6.1. Alexander Standish[10A1]

6.1. (21) AS 1589: The ‘Affray at Lea’

Helen Moorwood 2013

N.B. By clicking on the coloured title you can return to the original articles written in early 2004 and placed by Peter Duxbury on A Duxbury Family Website in March 2004, where it still is, under:

Helen's Story: from Duxbury to Shakespeare. The story of William Shakespeare's Lancashire Ancestry, by Helen Moorwood

10. The Biography of Alexander Standish

N.B. Most of this still stands, but where appropriate the 2004 version is now updated below by interspersed commentary in square brackets and italics. Some reformatting was necessary, and the occasional typo – whether by Peter or myself - has been silently corrected. Asap a shorter narrative version of his biography will appear, based, of course, on all details and documents in this file. Meanwhile, this is part (21) of (1) to (45) AS. [2013 HM]


(21) 1589: the 'affray at Lea'

1589, 28 November. The ‘affray at Lea’ occurred, in which TH, AS’s uncle was killed. Lea Hall (pronounced Lear, as in King) was the main residence of the Hoghtons before Hoghton Tower was built and is still there today, west of Preston and close to the banks of the Ribble, much changed over the centuries but nevertheless still there. Any version of this story reads rather like the apocryphal one (by Bulwer Lytton) beginning “It was a cold, dark and stormy night and three . . .” This story was for real, it happened on a cold, dark (perhaps not stormy) night and involved eighty men under Baron Langton and thirty under Thomas Hoghton (TH). It affected the lives of many, provided many riddles at the time and has remained as a puzzle for anyone ever since who has tried to understand what it was all about. It resulted in such a furore and a court case in Lancaster so remarkable that it reached the ears of Queen Elizabeth, who wrote a scathing letter in her own hand, protesting that the aggressors had so far escaped scot-free (her letter is in Honigmann, 1985, p. 13, which also provides a photo of Lea Hall).

The story has been widely reported in Lancashire literature, Honigmann (1985) detected it as possibly relevant to ‘Shakespeare in Lancashire’ and possibly (1987) relevant to the biography of John Weever, the poet from Preston, who wrote an epigram “ad Gulielmum Shakespeare”. Enos (2000) considered it relevant enough to ‘Shakespeare in Lancashire’ that she transcribed and published the list of participants on Baron Langton’s side from “English MS 213. Letters of Richard Hoghton. John Rylands University Library. University of Manchester” (Enos, pp. 165-7). The current situation is that everyone interested in this particular episode is still searching for any details that might provide further insight into the possible significance of the ‘affray at Lea’ for Shakespeare or anyone else. It was certainly significant for TH, who lost his life. Maybe a more detailed version will appear when all relevant extant documents have been transcribed and published. Some ‘new’ documents have been detected, which AS took home with him to Duxbury from London. (These are referenced in appropriate years below, mainly in: Alexander in Chancery courts 1609-16, when AS was involved in sorting out the mess left behind after Baron Langton’s death in 1605.)

One of many versions of the ‘affray at Lea’ is reproduced below, from a source perhaps not so readily available to anyone outside Lancashire. This includes the whole of the section on the Banastres and Langtons of Walton in one of many books written by Jessica Lofthouse, a doyenne of local history and country walks in the 1970s (and earlier and later). I regret that I never met her (I had meanwhile flown the family nest), but my parents did and I either bought or inherited several of her books. She never gave any references but her research was pretty sound and she knew the areas she walked and talked about like the back of her hand. There might be a few quibbles about the facts, but none about the connections of various families mentioned below, who provide the background to the ‘affray at Lea’.

Early in the twelfth century the Hoghtons, quietly settled on their manor by Darwen banks, had new neighbours downriver: Banastres who said they were with William at Hastings and did so well in the Conquest they were given lands in North Wales, just beyond Offa’s Dyke. They kept the Welsh so firmly on the right side of the border defending the English/ Norman settlement that the King offered them as reward rank of baron and the Fee of Makerfield. In 1130 Robert Banastre, very well-in with De Lacy, the great baron and landowner in these parts, received Walton from his hands and built his hall there. His land stretched far up the Darwen towards the moors.

To give them credit they gave away acres too, oak woods at Walton where the Stanlaw abbey porkers grew fat; and as thanks to the good prior of Penwortham, young Robert, who had been brought up by him as a child, gave more property in 1280.

Robert later found a suitable match for his granddaughter with John Langton, the son of good neighbours, the Barons of Newton, next to their Fee of Makerfield. Young John’s brother was Bishop of Chichester and as Edward I’s Chancellor had the King’s ear. When the king was in a merry mood after the birth of the first Prince of Wales, he readily granted to his Chancellor, for his brother John, fair charters for Newton and Walton.

Eight generations of Langtons lived at Walton, and their Banastre kinsmen south at Bank on the Douglas river, dangerously close when this truculent branch were up to the neck in rebellion, bringing half the families of south-west Lancashire into strife and bloodshed with them. The Walton cousins trod warily, and survived.

Each generation was extremely well connected by marriage. In 1500 the infant heir was handed into Henry VII’s protection and he duly chose his stepbrother Edward Stanley as the little Langton’s guardian - which provided him with an infant bride, a ‘natural’ Stanley daughter. Were parents philosophical and resigned when their little ones died like flies? Six sons of this marriage died, five daughters survived; and a grandson at eight years of age inherited his grandfather’s lands and title. He held them only twenty years, losing the Manor of Walton and bringing dishonour on an ancient name. He was lucky, thanks to the Earl of Derby’s intercession, to save his life.

