6.1. Alexander Standish[10A1]

6.1. (22) AS c.1590: A Few Relevant Heskeths

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


(22) c. 1590: a few relevant Heskeths

The Heskeths enter Myles Standish’s, AS’s and ‘Shakespeare in Lancashire’ stories at so many points that it is difficult to know where to begin, but 1590 is as good a year as any other between 1581, when William Shakeshafte probably arrived at Rufford Old Hall from Hoghton Tower, and 1617, when widow Jane Hesketh married Sir Richard Hoghton (second wife, third husband) and moved from Rufford Old Hall to Hoghton Tower. The traffic between these two halls must have been rather dense.

Let me begin with a brief report of my latest visit to Rufford Old Hall in September 2003, when I spoke to several guides and officials and explained why I have omitted a visit to Rufford during the course at Alston in August 2004. Of all the halls relevant to ‘Shakespeare in Lancashire’, this is the most accessible (thanks to the National Trust). They have a magnificent guidebook, audio commentary and education programme. To appreciate and do justice to all these, one needs to spend several hours there, rather than a quick flip through in a group. The only negative side (but this is really not negative, just fact) is that the Heskeths finally abandoned Rufford Old Hall in the 1930s and the furniture (if not the fittings) on view today are largely imported. Most of the paintings are on loan from the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool and much of the furniture has been acquired during the last half-century. It is a museum, not a home, but a museum well worth visiting and wonderfully maintained (thanks in large part to all the dedicated volunteers). Do visit their web site and the hall itself. The main gems from AS’s (and Shakespeare’s) time are the main hall, with its superb carved oak screen, and a copy of the Hesketh Pedigree Roll of c.1600, which includes portraits from life of many at this time. The other main gem (for me) is the portrait of Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-65) hanging in the dining room. He was a little late to be of direct relevance to AS or Shakespeare, but his father Sir Everard enters the story as a gunpowder plotter and his wife was Venetia Stanley, who appears below in 1600-1, with her name on a tomb in Tong, Shropshire and a poem by Ben Jonson, Shakespeare’s friend. The Digby portrait is not on loan, but an old family possession.

Honigmann (1985) devoted a chapter (III) to the relevant Sir Thomas Hesketh, mentioned in AH’s will of 1581 as the potential host of William Shakeshafte, who would either keep him in his household or see that he came to a “good master”. They also passed down the tradition that William Shakespeare was with them in his youth. I continue with details of relevance to the Standishes.

Deane, Guide Book to Rufford Old Hall, (any recent edition) gives Roger Dodsworth’s place in this family: he was the second husband of Holcroft Hesketh (died 1639), who had previously been married to Lawrence Rawsthorne of New Hall, Tottington, who appears in Standish of Standish MSS (Porteus, 1933). This is hardly surprising, because Holcroft’s brother Robert (died 1653) was married to Margaret, daughter of Alexander Standish of Standish. She was a granddaughter of Edward Standish (in AH’s 1581 will) and these Heskeths were grandchildren of Sir Thomas Hesketh (also in AH’s will). He died in 1588. The Hesketh family tree provides another list of names of many who must have been known to AS (and therefore Myles Standish and Shakespeare?).

Holcroft’s sister Mary married (as her 2nd husband) Thomas Stanley of Eccleston, an illegitimate but fully acknowledged son of Henry, 4th Earl of Derby and his mistress Jane Halsall. This Thomas Stanley was therefore a half brother of ‘matchless’ Ferdinando, the 5th Earl, and William ‘the great traveller’, 6th Earl, fellow-playwright with Shakespeare in London in the 1590s; and full brother of Dorothy Halsall/ Stanley, married to Sir Cuthbert Halsall of Halsall (whose grandmother was noted by Honigmann, 1985, p. 12 as having been involved in the lead up to the ‘affray at Lea’) and Ursula Halsall/ Stanley, married to Sir John Salisbury/ Salusbury, for whom Shakespeare wrote his enigmatic poem The Phoenix and (the) Turtle, published by Robert Chester in Love’s Martyr in 1601.

