the mathematics of the ancient world, was also high on the agenda. It is exposure to this new style of education, which the anti-Stratfordians believe has to be an essential ingredient for anyone claiming to be the author of the Shakespeare canon. The Bard’s plays are full of this new wave of thinking.

John Dudley’s power and wealth continued to grow at the time of the ‘Dissolution’ of the monasteries. His father’s lands had now been restored to him, by then, and he was also granted extensive lands in Warwickshire, close to his own inheritance, at Dudley Castle. He also took up the option to purchase, the remnants of the Clerkenwell Priory complex.

Dudley was devoted to his family and not known to seek sexual favours elsewhere, but he lusted for power and took every opportunity to profit from the misfortune of others. He was described as handsome, charming and clever, but also cold, cunning, and a consummate bully. He became one of Henry VIII’s most trusted men and continued in that role when the young king, Edward VI, succeeded his father, in 1547.

John Dudley’s great rival was Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, Lord Protector and guardian of Princess Elizabeth. Dudley forced Somerset out of office, and had him executed on fabricated charges. The teenage and very fragile king then created John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, effectively making him the most powerful man in England, with day to day control over all government matters.

The, sickly, young king, then altered his will, to exclude from the succession, his illegitimate half sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, instead naming Lady Jane Grey, granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister, Mary Tudor, as his successor. Jane Grey just happened to be John Dudley’s daughter-in-law.

On Edward VI’s death, Dudley claimed the throne for Lady Jane and took his men to East Anglia to arrest the disinherited Princess Mary. However, during his absence from London, Parliament changed its mind about the succession, supported Mary instead of Jane Grey, and ordered the arrest of John Dudley and all those involved in the plot. This included all close family connections, which made for a Tower, brim full of people, all of whom expected to be at the heart of the new Queendom.

6804,Lady Jane Dudley (née Grey),by Unknown artist

Lady Jane Grey, Queen of England – ©National Portrait Gallery, London

John Dudley and his son Guildford Dudley were executed for supporting the wrong queen, and some months later the same fate met Lady Jane Grey. She was executed after the abortive Wyatt rebellion, to unseat Queen Mary, had failed. This had been actively supported by Jane Grey’s father, and Queen Mary’s advisors felt her gaoled rival might be an ongoing focus for future rebellion.

Six of John Dudley’s thirteen children reached adulthood, but only four survived to see Elizabeth accede to the throne, in 1558. The eldest, Robert Dudley was born in 1532 and had the benefit of that humanist education, in addition to inheriting the athletic prowess and horsemanship of his father. His particular love was mathematics and science and he developed a great interest in alchemy.

Robert Dudley - Earl of Leicester

Robert Dudley – Queen Elizabeth’s paramour.

Robert Dudley first met the future Queen Elizabeth, as an eight year old, but it was only later, when they both became inmates of the Tower during the Lady Jane Grey crisis, did they become more intimately acquainted. However, at the time of his incaceration, Dudley was already married to Amy Robsart, the daughter of a wealthy Norfolk landowner, who he wed in 1550.

On her accession, Elizabeth, immediately, appointed Robert Dudley as her Master of Horse, which meant the two friends were in close and daily contact. It was not long before he was made a Knight of the Garter, another personal gift of the Queen. His bedchamber was soon moved into her private apartments, with Court gossip about their close relationship being reported back to Spain, by Bishop De Quadra, who was the King of Spain’s envoy to the English Court.

Dudley’s wife, Amy had, regularly, visited her husband in the Tower, but she never visited him at the Royal Court after Elizabeth took the throne. In 1560, Amy Dudley died in mysterious circumstances, falling down stairs at Cumnor House, near Oxford. The population, at large, believed her husband was implicated in the ‘accident’ and there was already talk about his closeness to Elizabeth.

There are plausible stories that a secret marriage between Dudley and his sovereign took place soon after Amy’s death. As mentioned earlier, their relationship was reported to have produced several children, but the details remain contentious. Queen Victoria threw some of the evidence in the fire, and ‘Establishment’ historians still staunchly defend their version of the Royal ancestral roll.

However, Robert Dudley did have one proven illegitimate son, Robert, with Lady Douglas Sheffield, a member of the Howard family. This son became Robert, the ‘English pirate’, that we heard about earlier. The son tried to prove his father had actually married Lady Sheffield, in another secret ceremony, but the testimony of his vast array of noble witnesses was not believed.

Robert Dudley was made the Earl of Leicester in 1564, and did not remarry for nearly twenty years, perhaps, hoping the Queen would take him officially as her consort. The Earl of Leicester did finally take another wife, when he married Lettice Knollys, in ‘another’ secret ceremony, in 1578.

Lettice should have been named ‘Knottys’ because of the complicated way that her three marriages and other affairs, links everyone in my story together. She had been married to Walter Deveroux, 1st Earl of Essex, but he died ‘conveniently’, with more accusations of foul play by Dudley. Henry Sidney, Dudley’s brother-in-law, conducted an official enquiry and found nothing suspicious. ‘Well he wouldn’t would he’.

Lettice is another who might well have had Royal blood in her veins, as her mother was Katherine Carey, and her grandmother Mary Boleyn, mistress of Henry VIII. It has long been suspected that both Katherine and her brother Henry Carey were seeded by the King and not by William Carey, their acknowledged father. William Carey and his children never rocked the boat and Henry Carey succeeded to become Lord Hunsdon, and later held the post of Lord Chamberlain. This is the same Lord Chamberlain, who sponsored a troupe of actors called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, who were later promoted to be the King’s Men by James I.

Robert Dudley and Lettice had married without the Queen’s permission and she was so furious, some say heartbroken, that she banished both from the Royal Court. Dudley died, in 1588, soon after being taken ill on his way home to Oxfordshire. His death is another with more than a hint of foul play, because by then Lettice had a new man in tow, Christopher Blount, officer in Dudley’s household and a Catholic double-agent, who she later married. After Robert Dudley’s death, Elizabeth locked herself away for days until Lord Burghley broke the door down. The love of her life had written his Queen a farewell letter, which she is said to have kept in a box by her bed, until her own death, in 1603.

Lettice Knollys    Henry Carey - Lord Chamberlain

Lettice ‘Knottys’ and her uncle Henry Carey, Lord Chamberlain – nice hair!

T5 Amazing World of Lettice Knollys

In addition to his years of political scheming, Robert Dudley had spent much of his time supporting science, education and the arts. He was appointed Chancellor of Oxford University in 1564, and helped to finance Sir Francis Drake’s circumnavigation of the world in 1577-80.

More relevantly, he created one of the first troupes of professional actors, Lord Leicester’s Men, who were in existence from the early days of Elizabeth’s reign. Patronage from the nobility was essential for these theatre troupes, not only financially, but because after 1572, the new Vagrancy Act meant every citizen needed written permission to travel outside their home town.

One of Dudley’s leading actors was James Burbage, whose family have gained fame, performing ‘Shakespeare’ plays, as members of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Leicester’s Men folded when Dudley died, in 1588, but his legacy was kept alive by the Burbage family, who were to become an essential ingredient in creating the Shakespeare genre.

Robert’s three other siblings, Ambrose, Mary and Katherine Dudley also play an important part in this story, with all surviving long into the reign of Elizabeth. Katherine became Countess of Huntingdon following her marriage to Henry Hastings, in 1553. They were another of the extended family who spent time in the Tower, during the Jane Grey debacle.

Henry Hastings was another of Plantagenet descent, who was a potential heir to the throne, if Elizabeth had passed away before she did. His great grandfather had been executed by Richard III, but the subsequent family marriages meant his case for the Plantagenet succession was well founded. Elizabeth kept him close-by, as a ‘trusted’ advisor, but he was never rewarded for his efforts. Henry Hastings, died of fever, and childless, in 1595, being one of several potential heirs, who conveniently slipped out of the frame, during the latter years of Elizabeth’s reign.

Robert Dudley’s younger brother, Ambrose, inherited the restored title of Earl of Warwick, after it had been temporarily annulled because of the treason of his father and elder brother. Ambrose was a great patron of the Puritan movement, but did his best to live a quieter life than brother, Robert. None of Ambrose’s four wives produced an heir and his fourth wife, Anne Russell, survived him. Ambrose outlived his brother, Robert, by only two years, but as neither produced a legitimate male heir, the legitimate Dudley line of inheritance died out, with his decease.

T6 Dudley family tree

So, there were several major opportunities to place a Dudley on the throne of England, but after a century of effort, they only managed to hold the position for just over a week, when Guildford Dudley was consort to Queen Jane Grey.

Robert Dudley had a place on the Consort’s side of the Royal four-poster, but he wasn’t allowed to publicise the fact. His father, John Dudley, as Duke of Northumberland, had in many ways, been acting as Regent to Edward VI, but he and his son, Guildford Dudley, both lost their heads for their error of judgement in the succession.

One of the female siblings might have become Queen Katherine, but her husband, Henry Hastings, died eight years too soon. The Dudley family were strong contenders, but they were so near but so far, in taking control of the throne of England and establishing their own, royal dynasty.

Robert’s other sister, Mary Dudley, now comes to the fore, as we are forming the middle layers of this Shakespeare club sandwich. Mary was as educated and as gifted as anyone who was schooled in the Humanist tradition. She was fluent in Italian, French, and Latin, liked writing poetry and had a keen interest in alchemy, but it was her marriage to Henry Sidney, in 1551, that brought her to prominence, during the most chaotic period of the Tudor succession.


The Tudor Literati – Sidney, Sidney and Sidney

Sir William Sidney (1482-1554) served three monarchs with distinction, finally being awarded Penshurst Place, in Kent, by Edward VI, in 1552. He only had one son, Henry Sidney, who initially appeared to have married well, to Mary, daughter of John Dudley, who was effectively running the country at the time. To demonstrate Dudley’s influence, on this marriage, Henry was promptly promoted to be Chief Gentleman of Edward VI’s Privy Chamber.

The Sidneys were now right at the heart of government and it was thought to be Mary (Dudley) Sidney, who informed Jane Grey she was to be the new Queen of England. The Dudley family were Protestants, but the Sidney family had links with Catholic Spain and so the union of Henry and Mary meant they both walked a tight-rope during a turbulent year, with three monarchs in three weeks.

The Sidney family had close connections with the Spanish throne, which enabled Henry Sidney to hold negotiations with Prince Philip of Spain, for the release of the Dudley family, from the Tower of London. He also helped to arrange the subsequent marriage between Prince Philip of Spain and Queen Mary of England, a union which was designed to cement the place of Catholicism in English life.

Philip’s father died in 1556 and so he then became King of Spain, but Mary’s early death meant the Catholic unification of England and Spain never happened in reality. Elizabeth’s reversion to the Protestant faith led to thirty years of posturing by both sides, culminating in the events of the Spanish Armada of 1588, when the Catholic threat to English Protestant life was finally defeated, by Francis Drake and the English fleet, plus a little help from the English weather.

The sudden twists and turns of history meant Henry and Mary Sidney were lucky to escape with their heads, and perversely, it was their Spanish connections which ensured their survival. The couple continued to thrive, once Queen Mary had departed, with Mary Sidney being appointed as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth, becoming one of her closest confidantes. She nursed Elizabeth through an almost fatal bout of smallpox, later acting as an intermediary, in on-going peace negotiations between Protestant Elizabeth and the Catholic Spanish.

Henry and Mary Sidney had five children, with three of them making an impact on English history; Philip Sidney, (1554-86), Mary Sidney, (1561-1621) and Robert Sidney, (1563-1626). Philip was surely named after the future King of Spain and Robert after the future Earl of Leicester, a clever balancing act of names, by the Sidney parents.

The eldest of the three, Philip Sidney, was born at Penshurst Place, but began his formal education at Shrewsbury School, during his father’s time as commandant of the Welsh Marches. Philip was at the school at the same time as Fulke Greville, who was to become his greatest friend. Philip’s education continued at Christ Church, Oxford where his fellow students included Richard Hakluyt, author suggesting colonisation of America, Thomas Bodley, who founded the Bodleain Library, and William Camden, who became one of England’s leading antiquarians and historians.

After his formal education was completed, Philip Sidney made an extended tour of Europe, which included time spent with the great Protestant educators of the period, becoming close friends with Johann Sturm, in Strasburg, and Hubert Languet in Vienna. During his time in Heidelberg, he became a friend of John Casimir, brother of the Elector Palatine.

Philip Sidney was appointed an emissary for Queen Elizabeth, offering greetings on her behalf to the new Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolph II. He also met with many of the dozens of German Protestant Princes, with the intention of establishing a Northern European ‘Protestant League’, ready to combat a northward push, by the Catholic lands, which bordered the Mediterranean.

One story tells of a small group of Englishmen, who travelled to Antwerp, in 1582, to meet William of Orange, and Queen Elizabeth, herself, rode out with them as far as Canterbury. The group was led by Walter Raleigh, and included several significant people in this story; Lord Hunsdon, Earl of Leicester, Fulke Greville, Philip Sidney, and Edward Dyer.

Young Sidney is well known for his love life. He abandoned a betrothal to Anne Cecil, daughter of Lord Burghley, in 1571. (She went on to marry Edward de Vere) and in 1575, Philip met Penelope Devereux, the young daughter of the Earl of Essex and marriage plans were made. Again plans went awry, and after the suspicious death of her father, instead Penelope she was forced into a marriage with Lord Rich. Penelope is believed to be the inspiration for Philip Sidney’s famous sonnet poetry sequence, ‘Astrophel and Stella’.


       Dorothy & Penelope Devereux (about 1581)                

Philip Sidney’s influential position was supported by his uncle, the Earl of Leicester, and the young man became a leading advocate of the policy of ‘militant’ Protestantism, in what was still, at that point, only a war of words with Spain. In January 1583, Philip Sidney was knighted by the Queen, and later that year he finally found a bride, a highly strategic union with Frances Walsingham, the daughter of the Secretary of State, and spymaster extraordinaire, Francis Walsingham.

Sidney’s new father-in-law settled the huge debts of the young buck, another reason to choose a wife carefully. A daughter was born in 1585, and named Elizabeth after her godmother, the Queen. Philip was rewarded with the appointed of Governor of Flushing, in the Low Countries, an important position in this time of uncertainty with the Spanish, who held an unlikely claim over these Flemish lands. The Low Countries were soon to become a flashpoint between the two competing nations and bring a bright young life to an abrupt end.

Philip Sidney

Philip Sidney © National Portrait Gallery

Sidney seems to have been one of the most popular characters of the age, although he had an obvious rival in Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. There is the famous story of how Sidney challenged Oxford to a duel, but the Queen forbade the encounter and Sidney retired from the Royal Court in protest. His fame and popularity may have been enhanced by his astute public relations officer, his uncle, Robert Dudley, who used the tales of Philip’s Protestant fervour abroad, as propaganda, to rally support amongst the English population at large. However, Philip was probably far better known in Protestant Europe, than he was in his home country, as he spent the majority of his adult life on foreign missions.

In 1586, whilst fighting the Spanish, at the battle of Zutphen, in Holland, Philip was mortally wounded and according to folklore offered his water bottle to a common soldier saying, ‘thy necessity is yet greater than mine’. He was just 31 years old, wasn’t a Duke or an Earl and he didn’t have a string of battle honours to his name. Yet he became the first commoner to be given a state funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral. The ceremony was triumphal, but the Sidney coffers were bare, and a fitting memorial proved beyond their finances, and his burial was marked by only a small plaque on the cathedral wall.

Funeral procession of Sir Philip Sidney - 1587

State funeral of Sir Philip Sidney, organised by Robert Cooke

(Whole funeral procession was recorded in a remarkable 30 page tableau)

Philip Sidney’s literary abilities blossomed under the encouragement of his sister, Mary. He became a noted poet and writer, famous for ‘Arcadia’, ‘Astrophel and Stella’ and the ‘Defense of Poetry’, but he also began an English translation of the Psalms. He created his ‘Areopagite group’, named after a council of elders established in ancient Athens and brought to prominence by Dominican priest and scientist, Albertus Magnus. This was thought to be a literary group of courtiers, but was probably a political, talking shop, to discuss the rights and wrongs of the turbulent world of 16th century Europe.

Despite all the distractions of travel, diplomacy and poetry, Philip Sidney became infatuated with the science of alchemy. We might think that seems an unlikely direction for a man of his breeding to take, but he wasn’t the only one, as many of the leading characters in this story had similar interests. In fact his parents and his sister, Mary, also had strong links to the new scientific discoveries of the day, which included alchemy. Stories of magicians and sorcery come to the fore later,connecting Shakespeare’s fantasy worlds of Puck and Titania, with the growth of science in the Renaissance period.

Philip’s younger brother, Robert Sidney was at Oxford University, as a contemporary of William Gager and Henry Neville, taking part in a four year tour of Classical Europe, from 1578-82, accompanying his tutor, Henry Savile (the Stainland man). Robert was known to be a patron of musicians, particularly John Dowland, the son of the noted music composer Robert Dowland, and generally, seems to have been a calming, authoritative influence in the sea of political mayhem, which marked the turbulent years towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign.

Young Sidney Brothers

There was no mention of Robert Sidney’s writing abilities by his contemporaries, and nothing was ever published in his name. So, it came as a surprise, in 1975, when his notebook was discovered, containing sixty sonnets, verses and songs, showing he had also inherited the family talent for poetry.

Robert Sidney

Robert Sidney

Another person of interest crops up now, is the name of Robert Sidney’s second wife, Sarah Blount. She was the daughter of William Blount, and widow of Thomas Smythe, who was a leading official of the Port of London. Whether Sarah has family links to publisher, Edward Blount, is unclear, but with both Sarah and Edward’s fathers being successful city merchants this would suggest they may be at the very least, close cousins, and warrants more investigation later in this study.

Robert and Philip’s sister, Mary, is the last of the famous Sidney trio and we shall hear plenty more about her role in this saga, as things develop and my epic draws to a conclusion.

T7 Sidney family

Cecils and many more Cookes

There were many great commoners of Tudor England, but one man stood head and shoulders above the rest. That man was William Cecil, who was created Lord Burghley, in 1571. He deserves a chapter of his own, but because he is, seemingly, everywhere in this story, his role is dealt with in bite-sized chunks, as and when appropriate.

William Cecil (1520-98) was born in the village of Bourne, Lincolnshire, the son of a minor courtier, Richard Cecil – well at least that is what it says on the Cecil ancestral scroll. Richard Cecil is another who has a rags-to-riches story, moving from royal page-boy to Groom of the Robes and later Constable for Warwick Castle and High Sheriff of Rutland. He received lands as a fall-out from the Dissolution of the monasteries and at his death, in 1552, owned property in Lincolnshire, Rutland and Northamptonshire. Richard Cecil had one son and four daughters, but William Cecil was the only one to leave a mark, and Richard’s meteoric rise through the ranks followed shortly after William’s birth.

William Cecil was educated at grammar schools in Grantham and Stamford, and at the tender age of 14, went to university at St John’s College, Cambridge. There he became attracted to Mary Cheke, the sister of his extremely clever, but impoverished tutor, John Cheke. In order to separate the two lovers, and before completing his Cambridge degree, his father moved William away, to study law at Grays Inn, in London. This did not have the desired effect and Cecil married Miss Cheke anyway. They had one child, Thomas Cecil, but much to the relief of his father, and maybe others, she died only a year later, in 1544.

