‘The Muses Quiet Port’: Clifford Chambers and Michael Drayton
by Roger Pringle
(The full article from the commissioned chapter contributed to
Round the Square and up the Tower)
In the course of its quiet, rustic history Clifford Chambers has not been the birth or living place of a Prime Minister, an Admiral of the Fleet, a famous inventor, or other national celebrity. But it can boast the distinction of being associated with one of the writers who contributed significantly to creating, during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I, a golden age of literature: Michael Drayton. Though the level of acclaim which Drayton’s work attracted in his lifetime was not sustained in later centuries, his place in the list of most notable English poets is secure. The leading literary figure of his age was, of course, William Shakespeare. They were both Warwickshire born, near contemporaries, and followed similar careers. Later, I shall consider the likely relationship between them and the part that Drayton’s association with Clifford may have played in it. Meantime, my focus is on looking at how Drayton’s connections with the village came to be forged, and to show how his affection for it and the surrounding countryside found expression in his work.
Drayton’s links with Clifford were the result of the circumstances of his early life. He was born in 1563, a year before Shakespeare, in Hartshill, a village near Nuneaton, in the north of the county. His social background was similar to Shakespeare’s: farmers, butchers and tanners figure in the sixteenth-century family records. Information about his childhood and schooling comes from the writer himself. From passages in his poetry and various prefaces it is clear that his boyhood was spent partly in the household of Sir Henry Goodere, whose family seat, Polesworth, was situated near Hartshill. In 1597, dedicating one of his historical poems to Sir Henry’s nephew, Drayton referred to ‘the happy & generous family of the Gooderes, (to which I confess my self to be beholding to, for the most part of my education)’.1 In another dedication he paid tribute to ‘that learned and accomplished Gentleman, Sir Henry Goodere…whose patience (was) pleased to bear with the imperfections of my heedless and unstayed youth. That excellent and matchless gentleman, was the first cherisher of my Muse’. 2
Sir Henry was a prominent figure in the county and beyond, chosen as Member of Parliament for Coventry in 1571, and serving with distinction in the army in the 1580s, fighting against the Spanish in the Netherlands. He was also a man of literary interests and counted the poet Sir Philip Sidney amongst his friends. It was the young and impressionable Drayton’s good fortune to spend time under Goodere’s roof at Polesworth. In verse written towards the end of his life, the poet recalled his early ambitions to be a writer:
In my small self I greatly marvelled then,
Amongst all other, what strange kind of men
These poets were; and pleased with the name,
To my mild tutor merrily I came,
(For I was then a proper goodly page,
Much like a pigmy, scarce ten years of age)
Clasping my slender arms about his thigh.
O my dear master! cannot you (quoth I)
Make me a poet, do it; if you can,
And you shall see, I’ll quickly be a man…’3
We do not know who Drayton’s tutor was. It is possible that he received his schooling in the Abbey gatehouse at Polesworth, maintained by the Gooderes, or even attended the fine grammar school at Coventry, where the family owned a house, though the likelihood is that the tutor in question was engaged at Polesworth itself. Other references in the poet’s writings recall the influence of the Gooderes on his upbringing and choice of future career. Dedicating a collection of odes, in 1619, to Sir Henry Goodere’s nephew, who succeeded to his uncle’s estates, Drayton recalled the times when they gathered round the fire at Polesworth to be entertained by a minstrel:
‘These lyric pieces, short, and few,
Most worthy Sir, I send to you,
To read them, be not weary:
They may become John Hewes his lyre,
Which oft at Polesworth by the fire
Hath made us gravely merry.’4
Drayton’s role within the Goodere household may have extended to becoming a tutor himself to Sir Henry’s two children, his daughters Frances and Anne. Frances, the eldest, who was probably about six years younger than Drayton, was the dedicatee of his verse epistle about Lady Jane Gray, published in 1597, two years after her father’s death. In his dedication the poet spoke of ‘the love and duty I bare to your father whilst he lived’ and recorded with pleasure: ‘My self having been a witness of your excellent education, and mild disposition (as I may say) ever from your cradle, dedicate this Epistle of this virtuous and goodly Lady to your self…’ 5 But it was to Sir Henry’s younger daughter, Anne, that Drayton formed a deep attachment, which probably began when he assisted with her girlhood education at Polesworth, and matured over his lifetime. It was the bond that would link him indissolubly with Clifford Chambers.
Anne was born in Coventry, presumably in the Gooderes’ town house, in 1570/71, making her about eight years younger than Drayton. Her childhood and teenage years were spent in the country at Polesworth. Whatever intensity of feeling the poet held for her seems to have been transmuted in his verse into an idealized love relationship. She became a muse, inspiring poems in two of his earliest volumes, ‘Idea, the Shepheards Garland’, 1593, and ‘Ideas Mirrour’, 1594, the first being a series of pastoral poems influenced by Edmund Spenser’s ‘The Shepherd’s Calendar’, and the second comprising fifty-one sonnets. Drawing on the Platonic notion of types of perfection and beauty, compared to which all other persons or things are but shadows, Drayton’s Idea stands for his lady and the pure love he holds for her. Although she is not identified by name in these collections, it is clear from topographical references that Anne Goodere is their principal inspiration. The thirteenth sonnet of ‘Ideas Mirrour’, for example, speaks of the shepherd’s wandering years, a fanciful allusion to the poet’s youth, spent by the banks of the Anker, the river that ran close to Polesworth. Written in the pastoral and ornamental style fashionable in the 1590s, the sonnet ends with a claim that the countryside and river associated with the poet’s Idea can compare favourably with the scenic glories of classical Greece such as Tempe, the beautiful valley in Thessaly, and Helicon, the mountain famous for its springs and sacred to the Muses.
