STANDISH OF DUXBURY
1.5. Interview via FAQs (2002)
Helen Moorwood 2013
1.5. (6) Mainly about the Duxbury to Standish to Shakespeare connections
What’s the connection between Duxbury and Shakespeare?
The main connection was Alexander Standish of Duxbury (1567-1622), whose mother was a Hoghton and who himself was named after his uncle Alexander Hoghton, who wrote his will in August 1581 naming William Shakeshafte. He was also a close friend of Dowager Countess Alice, widow of Ferdinando, 5th Earl of Derby, who, as Lord and Lady Strange in the early 1590s, were patrons of Strange’s Players, who performed some of Shakespeare’s early plays. Alexander also had Duxbury blood flowing in his veins and quartered the Duxbury arms in pride of second place (on the magnificent oak Standish pew in St Laurence’s, Chorley). He was Myles’s closest relative in Duxbury and several documents allow one to confidently assume that Myles and Alexander knew each other rather well. One can also be certain that Alexander Standish, with all his family connections, knew both William Shakespeare when staying with his uncle Alexander Hoghton, and knew who William Shakeshafte was. As Edmund Spenserclaimed kinship with Alice, it seems likely that he knew him too. If only some letters from this period had survived among the Standish of Duxbury Muniments, the problem might have been solved once and for all, but alas, none did.
How do you know Alexander Standish was a close friend of Dowager Countess Alice?
Because she is named in his will of 1621 (in the Lancashire Record Office) as the only one not in his immediate family, and she was still living, rent-free, in Alexander’s neighbouring manor of Anglezarke the following year at his Inquisition post mortem. I gave references to these in my articles.
[In fact she only appears in the Inquisition post mortem. Extracts from the Will and the full text of the Ipm are given in his biography 6.1. Alexander[10A1] (1567-1622). HM 2013]
Who exactly was Countess Alice?
Good question. She deserves a biography in her own right. Briefly, she was one of the daughters of Sir John Spencer of Althorpe in Northamptonshire (and we all know who another recent member of this family was). They had their roots in Lancashire before the move to the Midlands, and, true to form in staying allied to the same families, often looked back in this direction for brides and grooms. She married Ferdinando, Lord Strange and they had three daughters before he died, probably poisoned, shortly after Catholic Lancashire exiles had offered Spanish and papal support to put him on Elizabeth’s throne (Bagley, Coward). The earldom then went to brother William and she later married Sir Thomas Egerton of Cheshire, 1st Viscount Brackley, Baron Ellesmere and Elizabeth’s Privy Seal and her and James’s Lord Chancellor. He died in 1617 and it was during her second widowhood that, we now know, she moved to Anglezarke. All her adult life she attracted dedications from poets, including Jonson and Milton (Heywood) as well as her kinsman Spenser, and it is impossible for her not to have known Shakespeare very early on, given that her first husband’s troupe of players put on some of his early plays. So she is another one who would have known about the Shakespeare/ shafte puzzle.
Are there any more Shakespeare connections in Duxbury?
Not directly, but there are so many links stretching all over Lancashire and down to London to other people who must have known him.
How can you be so sure?
Because the gentry were constantly on the move visiting friends and relatives and actors were constantly on the move performing for the gentry. And when they were in London they all met again at each others’ houses and the theatre.
How do you know they were so mobile and social?
There are endless well documented meetings in London in many diaries and letters of the period, and we know that Ben Jonson, one of his best friends, moved in circles at every level of society. One very interesting Lancashire diary that survived was by Nicholas Assheton, the squire of Downham, and first cousin of Alexander Standish’s wife Alice Assheton, so we know who many of his friends and what many of his activities were between 1617 and 1619 (Whitaker; Bagley, Diarists). He thought nothing of riding half way across the county to visit his gentlemen friends, to hunt with them, or attend a sermon by a noted preacher, or theatricals or to attend a funeral; and travelled to London twice during this period for a legal matter. Among many others he visited ‘coz. Standish’ and hunted with William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby. He also knew the Towneleys well, and the mother of Edward Alleyn, may I remind you, was a Towneley. And he visited the Hoghtons, most importantly during the three days when James I stayed in 1617 (and was drunk for the next two days!). In short, he knew everyone in the Hoghton circle and all of these appear on the lists of Preston Guild Rolls (Abram,Preston)and all turned up on the Earl of Derby’s doorstep in groups (Raines). He was born in the early 1590s, so wasn’t around when young Shakespeare was with the Hoghtons, but the theatricals he enjoyed must have included some Shakespeare plays by some of the touring companies that passed through the area. Unfortunately his diary starts the year after Shakespeare’s death, but the picture of Lancashire he left behind cannot have been too different for the generation before him.
Then there are the scores of other close Lancashire connections with Shakespeare’s world in Stratford and London. Read Keen, Honigmann, Enos.These connections have been dismissed as purely circumstantial evidence by sceptics, but they have now reached such alarming proportions that it becomes ever more difficult to reject them all as coincidences, and for me impossible since I established Mary Arderne’s ancestry, with her close kinship to almost everyone previously mentioned in the ‘Shakespeare in Lancashire’ literature.