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Shakespeare and Hoghton Tower

Posted on 29th Jun 2021 | Mark

There has long been an oral tradition in the de Hoghton family that the world-renowned playwright William Shakespeare worked for the family at Hoghton Tower during his teenage years, sometime in the late 1570s / early 1580s. This is subject to much debate amongst historians who have differing views on whether this was the case.

There are numerous connections between the house, the family, Stratford-upon-Avon and the Shakespeare family. One of the most talked about documents that may refer to William Shakespeare is the Testament of Alexander Hoghton. Alexander had remained at Old Lea Hall following the exile and death of his brother, The Right Worshipful Thomas Hoghton, who had rebuilt Hoghton Tower. He did, however, encourage and support a small theatre at Hoghton Tower and makes specific reference to this in his Testament including a specific request that two men, Fulk Gyllom and William Shakeshaft should be looked after. It was not uncommon in Elizabethan England, a time of Catholic persecution, for aliases to be used. Could this actually be William Shakespeare?

Further links are apparent through William’s Stratford school master, John Cottom, originally from Preston and whose family were tenants on the Hoghton Estate. As Shakespeare left school, Cottom was retiring back to Lancashire at a time when the Shakespeare family were experiencing some financial difficulty, meaning that William may have been seeking employment elsewhere. Were the Shakespeare’s looking for a safe Catholic household for their son to begin his adult career? With his extensive knowledge of the young man’s religious beliefs and educational abilities, was Cottom involved in finding him employment with Alexander?

Add to this, the fact that Fr. Edmund Campion stayed at Hoghton Tower for several months in the early 1580s. He was known as a great Catholic intellectual who became a Jesuit and led a Jesuit Mission in an attempt to return England to the Catholic faith. Attracted to Hoghton by the large and significant library built up by the family, he had been chosen to lead the mission, by William Allen, a close friend and confidant of The Right Worshipful Thomas Hoghton. Did the library and the visit of Fr. Edmund Campion influence the young William Shakespeare?

If, indeed, William Shakespeare did spend a period of time here at Hoghton Tower, it would have given him the opportunity to live in a safe and strongly Catholic household with influence from Fr. Edmund Campion with his experiences, access to a significant library whilst participating in and active and professional theatre; all adding to his own understanding and experiences, no doubt influencing him in later life.

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