Shakespeare Re-invented (8-13)

 Chapter Eight 

Noble Beasts


Born on the ‘wrong side of the sheets’

This debate about the legitimacy and authenticity of William Shakespeare might be as much about the pedigree of royal bastard children, as about the Stratford man and his plays. This idea is not a new one, as Shakespeare conspiracy theorists have long associated their list of ‘alternative’ candidates, with tales of illegitimacy and moral wrongdoing by the monarch and her aristocratic subjects.

The Tudor nobility were a randy old lot and their bed hopping adventures makes anything you read about in the 21st century media, concerning the sex lives of footballers and film stars, pale into insignificance. Adventurers and warmongering knights, away for extended periods, were not best pleased to return home to find their wife had produced a new born child. These sexual indiscetions caused a problem for a succession of monarchs, their wives and mistresses, and many cynics suggest that the royal line of succession isn’t worth the cost of the parchment scroll.

The punishment for being discovered could be severe, for both sexes, so if you were caught in the wrong bed at the wrong time, your head could be hung out to dry on London Bridge, not just provide titillating gossip for the Sunday breakfast table. Noblemen also had to be sure their latest conquest hadn’t entered the King’s bed recently, as monarchs took a dim view of their mistresses, two or three timing them, with other lovers. Henry VIII was particularly brutal with his wives, notably the Boleyns and Howards, as randy young bucks and their paramours lost their heads in retribution for their liberal ways with the King’s property.

One of the biggest problems facing any society is what to do with its illigitimate and unwanted children? Generally, the response has been to create religious and legal codes, which attempt to moderate the procreative tendencies of their own section of the planet’s population. These codes usually centre on the ceremony of marriage, with a carrot and stick approach to ensuring the population sticks to the rules. For the lower classes the guidelines were based on religious teachings and for those further up the social stratum, finance becomes more important, with a dowry, often including a landed estate, being attached to the wife, with the woman gaining the security of her husband’s status.

The problems begin when people break the rules and different societies have dealt with this at different times and in different ways. Children born outside a marriage were traditionally pushed to the edge of that society and declared illegitimate. Nowadays, an increasingly secular world has reduced the problem by improved contraception and by relaxing the social rules. However prior to the 1960s, illegitimacy in Britain was very much a problem for both mother and child, but seen as much less so for the errant male of the species.

Early in the 20th century, children were often removed from their mother and sent for adoption by religious charities, with the mother, for her ‘mortal sins’, being committed to a psychiatric institution. Even as late as the 1950s, large numbers of illegitimate children were sent to orphanages in the old British colonies of Australia and Canada. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’…!

The Victorians coped with these unwanted children by confining them to the workhouse or farming them out to the aunts or grandparents of the poor, unfortunate girl. The mothers might be ostracised from their family, but sometimes managed to start a new life in the rapidly expanding industrial conurbations of 19th century Britain. They were the lucky ones because the suicide rate for ‘fallen women’ was enormous, with infanticide also conducted on a similar horrific scale. The infant might be drowned or smothered, then disposed of in the kitchen fire. In previous centuries, the British have been even harsher on the fair sex, with the mother’s of ‘base-born’ children, hanged or drowned as witches, particularly if the child was malformed.

The ‘rule makers’ have always found themselves in a difficult position, because as they tried to control the sexual excesses of the peasant and middle classes, they found the problem was actually far greater on their own doorstep. However, as with every other aspect of life, the rich manufacture ways to circumvent their own regulations and have systems in place, to cover up their indiscretions.

Many books have suggested that the Royal line of succession,the one that has been in place since William the Conqueror arrived at Pevensey Bay, is peppered with illegitimate heirs, who mysteriously disappeared or died under suspicious circumstances. William himself was known as William the Bastard and for the next thousand years the Royal ancestral roll is littered with them. The recent discovery of the body of King Richard III, has shown that his genes are not quite what they are supposed to be. Europe would have been a much safer place, with fewer wars and internecine disputes, if the ‘blue bloods’ had conducted their liaisons according to the rules they drew up for the rest of us.

The marriage practice, 400 years ago, in Tudor times, was much like today. A couple would become betrothed by a verbal bond or, for the rich, they signed pre-nuptial legal agreement, before being married in the local parish church, in a public religious ceremony. Any land, title or chattels, brought together by the marriage would usually be passed on to the children of that marriage.

The inheritance system, known as ‘primogeniture’, favoured eldest boys, so they went to the top of the pile in the batting order, taking precedence over any elder sister. The girls could eventually get their hands on the landed estate, but only if all their male siblings had died. In this case, the noble title (lord, duke or earl) would revert to the Crown and be held in abeyance. This system also encouraged males, of all ages, to actively seek surviving heiresses of large estates. This explains how the aristocracy accumulated tracts of lands in diverse parts of the country and why 70 year old noblemen married women a fraction of their age. Bizarrely, young children, aged as young as six, also became engaged to their ‘life partner’, as part of a business agreement, arranged by the parents of the ‘loving couple’.

If everything was that simple there would have been relatively few problems, but life was complicated by the high mortality rate, which created havoc with the avarage family tree. The aristocracy were better off than the peasants, but they were not immune to the terrors of bubonic plague, small pox and syphilis, plus a variety of other conditions, that come under the generic term, the ‘sweating sickness’.

The male death rate from the many wars was also high, while the women folk had to survive their constant battle with pregnancy, in an unsanitary world, devoid of running water, and with few effective methods of pain relief.

The other major contributor to the high mortality rates was the excessive number of executions. This was a barbaric world, where a peasant could lose their life for the most trivial offence, and for the upper echelons, a wrong word uttered in the Royal Court could be used by your rivals to mount a case for treason, and an eventual visit to the executioners block on Tower Hill.

The high rate of mortality led to the surviving men and women quickly remarrying, often within days of the death of their spouse. Individuals of both sexes might marry three and four times, so further complicating any tree of inheritance. The tree was further entwined because the aristocracy, almost exclusively, married their own kind, and as the generations moved forward their family tree became a thicket of inter-relationships, and a pretty dense one. Any political or legal dispute would inevitably match brother against brother or cousin against cousin, so even if you had lived a fairly docile existence, the behaviour of your brothers and sisters could land you in very hot water. There was little presumption of benign innocence when family matters were concerned.


Crammer – hanged, drawn and quartered

This ritual method of execution, being hanged, drawn and quartered, was the standard punishment, during Tudor times, for men convicted of high treason, against the English Crown. This was routinely carried out after 1351, but had begun during the reign of King Henry III (1216-1272). The guilty man was fastened to a wooden hurdle and dragged through the streets, by a team of horses, to the place of execution, where they were hanged (almost to the point of death), then disembowelled, beheaded and their body chopped into pieces.


The human remains were then displayed in prominent places, the heads mounted on poles at major crossroads, or in London, on the bridge across the Thames. Sometimes the body parts were dispersed to the four corners of the kingdom, as a warning to the population at large. There was also the gory belief held amongst many, that the blood of an executed person held special properties. This meant there was a crush to get as close to the savagery as possible, hoping to get splashed in the victim’s blood. It wasn’t until 1817 that the last execution using this method was carried out, in England, at Derby gaol, where three members of the Pentrich Uprising met their fate in this way.

For reasons of public decency, women convicted of high treason were ‘burnt at the stake’. (Elizabethan peasants didn’t wear knickers). This was also the ritual method of execution for men of religion, who were sent to meet their maker, with a firey end, again in a public place. The executions became major spectacles, with thousands in attendance. Sometimes the peasant masses were there to cheer on the death of a particular blaggard, but at other times, there to mourn the loss of one of their heroes or heroines. Public executions of important religious figures were often accompanied by lavish ceremonial, notably those 300 clerics who were sentenced to death by ‘Bloody’, Queen Mary.


Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, burned at the stake in Oxford, in 1556.


Medical crammer – Syphilis

No, this is not a page misappropriated from a medical textbook, but an essential part of understanding how Tudor families developed the way they did. Syphilis was rife in Tudor England and affected up to one fifth of the population. The disease was known as the ‘pox’ or ‘great pox’, and sometimes the ‘French disease’, named after French soldiers, who were blamed for spreading it across Italy, after they had attacked Naples, in 1494. The disease may have been brought back from the Americas by returning seafarers from the Columbus expedition of 1492, and first gained the name syphilis in 1530, when identified by an Italian physician. The Tudors did not, initially, associate the disease with sexual intercourse and so this was just an unforeseen consequence of their rapacious lifestyle.

Syphilis manifests itself in different ways and can vary in its effect as the disease progresses. Symptoms can be mild and often appear as an imitator of other diseases. Skin rashes and ulceration are common, but there is often just a general weakening of the body systems. Syphilis was frequently an underlying cause of death, compounded by a world which lacked fresh water and sanitation, in urban areas, or anything resembling effective medicines in the world at large.

The disease can be carried by a pregnant woman and passed directly from mother to child at birth, causing infants to be weak or disabled. Infected children might struggle through to their first birthday before dying soon afterwards. Sometimes, the disease remained dormant, leaving the mother relatively unaffected and able to bear more, sickly, offspring. Eventually, the disease becomes less virulent, so child number six or seven might be born healthy and live a long life. Conversely, other children initially symptom-free might carry the disease, and then develop symptoms in their teens or even middle age. This ‘slow-burner’ effect commonly produced paralysis for the aging adult, often moving to affect the brain, causing uncontrollable, ‘madness’.

The toxic substance, mercury, spread on the lesions like a paste, was the only treatment known to Tudor physicians and entailed a period of isolation of three to four weeks. The cure was frequently more deadly or debilitating than the disease, as the effects of mercury poisoning took centre stage, causing blindness, further skin problems, including redness, sweating, loss of hair, nails and teeth and a general lessening of the senses.

Henry VIII was thought to have died of syphilis, but commentators are reluctant to make any definitive diagnosis. However, judging by the antics of his wives and mistresses, and others around him in the Royal Court, then he would have had to be a very fortunate man not to have caught the disease. There are several families, central to this story, where later children survive, after earlier siblings died, or where paralysis and mental disturbance struck in later life. They are probably the major clues when making a medical diagnosis, nearly 500 years after the event.


Woodcut of early treatment – Vienna, 1496

Wards of Court

The Tudor aristocracy had their own system of caring for their orphan children and the more sensitive leftovers of unwanted parenthood, and they even had a government department to ensure all was handled with decorum. This agency was the Court of Wards, which was ostensibly designed to sort out the financial affairs of children, whose parents had died before they reached the age of majority, at 21. The Court’s secondary roles were to ensure the correct titles and privileges were handed on to these youngsters, and that their welfare and educational needs were met.

Children might become wards in several different ways. It could be that the mother died and the father was then unable to cope with his leftover brood, but in this dangerous age, often both parents died relatively young. The Court could place the needy children in the charge of a close relation, perhaps an unmarried or widowed aunt, and there were many suitable noble households available, in this vast spider’s web of family relations. Some households became a repository for a nursery full of wards. So, distantly related cousins could find themselves spending the first years of life together, in a big London house, or perhaps on a country estate, in the ‘Home Counties’.

There was also a ‘market’ for wards, as rich nobleman thought it might further their own ambition by taking charge of a particular child, who was the heir to property or had a title to his name. Wards could also be bought and sold, and so some children found themselves ‘owned’ by two or three different guardians before they reached their majority.

The illegitimate offspring of senior members of the Royal family, including the monarch, were often treated in a different way, not as wards, but placed as the natural child of a trusted family, reared and educated as one of their own. The head of the family then received lands, honours and lucrative government positions, which would amply reward them for their trouble and discretion.

These regal excesses are now difficult to spot, as the Tudor social system did a good job covering them up. Some were open secrets at the time, but later generations of ‘establishment’ historians have sanitised the contemporary accounts. Scholars have long argued about who are the most likely candidates, and there are tell tale signs, which indicate all is not what it seems, on the ancestral scroll.

The ‘foster father’, of the Royal love-child, was usually a lesser member of the nobility, possibly with merchant connections to the City of London, with his home base a discreet distance away, perhaps in East Anglia, the Midlands or the West Country. There would almost certainly be an academic streak in the family, and many of these foster parents are noted for their literary skills. They were rarely enterprising risk takers, but the more reliable, sensible sort of personality. The maternal side was also important and the foster mothers often held the distinguished noble pedigree, which their husbands lacked. Many of these ‘changeling’ children became extremely long lived and well documented people, yet, the circumstances of their birth still remain rather blurred, often lacking a specific time or place.

The children of these blue-blood offshoots, received outstanding education, with access to a tutor at home, (often one of the foster parents), and then on to a school of some note, with Westminster, Eton College or Merchant Taylor’s being the favourites. Then to university at Oxford or Cambridge, with Christ Church, Trinity and two St John’s Colleges being the most popular. Usually there was a law degree in there somewhere too, or at least time spent in London’s, Inns of Court.

Significantly, these ‘changelings’, lacked the parental interaction you would expect in later life, often being omitted from their foster father’s will. Their relationship with the monarch of the day often transcended their stated position in the tree of life, frequently beginning with a Royal visit to the family seat, when the child was just a toddler. There was usually ongoing evidence of respect and affection, with tokens being exchanged between the sovereign and the seemingly ‘average’ subject.

The girls became ladies-in-waiting to the queen of the day, whilst the boys gained important positions in the government, early in their adult life. Once abandoning their nest, these male cuckoos would make a rapid, often meteoric, rise through the ranks of whatever profession they chose, or was chosen for them. Some quickly gained a leading military position in the Army or Navy, often allied to a role as royal messenger or foreign ambassador.

The academic types moved into positions of administrative power, close to the heart of government, as close confidentes of the monarch. Some used their superb education to enter the church, whilst others became experts in the blossoming world of science and technology. Most relevant to this story, it was common for participants, from all these various disciplines, to become influential in the world of literature and the arts. The more righteous and less suspicious amongst you might believe that the most talented individuals could achieve these great positions of their own accord, but this was a time when parentage and patronage decided your life chances, and ‘rags to riches’ was rarely what it seemed.

The other place to spot the undercover royals is in their portraiture. Inherited traits such as ginger hair and a hooked nose would be difficult to disguise, so the portrait painter had a delicate line to walk to ensure that everyone involved was happy with his work. Red hair is a feature that streaks through many, seemingly, unconnected individuals in my story.

There had been opportunities for new blood to fill the void, left by the ravages of the Black Death, and further gaps in the noble lines continued to appear as plague and other diseases decimated the population, as did the high mortality associated with fraternal and international wars. Successful members of the merchant classes took every available opportunity to marry into the noble families of Norman descent, but their presence only diluted the blue-bloods, it didn’t replace them.

The nobility did a good job of filling the void themselves, with the Howards and Nevilles especially noteworthy for producing vast numbers of children, with families of 15-20 children not uncommon, thanks to a succession of wives and mistresses. Their offspring spread out in succeeding generations, multiplying in similar fashion, so keeping both these families to the fore in any matrimonial liaisons.

The conclusion must be, that any individual, claiming an unlikely ‘rags to riches’ story, must be looked upon with a certain degree of suspicion, particularly where their origins are a little misty or when the ‘son of a tanner’ found himself as a ward in the home of a leading statesman of Tudor England.

The Williams

Early in the reign of Henry VIII, the job of overseer of the lonely, lost and unwanted children was known as the Master of the King’s Wards. William Paulet gained this post in 1526, and his own biography ticks many of the boxes on my ‘likely bastard’ checklist. William’s father is named as Sir John Paulet, of Basing in Hampshire, from a family with roots in Somerset, but this background doesn’t justify the amazing career of his son.

William lived to a great age, possibly in excess of 90 years old, but despite living a long and well documented life, and creating a dynasty of over 100 descendants in his own lifetime, William Paulet’s place of birth is unknown and date of birth variously recorded between 1475 & 1485.

David Loades, who wrote a book about this significant individual says, ‘Paulet is a frustrating subject. There is not the evidential base for a meaningful biography’.

Sir William Paulet,1st Marquess of Winchester

William Paulet, 1st Marquis of Winchester – fine red hair..!!

William Paulet was a special individual, who was created Marquess of Winchester, and served Henry VIII and the FOUR succeeding Tudor monarchs, holding a number of high profile positions, including Lord High Treasurer, a post he kept from 1550 to 1572, through the most turbulent years of Tudor rule. Paulet always kept himself on the right side of any religious or family rivalry, changing course three times in his religious beliefs, to match the fluctuating world in which he lived. He put his survival down to ‘being a willow, not an oak.’

Paulet’s biography looks to me, to fit the profile of a man who was the illegitimate son of the first Tudor monarch, Henry VII. No-where, have I seen that suggested, but my wild assumption would make him the half-brother of Henry VIII and the great uncle of Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth. It would certainly explain Paulet’s position in Tudor society and the reverential way he was treated, by successive sovereigns. This would have also made him the ideal gatekeeper of the Royal bedroom secrets, during his time as chief warder of the wards. He was one of the most influential men in England, for over 50 years, and he also had a fine head of ginger hair in his younger days.

When the King’s Wards became the Court of Wards, in 1540, Paulet continued in the post and remained there until succeeded by William Parry and then the infamous, William Cecil.

William Cecil and Court of Wards 1560

William Cecil and the Court of Wards

There seems to have been an acceptance by later Tudor monarchs that the sins of their fathers should be forgiven, and the illegitimate offspring continued to be well cared for in the Royal fold. One illegitimate child who was attributed to Henry VII, was Roland de Velville. He was knighted and lived quietly, till his death in 1535, as constable of Beaumaris Castle,. But were there others?

Whilst the indiscretions of Henry VII, probably didn’t affect this Shakespeare story directly, those of his son, Henry VIII, and his granddaughter, Elizabeth, certainly did. I frequently read that Henry VIII had ‘many mistresses’ and ‘many illegitimate’ children, but current historians seem unable to confirm their identities. Mary Boleyn and Bessie Blount are the names most frequently mentioned as Henry’s mistresses, but with only one ‘acknowledged’ illegitimate child between them.

However, my check list keeps throwing up rather lonely looking children, who did rather well for themselves, despite lacking the family credentials needed to succeed in Tudor society. If these self-made men and women didn’t have the right genes then they were very talented or extremely fortunate. Lucky enough to gain an important role early in life and then hang on to it for decades, lucky enough to survive about-turns in religious beliefs and political policy, lucky enough to serve four or even five different monarchs and maintain their position with each. Finally they were lucky enough to escape the block on Tower Hill, when many of their family, friends and colleagues met a gruesome end, for holding not dissimilar views.

Virgin Queen?

The image of Elizabeth, the ‘Virgin Queen’, is something which history books have used as a standard theme for centuries. This picture, particularly suited the prim and proper Victorians, and also those who wrote the text books for English schoolchildren during the 20th century. This virtuous image was based on two givens; that Elizabeth did not marry, and therefore did not have any children. To suggest any moral impropriety by, perhaps, the greatest of all England’s monarchs, would take a little explaining in the prudish and conservative classrooms of Middle England.

However, before she became queen, Elizabeth had already been suspected of a teenage fling with her guardian, Thomas Seymour, the first husband of Catherine Parr, and throughout her life there is little evidence that she was a dour, asexual, virginal woman. Far from it, as Elizabeth would encourage the attentions of the most gallant and adventurous men of her realm. Her light hearted portrayal by Miranda Richardson, in the ‘Blackadder’ television series, seems nearer the mark than the classroom image of a spinster Queen.

Elizabeth had been expected to marry, when she acceded to the throne, in November 1558, and there were ny number of eager foreign suitors, waiting in the wings. However, in her coronation speech, Elizabeth announced she was married to her country and to her people, and would not be diverted from her responsibilities by taking a husband. Marriages were proposed, but mainly by those who wanted to return England to the Catholic fold. None materialised, but not for want of vociferous voices for and against, including one that ended with a challenge to a duel between two leading figures of the day, Philip Sidney and Edward de Vere.

In another event relating to the marriage debate, two printers had their hands chopped off for publishing strongly worded material about the merits of one particular suitor. In this case they were actually supporting the Queen and the Protestant Church, but their indiscretion in publishing comments on the matter, was not welcomed in royal circles.

It was Elizabeth’s potential indiscretions, not necessarily her marriage plans, which fuel the imagination of the Shakespeare conspiracy theorists. The names and numbers of Elizabeth’s potential children vary from one to seven or even eight…!! Whilst the latter would seem unlikely for a ‘Virgin Queen’, the problems of a visibly pregnant Queen could be obscured by the costumes of the day and her ability to ‘spend time in the country’, whenever she so wished.

There is speculation, by Paul Streitz, that her teenage association with Thomas Seymour produced Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. More widespread is the idea that Elizabeth had a life-long love affair with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and one that might have involved a secret marriage, and several children, including Mary Sidney, Robert Cecil, Robert Devereux and Elizabeth Leighton. The supporters of Francis Bacon all seem certain their man was born of Elizabeth, whilst an Arthur Dudley, captured by the Spanish, swore that he was an illegitimate son of Elizabeth and Robert Dudley..

There is also rather incredulous speculation that the Earl of Oxford had an affair with his own mother, (Queen Elizabeth) which produced Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton. This is the ‘Prince Tudor’ theory, championed by one leading group of Oxfordians, who believe that the Earl was the real face of William Shakespeare and that the Sonnets were written as love letters from Oxford to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth I - Phoenix portrait

Queen Elizabeth, wearing her Phoenix jewel

The ‘official’ response to these claims, has been the one commonly dished out to conspiracy theorists, calling the proposals, ‘malevolent’, ‘ludicrous’, ‘breathtakingly stupid’, based on ‘heinous rumours put about by the enemies of the state’. In some ways they are correct, because the list of Elizabeth’s potential assignations is long and impressive, but its extent seems fanciful in the extreme.

However, there is rarely smoke without fire and there is plenty of evidence, in state papers, that shows there was close, personal contact between those concerned. Supporting evidence for the existence of these children is piecemeal, based partly on the physical attention given by the Queen to the relevant individual, including the exchange of gifts and favours. The second was an abundance of red heads, a hair colour that had been dominant in the Welsh Tudor line. The hearsay of the time is also regarded as valid evidence, and surprisingly, became part of a written history of Victorian England.

The ‘Dictionary of National Biography’, published in 1895, under the heading, ‘Dudley’ stated:

‘Whatever were the Queen’s relations with Dudley before his wife’s death, they became closer after. It was reported that she was formally betrothed to him, and that she had secretly married him in Lord Pembroke’s house,(Wilton House) and that she was a mother already in January 1560-1’.

‘In 1562 the reports that Elizabeth had children by Dudley were revived. Robert Brooks, of Devizes, was sent to prison for publishing the slander, and seven years later a man named Marsham, of Norwich, was punished for the same offence.

A.L. Rowse, in ‘The Elizabethan Renaissance’ says; ‘of course, in the country and abroad, people talked about the Queen’s relations with Leicester. In 1581 Henry Hawkins said that my Lord Robert hath had five children by the Queen, and she never goeth in progress but to be delivered.’

Most, if not all, the names put forward as Elizabeth’s children, were later involved in the Elizabethan theatre, and the names include leading candidates in the Shakespeare authorship debate. Logic also says that if you can keep the birth of five or six children under wraps for 400 years, then keeping an author’s name secret should be child’s play.

Evidence of Elizabeth’s secret marriage to Robert Dudley was presented to Queen Victoria, in 1860, during a visit to Wilton House, home of the Earl of Pembroke.

Pembroke told the Queen that there was a document in the muniment room which provided evidence that Dudley married Elizabeth in a secret marriage and that she was pregnant at the time. Victoria asked to see the document and her response was to throw it in the fire, saying, ‘one must not interfere with history’.

Crammer – Royal Court

The term, Royal Court, was used to designate the place where the monarch of the day happened to be in residence at the time, and did not refer to one particular palace or castle. Queen Elizabeth spent most of her time in her palaces at Whitehall, Hampton Court, Greenwich and Windsor Castle, but at times she went on ‘progress’ visiting her most loyal supporters, on their own country estates. Elizabeth moved around her palaces with the seasons, usually to be found at Whitehall during Christmas time and Windsor at Easter.

Each monarch had their own inner circle of special servants, with ‘Gentlemen of the Bedchamber’, for the King, and ‘Ladies-in-Waiting’, for the Queen of the day. The Court was also made up of noblemen (known as courtiers) and their personal servants, plus an array of foreign ambassadors and their own entourages. The grand total might exceed a thousand ‘A’ list’ personnel, plus there were ‘camp followers’, providing services for the ‘courtiers’. Everything was to hand, from saddlers to blacksmiths, to cooks and bakers, entertainers, including actors and minstrels plus a fair number of ladies of the night, to add to the following.

Elizabeth I, procession at marriage of William Herbert - 1600

Elizabeth in procession with her Court, at the marriage of William Herbert- 1599.

The Royal Court was moved regularly for practical reasons, as sanitation could at best be described as ‘inadequate’, and with no running water, there was an urgent necessity to clear out the contents of the garderobes, after a few weeks of unbroken revelry. The Romans had developed excellent systems of water management, over 1500 years earlier, but the technology had been lost and was not rediscovered again until the time of Queen Victoria, when Joseph Bazalgette and Thomas Crapper gave us clean running water and an operating sewerage system. Henry VIII did improve the water systems during his reign, and he installed quite sophisticated baths, for his own personal use and that of his wives.

At Hampton Court Palace, ‘the baths were made by a cooper and were attached to the wall; they were supplied by two taps, one for cold water and one for hot. Directly behind the bathroom, in another small room, was a charcoal- fired stove, or boiler, fed from a cistern on the second floor which was filled by a conduit.’

Cardinal Wolsey had turned York Place, his house beside the River Thames, into one of the largest in the country, but in 1530, Henry VIII thought this luxuriating had gone too far, appropriating the house for himself. When Henry took over he renamed it Whitehall Palace, and continued building to create the largest palace in Europe, bigger even than Versailles or the Vatican, eventually extending it to fifteen hundred rooms, with the grounds spread out over twenty acres.

Whitehall Palace had replaced the Palace of Westminster, which was partly destroyed by fire in 1512, and the surviving buildings then became the home of the English Parliament. The Whitehall complex, itself, was destroyed by fire, in 1698, all that is except the ‘Banqueting House’, which still exists today. The palace site is now occupied by the government buildings, now known collectively as ‘Whitehall’.

This surviving relic was a later addition in the time of James I, designed by the famous architect of the day, Inigo Jones, another who has connections to the theatre, and to this Shakespeare mystery.

NPG D1306,The execution of King Charles I,after Unknown artist

Charles I, executed outside the Banqueting Hall, in 1649


The Royal House of Dudley – so near but so far

Whilst the Cookes, the Jaggers, the Cloptons and the Shakespeares, might have some part to play in Tudor happenings, they pale into insignificance when we consider the impact of the Dudley family. The others were merely facilitators, whilst Edmund Dudley, his son, John Dudley, and grandson Robert Dudley, were marksmen in the front line of the action. They also create an ongoing link between the Shakespeare’s homeland in Warwickshire, and events in Oxford and London.

Edmund Dudley (1471-1510) was not of noble blood, but his father was rich enough to provide him with an education at Oxford University and Gray’s Inn. Edmund came to the notice of Henry VII, in 1492, whilst negotiating a treaty with the French, and continued to assist the king with legal matters. Edmund soon entered Parliament and ten years later was elected Speaker of the House.

Dudley became a leading member of the ‘Council Learned in the Law’, an organisation designed to protect Henry VII’s status as King, and to collect tax and enforce debts, especially from those who challenged his legitimacy. This made Edmund Dudley a rich man, but also extremely unpopular with the feudal Barons. They felt Henry Tudor had been opportunist in taking the English crown at Bosworth, with very modest blood credentials, via the Beaufort line of his mother, Margaret Beaufort.

So, Edmund Dudley was a hated ‘enforcer’ for the new Tudor dynasty, and when Henry VIII succeeded his father, in 1509, Edmund became a prime target for his noble enemies, was charged with financial impropriety, and became one of Henry’s first loyal subjects to have a rendezvous with the axe-man.

Members of the nobility, executed for treason, usually had their title, land and property confiscated, so the family of the victim also suffered financially as well as facing the shame of the charges laid against their father. The land and title might be restored after a suitable interval, or after due penance had been paid, but that was only done at the whim of the monarch.

Edmund’s young son, John Dudley (1504-1553), by his second wife, Elizabeth Grey, was only seven at the time of his father’s execution and was made a ward of Edward Guildford. John Dudley proved to be an ambitious young man and was knighted by Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, during his first major military campaign, at the age of just nineteen. Young Dudley was noted for his athletic and combat skills, both on foot and horseback, winning prestigious tournaments at the Royal Court.

In 1525, John married his guardian’s daughter, Jane Guildford, four years his junior and his former class-mate during his time as ward. The young Dudleys were a new breed of parent, who brought up their thirteen children, both boys and girls, in the new Renaissance learning of humanism and science. The focus was the study of Classical Greek and Latin, but science, based on the mathematics of the ancient world, was also high on the agenda. It is exposure to this new style of education, which the anti-Stratfordians believe has to be an essential ingredient for anyone claiming to be the author of the Shakespeare canon. The Bard’s plays are full of this new wave of thinking.

John Dudley’s power and wealth continued to grow at the time of the ‘Dissolution’ of the monasteries. His father’s lands had now been restored to him, by then, and he was also granted extensive lands in Warwickshire, close to his own inheritance, at Dudley Castle. He also took up the option to purchase, the remnants of the Clerkenwell Priory complex.

Dudley was devoted to his family and not known to seek sexual favours elsewhere, but he lusted for power and took every opportunity to profit from the misfortune of others. He was described as handsome, charming and clever, but also cold, cunning, and a consummate bully. He became one of Henry VIII’s most trusted men and continued in that role when the young king, Edward VI, succeeded his father, in 1547.

John Dudley’s great rival was Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, Lord Protector and guardian of Princess Elizabeth. Dudley forced Somerset out of office, and had him executed on fabricated charges. The teenage and very fragile king then created John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, effectively making him the most powerful man in England, with day to day control over all government matters.

The, sickly, young king, then altered his will, to exclude from the succession, his illegitimate half sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, instead naming Lady Jane Grey, granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister, Mary Tudor, as his successor. Jane Grey just happened to be John Dudley’s daughter-in-law.

On Edward VI’s death, Dudley claimed the throne for Lady Jane and took his men to East Anglia to arrest the disinherited Princess Mary. However, during his absence from London, Parliament changed its mind about the succession, supported Mary instead of Jane Grey, and ordered the arrest of John Dudley and all those involved in the plot. This included all close family connections, which made for a Tower, brim full of people, all of whom expected to be at the heart of the new Queendom.

6804,Lady Jane Dudley (née Grey),by Unknown artist

Lady Jane Grey, Queen of England – ©National Portrait Gallery, London

John Dudley and his son Guildford Dudley were executed for supporting the wrong queen, and some months later the same fate met Lady Jane Grey. She was executed after the abortive Wyatt rebellion, to unseat Queen Mary, had failed. This had been actively supported by Jane Grey’s father, and Queen Mary’s advisors felt her gaoled rival might be an ongoing focus for future rebellion.

Six of John Dudley’s thirteen children reached adulthood, but only four survived to see Elizabeth accede to the throne, in 1558. The eldest, Robert Dudley was born in 1532 and had the benefit of that humanist education, in addition to inheriting the athletic prowess and horsemanship of his father. His particular love was mathematics and science and he developed a great interest in alchemy.

Robert Dudley - Earl of Leicester

Robert Dudley – Queen Elizabeth’s paramour.

Robert Dudley first met the future Queen Elizabeth, as an eight year old, but it was only later, when they both became inmates of the Tower during the Lady Jane Grey crisis, did they become more intimately acquainted. However, at the time of his incaceration, Dudley was already married to Amy Robsart, the daughter of a wealthy Norfolk landowner, who he wed in 1550.

On her accession, Elizabeth, immediately, appointed Robert Dudley as her Master of Horse, which meant the two friends were in close and daily contact. It was not long before he was made a Knight of the Garter, another personal gift of the Queen. His bedchamber was soon moved into her private apartments, with Court gossip about their close relationship being reported back to Spain, by Bishop De Quadra, who was the King of Spain’s envoy to the English Court.

Dudley’s wife, Amy had, regularly, visited her husband in the Tower, but she never visited him at the Royal Court after Elizabeth took the throne. In 1560, Amy Dudley died in mysterious circumstances, falling down stairs at Cumnor House, near Oxford. The population, at large, believed her husband was implicated in the ‘accident’ and there was already talk about his closeness to Elizabeth.

There are plausible stories that a secret marriage between Dudley and his sovereign took place soon after Amy’s death. As mentioned earlier, their relationship was reported to have produced several children, but the details remain contentious. Queen Victoria threw some of the evidence in the fire, and ‘Establishment’ historians still staunchly defend their version of the Royal ancestral roll.

However, Robert Dudley did have one proven illegitimate son, Robert, with Lady Douglas Sheffield, a member of the Howard family. This son became Robert, the ‘English pirate’, that we heard about earlier. The son tried to prove his father had actually married Lady Sheffield, in another secret ceremony, but the testimony of his vast array of noble witnesses was not believed.

Robert Dudley was made the Earl of Leicester in 1564, and did not remarry for nearly twenty years, perhaps, hoping the Queen would take him officially as her consort. The Earl of Leicester did finally take another wife, when he married Lettice Knollys, in ‘another’ secret ceremony, in 1578.

Lettice should have been named ‘Knottys’ because of the complicated way that her three marriages and other affairs, links everyone in my story together. She had been married to Walter Deveroux, 1st Earl of Essex, but he died ‘conveniently’, with more accusations of foul play by Dudley. Henry Sidney, Dudley’s brother-in-law, conducted an official enquiry and found nothing suspicious. ‘Well he wouldn’t would he’.

Lettice is another who might well have had Royal blood in her veins, as her mother was Katherine Carey, and her grandmother Mary Boleyn, mistress of Henry VIII. It has long been suspected that both Katherine and her brother Henry Carey were seeded by the King and not by William Carey, their acknowledged father. William Carey and his children never rocked the boat and Henry Carey succeeded to become Lord Hunsdon, and later held the post of Lord Chamberlain. This is the same Lord Chamberlain, who sponsored a troupe of actors called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, who were later promoted to be the King’s Men by James I.

Robert Dudley and Lettice had married without the Queen’s permission and she was so furious, some say heartbroken, that she banished both from the Royal Court. Dudley died, in 1588, soon after being taken ill on his way home to Oxfordshire. His death is another with more than a hint of foul play, because by then Lettice had a new man in tow, Christopher Blount, officer in Dudley’s household and a Catholic double-agent, who she later married. After Robert Dudley’s death, Elizabeth locked herself away for days until Lord Burghley broke the door down. The love of her life had written his Queen a farewell letter, which she is said to have kept in a box by her bed, until her own death, in 1603.

Lettice Knollys    Henry Carey - Lord Chamberlain

Lettice ‘Knottys’ and her uncle Henry Carey, Lord Chamberlain – nice hair!

T5 Amazing World of Lettice Knollys

In addition to his years of political scheming, Robert Dudley had spent much of his time supporting science, education and the arts. He was appointed Chancellor of Oxford University in 1564, and helped to finance Sir Francis Drake’s circumnavigation of the world in 1577-80.

More relevantly, he created one of the first troupes of professional actors, Lord Leicester’s Men, who were in existence from the early days of Elizabeth’s reign. Patronage from the nobility was essential for these theatre troupes, not only financially, but because after 1572, the new Vagrancy Act meant every citizen needed written permission to travel outside their home town.

One of Dudley’s leading actors was James Burbage, whose family have gained fame, performing ‘Shakespeare’ plays, as members of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Leicester’s Men folded when Dudley died, in 1588, but his legacy was kept alive by the Burbage family, who were to become an essential ingredient in creating the Shakespeare genre.

Robert’s three other siblings, Ambrose, Mary and Katherine Dudley also play an important part in this story, with all surviving long into the reign of Elizabeth. Katherine became Countess of Huntingdon following her marriage to Henry Hastings, in 1553. They were another of the extended family who spent time in the Tower, during the Jane Grey debacle.

Henry Hastings was another of Plantagenet descent, who was a potential heir to the throne, if Elizabeth had passed away before she did. His great grandfather had been executed by Richard III, but the subsequent family marriages meant his case for the Plantagenet succession was well founded. Elizabeth kept him close-by, as a ‘trusted’ advisor, but he was never rewarded for his efforts. Henry Hastings, died of fever, and childless, in 1595, being one of several potential heirs, who conveniently slipped out of the frame, during the latter years of Elizabeth’s reign.

Robert Dudley’s younger brother, Ambrose, inherited the restored title of Earl of Warwick, after it had been temporarily annulled because of the treason of his father and elder brother. Ambrose was a great patron of the Puritan movement, but did his best to live a quieter life than brother, Robert. None of Ambrose’s four wives produced an heir and his fourth wife, Anne Russell, survived him. Ambrose outlived his brother, Robert, by only two years, but as neither produced a legitimate male heir, the legitimate Dudley line of inheritance died out, with his decease.

T6 Dudley family tree

So, there were several major opportunities to place a Dudley on the throne of England, but after a century of effort, they only managed to hold the position for just over a week, when Guildford Dudley was consort to Queen Jane Grey.

Robert Dudley had a place on the Consort’s side of the Royal four-poster, but he wasn’t allowed to publicise the fact. His father, John Dudley, as Duke of Northumberland, had in many ways, been acting as Regent to Edward VI, but he and his son, Guildford Dudley, both lost their heads for their error of judgement in the succession.

One of the female siblings might have become Queen Katherine, but her husband, Henry Hastings, died eight years too soon. The Dudley family were strong contenders, but they were so near but so far, in taking control of the throne of England and establishing their own, royal dynasty.

Robert’s other sister, Mary Dudley, now comes to the fore, as we are forming the middle layers of this Shakespeare club sandwich. Mary was as educated and as gifted as anyone who was schooled in the Humanist tradition. She was fluent in Italian, French, and Latin, liked writing poetry and had a keen interest in alchemy, but it was her marriage to Henry Sidney, in 1551, that brought her to prominence, during the most chaotic period of the Tudor succession.


The Tudor Literati – Sidney, Sidney and Sidney

Sir William Sidney (1482-1554) served three monarchs with distinction, finally being awarded Penshurst Place, in Kent, by Edward VI, in 1552. He only had one son, Henry Sidney, who initially appeared to have married well, to Mary, daughter of John Dudley, who was effectively running the country at the time. To demonstrate Dudley’s influence, on this marriage, Henry was promptly promoted to be Chief Gentleman of Edward VI’s Privy Chamber.

The Sidneys were now right at the heart of government and it was thought to be Mary (Dudley) Sidney, who informed Jane Grey she was to be the new Queen of England. The Dudley family were Protestants, but the Sidney family had links with Catholic Spain and so the union of Henry and Mary meant they both walked a tight-rope during a turbulent year, with three monarchs in three weeks.

The Sidney family had close connections with the Spanish throne, which enabled Henry Sidney to hold negotiations with Prince Philip of Spain, for the release of the Dudley family, from the Tower of London. He also helped to arrange the subsequent marriage between Prince Philip of Spain and Queen Mary of England, a union which was designed to cement the place of Catholicism in English life.

Philip’s father died in 1556 and so he then became King of Spain, but Mary’s early death meant the Catholic unification of England and Spain never happened in reality. Elizabeth’s reversion to the Protestant faith led to thirty years of posturing by both sides, culminating in the events of the Spanish Armada of 1588, when the Catholic threat to English Protestant life was finally defeated, by Francis Drake and the English fleet, plus a little help from the English weather.

The sudden twists and turns of history meant Henry and Mary Sidney were lucky to escape with their heads, and perversely, it was their Spanish connections which ensured their survival. The couple continued to thrive, once Queen Mary had departed, with Mary Sidney being appointed as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth, becoming one of her closest confidantes. She nursed Elizabeth through an almost fatal bout of smallpox, later acting as an intermediary, in on-going peace negotiations between Protestant Elizabeth and the Catholic Spanish.

Henry and Mary Sidney had five children, with three of them making an impact on English history; Philip Sidney, (1554-86), Mary Sidney, (1561-1621) and Robert Sidney, (1563-1626). Philip was surely named after the future King of Spain and Robert after the future Earl of Leicester, a clever balancing act of names, by the Sidney parents.

The eldest of the three, Philip Sidney, was born at Penshurst Place, but began his formal education at Shrewsbury School, during his father’s time as commandant of the Welsh Marches. Philip was at the school at the same time as Fulke Greville, who was to become his greatest friend. Philip’s education continued at Christ Church, Oxford where his fellow students included Richard Hakluyt, author suggesting colonisation of America, Thomas Bodley, who founded the Bodleain Library, and William Camden, who became one of England’s leading antiquarians and historians.

After his formal education was completed, Philip Sidney made an extended tour of Europe, which included time spent with the great Protestant educators of the period, becoming close friends with Johann Sturm, in Strasburg, and Hubert Languet in Vienna. During his time in Heidelberg, he became a friend of John Casimir, brother of the Elector Palatine.

Philip Sidney was appointed an emissary for Queen Elizabeth, offering greetings on her behalf to the new Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolph II. He also met with many of the dozens of German Protestant Princes, with the intention of establishing a Northern European ‘Protestant League’, ready to combat a northward push, by the Catholic lands, which bordered the Mediterranean.

One story tells of a small group of Englishmen, who travelled to Antwerp, in 1582, to meet William of Orange, and Queen Elizabeth, herself, rode out with them as far as Canterbury. The group was led by Walter Raleigh, and included several significant people in this story; Lord Hunsdon, Earl of Leicester, Fulke Greville, Philip Sidney, and Edward Dyer.

Young Sidney is well known for his love life. He abandoned a betrothal to Anne Cecil, daughter of Lord Burghley, in 1571. (She went on to marry Edward de Vere) and in 1575, Philip met Penelope Devereux, the young daughter of the Earl of Essex and marriage plans were made. Again plans went awry, and after the suspicious death of her father, instead Penelope she was forced into a marriage with Lord Rich. Penelope is believed to be the inspiration for Philip Sidney’s famous sonnet poetry sequence, ‘Astrophel and Stella’.


       Dorothy & Penelope Devereux (about 1581)                

Philip Sidney’s influential position was supported by his uncle, the Earl of Leicester, and the young man became a leading advocate of the policy of ‘militant’ Protestantism, in what was still, at that point, only a war of words with Spain. In January 1583, Philip Sidney was knighted by the Queen, and later that year he finally found a bride, a highly strategic union with Frances Walsingham, the daughter of the Secretary of State, and spymaster extraordinaire, Francis Walsingham.

Sidney’s new father-in-law settled the huge debts of the young buck, another reason to choose a wife carefully. A daughter was born in 1585, and named Elizabeth after her godmother, the Queen. Philip was rewarded with the appointed of Governor of Flushing, in the Low Countries, an important position in this time of uncertainty with the Spanish, who held an unlikely claim over these Flemish lands. The Low Countries were soon to become a flashpoint between the two competing nations and bring a bright young life to an abrupt end.

Philip Sidney

Philip Sidney © National Portrait Gallery

Sidney seems to have been one of the most popular characters of the age, although he had an obvious rival in Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. There is the famous story of how Sidney challenged Oxford to a duel, but the Queen forbade the encounter and Sidney retired from the Royal Court in protest. His fame and popularity may have been enhanced by his astute public relations officer, his uncle, Robert Dudley, who used the tales of Philip’s Protestant fervour abroad, as propaganda, to rally support amongst the English population at large. However, Philip was probably far better known in Protestant Europe, than he was in his home country, as he spent the majority of his adult life on foreign missions.

In 1586, whilst fighting the Spanish, at the battle of Zutphen, in Holland, Philip was mortally wounded and according to folklore offered his water bottle to a common soldier saying, ‘thy necessity is yet greater than mine’. He was just 31 years old, wasn’t a Duke or an Earl and he didn’t have a string of battle honours to his name. Yet he became the first commoner to be given a state funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral. The ceremony was triumphal, but the Sidney coffers were bare, and a fitting memorial proved beyond their finances, and his burial was marked by only a small plaque on the cathedral wall.

Funeral procession of Sir Philip Sidney - 1587

State funeral of Sir Philip Sidney, organised by Robert Cooke

(Whole funeral procession was recorded in a remarkable 30 page tableau)

Philip Sidney’s literary abilities blossomed under the encouragement of his sister, Mary. He became a noted poet and writer, famous for ‘Arcadia’, ‘Astrophel and Stella’ and the ‘Defense of Poetry’, but he also began an English translation of the Psalms. He created his ‘Areopagite group’, named after a council of elders established in ancient Athens and brought to prominence by Dominican priest and scientist, Albertus Magnus. This was thought to be a literary group of courtiers, but was probably a political, talking shop, to discuss the rights and wrongs of the turbulent world of 16th century Europe.

Despite all the distractions of travel, diplomacy and poetry, Philip Sidney became infatuated with the science of alchemy. We might think that seems an unlikely direction for a man of his breeding to take, but he wasn’t the only one, as many of the leading characters in this story had similar interests. In fact his parents and his sister, Mary, also had strong links to the new scientific discoveries of the day, which included alchemy. Stories of magicians and sorcery come to the fore later,connecting Shakespeare’s fantasy worlds of Puck and Titania, with the growth of science in the Renaissance period.

Philip’s younger brother, Robert Sidney was at Oxford University, as a contemporary of William Gager and Henry Neville, taking part in a four year tour of Classical Europe, from 1578-82, accompanying his tutor, Henry Savile (the Stainland man). Robert was known to be a patron of musicians, particularly John Dowland, the son of the noted music composer Robert Dowland, and generally, seems to have been a calming, authoritative influence in the sea of political mayhem, which marked the turbulent years towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign.

Young Sidney Brothers

There was no mention of Robert Sidney’s writing abilities by his contemporaries, and nothing was ever published in his name. So, it came as a surprise, in 1975, when his notebook was discovered, containing sixty sonnets, verses and songs, showing he had also inherited the family talent for poetry.

Robert Sidney

Robert Sidney

Another person of interest crops up now, is the name of Robert Sidney’s second wife, Sarah Blount. She was the daughter of William Blount, and widow of Thomas Smythe, who was a leading official of the Port of London. Whether Sarah has family links to publisher, Edward Blount, is unclear, but with both Sarah and Edward’s fathers being successful city merchants this would suggest they may be at the very least, close cousins, and warrants more investigation later in this study.

Robert and Philip’s sister, Mary, is the last of the famous Sidney trio and we shall hear plenty more about her role in this saga, as things develop and my epic draws to a conclusion.

T7 Sidney family

Cecils and many more Cookes

There were many great commoners of Tudor England, but one man stood head and shoulders above the rest. That man was William Cecil, who was created Lord Burghley, in 1571. He deserves a chapter of his own, but because he is, seemingly, everywhere in this story, his role is dealt with in bite-sized chunks, as and when appropriate.

William Cecil (1520-98) was born in the village of Bourne, Lincolnshire, the son of a minor courtier, Richard Cecil – well at least that is what it says on the Cecil ancestral scroll. Richard Cecil is another who has a rags-to-riches story, moving from royal page-boy to Groom of the Robes and later Constable for Warwick Castle and High Sheriff of Rutland. He received lands as a fall-out from the Dissolution of the monasteries and at his death, in 1552, owned property in Lincolnshire, Rutland and Northamptonshire. Richard Cecil had one son and four daughters, but William Cecil was the only one to leave a mark, and Richard’s meteoric rise through the ranks followed shortly after William’s birth.

William Cecil was educated at grammar schools in Grantham and Stamford, and at the tender age of 14, went to university at St John’s College, Cambridge. There he became attracted to Mary Cheke, the sister of his extremely clever, but impoverished tutor, John Cheke. In order to separate the two lovers, and before completing his Cambridge degree, his father moved William away, to study law at Grays Inn, in London. This did not have the desired effect and Cecil married Miss Cheke anyway. They had one child, Thomas Cecil, but much to the relief of his father, and maybe others, she died only a year later, in 1544.

William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley

William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley © National Portrait Gallery, London

William Cecil’s pedigree is very reminiscent of that of William Paulet, but a couple of generations later. Cecil was born in 1520, at a time when there were many rumours about Henry VIII fathering illegitimate children and whilst one or two of these children have been identified, there are others who have melted into the mists of time. We also have another William, which now makes three, if we are to include our man from 1066.

I wonder if the name William is being used as a Royal code-word ?

There may be more ‘Williams’ turning up later…!!

Now this story starts to speed up a little, because in 1546, William Cecil took as his second wife, Mildred Cooke, who was described by Roger Ascham, tutor of Cambridge University, as one of the two most learned women in England, (the other being Lady Jane Grey). It is the Cooke family who gradually take control of this story, and prise it from others of much bluer blood. The Cookes must be the family to beat all families, and this is where the story heads next.

Sir Anthony Cooke (1504-1576) is best remembered because he educated his five daughters to an exceptional standard, in Latin, Greek and a number of Humanist subjects. Anthony’s great grandfather was Thomas Cooke, a draper and Lord Mayor of London, who was the son of Robert Cooke of Lavenham in Suffolk, where the family owned brew houses and fisheries in the Colne Valley. These lands bordered the villages of Long Melford, the Waldingfields and Cockfield, all places becoming increasingly familiar, to those who are persevering with this tale.

Anthony Cooke completed the impressive family home, at Gidea Hall, in Essex, a project originally started by his grandfather, a century earlier. Anthony married Anne Fitzwilliam, who herself had an illustrious pedigree because her father was William Fitzwilliam, Master of the Merchant Taylors Company, Merchant of the Staples of Calais, and could trace his family back to King John.

Two of his sons also played a prominent role in politics, as Members of Parliament, with William Cooke marrying Frances Grey, grand niece of Lady Jane Grey. One comment about Cooke probably explains his strengths as a parent; ‘some men govern families with more skill than others do kingdoms’.

Anthony Cooke was knighted and given lands, in 1547, and this followed on from the marriage of his eldest daughter, Mildred, to William Cecil, who had previously sponsored Cooke in his election as a Member of Parliament. For a short period Cooke acted as companion and tutor to Edward VI, which was probably the reason why he was briefly imprisoned in the Tower of London, with all the other relatives of the Dudley clan, during the Lady Jane Grey affair.

Cooke was an ardent supporter of the Protestant ideal, and after release from the Tower, he exiled himself to Europe, until the death of Catholic Mary. He spent most of the time in Frankfurt and Strasbourg, later meeting up in Italy, with Thomas Hoby, who was to become his son-in-law. Cooke returned on the accession of Elizabeth, but although he continued for a while, as a Member of Parliament, and served on several senior church committees, he never held high office.

Mildred Cooke’s husband, William Cecil, moved from Secretary of State, under Edward VI and Elizabeth, to become Lord High Treasurer, in 1572, and from that date, till his death in 1598, became the most powerful man in England,. He and Mildred had one son, Robert Cecil, (1563-1612) who was later to follow in his father’s footsteps, as day to day ruler of the country, a role that carried over, seamlessly, from Elizabeth to the new king, James I. Neither father nor son, were great physical specimens, with William needing to use a donkey to get around his extensive gardens, whilst Robert was ridiculed by the courtiers, as a hunchback. (Remember that Richard III had a deformed spine..??)

‘A slight, crooked, hump-backed young gentleman, dwarfish in stature, but with a face not irregular in feature, and thoughtful and subtle in expression, with reddish hair, a thin tawny beard, and large, pathetic, greenish-coloured eyes’.

Robert Cecil

Robert Cecil – Earl of Salisbury

William and Mildred also had a daughter, Anne Cecil, and she adds particular spice to this literary pot as she epitomised the lifestyle of a Tudor W&G (wife & girlfriend). She was another who had been engaged to Philip Sidney, but instead, in 1571, she married his rival, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. Whilst the Earl of Oxford liked travelling, his wife had other affairs of state to deal with, and the birth of a daughter, Elizabeth, occurred while her husband was on an extended stay in Italy. Although there is some dispute about the date of conception, he was not best pleased on his return. Anne ‘Cecil’ was also accused of affairs with Robert Devereux, (Earl of Essex) and Walter Raleigh, amongst others, but whoever was the real father of Elizabeth de Vere, there can be no doubt he carried an impressive insignia on his bed robe.

Lady Oxford’s love child, Elizabeth ‘de Vere’, eventually married William Stanley, the Earl of Derby, who is another of the main runners in the Shakespeare authorship stakes. Stanley was close to the front of the queue for the royal accession, as his mother, granddaughter of Mary Tudor, was next in line to the throne, should Elizabeth’s heart miss a beat. However, conveniently for the friends of James VI, King of Scotland, Lady Stanley died in September 1596. Another of the potential monarchs, Ferdinando Stanley, William’s elder brother, had already pre-deceased his mother and in somewhat mysterious circumstances. He was probably poisoned, which is a pity because King Ferdinando has a rather pleasant ring to it, breaking the relentless monotony of Edwards and Henrys.

T19 Tudor inheritance problem

If you are not exhausted by the Cooke girls already, then be aware we are only now moving on to Anthony Cooke’s daughter number two. This was Elizabeth Cooke (1528-1609), who first married the linguist and traveller, Thomas Hoby, (1530-66), a man who possessed many of the credentials and experience you would hope to find in the author of Shakespeare’s works. He was another who studied at St John’s College, Cambridge, being described by tutor, Roger Ascham as, ‘well furnished with learning, and very expert in knowledge of divers tongues.’ Thomas Hoby’s tour of the entire length of Italy, was described in his detailed autobiography, and became a model for the ‘Grand Tour, an essential part of the education of the younger members of the aristocracy.

Thomas Hoby made the first of his visits to Italy, in 1548, entering overland from the eastern Alps and then making his way to Venice, by way of Bassano, a route later to be commonly used by roving Englishmen. He spent time in Verona, Padua and Mantua, before heading south to Siena and on to Naples and finally Messina, in Sicily.

Hoby’s return was by boat to Naples, taking in the island of Vulcano and the beautiful peninsular of Amalfi. From Naples it was overland to Rome, finally passing through Bologna and Florence before heading back to Venice and a return to Germany via the alpine passes.

