6.1. Alexander Standish[10A1]

6.1. (28) AS 1599: A Few Friends & Relatives in War & Peace

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


(28) 1599: a few friends and relatives in war and peace

1599. There is no hint in the family papers that AS actually fought in any battle, but it is certain that many of his relatives and friends fought in Ireland and many were killed. Just two are mentioned here, of particular interest to AS. First, Sir Alexander Radcliffe of Ordsall, one of whose family was married to Edward Standish of Standish and another married to Thomas Standish of Duxbury(3), father of the Alexander in Family B. Sir Alexander Radcliffe’s mother was Anne Asshawe of Heath Charnock, whose family owned the southern half of this manor when Thomas Standish(2) and AS owned the northern half with the Charnocks. This Sir Alexander Radcliffe (1573-99), in a roundabout way, provides several connections to ‘Shakespeare in Lancashire’. The following is quoted in full, as the story of two young hero(in)es and beauties from the North West at Elizabeth’s court. Sir Alexander and his twin sister Margaret had the fortune to be so well known at court that many contemporary writings have survived.

Alexander Radclyffe, eldest son and heir of Sir John, was born at Ordsall, and baptized at Manchester on 26th January 1573. He was sixteen years old when his father died. He had already been introduced to the Court under the patronage of his FitzWalter cousins, and was one of the eager youths, “bearing their birthrights proudly on their backs,” who accepted Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, as their natural leader. Alexander took part in the famous exploit against Cadiz in 1596, and was amongst those knighted by Essex at the end of the great adventure. He and his sister, Margaret, were amongst the most intimate friends of Essex, as they also enjoyed the loving favour of the Queen. In the summer of 1598 the rebel Earl of Tyrone inflicted a disastrous defeat on the English forces in Ireland, and Essex persuaded the Queen and the Council to grant him the command in Ireland and the task of subduing Tyrone. Sir Alexander’s brother, Captain William Radclyffe, had fallen in the Battle of Blackwater, and the young knight of Ordsall was eager to avenge his brother’s death and freely offered his service to his friend, Essex, in the tremendous task he had undertaken. On 22nd March 1599 he made his will, and the following day rode forth to Chester, there to join Essex, who sailed from the Dee at the head of the greatest expedition Elizabeth had ever sent abroad, 16,000 foot and 100 horse, levies voluntarily raised throughout the land at the call of national honour and by the magic of the leader’s name. Arrived in Ireland Essex paid too much heed to the persuasions of the Irish Council, anxious to secure the preservation of their own estates, and instead of proceeding against Tyrone in Ulster led his army into Munster. Disease attacked his forces with disastrous results, and he was compelled to return to Dublin with nothing noteworthy accomplished in the months of his campaign, but with his army broken and weary from their lengthy sojourn in the misty boglands. Severely wounded, and ravaged by a fever, Sir Alexander Radclyffe died on the 5th of August 1599 . . .

Margaret Radclyffe was twin to Alexander and, as is not uncommon in such cases, their natural relationship was reinforced by a strong bond of mutual affection. As children they were inseparable companions, and when Alexander came to Court he brought his sister with him. The arrival of the two young people so wondrously alike in their striking physical beauty created something of a mild sensation at the Palace of Whitehall . . . Margaret was immediately claimed by the Queen to adorn the privy chamber as a Maid of Honour . . . Margaret was elevated above all other ladies of the Court as the Queen’s prime favourite, and all who would sue for Gloriana’s favours sought the aid of merry Margaret as their intermediary . . . Her bosom friend was Anne Russell, granddaughter of the second Earl of Bedford, and later married to Lord Herbert, son of the fourth Earl of Worcester. . . Margaret bade goodbye to her brother . . . Five months went by, and one day in late August a courier came riding to Court bearing news from Ireland. The English army had suffered a severe defeat and Sir Alexander Radclyffe was amongst the slain. The Queen would not suffer anyone but herself to bear the news to Margaret. The girl’s grief was terrible to behold. Nothing would comfort her, and when her sobbing had subsided she lay on her bed in a state of complete exhaustion. The royal physicians whom the Queen summoned to attend her reported that her malady was of the heart, not of the body, and their medicines would be unavailing. When the Court moved to Nonsuch, Margaret returned to Ordsall, bereft of her smile and lively charm, her sad heart breaking with a great sorrow, to be alone with her grief in the home of her fathers . . . News of her condition was sent regularly to the Queen, whose anxiety for her dearly loved friend insisted on Margaret being brought to Richmond Palace that she might tend her in person. It was a ghost who obeyed the Queen’s command, and the courtiers were shocked to see the change which had come upon the former merry maid. Even the ministrations of the Queen and of dear Anne Russell could not rouse Margaret to an interest in life, and on the morning of the 10th November she died. Her tragic passing was the sole topic of conversation for days. In one of Philip Gaudy’s Letters he writes:

“There is news besides of the tragycall death of Mistress Ratcliffe the Mayde of honor, who ever synce the death of Sir Alexander her brother hathe pined in such strange manner, as voluntarily she hathe gone about to starve herself, and by the two days together hathe receivyed no sustinence, which meeting with extreame greife hathe made an end of her Mayden modest days at Richmond uppon Saterdaye last, her Majestie being present, who commanded her body to be opened and found it all well and sound, saving certyne strings striped all over her harte.”

