1.5. Interview via FAQs (2002)

Helen Moorwood 2013

1.5. (7) Mainly about Shakespeare and Lancashire traditions

 What is the main evidence for Shakespeare having spent time in Lancashire?

For me, the most important evidence lies in the two old and persistent traditions in the Hoghton and Hesketh families, which not only corroborate each other but are the only two in the whole country associating him with specific families. These continued completely independently in both families and both can be demonstrably traced back to way before any Shakespeare scholarly interest was shown.

When was the first Shakespeare scholarly interest shown?

Not until 1923, when Chambers noted Alexander Hoghton’s will of 1581 naming William Shakeshafte, partially transcribed by Piccopeand printed by the Chetham Society in 1860. There had, however, been several publications in Lancashire before, which linked Shakespeare with the County Palatine.

Why did no one pick these up at the time?

 A mystery to me, but most were picked up later.

So what happened later?

 Oliver Baker was the first to wax enthusiastic about the possibility of Shakespeare having spent some of his ‘lost years’ in Lancashire and published his speculations in 1937.


Yes, this was all they still were. Although he visited Lancashire and some of the main sites, he did no research amongst documents; but over the next few decades more and more documentary evidence piled up. These all caused little flurries of excitement and Keen’s findings caused a great stir in the 1950s, but nothing came of these until Honigmannproduced the first scholarly book in 1985. This caused another stir, but was then largely ignored until rather recently, when the conference at Lancaster Universityand Hoghton Towerin 1999 attracted a lot of media attention and greater general interest. At the same time there has been an explosion in ‘Catholic Shakespeare’ literature, coming from very different directions but all converging on the Hoghtons.

So has young Shakespeare’s stay in Lancashire now been generally accepted?

 By no means.

Why not?

There seems to be an insistence on the production of a document actually stating that William Shakespeare was William Shakeshafte.

That sounds as if you don’t require documents for proof. But everything I have read about tracing family history or historical facts insists that documentary proof must be found.

I agree completely when tracing a family history back through censuses and civic records in the 19th century, and parish and other records back to the beginning of the 17th century. But from the 16th century back these are just not available in many cases. So many family papers disappeared without trace and without any record of how and why they might have disappeared. What is quite remarkable in the case of four of ‘my’ families is that documentary records have survived of how, when and where some of these disappeared. Many Stanley papers were lost when Lathom Housewas razed to the ground in the Civil War and more went into a furnace later (Coward).The Shakespeare family papers went up in flames in a fire in Warwick in 1694, reported by witnesses and printed in 1729 (Schoenbaum, pp. 305-6). Arderne family papers are reported as disappearing by an eye-witness at the beginning of the 19th century in a letter printed by Earwaker.Many Hoghton portraits and papers disappeared in a fire, reported by Miller. In cases like this, there is little hope of discovering documents that prove certain events. If a tradition has survived as the only record, let us just be thankful that it has.

How reliable are oral family traditions?

Some would say not at all and immediately throw them out of the window. However, I have come across so many that were demonstrably true and proved by documents that I would never reject a tradition out of hand and certainly not an early report within two or three generations after the event or death of the person in question, and particularly in an age when telling stories at the family hearth was a common pastime. My requirements for an oral tradition are that it must be dateable back to the first half of the 19th century, have no self-serving interest, and make sense within surrounding historical facts. If these conditions are met, then strip away any peripheral details, particularly the weird and wonderful, and the kernel, in my experience, usually contains the historical truth.

How many traditions in the Duxbury-Shakespeare story have you proved to be true?

Many, but let’s concentrate here on two published rather early. The first concerns Myles Standish, and in his case the family traditions were all printed by the middle of the 19th century (Winsor),so there are no problems with proving those dates. As mentioned in my ‘Main conclusions’, the family tradition that he had inherited Duxbury Hall was ultimately proved by a single document in the Standish of Duxbury Muniments, which at the same time proved his ancestry in this family. This was a case where the tradition was far more reliable than the documentation pieced together painstakingly by Rev. Porteus (1914, 1920).After two centuries, however, the family had become rather vague as to how and why he might have inherited Duxbury Hall and forgotten that his son Alexander had renounced his claim when the Assize Court in Lancaster awarded him compensation in 1655.

