Richard Barnfield

Alexander B. Grosart, from Introduction in Complete Poems of Richard Barnfield (1876) iii-xv.

From apparently a confused recollection of the great historic name of Barnevelt — to whom MOTLEY has given such splendid resurrection in our day — the latest editor of WARTON'S History of English Poetry has hazarded the guess that RICHARD BARNFIELD was of "Dutch or Flemish" origin; and he tacks to it another guess, that, as the initials "R. B." occur at the end of some encomiastic verses prefixed to Verstegan's Restitution of Decayed Intelligence (1605), they must belong to Barnfleld; and then succeeds still a third guess, as follows: 'VERSTEGAN himself came from Flanders; possibly the two were brought into acquaintance in that way. But in Barnfield's case the change of residence must have been less immediate, for surely no author whom we could name has fairer pretensions to be regarded as a writer of genuine, untainted, vernacular English." All this is without the shadow of authority. Barnevelt and Barnfield sound (to a bad ear) somewhat alike, but are not synonymous. As will appear, Barnfield is a very old and "gentle" English name. The "encomiastic verses" to VERSTEGAN it is an outrage to attribute to the poet of "Nights were short and dayes were long" and "As it fell upon a day" — so sorry are they; and why single out one of at least half-a-dozen "R. B." contemporary pieces of the same kind that might be produced? The "genuine, untainted, vernacular English" (whatever "vernacular" may or may not mean) ought to have suppressed these idle "Pleasures of Imagination." But it is easier to indulge in such than diligently to search out Facts; and so in all too sorrowfully many cases traditionary blanks are left unfilled, and traditionary errors repeated and increased. MALONE'S extract from the Register of Brazenose College: "Richard Barnefield, Stafford. gen. fil." ought to have sent any one professing to care for or to write intelligently of him to Staffordshire; and one poem among his "Poems in diuers humors" — certainly not in itself very memorable — viz. "An Epitaph vpon the Death of his Aunt, Mistresse Elizabeth Skrymsher," might have still further helped. Curiously enough too, from failing to remember this "Epitaph," the late industrious and to-be-ever-gratefully-thought-of JOSEPH HUNTER had his finger on a MS. pedigree that would have opened up all that it is our privilege to do for the first time, but missed the discovery and passed on.

Turning then to a volume of Shropshire Pedigrees in the British Museum entitled "The Visitation of Shropshire, taken and made by Richard Lee (alias) Richmond Herauld and Marshall to Robert Cooke (alias) Clarenceiaux Kinge of Armes, taken in the yeare of our Lord God 1564. Augmented by manye Notes and Gatherings of Lewis Dunne and others, by me Jacob Chaloner, of London, gent. vntill the year 1620. Copied by me Tho. Hanford of Wigmore Anno 1661." (Harleian MSS. 1241, p. 105). we find a somewhat full and careful pedigree of the Barnfield, which is confirmed by others, and in it discover our Worthy. These are the details.

Starting with a Walter Barnfeeld (sic), he married Grace, daughter to Sir Ralph Pudsey, Knt. They seem to have had a firstborn son; but only the second son's name has been preserved, viz. Walter Barnfeeld, "2 sonne, of Powltsmore, in Deuon co." He married Ellen, daughter to Sir Nicholas Etton of Wildemore by the Earle of Salop's daughter. They again had a son Thomas Barnfeeld, who married Anne, daughter to Ward. Their eldest son was Robert Barnfeeld, who married Elinor, daughter to ... Taylor; and it is with this pair we are mainly concerned. They had two sons, Richard and Robert. The former is described as Richard Barnfeeld of Edgcombe, and married to Mary, youngest daughter to John Skrymsher of Norbury in co. Stafford. Their eldest son was our Poet, who is entered as Richard Barnfeeld, Son and Heir of Richard Barnfeeld of Edgcombe; and as having had two brothers, Robert and John. Glancing hack on this pedigree, Sir Nicholas Etton of Wildemore means Sir Nicholas Eyton of Eyton on the Wildmoors — one of the very oldest of the "proud Salopian" families, and which was so nobly represented recently by the late lamented J. W. K. Eyton, esq. Sir Nicholas Eyton married Margaret, daughter of John Talbot, second Earl of Shrewsbury, by Elizabeth, daughter of James Butler, Earl of Ormond. Margaret, another daughter, married Sir William Yonge (living in 1471) of Caynton, a manor in Edgmond parish — Eyton being about six miles from Edgmond. Such is a specimen of the "blue blood," that it were not hard to trace through many families for our Richard Barnfield if it were worth while, as it is not.

