Meet the Peters
Richard Abrams
University of Southern Maine

Abrams, Richard. "Meet the Peters." Early Modern Literary Studies 8.2 (September, 2002): 6.1-39 <URL:

  1. The latest but not least oddity in the increasingly odd case of WS's Elegy for William Peter is the proclamation of John Ford's authorship in a vacuum of historical evidence. Don Foster and I had been aware of Ford's verbal links with the Elegy, indeed had both published on the subject; yet the signature W.S. on the Elegy's title page and dedicatory epistle seemed an insuperable obstacle to a hypothesis of Ford's authorship. Brian Vickers's announced intention to pursue the case for Ford seemed desperate, a rescue operation to dissociate Shakespeare from a poem widely deemed unworthy of him. Ford's poem most closely resembling the Peter elegy appeared in print a full year after the Elegy, suggesting extensive borrowing on Ford's part. WS's own extensive imitations of a poem of Ford's written six years earlier were set aside as indicating only that borrowing proceeded in two directions. Other available hints were also overlooked. Searching the text archive Literature Online (LION) for overlaps with the Peter elegy, I constructed a phrase dictionary in which Ford cropped up often, but so did other writers (Daniel, Markham, Heywood, Chapman) whose relationship to the Elegy might yet repay investigation. Had I wished to argue Ford's collaboration with Shakespeare - and the thought crossed my mind - I would be stuck to explain how a monster such as "John Ford's Elegy by W.S." came into being. But the joke was on me. In the May 2002 issue of Review of English Studies G.D. Monsarrat, impressively matching phrase for phrase of the Elegy with Ford's canonical writings, failed to register that in reattributing the poem he had blithely invented a new genre - ghostwritten confessional. Monsarrat's speculations on WS's engagement of Ford as a poetic "scrivener" were paper-thin; still, it was clear that Ford was a better stylistic match to the elegist than Shakespeare. So, as Foster and I were quick to pounce on others' attributional errors, it seemed only fair to move the conversation along by expeditiously acknowledging our own. In light of the new evidence we posted endorsements of the Ford attribution to a venue in which we could control copy (it had been otherwise in our letters to the TLS years before): the online Shakespeare list, Shaksper.

  2. A week after conceding the case, Foster mused in The New York Times that he was gratified to see the rise in prestige of stylistic evidence over the years (Niederkorn June 20). A fine irony! On publishing Elegy by W.S. in 1989, he was told that strong external evidence was needed to build a case for attribution; an initialled signature, a relevant stationer's imprint were insufficient. Now it turns out that when you're pursuing a welcome attribution, you don't need external evidence at all; you may even override what little external evidence exists, such as an inconvenient set of initials. Recent accounts of the Elegy as Ford's (which I don't dispute) marginalise WS to the point of extinction. For both Monsarrat and Vickers, WS becomes a nonentity. "I have not tried to identify him," writes Monsarrat, "Though his identity is of little consequence for literature, the identification (if sufficient archival evidence has survived) would of course confirm my hypothesis [of Ford's ghostwriting]" (202). Vickers pushes WS even further offstage, joking in a press interview that the question of his identity is "a black hole" into which he has no intention of voyaging (Niederkorn June 26).

  3. To sink the Elegy full fathom five with a Ford attribution, to deposit it in cold storage like a deactivated virus, is to resist learning all kinds of things the poem can teach us-and not only about our own habits of response or "the politics of attribution." Monsarrat's position, that the Elegy is "substandard Ford" which should "be allowed to rest in peace with William Peter" (187, 203) is itself largely political. It's untrue that the poem is substandard Ford. Even at its worst, the Elegy is more accomplished than much of what Ford produced in his own voice during the period, as the following stanzas (by no means atypical) from Christ's Bloody Sweat (1613) will illustrate:

    Dull eares who will not listen to this call?
    Dull eyes who will not see this fount of ease?
    Dull heart that will not shun temptations gall?
    Dull soule that will not seeke this God to please?
    Dul eares, dul eyes, dul heart, dul soule, whose strife
    Nor heares, nor sees, nor thinks, nor seeks for life. (1045-1050)
    Haue you then bathd your sins? in what: in sweat?
    What sweat? his bloody sweat: we haue not known it:
    Ah haue you not? no: then you are to great
    In sins, sins? sins, and those haue ouerthrowne it:
    Hence soules away, ye are too late deluded,
    Thus are the wicked soules from heauen excluded. (1123-1128)

    Did somebody say Pyramus? One reason why Monsarrat might well wish the Elegy decently buried is that it remains to be seen whether Ford scholarship can assimilate the data generated by the poem's reattribution. For example, there is improved evidence of the elegist's indebtedness to a manuscript of Elizabeth Cary's closet drama Mariam, a copy of which resided with the King's Men in the winter of 1611 (Hirsh; Foster 1996, 1085-86). If we believe that Ford read the manuscript, the inference pushes forward by at least two and as many as ten years the current early estimate of his entry into the London theatre. Is this "information" we can live with?

  4. And more than insular biographical investments are at risk. The ghostwriting arrangements that Monsarrat postulates - on the order of Gertrude Stein's undertaking Alice B. Toklas's autobiography - are unheard of in early modern literature. True, secretaries composed for noblemen, but WS was no nobleman (cf. FE, 463); and surely no secretary ever confessed such failings and velleities on his lord's behalf as Ford ascribes to WS. Monsarrat supposes that Ford's employer was a Devonshire or Oxford friend of Will Peter's who wished to console the dead man's brother yet lacked skill in verse. But why did the consolation have to be in verse, no tradition yet existing of elegiac poems for people of lower rank than the nobility? And does the Elegy offer consolation? Its dedication to John Peter is standoffish, and the poem, rather than opting for pieties, portrays its desperate speaker as taking strength only from "the weak comfort of the hapless, hope" (568). Monsarrat's opinion that WS hired Ford to translate his thoughts into verse rests on a single sentence of the dedication ("Exercise in this kind I will little affect..."), which Monsarrat reads after the extreme minority view of Katherine Duncan-Jones as saying that poetic composition would be a novelty for WS. Many arguments have been brought against this reading, but even if Duncan-Jones and Monsarrat were right, an explanation would be in order as to why, engaging a ghostwriter, WS would then give himself away by confessing to John Peter his inexperience in writing verse.

  5. More generally, Monsarrat's thesis is impaired by an anachronistic view of the cachet of writing poetry in the early modern period. In the Jacobean age, everyone and his gentleman-uncle tried his hand at occasionalist verse (of course, with uneven results). When the first Lord Petre (Will's cousin once-removed) died in 1613, Exeter College honoured him with a volume of Latin, Greek, Hebrew and macaronic verse, all of it competent as far as I can tell, some of it quite witty. Seventy-two writers signed their contributions (the first and last poems are unsigned), though their names are unknown today. It's possible that one or two contributors published initialled verses elsewhere, but none seems ever to have published another poem before or after under his full name. The poems are throwaways, effusions of the moment. Though undoubtedly many of the contributors were buttonholed, none seems taxed by the exercise of extemporizing memorial verse.

