6.1. Alexander Standish[10A1]

6.1. (25) AS 1593: An Eventful Year

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 (25) of (1) to (45) AS. [2013 HM]


(25) 1593: an eventful year

1593. AS’s stepfather Thomas wrote his will. (Rev. Piccope transcribed this in the 1850s, and the following details come from his transcription in the Piccope MSS in Chetham’s Library.) The contents were straightforward enough, as he left a third to his widow, a third to AS “to his own use” and a third to provide for everyone else: stepson Leonard “if obedient to the said wife until he accomplishes age 21”, the three married daughters and their children, and unmarried Ellen “for her marriage, to be approved by my wife Margaret or son Alexander”, his brother Christopher and all his children, his “sister Clemens” (actually the sister of Thomas(1), whom he had ‘adopted’ along with the rest of the family) and all his servants. If anything was left over, it should go to AS. As supervisors he appointed Christopher Longworth and Philip Mainwaring (husbands of two of the daughters), “Richard Houghton of Houghton” (the son of TH, slain at the ‘affray at Lea’), and “my loving brother-in-law”. The last is not named, but he only had one still alive: John Yate(s) of Chorley, gent., Clemence’s husband.

The puzzle comes from the timing. Why did he write this six years before his death and not on his deathbed, the normal practice at the time? There is probably an innocent explanation: he was ill at the time, but recovered, or he was just highly organised and was obviously never going to have any children of his own, so thought he might as well get it over and done with.

Or maybe he was influenced by another local and remarkable event - the Hesketh Plot. This weird and wonderful story has been told many times during the last four centuries, most recently by Francis Edwards, S.J. in Plots and Plotters in the Reign of Elizabeth I (2002, Chapter 7, ‘Richard Hesketh’s plot’, pp. 169-192), giving full credit to Christopher Devlin, Hamlet’s Divinity and other essays, London 1963 and Ian Wilson, Shakespeare: the evidence, 1993. I was alerted to Edwards’s book by Father Peter in Tokyo, which somehow made the story even more weird and wonderful, because Edwards is an Oxfordian, i.e. believes that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote some or all of Shakespeare’s works. He is entitled to his opinion, of course, but this is a theory that I (and many others, including Father Peter) find impossible to accept. For me, the main de Vere-Shakespeare connection comes from the marriage of Elizabeth de Vere to William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby, who has also been proposed as an Alternative Authorship Candidate. We probably need a few more years to sort this out, with ‘new’ biographies of William Stanley, his sister-in-law Countess Alice and her admirer AS perhaps contributing to this. Maybe a few conspiracy theories will be revised in the process. There is no doubt that there were many Catholic Plots leading up to the biggest one.

Meanwhile, back with the Hesketh Plot of 1593, Edwards is very sympathetic to the main protagonist, Richard Hesketh of Aughton, brother of AH’s widow Elizabeth (and therefore AS’s aunt), a businessman in Flanders, who arrived back in Lancashire bearing the offer of the crown to Ferdinando as the first choice as Elizabeth’s successor of the English Catholics in exile. This happened to coincide with the death of Earl Henry on 25th September, which left Ferdinando as the 5th Earl and Alice, Lady Strange, thus became Countess of Derby. Also involved in the story were Dr John Dee and Sir Edmund Kelly in Prague, the Cecils in London, and pretty well everyone who was anyone in Lancashire, London, Flanders and Rome at the time. Whatever the ‘truth’ behind this episode, it certainly involved many who appear in the ‘Shakespeare in Lancashire’ story, caused a national scandal and the news must have reached Shakespeare’s ears as well as AS’s. Several Heskeths were involved in Lancashire and London, Baron Langton was arrested as an accomplice (echoes of the ‘affray at Lea’), Richard Hesketh was executed in November and a few months later Ferdinando was dead, by witchcraft or poisoning - take your pick. During this period Shakespeare published his two long poems in London and became the darling of the London literary scene. I am but the latest of many who have tried to make sense of some of these events and how they might be interrelated. Maybe they weren’t, but AS must have known all the main protagonists.

[Another account of the ‘Hesketh Plot’ has since appeared: Leo Daugherty, ‘The Assassination of Shakespeare’s Patron: Investigating the Death of the Fifth Earl of Derby’, Cambria, 2011. This offers an alternative explanation to both the ‘conventional story’ and the ‘Catholic story’. 2013 HM]

1594, April. Ferdinando, 5th Earl of Derby, died in agony, leaving widow Countess Alice and three young daughters, and Shakespeare lost his patron. Shortly afterwards she had a still-born son [or a phantom pregnancy], which meant that brother William became the 6th Earl of Derby. One might imagine that many of the local gentry visited to express their commiseration and attended Ferdinando’s funeral in Ormskirk Parish Church. Whether AS’s wife Alice attended is uncertain, because she was pregnant again.

1594, 28 September. AS’s daughter Joan was baptised at Whalley, the only one of their children to be baptised at this Assheton family church, presumably during a visit to Alice’s mother Joan.


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