Thomas made another journey to the Continent, in 1552, when he was an ambassador in Paris, and it is here he took time to make an English translation of the 1528 book, Il Libro del Cortegiano, by Mantuan courtier, Baldassare Castiglione. This was published, in 1561, as ‘The Courtier’, and became Hoby’s most famous work, being highly influential in improving the demeanour of the aristocrats of Elizabeth’s Royal Court.

Thomas Hoby’s travelogue, cum diary, was entitled ‘The Travels and Life of Sir Thomas Hoby, kt, of Bisham Abbey, written by himself – 1547-1564’. This was NEVER printed till 1904, but lay as one of a series of manuscripts at the Hoby home, at Bisham, before being purchased by the British Museum in 1871. Only those close to the family could have had access to the manuscript, during the Tudor period.

Bisham Abbey was one of the very few Templar buildings which wasn’t transferred to the Knights Hospitallers, or left to slowly waste away. Edward II kept it for the Crown, but the stewardship of Bisham the passed to a number of supporters. During the 15th century Bisham was inhabited by a number of Shakespeare’s historical characters, notably the 1st Earl of Salisbury, who features in ‘Richard II’; Richard ‘kingmaker’ Neville, and George, Duke of Clarence, who appear in ‘Richard III’ and the ‘Henry VI trilogy’.

After the nearby Abbey was dissolved, in 1538, the next notable ‘owner’ of the estate was Anne of Cleeves, the fourth (ugly) wife of Henry VIII, who received the estate as part of her ‘please go away’ settlement. Anne rarely used Bisham, and in January 1552/3, Edward VI, insisted she exchange Bisham with Philip Hoby, Thomas Hoby’s elder brother, and ambassador to the Court of Spain.


Bisham – only the tower remains from the Tudor period – photo KHB

Other than Thomas Hoby, no Englishman, is recorded as travelling this far south on the Italian peninsular, during this period, a venture which was risky in the extreme, as he risked being imprisoned as a spy, which was probably the exact purpose of his mission. Messina is one of the places mentioned in Shakespeare’s Italian plays and ‘Il Cortegiano’ seems to be one of the major roots of Shakespeare’s play, ‘Much Ado About Nothing’. Thomas Hoby’s place in the Shakespeare conundrum is considered again, when the role of the other Italian plays comes into focus.

Thomas Hoby and Elizabeth Cooke had two sons, Edward and Thomas Posthumus, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Anne. Posthumus was a name commonly used when the father died before the child’s birth, with Thomas Hoby dying in 1566. The girls died as youngsters, within a few days of each other, in February 1571, and their mother commemorated their passing with verses inscribed on their tomb.

Elizabeth Cooke’s second husband was John Russell, from a family which features more prominently near the end of this saga. Elizabeth could still be with us, as her ghost is said to haunt the corridors of her Thames-side home of Bisham Abbey. Queen Elizabeth was known to be a regular visitor to Bisham, perhaps a neighbourly gesture, as it is only a few miles upstream from Windsor.

Eldest son, Edward Hoby (1560-1617), built on his privileged position, becoming a favourite of both Elizabeth and later, James I. In 1580, he married Elizabeth Paulet, great granddaughter of William ‘willow’ Paulet, but she died a year later. Then, with little pause for breathe, Edward Hoby married Margaret Carey, the daughter of Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, who was the Lord Chamberlain with the ‘performing men’. If the earlier speculation about the father of the Careys is true then that would make Margaret Carey a granddaughter of Henry VIII. To add fuel to that particular fire, the day after his marriage, Edward was knighted by the Queen.

Sir Edward Hoby - 1583

Edward Hoby (1560-1617)

Edward Hoby is another of those figures who continually skirts around the edge of the Shakespeare story, but has never had the publicity that his biography justifies. Edward racked up the wives and his fourth and final partner was Cecilia Unton (1564-1618), whose brother, Henry Unton was another with ‘Shakespeare ready’ credentials, and had a portrait not dissimilar to the Droeshout image of Shakespeare. Henry Unton will be back later, so we can then take a closer look at his wonderful biographical portrait.

Anthony Cooke’s third daughter, Anne Cooke, made an equally sensible marital decision in 1553, becoming the second wife of Nicholas Bacon (1510-1579). He was appointed Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, on Queen Elizabeth’s accession, and she also elevated the position, giving it the status and privileges of the Lord Chancellor. This, for a time, ranked him above his brother-in-law, William Cecil, in the government hierarchy, meaning that two Cooke sisters had married the two most powerful men in England.

Nicholas and Anne produced two boys who reached adulthood, Anthony Bacon (1558-1601), and his more famous brother, Francis Bacon (1561-1626). Francis and Anthony spent their early years at York House, in the Strand, London, where they were educated by their mother, Anne, another of the Cooke girls who was fluent in six languages. The Bacon brothers then moved on to Cambridge University, where they lived in the household of John Whitgift, Master of Trinity College.

Anthony Bacon subsequently became secretary to Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, and lived at Essex House, next door to the Middle Temple. This was a large building which fronted The Strand, but also extended down to a private landing on the River Thames. Essex House had been built by Robert Dudley, in 1575, and had over 40 bedrooms, a picture gallery, banqueting suite and a chapel. The name was changed from Leicester House to Essex House when Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, inherited the building in 1588. His mother, Lettice Knottys, Dudley’s widow, became a matriarchal figure in her old age and ran the place as her London home. This became a haven for the members of the Essex circle of friends, many with a literary bent.

In 1601, shortly after the Earl of Essex was executed for treason, Anthony Bacon died at the home of Essex’s widow, Frances Walsingham. This was another mysterious and convenient death, removing further confederates of the Essex rebellion from the scene.

The more famous brother, Francis Bacon, was born on 22nd January 1561/62, said to be at York House, but some say it should read York Place, home of Queen Elizabeth and part of Whitehall Palace. His birth is one of those that conspiracy theorists credit to the list of the Virgin Queen’s secret offspring. If it is true then his parents were amply rewarded for their discretion. She was accustomed to calling him ‘the young Lord Keeper’ and there were constant whisperings about the familiarity Elizabeth showed him during his formative years. More words have been written about Francis Bacon’s credentials to be a closet Shakespeare than anyone, and his life was one of the more extra-ordinary of his generation.

London waterfront - 1616 Visscher

Visscher’s drawing of the Thames waterfront – 1616 –

(Essex stairs in the centre and the Middle Temple Hall stands proud, to the right)

Anthony Cooke’s fourth daughter was Catherine, and yet another of great intellect. She married Henry Killigrew, perhaps a lesser known figure, but a man who became a key player in both English and Scottish history. He was close to the Dudley family, having been a gentleman usher in the household of John Dudley, whilst later, Robert Dudley became the patron of his foreign excursions.

Killigrew was noted for his diplomatic skills and was a secret messenger in negotiations between Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots, but which ultimately ended in the execution of the Scottish Queen. The Killigrew family were originally from Cornwall but Henry established a home in London, in Lothbury, across the road from St Margaret’s Church and only a few yards from Coleman Street and the Windmill Tavern. The site is now occupied by the formidable presence of the Bank of England.

Henry Killigrew was one of three editor-censors who created the, updated, second edition of the Holinshed Chronicles, a book which seems to provide the background for several of Shakespeare’s history plays. Their eldest daughter, Anne Killigrew, married Henry Neville, who is one of the recently suggested alternative Shakespearean candidates – ‘that man’ is never far away from my ramblings.

The fifth daughter was Margaret, also known to be clever, and she married on the same day as her sister, Elizabeth, but she died within months and nothing is known of her literary talents.

T8 Clever Cooke clan

So, Anthony Cooke’s very clever daughters, married some of the most important and influential people in English history, who by chance, include in their discreet family community, several of the prime candidates in the Shakespeare authorship debate.

The husbands of the Cooke girls had all the necessary literary and diplomatic skills, experience of the Royal Court in England, plus widespread travel in France and Italy to have penned Shakespeare’s work. They knew their way around Paris and Padua better than Pembroke, Peterborough or Pontefract.

Their husbands also had plenty of reasons to cover up any overt involvement in the professional theatre, as making political and social statements on the stage was fraught with danger. However, suggest any one of the extended Cooke family, as a prospective alternative Shakespeare, and it is difficult to imagine that the others did not have a hand in there somewhere, as the relationships seem so inter-linked. They are all members of the ‘Cooke Club’.

There is also an intriguing connection between the Cooke family, of Lavenham and Gidea Park, and an area of Warwickshire, very close to Stratford-upon-Avon and the town of Warwick. Anthony Cooke inherited a part share of lands at Burton Dassett and Weston-under-Weatherley, from his grandmother’s Belknap family, and it seems they were the only lands he owned outside his home area of East Anglia.

There arose a bitter dispute with the other shareholders of the Burton Dassett estate, but eventually it was sold to John Temple, a family that became wealthy sheep farmers on the proceeds, which prompted them to create a new family home to Stowe Park, in Buckinghamshire. A couple of generations later they built Stowe House, a magnificent building which still survives today. After a series of marriages, they evolved into the Grenville-Temple family, who reappear later, closely associated with a famous portrait of William Shakespeare.

Whether this Burton Dassett connection does also link Anthony Cooke with Robert Cooke, ‘son of a tanner’, secretary to Robert Dudley and later Clarenceux Herald, who drew up John Shakespeare’s initial ‘coat of arms’ application, is not clear, but it does give a solid Cooke connection between Essex and Warwickshire. Perhaps an earlier generation of the Cooke clan of Lavenham had connections with the Warwick area, which is how Anthony Cooke’s grandfather met his Belknap bride.

A link between Burton Dassett and the Knowle Guild, was also made at this time, as Henry Makepeace, resident of Burton Dassett, joined the Guild in 1493 and became Master in 1514. The Knowle Guild had been founded by Walter Cooke and his friends a century before. This earlier coming together at Burton Dassett, of significant names in my story, might seem to be just another coincidence, but when seemingly small, isolated places keep turning up more frequently than any self-respecting bookmaker would expect, it would seem ridiculous not to take a second look. Remember this was isolated rural England, in the 15th century, where sheep were plentiful, but people were at a premium and where those who bore the same family name were almost certainly related in some way.


Chapter Nine



Printers, Publishers and Booksellers


Half eagle and key


The Invention that changed the World

Yet another band of plucky researchers has taken an entirely different tack altogether, in searching for the author of the plays and poems. They have hunted down the one group of people who are likely to know for sure, whether William Shakespeare had his hand on the pen. These are the publishers and printers, many of whom doubled, even trebled up, as booksellers, all collectively known as stationers.

As ever, when studying anything about the Bard, there are more questions than answers, but this is one area where the mist is beginning to clear and I am able to offer several ground-breaking revelations about the family tree of the people who printed Mr Shakespeare’s plays. You might believe much of the rest of this Shakespeare adventure is pure hokum, but NOW is the time to pay close attention, because this chapter is for real, with a whole number of FIRSTS, in Bardian research, that will interest supporters of both sides of the authorship argument

Printing was still very much in its infancy in Tudor times, but it was already firmly under government control, as rather like the wool trade, monarchs quickly realised that the power of the press was something that needed tight regulation. That control was primarily achieved by ensuring all printing presses were housed in London, within reach of the government censors.

A printing process, using movable type, was first invented in China, as early as 1050, but in Europe it was the German, Johannes Gutenberg, in 1440, who was the first to use metal type, instead of the traditional carved wooden blocks. The first books to be printed were the Bible and other religious documents, and the invention played a major part in the rise of the Protestant faith, quickly spreading the influence of Martin Luther and John Calvin across Northern Europe. Prior to the printing press, creating the written word was solely in the hands of priests, writing on parchment and vellum. So, producing multiple copies of a printed work empowered a wider and very different section of society.

The first English born printer was William Caxton, who we met previously as the apprentice to Robert Large, a successful mercer and Mayor of London. Caxton was left twenty marks, in the will of his master and he invested this windfall, to become a successful merchant, trading in Brugges, Burgundy and the German states, and even held the post of Governor of the Company of Merchant Adventurers.

In 1473, Caxton set up a printing press in Brugges (Belgium) and printed the first book in English, ‘Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye’, which he had translated himself, although far from ‘perfickly’. His contact with Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, sister of Edward IV and Richard III, led to Caxton setting up a printing press in Westminster, where in 1476, he printed Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’, his first book in England. Caxton’s books were mainly English and Classical histories, appealing to his local Westminster clientele of lawyers and courtiers, rather than the religious books more prevalent on the Continent. Caxton died in 1492, after printing over a hundred books, mainly in English, the majority of which he had translated himself.

Printing caused an inevitable standardisation of the written word, in an English language that was still very much, in its infancy, but developing quickly, evolving from an amalgam of the tongues of England’s invaders, since the Romans arrived. Caxton also hastened the process which split the language into two, separating the more formal written word from the spoken one, where accents and regional variations still held sway. The rapid expansion and development of written English ultimately produced the Renaissance literature of the Elizabethan era. It all began with the printing press.

Jan van Wynkyn, known better as Wynkyn de Worde, succeeded Caxton, taking over his business on the death of the printing pioneer. Wynkyn had been born in Alsace, France, moving to London at the instigation of Caxton, who wished to improve the quality of his own finished product. Wynkyn moved his press from Westminster to Fleet Street, adjacent to the City of London and next door to those rich and influential lawyers of the Inner and Middle Temples.

Wynken set about expanding and transforming his output, with new typeface and increasing the number of woodblock illustrations. His emphasis was on creating smaller, more commercial books, which could reach a wider audience, much easier to produce than the larger, expensive tomes which had, generally, been the norm to that point.

Wynkyn was the first to set up a bookshop at St Paul’s Churchyard, which later became the centre of the book selling trade. One of his biggest patrons was Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, another familiar name in this story. His output was dominated by religious subjects, but he also published the first printed version of Robin Hood. Wynkyn died in 1534 and by then the presses of London were beginning to blossom.

Richard Pynson (1448-1529) was from Normandy, but that didn’t prevent him becoming printer to Henry VII, in 1506, and he continued as King’s Printer for Henry VIII. This position gave him printing control over legal documents, which was one of the key warrants to hold. Pynson set up shop next to the church of St Dunstan in the West, in Fleet Street, again close to the lawyers of the Temple.

Pynson printed over 500 books and through his role as King’s Printer, did more than most, to standardise the English language, during the early Tudor period. His work was a higher quality than Wynkyn, but was less commercial, printing mainly government and legal documents. He sold only his own publications, whilst Wynkyn de Worde was a complete publisher, printer and bookseller, a business which included importing foreign language books from across Europe.

Pynson died in 1529, and both his business and role as King’s Printer was taken over by Robert Redman, who had previously been a fierce rival of Pynson. Redman continued to specialise in legal books, and when he died in 1540 the business passed to William Middleton.

St Paul's Churchyard

The original St Paul‘s Cathedral – often written ‘Powles’

When Middleton died in 1547, the legal printing baton was passed on through his widow, who married William Powell. The couple continued to hold the warrant to print law books, but did not hold the position of King’s printer, as the political emphasis had moved from legal books, to promoting the new Protestant religion, where printing Bibles and religious pamphlets, in English, was the main challenge.

It was Richard Grafton who took over the King’s printer role from Redman, on the accession of Edward VI, in 1547. Grafton was a member of the Grocers Company, and had worked in partnership with Edward Whitchurch, a haberdasher, to publish a Bible in English, in 1537. This they had been printing in Europe, but a year later, they imported their own presses, from Paris, and began printing prayer books and other religious documents, in London. Their entrepreneurship proved their undoing, because in 1541, Grafton and others were imprisoned and heavily fined for printing unauthorised religious material, a signal to all and sundry that all printed material must have the approval of the King and the Church, before it appeared on the streets..

Grafton’s career was resurrected under Edward VI, but was finally ended, when he printed the proclamation to the accession of Lady Jane Grey, signing himself, ‘Printer to the Queen’. Silly boy!

Business and family relationships within the Tudor printers were all very closely aligned. There was plenty of inter-marriage and when their master died or retired, the best apprentices often took over the entire business, or the rights to print a particular genre of books. Marrying the master’s widow seemed to be a popular option in the life of many trade’s people of the period, but I wonder how many of the deceased husbands were hastened to their demise a little sooner than expected, by an impatient apprentice or a wife who fancied a younger model?

William Caxton and Wynkyn de Worde had been ‘jack of all trades’, involved with everything from the selection and translation of the material, right through to the printing and finally the sale of the books and pamphlets. Generally, though, there evolved two types of people, the entrepreneurial bookseller, who was usually the publisher of the books, and the specialist printer, who might print everything from a one sheet playbill to a profusely illustrated, specialist volume.

Printing books was a new phenomenon and attracted a great variety of individuals. There were experienced, specialist printers, usually migrants, from France, Belgium, Germany and Holland, where the printing process was at least thirty years ahead of England. The English born printers came from a wider section of society, with the majority switching professions from the cloth trades, where business was on the decline. This created tensions between the different livery companies, so litigation, over a variety of trading matters, was an ongoing feature of the new bookselling business.

Apart from books, there was also an increasing need for the printing of legal and official documents, fed by the highly regulated and dynamic world of the Tudors. Henry and his successors was turning England, from a country of a 1000 villages, to one dominated by the 100,000 citizens of London. The printed page also helped to speed up the creation of the Church of England, ensuring its Protestant commandments reached their new congregations, every Sunday.

old printing press

Woodcut of 16th century printing press

The Stationers’ Company was the trading standards watchdog that controlled the industry. They had originally been formed in 1402, but that was in the days when books were created by teams of scribes, almost always with religious intent. The Stationers were reformed by Queen Mary, in 1557, under a new charter and a fresh set of rules, ones that reflected the birth of the print age.

This powerful role gave them an enhanced position in national life, as they kept an eye on both the quality of the work and also the content, keeping authors and printers in harmony with State and Church regulations. The Stationers Company also kept a register, assigning ownership of work, and establishing a loose system of copyright.

The new genre of the Elizabethan professional theatre caused some problems, as performance of the plays was under the jurisdiction of the Master of the Revels, appointed by the monarch, but if and when the play was published, it was the Stationers Company who registered the rights. This was a far from perfect system and plenty of publications slipped between the cracks of the two regulatory authorities.

The example of Richard Grafton and friends, being imprisoned and fined, shows what a risky business printing could be, but the perils of the printing and publishing business in Tudor times are even better exemplified with the case of John Stubbs and William Page. The pair were staunch Protestant royalists, but published a pamphlet, criticising Queen Elizabeth for her proposed marriage to the French nobleman, the Duke of Anjou. These were loyal subjects of the Queen, but were expressing a contrary view to the political thought on offer on that particular day. The punishment for this business ‘faux pas’ was to have their right hands chopped off.

A couple of generations later, in 1631, a Bible printer missed out the word ‘NOT’, in the seventh of the Ten Commandments. The readers were, therefore, instructed to ‘commit adultery’, a mistake which resulted in a £300 fine and the fiery destruction of all the unsold copies. This became known as the ‘wicked’ Bible and the few that survived the inferno are highly prized today. Printers were always held responsible for the work they produced, and the punishment varied from a fine, the destruction of the publication, through to the ultimate sanction, the death penalty.

Therefore, at the end of the 16th century, the works of William Shakespeare were being published in a world of print that was still experiencing the growing pains of adolescence. London was the only place where professional printers were allowed to operate, although books could be sold throughout the country. There was strict government control, with only twenty printers being licensed, and they were only allowed two presses and two apprentices each. Printing was originally permitted at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, but Henry VIII closed these presses, and it wasn’t till the mid 1580s that the ‘Oxbridge’ presses were able to operate again.


Crammer- book and paper sizes

The terms folio and quarto are frequently used when discussing the publication of Shakespeare’s work, and so here is a quick resume on book size and how books were printed during the Tudor period.

Books were manufactured by printing text and woodblock illustrations, on both sides of a full sheet of paper. Each side was printed in turn and then the paper was folded one or more times, into a group of leaves or ‘gathering’. The printed ‘gatherings’ were then taken to a book binder, who would stitch the ‘gatherings’ together. The folds in the pages were then cut and a spine and cover attached.

This technique produced printed books of superb quality, many of which have survived until today. However, the majority of printed material was less grand, often consisting of just single sheets, or was left in loose-leaf format, which gave the paper little protection against the ravages of time. It is easy to see how properly bound, folios and quartos, have survived in libraries for 400 years, and equally, how unbound, loose leaf quartos, are now rare commodities, as they became the victim of water, fire, vermin or just discarded, as no longer needed.

Folio size books had two pages of text, printed on each side of the sheet of paper. This was then folded once, to form two leaves or four pages of print. Quartos had four text pages on each side, so folding the paper twice formed four leaves or eight pages. A folio book was about 15 by 10 inches, and a quarto, 10 by 7.5 inches. (48 x 25 and 25 x 18; the approximate metric equivalent, in centimetres)

All printed matter was expensive, and reserved for legal or religious purposes, or if sold commercially was aimed at the elitist end of the social hierarchy. Even the rich and educated would find it expensive to assemble a decent sized library, with the largest collections comprising only 200 volumes and to even own a ‘shelf of books’, you had to be a person of some substance.


Crammer – Manuscripts and foul papers

No, this is not a discussion about Tudor hygiene practices, in the garderobe, but a brief look at how an Elizabethan playwright turned his creative thoughts into the document which ended up in the hands of the actors and the printers.

‘Foul papers’ is the name given to the original, handwritten, working draft of a play and usually comprised loose leaves of paper, with numerous scribbled additions and deletions. Once the playwright had finished his work then a ‘fair’ copy was made, either by the author himself or if multiple copies were needed, then by a professional scribe, who also acted as proof reader, often adding his own idiosyncrasies of punctuation and even his own phraseology. Some authors kept their own fair copy notebook and those that survive are rare and highly prized by literary historians.

Ralph Crane was one of the best known literary copy scribes of the period. His father was a successful member of the Merchant Taylors livery company, but Crane earned his crust by copying all manner of documents, chiefly for lawyers of the Inns of Court. Crane is most famous, though, not for wills and writs, but for penning fair copies of at least five of Shakespeare’s plays, including, ‘The Tempest’, ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’, ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ and ‘Measure for Measure’.

Coincidently, these are the first four plays of the 1623 folio. His fifth was, ‘The Winters Tale’, the fourteenth play of the First folio. Four of the five were also from a stash of previously unpublished plays that was held by Edward Blount. Some scholars also credit Crane with the fair copy of ‘Othello’, and Stratfordians like to label Ralph Crane as Shakespeare’s ‘sub-editor’, an attribution based on his distinctive style of punctuation and stage directions.

Crane worked as a literary copyist for Shakespeare’s acting troupe, the King’s Men, probably from 1615 onwards, and was certainly active as a scribe right through till 1630. He has interesting connections to other prominent characters in my story, in particular to Thomas Lodge, who in 1589 dedicated his poem, ‘Scylla’s Metamorphosis’, to Ralph Crane.

The copywriter, himself, published his own collection of poems in 1621, dedicating them to John Egerton, the husband of Frances Stanley, daughter of Ferdinando Stanley. It was the Stanley family that sponsored Lord Strange’s Men, one of the first acting troupes to perform plays that were later attributed to Shakespeare.

Ralph Crane seems to be an outwardly friendly face to the Stratfordians, but he also offers a number of intriguing links, through to the social circles of Lodge and Stanley, and so bringing the Shakespeare plays close to a whole raft of anti-Stratfordian candidates.

Stratfordians say that very few manuscripts for any Elizabethan plays survive, so we shouldn’t be surprised that none of Shakespeare’s scribblings exist in their original format. It is also suggested that quartos of plays were easily discarded and not seen as important, akin to the policy in the BBC in the 1960s. Then, productions of what are now are regarded as ‘classic’ comedies and dramas, were not recorded or were taped-over, meaning much of this iconic material has been lost for ever.

Neither fair nor foul format exists with certainty, for any of Shakespeare’s plays, but Stratfordian scholars cling to the idea that the foul papers, which survive, for the co-operative venture, ‘Sir Thomas More’, contain a section written in the hand of William Shakespeare. This play is acknowledged to be written by Anthony Munday and a number of associates, but which was never known to be performed at the time. No association between the play and Shakespeare was made until 1871, but modern critics now give Shakespeare credit for being ‘Hand D’, who they claim wrote three pages of the work.

This seems to be a tenuous attribution, but ‘Thomas More’ has now been added to some modern collections of the Bard’s work. The Juke Box Jury panel of experts seem to have voted this one a ‘hit’, an example of a non-Shakespeare play receiving positive accreditation, centuries after it was conceived, whilst others with his name written clearly on them, have been discarded as being erroneous, unworthy of an association with England’s greatest writer.

Thomas More - Hand D

Hand D – William Shakespeare..??

This Stratfordian,, ‘wastepaper’ theory, of disposal, doesn’t quite fit the facts, because at least half the Shakespeare manuscripts must have been kept in a safe place for decades, as they reappeared to be used by the Jaggard printers in 1623, with all the later folios claiming to be from the ‘original copies’.

It seems common sense to see that as the chain of printers and publishers sold and passed on the rights to the next, then fair copies of them, followed suit. Is it possible that a deliberate bonfire of the manuscripts was made at some point? That would seem very unlikely, but if it had happened, then that would strongly suggest something untoward was taking place.

If the manuscripts had been lost or destroyed, perhaps during the chaos of the Great Fire of 1666, someone in the publisher or literary world might have mentioned they had lost a valuable inheritance – but no dog barked. If they were scattered and disregarded as unimportant, then there would be a chance that at least a fragment of one page would have turned up in a library somewhere in the past 400 years – but again there is nothing, not even a tiny snippet of parchment.

If the content of the page had been disregarded as unimportant, then the value of the paper was not. This was a rare commodity and could have been reused in a dozen different ways, from wrapping paper to a draw liner, to line curtain drapes or to act as padding or end papers in a leather bound book – but so far not a singe scrap has been found. Experience tells me that a ‘nil return’, which is associated with something of consequence, can often be quite illuminating in itself.

The manuscripts might still be safely locked away, in a secure vault and under the care of trusted guardians, who are in a position to maintain ongoing custody of these and other secrets. That is, indeed, an idea that was hinted at by one of the contemporary stakeholders, way back in 1609, and also by an influential noblemen, who had status and position in Stratford and Warwick.

Perhaps, these keenly sought sheaves of paper are in the same heavily guarded room as the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant, Excalibur and King John’s Treasure Chest.

So, who are these guardians and where might the manuscripts be kept?

Templar chest

Shakespeare – who printed what?

Tracing who published and printed the various parts of the Shakespeare canon is a messy and complicated business. The early, anonymous, works were in the hands of several different individuals, and there was, certainly, no coherent publishing plan for the plethora of plays, that were later attributed to the Bard. The Stratfordians use this fact to prove there couldn’t have been a conspiracy to create a pseudonym, because the publication was so widespread and chaotic. Anti-Stratfordians cite the same evidence to show there couldn’t have been just one, single, lonely, writer, penning plays in the back of London taverns, or the drawing rooms of grand houses.

The usual system in the Elizabethan theatre business was for the acting company to buy or commission the play from the author, paying him a sum in the region of £2 to £5. This, one-off, payment gave the theatre owner the title to all performing and potential publishing rights. If the play was eventually published, the rights might be passed on to a third party and so a variety of printers and booksellers could register the plays, on behalf of the acting company.

The transformation of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, to the King’s Men, on 19th May, 1603, also saw them gain the sole right to perform plays written by William Shakespeare, those which in the 1590s, had previously been performed by a variety of acting troupes. Many plays, later attributed to the Bard, had originally been performed anonymously, but from 1603 onwards, the King’s Men jealously guarded the publishing rights to all work ‘they decreed’ was written by William Shakespeare. They managed to have these works ‘stayed’ by the Lord Chancellor, so even previous rights holders were unable to publish plays, without the permission of the King’s Mens.

So, if we are to use the printers and publishers to help solve the Shakespeare mystery, rather than start at the beginning and work forward it is much easier to retrace the tracks of the work from a time when the plays and poems had come together, as a single body of work, the schoolboy might call, the ‘complete works of William Shakespeare’.

The first acknowledged compendium of Shakespeare’s plays was published by Edward Blount and Isaac Jaggard and printed on the Jaggard presses, in 1623. A second edition appeared in 1632, sold by bookseller Robert Allot and four other partners, and printed by brothers, Thomas and Richard Cotes. The third edition was first published in 1663, then revised almost immediately, in 1664, with a new front cover and a supplement of seven extra plays, all attributed to Shakespeare. Several of the ‘extra seven’, had previously been published individually, each with Shakespeare’s name attached, but none were in the first or second editions of 1623 and 1632, or in the 1663 version.

The heading attacked to the 1663 and 1664 editions says this was ‘published according to the true original copies’, but comparison with the 1632 edition, suggests this was the basis for the later texts. The 1664 frontispiece is also noteworthy, because it bears a distinctive printer’s emblem, a pair of snakes encircling a resplendent eagle, not the previous printer’s mark, used by both Jaggard and Cotes.

Third folio - second edition

The seven extra plays, are now considered part of the Shakespeare apocrypha:

Pericles, Prince of Tyre                                  History of Thomas Lord Cromwell
Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham                London Prodigal
Puritan Widow                                                Yorkshire Tragedy
Tragedy of Locrine

The 1663/64 folio was published by Philip Chetwynde, a cloth merchant, who had married the widow of publisher, Robert Allot, who had died in 1635. Allot had held the major part of the rights, to the 1632 edition. Robert Allot, whose father was from Criggleston, Yorkshire, only became a Londoner bookseller, in 1625, taking over the business of Edward Blount, in 1627 and obtaining the rights to Edward Blount’s sixteen plays, on 16th November 1630. By his purchase, Allot shared the overall publishing rights for the second compendium with the owners of other plays, including Thomas Cotes and William Aspley.

Still active at the time was Eleanor Cotes, widow of Richard Cotes, and it has been suggested that she was the source of the extra seven plays, as she held the rights to at least three of them. She may also have been involved in printing the 1664 edition, but acknowledging a woman as the sole printer may have been a step too far..!!

The 1632 edition was printed by Thomas Cotes and his brother, Richard. Thomas Cotes had served his apprenticeship with William Jaggard, thirty years before, but in 1628, he acquired the print business and various copyrights, from Dorothy Jaggard, the widow of Isaac.. That leads us neatly back to 1623, with William and Isaac Jaggard, (father and son), being the printers of the first complete edition of Shakespeare’s plays, and Edward Blount and Isaac Jaggard being registered as the co-publishers.

There were 36 plays included in the 1623 folio, but the sixteen plays kept under the stewardship of Edward Blount, for safe keeping, had never previously been registered with the Stationers Company or appeared in printed format. Eighteen of the other twenty plays had appeared in print at some point, and so with just one man owning the rights to the vast majority of the unpublished plays, this clearly points to Edward Blount holding a highly significant position in the Shakespeare authorship debate.

Edward Blount’s 16 plays:

Henry VI (part one)                              Two Gentleman of Verona
Anthony and Cleopatra                          Measure for Measure
The Comedy of Errors                            Timon of Athens
As You Like It                                           All’s Well that End’s Well
The Winter’s Tale                                   Twelfth Night
Macbeth                                                   Julius Caesar
The Tempest                                          Henry VIII
Coriolanus                                             Cymberline

Edward Blount’s name appears on the frontispiece of the 1623 folio, but he also has several other intriguing connections with Shakespeare. He registered ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ and ‘Pericles, Prince of Tyre’, at Stationers Hall, in 1608, although he never published them at the time and ‘Pericles’ didn’t make it into the first or second folios, and is now regarded as part of the ‘apocrypha’. Blount also published that volume of poems entitled ‘Love’s Martyr’, which included in the miscellany, a poem attributed to William Shakespeare.

In 1578, Blount had apprenticed himself for ten years to the ‘up market’ stationer, William Ponsonby, gaining his ‘freedom’ on 25th June 1588. Ponsonby had published several poetic works of the Sidney circle, but was not keen on publishing plays. However, he did concede on one, ‘The Tragedy of Antonie’, written by the Countess of Pembroke and printed by Peter Short.

Ponsonby died in 1603 and his publishing rights passed to his brother-in-law, Simon Waterson who, in turn, passed them on to his son, John Waterson, who published ‘The Two Noble Kinsman’, in 1634, printed, like the 1632 folio, by Thomas Cotes. This is a play attributed to John Fletcher and William Shakespeare, but is an oddity because it didn’t appear in any of the compendium folios.

Edward Blount is, therefore a key figure in the Shakespeare conundrum. His father was Ralphe Blount, another Merchant Taylor by trade, who lived in St Lawrence Pountney. Edward Blount was born in 1562, one of the younger siblings, by his mother, Joyce, who died in April 1566. Ralphe married again, to Margaret Roberdine, in November that same year. There were two more children, Hugh, who died within a year and Ursula who passed away in 1577.

Both Edward’s father and step-mother died within a few days of each other in August/September 1571, making Edward and Ursula, orphans. Where Edward and Ursula Blount went to live, as wards of court,, between 1571 and 1577, would be a most enlightening discovery. It was a year later, in 1578 that Edward began his printing apprenticeship with William Ponsonby, so those seven missing years, like those of William Shakespeare, between 1588-94, are probably the two most important MISSING pieces of this jigsaw.

Edward Blount published works by Ben Jonson and also Samuel Daniel, who had been a tutor to the Countess of Pembroke’s two boys, (‘the incomparable pair of brethren’), at Wilton House. Blount also added a preface to the 1598 edition of Marlowe’s ‘Hero and Leander’, defending the deceased poet against his critics. Blount was also known to be a close friend of Thomas Thorpe, who published Shakespeare’s Sonnets, in 1609.

Thomas Thorpe had served his apprenticeship with Richard Watkins, beginning in 1584 and gaining his freedom in 1594. Thorpe initially had no printshop and no bookshop and so was reliant on procuring suitable books which could be printed and sold for him. In his first successful publishing venture, Thorpe dedicated the book to Edward Blount, as a ‘thank you’ for allowing him to use the rights and so get his first foothold in the publishing world.

By 1608, Thorpe was operating from the ‘Tigers Head’ bookshop and a year later had obtained the rights to Shakespeare’s Sonnets, from William Hall, an obscure publisher who signed himself, ‘W.H.’.

So, the mysterious dedication on the title page of the Sonnets, to ‘Mr W.H.’ which has caused so much bewilderment and speculation, ought to be easy to decipher. It would have been very much in Thorpe’s nature to say thank you to ‘Mr W.H.’, for passing him the rights to the Sonnets.

Shakespeare’s Sonnets were printed for Thomas Thorpe by George Eld, and sold jointly by John Wright, from his shop in Christ’s Hospital Churchyard, and William Aspley, at St Paul’s Churchyard. Aspley had been apprenticed to George Bishop, at the same ‘Tiger’s Head’ bookshop, gaining his freedom, in 1597, and Aspley continued to operate from the same premises for a time. Aspley must have known something about Shakespeare’s identity as on 23rd Aug 1600, he registered, with the Stationers’ Company, ‘Henry IV part 2’ and ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and he continued to hold those rights during the publication of the first and second folios, so becoming one of the longest lived stakeholders of the Shakespeare canon. William Aspley certainly knew where the Shakespeare ‘bodies’ were buried…!

The ‘Tigers Head’ bookshop crops up frequently in my ramblings, and seems to be associated with a variety of printers and publishers relevant to the Shakespeare story. Christopher Barker, a wealthy member of the Draper’s company, owned the business, and he had previously been a private secretary to Queen’s spymaster, Francis Walsingham, whose personal mark was a Tiger’s Head, a symbol which actually bears little similarity to the real-life animal of that name.

Christopher Barker was appointed Queen’s Printer, in 1577, after the death of Richard Jugge, but as his business grew he left the day to day running of the print shop in the hands of George Bishop and Ralph Newbery. Bishop also kept the printer relationships close at hand, because he had married the daughter of John Cawood, a previous Queen’s printer. Newbery was elected warden of the Stationers Company in the early 1580s, and is also a name that keeps returning to this story, and in a variety of guises.

Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s version of Ian Fleming’s ‘M’, seems to have exerted his influence, at the Tiger’s Head, and although he died in 1590, before the Shakespeare era began, it has been suggested that those involved in his espionage network, later were instrumental in creating the Shakespeare story. The Tiger’s Head looks like one of those High Street shops that was used as a ‘front’ for covert activity in James Bond films, or the 1960s TV series, the ‘Man from UNCLE’.

Richard Field printed work for both Ponsonby and Blount, and it was he who first printed ‘Venus & Adonis’, ‘Rape of Lucrece’ and the ‘Phoenix & Turtle’. Richard Field has always been associated with Shakespeare because of these poems, and also because he was born in Stratford-upon-Avon. Richard’s father, Henry Field was a tanner, a related trade to that of John Shakespeare and it was the Bard’s father, who was named as executor to Henry’s will, responsible for making an inventory of his effects.

Richard Field started his life in the printing business, at the highest level. He was briefly apprenticed to George Bishop, at the Tiger’s Head, but he didn’t stay with Bishop very long and was transferred, as an apprentice, to the highly regarded French printer, Thomas Vautrollier. In what seems a familiar pattern, Field eventually took control of the business by marrying Jacqueleine Vautrollier, his master’s widow.

After the early dally with Shakespeare’s three poems, the Richard Field connection disappears, with no further poems or plays coming from the Vautrolier/Field presses. There was one link though, because one of Field’s apprentices was Nicholas Okes, who later printed the first edition of ‘King Lear’.


Elizabeth’s power base – Burghley and Walsingham

Tiger's Head summary

Twenty more plays

So, Edward Blount had significant connections to the Shakespeare canon, prior to 1623, and had established business links with Thomas Thorpe, William Ponsonby and Richard Field. The connections continue to become more intense, as we move on to consider the twenty plays that Edward Blount didn’t have stashed under his feather bed. To understand how the other plays came together, in a single volume, is more complex, but there is still a logical agglomeration, one that was driven both by a variety of publishers and by the regular interventions of the King’s Men.

Their earlier incarnation, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, commissioned only a limited number of publishers and printers, to produce their plays. However, there were other publications, that date from a period when the Shakespeare plays were still ‘anonymous’. Plays may have been printed from ‘corrupt’ texts, perhaps taken from notes made during a performance and these are often characterised by their brevity, compared with later, ‘authorised’ versions.

The other 20 plays

Henry VI (2 & 3)   Richard III
Romeo and Juliet Loves Labours Lost
King John                              Henry IV (1&2)
Hamlet                                    King Lear
Othello                                   Troilus & Cressida
Titus Andronicus                   Midsummer Night’s Dream
Merchant of Venice             Much Ado About Nothing
Taming of the Shrew           Merry Wives of Windsor
Richard II                               Henry V

One printer who seems to have given all the others a bad reputation is John Danter. He produced the first edition of ‘Titus Andronicus’, in 1594 and ‘Romeo and Juliet’, in 1597, and also editions of ‘Richard III’ and ‘Henry VI’. The publisher, Thomas Millington, was John Danter’s partner in crime, a stationer of ‘dubious reputation’ and is another linked to several of Shakespeare’s early quartos.

However, the negativity concerning these rogue printers has been postulated by supporters of the Bard being the author of his works.

Remember that none of these early, ‘dubious’ works were published with any mention of an author. So, the on-going criticism of these ‘dubious’ printers seems quite ridiculous.

Millington and Danter were publishing ‘anonymous’ work…….!!!!

No-one had connected the name William Shakespeare to a play – until 1598………!!

Thomas Creede was the most prolific printer of the early plays attributed to Shakespeare, although he was commissioned by a variety of different stationers. Some are thought of as ‘bad’ quartos, while others seem more legitimate, but there was never a complaint about his Shakespearean output, at the time. Creede printed ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’, ‘Richard III’, ‘Henry VI/2’ and ‘Henry V’; and in addition three different plays of the apocrypha; ‘London Prodigal’, in 1605, ‘Pericles, Prince of Tyre’, in 1609 and the ‘Merry Devil of Edmonton’, in 1612.

Valentine Simmes printed nine different works, over a ten year period, but two of them have particular significance. ‘Richard II’ and ‘Richard III’ were registered by publisher Andrew Wise, in 1597, and the versions printed by Simmes, that year, did not mention William Shakespeare. Thomas Creede had previously printed ‘The True Tragedy of Richard III’, for William Barley, in 1594, and again no author was mentioned.

However, a year after Simmes version, Thomas Creede printed another quarto of ‘Richard III’, this time for Andrew Wise, and for the first time used the name, ‘Shake-speare’. Simmes also reprinted ‘Richard II’ in 1598 and again added the ‘Shake-speare’ attribution. That clearly puts Andrew Wise in the hot seat when we consider the creation of the Shakespeare persona, as we have a ‘before’ and ‘after’, with the same publisher. The year 1598 seems when ‘anon’ turned into ‘Shakespeare’ (sic).

Overall, Wise published first editions of five Shakespeare plays, holding the rights to ‘Richard II’, ‘Richard III’, ‘Henry IV, 1 & 2’, and ‘Much Ado about Nothing’. Wise only published four other books in his life, apart from his nap hand of Shakespeare plays, and so his involvement in the Bard’s work must be seen as highly significant. He was the son of a Yorkshire yeoman and served his apprenticeship with Henry Smith and Thomas Bradshaw, gaining his ‘freedom’ in 1589. Wise had his own business in St Paul’s Churchyard, but he disappeared from the records in 1603, probably a victim of the plague, and his rights passed to Mathew Law, the same year.

Cuthbert Burby published an interesting mixture of Shakespeare plays, including ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’, which appeared in 1598, which was stated to be a ‘corrected’ version, and is the FIRST printed play to carry Shakespeare’s name from the outset. Burby also published ‘Romeo and Juliet’, in 1599, attributed to Shakespeare, but prior to that he produced an edition of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, in 1594, but with no attribution. He also published ‘Edward III’, in 1596, an anonymous play of the apocrypha, and one of the works that modern scholars think might have had the hand of Shakespeare on the quill pen.

William Barley is another significant name that connects my characters together. He was one of those changeling trades people, who moved from being an active member of the Draper’s Company, to be a trainee bookseller at Newgate Market, next to Christ’s Hospital. Barley opened his own bookshop in St Peter under Cornhill in 1592 and by 1600 had also opened a bookshop in Oxford, where his manager was arrested, by the university authorities, for trading without permission.

This was one of numerous wrangles between Barley and the authorities in both London and Oxford, but eventually he won the day, establishing a successful business in both places.

Barley published ‘Richard III’, with no author, in 1594 but looks to have passed the rights to Andrew Wise soon afterwards. One of Barley’s apprentices, as a ‘draper cum bookseller’, was Thomas Pavier, another who seemed willing to work at the edge of the regulations. Whilst working for Barley, he was charged with printing illegal material, and spent time in prison.

Pavier became a bookseller himself, in 1600, and registered the contentious, ‘Sir John Oldcastle’, as an anonymnous work. This was only a few days after he had transferred his professional allegiance from the Draper’s Company, to become a member of the Stationers Company. ‘Sir John Oldcastle’ was printed by Valentine Simmes, but there was no author mentioned at this time, but nearly 20 years later, in 1619, Thomas Pavier and William Jaggard gave the play, the ‘William Shakespeare’ trade mark.

Thomas Pavier also obtained the rights, from Millington, for ‘Titus Andronicus’, ‘Henry V’ and ‘Henry VI, 2 & 3’, but did not publish them until 1619. In 1608, Pavier registered and published ‘A Yorkshire Tragedy’, and attributed the play to Shakespeare. Pavier is one of those who collected Shakespeare material in a fairly methodical way and became most famous for his involvement with William Jaggard in that ‘false folio’ compendium of ten plays, published in 1619.

We now have to ask the question how’ Richard II’ and ‘Richard III’ suddenly acquired an author, in 1598, the hyphenated ‘William Shake-speare’, when he wasn’t there the year before. It was also the year that ‘Loves Labours Lost’ became the first play to bear the Shakespeare name. Barley, Burby, Wise, Simmes and Creede all had a hand in the publishing and printing of these three plays and therefore, this is clearly the watershed of the change from ‘anonymous’ to ‘William Shakespeare’.

The spelling of his name varies, with and without the hyphen, but as spelling still wasn’t an exact science, I believe that we shouldn’t read too much into the variations. However, some scholars see the spelling as deeply significant, suggesting the hyphen is clear evidence that the name is a pseudonym. I seem to have found many other things to get far more excited about, rather than worry about an extra hyphen added here or there. What we do know, though, is that the spelling of the name of the man from Stratford-upon-Avon, ‘Shakespere’, was different from the one emblazoned on those early quartos.

Several printers and publishers died, or disappeared from view, in 1603, including Thomas Millington, Andrew Wise, Peter Short and William Ponsonby. This coincides with a serious outbreak of plague, which closed the theatres and caused communal graves to be created, just outside the city walls. It was also the year when King James I gained the throne and the King’s Men gained their patent and their Shakespeare monopoly. Things were so bad in 1603 that when King James arrived from Scotland, he was unable to go directly to any of his London palaces, instead spending time as a guest of the Pembroke family, the one that lived at Wilton House, near Salisbury. There might be a clue there..!!

One of the most significant printers involved with the ‘approved’ versions of the Shakespeare canon was James Roberts. He had gained his freedom in 1564 and was noted as printing a version of ‘Old Moore’s Almanac’ in 1570. Roberts joined in partnership with Richard Watkins, in 1588, gaining the Queen’s patent to print ‘almanacs and prognostications’, for the next 21 years. These rights were prematurely forfeited in 1603, when King James came to the throne and, instead he awarded them to the Stationer’s Company. One product of the Roberts/Watkins partnership, which caught my eye, as a former physical education teacher, was a book entitled ‘an introduction to learn to swimme’.

Thomas Thorpe, the Sonnet publisher, had been apprenticed to Richard Watkins from 1584 to 1594, so Watkins offers a link between James Roberts, printer of Shakespeare plays and Thomas Thorpe who published the Sonnets. Watkins himself had been apprenticed to William Powell, the legal printer who had married the widow of William Middleton. That is what I mean by my phrase, a ‘family tree of printers’, as one begets another and another, by marriage and apprenticeship. An extensive tree of all the relevant printers appears later.

James Roberts made connections with the theatre world, when he gained the rights to print all theatre playbills. He did this after marrying the widow of John Charlewood, the printer who previously held those rights. Charlewood’s business was in the Barbican, on the corner with Aldersgate Street, just outside the Cripplegate entrance to the City of London, in the north-west corner of the London Wall. Charlewood, previously, had a press at the London home of the Earl of Arundel, at Charterhouse, and was someone who had a reputation at working on the edge of the printer regulations.

This Barbican print shop had an intriguing sign above the door, the ‘Half-eagle and Key’, which was well known at the time as the coat of arms of the city of Geneva, then a self-governing Protestant town, on the border between Catholic South and Protestant North. Charlewood’s acquisition of the business is probably not straightforward, as Rowland Hall used the same sign at his bookshop in Gutter Lane, close to St Pauls. Rowland Hall went to Geneva in the Marian period, learning how to print psalms and Bibles. Geneva had been a popular domicile for hundreds of Protestant scholars, who had fled Catholic England and is where, in 1560, the Geneva Bible, the first mass produced English version, was printed.

Half-eagle and key

Half eagle and key

On return to London, in 1559, Hall set up shop in Golden Lane, near Cripplegate at the ‘sign of the Three Arrows’. Later he moved to Gutter Lane and it was here that he adopted the emblem of Geneva. Hanging this sign above your retail business sent plenty of messages to your customers, your friends and those who might not be so overtly sympathetic to the Protestant cause.

James Roberts is a central figure in the Bard’s story because ap art from the playbills, Roberts played a prominent role in printing several of Shakespeare’s plays, and AFTER the Bard’s name became attached to them. Roberts also registered the ‘Merchant of Venice’, 1598, ‘Hamlet’ in 1602 and ‘Troilus and Cressida’, 1603, with the Staioners Company, on behalf of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. All his Bard’s plays were printed, with an attribution to William Shakespeare, apart from his printing of ‘Titus Andronicus’, for publisher Edward White, in 1600, which remained with no author’s name. White had also been the co-publisher of the 1594 version of ‘Titus’, which had begun life, again with no author mentioned on the published quarto.

Summary of the earliest editions of each of the 20 plays.

(Sorted by publisher and with author attribution)

Thomas Millington Henry VI part 2, printed by Thomas Creede, 1594 & by Valentine Simms in 1600 (anonymous)
Titus Andronicus, printed by John Danter, 1594 (anonymous)
Henry VI part 3, 1595, printed by Peter Short (anonymous)
Henry V 1600, printed by Thomas Creede (anonymous)

William Barley
Richard III, printed by Thomas Creede, 1594 (anonymous)

Andrew Wise Richard III, printed by Valentine Simms, 1597 (anonymous), BUT printed by Thomas Creede, 1598 (William Shake-speare)
Richard II, printed by Valentine Simms, 1597 (anon) & 1598 (William Shake-speare)
Henry IV part 1, printed by Peter Short, 1598 (anonymous) and by Simon Stafford 1599 (‘corrected’ by William Shake-speare)
Henry IV part 2, printed by Valentine Simms, 1600 (William Shakespeare)
Much Ado about Nothing, printed by Valentine Simms, 1600 (William Shakespeare)

John Danter (printer)
Titus Andronicus, 1594 (anonymous)
Romeo and Juliet, 1597 (anonymous), abbreviated version

Cuthbert Burby
Romeo and Juliet, printed by Thomas Creede, 1599 (anonymous)
Loves Labours Lost, printed by William White 1598 (W. Shakespere)
Taming of the Shrew, printed by Peter Short, 1594 (anonymous)

Arthur Johnson
Merry Wives of Windsor, printed by Thomas Creede 1602 (William Shakespeare)

Thomas Fisher Midsummer Nights Dream, printed by Richard Bradock and by James Roberts 1600 (William Shakespeare)

Thomas Hayes
Merchant of Venice, printed by James Roberts 1600 (William Shakespeare) (Registered by James Roberts 22nd July 1598)

Nicholas Ling
Hamlet, printed by James Roberts 1602, (William Shakespeare)

Nathaniel Butter
King Lear printed by Nicholas Okes 1608 (William Shak-speare)

Richard Bonian & Henry Whalley
Troilus & Cressida printed by George Eld, 1609, (William Shakespeare) First registered on 7 Feb 1602/03 by James Roberts

Edward White
Titus Andronicus printed by James Roberts, 1600 (anonymous) (White also co-publisher of 1594 version)

Matthew Law Henry IV part 1, printed by Valentine Simms, 1604 (William Shake-speare) Richard III printed by Thomas Creede, 1605 (William Shakespeare) Richard II, printed by William White, 1608 (William Shake-speare)

William Aspley (jointly with Andrew Wise) Henry IV part 2 , 1600 (William Shakespeare) Much Ado about Nothing , 1600 (William Shakespeare)

Thomas Walkley Othello printed by Nicholas Okes, 1622 (William Shakespeare)

Thomas Pavier
False folio (1619), printed by William Jaggard and all attributed to Shakespeare.
Henry VI, 1 & 2 combined
Merry Wives of Windsor
King Lear
Henry V
A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Sampson Clarke
‘The Troublesome Raigne of King John’ (part 1 & 2) was printed by Sampson Clarke, in 1591, but with no author attributed.

A second quarto was published in 1611, by John Helme and printed by Valentine Simmes. The authorship was now assigned to ‘W. Sh.’, with the division between the two parts removed. To confuse matters, a third quarto was published in 1622, (while the ‘First folio’ was under production), being published by Thomas Dewes and printed by Augustine Matthews), as the work of ‘W. Shakespeare.’

However there was mention in Francis Mere’s list of Shakespeare plays, in 1598, of a play called ‘King John’. but a play of that precise name was not published under the Shakespeare banner until the ‘First folio’, of 1623. Make of that, ‘what you will’, but this would seem to be the same play, under regular revision. There was never a complaint from the Stationers Company, or the King’s Men.

‘King John’ is one of only two Shakespeare plays to be written entirely in verse, the other being that contentious, ‘Richard II’. So, like almost every one of the plays attributed to William Shakespeare, there is a complicated back story associated with ‘King John’, one that scholars seem unable to agree upon – nothing is ever simple.

William Jaggard had published the ‘Passionate Pilgrim’, anthology of poems, in 1599, and attributed it to ‘W. Shakespeare’, with reprints in 1601 and 1612, but it was another twenty years before he printed the 1619, ‘false folio’, for Thomas Pavier. Between those dates his name is not so obviously connected with the Shakespeare canon, but that does conceal the fact that he had a strong business connection with James Roberts, whose name was everywhere on the Bard’s work.

It is to the Jaggard family of printers that we go next, offering plenty of new information, which throws a fresh light on the Jaggard’s place in the Shakespeare story.

Jaggard and Jaggard & Jaggard – publishers and printers

The Jaggard family of printers, father, son and elder brother, are a central part of this story, and with Isaac Jaggard’s name on the front of the First folio it has long been a familiar one to all Shakespeare devotees. However, there has always been plenty of confusion and misunderstanding about the role of the Jaggard family, and their irregular involvement in the Shakespeare canon doesn’t make much sense to the casual onlooker, or even to many of the ‘experts’. I came upon the Jaggard printers, at the end of my research into the Jagger family, not the beginning, so I already had a tree of people, firmly in place, the majority of who seem to be unknown, even to the most knowledgeable Shakespeare scholars.

There exists, an extensive and extremely detailed volume about the Jaggard printer family; ‘A printer of Shakespeare; the books and times of William Jaggard’, written by Edwin Eliott Willoughby, published in 1934. However, that comprehensive work, also hits a brick wall when investigating the recesses of their extended family tree, although it has provided me with a wonderful source, to help in determining, who printed what, where and when.