Two facts thus far demand specific notice, (a) That Richard Barnfield's father is designated of "Edgcombe" in the pedigree. This should be Edgmond, a good-sized village to-day, adjoining the thriving town of Newport, Shropshire. (b) That his mother was Mary, youngest daughter to John Skrymsher of Norbury, in the county of Stafford. The latter fact calls for similar examination of the maternal, as in the preceding of the paternal, descent, especially as it is even more distinguished. The Skrymshers of Norbury Manor, co. Stafford, claimed in the seventeenth century to have come of "a noble Scotch family," — meaning the Scrymgeours, — hereditary Standard-bearers of Scotland; and this gains some colour from the arms confirmed (not granted) to Thomas Skrymsher of Aqualate in 1581, which strongly resemble the royal arms of Scotland, being, Gules, a lion rampant or, within a Bordure Vair. The first Skrymsher proper was William Skrymsher of North Ditton, in co. York, esquire, who married Alice, daughter of Thomas Witherington, esquire. Their son was Thomas Skrymsher, a Prothonotary of the Common Pleas, who in 1540 completed the purchase of the manor from Sir Philip Boteler, to whose family it had belonged for at least four centuries. This Thomas Skrymsher also purchased very large adjoining estates, including Aqualate, Johnston Hall, High Offley, Orselow, and others, which were in course of time divided among his descendants, who soon formed a large clan scattered over the neighbourhood.

