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Alice Spencer (c. 1560-1637)
Lady Strange, Countess of Derby (via her first husband Ferdinando
Stanley of Lancashire, Lord Strange and 5 th Earl of Derby);
Baroness Ellesmere and Viscountess Brackley (via her second husband Sir Thomas Egerton of Cheshire);
patroness and dedicatee of many Tudor and Stuart poets and playwrights (including Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne and Milton);
sister-in-law of Barons William Stanley, 3rd Lord Mounteagle (from Lancashire) and George Carey, 2nd Lord Hundson (patron of Shakespeare in the Chamberlain's Men) plus Robert Sackville, 2nd Earl of Dorset, son of Queen Elizabeth's treasurer and father of the 3rd Earl of Dorset, who married Lady Anne Clifford, first cousin of Countess Alice's first husband Ferdinando, etc., etc
Materials for a future biography of Countess Alice.
The long sub-title in itself perhaps explains why Countess Alice of Derby née Spencer deserves a full biography. She was a rather formidable lady, who has fascinated me on and off for many years, ever since I first discovered her living in the Manor of Anglezarke in Lancashire in 1623, rent free for life, named in Alexander Standish of Duxbury's inquisition post mortem of 1623. Alexander had died the previous year and the full text of his ipm appears under his biography. A postscript to this relates my recent attempt to locate the house in Anglezarke where she might have lived, as one of the latest steps in the ‘Duxbury to Shakespeare story'. At every step of the way in the ‘Standish of Duxbury story' the early Earls and Countesses of Derby had kept appearing, so in one sense it was no great surprise to find Dowager Countess Alice associated rather intimately with a Standish of Duxbury.
The main surprise was that she had almost completely escaped the attention of Shakespeare biographers (even those researching ‘Shakespeare in Lancashire'), along with Rev. William Leigh, Rector of Standish Parish Church from 1586 until his death in 1639. She was mentioned in his will when Leigh bequeathed a silver cup received from Countess Alice to his brother-in-law Sir Edward Wrightington of Wrightington. The main details were reported by Rev. T. C. Porteus (a curate and Rector of Standish in the early 20 th century, later a Canon and Rector at St George's, Chorley until his death in the 1950s) in The History of the Parish of Standish , 1927, who also provided additional details about Rev. William that did not appear in his biography in the ‘Old' Dictionary of National Biography .
My early suspicion that these details might be of relevance to 'Shakespeare in Lancashire' were vindicated every step of the way during ever wider reading. Countess Alice was obviously in the middle of Shakespeare circles, Alexander Standish of Duxbury (died 1622) was obviously closely involved in many local and national events of relevance to ‘Shakespeare in Lancashire', Rev. William Leigh was often in London as tutor to Prince Henry, King James I's son and heir, and these were all obviously involved closely with each other and the Earls of Derby in Lancashire and London. Rev. Porteus also obligingly provided a biography of Rev. Leigh's brother-in-law Sir Edward Wrightington of Wrightington, who happened to have received an epigram from John Weever (poet from Preston) in his Epigrammes (1599).
This is meanwhile an attempt to gather together the main details discovered so far about Countess Alice. She appears in much literature reporting on the history of the time but, as mentioned above, barely so far in Shakespeare's biography (e.g. she achieved one mention in Michael Wood's index, In Search of Shakespeare , 2003, p. 138, as the dedicatee of Spenser's Tears of the Muses ). The main problem in reconstructing her biography was that she lived in so many counties in England and much information has remained rather local. Her life presents another jigsaw puzzle, where all extant details still remain to be pieced together and no doubt many will remain missing.
My main geographical attempts to come a little closer to her haunts were a visit to Althorp Hall in Northamptonshire (where she was perhaps born, but this was in any case the main seat of her parents), in search for any details about her childhood (where I discovered nothing about her, but was alerted to the importance of her two sisters and a brother); Knowsley Hall in Lancashire, where her only large portrait hangs in the Dining Room; Middlesex, where she was most definitely living on and off between 1601 (after her second marriage to Sir Thomas Egerton of Cheshire) and her death in 1637 (with her burial and a magnificent tomb in Harefield Parish Church); and Anglezarke in Lancashire, where she was definitely living at least 1622-3.