Neighbour feuds connected with straying cattle were the only reason for the tragedy. In November 1589 Widow Thomazine Singleton discovered a greedy brother-in-law had driven off her kine and oxen. A kinsman, Anderton of Forde, obligingly found them, then drove them to Lea, Hoghton’s pastureland. Hoghton’s servants found them and impounded them at Lea. So, as the next move, Anderton asked Thomas Langton to help him recover them, which he did with great vigour. He at once armed himself, tenants and friends, other gentlemen and yeomen of the Fylde with “long pikes, guns, Welsh hooks on long staves, swords, daggers, bows, arrow, bills” - the complete armoury from his hall?

Thomas Hoghton was not caught napping. Also with friends and servants, “with staves, one pike, one gun charged with hail shot, 2 pistols, bows, arrows, swords and daggers”, they waited from 9 p.m. at his ‘mansion house’. The Langton party arrived from Preston Marsh one hour after midnight when with war cries of, “The crow is white,” from his side, and “Black, black,” from Hoghton’s, battle commenced.

“Richard Baldwin of Langton’s company and Thomas Hoghton were there and then slain but by whom it does not appear.” So wrote the distracted Hoghton widow next day to the Earl of Derby at Lathom and to friends, Sherburnes of Stonyhurst.

Thomas Langton had disappeared. Later he was apprehended at his hiding place, John Singleton’s house, Broughton Tower, “where sore wounded he lay in a bed of sickness”. It was the earl’s responsibility as Lord Lieutenant to see justice done. He was engrossed with Baron Walton’s business for some time; at the first trial it proved well nigh impossible to swear in sufficient impartial jurors. Eventually Langton was tried by the Star Chamber and, though he had merited the death penalty, ‘frumgeld’ was substituted. The Manor of Walton was given to the heir of the man he had slain.

That was not the end of the 29-year-old Langton. He found favour with James I, as a baron attending him at his coronation. When he died in 1605 he was buried with the royal and great at Westminster Abbey, but Wigan Church has his memorial. “To Oblivion and ye true bones of Sir Thomas Langton of ye honorable Order of ye Bath, Baron of Newton Makerfield ye last of his name descended from a most ancient famous and far renowned family in the county. A Gentleman yt many times tugged with extremities and made warre with the worst of misfortunes.”

Today Walton Hall farm stands near the Darwen, all that remains of the place where Hoghtons lived in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, where Prince Charles Edward had his H.Q. in 1648.

(Jessica Lofthouse, Lancashire's Old Families, 1972, reprint 1979, ISBN 0 7091 3330 8, pp. 118-120.)

Whatever the background to this affray, one must suspect it might have been about something more serious than cattle and grazing rights, and various suspicious minds (including mine) have recently thought that it might have been more to do with local politics and the religious situation at the time. This affray (or the Armada?) seems to have acted as a trigger for several local families to conform. It certainly led to AS’s cousin Richard Hoghton, son and heir of TH, to conform, if he had not already. He had recently married a daughter of Sir Gilbert Gerard, Master of the Rolls, who was appointed his guardian after the death of his father, because Richard was still underage (19 at the time). The marriages of Sir Gilbert’s other daughters to Sir Piers Legh, Sir Richard Molyneux and Sir Thomas Wingfield of Suffolk brought AS into this circle, because AS’s son and heir Thomas (later MP) was to marry a daughter of Sir Thomas Wingfield, granddaughter of Sir Gilbert Gerard.

The marriages to the three sons-in-law in Lancashire and Cheshire have been noted in ‘Shakespeare in Lancashire’ literature (Honigmann, 1985 and Weever, 1987), but the Wingfield marriage not. The Standish-Wingfield marriage has been noted in literature on Duxbury (VCH, Walker) but without any report of the connection to Sir Gilbert Gerard. Sir Gilbert appeared, however, along with his brother William, a lawyer in London, in DP397/4/26 on 15 August 1583 (see above), sorting out a dispute between three Standishes. These same Gerards are at the heart of the story of the Cheshire Ardernes, because this William Gerard’s son Rev. Richard Gerard, Rector of Stockport, was married at this time to Ursula Arderne, of the family that were Mary’s closest relatives in Cheshire. Only when the whole Gerard story has been investigated will all the relationships become clear. Meanwhile, AS obviously grew up knowing many of the relevant Gerards and very much aware of the ‘affray at Lea’.

The intriguing presence in the Baron’s gang of John Weever and Hugh Arden (and many other interesting names) was noted by Enos in 2000, who saw this list as potentially containing clues to more connections. Honigmann had also previously seen it as containing potential clues to revealing some of John Weever's biography (Honigmann, Weever, 1987). It certainly provides another list of names in Hoghton, Standish and ‘Shakespeare in Lancashire’ circles in 1589. After the death of Baron Langton in early 1605, AS was involved in several Chancery suits concerning the Baron’s estate, and the tablet in Wigan Church commemorating the Baron turned up later at Duxbury Hall, transcribed there by antiquarian Roger Dodsworth (1585-1654), who was married to a Hesketh of Rufford. (The Dodsworth ‘tablet story’, with references, will be given under the biographies of AS’s grandsons during the Civil War. The text appears above in Jessica Lofthouse’s account.)

This story might take a few more years to sort out to the satisfaction of all interested today. We are all still in a muddle and trying to see some way out of this. We might never succeed, but at least we are trying. One thing is certain: the manor of Walton was not a recompense for the murder of T.H., but had a much more complicated story, in which AS was involved. (See Alexander in Chancery courts.)


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