I, a gentleman born in Northamptonshire, wrote William Shakespeare in King John.
Although King John came regularly, we have no proof that Shakespeare visited the county.
But he knew of it!
“The red-nosed innkeeper of Daventry”, and “Where is the post that came from Montagu? By this at Daintry” and “Last night, I hear, they lay at Northampton”.
I may be a bit early in this special Shakespeare year, but I wasn’t going to let Northamptonshire’s connections be left out!
Several scenes in King John are set in the Royal residence of Northampton Castle.
Young Prince Arthur leaps to his death from the battlements, although historically that’s tosh.
Much later, the lovely Abington House in Northampton was home to Shakespeare’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Hall, for 20 years.
It then passed into the Thursby family.
Anne Thursby loved the plays of Shakespeare and was a close friend of David Garrick, the leading actor of the time.
Anne and Garrick took a cutting from the mulberry tree in Shakespeare’s garden in Stratford.
They planted it in 1778 on the east lawn of Abington House where it still stands.
For years scholars have been dissecting the Bard’s work, to find out how much he actually wrote and we know he wasn’t averse to borrowing himself!
Sections of two of his plays were “poached” from a Northamptonshire man.
This is how it happened.
Thomas, second Baron Vaux of Harrowden Hall, Wellingborough, soon gained a place at Court and travelled to Europe with King Henry VIII.
Vaux wrote a great deal of verse, although no more than a dozen of his poems have survived.
He died before his work appeared in print, but in the years following his death, his work became highly regarded.
One of his most celebrated poems was a rather sorrowful work of 14 verses called An Aged Lover Renounceth Love.
Here’s a verse from it:
“A pickaxe and a spade, and eke a shrouding sheet, a house of clay for to be made for such a guest most meet.”
This was a gift to Shakespeare. In Hamlet, Act V. Scene I, the First and Second Clowns are busy digging a grave for Ophelia.
They sing while they work and what better to sing than a popular song.
They sing their own, or rather Shakespeare’s, version of Vaux’s verses.
“A pickaxe, and a spade, a spade, for and a shrouding sheet; O, a pit of clay for to be made for such a guest is meet.”
Another of Vaux’s poems appears in Othello.
Desdemona tells her maid that her mother’s servant sang an old song about a willow and she died singing it.
That “Willow Song” was another poem by Thomas Vaux that had become popular by Shakespeare’s time.
“The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree, sing all a-green-willow; her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee, sing willow, willow, willow.” Even later Verdi set the words beautifully in his opera, Otello.
And Vaux never received a penny for his work!