Although her family home was in Northamptonshire, she was related somehow to Edmund Spenser, poet, etc. (with his traditional Lancashire origins); she married first Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange (whose Strange's Players were obviously instrumental in Shakespeare's early career); she married secondly (1600) Sir Thomas Egerton from Cheshire (later Baron Ellesmere and Viscount Brackley), James's Lord Chancellor, and they bought Harefield in Middlesex (1601), where they entertained Queen Elizabeth in 1602 with Burbage's troupe of actors (which certainly included Shakespeare at this time). She obviously knew Ben Jonson, John Donne and John Milton rather well and several of the writers of the articles reproduced below took it for granted that she knew Shakespeare.
Many details about her life while married to Ferdinando and her battles in court with brother-in-law William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby, appear in the standard literature on the Earls of Derby (mainly Seacome, Coward and Bagley), but many details of her later life seem to have remained unknown to historians in Lancashire. And the Alexander Standish episode has been completely overlooked so far.
The complete relevant text by John Seacome (first published in 1741) appears (will appear) under ‘materials for a biography of William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby'. The full title was: J. Seacome, Memoirs; containing a genealogical and historical account of the ancient and honourable house of Stanley, from the Conquest to the death of James late Earl of Derby, in the year 1735; as also a full description of the Isle of Man, etc . (Liverpool, 1741). This saw several reprints and updates during the 18 th century. Seacome was steward to the Derby household and had access to the family papers and traditions. His was the first serious attempt to relate their history from documents and bring it up to date, and as such is an invaluable source, although he had relatively little to report about Countess Alice. The two other main Derby sources are Barry Coward, The Stanleys: Lords Stanley and Earls of Derby 1385-1671 , Chetham Society 3 rd Series, Vol. 30 (1983) and J. J. Bagley, The Earls of Derby 1485-1985 (London, 1985). For the moment their details about Alice remain there, but will be incorporated in a future more complete biography. Coward's main (scholarly) aim was to examine the rise and fall in power, influence and wealth of the family between his dates, which brought Alice into the picture because she was one cause of reducing the Derby estates considerably. Bagley's aim was to tell a popular story of 18 Earls, their Countesses and all their children in less than two hundred pages, which did not allow much space for Alice. However, these two accounts complement each other and remain the most complete so far of her life from the Lancashire end of the story.
One recent book of relevance to Alice's role in the aftermath of the Hesketh Plot in 1593 and Ferdinando's gruesome death a few months later is by Francis Edwards, Plots and Plotters in the Reign of Elizabeth I (Four Courts Press, 2002, ISBN 1-85182-614-9). His introduction and text make his position very clear: it is basically a plea by a Jesuit for a reappraisal of all 'Catholic plots' during Elizabeth's reign, which inexorably led up to the Gunpowder Plot (to be covered in a promised future book by Edwards). My main appreciation was that it presents a blow by blow account with full references and a repetition of all known details of the Hesketh Plot. My reservations concerning Countess Alice lie in Edwards's depiction of her as a poor victim of the manipulations of the Cecils (father Sir William, Lord Burghley, Elizabeth's chief minister, and son Sir Robert, later Earl of Salisbury and James's chief minister).
There is no way I can regard her as the victim of anything other than rather peculiar circumstances at various stages of her life. She comes across to me, from all details encountered so far, as a rather formidable and feisty lady, manipulating others rather than being manipulated. ‘Formidable' was an adjective written by Coward (1983), meanwhile Professor of History at Birkbeck College, London; ‘feisty' came from historian Dr Brendan Cole, current Keeper of the Earl of Derby's Collections, during a recent phone conversation. I concur.
Her role as patroness and dedicatee was first covered in some detail by Thomas Heywood, The Earls of Derby and the Verse Writers and poets of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries, The Stanley Papers, Part I , Chetham Society Old Series, Vol. 29 (1853). Some of her movements around Lancashire between 1587 and 1590 are listed in F. R. Raines (ed.) The Derby Household Books, the Stanley Papers, Part II , Chetham Society Old Series, Vol. 57 (1862).
