Alice Spencer (c. 1560-1637)


 

Basic dates and details about Countess Alice

c. 1560

Birth

Reported as 1559 and 1561. These seem to be inspired guesses rather than based on any extant record, but we can probably settle on c. 1560 as a fairly realistic date.

Father

Sir John Spencer (d. 1586) of Wormleighton, Warwickshire and  Althorp, Northamptonshire (from the family tree at Althorp). The family was regarded at the time as "nouveaux riches, having made their fortune from sheep rearing. At the top of their family tree (at Althorp) is William Spencer of Delford, Worcs. (fl. c. 1330), with Sir Johns grandfather Sir William Spencer (d. 1532) as the first at Althorp.  Intriguingly, intervening generations were in Snitterfield, near Stratford in Warwickshire, home of Richard Shakespeare/ Shakestaff, alleged grandfather of William Shakespeare in the conventional story of Shakespeares biography. This version of the early history gives no hint at their connections with the Lancashire Spencers, but poet Edmund Spenser (with alleged Lancashire roots) was later to claim kinship with Countess Alice, and they shared the same coat of arms.

Mother

Catherine, daughter of Sir Thomas Kitson of Hengrove, Suffolk.

Place in family

Youngest (?) of three (surviving) daughters. (She is reported on occasion as the eldest and one of six daughters.)  She certainly had two sisters who made notable marriages in Shakespeare circles, and a brother, another Sir John Spencer, who had a house in London in 1596 in the same parish as Shakespeare. The dramatists goods were valued at five shillings and Sir Johns at three hundred pounds. More about this when we reach this year.

1560-78/9

Youth

Nothing has been discovered about her life before her first marriage. There is no portrait at Althorp, nor any detail reported about her there.

c. 1578/9 Marriage, when Alice became Lady Strange.

To Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange, son and heir of Henry, 4th Earl of Derby and Margaret Clifford, daughter of the 2nd Earl of Cumberland. It was through his mother that he had a claim to the throne. She was a granddaughter of Mary Tudor, younger sister of Henry VIII, and therefore first cousin of another granddaughter, Lady Jane Grey (executed in 1554 after being Queen for nine days). Most previous accounts in Derby literature converge on Ferdinandos birth in 1558/9 and the marriage was therefore probably when he was about 20 and Alice a year or two younger. They must have been very well aware of Ferdinandos ancestry and all his dangerous relatives. At the time of their marriage, the main dangerous relative still alive was Mary, Queen of Scots  (1542-87), with many of Ferdinandos kinsmen attempting to further her cause.

 

He had spent some of his youth at court, being groomed in the manners and life-style appropriate to his future role as Earl of Derby, virtual king of Lancashire, Cheshire and the Isle of Man, and Queen Elizabeths bulwark in these areas. He had been matriculated at Oxford University in 1572 (at the ripe young age of about 13, along with his younger brothers William and Francis), but with no details about his (their) success at studies (or not). Any date given previously for their marriage seems to be guesswork, but was presumably at the latest around mid-1579, because of the birth of a daughter the following year. The Strange title was the hereditary title of the son and heir of the Earl of Derby since a marriage with a Strange heiress of Shropshire. This marriage (Ferdinando-Alice) raised a few eyebrows at the time, because the Earls of Derby were long established as a prominent family in Tudor times, whereas the Spencers were still regarded as relative upstarts. Maybe their wealth and the beauty of their daughters were two main attractions?

1580 May.

Birth of daughter Ann, and some of her very interesting relatives.

This date is reported by Seacome, from the age of the three daughters still surviving and named in Ferdinandos will of 1594. It is uncertain who she was named after, but certainly neither of her grandmothers (Catherine and Margaret) or her mother Alice.