William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley

William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley © National Portrait Gallery, London

William Cecil’s pedigree is very reminiscent of that of William Paulet, but a couple of generations later. Cecil was born in 1520, at a time when there were many rumours about Henry VIII fathering illegitimate children and whilst one or two of these children have been identified, there are others who have melted into the mists of time. We also have another William, which now makes three, if we are to include our man from 1066.

I wonder if the name William is being used as a Royal code-word ?

There may be more ‘Williams’ turning up later…!!

Now this story starts to speed up a little, because in 1546, William Cecil took as his second wife, Mildred Cooke, who was described by Roger Ascham, tutor of Cambridge University, as one of the two most learned women in England, (the other being Lady Jane Grey). It is the Cooke family who gradually take control of this story, and prise it from others of much bluer blood. The Cookes must be the family to beat all families, and this is where the story heads next.

Sir Anthony Cooke (1504-1576) is best remembered because he educated his five daughters to an exceptional standard, in Latin, Greek and a number of Humanist subjects. Anthony’s great grandfather was Thomas Cooke, a draper and Lord Mayor of London, who was the son of Robert Cooke of Lavenham in Suffolk, where the family owned brew houses and fisheries in the Colne Valley. These lands bordered the villages of Long Melford, the Waldingfields and Cockfield, all places becoming increasingly familiar, to those who are persevering with this tale.

Anthony Cooke completed the impressive family home, at Gidea Hall, in Essex, a project originally started by his grandfather, a century earlier. Anthony married Anne Fitzwilliam, who herself had an illustrious pedigree because her father was William Fitzwilliam, Master of the Merchant Taylors Company, Merchant of the Staples of Calais, and could trace his family back to King John.

Two of his sons also played a prominent role in politics, as Members of Parliament, with William Cooke marrying Frances Grey, grand niece of Lady Jane Grey. One comment about Cooke probably explains his strengths as a parent; ‘some men govern families with more skill than others do kingdoms’.

Anthony Cooke was knighted and given lands, in 1547, and this followed on from the marriage of his eldest daughter, Mildred, to William Cecil, who had previously sponsored Cooke in his election as a Member of Parliament. For a short period Cooke acted as companion and tutor to Edward VI, which was probably the reason why he was briefly imprisoned in the Tower of London, with all the other relatives of the Dudley clan, during the Lady Jane Grey affair.

Cooke was an ardent supporter of the Protestant ideal, and after release from the Tower, he exiled himself to Europe, until the death of Catholic Mary. He spent most of the time in Frankfurt and Strasbourg, later meeting up in Italy, with Thomas Hoby, who was to become his son-in-law. Cooke returned on the accession of Elizabeth, but although he continued for a while, as a Member of Parliament, and served on several senior church committees, he never held high office.

Mildred Cooke’s husband, William Cecil, moved from Secretary of State, under Edward VI and Elizabeth, to become Lord High Treasurer, in 1572, and from that date, till his death in 1598, became the most powerful man in England,. He and Mildred had one son, Robert Cecil, (1563-1612) who was later to follow in his father’s footsteps, as day to day ruler of the country, a role that carried over, seamlessly, from Elizabeth to the new king, James I. Neither father nor son, were great physical specimens, with William needing to use a donkey to get around his extensive gardens, whilst Robert was ridiculed by the courtiers, as a hunchback. (Remember that Richard III had a deformed spine..??)

‘A slight, crooked, hump-backed young gentleman, dwarfish in stature, but with a face not irregular in feature, and thoughtful and subtle in expression, with reddish hair, a thin tawny beard, and large, pathetic, greenish-coloured eyes’.

Robert Cecil

Robert Cecil – Earl of Salisbury

William and Mildred also had a daughter, Anne Cecil, and she adds particular spice to this literary pot as she epitomised the lifestyle of a Tudor W&G (wife & girlfriend). She was another who had been engaged to Philip Sidney, but instead, in 1571, she married his rival, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. Whilst the Earl of Oxford liked travelling, his wife had other affairs of state to deal with, and the birth of a daughter, Elizabeth, occurred while her husband was on an extended stay in Italy. Although there is some dispute about the date of conception, he was not best pleased on his return. Anne ‘Cecil’ was also accused of affairs with Robert Devereux, (Earl of Essex) and Walter Raleigh, amongst others, but whoever was the real father of Elizabeth de Vere, there can be no doubt he carried an impressive insignia on his bed robe.

Lady Oxford’s love child, Elizabeth ‘de Vere’, eventually married William Stanley, the Earl of Derby, who is another of the main runners in the Shakespeare authorship stakes. Stanley was close to the front of the queue for the royal accession, as his mother, granddaughter of Mary Tudor, was next in line to the throne, should Elizabeth’s heart miss a beat. However, conveniently for the friends of James VI, King of Scotland, Lady Stanley died in September 1596. Another of the potential monarchs, Ferdinando Stanley, William’s elder brother, had already pre-deceased his mother and in somewhat mysterious circumstances. He was probably poisoned, which is a pity because King Ferdinando has a rather pleasant ring to it, breaking the relentless monotony of Edwards and Henrys.

T19 Tudor inheritance problem

If you are not exhausted by the Cooke girls already, then be aware we are only now moving on to Anthony Cooke’s daughter number two. This was Elizabeth Cooke (1528-1609), who first married the linguist and traveller, Thomas Hoby, (1530-66), a man who possessed many of the credentials and experience you would hope to find in the author of Shakespeare’s works. He was another who studied at St John’s College, Cambridge, being described by tutor, Roger Ascham as, ‘well furnished with learning, and very expert in knowledge of divers tongues.’ Thomas Hoby’s tour of the entire length of Italy, was described in his detailed autobiography, and became a model for the ‘Grand Tour, an essential part of the education of the younger members of the aristocracy.

Thomas Hoby made the first of his visits to Italy, in 1548, entering overland from the eastern Alps and then making his way to Venice, by way of Bassano, a route later to be commonly used by roving Englishmen. He spent time in Verona, Padua and Mantua, before heading south to Siena and on to Naples and finally Messina, in Sicily.

Hoby’s return was by boat to Naples, taking in the island of Vulcano and the beautiful peninsular of Amalfi. From Naples it was overland to Rome, finally passing through Bologna and Florence before heading back to Venice and a return to Germany via the alpine passes.

Thomas made another journey to the Continent, in 1552, when he was an ambassador in Paris, and it is here he took time to make an English translation of the 1528 book, Il Libro del Cortegiano, by Mantuan courtier, Baldassare Castiglione. This was published, in 1561, as ‘The Courtier’, and became Hoby’s most famous work, being highly influential in improving the demeanour of the aristocrats of Elizabeth’s Royal Court.

Thomas Hoby’s travelogue, cum diary, was entitled ‘The Travels and Life of Sir Thomas Hoby, kt, of Bisham Abbey, written by himself – 1547-1564’. This was NEVER printed till 1904, but lay as one of a series of manuscripts at the Hoby home, at Bisham, before being purchased by the British Museum in 1871. Only those close to the family could have had access to the manuscript, during the Tudor period.

Bisham Abbey was one of the very few Templar buildings which wasn’t transferred to the Knights Hospitallers, or left to slowly waste away. Edward II kept it for the Crown, but the stewardship of Bisham the passed to a number of supporters. During the 15th century Bisham was inhabited by a number of Shakespeare’s historical characters, notably the 1st Earl of Salisbury, who features in ‘Richard II’; Richard ‘kingmaker’ Neville, and George, Duke of Clarence, who appear in ‘Richard III’ and the ‘Henry VI trilogy’.

After the nearby Abbey was dissolved, in 1538, the next notable ‘owner’ of the estate was Anne of Cleeves, the fourth (ugly) wife of Henry VIII, who received the estate as part of her ‘please go away’ settlement. Anne rarely used Bisham, and in January 1552/3, Edward VI, insisted she exchange Bisham with Philip Hoby, Thomas Hoby’s elder brother, and ambassador to the Court of Spain.


Bisham – only the tower remains from the Tudor period – photo KHB

Other than Thomas Hoby, no Englishman, is recorded as travelling this far south on the Italian peninsular, during this period, a venture which was risky in the extreme, as he risked being imprisoned as a spy, which was probably the exact purpose of his mission. Messina is one of the places mentioned in Shakespeare’s Italian plays and ‘Il Cortegiano’ seems to be one of the major roots of Shakespeare’s play, ‘Much Ado About Nothing’. Thomas Hoby’s place in the Shakespeare conundrum is considered again, when the role of the other Italian plays comes into focus.

Thomas Hoby and Elizabeth Cooke had two sons, Edward and Thomas Posthumus, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Anne. Posthumus was a name commonly used when the father died before the child’s birth, with Thomas Hoby dying in 1566. The girls died as youngsters, within a few days of each other, in February 1571, and their mother commemorated their passing with verses inscribed on their tomb.

Elizabeth Cooke’s second husband was John Russell, from a family which features more prominently near the end of this saga. Elizabeth could still be with us, as her ghost is said to haunt the corridors of her Thames-side home of Bisham Abbey. Queen Elizabeth was known to be a regular visitor to Bisham, perhaps a neighbourly gesture, as it is only a few miles upstream from Windsor.

Eldest son, Edward Hoby (1560-1617), built on his privileged position, becoming a favourite of both Elizabeth and later, James I. In 1580, he married Elizabeth Paulet, great granddaughter of William ‘willow’ Paulet, but she died a year later. Then, with little pause for breathe, Edward Hoby married Margaret Carey, the daughter of Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, who was the Lord Chamberlain with the ‘performing men’. If the earlier speculation about the father of the Careys is true then that would make Margaret Carey a granddaughter of Henry VIII. To add fuel to that particular fire, the day after his marriage, Edward was knighted by the Queen.

Sir Edward Hoby - 1583

Edward Hoby (1560-1617)

Edward Hoby is another of those figures who continually skirts around the edge of the Shakespeare story, but has never had the publicity that his biography justifies. Edward racked up the wives and his fourth and final partner was Cecilia Unton (1564-1618), whose brother, Henry Unton was another with ‘Shakespeare ready’ credentials, and had a portrait not dissimilar to the Droeshout image of Shakespeare. Henry Unton will be back later, so we can then take a closer look at his wonderful biographical portrait.

Anthony Cooke’s third daughter, Anne Cooke, made an equally sensible marital decision in 1553, becoming the second wife of Nicholas Bacon (1510-1579). He was appointed Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, on Queen Elizabeth’s accession, and she also elevated the position, giving it the status and privileges of the Lord Chancellor. This, for a time, ranked him above his brother-in-law, William Cecil, in the government hierarchy, meaning that two Cooke sisters had married the two most powerful men in England.

Nicholas and Anne produced two boys who reached adulthood, Anthony Bacon (1558-1601), and his more famous brother, Francis Bacon (1561-1626). Francis and Anthony spent their early years at York House, in the Strand, London, where they were educated by their mother, Anne, another of the Cooke girls who was fluent in six languages. The Bacon brothers then moved on to Cambridge University, where they lived in the household of John Whitgift, Master of Trinity College.

Anthony Bacon subsequently became secretary to Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, and lived at Essex House, next door to the Middle Temple. This was a large building which fronted The Strand, but also extended down to a private landing on the River Thames. Essex House had been built by Robert Dudley, in 1575, and had over 40 bedrooms, a picture gallery, banqueting suite and a chapel. The name was changed from Leicester House to Essex House when Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, inherited the building in 1588. His mother, Lettice Knottys, Dudley’s widow, became a matriarchal figure in her old age and ran the place as her London home. This became a haven for the members of the Essex circle of friends, many with a literary bent.

In 1601, shortly after the Earl of Essex was executed for treason, Anthony Bacon died at the home of Essex’s widow, Frances Walsingham. This was another mysterious and convenient death, removing further confederates of the Essex rebellion from the scene.

The more famous brother, Francis Bacon, was born on 22nd January 1561/62, said to be at York House, but some say it should read York Place, home of Queen Elizabeth and part of Whitehall Palace. His birth is one of those that conspiracy theorists credit to the list of the Virgin Queen’s secret offspring. If it is true then his parents were amply rewarded for their discretion. She was accustomed to calling him ‘the young Lord Keeper’ and there were constant whisperings about the familiarity Elizabeth showed him during his formative years. More words have been written about Francis Bacon’s credentials to be a closet Shakespeare than anyone, and his life was one of the more extra-ordinary of his generation.

London waterfront - 1616 Visscher

Visscher’s drawing of the Thames waterfront – 1616 –

(Essex stairs in the centre and the Middle Temple Hall stands proud, to the right)

Anthony Cooke’s fourth daughter was Catherine, and yet another of great intellect. She married Henry Killigrew, perhaps a lesser known figure, but a man who became a key player in both English and Scottish history. He was close to the Dudley family, having been a gentleman usher in the household of John Dudley, whilst later, Robert Dudley became the patron of his foreign excursions.

Killigrew was noted for his diplomatic skills and was a secret messenger in negotiations between Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots, but which ultimately ended in the execution of the Scottish Queen. The Killigrew family were originally from Cornwall but Henry established a home in London, in Lothbury, across the road from St Margaret’s Church and only a few yards from Coleman Street and the Windmill Tavern. The site is now occupied by the formidable presence of the Bank of England.

Henry Killigrew was one of three editor-censors who created the, updated, second edition of the Holinshed Chronicles, a book which seems to provide the background for several of Shakespeare’s history plays. Their eldest daughter, Anne Killigrew, married Henry Neville, who is one of the recently suggested alternative Shakespearean candidates – ‘that man’ is never far away from my ramblings.

The fifth daughter was Margaret, also known to be clever, and she married on the same day as her sister, Elizabeth, but she died within months and nothing is known of her literary talents.

T8 Clever Cooke clan

So, Anthony Cooke’s very clever daughters, married some of the most important and influential people in English history, who by chance, include in their discreet family community, several of the prime candidates in the Shakespeare authorship debate.

The husbands of the Cooke girls had all the necessary literary and diplomatic skills, experience of the Royal Court in England, plus widespread travel in France and Italy to have penned Shakespeare’s work. They knew their way around Paris and Padua better than Pembroke, Peterborough or Pontefract.

Their husbands also had plenty of reasons to cover up any overt involvement in the professional theatre, as making political and social statements on the stage was fraught with danger. However, suggest any one of the extended Cooke family, as a prospective alternative Shakespeare, and it is difficult to imagine that the others did not have a hand in there somewhere, as the relationships seem so inter-linked. They are all members of the ‘Cooke Club’.

There is also an intriguing connection between the Cooke family, of Lavenham and Gidea Park, and an area of Warwickshire, very close to Stratford-upon-Avon and the town of Warwick. Anthony Cooke inherited a part share of lands at Burton Dassett and Weston-under-Weatherley, from his grandmother’s Belknap family, and it seems they were the only lands he owned outside his home area of East Anglia.

There arose a bitter dispute with the other shareholders of the Burton Dassett estate, but eventually it was sold to John Temple, a family that became wealthy sheep farmers on the proceeds, which prompted them to create a new family home to Stowe Park, in Buckinghamshire. A couple of generations later they built Stowe House, a magnificent building which still survives today. After a series of marriages, they evolved into the Grenville-Temple family, who reappear later, closely associated with a famous portrait of William Shakespeare.

Whether this Burton Dassett connection does also link Anthony Cooke with Robert Cooke, ‘son of a tanner’, secretary to Robert Dudley and later Clarenceux Herald, who drew up John Shakespeare’s initial ‘coat of arms’ application, is not clear, but it does give a solid Cooke connection between Essex and Warwickshire. Perhaps an earlier generation of the Cooke clan of Lavenham had connections with the Warwick area, which is how Anthony Cooke’s grandfather met his Belknap bride.

A link between Burton Dassett and the Knowle Guild, was also made at this time, as Henry Makepeace, resident of Burton Dassett, joined the Guild in 1493 and became Master in 1514. The Knowle Guild had been founded by Walter Cooke and his friends a century before. This earlier coming together at Burton Dassett, of significant names in my story, might seem to be just another coincidence, but when seemingly small, isolated places keep turning up more frequently than any self-respecting bookmaker would expect, it would seem ridiculous not to take a second look. Remember this was isolated rural England, in the 15th century, where sheep were plentiful, but people were at a premium and where those who bore the same family name were almost certainly related in some way.


Chapter Nine



Printers, Publishers and Booksellers


Half eagle and key


The Invention that changed the World

Yet another band of plucky researchers has taken an entirely different tack altogether, in searching for the author of the plays and poems. They have hunted down the one group of people who are likely to know for sure, whether William Shakespeare had his hand on the pen. These are the publishers and printers, many of whom doubled, even trebled up, as booksellers, all collectively known as stationers.

As ever, when studying anything about the Bard, there are more questions than answers, but this is one area where the mist is beginning to clear and I am able to offer several ground-breaking revelations about the family tree of the people who printed Mr Shakespeare’s plays. You might believe much of the rest of this Shakespeare adventure is pure hokum, but NOW is the time to pay close attention, because this chapter is for real, with a whole number of FIRSTS, in Bardian research, that will interest supporters of both sides of the authorship argument

Printing was still very much in its infancy in Tudor times, but it was already firmly under government control, as rather like the wool trade, monarchs quickly realised that the power of the press was something that needed tight regulation. That control was primarily achieved by ensuring all printing presses were housed in London, within reach of the government censors.

A printing process, using movable type, was first invented in China, as early as 1050, but in Europe it was the German, Johannes Gutenberg, in 1440, who was the first to use metal type, instead of the traditional carved wooden blocks. The first books to be printed were the Bible and other religious documents, and the invention played a major part in the rise of the Protestant faith, quickly spreading the influence of Martin Luther and John Calvin across Northern Europe. Prior to the printing press, creating the written word was solely in the hands of priests, writing on parchment and vellum. So, producing multiple copies of a printed work empowered a wider and very different section of society.

The first English born printer was William Caxton, who we met previously as the apprentice to Robert Large, a successful mercer and Mayor of London. Caxton was left twenty marks, in the will of his master and he invested this windfall, to become a successful merchant, trading in Brugges, Burgundy and the German states, and even held the post of Governor of the Company of Merchant Adventurers.

In 1473, Caxton set up a printing press in Brugges (Belgium) and printed the first book in English, ‘Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye’, which he had translated himself, although far from ‘perfickly’. His contact with Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, sister of Edward IV and Richard III, led to Caxton setting up a printing press in Westminster, where in 1476, he printed Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’, his first book in England. Caxton’s books were mainly English and Classical histories, appealing to his local Westminster clientele of lawyers and courtiers, rather than the religious books more prevalent on the Continent. Caxton died in 1492, after printing over a hundred books, mainly in English, the majority of which he had translated himself.

Printing caused an inevitable standardisation of the written word, in an English language that was still very much, in its infancy, but developing quickly, evolving from an amalgam of the tongues of England’s invaders, since the Romans arrived. Caxton also hastened the process which split the language into two, separating the more formal written word from the spoken one, where accents and regional variations still held sway. The rapid expansion and development of written English ultimately produced the Renaissance literature of the Elizabethan era. It all began with the printing press.

Jan van Wynkyn, known better as Wynkyn de Worde, succeeded Caxton, taking over his business on the death of the printing pioneer. Wynkyn had been born in Alsace, France, moving to London at the instigation of Caxton, who wished to improve the quality of his own finished product. Wynkyn moved his press from Westminster to Fleet Street, adjacent to the City of London and next door to those rich and influential lawyers of the Inner and Middle Temples.