William Jaggard was baptised on 2nd March 1566/67, at St Lawrence Church, Old Jewry, situated in the same complex of buildings as the Guildhall and the Blackwell Hall. William had an elder brother, John, also baptised in the same church, who also became a printer, and a younger brother, Thomas, whose fate is unknown. Their father’s name was written as, John Jagger, who became a member of the Company of Barber-Surgeons, sometime before 1569, but he died in 1570, aged only 24.

John Jagger, the barber-surgeon, had married Bridget Wayte, in 1564, and this provided the family connection to the printing business, because Bridget’s sister, Elizabeth Wayte had married the notable printer, Henry Denham, and it was to Henry, that William Jaggard was apprenticed. That is one of those crucial family connections that was suspected by some, but never confirmed till now.

You read it here first…!!!!

The name Jaggard is really a ‘brand name’, created to ensure some consistency on the printed page. Some Shakespeare scholars have noted seeing the ‘Jagger’ variation in official records of Jaggard the printers, and that takes us back to William’s father, John Jagger, who was born in Coleman Street in 1546, the son of William Jagger and Margaret Whiting. John was actually baptised in the parish records as John ‘Jagar’, and was the son of William Jagger, gentleman usher.

One of my most interesting observations in the spelling conundrum is that when historic copies of original parish documents were made, there are occasionally two different transcribed versions. In the case of John Jagger, barber-surgeon, there is a ‘Jaggard’ version and a ‘Gagger’ version, in the transcribed London parish records for St Lawrence, Old Jewry. When John appears in the records of the Company of Barber-Surgeons his name is spelt as both ‘Jagger’ and ‘Jaggard’. Add the baptism record of ‘Jagar’ and then we have four, very different, spellings for a central figure in this saga.

The birth, marriage and death records of Shakespeare printers, William and Isaac Jaggard, and their children, only occasionally show the ‘Jaggard’ spelling. Isaac is the best example, as there is a rather scratchy birth record of Isaac ‘Jager’, and his marriage record in 1625, post First folio, is written ‘Jacker’, with an annotation in the margin of ‘Jagger’. However Isaac’s last will and testament sees him use his ‘printer’ name of Jaggard.

The familiar, Jaggard, spelling does crop up for the baptism of William’s elder brother, John Jaggard, in 1565, also at St Lawrence, Old Jewry, and this spelling remained consistent during his life time. Probably being the elder brother, John took the lead in the spelling decisions and William followed suit in his printer business. Overall, analysis of the spelling variations in the family puts the blame fairly and squarely with the scribes in the neighbouring parish churches of St Stephen’s, Coleman Street, and St Lawrence, Old Jewry, and particularly the latter, where the name ‘Jaggard’ was first ‘invented’ by the parish clerk.

Now the eyes of experienced Shakespearean scholars might have opened a little more widely, at the mention of the name Bridget Wayte, as the mother of William and John Jaggard. Remember the criminal case between Shakespeare and his three comrades, who were accused of threatening William Wayte. My research leads me to believe that William Wayte was a younger half-brother to the two girls, Bridget and Elizabeth Wayte.

Their father, Edmund Wayte, a warden of the Leathersellers Company, married Elizabeth, (surname unknown), who was the mother of Elizabeth and Bridget. After Elizabeth died, Edmund Wayte remarried, to Frances Lucy, daughter of Robert Lucy, who may have been related to the Stratford Lucy family, and the couple produced a son, William Wayte. After Edmund Wayte died, Frances Lucy remarried, to Sir William Gardiner, Sheriff of Surrey and a Justice of the Peace. This eventually led to a series of well documented, legal, wrangles between Gardiner and his step-son William Wayte, regarding the family inheritance.

The Justice seems to get a generally bad press, as being a corrupt official, and this is the same William Gardiner, who some say was satirised, by Shakespeare, as Justice Robert Shallow, in the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’. That connection is picked up by a present day promotion by the National Trust, for visitors to their Charlecote Park, home of the Lucy family.

‘The magistrate happened to be Sir Thomas Lucy, the then incumbent of Charlecote. Sir Thomas also allegedly flogged Shakespeare and shortly afterwards he dashed off to London and in Henry iv Part 11 and The Merry Wives of Windsor, he makes fun of a ‘Justice Shallow’ whose coat of arms are not too dissimilar from the Lucy one and he also mentions ‘bad killing of deer.

We still don’t have William Shakespeare in the same print room as the Jaggards, but the Wayte connection brings them closer together, and in a rather intriguing way.

T9 Jaggard Wayte Lucy connection

William Jaggard served his apprenticeship with his uncle, the printer, Henry Denham, who himself had been apprenticed, from 1553-60, to Richard Tottel, who in turn had been apprenticed to William Middleton. Richard Tottel had married Joan Grafton, daughter of King’s printer, Richard Grafton, the man who was imprisoned for printing Bibles without permission.

William’s elder brother, John Jaggard, was apprenticed to the same, but now elderly, Richard Tottel, who held the monopoly for legal publications and had set up business, inside the bounds of the Temple Bar, in Fleet Street, close to members of the legal profession. Tottel seems to have gained the legal printing rights formally held by William Middleton. The cosy family connection between all these printers continues unabated, a fact totally ignored by scholars who take an interest in the Bard’s work.

Richard Tottel has a number of claims to fame, being a founder member Company of Stationers, when it was reformed in the last year of Queen Mary’s reign, in 1557. Tottel held the monopoly to print all legal documents, from 1553 till his death in 1594, but he is better known, in the world of Renaissance literature, for producing the miscellany, ‘Songs and Sonettes’, known as ‘Tottel’s Miscellany’.

The first edition appeared on 5th June, 1557 and there were five later reprints. The volume consisted of 271 poems, including 54 sonnets, none of which had ever been printed before. The major contributors Thomas Wyatt, and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, were by then already deceased, but also included work by several other poets, who were also dead.

Perhaps this should be known as ‘The Dead Poet’s Miscellany’..!!

‘Songs and Sonettes’ was the first poetic anthology of this type and although there were several reprints of ‘Tottel’s Miscellany’, the sonnet format was not used again until Philip Sidney’s, ‘Astrophil and Stella’ (1591), ‘The Phoenix Nest’ (1593), and then Jaggard’s ‘Passionate Pilgrim’, in 1599. Verses in the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’ and ‘Hamlet’, are taken from ‘Songs and Sonettes’ and there is also a quote used in ‘The Rape of Lucrece’.

The Howard connection, with their turbulent family history, as Dukes of Norfolk and protectors of the Catholic tradition, plays a recurring part in this story. There were legitimate royal connections back through both sides of the Howard family, which led to Henry Howard being executed by Henry VIII, who feared he might try to usurp Prince Edward and take the crown.

Henry Howard had married Frances de Vere, daughter of John de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford, which gives links to our infamous, Shakespeare inpersonator, Edward de Vere, (Frances was his aunt) and to John de Vere, the 12th Earl, who was beheaded in 1462 on Tower Hill, in the incident, when William Clopton of Long Melford was pardoned.

The politics behind ‘Tottel’s Miscellany’ might be significant here. First published in the last months of Mary’s reign, the Catholic sympathies of the main author cannot have been overlooked and the Howard family continued to walk the Catholic/Protestant tightrope during Elizabeth’s time. Thomas Howard (1536-72) was Elizabeth’s Earl Marshall, but was eventually executed for plotting to marry her Scottish rival, Mary, Queen of Scots, with the intention of overthrowing his monarch and returning England to Catholicism.

Henry’s elder brother, William Howard and son, Charles Howard of Effingham, proved to be more loyal to Elizabeth and both served in high office, as Lord Admiral. Charles was created first Earl of Nottingham and credited as master-minding the defeat of the Spanish Armada, in 1588. He was also the patron of the acting troupe, Nottingham’s Men, who then became ‘Lord Admiral’s Men’, significant in performing several early plays, which were later credited to Shakespeare.

There seems something incongruous here, as two generations of Howard were executed for treason, as potential claimants to the crown, yet close cousins were key members of the governments of Elizabeth and later James I. This all seems typical of the ‘carrot and stick’ way the Tudor monarchs kept control of their kingdom, , executing, as traitors the most dangerous rivals, and keeping others, close-by, in the government, adorning them with fancy titles, but in reality giving them very little power.

Henry Howard’s sonnets might well have been banned under the new Queen’s reign, but they weren’t and then that staunch Protestant, Philip Sidney, popularised the format of a Catholic sympathiser. The Howard/de Vere marriage adds a little weight to the idea that it was Edward de Vere who was the real author of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, a format that would have been, totally, in keeping with his heritage.

William Jaggard’s uncle, and master during his apprenticeship, Henry Denham, had served his own apprenticeship with Richard Tottel, 25 years earlier, during the turbulent years of four monarchs in five years; Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. Henry Denham was working with Tottel at the rebirth of the Stationer’s Company and when ‘Songs and Sonettes’ was published. The influence of Richard Tottel’s great success, in publishing this poetry anthology, must surely have rubbed off on Henry Denham and the Jaggard brothers.

Denham was an innovative young printer, who in 1560, introduced the semi-colon to the English language and later the rhetorical question mark; a question mark reversed. This proved a failure, but the semi-colon later became popular and Ben Jonson was amongst the first writers to use the symbol with regularity. Denham was also noted for his extensive range of type, particularly his decorative initials, which became a marker for the high quality of his work.

William Jaggard’s apprenticeship, with Henry Denham, began on 20th Aug 1584, in a print shop that had a reputation for quality. At one stage Denham had responsibility for seven apprentices and four presses, when most printers of the period only had the legal maximum of two of each. This transgression was made possible because Denham had been a major influence in setting up the ‘Eliot’s Court Printing House’, situated in the Old Bailey. This radical enterprise had been proposed in the will of printer, Henry Bynneman, whose patron had been our old friend, Robert Dudley.

It was Queen Elizabeth’s favourite squeeze, who helped Bynneman obtain the sole rights to print dictionaries, histories & chronicles, which led to Bynneman printing the first edition of the Holinshed Chronicles, in 1578. Those rights were passed to Henry Denham and Ralphe Newbery, a man who was twice master of the Stationers Company, and led to the more famous reprint, of Holinshed, in 1587/8.

The Eliot’s Court co-operative also included Edmund Bollifant, Arnold Hatfield, John Jackson and Ninian Newton. Three of them, Bollifant, Hatfield and Newton were stationers and printers, each having served their apprenticeship with Henry Denham. John Jackson was not a printer, but a member of the Grocers’ Company and was probably there to provide extra finance. Ralphe Newbury was another of the executors of the Bynneman will and this collection of qualified individuals allowed for the four presses and more than the usual number of apprentices.

By 1564, Henry Denham had set up his own printing house, in White Cross Street, Cripplegate, but in the following year he moved to Paternoster Row, at the sign of the ‘Star’, a symbol he adopted for his own printer’s device. After creating the Eliot’s Court printing house, Denham moved his own business yet again, this time to Aldersgate Street, which separated the Barbican from Clerkenwell, and this is where William Jaggard probably have served the majority of his apprenticeship.

Note too that this was close to the ‘Half-Eagle and Key’ premises of John Charlewood and James Roberts, which Jaggard himself, later took charge.

The Eliot Court partnership went its own way and had a remarkably long life, surviving until 1674. The partnership changed members frequently, but seems to have established its place in the market, printing legal documents and maps with an occasional diversion into the world of literature. The printers mark for Eliot Court Printing House was the entwined snakes, the caduceus and may give a clue as to who was responsible for the printing of the 1664 edition of Shakespeare’s folio.

The exact relationship between Eliot Court and the Star print shops is not clear, except Henry Denham had his hands in both businesses. Some sources say ‘Eliot Court’ was involved with printing the updated version of the Holinshed Chronicles, which were published in January 1587/88. This edition is believed by many scholars, to have been used by Shakespeare as the source of information for his history plays. However, the visual evidence is that Denham, Newbery, Bishop and others, published the work, and the printers mark clearly shows Denham’s ‘Star’ device , with the text being printed at his Aldersgate Street premises.

This second edition of the Chronicles was printed under royal supervision (‘cum privilegio’), after it had been referred to the Privy Council for censorship. There were several revisions to the original version, editing out sensitive events, which criticised the monarchy or England’s new alliances, and all done under the watchful eyes of Henry Killigrew, Thomas Randolph, and John Hammond.

Holinshed Chronicles

Holinshead – 1587 edition

Henry Denham eased himself out of the printing business, in the early 1590s, and this allowed William Jaggard to receive his freedom on 6th Dec 1591, nine months earlier than his contract stated. By then the day to day running of the ‘Star’ business, in Aldersgate Street, had passed into the hands of Peter Short and Richard Yardley.

Short and Yardley printed a number of Shakespeare plays, although the rights were held by different publishers. ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ was the earliest, in 1594, but at this stage no author was attached to the printed copy. They also printed work by Samuel Daniel, who gets frequent mention in this story, as a member of the Countess of Pembroke’s Wilton House set. Another significant assignment was to print the work of Daniel’s employer, the Countess’s version of ‘The Tragedy of Antonie’, published by William Ponsonby.

William Jaggard’s daughter, Jayne, later married a Richard Yardley., with the age difference suggesting Jayne probably married a junior model, but in the way of things in the Tudor world, she might equally have married the elderly man himself, as his second or possibly, third wife.

This cats cradle of business and familial relationships draws ever tighter, again suggesting that there seems little room for a lone writer, plying his trade, without comment by those around him. Equally, if there was a conspiracy afoot, then they must ALL have had some degree of knowledge of what was taking place and had good reason to keep it secret.

In 1592, William Jaggard started his own bookshop, in the churchyard of St Dunstan in the West, in Fleet Street, close to the law courts and the lawyers, and close to Richard Tottel’s shop, where his brother, John had trained, and was now in day to day charge. William might have been making use of the old Pynson and Middleton premises, established 50 years earlier, as the baton had been passed securely between them, via Powell, Grafton and Denham. All the most influential men in England would have passed his front door, and many would have stepped inside to make a judicious purchase.

On 23rd April 1593, William Jaggard applied for permission to print the playbills for the theatre, shortly after the death of the rights owner, John Charlewood, but he failed because both the deceased’s wife and the business rights had been passed to fellow printer, James Roberts. So very early on in his business career, William Jaggard tried to gain access to the world of the theatre. At this time he had no printing press of his own, but there must have been an underlying motive in applying for printing the theatre playbills.

This yearning for the theatre might be explained, because on 26th August 1594, in St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street; William Jaggard, (written as Gagger), married Jayne Bryan.

  William gagger marriage 1594 abb

Marriage of William Gagger to Jane Bryan – 1594

Here is another interesting surname because William’s grandfather’s first wife was called Agnes Brian, but perhaps more relevantly, there was a George Bryan, who was a leading actor and shareholder in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

Together with Will Kempe, George Bryan had from the late 1580’s, been a member of Lord Strange’s Men, joining the Lord Chamberlain’s Men in 1594. George Bryan seems to have ended his time as an actor in 1596 and later moved into the Royal Court, where he is noted as a Groom of the Chamber to James I, in 1604 and later, from 1610-13.

George Bryan had married Katherine Griffin, in 1592, at St Leonards, Shoreditch and the wife’s name also has connections to the Jaggards, as Lancelot Griffin, from Lincolnshire, became an apprentice to William Jaggard, in 1595. That enhances the argument that George Bryan was very likely to have been William Jaggard’s brother-in-law, with Jayne and George being brother and sister. At the same time Lancelot Griffin began as an apprentice, Jaggard also started Yorkshireman, Thomas Cotes, in the printing business, and it was some 30 years later that Cotes and his family took over the Jaggard print shop and played their part in the later Shakespeare folios.

At the start of his career, William Jaggard was a publisher and bookseller, not a printer. His first offering was a small religious pamphlet, which was printed, for him, by Peter Short and so suggests that Jaggard was still using his uncle’s old business as his print base. This pamphlet was the text of a sermon preaching anti-Catholic, strongly Puritan sentiments, giving a sure indication of Jaggard’s religious leanings. His business, during his early years, was based around these religious pamphlets and the republishing of old works, using the presses of Short, and occasionally the ex-Tottel presses being managed by his brother.

His first work, registered with the Stationers Company, was in March 1594/95, when he re-published, ‘the book of secrets of Albertus Magnus of the virtues of herbes, stones and certain beasts’. This was an old book on Hermetic science, what we might today call ‘alternative therapy’, and was a popular mixture of science and religion, and survives in revised form to the present. Jaggard was clearly cashing in on the interest in mysticism and alchemy that had arisen in the new Protestant world, and he had a ready made clientele on his doorstep. However, did he have other motivations, because this brings William Jaggard face to face with another of our friends, Albertus Magnus, the Dominican friar?

We shall see, later, how large sections of the higher echolons of English life were involved in this transition period from the era of magic and mysticism to the scientific world that has dominated the past four centuries. We shall also see how the influence of Albertus and his Dominicans continued long after their supposed sell-by date, at the time of the dissolution of the monastries.

William Jaggard’s first foray into a book of verse was ‘Hunnies recreations’, which Short printed for him, and this was a reprint from an earlier Denham version. This had other theatrical connections, as the author was William Hunnis, who was Master of the Children of the Royal Chapel. The boys were choristers, but they also performed plays for the Royal Court and had their base at the ‘indoor’, Blackfriars theatre, where they attracted large audiences, and were seen as strong competition for the professional playhouses.

Now came the period when William’s family began to grow in size, and a son, and inheritor of the business, was born, on the 19th April 1595, when Isaac Jaggard was baptised in the church at St Bride’s, Fleet Street, (written with a spelling that looks like ‘Jagar’). A couple of years later there was a second son, William Jaggard, baptised in St Botolphs, Bishopsgate, followed by Jayne Jaggard, in 1598, again baptised at St Botolphs. Son, William seems to have died, aged five, in 1603, possibly one of the victims of that year’s plague outbreak. The final two children, mentioned in the parish records, were Thomas and Alice.

Isaac Jager 1595 baptism abb

Isaac Jagar – baptism 1595

William Jaggard’s youngest son, Thomas, is of some interest, because he studied at Cambridge University and then became a clergyman in Yorkshire, as the rector of Kirkby Overblow. His appointment was endorsed by the Earl of Northumberland, Algernon Percy, son of Henry Percy (known as the ‘wizard’ Earl), another family whose name just keeps popping up from no-where.

Thomas Jaggard later returned to London and on 5th January 1546/47 was appointed minister for St Botolphs without Aldergate. Thomas then became embroiled in the battle between Parliament and the King, and in 1650 was arrested for preaching in favour of Charles Stuart, the future King Charles II.

Thomas was imprisoned for over a year, for his Royal prayers, but was eventually freed on surieties of £600. The Cotes family were leading parishioners at his church, and this connection may account for his magnanimous congregation, who helped to pay his enormous fine, and who then took him back, with a generous salary of £100 per annum. This seems an extraordinary about-turn in his fortunes.

The extended Jaggard printer family also throw up interesting connections, which cross boundaries into the theatre world, the world of science and quite directly, to those who added their names to the introductory section of the First folio.

William Jaggard’s daughter, Alice, married Francis Bowles, a skinner, and there was a Dorothy Bowles, who married William Henslowe. Both names are rare and it should be noted that the great theatre impresario, Philip Henslowe traded in goat skins, and had a brother William, so this looks like a direct Jaggard-Henslowe connection, albeit as in-laws.

Theatre manager, Philip Henslowe is known for his meticulous diary of accounts, which shows payments to twenty seven different playwrights, but fails to mention the ‘famous’ William Shakespeare, anywhere…..!!!

Another name, closely associated with the Jaggards, is the Mabb family. William’s elder brother, John Jaggard, married Elizabeth Mabb, in 1597, and produced a large and highly successful family. John’s son, James ‘Jagger’, married Ann Hemmings, so this looks very much like the daughter of John Hemming, leading light in the King’s Men and the supposed driving force behind the 1623 folio. James ‘Jagger’ rekindled the line of barber-surgeons, begun by his grandfather, whilst his son, Thomas Jagger, was appointed barber-surgeon, on the naval ship, ‘Warspite’, in 1666.

The Mabb connection is most significant, because it was James Mabb (1572-1642) who wrote the fourth poem in the prelude to the Bard’s 1623 folio. He was a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and his specialty was translations from Spanish, a country where he had lived for some time, as one of Elizabeth’s ambassadors. He was a good friend of Leonard Digges, a scientist with a famous father, and Leonard was another who wrote a piece for the First folio prelude.

John Jaggard’s wife, Elizabeth Mabb, was one of James’s younger sisters, in a family of eight. Their grandfather, John Mabbe, had been a wealthy goldsmith, with his business amongst the gold dealers of the South Cheapside, but more significantly, from 1577 till 1582, he served in the exalted position of ‘Chamberlain for the City of London’. The position is now wholly ceremonial, but until 1600 the Chamberlain was the man responsible for the financial affairs of the City, including assessment and collection of tax and payment of the bills of the City Corporation. This wealthy goldsmith also had a family of eight children, one of whom was John Mabbe, the father of Elizabeth and James, and in 1576, John was granted a licence to sell jewels in the City.

John Mabbe, the jeweller, married Martha Denham, the daughter of William Denham, probably the younger sister of Henry Denham. This gives another connection to ‘Uncle Henry’ and completes what looks like a rather magical circle of people, all of whom seemed to have played an unwitting part in the later creation of the William Shakespeare brand.

T10 Jaggers of Coleman Street

So, the Denhams, Jaggards, Mabbes and Waytes are as closely tied together as any of the noble personages. You might even add the Bryans, Henslowes, Hemmings and Griffins into the mix as well. The well heeled, Mabbe family had large families in successive generations, and with most as yet lying unresearched, the opportunities to discover even more interesting strands to this Shakespearean web of intrigue is more than promising.

T11 Mabb-Digges-Jaggard

As Tudor London headed towards the turn of the 16th century, William Jaggard’s life path was becoming well established, but it was extremely hard work, with children and apprentices for him to worry about, as well as the constant task of finding suitable material to publish.

The years of the 1590s were a difficult time for all Elizabethans, as the plague continued to be a recurrent menace, plus a number of wet summers produced poor harvests, which caused food prices to rocket. The unemployed, the poor, the unloved and the unwashed, descended on the metropolis and its numbers swelled to overflowing, with an estimate of over 100,000 plus within the walls, that contained just a square mile of land. There is also a suggestion that the charity, offered by Christ’s Hospital and the Bridewell Hospital, acted as a magnet for scroungers from across England, and so exacerbated the problem, which these institutions were set-up to alleviate.

The professional theatre thrived on the increased population, but the entertainment business generally responded by catering for the baser instincts of humanity, and the City of London authorities did their best to restrict performances of the lewd and profane, on their side of the river. The Southwark side of the River Thames was outside their control, and therefore became the home to brothels, bear baiting, gambling and a raft of other unsavoury activities. Amongst this deluge of unbridled gratification, the Southwark riverbank also became the home to the ‘Rose’ and the ‘Globe’ theatres.

The Passionate Pilgrim

It was almost at the end of the century, in 1599, when William Jaggard published his first work, which rattles the cages of the entrenched Shakespeare scholars. ‘The Passionate Pilgrim’ is an anthology of poetry, published under the name of ‘W. Shakespeare’, which comprised twenty poems; with thirteen seemingly, attributed to Shakespeare and seven others to a mixture of poets, including Walter Raleigh and Christopher Marlowe. Two of Shakespeare’s sonnets, numbers 138 and 144, appeared for the first time, and three poems were taken from, ‘Love’s Labours Lost’, a play first published in 1598. The other poems were based on the theme of Shakespeare’s very first poem, ‘Venus and Adonis’.

Scholars now attribute only five of the poems in ‘Passionate Pilgrim’ to Shakespeare, but perhaps Jaggard knew better, as there was little reason for him to make an erroneous attribution. Our Californian analysts, Elliot and Valenza, however, say their modal analysis indicates that the majority of the Passionate Pilgrim poems test as ‘strikingly Shakespearean’.

One of the ‘other’ poems was written by Bartholomew Griffin, a poet, who describes himself as a gentleman and was possibly the father, or maybe the elder brother of Jaggard’s apprentice, Lancelot Griffin. Bartholomew’s sonnet was taken from an anthology, published in 1596, which also included a sequence of sonnets, by Michael Drayton, another whose name frequently pops up at opportune moments. One of Drayton’s sonnets in his anthology was entitled, ‘An Allusion to the Phoenix’, perhaps paying homage to the ‘Phoenix Nest’ anthology of three years before.

The anthology was never registered with the Stationers Company, but William Jaggard arranged for the bookseller, William Leake, the copyright owner of ‘Venus and Adonis’, to sell ‘The Passionate Pilgrim’ for him, at Leake’s shop, the sign of the Greyhound, in St Paul’s Churchyard. This seems to have been a clever ploy, which might circumvent any conflict of interest. There are no records of complaint from the authors or other booksellers about these early versions of ‘The Passionate Pilgrim’.

Jaggard did not print the 1599 anthology himself, as he was still without his own press, but instead used the services of Thomas Judson, a printer who only set up shop at the end of 1598. Judson printed two editions, in one year, although the first only exists as a fragment, with no title page or date, so could have been published in 1598. Two editions in a year must have meant that Jaggard underestimated the sales potential of his work.

The Passionate Pilgrim -1599  Passionate Pilgrim title page comparison - 1612

Passionate Pilgrim 1599 and two editions in 1612, the second amended

Jaggard published ‘Passionate Pilgrim’ in a third edition, in 1612, but did the printing work himself, again producing two editions, in a short time, but this time for a very different reason.

There are two different versions of the 1612 title-page — one with Shakespeare’s name, this time written as ‘W. Shakespere’, and one edition without. Scholars have concluded that Jaggard was forced to reprint the volume because Thomas Heywood, objected to the inclusion of two of his own poems, in this enlarged anthology.

Jaggard had published these two poems a few years earlier, in Heywood’s ‘Troia Britanica’ (1609); and as the publisher of both, Jaggard felt he was within his rights to re-use the work. In an epistle appended to his ‘Apologie for Actors’ (published in 1612), Heywood complained about the actions of William Jaggard, and suggested that the ‘author’ of the work was also unhappy about the use of his name.

‘Here likewise, I must necessarily insert a manifest iniury done me in that worke, by taking the two Epistles of ‘Paris to Helen’, and ‘Helen to Paris’, and printing them in a lesse volume, vnder the name of another, which may put the world in opinion I might steale them from him; and hee to doe himselfe right, hath since published them in his owne name.’

‘The Author was I know much offended with M. Iaggard (that altogether vnknowne to him) presumed to make so bold with his name.’ Thomas Heywood

This fracas between Heywood and Jaggard is frequently used, by the Shakespeare community, to denigrate the status of the Jaggard print house. It is also used as a clear indication that Shakespeare was unknown to the Jaggards and that he was complaining, via a third party, about the use of his name.

Heywood was said to be a protégé of the Earls of Derby, whose acting troupe performed his plays, so his complaint, could have been connected with his relationship with William Stanley, Earl of Derby. Thomas Heywood might not have been aware that William Jaggard, by now ‘printer to the City of London’, was very much part of the Shakespeare conspiracy, that he could use the Shakespeare name, with a wink and a nod’ from the grand possessors. The replacement of a less contentious ‘front page’ was a simple and expedient way to keep everyone happy and not ruffle any more feathers.

The only other edition of this period was not until 1640, when Thomas Cotes included the ‘Passionate Pilgrim’ in a much larger anthology.

Single words or phrases have been debated, ad infinitum, by Shakespeare scholars trying to prove or disprove a point. Some even try to hang the fate of the genre around the neck of an ‘upstart crow’. The analysis of thousands of individual words makes up a large percentage of Shakespeare theology.

So, when I read though the poems of ‘The Passionate Pilgrim’. I was surprised to see, in the very first stanza, a clue as to the authenticity of the Shakespeare name. This first poem is, in fact, found later, as Numero 138, in Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Well almost..!!

The Passionate Pilgrim begins:

‘When my love swears that she is made of truth,
I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutored youth,
Unskilful in the world’s false forgeries’

Might that not be similar to one of Agatha Christie’s detective fictions, where she frequently places one of her main clues, at the opening scene of the novel. The opening lines of ‘The Passionate Pilgrim’ suggest, to me, that ‘lies’, ‘(un)truths’ and ‘forgeries’ are to be at the heart of what is to come, and not everything is quite what it seems.

To add to my suspicions, when the poem was published, as number 138 of Shakespeare’s collection of sonnets, in 1609, the words of the fourth line have been changed, with ‘unskilful’ becoming ‘unlearned’, and perhaps more significantly, the word ‘forgeries’ has been changed to ‘subtleties’.

‘Unskilful in the world’s false forgeries’

has become

‘Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties’

 William Jaggard’s elder brother, John, has been mentioned briefly, but he is an important character in his own right. John began his apprenticeship with Richard Tottel, on 29th Sept 1584, and received his freedom on 7th Aug 1591, although by then Tottel was an old man and had retired from active duties.

Charles Yetsweirt took over Tottel’s rights to the legal books, but John Jaggard remained in charge of the day to day running of the ‘Hand and Star’ printing business, and in the tax rolls for the mid 1590s, he was shown to have a more successful business than his brother.

When he died, in 1595, Yetsweirt’s rights to the law books were challenged, but they remained with the business, now under the charge of his widow, Jane. However, when she died, in 1598, the legal rights were finally lost, and so was the right to own a printing press. John Jaggard then hit hard times, being left with only the remnants of the ‘Hand and Star’ business, to support him.

After that setback, John needed to extend his repertoire and was noted to co-operate more frequently with his brother, William, sharing with him some of the print contracts and with two other associates George Shaw and Ralphe Blore, who had been fellow apprentices at the Tottell print shop.

At the turn of the century, a year after William Jaggard had published the first edition of ‘Passionate Pilgrim’, the two brothers became embroiled in a matter, which had the potential to ruin their careers. John published and William printed, a travelogue, about the expedition of Sir Anthony Shirley, which had extended as far as the Middle East and Persia. The original ‘passport’ was for a diplomatic mission to Venice, but was extended on the say so of his sponsor, the Earl of Essex, but without any Royal warrant from Queen Elizabeth.

Shirley was forbidden by Elizabeth, from returning to England and the script had been carried back by two of his travel companions. An anonymous pamphlet describing this illegal journey, ‘The True Report of Sir Anthony Shirley’s Journey’, was published, with only the initials, ‘R.B for I.I’ (Ralphe Blore for John Jaggard). However, on 23 October 1600, it was William Jaggard who was fined by the Stationers’ Company, the sum of two marks, and threatened with prison, with the remaining pamphlets destroyed. Ralphe Blore was also fined, but, somehow, John Jaggard escaped scot free. Who actually printed the pamphlets is unclear, as the two brothers were without their own printing presses, during this period, but it may well have been that Ralphe Blore had his own print shop.

In 1601, William Jaggard began what became, a twenty year association with bookseller, Thomas Pavier, when he compiled a very grand folio book, ‘A view of the Rt Honorable the Lord Mayors of this Honorable City’, fully illustrated, with woodcuts of the individuals. Jaggard was also the author of the work and was clearly produced to gain favour with the leading lights of the City of London, and perhaps restore the Jaggard reputation after the previous year’s indiscretion.

Lord Mayor book

Sir William Ryder – One of the mayoral portraits

In 1602, William Jaggard at last had his hands on something theatrical, as he leased the rights from James Roberts to print playbills for the ‘Earl of Worcester’s Men’. This acting troupe’s sponsor was Edward Somerset, Earl of Worcester, a descendant of the Beaufort family. These players had only been given a patent to perform that same year, and were soon to change their name to ‘Queen Anne’s Men’, after King James’ consort awarded them her patent.

The Earl held the position of Earl Marshal, at the time, but the new king put that position into abeyance and instead Somerset became Lord Privy Seal and keeper of the Great Park, at Nonsuch Palace, Surrey. He was kept close to King James and became an important advisor, although monarchs often did this to keep an eye on potential rivals. Descendants of the Beaufort line were always thought to be potential claimants to the throne.

William Jaggard continued to grow his business and after Griffin had gained his freedom, he took on two more apprentices, Francis Langley and Thomas Greene. This could have been the son of Francis Langley who had built the Rose Theatre, and was involved with William Shakespeare in the 1596 case with William Wayte. The Greene name is common, but has a variety of possible literary connections. Thomas Cotes still remained, and didn’t gain his freedom, until 3rd October 1607. With three apprentices, this made him an exception to the ‘two only’ rule, an exception that was normally only available to senior officers of the Stationers Company.

William Jaggard doesn’t appear to have had his own printing press before 1604, but from about the time of the ‘playbills’ contract, in 1602, he probably shared the business premises of the sixty two year old, James Roberts and the ‘gilliflower and rose’ mark appeared on both their work.

In 1604, Jaggard gained a patent from the new King to print copies of the ‘Ten Commandments’, for every parish church in England, a job in excess of 10,000 sheets. He was entitled to charge 15d each, and so there would have been considerable profit. Financially, he also did very well from the death of his aunt, Elizabeth Denham, who died in 1605, and she left him a share in her property.

From then onwards, William Jaggard’s business thrived, now trading in partnership with Roberts under the ‘Half-eagle and key’, on the corner of the Barbican. In 1606, he printed for his brother, the ‘Essays of Francis Bacon’ and there were further editions of the ‘Bacon’s Essays’, in 1612 and 1613. John Jaggard probably gained the rights because he had been apprenticed, alongside William Tottel, who later became the steward to Francis Bacon.

In 1607, William Jaggard, now in full control of his printing output, published Edward Topsell’s spectacular volume, the ‘History of foure footed beastes’, a massive 800 page book, which was profusely illustrated with woodcuts. The following year, this was followed in similar style, by the ‘History of Serpents’.

History of Serpents - front cover

An edition of his spectacular animal books – the GORGON…??

Edward Topsell has a passing connection with William’s clerical son, Thomas Jaggard, as Topsell was curate of St Botolphs without Aldergate, from 1604 till 1625, the same church where Jaggard took a similar role, a generation later.

James Roberts made his last entry at Stationers Hall, in July 1606 and probably, William Jaggard took control of the Barbican business from then onwards, becoming the sole owner of the James Roberts, from 1608, when the retiring printer took his pension. Jaggard continued to trade under the sign of the ‘Eagle and Half-key’ and for much of his output continued to use the Roberts ‘gilliflower’ mark, although as we will see, he adopted his own, very distinctive printer device.

As mentioned, in an earlier section, on 20th March 1609/10, William Jaggard engaged an apprentice called John Shakespeare, son of Thomas Shakespeare, the Warwick butcher. A plethora of scholars just disregard this as a ‘pure coincidence’, one stating there were ‘lots of Shakespeare’s in Warwickshire’. The Warwick side of the family has been traditionally connected with John Shakespeare, the shoemaker of Stratford, who I now believe was the poet’s elder brother. Whether this is the case or not ,the family link between the Jaggard print shop and the Bard’s family is strong and cannot be ignored.

John Shakespeare (the shoemaker) had married widow, Margaret Roberts from the Stratford shoemaking business, and could it be that her deceased husband was related to James Roberts, the London printer. Is this a pure coincidence, in a marriage of the names, or compelling evidence that there is a link between these two significant characters, in my story?

If Thomas and James Roberts were related, then many other parts of the Shakespeare tale begin to fall easily into place. This also gives a motive and a mechanism to explain, how and why, Richard Field, son of a Stratford tanner, also decided to move to London, to become a printer. The connection between the printers Field, Jaggard and Roberts would then be very simple – two Bobs, Thomas and James Roberts. Is the answer to this part of the Shakespeare printing conundrum really that simple?

John Shakespeare remained in the Jaggard shop for his full time as an apprentice, until 22nd May 1617, and much later drew a pension from the Stationers Company, but nothing more is known about his activities in London or elsewhere, after 1617. There was plenty of work during this time and so Jaggard and son may have retained him as a journeyman printer and John Shakespeare could have been there when the First folio was produced. That cannot be discounted.

In 1610, Jaggard was elected to be ‘Printer for the City of London’, an honour, but mainly a ceremonial position, so didn’t mean he printed every official document. He now seemed to be in everyone’s good books, as he had already received positive vibes from King James and his household, was printing the annals of one of the great men of the period, and was now recognised by his fellow City stationers.   However, this proved to be a high point, because just over a year later, life for William Jaggard was to take a decided turn for the worse. His ‘annus horribilis’ was to be 1612.

We have already described, in some detail, his scrap with Thomas Heywood, and the reprinting in a bumper edition of ‘The Passionate Pilgrim’, with the removal of the Shakespeare brand. This seemed to coincide with a personal disaster, because in the summer of 1612, William Jaggard lost his sight – he went blind. Willoughby, in his biography, suggests that his blindness was caused by the mercury treatment for syphilis, which he received in May of that year and that the blindness took hold soon afterwards. His general health would also also have suffered, but William carried on his business for another eleven years, and in a most remarkable fashion, for a printer who had lost his sight.

At the time of the treatment, his son, Isaac was just seventeen years old, but it was only a year later that he gained his ‘freedom’, due to patrimony; the right of the eldest son to follow his father into the same trade. William, assisted by Isaac, worked more closely with his brother, John, after this, with the two mainly printing work for themselves, taking on very few external contracts.

William Jaggard also had help from his wife Jayne, and she is mentioned in connection with the printing of a number of highly illustrated medical books, echoing the barber-surgeon occupation of his father and his nephew. That same year, 1615, Jaggard finally gained the right to print all the theatre playbills, although he had lost his enthusiasm by then, leasing the rights out for others to print them.

Despite these glamorous creations, the day to day work reflected his very first commission, with a steady flow of religious pamphlets, often publishing sermons of staunch Protestants, reflecting views similar to Philip Sidney and Robert Dudley, but never reaching those of the Puritan extremists.

Jaggard’s printer devices

In the same way that the nobility used coats of arms as proof of their heredity, printers’ marks are a great way of establishing, who was apprenticed to whom, and more importantly, who printed what. Printers often had their full name or initials on their work, but at other times their mark, often called a device, is the only clue as to the origin of the item. These marks have helped to sort out who printed various editions of the Shakespeare quartos and the Roberts/Jaggard print shop may have been responsible for printing a larger number than they have generally been credited.

James Roberts is said to have had a Welsh heritage, possibly because he used a mark that had previously belonged to the Welsh printer, Richard Jones. Welsh historians claim both of them to be their brethren, but conclusive evidence placing their origins west of Offa’s Dyke, has not been found.

Their printer’s ‘device’, bears the Welsh phrase, ‘Heb Ddieu Heb Ddim’, (‘without God without everything’), which is surrounding a posy of three flowers. This appeared on Robert’s own work, and continued to appear on later work, by William Jaggard, after Roberts had retired from the business. This printers device then passed on to William’s son, Isaac, and then to the Cotes family.

James Roberts printer device

‘Gilliflower & Rose’ printer device

The main flower is a gilliflower, better known in modern parlance, as a carnation, whilst making up the triumvirate is the Tudor rose and another, which may be a primrose.

William Jaggard used this ‘gilliflower’ mark, but he also had his own personal printer’s mark, which was far more complex and extravagent. Some printers used simple embellished initials, whilst others had intricate and spectacular, religious or scientific designs. Printers’ marks often tell a story, and can be read, just like a coat of arms. Sometimes the device relates to the previous owner of the business, sometimes a cryptic interpretation of their own name and at other times highlight their beliefs or personal heritage. The mark of William Jaggard seems to do all these, with strong connections to the symbolism of other printers, religious beliefs, famous families and secret organisations.

William Jaggard’s personal motif is made up of five main parts; a hand holds an upright sword topped by a portcullis and chains, with the blade adorned by olive branches. An ouroboros snake wraps itself around the hand and also encompasses the word ‘Prudentia’. It is like that of no other English printer.


 William Jaggard printer          Antoine Vincenti printer device

William Jaggard printer device                    Antoine Vincent’s mark

Jaggard though, might be accused of blatant plagerism, because his mark is clearly, inspired by the earlier mark of Antoine Vincent, but with significant differences. Vincent was a wealthy merchant from Lyon, who made a massive contribution, not only to the French printing industry, but also to the rise of the Protestant religion, in France. In 1561, the Huguenot church in Paris and Geneva, organised the printing of 35,000 copies of the complete version of a book containing 150, ‘metrical’, Psalms, and the project was financed and organised by Antoine Vincent, using thirty printers in six different cities.

This metrical psalter, which added music, to translations of the Biblical psalms, was made by Marot and Beze, being first published in France, between 1533 and 1543. They became popular amongst Calvinist congregations because they encouraged community singing and an outward expression of their faith, rather than the repetitive chanting of clerics, that was typical of the Roman church.

The massive printing effort by Antoine Vincent, in 1562, was a significant event in the rise of the French Protestant movement, which led, ten years later to the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre, when several thousand Protestants were killed in Paris, and elsewhere across France. This, in turn, led to the massive migration of Huguenot’s (French Protestants) to Holland and England. In the wake of this exodus, Philip Sidney, and other stalwarts, toured Protestant Europe to drum up support, so battle lines between the two religions were drawn, from that time onwards.

Another ‘name’ coincidence rears its head here, because the very first copy of the First folio was presented by Isaac Jaggard to Augustine Vincent, in November 1623, on behalf of his recently deceased father. This member of the Vincent family had attained a post in the College of Arms, working as an antiquary and assistant to William Camden. Augustine had taken the side of Camden in his ongoing quarrels with Ralphe Brooke, the York Herald, and the young herald seems to have developed a close friendship with William Jaggard.

Augustine’s father was William Vincent, but little further is known about him, except there does seem a sniff of garlic in his father’s pedigree, with his maternal grandfather being a Merchant of the Staple, based in Calais, again pointing towards a continental connection. William Jaggard’s use of a similar mark to Antoine Vincent, points assuredly to the idea that Augustine was Antoine’s grandson.

Jaggard printer device in action

William Jaggard’s personal printer device – in action

The similarities between the two marks, particulary the ouroboros snake, also relates to aspects of the mark of Johan Froben (1460-1527), who was a great early printer from Basel. He opened his print shop, in 1491, and did more than anyone else to make the town of Basel, the early centre of the book trade. His work was of high quality and he employed Hans Holbein the younger, as his illustrator. Froben’s version of The Bible was used by Martin Luther, as his standard text.

Printer device of Johannes Froben by Hans Holbein

Printer’s marks of Johan Froben

Another printer who has closer associations with my story, and took similar inspiration from the Protestant movement, was the German, Andreas Wechel, who hailed from a family of printers. Wechel fled Paris, after the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, and moved his business to Frankfort. His name is associated with printing work by Bruno and other European Humanists, but an exact copy of Wechel’s printers mark reappears again, not in Germany, but in London, on one of the earliest versions of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, King Lear.

Andre Wechel

Printer mark of Andreas Wechel – also found on King Lear..!!

The symbol of the sword and two snakes, the caduceus, we have mentioned on other printers marks, notably the Eliot Court ensemble and on the front cover of the 1664 folio. The caduceus represents the Roman god, Mercury, the winged messenger, a symbol of commerce, (the latin name ‘mercari’ meaning to trade), and was commonly used in the printing industry.

Both Vincent and Jaggard used a different version of the entwined snake, theirs being the ouroboros symbol, of a snake eating its tail. This stylised snake was said to reflect the cycle of life, the immortality of the soul and rebirth, was a symbol of the Hermetic scientific movement and later featured as a symbol of the Masonic movement.

The upright sword has other influences, and they link back to our other friends, the Knights Templar. The symbol of an erect sword combined with a cross was a common symbol of the Templars, indicating that they were fighting for Christianity and similar imagery appears with their compatriots, the Knights Hospitaller.

Whilst Jaggard has adorned his sword with a portcullis, Vincent’s symbol is very different, being dominated by the ‘Eye of Providence’, said to represent the eye of God, watching over mankind.

Eye of Providence

Eye of Providence

Jaggard replaced the all seeing ‘eye’, with the portcullis, which he proudly displayed at the tip of the sword. The portcullis is very much the eye-catching symbol that adorns the coat of arms granted to the City of Westminster, in 1601, and remains prominent till today. This was originally the symbol of the Beaufort family, and via Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII’s mother, it became part of the Tudor arms.

Thus the portcullis, in the time of William Jaggard, was a common sight around London and the Tudor court, but for Jaggard to use the portcullis, in such brazen fashion, he must have been done so, confident that he could justify its use. He doesn’t seem to have had any royal patent to display the symbol, so surely this came with the support of descendants of the Beaufort family.

This may have been associated with his warrant to print playbills for the Queen Anne’s Men and their sponsor, Edward Somerset, a Beaufort descendant. There are other possibilities, as the Beaufort name has featured frequently in this story, all the way from Stainland, in the hills of Yorkshire, to Tomar in the mountains of Portugal. Family connections to the Beaufort line, include many of the noble men and women who dominate this story. Jaggard’s use of the symbol seems more than, just a coincidence.

The final difference with Vincent’s mark is that Jaggard has replaced the printers name, with the word ‘prudentia’, which translates into English, meaning ‘prudence’. The word means wisdom, insight and knowledge, although in modern parlance now suggests exercising caution.

‘Prudence’ was one of the four cardinal virtues, which were first proposed by the Greek philosopher, Plato, as a framework for a moral life. They are the same virtues that appear as the basic standards for the life of a Knight Hospitaller. In classical times, ‘Prudence’ was usually depicted as a bare breasted woman holding a serpent, so the depiction of a snake encircling ‘prudentia’ continues that theme.

Jaggard’s mark also takes inspiration from other printers. The first is the mark of Richard Jugge, which is grand in the extreme, as befitted his position as King’s printer. The Jugge mark was copied by Alexander Arbuthnot, a printer in Edinburgh, who adapted the device for his own. The two printers seem to have a very close connection, with both being in the business of producing Bibles.

This Jugge/Arbuthnot mark has a classical feel to it, and the ‘prudentia’ symbol provides a link between Jaggard and Jugge. The central part of the mark is the pelican feeding her brood, and that symbolism becomes significant later, when dealing with the world of science and the secret societies..

A ‘star and crescent moon’ replaces Jugge’s intricate ‘initials’ design, on the Arbuthnot shield, a symbol that connects to the Muslim world, and again is a symbol linked to the Knights Templar.

Richard Jugge device     Arbuthnot device

The Jugge and Arbuthnot printer’s mark

Jugge’s intricate monogram, using his initials, is remarkably similar to that on the shield of Richard Tottel, of Tottel’s Miscellany, and suggests a common influence.

Richard Tottel printer device     William Middleton printer device

Richard Jugge was a student at Cambridge University, but where he served his apprenticeship or learnt his printing skills is unknown. Richard Tottel worked for William Middleton and so it could be that Jugge was also an apprentice to Middleton.

The printers’ marks of Jugge, Jaggard, Roberts, Tottel and Middleton overlap in their symbolism, whilst the ‘pelican’ section of the Jugge device was passed on as a separate mark to Richard Watkins and William White. Tottel’s depiction of a ‘hand and star’ was complemented in the name of his printer’s shop, and the link is further enhanced by Henry Denham’s use of the ‘Star’ name in his own printing business.

Richard Jugge (c1515-77) was one of the original members of the reformed Stationers Company, elected Warden three times and Master on four occasions. Queen Elizabeth appointed him joint Royal printer, with John Cawood, who had held the title previously, under Queen Mary. Jugge probably gained the position because he was supported by Bishop, Mathew Parker, who soon afterwards, was promoted to Archbishop of Canterbury.

Parker, later, published his ‘Bishop’s Bible’, printed by Jugge, in 1568, which he hoped would compete with the Geneva Bible, which had become the standard reference for Protestant theologians. The Bishop’s Bible was placed in all parish churches, but despite its lavish presentation, it failed to become as popular as the Geneva version, amongst those people rich enough to purchase their own copy.

John Cawood (1514–1572), another from a Yorkshire family, had been made Queen’s printer in 1553, after Richard Grafton was imprisoned by Queen Mary, for jumping the starting gate with his proclamation of ‘Queen Jane Grey’. Cawood printed all Queen Mary’s official proclamations and after a year spent on ‘gardening leave’, at the accession of Elizabeth, he shared the official printer’s role with Jugge, until his death, in 1572. It was John Cawood’s daughter, Mary, who married George Bishop, manager of the Tiger’s Head print shop in the 1580s and 1590s, and it was Bishop who launched, Stratford man, Richard Field, on his successful career in the print trade.

Richard Jugge kept a shop at the ‘sign of the Bible’, at the North door of St Paul’s Cathedral, though his residence was in Newgate Market, next door to Christ Hospital. He was awarded Elizabeth’s Royal Patent, to print Bibles, but despite his excellent decorative skills, his work was noted for its snail like pace and spelling mistakes, and eventually his rights were modified, by order of the church authorities.

Richard Jugge married twice, to Elizabeth Smith in 1539, possibly a daughter of printer Henry Smith, and then, in 1543, to Jone Merrye. This gives a potential date of birth for Richard Jugge of about 1517, although it may be earlier as he moved from Eton College to King’s College, Cambridge in 1531.

Henry Smith was the son-in-law of printer, Robert Redman and was the overseer of his will. This gives us two more potential places where Richard Jugge may have learnt his printing skills, possibly apprenticed to Henry Smith, if it was indeed his daughter he married.

The second marriage, to Jone Merrye, took place at St Lawrence Church, Old Jewry, in 1543, and it was Jone who produced his six children.

Richard Jugge had a steady flow of apprentices, with perhaps the most notable being William White, whose name is closely associated with some of the earliest of Shakespeare’s works. Of special note, is that he was the printer of the first edition of ‘Loves Labours Lost’, in 1598, the first play that had Shakespeare’s name attached to it from the start. William White also printed ‘Richard II’ and ‘Pericles’, with both carrying an attribution to Shakespeare.

This association with Richard Jugge would also explain why William White made use of the pelican symbol for his mark, a prominent part of Jugge’s more intricate device. It should be noted that the pelican also features prominently on the exterior walls at St John’s College, in Oxford, a college founded by another of the same name, Thomas White.

Another namesake, was bookseller, Edward White, (c 1548-1612), who published ‘Titus Andronicus’ in 1594, 1600 and 1611, but chose to bless none of these editions with an author. What is strange is that on 19th April 1602, Thomas Millington, joint publisher in 1594, transferred the copyright to Thomas Pavier. However, the third quarto, of 1611, was printed by Edward Allde for Edward White. Only in 1623 did ‘Titus Andronicus’ have William Shakespeare’s name attached, nearly years later than present day scholars, might have expected.

Edward White was born in Suffolk, the son of John White a mercer from Bury St Edmunds. Edward had a long and well established career, with a shop in St Paul’s Churchyard, at the ‘Sign of the Gun’. He also sold offerings by Thomas Kyd, Robert Greene, Anthony Munday and Christopher Marlowe, but a proportion of his output had no accredited author.

White married Sara Lodge, daughter of Thomas Lodge, Lord Mayor of London, by whom he had at least one son, also named Edward White. Sara was the older half-sister to playwright, Thomas Lodge, making him Edward White’s brother-in-law, and bringing another prime authorship candidate close to the heart of the Shakespeare printing story.

There was also a third White, in the book business, another Thomas White, who took over the Yetsweirt legal rights, in partnership with Bonham Norton and in doing so, deprived John Jaggard of a major part of his business. The connection between these Whites is by name only, and I have been unable to find a complete biography for either, William, Edward or Thomas.

Is this one big happy family of Whites, and do they have a connection to Thomas White, the founder of St John’s College and Merchant Taylor’s School?

Richard Jugge is another notable figure of the period, and one with a murky past. He had a fabulous education, starting at Eton College and then moving on to King’s College, Cambridge. He became a ‘freeman’ printer in 1541, but no record of his ‘master’ has been found, although Henry Smith or William Middleton look to be likely candidates. In 1550, Jugge was one of the first to print the New Testament, in English, and was noted as ‘bestowing not only a good letter, but many elegant initial letters and fine wooden cuts.’

So, who was Richard Jugge, a name I came upon late in the day, but in reality a far more important printer in the Tudor period than the Jaggard clan?

There was nothing, in Richard Jugge’s extensive biographies, naming his father, and nothing about his past, except he was supposed to have come to London, from Waterbeach, in Cambridgeshire. The village of Horningsea, close to Waterbeach, does have a Henry Jugge in the 1580s and 90s, and this could well be the same family, but a generation, or two, later.

The only other Jugge family I could find in England, was to be found not too far away, living on the edge of The Wash, north of Boston, in Lincolnshire. Here was a distinct family group, living there in the latter part of the 16th century, sometimes spelt just Jugg, with no ‘e’. Incidently, ‘Jugg’ is the same spelling found in the London parish records for Richard’s two marriages, in 1539 and 1543.

The Jugge/Jugg name is another of those odd spelling corruptions, as there are very few other families with that name in the records. Apart from those mentioned, the only others I have found, with the same spelling, are Richard Jugge’s own children. There were two sons, Richard and John, both of whom died in 1579, just two years after their father, and four daughters, Katherine, Anne, Elizabeth and Joan. In official biographies, it is recorded that his son, John, briefly took over his business, in 1577, before his own death, two years later.

Now, we have yet more evidence of those cosy printer relationships, because Katherine Jugge married Richard Watkins, who is one of those linch pins holding my Shakespeare printer tree together. This would also offer an explanation for the pelican symbol to be passed in his direction. Her sister, Anne Jugge married John Barley, in 1570, at St Dunstan in the West, and this is another significant surname associated with the Shakespeare canon.

William Barley was a grocer turned bookseller, working in Newgate market, before successfully running bookshops in London and Oxford. William Barley published the anonymous ‘Richard III’ in 1594 and was also the man who brought Thomas Pavier into the book business, as his apprentice. This is almost certainly the same Barley family and this marriage, between Jugge and Barley, may well explain, just how and why William Barley successfully switched trades, from grocer to bookseller.

The last daughter, Joan Jugge married John Cramford in Christ Church, at Newgate, but that is one name that seems to mean very little, at least, so far!

So, Richard Jugge is yet another important and influential man with a mysterious past. I was hoping to find a connection to my Long Melford, Gager family, because changing Jugge to Gager or Jagger is not a big leap, and there is a space in the tree, where he would fit, quite nicely. That would also make him a close relative to the Coleman Street family and it should be noted that Richard’s second marriage was in the same church as John Jagger, barber-surgeon.