 

The closest Ann to Alice in 1580 was her sister, married at the time to another Lancashire  Stanley Lord, William, 3rd Baron Mounteagle (as his second[?] wife, and he died in 1581 according to the Spencer family tree at Althorp). This fact alone brings the Mounteagles into Alices story. The 1st Lord Mounteagle was Sir Edward Stanley, younger brother of Sir Thomas, 1st Earl of Derby and victor at Bosworth in 1485 (rewarded by his step-son Henry VII), with Sir Edward the victor at Flodden in 1513, which earned for him (from Henry VIII) the Mounteagle title, Hornby Castle near Lancaster and rather large estates in many counties, although mainly centred around Lancaster. William Stanley, 3rd Baron/ Lord Mounteagle, living in 1580, was Sir Edwards grandson, and his grandson William Parker (son of the sole daughter and heiress, married to Lord Morley) was later to become 4th Lord Mounteagle and achieve fame as the saviour of the nation (quote from Ben Jonson) when he uncovered the Gunpowder Plot. This still lay way in the future, but seems of relevance to be mentioned here, given how many other plots various Stanleys were involved in during Elizabeths and Jamess reigns, which obviously affected Countess Alice in one way or the other.

 

If any reader is confused already, this is merely an echo of my confusion as I tried to sort out all the Sir Thomas, Sir Edward and Sir William Stanleys in the 16th and 17th centuries.  These names were repeated in so many generations, and their lives overlapped so often, that I fear that some might well have been (con)fused.  Ultimately, genealogical charts for all of these will be produced, but for the moment I can only direct any interested reader to all the charts and reports of the Stanleys in previous publications. Seacome (1741) seems to have been pretty sound on the main Stanley descents; George Ormerod, justly praised as the main historian of Cheshire, seems to have been very sound in his research on the Cheshire Stanleys in his publications between 1819 and the middle of the 19th century; William Farrer, who wrote most of the Victoria County History of Lancashire  (published in eight volumes c. 1900) was exemplary in his abstracts and references to all Stanleys all over Lancashire; Coward (1983) and Bagley  (1985) provided valuable extra details and references about various Stanleys, Earls of Derby. I stand on their shoulders in trying to understand the history of the Stanleys, yet despite having read all these scrutinously, I was still confused about various Sir Edward, Sir Thomas and Sir William Stanleys contemporary with Countess Alice.  

 

Some of these gradually emerged from a comparison of details in the publications above with other sources. Ferdinandos uncles Sir Thomas and Sir Edward Stanley of Winwick (younger brothers of 4th Earl Henry) had both been instrumental in planning to rescue Mary, Queen of Scots in 1570 and spirit her away to the Isle of Man. This plot was never put into action (and perhaps was never given a name because of this) but they were both imprisoned and fined. Both Sir Thomas and Sir Edward were named as Traitors by Seacome (one can only assume because of the plotting). Plots, by their very nature, seem to have been surrounded by secrecy and the official version afterwards often contained falsifications. No wonder they still cause controversy today. Sir Edward went to fight in The Netherlands (in the war that saw the first English contingent arriving there in 1585) and seems to have died in exile there (1609). It is not at all certain which side he fought on, but as he died in exile, it seems likely that he joined the English Catholics in exile in Flanders. If so, he would have been in close contact with a cousin Sir William Stanley of Hooton, who became the leader of the English troops fighting alongside the Spanish after his surrender of Deventer in 1587. This Sir Williams story is fairly clear, with a biography in the DNB.

 

Sir Thomas of Winwick stayed in England and later moved to Tong Castle in Shropshire, where he seems to have done a bit more plotting. His main importance lies in his many links to Shakespeare in Lancashire. He married Margaret Vernon, a family located at that time mainly in Derbyshire and Shropshire, which produced brides for many relevant families, including Elizabeth Vernon, a lady at Elizabeths court, who married (1598) Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton and the dedicatee of Shakespeares two long poems in 1593 and 1594. (She has been proposed several times as a candidate for the Dark Lady of Shakespeares Sonnets, which I find impossible to believe for several reasons, but have at the same time no doubt that Shakespeare and Countess Alice would have met her on many occasions.)

 

Sir Thomass son and heir was another Sir Edward Stanley (1562-1632), and these two bear the distinction of having the only completely authenticated epitaphs written for them by Shakespeare, later chiselled in stone on their tomb in Tong Parish Church and still there today. This is another ongoing story as a background to Countess Alice and her newly acquired Stanley relatives after her marriage to Ferdinando.

 

This particular story started with the recording of the text of the epitaphs in Tong Parish Church by poet and antiquarian John Weever (from Preston, with a biography in the DNB) and historian, antiquarian and King of Arms Sir William Dugdale (whose father was from Lancashire, and also with a biography in the DNB). Both of these recordings of epitaphs were in the 17th century, not too long after Shakespeares death in 1616, by people who were fairly close to many involved in the Shakespeare in Lancashire story at the time.