Wynken set about expanding and transforming his output, with new typeface and increasing the number of woodblock illustrations. His emphasis was on creating smaller, more commercial books, which could reach a wider audience, much easier to produce than the larger, expensive tomes which had, generally, been the norm to that point.

Wynkyn was the first to set up a bookshop at St Paul’s Churchyard, which later became the centre of the book selling trade. One of his biggest patrons was Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, another familiar name in this story. His output was dominated by religious subjects, but he also published the first printed version of Robin Hood. Wynkyn died in 1534 and by then the presses of London were beginning to blossom.

Richard Pynson (1448-1529) was from Normandy, but that didn’t prevent him becoming printer to Henry VII, in 1506, and he continued as King’s Printer for Henry VIII. This position gave him printing control over legal documents, which was one of the key warrants to hold. Pynson set up shop next to the church of St Dunstan in the West, in Fleet Street, again close to the lawyers of the Temple.

Pynson printed over 500 books and through his role as King’s Printer, did more than most, to standardise the English language, during the early Tudor period. His work was a higher quality than Wynkyn, but was less commercial, printing mainly government and legal documents. He sold only his own publications, whilst Wynkyn de Worde was a complete publisher, printer and bookseller, a business which included importing foreign language books from across Europe.

Pynson died in 1529, and both his business and role as King’s Printer was taken over by Robert Redman, who had previously been a fierce rival of Pynson. Redman continued to specialise in legal books, and when he died in 1540 the business passed to William Middleton.

St Paul's Churchyard

The original St Paul‘s Cathedral – often written ‘Powles’

When Middleton died in 1547, the legal printing baton was passed on through his widow, who married William Powell. The couple continued to hold the warrant to print law books, but did not hold the position of King’s printer, as the political emphasis had moved from legal books, to promoting the new Protestant religion, where printing Bibles and religious pamphlets, in English, was the main challenge.

It was Richard Grafton who took over the King’s printer role from Redman, on the accession of Edward VI, in 1547. Grafton was a member of the Grocers Company, and had worked in partnership with Edward Whitchurch, a haberdasher, to publish a Bible in English, in 1537. This they had been printing in Europe, but a year later, they imported their own presses, from Paris, and began printing prayer books and other religious documents, in London. Their entrepreneurship proved their undoing, because in 1541, Grafton and others were imprisoned and heavily fined for printing unauthorised religious material, a signal to all and sundry that all printed material must have the approval of the King and the Church, before it appeared on the streets..

Grafton’s career was resurrected under Edward VI, but was finally ended, when he printed the proclamation to the accession of Lady Jane Grey, signing himself, ‘Printer to the Queen’. Silly boy!

Business and family relationships within the Tudor printers were all very closely aligned. There was plenty of inter-marriage and when their master died or retired, the best apprentices often took over the entire business, or the rights to print a particular genre of books. Marrying the master’s widow seemed to be a popular option in the life of many trade’s people of the period, but I wonder how many of the deceased husbands were hastened to their demise a little sooner than expected, by an impatient apprentice or a wife who fancied a younger model?

William Caxton and Wynkyn de Worde had been ‘jack of all trades’, involved with everything from the selection and translation of the material, right through to the printing and finally the sale of the books and pamphlets. Generally, though, there evolved two types of people, the entrepreneurial bookseller, who was usually the publisher of the books, and the specialist printer, who might print everything from a one sheet playbill to a profusely illustrated, specialist volume.

Printing books was a new phenomenon and attracted a great variety of individuals. There were experienced, specialist printers, usually migrants, from France, Belgium, Germany and Holland, where the printing process was at least thirty years ahead of England. The English born printers came from a wider section of society, with the majority switching professions from the cloth trades, where business was on the decline. This created tensions between the different livery companies, so litigation, over a variety of trading matters, was an ongoing feature of the new bookselling business.

Apart from books, there was also an increasing need for the printing of legal and official documents, fed by the highly regulated and dynamic world of the Tudors. Henry and his successors was turning England, from a country of a 1000 villages, to one dominated by the 100,000 citizens of London. The printed page also helped to speed up the creation of the Church of England, ensuring its Protestant commandments reached their new congregations, every Sunday.

old printing press

Woodcut of 16th century printing press

The Stationers’ Company was the trading standards watchdog that controlled the industry. They had originally been formed in 1402, but that was in the days when books were created by teams of scribes, almost always with religious intent. The Stationers were reformed by Queen Mary, in 1557, under a new charter and a fresh set of rules, ones that reflected the birth of the print age.

This powerful role gave them an enhanced position in national life, as they kept an eye on both the quality of the work and also the content, keeping authors and printers in harmony with State and Church regulations. The Stationers Company also kept a register, assigning ownership of work, and establishing a loose system of copyright.

The new genre of the Elizabethan professional theatre caused some problems, as performance of the plays was under the jurisdiction of the Master of the Revels, appointed by the monarch, but if and when the play was published, it was the Stationers Company who registered the rights. This was a far from perfect system and plenty of publications slipped between the cracks of the two regulatory authorities.

The example of Richard Grafton and friends, being imprisoned and fined, shows what a risky business printing could be, but the perils of the printing and publishing business in Tudor times are even better exemplified with the case of John Stubbs and William Page. The pair were staunch Protestant royalists, but published a pamphlet, criticising Queen Elizabeth for her proposed marriage to the French nobleman, the Duke of Anjou. These were loyal subjects of the Queen, but were expressing a contrary view to the political thought on offer on that particular day. The punishment for this business ‘faux pas’ was to have their right hands chopped off.

A couple of generations later, in 1631, a Bible printer missed out the word ‘NOT’, in the seventh of the Ten Commandments. The readers were, therefore, instructed to ‘commit adultery’, a mistake which resulted in a £300 fine and the fiery destruction of all the unsold copies. This became known as the ‘wicked’ Bible and the few that survived the inferno are highly prized today. Printers were always held responsible for the work they produced, and the punishment varied from a fine, the destruction of the publication, through to the ultimate sanction, the death penalty.

Therefore, at the end of the 16th century, the works of William Shakespeare were being published in a world of print that was still experiencing the growing pains of adolescence. London was the only place where professional printers were allowed to operate, although books could be sold throughout the country. There was strict government control, with only twenty printers being licensed, and they were only allowed two presses and two apprentices each. Printing was originally permitted at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, but Henry VIII closed these presses, and it wasn’t till the mid 1580s that the ‘Oxbridge’ presses were able to operate again.


Crammer- book and paper sizes

The terms folio and quarto are frequently used when discussing the publication of Shakespeare’s work, and so here is a quick resume on book size and how books were printed during the Tudor period.

Books were manufactured by printing text and woodblock illustrations, on both sides of a full sheet of paper. Each side was printed in turn and then the paper was folded one or more times, into a group of leaves or ‘gathering’. The printed ‘gatherings’ were then taken to a book binder, who would stitch the ‘gatherings’ together. The folds in the pages were then cut and a spine and cover attached.

This technique produced printed books of superb quality, many of which have survived until today. However, the majority of printed material was less grand, often consisting of just single sheets, or was left in loose-leaf format, which gave the paper little protection against the ravages of time. It is easy to see how properly bound, folios and quartos, have survived in libraries for 400 years, and equally, how unbound, loose leaf quartos, are now rare commodities, as they became the victim of water, fire, vermin or just discarded, as no longer needed.

Folio size books had two pages of text, printed on each side of the sheet of paper. This was then folded once, to form two leaves or four pages of print. Quartos had four text pages on each side, so folding the paper twice formed four leaves or eight pages. A folio book was about 15 by 10 inches, and a quarto, 10 by 7.5 inches. (48 x 25 and 25 x 18; the approximate metric equivalent, in centimetres)

All printed matter was expensive, and reserved for legal or religious purposes, or if sold commercially was aimed at the elitist end of the social hierarchy. Even the rich and educated would find it expensive to assemble a decent sized library, with the largest collections comprising only 200 volumes and to even own a ‘shelf of books’, you had to be a person of some substance.


Crammer – Manuscripts and foul papers

No, this is not a discussion about Tudor hygiene practices, in the garderobe, but a brief look at how an Elizabethan playwright turned his creative thoughts into the document which ended up in the hands of the actors and the printers.

‘Foul papers’ is the name given to the original, handwritten, working draft of a play and usually comprised loose leaves of paper, with numerous scribbled additions and deletions. Once the playwright had finished his work then a ‘fair’ copy was made, either by the author himself or if multiple copies were needed, then by a professional scribe, who also acted as proof reader, often adding his own idiosyncrasies of punctuation and even his own phraseology. Some authors kept their own fair copy notebook and those that survive are rare and highly prized by literary historians.

Ralph Crane was one of the best known literary copy scribes of the period. His father was a successful member of the Merchant Taylors livery company, but Crane earned his crust by copying all manner of documents, chiefly for lawyers of the Inns of Court. Crane is most famous, though, not for wills and writs, but for penning fair copies of at least five of Shakespeare’s plays, including, ‘The Tempest’, ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’, ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ and ‘Measure for Measure’.

Coincidently, these are the first four plays of the 1623 folio. His fifth was, ‘The Winters Tale’, the fourteenth play of the First folio. Four of the five were also from a stash of previously unpublished plays that was held by Edward Blount. Some scholars also credit Crane with the fair copy of ‘Othello’, and Stratfordians like to label Ralph Crane as Shakespeare’s ‘sub-editor’, an attribution based on his distinctive style of punctuation and stage directions.

Crane worked as a literary copyist for Shakespeare’s acting troupe, the King’s Men, probably from 1615 onwards, and was certainly active as a scribe right through till 1630. He has interesting connections to other prominent characters in my story, in particular to Thomas Lodge, who in 1589 dedicated his poem, ‘Scylla’s Metamorphosis’, to Ralph Crane.

The copywriter, himself, published his own collection of poems in 1621, dedicating them to John Egerton, the husband of Frances Stanley, daughter of Ferdinando Stanley. It was the Stanley family that sponsored Lord Strange’s Men, one of the first acting troupes to perform plays that were later attributed to Shakespeare.

Ralph Crane seems to be an outwardly friendly face to the Stratfordians, but he also offers a number of intriguing links, through to the social circles of Lodge and Stanley, and so bringing the Shakespeare plays close to a whole raft of anti-Stratfordian candidates.

Stratfordians say that very few manuscripts for any Elizabethan plays survive, so we shouldn’t be surprised that none of Shakespeare’s scribblings exist in their original format. It is also suggested that quartos of plays were easily discarded and not seen as important, akin to the policy in the BBC in the 1960s. Then, productions of what are now are regarded as ‘classic’ comedies and dramas, were not recorded or were taped-over, meaning much of this iconic material has been lost for ever.

Neither fair nor foul format exists with certainty, for any of Shakespeare’s plays, but Stratfordian scholars cling to the idea that the foul papers, which survive, for the co-operative venture, ‘Sir Thomas More’, contain a section written in the hand of William Shakespeare. This play is acknowledged to be written by Anthony Munday and a number of associates, but which was never known to be performed at the time. No association between the play and Shakespeare was made until 1871, but modern critics now give Shakespeare credit for being ‘Hand D’, who they claim wrote three pages of the work.

This seems to be a tenuous attribution, but ‘Thomas More’ has now been added to some modern collections of the Bard’s work. The Juke Box Jury panel of experts seem to have voted this one a ‘hit’, an example of a non-Shakespeare play receiving positive accreditation, centuries after it was conceived, whilst others with his name written clearly on them, have been discarded as being erroneous, unworthy of an association with England’s greatest writer.

Thomas More - Hand D

Hand D – William Shakespeare..??

This Stratfordian,, ‘wastepaper’ theory, of disposal, doesn’t quite fit the facts, because at least half the Shakespeare manuscripts must have been kept in a safe place for decades, as they reappeared to be used by the Jaggard printers in 1623, with all the later folios claiming to be from the ‘original copies’.

It seems common sense to see that as the chain of printers and publishers sold and passed on the rights to the next, then fair copies of them, followed suit. Is it possible that a deliberate bonfire of the manuscripts was made at some point? That would seem very unlikely, but if it had happened, then that would strongly suggest something untoward was taking place.

If the manuscripts had been lost or destroyed, perhaps during the chaos of the Great Fire of 1666, someone in the publisher or literary world might have mentioned they had lost a valuable inheritance – but no dog barked. If they were scattered and disregarded as unimportant, then there would be a chance that at least a fragment of one page would have turned up in a library somewhere in the past 400 years – but again there is nothing, not even a tiny snippet of parchment.

If the content of the page had been disregarded as unimportant, then the value of the paper was not. This was a rare commodity and could have been reused in a dozen different ways, from wrapping paper to a draw liner, to line curtain drapes or to act as padding or end papers in a leather bound book – but so far not a singe scrap has been found. Experience tells me that a ‘nil return’, which is associated with something of consequence, can often be quite illuminating in itself.

The manuscripts might still be safely locked away, in a secure vault and under the care of trusted guardians, who are in a position to maintain ongoing custody of these and other secrets. That is, indeed, an idea that was hinted at by one of the contemporary stakeholders, way back in 1609, and also by an influential noblemen, who had status and position in Stratford and Warwick.

Perhaps, these keenly sought sheaves of paper are in the same heavily guarded room as the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant, Excalibur and King John’s Treasure Chest.

So, who are these guardians and where might the manuscripts be kept?

Templar chest

Shakespeare – who printed what?

Tracing who published and printed the various parts of the Shakespeare canon is a messy and complicated business. The early, anonymous, works were in the hands of several different individuals, and there was, certainly, no coherent publishing plan for the plethora of plays, that were later attributed to the Bard. The Stratfordians use this fact to prove there couldn’t have been a conspiracy to create a pseudonym, because the publication was so widespread and chaotic. Anti-Stratfordians cite the same evidence to show there couldn’t have been just one, single, lonely, writer, penning plays in the back of London taverns, or the drawing rooms of grand houses.

The usual system in the Elizabethan theatre business was for the acting company to buy or commission the play from the author, paying him a sum in the region of £2 to £5. This, one-off, payment gave the theatre owner the title to all performing and potential publishing rights. If the play was eventually published, the rights might be passed on to a third party and so a variety of printers and booksellers could register the plays, on behalf of the acting company.

The transformation of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, to the King’s Men, on 19th May, 1603, also saw them gain the sole right to perform plays written by William Shakespeare, those which in the 1590s, had previously been performed by a variety of acting troupes. Many plays, later attributed to the Bard, had originally been performed anonymously, but from 1603 onwards, the King’s Men jealously guarded the publishing rights to all work ‘they decreed’ was written by William Shakespeare. They managed to have these works ‘stayed’ by the Lord Chancellor, so even previous rights holders were unable to publish plays, without the permission of the King’s Mens.

So, if we are to use the printers and publishers to help solve the Shakespeare mystery, rather than start at the beginning and work forward it is much easier to retrace the tracks of the work from a time when the plays and poems had come together, as a single body of work, the schoolboy might call, the ‘complete works of William Shakespeare’.

The first acknowledged compendium of Shakespeare’s plays was published by Edward Blount and Isaac Jaggard and printed on the Jaggard presses, in 1623. A second edition appeared in 1632, sold by bookseller Robert Allot and four other partners, and printed by brothers, Thomas and Richard Cotes. The third edition was first published in 1663, then revised almost immediately, in 1664, with a new front cover and a supplement of seven extra plays, all attributed to Shakespeare. Several of the ‘extra seven’, had previously been published individually, each with Shakespeare’s name attached, but none were in the first or second editions of 1623 and 1632, or in the 1663 version.

The heading attacked to the 1663 and 1664 editions says this was ‘published according to the true original copies’, but comparison with the 1632 edition, suggests this was the basis for the later texts. The 1664 frontispiece is also noteworthy, because it bears a distinctive printer’s emblem, a pair of snakes encircling a resplendent eagle, not the previous printer’s mark, used by both Jaggard and Cotes.

Third folio - second edition

The seven extra plays, are now considered part of the Shakespeare apocrypha:

Pericles, Prince of Tyre                                  History of Thomas Lord Cromwell
Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham                London Prodigal
Puritan Widow                                                Yorkshire Tragedy
Tragedy of Locrine

The 1663/64 folio was published by Philip Chetwynde, a cloth merchant, who had married the widow of publisher, Robert Allot, who had died in 1635. Allot had held the major part of the rights, to the 1632 edition. Robert Allot, whose father was from Criggleston, Yorkshire, only became a Londoner bookseller, in 1625, taking over the business of Edward Blount, in 1627 and obtaining the rights to Edward Blount’s sixteen plays, on 16th November 1630. By his purchase, Allot shared the overall publishing rights for the second compendium with the owners of other plays, including Thomas Cotes and William Aspley.

Still active at the time was Eleanor Cotes, widow of Richard Cotes, and it has been suggested that she was the source of the extra seven plays, as she held the rights to at least three of them. She may also have been involved in printing the 1664 edition, but acknowledging a woman as the sole printer may have been a step too far..!!

The 1632 edition was printed by Thomas Cotes and his brother, Richard. Thomas Cotes had served his apprenticeship with William Jaggard, thirty years before, but in 1628, he acquired the print business and various copyrights, from Dorothy Jaggard, the widow of Isaac.. That leads us neatly back to 1623, with William and Isaac Jaggard, (father and son), being the printers of the first complete edition of Shakespeare’s plays, and Edward Blount and Isaac Jaggard being registered as the co-publishers.

There were 36 plays included in the 1623 folio, but the sixteen plays kept under the stewardship of Edward Blount, for safe keeping, had never previously been registered with the Stationers Company or appeared in printed format. Eighteen of the other twenty plays had appeared in print at some point, and so with just one man owning the rights to the vast majority of the unpublished plays, this clearly points to Edward Blount holding a highly significant position in the Shakespeare authorship debate.

Edward Blount’s 16 plays:

Henry VI (part one)                              Two Gentleman of Verona
Anthony and Cleopatra                          Measure for Measure
The Comedy of Errors                            Timon of Athens
As You Like It                                           All’s Well that End’s Well
The Winter’s Tale                                   Twelfth Night
Macbeth                                                   Julius Caesar
The Tempest                                          Henry VIII
Coriolanus                                             Cymberline

Edward Blount’s name appears on the frontispiece of the 1623 folio, but he also has several other intriguing connections with Shakespeare. He registered ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ and ‘Pericles, Prince of Tyre’, at Stationers Hall, in 1608, although he never published them at the time and ‘Pericles’ didn’t make it into the first or second folios, and is now regarded as part of the ‘apocrypha’. Blount also published that volume of poems entitled ‘Love’s Martyr’, which included in the miscellany, a poem attributed to William Shakespeare.

In 1578, Blount had apprenticed himself for ten years to the ‘up market’ stationer, William Ponsonby, gaining his ‘freedom’ on 25th June 1588. Ponsonby had published several poetic works of the Sidney circle, but was not keen on publishing plays. However, he did concede on one, ‘The Tragedy of Antonie’, written by the Countess of Pembroke and printed by Peter Short.

Ponsonby died in 1603 and his publishing rights passed to his brother-in-law, Simon Waterson who, in turn, passed them on to his son, John Waterson, who published ‘The Two Noble Kinsman’, in 1634, printed, like the 1632 folio, by Thomas Cotes. This is a play attributed to John Fletcher and William Shakespeare, but is an oddity because it didn’t appear in any of the compendium folios.

