The Assassination of Shakespeare’s Patron by Leo Daugherty – Book Review

Having waited weeks to get hold of a copy of this book via an inter-library loan I began to read with high hopes of a thorough and well-researched discussion about the evidence surrounding the death of Ferdinando Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby – the man who had as good a claim as anyone to be the heir to Elizabeth I.

Dr Leo Daugherty is a professor emeritus of literature and linguistics at The Evergreen State College, USA.  Holds a PhD, an MA and a BA and is listed in Who’s Who in America.  Looking at the list of books and documents he used for his research and the fact that he says he has been researching this for fifteen years, I was looking forward to some insight and further information into the mystery that surrounds the death of Ferdinando Stanley. But there was a claim early on in the book, in chapter three, that made me begin to have doubts.

Dr Daugherty asserts that the Jane Halsall who was the mistress of Henry, 4th Earl of Derby is the same woman who was the mother of Richard Hesketh, the man hanged for his role in The Hesketh Plot – a plot where the Catholics in Europe offered their support and the support of the Spanish if he decided to make a bid for the throne of England.  He claims that Jane Halsall was never married to Gabriel Hesketh which is why she was still known by her maiden name for the rest of her life, and that she was not ‘Joan Halsall, daughter of Robert Halsall of Knowsley’ mentioned in relation to the will of Henry, 4th Earl of Derby, but was the daughter of Henry Halsall of Halsall.

Why he is so keen that two different women, who are both named Jane Halsall, should be the same person is revealed as the book progresses and he reminds us on more than one occasion that Robert Hesketh and Ferdinando Stanley were stepbrothers.  But they weren’t.  Despite Dr Daugherty’s extensive research and his claim that this is ‘important new information’ it took me five minutes to find the following on the Lancashire online parish clerks project:

Marriage: 9 Jul 1541 St Michael, Aughton, Lancashire, England
Gabriel Hesketh, gent –
Jane Halsall –
Register: Marriages 1541 – 1753, Page 1, Entry 3
Source: LDS Film 1657556

This Jane Halsall was the daughter of Thomas Halsall and sister of Henry Halsall.  Jane Halsall of Knowsley, daughter of Robert Halsall, is a different person.  She was not the mother of Richard Hesketh.  Richard Hesketh and Ferdinando Stanley were not stepbrothers.  Dr Daugherty’s ‘important new fact’ is easily and categorically disproved.

I was also worried by his reference to the entry for Henry, 4th earl of Derby in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  It is written by Louis A. Knafla, whom Dr Daugherty also quotes on other matters. Entries in the DNB should be accurate but Professor Knafla mistakenly quotes that the fourth earl ‘died, what contemporaries considered a horrible death, in a ‘violent’ sea of ‘vomit’ that was so putrified that no one would go near the body ‘till his burial’’.  This, in fact, is a description of the death of the 5th Earl of Derby, Ferdinando Stanley, which Dr Daugherty ought to have known as it is the death of Ferdinando that he is writing about in his book.

Added to this is his assertion that the title Lord Strange is pronounced ‘Strang’ with a hard ‘g’. I find this unlikely.  The title came to the Stanley family when George Stanley, eldest son of Thomas, the first Earl of Derby married Joan le Strange who was the heiress of the Shropshire lords of Knockin.   The family name from Norman times is recorded as  l’estrange or Lestrange or Lestraunge and even in a contemporary letter from 1589, regarding the closure of theatres because of the plague, the acting company associated with Ferdinando is referred to as ‘Lord Straunges players’.  From the spellings and the Norman origins of the name I think it highly unlikely that it was ever pronounced ‘Strang’ .

So I approached the rest of the book with a degree of cynicism, because I no longer felt that I could trust the research, and there are other details which I found that appear not to have any credibility. For example, Dr Daugherty says that Ferdinando was taken ‘as a toddler’ to be educated at court but a letter from Queen Elizabeth to Henry Stanley written in 1571 and asking that Ferdinando be sent to court suggests that he was in fact around twelve or thirteen.

Probably the best thing about the book is the list of references used, which will allow me to look at some of the transcripts of the original documents relating to the life and death of Ferdinando Stanley.  These include the exchanges between him and the Earl of Essex regarding a man named Richard Bold of Bold Hall, whom Ferdinando claimed had tried to kill him – an interesting fact that I wasn’t previously aware of.  Bolt’s mother-in-law had been accused of recusancy, although not by Ferdinando as Dr Daugherty claims as she lived in Bedford, but Ferdinando was asked to question Bold.