Clear Anker, on whose silver-sanded shore,
My soul-shrined Saint, my fair Idea lies
Lo, here thy shepherd spent his wandering years;
And in these shades, dear nymph, he oft hath been,
And here to thee he sacrificed his tears:
Fair Arden, thou my Tempe art alone,
And thou, sweet Anker, art my Helicon.6
Another of these early sonnets, addressed to the River Anker, concludes:
Arden’s sweet Anker, let thy glory be,
That fair Idea only lives by thee.7
A reader today unfamiliar with this kind of poetic artifice might question the authenticity of feeling being expressed. Using the pastoral genre, though, allowed the poet to avoid being too direct or embarrassing about his affections. After all, it was not for a tanner’s son to aspire to winning the love of a daughter of a knight, who in some respects was his boss and guardian. Perhaps it was this knowledge that helps to account for the note of dismay sometimes sounded in Drayton’s verse about love. Despite this, however, and the mannered style he often adopted, there remains the impression of a serious, even intense, commitment on the poet’s part to his Idea, linked specifically to Anne Goodere, and to a love that could not be returned on any other level than companionship.
Less than a year after the publication of Drayton’s sonnets in ‘Ideas Mirrour’, Sir Henry Goodere died; the poet had been a witness to his will, which was proved in May 1595. Amongst its bequests was the provision of a handsome sum of fifteen hundred pounds to his daughter Anne for her ‘preferment in marriage advancement’. Doubtless this event was already anticipated since she married soon afterwards, leaving Polesworth to spend the rest of her life at Clifford Chambers with her husband, Henry Rainsford. A few years her junior, he had inherited its manor in 1583 when he was only eight, on the death of his father; twenty years later he was created a knight at the time of King James’s coronation. From their marriage in 1595 until his death in 1622, they appear to have been a devoted couple. ‘Toujours Loyall’ was the family motto inscribed on their impressive commemorative monument in Clifford’s church. Fashioned from alabaster and marble, it depicts them kneeling and facing each other, hands closed in prayer, across a prayer-desk. Figures representing their three children, all sons, are in attendance below, one of them, who died in infancy, in swaddling clothes. Piety was one of the virtues picked out in the best surviving description of Anne’s character. This comes from an authoritative source, her own doctor, John Hall, a renowned Stratford-upon-Avon physician, and son-in-law of William Shakespeare. Treating her for the stone, in about 1633, when she had been widowed for ten years, Hall made a note in his medical records not only of her illness and the prescription given but also her personal qualities and achievements. He described her as modest, pious, friendly, devoted to sacred literature, and expert in French and Italian.8 His is a revealing testimony about the woman who had captured the young Drayton’s heart, who became and remained his great friend and muse, and who was the reason for his association with Clifford Chambers.
John Hall’s admiring pen sketch of Anne also points to the cultured ambience that would have prevailed at Clifford Manor. Like many sons of the gentry, Henry Rainsford had completed his formal education by being admitted to one of London’s Inns of Court, where performances of plays, music and other revels were often part of the social life accompanying the teaching of law. In 1594 he entered Middle Temple, where a few years later Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ was performed. In addition to overseeing a considerable estate, Sir Henry developed business interests away from his locality, becoming, in 1618, a member of the Council of the Virginia Company, active in American colonisation and exploration. On the home front, he was involved in Stratford affairs, held in respect by the town council, and included some of its leading citizens amongst his friends.
One book surviving from Sir Henry’s library, bearing his ownership inscription on the title-page, gives an indication of the breadth of his reading. It is the first English translation of one of the masterpieces of Spanish Renaissance literature, Jorge de Montemayor’s ‘Diana Enamorada’.9 Its stories of lovers pursuing one another in disguise and being victims of mistaken identities were a major influence on pastoral writing in several European countries, including England where, in its Spanish original, ‘Diana’ was a model for Philip Sidney’s ‘Arcadia’. It is known that the English translation was circulating in manuscript some years before it was published, in 1598, and it appears that Shakespeare had access to it, since the romance is an acknowledged source for ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’ and echoes of it can be found in others among his romantic comedies. One may readily conjecture that the book shelves at Clifford Manor boasted an impressive collection reflecting the intellectual interests of Sir Henry and Lady Anne.