Countess Alice at Harefield and Haydon, Middlesex
The following articles were gathered together by Sylvia Ladyman, Outings Organiser of the Ruislip, Northwood and Eastcote History Association, and are all are available in the Local Studies section in Ruislip Library, Middlesex. I hereby express my enormous gratitude to Sylvia, who kindly sent photocopies of all in September – December, 2003. Inevitably, some details are repeated in articles below, but each has its own merits, and put together, these details will allow a future rather realistic reconstruction of Countess Alice's later biography
(1) The Lady of Harefield Place
by Iva Howard, Middlesex Quarterly, Winter 1953
Near the banks of the river Colne to the north of Uxbridge squats a country church. It belongs to Harefield, a village not yet caught up in the tentacles of London Transport's railways, but accessible from Uxbridge and Northwood by bus. Inside the church is a monument to Alice, Countess of Derby, who lived near here some 350 years ago, one of the most cultured ladies ever to grace the aristocracy.
She takes her place in our history because, in the course of a long and busy life, Lady Alice, patroness of the arts, knew personally four of the greatest poets of the English tongue, Spenser, Donne, Shakespeare and Milton. In this she is believed to be unique.
Edmund Spenser claimed to be her kinsman and dedicated his "Teares of the Muses" to her. John Donne, foremost of English metaphysical poets, she helped out of a matrimonial scrape. Shakespeare was a member of the theatrical company of which her first husband was patron, while in her later years young John Milton composed "Comus" for the pleasure and delight of herself and her family.
I recently went to Harefield to find out more about this lovely countess, who lived in the far-off days of Elizabethan exploits. And in the ancient church I met her as she really was. The effigy on her painted monument is so lifelike that I expected her to sit up and tell me about that famous visit of the 31st July to the 2nd August, 1602, when Queen Elizabeth came to stay and it rained all the time.
Huge Four-poster Bed
Lady Alice lies on what looks like a huge four-poster bed, its curtains carved to represent folds, tied with cords and tassels. Her clear-cut features, her beautiful complexion, her long golden hair are preserved for all time. Her head rests upon two green cushions trimmed with gold tassels. She wears a farthingale of glowing red, with a ruff and an ermine cloak. She has a necklace, gold earrings and a coronet. Her crest is at her feet and many coats of arms adorn the monument. In three recesses there are kneeling effigies of her daughters, all of whom married early. The whole monument with its bright colours and gilding, gives an impression of life rather than of death.
Youngest daughter of Sir John Spencer of Althorpe, she was born in the year 1561 into a family rapidly rising to eminence, a family which in later years produced the Duke of Marlborough and his stalward ( sic ) descendant, Sir Winston Spencer Churchill.
Over Three Reigns
Her life extended over three reigns. When she was a baby, Queen Elizabeth had only recently come to the throne. By the time she died at the age of 76, James I had come and gone and his brother Charles, his head as yet securely on his shoulders, ruled the country,
In 1579 Alice Spencer married Ferdinando, Lord Strange, who subsequently became the fifth Earl of Derby. In due course they produced the three daughters, Frances, Anne and Elizabeth , who kneel at their mother's feet in Harefield Church. When she was only 33 years of age her beloved young husband died.
However, the Dowager Countess was far too attractive to remain a widow and after several years, she succumbed to the persistent pleading of Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper to the Queen. On October 20th, 1600 she became his third wife.
It was not altogether a happy marriage and you will notice that there is no mention of her second husband on the monument although they lived together until his death in 1617.
But if their private life was tempestuous, from a literary point of view it was a most interesting period. It was the time moreover when they lived at Harefield.
Harefield Place was a charming country mansion, which they bought jointly in 1601, shortly after their marriage. Nothing remains of the house today (except a few fragments of its garden wall) owing to a gentleman of the 17th Century who had predilections for reading in bed. He overturned his candle and the whole place was burned to the ground. On the site instead you can see the graves of 110 Australian soldiers, who died of their wounds in the hospital set up here during the first World War.
Less than two years after their marriage, the Egertons entertained the Queen at Harefield Place and met Shakespeare. Extravagant preparations were made for this great occasion and in the end the week-end visit cost the Lord Keeper a quarter of his annual Salary!
The expense accounts make interesting reading, particularly the following entry:
6 Aug. 1602
Rewards to the Vaulters, players and dancers (of this £10 to Bur- bidges Players)
£64 18 10
Behind this laconic item is concealed a wealth of romance. For Richard Burbidge ( sic ) had in his company at that time a 38-year old actor called William Shakespeare. It is almost certain that he helped to enliven this wet week-end. It was formerly believed that the production was "Othello", performed here for the first time, but it has since been established that the play was not published until 1604.
