A journey through 400 years of fantasy
by Keith Browning
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.
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 – 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 – © 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: England – Great Britain – United Kingdom – British 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..!
Collective name for over 1000 islands, situated off the coast of mainland Europe.
Name of the largest island of the British Isles.
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
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
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.
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, 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.
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?
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 – 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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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..!!
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..!
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’
The Knights Templar
© 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.
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.
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, 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
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.
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
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, 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.
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.
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.
Christopher Wren’s, Temple Bar, stood on Fleet Street, gateway to the City of London
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
The Famous Cloptons..??
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.
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 – 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.
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 – 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, 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 – 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 – 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.
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.
(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.
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, 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.
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.
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.