Tag Archives: Southwark



I blogged last week on the founding in 1588 of the little Alms House run by Saviour’s Church, Cure’s College, on Maid Lane in Southwark, where the Rose, Globe and finally Hope theatres stood, by the Stewes and the river. Parish Gardens, that centre of theatre, brothels and bear-baiting, was nicknamed ‘The Bear College”. I also said that the draconian rules for those 16 local poor folk, men and women, laid down by that saddler to Queen Elizabeth, Thomas Cure, were a forewarning of the dreaded Workhouses to come, that Dickens so pilloried in novels like Oliver Twist. I’m certainly convinced that the shape of modern Capitalism and many of the woes we face today were born in Tudor London. In that privatisation of Church land called The Reformation, but most especially in the explosion of Private enterprise from the walled City, that turned the old English idea of Empire, lost in France, into an Empire of trade around the World. So the East India Company was founded in the same year the little wooden Globe theatre went up, 1599, and in 1605, I think, the Virginia Bay Companies too, that led the expansion in the Americas and the race, especially with the Dutch, for brave new worlds. The East India Company would of course define British power and Foreign Policy for Centuries, owning private armies and putting up their first little fort in Madras in 1607, the year Shakespeare’s brother Edmund died and was buried in Southwark. That same year there is a record of Hamlet being performed on board an East Indian ship, The Red Dragon, off the coast of Sierra Leone. It was formerly a warship called The Spirit of Malice and is mentioned in AL Rowse’s book on the astrologer Simon Foreman. The echoes of such a dynamic time are all over Shakespeare, of course in The Tempest, but also in Falstaff’s descriptions of himself in The Merry Wives of Windsor, in terms of Continents and Countries. Then there is that strange, almost unintelligible dedication on the cover of the sonnets about ‘well wishing adventurers’ setting forth. Those vital player’s patrons The Herbert brothers were of course major share holders in those City Companies, as the idea of sharers and private enterprise is also reflected in Shakespeare’s own theatrical Company, whose leading members had fingers in several little business pies in London, like groceries and sea-coal. In 1612 the first ‘Free Standing Lotterie’ was launched in the city too, to fund New World endeavours, and from common purses too, which all 13 original American colonies would soon take up. I’ve said before they were remarkably early origins then to that so-called ‘American Dream’ (and Shakespeare is filled with dreaming) born in London and the City. It was of course all about trade but also private banking and ownership, along with the massively lucrative beer trade, that in terms of private wealth remains true to this day.

Meanwhile, although Elizabethan ‘social security’ nets were remarkably fragile, they were there, in Parish organisation, although with the often hypocritical and allied hands of Church and State control. Take the unconsecrated graves of prostitutes and the poor at ‘Crossbones’ in Southwark. While there is that telling note in one of the St Saviour’s Records, of a payment ‘to send a woman out of the parish’, as Wards tried to deal with the growing issue of the Urban Poor in London and to fob it off on neighbouring parishes. In the meantime much of the condition South of the River grew into a true nightmare, with places like the Marshalsea Prison on Long Southwark, but also those Liberties themselves, areas of independent jurisdiction, that also spawned Crime, prostitution and slums like ‘The Rookeries’, where Daniel Defoe sets much of Moll Flanders. Despite all our worries then about Banking scandals today and the inequality of rules and playing fields, it was probably only the changing of the laws of debt in the 19th Century that saw true social reform. It is also true that the one old photo I have seen of Cure’s College, by the time it had developed into a stone structure by the early 19th Century, is very forbidding indeed.

Yet I got a fascinating insight into modern Alms Houses the other day when I helped a friend move rooms at the oldest Alms House in England, in Winchester, at The Hospital St. Cross and The Order of Noble Poverty. Of course the links with Winchester and Southwark were very strong indeed. It is very doubtful that poverty was ever considered especially noble in England, outside the beliefs and Orders of sections of the Church, but it is a charming and very historic place, rather like an Oxford College, and dominated by a huge Norman stone Church. It boasts the title of the oldest charitable institution in England. Incidentally scenes from the brilliant Wolf Hall, now running on the BBC, were shot here. It’s a pity I didn’t get to bump into Mark Rylance then and ask such a fantastic actor and former Artistic Director at the modern Globe why he believes the silly and impossible theory that Shakespeare was the Earl of Oxford. It just happens to be that the beneficiaries at St Cross today are all men, and refer to one another as ‘Brothers’, while at Cure’s College there were certainly men, women and children too. You do not have to be of any Religion, I believe, and Cure’s founding document specifically laid down that members had to be of a Protestant faith, though the Brothers today are required to attend Matins in the Church in their red robes. But in return they have charming rooms, peace and quiet, friendship and excellent and highly subsidised lunches too. They are not, as the poor of Cure’s College certainly were, required to work for their bed and board. I didn’t see around the whole place, like The 100’s Hall where a hundred locals were fed regularly, and my dog Rascal upset the ordered tranquility a little when we wandered into the Garden, but that and other Alms Houses in Winchester and around England are a testament to an ancient and noble tradition.

David Clement-Davies February 2nd 2015

For writers in the Sixteenth Century it was hard to survive, books and plays often supported by private donations. We seem to have returned to that time, in some ways, so please realise that the research on Edmund Shakespeare and Southwark represents two years of unpaid work.  If you enjoy these blogs then and can afford to support Phoenix Ark Press, please donate below.  Many thanks.


The photo shows the main Courtyard of St Cross,medieval but edged by an original Tudor balcony.

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An American friend has just asked, in this very free form Shakespeare and London blog, what it is like doing the research itself, in the backrooms and the stacks of great libraries?  A worthy digression, I think, about real life in London, past and present, and the hunt for Edmund Shakespeare or his brother.  Although I first heard about Edmund’s tombstone in St Saviour’s church from a schoolteacher in a pub up in Clapham, and had already started a pretty bogus novel, perhaps that search really began in earnest when I heard a London lecture by Professor Alan Nelson from Berkley University, talking to a small audience in that church about the St Saviours Token Books. Then another to his theatre students down in the lecture hall at the modern Globe reconstruction, explaining how to use the main resources – the London Metropolitan and the National Archives. So talking of the detective work around wills especially, mostly held in the National Archives, among all those pipe rolls and government documents, but also giving that name of the place Edmund Shakespeare was in 1607, the Vine Tavern on Maid Lane in Southwark.   I should say that from start to finish in that search though I have found the academics mostly pretty uncooperative, and of course there is a competition that surrounds everything to do with Shakespeare.  Alan Nelson is doing his own biography of the bard for the 2016 anniversary, but I do think he might have been more forthcoming, as might others, especially James Shapiro’s UK publishers.  Perhaps anyone on the hunt for the bard succumbs to that twinge of paranoia or jealousy that infected that American couple, the Wallaces, who unearthed the Mountjoy Court case early last century and the Silver Street story, but came to believe the British Establishment were spying on them and trying to steal their work.  To add a semi psychic twinge to the Wallace’s peculiar talents, perhaps needed in the imagining of any past, they returned to Texas during the oil rush determined to strike black gold and did exactly that.

But so I set off, in my little Gold Peugeot, to the main centre of the work done, the London Metropolitan Archive in Clerkenwell.   Like every area in London proper, visiting that much changed part of the city of course has its own place in the jigsaw, because scrubby and little-streeted Clerkenwell, with its rough market and emergent cappuccino shops, its modern Turkish immigrants or its Roumanian dominated strip bar, was in Shakespeare’s day the Clerk’s Well, where clerks, scribes and limners settled and Dutch and Flemish immigrants probably ended up in brothels too. There were other major wells, like The Bridewell, Hanwell and so on. Those limners later morphed into the printers and booksellers who especially congregated around St Paul’s Cathedral and Paternoster Row, and modern St Paul’s, with Wren’s proud dome, as opposed to the wood steepled church, of course still looms up now and then among the constuctions.  The idea of wells though, in a City once famous for its clean and pure springs, as Peter Ackroyd says, became as redolent in my head as the 212 parish churches that defined both the development of London and the creation of Reformation records too, or as important as the river itself. So the topography of the place became vital, passing streets like Bowling Green Alley, among so many in London echoing that popular sport, once played out in open fields, as eagerly as archers practiced at Newington Butts, or falconers hunted on the Morefields .  Like visiting the still working pub on the corner of Cowross and Turnmill Streets, near to Smithfield market, which was once George Wilkin’s brothel tavern, where the young Mary Mountjoy stayed with her lover Stephen Bellot.  That would have been in a near rural district outside the now vanished City wall and Smithfield was both a market and a place of popular burnings. Then there is that original remnant of a wattle and daub Elizabethan tenement building, through the arch approaching the very ancient St Bartholemew’s Church, just down the road, that once also had a spittal, or hospital.

Where I was coming from became just as important too, living in Lambeth, in a little flat on Gilbert Road in Kennington, that just happened to have the name of another of Shakespeare’s brother’s – Gilbert. Richard was the other. Kennington, with it’s Dog House pub, probably on the site of one of the old dog houses that surrounded London, once on lands of The Black Prince and where Sir John Fastolf, who fought at Agincourt and that echo of Jack Falstaff, owned land as well as a tavern, the Boar’s Head, in Southwark. I got to know much more about the area in the light of the Shakespeare research. For instance that Lambeth was once the Lamb’s Bath on the river, or that the little market street ‘Lower Marsh’, like ‘Upper Ground’ in Paris Gardens, testified to the effective swamp land this was South of the unembanked river, haunt of cutpurses and gypsies. Hence on Maid Lane too the Globe theatre had been ‘forced out of a marish’ in 1599, or a marsh, as Ben Jonson records in his long poem The Exacration Against Vulcan. Of course the astrologer Simon Foreman also lived in Lambeth, marrying in St Mary’s, beside Lambeth Palace, now the modern Garden Museum. But right at the end of Gilbert Road, turning into Renfrew Road and running into Kennington Lane, the search also began for another lost Elizabethan theatre, the wooden playhouse in Newington Butts, where Shakespeare may have played. On Kennington Lane the names of some ugly Council Estates, like Othello and Brutus Court, testify to its presence, perhaps in the circle that is now a garden, although a mile from the river down Newington Causeway it proved too far out, which is why Henslowe cashed in by building The Rose on Maid Lane. The most likely source of any extant records or clues was at its local church too, St Mary’s Newington, there being nothing in the Metropolitan Archive, which still has a thin sliver of medieval curtain wall looking especially incongrous on Kennington Park Road. A vicar I had befriended told me that Giles Frazer had taken over there, the Cannon who resigned at St Paul’s over the Occupy London protests, but whether he had become too much of a celebrity, was too busy, or thinks Shakespeare and the players unimportant to the plight of the modern urban poor, he never got back to me. That modern poverty is of course much in evidence, especially around the Elephant and Castle, that rather swamps the lost area of Newington Butts.

The London Metropolitan Archive itself though is in an unremarkable little street in Clerkenwell north of the river, faced by a large deconsecrated church and a playground, once a plague burial ground, I think.  Through the glass door, once you’ve pressed the button, and have signed in with the usually polite but disinterested security guard, up you go, see-through plastic Metropolitan bag in hand, to deposit any closed bags in the locker room.  Much the same process and security as in the British Library, where I spent a great deal of time too, reading their copy of Frances Meres’s book, or learning more of Kit Marlowe.   The place is modern, efficient and helpful, and the sourcing is done on a row of computers, mostly, or via the shelved parish record catalogues. Your hand written order chits are then slipped into the order box, to await delivery in the glass sided and temperature regulated reading room beyond.  Pencils and sharpeners in hand you then await the thrilling delivery of those buff boxes, filled with vestry minutes, token books, wills, covenants, scraps of semi-legible medieval paper, hand drawings, or leases, to unfurl them on the reading tables, open delicate volumes on large v-shaped foam reading mounts, keep the tomes open with heavy lead book snakes, or fall fast asleep.  I admit I have never been very good with libraries, easily distracted, keen to flirt, hungry for discoveries that take a long time,  Yet when Shakespeare is in the frame, or that particular period, there is a very special thrill getting your hands on original Elizabethan paper.  As Alan Nelson pointed out of the Token Books, which are just like long restaurant menus, bound with breaking linen threads, all hand written lists of Southwark locals and purchases of Communion Tokens, paper far long-lasting than anything we would produce today, often with particular watermarks. Summoning up images of that first paper mill on the Thames that saw its founder knighted by the Queen, as the establishment have always knighted captains of industry. This was the very beginnings of the printed word though.

So what are you exactly holding there, as you search for that golden moment that never comes, the sight of an unknown record of Shakespeare, or his brother Edmund?  Well, the loose leafed vestry minutes from St Saviours, for instance, are often single or double folds of paper, scratched with fading black ink, often with the minute instincts of the accountant or secretary and hard to read. But so the thrill begins of seeing those words on the covers of the Token Books, that are already numinous places in your head – “Ye Liberty of the Clink, “Ye Libertie of Bankside, “Ye Liberty of Paris Gardens.” Then there is the variable spelling, especially of names, the accounting of pounds and pence, L an i, and the Elizabethan confusion with f, ff, and s.  At first too you have no idea who these hieroglyphs refer to at all, until, screwing up your eyes and your brain too, an english sentence suddenly pops out  and firms up in your  mind- “To the widowe Bradshawe”, “paid to the bishop to bringe water from the Thames in their cartes” –  “A forenoon toll of ye greate bell“, “Paid to the sexton for the burning of mens bones“.  Lives, love, commerce, the past, the church, begin to echo in your head, flicker like candle light, and just for a moment the jigsaw becomes clear, until it is lost again in a maze of broken pieces.  Depending too perhaps on whether or not you believe in ghosts, or trying to get to some harder truth, the conjunction of realities and falsehoods that makes any life, it can be both depressing and even frightening sometimes doing that lonely research.  Take for instance the year 1603, five years before Edmund Shakespeare’s little tragedy, when Queen Elizabeth I finally died, I think in March, after standing for hours on her feet.  As with the death of King James, meaningfully or not, plague hit London very hard that year, and its echo is held in the St Saviour’s Burial Register.  That, like some of the Token Books, is too fragile to be released into the eager hands in the Reading Room and so is on microfilm now. But look at that year patterned on a scrolling neon screen, a patient etherised upon a table, and you will get an astoundingly dark taste of that time.  I believe the average monthly mortality rates in the parish of Southwark were something like 80 deaths, nasty, short and brutal enough, but in May that “Suma Mensis” rises to something like 200, then around 350, to over five hundred by July. So the agonising litany unfolds, in a year that took the player and original Globe sharer Will Kemp too – “A man in the street”, “A servant dropped by the wall”, “A woman in ye Church yard” “A Gentleman”, “A boy”, “A girl” “A stranger”.This was Shakespeare’s real and very dangerous London and remember that Southwark, across the river and outside London wall, was only one Parish among those 212. By October the tally has climbed to over 850 dead and then, the next month, it suddenly dips again.  What lets you really touch it across the centuries though, gives the sense that that great church of St Saviours had become almost besieged by the dead, is the physical sigh of relief you can detect in that unknown vestryman’s hand, as below the list of the fallen a scrolling line trails off down the page.  The plague had finally broken, taking over 100,000 lives across London, and it also shows that although some believed it was a visitation by God, or the ‘foul miasma’s’ of the brothels, bear pits and theatres, these people must have known that it had a pathology.  You sigh and look out of the window at a winter night, or leaves coming on the trees, and wonder what it all signifies, or if it is a tale told by an idiot.