Dr Daugherty ends the book by looking at the evidence for and against the murder suspects in what he admits is an Agatha Christie style.  Amongst these suspects he lists Alice, countess of Derby, Ferdinando’s wife, although he does admit that the evidence against her is ‘far-fetched in the extreme’.  But I found his assertion that Alice had been pregnant by another man equally far-fetched. It seems that she was pregnant and had a miscarriage a week or so before Ferdinando’s death.  Whether it was a son cannot be proved as it isn’t possible to correctly identify the gender of a foetus at two months and the suggestion that she may have had sex with another man to conceive a son is also ill-informed. At this time it was believed that the sex of the child was governed by the mother rather than the father.  And although John Golborne, Ferdinando’s clerk, reports that she was ‘not able to imagine any occasion from whence it should proceed’, this may refer to her inability to name a date of conception rather than her trying to cover up an illicit pregnancy or a belief that she had conceived by witchcraft – although the witchcraft theory for Ferdinando’s death became the official one despite his physician, Dr Case, saying that it was ‘flat poisoning – no other’.  I think the reason Golborne emphasised the story of Alice’s miscarriage was to highlight the fact that Dr Case had also examined Ferdinando whilst at Lathom and had found him to be in perfect health only a week before he was dead.  And despite Dr Daugherty’s claim, I doubt that either Alice or Ferdinando discussed the intimacies of their sex lives with the clerk.

Overall, I would say that the book is worth reading as long as you are aware that it is not entirely reliable and you are prepared to look at other sources and make up your own mind about the evidence that is available – bearing in mind that the Elizabethan government was renowned for the spread of misinformation as well as information.  The cause of the death of Ferdinando Stanley will probably never be proved beyond doubt and the name of the person who killed him will probably remain a mystery even though writers of both fiction and non-fiction will continue to point the finger in various directions. I’m formulating a theory of my own, and even though my book will be a work of fiction I will be striving to keep the events as close to the evidence as possible.

The Assassination of Shakespeare’s Patron by Leo Daugherty: ISBN: 9781604977370 was published by Cambria Press in 2011and is currently on an inter-library loan to me via the London Library. 

N.B. I want to add that since the publication of this review I’ve exchanged many emails with Dr Leo Daugherty. We’ve discussed and researched the genealogy of Jane Halsall at length.  The conclusions reached are unfortunately too late to be included in the revised version of the book, but Dr Daugherty is hoping to write a short article for Notes & Queries and has asked me to look at it before submission.  I’ve enjoyed our discussions, added to my own knowledge – and made a new friend.


15 thoughts on “The Assassination of Shakespeare’s Patron by Leo Daugherty – Book Review

  1. thanks for this – I saw the review in the TLS was not sure if that was the original or a new version. Will try to track down.
    good to have Elizabeth’s email, would it be possible to have yours Leo please?

    I am currently writing a paper on images of Shakespeare and Marlowe, focusing on the 1580s, hope to get back to the 1590s in the autumn

    best wishes, trevor fisher.

    1. Leo Daugherty June 9, 2014 — 3:25 am

      Hi, Trevor. My email is All best, Leo

  2. I asked in 2012 whether a second editon was coming out but have not seen any sign of this. Could we know what is happening please? I still have not heard about the new edition. Also the joint article for notes and queries? Is this done?

    I am about to look in detail about these issues for a research piece I am doing and it wouid also be helpfui to be able to communicate with Leo and Elizabeth by email. Would this be possible? This site is very useful, but not for detailed correspondence.

    trevor fisher

    1. Leo Daugherty June 8, 2014 — 4:34 am

      Hi, Trevor. Yes, it’s been out for about 6 months. Got a decent short review in the TLS. The N&Q piece came out earlier this year or late last year. Glad to correspond if you wish. All beat, Leo

  3. I am interested in the citation referred to by the author regarding the pronunciation of the name Strange. Just a cursory glance through the Household books as recorded by William Farrington provides many instances of the name recorded as Strandge indicating a hard ‘g’. I would contest that Farrington would not have done this had the name been Strang.

    1. I think you mean that ‘Strandge’ would indicate a soft ‘g’ as it is followed by an ‘e’.

      1. Leo Daugherty May 31, 2014 — 7:57 pm

        I find David’s “Household Books” evidence to be pretty compelling. I will look into it further and write back here. For the nonce, I don’t remember my cites for the “Strang”/”Strong” pronunciation, but I will find it. Thanks and all best, Leo Daugherty

      2. Yes, the ‘dg’ indicates more of a ‘j’ pronunciation as per the original belief of the word ‘strange’. Sorry if my message was unclear, but I see Leo understood what I was referring to :).