(Honigmann, 1985 devoted chapter IX to The Phoenix and the Turtle, with very convincing arguments for this reader that Shakespeare most probably wrote this poem on the occasion of the Ursula Stanley/ John Salisbury marriage in December 1586. This was the most disputed chapter of his book, as he revealed in his preface to the second edition of Shakespeare: the ‘lost years’, 1998. The controversy is still raging and new candidates for the phoenix and the turtle have been proposed. All, of course, were connected to Shakespeare and based on research in contemporary MSS, and all therefore throwing much needed light and details on many contemporary persons. I have followed this controversy mainly in the Times Literary Supplement. My money is still on Honigmann’s identification of the phoenix and turtle as Ursula and Sir John at their wedding.)

Holcroft and Mary Hesketh were two of the last of a dozen or so recorded children of Robert Hesketh (1560-1620), who had three wives. The Hesketh tree by Deane gives them as children of his first marriage to “Mary (married 1567, died 1586), daughter and heiress of Sir George Stanley of Cross Hall, Lathom”. His second wife was “Blanche (died 1602), daughter and co-heiress of Henry Twyford of Kenwick, Shropshire; widow of William Stopforth”. This William Stopforth/ Stopford/ Stockport was one of the major characters in Porteus’s investigation of Myles Standish’s lands (Porteus 1914, 1920), where he became the real villain of the piece. When I followed in Porteus’s footsteps, reading many of the Hesketh MSS (DDHe at the L.R.O.), William Stopforth appeared more as an astute businessman, Secretary to the Earl of Derby, with a good eye for buying up property, most particularly from Hugh Standish of Ormskirk, who seemed to have got himself hopelessly into debt. It was his lands that were confused with those named in Myles’s will. Whatever the ‘truth’, his widow Blanche brought a rather large amount of property to her second husband Robert Hesketh. They did not have any children together, but they did leave their portraits behind on the magnificent Hesketh pedigree chart, which has been perceived as potentially significant by more than one investigator into ‘Shakespeare in Lancashire’. Eric Sams, The Real Shakespeare (Yale, 1995) sees it as one possible product of Shakespeare’s hand:

The third sample may well prove even more contentious, because it relates to speculations such as the young Shakespeare’s possible connection with the Lancashire Catholic clans of Houghton and Hesketh in the early 1580s (Honigmann, 1985). The Pedigree Roll of Sir Thomas Hesketh (BL Add. MS. 44026, excerpted in Keen and Lubbock 1954, 36) is penned in a style very like that of the 1579 deed of sale and the Ironside MS. That 1954 book (anticipated in Wadman 1941 and McLaren 1949) is about a copy of Hall’s Chronicle 1550 with annotations identified as Shakespeare’s, as also on different and independent grounds by Pitcher (1961); this volume too is now housed in the British Library. These ascriptions have never been contested by any accredited expert; on the contrary, close and informed analysis (H. Rhodes in Keen and Lubbock 1954, 151-63) supports them.

But argument is no match for prejudice, as the history of the fifth item confirms. This has been known since 1939, when the inscription ‘W. Shakespere’ was found in the Folger Library copy of a 1568 legal text-book, William Lambarde’s Archaionomia (Knight 1973; Schoenbaum 1981). But Schoenbaum (1981, 109) feels that Archaionomia ‘seems an odd choice for Shakespeare’s library’. This opinion is echoed from the Folger paleographers’s report on the original discovery (Dawson 1942), which concludes that the poet himself indeed signed the volume ‘perhaps because he owned the book - a strange volume indeed for his library’. Thus pundits decide, up to 400 years after the event, what books Shakespeare ought not to read - exactly as they determine what plays he ought not to write, and even how he ought not to sign his own name (Cox, 1984).

(Sams, The Real Shakespeare, 1995, p. 194.)

Could Sams be right?

Robert Hesketh’s third wife was “Jane (died 1658), daughter of Thomas Spencer of Rufford; widow of Richard Haresnape; m. 1617; m. 3rd Sir Richard Hoghton, Bt.”, which took her from Rufford to Hoghton Tower. One of Robert’s brothers was Thomas Hesketh (1561-1613), “Herbalist”, whose work was highly praised by John Gerard, the writer of the Herball published in 1597, which drew greatly on the work by the Dutchman Dodoens, a copy of whose “Earball” was on Myles Standish’s shelf in Duxbury, Massachusetts (Myles’s inventory, Porteus, 1920). This John Gerard also designed gardens for prominent people in London, including Lord Burghley, who took a great interest in affairs in Lancashire.


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