6.1. Alexander Standish[10A1]

6.1. (33) AS 1603-5: A Couple of Local Legends: (i) The Earl of Tyrone

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


(33) 1603-5: a couple of local legends: (i) The Earl of Tyrone

One of the reasons for Essex’s failure in Ireland and later disgrace was his main opponent Hugh O'Neale/ O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, traditional originator of the bloody hand on the flag of Ulster. Intriguingly, Tyrone turns up in the Derby Household Books as a visitor of the Earl of Derby, and even more intriguingly, he appears in an extremely plausible piece of Lancashire folklore, which tells the story in great detail, including a dell still known in the 19th century as ‘Tyrone’s Bed’. The basic story is that he fled from Ulster to Lancashire (after his final defeat?), hid in a wood near Rochdale and played a romantic role in rescuing a local female from drowning in a river, who subsequently hid him in a hiding-hole (built, of course, to hide Catholic priests) when the Sheriff’s men were after him, made a dramatic escape, and left behind yet another young lady pining away and dying of a broken heart. I offer this merely as information. Strip away any romanticising, but we are left with the kernels that Tyrone was definitely in Lancashire on one occasion in the late 1580s (visiting the Earl of Derby), and may well have been the one hiding in ‘Tyrone’s Bed’ near Rochdale at some unknown date.

His story has been told many times and it is not clear at which period in his life the Lancashire episode might have occurred. The Tyrone story was printed by John Harland and T. T. Wilkinson, two eminent Victorian antiquarians, who were sceptical, but nevertheless considered it worth retelling in their Lancashire Legends: traditions, pageants, sports, &c. with an appendix containing a rare tract on the Lancashire Witches, George Routledge and Sons, London, 1873 (facsimile reprint by Llanerch Publishers, Felinfach, 1993, reprint 1999). They saw it as taking place during Elizabeth's reign. At the very least it is a rattling good yarn that must have been told in AS’s house and many others in Lancashire as the news gradually trickled through from soldiers returning from Ireland, and whatever really happened in Tyrone’s bed. Many young Lancashire and Cheshire men were among the fifteen hundred slain at Blackwater (1598), mentioned below, including William Radcliffe, brother of Sir Alexander and Margaret, mentioned above in (28) as dying in 1599.

Tyrone’s bed, by Harland and Wilkinson

In a bend of the Roach, to the north of Morland or Merland, is Tyrone’s Bed, a woody glen, admired for its picturesque scenery, which is said to have been the retreat of one of the Earls of Tyrone in the reign of Elizabeth. The craggy rocks on the one side of this lovely valley, and the steep wooded slopes on the other, with the rivulet in the channel below, are not inappropriately termed “the bed;” but the chief interest of this “romantic dell” centred in the ancient home of the Holts of Grizelhurst, but of which not a vestige now remains. At the period of the legend it was surrounded “by dark and almost trackless woods,” which would furnish a refuge for the wanderer, “secure from hostility or alarm.” The Earl of Tyrone who claimed to be a King in Ireland, by his rebellions harassed Queen Elizabeth and her armies for years during the latter period of her reign. His history would fill a volume. Hugh O’Neale was nephew to Shan (John) O’Neale, or “the great O’Neale,” as he was more commonly called. He was well known for his great courage, a virtue much prized by the half-civilised hordes he commanded. He was created Earl of Tyrone by Queen Elizabeth; but disliking the allegiance this implied, and desirous to liberate his country from the English yoke, he entered into a correspondence with Spain, procured from thence a supply of arms and ammunition; and having united many of the Irish chiefs in a dependence upon himself, he soon proved himself a formidable enemy of English rule in Ireland. The first English commander that opposed him, Sir John Norris, after a war, and purposely protracted negotiations with Tyrone, died at length, it was said, of vexation and discontent. He was succeeded by Sir Henry Bagnall, who, going to the relief of Blackwater, was surrounded; fifteen hundred men and the general himself were slain on the spot, and the rest put to flight. This victory raised the renown of Tyrone, who was hailed as the deliverer of his country, and the restorer of Irish liberty. The unfortunate Earl of Essex was afterwards appointed to take command of the English army; but his troops were so terrified at the reputation of Tyrone, that many of them counterfeited sickness, and others deserted. Tyrone asked a conference, and Essex received from him a proposal of peace, in which Tyrone had inserted many unreasonable and exorbitant conditions. Essex, anxious to return to England, nevertheless accepted the proposal, which led to a suspicion that he had betrayed his high trust. From this time the beam of his royal mistress’s favour was obscured, and the result was his disgrace and death. Meanwhile Tyrone broke the truce, and overran almost the whole of Ireland. Essex being recalled, the Queen appointed Mountjoy as Lord Deputy of Ireland. He defeated Tyrone in Ulster. Four thousand Spaniards, under Don Juan d’Aguila, landed and took Kinsale; Mountjoy besieged it; and on Tyrone and many other Irish chieftains marching to its relief, he intercepted them, and attacked and put them to flight, slaughtering twelve hundred men. Tyrone and the other chiefs fled, and the Spaniards capitulated. It is supposed that at this period the outlawed Earl crossed the sea into England, and remained for some time concealed in the neighbourhood of Rochdale . The site of a few cottages in a romantic dell by the river Roach is still associated with the memory of the unfortunate Earl, and yet bears the name of “Tyrone’s Bed”. Upon this fact Mr Roby has based a fictitious love story,* there being a prediction that –

