« ZurückWeiter »
and known as "Lord Strange's Players"; and among his clients and panegyrists were Nash, Greene, and others of Shakespeare's seniors in the English Drama. All this is recognised in Spenser's dedication of the Teares of the Muses to Lady Strange. "Most brave and noble Lady," he says, "the things that make ye so much honoured of the world as ye be are such as, without my simple lines' testimony, are throughly known to all men: namely, your excellent beauty, your virtuous behaviour, and your noble match with that most honourable Lord, the very pattern of right nobility. But the causes for which ye have thus deserved of me to be honoured (if honour it be at all) are both your particular bounties and also some private bonds of affinity which it hath pleased your Ladyship to acknowledge. . . . Vouchsafe, noble Lady, to accept this simple remembrance, though not worthy of yourself, yet such as perhaps, by good acceptance thereof, ye may hereafter cull out a more meet and memorable evidence of your own excellent deserts." Some time after this dedication,—to wit, in September 1593,-the lady so addressed rose still higher in the peerage by the accession of her husband to the earldom of Derby on his father's death. Ferdinando, fifth Earl of Derby, however, enjoyed his new dignity but a few months. He died on the 16th of April 1594, in his thirty-sixth year, much regretted. From that day his widow was known as Alice, Countess-Dowager of Derby. The earldom of Derby went to the next male heir; and the Countess-Dowager, with her three young daughters by her deceased husband,-Lady Anne Stanley, Lady Frances Stanley, and Lady Elizabeth Stanley,-lived on to form new alliances. Spenser, who had honoured her during her husband's life, continued to honour her in her widowhood. In his pastoral of Colin Clout's come Home again (completed in 1595), the poet, having enumerated the chief "shepherds or poets of the British Isle, and having proceeded thence to a mention of some of the chief "shepherdesses" or "nymphs," introduces three of these ladies thus :
"Ne less praiseworthie are the sisters three,
Of which I meanest boast myself to be,
The next to her is bountiful Charillis;
These three ladies were the three married daughters of Sir John Spencer of Althorpe, honoured some years before by dedications of Spenser's earliest poems to them respectively; and Amaryllis, the youngest of them, and "the highest in degree," was the one to whom he had dedicated his Teares of the Muses, then Lady Strange, but now Countess-Dowager of Derby. Indeed, there are special allusions in Colin Clout's come Home again to the widowed condition of this lady:
"But Amaryllis whether fortunate
Or else unfortunate may I aread,
That freed is from Cupid's yoke by fate,
Since which she doth new bands' adventure dread?
In her thou mayst them all assembled see,
The lady, however, did marry again. In 1600, when Spenser was no longer alive to approve or to regret, she contracted a second marriage with Lord Keeper Egerton,-then only Sir Thomas Egerton and Lord Keeper of the Great Seal to Queen Elizabeth, but afterwards (1603) Baron Ellesmere and Lord Chancellor to King James, and finally (1616) Viscount Brackley. This eminent lawyer and statesman had already been twice married, and was a man of about sixty years of age, with grown-up children, when he made his splendid match with the Countess-Dowager of Derby. The Countess,-who of course, retained that title in her new condition as the Lord Keeper's wife, was brought once again conspicuously into society by her husband's connexion with public affairs. In 1601 she and her husband jointly purchased the estate of Harefield in Middlesex,- -a charming property, with a fine mansion upon it, on a spot of well-wooded hill and meadow, on the river Colne, about four miles from Uxbridge. Here, or in London, the Lord Keeper and his wife mainly resided, doing the honours of their position, and receiving in return the recognitions due to persons of their rank. One very memorable incident in their life at Harefield was a visit of four days paid them there by Queen Elizabeth (July 31-August 3, 1602), when all sorts of pageants were
held for her Majesty's recreation. A long avenue of elms," leading to the house, was the scene of a kind of masque of welcome at the Queen's reception, and of another of leavetaking on her departure, and was ever afterwards known as "the Queen's Walk." Throughout the reign of James I. there were similar recognitions of the high social rank of the Chancellor and his noble wife, besides not a few of a literary character, in the shape of poems, or dedications of poems, to them. It was not only their own marriage, however, marriage that proved childless,—that now connected the pair. Not long after that marriage had taken place, the ties of family between the two had been drawn closer by the marriage of the Lord Keeper's son,-then Sir John Egerton, -with Lady Frances Stanley, the Countess's second daughter by her former husband the Earl of Derby. Thus, while the Countess-Dowager was the wife of the father, one of her daughters was the wife of the son. Her other two daughters made marriages of even higher promise at the time. The eldest, Lady Anne Stanley, had married Grey Bridges, fifth Lord Chandos; and the youngest, Lady Elizabeth Stanley, had married at a very early age (1603), Henry, Lord Hastings, who, in 1605, succeeded his grandfather as Earl of Huntingdon and possessor of the fine estate of Ashby-dela Zouch in Leicestershire.