  6. New information about Ford's early career and about pseudonymous authorship in early modern England are rewards in themselves, but the biggest payoff to be hoped for in keeping open the file on the Elegy is of course new knowledge about Shakespeare. If Ford in 1611 had access to a manuscript in the King's Men's hands, we can be virtually certain that he already knew Shakespeare personally and might expect Shakespeare to read his work, given the Elegy's signatory initials, Thorpe's imprint, the poem's Shakespeare citations and its pervasive dramaturgical imagery. More than likely, Shakespeare's name would have sprung to the minds of many readers of the Elegy whether or not he was WS, and this Ford could also count on. So if, as a young professional associated with Shakespeare's company, Ford adjusted for the possibility of Shakespeare's eyes upon him, the Elegy may be about Shakespeare if not by him. I crawl out on this limb mindful of the risks. I can offer no satisfactory explanation of why Shakespeare would turn to Ford to ghostwrite so personal a poem, but neither do I find convincing Monsarrat's account of a nonentity - WS engaging an impersonator - Ford to articulate his grief and confusion. Among reasons why Shakespeare remains a candidate for the Elegy's WS are the following:
              1) With Ford eliminated as a reader, only three readers of the Elegy can be safely identified. One, on the basis of the poem's verbal correspondences to Henry VIII in evidence adduced by Foster (1989 162-67) which remains unchallenged, is Shakespeare himself. A second is the plagiarist Simon Wastell. The third, previously unnoted, is Richard Brathwait, resident in London around the time of the Elegy's composition, who unmistakably adapts two lines from the poem, joining them with equally unmistakable elegiac language from Hamlet.
              2) New evidence emerges confirming earlier speculations that the Elegy's metapoetic language belongs to a theatrical milieu in which WS moved comfortably. This language owes a debt to the controversy surrounding Jonson's Catiline. Though, by a stretch, Ford may be associated with 1611 theatrical London, Monsarrat's WS cannot. So if we read "WS" when the elegist writes "I," as Monsarrat advises (200), we may question why the impersonated "WS" boasts of literary, indeed theatrical prowess, and why, confident of his power to "force/ The common voice" (FE, 81-82), he would hire a ghostwriter.
              3) Two ostensible references in the Elegy to WS's youth (both subject to interpretation) have proved sticking points in associating Shakespeare with WS. But tuck in one corner of the undersized bedsheet and the opposite corner pops out. In the Elegy's finale, impressions of a youngish WS vie with those of a world-weary mourner, worn down by experience, prone to backslide, needing a "prop" (566). This portrait of a grieving WS "in ... exile" (565), marking time till the end, culminates, moreover, in a navigational figure: "whether doth the stream of my mischance / Drive me beyond myself" (573-74). The whole presentation smacks of Prospero, who appeared on the stage of the Globe within the year, and not four months previous to the poem's composition in a performance at court.

  7. For now, these outlined arguments must be left as teasers. Their purpose is to suggest that Monsarrat's and Vickers's demonstrations of Ford's hand hardly dispel the Elegy's mysteries. "John Ford's Elegy by WS" is an unstable construct, one with which Monsarrat is himself uneasy-witness his assignment of the Elegy's dedicatory epistle to the actual WS, though verbal evidence indicates that the same author wrote both poem and dedication (Abrams 1998. 309-13). Because the Elegy's mysteries may live on awhile longer, I propose to set discussion of the poem on a firmer basis by providing a foundation in social history. Foster took heavy hits for presuming to study Shakespeare with a computer (humanist behaviour recalling the Paduan academic's refusal to look through Galileo's telescope), yet discussion of the Elegy to date rests entirely on Foster's historical scholarship. This scholarship needs to be expanded. Though documents are hard to come by - my years of research have turned up only two letters, neither personal in nature, by a Peter family member - patience and inference can still piece together a pretty good story. In what follows I examine the Peter family's orbit, both local and national, stopping exactly at the point at which Shakespeare heaves into view. Nothing I present here is intended as direct evidence in the ongoing whodunnit, but rather seeks to answer the more fundamental historical question asked by Leah Marcus: "Who Was Will Peter?" Stylistic evidence has come a long way since Foster's Elegy by W.S., written prior to the PC revolution; but it can never entirely supersede old-fashioned historical investigation. It's time for everyone to meet the Peters.


  8. William Peter and his elder brother John were the only sons of Otho Peter (1550-1607), a well-to-do merchant of Bowhay, near Exeter, who married Frances Southcott in 1576. FAMILY TREE 1 The Peters had one daughter, Elizabeth, who survived her teenage years, and an earlier Elizabeth and two Marys who died young. The names John and William were traditional in the family. Otho's father, three times mayor of Exeter, was John, and his forefathers in four preceding generations were all either John or William. The same Christian names were given to sons in the titled branch of the family seated in Essex, who preferred the spelling "Petre," a form retained here for convenience of distinction, though practice was fluid. (Other contemporary spellings include "Peeter," "Petter," and "Petree," suggesting variant pronunciations.) The Essex Petres split off from the Devon Peters in the time of Otho's grandfather William (typically, brother of a John), but a generation later the two branches of the family reunited through marriage, thereafter remaining close. Notwithstanding my orthographic distinction, the Peters and Petres probably regarded themselves as members of a single family.

  9. In arguing that a zealous Puritan minister wrote WS's Elegy, Katherine Duncan-Jones implied that the Bowhay Peters, too, had Puritan sympathies. Foster disputed this assumption, noting matrimonial alliances with Catholic and high-church families, papist wordplay in Otho Peter's memorial inscription, and Bowhay's burning by parliamentary forces during the Civil War (Foster 1998). Further evidence of the Peters' religion appears in an episode that provides a rare personal glimpse of the family during Will Peter's lifetime. In 1607 a charlatanic Neapolitan friar, Bartholomeo Jaquinto, performed exorcisms and peddled quack remedies, mainly in Devon. On one occasion, forced to sell his books, he retained a picture of the Virgin over which he was seen weeping. On another, his prominent patient, Mayor Holditch of Totnes, converted to Catholicism on his deathbed. Jaquinto was suspected of debauchery and of direct links with Rome. In the delicate wording of a nineteenth-century summary of the Bishop's Court records, the "old reprobate" (vetus nebulo) was "constantly in correspondence with the Court of Rome, and with the assistance of one Fabritius, another Italian, decoyed the unwary of both sexes into his apartments by means of sugar delicacies made in a foreign fashion." One victim was "a daughter of Mr. Peter de Boughey [Peter of Bowhay]" (Reynolds 234-36). This must be the thirteen-year old Mary Peter (bapt. March 23, 1593/4; bur. November 3, 1607), second of that name in her family, who outlived her father (bur. July 7, 1607) by only a few months. Whether Mary fell sexual prey to Jaquinto is unclear, but she died under his care. The story tends to place the Peters in a Catholic network through which they contacted Jaquinto, or he them. [1]

  10. Will Peter's elder brother by three years is the only member of the family for whom detailed evidence survives. Studying at Oxford and the Middle Temple, John Peter dropped out of both before taking degrees. After his father died in 1607, his mother remarried, moving to the west of Devon. At this time John apparently took control of the family estate. Yet no record survives of Bowhay's transfer, which may have occurred implicitly when Otho's widow and residuary legatee abandoned the manor for her second husband's larger Plymouth estate. If this is the case, then Otho was surprisingly ungenerous toward his elder son. By the terms of his will, drawn up three years before his death, Otho left John only £100. William received the same sum, a small annuity and land; and the surviving daughter Elizabeth (Mary having died before probate) received £500, to be paid on her marriage or coming of age. John's estrangement from his father is also hinted by his placement in the will. Otho mentions his two other living children and three sets of servants before curtly acknowledging his elder son. Otho's choice of his widow as executrix and his friend Richard Roupe as overseer may also be significant. John, twenty-eight and living at home, would have seemed an obvious choice for either task. Finally, a rift between father and elder son is hinted by the Latin inscription on Otho's tomb, which refers to a single loving son dedicating the memorial. The likelier candidate is the family scholar William, "double honored in degree" (FE, 302), who is known to have written at least one other Latin poem (in celebration of King James's coronation).