That’s the dark stuff though, compared with the fun of the hunt, and those moments of greater satisfaction.  The egg on the face moment of thinking I had found a reference to a Ben Jonson play in the ‘records’ of Cure’s College, the accumulating data of the centuries, the fascinating snippets about a death ‘in sui felo’, a suicide at the house at Bank End that was overturned in such a rowdy liberty because it would have meant a daughter did not inherit when her father drowned in the river, the approach to the local poor shown in a payment “to send a woman out of the Parish“, and the real thrill of linking the Vine Tavern where Edmund died, to the founding of that local fraternity at St Margaret’s Church on Long Southwark, in the reign of Henry VI, and its ownership by John Le Hunte, Edward Hunt Esquire’s ancestor.  There is another very remarkable thing you of course learn at the London Metropolitan Archive too, as you chat to the staff about the Guilds structures in London, the 12 great Livery Companies, or who might have fallen into what parish, and in what particular Ward, as a group of uneager schoolboys arrive to try something else with the computers, or a lone figures plods away at their own family history. Namely that before Henry VIII’s shattering Reformation itself there simply are no records, apart from a scrap of a document from the Magna Carta period referring to the rights of a Man.  In that sense Shakespeare’s or the Tudor age is a kind of beginning of modern time, in that crowding but still deeply rural and wooden London, and in the municipalization of us all. Nothing ever so certain as Death and Taxes! In the restructuring of the Church into parishes too and the very founding of Parish Registers of christenings, weddings and funerals, in the suring up of Sir Names, so often based on trades, once called The Mysteries, in the all-consuming account of daily expenditure, and in the move from the fable and the chronicle to the conception of modern history and sociology. Then of course there is that secularisation of theatre, or players, the explosion of printing, literature and poetry and of course the man of the moment and all time, Shakespeare, with his strange, eventful histories. A man who knew so well how both the records and people lie, or veil, but that the real history is the history of the human heart, mind and soul.

David Clement-Davies January 24th 2015   

For writers in the Sixteenth Century it was hard to survive, books and plays often supported by private donations. We seem to have returned to that time, in some ways, so please realise that the research on Edmund Shakespeare and Southwark represents two years of unpaid work.  If you enjoy these blogs then and can afford to support Phoenix Ark Press, please donate below.  Many thanks.


The image is a Wikipdia photgraph of Shakespeare’s Stratford will, written in the classic ‘secretary’ hand, not Shakespeare’s but a scrivener’s, but with his signature at the bottom.

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One of the less succesful moments in the search through St Saviour’s records for Edmund Shakespeare, his immortal brother William and Southwark in general was when I stumbled on a payment in the London records “For Mr Jonson’s Book“. It came in an odd place though, namely the loose leaf records of Cure’s College, that little Southwark Alms house founded in 1588. You have to know the difficulty of reading those records, most especially deciphering variously spelled names, and gradually beginning to recognise them too, to understand why, as your eyes start to deteriorate or your pencil blunts in the London Metropolitan Archive, you can suddenly give into the tendency to convince yourself of a Eureka moment.

The first and real Eureka moment was when I had linked the lease of that tavern where Edmund Shakespeare very probably died in December 1607, The Vine on Maid Lane, directly to a local Southwark fraternity granted Livery back in 1460, The Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption, and given rights by the King at Westminster, Henry VI, to buy local land of up to Sixty Marks. That was a true window on the history of the entire area because it established the significance of St Margaret’s Church, in the middle of Long Southwark and right opposite the Tabard. Which linked lay church life to the growth of London and commerce in general, in a very louche area, famous for the Bishops of Winchester licensing those ‘Winchester Geese’, for bear and bull-baiting and later for its theatres too. Peter Avergne and John Le Hunte were two of those livery wearing church wardens who invested in both The Vine and The Axe on Maid Lane, in a riverside district of perhaps 300 inns by Shakespeare’s day. John Le Hunte is clearly the direct ancestor of Edward Hunt, Esquire, who by Elizabeth’s reign owned sizeable land in Southwark called ‘Hunt’s Rents’ and bequeathed the Vine tavern to his pregnant wife Mary, also in 1588. His will is up on line. From there many discoveries arose, from the appearance of ‘pleyers’ working for the church back in the 15th Century and performing around St Margaret’s Cross, to the story of the rebel Jack Cade. Who marched from Blackheath and sacked the City in the real beginning of the Wars of the Roses, and fought the Battle of London Bridge, meeting the Bishop of Winchester, William Waynflete, inside St Margaret’s. Cade and his men were staying just opposite at the White Hart Inn, a few doors up from the Tabard. The very catholic and originally Norman church of St Margarets was of course suppressed at the Reformation, and turned into a local compter prison. As the big church, St Mary’s Ovaries Priory, was renamed St Saviours and Bermondsey abbey was broken up too. The Tudor revolution had begun and Southwark was hit dramatically.

But there was a valid reason for my false Eureka moment over “Mr Jonson’s book”, which at the time I thought might be a payment for a lost play by Ben Jonson himself, perhaps the missing “Isle of Dogges”, because of the date of 1598, or possibly “Every Man in his Humour”. Though there are no extant records for the Globe theatre, and Phillip Henslowe’s account books remain the prime source for the period and the theatres, it was not so absurd to assume, in the ad hoc nature of early impresarios and payments from the bag in local churches too, that Henslowe’s hand had got in here somehow. After all Henslowe was both vestryman and warden of St Saviours, which he lived right next door to at the Bell, for several years with his son-in-law the great actor Edward Alleyn. Whose name appears with Henslowe’s on The Great Enqueste in James’s reign, when a scandal developed at the church over abuse of money for the poor. The other reason is those ancient papers for St Margaret’s, St Saviours, and Cures College too, are all bunched together in those buff boxes in the London Metropolitan archive.

Heart in mouth I turned to The Shakespeare Institute in Stratford and Professor Martin Wiggins, a Jonsonesque figure himself in his leathers and Doc Martins. Martin was encouraging at first, although it was tellingly the price of the payment, which I hadn’t written down properly, that raised the greatest question mark. He explained that plays of the period were worth £5 or £6, although Henslowe often gave advances of 20 shillings to writers, which is incidentally the same amount that was paid for Edmund Shakespeare’s funeral. True to any writer’s concern with money, fame and fortune though, as I sought for the book I was trying to write too, I rushed back to the archives only to discover that this payment for ‘Mr Jonson’s Book” was for a mere tuppence! On further eye-scrunching scrutiny of those often illegible papers, if on very good and thick Elizabethan paper, it turned out that this Mr Jonson was just a local scrivener, his little ‘book’ perhaps for copying something, or making an accounts book for the church, and my hopes were dashed.

Yet never be disheartened too easily in the search for such a fascinating period. This goodly scrivener became another of the local figures coming back to life along the river, characters dimly discernible through the veil of financial records, like the Sexton paid at a time of obvious plague “for the burning of men’s bones”, or one “Widow Bradshawe”, one of the local beneficiaries of a place at that alms house, Cure’s College, whose name appears repeatedly. With the likes of Henslowe himself, Ned Alleyn and lost Edmund Shakespeare, they help build a fascinating sociological history of Southwark and theatreland, much about London’s poor too, among whom the players moved constantly. As fascinating as the characters in the Token Books or Vestry Minutes, in trouble with local Constables for refusing to buy Communion Tokens, at various times of heightened religious tensions, or marked down for the number of women moving in with them. Or as the foul mouthed watermen and taverners along the river, among the Stewes, or the sudden occurence of new professions in the marriage and christening records of St Saviours; like shipwrights or a ‘Hansom man’, one of the first moving ‘taxis’, joined with the arrival in Southwark of printers and publishers called ‘men in books’. An odd tale for a blog, in an age when millions of words are spewed out onto the web every day, and so losing so much value, meaning and power. But I am still convinced that was an age as revolutionary to the world of thought, because of printing, reform and theatres, as the internet or the closing of the London Stationers office only as recently as 2005 is to the now.

David Clement-Davies January 22 2015

For writers in the Sixteenth Century it was hard to survive, books and plays often supported by private donations. We seem to have returned to that time, in some ways, so please realise that the research on Edmund Shakespeare and Southwark represents two years of unpaid work.  If you enjoy these blogs then and can afford to support Phoenix Ark Press, please donate below.  Many thanks.


The image is taken from Wikipedia and is a portrait of Ben Jonson.


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One of the most famous of all Shakespeare’s soliloquies must be Henry V’s immortal “St Cripsin’s Day” speech, but few know its special significance to a Southwark audience, in particular at the Globe. Agincourt of course took place on October 25th 1415, the feast of Crispin Crispianus, brother Saints who would have had special significance to soldiers because they were the patron saints of cobblers and shoemakers. Of course Southwark, as well as being theatreland and crowded with taverners and watermen along the river and Long Southwarke, the great thoroughfare across the bridge, was, as an area of ‘the stink trades’, butchery, tanning and leather working, also a great centre for cobblers. Indeed, when Henry VIII called St Saviour’s ‘a verie great churche’ it was also at a time when he granted incorporation to the Guild of Leatherworkers and one Leonard Scragges as Warden. The associations with the leather trade would continue, particularly in the presence of one Thomas Cure, Warden of St Saviour’s, as Phillip Henslowe would become too, and saddler to Queen Elizabeth I herself.

The Cures became a prominent Southwark family and are mentioned several times in Al Rowse’s book on the astrologer Simon Foreman, who specifically referenced visits to the Globe to see Macbeth and The Tempest. There were two Thomas Cures, father and son, but one Cure attended Foreman’s wedding, further along the river in Lambeth, in the Church of St Mary’s Lambeth, which today is the Garden Museum. Elias Ashmole, William Tredescent and Captain Bligh were all buried there, but Foreman’s house was just across the road, all in the shadow of the beautiful Elizabethan building and seat of the archbishops of Canterbury, Lambeth Palace. There is a wonderful inscription on the wall outside St Mary’s regarding a bequest of £100 to be used for the education of two local boys, yearly, but which specifically forbids it to ‘Watermen, chimney sweeps and Catholiks’!

The social role and purpose of the church was one that would be specifically challenged in Southwark at St Saviours in the days when Henslowe was a Warden and also running his theatres and the Royal Barge House, along with being ‘Master of the Game’. Then a scandal erupted around their use of alms for the poor and the building of a huge new refectory, when the number of Vestrymen had risen to 80 strong. An act was even mooted in the parliament, though in the end the Wardens appeared to have reformed themselves. They were already running a local school and alms house though called Cure’s College, which appears constantly in the records I was searching through in my hunt for Edmund Shakespeare. It stood on Maid Lane too and by the 18th Century had become a forbidding stone institution around a central garden. It was founded though in 1588 in the Will of Thomas Cure, who died in the same year as Edward Hunt, that owner of the Vine Tavern on Maid Lane and direct descendent of John Le Hunte, one of the Brethren of that Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption at St Margaret’s Church on Long Southwarke, repressed at the Reformation. Cure’s bound will is one of the more remarkable documents in a collection I think so important I even approached the Liberal MP Simon Hughes to try and establish a special Southwark-Shakespeare collection, though to no avail.

There will be a further blog of the importance of Southwark to the Reformation battle itself, especially in a church that lay at the beginning of the Canterbury Road, where Becket had preached, and which later became highly prominent in Mary’s attempt to take England back to Catholicism too, because she staged the Marian heresy trials inside the church. But Thomas Cure was of a very Elizabethan religious stamp, veering towards that puritanism that would spread in London closer to James’s I’s reign, at least on the surface. His will establishes provision for 16 local poor, men and women, but also the rules under which the college functioned. So they had to kneel at dawn and dusk, on the ringing of the hand bell, and recite the Lord’s Prayer. They had to work for their upkeep too, and Cure laid down specific fines against brawling, swearing and fornicating. It all makes starker reading in the light of Southwark’s especially colourful reputation, that land of theatres, brothels and gamboling houses, but is absolutely the prototype for the hated Victorian Workhouse. Except in Shakespeare’s day it was a much humbler affair with the records full of little payments to buy a cloak or hose, stockings, for one of the boys or girls, to send for a Doctor, or to buy bread. I have wondered if Phillip Henslowe’s own hand is on those records, as he continued to fill his purse from his entertainments, but it gives a fascinating picture of local life and of the very thin social support networks they had.

David Clement-Davies 20 January 2015

For writers in the Sixteenth Century it was hard to survive, books and plays often supported by private donations. We seem to have returned to that time, in some ways, so please realise that the research on Edmund Shakespeare and Southwark represents two years of unpaid work.  If you enjoy these blogs then and can afford to support Phoenix Ark Press, please donate below.  Many thanks.


The image is a Wikipedia photo of Southwark Cathedral, renamed St Saviour’s at the Reformation but originally part of St Mary’s Overies priory. Thomas Cure was a Warden here as was the famous Phillip Henslowe and for a time his Son-in-Law the actor Edward Alleyn. Shakespeare’s youngest brother Edmund was buried inside the church on December 31st, 1607, at the age of 27.

