A Magic Circle
Temple of the Rosy Cross
‘Just like that !!!’
I was more than a little surprised when the Knights Templar and Robin Hood turned up in my search for Shakespeare, but nothing could prepare me for connections to the worlds of Harry Potter, Paul Daniels, Patrick Moore and Mystic Meg, perhaps even Dan Brown and David Icke. Magic, alchemy, astronomy and astrology are all major components of Shakespeare’s work and so to have an expert’s knowledge of scientific principles, is just one of many pre-requisites the Bard would have needed, to write his entire canon of work.
Its worth pointing out, that at this stage in English history, the mystic arts of transmutation, alchemy and prediction of the future, were all wrapped up with the study of mathematics, geometry, human anatomy, the use of medicinal herbs, the mapping of the Earth’s surface and an understanding of the Heavens above. Astronomy, astrology, sorcery and science were all seen as one respectable discipline, by those who practised them, but regarded as satanic, by those who preached in a church, every Sunday, particularly if it was a Catholic church.
My growing picture gallery of paintings and drawings kept pointing me in the direction of scientific symbolism, making me realise that many of my leading literary and aristocratic figures were equally as adept in the alchemist’s laboratory, as they were in pontificating, at Westminster, or writing sonnets to their lovers. Several were master mathematicians, botanists, astrologers and astronomers, but often with a devoutly religious aproach. Their intent, perhaps part of a master plan, was to use their humanist skills to improve the world in which they lived, and to create a model, which could, potentially, guide the future of mankind.
Many new scientific theories were being developed in 16th century Europe, particularly relating to the Earth’s relationship with the Sun, but these new ideas left ‘Humanists’ open to accusations of heresy, as they conflicted with the religious teaching of the Roman Church. The punishment for heretics was fairly standard across Europe, the transgressor to be ceremonially burnt at the stake, with estimates of over 10,000 individuals being dispatched in this way.
Several of those involved in proclaiming the benefits of the new science met that fate, usually when they were too vociferous with their claims, or ventured into unfavourable pastures, those still controlled by the mighty Church of Rome. These innovative Renaissance scientists were regarded by the Papacy as magicians and sorcerers, and therefore devil worshippers and heretics. However, the Protestant rulers of Northern Europe saw things differently, and treated them in a more benevolent fashion, for they saw potential sources of enormous wealth. Just imagine all that rather boring looking rock and iron being transformed into bright, shiny gold.
The Digges family, previously, just a name attached to a poem, in the prologue to the First folio, now enter the story with some purpose. Leonard Digges was one of the more obscure contributors to the 1623 preface, but he was actually a member of a famous family of mathematicians and astronomers, and there is more than a passing connection to Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’.
In November 1572, a supernova, an exploding star, appeared in the night sky, in the constellation of Cassiopeia. Suggestions are that this is the star mentioned in the opening scene of ‘Hamlet’, by Bernardo, one of the soldiers on duty at Elsinore Castle. This astronomical event was initially visible, even in daylight, and was a feature of the night sky for over a year, before fading to nothing. Only in recent decades, using sophisticated imaging, have scientists proved the existence of this exceptional event. Shakespeare was just eight years old, when this celestial extravaganza was amazing the world.
This spectacular occurrence brought new energy to the already growing interest in science and astronomy, which had already preoccupied Renaissance Europe for nearly a century. The person who studied this celestial event most closely was Tycho Brahe, a 26 year old Danish scientist. The Danish astronomer was not the ‘nerdy’ boffin you might expect, as despite his insistence on total accuracy in all aspects of his work, his other major interest in life was swilling large quantities of ale, with his prolonged drinking sessions, often ending in a wild, drunken brawl.
There is a portrait of Brahe, engraved in 1590, encircled by his family coats of arms, and amongst the heraldic shields were those belonging to his cousins, Frederick Rosenkrantz and Knud Gyldenstierne, the names of two characters in Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’. These were the spies, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and their names translate, coincidently, into ‘rosy cross’ and ‘golden star’.
In 1576, Tycho Brahe built an observatory at Uraniborg, in the middle of Hven Island, situated in the Oresund channel, between Sweden and Denmark. Less than ten miles across the water, on the Danish mainland was Kronburg Castle. So, on a clear day, when Brahe looked out from his observatory, he could see the fortress, better known today as Hamlet’s, Elsinore Castle. Brahe wouldn’t have been the only one to make that observation, as he welcomed into his home hundreds of students, from all over Europe, all eager to learn more about the new discipline of astronomy.
One of the English astronomers who wrote about the 1572 supernova was Thomas Digges, father of Leonard, and he corresponded with Brahe about the event. A passage in ‘Hamlet’ seems to be taken from their scientific explanation of the cosmos, with the Sun being at the centre and everything else rotating around it, similar, but not identical, to the ideas proposed earlier by Nicolaus Copernicus.
‘Doubt that the stars are fire Doubt that the sun doth move’.
Hamlet; Act 2, Scene 2
This theory was against the accepted view of the Universe, which placed the Earth in the centre of everything, which is then surrounded by the Heavens, fixing the Earth in one place. Copernicus had already published his ideas of the Earth rotating round the Sun, but these were not accepted by either Church or State and so Brahe’s work was seen as groundbreaking, by leading political figures at the time. Indeed, it was well into the 17th century that these ideas came into generally acceptance. For this view of the cosmos to appear in a Shakespeare play was a challenge to perceived wisdom of the period and potentially be seen as blasphemous.
The son, Leonard Digges, also provides a link to one of the very few contemporary mentions of Shakespeare. There is an intriguing inscription, written by Digges, on the flyleaf of a book, which his friend, James Mabb, (another contributor to the First folio), had sent from Madrid to London, to their mutual friend, Will Baker, in 1613.
‘Will Baker: Knowinge that mr Mab was to sende you this Booke of sonets, which with Spaniards here is accounted of their Lope de Vega as in Englande we sholde ofor Will Shakespeare. I colde not but insert thus much to you, that if you like him not, you muste neuer reade Spanishe Poet.’
Lope de Vega was a prolific poet and dramatist and the comparison is being made that he is a Spanish version of William Shakespeare, the sonnet writer. The note was written four years after Shakespeare’s Sonnets had been published and so assumes that all three men were aware of the poems.
Leonard Digges used Edward Blount to publish his writing, and Blount was also a close friend of James Mabb. In 1622, they made it a foursome, when Digges and Ben Jonson contributed commendatory verses to a work translated by Mabb and published by Blount. The 1640 edition of Shakespeare’s ‘Poems’, also included verses by Digges, but this was five years after his death. Digges’ supportive verses refer to plays not poetry, so this contribution may have been intended for the 1623 or 1632 folios and edited out, but kept safe for later use, possibly by the Cotes printer family, who were involved in all these projects.
So, in 1622, Digges, Mabb, Jonson and Blount were very much an item, a team of friends helping each other, with their own projects. With Mabb also related to John Jaggard, as his brother-in-law, then it is easy to see how these same people ended up being involved in Mr Shakespeare’s compendium.
Leonard Digges father, Thomas, had the perfect scientific grounding in science, as he had been brought up and educated in the household of John Dee (1527-1608), who was the best known mathematician and scientist of the age. Dee became a close adviser to Queen Elizabeth and William Cecil, as well as receiving patronage from the Earl of Leicester and Philip Sidney. John Dee is a figure who has lurked in the shadows of English history, but he is about to take his fair share of the limelight.
What outwardly appeared to be a collection of theologians, scientists and mystics, became a front for a more secretive group, whose legacy goes back to the time of the Pharaohs and before that to the Sumerian culture of 6000 years ago. Many of these ‘Humanists’ were in reality, Rosicrucians, ‘Brethren of the Rosy Cross’, inheritors of secret knowledge, passed down to them from Sumerian, Egyptian and Judean traditions.
This knowledge was known as the ‘Hermetica’, and designed to enlighten the reader about the human mind, nature and the universe. The Hermetic texts, named after Hermes, the Greek version of the Roman god, Mercury, (the messenger), offered a medium for the works of Pythagoras, Plato, Euclid, Archimedes, Ptolemy and others, to become available to scientists and mathematicians of the Middle Ages. These texts also provided education and inspiration for architects, artists and writers of the period, but not all were kept secret as they had been, at least not after the advent of the ‘printed page’.
The very first book which transferred one of these ancient texts into print was the ‘Epitome of Ptolemy’s Almagest’. Originally a Greek manuscript, the ‘Almagest’ had survived in Arabic and Latin translations for over 1200 years. However, in 1460, Cardinal Johannes Bessarion commissioned the German astronomer, Georgius Peurlachius (died 1461), to translate his own copy of the Greek manuscript, to create an ‘Epitome’ or summary of Ptolemy’s work. After the ill-timed death of Peurlachius, the task was taken up by his student, Johann Regiomontanus, who planned to print the work on his own press in Nuremburg. Regiomontanus died in 1476 and it was a further twenty years before Johann Hamman, on 31st August 1496, published this ground breaking piece of scientific work.
Claudius Ptolemaios, (known as Ptolemy) (c90 AD–168AD), one of the greatest mathematicians of all time, lived in Alexandria, Egypt, during the period of the Roman occupation. In his ‘Mathematical Treatise’, Ptolemy claimed he had summarised the accomplishments of ancient Greek and Babylonian mathematical astronomy, so taking us back three or four millennia. Written in Greek, Ptolemy’s book was titled ‘Almagest’ (‘The Greatest’), by its Arabic translators, and is the only authenticated text on astronomy and trigonometry, which has survived from the ancient world to the present day.
The ‘Almagest’ was preserved, like most of Classical Greek science, in Arabic manuscripts, but had been translated into Latin, in Sicily and Spain, during the 12th Century, so would have been available to the early Portuguese explorers. The major flaw in the work was that Ptolemy’s model of the Universe, like those of his ancient predecessors, was ‘geocentric’, putting the Earth at the centre of the cosmos.
Ptolemy presented his astronomical models in convenient tables, which could be used to compute both the future and past position of the planets. There was a catalogue of forty eight stars, based on work by an earlier Greek astronomer, Hipparchus (190 BC–120 BC) and the text also offered practical methods for making celestial observations. It was the printed ‘Epitome’, which became the standard text for Hermetic education during the 16th and 17th centuries, succeeding the more cumbersome handwritten manuscripts and therefore, one that would have been familiar to our band of Rosicrucian scientists.
Title page of the ‘Epitome of the Almagest’ – 1496 – photo KHB
(notice that ‘Antarctica’(not ‘discovered till 1820) is named – in the correct place)
The aim of the Rosicrucians was to use this ancient knowledge, to create a perfect, unified world, one with a single religion and a single government, a ‘Utopia’. The word had been used by Thomas More, in his book of the same name, published in 1516, but the principles go back to Plato’s ‘Republic’, written 2000 years earlier. This proposed a rigid class system, with the leading socio-economic groups ranked as golden, silver, bronze, but with the majority of the population being given only ‘iron’ status.
Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ – 1516
Plato’s ‘golden ones’ were to be the ultimate product of a 50 year education program, creating an elite group of ‘philosopher-kings’, who would re-organise the world and in so doing, eliminate poverty and warfare. The ‘golden ones’ were an obvious template for the Rosicrucians, who came to regard themselves as the intellectual elite of the scientific world.
Essentially Protestant in their religious beliefs, the Rosicrucians also had liberal minded ‘Catholics’ and closet ‘Atheists’, such as Walter Raleigh, in their midst. Their dream was to create a ‘New World Order’, one that transcended the existing religious ideologies of Catholic Rome and the newly created, Protestant faith of Northern Europe.
It has been suggested, that once the Rosicrucians realised their dream was never going to be possible, in a religiously divided Europe, they sought to create their ‘perfect World’, across the Atlantic Ocean, a pioneering venture which eventually became, the United States of America. All the evidence points in that direction, because the leading lights of Rosicrucian England were at the forefront in establishing the earliest colonies in Virginia, New England and Newfoundland, with followers of Rosicrucian ideals holding high positions in the fledgling colonies. Their descendants continue to run the show, today.
Another term to describe a perfect world is ‘Arcadia’, and that was the most famous work created by the Sidney literary circle, becoming one of the most popular and reprinted works of the 17th century. Philip and Mary Sidney’s ‘Arcadia’ also supplies the sub-plot for one of the Bard’s most famous plays, ‘King Lear’, regarded by many Shakespearean actors, as his greatest and most challenging work.
A further example of Utopian thinking was put forward by Francis Bacon, in his novel ‘New Atlantis’, published in Latin, in 1624 and English, in 1627. This described a world organised along Rosicrucian ideals, with peace, harmony and prosperity, being created by a new religion based on the use of science and advanced schemes of learning. Francis Bacon wanted to rebuild Solomon’s Temple in his new city, called Bensalem, the world centre for his new scientific developments. A generation later, Bacon’s work inspired the formation of the ‘Royal Society’, which provided a stimulating and safe environment for the ‘golden ones’, to create the foundations of our modern world.
The Rosicrucians, the ‘Fraternity of the Rosy Cross’, officially announced themselves to the world in 1614, when an anonymous pamphlet titled ‘Fama Fraternitatis’, was published in Kassel, a Calvinist stronghold, in Hesse, close to the centre of the state, we now call Germany, This pamphlet was followed by another, ‘Confessio Fraternitatis’, in 1615, and finally, in 1616, an allegorical play, the ‘Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz’, arrived on the scene. They all tell the story of a long lived alchemist, who made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and during his return, discovered the ancient secrets of science and mathematics. The traveller, ‘Christian Rosy Cross’, learnt these secrets from the wise men of ‘Damcar’, in Arabia, whose knowledge could be traced back to the early civilisations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. ‘Damcar’ has not been identified, but has claims as a legendary city that was the repository for all the secrets of civilisation, a claim also made by the Royal Library, at Alexandria.
This mythical man, Christian Rosenkreutz, was said to be 106 years old when he died, in 1484, and he is supposed to be the founder of the Rosicrucian Fraternity. The three proclaiming pamphlets, written originally only in German and Latin, told of a secret group who were preparing to mobilise the ‘intelligencia’ and ‘philosophers’ of the Renaissance, into a political force and transform Europe from a medieval world, dominated by the word of the priest, to a new world, dominated by science.
Despite this public launch in 1614, there is great difficulty in identifying specific individuals, as being Rosicrucians, because of the secrecy surrounding the order. The ‘Fama Fraternitatis’ states they should not be distinguished by their dress, should meet annually in the ‘House of the Holy Spirit’ and that each member should choose one man to succeed him. Rosicrucians were also expected to use their medical skills to treat the sick, free of any charges.
However, this openness to public scrutiny only lasted three years, because at a meeting in Magdeburg, Lower Saxony, in 1617, there was agreement that the order should return to their covert existence and remain so for 100 years. Magdeburg, in the very heart of ‘Germany’, was a major town in medieval Europe, setting a standard for law-making, which spread across central and eastern European states.
However, like all secret societies, the membership must have had a way to identify other members and communicate with each other. This they achieved with their symbolism, which has now permeated everywhere into society, although most people are oblivious to this today, as the shapes and objects are seemingly commonplace. However, if their major goal was to transform society through science, then the results of their exploits should be plainly visible and, therefore, offer clues to their identity. Once one of their group is identified, then friends and family of that individual, offer the best clues to tracing their sphere of influence, and uncovering their network of members.
Rather like the Knights Templar, who have been confined, by the modern day intellectual elite, to the medieval history books, the Rosicrucians are said, by 21st century ‘experts’, to be just a ‘short lived, 17th century sect’, whose main aim was transmutation of base metals into gold. ‘Official’ histories of this secretive body, and its more famous cousin, the Freemasons, lead us to believe that there was a discontinuity of more than three hundred years between the Knights Templar disappearing in 1312 and the other secretive groups making themselves public, in 1614 and 1717. The wider that time gap appears to be, the less reason there is for the general population to join the dots together.
Establishment historians seem desperate to make the general public believe that the present day leaders of western society are NOT directly descended from this earlier incarnation of knights, scientists and theologians. Modern histories rarely mention that most of our great literature, great inventions and great buildings were created by this group of Rosicrucian, ‘golden philosophers’. The grandest architecture of London and church architecture elsewhere in Britain, even the humble red telephone box, were all the creations of descendants of the ancient traditions.
The credibility of those that claim there is a significant time gap between these old and new traditions has been exposed by the discoveries at Rosslyn Chapel, in Scotland. This is a building extravagant in the extreme, and contains overt examples of both the Knights Templar and Masonic traditions, in a period when neither is supposed to exist. Rosslyn church and castle were rebuilt by the Sinclair family, who were originally Norman knights called St. Clare, and have already been mentioned because of their ancestral link to Hugh de Payens. It has even been suggested that Templar leader, Hugh married a daughter of the St Clair family, whilst ‘coincidently’, the name Rosslyn, a corruption of the name ‘Roslin’, means ‘beautiful rose’.
Those that knew the secrets of the Hermetica trusted no-one except themselves, and so this Rosicrucian movement was not one designed to attract mass support. Their intention was to change the world from the top downwards, using the Gold Medal winners to lead the way, but the dilemma for the Rosicrucians was that although they wanted to spread their scientific knowledge, using the new invention of printing, the very fact that their words had a degree of permanence on the printed page, might turn out to be their Achilles heel.
Symbolism was a key part of the Rosicrucian methodology and it developed as a two handed weapon, both to spread the word and to protect the identity of the promulgators. Their published work was always released anonymously, or using pseudonyms, known only to the inner circle of the brotherhood. Rosicrucians also needed sympathetic friends in the publishing business, who would help preserve their anonymity. Clues to unravelling the complicated web they weaved are to be found in the distinctive symbols of the printing industry.
The symbol of the rose is now common place in Britain, as the Tudor rose adorns so many of our old stately homes, churches and public buildings. The adoption of the rose, by the Tudor monarchs, was said to signify the union of the red and white roses of York and Lancaster, at the end of their civil war.
Tudor Rose, created by Henry VII in 1485
The white rose of the House of York, had the earliest origins of the two, and can be traced back to the early crusader days, in the Holy Land. In reality, the Wars of the Roses resulted in the unification of two branches of the Knights Templar, who had been bickering over their right to the English Crown for close to a century. Could it just be a pure coincidence that the Tudors and the Rosicrucians used the same rose symbol, drawn in an identical way?
An almost identical rose symbol was used as a personal seal, by Martin Luther, one of the founders of the Protestant movement, who was active in Germany, in the early part of the 16th century. There seems to be no logical reason why Luther should adopt the same emblem as the Welsh Tudor King, who pre-dated him by a generation, with their homelands located hundreds of miles apart.
Personal mark and ring seal of Martin Luther
Luther’s seal displays other interesting symbols, which link to the Hermetic movement, joining science with the new religion. Another institution to make use of the same emblem was the Stationers’ Company, based in London, who also used an identical motto, to that of Martin Luther and the Lutheran Reformation. The link between Protestantism and the printing industry is quite clear.
Stationers Company emblem and motto (‘verbum domini manet in eternum’, the word of the Lord shall remain forever.)
One of the first members of the European Renaissance movement, thought to be able to control these mystical, Hermetic elements, was Philippus von Hohenheim (1493-1541), known more commonly as Paracelsus. He was a German speaking, Swiss alchemist, whose expertise included the diverse studies of medicine, botany, mathematics, astronomy and astrology. His portraits usually show him holding a sword with the word ‘Azoth’, inscribed on the handle, and inside the hilt there was a secret compartment, which contained his magic red powder, which he believed could cure all sickness, his panacea for all the ills of mankind.
‘Azoth’ is the ancient word for mercury and the substance was regarded as a panacea, for curing all disease, and thought to be the base ingredient of all matter. Alchemists believed that understanding the secrets of mercury made transmutation from base metal to gold, a viable goal. Indeed, during their 16th century, those successful South American adventurers, the Spanish, used mercury to help extract silver from the powdered ore, poisoning thousands of native slave-workers in the process.
The symbol for mercury is another old friend, the caduceus, or rod with entwined snakes, which was later adopted by the medical profession, the Order of Freemasons, part of the printer’s mark of Johanne Froben, Andreas Wechel and William Jaggard, the Eliot Court printing house and appeared on the frontispiece of Shakespeare’s 1664 folio. You follow my drift..???
Paracelsus was an outspoken man, who put curing disease at the top of his, ‘to do’ list, and above his gold making or astronomical aspirations. He believed that illness was caused by poisons and that a cure could be affected by using other toxic substances, but in a controlled manner, a belief that underpins holistic medicine today. Mercury (azoth) is now known to be highly toxic, but had been used by the Hospitaller knights as an early treatment for the Bubonic plague. They used mercury as an ointment, rubbed on the flaming pustules of the skin, and that is why it became widely used as a treatment for syphilis, as many of the symptoms were similar.
When an effective treatment for syphilis was finally discovered, in 1910, it was not too dissimilar, a measured dose of a compound derived from the toxic poison, arsenic. This proved to be the very first modern chemotherapeutic agent and shows that the theories of Parcelsus were along the right lines.
It is suggested that Parcelsus was the first true Rosicrucian, as his work was often referred to by later Hermetic and Rosicrucian disciples. He may have been one of the first to openly preach the works of the Hermetica, but he was certainly not the first to have access to the ‘secrets of the ancients’. One aspect of his work that reflected the Renaissance thinking, was his rejection of the mystical side, (wizardy and magic), instead, concentrating on scientific experiments, an approach that wouldn’t be out of place in a school chemistry laboratory today.
The English equivalent of Parcelsus came a generation later, in the shape of Dr John Dee (1527–1609), a mathematician and alchemist. John Dee had close relationships with all the great figures of the day, including Queen Elizabeth and her close advisors, the Cecils, Walsingham, Robert Dudley and the circle of Philip Sidney. He tutored most of them and his status, as the leading Hermatic scholar of England, also allowed him to play an influential role in Elizabethan politics.
John Dee’s expertise and beliefs stretched from pure science to pure occultism, and these two ends of this scientific continuum were indistinguishable to him and some of his most ardent pupils. Things remained that way until science and magic began to diverge, at the beginning of the 17th century, at a time when Dee’s influence began to wane.
Dee was a devout Christian, but also believed in Hermetic and Platonic doctrines, which were principally governed by a reliance on numbers. His practical use of mathematics and geometry enabled him to become an expert in navigation and he supplied training for many of the early oceanic expeditions, including those of Walter Raleigh, Humphrey Gilbert and Francis Drake. His name is mentioned alongside all the leading characters in this Shakespearean saga and so it is no surprise that the Bard’s plays owe much to the scientific discoveries of the times, many inspired by John Dee.
History, though, has not treated John Dee well, because he is probably best known today, as the man who ‘conversed with angels’. Yes, Dee never forsook the mystical end of the spectrum, recording his conversations with ‘heavenly angels’, in his extensive diaries, always seeking advice from his angelic friends before making an important decision. Dee even invented a new language, called ‘Enochian’, which he and his partner, Edward Kelley, used to record these mystical conversations.
This aspect of his research brought him scorn from his contemporaries, and has not endeared him too well to modern scientific opinion, who suspect, although cannot prove, that there is no such thing as an ‘angel’. Only in more recent times, thanks to the work of 20th century historian, Frances Yates, has Dee’s work been positively reassessed, and given a reasoned place in the history of science. Remove the fantasy surrounding John Dee, and you are left with some high quality scientific research.
John Dee was another who had Welsh origins and it is speculated his family arrived in London, with the Tudor entourage of Henry VII. Perhaps, he was from the same family of Welsh wizards, who could count Merlin amongst their number. Several Welshman crop up in this section as possible Rosicrucians, and so the influence of Welsh people on the modern history of Britain, needs to be given a little more prominence.
In 1564, John Dee published his seminal work and with it his most famous visual legacy, the ‘Monas Hieroglyphica’. He stated that his symbol represented a ‘Crescent Moon above an Earth circling the Sun on top of a Cross with a fiery furnace below’, and was Dee’s vision of the unity of the Cosmos.
It was a symbol that has only been given limited airtime, since he first created it, but suddenly and in totally unexplained fashion, it became the most unlikely, cuddly, mascot figure, found on the streets of London, during the summer of 2012. They were a ‘must have’, for every child visiting that summer’s ‘gold medal making’ festivities. ‘Think on’ – as they might say in darkest Yorkshire.
John Dee’s ‘Monas Hieroglyphica’
The book, which accompanied the launch of the ‘Monas’ symbol, offered an explanation of his theories, but John Dee also organised his own ‘road show’, where he was able to debate his ideas in more detail. In an extensive tour of Eastern Europe, Dee travelled as far as Hungary, to present a personal copy of his ‘Monas Hieroglyphica’, to Maximilian II, the Holy Roman Emperor. Was this the first ever book-signing tour?
Later version of the Monas, published by the Wechel family in Frankfurt, in 1591
John Dee is reputed to have been elected as the English Grand Master of the Rosicrucians, in 1550, taking over from Sir Francis Bryan…!! Yes, the appearance of Francis Bryan, on a list of leaders of a secret group of scientists was somewhat of a surprise and has particular significance, as he has links in this story to the Neville family, Henry VIII, and perhaps, more crucially, to the Jaggard printers.
John Dee is then thought to have passed his title and scientific responsibilities on to Francis Bacon. Although no-one has found John Dee’s membership card to the secret societies, everything points in that direction. In 1576, he wrote the ‘History of King Solomon, his Ophirian voyage, with divers other rarities’, voyages which had connections with King Hiram of Tyre, who helped Solomon to build the Great Temple at Jerusalem, a focal point of Masonic beliefs. This seems to suggest that the Rosicrucian and Masonic movements had much in common, even if they kept their identities separate.
In 1571, John Dee travelled to Lorraine in France, under the warrant of Lord Burghley, to acquire alchemist’s equipment for Henry Sidney and his wife Mary Dudley. Everyone needed a Royal license to travel or to import alchemist materials or, indeed any chemical substances. Salters, like James Peele and later Abraham Jaggard, were merchants who held licenses to trade in such goods.
During the period 1567-81, Dee had, as his personal assistant, Roger Cooke, grandson of Anthony Cooke, and therefore one of the Cooke humanist clan. Roger Cooke, later, took his alchemy skills to Europe before returning home, to work as an alchemist for the Countess of Pembroke, at Wilton House.
In 1583, Dee met the visiting Polish nobleman, Count Albert Alasco, mentioned earlier as guest of honour at William Gager’s theatrical event, in Oxford. Alasco seems to have been invited to England because of his reputation as a wealthy patron and practitioner of alchemy, but his visit had the trappings of a state visit, by someone of much greater importance. He was received by the Queen and Robert Dudley, at Greenwich Palace, prior to his week long visit to the university town.
The whole event appears to have had a much deeper purpose, as the list of attendees, the program of events and high costs involved, indicates this was no ordinary visit by a Polish nobleman. In reality this may have been a joint meeting of the Hermetic and Rosicrucian elite of England and Europe, perhaps one of those, ‘required’, annual meetings, mentioned in the ‘Fama’ text.
Alasco befriended John Dee and his fellow English ‘magician’, Edward Kelley, inviting them back to Poland, but on their arrival the Count proved to be not as wealthy and influential as he boasted, and the two Englishmen quickly deserted him. Instead, they visited other Hermetic practitioners in central Europe, including a meeting with the astronomer, Tycho Brahe, in Vienna.
John Dee recorded these foreign adventures, in his meticulous personal diary, which he kept, from 1577 till 1601, and this is where notes of his angelic visitations were kept. From his early years, onwards, Dee assembled, at his Mortlake home, one of the finest libraries in Europe.
When he returned to England, in 1589, he found his library was in a state of ruin. There is a story that his house was ransacked, but the books may have been sold during his absence, by his brother-in-law, who rented the house. Many of Dee’s books and papers have turned up subsequently, in university libraries and other academic institutions, so they were not burnt by religious extremists, as some accounts suggest.
Queen Elizabeth had been Dee’s keenest supporter, but when she died in 1603, King James, turned out to be a non-believer in the occult, dispensed with both his mystical and navigational services, and so the Rosicrucian view of the world faced a major set-back. There is even a theory, that the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was inspired and organised by the ‘Fraternity’ and was not primarily a Catholic revolt after all. The earlier revelations about Lord Carew, Robert Cecil and the failure to account for six tons of gunpowder might help fuel that discussion.
Dr John Dee finally died, disgraced and in poverty, in 1609.
Much of this information about John Dee, comes from the work of Frances Yates (1899-1981), a historian, who wrote extensively about the Hermetic tradition of the Renaissance. She tried to explain and make sense of the Rosicrucian traditions, which only made the headlines, for a decade in the early 17th century, before being confined to the ‘secret box’, for the next four centuries.
Her three books ‘Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition’ (1964), ‘The Art of Memory’ (1966), and ‘The Rosicrucian Enlightenment’ (1972), opened the door to understanding more about this crucial period in world history, at the dawn of the modern era. There is still much more to be discovered and her pioneering work has not been advanced very far, by others, in the past 40 years.
Evidence of the Rosicrucian link to John Dee, is embodied in the use of his ‘Monas’ hieroglyph, prominently displayed at the beginning of the allegorical play, ‘The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz’, a religious story set over the seven days before Easter, in 1459.
‘Coincidently’, it was in 1459, that a group of real stone masons, first met in Regensburg, and it was on Easter Day in 1464, that the Constitution of the Masons of Strasbourg was approved and signed….!
Regensburg is a major Bavarian town, on the confluence of the Danube and the Regen rivers, with a magnificent stone bridge and a fine Gothic cathedral. It has particular significance because in 1096, on the way to the First Crusade, Peter the Hermit, led a mob of Crusaders that attempted to force the mass conversion of Regensburg Jews, killing all those who resisted. Again we have a significant time and a significant place that ties diverse parts of my story together.
The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz’
‘This day, this day, this day The Royal Wedding is. Art thou thereto by birth inclined, And unto joy of God design’d? Then may’st thou to the mountain tend Whereon three stately Temples stand, And there see all from end to end’
The mention of three Temples on the mountain, is obviously referring to Jerusalem and the subsequent section has more than a hint of the early Knights Templar and later the Masons.
On the last of the seven days, Christian Rosencreutz and the other guests are made Knights of the Order of the Golden Stone and the rules of the Order were read out to them.
- The Order shall always seek its origin in God and nature, and never the demonic.
- The knights shall repudiate all vices and weaknesses.
- They shall stand ready to assist all who are worthy and in need.
- The honour of the Order shall not be used for worldly gain.
- The knights shall be ready for death whenever providence decrees it.
Another total surprise to me was that the ‘Monas hieroglyph’ also provides a link to John Winthrop, one of my previously fringe characters in this story; who was the leader of the 1630 expedition to Massachusetts and who chose William Gager to be the physician for his expedition His son, John Winthrop, junior, became a leading disciple of the Hermetic tradition and thought it his life’s work to develop Renaissance scientific thinking in his new homeland of Massachusetts. Winthrop junior, used Dee’s ‘Monas’, as his own personal symbol and this continued, through to his son and grandson.
Winthrop junior, returned to England more than once, first to gain rights to extend the colony and later he became enrolled, as one of the early members of the Royal Society. Two generations down the line, John Winthrop (1714 –1779) was Professor of Mathematics and natural philosophy at Harvard College. He was also a distinguished physicist and astronomer and one of the foremost American scientists of the 18th century, corresponding, regularly, with members of the Royal Society, in London.
This trans-Atlantic connection also offers credence to the idea that America was, indeed, intended to be the new ‘Utopia’, ‘Arcadia’ or ‘New Atlantis’, that the Rosicrucians were seeking to create. Many of the rich men involved with this Shakespeare story, were also the same ones that supported the brave pioneers, who were seeking a new life, in New England and Virginia. These migrants were almost exclusively Protestant adventurers and religious refugees who hailed from the Rhineland, the Low Countries and the South and East of England.
Two other symbols, which are highly significant in the Rosicrucian world, are the Eagle and Pelican, sometimes combined with their familiar, Rose and Cross.
The pelican emblem on this decoration is remarkably similar to the printer’s mark of royal printer, Richard Jugge, and later utilised by Scotsman, Alexander Arbuthnot. In 1579, Arbuthnot was commissioned to print a Bible for every parish in Scotland, for a fee of £5 each. Printing Bibles is obviously one connection between the two men, but there seems to be more.
Albert Pike (1809-1891), American Confederate officer, writer, and noted member of secret societies, explained the meaning of the Rose, Cross and Pelican, in 1881.
‘The Rose is a symbol of Dawn, of the resurrection of Light and the renewal of life, and therefore of the dawn of the first day, and more particularly of the resurrection: and the Cross and Rose together are therefore hieroglyphically to be read, the Dawn of Eternal Life. The Pelican feeding her young is an emblem of the large and bountiful beneficence of Nature, of the Redeemer of fallen man, and of that humanity and charity that ought to distinguish a Knight of this Degree.’
The Pelican symbol also has religious connections with rebirth, and is linked by some Christian groups, to the resurrection of Jesus. Others connect the pelican symbol with ‘charity’, as the pelican mother might draw blood when feeding her young. The pelican even made it to the front cover of the King James Bible, (1611), as did the ‘lamb and flag’ symbolism of the Middle Temple.
Shakespeare makes two mentions of pelicans using their blood for re-birth.
To his good friends thus wide I’ll open my arms
And, like the kind life-rend’ing pelican,
Repast them with my blood.
O, spare me not, my brother Edward’s son,
For that I was his father Edward’s son;
That blood already, like the pelican,
Hast thou tapp’d out and drunkenly caroused.
Sometimes the Phoenix replaces the Pelican as a symbol of rebirth, and that mythical bird’s name has already appeared in this story, notably, the ‘Phoenix Nest’ and the ‘Phoenix and the Turtle’. Before leaving these two symbols, it is worth noting that two of the most famous and highly decorative portraits of Queen Elizabeth are known as the Pelican portrait and the Phoenix portrait, both painted by Nicholas Hilliard, in about 1576. The birds were worn as a brooch in the centre of each portrait and the Tudor Rose, as you would expect, also figures prominently in both portraits.
The Rosicrucians play ‘hide and seek’
The formal announcement of the actual existence of a group known as the ‘Rosicrucians’ was made in the German town of Kassel, in 1614, but it was only two years later, that English physician, Robert Fludd (1574-1637), published an explanation for the existence of the ‘Rose Croix’, in England.
‘Apologia compendiaria, Fraternitatem de Rosea Croce suspicionis et infamiæ maculis aspersam, veritatis quasi Fluctibus abluens et aspersam’
‘Compendium of Apology for the fraternity of the Rose Cross, to wash away the stains of suspicion and infamy’.
(Note: ‘apology’ means a ‘considered response’, not the modern, ‘grovelling’, use of the word.)
Fludd wrote in Latin, therefore, still aiming at the educated classes, so this was not something for the average pleb to worry about. ‘Establishment’ historians usually suggest his overt ‘apology’, proves Fludd definitely wasn’t a member, although his occupation of ‘physician’, probably gives the game away. It is also suggested by some conspiracy theorists, that Fludd was the 15th Grand Master of the Priory of Sion, a mythical order postulated in late 20th century fiction. (Dan Brown alert here..!)
Robert Fludd, another graduate of St John’s College, Oxford, was a remarkable man, discovering the circulation of blood, prior to William Harvey’s treatise, in 1628, and writing ground-breaking works, about perception and memory. Fludd had close associations with Francis Bacon and the pair has been suggested as co-founders of both the Rosicrucian and Freemasonry orders.
Too late in the day for that honour, I think..!
A significant individual, who connects the Rosicrucians to Philip Sidney’s circle and the University of Oxford, is Giordano Bruno (1548-1600). Frances Yates wrote a whole book about this Italian Dominican priest, who was a significant character in progressing Hermetic ideology. Bruno came to England in 1583, was present at the Alasco event and lectured and debated his ideas, at Oxford.
This brought criticism from traditionalists, within the Protestant church, notably the Bishop of Oxford and George Abbott, the Guildford grammar school old boy, who later became Archbishop of Canterbury. Bruno’s co-debaters, in particular, ridiculed his crazy idea that the ‘Earth went round the Sun’. His aim, though, was to reconcile the rift between Protestants and Catholics, to re-form them into one new church. This view was rebutted in England, by those two extremists, the Catholics and Calvinists, a rejection which eventually lead to his fiery end, in Rome.
Whilst in England, Bruno had six of his works printed by John Charlewood, the same man whose business and wife ended up in the hands of James Roberts. Two of Bruno’s books were dedicated to Philip Sidney, who he had first met at the Oxford event. Bruno also worked with the mathematician and astronomer, Thomas Digges, and it would seem that all the noted ‘philosophers’ of the day, met Bruno, at some point, during his stay in England.
The most significant of Bruno’s works, one that links many of my leading players together, is ‘La Cena de le Ceneri’, commonly known as the ‘Ash Wednesday Supper’ (1584). Written in Italian, it describes a dinner party held with a group of English sympathisers, at the home of Fulke Greville. Definitive analysis of the identity of those involved is difficult, because Bruno used pseudonyms or other cloaking devices. The book, probably, summarises a number of meetings with friends and not one specific event.
Bruno spent two years in England, (1583-85) where fellow Italian, John Florio, was one of his friends, with Matthew Gwinne, Philip Sidney and Fulke Greville making up other close acquaintances. Bruno was also introduced, by Gwinne, to Thomas Sackville (Lord Buckhurst) and visited his London home. Buckhurst later became Chancellor of Oxford University and in 1599 was appointed Lord High Chancellor, in 1599. He was also a dramatist, of note, being the author of Gorbudoc, the first play written in blank verse, and one of the first to add political piquant, to his poetry.
Bruno left England and travelled to Paris, and eventually in 1591, was invited to Frankfurt, by Andreas Wechel, him of the printing family, to meet other like-minded thinkers. However, his reputation went before him and the Frankfurt town council banned Bruno from the precincts. So instead, Wechel arranged for his guest to stay at a nearby monastery, an action that had fatal consequences.
He moved on to Venice, but in 1593, he was charged with heresy, imprisoned for seven years and in 1600, was transferred to Rome, where he was publicly burnt at the stake in Rome’s ‘Campo de Fiori’, where a statue to him now stands. One of his main accusers was a priest from that Frankfurt monastery, where he had stayed, ostensibly, as a safe haven.
Bruno’s statue in Rome –
The statue dates from 1889 and continues my theme of a strong connection with the secret societies. The sculptor was Ettore Ferrari, Grand master of the Grande Oriente d’Italia, who were strong supporters of the unification of Italy, with the statue unveiled on June 9, 1889, where the radical politician, Giovanni Bovio, gave a speech surrounded by 100 Masonic flags.
Matthew Gwinne (1558 – 1627) was a physician, and another of Welsh descent. Son of a grocer, he followed what seems a familiar educational path, to Merchant Taylor’s School and then St John’s College, Oxford, where he became a Fellow. Some of you might notice a pattern developing here..!!
Gwinne became a major figure at Oxford, taking a lead role in a debate during the Queen’s visit, in 1592, and he succeeded William Gager as the chief organiser of plays for the university. Gwinne was also one of those who contributed to the Philip Sidney memorial anthology, in 1587. Gager and Gwinne seem to have been friendly rivals in the genre of neo-classical Latin authorship.
Gwinne was the physician, who became involved with another of my erstwhile fringe characters, when he accompanied Henry Unton, in his final stint as ambassador to Paris, in 1595. After Unton’s death, in 1598, Gwinne was appointed Professor of Physic, at Gresham College, a post he held until 1607. He had diverse literary connections, contributing commendatory verse to John Florio and working with him, on his major translations. He also worked with Fulke Greville on an early re-working of Philip Sidney’s ‘Arcadia’, which was halted, probably by the Countess, and never made it into the bookshops. Gwinne was certainly one of the anonymous ‘names’ involved in Bruno’s ‘Ash Wednesday Supper’ and he is someone who has to be taken seriously when the Shakespeare cards are finally laid on the table.
Giovanni (John) Florio (1553–1625), was an Italian who had a major influence over several characters in my story, and (shock, horror), has even been suggested as a possible author of some of Shakespeare’s plays. His father, Michelangelo Florio, had been a Franciscan friar, living in Tuscany, before converting to Protestantism, a decision which forced him to flee Italy, for London.
Michelangelo Florio’s more interesting connections now appear, because, in 1550, he was appointed as pastor to the Italian Protestant congregation of London, and for a short time served as a member of the household of William Cecil. The elder Florio then became Italian tutor to Lady Jane Grey and to Henry Herbert, who he praised as being his best two pupils.
Father and young son, John Florio, fled to Strasburg during the Marian period, but it was only John who returned to England, in the late 1570s, a journey that was to have a major effect, both on English literature and the manners and etiquette of the upper reaches of English society.
John Florio saw his role in England as a cultural ambassador, attempting to civilise those aggressive, uncouth Anglo-Saxons. He was a great reformer of English social etiquette, making bold attempts to improve both the behaviour and the language of his aristocratic friends. He was an advocate of the teachings of Bruno, and was very much a member of the Oxford University circle. Florio’s sister, Rosa, (nice name) married the poet Samuel Daniel, tutor to the young Herberts. Here we have that man Daniel showing his face, again, rather unexpectedly..?
In 1578, Florio dedicated his first published work to Robert Dudley, offering copious examples of the Italian use of proverbs and witty sayings, aimed at improving everyday discussion amongst the frothy gallants of the Royal Court. In 1591, he published a selection of dialogues in English and Italian, which contained over 6000 Italian proverbs. Florio’s input to the previously, rather pedestrian, English language was massive, and the richness of late Elizabethan literature owes much to his influence.
John Florio (1553-1625)
John Florio lived, for some time, in the home of the Earl of Southampton, at Titchfield Abbey, where he acted as a tutor to the young Earl. This was around 1590, soon after Southampton had left Cambridge University and had enrolled as a law student at Gray’s Inn. Florio was also a good friend of William Herbert, and left him money in his will to care for his sister, Rosa.
Under new management, King James I appointed Florio, as French and Italian tutor to Prince Henry, created him a ‘Gentleman of the Privy Chamber’, and he also became language tutor to Queen Anne. Florio published an updated English-Italian dictionary, which he named in honour of the Queen. He died in poverty, in 1625, another to disappear at the time of the First folio, but his daughter married well, her descendants becoming Royal physicians to later English monarchs.
So Florio and Bruno were two learned gentlemen from Italy, who brought great influence to bear on the gestating English language and its dependent culture. John Florio in particular seems to have had a massive influence on the flowering of English in both its written and spoken forms, and if we need to find a precursor to the great wealth of creative language brought to us by the works of Shakespeare, then surely the starting point must be John Florio.
The Italian is thought to have added nearly a thousand new words to the English language and his presence on the scene might explain how over 2000 new words and hundreds of new phrases suddenly appeared in the Bard’s work.
Ten of the Bard’s 36 plays had Italian roots and it does seem remarkable that our greatest writer is credited with a third of his output being based in a country, he supposedly never ever visited.
Was the real William Shakespeare possibly an Italian in disguise?
Italia Festa – (with a little French dessert)
Frescos and salt sellers
Shakespeare scholars have long marvelled at the Bard’s incisive knowledge of Italy, and to a lesser extent, our traditional enemy – those arrogant Frenchmen. The Italian theme was taken up by the Shakespeare Authorship Trust, for their 2013 meeting, held at London’s, Globe Theatre, and convincing arguments were made that suggest the author of Shakespeare’s Italianesque plays, must have had close-up and personal knowledge of the boot-shaped peninsular.
A year later, the 2014 gathering of the ‘doubtful’, again at the Globe, spent the day looking for a French Connection to the Bard, and whilst the detective work in discovering a Francophile link, turned out to be a little more complex, there is clear evidence, amongst some of the best known plays, that the author must, also, have had first hand experience of life in France, and the French Court in particular.
However, there is an obvious contrast between the Bard’s use of Italy and France in his plays. In Italy, the emphasis is placed on describing people and places, to impart a Mediterranaean atmosphere into the text, with plenty of olive groves, marble statues and frescos. Italian names, given to his characters, are everywhere too, cropping up in several plays, where they might be least expected.
The connections to France are far less obvious and lay just below the surface, with the turbulent politics of the religious civil wars, being the driving force behind the Bard’s plot lines. The French connections are clear and unequivocal, and the evidence is not even new, although it took a number of Frenchmen in the first half of the 20th century, to find it. However, since then, English followers of the Shakespeare debate, have seemed content to let their evidence fade into the mists of a Monet lily pond.
Stratfordians have long explained these foreign additions by contemplating the idea that their hero gained all the necessary information by paying regular visits to a number of English ‘libraries’. They earnestly suggest that English translations of Italian geography and botany handbooks were lying around in the reading rooms of Warwickshire country houses or on the bookshelves of the London publishing fraternity. Alternatively, they suggest that this detailed information could have been freed from the mouths of Italian merchants, over a tankard of mead or a glass of Tuscan wine, in the Mermaid Tavern or similar convivial establishments, which Shakespeare is ‘known’ to have visited.
The Italian angle is more straightforward than the French, as ‘Shakespeare’ has added specific details of Italian life, to add colour and vibrancy to ‘his’ plays. Stratfordians do not dispute this, but say this extra patination to the plays was just a figment of the Bard’s vivid imagination. To prove this ‘detail’ was imagined, they say he was just teasing his audience, with overt, geographical and historical errors.
‘Everyone knows’ that Milan is in the heart of the country and so has no trading port with the outside world, whilst it certainly never had an Emperor as its ruler.
Wrong and wrong again the Stratfordians say..!! Ah, yes, but……..
‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Merchant of Venice’, ‘Two Gentleman of Verona’, ‘Othello’ and the rest of his Italian catalogue, are actually based on real places, real physical geography, and real local history. The plays include observations of buildings and works of art that were unlikely to have been found, illustrated, in the reference section of the Stratford ‘Public’ Library…. (ha ha)
Stratford public library – literally, next door to Shakespeare’s old home in Henley Street…
So much detail can only lead to one conclusion, that the author of these ‘Italian’ plays had seen the sights for him or her self, or, as I think far more likely, for themselves.
American researcher, Richard Paul Roe, spent a significant portion of his later life, chasing down these detailed clues and with a great degree of success. He found there were sycamore trees in Verona, where Shakespeare said they would be, and to the surprise of many learned Stratfordians, he discovered that the best way to travel around northern Italy, during the 16th century, was by ‘barque’, on the extensive system of inland waterways, and yes, the Holy Roman Emperor did make a brief and unheralded visit to Milan, just the once. Roe also used the detailed directions given by ‘Launcelot’ to ‘old Gobbo’, in the ‘Merchant of Venice’ to discover the exact location of Shylock’s Venetian pent-house, a building which still exists today, next door to the ‘Banco Rosso’ – a derelict bank now a museum – Where else would it be?
Another major discovery is noted by Roger Prior, in linking a fresco in the town of Bassano del Grappa, 40 miles north from Venice, to a scene in ‘Othello’. Again the detail is such that it would seem highly likely that the author of this play, had seen the fresco themselves – again up close and personal.
The painted wall was on the front of a house, in the ‘Piazzotto del Sale’ (‘the little square of salt’), having been commissioned in 1539, by the Dal Corno family, who were official salt sellers in Bassano. The fresco depicts animals and musical instruments, including a monkey and a goat, an image of a naked woman named ‘Truth’ and another of the ‘Drunkenness of Noah’, all painted on the front wall of the salter’s house. As the doors to the windows open and close they reveal or hide ‘Truth’. It would be difficult to believe that the author of these lines had not seen the fresco for themselves.
It is impossible you should see this,
Were they as prime as Goats, as hot as Monkeys,
As salt as Wolves in pride,
and Fools as gross As Ignorance, made drunk.
But yet, I say, If imputation, and strong circumstances,
Which lead directly to the door of Truth,
Will give you satisfaction, you might have’t.
Othello – Act 3 scene 3
Fresco painted in 1539 by Jacopa Bassano – ( now in the local museum)
The town of Bassano offers other clues that lead to William Shakespeare’s work, including mention that the name ‘Otello’ is a common one in the area, yet rare elsewhere, in Italy, and that one of the two apothecary shops, in that ‘little square of salt’, traded under the sign of ‘The Moor’.
A family bearing the Bassano name were musicians and instrument makers in the town, but they left home in 1515, to work for the Doge, chief magistrate and leader of the Most Serene Republic of Venice, in his grand palace. However, by1532, they had migrated to London, as musicians for Henry VIII and the Royal Court. Henry seems to have poached them from under the Venetian ruler’s nose, probably on the advice of one of those visiting English merchants. It is likely this was part of a trading deal between these two, growing, states, so helping to open the floodgates to the tide of English noblemen, who visited the region during the 16th century.
There were five Bassano brothers, who headed for London, in the 1530s, and their offspring continued to be important members of the musical fraternity, throughout the Tudor period. There is a common belief, that the Bassano family had a Jewish background, but this is disputed by some scholars, because Jews were banned from England during this period. However, the evidence looks overwhelming, because of their names, the people they married and the communities in which they lived.
Bassano del Grappa
This first wave of the Bassano family starred as musicians, but later generations branched out into a different field, with three brothers being granted a lucrative warrant, to export calf-skins from England to Venice. This licence, for 100,000 skins a year, was held by the family, from 1593 until 1621. This enterprise may have links to the family’s earlier sojourn in Venice, a city noted for its leather-working, and where the Bassano family still owned property. This trading warrant does lead Stratfordian scholars to suggest a connection with the Bard’s father, John Shakespeare, a dealer in skins, whilst Marlovians connect Kit Marlowe’s shoe-making family with these leather working Italians.
One of the family’s descendants was Aemilia Bassano, (1569-1645) later gaining the surname Lanier, after marriage to a cousin. Aemelia Lanier, perhaps surprising to many readers, is a strong candidate to be the ‘Dark Lady’ of the Sonnets. She was born in Bishopgate, London, the daughter of Baptise Bassano, and at the age of eighteen, became mistress to Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, who was forty five years her senior. Their relationship began around 1587 and included her begetting a son, who arrived in 1593. This was rapidly followed by marriage to her cousin, Alfonso Lanier, a Queen’s musician, in what seems a union of convenience. The boy’s name was Henry Lanier, and his noble lordship, Henry Carey, continued to deal generously, with both mother and son. It was a year later, in 1594, that Lord Hunsdon became patron of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, who a decade later were transformed into the Shakespeare players, the King’s Men.
Alfonso Lanier’s mother was Lucretia Bassano, daughter of the patriarch of the migrant musicians, Antonio Bassano (1511-1571), born in Bassano del Grappa and died in London. Antonio’s father was Jeronimo Bassano, a first name which rises to prominence, a couple of chapters hence.
After the death of her father, when she was seven, and before being the bedfellow of Lord Hunsdon, Aemelia went to live in the household of Susan Bertie, Countess of Kent, whose mother had been the fourth wife of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. This gives links to Brandon’s third wife, Mary Tudor, (Henry VIII’s sister) and one of those alternative lines of succession. Aemelia received a top class, Humanist education, whilst in the Bertie household, which gave her the skills to become one of the first women in England, to publish poetry.
Later, Aemelia went to live with Margaret Clifford (nee Russell) and her daughter, Anne Clifford, at Cookham Manor, on the River Thames, in Buckinghamshire. Margaret’s eldest sister had married Ambrose Dudley, whilst, quite significantly, their brother, John Russell, had become the second husband of Elizabeth Hoby (nee Cooke), making him the step-father of Edward Hoby, who was, by then, the occupier of Bisham Abbey. Their father was Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford, that political friend of William Cecil and William Cordell, and it is this family that will take us to some of the most interesting places in the Shakespeare story. The Russell clan may even be the leading lights, in keeping the ‘Shakespeare secret’, safe, across the centuries.