 

The middle of this story leaps a few centuries later when various scholars and academics in the 20th century perceived some of these details of the Shakespeare epitaphs in Tong. My main hero in this area is Professor E. A. J. Honigmann.  His main contributions about the epitaphs in Tong Parish Church have been in two of his publications. Shakespeare: the lost years, Chapter VII, The Shakespeare Epitaphs and the Stanleys and Weever, 1987. 

 

Ferdinando and Alices daughter Ann was to play a role in national history when she was proposed by Jesuit Robert Parsons in 1595 as a strong candidate for the throne after Elizabeth Is death. This was because of Ferdinandos descent from Henry VII via his mother, Margaret Clifford, half-sister of George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland and grand-daughter of Mary Tudor, Henry VIIIs sister and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. By this time Margarets marriage to Earl Henry had collapsed irrevocably, although they still must have had some contact when both were at court. Margaret had produced four sons: Ferdinando, William, Francis and Edward, only the first two surviving to adulthood and marriage. Earl Henry had meanwhile had two sons and two daughters by his mistress Jane Halsall of Knowsley, and the two daughters in particular, Ursula and Dorothy, have been linked to Shakespeare circles.

1581 Aug

William Shakeshafte was named in Alexander Hoghtons will. If this was young William Shakespeare, the terms of the will would have seen him moving to Sir Thomas Heskeths household at Rufford Old Hall for a short time (according to Hesketh family tradition) and perhaps moving on to Stranges Players in late 1581 or early 1582 or joining them later in this decade. No records have survived, so any suggestion in this area is pure speculation. However, the recorded later association of Stranges Players performing some of Shakespeares early plays (in the early 1590s) indicates some previous link. If young Will, aged 17 in 1581, had already shown a few glimpses of his future dramatic and poetic genius, then he might well have come to the attention of Earl Henry and son Ferdinando, both theatre lovers and patrons of a troupe of players. Whatever the truth, and purely speculatively, this year (and one or two years previously) would have provided the first opportunity for Shakespeare to have met Ferdinando and Alice.   

1582 Aug

Earl Henry attended Preston Guild with sons Ferdinando, William and Francis and most of the local Lancashire gentry. This event took place every twenty years and provided one the social highlights of the North West, as well as serving to regulate borough affairs. All surviving documentation was transcribed and published by W. A. Abram, Preston Guild Rolls.

1583 Jan

Birth of daughter Frances.

Date reported by Seacome. The gap of nearly three years since the first daughter leads one to suspect that there might have been another child in between, who did not survive.

1587

Birth of daughter Elizabeth.

Date reported by Seacome. The gap of four years again suggests another possible child. All accounts agree that these three daughters (Ann, Frances and Elizabeth) were the only ones to survive. The only other child recorded was one still- born after Ferdinandos death in 1594.

1587-90

These three years are those covered by the Derby Household Books, a record of purchases, servants and visitors to the Derby households when Earl Henry was in residence. This is invaluable in that it allows us to track many of the movements of the family up and down the country, and establish who were the most frequent visitors. William popped up to Lancashire between his travels, Earl Henrys mission to the Netherlands in an attempt to abort the Armada is recorded, and the names of many who must have been well known to Alice appear.

1589 Nov 28

The affray at Lea. (For an account of this, see Alexander Standishs biography.) This involved several people close to the Derbys and Ferdinando and his father attended the court at Lancaster to try to sort it out.

1593 Sep 25

Earl Henry died. Some more illustrious relatives.