Continuing references in his poems and evidence from other sources show that Drayton’s admiration for Anne was in no way diminished after she moved to Clifford Chambers on her marriage in 1595. Further, they make clear that he became a frequent visitor to her home and formed a strong friendship with her husband. In the course of his epic historical poem ‘The Barons Warres’, published in 1603, the poet recalled his ‘virgin unpolluted’ verse of some years ago and said that if he had not turned to describing the bloody times of England’s past,
My lays had still been to Idea’s bower,
Of my dear Anker, or her loved Stour.10
The geographical shift of his beloved’s location to the Stour, the river flowing by Clifford, was signalled again three years later in an eclogue which imagines her as a shepherdess:
Driving her flocks up to the fruitful Meene,
Which daily looks upon the lovely Stour,
Near to that vale, which of all vales is Queen,
Lastly, forsaking of her former bower:
And of all places holdeth Cotswold dear,
Which now is proud, because she lives it near.11
Drayton anchors his pastoral vision of Anne Rainsford as a shepherdess in the real countryside around her home. She is envisaged tending her sheep on Meon Hill, a prominent feature of the landscape four miles south of her village. From its slopes the Vale of Evesham can be seen to the south-west, whilst a mile or two further south the land rises to the Cotswold escarpment. Brought up in the more insipid landscape of north Warwickshire, the poet responded enthusiastically to the scenic attractiveness of Clifford’s environs, which he was now experiencing on visits to its manor house.
Arriving at Clifford on foot or horseback, Drayton would have made his way down its one main track, passing husbandmen’s cottages, barns, a few yeomen’s farms, and the early medieval church, with its adjacent timber-framed rectory, before reaching the Rainsfords’ manor house at the end of the village. Tall, roomy, with its walls featuring closely spaced beams probably sawn from local oaks, the building dominated the village. On his walks the poet would have noted Clifford’s working mills by the Stour, the nearby fishery, and the orchards and gardens attached to many of the houses. The open fields beyond consisted mainly of strips sown with wheat and barley, or areas of pasture set aside for sheep grazing.12 For Drayton, a countryman at heart whose work necessitated spending much of his time in London, and who remained a bachelor, visiting Clifford and being with the Rainsfords seems to have become a regular and valued part of his life. Village and family provided a retreat for renewal of friendships and spirits, and escape from the pressures of life in the capital, and from what he described as ‘the loathsome airs of smoky cittied towns’. The phrase comes from a section praising Warwickshire in his vast poem ‘Poly-Olbion’, begun around the mid-1590s, and eventually published in part in 1612.
‘Poly-Olbion’ was described on its title-page as: ‘A chorographicall Description of all the Tracts, Rivers, Mountaines, Forests, and other Parts of this renowned Isle of Great Britaine…’. Derived from the Greek meaning ‘many blessings’, the word ‘Poly-Olbion’ was also a pun on Albion, and the decorative title-page depicted an enthroned Britannia, holding symbols of power and plenty. The work comprised a descriptive section, or ‘Song’ as Drayton termed it, for every county in England and Wales (an intended coverage of Scotland never materialized), written in lines of fourteen-syllable rhyming verse, and averaging about four hundred lines per Song. The poem runs to about fifteen thousand lines in total as it takes its reader on a journey through the land, celebrating not only natural beauties but legends, folk traditions, historical events, and persons.
The poem is one great song of praise and triumph reflecting and contributing to the developing sense of national identity and confidence that characterized the Elizabethan and early Jacobean age. A major influence on the work was William Camden’s monumental history, ‘Britannia’, though Drayton undertook much research of his own and persuaded John Selden, the antiquarian, to provide scholarly notes on the text. He also commissioned maps to accompany each county Song, intended as ‘lively delineating to thee, every Mountain, Forest, River and Valley…’ Towns and villages are largely omitted unless they relate to some significant legend or historical happening treated in the narrative. Thus key elements of the Warwickshire map are scenic features, the fertile Vale of the Red Horse in the south-east of the county being represented by a well endowed allegorical figure of bounty, and the Forest of Arden affirmed by the presence of a lady of even ampler proportions, with bow and arrows, Diana, goddess of the hunt.
The Song devoted to Drayton’s native county, the thirteenth in the sequence, incorporates passages evoking the sights and sounds of the Arden Forest, including the dawn chorus in spring:
Then from her burnished gate the goodly glittering east
Guilds every lofty top, which late the humorous night
Bespangled had with pearl, to please the morning’s sight:
On which the mirthful choirs, with their clear open throats,
Unto the joyful morn so strain their warbling notes,
That hills and valleys ring, and even the echoing air
Seems all composed of sounds, about them everywhere.13
The poet identifies individually the birds which are contributing to the dawn chorus, giving fascinating information on names then in use: for example, woosell (blackbird), nope (bullfinch), tydie (gold crest), and hecco (green woodpecker). After a vivid description of hunting in the forest, an account of a hermit living there, and the herbs to be found in the wood, the rivers of Warwickshire are accorded their place in the overall picture:
How Arden of her rills and riverets doth dispose;
By Alcester how Alne to Arrow easily flows;
And mildly being mixed, to Avon hold their way:
And likewise toward the north, how lively-tripping Rea,
T’attend the lustier Tame, is from her fountain sent:
So little Cole and Blyth go on with him to Trent.
His Tamworth at the last, he in his way doth win:
There playing him awhile, till Anker should come in.14
The entry of Anker in the list diverts Drayton into an extensive digression on its connection with Anne Goodere, her association with Polesworth, and her birth in Coventry, before resuming with the story of the Avon:
Scarce ended they their song, but Avon’s winding stream,
By Warwick, entertains the high-complexioned Leam:
And as she thence along to Stratford on doth strain,
Receiveth little Heil the next into her train:
Then taketh in the Stour, the brook, of all the rest
Which that most goodly Vale of the Red-horse loveth best.15
The note of special appreciation of the Stour which ends this roll call of rivers can be taken as yet another compliment to Anne, now living beside it.
