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I’m an author of historical fiction and non-fiction. On this front page you’ll find details of my current novels. If you delve a little deeper, you’ll discover all sorts of interesting stuff. Just click on the links above or keep scrolling down to get started.

Sept 2013 052

The first of March is publication day for the audiobook of

An Honourable Estate An Honourable Estate audiobook cover

Many Kinds of Silence

MKOS cover 22 Sept-page-0– the lost years of William Shakespeare.

When William Shakespeare leaves his home in Stratford in the company of a Catholic priest he knows that he is walking into danger, but the vast libraries held in the name of God are enough to tempt him to risk his life in the pursuit of knowledge. However, the capture and death of his mentor, Edmund Campion, and his return to Stratford set William on an altogether different path. Marriage to Anne Hathaway means he must turn his back on the priesthood, but there are other ways for a clever and charming young man to be of use to the faith.

Many Kinds of Silence traces the story of a young William Shakespeare and his patron, Ferdinando Stanley, and reveals how religion, science and choosing in whom to place your trust meant the difference between life and death in Elizabethan England.

Now available as paperback and ebook for kindle.

 amazon.co.uk amazom.com 

Read the first chapter

Many Kinds of Silence is a cleverly conceived and captivating novel, casting adrift a young and restless William in a maelstrom of religious strife and intrigue whilst exploring the adventurous spirit of a generation in pursuit of scientific knowledge. Lancashire Evening Post

The Circle of Fortune  

The_Circle_of_Fortun_Cover_for_Kindle

is now available as an ebook and a paperback.

When Roger Mortimer escapes from the Tower of London, Alicia de Lacy and her husband, Eble le Strange, support his campaign to rid England of Edward II and his hated favourite, Hugh le Despenser. But as Mortimer’s power increases he becomes as corrupt as his predecessors, and Alicia and Eble are forced to decide where their loyalties really lie.

Buy from Amazon

 Favoured Beyond Fortune

BookCoverPreview

Alicia de Lacy was one of the richest noblewomen in England. But  lost everything when her husband, Thomas of Lancaster, led a rebellion against King Edward II.  

Everything except the love of one man.

Read the first chapter 

The ebook is now available from Amazon UK, Amazon.com and other Amazon sites. Paperback also available.

Reviews

By Loyalty Bound

is  available as an ebook and a hard cover book from Pen and Sword Fiction 

Or buy from Amazon

Watch the book trailer 

Still not convinced? Read the first chapter here

When 17 year old Richard, Duke of Gloucester, defies his elder brother, Edward IV, and 

BLB book jacket jpegrides to Hornby Castle in the north of Lancashire to help James and Robert Harrington defend their birthright against Sir Thomas Stanley, he engenders a chain of events that will have repercussions for years to come. His fight for justice for the Harringtons and his relationship with Anne Harrington, whose wardship has been given to Thomas Stanley, cause a rift between the two men that will never be healed, and which will lead to Richard being betrayed when he most needs Stanley’s support.

By Loyalty Bound tells the story of defiant Anne Harrington, the woman who would later become mistress to the enigmatic Richard as a consequence of his involvement in the trials of her family. With her father and grandfather killed fighting for the Yorkists at Wakefield in 1460, Hornby Castle falls to her as an inheritance at the tender age of five years old. When her ward-ship is handed over to Thomas Stanley by the king himself, Anne’s uncles and the influence they might otherwise have wielded are virtually cut off. The story traces the Harringtons fight to keep possession of their ancestral home, the support given to them by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and Richard’s tumultuous and beguiling relationship with Anne as she is forced into a marriage arranged for her by her guardian, a man who has objectives beyond the determination to secure her future happiness. 

Here is the cover for the hardback edition. Out now!

BLB hardback cover

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An Honourable Estate 

is based on the legend of Mab’s Cross at Wigan and is available as a paperback and an ebook. 

England 1315

Famine and unrest spread across the country and when Sir William Bradshaigh joins Adam Banastre’s rebellion against their overlord, the Earl of Lancaster, things do not go to plan.  