Ferdinando automatically became 5th Earl of Derby and Alice became Countess of Derby, a title she was to use all her life, even though she acquired a few more titles from her second husband Baron Ellesmere. Her sisters had made prestigious marriages, Elizabeth to George Carey, 2nd Baron Hunsdon, who succeeded his father Henry, 1st Baron Hunsdon, as Lord Chamberlain and patron of the Chamberlains Men, Shakespeares company. He died in 1603. Sister Anne married (1) William Stanley, 3rd Lord Mounteagle (of Lancashire, as his second wife; he died in 1581 and was succeeded as 4th Lord Mounteagle by his grandson William Parker, the one who later saved the nation by exposing the Gunpowder Plot); (2) Sir John Goodwin (died 1597) of Wincrington, Bucks. and (3) Robert Sackville, 2nd Earl of Dorset (1561-1609), Elizabeth and Jamess Lord Treasurer, who was to prove a very useful brother-in-law for Alice during her later battles in court. She was to become even more closely tied to the latter family in 1609 when Richard Sackville, Roberts son and heir and 3rd Earl of Dorset, married Lady Anne Clifford (1590-1676), Ferdinandos first cousin as daughter of his swashbuckling uncle George, 3rd Earl of Cumberland. Her mother was Margaret Russell, daughter of the Earl of Bedford, and all these ladies were rather prominent at court. Lady Anne has received several biographies, including Proud Northern Lady  by Martin Holmes, Phillimore, 1975, 1984, paperback 2000, which draws largely on her diaries. Those that have survived, rather frustratingly, are from 1617 onwards, the year after Shakespeares death. However, enough details remain to tie her into Countess Alices and Ben Jonsons circles, and therefore, one might reasonably presume, William Shakespeares circle.     

1593

By this date Ferdinando had been the patron of Stranges Players for at least a few years. They were a touring company, which played several times at court. They changed their name briefly to Derbys Players after his becoming Earl of Derby in late 1593, but it is not at all clear whether he was the patron of these, or whether his wife/ widow Alice was their patroness after Ferdinandos death the following year. (Might brother William Stanley, 6th Earl, have taken them over for a short period?) The only known portrait of Alice, hanging today on the wall of the Dining Room at Knowsley Hall, seems to present her in her thirties, therefore painted around 1593 (give or take a few years previously). This was reproduced in black and white in Bagley, The Derbys (1985) and Honigmann, Shakespeare: the lost years (1985). It was perhaps painted at the same time as the one of Ferdinando, also at Knowsley. One other portrait of him survived at Worden Hall, presumably a gift to William Farington, the long-serving Comptroller of the Derby household, who also owned portraits of Earl Henry and his father Earl Edward. They are now in a private collection. 

1593 Sep Nov

The Hesketh Plot

The most recent account is in Edwards, Plots and Plotters. He is impeccable on documentary sources and such 'facts' that we know, but I query some of his interpretations on motives by various characters involved. The basic story is that Richard Hesketh of Aughton (half-brother of Alexander Hoghtons second wife Elizabeth ne Hesketh of Aughton named in the 1581 will) travelled from Flanders to Lancashire with a letter that offered the support of English Catholics in exile for Ferdinando as the successor to Elizabeth Is throne, with the promise of military support from Spain (another Armada?). Everyone seems to have been in rather a tizzy at the time, the case was never explained satisfactorily and this has provided rich ground for much speculation, conspiracy theories, etc. (There undoubtedly was a conspiracy, but no one at the time or ever since has been able to establish who exactly was involved, how and why.) Two important recorded facts of deaths emerge: Richard Hesketh was tortured and subsequently executed in London in November and Ferdinando died an agonising death in Lancashire a few months later. Countess Alice was obviously deeply affected by these events, as she was left a widow, aged c. 33, with three young daughters and pregnant again.

1594 April

Ferdinando died.