Building on a similar, excellent, education, Margaret’s daughter, Anne Clifford, became a patron of authors and literature, and her many letters and a diary gave her a literary reputation in her own right. However, it is in later life that we know Anne Clifford better, as the second wife of Philip Herbert, marrying him in 1630, a year after the death of Susan de Vere, and thus making her, yet another ,Countess of Pembroke, and occupier of Wilton House, during its rebuilding period.
From Bassano to Bisham Abbey and Wilton House – It’s a small world..!
Hunsdon and Aemelia broke up their formal liason, after her marriage, and the dates coincide with the beginning of the performance of plays, later attributed to Shakespeare. Her relationship with Carey brought her into the circle of ‘Oxford wits’ as well as to the notice of the nobles of the Royal Court. Did this Mediterranean beauty become the ‘Dark lady’ of the Sonnets, which may have described the unrequited love of Henry Carey for Aemelia Bassano. Many people think so!
In 1611, Aemelia published her poetry anthology, ‘Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum’ (Hail, God, King of the Jews), only the fourth female poet to publish her own work. Aemelia mentions her conversion to the Protestant faith, probably referring to the common practice amongst the Sephardic Jewish community of openly living as a Christian, but privately retaining their traditional beliefs. The Jewish connection, of course, plays a large part in ‘The Merchant of Venice, and offers more distant links to the Iberian peninsular, the home of the Sephardi Jews, until they were expelled, in 1492.
Shakespeare’s two Venetian plays have characters called Emilia, in ‘Othello’, and Bassanio in ‘The Merchant of Venice’, whilst the Roman tragedy, ‘Titus Andronicus’, has an Aemilius and a Bassianus in the cast. All these pieces fit beautifully together, as I’m sure Lord Hunsdon would confirm..!!
The mention of ‘Titus Andronicus’ leads us to a potential connection to another familiar name, that of James Peele, who had clerical, pageantry and schoolmaster skills, but whose original trade was as a salter. His experiences led him to write two books about Venetian book-keeping, and it was his son, George Peele, who is now acknowledged to have been a co-author of ‘Titus Andronicus’.
We know nothing of James Peele’s life before 1547, except his self-confessed trade as a salter, but just maybe he learnt his Venetian accounting skills in Venice, and had trading connections that took him to Bassano and the home of local salters, the Dal Corno family. As we shall see in a moment, Bassano was one of the last stops on the main land route from Germany and Austria, and on to Venice, but was also a welcoming place for seabourne traders, who could spend some, well earned, ‘rest & relaxation’, in the Alpine foothills, away from the mosquito infested marshes of the Venetian lagoon.
The Italian connection to James Peele might, also, be via one of his two wives. The surname of his first wife, Ann, is unknown, but his second marriage, to Christian Weiders, in 1580, suggests a link to the continent, possibly with Jewish ‘converso’ overtones, as suggested by her ‘Christian’ first name.
It also might just be relevant, that it is the character, ‘Iago’, who shares the scene with ‘Othello’, when the relevant ‘fresco lines’ appear in the script, and as one scholar suggested to me, many moons ago, that ‘Iago’ sounds a little like a Latin version of George Peel’s Oxford friend, William Gager. ’Othello’ was certainly the play that was taken to Oxford, by the Kings Men, in 1610, seemingly to taunt, both the now Puritan leaning university and the town authorities.
Could James Peele be one of those missing Italian jigsaw pieces? That is all a little speculative, but is certainly another of those clues that Miss Marple would put away safely in her writing desk, for possible use later.
Were these plays written from the heartfelt memories of a previous inhabitant of the Italian peninsular, not based on a brief foreign tour or even gleaned from a heavily imbibed Italian merchant in a Thameside tavern? However, the ‘experts’, on both sides of the Authorship argument, seem reluctant to accept a foreign hand on the pen, so where might the author’s expertise in the ways of Italian life been garnered? If that is the case then we need definitive evidence of English involvement in the Italian plays, one that offers an obvious blast of Stratfordian – ‘Forza di volontà’ – That’s ‘Will power’.
That takes us back to one very specific Englishman, one who visited the Italian peninsular from top to toe, journeyed there more than once, and wrote, in some detail, about his travels and the people he met. This man was Thomas Hoby, the diplomat, linguist and traveller, who wrote about his wanderings in a diary cum travelogue, ‘The Travels and Life of Sir Thomas Hoby, kt, of Bisham Abbey, written by himself (1547-1564)’. This book never reached the printers till 1904, but lay as one of a series of manuscripts, at the Hoby home of Bisham Abbey, being purchased by the British Museum, in 1871.
Thomas Hoby died in 1566, so seems unlikely to be the closet Shakespeare we are seeking, but his two sons, Edward (1560-1617) and Thomas Postumous, (1566-1640), both outlived Mr Shakespeare of Stratford, and look to add a few more pieces to help complete the puzzle.
Thomas’ travel book is highly detailed in places, giving an accurate description of the routes taken and of the interesting places he visited. There are also lists of travelling companions and mentions of other English courtiers, scholars, and clerics, who Thomas Hoby encountered along the way. There seems to have been dozens, at times hundreds, of noble and notable Englishmen, all on the loose in Renaissance Italy, particularly during the Marian period, from 1553-1558. One modern catalogue of English students who visited Padua, from 1485 to 1603, lists over 350 individuals, but there were many more.
Researcher, Richard Roe, mapped many of the places that are relevant to the Shakespeare plays, and whilst Hoby mentions most of these, he doesn’t mention them all. Hoby, like many travellers arriving, overland, in northern Italy, passed through the town of Bassano, and spent time in Verona and Mantua.
The most striking link between Roe’s findings and Hoby comes not from the north, but from the linguist’s visit to Sicily, where he mentions in some detail his return trip, by sea, to Naples, via the volcanic, Lipari islands, passing, what Roe believes is ‘Prospero’s Island’ of Vulcano.
Vulcano – Lipari Islands – off north coast of Sicily
Thomas Hoby had many of those important Italian experiences, found in Shakespeare’s Italian plays, but his death in 1566 seems to put him out of the authorship equation, being a generation before the Bard took to his pen. However, his travel book, then only available as a manuscript, was passed on to son, Edward Hoby, a fact we know for certain, because of the copious annotations made in the margins.
However, Thomas Hoby is perhaps better known for another Italian masterpiece, a significant one, at that..!! This is his translation of Baldassare Castiglione’s, Il Libro del Cortegiano, ‘The Book of the Courtier’, which Hoby published, in 1561. Baldassare was an Italian courtier, from an illustrious family, who hailed from Castico, near Mantua, in the Venetian north. It was written over many years, beginning in 1508, and published in 1528, by the Aldine press, in Venice, just before his death.
Hoby’s translation of the book describing the ‘correct’ demeanour of an Italian courtier and gentleman, created a template for the young bucks of Elizabethan England to follow, acting as a precursor to John Florio’s books on language and etiquette. Significantly for Shakespeare followers, the book features characters later found in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, a play that is set in Messina, Sicily, many leagues to the south.
The Hoby family are at the heart of my family jumble of inter-relationships. Edward Hoby’s mother, Elizabeth Cooke, (Cooke clan) was widowed before the birth of her second son, Thomas Posthumous, and she then married John Russell, son of Francis Russell, Earl of Bedford, one of those recurring families who feature at the heart of the Shakespeare conundrum.
Edward Hoby took as his first wife, Elizabeth Paulet, great granddaughter of the ‘willow bending’ administrator, William Paulet, and for his second wife, married Margaret Carey, daughter of Henry, Lord Hunsdon. This Carey connection makes life more interesting, because Emilia Bassano-Lanier, the ‘Dark Lady’ candidate, and mistress of Henry Carey, therefore, became an unofficial, step-mother-in-law, to Edward Hoby. Add that Hoby/Russell link to the formative years of Aemelia Bassano, who was under the care and tutelage of John Russell’s sister, Margaret, and we see yet another cosy set of relationships, each with a pinch of Italian spice. A third sibling, Anne Russell, married Ambrose Dudley, tying more knots, and adding a link to Warwickshire, and that family of glove-makers.
Like his father, Edward Hoby was a diplomat and academic, and whilst at Oxford University, as a ‘gentleman-commoner’, he had the writer, Thomas Lodge as his ‘servitor’. This was a way of rich man keeping a servant whilst on the campus, and for poor, but academically gifted students, gaining a free education. Hoby made close friends of leading academics, including Henry Savile and William Camden, and if we then add in his relationship to William Cecil, via his mother, and to Queen Elizabeth, by his wife, and we have a man who mixed with the highest echelons of Elizabethan society.
Intriguingly, Edward Hoby took a two year sabbatical from Oxford, in 1576, with the intention of travel to Europe. If he went to Italy, then he almost certainly would have taken his father’s guidebook, so were those notes, in the margins, made from his own observations, and indeed, did he reach places his father had missed? Surely too, Thomas Lodge had read this most singular document, as he was also to become a great traveller to foreign parts, and would have been fascinated by the accounts of Thomas Hoby’s time, journeying across Europe.
Lodge is definitely one of my prime candidates to be a Shakespeare contributor, and could the Hoby travelogue, rather like the Holinshead Chronicles, be where ‘Shakespeare’ gained so much insight into that most romantic of countries. Add this to Messina’s connection to, ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and Thomas Hoby’s translation of ‘The Courtier’ and this is another family that cant be ignored in any discussion about the Italian influence on the Shakespeare Authorship debate.
Edward Hoby also leads us to another significant figure, that of Henry Unton, whose wonderful portrait has a section devoted to his own travels ‘sur le Continent’. Twenty years after Henry Unton had died (1596), whilst ambassador in Paris, his sister, Cecilia Unton (1561-1618) became Edward Hoby’s fourth wife. Just ‘another’ family connection many would say, but another which suggests these two families were closely allied.
So, Henry Unton, a man I believe is more important to the Shakespeare saga than anyone realises, is another with a strong aroma of basil and oregano about him, and he is also to reappear later, as we move northwards to our French connection. Here is a man who possessed all the first hand experiences we hav been searching for, and a man who died at the moment the name of ‘William Shakespeare’ was to enter the scene, as a writer and to take possession of his new home in Stratford.
Another candidate, whose Italian credentials seem to have been overlooked, is Anthony Munday, (1560-1633) one of Henslowe’s favourites and one who is now an accepted co-writer of parts of the Shakespeare canon. Like George Peele, Munday remains a recurring figure, throughout this story, and because he lived through the entire Shakespeare era, he is a prime candidate to be one of our editors-in-chief. His strength as an author was in updating old plays, and this became his forte when Philip Henslowe became his paymaster, from 1597 onwards. Munday was known as the ‘poet of the City’ and one of the most productive writers of the period.
Munday’s youthful experiences had taken him to France and Italy, and particularly to the Jesuit run, English College, in Rome. His travels began in 1576, after abandoning his apprenticeship with printer, John Allde, and headed for Europe. He stated that he travelled to learn about the people and to learn new languages, but he was also one of those keen-eyed ‘tourists’, feeding back information as part of Elizabeth’s spy network. He remained abroad for over six years, and during that time worked with the English ambassador in Paris, and claimed in a letter he wrote to Edward de Vere, that he had visited Rome, Naples, Venice, Padua and ‘diverse of their excellent cities’.
Anthony Munday is, of course, one of the Coleman Street gang, and one of four men who Henslowe credited with co-writing the ‘Life of Sir John Oldcastle’. This was printed ‘anonymously’ in 1600, but appeared under the name of ‘William Shakespeare’, in the ‘false folio’ of 1619. If we need to find a Shakespeare candidate with all the right Italian credentials, then look no further than Anthony Munday. However, with a portfolio overflowing with work, there seems very little reason for him to take on a covert identity, unless it was at the behest of one of those noble lordships, who wanted to keep schtum.
So, could our Italian writer be an amalgam of reminiscences, recorded by a number of English travellers who had visited the most popular and romantic of Elizabethan tourist destinations. Italy was in the blood of the Tudor traveller and it is at the heart of the works of William Shakespeare. Where the two meet is still open to great debate, but surely that discussion would be UNLIKELY to include the son of a leather trader from Stratford-upon-Avon, even if he held a reader’s ticket for the local library.
American researcher, Richard Roe determined that ten of Shakespeare’s ‘fiction’ plays were set, at least partly, in Italy and notes that only one of the Bard’s ‘fictions’ has a setting in England, a ratio of 10:1, a little odd for England’s greatest writer… don’t you think?
Well Roe does and I think I have to agree.
So, which of the plays are we talking about, and how do they relate to the printing and publishing, particularly the role of Edward Blount and his sixteen entries on to the Shakespeare scene.
Richard Roe’s Ten Italian plays
Romeo and Juliet Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Taming of the Shrew Merchant of Venice
Othello (act one) All’s Well That End’s Well
Much Ado About Nothing The Winter’s Tale
Plus, perhaps surprisingly, to many students of the Bard: ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.
The author set the ‘Midsummer’ play in Athens, Greece, but Roe moves that location to Italy, calling it ‘Midsummer in Sabbioneta’. This is a small town, near Mantua, and bears the local name of ‘Little Athens’ and has a Temple and a Duke’s Oak, which exactly complement the Shakespeare play.
Roe also noted that there were three plays set in Ancient Rome; ‘Coriolanus’, ‘Titus Andronicus’ and ‘Julius Caesar’, each with a classical theme, but which might offer interest in any discussion of Italy.
Three of these ten plays are of the five credited to the ‘fair copy’ work of Ralph Crane, four out of six if you also credit Crane with ‘Othello’. These three, ‘The Winter’s Tale’, ‘The Tempest’, and ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’ are also part of Edward Blount’s cache of sixteen plays, the ones that may have been performed, but were never published until 1623.
That does provide a continuous link between travel writer, Thomas Hoby and Ralph Crane via son, Edward Hoby and his servant-pupil, Thomas Lodge. Crane was noted earlier to have a close association with Lodge, and it might also be significant that only part of ‘Othello’ was set in Italy, so giving reasons for some to doubt Crane’s involvement in scribing the whole of this play.
Two of the three Roman plays, ‘Coriolanus’ and Julius Caesar’, were also in Blount’s safe keeping, whilst the third Roman play, ‘Titus Andronicus’, seems to have a special place in the Shakespeare canon, as it doesn’t follow the same pattern of performance and publication as any of its contemporaries. However, it does have those obvious naming connections, to ‘Aemilius’ and ‘Bassianus’, and our ‘Dark Lady’, Aemilia Bassano, a descendant of the musicians, from Bassano.
Edward Blount’s 16 plays
Two Gentleman of Verona The Winter’s Tale
All’s Well that End’s Well The Tempest
Coriolanus Julius Caesar
Henry VI (part one) Twelfth Night
Anthony and Cleopatra Timon of Athens
Measure for Measure The Comedy of Errors
As You Like It Macbeth
Henry VIII Cymberline
The other 20 (non-Blount) plays
Romeo and Juliet Midsummer Night’s Dream
Merchant of Venice Much Ado About Nothing
Taming of the Shrew Othello
Troilus & Cressida Henry VI (2 & 3) Richard III
King John Henry IV (1&2) Hamlet
King Lear Loves Labours Lost Merry Wives of Windsor
Richard II Henry V
The six Italian plays, which were published BEFORE 1623 pan out like this.
‘The Merchant of Venice’ was registered by James Roberts on 22nd July 1598 and printed by him for Thomas Hayes in 1600, with the name ‘William Shakespeare’. This play reappeared in the 1619, ‘false folio’, and again, of course in 1623. One of the lead characters is Bassanio, giving another link to the town, the family of musicians, the ‘Dark Lady’ and ‘Titus Andronicus’.
‘Much Ado about Nothing’, was first printed by Valentine Simms, in 1600, again with the name ‘William Shakespeare’ attached, published jointly by Andrew Wise and William Aspley. Wise died in 1603 and Aspley remained with the Shakespeare brand through to 1632. This play was set in Messina, Sicily and features the characters, Benedick and Beatrice, and was likely to have been inspired by Thomas Hoby’s translation of ‘The Book of the Courtier’, where both those names, also, appear.
‘Midsummer Nights Dream’, was registered by Thomas Fisher, on 8th October 1600. There is some dispute about who printed the play in 1600. Richard Bradock is credited with one version, but there is another with the mark of James Roberts, again with a 1600 date. All versions of the play bore the name ‘William Shakespeare’.
Many Shakespeare scholars say the version with Robert’s mark was a ‘counterfeit’ facsimile, actually printed in 1619 as part of Pavier and Jaggard’s ‘false folio’ project. Stratfordians give this play, and ‘The Merchant of Venice’, as examples of the malpractice by the Jaggard print house, and are the only two plays of the ‘Italian ten’ to appear in the ‘1619 folio’, and so the provenance of both is contentious.
‘Romeo and Juliet’ made two early appearances under the ‘anonymous’ brand, being printed in abbreviated format, by John Danter in 1597, and in more familiar form in 1599, printed by Thomas Creede, for Cuthbert Burby. Neither version of ‘Romeo’ bore the Shakespeare name, and the next time the star crossed lovers made it to the printed page was in 1623. It ought to be hugely significant that the 1599 quarto of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ failed to mention ‘Shakespeare’, when the year previously, ‘Loves Labours Lost’ had received the five star branding from Cuthbert Burby, as the first ‘Shakespeare’ play.
‘Taming of the Shrew’ was first printed by Peter Short, in 1594, also for Cuthbert Burby, and re-published, in 1596, but neither version with an author. Valentine Simmes printed the next quarto, in 1607, for Nicholas Ling, but still with no Shakespeare name. Ling sold the rights to John Smethwick in 1609, and he was one of the minor partners when the play finally gained its familiar author, in 1623.
‘Othello’ was published for the first time, in 1622, when Thomas Walkley got tired of waiting for the Jaggards to go to press. This was printed by Nicholas Okes, with ‘William Shakespeare’ as the author.
Finally, just a brief mention, of that odd play out, ‘Titus Andronicus’, which has links to George Peele and the ‘Book of the Courtier’. The first version appeared in print, in 1594, printed by John Danter, for Millington and Edward White. James Roberts printed a version in 1600, this time for Edward White alone, and surprisingly still no author. White used another printer in 1611, when the play still lacked an author, before finally ‘meeting its maker’, in 1623.
Are there any patterns to be discerned here or is the writing, publishing and printing of the Italian plays rather a chaotic mess. The clue might be in my phraseology..!
It looks to me that someone, perhaps Francis Bacon, John Florio or the Countess herself, has set a group of their literary students, some holiday homework, for their vacation in Italy. Something along the lines of:- ‘With reference to your personal experiences, write a play with an Italian theme’
The provenance of Blount’s four plays might suggest they were by one author, especially with the Ralph Crane link, but the rest are all over the place. You could easily imagine those other six plays being written by six different people. There is no consistency in anything, either the Shakespeare branding, sometimes present sometimes not, or the chain of printers and publishers. Just chaotic.!!
There does seem a difference between the three plays that bore the Shakespeare name from the off, ‘Merchant of Venice’, ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’, and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Taming of the Shrew’, which both appeared in print in the 1590s, but had to wait over twenty years, till 1623, to gain an author.
Cuthbert Burby had a hand in two plays and so did Roberts, but strangely, there is a succession of oddball, one-off publishers, who don’t fit into the Shakespeare canon, anywhere else. Curiously, Thomas Fisher, Richard Bradock, Thomas Hayes, Thomas Walkley and John Smethwick were involved with only one play each. Smethwick and Walkley were still around in 1623 and Laurence, the son of Thomas Hayes was astute enough to renew his rights to the ‘Merchant of Venice’, in 1619. William Aspley could also be added to the list, keeping his rights, to ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, till his death in 1640, but he also had a stake in ‘Henry IV (part 2)’ which he registered, together with Andrew Wise on 23rd Aug 1600, with both plays bearing the Shakespeare badge.
There is another commonality about Aspley and Wise’s two plays. Both ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and ‘Henry IV/2’ have a preponderance of prose script, unusual for Shakespeare, but mixed with blank verse for dramatic effect. ‘Much Ado’, has only the courtiers speak in verse, and this comedic play might be seen as a parody on ‘The Book of the Courtier’, whose aim it was to add ‘Italian ‘airs and graces’ to the rabble rousing English noblemen.
These ‘Italian’ plays are certainly not the work of ONE author, and if William Shakespeare, businessman, landowner and entrepreneur had been involved, he would have made a far better job of organising the printing and publishing of his work.
If not William of Stratford, then who?
That is the question (little joke) which supporters of the various alternative candidates are now asking themselves. Since the Italian question has come to the fore, anti-Stratfordians have been examining the pasta-loving credentials of their man, and yes they have to admit they are there in abundance, because the boot-shaped peninsular attracted hundreds of English scholars and aristocrats to its shores.
Evidence of Italian connections is not in short supply.
However, because the majority of ‘non-believers’ also vociferously still pursue the ‘one author’ theory, then they, too, must make their writer fit ALL the clues, and make sure he has visited ALL the dots on Richard Roe’s map, something even Thomas Hoby, grand tourer, extraordinaire, couldn’t manage.
Oxfordians have all their eggs in a single Italian ‘sacchetto’, as Edward de Vere only visited the country once, although it was for a whole year, in 1575. He did gain the nickname, the ‘Italian Earl’, on his return to the English Court, possibly as an ironic title, conjured up by the Sidney and Dudley set..!!
Oxford’s journey was well documented, but there are gaps, and with no mention of him ever reaching Sicily. There is no record of where he was living for the summer weeks of 1575, so his supporters say his MUST be where he ventured south, sailing from Venice to Sicily, and then on to Rome. It is the only thing that makes sense to the Oxfordians, because they feel they MUST account for every dot on Roe’s map.
Then there is the account documented in, ‘The Travels of Edward Webbe’ (1590), where the author states that whilst in Palermo, Lord Oxford did ‘challenge against all manner of persons whatsoever, and at all manner of weapons, as Tournaments, Barriers with horse and armour, to fight a combat with any whatsoever in defence of his Prince and Country.’ With this Mediterranean island’s long standing reputation for bloody revenge, and with its inhabitants unwilling to ‘lose face’, then this seems an unlikely scenario, but one which endears the ‘Italian Earl’ to his most loyal and vociferous supporters.
Marlovians know their man, Kit Marlowe, spent plenty of time abroad, but they now live off the idea that after his fake death, in 1593, Marlowe made a new life in Padua or Verona. From there he sent his completed plays back to England, in the knapsacks of those passing aristocratic tourists.
Those that took part in Henry Savile’s grand tour, from 1578-82, had obvious opportunity to reach the more distant regions of Italy, but in the main, they stuck to lands who supported the protestant ideal. Apart from Savile himself, there was that new kid on the block, Henry Neville and the younger Sidney brother, Robert, another who is ‘here there and everywhere’ in this Shakespeare saga. Henry Savile seems to have been chasing astronomical and mathematical rainbows, and although a great linguist and classical scholar, he doesn’t seem to have been directly involved in creating dramatic literature.
The Bacon brothers spent time in France, even reaching Switzerland, but their Italian credentials seem to be weak, even non-existant, even to their most enthusiastic fans. Their best glimpse of life in Italy might have been afforded by a French grand house, in the Rhone Valley, one which was decorated inside and out, as though it was on the shores of the Adriatic Sea.
William Stanley was another who made an extended tour of Europe, and he is known to have reached as far south as Rome. Indeed that was a target for many English travellers/pilgrims, before the 1536 split with Catholicism. Afterwards, travellers with Protestant leanings, tended to visit the Catholic capital, only under the cloak of protection that was offered by diplomatic missions.
William Stanley’s Italian connections are a key part of the evidence for his candidature, and this can be boosted if a ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ was specifically written for his marriage to Elizabeth de Vere, which took place on 26th Jan 1594/95. By then Stanley had been elevated to become Lord Derby, after the suspicious death of his brother, Ferdinando, in 1594. It was Ferdinando, as Lord Strange, who had been supporting the theatre in the 1590s, and it was his troup who evolved into the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, and it was they, who performed the play, for the wedding celebrations.
Thomas Lodge and William Stanley had been acquainted since childhood, and by literary association, we also have Edward Hoby, aided by his father’s manuscripts, and Ralphe Crane, the scrivener cum editor. The Lord Chamberlain, Henry Carey and his mistress, Aemelia Bassano, ‘the dark lady’, are also close by, giving us enough experience and theatrical expertise to create several of the Bard’s Italian plays.
So, has analysing the Italian segment of Shakespeare’s plays brought us any closer to solving the greatest question in literature? Certainly, sheep trading and dung heaps haven’t featured too often, although there has been mention of leather-working. It does defy credulity that these Italian themed plays have anything to do with William of Stratford.
At least four of the Italian plays, those kept under wraps by Edward Blount, seem to come from the same stable, and they include, ‘Alls Well that Ends Well’, of which there is no record of either performance or publication, before 1623. However, the swell of evidence continues to move in the same direction, towards those that were educated at Merchant Taylors School and Oxford University, and towards the households of the Hoby and Stanley families.
So endeth the pasta course of how Italy influenced the plays of our man from Warwickshire, but there is time for a dessert of crème brûlée, so I wonder how many of the same names and faces will re-appear when we take a closer look at the ‘French Connection’.
Julia Cleave, a Shakespeare Authorship Trustee, and chef d’equipe at the 2014 meeting of the group, assimilated a wonderful pot pourri of evidence, which supports a much greater Francophile involvement in the Bard’s canon, than previously acknowledged by English scholars. Much of Julia’s research resurrects work published across La Manche, over fifty years ago, where French literary historians have long been mystified about Shakespeare’s involvement in the politics of their country.
There were seven Shakespeare plays involved in Julia’s French dissection, with two of them also belonging to Richard Roe’s Italian ‘decima’.
Julia Cleave’s ‘sept’ plays:
Love’s Labours Lost All’s Well That End’s Well
Midsummer Night’s Dream Henry V
Measure for Measure
Only two plays seem to cross the Franco/Italian border, with ‘All’s Well That End’s Well’ and ‘Midsummer Nights Dream’, seemingly, both having French and Italian influences. This might help narrow down the list of potential authors of these two plays.
The ‘French Connection’ is not so much about canals, piazzas, penthouses, sycamore trees and volcanic islands, but rather concerns the political turmoil of the battle for the throne of France, which erupted during the second half of the 16th century. Like in England, the French also argued beligerantly over their religious beliefs, and also somewhat like the English, those in the centre of politics, swayed from side to side, as the Protestant/Catholic pendulum swung to and fro.
Julia Cleave and her team explained how certain plays follow the story of three French Henrys, and a ‘wicked’ queen, but how their presence in the Shakespeare plays, is camouflaged for political convenience, to avoid restarting hostilities between England and her oldest enemy, the FRENCH.
The three Henrys comprised, Henry III, King of France, Henry of Navarre (Protestant) and Henry I, Duke of Guise (Catholic league). Guise was a small town, in northeast France and Navarre was a kingdom in the south, straddling the Pyrennees, in what we would now call Basque country.
The Queen, who played a dominant part in preceedings, was Catherine de’ Medici, an Italian noble woman, who married Henry II of France and who was Queen of France, from 1547 until 1559. The House of Medici were a great banking family, from Florence, but also one that supplied four Popes of Rome, between 1513 and 1605. They were the first bank to use the ‘double-entry’ book-keeping system, the precursor for James Peele’s two manuals. As the mother of three sons, who each became King of France during her lifetime, Catherine had a major influence over the political life of France.
Catherine became an increasingly dominant figure, after the death of her husband, King Henry II of France, in 1559, keeping control of state affairs during the reigns of her sons, Francis II, Charles IX, and finally, Henry III. Another of her sons, Hercules Francois, we have met before, as this was the very same, Duke of Anjou, who made an unsuccessful attempt to woo Elizabeth of England, in the 1570s.
Catherine’s three sons reigned, as the House of Valois, in an age of almost constant civil and religious war, one which culminated in the War of the Three Henrys (1587-89). These perpetual religious battles were prompted and funded by the Catholic, King Philip II of Spain, in support of the Duke of Guise (known as Scarface). Philip’s motivation was to keep the French nation occupied with their own trials and tribulations, and so prevent them interfering with the Spanish attempt, to conquer the Protestant lands of Holland and England, and so return them to their traditional Catholic ways.
The House of Valois were seen as Catholic moderates and at first, Catherine compromised and made concessions to the disgruntled French Protestants, known as Huguenots, led by Henry of Navarre. However, later, her mood changed and Catherine is now held responsible for the horror of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572, in which tens of thousands of Huguenots were butchered.
The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre was a story of treachery and deceit, with the perpertrators inviting guests to wedding celebrations, a marriage designed to unite the two sides, but then slaying the guests without notice. That is also the plot line for one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, ‘Macbeth’, and is just one of a number of French juxtapositions, that occur, in several of the Bard’s plays.
The massacre took place five days after the wedding of King Henry III’s sister, Margaret to the Protestant, Henry of Navarre. This marriage was an occasion to invite many of the leading Huguenots from across France, to gather in Paris, a predominantly Catholic city, thereby putting them in easy reach of their enemies. Ambassadors, from across Europe, were also present at the wedding, including a number of English Protestants, notably Francis Walsingham and Philip Sidney, who were lucky to escape with their lives.
The massacre began in the early hours of 24th August 1572 (the feast of Bartholomew the Apostle), just two days after a failed assassination attempt on Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, the military leader of the Huguenots. The motivation for the attack was that only weeks before, a Protestant army, supported by Henry of Navarre, had made advances into the Netherlands, taking a number of Catholic held towns.
After the failed attempt on Admiral Coligny, the French king, Henry III, ordered the wholesale killing of the Huguenot leadership, and the attack was signalled by the ringing of the bell of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois that tolled at the dawning of the day. However, history now suggests it was his mother, Catherine d’Medici, who masterminded the massacre, conniving with Henry de Guise, who took military command of the gruesome affair.
The slaughter spread throughout Paris, moving out into other major towns, and into the French countryside. The carnage continued for several weeks, with estimates of the final death toll, across France, put into tens of thousands, but no-one has ever been sure of the total number.
St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre – by François Dubois, a Huguenot painter
Henry of Navarre was imprisoned, but sparred death, when he offered to convert to Catholicism, but four years later, in 1576, he was freed from imprisonment in the Louvre, and allowed to return to his homeland. Here, he quickly re-confirmed his Protestant faith, and so, the religious battle for the throne of France was re-ignated.Life became even more complicated for the French, when Francis, Duke of Anjou and heir to Henry III, died in 1584, making (Protestant), Henry of Navarre, the next in line to be King of France, a country whose population, by now, were predominately supporters of the Catholic faith.
Catherine de Medici – a minature by François Clouet
The Duke of Anjou had made a vain attempt to become King of England, by marriage, but his untimely death, in 1584, meant that Henry de Guise increased his support for Philip II, seeking a military solution, rather than a diplomatic one. The religious battle for Northern Europe, intensified, culminating in the events of August 1588, when the Spanish dispatched a flotilla of ships, sent to Flanders, to escort the Duke of Parma and his invading force of Catholic believers.
However, after the Spanish Armada was defeated, by Lord Admiral, Charles Howard, (Earl of Nottingham) and Francis Drake, (plus a little help from the English weather), Henry de Guise turned his attentions back to French affairs.
After more skulduggery, involving a false promise of peace, Guise was murdered in the bedchamber of Henry III, at Blois, in December 1588, with Catherine d’Medici, lying in her sickbed on the floor below, seemingly, oblivious to the event. She died only two weeks later, and the French king didn’t last long himself, assassinated by a monk, in August 1589, in retribution, thus leaving the Protestant, Henry of Navarre to succeed to the throne, as the new King of France, Henry IV.
Further instability ensued, and despite Elizabeth of England offering military support, Henry of Navarre was forced to retreat south, and it was several years later, before he was able to return, to be crowned King of France, at Chartes, in 1594, becoming the first of the line of Bourbon kings.
So, that sets the scene, for what can only be described as the fast-moving and complicated politics of 16th century France. Trying to keep up with affairs across the Channel was the challenge that faced spymaster, Francis Walsingham and his team of agents, many of whom doubled as English courtiers, making ‘educational’ tours around Europe. This is also why all English tourists were treated with suspicion, often being summarily arrested and imprisoned.
It also seems obvious that any stories of French political strife, which were incorporated into the plays of Mr Shakespeare, must have come from knowledgable and influential sources, ones that were close to the action, or at least had sight of the ‘reports’, sent from spies and ambassadors, living in France.
As far as we know, William Shakespeare of Stratford, never visited France, or even had dealings with members of the Royal Court of France, who might have found their way to London. He was only eight years old, when the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre took place, in Paris, and in his mid twenties, when the War of the Three Henrys came to a head, in 1588-89. The timing, here may be significant, because ‘his’ plays began to appear on the stage, a year or so later, in an England which now felt a little less threat from the menace of Spain and the Church of Rome..
The French connection is more covert than the Italian one, which makes it even more certain the plays were written for those ‘in the know’, members of the Royal Court, lawyers, leading academics and churchmen. It is, therefore, necessary to track our Shakespeare wannabees, to find who was actually present during these events, in France, which act as a backbone, for the seven plays in question.
‘Loves Labours Lost’ comes to the fore again, the first play to be published with Shakespeare’s name from the beginning, (1598)…. ‘a conceited comedy’…. ‘as it was presented before her Highnes this last Christmas’…’newly corrected and augmented by W. Shakespere’.
The play is pedantic, failing to hold the attention, unless you know something of the background, and the people, and is based on a real event that took place, in 1578.
The main characters relate to Henry of Navarre and Margaret of Valois, whose real life marriage sparked the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, in 1572. The plot has the Duke of Navarre, along with three noble companions, the Lords Berowne, Dumaine, and Longaville, promise to abstain from female company for three years. The three lords relate, in real life, to Charles de Gontaut, duc de Biron, Charles, duc de Mayenne and Henri I d’Orléans, duc de Longueville.
However, the four testators fail to account for the visit of the Princess of France and her entourage of ‘charming’ ladies. The ‘L’escadron volant’, (the flying squad), were ladies of the court of Catherine de Medici, a group of beautiful women, trained as spies, notorious for their charm, elegance and sexual voracity. There was always a message sent ahead, to ‘lock up your husbands’, particularly if they were wealthy and influential. Again these femmes fatales are well characterised in ‘Loves Labours Lost’.
Predictably oaths of chastity and abstinance, from female company, made by Navarre and his noble companions, are quickly forgotten, in the play, and both sexes make merry. There is plenty of duplicity of identity amongst the lovelorn, with finally the King of Navarre marrying the Princess of France.
The real life meeting took place, at Nérac, (now in Lot et Garonne department), Henry of Navarre’s home in South West France. In late 1578, Catherine and Margaret, plus their respective ‘flying squads’ visited Nérac, ostensibly to broker a reunion between Henry with his queen. However, the talks and festivities extended over a six months period, and this turned into a peace conference, an attempt at reconciliation between French Catholics and Protestants. The length of the stay meant that amorous affairs between the lords and visiting ladies developed, to the full, all part of Catherine’s ‘honey trap’.
‘Loves Labours Lost’ also features a ‘little academe’, reflecting an exact same institution that had been set up in Paris, in 1576, by Henry III, and remained in place, till 1579. This was designed to educate the noblemen in ways to control their passions, replacing vulgarity and physical agression with rhetoric, eloquence and good manners. The author of ‘Loves Labours Lost’ has moved the Academy to Navarre, but there are many similarities between the two institutions, and it would seem the playwright had an intimate knowledge of both Paris and Nérac and the workings of the Royal Courts, in both places.
This story leads us to the Bacon brothers – not just Francis, but also his elder brother, Anthony Bacon. Francis Bacon was a key member of the English ambassadorial team, in France, from 1576 till 1579, spending time in Blois, Tours and Poitiers, as the French Court moved from one engagement to another. At some point Francis Bacon began a friendship with Henry of Navarre, one which was continued by his brother, Anthony, during the 1580s, and which lasted till the end of the century.
Where that friendship began is unclear, but it is highly likely that Francis Bacon was present at the ‘Court of Love’, in Nérac, as an ambassador and a Protestant friend of Henry of Navarre. Francis had to return, hurriedly, to England, at the end of February 1578/79, when his father died. His journey was mercenary in nature, rather than one of compassion, because a promised inheritance was never transferred to paper, and, as the youngest of seven children, by two marriages, Francis was due very little from his father’s estate. His full share never materialised, and instead Francis was forced to head for Gray’s Inn, to complete his law studies, and make the most of his influential connections.
His elder brother, Anthony, spent twelve years in France, Switzerland and Navarre, meeting all the rich, powerful and academic men of the period. He was outwardly a ‘tourist’ who offered scrivening and translation services to everyone from royalty to humble poets, but perhaps more pertinently, he offered writing advice and critiques to a number of authors.
Anthony’s real work was as an intelligence agent for Francis Walsingham. He lived in Montauban de Picardie, from 1580 until 1586, a tiny, seemingly, isolated place, for a spy to make his home, however, his humble abode was situated close to the main road, which linked Paris and Calais.
Now the plot thickens, and maybe we have actually got the wrong Bacon in our sights, as a major suspect in our search for the pseudo Shakespeare. That is because the three noble friends of Henry of Navarre, the ones who appear in ‘Loves Labours Lost’, also appear as signatories (guarantors) on Anthony Bacon’s passport – ‘By your friends shall ye be known’.
In 1584, Anthony visited the court of Henry of Navarre, at Pau, where he remained for several months. Henry had recently set up his own ‘Academe’ there, and that may have been the reason for Anthony’s stay, as a tutor. So, perhaps this is the ‘little academe’ that is mentioned in ‘Loves Labours Lost’, not the one in Paris, The play also includes personal details about the ‘King of Navarre’, which could only be gleaned by close contact with the man himself.
Whilst in Pau, Anthony damaged his foot in an accident, which made him lame for the rest of his life. It is suggested by Baconian supporter, Peter Dawkins, that this might be the reference made, in Shakespeare’s Sonnet Number 37, ‘So, I made lame by Fortune’s dearest spite’.
Have we found a new candidate to be the sonnet writer as well..??
Anthony left his permanent French abode, in Montauban, in 1586, after being charged with having sex with his pageboy, but he remained in France, till he returned to England, in 1592. Yes, yet again that auspicious year returns to haunt us, as ‘certain plays’ began to be performed.
Anthony spent the next two years living with his brother, Francis, in his Gray’s Inn chambers and it was here they set up a scrivening service, dealing with a wealth of secretarial, writing and translation matters, that included both legal affairs, and a variety of work involving plays, pageants and masques. Much of the secretarial work was for Elizabeth’s espionage service, but with Walsingham dead (1590), his main customer had become the Earl of Essex.
In another link to ‘Loves Labours Lost’, in 1593, Bacon arranged for Antonio Pérez, former Secretary to Philip II of Spain, and on the run from his former employers, to come to England and share his secrets with the de-brief team at Essex House. Perez had escaped to Pau, and been in hiding there, with the blessing of Henry, now Henry IV of France. His old friendship with the new French king, must have helped Anthony to seal the deal. Antonio Pérez seems to be the model for the ‘Loves Labours Lost’ character of Don Adriana de Armado, with mocking references to his prose style and love life.
During his two years in England, Pérez wrote a book, ‘Pedacos de Historia o Relaciones’ assisted by Anthony Bacon and printed by our old friend, Richard Field. This was under the pseudonym of Raphael Peregrino and Pérez called himself ‘el peregrino’, (the traveller). This created a new word ‘peregrinate’ a word used in his letters, and appeared for the first time, in print, as one of Shakespeare’s new words, in ‘Loves Labours Lost’. Pérez was also a guest of Francis Bacon, at the infamous, ‘Night of Misrule’, when a performance of the ‘Comedy of Errors’ was disrupted by the riotous behaviour of the Gray’s Inn audience. An interesting aside is that Edward Hoby named his illegitimate son, and only heir, Peregrine Hoby (1602-1679).
In 1595, Anthony came under the permanent employ of the Earl of Essex, living and working in Essex House, at a time when it was a haven for poets and writers. If anyone was able to edit playwright’s work, using his scrivener skills, it was Anthony Bacon and not Francis. He had previously been eulogised, by one of his continental literary clinets, as being ‘a poet of rare and perfect virtue’.
So, was Anthony Bacon the real author of ‘Loves Labours Lost’, with Francis possibly adding a little frisson of his own Gallic memories, and the Essex House faithful adding a few suggestions of their own? This play is certainly made in France, and whilst those not privy to the life of an ambassador would have found it rather dull and even ‘conceited’. ‘Loves Labours Lost’ was clearly written to entertan a specific audience, one which could immediately associate with the characters, being people they either knew personally, or by reputation.
Anthony Bacon did not live too long into the Shakespeare ‘proper’ era, as he died in 1601, shortly after the Earl of Essex and his close confidentes were executed for treason. Ironically, it was his brother, Francis Bacon, who was a senior prosecutor for the Crown, at the Essex trial, and Anthony’s death, in the home of Frances Walsingham, daughter of spymaster, Francis and now the widow of the Earl of Essex, must be shrouded in suspicion. Maybe he was poisoned, as an act of revenge by the grieving widow, or maybe he took his own life, as penance for seeing his friends punished, so finally. It was one of a multitude of ‘convenient’ deaths which epitomised the final decades of Elizabeth’s rule.
Francis Bacon had close connections with the Jaggard printers, via his steward and his published essays, and with an errant brother, batting for the opposition, during the attempted coup of 1601, there would be every reason to keep Anthony’s literary prowess under wraps. Overall, tracing Anthony’s involvement in the Shakespeare story would seem to be an avenue worth pursuing, with more vigour.
The easy part of the French connection is now behind us and further attempts to link Shakespeare to France are more speculative. The link to ‘Macbeth’, mentioned earlier, seems quite tenuous, as this is a play about Scottish people, with much of the text based on Holinshed’s 1587 history book. However, like so much of the content in the Stratford man’s canon, and despite being one of the most famous plays, ‘Macbeth’ still begs plenty of questions.
Much shorter than the average, the ‘Scottish play’ didn’t reach the printers till 1623. There are clear differences with the stories recounted in Holinshed, and no other version of the story has Macbeth kill the king, in Macbeth’s own castle. This adds to the darkness of Macbeth’s crime, being the worst violation of hospitality imaginable, so taking us back to Paris in 1572, with the bell signalling the start of the slaughter of the Hugeunot wedding guests. Catherine de Medici was described as a witch by many, because of her evil deeds, so adding to the ‘Macbeth’ allusion.
Even devout Shakespeare scholars agree that ‘Macbeth’ has been tinkered with, edited and with later additions. It is clearly an amalgam of ideas from various sources, a text that has changed over time to fit the needs of the audience. Again the name Thomas Middleton comes to the fore, because of the inclusion of two songs from his play ‘The Witch’ (1615). Middleton is conjectured to have inserted an extra scene involving the three witches and Hecate, the greek goddess of witchcraft. Middleton’s involvement may include all of Act III, scene v, and a portion of Act IV, scene I. Here is another famous ‘Shakespeare’ play that experts seem to agree, isn’t totally composed by ‘Mr Shakespeare’.
Thomas Middleton crops up again, in the role of editor, in another of the ‘French’ plays, but another not obviously set in France. The backdrop for ‘Measure for Measure’ is supposed to be the great city of Vienna, with the first speech, on the first page, delivered by the Duke of Vienna. However, nothing in the play suggests this was the real Vienna, which in 1600 was the seat of the Holy Roman Emperor, and had returned to Catholicism, after a brief period of Protestantism, in the mid 16th century. The city had been turned into a fortress, to protect against the marauding Turks of the Ottoman Empire, a battle the Austro-Hungarians eventually won, allowing Vienna to become one of Europe’s finest cities.
This was the play that opened my eyes to the full drama of Shakespeare, when I saw it performed at the Globe Theatre, in 2005. At the time, it didn’t appear to me to be very Viennese, or indeed French, but had, very much, the feel of Northern Italy. My instinct is supported by those who trace its origins back to the work of Italian poet, Giovanni Battista Giraldi, (1504-73) nickname ‘Cinthio’, whose ‘Hecatommithi’, was first published in 1565, and later used by English playwright, George Whetstone (1544-87), in his own work.
Whetstone wrote a lengthy drama, ‘Promos and Cassandra’, which was published as a play in 1578, and in prose in 1582. He adapted Cinthio’s story by adding the comic elements, including the ‘bed’ trick, (substituting one woman for another), which also appear in ‘All’s Well that End’s Well’, and Thomas Middleton’s own creation, ‘The Witch’.
In 1586, Whetstone was another of those Englishmen fighting against the Spanish in Zutphen, where Philip Sidney met his fate. Whetstone was also a seafaring adventurer, taking part in one of Humphrey Gilbert’s expeditions (1587-88), and a year later was found travelling in Italy. Whetstone is another character with all the right connections, and one who flirts with the Shakespeare canon, but never gets credit as being part of the authorship team, although some scholars give him credit for influencing ‘Shakespeare’ with ‘Much Ado about Nothing’, one of our Italian ten.
‘Measure for Measure’ was another play that only reached the printed page in 1623, but the first record of performance was at one of those St Stephen’s night productions, on 26th December 1604, played by the King’s Men, for the Royal Court, and performed at the Whitehall Banqueting Hall. Whilst some scholars give Thomas Middleton credit for later adaptions, others see the hand of Ralphe Crane in the text, noting similarities of style with ‘The Tempest’. Rather like ‘Macbeth’, the finished work which arrived in the First folio, is an amalgam of bits and pieces, the play evolving as each production was ‘modernised’, to satisfy the tastes (and regulations) of the day. There is also speculation that the final version was written as late as 1621, with Middleton continuing to add topical content to the text.
Both ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Measure for Measure’ were part of Edward Blount’s sixteen scripts and so it looks like they weren’t just stored away for posterity, but rather kept available for future use, by a ‘keeper of the manuscripts’, working under the aegis of the King’s Men and those ‘grand possessors’.
Whilst all this may be true, none of it offers a connection between ‘Measure for Measure’ and France.
However…..French literary scholar, Georges Lambin, published ‘Voyages de Shakespeare en France et en Italie’ in 1962, which followed on from the postulations of compatriot, Abel Lefranc (1863-1952), who believed that William Stanley was, indeed, a cover name for ‘William Shakespeare’.
Lambin believed that ‘Measure for Measure’ had its roots, not with ‘Cinthio’ or ‘Whetstone’, but with actual events that took place in Paris, during 1582, at a time when William Stanley was in residence, living with his tutor, Richard Lloyd.
Georges Lambin received the credit for his observations, during the Globe meeting in 2014, but the discussion failed to mention that an English writer, Albert John Evans had come up with the same thesis, in his book, ‘Shakespeare’s Magic Circle’, published, six years ealier, in 1956.
Whoever it was who first thought of the idea, doesn’t matter, because ‘Measure for Measure’ does seem to fit the events which took place in Paris, in 1582.
In the summer of 1582, King Henry III of France was absent from the city of Paris, and in his place, the governor, Jerome Angenouste, condemned Claude Tonart to death, for seducing the daughter of the President of the Parlement of Paris, and like Claudio, in the play, he was eventually pardoned.
The similar chain of events might just be coincidental (..!!), but then there are the names of the combatants to consider…….
Whetstone used one set of names in his drama, but they were not the same that Mr Shakespeare used in his play … and guess which better reflects the names of those erstwhile residents of Paris that summer.
‘Shakespeare’s’ naming links to the real people are impeccable:
Duke Vincentio King Henry III, whose favourite chateau was at Vincennes –
Angelo Jerome Angenouste, councillor and judge –
Isabella St Isabelle of Convent of St Clare –
Claudio Claude Tonart, secretly married to President of the Parliament –
Varrius Guillaume de Vair, councillor of Paris –
Flavius La Roche Flavin, councillor –
Lucio Saint-Luc (Francois dEspinay) –
Barnadine Bernadino de Mendoza, Spainish ambassador –
Ragozine Ragasoni, legate of the Pope –
Whetstone only names the first four characters on my list and he calls them, ‘King’, ‘Promos’, ‘Cassandra’ and ‘Andrugio’.
Lambin also notes that the author of ‘Measure for Measure’ was fully acquainted with the rules of the Convent of St Clare, because they are quoted, almost verbatim, in the play. The nuns of St Clare we have come across before, at Denny Abbey, but they were one of the casualties of the Dissolution, being disbanded in 1539, so their religious creed would not be known to many, over fifty years later.
So, again, we seem to be looking for an eye witness, not the Bacon brothers this time, but another major candidate, William Stanley, who became the 6th Earl of Derby after the death of his brother, Fernandino, in 1594. Stanley may also have been in Nerac, during the ‘Court of Love’, but that seems no more than speculation. He spent several years in France during the 1580s, ostensibly visiting education establishments, but also attached to the English ambassador’s team in Paris. A spy no less..!
Stanley’s marriage to the Earl of Oxford’s daughter, Elizabeth de Vere, in Jan 1594/95, made him a paid up member of the Cooke Club, and sparked a connection to a ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’, which some scholars speculate, he wrote for his own wedding. Oxfordians use this to place their man in centre stage, although there are some, amongst them, who are simply happy to concede that ‘Shakespeare’ as a whole, is an amalgam of the works of both Edward de Vere and William Stanley.
Lest forget, that Thomas Lodge was a childhood companion of William Stanley and that Ralphe Crane was a great friend of Lodge, another of those cosy groups of literary companions.
However, this unveiling of the work of Georges Lambin and his largely unrecognised research, has led me back home, to a most quintessential Englishman, a sportsman and war hero, to boot.
Alfred John Evans (1889-1960), clearly had foresight of ‘Shakespeare Re-invented’, when he wrote, ‘Shakespeare’s Magic Circle’, as Evans propounds many of the same theories, that I have pronounced, after stumbling upon the evidence, in my own less than scholarly way. However, it was only in early 2015, did I discover Alfred Evans, and the great synergy that my research maintains with his.
To quote from the blurb advertising Evans’ book on the ‘second hand’ internet:-
‘The author of Shakespeare’s Magic Circle believes Bacon, Oxford, Rutland, Derby and others formed a “Magic Circle” which played an important part in bringing Shakespeare’s plays to their full glory. He shows that the chief authors of the plays were Oxford and Derby, and he demonstrates, since there could have been only one master mind, which of these two should rightly be called Shakespeare. Even the most loyal Shakespearean disciple must give this theory a hearing…’
Well, they haven’t given it a hearing, not fifty years ago, and the Shakespeare literati don’t pay much attention to this work today. It has taken five years of research for the name Alfred Evans to drop on to my doormat, and even then it has proved difficult to trace his literary background.
There is, indeed, no great literary scholar called Alfred John Evans, but there is an England Test cricketer and Word War One hero, a member of the Royal Flying Corps, who wrote an earlier, ‘best-selling’ story, about ‘escaping’ from a prisoner of war camp. However, few sporting and literary commentators realise that this is the same man, who thirty years later wrote his novel treatise about the authenticity of the Bard.
John Evans – his Wisden name
‘He was a cricketer who played for Oxford University, Hampshire, Kent and England, in a spasmodic first-class cricket career that lasted from 1908 to 1928. In 1921, he scored 69 not out for MCC against the all-conquering Australians, which led to his one appearance for England, in the second Test match at Lord’s, but he failed to impress and was never chosen again. He later played his only full season of ‘county’ cricket when he captained Kent in 1927.
Evans won perhaps greater distinction as a pilot with the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War, where his exploits in escaping from German prisoner of war camps led to a book, ‘The Escaping Club’.
He married Marie Galbraith, an Irish concert violinist. Their son Michael Evans (1920-2007) was a famous Broadway and Hollywood actor, who said he took to the stage after seeing John Gielgud play ‘Richard II’.’, when Michael was only twelve years old. Wikipedia
His son’s acting career probably sparked the interest of A. J. Evans in Shakespeare, but it was only when he became a ‘gentleman of a certain age’ (67), that he wrote his seminal work about the authorship question. Evans died only a few years later, in Marylebone, London, in 1960, so was never able to persue his contribution to the Shakespeare debate any further.