Sir William is lucky to escape with his life after a battle at Preston and, as a wanted man, has no choice but to become an outlaw.  Meanwhile, the lands at Haigh are forfeit to the king and are given to Sir Peter Lymesey for a year and a day, and Lady Mabel Bradshaigh must make a hard choice if she is to protect her children and herself.

Watch the book trailer

Buy from: Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

The novel has its own page on the website here: http://elizabethashworth.com/an-honourable-estate/ where you can read more about the historical background to the story and follow the reviews.

You can also visit The Honourable Estate facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/AnHonourableEstate

Also available as a large print book and an audio book:

 

P1020997 (2)

An Honourable Estate audiobook cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

The de Lacy Inheritance

was published by Myrmidon Books in 2010.  It was followed by a large print edition from Ulverscroft and an audiobook version from  ISIS Soundings.  The printed books and the audiobook are all available for sale or from your local library.

The de Lacy Inheritance is set in Lancashire and Cheshire.

When Richard Fitz-Eustace returns from the crusade suffering from leprosy he resolves to live as a hermit and seek forgiveness for his sins. But first he must fulfil an obligation to his grandmother.  He must seek her kinsman, Robert de Lacy, and ask his consideration of her claim to his estates. Meanwhile, Richard’s sister, Johanna is distraught. The fate of her brother has done more than leave her bereft. Her mother has contrived a marriage for her and without Richard’s protection there seems little she can do to prevent it. 

Buy it at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

If you’ve read the book, why not take the quiz at Goodreads – http://www.goodreads.com/trivia/work/5478660

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Nicholas Owen – builder of priest holes

Speke Hall (2)I was recently at Speke Hall, a Tudor house near Liverpool. In an upstairs room, you can see where a priest hole has been built into the fabric of the building to make it invisible to anyone who did not know it was there. It is of an ingenious design and is just one of many to be found in Catholic houses across England where priests were able to hide to escape arrest during the years following the Reformation.

Many of these hiding places are the work of one man – Nicholas Owen, also known as

Statue of St Nicholas Owen

Statue of St Nicholas Owen

‘Little John’. Owen was born in Oxford in 1562, one of four sons of Walter Owen who was a carpenter. His brother John was a priest, his brother Walter died in 1591 and third brother, Henry, was apprenticed to a printer and engaged in the secret printing of Catholic literature. In 1577, Nicholas Owen was apprenticed to the Oxford joiner William Conway and learned the skills that he later put to use designing and building secret hiding places. By 1588, he was in the employment of the Jesuit priest, Father Henry Garnet and later became a Jesuit lay brother. He travelled from house to house, accepting only a bed and food as reward for his work and in a letter dated 1596, Father Garnet speaks of ‘a carpenter of singular faithfulness and skill who has travelled through almost the entire kingdom and, without charge, has made for Catholic priests hiding places where they might shelter the fury of heretical searchers’.

His nickname was ‘Little John’ as he is reputed to have been very small. He walked with a limp after his leg was badly set following a fracture when a horse fell on him. He also had a hernia, but none of this prevented him from working alone and in secret, usually during the night, to break down stone walls and reconstruct them in such a way as to create secret places that were almost impossible to find if you did not know where to look. He made false entrances in fireplaces and staircases, trap doors, sliding doors and in the case of Speke Hall a crawl space above a ceiling accessed by a rope ladder in a small space at the side of a bedroom. He is said to have favoured sites away from outside walls and had the ability to think in three dimensions and in curves. He used false perspectives and illusion, now more often employed by stage magicians, to hide the priest holes, many of which have since been discovered, although it is possible that there are still more waiting to be found. The guide at Speke Hall told visitors that the owners of one Elizabethan manor house uncovered a priest hole, complete with priest, during renovations. At Hoghton Tower, also in Lancashire, one priest hole was only discovered when an electrician fell into it, and at Astley Hall in Chorley a priest hole was discover as recently as 2004.