The story of his agonising death after eleven days of suffering is told in all Derby literature and presents a real whodunnit. There was discussion at the time in the highest circles whether it was witchcraft (complete with a little doll in the corner of his room poked with needles, and the requisite old Dame) or poisoning (with one report of Ferdinandos horse-master disappearing in a hurry [on horse] as soon as the poison [?] had started to take effect). Many people were hauled in for questioning by the highest authorities in London, most interestingly Sir Thomas Langton, Baron of Newton and Walton-le-Dale, the main perpetrator of the affray at Lea in 1589 and Bartholomew Hesketh, Richards brother, and a former alleged host of Edmund Campion during his mission to Lancashire in 1581.  In the middle of his agonies Ferdinando was compus mentis enough to dictate (?) two documents, with the intention of leaving all his estates to widow Alice and their three daughters, thus excluding his younger brother William from the inheritance of these. Ferdinando just forgot (?) to sign these documents.  One can only begin to guess at the relationship between brothers Ferdinando and William. Ferdinando had stayed in England, done his duty by marrying early and making every attempt to produce a son and heir, while his brother William was gallivanting all over Europe and the Middle East, foot and fancy free, and getting into many scrapes. Williams story will be told elsewhere. (To repeat [ad nauseam, perhaps] the first dedicated biography of William Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby, by Professor Leo Daugherty will appear in 2004 in the New DNB, now renamed the Oxford DNB. Professor Daugherty and I have exchanged many details, grappled with several problems, and both of us have a rather sympathetic view of William and a somewhat jaundiced view of Ferdinando.  Our interpretations are open to question in future and will probably never be resolved satisfactorily, but at least we have tried.) One definite fact emerges: Countess Alice battled on for well over a decade to prove her right to inheritance of at least half of the Derby estates. She enlisted all her high-ranking friends and relatives at Elizabeths and Jamess courts and finally received satisfaction (many estates and huge sums of money for herself and her three daughters). One of these high-ranking officials was Sir Thomas Egerton (from Cheshire), meanwhile in Elizabeths Privy Council and later to become Jamess Chancellor until his death in 1617. Countess Alice married him in 1600 as her second husband. Francis Edwards, Plots and Plotters, sees poor Alice as a victim being manipulated into this marriage by the Cecils; I see it as an astute move on Alices part: she was now married to one of the most powerful and richest men in England, and along with her own wealth and family connections, she could do pretty well whatever she wanted.  (Maybe one could feel a certain sympathy for Sir Thomas as someone who had pulled himself up in life by his own bootstraps and ended up married to a countess. He was an illegitimate but fully recognised - son of Egerton of Ridley, Cheshire, and his brilliance and prodigious assiduity as a student led to his later meteoric career. He is well documented in standard Cheshire histories and has a biography in the DNB and the EB.)

1594-1607

Alices battle in courts with brother-in-law William.

Coward, The Stanleys (1983) gives the most complete account of all the land transactions. William, 6th Earl of Derby, had to sell many estates to pay the required compensation to Countess Alice and her daughters. The dispute over the Isle of Man left William rather bitter when he had to buy it from Alice. There appears to have been little love lost between them.

1595 Jan

William married Elizabeth de Vere at Greenwich in the presence of Queen Elizabeth.

From now on there were two contemporary Countesses of Derby, which makes any references between 1595 and 1627 suspect; Countess Elizabeth died in 1627, which removed her from the picture in this year, leaving just Countess Alice until her death in 1639. William and Elizabeths son and heir James (born 1607) had married in 1625, but until he became 7th Earl of Derby after his fathers death in 1642, he and his wife were always known as Lord and Lady Strange.

 

This marriage (William Stanley Elizabeth de Vere) also brought about another confusion in the in-law relationship of two earls proposed as Alternative Shakespeare Authorship Candidates: William and his father-in-law Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. The only conclusion I draw from this is that they (along with other candidates) were all so intimately related, and so obviously moved in Shakespeare circles (or he in theirs), that there was every opportunity for a regular exchange of ideas, maybe even plots for plays and maybe even some lines of poems. Edward de Vere is on contemporary record as a poet and playwright in the 1590s and William Stanley as a playwright in the 1599s (and perhaps poet in the 1580s). Neither of them was Shakespeare, but they must have known him, which perhaps explains some of the confusion, although not the acrimony poured out on thousands of pages in the 20th century.  For anyone still confused about this confusion, I recommend Who Wrote Shakespeare?  by John Michell, Thames and Hudson, 1996, paperback 1999.  This is a dispassionate account of the claims for the main candidates, but also importantly in the context of Countess Alice, it gives the most accessible biography of her brother-in-law William Stanley on many library shelves until Professor Daughertys version appears in the New DNB later in 2004 (now apparently renamed the Oxford DNB), which will be instantly available electronically for anyone with the odd 6,500 to spare while locating which of the sixty volumes he appears in. He will presumably be under S for Stanley rather than D for Derby, and therefore towards the end, but you never know. I await with bated breath to see whether Countess Alice has achieved a place in the Oxford DNB, and if so, whether she appears under S for Spencer and Stanley or elsewhere. (She could appear under B as wife of the 1st  Viscount Brackley and the mother-in-law of the 1st Earl of Bridgewater; or under  E as the wife of  the 1st  Baron Ellesmere, whose surname was also conveniently E, for Egerton. Full sympathies for the little army of editors at Oxford University Press, who have had to decide on such issues.) For me, she is just Countess Alice, to whom we will return after a little side-step to her brother-in-law William Stanley.