Thomas Skrymsher, the Prothonotary, died in 1551, and was buried at Norbury on the 18th September. His Will, which is dated 26th January 1550-1, was proved in London on the 12th February of the year following. In it he desires to be buried in a vault in the chancel of Norbury Church under an alabaster stone which he had caused to be laid there (now gone), and he reveals that he adhered to the Roman Catholic faith by a bequest of "20 marks for the wealth of my sister Selman's soul, and of all Christian souls," and the residue of his estate "for the good of his soul," not forgetting, however, to leave £6 13s. 44. for the poor of Norbury. Besides daughters, he left two sons, John and Thomas. John, the eldest, succeeded his father at Norbury Manor and Aqualate. He was Sheriff of Staffordshire in 1567, and married Dorothy, daughter of Sir John Talbot, Knt., who died in 1570-1. Her husband predeceased her, being buried at Norbury, November 6th, 1570. He left three sons, the eldest, Thomas of Aqualate Hall, where his descendants continued till 1797. He married Alice, third daughter of James Starkey of Darley Hall, Oulton, co. Chester, esquire, and died 1595; buried at Forton, co. Stafford. The second son was James, of Norbury Manor, who, like his father, became Sheriff of Staffordshire 1608. He married, 1st. Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Collier of Darlaston and Stone, gentleman. This "fair lady" (the aunt of the Epitaph already referred to) was his cousin (it is believed), daughter of his "aunt" Joyce, the daughter of Thomas Skrymsher, Prothonotary; married at Norbury, 1542 — to whom her father leaves £20 "for the preferment of her little daughter." Mrs. Elizabeth Skrymsher died childless, and was buried at Norbury 14th October 1594, and in a verse-Epitaph, or lament, was celebrated affectionately by her nephew, our Poet, then (as will be seen) in his 19th-20th year. Her husband next married Margaret, third daughter of John Poole, of Nether Poole, Eastham, county Chester, esquire, which family had been seated at Poole since Henry III., and still resided there when Ormerod wrote his History of Cheshire in 1816. She also died childless, in 1597, and was buried at Norbury, 9th September. The second-time widowed husband married in 1508 Eleanor, youngest daughter of John Hocknell or Hockenhull, of Prenton, co. Chester, gentleman, by whom he had three sons and at least seven daughters, one of whom (Katharine) is traditionally said to have been nurse to King James II. The descendants of the elder son, John, continued at Norbury till 1774, when Thomas Boothby Skrymsher sold it to Mr. Anson (formerly Adams), nephew of Admiral Lord Anson and father of the first Viscount Anson. James Skrymsher was buried at Norbury 1st July 1619. Of John Skrymsher's third son, Richard, nothing appears except his name. In all probability (a) Anne Skrymsher, married at Norbury to Edward Barber 11th July 1563; (b) Winifred, married 21st June 1566 to George Coyney of Chipnal, co. Salop (about six miles from Norbury), second son of John Coyney, of Weston Coyney; and by whom she had four daughters, Susan, Cassandra, Margerye, and Marie; (c) Isbabel, married 21st July 1566 to William Wolnall [=Wettenhall of Lendring, co. Rutland. Visit, of Rutland, 1618], — were daughters of John Skrymsher; but the only one of his daughters whose baptism is recorded in the Register of Norbury is Jane, baptized 22nd August 1552 — probably his youngest child, but of whom nothing more is known seemingly. The remaining daughter-mother of our "sweet Singer" — Mary, was in all likelihood born before 1551, in which year her father came to reside at Norbury on his father's death. John Skrymsher and his wife having died in 1570 and 1571, it may be pretty certainly assumed that Mary continued to live at the Manor House with her brother James and his childless first wife, her first cousin, Elizabeth Collier. At any rate, she was married from there in the following year (16th April 1572), being designated in the Harleian MSS. (ante) "of Norbury." It is pleasant to find that Richard Barnfield and his wife Mary returned from their honeymoon jaunt (if such were the olden usage) and took up their residence in the grand old Manor House. Therein our Poet was born in 1574. The entry of his baptism in Norbury Register thus runs: Ricardus Barnefield baptizatus fuit die mensis [June] xiii. 1574. Our reproduction from Plot's quaint folio on Staffordshire "Natural history" (1686) of the "Manor House of Norbury," shows it to have been the very beau ideal of an Elizabethan Poet's birth-place; while Norbury itself is even now a tiny out-of-the-way village, biding itself away some miles from any town, and off the high road, and with a primitive population. The Brazenose College entry of November 27th 1580 gives "aetat 15," so carrying us back to 1574 as his birth-year, in agreement with the record of his baptism. Alas! The married life of Mary Barnfield was a (comparatively) brief one. Within seven years she was buried, only two days after the baptism of her daughter Dorothy, so that little Richard was motherless in his seventh-eighth year. But his "Aunt Elizabeth," being, as we have seen, childless herself, must have proved a second mother to him and his brothers (of whom before).

Persistent search and research have failed to discover our Richard Barnfield's school and early education. It is manifest that, well-connected paternally and maternally, and cared for at Norbury Manor House, he would have every advantage that the family position could command. The register at Brazenose as "gen. fil." (i.e. generosi filius), is a simple matter-of-fact, but perchance showed also family oversight, that so he should be entered on his matriculation at the University. Strangely enough his name escaped the indefatigable ANTHONY A-WOOD; and his erudite Editor, Dr. PHILIP BLISS (vol. i. pp. 683-4), has really added nothing to our knowledge of him beyond (from Fuller's Worthies) his passing B.A. February 5th 1591-2, and his performing the exercises for M.A., though it does not appear that he proceeded to that degree. His Encomion (1508) bears that he was "Graduate in Oxford." Had he proceeded to M.A., most likely M.A. would have been substituted for "Graduate." I suspect that, as with the death of Barnabe Barnes's father, so with the death of his good aunt, on 14th October 1501, Barnfield's university career was arrested, albeit his final abiding-place and the details of his Will point to inheritance of means through his aunt (if not otherwise also).