It didn’t take long for me to establish a strong affinity with Alfred John Evans, both of us with a lifetime interest in sport and with a dislike of confinement, by people or by conventions. There the connection ends, as although his father was only a master at Winchester College, the family had enough money to buy a shareholding in Edward Lloyd, the publisher, in 1927 and Alfred seems to have been independently wealthy, during his lifetime. Despite his traditional education, he could never be called an academic, and this may be why his contribution to the Shakespeare debate has been almost totally ignored, although perhaps not by the Frenchman, Georges Lambin.
Before heading to the final portion of the Franco-Italian melange, I must make a brief mention of the Danish play ‘Hamlet’, obviously not set in France, but in a part of Europe where many of the scientists, musicians and courtiers, in my story, had at least a passing acquaintence.
The copious, ‘Memoires of Marguerite de Valois’, widow of Henry of Navarre, who died in 1615, weren’t published until 1628. These give much detail about the events in France, described earlier in this chapter, but were not common knowledge before they arrived in print, and then only in the French language. Amongst the wealth of detail, the widow recounts the story of Helene of Tournon, daughter of lady-in-waiting, the Countess of Roussillon. Helene had fallen in love with the Marquis de Varembon, but died a forlorn, ‘lovesick’ young girl, waiting for his return.
Mignon Nevada as Ophelia – circa 1910
The young nobleman, unaware of her yearning for him, arrived back in Liege, (Belgium) as Helene was being buried, very much as Hamlet meets the funeral procession for Ophelia, in Elsinore. This story is also hinted at in ‘Loves Labours Lost’, again suggesting that each ‘Shakespeare’ play is an amalgam of old texts, fresh ideas and a number of genuine events (and experiences), contributed by a variety of individuals, probably not just the vivid imaginings of one man, scribbling his notes, at the back of a tavern, beit in London or Stratford.
The final two plays of the French connection, ‘All’s Well That End’s Well’ and ‘A Midummer Night’s Dream’, are those that contain a pot pourri of Franch AND Italian experiences and include a number of well planted, red herrings. We have already seen how ‘Little Athens’ became Athens, in ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and there is similar geographical jiggary pokery in ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’.
This is also one of those problem plays, because ‘Alls Well that Ends Well’ upsets those traditionalists, who like to separate their comedy from their tragedy. This is also a strange play because there are no records of it being performed in ‘Shakespeare’s time’ and the first time we know of its existance, is when it appeared, in print in 1623. ‘All’s Well’ is one of the least performed plays, since then, and has never been a very popular choice, to present to modern day Shakespeare audiences.
‘All’s Well’ opens in Roussillon, then a Catalan province of Spain (now in France), in the eastern Pyrenees, where young Count Bertram bids farewell to his mother, the Countess of Roussillon and Helena, the daughter of a deceased doctor and ward of the Countess. He is leaving to serve in the French Court, in Paris. Bertram’s father has recently died and he is to be the King’s ward and attendant.
Scholars have long regard this play as being inspired by the ‘Decameron’, a collection of novellas by the 14th century Italian author, Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375). His famous work consists of one hundred tales, told by a group of seven young women and three young men, who are sheltering in a secluded villa near Florence, to escape the Black Death. The various tales of love, in ‘Decameron’, range from the erotic to the tragic, and have been a major influence on fictional writing ever since. All’s Well That End’s Well’ is said to be a remake of the ninth tale, that was told on day three of the storytelling, as it has Bertrand de Roussillon as the central character.
However, the real location of Roussillon appears to be another of Shakespeare’s teases, a red herring, which at first glance seems to be, just a major geographical error. Nothing in the play fits with a location in ‘Pyrennean’ France, where Boccaccio and Shakespeare place it, but when you realise that there was a Chateau de Roussillon, in the Rhone valley, south of Lyon, and a little north of Valence and Tournon then the map reading makes more sense.
When we realise it was visited by Catherine d’ Medici, in 1564 and by Henry III, in 1574, and occupied by the Dowager Countess of Roussillon, then we know this is the real location of Roussillon, in ‘All’s Well that End’s Well’.
The Chateau at Rousillon was one of the major staging posts, where noble travellers, along the Rhone Valley, would break their journey, from Lyons to Marseille, with many moving onwards, by sea, to other parts of the Mediterranean, or by land into the Italian peninsular.
This was the same Dowager Countess of Rousillon, mother of Hélène of Tournon, whose tragic death in 1577, is reflected in the death of Ophelia. In ‘All’s Well’, Helena ‘is said to have come in ‘four or five removes’ from Marseilles to Roussillon, not to the Pyrenees, but following the River Rhone, via Lançon, Avignon, Montelimar, and Valence.
The history of the chateau adds other clues that suggest we are in the right place. Cardinal Francois de Tournon (1489-1562) rebuilt the house and surrounds, beginning in 1548, using an Italian architect and in the grand style of 16th century, Renaissance Italy. A Florentine façade was created, as well as many other features of an Italian grand house. Perhaps, rather like Walt Disney being inspired by a visit to King Ludwig II’s Bavarian castle at Neuschwanstein, the creators of Shakespeare’s Italian plays were placed ‘in the Italian mood’, without ever leaving France.
Cardinal Francoise had been at the heart of the politics of the day, being described as an unofficial foreign minister, and working closely with Catherine de Medici, after the death of her husband, Henry II, who died in 1559. It was in 1564, after the death of Francois, that Catherine, as Regent, stopped over at Roussillon, with her son, Charles IX, and here, on 9th August, 1564 that the Edict of Roussillon was proclaimed, which decreed that, the first day of the French New Year would be 1st January.
A lost play, ‘The historie of the Rape of the second Helene’, sounding very much like an earlier version of ‘All’s Well’, was performed, on 6th January 1578/9, to the Queen and the Royal Court at Richmond Palace, and so with the death of Helene/Ophelia in 1577, we should be looking for English travellers who were travelling through central France at this time.
Oxfordians claim this to be evidence of their man’s involvement in the Franco Italain plays, but his time in Europe was from early February 1574/5 till 20th April 1576. He was noted to be in Lyon in March 1575/76, but that was too early to be an eye-witnessto the ‘Ophelia’ episode.
One Englishman on the loose, ‘sur le Continent’, a year or two later, was Henry Unton. He finshed his university studies at Oriel College, Oxford, before moving on to study law at the Middle Temple, which he completed in 1576. After this, his father decided he should undertake a ‘grand tour’, making several trips to Italy, including study at the University of Padua.
We know, Henry Unton spent three months, in Lyon, in 1582, negotiating the release of his elder brother, Edward, who was being held to a ransom of 10,000 gold crowns, by Catholic loyalists, but there is no accurate travel diary to trace his earlier movements.
In 1591, Henry was appointed English ambassador, to the Court of Henri IV of France. He arrived in Paris on 21st July 1591, but suffered several illnesses, and this infirmity, together with the expense of being an Ambassador, meant Henry Unton was keen to come home, returning in June 1592 .
After a suitable period of recovery, Elizabeth sent Unton back to Paris, in Dec 1595, but in February 1595/6, he fell from his horse, caught a fever and despite the best efforts of his own physician, Mathew Gwinne, and the medical men of the French King, Henry Unton died, on 23rd March 1595/96
Another group of Englishmen who visited France, from 1578 onwards was the Henry Saville party, which included Robert Sidney and Henry Neville. Again they would have been far more aware of the machinations of French politics and Court life, than those lingering in Thameside palaces, but they arrived in France, after the events at Roussillon, and seem to have taken the eastern route to Italy, sticking to areas where Protestant faith gained favour.
In 1577, Philip Sidney was chosen to head a special mission to the new Emperor, Rudolph II, with the intent of exploring the conditions for a Protestant alliance, to counter the Pope’s Holy League. In the end, a treaty never materialised, but Philip made ‘friends’ with a number of German Princes, during his travels. He passed through Belgium, Prague, Heidelberg, and other places in the east but kept well clear of the main body of Catholic France.
Other significant characters, on the loose, were Anthony Munday and Edward Hoby. Both had left England in 1576, heading for Italy, but both spent most of their travels in Italy. Hoby obtained a travel warrant for two years and two terms, beginning in June 1576, and might have returned by the Rhone Valley. He, certainly, wasn’t in Paris, in the summer of 1582, as he had just wed his second wife, Margaret Carey. Neither Munday nor Hoby seem to be directly connected to the French side of Shakespeare’s plays.
That leaves us with one major suspect who was certainly in France during 1577, when the ‘Ophelia’ incident must have been contrived. Francis Bacon, as an impressionable sixteen year old, had been sent by Queen Elizabeth, to accompany Amyas Paulet, the new ambassador to France, the pair landing in Calais, on 25th September 1576. Bacon was entrusted by Paulet, with an important commission to the Queen, in June 1578, and he returned briefly to England. He returned, permanently, in February 1578/9, when his father died, and his inheritance came under threat, the resultant disappointment causing Francis to take up his place at Grays Inn, to practice law.
To add even more wood to the pyre, in 2012, a team of Oxford University scholars, published findings that offered Thomas Middleton as a potential co-author of ‘All’s Well’, based on computer analysis of the rhyming patterns. Here is that man Middleton again, looking like an editor-in-chief, or maybe a ‘finisher’ of plays’, rather like a Yorskshire ‘shearsman’, who prepares the woollen cloth for final sale.
This would seem that we could put that very early version of ‘Alls Well that Ends Well’, (‘The historie of the Rape of the second Helene’), firmly in the hands of Francis Bacon, but with the play put into obeyance, for the next 40 years, before being resurrected by Thomas Middleton, finally being added to the First folio.
The author of ‘Hamlet’ was stealing a similar plot line, ten years later, but this borrowing of characters and plots seems to be a consistent feature of the whole Shakespeare genre.
Remember, that in 1577, young William Shakespeare was a thirteen year old lad, and that his father’s business was heading for disarray, after the twelve month ban on wool trading took effect.
L’Addition – per favore
We have fifteen of Shakespeare’s plays, which have an obvious Italian or French influence, with several set in a more equable climate, than was experienced in 16th century England. This was, indeed, the beginning of a period, now known, as the ‘Little Ice Age’ (1550-1850), which manifested itself, in London, with the first ‘Frost fair’ being held on the frozen River Thames, in 1607. This was the weather, which Will Shakespeare, had to adapt to, during his fifty two years, on the planet, one which doesn’t seem to be reflected in his steamy, romantic dialogue, set under a balmy, Mediterranean sky.
Indeed the number of times Shakespeare makes reference to ice and snow, or the winter climate, in general, is quite modest. He seems more worried about the winter winds, than the depth of snow, and his few references to the subject, mention its whiteness and purity, rather than the increasing difficulty in living in a harsh environment, one that was becoming more challenging every year. That might suggest the plays were written earlier, rather than later, and that they were composed in a more agreeable climate, than the cold and frosty weather of London or Warwickshire.
The effect of the rapidly changing climate seems to have been overlooked by Shakespeare watchers, yet our English view of a ‘White Christmas’, and all the subliminal pictures this phrase contains, is actually the work of an author, but not this one. There were only six ‘white Christmases’, in London, during the 20th century, and none since the beginning of the twent first. Yet, from 1812 to 1820, there was one every year, and they happen to coincide with the early years of a certain Mr Charles Dickens (1812-70), a period when the climate began to warm again, with the last frost fair on the Thames, being held in 1813-14.
With these two great English writers ‘book-ending’, the ‘Little Ice Age’, it seems incredible that one created a vision of Christmas and English wintertime, which still remains with us today, and yet the other, ‘the greatest writer of all time’, rarely mentions the inclement weather, as the winters became colder and colder, the snow deeper, with the ice thicker and longer lasting, each year.
An updated reference, to a climate of increasingly cold winters, could have been added by Shakespeare’s editors and sub-editors, as they prepared the plays for print, but this omission would strongly suggest that the original scripts were written before the English winters had worsened, markedly. If they were originally written, as an Italian sun set over the Adriatic, or whilst relaxing in a Tuscan olive grove, then any reference to freezing temperatures and icy blasts would seem to be inappropriate, especially if the original author was still alive.
The ‘Continental’ plays, clearly, draw from a collection of personal experiences, but almost certainly by more than one traveller. Perhaps the most intriguing of the lot is ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, a play that draws from a collection of memories, places and situations, performed as a ‘fantasy’, but with elements of fact that the original audience could acknowledge, with a knowing nod and a smile.
Alfred Evans demonstrates, to his own satisfaction, that this must be the work of William Stanley, tying Shakespeare’s locations to Italy, France and to Chester, and to experiences of his tutor, Richard Lloyd. These connections between Stanley and the magical play, put the Earl of Derby in the hotseat, but is there evidence to assign him with more than this single play?
Richard Roe gve us the play’s connections to Sabbioneta, a small town, near Mantua, known as ‘Little Athens’, which has a Temple and a Duke’s Oak, to complement the play. There were many Englishmen passing through Mantua, but there is only one of the serious candidates who has links to the annual ‘Midsummer’ festival, in Chester, a town that was a favourite haunt of the Earls of Derby.
The Stanley involvement gets stronger when we realise the family had homes in Tatton Park, Cheshire, Meriden Manor, Warwickshire, as well as Lathom House, Lancashire and that William Stanley’s retirement home was also in Chester. The importance of Meriden comes to the fore in the concluding chapters, but it is the Stanley link to Chester that ties the family into ‘A Midummer Night’s Dream’.
William Stanley, (long before his lordship days), together with Richard Lloyd, arrived in Paris, on 27th July 1582, just as the script for ‘Measure for Measure’, was about to be enacted, for real. Back in Chester, England, they were preparing to gather in the harvest, but the local towns folk, still had memories of the ‘Midsummer festivites’, for which the old Roman town had become famous.
An account of the Chester festival plays was written by Robert Rogers, in 1609, and there is a note of the Derby family being regular attendees. As part of the cycle of plays, the local artisan guilds would produce their own theatrical offering, and, Frenchman, Abel Lefranc summises that the ‘play within a play’, in ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’, is a kindly ‘mickey-take’ on the performances of the Chester trades men. Bottom the weaver, Quince the carpenter, Tom Snout the tinker, et al, have been mixed with Hippolyta and other characters from Greek mythology, adding snippets of the lives of Italian and French aristocrats, who Stanley had met on his travels.
Evans further connects William Stanley to the fantasy play by reference to his depiction of the ‘fairies’, suggesting this is in memory of his first meeting with Elizabeth de Vere, at Elvetham House, near Basingstoke, Hampshire, during a well documented festivity, given by the Earl of Hertford, in 1591.
Queen Elizabeth was the guest of honour, on this occasion, and Elizabeth de Vere was one of her maids-in-waiting. The royal show included Auberon, King of the Fairies and ended with a show of fireworks, and there are several allusions to this event contained in ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Rather like, ‘Loves Labours Lost’, the play is written for an elite group, one who understood the ‘in jokes’, and were probably present at both the Elvetham event and the first performance of the play, in 1594/1595.
The audacity of certain lines in ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’, suggests that the writer had full confidence they were not going to be dragged from the auditorium, during the ‘interval’, and sent straight to the Tower. That audacious behaviour went even further, if we are to believe the suggestion put forward at the Globe conference. There it was proposed that Titania’s wooing of Monsieur Bottom was a parody of the marriage negotiations between Queen Elizabeth and Francois de Valois, duc de Anjou, who the spinster queen nicknamed her ‘Frog’. She also called him her ‘Monsieur’ and the transformation of Bottom, into a donkey, also alludes to her suitor, Anjou, with his pock-marked face, deformed spine and slight stature. Anjou had originally been christened ‘Hercules’ but this was dropped as his physical problems became clear, being renamed Francois, when he was thirteen.
To ridicule, someone who Elizabeth had seriously considered as a consort, and therefore, King of England, could have been a fatal stroke of the pen, but then there is speculation that Stanley was close to making that particular move, himself. As the leading Catholic sympathiser of the period, and from a family that had strong, and legitimate, claims to the throne, a marriage between the youthful earl and the elderly queen, was not out of the question. Indeed, there was a still unexplained, hiatus, when Stanley’s marriage to the young de Vere girl, was put on hold. The sudden death of his brother, Ferdinando, had created inheritance problems in the Stanley family, but the ramifications rolled over to the English succession, as the head of the Stanley family had a claim to be the next in line to the throne.
Evans believes that there may have been a close relationship between Stanley and the Queen, during this period, but that marriage negotiations broke down, albeit amicably, and so the ‘writer’ felt freedom to express thoughts, that could otherwise have proved terminal.
After his marriage, in Jan 1594/95, Stanley, now the Earl of Derby kept a diary, in which he noted continued association with Thomas Lodge and a meeting with, alchemist. John Dee. The other document of the period is one of great relevance, but one only discovered, in 1891, by James Greenstreet. This was a letter, written by the Jesuit agent, George Fenner, in 1599, but intercepted by Elizabeth’s spycatchers. This is the letter that says the Earl was no longer interested in the Catholic cause but devoted his time ‘in penning plays for the common players.’
It was archivist, James H. Greenstreet, who was first to suggest that William Stanley was the hand of Shakespeare, arguing that Fenner’s dismissive comment revealed that the nobleman was writing ‘unknown’ works. Greenstreet suggested that the comic scenes in ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ were influenced by a pageant of the ‘Nine Worthies’ only ever performed in Chester. He also argued that the comic character of the schoolmaster, Holferenes, in the play is based on the Earl’s tutor, Richard Lloyd. A dramatic poem about the Nine Worthies is parodied in Holofernes’ own production during the play. This sounds like another famous parody, again by the Monty Python team, this one of the famous televion interviewer, Alan Whicker – a parody of a parody.
So, where are we now? Any closer to unveiling the real William Shakespeare..??
In the early stages of this saga, I suggested that ALL writers leave traces of themselves in their work, and that in a million words of Shakespeare, then his personal life must be in there somewhere.
This chapter has highlighted the claims of Bacon (x2), William Stanley, and to a lesser extent, the Earl of Oxford and Anthony Munday. However, no single individual seems to be in a position to have written the entire ‘Continental’ selection box, and that no single play is a simple tale based on a single place, person or idea. In fact, the rules of Aristotle’s three ‘Unities’, have been cast out, to be washed away, by the Seine, Rhone or the Po.
We have an amalgam of people, places and experiences, but with no evidence that any of the noble ‘likely lads’ had any obvious skill or experience in the writing of a single play, let alone one that is going to delight the Queen, fill the Southwark theatres, or be worthy of creating a compendium of their works, that is still being discussed 400 years later.
However, they had close friends who did possess these skills, people they could trust, ones who might be regarded as ‘gate-keepers’, in the new and dynamic world of the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatres.
The mist is beginning to clear and it looks like we do have a group of noteworthy individuals, each with the emblem of a courtier, on their headed parchment, but much like our present-day ‘A list’, celebrities, many of whom are functionally illiterate, they dictated their story to an expert, who turned it into a performable item. Thomas Middleton, Ben Jonson, Thomas Lodge and George Peele are the ones that are increasingly accepted as the ‘ghost’ writers, with Ralphe Crane acting as an expert scribe.
Writing a successful play is no easy matter, and it takes skill and practise to transfer the written word to the stage. This is far removed from composing a poem, writing a travelogue or recounting the memoirs of a famous individual.
There was a vogue in Britian, during the 1980s, for purchasing copies of the scripts of the nation’s favourite TV comedy sit-coms. Most of the purchasers, though, were horribly disappointed, because when they thumbed through their TV masterpiece, they found the pages contained vast acres of blank space, and very few words, indeed.
They had bought all the ‘pauses’ as well as the ‘dialogue’, and even those well chosen words were never in complete sentences and often meant very little on their own. The purchasers had forgotten that written English is vastly different to spoken English, and that ‘words’ make up less than ten per cent in any communication between individuals. Facial expression and other forms of body language, plus tone, speed, and those damn pauses, make up the other ninety per cent. Transferring the spoken word to the page and then on to the stage, with any degree of credibility, is a tough ask, and history shows that few people have ever managed it successfully.
At the time when plays, later attributed to a man called, Shakespeare, came on the scene, in the early 1590s, there WAS a man who was often first choice, for the task, amongst a collection of esteemed academics and courtiers, and he is my new man on the block, William Gager.
If William Stanley was to ask anyone for help in completing a finished theatrical production, it would be William Gager. A friend of George Peele and Stanley’s close companion, Thomas Lodge, Gager was the main man at Oxford, when it came to the final presentation of work to the audience. He had been chosen on numerous occasions, to present work to special guests, and so for someone like William Stanley, an ex-Oxford man, Gager must have been first choice to act as his production editor, at the very least.
If we are to attribute a ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ to William Stanley, then we are asking quite a lot of the man, because there are three interlocking plot lines and twenty five different characters. Overall, this is a three hour production, including musical and dance sequences, and rather like Henry VI/2 and Venus & Adonis, if this is the work of a novice, then this all seems like a piece of beginners luck.
The play pays homage, in part, to Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’, with Hyppolyta, a powerful, strong minded woman, being a leading character. This all ties in, nicely, to William Gager, as Ovid’s epic poem, provided the basis for his first play, ‘Meleager’, with the Roman poet being a firm favourite of the Christ Church playwright. Remember that Gager went missing, in 1592, not too long after his letter to the Countess of Pembroke, a lady who might have modelled herself on Hippolyta.
Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ provides the backbone for ‘Venus & Adonis’ and ‘A Winter’s Tale’, a play that has several similarities with ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Hippolyta also makes a re-appearance in ‘Two Noble Kinsman’, along with her husband, Theseus. This play, a latecomer to the canon, was published by Thomas Cotes, using the old Jaggard presses, in 1634, offering a shared attribution between John Fletcher and William Shakespeare. What makes this last date interesting is that there is only one noble ‘candidate’ still alive, in 1634. This was William Stanley (1561-1642), a septuagenarian, then in retirement, in Chester, although one of the ‘editors’ of the ‘First folio’, Ben Jonson, was also above ground, until he passed away, in 1637.
My supposition is, therefore, that ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ was from an original idea by William Stanley, but largely written by his Oxford classmates, Thomas Lodge, who conjured up the convoluted plot, George Peele, who added the ‘frills and fantasy’, but orchestrated, as editor in chief, by William Gager, with perhaps a frisson of the Countess, added in for good measure.
And yes ‘Measure for Measure’ may also be a production by the William Stanley fan club…but the rest of the Continental selection box might have a more mixed provenence, with contributory verses from the Bacon brothers, Munday, Oxford, and even from the Lord Chamberlain’s eye candy, Aemelia Bassano, with the plays given the finishing treatment by William Gager and his university chums.
Shakespeare and the Secret Societies
With Full Masonic Ritual
In July 1929, the foundation stone of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, at Stratford-upon-Avon, was laid, with full Masonic ritual, by Lord Ampthill, Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, using an old Egyptian maul found at the Temple of Sakhara, in Egypt. Six hundred brethren were present at the ceremony, all dressed in full regalia.
The job of designing the new theatre, replacing the one that had been destroyed by fire, was given to Elizabeth Whitworth Scott, (Scott alert), yes the great-niece of George Gilbert Scott and second cousin to Giles, the red telephone box designer. This is the Shakespeare theatre still in use in Stratford today, although, with some major modifications, added in recent times.
The English Order of Freemasons was officially formed in 1717, exactly a century after the Rosaicrucians, had gone into hiding for one hundred years. However, the brethren didn’t announce themselves to the wider world, until 1723, exactly 100 years after the publication of Shakespeare’s First folio. This declaration of openness came in ‘The Book of Constitutions of the Freemasons’, and it was the same year that Alexander Pope published his own version of Shakespeare’s plays. Pope’s compendium also contained the 1640 version of the Sonnets, which had been published by John Benson, under the title, ‘Poems; written by Wil Shake-speare, gent’. The Benson version of Shakespeare’s Sonnets was different to the 1609 edition, with a different order and several omissions.
Pope’s 1723 reprinting of the ‘Sonnets’, began with a spectacular headpiece, which Alfred Dodd claimed in 1931, to be ‘full of imagery of the higher degrees of the Order’. Dodd also links this to symbolism that is found in publications of the work of Francis Bacon. Dodd was a Mason and student of the Rosicrucian tradition, and a strong supporter of Baconian theory. Credit for many of these Masonic connections to Shakespeare, goes both to Alfred Dodd and to modern day theorist, Peter Dawkins, who is also a strong advocate of Francis Bacon being the real ‘hand’ of Shakespeare.
Those who want to make lists of Masonic symbolism, in both the publications and the words of Shakespeare, soon run out of paper, as they are there in abundance, blindingly obvious to even the novice researcher. The 1623 folio, itself, is full of words and imagery, beginning with the opening dedication. We know from other sources, that the two Earls and the friends of this ‘incomparable pair of Brethren’ had major involvement with the secret societies.
In ‘Loves Labours Lost’, the first play to be published with Shakespeare’s name on the front from the start, there are several overt references, with mention of a ‘brother of a gracious order’ and ‘profound Solomons’. In other plays we have ‘singing masons building golden rooves’ and ‘apron men’. Speeches in other plays, such as ‘Coriolanus’ and ‘Julius Caesar’ are alleged to contain cryptic ciphers, known only to the membership.
‘The Two Noble Kinsmen’, inspired by Chaucer’s ‘The Knights Tale’, has strong Rosicrucian elements, which Ron Hess suggests, refer back to a Rosicrucian ‘greeting card’, sent to King James I, in 1611. This play is regarded as one of Shakespeare’s later works, not published until 1634. This was printed by Jaggard inheritor, Thomas Cotes, and authorship attributed on the cover to John Fletcher and William Shakespeare. Thomas Cotes used the old Roberts ‘gilliflower’ mark on this publication. This play never made it into any of the folios, but the 1634 printing by Thomas Cotes suggests a degree of legitimacy, because he knew the William Shakespeare brand extremely well.
The Shakespeare scholar, Glynne Wickham noted the strong connection between ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘The Two Noble Kinsmen’, with both having marriage at their heart and the same characters turning up in both texts. The musical element suggests that they were both written about 1595 and that ‘Noble Kinsman’ was recycled and only performed for the first time in 1613. The music of both plays is associated with John Dowland, and a ballad entitled ‘George Aloe’ appears in both.
Dowland was a leading musician of the period, having gained his Masters degree from Christ Church, Oxford, in 1588 and so would have known the Oxford group of literary ‘wits’, with one of his most enthusiastic patrons being Oxford colleague, Robert Sidney. In 1598, Dowland became a musician in the Danish court, where he remained for a number of years. John Dowland features in congratulatory words from other likely Rosicrucians, and seems to have been an important member of the ‘fraternity’.
Henry Peacham is thought to be the man who drew a sketch of ‘Titus Andronicus’, in 1595, which is claimed to be the only contemporary drawing of a Shakespeare play. He was another good friend of John Dowland and evidence that Peacham was a Rosicrucian comes from a posthumously published pamphlet titled, ‘The Truth of our Times’.
Peacham describes a tavern tradition that:
‘in many places, in England as well as the Low Countries, they have over their tables a rose painted, and what is spoken under the Rose, must not be revealed, the reason is this. The Rose being sacred to Venus, whose amours and stolen sports that they might never be revealed, her son Cupid would dedicate to Harpocrates, the god of Silence’.
Critics, who say that Shakespeare’s work has absolutely nothing to do with secret societies, usually suggest that you can find anything in nearly a million words, if you look hard enough. Judging by 400 years of analysis and criticism by millions of scholars, of all ages, then that is probably true, but the imagery and the coded words are there, in plain sight, for all to see.
My ponderings haven’t attempted to analyse to death, the ‘words’ of the Bard, but they do look at the people associated with Shakespeare and his works. There can be no doubt that many of the leading figures of the period, who were connected, in some way, to the ‘Shakespeare’ canon of plays had strong connections to the Rosicrucians, and to their fellow band of secretive brethren.
There’s a Russelling in the bushes
It is beyond doubt that a grand Masonic ceremony was held at the rebirth of the Shakespeare Theatre, in 1929, and tracing back the ancestry of Grand Master, Baron Ampthill proves to be a very interesting and rewarding exercise. His ‘real life’ persona, was Arthur Oliver Villiers Russell, appointed the youngest ever Governor of Madras, and who, temporarily, held the post of Viceroy of India, in 1904.
Arthur Russell is, though, perhaps, better known to his sporting chums as the man who introduced rowing to Eton College. Notably, he was also a founder member of the International Olympic Committee, when the Olympic Games were revived, in 1896. This was the committee that created the idea of gold, silver and bronze medals, replacing the olive branch that had been traditionally given to winners of the Games, held in Ancient Greece. Baron Russell was also President of the Magic Circle, making practical use of his less than covert, Rosicrucian abilities. Quite a man..!
The Villiers ‘insertion’ into his name links him to the Earls of Jersey and the disinherited Stanley line, another family, which regularly appears, associated to the Shakespeare conundrum. Tracing the family back through time brings a string of Russells with similar outstanding pedigrees, including a Prime Minister. When you travel back far enough you eventually arrive at the doorstep of Francis Russell, 2nd Duke of Bedford (1527-1585).
It was Francis Russell’s eldest daughter, Anne Russell who married Ambrose Dudley, brother of Robert, Earl of Leicester, whilst his second son, John Russell became the second husband of Elizabeth Hoby, nee Cooke (yes, the clever lot), giving the Russell family ‘access to all areas’ of the Cooke club.
‘I don’t believe it’! Well there’s more.
An earlier John Russell, father to the Francis above, had been created a Knight of the Garter, by Henry VIII, and was one of the King’s main supporters in the West Country. His background before that is unclear, although his ancestors seem to have married well, one to the French heiress of a Burgundian vineyard, (nice work if you can get it), whose coat of arms was dominated by a ‘red lion rampant’.
It was this John Russel, the Earl of Bedford, who joined with William Cecil, in supporting the reinstatement of William Cordell to Parliament, in 1545, and he was one of the twenty six nobles who signed the document that put Lady Jane Grey on the throne for nearly a fortnight. He died a year into Mary’s reign, buried at his home, Chenies, Buckinghamshire – another convenient death?
I’ll also share with you one of those snippets, which brings a smile to my face, despite the welter of Tudor barbarism and treachery. As a reward for his loyalty, Henry VIII gave John Russell, two ‘parcels’ of land, one an estate in Tavistock, Devon, and the other, land that had formally been the fields used as a garden for the Westminster clergy. If BBC’s ‘Gardener’s World’ was being beamed from the ‘Abbey and Convent allotments’, this would now be coming from Covent Garden, previously London’s fruit and vegetable market, and now a great tourist centres of Britains’s capital city.
The site was developed by the 4th Earl of Bedford, who commissioned, the architect, Inigo Jones to build large, Italianesque houses, grand enough to attract wealthy tenants. This prime piece of real estate remained in Russell hands until 1918, when it was sold to the man who owned the Beecham (Beauchamp) Pills Company. Coincidently, it was the Beechams Company that provided my father with gainful employment during the 1960s, and in an obscure way, gave me an entrance into a career in the pharmaceutical industry – but that’s another tale…!!
There are several more Russells, who leave large boot prints in this story.
Thomas Russell (1570-1634) was a Warwickshire landowner and one of two overseers of William Shakespeare’s will (yes that Bard again), and perhaps just as interesting, is that he was the half-brother of Leonard Digges, our First folio contributor. Leonard’s widowed mother, Anne Digges, married Thomas Russell, in 1603, after husband Thomas Digges had died, in 1595. So, Thomas Russell was Leonard Digges step-father, which together with overseeing the Bard’s will, gives us one of the very, very few direct connections between Shakespeare the author and Shakespeare the man.
But there is more – because supporters of the Oxfordian theory have found a family relationship between the same Thomas Russell and the Earl of Oxford, via a series of marriages. Oxford’s brother-in-law, Francis Trentham married Katherine Sheldon, whilst her sister, Elizabeth Sheldon married Sir John Russell, a cousin of Thomas. This is an obscure family connection, but is as good as the Oxfordians can manage in their attempt to find a link between their man and William of Stratford. They also note that a member of the Russell family travelled to Europe, at the same time as the Earl of Oxford, headed out there, on his 1575 tour, possibly together.
This Thomas Russell was a cousin of Francis Russell, Earl of Bedford, and there seem to be close ties between these two distinct branches of the family. All in all, that makes the Russells very close to the Shakespeare persona in all its guises, in both the 16th and the 20th centuries, but this still doesn’t link William Shakespeare of Stratford to the person who wrote the plays.
Wroxall – a phoenix from the flames
Now, for another link with a strong Masonic flavour and one which pushes the Stratfordian fundamentalists – the ‘Shakespeare is Shakespeare, please get over it’ brigade – very much closer to the anti-Stratfordian doubters. This ‘golden philosopher’ connection is found at Wroxall Priory, the home of William Shakespeare’s ancestors, before Henry VIII gave them the big heave-ho, in 1536.
After the nuns had left Wroxall, the estate dropped into the hands of Robert Burgoyne, who was the local Dissolution administrator, appointed by the King. The family held the estate, from 1543 until 1713, when the widow of Roger Burgoyne sold it to Christopher Wren, the great architect, who, at the time, was Surveyor-General to Queen Anne and, co-incidentally, Grand Master of the Freemasons.
The sum paid by Christopher Wren for the Wroxall estate was a whopping £19,600. (a fortune in new money). It wasn’t even purchased for his own use, but as a gift for his son, another Christopher, and the Wren family continued to live there for a further five generations. The great architect himself, was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral, in London, but his wife and family were all buried, at the Wren’s Chapel in Wroxall, which ‘daddy’ had refurbished to his usual high standard.
Wroxall Abbey – 2014 – photo KHB
Now the equivalent sum today is difficult to calculate, but the estimate has to be that Sir Christopher shelled out, close to £15 million pound, (if you use the average wages comparison), and all that for a tumble-down estate, to which he had no obvious connection. This was not the large estate of monastic days, but by 1713, land holdings had been dispersed, and the remainder comprised just 1,850 acres of farmland, and in addition to the main house, a ramshackle collection of derelict monastic buildings.
The reduction in the size of the estate occurred in 1683, when lands in Rowington, originally part of the Wroxall estat,e and previously in the hands of the Shakespeare family, were bought and assigned to trustees, with the aim of using the rents for apprenticing the poor children of Wroxall. These charity lands were known to be intact in 1836, and the charity itself continued until the end of the 19th century and may still exist today, in some form or other.
The main Wroxall estate underwent several changes in the 19th century and the large Elizabethan house, built by the Burgoynes, was demolished and a Victorian one erected in its place. After the Great War of 1914-18, the building became a ‘St Trinians’ style girls school, which finally closed its doors for the last time, in 1995. It is now under the tenure of Wroxall Abbey Estate, who have restored the church and surrounding buildings to the highest order and this has become a high quality, commercial enterprise, offering corporate conferences and wedding celebrations. Interesting, that the publicity blurb for prospective newly weds, describes the 16th century Shakespeare prioress as ‘William’s aunt’.
Several of the most significant buildings in my story have survived till today, despite the ravages of four centuries of war, wind, rain and the general decay of time. Many have been restored to pristine condition, indeed, some better than in their heyday. The Temple Balsall estate, the Knowle Guild House, Denny Abbey, and Long Melford hospital are all excellent examples of this phenomenon.
Sometimes the original medieval shell has been encased in later brickwork, but overall the plethora of restorations and modernisations have preserved the footprint of the original. One fine example is the Preceptory building, at Temple Balsall, which fell into disuse between 1739 and 1849, but was then wonderfully refurbished by George Gilbert Scott, who else..!!
Restored ‘Old Hall’ beside the restored St Mary’s Church – photo KHB
Scott restored both the old ‘Knights’ Hall’ and St Mary’s Church, a most splendid place of worship, which remains a centre of the local community and still welcomes the Templar and Hospitaller knights to an annual service, every summer.
In another of those serendipity moments, which seem to characterise my genealogical researches, on my very first visit to Temple Balsall, I was fortunate enough to bump into local historians, Max and Beryl Ellerslie, who were preparing St Mary’s Church for a service. Beryl is an expert on the history of Temple Balsall, and has also written a history of Wroxall Abbey. Beryl was able to add extra detail to my story, but she was totally unaware of the connections between the Shakespeare family, who had lived in her parish, and the playwright from Stratford.
The Wroxall estate has done just as well as the other ‘trophy’ sites, surviving 900 years of history better than anyone could imagine, given its humble situation in the middle of nowhere, together with the almost total destruction of the nun’s priory, which occurred in the 1540s. It comes, though, as somewhat of a surprise to find that Wren’s Chapel, restored by the Wren family 300 years ago, and brought back again to its finest state, very recently, has been re-consecrated not as Wren’s Chapel, but as Wren’s Cathedral.
Wow….. and wow again..!
The consecration ceremony took place relatively recently, on 26th July, 2009, and to go with the splendidly restored buildings, an entirely new religious diocese has been created, to give the building some purpose. Dr David E Carr was ordained as the first Bishop of The Diocese of Wroxall Abbey, with Wren’s Cathedral becoming the Bishop’s seat.
Someone seems to be taking great care of this place, whilst others of not dissimilar pedigree, have long since become car parks, housing estates or returned to open meadow, with Tony Robinson and his pals, staring ruefully, at fuzzy, radar maps of the vicinity, and finding a series of empty holes in the ground.
At nearby Knowle, the old Guild House, which dates from the 15th century, still stands proudly beside the church. The building was purchased, anonymously in 1911, the benefactor restoring the building to its former glory, before donating it back to the custody of the church. The generous donor was later discovered to be George F. Jackson, a local man who lived at Springfield House, in Knowle. Today, the Knowle Guild House continues its original function, as a home to a parish clergyman and providing a meeting place for social gatherings of local people.
Knowle Guild House, beside the church – photo KHB
But there’s more ……!
The Burgoyne family hadn’t figured in this Shakespearean odyssey previously, but now they are out in the open more wondrous things start to appear. Robert Burgoyne, the son of the first secular owner of Wroxall, married Judith Wroth, brother of Robert Wroth, the pair’s mother being, Mary Rich. This ties together an alarming number of people, who are already an integral part of this tale.
This means that Mary Wroth, nee Sidney, the great poetess and lover of William Herbert, became a relation of the Burgoynes. This was via Robert Wroth’s son, another Robert, who married Mary Sidney, the daughter of Robert Sidney. Mary Wroth, thus, became the niece-in-law of Judith Burgoyne.
The Rich connection then scoops up the Throckmorton name and the Marrow and Clopton family of East Anglia and all these families mix together with the Jagger family and those inhabitants of Coleman Street. This also brings in the Deveroux family of the Earls of Essex, because of the marriage of the reluctant Penelope Deveroux to Robert Rich, who was Mary Rich’s nephew. The knock-on effect is complicated, in the extreme, but the upshot is, that the Shakespeare family, who lived in Wroxall, has been brought even closer to potential ‘alternative’ writers of all creeds and persuasions.
In the 1580s, Robert Burgoyne and wife Judith, built a swanky Elizabethan manor close to the church, and their descendants continued to live there until the estate was sold to Christopher Wren. This is the same building that survived until the Victorian owners pulled it down, and built a modern version.
Original Elizabethan House next to the Abbey – courtesy of the Wroxall Abbey Estate
The Shakespeare name, which had been so closely tied into Wroxall, didn’t disappear totally after the abbey was razed in 1542, because in Robert Burgoyne’s will, of 1612, there is mention of Peter Shakespeare, as one of his servants. Peter’s father was Nicholas, and his grandfather was Robert Shakespeare, a trustee and brewer, with both hailing from Wroxall parish. My earlier musings about Mathew Shakespeare, (George Peele’s brother-in-law) point to him originating from Wroxall, and therefore, likely to be a relation of Robert and Nicholas, especially as Mathew had christened a child, Robert, amongst his ill-fated family.
However, at the time of the Dissolution in 1536, we do have a Robert Shakespeare at Wroxall, who was a member of the family of the prioress and bailiff of Wroxall. The timings do mean that the two Roberts could well be the same person. Nicholas Shakespeare certainly had a brother called Francis, and that name was also found in the family of Mathew Shakespeare and Ursula Peele down in London.
I think we can safely join the dots…!!
So we have Shakespeare, Burgoyne, Wroth, Rich, Sidney, Herbert, Wren and Peele, all coming together in this remote outpost of England which later had warranted an exotic price-tag. This Shakespearean world of ours continues to be a very small place and people today, are still dishing out lavish sums and going to great trouble to keep everything ‘hunky dory’.
An Entertainment for the Brethren
Further connections between the theatre, the Shakespeare plays and the brethren, can be found in the timing of some performances. St John the Evangelist is a co-patron saint of the Order and his Saint’s Day, 27th December, is a special day in the brethren’s calendar.
‘Loves Labours Lost’ made its debut on the night of the 27th December, and on 27th December, 1604, a masque was held at court to celebrate the marriage of Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery, to Lady Susan de Vere, daughter of the Earl of Oxford. Almost every year during the final 20 years of Elizabeth’s reign, a play was performed in the Royal Court on 27th December, mainly by the players of Lord Strange and the Lord Admiral, who were sponsored by the Stanley and Howard families.
Another notable St. John’s Day event was the betrothal of Frederick, Elector Palatine, to the Princess Elizabeth, on the 27th December 1612. It has been suggested that ‘The Tempest’ was performed to celebrate that event, which of all the Shakespeare plays seems to have the greatest number of Masonic allusions. This elaborate, matrimonial event was said to have been organised by Francis Bacon, with words by John Donne, who wrote one of his most notable poems for the occasion.
Frederick painted about the time of his marriage to Elisabeth Stuart
This is the same couple that roused William Gager, from nearly five years of poetic slumbers, when he made a major contribution to the anthology, which celebrated the Prince’s visit to Cambridge. The marriage was to prove significant, as one of the long term objectives of the Rosicrucians, was to unite England with like-minded German states.
Baconian supporters talk long into the night about the Masonic qualifications of their man, but a generation earlier there is, perhaps, a more significant figure, one who had his hand on many literary pulses, and touched every aspect of the Elizabethan theatre.
That man was Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst.
William Preston, a historian of post-1717 Freemasonry, published his official work, in 1778, and he suggested there were earlier histories, which referred back to their activities in the 16th and 17th century. The English organisation doesn’t officially exist before 1717, but Preston expressed his thoughts about Masonic life in the Tudor period, anyway.
‘On the 24th June 1502, a lodge of masters was formed in the palace, at which the King (Henry VII) presided in person as Grand Master; and having appointed John Islip, Abbot of Westminster, and Sir Reginald Bray, Knight of the Garter, his Wardens for the occasion, proceeded in ample form to the east end of Westminster Abbey, where he laid the foundation stone of that rich masterpiece of Gothic architecture known by the name of Henry the Seventh’s Chapel….Henry VIII succeeded his father in 1509, and appointed Cardinal Wolsey, Grand Master…..Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, succeeded the Cardinal in the office of Grand Master and employed the fraternity in building St James’s Palace, Christ’s Hospital and Greenwich Castle…..the Masons remained without any nominal patron till the reign of Elizabeth, when Sir Thomas Sackville accepted the office of Grand Master. Lodges were held during this period in different parts of England, but the General or Grand Lodge assembled in York where the Fraternity were numerous and respectable.’
Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst (1536-1608), was an English statesman, poet, dramatist and Freemason, and the son of Richard Sackville, a cousin to Anne Boleyn. Sackville succeeded Christopher Hatton as Chancellor of Oxford University, in 1591, and became Lord High Treasurer after Lord Burghley died in 1598. Lord Buckhurst is thought to have been created Grand Master in 1558, the year Elizabeth became sovereign.
Prior to a life in politics, Sackville was the co-author of the ground breaking play, ‘Gorboduc’ in 1561, the first English drama to be written in blank verse. This premiered at the Inner Temple in front of Queen Elizabeth, and is regarded as the first play of the new genre of Elizabethan theatre.
Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst – © National Portrait Gallery, London
One story recalls that during their annual gathering in York, the Queen sent soldiers to bring back the secrets of the Order, but instead Buckhurst initiated the Queen’s officers and when they returned to London, they gave a favourable report of the events they had witnessed…!!
Buckhurst’s election to the Chancellorship, at Oxford, was in competition to the Earl of Essex, a Puritan nominee, and he won the prized position, supported by a letter of recommendation from Her Majesty. William Gager’s ‘Shrove Tuesday trilogy’ and Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Oxford, in September 1592, were both organised under Buckhurst’s leadership and he is mentioned in William Gager’s ‘begging letter’ to the Countess of Pembroke.
When he took over from Lord Burghley, as Lord High Chancellor, in 1599, Buckhurst was again opposed by the Puritan hardliners, with the Earl of Essex again being their nominee. Ironically he was the legal officer who pronounced death sentences on the conspirators of the Essex Rebellion, in 1601.
Buckhurst was followed in the role of Grand Master of the Masons, by Thomas Gresham, in 1567 and then the role passed to Charles Howard, the Lord Admiral, from 1579-88. Howard, known as Lord Howard of Effingham, was in command of the English fleet against the Spanish Armada and from 1576-1603 he was patron of a company of players known as the Admiral’s Men.
Howard’s Men began performing in about 1575, and after being renamed the Admiral’s Men, in 1589, began a long association with Philip Henslowe and the Rose Theatre. One of the great actors of the period, Edward Alleyn, performed with the Admiral’s Men and played the title role in the early performances of ‘Titus Andronicus’. Alleyn, who became an alchemy enthusiast, was father-in-law to Philip Henslowe, and at the age of 57, married the 20 year old daughter of John Donne, the poet. Donne is another character that fringes this story and was undoubtedly a key member of the brotherhood and well versed in the comings and goings taking place behind the Shakespeare mask.
Nicholas Stone, (1586-1647), was an architect, the master-mason to two kings, James I and Charles I, and Warden of the Guild of Masons. He was also a member of the Rosicrucians and was present at their landmark meeting, held in Magdeburg, in 1617, when the Order decided secrecy was to be the watchword for the next 100 years. At the meeting, Stone is reputed to have composed rituals for the ‘Rose’ Order, remarkably similar to those adopted by the Masons.
Evidence for the Rosicrucian link to Nicholas Stone comes from Thomas Vaughan (1621-1666), a Welsh philosopher, who practiced ‘Parcelsus’ style medicine. In 1652, Vaughan translated the ‘Fama Fraternitatis’, into English, and he also wrote in praise of the work of Nicholas Stone, as a Rosicrucian. Stone had been elected a Warden, under architect, Inigo Jones, another of Welsh descent, who was master-mason, to James I from 1607-1618. Stone took over the master-mason role himself, in 1619, and was reappointed when Charles I came to the throne. This was the position of senior architect and stonemason to the King, not to be confused with the Grand Master of the secret society.
Inigo Jones (1573-1652) is the most famous architect of the period and apart from his skills at designing buildings, he also created stage sets for royal or grand occasions, often in association with Ben Jonson. In 1630, Inigo Jones was commissioned by Philip Herbert, by then Lord Pembroke, to rebuild Wilton House, and the grand house is significant for its ‘single cube’ and ‘double cube’ rooms, copying the dimensions of the Temple of Solomon.
Inigo Jones was born in London, the son of a Welsh cloth worker and seems to have learnt his trade as an apprentice joiner at St Paul’s Cathedral. He is mentioned in the accounts of Roger Manners, the Earl of Rutland, in 1603, as ‘Henygo Jones, a picture maker’. He is credited with introducing movable scenery to English theatre and between 1605 and 1640, Jones was responsible for staging over five hundred theatrical performances, often collaborating with Ben Jonson, in what became a competitive ‘love-hate’ relationship between the two great men.
Jones was heavily influenced by several trips to France and Italy. The first visit probably took place between sometime between1598-1603, but it was only in 1609 did his work begin to demonstrate an ‘accomplished Italianate manner’. In 1613, Jones was appointed the position of Surveyor of the King’s Works and shortly afterwards, embarked on a more extensive tour of Italy, accompanying, the great art collector, Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, where he was exposed to the architecture of Rome, Padua, Florence, Vicenza, Genoa and Venice. Jones gave priority to Roman antiquity rather than observing the contemporary fashion in Italy and so, for the first time in over a millennium, re-introduced the building styles of ancient Rome to England.
In 1615, Inigo Jones was created Surveyor-General of the King’s Works and this marked the beginning of the period when he created his grandest buildings, which included the Queen’s House, Greenwich and the Banqueting House, in Whitehall. His connection with the Shakespeare story dates arises from his time working with Ben Jonson, on the stage scenery, and his connection to one of the main ‘alternative’ candidates, Roger Manners.
Jones connection with the Rosicrucian and Masonic movements has been highly debated, but his Renaissance building style frequently incorporated the ‘Cube’ rooms and ‘chequer-board’ floor, which became adopted by the secret societies. Jones is described in later texts of the history of the Masonic movement, as ‘our great Master-Mason’, surely securing his place as one of their number.
In 1624, in a satire, Ben Jonson wrote about Inigo Jones :
He has Nature in a pot! ‘bove all the Chemists, Or bare-breeched brethren of the Rosie-Crosse! He is an Architect, an ‘Inginer’, A Soldier, a Physician, a Philosopher, A general Mathematician…..
It seems that Jones, Stone and Francis Bacon were active in inviting honorary members to join what, previously had been a very ‘hands-on’ organisation. This markedly changed the face of the Masonic brotherhood, as there arose an influx of ‘Speculative’ members, who soon outnumbered the ‘Operatives’. So, ‘honorable guests’ from the worlds of the aristocrat and of literature, were invited to join the ranks, despite lacking the skills of either an architect or a stonemason.
One major contrast between the Rosicrucians and the Masons was their attitude towards women. We have already seen an increasing number of educated women, learning science from their Humanist tutors, and there can have been little intellectual difference between the abilities of Lady Jane Grey, Elizabeth R, Mary Sidney, the Cooke girls, and the cleverest MEN of the Tudor period. We have seen how both the Countess of Pembroke and her mother, both indulged themselves in the Hermetic sciences, particularly their love of alchemy.
There seems to have been an increasing degree co-operation between the two organisations, from the 1580s onwards, but despite being bullied, by Stone and others, the Rosicrucians still kept their autonomy. This is shown nearly 200 years later, in 1797, when Sigismund Bacstrom, a London doctor of medicine, wrote a treatise about the rules of the Rosicrucians, as he knew them during his time, and they look very similar to those postulated in the ’Fama trilogy’, of 1614.
Here is a selection of Bacstrom’s rules – from 1797
I will never openly publish that I am a member of this august Society, nor reveal the name or Persons of such members as I know at present or may know hereafter, to avoid derision, insult or persecution.
I solemnly promise that I will never during my whole life reveal, the secret knowledge I receive at present or may receive at a future Period from the Society or from one of its members, nor even privately, but will keep our secrets sacred.
I do hereby promise that I will instruct, for the benefit of good men, before I depart this life, one person, or two persons at most, in our secret knowledge, and initiate and receive such person (or persons) as a Member Apprentice into our Society….. And, as there is no distinction of sexes in the spiritual world, neither amongst the blessed Angels ……. which women are believed to have been all possessors of the Great Work, … our Society does not exclude a worthy woman from being initiated.
I do moreover solemnly promise (should I become a Master and possessor) that I will not, on the one hand, assist, aid, or support with Gold or Silver, any Government, King, or Sovereign whatever, except by paying of taxes, nor, on the other, any populace, or particular set of men, to enable them to revolt against their Government.
I will leave public affairs and arrangements to the Government of God, who will bring about the events foretold in the Revelations of St. John, which are fast accomplishing.
I will not interfere with affairs of Government…….!!!!!
This last ‘rule’ might have been a watch-word for the Rosicrucians, but seems to be one overlooked by their brethren, in the Masonic movement, whose membership was, at the time, busily occupying the great seats of power, across the Western World, and have been ever since.