It may well be that some of Drayton’s work on his daunting Poly-Olbion project proceeded whilst he was staying with the Rainsfords. Since their village at this period was in Gloucestershire, one has to turn to that county’s Song, the fourteenth, for a revealing mention of it:
…dear Clifford’s seat (the place of health and sport)
Which many a time hath been the Muses quiet Port.16
The couplet is identifying both the peaceful home of Henry and Anne and also more generally the place which the poet has frequented and found conducive to relaxation and writing. The Clifford reference occurs in an extensive passage during which the Vale of Evesham is made to wax lyrically about itself, claiming that vales in general exceed the attractiveness of hills, though Meon is singled out as a model of what a hill should be:
Clad in a gown of grass, so soft and wondrous warm,
As him the summer’s heat, nor winter’s cold can harm.17
The Song leads from the Vale to the Cotswolds, taking interest and delight in sights that doubtless struck Drayton on his walks in the area. The Cotswolds had long been famous for its breed of sheep, whose wool had become one of the key export commodities of medieval England, and upon whose wealth the sun-coloured limestone churches, tithe barns, manor houses, and cottages of the region were built. The poet enjoyed capturing the characteristics of its sheep:
The staple deep and thick, through, to the very grain,
Most strongly keepeth out the violentest rain;
A body long and large, the buttocks equal broad;
As fit to under-go the full and weighty load.
And of the fleecy face, the flank doth nothing lack,
But everywhere is stored, the belly, as the back.18
The merrymaking of the shepherds also caught the poet’s attention:
And, whilst the bag-pipe plays, each lusty jocund swain
Quaffs syllabubs in cans, to all upon the plain,
And to their country-girls, whose nosegays they do wear,
Some roundelays do sing: the rest, the burthen bear.19
The fanciful map illustrating this Song depicts a shepherd on top of Meon hill, while further south a group of shepherds in the vicinity of Chipping Campden are dancing round a flagpole with a banner inscribed ‘Heigh for Cotswold’. It is likely this vignette was intended to indicate a typical sheep-shearing feast or similar revelry, though it may possibly be a reference to the Cotswold Olympic Games, an annual event believed to have started in 1612, the year in which the first part of Poly-Olbion was published, as the brainchild of Robert Dover, a lawyer, who had recently moved into the area. In founding his games he may well have taken over an existing local tradition of festivity on a hill outside Campden, but as his Olympic celebrations developed in the second and third decades of the seventeenth century their fame spread far and wide. That Drayton witnessed the games and knew Dover well is certain, for one of his later pastoral poems is entitled ‘To my Noble Friend Mr. Robert Dover on his brave annual Assemblies upon Cotswold’. In it he praises Dover for reviving the ‘Golden Age’s Glories’, enumerates some of the sports practised, and predicts that country people living in the Cotswolds and the Vale of Evesham will keep alive the memory of his games in song and story:
Lads of the hills, and lasses of the vale,
In many a song, and many a merry tale
Shall mention thee; and having leave to play,
Unto thy name shall make a holy day.20
Drayton’s lines to Robert Dover were first published in 1636, after his death, in a collection of poems in praise of the Cotswold games written by over thirty contemporary poets, titled ‘Annalia Dubrensia’. Drayton’s contribution heads the volume, perhaps out of respect of his relatively recent demise, though it has been suggested that he may have been one of the instigators of the anthology.21 What seems certain is that his intimate knowledge of the games, taking place not far from Clifford, derived from the times he stayed with the Rainsfords.
The fact that Drayton’s visits also brought him into the vicinity of Stratford, raises the question as to whether he and Shakespeare were friends. It is usually taken for granted that they knew each other well, mainly on the basis of an entry in the diary of John Ward, Vicar of Stratford, dating from the early 1660s : ‘Shakespeare, Drayton and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting, and it seems drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted’. This was recorded about forty-five years after Shakespeare’s death, and thirty after Drayton’s, but there were people still alive in the town who could remember the dramatist, including his daughter, who died in 1662. On the face of it the anecdote is credible, though given Drayton’s reputation amongst some of his contemporaries for temperance and sober living it seems out of character to hear of him going on a bender. There must, however, be a strong presumption that if the ‘merry meeting’ did indeed take place it was while Drayton was staying with the Rainsfords.