 

Edward de Veres wife was Ann Cecil, daughter of Sir William, Lord Burghley, and sister of Sir Robert, later Earl of Salisbury, which presumably brought the Cecils into the Derby family picture more on the side of William than his sister-in-law Countess Alice. It is sometimes difficult to perceive this, however, as both Elizabeth and Alice seem to have appealed for Sir Roberts help on various occasions. A thorough re-examination of all references to the Countess of Derby from 1595 to 1527 is needed, in an attempt to separate which might have referred to Elizabeth and which to Alice. This also applies to the later appearance of the Countess of Derby in many masques at Jamess court, particularly those created by Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones.

 

During the years after his marriage William is recorded on occasion in Lancashire and London, where in 1599 he was reported by George Fenners, a Jesuit visiting England, as busy only in penning commodyes for the commoun players. It was the discovery of this at the end of the 19th century that led to his proposal as a Shakespeare Authorship Candidate. None of his commodyes have survived, unless some were perhaps among those in the Shakespeare Apocrypha signed W.S.. Apart from battling away with sister-in-law Alice until 1607, he had a few jealous scenes with his wife, who was accused of having had an affair with the Earl of Essex, which she denied, but the very suspicion seems to prove that various earls and their countesses all met frequently in London. In 1598 Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton and the dedicatee of Shakespeares two long poems in 1 593 and 1594, had an affair with Elizabeth Vernon, daughter of the branch in Shropshire, with their origins in Derbyshire, just over the border from Cheshire, and closely affiliated by many marriages to the Earls of Derby and the Ardernes of Cheshire (the family of Mary, Shakespeares [step-]mother). Henry Wriothesley married Elizabeth Vernon secretly when she was several months pregnant, which resulted in them both being sent to the Tower. The child was Penelope Wriothesley, who later married William, 2nd Baron Spencer of Althorp (1591-1636), grandson of Countess Alices brother Sir John Spencer. If one can assume that Countess Alice kept in touch with her Spencer family and court gossip, she must have been aware of all these events. More than that is difficult to say at the moment, until the published biographies of all concerned have been scoured yet again or written for the first time.

 

Meanwhile, William, 6th of Derby, needed to establish his credentials with Queen Elizabeth as presenting no threat to the question of her successor. One might presume that he had no desire to suffer the same fate as his brother Ferdinando, as indeed he did not, living on to the ripe old age of 81, when he died in September 1642, just after his son and heir James, Lord Strange, who became 7th Earl of Derby on the death of his father, had contributed to the beginning of the Civil War with his Siege of Manchester, attempting (unsuccessfully) to claim this for the Royalist cause. This involved at least three Standishes of  Duxbury: Captain Thomas, in Lord Stranges besieging army, who was killed in Salford  by a sniper while he was washing his hands in a trough; his father Thomas,  M.P., a zealous Parliamentarian, who rushed  back to Lancashire from London to bury his son and heir and try to sort out the whole mess in his will, after which he suddenly dropped down dead (for no recorded reason, but his  burial was duly recorded in Chorley Parish Register); and their cousin Richard, living in Manchester at the time of the siege and later a Colonel of infantry in the Civil War alongside Oliver Cromwell.  Thomas Standish of Duxbury Sr (the M.P, lived 1593-1642) was son and heir of Alexander Standish of Duxbury (1570/1-1622) and Captain Thomas Jr  (killed by a bullet in Salford in September 1642) was Alexanders grandson, son and heir of Thomas Sr (the M.P.), These stories and documented facts were revealed by assiduous reading over several years of many unpublished Standish of Duxbury MSS in the Lancashire Record Office. It was only after reading these and absorbing all the details that the Tudor story of the Standishes of Duxbury emerged.  