England and Germany go into extra time
Arms of Bohemia
Behind the scenes
The story of the Rosicrucians, after their vow of secrecy in 1617, is uncertain, but there are definitely links to the founding of the Royal Society, known more formally as ‘The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge’. This was founded in 1660, very soon after the monarchy was restored, under the tenureship of King Charles II, following a decade of Cromwell’s, Commonwealth.
This august scientific institution had its roots amongst the patrons of Gresham College, and that is indeed where the Royal Society held its initial meetings. The history of the Royal Society acknowledges the part played by Francis Bacon, but mentions an earlier history, associated with the Hermetic societies of Oxford. The birth of Gresham College and its evolution into a Royal body, meant that one of the major goals of the Rosicrucians had been achieved, and their ‘golden philosophers’ now had a recognised home for their talents, and with the added benefit of a Royal badge. As a bonus, all this had been achieved without revealing the secret force that was driving this scientific movement, onwards and upwards. The ‘golden philosophers’ had thrown their first double-six..!!
The early Rosicrucian attempts to create a united church, with a single world religion, more Protestant than Catholic, were doomed to failure, in the turbulent religious climate of the time. This changed their focus and made it doubly important to unite the large number of small Protestant states, and in doing so, prevent them from being overwhelmed by the forces of Rome. The aim of unifying the Protestant states of Germany, Scotland and England, provided the driving force behind the politics and diplomacy of the post Marian age. The flow of knowledge and personnel, between England and particularly, the Palatine state of Bohemia, grew as each decade of the 16th century came and went, but this needed to continue into the 17th century and beyond, if the Rosicrucian’s were to achieve their perfect world.
As you might remember from your school history lessons, the map of Europe, before 1914, was very different to today, and a map drawn even earlier, say around 1700, would have shown Germany, Poland and Italy, as hundreds of small states, while the political geography of the Eastern Mediterranean was completely unrecognisable to modern eyes. There was also still in existence that most interesting of political federations, the Holy Roman Empire, which I remember from my ‘O’ level history, was neither, Holy, nor Roman and not much of an Empire, although it did appoint an Emperor, and one who made a brief visit to Milan..!! Founded by the French king, Charlemagne, in 800, the Holy Roman Empire exerted a varying degree of influence over European politics for the next 1000 years.
History now gives it a better press than previously, as the Holy Roman Empire acted in many ways like the present-day European Union, with a monetary policy which meant every small state could mint its own coinage, but with all coins being accepted across the ‘Empire’. It took Napoleon to finish off this enduring enterprise, when he won the Battle of Austerlitz, and the defeated Emperor, Francis II, dissolved the Empire. However, its symbol, the double headed eagle, has not gone away and has been adopted by those who wanted its memory to endure, be they countries, companies or secret societies.
Double-headed eagle in St Petersburg, Russia – courtesy ‘Saliko’
There is also plenty of confusion between the symbols of Phoenix, Eagle and Pelican, with each seeming to morph into the other in some of the imagery. In Ancient Eqyptian times the Phoenix was a symbol of destruction, by fire, followed by re-birth, whilst the Eagle represented the Sun God, Mendes. The Pelican entered the imagery, depicted as a symbol of charity, but now it is the Eagle that dominates, almost everywhere you look, especially when looking towards the New World.
Back in the 16th century, we have already seen how Count Alasco of Poland was well received by Queen Elizabeth and how there was a concerted effort to link the two states, by the marriage of Frederick of Bohemia to Elizabeth, the daughter of James I, but this was not the first attempt at unification of the Protestant world..
The German lands were fragile kingdoms and their boundaries came under constant pressure, every time a neighbouring prince or potentate died, or when the Catholic rulers from further south decided to flex their muscles. Marriages and inheritances meant there were ever changing allegiances between these small Protestant kingdoms. Their noble men and women held titles for lands, which stretched from the foothills of the Alps to the shores of the North Sea. These places are now more familiar as the countries of Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovenia, and the Netherlands, but as we know from the history of the 20th century, these borders continue to lack stability, even in the modern era.
However, just a cursory look at the history of this area throws up a few clues, as to how England might have much older links to these central Europeans. The Rosicrucians were actually trying to re-make old allegiances, from centuries before, and they take us back to some familiar faces. The first clue is that the coats of arms for both the Palatine Rhineland and Bohemia consisted of a simple and resplendent, lion rampant, and that the eagle, often the twin-headed eagle, figured strongly as a symbol of several Germanic states. These were the states which harboured the Templar escapees from France and later from the Byzantine Empire, after the Muslims drove the Christians from the Holy Land and finally completed the purge, with the Fall of Constantinople, in 1453.
Charlemagne (742-814) painted by Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) …….!!
Next, was my realisation that several Dukes of Bavaria, (southern Germany) were actually Knights of the Garter, that very exclusive club of knights, who were the personal choice of the English sovereign. The Garter Knights were first created by Edward III, in 1344, with a maximum of twenty four members, plus the Monarch and the Prince of Wales. This most prestigious award was usually given for special service to the English monarch, but occasionally ‘foreigners’ were also honoured.
Exceptions began, as early as 1390, when William, Duke of Gueldres & Juliers (part of the Low Countries) and his brother-in-law, William VI, Duke of Bavaria, were made Garter Knights by Richard II, when they visited England, soon after fighting gallantly against the Prussians. William, Duke of Gueldres was married to Katherine of Bavaria, a grandchild of Louis IV, the Holy Roman Emperor. The administrative hub of this rather loose agglomeration of states was Bavaria, the German land, bordering the Swiss Alps, but this marriage extended the alliance from the Alps to the North Sea.
These Bavarian Dukes were members of the House of Wittelsbach and had inherited the two titles of Count Palatine of the Rhine, and Duke of Bavaria, from Henry the Lion (1142-1180). Henry the Lion had married Matilda, daughter of King Henry II of England, (1133-89) and their children had grown up in England, so the family association between the two lineages, dates back to this time.
King Henry II of England, was the founder of the Plantagenet dynasty, and was the son of Geoffrey of Anjou and Empress Matilda, the daughter of Henry I, meaning that Matilda was the granddaughter of William the Conqueror. Her husband, Geoffrey of Anjou was the son of Fulk V (1090-1143), the King of Jerusalem from 1131 till his death, in 1143. There can’t be too many people, who have gone through the English educational system, and haven’t heard about William the Conqueror. His place in history is assured, after leading the last successful invasion of the British mainland, in 1066,
But how many people know anything about Fulk V…?
Well, that seems to be a serious omission from the school curriculum, because if we follow the Royal line of succession backwards, from the present day to the start of the rule of the Plantagenets, then the natural way back after that, would be to follow the male line, which takes us to Fulk of Jerusalem and not to William the Bastard. Fulk must be one of the most overlooked men in English history, so my discovery of this link has opened up many interesting possibilities and helped to offer explanations for the more puzzling parts of the story.
The other strange part of this educational omission, is that Fulk and his family provide us with much of the symbolism that we now associate, with the ‘pomp and circumstance’ of the current British Royals. The lion rampant, the fleur-de-lys, the cross fitchee, eagles and the trademark rose, all originate from Fulk’s line and has far less to do with the Normans, who were originally Norsemen, from Scandinavia, before they settled along the banks of the River Seine, in the 9th century.
The lion was traditionally the symbol of Juddah and Jerusalem, and its prominence, as a lion rampant, in coats of arms, associated with those knights of Templar tradition, originates from this source. Fulk V to Henry the Lion and then on to the Plantagents, then the Tudors and so on…… finally to the German Georges and the present incumbents. That is the true line of our Royal heritage.
So, who was Fulk V, and who were his people? Well, he was a rich and influential nobleman, the blood inheritor of the upwardly mobile, House of Anjou, who originally hailed from the town of Angers, in Western France. The Angevin Empire, eventually, covered the whole of western France, from the Pyrenees to La Manche, giving the family great wealth and status.
It also made the Angevins, rivals to the Normans, who were their noisy and sometimes violent neighbours, who had arrived in longboats from Scandinavia, from 880 onwards. The warrior, self-sufficiency of the Viking raiders, mixed with the Frankish local blood, created the Norman knights and their feudal system, which is still very much part of English life today.
Fulk had married Ermengarde of Maine, producing a large enough brood to prolong his dynasty. One daughter, Matilda, married William, son of England’s Henry I, making them the heir to the English throne, but William tragically drowned in the ‘White Ship’ disaster, so that union was scuppered. In a second attempt to unite the families, Fulk’s eldest son, Geoffrey of Anjou married Henry’s daughter, Empress Matilda, putting a potential inheritor on the French side of the Channel.
Matilda contested her right to the throne of England, with her brother Stephen, and this became the last of the English line of Norman monarchs. Stephen won that battle, but in the next generation, Matilda’s son, Henry II, claimed the English crown for himself and founded the Plantagenet dynasty. This was to be the dominant force on this ‘sceptred isle’ for several centuries, one that has never really gone away.
Soon, after his son’s marriage and the death of his first wife, the rich and successful Fulk, became one of those gallant knights who left France, to embark on a Crusade to the Holy Land. He was a wealthy man and offered substantial financial support to the newly formed, Knights Templar. Despite opposition from fellow crusaders, each with seemingly better credentials, Fulk married Melisinde, the powerful daughter of Baldwin II, previous King of Jerusalem, and he took the prestigious title for himself. It was this couple who began grand building projects in Jerusalem, which were later followed by the colossal fortifications created by the knights of the Templar and Hospitaller organisations.
Fulk V – King of Jerusalem marrying Melisinde
Fulk’s son, Geoffrey of Anjou was nicknamed ‘plantagenet’, from the yellow sprig of broom, ‘planta genista’, which he wore as a badge on his hat, and this prompted the name for his new dynasty. King Henry II began the line of Plantagenets, and so the connection between the German and English lines begins with the marriage of his daughter, Matilda to Henry the Lion, ruler of Bavaria and Saxony.
The ongoing links between England and the German states, now make more sense, and these alliances intensified during the spread of the Protestant Reformation of the 15th and 16th century. Alliances were urgently needed, to protect this evolving movement from being drowned at birth, by the might of the Catholic south. However, this Protestant co-operation extended further, to cover not only religion but also the rise of humanist learning and the development of the new sciences of alchemy and astronomy.
There also seems to be a suspicion, of secret co-operation, with the heraldry and symbolism suggesting a connection to the Knights Templar, outlawed by the Pope, back in 1312. The Templar survivors and their descendants would have felt much safer in central Europe, on the north side of the Alps, away from the Catholic strongholds, in France and Italy. They were also away from the Eastern Mediterranean coastline, where the Muslims had taken control. In the east they became the Teutonic Knights, and in the west most transformed into the Knights Hospitaller of St John, both sharing the same distinctive black and white tunics.
The Anglo-German connections intensified during the 16th century, when John Casimir, (1543-92), son of Frederick III, Count Palatine of the Rhine and Duke of Bavaria, sent a portrait to Queen Elizabeth, offering himself as a prospective bridegroom, and, therefore, to fill the vacant post of King of England. His matrimonial offer was declined, but the Queen later created Casimir, a Knight of the Garter, in 1582, probably as a reward for his work with Robert Dudley and Philip Sidney in forming the alliance, known as the Protestant League.
It was John’s nephew, Frederick Casimir, Duke of Bavaria, Count Palatine, and afterwards King of Bohemia, who married Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James I, on Valentines Day, 1612/13, and later that year, in June 1613, that Frederick took the role of Jason, riding his ‘Argo’ chariot into Heidelberg.
This Royal Wedding took place in the chapel at the Palace of Whitehall, and before the ceremony, Frederick was inducted into the Order of the Garter. The event was celebrated in John Donne’s poetic masterpiece, ‘Epithalamion’, and elaborate celebrations were organised by Francis Bacon, including masques presented by the Inns of Court. ‘The Tempest’ was also said to have been performed to celebrate the occasion. It was later, when the married couple visited Cambridge, that William Gager made his presentation, likening Frederick to Jason.
Frederick’s reign, as King of Bohemia, was short lived, as his appointment, to be head of the Protestant League of German states, provoked his Catholic neighbours, the Hapsbergs, into immediate action and triggered the ‘Thirty Years War’. Frederick’s reign lasted less than one year, so he is known as the ‘Winter King’, and his wife, Elizabeth, as the ‘Winter Queen’.
The couple exiled themselves to the Low Countries, and after Frederick’s death, in 1632, Elizabeth continued to run her own Royal Court, in exile. Subsequently, via their daughter, Sophia, it was their grandson, George I (1660-1727), who became King of England in 1714, and finally united the English and German family lines, after a gap of 600 years. George I inherited the title because he was the closest Protestant relative to the throne, despite there being over fifty Catholics with better claims to the inheritance. The Rosicrucians had finally gained their prize and since then they have been determined to hang on to it, repelling all boarders.
The descendants of those most Germanic of Kings, Georges I, II and III, are still with us today, but now under assumed names. In 1917, our Royal family changed their identity, so the House of Battenberg became known as Mountbatten, whilst the House of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha became the House of Windsor, which we celebrate today, as being the epitomy of British values.
We might have put William Cecil in the naughty corner, for asking the College of Heralds to rewrite his own family tree, but William Camden and Robert Cooke would have been proud of the ingenuity of their successors, who have managed a most stylish make-over of British Royal history, almost seamlessly, and no-one appears to have noticed.
House of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha was transformed into the House of Windsor
Only occasionally does the veil slip, and a historical documentary relate the true history of ‘our’ Royal family, although such a program rarely reaches the heights of peak hours, mainstream television. Remember that the British people are still ‘subjects’ of the monarch, not ‘citizens’ of the state. They have not yet had their revolution..!!
Crammer – Sephardi Jews & Alhambra Decree
Sephardi Jews are descended from the Jews who lived in the Iberian Peninsula, in the late 15th century, immediately prior to the issuance of the Alhambra Decree of 1492, in Spain, and 1496, in Portugal.
Ferdinand II and Isabella I, married in 1469, so uniting the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile and in 1478, they made application to Rome for a tribunal of the Inquisition, to investigate whether Jews, who had converted to Christianity (conversos) were secretly still practicing Judaism..
In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella completed the Catholic reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula from the Muslims, and in doing so acquired the city of Granada, with a large Jewish and Muslim population. They replaced the Treaty of Granada’s Jewish protection terms, with the Alhambra Decree.
The Sephardi Jews were given four months to convert to Christianity or leave the country. The punishment for any Jew who did not convert or leave, by the deadline, was death without trial. The punishment for a non-Jew who sheltered or hid Jews was the confiscation of all belongings and hereditary privileges.
The Sephardi Jews then scattered all over Europe, notably to the Ottoman Empire and to the Netherlands, but it might be the timing of these events, which gives a clue as to why Christopher Columbus, with a mixture of Royal and Jewish blood in his veins, headed westwards, in 1492.
Portugal, Chaucer and Christopher Columbus…!!
In yet another of those serendipity moments, which have been an ongoing feature of my research, a few extra pieces of the jigsaw were delivered, unannounced, to my doorstep, when a friend of a friend came to stay at my home in Portugal. Cristina revealed herself as an amateur expert in Portuguese history, but more than that she was privy to facts about several famous Portuguese, who seem to have evaded the scholarly text books, back in Britain.
Many members of my hula-hoop generation will be aware of historic links between Britain and Portugal, but that understanding rarely goes any further than the notion that their traditional post-prandial extravagance, Port wine, was originally created by English residents of the city of Porto.
The Portuguese people are probably best known for discovering large parts of the world, including civilisations that didn’t realise they were lost…! Before Cristina’s arrival on the scene, I believed this small, rather isolated and now impoverished country, had lost much of its influence, at least 200 years ago, when Brazil grabbed their independence, and that it had been downhill for the Portuguese ever since. How wrong could I be?
Look beyond the Portuguese spellings of their monarchy and you see a country strongly influenced by descendants of two major European families, the same ones that dominate British society today. These Portuguese connections run, straight as an arrow, back to John of Gaunt, the Beauforts and the German Saxe-Coburg and Gotha line, with Queen Elizabeth II and the Windsors. Add this royal genealogy to the knights of the Order of Christ (the Templars), carrying on regardless, with their business in Tomar, plus some intriguing scientific connections between one of England’s greatest writers (NOT our Mr Will Shakespeare) and Portuguese seafarers, then the story begins to get much more interesting.
The Beaufort family were the illegitimate side of John of Gaunt’s brood, sired when his third wife, Katherine Swynford, was still his mistress; but it is the legitimate side of John of Gaunt’s bedroom activities which made the headlines in Portugal.
These do not involve his legitimate son, Henry Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV, of Agincourt fame, but two of his legitimate daughters, Philippa from his first marriage and Catherine from his second. The marriage of John of Gaunt’s first born child, Philippa of Lancaster, to King João I of Portugal, cemented an alliance between the two countries which, just like the fraternity of the Order of Christ, has lasted until today.
This marriage also proved to have great significance, not only for Portugal and England, but also for world history, due in no small part to a wedding present given to the couple, by the second most famous literary figure in English history, Geoffrey Chaucer.
My English master taught me that Geoffrey Chaucer was a great writer and will be forever associated with his bawdy ‘Canterbury Tales’, but this was only the best known achievement of a man, who also possessed the ‘golden’ skills, you would associate with a fully fledged member of the Order of the Rosy Cross. Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400) was a philosopher, alchemist, astronomer and part time architect, and also took time out to compose a treatise on the use of the Astrolabe, the navigation instrument, essential for those wishing to discover new lands across the seas.
He gained positions in the Royal Court, as a teacher, bureaucrat and ambassador, eventually becoming the first occupant of a berth in Poet’s Corner, in Westminster Abbey. Chaucer’s pre-eminence was partly due to his great talents, but he was also helped along the way, by his marriage to Philippa Roet, a lady-in-waiting to Philippa of Lancaster. More importantly Roet was the sister of Katherine Swynford, John of Gaunt’s favourite ‘squeeze’ and eventually his consort. There were rumours the royal prince had shared his favours with both the Roet girls, and plenty more besides.
Nepotism then held sway, as ever in life, as Chaucer was appointed tutor-in-chief to Princess Philippa of Lancaster. Her learning was further enhanced by other great scholars of the day, including Bible translator and early anti-Catholic, trouble-maker, John Wycliffe. His claim to fame was as the first person to translate a Bible into English, and as is common in this treatise, his home town of Lutterworth, in Leicestershire, was also mine, for much of the 1970s.
Philippa’s intellectual ability seems to have mirrored that of later female aristocrats, Lady Jane Grey, Queen Elizabeth and the Countess of Pembroke, continuing to show that away from the clutches of Rome, medieval women played an important role in the European Renaissance.
It was the wedding gift of an Astolabe, given to Philippa, by Geoffrey Chaucer, that has great significance to the history of the World, because she passed this valuable instrument on to her eldest son, who has become universally known as ‘Henry the Navigator’ and one of the founding fathers of Portuguese exploration.
Astrolabes – England 1388 and Paris 1400
The Astrolabe is a scientific instrument, an inclinometer, that was used by the ‘ancients’, to calculate positions of the stars and planets, and was as an early form of time piece. The instrument was invented in the Middle East, well before the Christian era, later being used by Muslim clerics, so they could organise their daily prayers at the correct time of day. The astrolabe evolved into the sextant, a modification of the original design, which made for easier use at sea.
Research in the 21st century, suggests the astrolabe was a simplified version of a much more complex machine, which had been used by the Greeks as early as the 1st century BC. The remnants of a scientific device, known as the ‘Antikythera Mechanism’, was discovered in a shipwreck a century ago, but only in the first decade of the 21st century have the amazing properties of this machine been fully recognised. Further reading is recommended on what is one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of our age, rivalling even that of the opening of Tutankhamen’s tomb.
Antikythera Mechanism – as found and a modern replica
This Portuguese arm of John of Gaunt’s family held the position of Grand Master of the Order of Christ, the reconfigured Knights Templar, who were operating from Tomar, in central Portugal, virtually untroubled by the papal bull, banning their existence. Templars elsewhere, including those in England, had been slightly more subtle, transferring their allegiance to the Knight Hospitallers, but the re-branding at Tomar, had just been a job for the signwriters. In reality, the Knights Templar never went away and so Portugal’s continuing independence, from Spain, was being guaranteed by the Knights ongoing influence, in this western province of the Iberian peninsular.
Earlier we suspected that the Beaufort family, in England, continued their Templar traditions, via the Tudor monarchs and also through the lesser blood lines, such as Clopton, Savile and Cordell, doing so in a more subtle fashion, keeping their Templar identity out of the headlines.
It was the promptings of Phillipa, his academically minded mother, which provided ‘Henry the Navigator’ with the scientific grounding to become a great seafarer. Henry’s skills must have been honed by his connection with Tomar, giving him access to the ancient manuscripts of the Greeks and Romans. He succeeded his father, as Grand Master of the Templar Order, remaining in charge for over 40 years, from 1417 till his death in 1460.
Convent of the Order of Christ, Tomar – photos by James McConville
Philippa’s half sister, Catherine of Lancaster, also played an Iberian card, because she married King João II of Castile, then an independent state, but one that later became united with Aragon, to create the Kingdom of Spain. When Catherine, died, her widower, João II, then decided to make the ancestral roll extremely complicated, because he jumped forward a generation and married Isabella of Portugal, the granddaughter of João I and Philippa. He had married his first wife’s niece.!!
In fact, a great number of these Portuguese and Spanish royal marriages bordered on incest and include a fair share of illegitimate children, who later became married as though they were legitimate, a situation not dissimilar to the formal adoption of the Beaufort line in England. This meant all these Iberian royals were kissing cousins, nephews and nieces to English kings, Henry IV, Henry V and their successors, with the Beauforts being the semi-skimmed versions of their full cream half-bloods.
The other piece of news from my Portuguese source is a little more controversial, but potentially groundbreaking, at least to the English speaking world, because it drags into the same blood line, another of the most famous names in world history. The threads of evidence to support these claims come again from our friends in the Vatican, where researchers are gradually sifting through catacombs full of documents, some of which go back to the time of St. Peter, himself.
An increasing number of researchers have been suggesting that Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), famous for discovering the ‘Americas’, well at least the island of Cuba and the isles, thereabouts, was not the son of an illiterate, Italian wool weaver, from Genoa, but the illegitimate union of a blood descendant of John of Gaunt and a woman from a line of prominent Portuguese Jews, one who claimed direct descent from King David of Jerusalem.
This research work is credited to a variety of sources, including Alfredo de Melo, Manuel da Silva, Manuel Rosa and Fina d’Armada, and although the story has not yet been set in stone, the evidence is compelling and all the evidence heads in exactly the same direction – suggesting a massive conspiracy or cover-up, call it what you like. How could the world’s most famous, seafaring explorer, known to have great scientific intellect, come from such humble beginnings in Genoa? This, manufactured, ‘rags to riches’ story of Christopher Columbus, begins to sound vaguely familiar… doesn’t it…!!
Manuel Da Silva suggests that Columbus and his brother, Bartholomew, were the product of an illicit affair between Prince Ferdinand of Viseu, the husband of Queen Beatriz, and Isabel Gonçalves Zarco, the daughter of João Goncalves Zarco, the man who ‘discovered’ the island of Madeira. João Zarco was a ‘converso’, Jew turned Catholic, and a member of the court of Henry the Navigator. Other writers on the subject, also credit Prince Ferdinand as the father, but give the mother a different name.
The child was called Salvador Fernandes Zarco, and whoever gets the credit to be the mother of Columbus, this still means Ferdinand of Viseu was the father. This meant Salvador Fernandes Zarco (Columbus) was first cousin of King João II, half-brother of Queen Isabella, half-brother of King Manuel I and grandnephew of Henry the Navigator – a real genealogical mouthful.
Salvador Zarco began his adult life in the Castilian court, at Seville, where he was said to have spied for the Portuguese and was known as Christopher Colon, (Spanish version of Columbus). The ‘proof’ that Columbus was of Portuguese origin, not Italian, is suggested in a number of ways, but includes the idea that ‘Salvador Zarco’ was born on the Alentajao coast of Portugal, in a village called Cuba, and so he named his first trans-Atlantic discovery after his birthplace.
His need for an aristocratic ancestral lineage, not one of a pauper, is shown because, in 1478, fourteen years before he set sail for the New World, Columbus married Filipa Moniz Perestrelo, a Portuguese noblewoman and one of the twelve elite ‘Comendadoras’ of the Monastery of All Saints, in Lisbon.
This marriage would have only been possible if Columbus had been of noble, Iberian blood and the idea that a ‘Comendadoras’ married the son of Genoan weaver is quite, quite ridiculous.
However, we can also take Columbus even closer to John of Gaunt and the Beauforts.
Officially, Henry the Navigator did not marry, but he was rumoured to have fathered a girl with a Jewish woman of distinguished pedigree. One name put forward is Ester Abravanel, daughter of Salamão Abravanel, a cartographer, who worked for the seafaring prince. The evidence unearthed in the Vatican archives, is that Henry the Navigator asked for permission to marry Ester, but the Pope refused the request. Henry and Ester then had a child, Lianor Abravanel, and it is suggested that this child was the mother of Columbus, again, after a relationship with Prince Ferdinand of Viseu. So, there are two women in the frame, Lianor Abranavel and Isabel Gonçalves Zarco, with Prince Henry the Navigator being the father, not the Madeiran explorer, João Goncalves Zarco.
There was plenty of reason to keep the identity of these people secret, both at the time and in later generations, as the mixing of Portuguese and Jew, aristocrat and commoner, was not one that the procreators would want to advertise. The liaison between Henry and a rich Jewish woman, with their offspring having a fling with Ferdinand of Viseu does seem to be a common thread between the two stories, but the full details are still open to debate and there is probably more evidence, hidden in a vault somewhere, possibly in Lisbon, Tomar or the Vatican.
This set of circumstances makes Christopher Columbus the grandson of Henry the Navigator, not just his grand nephew, and therefore, the great discoverer of the Americas, was also the great, great grandson of John of Gaunt. You just can’t keep his blood-line out of the story.
The documented accounts written by Columbus, were always written in Spanish or Portuguese, with a little Greek thrown in, but never in Italian. Columbus was never known to sign his name, but instead created a secretive, pyramidal ‘sigla’, which combined Byzantine-Greek and Latin lettering, leaving plenty for the conspiracy theorists to chew over.
If this Portuguese heritage was, indeed, true, then it would almost certainly mean that Columbus was a member of Tomar’s Order of Christ and had learned his seafaring skills there. His name, Christopher, ‘bearer of Christ’ and the strange, pyramidal ‘sigla’, do seem to connect him to this Templar Order.
However, it seems that it wasn’t only seafarer training that was offered at the headquarters and there is speculation that the Templars held a cache of ancient maps that were part of the Hermetic ‘knowledge’, which had been discovered by ‘Rosy Cross’, in the Arabian peninsular. Columbus and his brother Bartholomew were known to have produced their own maps, supposedly based on their personal voyages, but were they just updated versions of those made by the Phoenicians and Egyptians, who had traded along the Atlantic coast, 2000 years earlier?
Chistopher Columbus – painted decades after his death
The Phoenicians’ homeland was in the eastern Mediterranean, in the vicinity of what we now call Lebanon. They were famous for trading the rare purple dye, that was to become associated with royalty, and are now seen as the spreaders of the ‘alphabet’ across Europe. Their boats, known as galleys, had a single sail and a shape that has echoes in the Viking long ship, the Egyptian Dhow, and closer to my Portuguese home, to the distinctive, the traditional fishing boats of Póvoa de Varzim.
The history of the land surrounding Póvoa and nearby, Vila do Conde, is amongst the most interesting in Europe, with Paleolithic remnants, Neolithic cave paintings, ancient symbol writing, Lusitanian stone buildings, that pre-date the Romans, a large Roman encampment and a Viking fishing settlement, which still exists today and provides a unique genetic link to the past.
Mural of traditional Póvoa fishermen bordered by their siglas writing – more than a hint of Phoenician, Egyptian and Viking influence on these vessels.
This Portuguese settlement, also has another link to the Phoenicians, as the script of these ‘ancient seafarers’ has stark similarities to the local writing script, the ‘Siglas Poveiros’, which is still being used by the local fishermen and has become a trademark for the town of Póvoa de Varzim.
Siglas Poveiras Phoenician alphabet
This is just one unambiguous example, illustrating how the Phoenicians and later the Romans, had well established bases, right along the Atlantic coast of Portugal and North Africa. It seems more than likely that the Phoenicians discovered Madeira and the Canary Isles, long before they were re-discovered by the Templar seafarers. Some even speculate the Phoenicians crossed the Atlantic and cite evidence of inscriptions on rocks, even statues, whilst Roman coins have turned up in archaeological digs, in sites as far apart as Maine, Venezuela and Brazil.
Conventional wisdom decries these ‘finds’ as hoaxes and ‘misinterpretations’, but then they would wouldn’t they. It could well be it was the ‘ancients’ of the Mediterranean, who made the first maps of the Atlantic Ocean and not the cartographic Lisbon printing house of Bartholomew Zarco, who was simply revising old charts they had found in the map chests, at Tomar.
There has long been speculation that Christopher Columbus was of Jewish blood and some historians try to tie his search for a New World, and his desire to find a homeland for the Sephardi Jews, who were expelled from Spain, in 1492, exactly the same year he set sail on his first voyage of discovery.
The aims of this voyage are said to be economic, to find another route to the riches of India, and that he accidentally bumped into the Americas, by mistake. That theory does seem to be at odds with the idea of a library of seafaring knowledge held at Tomar, which was passed down from the Phoenicians to the Knights Templar.
Although, Christopher Colon’s first voyage opened up a route to the wealth of South America, for the Portuguese and the Spanish, his aims seem to have been more spiritual and altruistic than commercial. A century later, English explorers also had a complicated mixture of ambitions, some aiming to plunder great riches, whilst others were looking for a New World, or more correctly, a Puritan homeland, away from the clutches of the centralised religious dogma of Europe.
Whether Columbus was or wasn’t of Portuguese, and therefore of English Royal descent, isn’t essential to my plot, but if it was true, then it would bring his bloodline very close to many of those involved with the English explorations, which began during Elizabethan times. The adventures of Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake, Humphrey Gilbert and later, John Winthrop would make more sense, if these seafarers were helped on their way by genealogical links to Portugal and a continuing association with the Knights Templar, who never seem to be too far away from the action.
Today, ‘Columbus’ is a ubiquitous name in American life, being the home base of the legislature and a signature name in the communications businesses of television and the movies. Yet, today the USA is a country based around Puritan, Protestant ideals and traditions, not Catholic ones, so, my version of the Columbus story, connecting to Portugal, John of Gaunt and the Knights Templar, begins to make much more sense. The people of Uncle Sam also show strong support for Jewish culture, the other branch of the Columbus blood-line.
Templar Cross – guarding the coast at Povoa de Varzim – photo KHB
Whilst, Gresham College might be called the ‘invisible college’, we might call Portugal, the ‘invisible country’, as it seems to have avoided the publicity, given so frequently to its noisy, Spanish, neighbours. Yet, it has been providing support massive support behind the scenes, with the Templar influence continuing for centuries, even impacting on the great conflicts of the 20th century. The Portuguese were not the ‘neutral observers’ portrayed in the approved history of the last century, but they were much, much more – but that is another story – although on second thoughts, perhaps it isn’t?
There do seem to be echoes of William Shakespeare, in the history fabricated around Christopher Columbus, as both stories create an iconic figure, whilst distancing themselves from the Knights Templar and descendants of John of Gaunt. Columbus came first and Shakespeare, almost exactly a century later, but both remain, men of mystery. It does seem rather extraordinary that two of the most famous names in history are both complete enigmas, and what we know about them is open to so much conjecture. It also seems that it is an enormous coincidence, that both figures have close and compelling links back to the descendants of John of Gaunt.
Gold and the search for everlasting life
Alchemy – ‘the predecessor of chemistry that sought a method of transmuting base metals into gold, and sought an elixir to prolong life indefinitely.’
Alchemists were those mystical people, who spent much of their time searching for the ‘philosopher’s stone’, the legendary substance that would enable them to turn base metal into gold. However, the search wasn’t confined just to professional ‘magicians’, because William Cecil, the towering political figure of Elizabeth’s reign was also a great practitioner of alchemy, what you might call, the ‘dark arts’. His wife, Mildred Cooke, had an extensive Hermetic library, which included Euclid‘s Elements of Geometry, with a preface by John Dee, and medical works including the ‘Medicina’, a vast encyclopaedia of medical cures.
John Dee, astrologer and alchemist to Elizabeth R
William Cecil formed the ‘Society of the New Art’, which he saw as a way to organise and control the spread of people conducting these ‘magical’ experiments. He took the society very seriously and all the patrons paid him a huge membership fee, to fund a wide variety of fanciful projects. Cecil and his partner in crime, Robert Dudley, built their own alchemy laboratory, alongside the lime kilns, at Limehouse, in East London, a site where they could unload their secret supplies of raw chemicals, from abroad, without them ever reaching the Thameside wharfs of London town proper.
On one occasion, Cecil, Dudley, Walsingham and Henry Sidney all decanted to North Wales, to witness the failure of an experiment, attempting to transform a lump of rock into a precious substance. However, they weren’t there on a complete wild goose chase, because we now know that Snowdonia is one of the few places in Europe where gold and other rare minerals can be found in sizeable quantities, hidden inside the ancient volcanic rocks.
The general drain on manpower and financial resources, in chasing these scientific rainbows, was huge, in a country that was desperately trying to keep Spain and the Catholic world, at bay. However, Cecil believed that if gold could be created, all his and England’s monetary problems would evaporate. Alchemy’s fatal attraction to the noble classes was demonstrated, clearly, by James Blount, Lord Mountjoy, who lost his family fortune on pursuing his obsession with transmutation of base metal to gold. However, William Cecil was gambling the entire state finances of Queen Elizabeth on such projects and senior members of the government were supporting him in these speculative ventures.
Heinrich Khunrath (1560-1605), was a German physician and alchemist, and the drawing of his laboratory below demonstrates the diverse nature of alchemy during the period; with a religious altar, space for chemical experiments and the use of musical instruments.
Heinrich Khunrath in his laboratory
Humphrey Gilbert, Newfoundland explorer, and one of the great entrepreneurs of his generation, supported Cecil and Dudley in financing the ‘Society of the New Art’. His half-brother, Adrian Gilbert was a noted alchemist and a member of the Countess’s ‘Wilton House set’. John Dee’s notebooks indicates he had ‘discussions with the angels’ about whether Adrian Gilbert should be ‘privy to these mysteries’, and the decision came back, ‘from on high’, that Gilbert should be told the basics, but not allow him to be a ‘practitioner’. Dee also notes in his diary how, Thomas Barker (physician) and Richard Alred were to be accepted as ‘disciples’ into the mystical brotherhood. There was clearly a defined hierarchy of knowledge, with a restricted list of members, who were to be privy to the complete book of sorcery and other secret knowledge.
Medicines and transmutation to gold were obviously prime areas for research, but other ‘scientists’ were also interested in producing glass, copper and other less precious metals. French alchemist, Cornelius de Lannoy, was invited to England, by William Cecil, in 1565, under the premise of sharing his knowledge of glass-making, the skills of which had been lost in England, since Roman times. This was clearly a cover for Cecil’s other money making projects, as Lannoy was quickly thrown in the Tower, for failing to produce the promised ‘elixir’ or transmute any rock into gold.
Cecil believed that England’s empty treasure chest could be filled by recruiting a suitable wizard, who could make gold at the drop of a top hat. Later, Cecil heard that John Dee’s former assistant, Edward Kelley had succeeded in transmutation, in Bohemia, and sent letters and an envoy, Edward Dyer, (friend of Philip Sidney and Fulke Greville) to persuade him to return to England and solve the country’s dire financial problems. The Bohemians responded by locking Kelley in prison, to ensure he wasn’t kidnapped or return of his own volition.
The ‘Invisible’ College
Thomas Gresham (1519-1579) was a successful merchant and financier, who had worked closely with the courts of Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth. Thanks to a bequest in his Will, Gresham College was founded in the 1580s. This is sometimes known as ‘the invisible college’, because although there were professors and lectures, the College had no buildings, keeping its very existence under wraps, from all but its august membership. The College followed Rosicrucian ideals, studying subjects we now recognise as the Liberal Arts.
Professorships were established in, astronomy, divinity, mathematics, law, music, medicine, physic and rhetoric, all subjects that related to the principles of the fraternity of the Rosy Cross. Therefore, anyone who received a professorship at Gresham is almost certainly one of the ‘golden philosophers’, the secret ‘disciples’ we are seeking to unmask. There have already been a variety of names mentioned with Gresham College connections. Remember William Osbaldstone, related to the Peele family, who was made Professor of Divinity, in 1610 and Matthew Gwinne, the doctor, who seemed to be at the heart of scholarship, both in Oxford and London.
Thomas Gresham’s sister married John Thynne, formally Edward Seymour’s steward, and Thynne profited from his master’s generosity, building Longleat House, in Wiltshire. It was in the Longleat library that the only contemporary illustration of a Shakespeare play, a scene from ‘Titus Andronicus’, was found. Thynne was very much in the Rosicrucian mould, with an interest in alchemy and became an expert in hieroglyphics and ciphers and presented a treatise on the subject to William Cecil, in 1578.
Thynne also wrote a poem called ‘Society’, dated 1600, which stated that he had meetings of like minded friends at the Rose Tavern, in Newgate Market. The colourful and innovative Lord Bath is the present day ancestor of the Thynne family, whilst the estate is guarded by several prides of lions. Thynne dedicated his poem ‘Society’ to Sir Thomas Egerton, keeper of the Great Seal, a friend from his time at university. A little more needs be said about Sir Thomas Egerton, who eventually became Lord Chancellor.
John Donne, the poet, was Egerton’s secretary and George Carew, Earl of Totnes, the husband of Joyce Clopton, and the man in charge of the nation’s munitions in 1605, also worked for Egerton for some time. Egerton was a fierce Protestant, originally a good friend to the Earl of Essex and was to later befriend William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, and the Earl of Southampton. In the 1590s Egerton was also a vigorous promoter of the early career of Sir Francis Bacon.
Thomas Egerton’s family links are interesting, as he took for his third wife, Alice Spencer, the widow of Ferdinando Stanley, the ‘future’ king, who died in mysterious circumstances. This made Egerton the step-father of Elizabeth Stanley. To complicate things further, Thomas’ son, John Egerton, married Frances Stanley the older sister of Elizabeth Stanley, which made her both a daughter-in-law and a step-daughter to Thomas. I’m not sure that was legal, but is certainly one of my more interesting examples of aristocratic inter-marriage.
Elizabeth Stanley enhanced her family’s links to the theatre and to Shakespeare, when she married Henry Hastings, 5th Earl of Huntingdon. Hastings was also a leading patron of stage drama, comparable to the Earls of Pembroke, and the most important patron of playwrights, Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, the later co-writer of ‘The Two Noble Kinsmen’.
This is where I have to declare another vested interest in this story, because, as mentioned at the beginning, I am the ‘sixth cousin to William & Harry’, although from the ‘wrong side of the sheets’. My line heads off in several directions as my ‘gateway’ family lead back to almost every famous Tudor family imaginable. One of the main lines stems from Elizabeth Egerton, eldest daughter of John Egerton and Frances Stanley, who married David Cecil, the great grandson of William Cecil, from his first marriage to Mary Cheke. There are other links to the Cecil family elsewhere, so I think that gives me a couple of fingers of Tudor blood and about half an armful of Cecil vintage.
Hatfield House – home of the Cecil family, since 1612
Merchant Taylors – suit you sir?
Merchant Taylor is a term that has always confused me, because although it ought to be connected to a Company of Tailors, rather like the Company of Masons they changed their modus operandi and gradually took on a much wider brief. Numerous significant characters in this story were members of the Guild of Merchant Taylors, or were educated at their school, in the Parish of St Lawrence, Poultney, in London. The name pops up with alarming frequency, offering connections to First folio publisher, Edward Blount and to several leading literary figures of the period.
The Guild of Tailors and Linen armourers was originally a religious and social fraternity, but became incorporated by Royal Charter in 1503, as the ‘Guild of Merchant Taylors of the Fraternity of St John the Baptist’, a saint they shared with the Freemasons and the Knights Hospitaller organisations. The craftsmen tailors had become merchants, but the company mainly operated as a philanthropic and social order, with an emphasis on educational and charitable activities. These took the form of the creation of a number of schools and almshouses, initially in London and later, across the country.
‘The grammar school, founded in the Parish of St. Lawrence Pountney in London in the yere of our Lord God one thousand fyve hundred, sixty-one by this worshipfull company of the Marchaunt-Taylors of the Cytty of London, in the honor of Christ Jesu”
The founding fathers were Richard Hilles, Emanuel Lucar, Stephen Hales, and Thomas White (1492-1567), the latter being the same man who founded St John’s College in Oxford, in 1555.
The aim of the school was made clear from the outset; “for the better education and bringing up of children in good manners and literature,”
The building acquired for the purpose was a spacious mansion, originally built by Sir John Pulteney, who had, five times, been Lord Mayor of London, in the reign of Edward III. Later the building passed through the hands of the Hollands, la Poles, Staffords, and Courtenays, before ending up with the Ratcliffe family, the Earls of Sussex, who passed it on to the trustees of the new school, the Merchant Taylors. The Sussex family begin to play their part in this drama later, having managed to keep their head below the parapet, until now.
The parish of St Lawrence Poultney was a small one, but strategically situated, with an opening into Cannon Street to the north, and direct access to the River Thames, in the south. Sussex House dominated the parish, but only a section of that building was sold to the Merchant Taylors, in 1561, the remainder being passed on to the school, 300 years later, in 1860. The original accommodation comprised a gate-house, a long court, two galleries and part of the chapel.
‘The high master should be “a man inbody whole, sober, discrete, honest, vertuous, and learned in good and cleane Latin literature, andalso in Greeke, yf such may be gotten.” He might be either wedded or single, or a priest that had no benefice. He must have three ushers. The number of scholars was limited to 250, “of all nations and countries indifferently.” The children of Jews were afterwards ungenerously excluded. There was, lastly, to be every year an examination of the scholars.’
‘The first head master was that famed old pedagogue, Richard Mulcaster, who wielded the ferule, and pretty sharply too, for many years. He was a Cumberland man, brought up at Eton, and renowned for his critical knowledge of Greek, Latin, and Oriental literature. A veritable old Tartar he seems to have been, a severe disciplinarian, but beloved by his pupils when they came to the age of maturity, and reflected on the benefit they had derived from his care.’
‘Mulcaster was great at Latin plays, and they were often acted at Hampton Court and elsewhere before Queen Elizabeth. Many of his boys who went to St. John’s, Oxford, became renowned as actors in Latin plays before Elizabeth and James. The worthy old pedant had frequent quarrels with the Merchant Taylors, and eventually left them in 1586, and became upper master of St. Paul‘s School. Richard Mulcaster died in 1610.’ Excerpt from: http://www.british-history.ac.uk
Impression of the original layout of the schoolroom – for 250 boys
The link to St Johns College, Oxford was brought about by Thomas White, the founder of both institutions, who had started the College during Queen Mary’s reign. White ensured an ongoing connection between the school and the college by providing 43 places at St Johns College, for the London scholars. William Cordell, Master of the Rolls, also kept a close eye on the school and so this was very much an ongoing partnership with White, in both establishments.
The selection process took place each year, at the St Barnabas Day examinations, but this scholastic partnership did cause much bickering between the trustees of the two educational establishments, and places were not always honoured, as had been agreed.
The school was initially aimed at the sons of the merchants themselves, and others who could afford the fees. As the school grew in stature, rich benefactors offered scholarships for poorer pupils, those who showed academic potential, and so was not a school for all and sundry. However, its eminent list of patrons couldn’t protect it from the Great Fire of 1666, although a decade later it had been rebuilt, and the building was to last another 200 years.
Thomas White was a member of the Guild of Merchant Taylors, elected Lord Mayor of London in 1553, and created a knight by Queen Mary, the same year. He was also one of the tribunal who tried Lady Jane Grey for treason. Originally St Johns College was one of the smaller Oxford colleges, but is now one of the largest, and is reputed to be the wealthiest.
Ex-British Prime Minister, Tony Blair was a graduate of that institution, and it is interesting that a Labour Party Prime Minister, seemingly without the baggage of a ‘Tory toff’ background, should hail from St John’s College, with its ‘establishment’ background. Soon after giving an unprovoked battering to the descendants of Saladin in the Middle East, Blair quickly took off his Protestant mask and revealed he was really wearing the Catholic colours of Thomas White and William Cordell.
St John’s College, Oxford – which still looks much the same today
One quirky connection between Tony Blair and the theatre is that his father-in-law was an actor, and my connection, yes there is one…! is that my first wife, Sue, shared the same school room in Crosby, Liverpool as Tony’s wife, Cherie Booth, at a Catholic Girls school that had been sited just across the road from the Liverpool version of the Merchant Taylors School for Boys. Small World..!!
The first headmaster of Merchant Taylors School, Richard Mulcaster, held the post from 1561-1586, and he is thought to have been the model for Shakespeare’s headmaster Holofernes, in ‘Love’s Labour Lost’. Shakespeare’s character consistently combines Latin and English in the same sentence, to demonstrate his superior intellect to those around him, and also uses excessive alliteration, both traits attributed to the ‘real’ headmaster. Richard Lloyd, tutor to William Stanley, shared many of the same traits, so if seems likely that ‘Holofernes’ was an amalgam of both, quite ‘singular’, individuals.
Mulcaster was educated at Eton College and then Kings College, Cambridge, and was a most influential figure, advocating a codification of the English language, in a similar form to Latin, and played a large part in creating a standard spelling system, which provided a forerunner for alphabetic dictionaries. This is another character that challenges the credentials of the man from Stratford because there is no evidence that Shakespeare saw Mulcaster in action. Even those with a mortar board full of classical letters after their name, find the complexity of Holoferne’s lines, mixing two languages and adding a variety of puns and other word play, challenges them. The ‘average’ matinee audience would find it way beyond them, which explains why ‘Loves Labour’s Lost’ is rarely performed in the current era. Perhaps, we need the BBC to stage a production, because it needs dumbing down a bit?
Personally, I find Richard Mulcaster an interesting character, because he did more than any of the ‘blazers’, at the English Football Association, to create our modern game of ‘footeball’. Mulcaster was first to use the name in print, and then advocated it as a healthy past time for his pupils. He was also the first person to suggest the use of referees, player positions and the coaching of players. The painting below is of a game played in 1545, when the rules were more liberal in their interpretation…!!
Space for football must have been scarce in London, but maybe the gardens of the Earl of Sussex’s home provided a suitable open space, with his rose bushes taking a battering. Reportedly, when sides were selected, it was usual to select, ‘ruffs’ versus ‘non-ruffs’ – sons of Courtiers versus the Merchants.
Footeball had previously been banned in England, by Edward II, because the peasant classes had been neglecting their archery practice, and the ‘people’s game’ came under threat again when it was banned from the precincts of the City of London, during the 1590s. Perhaps the city fathers banned it because Mulcaster had been too successful in promoting the game, but more likely the boom in the population had put open space for pitches at a premium.
Other characters in my story that have connections to members of the Guild of Merchant Taylors include, Ralphe Crane, whose father was a member, whilst Anthony Cooke, father of the special girls, married the daughter of William Fitzwilliam, a Grand Master of the Merchant Taylor’s Guild. Social diarist, Henry Machyn was a Merchant Taylor and so too was Coleman Street inhabitant, Henry Brayne, the family who were in the theatre building business.
Those who attended the school include writers, Thomas Lodge, Edmund Spenser and Thomas Kyd, while there are several Blount connections, with father Ralphe being a Guild member and son Robert, one of the first pupils to attend the school, in 1561/62. The great entrepreneur, Thomas Smythe, was a pupil, the man who took Sara Blount as his wife. She later married Robert Sidney, brother of Philip.
It is not clear whether Edward Blount ever attended the school, but this seems to be a likely scenario, as his half-sister, Ursula, was buried in St Lawrence, Pountney, when she died, in 1577. Edward would have been fourteen years old at the time and was soon to begin his career as one of the early apprentices of William Ponsonby.
Then, there is the all-rounder, Matthew Gwinne, who attended both the school and St John’s College, elected to Oxford in 1574, so making him a contemporary of Peele, Gager and William Stanley.
William Cordell was the St Johns College ‘visitor’ and a financial supporter, from its inception until his death in 1581, bridging the Marian Gap, and ensuring the new centre of learning didn’t hit the buffers, when Elizabeth arrived on the scene. In fact the new queen and her Protestant paramour, Robert Dudley, took a more than healthy interest in the ‘Catholic’ college, as did her organiser-in-chief, William Cecil. If there was any sponsorship to be had, either at the college or the new school, then I’m sure Lord Burghley would have been involved somewhere.
So, the association between St Johns College and the Merchant Taylors schools bring some of our key players together. The association with John the Baptist and their do-gooding educational and social activities mean that this was far more than just another trade association. It has all the scent of an arm of the Knights Templar cum Hospitaller tradition, and a precursor, or perhaps an early rival, of the Freemasons, with the school being a mechanism for identifying any bright lads, who might be potential Rosicrucians.
There is also another circumstantial association of names, something I omitted to tell you earlier. The original building, built by Sir John Poultney, owned by the Earl of Sussex, and then purchased by the Guild of Merchant Taylors,
………… was previously known as the ‘Manor of the Rose’!!!
Jonson and Co. – masters of their craft
Shakespeare was a Yorkshireman
One of the original titles of this saga, I seriously toyed with, was, ‘Shakespeare was a Yorkshireman’. That might seem a crazy idea to the ‘Stratfordians’, but the white rose county was the birthplace of many in my cast, who later were to enjoy the trappings of success, when they moved south, to London and the Home Counties. Despite backing away from such a confrontational title, my ‘ensemble theory’ still maintains a strong Yorkshire element.
The Jagger family, from the Calder valley, I knew about, but then there were the family groups, the Peeles, the Saviles, the Nevilles, the Percys, and the lands inherited by the Cordell family. Many individuals also had a Yorkshire heritage, with John Cawood the Queen’s printer and numerous other publishers hailing from that neck of the woods. Note, that Yorkshire had the highest number of Knights Templar preceptories, and that York was the meeting place for an early embodiment of the Freemasons, the group known as the York Rite.
Apart from the influence of the Yorkshire tykes, there is the content of the Shakespeare canon itself.
I earlier mentioned the term, ‘Galloway nags’, a breed of horse used in the Pennines, but not seen further south, and then there is ‘A Yorkshire Tragedy’, a play that has the stamp of Shakespeare on the outside of the tin, if not on the interior. The play was entered on to the Stationers roll, on 2nd May 1608, and was published, soon afterwards, as a quarto, by Thomas Pavier, being printed by RB (Robert Barker). This is the King’s printer who empowered his Bible readers ‘to commit adultery’ and ended his days in prison. It was stated, on the cover, that ‘A Yorkshire Tragedy’ had been acted at the Globe Theatre by ‘His Majesty’s Players’, meaning our Shakespeare stalwarts, the Kings Men.
Thomas Pavier, who had earlier, in 1600, published ‘Sir John Oldcastle’, with no author, included ‘Yorkshire Tragedy’ in his 1619 ‘false folio’ project. The play was not included in the First or Second folio, but was included as part of the reprint in the 1664 edition. The theme of the play is very ‘un-Shakespeare-like’, not set in Italy, a royal court or some magical land, but based on an horrific domestic drama that took place at Calverley Hall in West Yorkshire. For this reason modern scholars doubt that Shakespeare wrote the play, and instead they point towards Londoner, Thomas Middleton, resident of Cat Eaton Street, as being the author.