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One of the more intriguing questions in trying to reconstruct Elizabethan Southwark and follow the clues to Shakespeare’s life and story too, with so little evidence, is where he lived.  Today virtually nothing of that wooden, largely rural, Elizabethan world remains, swallowed by concrete and the spawning Metropolis.  There is of course St Saviour’s church, which only became Southwark Cathedral in 1905.  Although described by Henry VIII himself as a ‘verie great churche’, perhaps third after the abbey and St Paul’s, where Becket had preached the night before his murder and on the Canterbury Road too, it was far more dilapidated in Shakespeare’s day, especially after the Dissolution.   Then, beyond what was the Liberty of The Clink, where Winchester House stood,walking into the neighbouring Liberty of Bankside, there is the little ‘wherryman’s seat’, a  slice of stone in the wall, where a waterman sat, in a district of watermen, overseeing fares up and down the river.  It is just off that line of modern restaurants that includes The Real Greek, up from the Anchor pub.  Once the stewes stood here, the famous brothel houses, and since a colorful surveyor’s map in the Metropolitan Archive describes it as allowing space for ‘two cartes de front’, ie side by side, that topography has changed little.  Walk down that street and the circular shape of the buildings testifies to the site of the old bear-baiting pit, even today,  that I think also became the site of Henslowe’s Hope theatre in 1614.  Walk on and you get to what was once earthen Maid Lane, modern Park Street, where you can see the outline of and information signs for the famous Globe theatre.  Down from that, away from Southwark Cathedral and on the other side of the street, but inside a modern building, are the foundations of Phillip Henslowe’s Rose Theatre.  On from there you will pass into what was once the liberty of Paris Gardens. There Sam Wannamaker’s great reconstruction of The Globe stands, near to or on what was once The Swan theatre, hence the name of the Swan Restaurant.

Start again from St Saviour’s though and you begin to get another flavour of the times. Hard by the wall there is still a Green Dragon Court, which testifies to the existence of the ubiquitous Green Dragon Inn there and the records of St Saviours are full of babies born in the Green Dragon.  Through there, running onto Borough High Street, was once Frying Pan Alley and there stood The Frying Pan. It was a builder’s merchant and Henslowe’s accounts are full of purchases from the Frying Pan of ‘tymber and nailes’ for his theatres, and also his houses and tenements.  Both sides of the Church then had chained gates, as there were all over London, that could be raised in time of threat or revolt, to block off the streets.  Where Henslowe himself lived was on Clink Street, effectively running out of the West door of the church, at The Bell on Clink street, I think on the river side of the Street and effectivly number 4, according to the Token books.  It did not put him opposite or hard by the prison, the Clink, the bishop’s prison by Winchester House, as some have it.  You would not expect someone of Henslowe’s status, not only an impressario but later Warden of the Church, Master of the Game and Keeper of the Royal Barge House, to live right opposite a prison, though his accounts also record him lending money to writers to bail them out of Clink.  But walk back through Green Dragon Court and you get to the noisy modern Borough High Street, overcrowded by the railway bridge, leading up to and over modern London bridge and to London Bridge Station.  That was once earthen Long Southwarke, the main southern entry point to the walled City over the river.  It’s western side has shifted fifty yards, since old London Bridge was fifty yards to the east.  But along it were wooden two-storied Elizabethan taverns and tenements, in an area that had 300 taverns and where the records show the Bishop of Winchester granted licences for the tavern owners to fetch water from the Thames in their carts.

Down Borough High Street though, on the left walking away from the river and along a little alley, a sign on the side of a printer’s shop testifies to the presence of Chaucer’s immortal Tabard Inn.  The White Hart Inn was just up the way, beyond the still standing George,  on the same side of the street.  There Jack Cade stayed with his men during his rebellion under Henry VI, as Shakespeare recorded in his play, touching colour that was very local to him too. There too Sir John Fastalf’s servant Payne went to see Cade, as is recorded in a letter in the Paston letters.  I think Shakespeare new of that history and translated real characters like Payne and John Fastalf into Falstaff. Almost right opposite Cade met and was double crossed by the Bishop of Winchester, William Waynflete, inside the old St Margaret’s Church, so central to our and Edmund’s story.  He fled to Rochester, then Susex, was captured, decapitated and paraded through the city with his head in his lap.  From St Margaret’s of course, dissolved at the Reformation and turned into a Compter, there are records of ‘pleyers’ performing in the 15th Century, the old Mystery and Miracle plays.  St Margaret’s Cross stood on the site of the modern War Memorial, which was also the starting point for St Margaret’s then Southwark Fair.  The Norman Church stood there, in the middle of the King’s Highway, right up to Hogarth’s day, and afterwards it became the site of the Town hall and is now a Slug and Lettuce bar.    Walk down the road and you get to the remaining wall of the notorious Marshalsea Prison, where Ben Jonson and Gabriel Spenser went in 1597, and so would Dickens’ father.  St George the Martyr church beyond was the place Henry V stopped in 1415 on his return from Agincourt to be heralded by minstrels.  St George’s though was the effective lytch gate into the southern city and ‘london’ then, surrounded by open countryside and St George’s Fields and Winchester Park. Where Elizabethans hunted, picnicked and went falconing.  The maps all show wooden ribbon developments along Long Southwarke and the river, though immigration and building was taking off in Shakespeare’s time.  Beyond the road ran to Newington, and the archery fields of Newington butts, where there was another wooden theatre Shakespeare may well have performed at as a young man.  Though only a mile away, in what is the modern Elephant and Castle, it proved too far out for the wealthy city folk and partly led to Henslowe’s building of the Rose on Maid Lane.

So back on Maid Lane, near that marker for the Globe, look around and ask where The Vine tavern stood, where Edmund is recorded in 1607 and very probably died too, since he was buried on this side of the river.  It was in a grouping of ‘Hunt’s Rents’, passed down from that Warden of St Margaret’s under Henry VI, John Le Hunte, to his ancestor Edward Hunt Esquire. It may have been hard by The Globe, or further back towards Clink Street in what is modern Vineopolis, but it had first belonged to the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption at St Margaret’s. There will be another blog on the lease.  There were of course other taverns along Maid Lane you can pick out from the scruffy Token Books, like the Three Tonnes and the Elephant, mentioned by Shakespeare in Twelfth Night, appealing to a very local crowd.  Following those Token Books, as street names themselves began to sure up, is a fascinating business, through the three neighbouring riverside liberties of the Clink, Bankside and Paris Gardens. Another Liberty was The Mint, and there are also seperate Token Books for The High Street, namely Long Southwark.  But so you pick up names like Pepper Stairs, The Boar’s Head Tavern, Molestrand, Pigeon Stairs, Upper Ground, in Paris Gardens, and so on.  A poor and tightly packed area of watermen and the ‘stink trades’, butchery and tanning, brothels, many taverns, bear and bull-baiting arenas, and of course theatres, Southwark was a very hard district, and of course London’s entertainment centre par excellence.  It had its grace though, in the surrounding parks, and it is interesting that bouts of plague affected the low, bunched waterside houses much more than the wide High Street.

So, as you get a feel for the place as it was then, the question remains where did Shakespeare himself live and work?  We know from unpaid tax rolls of 1595 and 1596 that he had lived in St Helen’s for a time, which was a Parish just beyond modern Holborn, by the Bishop’s Gate through the wall and north of the river in the City proper. That road ran straight up through the wall, passed the Bedlam Hospital to Shoreditch, where The Theatre, built by James Burbage, and The Curtain theatre stood.  St Helen’s seems to have been an area much favoured by musicians.  From the Court case involving Mary Mountjoy and Stephen Bellot we know that for a time, probably around 1604, though the case was later, Shakespeare lodged on affluent Silver Street, which was a street of Silver workers originally, and also was the site of the hall of the Barber Surgeons.  It was by the Cripplegate through the wall, which would allow easy visits by Edmund and his unknown lady, who lived in the Morefields.  But early ‘biographers’ of Shakespeare suggest that he lived in Southwark for as many as ten years.  He would certainly have commuted there too, on foot, by wherry or on horseback.  The famous Shakespeare antiquarian Edmund Malone claimed possession of a now lost document also placing Shakespeare on Clink Street. Meanwhile  though another document relating to the Bishop of Winchester, and suggesting Shakespeare had Winchester’s protection, put him, by 1598, I think, in a ‘domus et aliorum’, a house with others.  Was that a house attached to the Globe construction on Maid Lane, with other players and the Burbages, though it would have been a very noisy place to work?  It is of course possible that it was the Vine itsel, if that was known to the players.  Then of course it is perfectly possible that Shakespeare lodged and wrote in different places when in London and Southwark.  Interestingly Peter Ackroyd points out that the church spire mentioned most in the plays was St Olave’s, and though there were several St Olave’s inside the city, long gone St Olave’s Church was east of Old London Bridge, on the water. At one point half its graveyard was washed away by the tide. Perhaps Shakespeare even had a room to light a working candle on Long Southwark itself, where he could watch the welter of humanity streaming into the city.

David Clement-Davies January 12th 2015

For writers in the Sixteenth Century it was hard to survive, books and plays often supported by private donations. We seem to have returned to that time, in some ways, so please realise that the research on Edmund Shakespeare and Southwark represents two years of unpaid work.  If you enjoy these blogs then and can afford to support Phoenix Ark Press, please donate below.  Many thanks.


The picture shows a Wikipedia image of the 1616 Vischer engraving of old London Bridge and St Saviour’s Church. 


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One of the great problems about Shakespeare, and building up a realistic and factually correct picture of Southwark too, where his brother Edmund died, is working with such little evidence. That highly eccentric American couple, the Wallaces, came up with another piece in the jigsaw when, after reading through 5 million documents, they unearthed a court case involving Mary Mounjoy and Stephen Bellot, relating to Shakespeare lodging with the tirer, the theatrical wigmaker, Christopher Mountjoy on Silver Street, near the Criplegate. It saw Shakespeare giving evidence in court over the question of a promised and unpaid dowry to Bellot, where Shakespeare seems to have helped the couple plight their troth but to have withdrawn his testimony, saying he coud not remember the sum, probably proving an ultimate loyalty to Christopher Mountjoy. There were also all kinds of sexual shenanigans in the Mountjoy household, and Mountjoy was marked down by the judge as a rather disreputable character, adding the prick of scandal to the Shakespeare story. That tale also narrows the circle of Shakespeare’s intimates and ties him to the co-author of Pericles, the very unpleasant George Wilkins. Wilkins owned a tavern brothel on the corner of Turnmill and Cowcross ‘streets’, then outside London Wall and in a semi rural area in developing London. He was had up in court repeatedly for violence against women, including kicking a pregnant woman in the stomach and stamping on another, perhaps two of his working girls. When Stephen Bellot and Mary Mountjoy, whose mother was also called Mary, were pursuing their own love affair they had gone to stay in Wilkins’ tavern. It adds great interest to the brothel element so deep in Pericles, based on John Gower’s Confessio Amantis.

I think a much neglected story though is the other time Shakespeare had a run in with the law, in November 1596, when he was accused, with two mysterious women, Dorothy Soeur and Anne Lee, along with Sir Francis Langley, of ‘Murder and Affray’ by the local Surrey Sherrif Sir William Gardiner. It was standard legal language and had come out of a long standing tussle between Langley and Gardiner, who Langley had called ‘a perjured knave’ in a tavern up in Croyden. At the time Edmund was sixteen, whether he was in Stratford or London, quite the age to pursue a player’s career. To add to the Shakespeare presence in London rather than Stratford their brother Gilbert was a haberdasher for a time in St Bride’s, off Fleet Street. Langley of course was a highly succesful and rather disreputable Algener, who put official stamps on cloth bails to establish their quality and clearly benefited from seizing goods and the potential for bribery too. Who also got his title by buying the manor of Paris Gardens, that third little Liberty along the river Thames in Southwark, walking away from big St Saviour’s church, through The Clink and Bankside. He was fined by the city authorities for not keeping up the Manor properly, probably sitting in the Compter court in old St Margaret’s Church, that had been dissolved sixty years before, and whose Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption had once owned The Vine tavern where Edmund died. Langley took the commissioners out to lunch, but at least they kept their integrity by fining him again the following year.

Langely of course also built the Swan theatre in Paris Gardens in 1595 to cash in on the growing theatre trade that Henslowe’s Rose had well established on nearby Maid Lane, which was much more splendid and silvered on the outside. Both young Ben Jonson and Shakespeare were involved with Langely and the Swan then, two years before Shakespeare and the Burbage brothers decided or were forced to take down the oldest permanent London theatre, ‘The Theatre’, up in the Shoreditch. When the lease on Giles’s Alan’s land ran out and he tried to put up the price, so the players transported the valuable wood and their ‘house’ across the water. The newly named Lord Chamberlains Men used it to build the immortal Globe Theatre on Maid Lane, in the Liberty of Bankside, where The Vine tavern also stood. Just up the way from the Rose and ‘forced out of a Marish’, as Ben Jonson wrote in The Execration Against Vulcan. He also described the Globe as ‘The Fort to the whole Parish”. It is the Swan though that had the most interesting and unhappy fate of all the London theatres, because it never really succeeded, certainly after 1597, was sold on by Langley, who died in 1601, and would later be described as being very decayed and ‘hanging down its head, like a dying Swan’. Both the Rose, closed by 1605, and the Swan suffered from the success of The Globe.

But what happened that day when Langley and Shakespeare were caught up in an incident with Dorothy Seour and Anne Lee in November 1596 and who were they? As Horton wrote in his fascinating book on the case, alongside his idea about Justice Shallow in The Merry Wives of Windsor of 1597 being a satire of the deeply unpleasant Sir William Gardiner, who specialised in extortion, it is lovely to see Shakespeare giving him a piece of his mind, or perhaps even the glint of his sword. But why are those two women named and were they having some kind of merry party in a more colourful establishment in Paris Gardens, when an argument broke out? Of course the stewes ran along the river front in neighbouring Bankside, but Paris Gardens was certainly a brothel district too, that housed the famous Cardinal’s Hat, right next door to where the modern Globe reconstruction stands – not on its original site in Bankside, though two minutes walk away. It is very probable that the infamous Holland’s Leaguer, and there is still a Holland Street there, to testify to the influx of Dutch immigrants into the district, came to be in the moated manor house of Paris Gardens. In the reformation period especially remember that Sir names too, so often emerging from trades like Baker, Fletcher, Smith, Thatcher and so on, were really beginning to be defined, partly in the institutionalisation of records and us all. Take for instance the name of one of the carpenters working at St Margaret’s Church 100 years before, under the reign of Henry VI, who is simply called ‘Peter of the Bridge’. The bridge being great London Bridge, the only crossing point over the river into the City then. The Holland clan though, originally a Dutch family, certainly turn up elsewhere as being a kind of London crime family, much involved in prostitution but then business seemed to have involved a lot of people in crime. It is interesting Shakespeare puts a John Holland in Henry VI, as one of the less appealing rebels engaged in Cade’s Revolt. As for Dorothy Soeur and Anne Lee though, I found several Soeur’s in the Token Books from St Saviour’s relating to Paris Gardens. The name is obviously from the French for Sister, but whether that has a religious echo too, or was just a common emergence of a Sirname, I don’t know. Meanwhile of course one of the strongest comments on Paris Gardens, where the Royal Barge house also stood, that came to be owned by Philip Henslowe, in a city where literally everything was franchised, also comes from Ben Jonson, who described Paris Garden’s as ‘that accursed ground.’ There will be another blog on the intriguing figure of Kate Arden, Jonson specifically mentions, and also on who those ‘Sister’s’ are Jonson mentions going to investigate the supposed crime when the Globe burnt down in 1614, but was quickly rebuilt.