The isolated, Jugge clan from Boston, living next to the Wash, could mean they were migrants from Yorkshire, but instead of coming from the north, they could equally well have moved up, from the south, as Cambridgeshire was also not too far away. Boston is in Lincolnshire, and that was also the home county of that notable personality, William Cecil.

T12 Richard Jugge tree

Waterbeach is a tiny village, 10 miles north of Cambridge and only 15 miles west of Long Melford. If I was to discover more about Richard Jugge’s background, then I needed to know more about, what I thought, was this unremarkable pinprick on the map. There isn’t too much there today, and in Tudor times was even less, a most unlikely place to produce such a learned and successful citizen.

Well, there was nothing near Waterbeach, except Denny Abbey, and an order of Franciscan nuns, known as the Poor Clares. I think we have met them before…!!

In 1169, Denny Abbey was given to the Knights Templar, after the Benedictine monks, who had lived there previously, moved to Ely Abbey. This was at the start of Ely’s magnificent transformation,to become the first of the great English cathedrals, dominating the flat fenlands of East Anglia.

The Templars had used Denny Abbey as a hospital, for their elderly, their sick and wounded, but after their demise, in 1312, the site was offered to the Knights Hospitallers. However, the men in the black tunics never occupied the place and later Edward III gifted the estate to the Countess of Pembroke, widow of Aymer de Valence. Aymer was one of the beneficiaries of the sideways move of the Marshal and Pembroke titles, as Aymer’s father married a granddaughter of William Marshal.

Yes, amazingly and for no obvious reason, some familiar names re-enter the scene, including a very early version of the Countess of Pembroke. She renovated the whole complex, adding her own private apartments and later invited the nuns from the nearby, Waterbeach Abbey, to share her quarters. This is also the same Countess, who founded Pembroke College, in Cambridge.

During Henry’s Dissolution period 1536-42, the nave of Denny Abbey was demolished, with later the living quarters turned into a farmhouse and the refectory into a barn, the estate carrying on as a lay farm. The refectory was not destroyed, but encased with wood and was only rediscovered in the 20th century. Like so many of ‘my unlikely places’ in this story, it has now been restored to its former glory.

Pembroke College have purchased the site and today it is a popular visitor attraction, run by English Heritage, called the ‘Farmland Museum and Denny Abbey’.

Denny Abbey

Denny Abbey, still very loved and cared for in the 21st century

Now, if Richard Jugge the printer was noted for producing ‘elegant initial letters’, he couldn’t have learnt to appreciate the graphic arts, anywhere better than at a Franciscan abbey, a religious order famous for their artistic skills. However, if Denny Abbey was the source of his artistic flair, it still doesn’t explain what he was doing there or how he came to move on to the infamous Berkshire school, although at the time, Eton College wasn’t quite the posh place it is today.

It had been founded as a charity school, by Henry VI, in 1440, designed to offer free education to seventy poor boys, who would then have a place at King’s College, Cambridge. This doesn’t say who Richard Jugge was, but does offer an explanation how he was able to move swiftly along the educational gravy train, eventually to become ‘Royal printer’ and a most influential figure in Elizabethan England, for over twenty years.

It certainly looks as though Richard Jugge was influenced by the nuns at Denny, as it was the only place of learning in the area, and perhaps he wasn’t the only one of the family, to be educated at Denny Abbey. One possibility, and it does open, a rather speculative, large can of worms, is that Richard Jugge was an orphan or illigitimate offspring, who had been placed in the safe hands of the nuns. That becomes a more than interesting possibility because the last abbess before the Dissolution was Elizabeth Throckmorton, who after the abbey closed, was evicted, along with her 25 fellow nuns.

Elizabeth moved away from East Anglia, to live with her nephew, George Throckmorton, at his estate in Coughton, only a few miles from Stratford-on-Avon in Warwickshire. Yes, this is the same family that had Robert Throckmorton fortifying the house at Temple Balsall, to keep Prior Docwra out, and had Richard Shakespeare of Snitterfield, adjudicating on a jury about their estates. George Throckmorton and his heirs played an important part in Tudor life, throughout the century and in particular, George was at the forefront of resisting Henry VIII’s move away from Catholicism.

Why does following my ball of string keep leading to the same small and discreet number of places – England was bigger than that – surely – but coincidence keeps being laid on coincidence.

The rarity of the Jugge name also suggested to me that this could be a spelling corruption of Jagger or Gager, and was Richard Jugge the son of one of the earliest Jagger migrants from Stainland, who ended up in Long Melford? Indeed, had the Jagger family moved down from Lincolnshire, in a two or three stage migration? William of Occam would suggest that the similar name was a total red herring, but again the connection of name, place and people was compelling, so I kept looking.

And yes, there was more to find, and again, I was able to reap the rewards of heading out into ‘left field’. By pushing the family tree back, one stage further, and following the female side with as much vigour as the male line, I found a compelling link between this family of Elizabeth Throckmorton and Long Melford.

George Throckmorton’s mother was Catherine Marrow, daughter of William Marrow and Catherine Rich.

Then there was William Clopton of Long Melford, the father of Richard Clopton by his third wife, Thomasina Knyvet, but William had a first wife, called Joan Marrow.

We have met Joan Marrow before, as the grandmother of Edward Clopton, the man living next door to the Windmill Taven, at the Coleman Street crossroads. Catherine and Joan Marrow were sisters and their mother was the daughter of Richard Rich, sheriff of London. This is the same Rich family that have been peppering this saga, including one who married Penelope Devereux, and lived for a short time at Temple Balsall. Small world, isn’t it?

So that makes Elizabeth Throckmorton, (the defrocked abbess of Denny), the sister-in-law of the sister-in-law of the Long Melford knight, William Clopton. Doesn’t sound very catchy, but does mean her brother’s wife’s sister was a Clopton. Elizabeth took over as abbess, at Denny, in 1512, and so could Richard Jugge, born around 1517, possibly be her child, or perhaps a Throckmorton ‘castaway’ from Warwickshire, or even a handy placement, made by the Gagers or Cloptons from Long Melford.

Perhaps, young Richard Jugge was the result of an errant Clopton father and Gager/Jagger mother. It is certainly, now much easier to see how a ‘spare’ and unwanted Gager/Jagger child, from Long Melford could end up living at Denny Abbey.

This part of my research started off as a total wild goose chase, but the flighty bird is nearly cornered, because the pieces of the Waterbeach jigsaw are now coming together. Of course this might all be just another one of those coincidences, but there is one final printer connection to Waterbeach, which just has to be another complete coincidence, doesn’t it…?

The three flowers shown on the printer device of James Roberts are the gilliflower, the Tudor rose and a primrose, with two of them also on Richard Tottel’s device. Now when you Google – ‘gilliflower and rose’ together, on the search engines, what name pops up at the top of the computer screen, but the village of Waterbeach.

As Sherlock Holmes would say: ‘that seems to be a very singular fact’.

In the 12th century, the owner of the land on which Waterbeach Abbey was built, demanded a payment for his property and the fee he agreed was the token sum of a ‘gilliflower and a rose’. The Abbey was the original home of those same Franciscan nuns, the Order of St Clare, who settled there in 1294, before moving to a drier site, at Denny Abbey, at the invitation of the Countess of Pembroke, meaning by 1359, the site at Waterbeach had been abandoned.

However, that original charge for the land has never been forgotten.

The gilliflower and rose has continued to be used in modern times, as the symbol of RAF Waterbeach, an important bomber station, in World War Two, and the symbol also adorns the badge of the 39th Engineer Regiment, which was stationed at Waterbeach Barracks, until the base was closed in 2011.

RAF Waterbeach

How this distinctive symbol of Waterbeach, ended up on the printer device of James Roberts, who was supposed to have inherited it from Richard Jones, seems strange, particularly as the Welsh nation claims both men for their own. If this is more than a one in a million coincidence, then it points to a connection between, ex-Waterbeach resident, Richard Jugge, and Richard Tottel and Richard Jones.

We already know Tottel and Jones have connections to both Roberts and the Jaggard print family, so is this a potential confirming link between Jugge and Jaggard. Could this be why Jaggard seemed so determined to take control of the Roberts print house and not the more obvious target of the Denham business, where he already had close family ties.

The ‘gilliflower and rose’ printers mark is the same one that is emblazoned over many of the early printed versions of William Shakespeare’s plays and this printer device of James Roberts and William Jaggard, now gains some prominence in the next part of the story.

A False Start

William Jaggard now leads us to the most significant parts of his connection with the Shakespeare canon and my story begins to hot up, somewhat. I’m relying on Jaggard biographer, Willoughby, for the detail here, as elsewhere there seems to be more rumour and conjecture than fact. Willoughby, indeed, attaches his own spin and motivations to this part of the story, because despite the great depth of his research, the period leading up to the creation of the Bard’s greatest work, in 1623, remains decidedly misty, with very little documentation to guide the way.

In 1618, there was an atmosphere of rebellion among the bookshops and printing houses of the City of London. John Jaggard was organising petitions and protests on behalf of the poorest members of the printing fraternity, primarily complaining against the restrictive rules which stifled competition. These protests had been supported by a personal letter from Sir Francis Bacon, himself.

Shakespeare’s work was still popular in the theatre, but nothing new had been officially published for nearly ten years. This was down to the strict control kept by the King’s Men, who had used their special patent to ‘stay’ all work, which they decided, should be attributed to Shakespeare. The Stationers Company was expected to monitor this, but their far from perfect system meant there were leaks. Only Matthew Law, who had taken over the rights of Andrew Wise, offically broke the silence, although unofficial quartos may have been circulated.

Despite blindness and the debilitating effects of his disease, William Jaggard had become a wealthy and successful printer, so in 1619, he had the confidence to print ten Shakespeare plays, in nine quartos, for his long time acquaintance, the publisher, Thomas Pavier. This was the same man, who had been apprenticed to William Barley and in 1600, had published ‘Sir John Oldcastle’, as his debut work. Pavier and Jaggard had previously worked together on the lavish, mayoral, coffee-table book, in 1602.

As early as 1601, Pavier had acquired the rights to ‘Henry V’, and in 1619 he claimed to have acquired the rights to ‘Henry VI, 2 & 3’, which he joined together as one play. He already owned the rights to two plays of the apocrypha, ‘A Yorkshire Tragedy’ and ‘Sir John Oldcastle’, which he believed, or at least claimed, were written by William Shakespeare.

Pavier then ‘seized’ the rights to ‘Pericles, Prince of Tyre’, which had been registered by Edward Blount, in 1608, but never published by him. It was common for publishers to look for old works that had lain untouched for a number of years, and this was regarded as fair game by the Stationers Company, if no-one protested. Blount doesn’t appear to have complained.

William Jaggard believed he already held the rights to a ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘The Merchant of Venice’, which had originally been under the banner of deceased former partner, James Roberts. Then two plays, ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ and ‘King Lear’, were printed as fascimiles, copying the original cover, but using the ‘gilliflower and rose’ mark of the Roberts/Jaggard printshop.

The nine quartos comprised:

Whole Contention between Two Famous Houses, Lancaster and York – (Henry VI, 2 & 3)

Pericles, Prince of Tyre

A Yorkshire Tragedy

Merchant of Venice

Merry Wives of Windsor

King Lear

Henry V

Sir John Oldcastle

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Willoughby suggests that the original plan was to print and publish each quarto seperately, but there was a late decision to bundle them into one book. This is at odds with other scholars, who suggest this was a first attempt at a compendium, perhaps a ‘greatest hits’ edition. Some quartos may even have been sold seperately and a separate copy of ‘Midsummer Nights Dream’, was said to have been used as a prompt book, by the King’s Men. So again, what ought to be a simple matter of a publisher re-printing old texts, doesn’t appear to be quite that way.

All these plays had already been either published or registered previously, and the only one that had been connected to Edward Blount was ‘Pericles’, which was not included in a folio until 1664.

However, on 3rd May 1619, the Lord Chamberlain stepped into the fray, sending a reminder to the Stationers Company, that the plays of the King’s Men should not be printed without the players’ consent. After this reprimand, it seems the remaining copies of the ten play compendium were disposed of quickly, and no further action was taken against any of those concerned in the venture.

One subsequent action was that the son of the deceased publisher, Thomas Heyes, who owned the rights to ‘Merchant of Venice’, re-registered the play on 8th July 1619. There is a suggestion in some quarters that James Roberts took as his second wife, the widow of Thomas Heyes, which would help to explain the Heyes involvement, but I have not been able to verify that connection.

Untitled   Merchant_of_Venice_1619

One puzzle of the ‘false folio’, is that it gives the impression that the quartos were illegal ‘facsimilies’ of the originals, not authorised reprints, made in 1619. This has led scholars to suggest Jaggard and Pavier were producing a piece of counterfeit work, but the accusers never explain why a wealthy and successful printer, who held the title of City of London printer, would consider deliberately flounting the rules of the Stationers Company. No-one was taken to court over the enterprise and because of the Lord Chancellor’s admonishment, no further editions were printed.

The ‘false folio’ also highlights reasons why Shakespeare’s authorship is so contentious. The two versions of King Lear published, in 1608 and 1619 are of similar text, but the ‘authorised’ version in 1623, also printed by Jaggard, is very different, with hundreds of lines removed and others added, and with many differences in style and punctuation. It would probably be difficult to attribute the two different versions to the same author, but they both bear Shakespeare’s name.

‘King Lear’, by William Shakespeare, was first registered, by publisher Nathaniel Butter, in November 1607 and printed by Nicholas Okes, in 1608. Okes, had been apprenticed to Richard Field, and had taken over the business of George and Lionel Snowden that same year (1608). In printing ‘King Lear’, it was Okes who used the distinctive printer’s mark of Wechel’s ‘pegasus and caduceus’, which had been passed to him by the Snowdens. Why they had the mark is unclear, as Andreas Wechel was the man from Frankfurt, whose printing house had been a rendezvous for English Protestants.

Sir Philip Sidney is one of those Englishmen, thought to have met other European intellectuals there. The Wechel family firm were still in business in Germany, in 1608, where their main line of work was printing Hermetic texts. They must have agreed for the Snowdens to borrow their device.

The King Lear story now gets even more complicated, because before that first ‘Shakespeare’ version, in 1608, a quarto of a play called ‘King Leir’, had been published in 1605. This was printed by Simon Stafford for John Wright, at Christ Church, Newgate, but with no attribution to Shakespeare. Remember, John Wright was one of two publishers who sold the first edition of the Sonnets, in 1609.

King Leir - Simon Stafford   King Lear - Nathaniel Butter, 1608  King Lear - 1619 (false folio version)

1605 King Leir – 1608 Lear version with the Wechel mark – 1619 false folio, with gillyflower mark

‘King Leir’ had originally been registered by Edward White, in 1594, but never published. White was also the man who co-published ‘Titus Andronicus’, in 1594, and on his own behalf, in 1600 and 1611, the 1600 version of ‘Titus’ being printed by James Roberts. The earlier version of the ‘Leir’ play takes content from the 1587 edition of ‘Holinshed’s Chronicles’. Shakespeare’s two different versions also take their history from this, but also add material from the Sidney family story of ‘Arcadia’.

The different texts that were variously marketed under the titles, ‘King Lear’ or ‘King Leir’, cause plenty of problems, because the 1623 version evolved from the others, but Shakespeare had died in 1616, so was in no position to edit his earlier work.

Remember, also that ‘Leir and ‘Titus’ were both originally registered by Edward White, in 1594, with no author, but both changed their persona later, to become acknowledged works of the Bard of Avon.

I’m starting to see a pattern here and it doesn’t necessarily lead to Warwickshire…!!


‘Mr Shakespeares comedies, histories and tragedies’

William Shakespeare only exists as the greatest name in literature, because of the existance of the compendium of his plays, which Blount and Jaggard published in 1623. That might seem to be a contentious statement, but it is probably true, and I’m almost certainly not the first person to suggest it. So, how did this massive enterprise, to bundle thirty six plays into one volume, come about, and what was the sequence of events that led to its completion, in the first week of November, 1623?

The stimulus for this great work may have been the earlier publication, in 1616, of Ben Jonson’s complete works, but whilst Jonson’s portfolio was easy to compile, because the author was still alive and well, Shakespeare, by 1622/23, had been ‘dead’ for several years and his work was scattered, and much of it unseen, outside the playhouses, for over twenty years. Almost half the plays had never reached the printed page and so the task of putting together a compendium of work, stretching back thirty years, was a monumental one – tricky in the extreme.

Shakespeare title page

Hemming and Condell, actors and shareholders of the King’s Men, were said to be the instigators of the project and their names appear prominently in the finished folio. Pulling together the whole canon of thirty six plays was no easy matter, and probably no-one knew what the final total might be. The 1619 ‘false’ anthology, had included three plays, which didn’t appear four years later, and some of the text of plays, in the 1623 edition, was markedly different from what had gone before.

Eighteen plays had been printed in quartos, previously, and two others, The ‘Taming of the Shrew’ and ‘King John’, were considered as Shakespeare’s versions of old plays, so giving a total of twenty. There were two junior partners on the publishing side, John Smethwick, a business partner of John Jaggard, and William Aspley, mentioned earlier, who owned the rights to ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and ‘Henry IV part 2’, who had also been a Sonnet bookseller, in 1609.

John Smethwick had acquired the rights to ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Hamlet’ and ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, from Nicholas Ling. The financial transaction with Ling took place on 19th November 1607, and at the same time Smethwick purchased eleven of ‘Mr Michael Drayton’s poems’, (almost his total production to date), plus a mixture of titles, by Robert Greene, John Lyly and Anthony Munday. There are no records of Ling obtaining the rights to these Shakespeare plays, but three had been owned by Cuthbert Burby, who died in 1607, so Ling may have been only a temporary holder of the rights, as he seems to have acted as a broker of material, through his chain of bookshops.

Nicholas Ling’s father was a parchment maker from Norfolk, and the son had been apprenticed to printer, Henry Bynneman, with his co-apprentice at the time being Valentine Simmes. Ling and Simmes worked closely together, and their link to Bynneman gives a connection to Henry Denham, the Eliott Court business, Holinshed Chronicles and back to the Jaggard family.

The other sixteen plays were in the hands of Edward Blount and so this compendium of plays, that eventually had William Shakespeare on the cover, had not been scattered as widely as they initially appeared to be, based on the long list of publishers, which were catalogued earlier.

The clear division between the two collections; the ‘16’ and the ‘20’, perhaps suggests two distinct origins. If the idea of a consortium is to be believed then logic would dictate that Blounts plays were the work of a single writer or perhaps a duet of writers. The remaining 20 plays had a more diverse pedigree, perhaps suggesting they had more diverse sources. Do we have two seperate anthologies combined together to make a single entity? That is certainly the idea promulgated by more than one anti-Stratfordian. This does make a lot of sense, particularly if we consider that the 1619, ‘false folio, which lacked any of the final Blount cache, may indeed have been a case of jumping the gun.

By 1623, Isaac Jaggard was an experienced printer, 26 years old, and in reality must have been responsible for many printing decisions since his father’s blindness began to take hold, ten years earlier, in 1612. However, the financial side of the print shop was still very much in his father’s hands, business was flourishing and there were a number of important projects to be completed.

There was, also, an ongoing dispute with our regular trouble-maker, Ralphe Brooke, the York Herald, concerning the quality of the printing of a particular book, a revision of Thomas Milles’, 1610 version of the ‘Catalogue of Honour’, a volume about the provenance of the Nobility, which Jaggard had reprinted for Brooke, in 1619. The York Herald made ascerbic comments about the genera quality of the author, Milles’ work and then blamed Jaggard for making further errors, in his composition of the 1619 typeface. Jaggard published an ‘errata’, to make amends for his mistakes, entitled ‘Faultes escaped in printing’, but the story didn’t stop there.

Brooke made his own corrections and had the book published by a rival printer, William Stansby, a man who had lost a major contract to Jaggard, to reprint Raleigh’s ‘History of the World’. However, another member of the Heralds, Augustine Vincent, Pursuivant at Arms, and a close colleague of William Camden, decided to write a third edition, a fully corrected version of Brooke’s 1619 edition., which Jaggard and Vincent registered, on 29th October 1621. Willoughby, in his biography of William Jaggard, pays great attention to these bickerings and it seems the rush to publish Vincent’s, ‘Discoverie of Errors’, may have meant that the Shakespeare folio was set aside, laying unfinished, in a back room.


Ralphe Brooke/Jaggard dispute

Augustine Vincent’s ‘Discoverie’ – printed by William Jaggard in 1621

Jaggard included a preface entitled ‘The Printer’, to Vincent’s work and gave robust defence of his printing abilities, continuing to blame the basic mistakes made by Brooke, on the original author. He argues his case well, clearly demonstrating that it was Milles who was to blame for the 1619 debacle and not the ‘blind-printer’. This may have bruised their reputation, but it didn’t prevent the Jaggard presses from winning other important contracts.

The Jaggard’s big project, for 1620/21, and their biggest printing job ever, was not Shakespeare’s folio, but the second edition of Walter Raleigh’s five volume masterpiece, ‘History of the World’. This was printed for Walter Burre, who had been the publisher of Raleigh’s first edition and also published Ben Jonson’s best known works, ‘Every Man in his Humour’ and ‘the Alchemist’. Raleigh had been executed in 1618 and so this second printing, served as a commemorative edition, to a well loved hero.

Walter Raleigh appears in my drama, as a poet and playwright, as well as an explorer, cum pirate, who is, almost certainly, erroneously, given credit for introducing potatoes and tobacco, to England. Our American computer buffs gave him credit for writing at least part of the Shakespeare canon, and Raleigh’s long-term imprisonment in the Tower, gave him ample the opportunity to pen a play or two, or maybe just to act as an editor-in-chief.

Raleigh’s demise was despite the pleadings of friends of influence, and the Guildford schoolboy will surely remember him because his wife had his severed head pickled and she carried it around with her, wherever she went. This lady was Elizabeth ‘Bess’ Throckmorton. Her father, Nicholas Throckmorton, was the cousin of Henry’s sixth wife, Queen Catherine Parr and Anne Carew, Bess’s mother, was the daughter of Nicholas Carew and Elizabeth Bryan – all were members of our ‘small world’..!!

Elizabeth ‘Bess’ Throckmorton, was a granddaughter of George Throckmorton of Coughton Court, Warwickshire, and a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth and it was her unapproved marriage to Raleigh, which removed them both from Royal favour, and played a part in the gallant courtier’s fall from grace. Walter Raleigh gets a further mention in the concluding pages of this story and is a name that continues to hover just below the surface of the Shakespeare debate.

It is believed the Shakespeare folio project began in earnest, when Raleigh’s history was completed, in August 1621, but Willoughby suggests that some work may have started as early as 1620. The Jaggard business had two printing presses, the legal maximum, and at times the Shakespeare folio was printed using both, but at other times, more urgent work took priority. The finished folio was expected to be completed during 1622, as it appeared in a book fair catalogue for that year, but the project took much longer than predicted and was only finished in early November 1623.

All but one of the ‘comedies’ and one ‘history’ play, had been completed by October 1621, but work then ceased during the rush to complete Vincent’s ‘Discoverie’. However, on completion, Jaggard did not return to Shakespeare’s folio, but instead printed and published a number of other works. Shakespeare was clearly not one of his top priorities.

This delay stimulated three other publishers to print Shakespeare plays, for the first time in many years. Matthew Law reissued ‘Richard III’ and ‘Henry IV part 1’, Thomas Dewe published ‘King John’, whilst Thomas Walkley printed the first ever version of ‘Othello’. This prompted another letter from the Lord Chamberlain to the Stationers Company, on 3rd March 1622/23, warning members, and in particular, Law and Dewe, and their printers Nicholas Oakes and Augustine Matthews, to refrain from publishing works by Mr Shakespeare.

The holder of the post of Lord Chamberlain was none other than William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke, whose name was soon to appear prominently on the finished version of the ‘approved’ folio. This knuckle wrapping caused a reaction from Law, who disputed Jaggard’s use of ‘Richard II’ and from Henry Walley, who owned ‘Troilus and Cressida’. This disruption caused problems for the Jaggards and resulted in a game of ‘chicken’ being played between the rights owners and the printer, with both sides waiting to see who would blink first.

‘Troilus and Cressida’ must have just made the deadline, as the play’s pages are unnumbered, the title is not included in the ‘Contents’, and appears to be squeezed between the ‘histories’ and the ‘tragedies’.

Henry Walley and his partner Richard Bonian had published ‘Troilus and Cressida’ in 1609, but in the preface they explicity stated that this is ‘without the permission of the grand possessors’. This is taken by many scholars to mean the ‘King’s Men’, but that doesn’t seem to fit very well, as a collective term for a group of shareholders of an acting company, even if they did hold a Royal warrant.

Walley and Bonian must have been warned, because the play appeared again soon afterwards, in an amended second edition. The first version stated it had been ‘acted by the Kings Majesties servants at the Globe’, but the second edition did not mention any prior performance. At the same time, the same two publishers were involved, with publishing Ben Jonson’s play ‘The Case is Altered’, and it is suggested, that it was Jonson who asked them to desist from publishing ‘Troilus and Cressida’.

The story is even more complex, because ‘Troilus’ was actually first registered with the Stationers Company, by James Roberts, in February 1602/03, stating it had been performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, but with NO attribution to Shakespeare. Eventually, the play was added into the ‘First folio’, as a last minute ‘extra’.

The term ‘grand possessors’ is the phrase that seems to have special significance in this part of the story and it looks to me that Walley and Bonian knew the secret of the Shakespeare riddle and were blackmailing those that held that knowledge, something they attempted in 1609, and again in 1623.

Edward Blount finally turned up in the Barbican print shop with his sixteen plays, never previously published or even registered with the Stationers Company. Therefore, these must have been in manuscript form and kept safe for decades, possibly in one place.

Willoughby suggests that Blount entered the project after it was well underway, possibly causing the postponement of the completed work, from the middle of 1622 to late 1623. This is supported by records of the bi-annual Frankfurt book fair catalogue, which also listed books that were in preparation. Their list of William Jaggard’s publications, for 1618, was a detailed and accurate one, and so we can expect this diligence continued for later years.

In April 1624, the entry states, ‘Master William Shakesperes workes, printed for Edward Blount, in fol’, but the entry for 1622, distributed for that year’s Frankfurt book fair says, ‘Playes written by M Shakespeare, all in one volume, printed by Isaak Jaggard, in fol’. Blount’s entry into the project, whenever it was, had gravitas, as ‘Ed Blount’ eventually had his name on the front cover, to the exclusion of two other rights holders.

So, if Willoughby was correct, and the original plan had gone ahead, without the Brooke contretemps, then Shakespeare’s folio would have comprised only twenty plays and not thirty six. That would give a chronology that increasingly makes the 1619 compendium look like a ‘false start’, with the ‘authorised version’ of twenty plays to be made ready by the end of 1621.

However, there is a major contradiction here, as four of the Blount ‘comedies’ had already been printed by the time the project was put on hold, in October 1621. Should we therefore be looking at the ‘Blount 12’, rather than ‘16’, or was Edward Blount involved from the very beginning of the project, but in a much less ostentaceous fashion.

Scholars like to believe that the Shakespeare print job dominated the daily activity of the Jaggard printshop, but there was a continual flow of other work, some that clearly took precedence at the time. The last work that bears the name of William Jaggard, published just prior to the First Folio, is ‘The Theatre of Honour and Knighthood’. Jaggard’s work, was a translation of ‘Le Theatre d’Honneur et de Chevalrie’, by Andre Favyn, published in 1620, in French and comprised a very comprehensive treatise on the foreign orders of Knighthood.. This was another of Jaggard’s high quality print jobs, dripping with woodcuts, mainly illustrating a variety of armorial shields.

Jaggards last book

Six years earlier, in 1616, William Jaggard had printed a travel guide-book, ‘Thomas Coriate, Traveller for the English wits’. One letter in the book was addressed to ‘the Worshipful fraternite of Sirenical gentlemen that meet the first Friday of every month at the sign of the Mermaid in Bread Street. Amongst the list of regular attendees at the monthly shindig, the author lists, John Donne, Ben Jonson, Samuel Purchas, Inigo Jones and Edward Blount.

My Oxford dictionary definition of ‘sirenical’ is interesting, meaning ‘fascinating’ or ‘deceptive’, but which term is indicated here, is not clear. Both Jonson and Blount were members of this group, and there were similar meetings of like minded individuals in other taverns around the city. This portrait of Shakespeare, mingling with his fellow ‘sirenical gentlemen’, was typical of the idealised world that Victorian scholars tried to create for the Bard of Avon, in the middle of the 19th century.

However, in none of these contemporary accounts does th Bard get a mention, not even one. The vast majority of the material relating to Shakespeare only appears during the 18th and 19th centuries, and most of the 20th century accounts are just re-runs of Victorian fantasy.

Shakespeare in 1850

Shakespeare & ‘sirenical’ friends, in the Mermaid Tavern, by John Faed (painted 1850).

The actual mechanics of printing the First folio have been another avenue for the avid Shakespeare researcher to ponder, with the hope that analysing the type face, and trying to match each page to an individual print worker, might shed more light on the plays themselves. Willoughby did not have the expertise or equipment that is now available, and so the printing process is another area open to modern scientific analysis, rather than just a purely literary one.

The largest repository of ‘First folios’ is with the Folger Library, in Washington DC, where they have eighty two copies, many though, with pages missing or with major historic repairs. Charlton Hinman made use of these volumes when he published, ‘The Printing and Proof-Reading of the First folio of Shakespeare’, in 1963.

I am indebted to the investigative work by leading author, Bill Bryson, for taking the story further. He visited the Folger Library in 2005, and made observations which add a few more pieces to the jigsaw.

Hinman had analysed fifty five ‘First folios’ and identified nine separate compositors, with over half the work being completed by just one man, ‘Hand B’. The quality of the work varied enormously, with some clearly being the work of an apprentice, in the early stages of learning his trade. The work was also not confined to one print shop, with the work being produced on three different presses. That shouldn’t be a surprise because we know that the Jaggards had close family connections to other printing houses and that they had a steady flow of other work.

Bryson also points out that the books were not particularly well made, comparing unfavourably with the Ben Jonson compendium, of 1616. This variable quality could be accounted for by the ‘piecemeal’ approach, because we know that the Jaggard presses were capable of producing high quality work, but unfortunately not on this occasion.

Hinman’s conclusion was that each copy of the First folio was quite distinct, almost certainly due to the variables of the printing process itself, but equally due to the use of nine compositors, different presses and the two years it took to complete. Lines are missing, words spelt differently or mis-appropriated, making each First folio unique, both in its construction and with variations in the actual words, presented on the printed page.

Willoughby, or indeed, Hinman and Bryson, fail to mention one printing similarity between the ‘First folio’ and another work, which has escaped all but the attention of the supporters of the Earl of Oxford, and only came my way thanks to the input of Roger Stritmatter, one of Edward de Vere’s greatest supporters. Roger makes great play of another work, ‘Archaio-Ploutos’, published by William Jaggard, in 1619, which bears this dedication on the frontispiece:

To the most Noble and Twin pair of truly honorable and complete perfection: Sir Philip Herbert… earl of Montgomery…As also the truly vertuous and noble countess his wife, the lady Susan, daughter to the Right Honourable Edward Vere, earle of Oxenford…”

 Roger Stritmatter says he found the work at a book auction in 1990, in Massachusetts, and notes that:

‘the book employs many of the same typographical devices which appeared four years later in the Shakespeare folio.’

Roger goes on to explain that ‘ARXAIO-PLOUTOS’ is a translation and amalgamation of several works detailing the customs and cultural traditions of the Gauls, Spaniards, and Italians, to which the English Herald, Thomas Milles has added material on the heraldry and customs of England’.

Remember it was Milles’ second edition of the ‘Catalogue of Honour’, which had caused all the fuss with Brooke, and that Jaggard seems to have been a champion of his work.

Apart from the obvious similarities in the terminology of the dedications; to the ‘most noble and twin-like pair’, for Philip Herbert and Lady Susan de Vere, and to ‘the most noble and incomparable pair of brethren’, for William and Philip, found in the dedication to Shakespeare’s folio, there is also a marked congruence in the page layout of both dedications. Whilst this might be regarded as ‘house style’, it does appear that one was used as a template for the other. The woodblocks are different in each, but clearly come from the same source and the page designer must have thought it appropriate to repeat the style of the dedication.

It does seem remarkable that these two pages have not appeared side by side more often in scholarly criticism. ‘Just another coincidence’ has almost certainly been the cry from the Stratfordians, and ‘not worthy of further investigation’ will have been another. Nearly a quarter of a century has passed by since that book was unearthed, so yet again someone has found an extra piece to help complete the Shakespeare jigsaw, but the silence from the literate classes has been deafening.

1619 dedication Noble pair     F Folio dedication (compare)

1619                                                 1623

All scholars that is, except Roger and his Oxfordian mates, who see this is a most obvious and direct link between the Earl of Oxford and the ‘First folio’. They see Lady Susan de Vere, wife of Philip Herbert as the conduit for the plays, one of the ‘grand possessors’, and suggest that the Countess of Pembroke connection is just a smokescreen, to keep the Earl and his descendants out of the limelight. Susan de Vere/Herbert had close associations with Ben Jonson, both as a player in his court masques, and in his poetry dedications to her, so this ties together another couple of suspects.

They support this continued need for secrecy by saying the delay in printing, which occurred during 1622 and 1623, was because one of the De Vere clan was encacerated in the Tower of London. Henry de Vere had spoken out in the political debate about finding a suitable Spanish lady to marry King James’ son, Henry, and they see it as more than a coincidence that Henry was released only a few weeks after the First folio hit the streets.

The writer of the 1619 dedication, to Philip and Susan, is flattering in the extreme, and Stritmatter believes this may be:

‘Jaggard signaling his flattering enthusiasm for proceeding with the folio project and requesting the approval and patronage of Montgomery and his wife, the daughter of Edward de Vere?’

‘ARXAIO-PLOUTOS’ is an important piece of the jigsaw and one, because of its timing, brings the ‘false’ folio closer to the ‘real’ one and brings both the Sidney and De Vere families even closer to the witness box, when discussing the authorship question.

We must remember, that 1619 is the same year that Jaggard is criticised, by modern scholars for jumping the gun with the ‘false’ start, only to be knocked back by Philip’s brother, in his role as Lord Chamberlain. One brother commissioning a printer and another criticising the same individual, shows some internal politics going on, but generally the Jaggard clan were decent, reliable citizens. They were trying to earn a living in a world, where a word said or printed on one day, might earn you handsome praise, whilst on another a spell in Newgate prison, or even worse, a visit to the Tyburn tree.

The completed, Shakespeare volume was registered at Stationers Hall, on 8th November 1623, and the plays provided by Blount, were registered for the first time, under the names of Edward Blount and Isaac Jaggard. His father, William, did not live to see the event, as he had died, in October 1623, just a few days before the work was registered, although by then it was probably all but complete. The first completed copy was presented to Augustine Vincent, by Isaac Jaggard, seemingly as a thank you for the friendship he had shown to his recently deceased father, during the Brooke affair.

The original cost of a copy of ‘Mr William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories & Tragedies’ was £1, equivalent to in excess of £300, in today’s money. Only a university research library or a legal department would pay that kind of money for a book nowadays. No-one knows exactly how many were printed, and the estimate is between 500 and 750, but that does seem a high figure, because only forty exist in a complete state, with two hundred more in fragmentary condition. If you would like to buy a copy today, the auction will probably begin at around £5 million.

By then, the library of Thomas Bodley, in Oxford was already collecting an edition of each published work, and they sent their copy to be bound, on 17th Feb 1623/24. This is the one they sold for £24, in 1664, when they replaced it with a shiny new, bumper edition. They eventually retrieved their original copy, in 1906, from an American owner, for the sum of $15,000, about £3,000 at the exchange rate of the day. They had themselves a bargain, at today’s prices.

The finished volume also contained an introductory section, containing words by contributors, some of whom would seem to have little to do with William Shakespeare. There was an opening dedicatory epistle, from the King’s Men, in the shape of Hemming and Condell, followed by reflectory poems from Ben Jonson, Hugh Holland, Leonard Digges, and James Mabbe. However, we now know that Digges and Mabbe were family friends of the Jaggard family, and increasingly, the evidence points to Ben Jonson having a major role, perhaps as an editor-in-chief.

There is also a list of the most widely used actors in the plays, with Mr Shakespeare at the top:

William Shakespeare, Richard Burbadge, John Hemmings, Augustine Phillips, William Kemp, Thomas Pope, George Bryan, Henry Condell, William Slye, Richard Cowly, John Lowine, Samuell Crosse, Alexander Cooke, Samuel Gilburne, Robert Armin, William Ostler, Nathan Field, John Underwood, Nicholas Tooley, William Ecclestone, Joseph Taylor, Robert Benfield, Robert Goughe, Richard Robinson, John Shancke, John Rice.

William’s brother, John, had also died a few months before publication, on 24th March 1622/23, but how much they were co-operating at this time is unclear. William left nothing in his will for the large family of his brother, but he did leave a substantial sum to his own widow, Jane, as well as making bequests to his four children. William left £20 to the poor, twice as much as Mr Shakespeare.

Will of William Jaggard     Isaac Jaggard will

Wills of William Jaggard and son, Isaac Jaggard

The ‘half-eagle and key’ business, was then taken over by son, Isaac, working in conjunction with his grieving mother, Jayne. Issac Jaggard was appointed ‘Printer to the City’, on 4th November 1623, just four days before Shakespeare’s folio was registered, and that would seem to be a very significant appointment and an official reward for his efforts. Was it Isaac who was the printer, ‘hand B’, responsible for typesetting half of the work?

His mother, Jayne, died in 1625 and the same year, Isaac married Dorothy Weaver, daughter of stationer, Edmund Weaver. During his first year in sole charge of the business, Isaac greatly increased his printing output, and the business boomed, but he didn’t survive too much longer, dying in 1627, at the age of 32. His widow, Dorothy, in June 1627, passed the business and rights, to the Cotes brothers, who already had their own thriving print shop.

Maybe it was the Cotes family who provided the extra manpower, and that third press needed to complete Shakespeare’s folio, and could it be one of the two brothers, who was the unidentified compositor ‘B’, who put in the longest shift, although the romantic in me would really like it to be that son of a butcher, from Warwick, John Shakespeare.

Rather like the members of the Stanley family, that alternative line, of the Royal succession, where a whole series of (in)convenient deaths occured throughout the 1590s, we find that all the Jaggards, who printed the great work, slipped from the scene around the time of the publication of the finished folio.

I might believe that is a total coincidence, but it did remove a whole raft of potential witnesses, who would have had a good tale to tell in later years. Totting up the death toll amongst my ‘cast of characters’, I find there were very few alive, after 1627, even Thomas Pavier, the ‘false folio man’ had died in 1624, although Edward Blount lasted until 1632, by then, he had already transferred his rights in the Shakespeare canon, to Robert Allott, in November 1630.

The Jaggard clan elsewhere continued, as successful surgeons, preachers, chandlers, salters and victualling folk but, quite surprisingly, not one in the family seemed keen to carry on the printer tradition, and Isaac’s death marked the end of the Jagger line of printers and publishers.

So, pulling this section together, it would seem that the ‘printers of Shakespeare’ weren’t quite as corrupt as many scholars continue to suggest. The mystique surrounding the choice of the Jaggards seems less mysterious, when you realise this was a wide-ranging family, wealthy in places, and had neighbourly relationships with so many significant people who were connected, each in a small way, with the making of the Shakespeare canon.


Jaggard family connections to Shakespeare and his plays

Family home in Coleman Street ward, for over 40 years, and therefore neighbours of :
Burbage, Brayne, Clopton, Middleton, Neville and Killigrew families

William Jaggard

Published ‘Passionate Pilgrim’ in 1599 and 1612
Printed ‘False folio ‘in 1619 and ‘First folio’ in 1623
Took over business of James Roberts, who registered and printed several Shakespeare quartos
Uncle Henry Denham – printer of Holinshed Chronicles – Shakespeare histories
Married sister of George Bryan, shareholder & actor in Chamberlain’s Men
Nephew of William Wayte – 1596 court case with Shakespeare
Daughter, Alice married Francis Bowles – Burbage relation
Mother remarried to William Morley – possible connections to musical family
Apprenticed John Shakespeare of Warwick from 1610-1617 – first cousin of William Shakespeare.
Apprenticed Lancelot Griffin – connects to Katherine Griffin who married George Bryan & Bartholomew Griffin, who contributed to Passionate Pilgrim & collaborated with Michael Drayton in 1596, the poet mentioned by Shakespeare’s son-in-law in his ‘cure book’.

John Jaggard

Brother-in-law of James Mabb – Fist Folio contributor & friend of Leonard Digges – who had connections to Edward Blount & Ben Jonson

Printing contracts with Francis Bacon – giving connections to Ben Jonson and the Royal Court. . Bacon’s letter of support in petition for plight of printers – 1618

Friendship with Bacon’s steward

Grandson, James Jagger married Ann Hemming – possible daughter of John Hemming (King’s Men)

My printer ‘family’ all comes together on one ‘genealogical tree’, one which clearly has Henry Denham, George Bishop and William Jaggard as the main cogs in the Shakespeare printing wheel. The Jaggards weren’t ‘pirates’ on the fringe of the action, who were fortuitous enough to pick up the ‘First folio’ contract by accident. They won it because of the quality of their work and the quality of their relationships, although in the end it didn’t turn out to be their best piece of work, it certainly has become their most famous one.

My close knit group of main characters, many with an aristocratic pedigree, has been tightened even further and Denny Abbey now connects for the first time, to all those other prime centres of activity. Whilst being closely related or living in the same place, cannot guarantee you maintain good relationships with your kinsfolk, or your neighbours, it is worth reminding the reader that this diverse amalgamation of places are only pin pricks on the map of England and you would need a modern day ‘sat-nav’ system to find most of them. Long Melford, Denny, Stainland and Temple Balsall were never larger than they are today and yet several of my key players had significant links to at least two of these places and sometimes several more.

There are two other major locations which play an integral part in this story, but these definitely wouldn’t fit the description of, ‘off the beaten track’. They are that great seat of learning, at Oxford University, and the mushrooming metropolis of the City of London. However, even in that bustling, over crowded mass of Tudor humanity, it does seem incredible, that so many, of my diverse set of characters, are neighbours, living within hailing distance of each other.

London had over 100,000 citizens at the end of Elizabeth’s reign, so it surely has to be more than a coincidence that so many of my ‘suspects’ lived close to the cross roads linking. Old Jewry, Lothbury, Cateaton Street and Coleman Street. The Clopton and Jagger families, and almost the entire Shakespeare ensemble, all came together around this pin point of Tudor England. It is to the crossroads, in the Coleman Street Ward, at the very heart of the City of London, where we go next.


Chapter Ten

Coleman Street, London


Coleman Street sign

The early parish records for London vary greatly in quality and coverage, with many being lost, damaged or have just disintegrated over time. The Great Fire, of 1666, destroyed 87 parish churches and the homes of 70,000 Londoners, so, given that four centuries have passed, it is remarkable any records survive to the present day. Little did I know at the time, how lucky I was to find a 1538 parish record for a relevant family in Coleman Street, one which was not only important in Jagger history, but also reached into the very heart of this Shakespeare saga.


Roman London   M6 London in Norman period

Coleman Street was at the very hub of business life in the City of London, and grew in importance as Henry VIII gave increased authority to the Livery Companies, who controlled all trading practices within the London walls. Merchants and many members of the gentry had their London homes in this part of the city and the Blackwell Hall, headquarters of the Merchant Adventurers, was only two minutes walk away, as were the headquarters of other influential livery companies, including the Mason’s Hall, which was next door to St Stephen’s Church, and the Grocers Hall, adjacent to the Windmill Tavern.

In 1540, there remained large areas of open space to the east of Coleman Street, as the Walbrook River still flowed on the surface, with the religious orders using the fertile alluvial soil, to grow fruit and vegetables. This was also the area where the Romans had erected their original Londinium, with their recently discovered amphitheatre not far away, alongside the Guildhall.

M6 Coleman Street 1580

Extract from Braun Hogenberg map – 1582

Once the Catholic clerics were ousted, the green areas gradually filled with people, and Coleman Street became a more claustrophobic place to live. The Great Fire of 1666 took the majority of the buildings, but the inferno eventually relented, so that the northern part of Coleman Street, close to the London Wall, escaped complete destruction and the boundary is clearly evident in the building layout that remains today.

Great Fire divide

Armourers Hall and No 80, Coleman Street – middle of shot – photo KHB

 (Great Fire of London 1666, ran out of puff, just behind the blue road sign…..!!)

Samuel Pepys describes in his diary, how the businesses and households quickly reclaimed their land rights and boundaries, after the fire had subsided. However, it does seem remarkable that 350 years later, despite the ravages of World War Two and the 1960s modernisation plans for London, that the ‘fire’ line is still so clearly marked, by a change in the architecture.

 The Armourers Hall was situated in the northern end of the street, its site still evident, and at the house next door, No 80, Coleman Street, lived Dr William Cunningham, a physician, who in 1563 was appointed Public Lecturer at Surgeons Hall. Dr Cunningham was a physician and was required to embark on formal university training and gain a degree in medicine, before he could practice as a doctor. However, until the 19th century, surgeons were only required to serve an apprenticeship to another surgeon, before then taking an examination, conducted by the Company of Barber-Surgeons. Once qualified the surgeon could only call himself ‘Mr’ and not ‘Dr’, which is why that custom continues in the medical world until today.

In 1540, Henry VIII had ordered the Fellowship of Surgeons and the Company of Barbers to join together to form the Company of Barber-Surgeons, and its head-quarters was established at Monkwell Square, close to St Giles Church, alongside the Barbican, which for a resident of Coleman Street, was only a short walk along London Wall and out through the Cripple Gate entrance to the city.


The presence of Dr Cunningham in the street may have stimulated John Jagger (1546-70), son of William Jagger, the gentleman usher, to serve an apprenticeship as a surgeon. John was admitted to the Company of Barber-Surgeons sometime before 1569, but died a young man, in November 1570. He was baptised as John Jagar, in 1546, at St Stephens Church, although his name also appears in various records, with three other spellings; Jagger, Gagger and Jaggard.

Barber surgeons & Henry VIII - 1541

Henry VIII creating the Company of Barber-Surgeons in 1540

John Jagger’s descendants did extremely well for themselves, carrying on the line of surgeons for a further three generations. Nearly a century later, in 1666, his great grandson, Thomas Jagger was appointed surgeon of the Navy ship, War-Spite. The most financially successful member of John’s family was great grandson, Abraham Jaggard, a salter/victualler, who Samuel Pepys mentions in some detail, in his famous diary. Pepys was in charge of provisions for the Royal Navy, and after Pepys visited the Jaggard home, in Thames Street, Abraham gained major provisioning contracts.

Pepys learnt from his aunt, that at the time of his first visit, that Abraham Jaggard was already worth in excess of £10,000, and had another house in the countryside, but still lived the plain and simple life of a poor salter, so the new contracts only added to his wealth.

Pepys writes in his diary how he was so impressed by the quality of the ‘vittals’ he was served, that he returned for ‘seconds’ later in the day. He also noted the exceptional ‘playing on the viall by Mrs Jaggard’, but it might not have been the food or the music which attracted Pepys back for seconds, because the great diarist had an appetite for female pleasures, one that his wife and a number of other husbands, would not have approved.

Despite the success of these other family members, the most famous members of barber-surgeon, John ‘Jagger’s’ line were his son and grandson, William and Isaac Jaggard.

The Windmill corner plot, which had entrances into Lothbury and Old Jewry, was the original site of a Jewish synagogue, built about 1270. After the Jews were banished by Edward I, in 1290, this substantial plot was gifted to a group of Franciscan friars, known as Friars of the Sack. The Friars property comprised a chapel, probably the old synagogue building, a buttery, pantry, cellar, parlour, kitchen, clerk’s house, a garden, and a set of almshouses, in the front yard. There was also a stone turret, which probably existed from the time of the synagogue and may have served as a windmill.

Prague synagogue   Synagogue sign 2

A 13th century synagogue that still exists in Prague today – Sign in Old Jewry – KHB

In 1305, the site changed hands again and was passed to Lord Robert Fitzwalter, who created a luxurious home, which became the basis for later, even grander improvements. The Grocers Company purchased the southern half of the plot in 1433, for the sum of only £31 17s. 8d and so the ‘estate’, eventually owned by Robert Large and Hugh Clopton, was smaller than before, but still occupied the whole of the street corner. The Tudor buildings, surrounding the crossroads, didn’t survive the Great Fire, but the footprints of the landholdings did, so the owners rebuilt their homes and businesses to the same boundaries as before. The Blitz of 1940, also did its work and the crossroads is now the home to a conglomeration of corporate buildings, with the most notable landmark in the area, being the Bank of England, which dominates the eastern end of Lothbury.

Windmill Tavern - Bank of China

Red phone box stands in front of Bank of China, previously Hugh Clopton’s House/Windmill Tavern.

(The spire of St Margaret’s Lothbury to the left, facing the back door of the Bank of England.)

M8 Old Jewry and Grocers Hall

Coleman Street – Lothbury – Old Jewry – Cat Eaton Street

(Compiled from a variety of maps and descriptive texts – copyright KHB)

The pink area on the map seems to be where the synagogue and later the friars’ chapel were situated and it may have been this section that was converted into the drinking parlour of the Windmill Tavern.

Coleman Street crossroads

View from Old Jewry to Coleman Street – site of ‘Windmill Tavern’ to the right..!! – KHB

We have said, earlier, something about the house of Hugh Clopton, at the junction of Coleman Street and Lothbury, which by 1522 had become the Windmill Tavern with its fourteen feather beds. Later in the century it became the haunt of many of the smart set of London and would have housed visiting merchants from far flung parts of England and the continent of Europe.

Having ‘walked the walk’ myself, around the Coleman Street neighbourhood, it is difficult to exaggerate how close these people and their abodes/work places were to the crossroads. From Cheapside it took less than a minute to traverse Old Jewry and only a couple of minutes to walk along Coleman Street to reach the site of the old City Wall. A number of pre-1666 boundaries are still obvious if you know where to look.

There is still a large side entrance, to the Bank of China, in Old Jewry and the site of the Mason’s Hall has been given a mock Tudor make-over, as Mason’s Avenue.

Masons Avenue

Mason’s Avenue joins Coleman Street to the Guildhall and formerly to the Blackwell Hall

Next door to the Windmill Tavern, in 1541, someone called ‘Jegars’ was living between, two members of the Clopton family, Edward Clopton, mercer and ‘widow’ Clopton. This looks to be Edward, who was the half cousin of Mary Clopton, daughter of Richard Clopton, and wife of William Cordell. Gilbert Gager married William’s sister, Thomasine Cordell and so offering a Clopton/Cordell link between Coleman Street and Long Melford, with the ‘Jegar-Gager-Jagger’ family also in attendance.

Edward Clopton was nearly a generation older than his half-cousin, Mary, as his grandmother, Joan Marrow was William Clopton’s first wife, whilst Mary’s grandmother, Thomasine Knyvet, was his third. We saw previously, how this made him closely related to the Throckmortons and Richard Rich, the sheriff of London, for 1441, who was Edward’s great, great grandfather. All the other members of the Rich family mentioned in this story descend from this Richard Rich and their home parish was St Lawrence, Jewry. This most complicated web of relationships might go some way to explain how a member of the Gager/Jagger family from Melford could become a gentleman usher in Coleman Street.

Widow Clopton was the first house named on the subsidy list, for the Lothbury section of the Coleman Street ward, and it may be that her dwelling was part of the original Windmill Tavern site. There were only fifteen properties paying tax in this part of the ward, with widow Clopton’s house valued at £40, Edward’s at £30 and Jegars, described as a widow, in 1541, at £20. These were all sizeable properties, but it does ask questions about the ‘Jegars’ entry. If this was our William Jegar/Jagger, grandfather of the printers, who was indeed, briefly a widower in 1541, where did the money come from for such a substantial house?

Could it have come via his first wife, Agnes Brian?

We have already seen how John Jagger’s marriage to Bridget Wayte brought the family in contact with Henry Denham the printer, who had married her sister, Elizabeth Wayte, so making the two men brothers-in-law. With a physician as a neighbour, who was lecturing barber-surgeons, then that would seem to offer an easy passage for the Jaggard family to move from usher to barber-surgeon, then take a dramatic move into the printing business.

The theatrical link to the Jaggards is just as easy when you know where to look. The answer, as ever in this story, begins and ends with the family tree. Everyone seems to be already related to everyone else, either through blood or by occupation. Chance meetings at the ‘Mecca Ballroom’, on a Saturday night didn’t seem to be part of the Tudor wooing process. Instead marriages were arranged to get the best business deal for the bride, groom and their two families.

The names, Brayne and Burbage, were at the forefront of the early theatre and without those two families, the Elizabethan stage might have turned out very differently. They intermarried, when James Burbage married Ellen Brayne in 1559, and it was in Coleman Street that the two families lived, and at St Stephens Church where the couple tied the knot. We have seen the probable connection between actor, George Bryan and William Jaggard’s wife, Jayne Bryan, and that may have stemmed from George Bryan’s theatrical involvement, with other Coleman Street residents.

Coleman Street resident, James Burbage (1531-1597) was the great theatre builder of the age, initially constructing ‘The Theatre’, the first permanent theatre in London, for 1200 years, and later the ‘Curtain Theatre’, at Shoreditch, and the indoor theatre at Blackfriars. Burbage was also an actor and impresario and fathered a family of theatrical innovators.

Another Coleman Street neighbour, during William Jagger’s time, was Daniel Burbage and of an age to be the elder brother of James Burbage. Daniel married Helen Parker in 1546, again in St Stephens Church and they produced five children. His occupation, in 1553, was described as ‘a minstrel’, and that puts him in the entertainment business, many years before James Burbage and his family, trod the stage as Shakespearean actors.