When the search parties arrived at the houses of suspected Catholics, perhaps tipped off by suspicious neighbours, they brought with them their own carpenters and masons to help in the search. Measurements were taken to try to find spaces not accounted for by the length of the wall or height of the ceiling and if anything didn’t seem quite right panelling would be pulled down, floors taken up and swords thrust into any gaps that might conceal a priest. These searches could go on for days, even weeks, and all the time the priest in his hidden chamber had to remain still and silent faced with either discovery or starvation. Some priests were discovered and arrested, but many more escaped detection and ‘Little John’ is remembered by modern Catholics for saving many lives.

Nicholas Owen is also credited with engineering the escape of Father John Gerard from the Tower of London by means of a rope strung across the moat, but, sadly, there was no escape for Owen himself after he was arrested at Hindlip Hall in Worcestershire in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot in the reign of James I. The house was surrounded by 100 men at daybreak on Monday, 20th November and the searchers began to rip the house apart. Nicholas Owen and another man seem to have allowed themselves to be discovered creeping along a gallery, possibly to detract attention from the two priests, Father Garnet and Father Oldcorne, who were also in hiding there. But after eight days, the priests were found and also arrested.

When he heard the news of Owen’s capture, Secretary of State,Robert Cecil, wrote ‘Great joy was caused all through the kingdom by the arrest of Owen, knowing his skill in constructing hiding-places, and the innumerable number of these dark holes which he had schemed for hiding priests throughout the kingdom.

Despite a law that forbade the torturing of anyone with a disability, Nicholas Owen was

The torture of Nicholas Owen

The torture of Nicholas Owen

tortured following Cecil’s instructions that ‘the secret is to be wrung from him’. He was first manacled by the wrists and suspending in chains from a ceiling. This resulted in his hernia bulging from his body to such an extent that his intestines were protruding, so the tortures strapped an iron plate to him to hold them in. It was this plate that eventually killed him. Refusing to divulge any information he was racked and the result was that the plate cut into the hernia and ruptured it causing him to bleed to death in his cell in the early hours of 2nd March 1606. He took his knowledge of his priest holes to the grave, having divulged nothing to his torturers. The official stance was that he had committed suicide by ripping himself open with the knife given him to eat his meat. It is an unlikely story as the torture had left him unable to use his hands at all and suicide, for a Catholic, was a mortal sin that would have endangered his soul. He was buried in the Tower.

Father Gerard said of him ‘I verily think no man can be said to have done more good of all those who laboured in the English vineyard. He was the immediate occasion of saving the lives of many hundreds of persons, both ecclesiastical and secular.’ It is true that many priests must have owed him their lives and many Catholic families were able to receive the sacraments from a priest because of his work.

So next time you are visiting a Tudor house and you are shown a priest hole, spare a thought for Nicholas Owen − for his ingenious work and for his horrific and painful death at the hands of the English government.

  • Harvington Hall in Worcestershire has four priest holes attributed to Nicholas Owen.
  • There is a Roman Catholic Church dedicated to Saint Nicholas Owen in Little Thornton, Lancashire.
  • He was beatified by Pope Pius XI on 15 December 1929 and canonized by Paul VI on 25 October 1970.
  • His saint’s day is 22nd March.
  • Priest holes at Hoghton Tower and at Rufford Old Hall feature in my novel Many Kinds of Silence.
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John de Lacy – Magna Carta baron

John de Lacy was one of the twenty-five barons who forced King John to agree to the The de Lacy armsterms of Magna Carta in June 1215. He was probably the youngest of the barons and the last to withdraw support from the king and join the rebel army.

John de Lacy was the son of Roger de Lacy and his wife, Maud, or Matilda, de Clere. He was born about 1192 and was still a minor when his father died in 1211, becoming a ward of the king, although he may have already been living at court as he had been held as a hostage during his father’s lifetime to ensure Roger’s loyalty.