On the 15th of March 1616-17 the Lord Chancellor Ellesmere, then just created Viscount Brackley, died, and the Countess-Dowager of Derby commenced her second widowShe was then probably over five-and-fifty years of age, and she survived for twenty years more. Those twenty years she spent chiefly in retirement at Harefield, where she endowed almshouses for poor widows, and did other acts of charity, but was surrounded all the while, or occasionally visited, by those numerous descendants and other relatives who had grown up, or were growing up, to venerate her, and whose joys and sorrows constituted the chief interest of her declining, years. By the year 1630, when she was about seventy years of age, she had at least twenty of her own direct descendants alive, besides collateral relatives in the families of her sisters, Phyllis and Charillis. (1.) One group of the venerable lady's direct descendants consisted of her eldest daughter, Lady Chandos, and that daughter's surviving children by her first husband Lord Chandos, the eldest of
whom was George Bridges, now Lord Chandos, a boy of about twelve years of age. Both mother and children, we chance to know, lived at Harefield with the grandmother in 1631; and the estate of Harefield itself, we also learn, was to descend, after the Countess-Dowager's death, to Lady Chandos, otherwise left "destitute," and so to her son, young Lord Chandos. (2.) An additional group of relatives, also sharing the affections of the venerable Lady of Harefield, consisted of the children of her youngest daughter, the Countess of Huntingdon viz. Ferdinando, Lord Hastings, twenty-two years of age, and heir-apparent to the earldom of Huntingdon; his younger brother Henry, afterwards Lord Loughborough; a daughter, Alice, married to Sir Gervase Clifton; and another daughter, Elizabeth. These four grandchildren would sometimes be on visits to their grandmother at Harefield from their own homes in London, Ashbyde-la-Zouch, and elsewhere. (3.) There was still a third group of relatives around the venerable lady. At or near the time when she herself had married the Lord Keeper Egerton, as we have seen, her second daughter by her former husband, Lady Frances Stanley, had married the Lord Keeper's son, Sir John Egerton. When his father was raised to the peerage as Baron Ellesmere (1603), this Sir John Egerton had become "baron-expectant,' a designation which rose to the higher one of "Lord Egerton" when his father was made Viscount Brackley (1616). On his father's death, a few months afterwards (March 1616-17), he succeeded him as Viscount. But his dignities did not stop at that point. In May 1617, an earldom which had been intended for the father, in recognition of his long services as Lord Chancellor, was bestowed on the son, and he became Earl of Bridgewater. Thus the Countess-Dowager of Derby saw her second daughter, as well as her youngest, take rank as a Countess. A far larger family of children had been born to this daughter than to either of her sisters. Out of fifteen children, born in all, at least ten were alive in 1633, in order of age as follows: the Lady Frances Egerton, married to Sir John Hobart, of Blickling, Norfolk; the Lady Arabella, married to Lord St. John of Bletso, son and heir of the Earl of Bolingbroke; the Ladies Elizabeth, Mary, Penelope, Catherine, Magdalen, and Alice, yet unmarried,—the last, Lady Alice, being in her thirteenth or fourteenth year; John,
Viscount Brackley, the son and heir, in his twelfth year; and his brother, Mr. Thomas Egerton, about a year younger. The London head-quarters of this numerous family, or of such of them as were unmarried, were the Earl of Bridgewater's town-house in the Barbican, Aldersgate Street; their country seat was the Earl's mansion of Ashridge, Hertfordshire, about sixteen miles from Harefield.
We are now prepared to understand the exact circumstances of the Arcades. Some time in 1633, if that was the year, some of the younger members of the different groups of the relatives of the Dowager Countess of Derby determined to get up an entertainment in her honour, at her house at Harefield. The occasion may have been the aged lady's birthday, or it may have been some incidental gathering at Harefield for a family purpose. Whatever it was, the young people had resolved to amuse themselves by some kind of festivity in compliment to the venerable lady of whom they were all so proud. What could it be but a masque? Harefield with its avenue of elms called "the Queen's Walk" in memory of Queen Elizabeth's visit, and with its fine park of grassy slopes and well-wooded knolls, was exactly the place for a masque; besides which, was not the Countess accustomed to this kind of entertainment? Would it not be in good taste to remind her of the masques and similar poetical and musical entertainments that had pleased her in her youth, when she had been the theme of Spenser's muse, and had sat by the side of her first husband, Lord Strange, beholding plays brought out under his patronage? Masques, indeed, were even more in fashion now, in the reign of Charles I., than they had been in the reigns of Elizabeth and James, and a masque in a noble family on any occasion of family-rejoicing was the most natural thing in the world.
There was then to be a masque, or at least a bit of a masque, at Harefield; and the actors were already provided. But for a good masque, or even a good bit of a masque, more is required than willing actors. Who was to write the words for the little masque, and who was to set the songs in it to music?
The latter question may be answered first. There can be little doubt that the person to whom the young people of the family of the Countess-Dowager of Derby trusted for all the