  11. Though John Peter remained a bachelor till the age of forty-three, the timing of his marriage suggests an ongoing relationship with his eventual wife. Hester (alias Cecily) Lant was the eldest daughter of John Lant, the wealthiest of Exeter's merchant princes according to contemporary tax assessments (Hoskins 173), and mayor of Exeter at the time of Will Peter's murder. Lant was a kinsman of the Windsor Herald Thomas Lant, Sir Philip Sidney's friend, who sketched the well-known illustrations of Sidney's funeral procession. In keeping with her family's stature, Hester in 1607 married into the prosperous London family of Hamor, formerly of Exeter. But the marriage came to grief; her husband Thomas Hamor ran through a fortune of £2400 in his father's lifetime, presumably squandering Hester's dowry as well. The dying father (at the time of his death, the head of the Merchant Taylors' Company) cut off his son with harsh words:

    If my eldest son Thomas shall demand any [of his father's divided estate] then my executrix shall demand and have of him the sum of fourteen hundred pounds which he oweth unto me for money which I have lent and paid for him over and above one thousand pounds which I bestowed upon him to begin the world withall, which was a greater portion than I could well give to the rest of my children. But being my eldest son, I was in hopes to have received joy and comfort in seeing him do well, which caused me to strain myself to do him good. [2]

    Thomas's hopes of further inheritance dashed, he abandoned wife and children and shipped to Virginia where his successful younger brother was already living. Ralph Hamor, author of A True Discourse of the Present State of Virginia (1615), had survived the wreck of the Sea Venture in Bermuda (an account of which inspired Shakespeare's The Tempest) to become the first secretary of the Jamestown colony. In 1622 the Hamor brothers narrowly escaped a massacre of Warraskoyack Indians. Separated from the main body of the assault, Thomas, shot in the back with an arrow, managed to get home and barricade himself in his house while his man dispersed the attackers with gunfire. But Thomas's luck soon ran out. Reported ill in January of 1623, he must have died soon thereafter, for in July of that year his widow posted dexterously to John Peter's sheets.

  12. In addition to two daughters and a son from her first marriage, Hester had six children with her second husband. Only the youngest outlived her parents, however, and by the time Hester died in 1653, ten years after John, Frances Peter had fallen into disfavour. In her will Hester remembered her two daughters by her first marriage but had no words for her son Thomas Hamor nor her daughter Frances Peter, though both were still alive. Indeed, no blood relations witnessed the will, but only Hester's servant and the kinsfolk of her executor and beneficiary, her "good friend Anthony Short," the controversial Laudian minister. Short had been ejected from the rectories of Ashreigney and Drewsteignton for preaching seditiously against Parliament (an amusing account survives of his wise-cracking while reading the latest parliamentary edicts from his pulpit) (Matthews 123), so Hester's choice was audacious. Though the Hamors were Puritans, Hester's friendship with one of Devon's leading royalists confirms that by the end of her life she had travelled a great distance from her first husband's faith. [3]

  13. John and Will Peter's mother, Frances Southcott Peter ( -1617), was the daughter of Thomas Southcott (1512-1600), a Devon MP and affluent owner of tinworks (then Devon's most important mining industry), with principal estates in Bovey Tracy and Shillingford St. George, both near Exeter. Southcott married three times, fathering at least twenty children who lived to maturity. By his second wife, Suzan Kirkham (Thomasine in the Bovey Tracy register), he had three sons and six daughters. Frances married twice: to Otho Peter in 1576, and a year after Otho's death, to Sir Christopher Harris of Radford in West Devon. A parliamentarian and former sea-adventurer, Harris was probably Sir Francis Drake's closest friend, representing Drake at the funeral of his godfather Sir Francis Russell, second Earl of Bedford, and procuring for him his estate at Buckland. Indeed, Harris's first marriage was to a kinswoman of Drake's second wife. When Drake died at sea, Harris was appointed an executor. [4] Though no evidence emerges of Harris's engagement with his wife's sons, it is worth observing that in his last three years of life Will Peter had a renowned stepfather with contacts throughout the realm.

  14. Will Peter was twenty-six when he married seventeen year-old Margaret Bruton (alias Breton) in Shillingford St. George on January 9, 1608/9. The youngest or second youngest of five daughters of William and Elizabeth (née Ryder) Bruton of Whipton in Heavitree parish, Margaret grew up in the shadow of Penslow Priory near land that the Peters had owned for several generations. The deaths of both the bride's and groom's fathers within the eighteen months prior to the marriage suggests that the normal pressure to wed for social advantage may have been eased. WS ostensibly alludes to the young man's enfranchisement when he quibbles on Peter's forename in recounting his coming of age: "When now his father's death had freed his will" (68). Peter seems to have favourably impressed his mother-in-law who, drawing up her will months after Margaret's marriage, bypassed the husbands of her elder daughters in naming Peter an overseer. [5] Undoubtedly, Peter's education was a factor, but the widow Bruton's quickly-formed trust in a young man who had been away at Oxford for many years may attest also to personal qualities.

  15. If the Peters married for love, Margaret soon rebounded. Waiting a formal year-and-a-day after Will's burial, she wed Edward Cotton (1586-1647), younger son of the fervently antipuritan Bishop of Exeter (who styled himself a cousin of the famed antiquary Sir Robert Cotton). Following his father into the ministry, Edward gained title through Margaret to Will Peter's lands deeded by Otho, and he adopted the Peters' infant daughters, Rose and Margaret. In the course of a marriage of thirty years, the Cottons produced six children of their own. But the marriage was economically troubled - driven from his rectories during the Civil War, Cotton was forced to compound for his estate - and it may have been rocky for another reason. Conducting an investigation decades after Edward Cotton's death, a correspondent informed the Archbishop of Canterbury of nasty rumours concerning the deceased. The Reverend Cotton was "so scandalous, base, & unworthy" that the Archbishop must take comfort in the reflection that even Jesus had his Judas. What occasioned such language?

    he was so debauched in his life [that] he laye in an alehous in his p[ar]ish of Shobrook, from Monday till Saturday, very constantly.
              Samuel Travers, Vicar of Thorvorton in Devon (near this Citty) was a Comrade of [that] Archdeacon Cotton's seldom asunder, & when that vile act was done, it is probable they were both drunk; [and] Travers, p[er]happe [that] night, put it down in his book, [and] never raized it out again; for there it remaines to this day.

    Some time afterward, the archdeacon and the vicar engaged in a lovers' spat. Baptizing his friend Travers's son John, Cotton-in his cups, or insinuating that he had slept with Travers's wife-scandalously intoned, "John[,] I Baptise thee in the name of the Father My [underscored in ms.] Sonne and of the Holy Ghost." [6] Later, they patched up the quarrel. Outliving his wife by four years, Cotton in 1647/8 drew up his will with his friend in the room as witness, leaving also a parcel of land "To Samuel Travers of Thorveton, clerk." Travers died the following year.

  16. Edward Cotton's troubles with parliament, Hester Peter's friendship with Anthony Short, and little Mary Peter's victimization by the Jesuit quack Jaquinto all corroborate Foster's evidence for the Peters' antipuritan orientation. Further evidence is found at the end of John Peter's life when he took a staunch position in support of King Charles's revival of the Commission of Array-an obsolete method of raising troops in time of imminent danger to the King (Stoyle 165). Indeed, though a 1613 charter describes "Mr. John Peter of Bowhay" as "lorde of the lande round aboute [Charleton, near Axminster] and ... Patrone of the Church," there is evidence that John Peter's Anglicanism was a charade. [7] The evidence lies in the Bowhay Peters' alliance with their kinsmen, the Petres of Essex, who remained for generations one of England's most conspicuous recusant families. In turning to the Bowhay Peters' extended family, we clarify their religious persuasion, placing them in a network that stretched to the heart of Catholic England, sometimes known as "Shakespeare Country"; and we raise the possibility of a London circle.