James Burbage trained as a carpenter, but the family origins, before they arrived in London are not recorded with any certainty. My ‘name distribution map’ points to two hotspots, both close to villages named Burbage; one in Hampshire and another in the East Midlands, between Leicester and Coventry. The Leicestershire village of Burbage is on the county border, less than 20 miles from Warwick Castle, and an East Midlands connection makes sense, because James Burbage became an actor with Robert Dudley’s, Earl of Leicester’s Men, about 1572, and was leader of the company by 1574.

London Theatres
Map of Tudor London showing theatres and street plan.

Two years later, James Burbage went into partnership with his brother-in-law, John Brayne, to build ‘The Theatre’ in Shoreditch. This was after Brayne had already made one failed attempt to build his own theatre next to the Red Lion Inn, at Mile End, in 1567. James Burbage’s two oldest children, Richard and Cuthbert were both born in Coleman Street, before the family moved to Shoreditch, to be closer to the new enterprise. Richard Burbage became a leading actor, whilst Cuthbert took the role of theatre manager and impresario. James Burbage died in Shoreditch in 1597, and so was unable to witness the family success at the Globe Theatre, but he had laid the foundations for what we would now describe as the Elizabethan theatre, or perhaps more apposite, the theatre of William Shakespeare.

A professional connection between the Burbage family and William Jagger (usher) becomes apparent, when you realise that the young Cuthbert Burbage was a servant to Walter Cope, who was gentleman usher to Lord Burghley, (yes William Cecil again). James Burbage’s role in the Earl of Leicester’s Men would have given a link to Robert Dudley, the Queen and William Cecil, and so paved an easy route for his son to access this excellent ‘work experience’ opportunity.

The Theatre, Shoreditch

The Theatre, Shoreditch 1576

Walter Cope (1553-1614) became secretary to Burghley, in 1574, and later continued in the same post for his son, Robert Cecil. After John Brayne died in 1586, Cuthbert Burbage was involved in an intense legal battle over the ownership of the ‘Theatre’ and he was financially supported, in the court action, by Cope, who acted as his guarantor. In 1603, Cope was sent to Edinburgh to escort King James back to London, and it was Walter Cope who arranged for the King’s Men to perform ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ for the new Queen Anne, at the home of Robert Cecil, in 1604.

James Burbage had joined the, previously named, Lord Chamberlain’s Men, after the death of Robert Dudley, and the subsequent disbanding of Leicester’s troupe of players, in 1588. Cuthbert’s closeness to Cope and therefore, the Cecil family, perhaps helps to explain how this troupe gained the royal badge of the King’s Men, when James I took charge of the throne.

Burbage had been apprenticed as a joiner and the only other person of similar occupation in Coleman Street was John Street. James Burbage may have worked with John Street, as either an apprentice or a colleague, and the family connection continued later because it was John’s son, Peter Street, who dismantled ‘The Theatre’ in 1598/99, and rebuilt it as the Globe theatre, across the river in Southwark.

Theatre builder, John Brayne was a successful grocer, another to live in Coleman Street, where his father, Thomas Brayne, had been a successful ‘tailor and girdler’. There was also a Henry Brayne living there, in the 1540s, who was a merchant taylor, and he may well have been Thomas Brayne’s father. The other Brayne in the records for that period was Anne Brayne who married a William Blount, in 1538. This immediately attracted me as another interesting, early connection, between two of the most important names in the Shakespeare saga?

Could these be Edward Blount’s grandparents?


The Globe

Modern reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, London – photo KHB

This takes me full circle, back to the era of William Jagger and his short lived marriage to Agnes Brian, which lasted from 1538 to 1541. If William held the position of gentleman usher and with the correct Clopton connections, then his wife was almost certainly of decent pedigree. His children and grandchildren seem to have married well, so the expectation must be that their father had done also.

The most famous Bryans of the period were Thomas and Francis Bryan, father and son, and coincidently, they are the same two names that William and Agnes chose for their two boys. However, this famous Bryan family weren’t humble trades people or successful merchants, but part of the Royal Court of Henry VIII, and one of the most notorious families in England.

Thomas Bryan was a courtier of Henry VIII, but his wife, Margaret held a more substantial position, as governess to the Kings four children, Mary, Elizabeth and Edward, plus the illigitimate, Henry Fitzroy. Margaret Bryan was also a half-sister to the mother of the Boleyn girls, so as is inevitable in this story, the relationships pile one on top of each other.

Thomas Bryan’s son, Francis (1490-1555) is the more important of the two men, but his wife also had a noteworthy occupation. Francis Bryan proved to be loose cannon in the Royal Court and was ‘best mates’ with Edward Neville, who was of a similar wild personality. Francis’s sister, Elizabeth Bryan, is reputed to have been one or our missing mistresses of Henry VIII, in the period around 1513. She married Nicholas Carew, and their daughter, Elizabeth Carew married Walter Raleigh, as his first wife.

Bryan, Carew and Neville, the ‘three musketeers’ you might call them, had a roguish reputation that wouldn’t have been out of place in the main feature at the Saturday morning pictures of the 1950s. This Edward Neville was the grandfather of Henry Neville, a pretender to be Shakespeare, and was executed for treason after continuing to support the traditional Catholic ways. Henry VIII was always willing to wield the big ‘stick’ as well as offer the appropriate ‘carrot’, to keep his subjects on their toes and so ensure he kept control of his kingdom.

Francis Bryan avoided any punishment for his excesses, and latent beliefs, by sticking closely to the wishes of the King. So, during the Anne Boleyn affair, he sided with Henry rather than his close cousin, and was nicknamed the ‘one eyed vicar of hell’, by the King himself, for his lack of loyalty to his family. He is an easy characature for the ‘bad guy’ in any Tudor melodrama and although no portraits of Francis Bryan exist, possibly because he was disfigured by losing an eye in a jousting match, the absence of a true likeness give’s the biographical artist, a free rein to express their talents.

These three similar but different spellings, Bryan, Brian and Brayne still need sorting in greater detail and adding to a formal family tree. The opportunities for mis-spelling of all three means it is difficult to know who might be related to whom? They all have a degree of status and it might just be a coincidence that William and Agnes Jagger called their two sons, Thomas and Francis.

However, this might not be just a wild coincidence of names, because Thomas Jagger and his half sister Margret, later went to live in the small Berkshire parish of Waltham St Lawrence, dominated by the estate of Edward Neville’s son, Henry Neville (senior), who built Billingbear House there.

That could be the missing key that padlocks all the Bryans and Brians together, because if Agnes was related, in some way, to the ‘vicar of Hell’, what better than for her children to end up at the home of Henry Neville, son of fellow musketeer, Edward Neville.

This would have serious implications in improving the pedigree and influence of William Jagger, the gentleman usher, with the knock-on effect to William and John Jaggard, the printers. It would also explain how William and Agnes were living in a £10 rated house, in 1541.

The link with Francis Bryan has other implications as the story moves forward, because his name crops up, perhaps surprisingly, as a leader of a society of alchemists and mathematicians.

Coleman Street was just a part of the parish of St Stephens, and the city ward also included the small, adjacent parish of St Margaret, Lothbury. The subsidy list, of 1541, shows only 60 households paying taxes, but that number more than doubled, by 1581. The Coleman Street inhabitants would surely have known each other well, at church on Sunday, socially as neighbours, by dint of their occupation, or possibly over a flaggon of mead at the Windmill Tavern. This was still a village community, existing within the growing metropolis that was rapidly outgrowing the confines of the old Roman walls.

Nearby and only a street away was the centre of the cloth trade at Blackwell Hall. This was a fine building, and stood adjacent to the Guildhall, for several centuries, before being demolished, in 1806. Right alongside was the church of St Lawrence, Jewry, where several figures in my story were baptised, married or were buried. Names included in the parish records include the influential Rich family as well as Jagger and the second marriage of the Queen’s printer, Richard Jugge.

One, high profile, literary figure, lived close to the Blackwell Hall. This was the great Elizabethan writer, Thomas Middleton (1580-1627), and another candidate to be a Shakespeare wannabe. He has been associated with the Shakespeare apocrypha, but also suggested as a co-writer of ‘Timon of Athens’ and more recently ‘All’s Well that End’s Well’, both plays being part of Blount’s unpublished hoard of plays. Researchers at Oxford University have found great similarities between Middleton’s rhyming style and Shakespeare’s ‘All’s Well’ and are convinced he was a co-author, but they still give the rest of the credit to the man from Stratford.

Thomas Middleton

Thomas Middleton (1580-1627)

Thomas Middleton’s literary works, with his name clearly on the cover, are numerous and well chronicled, and so to give him an additional secret persona, to write too many more, would seem unlikely, although he is certainly part of my writing ensemble. Thomas was baptised at St Lawrence, Jewry, in 1580, the son of William Middleton and Anne Snow, who had married on 15th Feb 1573/74. They lived in the best house in the block, on the corner of Ironmonger Lane and Cateaton Street, opposite the entrance to the Blackwell Hall, and again only a few doors, from the Windmill Tavern.

Thomas Middleton’s father, William Middleton was an accomplised builder and owned various properties, including a plot next door to the ‘Curtain’ theatre, in Shoreditch. William Middleton was awarded a coat of arms, in 1568, but the basis for the award is unclear, although he was noted as a prosperous member of the Company of Tilers and Bricklayers, elected warden on one occasion.

Middleton has several literary connections to the Shakespeare canon and is one of those at the centre of the attribution debate. It seems more than a coincidence that his family was originally from the same small neighbourhood as the rest of my cast of actors, builders, theatre managers and printers.

He wasn’t the only author with a connection to Coleman Street, because Anthony Munday had a monument erected to him in St Stephen’s church. Munday was born about 1560, and was a draper by trade, but managed to have a long career as a writer in several genres. Anthony Munday was a playwright for the Earl of Pembroke’s Men and later was chief pageant-writer for the City of London. Much of his work was as ‘co-writer’ with others, such as Michael Drayton and Thomas Middleton, and that was perhaps because they were making use of his particular skill. Francis Meres, in the ‘Wits Treasury’, describes Munday as ‘our best plotter’. Direct connection to the Shakespeare canon is via ‘Sir John Oldcastle’, which Philip Henslowe credited him as a co-writer.

Munday was the son of a London draper, but had a most interesting early life. He was noted as an actor, before, in 1576, becoming apprenticed to the stationer, John Allde. Soon afterwards he was found in Rome, at the English Jesuit College, where he claimed his purpose was to learn languages and to broaden his mind with foreign travel. He returned to England in 1578, becoming an actor in the Earl of Oxford’s troupe, and personal secretary to Edward de Vere.

Anthony Munday’s other claim to fame is as the writer of Robin Hood stories. He featured the outlaw in two plays, and gave the green crusader the title of the Earl of Huntingdon, a more noble title than he might have enjoyed, if he had portrayed him as one of the vagabonds of the Yorkshire Hills. Remember that Katherine Dudley had married an Earl of Huntingdon, and we find that a member of the Stanley family, (the Royal family we never had), married a later holder of the same title.

The other significant members of the Coleman Street community were the Killigrew and Neville families. The London home of the Killigrew family was on the south side of Lothbury, only a few steps east of the Windmill Tavern, probably opposite the rebuilt St Margaret’s church. It was here that Henry Killigrew lived with his two literary wives, Catherine Cooke, and later Jael de Peigne, a French Protestant. The Killigrew family were originally from Cornwall and Henry Killigrew had been a secretary to John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, before fleeing to Paris during the Marian exodus.

Killigrew coat of arms

Killigrew Coat of Arms – twin headed eagle

On Killigrew’s return to London, in 1558, Elizabeth made him one of her foreign diplomats, and he probably occupied the Lothbury house from about 1560 onwards. The Killigrew home later became the London base for his son-in-law, Henry Neville, and according to investigative writer, Brenda James, Henry Neville and his wife, Anne Killigrew, spent a significant part of their time in residence there.


Gentleman usher, William Jagger, was a fixture in Coleman Street from 1538 to 1585, and he may have been there a little earlier. Had he followed the Clopton family there from Long Melford? That would seem to be a likely scenario, perhaps beginning life as a young page-boy, when the cloth business got tough, in the late 1520’s, and progressed upwards from there.

Daniel Burbage, the minstrel, lived in Coleman Street from at least 1546, and the Brayne family were there from 1559 and probably a generation before. Henry Killigrew rose through the ranks as a servant of John Dudley and probably occupied his Lothbury property soon after Elizabeth came to the throne.
The headquarters of various Livery companies were nearby. The Armourers Hall was there, but also the Girdlers, Weavers, and Braziers Halls backed on to Coleman Street. The Mason’s Hall was adjacent to St Stephen’s Church, and to the west faced the Blackwell Hall, across Bassinghall Street. The Grocer’s Hall was a substantial building, occupying part of the original site of Hugh Clopton’s home, later converted into the Windmill Tavern.

Staple Inn -Tudor building

Staple Inn, London c 1890 – perhaps a taste of Coleman Street?

So, Coleman Street Ward provided the building blocks on which the Shakespeare name could be built. Whether it was the brilliant children of the Cooke family, who were all related to Lord Burghley; the relatives and business acquaintences of Robert Dudley; or the Neville and Killigrew families, they all had links to the builders, actors, theatre managers and printers of the Coleman Street area. Thomas Middleton and Anthony Munday were part of that community too and Ben Jonson wasn’t too far away either, with his links to the Windmill Tavern.

This was a very tight cosy community of people who ALL seem closely involved, in some way, with a man from Stratford-upon-Avon, who wrote a world famous compendium of plays.

I have done little more than skimmed the surface, in researching some of these people. The amount of surviving material is quite extraordinary, and it has been rather a privilege to inspect manuscripts that might not have seen the light of day, very often, in the past 400 years. The scale of our heritage is amazing and offers the hope that there are many more exciting discoveries ahead.

However, and it’s a big HOWEVER, the one name that you might expect to see on a page somewhere, in this pot pourri of material is ‘William Shakespeare’ and yet it is the one name that continues to be missing. I lose count of the number of times I spot one of my, ‘Coleman Street crowd’, mentioned in an insignificant document, just a name on a list and of little consequence. Yet it proves that person had a life, they existed. These people were all noticed by their peers.

Why did no-one notice Mr Shakespeare?


‘Speed. O jest unseen, inscrutable, invisible,

As a nose on a man’s face, or a weathercock on a steeple!’

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Chapter Eleven



Alternative Shakespeares – Premier League


Mark of Zorro

Stratfordanistas and Superman

Advocates, who claim they know the identity of the real hand of William de Stratford, rarely give their chosen candidate the option of sharing the acclaim with other literary colleagues. In many ways the vocal support for Oxford, Bacon et al, is just as one sidedly fanatical as the myopic Stratfordanistas, who still give undying support to their super-hero. Both sides see the answer to the question, ‘Who wrote Shakespeare?’ as a single name, when there is very little evidence suggesting that ‘Superman’ landed on Earth, much before 1938. The complexities of the plays and poems and the convoluted way in which the finished product was assembled, surely points to the input of more than one individual.

That is my view and I’m sticking to it, but to give an idea of the strength of the various alternative candidates, here is a little background about the serious contenders, all vying for that much sought-after title of – ‘William Shakespeare – greatest writer of all time’.

This will be a too brief, some would say cynical, look at the merits of the opposition, and these ‘premier league’ candidates are only the tip of a large iceberg of names. One list I have seen, mentions nearly seventy people who could have had a hand, or rather a pen, in the debate. Diana Price suggested that the real person might have still not been mentioned, an unknown figure that has kept his or her identity intact, and totally out of the limelight. That does seem an unlikely scenario, mainly because life in Tudor England was remarkably well documented and although there are numerous gaps, it would defy credibility that anyone, apart from Peter Brady, could remain as a totally ‘Invisible Man’, evading four centuries of scholarly exploration.

Perhaps, though, we should be treating William Shakespeare as one of those ‘masked men’, who thrilled the raucously cheering mob, at the Saturday morning pictures, which was ‘de rigueur’ for all 1950s schoolkids. Do we compare him with ‘Batman’, the ‘Lone Ranger’, or perhaps a better model would be Don Diego de la Vega, a Californion nobleman, who was the real face of the swashbuckling hero, known as ‘Zorro’.

Those Californian university researchers, checked over fifty potential Shakespeares, but the list usually comes down to around five or six main contenders, and all have been mentioned somewhere in this text, already. Each of the candidates has had a myriad of books written about them, and now new films and documentaries are popping up everywhere.

This monologue may be volume number 5000 in the authorship debate, which might entitle me to a special prize from publishers Booker or Amazon, for reaching the milestone, but for my wanton cheekiness, I am more likely to receive a poison pen letter from the tour guides and shopkeepers of a small Warwickshire town., who have been trading on a myth for the past four centuries.

Edward de Vere – Earl of Oxford (1550-1604)

The current favourite, on the list of alternative candidates, is the Earl of Oxford, but to turn him into a perfect fit, certain aspects of the Shakespeare chronology have to change. Edward de Vere has challenged Francis Bacon in the authorship stakes, since 1920, when Thomas Looney wrote a book favouring Oxford’s candidacy. Looney’s explanation of the date problem caused by Oxford’s early death, in 1604, was that the completed plays may have lain on a shelf for a number of years, or were left unfinished by the author and completed by others.

Oxford seems to have amassed the PERFECT curriculum vitae, with his extensive education, knowledge & experience, social influence, love of Italy and a long time member of the Royal Court. He had early links to the theatre, and his strong association with William Cecil, being brought up in his household and married to Cecil’s daughter, confirms his candidacy in the minds of many. By default, his marriage also made him part of the ‘Cooke club’ and all the subsequent relationships that union brought into play. However, these connections apply to many others, because once joining the ‘club’, everyone had access to the privileges of membership.

Edward-de-Vere - Earl of Oxford,1575

Oxford had a life-long involvement with the theatre, but no plays have ever been attributed to him. He was mentioned as a poet, but few poems were ever published. His noisy proponents suggest he was a ‘concealed’ writer, who always wrote anonymously. Alan Tarica puts a well argued case for him being the author of the Sonnets, but our Californian computer researchers, who targeted Oxford as their main candidate, classed him as a ‘no-hoper’, in the Shakespeare stakes.

My research has the Earl of Oxford showing up frequently around the edges of the story, but never at the heart of the critical action. I have had to deliberately seek out information about him, whilst other candidates have just fallen in my lap. Everyone else gets excited about Edward de Vere, but I can’t see what the fuss is all about. He is my ‘Marmite’ candidate. You either love him or hate him.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

The earliest contender in the authorship debate was Francis Bacon, who according to his most ardent backers was almost solely responsible for transforming the medieval world into our modern, science based society. He is supposed to have been instrumental in forming, what later became the Royal Society, and apart from writing THE thirty six plays, he was said to have composed the Sonnets, as a coded handbook for the secret societies, of which he was a leading member.

Baconian theory is a whole genre in itself, and suggests that the Shakespeare label was an ‘alter ego’, which allowed him to carry on with his scientific and Royal Court duties, unhindered by the controversy that writing plays might attract. This idea began, with namesake, Delia Bacon, in the 19th century, and mentions spying, secret codes and autobiographical connections, that only fit Bacon’s life. His life dates fit, nicely, into the works of the Bard, whilst his family, social and educational background gave him all the necessary contacts, skills, and experience.

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon – © National Portrait Gallery, London

Bacon’s main motive for secrecy is put down to his being the illegitimate child of Queen Elizabeth and Robert Dudley. Whilst that might be true, where he found the time to write so many poems and plays, in his busy, very public life, is open to debate, and all done in complete anonymity. Bacon has a clear connection with the Jaggard printers as they had the rights to print his ‘Essays’, and his steward was William Tottel, son of Richard Tottel, the print master of John Jaggard. Bacon would certainly have known the identity of Shakespeare, and may have been part of a writing ensemble, as he had close family connections, being a member of the ‘Cooke club’, and therefore had links to the Cecils et al.

His connection with ‘New Place’, at the very time Shakespereare acquired the house, adds further spice, as too does his later connection to the Underhill family, with one of that band, living as a servant in his household and marrying Bacon’s widow, only weeks after Bacon’s own demise. There are a whole raft of references that tie Bacon into the creation of the Shakespeare personna and the creation of the First folio. No-one was better placed in this whole debate, if not the writer, then the architect and stage-manager, who created the William Shakespeare ‘image’ that we know and love today.


William Stanley – Earl of Derby (1561-1642)

The third member of the premier league is William Stanley, Earl of Derby, who was one of the few survivors of the Queen Jane Grey branch of the family. He was educated at St Johns College, Oxford, and in the 1580s, travelled widely in France and Italy. His elder brother, Ferdinando Stanley, was ‘king in waiting’, but after his suspicious death, the disputed rights to the throne, were passed on to Ferdinando’s two daughters, leaving William with only the inherited title of the Earl of Derby.

William Stanley - 6th Earl of Derby

William Stanley (1561-1642)

There were certainly strong theatrical leanings in the family, because Ferdinando Stanley was the patron of Lord Strange’s Men, later renamed the Earl of Derby’s Men. He was known to be an author and a poet, but has never been seriously suggested as a closet Shakespeare. Several of the actors later associated with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men were active for Strange’s Men in the early 1590s, including Will Kempe and George Bryan. They were known to have performed before Frederick II of Denmark, at Hamlet’s Helsingør Castle and this troupe performed one of the earliest versions of ‘Henry VI’, for Philip Henslowe at the Rose Theatre, in 1592. This seems to be a significant event because this was over five years before the Shakespeare name appeared on a published play.

William Stanley was in his early thirties when his brother’s troup were playing this version of Henry VI/2, which may have been the very first performance of a ‘Shakespeare’ play. He had been a student at Oxford University at the same time as other ‘wits’, including Thomas Lodge, who had been a servant in the Stanley household. Lodge had followed the same path as his master to Oxford, ultimately transforming into a traveller, poet and playwright of some note. Remember, that it was Lodge’s half-sister who married Edward White, the publisher of early versions of ‘Titus Andonicus’ and ‘King Leir’.

It was William Stanley who married Elizabeth de Vere, supposedly, ‘not the legitimate daughter’, of the Earl of Oxford, but this did make him a member of the Cooke club, and so trying to assign specific attributes and differentiate Stanley from the rest is difficult. Some suggest that ‘A Midsummer Nights Dream’ was written for their wedding celebrations, but that seems to have become as much a myth as other stories put around by Stratfordians. The main piece of evidence for his candidature is a letter suggesting that, ‘Our Earle of Darby is busy in penning commodyes for the common players’, although it is worth remembering that most of Shakespeare’s work was NOT written for the common man. Stanley could well have been a writer who contributed to a group scenario of ‘literary wits’.

According to the Third of Act of Accession and the will of Henry VIII, it was the Stanley family who were next in line to the throne after Elizabeth, as several of the Grey family, who should have taken precedence, had been dispatched with an axe by Queen Mary. The political shenanigans and complicated rules of inheritance, meant that Ferdinando’s eldest daughter, Anne Stanley, did not inherit the right to the Crown, on the death of her father, in 1594, and that prize, instead, went to James I, who was already James VI of Scotland, a descendant of Henry VIII’s elder sister Margaret, who Henry VIII had tried to disinherit, causing the Mary Queen of Scots affair. (pause for breath).

Anne Stanley, instead of being crowned, Queen of England, married Grey Brydges, Baron Chandos, in 1607, but her line died out, in 1826, and the ‘alternative’ Royal line of precedence, then moved to the descendants of her sister, Frances. The youger sister had married John Egerton, in 1602, and their daughter Elizabeth Egerton married David Cecil, descendant of William Cecil and first wife, Mary Cheke. That line continues today and leads to George Francis William Child Villiers, 10th Earl of Jersey, born 1976, a former producer, actor and writer, who according to Henry VIII’s will, is the man that should now be occupying Buckingham Palace.

The Brydges-Chandos family have another intriguing connection to the Bard’s story, as they were previous owners of the only portrait of William Shakespeare that is thought to be authentic, well at least by the National Portrait Gallery, in London. The portrait has the usual murky Shakespeare history with the actor, Richard Burbage, purported to be the painter, whilst others say it was John Taylor, a member of the Painter-Stainer Company, who was said to be a friend of Shakespeare.

The next owner was reputed to be William Davenant, who became poet laureate, after Ben Jonson. Davenant claimed to be Shakespeare’s godson, whilst others suggest that he was an illegitimate son of the Bard, after he had a relationship with the wife of the proprietor of the Crown Tavern, in Oxford.

Thomas Betterton, that early researcher into the Bard’s history, was another person said to have owned the portrait, before selling it to Robert Keck, whose descendant married into the Chandos family. It remained with them for over a century, until Richard Temple-Grenville sold it to Francis Egerton, in 1848. Francis donated it to the National Portrait Gallery, as their first ever exhibit. Both Richard Temple-Grenville and Francis Egerton were direct descendants of Ferdinando Stanley, by his two daughters, Anne and Frances. Like so many loose ends in this story – all the pieces became neatly plaited, and the provenance of the portrait looks copper-bottomed, or perhaps, just too good to be true.

Chandos portrait of Shakespeare

Chandos portrait, painted c1610 – © National Portrait Gallery, London

The early provenance of the painting is highly debatable, although it has the style of a painting of the early 17th century. To later pass through the hands of the descendants of both daughters of Ferdinando Stanley seems a remarkable coincidence. Did the families purchase the picture because of the theatrical connection with Ferdinando’s acting troup, Lord Strange’s Men, or because they believed that one of their forefathers was the real author of the works?

My yellow brick road of coincidence continues until today, and again, revisits the Howard family. The wife of the present Duke of Norfolk is Georgina Gore, daughter of John Temple-Gore. This is the same Temple family who bought land in Burton Dassett, disputed by Anthony Cooke, and then moved to Stowe. The Temple-Gore family are also direct descendants of the Chandos portrait family.


The Stowe Armorial was commissioned by George Nugent-Temple-Grenville, created between 1805 and 1807. There are 719 quarterings of the Temple, Nugent, Brydges, Chandos and Grenville families, the arms of Spencer, De Clare, Valence, Mowbray, Mortimer and De Grey, the English Royal arms.

Christopher Marlowe (1564-93)

The fourth of the traditional ‘Big Five’ candidates, is Christopher (Kit) Marlowe, although there is a vociferous band of supporters, who would put him on the very top of the tree. His death, in 1593, would be a problem to most scholars, but not to Marlovians, who suggest this was a subterfuge as part of his job as a masterspy for Elizabeth’s secret intelligence service. Undoubtedly, Marlowe was one of the great writers of his age and one who was highly respected by his literary colleagues. His violent and unexplained death, in 1593, in a fight in Deptford, was confirmed by a jury, but Marlovian theory then suggests he reappeared, close to the Shakespeare story, in a number of different guises.

A quote from one of Marlowe’s greatest advocates, Bastian Conrad, sums up the situation perfectly… ‘unfortunately you seem to prefer a single ‘deadly’ and deliberately faked argument against Marlowe instead of 1000 substantiated arguments for Marlowe.’

Christopher Marlowe was the first English writer to develop the concept of blank verse (stanzas with no rhyme), a style which is a feature of much, but not all of Shakespeare’s canon. Marlowe’s supporters say he is the only candidate that had the attributes to be a ‘literary genius’.

The arguments to support his candidature begin with his birth, as yet another ‘son of a tanner’, born in Canterbury, Kent. He was lucky enough to gain a place at The King’s School, Canterbury, possibly sponsored by local dignitary, Roger Manhood, a friend of John Parker, the son of Mathew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury and ‘Bishop’s Bible’ man. At seventeen, in 1581, Marlowe went to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, paid for by an ‘Archbishop Mathew Parker scholarship’. Opinion varies but the likelihood is that the man we know as Christopher Marlowe could have been the illegitimate son of Mathew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury. His pedigree points in that direction.

Christopher Marlowe - 1585

Possibly a portrait of Christopher Marlowe – aged 21

Marlowe was frequently absent from Cambridge and the university authorities withheld his MA degree. However, a letter from the Privy Council told the university to reverse their decision.

‘Whereas it was reported that Christopher Morley was determined to have gone beyond the seas to Rheims and there to remain, Their Lordships thought good to certify that he had no such intent, but that in all his actions he had behaved himself orderly and discreetly wherebie he had done her Majestie good service and deserved to be rewarded for his faithful dealing’.

The letter is signed by the new Archbishop of Canterbury, John Whitgift; Lord Burghley; Sir Christopher Hatton; Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon and William Knollys – a list of our ‘usual suspects’.

Marlowe certainly led a charmed life, until his early ‘demise’ that is, but the suspicion is he had worked as a secret agent for Francis Walsingham’s spy network, and that his government contacts arranged for a fake death and a legal cover-up. Marlowe was certainly in hot water for his atheist beliefs, but instead of being confined to prison, waiting for the ‘block’, he was on parole at the time of his death. The accused, and the main witnesses at the inquest, were known to be ‘agents of the state’.

Some Marlovians suggest he re-appeared in the household of the Countess of Pembroke, whilst others say he went to live in Verona. His ‘epic’ poem, ‘Hero and Leander’ was unfinished at his ‘death’ and was published in that unfinished format by Edward Blount, in 1598, with Blount adding a preface defending Marlowe against his critics. A year later, William Jaggard published one of Marlowe’s poems in ‘The Passionate Pilgrim’, with ‘The Passionate Shepherd to his love’, being followed by a stanza of response from Walter Raleigh’s, ‘Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd’.

Blount’s piece in defending the reputation of the ‘dead’ poet, might have had more relevance if he was still alive. Jaggard lists, ‘Shakespeare’ and ‘Marlowe’ amongst the contributors to this 1599 anthology. Why would he do this is if Marlowe was indeed Shakespeare – unless it was a clue?

Marlowe certainly had all the right friends in the literary world, but attributing the complete works of Shakespeare to him seems far fetched in the extreme. His style has marked similarities to Shakespeare’s and the fantasy of his supporters is built around that belief. There is also one similarity between the two men, as John Marlowe, the poet’s fther, also worked with leather, as a shoemaker.

Marlowe plaque


Roger Manners – Earl of Rutland (1576-1612)

The fifth of the most commonly voiced candidates is Roger Manners, 5th Earl of Rutland, who married Elizabeth Sidney, (daughter of Sir Philip Sidney). He ticks every box you could wish to imagine, being related to everyone relevant, educated at Oxford and Cambridge, Gray’s Inn, and the University of Padua, in Italy. Manners travelled across Europe and took part in military campaigns, led by the Earl of Essex. He was also a participant in Essex’s rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I. Manners survived, when Essex didn’t, and became highly regarded by James I, as a member of the King’s smart set of noblemen and writers. His early death, in 1612, coincided with the end of the Shakespeare canon.

Roger Manners - 5th Earl of Rutland

Roger Manners, Earl of Rutland (1576-1612)

The one limiting factor to Roger Manners candidature is he was only sixteen years of age in 1592, when the plays first appeared, and it would seem to be a ‘stretch goal’ for anyone of that age to be able to write a fully formed play, such as Henry VI/2. However, after his father’s death he became a ward of Francis Bacon, so was in the right place to be part of a later, Shakespeare conspiracy.

Manners studied at Padua University at the same time as Danish students named Rosencrantz and Guilderstern, and knew the ‘secret terminology’ of Cambridge University, which appears in ‘Hamlet’. In 1603, he led an ambassadorial mission to Denmark, homeland of the new Queen, Anne of Denmark.

The Earl of Rutland was a patron of Inigo Jones and may have introduced him to the Royal Court, where he rose to fame as an architect and designer of Court masques.

Advocates of Roger Manners as a candidate suggest the First and Second folios were published to commemorate the 10th and 20th aniversaries of his death. His marriage to a member of the Sidney family might be significant, but he was so well connected that this is just one of many ancestral links.

Perhaps, Roger Manners was ‘Shakespeare’ in his later phase, when the plays took on a different character. Perhaps, he just wrote Hamlet..!!

Henry Neville (1563-1615)

One of the more recent additions to the list of serious candidates is Henry Neville. He was ‘discovered’ by Brenda James, in 2000, and her work has been supported by Bill Rubinstein and John Casson. The Nevilles were one of the most influential families of the medieval period, and continued right through into the 17th century. The Neville family were prolific in their procreative skills and they married into almost every other noble family. There is probably, at least an armful of Neville blood in all of us.

What makes Henry Neville a good candidate is how his life mirrors that of the Shakespeare canon. Neville had a classical education and gained all the skills necessary to write the plays. He spent time at Oxford and then four years travelling around Europe with his tutor, Henry Savile (the man from Stainland) and Robert Sidney.

Neville’s family connections link closely into the Cooke family, via his wife, Anne Killigrew, who was the daughter of Henry Killigrew and Catherine Cooke. He seems to have been a life-long friend of Robert Sidney, who was a university chum, and a travel companion on the four year European tour.

Stratfordians often say that Shakespeare made up for his lack of life experiences, by taking his information from the 1587 version of the Holinshed Chronicles. Well, Henry Killigrew was one of the main editors and censors of this edition of Holinshed, and Henry Neville spent much time at the home of his father-in-law, at Lothbury, next door to the Windmill Tavern. He may well have seen the documents, first hand, discussing their suitablility over the dinner table, or a tankard, at the Windmill.

Henry Neville

It was the link to Henry Neville that first alerted me to the importance of the Jagger name in the Shakespeare story. I found that Thomas Jagger, had his eight children baptised, at Waltham St Lawrence, a small parish dominated by the Nevilles’ estate surrounding Billingbear House. There was an earlier marriage recorded in Waltham, with the dates suggesting this could be Thomas Jagger’s sister, as a ‘Margret Gager’ married Ralph Adams, in 1560. Neville was also a student at Oxford during the time of William Gager and the two would surely have known each other well, especially if Neville was as enthusiast for his classical studies as his supporters believe.

Billingbear House was only six miles from Windsor and the estate was originally owned by the Bishop of Winchester. After he was removed at Dissolution time, the land was given to Henry Neville, senior, by Edward VI, in 1549. The tenure was shortlived because Queen Mary (1553-58) nullified the deeds and Henry Neville fled abroad. After Elizabeth replaced her sister, Neville returned to Berkshire and took full possession, building a fine Tudor mansion, which survived into the 20th century, before being destroyed by fire.

Billingbear House - 1669

Billingbear House, Waltham St Lawrence

Henry Neville, senior, was the son of Edward Neville, the rabble rousing mate of Francis Bryan and Nicholas Bacon, but Edward had not been as lucky as his comrades, and lost his head in 1538, for alleged treason. Henry, senior, died in 1593, but by then his son, Henry, junior, (1563-1615) was already rising to prominence, as a politician and successful businessman. After his period of study and travel, Neville became a Member of Parliament for a succession of constituencies and gained the valuable patent to manufacture cannons. He was appointed Elizabeth’s ambassador in Paris, in 1599, but resigned a year later, not seeming to enjoy the experience and being described by his hosts as being ‘too Puritan’ to be an ambassador in Catholic France.

Only a year later, Henry Neville became embroiled in the Essex Rebellion, to remove the Queen and replace her with James of Scotland. Neville spent two years in the Tower of London alongside his co-conspirator the Earl of Southampton, but both were released once King James took the reins. Essex was executed for the conspiracy, so Neville and Southampton were fortunate to keep their heads. Neville didn’t get off scot-free, because he was given a mammoth fine of £10,000, a sum that stripped his wealth and kept him relatively poor for the remainder of his life.

Henry Neville’s skills as a theatrical writer were kept well hidden, and although he had a suitable pedigree, much of the evidence produced by Brenda James is based on a ‘Tower Notebook’, which she claims shows Neville jumping into playwrighting mode, during his two year incarceration. She has also gone into great detail, deciphering codes, which she believes are buried in some of Shakespeare’s texts and which make mention of Neville.

The one section of her work I do find compelling, is the use of a significant number of similar words and phrases, found both in letters attributed to Neville and in Shakespeare’s plays. However, many of the letters were written by his secretary, so perhaps that is where we should be looking for the real Shakespeare, a jobbing scribe who has remained in the shadows.

Neville does have an interesting family connection, which increases in importance as this story develops. His father had taken as a second wife, Elizabeth Gresham, who became the sole heir to her uncle, Thomas Gresham, the founder of Gresham College. Neville also seems to have been one of the executors of Henry Unton, an important figure at the time, but one who has since melted into obscurity. Both these facts ensure that Henry Neville must have been close to the centre of the action, in my version of Shakespeare’s story, although whether he was a formal writer or just a co-conspirator is open to further research.

There is also the question of Mr Ralphe Newbery, warden of the Stationers Company, who was involved with Henry Denham in the formation of the Eliot’s Court print house and one of the named publishers of the Holinshed Chronicles. The Newberys were an established family from Waltham St Lawrence, and probably lived there long before the Nevilles took over the Billingbear Estate. Ralphe Newbery was a tenant of the Nevilles, but his success as a printer led to him purchasing two substantial properties in the local area. However, apart from one deed, involving a land deal with a number of Henry Neville’s tenants, I can find no interaction between the two men. The connection is intriguing.

Waltham St Lawrence Inn   Newberry sign

14th century, Bell Inn in the main square at Waltham St Lawrence – photos KHB

Remember, too, that it was here at Waltham St Thomas, that Thomas Jagger, son of William Jagger, the gentleman usher, brought up a large family during the 1570s. His children were baptised at the local church, which sits neatly between Newbery’s, Bell Inn and the aptly named, Neville Hall.


Neville Hall, Waltham St Lawrence – KHB


Waltham St Lawrence Parish Church

If you need to know more about these six candidates, the ones I have somewhat trivialised in my briefest of summaries, there are plenty of opportunities to read about them elsewhere. For me it seems impossible for just one of these great people to have taken on the Shakespeare mantle alone, certainly without anyone else commenting and giving the game away.

I now want to propose other candidates, who I deem are worthy of consideration, and I should like to see each of them added to the mix. Let’s see where my new candidates fit into the story of William Shakespeare, the man from Stratford and the ‘alleged’ writer of those plays and poems.

George Peele (1556-1596)

George Peele is a name that has been increasing linked to the Shakespeare canon and so he is not really a totally new face on the scene. He is one of the best documented writers of what we might call, the ‘early-Shakespeare’ period, but he also seems to be one of the least understood. He is a very easy name to research, but unlike some biographies, which almost seem to be clones of each other, Peele’s biographers and critics each add something different to the mix. This account certainly does, because George Peele’s place in the Shakespeare story needs to be reassessed, and maybe even added to the Premier League of anti-Stratfordian candidates, as ever sponsored by Lord Burghley Promotions Inc. The Peele family, as a whole, also need to be reassessed, because they don’t appear to be just ‘another’ family, and although they don’t quite reach the heights of the learned Cooke concubines, I certainly have a sense of anticipation, when I read down the list of names on the Peele family tree.

George’s father was James Peele who, on 5th November 1562, was appointed clerk to Christ’s Hospital, Newgate, in the City of London. This ‘hospital’ had been created using the vestiges of the old Greyfriars monastery and the new institution, supported by merchants of the City of London, was an educational establishment, primarily for orphans and the poor. Between the friars being removed and the school arriving, one of the occupiers of the site was the King’s printer, Richard Grafton, who ran his business from part of the vacant building.


The site of Christ Hospital – Greyfriars before the Dissolution

Previously, James Peele had lived in the small neighbouring parish of St James, Garlickhythe, an area of merchant warehouses, adjacent to the river. Prior to that, he lived on the seedier bank of the Thames, at Southwark, and both these residences would tie in with James’ previous occupation as a salter, someone who traded in that essential saline commodity. Apart from the obvious, salters were also licensed to trade in flax, hemp, logwood, cochineal, potashes and other chemical preparations.

The existing biographies tell little about James Peele’s early heritage, and only suggest the likelihood he came from Devon, but that is very much at odds with my suspicions. The Peele name is surprisingly quite rare, spelt with and without the extra ‘e’, and sometimes with the benefit of a double ‘ll’, spelling ‘Pell’. The name distribution maps are empty of Peele’s in the West of England and everything points again further north, to the Pennine Hills and the borderlands, joining Lancashire and Yorkshire.

The Peele name is synonymous with two famous Peels, Robert Peel, the 19th century Prime Minister and founder of the Peelers, the first policemen; and the 18th century huntsman, ‘do you ken John Peel’, who was from Caldbeck, near Carlisle. Robert the Peeler, was born in Bury, Lancashire and that is not far from the earliest traces of the Peele family, at Bolton by Bollan, a small village at the head of the Ribble valley, in the Forest of Bowland.

Geographically, this should be part of Lancashire, but for much of its existance was classified as belonging to the West Riding of Yorkshire and it held these Yorkshire connections because it was part of the estate of the Earls of Northumberland, the Percy family. The Percy name plays a part in Shakespeare’s ‘Henry IV’, as Henry Percy took the nickname, ‘Hotspur’, and the Percys also show up in the Elizabethan era, in the guise of the 9th Earl of Northumberland, known as the ‘Wizard Earl’.

The oldest records of the Peele family, in the Pennines, show they were successful cloth merchants and another Yorkshire success story, of the post-Black Death period. In the 15th century, Peels married into the Harwood family and their epicentre moved down the Ribble valley to Blackburn, in Lancashire. The Blackburn Peeles then conjoined with the Osbaldeston family, a very distinctive name, who, much later in the 16th century and early 17th century, made substantial waves on the religious, academic and literary front, in London and the south of England.

William Osbaldeston (1577–1645), was the eldest son of Lambert Osbaldeston, haberdasher of London, and brother of Lambert Osbaldeston, junior. William attended Westminster School, and went on to Christ Church, Oxford, graduating in 1601, and by 1610 was Professor of Divinity, at Gresham College. The Lambert name seems to have been used to commemorate the Osbaldestons’ part in supporting the pretender to the throne, the young Lambert Simnel, who challenged Henry VII. That is not exactly a connection you would want to advertise in Tudor England, although Simnel was eventually pardoned by Henry VII and became the King’s falconer.

The Osbaldestons’ Catholic leanings are clearly demonstrated, when Edward Osbaldeston (1560-1594) became a Catholic martyr, being hanged, drawn, and quartered at York, in November 1594, for the crime of ‘being a priest’. He was from the Blackburn family and had clerical training in France, before returning to England, in 1589.

There is an intriguing connection between the Osbaldstone name and the Shakespeare compendium of plays, because it was Henry Osbaldstone who presented a copy of the ‘Second folio’ to St John’s College, Oxford, on his arrival in 1637. Henry was born in 1619, the son of John Osbaldstone, a Merchant Taylor, and had attended the Merchant Taylor’s School, from 1627-36, winning a scholarship to the Oxford college, at the St Barnabas Day exam, of 1637.

There are also direct family links between the Osbaldestone and Stanley families, with both their home bases being in Lancashire. John Osbaldestone (b 1508), married as his first wife, Margaret Stanley, daughter of George Stanley, 9th Baron Strange, and as his second wife, Jane Stanley the daughter of John, the illegitimate son of Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby.

The Osbaldston pedigree and their link to the northern Peeles give me confidence that the educated salt merchant, James Peele, also had Pennine roots. ‘James’ was a common name in that Blackburn family of Peeles, but definitive connections are still proving elusive.

The Earl of Northumberland connection continues later, in the writing career of George Peele, and demonstrates he must have had at least a passing allegiance to the Percy family. Peele wrote a specially commissioned work for the 9th Earl, Henry Percy, (1564-1632), the one known as the ‘Wizard Earl’.

Henry gained his nickname because of his interest in alchemy, cartography and other scientific skills, which he supported with one of the largest libraries in England. Peele’s poem, ‘The Honour of the Garter’ was commissioned for the Earl’s investiture as a Garter Knight, in 1593. George Peele received the substantial sum of £3 for his efforts, just for creating this single poem.

A year later, in 1594, and as chance would have it, Henry Percy married into our ‘elite’ group of Shakespeare suspects, becoming the husband of Dorothy Devereux and thus the brother-in-law of the, treacherous, Earl of Essex. Adding even more to the pot pourri of relevant family unions, their eldest daughter married Robert Sidney, son of Robert Sidney, the brother of Philip and Mary Sidney.

By his marriage to Dorothy Devereux, he became the occupant of Syon House, Isleworth, which became a rendezvous for fellow science minded friends, including John Dee, who had his home and laboratory, across the River Thames, at nearby Mortlake. With both Dee and the 9th Earl handily positioned close to the other Royal residences of Richmond and Windsor, this meant Queen Elizabeth and her advisers could keep a close eye on the two alchemists.

In what seems another quite random fact, the Syon House estate dominated the small parish of Isleworth, where the, aforementioned, Leonard Shakespeare and his family lived, from 1615 onwards. This family doesn’t have any proven links to any other Shakespeare family, except to say that the priory at Wroxall, was dedicated to St Leonard.

Syon House

Syon House, Isleworth – home of the Percy family since 1594 – photo KHB

Henry Percy was brought up a Protestant, but had humanist tendancies, laced with Catholic sympathies, and he became heavily implicated in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. King James was not a lover of alchemy and Percy was also at loggerheads with the King’s chief adviser, Robert Cecil.

Percy avoided the axeman, but his liberty was curtailed from 1605 till 1622, although he used his money and influence to treat the Tower of London more like a royal palace than a notorious prison. A fellow inmate for much of the time was Walter Raleigh, another one of my Shakespeare suspects.

Henry’s eldest son, Algernon Percy, succeeded his father, becoming 10th Earl of Northumberland, and this was the same man who recommended Thomas Jaggard, the younger brother of Isaac, the First folio publisher, to be the vicar of Kirby Overblow in Yorkshire and later to be a rebel preacher in London.

James Peele, clerk of Christ’s Hospital, was a busy man, because apart from his merchant, religious and teaching duties, he is probably most famous today, as the author of the first textbook written in English, which explained ‘Italian accounting’, now known as, double-entry book-keeping.

Venetian merchants had been using the balance sheet accounting system, since about 1350, but it was only in 1494, that Luca Pacioli, wrote a book, ‘Summa de Arithmetica’ which explained the system to a wider audience. This book had been translated by Hugh Oldcastle, in 1543, but the first book written from scratch, in English, was James Peele’s, ‘Maner & fourme how to kepe a perfecte reconyng after the order of the most worthie and notable accompte of Debitour and Creditour,’ published in London, in 1554 and printed by Richard Grafton, in the same Greyfriars building.

James Peele published a second book, in 1569, entitled ‘The patheway to perfectness in accomptes of Debitour & Creditour’. He described himself in the preface as ‘citizen and salter of London, Clercke of Christes Hospitall, practizer and teacher of the same’.

Peele gave full credit to the Venetian merchants and the work of Paciolo, but this is someone who fully understands the system and he expounded his own views on how it should be operated. This second volume included sections of poetry to brighten the mathematical mood, and makes mention of another old friend, Dionysius the aeropagite.

As lacke of Science causeth pouertie,
And dooeth abate mans estimation,
So learnyng dooeth brynge to prosperitie,
Suche as of goodes haue small possession.
For tyme well spente to gayne and not to waste,
The gayne will byde, though tyme dooth passe and runne,
But all to late, yf tyme shall ones bee paste,
For tyme ones loste, can not agayne bee wonne.
In tyme beganne kynge Dionysius, [the aeropagite…!!]
Some thynge to learne, and it in tyme to take,
His kyngdome loste in tyme he ganne saye thus,
I wyll take tyme, least tyme shall me forsake.

James Peele’s writing skills didn’t stop at the poetic or academic either, as he is noted as a contributor to the grand pageants, which regularly took place in the City of London. In 1566 and 1569 he was recorded as pageant writer for events sponsored by the Ironmongers Company. George Peele’s father was, therefore, a man of amazing intellectual breadth and practical ability. If only William Shakespeare’s father had possessed the same intellectual and creative pedigree…!!

We know nothing of James Peele’s life before 1548, but for one individual to possess so many skills and gain such obvious practical experience, suggests he had an excellent education somewhere – but where. His previous occupation of salter means he was a merchant, dealing in one of the most basic commodities, but also in some of the most glamorous places, trading in a number of ‘chemical substances’, which were to become an essential part of the new scientific age.

Had his merchant travels taken him to the Mediterranean, where these substances were traded more frequently, or had he relied on merchant barques arriving, by chance, on the River Thames? Is there a clue, also, in his understanding of Venetian accountancy, so are we looking at a man who was well travelled in his youth?

Hold those thoughts because they might become significant as the tide later turns towards Italy and the Bard’s love of those romantic lands, which he used as settings for almost a third of his plays.

There is no record of a marriage for James Peele, but he probably wed his first wife, Ann, around 1546. This would have put his date of birth about 1525, but it could have been several years earlier, perhaps as early as the beginning of the century, because it was common for ‘literate’ men to marry late, often in their late twenties or early thirties.

James was living ‘south of the river’ when his first child, Anne Peele, was baptised, at St Saviour, Southwark, on 27th Jan 1548/49 and there was another daughter, Isabel, probably born a year or so later, but with no record of baptism. There was a third daughter, Judyth and then Katherine, who died as an infant. George Peele was next, baptised at St James, Garlickhythe on 25th July 1556, with two more girls, Elizabeth and Agnis, baptised in the same church in 1559 and 1561.

Finally there was a younger sibling, James, baptised on 3rd Jan 1563, this one at the father’s new residence, Christchurch, Newgate Street. Their mother, Ann, was buried on 1st July 1579, at Christchurch, whilst their father remarried, the following year, on 2nd Nov 1580, to Christian Weiders, again in the same home church.

James Peele, himself, was buried, on 30th Dec 1585, and quite surprisingly, despite the variety of his clerical and administrative occupations, he died intestate. This is confirmed because the Commissary Court of London issued ‘Christiane Peele widow of James Peele late of the parish of Christ Church nigh Newgate’ to administer and make an inventory of the goods of the deceased.

He seems to have died almost penniless, as the Christ’s Hospital governors gave his widow twenty shillings, for his burial. He should have been a reasonably wealthy man, with an estimated income of over £65 a year, but from 1570 onwards he seems to have always been short of money, explaining why he didn’t bother with a last will and testament. His wife tried for better next time, marrying the haberdasher, Ralphe Boswell, who had previously taken as an apprentice the famous actor, Richard Tarlton, (died 1588), who was Queen Elizabeth’s favourite clown.

James Peele’s oldest child, Anne, married John Alford at Christchurch, in 1566. I cannot trace the parentage of this particular John Alford, but the family name is important in this story because Roger Alford was the personal secretary to William Cecil, from 1547 onwards, and Roger was the scribe who wrote and signed many of the important government documents of the period, including those relating to the Queen Jane Grey affair.

Roger Alford died in 1580 and this is also of significance, because William Gager, student friend of George Peele, wrote a Latin Verse in memory of him. There seems no reason why he should do so, unless they were acquainted and the Peele connection is the obvious one. 

‘In obitu Rogeri Alfordi’;

“Roger is buried in this tomb Alfordus:
What? Such a small country!
It is not the latter, completely lies,
a good report that is spread in all directions.
Free will, and not even a little is contained to the ground.
One of her, better prepare for life in the stars,
Only in this way the body in the urn is short now.”

(Translation from Latin)

The Alfords were originally a Sussex family, but Roger Alford made his home in Hitcham Court, Buckinghamshire. His will mentions his cousin, John Alford and his godson, John Alford, but neither can be directly connected to Anne Peele’s husband, although John and Anne’s eldest son was called Robert, which is very much the patriarchal name of Roger Alford’s family. The circumstances would suggest there is a family connection between John and Roger Alford.

Judyth Peele married John Jackman, a London grocer, in 1576, but she died in 1582. The youngest Peele sibling was James Peele, about whom I know nothing apart from he followed in his father’s religious footsteps, becoming a parish clerk.

Crucially, in my saga, Isabel Peele is the same person who married Mathew Shakespeare, in Christchurch in 1566/67. The couple then went to live in Clerkenwell, which at the time backed on to fields and was more like a rural village, surrounding the remnants of the priory. This suggests that Isabel may have married a ‘clerk’, or that certainly Mathew had sufficient status in the community to warrant such a marriage. Their large family were all baptised in Clerkenwell, although only the youngest, Thomas, survived to adulthood, suggesting this has the look of a ‘syphilis’ family.

This makes Mathew Shakespeare the brother-in-law of George Peele, and the Clerkenwell/St Johns connection, brings literary links to the Shakespeare name, twenty five years earlier, than attributions made to the Bard. The connection between the Peeles and the Shakespeares is another remarkable coincidence, but nothing seems to have been made of this, by either side, in the authorship debate.

Few, if any of the growing number of anti-Stratfordians have found direct links between their candidate and the man from Stratford, but this is one of several I have discovered, which far from dividing the battlefield down the middle, create bridges across the previously impassable, ‘no man’s land’.

In George Peele’s early years, he would have been tutored by his father, at Christ’s Hospital, but in 1571, as a fifteen year old, George became a student at Broadgates Hall, Oxford, which 50 years later, in 1624 was renamed Pembroke College, when King Charles I granted a patent, to William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, who by then held the post of Chancellor of Oxford University.

Three years after arriving in Oxford, in 1574, George Peele crossed to the other side of St Aldate’s Road, to enter the gates of Christ Church College, the same year that William Gager matriculated. His contemporaries at Christ Church, Oxford, included fellow writers of Latin plays, Richard Edes and Leonard Hutton, whilst also at Oxford during the 1570s, were John Lyly, Thomas Lodge, and brothers Edmond and Robert Carey, the sons of Lord Hunsdon, Lord Chamberlain.

In 1579, George Peele was reluctantly forced to leave Oxford University, after the Christ’s Hospital governors, ceased their £5 a year sponsorship of his tuition. This may have been to do with his liberal lifestyle, the poor money management of his father, or perhaps was connected with the death of his mother, the same year. Whether it was the Church governors or his father who pulled the plug on his finances is unclear, but certainly his lifestyle of ‘gaieties’ was not befitting a clerk’s son.