Bill for Butter
Did the hostess take it all calmly? Or do you suppose she didn't sleep a wink, but lay awake worrying about the bill for the butter which came to £33 16s. 8d.?
I wish she would turn over on her monument, lean on her elbow and tell me. I would like to know too about her later friendship with John Milton, who lived for several years at Horton a few miles from Harefield Place.
In 1634 he wrote "Arcades" by which he meant the beautiful Colne Valley. The masque was presented at Harefield with Lady Alice in the seat of honour, and a torchlight procesion wound its way through the park. By this time she was an old lady. Once again a widow, her old age was consoled by the fact that her three daughters were now all countesses and that she had a number of titled grandchildren. Many of them acted in this masque, which was then a favourite form of outdoor entertainment.
Lady Alice, full of vitality still, was delighted by its success and later suggested to John Milton that he write another masque. The young poet thought he could. He wrote that exquisite piece, "Comus", which was performed at Ludlow Castle. This was probably the last occasion of any consequence in her life, for she died on the 26th January, 1637, having made her will only a month before on Christmas Eve, 1636.
As you leave the church and climb the hill back into Harefield village, you will come upon another monument to the Countess of Derby, a reminder of a different side to her versatile character. This is a group of brick almshouses, huddled round a small courtyard, their tall red chimneys pointing fingers to the sky.
Lady Alice had these almshouses built. In her will she left £36 a year to provide for the inhabitants. £30 was to be divided among the six old women who lived there; £1 a year was to be put aside for repairs; and £5 a year paid to the curate to read the service or some prayers to them daily.
(2) Harefield's Place in History,
by Morris W. Hughes, New Middlesex County Pictorial, June/July 1962
(The first few paragraphs give a brief history of Harefield, ending: "It passed from the Swanland family to the Newdigates, by marriage, but in 1585 it passed [out] of their hands.)
Harefield embarked upon some of the more illustrious years of its history when Alice, the Dowager Countess of Derby came into possession of the Manor in 1601. Just before she came to the village the Countess had married her second husband, Sir Thomas Egerton, the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. He had been present at the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots.
The Countess was held in high esteem in the village, as the monument to her memory in the parish church bears witness. She was a patron of John Milton the poet, who often visited her, and wrote for her a masque of Arcades. Milton saw this play acted for the first time on the sloping parkland, in front of the Manor House by the church.
Of Harefield, Milton wrote: -
"Meadows trim, with daisies pied,
Shallow brooks and rivers wide."
In the summer of 1602 Queen Elizabeth I of England paid a visit to her great friend, the Countess. She came on horseback along the lanes, stopping at Dew's Farm, to be greeted by two characters calling themselves, Place and Time. They spoke verses of welcome to the Queen, which had probably been written by Milton.
She stayed at the Manor House for three days. Her visit brought with it a measure of prosperity, such as the villagers had not previously known. Walter Larke supplied meat to the value of more than £177. Six guineas worth of tallow candles were burned, as well as £79 worth of oylle supplied by Abraham Viell. A great number of courtiers accompanied the Queen, for in addition to the stores bought in the village, a hundred pigeons, 50 chickens, 20 pigges and much else, other food was forthcoming from the many friends of Sir Thomas Egerton. They brought with them, or sent, 13 stags, 11 oxen, 65 muttons, 74 bucks, 150 lobsters and 15 swans. Jerry Weston and his men, who attended to the beere and wine, were paid £7.3.6. Mr Hart the Earbe man was paid £14.
William Shakespeare was there to direct the performance of his own work, Othello, being played before the Queen. The payment for Vaulters, Players and Dancers came to £64.18.10. The bill which Sir Thomas had to meet came to more than £4,000.
After this momentous occasion Milton wrote:-
"There let Hymen oft appear
In saffron robe with taper clear,
and pomp, and feast, and revelry,
With masque and antique pageantry;
Such sights as youthful poets dream
On summer eve by haunted stream."
It is recorded that at one of Milton's entertainments presented to the Countess at the Manor House, there were some noble persons of her family. These were probably her grandchildren, the children of the Earl of Bridgewater, her husband's son, who had married her daughter, Lady Frances Stanley.