  17. Sir William Petre (1505-1572), the founder of his family's fortunes, came from south Devon parentage. He served as a principal secretary to four successive Tudor monarchs, from Henry VIII to the early reign of Queen Elizabeth. His first important job was as a visitor of religious houses under Henry, an appointment through which he greatly expanded his father's estate. In Devon alone Sir William is said to have possessed 36000 acres. But his main residence was in Essex, where he bought from the king the former monastery of Gyng Abbess, transforming it to one of England's most luxurious manors, Ingatestone Hall. Dividing his time between Essex and his London town house in Aldersgate Street, Sir William retained, however, a sentimental tie to Devon, where he possessed more manors than in any other shire. Throughout his life he provided a massive endowment to Exeter College, Oxford, whose mission was the education of young men from Devon and Cornwall. His benefactions, said to amount to a second founding of the college, were continued by his only son and heir, Sir John, first Baron Petre of Writtle (1549-1613), whose death the college honoured with a memorial volume of poetry. [8]

  18. Despite the royal secretary's move to Essex, relations between the two branches of the family were reinforced in his generation by the marriage of Sir William's sister Wilmot to her first cousin John Peter, known in city records as "The Merchant." John and Wilmot, Otho's parents, built the "comely fair house"of Bowhay in which their grandchildren John and Will were raised. In Will's generation, the Bowhay Peters remained close to the arms-bearing branch of the family. Born ten years after Sir William died, Will Peter attended on a Petrean fellowship the college his great-uncle endowed. His tutor, Simon Baskerville, was a retainer of the Petre family (into which his sister married) and attended Sir John Petre in his final illness. When Will Peter married, he chose a wife from among the noble Petres' allies. The will of Elizabeth Bruton (Margaret Bruton Peter's mother) contains a bequest of lands from the man to whom Sir William Petre matched his eldest daughter Dorothy. That same husband, Sir Nicholas Wadham, presented the father of Margaret's second husband (Edward Cotton) to the rectory of Silverton, and Wadham may have taken interest, also, in Margaret's marriage to Will Peter. A more important link between the Peters and Petres, however, is Sir George Petre of Torbryan (c. 1575-1629). It is in Sir George's will that we find the strongest confirmation of John Peter's Catholic leanings. FAMILY TREE 2

  19. Sir George Petre of Torbryan (the next village over from Ipplepen, where Otho Peter held land), was the son of another William Petre, a nephew to the royal secretary (who was likewise raised at Torbryan), and his wife Cecily, née Southcott, a full sister, close in years, to Otho's wife Frances. But Otho, we recall, was himself a nephew of the royal secretary through his mother Wilmot. Thus, George's father was Otho's first cousin, and George a cousin twice over (a first cousin through his mother, a second cousin through his father) of John and Will Peter of Bowhay. FAMILY TREE 3

  20. Already tangled by intermarriages, Elizabethan relationships were further complicated in aristocratic families by the practice of the noblest branch of the family rearing in its own house the children of less-advantaged kinsmen as a means to improve their social and educational opportunities. This practice, the basis of the British public school system, was followed in the case of George Petre, who was raised at Thorndon by the royal secretary's son Sir John as a companion to his children. The Essex household in which George was raised was thoroughly Catholic, and young George himself probably had Catholic inclinations; otherwise, his presence would have compromised household security. But George's official conversion took place at Exeter College in the early 1590s under the influence of his virtual stepbrother, William Petre, eldest son and heir of Sir John. A vigorous recusant, involved in at least one important conversion on the continent, Sir George was described by the English ambassador to Spain as "a man that carryes an infected Harte ... an Impe of the Jesuiticall Tree." He kept company with many eminent recusants and, when Sir George Petre died without progeny in 1629, he placed his affairs in the hands of two outspoken Catholics, Sir Basil Brooke and Francis Plowden the elder, reserving power to a third executor - John Peter of Bowhay. Sir George could hardly have been deceived or indifferent in a matter of such importance as the faith of his double cousin and neighbour. The evidence seems conclusive: though John Peter may have kept up appearances as a pillar of the local church, his cousin knew him in 1629 for a Catholic. Indeed, in view of Otho's memorial inscription and John's support under fire of the King's Commission of Array, we may suspect that John was a closeted Catholic all his life.

  21. If John and Will Peter visited their noble cousins even occasionally, they would have possessed social and cultural advantages far greater than we have previously understood. The Essex Petres were talented and well-connected. The royal secretary was a gifted Latinist with an astute legal mind, and his son and grandson were accomplished amateur musicians who between them extended fifty years of patronage to the age's foremost English composer, William Byrd. As a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, Byrd composed music for the Anglican liturgy but was himself a devout Roman Catholic, repeatedly harassed until Queen Elizabeth interceded. Left to practise his faith, Byrd then withdrew from London in 1592, settling at Stondon Massey in Essex, a few miles from his friend and patron Sir John Petre. Through Lord Petre, he gained access to other important recusants, and undoubtedly introduced his patron to members of his own artistic circle, which included the Jesuit poet and martyr Robert Southwell. After Sir John's death, his son William took up Byrd's patronage, forming a musical circle that included (as a household employee) the musician Richard Mico, the composer John Cooper (Giovanni Coperario), and Martin Peerson, musical protégé of the courtier-poet Fulke Greville, a longtime friend of John Petre, related to him through the marriage of Fulke's second cousin, the Stratford-resident Ludovic Greville, to Lord Petre's sister Thomasine. [9] In September 1597 Sir John's son records a gratuity to "Fulke Grevilles man" - possibly the poet's father, but more likely the poet himself; and two springs later he records a payment to "Aunt Grivells fidlers at Glocester," i.e., to the musicians of Thomasine Petre Greville, Ludovic's widow, whom he visited in his travels (21 r, 33 r).

  22. Travel and hospitality was a way of life among the Elizabethan Catholic nobility who hung together for mutual support. The Petres were no exception; a set of remarkably preserved family records, spanning several generations, enable us to reconstruct their comings and goings. These reveal that both father and son's favourite holiday desination was Merrifield Manor, a few hours from Bowhay. The home of Sir John's half-sister (by the royal secretary's first marriage), Dorothy Petre Wadham, Merrifield, near present-day Ilminster in Somerset, was proclaimed by Fuller "an Inn at all times, a Court at Christmas." The hospitality must have been mostly Dorothy's, for her husband's irritation with his in-laws is said to have contributed to his decision to leave his fortune to an institution. After Sir Nicholas Wadham's death, his widow, obliged to vacate her home of fifty years for the Wadhams' dowager house in Devon, and already past the age of seventy-five, showed her mettle by carrying out her late husband's designs for founding Wadham College. A charming if overbearing hospitality appears in a story in which she arrived at the Petres' estate to learn that the Earl and Countess of Worcester were among her fellow guests; she immediately sent home for her own cook and staff to cater the event. Lady Wadham was both tough and gracious, and her home became, unsurprisingly, a western rendezvous for the Petre family.

  23. Both the first and second Lords Petre record frequent trips to "Wadham's Castle," Sir John visiting annually, and his son Sir William perhaps as often. During these trips Sir John may have socialized with his first cousin Otho Peter, whose Bowhay estate was several hours' journey from Merrifield. Otho's travels in the neighborhood are suggested by the fact that his only surviving daughter, Elizabeth, married first (after Otho's death) a James Dawbney, with Ilminster land holdings a stone's throw from Merrifield, and second, a William Keymer (Dawbney's kinsman), with an estate in Pendomer nine miles away. Not only would Otho presumably call at Merrifield if he had dealings with Dawbney or Keymer, or to take part in family gatherings, but Sir John Petre might stop at Bowhay while touring his extensive Devon properties. Whether Otho's travels as a merchant or for pleasure took him as far as the capitol is another question, though if they did, he would have called at Aldersgate Street during the London season, or at Thorndon or Ingatestone Hall (an after-dinner trip from London) at other times. Clearly, the cousins Otho Peter and Sir John Petre had opportunity to develop a friendship in the early 1570s when Otho entered the Middle Temple. Though Sir John had departed two years earlier, he would have maintained contact, for the Inns of Court, as well as providing legal training, were sites of continuing fraternization, like the later institution of the gentlemen's club. Similarly, for Otho's sons to pass through London during their Oxford years (or John Peter, during his Middle Temple residency) without paying respects to their noble cousins would have been an unaccountable rudeness; and they may well have availed themselves of family hospitality at other times, such as short vacations which forbade travel home to Devon. [10]