George continued to live in Oxford for another two years, quickly taking a young wife, marrying the sixteen year old, daughter of a merchant, who some accounts say, hailed from Oxford, but others from London. Her name was Anne Cooke and she had recently inherited land and money, on the death of her father. Yes, the name ‘Cooke’ appears again, but although her pedigree might fit the family of the Gidea Park clan, there is no proven connection to that illustrious crew. The couple’s marriage was initially problematic, because Anne’s mother had remarried in undue haste, before her widow’s legacy had been finalised, and the legal disputes on the division of the spoils dragged on.

Meanwhile, George did his best to squander the money, before the lawyers got their hands on it, and so he maintained a lifestyle that his previous benefactors had tried to curb. There was at least one child, a daughter, born in 1586, and one account says four, but no records of the Peele marriage or the births of the child or other children have been found. The appropriate parish records for Oxford have been lost. George was buried on 9th Nov 1596, at St James, Clerkenwell, known simply as a ‘householder’ of the parish. His cause of death, at the age of 40, was attributed by his friends to ‘the pox’.

So, here is James Peele, clearly a most educated and influential man, whose children married well, but another, whose parentage still remains a mystery. One interesting extra piece of information is that James Peele’s first book on accounting was dedicated to Sir William Denzell, governor of the Company of Merchant Adventurers and treasurer of Queen Majesty’s wards. Was he acknowledging a favour, for helping him through the early part of his life, or just making a sensible political gesture?

The connection of James Peele’s children to people named Cooke, Alford and Shakespeare, is indeed quite remarkable. As I said earlier in this story, my assumption is that these people are very likely to be related, to their more famous namesakes, rather than the traditional scholarly view, that there is ‘nothing to see her’. The other connection between James Peele and the rest of the story is the location of Christ’s Hospital, at Newgate.

This was a magnet for booksellers, and we have already seen that Richard Jugge resided there, and that William Barley, a Shakespeare publisher and John Wright, Sonnet bookseller, had premises at Newgate, ‘near to Christchurch’. Richard Jugge and James Peele were contemporaries and very much in related lines of work, so they surely must have known each other.

That leads to yet another link to square the circle. Anne Jugge, daughter of Richard, married John Barley in 1570, in Christchurch, Newgate. Was this a relation of William Barley, and did that provide the stimulus for the draper to turn into a printer and publisher?

William Barley had Thomas Pavier, as his apprentice, the man who compiled the false folio of 1619. Barley also published the anonymous version of ‘Richard III’, in 1594, from his Newgate, ‘near Christchurch’ shop. Barley’s other connection to this story is via Thomas Morley (1557-1602), a great composer and organist, who held a music publishing patent, and the two worked together on several projects. Thomas Morley published a song, ‘It was a lover and his lass’, which was taken from Shakespeare’s, ‘As You Like It’.

Further interesting connections show that Thomas Morley had married a maid-in-waiting to Elizabeth Neville, sister of Francis Bacon, and stepmother of Henry Neville. Even more remarkably, the Morley couple actually lived on the Neville’s, Billingbear estate.

The final Morley connection to this story is that the Bridget, widow of John Jagger, barber-surgeon, and mother of the Jaggard print boys, married William Morley, merchant, in 1586. This brings the Wayte ensemble into the picture, meaning William Morley became the step-father of William Jaggard.

There is also Dorothy Barley, who married William Nashe, in Christchurch, Newgate, and he could be related to Thomas Nashe, the famous poet. It would make sense that all these people living in the same place, around Newgate, would marry into each other’s families. None of these are proved for certain, but Syke’s Law tells me, we should be looking positively at all these relationships and trying to prove the connection, not just dismiss them as an unlikely coincidence of similar names in the same place.

Modern scholars are only now beginning to give Peele the prominence he deserves, and the more they look the more they find. You name it he wrote it, comedy, history, tragedy, classical, pageants and orations for special events. He was noted for his translations, and could probably speak four or five languages. He must have been quietly spoken, his voice was described as ‘mere woman’s than man’s.’

The name George Peele is often uttered in the same sentence as Kit Marlowe, Thomas Nashe and Robert Greene, and was probably one of the most prolific and least anonymous writers of his generation and produced a most eclectic mix of offerings and never stuck to a single genre. Peele made his literary name whilst at Oxford, for his translation of Euripides play ‘Iphigenia’, and the work brought forth two of William Gager’s Latin poems, in praise of his friend and fellow writer.

This support was needed because Peele’s translation of a classical piece was regarded as heresy by the traditionalists, and he had been widely criticised by them for making it.

George Peele’s departure from the City of Oxford, in 1582 was not permanent, and his friendship with William Gager seems to have made him a not infrequent visitor, from his London home. He was widely praised by his fellow writers, often with the panache, which Stratfordians seek for their own man. Nashe said of Peele, ‘primus verborum artifex’ (the master of words) and ‘the chiefe supporter of pleasance now living, the atlas of poetrie’, and another comment, by Anthony Wood, ‘he knew what belonged to the stage part as well as any in the Metropolis.’

Peele’s experience of producing plays probably began at Christ’s Hospital, when observing his father’s pageants, and he was so well regarded at Oxford, that he was recalled in 1583, to be the producer of two Latin plays, ‘Dido’ and ‘Rivales’, written by William Gager, and performed for the visit of the Polish prince, Count Albertus Alasco. The accounts show, ‘To Mr. Peele for provision for the playes at Christchurche, xviiij pounds, the Charges of a Comedie and a Tragedie and a shewe of fire worke.’

George Peele was one of the subjects of Robert Greene’s 1592 ‘groats’ letter, and much admired by Greene. In fact, Peele seems to have been admired by all his literary peers, whilst his services were also sought out by the blue-blood classes, and he was associated with a number of notable events. There was a poem to welcome home the Earl of Essex, from an abortive mission abroad, and he wrote poems for an address to Queen Elizabeth, presented on behalf of Lord Burghley.

Already mentioned, is the £3 which Peele received from the Duke of Northumberland for his Knight of the Garter piece. This poem recounts the history of the Garter order and includes the famous phrase ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’, which was the motto of the Garter Knights, and appears later in ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’.

In the prologue to this poem, Peele mentions a list of great poets of the age, and puts Philip Sidney ‘in a class of his own’, a class that included Spenser and Marlowe.

No mention of Mr Shakespeare, though..!!

Several of Peele’s best known works were written during his time at Oxford and his most famous poem, ‘The Tale of Troy’, based on the early Caxton work, was from his university period. He had a liking for the Spenserian stanza, a fixed verse form, loved by Edmund Spenser, and he continued to use this style till his death. He loved poetry, but Peele’s portfolio lacked any long narrative poems, which were a feature of his contemporaries.

George Peele’s first major play was the ‘Arraignment of Paris’, 1584, with a theme that showed his support for Queen Elizabeth. Later he is known for ‘The Old Wife’s Tale’, a romantic comedy, which uses the device of a play within a play, just like Shakespeare’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’.

Peele wrote one major history play, ‘The Famous Chronicles of King Edward I’, which was published in 1594 and has the feel of a Shakespeare play, mixing serious history, taken from Holinshed, with bouts of comedic farce. ‘Edward I’ is a rambling play about the last battle for Wales between Edward I and the Welsh leader, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, who Peele portrays as a Welsh version of Robin Hood.

Maybe of some significance is that several of his works share a common publisher and printer with early Shakespeare. ‘Edward I’ was first printed by Abel Jeffes and sold by William Barley, although Jeffes was one of the least respectable printers, known for printing lewd ballads, this text seems to have been quite legitimate.

The Charlewood/Roberts press, printed the ‘Honour of the Garter’, and earlier, in 1589, the ‘Tale of Troy’ was sold by John Wright booksellers of Newgate. Wright was the same bookseller who sold an earlier version of King Leir, in 1605 and, of course, the Sonnets.

Peele also demonstrated his range of abilities by following in his father’s footsteps, providing material for the pageants, to inaugurate the Lord Mayor, in 1585, 1588 and 1591. He is the first Elizabethan author of note to contribute substantially to these events, but he was soon followed by others, such as Anthony Munday, Thomas Middleton, and Ben Jonson, all of who appear on my list of suspects.

In one of the last events of his life and one that mystifies many scholars, George Peele sent his ten year old daughter directly to see Lord Burghley, bearing a copy of the ‘Tale of Troy’, attached to an ‘over-familiar’ note, which included a plea for more funds. Peele knew he was ill and mentions it in his letter. The tone of the communication and the delivery by his daughter suggests that his wife, Anne Cooke, was indeed part of the Cooke clan, of which Lord Burghley was an integral and most influential part.

His brother-in-law, John Alford also offers a potential personal link to the most powerful man in England, and remember, too, that Burghley had chosen Peele to present an oration to the Queen on his behalf. There must have been some degree of trust between these two, very different personalities.

The end of Peele’s life on 9th November 1596, coincided with the end of an era, as most of his contemporaries were either dead or had tired of writing. His work continued to be published after his death, including previously unseen work and several second editions. The most enigmatic is the 1607 joke book, ‘The Merry Conceited Jests of George Peele’, which attributed many funny stories to Peele.

This became the basis for the play, known as ‘The Puritan’ or alternatively known as the ‘The Puritan Widow’, which became part of the Shakespeare Apocrypha.

The play was published by George Eld, in 1607, with the initials ‘W.S’, and was one of those seven additions to the 1664 folio. Modern scholars think the style is similar to that of Thomas Middleton, and he generally gets the credit, but why didn’t he claim the credit for himself at the time, as Middleton was never shy in putting his name to his work.

It was only a few weeks after George Peele’s death that William Shakespeare purchased New Place and the Shakespeare playwright ‘persona’ began to appear in print, a year or so later. Previously, plays later attributed to the Bard, had been published anonymously, so is there a connection between the death of one great writer and the ‘birth’ of another?

That feeling of connection has been strengthened by the growing agreement that a section of ‘Titus Andronicus’, one of the earliest of Shakespeare’s plays, bears all the hallmarks of George Peele, and some scholars describe it as Shakespeare’s earliest collaborative work.

The play, ‘The lamentable tragedy of Titus Andronicus’ is a fictional story set towards the end of the Roman Empire. This is a violent and bloody play, attempting to emulate the work of Classical writers and was very popular at the time it was written. Rather like an English translation of the Bible, this was an accessible version of a classical subject, which the average citizen could understand. Some of the text is taken from Thomas Nashe’s, ‘Christ’s Teares over Jerusalem’, which was one of the first works printed by James Roberts, after he had taken over the Charlewood print shop.

The first recorded performance of ‘Titus Andronicus’ was by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, at the Rose Theatre on 24th January 1594/95 and was repeated on 29th January and 4th February. ‘Titus’ was registered with the Stationers Company in 6th Feb 1594/95, by Edward White and Thomas Millington, and printed by John Danter, in the same year. Danter was a disreputable printer and had his presses destroyed, but afterwards ‘Titus’ took on a familiar pedigree, being printed by James Roberts for Edward White in 1600, but in this second edition, the play still remained anonymous.

In 1602, Thomas Millington transferred his share of the copyright, to Thomas Pavier, but, strangely, it didn’t appear in the ‘false folio’, in 1619. It does seem significant, that in the 1600 quarto, James Roberts should print this play with no author, because by then Roberts was well into the Shakespeare genre, both registering and printing plays by the Bard. Other anonymous plays had also gained an author by then, so what was different about this one?

Just like Marlowe, Greene, Philip Sidney, and indeed the Earl of Oxford, Peele’s early demise means it is difficult to imagine him as the author of the complete works of the Bard, but he could well have been the ‘fair youth’, who the Sonnet writer was encouraging to marry. Peele’s marriage would have been welcomed by his friends, with the hope that he would curtail his physical excesses and concentrate on his writing. This must have worked to some extent as he regularly received patronage from the Royal Court and the City of London, in the final decade of his life.

There do seem to be strong links and similarities between George Peele and the early Shakespeare canon, and if you were looking for a candidate to be a member of the Shakespeare team, then you wouldn’t need to look much further. If anyone had all the credentials to create the world of William Shakespeare it was George Peele.

Peele’s pedigree was perfect, coming from a most literate and well placed family. His education mixed him with every leading writer of the age and his family connections cemented those links. He had also acquired the practical skills of production and performance from his time at Oxford and by observing his father’s pageants.Printers and publishers were on the doorstep of Christ’s Hospital, and so almost every piece of the jigsaw was there, ready to be slotted into the correct position. However, he did lack, first hand knowledge of Europe and so although George Peele may have been an early participant in a writing syndicate, he wasn’t quite the finished article and with his early death, certainly not a candidate for a ‘one personna’ Shakespeare. Then there is the most tantalising link – George Peele was the brother-in-law of Mathew Shakespeare.


Phoenix Nest

George Peele was one of those nicknamed, the ‘university wits’, an informal group of writers, associated with Oxford University. They were amongst the contributors to the anthology of poems entitled the ‘Phoenix Nest’, published in 1593. There are seventy nine poems and three prose pieces, but the ‘Table of Contents’ includes only fourteen works with titles, along with ‘other excellent and rare Ditties.’, which are arranged in six separate groups. Authorship is, generally, unclear, as some were signed with initials, but many, left no mark at all.

It was Harvard professor, Hyder Edgar Rollins, who wrote the definitive critique of the ‘Phoenix Nest’, and that was way back, in 1931. He describes this as a high class piece of printing and proof-reading, but with evidence of only one edition, of 450 copies. Rollins sees the compilation as perhaps a modern version of ‘Songs & Sonettes’, which was intended to pay homage to the modern poetry of the period, led by Philip Sidney, but with the ‘Sonnet’ format, offering echoes of Italy and France.

In what I see as one of the most significant lines in Shakespeare scholarship, the contributors were stated on the cover page, to be:- ‘Built vp with the most rare and refined workes of noble men, woorthy knights, gallant gentlemen, masters of arts, and brave schollers .’

That surely is a similar list of suspects to the one suggested by Delia Bacon, when she dropped the flag on the Shakespeare Authorship Stakes, and one that has seemed obvious to me, from Day 1 of my research, long before I had even heard about the ‘Phoenix Nest’, or the majority of the ‘stuff’, that is detailed in this diatribe against the supporters of the status quo.

The list is thought to include Thomas Lodge, Walter Raleigh, Nicholas Breton, Earl of Oxford, Edward Dyer, William Herbert, Richard Edes, Matthew Roydon, Fulke Greville, Robert Greene and William Gager, but there may be several more, and it is a matter of, ‘Take your Pick’.

The ‘Phoenix Nest’ also announces that it is: ‘Set foorth by R.S. of the Inner Temple, Gentleman’,

The identity of ‘R.S.’ has never been solved, with any degree of certainty, and with early dedications, in the anthology, to both Robert Dudley and Philip Sidney, it originally seemed to me that Robert Sidney must be the obvious candidate. However, as far as is known, Robert was not a member of the Inner Temple, and his cover would have been quickly blown, if the rules of Occam priest rang true.

Three other names have been regularly been put forward, one being Ralph Starkey, a transcriber and collector of poems, who signed his work as ‘Infortunio’, and had contributed a dedicatory verse to Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, in 1590.

The second is Richard Stapleton, a name I previously, knew nothing about, but who quickly began to tick a multitude of boxes on my mental spreadsheet, with his links to the Inns of Court, the world of Elizabethan and Jacobean literature, and several of our ‘usual’ suspects.

Richard Stapleton (1562-1614) was a great friend of the playwright, George Chapman (1559-1634), a man who some Shakespeare scholars believe is the ‘Rival poet’ of the Bard’s Sonnets. Apart from this, Richard has a rather thin biography, but the little we do know about him contains several gold nuggets.

He was married to Elizabeth Pierrepoint and they had a son, Robert Stapleton (1608-69), who was educated at a Benedictine convent in France, before becoming a soldier, playwright, translator and a member of the household of two English kings. Robert Stapleton served Prince Charles, as a gentleman of the privy chamber, and after the Restoration of his son, occupied a similar postion, in the household of King Charles II. Robert fought for the king, in the Civil War, and in his literate life, wrote both comedy and tragedy for the stage, and a number of notable translations of Greek and Latin texts.

There is mention that the Stapleton family were recusant Catholics, but like many families of the period, they served Catholic and Protestant monarchs, with consummate loyalty. Indeed, this duplicity fits with the whole ‘Shakespeare charade’, as it allowed writers of all, and no faiths, to hide behind the mask of a pseudonym. The ‘Phoenix Nest’ allowed for this mixture of Protestants, Catholics and athiests to do just that, but the format of ‘initials’ or ‘non-attribution’, was likely to draw attention, especially from the Puritans, who thought all literature had to support Biblical teaching.

The earlier part of Richard Stapleton’s biography, shows, remarkably, that he was born in the village of Kirkby Overblow, that same small Yorkshire parish where Thomas Jaggar, son of William the printer, was sent to be their rector, and where the Earls of Northumberland had long been patrons.

Richard’s father was also called Richard Stapleton (1516-1583), from Carlton House, near Snaith, Yorkshire, whilst his grandfather was Sir Brian Stapleton (1483-1550), who was present at the Cloth of Gold (1510) and the Battle of Flodden (1513), where the English decisively defeated the Scots.

Significantly, both Sir Brian and his son, Richard were both noted in the Inner Temple archives, as members of that institution, and also that Anthony Stapleton (1514-1574), nephew of Brian, was a leading light in the management of the Inner Temple, for a number of years.

‘Anthony Stapleton became a successful lawyer: in 1537 Elizabeth, dowager Countess of Oxford, left him £10 ‘towards his learning in the law’. During a lifetime of activity at the Inner Temple he rarely missed a parliament, was three times reader and held the highest offices. Among his early clients were the 5th Earl of Northumberland and his uncle Sir Brian Stapleton; later he acted for the 16th Earl of Oxford, whose will he signed in 1548 and who paid him an annuity.’     History of Parliament.

Anthony Stapleton also connects us to other characters in this saga, with his marriage to Joan, daughter of Michael Dormer, Mayor of London. The Dormer family come to the fore later, but, as a taster, they have marriage ties to the Sidney and Blount famiies, making them a significant piece of the jigsaw.

As patrimony, (passing membership from father to son), was common practice in both the livery companies and the Inns of Court, it looks likely that the younger Richard Stapleton was also a member of the Inner Temple. Indeed, the records show that his father ‘inherited’ his place at the Inner Temple, in just that way. I think we can presume – like grandfather, like father, like uncle and then like son.

Taking this diverse collection of evidence into consideration, can we say, with some confidence, that

Richard Stapleton was ‘R.S. of the Inner Temple’..?

Well we might, if it wasn’t for the credentials of a third candidate, one that leads back to Oxford and adds a potential link to William Gager. That third name is Robert Sackville (1561-1609), the 2nd Earl of Dorset, the son of Thomas Sackville, the man who became Chancellor of Oxford University, in 1591, and Lord High Treasurer, (1599-1608), during the turbulent years at the end of Elizabeth’s reign.

Robert Sackville was admitted to the Inner Temple in 1580, shortly after graduating at Hart Hall College, Oxford (now Hertford College). He had begun his student life there in December 1576, making him a contemporary of Gager and Peele et al.

Also in 1580, Robert married Margaret Howard, the only surviving daughter of Thomas Howard, 4th Earl of Norfolk, the Catholic sympathiser who had been executed for treason in 1572, accused of planning to marry Mary, Queen of Scots, and then place her on the English throne.

Margaret, quickly produced six children for him, but she died in August 1591 and Robert was married again, in December 1592, to Anne Spencer, the twice widowed daughter of John Spencer of Althorp. It was in the following year that the ‘Phoenix Nest’ appeared in print, with R.S. of the Inner Temple, named as compiler/editor of the seventy poems and introductory prose.

However, of the three candidates Robert Sackville seems to have the least literary prowess, but does tick the box of being a member of the Inner Temple. He also has interesting connections to William Gager and George Peele, being a fellow under-graduate, albeit at a different Oxford college, and surely would have been present at one of their lavish ‘entertainments’.

Move on a decade and we find that his father is Oxford Chancellor, a man who is supporting Gager and his fellow writers, in their battle of words with the Puritan. Gager then disappears from the scene, but does mention Sackville in his letter to the Countess. With my suspicion, that William Gager was the author of the Phoenix Nest’s opening commendation to the memory of Robert Dudley, this would seem to promote the candidature of young, Robert Sackville, to be R.S.

William Gager had a habit of keeping his name away from published work, but was always happy to work behind the scenes. Was he the real editor of the ‘Phoenix Nest’, and did he use the initials of his old university chum, as a cover, for what was a potentially sensitive publication, composed by the thrusting ‘new poets’ of the period.

Robert Stapleton has a lot to commend him, with a literary streak running through his family, and strong links to the Inner Temple. In another piece of Shakespeare ‘hindsight’ serendipity, the history of the Stapleton family was written by Henry Richard Chetwynd-Stapleton (1789-1859), a descendant on the female line of Philip Chetwynd, publisher of the third edition of the Shakespeare folio, in 1664.

However, Robert Sackville offers different credentials, having direct links, to those I believe set the Shakespeare ball rolling, the literary ‘wits’ of Oxford, but whose very first entry on to the stage began as the work of: ‘noble men, woorthy knights, gallant gentlemen, masters of arts, and brave schollers .’

Did some of these same poetry ‘wits’ also get together as playwrights, and is the ‘Phoenix Nest’ really just an earlier trial for what later became the pseudonym , ‘William Shakespeare’.

The publisher of the ‘Phoenix Nest’, John Jackson, was the grocer mentioned earlier, as one of the Eliot’s Court printing house syndicate, which had been set up by Henry Denham and his apprentices. Jackson is also one of the men involved in the convaluted purchase of the Blackfriars gatehouse, a transaction for the benefit of ‘William Shakespeare’ – a property that was mortgaged, the very next day.

Why does John Jackson’s name appear, so regularly, connected to some of the more interesting parts of the Shakespeare discussion, and why has his name not received more prominence in the debate?

Legal Crammer – Inns of Court

The four Inns of Court; Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Gray’s Inn and Lincoln’s Inn, are today the home bases of the legal profession in England and Wales, and in Tudor times this is where lawyers received much of their training. The name ‘Inn’ was a medieval word to describe a nobleman’s townhouse and the word remains in France today with the name ‘hotel’, referring to a grand house in Paris and not a well known chain of holiday accommodators.

 Arms of the Inns-of-Court

Top – Lincoln’s Inn, Middle Temple, below – Inner Temple, Grays Inn

 Legal matters were originally dealt with by the clergy, but in 1234, King Henry III forbade the clerics from practicing common law, only allowing them to deal with canon or church law. So, arose a new profession, the common lawyers, who were forced to move outside the jurisdiction of the City of London and Westminster, to practice their business.

The Inner Temple and the Middle Temple both occupy land which was originally part of the Knights Templar complex and that later came under the ownership of the Knights Hospitaller. The Inner Temple occupied the consecrated ground surrounding the Temple Church, whilst the Middle Temple, took the unconsecrated land that lay between the Temple and Fleet Street. This religious/secular division caused two different societies of lawyers to develop.

The Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, took a particular liking for the Inner Temple, as the common people saw these establishment lawyers as the root of the problems of poverty and inequality. This meant that many of the original Templar buildings were destroyed and a major rebuilding had to take place.

The lawyers did not own the site, as they had only rented their property from the Hospitallers, not purchased it, paying a rent of £10 per annum for the privilege. This tenancy continued until 1536, when Henry VIII confiscated all Hospitaller lands, but he immediately leased the Temples back to the lawyers again, this time as tenants of the Crown. The only original Templar building is the Round Church, although the main Templar Hall did survive until 1868, but, by then, was in a perilous state and was demolished, before it collapsed.

Robert Dudley became a particular hero of the Inner Temple, after he successfully intervened in a dispute with the Middle Temple. The Queen and her ministers also seem to have constantly favoured the interests of the Inner Temple, over the Middle Temple, possibly a case of Elizabeth supporting her ‘favourite’. A special night of revels was held at Christmas 1561, to celebrate Dudley’s actions, and he became known as ‘Prince Pallaphilos, the lieutenant of Athena and Patron of the Order of the Pegasus’, named after the same armorial symbol displayed by the Inner Temple.

The Middle Temple wasn’t totally overshadowed by their Inner Temple neighbours, and today this is the home of one of the greatest architectural treasures of the Elizabethan era, the Middle Temple Hall. This edifice was completed in 1572 and is one of the grandest surviving buildings of the Tudor period, remaining almost unchanged for over four centuries.

The first recorded performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’, was at the Middle Temple Hall, during Candelmas, 2nd Feb 1601/2, which is a significant religious feast date, as it celebrates the presentation of the baby Jesus, to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Middle Temple lawyers seem to have maintained strong and ongoing connections with their Templar and Hospitaller heritage, as the coat of arms bears a lamb & flag, which is a reference to the words of St John the Evangelist, ‘Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi’ (The Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world)’. This commemorates a ceremony of sacrifice, again at the Temple in Jerusalem and that symbolism is the same one, repeated in the church and town of Halifax.

lamb & flag on gate of middle temple

The third ‘Inn’ is Lincoln’s Inn, which was established in about 1420, on land held by Ralph Neville, Bishop of Chichester, close to the law courts, at Chancery Lane. ‘Purpose-built’ facilities for the lawyers of Lincoln’s Inn weren’t begun until 1562, so young lawyers had previously been trained in various noblemens’ townhouses, situated in the vicinity. These were the true Inns of Court.

The last of the four ‘hotels’, is Gray’s Inn, sited north of Lincoln’s Inn, across High Holborn, and this one seems to have particular connections to Shakespeare. Again the early history of this Inn is not clear, but there were lawyers practising on the site, as early as 1390. In 1456, the land was sold to Thomas Bryan, Chief Justice of the Common Pleese, acting on behalf of a group of trustees. That name is a familiar one and he was the grandfather of the aforementioned, ‘vicar of hell’ – in fact both Neville and Bryan were significant names, in the establishment of these legal headquarters.

During Elizabeth’s reign, Gray’s Inn moved up the legal pecking order, and thanks to the promptings of William Cecil and Francis Bacon, this became the largest of the four establishments. Gray’s Inn also became the most fashionable place to practice law and a social haunt of the leading noblemen of the period. They were probably encouraged because the Queen became a patron and was known to attend their spectacular revelries.

‘The Comedy of Errors’ debuted, at Gray’s Inn, at Christmas 1594, on the occasion known as the ‘Day of Misrule’, when the students took charge of the establishment. The play is Shakespeare’s shortest, a slapstick comedy, but one of only two of his plays, (‘The Tempest’ being the other one), which respected the classical unities of date and place. It also clearly shows the author knew the local quirks of Gray’s Inn, very well, eccentricities which show up again later in ‘Loves Labours Lost’. Remember, the ‘Comedy of Errors’ was an anonymous play when first performed, in 1594 and that ‘Loves Labours Lost’, performed in 1598, was the first to bear Shakespeare’s name from the start.



Chapter Twelve


Cordells, Cecils and Saviles


Savile Row


William Cordell – Master of the Rolls

Thomasine Cordell married Gilbert Gager, a yeoman, clothmaker and son of the Long Melford tax collector. However, by the time of their marriage, in 1554, her brother William Cordell had become the master of Melford Hall, previous monastic home of the local bishop, and he hadn’t stopped there, because a year earlier, he had been appointed the Solicitor-General for Queen Mary’s new regime.

Their father, John Cordell, had begun as a copyhold, tenant farmer, on the Kentwell estate of William Clopton, progressing to become the estate steward. John Cordell was an ambitious parent and his son, William, must have had a good education. Where is unclear, but there was a school in Long Melford, begun by John Hill in 1495, which was later endowed by King Edward VI in 1550, and there were also schools at nearby Sudbury and Bury St Edmunds. William Cordell may also have been fortunate to share schooling with the Clopton children, who would have had their own private tutor. There is some suggestion that William spent a short time at Cambridge University, but he certainly moved on to Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where he studied law, from 1538 to 1544. Whatever the scheme of things, this was an education of the highest order, for the son of a man who had started life as a copyhold farmer.

William Cordell seems to have quickly gained favour in the Court of Henry VIII, becoming a Member of Parliament, in 1545. He obtained the lease for Melford Hall in 1547, at a rent of £100 per annum, the Abbot having been removed ten years earlier. Cordell bought Melford Hall outright in Queen Mary’s reign, by which time he was well on the way to becoming one of the most successful men of his generation. He received rapid promotion under Queen Mary, and was appointed Solicitor-General from 1553-57, served as a Privy Councillor and was elected Speaker of the House of Commons. On 5th Nov 1557, William Cordell was appointed Master of the Rolls, the second highest legal post in England and keeper of the legal records. When, a year later, Elizabeth took the throne, she excluded him from her Privy Council, but he remained as Master of the Rolls, for the next 23 years, till his death.

Cordell’s career in government was remarkable because, rather like William Paulet, it crossed the reigns of four, very different monarchs. William Cordell was very much a supporter of the old Catholic ways, which might explain his elevation under Mary, but in no way explains being awarded his initial lease to Melford Hall, under Henry VIII, nor his retention by Elizabeth after 1558. Very strange..?

Near the end of his life, in 1578, Cordell entertained Queen Elizabeth at Melford Hall, with one of the most spectacular receptions ever given to a monarch. Elizabeth and her huge entourage were greeted at the Suffolk County boundary by 200 young gentlemen clad in white velvet and 300 other gentlemen in black velvet, with 1500 other supporters in attendance.

William Cordell invested a great deal of his wealth in building the Hospital of the Holy and Blessed Trinity, situated next door to Holy Trinity Church. This religious complex looked down upon the village of Long Melford, and more pertinently, his home just across the road at Melford Hall.

His Hospital was endowed in 1573, for the benefit of a warden, twelve men and two female servants, together with an estate of land, to provide income for the hospital. The almshouses are still in prime condition and continue the same function today. Where have we heard that before?

Melford Hospital  Plaque at Cordell's Hospital, Long Melford

William Cordell’s Hospital displaying the distinctive Tudor chimneys – photos KHB

Melford Hall had been built, by the Abbots of St Edmundsbury, in the 11th century, after a grant of land by Emma of Normandy, the mother of Edward the Confessor. The house was rebuilt in the 1520’s, by Abbot John Reeve, who envisaged the Melford Hall estate as a luxurious retreat for himself and his fellow clerics, proving that Martin Luther and John Calvin were correct in their assertions about the profligacy of the Roman church. William Cordell made further improvements, including adding the distinctive turrets, a popular feature during Elizabeth’s reign.

Melford Hall

Melford Hall – restored as a retreat for the Abbot – enhanced by the Master of the Rolls – KHB

When William Cordell married Mary Clopton, he had made a good catch, as she was the daughter of Richard Clopton, his father’s employer and landlord. This took him into a most distinguished line, and also brought the bonus of lands, in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. Mary Clopton’s mother was a member of the Bozun family, from Barrowby in Lincolnshire, who also had family connections to the Savile family from the Calder Valley, in Yorkshire. Again it was the complication of second marriages which is the key to understanding this inheritance, as Mary’s father, Richard Bozun, had married Joan Vernon, and when Richard died, Joan remarried to Henry Savile of Lupset, Yorkshire. Mary Clopton was the first cousin of Edward Clopton, our resident of Coleman Street, but Edward died in 1554.

William Cordell’s path, in his early years, was smoothed by friends of influence, because soon after becoming a Member of Parliament, in 1545, he was threatened with imprisonment for ‘revealing the secrets of the House’. He withdrew from Parliament and was only allowed to return after pleas to the Speaker of the House, by Frances Russell (a name to jot in your notebook for later) and William Cecil (that’s the one). After this early set-back, Cordell’s rise thorugh the ranks became inexorable. His legal services were in demand, throughout East Anglia, but his future lay in London, and he was made Solicitor General, when Queen Mary took the throne. He was knighted by Mary, in 1558, soon after being elected as Speaker of the Commons.

William Cordell’s tomb is one of the grandest imaginable, in a prime position at Melford’s, Holy Trinity Church, with the knight in full armour, displaying his family mascot, a cockatrice, classical columns and adorned with large statues, depicting the four virtues. This is not a Catholic tomb, with no sign of a Biblical figure, but doesn’t the prominence of the four virtues, plus Cordell’s decision to spend his money in building a ‘hospital for the poor’, remind you of the Knights Hospitaller traditions?

William Cordell, Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford

Monument to William Cordell in Holy Trinity Church – photo KHB

William Cordell’s Catholic religion seems to have been of the greatest significance to him, but strangely he came to prominence under Protestant monarchs. Cordell was a major benefactor of the newly founded, St John’s College, Oxford, where he was the ‘College Visitor’. St John’s College was founded during the Marian period, in 1555, by Thomas White, a member of the Company of Merchant Taylors and previously Mayor of London, with the aim of providing a source of English trained Roman Catholic clergy for Queen Mary. White was an influential figure and also founded the Merchant Taylors School in London. After Elizabeth’s arrival as monarch, the fledgling, St John’s College was allowed to continue, with the students studying Greek and Latin and not specifically theology.

Edmund Campion, later a Catholic martyr, was an early student at St Johns and when Queen Elizabeth visited the College, in 1562, Campion led a major debate, which was praised by Her Majesty and led to further patronage for him, from William Cecil and Robert Dudley. St John’s College struggled on during Elizabeth’s reign and after White died in 1567, Cordell took over the financial reins to ensure the work of the college continued unchecked. Campion remained loyal to the Catholic faith and after years abroad returned secretly to England, to continue his Catholic preaching. He was eventually captured, tortured and finally executed, in traditional butcher’s fashion.

Elizabeth didn’t routinely execute all her Catholic subjects, and in 1579 she summoned three noteworthy Catholics to discuss potential marriage suitors. The three were William Cordell, Henry Percy (Earl of Northumberland) and Viscount Montague, who later became the father-in-law of the Earl of Southampton. Queen Elizabeth used Catholics that she could trust, as a way of mediating between the two opposing religions, so preventing an outright war with Catholic Europe.

William Cordell seemed adept at managing his religious differences, but the ongoing openness of his Catholicism, makes his long tenure of high office, seem even more remarkable. Even his home in Suffolk was in a deeply Protestant area, one that was to become even more so, during the early years of the 17th century, when Puritanism came to the fore, sowing the seeds for large-scale migrations to the New World.

Winthrop Fleet

1630 Winthrop expedition to Massachussets.

Connections to the New World

William Cordell had retained his Catholic beliefs in an area of the country that was predominantly Protestant and heading towards Puritan extremism. The term Puritan began to be used, after 1560, as a nickname for devout Protestants, who believed that Queen Elizabeth’s Religious Acts of Parliament, of 1558-1559, were not radical enough. These new laws formalised the Anglican religion, providing for a new Bible and prayer book, including the directive that everyone should attend church each Sunday.

The Puritans wanted the Common Prayer Book abolished and worship to be based locally, not directed by bishops, who were appointed by the monarch. They also took a Calvinist approach to prayer, singing their communal praises, particularly using the Psalms. Suffolk showed its Puritan leanings, in 1563, when the great psalm writer, John Hopkins, was appointed Rector of Great Waldingfield, an adjacent parish to Little Melford. Many of the extreme Protestant supporters, who had fled to Europe during the Marian period, returned to East Suffolk, creating a Puritan stronghold, which 60 years later, acted as a springboard for those migrations to America.

William Cordell’s wife, Mary Clopton, had a half brother, William Clopton, and in 1616, his daughter Thomasine Clopton, married John Winthrop, the man who later led the 1630 Puritan expedition to Massachusetts. William Clopton was good friends with his neighbour, Adam Winthrop, a successful cloth merchant, and like many of his ilk, Adam wanted his children to marry into the noble classes. The marriage turned out to be all too brief, as Thomasine died a year later, in childbirth, and the child did not survive, so there was no genetic continuity for the Clopton/ Winthrop family.

Although there were no Cloptons on the famous Winthrop expedition, there were ‘Jaggers’, most notably, William Gager and his family and Jeremiah Jagger, who was also known as Jeremiah Gager. John Winthrop, who led the eleven ships, was born in Groton Manor, close to Long Melford, which had become home to the Winthrop family, after Henry VIII granted the estate to John’s grandfather, in 1538. As well as the mastermind behind the 1630 migration project, John Winthrop later became a founding father of the city of Boston and Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony.

John Winthrop

John Winthrop

William Gager is the most interesting and important of the ‘Jaggers’ who crossed ‘the pond’. He was born in Little Waldingfield, Suffolk on 15th June 1592, the son of John Gager, (one account says Jagger), and was a neighbour and close friend of John Winthrop. In one diary record, written by another surgeon in the fleet, the writer says that Winthrop and Gager were related. William Gager was specially chosen to be part of this Puritan project because he was a surgeon of some repute, and it was planned he would be the leading medical man, in the new Massachusetts homeland.

Training to be a surgeon was not as difficult as it sounds. Tudor surgeons were sometimes likened to glorified butchers, but most were more skilful than the meat men with their hands. They gained their qualifications by apprenticeship, to another surgeon, and so academic abilities were less important than practical ones. Modern surgeons regard their tailoring abilities as an important part of the trade, as cutting and sewing are the major skills needed in any surgical operation. John Winthrop described William Gager as a ‘skilful churgeon’, perhaps based on his genes, inherited from previous generations of cloth workers.

John Winthrop wrote to; ‘our loving friend Mr. Gager at Little Waldingfield in Suffolk’ in 1629.

‘Sir, Being informed of your good inclination to the furtherance of this work which (through the Lord’s good providence) we are in hand with for the establishing of a church in New England, and having sufficient assurance of your godliness and abilities in the art of surgery to be of much use to us in this work, being informed also, that the place where you live doth not afford you such sufficient and comfortable employment as your gifts do require, we have thought good to offer you a call to join with us, and become a member of our society. We desire you would prepare to go with us this spring. If you come up to London we shall be ready to treat further with you’.

William Gager accepted the offer and became surgeon on the lead ship, ‘Arbella’, and senior medical man for the Winthrop expedition. There is also a record of an order to provide maintenance for William Gager that clearly demonstates his importance to the colony.

The Order, dated 23 August 1630:

‘It was propounded what should be Mr. Gager’s maintenance. Ordered, that he should have a house builded him the next spring; is to have a cow given him, & £20 in money for this year, to begin the 20th of June, 1630, & after £30 per annum and all this to be at the common charge.’

William Gager had married Hannah Mayhew in 1616, and they had nine children, all born in Little Waldingfield. Six died in infancy and only John, Sarah and Rebecca made it to America, in 1630, where both parents and Rebecca died before the year end, leaving the young John Gager to carry on the family name. His sister, Sarah, eventually married Robert Allyn and they had a most famous and significant descendant 300 years later.

Thomas Dudley, in a letter to the Countess of Lincoln, wrote, ‘about the beginning of September died Mr. Gager, a right godly man, a skillful chirugeon, and one of the deacons of our congregation’.

On 29th October 1639, John Winthrop made out his will, in which was the following bequest:

‘I will that John Gager shall have a cow one of the best I shall have, in recompense of a heifer his father bought of me, and 2 ewe goats and 10 bushels of Indian corn’.

Thomas Dudley was linked to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, several generations earlier and so not a close relative, but the name certainly didn’t hinder Thomas, who became an important figure in the New World and followed John Winthrop, as governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The second ‘Jagger’, Jeremiah Jagger, fought in the Pequot Indian War of 1637, and he and his three sons were granted tracts of land in recognition of this service. After Jeremiah arrived in America, he became known as Gager as well as Jagger. There was also a third spelling, Gagger, but the name generally, split into two and produced many of the Jaggers and Gagers in America today.

Again the abundance of ‘Johns’ cause confusion, as there is a John Jagger who appears in Stamford and another in Southampton, Long Island. One is thought to be Jeremiah’s son and the other is speculated to be his brother, who also travelled on the Winthrop voyage. Neither of them was logged in the surviving passenger lists, but these documents don’t claim to be complete. Family tradition in America has it that two or possibly three brothers made the trip, but the ‘family traditions’ of Jeremiah’s descendants do not seem to link directly to Suffolk or to William Gager, the surgeon.

The greater proportion of the migrants on the Winthrop expedition, did hail from the Suffolk/Essex area, with dozens of the 700 committed travellers, being ‘neighbours’ from the Sudbury area, noted for its Puritan traditions. There was a huge mortality rate amongst these Winthrop pioneers and after six months over 200 of the migrants had perished.

Jeremiah Jagger’s English ancestry is not recorded, but the American side of the family believe he links back to West Yorkshire. Jeremiah’s name does not appear in any Jagger parish records of the period, but does crop up later, in the mid 17th century, in both Yorkshire and a branch around London. The debate continues about this pre-migration period, but nothing, so far, points to anywhere other than Suffolk and Yorkshire. That seems to be supported by one of the most interesting connections between the American migrants and those that remained behind in England – their photographic likenesses.

No, I’m not crazy – photographs..!!

Physical characteristics can be fairly robust across the generations and I have met Browning descendants, where the genealogical link is back in the mists of the 18th century, yet the physical similarities still shine through today.

We are lucky enough to have photographs of various American Jaggar/Jaggard families from over 100 years ago and also for some of my adventurous Jaggar family, who migrated to New Zealand, in 1851. The best documented of the Americans is the pioneering vulcanologist, Thomas Augustus Jaggar (1871-1953), who can trace his ancestry back to the ‘Hampton’ settlements on Long Island and the Winthrop expedition. I also have hunted down a selection of other people in both England and America who have the Jagger-Jaggar-Jaggard name. Many of these were on the ‘Facebook’ website and the facial similarities continue into current day clan members. Mick Jagger doesn’t quite fit the photofit of all these others, but you can’t win them all.

So, what do the photos look like? I have included a couple but it would be outside copyright or too intrusive to include many, but please fell free to have a look for yourselves. Those worth checking include Dean Jagger, an American actor and Ian Jagger, archdeacon of Durham Cathedral.

You can make your own mind up I think, but there certainly does seem to be a similarity between the different lines, the roots which separated some 400 years ago.

 Thomas Jaggar - vulcanologist   Henry Jaggar NZ 1896  Joseph Jagger - broke the bank at Monte Carlo

American vulcanologist, Thomas Augustus Jaggar (1871-1953); Henry Jaggar (1831-1905), & Yorkshireman, Joseph Jagger, who broke the bank at Monte Carlo.

Might these photographs give a clue as to what the printer William Jaggard, the two William Gagers and the rest of the Tudor Jagger clan looked like? I can see a certain Jagger ‘look’ and the vast majority of those I found elsewhere, bearing the balding, forehead, which tends to feature from an early age.

A Row of Saviles

The Savile family are an extinct noble line, the continuous male side having come to a genealogical halt in the 18th century. Their home base was in the West Riding of Yorkshire and they took control of a long list of manors and estates, enabled by judicious marriages to the heiresses of the Tankersley, Eland, Thornhill and Soothill families. By the 16th century, their main seat was at Thornhill, near Wakefield, and they also owned extensive properties around Halifax. Two branches of the Savile family play an important part in this story of Elizabethan literature, and their influence, like the Cloptons, is much wider than most observers realise.

The Saviles were numerous in Yorkshire, but didn’t go for wholesale re-population of the countryside, like the Neville and Howard families, with small families, often with only one surviving heir. There existed several parallel lines to the lineage, but as their range of names was limited, to Henry and John, with the occasional Edward, it does make life a little complicated, in following their ancestral roll, so please bear with me, and keep your wits about you.

By 1560, William Cordell had his feet well under the legal table, as Master of the Rolls, and he benefited from the will of Henry Savile, son of John Savile and Elizabeth Paston, when their nominated heir, Edward Savile, transferred lands, in Yorkshire to Cordell and other luminaries. Elizabeth Paston was related to the Beaufort line, and so the legacy had ramifications across a wide section of the aristocracy. This onward transfer appears to have been as a division of the spoils of the will and may have been connected to one reference, which claimed that Edward Savile was an ‘imbecile’, so unfit to take charge of the extensive estate for himself.

William Cordell is mentioned more prominently, in the long and detailed will of another Henry Savile, who died a decade later, in 1568. This Henry Savile was head of the senior line, based at Thornhill, and his list of riches, seems never ending. The Savile family were certainly the dominant force in West Yorkshire, whereas their political rivals, the Percys and Nevilles, had their influence to the East and North of the county. This extensive document helps to unravel the consequences of Henry Savile’s network of three marriages and features as his chief executor, the Master of the Rolls, William Cordell.

Previously, Henry Savile and his second wife, Joan Vernon, had acknowledged the association by calling one of their children, Cordell Savile. The most famous member of this Vernon family is Richard Vernon, who was beheaded, alongside Grand Prior, John Langstrother, following the Battle of Shrewsbury, in 1402 and he is another of my characters made famous by Shakespeare, in ‘Henry IV’.

The only family relationship I can find, between Henry Savile and William Cordell, is the one mentioned earlier, via his wife, Mary Clopton and it is a complicated one. This would make Henry Savile, the husband of the half sister of the mother-in-law of William Cordell. Whilst we can imagine Henry Savile wanting to take advantage of any such relationship, with one of the senior officials of the land, this doesn’t seem to justify naming a child after him, and calling him, ‘my brother’, as he is so named in a section of the will. Henry Savile was an only child, and he might have been using the term to mean ‘brother-in-law’, but that doesn’t quite fit either. Another possible use of the term ‘brother’ is related to membership of a secret society, but I feel there is a closer genetic link, yet to be uncovered.

Another interesting name that occurs, in this will, is that of Leonard Bate, gentleman, who became Henry Savile’s step-father, after his mother remarried. My fascination with owners of identical names, throws up a very obvious one here, as Jonathan Bate is one of the leading Shakespeare scholars of the present day, a ‘Professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature’. Professor Bate is a staunch supporter of the Stratfordian viewpoint, and was one of several experts who gave me very short shrift, when I suggested I had found something new and important in the Shakespeare story. Well he would, wouldn’t he.

The 1568 will of Henry Saville (abstracts)

‘ all that messuage in Wakefelde, of the yearly value of 20s., which lately belonged to the late Chantery of our Lady in Wakefelde, and all my houses belonging to my late Chantery, to Sir William Cordell, knight, Mr. of the Rolls, Leonard Bate, gentleman, William Savile of Humby, Esquire, Henry Bate, gentleman, and William Savile, gentleman, my servant, and to their heirs, upon condition that they with the said lands make an hospital at the bridge end at Wakefelde, in such order as the said Mr. of the Rolls shall devise, in the names of me and Dorothy my wife, the said Leonard Bate and Anne his wife, being my natural mother, who I trust will augment the same according to their promise unto me for six pore people continually for ever to pray for all Christian people, the which hospital I will shall be erected within three years after my death.’

Here again, we have a very rich man, who wants to build a hospital for the poor, the sick and the old. This could well be connected to the Knight Hospitaller tradition, around Halifax, because the majority, if not all, the old Hospitaller farmsteads were subsequently owned by the Savile family.

I make executors Sir William Cordell, Knight, Mr. of the Rolls, Dorothy my wife, William Savile, of Humby, Esquire, Leonard Bate and Henry Bate, Esquires, and I give to Sir William 80 pounds and one young dappled grey hobby, and to William Savile, Leonard and Henry Bate, to every of them twenty pounds. Proved 16 May, 1569’.

There was also a jurors’ enquiry into the estate and this summary demonstrates the vast riches of land and money owned by the Savile family.

Inq. p. m. – Henry Savile, late of Lupset,… seized of the manors of Thornhill, Southowrom, Eland Park, Skircote, Brighouse, Hipperholme, Ovenden, Shelfe, Wyke, Waddesworth, Stansfeld, Myrfelde and Thurlston, and of 400 messuages, 206 cottages, 200 tofts, 20 watermills, 6 fulling mills, 10 wind mills, 20 dove cotes, 70 gardens, 6,000 acres of land, 2,200 acres of meadow, 4,000 acres of pasture, 1,030 acres of wood, 8,000 acres of moor, 1,000 acres of moss, 1,000 acres of turbary, 1,000 acres of heath and furze, and £20 rent and of a free fishery in the water of Chalder, and of the advowson of the church of Thornehill. Also the manors of Gretland, Routonstall and Emley, and of lands in Byerley, Bollinge, Clayton, Heaton Clacke, Gomersall, Leversedge, Huddersfield and Skelmanthorpe, and the manors of Hunsworth, Eland, Staneland, Barkisland, Ryshworth, Norlande, Golcarre, and Bothomhall.

 The last part of the formal judicial enquiry is also interesting, as it names several characters, very relevant to my story. There is, of course, the omnipresent, William Cecil, but also a quartet of familiar Earls, notably Derby, Rutland, Shrewsbury and Pembroke, and most interestingly an appearance by the Calverley clan, who starred in a play of the Shakespeare Apocrypha, ‘The Yorkshire Tragedy’.

‘Moreover the jury say that some time before the decease of Henry Savile, named in the commission, Edward Savile was seized in the manors of Haddlesay and Tankersley, and of lands in Hunshelfe and Pondes, and being so seized, in consideration of a marriage to be had between George Savile, son and heir of Henry Savile of Lupset, and Mary Talbot, one of the daughters of George, Earl of Shrewsbury, by indenture 10 June, 2 Eliz. (1560) made between The Honourable George Talbot, now Earl of Shrewsbury, of the 1st part, Edward Savile of the 2d part, and Henry Savile of Lupsett of the 3d part, he the said Edward agreed he would make a good estate of the manors, &c., Edward, Earl of Derby, Henry, Earl of Rutland, William, Earl of Pembroke, William Cecil, Kt., James Dyer, Kt., William Cordell, Kt., Thomas Gargrave, Kt., William Calverley, Kt., William Gascoigne, and Walter Calverley, Esqres., to hold the same to the use of the Lady Elizabeth, after to said Edward, and after to the said George Savile and Mary Talbot and heirs male.’

This will, executed by William Cordell, was for a member of the senior line of the Savile family, whilst elsewhere, the junior line, under another Henry Savile, was ‘slumming’ it with a more limited list of possessions. They were based at Bradley Hall, near Halifax, actually, Bradley Hall at Stainland. Yes the same Stainland, the same piece of remote hillside, overlooking the Calder Valley, which is the homeland of my Jagger family. A parcel of land, inherited by William Cordell in the above wills, was also in Stainland parish and one of the later Cordell offspring was born at Bradley Hall, in the 1570s.

However, of most relevance is Henry Savile, born at Bradley Hall, in 1549, because this man became one of the academic giants of the period. He graduated from Brasenose College, Oxford and was a fellow at Merton College. Henry Savile was noted for his Greek scholarship and his study of mathematics, science and astronomy and became a tutor to Queen Elizabeth. This is the same Henry Savile who led a group of students, including Henry Neville and Robert Sidney, to France, Italy and Germany, in 1578, a four year expedition, most probably an espionage mission on behalf of the Crown.

On his return from Europe, in 1584, Savile was made Warden of Merton College and in 1596, became provost of Eton College. Henry Savile was a great mathematician and linguist, one of the great translators of his age and he was the only, non-clergical, member of the King James Bible translation team. His preference was for the diligent or ‘plodding student’ rather than the naturally gifted, ‘literary wits’. He made a comment which might need to be reassessed in light of my findings. ‘Give me, the plodding student. If I would look for wits, I would go to Newgate; there be the wits!’ This is taken by almost all scholars, to be making reference to the inmates of Newgate Prison. Could he instead be referring to the Peele fraternity of Christ’s Hospital and Newgate Market?

Henry Savile Bible man    Bradley Hall

Henry Savile – born Bradley Hall, Stainland – typical Halifax style house, photo c. 1900

Cecils and Cordells

Overall, the unlikely connection between Henry Savile, William Gager, and his uncle, William Cordell, with this small, remote piece of Yorkshire hillside around Stainland, does seem remarkable. The earliest mentions of the Jagger family, in Calderdale, all seem to have links to Savile lands, and more particularly those previously run as Hospitaller farms, by Benedictine monks. Does this mean that the missing piece, in the marital jigsaw, within the Jagger family is a big one? Did a Jagger marry a Savile?

It certainly would have been possible, because the Jagger family did have status in the Yorkshire community of the 15th century and they seem to be upwardly mobile. A ‘gateway’ marriage into the family of the local lord of the manor would have been very possible and an excellent social move.

There is also an intriguing connection to one of the best preserved Tudor houses in Yorkshire. Shibden Hall was built by William Otes, in 1420. Two generations later there was a contentious inheritance, when Gilbert Otes (1455-1526) claimed ownership. However his older half-sister, Joan, was named as the heir, in their father’s will, which had not been amended after the father’s remarriage.

Joan Otes married Robert Savile, the second son of the Saviles of Eland Hall, who also owned Copley Hall, another estate only two miles from Stainland. After a ten year court case, Robert Savile and his wife won the day, kept the house, but they had no son. However, their daughter, Sybil, married into the Waterhouse family, who were a major force around Halifax, and they took over the Savile estate.

One anecdotal report, from a recent Jagger visitor to Shibden Hall, recounted they saw a reference to a member of the Jagger family marrying into the family, that lived at Shibden Hall. Who and when this was, is unclear and the local historians I contacted, at ShibdenHall, were unable to confirm this Jagger connection, but if the dates were right, then that might be our missing link.

Shibden Hall, Halifax

Shibden Hall, near Halifax

HOWEVER – one name that does jump out of these unresolved events is Gilbert Otes, because this is the same period, when three generations of Gilbert Jagger appeared in Kirkburton, and Gilbert Gager was baptised in Long Melford. Was this just a popular name for the period or might this be where a potential gateway opened with the Otes family, which allowed the Jagger clan to join the landed gentry of Calderdale.

It seems likely that William Cordell’s ‘brother’ relationship with the Savile name must be much closer than we know, but there are also family relationships between Cordell and a far more important person of the period and he is, again, our most irrepressible friend, William Cecil. The Cordell connection with Lincolnshire is the key, as the Cecil family were from the village of Bourne, and on Cordell’s wife’s maternal side, the family had connections with Barrowby, in Lincolnshire.