The estate passed by marriage into the ownership of Lord Chandos. He died in 1655 leaving it to his widow. She married Sir William Sedley. On his death she married yet again, this time to Mr. George Pitt, to whom she made over the property. The house was burnt to the ground in 1660. The fire was attributed to the carelessness of the dissolute companion of Charles II, Sir Charles Sedley, who was said to have been in bed when the curtains of the huge four-poster caught light. It was well known that although his sister-in-law had taken unto herself another husband after his brother's death, the gay Sir Charles often visited her.
The mansion was rebuilt on another site by Sir Richard Newdigate, who bought the estate from George Pitt in 1675, thus bringing the ownership back into the family after a lapse of ninety years. Sir Roger Newdigate lived at the the Manor House, when in 1743 he was returned to Parliament to represent Middlesex. He was the founder of the prize for English Verse, which bears his name, at Oxford University. When he went to live in Warwickshire, he sold the house, but not the manor, to John Truesdale, Esquire. When he died in 1780, it was bought by William Baynes, Esquire. His son was created a baronet, taking the title of Sir Christopher Baynes of Harefield Place.
Mr Charles Newdigate inherited all the Middlesex estates of Sir Roger. He bought the house, which had been re-named Harefield Place, from Sir Christopher. He decided not to live in it, but took up his residence in Harefield Lodge. Toward the end of the 18th century he had the seat of the Manor, Harefield Place, pulled down.
The next mansion to bear the name of Harefield Place was built by Mr. Newdigate much nearer to Uxbridge. He sold it toward the end of the 19th century to Colonel Cox, a member of the banking family.
It is now the Uxbridge Country Hospital.
The Church of St. Mary the Virgin
. . . To the right of the altar is the imposing tomb and monument of the lady of whom Milton wrote: -
"O'er the smooth enamelled green
Where no print of step hath been,
Follow me, as I sing,
And touch the warbled string;
Under the shady roof
Of branching elm star-proof,
I will bring you where she sits
Cold in splendour as befits
Such a rural Queen
All Arcadia hath not seen.
The rural Queen was of course, Alice, the Dowager Countess of Derby.
(3)The bed just ain't what it used to be,
by Christine Sheppard, Hillingdon Mirror, 2 December 1969
The 17th century was the age of the Bed. Never before had beds been so big, so important or so gorgeous. . . It was not unusual to have your portrait painted in bed, while some people became so fond of their four-posters that they decided to be buried in replicas of them.
An example of this is in St, Mary's Church, Harefield, where the tomb of Alice Spenser, Countess of Derby and Queen of the Isle of Man, soars above the altar. With its raised dais slender columns, brilliantly coloured curtains and domed ceiling, the monument has been inspired by a Venetian four-poster. Perhaps the Countess had a beautiful bed like this in her mansion, which used to stand next door to the church.
Although 78 when she died in 1637, Alice's effigy shows her as a young, lovely and fashionable Jacobean noble-woman . . . and above her is the "rich embroidered canopy" which, according to Shakespeare, shaded the sleep of princes. It is appropriate to mention Shakespeare and this lady in the same breath for she and her first husband helped the struggling dramatist in the early years of his career.
Fernando ( sic ), Earl of Derby, a strange, dark, glittering young man, was a great patron of the arts - not least of which were the black ones. Known as "the Wizard Earl" and suspected of dabbling in necromancy, his sudden, mysterious end in 1594 was put down to the diabolical influence of a person named Hacket ( sic actually Hesketh) who had hidden a wax image stuck full of pins under his lordship's pillow. ( This is a highly romantisiced version of the ‘official story'. Apart from any other details, the wax image was not under Ferdinando's pillow, but in a corner of the room .)
With astonishing resilience not uncommon among women at the time Alice felt able by 1600 to make a second marriage with grumpy old Sir Thomas Edgerton ( sic )) a high official at Court, who brought her to Harefield Place. Although they lived together for 17 years, the Dowager Countess never really got on with her second husband, who one suspects was rather an anti-climax after Lord Fernando. It is noteworthy that poor Sir Thomas does not even rate a mention on her tomb.