John came of age in September 1213 and had to pay a huge fine to King John of 7000 marks, repayable over the coming three years, for possession of his father’s estates, which comprised more than 100 knights’ fees along with the baronies of Pontefract, Clitheroe, Penwortham, Widnes and Halton.  He took an oath and signed a charter confirming the terms of payment, which included a clause that if he left the king’s service and joined his enemies he would forfeit all the lands.  Twenty of his tenants guaranteed these terms and agreed that they would remain loyal to the king even if their lord turned against him.  He was also forced to surrender his castles at Pontefract in Yorkshire and Donington in Leicestershire to be garrisoned by the king at his own expense.

It was not surprising then that, at first, John de Lacy appeared to be loyal to King John. In June 1214, he was given some respite in the terms of his payments and Castle Donington was returned to him in return for the surrender of hostages, including his younger brother. The following month he accompanied the king in his, ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to win back his lost lands in France. He was still at court in March 1215, and on the fifth of that month was pardoned the final 4200 marks that he still owed to the king for his inheritance.

When King John refused to meet with the barons at Northampton in April to reply to their demands and London opened its gates to the rebels, civil war seemed inevitable. As late as 31st May, John de Lacy appeared to be loyal to the king, but, in the end, he withdrew his support and was named as one of the baronial council of 25 at Runnymede – an act for which he was excommunicated by the Pope. He was given command of the rebel forces in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire.

Although he added his seal to the Magna Carta, King John did not abide by its terms for long.  He captured Castle Donington on 1st January 1216, forcing John de Lacy to make terms with him and once again surrender his brother as a hostage.  In the April, John de Lacy was restored to his manor of Lytham in Oxfordshire, and in May he was in Kent with the king, but he had rebelled again before the king’s death in October that year.

After the defeat of the rebel army at Lincoln, John de Lacy swore fealty to the new king, Henry III, under the regency of William Marshal, but his thoughts had already turned to the Holy Land and in May 1218, he accompanied Ranulph, Earl of Chester on crusade.  It seems that he was also accompanied by two priests from his lands – one from Kippax and one from Aberford, as they were witnesses to a charter granted in Damietta that year of land to the church at Pontefract.

John returned to England with Ranulph in 1220 and the following year was married to Ranulph’s niece, Margaret de Quincy. This was his second marriage. He had been previously married to Alice de l’Aigle who was the daughter of Gilbert de l’Aigle and Isabella, the widow of Robert de Lacy (2). Alice had died. There is no date of death recorded for her but she was buried at Norton Priory.

The only place I have seen the banner displayed is in the great hall of Gainsborough Old Hall in Lincolnshire.

The only place I have seen the banner displayed is in the great hall of Gainsborough Old Hall in Lincolnshire.

Margaret de Quincy was the daughter of Robert de Quincy and Hawise, who was the sister of Ranulf. It was agreed before Ranulf’s death, in 1232, that his title of Earl of Lincoln should pass through his sister Hawise to John as her son-in-law.  On 22nd November 1232, John was granted the third penny of the county of Lincolnshire although Ranulf’s principal barony, Bolingbroke, was retained by Hawise until her death in 1243. On receiving the earldom, John de Lacy adopted the arms of the rampant purple lion on a golden background.

John de Lacy became influential at court during the reign of Henry III.   In February 1221, following the rebellion of William de Forz, he assisted in the siege of Skipton Castle. He witnessed the reissue of the Magna Carta in 1225 and in 1226 was appointed a justice in Lincolnshire and Lancashire. In 1227, he was one of the royal envoys who went to Antwerp for negotiations with the German princes and in 1230 he accompanied the king’s expedition to Brittany and Poitou, receiving the manors of Collingham in Yorkshire and Bardsey in Lincolnshire as a reward for his service.

He was present at the marriage of Henry with Eleanor of Provence in his official role as Constable of Chester and it is recorded that  ‘according to his office’ he kept back the crowd ‘with his rod or warder’ when they pressed forward in a disorderly manner.