“Woman's breast

Thou shalt darken o’er with woe;

None thou lookest on or lovest

Joy or hope hereafter know.

Many a maid thy glance shall rue:

Where it smites it shall subdue.”

 Tyrone is made to save from drowning Constance the daughter of Holt of Grizelhurst; they love; she conceals him from pursuit by the sheriff and posse in a hidden chamber, the entrance to which is from her own bedroom. He escapes, and she wastes away and dies, the victim of the prophecy. Tyrone eventually secured a pardon from Queen Elizabeth. One incident is related, illustrative of his character. Appearing in person to execute a treaty, immediately on the issue of some sanguinary engagement, Tyrone was requested to sign the terms. “Here is my signature,” said he, laying his bloody hand on the deed; “‘tis the mark of the Kings of Ulster.” Hence, tradition gravely asserts, was the origin of “the bloody hand,” the arms of Ulster, and in heraldic shields, the badge of knighthood. It is scarcely necessary to add that this derivation for the arms is altogether a fable.

* It would be more correct to state that the tradition in Mr Roby’s work is really derived from a ballad by Mr William Nuttall, of Rochdale, entitled “Tyrone and Constance, or the Outlaw in the Dell of Grizelhurst.” The story was first told to Mr Nuttall, as he states, by a Mr Ralph Holt, formerly steward to the late William Bamford of Bamford, Esq. In his “notes” to the ballad, Mr Nuttall relates the story at considerable length.

(Harland and Wilkinson, pp. 60-63.)

A few explanatory notes from 19th century Lancashire history and publications are perhaps in order here.

(i) This note begins and ends with “Mr Roby”, mentioned in the asterisked note above, taking in many details on the way that so far do not seem to have penetrated beyond the old borders of Lancashire. He was John Roby, who published two volumes on Lancashire legends in the early 19th century, with many reprints and therefore many dates attached. The earliest seems to be 1812, but 1829 appears frequently. (At least one of various reprints is held by many Lancashire libraries.) His versions were inspired by the era of Romanticism. He was the precursor of several novelists who were later to draw on Lancashire legends and take the Victorian Novel to ever new heights. William Harrison Ainsworth (1805-82), born in Manchester and attended Manchester Grammar School, was the towering figure, who produced a steady output of novels from 1834 onwards and in his day was perhaps more popular (in Lancashire, at least) than his contemporary Charles Dickens (1812-70). Roby might well have been inspired by the novels and poems of Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), who “read voraciously and devoured antiquarian lore, ballads, fairy-tales, chivalric romances and exotic tales of distant places”. (The Cambridge Guide to English Literature, ed. Ian Ousby, 1988 edition, p. 881.) Scott was also a great fan of Shakespeare (an engraving of him standing in awe before Shakespeare’s monument in Stratford Parish Church has appeared in many places). His poem Marmion (1808) included details of the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513, an event that loomed large in Scottish tragic history and legend, and also in Lancashire successful history and legend, because it was Sir Edward Stanley’s final surprise attack over the hill, with his Lancashire and Cheshire bowmen and billmen, that won the day for Henry VIII and the title of 1st Lord Mounteagle for Sir Edward. One gathers from all accounts of the battle that no one was more surprised than Sir Edward that he should suddenly be in the potential position of winning the battle, but win it he did and the exploits of this day appear all over Lancashire history, in family traditions, memorial tablets and stained glass windows (the most notable windows still there today are in Middleton Parish Church, home of the contingent of archers under an Assheton). Sir Walter Scott also used another Lancashire legend, the story behind Mab’s cross in Wigan , for his short story The Betrothed (1825). One can only imagine that he might have read this in Roby’s publication of 1812.