(4) Countess Alice at Haydon Hall, Eastcote
From a talk given by Mr L. E. Morris
at Eastcote Residents Association Meeting on 1/3/1955
I now turn to Haydon Hall. Until very recently its history was almost a complete blank, but a good deal of information has now come to light. The personal name Haydon appears in the fourteenth century court rolls of the manor, and in 1562 Francis, John and Lucy Haydon surrendered a messuage in "Ascott", and other property to William Nicholas. In 1614 William Nicholas of "Haydons" acquired land in Steanefield; thus the name of the earlier owners had attached itself to the property despite the change in ownership. There is no evidence that anything meriting the title of hall existed then. Hunting for further facts I found that much later in the century Haydon Hall belonged to Lord Chandos and then by mere chance I came upon a letter written in 1630 by Alice Countess of Derby, who lived at Harefield Place, in which she referred to "the house which I am building".
Knowing of the Chandos connexion with Haydon Hall and Lady Derby's connexion with that family I immediately began to wonder if the new house was Haydon Hall, and then I had a further stroke of luck. I came upon a licence issued by the Bishop of London to the Countess permitting her to build a box pew in the chancel of Ruislip parish church. The licence describes her as "of Haydon Hall." This is the first known reference to the property by that name. But that is by no means the most interesting part of the story. What did the Countess want with a residence in Eastcote when she already had a splendid mansion in the adjoining parish? The explanation is partly to be found in the letter I have just mentioned and partly in other records. The Countess had three daughters, one of whom, Anne, had married first Lord Chandos and then, on his death, an unsavoury character, Mervyn Touchet, Earl of Castlehaven. Lady Castlehaven was entitled to the reversion of Harefield Place, and her mother was determined that her wicked son-in-law should not get his hands on anything but an empty house.
Accordingly, she built Haydon Hall as a handy repository for her movable property. "Besides," she wrote, " I am sometimes from home at the house which I am building to set it forward, that if it should please God to call for me, I might have a place to lay my stuff in out of my Lord Castlehaven's fingering." People build houses for many reasons, but surely it is not often they build them as an insurance, as it were, against worthless sons-in-law. The irony of it is that Haydon Hall need never have been built, for only a year later Castlehaven was beheaded for his crimes. Nevertheless, Haydon Hall no doubt proved useful, possibly as a home for Lady Castlehaven, who resumed the name of Chandos, and her son, who eventually came into the property. In the Hearth Tax returns of 1662-63 William Lord Chandos heads the list, with 18 fire hearths, beating Ralph Hawtrey by three.
Chandos surrendered Haydon Hall in 1674 to his three daughters, who a year later sold it to George Sitwell, a merchant, who had married one of Ralph Hawtrey's daughters. Sitwell was either unfortunate or a bad business man, for his affairs went adrift increasingly; he had to mortgage Haydon Hall and later he became bankrupt. One of his creditors was Sir Thomas Franklin, Bart., of Pinner Hill, who had married another of Ralph Hawtrey's daughters. Sir Thomas bought the property from his fellow creditors in 1698. The Haydon Hall we see today is thought to be partly the work of Franklin. The two wings are Victorian, but the centre block is of early eighteenth century appearance and is presumably the surviving portion of the "new erected mansion house" which Sir Thomas mentions in his will dated 1720. Sir Thomas Franklin not only rebuilt the house, destroying so far as one can see, every trace of Lady Derby's building, but he also tried without success to change its name to Deane. . .
It has since passed through a good many hands, but has not been c lived in for some years. It could be quite a handsome building and there is some good panelling, but it is now a sorry wreck of a house and anyone interested would be well advised to look at it while there is yet time.
( Unfortunately no time is left, as it has been demolished, but the surrounding park is still there. Ruislip Library has a folder of photocopies from various sources .)
(5) The Kings of England - London North of the Thames
by Arthur Mee, Hodder and Stoughton Ltd., 1972
ISBN 0340 15874 3, pp. 228-9.)
( After a description of Alice's tomb, he continues :) They lived in a great house beside the church and here in 1602, Sir Thomas and his lady entertained the queen herself for three days and it is said that the Lord Chamberlain's Men acted Othello before her with Shakespeare in the company. Their house was demolished in the early 19th century but the avenue of elms leading to it remains and is still called the Queen's Walk. Lady Egerton, who was always known as the Countess, became a formidable local figure; she founded the almshouses near the church (they have recently been restored), and fought long and brisk battle with the townsfolk of Uxbridge over the payment of market tolls. In 1634, the countess had become a grandmother, but was not too old to enjoy another theatrical performance, a masque called Arcades by young John Milton, a friend of her protégé, the musician Henry Lawes. The old lady, who had entertained Queen Elizabeth I and had probably spoken to Shakespeare, sat in a chair of state and watched torches coming towards her up the avenue in the dusk of a summer evening. The verses were spoken by her grandchildren who were doubly dear to her, being the offspring of her second daughter, Frances, and her stepson, John Egerton, who became the Earl of Bridgewater. When it was all over, it was declared such a success that Milton was asked to write something else to be performed at a family gathering at Ludlow Castle that autumn where John Egerton was the Keeper; he wrote the masque called Comus . Two years later Dame Alice died and they buried her in the little church beside her great house. But the life-sized figure on her tomb shows, not the old lady who was laid to rest, but the magnificent long-haired beauty who had welcomed England's queen.