There are good reasons for supposing Drayton’s path would have crossed with Shakespeare’s during his visits to Clifford. As mentioned, Henry Rainsford was a well known figure in the town, and some of his friends there knew Drayton and were close to Shakespeare. One of these was Thomas Greene.22 Originally from Warwick, he had trained as a lawyer, entering Middle Temple in the mid-1590s, when one of his sponsors was the future playwright John Marston, and was subsequently called to the bar. Rainsford had joined the same Inn of Court shortly before Greene, and the two men became friends, sharing a taste for literature. During his years in London Greene also became acquainted with Drayton, for in 1603 he composed a sonnet, as a preface to the latter’s historical poem, ‘The Barrons Wars’, in praise of the poet, declaring that he should not be crowned with common bays but with a wreath of stars. In another poem written in the same year, ‘A Poets Vision and a Princes Glory’, Greene celebrated the accession of King James to the English throne, making glancing reference to two poets he judged to be amongst the most honourable of the time: Samuel Daniel and Drayton. In the year this poem was published, Greene moved to Stratford, having been appointed its town clerk. He had for some years been acting as a legal adviser to the Stratford Corporation, and remained in his new role for the next fifteen years. Shortly after coming to Stratford Greene’s friendship with Henry Rainsford was reflected in his appointment as steward for the Clifford Chambers estate. By 1609, now married with a child, Greene had become a tenant of William Shakespeare’s, residing at New Place, the spacious house close to the town centre purchased by the dramatist in 1597, and his home until his death. In a memorandum dated 9 September 1609, Greene noted that he ‘might stay another year at new place’; in fact he appears not to have moved out until 1611. It is not unlikely that he had taken up living at New Place on or shortly after his arrival in the town, particularly since he appears to have been related in some way to Shakespeare, referring to him three times in his diary as his cousin (though not perhaps implying this in a strictly modern sense). He was subsequently involved in consultations with Shakespeare in response to plans to enclose land which affected their interests, before eventually leaving Stratford in 1617.Given Greene’s admiration for Drayton, and his close connections with Shakespeare and Rainsford, it is not difficult to surmise they all met occasionally for ‘a merry meeting’ when Drayton was on one of his visits to Clifford Chambers.
Henry Rainsford shared another mutual friend with Shakespeare, John Combe, member of a leading Stratford family and one of the wealthiest men in town. When Combe died, in 1614, Rainsford acted as an overseer of his will, and he, his wife Anne, and Shakespeare were all recipients of monetary bequests. John Hall was another link between the Rainsfords, Shakespeare, Greene and Drayton. It is clear from his medical case notes that the dramatist’s son-in-law was the Rainsfords’ family doctor, treating not only Anne, as noted, but also Henry who, in about 1610, was cured of a malign fever and associated ailments, including ‘hypochondriac melancholy’. The physician also treated the Rainsfords’ children and grandchildren, and on one occasion he was summoned to Clifford to attend to ‘Mr Drayton poet laureate’ for his ‘labouring of a Tertian’, a fever or ague. An emetic infusion was prescribed, intended to make the patient sick, followed by a soothing dose of syrup of violets. This did the trick, for the medicine, Hall observed, ‘wrought very well both upwards and downwards’.23 The doctor was also on familiar terms with Thomas Greene, treating his daughter, and in 1613 acting with him as joint trustees in a property settlement.
This network of Stratford-Clifford friendships and connections strengthens the probability that Drayton and Shakespeare met from time to time, in the town or the village. It is also likely they encountered each other in London where Drayton lived for most of his adult life, and where from 1598 until 1604 he too was involved in its theatre world. He collaborated on about twenty plays for the Lord Admiral’s company, one of the two leading acting troupes in the capital, the other being the Lord Chamberlain’s for whom Shakespeare wrote and acted from 1594 onwards.
Yet though we can be confident they knew each other, there are grounds for thinking their friendship was not close. First, Drayton seldom missed an opportunity to acknowledge important friends and patrons by dedicating to them books of verse or individual poems, or by making complimentary references within his poetry. There is no such dedication to Shakespeare. Had they been intimates one would expect Drayton to have put pen to paper on Shakespeare’s death or as a contribution, of the kind Ben Jonson and others made, to the prefatory poems written for the publication of the dramatist’s First Folio. Even more telling perhaps is that Drayton’s one and only reference to Shakespeare seems somewhat short on admiration or affection. In his two-hundred-line ‘Epistle to Henry Reynolds’, in which he paid tribute to many of the leading writers of his time, Shakespeare was allotted a mere two couplets:
Shakespeare thou hadst as smooth a comic vain,
Fitting the sock and in thy natural brain,
As strong conception, and as clear a rage,
As any one that trafficked with the stage.
This seems somewhat pedestrian and lukewarm in its praise, especially when compared with some of the more approving recognition given to other writers in the poem, which describes how Drayton and his friend, the poet and critic Henry Reynolds, would gather round a log-fire in winter, with food and drink, to share their love of literature. Perhaps their conversation focused more enthusiastically on Shakespeare than Drayton’s lines intimated, given Reynold’s interests:
And I remember you much pleased were
Of those that lived long ago to hear,
As well as of those of these latter times
Who have enriched our language with their rhymes.24
Doubtless, too, the talk on winter evenings at Clifford Manor sometimes turned to Shakespeare, especially when Drayton was there on one of his visits. What the poet felt he owed to his host, by contrast, was sounded in a long elegy he composed following Rainsford’s death in 1622, with the meaningful title ‘Upon the Death of His Incomparable Friend, Sir Henry Raynsford Of Clifford’. Though the poem engages in some sorrowful breast beating and supposed frustration at not finding words to articulate his grief, it expresses with much feeling the sense of a friendship deeply missed. Sir Henry was a person ‘past all degrees that was so dear to me’, who has shown ‘his care of me where ever I have been’. In his life he proved:
A man of so much vertue, knowledge, wit,
Of natural goodness, supernatural grace,
A spirit so brave, so active, and so free
Besides so liberal of his faculties,
That where he would his industry bestow,
He would have done, ere one could think to do.