(ii) Roby was widely held until the middle of the 19th century as the depository of ancient wisdom, and his stories from folklore were on the whole accepted as historical fact. Then came the great wave of Victorian antiquarians, the foundation of Record Societies, the desperate (and admirable) attempt to rescue, transcribe and publish all surviving documents before they disappeared under the ever-advancing demolition and building work of what we now call the Industrial Revolution. The next generation or two (after Roby) were true Victorians, fact-seekers, no longer Romantics, and two perfect examples are Harland and Wilkinson. They were absolutely correct to query the origin of the Tyrone legend (and all other legends they came across) and insist on a few documentary facts. On the whole, as we read above, they were sceptical about any legend, but nonetheless accepted them as part of Lancashire 's cultural history and folk-memory.

(iii) The Mab’s Cross legend is set at the beginning of the 14th century, with the cross itself still there today. Roby told the story, this was queried in many details and published by Harland and Wilkinson in 1873 (pp. 45-7), investigated in documents by Porteus in the 1940s and the latest version appeared in Wigan in 1992. The relevant later titles are: “The Mab’s Cross Legend: and the True History of Sir William de Bradshaigh”, an article in Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society, Vol. LVI for 1941 and 1942 (pp. 1-40); and a summary of this and all surrounding events by Fred Holcroft, Murder, Terror and Revenge in Medieval Lancashire: the legend of Mab’s Cross, Wigan Heritage Service Publications: 2, 1992. Basically, Roby’s version has been proved to be rather accurate, even if somewhat Romanticised.

(iv) The “ballad” by William Nuttall of Rochdale seems to have been dismissed as fiction by Harland and Wilkinson, even though he apparently heard the details from a rather respectable Holt (steward of a local gentry family), presumably a descendant of the Holts who passed down the tradition in the family over only two centuries, and not four, as in the case of Mab’s Cross. It may be of interest to note another publication at the beginning of the 19th century, with another Nuttall involved. This was by an anonymous author: A brief account of the travels of the celebrated Sir William Stanley as an appendix to a reprint and update of Seacome's History of the Earls of Derby of the 1740s, with a new title on the spine: The Travels of Sir William Stanley, (Liverpool, 1801), printed by J. Nuttall. My conclusion about this account of Sir William's story is that it is wrong in many places, and right in many others (which is fully referenced in “materials for a biography of William, 6th Earl of Derby”). This therefore contributes to my conclusion about the Tyrone story. It was probably based on a few kernels of truth, the most basic one being Tyrone actually did hide for a while in Tyrone’s bed deep in the woods. All else might be later accretions. This in turn leaves me wondering about these two Nuttalls, both active in recording local legends, neither of whom had strayed very far from Nuttall, the origin of their family name, and whizzed past many a time on the M66. Maybe some local historian could help out here?

The moral behind these notes is that it is foolhardy to dismiss a legend or family tradition as a total fabrication, because wherever documents are extant they tend to prove at least a kernel of truth. Wherever documents are no longer extant, there is no hope of proving anything, but it is just as likely that the tradition was based on a kernel of truth. Nowhere is this more valid than in early reports from Stratford and elsewhere about Shakespeare’s life, and early reports from New England about Myles Standish’s early life. The main pity for AS is that no traditions or legends survived into the 20th century. A few Victorian judges bonked those on the head in the 19th century, and quite rightly, when it came to the various claims to Duxbury Hall. But along with the dismissal of the claims went a dismissal of the folk memories, which the Standish family papers have now revealed to be based on something like the truth.


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