[I have since retracted my interim conclusion in my article in 2004 that the Alexander in this claim was Myles’s son and heir. It was not, it was Alexander[11A4]. However, this document did provide one of the pieces in the jigsaw puzzle of Myles Mysteries and Muddles. This is now covered in depth in 6.3. (11) 1655 Compensation and other files in the folder MYLES STANDISH. The relevant Alexander’s first-ever biography is in 6.4. Alexander[11A4] (1604-1662>1664). HM 2013]

They had also lost his will (not yet discovered and printed), so didn’t realise that the lands that he had never managed to regain possession of were a Standish of Standish estate and nothing to do with Duxbury Hall. All these details had been fused and confused and the final version was that he had been cheated out of Duxbury Hall - the wrong estate. The kernels were therefore ‘cheated out of an estate’ (proved by the text of his will) and ‘inherited Duxbury Hall’ (proved by the document mentioned above).

[As mentioned above, I retract this claim, but replace it with evidence that his descendants later fully believed that Myles had been entitled to claim Duxbury Hall. HM 2013]

The reason Rev. Porteusdid not discover this is that he died in the 1950s before the Standish of Duxbury Muniments resurfaced in 1965.

This is a similar story to one I met again and again during Shakespeare research: someone discovered a few documents, dismissed the tradition as fiction, believed the documents available at the time (although subsequent documents still awaited discovery) and in this case a real myth was born, such as Mary Arde(r)n(e) being John’s first and only wife. The second tradition recorded early is William Stanley as ‘a great traveller’ before he became 6th Earl of Derby; the family tradition was printed in the 1740s and several fully blown versions in ballad and prose around 1800 (Heywood, Bagley, Coward).Some of the itineraries and timings were demonstrably hopelessly wrong but the kernels of truth were certainly there.

Can you give one example of ‘the kernels of truth’ here?

All versions sent William Stanley to Russia for three years, although one with a ridiculous itinerary and another with impossible dates, and all had garbled versions of him meeting Dr Dee, an old family friend, at the Emperor’s court in Moscow. The accepted facts (all well established in documents and published long ago) are that he did indeed know Dr John Dee(the famed traveller to various Eastern European courts as mathematician, astrologer, alchemist, etc.) very well, but visited him mainly in Manchester, where he was appointed Warden of the College in 1595 and where he lived in a house owned by the Earls of Derby; Dr John Deenever visited Moscow (most of his time in Eastern Europe was in Poland and Bohemia); the Dr Dee, physician to the Russian Emperor for seventeen years, but far too late for William Stanley to have visited him, was his eldest son Dr Arthur Dee. My findings included that William Stanley was mysteriously missing from any documentation in Lancashire or anywhere else in England from 1590-3, which for various other solid reasons was the most logical date for a potential stay in Russia. The inevitable conclusion was that the two Dr Dees, father and son, had become muddled in local folk-lore by someone whose knowledge of history and geography was not too sparkling. The two kernels left in all versions were ‘Russia’ and ‘three years’ and I doubt if we will ever know any more details. As mentioned before, the Derby family papers largely disappeared during the Civil War, including perhaps any letters written from Russia. An additional relevant fact was that by the time the tradition of him as ‘a great traveller’ was recorded in the 1740s, the senior line had died out and the Derby title inherited by a junior line (incidentally, married to a Standish of Duxbury widow). Although this family must have heard a lot about William’s travels at the time, on the other hand it was not their own family tradition, so had even less chance of surviving intact.

I might add that my research, documentary evidence, arguments and conclusions on William Stanley’s travels and biography until 1617 (my cut off point a year after Shakespeare’s death) have been endorsed by Professor Leo Daugherty, his recent and future biographer (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography),who read an early draft of my chapter on William Stanley. We have had much correspondence on specific details and believe that together we have perhaps come as close to the truth as possible on surviving documentation located so far. (Dare I add, Leo, for the sake of me and Duxbury ‘cousins’, that on one occasion you wrote that you thought my work on William Stanley was ‘wonderful’? I have the letter on file.)

[Professor Daugherty’s biography of William Stanley duly appeared in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, digital 2004, in print 2007. He has since published two highly relevant books:

William Shakespeare, Richard Barnfield and the Sixth Earl of Derby, Cambria, 2010.

The Assassination of Shakespeare’s Patron: Investigating the Death of the Fifth Earl of Derby, Cambria, 2011.

HM 2013]


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