Don’t tar anyone, and especially not Shakespeare, with that brush of scandal or rumour, that had so tainted his near exact contemporary and great inspiration Christopher Marlowe. Who schoolboys still fancy was a brothel creeping carouser, not to mention a spy, who ‘died in a tavern brawl’. Francis Meres’ book of 1598, which first mentions Shakespeare as the most important writer of his day, and is critical for dating, specifically alludes to Marlowe’s unhappy fate, contemptuously too in the light of Marlowe’s atheism, as Shakespeare alludes to him in As You Like It, though in a very different voice, and speaking of “a great reckoning in a little room’. That little room was most likely neither a tavern nor a brothel though,but a far more respectable place, one of the many houses across London that offered bed, food and drink. It was in Deptford, where the Marine docks were, and belonged to Eleanor Bull. But there Marlowe was killed by three men who were certainly agents of Francis Walsingham: Apparently over the ‘reckoning’, the bill, but most likely in a semi authorised hit, related to the rivalry between Walter Raleigh and The Earl of Essex, the faked Dutch Church Libels that had been pinned up on the Broadgate wall attacking foreigners, in a UKIP style frenzy, and both Marlowe’s muted atheism and his possession of banned books. Marlowe’s spying credentials were pretty obvious when you remember he went to Cambridge (and the Master of his College would end up hanging himself by his britches) and was at one point in Flanders investigating Counterfeit coin. His murder clearly had an enormous effect on Shakespeare, and his wariness ever after of the public eye, or the disgrace of fortune and men’s eyes, that could be so fatal in Tudor England. Another indication that Shakespeare’s involvement with those two woman probably wasn’t lubricious either though is the fact that in his book on the doctor and astrologer Simon Foreman AL Rowse specifically names Anne Lee as the sister of Sir William Motson, who made a name in the navy.

Yet the stamp and thrill of intrigue certainly surrounds that court case too, and most especially the extraordinary events that unfolded in the coming year, 1597. Just follow the threads. Sir William Gardiner was clearly trying to bring disgrace on a local rival, Francis Langley, whose playhouse the next year staged ‘The Isle of Dogges’. That lost play co-authored by Jonson and Thomas Nashe satirised Elizabeth I’s palace on the Isle of Dogs, where Canary Wharf now stands over the water, or rather her blood hound courtiers. It saw the Swan closed, along with all the theatres that summer of 1597, for the writer’s ‘lewd and seditious’ work. Nashe, who later dismissed the play as an ’embryo’, fled London, and ‘our Tom’ is affectionately mentioned in Meres’ book early next year too as soon to be welcomed back ‘to Rome’, namely the favour of the court and London. By then the hoo-ha was blowing over. Jonson, along with two fellow actors at the Swan, were arrested and put in the Marshalsea prison on Long Southwarke for a couple of months. Francis Langely alone was denied a licence for The Swan though, when the theatres reopened, and though it was known for plays, and staged sword fights and bouts of extemporary verse too, it never really took off and within four years Langely was dead.

But the plot thickens when you discover that in the Marshalsea Ben Jonson was interviewed by Robert Poley, who was a notorious agent of Walsingham’s and one of the three men in that room in Deptford with Marlowe. It was a man called Nicholas Skeres who had stabbed Marlowe in the right eye. Then consider the fact that Langley was also caught up in a case involving a fenced diamond, which reached up to and displeased the Privy Council itself. Also that it is very likely that the order to close the theatres, not because of sedition but the general threat of plague, came down before any mention of sedition, or the actors’ arrest in mid summer. Was the Swan’s closure then and the scandal of that year in fact somehow drummed up and related to the conflict between Gardiner and Langely, by extension Shakespeare, jostling for local influence, in a climate where the control of the theatres was becoming more and more political? Driven too by the kind of cloak and dagger double-dealing, extortion and blackmail common to spies that might well involve fenced diamonds too and which Walsingham’s spy network constantly engaged in, especially his hired men in that little room. Was the report to the Privy Council of a seditious play much more about underhand efforts to hobble Langley altogether, by him, or someone else, including the ubiquitous and connected Phillip Henslowe? That year would certainly echo very darkly through Ben Jonson’s life, who in 1598 would kill his fellow player Gabriel Spenser in a duel on the Hogsmeade, on the edge of Hoxton. He pleaded Benefit of Clergy and was only branded on the thumb, although Spenser started it. But Gabriel Spenser had been one of the players performing the Isle of Dogges at the Swan and one of the three actors, including Robert Shaa, imprisoned in the Marshalsea too. It and the fate of the Swan, rather than any high moral concern with the seemier side of the little Liberty uncharacteristic of Jonson, is much more likely to be the reason he would so strongly label Paris Gardens ‘that accursed ground’ in The Execration Against Vulcan.

But now try to fit Shakespeare back into the jigsaw. The years 1596 to 1599 were certainly monumental in his life and career and by extension perhaps Edmund’s too. In 1596, apart from that court case over an incident with Langley, Dorothy Soeur and Anne Lee, his only son Hamnet had died in Stratford at the age of 11. The next year, as well as writing The Merry Wives of Windsor for the inauguration of their new patron George Carey to The Order of The Garter, the obviously by now highly successful and relatively affluent Shakespeare would buy the second biggest house in Stratford, New Place, although for the comparitively modest sum of £60. Meanwhile, though his plays had already played at The Theatre, The Curtain and Henslowe’s Rose on Maid Lane, Shakespeare was clearly involved with the likes of Jonson and Langley at the Swan in Southwark, as the case proves. That they were trying to form an independent company is suggested from the fact that several of the Henslowe’s players were accused of breaking their contracts for him, and later went back to perform for The Admiral’s Men. Meanwhile Shakespeare and the Burbages must have known that the lease on the land on which The Theatre stood north of the river and city would soon run out, rather than quite the sudden drama someone like James Shapiro describes in his excellent though perhaps too literal book ‘1599’. So was Shakespeare already looking for an independent venue in 1597, where he could lead his company to new heights, and also own the plays and take the house receipts, in a way that Henslowe’s writers and actors never did? Shakespeare’s presence in his own house is hugely important to his swelling confidence and authority. The events of summer 1597 clearly blackened the appeal of the Swan and Paris Gardens though, and just over a year later, in the spring of 1599, the new Globe theatre went up in Bankside instead, on the southern edge of marshy Maid Lane. Almost simultaneously Henslowe, whose diary is filled with the rivalry between his Admiral’s Men and The Lord Chamberlain’s later-to-be King’s Men, saw the lie of the land and rather than trying to compete directly in Southwark built the Fortune Theatre, following the Globe’s design, on Golden Lane north of the river. He would not really ‘return’ either, though he always lived in Southwark by the Church at ‘The Bell’ on Clink Street, until Shakespeare had retreated to Stratford after 1612, when Henslowe built The Hope, opposite The Globe on Maid Lane, in 1614.

The whole saga, along with that celebrated falling out with an original Globe sharer, the bawdy clown Will Kempe, who would later call Shakespeare a ‘shakes rags’ in print, highlights the difficulties and rewards of succeeding in the early theatre business, but also to me an underestimated conflict between Shakespeare and that most prominent Southwark man, Phillip Henslowe. Of course Ned Alleyn’s wife’s famous letter about the return of the players company safely to London after another bout of plague testifies to the closeness of those original actors and companies, while both Shakespeare and Henslowe both became Grooms of the Chamber under James I. But a closeness that could also have a very violent side, like Jonson’s duel with Spenser. Shakespeare was anything but the Puritan, divided self or not, inhabiting a world that was generally so lusty and lubricious, and much was about both independence and money. But it is hard to believe the kind of mind that penned Rosalind in As You Like It, or wrestled with the corruption of brothels in Pericles, described by the players as ‘not debauched’, could have much approved of that Warden of St Saviours, Master of The Game, Keeper of The Royal Barge House and major Southwark landlord, Henslowe. But of that more to come too.

David Clement-Davies 10 January 2015

For writers in the Sixteenth Century it was hard to survive, books and plays often supported by private donations. We seem to have returned to that time, in some ways, so please realise that the research on Edmund Shakespeare and Southwark represents two years of unpaid work.  If you enjoy these blogs then and can afford to support Phoenix Ark Press, please donate below.  Many thanks.


The picture is the 1595 sketch of The Swan Theatre in Paris Gardens, closed in the summer of 1597, around the staging of The Isle of Dogges and denied a licence.

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Is it significant in the search for Edmund Shakespeare and his relationship with his eldest and now immortal brother William, that the play Shakespeare wrote, probably with the flash in the pan George Wilkins in 1607, Pericles, so strongly contains the presence of another prominent English poet, Sir John Gower?  If Shakespeare was there in Southwark Cathedral on that freezing day on December 31st 1607,  to listen to the great bell tolling for 27 year old Edmund, he would certainly have seen Gower’s colourful tomb against the North wall, as he must have several times in Southwark.  He would never have seen the simple tombstone that now lies in the choir marked Edmund Shakespeare 1580-1607. That is a much later addition, probably early nineteenth century and part of the rediscovery of Southwark and the player’s church, partly  forged, in its best sense, by the later discredited John Payne Collier. Amongst the sculptured dead, as Keats has it, in the church that was once St Mary Ovaries and not dedicated as a Cathedral until 1905, Edmund could of course have been buried anywhere for that 20 shillings, that day over four hundred years ago.  It was probably under a slab of tiling near a wall lifted especially for the enterment, since the register records he was certainly buried inside ye chuche. Of course, in that false image of ye olde Englande, ye was the spelling of the and the e at the ends of words would have been as silent as the mourners, at times.  There are many clues in the Burial Register as to the types of funerals conducted there, to tolls of the great or lesser bell, to a free-standing hearse in the church, not the modern moving hearse but the bier on which the coffin sat, all for a fairly specific price.  Well, everyone had to work and earn, including the priest and the sexton.

So that morning Edmund Shakespeare’s shroud wrapped body would have been carried from the Vine Tavern on Maid Lane, five minutes walk away down Clink Street, or laid in the Church the night before, and the funeral conducted before noon.  When did he die exactly? The freeze would have made the need for a quick burial less pressing, so conceivably even Christmas, or perhaps even St Stephen’s Day, the day Lear had been performed the year before at Court, December 28th.  It was not a New year in the way we know it, because that fell on Lady Day, March 21st.  The ground they broke  must have been hard as ice, with the big river freeze, and interestingly a fascinating insight into Elizabethan, now Jacobean funerals, is given by the 1588 Will of Edward Hunt, up online, the owner of the tavern Edmund came to die in. There it shows that as well as leaving The Vine to his pregnant wife Mary, and his unborn son if he ever came of age, and his nagge, his horse, to a servant, he left coins to be given out to the local poor, also acting as kind of professional mourners around the big church. Perhaps very well-known local characters.  There is no reason that practice was not followed for Edmund Shakespeare’s funeral.  It is tantalising to think that such an honouring funeral of his youngest brother by the man who showed the astounding humanity of a play like King Lear was conducted in defiance of the darker echoes that surrounded the death, like Edmund’s dead baby son marked down as baseborn, or the argument nearly a decade before about a player like Shakespeare becoming a Gentleman at the College of Heralds. Its significance can only be understood by understanding the enormously stratified nature of Tudor society and the chasm you crossed when you did become a Gentleman, which also gave you the formal right to carry a sword in the streets.  Although I still believe social mobility in London was much greater than is often allowed.  Especially by those snobs who are horrified by the idea Shakespeare or his brother could have been ‘ordinary’ Stratford country lads, so trump up the Earl of Oxford theory and silly films like Anonymous.   There was of course shock when an early 17th Century headsman tried to carry himself off as a Gentleman in Europe, but as for the players, the record of Edmund as ‘a player’ has a distinct flourish of excitement, and a status beyond any other.

Who knows who was there that day, but in the Token Book recording his presence at the Vine, one name next to Edmund’s, unless Edmund’s is a fake courtesy of Collier, is one Edward Woodfroofe.  Did they live on the same floor in the tavern, or share a room and was he at the funeral?  As for the cause of death, it is unlikely Edmund would have been buried inside the church if it was plague.  It is much more convincing to build a picture around that little tragedy back in August, the death of an only son on the social margins north of the wall, then perhaps drink, a return to friends around The Globe at the Vine and a weakened immune system, then the terrifying freeze of that year to carry him away.  Perhaps the journey to manhood is underestimated these days though, and having a son and heir at all, or losing one, because in Elizabethan society you were not really consider an independent adult until you had children, perhaps especially a son.  That is why there was a confusion about another Shakespeare brother, Gilbert, who in the Stratford funeral record at the age of 42 was marked down as adolescens. That record was initially dismissed as a much younger Gilbert, perhaps a nephew, until it was realised that adolscens refered to any unmarried male.  It is of course possible it was suicide, but if so the canons against self slaughter would have meant it would have had to have been hushed up.  But Southwark was a world apart and the influence of the player community great at the church.

But walk away from the choir in St Saviours, from our imagined funeral, with all its mysteries, back to that memorial to Sir John Gower.  There is one obvious reason that  Gower appears in the play Pericles, as the Chorus, namely that the story of Pericles is based on a work by Gower, Confession Amantis.  Yet why choose that and why actually name Gower as the chorus?  Is it because Southwark itself had suddenly become enormously significant in Shakespeare’s mind, not least because of his brother’s death?  As to that sea change in Shakespeare’s work, towards the magical romances, it is a play much about seafaring, another reason critics like Frank Kermode have written the Riverside Shakespeare and pointed to the significance of the Thames, in an area that housed the Marshalsea, a predominantly Marine prison, and is filled with reports of pirates and seafarers kidnapped and ransomed.  Remember that Philip Henslowe’s company were The Admiral’s Men.  Pericles is not about a brother, of course, but a daughter, presumed murdered, spirited away to more exotic climbs, who ends up in a brothel, yet trying to protect her purity and maidenhead by sowing and telling tales.  Much an echo of a poet’s re-spinning of hard reality, with the magic of art, but another echo of an area of crime too, brothels and ‘low life’ like Southwark. Shakespeare always has that ability to encompass both the sublime and street realities for a local audience.  Bolt is one of the panders in Pericles who, again with Shakespeare’s realism, justifies his trade in terms of a world without any social nets, and the horror of war where no ex-soldiers like Bolt were supported.  But Shakespeare’s consciousness, in the year he married his daughter to John Hall, is now of the father concerned with the fate and future of children, especially girls.  Yet there is still that worried echo of heraldry and status in Pericles, the running theme of specific family tragedy too, that seems, not least in the light of Edmund’s death, to have suddenly gone much deeper in Shakespeare.  Also the theme of the attempted restoration of life by the magic of art. Finally there is another possible echo of the year 1607 in Pericles, when  Gower as the chorus refers to a tale told ‘at ember eves and holy ales’. Remember that in spring the ale drives in the town of Wells had been violently suppressed, as the Puritans took greater hold, much as James I disliked them. Whether or not Shakespeare was a Catholic, and there will be a blog on that, the texture and language of the old faith is deep in his poetic sensibility, in a world reforming itself and often tearing apart. You can hear it in Henry V’s St Crispin’s Day speech, when a profoundly secular play appeals to an ancient code.  The magic of ‘religion’ is perhaps also the magic of fairy tale and story.