The Newdigates were the grandchildren of Lord Chancellor Egerton and the house where they all lived has gone.
( In a previous paragraph, he has some interesting comments about Newdigates :) Returning to the Newdigate monuments in the church, there is a charming one of 1610 in the south aisle, splendid with colour and gold, where Sir John kneels in armour, facing his wife who wears a French headdress and farthingale, a desk and a winged skull between them. Below them kneel two sons and three daughters. A poem tells us of the knight's virtues; it ends:
Weepe, then whoe'er this stone doth see
Unless more hard than stone thou bee.
( Could this be another candidate for a Shakespeare epitaph ?)
(6) St Mary's Church, Harefield
by Eileen Bowlte
Hillingdon Family History Society Magazine
Journal No. 64, December 2003
The glory of St Mary's lies in its monuments, particularly those dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth century, decorated wtih colourful heraldic devices. . . The most magnificent is that to Lady Alice, Dower Countess of Derby, for whom Harefield had been purchased at the time of her second marriage to Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal and later Lord Chancellor, in 1601. . .
Her figure dressed in a red farthingale and ermine-trimmed cloak, with long
unbound hair and a coronet on her head, lies on a
Venetian style bed. Curtains falling from a domed canopy are drawn back and tied around the marble bed-posts. Her three daughters, similarly dressed, kneel in niches below. The whole is adorned with her heraldic achievements, including eagles at each corner of the tester, alluding to her position as Lady of Man, during her first marriage to Ferdinando, Earl of Derby, as the Stanleys were the Lords of the Isle of Man. Maximillian Colt designed this delectable monument and perhaps did better for Lady Alice in Harefield than he did for Queen Elizabeth in Westminster Abbey. She does, however, undoubtedly dominate the church, as the red encroaches upon the altar and the chancel is in any event set high above the nave, up five steps.
The red-brick almshouses with a small courtyard in front and very tall chimneys standing in Church Hill above the church are another memorial of Lady Alice. They were built after her death in 1637, in accordance with directions in her will, to provide accommodation for six poor women presided over by a master who would read prayers for them. Each inmate was to receive a pension of £5 a year. Lady Alice's Almshouses are being renovated to meet modern health and safety requirements and will reopen in October 2003, as two separate dwellings for women from the local area.
(7) Inscriptions on the tomb
THIS IS Y E MONU=
=MENT OF ALICE CUVNTESSE
DOWAGER OF DERBY, ONE OF
Y E DAVGHT RS OF S: R JOHN SPENCER
OF ALLTHROP IN Y E COUNTY OF NORTHÂP
TON KN T , & WIFE OF Y E RIGHT HONO: BLE
FERDENA N DO EARLE OF DERBY, BY
WHOME SHE HAD ISSUE 3 DAVGHT: RS ,
HIS DAVGHT RS (??????) ANN Y E ELDST
MARIED TO GRAY L D CHAND OS FRAVNCES
Y E SECOND TO JOHN EARLE OF BRIDGEWA TER
ELIZABETH Y E 3 TO HENRY EARLE OF
HVNTINGDÕ. THIS COVNTESS DIED Y E
26 OF IAN, 1636. & HER AFORESAID HONO BLE
LORD & HUSBAND (WHO DIED BEFORE HER)
LIETH BVRIED IN Y E PARISH CHURCHE
OF ORMESKERKE W TH HIS AVNCESTO RS WHOS E
SOULES REMAINE IN EVERLASTING JOY.
(Added later, behind Alice's head)
This Noble Ladys Second
husband was my Lord Chan.
cellor Eggerton: whose
only Daughter, was Mother
to JULIAN Lady