In the autumn of 1233, he helped to defend the Welsh marches against a rebellion headed by Richard Marshal.  The chronicler, Roger of Wendover, claims that he was bribed to abandon Richard Marshal, an allegation substantiated by the award to John de Lacy of the wardship of the heir and lands of Nigel de Mowbray in return for a relatively modest 1000 marks.

John retained his position at court and was a leading royal counsellor, but he began to suffer ill health and died on 22nd July 1240, leaving a son, Edmund, who had been born in 1230 and a daughter, Maud, married to Richard de Clare, heir to the earldom of Gloucester – an arrangement for which John de Lacy paid 3000 marks. It is thought that Peter of Chester, the long-lived rector of Whalley in Lancashire, was also a son of John de Lacy.

John de Lacy was buried near his father, Roger de Lacy, at Stanlaw Abbey and his remains were later removed to Whalley when the monks transferred there.

 

The remains of the de Lacy grave at Whalley Abbey.

The remains of the de Lacy grave at Whalley Abbey.

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Dr John Dee demonstrates a solar eclipse

The novel I am working on at the moment is about the life of Jane Dee, wife of the famousJohn Dee scientist and mathematician John Dee, who is also remembered for his magical conversations with the angels through his scryer Edward Kelley.  Much, although not all, of John Dee’s writing has been preserved and whilst reading his diary I noticed that he mentions a solar eclipse on the 25th February 1598. He says that it was cloudy but that a great darkness fell about half past nine – the same time that we will see the solar eclipse tomorrow (20th March 2015).

In 1672, Elias Ashmole was planning to write a biography of John Dee and he went to visit an elderly lady named Goodwife Faldo, who was aged around 80 years and who was the last person alive at that time who had personally known Dr Dee. She told him that her memories of the magus were vivid and that he had been a very handsome man, tall and slender with a fair complexion. He dressed in an artists’ gown with hanging sleeves and had a long pointed beard, which turn snowy white in his old age. Amongst other recollections, she described how she and her mother, who later nursed Dr Dee, had been invited into his house where, in a darkened room, he had shown them the solar eclipse projected through a pinhole. Goodwife Faldo was six years old at the time and it must have made quite an impression on her. Maybe she was afraid too – not of the eclipse, which Dr Dee would have explained to his assembled guests – but because the local children would run away screaming if they caught sight of Dee because he ‘was accounted a conjuror’.

Another version of the story about the eclipse records that Dr Dee demonstrated the eclipse to the Polish ambassador. Perhaps this is also true. I don’t suppose that he put on the show especially for Goodwife Faldo and her mother, but rather that there would have been a room filled with excited observers as they watched the moon creep across the face of the sun. I think what interests me especially is that Dr Dee gathered these people to watch the eclipse safely. The little six year old’s eyesight was not damaged by looking directly at the sun. So, do the same tomorrow. Watch carefully!

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The Playhouse at Prescot

 

Prescot's main shopping street.

Prescot’s main shopping street.

Prescot is a small town in West Lancashire. It seems rather poverty-stricken and certainly is not a tourist destination, much less a place that those who are interested in the Tudor theatre might think worth visiting. In fact, many people have probably never even heard of it. However, Prescot holds a secret. In the 1593, a purpose built playhouse opened here – the first outside London.

Prescot has buildings dated 1614.

Prescot has buildings dated 1614.

Using boarded up shops to promote heritage

Using boarded up shops to promote heritage

Prescot was a poor place even then. Less than ten years earlier in 1586, the vicar of the town, Thomas Meade, had written: Ther is in this poore towne of Prescote one hundred and five severall families, amongst which there be scarce xx (20) that be able to help themselves without begging. So, at first, it seems puzzling that Richard Harrington chose to build a theatre here, on the south-west corner of the Town Moss.