The Court went into mourning and by the Queen’s command Margaret was buried with all the ceremonies of a great lady’s obsequies in the Church of St. Margaret at Westminster. A magnificent monument was erected over her grave at the Queen’s expense, and Ben Jonson wrote the inscription for it. When, and for what reason, this monument was removed it has been impossible to discover, but no trace of it now remains in the church. The record of Jonson’s tribute has, however, been preserved.

M arble weep, for thou dost cover

A dead beauty underneath thee,

R ich as nature could bequeath thee:

G rant, then no rude hand remove her.

A ll the gazers on the skies

R ead not in fair heaven's story

E xpresser truth or truer glory,

T han they might in her bright eyes.

R are as wonder was her wit;

A nd like nectar ever flowing:

T ill time, strong by her bestowing,

C onquered have both life and it.

L ife whose grief was out of fashion

I n these times. Few have so rued

F ate in a brother. To conclude,

F or wit, feature, and true passion

E arth, thou hast not such another.

(The Book of the Radclyffes, Constable, Edinburgh U. P., 1948, pp. 156-9.)

Whether AS and Alice visited Margaret when she was pining away at Ordsall will never be known; nor is it known whether they travelled to London during this period. But if they did, they would have had the Radcliffes, among others, to introduce them at court. One might also deduce from the above that Ben Jonson met Margaret Radcliffe more than once, and if he met her, it is more than likely that Shakespeare did too. We know at least that she was a Shakespeare fan.

Margaret was one of Elizabeth’s Maids of Honour, together with Mary Fitton of Gawsworth, Cheshire, and Elizabeth Vernon of Hodnet, Shropshire, a cousin of Essex . . . and the bride of Shakespeare’s patron Southampton . . . These Northern maids and their gallants evidently enjoyed a private joke, now somewhat obscure, which had a Shakespearian foundation. Professor Hotson recently found among the uncalendared papers at the Public Record Office a note from Essex to Sir Robert Cecil, dated 25-28 February 1598, carrying this postscript:

I pray you commend me also to Alex Radcliff and tell him for news his sister is marryed to Sr Io. Falstaff.

Margaret in fact never married. Professor Hotson suspects a jibe at the susceptibilities of Henry Brooke, Lord Cobham, an enemy of Essex, who had made Shakespeare change the family name of ‘Oldcastle’ in Henry IV to the immortal one of Falstaff, and whose notorious lechery ill became his grey hairs.

The joke was revived by Elizabeth Vernon in a letter of 1599, now among the Cecil Papers, to her husband Southampton.

All the nues I can send you that I thinke wil make you mery is that I reade in a letter from London that Sir John Falstaf is by his M(rs) Dame Pintpot made father of a godly milers thum (a boye thats all heade and veri litel body). But this is a secrit.

Sir Edmund Chambers thinks that this again was a tilt at Lord Cobham, notoriously childless, for all his pestering of young women.

(Keen, The Annotator, 1954, pp. 61-2)

It seems obvious that Margaret Radcliffe and Elizabeth Vernon had both seen Henry IV and, one would suspect, all other Shakespeare plays performed at court, and news of these must have seeped back to Lancashire in the form of letters, apart from them being performed around the country by touring companies. With Mary Fitton and Elizabeth Vernon we also have two candidates for the Dark Lady, although both have been dismissed by all but their supporters. In the context of AS’s biography, however, the most important fact is that both were from the North West, the Fittons of Gawsworth closely related to the Heskeths of Rufford, and the Vernon family was related to many Lancashire and Cheshire gentry. They belong more appropriately in Mary Arderne’s than AS’s biography, but the main point is that whenever anyone from the North West visited London, they would have found many familiar faces there.

The second one killed in Ireland in 1599 of relevance to AS was Sir Thomas Egerton, son and heir of Sir Thomas Egerton from Cheshire, Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, who the following year was to marry Countess Alice, Ferdinando’s widow, and the lady whom AS was later to install next door. She also married her second daughter Frances to Sir John Egerton, the second son, later 2nd Baron Ellesmere and 1st Earl of Bridgewater. If AS knew Countess Alice well enough to persuade her to move in almost next door, one can only presume he knew most of her family as well. Sir Thomas Egerton Jr received an obituary poem from the poet John Weever (Honigmann, Weever, 1987, p. 119).

1599. At last we reach the year of publication of Weever’s Epigrammes, which Honigmann published in 1987 (Manchester U.P.) under the title John Weever: a biography of a literary associate of Shakespeare and Jonson, together with a photographic facsimile of Weever’s Epigrammes (1599). AS did not receive an epigram, but the list of Lancashire and Cheshire luminaries who did reads almost like a family reunion at the Hoghtons’ or Stanleys’ and, as such, must surely present a list of people also well known to AS (and Shakespeare?). A detailed analysis appears [will appear] in my Shakespeare book under 1599.

1599. Stepfather Thomas(2) died. His burial is not recorded, presumably lost in the gap in Chorley Parish Registers from 1599-1611.


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