      3. Leo Daugherty June 1, 2014 — 6:25 am

        I’ve spent the last few hours digging around in this. So far, only two notes. First, I found many internet sites that say the Derbys pronounced “Strange” as “Strang” (all prior to my own book) but I’ve found none before the nineteenth century. In other words, I so far can’t find a/the “proto”-source for this pronunciation. Second, I’ve found myself wondering if, since the original name was “Le Strange” and was probably pronounced something like the modern French “etrange,” the solution to the pronunciation problem might be that the Derbys in the sixteenth century still pronounced it that way, having however dropped the “”Le.” If so, I think Elizabethans in Lancashire/Cheshire might have heard a name sounding something like “stron” but with an added, unaccented, unvocalized and almost whispered “zheh.” (For which, cf. the Paris pronunciation of “Sartre,” in which the “re” is also just an almost unvocalized “afterthought” whisper. But which many English and Americans, not attuned to the nuance, just hear as “Sart.”) Just an educated wild guess in the middle of the night. Elizabeth, your thoughts?

      4. I think it’s almost certain that the pronunciation was French with a soft g. I’ve seen it written as Lestraunge in some Elizabethan documents and that seems to confirm it.

  4. Elizabeth has been fortunate in getting the book in interlibrary loan. Attempting to do so from Keele University library proved impossible. No library would loan, including the British Library. As the book is extortionately expensive to buy, it is becoming a fabled work. HOwever this suggests that there is a demand for it, so could a second edition be forthcoming to help bring the price down?

    trevor fisher

    1. I believe there is a second edition of the book coming out soon, Trevor. Leo Daugherty and I have also been working on an article for Notes and Queries concerning the identity/identities of Jane Halsall. The book was loaned to me from the London Library via my local library service.

  5. Hi, Elizabeth: I am Leo Daugherty, and I just found your review online. You have dug deep and been properly skeptical. However . . . although I don’t have my notes here at hand, I remember finding your Gabriel and Jane as married, with Jane being the daughter of Robert, but having to reject them as another couple with the same names. A striking coincidence, but it shows sometimes in Lanacashire/Cheshire (and other old-county) genealogy, as you probably know. I’ll have to re-check it tomorrow or the next day, but I do remember finding the same thing several years ago that you just found (although not at your online source). Regarding Lou Knafla’s gaffe in the ODNB, confusing the deaths of Earls Henry and his son Ferdinando, yes, I saw that too. I wrote Lou about it, and he said he would contact the ODNB editors and change it, but he never has. (He seems to be awfully busy farming in his retirement, although he is also working on his long-expected biography of Egerton, on whom he is the main authority.) Regarding the word “toddler,” yes, you are right, and although you don’t know about it, a second, revised edition of my book is coming out in September or October, and I have corrected it there. Regarding the pronunciation “Strang” as in “sang,” yes, that is right. I can get you a cite if you want it, although several sources mention it. Regarding the sex of Alice’s baby, I have had this same discussion recently with another (female) scholar, and her explanation is that Alice’s son miscarried two months after she felt “quickening,” rather than two months from conception, as seems to have been common wording at the time, and I have corrected that as well. But with respect to her inexplicable pregnancy, remember that it it wasn’t just Golborne who said it in his official report, because George Carey also said it to his wife in a letter of slightly earlier date — which letter you don’t mention in your review. I thought (and think) that if two separate sources were good enough for Woodward and Bernstein, they might be good enough for me. (Carey blamed the witches for the pregnancy; but Golborne makes no mention of witches in connection with either the pregnancy or the death and probably suspected the material truth behind both.) I look forward to corresponding more with you about the book. As you may also know, I wrote the ODNB biography of Ferdinando’s younger brother William, who plays a small part in the book, and my fascination with the Stanleys (and their wives and mothers!) continues. All best, Leo..

    1. Hello Leo, I’m really pleased to hear from you and have your views on my comments. I hope you didn’t think my review was too critical as I did enjoy your book and found it very helpful for the research I’m currently doing for my new novel. The Jane Hesketh/Gabriel Halsall marriage is interesting. It would certainly be fascinating if you were right and Richard Hesketh and Ferdinando Stanley were stepbrothers, but I remain to be convinced – although I’m always willing to change my mind as it would make a better story for a novelist! I would also be interested to know more about the pronunciation of Strang/Strange. I know someone who is descended from the family and she calls herself Strange (with a soft g) but it could be that there have been various pronunciations. If Alice miscarried two months after ‘quickening’ then the sex of the child would be obvious and as you say Carey did mention it as well. What is both fascinating and frustrating about history is that there are many things that can never be proved without doubt, but it is enjoyable to try.

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