Harrington was the tenant of Prescot Hall. He was the brother of Perceval Harrington who was a steward to the Earls of Derby and it is this connection that begins to make sense of his venture. The Derby family of Knowsley Hall, just four miles from the town, were patrons of The Playhouse. They were a wealthy family, descended from Thomas Stanley, the stepfather of Henry VII. Henry Stanley, 4th Earl of Derby, like other Tudors lords, kept his own company of players, Derby’s Men, who often entertained at Knowsley Hall as well as performing in London and at court for Queen Elizabeth I. His son, Ferdinando Stanley was also a patron of the theatre and had his own

Ferdinando Stanley

Ferdinando Stanley

players, Lord Strange’s Men, the troupe with which William Shakespeare had a close association. Other players also visited the Derby houses in Lancashire and the Derby Household Book records performances by Leicester’s Men (July 1587), Sir Thomas Hesketh’s Players (December 1587), the Queen’s Men (October 1588, July and September 1589, and June and September 1590).

It was perhaps around this time that the idea for a purpose built playhouse, rather than performing in the halls of the Derby houses at Knowsley, Lathom and New Park took hold. It may have been Ferdinando Stanley who was driving force behind the building of The Playhouse. Plague in London meant that his Men were given a travelling licence in 1593 and they may have been the first players to perform at Prescot. This was the same year that the 4th earl died and Ferdinando became the 5th Earl of Derby, and also the same year that Catholics abroad offered him support to usurp the throne of England. However, Ferdinando died in mysterious circumstances soon after, and it may have been his brother William, the 6th earl and a playwright himself, who saw the completion of the theatre. The players who had been Lord Strange’s Men became the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (the Lord Chamberlain was the husband of Ferdinando’s sister) and this company included William Shakespeare.William_Shakespeare

The site of The Playhouse

The site of The Playhouse.

The site of The Playhouse is now occupied by a brick built building known as the Flatiron. Apart from the site of the theatre, nothing is known of its construction although it may have resembled The Globe in London.

In 2007, the Shakespeare North Trust organised a campaign for the building of a new Playhouse at Prescot. An application for National Lottery funding was unsuccessful at that time, but plans are ongoing for the development of a theatre built to the same design as The Cockpit in Whitehall (the site which is now occupied by numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street), designed by Inigo Jones in 1629 for the Court of King James I. If the plans go ahead, it will be the only replica of this indoor Jacobean theatre in the world and will complete the triangle of places associated with William Shakespeare – Stratford, London and Lancashire.

You can read more about William Shakespeare’s links with Lancashire in my novel

Many Kinds of Silence.MKOS cover 22 Sept-page-0

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The Murdered Heir of Elizabeth I

Elizabeth1

Queen Elizabeth I

The question of who was to follow the reign of the childless Elizabeth I became more pertinent as the queen grew older and it was apparent that she would never marry and have a child of her own. It was a question that was on the minds of many people both in England and abroad, although open discussion of the matter was not tolerated by the queen who refused to name an heir.

The succession from Henry VII can be traced through his son, Henry VIII and his children – Edward, Mary and Elizabeth – each of whom became monarch in turn. None had children and so the heir to Elizabeth was not clear, but the nearest lines of succession were through the sisters of Henry VIII – Margaret of Scotland and Mary, Queen of France.

Mary, Queen of Scots was the granddaughter of Margaret Tudor, the elder of Henry VIII’s sisters. She claimed that she was the legitimate heir to Elizabeth I although Elizabeth refused to name her as such and when she was found to have been involved with a plot to assassinate the queen she was found guilty of treason and executed at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587. However her son, James VI of Scotland became King James I of England after Elizabeth’s death although some people thought that the son of a traitor should not have been king and that the descendants of Mary Tudor should have taken the throne instead.

Mary Tudor was first married to King Louis of France, but on his death she secretly married the man she was in love with – Charles Brandon. Mary and Charles had three surviving children –  Henry, Frances and Eleanor. Henry died young, which left the two daughters to carry the line of succession. Frances was the mother of Lady Jane Grey, the nine days’ queen. Eleanor married Henry Clifford, 2nd Earl of Cumberland and their only surviving child, a daughter, Margaret, married Henry Stanley, 4th Earl of Derby. Margaret was seen by some as the rightful heir to Elizabeth I, however,  in 1597 she was placed under house arrest after being accused of using sorcery to predict when the queen would die. (Those of you familiar with the story of the Duke of Clarence in the reign of Edward IV may see some parallels here.) It was also known that she kept the Catholic faith and if there was one thing that Elizabeth and her advisors wanted to avoid, it was a succession that would result in the country’s return to Catholicism.