The plot of ‘A Yorkshire Tragedy’, is based on the story of Walter Calverley, who was executed on 5th August 1605, for murdering two of his children and stabbing his wife. The crimes were a well-known scandal of the day and a pamphlet and a ballad were written, putting the story very much into the public domain. There being no obvious connection between either Shakespeare or Thomas Middleton, and Yorkshire, it does seem strange for this pair to be given the credit.
Calverley Hall – another building still standing
BUT – when you realise that this drama is set in the heart of Savile country, and only a few miles from Halifax then the subject matter makes a little more sense – at least in my interpretation of things. Add the fact that this is the same Calverley family who were involved in the Savile will of 1568, the one managed by William Cordell, and that a Calverley had married a Savile, then you realise that this horrific story meant so much more to my main characters than it did to the average citizen of the City of London or Stratford-upon-Avon.
In a drunken rage, Calverley stabbed his wife and killed two of his young children. He then rode to find his third son, who was being nursed elsewhere, but was stopped, en route, and taken to face Sir John Savile, the local magistrate. At his trial in York, Calverley declined to plead and was ‘pressed to death’, in one of those lovely medieval methods of torture that ended up as execution by default.
‘Peine forte et dure’ was a method of torture in which a defendant who refused to plead would have an increasing weight of stones placed upon his chest until he entered a plea, or suffocation occurred. There was a motivation for an accused to remain silent and not admit his guilt, because the family of an executed man automatically lost their lands, and any title he held. Sometimes these were later restored by the monarch, as happened to the Dudley family, but in the case of the Calverleys, their landholding remained intact with the family, because of the silence of the titleholder.
Interestingly, Lord Cobham’s family (the Brookes), who were descendants of Sir John Oldcastle, also became heavily involved in the drama. Young, Walter Calverley had been made a ward of another member of the Cobham family, on the death of his father, William Calverley. Pressure was put on Walter to renounce a local girl, to whom he was already engaged, and instead marry Phillipa Brooke, a granddaughter of Lord Cobham. Calverley ignored the advice and married the local girl anyway, but then took to drink and gambled away the family fortune. One of life’s familiar stories, I’m afraid….!!
The names Cobham, Brooke and Oldcastle are no strangers to the Shakespeare debate, as it is strongly proposed, by many ‘experts’, that one of the Bard’s most popular characters, Falstaff, was originally given the name ‘Oldcastle’. The lovable rogue was clearly based on the personality of William Brooke, 10th Lord Cobham, but the name of the character was changed after the son, Henry Brooke, the 11th Lord Cobham complained, although to whom he complained is uncertain. The connection between the two plays, ‘Sir John Oldcastle’ and a ‘Yorkshire Tragedy’ and the link to the three plays featuring Falstaff, (‘Henry IV 1&2’ and ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’) suggests that the authorship of all five Shakespeare dramas needs further consideration. This seems more than another coincidence, so perhaps they should be considered together, as a nap hand of the Bard’s plays.
Henry Brooke, 11th Lord Cobham, had taken as a wife, the daughter of another significant character, as he married Frances Howard the eldest daughter of Howard of Effingham. Remember this is the man that was in charge of the fleet in the Spanish Armada and sponsored his own troupe of actors, the Admiral’s Men, who were amongst the first to perform the early plays, later attributed to the Bard.
The Cecil family also poke their nose into this chapter, because Robert Cecil had married Elizabeth Brooke, a cousin of Phillipa. This further inter-linking of my characters might explain William Cecil’s honourable mentions, in the Savile wills, that were discussed earlier.
Complicated – just a little..!!
So, despite seemingly adding a few Yorkshire ‘extras’ to my cast, the reality is that any discussion of ‘Yorkshire Tragedy’, adds very few new names to the list of characters, with little need for extra scenery, new costumes or to add any new locations to my plot..
Another, more obscure Shakespeare connection, to Yorkshire, is via the legend of Robin Hood and that link was mentioned earlier, in reference to the village of Sowerby and the Savile, balladry, traditions.
‘George a Greene, the Pinner of Wakefield’, was a play published, anonymously, in 1599, but is generally attributed, again by the ‘experts’, to Robert Greene, the writer, who had died seven years earlier. The play is a re-working of the Robin Hood tale, and includes, as the main characters, King Edward and the Earl of Kendal, with the plot revolving around a rebellion in the North of England.
This ‘noble outlaw’ genre had been popular for over 100 years, and ‘ownership’ of the original Robin Hood fable is claimed by many, but they all seem to lead back to the Calder Valley and the Manor of Wakefield. The title, Earl of Kendal, used in the play, was extinct in 1593, but the previous holder had been one of our old favourites, John Beaufort, grandson of John of Gaunt. He married Margaret Beauchamp, but died in 1444, when their child Margaret Beaufort was only a few weeks old, leaving the mother to care for the child, alone. However, this is the Margaret Beaufort, who married Henry Tudor, and after decades of war and political intrigue, manifested into the Tudor dynasty.
Earliest depiction of Robin Hood – 1492
The ‘Pinner of Wakefield’ play was entered in the Stationers register, by Cuthbert Burby, on 1st April 1595, (the first publisher of ‘Loves Labours Lost’ involved again). According to Henslowe’s diary the play had been performed five times by the Earl of Sussex’s Men, in late 1593.
In a note on the flyleaf of an early copy of the ‘Pinner of Wakefield’, there is a mysterious entry.
‘written by ………. a minister, who acted the part of the Pinner himself. Tested Will Shakespeare.
And then another entry, ‘……… this play was written by Robert Greene’.
Why Robert Greene should be credited with this story seems odd. He was from Norwich and went to University in Cambridge and later took an M.A. at Oxford, in 1588, the same year that William Gager completed his law degree. Greene was a popular and prolific author, but his lifestyle excesses, brought his demise, in 1593. He has, of course, been mentioned in the ‘Groatsworth’ letter, as having a close friendship with George Peele, but what interest he would have in Wakefield affairs, seems unclear.
So, the ‘Pinner of Wakefield’ is another play which suggests there was an unknown Yorkshire hand on the quill pen. The place and the people again seem to show an obvious link to very many characters in my saga, and have leanings towards the history of the Beaufort family, but certainly not, to Robert Greene, or even, that man, William Shakespeare.
Blounts – everywhere you look
The name Blount will, forever, be associated with William Shakespeare, because Edward Blount’s name is emblazoned on the title page of the First folio. Discovering how and why he was linked to the project seems to be a major step in solving this mystery. Yet, for some unknown reason, discovering more, about one of the co-publishers of the First Folio, seems to have been a very low priority for modern Shakespeare investigators. Who was Edward Blount and how did he get involved?
Blount, often spelt ‘Blunt’, turns up in English history, with unexpected frequency. The name means ‘blond’, probably referring to ‘blond haired’, but is not a common name in the general population and ‘name maps’ point mainly towards the West Midlands. Earliest references place this family in Suffolk and Rutland, a clan descended from a family of Norman knights of the Conquest era.
The ‘le Blound’ family had been Lords of Guisnes, a manorial estate across the Channel, a few miles south west of Calais, and it was two brothers, Robert and William le Blound, who accompanied William of Normandy, during the invasion of 1066. Robert was given a manor at Ixworth, Suffolk, just north east of Bury St Edmunds, only a few miles from the Clopton and Clare lands, near Long Melford.
William le Blound was also gifted lands, in East Anglia, but the two branches became joined together a couple of generations later, when Stephen le Blound (Robert’s side) married his cousin, Maria le Blound (William’s side). Their eldest son, Robert (1202-28) married an heiress from Belton, a manor in Rutland, and it was their son, Ralph, who married Isabel from Hampton Lovett, in Worcestershire.
The Blount family of Belton, Rutland, came to the most gruesome of ends, in 1400, when Thomas Blount was executed, in Oxford, for supporting Richard II, during the ‘Epiphany Rising’, against Henry IV. The ‘terrorist’ group of Earls were betrayed by one of their fellow conspirators, Edward of Norwich, Earl of Rutland. Thomas Blount’s execution is notorious because, as the traitor’s bowels were being sliced open, he was being taunted by Thomas Erpingham, the king’s chamberlain, and later hero of Agincourt, with the dying Thomas Blount, retorting with his last breath by swearing an oath of loyalty to Richard II, his former monarch.
” Te Deum laudamus ! Blessed be the day on which I was born, and blessed be this day, for I shall die in the service of my sovereign lord, the noble King Richard”.
Thomas Blount’s cousin, Nicholas Blount, who aided him in the failed insurrection, escaped to Italy, and was outlawed by the new king, Henry IV. Nicholas entered the service of Galeazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan, and from 1401 to 1404, fought with the Milanese against Rupert, Emperor of Germany. He then returned to England and lived in concealment, until Henry IV’s death, in 1413. Nicholas and Thomas’ lands had been confiscated in 1400, but the Belton estate was passed on by the king to cousin, Walter Blount, the son of Sir John Blount of Sodington, and his second wife, Eleanor Beauchamp.
Cousin, Walter can be traced back to Stephen and Maria, via their second son, William le Blound. William married Isabella Beauchamp, from a noble family, who eventually became the Earls of Warwick. William and Isabella’s son, Walter (1265-1322) married Joanna, an heiress from Soddington, near Bewdley in Worcestershire, and in the next generation, their son John (1298-1358), first married Isolda of Mountjoy and secondly Eleanor Beauchamp, with whom he inherited the Belton lands.
John Blount’s two marriages created two distinct lines of the family and ones that cause some confusion during the Tudor era. One via first wife Isolda, was led by Walter (1350-1403) who were to become the Lords Mountjoy of Rock. The second line, by Eleanor was begun by John (1340-1423), who was the forerunner of Blounts who were to inhabit more diverse territory; Kinlet, in Shropshire, Mapledurham, Oxfordshire and estates in Staffordshire, including Blount Hall, near Uttoxeter.
It was always marriage that took the Blount men to new hunting grounds, and occasionally they re-tied the knot, by marrying back into their own kind, reuniting the two sides of the family by cousin marriages. Once the original Belton line was brought to a halt, in 1400, these Blount marriages moved the family epicentre, westwards, to the counties of Worcestershire and Shropshire.
Historians can’t always agree on the exact details of the Blount ancestral roll, but what we do know is that anyone who carried the Blount or Blunt name, during Shakespeare’s time, shared this same heritage. Again it is a profusion of Johns, and the choice of similar names, in parallel branches, which adds to the confusion. My research has tried to tease out the most likely pedigree, one that will lead us to the key figures of Shakespeare’s England, particularly trying to relate Edward Blount and his father, Ralphe, to those of that most influential arm, the Barons Mountjoy.
John Blount’s (1298-1358) line of the family figures strongly, in English history, generally, and Shakespeare’s history plays in particular. Walter ‘Blunt’ (1347-1403) featured, with Falstaff, in the Bard’s ‘Henry IV’, with Walter being killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury, supposedly, mistaken for the King, himself. Walter was a supporter of John of Gaunt, and in the revolt of 1400, sided with ‘Lancastrian’, Henry Bolingbroke (later Henry IV), against ‘Yorkist’ king, Richard II.
The Blount clan were, therefore, batting for both sides, Thomas of Belton for Richard II and John for Henry IV. This was an internecine dispute, which became the, ‘Wars of the Roses’ (1455-1487). Like many protagonists, the Blount allegiances switched sides, so that the grandson of Shakespeare’s Walter, another Walter Blount (1416-74), fought for the Yorkist king, Edward IV, at the bloody, Battle of Towton, (1461), and in 1465, was rewarded for his loyalty, being created, 1st Baron Mountjoy.
Mountjoy’s son, William Blount, pre-deceased him, killed at the Battle of Barnet, in 1471, again supporting the Yorkist side, so the Mountjoy title passed to his grandson, Edward Blount (1464-75), but he died as a youngster. The title, then, moved backwards, to his uncle John Blount and further generations of Mountjoys in this line, brings us right through to Elizabethan times, and familiar faces.
The last in the Mountjoy line was Charles Blount, the 8th Baron (1563-1606). He became involved with Penelope Devereux (1563-1607), sister of the Earl of Essex, and the love of Philip Sidney’s life. Penelope had been coerced into marrying Robert Rich, so in retaliation for her ‘enslavement’, she shared her lustful urges with Charles Blount, with whom she had a very open affair, producing at least three children. In her final years, she served as a Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Anne, the consort of King James I, and so, again, putting the Blount name close to the seat of power.
Penelope eventually divorced Rich and married her lover, Charles, (in December 1605), but their marriage broke canon law, and King James I banished them from the Royal Court, in disgrace, leaving Charles with no legitimate heir, and so the Mountjoy line died out.
Charles Blount (1563-1606) – Penelope’s lover
Charles’ cousin, Christopher Blount (1555-1601), was another notorious womaniser. Christopher was a member of the household of the Earl of Leicester, and then married our old friend, Lettice Knollys, mother of Robert and Penelope Deveroux, just a year after the death of her second husband, Robert Dudley. It has even been suggested that Blount and Lettice were long time lovers, and that she poisoned Robert Dudley, when he became suspicious of the affair. This made Christopher Blount, step-father to Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, and he became another Blount to lose his head, alongside his step-son, in the punishment metered out for the failed rebellion of 1601. Lettice lost both husband and son to the axeman.
The Blount family have a very poor track record in the league table of ‘rebellions’ – won one and lost four, with each defeat ending in the death of the combatant. That bad luck also extended to Shakespeare’s hero, Walter ‘Blunt’, who despite supporting the winning side, still lost his life, mistaken for King Henry IV.
Perhaps the most infamous of the carnally charged Blounts was, actually, a woman, Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ Blount (1502-40), the acknowledged mistress of Henry VIII, who produced his illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy. This proved to the satisfaction of ‘his majesty’, that a male heir was biologically possible and that a divorce from Katherine, of Aragon was necessary.
Bessie was from the Kinlet, Shropshire, branch of the family, not the Mountjoy line, her father being John Blount (1469-1531). The Kinlet line has a most interesting connection to Shakespeare himself, as it was Jocosa (Joyce) Blount, first cousin to ‘Bessie’, also from Kinlet, who married John Combe, which made her the grandmother of the man who left Shakespeare £5 in his will.
Yet again, Shakespeare’s World proves to be a small one..!
The next Blount connections, of relevance, are with the two Henry Nevilles (father & son). Their first cousin, Mary Neville (1544-1617), granddaughter of the ‘musketeer’, Edward Neville, married another Edward Blount, the brother of Christopher, (Lettice’s lover), in 1575. They were the sons of Thomas Blount and Mary Poley, a pairing of great interest to all Marlovians, because a member of the gang, who murdered Kit Marlowe, was Robert Poley, an ‘operative’ of spymaster, Francis Walsingham.
In June 1585, Robert Poley, was working for Christopher Blount, taking orders under the direction of Robert Dudley. Later that year, Poley was attached to the household of Philip Sidney, who had recently married Frances Walsingham, with the young couple living at the spymaster’s house in London. Mary and Robert Poley may well have been related, but probably not as brother and sister, as some Marlovians suggest, as the two Poleys were a generation apart.
The Blount family tree is still not set in stone, and causes confusion amongst even the most expert of historians. Therefore, it should be no surprise that the less well documented branches of the Blounts, have proved even more difficult to follow. London, during the 16th century, was the home to a large number of Blounts, nearly all with merchant credentials. However, although none have a clear place on the main Blount ancestral role, their status, and naming pattern, strongly suggests they are an offshoot from the Blounts of Blount Hall, Uttoxeter in Staffordshire.
Browsing through these disparate branches of the Blount family, there is a golden thread that connects them to the Bard’s play, ‘Richard II’. This is one of the two of the Bard’s plays that became re-branded in 1598, with the Shakespeare name, having been published anonymously the year before. Shakespeare gives Walter ‘Blunt’ a leading role, way beyond his actual status, whilst the play, gained added political significance, because, on the 7th Feb 1600/01, the day before his attempted ‘revolt’, the Earl of Essex sponsored a performance of ‘Richard II’. The subject matter of the play, features a government in turmoil and a king being removed by force, so it is thought, by many scholars, that the Earl of Essex was preparing the population for a change of monarch.
The Earl of Essex had tried to persuade Charles Blount, 8th Lord Mountjoy, head of the army in Ireland, to bring his troops home, and he also expected that the Sheriff of London, Thomas Smythe, would support him with a thousand men. Essex also had his step-father, Christopher Blount, amongst his close retinue of advisors and supporters.
However, when Essex took to the streets, on Sunday morning, 8th February, he found there was little support for his cause, and instead he discovered that Robert Cecil and the government supporters were ready for him. After capture, Essex hoped for forgiveness from Queen Elizabeth, but instead he was executed only three weeks later, with Christopher Blount, following him to the block.
We shall see the significance of Thomas Smythe’s involvement very shortly, but the Blount involvement in the revolt of 1600, takes us back to the fall of Richard II, himself, two hundred years earlier. Thomas Blount met his gory end for supporting King Richard, but his compatriot, Nicholas Blount escaped, later to return to England with a ‘nom de plume’, using the identity of ‘Croke’.
This was to become a significant name at the end of Elizabeth’s reign, as Sir John Croke (1553-1620) was the last speaker of the House of Commons (Oct-Dec 1601), before the Queen’s death, in 1603.
Speaker Croke was the son of John Croke of Chilton, near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, whilst his mother was Elizabeth Unton, daughter of Edward Unton, and therefore, the aunt of ‘portrait man’, Henry Unton. Speaker, John Croke, himself, brought the Blount name back into his family, by marrying Catherine Blount, daughter of Michael Blount, of the Mapledurham branch of the family.
So, this Croke – Blount marriage was in reality a Blount – Blount marriage, because five generations back we come to, our counter-revolutionary, Nicholas Croke, nee Blount. As it says in the chapter heading – Blounts were everywhere in Tudor England…!!
Before finally reaching the ‘First folio’ man, Edward Blount, there is another branch of the family which gets Shakespeare scholars excited. These are supporters of the candidature of the Earl of Oxford, who see great significance in his ownership of Fisher’s Folly, a house in Bishopsgate ward, London.
Margaret Bostock, the widow of Richard Blount, born in Blounts Hall, Uttoxoter, but who was living in Coleman Street at his death, was remarried to Jasper Fisher, previous owner of the ‘Folly’. There is a mention in Richard’s will of a cousin, Edward Blount, who many scholars believe is ‘the publisher’, so giving Oxford’s supporters another link to Shakespeare. However, my research shows this is a different Edward Blount, one from a much earlier generation.
Richard Blount’s aunt, Elizabeth, took as her second husband, Thomas Pope, a man of status, who founded Trinity College, Oxford. After Pope’s death, Elizabeth continued with the high life, taking Hugh Paulet, as her third husband. Hugh was the grand nephew of William ‘bendy willow’ Paulet, giving him Paulet cousins, who were married to the Cecil and Howard family, and another, Elizabeth Paulet, who married Edward Hoby. This means the ‘non-Mountjoy’ side of the Blount family were also major players in Tudor society.
Edward Blount, ‘our publisher’, has a family line which is equally mysterious, but there are a few clues, that might lead us to make an educated judgment. I am surprised that Shakespeare scholars, from all persuasions of the authorship debate, seem to spend very little time deciphering the life of Edward Blount, when he, obviously held a whole bunch of keys, that might open the Shakespeare strong box.
This general absence of data, prompted me to go back to basic genealogy principles, and so I set about undertaking a ‘one name’ search, scouring all the London records for Blount, Blunt, and similar spelling variations. This helped me uncover a number of ‘mini trees’, which seem to hang in isolation, but which are all connected in some way, by naming pattern, geography or occupation.
Ralphe Blunt, Edward’s father, was recorded living in the small London parish of St Lawrence Pountney parish, for close on twenty five years. Shakespeare scholars record Ralphe as being a ‘merchant’, but no-where have I seen more detail added to his pedigree.
However, in the London archives of birth, marriage and death,, his own family is well documented, but little else is known about him, apart from his being a member of the Guild of Merchant Taylors, and that he had an elder son, educated at the Merchant Taylors School, which was also situated in St Lawrence Pountney parish.
Amongst the other ‘hanging’ trees, we can see that there is always a William or a Thomas at the head, with the possibility that some are the same people, but in different marriages. The earliest dates take us back to a Thomas and William Blount, both ‘clothworkers’, probably born in the period 1515-20 and married in 1536 and 1539. The term ‘clothworker’ covers a multitude of terms, and the rapid expansion of London during the mid 16th century, meant businesses grew accordingly, with many ‘rags to riches’ stories amongst entrepreneurial types.
The parishes of St Mary, Bothaw and St Pancras, Soper Lane, were in the heart of the London business community, close to Cheapside and St Paul’s Cathedral and we can see how both parishes played a major part in the lives of the Blount ‘clothworkers’.
William Blount, who married Anne Brayne, in Coleman Street, initially seemed a possibility as the grandfather of Edward Blount, right place, right occupation and with a wonderful smooth passage to connect with the Brayne family, who built the ‘Theatre’ and the ‘Globe’. Now, with more information, my educated hunch is that William was more likely to be a great uncle rather than a grandparent.
William and Anne Brayne had an Anthony in their family and another Blount, living in London, was John Blount (1540-99), described as a ‘cloth worker’, in the parish records, and a resident of the Parish of ‘St Pancras, Soper Lane’, where he produced a large family of thirteen children, and again had an Anthony and Thomas in their family tree. There is also an additional clue that these two families are related, because they both record events that took place in St Michaels Church, Wood Street, a road running parallel to Coleman Street, and just to the west of the Guildhall.
There does, though, seem to be a social gap between this ‘Wood Street’, Blount family group and that of Ralphe (merchant taylor) and William (haberdasher). These two are of similar age, and have a good chance of being brothers.
William was the most common name in the population as a whole, and also in the Blount clan, with Willliam Blount (1478-1534) being 4th Baron Mountjoy. The name Ralphe, is totally absent anywhere in the Blount tree, with only one exception, Ralph le Blound being that very early migrant, from Belton Manor, Rutland, who travelled to marry a fair maid from Worcestershire.
The name Edward is far more widespread, present in several arms of the Blount family, and at significant moments. This suggests allegiance to the Yorkist king, Edward IV, and that suspicion is supported by a lack of the name Henry, until the time of Henry VIII. Richard also gets an airing in the 15th and 16th century, but only in the non-Mountjoy lineage. The Mapledurham branch uses Richard, but avoids Edward, who was used by Worcestershire roots. Naming your children sent many messages and so the use, or lack of same, clearly denotes allegiances to one side or the other.
My ‘one name’ research has allowed me to put more meat on the bone of the Ralphe Blount tree, but I still can’t find a birth record for him, or a number of other London Blounts, who I believe are, almost certainly, his potential brothers, uncles or father. Ralphe made two attempts to baptise a Thomas Blount, suggesting this was the name of his father or grandfather, or a deceased brother.
Edward names Robert as his first child, and there is a Robert in the line of John Blount, clothworker of St Mary, Bothaw. The records have plenty of holes, but the dates and naming patterns suggest that Ralphe could possibly be the son of Thomas Blunt, who married in St Mary, Bothaw, and therefore the brother of John, with another being William the haberdasher, born in 1536, whose first child was baptised in St Mary, Bothaw.
There are two marriages for Ralphe, who not unusually, remarried within weeks of being widowed. His own death and that of Margaret, his second wife, occurred within a few days of each other, in Aug/Sept 1571, leaving as orphans, an infant, Ursula, and one son, Edward, the future publisher. Ursula died in 1577, and was buried in St Lawrence, Poultney and Edward Blount began his apprenticeship with Ponsonby, not long afterwards.
Ralphe’s own list of children is long enough to tell a story, with Robert, Nicholas, Thomas, Thomas, Edward and Hugh, all baptised in his home parish. One might be seen as highly controversial, harking back to the days of Richard II, as Nicholas was the namesake of the Blount who absconded to Italy in 1403, and on his return, changed his name to Croke. Robert is the name of one of the original ‘le Blound’ brothers who arrived with William the Conqueror, whilst Thomas makes a frequent appearance in the Blount lineage, but perhaps significantly, it was Thomas Blount who was disembowelled, for supporting Richard II.
Edward came after the two boys named Thomas, but significantly, he arrived a few months after another Edward, born to, Ralphe’s potential brother, William Blount.
Finally, there there was one more boy, Hugh, born to Ralphe’s second wife, baptised 1568. The name Hugh, has no obvious link to the ancient Blount clan, but maybe prompted by that of Hugh Paulet, married to Elizabeth Blount, from Blount’s Hall, Uttoxeter. Richard Blount, who died when a resident of Coleman Street, was born in Blount’s Hall, and had brothers named Robert and Thomas and a cousin, Edward, a generation older than the publisher.
A couple of details to note, that help to confirm the validity of my thoughts about connections between these Blounts, is that St Mary, Bothaw, was a tiny parish with an average of only six births being recorded each year, with the Blounts making up a fair proportion of those records. ‘Mr’ Thomas Blount, a clothworker, had children baptised there, whilst William the haberdasher’s first son, Edward, was also baptised in St Mary, Bothaw, in 1562. They look like descendants from the Uttoxeter clan.
William’s, Edward Blount, was baptised some six months before that of Ralphe’s, Edward, offering a strong suggestion of brotherly love, as siblings frequently shared naming practices. These two baptisms help to tie the other ‘mini-trees’ together.
William Blount (haberdasher) and son, Edward were later described as ‘gent’, with this Edward Blount becoming a member of the Middle Temple. They become significant in this story, because they link to other key players, that are part of my solution to the Shakespeare conundrum.
Thomas Smythe, the sheriff of London, who the Earl of Essex thought would support him, took as his third wife, Sara Blount, who after she was widowed, married Robert Sidney. This Sara is a Blount that is confused with the more famous Mountjoy line, while some Shakespeare scholars suggest she was the granddaughter of Thomas Blount and Mary Poley, via their son, William. However, she has a much more likely pedigree, via William Blount, gent, who was a merchant of the City of London.
Sara Blount (1580-1656), as a fourteen year old, married Thomas Smythe, as his third wife, who by then was one of the richest men in England. Smythe had married in December 1589 and again in 1592, so it was third time lucky with Sara. Death in childbirth would be a likely cause for the demise for the first two wives, who departed in quick succession.
Thomas Smythe (1558-1625) attended Merchant Taylors School, in 1571, before becoming a Freeman of the Skinners’ Company (his grandfather’s trade) and then a member of his father’s guild, the more lucrative, Haberdashers Company. His wealth was such that, in 1588, he was able to lend Queen Elizabeth, the huge sum of £31,000, to help finance the English fleet, which defeated the Spanish Armada. In 1600, Smythe was appointed the first governor of the East India Company, possibly as a reward for his generosity, but also because of his decision NOT to join the Essex Rebellion.
After Thomas’ death, in 1625, Sarah Smythe, quite speedily, married Robert Sidney, Earl of Leicester, but he died a year later, leaving her a very rich widow for the final thirty years of her life.
Sara Blount, aged 19
Her connection to William Blount, the haberdasher, rather than the Mountjoy side, is likely because of the trades and the mutual wealth of both her father and her first husband. I haven’t found a baptism for Sara, but her ‘brother’, Edward Blount, received a university education and became a lawyer of the Middle Temple. Apart from adding confusion to the Blount tree, this other Edward adds a marriage that may be of interest to the Shakespeare diehards.
In 1595, Edward Blount, the lawyer, married Sephima Dermer, the daughter of William Dermer, alias Dormer, a scrivener, but also a gent of the Middle Temple, who had died in 1593. The Dormers were a well-to-do, family with one lady in particular acting as the glue, linking disparate people together.
She was Katherine Dallam (1516-63), nee Collier, nee Pakington, nee Dormer, the widow of Michael Dormer, mayor of London in 1541, who died in 1545. This lady pops up everywhere, in online searches, including in articles about the Earl of Oxford, in connection to the ‘Langham Letter’, which described the 1575 ‘state visit’ of Queen Elizabeth to Robert Dudley, at Kenilworth.
‘Last will and testament, dated 24 May 1562, of Katherine, Lady Dormer, second wife of Robert Pakington, maternal great-uncle of Humphrey Martyn, addressee of the Langham Letter’
Katherine’s marriage into the Dormer household brought her into contact with a number of familiar names, particularly the Sidney family, as William Dormer had married Mary Sidney, the elder sister of Henry Sidney of Penshurst. After Mary’s death, William Dormer took a second wife and it was via a grandson of this union that things begin to get more interesting again.
The great interest shown by the supporters of the Earl of Oxford seems to be primarily because of events closely linked to the time of the creation of the ‘First folio’. Susan, youngest daughter of Edward de Vere, married Philip Herbert and their elder daughter, Anna, in 1625, married Robert Dormer (1610-43), the grandson mentioned above.
Susan Herbert (1587-1629) is regarded, by many Oxfordians, as a likely keeper of the sacred Shakespeare manuscripts, perhaps the ‘grand possessor’ (herself), and a key figure behind the whole Shakespeare conspiracy. This would seem unlikely, because she was only ten years old when the plays first bore the Shakespeare name. However, I have little doubt that she would have been aware of the ‘conspiracy’ to market the ‘pseudonym’ and may have taken an active interest in the actual creation of the ‘First folio’. Mention of the 1623 folio, inevitably leads us back to the Blount family and how they might link to the Sidneys, Dormers and De Veres.
Some husbands put restrictive covenants in their wills, aimed at preventing their widowed wife remarrying or squandering the wealth, they had so carefully accumulated. Michael Dormer’s will wasn’t like that, as he told his widow, Katherine, ‘to take her pastime therein, to make merry with my friends and hers.’ How has this anything to do with Edward Blount’s marriage to Sephima Dermer/Dormer?
Well, an alias was often used where the parentage of the holder was in doubt, usually because of an illegitimate birth and there are those well known spelling mistakes by the clerics. There is a record of a birth for a William ‘Dormor’, in St Lawrence Jewry in 1550, but with no father mentioned. Thirteen years later, in the same church, there is a death for a Lady ‘Dormor’, in 1563.
This is Lady Katherine Dormer, herself, and my suspicion is that some fourteen years earlier, the widow was ‘making merry’ with one of her husband’s old friends and so producing an extra son, a William Dermer, which the cleric called ‘Dormor’.
So, I believe that Edward Blount, the Middle Temple lawyer, had married the granddaughter of Lady Katherine Dormer. This is the same church and during the same period where the Jagger name was transposed into Jaggar and then Jaggard.
Does that have any relevance to ‘our’ namesake, Edward, the publisher? Well, as I said before, it was not uncommon for brothers to duplicate the names of sons in their own family, and with William a haberdasher and Ralphe a merchant taylor, both men were of equal standing in the community, and so for both to use the name Edward within months of each other tends to show a common bond.
With Edward ‘the publisher’ becoming an orphan, as an eight year old, in 1571, it would make sense that he was sent as a ward, to a member of his Blount cousins’ family circle, and there were plenty to choose from in the Dormer/Sidney melange. To then end up as an apprentice with William Ponsonby, favourite publisher of the Countess of Pembroke, seems a simple step to imagine.
Edward Blount (1562/3 – 1632)
Father was Ralphe Blunt, a London Merchant Taylor.
Many famous members of Blount family – lead back to Worcestershire, Staffordshire & Rutland.
Blounts connected by marriage to the Sidney, Dudley, Neville, Brayne and Combe families.
Orphaned at age of 8 – nothing more known till age of 15.
Apprenticed to William Ponsonby, 1578-88 – publisher of Sidney family & Spencer’s ‘Fairie Queen’.
Co-published, with Isaac Jaggard, Shakespeare’s First folio in 1623.
Registered 16 Shakespeare’s plays for first time, in 1623.
Published John Florio’s Italian-English dictionary.
Published anthology ‘Love’s Martyr’ in 1601, which included Shakespeare’s ‘Phoenix and the Turtle’
Registered ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’ and ‘Pericles’ in 1608.
Published in tandem with Samuel Daniel, Ben Jonson, James Mabb & Leonard Digges.
Friend of Thomas Thorpe, sonnet publisher, and started him in book business.
Thorpe had been apprenticed to Richard Watkins, so connecting to James Roberts & the Jaggards.
Member of Ben Jonson’s Mermaid Club.
(The Mermaid Club, sometimes known as the Friday Street Club, has taken on somewhat mythical status amongst students of the Bard. It was said to have been founded by Walter Raleigh, but that after his confinement in the Tower, was led by Ben Jonson. The group of writers, and like minded friends, met at the Mermaid Tavern, the location of which is still in doubt, but is said to have had entrances in both Friday Street and Bread Street, near the main thoroughfare of Cheapside, east of St Paul’s).
Ben Jonson (1572-1637)
Edward Blount was one loose end that needed to be tidied up, and another who needs clarification, is someone who may, indeed, be the guardian-in-chief of the Shakespeare secret, the author, Ben Jonson. Here is another man who appeared from a misty beginning, but quickly emerged to become one of the best known literary characters of the period. Jonson was thought to be the ‘posthumous’ son of a Scottish clergyman, whose mother then remarried, to a bricklayer. However, this does not explain how Ben Jonson was lucky enough, to be educated at Westminster School, under the tutorage of William Camden. This piece of good fortune is said to be thanks to the generosity of a ‘friend’ who paid for his place at the exclusive school. I think we all need friends like that..!
After he had completed his schooling, at Westminster, there is a suggestion that Jonson briefly tried his hand at his step-father’s bricklaying trade, before moving on to serve as a soldier in the Netherlands. After he returned to London, Jonson took to the theatre, becoming an actor with Henslowe’s, Admiral’s Men, the troupe sponsored by the Howard family.
From then onwards his life was never a quiet one, and, in 1597, Jonson was imprisoned for his part in the ‘Isle of Dogs’ scandal when the play of that name, a satirical comedy by himself and Thomas Nashe, was banned by the Privy Council, for being ‘very seditious and scandalous’. Jonson was imprisoned for ‘Leude and mutynous behavior’., as a warning to other playwrights, and all the London theatres were closed for the remainder of the summer.
Ben Jonson – © National Portrait Gallery, London
Worse things followed, because, in 1598, Jonson was tried for murder, after killing a fellow actor in a duel. Jonson pleaded ‘benefit of clergy’, which exempted clerics from criminal prosecution, although it was his deceased father who was the religious man. He was briefly imprisoned instead of being hanged, but all his possessions were confiscated.
Jonson’s writing proved more successful than his acting and he became popular amongst the burgeoning masses, which flocked to the theatre in the late 1590s. His first success was ‘Every Man in his Humour’, in which Shakespeare was said to be a leading actor. ‘Every Man’ features scenes set at the Windmill Tavern, at the Coleman Street crossroads. Jonson took up writing masques, (an elaborate festive entertainment), for the Court of King James and co-operated with Inigo Jones on the stage sets, for many productions. He also had strong connections to the Sidney family, gaining patronage from Elizabeth Sidney and Mary Wroth.
All Ben Jonson’s major plays had been written by 1616, when a folio of his complete works was published. This was the first folio book to include stage plays, a genre which previously had been treated as disposable ephemera. The attitude to stage plays was not unlike the approach to early television programs, often not recorded or if they were, the tapes being re-used, destroying the original.
Ben Jonson was said to be, the leader of a group of like minded wits, who met, amongst other places, at the Mermaid Tavern. Here the fantasy of the Stratford guide book begins, because there are stories, written years later by Thomas Fuller, suggesting Jonson and Shakespeare engaged in debates, discussing, as Douglas Adams might say, ‘life the universe and everything’.
The ‘bricklaying’ Scotsman had a wild outgoing personality and some of his literary offerings, which relate to William Shakespeare, seem as though they were written by a man with a belly full of beer and his tongue firmly lodged in his cheek. Ben Jonson contributed two poems to the preface of the ‘First folio’, with his introductory poems give a, generally, fulsome view of the man from Stratford, despite suggesting he had ‘small Latine, and lesse Greeke’. Jonson also talks about the ‘sweet swan of Avon’, and the ‘soul of the age’, all of which plays a major part in William of Stratford’s biography.
Ben Jonson must be in the very centre of any Shakespeare conspiracy theory, not only because he wrote so vividly in 1623, but because he knew everyone else involved and they knew him. In January 1621/22, a banquet was held at York House to mark Francis Bacon’s 60th birthday. This seems to have been a celebration by the Rosicrucian and Masonic friends of Bacon, and it is said that Jonson presented a Masonic ode to the birthday boy, during the dinner. Jonson also held a post at Gresham College during the time of the printing of Shakespeare’s folio, yet he had none of the necessary skills to be a tutor there, except perhaps as ‘Professor of Rhetoric’.
Shakespeare’s work may not have been directly authored by Jonson, but as we will see in the next section, he may have been an editor-in-chief, perhaps a compiler, proof reader and general improver. In many ways, Ben Jonson seems to be acting as a representative of the guardians, the ‘grand possessors’, perhaps the ringmaster, the orchestral conductor, the Master of Ceremonies, the acceptable face of those who wanted to remain unknown to the population at large.
Who’s Kyding who..??
There is one major literary figure who has so far been omitted from this account, but now, as the result of recent revelations, I realise should be moved closer, towards centre stage. The biography of Elizabethan playwright, Thomas Kyd, picks up on the many ‘coincidences’, which hold my story together, and his presence on the scene adds weight to the idea that ‘Shakespeare’ just has to be a multi persona, co-operative venture. If I was to look for a ‘perfect’ example to demonstrate my case then Thomas Kyd is ‘that man’.
His most famous play, ‘The Spanish Tragedy’, known originally as ‘Hieronimo’, and variously as ‘Jeronimo’ or ‘Hieronimo is mad againe’, follows a very similar life cycle to several of the early plays, later attributed to William Shakespeare. Kyd’s own biography remains a mystery, in places, but it certainly rubs him right up against the key characters, who I believe are relevant to the creation of EARLY versions of Shakespeare’s plays.
My re-assessment of Thomas Kyd’s role has come late in the day and the penny dropped when I was alerted to an article, by American journalist, Mollie Driscoll, where she commented on research by Professor Douglas Bruster, University of Texas. In this work, published in August 2013, Bruster claims that the 325 lines later added to ‘The Spanish Tragedy’, in 1602, some eight years after Kyd’s death, were written by the Bard himself…!!
Bruster’s claim is built on work published in 2012, by Brian Vickers, who is one of the current academics undertaking the latest computer interrogation of the words of the Swan of Avon. The suggestion is, therefore, that the Shakespeare ‘style’, identified across a range of plays, matches that found in the enhanced version of ‘Hieronimo’.
Full details of the life of Thomas Kyd and the creation of his most famous play are both still open to much debate, but compared with the Shakespeare chronology, there is more evidence, and a modicum of agreement, as to how both Kyd and his works arrived on the literary scene.
‘The Spanish Tragedy’ is believed to have been written between 1585 and 1588, dated from a number of sources, including Ben Jonson, who wrote, in 1614, that about ‘five and twenty or thirty years had elapsed’ since its creation. This makes it one of the earliest of the Elizabethan ‘revenge’ plays, full of murder and bloodlust, holding true to the traditional Senecan model.
‘The Spanish Tragedy’ was entered into the Stationer’s Register, with no author, on 6th October 1592, by the bookseller Abel Jeffes and arrived in print a few weeks later. Confusion reigns because also before the end of 1592, there was a version printed by Edward Allde, but published by a rival bookseller, our old friend, Edward White, who a couple of years later became involved with the earliest versions of ‘Titus Andronicus’ and ‘King Leir’. (Remember, these 1594 versions of ‘Titus’ and ‘Leir’ appeared on the scene several years before they gained a connection with Shakespeare.)
Only a few weeks later, in December 1592, the Stationers Company ruled that Jeffes and White had both broken the Guild regulations, by printing works that belonged to the other. They fined both men, ten shillings and ordered all the quartos to be destroyed, although one is known to have survived a fiery end, now to be found in the British Library, in London.
1593 version (Allde) 1599 version (White)
‘Hieronimo’, as it was frequently called, became popular, so was reprinted, legally, in 1594, this time as a joint edition, published by Abel Jeffes, ‘to be sold by Edward White.’ Five years later, on 13th August 1599, Jeffes transferred his copyright to William White, who issued the third edition of ‘The Spanish Tragedy’, later that year. William White in turn transferred the copyright to Thomas Pavier, on 14th August 1600, and Pavier issued the fourth edition (printed for him by William White), in 1602. It is this 1602 edition of ‘Hieronimo’, which featured the 325 lines of additional text.
Corrected, amended and enlarged versions in 1602 and 1615 – by Thomas Pavier
Thomas Pavier, of course, was another involved in the publishing of Shakespeare plays and particularly the ‘apocrypha’, (Sir John Oldcastle and Yorkshire Tragedy) but most notably for the production of the ‘False folio’, in 1619, as a joint venture with printer, William Jaggard, who three years later gained the contract for the ‘First folio’. Pavier is noted for always giving Shakespeare credit for his works, but he is a character viewed with a large degree of scepticism by many modern scholars.
William White is also a significant name in the Shakespeare canon, as he printed, ‘Loves Labours Lost’, in 1598, the very first play to bear the ‘Shakespeare’ name from its inception.
Philip Henslowe held the performance rights to ‘The Spanish Tragedy’ from at least 1591/92, and is documented frequently in his account books. The earliest recorded performance is by Lord Strange’s Men, who performed a play called ‘Jeronimo’, on 14th March 1591/92, at the Rose Theatre. This first performance was, actually, by an amalgamated troupe of players, which included both Strange’s Men and the Admiral’s Men. There were twenty recorded performances before 22nd January 1592/93, but the advent of plague in London curtailed the show for the remainder of 1593.
‘The play was a box-office success at the time with twenty-nine performances between 1592 and 1597, a record almost unsurpassed among [Henslowe’s] his plays. The publication record is still more impressive, with at least eleven editions between 1592 and 1633, a tally unequalled by any of the plays of Shakespeare.’ (J. R. Mulryne)
‘The Spanish Tragedy’ also became a big hit abroad, being performed right across Protestant Europe, from Denmark to southern Germany.
The play saw an instant and almost terminal demise after the theatres were closed by Oliver Cromwell, in 1642, and only one performance is recorded from the Restoration of Charles II, in 1660, until the 20th century. It has never been revived on a regular basis, so both Kyd and his ‘Hieronimo’ might be seen as a hazy milestone of history, rather than a living piece of English drama. That seems strange in the extreme, is that it was one of the leading plays of the Elizabethan theatre.
‘The Spanish Tragedy’ is set about the year 1580, at the end of the war between Spain and its breakaway province of Portugal. Many elements, such as the ‘play within a play’ and a ‘ghost intent on vengeance’, also appear in Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’, and Kyd’s play is frequently given the credit for inspiring the Bard in his most famous work – but, as usual with anything to do with Shakespeare – things aren’t quite that simple..!
When we look more closely at the origins of Shakespeare’s Danish play, which didn’t appear on the stage till 1599, and in print, till the early 1600s, we find there are records of earlier versions and early contemporary mentions, of the name ‘Hamlet’.
The fully documented time-line for ‘Hamlet’, follows a not dissimilar path to that of ‘King Leir/Lear’, starting life in the late 1580s, and only being published under the Shakespeare label during the first decade of the 17th century. To square the circle, we find that Thomas Kyd is now given credit for some parts of an early ‘King Leir’, a play which, true-blue, Stratfordians insist has absolutely nothing to do with a play with an unerringly similar name.
The earliest reference to the name ‘Hamlet’, is in 1589, when Thomas Nashe, mentions it in his introduction to Robert Greene’s, ‘Menaphon’, and he suggests a connection to Thomas Kyd. A record of a performance of ‘Hamlet’ appears in Philip Henslowe’s diary for 1594, while in 1596, Thomas Lodge wrote of ‘the ghost which cried so miserably at the theatre, like an oyster-wife, Hamlet, revenge!’ All these are at least three years before Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ arrived on the scene, in 1599.
The Stratfordians, of course, suggest that these are early versions of Shakespeare’s own play, written by the man himself. They support their claim because, just like the ‘King Lear’, quartos published in 1603 and 1604, each are different to the folio version of 1623, suggesting the Bard was continually revising over time, but overlooking the fact that their hero had died in 1616.
Shakespeare’s name was actually not attached in print to any play before 1597, so evidence to support the Stratfordian case for an early version of ‘Hamlet’ is non existent before that time. Their defence to this obvious oversight, is that the early versions of all the Bard’s plays, were unauthorised by the great man, and so the blame for publishing this early, ‘corrupted’, work is placed squarely on the shoulders of those disgraceful, charlatans, the publishers and printers.
Those of you who have been following my extended treatise will realise that Edward White, James Roberts, Thomas Creede, William Jaggard, his son, Isaac and others, were actually not part of the problem, but offer a solution to understanding the whole Shakespeare conundrum. Some people say you should follow the money, perhaps in Shakespeare’s case, you should also follow the printers..!
So, ‘The Spanish Tragedy’, ‘Hamlet’ and ‘King Leir/Lear’ follow not dissimilar pathways, each beginning life in the 1580s as anonymous works, and taking more than a decade to gain any sort of attribution. We could perhaps add ‘Titus Andronicus’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ to that list, again following a familiar pattern, taking over a decade to gain an author.
It is also worth remembering that Thomas Kyd never did have his name attached to what is now regarded as his most famous play, as the illustrations of the quartos demonstrate.
Douglas Bruster’s recent, 2013, contribution suggests that it was ‘William Shakespeare’ who added the extra 325 lines to ‘The Spanish Tragedy’. He bases this on ‘parallels in words and phrases’ between these added lines and other works attributed to Shakespeare, paying homage to Brian Vickers, for steering him in the right direction.
However, in Henslowe’s diary of accounts, there is clear and unequivocal credit given to Ben Jonson, for writing the additional lines. Henslowe is often seen as a ‘fly in the ointment’ for the Stratfordians, because despite this being a great contemporary source for literary scholars, he fails to mention the name ‘Shakespeare’, not even once. So, when Henslowe’s notes don’t fit the present day Stratfordians view of the world, they find an excuse and suggest he must have been ‘mistaken’.
However, the evidence to support Ben Jonson’s input is strong, because there are actually TWO mentions by Henslowe, both of which seem to irrefutably point towards Jonson being responsible for the enlarged edition of ‘The Spanish Tragedy’.
‘Lent vnto mr alleyn the 25 of september 1601 to lend vnto Bengemen Johnson vpon his writtinge of his adicians in geronymo the some of iil.’
On Friday 25th Sept 1601, Philip Henslowe advanced Edward Alleyn the sum of £2 for Ben Jonson to write additions to ‘Geronymo’.
And then in June the following year:
‘Lent vnto bengemy Johnsone at the a poyntment of E Alleyn & William Birde the 22 of June 1602 in earneste of a Boocke called Richard crockbacke & for new adicyons for Jeronymo the some of xl.’
(Edward Alleyn was one of the greatest actors of the time and was also Henslowe’s son-in-law and financial partner. William Birde was an actor and business affiliate of both Alleyn and Henslowe.)
This meant Henslowe had paid Ben Jonson the grand total of twelve pounds; for the revision of an existing play and the creation of a new book. This was a substantial sum, and the cost becomes greater because NO such play or published work by Ben Jonson, with the title, ‘Richard (III) Crockbacke’, is known to have existed, although a play by William Shakespeare certainly does…!!
‘Richard III’ is another of the Bard’s plays that began life, anonymously, appearing in the playhouses, as early as 1591 and was one of the very first to receive the Shakespeare branding in 1598. Was Ben Jonson also being paid to revise this play as well? There would seem to be little point in having two plays bearing similar names, on the market.
In 2012, Brian Vickers, using ‘computer technology’, concluded the additional lines were ‘written by Shakespeare’, and another professor, Eric Rasmussen, University of Nevada, ‘said the combination of evidence may be as close as the scholarly world will come to definitive proof that the lines were written by England’s most famous playwright’. ‘It has his fingerprints all over it’, said Rasmussen.
Obviously, these experts know better and Henslowe, who was there at the time, must have been mistaken… twice !!
The Stratfordians are so excited over their new discovery that they are intent on adding ‘The Spanish Tragedy’ to the repertoire of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
To my untutored eye, the evidence looks unequivocal that Henslowe believed Ben Jonson wrote the ‘new adicyons’, to ‘The Spanish Tragedy’, in 1602, because that is what he paid good money for. So if modern day scholars think these lines were written by Shakespeare, then quid, pro, quo, these experts must, therefore, believe that Ben Jonson is Shakespeare…!!
Somehow these present-day ‘experts’ seem to miss this obvious conclusion and somehow turn the evidence right on its head. How bizarre??
So far, there are several things in this matter which seem obvious to me.
The early version of ‘Hieronimo’, and an early version of Hamlet, which both date from the mid to late 1580s, were written by two different people, but ones who knew each other and took inspiration from each other. It doesn’t make sense that the same writer used a similar plot in two different plays.
If Kyd wrote ‘Hieronimo’ and didn’t write the early ‘Hamlet’, then who did? His friends and literary acquaintances, Lodge, Peele, Green or Marlowe seem the obvious choices, but then the ‘Phoenix Nest’ pot pourri of writers offers a host of other possibilities.
Thomas Lodge was the great traveller of this period, reaching as far as South America, but there were others, scientists and musicians, who had well documented connections with Denmark.
If Ben Jonson was upgrading a play by Thomas Kyd, and this is thought to be in the style of William Shakespeare, then why isn’t Jonson being actively proposed to have a wider role by the Stratfordians, – perhaps as their ‘editor-in-chief’. He was a key player in the production of the ‘First folio’, so why aren’t his credentials being lauded now, instead the opposite is true. Ignoring the acknowledged authenticity of Henslowe’s diary of accounts seems to me to be an obvious schoolboy error.
The provenance of the early ‘Hieronimo’, the early ‘Hamlet’, the early ‘King Leir/Lear’ and the original version of ‘Titus Andronicus’ each follow a similar, if not exact pathway, and you could easily imagine they were created by the same discreet cabal of people, all who knew each other well.
Finally, we have two plays set abroad, one in Spain and the other in Denmark, each originally conceived during a similar period, (1583-9), which was a time when Shakespeare was beginning to enjoy married life in Stratford-upon-Avon, with no evidence to show he ever visited such exotic places.
And. we have the name ‘Jeronimo’, which you may recall, belonged to one of the founding fathers of the Bassano family, those (Spanish) Sephardi Jews, who became highly influential, in Tudor England.
‘The play’s the thing’, some might say, but that is only one side of the ‘Affair of the Spanish Tragedy’. The next pertinent question we might ask is, does the personal biography of the proposed author, Thomas Kyd, fit well into our established group of Oxford wits, give him membership of the Merchant Taylor Old Boys Association, and offer close relationships to all the relevant members of the aristocracy, those who must have been involved in creating the ‘Shakespeare’ persona ..??
Well, of course it does….!!
‘Thomas, son of Francis Kydd, Citizen and Writer of the Courte Letter of London’.
Thomas Kyd, the son of Francis Kyd, was born in November 1558 and died in August 1594.
His father, Francis Kydd was a scrivener and in 1580 was elected Warden of the Scriveners Company, a guild who were originally known, as the ‘Mysterie of Writers of the Court Letter’.
Scriveners were the official notaries (note-takers) of the Royal Court, and the only people allowed to offer such services, within the City of London. Apart from their writing abilities and understanding of the English language they would also have needed a degree of fluency in the various ‘Court’ languages; Latin, French, Spanish and German, plus a thorough knowledge of legal terminology.
Thomas Kyd began as a pupil at the recently founded, Merchant Taylor’s School, in 1565. His age made him a contemporary of notable writers; Thomas Lodge, also born 1558, whilst Edmund Spenser was an older pupil at the same academy. Unlike many of the pupils of headmaster, Richard Mulcaster, Thomas Kyd did not move on to university, and there are two letters attributed to Kyd, which suggest he had inherited his father’s ‘scrivening’ skills, and he may have taken up an occupation as a scribe.