 

We have moved far away from Countess Alices biography, but somehow her shadow, and certainly the shadow of her friend Alexander Standish of Duxbury and her brother-in-law William, 6th  Earl of Derby, seem to be relevant for various later stories. Alexander died in 1622, and so disappears from Countess Alices immediate story after the following year, but his sons and grandsons lived on in Duxbury and became tangled up in the Civil War; Countess Alice died in 1637 and was so spared the knowledge of how her descendants would also become tangled up in the Civil War; Rev. William Leigh, Rector of Standish (from 1586) died in 1639, and was thus spared the knowledge of so many of his parishioners and friends fighting against each other; William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby died in September  1642, and was thus spared the knowledge that his son and heir James was later beheaded in 1651 in Bolton. I have read widely in many published accounts of contemporary stories, and have come to the interim conclusion that we still have a lot to learn and sort out about events from Tudor through Stuart times, including various Catholic Plots and the Civil War. This interim conclusion was not difficult to arrive at, given the dissent in academic circles.

 

1600

Alice married Sir Thomas Egerton.

Their marriage seems to have been rather stormy. Sir Thomas certainly complained about her sharp tongue on one occasion. At this point Alices biography by Lancashire historians starts to dry up, and we need to turn to London and Middlesex records, with many reports given in full below.

1601

Bought Harefield in Middlesex.

It seems (from the evidence given below) that this was a joint purchase by Countess Alice and her second husband or a gift from him to her.

1602

Entertained Queen Elizabeth.

At Harefield (with all dates and details given below). Soon after this he became Baron Ellesmere, taking his name from an estate in Shropshire purchased from William, 6th Earl of Derby.

1607

Act of Parliament.

Final settlement of the Derby estates by Act of Parliament between Countess Alice and William, 6th Earl of Derby (main details in Coward, The Stanleys).

1609

Lady Anne Clifford and others

The marriage in this year of Lady Anne Clifford (Ferdinando and Williams first cousin) to Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset, presents many intriguing (potential) relationships of relevance to Countess Alice. On record is the fact that Samuel Daniel (poet, historian, an admirer of and inspiration for Shakespeare with their respective sonnets and dramas in the 1590s apparently cross-fertilising each other) was her tutor. This is proved, among many records, by his portrait and biography appearing on the magnificent Lady Anne tryptich in Kendal Art Gallery, for which she obligingly commissioned and included portraits of her parents and various Countess aunts, plus the titles of many books in her library. Although born a generation apart (Countess Alice c. 1560 and Lady Anne 1590), they very obviously knew each other and each others history well during their meetings in Jamess reign. Indeed, Lady Annes battle for her inheritance of the estates of the earldom of Cumberland is in many ways a mirror image of Countess Alices battle to retain as many Derby estates as possible for herself and her daughters. Lady Derby makes only one appearance in Proud Northern Lady (p. 76) when she explained the predicament of Lady Anne to Queen Anne of Denmark, prior to taking the case for James Is judgement. As we have seen, there were two Ladies/ Countesses Derby until 1627 (widow Countess Alice and wife Countess Elizabeth), but whichever it was, it seems to prove that Lady Anne was very well aware and on intimate terms with one or the other, and if one, then presumably the other. Other highly relevant details from Lady Annes biography are that her husband Richard was a bit of a rogue, although charming all the way. Either he (or some assume his brother), but Aubreys entry [John Aubreys Brief Lives, any edition] on Richard seems to make it clear enough that it was he who maintained Venetia Stanley as his mistress while he was married to Lady Anne. Venetia was yet another ravishing Jacobean lady, daughter of yet another first cousin of Ferdinando and William, Sir Edward Stanley of Winwick in Lancashire and Tong in Shropshire, son and heir of Sir Thomas Stanley of Winwick, younger brother of Henry 4th Earl of Derby. The story of all of these and their relevance for Countess Alice will be told elsewhere. A good starter to try to understand the importance of Venetia (1600-33) and her father Sir Edward Stanley (1562-1632) is in Honigmann, Shakespeare: the lost years, Chapter VII, The Shakespeare Epitaphs and the Stanleys. In this he gives the texts of two epitaphs chiselled in stone in Tong Church, recorded in the 17th century by Sir William Dugdale as written by William Shakespeare and still there today, with a simple family tree of most involved. This was where I started, which ultimately took me to recent correspondence with relevant folk in Tong. This story is still ongoing. The main relevance for Countess Alice is that she must have known about all these events and characters, most of whom she outlived.

1617

2nd husband died.

Alice joined in with celebrations for King James at Althorp.