Edward Blount is, therefore a key figure in the Shakespeare conundrum. His father was Ralphe Blount, another Merchant Taylor by trade, who lived in St Lawrence Pountney. Edward Blount was born in 1562, one of the younger siblings, by his mother, Joyce, who died in April 1566. Ralphe married again, to Margaret Roberdine, in November that same year. There were two more children, Hugh, who died within a year and Ursula who passed away in 1577.

Both Edward’s father and step-mother died within a few days of each other in August/September 1571, making Edward and Ursula, orphans. Where Edward and Ursula Blount went to live, as wards of court,, between 1571 and 1577, would be a most enlightening discovery. It was a year later, in 1578 that Edward began his printing apprenticeship with William Ponsonby, so those seven missing years, like those of William Shakespeare, between 1588-94, are probably the two most important MISSING pieces of this jigsaw.

Edward Blount published works by Ben Jonson and also Samuel Daniel, who had been a tutor to the Countess of Pembroke’s two boys, (‘the incomparable pair of brethren’), at Wilton House. Blount also added a preface to the 1598 edition of Marlowe’s ‘Hero and Leander’, defending the deceased poet against his critics. Blount was also known to be a close friend of Thomas Thorpe, who published Shakespeare’s Sonnets, in 1609.

Thomas Thorpe had served his apprenticeship with Richard Watkins, beginning in 1584 and gaining his freedom in 1594. Thorpe initially had no printshop and no bookshop and so was reliant on procuring suitable books which could be printed and sold for him. In his first successful publishing venture, Thorpe dedicated the book to Edward Blount, as a ‘thank you’ for allowing him to use the rights and so get his first foothold in the publishing world.

By 1608, Thorpe was operating from the ‘Tigers Head’ bookshop and a year later had obtained the rights to Shakespeare’s Sonnets, from William Hall, an obscure publisher who signed himself, ‘W.H.’.

So, the mysterious dedication on the title page of the Sonnets, to ‘Mr W.H.’ which has caused so much bewilderment and speculation, ought to be easy to decipher. It would have been very much in Thorpe’s nature to say thank you to ‘Mr W.H.’, for passing him the rights to the Sonnets.

Shakespeare’s Sonnets were printed for Thomas Thorpe by George Eld, and sold jointly by John Wright, from his shop in Christ’s Hospital Churchyard, and William Aspley, at St Paul’s Churchyard. Aspley had been apprenticed to George Bishop, at the same ‘Tiger’s Head’ bookshop, gaining his freedom, in 1597, and Aspley continued to operate from the same premises for a time. Aspley must have known something about Shakespeare’s identity as on 23rd Aug 1600, he registered, with the Stationers’ Company, ‘Henry IV part 2’ and ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and he continued to hold those rights during the publication of the first and second folios, so becoming one of the longest lived stakeholders of the Shakespeare canon. William Aspley certainly knew where the Shakespeare ‘bodies’ were buried…!

The ‘Tigers Head’ bookshop crops up frequently in my ramblings, and seems to be associated with a variety of printers and publishers relevant to the Shakespeare story. Christopher Barker, a wealthy member of the Draper’s company, owned the business, and he had previously been a private secretary to Queen’s spymaster, Francis Walsingham, whose personal mark was a Tiger’s Head, a symbol which actually bears little similarity to the real-life animal of that name.

Christopher Barker was appointed Queen’s Printer, in 1577, after the death of Richard Jugge, but as his business grew he left the day to day running of the print shop in the hands of George Bishop and Ralph Newbery. Bishop also kept the printer relationships close at hand, because he had married the daughter of John Cawood, a previous Queen’s printer. Newbery was elected warden of the Stationers Company in the early 1580s, and is also a name that keeps returning to this story, and in a variety of guises.

Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s version of Ian Fleming’s ‘M’, seems to have exerted his influence, at the Tiger’s Head, and although he died in 1590, before the Shakespeare era began, it has been suggested that those involved in his espionage network, later were instrumental in creating the Shakespeare story. The Tiger’s Head looks like one of those High Street shops that was used as a ‘front’ for covert activity in James Bond films, or the 1960s TV series, the ‘Man from UNCLE’.

Richard Field printed work for both Ponsonby and Blount, and it was he who first printed ‘Venus & Adonis’, ‘Rape of Lucrece’ and the ‘Phoenix & Turtle’. Richard Field has always been associated with Shakespeare because of these poems, and also because he was born in Stratford-upon-Avon. Richard’s father, Henry Field was a tanner, a related trade to that of John Shakespeare and it was the Bard’s father, who was named as executor to Henry’s will, responsible for making an inventory of his effects.

Richard Field started his life in the printing business, at the highest level. He was briefly apprenticed to George Bishop, at the Tiger’s Head, but he didn’t stay with Bishop very long and was transferred, as an apprentice, to the highly regarded French printer, Thomas Vautrollier. In what seems a familiar pattern, Field eventually took control of the business by marrying Jacqueleine Vautrollier, his master’s widow.

After the early dally with Shakespeare’s three poems, the Richard Field connection disappears, with no further poems or plays coming from the Vautrolier/Field presses. There was one link though, because one of Field’s apprentices was Nicholas Okes, who later printed the first edition of ‘King Lear’.


Elizabeth’s power base – Burghley and Walsingham

Tiger's Head summary

Twenty more plays

So, Edward Blount had significant connections to the Shakespeare canon, prior to 1623, and had established business links with Thomas Thorpe, William Ponsonby and Richard Field. The connections continue to become more intense, as we move on to consider the twenty plays that Edward Blount didn’t have stashed under his feather bed. To understand how the other plays came together, in a single volume, is more complex, but there is still a logical agglomeration, one that was driven both by a variety of publishers and by the regular interventions of the King’s Men.

Their earlier incarnation, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, commissioned only a limited number of publishers and printers, to produce their plays. However, there were other publications, that date from a period when the Shakespeare plays were still ‘anonymous’. Plays may have been printed from ‘corrupt’ texts, perhaps taken from notes made during a performance and these are often characterised by their brevity, compared with later, ‘authorised’ versions.

The other 20 plays

Henry VI (2 & 3)   Richard III
Romeo and Juliet Loves Labours Lost
King John                              Henry IV (1&2)
Hamlet                                    King Lear
Othello                                   Troilus & Cressida
Titus Andronicus                   Midsummer Night’s Dream
Merchant of Venice             Much Ado About Nothing
Taming of the Shrew           Merry Wives of Windsor
Richard II                               Henry V

One printer who seems to have given all the others a bad reputation is John Danter. He produced the first edition of ‘Titus Andronicus’, in 1594 and ‘Romeo and Juliet’, in 1597, and also editions of ‘Richard III’ and ‘Henry VI’. The publisher, Thomas Millington, was John Danter’s partner in crime, a stationer of ‘dubious reputation’ and is another linked to several of Shakespeare’s early quartos.

However, the negativity concerning these rogue printers has been postulated by supporters of the Bard being the author of his works.

Remember that none of these early, ‘dubious’ works were published with any mention of an author. So, the on-going criticism of these ‘dubious’ printers seems quite ridiculous.

Millington and Danter were publishing ‘anonymous’ work…….!!!!

No-one had connected the name William Shakespeare to a play – until 1598………!!

Thomas Creede was the most prolific printer of the early plays attributed to Shakespeare, although he was commissioned by a variety of different stationers. Some are thought of as ‘bad’ quartos, while others seem more legitimate, but there was never a complaint about his Shakespearean output, at the time. Creede printed ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’, ‘Richard III’, ‘Henry VI/2’ and ‘Henry V’; and in addition three different plays of the apocrypha; ‘London Prodigal’, in 1605, ‘Pericles, Prince of Tyre’, in 1609 and the ‘Merry Devil of Edmonton’, in 1612.

Valentine Simmes printed nine different works, over a ten year period, but two of them have particular significance. ‘Richard II’ and ‘Richard III’ were registered by publisher Andrew Wise, in 1597, and the versions printed by Simmes, that year, did not mention William Shakespeare. Thomas Creede had previously printed ‘The True Tragedy of Richard III’, for William Barley, in 1594, and again no author was mentioned.

However, a year after Simmes version, Thomas Creede printed another quarto of ‘Richard III’, this time for Andrew Wise, and for the first time used the name, ‘Shake-speare’. Simmes also reprinted ‘Richard II’ in 1598 and again added the ‘Shake-speare’ attribution. That clearly puts Andrew Wise in the hot seat when we consider the creation of the Shakespeare persona, as we have a ‘before’ and ‘after’, with the same publisher. The year 1598 seems when ‘anon’ turned into ‘Shakespeare’ (sic).

Overall, Wise published first editions of five Shakespeare plays, holding the rights to ‘Richard II’, ‘Richard III’, ‘Henry IV, 1 & 2’, and ‘Much Ado about Nothing’. Wise only published four other books in his life, apart from his nap hand of Shakespeare plays, and so his involvement in the Bard’s work must be seen as highly significant. He was the son of a Yorkshire yeoman and served his apprenticeship with Henry Smith and Thomas Bradshaw, gaining his ‘freedom’ in 1589. Wise had his own business in St Paul’s Churchyard, but he disappeared from the records in 1603, probably a victim of the plague, and his rights passed to Mathew Law, the same year.

Cuthbert Burby published an interesting mixture of Shakespeare plays, including ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’, which appeared in 1598, which was stated to be a ‘corrected’ version, and is the FIRST printed play to carry Shakespeare’s name from the outset. Burby also published ‘Romeo and Juliet’, in 1599, attributed to Shakespeare, but prior to that he produced an edition of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, in 1594, but with no attribution. He also published ‘Edward III’, in 1596, an anonymous play of the apocrypha, and one of the works that modern scholars think might have had the hand of Shakespeare on the quill pen.

William Barley is another significant name that connects my characters together. He was one of those changeling trades people, who moved from being an active member of the Draper’s Company, to be a trainee bookseller at Newgate Market, next to Christ’s Hospital. Barley opened his own bookshop in St Peter under Cornhill in 1592 and by 1600 had also opened a bookshop in Oxford, where his manager was arrested, by the university authorities, for trading without permission.

This was one of numerous wrangles between Barley and the authorities in both London and Oxford, but eventually he won the day, establishing a successful business in both places.

Barley published ‘Richard III’, with no author, in 1594 but looks to have passed the rights to Andrew Wise soon afterwards. One of Barley’s apprentices, as a ‘draper cum bookseller’, was Thomas Pavier, another who seemed willing to work at the edge of the regulations. Whilst working for Barley, he was charged with printing illegal material, and spent time in prison.

Pavier became a bookseller himself, in 1600, and registered the contentious, ‘Sir John Oldcastle’, as an anonymnous work. This was only a few days after he had transferred his professional allegiance from the Draper’s Company, to become a member of the Stationers Company. ‘Sir John Oldcastle’ was printed by Valentine Simmes, but there was no author mentioned at this time, but nearly 20 years later, in 1619, Thomas Pavier and William Jaggard gave the play, the ‘William Shakespeare’ trade mark.

Thomas Pavier also obtained the rights, from Millington, for ‘Titus Andronicus’, ‘Henry V’ and ‘Henry VI, 2 & 3’, but did not publish them until 1619. In 1608, Pavier registered and published ‘A Yorkshire Tragedy’, and attributed the play to Shakespeare. Pavier is one of those who collected Shakespeare material in a fairly methodical way and became most famous for his involvement with William Jaggard in that ‘false folio’ compendium of ten plays, published in 1619.

We now have to ask the question how’ Richard II’ and ‘Richard III’ suddenly acquired an author, in 1598, the hyphenated ‘William Shake-speare’, when he wasn’t there the year before. It was also the year that ‘Loves Labours Lost’ became the first play to bear the Shakespeare name. Barley, Burby, Wise, Simmes and Creede all had a hand in the publishing and printing of these three plays and therefore, this is clearly the watershed of the change from ‘anonymous’ to ‘William Shakespeare’.

The spelling of his name varies, with and without the hyphen, but as spelling still wasn’t an exact science, I believe that we shouldn’t read too much into the variations. However, some scholars see the spelling as deeply significant, suggesting the hyphen is clear evidence that the name is a pseudonym. I seem to have found many other things to get far more excited about, rather than worry about an extra hyphen added here or there. What we do know, though, is that the spelling of the name of the man from Stratford-upon-Avon, ‘Shakespere’, was different from the one emblazoned on those early quartos.

Several printers and publishers died, or disappeared from view, in 1603, including Thomas Millington, Andrew Wise, Peter Short and William Ponsonby. This coincides with a serious outbreak of plague, which closed the theatres and caused communal graves to be created, just outside the city walls. It was also the year when King James I gained the throne and the King’s Men gained their patent and their Shakespeare monopoly. Things were so bad in 1603 that when King James arrived from Scotland, he was unable to go directly to any of his London palaces, instead spending time as a guest of the Pembroke family, the one that lived at Wilton House, near Salisbury. There might be a clue there..!!

One of the most significant printers involved with the ‘approved’ versions of the Shakespeare canon was James Roberts. He had gained his freedom in 1564 and was noted as printing a version of ‘Old Moore’s Almanac’ in 1570. Roberts joined in partnership with Richard Watkins, in 1588, gaining the Queen’s patent to print ‘almanacs and prognostications’, for the next 21 years. These rights were prematurely forfeited in 1603, when King James came to the throne and, instead he awarded them to the Stationer’s Company. One product of the Roberts/Watkins partnership, which caught my eye, as a former physical education teacher, was a book entitled ‘an introduction to learn to swimme’.

Thomas Thorpe, the Sonnet publisher, had been apprenticed to Richard Watkins from 1584 to 1594, so Watkins offers a link between James Roberts, printer of Shakespeare plays and Thomas Thorpe who published the Sonnets. Watkins himself had been apprenticed to William Powell, the legal printer who had married the widow of William Middleton. That is what I mean by my phrase, a ‘family tree of printers’, as one begets another and another, by marriage and apprenticeship. An extensive tree of all the relevant printers appears later.

James Roberts made connections with the theatre world, when he gained the rights to print all theatre playbills. He did this after marrying the widow of John Charlewood, the printer who previously held those rights. Charlewood’s business was in the Barbican, on the corner with Aldersgate Street, just outside the Cripplegate entrance to the City of London, in the north-west corner of the London Wall. Charlewood, previously, had a press at the London home of the Earl of Arundel, at Charterhouse, and was someone who had a reputation at working on the edge of the printer regulations.

This Barbican print shop had an intriguing sign above the door, the ‘Half-eagle and Key’, which was well known at the time as the coat of arms of the city of Geneva, then a self-governing Protestant town, on the border between Catholic South and Protestant North. Charlewood’s acquisition of the business is probably not straightforward, as Rowland Hall used the same sign at his bookshop in Gutter Lane, close to St Pauls. Rowland Hall went to Geneva in the Marian period, learning how to print psalms and Bibles. Geneva had been a popular domicile for hundreds of Protestant scholars, who had fled Catholic England and is where, in 1560, the Geneva Bible, the first mass produced English version, was printed.

Half-eagle and key

Half eagle and key

On return to London, in 1559, Hall set up shop in Golden Lane, near Cripplegate at the ‘sign of the Three Arrows’. Later he moved to Gutter Lane and it was here that he adopted the emblem of Geneva. Hanging this sign above your retail business sent plenty of messages to your customers, your friends and those who might not be so overtly sympathetic to the Protestant cause.

James Roberts is a central figure in the Bard’s story because ap art from the playbills, Roberts played a prominent role in printing several of Shakespeare’s plays, and AFTER the Bard’s name became attached to them. Roberts also registered the ‘Merchant of Venice’, 1598, ‘Hamlet’ in 1602 and ‘Troilus and Cressida’, 1603, with the Staioners Company, on behalf of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. All his Bard’s plays were printed, with an attribution to William Shakespeare, apart from his printing of ‘Titus Andronicus’, for publisher Edward White, in 1600, which remained with no author’s name. White had also been the co-publisher of the 1594 version of ‘Titus’, which had begun life, again with no author mentioned on the published quarto.

Summary of the earliest editions of each of the 20 plays.

(Sorted by publisher and with author attribution)

Thomas Millington Henry VI part 2, printed by Thomas Creede, 1594 & by Valentine Simms in 1600 (anonymous)
Titus Andronicus, printed by John Danter, 1594 (anonymous)
Henry VI part 3, 1595, printed by Peter Short (anonymous)
Henry V 1600, printed by Thomas Creede (anonymous)

William Barley
Richard III, printed by Thomas Creede, 1594 (anonymous)

Andrew Wise Richard III, printed by Valentine Simms, 1597 (anonymous), BUT printed by Thomas Creede, 1598 (William Shake-speare)
Richard II, printed by Valentine Simms, 1597 (anon) & 1598 (William Shake-speare)
Henry IV part 1, printed by Peter Short, 1598 (anonymous) and by Simon Stafford 1599 (‘corrected’ by William Shake-speare)
Henry IV part 2, printed by Valentine Simms, 1600 (William Shakespeare)
Much Ado about Nothing, printed by Valentine Simms, 1600 (William Shakespeare)

John Danter (printer)
Titus Andronicus, 1594 (anonymous)
Romeo and Juliet, 1597 (anonymous), abbreviated version

Cuthbert Burby
Romeo and Juliet, printed by Thomas Creede, 1599 (anonymous)
Loves Labours Lost, printed by William White 1598 (W. Shakespere)
Taming of the Shrew, printed by Peter Short, 1594 (anonymous)

Arthur Johnson
Merry Wives of Windsor, printed by Thomas Creede 1602 (William Shakespeare)

Thomas Fisher Midsummer Nights Dream, printed by Richard Bradock and by James Roberts 1600 (William Shakespeare)

Thomas Hayes
Merchant of Venice, printed by James Roberts 1600 (William Shakespeare) (Registered by James Roberts 22nd July 1598)

Nicholas Ling
Hamlet, printed by James Roberts 1602, (William Shakespeare)

Nathaniel Butter
King Lear printed by Nicholas Okes 1608 (William Shak-speare)

Richard Bonian & Henry Whalley
Troilus & Cressida printed by George Eld, 1609, (William Shakespeare) First registered on 7 Feb 1602/03 by James Roberts

Edward White
Titus Andronicus printed by James Roberts, 1600 (anonymous) (White also co-publisher of 1594 version)

Matthew Law Henry IV part 1, printed by Valentine Simms, 1604 (William Shake-speare) Richard III printed by Thomas Creede, 1605 (William Shakespeare) Richard II, printed by William White, 1608 (William Shake-speare)

William Aspley (jointly with Andrew Wise) Henry IV part 2 , 1600 (William Shakespeare) Much Ado about Nothing , 1600 (William Shakespeare)

Thomas Walkley Othello printed by Nicholas Okes, 1622 (William Shakespeare)

Thomas Pavier
False folio (1619), printed by William Jaggard and all attributed to Shakespeare.
Henry VI, 1 & 2 combined
Merry Wives of Windsor
King Lear
Henry V
A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Sampson Clarke
‘The Troublesome Raigne of King John’ (part 1 & 2) was printed by Sampson Clarke, in 1591, but with no author attributed.

A second quarto was published in 1611, by John Helme and printed by Valentine Simmes. The authorship was now assigned to ‘W. Sh.’, with the division between the two parts removed. To confuse matters, a third quarto was published in 1622, (while the ‘First folio’ was under production), being published by Thomas Dewes and printed by Augustine Matthews), as the work of ‘W. Shakespeare.’