Little is known about Kyd’s other work, although he is given credit for contributing, at least in part, to an early version of ‘King Leir’, and plays of the Shakespeare apocrypha; ‘Edward III’ and ‘Arden of Faversham’. Thomas Kyd was supposed to have shared lodgings with Christopher Marlowe, during the early years of the 1590s. Some of Kyd’s plays may have been collaborations with Marlowe, but the Bard’s supporters increasingly want to claim a share of the credit for their man.
If ‘Shakespeare’ is, indeed, a pseudonym for a cabal of writers, then perhaps, we do need a third or even fourth member to be involved with these very early versions. The missing hands would probably be friends of Kyd and Marlowe and likely to be part of the Mulcaster set. Thomas Lodge was one such person, but the early 20th century scholar, Tucker Brooke, believed that George Peele had written ‘Edward III’.Robert Greene would seem to be an essential member of this group, as all had clear associations, but none of this eminent quartet survived past 1596, just as the era of William Shakespeare was about to dawn.
From 1587 to 1593, Thomas Kyd was in the service of an unidentified nobleman. We know this because after his imprisonment, in 1593, he wrote of having lost ‘the favours of my Lord, whom I haue servd almost theis vi yeres nowe’. Christopher Marlowe also worked for the same employer from 1591 and this is when the pair shared lodgings in London. Suggestions as to their employer involve the usual suspects; Earl of Pembroke, Lord Strange and the Earl of Oxford, but there is also a fresh name to contend with – the Earl of Sussex.
Thomas Kyd had been arrested on 12th May 1593, on the order of the Privy Council, for denying the existence of ‘the eternal deity of Jesus Christ’. Christopher Marlowe was also questioned as to whether he had agnostic beliefs, and it was only a few days later, that he was murdered in Deptford. Thomas Kyd was eventually released from prison, without charge, but was not taken back by his employer, an atheist being unemployable during that time.
In Kyd’s last publication, ‘Cornelia’, which appeared early in 1594, his dedication to the Countess of Sussex, alludes to the ‘bitter times and privy broken passions’, he had endured. Kyd died later that year, and was buried on 15th August 1594, in London, aged only 35 years.
That last dedication might offer a strong clue as to the identity of his ‘unknown’ employer, because the Countess he is referring to is Brigit Morison, the wife of Robert Radclyffe, the 5th Earl of Sussex (1573-1629). It is important to note, that Robert and Brigit had only succeeded to their lavish titles, on 4th December 1593, on the death of the father, Robert Radclyffe, 4th Earl of Sussex (1530-1593).
It would seem from the tone of the dedication, that Kyd knew the couple well, and had been a servant in the Sussex household, a likely role being as personal secretary, because of his scrivener skills. It was the 4th Earl of Sussex who sold part of his property, the ‘Manor of the Rose’, in Suffolk Lane, London, which became Merchant Taylors School and Thomas Kyd had been a pupil of the school.
The 5th Earl of Sussex’s grandmother had been Elizabeth Howard, daughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, so tying the Radclyffe family into those two, ill-fated, Queens of Henry VIII; Katherine Howard and Anne Boleyn. The 5th Earl’s aunt was Frances Radclyffe, Countess of Sussex (1531-89), and the inheritance had only passed, sideways, to his father, Thomas Radclyffe, the 4th Earl, because the 3rd Earl had been childless.
Frances Radclyffe’s maiden name was Sidney, being the sister of Henry Sidney, making her the aunt of Philip, Robert and Mary Sidney and so plunging Thomas Kyd into the centre of our band of Shakespeare wannabees. As we saw in the Blount pages, Frances’ sister, Mary married William Dormer, drawing the Blount family into that same equation.
Robert Radclyffe – 5th Earl of Sussex (1573-1629)
Before his elevation, the 5th Earl of Sussex, had been known as Viscount Fitzwalter, and was a well known patron of the arts, as was his wife, Brigit. The couple had received dedications from Robert Greene, shortly before that poet’s death, and so to see Kyd dedicating his last work to the freshly ennobled Countess, demonstrates this was a close circle of patrons and writers. Kyd’s, pleading, dedication strongly suggests that the Radclyffe family were his previous employers.
Kyd’s dedication to the Countess was in ‘Cornelia’, his translation taken from a French version by of a Senecan play, by Robert Garnier, in a style much admired by the Sidney family. In fact, Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, had made her own translation of another of Garnier’s works, ‘Marc Antoine’, in 1592, and so Kyd’s work may have hoped to (re)gain favour in the wider Sidney household. The subject matter, of ‘Cornelia’, the ‘fall of the Roman Republic’, was relevant to the politics of the day, alluding to the underlying insecurity of late Elizabethan England.
The plot of, ‘The Spanish Tragedy’, has obvious links to the Sidney family, who had strong Iberian associations, and had acted as go-betweens between Spain and England, both during the time of Catholic Queen Mary and later with her Protestant sister, Queen Elizabeth.
The play seems to have been written before the 1588 Armada set sail, so composed at a time when the future of the relationship between England and Spain was still uncertain. Writing anonymously, Kyd must have been confident in writing such a play, but as the play became very popular he must have feared for his future. His worst fears were being realised, as Kyd became the victim of what seem to be ‘trumped up’ charges, his best friend was then murdered in mysterious circumstances, and his previous patrons deserted him.
With Marlowe’s mysterious death, and Greene already gone, then Kyd’s demise, in 1594, cleared the decks of three potentially troublesome writers. The final member of the quartet, George Peele, had gone by the end of 1596, so perhaps it is no wonder that a pseudonym needed to be created, if wider political thought was to be freely exercised, both in the theatre and on the printed page.
Is this Thomas Kyd – maybe ??
So, Kyd’s influence on the Shakespeare genre seems to extend further than just loose connections to ‘Hamlet’ and ‘King Lier’. (Freudian slip..?!). Should, indeed, ‘The Spanish Tragedy’ have been added to the Shakespeare apocrypha centuries earlier? The play, like a whole raft of early Shakespeare creations, might have been a prime candidate to have its authorship ‘officially’ promoted, from ‘anonymous’ to ‘Shake-spere’, in 1597, but it wasn’t, and this honour has had to wait until the 21st century, in another case of academic rebranding – this one voted a ‘hit’.
Thomas Kyd remains a mysterious character, with major gaps in his biography, but his plays and his personal associations put him in the heart of any discussion about a Shakespeare conspiracy. He is one of the few figures that are currently being acknowledged, by present day Stratfordians, as a writing accomplice to their hero. However, by my calculations, by the time of his death in 1594, Kyd would never have heard the name William Shakespeare associated with a play, possibly never heard of the name at all. The scrivener’s son, died three years before ‘Shakespeare’ had his name attached to a play.
Vows of Silence
St Benedict making his vow
Beginning of the End
Well, that’s the majority of the input stuff done and dusted, and now we’re heading towards the Agatha Christie conclusion, where Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple gathers everyone together in the drawing room of a grand house, to ponder and to tease, to recap and speculate, and finally unmask the guilty party, who is usually there in the room, though, sometimes makes a late, dramatic entry on to the scene.
The secret of Agatha Christie’s success is that she always offers more clues than the reader or viewer can handle at any one time. Science says that once you hold eight ideas in your mind, at one time, the brain finds it difficult to analyse the evidence. The detective writer’s main job is then to cause confusion with those eight thoughts, so that even the most studious followers of the plot, fail to identity the perpetrator of the evil deed.
This Shakespearean mystery is similar in that respect, because after 400 years of mis-information, there are far more than the minimum number of eight suspects and perhaps the real number is double that figure. My early prognostications which hit the intellectual airwaves, suggested that if this was an Agatha Christie mystery, then it was the ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ solution, which provided the best answer to the Shakespeare conundrum. They all did it!!
That possibility has been batted away by the majority of serious Shakespeare scholars, because they believe, almost to a man and a woman, in the one persona solution; that everything in the Shakespeare canon was the result of one person’s efforts. There are a few faint voices that support a collective approach, and the feeling I gained, from the Shakespeare authorship meetings I attended, was that the wind might be beginning to blow in my direction. Even the true-blue, Stratfordians are beginning to acknowledge that their hero didn’t always work entirely on his own.
At one of the ‘Authorship Trust’ annual meetings, Mark Rylance put a very good case for a collective approach to writing plays, suggesting modern stage writing was often an amalgam of ideas, and that anyway, scripts are constantly being adapted, by both directors and the actors themselves. The same idea has already been mentioned, because as long ago as 1598, Francis Meres suggested that Thomas Lodge was our ‘best for plot’. The pooling of literary minds seems a very obvious concept to me, and as we have seen, in present day comedy writing, it has almost become a necessity.
Never forget that Delia Bacon, the first ‘doubter’ on the scene, favoured a co-operative solution, but she was quickly put in her place by ‘Mr Smith’, so quickly in fact, that in hindsight, this looks like an organised, defensive reaction, to muddy the waters, after the real cat had slipped out of the bag…!!
William Henry Smith wasn’t just an entrepreneurial bookseller, but also elected as a Member of Parliament, but he didn’t stop there, being promoted way above his abilities and outside his area of expertise, to become First Lord of the Admiralty, Secretary of State for War, First Lord of the Treasury and leader of the House of Commons.
Remarkably too, for a bookseller, he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was satirised for his unsuitablity to take those, powerful, naval posts, by ‘Punch’ magazine and in the comic opera, ‘HMS Pinafore’. This was a successful business man, who miraculously climbed to become an ‘establishment’ figure, but one who found time to dabble in the Shakespeare authorship question.
His role though, seems to be to strangle at birth, the idea of a group collective, which Delia Bacon had so clearly outlined. Perhaps, the telling clue, as to his real motivations, was his later membership of the Royal Society. Had William Henry Smith been spotted as a potential ‘golden one’, although with few obvious credentials, so perhaps, he just got to know ‘all the right people in all the right places’.
If my story had been simple, akin to the fable spouted by the Stratford guides, then unearthing the solution ought to be very straightforward, and point unerringly in the direction of William Shakespeare, New Place, Chapel Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, CV37 6EP.
‘A young man of basic education, from a small, dilapidated town in the middle of England, moves to London and creates a wonderful portfolio of plays and poems. After his death, these are collected together and published as an anthology of poems and later a folio of 36 plays’.
BUT there is a problem in that scenario, because in the elitist world of the Tudors and Stuarts it was only the most advantaged individuals who had access to education and the ability to travel outside their local community. Knowledge of the customs of Royal Courts in England, France and Italy, and the practices of the legal profession provide the backbone for large sections of the work. Therefore, the status of the author must have been towards the pinnacle of society, possibly the top one per cent, maybe even the leading hundred, well placed, individuals. Did William Shakespeare of Stratford really fit into that category, as one of the social and intellectual elite of his age?
Then, there is the question of whether Shakespeare’s work would have had the same, worldwide, appeal, if it was marketed as the collective work of a group of rich 16th century noblemen? Would those plays have had the same kudos, if they had been attributed to a powerful courtier, such as the Earl of Leicester or perhaps Queen Elizabeth herself? Would they have been accepted into our modern society, quite so willingly, if they had been advertised as the public musings of members of a secret society?
If the plays and poems were actually written by William Shakespeare of Stratford, why was the very respectable pedigree of his forefathers ignored by his early biographers? Was the ‘son of a glover’ persona part of the marketing exercise, to downgrade the early life of ‘Mr Shakespeare, gentleman’, and make his story more appealing to the average citizen. What is more interesting, perhaps, is that there has been a resolute effort to keep this fairy tale alive across the centuries, and it continues today.
There are a few rebellious souls, who suggest that this was a well planned conspiracy from the start, but they are quickly shouted down by vociferous critics, who point out that Shakespeare wasn’t too important in his own lifetime, and it was only the work of 18th century, literary scholars, that created this image of a ‘genius writer’.
However, rather like the attempt by the modern versions of secret societies, to distant themselves from their previous incarnations, the link between ‘modern’ Shakespeare and the personna created between 1598 and 1623 is continuous, and has been actively managed at every stage.
If you believe my realignment of the Shakespeare families of Stratford and Warwick, and turn them into one close-knit family group, then a whole new world is opened up for the Shakespeare detective. That world would be shaken even further if Mr Roberts the shoemaker of Stratford was related to Mr Roberts the London printer. Yes, the same Mr Roberts, who was registering and printing Shakespeare’s plays and who, subsequently, passed his business to Mr Jaggard. It would also explain how John Shakespeare, son of a Warwick butcher, became an apprentice to the same Jaggard printers in London.
That would tie together many loose shoelaces, both in Stratford and London, because it would also help to explain how Richard Field, son of a Stratford tanner, became Richard Field, eminent printer. The Fields were tanners and Thomas Roberts was a customer, the local shoemaker.
This should be great news for the ‘Shakespeare wrote everything’ contingent because it ties together, very tightly, the printing of various publications, directly to the great man himself. So, why has this connection never been explored, and in fact it is positively discarded, by Stratfordians of all persuasions. How very odd?
Why also have the ‘other’ relatives of John Shakespeare, the glovemaker, been ignored? There are plenty to choose from, in the parishes close to Rowington, a place that is mentioned in the Bard’s will. Apart from Michael Wood, no-one seems interested in making the link. Again, this is very, very odd?
Odd too, that these clear links to the Knights Templar have been ignored, although not overlooked. Michael Wood certainly didn’t ignore them, but failed to follow up this line of enquiry, and the last decade has seen this information quietly brushed under the linoleum. I spoke, at some length, to a number of ‘expert’ tourist guides at Stratford, but they knew little or nothing about Temple Balsall or Wroxall Priory or the Templar Crosses, liberally scattered throughout Shakespearean Stratfordland.
Again, I can’t get my head around, why the existence of other Shakespeares, living in London, has been ceremoniously ignored. Mathew Shakespeare was there over 25 years before William came on the London scene, and together with his wife, Ursula Peele, were living in Clerkenwell, where there was a tradition of performing plays, and which was home base to the Master of the Revels, the man whose job it was to authorise and censor all plays performed in the Capital.
Uncle Mathew, marrying the daughter of an educated and influential man, and one who was involved with producing pageants and entertainments for the City of London, ought to have suggested an entrée for the Bard into the London theatre. No, nothing stirred in the minds of the Shakespeare scholars. Their only methodology has been to squeeze the life out of every word or phrase, attributed to their hero, and then analyze it to death, syllable by syllable by syllable.
Of course, a ‘four minute warning’ siren should have been sounded, when they realised that by Mathew Shakespeare’s marriage to Ursula Peele, he became the brother-in-law of George Peele, now an acknowledged collaborator on ‘Titus Andronicus’. Again those that realised this fact did nothing to further the discussion or spread the information more widely. No dogs are barking and the silence is deafening and Sherlock Holmes would be wondering, why none of those, seemingly most active in the search, have followed up any of these most relevant of clues.
The genealogical tree of people associated with the performance and publishing of Mr Shakespeare’s plays, also makes for the most interesting reading. I believe some of my work, on the relationships between these people, is indeed ground breaking, but most of the research was, actually, very basic stuff and spotting the familiar names wasn’t too difficult.
This family tree also explains how, ‘rogue’ printer, William Jaggard, became involved, and should mean scholars can no longer pour scorn on this branch of the printing fraternity, as being mercenary, bit-part players, in this saga. The close relationships between the printers, the actors and theatre managers suggest that they must have known exactly what was going on, and those chains of contacts go back several generations, with potentially, plenty more links still to be unearthed.
The Jaggards, by their marriages to the Waytes, Bryans, Denhams, Henslowes, Morleys and Mabbs, link themselves, very closely, to the central characters in both the printing and live performance of the Shakespeare plays. They take us to their Coleman Street neighbours, the Burbage family of entertainers and the Braynes, who liked building theatres. The Jaggard-Wayte connection makes an interesting bridge to William Shakespeare, (the real one), and his fight with William Wayte. The Jaggard-Mabb connection takes us directly into the scientific world of Leonard Digges and the Rosicrucians.
Then there is that intriguing Brian/Bryan connection. The evidence seems to be strengthening towards the possibility that William Jagger did marry a member of the ‘famous’ Bryan family, in 1538. Agnes Brian died in 1541, but their son Thomas and his step sister, Margaret, went to live on the Billingbear estate of the son of Francis Bryan’s buddy, Edward Neville. The discovery that Francis Bryan, the ‘vicar of hell’ was also Grand Master of the Rosicrucians then blows a large draft of hot air through this whole story. Had William Jagger the hossher, married into a Roscicrucian family or perhaps the Jaggers were already part of that secret ‘fraternity’. Certainly in the next generation, John Jagger married well, became a barber-surgeon, and his children then married into some of the very best families that the City of London had to offer.
Two other names, that we associate with the 1623 folio, are Ben Jonson and Edward Blount. We might even identify Jonson as the stage director of the whole enterprise, perhaps a modern day ‘brand manager’. Edward Blount has proved to be far more than ‘just a name’ on the front cover, as he had both publishing and social connections to so many other people in this saga. Blount is also a name which becomes more important the deeper you dig. He has to be the key figure to solving this conundrum.
Geographically, the most intriguing London connection between all these practical, literary folk, is not Shoreditch or Southwark, but the crossroads at Coleman Street and Lothbury. The printers, actors and builders all came from this pin point on the map, and so too did potential ‘Shakespeare’ candidates, Thomas Middleton, Henry Neville, Anthony Munday and members of the Killigrew family. Then to find that in the very epicentre of these families was the London home of ‘New Place’ house builder, Hugh Clopton, an abode which then became the Windmill Tavern, with its playful links to Ben Jonson, would, surely, defy the odds of any spread betting bookmaker from the Far East, or Epsom Downs.
All a coincidence the sceptics keep telling me. You can’t be serious..!!
And there is more, because next door to the Windmill Tavern, we have the grandfather of William Jaggard, who in 1541, was sandwiched between two Cloptons from Suffolk, who relate closely to the Master of the Rolls and his brilliant nephew, Dr William Gager. My play seems to be the work of a travelling repertory company, that couldn’t afford too much scenery and had a limited troupe of actors.
None of this tells us who wrote the plays of Shakespeare, but does suggest the story is a little more complicated than that of a ‘genius author who runs away to London and sits quietly at the back of the Mermaid tavern, writing a few plays and the odd poem’.
So, who did write the plays and poems?
Was it just one man or was this really a group exercise?
After studying, just a fraction of the giant haystack of material available, then my conclusion is that this has to be the work of more than one person. The sheer breadth of knowledge and wealth of detail required to write the plays is mind blowing. The quality of the descriptions, especially in the ‘Italian Ten’, says that much must have been experienced first hand, and not copied from a censored history book, or taken from a lyrical travelogue by a ‘fancy dan’ on a Grand Tour of Italy. The amount of research and book learning, needed to assimilate sufficient knowledge, makes it impossible for one person to have created the complete Shakespeare portfolio.
The supporters of each of the ‘alternative’ authors each have compelling arguments for their man – and an increasing number of women…! There is an array of incredibly detailed comparisons, that show, in a most convincing manner, that Bacon, Oxford, Neville, Marlowe et al, wrote this or that section of a particular Shakespeare play.
However, they then have to extrapolate, almost in unison, that if they can ‘prove’ their candidate wrote one play or poem, then automatically he/she must have written everything else, as well. There is something flawed in that logic, especially if you are a signatory to the ‘Statement of Doubt’, because there is no evidence ‘Superman’ was around in Elizabethan times, although his racy outfit would have gone down well at Ben Jonson’s masque entertainments for the Royal Court.
Why are the ‘doubters’ making it so difficult for themselves?
Let’s turn this around and say, that your particular ‘alternative candidate’ can have the credit for the golden nuggets you can prove, and nothing else. Are there any sections claimed twice, attributed with a degree of evidence and certainty, to two different alternative writers? I’m not sure there are too many.
So, portion out the plays and the poems to those who claim them and see what is left.
Would this approach help support the idea that this was a co-operative venture?
However, to take that most obvious, but novel approach, you would need to keep an open mind – an attribute that is most sadly lacking in this whole Shakespeare affair.
The plays themselves are remarkably mature and fully formed, and although they change in their subject and nature, they do not obviously increase in complexity or literary maturity. The first plays particularly, ‘Henry VI/2’ and ‘Titus Andronicus’, are already well written and choreographed, and indeed the first of the Henry VI saga is long, complex and laden with characters.
Some scholars suggest that ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’ was the first play, because it has a small cast and is regarded as intellectually weaker than the rest, but if this were so, it immediately tests the educational credentials of Shakespeare of Stratford. This play was set in Italy, and there are mentions, by Richard Roe, of specific events which never made it to the mainstream history books. It also drew for some of its content, on the Spanish romance ‘Diana Enamorada’, by the Portuguese writer, Jorge de Montemayor, published in 1542, and translated into French in 1578. No English version was published until 1598…!
‘Two Gents’ also appears to take something from Arthur Brooke’s version of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and from the Countess of Pembroke’s ‘Arcadia’. There are plenty of Spanish connections in my group of likely lads and lasses, as the Sidneys and the Digges/Mabb combination, were all fluent in Spanish.
If you were found speaking Spanish in Stratford, in the 1580s and 90s then you would almost certainly been arrested as a spy and a traitor.
Venus and Lucrece
As spelt out before, these potential ‘alternative’ authors were either closely related to each other, by birth or marriage, or knew each other at Oxford or Cambridge, or were members of the Royal Court, the Inns of Court, or as part of the literary fast set at Essex House and Wilton House. The literati also met at the Mermaid tavern, the Rose tavern, the Windmill tavern and other similar convivial establishments. There are also the Henslowe diaries, financial ledgers and other inventories, which mention playwrights and those associated with creating the plays. So, if your name wasn’t present on ANY of these lists, you probably weren’t a writer, even a citizen, of any note.
As an author, William Shakespeare is mentioned no-where, in any of these places, although he does manage to gain an occasional acting credit, but his position on the playbill looks somewhat contrived. Yet, despite his continued absence from the scene of the crime, his supporters remain as loyal as ever.
However, my general ignorance on these matters has meant that one of the most obvious flaws in the armoury of the Stratfordians came to me very late in the day, and as we often see in a detective mystery, a major clue in solving the mystery can often appear on the first page, or during the opening scene, not buried in the middle of the drama.
My main focus has been on his plays, and so when studying Shakespeare’s first published poems, my interest was confined to those famous ‘dedications’, made to the Earl of Southampton. These succeeded in attaching the William Shakespeare name to a piece of literature for the first time, and also brought the printing association with Richard Field, that ‘son of a tanner’ from Stratford-upon-Avon.
It hadn’t been my priority to actually read the poems, ‘Venus and Adonis’ or ‘The Rape of Lucrece’, or even to read many commentaries on them, but when I eventually did, the sun began to shine far brighter. For this next section you won’t need a great deal of knowledge about poetry, but instead just a large dose of good old fashioned West Yorkshire common sense – ‘by ‘eck!’
Even at primary school, aged 8 or 9, you were probably taught how to write a verse of rhyming poetry. You probably began with a rhyming couplet, then move on to four lines in a verse, and if you were good at the exercise you might write three or four verses.
As you progressed through school, most likely, you had a go at writing a Sonnet, just like Mr Shakespeare. How successful you were depended on the promptings of your teacher, but also on your innate ability to understand the genre. Some people find writing poetry very easy, while others find it almost impossible. It isn’t the most natural form of communication, for the majority of the population, and there doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground.
However, the ‘poem’ has had a dramatic re-birth in modern culture, particularly since the advent of pop and rock culture, during the 1950s and 60s. The lyrics of a modern popular song frequently consist of a piece of poetry, and we could say that Lennon, McCartney, Dylan, Baez, Mitchell and the rest, as well as being musicians, were all great 20th century poets.
Perhaps, though, we associate ‘real’ poetry with a more academic format, the formal poem that appears in a book of verse, or is read, in devout, measured tones, on a BBC Radio 4 broadcast. This formal style of poetry occasionally becomes more populist, and John Betjeman and Roger McGough have both managed to break down the barriers between the high brow and the tastes of the common man.
The length of pop songs or even more formal poetry is of particular interest here. Populist poets, such as Betjeman, generally wrote poems upwards of fourteen lines in length, but rarely longer than fifty. The majority of his work consisted of between twenty and thirty lines of emotive verse, which painted a vivid picture and left a simple message in the mind of the recipient. The ‘pop song’ shows similar tendencies towards brevity, with tens of thousands of lyricists following a similar pattern to Betjeman, somewhere between twenty and fifty lines being the norm.
A much longer form of poetry is the narrative poem, that tells a complete story and these can extend into many volumes of verse. However, the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’, that most famous of English narrative poems, composed by a previous inhabitant of Grayshott, Alfred Lord Tennyson, is only fifty five lines long.
At the extreme end of the poetry genre exists the ‘epic’ narrative poem, which can seem to be never ending, and might reach many thousands of lines. ‘Paradise Lost’, by John Milton is 10,000 lines and the Latin poet Ovid, with his ‘Metamorphoses’, mentioned frequently in my script, is contained in fifteen volumes, with an average of 700 lines per book, again around 10,000 lines in total.
Some say poetry is a young man’s game, but the evidence is that poets mature with age. Milton and Ovid were middle-aged, forty year olds, when they wrote their epics compositions, and Alfred Lord Tennyson was in his mid fifties when he wrote ‘Light Brigade’. William Wordsworth, of ‘Daffodils’ fame, was only twenty eight years, when he began to compose his longest work, the autobiographical, ‘The Prelude’, but that became an ongoing project for the rest of his life.
Edmund Spenser, a product of Merchant Taylor’s School and Pembroke College, Cambridge, author of the ‘Fairie Queene’, the longest and perhaps greatest poem in the English language, was in his late thirties, when the first volumes of his epic were published. Spenser worked in the midst of these other celebrated Elizabethan poets, and was acknowledged by his peers as being amongst the best, although Philip Sidney seems to have had a larger and more vociferous fan club at the time. Spenser’s great work was published in 1590, at the dawn of the Shakespeare era, being published by William Ponsonby, the Sidney favourite and the stationer who apprenticed, Edward Blount.
There are no hard and fast rules about poets and poetry, but it does seem a sophisticated art form that brings out the best in some individuals. Poets tend to start in a small way and develop their talents with age. Poems, about a simple subject, can be as short as four lines but fifty seems to be a maximum for most, and usually the poet’s message can be delivered in around 20-30 lines.
Narrative poems tend to be much, much longer, hundreds of lines in length, and in the extreme cases several thousand. For some poets these are a lifetime’s work, and they are definitely the sign of a maturing poet and a maturing individual.
So, to produce as your FIRST published work, a narrative poem of over a thousand lines, that is described by critics as ‘complex, kaleidoscopic’ with ‘beautiful language, imagery and wry humour’ aimed at a ‘sophisticated, aristocratic and intellectual audience’, does seem a little bit excessive. Even the subject was not simple, being based on an ‘epic’ classical work, written in Latin.
This poem was Shakespeare’s, ‘Venus and Adonis’, published in 1593, and inspired by Ovid’s monumental poem, ‘Metamorphoses’. What an amazing first effort at poetry, perhaps en par with Henry VI, his earliest history play, about Duke Humphrey, Jack Cade and the rest.
The verse form used in ‘Venus and Adonis’ has become the brand name for this poetic rhythm, which comprised six lines of iambic pentameter, rhyming the lines ‘ababcc.’ One poet that is seen as an obvious inspiration for ‘Venus and Adonis’, is Thomas Lodge, who four years earlier, had published his own Ovidian fable, ‘Scillaes Metamorphosis’, one of the earliest English poems to re-use and embellish a classical subject.
Lodge’s poem was dedicated to the copywriter, Ralph Crane, the man who made neat copies of the first four plays of Shakespeare’s 1623 folio. Lodge also wrote, ‘Rosalynde, Euphues Golden Legacy’, which he dedicated to Lord Hunsdon, (the Lord Chamberlain), and we can note the use of Rosalynde, a girl’s name, which means ‘beautiful rose’. This was published in 1590 and the poem was re-worked, ten years later, with Rosalind starring as the heroine in Shakespeare’s comedy, ‘As You Like It’, which was one of those plays, which ‘aroused’ the wrath of the Puritans, with plenty of ‘cross-dressing’.
Thomas Lodge (1558-1625) was yet another product of Merchant Taylors School, and gained his degree at Trinity College, Oxford at the same time as Gager and Peele were at Christ Church. He was clearly a strong minded individual because as early as 1580, Lodge wrote a spirited defence of stage plays, which was quickly banned by the college authorities.
Lodge became further enraged about life’s trials and tribulations when he wrote, ‘An Alarum Against Usurers’, in 1584, which exposed the ways that money lenders lured young heirs into extravagance and debt. Lodge had been one of their victims, and so William Shakespeare and John Combe would, certainly, not have been high on Thomas Lodge’s Christmas card list.
Lodge’s father was another in this story, who had been Mayor of London, whilst Thomas, himself, spent his early life as a page-boy in the house of the Earl of Derby, the Stanley family. He was the same age as the two youngsters, Ferdinando and William Stanley and perhaps acted as a playmate as well as a servant. Lodge then moved on to Merchant Taylors School, where he was subjected to the expertise of ‘Holoferne’s’ alliteration exercises and his football training system. ‘Tommy’ Lodge sounds as though he may have made a robust centre forward or perhaps a tricky left winger.
Lodge then moved on to Trinity College, Oxford at the same time William Stanley was at St John’s College. At Oxford, we have the previously mentioned connection to Edward Hoby, with Lodge acting as his servant while at the university. That also opens up the possibility that Lodge had accompanied Hoby on his trips to Europe, which gave him the appetite for more exotic journeys, later in life.
American academic, Teresa Michelle, sees Thomas Lodge as an integral part of the Shakespeare story, and feels that his life story may have been re-written to distance him from the Shakespeare shenanigans that transpired later. Teresa also adds Lodge’s name to the growing list of those infants, who may have been planted in the homes of suitable foster-parents. She believes that Lodge’s biography, in places, seems to defy both the social and academic laws of the time.
So, in the classical, epic poetry stakes, Thomas Lodge had led the way in the late 1580s and ‘William Shakespeare’ had followed behind, in 1593, although there is no evidence their paths ever crossed.
For ‘Shakespeare’ to follow his own first, monumental, poetry creation, with a second effort, the ‘Rape of Lucrece’, a poem with a totally different feel, would be challenging for any experienced poet, but would surely be beyond the capabilities of a novice. Shakespeare would have been 30 years old by then, but with nothing accredited to him before, this seems rather extreme, as an opening poetic salvo.
The ‘Rape of Lucretia’ began life as ‘the Ravishment of Lucretia’, then just ‘Lucretia’, before finally settling on the title known today. This time it took 1855 lines of poetry to tell the story, another massive work, and once more showing great sophistication. This poem has the feel of ‘Titus Andronicus’ about it, a play that was violent in the extreme. Again the story is taken from a classical subject, the history of Rome, as had been told by Ovid and Livy.
‘Static and stylised’, ‘boring in places’, but full of ‘alliteration’ and ‘interesting figures of speech’ are words used by critics to describe ‘Lucretia’, and again the poem was clearly aimed at a sophisticated audience. It was also written in a very different style to his first effort, this one in ‘rhyme royal’. This poetic style had been used by Geoffrey Chaucer in several of his ‘Canterbury Tales’, but was seen as a little outdated during the late Elizabethan period. Rhyme royal regained popularity much later, under the auspices of the two Johns, Milton and Masefield.
One person who WAS using rhyme royal (seven lines with a rhyme ‘a-b-a-b-b-c-c’), at the time of ‘Lucretia’, was one of my enduring characters, Samuel Daniel. He wrote his ‘Complaint of Rosamond’, in 1592, and this was included in his anthology of fifty sonnets, entitled, ‘Delia’ and dedicated to his employer and muse, the Countess of Pembroke. Rosamond in its more common spelling of Rosamund means ‘rose of the world’…!!
Another to use rhyme royal, at the time, was Michael Drayton (Dr Hall’s ‘fine poet’), who used it in his epic poem, ‘Matilda’, which was published in 1594, the same year as ‘Lucretia’. In another of his poetry offerings, Drayton acknowledges help in his writing from Thomas Lodge, (‘our best man for plot’). Our red hot, anti-Stratfordian favourite, the Earl of Oxford, was never known to use rhyme royal in any of his poetry.
Murder-mystery plots often take you back to the beginning of the story for the best clues to uncovering the villain. The two pieces of evidence, which seem to have warranted the least attention, certainly compared to the plays and the sonnets, are these two early poems. The dedications to the Earl of Southampton have dominated the discussion, far more than the poems themselves.
It would seem incredible that someone’s first two pieces of published work comprised 3000 lines of poetry, in contrasting styles and themes, and both aimed at a most sophisticated and critical audience. Even if that person had had the best possible education, it would have been a severe challenge, indeed.
Is it realistic to believe that a man from Stratford, with at best a grammar school education and no previous record of composing poetry, could have written either of these poems? It certainly stretches my imagination to the limit to believe he did. Of all my research into understanding Shakespeare’s abilities to be a potential author, this is by far the most incredible.
When we look at the possible inspirations and similarities in both ‘Venus’ and ‘Lucrece’, they take us back to the same discreet group of people, the Wilton set and the men of Oxford University. Again when we analyse these two poems, it is the same two men that rise to the top of the suspects list, because of their skill, their experience, their age, their friendships and the similarities with their own canon of work. Seemingly, inspired by Thomas Lodge and Samuel Daniel, these two poems were not knocked off, quickly, in the lunch hour, at the back of leather workers shop, or a bawdy London tavern.
George Peele wrote everything imaginable, but never a long narrative poem, but perhaps he did, perhaps he wrote more than one. William Gager was also missing a poem of length from his portfolio, well until ‘Pyramis’ appeared, much later in the day. Could these be the work of Peele and Gager? To me, that would seem to offer a strong possibility, as they had the expertise and the right influences surrounding them.
‘Venus and Adonis’, seems to take inspiration from their university friend, Thomas Lodge, in both the style and the subject. Gager, himself, liked the ‘Venus and Adonis’ stanza, which he chose for the only poems he wrote in English, and he was also a great lover of the works of Ovid. The poem ‘Venus and Adonis’, itself, is noted for its humour, a Gager trait that seems to have eluded several of his admirers.
William Gager was a great re-user of material, so, if he was to convert his talents from Latin to English, then surely using the same themes would be an obvious, ‘Gageresque’ path for him to take. This transplanting and re-using of existing material is also, very much, a trait found in the works of the greatest writer of all time, that ‘sweet swan of Avon’.
‘Rape of Lucrece’ seems to have the mark of Gager and Peele all over it, using a violent classical theme. Add in the influence of Thomas Lodge, Samuel Daniel and Michael Drayton and did this become a collaborative team of friends, who were also writing plays? They certainly had the credentials to do so, with the right mix of skills, experience, and influence in all the right places.
These two early poems attributed to Shakespeare look like the work of experienced writers, knowledgeable in their subject and at ease with their craft. I don’t see any reason why they were written by the same person, well except for the similar dedications, but as they were both registered, without an author, this makes the claim of a ‘Shakespeare’ connection more tenuous.
They don’t seem to have much to do with a man of no more than a basic education from Stratford.
BUT…. I might be totally wrong in accrediting the authorship of the poems to the Oxford ‘wits’, because the dedication to the Earl of Southampton is still intriguing and of all the potential ‘ghost’ writers there is one who has an outstanding connection with the Titchfield Earl. That takes us back to our verbose Italian, John Florio, who lived and worked closely with Southampton in the period just prior to the two poems appearing on the scene. ‘Guglielmo Agitarelancia’ is a mouthful, but could he be the name that is missing, on the cover of those two early poems. The tone and style of the dedication certainly doesn’t rule a potential Italian, to be the hand of Shakespeare, out of the equation.
So, not for the first time, just this one small part of the evidence gives conflicting messages, suggesting the poems were potentially written by one list of candidates, but then the dedication takes you elsewhere, to an extremely well-spoken Italian.
Following the clues in a logical fashion doesn’t quite work, because it keeps leading you ‘up the garden path’, but whose garden path?
Towards a crescendo
Despite what my critics may say, I have entered this debate with an entirely open mind. I’m an explorer in a literary rain forest, not someone trying to prove a pre-conceived theory. My methodology has been simple, to follow the paper trail and look for coloured ribbons, left by the hare runner of the Hash House Harriers. I have always tried to move from the known towards the unknown, and when the going becomes a little misty, hold fast for a while, before looking for the next checkpoint.Perhaps, one difference in my approach, compared with the more learned researcher, is that evidence supporting the writer William Shakespeare has been treated with equal weight, to that supporting other potential authors. Learned scholars have also been treated with equal degrees of trust and scepticism, as those committed amateur researchers, who seem equally adept at undertaking meticulous research.
Amateur doesn’t equate to stupid or uneducated, and these enthusiasts shouldn’t be chided, just because they haven’t chosen to spend thirty years of their life in an institution, albeit with wood panelled walls and with the word ‘Academy’ emblazoned over the front gate.
My starting point for this story was the Jagger family genealogy, which was firmly put in place BEFORE I even knew there was a problem with the life and works of Mr Shakespeare. These various genealogical connections have been researched in the same way as other branches of my family tree, and so Shakespeare never become a special case, just because he has a famous name.
Rarely, did parish clerks make extra comments in the church registers when a ‘celebrity’ was being baptised, married or buried. The only exceptions seem to be if the local Lord of the Manor was involved or, as with James Peele, it was noted that he was the local parish clerk.
What is interesting to note, is how certain names crop up time and time, again, and yet others, who you might expect to be there, do not. It is also remarkable, how a single name regularly ended up on the final page of each section of any research. The name that many Shakespeare sceptics would expect to appear is the Earl of Oxford, and yet, he is quite absent from large parts of my story, and only occasionally did I bump into him, usually by accident. Yes, he was there in his marriage to the Cooke clan, and again because of the coupling of his own daughters, and then, in an extremely roundabout way, to the family who occupied Wroxall Priory. However, if I didn’t know he was regarded as the PRIME candidate, I would never have guessed, from following my paper trail.
The Dudley men are there, but not as writers, and William Cecil can’t be kept out of the action, but again there is no suspicion that he was a concealed writer. Queen Elizabeth is mentioned so often, but despite her education, there is little suspicion that she is the person we are seeking. No, the name that most frequently drops to the bottom of the page in any shake-out is ‘Pembroke’.
The name Pembroke is everywhere. This is not always the Earl of Pembroke, or indeed, any particular one of the twenty six people who held the title, in one of ten reincarnations. Pembroke is connected to all aspects of this story, from the First folio to the Lord Chamberlain, from the Knights Templar to the Freemasons and the name is emblazoned on Colleges in both Oxford and Cambridge. The Pembroke name is persistently associated with the King or Queen of the day, and with only the odd exception, this has been a positive relationship, in a world where such dealings were prone to unravel at some point, often with the swing of an axe.
Although not as common, but in some ways far more influential, is the female version of the name, the one which just kept rolling out of my Guinevere lottery machine. The Countess of Pembroke kept turning up when you least expected her, and always in the most influential parts of the plot. The early incarnation founded Pembroke College, and turned Denny Abbey into a place of learning and sanctuary, from the remnants of a Templar preceptory. However, the Countess with smudges of mascara on the Shakespeare manuscripts is Mary Sidney, the lady from Wilton House.
After much thought and deliberation I am still not certain of who did what and when, but I am sure that Wilton House was at the very centre of the action and the Countess was the catalyst for what took place there. All Shakespeare’s plays and poems may not have been written there, but I’m sure many were conceived in the Countess’s ‘Arcadia’, well away from the stresses of London and the Royal Court.
This was one of my first thoughts and despite being tugged in many different directions, that idea still holds good. I believe that Dr Rainold’s attack on William Gager, and the other Oxford playwrights, was crucial in creating the need for secrecy amongst certain writers. This secrecy became essential as the turbulent politics of the 1590s took hold, and the struggle to find a successor to Elizabeth’s crown, became one of murder, plot and general subterfuge.
The support shown by Queen Elizabeth, for the right to perform plays, must have been reassuring to the ‘wits’, but in an uncertain world with an elderly sovereign, who might be bumped off by a Spanish insurgent, or pop her clogs, naturally, at any minute, having an anonymous outlet for their creations must have seemed an obvious step to take.
The first published play with Shakespeare’s name did not appear until 1598, so there had, already been over six years of anonymous performances, of plays later attributed to him.
What caused the change of tactics that meant the name ‘W. Shakespeare’ now appeared in print?
The Shakespeare name had already been used before, in the dedication to two poems, so it doesn’t seem to have been plucked from the Salisbury telephone directory, with the point of a quill pen. This was a name already familiar to the writing group, as George Peele’s brother-in-law was Mathew Shakespeare.
Perhaps these classical scholars saw the allusion to the lady with the shaking spear and made it their talisman. Mathew Shakespeare was dead by the time the conspiracy took hold, but his cousin, William Shakespeare was known to them, and was known to be a man who might be open to a lucrative deal..!!
The original monument in Holy Trinity church, with a bag of grain – the present one, with a pen.
Someone must have offered the ‘Shakespeare man’, a ‘Godfather’ moment, ‘an offer he couldn’t refuse’. They may have known as an actor, but certainly as a relation of the Peele family. They also knew his family had some influence in Warwickshire, because of their links with Fulke Greville, whose family inhabited both Warwick and Stratford. Again this connection of people and place cannot have been entirely coincidental.
Then there was Shakespeare’s birthday, St George’s Day, England’s national day, yes, the same day that the masons of Strasbourg signed their constitution, in 1465, the same day of the year that artistic achievements were celebrated, when Chaucer received his reward of never ending flagons of wine.
Coincidentally, it was also the day a man called Shakespeare died in Stratford. Was the Bard eased to his end to make the story fit, or perhaps, as Mark Twain suggested, the whole Shakespeare thing is a complete fabrication, a scam of the first order, and the man himself never even existed in the form we know him. Just one St George too many, some might say..!!!
The supporters of the Earl of Oxford and Henry Neville both construct convoluted and quite distant family connections between their candidate and the Stratford man, but my findings bring him much closer to the heart of any possible conspiracy. Rather than scramble around to find a connection between the plays and the real William Shakespeare, I have found a whole raft of opportunities for him to become involved.
However, not a single, shrew size, piece of evidence gives an indication that any member of the Shakespeare clan had even a smear of literary blood in their veins. The Shakespeares were in the leather, wool, land, property, and usury businesses, and later as part-time actors, but they were never wordsmiths, in the literary sense.
The ‘Godfather’ rewards, which William Shakespeare and his father received, also spread to others in his family, and that must have been part of the deal. The extremely wealthy, King’s bitmakers and later the Royal ropemakers, all sprung up after Shakespeare, the playwright, had been named in print. The coat of arms and the liberal use of same across London and Warwickshire also coincided with the sudden rise in the family fortunes. Then, of course, there is a son of the Warwick butcher setting type in the Jaggard print shop. Is anyone still seriously suggesting this is ‘just another of those coincidences’, and not worth investigating further?
The Shakespeare, who had an early influence on this whole story does seem to be Mathew, and although it looks as though he died before the real playwright action took hold, he seems to bring everybody together. Mathew lived in Clerkenwell, where plays were performed and later sanctioned. He was brother-in-law of the great writer, George Peele, and therefore son-in-law of James Peele, an influential main in the City of London and one with an artistic string to his bow. James Peele also had strong Rosicrucian links, with his ability to trade in the raw materials of the ‘dark arts’, and his mathematical expertise, in the book-keeping department.
If I wanted to know more information about the background of anyone, then it would have to be Mathew Shakespeare, but knowing a little more about James Peele’s ancestry wouldn’t go amiss either.
Though, hold on a moment, because I also want to know more about Edward Blount, the First folio publisher. He had so many links with publications surrounding the Shakespeare canon and seemed to have the widest possible cross-section of friends, from the writers and noblemen at the Mermaid tavern, to scientists and linguists and, of course, his father was a member of the Company of Merchant Taylors. Living in close proximity to Merchant Taylors School, this brought Blount into that sphere of influence of so many writers, who were schooled in that establishment.
Research into the wider Blount name finds them everywhere, marrying into the Neville family, one sleeping in Henry VIII’s bed and another who was the grandmother of John Combe, the man who left Shakespeare £5 in his will.
The Blount clan can trace themselves back to the Welsh border, although the name is often spelt, Blunt, and William Shakespeare spells it that way in ‘Henry IV’. The unlucky, Walter Blunt was a highly significant character at the Battle of Shrewsbury, supposedly killed, when mistaken for the king.
Walter was from the most successful Blount line, the Mountjoys, although, in Tudor times, one of them blew the family fortune, after becoming hooked on alchemy, and another lost his head, batting for the wrong side, in the Essex rebellion. Perhaps ‘successful’ was the wrong word to use, instead unlucky or foolhardy might be a better way to describe the Mountjoy Blounts.
Members of the junior line are noted as successful London merchants and most probably, this is where Edward and his father, Ralphe, join the fold. Edward Blount’s complete ancestral roll hasn’t yet surfaced, but perhaps of greater interest, would be to discover where he spent the six or seven years between the death of his parents and the commencement of his printer’s apprenticeship? He must have become someone’s ward, but who was that guardian?
There is another potential Blount theatrical connection because in London, in 1538, William Blount married Anne Brayne. Could this be Edward’s grandfather, or perhaps his great uncle, and is this a marriage with the grocer family, who later built theatres, so providing yet another piece of evidence that the creation of the Shakespeare brand is the work of one big happy family?
There is, certainly, one certain connection between Shakespeare, ‘the man’, and the publishing fraternity. That link is via John Jackson, the wealthy grocer who provided the financial backing for the Eliot Court printing house and whose name pops up at significant moments in the saga. The Holinshed Chronicles, acknowledged to have provided background to Shakespeare’s history plays, were printed by Henry Denham, a partner with Jackson, in the Eliot Court press.
John Jackson was the publisher of the ‘Phoenix Nest’ anthology of 1593, and his name also appears as one of the purchasing trustees acting on behalf of William Shakespeare in the sale of the Blackfriars Gatehouse in 1612/13. If there was a ‘Shakespeare’ conspiracy taking place then John Jackson may have had a significant involvement in bankrolling the operation.
What do they always say – ‘follow the money’.!!
The Blackfriars Gatehouse was part of the old friars complex, mentioned many chapters ago and had links to the Bryan, Bacon and Percy families, all of whom previously occupied or owned the building. This was right, bang, next door to Baynard’s Castle, home of the Countess of Pembroke, and yes, it was John Robinson, tenant of the Gatehouse, in 1616, who was a witness to Shakespeare’s, rather shaky, last will and testament. Again we have so many relevant characters coming together, in one time and place. Just coincidence..??
Then there is that most interesting circle of influence, which links Long Melford to Denny Abbey to Warwickshire and back to Old Jewry and Coleman Street. Here the link is the Marrow sisters, who married senior members of the Clopton and Throckmorton families. They bring all these places and people together, but then doubly so, because their mother was a member of the enigmatic Rich family, who all seem to be married to important characters in my story and stretch back to the Sheriff of London, for 1442, a man who conducted his family affairs at the church of St Lawrence, Jewry.
Next, we have to consider the significance of Denny Abbey? Denny leads us to Richard Jugge the printer with the elegant initial letters, but who worked at a snail’s pace. This is another mystery man, who needs a few more of his seven veils removed. Denny also leads us to the printer device of Roberts and Jaggard, the ‘gilliflower and rose’, a mark that appears frequently on the Shakespeare canon.
The Abbey also crops up elsewhere, connected to the Countess of Pembroke and in the modern era is another medieval building which has been restored to very rude health. Denny was also a place that William Gager passed every time he made the journey from his home, near Cambridge, to his head office, at Ely Cathedral.
Finally, to help complete the jigsaw, in true crime thriller tradition, I’d like to go back to the beginning.
I’d like to know the maiden names of Beatrice and Cristian, the matriarchs of the Gager family of Long Melford? The coincidence of the Jagger clan and the Saviles living as neighbours, near Stainland, a remote piece of Yorkshire hillside, 200 miles from London, and then coming together with the Cordell, Clopton and Cecil families of Long Melford, seems too much of a coincidence for me to bear. The Jaggers and Saviles were also neighbours on several other estates, near Halifax, originally farms of the Knights Hospitaller, run by Benedictine monks. The names Beatrice and Cristian appear in the Yorkshire nobility just at an appropriate moment. So, what were the maiden names of the two Mrs Gagers?
The end of the yellow brick road
There are still many pieces missing from my 1,000 piece Shakespeare jigsaw and discovering more of these is necessary, before we can fully understand the most complicated sections.
BUT – I do believe Delia Bacon was correct and what I have stumbled across, confirms the name ‘William Shakespeare’ was in reality the pen name for a group of: ‘noblemen, worthy knights, gallant gentlemen, masters of arts, and brave scholars’.
This arose as a spin-off of the ‘Phoenix Nest’ anthology and was the result of the gatherings of like minded people that took place at Wilton, Oxford, Essex House and elsewhere. Their work was originally performed and published anonymously, but from 1597 onwards, their work developed into a single coherent ‘brand’, which became the William Shakespeare name we know today.
I believe what started off as a ‘bit of intellectual fun’ ended up being an amazing piece of business management, which became a tool for a group of ‘golden philosophers’. Money was never a motivations for their ‘pseudononymous’ writing, indeed, the only people who seem to have done well, financially, from the enterprise were William Shakespeare, his extended family, and latterly, the people of Stratford-upon-Avon.
So, why have I discarded William Shakespeare as the author of ‘his’ works, and some of his fans would say, so easily. Well, he has been given the same chance to perform as everyone else. His application form was accepted, but when it arrived on the scrutineer’s table, there wasn’t a word, even a mark on it. No-where, has he staked a claim to be the author of the works that bear his name.
I’m with Mark Twain on that one.
Now, if you have become a sceptical, anti-Stratfordian, after reading this work, or you were one already, you now have to ask yourself some serious questions.
Why do they plays and poems bear Shakespeare’s name?
Why was he chosen as the standard bearer?
Was this a random decision by people, who just liked the sound of his name, or was he part of the plot?
I have begun to offer answers to some of these questions, because I have found several new connections, between the real man from Stratford and the actual plays, at least the people who published and printed the plays. However, the true sequence of events that led to his participation in the scam, remains unclear.
However, by realigning the Shakespeare family history, to link up with Warwick, Wroxall and Temple Balsall, and by crediting him with an elder brother, things start to make a little more sense. This then links ‘Jaggard the printer’ directly with William Shakespeare’s close family, via the apprentice John Shakespeare, and then there is that curious connection with the Wayte family, mother of the Jaggard boys and physical adversary of the Bard.
The coat of arms saga also becomes understandable, with military forefathers and a genuine reason for other Shakespeares to brandish the cherished arms, right through into the 17th century and even later.
The plays and poems were originally not special, but they gradually became so, and not accidentally either. Firstly the name of ‘William Shakespeare’ was attached to a couple of poems and then to plays that for years before had been quite anonymous.
Then, William Jaggard published an anthology of poems, which everyone, at the time, regarded as quite genuine, although not today..!!
After 1603, the King’s Men, with their new warrant, quite deliberately took control of things, creating a protective ring, which certainly wasn’t there in the 1590’s. From then onwards, the wagon train gradually circled and the ‘grand possessors’ were able to repel all insurgents.
Ostensibly, the branding looks like a simple commercial protection measure, but there is little evidence the King’s Men tried to exploit their monopoly of the William Shakespeare brand. In fact the opposite is true, as they wanted to keep much of their prize under wraps.
These protectionist measures continued right through until 1623, with the Lord Chancellor, issuing regular warnings to, ‘keep off the grass’. I don’t see signs of this type of behaviour occurring with other acting troupes or for other playwrights. If you put warning signs around something you draw attention to it, and if you want to make your product exclusive, you create a waiting list or an artificial barrier to easy purchase. That is exactly what the King’s Men did from 1603 onwards, no more and no less, but for what purpose, because these actions were, and still are, giving very mixed messages.