So again to John Gower though,  who had also been known as ‘moral Gower’ by his friend Chaucer, yet was clearly a figure of both humanity and great sexuality, who certainly married twice.  He is chosen and named by Shakespeare when one of the greatest poets of the language, and one extremely important to Southwark too in immortalizing the Tabard Inn, hard by St Margaret’s Church, and the Canterbury Road too, Geoffrey Chaucer, never is, in any of the plays, except perhaps in referring to Sir Topaz in Twelfth Night.  Bawdy, brilliant, Chaucer, ‘the father of English’.  Perhaps no poet like Shakespeare would have chosen either to imitate or tilt at Chaucer.  Or perhaps it has deeper coded significance in tilting at the importance of Southwark itself, where Gower had lived in rooms granted by the Church, and some of the moral agonies and dilemmas Shakespeare faced there, in London and during his times. That consummate artist, probably bisexual, whose work is filed with the lusty drive of sex and life, the prick of genius, yet who  was specifically described by one very early biographer in quoting the players themselves as ‘not debauched and when invited would say he was in pain.’ Who seemed to drive out the likes of bawdy Will Kempe.from the Globe Company, an original sharer, to set a new standard for English drama, over the street romps that dominated the playhouses and directed Henslowe’s company more.  Yet throughout Shakespeare there is the tension of the ‘moral’ and the human, the drive of sex and life that fills the comedies, but has Lear cry in horror ‘let copulation thrive’.  In Shakespeare it is much more below the surface than in Chaucer.  No wonder Shakespeare has sometimes been described as a dived Self, although such a writer had to inhabit everyone. The dramatist is necessarily divided, perhaps, but in poetry and prose Shakespeare is also obsessed with his own internal flow and muse. Gower too of course supported the cause of Henry IV in the end, whose legitimacy was essential to the Tudors.

Finally, in thinking about his youngest brother’s funeral in Southwark, an area both knew so well, perhaps it’s worth pausing again over the difficult dating of the plays and Macbeth in particular.  Macbeth is usually dated liberally after 1605 because of references to the Powder Plot.  But there are other references that might just place it as late as December 1607. I don’t know the truth of that,  but of course plenty of other player friends of Shakespeare’s had died already in Southwark and were buried in that church, including Augustine Philips.  To give biting significance to a line that could well have sounded loud again in Shakespeare’s head that freezing funeral day in December 1607, contemplating Southwark and Edmund too, snuffed out before his prime: “Out, out, brief candle, life’s but a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.  It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  

David Clement-Davies,  January 8th, 2015

For writers in the Sixteenth Century it was hard to survive, books and plays often supported by private donations. We seem to have returned to that time, in some ways, so please realise that the research on Edmund Shakespeare and Southwark represents two years of unpaid work.  If you enjoy these blogs then and can afford to support Phoenix Ark Press, please donate below.  Many thanks.


The photo is a Wikepedia image of the tomb of Sir John Gower in St Saviour’s Church, renamed from the Church of St Mary’s Ovaries priory, now Southwark Cathedral.

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Perhaps it is the Shardlake books on Tudor England that have inspired Phoenix Ark Press to again blog the story of Shakespeare’s youngest brother Edmund this January and the significance of many discoveries made about him and London to Shakespeare scholarship. 2016 is of course also the 400th anniversary of ‘the poet’s’ death and this time blogs, rather than engaging in arguments about the bogus Earl of Oxford theory or whether Shakespeare was a Catholic, will try and pinpoint specific discoveries and themes thrown up by nearly two years work by David Clement-Davies in the London Metropolitan archives and elsewhere. He believes that some of those discoveries are quite unique, cast significant light on the forming and the dating of the plays, especially the writing of the three parts of Henry VI, but also help build a fascinating picture of London and Southwark in particular, over a period of two hundred years. That play, bear baiting and brothel district, a gateway across the river and hub of ‘aliens, foreigners and strangers’ right opposite the walled city of London on the Thames.

David has been disappointed in the current desultory publishing climate not to find more interest from mainstream publishers for a book about Shakespeare’s Brother. Perhaps that is partly because there are only six records of Edmund Shakespeare’s life and death, while Shakespeare’s work and immortality itself so draws focus from any possible historical narrative of a largely unrecorded life. But at least blogging facts, theories and discoveries will make the work available. It is written from memory and without consulting 8 notebooks held here, so forgive errors or do write in to challenge them. The one joy of blogging is that mistakes can easily be corrected. If you use it please would you credit David or Phoenix Ark Press.

This running blog will be rather free form, but we start with a top ten of crucial facts that may be of assistance to future scholars and writers:

1) William Shakespeare had three brothers, in a large family of eight children, although three of his sisters died young. Shakespeare was the eldest, Richard and Gilbert Shakespeare following, and Edmund Shakespeare was the youngest. Edmund was sixteen years Will’s junior, born in May 1580, and of all the others was the only one to become a player too, in London. Although there is no record of Edmund in any extant play bills nor among the players listed in the First Folio. Edmund Shakespeare died in the freezing winter of 1607, at the age of only 27, and was buried in St Saviour’s Church, Southwark, formally the main church of St Mary’s Ovaries priory, on December 31st, at the cost of 20 shillings and with ‘a forenoon toll of the great bell’. It was the same year Shakespeare, now a Gentleman with a large house in Stratford called New Place, married his daughter Suzanna to the herbalist John Hall.

2) St Saviours, today’s Southwark Cathedral, was the dominating church of Bankside, that included the ‘Liberties’ of The Clink, Bankside and Paris Gardens. If you walk them today they represent a comparatively tiny area but it is from the Vestry minutes and Token Books of St Saviour’s that most of the clues about Edmund Shakespeare and Southwark come. Token Books were the yearly list of locals paying for Easter Communion Tokens, given back to the churches to prove attendance, and thus both a tithe and a kind of minor census. Many are very hard to read, in that scrolling Elizabethan ‘secretary’ script, with its uncertain spelling and of course at the time the spelling of names in particular were very changeable. Both Philip Henslowe, sometimes called Hensley, and his son-in-law the player Edward Alleyn became vestrymen and wardens of St Saviours for a time. Henslowe was one of the most significant figures in Southwark who built the Rose Theatre there, was a major landlord and brothel keeper, and became Master of the Game and Keeper of the Royal Barge House in Paris Gardens. He was also leader of The Admiral’s Men, chief rivals to Shakespeare’s troupe, and it is his diaries, really his book of accounts, playhouse receipts and payments for new plays, that gives us the most important evidence of the players and dramatists of the time. There are no extant records from the Globe and The Lord Chamberlain’s, later the King’s Men. Henslowe would also build The Fortune Theatre north of the river in 1600 and then The Hope in Southwark. He died in the same year as Shakespeare. David believes that the rivalry between the companies has been underestimated, the effect the building of the Globe in 1599 had on the Rose, which was just up the way but closed by 1605, and the fact that Henslowe went north of the river almost immediately, only building the Hope when Shakespeare’s activities at the Globe had declined.

3) There is some debate about where Phillip Henslowe, who was played by the actor Jeffrey Rush in the film Shakespeare in Love, actually lived in Southwark, since one account places him hard by the Clink Prison, the little prison of the Bishop of Winchester’s palace on Clink Street. In fact the token books prove that Henslowe lived in a tavern and tenement grouping on Clink Street called The Bell, hard by St Saviour’s, but in sight of The Clink. It was very possibly named around on the foundry bells for the church. They also prove that Edward Alleyn and his wife moved in with him in the plague year of 1603, when Elizabeth I also died. The lists of tavern dwellings in the Token Books are often broken down into the name of streets, alleys or their dominating tavern, like The Bell, The Three Tunnes, The Elephant or The Vine, in an area that was also still very rural, dominated to the south by Winchester Park. The Token Books also prove that both Henslowe and Alleyn sat on something instituted after the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 called The Great Enqueste, that seems to have been an investigation into officers and local practices by James I. In Southwark it culminated in a scandal coalescing around the abuse of money for the poor by the wardens and vestrymen of St Saviour’s, and a vestry that had risen to 80 strong. There were many complaints about the building of a huge new refectory or dining hall and there was even a bill mooted in Parliament. The Wardens and Vestrymen resisted and appeared to reform themselves. A very great many of the records from St Saviours, especially leading into the period up to the Civil War, are missing. The position of Warden was not only a prominent local one but gave Wardens rights to sign off leases and wills and it is hard to believe that someone as wary of the public eye as Shakespeare was not concerned by Henslowe’s local dominance.

4) Of the six known records of Edmund Shakespeare’s existence the first is his christening record, a couple of days after his birth, at Holy Trinity Church Stratford. The next two are the records of the christening and burial of his infant son in July and August 1607, four months before his father’s death, in St Leonard’s Shoreditch and St Giles Cripplegate respectively. There Edmond is marked down as a player, though there is slight confusion about the Sirname Shakspere or Sharksby and the name for the son either as Edmond or Edward. They are explained by mishearings and uncertain spellings. The boy child was barely a month old when he died, and perhaps because of the rise in local infant death records, probably not from plague but from an outbreak of some infant disease. As to the beliefs or practices of the Shakespeare family, whoever his lover was, in the scrofulous morals of London at the time, they certainly made sure their child was christened and as Germaine Greer says ‘owned’ the birth and the baby. It appears from a side note in the records that the unknown mother of the child was living in The Morefields. There is as yet no likely record in either St Giles or St Leonard’s of the mother dying in childbirth. The Morefields, where the famous London eye hospital now is, was a poor area, although improved in the planting of new gardens, especially around the new Scot’s Kings arrival into London. It also housed the infamous little Bethlehem Hospital, or Bedlam. The More fields stretched across the road that ran straight up through the Bishop’s Gate, where Shakespeare had lived inside the wall in his early years, in the parish of St Helens, that ran up to both The Theatre and The Curtain in Shoreditch. St Giles Cripplegate is barely ten minutes walk from St Leonard’s, the graveyard once just against the outside of London Wall. Christening and burial in different churches may be because many graveyards were simply overflowing at the time, but some church politics at the time is suggested by the entry by the child ‘baseborn’. It was not far through The Cripplegate that Shakespeare himself for a time lived on the wealthy Silver Street, near the Barber Surgeon’s Hall and in the house of the Tirer or wigmaker, the Hugenot immigrant Christopher Mountjoy. Since Shakespeare was undoubtedly back in Stratford in June 1607 for Suzanna’s wedding, at the time Edmund’s lady was having a difficult birth, it throws up many questions about the state of the family at the time. The next two records of Edmund are his burial on December 31st 1607 in St Saviour’s. One is at the very end of a Vestry bill of burials, the other is the copy of that record into the main burial register. The final record of Edmund is in the 1607 Token Book of St Saviour’s, from the Liberty of Bankside, that record of a purchase of communion tokens, and shows that at sometime that year Edmund Shakespeare was living at a tavern-tenement complex, with a garden, called The Vine. It is very likely that he died there too, since he was buried just six minutes walk away in the big church, where many players and dramatists are buried.

5) A slight doubt has been raised over records of Edmund Shakespeare because of the activities of the famous 19th Century Shakespeare antiquarian John Payne Collier. Collier’s work on the players in Southwark was crucial but he was very publicly disgraced for forging entries in Henslowe’s diaries and perhaps elsewhere. The records were certainly in his hands. There is also a slight doubt about the vestry bill and the register of burial at St Saviour’s because two other names of dead men appear after Edmund’s in the bill, which are not in the final burial register and Edmund’s name appears as the last, on such an apparently numinous date as December 31st 1607. However, those other names are over the page and there is nothing about the entries or the ink that suggests forgery. It suggests the church official neglected to turn the page when copying the names into the Burial Register. The most possibly suspect entry is in fact in the Token Book then, putting Edmund’s lodging at The Vine, because of the seeming difference in ink colour, the fact it seems a bit squeezed in and is semi scored out. In fact the entries were done by hand by local Roundsman in a very rough and ready way and ink can discolour. If the place Edmund was living, The Vine, is a forgery it does not at all undervalue what the work on The Vine reveals about the whole neighbourhood and its links to local St Margaret’s church. There is also no doubt Shakespeare had a brother called Edmund, from the Stratford record, that he was a player too, from the Christening record of his son and that he was buried that day in St Saviour’s. It was a church Shakespeare must have passed and visited many times and that 20 shillings for a ‘forenoon toll of the great bell’, represents an expensive and honouring funeral, probably paid for by Shakespeare’s purse. It is of course possible that Edmund’s burial, who seems, if he was working much as an actor, to have been just as active around north London and The Fortune Theatre, might have been paid for by someone like Henslowe but that is pure conjecture. There is no knowledge of who was present at the funeral on that freezing winter’s day and local legend has it that it was done before noon so that the actors could go off to perform in the afternoon, in the vein that ‘the show must go on’. Local lore also says The Vine was a tavern brothel, but in a district of brothels there is no evidence it was, if an attitude to such trade was entirely different. It is very possible that the theatres were open, and with the big winter freeze of the river, the start of the great frost fairs, people spilled out from the city and could walk across the water. It is very vividly testified to by a pamphlet, probably by Thomas Dekker, called ‘The Great Frost, Cold Doings in London’. However, a pre-noon burial was a common thing, as was an honouring either with a toll of the little or great bell, as the records show was given to both gentle folk and many honoured servants too. Time to quote John Done though – “Go not to ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.’