Fernando_Stanley

Ferdinando Stanley

However, her eldest surviving son, Ferdinando Stanley, had been brought up at court and seems to have been groomed as the natural successor to the queen even though he was never officially named as heir. The only problem was that many of the queen’s advisors were concerned that he might also be a secret Catholic – and it seems that Catholics abroad harboured the same suspicions because they sent Richard Hesketh to offer support and an army to Ferdinando should he wish to take the throne by force. After listening carefully to the offer and riding with Hesketh to London, it seems that Ferdinando eventually rejected the opportunity and handed Hesketh over to Elizabeth’s ministers. He must have thought that this act would confirm his loyalty to the queen, but matters did not work out as he had hoped. Questions were raised about how long it had taken him to reject the offer, suspicion fell on him and he found himself out of favour and denied several roles, such as the Lord Chamberlain of Chester, that he thought were his by right. He is quoted as saying that he was ‘crossed in court and crossed in his country’. It was not long after this that he died in mysterious circumstances. Although his doctor said that there was no doubt that he had been poisoned, the official verdict was returned as ‘death by witchcraft’. The Catholics were widely blamed for his death as it was said that he had been warned by them that he could not live if he rejected their offer. But the question remains as to what part Elizabeth’s ministers played in the matter. Who killed Ferdinando Stanley and why remains a mystery to this day.

MKOS cover 22 Sept-page-0

 

You can read more about Ferdinando Stanley, his mysterious death and his links with William Shakespeare in my new novel – Many Kinds of Silence. Out in paperback and also available as an ebook for Kindle. (For Amazon.com)

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The Lost Years of William Shakespeare

It is common knowledge that William Shakespeare was born in Stratford upon Avon in William_ShakespeareWarwickshire. You can visit his birthplace there on Henley Street. I think many people also know that his father was John Shakespeare, who worked as a glover, and his mother was Mary Arden. When Shakespeare was a boy, he would have attended the local grammar school and at the age of nineteen he was married to Anne Hathaway. But from his youth in Stratford until he became well known as a playwright in London, there is a gap that is often referred to as the ‘lost years’ when no one knows for certain where he was and what he was doing.

He may have lived and worked in Stratford until he left for London, but there is a tantalising claim from Ben Jonson that Shakespeare ‘understood Latin pretty well, for he had, in his younger years, been a schoolmaster in the country’. The story that he had once been a schoolmaster came from John Aubrey who heard it from William Beeston, who was the son of Christopher Beeston, an actor who was a contemporary of Shakespeare’s. It isn’t exactly proof, but it may have some credibility. Sadly, there is no trace of Shakespeare as a schoolmaster but in some places, particularly in Lancashire it was well known that many families employed unlicensed schoolmasters to teach their children, the reason being that those families were secret Catholics and wanted their children to be instructed by Catholic teachers.

Living in Lancashire, I’ve long been aware of the claims of two historic houses in the area to have a connection with William Shakespeare. The first is Hoghton Tower, a striking P1030398house that lies between Preston and Blackburn, which has been the home of the Hoghton family since the Norman Conquest. Their Shakespeare connection is based on an item in the will of Alexander Hoghton, written in 1581 that refers to a ‘William Shakeshaft’. The will asks that Sir Thomas Hesketh takes William Shakeshaft and Fulke Gillom ‘into his service or help them to some good master’. This follows the bequest of some musical instruments and play clothes and could indicate that Shakeshaft and Gillom were players, but their trade is not specified.. Whether ‘Shakeshaft’ and ‘Shakespeare’ could be the same person is debatable, but there is another, perhaps more compelling link between William Shakespeare, Hoghton Tower and the Heskeths of Rufford Old Hall.