The interesting agglomeration of people associated with the production of the First folio, in 1623, all had connections to the world of Hermetic science and secret societies. I don’t think there is too much doubt about that. However, you have to decide for yourself, whether this had a direct connection to the writing of the plays themselves.
BUT, when you realise that the plays themselves have continual allusions to the worlds of science and secret symbolism – then you might start to become more suspicious.
The ‘official’ versions of history say that the Rosicrucians came and went pretty quickly, and certainly aren’t with us today. Their friends, the Freemasons, didn’t officially come into existence until 1717, so where did all this ‘pre-history’ about both organisations come from. Is it all in the minds of the 21st century conspiracy theorists?
Well no, because there are plenty of references, from both official and unofficial sources, that have revealed themselves across the centuries. In England, this history of ‘secret societies’ dates back as far as the Grand Assembly in York, held in 926. These were Saxon times and the meeting was held under the auspices of King Aethlestan, grandson of Alfred the Great.
This was the same year that the country now known as, ‘England’, formally arrived on the scene, created from the ashes of the post Roman, ‘Dark Ages’. The rites and rituals of these secret societies actually date back even earlier, to the time of Euclid, Pythagoras and Solomon, and so this is a baton passing exercise, that began in the mists of time.
I believe the ‘William Shakespeare’ brand grew like ‘Topsy’, becoming an unintended by-product of people’s actions, over 400 years ago. The plays and poems were primarily intended for entertaining their own, which is why many were premiered at a Royal or special aristocratic event. You produce something for local consumption, that develops a wider commercial value, and after worries about secrecy, are overcome, you then put the work on for general release, to a wider audience.
It doesn’t seem to be a very complicated concept – my very own version of Occam’s razor.
There was still the worry that the identity of the ‘grand possessors’ might become more commonly known, so a tale is told, a genre is created, and we have the ‘William Shakespeare’ figure, that is with us today, one of the most famous names in history. The reason that the myth continues to be supported is that the descendants of the ‘grand possessors’ are still with us. Chairman Mao had his little ‘Red Book’, Karl Marx had his ‘Communist Manifesto’, and so the descendants of the Knights Templar have their own best-seller, the ‘Complete Works of William Shakespeare’.
So who was involved and how did it happen?
Everything points in the direction of the Sidney family, as playing a strong hand in the literary creations. My divining rods keep heading towards Wilton House and the circle of the Countess of Pembroke. We now know both her brothers had literary talent, and by a process of following the acclamations, Philip Sidney was regarded by his contemporaries as the best of the literary best.
As I said at the very start of this monologue, a new theory about Shakespeare, turns up on an almost daily basis, and usually I am filled with trepidation, as I peruse any new book, video or even a newly discovered link in a family tree. British television has been overflowing with Shakespeare stuff in the past few years and one whole program was devoted to ‘Shakespeare and Women’.
The conclusion voiced over by program presenter, Joely Richardson, was that Shakespeare was very perceptive and empathetic to the needs of women. The fair sex do play a major role in the Bard’s work, and Romeo would certainly been nowhere without his Juliet, and imagine the Scottish play without Lady Macbeth and the witches.
Could one of my missing hands on the pen, actually be a woman and was the Countess of Pembroke that elusive hand everyone is seeking?
Jonathan Star, one of those who champions the candidacy of the great lady, suggests she is responsible for writing the Blount cache of 16 plays, and that the remainder were authored by a liquorice allsorts of other aristocratic contributors. Star also suggests that the original concept was to create a separate compendium of the Countess’s plays, but her untimely death, in September 1621 caused a rethink of the whole project and the two sets of plays became bundled together, into one volume.
The timing of her death does seem to be significant. Perhaps, the contribution of Mary Sidney and the Wilton set were added as a memorial to her writing and patronage and so that is why we have a dedication made to her children. Of course, the other significant author who died during the publication process was William Gager, who met his maker in September 1622. Did his death also have an impact on the project being extended?
The ‘Jonathan Star’ hypothesis does fit well, into my own scenario, but did the Countess, alone, have the practical experience, to write a successful stage play? If she did play a substantial role as an author, then she would have needed some assistance, and so I’m sure her loyal group of male admirers would have been more than willing to give her a helping hand.
The Countess’s brother, Robert Sidney, has only latterly been known for his writing skills, but we know him better for his statesmanship and his continued friendships with many of those involved in this story. Those relationships were based not only on his wide extended family, but also from his time at Oxford, when all the great intellectuals of the age were present. Robert Sidney may well have been the executive producer, as no-one else was better placed.
We also know he had a long standing friendship with Ben Jonson, the man who seems to have been production manager and editor-in-chief of the ‘First folio’ project. Jonson wrote his country house poem, ‘To Penshurst’, in 1616, as a tribute to Robert Sidney, who at the time occupied the estate. This was a long, descriptive poem, euologising over the merits of Penshurst as a ‘home’, suggesting this was also a location where the poets and playwrights met, able to write in inspiring tranquillity.
Where Pan and Bacchus their high feasts have made,
Beneath the broad beech and the chestnut shade;
That taller tree, which of a nut was set
At his great birth where all the Muses met.
There in the writhèd bark are cut the names
Of many a sylvan, taken with his flames;
And thence the ruddy satyrs oft provoke
The lighter fauns to reach thy Lady’s Oak.
It was Robert Sidney who began a short-lived marriage to Sarah Blount, in 1625, although he died a year later. This was a couple of years after the ‘First folio’ was completed, but the marriage to a probable cousin of Edward Blount, does show another connection between these literary parties.
The City of Oxford was the home base for several of the ‘wits’ of the ‘Phoenix Nest’, with succeeding Chancellors of that university, also showing up in a significant way, and at opportune moments. Therefore, I believe Oxford was the second home of this co-operative venture, the origin of the other 20 plays, with Gager, Peele and Lodge heavily involved. Several of the earliest Shakespeare works have their paw marks all over them.
William Gager’s missing years, which followed his epistle to the Countess, gave him ample opportunity to knock off a long poem, a play or five, or take part in some serious editing. His mention of a vow of silence, in his mysterious obituary for Henry Unton, also suggests something highly covert.
What, too, do we make of Henry Unton, this enigmatic man, with links to Gwinne and Marlowe, who died with over 200 books in his library? He had a most impressive and unusual, biographical portrait, painted in his memory, with a blank page that shouts out loudly, ‘I’m a secret writer…!!’
William Gager has to be one of the boys in the band, because apart from his acknowledged skill, and the similarities in his choice of subject matter, the Latin poet was born in Long Melford, the same village that, teasingly, is mentioned in the opening scenes of what is conjectured to be one of the earliest plays by W. Shakespeare esq; Henry VI/2, first performed, in 1592.
Scholars still haven’t been able to explain this quite random, early interlude, or the relevance of the Long Melford scene to the plot. It was a remote from London, off the beaten track, except of course if your name was Clopton, Cordell, Gager or even Cooke. If this was, indeed, the author’s birthplace then inclusion at the very beginning of his very first play in English, would make a lot more sense, and show a great sense of humour.
‘Now sir what yours? Let me see it.
A complaint against the Duke of Suffolke for enclosing the commons of Melford.
How now sir knave. I beseech your grace to pardon me,
I am but a Messenger for the whole town-ship.
So now show your petitions to Duke Humphrey.
Villaines get you gone and come not neare the Court,
Dare these pesants write against me thus.’
Henry VI/2, act 1, scene 2
This play appeared on the stage as early as 1592, and was fully formed in almost all respects, with a large cast and a well developed script. Not bad for a first effort and shows a fair amount of ‘beginners luck’ again being exercised by Mr Shakespeare…!!
William Gager had, already, produced a play that showed similar confidence and panache, ten years before, as ‘Meleager’ was way beyond the expectations of anyone beginning a career as a playwright. In his notebook, Gager did show his ‘working’ and evidence of ‘practice’ sessions, something that ‘Shakespeare’ has failed to pass on to us. By 1592, Gager and Peele were in full flow and easily able to provide the stagecraft, translation and a detailed description of life in classical Greece and Rome, which were all prevalent in the Bard’s early work.
There are other subtle connections to William Gager, in this opening historical salvo, performed with no name attached. The mention of Duke Humphrey, pays homage to the founder of the great library, in Oxford, which was destroyed in the name of Protestantism, by Edward VI and then later restored by Thomas Bodley, to become of one of the world’s great literary resources.
During Gager’s time at Oxford, the old library still lay devoid of books or even furniture, but the ‘Divinity Room’, on the ground floor below, was the venue for oral examinations and debate, which were an essential feature of university life, and was an area of academia where William Gager excelled.
What the two Oxford friends didn’t have, was first hand experience of the streets of Padua or the Straits of Denmark, something that seems to be an essential part of Shakespeare’s curriculum vitae. However, they had almost limitless numbers of academic colleagues and close relatives, who had made those all important journeys and had first hand experience of Court practices, in the major European states.
The manuscript to the comedy ‘Rivales’ is thought to have been destroyed by Gager, but the references to it, made in the correspondence of Dr Rainold and others, have given a few clues to its content. One of George Peele’s last works, the ‘Old Wives Tale’, published in 1595, contains characters that are similar to those described by Dr Rainold in his criticism of ‘Rivales’, and there is plenty of rustic wooing mentioned in both.
The ‘Old Wives Tale’ is a rambling romantic fantasy, using the device of a play within a play, like ‘Taming of the Shrew’. One of Peele’s key characters is ‘Delia’, also the title of Daniel’s anthology in 1592. Obvious comparisons are made with a ‘Midsummer Nights Dream’, because of the fantasy connections and both plays are believed to have been written in the same year.
As an ex-teacher of geography, one line jumped out at me, when I read through ‘Old Wives Tale’. The inconsequential line was; ‘for thy sweet sake I have crossed the frozen Rhine ; leaving fair Po, I sailed up Danube, as far as Saba (Sava).’ How many people today would name the River Sava, nearly 600 miles long, a tributary of the Danube, which has its confluence in the city of Belgrade? I suggest that is the sort of information that only a traveller to the area would know about, in 1595.
Peele and Gager didn’t seem to travel, but their friends certainly did and so this, demonstrates that it wasn’t necessary to visit a place, to write about it. However, those who have studied in great detail, the geography and locations of Shakespeare’s plethora of Italianesque plays, suggest the descriptions could only have been made by someone who had been there to experience the scene. So were Gager and Peele, simply the editors of the traveller’s tales of the Bacon boys, William Stanley, the Hoby family, and a plethora of others.
BUT – forget about the niceties of time and place, because it is the LANGUAGE of Shakespeare’s portfolio, that has captivated his audience, for the past four centuries, and that was at a time when, both written and spoken English, were still undergoing severe growing pains. Shakespeare’s generation was the first time when standard forms of spelling were used, but this was still an inexact science.
We know Italian gentleman, John Florio was a major influence in giving the English language fresh life, colour and character, with new words, phrases and his 6000 proverbs. Florio received many plaudits at the time, including acclamations from royalty, but not one of William Shakespeare’s contemporaries’ mentions him as having similar influence on the language, yet that is exactly what we credit him with today.
Nowadays, everyone is a writer, less on paper, but more likely ‘twittering’ or ‘texting’ away on a variety of electronic gadgetry. However, between all these tens of millions of creative people, producing trillions of words, they don’t come up with too many new ones, and despite their creative efforts, dictionary publishers like Collins or the Oxford Press, add less than twenty new words annually, to their revised editions.
Usually these words are the product of science or new technology or from urban, ‘yoof’ culture. Not too many come from the pen of a journalist, book writer or a TV playwright.
Generally, the status quo is maintained and creativity is quashed by the learned professors and protectors of the language, who like to keep things the way they WERE. I have tried to ‘invent’ a few, new words and phrases, along the way, but let’s see whether they get past the men with the red pen.
So let’s take a quick look at Shakespeare’s words and phrases, thousands of new ones, those that first appeared in his work, and which have stuck around till today. It seems inconceivable that just one man could have ‘invented’ so many new ones, all on his own. Creating new words seems to have been quite deliberate and perhaps became a running joke, amongst the band of writers.
Some plays, such as ‘Love’s Labours Lost’, the first one to bear Shakespeare’s name, would seem to make that obvious, as the author played word games with his audience of noblemen and lawyers. It is this play which ties together the two famous alphabeticians, John Florio and Richard Mulcaster.
We know John Florio introduced thousands of new words and phrases to the English language and Richard Mulcaster tried to formalise the grammar and create an early English dictionary. Both went back to Italy for help, as the schoolmaster attempted to Latinise English grammar construction, whilst Florio gleaned many of his phrases from his own, more mature Italian language.
‘Loves Labours Lost’ connects the two linguists, because the title of the play itself is said to derive from a line in Florio’s phrase book, ‘His firste Fruites’ (1578); ‘ee neede ‘not speak so much of love, al books are ful of lov, with so many authors, that it were labour lost to speake of Love’.
This book is also the source of the Venetian proverb, ‘Venetia, Venetia, Chi non ti vede non ti pretia’, uttered by the Mulcaster clone, ‘Holofernes’, in the same play. So many in my cast were educated or had connections with the Merchant Taylor school and so, like all schoolmasters, his mannerisms and foibles would have been an easy target for affectionate mockery. Words were the trade of this sophisticated group of lawyers and courtiers, and so their education and their socialising would naturally be inseparable.
I have been in many situations, when I have been under pressure to create something completely new. I am an imaginative, innovative sort of person, but it’s very, very difficult to sit, alone, in a small room, and be creative. You need to be stimulated.
However, cover the walls with pictures and invite a few friends, get them talking, and the ideas quickly begin to flow. Introduce some wine and a little tiredness and the silliness begins, and people naturally start to have ideas, even make up new words. Add these to anglicised foreign words, street slang and rural dialects and you get an idea how you might up end up with a couple of thousand new ones.
Now, put all these intelligent people in the delightful surroundings of Wilton House, and the Arcadian world created by Mary Sidney, add some Burgundian wine or a jug of mead, a pipe full of Walter Raleigh’s tobacco, and the versatile lady herself, playing on the virginals, then anything is possible.
Other literary venues included the other Sidney home, at Penshurst Place, the Hoby family home at Bisham Abbey, and the Cecil homes of Theobalds and Hatfield House, where meetings of the noble literati often took place and plays were performed for their entertainment. There were regular meetings of literary minds at Essex House, near the Templar church and at Baynard Castle, the London home of the Pembroke clan. There was also Henry Unton’s place at Faringdon in Oxford, with his library of over two hundred books, which would have been a magnet for the nearby, Oxford ‘wits’, but they would have had to steer clear of his mother, who was rapidly turning into Lady Gaga. Walter Raleigh was another who, in the 1590s, liked to invite his creative friends to his home in Sherbourne, Dorset, 30 miles from Wilton House and on the road to London.
Remember, too, that several of these literary wiz kids were alchemists as well as writers, and for many within these literary groups, religion and politics were at the top of their day to day agenda. Some worked as spies for Elizabeth’s secret service, both at home and abroad, whilst others were part of covert associations of like-minded individuals. There was Philip Sidney’s Areopagite group, and Bruno’s dining club, plus many belonged to the increasingly organised, secretive organisations, whose meetings often coincided with religious events. Who belonged to which group is uncertain, but the most influential individuals had a foot in at least one camp, and probably several.
The Oxford gathering of Hermetic scholars, in 1583, (entertainment courtesy of Gager and Peele), provided a suitable venue for those planning the next stage in the development of the Rosicrucian master plan. They debated with the traditionalists of the Church of England, ways in which their religion was to move forward, taking into account both the threat from Rome and the new scientific discoveries of the English Renaissance. Those debates continued over the following weeks and months, in London and also in the palaces and great houses across England, A flavour of those discussions is given in Bruno’s account of the ‘Ash Wednesday Supper’.
Was it during one of Bruno’s convivial meetings, that the idea of a ‘writer co-operative’ was born? It may well have been an early part of the process, as all those involved had a literary arm to their scientific and religious activities. Bruno’s book also took an incognito approach, ensuring his radical friends couldn’t be easily identified by those holding different opinions, who might wish them no good. Meetings of this sort were, indeed, to decide Bruno’s own fate, in a fiery piazza, in Rome
The young firebrand, Philip Sidney, was known to be a literary leader and he was also a driving force in religion and science. This would explain the shock, and somewhat over-reaction, which his death caused amongst his family and friends and led the Queen to bestow on him the first state funeral given to a commoner.
However, those involved had so bankrupted themselves, in their pursuit of showy elegance and the study of Hermetic science, that young Sidney was not given a proper memorial, and so this was left to his old school friend, Fulke Greville, to rectify, with his Warwick tomb.
How much of Philip Sidney’s work is encapsulated in the words of Shakespeare? Could his words have been used as the basis for others to write the Bard’s plays, in the same way that his sister, the Countess, did with her brother’s metrical psalms, and replace his ‘Arcadia’, with one of her own?
Is Philip Sidney a missing hand on the Shakespeare pen? Judging by the cryptic suggestions offered by Fulke Greville on the Warwick memorial, he might well be.
For the educated aristocrats, their religious and scientific writing was the serious stuff, but their plays and poems were a relaxation. The comedies were certainly that, whilst the anglicising of classical plays was the fulfilment of Peele and Gager’s ambition, to bring the glories of Rome and Greece to all the people of England. However, too many of the participants had other things on their mind, to want to be embroiled in the repercussions of presenting contentious plays, with their name attached to them.
In the ‘Phoenix Nest’ anthology, it wasn’t too difficult to identify, at least some of the ‘initials’ of those who contributed as ‘noblemen, worthy knights, gallant gentlemen, masters of arts, and brave scholars’. So, creating a pseudonym, for a playwrights’ version of the group, would have seemed a better option for all those concerned.
Six years of anonymous writing came to an end in 1598, and the same plays, quite suddenly, acquired an author, although to begin with the spelling of his name was a little disjointed. This might suggest it probably wasn’t the owner of the name, himself, who first added it to the front cover of a quarto, and certainly wasn’t the spelling he used back in Stratford-upon-Avon. That inconsistency of spellings between the man and his writings remained till his death, in 1616.
The Rosicrucians and Freemasons were already adept at keeping both their secrets and their membership, well hidden, and so to hide the fact that some of their members were writing plays wasn’t very difficult. The playwrighting ‘literati’ were the same people involved with the Hermetic movement, being involved with science, alchemy and the secret societies.
Gresham College was a meeting place for the Rosicrucian arm, with the lectures often being held at Thomas Gresham’s old home in Bishopsgate, but the venues varied and this was indeed an ‘invisible college’. ‘Students’ might receive a last minute message, giving a time and a venue, and this helped to maintain the ‘cloak of invisibility’. That is the same system used to organise the illegal ‘raves’ that were a vital element of youth and drug culture in the late 1990s.
The site of Thomas Gresham’s home, in Bishopgate is now occupied by a building of some significance. The National Westminster Tower, was completed in 1980, then Britain’s tallest building, and has since been renamed, ‘Tower 42’, which is a familiar, even magic number, which provides , the ‘Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything’, posed in Douglas Adams famous ‘Hitchhiker’ radio programs.
The early, anonymous, plays had been scattered amongst different printers and publishers, but it seems that after the Shakespeare name was attached, there was a positive effort to gather them together. Edward Blount had his chest-full secreted away, never reaching the printer till 1622, but Roberts and Pavier, and then the Jaggards, were never too distant, collecting several of the others together.
If, as I believe, William Gager and William Jaggard were related, as second cousins, why is there no evidence of communication between them, or any attempt for one to use the services of the other. Well, William Gager never mentioned his family, outside his own will, and he was even shy in adding his name to his own work. Only two of his own plays were published, by the Oxford University Press in 1592, and after that he was pledged to ‘ironclad’ silence.
The majority of his poetry contributions appeared under the anonymous badge of the Oxford Press, whilst Pyramis’ was composed as a personal, hand written, offering to King James I. Another of his hand written, unpublished, documents, was in praise of the marriage of ‘Jason’ and Elizabeth and wasn’t discovered until being unearthed in the Vatican, in 1962.
However, there was one place, where there must have been contact between William Gager and the Jaggards and that was at the Tottel bookshop, where the London lawyers went to purchase their legal books. John Jaggard worked there for Tottel, from 1584 onwards, and William Jaggard set up his first bookshop, nearby, at St Dunstan’s churchyard, in the early 1590s.
The complex, Jaggard family relationships put them in close touch with scientists, actors, lawyers, noblemen, and politicians, and they were also closely associated with the various Denham printing enterprises. The printer’s marks of Jugge, Jaggard, Denham and his Eliot Court business are all strongly scented with Rosicrucian and Knights Templar mysticism, and this inevitably leads to the ‘brethren’, managed, so successfully, by Francis Bacon and Inigo Jones.
The use of Masonic and Rosicrucian imagery would be safe in the hands of printers, who were themselves members of these secretive groups. That is where the addition of the name of Francis Bryan makes things more interesting, because if he was, indeed, the Grand Master of the Rosicrucians and a relation of the Jagger family, by marriage, then their Hermetic printer symbolism means so much more.
William Jaggard seemed intent on taking the playbills from John Charlewood, the man who published Giordano Bruno’s five texts, and much of Anthony Munday’s work, but he was gazumped by the Roberts marriage. He didn’t make the same effort to claim the business of his uncle, Henry Denham, although he was happy to use the printing facilities, later under the control of Peter Short. Charlewood’s Barbican business, under the sign of the Half-eagle and Key, was his target, and eventually, this became the place where he made his name and his money.
The Shakespeare brand, then, seems to have been increasingly taken over by the ‘secret societies’, initially under the control of Francis Bacon and potentially Robert Sidney and William Herbert, the new Earl of Pembroke, who used the plays as a rallying call for their members. The 1609 edition of the Sonnets is thought, by some, to be that very thing, although quite how that was achieved seems unclear, unless each poem contained a devious code.
Pembroke certainly made his voice known in 1615, once he had become Lord Chamberlain, and three years later he was elected Grand Master of the Freemasons. The connection between the two roles put him in prime position to influence those people involved in creating and distributing the plays, a ‘grand possessor’ in chief.
The previous Lord Chamberlain, from 1602 until 1615, had been Lord Thomas Howard and it was his Great Uncle, Henry Howard, who had written many of Tottel’s ‘songs and sonettes’. Lord Howard also gets in on the relationship act, through his second wife, Katherine Knyvet. Her first husband had been Richard Rich, brother of the Robert Rich mentioned frequently, as the husband of Penelope Deveroux. This all adds links to the Gagers, Cloptons, Cordells and the Marrow sisters. Yet again, this family group is more compact than anyone has a right to expect.
Now closing in towards the end of this story, I feel like a schoolboy batting in a ‘corridor of uncertainty’, one who has found a bunch of keys, which open doors, locked for close on half a millennium. Some doors, although no means all, are now ajar, but the contents of the dusty, cobwebby rooms, need far closer and more expert inspection, than I am able to offer them. Criticise and correct if you like, but please take this story forward and see if the world can discover more of the truth about the creation of the works of William Shakespeare. Perhaps, even discover a path that might lead to the Holy Grail of the literary world, those original Shakespeare manuscripts.
I firmly believe the manuscripts still exist somewhere, because if they had been disposed of in a random fashion, as unimportant, perhaps wrapping for a portion of lamprey and chips, then a snippet, a page, even a whole play might have survived. In this situation, a zero return seems to be significant. Missing documents, missing buildings and missing people are very common in this story, and so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that the manuscripts are also missing.
So, where are the manuscripts being kept? Where might they have been hidden for 400 years? Were they all scattered, lost and destroyed, as the majority of establishment historians suggest, or have they been carefully preserved, in the care of the ‘grand possessors’, held somewhere safe, where they were unlikely to be found by accident. They probably won’t be in Shakespeare’s grave, in Holy Trinity Church, as it lies well below the water table, although the curse does suggest there could be something of value lying under his tombstone.
Fulke Greville’s ‘monument without a tomb’, seems to be the most obvious store cupboard, but the recent discovery that the shadowy shapes are just lumps of rock, suggests that ‘grave robbers’ have been there already. Instead, should we be looking for a castle, a stately home or, even a small insignificant cottage, as their secure hide-away? The Wren Chapel, at Wroxall, and the Temple Balsall preceptory, are both possibilities as potential hiding places, but both have been relatively unguarded, although do fit the ‘insignificant cottage’ scenario.
The three strongest candidates, which fulfil the criteria, as high security hideouts, are Hatfield House, Arundel Castle and Wilton House, the homes of the Cecils, Howards and Herberts. All three families have occupied their homes, continuously, since 1623, and in an England that has experienced civil war, industrial and social revolution and a remodelling of the aristocracy, remarkably, these three families have remained in situ, almost unscathed by the changing world around them.
Arundel Castle, home of the Dukes of Norfolk, might seem an obviously secure repository. The Howard family have played the role of Earl Marshal, during this entire 400 year period and held the significant post of Lord Chamberlain, at that most pertinent moment, in 1603, when the King’s Men were awarded their warrant, to be the sole players of the Shakespeare creations.
The Howards might only have been on the fringe of the Shakespeare writing action, but they were, consistently, at the heart of the politics, surrounding the plays. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey was certainly an inspiration to both writers and printers, especially those associated with the Denham and Tottel presses, which were the begetters of the Jaggard printing clan.
Hatfield House would make a good second choice and has a most interesting history. Queen Elizabeth lived there as a youngster, and later held court on occasions, but when King James took the throne, he didn’t warm to the place and swapped ownership with Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, who owned ‘Theobalds’, at nearby, Cheshunt. Robert Cecil pulled down much of the old palace and built the Hatfield House that survives in wonderfully preserved condition till today.
The ‘Cecil papers’ are a huge repository of 30,000 documents, available to researchers through an on-line search facility. If the Shakespeare manuscripts had been deposited at Hatfield, then there would have been hope that some reference to them might have been found, when cataloguing this archive – but nothing. Robert Cecil died in 1612, before the Shakespeare phenomenon reached a peak.
The third hiding place, perhaps the most obvious, is Wilton House, the place which ticks so many boxes, to be the home of the ‘grand possessors’, and reassuringly, the house has been in the hands of the Herbert family ever since it was built, by William Herbert, in the 1540s. When Philip Herbert, the co-dedicatee of the ‘First folio’, eventually succeeded as the Earl of Pembroke, in 1630, he made major changes to the house, using previous Grand Master Mason, Inigo Jones, as his main architect.
The work was completed by 1642, but five years later, the house suffered a severe fire leading to further restoration, this time under the joint stewardship of Inigo Jones, and John Webb, a mason who had married Jones’ niece. This is the third Webb in this story, after earlier ‘Cordell’ and ‘Bard’ connections on their maternal side, but, so far, I have been unable to link the three Webb families.
The ‘single cube’ room was created in the 1630 rebuild, but in the reconstruction, after the 1647 fire, the famous ‘double cube’ room arose from the ashes, possibly more the work of Webb than Jones. This became a showcase for paintings by Van Dyck, and furniture, by Chippendale, and is now considered the finest surviving English state room of the period, making regular appearances as a stage set for film and television productions.
Double Cube Room at Wilton House – photo with kind permission of Daniel Brown
The main architect of this wonderful room has further significance to the story, because at a period when the Rosicrucians and Freemasons were still ‘hiding in the closet’, a major re-organisation of the brethren took place, on 27th December 1663. Inigo Jones was dead by then, but the Wardens of the revitalised Order, were Christopher Wren and John Webb.
The timing of this meeting was mentioned previously, but it does bear repetition, as it was sandwiched between the first edition of Shakespeare’s Third folio, published in somewhat limited numbers, in 1663, and the ‘super deluxe’ edition, with the seven extra plays, which appeared in 1664.
A more obvious visual connection to the Stratford man appeared at Wilton House, in 1743, when a larger than life statue of William Shakespeare was unveiled in the main entrance. This was commissioned by the 9th Earl of Pembroke, and designed by the artist William Kent, an adapted copy of one that the same sculptor had created for Poet’s Corner, at Westminster Abbey, in 1740.
Shakespeare statue at Wilton House
The ‘excuse’ given by the Earl of Pembroke, for erecting such a grand statue, was to commemorate Shakespeare’s appearance in a play there, in 1602, mentioned in the Countess’s letter to her son.
William Kent, the statue designer, also created gardens, houses and furniture, for some of the grandest households in the country. He also seemed to have a great penchant for designing temples; those unexplained follies that often sit beside the lake, at your local stately home and which appear as an essential part of the scenery, and often the plot, in almost every television murder-mystery.
So, what remains of William Shakespeare, both the man of Stratford and the writer?Most of the tangible pieces of evidence, which the Stratfordites need to secure the provenance of their man, are either lost or destroyed. These include a number of family records, legal documents and even his house, New Place, which at one time was ‘fit for a Queen’. His marriage papers and his father’s will are missing, and his own testament has been tampered with, his mulberry tree ended up as firewood – and to crown it all, even his skeleton is missing a head..!!!
His supporters have plays and poems with his name attached, but nothing else.
Nothing….. nothing……… nothing….!!
However, I can’t rule him out of the picture, completely, because if anything I have found extra pieces of the jigsaw, which link William Shakespeare and his family, with London and with literature. It just might have been possible for him to have avoided detection within the City walls, and gain not a single mention as a writer, in the places that every other author of the time was mentioned. It is just possible he sat quietly ‘penning plays’ at the back of the Windmill, Rose or Mermaid Taverns and no-one noticed him, not even once.
AND yes….. despite a lack of education, practical training and experience, it is very possible for a genius to arrive on the scene, someone of average education and from a less than favourable pedigree.
My own family tree has produced a whole trug full of delicious fruit, often from the most barren of seed. The young lady at the beginning of this offering, photographed having her first flying lesson, was fathered by one of my best examples.
Edith Meeze’s ‘pater’, Arthur Meeze described himself, in the 1911 census, as a ‘technologist’, but prior to that, he had been a lecturer at the School of Mines, and in 1880’s, published a text book about ‘Applied Geometry’. In 1887, Arthur took his innovative skills to a new level, when he registered a patent, in the United States of America, for a heat exchange pump, a machine to regulate the temperature of fluids. This, seemingly ordinary, Englishmen had invented a refrigerator, in 1887..!!
Arthur George Meeze, was the son of a Gloucestershire publican, who was in turn, from a line of carpenters and gardeners. That is where my own family line joins in, with that lusty, ‘gateway’, Earl taking advantage of Arthur Meezes’ great aunt; Eliza Cooper, my great, great grandmother.
Arthur Meeze’s maternal side were a family of gardeners, so no obvious mathematical credentials there either, proving a mathematical genius can be born into a most unlikely situation. Perhaps Arthur had some errant Rosicrucian blood in his veins? Well, just maybe…!
Arthur George Meeze 1915 – in Shakespearean pose?
The Arthur Meeze, connection does lead, in a very ‘left field’ way, back to the very beginnings of the Royal Society in London. My ‘gateway’ Earl, into the line of William the Norman, had the family name Boyle, one that is famous in every school science laboratory, as the man who, in 1662, documented his findings on heat and gas exchange, as Boyle’s Law. This was the great chemist and physicist, Robert Boyle, who was someone blessed with all the Rosicrucian skills needed to change the world, and he made a greater contribution than most, in kick starting our modern scientific age. It was several generations later that one of his descendants, made hay with my Cooper ancestor, during the 1843 harvest festivities, at Marston House.
The Meeze ‘refrigerator’ certainly paid homage in its conception to Boyle’s Law, and Arthur was well aware of the Boyle nobleman’s indiscretion with his first cousin, as his family was a major source for the ongoing rumours. Arthur’s curiosity, as a lecturer, may have sparked him to explore the Boyle family further, and after learning about the eminent Boyle ancestor, this might well have stimulated him to take up a new career as a mathematician and ‘technologist’. Arthur’s descendants say his library contained many books written by the great, Robert Boyle, perhaps squaring the circle.
Despite the chunnerings of the clerical man from Ockham, who wants to keep things as simple as possible, I’m afraid they aren’t. Immediately, that William Shakespeare is ruled out as the author, then everything becomes extremely complicated. So, complicated, in fact, that if has confounded the best minds on the planet. My solution is perhaps the Occam’s shave of the alternative theories, because when I followed the trail of possibilities, it always led in exactly the same direction, a co-operative venture with its roots in the Sidney family.
The Shakespeare advocates say his ‘name is on the front cover’, so stop looking elsewhere. However, the names of the ‘pair of brethren’ are also there, and don’t seem to be there by chance, because one of them had been attempting to control, even gag, the Shakespeare plays for the previous five years. The two brothers were brought up in a most literary environment, surrounded by men and women of great ability and influence, so they were well aware of the significance of their actions.
Mine is a simple solution, which fits all the available facts, in typical Sherlock Holmes tradition. This Occam solution is to credit the ‘Wilton House School of Literature’ with the authorship of the majority of the plays and the poems. If these contributors were lords, statesman, scientists, and also members of secret societies, then the choice of a pseudonym seems an obvious way to proceed.
Famous painters, always had apprentices and assistants, and work is often credited to the ‘school’ of this artist or that. From Leonardo de Vinci to Andy Warhol they all created a brand, where the headline artist takes the credit for the work of the unknown people, who copied the template and filled in the numbers. Architects and scientists also work in teams, but generally there is one man’s name on the building plaque, or associated with the ground breaking medicine.
To me, ‘William Shakespeare’ is the same.
Remarkably, my solution takes us right back to the theories of Delia Bacon, the first person to publicly pose the ‘authorship question’. She thought ‘Shakespeare’ was obviously the work of a group of disaffected rich men, including Bacon and Raleigh. Delia gave them different motives for creating a pseudonym, but effectively I have taken the debate full circle. Have the ‘one persona’ candidates, who have been promoted with such vigour, ever since Delia’s book arrived on the scene, been part of a cover-up, a deliberate attempt to move the discussion away from the obvious?
Now I have to put my money where my mouth is. Can I put a few names to my treatise? Can I answer the final question that makes me the BBC ‘Mastermind’ champion, or give the correct answer to the million pound question, in Chris Tarrant’s game show??’
Well, let’s have a go.
For the identity of the ‘grand possessors’ I don’t think we have to look further than the Countess of Pembroke, her brother Robert Sidney, and her two sons, William and Philip Herbert. All were perfectly positioned to manage the whole enterprise from start to finish. Their hand was on the tiller from the creation of the idea right through to the conclusion in 1623. Ben Jonson was particularly close to Robert Sidney and he provides the link to other parts of their major enterprise, the ‘First folio’.
The ‘two brethren’ carried on afterwards, using their position to continue their watching brief over the Shakespeare brand, ensuring the secrets remained safe. No-one could possibly have imagined this entertainment for their friends and ‘brothers’ would explode, a century later, to become the literary extravaganza it is today.
The identity of the complete writing team is more problematic, but I suspect you could create a list of at least a dozen names who contributed in some way. Let’s start with Philip Sidney, whose creative skills seemed to inspire others. Although he died several years before the Bard’s name appeared on the scene, I believe some of his work is embodied in Shakespeare’s texts.
You can certainly add in his brother, Robert and his sister Mary as contributors, but, initially, the main literary power house was provided by the Oxford men, in the shape of William Gager, George Peele and Thomas Lodge with help from Richard Edes, Fulke Greville and Samuel Daniel, with perhaps a word or two from Anthony Munday, Michael Drayton and Thomas Nash. Coleman Street resident, Thomas Middleton, was another who had his finger in the Shakespeare pie.
Middleton’s father’s association with the building trade would have brought connections to the Burbages, Braynes and the Street family, and any writer plying his trade would want to make the most of those links to the theatre. Despite some recent evidence about his involvement, it is important to remember that Thomas Middleton was only twelve years old in 1592, so would not be a candidate to be the author of the early works.
You can add to the list the adventurer, Walter Raleigh, who the Californian researchers made their long priced favourite, and who Delia Bacon mentioned on her list. Raleigh has only figured in passing in this saga, but he had strong connections with many in this story, including the Wilton House set and his grandfather was, indeed, a Bryan. You can’t imagine he would have been kept out of any literary collective for long. He had his own literary circle, in London and Sherbourne, and his long incarceration in the Tower, after 1603, gave him plenty of time to transfer his thoughts to paper.
Other contributors may be the ‘big names’ often mentioned, Bacon, Marlowe, Stanley and Oxford, but their travelogues may have been turned into plays by their stay at home comrades. I see Francis Bacon in his grand master, role, but maybe his brother, Anthony provides more material than anyone realises.
The Earl of Oxford, for me, is as mysterious as Shakespeare, and the antagonism between him and Philip Sidney means he doesn’t fit, comfortably, into the rest of the group.
The Sonnet’s seem to be very different to the plays, so was Oxford’s role simply that of writing romantic poetry to his beloved Queen.? I see the relationship between Aemelia Bassano and Lord Hunsdon as a more likely source of the Sonnets, particularly as the two timing aristocrat had close links to the Oxford wits.
Marlowe has his most devout advocates, but his death, like that of Robert Greene, in 1593, tends to suggest their role was limited, unless of course, the whole Deptford murder was as well executed as Marlovians believe.
Anyone else who inadvertently found out the nature of the ruse may have had their silence bought by being allowed to contribute. Ego, with these people, would have been better than any monetary reward.
Henry Neville may have been one of these, but I don’t see him as a major contributor from the start. The senior staff at the Berkshire Record office, whose job it is to know about these things, laughed in unison when I suggested Henry Neville might be a Shakespeare candidate.
Despite this, I still believe that Brenda James has made a good case with the Tower notebook, and Henry Neville’s close association with Robert Sidney, Lothbury, the Jagger family and Thomas Bryan, the ‘vicar of hell’, means that the door is still open to a Henry Neville involvement in a play or two.
John Florio was the man with the flowery words, doing his best to add life and colour to the English language. If he didn’t physically write any part of the canon, then he certainly had a great influence on those who did. The reason Shakespeare set so many plays in Italy may have something to do with Florio’s influence, than the streams of aristocrats and academics who wandered the streets of Venice and Padua. The foreign travellers, Hoby and son, Stanley and the Bacon boys each, perhaps inadvertently, provided material for the raft of Italian and French plays, allowing the finished work to be completed by their esteemed literary colleagues, Gager et al.
Henry Unton is surely involved in some way, and maybe he was the person who came up with the idea of creating a writers’ ensemble. His Oxfordshire library would certainly have been a magnet for anyone with an academic or literary mind. Unton died the same year as George Peele, and so their deaths took place directly before the Shakespeare brand arrived on the streets. However, his grand, anonymously painted mural was posthumously commissioned by his widow, and painted after the Shakespeare name had been coupled with the plays. Is that painting trying to tell us something important?
Unton’s physican, Matthew Gwinne, had direct connections to all my main characters, perhaps being the original impresario, before Ben Jonson took over. Gwinne, actually has more examples of ‘one degree of separation’ to my prime suspects, than almost anyone else.
Then there is the Stanley family, who have poked their fingers into many different slices of the Shakespeare cake. Ferdinando Stanley, known to be a writer himself, sponsored Lord Strange’s Men, who were amongst the earliest performers of a Shakespeare play. Robert Lodge lived in the Stanley house as a servant and companion to the boys. Did Lodge learn his literary skills from the Stanley family or were they inspired by this naturally gifted and outgoing youngster?
‘Midsummer Nights Dream’ seems to have been written for the Stanley marriage. He is unlikely to have written a play for his own wedding, but one of his close friends, or family may well have done so.
Then there is that interesting connection with the Chandos portrait, with the descendants of both Anne and Frances Stanley having their hands on the picture at some point, and with Anne actually marrying the man that some Stratfordians think commissioned the original portrait.
Footprints in the sand……again..!!
It was my very first attempt to ‘Google’ the name, William Jagger (of Coleman Street), which first threw up his namesakes, the two William Gagers, that Arbella surgeon and more pertinently, the Oxford playwright. In an unrelated event, I then realised that you could lay the biography of Dr Gager of Oxford, very neatly, over the early performances and publication of the works of William Shakespeare. The Bard wasn’t anywhere near my family research until that point, but from then onwards, he just kept turning up again and again and again.
The more I looked the more I saw similarities, and not differences, both in the nature of William Gager’s writing and also the chronology of his life. When I delved further and found that there was a big question over the authorship of the Shakespeare canon, then I expected Dr Gager to be high on the list of possible candidates. To find him totally absent seemed odd, and when I shared my thoughts with eminent people, who claim to know about these things, I was treated with incredulity and ridicule, perhaps akin to the response from the Berkshire record office staff, when I mentioned Henry Neville.
Gager’s biographical connections are stacked high and touch so many in this story. Everything from his family owning the copyhold to land in the home village of the illustrious Cooke clan, to being the nephew of William Cordell, one of the success stories of Tudor England.
The Jagger/Gager/Jaggard connection takes him right to the door of the printers of law books, who eventually became the printers of Shakespeare. Gager’s family tree is not yet definitive, and some of his personal history could just be a huge coincidence, on both the genealogical and geographical front, proving that Bryan Sykes might occasionally be wrong – but the connections are compelling.
Whilst the extended genealogy of William Gager may have as many questions as that of the man from Stratford-upon-Avon, the similarities between Gager’s working life, as a writer, and that of the author of the Shakespeare canon seem to be numerous. So, let’s forget, for a moment, the genealogy of the man from Long Melford, and just analyse the literary evidence to support William Gager’s candidacy?
What about a checklist of literary footprints for William Gager? Do we have a blank sheet of paper, rather like the man from Stratford, or does Gager give us a few meaty chunks to sink our teeth into?
Whilst I stick to my view that the ‘plays and poems’ are the result of the work of an amalgam of writers, all the evidence points to the need to find at least one ‘missing’ hand on the pen. As was said earlier, the person we are looking for may still not have revealed themselves. I have conjectured the person could well be a Sidney, but could that missing hand be William Gager, and was he responsible for a portion of the Bard’s earliest works?
I seem to be in a minority of one, who thinks so…..!!!!!!!
William Shakespeare left NO footprints
My list of evidence, to support the candidature of William Shakespeare of New Place may be short, with little sign he even went near the sandy shore, but for Dr Gager of Long Melford there seems to be a welter of material to choose from. Would there be enough evidence to persuade an English jury of twelve men and women, that Dr Gager was, indeed, part of the Shakespeare solution, not just an innocent bystander? We’ll have to see, but please keep Tony Hancock out of the jury room!
William Gager’s lifespan, from 1555 to 1622, makes a good fit, with both the writing and the publication of the Shakespeare canon. He was nine years older than Shakespeare and therefore a more mature individual at the relevant weigh points.
Gager was aged 37 years old in 1592, when the first ‘Shakespeare’ play arrived on the stage, and 57 years when the last play was registered, in 1612. He died, aged 67, the same year that the Jaggard printing presses began rolling, to produce the great compendium.
The relatively few commentators of Gager’s work, consistently, make comparisons with Shakespeare, and they invariably talk about the similarities and rarely mention any differences. It is this welter of similarities, in both his personal biography, and his literary skills, that make him a good candidate.
Gager would, certainly, have had enough confidence to add an extra scene, at the very beginning of one of the earliest, perhaps the very first, ‘Shakespeare’ play, Henry VI/2. That early scene (Act One scene Two), mentioning Long Melford, immediately breaks the classical unities, because it is of little relevance to the rest of the plot, but it does bring the name of Gager’s home village, right into the centre of the action. I think he is having a little joke with his audience. It was actually discovering that single fact that stimulated me to set me off, in earnest, on my Shakespeare hunt, and has led me to where I am today.
Henry VI part 2, is more properly known as: ‘The First part of the Contention betwixt the two famous Houses of Yorke and Lancaster, with the death of the good Duke Humphrey: And the banishment and death of the Duke of Suffolke, and the Tragicall end of the proud Cardinal of Winchester, with the notable Rebellion of Jack Cade: and the Duke of Yorke’s first claim unto the Crowne’.
The sentiments in the full blown title seem very much on the side of the Lancastrians and the Beaufort family. If my suspicions about the Gager heritage are correct then he may well have connections to the Savile and Beaufort families, and they are certainly there amongst the Cordells, Cloptons and the Jaggard printers.
Gager’s sense of humour and fun, perhaps even frivolity, comes over in his work, and this is shown in his characterisations and his use of alliteration. This is Plautine humour, with a little ‘Mr Pastry’ slapstick thrown in to boot, and all would be typical of a Shakespeare comedy. Gager loved to mix comedy and tragedy, an unusual trait for the period, but found frequently in Shakespeare’s work.
Dr Gager gained his doctorate in civil law, at Oxford, and reinforced it with an equivalent from Cambridge, but he has no obvious direct connection with the Inns of Court. However, his uncle was at Lincoln’s Inn, as were others in the Cordell family, whilst Robert Dudley, with whom he had a good relationship, was on excellent terms with the Inner Temple. William Cecil had connections with Gray’s Inn, and he was another on Gager’s ‘speed-dial’ list. All the Inns invited guests for their entertainments and so with Gager’s reputation as a playwright and his clutch of law degrees, it is likely he would have been a welcome guest at any of the four grand hotels.
As Gager had the unusual distinction of having degrees, doubled up, both at Oxford and Cambridge, this gave him academic access to both institutions and it was the additional Cambridge honour which led to his poetry contribution to the Royal marriage of Frederick and Elizabeth. The dual awards also gave him access to the idiosyncrasies and secrets of both academic institutions, a knowledge that is regarded as vitally important for anyone claiming to wield the Bard’s quill pen.
Gager’s only tranche of English poetry made use of the ‘Venus and Adonis’ stanza, possibly influenced by his university mate, Thomas Lodge. This would make Gager a candidate to be the author of the ‘Venus and Adonis’ poem, registered anonymously, but now attributed to Shakespeare. In that same year, the ‘Phoenix Nest’ was hatched, with probable contributions from Gager, and with fifteen poems from Thomas Lodge.
There is my somewhat frivolous mention of Galloway ponies, early in this text, and the reliable beasts were a feature of northern counties and didn’t reach as far south as Warwickshire. The quote about various trades and problems in the wool industry would be relevant to Stratford, as well as Suffolk and Yorkshire, but Shakespeare’s lament for the poor wool worker does show someone in touch with the common people of the wool trade, all in line with Gager’s woolly heritage.
Gager always praised the common place and outwardly shunned elitism. He wrote for the benefit of his audience and was not keen to slavishly follow rules, just to please the regulators and administrators.
Gager gave support and encouragement to his colleagues, specifically Peele, to write for their audience in a language they could understand, and so he strongly supported the use of English.
Gager was admired by his peers, because they said so in their words, but more importantly they choose him when the most important events were to take place, and the most important people needed to be entertained. He was their ‘Top of the Theatrical Pops’ and the last person to be ejected from the balloon.
Gager had political nouse, with an appropriate word for every occasion. He showed emotional flashes, but was so gifted in both English and Latin, that he could be forceful, even rude, without using the coarse words a lesser practitioner might choose.
Gager could ‘pick up the phone’ to all the leading men of the period. He was particularly close to the Dudley and Sidney menfolk, and two of his fellow students were the Lord Chamberlain’s sons. His friendship with Peele could have opened plenty of doors, if he ever needed them. William Stanley was at Oxford during this time and Lord Strange’s Men were in reality the ‘Stanley Men’, who performed the early ‘anonymous’ works of the Bard.
Gager’s appreciation of poetic verse was also admired, and again he was consistently chosen to be both the editor and the leading voice in several poetical anthologies, most of which had a political message.
Gager was the main literary contributor to the 1583, ‘Alasco’ event, at Oxford, at a time when the great Rosicrucian minds came together, to decide their future strategy in creating a ‘New World’.
Gager was chosen to compile a celebration of the life of Philip Sidney, regarded by the aristocratic elite, as a very special person during this period.
Gager was later dragged from ‘retirement’, to provide memorial verses at the death of Henry Unton.
Gager was chosen as the champion to represent the university in their battle with Dr Rainold, in 1592.
Gager was chosen to represent the university when the Queen unexpectedly came to visit, in 1592.
Gager sent a ‘job application’ to the Countess of Pembroke soon after he had announced his ‘retirement’, not dissimilar to one he sent to the Bishop of Ely, a few years later.
Gager disappeared from public view, from 1593 until 1598, with only a brief, reappearance, in 1596.
Gager’s handwriting was fluent, like a man who could have written a million words of poetry & prose.
Extract from William Gager’s diary – photo KHB
Gager’s literary war with Dr Rainold has a parallel with Shakespeare’s works. The anonymous ‘Shakespeare’ plays first appeared soon after Gager’s 1592, February trilogy. Rainold published his correspondence, in 1599, attacking stage plays, and quick as a flash, the cross dressing plays, ‘As You Like It’ and ‘Twelfth Night’ appeared on the scene. It also may be relevant that ‘Pyramis’, written about an event in 1605, was not presented to King James until 1608, a year after Rainold had died.
Gager’s correspondence with Dr Rainold is regarded as one of the finest pieces of Elizabethan prose, and this lengthy correspondence was written in English.
Gager was naturally gifted, but he was also the beneficiary of the top class education, that was needed to develop his talents to the full. All the learning processes and milestones you would expect to see in a developing playwright, are there for all to see.
Gager’s ten years of experience as a playwright, would have given him the ‘craft’ skills, (stage directions and the like), to write Henry VI/2, in 1590. This was a long complicated play, with a large cast, not something for a beginner, but more likely to have been on the curriculum vitae of someone already acknowledged, to be one of the most accomplished playwrights of the period. There is also that telling quote from Semple Smart, suggesting that ‘Shakespeare’ MUST have been at Oxford in 1582, to watch Gager’s ‘Meleager’ and Edes’, ‘Caesar Interfectus’.
Gager was known for re-using material, adapting it for a new situation, as required. It is not a trait that could be attributed to every great writer, but Mr Shakespeare is certainly notorious for his inclusion of large chunks of existing work into his ‘new’ plays.
Gager seemed adept at keeping both a high and low profile simultaneously He was not too keen on putting his own name on to the printed page, and that tactic has worked until today. Many, perhaps most, current students of Elizabethan literature, know very little about the man born in Long Melford.
Gager’s literary relationships included all the people who were quite capable of creating the ‘World of William Shakespeare’; Peele, Gwinne, Lodge, Edes and a few more. John Dowland, the music composer, was also a contemporary during Gager’s active period at Oxford.
When a new Chancellor of the University arrived on the scene, Gager’s support from the holder of that high office continued unabated, and the new man gave him the same respect and trust, as had the old incumbent. In his letter to the Countess, Gager seemed somewhat guilty that he was about to desert the newly inducted man, for fresh pastures.
Gager was one of Queen Elizabeth’s greatest and most vociferous admirers.
Gager was not a great tourist, but he was surrounded by those well travelled in Europe, and beyond.
At no point during his final fling, in 1592, did his writing reflect the work of a man with writer’s block. The opposite seems true, as ‘Ulysses Redux’ is regarded as Gager’s best work, and he was happy to revive ‘Rivales’, twice, and support its contents, in his letters to Rainold. None of this looks like a man who was about to divorce himself from what he loved doing best, and at a time when he was regarded as the leading light of his generation.
In 1592, William Gager was at the height of his literary powers, not a man about to retire.
Gager’s poem to Frederick and Elizabeth, comparing the prince, with Jason and the Argo, was mirrored by their entry to their home town of Heidelberg, Germany, with Frederick dressed as Jason. Gager wrote his poem first, and so his influence on the leading figures of the time is there for all to see.
William Gager has no confirmed connection with the Rosicrucians or the Masons, but then you have to look at the company he kept. It would seem logical that if the elite men of the country made him their first choice, both on the stage and with his anthologies, then he must be one of their brethren.