However there was mention in Francis Mere’s list of Shakespeare plays, in 1598, of a play called ‘King John’. but a play of that precise name was not published under the Shakespeare banner until the ‘First folio’, of 1623. Make of that, ‘what you will’, but this would seem to be the same play, under regular revision. There was never a complaint from the Stationers Company, or the King’s Men.

‘King John’ is one of only two Shakespeare plays to be written entirely in verse, the other being that contentious, ‘Richard II’. So, like almost every one of the plays attributed to William Shakespeare, there is a complicated back story associated with ‘King John’, one that scholars seem unable to agree upon – nothing is ever simple.

William Jaggard had published the ‘Passionate Pilgrim’, anthology of poems, in 1599, and attributed it to ‘W. Shakespeare’, with reprints in 1601 and 1612, but it was another twenty years before he printed the 1619, ‘false folio’, for Thomas Pavier. Between those dates his name is not so obviously connected with the Shakespeare canon, but that does conceal the fact that he had a strong business connection with James Roberts, whose name was everywhere on the Bard’s work.

It is to the Jaggard family of printers that we go next, offering plenty of new information, which throws a fresh light on the Jaggard’s place in the Shakespeare story.

Jaggard and Jaggard & Jaggard – publishers and printers

The Jaggard family of printers, father, son and elder brother, are a central part of this story, and with Isaac Jaggard’s name on the front of the First folio it has long been a familiar one to all Shakespeare devotees. However, there has always been plenty of confusion and misunderstanding about the role of the Jaggard family, and their irregular involvement in the Shakespeare canon doesn’t make much sense to the casual onlooker, or even to many of the ‘experts’. I came upon the Jaggard printers, at the end of my research into the Jagger family, not the beginning, so I already had a tree of people, firmly in place, the majority of who seem to be unknown, even to the most knowledgeable Shakespeare scholars.

There exists, an extensive and extremely detailed volume about the Jaggard printer family; ‘A printer of Shakespeare; the books and times of William Jaggard’, written by Edwin Eliott Willoughby, published in 1934. However, that comprehensive work, also hits a brick wall when investigating the recesses of their extended family tree, although it has provided me with a wonderful source, to help in determining, who printed what, where and when.

William Jaggard was baptised on 2nd March 1566/67, at St Lawrence Church, Old Jewry, situated in the same complex of buildings as the Guildhall and the Blackwell Hall. William had an elder brother, John, also baptised in the same church, who also became a printer, and a younger brother, Thomas, whose fate is unknown. Their father’s name was written as, John Jagger, who became a member of the Company of Barber-Surgeons, sometime before 1569, but he died in 1570, aged only 24.

John Jagger, the barber-surgeon, had married Bridget Wayte, in 1564, and this provided the family connection to the printing business, because Bridget’s sister, Elizabeth Wayte had married the notable printer, Henry Denham, and it was to Henry, that William Jaggard was apprenticed. That is one of those crucial family connections that was suspected by some, but never confirmed till now.

You read it here first…!!!!

The name Jaggard is really a ‘brand name’, created to ensure some consistency on the printed page. Some Shakespeare scholars have noted seeing the ‘Jagger’ variation in official records of Jaggard the printers, and that takes us back to William’s father, John Jagger, who was born in Coleman Street in 1546, the son of William Jagger and Margaret Whiting. John was actually baptised in the parish records as John ‘Jagar’, and was the son of William Jagger, gentleman usher.

One of my most interesting observations in the spelling conundrum is that when historic copies of original parish documents were made, there are occasionally two different transcribed versions. In the case of John Jagger, barber-surgeon, there is a ‘Jaggard’ version and a ‘Gagger’ version, in the transcribed London parish records for St Lawrence, Old Jewry. When John appears in the records of the Company of Barber-Surgeons his name is spelt as both ‘Jagger’ and ‘Jaggard’. Add the baptism record of ‘Jagar’ and then we have four, very different, spellings for a central figure in this saga.

The birth, marriage and death records of Shakespeare printers, William and Isaac Jaggard, and their children, only occasionally show the ‘Jaggard’ spelling. Isaac is the best example, as there is a rather scratchy birth record of Isaac ‘Jager’, and his marriage record in 1625, post First folio, is written ‘Jacker’, with an annotation in the margin of ‘Jagger’. However Isaac’s last will and testament sees him use his ‘printer’ name of Jaggard.

The familiar, Jaggard, spelling does crop up for the baptism of William’s elder brother, John Jaggard, in 1565, also at St Lawrence, Old Jewry, and this spelling remained consistent during his life time. Probably being the elder brother, John took the lead in the spelling decisions and William followed suit in his printer business. Overall, analysis of the spelling variations in the family puts the blame fairly and squarely with the scribes in the neighbouring parish churches of St Stephen’s, Coleman Street, and St Lawrence, Old Jewry, and particularly the latter, where the name ‘Jaggard’ was first ‘invented’ by the parish clerk.

Now the eyes of experienced Shakespearean scholars might have opened a little more widely, at the mention of the name Bridget Wayte, as the mother of William and John Jaggard. Remember the criminal case between Shakespeare and his three comrades, who were accused of threatening William Wayte. My research leads me to believe that William Wayte was a younger half-brother to the two girls, Bridget and Elizabeth Wayte.

Their father, Edmund Wayte, a warden of the Leathersellers Company, married Elizabeth, (surname unknown), who was the mother of Elizabeth and Bridget. After Elizabeth died, Edmund Wayte remarried, to Frances Lucy, daughter of Robert Lucy, who may have been related to the Stratford Lucy family, and the couple produced a son, William Wayte. After Edmund Wayte died, Frances Lucy remarried, to Sir William Gardiner, Sheriff of Surrey and a Justice of the Peace. This eventually led to a series of well documented, legal, wrangles between Gardiner and his step-son William Wayte, regarding the family inheritance.

The Justice seems to get a generally bad press, as being a corrupt official, and this is the same William Gardiner, who some say was satirised, by Shakespeare, as Justice Robert Shallow, in the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’. That connection is picked up by a present day promotion by the National Trust, for visitors to their Charlecote Park, home of the Lucy family.

‘The magistrate happened to be Sir Thomas Lucy, the then incumbent of Charlecote. Sir Thomas also allegedly flogged Shakespeare and shortly afterwards he dashed off to London and in Henry iv Part 11 and The Merry Wives of Windsor, he makes fun of a ‘Justice Shallow’ whose coat of arms are not too dissimilar from the Lucy one and he also mentions ‘bad killing of deer.

We still don’t have William Shakespeare in the same print room as the Jaggards, but the Wayte connection brings them closer together, and in a rather intriguing way.

T9 Jaggard Wayte Lucy connection

William Jaggard served his apprenticeship with his uncle, the printer, Henry Denham, who himself had been apprenticed, from 1553-60, to Richard Tottel, who in turn had been apprenticed to William Middleton. Richard Tottel had married Joan Grafton, daughter of King’s printer, Richard Grafton, the man who was imprisoned for printing Bibles without permission.

William’s elder brother, John Jaggard, was apprenticed to the same, but now elderly, Richard Tottel, who held the monopoly for legal publications and had set up business, inside the bounds of the Temple Bar, in Fleet Street, close to members of the legal profession. Tottel seems to have gained the legal printing rights formally held by William Middleton. The cosy family connection between all these printers continues unabated, a fact totally ignored by scholars who take an interest in the Bard’s work.

Richard Tottel has a number of claims to fame, being a founder member Company of Stationers, when it was reformed in the last year of Queen Mary’s reign, in 1557. Tottel held the monopoly to print all legal documents, from 1553 till his death in 1594, but he is better known, in the world of Renaissance literature, for producing the miscellany, ‘Songs and Sonettes’, known as ‘Tottel’s Miscellany’.

The first edition appeared on 5th June, 1557 and there were five later reprints. The volume consisted of 271 poems, including 54 sonnets, none of which had ever been printed before. The major contributors Thomas Wyatt, and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, were by then already deceased, but also included work by several other poets, who were also dead.

Perhaps this should be known as ‘The Dead Poet’s Miscellany’..!!

‘Songs and Sonettes’ was the first poetic anthology of this type and although there were several reprints of ‘Tottel’s Miscellany’, the sonnet format was not used again until Philip Sidney’s, ‘Astrophil and Stella’ (1591), ‘The Phoenix Nest’ (1593), and then Jaggard’s ‘Passionate Pilgrim’, in 1599. Verses in the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’ and ‘Hamlet’, are taken from ‘Songs and Sonettes’ and there is also a quote used in ‘The Rape of Lucrece’.

The Howard connection, with their turbulent family history, as Dukes of Norfolk and protectors of the Catholic tradition, plays a recurring part in this story. There were legitimate royal connections back through both sides of the Howard family, which led to Henry Howard being executed by Henry VIII, who feared he might try to usurp Prince Edward and take the crown.

Henry Howard had married Frances de Vere, daughter of John de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford, which gives links to our infamous, Shakespeare inpersonator, Edward de Vere, (Frances was his aunt) and to John de Vere, the 12th Earl, who was beheaded in 1462 on Tower Hill, in the incident, when William Clopton of Long Melford was pardoned.

The politics behind ‘Tottel’s Miscellany’ might be significant here. First published in the last months of Mary’s reign, the Catholic sympathies of the main author cannot have been overlooked and the Howard family continued to walk the Catholic/Protestant tightrope during Elizabeth’s time. Thomas Howard (1536-72) was Elizabeth’s Earl Marshall, but was eventually executed for plotting to marry her Scottish rival, Mary, Queen of Scots, with the intention of overthrowing his monarch and returning England to Catholicism.

Henry’s elder brother, William Howard and son, Charles Howard of Effingham, proved to be more loyal to Elizabeth and both served in high office, as Lord Admiral. Charles was created first Earl of Nottingham and credited as master-minding the defeat of the Spanish Armada, in 1588. He was also the patron of the acting troupe, Nottingham’s Men, who then became ‘Lord Admiral’s Men’, significant in performing several early plays, which were later credited to Shakespeare.

There seems something incongruous here, as two generations of Howard were executed for treason, as potential claimants to the crown, yet close cousins were key members of the governments of Elizabeth and later James I. This all seems typical of the ‘carrot and stick’ way the Tudor monarchs kept control of their kingdom, , executing, as traitors the most dangerous rivals, and keeping others, close-by, in the government, adorning them with fancy titles, but in reality giving them very little power.

Henry Howard’s sonnets might well have been banned under the new Queen’s reign, but they weren’t and then that staunch Protestant, Philip Sidney, popularised the format of a Catholic sympathiser. The Howard/de Vere marriage adds a little weight to the idea that it was Edward de Vere who was the real author of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, a format that would have been, totally, in keeping with his heritage.

William Jaggard’s uncle, and master during his apprenticeship, Henry Denham, had served his own apprenticeship with Richard Tottel, 25 years earlier, during the turbulent years of four monarchs in five years; Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. Henry Denham was working with Tottel at the rebirth of the Stationer’s Company and when ‘Songs and Sonettes’ was published. The influence of Richard Tottel’s great success, in publishing this poetry anthology, must surely have rubbed off on Henry Denham and the Jaggard brothers.

Denham was an innovative young printer, who in 1560, introduced the semi-colon to the English language and later the rhetorical question mark; a question mark reversed. This proved a failure, but the semi-colon later became popular and Ben Jonson was amongst the first writers to use the symbol with regularity. Denham was also noted for his extensive range of type, particularly his decorative initials, which became a marker for the high quality of his work.

William Jaggard’s apprenticeship, with Henry Denham, began on 20th Aug 1584, in a print shop that had a reputation for quality. At one stage Denham had responsibility for seven apprentices and four presses, when most printers of the period only had the legal maximum of two of each. This transgression was made possible because Denham had been a major influence in setting up the ‘Eliot’s Court Printing House’, situated in the Old Bailey. This radical enterprise had been proposed in the will of printer, Henry Bynneman, whose patron had been our old friend, Robert Dudley.

It was Queen Elizabeth’s favourite squeeze, who helped Bynneman obtain the sole rights to print dictionaries, histories & chronicles, which led to Bynneman printing the first edition of the Holinshed Chronicles, in 1578. Those rights were passed to Henry Denham and Ralphe Newbery, a man who was twice master of the Stationers Company, and led to the more famous reprint, of Holinshed, in 1587/8.

The Eliot’s Court co-operative also included Edmund Bollifant, Arnold Hatfield, John Jackson and Ninian Newton. Three of them, Bollifant, Hatfield and Newton were stationers and printers, each having served their apprenticeship with Henry Denham. John Jackson was not a printer, but a member of the Grocers’ Company and was probably there to provide extra finance. Ralphe Newbury was another of the executors of the Bynneman will and this collection of qualified individuals allowed for the four presses and more than the usual number of apprentices.

By 1564, Henry Denham had set up his own printing house, in White Cross Street, Cripplegate, but in the following year he moved to Paternoster Row, at the sign of the ‘Star’, a symbol he adopted for his own printer’s device. After creating the Eliot’s Court printing house, Denham moved his own business yet again, this time to Aldersgate Street, which separated the Barbican from Clerkenwell, and this is where William Jaggard probably have served the majority of his apprenticeship.

Note too that this was close to the ‘Half-Eagle and Key’ premises of John Charlewood and James Roberts, which Jaggard himself, later took charge.

The Eliot Court partnership went its own way and had a remarkably long life, surviving until 1674. The partnership changed members frequently, but seems to have established its place in the market, printing legal documents and maps with an occasional diversion into the world of literature. The printers mark for Eliot Court Printing House was the entwined snakes, the caduceus and may give a clue as to who was responsible for the printing of the 1664 edition of Shakespeare’s folio.

The exact relationship between Eliot Court and the Star print shops is not clear, except Henry Denham had his hands in both businesses. Some sources say ‘Eliot Court’ was involved with printing the updated version of the Holinshed Chronicles, which were published in January 1587/88. This edition is believed by many scholars, to have been used by Shakespeare as the source of information for his history plays. However, the visual evidence is that Denham, Newbery, Bishop and others, published the work, and the printers mark clearly shows Denham’s ‘Star’ device , with the text being printed at his Aldersgate Street premises.

This second edition of the Chronicles was printed under royal supervision (‘cum privilegio’), after it had been referred to the Privy Council for censorship. There were several revisions to the original version, editing out sensitive events, which criticised the monarchy or England’s new alliances, and all done under the watchful eyes of Henry Killigrew, Thomas Randolph, and John Hammond.

Holinshed Chronicles

Holinshead – 1587 edition

Henry Denham eased himself out of the printing business, in the early 1590s, and this allowed William Jaggard to receive his freedom on 6th Dec 1591, nine months earlier than his contract stated. By then the day to day running of the ‘Star’ business, in Aldersgate Street, had passed into the hands of Peter Short and Richard Yardley.

Short and Yardley printed a number of Shakespeare plays, although the rights were held by different publishers. ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ was the earliest, in 1594, but at this stage no author was attached to the printed copy. They also printed work by Samuel Daniel, who gets frequent mention in this story, as a member of the Countess of Pembroke’s Wilton House set. Another significant assignment was to print the work of Daniel’s employer, the Countess’s version of ‘The Tragedy of Antonie’, published by William Ponsonby.

William Jaggard’s daughter, Jayne, later married a Richard Yardley., with the age difference suggesting Jayne probably married a junior model, but in the way of things in the Tudor world, she might equally have married the elderly man himself, as his second or possibly, third wife.

This cats cradle of business and familial relationships draws ever tighter, again suggesting that there seems little room for a lone writer, plying his trade, without comment by those around him. Equally, if there was a conspiracy afoot, then they must ALL have had some degree of knowledge of what was taking place and had good reason to keep it secret.

In 1592, William Jaggard started his own bookshop, in the churchyard of St Dunstan in the West, in Fleet Street, close to the law courts and the lawyers, and close to Richard Tottel’s shop, where his brother, John had trained, and was now in day to day charge. William might have been making use of the old Pynson and Middleton premises, established 50 years earlier, as the baton had been passed securely between them, via Powell, Grafton and Denham. All the most influential men in England would have passed his front door, and many would have stepped inside to make a judicious purchase.

On 23rd April 1593, William Jaggard applied for permission to print the playbills for the theatre, shortly after the death of the rights owner, John Charlewood, but he failed because both the deceased’s wife and the business rights had been passed to fellow printer, James Roberts. So very early on in his business career, William Jaggard tried to gain access to the world of the theatre. At this time he had no printing press of his own, but there must have been an underlying motive in applying for printing the theatre playbills.

This yearning for the theatre might be explained, because on 26th August 1594, in St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street; William Jaggard, (written as Gagger), married Jayne Bryan.

  William gagger marriage 1594 abb

Marriage of William Gagger to Jane Bryan – 1594

Here is another interesting surname because William’s grandfather’s first wife was called Agnes Brian, but perhaps more relevantly, there was a George Bryan, who was a leading actor and shareholder in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

Together with Will Kempe, George Bryan had from the late 1580’s, been a member of Lord Strange’s Men, joining the Lord Chamberlain’s Men in 1594. George Bryan seems to have ended his time as an actor in 1596 and later moved into the Royal Court, where he is noted as a Groom of the Chamber to James I, in 1604 and later, from 1610-13.

George Bryan had married Katherine Griffin, in 1592, at St Leonards, Shoreditch and the wife’s name also has connections to the Jaggards, as Lancelot Griffin, from Lincolnshire, became an apprentice to William Jaggard, in 1595. That enhances the argument that George Bryan was very likely to have been William Jaggard’s brother-in-law, with Jayne and George being brother and sister. At the same time Lancelot Griffin began as an apprentice, Jaggard also started Yorkshireman, Thomas Cotes, in the printing business, and it was some 30 years later that Cotes and his family took over the Jaggard print shop and played their part in the later Shakespeare folios.

At the start of his career, William Jaggard was a publisher and bookseller, not a printer. His first offering was a small religious pamphlet, which was printed, for him, by Peter Short and so suggests that Jaggard was still using his uncle’s old business as his print base. This pamphlet was the text of a sermon preaching anti-Catholic, strongly Puritan sentiments, giving a sure indication of Jaggard’s religious leanings. His business, during his early years, was based around these religious pamphlets and the republishing of old works, using the presses of Short, and occasionally the ex-Tottel presses being managed by his brother.

His first work, registered with the Stationers Company, was in March 1594/95, when he re-published, ‘the book of secrets of Albertus Magnus of the virtues of herbes, stones and certain beasts’. This was an old book on Hermetic science, what we might today call ‘alternative therapy’, and was a popular mixture of science and religion, and survives in revised form to the present. Jaggard was clearly cashing in on the interest in mysticism and alchemy that had arisen in the new Protestant world, and he had a ready made clientele on his doorstep. However, did he have other motivations, because this brings William Jaggard face to face with another of our friends, Albertus Magnus, the Dominican friar?

We shall see, later, how large sections of the higher echolons of English life were involved in this transition period from the era of magic and mysticism to the scientific world that has dominated the past four centuries. We shall also see how the influence of Albertus and his Dominicans continued long after their supposed sell-by date, at the time of the dissolution of the monastries.