  24. In London, John and Will Peter's main contact would have been not their first cousin once-removed, Sir John Petre, who was thirty years their senior, but his son, their slightly older coeval William (1575-1637), who succeeded his father as the second Baron Petre of Writtle a year after Will Peter's death. William II was the eldest of the three children of John and Mary (née Waldegrave) Petre to survive infancy. Four years older than John Peter of Bowhay, and seven older than Will, he was a bon vivant fond of dining and dicing: a suitable escort for his country cousins in Europe's most populous city. Educated at Exeter College and the Middle Temple, Sir William is known to literary history through Spenser's Prothalamion (1596), in which he appears with Sir Henry Guildford as one of "Two gentle knights of lovely face and feature / Beseeming well the bower of any queen"; the poem commemorates the young men's double wedding to Elizabeth and Katherine Somerset, daughters of the Earl of Worcester. Though William officially gained his title on his father's death in 1613, he served as acting head of the Petre household for the three preceding years during his father's final illness. On inheriting, he took the family in a new direction. Whereas the first Lord was a Church Papist, externally compliant with the law of conformity, Sir William II was twice presented for Catholic recusancy. [11]

  25. William Petre II left two highly detailed account books in his own hand, which span the sixteen-year period prior to his succession, and offer an unparalleled opportunity for research in early modern domestic history. The first volume, the subject of an essay by Giles Dawson, extends from October 1597 to October 1610, ending fourteen months before Will Peter's murder; the second takes up the record until just before Sir John Petre's death in October 1613. The account books record both major and minor disbursements (the second also contains receipts): a dowry payment, gambling losses, money laid out for children's presents, tips to servants, and the like. From the account books we learn of Lord Petre's relations with the families of his parents and in-laws, and the wards of his father and grandfather. Essex neighbours, such as the sportsman-husband of the poet Lady Mary Wroth, put in appearances, as do court friends, such as Sir Michael Hickes, the principal secretary of William II's godfather, Lord Burghley. The account books reveal Lord Petre's acquaintance with the court gossip and theatrical observer Philip Gawdy, and the art collector, Lord Lumley. Of especial interest, they tell of his friendship with Southampton, to whom he was related through the Browne family, lately in the news in connection with the alleged transvestite portrait of Shakespeare's early patron.

  26. The first account book documents William II's frequent travel to the west, where his principal destinations were the bountiful Wadham estate in Merrifield, Somerset, and the sumptuous Welsh residence of Raglan Castle, home of his in-laws, the Somersets and Herberts. Trips usually possessed complex itineraries: the 1599 visit to "aunt [Thomasine] Grivell" in Gloucestershire was a detour on the road to Merrifield, to which Petre traveled at least six more times in the next decade, ultimately attending "my uncle Wadhams funeral" in December 1609. The only year in which he probably failed to travel west was 1603, when he rode to York to greet the new king and receive a knighthood. Two trips whose destination is given as Devon, in March and November 1604, probably included Merrifield stopovers, and at least one trip to Merrifield, in autumn 1601, included a Devon stopover. Most holidays afforded time for side-trips, perhaps to Torbryan and Bowhay; and one entry mentions the Devon destination of Axminster, where William II owned a manor house, James Dawbney (first husband of Elizabeth Peter of Bowhay) held land, and where a George Wadham dwelt, who had business dealings with John Peter (both Otho's 1607 and Dawbney's 1614 wills mention bequests to the poor of Axminster). Any of these trips could have brought William II into proximity with his Bowhay kinsmen John Peter, and we may be certain that they crossed paths at least twice, because in November 1606 William II records payment of "interest money for my cosin Jo: Petre." In all likelihood, the debt was incurred on Lord Petre's "iorney to Axminster" exactly twelve months earlier, a year being a round term for a loan. Further information may be contained in the fact that Lord Petre makes no entry for transport of funds, as was his practice with other repayments. Our inference must be that the loan was repaid in Essex or London, where John Peter was visiting (86 r-v, 93 v).

  27. If William II visited John Peter in the west and John repaid the favour in London, we might inquire what opportunities for social broadening a visit by John or Will Peter to their London cousin entailed. William II's avant-garde taste in music has been already noted, but there is some question whether he was similarly interested in the dramatic arts. At least twice Lord Petre laid out money for his wife's participation in court masques-she and her three sisters danced in Jonson's 1608 Masque of Beauty, and she took a role in the 1610 masque at Whitehall celebrating Prince Henry's creation as Prince of Wales (Briggs 59), but the account books indicate no expenditures for the public theater. Giles Dawson sighs at the lacuna:

    alas, we do not find so much as a mention of a play or a theatre or a playwright-not even a hint that such things existed in Petre's London. Why should a man who frequented the most fashionable taverns, loved hunting and bowling and tennis, lost money at cards and dice, dressed himself up in fine raiment-one, in short, who entered wholeheartedly into every other pastime popular among young men of his class-why should he have denied himself the pleasure of seeing stage plays at the time when they were at their peak of excellence and popularity? The best answer that I can suggest, and it does not satisfy me, is that Petre was able to see enough plays at Court, where the best plays were certainly performed occasionally by the best companies (645-46).

    The evidence may not be decisive. Many expenses which Petre incurred go unrecorded. If a friend paid his way to the theater, or if he were admitted gratis, say because of friendship with Southampton, he would have no reason to make an entry. Still, the account books' silence over a period of many years must be regarded as ominous, and until we learn otherwise we must assume that Lord Petre failed to attend the professional theatre.

  28. Does Lord Petre then exhibit other literary interests? Here I read the evidence differently from Dawson, who notes that in the first account book Petre mentions thirty-five books by title and several untitled books:

    The surprising thing about the books that he [William Petre II] did buy is their almost uniformly serious nature. There is one small volume of contemporary English poetry and one Spanish romance. The rest are all decidedly heavy. Most are Catholic theology, including such standard authors as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, in Latin. One theological work consists of five folio volumes in Spanish. Then there are several classical authors and several contemporary books of a strictly practical nature (645)

    The case is altered when we learn that the Spanish romance was Celestina, and the contemporary volume of poetry, Samuel Daniel's Poeticall Essayes. Lord Petre not only bought Daniel within weeks of publication but was sufficiently au courant to refer to his purchase as "musophilos," singling out one of only two poems that were original to a volume of mostly reprints. That same year Petre bought "A poeticall dictionary," whose unspecified title results in its exclusion from Dawson's list. Yet surely the purchase suggests a literary bent; its intimation of a dabbler's interest in versifying is inconsistent with Dawson's bleak theologian. [12] Finally, we should mention Spenser's Prothalamion and the dedications to Lord Petre, of which there were three: a book of sermons, the collection of funeral verse for his father, and a prose romance translated out of Latin: The Most Pleasaunt Historye of Blanchardine, Sonne to the King of Friz; & the faire Ladie Eglantine Queene of Tormaday, surnamed The proude Ladye in Love (1595). Though we cannot be certain that Lord Petre's known tastes invited this dedication, taken together with his purchases the dedication suggests that he was by no means closed off to literary frivolity.

  29. Whether or not Lord Petre patronised the public theatre, his attendance of court masques was not his sole occasion to rub shoulders with theatrical London. He dined out often, and his favourite London tavern was the Mermaid on Bread Street, rivalled only by the Three Tuns, which he preferred for gambling. "[D]inner at the Mermaid" was Lord Petre's choice for virtually the entire period covered by the first account book, and in the period covered by the second he escalated his patronage, in one week dining at the Mermaid three times in five days (May 10, 11 and 14, 1613). It's hard to believe that his choice of tavern was dictated solely by the cuisine and never by the literary atmosphere, which we know from the poet-playwright Beaumont was infectious (MacLean 421):

    What things have we seen
    Done at the Mermaid! heard words that have been
    So nimble and so full of subtle flame,
    As if that everyone from whence they came
    Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest,
    And had resolved to live a fool the rest
    Of his dull life; then when there has been thrown
    Wit able enough to justify the town
    For three days past; wit that might warrant be
    For the whole city to talk foolishly
    Till that were cancelled, and when we were gone,
    We left an air behind, which was alone
    Able to make the two next companies
    Right witty, though they were downright cockneys.

