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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: March ::
Shakespeare and Southwell
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0141  Thursday, 9 March 2006

From: 		Bruce Young <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 8 Mar 2006 11:09:45 -0700
Subject: 17.0135 Royal Wards (or Shakespeare and Southwell)
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0135 Royal Wards (or Shakespeare and Southwell)

Intrigued by Peter Bridgman's reference to "Shakespeare's cousin, the 
Jesuit Robert Southwell," I did a search this morning to learn more 
about the Shakespeare-Southwell connection.  I limited myself to the 
resources in my office and on the Internet and came up with 
frustratingly little information.

None of the biographies on my shelves (including Schoenbaum, 
Duncan-Jones, Wells, Honan, or even Greenblatt) mention Southwell.  An 
Internet search yielded more: two references on SHAKSPER to 
"Shakespeare's cousin Robert Southwell" (both by Peter Bridgman, in 2004 
and 2005); a brief discussion of "St. Robert, who some contemporary 
scholars believe was a distant cousin of his younger contemporary 
Shakespeare"; and a review of Michael Wood's book on Shakespeare.

Wood apparently asserts that Southwell was Shakespeare's distant cousin 
on the basis of Southwell's letter "To My Worthy Good Cosen Maister W. 
S." This letter was published in the 1590s-I've seen a photo of the 
first page but don't have any bibliographic information; later versions 
(WITHOUT the reference to "W. S.") were appended starting in 1595 to 
some editions of Southwell's "St. Peter's Complaint."  The letter 
decries worldly subject matter in poetry and, IF addressed to 
Shakespeare, may allude specifically to "Venus and Adonis."

I also used a "family search" program to look for a connection between 
Southwell and Shakespeare and discovered that both are descended from 
John Fitzalan and Isabelle de Mortimer, who lived in the 1200s.  That 
makes Southwell and Shakespeare 9th cousins once removed.  (If this 
connection hasn't been noticed before, I hereby claim priority of 
discovery.)

My question, though, is whether Southwell or Shakespeare would have been 
aware of a connection going back 200 years and involving many changes of 
name and location.  (Fitzalan lived in Sussex, but the family line 
leading to Southwell wanders through Shropshire, Warwickshire, Sussex 
again, Hampshire, and Surrey, ending in Norfolk; while the line leading 
to Shakespeare wanders through Hampshire, Cornwall, London, and 
Buckinghamshire, before it reaches Warwickshire.)  By the time 
Shakespeare or Southwell had traced their lines back far enough to make 
a connection, each would have had about 4000 ancestors and probably 
hundreds of thousands of cousins as closely related to them as they were 
to each other.  One of the facts of genealogy is that many if not most 
of Shakespeare's and Southwell's English contemporaries would have been 
10th or 12th cousins without knowing it.

Further questions:

Has anyone identified a closer genealogical relationship between 
Southwell and Shakespeare than the one I've found?

How certain can we be that the letter "To My Worthy Good Cosen Maister 
W. S." was addressed to Shakespeare?

And does anyone have more specific bibliographic information on that letter?

Thanks in advance for any information.

Bruce Young

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