William Jaggard’s first foray into a book of verse was ‘Hunnies recreations’, which Short printed for him, and this was a reprint from an earlier Denham version. This had other theatrical connections, as the author was William Hunnis, who was Master of the Children of the Royal Chapel. The boys were choristers, but they also performed plays for the Royal Court and had their base at the ‘indoor’, Blackfriars theatre, where they attracted large audiences, and were seen as strong competition for the professional playhouses.

Now came the period when William’s family began to grow in size, and a son, and inheritor of the business, was born, on the 19th April 1595, when Isaac Jaggard was baptised in the church at St Bride’s, Fleet Street, (written with a spelling that looks like ‘Jagar’). A couple of years later there was a second son, William Jaggard, baptised in St Botolphs, Bishopsgate, followed by Jayne Jaggard, in 1598, again baptised at St Botolphs. Son, William seems to have died, aged five, in 1603, possibly one of the victims of that year’s plague outbreak. The final two children, mentioned in the parish records, were Thomas and Alice.

Isaac Jager 1595 baptism abb

Isaac Jagar – baptism 1595

William Jaggard’s youngest son, Thomas, is of some interest, because he studied at Cambridge University and then became a clergyman in Yorkshire, as the rector of Kirkby Overblow. His appointment was endorsed by the Earl of Northumberland, Algernon Percy, son of Henry Percy (known as the ‘wizard’ Earl), another family whose name just keeps popping up from no-where.

Thomas Jaggard later returned to London and on 5th January 1546/47 was appointed minister for St Botolphs without Aldergate. Thomas then became embroiled in the battle between Parliament and the King, and in 1650 was arrested for preaching in favour of Charles Stuart, the future King Charles II.

Thomas was imprisoned for over a year, for his Royal prayers, but was eventually freed on surieties of £600. The Cotes family were leading parishioners at his church, and this connection may account for his magnanimous congregation, who helped to pay his enormous fine, and who then took him back, with a generous salary of £100 per annum. This seems an extraordinary about-turn in his fortunes.

The extended Jaggard printer family also throw up interesting connections, which cross boundaries into the theatre world, the world of science and quite directly, to those who added their names to the introductory section of the First folio.

William Jaggard’s daughter, Alice, married Francis Bowles, a skinner, and there was a Dorothy Bowles, who married William Henslowe. Both names are rare and it should be noted that the great theatre impresario, Philip Henslowe traded in goat skins, and had a brother William, so this looks like a direct Jaggard-Henslowe connection, albeit as in-laws.

Theatre manager, Philip Henslowe is known for his meticulous diary of accounts, which shows payments to twenty seven different playwrights, but fails to mention the ‘famous’ William Shakespeare, anywhere…..!!!

Another name, closely associated with the Jaggards, is the Mabb family. William’s elder brother, John Jaggard, married Elizabeth Mabb, in 1597, and produced a large and highly successful family. John’s son, James ‘Jagger’, married Ann Hemmings, so this looks very much like the daughter of John Hemming, leading light in the King’s Men and the supposed driving force behind the 1623 folio. James ‘Jagger’ rekindled the line of barber-surgeons, begun by his grandfather, whilst his son, Thomas Jagger, was appointed barber-surgeon, on the naval ship, ‘Warspite’, in 1666.

The Mabb connection is most significant, because it was James Mabb (1572-1642) who wrote the fourth poem in the prelude to the Bard’s 1623 folio. He was a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and his specialty was translations from Spanish, a country where he had lived for some time, as one of Elizabeth’s ambassadors. He was a good friend of Leonard Digges, a scientist with a famous father, and Leonard was another who wrote a piece for the First folio prelude.

John Jaggard’s wife, Elizabeth Mabb, was one of James’s younger sisters, in a family of eight. Their grandfather, John Mabbe, had been a wealthy goldsmith, with his business amongst the gold dealers of the South Cheapside, but more significantly, from 1577 till 1582, he served in the exalted position of ‘Chamberlain for the City of London’. The position is now wholly ceremonial, but until 1600 the Chamberlain was the man responsible for the financial affairs of the City, including assessment and collection of tax and payment of the bills of the City Corporation. This wealthy goldsmith also had a family of eight children, one of whom was John Mabbe, the father of Elizabeth and James, and in 1576, John was granted a licence to sell jewels in the City.

John Mabbe, the jeweller, married Martha Denham, the daughter of William Denham, probably the younger sister of Henry Denham. This gives another connection to ‘Uncle Henry’ and completes what looks like a rather magical circle of people, all of whom seemed to have played an unwitting part in the later creation of the William Shakespeare brand.

T10 Jaggers of Coleman Street

So, the Denhams, Jaggards, Mabbes and Waytes are as closely tied together as any of the noble personages. You might even add the Bryans, Henslowes, Hemmings and Griffins into the mix as well. The well heeled, Mabbe family had large families in successive generations, and with most as yet lying unresearched, the opportunities to discover even more interesting strands to this Shakespearean web of intrigue is more than promising.

T11 Mabb-Digges-Jaggard

As Tudor London headed towards the turn of the 16th century, William Jaggard’s life path was becoming well established, but it was extremely hard work, with children and apprentices for him to worry about, as well as the constant task of finding suitable material to publish.

The years of the 1590s were a difficult time for all Elizabethans, as the plague continued to be a recurrent menace, plus a number of wet summers produced poor harvests, which caused food prices to rocket. The unemployed, the poor, the unloved and the unwashed, descended on the metropolis and its numbers swelled to overflowing, with an estimate of over 100,000 plus within the walls, that contained just a square mile of land. There is also a suggestion that the charity, offered by Christ’s Hospital and the Bridewell Hospital, acted as a magnet for scroungers from across England, and so exacerbated the problem, which these institutions were set-up to alleviate.

The professional theatre thrived on the increased population, but the entertainment business generally responded by catering for the baser instincts of humanity, and the City of London authorities did their best to restrict performances of the lewd and profane, on their side of the river. The Southwark side of the River Thames was outside their control, and therefore became the home to brothels, bear baiting, gambling and a raft of other unsavoury activities. Amongst this deluge of unbridled gratification, the Southwark riverbank also became the home to the ‘Rose’ and the ‘Globe’ theatres.

The Passionate Pilgrim

It was almost at the end of the century, in 1599, when William Jaggard published his first work, which rattles the cages of the entrenched Shakespeare scholars. ‘The Passionate Pilgrim’ is an anthology of poetry, published under the name of ‘W. Shakespeare’, which comprised twenty poems; with thirteen seemingly, attributed to Shakespeare and seven others to a mixture of poets, including Walter Raleigh and Christopher Marlowe. Two of Shakespeare’s sonnets, numbers 138 and 144, appeared for the first time, and three poems were taken from, ‘Love’s Labours Lost’, a play first published in 1598. The other poems were based on the theme of Shakespeare’s very first poem, ‘Venus and Adonis’.

Scholars now attribute only five of the poems in ‘Passionate Pilgrim’ to Shakespeare, but perhaps Jaggard knew better, as there was little reason for him to make an erroneous attribution. Our Californian analysts, Elliot and Valenza, however, say their modal analysis indicates that the majority of the Passionate Pilgrim poems test as ‘strikingly Shakespearean’.

One of the ‘other’ poems was written by Bartholomew Griffin, a poet, who describes himself as a gentleman and was possibly the father, or maybe the elder brother of Jaggard’s apprentice, Lancelot Griffin. Bartholomew’s sonnet was taken from an anthology, published in 1596, which also included a sequence of sonnets, by Michael Drayton, another whose name frequently pops up at opportune moments. One of Drayton’s sonnets in his anthology was entitled, ‘An Allusion to the Phoenix’, perhaps paying homage to the ‘Phoenix Nest’ anthology of three years before.

The anthology was never registered with the Stationers Company, but William Jaggard arranged for the bookseller, William Leake, the copyright owner of ‘Venus and Adonis’, to sell ‘The Passionate Pilgrim’ for him, at Leake’s shop, the sign of the Greyhound, in St Paul’s Churchyard. This seems to have been a clever ploy, which might circumvent any conflict of interest. There are no records of complaint from the authors or other booksellers about these early versions of ‘The Passionate Pilgrim’.

Jaggard did not print the 1599 anthology himself, as he was still without his own press, but instead used the services of Thomas Judson, a printer who only set up shop at the end of 1598. Judson printed two editions, in one year, although the first only exists as a fragment, with no title page or date, so could have been published in 1598. Two editions in a year must have meant that Jaggard underestimated the sales potential of his work.

The Passionate Pilgrim -1599  Passionate Pilgrim title page comparison - 1612

Passionate Pilgrim 1599 and two editions in 1612, the second amended

Jaggard published ‘Passionate Pilgrim’ in a third edition, in 1612, but did the printing work himself, again producing two editions, in a short time, but this time for a very different reason.

There are two different versions of the 1612 title-page — one with Shakespeare’s name, this time written as ‘W. Shakespere’, and one edition without. Scholars have concluded that Jaggard was forced to reprint the volume because Thomas Heywood, objected to the inclusion of two of his own poems, in this enlarged anthology.

Jaggard had published these two poems a few years earlier, in Heywood’s ‘Troia Britanica’ (1609); and as the publisher of both, Jaggard felt he was within his rights to re-use the work. In an epistle appended to his ‘Apologie for Actors’ (published in 1612), Heywood complained about the actions of William Jaggard, and suggested that the ‘author’ of the work was also unhappy about the use of his name.

‘Here likewise, I must necessarily insert a manifest iniury done me in that worke, by taking the two Epistles of ‘Paris to Helen’, and ‘Helen to Paris’, and printing them in a lesse volume, vnder the name of another, which may put the world in opinion I might steale them from him; and hee to doe himselfe right, hath since published them in his owne name.’

‘The Author was I know much offended with M. Iaggard (that altogether vnknowne to him) presumed to make so bold with his name.’ Thomas Heywood

This fracas between Heywood and Jaggard is frequently used, by the Shakespeare community, to denigrate the status of the Jaggard print house. It is also used as a clear indication that Shakespeare was unknown to the Jaggards and that he was complaining, via a third party, about the use of his name.

Heywood was said to be a protégé of the Earls of Derby, whose acting troupe performed his plays, so his complaint, could have been connected with his relationship with William Stanley, Earl of Derby. Thomas Heywood might not have been aware that William Jaggard, by now ‘printer to the City of London’, was very much part of the Shakespeare conspiracy, that he could use the Shakespeare name, with a wink and a nod’ from the grand possessors. The replacement of a less contentious ‘front page’ was a simple and expedient way to keep everyone happy and not ruffle any more feathers.

The only other edition of this period was not until 1640, when Thomas Cotes included the ‘Passionate Pilgrim’ in a much larger anthology.

Single words or phrases have been debated, ad infinitum, by Shakespeare scholars trying to prove or disprove a point. Some even try to hang the fate of the genre around the neck of an ‘upstart crow’. The analysis of thousands of individual words makes up a large percentage of Shakespeare theology.

So, when I read though the poems of ‘The Passionate Pilgrim’. I was surprised to see, in the very first stanza, a clue as to the authenticity of the Shakespeare name. This first poem is, in fact, found later, as Numero 138, in Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Well almost..!!

The Passionate Pilgrim begins:

‘When my love swears that she is made of truth,
I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutored youth,
Unskilful in the world’s false forgeries’

Might that not be similar to one of Agatha Christie’s detective fictions, where she frequently places one of her main clues, at the opening scene of the novel. The opening lines of ‘The Passionate Pilgrim’ suggest, to me, that ‘lies’, ‘(un)truths’ and ‘forgeries’ are to be at the heart of what is to come, and not everything is quite what it seems.

To add to my suspicions, when the poem was published, as number 138 of Shakespeare’s collection of sonnets, in 1609, the words of the fourth line have been changed, with ‘unskilful’ becoming ‘unlearned’, and perhaps more significantly, the word ‘forgeries’ has been changed to ‘subtleties’.

‘Unskilful in the world’s false forgeries’

has become

‘Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties’

 William Jaggard’s elder brother, John, has been mentioned briefly, but he is an important character in his own right. John began his apprenticeship with Richard Tottel, on 29th Sept 1584, and received his freedom on 7th Aug 1591, although by then Tottel was an old man and had retired from active duties.

Charles Yetsweirt took over Tottel’s rights to the legal books, but John Jaggard remained in charge of the day to day running of the ‘Hand and Star’ printing business, and in the tax rolls for the mid 1590s, he was shown to have a more successful business than his brother.

When he died, in 1595, Yetsweirt’s rights to the law books were challenged, but they remained with the business, now under the charge of his widow, Jane. However, when she died, in 1598, the legal rights were finally lost, and so was the right to own a printing press. John Jaggard then hit hard times, being left with only the remnants of the ‘Hand and Star’ business, to support him.

After that setback, John needed to extend his repertoire and was noted to co-operate more frequently with his brother, William, sharing with him some of the print contracts and with two other associates George Shaw and Ralphe Blore, who had been fellow apprentices at the Tottell print shop.

At the turn of the century, a year after William Jaggard had published the first edition of ‘Passionate Pilgrim’, the two brothers became embroiled in a matter, which had the potential to ruin their careers. John published and William printed, a travelogue, about the expedition of Sir Anthony Shirley, which had extended as far as the Middle East and Persia. The original ‘passport’ was for a diplomatic mission to Venice, but was extended on the say so of his sponsor, the Earl of Essex, but without any Royal warrant from Queen Elizabeth.

Shirley was forbidden by Elizabeth, from returning to England and the script had been carried back by two of his travel companions. An anonymous pamphlet describing this illegal journey, ‘The True Report of Sir Anthony Shirley’s Journey’, was published, with only the initials, ‘R.B for I.I’ (Ralphe Blore for John Jaggard). However, on 23 October 1600, it was William Jaggard who was fined by the Stationers’ Company, the sum of two marks, and threatened with prison, with the remaining pamphlets destroyed. Ralphe Blore was also fined, but, somehow, John Jaggard escaped scot free. Who actually printed the pamphlets is unclear, as the two brothers were without their own printing presses, during this period, but it may well have been that Ralphe Blore had his own print shop.

In 1601, William Jaggard began what became, a twenty year association with bookseller, Thomas Pavier, when he compiled a very grand folio book, ‘A view of the Rt Honorable the Lord Mayors of this Honorable City’, fully illustrated, with woodcuts of the individuals. Jaggard was also the author of the work and was clearly produced to gain favour with the leading lights of the City of London, and perhaps restore the Jaggard reputation after the previous year’s indiscretion.

Lord Mayor book

Sir William Ryder – One of the mayoral portraits

In 1602, William Jaggard at last had his hands on something theatrical, as he leased the rights from James Roberts to print playbills for the ‘Earl of Worcester’s Men’. This acting troupe’s sponsor was Edward Somerset, Earl of Worcester, a descendant of the Beaufort family. These players had only been given a patent to perform that same year, and were soon to change their name to ‘Queen Anne’s Men’, after King James’ consort awarded them her patent.

The Earl held the position of Earl Marshal, at the time, but the new king put that position into abeyance and instead Somerset became Lord Privy Seal and keeper of the Great Park, at Nonsuch Palace, Surrey. He was kept close to King James and became an important advisor, although monarchs often did this to keep an eye on potential rivals. Descendants of the Beaufort line were always thought to be potential claimants to the throne.

William Jaggard continued to grow his business and after Griffin had gained his freedom, he took on two more apprentices, Francis Langley and Thomas Greene. This could have been the son of Francis Langley who had built the Rose Theatre, and was involved with William Shakespeare in the 1596 case with William Wayte. The Greene name is common, but has a variety of possible literary connections. Thomas Cotes still remained, and didn’t gain his freedom, until 3rd October 1607. With three apprentices, this made him an exception to the ‘two only’ rule, an exception that was normally only available to senior officers of the Stationers Company.

William Jaggard doesn’t appear to have had his own printing press before 1604, but from about the time of the ‘playbills’ contract, in 1602, he probably shared the business premises of the sixty two year old, James Roberts and the ‘gilliflower and rose’ mark appeared on both their work.

In 1604, Jaggard gained a patent from the new King to print copies of the ‘Ten Commandments’, for every parish church in England, a job in excess of 10,000 sheets. He was entitled to charge 15d each, and so there would have been considerable profit. Financially, he also did very well from the death of his aunt, Elizabeth Denham, who died in 1605, and she left him a share in her property.

From then onwards, William Jaggard’s business thrived, now trading in partnership with Roberts under the ‘Half-eagle and key’, on the corner of the Barbican. In 1606, he printed for his brother, the ‘Essays of Francis Bacon’ and there were further editions of the ‘Bacon’s Essays’, in 1612 and 1613. John Jaggard probably gained the rights because he had been apprenticed, alongside William Tottel, who later became the steward to Francis Bacon.

In 1607, William Jaggard, now in full control of his printing output, published Edward Topsell’s spectacular volume, the ‘History of foure footed beastes’, a massive 800 page book, which was profusely illustrated with woodcuts. The following year, this was followed in similar style, by the ‘History of Serpents’.

History of Serpents - front cover

An edition of his spectacular animal books – the GORGON…??

Edward Topsell has a passing connection with William’s clerical son, Thomas Jaggard, as Topsell was curate of St Botolphs without Aldergate, from 1604 till 1625, the same church where Jaggard took a similar role, a generation later.

James Roberts made his last entry at Stationers Hall, in July 1606 and probably, William Jaggard took control of the Barbican business from then onwards, becoming the sole owner of the James Roberts, from 1608, when the retiring printer took his pension. Jaggard continued to trade under the sign of the ‘Eagle and Half-key’ and for much of his output continued to use the Roberts ‘gilliflower’ mark, although as we will see, he adopted his own, very distinctive printer device.

As mentioned, in an earlier section, on 20th March 1609/10, William Jaggard engaged an apprentice called John Shakespeare, son of Thomas Shakespeare, the Warwick butcher. A plethora of scholars just disregard this as a ‘pure coincidence’, one stating there were ‘lots of Shakespeare’s in Warwickshire’. The Warwick side of the family has been traditionally connected with John Shakespeare, the shoemaker of Stratford, who I now believe was the poet’s elder brother. Whether this is the case or not ,the family link between the Jaggard print shop and the Bard’s family is strong and cannot be ignored.

John Shakespeare (the shoemaker) had married widow, Margaret Roberts from the Stratford shoemaking business, and could it be that her deceased husband was related to James Roberts, the London printer. Is this a pure coincidence, in a marriage of the names, or compelling evidence that there is a link between these two significant characters, in my story?

If Thomas and James Roberts were related, then many other parts of the Shakespeare tale begin to fall easily into place. This also gives a motive and a mechanism to explain, how and why, Richard Field, son of a Stratford tanner, also decided to move to London, to become a printer. The connection between the printers Field, Jaggard and Roberts would then be very simple – two Bobs, Thomas and James Roberts. Is the answer to this part of the Shakespeare printing conundrum really that simple?

John Shakespeare remained in the Jaggard shop for his full time as an apprentice, until 22nd May 1617, and much later drew a pension from the Stationers Company, but nothing more is known about his activities in London or elsewhere, after 1617. There was plenty of work during this time and so Jaggard and son may have retained him as a journeyman printer and John Shakespeare could have been there when the First folio was produced. That cannot be discounted.

In 1610, Jaggard was elected to be ‘Printer for the City of London’, an honour, but mainly a ceremonial position, so didn’t mean he printed every official document. He now seemed to be in everyone’s good books, as he had already received positive vibes from King James and his household, was printing the annals of one of the great men of the period, and was now recognised by his fellow City stationers.   However, this proved to be a high point, because just over a year later, life for William Jaggard was to take a decided turn for the worse. His ‘annus horribilis’ was to be 1612.

