1.5. Interview via FAQs (2002)

Helen Moorwood 2013

1.5. (2) Mainly about the relevance of his ancestry for his biography 

What does this ancestry mean for William Shakespeare’s biography?

 I conclude that it explains many of the mysteries and controversies of today.

Which Shakespeare mysteries and controversies in particular?

For starters: (1) Was he a Catholic? (2) Were the two independent traditions that he spent some of his youth in Lancashire merely myths or based on the truth? (3) Who wrote his works? (4) Why were there so few Stratford traditions about him and his family? (5) How did he achieve what he did with his ‘conventional’ background?

What are your conclusions?

 My findings produced a resounding YES to the first two questions as the only story that makes sense of some of his ‘lost years’ and several anomalies beyond those. The answer to the third is a little more complicated. He certainly wrote his own works, but probably with more than a little help from his friends, the most important early Earl friend from his teenage days being William Stanley, later 6th Earl of Derby. The answer to the fourth was clear: few of the Shakespeare family were in Stratford permanently during William’s formative and most successful years; John, Mary and William just went back there in retirement or to die. The answer to the fifth lies partly in Mary’s kinsmen and noble family connections.

How noble were Mary’s family connections?

Very. She could claim an ancestry in a female line from Charlemagne via the Dukes of Burgundy and her family tree was riddled with knights and barons, with the odd Welsh Prince thrown in. Pedigree Charts and all the documentation from the Cheshire end are in Ormerodand Earwaker. Their problem was that they both died before it became well known that Mary’s coat of arms was that of the Cheshire Ardernefamily and not the Warwickshire Arden family. Rather amazingly, this was not re-discovered until 1863 (Gough Nichols) and he refused to believe it, followed by Sir Sidney Lee, who wrote the monumental biography of Shakespeare that dominated all biographies in the 20th century. A few small voices in the last half-century have raised the suggestion again, but none, it seems, before me, has actually read everything written on the Cheshire Ardernes.The answers were all there in Cheshire documents, although disguised by a few 19th century muddles that needed sorting out via other documents, heraldic laws and coats of arms. One of her cousins was Sheriff of Warwickshire in 1568-9 (French), the year when John Shakespeare was High Bailiff of Stratford, a coincidence which may or may not be significant. Another was steward to his (and Mary’s) kinsman the 4th Earl of Derby on his mission to France in early 1585 (Coward) and to the Earl of Leicester, Elizabeth’s favourite, on his mission to the Netherlands later that year (Thoms).

Isn’t 1585 the year when some people think he escaped to London after the deer-poaching incident and stood at theatre-doors holding horses?

Quite. With my findings about Mary’s ancestry and cousins in high places, this makes nonsense of his poverty and need for a humble job at this time. Mary’s connections would have provided him with access to the highest circles long before. We know he knew Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, before he dedicated Venus and Adonis to him in 1593, and now it has emerged that through Mary’s cousins he would have had easy access to the Earls of Derby and Leicester.


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