Baron Ellesmere, meanwhile Viscount Brackley, refused an earldom on his deathbed, but his son Sir John Egerton went on to perform great services and be rewarded accordingly as the 1st Earl of Bridgewater. All three daughters had meanwhile married and produced families. Ann married Grey Bridges, 5th Lord Chandos; Frances married Sir John Egerton (so mother Alice and daughter Frances were married to father Sir Thomas and son Sir John, the latter meanwhile 1st Earl of Bridgewater; and Elizabeth married the 5th Earl of Huntingdon. (These marriages appear on the pedigree chart in Coward, The Stanleys,  entitled Simplified pedigree of the Stanleys of Knowsley c. 1385-1672. They are confirmed by all other Derby literature.)  A juxtaposition of all recorded dates in this year might establish a few more details. King Jamess progression through the country in this year has received much attention, but has received most attention in the histories of individual families where he stayed. It seems that the time might have come for at least a list of all families with whom he stayed. 1617 was the year after Shakespeares death, so to a large extent is irrelevant for him. And yet King James had been his patron since 1603 in the Kings Players, and Jamess stays in 1617 were so often with people associated with Shakespeare, that it eerily presents a list of places associated with Shakespeare during his lifetime.

 

Let us start with his reception at Preston (which is proposed elsewhere as the potential origin of Shakespeares ancestry in the Shakeshaftes of Preston). This was followed by his three-day visit to Hoghton Tower as the guest of Sir Richard Hoghton (main dedicatee of John Weevers Epigrammes in 1599, who also dedicated an epigram ad Gulielmum Shakespeare). From there he meandered south to the Earl of Derby (with so many recorded links to Shakespeare), and on to Sir John Done of Utkington in Cheshire (whose daughter and heiress was about to marry an Arderne of Cheshire, the family and ancestors of Mary Arderne, William Shakespeares step-mother).  A little later he stayed at Althorp in Nottinghamshire, where Countess Alice was in attendance, with all her connections to Shakespeare. This paragraph can be dismissed as fantasy, but I believe these details require further research, and that at the end of the day we might come a little closer to the truth about Shakespeare and Countess Alice.   

1617-22

This period is so far a total blank about Countess Alice.

1622-23

Countess Alice was living in Anglezarke, a manor purchased by Alexander Standish of Duxbury from William, 6th Early of Derby, via intermediaries, some time after c. 1600. His family had owned various lands there previously, but he only became Lord of the Manor in the early 1600s. Alexander died in 1622, having been a widower since 1604. (All known details about him appear under his own biography.) It is not known when Alice moved to Anglezarke under the auspices of Alexander, nor how long she stayed or how often she visited afterwards. She must have had a lot of friends in the area from her days at Lathom and Knowsley, when married to Ferdinando (c. 1588/9-94).

 

Three relevant recorded facts remain, which provide a case for some ponderings: (1) Alexander Standish (born 1570/I) never remarried after the death of his wife Alice ne Assheton in 1604, although Alexander was aged only in his mid-thirties at this time; (2) Alice, Countess of Derby, went through two marriages, but on the death of her second husband in 1617, when she was in her late fifties, did not marry again; (3) Alexander (born 1570/1) and Alice (born c. 1560) fairly obviously had an intimate enough relationship for Alexander to install Alice at Anglezarke. Beyond these facts, the mind can only boggle and ask questions. What led Alexander, in his mid-thirties in 1604, not to seek a new bride among the many eligible local daughters and widows? What led Countess Alice not to seek a third husband in the higher echelons of society after 1617? One tentative answer might be that they had found each other.

1636

By this date (shortly before her death) Alice had been living at Harefield again for some years and visited Ludlow for the first performance of Comus by  John Milton.

1637

Countess Alice died.

The location of her will, and a full transcription of this, lies in the future. Maybe an examination of this will reveal a few more relevant details.

1639

She was mentioned in the will of Rev. William Leigh, Rector of Standish 1586-1639, Chaplain to the Earls of Derby, tutor to Prince Henry, etc. (His biography is in the
Old DNB, many more details in Porteus, History of the Parish of Standish (1927), and other details scattered over other Lancashire literature. He deserves a new biography and will receive one some time in the future.)

c. 1640

We have no idea of the date of the construction of her tomb in Harefield Parish Church, but it is still there today. All details below from the Harefield area need to be incorporated into the above.

 

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