The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0141 Thursday, 9 March 2006
From: Bruce Young <
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
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.
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.
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