What he intended to be when be went to the University, and what he actually became when he ceased residence, it is impossible to tell at this late day. From the "Epitaph" of 1594 onward, the only light obtained is from the title-pages of his successive publications. Under our next section full bibliographical details are furnished. Suffice it here biographically to recall that The Affectionate Shepheard, published in 1594 anonymously, informs us that so early as his twentieth year he had gained access to the "magic circle" within which Sidney's Stella still burned and swayed with her magnificent intellect and beauty; for it is dedicated "To the right excellent and most beautifull Lady, the Lady Penelope Ritch" in a form declarative (meo judicio) of personal friendship, the subscription running "Your Honours most affectionate and perpetually demoted Shepheard, Daphnis" — a very different style from John Ford in his dedication of Fame's Memorial as avowedly by a stranger. It is also to be remembered that in this same Affectionate Shepheard the young poet turns aside to celebrate Sir Philip Sidney, softly, tenderly, and goldenly; and, what has been very much overlooked, THOMAS WATSON; by the sentiment of which celebration one is impressed with a conviction that very early he must have moved in the great literary sphere. We must pause to read the verse-tribute to Sidney, reserving that to Watson for a later page:—

O, fading Branches of decaying Bayes,
Who now will water your dry wither'd Armes?
Or where is he that sang the lonely Layes
Of simple Shepheards in their Countrey-Farmes?
Ah he is dead, the cause of all our harmes:
And with him dide my my and swete delight;
The cleare to Cloudes, the Day is turn'd to Night.

Sydney, The Syren of this latter Age;
Sydney, The Blasing starre of England's glory;
Sydney, The Wonder of the wise and sage;
Sydney, The Subiect of true Vertues's story;
This Syren, Starre, this Wonder, and this Subiect;
Is dumbe, dim, gone, and mard by Fortune's Obiect.

Encouraged by the reception of The Affectionate Shepheard in 1591, there appeared in the following year (1595) Cynthia, with certaine Sonnets and the Legend of Cassandra, and to the epistle dedicatory "To the Right Honorable, and most noble-minded Lorde, William Stanley, Earle of Derby," &c., he adds his name — Richard Barnefeild. Herein too he modestly observes "My yeares being so young, my perfection cannot be great." Similarly he signs an epistle "To the curteous Gentlemen Readers." This epistle has a veiled reference to a lady who held supreme love-authority, who bore the same name with the great queen — Elizabeth; and of whom we wish in vain to know more. The Epigramme claims a place here:—

One name there is, which name aboue all other
I most esteeme, as time and place shall prone:
The one is Vesta, th' other Cupid's mother,
The first my Goddesse is, the last my loue;
Subject to Both I am; to that by birth;
To this for beautie; fairest of the earth.

Three years later (1598) came The Encomion of lady Pecunia and related Poems — on all of which onward. Biographically it is to be noted that in the 1605 edition of The Encomion, &c. in the verse-dedicatory Sonnet, which the Isham MS. reveals was addressed to Sir John Spencer — he intimates willinghood to receive of the famous Knight's "pecunia;" but it is semi-playfully and in keeping with the non-querulous spirit of The Encomion itself. The Complaint of Poetrie for the Death of Liberalitie is dedicated to "Maister EDWARD LEIGH, of Grayes Inne," one of a band of cultured and godly Puritan gentlemen who have left still quick books, of ripe learning and finest openeyed insight. The Combat between Conscience and Couetousnesse in the Minde of Man is dedicated to "Maister John Steuenton, of Dothill, in the county of Salop, Esquire, and the Poems in divers Humors to "Maister Nicholas Blackleech, of Grayes Inne," — both of these gentlemen being now unknown. The opening sonnet of the Poems of divers humors is addressed to "Maister R. L.," who was perhaps Richard Lynch (or Linch), the poet of Diella (1596). Barnfield's position as a "Maker" was recognised in 1600 by the insertion in England's Helicon of "Nights were long," and The Shepheard's Sonnet, and semi-anonymously The vnknown Sheepheard's Complaint.

