1.5. (1) Mainly about Shakespeare’s ancestry and Lancashire connections
What have you actually discovered about Shakespeare?
In a nutshell, that his father John’s ancestry is 99.99% certain in the Shakeshaftes of Lancashire and Mary Arde(r)n(e)’s ancestry 100% certain in the Ardernes of Cheshire. She was related to pretty well everyone who has ever appeared in the ‘Shakespeare in Lancashire’ story and was John’s (second or) third wife and William’s stepmother. They married in c.1575 as a genteel widow and a rich widower, and their combined families included ten or eleven children. They spent most of the 1580s in the North West and most of the 1590s in London.
Why does Shakespeare’s ancestry matter?
It doesn’t really, but an awful lot of people have been hunting for the last few centuries and never found it, so there is a certain satisfaction in having solved some of these particular puzzles. It also serves to explain many anomalies and mysteries that have bedevilled all biographers since Rowe,who attempted to produce the first seamless biography in 1709.
Why did no one else find it and now you claim you have?
That has been a constant mystery to me, but the basic answer is that by concentrating most of their efforts on Shakespeares/ shaftes and Ardernes/ Ardens in the Midlands they were, quite simply, looking in the wrong place. I just seem to have come along at the right time with my Lancashire genealogical research and wide reading in the history of the county. I also happen to have spent most of my youth in a valley round the corner of the moors from Hoghton Towerand known most of my life about the tradition that he had spent a couple of years there and a short time with the Heskethsof Rufford Old Hall. Like so many others, I’ve always been a fan of his works and never paid much attention to his biography, but was intrigued when I kept bumping into so many of his associates and contemporaries in my little bit of Lancashire, and started to investigate further.
Who were some of his associates in Lancashire?
Among the most important were Edmund Spenser,a fellow poet and admirer, whom tradition places in the family of Hurstwood Hall near Burnley; Edward Alleyn,a fellow actor, whose mother was a Towneley of Towneley (Keen); Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange, whose Players performed some of Shakespeare’s early works, and whose wife Alice, a kinswoman of Spenser’s, was a close friend of Alexander Standish of Duxbury; and Ferdinando’s brother William, 6th Earl of Derby, who was a strong contestant as an authorship candidate at the beginning the 20th century. In pursuing Myles Standish’s story I had also come across many Lancashire religious luminaries who had continued to prominent positions in Elizabeth’s reign and in some cases produced prominent children and also founded local grammar schools (Kay). Every time I pursued any of these I found myself going around in the same circles, with Shakespeare always in the middle or hovering at the edge. During this time I was living in Bavaria (for twenty-two years in the meantime) and pursuing its history. Particularly when reading about the Holy Roman Empire and the Counter-Reformation, I was reminded again and again of so many Lancastrian connections that somehow seemed to be connected with Shakespeare.
Connections between Bavaria and Lancashire?
Well, yes. To give but two examples: Ferdinando, Lord Strange (son and heir of the 4th Earl of Derby of Lancashire) was named in 1558 after the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II (whose family regularly married Bavarian princesses) [or rather, one of his family of the previous generation 2013], which introduced this name into Lancashire. Many local gentry sons were later given this name, one can only presume as godsons or in emulation. I found it intriguing that lots of little Lancashire lads were running around at the end of the 16th century, whose name, at least, connected them to an Emperor and Ferdinand and Isabel of Spain. Also Munich was one of the main bastions of the Jesuits north of the Alps at a time when Catholic Lancashire gentry were sending large numbers of children to be educated abroad, with several returning to England as Jesuit priests. Many passed through Munich on their way from the schools-in-exile in Flanders and Northern France to the English College in Rome. All these connections gradually started to fall into place when pursuing Shakespeare’s ancestry and biography.
But what have these to do with Shakespeare?
He’s often been associated with Strange’s Players, both in London in the ‘conventional’ biography and as part of the ‘Shakespeare in Lancashire’ theory. And he’s often been associated with the Jesuits. In his lifetime his name was linked to Robert Parsons (sometimes spelt Persons), head of the English Jesuits in Rome, and if he really did spend time in Lancashire, it would have coincided with the stay there in 1580-1 of Edmund Campion. In reading the history of the Preston area (where my father was born) it is difficult to miss the presence of Edmund Campion,as it is so widely reported. People still remembered his charisma and oratorical skills a century later, and he was similarly praised for a sermon in Munich on his way from Rome to Lancashire. From the Munich end I knew about Jesuit drama and their use of theatricals as a pedagogical aid and from the Lancashire end I knew about it mainly because of Stonyhurst College, not far from Hoghton Tower. If Shakespeare really was with the Catholic Hoghtons and Heskeths, this would certainly help to explain his early interest and involvement in the theatre.