    As a habitué of the Mermaid, Lord Petre may have been on nodding terms with Beaumont and Ben Jonson (Harley 358, n. 3), if not also Ford and Shakespeare - a possibility with intriguing implications for the Peter elegy. Nineteen days after Will Peter's murder, Thomas Thorpe registered the Elegy as ready for publication. Either the poem was composed in the West Country and delivered to Thorpe in London, or more likely the news travelled to London and the poem was written there. But if the news, rather than the poem, travelled to London, how in this era preceding newspapers and institutionalised mail delivery did word of Will Peter's murder get across town so quickly, reaching WS's ear? Lord Petre's emergence as a possible mediator is suggestive, especially because the murder and the Elegy's registration took place just after the holiday season, which Petre customarily celebrated by entertaining at home in Essex, or with kinsfolk in the West.

  30. Consider the following scenario. Say that John Peter of Bowhay was visiting Lord Petre during the Christmas holiday of 1611/2 and that he lingered for the London social season. News of his brother's murder might cut short his visit, and Lord Petre's allusion to the matter at court, where the King's Men were then performing, or at the Mermaid, would result in the story's being relayed to Will Peter's London friends. Many versions of this scenario can be imagined. A visiting John Peter (or Elizabeth Peter Dawbney, or Lady Wadham, or George Wadham of Axminster) was due to depart London after the holidays. Lord Petre lent his coach for transportation westward and heard of the murder on his coachman's return. Or a Westcountry coachman, arriving by pre-arrangement to fetch home his master, brought the bad news. Or (less likely, because of his father's failing health) William II was himself vacationing in the west when calamity struck (or had an Essex or London friend who was vacationing in the west). The important point is that the murder took place in a season during which aristocratic families were in transit, facilitating the news's delivery. Distances between Essex and the west were magically contracted for people of the Petres' stature. And of course, once Lord Petre had the news in London, it had not much farther to travel before it caught the ear of a concerned poet or his friends.

  31. And if an interested party were then headed back to Devon or John Peter expected in Essex, there might be reason for a poet to rush the Elegy's composition. The traveller would not be Lord Petre himself, for right after the holiday he was plunged into preparations for his eldest child's April wedding. But the Westcountry Peters - John and Elizabeth (Dawbney) - would surely have received invitations to that wedding, and John's impending arrival might have provided an incentive to publish a timely memorial volume. This hypothesis finds a shred of confirmation in an account entry which places Lord Petre in the company of a relevant London bookman not long after his daughter's wedding. On May 12, 1612, Lord Petre records a payment of fifteen shillings "To Blunte ye bookbinder ye xiith day [of May] for the historie of Ethiopia in spanishe" (marginal: "ye historie of Ethiopia empt"). Lord Petre's commercial patronage of "Blunte" is striking. By charter, bookbinding was a perquisite of the stationer's trade, and only one stationer named "Blunte" was active in London c. 1611-12: the future publisher of the Shakespeare First Folio, who already had a longstanding and rich relationship with the Elegy's publisher, Thomas Thorpe. [13] In 1600 Thorpe facetiously addressed "his kind and true friend, Edward Blunt" as an alter ego ("Blount: I purpose to be blunt with you"), and later traded on Blount's copyright, publishing Marlowe's Hero and Leander and Jonson's Sejanus by Blount's assignment. In 1611 and 1612 for reasons unknown Blount drastically shortened his booklist, a decision that may have had something to do with his undertaking of two massive publishing ventures, Coryats Crudities (1611) and Shelton's translation of Don Quixote (1612). But whatever the reason, Blount's reduced booklist and his ongoing association with Thorpe raise the possibility that it was Blount who was approached to publish the Elegy, and that he referred the work to his colleague, as he is known to have done with other texts.

  32. Such a hypothesis would account for the coincidence that, among the hundred-or-so publishers, booksellers and bookbinders active in London around 1612, Lord Petre found his way to perhaps the most intimate literary associate of the stationer who published the recent tribute to his murdered cousin. [14] Maybe Lord Petre's appreciation of the Peter elegy prompted his sole recorded visit to Blount's shop. Or Lord Petre may himself have participated in the process of bringing the Elegy into print. Thorpe had no shop of his own, and it's not impossible that he operated out of Blount's shop for a time - in which case, a visit to Blount would be a visit to Thorpe, and vice versa. However that may be, further clues lie in the book that Lord Petre bought from Blount: a Spanish-language history of Ethiopia. In a concurrence that must be more than merely fortuitous, exactly three days after Lord Petre's purchase Blount registered a work that he apparently never got around to translating or publishing, entitled, Historia Eccliastica (sic), politica, naturall, ymorrall de los grandes, yremotos Reynos de la Etiapia (sic) Monarchia del Emperador, Llamado Preste Juan de las Indias. The overwhelming probability is that this book, by Luis de Urreta in two volumes (Valencia, 1610-11), is the very one he sold to Lord Petre. To be sure, it makes no sense that Blount would let his sole copy of a book he intended to publish walk out the door, but perhaps he had two copies or two similar works (a history of Ethiopia, the basis of de Urreta's first part, by Francisco Alvares was published in Toledo in 1588), and sold one of them. Or Lord Petre, buying the book, may have considered translating it, as he translated other works from Spanish, and Blount, gambling on the outcome, made a quick trip to the Stationers' Office to secure his rights. Whatever version of the story one prefers, I think all will agree that it would be simply too great a coincidence for Lord Petre to walk in off the street, browse Blount's stock, and select the very book that Blount planned to register later that week. Lord Petre knew what he was looking for-indeed, may have ordered the Ethiopian history himself, planting a seed in Blount's mind. In any event, the evidence points to Lord Petre's having special status, an ongoing back-of-the-shop relationship with Blount. The connection ties Lord Petre more tightly to Thorpe as the publisher of the Elegy for his kinsman.

  33. Another "coincidence": on February 15, 1611/2, two days after Thorpe registered the Elegy (no work having been registered on the intervening day of the 14th), Blount registered two King's Men plays, Richard Niccoll's The Twins' Tragedy and Cyril Tourneur's The Nobleman (neither extant), both of which had been performed at court in the winter of 1611-12. This circumstance suggests that the Elegy came in to Blount's shop together with the plays, brought, say, by a King's Men representative with Lord Petre in tow, and that Blount, assessing his commitments, took on the plays with their looser deadline, passing the rush job of the Elegy along to Thorpe. Evidence for this inference lies in the Elegy's other King's Men connections. As already noted, the elegist had access to a manuscript of Mariam, as did the King's Men dramatist Thomas Middleton, who adapted phrases from Cary for his play, The Second Maiden's Tragedy. Correspondingly, Middleton borrowed the subplot of The Second Maiden's Tragedy from the manuscript which was then on Blount's desk, and which must have preoccupied the stationer throughout the winter of 1611-12. Thomas Shelton's translation of the first part of Don Quixote, completed c. 1607, circulated in manuscript for several years before its 1612 publication. It passed, for example, to Middleton's King's Men colleague, Nathan Field, who used it for his Amends for Ladies (performed 1611; published 1618); and it is believed to have been used by Shakespeare and Fletcher for their play Cardenio, composed in 1612. Indeed, several phrases from the first part of Don Quixote may have found their way into the Elegy. These intertextual relationships are intricate and deserve to be painted with a finer brush than I am using. Pending fuller study, however, I trust that it is sufficiently demonstrated that manuscripts circulated freely among Blount's and Thorpe's clients around the time of the Elegy's composition, and that the Elegy's proximity to two King's Men plays in the Stationers' Register therefore appears to be significant.