6) The major work on Southwark began to unfold after David discovered the name of The Vine from a lecture given by Professor Alan Nelson of Berkeley university on the Token Books, although it was known previously and published. It involved looking at leases both in the Metropolitan and National archives and the tiny records in the boxes related to St Saviour’s. It coalesced both around the discovery of the will of one Edward Hunt Esquire in 1588, the year of the Armada, bequeathing the Vine tavern to his pregnant wife Mary and her brother John White and scraps of ‘leases’, really tiny bits of hand written paper from the 15th Century, relating to a Fraternity at the Church of St Margaret’s. St Margaret’s once stood right by The Tabard Inn and up the road from The White Hart, in the middle of Long Southwarke, the road that ran straight over old London Bridge. Today it is the sight of a Slug and Lettuce bar but it was also the site of St Margaret’s Cross and the original starting point of Southwark Fair. In Hogarth’s painting of Southwark Fair the old Norman church is still in evidence, though it had become a prison, a courthouse and a tavern called The King’s Head. A very Catholic church, as reflected by the Brotherhood and in an area that was of course also Chaucer’s Canterbury Road, it was suppressed in 1534, its parishioners subsumed into now renamed St Saviour’s, three minutes walk away. It’s prominence was also because it stood right in the middle of the King’s Highway, just before you reached the gate to London Bridge, which is probably why it was also used afterwards as a local Compter, or Court lock up. The Commissioners who fined St Francis Langely, who built The Swan Theatre, for not keeping up the Manor of Paris Gardens probably met there. The records suddenly stop then at The Reformation, with scrawled, handwritten documents entitle Testi 1-V, which are the as yet untranslated Latin interrogations by the King’s commissioners of the wardens. The reformation ax had fallen on the history of the little church. In 1460 though Livery and Land Rights had been granted to the wardens of St Margaret’s Church for their brotherhood, and in fact sisterhood too, of ‘Our Lady Of Assumption’, by Henry VI himself at Westminster. Being less than 8 miles from Westminster Southwark fell withing ‘The Verge’, the moveable area of authority that operated around the King’s person, but Henry granted the local wardens not only a livery but the right to buy land worth up to Sixty Marks. They started investing in two local taverns, The Vyne and what appears on the computer records of The Metropolitan Archive to be The Har- although the tiny piece of paper is torn. David now believes from other records that The Har was in fact The Haxe, or The Axe. The Vine stood on the long earthen track that became a kind of Broadway of its day called Maid Lane. Maid Lane has been cut to pieces by time, bridge building and concrete, but on it, and flanked by marshland first the Rose, then the Globe and then The Hope came to stand. As Ben Jonson records in his Execration Against Vulcan The Globe was ‘forced out of a marish’ or a marsh in 1599, when the players carried the wood from the old The Theatre in Shoreditch across the river, as the lease on Giles Allen’s land ran out. By Edmund’s day The Vine was a tavern-tenement complex, with gardens, stables and waterways, according to the standard lease, in a grouping also called Hunt’s Rents, as there were so many named ‘rents’ in London. It is hard to pinpoint it exactly or how large it was, but it may well have given its name to the modern Vinopolis and been hard by The Globe. But on the Grant of The Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption the two most prominent wardens named were local knights, Peter Averne and John Le Hunt. There can be no doubt that John Le Hunte is the direct ancestor of Edward Hunt Esquire who died in 1588 and was also buried in St Saviour’s. As the church was suppressed its property and profits passed back into secular hands and there is no evidence the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption survived The Reformation or went underground. John Le Hunte would have been a boy in Southwark when Henry V stopped just down the road in front of St George’s Church, to be welcomed by Alder or older men and city minstrels singing him a plaint to his victory at Agincourt in 1415.

7) The history of St Margaret’s church though is a fascinating window into Southwark itself and the inter-relationship of churchmen and locals, taverns, theatres and brothels. The whole area of course fell under the aegis of the Bishops of Winchester, with Winchester Palace or House right by St Saviour’s, on Clink Street facing the river. Much has been made both of the licencing and profiting of brothels in the area by the church and Winchester, a sea second in importance only to Canterbury, and it did become an area of vice and crime, especially lurid in the Puritan imagination, and a key to Civil War Propaganda. One pre Civil War pamphlet shows a soldier aiming his canon at the legendary Hollands Leaguer, a moated brothel popular with courtiers that was probably in the Manor House of Parish Gardens, once owned briefly by the Cloth Algener, or tester, and impressario Francis Langley. It is certainly true that the Bishops of York made much profit from the cheap tenements that flourished in Southwark, and with the independent nature of the Liberties of London, later spawned the murderous slums of the Rookeries. The Tabard was owned by the Bishop of Hyde. Also such a tough area because of the presence of five prisons in Southwark, including the famous Mashalsea, that also stood on Long Southwarke. The records certainly prove that in running the Vine and The Axe the wardens of St Margaret’s and the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption were paying ‘purse money’, ie cash, straight up to the Bishop of Winchester. They also show payments for the lighting of the lamps along the river, the improvement of the ways and evidence of an argument with a Flemish woman at the Axe. Whether or not she was some proto Mistress Quickley, it also testifies to the influx of foreigners along the river, especially Dutch and Flemish immigrants, but if in the mind of someone like Sir Walter Raleigh the association with prostitution was with foreigners, and not our lovely English girls, in fact brothels had been licensed there since the 12th Century. As well as securing prices paid by ‘incontinent men’, it ensured girls might spend an entire night with clients, regulated food and drink, but also tried to ensure the liberty of the girls and the fact that they could not be held against their will by ‘the stewe holder’. The name ‘the Stewes’ for Southwark Brothels, especially housing the famous Winchelsea Geese, is probably a conflagration of the Scandinavian word for a stove but also the name for the Royal Carp ponds in Southwark. The fishy connotations are quite obvious, not least in Hamlet’s discussion with Polonius of the honest trade of Fishmongers, but also John Donne’s poem The Bait, when he talks of swimming in ‘that live bath’. Fishmongers Hall was of course the most prominent Guild House, right opposite St Saviour’s on the north shore and west of Billingsgate fish market that served London.

8) St Margaret’s church records, like so many in a time of proto records, and when the register of christenings, weddings and funerals also began at The Reformation, are not only the real beginning of urban and administrative history in London but accounts – how much things cost. They give their own astonishing insights, an echo of living history. But they are especially fascinating in trying to relate Shakespeare’s histories to real local history on the ground, since they span the reigns of Harry V, Henry VI, Edward IV, Richard III and the King Shakespeare never wrote about, Henry VII. The way some are headed ‘Harry V’ for instance also capture so much of the intimacy in referring to the Crown that is such a part of Shakespeare’s own language. But one of the most fascinating aspects is the uncovering of the role of little St Margaret’s, the Bishop of Winchester William Waynflete and the story of the rebel Jack Cade, all so prominent a part of Shakespeare’s Henry VI, part II. Not nearly enough work has been done of the three parts of Henry VI, not least because they represent Shakespeare’s first real appearance on the London theatre scene and his recognition among other writers.

9) The attempt to uncover more about Edmund Shakespeare’s own life and death has largely foundered on the lack of evidence and records. It is fairly surprising there is no record of a player brother in the First Folio, among that close knit group of actors who worked together for 25 years in Shakespeare’s Company. The relationship between Shakespeare’s works, Edmund and brothers in general is an ever tantalizing one, that must again be considered speculation. It is also true that families and especially brothers play a dominating role in Shakespeare’s utterly human dramas but ones that are so concerned with internal imagination, and psychic wholeness, in a language of family that was also related both to the idea of the Commonweal and to those fathers, brothers and sisters of the Church. In terms of a younger brother not least in As You Like It, where Orlando is made the hero against the corruption of older brothers, politics and the court. Is that Shakespeare’s consummate awareness but also guilt at work, and perhaps a kind of warning to a younger brother arriving or struggling in the City as a player, who was 19 in 1599? Is it somehow telling that the only fictional Edmund in Shakespeare, not counting the historical Edmund Mortimer, is Edmund in King Lear, one of the most vicious, yet intelligent of them all? Perhaps it reflects nothing at all about a real younger brother, whose name ironically means ‘wealth bringer’, but it throws some light on Shakespeare’s own experience, especially in that traumatic year of 1607. Shakespeare had already written his greatest tragedies, his themes growing darker and darker in the last years of Elizabeth’s reign and into the reign of James I, but Lear was certainly written by 1606, and performed for James I at Whitehall at Christmas. Did that presentation of an Edmund on stage, for a player brother struggling on the social margins and watching it, have any effect on the real Edmund or produce any sense of guilt for his eldest brother, when he died so young, just a year later? The most interesting clues though come in a sea change in Shakespeare’s work, with Pericles, probably written with the tavern-brothel keeper and general thug George Wilkins, the argument about the social status of players that had developed in 1603 at the College of Heralds, now Shakespeare was a Gentleman, and the marking down in the church records of Edmund’s son as ‘baseborn’. Was Edmund Shakespeare at odds with Shakespeare the Gentleman and did a greater tragedy ensue we are as yet unaware of? The very prominent presence of Heraldry in Pericles, and Pericles’ crest represented by a withered branch only flowering at the top, can hardly be ignored. But there are other references in Pericles, particularly to the poet John Gower, who is also buried in Southwark Cathedral, that give it a significance that is yet to be fully explored.

10) Edmund Shakespeare’s life is of course important in terms of the evidence, or lack of it, about Shakespeare himself. Many controversies remain, perhaps quite wrongly, about who Shakespeare was. The fact that there was a Stratford Edmund Shakespeare who was also a player only adds to the evidence about Shakespeare and his whole and much neglected family. Some have argued that the Stratford Shakespeare cannot have been the London Shakespeare, not least because Shakespeare does not refer to himself as a player or writer in his Stratford will. That is just rather silly, because he also leaves mourning rings to his first actor and King’s Man, Richard Burbage, and to those gatherers of the First Folio, Henry Cundell and John Hemming. Perhaps though Edmund’s presence at the Vine too will give the final link in the chain to confound the doubters and especially the Earl of Oxford theorists (who was dead by 1604) in its ownership by Edward Hunt, esquire. That is if any link can be made between a book owned by the Warwickshire cleric Richard Hunt and the London Hunts, that bears an inscription describing Shakespeare as the ‘Roscius’ of his day, a term from the celebrated Roman actor applied to the like of Edward Alleyn. Of course Edmund’s life, both as a Shakespeare and a player, is valuable in itself and in all it has helped uncover about the period. Of which there is more to come.


Phoenix Ark Press, January 4th, 2015

For writers in the Sixteenth Century it was hard to survive, books and plays often supported by private donations. We seem to have returned to that time, in some ways, so please realise that the research on Edmund Shakespeare and Southwark represents two years of unpaid work.  If you enjoy these blogs then and can afford to support Phoenix Ark Press, please donate below.  Many thanks.


The first Wikepedia image shows the South end of St Saviours, Southwark Cathedral, restored in the 19th Century. It state was very different in Shakespeare’s day. The second picture shows the War Memorial, that was once St Margaret’s Cross and the start of Southwark Fair, and Slug and Lettuce bar that was once St Margaret’s Church, where John Le Hunte and the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption were granted livery and land rights of up to 60 Marks by Henry VI in 1460. Jack Cade met the Bishop of Winchester here, after the Battle of London Bridge, staying over the way in The White Hart Inn.

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One of the more disappointing books we’ve read of late, partly because of the strength of expectation, must be Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare, the biography. With a supposedly subtle white glove draped across the highly designed front cover, to suggest the weave of everything, which Falstaff comments on in The Merry Wives of Windsor, this hefty tome is surprisingly conventional and very much one for the Establishment too.

Reassuringly researched, with reportedly a team behind him to check the facts, and so wary of making mistakes, it attempts a different voice by using short chapters and unusual quotations to take us back to a time, successful sometimes in a linguistic impression of chrisolm oil at a Stratford birth, for instance – as in the language making the texture of lives – yet says nothing really new or important at all. It is not that ignoring all the competing theories about Shakespeare is wrong, what is is ignoring the intense passions and conflicts that a period and the problems of history itself evoke and why.

The reason of course is that Shakespeare is such an all-encompassing writer, the poet of all time, that any attempt at conventional biography as an explanation or reflection of his genius, his facility, fails. You need someone like the Russian surrealist Bulgakov, who wrote his fictive Life of Mr Moliere, to try and unite the art and the facts. It is only ever an attempt. But what is so disappointing is that a brilliant creative novelist like Ackroyd, wunderkind of imaginative time travel, and fakery too, above all such a specialist on the London of the period, just opts for safety. So the author who wrote The Thames, Sacred River, and spoke on Dessert Island Disks of being on the side of the ‘spiritual’ camp, in the science-faith split, just fights shy of the issues that might have struck a real sounding bell to Shakespeare and the mystery of his linguistic ‘miracle’, language’s miracle, at a very specific time. Of course for everyone who approaches Shakespeare there is a kind of sanctity that must be acknowledge too, the author who authors trust above all, (except Tolstoy), but that sanctity might come with a little more profanity.

In assuring us Shakespeare is such a conventional writer then, so interested in power, for instance, so consumed by Kingship, that naturally reflected his career path or even his ‘politics’, he sometimes bores, while also touching on ideas that might be really interesting. That those original Wooden O’s were kinds of ‘wombs’ of creativity, for instance, seen within the context of a language in astonishing flux and self-discovery, at a period of intense spiritual conflict during The Reformation. Actual places of magic then, as Katherine Duncan Jones argues. Or that for the author who conceived of such strange, eventful histories, baldly factual history is not quite enough, especially because Shakespeare was so aware of it.

There are flashes of real creative insight, for instance when Ackroyd squashes the competing authorship and anti-Stratford theories with the simple remark that Shakespeare could not have lied about the happiness of a rich Stratford and Warwickshire childhood without some serious psychic disturbance on the surface of his plays. He is a man who knows the connections between writing and the life truths. Yet in just suring up a reassuring view of the validity of word of mouth reports, John Aubrey’s first impressions, or vignets around the few details there are, like those yards of red cloth and Shakespeare and the King’s Men processing in the train of James I, when the Lord Chamberlain’s Men became The Kings Men in 1604, he voids half the point of ‘the play’, the first professional players and playwrights in their new theatres and the struggle of meaning through art.

The biggest cop out is that ‘Shakespeare had no humanitarian purpose’, or it was really only about survival, money and putting bums on seats; the great entertainer, at the centre of a playwriting factory in London. You know what he means about the Humanitarian purpose question, as though we had to fix Shakespeare to a political party, and Dr Jonson said no one but a fool ever wrote for anything but money, but it is just rather disappointing about a writer who went so far and challenged himself so much.