Drayton concludes by lamenting the death of ‘one who was a thousand friends’.25 Apart from the inscription on his monument in Clifford church, this is the only detailed description we have of the devoted husband of Anne, and stands in relation to him as John Hall’s memorable words do to her.
After Sir Henry was succeeded at the Manor by his son, also Henry, Anne evidently continued to live there, though it is not known when and where she died. A letter from her son to his uncle, dated 1632, from Clifford, bears a postscript saying ‘My mother remembers her very kindly to your self and Lady’.26 It is also clear that Drayton’s custom of visiting the family did not cease with Henry’s death and that before his loss he had written further verse keeping alive his identification of Anne as his Idea and his muse. In a poem called ‘A Hymne to His Ladies Birthplace’, published in 1619 but written some years earlier, he returned to a subject first sounded in ‘Poly-Olbion’. In a section of the Warwickshire Song devoted to Coventry, he had claimed the city’s fame rested not only on the legend of Lady Godiva but on it being the birthplace of Anne Goodere. His Hymne now developed this conceit more elaborately, claiming that Godiva’s famous ride through the streets was but a preparation for the coming of one, ‘that she which I adore’, who has conferred greater glory on the city. The poem details the street where Anne was born, Much Park, which still survives in name, and proposes that her house become a shrine where her birthday will be celebrated annually:
Of thy streets, which thou hold’st best,
And most frequent of the rest,
Happy Much Park every year,
On the fourth of August there,
Let thy maids from Flora’s bowers,
With their choice and daintiest flowers
Deck thee up, and from their store,
With brave garlands crown that door.27
Drayton clearly intended the tongue in cheek elements of the poem to appeal to Anne, whilst perhaps hoping she would glimpse his many years of heartfelt admiration for her behind the playfulness.
We shall never fully understand the poet’s relationship with his Warwickshire lady friend, subsequently wife of a Gloucestershire squire. As noted, his personal poetry tended to be framed in Platonic terms, which viewed love aroused by beauty leading to spiritual enlightenment and satisfaction. It does not follow that because Drayton treated of matters of the heart on a philosophical plane he was not himself a man of passion. Nevertheless, if autobiographical significance is to be found in his poetry, and to some extent he invites this, it is not the physical side of human relationships that is sounded. Whether linked to Anne, or to other women in his life, or concerning lovers in history and legend, his love poetry steers away from the explicitly sexual. William Drummond, the Scottish poet and critic, touched on his friend Drayton’s cast of mind when discussing contemporary poets who had written memorably about love. He singled out Sidney, Daniel, Spenser and Drayton, but qualified his praise of the latter because ‘he seemeth rather to have loved his Muse than his Mistress; by I know not what artificial similes this showed well his mind, but not the passion’.
Some of Drayton’s finest love poetry, however, breaks free from decorative and stylised language, laced with hyperbole and classical allusion. He was capable of achieving a subtle and lively expression in which thought and feeling were brilliantly fused, as in his sonnet beginning:
An evil spirit, your beauty haunts me still,
Wherewith, alas, I have been long possessed…28
And he could produce another sonnet which competed with Shakespeare at his best, though it is entirely Drayton’s voice that is heard, blending true emotion with elements of self-mockery:
Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part,
Nay, I have done; you get no more of me,
And I am glad, yea glad with all my heart,
That thus so cleanly, I myself can free,
Shake hands for ever, cancel all our vows;
And when we meet at any time again,
Be it not seen in either of our brows,
That we one jot of former love retain.
Now at the last gasp of love’s latest breath,
When, his pulse failing, passion speechless lies,
When faith is kneeling by his bed of death,
And innocence is closing up his eyes,
Now, if thou would’st, when all have given him over,
From death to life, thou might’st him yet recover.29
Who inspired these love poems, if indeed any single person, is not known. They may or may not have been largely autobiographical. Whatever paths his love life took, it seems certain that it never embraced marriage. His portraits suggest someone of pensive, if not melancholy, inclination. The best one depicts him in fashionable gentleman’s clothes, his head crowned with a laurel wreath, symbol of the poet, though his blue-grey eyes look at us sadly, with no hint of a smile to offset the stern demeanour.30 This impression is reflected in contemporary opinions about him. In 1598 Francis Meres commented that Drayton was regarded by all sorts of people as ‘a man of virtuous disposition, honest conversation, and well governed carriage’. Six years later, in an anonymous play performed by Cambridge students, he was said to lack ‘the one true note of a poet of our times, and that is this, he cannot swagger it well in a tavern, nor domineer in a hothouse’. Some years after his death, Thomas Fuller described him as ‘a pious poet … very temperate in his life, slow of speech, and inoffensive in company’.
Dedicating himself at an early age to the poet’s vocation, he appears to have lived austerely in pursuit of his ideals. He was a perfectionist, constantly revising and improving his work; sometimes poems consisting of hundreds of lines were substantially rewritten. He counted eminent people amongst his friends, received praise from his literary peers, and was widely published and read in his time. Yet he seems to have struggled to make a living, leaving an estate at his death worth only a little over £24, partly, it would appear, because he was not sufficiently adept at working the patronage system on which writers depended. There are signs of personal insecurity in the sensitivity he showed about his artistic and social status. His wish to be portrayed wearing a laurel wreath was a way of laying claim to a laureateship role before the position had been formally instituted; and on the strength of being one of the attendants or esquires accompanying Sir Walter Aston, a major Warwickshire estate holder, at his investiture as a Knight of the Bath, in 1603, Drayton paraded the title ‘Esquire’ after his name for the rest of his life.