  34. Also relevant, Blount's single 1611 publishing venture, Coryats Crudities, was a sprawling, disjointed travel book of 800 pages, which must have been a nightmare to bring to press. Perhaps for this reason Blount assigned Thorpe a companion volume, got up by a Mermaid wag (probably Ben Jonson) to gird at Coryate. The Odcombian Banquet: Dished forth by Thomas the Coriat (1611) arises within a pertinent social context. Coryate was well known at the Mermaid, frequented also by Lord Petre. Indeed, it was the "Odcombian Leg-stretcher" who in a 1615 newsletter from India documents the existence of a "Fraternitie of Sireniacal Gentlemen, that meet the first Fridaie of every Moneth, at the signe of the Mere-maid in Bread-streete in London" (Coriate 37). The fraternity's exact composition is problematic; though the editor of The Odcombian Banquet elicited commendatory verses from many friends to "introduce" Coryate's book (and then left out the book), the group clearly extends beyond those who submitted poems. We know this because Coryate explicitly salutes as a "Sireniacal Gentleman" William Ford ("one that deserueth better of me then any man in all this Catalogue"), who failed to contribute to the volume. Ford was a cousin and friend of the poet John Ford, and a friend and fellow Oxford student of Will Peter's (he was eventually preferred to a benefice by Peter's remarried widow). In view of John Ford's Elegy connection and Lord Petre's patronage of the Mermaid, we cannot rule out the possibility that Lord Petre himself belonged to the "Sireniacal" fraternity and played a part in setting in motion the project of an elegy for his murdered cousin, though of course Lord Petre cannot be the WS who takes credit for the finished work. In any event, Blount's assignment to Thorpe of The Odcombian Banquet suggests a trajectory that the Elegy too may have travelled within the year.

  35. Finally, two later Thorpe enterprises arise within the publishing and social circle we have constructed for the Elegy. A familiar figure of the account books is Lord Petre's kinsman and intellectual companion, Sir William Cornwallis, with whom he shared an interest in Seneca and his humanist interpreter Justus Lipsius. All but one of Cornwallis's early publications were issued by Edmund Mattes, after whose death in 1613 Cornwallis shifted his trade to Thorpe, who published Cornwallis's last book, Essayes of Certaine Paradoxes (1616). Cornwallis may have found his way to Thorpe via Blount, whose 1606 publication of a work by Cornwallis is the sole exception to the string of Mattes imprints. A comparable case is Thorpe's 1622 publication by Blount's assignment of a sermon by the Westcountry Puritan divine Hannibal Gamon, who had complex ties with the Peter and Petre families. Gamon was presented to the living of St. Mawgan-in-Pyder, Cornwall, by Elizabeth Peter (apparent wife of Hugh Peter, descended from Otho's brother Thomas), who derived her right of appointment from the Catholic recusant Sir John Arundell of Lanherne, a friend and relation of the Essex Petres. In 1627 Gamon published a funeral sermon for Lady Frances Robartes, a kinswoman both of Will Peter's wife Margaret and Margaret's second husband Edward Cotton; and in his 1650 will Gamon mentions two daughters of Thomas Peter, his daughters-in-law. The Robartes funeral sermon, moreover, is dedicated to Sir John Trefusis, second husband of Will Peter's cousin Joan Strode on his Southcott mother's side. With Petre-, Peter-, Bruton-, Cotton-, and Southcott-relations, Hannibal Gamon's connection with his exact contemporary and fellow Oxonian Will Peter is overdetermined. It is probably more than coincidence that ten years after Peter's murder Gamon found his way to Blount and then to the publisher of the Elegy. [15]

  36. At the time of the Elegy's publication, Lord Petre's absorbing concern was the impending April wedding of his eldest child. Elizabeth Petre, nearly fifteen years of age, was engaged to marry twenty-two year-old William Sheldon, scion of the wealthy recusant family that introduced tapestry-making to England. The initials of Lord Petre's son-in-law may prompt readers to question whether it was not Sheldon who conceived and commissioned the Elegy as a gesture of solidarity with his future in-laws. The chances are slim; initials aside, Sheldon's only credential for authorship is an Oxford residency overlapping Will Peter's (he matriculated at Brasenose in 1604). But the Sheldons and Petres' passionate Catholicism is at variance with the lack of pious consolation at the end of the Elegy; and though "A man may weep upon his wedding day" (Henry VIII, Prol., 32), the groom might restrain himself in his father-in-law's presence, whereas WS implies that the death of his male friend drains his life of meaning, and never so much as hints that an upcoming marriage offers consolation.

  37. Though William Sheldon is an unlikely candidate for the Elegy's WS, another W.S. has links with the Petre family through the very marriage that lay on the horizon at the time of Will Peter's murder. Together with their London town house, the Sheldons owned estates in Beoley, Worcestershire (on the Warwickshire border), and Weston, Warwickshire: all three locations potentially associate the family with Shakespeare. If we accept the plentiful evidence of John Shakespeare's Catholicism, we may surmise that the poet knew the Sheldons from childhood, and in any case he had ample opportunity to make their acquaintance in later life. The name Sheldon appears alongside those of Shakespeare's friends in Warwickshire indentures and conveyances, and in the medical casebook of Shakespeare's son-in-law, Dr John Hall of Stratford. Though an early casebook has been lost, a surviving one numbers among Hall's patients (treated c. 1623) Elizabeth Sheldon, née Petre, her gentlewoman-companion and her Sheldon mother-in-law (Lane 97-101, 110-13, 205, 256-58). But the likelihood of a Shakespeare-Sheldon connection extends beyond mere Warwickshire neighbourliness. The Sheldons were an artistic family, known patrons of music and dance, and probably also of the performing arts (Somerset). They were, as far as we know, the first South Midlands family to display literary interest in their great poet-neighbour. Lord Petre's son-in-law William Sheldon was the original owner of the Burdett-Coutts First Folio now in the Folger, the only Shakespeare First Folio of traceable provenance from its purchase to the present day; and his neighbor and cousin, Walter Savage, owned a copy of the first collected (Benson) edition of Shakespeare's nondramatic poems (1640) (Barnard 50-51). [16] Whether William Sheldon had already developed a taste for Shakespeare by the time of his marriage is unknown. But if he had, an account entry of February 6, 1612/3, becomes unusually suggestive. On that date (a month before Shakespeare is known to have been in London to sign the Conveyance for the Blackfriars Gatehouse) Lord Petre records an outlay of eight shillings for "my sonne[-in-law] Sheldons dinner and mine at the Mermaid." How curious to think that a young fan may have pursued an introduction to the Bard!

  38. Over the top? Probably. But it's no fantasy that Shakespeare had friends who could have introduced him to the Peters and the Petres. Though we close our inquiry with Lord Petre and his son-in-law at the Mermaid, a discussion of other potential mediators could easily fill another essay the length of this one. The Sheldons are not even the most compelling instance. Others include:
              1) Shakespeare's friend and testamentary overseer Thomas Russell, to whom Foster calls attention as a link with Henry Willoughby. Russell had Devon ties. To sensationalise the matter only slightly, had Will Peter lived, he and Russell would have been kinsmen through marriage. This is unsurprising when we learn that the Poltimore family seat of Russell's first wife was only two miles from Bowhay. Also, Russell's second wife had Devon roots, and Russell was a friend of Sir George Petre's important convert (and probable lover), Tobie Mathew.
              2) If we suppose that Shakespeare knew his next-door neighbour, then Sir George Carew, whose Stratford property fronted on Shakespeare's Ingon Meadow, represents a link to the Bowhay Peters. Carew came from a south Devon family whose most durable alliance was with Will Peter's maternal kin, the Southcotts (Will Peter's great-grandmother was a Carew). Moreover, Carew's only niece married Allen Apsley, Sr., whose son Peter was the main beneficiary of the childless George's estate. Peter Apsley himself died the next year, and his estate was ultimately administered by his half-brother, Allen Apsley, Jr., husband to John and Hester Peter's only surviving daughter, Frances. The estates of Otho Peter's only living descendant and of Shakespeare's Stratford neighbour were merged in the Peter-Apsley marriage. (Similarly, Carew's only nephew married into the St Leger family, whence Thomas Russell's second wife.)
              3) Besides the Sheldons, the Essex Petres had other links with Shakespeare Country. The royal secretary raised John Talbot as his ward, eventually matching him with his daughter Katherine. Talbot, probably Sir John Petre's closest friend, was of a Warwickshire family attended by the physician John Hall. John Petre's only other full-sister married Ludovic Greville, of a family allied with the Stratford Cloptons, whom Shakespeare knew through his friend John Combes, a stepson of Rose Clopton Combes (the Combeses, too, have Apsley links). Thomas Russell, Ludovic's closest Warwickshire neighbour, nearly bought Clopton Manor, which later came to George Carew through his marriage to the Clopton heiress.