We have already described, in some detail, his scrap with Thomas Heywood, and the reprinting in a bumper edition of ‘The Passionate Pilgrim’, with the removal of the Shakespeare brand. This seemed to coincide with a personal disaster, because in the summer of 1612, William Jaggard lost his sight – he went blind. Willoughby, in his biography, suggests that his blindness was caused by the mercury treatment for syphilis, which he received in May of that year and that the blindness took hold soon afterwards. His general health would also also have suffered, but William carried on his business for another eleven years, and in a most remarkable fashion, for a printer who had lost his sight.

At the time of the treatment, his son, Isaac was just seventeen years old, but it was only a year later that he gained his ‘freedom’, due to patrimony; the right of the eldest son to follow his father into the same trade. William, assisted by Isaac, worked more closely with his brother, John, after this, with the two mainly printing work for themselves, taking on very few external contracts.

William Jaggard also had help from his wife Jayne, and she is mentioned in connection with the printing of a number of highly illustrated medical books, echoing the barber-surgeon occupation of his father and his nephew. That same year, 1615, Jaggard finally gained the right to print all the theatre playbills, although he had lost his enthusiasm by then, leasing the rights out for others to print them.

Despite these glamorous creations, the day to day work reflected his very first commission, with a steady flow of religious pamphlets, often publishing sermons of staunch Protestants, reflecting views similar to Philip Sidney and Robert Dudley, but never reaching those of the Puritan extremists.

Jaggard’s printer devices

In the same way that the nobility used coats of arms as proof of their heredity, printers’ marks are a great way of establishing, who was apprenticed to whom, and more importantly, who printed what. Printers often had their full name or initials on their work, but at other times their mark, often called a device, is the only clue as to the origin of the item. These marks have helped to sort out who printed various editions of the Shakespeare quartos and the Roberts/Jaggard print shop may have been responsible for printing a larger number than they have generally been credited.

James Roberts is said to have had a Welsh heritage, possibly because he used a mark that had previously belonged to the Welsh printer, Richard Jones. Welsh historians claim both of them to be their brethren, but conclusive evidence placing their origins west of Offa’s Dyke, has not been found.

Their printer’s ‘device’, bears the Welsh phrase, ‘Heb Ddieu Heb Ddim’, (‘without God without everything’), which is surrounding a posy of three flowers. This appeared on Robert’s own work, and continued to appear on later work, by William Jaggard, after Roberts had retired from the business. This printers device then passed on to William’s son, Isaac, and then to the Cotes family.

James Roberts printer device

‘Gilliflower & Rose’ printer device

The main flower is a gilliflower, better known in modern parlance, as a carnation, whilst making up the triumvirate is the Tudor rose and another, which may be a primrose.

William Jaggard used this ‘gilliflower’ mark, but he also had his own personal printer’s mark, which was far more complex and extravagent. Some printers used simple embellished initials, whilst others had intricate and spectacular, religious or scientific designs. Printers’ marks often tell a story, and can be read, just like a coat of arms. Sometimes the device relates to the previous owner of the business, sometimes a cryptic interpretation of their own name and at other times highlight their beliefs or personal heritage. The mark of William Jaggard seems to do all these, with strong connections to the symbolism of other printers, religious beliefs, famous families and secret organisations.

William Jaggard’s personal motif is made up of five main parts; a hand holds an upright sword topped by a portcullis and chains, with the blade adorned by olive branches. An ouroboros snake wraps itself around the hand and also encompasses the word ‘Prudentia’. It is like that of no other English printer.


 William Jaggard printer          Antoine Vincenti printer device

William Jaggard printer device                    Antoine Vincent’s mark

Jaggard though, might be accused of blatant plagerism, because his mark is clearly, inspired by the earlier mark of Antoine Vincent, but with significant differences. Vincent was a wealthy merchant from Lyon, who made a massive contribution, not only to the French printing industry, but also to the rise of the Protestant religion, in France. In 1561, the Huguenot church in Paris and Geneva, organised the printing of 35,000 copies of the complete version of a book containing 150, ‘metrical’, Psalms, and the project was financed and organised by Antoine Vincent, using thirty printers in six different cities.

This metrical psalter, which added music, to translations of the Biblical psalms, was made by Marot and Beze, being first published in France, between 1533 and 1543. They became popular amongst Calvinist congregations because they encouraged community singing and an outward expression of their faith, rather than the repetitive chanting of clerics, that was typical of the Roman church.

The massive printing effort by Antoine Vincent, in 1562, was a significant event in the rise of the French Protestant movement, which led, ten years later to the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre, when several thousand Protestants were killed in Paris, and elsewhere across France. This, in turn, led to the massive migration of Huguenot’s (French Protestants) to Holland and England. In the wake of this exodus, Philip Sidney, and other stalwarts, toured Protestant Europe to drum up support, so battle lines between the two religions were drawn, from that time onwards.

Another ‘name’ coincidence rears its head here, because the very first copy of the First folio was presented by Isaac Jaggard to Augustine Vincent, in November 1623, on behalf of his recently deceased father. This member of the Vincent family had attained a post in the College of Arms, working as an antiquary and assistant to William Camden. Augustine had taken the side of Camden in his ongoing quarrels with Ralphe Brooke, the York Herald, and the young herald seems to have developed a close friendship with William Jaggard.

Augustine’s father was William Vincent, but little further is known about him, except there does seem a sniff of garlic in his father’s pedigree, with his maternal grandfather being a Merchant of the Staple, based in Calais, again pointing towards a continental connection. William Jaggard’s use of a similar mark to Antoine Vincent, points assuredly to the idea that Augustine was Antoine’s grandson.

Jaggard printer device in action

William Jaggard’s personal printer device – in action

The similarities between the two marks, particulary the ouroboros snake, also relates to aspects of the mark of Johan Froben (1460-1527), who was a great early printer from Basel. He opened his print shop, in 1491, and did more than anyone else to make the town of Basel, the early centre of the book trade. His work was of high quality and he employed Hans Holbein the younger, as his illustrator. Froben’s version of The Bible was used by Martin Luther, as his standard text.

Printer device of Johannes Froben by Hans Holbein

Printer’s marks of Johan Froben

Another printer who has closer associations with my story, and took similar inspiration from the Protestant movement, was the German, Andreas Wechel, who hailed from a family of printers. Wechel fled Paris, after the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, and moved his business to Frankfort. His name is associated with printing work by Bruno and other European Humanists, but an exact copy of Wechel’s printers mark reappears again, not in Germany, but in London, on one of the earliest versions of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, King Lear.

Andre Wechel

Printer mark of Andreas Wechel – also found on King Lear..!!

The symbol of the sword and two snakes, the caduceus, we have mentioned on other printers marks, notably the Eliot Court ensemble and on the front cover of the 1664 folio. The caduceus represents the Roman god, Mercury, the winged messenger, a symbol of commerce, (the latin name ‘mercari’ meaning to trade), and was commonly used in the printing industry.

Both Vincent and Jaggard used a different version of the entwined snake, theirs being the ouroboros symbol, of a snake eating its tail. This stylised snake was said to reflect the cycle of life, the immortality of the soul and rebirth, was a symbol of the Hermetic scientific movement and later featured as a symbol of the Masonic movement.

The upright sword has other influences, and they link back to our other friends, the Knights Templar. The symbol of an erect sword combined with a cross was a common symbol of the Templars, indicating that they were fighting for Christianity and similar imagery appears with their compatriots, the Knights Hospitaller.

Whilst Jaggard has adorned his sword with a portcullis, Vincent’s symbol is very different, being dominated by the ‘Eye of Providence’, said to represent the eye of God, watching over mankind.

Eye of Providence

Eye of Providence

Jaggard replaced the all seeing ‘eye’, with the portcullis, which he proudly displayed at the tip of the sword. The portcullis is very much the eye-catching symbol that adorns the coat of arms granted to the City of Westminster, in 1601, and remains prominent till today. This was originally the symbol of the Beaufort family, and via Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII’s mother, it became part of the Tudor arms.

Thus the portcullis, in the time of William Jaggard, was a common sight around London and the Tudor court, but for Jaggard to use the portcullis, in such brazen fashion, he must have been done so, confident that he could justify its use. He doesn’t seem to have had any royal patent to display the symbol, so surely this came with the support of descendants of the Beaufort family.

This may have been associated with his warrant to print playbills for the Queen Anne’s Men and their sponsor, Edward Somerset, a Beaufort descendant. There are other possibilities, as the Beaufort name has featured frequently in this story, all the way from Stainland, in the hills of Yorkshire, to Tomar in the mountains of Portugal. Family connections to the Beaufort line, include many of the noble men and women who dominate this story. Jaggard’s use of the symbol seems more than, just a coincidence.

The final difference with Vincent’s mark is that Jaggard has replaced the printers name, with the word ‘prudentia’, which translates into English, meaning ‘prudence’. The word means wisdom, insight and knowledge, although in modern parlance now suggests exercising caution.

‘Prudence’ was one of the four cardinal virtues, which were first proposed by the Greek philosopher, Plato, as a framework for a moral life. They are the same virtues that appear as the basic standards for the life of a Knight Hospitaller. In classical times, ‘Prudence’ was usually depicted as a bare breasted woman holding a serpent, so the depiction of a snake encircling ‘prudentia’ continues that theme.

Jaggard’s mark also takes inspiration from other printers. The first is the mark of Richard Jugge, which is grand in the extreme, as befitted his position as King’s printer. The Jugge mark was copied by Alexander Arbuthnot, a printer in Edinburgh, who adapted the device for his own. The two printers seem to have a very close connection, with both being in the business of producing Bibles.

This Jugge/Arbuthnot mark has a classical feel to it, and the ‘prudentia’ symbol provides a link between Jaggard and Jugge. The central part of the mark is the pelican feeding her brood, and that symbolism becomes significant later, when dealing with the world of science and the secret societies..

A ‘star and crescent moon’ replaces Jugge’s intricate ‘initials’ design, on the Arbuthnot shield, a symbol that connects to the Muslim world, and again is a symbol linked to the Knights Templar.

Richard Jugge device     Arbuthnot device

The Jugge and Arbuthnot printer’s mark

Jugge’s intricate monogram, using his initials, is remarkably similar to that on the shield of Richard Tottel, of Tottel’s Miscellany, and suggests a common influence.

Richard Tottel printer device     William Middleton printer device

Richard Jugge was a student at Cambridge University, but where he served his apprenticeship or learnt his printing skills is unknown. Richard Tottel worked for William Middleton and so it could be that Jugge was also an apprentice to Middleton.

The printers’ marks of Jugge, Jaggard, Roberts, Tottel and Middleton overlap in their symbolism, whilst the ‘pelican’ section of the Jugge device was passed on as a separate mark to Richard Watkins and William White. Tottel’s depiction of a ‘hand and star’ was complemented in the name of his printer’s shop, and the link is further enhanced by Henry Denham’s use of the ‘Star’ name in his own printing business.

Richard Jugge (c1515-77) was one of the original members of the reformed Stationers Company, elected Warden three times and Master on four occasions. Queen Elizabeth appointed him joint Royal printer, with John Cawood, who had held the title previously, under Queen Mary. Jugge probably gained the position because he was supported by Bishop, Mathew Parker, who soon afterwards, was promoted to Archbishop of Canterbury.

Parker, later, published his ‘Bishop’s Bible’, printed by Jugge, in 1568, which he hoped would compete with the Geneva Bible, which had become the standard reference for Protestant theologians. The Bishop’s Bible was placed in all parish churches, but despite its lavish presentation, it failed to become as popular as the Geneva version, amongst those people rich enough to purchase their own copy.

John Cawood (1514–1572), another from a Yorkshire family, had been made Queen’s printer in 1553, after Richard Grafton was imprisoned by Queen Mary, for jumping the starting gate with his proclamation of ‘Queen Jane Grey’. Cawood printed all Queen Mary’s official proclamations and after a year spent on ‘gardening leave’, at the accession of Elizabeth, he shared the official printer’s role with Jugge, until his death, in 1572. It was John Cawood’s daughter, Mary, who married George Bishop, manager of the Tiger’s Head print shop in the 1580s and 1590s, and it was Bishop who launched, Stratford man, Richard Field, on his successful career in the print trade.

Richard Jugge kept a shop at the ‘sign of the Bible’, at the North door of St Paul’s Cathedral, though his residence was in Newgate Market, next door to Christ Hospital. He was awarded Elizabeth’s Royal Patent, to print Bibles, but despite his excellent decorative skills, his work was noted for its snail like pace and spelling mistakes, and eventually his rights were modified, by order of the church authorities.

Richard Jugge married twice, to Elizabeth Smith in 1539, possibly a daughter of printer Henry Smith, and then, in 1543, to Jone Merrye. This gives a potential date of birth for Richard Jugge of about 1517, although it may be earlier as he moved from Eton College to King’s College, Cambridge in 1531.

Henry Smith was the son-in-law of printer, Robert Redman and was the overseer of his will. This gives us two more potential places where Richard Jugge may have learnt his printing skills, possibly apprenticed to Henry Smith, if it was indeed his daughter he married.

The second marriage, to Jone Merrye, took place at St Lawrence Church, Old Jewry, in 1543, and it was Jone who produced his six children.

Richard Jugge had a steady flow of apprentices, with perhaps the most notable being William White, whose name is closely associated with some of the earliest of Shakespeare’s works. Of special note, is that he was the printer of the first edition of ‘Loves Labours Lost’, in 1598, the first play that had Shakespeare’s name attached to it from the start. William White also printed ‘Richard II’ and ‘Pericles’, with both carrying an attribution to Shakespeare.

This association with Richard Jugge would also explain why William White made use of the pelican symbol for his mark, a prominent part of Jugge’s more intricate device. It should be noted that the pelican also features prominently on the exterior walls at St John’s College, in Oxford, a college founded by another of the same name, Thomas White.

Another namesake, was bookseller, Edward White, (c 1548-1612), who published ‘Titus Andronicus’ in 1594, 1600 and 1611, but chose to bless none of these editions with an author. What is strange is that on 19th April 1602, Thomas Millington, joint publisher in 1594, transferred the copyright to Thomas Pavier. However, the third quarto, of 1611, was printed by Edward Allde for Edward White. Only in 1623 did ‘Titus Andronicus’ have William Shakespeare’s name attached, nearly years later than present day scholars, might have expected.

Edward White was born in Suffolk, the son of John White a mercer from Bury St Edmunds. Edward had a long and well established career, with a shop in St Paul’s Churchyard, at the ‘Sign of the Gun’. He also sold offerings by Thomas Kyd, Robert Greene, Anthony Munday and Christopher Marlowe, but a proportion of his output had no accredited author.

White married Sara Lodge, daughter of Thomas Lodge, Lord Mayor of London, by whom he had at least one son, also named Edward White. Sara was the older half-sister to playwright, Thomas Lodge, making him Edward White’s brother-in-law, and bringing another prime authorship candidate close to the heart of the Shakespeare printing story.

There was also a third White, in the book business, another Thomas White, who took over the Yetsweirt legal rights, in partnership with Bonham Norton and in doing so, deprived John Jaggard of a major part of his business. The connection between these Whites is by name only, and I have been unable to find a complete biography for either, William, Edward or Thomas.

Is this one big happy family of Whites, and do they have a connection to Thomas White, the founder of St John’s College and Merchant Taylor’s School?

Richard Jugge is another notable figure of the period, and one with a murky past. He had a fabulous education, starting at Eton College and then moving on to King’s College, Cambridge. He became a ‘freeman’ printer in 1541, but no record of his ‘master’ has been found, although Henry Smith or William Middleton look to be likely candidates. In 1550, Jugge was one of the first to print the New Testament, in English, and was noted as ‘bestowing not only a good letter, but many elegant initial letters and fine wooden cuts.’

So, who was Richard Jugge, a name I came upon late in the day, but in reality a far more important printer in the Tudor period than the Jaggard clan?

There was nothing, in Richard Jugge’s extensive biographies, naming his father, and nothing about his past, except he was supposed to have come to London, from Waterbeach, in Cambridgeshire. The village of Horningsea, close to Waterbeach, does have a Henry Jugge in the 1580s and 90s, and this could well be the same family, but a generation, or two, later.

The only other Jugge family I could find in England, was to be found not too far away, living on the edge of The Wash, north of Boston, in Lincolnshire. Here was a distinct family group, living there in the latter part of the 16th century, sometimes spelt just Jugg, with no ‘e’. Incidently, ‘Jugg’ is the same spelling found in the London parish records for Richard’s two marriages, in 1539 and 1543.

The Jugge/Jugg name is another of those odd spelling corruptions, as there are very few other families with that name in the records. Apart from those mentioned, the only others I have found, with the same spelling, are Richard Jugge’s own children. There were two sons, Richard and John, both of whom died in 1579, just two years after their father, and four daughters, Katherine, Anne, Elizabeth and Joan. In official biographies, it is recorded that his son, John, briefly took over his business, in 1577, before his own death, two years later.

Now, we have yet more evidence of those cosy printer relationships, because Katherine Jugge married Richard Watkins, who is one of those linch pins holding my Shakespeare printer tree together. This would also offer an explanation for the pelican symbol to be passed in his direction. Her sister, Anne Jugge married John Barley, in 1570, at St Dunstan in the West, and this is another significant surname associated with the Shakespeare canon.

William Barley was a grocer turned bookseller, working in Newgate market, before successfully running bookshops in London and Oxford. William Barley published the anonymous ‘Richard III’ in 1594 and was also the man who brought Thomas Pavier into the book business, as his apprentice. This is almost certainly the same Barley family and this marriage, between Jugge and Barley, may well explain, just how and why William Barley successfully switched trades, from grocer to bookseller.

The last daughter, Joan Jugge married John Cramford in Christ Church, at Newgate, but that is one name that seems to mean very little, at least, so far!

So, Richard Jugge is yet another important and influential man with a mysterious past. I was hoping to find a connection to my Long Melford, Gager family, because changing Jugge to Gager or Jagger is not a big leap, and there is a space in the tree, where he would fit, quite nicely. That would also make him a close relative to the Coleman Street family and it should be noted that Richard’s second marriage was in the same church as John Jagger, barber-surgeon.

The isolated, Jugge clan from Boston, living next to the Wash, could mean they were migrants from Yorkshire, but instead of coming from the north, they could equally well have moved up, from the south, as Cambridgeshire was also not too far away. Boston is in Lincolnshire, and that was also the home county of that notable personality, William Cecil.

T12 Richard Jugge tree

Waterbeach is a tiny village, 10 miles north of Cambridge and only 15 miles west of Long Melford. If I was to discover more about Richard Jugge’s background, then I needed to know more about, what I thought, was this unremarkable pinprick on the map. There isn’t too much there today, and in Tudor times was even less, a most unlikely place to produce such a learned and successful citizen.

Well, there was nothing near Waterbeach, except Denny Abbey, and an order of Franciscan nuns, known as the Poor Clares. I think we have met them before…!!

In 1169, Denny Abbey was given to the Knights Templar, after the Benedictine monks, who had lived there previously, moved to Ely Abbey. This was at the start of Ely’s magnificent transformation,to become the first of the great English cathedrals, dominating the flat fenlands of East Anglia.