Though Drayton attracted a wide circle of friends, backers and admirers from London, Warwickshire, and elsewhere, it is fair to claim that his relationship with Anne Rainsford was a key one in his life, and that after her marriage the manor house at Clifford provided him with what he may well have regarded as a second home. A late twentieth-century critical study has attempted to play down the importance of Drayton’s involvement during his formative years with Sir Henry Goodere and his family, and challenged the significance claimed for his relationship with Anne, partly on the basis of suggesting the poet had reasons later in life for exaggerating his accounts of his upbringing.31 It may be true that Drayton had grounds for embroidering his Goodere connections; he may have romanticized his attachment to Anne (many poets’ muses owe something to fictive treatment); he may have had in mind other women when writing some of his love poems; he certainly enjoyed the support of friends and patrons, of both sexes, besides the Gooderes. None of this, however, undermines the case for concluding there existed an exceptional and enduring bond between him and Anne. Since no letters, diaries or other personal documentation survive relating directly to them, the compelling evidence for their special relationship rests primarily on the references to her, her husband, and to Clifford Chambers and its countryside, found in verse written over a thirty year span. ‘I am more than a fortnight’s friend’, wrote Drayton; ‘where I love, I love for years; which I hope you shall find’. Though these words were addressed to a literary soul mate, the Scottish poet William Drummond, they could have been vouched for by his Lady Anne.32
The evidence, disclosed in his poetry, of his valued relationship with her is underpinned by the certain knowledge that he was a regular visitor to Clifford Manor, probably from the time of her marriage to Henry, in 1595, until his death thirty-six years later. Between 1618 and 1631, when he died, Drayton corresponded with William Drummond. In the handful of their letters that survive three of Drayton’s, years apart, refer to absence from his London home due to being in the country. In April 1619 he mentioned his recent return to the capital from the country ‘where I have been all this winter’. Two years later, in November 1621, he explained to Drummond that his failure to keep in touch was partly due to ‘my long being in the country this summer’. Ten years later, months before his death, he informed Drummond that the letter he was writing would be delivered by a mutual friend whom he had met by chance ‘at a knight’s house in Gloucestershire, to which place I yearly use to come, in the summer time, to recreate my self, and to spend some two or three months in the country’. This letter is dated ‘Clifford, in Gloucestershire, 14 July 1631.in haste’.33 It is entirely plausible to assume the two earlier instances of his being away in the country related partly or wholly to visiting the Rainsfords, and that they all connect to a much longer pattern of staying in the village. Nor is it fanciful to imagine Drayton’s wish to ‘recreate’ himself involved using the long periods away from London for creative work, including the writing of those poems which refer to Clifford and its environs. His late poem ‘Nimphidia, the Court of Fayrie’, published in 1627, a mock-heroic evocation of fairyland, owing not a little to ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, may bear signs of being composed at Clifford, and not only in its general awareness of country people’s folklore traditions and beliefs. At one point Drayton localises the story of his diminutive fairy world by having Pigwiggen, the lover of Queen Mab, suggest the best place for a secret assignation ‘…is that fair cowslip flower,/On Hidcote hill that groweth’. The reference, dropping so unexpectedly and delightfully from Drayton’s pen, is to a hill about five miles south of Clifford.34 Its mention is the only topographical reference of its kind in Drayton’s seven-hundred line poem, yet diminutive as it is, like the cowslip and the fairies who look to make love there, it tellingly signifies how Clifford and its environs became interfused with the landscape of his imagination and how he was never far from remembering the family home there to which he resorted on many occasions.
In his elegy in memory of Sir Henry, the poet made mention of his faith:
But that I am a Christian, and am taught
By him who with his precious blood me bought,
Meekly like him my crosses to endure.35
He would have accompanied his hosts to their village church, St Helen’s, on Sundays, along with many other communicants from the rural community. Whereas the old manor house no longer exists, destroyed by fire in 1918, the church still stands.36 Though considerably changed since Drayton and the Rainsfords worshipped there, many features from their time survive, including the font where Anne’s children were baptized and the chalice and pattern used at the communion services they attended.37 Doubtless, the trials and tribulations that undoubtedly beset Drayton, glanced at in his elegy above, were more easily managed not only through prayer but also by sharing them with his two incomparable friends in Clifford. It was their home which served him, year in and year out, as a loving milieu and temporary refuge from the storms of life, or, as he described it, ‘the Muses quiet port’.
Main Sources and Note on the Text
The references to Drayton’s poetry in this paper are to Poems of Michael Drayton, ed. John Buxton, 2 vols, London 1953. Less accessible but including all his poems is The Works of Michael Drayton, ed. William Hebel, (with Kathleen Tillotson and Bernard H. Newdigate), 5 vols, Oxford 1931-41; revised edition, 1961. A supplement was published to the Hebel edition giving a biographical overview of the poet: Bernard H. Newdigate, Michael Drayton and his Circle, Oxford
Though some of Drayton’s distinctive spellings (or those of his printers) have a valid character, in the interest of readability I have modernized them, as of quotations from his contemporaries, whilst leaving untouched the spelling of book and poem titles by him and others. I have also silently made a few changes of punctuation.