Then there is his treatment of Southwark, that says so little about a place that was such an interesting Reformation fault line too. It is not the stewes, the brothels, or the bear baiting and gamboling dens there that are so important, but the position of the Bishop of Winchester, St Saviours church, Ben Jonson’s description of The Globe as a ‘fortress to the whole parish’ and why Shakespeare might have followed John Gower’s and not Chaucer’s literary tradition, or how the ‘liberties’ affected Shakespeare, younger and older.

The truth is not nearly enough work has been done on the significance of early plays like the three parts of Henry VI, that so sound the historical importance of Southwark, and probably started around 1592. But Ackroyd, as if he is getting old and weary, in need of a literary pension himself, quickly voids the challenges of a place and has Shakespeare inured to it all, spending most of his time up on wealthier Silver Street, near the Cripplegate.

Yet Shakespeare spent at least ten years there, probably longer, it was the place of the Rose and Swan, and the locus of the Globe, so his creative outlet whether in London or Stratford. While in picking John Gower to be the Chorus for Pericles, in the year his brother Edmund died, 1607, with such an issue of brothels highlighted in that strange play, it suggests how significant a place was to his themes and even crises. Pericles is also a play that has a scenario of a coat of arms at its centre, a withered branch flowering at the top, when his youngest brother, also an actor in London, had just died within four months of his own infant son, who was marked down in the church register as ‘base born’. Perhaps it is one of the reasons for that much noted ‘sea-change’ in Shakespeare’s art, a phrase from The Tempest, towards romances trying to heal time and families.

The truth is though that all the clothes of elegant or nervous research around Ackoryd’s own words and insights swamp his own voice. So it is highly significant that he suggests Shakespeare was ‘protected’ on Bankside and in London, in the backing of patrons or powers-that-be who were perhaps not exactly ‘establishment’, yet it is never really followed up. It would be the antidote to a book like 1599 by James Shapiro that takes a boy’s own view of the player’s independence, carrying that wood south of the river to build The Globe and a thrilling year in Shakespeare’s life. The truth is though that Francis Meres suggests Shakespeare had already well succeeded in London before The Globe was even built, as Ackroyd calls Shakespeare a ‘phenomenon’, and The Globe’s position within the skirts of the Liberty of the Bishop of Winchester is still of untapped significance.

If nothing comes from nowhere, except perhaps Cordelia’s silent love, it is even more important at a time where English history itself seems to appear from nowhere. Ackroyd touches on one of the keys to it all, language as metaphor, those clear springs in the old city, which borders on saying something else, and the uncertain ‘map’ of place that cannot be subsumed to the apparent facts, which is also the opposite of Shapiro’s high American literalism and attempt at precise factual, even journalistic detail. Yet Shapiro succeeds where Ackroyd fails because of the passion of his imaginative engagement, the sensitivity of his discourse about Shakespeare’s Stratford influences and the effect of plays like Henry V, Julius Caesar or As you Like It on contemporary audiences and why. That of course is not enough either, always the poet vanishes again, as was his intention and freedom, but it proves the need for something the great writer knew above all, so underestimated as instinctive storyteller, the compelling narrative.


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Published work on Edmund Shakespeare, London and Southwark, back on July 1st 2012, was too long, so it has been reworked into short storytelling chapters, the first of which starts today. There are still a few errors, or slight mistakes to be checked back with our original notebooks, though there are very definitive elements to come too. It is a thrilling adventure in Shakespeare and local history. The chapters will become part of the project Shakespeare’s Brother, posted above. Readers are very much encouraged to write in with corrections, or to point out glaring errors.

SHAKESPEARE’S BROTHER – The biography of a borough and an unrecorded life

by David Clement-Davies

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

William Shakespeare
The Tempest, Act 4 Scene 1

Shakespeare’s Brother is an original and relevant look at Elizabethan Southwark, 400 hundred years ago, with new evidence in the search both for a poor player, Edmund Shakespeare, his brother William, and kinds of brother and sisterhoods in life and art. New discoveries, like the history of The Vyne, or pleyers on St Lucy’s day in St Margaret’s Church, a hundred and fifty years earlier, and links to the Bishop of Winchester, are, as far as I am aware, ground-breaking.
It also attempts an approach not taken, which is to go backwards through time, from perhaps inevitably sad endings, to brighter or more mysterious beginnings. The story will turn pages with all the energy and excitement of James Shapiro’s hugely readable 1599. Yet in a way more attuned to the spirit and language of a fluid time, and perhaps the wider purpose and mystery of art and theatre.

For you, them and your children


Down the Borough.
“The past is prologue.”