The family link goes back via the Bozuns, then the Denes and then to Katherine Pedwardine, whose first husband was David Cecil, the grandparents of William Cecil. As Dene had also married Vernon this meant that William Cordell, William Cecil and Henry Savile were all ‘family’, and related quite closely, by a complicated series of marriages, but of the three families, only the Saviles appear to have anything resembling an aristocratic pedigree.

On the face of it, William Cordell was of humbler origins, from a family of clothiers, in Edmonton, north of London – but Cordell’s role as chief executor of Savile’s most extensive last testament suggests he must have been close to the family, and William Cecil’s role in extricating Cordell from a tricky moment during his first days in Parliament, in 1545, shows them to be close acquaintances. Both studied law at the same time, but at different establishments, Cecil at Grays Inn and Cordell at Lincoln’s Inn, and only later did they become related by marriage.

William Cecil 1570   William Cordell    Henry Savile

William Cecil – William Cordell – Henry Savile

The three portraits show remarkable facial similarities, particularly Cecil and Cordell, but some of these can be accounted for by the fashions of the day and in the style of the portraiture. Cordell is noted as having red hair and in this picture, so has Cecil. The Tudor monarchs were noted for their red hair as have other potential illegitimate offspring of Henry VIII and Elizabeth. More red herrings..??

My earlier notes about the ‘illegitimate Williams, fit Cecil and Cordell perfectly, as they both had extraordinary careers, despite coming from seemingly humble beginnings. Both were baptised in 1520, only a few weeks apart and survived the rough and tumble of their early careers, to become dominant figures of the Elizabethan age. Their parents had originally very average status in society, and only rose up the greasy pole of Tudor life, after their children appeared on the scene.

The rise of William Cecil’s grandfather, David, from innkeeper of Stamford, to sergeant-at-arms for Henry VIII, in 1526 and sheriff of Northamptonshire, in 1532, is one of those extraordinary and mysterious promotions that seemed incredible, even to the contemporaries of William Cecil. He was, initially, ridiculed by Royal courtiers, about this ‘working class’ background, and this continued to cause him much anguish later in life. He asked William Camden to create a new and greatly improved ancestral roll, taking him back to a family of illustrious Welsh lords, the Sicyls of the Welsh Marches.

William Cordell’s heritage seems just as mysterious, and this is highlighted by a line in a dedication, made by his nephew, William Gager, to commemorate his passing.

‘On the death of that right distinguished gentleman Sir William Cordell, knight of the garter.’

‘Here lies Cordell, born of an illustrious family, but one on the verge of collapse. There is nothing that is not snatched away by time’s long passage, diminished by age, and the slippery Fates govern human affairs. Like a light, he at length brought forth from the shadows the glory of his family and stock. In the place, God elevated him, and then his own personal virtue, and then the sovereign’s favor, won by that virtue. What were his piety, his prudence, brilliance, justice, eloquence, grace, generosity! No praise is sufficient. Wayfarer, I pray you say “may Cordell’s bones lie in comfort.’

 So who were this ‘collapsing family’? It doesn’t appear to be the Cordells. Might it have been his mother’s family, the Webbes, who were in disarray and had met hard times? The Webb family did indeed have a very impressive coat of arms that suggests a glorious heritage at some time in the past.

‘azure, an eagle displayed two heads, on a chief azure, three crosses formee fitchee, or’.

‘The eagle with two heads’ is associated with the early Knights Templars, the Geneva coat of arms and many others from Germanic states. It has been said, that it was the Crusaders who introduced the double headed eagle into Western Europe, copying the symbol of the Byzantine Empire, that Eastern Roman Empire, whose capital city was Constantinople.

The Webbe’s ‘three crosses with fitchy foot’, are also associated with crusading knights.

The Cordell coat of arms, featured three griffins, but was only created in William’s own lifetime, when his father was granted the award, in 1548, with his own, featuring quartering with the Webb family.

Byzantine twin headed eagle

Two-headed eagle of Byzantium

Readers, that have been paying attention, might also perk up at the mention of Webb. That name previously appeared in Warwickshire, where Mary Arden’s maternal grandfather was from a notable family of Webbs. John Alexander Webb, her Arden grandparent, was an usher to Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth wife. There is no obvious connection to William Cordell’s mother’s side, but as ever in this story, keep an open mind – you might spot a link that has so far eluded me, amongst this cobweb of highly placed individuals

This all suggests that William Cordell’s noble history came from his mother’s side, and what better than a Knights Hospitaller or Templar heritage. The Long Melford Hospital for the poor and the four virtues surrounding his monument meant he took that heritage seriously. It would also explain how he had been able to marry into the Clopton family and so help to restore the family to their previous status – but maybe there is still more to find, perhaps on his father’s side.

Apart from Thomasine, William Cordell had another sister, Jane, who married Richard Allington, from the distinguished Waldergrave family. There were also two brothers, Francis and Edward Cordell and Edward later became one of the ‘six clerks’ in the Chancery Office in London, an important political post, showing obvious nepotism by his brother.

Francis inherited much of William’s estate, and on his own death, this passed on to the third brother, Edward Cordell. Jane was given the responsibility of managing the Melford Hall estate, which she eventually inherited for herself, as the last survivor of the siblings. Her elder sister, Thomasine, should have had prior pickings of this substantial family inheritance, but was instead left only with a pittance.

Thomasine Cordell was the sister of some of the richest and most influential people in England and yet she had married the local draper, who was son of the local tax collector. William Cordell, in a variety of biographies, receives plaudits from all directions, for his qualities, as a lawyer and a man of honour, but I’m not sure Gilbert and Thomasine Gager would say the same, and I have him down more as a villain rather than a hero. He was clearly, not a happy man about this ‘unwise’ marriage of his sister, and neither were his other sister, Jane, or their brother, Edward. Was it just down to marrying below her station or was there more to this acrimonious disinheritance?

It is actually fairly easy to understand how and why a Yorkshire migrant commoner might marry the sister of one of the most successful men of the period. Gilbert and Thomasine grew up together, in Long Melford, and this was probably a love match of childhood sweethearts, who were initially of similar social standing. In fact, in the 1520’s, the Gager social position, as successful clothiers, would have trumped a copyhold farmer and estate steward. The changing economic situation meant that the Gager reputation was on the wane, whilst the Cordell star was heading towards supernova. Thomasina knew who she wanted to marry and she was sticking to her decision, through thick and thin.

William Cordell went to extra-ordinary legal lengths to ensure Thomasine and her ‘brats’, as he called them, did not inherit Melford Hall, or get their hands on more than a smidgeon of his hard won cash. Thomasine was given 40 marks a year for life, from her elder brother’s will, and almost nothing for her husband or the children. Niggardly wouldn’t even come close to describing the meanness of that gesture. There was also a caveat that she must keep away from the other family members and not ask them for money, a clause that was followed up later, with the force of law.

Despite the animosity shown to his sister, there was a special mention in William Cordell’s will for his nephew, William Gager, because for Thomasina and Gilbert’s eldest son, life was to offer something completely different.

Christchurch tower

Christchurch, Oxford – photo KHB


Chapter Thirteen



William Gager – top of the class (in Latin)


George Cook's prize marrow


The Metamorphoses

William Gager was born in Long Melford village, on 20th July 1555, the oldest son of Gilbert Gager and Thomasine Cordell. He had at least two younger brothers, John and James and a sister Mary, who later married Peter Crysall. The parish records only began in 1559, but we know of William Gager’s date of birth from his own will, which was written at the time of his sixtieth birthday. There is no will for Gilbert Gager, who died in Long Melford in 1590, but his wife, Thomasine, who died a decade later, did leave a comprehensive testament, which gives details of her children and the copyhold lands, she held, including eight acres, in Lavenham and meadow and orchards in Essex. The total sum of her estate was £52, not an insubstantial amount, but nothing compared with the vast riches she should have inherited, as mistress of Melford Hall.

Whatever the circumstances, the hows, the whys and wherefores, the bitterness that William, Jane and Edward Cordell showed towards their sister, is still palpable across the centuries. They must have felt she had humiliated them, by marrying below their new improved station, and they were determined she would never be forgiven. They were going up in the world and she was happy to marry a draper, the son of an excise officer. We don’t know for sure that is the reason for the family disdain, but it is an obvious conclusion to draw from the available evidence and their quite deliberate actions.

So, how did young William Gager come out of this maelstrom, smelling so sweetly and ending up as one of the great figures, possibly even the greatest figure of Elizabethan literature?

We know nothing of William Gager’s early life, or his relationship with his parents, and neither parents nor siblings get a mention in his often personal, emotional and sympathetic notebook of poetry. Except for a death record, no other researchers have found his father, Gilbert, mentioned anywhere, and the only mention of Thomasina is in her own will and that of her angry brothers. However, my discovery of Gilbert Gager, buying commercial quantities of Belgian linen cloth, in 1567, does add something to the picture, and suggests the family were continuing to prosper, surviving without the patronage of the ‘out-laws’, from Melford Hall.

William Gager’s younger brother, John, received the biggest mention in William’s own will, and the impression is given that John was an adult needing special attention, although he eventually outlived the testator, by eight years. John is also a viable candidate, to be the ‘missing’ father of William Gager, the Winthrop surgeon – the dates are fine and the Clopton connection, to both clans, would make them ‘family’, as described by a fellow Arbella shipmate, in 1630.

One scenario that makes sense of these early rather sketchy, facts, is that William became fostered by his uncle and aunt, perhaps after problems in his own family. Another possibility is that we could have an illegitimate birth mixed in here somewhere, but if that was the situation, whose child was the little William Gager? Was he really a Gager, but perhaps, instead, a misappropriated Clopton or Cordell?

All the meanness and hate, William Cordell metered out on his sister, was tempered with a very different treatment of his nephew. William Gager initially went to school locally, but as with his uncle, the establishment he attended, is not known for certain. It could have been the local school in Long Melford, which since 1550, had risen in status to become one of Edward VI’s endowed schools, or possibly William travelled to Sudbury or the more established school, at Bury St Edmunds, where the pupils were ‘to talk Latin continually’ and ‘no barbarous writers or obscene poets’ were allowed, ‘to corrupt their morals and their Latin’.

William Gager's signature

William Gager probably developed his fluent Italian style of writing at this early stage, one which he kept all his life. Suffolk schools had adopted this distinctive writing method, after Cardinal Wolsey, ‘local boy made good’, founded a school in his home town of Ipswich, in 1530, and this led the way to a rapid improvement and standardisation of handwriting amongst the pupils of the county.

Latin is fun

William Gager would have attended this first school at the age of around six or seven, and he must have justified the attentions of his uncle, because, in 1567, at the age of twelve, he won a scholarship to Westminster School, in London. This place was a gift of the Dean of Westminster, but was almost certainly gained with the help of his uncle, who by this time had been Master of the Rolls, for nearly ten years. The suspicion of a close connection is confirmed as Gabriel Goodman, Dean of Westminster, was mentioned in Cordell’s will, as a trustee of his Holy Trinity Hospital, at Long Melford.

Tudor schooling was conducted only in Latin and Gager seemed to thrive on the diet of classical learning. Westminster School had a tradition of performing an annual Latin play for their patron, Queen Elizabeth, and as part of this event the ‘common’ choir boys performed their own play, but in English, so Gager had the opportunity to experience plays performed in both languages.

William Gager’s last year at Westminster School was 1573-4, and he was fortunate enough to win one of the three annual scholarships, awarded for a place at Christ Church, Oxford. He was fortunate, because that year there was a dispute between the two academic institutions and only one scholarship was awarded. Gager must have either been the best candidate or had the best connections, most probably both. One of the Oxford selection committee was college treasurer, Robert Dorset, who became one of Gager’s most loyal patrons, once he had reached the dreaming spires.

William Gager arrived at Christ Church, in 1574 and was to be part of that community for the next twenty five years. At the time, this was the largest and richest of the Oxford colleges, but the buildings were derelict in places and had not been completed, some forty years after they were begun. The construction work, started by the founder, Cardinal Wolsey, in 1530, had ground to a halt on the death of Henry VIII, in 1547.

One of Gager’s first poetic offerings was about his new, university home and he was less than complimentary, about the money makers and authoritarian figures, who had created it and were now using the facilities to help their sons become wealthier and more powerful.
‘Let the Fury Discord uproot this edifice from its foundations, built as a monument to arrogance, a substantial portion both of my wicked booty and of my downfall and punishment. And at last let this House, built by my pilling and polling, collapse in utter ruin.’ – Gager’s poem to Wolsey’s Ghost – 1574

This shows a very ungrateful attitude, aimed, in part, at the very person who was facilitating his passage to adulthood. If we are to read between the lines, William Cordell was everything Gager despised, a showy man, a larger than life figure, who took every opportunity to climb the greasy pole of Tudor England. However, despite this underlying cynicism, Gager’s poems, directed to his uncle, were always positive and respectful, but rarely showed the vigour and passion reserved for others, who he loved and respected more deeply.

From this time onwards, William Gager was to make regular and numerous proclamations about people, public events and other matters, that took his interest. Some were official or ceremonial offerings, others made for examination purposes, but some of the most revealing were the spontaneous texts, written in response to a personal event. Apart from some of his personal correspondence, they almost all had one thing in common, they were written in Latin. We are lucky to know of his literary prowess because Gager kept a personal notebook, quarto in size, which contained 199, bound pages.

All written in Gager’s own hand, and the notebook comprises neat copies of finished pieces of work, although occasionally there were edits, and in one case a page was torn out, hence the book was one page shy of 200. The notebook was begun in Oxford about 1583, but included work copied-up from previous years.

There is a degree of organisation, which helps to unravel the chronology of the undated work and because the book was bound, not loose-leaved, that allows us to discover, that the page removed, was a poem about Edward Cordell and a lost inheritance. There were no complete plays, but there are parts of plays, which were his contributions to joint efforts.

There are also indications of which events he attended, as he had a habit of composing his own thoughts on the university debates, known as ‘Vesperies’ and ‘Comitia’. Some scrawled erasures seem to have occurred with emotion, and so his notebook tells a story of an organised, but passionate man. Gager was known to be a great re-user of his own material, and the notebook was used as a reservoir, acting as a crib sheet for future work.

His friendships, and other academic relationships, can be deduced from the variety of dedications, and when cross referenced with other friends and fellow writers. This gives a good indication of his social network and academic allegiances. Gager’s emotional outbursts about his close friendships with colleagues, confirm a Platonic homosexuality, particularly an initial attachment to Richard Brainche. Gager’s poems are critical of relationships beyond the Platonic, so the jury is out on the full extent of his homosexuality.

Generally, Gager was an amiable, humorous and forgiving man, but like many living in an organised and closely controlled society, he became frustrated by the bureaucracy and infighting of those that wanted to impose control. He was never reticent at criticising those at the top, who he often believed to be ineffective in their roles. This attitude could have been dangerous and probably terminal to his chances of gaining even a simple degree, and so his confidence to speak out had to be balanced with the knowledge that, although he had supporters at all levels of the college, he must not push too hard.

Gager’s earliest supporter was Richard Dorset, the man on the selection panel, and his first two poems were dedicated to him. He even appealed to Dorset for justice, after he was flogged by another tutor, for ‘over indulgence in Latin verse’. Gager was admitted as a Bachelor of Arts, in December 1577, but this was not confirmed until he had completed a series of academic determinations during the following Lent term.

During this period he wrote a felicitous version of ‘Hero and Alexander’, which he sent to William Standen, his cousin on the Cordell side. Gager’s poem was an amorous, cryptic, rather light hearted offering, which stated that Gager’s ‘enemies are arrayed against him and he defiant’. During this time, Gager also recorded in his notebook, a number of preparation exercises for future dramas.

When the Queen visited his uncle’s home, at Melford Hall, in 1578, Gager was an important part of the entertainment. His verses, specially written for the occasion, were described by one observer as ‘the sombre poetry of his nephew’. This seems very unlike Gager, whose later work was rarely dull and usually included special sections to please the crowd.

Gager became one of the Queen’s favourites, and as the most educated woman of her generation she was enthusiastic about Latin, in all its forms. She must have seen him perform as a boy at Westminster, and whenever something special was needed for a royal event, Gager seems to have been trotted out as the first choice, on Her Majesty’s Pleasure.

Young William doesn’t seem to have been a well travelled man, because in one Vesperies debate, about ‘the sea’, he openly admitted that, although his home village was only thirty miles from the coast, he had never seen it for himself and there is no evidence, that he ever went for a paddle at Clacton sands, let alone cross the Channel to mainland Europe, like so many of his compatriots.

As a Bachelor of Arts, Gager was entitled to claim a fee for his teaching duties, and the 1578-79 accounts book shows he received two marks a year, with one mark extra, for clothes. The recipient was supposed to sign, when collecting the money, but, in what became an increasingly frequent pattern, one of his colleagues signed for him. The signatories included previous co-pupils from Westminster, Richard Edes and Emmanuel Maxey and new friends, who included future Bishops of London and Ely.

Uncle Cordell became a great benefactor to the nearby, St Johns College, and was in constant contact with Francis Willis, the President there. This had added convenience for Cordell, as it allowed Willis to act as an agent for Gager’s Christ Church funds. William Gager’s allowance from his ‘Rolls’, was £10 per year, paid termly, but Gager seems to have been constantly asking for more. When he gained his Master of Arts degree, Gager requested Willis, to ask Uncle Rolls, to send more money and procure a buck (venison), so he could entertain his colleagues, in celebration.

To obtain a buck legally, a warrant was needed to cull one from a Royal Park. However, two bucks arrived at Oxford, one from Bradgate Park, near Leicester, previous home of the Grey family and another from Windsor, where the Neville family managed the forest.

The response, by his uncle, was of someone who was getting tired of his obligations to fund the young man. He agreed to the request, but instructed Willis to pass on the message: ‘I had already dealt very liberally with him’ and ‘he must husband this well and he will not receive any more at this time.’ Cordell also mentioned in his reply, that Gager had been asking for funds from Jane Allington, sister of the Master of the Rolls’, and that he must stop this at once.

Within two weeks of his ‘last funds’ warning, Gager was in London, to ask for yet more money, this time for legal text books. Uncle Rolls made him wait for two hours, and after the interview, wrote to Willis to insist he send his nephew an appropriate bill for the books. The letter also gave instructions that the second buck should go to Willis and his wife and not Gager and his partying friends. Further, Rolls asked Willis to ensure his nephew, William Standen, be admitted to Christ Church, with Willis again acting as agent and entrusted with his well being. No mention was made of Gager helping the new under-graduate, despite them already being literary acquaintences.

The Master of the Rolls died a few months after these communications, when Gager became a modest beneficiary of the will, given £10 a year for seven years, which Gager used to obtain doctorates in civil law. This was the will, that so unceremoniously, kept his own family from ever inheriting the Cordell estate, at Melford Hall. There was a subsequent court case resulting from the will, where the remaining Cordells, accused their sister, Thomasine, of secretly visiting Melford Hall, and gaining access, by claiming her ‘right as a Cordell’. These were no idle threats by her siblings, with the will being backed up with the full force of the legal process.

Gager was able to express his inner distain, more coherently, at the death of Edward Cordell, in 1590. Edward’s will, which also had a large caveat attached, insisting ‘sister and offspring keep away, you are not having any more money’, (my words), caused Gager to write a ‘spirited poem’, and probably changed the plans for his future career.

‘On the death of my uncle Edward Cordell, who passed me over in his Will in violation of all his promises, and of law both civil and natural, after he had married Mistress Digby two years previously and made her his only heir, 8th Dec 1590.’

 ‘O Fortune, always contrary to my desires! O death! Oh woman, more evil than death! What do I say? Or where am I? What result have all these promises produced? Where have all my hopes disappeared? Is this sworn faith? Is this lawful? Is this the inheritance’s right? Is this the ordering of our bloodline? Is this love for posterity?’

What praise was there, uncle, in frustrating so many hopes of your family, or in losing any sense of shame for your line? How did either of your sisters deserve this? Or how did your throng of nephews merit such an outrage? How did I myself offend you? What insult did I inflict that I was to be branded with the disgrace of being passed over? What was in your mind when you cut off your living limbs and replaced then with ones of wood?

‘Dear uncle, I was not so discreditable to you, nor was it creditable for you to pass over your heir. Does a strange women own this house? Does she come into possession of these silver vessels, all this finery, and so great wealth? Shall a barren little frippet possess these fertile fields? Oh rights, vainly sought by my hopes!’

‘Is nothing else left to me save for the weeping, bitterness of mind, and poverty? Oh, the pain! Oh embarrassment, mixed with distress, how you gnaw my heart within, burning my spirit by night and by day! Oh William, founder and champion of our house, do you see your brother’s spiteful deeds? Do you see all your property, all the efforts of your wit, your eloquence, your intelligence diverted by fraud?

 ‘But, no matter how this thing may be, I shall not deny my indebtedness towards you, and would that my good disposition had remained what it was. But favor is a deceitful thing, for after it has filled one’s sails with a favorable wind and has peacefully carried his barque far from shore, it strands it, becalmed in mid-ocean. Oh will of God, often obscure to us, but always just! Where am I being carried by my words? I shall address my words to the Lord, who cannot deceive us. Assuredly it is a vain thing to put one’s trust in princes. And so farewell, human affairs, which have thrice deceived me unjustly.’

(This extract and other translations of William Gager’s work, are courtesy of Dana Sutton and the Philological Museum, University of Birmingham.)

The missive talks of a previously good relationship with his uncle Edward, and Gager seems shell shocked that he has been treated so badly. There are also phrases that defy explanation if we are to believe the accepted history of the Cordell family.

‘Oh William, founder and champion of our house’.

Obviously referring to William Cordell, with the phrase suggesting that Gager feels more Cordell than Gager, but why the term, ‘founder’?   But founder of what?

The final words are also telling, as he says ‘farewell’ to human affairs, which sounds a little like a suicide note, and then the words, ‘thrice deceived’. We know this is probably the second time he has been short changed in a will, but what was the third deception? Could that have been when Francis Cordell, died in 1586 and passed his estate on to his younger brother, or is there something else we need to know.

Gager seems to be behaving like a Cordell or Clopton and if he was an illegitimate seed from either blood line, then he might justifiably feel he had been cheated of his natural birthright. Either way, William Gager felt that life, generally, and Edward in particular, was not treating him fairly. Gager’s good friend, Dr John Case, an urbane, mild mannered man, who was a fellow at St John’s College, was also riled enough by the affair, to make strongly worded comments about the treatment of Gager and his family, by the Cordell clan.

This was not an isolated moment of pique from Gager, for there was ‘evidence of frustration and bitter temper in numerous of his early works.’ Gager always seems to have been quick to retaliate when attacked, and often quite aggressively, although usually with consummate ‘good taste’, using both the English and Latin languages to their fullest extent.

Gager most commonly demonstrated his extreme behaviour when defending friends and colleagues, or when he thought something in the ‘system’ was not right. He seems to have been the loyalist of men to those he believed in and those who were loyal to him. The loyalty showed itself greatest in his allegiance to a woman, Queen Elizabeth, who he defended stoutly, when others were less forthcoming.

Many of his personal traits are wrapped up in his defence of his friend, George Peele, who came under academic censure for having the audacity to translate one of Iphigenia’s plays into English. Gager’s response being described by a colleague as, ‘rather self conscious broad mindedness’.

On George Peele’s translation of ‘Iphigeneia’ into English verse

 ‘Either I embrace you with excessive affection or your songs are written in competent verse. I have never been ashamed to profess our friendship, nor could I conceal it if I wanted. I admit that I have been amazed at your sudden acuteness at Oxford, and your seriousness, tempered by merry jests. My affection has persuaded me of these things, but I am not so trusting in that affection as to think that I shall give you greater credit than is due. And possibly it bade me praise you, but my Muse will not embark upon your praise merely because it has bidden me, but because (if I am worthy to praise another man’s effort in the same field), whatever my motivation may be, your manuscript deservedly claims my approval.’

‘Therefore, if I have any ability in poetry (and I know it is trifling), and if any weight is to be placed on my evaluation, my friend, since I am not deceived by excessive affection, I say that your songs are written in competent verse. If Euripides were alive, he would be in your debt, Iphigeneia herself would thank you. I pray you, persevere in placing the ancient poets under your obligation. If you can get on good terms with the ancients, you can easily do grace to the moderns.’

In a second letter to Peele:
‘Late at night, while I was working on my poetry, pondering how to write something or other about your book, somebody began plucking at my elbow, or at least seemed to pluck it. Whoever he was, this much I know: he was club-footed, swart of visage, one-eyed, and red-haired. “What are you doing?” he asked. “You don’t know, rash fellow, you don’t know how easy silly tales come to the pen. Educated men read Greek stuff, or at least Latin. But how can anything written in these verses make an impression on anyone?” So saying, he fled, and the following words were dashed off by my hand as it tried to write a rebuttal.’

‘Trust me, the things that appear to have been done effortlessly will cost a good deal of work if you try them. I confess they are written in our language, but there is a certain charm in English too, and works in our tongue have provided quite enough pleasure for native-born men. Learned men, to be sure, read Greek and Latin literature, but there are plenty who are ignorant of both tongues.

 Such things are written for their benefit; nevertheless, this and that written in English verse may please even the learned. So persevere in your efforts, my Peele, and if you follow your pursuit you will be second to nobody. If your latest work matches your first efforts, you will not only be equal to the best, but you will be altogether the first. Therefore I pray you persevere. When Destiny takes away everything else, only your poetry will escape the sad funeral pyre.’

There can be no doubt that Gager saw something special in George Peele, as a friend and as a writer. He was constantly encouraging him to live up to his potential and not be afraid of using his talents to the full. These promptings are almost identical to those of Robert Greene, in his ‘Groatsworth’ letter, and Gager is also encouraging Peele to use English, as his prime language, if he wishes to communicate, effectively, with a wider audience.

In 1581, Gager qualified for his Master of Arts at Oxford and almost immediately applied for the same qualification at Cambridge, appearing on the 1581 list, as Cambridge M. A. (incorporated Oxford.). This was a simple and inexpensive process, but one which was rarely done. It does show Gager had a positive allegiance with his ‘hometown’ university and the qualification came in useful later in life. It also gave him access to the ‘secret language’ of Cambridge University, often spoken about as an essential ingredient of the Shakespeare writing persona. Later, in 1601, he performed the same trick at Cambridge, doubling up his Oxford civil law degrees.

Christ Church had an allocation of exactly 100 students, so when Gager began his studies, he was one of the ‘Philosophi secundi Vicenarii’ – philosophers of the second group of 20. The reimbursement for his university duties continued to be meagre, but it did rise, in 1581-82, after he was promoted to ‘Philosophi primus Vicenarii’, when he received two marks a term and two marks for clothes. The extra £10 a year, from uncle’s will, must have been essential to maintain his lifestyle.

In 1585, Gager was elected ‘Rhetor’, and received an extra twenty five shillings a term. This prestigious appointment entailed providing orations at suitable moments in the life of the college.

In the final year of his law studies, in 1588, Gager withdrew from most college duties, and this also marked the end of his £10 per year endowment. Gager received only two marks a term, at the beginning of the academic year, but in the final term of 1588-89, he registered as ‘Doctor Gager’ and received five marks.

Gager’s pattern of irregular signing of the receipt book remained until 1592, but from that time until 1597, despite being listed, he did not sign at all, and this was always done on his behalf by various colleagues. However, in 1598-9 he was back and signing for himself, but as the century turned, Dr William Gager finally left Oxford, with no further records of payment.

Gager’s sojourn at Oxford was the time when Elizabethan Renaissance drama exploded, on to the scene. The academic theatre had been traditional, learned, and seen by the younger generation as tedious, not reflecting the new Humanist learning, which was now reaching a third generation of study. Things on the acting front had already begun to change a little, with the first English comedy, ‘Ralph Roister Doister’, performed in 1553, and ‘Gorboduc’, the first English drama written in blank verse. Both had begun the move away from the rigid model, set by classical ‘Senecan’ and the traditional religious, ‘Morality’ plays, an allegorical tale in which the protagonist encounters moral challenges.

Theatre for the ‘common man’ had previously been limited to those ‘Morality’ plays, performed by clerics, at times of religious festivities. However, other forms of entertainment were becoming popular, with the first professional troupes of actors appearing, although performances were often dominated by ‘jigging and clownage’. Modern television critics would now describe that as ‘dumbing down’.

Apart from isolated examples, it was William Gager who changed the way that academic plays were performed at Oxford. Before he arrived on the scene, they were of a traditional classical model, but his work reflected a more liberal, even popularist attitude to life. Gager was also unusual in writing in different genres; comedy, tragedy and a mixing of the two in a tragi-comedy. His equivalent voice at Cambridge, Thomas Legge, was a generation older and rather duller in approach, but was innovative enough to produce the first chronicled history play, ‘Richard the Third’, in 1579.

William Gager bridged the gap between the old and the new. As an undergraduate, he had to please his tutors’ needs for conformity, but as a Master of Arts he suddenly began to express himself and take the academic theatre in a different direction. His plays were ‘entertainments’, with vivid characters, plenty of pace and energy, and might even be described as a multi-media extravaganza, with specially, composed songs and musical interludes. Gager was prepared to change his productions to please his audience, rather than just follow the ‘take it or leave it’ attitude of the majority of writers of his age or any other. Julius Caesar and Ovid topping the bill at ‘Sunday Night at the London Palladium’ would be a hula-hooper’s take on the way William Gager approached his theatrical offerings.

As he says in his letter to Peele, Gager’s aim was to make Virgil and Ovid accessible to the English speaking audience. He was always frank with his audience and had a sense of humour, which he manages to use in even the most serious of his writing. One biographical entry suggests he had a dour, religious character, but that certainly isn’t my impression of the man I have been researching. He was emotional, loyal, patriotic, innovative and with the gift for communicating with his fellow man, writing in both Latin and English.

Gager certainly had a light hearted side and a mischievous streak, which was mixed with a fair portion of schoolboy humour. Extract taken from Gager’s notebook:

‘A sick man was lying a-bed, and the doctor inquired in the customary way what he had been eating. “Nothing but frogs,” he said. And to the doctor, who was fearful lest he had eaten a toad along with the frogs, he added “if this is supposed to be dangerous, why does the toad look so much like a frog?’

In a preface to the printed version of ‘Ulysses Redux’, Gager declares his aim in writing that play:

‘For, just as in living, so in writing my method is somewhat free and relaxed, of a sort, which pleases the learned less than the unskilled. I have produced this tragedy, or play, or historical narrative, or whatever it is right and proper to call it, not according to the exacting standards of (Aristotle’s) Art of Poetry employed as some sort of goldsmith’s balance, but rather measured according to the exacting standards of popular taste, and I have poured it forth rather than composed it.’

Aristotle’s Rules

All plays should follow these three precepts:

Place. The setting should be in just one location.
Time. The action should represent the passage of no more than one day.
Action. All the action was to contribute directly in some way to the plot.

In every way, Gager tried to appeal to the popular element and wanted his plays to be compared favourably with the professional theatre. Classical rules were disregarded when he believed it would make for better entertainment, but he did not want to be perceived as rude or possibly even rebellious. Gager wanted to change things from within, and was always regarded as an establishment figure, except, perhaps, if you were of the Puritan persuasion.

Gager’s own letters show an inner struggle between the English and the Classical, and although his head forced him to write in Latin, his heart pointed him in the direction of creating work for the populace at large. Gager’s answer to this dilemma was to anglicise the classical and make it accessible to a wider audience. His aim was for his generation to supersede their predecessors, not just those of the previous generation, but of millennia past. His aim was excellence and he loathed incompetence.

Gager wrote about himself in his notebook:

‘Shall I be self-critical?
That is the mark of a fool. Shall I praise myself?
Self-praise is rotten. What shall I do?
Let somebody else pass judgment on me’.

His rebellious streak is shown vividly in his condemnation of Christ Church, on his arrival at that institution, and again, much later, when he was happy to speak up against women’s growing stature in society. These outbursts, and others, didn’t prevent him from being appointed to positions of prominence. Gager seems to have been first choice as poet, playwright and editor during his ten active years at Oxford, and he remained prolific throughout, with an appropriate word for each occasion.

Contemporaries praised him. Gabriel Harvey called him the ‘hope of the nation’. William Vaughan, in 1598, said ‘the muse of Rome have come to England’, and he set Gager above Horace. Anthony Wood and Richard Hakluyt ranked him among the great poets of the Renaissance and indeed of the classical period. Dana Sutton describes Gager as, ‘arguably the best Latin playwright of the Tudor period’.

Professor Dana Sutton, University of California, Irvine, is the leading expert on William Gager and a specialist in Greek and Latin drama. Dana Sutton wrote a preface to ‘William Gager: The Complete Works, in 1993, available on the Philological Museum website of the University of Birmingham.

All the quotes in this text, relating to the poems and plays of William Gager, are taken from the translations made by Dana Sutton and are used with his permission and that of Dr Martin Wiggins, who is the ‘keeper’ of the Philological Museum website.

Gager mixed with the great and the good of the period and they acknowledged his ability, with their words and actions. Elizabeth R, Robert Dudley and Philip Sidney were his chief advocates and if it wasn’t for the relentless negativity of Puritan hard man, Dr Rainold, and the meanness of his two uncles, then we might have heard much more from the playwrighting pen of William Gager.

It is odd, in the extreme, that Gager is such an unknown figure in the modern era. He is almost absent in many critiques of the Elizabethan period, and when he does warrant a mention his name is frequently misspelt, as Gage or Sager, or even Wager. He appears on no-ones list of possible authors of Shakespeare, and yet apart from a seeming dislike of travel, he ticks almost every box to be the perfect ‘closet’ Shakespeare.

So where is the evidence of this great literary talent?

From 1550 onwards, Christ Church allocated £5, to perform four plays at Christmas time. Two were to be comedies and two tragedies, split between Greek and Latin. The first play where Gager seems to have made a contribution was a collaborative version of ‘Oedipus’, but that work exists in name only and was performed, but never published. The sections of ‘Oedipus’, written by Gager, do appear in his notebook, which is preserved as one of the treasures of the British Library.

Normally these annual academic entertainments were revivals of old plays, but in Gager’s first chance to show his solo ability, he wrote a new play, ‘Meleager’, a tragedy, which was first performed on 15th Feb 1581/82. The model for ‘Meleager’ is clearly Senecan, with plenty of blood, long speeches, and with great dramatic utterances. However, his play was twice as long as the usual Senecan model and with twice as many speaking parts. There was a prologue and an epilogue, ending with a promise, that if the ‘author had failed then he would not offend again.’

Senecan tragedy is based on blood-thirsty revenge and is brutally depicted in Shakespeare’s ‘Titus Andronicus’ and ‘Hamlet’. Corpses and ghosts litter a Senecan play and they may have become popular in Elizabethan drama, because citizens had become brutalised by the ravages of war and the barbaric forms of public execution. ‘Titus Andronicus’ is rarely performed today because of the blood.

Gager’s plays often seem to speak on his behalf, and there is a line from ‘Meleager’ which might reflect his thoughts on fame and power; ‘The higher a proud man raises himself, the harder and more shamefully he falls’, perhaps a follow up to his earlier volley, aimed at the creators of Christ Church.

‘Meleager’ is the work of a competent playwright, confident with his material and able to create memorable characters. It is an extraordinary work for a first play, not only because of the technical skills involved, but because his innovative thinking is already pushing the boundaries of academic Renaissance theatre. This play demonstrates Gager’s incredible early confidence in mixing traditional with the modern and not someone shackled by slavish rules and customs, there to please his tutors. Even in his first publicly performed play he was pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable, but he still needed reassurance from his audience, who seemed to take precedence over his paymasters.

‘Meleager’ was based on Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’, a narrative poem that described the creation and history of the world, according to Roman mythology. Ovid’s work was the influence, according to Jonathan Bate, for several of Shakespeare’s plays, including ‘Titus Andronicus’, ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’, ‘The Winter’s Tale’ and ‘The Tempest’. It was also the source for the narrative poem, ‘Venus and Adonis’, the very first work to be connected to William Shakespeare.

Another play performed at the same time as ‘Meleager’, as one of the annual four plays for 1581/82, was ‘Caesar Interfectus’, written by his old Westminster friend, Richard Edes. Only the epilogue to ‘Caesar’ remains, as a fragment in the Bodleian Library. Professor John Semple Smart wrote in his book, ‘Shakespeare Truth and Tradition’, that whoever was the author of ‘Julius Caesar’, and he believed it to be ‘Shakespeare’, he must have been present in Oxford, to see Edes’ ‘Caesar’, and even suggests that that infamous phrase ‘et tu, Brute’, originated from Ede’s play.

NPG D25946,Richard Edes (Eades),by; after Edward Harding; Sylvester Harding

Richard Eedes – wearing the uniform of the period..??

Smart also believes that ‘Meleager’ left its mark on the author of these lines, in Henry VI/2, and in his book tries to suggest ways that the Bard, then eighteen years old, could have been present at this exclusive, Oxford University event.

‘Methinks the realms of England, France and Ireland
Bear that proportion to my flesh and blood
As did the fatal brand Althaea burnt
Unto the prince’s heart of Calydon’

Charles Tucker Brooke, English Professor at Yale, (1883-1946), who is quoting Smart here, makes several comparisons with Shakespeare and none that would positively exclude Gager from consideration, to be the author of the ‘Bard’s works’. Tucker Brooke wrote over 900 pages about William Gager, in an unfinished work, and an abridged biography, ‘Life and Times of William Gager’, was published in the ‘Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society’, in 1951.

In June 1583, Count Alasco of Poland was a special guest in Oxford, accompanied by Queen Elizabeth and a host of dignitaries. Two plays were presented by Gager, a new comedy, ‘Rivales’, on 11th June and ‘Dido’ on the 12th June. The Queen and Count Alasco were greatly pleased and so they should have been, as the cost of the entertainment was the huge sum of £86, of which we know, George Peele received £19, for his part in providing costumes, scenary and a ‘shew of fireworks’.

No complete record of ‘Rivales’ is known to exist, with only the prologue surviving into the 21st century. It has been suggested Gager destroyed all manuscript copies of this most popular work, leaving only vague ideas of the content. The snippets and comments made by contemporaries, lead us to believe it was a knock-about comedy, based on rustic wooing in the English countryside, with drunken sailors and a swaggering soldier, arguing with the locals about their womenfolk. This seems to have all the ingredients of one of those Brian Rix ‘farces’, played at the Whitehall Theatre, in the 1960s or perhaps more pertinently, it could be Shakespeare’s ‘Comedy of Errors’.

‘Rivales’ was highly popular with the audience, but criticised by classical scholars of the day and that caused Gager to put his popular play in a bottom drawer, until later. This was his only known comedy and must have been the work that inspired the comment by Francis Meres in 1598, when he described Gager as one of ‘the best for comedy’. Unless perhaps, Meres knew better and there were others?

The play ‘Dido’, based on Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’, looks as though it was written in haste, at least completed in haste, as it is shorter than the rest of his works and may have been a co-operative venture, between Gager and one other, possibly George Peele or Richard Edes.

Despite its brevity Tucker-Brooke says, ‘there is no lack of ingenious original turns in the plot and the choral interludes and songs were delightful.’

Elaborate spectacle was always part of Gager’s entertainments and made them stand out from the rest. Twenty years later, William Percy remembered this when he was watching a dreary performance of ‘Aphrodisial’ and demanded, ‘a shower of rosewater and confits, like ‘Dido’ at Oxford.’

In Jan 1583/84, ‘Meleager’ was given a special airing, for the benefit of the Earls of Leicester and Pembroke and the ex-Christ Church man, Sir Philip Sidney, with Gager, as usual, writing a special prologue and epilogue for the occasion. The actors were assembled from across the university, but the majority were from Christ Church and St Johns College.

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was Chancellor of Oxford University, at this time, having been appointed in 1564, when, in the Queen’s eyes, he could do no wrong and was given almost anything he requested. Leicester accumulated a portfolio of all his passions and interests, with the theatre one of his favourites, and was one of the first noblemen to sponsor his own professional troupe of actors.

When the English Catholics began to find their feet again, in the early 1580s, Leicester was at the forefront of resisting the tide and ensuring the population continued to support the Protestant ideal. He was one of those who formulated in 1584, the ‘Bond of Association’, which made it a crime to attempt to usurp the power of the Queen, and was the legal basis on which Mary, Queen of Scots was executed.

In what may have been a related event, in August 1584, the University approved the installation of a printing press, run under the auspices of Joseph Barnes, a local bookseller. Printing had begun at Oxford in the late 15th century, and Henry VIII issued patents for both Oxford and Cambridge to print educational material, in 1534. However, after founding the Church of England, as a measure to keep control of the presses, he decided to license the printing trade only within the City of London, so closing down the two academic presses.

No doubt, the Earl of Leicester had influence in this decision, both to reopen the presses and to make a grant of £100, to fund the enterprise. Thus the university gained a warrant and became the Oxford University Press. Its sympathies were very pro-monarchy, pro-Protestant and anti-Catholic. Cambridge also regained its right to print, the same year, and the rivalry between the two has remained ever since.

Oxford bookseller, Joseph Barnes, also had an outlet in London, which, you will remember, at the ‘sign of the Tigers Head’, in St Pauls churchyard’. This publishing link between Oxford and London is intriguing, because there are few connections between the academic and the professional literary world.

Gager’s elevation, to Oxford ‘Rhetor’, in 1585, had not prevented him from criticising the administrative body of the College. His opinion was mirrored in a letter from the Chancellor, Robert Dudley, to the governors, threatening all concerned with sanctions, unless they put their house in order. Gager and Dudley seemed to be singing from the same hymn sheet, or should that be psalter sheet, as hymns were still an innovation for the future. Dudley created enemies of all persuasions, male, female, rich and poor, and even his loving Queen eventually dismissed him from her life. However, William Gager remained loyal to his Chancellor, right to the end, one of Dudley’s few remaining supporters.

The time leading up to the Spanish Armada, in 1588, saw a succession of plots against the Queen and Gager took a leading part, in the academic propaganda exercise, to keep public opinion on the side of Queen Elizabeth. When William Parry was executed as a traitor, in 1585, Gager’s response was to display his great patriotic zeal, and a dislike of Welshmen, by producing a series of poems that reflected the outraged mood of the nation. These poems were included in one of the first books published by the Oxford University Press, with Gager editor of three jingoistic publications.

Unlike printers in London, Barnes did not need to register his work with the Stationers Company, and so being exempt from direct supervision, but any doubts about the loyalty of Gager and Barnes, seems to have been answered by their pro-establishment stance. Their publications not only celebrated military campaigns in Europe, in support of government foreign policy, but they also published work that argued for the Established church, at the expense of the Papacy and the growing tide of Puritanism. These early printed pieces of propaganda contained other poems, including ‘Pareus’, thought to be the work of George Peel, with an editorial assist from Gager.

The year 1586, brought further plots against the Queen, and ‘Horatin odes’ from Gager,. These included one of his rare unpopular offerings, as his poetry continued to eulogise a Queen, who had recently executed insurgent subjects, in towns not too far from Oxford. Gager amended the words in a later reprint, again a sign that he was as responsive to the mood of the people. Further poems attacked Mary, Queen of Scots, whilst others tried to rally England against the Spanish. One was addressed to the ‘Kings of Christendom’ to rally against the English traitors.

Gager probably gained this editorial role because he had demonstrated his loyalty with his vocal offerings, as rhetor and unofficial poet-laureate for Oxford. He was respected within the university precincts and also further afield in the Royal Court, with an extensive list of notable acquaintances, that was growing fast, He was able to ‘pick up the phone’, to the majority of the academic, religious and aristocratic leaders of England. His three propaganda pamphlets, including the ‘Pareus’ odes, and the ‘Sidney’ anthologies, were all published anonymously by the University Press, but his notebooks show they were, very much, the work of William Gager.

There was a dedicatory message to the Earl of Leicester, as a prologue to the Sidney anthology, which indicates closeness between the two, but there is no evidence as to what this relationship was based, although Gager had written several poems about the early death of young Robert Dudley, junior. The Earl of Leicester, himself, died in 1588, so there was no chance to develop this relationship any further. His address to Leicester is long, and here are just a couple of relevant passages.

 ‘To the most excellent Sir Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, governor of the allied provinces of the netherlands ,baron of denbigh, knight of the orders of st. george and st. michael &c., most excellent and approved chancellor of the University of Oxford our mother, greetings

 I was persuaded to undertake this task, in the first place, by the influence of that most worthy gentleman, and by my affection for the University, and also most particularly by my regret for the dead hero, by my duty towards you as a member of the academic community, and by the favors you have both shown for me………

For I thought that an occasion, scarcely inopportune, had been offered me for seeming, if not exactly to repay, at least to repay in part the both of you for the moderate favor he had shown me, and not only for the long-standing and lavish benevolence with which your Excellency has always treated my two uncles, the Cordells, but also for your notable kindness to me, thanks to which I am to this day a son of our College. Farewell.

From Christ Church, Oxford, October 22, 1587. Most devoted to your Excellency’, WILLIAM GAGER
It is worthy of note, that Gager had composed his own personal poem, in memory of Philip Sidney, but he did not include it in the anthology of verses, which he compiled on behalf of the University. There seems to have been a particular friendship between Gager and Sidney, who said he had the ‘greatest of respect for the learning and virtues of William Gager’.

In his own poem about Philip Sidney he compares the dead hero to a swan.

 ‘Sidney, the ancients compared a poet to a swan: each has equal pallor, and equal sweetness of voice. Each rejoices in fountains, meadows, and pleasant streams, and each is dear to divine Phoebus. But unless the mild breeze of the zephyr has blown, the prophetic swan does not sing from his shining throat. Therefore, after your death, our singers will forever fall silent, for you were our sole Zephyr.’

It is difficult to know what Gager’s plays would sound like written in English, because there are none, although he did write a few poems in his mother tongue and they are described as ‘somewhat archaic in style’ by Tucker Brooke. He also says that, ‘Gager’s taste in English verse was probably based, like Shakespeare, on Tottel’s book of ‘Song and Songettes’. Gager mainly used the six line ‘Venus and Adonis’ stanza.’ (Shakespeare alert here I should think…!!!)

Gager’s repertoire does include material of varying styles, and some poems are gentler, even tender, but humour is rarely far away. His comedic approach seems to follow that of Plautus, an early Roman playwright. Word play is essential to both their approaches, with plenty of alliteration and particularly the use of puns. Changing the meaning of words and inventing new ones was part of this theme, and they were the same comedic style and skills shown by a certain Mr Shakespeare in his plays. Plautus is very much thought to be the inspiration behind Shakespeare’s comedies.

George Peele is a name that appears with Gager’s on a regular basis and the couple do seem to complement each other, both in literary style and in personality. Peele was active as a poet and playwright throughout this period and there is suspicion of collaboration between the pair on a number of occasions. If Peele is already associated by scholars with Shakespeare’s ‘Titus Andronicus’, and given the close relationship between Peele and Gager it might not be too adventurous a thought, that if one was wielding the quill pen then the other one was filling the ink pot and perhaps offering a smidgeon of advice to the other. Perhaps William Gager was, indeed, the other half of the partnership?

The climax of Gager’s active period at Oxford was marked by a number of deaths. After Philip Sidney died in 1586, the next was the Earl of Leicester himself in 1588. Edward Cordell died in 1590, but earlier the same year, his own father Gilbert Gager, had passed away in Long Melford. The lack of a single word about his section of the Gager family, outside his own ‘last will’, seems remarkable and unexplainable, particularly when you consider the emotion he regularly showed to almost everyone else, including those he knew only at a distance. Perhaps, he knew Gilbert wasn’t his real father and perhaps the outrage shown by the Cordells to their sister, his mother, was because she had shamed the family by hatching a ‘cuckoo’, fertilized in someone else’s nest.

Records of any contact with his family are absent for 45 years, but they are there in 1601, when his mother made him executor of her will. William Gager inherited her land holdings, in Lavenham, and was responsible for passing on a £15 legacy to each of his siblings. In 1615, Gager, in his own will, does mention his brother John, with plenty of care and affection, but there is no poem or letter. Gager’s own notebook was penned in Latin, so perhaps there was an English version that has evaded researchers. His own family seem to be educated, but were probably not Latin scholars, and so anything he wrote to them would have been in English. Many of his English language letters are still in existence, but these are associated with his role with the Ely diocese. Finding even a single page of correspondence with his family could be most revealing.

In 1590, when Gager finally believed he was to be gifted a degree of financial independence, this was cruelly and unexpectedly taken away by the appearance of a ‘fly by night’ aunt. William Gager was then 35 years old and coming to the height of his powers, and potentially a career as a playwright in the professional theatre beckoned. Peele had followed that course successfully and the attractions of being able to write with financial independence and without the university establishment hovering over him must have seemed attractive and the way forward – but it wasn’t to be, or was it?

William Gager’s final fling

As the popularity of the theatre increased so did the scale of the opposition from the zealots of the Protestant world. The Puritan leaders regarded the stage-play as the work of mammon, and compiled a long list of objections to the performance of popular dramas. Their disgust at the theatrical depictions was headed by an insistence that it was ‘illegal and immoral for men to wear women’s clothes’ and concluded with the belief that no character or word in a play should portray anything that was forbidden in the Bible.

The pressure had caused the professional theatre to be banned from Oxford University, from 1584, but with the support of the Chancellor, Earl of Leicester, student performances were officially classified as ‘classical’ and therefore ‘educational’, and were exempt from the order. University theatre had managed to avoid direct criticism from the Puritan extremists, by claiming they were reprising classical history, merely quoting the exact words of Greek and Latin authors.

The problem for William Gager was that he was behaving like a writer of professional drama, composing his own material, based on a traditional Senecan model, but with modern, popular twists, which pushed to the limits what traditional classical teaching would accept. Gager managed to upset both University Fellows and the hard nosed Puritans, but delighted his friends and student colleagues, who widely praised his efforts.

Only two of Gager’s plays ever made it into print, ‘Meleager’ and ‘Ulysses Redux’, both printed by Joseph Barnes of the Oxford University Press, in 1592, and their publication followed the most frenetic and well documented few weeks of his life, both as a playwright and a theatre producer.

By 1591/92, the Puritans had begun to ramp up the pressure against even the most classical of dramas, and they were led by Dr John Rainold, an ‘Oxford man of extreme sanctity and influence’. A graduate of Corpus Christi, Dr Rainold became a major leader of Puritan thought and was a strong advocate of a new translation of the Bible. Rainold eventually won the day, becoming President of Corpus Christi in 1598, and a member of the team translating the King James’ Bible, although he died, in 1607, before that gargantuan work was released to the populous, in 1611.

The confused and frustrated, Dr Gager, had not yet thrown in the towel, but that moment drew closer. His plan, to end his career as a playwright, was to go out with a large bang, or rather what turned out to be, a succession of loud literary fireworks – but the best laid plans often don’t quite work out the way you might expect.

William Gager announced his retirement as a playwright, on 8th February 1591/2. Maybe he made the decision because of the bile in Edward Cordell’s will, which threw his life plans awry, or because he was just getting tired of the increasing pressure being heaped on the performing arts from all directions. Just maybe, it was because he had better plans in mind, because it was not part of Gager’s character to lie down without a fight. He was the supreme expert at the appropriate literary riposte, which slipped easily off his pen, in times of both personal and national crisis.

The Christ Church authorities approved the sum of £30, for the college to present three plays for the Shrove weekend of February 1591/2. This was many times more than the normal £5 set aside for such festivities and William Gager was charged with master minding the whole enterprise. He wrote his last and regarded, by some, as his greatest play, ‘Ulysses Redux’, for what he decided was to be, his climactic event, his swan song.

His new play was performed on Shrove Sunday, followed by a revival of ‘Rivales’, on Monday, and ended with his ‘improved’ version of Seneca’s ‘Hippolytus’, for Shrove Tuesday. Gager added an extra scene at the beginning of each act of ‘Hippolytus’, as well as his customary, specially prepared, prologue and epilogue. The Greek, Hippolytus was the son of Theseus and Hippolyta, both of whom are main characters in Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘The Two Noble Kinsmen’.

Gager had written only one comedy, ‘Rivales’ and this played a particularly significant part in the program. This was one of Gager’s early works, applauded by the populous and lambasted by the classical scholars. Having been brutally condemned by his critics he had put his comedy writing pen to rest, but ‘Rivales’ hadn’t gone away. He was certainly aware that it would make waves with his Puritan critics and so its inclusion was no accident.

There was no particular Royal guest or celebratory occasion to warrant such an impressive and costly display of Gager’s talents. However, one special person was invited, Dr Rainold, and this looked like a direct challenge by the University, who occupied the Protestant centre ground, to take on the Puritan menace, face to face. Rainold gave no response to his first invitation, and so a second, personal one, was delivered, on the day before the event, by Dr Thomas Thornton, canon of Christ Church. The Puritan leader replied by letter, on the morning of Shrove Sunday, and in the negative, leaving his specially prepared seat of honour, unoccupied. Dr Rainold stayed at home writing the first pages of one of the longest sets of published correspondence in English literary history.

Rainold’s lengthy epistle mentioned ‘men in women’s garments’, which seemed to be his major concern, and added comments about sloth, fornication, devilish apparel, and images of the Catholic or Jewish church. He also complained about the expense and the fact the performance was on the Sabbath. Of course, Rainold wasn’t there to witness the event, so his displeasure was all in his mind’s eye.

Gager replied in the best way he knew, inserting an extra section into the epilogue, at the end of his final drama, ‘Ulysses Redux’, which was performed two day’s later. Rainold’s complaints were acted out with a detractor, ‘Momus’, who was talked down by a ‘responder’, who expressed the opinions of the author. The play was printed by the University Press, in great haste, including Gager’s additions of the Momus, and a copy was sent to the absent Puritan. This was accompanied by a letter from Gager, denying that the play was in any way written as a deliberate sleight, aimed specifically, at Rainold…!?