1. Dedication to the Epistles of Mary the French Queen and the Duke of Suffolk, in Englands Heroicall Epistles, 1597: see Newdigate, 80.
2. Dedication to the Epistles of Queen Isabel and Richard the Second, in Englands Heroicall Epistles, 1597: see Newdigate, 75.
3. ‘To Henery (sic) Reynolds Esquire’: Buxton, vol 1, 151.
4. ‘To Sir Henry Goodere’, Buxton, vol 1, 119.
5. Dedication to the Epistles of Lady Jane Gray and Lord Gilford Dudley, in Englands Heroicall Epistles, 1597: see Newdigate, 80.
6. Sonnet 27, in Ideas Mirrour, 1594: Buxton, vol 1, 15
7. Sonnet 17, in Ideas Mirrour, 1594: Buxton, vol 1. 11
8. Newdigate, 55, quoting Hall’s Latin manuscript notes; those about the character of his patients were sometimes omitted or inaccurately rendered when translated and
published by James Cooke, in 1657, as Select Observations on English Bodies.
9. The book featured in Bernard Quaritch, English Books New Acquisitions 2007, London 2007, 28-31.
10. The Barons Warres,1603, second canto, stanza 69: Buxton, vol 2, 65.
11. ‘The Eighth Eclogue’, 1606: Buxton, vol 1, 65.
12. For historical and landscape details of Clifford at this period, see the Victoria History of the County of Gloucester, vol 6, ed. C.R.Elrington, London 1965, 211-12.
13. Poly-Olbion, 1612, The Thirteenth Song: Buxton, vol 2, 587.
14. Poly-Olbion, The Thirteenth Song: Buxton, vol 2, 594-5.
15. Poly-Olbion, The Thirteenth Song: Buxton, vol 2, 599.
16. Poly-Olbion, The Fourteenth Song: Buxton, vol 2, 609.
17. Poly-Olbion, The Fourteenth Song: Buxton, vol 2, 609.
18. Poly-Olbion, The Fourteenth Song: Buxton, vol 2, 613.
19. Poly-Olbion, The Fourteenth Song: Buxton, vol 2, 613.
20. ‘To My Noble Friend Mr. Robert Dover’,1636: Buxton, vol 1, 165.
21. Christopher Whitfield, Robert Dover and the Cotswold Games, London 1962. This features an edition of Annalia Dubrensia, with notes, including comment on Drayton’s involvement.
22. For a recent appraisal of Greene’s career, focusing on his Stratford and
Shakespeare connections, see Robert Bearman, ‘Thomas Greene: Stratford-upon-Avon’s Town Clerk and Shakespeare’s Lodger’, in Shakespeare Survey 65, Cambridge 2012, 209-305.
23. Joan Lane, John Hall and his Patients, Stratford-upon-Avon 1996, 40-1.
24. ‘To Henery Reynolds Esquire’: Buxton, vol 1, 151-6.
25. ‘Upon the Death of His Incomparable Friend, Sir Henry Raynsford’: Buxton, vol 1, 156-60.
26. The date and place of Anne Rainsford’s death has not been established.
27. ‘A Hymne to His Ladies Birth-place’ : Buxton, vol 1, 133.
28. Sonnet 11, in Ideas Mirrour: Buxton, vol 1, 8.
29. Sonnet 31, in Ideas Mirrour: Buxton, vol 1, 17.
30. The portrait is in the National Portrait Gallery, London, (NPG 776). For an assessment of its authenticity, see Tarnya Cooper, Searching for Shakespeare, London 2006, 178.
31. Jean R. Brink, Michael Drayton Revisited, Boston 1990. Brink makes much of the fact, first established by Newdigate, that Drayton’s early years were spent partly in the service of Sir Henry Goodere’s brother, Thomas, but overlooks the evidence for the poet’s
continuing links with Sir Henry after Thomas’s death. Further, perceptive as her study is in other respects, in her keenness to challenge the significance of Drayton’s relationship with Anne she conveniently ignores many of his verse references to her and the testimony for his regular visits to Clifford.
32. For Drayton’s correspondence with William Drummond, see Newdigate, 177-190.
33. Newdigate, 187.
34. The earliest editions of Nimphidia have ‘Hipcut’ as the hill’s name. Tillotson, in Hebel, vol 5, 116, suggested this was a misprint for ‘Hidcut’, and Buxton followed suit. Today’s name Hidcote was also in use in Drayton’s time, as were other variants, including ‘Hitcote’. See A.H. Smith, The Place-Names of Gloucestershire, part 1, Cambridge 1964, 243-44.
35. Buxton, vol 1, 158.
36. After its destruction in 1918, the old manor was rebuilt in 1922 , on a similar plan, under the direction of Edwin Lutyens. This in turn was demolished in the early 1950s.
37. Philip Hope Bagenal, Clifford Manor, London 1914, is illustrated with photographs of the old manor as Drayton knew it, and other historic features, including the chalice and paten.