Like any traveller venturing onto the shifting sea of words, it’s wise to trim your sails in a squall, and make for some safe, if temporary harbour. My slack sheets started to flap when an agent said she would like to see a novel of late 16th Century London – Shakespeare’s Brother.
Brother? The number of people who have said they had no idea Shakespeare even had one made me at least confident of a cargo’s value. If not, like Antonio in The Merchant of Venice, of its certain arrival in port – Venice, Antwerp or London.
In fact, Will Shakespeare had three brothers – Richard, Gilbert and Edmund. This story, and part story it is, does not support any theory surrounding the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward Devere, as real author, nor Francis Bacon or many others. Nor that we do not know enough to write about Shakespeare, or of a family either.
Although it does ask what gets into a public consciousness and how, and treads more carefully than Giordino Bruno, falling into a pool of London slop, that nearly drowned him, and with respect for original documented evidence too. While challenging what we know, how studies, controversies and shibboleths have developed, even what identity itself might be, and why art is so important and universal a human need.
It is why a project tacked in that rising wind though, from very imagined fiction, to some kind of detailed social history. Although, I hope with a sense of play and fun too, as Shakespeare is so playful, and so much fun. As an actor or director, indeed student, you should never approach him with too much worthiness. If, for any miscarrying cargo, perhaps everyone writing about Shakespeare needs a Portia bravely on their side, suing for some quality of critical mercy.
I certainly never knew William Shakespeare had a youngest brother, Edmund, and a ‘player’ in London too. Although Will, an actor himself, reached much greater heights than the sometimes considerable skills and courage of actors.
How much in the Shakespeare critical cannon though has been written about specific family contexts, beyond glove makers like John Shakespeare, Hathaways or second best beds? Much is dismissed as speculation anyway, shots at truth, which can often misfire and burn down the thatched roof of real ‘history’. Like that theatrical cannonball in 1612 that set fire to the first Globe. It was put up again immediately, in 1613, and better, so disaster has its benefits too.
At least it seems a truism that William Shakespeare shared the most fundamental template we all do, the vital experience of our own families. Unless orphans, or only children, the influences that can block or encourage very significantly indeed are siblings; brothers and sisters.
Not to say brothers naturally like one another, spend time together, or find the kind of Arden forest reconciliations achieved in As You Like It. Indeed, as men break out to find their own families, and make new worlds, or remake old ones, others are affected inside families and there is far more possibility for violent contention between brothers than between sisters. Although the experience and consciousness Shakespeare gives to his great women can be extraordinarily liberated and ‘modern’.
It is an obvious subtext of this book to ask what brotherhood means, in a family, but wider metaphor too, and if Shakespeare did not simply find an obvious and more important brotherhood far from home, among London artists and players. As it asks what kind of company we would all like to keep in life, and how we really define ourselves.
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” Henry V’s very human rallying cries are addressed to the needed comradeship and loyalty of arms, but voiced in the performing comradeship of a theatre company, on a wooden stage. Of course, if in Elizabethan times often avoiding the nasty reality of actually being called to war, both writers and actors can be an extremely vain, back biting or competitive lot, cowardly too, and in a world where fictions had far more likelihood of erupting into dangerous fact.
In the 16th Century Ben Jonson killed a fellow actor in a duel in Shoreditch, and players got training at Rocco Bonnetti’s Fencing Academy in Blackfriars, it seems with a few spies, and with real swords. This was not our world of Health and Safety then, we often complain about, as another misfiring cannon in a theatre killed a woman and child in the audience. Small beer to a collapsing Bull Baiting ring that killed hundreds, in a kind of mini Hillsborough.
But just as the novelist and Shakespeare biographer Peter Ackroyd stresses the reforming of Lord Strange’s Men in 1596, or the bequest of mourning rings and some shillings to Shakespeare’s ffelowes in his will, so this book stresses that a rare little brotherhood, with exceptions, stayed together for over 25 years.
Even lovers rarely exist in a bubble though, or are always challenged in the ‘real’ world, and all relationships are about a matrix of others. I think Shakespeare’s immediate family a very neglected field of study, certainly an important glass to look through. Not only for a person, Will or Edmund Shakespeare, but for a city and a time too, that tells a largely unknown story. Indeed, I believe he is, as a writer of real human relationships, so much about families, or how you get to them or loses them, and the structures of his own family is written across the plays. Although this is not exactly an academic book, more a creative journey through facts and fictions.
I wasn’t hugely interested in Will’s family either, or disturbing the myths, beyond visits to Mary Arden’s House and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon. Certainly now part of ‘the industry’ some have attacked it as being, like that sometimes odd “RSC Land.”.
Like many, I twitched at representations of Will on TV or in historical novels like At the Sign of the Bell. The tendency too is to make it Shakespeare’s time alone, because he gave us so much language and metaphor to speak of it, and ourselves, which it was not, and so in fiction at least, the danger of blundering into pastiche and anachronism.
Those were strangely sacred early visits to Stratford though, contemplating an author who is both rebellious but has a deep instinct for the sacred too. Perhaps a kind of secular sacredness, even if scholarship is returning to his ‘Catholic’ sentiments. But out of an instinct and inheritance that stretches far beyond any family experience too, even to the healing traditions of ancient Greek drama, in those cathartic rounds that also had gymnasia attached, and snake pits dedicated to the worship of the God Asclepius. Shakespeare’s ‘Gods’ of inspiration could be very big and potent indeed.
A sense of the sacred for me, like first walking into a theatre space itself; a writer, but once a hopeful actor too, and bit of a stage hand. A place that is itself enormously liberating, and must have been for Shakespeare as he began to build and walk about the echo chambers of his own imagination. But the plays were the thing, and still are, in so many regards. While my feeling was Shakespeare left his past behind in many ways. Perhaps it was a driving factor, even if “the past is prologue.”
While we know William Shakespeare of Stratford married Anne Hathaway at 18, the Bard had had four sisters too, in a family of eight children. Only one, Joan, survived to marriageable age. One, Anne, died at the age of seven, and two others, Margaret and another Joan, in infancy. He of course had his own children, a son, Hamnet, and two daughters, Susanna and Judith, the girl twin of Hamnet.
But it was this missing Edmund Shakespeare who first caught a storyteller’s imagination, and then a partly trained historian’s, perhaps because, like me, Edmund was a youngest son. William was the eldest, and we know his amazements, if we still stand in awe and astonishment at exactly how. But youngest children can be a very particular thing.
Whether or not they become Auden’s ‘spoilt third son’, although Ed was the fourth son of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden, they can also be in danger of picking up the underlying family issue, and failing, or turning to revolt, beneath the structures and expectations above them.
They are supposedly the ‘magical’ child, the apple of a mother’s eye, but the youngest might well find themselves in exile too, or always be there. In the fairly modern days of Empire they might have become vicars, or set off to India to administrate. This book is also very much about an idea that the world is not at all used to though – a Shakespeare as failure – even tragedy. Although Shakespeare’s vision encompasses the metaphysical fact that we all fail and die too.
Here though was a chance to imagine and research a time through the angle of an unknown player, but a Shakespeare, so look back at those great plays as well. It has become much more an attempt to feel my way into a living history of London’s Southwark, Elizabethan ‘theatre land’, and a very specific area indeed – Borough and Bankside. One that Black taxi drivers with all their ‘Knowledge’, insist came to give its name to all London boroughs.
The giving and discovering of names to things is very important, especially on the edge of officially recorded history, which in the very beginning of church and parish records, in the mid 16th century, was another legacy of the Henretian Reformation itself. But I think in significant ways Southwark became the vital borough of a poet’s working and changing imagination.
This book might have been called Shakespeare’s Brothers then, there could be one on Sisters, while it tries to tell some story of Richard and Gilbert Shakespeare. Although in still the best book on documentary evidence by Samuel Schoenbaum, the index notes to the two are virtually non existent.
We know their christening dates in Stratford, like Edmund’s, a day or two after their actual births, though they would have known their own birthdays, not least because of casting astrology horoscopes, or joking about such things, as Edmund does in Lear. But none of the three are mentioned in Shakespeare’s famous will, bequeathing that second best bed to Anne Hathaway, although by 23rd April 1616, all three brothers were already dead. Will survived them all and his work survived everything.
Of Richard Shakespeare there is so little evidence, except he was not married and stayed in Stratford to get involved with some dubious local characters, that he might as well not be there at all. So it is left to Anthony Burgess’s novel and fancy to have Will ‘cuckold’ Rich on the ship of said marital bed. That’s brothers for you, perhaps, or certainly playful novelists, summoning lusty energies, because Shakespeare has perpetually been reimagined or reinvented over the ages. He has a very personal quality for everyone.
Not that I deny Shakespeare’s ‘dark side’, in his own psyche, possibly in matters of the heart and sex, or sometimes in his involvements over money. It is also why I wanted to write about him as real man, actor, poet and playwright. But perhaps concentrating on brothers, rather than pursuing William again, is a safer way to explore just what I mean, above all about life, success and survival in the London of the time too.
As for Gilbert Shakespeare, from the Coram Rege Roll of 1597, he was working as a haberdasher in St Bridge’s, in a London of abutting field-edged parishes, trying to grow into an interconnected city. Around that very formidable and ancient walled City of London, stretching down to the river, that had its own chartered rights and banned players and theatres officiously from its precincts by 1575.
A move, although travelling players and theatre taverns certainly remained and operated inside, just as the Inns of Court staged revels and plays, that itself led to the building of permanent playhouses, right on its perimeter. Like that simply autolicous The Theatre, put up by James Burbage, which aided a theatrical and literary revolution. They were also crowding in on the money and potential audiences.
When Gilbert died in 1612 though he was marked down as ‘adolescens’ so at first dismissed as not being Gilbert at all. Then a brother was transformed into an invented nephew, because of the adolscens. Actually, even for a 45 year old man, it meant someone who had no children. Much is about the wary reading of documents, and supposed facts and connections, by only interpreting them in specific context.
In an age when child bearing women were still ‘churched’ though, 40 days later, to welcome them back into a community, it shows how much Elizabethans and Jacobeans, for the period straddles an age, equated being a man with having children, so reaching Man’s Estate that Feste sings of. Edmund Shakespeare would never have a New Place, unlike Will in their Stratford birth place, and lose that estate, even as he reached it, then lose everything.
Male children were of course often sought, with primogeniture in high places, especially by the powerful and Monarchs like Henry VIII. Although the role of daughters and women in that society is far more complex than imagined, at various social levels, even in a world where female roles in public theatres were strictly taken by men. .
Just as London law ensured that standard wills did not operate by Primogeniture, but divided property equally between living spouses and male and female children. A portion was left over to be parcelled out at the deceased’s discretion called “The Deadman’s Portion”. A city and its laws, and means of escape too, is a thing in itself, but there is also that Elizabethan age, out of the barren and bloody, if mercifully brief, agonies of her sister Mary Tudor, that saw the most extraordinary woman sit on a throne.
A queen who was childless too, unless conspiracy theories prove she had a child and heir out of wedlock. But whose conscious formulation of a political myth, in the worship of Glorianna, not only lasts to the present, but literally supplanted the Catholic adoration of the Virgin Mary and the Reformation throwing down of saints. It is a vision much related to that eloquence and forging of a consciousness and national identity in Shakespeare’s largely secular plays.
Will, the eldest, started to have his children at the age of 18 though, the older Anne Hathway probably going up the aisle pregnant, like very many couples, then got on with the rest of it. But it is important to remember that ‘Shakespeare’, William or Edmund, was not one fixed person either, but growing through life and time, which is again why contexts are so vital.
Neither Richard nor Gilbert built successful relationships we know of though, nor had children, and Edmund’s own issue in London is much the case in point. As Alan Nelson says, a theatre Professor from Berkeley University, the Shakespeares were probably a rather odd family.
Instant meat for any writer, that, although all families are probably odd. Exceptional is another way of putting it, in this very exceptional case, or you might quote Tolstoy at the start of Anna Karenina: “All happy families resemble each other, all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way.” It suggests suffering itself is a very individual thing, but that is the arc of tragedy and comedy seeks more inclusive resolution.
I rather dismissed Gilbert Shakespeare too, but pause a moment. Their father John, a glove maker in Stratford, and Gilbert, a London haberdasher, selling buttons and bows. Southwark too was a place of many haberdashers, related to but not specifically connected to the theatre trade. The Christie family, that later turned into the enormously wealthy jewellers, Christies of London, started there in felting and tanning.
Does that parental and sibling profession though not suggest some family dressing up box in Henley Street, back in merry Stratford? It is not the dignified simplicity of Elizabethan home life hinted at by Peter Ackroyd, in his plain remembrance of beds or hearths.
Though Peter Ackroyd says something very important about both a childhood and indeed any writer, in it being a vitally happy experience, if only because Shakespeare’s summoning and remembering of childhood experience could not have been false happiness, without some serious psychic disturbance on the surface of his work. I think those disturbances were to come, but later, and in London, especially in a play like Macbeth, not unrelated to his brother Edmund’s existence and death.
But children learn the delight and importance of playing through dressing up, although teaching in play that life is more than a game, and this was an age of many kinds of dressing up, and undressing too. The truth in Gilbert’s case though is that is more about valuable businesses at the time than any theatrics of his own, but it is important.
There is an obvious reason this story is about Edmund Shakespeare though, and only incidentally the others, and that is of all the three brothers, Edmund Shakespeare alone came to muddy London to be a player too, an actor, and in Southwark. He followed his eldest brother’s first, most heroic profession then, for me, sharing many haunts, giving a special affinity between youngest and oldest. I have always wondered what that must have been like for both of them.
What about names though, as clues in a possible life of Edmund, this effectively lost player Shakespeare? If you are following records, it is important to say that although the name Shakespeare was common enough in rural Warwickshire, as a source of confused identities there, it was very rare indeed in London. ‘One in a million’ says Alan Nelson, although in the London of then, probably three in two hundred thousand.
As for the name Edmund, its biblical association was to prove rather fateful, because it literally means “wealth bringer”. Edmund Shakespeare, unlike the famous eldest, with his experience of court or wealthy patrons, his triumphs and his purchase of New Place in Stratford, was not that at all.
In terms of the name in the plays, there is of course only one, apart from the historical Edmund Mortimer. He is that “Now, God Stand up for bastards” Edmund of King Lear, one of the most malign characters of them all. Both a youngest and a bastard son, who scorns “the monster custom” because of it, and blinds his own father Gloucester, to seize his inheritance and drive out Edgar, in the failure of Lear’s parental ‘Kingship’ and Gloucester’s own foppery. Or Lear’s misguided search for unconditional love from his own daughters.
An Edmund who, in the moral blindness of successive generations, also expresses some preternatural energy about life and Man, perhaps much about London of the time too, in a City now very financially minded and just founding Virginia and East India trading companies to conquer brave new worlds.
It makes Shakespeare’s villains also his heroes. Essential Anti heroes too, like anti-matter to matter, or the evil becoming almost attractive in terms of the inadequacies or hypocrisies of everyone else. Then Shakespeare, the natural philosopher-poet, the great observer, is a playwright, who knew the devil sometimes had the best tunes, trying to move, create and entertain. He is summoning drama, both fixed in life on a page and happening in a head. Being historian or scholar, as Shakespeare writes histories, and being a player-writer, working in a theatre, are very different enterprises. Just as that vital spring of poetry and inspiration is not unrelated to the experience of acting, and sometimes improvising, in the magic circle of a stage.
Although, in the context of Lear and Gloucester, Edmund is a secondary character and anything but a hero, if a villain also allowed the possibility of human redemption. That famous Lear speech of Edmund’s probably has nothing visibly to do with a real Edmund’s life, or personality either, let alone Edmund Shakespeare talking. Yet, from what we know of each other in our own lives, would it not sound loudly in a brother’s mind to hear his own name on a London stage, in his own brother’s play?
Perhaps Edmund Shakespeare our lost player was once cast in Lear, or wanted the role. Except that by now big parts were being taken by well tried actors, gaining status, while there is no mention of an Edmund Shakespeare in any extant play bill. Although the vast majority of those flimsy bits of paper were long trampled into the Elizabethan mud. The evidence though also suggests that Edmund was not in his brother’s troupe, at the increasingly successful Globe, but was or became associated with The Fortune theatre, north of the river Thames.
My search for a real Edmund started in London though, in a pub in Clapham, when a teacher told me she had made a visit with her pupils to Southwark Cathedral, and come across the tomb of an Edmund Shakespeare. It instantly suggested a documentary, film or book, so I made a little pilgrimage.
St Saviour’s Church, as it was then, not so distantly St Mary’s Ovaries Priory too, today squats below modern London Bridge, in a strange chink of time and space, by London’s first muse, the river Thames. A replica of Drake’s world circumnavigating ship The Golden Hinde, like Puck putting a girdle round the earth, sits in what was its river dock. It is I think one of the most beautiful and resonant churches in all of London.
A gentle Cannon showed me to the tomb stone, under the lifting central nave. It was a thrill seeing that deep scored name, Edmund Shakespeare, something like the tomb of the Unknown Soldier for actors and writers, although the stone was laid in the 19th Century.
Right next to it are stones for John Fletcher and Philip Massinger, two playwrights. ‘Ooh, they didn’t mind in those days’, said the goodly Cannon, talking about why Fletcher had asked to be interred next to his ‘boyfriend’, and, if he had, reminding me about debates about Shakespeare’s bisexuality, the game of the sonnets, or patrons like Leicester or Southampton. He also suggested that the Church was far more tolerant in those days, which was and was not true.
There is also an effigy of Will there, on the South wall, rather better and certainly more overtly literary than that puffy Father Christmas oddity at the shrine in Holy Trinity Stratford, that one commentator described as looking like “a pork butcher.” But it was Edmund’s marker, and the presence and proximity of other players and writers, that convinced me this, not Stratford, was the place any investigation should start.
So like any good scholar I looked up Edmund on the internet to find some immediately redolent or concrete facts. It is full of compounding mistakes, that relay the myths, yet in the vein of programmes like Do You Know Who You Are the opportunities for useful genealogical work are also invaluable.
An Edmund Shakespeare had certainly been baptized though, in the Church at Holy Trinity on May 3, 1580. Here was the first evidence he had really mewled into the world, but it did not go much beyond that. In fact there are only six discovered records that do, or might, refer to any Edmund Shakespeare. The first is that baptism record. All the rest refer only to the single year 1607, the year he died in Southwark.
One appears in something called a Token Book, in the Southwark Liberty of Bankside. Two more refer to a July and August birth and death of an infant son, in St Leonard’s Shoreditch and St Giles, Cripplegate, both neighbouring areas, over a mile north of the river, but directly linked to theatres too, especially Shorditch. Henry VIII’s own Court Jester, Will Summers, was buried in St Leonard’s in 1560, as was Richard Burbage later.
The last two are burial records, one a loose leafed document, the other in the main register, when Edmund Shakespeare died in the river side parish of Southwark at only 27. Although lives were much shorter then, development earlier, it spoke of a little tragedy, if not a fall from some great height.
There is a problem with these records too though, namely that they were not only in the hands of, but highlighted in significance by the famous disgraced 19th Century critic and forger, John Payne Collier. It is one of the reasons Edmund was rediscovered and a tomb stone laid. Collier himself is a fascinating character, perhaps too much maligned, if Kermode is right to remark that he might have left a record of where his inventions or reinventions are. But immediately the possibility of forgery sprang into view and perhaps the pointlessness of any such quest too.
I argue its value on other records alone, completely unrelated to Edmund Shakespeare, but giving astonishing insights into the life and history of Southwark at the time. As for forgery, after looking into it there is only one record which, in my view, might still be an addition, in that Token Book, because of the quality of the ink. It would undermine my research into where Edmund was actually staying, although a place itself independently valuable to studying the period and his brother.
Edmund’s name in the loose leaf burial note from St Saviour’s and then the official register too, also appear in a very striking place indeed, namely December 31st, 1607, and right at the end of other names. That immediately flags the possibility of later insertion. So it is the name and profession appearing in registers from north London then, also in 1607, where forgery is impossible, that makes Edmund’s presence in London and his profession undeniable.
The lingering doubt in the Southwark burial register is because of its fortuitous position, and because two other names of buried residents that occur after Edmund’s in the loose leaf record are missing in the main register.
I think both real too, because of ink and style, with the simple explanation that the person copying over into the main register neglected to turn over the loose leaf page. The last two are the most significant because they speak of a burial “inside ye church” and with a forenoon toll of the great bell – 20S; twenty shillings.
To turn too to the record of the birth and death of a child though, four months earlier in 1607. First comes that reference to a christening in St Leonard’s, Shoreditch of an infant son whose father was Edmund Shakesbye, although such a variation was very possible in mishearing’s. Not to mention that family names are somewhat held in dialect. Henslowe’s ‘diary’ calls the playwright that we know in ‘Received Pronunciation’ as Thomas Dekker – Dikker. Christenings were also the places where parental records of a profession are most frequent, actually only fathers mentioned. The entry has a side notation about where the parents were; Morefields. It is on July 12th, 1607, and though it says “on the same daye“, that does not refer to a christening on the day of the birth, thus urgency, but the same day as other children listed, ie July 12th.
It was not a happy christening, but it happens that it took place in a year that was a happy time for William Shakespeare, June 5th, 1607 seeing the marriage of his daughter Susanna to John Hall in Stratford. It would have taken him home from London, to give his favourite away.
Then, exactly a month later, on August 12th, 1607, there is a death in neighbouring St Giles, Cripplegate, of Edward, sonne of an Edward Shakespeere player. The confusion of first names is easy and I do not dwell too much on the spellings of Shakespere, Shakespeer or Shakespeare, because spelling varied wildly, and its codification, especially in being turned into printed and standardising English, is as much part of this story as the liberation of language and wordplay. At the death though Edmund’s child was marked out as being ‘base born’. That struck a very loud chord indeed out of King Lear’s defiant Edmund – “why bastard, wherefore base?” – although this was a dead infant child, a son, to unmarried parents.
The sixth record, in that Token Book, needs some discussion of what Token Books are. They were local parish tallies, made by roundsmen, roughly recording houses, streets and the names of residents buying Communion tokens, for shillings, that they would then hand back to the Church as proof of attendance.
They were thus simultaneously a kind of church tithe, a record of parishioners and became a potential means to guard against Catholic Recusancy too. It is important to note that the accusation of Recusancy was more common at times of threat, real or presumed, but attendance at Communion was officially expected probably no more than once a year. That the Token Books can be hard to decipher too and are rather scrubby, and that some even appear to have been copied out of a previous year’s Token Book lists.
In themselves though they are an enormous resource and also reflect fascinating forms of very local economics, just as tokens found in the area of Southwark, stamped with symbols like The Dogge and Duck, or The Frying Pan, allowed for commerce, credit and barter beyond the minted coin. If we think money is a real thing, in the physical fact of gold or minted money, just look at our credit driven world.
There is perhaps one more ‘record’ of Edmund Shakespeare, in a suitably gloomy portrait circulated on the Internet, though no precise reason to say it is him at all. It shows a rather mournful figure, as limp haired and faced as his Jacobean ruff, though with that high forehead of the Droshout engraving, or the Folio, perhaps one doomed to die young, like a Shakespearian bit part player.
But back to that burial, inside the Church, and with a forenoon toll of St Saviour’s great bell. The story had long tolled bells in local mythology and that friendly cannon confirmed the legend. Edmund Shakespeare had not been buried outside in the churchyard, at the standard cost of around 3 shillings, but inside a very great Church, in a freezing winter, and a church of deep significance in the story of the Reformation in London. With an expensive honouring toll of the great bell too, because it then cost a penny for a short river ride.
So then, in a story that happens in reverse, to evoke the alchemies and even magic that Shakespeare is always attempting inside himself, and in a theatre space, taking you from an end to brighter beginnings, let’s go back to 1607. To explain why Edmund Shakespeare’s little story, “The biography of an Unrecorded Life”, is so important, for itself, but just as importantly because it is the story of Southwark, of London, of William Shakespeare and the English language.

To come: The Deadman’s Portion: Cold Doings in London

Copyright David Clement-Davies 2012 – All Rights Reserved

Phoenix Ark would like to recommend that anyone interested in this or Southwark supports the work of John Constable and the petition he has started to turn Crossbones Graveyard into a memorial garden there. If you are interested Click Here<a href="Cross Bones Graveyard heritage site Petition | GoPetition“>


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