There are also those pyramids. Gager twice used the allusion to a literary pyramid, first when he wrote about the death of Philip Sidney and twenty years later when the strange ‘Pyramis’ poem, dedicated to King James, appeared from nowhere. Secret societies like pyramids. Is there a connection there?
Then there are the gloves. Gager gave George Peele a pair of gloves, as a thank you for his help in the 1583 production, and it was also a pair of gloves that accompanied his New Year job application, to the Bishop of Ely, his old friend Martin Heton.
The gift and use of gloves, has historically had much greater significance than today. Gloves are an important part of Masonic ceremonial, with obvious origins in the protection of the stonemason’s hands. Gloves were a customary New Year’s gift to a friend, and gloves were also the traditional gift of lovers. The gift of gloves by William Gager to George Peele and Richard Heton is noted with some significance by his biographers and Dr Dana Sutton even suggests that Gager is describing himself as THE ‘glove-maker’. Gloves are mentioned over fifty times in Shakespeare’s plays, and the supporters of Shakespeare attribute this to his father being a glove-maker, but ‘then they would wouldn’t they’.
William Gager announced his retirement, wrote to the Countess, but then had his unexpected swansong, in front of his Queen, and his performance was as good as ever. Then, William Gager disappeared, never to write a play again. At exactly the same time plays that have the strong scent of William Gager came on the scene, and two poems also appeared, each one the work of a craftsman.
The final marks in the sand are those ‘ironclad vows of silence’, which William Gager broke to mourn the death of a seemingly ‘insignificant’ individual; a man that in his biographical portrait points us in the direction of a ‘secret writer’.
This whole train of events in 1596 was certainly mysterious and not long afterwards, the name ‘William Shakespeare’ became attached to a play or two.
I’m not claiming Gager wrote the entire Shakespeare canon, but certainly believe he had a hand in ‘Henry VI’ and ‘Titus Andronicus’, and was probably an early editor-in-chief. He reappeared on the Oxford scene, just as the Shakespeare name became attached to the published plays themselves.
Perhaps he thought it was ‘job done’.
That is my William Gager checklist of footprints, several of which seem to have evaded 400 years of scholarly endeavour, and throw up the possibility, that he just might have been involved in a small way in creating the Warwickshire theme park known as ‘Shakespeare World’.
Compare it with the list you have compiled for your favourite author, be it Bacon, Oxford, Marlowe, or even William Shakespeare himself. I think I might be ahead on points, with only one more round to go.
Fans of the status quo always talk about the ‘magic’ of Shakespeare, referring to a consistency of style. As we know several of the most famous plays had a pre-history, and were changed over time, which makes that consistency more the work of an editor than the original author. The recent revelations about Thomas Kyd’s, ‘The Spanish Tragedy’, using modern day computer analysis, show a clear link to Shakespeare’s style. However, Philip Henslowe firmly gives the credit to Ben Jonson, twice, and so the logic points towards that Shakespeare ‘consistency’ being provided by the Scottish bricklayer, with a little help with editing other plays from Ralphe Crane and William Gager.
Ben Jonson was there, from the start of the Shakespeare era, jesting about the coat of arms, in 1598, and there at the conclusion, in 1623. Jonson was friends with monarchs, friends with the aristocracy and with the writing fraternity. If you need ‘consistency’, then look no further than Jonson’s influence.
However, overall this was a team effort, managed by Francis Bacon, who was masterminding the reformation of the secret societies at the time. Above Bacon and Jonson though was the board of directors, those grand possessors, who were led by the Sidney family, the Countess and her two sons.
The Shakespeare brand was to be their ‘playbook’, involving more than a dozen writers, and various publishers and printers, all concealed under an ‘ironclad’ cloak of secrecy, a tradition that can be traced back to their roots, supporters of traditional Benedictine practice, advocated by the Cisterians and their military wing, the Knights Templar.
They were all keeping their vows of silence.
‘Stairway to Heaven’
Vision of Judgement Day – Hugh Clopton’s Guild Chapel, Stratford-upon-Avon
Worth the wait ?
Those of you that have reached this far, without glazing over in the important bits, or sent for the men in white coats, will probably have formed some sort of opinion about the writing ability of the man from Stratford, or more probably the sanity of the author, the man who has written this work of friction. The culmination of several years study, in a foreign field, has been taxing for all of us.
I, certainly, don’t expect that you have absorbed everything in this spider’s web of material, and, indeed, I find that every time I re-read through my ramblings, I learn something new for myself, which has frequently led to the reformulation of whole passages of text.
There can be bizarre, unexpected endings to some entertainments, and those who watched Patrick McGoohan being chased, by a large balloon, around a strange Italianesque village, for sixteen weeks, were a little surprised, in the final episode, to find the whole cast of ‘The Prisoner’, suddenly embarked on an LSD trip, around London. The Colbys, a high budget TV series, about ultra rich people in California, came to an unexpected conclusion, when the main character, Fallon Colby was ‘abducted by aliens’. Arthur C. Clarke’s space odyssey, ‘2001’, makes sense for much of the time, but comes to a kaleidoscopic end, with the film director, seemingly, another to imbibe a mind enhancing substance.
Well, I’m not aware I have taken anything halucinogenic, but there are a few parts of the story that still need further explanation, and these might lead somewhere more out of the ordinary.
So, please bear with me, and let’s break down my final arguments into easy steps.
There is NO evidence to show William Shakespeare of New Place, Stratford wrote anything.
There are at least 20 people, who had the ability, knowledge, experience and opportunity to become the ‘Shakespeare man’, and ‘he’ is certainly an amalgam of several of these. The total number is not a critical factor in my argument.
The majority, if not all, of these ‘alternative candidates’ have a connection with secret societies and several of the plays were created, primarily, for the entertainment of their membership. The ‘First folio’ was created as a playbook of their best loved productions.
The Shakespeare literary ‘persona’ was created with the full knowledge and co-operation of William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon.
Now, here is my dilemma?
Why has the Shakespeare family’s home base, at Temple Balsall and Wroxall Abbey, been kept at a long arm’s length, well clear of any biography of the Bard of Avon recounted in the Stratford guide-books. In actual fact, the original family home of the Shakespeare clan has been positively ignored?
Yet, both Temple Balsall and Wroxall have been lovingly restored, and are still being maintained, even today, in the most marvellous shape imaginable. Whether William Shakespeare wrote his plays or not, becomes less relevant, because despite his name being on the front cover of the First folio, there has been little effort made to re-connect him with his Templar homeland.
There has been plenty of showbiz in Stratford and London, and even an acknowledgement of the Wilton House connections, in far away Wiltshire, but why no significant mention of Wroxall and Balsall. Even, after both these locations featured on the Michael Wood BBC TV series, this information was allowed to gather dust, very quickly, and the program has NEVER been repeated.
Yet, a fortune has been spent ensuring these isolated buildings, remain in a pristine state. The work done to restore and maintain these places is remarkable. They are not unique in that because many royal palaces and grand houses, from the same period, have also been cherished and brought back to the same level of excellence, but why in these two particular places?
Neither of these two isolated settlements, in sparsely populated areas of Warwickshire, was ever grandiose, and they have never had any particular national significance. Yet, they have been treated with the same degree of reverence as Hampton Court Palace, Hatfield House, perhaps, even Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral.
Not too far away, at the home of the ‘world’s greatest writer’, we find the Shakespeare Trust Archaeology Project are forelornly scratching the soil, optimistically looking for broken pen nibs, at a plot of ground, totally robbed out, which used to be the Clopton/Shakespeare home of New Place.
Even, when the creativity of Tony Robinson and his Time Team crew, joined in the digging, they too drew a blank, struggling to stretch the program out for the scheduled, one hour time slot. Perhaps, though, we shouldn’t be surprised, because lack of evidence is the norm for anyone in search of real life facts about the Bard. The Rosy Cross ‘clean-up’ team had got there first.
My conclusion has to be that these places are MORE important than the man, en par with his plays.
A summer evening ‘Brain’s Trust’, with my Povoa de Varzim house guests, stayed up long into the night, discussing why Temple Balsall and Wroxall Abbey might be so significant to this story. The discussion centred mainly on WHAT these places were used for, but my Portuguese conspiracy theorist, Cristina, thought their importance might relate to, WHERE they had been built.
This set me off checking lines of latitude and longitude, the position of mystical ley-lines and other psychic phenomena. The Egyptians built their ancient pyramids to reflect the constellations of the night sky, creating star maps on the ground. European, medieval cathedrals were built on significant sites and contain a myriad of astronomical and mathematical puzzles, which measure time and predict passages of celestial bodies across the heavens. In England, the Rosicrucians, and their competing brethren, were equally guided by mathematics, symbolism and ritual, so there seemed likely to be something special about the choice of these isolated sites, in rural Warwickshire. Of course, when I found the answer it was staring me in the face.
Mathematicians have tried for centuries to decide the geographic ‘middle’ of both England and generally there has been no agreement, because the calculation is an inexact one, and in any case the coastline has altered dramatically, over the centuries.
The Romans built two major roads across England, the Fosse Way and Watling Street, and these were designed to cross at the very centre of the country. This crossroads was at Venonae, now known as High Cross, and this place is just a few miles from Temple Balsall.
There is another place that has traditionally claimed the title, ‘middle of England’, and the inhabitants have placed a stone obelisk to mark the exact spot. That village is Meriden, in Warwickshire, and the marker is less than four miles from the preceptory, at Temple Balsall.
It seems quite probable that it is this bull’s eye location that is the key to the puzzle. The name, Meriden, seems to have similarities with the word ‘meridian’, a mathematical term for an arc joining two points. Certainly, Christopher Wren, a great mathematician and astronomer, would have realised the importance of the location and this maybe is why he paid a premium price for the Wroxall estate, very close to the epicentre of the centrifuge.
If you draw a circle around Temple Balsall, with a radius of 100 miles, you cut through some interesting places. The coastlines to the East and the West are almost exactly 100 miles distant and it is a similar distance to London, Halifax/Stainland, Long Melford and the estates of Wilton House and Titchfield, home of the Earl of Southampton. Temple Balsall is also equidistant from the goldfields of Snowdonia, the Merchant’s Guild headquarters at York and King’s Lynn, the major Tudor port on the East Coast, with its trading links to the Hanseatic Ports of Scandinavia.
The site is certainly a convenient location, being at the hub of the wheel of English life, but there may well be an extra symbolic significance to this place, one that still evades the casual onlooker. Temple Balsall is a homestead that has been cherished by the Knights Templars, and their descendants, ever since they were gifted the land by the Mowbray family. It remains very special to them today, as the present-day ‘Order of the Knights Templar’ still meets there, four times a year.
Meriden – ‘middle of England’ – photo KHB
The geographical position of Temple Balsall, and nearby Wroxall, suggested to me further mathematical links to several ‘friends’ in my Shakespeare story, the ones who practised Hermetic science. This link to science, encouraged me to take another look at the grand plan announced by the Rosicrucians, during their brief appearance on the scene, from 1614-17, and see how their aims and ambitions outlined in their ‘Fama’, stacked up against the history of the last 1,000 years. Who were these people and how is their master plan working out? Are they on course to meet the stretching targets their forefathers set them, almost a millennium ago, or perhaps much, much earlier?
Once upon a time many thousands of gallant knights set out on a religious crusade to the Holy Land. Their aim, on behalf of Christendom, was to reclaim Jerusalem, from the Muslim people. The majority of these crusading Knights, were of ex-Norman stock, the majority from Northern France, but there were also representations from the Germanic peoples of Central Europe and the Islands of Britannia.
The Christian adventurers left behind them, simple wooden structures, wattle & daub houses and a smattering of small stone churches. Even their main fortifications comprised only mud ramps, with a wooden palisade and possibly a secure stone keep in the centre. However, within a few years, these same knights were constructing colossal fortifications, in a totally different league to those previously seen in Western Europe.
Reconstruction of a pre-crusades, motte and bailey castle, Lütjenburg Germany
Great building projects began in the Holy Land, about 1130, and in the decades that followed, the Templar and Hospitaller knights built over fifty enormous castles, at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. This sudden spree of castle building coincided with the Angevan knight, Fulk the Younger, becoming King of Jerusalem. Together with his wife, Melisinde, they led the way in this sudden leap in technology, from mud and sticks to colossal stone edifices, built in a single generation…amazing!
These Western knights must have discovered the secrets of the ancients; the Egyptians, Sumerians and Babylonians, their building skills and their understanding of mathematics. How else could the Europeans have progressed so quickly from building wooden palisades to monumental stone castles, like those at Crac des Chevaliers and Margat?
Margat fortress, Syria
The Holy Land may also have been the source of the knights’ great wealth. The Dead Sea Scrolls, nearly a thousand papyrus texts, discovered in Jordan between 1946 and 1952, include one made of copper. This metal scroll lists the locations of hoards of gold and silver, which had been hidden right across the Bible lands. Was this the treasure from the Temple of Solomon, and did the Templar Knights discover significant quantities of this dispersed treasure. Before the First Crusade, the land owning knights were not comfortable, but not wealthy, but after they returned home, they were able to match their riches to that of the great kingdoms of Western Europe, a situation which eventually led to their fall from grace, and their ex-communication by the church of Rome.
After the Templar and Hospitaller Knights returned home, suddenly great cathedrals and impressive stone castles arose, first in France and Germany, and later the same thing happened in England and Wales. Pembroke Castle was originally built in 1090, as a typical ‘motte and bailey’ castle, with earth ramparts and wooden palisade. A century later, William Marshal had rebuilt Pembroke in stone, to create the impressive structure that still stands there today.
How and where these skills were discovered is a mystery to modern historians, but this does tie in very closely with the legend of the Hermetic secrets, that they had been passed down from Ancient Egypt. Thousands of Sumerian clay tablets and cylinder scrolls, which pre-date 2000 BC, were discovered in Iraq in the 1850s and together with the Dead Sea Scrolls, these give us a clue as to how this secret knowledge may have been stored, ready for the crusaders to re-discover. The Hermetic story says that a town in the Arabian Desert was the source of the knowledge, but that location remains to be revealed.
The Royal Library, at Alexandria, had been founded by the Egyptian pharaohs, Ptolemy and son, about 300 BC, and at its height claimed to hold, ‘all the knowledge of the world’. The Egyptian librarians kept copies of the most important items, creating ‘mirror’ libraries, to ensure, that if disaster struck, then their secret knowledge was not lost forever. When their worst fears were realised and the Roman Empire triumphed, the Royal Library’s contents became scattered across the Eastern Mediterranean.
Various Caesars, Popes and Muslim invaders, pillaged the original edifice, removing millions of artifacts, taking them to places of ‘safety’; to Constantinople, to the Vatican and a multitude of still undiscovered places, that stretched all the way from the Pillars of Hercules, at the entrance to the Mediterranean, to the wildernesses of Arabia and beyond.
The discovery of the Antikythera Mechanism, dating from about 100 BC, demonstrates how easily this technology could be lost. Geared devices, in simple form, did reappear in the Byzantine and Muslim world, but it was only at the time of the 14th century, Italian Renaissance, did clockwork mechanisms, again, become common place in European culture.
The Hospitaller castles, were, initially, more impressive than the Templars, but the Knights Templar became the richer of the two groups, so perhaps they discovered the ‘money’. This monumental defensive building program continued, as the knights were forced to retreat westwards. Castles and harbour fortifications were built on the islands of Cyprus and Rhodes, and finally, on that last stronghold of the Knights of St John, on the islands of Malta.and Gozo.
Back home, in France and Germany, great Gothic cathedrals reached for the skies, based on this same new understanding of geometry and construction techniques, producing not only wonderful buildings, but incorporating devices that could be used as celestial calendars, to interpret the meaning of the constellations. Those living nearby, in their single story, wattle houses, must have looked on in awe.
That was particularly true in rural England, where, Ely Cathedral arose from the flat, Fenland scenery, dominating the skyline for miles around. Begun in 1089, as a northern copy of Winchester Cathedral, Ely gradually took on grandiose proportions and when completed, in the 14th century, was the largest building north of the Alps. Henry VIII dissolved the place as a monastery, removed the Benedictine monks, but quickly re-badged the edifice, in 1541, as the Protestant building, Ely Cathedral.
Henry VIII then placed the cathedral in the care of amongst others, Matthew Parker, (Bishop’s Bible man), who was later a supporter of Cambridgeshire printer, Richard Jugge. It was another sixty years before Ely became the main place of work for William Gager.
Ely Cathedral – one of the great wonders of the western medieval world
After the Templars were officially disbanded, by dictate from Rome, in 1312, their influence moved from France and the Mediterranean, to the fringes of civilised Europe; to Portugal, Scotland and Central European lands which we now call Poland and Hungary. The French Templars, who escaped the wrath of King Philip, completely vanished, together with a whole fleet of ships. Coincidently, at almost the same time, a ‘new’ military order appeared in Portugal, and soon that nation was beginning to explore the world, by sailing ship..! Elsewhere, the demise of the Templars saw an immediate rise in the fortunes of the Hospitallers, who seamlessly took their place, continuing their success, but offering a more subtle and diplomatic approach to appease national monarchs.
Two types of people were privy to the Hermetic secrets of Egypt; the mathematicians, who became planners and architects, and the stone masons, who turned the reams of drawings and numbers, into the magnificent completed buildings. Some mathematicians raised their heads to the skies, becoming astronomers and astrologers, whilst others made a detailed study of their own planet, analysing the rocks, the plants and the anatomy of the people. They honed their skills even further, to become alchemists, magicians and physicians. Understanding of numbers came first and everything else followed on from there.
The two groups evolved into the Rosicrucian mathematicians and the Masons, each with a different function, but each reliant on the other to complete their building projects. The Rosicrucians were the scarcer of the two disciplines, because there were far fewer people with the mental capacity to assimilate all the necessary knowledge. It also took a huge number of skilled masons to complete a cathedral or a castle, when just one or two architects might suffice.
This Hermetic knowledge had to be kept safe and secret. Safe, so it was never lost again, and secret so it didn’t fall into the hands of the enemy, who were no longer just the Muslims, but increasingly the Catholic church of Rome. The Fall of Constantinople in 1453, to the Muslin leaders of the Ottoman Empire, saw the final end of the Roman Empire, but provided an important trigger, for Western Society. Historians believe that the Italian Renaissance (renewal) was fuelled by migrants fleeing the remnants of the old Roman (Byzantine) Empire, carrying with them their cache of secrets. Certainly, Leonardo de Candia Pistoia, a Byzantine monk, carried Hermetic manuscripts to Cosimo de’Medici, ruler of Florence, in 1460, and these were translated into Italian, by 1471.
Florence was where Leonardo Di Vinci later invented flying machines and began doing amazing things with paint. He was only eight years old in 1460, so someone must have spotted his talent and trusted him with the secrets, realising he could make good use of them.
This ‘Renaissance’, began to flourish in Florence, a century before it reached England. This cultural renewal moved north, from Tuscany, to Siena and then Venice, and these were the places where the English later went for inspiration, and they appear frequently, as settings for Mr Shakespeare’s plays.
Meanwhile, north of the Alps, at the Bavarian town of Regensberg, at about the same time as Florence was beginning its re-birth, the Masons were meeting to celebrate their ‘Chemical wedding’, set during Easter week of 1459. Regensburg was a major town on the River Danube, right in the heartland of Germanic Europe, and the river would have provided a main ‘escape route’ for refugees, fleeing from the wreckage of defeated Byzantium.
The dating strongly suggests there were two versions of the Hermetic knowledge, one held in Florence, in the Papal south, and another that went northwards, to Germanic lands. Therefore, is the History of the World, since then, the story of these two rival religious groups, each using their own cache of ancient secrets, to further their own agenda?
On the northern side of the Alps, the Protestant Church evolved from the new ideas and the new thinking, but these scientific innovations clashed with the conservative ways of Rome. The Rosicrucians really wanted to re-create a united church, but with New World ideas, not hamstrung by the traditional and increasingly corrupt ways of the Catholic Church. Once the Rosicrucian idealists realised that a religious union would be impossible, they were forced to look elsewhere. To set up their Utopian world meant heading westwards, to seek a new land, one that lay across the Atlantic Ocean.
So, the Rosicrucians were originally the ‘thinkers’ and the Masons were the ‘doers’, the practical people. The Rosicrucians were the ‘golden philosophers’, those that held the secret knowledge and each one of them was entrusted with the responsibility to select and train one suitable ‘genius’, for the next generation. They were also charged with caring for the sick, and they must not take reward for exercising their expertise. Money was rarely a motivator for the Rosicrucians.
They were a small, select group because the knowledge was so complex, and the ‘Fama fraternitatis’ emphasised this, stating it would take 50 years to train a Rosicrucian initiate, up to ‘Gold’ standard.
This would also explain why a very limited number of architects took charge of a multitude of projects. Inigo Jones, then John Webb followed by Christopher Wren each dominated for a generation and then it was Scott after Scott after Scott. Each of them created the grandest, most impressive buildings of their generation, but each still found time, to add a small porch or a stained glass window, to an unheralded church, situated in the middle of nowhere.
If this knowledge was so important, then each of these Hermetic ‘geniuses’ must have had a ‘minder’, a sponsor who guided and protected them from less altruistic individuals. Conversely, this had to be someone in a position of strength and authority, but still sympathetic to the cause. The chaotic period between the Templar disappearance in 1312 and the Easter meeting in 1459 meant the Hermetic secrets must have led a charmed life, as the Black Death swept across Europe, killing over a third of the population, while hostilities between neighbouring kingdoms, took care of another third.
The term ‘Renaissance’, suggests that much of the Hermetic knowledge had been lost for a time and was rediscovered, after the fall of Constantinople. The crusading knights, certainly, hadn’t been privy to all the knowledge found in the Alexandria library, and much must have lain dormant, in dark dungeons, under the Vatican City or catacombs across the Ottoman Empire. The Portugal stronghold, at Tomar, had a share, but their catalogue of books seems to have been confined to subjects such as astronomy, seafaring and navigation.
The French had developed into highly skilled cathedral builders, so perhaps a separate cache of building templates was stored in a different Templar hideaway, maybe in caves in the Basque country. There are legends that support that idea. Many Templars, in the north of France, fled across the River Rhine, to the German side, and then kept going. These would have been joined by those who survived the rout of Constantinople, by heading to Regensburg, transforming into the Teutonic knights.
The double headed eagle, now prevalent on the flag of German, Russia and other European states, was said to have originated in Roman Byzantium, and as ever in this story, symbolism helps us to follow the trail, when the written record is missing, or subject to abbreviation by guardians of the secrets.
Those privy to the Hermetic knowledge decided it was time to formalise their operations, to maintain control over the secrets and to regulate their release to the wider world. They met first in Regensburg, in 1459, six years after Constantinople had fallen, and then again in Spires, Strasburg, on 9th April 1464, where the Code of the Masons was ratified, which in the calendar of the period, was the feast day of St George, the patron saint of England….!!
The leaders of this new, secretive group were descendants of the crusading knights, acting as the ‘minders’, sometimes called the ‘watchers’, who were keeping an eye over the ‘golden philosophers’. These great noble families held the power and the money and they were the sponsors, who commissioned the challenging projects, beit building a castle, turning base metal into gold or searching for the secret of everlasting life. The ‘watchers’ were the leaders of the multitude of small kingdoms that made up Germanic Europe, and all trace their ancestors back to the crusader battles for Jerusalem.
So, Rosicrucian and Masonic history formally began in 1459, not in 1614 or 1717, as the official history books like to make out. The celebratory meeting, in Oxford of 1583, was an essential stage in their development process, as was the creation of Gresham College, which later became the Royal Society, a centre of scientific excellence. Thomas Gresham had died in 1579, so was this 1583 ‘get-together’, partly designed to implement the terms of his will and to create his invisible college, of what we now call the Liberal Arts?
The Oxford meeting, in 1583, five years before the Spanish Armada, was certainly planning for the future. A summit meeting to decide how to take the Hermetic knowledge forward, free of the control of the church of Rome and, hopefully, with the support of the Church of England, although they were ultimately disappointed on that score.
What will our new Utopian world look like? Wheere will it be?
What are the contingency plans if Catholic Spain finally wins the day, allowing Rome to quash the advance of Humanist learning?
Each of these eventualities must have been discussed.
The years between 1583 and the death of Elizabeth in 1603 were, indeed, years of great uncertainty, and it was only after the Protestant succession was secured, with James I, could the Rosicrucuan plans be formalised, and the plan taken forward into the next century.
King James I, although a staunch Protestant, was not a believer in the new science, and so the Gunpowder Plot may have been a Rosicrucian, ‘false flag’ device, to remove him and replace with one of their own. Earlier it was suggested, this was certainly an ‘inside job’, planned as an excuse to subjugate the English Catholics. Either way the Catholics still get the blame and the complete truth about ‘Bonfire Night’, remains out there, hidden from view, and has stayed that way ever since.
Many historians don’t seem to understand the differences between the Masons and the Rosicrucians, or how, or indeed whether, they actively worked together. There does seem to be plenty of overlap, in both their history and their practices, but if you follow my chronology from the beginning, then it makes a little more sense. The annual meetings, at York, were Masonic and the tutorials, at Gresham College, were Rosicrucian, but the pyramid of influence of both groups had begun to widen, when an increasing number of the nobility became educated in the Humanist learning.
It increasingly became necessary to extend the membership criteria, to encompass those who were, neither stonemasons, scientists or direct inheritors of the Templar tradition. These, Humanist trained, aristocrats, lawyers and academics, were growing rapidly in number, so to embrace them within the organisation meant they could be controlled, whilst those outside remained loose cannons and might upset the apple cart, later to be patented by Isaac Newton…!
There is even the possibility that we might know the uniform of their secret organisation. Well, we certainly know their mourning attire. The funeral of Philip Sidney depicted a cortege of civilian hooded men, dressed like friars, following the coffin, and that scene is repeated on the portrait of Henry Unton, where all the mourners are depicted as ‘Black friars’. ‘Being a priest’ had been illegal in England since 1540, but at both the funerals of Philip Sidney and Henry Unton here were dozens of ‘non-clergy’, dressed in the habits of Catholic monks.
Were these traditional, funeral ceremonies for deceased knights, or was this something special, for esteemed members of their brethren? The Black friar uniform does seem to be significant to the story, because Dominican black friar, Albertus Magnus, was celebrated in Philip Sidney’s Areopagite group and also by William Jaggard, who chose friar’s work, as his first published book. Blackfriars, in London, is a place that has significance in the lives of many individuals in this story, including that of Mr Shakespeare, himself.
Francis Bacon may have set the ball rolling in expanding the membership criteria, but certainly Inigo Jones formalised the changes, creating the new class of member, the ‘speculative’ mason, as opposed to the ‘operative’, those with the skill to wield a chisel. Inigo Jones included his noble and merchant friends in the club, a group that could also encompass members of the Rosicrucian elite – the ‘golden philosphers’, and include those ‘invisible college’ students, studying at the silver and bronze levels, working towards attaining the highest level. This left the ‘iron’ masses completely ignorant, excluded from these secret and exclusive clubs, left to fend for themselves, or to play ‘follow the leader’.
Roscicrucians could be taken into the fold as ‘speculative’ Masons, but the reverse was not true, because that honour continued to be reserved for the scientific elite, who had complete their 50 year training course. John Dee was one of those chief examiners, who decided who qualified for membership and at what level they should be initiated. Thomas Gresham and Henry Saville may have assisted him in his deliberations.
It was very soon after the marriage of the German, Prince Frederick to Elizabeth Stuart, in 1612, that the Rosicrucians came out of the closet and revealed themselves, with their three published pamphlets. It is suggested that these texts had been in circulation as manuscripts for several years, prior to their formal launch, in printed form, being published in German and Latin, but not in English. This sudden openness about their aims, and even their existence, must have caused a panic within some within the ranks, resulting in Robert Fludde, quickly, publishing his ‘apology’. After their Magdeburg meeting, in 1617, the Rosy Cross, donned their ‘cloak of invisibility’, promising to remain hidden for 100 years.
It may have been Francis Bacon, Inigo Jones or Robert Fludde, who realised that releasing this Hermetic knowledge to the wide world was counter-productive to their aims. They sent Warden, Nicholas Stone to Magdeburg, in 1617, to educate the Rosicrucians in the ways of the Masons, and after that they took a more cautious approach. The Order of the Rosy Cross came and went, between 1614 and 1617, never to be heard of again…??
Anyone who doubts this ‘official version of history’ is called a conspiracy theorist…!!
The ‘brethren’, themselves, were already keeping wiser counsel, carrying on their affairs in an unobtrusive manner, only relenting for their annual meetings, in York, and with a massive Christmas party, on 27th December, at the Inns of Court. It was in 1663, at another of these Christmas meetings, that they reorganised again. They now had a new king, Charles II, one who was sympathetic to their cause. Gresham College quickly became the Royal Society, and in 1689 and 1701, they engineered significant changes to the English rules of inheritance, which prepared the ground for one of the high points in their history; allowing for the crowning of a monarch of their own choosing.
In 1714, the Protestant German, George I, gained the English throne, under those new rules of inheritance, despite there being fifty four Catholics with better genetic credentials. Three years later, in 1717, the Masons reorganised again, and by 1723, they felt confident enough to announce their existence to the wider world. These two events coincided with the centenary of the Roscicrucian, ‘vow of silence’, and also the centenary of the publishing of the life’s work of the son of a Stratford glovemaker.
In 1725, the Masonic movement officially reached France, and in 1736, Chevalier Ramsay, a Scottish writer who lived in France, pronounced his ‘Discourse at the reception of Freemasons by Monsieur de Ramsay, Grand Orator of the Order’.
This pronouncement connected the Freemasons to the Crusades, and to the Order of the Knights Hospitaller, and in a later work, that was published after his death:
Ramsay declared that every ‘mason is a Knight Templar’.
So where do the plays of William Shakespeare fit into all this?
I think the answer is very simple..!!
The majority of the plays were created as an organised entertainment for groups of nobles, lawyers, and merchants, many of whom were members of the secret societies. As Francis Bacon took firmer control, the ‘brethren’ became more organised, formalised their affairs and that included their entertainment, which he brought under one banner , the house name of ‘William Shakespeare’.
Several of the authors had already written plays, prior to the ‘branding exercise’, all of which had previously been performed or published, anonymously. This explains how the earlier ‘anonymous’ plays, suddenly acquired an author in 1598. Twenty plays were already in more general circulation, but by gaining agreement with the new monarch, in 1603, the re-named, King’s Men were awarded a monopoly to control the performance and publishing rights of Shakespeare’s plays. This meant the ‘grand possessors’ could legally decide on the authenticity of a play or poem, deciding which play or poem was written by ‘Shakespeare’ and which was not.
The Blount cache of sixteen plays had not been published previously, and it looks likely they had a different pedigree. Several had an Italian theme, but they don’t make up the entire portfolio of Shakespeare plays that were ‘made in Italy’. Could Blount’s plays be from the Sidney stable, as some have suggested, and were they originally going to be published as a separate volume?
After initial hesitancy, it was decided to give them all the badge of approval, and so Mr Shakespeare’s entertainments became the ‘playbook’. The cost of purchasing a copy would have been prohibitive to anyone outside their exclusive group and so there was little chance that the full meaning of the work would enter the public consciousness.
However, none of this explains the preservation and restoration extravagances which have taken place at Temple Balsall and Wroxall. Well, I think these places in Warwickshire came into the picture first and William Shakespeare came afterwards. These estates seem to have had a special meaning for the Knights Hospitaller order, maybe even back to the Templars themselves. Prior Docwra had made a special effort to reclaim the Balsall estate for the Hospitallers, from the hands of the gentiles and generally you get a feeling that somebody cares very much for these insignificant settlements in the middle of nowhere.
This geographic hub might have been the reason that Temple Balsall became the Knight’s spiritual headquarters in England and perhaps something more. Whatever happened in the rest of the country, war, pestilence and famine, Balsall and Wroxall came out the other side, still smelling of roses. Even in the dark days of the Dissolution, they fell under the protective stewardship of the Hermetically sealed, Dudley family, who seem to have done little to break the chain. Both places somehow survived to the time of the Restoration of Charles II, after which everyone began to breathe a little more easily.
The great science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, built two libraries in his ‘Foundation’ series, there to guard the knowledge that would later be needed to rebuild the Galactic Empire. He created them ‘at opposite ends of the Universe’. Could it be that the Templar knights in England did the same? Their magnificent, showy, head office was at Clerkenwell, later moved to Wilton House, but the ‘spare’, which was much less obtrusive, was at the neighbouring complexes of Temple Balsall and Wroxall, situated in the centre of everywhere, but in the middle of nowhere.
Why else would Christopher Wren have paid such a massive sum, at a most significant moment in British history, and why is so much being done to add bells and whistle to its status, today. Wroxall seems to have been a well orchestrated purchase by Wren and his advisors, despite paying well over the odds for the estate. Wren bought the remnants of the Wroxall estate, just as Queen Anne was lying bedridden, with bouts of unconsciousness. Prince George’s, 83 year old, mother was heiress to the Crown, despite never having set foot in England, but she died a few weeks before Anne, and so George was very much a King, waiting on the doorstep, ready to take the throne.
The enormous sum of money paid by Wren may have included a ‘thank you’ to the Burgoyne family for keeping the estate safe, during the years of uncertainty. Wren spent nearly £20,000 for 2,000 acres of land, with the main residence comprising a 130 year old house, run down chapel and derelict priory.
All have since been wonderfully restored and given the most amazing elevation in the ecclesiastical world, now to be known as Wren’s Cathedral. So, there are now cathedrals at ‘opposite ends of the universe’, one a great monument in London and the other in the middle of the Warwickshire nowhere.
Christopher Wren’s TWO Cathedrals – photos KHB
Christopher Wren was certainly a Rosicrucian and that is proven not by his drawing skills, but by his first love, because in 1657, he had been appointed Professor of Astronomy at Gresham College. His lectures contained, not only his vision of the solar system, but his dreams for the future of mankind, which he called his ‘new philosophy’. It might be more than a coincidence, that in a modern pamphlet about the history of Gresham College, Wren is noted as being a good friend of John Aubrey, the man with the colourful biographies, who offered us those earliest insights into the life of a, certain, William Shakespeare. Aubrey’s impartiality on the matter now seems shot to pieces.
So where does William Shakespeare fit into the story of the secret societies?
Firstly, he would have had to have been a member, because how else could they guarantee his co-operation and ongoing silence, but he was offered much more than that. There are several, plausible reasons why William Shakespeare, trader/speculator/part-time actor, was the perfect man to fulfil the role of ‘author’ to the Masonic entertainments.
It could have been his family’s links to Temple Balsall, or his acquaintance with Stratford Recorder, Fulke Greville. Perhaps, it was George Peele, who nominated him, as he knew the Shakespeare family well, or was it the name association with spear-shaking, ‘Athena’, which prompted the discussions about his suitability. My guess is that all of these played a part in his selection as the ‘front man’.
The Bard is known today, not only for being a great writer, but also an actor and theatre shareholder, but there are suggestions that, at least part of this evidence is an embellishment, a doctoring of the original records, made sometime later. Doubts have particularly been expressed about the authenticity of that very first record of payment, for the Christmas show in 1594, and to surviving copies of the theatre playbills. The Blackfriars gatehouse transaction also seems to have quite a smell about it.
Could, indeed, ALL these William Shakespeare London theatre records be totally fictitious and added to the public record, at a later date? His brother was buried in London, with the title, ‘actor’, but neither ‘writer’ or ‘actor’ was added to the records of the man buried in Stratford, or to his last will.
‘New Place’ was a reward for Shakespeare’s co-operation, and now that a few dots have been joined, we see that this deal took place at a convenient moment, as the vacant premises came to the attention of Francis Bacon and those influential relatives of the Underhill family; our friends, the Cecil family. The influence of his powerful paymasters would have protected Shakespeare from any negative repercussions in putting his name, to what, could be seen, as sensitive and controversial subjects. There never were any legal problems associated with the Shakespeare canon during his lifetime, whilst a variety of other writers and a few printers, got into very hot water over their erroneous publications.
The Shakespeare family were also amply rewarded for their silence, and rather like the foster fathers of the Royal bastards, the Shakespeare family’s wealth increased markedly, in the months and years after Will’s name appeared in print. William gained a house, lands and a family title, whilst the cousins gained lucrative warrants from the Crown and continued to use the Shakespeare coat of arms.
The plays and poems were an entertainment. They were an excuse for the members of these exclusive clubs to meet, and what better than to include their own imagery and stories in the plays. The histories were the history of the descendants of the Templar Knights and particularly, the Beaufort line of John of Gaunt. The comedies satirised people and places they new well. The horrific, gory, dramas reminded them of their days at university, where Greek and Roman tragedy was the norm.
The pseudonym of William Shakespeare was designed to keep the whole thing under a degree of control. The release of the Sonnets, and then the 1623 folio, was also a control method, better to have an official publication than a whole series of leaks and false starts. Francis Bacon’s 60th birthday bash may well have been the moment when the decision to rubber stamp the ‘First folio’ project was made.
If William Shakespeare was actually the author, as portrayed in the official history books, then surely there would have been a greater effort to give him a little more limelight at the time. There would also be a greater effort to reunite him with his distinguished ancestors, from Wroxall and Balsall, but despite Michael Wood’s efforts, that reunion has not yet, officially, taken place.
Of course the originators of this literary conspiracy could never have anticipated where the works of William Shakespeare would be today. So if any of this is true, where do the characters in my saga fit into the vision of a New World Order, vaunted by the Rosicrucians and preached by Thomas More, Francis Bacon and the grand master, himself, Christopher Wren?
Let’s start with the Rosicrucians, who are the mathematicians, the medical men, the astronomers and the musicians. My list of the most influential includes Paracelsus and John Dee, John Thynne, Gilbert, Stone, Digges & son, and certainly, Tycho Brahe, Antoine Vincent and Andreas Wechel, from across the English Channel. Then we have James Peele and his Italian accountancy book, mixed with poetic license, and Henry Savile, who was an expert in mathematics, as well as being a great linguist.
Composers are also in the Rosicrucian camp, with Dowlands and Morley setting Shakespeare to song, while the musical codes of the Countess, coupled with her sorcery, cemented her place in the club. Her mother, Mary Dudley was heavily involved in Humanist learning and alchemy, and Mildred Cooke was known to have a complete Hermetic library. Then there is the gifted poet, Mary Wroth, with her incestuous affair and her family links to the Burgoyne family, who just happen to be minding the Wroxall estate, for a century or so, until they passed it on to Christopher Wren – yes, just at the very moment the Rosicrucian dream of re-unification with Germany was finally achieved.
Innovators aren’t always good managers, so they needed minding, by people, who had a degree of power and authority. Ian Fleming’s, ‘M’ type characters were played by Francis Bryan, Robert Dudley, William Cecil and his son, Robert, plus those two Lord Chamberlains; Howard and Pembroke.
As a loyal subordinate, we should probably also add to that list, Anthony Cooke, a patriarch, who managed his extended family better than some of his colleagues were running the country. Perhaps though, he was a ‘George Smiley’ figure, working behind the scenes to ensure the good guys, (the Protestants), finally won the day.
Then, there are the talent spotters of the intellectual elite. Chief scouts for the next generation of Rosicrucians were Richard Mulcaster at Merchant Taylors, James Peele at Christ’s Hospital, John Cheke and Whitgift at Cambridge, and finally, William Gager at Oxford. They themselves had been spotted as having exceptional minds, standing out from the rusty crowd of plebs.
Thomas Gresham, Francis Bacon, Inigo Jones and Nicholas Stone were organisers, the project managers with the vision to see where the plan was going. Henry Unton also fits in there somewhere, the unobtrusive man with the most interesting biographical portrait in history. Was he the man who ‘invented’ the Shakespeare idea, or was he possibly the Master of the Masonic Revels.
In a world where medical knowledge was scarce, there are a remarkable number of physicians and surgeons associated with my cast of players, and even Shakespeare’s son-in-law was a doctor. Prominent among many are Robert Fludde, the Rosicrucian apologiser, Matthew Gwinne, who was Gager’s literary friend and Unton’s personal physician, and possibly up there with Francis Bacon, in the organiser stakes. Don’t forget the Countess of Pembroke’s long-time lover was also a doctor, and so was the man who rented New Place for a while, Henry VIII’s physician.
The final group is the one who actually created the ‘First folio’, those who were in charge of the Shakespeare brand, from the mid 1590’s, right through to 1623, and beyond. Ben Jonson was the man who seems to be the ears and eyes; the public face of the compendium project, and was around in 1598, when ‘Anon’ evolved into ‘Shakespere’. Others, such as Francis Bacon Inigo Jones and the Pembroke brothers played their part, and the Countess may have around, to add Shakespeare’s ‘feminine touch’.
Then there is the problem of how all these people connect, and the common thread, somewhat surprisingly, even to me, is the Jagger family. The various Jagger/Jaggard marriages connect to several different strands of my tale, and ought to be the one piece of this jigsaw that is a surprise to everyone.
This summary chart shows how the Jaggard family linked to the key personnel in the Shakespeare scam, both the rich and famous, and also the work-a-day and mundane. Remove them and there would have been no William Shakespeare as we know him, today.
Connections to the New World are everywhere in this tale. William Gager, the surgeon, was a precious commodity on the Winthrop expedition, but it was the expedition leader’s son, John Winthrop II, who took his Rosicrucian skills across the water, to become a leading disciple of the New World Order. Young, Winthrop II, repeated the perilous sea journey several times, and his fortitude was rewarded by being elected an early member of the Royal Society in London, so enabling him to keep abreast of the latest scientific developments, taking place across the Atlantic. The Winthrop connection to the development of New World science continued for several generations, and well into the 18th century.
Royal magician, John Dee, ran his navigation classes for Raleigh, Drake and Gilbert, but were these explorers also privy to the maps and other seafaring secrets kept by the Knights of Christ, at Tomar. The Portuguese didn’t just head out, blindly, into the Atlantic, because almost certainly they had prepared for their ground breaking journeys with the help of the ‘ancient knowledge’.
So were the English adventurers just brave and foolhardy, or did they have assistance, sharing their navigation charts with their Beaufort cousins. It would seem highly likely they did, because despite the Protestant/Catholic divide, there was a strong alliance between the two countries and the leaders of Portugal and England could all trace their family straight back to John of Gaunt.
One significant symbol that has been watching over people and events in this story is the Eye of Horus, sometimes called ‘The Eye of Providence’. Its origins are in ancient Egypt, where it was seen as a symbol of protection for the king and a sign of royal power and great wealth. Horus was a god of the sky, depicted by a falcon and associated with the sun god Ra. Is it purely a coincidence that Shakespeare’s coat of arms is topped by that same noble beast, the falcon?
The ‘Eye’ is famously found on the US dollar bill sitting atop an unfinished Egyptian pyramid and adds a couple more coincidences to my story. It was the 32nd President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who suggested adding both the ‘Eye’ and the pyramid to the paper currency, making it part of everyday life in the United States, ever since. FDR is also the famous descendant of Winthrop surgeon, William Gager, via the surgeon’s only surviving daughter, Sarah. Just to put the icing on the Rosicrucian cake, the Roosevelt family name can be translated to mean, ‘field of roses’.
The ‘Eye’ was also the symbol that adorned William Jaggard’s printer device, when used by the Frenchman, Antoine Vincent, before Jaggard replaced it with the Beaufort portcullis. The ‘Eye’ also features prominently on another significant piece of printed matter connected to the Jaggard printers.
Walter Raleigh has skirted round the edges of this story, but the Eye of Horus is firmly fixed on the frontispiece of his ‘History of the World’, which was William Jaggard’s biggest ever printing project, and the one that was completed just prior to beginning the Shakespeare folio.
Raleigh had close connections to the Rosicrucian elements in my story and if it wasn’t for his long imprisonment and eventual execution by order of King James, then he might have played a much bigger part in the reorganisation of the secret societies. He was imprisoned in 1603, after being found guilty of treason in the ‘Main Plot’, an attempt to prevent James of Scotland from taking the throne and replace him with his cousin, Arabella Stuart.
Walter Raleigh’s ‘History of the World’
A co-conspirator, who then turned King’s evidence, against Raleigh, was Henry Brooke, 11th Baron Cobham, the same man involved in the Calverley, Oldcastle and Falstaff sagas, a friend of no-one. With other hints about Raleigh’s involvement with the Shakespeare canon, could it be that he made use of his long period of incaceration to knock-off a play or two, or at least update them. Whichever way you look at things, the world of William Shakespeare continues to be a very, very small one..!!
How the Jagger family became involved in this cat’s cradle of powerful people is still unclear, but this points unerringly to a marriage between a Jagger and a member of the Savile clan, or another, that had close links to the Beaufort family. Their Yorkshire connection with the Hospitaller farms may also be significant, but this research still has plenty of mileage and needs someone to rummage through those ancient records of Wakefield Manor, looking for just one more record of marriage.
Whilst the Jaggers are a continuous thread in this story, it is the Cooke family who are the superglue that sticks everyone together. So it might be a little surprising that in the only piece of evidence detailing William Gager’s family back in Suffolk, we find that his mother owned lands in Lavenham, that tiny place, which almost no-one outside Suffolk could place on a map, but just happened to be the ancestral home of the Cooke family, with their brew houses and fishing rights.
Lavenham is described as England’s finest medieval village. They haven’t just preserved a building or two, a la Temple Balsall, Wroxall or Knowle, but the whole place is still intact and looks like a complete stage set from ‘Life with the Tudors’. Amazing!
The William Shakespeare persona was merely intended as a by-product, an entertainment channel for members of the English elite, but ‘Shakespeare’ took on a life of its own, outperforming all expectations. Whilst most of the fabric of the life of the Bard, the Stratford man himself, has disappeared or lies in ruins, many of the most important Templar buildings in this story are still standing, and continue to be kept in pristine condition,
My literary circle of nobles, lawyers and scientists was a group of the leading lights of Tudor and Jacobean society, and their descendants are still with us to this day. They created the New World, across the Atlantic, which is very much the domain envisaged by the Rosicrucians, and they are still very much in control of their inheritance. Many of their ‘Old World’ brethren are also still here to support them, to share that same heritage and beliefs. They now call it the ‘Special Relationship’.
The children of the medieval knights are still behaving like those 12th century crusaders, confronting their old enemy, a modern Saladin, who rather like Don Quixote, they find appearing in different guises, around every corner. Even today, Western leaders can trace their heritage to the world of the Knights Templar, who first set up shop in Jerusalem, nearly a millennium ago.
Obama’s early warning stations at Consuegra in Spain..???
This saga has, so far, been lacking in long quotes from the ‘great man’ and quite deliberately, because my story is about the people associated with the fabrication of Shakespeare’s World, and not the words attributed to him. However, it seems appropriate, as I reach the end, to use the lines inscribed on those two identical statues, one in Poet’s Corner and the other in Wilton House.
Both bear a speech, delivered by Prospero, in ‘The Tempest’, the play which many believe was the final piece of the Shakespeare jigsaw. In fact, I think it marked, just another milestone, on what has proved to be a much greater journey, over four centuries long, and still counting.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air, into thin air: And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.
Prospero – The Tempest
On passage from Greece – Athina B – shipwrecked on a ‘luvvies’ shore – Brighton 1980
Sir William Clopton, the Agincourt knight, returned home from France and began rebuilding the Holy Trinity Church, at Long Melford. William donated land he owned, in the centre of the nearby town of Hadleigh, which was to be used as a market place. He also rented to the townspeople, a house that stood on the site. This building became the Guildhall and later the Grammar School, and the rent charged by Sir William was an annual fee of a single red rose.
This story was uncovered by Clopton family researchers, from America. The annual fee had not been paid by the townsfolk for several centuries, but the Clopton descendants waived the arrears on the condition that all future rose payments were delivered on time. Now each year, the Mayor of Hadleigh places a single red rose on the tomb of Sir William Clopton, in Holy Trinity Church, at Long Melford.
Roses seem to pop up all over this story and certainly Elizabethan poets seemed to adore them, in fact they seemed to talk about nothing else. We have a theatre called Rose, a school built on the ‘Manor of the Rose’ and the sister of an eloquent Italian, called Rose, plus they were an essential adornment to almost every portrait. The Tudor Rose has been omnipresent in English life ever since.
The prospects for the Children of the Knights Templar continue to look rosy and everything in this story inevitably comes up smelling of roses. Well, for everybody except William Shakespeare the Stratford trader and moneylender, whose reputation is now being smeared with the stuff you spread on roses, perhaps courtesy of those Gallaway nags..!!
The Bard’s hold on his legacy is beginning to look very shaky indeed.
If you are still in the camp that believes ‘Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare’, then good luck to you, although I hope you have revisited some of those truths, which you believe to be self-evident. You might have already been an ‘anti-Stratfordian’, and already made your choice as to the alternative author, be it Oxford, Bacon, Marlowe, Sidney or Neville. Whichever individual candidate you favour, Shakespeare or one of his adversaries, can you put them in the right place ALL the time, EVERY time, possessing all the necessary knowledge, experience and ability, to fit every possible literary criteria?
I think you will find it extremely difficult…!!
Myself, I’m heading off to catch the Orient Express and interview my carriage full of suspects. If I remember correctly, one of them was a Countess and she proved to be as guilty as all the others on the train. My take on the Shakespeare story is the same – THEY ALL DID IT.
To keep this all a secret was the EASY bit, because all the participants had already vowed to keep far more important matters, out of public gaze. You might think that is too difficult to comprehend because the lie is so big, they surely can’t get away with it for four hundred years. Well, on the night of the next full Moon stare up into the heavens and wonder a little, what is actually myth and what is reality?
My personal connections to this story are themselves quite remarkable. They include the obvious link to the Jagger name itself, but there are also those substantial drops of blue blood, emanating from a variety of royal personages, plus about an armful of Cecil vintage.
The Tudor rose remains prominent in this story, as does my connection to an educational establishment that wouldn’t have been out of place, either in Stratford-upon-Avon or Long Melford. The Guildford school hymn, ‘who would true valour be’, was a regular part of life at the Royal Grammar School, but the words meant little to me at the time. The hymn uses a poem by John Bunyan, another with great symbolism in his writing, and it was the Countess of Pembroke’s home, Houghton House, which inspired him as his ‘House Beautiful’,, in Pilgrim’s Progress. Having come to the end of this magnum opus, perhaps Bunyan’s words mean a little more than before. Certainly, the final verse of the hymn does seem particularly relevant to my adventures in the secretive ‘World of William Shakespeare’.
Hobgoblin, nor foul Fiend,
Can daunt his Spirit:
He knows, he at the end,
Shall Life Inherit.
Then Fancies fly away,
He’l fear not what men say,
He’l labour Night and Day,
To be a Pilgrim.
My story ends with me still holding the ball, but I know I have run far too far with it already, so now it’s your turn to take my pass. The Stratfordian loyalists have been valiantly defending their goal line for centuries and they aren’t going to give in easily. It will take a more experienced man than me to finally cross their try line, but I’m sure that they are there for the taking. I haven’t provided all the answers, but I have poked and prodded, and found several major weaknesses in their defence. Should anyone wish to make that final break for victory, to uncover the truth about the people who created the works of William Shakespeare – I wish them the best of luck…!!!!
A tranche of RGS Guildford’s finest pupils
And, very finally, a few words attributed to that infamous man from Stratford:
‘So as good luck would have it and in one fell swoop, its high time I sent the old Bard packing. He will be as dead as a doornail. He has had far too much of a good thing and he should just vanish into thin air. In one fell swoop I’ll despatch the dog of war to the far corners of the World. More fool you if you don’t believe me and I know I’ve been laying it on with a trowel and I always wear my heart on my sleeve. I think this is a foregone conclusion but I could be a laughing stock and in a pickle, but in my minds eye and with some fair play, all’s well that’s end well.’
Keith Browning – April 2016