Dr John Rainold

Dr John Rainold

The reply from Rainold, came several weeks later, on 10th July 1592, with a further twenty seven pages of hand written manuscript. His main target was ‘Rivales’, which he admits he had never seen, but was obviously upset by reports that there were scenes of drunkenness and lewdness. This brought forth a further response from Gager, written in English, instead of his customary Latin. Gager tore into Rainold’s arguments, one by one, using a variety of techniques, to counter or diminish or correct. He even agreed with some of Rainold’s observations about ‘professional’ plays, but stated that academic work was superior.

Gager remained careful to stick to the writing etiquette of the day, to ensure he couldn’t be accused of being coarse or vulgar. Curiously to modern eyes, both protagonists addressed each other in only the politest manner. Gager’s letter was signed, ‘Your very loving friend’ and dated 31st July 1592. Scholars regard Gager’s reply, as one of the finest pieces of English Renaissance prose.

Literary hostilities were then briefly halted, because only ten days later, the Queen announced she was to visit Oxford, in early September. A university committee was quickly formed to manage her stay, and chief among the organisers was William Gager. This was quite against his plans because he had already announced his retirement as a playwright in the epilogue to ‘Hippolytus’, on Shrove Tuesday.

The Queen was to visit Oxford for seven days, ostensibly to avoid the plague, which again was rearing its ugly head in London. Only two plays were to be performed, a comedy by Richard Hutton, who Gager had previously praised as a comic writer, and to follow, as an act of total defiance, Gager chose to present a final performance of ‘Rivales’. Gager added a prologue and epilogue to the Hutton play and he also composed the poetical greeting, which was read by a student as the Queen arrived at the gates of the college. This whole event rather looks like the Queen coming to the aid of one of her most loyal supporters and making a stand against the growing tide of Puritan extremism.

Dr Rainold retaliated by organising a divinity lecture, on the morning of ‘Rivales’, for the courtiers in Elizabeth’s entourage, to which the Queen, herself, was invited, but did not attend. Later, she is reported to have told Rainold ‘to follow her laws not run before them’.

Rainold made a further response, some months later, when he sent Gager a massive 135 page letter.

Gager asked for the correspondence to stop and made no further reply, but a friend and colleague, Italian Protestant, Alberico Gentile, took up the fight and exchanged further letters with Rainold. It was over six years later, in 1599, after Rainold had returned to Oxford as President of Corpus Christi, that he published some, but not all, of this correspondence. Rainold, unsurprisingly, ignored the Oxford University Press for the task, and instead had the letters printed in the Puritan presses of Middleburg, in Holland, with the somewhat presumptious title, ‘The Overthrow of Stage Plays’.

Th'overthrow of stage playes - 1599.

It was only a year or so after Rainold’s ‘Overthrow’ publication, that the Shakespeare comedies, ‘As You Like it’, and ‘Twelfth Night’ were performed, both with leading characters disguising themselves as members of the opposite sex, and so the ‘cross dressing’ debate was kept alive. Some might suggest that Rainold’s publication of his correspondence begat retaliation by ‘Shakespeare’. Neither play made the bookshops immediately, but had to wait until they were published in 1623. Both proved to be popular plays at the time and have continued to be so, until the present day.

Dr Rainold died in 1607 and in 1610, against the wishes of the town and the university, the King’s Men, appeared in Oxford and performed Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ and Ben Jonson’s ‘the Alchemist’. Their specialwarrant from King James meant the Oxford Vice Chancellor was powerless to ban them. One of the main characters in ‘Othello’ bears the name ‘Iago’, which could easily be anglicised as Jager, or perhaps Gager. Had William returned, this time as a character in a play, to perform at the scene of his greatest triumphs?

Gager’s plays do seem to have direct connections to Shakespeare and if we add in the work of his contemporaries, Edes and Peele, we can tick off quite a number. Then there is ‘Rivales’ which we know little about, except it seems to have been a ‘farce’ about rustic wooing, with plenty of slapstick, a genre that would fit into several of the Shakespeare comedies.

There is also the dilemma caused by the Shakespeare plays, where scholars can’t make their mind up whether they be comedy or tragedy. Does it matter, because Gager and Peele seemed very happy to mix the two together, with their tragi-comedy, seemingly an attempt to remove labels from their work and ensure the audience were entertained, not prewarned about what to expect from their productions.

So, we could say that ‘Ulysses Redux’ begat ‘Troilus and Cressida’ and that ‘Hippolytus’ was a sequel to ‘Midsummer Nights Dream’ and ‘Two Noble Kinsmen’, or perhaps they were its prequel. ‘Mealeager’ based on Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ begat ‘Titus Andronicus’, ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’, ‘The Winter’s Tale’ and ‘The Tempest’. Add Richard Edes ‘Julius Caesar’ and Peele’s history play, ‘Edward I’, we are starting to build up quite a collection of Shakespeare ‘spitting images’.

Gager seems to almost totally disappear between 1593 and 1598. He was still claiming his Christ Church allowances, but others were always signing the receipt book on his behalf. The ‘Phoenix Nest’ anthology appeared in 1593, and Gager may well have been a contributor to that compilation.

Was Gager the man with ‘M.A from two universities’, described in the text? Scholars have thought this to be Robert Greene, who also shared the distinction, but he was deceased by the time of publication. Gager might also be associated with the anonymous ‘introduction’ to the ‘Phoenix Nest’, which speaks up in glowing terms, in memory of the Earl of Leicester, something few would have done at the time, except someone who had been one of Robert Dudley’s most loyal supporters.

William Gager did reappear briefly, in 1596, and made a significant contribution, with some strongly worded Latin verse, written in a commemorative book, to mark the passing of Henry Unton. The deceased courtier seems to have had no direct connection with Gager, prior to 1593, but Unton’s family circle did touch the Sidneys, the Dudleys and the Seymours.

Henry Unton was born about 1557, in Oxfordshire, and he gives us another strong link to Italy, where he studied at the University of Padua, in the 1570s. He fought alongside Philip Sidney at the fateful battle of Zutphen, in 1586, and was knighted there, by Robert Dudley. In 1592, Sir Henry was appointed Ambassador to France, but returned to England in 1593 after falling sick. The Queen sent him back to Paris again in 1595, and it was in France that he died, said to be from sweating sickness.

Henry Unton detail

Unton was also the Queen’s ‘man in Paris’, who sent Christopher Marlowe back to London, not long before his demise outside a Deptford tavern. In his lament to Unton’s death, Gager says he never met him personally, although there is another connection, as Gager’s university chum, Matthew Gwinne, was Henry Unton’s personal physician, during the ambassador’s final years.

Rather like the death of Philip Sidney, there is also something particularly significant about the death of Henry Unton, something which marks him out from others, at a time when death was commonplace.

A section of William Gager’s lament about Henry Unton

 ‘Why stir the old fire, scarcely still burning and turned to black cinders? Why are you breaking my ironclad vows of silence, forcing this retired trooper into song? Go on and hurry me along. I shall follow and comply with your insistent commands. But first provoke my mind with real causes for lamentation, for there is need for true ones. This business is not about some play acted with the tragic buskin. I am obliged to write a genuine tragedy, not a fictitious one. Whatever I may produce is your responsibility, and none of the Muses is providing me with aid. I shall not put off doing my duty in the hope that one of them might perhaps come to my assistance. Though unmusical, sorrow makes my verses pour forth.’

 ‘Unton; out of piety I did not wish, nor think it right, not to play my part. I did not wish there to be no tokens of my sorrow and disposition, no matter what their quality might be, to survive your burial. I leave it to others to sing artfully of your death; it is enough for me that I belong to this throng, publishing my sorrow, which is genuine and unvarnished. For why should we seek art in laments, or decorum in tears? For ones that are untaught and unskilled are more fitting. I confess, bravest of men, that in life I had no personal dealings with you, nor did I have any familiarity with your honest face. But that trumpet of your serene virtue which announced you to the world forbids you to be unknown to me, by the means of which no man was better known to me, nor more splendid or welcome.’

The last section says that Gager knows of Unton only by reputation, ‘that trumpet of your serene virtue which announced you to the world’ and ‘the means by which no man was better known to me’, but none of this gives any indication, why he chose to break his three years of ‘vowed’ silence.

Henry Unton’s mother was Anne Seymour, daughter of the executed Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset, and widow of John Dudley, junior. When Dudley died, soon after his release from the Tower, she married Edward Unton and they produced Henry Unton. In her old age, Anne Seymour-Unton suffered severe bouts of ‘madness’, perhaps caused by syphilis, and was put in the care of her son Henry, at his home in Faringdon, Oxfordshire, where she died, in 1588.

Unton was close friends with several significant characters in this story, notably Christopher Hatton and his nephew, William Hatton, plus those Russell and Hoby families. That is on top of his link to the Dudley lineage, which took him into close proximity with the Walsinghams and the Devereux clan. Friendships with John Case (Gager’s friend) and the musician John Dowland also add to the intrigue.

Unton’s whole career was based on this patronage and friendships, but he stands out from the rest because of a single, iconic, painting, one that tempts me to believe that he may have been the instigator of the whole ‘Shakespeare’ idea.

Henry Unton died in 1596, just a few weeks before George Peele, and was buried in Faringdon church, with the most ornate monument being created in his memory. However, this was all but destroyed during Cromwell’s Civil War, but an idea of the grandeur of the edifice can be gauged from its depiction in the biographical painting, which was commissioned by his wife, Dorothy Wroughton.

Henry Unton’s striking portrait, of a man holding a pen and writing on a blank sheet of paper, looks as though it ought to have the name ‘William Shakespeare’ emblazoned upon it. The image has similarities with the Droeshout engraving and the blank page suggests something mysterious is at hand.

Henry Unton’s death was greeted by this book of memorial verse, edited by Gager and printed by the Oxford Press. The vigour with which his death was celebrated, by his wife, Gager and streams of others, suggests that Unton was a more important figure than previously conjectured.

Unton pic large

Sir Henry Unton – © National Portrait Gallery, London

After three years out of the limelight, Gager also took the opportunity to mention in his offering, other friends who had meant so much to him. These included Philip Sidney, and in particular Walter Devereux, the younger brother of the Earl of Essex, who had died in the siege of Rouen, in 1591.

Where Gager was living or how he was earning a crust between 1593 and 1596 is a mystery. His previous history shows he was quite incapable of surviving on the meagre university income, which he was still claiming by proxy, and so he must have had a benefactor or other employment that has remained undiscovered. His law degree was an obvious potential form of income and his university colleague, the Italian, Gentile, was a practising civil lawyer, in London, as well as a tutor in Oxford, so perhaps they were in legal practice together.

Aspects of Gager’s blast of poetry, in 1596, suggest that he had not returned to Oxford since 1593, and then there is also this telling quote; ‘Why are you breaking my ironclad vows of silence, forcing this retired trooper into song?’

We can only speculate what was going on behind the scenes in William Gager’s life. Had he decided that he was never to write again, after the Rainold exchanges, and what was it about Henry Unton that would cause such a decision to be reversed? A ‘retired trooper’ certainly gives that impression, but ‘ironclad vows of silence’ sounds much more intriguing, as though Gager is trying to conceal something of consequence. What is odd is that after George Peele’s death, a few weeks later, in November 1596, nothing came from William Gager, not a single word written in memory of his friend.

Gager with his Plautine humour, liked to make Latin puns and word-plays based on English proper names, which he seems to have been done for his own amusement, as well as that of the reader. This was very much in evidence in the last piece he wrote in his Oxford notebook.

William Gager’s time at Oxford, finished in 1599, and it was at the end of that year when he sent a New Year’s gift, and a poem, to his old university friend, Martin Heton, who was now, Bishop of Ely.

The translation of part of the poem reads:

‘This is the only New Year’s gift I can afford to send. And what would be equal to your merits, or equal to the favor you have shown me, and what such gift would match my good will towards you? In this situation, what am I to do, unless at length I send you myself. Nobody has anything greater than himself that he can send.’

The poem accompanied the gift of a pair of gloves and in typical Gager style, the poem contains a number of Latin puns, including one that Dana Sutton suggests, is a gift from the ‘glove-maker’, himself. Gager had previously sent George Peele a pair of gloves, when thanking him for his help in staging plays in Oxford. Is there any possible allusion to the son of another glove-maker?


Martin Heton – Bishop of Ely

The Ely poem reads like a job application and the ruse worked as Gager was speedily installed as Vicar-General of Ely, and deputy to the Vice-Chancellor, Richard Swale. When Swale resigned in 1606, Gager replaced him the very next day, with the unusual caveat of being appointed for life. This was not a religious post, but one where the skills of a lawyer were needed to manage the vast business affairs of the diocese, particularly the large portfolio of properties, which crossed 300 parishes.

After leaving Oxford, Gager wrote only a small piece of verse for the death of his heroine, Queen Elizabeth, but this was unusually restrained, ‘wishing he could be inspired like before’. He made congratulatory verses to King James, on his accession, but they do not survive, only a reference that they existed. He is absent in volumes, published in 1603 and 1605, when Christ Church celebrated a Royal visit from the King, but by then he had moved on to a new way of life, in Cambridgeshire.

One more major piece of work is attributed to William Gager. ‘Pyramis’ is a lengthy poem, based around the Gunpowder Plot, that took place in November 1605. The poem was not printed, but intended to be a hand written personal gift from Gager to King James, to be presented on 5th November 1608. This was a long rambling poem, written directly to the King, in Latin verse, being thankful that the monarch had been saved from the hands of Catholic rebels.The timing is strange because this was three years after the event, but, maybe significantly, the year following the death of Dr Rainold.

Gager’s last reported appearance at Christ Church, Oxford, was to take part in the summer vesperies of July 1608. The subject for debate was ‘marital chastisement’, an appropriate subject as some of his earlier work had shown Gager had an antagonism towards women and a liking for his own sex. Gager had denounced women’s ‘capacitie for learning, themselves adjudged worthie of blows.’ His oration, on the contentious subject, caused a young student to publish an ‘open’ letter to Gager, written in strong terms, accusing him of being a misogynist – not a great lover of women.

An apology for women - 1608

This pamphlet was later discovered to come from Mr William Heale, MA, a chaplain-fellow from Exeter College, Oxford. This was written as a serious rebuke to Gager, potentially questioning his sexuality and therefore threatening his position as Vice-Chancellor, at Ely. Proven homosexuality was then a crime punishable by imprisonment, even death, and relationships that might be seen as normal, at the ‘all male’ universities were treated as criminal and scandalous in mainstream society.

There is no record of any response by Gager, but these events may offer yet another potential solution to the Shakespeare’s Sonnets conundrum, which were published, not long afterwards, in May 1609, dedicated – to ‘Mr W.H.’ If, William Gager did have a connection to Shakespeare’s Sonnets, than responding in this way would be typical of the man, dealing with a potentially serious threat to his new, ecclesiatical life in Ely, in a sensitive and literary way.

William Gager also had another defence, because he was no longer without a woman in his life. After taking up his post, he had married a widow, Mary Tovey, who already had two children, and they all lived at her home in Chesterton, near Cambridge, a mile from Pembroke College and twelve miles from his head office, at Ely Cathedral. Whether this was a marriage of convenience can only be speculated, but he was nearly fifty years old, when he first tied the matrimonial knot. Gager’s job encompassed the entire diocese of Ely which covered parishes in Cambridgeshire and stretched into surrounding counties.

Less than five miles along the Ely Road, from Chesterton, was Denny Abbey, which would have provided a good ‘truck’ stop, on the journey to his head office. Remember though, that in William Gager’s time, the accommodating nuns were no longer in residence and the site had become just a farmed estate. No doubt the new owners would have offered their important clerical traveller a little sustenance, to help him on his way.

William Gager's East Anglia

The final formal literary contribution found under William Gager’s name is a signifcant one, and was made in 1613. He wrote two poems for a Cambridge anthology, compiled to celebrate the marriage of Frederick V, Elector of Palatine, Germany, to Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of King James. The doubling-up of Gager’s degree qualifications had proved worthwhile, as this gave him academic access to both universities and an added foothold in East Anglian life, an area he continued to regard as his homeland.

Gager’s main contribution to the Royal matrimonial festivities was a poetic comparison between the groom, Prince Frederick, and the classical figure of Jason, retrieving the Golden Fleece. This obviously had an effect on the German Prince, because the same theme was taken up when the newlyweds made their triumphant entry into Heidelberg, with Frederick, costumed as ‘Jason’, riding on a carriage decked out to be the ‘Argo’. This work by Gager was never published, but individual copies were presented to Prince Frederick and King James I son, Prince Charles, who accompanied the couple on their visit to Cambridge. The content of this anthology was only discovered in 1962, when Frederick’s personal copy was found in the Vatican City library, in Rome.

William Gager’s mother, Thomasina Cordell, had died, in 1601, leaving him the copyhold to eight acres of land at Lavenham, plus other lands elsewhere. The will also gave him the responsibility to ensure his brothers, John and James, received £15, from their mother’s estate. Melford historian, Lyn Boothman thinks that the two brothers may have been ‘recusant Catholics’ following in the Cordell tradition, further complicating the relationship that William had with his siblings.

That theory doesn’t fit though, because Thomasina, left her ‘Great Bible’ to her son, John, which seems to refer to the version authorised by King Henry VIII, in 1538, and was the standard English, Protestant text, before being superceded by the Bishop’s Bible, in 1568.

This Bible, though could be the key to Thomasina falling out with her siblings, as William Cordell maintained his Catholic faith, and therefore his wish to see Latin and not English used as the the language of prayer. Was their falling out, therefore, due to religion not because she loved a lesser being, or had sex with an unknown courtesan. Just more pieces of jigsaw which need to be deciphered.!

Some of the family bitterness with the Cordell family, must have subsided by this time, as a year later, in 1602, his aunt, Jane Allington, left him £40 in her will, probably after the tribute he wrote on the death of her young son, his nephew. After the death of her brothers, Jane had inherited Melford Hall, which if justice had been done, should instead have passed to the writer’s mother, then to William Gager himself. £40 was a fair amount, but still no more than a token sum, because William Gager could have spent the last twenty years of his life as the Master of Melford Hall.

William Gager signed his own will, on 24th July 1615. Gager was not sick, but he states that the date coincided with his 60th birthday. However, just fourteen days earlier, on 10th July, Henry Neville of Billingbear House had died. Neville had not been a well man for several months, but his death was mysterious as he had been expected to be the guest at a dinner function, but never arrived.

Did the unexplained death of a ‘friend’, prompt Gager to head straight for the parchment and pen? Many leading political and literary characters of this period, mysteriously met their end at convenient times for the ‘establishment’, and so did Gager suspect his ‘colleague’ had met a convenient death and might he be next on the list. This is pure speculation and a 60th birthday seems to be good reason to write a will, but with any important action, there is usually a cause and effect.

William Gager died in his family home, in Chesterton, Cambridge, in September 1622, just as someone else’s plays were in the hands of the compositors at the Jaggard printshop. This was the third attempt at an anthology of Shakespeare’s work and all by the same printers.

My family tree research suggests that William Jaggard and William Gager, should really both have been called, William Jagger, and they were cousins, with Pennine blood running through their veins.

Was this, indeed, a cosy family group, which until today has evaded the notice of those that take such great interest in the works of the Bard of Avon? This may well be another step too far for literary scholars, so let us see how the evidence stacks up.

T17 Virtual Jagger tree



So, who were the Gagers?

William Gager became angry and frustrated in certain situations, and with certain types of people, and there is an on-going scenario in this saga, which creates the same emotions with me. I have corresponded with a good number of top-notch Shakespeare scholars and I have spoken personally to a number of other experts of similar ilk. They almost to a man and a woman, not unsurprisingly, throw doubts on many of my hypotheses about William Shakespeare. They are the experts and I am not.

However, these scholars and experts also rubbish my work on the Jagger family tree, something they know next to nothing about. Their ignorance, doesn’t prevent them from pontificating on the Gager/Jaggard name, and again, almost to a man and a woman they say this is obviously a foreign name and has nothing to do with Yorkshire and little to do with Suffolk.

These ‘experts’ in one field, seem to want it both ways – always right no matter what there level of knowledge on the subject. Are these really clever people, with a string of acclamations to their names, just proving they are as blinkered as previous Victoran scholars?

My only conclusion has to be, that the experts may be rather afraid, that if I am correct in one set of assumptions, then I might be right in others, and that could throw aspects of the accepted Shakespeare story into question, even disarray. They are questioning, close to ten years of work, with thousands of hours of research, chasing the records of my Jaggar family, the one with the rare name.

The most exhaustive work possible has been undertaken, with the major emphasis placed on the name variations that are found in London and the South East of England. Although, I’m sure there are still more records to be found, there is clearly no parallel family that has been overlooked. Each variation of the name has been followed both backwards and forward in time, trying to determine whether it is a distinct branch, or just a simple one-off spelling mistake.

The Jagger name is also well documented in Europe, but is equally rare and the ‘Jaeger’ spelling, which the ‘experts’ frequently throw in my face, appears to have no connection to either Yorkshire or to the southern branches in London and Suffolk. Jäger appears in the later 18th century and Jaeger not until the 19th century, usually in London, where there was an influx of German migrants in the sugar baking business..

There is not the slightest hint anywhere that the Jaggers, Jaggards and Gagers in this story, have any connection to the continent of Europe. If William, John or Isaac Jaggard were Jewish migrants from Spain, or from foreign printer stock, on the other side of the Channel, then you would expect it to be mentioned somewhere, but no, again there is a nil return. The Jagger family seem English, loyal to the Crown and very Protestant in their beliefs.

Some of the most interesting entries, in this whole debate, relate to William Jaggard’s marriage to Jayne ‘Bryne’, in 1594, followed by Isaac’s baptism a year later. William’s name is boldly written as ‘Gagger’, in the marriage record, but Isaac’s baptism, a year later, appears as a scratchy ‘Jagar’ or possibly ‘Jager’. Yes they are the correct people, but it does clearly demonstrate that spelling was still a movable feast, even after the family had established themselves in the printing and publishing business.

So, the totality of my Jagger research, points me towards the conclusion that the Gager family of Long Melford, led by Robert, came down from Calderdale, in the latter part of the 15th century or early part of the 16th , and from there, one member of the family moved on to live in Coleman Street.

However, I have found no conclusive records linking William Gager, the playwright, to William Gager the Arbella surgeon, who died in Massachussets, despite the fact they were born only a mile or so apart.

However, the mention by a fellow migrant to the New World, that John Winthrop was related to the surgeon, does seem to strengthen what seems an obvious Sykes Law association, of name and place, with both Winthrop and Gager being related, by marriage, to the Clopton family.

I have found no connection between William Gager, Arbella surgeon, whose father was recorded in American migration records as John, and the John Jagger, barber-surgeon, of Coleman Street, whose son John Jaggard, the printer, also produced barber-surgeons, later in his family. They can’t be the same man, because one had died before the other was born, but there are other options in the Melford tree, with at least two Johns around at the right time. A John Gager was, indeed, William Gager the playwright’s younger brother, so this could be our man. However, ‘Johns’ continue to create uncertainty in my family trees and they certainly do here.

The connection between the Jagger and Clopton family of Coleman Street and the Gager and Clopton family of Long Melford, does look enticing. The connection between the Clopton family and the last prioress at Denny Abbey, would mean very little, except it was the home village of Richard Jugge, the Queen’s printer and also home of the ‘gilliflower & rose’, the core section of the printer’s mark of Roberts and Jaggard, and so emblazoned on a significant number of Shakespeare quartos.

he lack of anything concrete to tie these people together might ring alarm bells, if the occupations and names were common, but they are not. The various spellings of the Jagger name, are rare in the extreme, whilst, in Elizabethan England, barber-surgeons and printers were certainly not ‘ten a groat’.

I am also reassured by what we know for sure, about William Gager, the writer.

There was no recorded contact between him and his own Gager family, for 46 years, but his mother still had the confidence to make him the executor of her will, and in his own will, he still mentions with affection, the need to care for his brother. We also know that when the Jaggards, William, John and Isaac, passed away in 1623-25, they made no mention in their own wills, of other family members.

The one certain connection between William Gager, the poet and the Jaggard family of printers is via a bookshop. The Tottel bookshop, the ‘Hand and Star’, had the monopoly on legal books and was in the heart of the lawyers’ world, close to the Inns of Court. In addition, William Jaggard’s first publishing enterprise was also based close to the legal eagles, at St Dunstan in the West. William Gager’s search for law books had taken him to London in the 1580s and he must have visited Tottel’s bookshop on this and several other occasions. This is where John Jaggard was working for his apprenticeship, and where he remained until the monopoly rights to print law books were lost, in 1597.

So, the lack of a barking dog, doesn’t appear to be as crucial as it might be in other circumstances, and with the confidence that the ‘Sykes rules’ of time and space still apply, I continue with the assertion that Jagger, Gager and Jaggard are one extended family, and they all fit snuggly on to my family tree.

The link between Long Melford and Calderdale continues to grow, and the status of the Jagger family, in both places, lifts them out of the peasant classes, although not quite as far as the gentry, but they were, certainly, respected in both places. The threads that link Yorkshire and Suffolk to William Cordell, also help to tie the Melford Gager family more tightly to their northern namesakes.

The Jagger family name is noted in several places in Yorkshire, as neighbours of the Savile family and associated with the farms of the Knights Hospitaller, their earliest land holdings in England. The Hospitaller thread reaches from the top to the bottom of this story and their influence and their symbolism encompass everyone and everywhere. All my leading characters, including the Bard himself, seem to have a direct link to these Benedictine Knights.

Going off into ‘left field’ again, I began to have more thoughts about the name Beatrice, widow of Richard Gager of Long Melford and Cristian, widow of the wealthier, Robert. These are not common names now and certainly weren’t common in Tudor times, certainly amongst the English peasanthood. Beatrice does have the feel of French Norman ‘toffs’ about it ,and if I was correct, then there ought to be a Beatrice figuring amongst the elite members of the Calder Valley faithful. Well, I looked and yes ‘Bea’ was there, and ticking several of the right boxes.

Richard Woodruffe of Wooley, Yorkshire, married Beatrice Fitzwilliam of Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire, in about 1480, and they had a daughter Beatrice Woodruffe, born about 1485. Wooley Grange is only five miles west of Kirkburton and adjacent to the village of Kexborough, mentioned as one of the earliest homes of a Jagger. Beatrice Woodruffe married Thomas Wentworth, known as ‘Golden Thomas’ because of his wealth, and his estate was not too far away, at Wentworth, near Woodhouse. They had a child Beatrice Wentworth, born 1527 and she, perhaps inevitably, married a Savile; John Savile of Wath, around 1560. The Fitzwilliam and Wentworth families were wealthy and influential and carry that influence through to the present day.

Richard Gager’s marriage to Beatrice was probably in the late 15th or early 16th century, and although she might not have been a Fitzwilliam or a Wentworth, she could be one of those ‘gateway’ people who slipped off the edge of the main family tree, with the name being used by a sibling or a cousin. The Beatrice name arrived in the Jagger homeland at exactly the right time, to be Richard’s bride.

Then there is Cristian. Well that name also appears in the Fitzwilliam family, just once, in 1510, and in the family of William Fitzwilliam (1460-1534), merchant tailor, sheriff of London, treasurer and high chamberlain to Cardinal Wolsey. This connects far too many of the people, who are topping my bill of ‘A’ list celebrities. This line also links back to the family of Beatrice Fitzwilliam and later to Anne Fitzwilliam who married Anthony Cooke, yes, the brainy Cooke clan are on the scene again.

William Fitzwilliam took as his second wife, Mildred, the daughter of Robert Sackville of Buckhurst, a name that is about to figure prominently in this saga, at the birth of the Shakespeare era. It almost certainly spawned the name Mildred Cooke, who became wife to William Cecil.

Yes, my unfettered imagination has run riot again, and just by throwing a few similar names and places into the melting pot. However, don’t be too dismissive, because names are important and rare ones even more so. They provide markers, which are then taken up and used by other family members.

Making the Jagger folk of Calderdale, Suffolk and Coleman Street into one big happy family, means they are all part of the same jigsaw and the pieces do fit together rather beautifully. This then ties together, so many different characters in this Shakespeare story, many who otherwise were merely journeymen, wandering through Tudor England, with little biography to support their existence.

If I am wrong then ask yourself the question, where did this odd collection of disparate people, with the strange names, come from? Did the Jaggers, Gagers and Jaggards just appear out of thin air? They had a life and a history and my explanation of the Jagger family genealogy gives them both, tying them all together, neatly, although not yet, completely to my satisfaction.

But now – after my rattle throwing interlude – back to the hunt for Mr Shakespeare…!!!

 William Gager and the Countess

Until 1592, William Gager had had no direct connection with Mary Herbert, the sister of Philip Sidney, who had gained the title, the Countess of Pembroke, after her marriage to Henry Herbert. All that changed after the Shrove theatrical trilogy, because a few weeks after the announcement of his retirement, and in the midst of the contretemps with Dr Rainold, Gager wrote a personalised prologue to the Countess, which was attached to a printed copy of ‘Ulysses Rex’. This was couched in Gager’s usual deferential and modest tone, and seems to have been written with similar motives to the poem he later sent to Richard Heton, at Ely. This prologue looks like an unsolicited job application, or at the very least, a request for patronage and financial support, very much out of character for a man who usually stuck closely to the social conventions of the day.

‘O, most noble & learned noblewoman, Lady Mary, Countess of Pembroke, greetings

I am acting extremely shamelessly, illustrious Lady, who am not known to you by sight and scarcely by name, but am nevertheless thrusting myself on your Highness with my writings. But my sense of shame is alleviated, in the first place, by your kindness, which is so celebrated by all lovers of the Muses that it, or your very reputation, has impelled me to this audacity. Then too, there is my affection, out of which I have not only been devoted to your highly praised (although never adequately praised) brother, Philip Sidney, both in life and in death, but have also always cultivated the entire Sidney family, always deeming it worthy of all honor.

Finally, your most learned Casey (possibly Dr John Case), will excuse my action, in part by recently relating mention of me in your conversation, in part because by asserting your singular warmth towards all men he finally seduced me into drawing myself to your attention by some honorable means and no way struck me as more honorable than that of literature, particularly of poetry.

 Not that I would be a poet or be considered one (who am I to dare hope this?), but because I appreciated that by no other activity could I ever approach you more well recommended and welcome. Because of this title of patroness of the arts, our poets are much indebted to your Serenity, because you so generously foster their talent and ability, and you win for yourself by far the most desirable reward, to wit, glory, in the absence of which what can strike you as worth seeking in this life?

Mary Sydney Herbert 1590

Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke – © National Portrait Gallery, London

…… therefore under whose protection can this my Ulysses (and no man has ever been more indebted to poets than he) better place himself, after he has left illustrious Buckhurst, our Ulysses and Chancellor, than yours? But just as certain paintings are not approved unless viewed in dim light, or as stage costumes are more pleasing by nocturnal torchlight than in the day, so I fear lest my Ulysses, stripped of gesture, voice, all the machinery of tragedy, and, as it were, the extra allure of lamplight, will not suffice to withstand not only the superior light of your intellect and judgement, but also the surpassing dazzle of your eyes and great beauty. Wherefore I ask of you, most noble Countess, that, like another Penelope, you extend your hand to be kissed by this Ulysses arriving, not at Ithaca, but now for the first time onto the stage. And I fully trust that you will grant this.

In exchange for your great humanity, what more can I hope for you than that some Homer might arise by whose very fine poem you can be commended to eternity equally with Penelope? I can hope for a smoother fortune for you, but surely not for a more illustrious reputation. Farewell’ – Christ Church, Oxford, May 10, 1592.

This epistle, to the Countess, was written AFTER Gager’s announcement of retirement, in February and several weeks BEFORE he received the ‘27 pager’ from Dr Rainold, or had written his long, eloquent reply, which was sent on 31st July 1592. The timings seem important, because he had clearly decided to take a new road in his life, and this is Gager touting his skills to the literary lady of the age.

William Gager had been a friend and acquaintance of Philip Sydney, but not previously with his sister. However, Gager had heard from their mutual friend, Dr Casey, that she had spoken about him, and this must have prompted his rather ‘outrageous’, unsolicited approach. The mention of Buckhurst, was Lord Buckhurst, the new Chancellor of Oxford University, who Gager suggests is about to be deserted by ‘Ulysses’, who I take to be the author, William Gager himself.

Far better men (and women) than me, might like to interpret this epistle, but to me it opens up a gateway to explain Gager’s missing years. The lady herself, has been mentioned several times already, but now is the time for a more complete biography of a central figure in the ‘authorship question’.

Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, 1561-1622, was the sister of Philip and Robert Sidney, and the daughter of Mary Dudley, the Earl of Leicester’s sister. The Countess was a passionate, red-head, and probably the first of her sex to take on the men, at their own literary games. She spoke numerous languages, played numerous musical instruments and organised the best parties, but despite her flamboyance, Mary Herbert managed to gain a reputation as a devout, religious woman, at least in her early days.

The Countess stated her main aim in life was to further her religious calling, as a Calvinist theologian, so giving her a public persona, that was ‘pious, virtuous and learned’. Mary, together with her brother, Philip, embarked on a major religious project, to create an updated English version of the Book of Psalms, revising the previous metrical psalter, written thirty years earlier. Before he died, Philip had finished composing forty three psalms and the Countess later completed numbers 44-150, each in its own distinctive metre. These circulated amongst her friends, several of whom made reference to them, and a copy was presented to Queen Elizabeth, in 1599, but they were never published for wider sale, until after the Countess’s death.

The Countess was the first woman to publish a stage-play, ‘The Tragedy of Antonie’ (1592), which has many similarities to Shakespeare’s ‘Antony and Cleopatra’, and this is commonly regarded as a source for the Bard’s play. Her play, you will recall, was printed on the presses of Peter Short, successor to Henry Denham, and shared by William Jaggard.

The re-editing and publishing of her brother’s, ‘Arcadia’, is her best known work, and is said to be used as a source by Shakespeare, in the amended, 1623 version, of King Lear. Philip Sidney had written this romantic prose for his sister, but had not been finished before his fatal wounding, in 1586. The Countess completed the task, publishing the work as ‘The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia’.

In Greek mythology, Arcadia was an unspoiled, harmonious wilderness, the very atmosphere she wished to create at her home, Wilton House, where she played host to many of the great literary names of the day, who became known as the ‘Wilton Circle’.

The Countess, also, had a keen interest in mathematics, music and alchemy. She built a laboratory at Wilton House and is known to have invented invisible ink and created secret musical codes. Later, we see how many of the Wilton Circle also shared her taste for alchemy and the ‘dark and mystical arts’.

Wilton House, near Salisbury

Wilton House, near Salisbury – © John Goodall

Despite her devout religious views, her love life seems as complicated as any of her contemporaries. The Countess married an older man, Henry Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, who was sick for the final years of his life, and this must have led her into the temptation of her literary guests. Many of the poets were known to be homosexual, but others were ready to woe the lady, with their romantic verse. Some scholars say her love life followed closely the theme of the Bard’s sonnets and that we should not be looking for a young man, as the author of the romantic verses, but a love torn woman.

After her husband died, she began a love affair with Dr Matthew Lister, a man ten years her junior, who was the physician to Queen Anne. Lister was a Yorkshire man, from Thornton, who had trained at Oriel College, Oxford and Basle. She suspected him of having an affair with the, ‘dark haired’, Mary Wroth, but it seems he was innocent of that offence and there is a suspicion that it was her son, William, who was visiting that particular bedroom.

As Mary Sidney, she had spent her formative years at Ludlow Castle, on the Welsh borders, but in 1575 she moved to London to become a lady in waiting to Queen Elizabeth. Her marriage meant she was the third wife of the much older, Henry Herbert, a political union arranged by her uncle, Robert Dudley. Her husband’s mother was Anne Parr, sister of Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth wife, whilst her husband’s first wife had been Catherine Grey, sister of Lady Jane Grey. The marriage of the two Grey girls had taken place on the same day, as a joint celebration, but after Queen Jane Grey was executed, Henry Herbert’s marriage was, conveniently, dissolved.

During the Marian period, Henry Herbert’s father, William, had entertained King Philip II of Spain, at Wilton House, and Henry served in the Spanish king’s household, during his stay in England. Henry later became ‘best buddy’ with Robert Dudley, at Elizabeth’s Royal Court and when his father-in-law, Henry Sidney, died, he succeeded him as Lord President of Wales, the family living in Ludlow Castle.

Henry Herbert had a great interest in heraldry, was a patron of the arts and in particular, patron of the theatre troupe, the ‘Lord Pembroke’s Men’, the first company known to perform Shakespeare’s ‘Titus Andronicus’ (1594) and ‘Henry VI part 3’ (1595). As we will see, this is just one of a myriad of connections between the Pembroke family and the Shakespeare canon. There would seem to be too many to ignore, although the majority of scholars, although not all, have described, ‘yet another singular fact’, as purely another series of random coincidences.

During his last years, the Earl was not a well man, and the relationship between husband and wife seemed strained in the extreme. He died in 1600/01, leaving the Countess with only limited money and a rather vindictive condition of his will, that she mustn’t remarry. The Countess did retain use of the family estates, at Baynard’s Castle, beside the Thames, in London, and Wilton House, which had legally passed to her two sons, William (1580-1630) and Philip (1584-1650).

The two boys had initially been educated at home, by Samuel Daniel, one of the Wilton Circle of poets, another whose name appears in this story, with some regularity. In 1603, Daniel was created Master of Queen’s Revels, the new consort, giving him, ongoing, influence in the world of the theatre.

When James I acceded, in 1603, he had been unable to take immediate possession of his London palaces, because of the plague, so instead spent several weeks with the Dowager Countess, at Wilton. On one occasion, he was entertained by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, which were to be renamed, the ‘King’s Men’ when he granted them his warrant a few weeks later.. In a letter to her son William, she told him to come to Wilton, because ‘we have the man Shakespeare with us’, although she gives no mention of him as a writer. The Countess and her family continued their close association with King James and, as we shall see, her sons became ‘essential’ members of the Royal Court.

From that time onwards, her new role of Dowager Countess, meant she spent more time in London and later she found the money to build a grand house, in Bedfordshire. This was Houghton House, designed by Inigo Jones, and thought to be the basis for the ‘House Beautiful’, mentioned in John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrims Progress’. Her relationship with the King continued to the end, as she entertained him at Houghton House, only a few weeks before she succumbed to smallpox.

The Countess of Pembroke was given a lavish funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral, before being buried alongside her husband in Salisbury Cathedral. She was praised from many quarters for her literary and moral leadership and the ceremony of her passing had everything that Shakespeare’s had lacked.

‘Underneath this sable hearse,
Lies the subject of all verse,
Sidney‘s sister, Pembroke’s mother.
Death, ere thou hast slain another
Fair and learned and good as she,
Time shall throw a dart at thee.’

When watching a documentary about the authorship question, one supporting the merits of the Earl of Oxford, a single image jumped out of the screen, almost in a moment of revelation. The startling image was of a goddess holding a spear. She was Athena, the Greek Goddess of war, wisdom, and the arts, noted for her courage, but particularly her inspiration to others to create a just and civilised world. The Countess of Pembroke seemed to be the embodiment of Athena, the spear-shaker.

Though, Athena was primarily a goddess of war, she disliked fighting without purpose and preferred to use wisdom to settle arguments. Any comparison with the Countess falls down in the fidelity stakes, whereas Athena and the Roman equivalent, Minerva were virgins, Mary Sidney was not, but in many ways the Countess had all the attributes of the shaking-spear goddess.

Athena has appeared previously in this saga, a popular figure with the Inner Temple and remember too, that Robert Dudley had been made ‘Prince Pallaphilos, the lieutenant of Athena and Patron of the Order of the Pegasus’, when he was decorated by the lawyers of the Middle Temple.


The Countess’s loss of income, in 1601, meant much of her literary patronage had been taken over by her son, William Herbert, who had inherited the title of Earl of Pembroke. Some anti-Stratfordians suggest that William Herbert is the ‘young man’ urged to marry, in Shakespeare’s Sonnets, because he was very reluctant player in the marriage game. One was arranged for him, in 1595, to Bridget de Vere, daughter of the Earl of Oxford and grand daughter of Lord Burghley, but this nuptual never took place.

In the year of his inheritance, the new Earl had an affair with Mary Fitton, Queen Elizabeth’s maid in waiting, another candidate to be the ‘dark lady’ of the Sonnets. This caused major problems for William, because the Queen refused to appoint him to his father’s previous roles, banned him from Court and he was exiled to Wilton. This was rough treatment for the young man, who had been born with a wonderful pedigree, that had been further enhanced with an impressive set of godparents; Robert and Ambrose Dudley, Philip Sidney and Queen Elizabeth, herself.

William Herbert had become close to Robert Cecil, who had taken over from his father as the ‘right hand man’ to the monarch, but even he couldn’t extricate the Earl of Pembroke from the consequences of putting the girl in the family way. Conveniently, for almost everyone, except the child and the mother, the baby died at birth and so that solved one problem. It was only the death of Queen Elizabeth, which improved things for the young Earl of Pembroke, and the arrival of James I, transformed the family fortunes, opening an Alladin’s cave for all members of the Pembroke family.

The explicit Pembroke/Herbert family connections to the 1623 folio, have prompted scholars to suggest that this is the same ‘Mr W. H.’, mentioned in the Sonnet dedication in 1609, and this is why many look to match the lives of the Herberts and Sidneys to these 154 poems. However, by this time ‘Mr’ William Herbert was already an ‘Earl’ so it would seem to be a strange and inappropriate dedication to make to an important nobleman, one who had become one of the senior figures in the Royal Court.

Eventually, the Earl did marry, to Mary Talbot, the petite daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, but their only child died in infancy. This marriage joined together two of the richest families in England, and helped Pembroke settle the financial burden that accompanied his father’s will.

It is thought Pembroke had a continuing affair with his cousin, Mary Wroth, (daughter of Robert Sidney), after the death of her husband, in 1614. Wroth was also a poet and perhaps the second woman, after the Countess, to be acknowledged openly for her literary skills. The illicit affair was said to produce two children, Catherine and William, but this reference was only discovered in 1932, when a 17th century Herbert family document came to light, found in a family archive in Cardiff. This account is challenged in a recent book, by Brian O’Farrell, who pours scorn on this idea, calling it a figment of the writer’s imagination. The Earl of Pembroke remained married to his wife, until she died in 1620.

William Herbert was made Lord Chamberlain in 1615, and part of his duties included being the ‘Minister for the Arts’. He was rumoured to have been close to Queen Anne, who had been a major patron of the arts throughout her husband’s reign, and it is suggested, she who was the driving force behind the Royal patronage of the Jacobean theatre, rather than her husband. We have already seen how Pembroke used his power as Lord Chamberlain to twice seek to control the publishing rights of the Shakespeare canon, and he never seems far away from activities, covert or otherwise, associated with the creation of the Shakespeare persona.

William Herbert - 3rd Earl of Pembroke

William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, Lord Chamberlain – 1625

© National Portrait Gallery, London

This is also the period when the Earl of Pembroke is reputed to have become Grand Master of the Freemasons, a title according to ‘Anderson’s Constitutions’, he held from 1618 to his death in 1630. The connection between the Herberts, Wilton House and Freemasonry shows up with increasing frequency, from now onwards and is given full rein in a later chapter.

The sexual exploits of the Herbert family were complicated in the extreme and understanding them a little more, might help to unravel the riddle of William Shakespeare’s existence, and certainly offer explanations why secrecy might be high on the agenda.

The younger brother, Philip Herbert, certainly adds to the rumour and speculation, because his career took a different sexual direction, as he was taken into the Court, being made a ‘Gentleman of the Privy Chamber’, in May 1603, only a month into the new King’s reign. Only a month later, he was elevated to become a Knight of the Bath…! This rapid rise through the ranks may have been on account of the relationship built up during the King’s stay at Wilton, during the early weeks of his reign. The King and his courtier did seem to get on remarkably well.

James I - 1606    Philip Herbert - 4th Earl of Pembroke

King James I of England – 1606 & Philip Herbert – 1615 © National Portrait Gallery

In 1604, Philip Herbert married Susan de Vere, sister of the lady rejected by his brother. The marriage took place only a few weeks after the death of her father, the Earl of Oxford, and is therefore a significant event for those that promote Oxford’s candidature to be the Bard of Avon, as it ties in the Sidneys and Herberts to Edward de Vere, but all rather too late in the day I believe.

The King had encouraged the union of Philip and Susan de Vere, but this may have been a marriage of convenience, because James continued to bestow favours on the handsome young Philip. In 1605, he was promoted to ‘Gentleman of the Bedchamber’, awarded an honorary Master of Arts, at Oxford, and unusually for a younger sibling, given a baronecy, created the Earl of Montgomery. Three years later, Philip was appointed to the highest honour, as a Knight of the Garter.

The King also helped Philip in a monetary fashion, paying off his large gambling debts. Philip’s lifestyle was as a ‘playboy aristocrat’, with his main occupation being hunting and hawking and generally, he was a financial drain on all those around him. There was a well documented argument, in 1610, between Philip Herbert and the Earl of Southampton, after a game of tennis, and the King stepped in to calm the row.

With William Herbert reportedly, ‘close’ to the Queen, and Philip, the bedchamber ‘favourite’ of the King, that is certainly something that could fire the imagination, and cause a few giggles, during a third form history lesson, but such things rarely make the pages of the authorised history of England.

Philip Herbert invested widely in the many foreign expeditions, which sought new lands across the seas, and he continued to find favour with the King, until the end of his reign, in 1625. Philip’s prominent position continued, with King Charles, and when Philip’s brother died in 1630, he became the latest version of the Earl of Pembroke, inheriting all his lands and titles. The new earl, then set about modernising the family home, at Wilton, and in a very grandiose fashion, the magnificent building and its extravagant interior surviving till today.

Fulke and Phil

Philip Sidney’s best friend and confidente from his schooldays was Fulke Greville (1554-1628), and he now enters the story in a formal way. He was mentioned briefly, but is an increasingly important figure when the words ‘Shakespeare’ and ‘conspiracy’ appear in the same sentence.

Fulke Greville, named after his father, was born in 1554, of a wealthy family from Beauchamp Court in Warwickshire, and there were family ties with the Beauchamps and Beauforts. After schooling at Shrewsbury, with Philip Sidney, he went to Jesus College, Cambridge and then briefly worked for his friend’s father, Henry Sidney, before he joined Philip Sidney at the Royal Court and became one of the favourites amongst his peers.

Fulke Greville wanted adventure, but the Queen refused him permission to join Francis Drake, on his West Indian adventures, or to join the Earl of Leicester, on his Dutch campaign, where Philip Sidney was killed. Instead, Greville seems to have travelled widely in Europe, working as an ‘intelligence agent’ for Elizabeth, under the direction of Francis Walsingham.

Greville served in high office under Elizabeth and later James, as Secretary for Wales, Treasurer to the Navy and as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Elizabeth knighted Fulke, in 1597 and in 1604 King James gave him stewardship of the rundown Warwick Castle, which had been in Crown hands, since the death of Ambrose Dudley, in 1590. He completely restored the castle at great expense to himself, possibly costing as much, as £15,000. Fulke Greville was created Baron Brooke in 1621 and met his end, in 1628, when he was murdered by Ralphe Heywood, his gentleman usher, in a row about a bequest in his will.

Fulke Greville had been devastated by the death of Philip Sidney and championed his memory for the remainder of his life. He wrote an ‘anonymous’ poem to him in the ‘Phoenix Nest’ anthology and later penned his own biography of his old Shrewsbury school mate. Greville’s impact on the Shakespeare story now threatens to become explosive because, only after writing more than 100,000 words in this saga, did I discover yet another possible repository for that ‘holy grail’ of Shakespeare devotees, those missing manuscripts.

Lord Brooke was buried in St Mary’s Church in Warwick, where also exists a grand edifice, built to honour Sir Philip Sidney. The monument, created by Greville, consists of a large black marble sarcophagus, with surrounding pillars, dominating the chapter house in which it stands. The sarcophagus is supposed to be empty, making this is a mysterious construction and has been described as a ‘monument without a tomb’, a phrase that had been used by Ben Jonson in his introductory poem to the 1623 folio.

Philip Sidney was given a state funeral, in 1586, attended by Queen Elizabeth, and he was buried in the wall of St Paul’s Cathedral. This was the first state funeral given to a commoner, but his resting place was not marked by any grand plaque or monument as the family finances were at a low ebb.

In a letter addressed to Sir John Coke, Fulke Greville promised to re-bury his friend in a magnificent tomb and that he (Greville), would be buried with him. Greville is, indeed, buried in the vault below the St Mary’s church monument ,and the suspicion is that Philip Sidney was secretly re-buried in the supposedly, empty, black sarcophagus.

The inscription carved around the ’empty’ tomb reads:

‘Folk Grevill Servant to Queene Elizabeth
Conceller to King James
Frend to Sir Philip Sidney
Trophaeum Peccati’ (trophy of the sins)

Suggestions are that this is a coded message, and that inside is something of great value.

William Briere’s deciphering reads: ‘Concealed in this monument is the sin of the King’.

It would seem to have been difficult to secretly remove Philip Sidney’s body from St Paul’s Cathedral, and transport it a 100 miles to be reburied in the Warwick monument, but Professor Rebholz, in his ‘Life of Fulke Greville’, suggests how it may have been possible.

John Overall, Dean of St Paul’s, was already a good friend of Greville, when he gained the position, in 1601. Greville was a great benefactor to St Mary’s Church, in Warwick, which would explain why he was granted an entire room for his monument. These two simple facts, would have offered plenty of opportunity for Sidney’s body to be moved from London and placed, with other objects, in the Warwick sarcophagus.

The plot thickens now because Fulke Greville, seemingly a decent, honest individual, claimed in his writing, ‘the authorship of Antony and Cleopatra’, and to be, ‘the master of Shakespeare’. He also suggested that several manuscripts had been buried in his mysterious monument to Philip Sidney. Radar scans have shown the sarcophagus does contain three box-like shapes and more investigation was planned by those interested in discovering the truth about the affair, and just maybe, they might discover those missing manuscripts.

This enthusiasm for literary forensic archeology was not shared by the Diocesan Advisory Committee, for St Mary’s church, who in 2009, decided that there was not enough evidence, to merit desecration of what is supposed to be an empty tomb. ‘Well they would wouldn’t they.’

 However, in 2011, they relented and an endoscopic probe was inserted. Inside they found nothing but rubble, suggesting that the tomb had already been raided, some time ago.

Warwick Tomb

‘The monument without a tomb’ – St Mary’s Church, Warwick – photo KHB

Fulke Greville had literary friendships with Nashe, Marlowe, Spenser, Jonson and many more, but perhaps his best known literary relationship was with the Countess of Pembroke, and they were reputed to have been lovers for a number of years, in the 1590s. This has prompted a newly argued, ‘Grevillian theory’ of Shakespeare authorship, which certainly adds greater breadth to the debate. His lifespan fits beautifully with Shakespeare and analysis of his works and biography does show a potential match.

There are also important connections to the Shakespeare clan themselves, based on Greville’s time as, ‘Recorder’ for Stratford-upon-Avon. Yes, another remarkable coincidence in placing the most relevant characters in the same time and place.

Was the world really such a small place in the time of the Tudors and Stuarts?

‘A Recorder was to hold office at the pleasure of the corporation and to be a justice of peace together with the bailiff and chief alderman. The borough justices were formally empowered to hold Quarter Sessions and their jurisdiction was extended over the township of Old Stratford, including the church and churchyard. The right of the corporation to make by-laws in writing and enforce them by fine or imprisonment, to have a jail, to impose fines for refusal of office, to appoint and remove constables and other inferior officers, was also explicitly stated.’

In 1606, Greville took over the role of Recorder, from his father, who had held the post since 1591, and Fulke retained the position, until his own death in 1628. Even closer to the Shakespeare doorstep, from 1615 onwards, Greville was reputed to have owned a house in Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, the same street where John Shakespeare had his business and was passed to Susanna, his granddaughter.

Fulke Greville

Fulke Greville – Lord Brooke

Anti-Stratfordians, therefore, suggest that, ‘the monument without a tomb’, Fulke’s likeness to the Droushout Shakespeare portrait, plus the Swan on the Greville family crest, all point to him having a hand in Shakespeare’s work, if not actually being the full monty. Of course, Fulke did proclaim himself to be ‘the master of Shakespeare’, and he ought to have realised what he was saying.

Fulke Greville’s reputation was as an honest and honourable man, with no pretence of flamboyance or deceit, and so his presence on the scene ought to be taken seriously. Stratfordians, generally, seem to accept a link between their man and Fulke Greville, both because of his official position in Stratford, but also because of his literary interests. Some suggest, Shakespeare worked as a junior figure in the Greville household, either as a page or an actor, in a local troupe of players.

When I was a youngster we used to shout, ‘Hans Anderson’ at other kids in the street, who we thought were making up fables, in an attempt trying to wriggle out of a difficult situation, where they seemed to have been caught out.

In the face of such adversity, the Shakespeare diehards always seem to want things their way. I’m shouting ‘Hans Anderson’ at the Stratfordians here, I think…!


This entry was posted in Alternative Shakespeare, Elizabethan theatre, Knights Templar, Literary history, Queen Elizabeth I, Tudor and Jacobean history, Tudor printers, William Shakespeare and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Shakespeare Re-invented (8-13)

  1. Karen Hodges says:

    Very interesting article. I am descendant from a Richard Gager who lived in King Lynn. I think he came from Bury St Edmund. Like you said the name Richard is uncommon with Gager which is also a rare surname in Norfolk. There is a christening in Bury St Edmund in 1734 for a Richard son of Richard and Mary Gager which seems to fit; they had two daughters Mary & Elizabeth.

    I would be interested in knowing please, if your research found Richard Gager’s marriage to Susanna between 1765-1779? Richard died in 1779. His first wife Ann Stanfield[widow of John Nelson], married him in 1764 Tilney Norfolk[ her parish] was buried in 1765. Richard had a son John 1764 with Ann and three more with Susanna, Elizabeth 1768, Mary 1772, Ann 1774; all four were christened in King Lynn and Richard and his wives were buried in King Lynn.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s