  39. When all the evidence is in, revelations of who knew whom may not alter the case of the Elegy's authorship, but they do bear on the question of which W.S. may have instigated the poem, a question that shapes up to be one of equal weight and curiosity. That question may never be answered. An exhaustive search of West Country pedigrees turns up no shining candidate, and though I have searched less diligently at Oxford, I suspect that to assemble lifetime curricula of all of Peter's classmates initialled W.S. would prove a impossible labour; not to mention that, if Peter spent time in London, as surely he did, he could have formed friendships with many W.S.'s, Shakespeare included, and those friendships leave not a rack of documentary evidence behind. He could have; that acknowledged, I want to register my sense that such pessimism is excessive: it reckons without the gains that both research and reasoning are capable of. I closed a previous essay by insisting that whatever the Elegy's merits or demerits, the poem needs better readers. That still holds true. Though internal verbal evidence in the hands of Monsarrat has been eye-opening, we are far from reaping the intelligence that the elegist's "self"-characterization (i.e., Ford's characterization of WS) affords. In his digressions from eulogy, which have immensely more poetic "snap" than his praise of Peter's perfections, the elegist characterises WS in terms that require explication with reference to contemporaneous texts. If I feel sure of one thing about this poem, it's that the severe "self"-judgments of the middle section, and the mixture of sorrow, ironic "self"-acceptance, and respect to the dead at the end, are something more than the perfunctory jottings of a hired pen. The grieving heart,

                               banished in th' exile
    Of dim misfortune, has none other prop
    Whereon to lean and rest itself the while
    But the weak comfort of the hapless, hope.
    And hope must in despite of fearful change
    Play in the strongest closet of my breast,
    Although perhaps I ignorantly range
    And court opinion in my deep'st unrest.
    But whether doth the stream of my mischance
    Drive me beyond myself, fast friend, soon lost,
    Long may thy worthiness thy name advance... (566-76)

    If the Elegy's reassignment to Ford may be regarded as secure, that judgment, far from solving the poem's problems, creates new ones, as Monsarrat's indecisions suggest. Those who enjoy a literary mystery should stay tuned for an interesting denouement. But that denouement will occur only if scholars work co-operatively, paying due respect to close-grained study whose indications differ from their own. This essay is inscribed to the hope that greater candour and less rancour will hereafter characterise discussion of a poem that has made many thoughtful people in the profession ask themselves what they listen for when they listen to Shakespeare.


1. Though the evidence is strong that Jaquinto presented himself as a Catholic, in one instance he gained the confidence and financial support of the Countess of Cumberland by giving out that he was exiled from Italy for his Anglican beliefs.

2. The younger Thomas Hamor's sister Jane married John Blackaller, son of Mary Blackaller, née Southcott; she was a niece of Will Peter's grandfather Thomas Southcott.

3. Hester appointed her brother-in-law Richard Yeo as coexecutor with Short, but he died before probate and Short continued on as sole executor. Though Hester's will displays general embitterment, a probable cause of her estrangement from her daughter and son is the lawsuit filed by Frances and her husband Allen Apsley, Jr., in 1649. The Apsleys sued Hester for money owed from John Peter's estate. The judgment favoured the Apsleys, with a concession to Thomas Hamor, living in London (Chancery Proceedings).

4. The evidence concerning Harris's religious affiliation is ambiguous. His service (independent of Drake) to Bedford, a fervent Puritan, suggests reformist leanings, and in 1602 Harris sent a recusant priest to London for examination. But when Harris's home was demolished in 1937, workers found a secret room for hiding priests. For Harris, Langdon, chap. 13; also John C. deV. Roberts. Hasler gives useful biographies of Harris and other Elizabethan parliamentarians.

5. Elizabeth Bruton's will also details Margaret's marriage settlement, which included the deeding to Peter of the Whipton estate in which the couple lived at the time of his murder.

6. Thomas [Lamplugh, Bishop of] Exon., to His Grace [William Sancroft], Archbishop of Canterbury, March 21, 1682/3, with an interpolation by Richard Astley, Notary Publique, Tanner Mss., 227, 232, Bodleian Library.

7. Ex. Ex. Cath per 7, cited in a collection of typescripts grouped as "Peter Family A-Z, vol. 1," in the Westcountry Studies Office, Exeter.

8. The memorial volume is Threni Exoniensium. See also the entry under Exeter College in Ilium in Italiam, which adapts for the college the Petre family crest, paying tribute to Lord Petre in an accompanying poem. For the life of Sir William Petre, Emmison, Tudor Secretary; for Sir John Petre: Edwards. Tapley-Soper corrects some genealogical errors but introduces new ones. Account books at Ingatestone Hall have served for general study of early modern English domestic life; see Emmison, Tudor Food.

9. According to the musicologist Price, "the guests at the Petre table could have formed a musical academy all on their own," Patrons, 96; cf. 83-96 on the Petres of Ingatestone; also Mateer.

10. Will Peter is said by WS to have studied at "sacred schools" (FE, 74). The reference is unclear, but may refer to study at a religiously-affiliated grammar school prior to Oxford. If so, he may have studied at the most famous of sacred schools, St. Paul's in London, with which his great-uncle had connections. At the London wedding of his daughter Thomasine to Ludovic Greville, Sir William arranged for musical performances by the choir of St. Paul's.

11. For the life of William, second Lord Petre, Hasler, 3: 211; Briggs. For Petre's Catholicism, MacCoog, Bossy.

12. Poeticall Essayes was registered January 9, 1598/9. Lord Petre enters his purchase of the volume on a date between February 1 and February 6 of that year (31v).

13. Lord Petre's practice in designating the publisher Blount a bookbinder follows his entry of May 8, 1605, in which he records a payment of 3s6d "To Mr Norton ye bookbinder for a restitution of decayed privilege (sic, for decayed intelligence)," and includes the marginal notion, "a booke empt. 8th maii." Mr Norton is John Norton, who also published Restitution.

14. A conservative figure, including stationers, publishers and booksellers with listed publications in the STC for the years 1611-13. The count includes only bookmen residing in London; it omits specialty publishers, such as self-publishers, publishers of recusant texts, and publishers of works in languages other than English. No allowance, however, is made for partnerships, both members of which are counted, slightly swelling the figure, which by a hand-count stands at nearly 120.

15. Gamon's sermon published by Thorpe is Gods Iust Desertion of the Uniust, London, 1622, ent. to Blount 16 Feb. 1622. For Gamon, Duffin, 54, et passim. Frances Robartes, the subject of Gamon's only extant funeral sermon, was born a Hender of Bottreaux Castle, Cornwall. Her sister Elizabeth married Edward Cotton's elder brother William; and another sister, Mary, married Ellis Hele of Devon, half-first cousin of Elizabeth Ryder Bruton's mother Julian Hele. Mary Hender Hele was living with the Southcotts at Bovey Tracy in the second decade of the 1600s, perhaps at the time of Will Peter's murder. The Hele connection may help account for the widow Margaret Peter's remarriage to Edward Cotton, since, as noted, Mary's sister was married to Edward's elder brother.

16. For Sheldon's and Savage's family tie, Barnard, 100-04; for the Combe-Sheldon family tie, 98-99. The Savages were kin also to the Underhills, from whom Shakespeare bought New Place.

Works Cited

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2002-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).