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: http://www.lan-opc.org.uk/Search/indexp.html
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.