Rufford Old Hall 007

In 1580, the Jesuit priest, Edmund Campion, visited Lapworth Park in Warwickshire, home of the Catesbys. He was looking for young men from the area to join his mission as subseminarians. It is fairly certain that the Shakespeares were secret Catholics as a copy of the Borromeo Testament, an affirmation of the Catholic faith, signed by John Shakespeare was found hidden in the roof of the house on Henley Street in 1757. Also, William Shakespeare’s teacher at the Stratford grammar school was John Cottam. He came from Lancashire and his brother Thomas was a priest. I’m sure that the clever and talented William was just the sort of boy that Campion was seeking to join his mission, and if William had gone with Campion they would have ridden north to Hoghton Tower where Campion is known to have stayed in 1581.

After the arrest of Edmund Campion and the death, shortly afterwards, of Alexander Hoghton, it is possible that Shakespeare moved on to Rufford Old Hall, the home of the Catholic Hesketh family. The Heskeths certainly had a troupe of players and William may have performed in their great hall maybe using the huge carved screen that still stands Rufford Old Hall screen 004there as a prop.

The other Lancashire link is that Rufford is not far from Lathom, the home of Lord Strange. Lord Strange, Ferdinando Stanley, is recorded as visiting Rufford to watch a performance and as Shakespeare has connections with Lord Strange’s Men it may be that he joined them from Rufford, perhaps with the recommendation of Sir Thomas Hesketh. It may all seem like too much speculation but it’s interesting that Shakespeare’s financial backer at the Globe was a man named Thomas Savage, who came from Rufford and whose wife was a Hesketh.

 

Of coursMKOS cover 22 Sept-page-0e, no one will ever know the full story, which is why I wrote my own version of events that are possible, but ultimately fictional. My new novel Many Kinds of Silence follows the ‘lost years’ of William Shakespeare from Stratford to London with a short sojourn in rural Lancashire.

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Denbigh Castle

P1030122Denbigh Castle in north Wales is one of the fortresses built after Edward I’s subjugation of the Welsh. The hilltop site was previously a stronghold of the Welsh and Dafydd ap Gruffudd had a palace here, but it was destroyed when Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, built his castle in 1282.

The castle has a striking triple towered gatehouse, P1030068probably designed by Master James of St George. As I approached the ruins I heard the sound of the portcullis being raised and horses hooves echoing across the drawbridge. It wasn’t psychic powers, but a recording and a hidden sensor, and although it was entertaining at first, it did become annoying after a while as more and more visitors approached. More interesting for me was the carved figure, headless now, seated above the gateway. Is this Henry de Lacy? I think so.

It was here in the castle well that Henry’s eldest son, Edmund de Lacy, is said to have drowned. It’s a deep well and although there is no water in it now, it’s easy to imagine how dangerous it must have been. P1030118

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Denbigh was built in two phases. The first phase during 1282 to 1284 was the constructionP1030107 of the outer walls which also surrounded the town for defensive purposes. But rebellion by the Welsh halted the work and it was not until 1295 that the bulk of the castle, including the towers, was begun.

Climbing up onto the wall walk, the strategic position of the castle is obvious as you look down over the town and across the Vale of Clwyd. No one could have approached this fortress without being seen.

 

 

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The building work went on until the beginning of the 14th century and it isn’t clear if it wasP1030110 completed by the death of Henry de Lacy in 1311. Because of the death of his son, Edmund, the castle passed into the possession of Henry’s daughter Alicia and her husband, Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, but after Lancaster’s rebellion against Edward II, the castle was taken from Alicia and given to Hugh le Despenser. Even when Despenser was replaced by Roger Mortimer, Denbigh was still withheld from Alicia and it was not until after Edward III took his throne that the castle was returned to her.

You can read more about Alicia’s fight for the return of her lands in my novel The Circle of Fortune.

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