The Templars had used Denny Abbey as a hospital, for their elderly, their sick and wounded, but after their demise, in 1312, the site was offered to the Knights Hospitallers. However, the men in the black tunics never occupied the place and later Edward III gifted the estate to the Countess of Pembroke, widow of Aymer de Valence. Aymer was one of the beneficiaries of the sideways move of the Marshal and Pembroke titles, as Aymer’s father married a granddaughter of William Marshal.

Yes, amazingly and for no obvious reason, some familiar names re-enter the scene, including a very early version of the Countess of Pembroke. She renovated the whole complex, adding her own private apartments and later invited the nuns from the nearby, Waterbeach Abbey, to share her quarters. This is also the same Countess, who founded Pembroke College, in Cambridge.

During Henry’s Dissolution period 1536-42, the nave of Denny Abbey was demolished, with later the living quarters turned into a farmhouse and the refectory into a barn, the estate carrying on as a lay farm. The refectory was not destroyed, but encased with wood and was only rediscovered in the 20th century. Like so many of ‘my unlikely places’ in this story, it has now been restored to its former glory.

Pembroke College have purchased the site and today it is a popular visitor attraction, run by English Heritage, called the ‘Farmland Museum and Denny Abbey’.

Denny Abbey

Denny Abbey, still very loved and cared for in the 21st century

Now, if Richard Jugge the printer was noted for producing ‘elegant initial letters’, he couldn’t have learnt to appreciate the graphic arts, anywhere better than at a Franciscan abbey, a religious order famous for their artistic skills. However, if Denny Abbey was the source of his artistic flair, it still doesn’t explain what he was doing there or how he came to move on to the infamous Berkshire school, although at the time, Eton College wasn’t quite the posh place it is today.

It had been founded as a charity school, by Henry VI, in 1440, designed to offer free education to seventy poor boys, who would then have a place at King’s College, Cambridge. This doesn’t say who Richard Jugge was, but does offer an explanation how he was able to move swiftly along the educational gravy train, eventually to become ‘Royal printer’ and a most influential figure in Elizabethan England, for over twenty years.

It certainly looks as though Richard Jugge was influenced by the nuns at Denny, as it was the only place of learning in the area, and perhaps he wasn’t the only one of the family, to be educated at Denny Abbey. One possibility, and it does open, a rather speculative, large can of worms, is that Richard Jugge was an orphan or illigitimate offspring, who had been placed in the safe hands of the nuns. That becomes a more than interesting possibility because the last abbess before the Dissolution was Elizabeth Throckmorton, who after the abbey closed, was evicted, along with her 25 fellow nuns.

Elizabeth moved away from East Anglia, to live with her nephew, George Throckmorton, at his estate in Coughton, only a few miles from Stratford-on-Avon in Warwickshire. Yes, this is the same family that had Robert Throckmorton fortifying the house at Temple Balsall, to keep Prior Docwra out, and had Richard Shakespeare of Snitterfield, adjudicating on a jury about their estates. George Throckmorton and his heirs played an important part in Tudor life, throughout the century and in particular, George was at the forefront of resisting Henry VIII’s move away from Catholicism.

Why does following my ball of string keep leading to the same small and discreet number of places – England was bigger than that – surely – but coincidence keeps being laid on coincidence.

The rarity of the Jugge name also suggested to me that this could be a spelling corruption of Jagger or Gager, and was Richard Jugge the son of one of the earliest Jagger migrants from Stainland, who ended up in Long Melford? Indeed, had the Jagger family moved down from Lincolnshire, in a two or three stage migration? William of Occam would suggest that the similar name was a total red herring, but again the connection of name, place and people was compelling, so I kept looking.

And yes, there was more to find, and again, I was able to reap the rewards of heading out into ‘left field’. By pushing the family tree back, one stage further, and following the female side with as much vigour as the male line, I found a compelling link between this family of Elizabeth Throckmorton and Long Melford.

George Throckmorton’s mother was Catherine Marrow, daughter of William Marrow and Catherine Rich.

Then there was William Clopton of Long Melford, the father of Richard Clopton by his third wife, Thomasina Knyvet, but William had a first wife, called Joan Marrow.

We have met Joan Marrow before, as the grandmother of Edward Clopton, the man living next door to the Windmill Taven, at the Coleman Street crossroads. Catherine and Joan Marrow were sisters and their mother was the daughter of Richard Rich, sheriff of London. This is the same Rich family that have been peppering this saga, including one who married Penelope Devereux, and lived for a short time at Temple Balsall. Small world, isn’t it?

So that makes Elizabeth Throckmorton, (the defrocked abbess of Denny), the sister-in-law of the sister-in-law of the Long Melford knight, William Clopton. Doesn’t sound very catchy, but does mean her brother’s wife’s sister was a Clopton. Elizabeth took over as abbess, at Denny, in 1512, and so could Richard Jugge, born around 1517, possibly be her child, or perhaps a Throckmorton ‘castaway’ from Warwickshire, or even a handy placement, made by the Gagers or Cloptons from Long Melford.

Perhaps, young Richard Jugge was the result of an errant Clopton father and Gager/Jagger mother. It is certainly, now much easier to see how a ‘spare’ and unwanted Gager/Jagger child, from Long Melford could end up living at Denny Abbey.

This part of my research started off as a total wild goose chase, but the flighty bird is nearly cornered, because the pieces of the Waterbeach jigsaw are now coming together. Of course this might all be just another one of those coincidences, but there is one final printer connection to Waterbeach, which just has to be another complete coincidence, doesn’t it…?

The three flowers shown on the printer device of James Roberts are the gilliflower, the Tudor rose and a primrose, with two of them also on Richard Tottel’s device. Now when you Google – ‘gilliflower and rose’ together, on the search engines, what name pops up at the top of the computer screen, but the village of Waterbeach.

As Sherlock Holmes would say: ‘that seems to be a very singular fact’.

In the 12th century, the owner of the land on which Waterbeach Abbey was built, demanded a payment for his property and the fee he agreed was the token sum of a ‘gilliflower and a rose’. The Abbey was the original home of those same Franciscan nuns, the Order of St Clare, who settled there in 1294, before moving to a drier site, at Denny Abbey, at the invitation of the Countess of Pembroke, meaning by 1359, the site at Waterbeach had been abandoned.

However, that original charge for the land has never been forgotten.

The gilliflower and rose has continued to be used in modern times, as the symbol of RAF Waterbeach, an important bomber station, in World War Two, and the symbol also adorns the badge of the 39th Engineer Regiment, which was stationed at Waterbeach Barracks, until the base was closed in 2011.

RAF Waterbeach

How this distinctive symbol of Waterbeach, ended up on the printer device of James Roberts, who was supposed to have inherited it from Richard Jones, seems strange, particularly as the Welsh nation claims both men for their own. If this is more than a one in a million coincidence, then it points to a connection between, ex-Waterbeach resident, Richard Jugge, and Richard Tottel and Richard Jones.

We already know Tottel and Jones have connections to both Roberts and the Jaggard print family, so is this a potential confirming link between Jugge and Jaggard. Could this be why Jaggard seemed so determined to take control of the Roberts print house and not the more obvious target of the Denham business, where he already had close family ties.

The ‘gilliflower and rose’ printers mark is the same one that is emblazoned over many of the early printed versions of William Shakespeare’s plays and this printer device of James Roberts and William Jaggard, now gains some prominence in the next part of the story.

A False Start

William Jaggard now leads us to the most significant parts of his connection with the Shakespeare canon and my story begins to hot up, somewhat. I’m relying on Jaggard biographer, Willoughby, for the detail here, as elsewhere there seems to be more rumour and conjecture than fact. Willoughby, indeed, attaches his own spin and motivations to this part of the story, because despite the great depth of his research, the period leading up to the creation of the Bard’s greatest work, in 1623, remains decidedly misty, with very little documentation to guide the way.

In 1618, there was an atmosphere of rebellion among the bookshops and printing houses of the City of London. John Jaggard was organising petitions and protests on behalf of the poorest members of the printing fraternity, primarily complaining against the restrictive rules which stifled competition. These protests had been supported by a personal letter from Sir Francis Bacon, himself.

Shakespeare’s work was still popular in the theatre, but nothing new had been officially published for nearly ten years. This was down to the strict control kept by the King’s Men, who had used their special patent to ‘stay’ all work, which they decided, should be attributed to Shakespeare. The Stationers Company was expected to monitor this, but their far from perfect system meant there were leaks. Only Matthew Law, who had taken over the rights of Andrew Wise, offically broke the silence, although unofficial quartos may have been circulated.

Despite blindness and the debilitating effects of his disease, William Jaggard had become a wealthy and successful printer, so in 1619, he had the confidence to print ten Shakespeare plays, in nine quartos, for his long time acquaintance, the publisher, Thomas Pavier. This was the same man, who had been apprenticed to William Barley and in 1600, had published ‘Sir John Oldcastle’, as his debut work. Pavier and Jaggard had previously worked together on the lavish, mayoral, coffee-table book, in 1602.

As early as 1601, Pavier had acquired the rights to ‘Henry V’, and in 1619 he claimed to have acquired the rights to ‘Henry VI, 2 & 3’, which he joined together as one play. He already owned the rights to two plays of the apocrypha, ‘A Yorkshire Tragedy’ and ‘Sir John Oldcastle’, which he believed, or at least claimed, were written by William Shakespeare.

Pavier then ‘seized’ the rights to ‘Pericles, Prince of Tyre’, which had been registered by Edward Blount, in 1608, but never published by him. It was common for publishers to look for old works that had lain untouched for a number of years, and this was regarded as fair game by the Stationers Company, if no-one protested. Blount doesn’t appear to have complained.

William Jaggard believed he already held the rights to a ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘The Merchant of Venice’, which had originally been under the banner of deceased former partner, James Roberts. Then two plays, ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ and ‘King Lear’, were printed as fascimiles, copying the original cover, but using the ‘gilliflower and rose’ mark of the Roberts/Jaggard printshop.

The nine quartos comprised:

Whole Contention between Two Famous Houses, Lancaster and York – (Henry VI, 2 & 3)

Pericles, Prince of Tyre

A Yorkshire Tragedy

Merchant of Venice

Merry Wives of Windsor

King Lear

Henry V

Sir John Oldcastle

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Willoughby suggests that the original plan was to print and publish each quarto seperately, but there was a late decision to bundle them into one book. This is at odds with other scholars, who suggest this was a first attempt at a compendium, perhaps a ‘greatest hits’ edition. Some quartos may even have been sold seperately and a separate copy of ‘Midsummer Nights Dream’, was said to have been used as a prompt book, by the King’s Men. So again, what ought to be a simple matter of a publisher re-printing old texts, doesn’t appear to be quite that way.

All these plays had already been either published or registered previously, and the only one that had been connected to Edward Blount was ‘Pericles’, which was not included in a folio until 1664.

However, on 3rd May 1619, the Lord Chamberlain stepped into the fray, sending a reminder to the Stationers Company, that the plays of the King’s Men should not be printed without the players’ consent. After this reprimand, it seems the remaining copies of the ten play compendium were disposed of quickly, and no further action was taken against any of those concerned in the venture.

One subsequent action was that the son of the deceased publisher, Thomas Heyes, who owned the rights to ‘Merchant of Venice’, re-registered the play on 8th July 1619. There is a suggestion in some quarters that James Roberts took as his second wife, the widow of Thomas Heyes, which would help to explain the Heyes involvement, but I have not been able to verify that connection.

Untitled   Merchant_of_Venice_1619

One puzzle of the ‘false folio’, is that it gives the impression that the quartos were illegal ‘facsimilies’ of the originals, not authorised reprints, made in 1619. This has led scholars to suggest Jaggard and Pavier were producing a piece of counterfeit work, but the accusers never explain why a wealthy and successful printer, who held the title of City of London printer, would consider deliberately flounting the rules of the Stationers Company. No-one was taken to court over the enterprise and because of the Lord Chancellor’s admonishment, no further editions were printed.

The ‘false folio’ also highlights reasons why Shakespeare’s authorship is so contentious. The two versions of King Lear published, in 1608 and 1619 are of similar text, but the ‘authorised’ version in 1623, also printed by Jaggard, is very different, with hundreds of lines removed and others added, and with many differences in style and punctuation. It would probably be difficult to attribute the two different versions to the same author, but they both bear Shakespeare’s name.

‘King Lear’, by William Shakespeare, was first registered, by publisher Nathaniel Butter, in November 1607 and printed by Nicholas Okes, in 1608. Okes, had been apprenticed to Richard Field, and had taken over the business of George and Lionel Snowden that same year (1608). In printing ‘King Lear’, it was Okes who used the distinctive printer’s mark of Wechel’s ‘pegasus and caduceus’, which had been passed to him by the Snowdens. Why they had the mark is unclear, as Andreas Wechel was the man from Frankfurt, whose printing house had been a rendezvous for English Protestants.

Sir Philip Sidney is one of those Englishmen, thought to have met other European intellectuals there. The Wechel family firm were still in business in Germany, in 1608, where their main line of work was printing Hermetic texts. They must have agreed for the Snowdens to borrow their device.

The King Lear story now gets even more complicated, because before that first ‘Shakespeare’ version, in 1608, a quarto of a play called ‘King Leir’, had been published in 1605. This was printed by Simon Stafford for John Wright, at Christ Church, Newgate, but with no attribution to Shakespeare. Remember, John Wright was one of two publishers who sold the first edition of the Sonnets, in 1609.

King Leir - Simon Stafford   King Lear - Nathaniel Butter, 1608  King Lear - 1619 (false folio version)

1605 King Leir – 1608 Lear version with the Wechel mark – 1619 false folio, with gillyflower mark

‘King Leir’ had originally been registered by Edward White, in 1594, but never published. White was also the man who co-published ‘Titus Andronicus’, in 1594, and on his own behalf, in 1600 and 1611, the 1600 version of ‘Titus’ being printed by James Roberts. The earlier version of the ‘Leir’ play takes content from the 1587 edition of ‘Holinshed’s Chronicles’. Shakespeare’s two different versions also take their history from this, but also add material from the Sidney family story of ‘Arcadia’.

The different texts that were variously marketed under the titles, ‘King Lear’ or ‘King Leir’, cause plenty of problems, because the 1623 version evolved from the others, but Shakespeare had died in 1616, so was in no position to edit his earlier work.

Remember, also that ‘Leir and ‘Titus’ were both originally registered by Edward White, in 1594, with no author, but both changed their persona later, to become acknowledged works of the Bard of Avon.

I’m starting to see a pattern here and it doesn’t necessarily lead to Warwickshire…!!


‘Mr Shakespeares comedies, histories and tragedies’

William Shakespeare only exists as the greatest name in literature, because of the existance of the compendium of his plays, which Blount and Jaggard published in 1623. That might seem to be a contentious statement, but it is probably true, and I’m almost certainly not the first person to suggest it. So, how did this massive enterprise, to bundle thirty six plays into one volume, come about, and what was the sequence of events that led to its completion, in the first week of November, 1623?

The stimulus for this great work may have been the earlier publication, in 1616, of Ben Jonson’s complete works, but whilst Jonson’s portfolio was easy to compile, because the author was still alive and well, Shakespeare, by 1622/23, had been ‘dead’ for several years and his work was scattered, and much of it unseen, outside the playhouses, for over twenty years. Almost half the plays had never reached the printed page and so the task of putting together a compendium of work, stretching back thirty years, was a monumental one – tricky in the extreme.

Shakespeare title page

Hemming and Condell, actors and shareholders of the King’s Men, were said to be the instigators of the project and their names appear prominently in the finished folio. Pulling together the whole canon of thirty six plays was no easy matter, and probably no-one knew what the final total might be. The 1619 ‘false’ anthology, had included three plays, which didn’t appear four years later, and some of the text of plays, in the 1623 edition, was markedly different from what had gone before.

Eighteen plays had been printed in quartos, previously, and two others, The ‘Taming of the Shrew’ and ‘King John’, were considered as Shakespeare’s versions of old plays, so giving a total of twenty. There were two junior partners on the publishing side, John Smethwick, a business partner of John Jaggard, and William Aspley, mentioned earlier, who owned the rights to ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and ‘Henry IV part 2’, who had also been a Sonnet bookseller, in 1609.

John Smethwick had acquired the rights to ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Hamlet’ and ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, from Nicholas Ling. The financial transaction with Ling took place on 19th November 1607, and at the same time Smethwick purchased eleven of ‘Mr Michael Drayton’s poems’, (almost his total production to date), plus a mixture of titles, by Robert Greene, John Lyly and Anthony Munday. There are no records of Ling obtaining the rights to these Shakespeare plays, but three had been owned by Cuthbert Burby, who died in 1607, so Ling may have been only a temporary holder of the rights, as he seems to have acted as a broker of material, through his chain of bookshops.

Nicholas Ling’s father was a parchment maker from Norfolk, and the son had been apprenticed to printer, Henry Bynneman, with his co-apprentice at the time being Valentine Simmes. Ling and Simmes worked closely together, and their link to Bynneman gives a connection to Henry Denham, the Eliott Court business, Holinshed Chronicles and back to the Jaggard family.

The other sixteen plays were in the hands of Edward Blount and so this compendium of plays, that eventually had William Shakespeare on the cover, had not been scattered as widely as they initially appeared to be, based on the long list of publishers, which were catalogued earlier.

The clear division between the two collections; the ‘16’ and the ‘20’, perhaps suggests two distinct origins. If the idea of a consortium is to be believed then logic would dictate that Blounts plays were the work of a single writer or perhaps a duet of writers. The remaining 20 plays had a more diverse pedigree, perhaps suggesting they had more diverse sources. Do we have two seperate anthologies combined together to make a single entity? That is certainly the idea promulgated by more than one anti-Stratfordian. This does make a lot of sense, particularly if we consider that the 1619, ‘false folio, which lacked any of the final Blount cache, may indeed have been a case of jumping the gun.

By 1623, Isaac Jaggard was an experienced printer, 26 years old, and in reality must have been responsible for many printing decisions since his father’s blindness began to take hold, ten years earlier, in 1612. However, the financial side of the print shop was still very much in his father’s hands, business was flourishing and there were a number of important projects to be completed.

There was, also, an ongoing dispute with our regular trouble-maker, Ralphe Brooke, the York Herald, concerning the quality of the printing of a particular book, a revision of Thomas Milles’, 1610 version of the ‘Catalogue of Honour’, a volume about the provenance of the Nobility, which Jaggard had reprinted for Brooke, in 1619. The York Herald made ascerbic comments about the genera quality of the author, Milles’ work and then blamed Jaggard for making further errors, in his composition of the 1619 typeface. Jaggard published an ‘errata’, to make amends for his mistakes, entitled ‘Faultes escaped in printing’, but the story didn’t stop there.

Brooke made his own corrections and had the book published by a rival printer, William Stansby, a man who had lost a major contract to Jaggard, to reprint Raleigh’s ‘History of the World’. However, another member of the Heralds, Augustine Vincent, Pursuivant at Arms, and a close colleague of William Camden, decided to write a third edition, a fully corrected version of Brooke’s 1619 edition., which Jaggard and Vincent registered, on 29th October 1621. Willoughby, in his biography of William Jaggard, pays great attention to these bickerings and it seems the rush to publish Vincent’s, ‘Discoverie of Errors’, may have meant that the Shakespeare folio was set aside, laying unfinished, in a back room.