With the publication of the second edition of Lady Pecunia in 1605 the name of our Poet disappears. It is extremely remarkable that one of his unquestionable poetic faculty should thus have become dumb, in so far as avowed publication went, thus suddenly and prematurely. It was prematurely, for in 1605 he was only in his 31st year, and, as we shall immediately find, he lived for fully twenty years thereafter. These intervening twenty years are all but an absolute blank — the one scintillation of light being the incidentally ascertained fact that in 1619 his father was still living. In 1619 James Skrymsher appointed dim as one of his executors, naming him "my well-beloued in Christ brother-in-law Mr. Richard Barnefield." Our final memorial is his own Will, which it has been our rare good fortune to recover from the Diocesan Registry at Lichfield. It and the accompanying Inventories are verbatim as follows:—


IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN, the 26th daye Februarie in the yeare of the Raigne of our Soverngne Lord Charles by the Grace of God of England Scotland France & Ireland King Defender of the Faith &c. Anno Domini 1626.

I RICHARD BARNFIELD of Dorlestone in the Countie of Stafford Esquire sicke in bodie but of perfect remembrance make this my last Will and testament in manner and fforme ffollowing. First I bequeath my soule to Almighty God my Creator and Maker and my Bodie to be buried in the parishe church of Stone in the said Countie in full hope of salvation and of a ioyfull resurrection through Christ my onelie Saviour and as concerninge my worldly goods my will and mind is that Mr. John Skrimsher of Norburie Esquire his wife and sonne shall have £iii. beinge equally divided betwixt them. Item I give to Mr. Henrie Hockenhull my purce Dagg one bedsteed one table my beat saddle and bridle. Item I give to Mrs. Hockenhull xx s. Item I give to Charles Skrimsher and Gerrate Skrimsher either of them xx s. Item I give to mistress Elenor Skrimsher xx s. Item I give to Sarie Boeyer xx s. Item I give to Elizabeth Skrimsher xx. s. and alsoe one goulde Ringe. Item I give to Martha xx s. and my gilte spoone. Item I give to Grisell Skrimsher xx s. Item I give my grandchilde Jane Barnefielde a gilte saulte which was Michill O'Ffely's if hee doe not redeeme the same in some shorte tyme. But if hen doe redeeme it she shall have the whole xii. that he doth owe mee. Item I give to Mr. Martin x s. Item I give to my man Richard Cotterall x s. my hare coulred sute and Cloake and x. s. that I owe him. Item I give to Mrs. Doodie my truckle bedd. Item I give to my Cozen Ranforde my two best sutes. Item, I give Margaret Richarsone my gonne and x s. It. I give George Hill my ould servant my other saddle and bridle. Item I give to everie servant in the house xii d. It. I leave £v to bestowe of a Dinner at my Burrial. Item I give to the poem of Darlestone xii d. a peece. It. I give to the poore of Stone xl s. Ite. I give to John Goodale of Waulton my blue breeches and first Jerkine. Ite. I give to any son Mr. Robert Barnfield xx s. Item the Residue of my goods being unbequeathed I give to Mr. Robert Barnefield and mistress Elinor Skrimsher whome I leave my sole Executors of this my last Will and Testament. In witness whereof the daie and yeare above written I have putt unto my hand and seale, R. B.

Sealed and published in presence of us, Henry Hockenhull, Thomas Daintrey, Richard Cotterell.

Proved on the 7 day of April 1627 by the oath of Eleanor Skrimsher one of the Executors, power reserved for Robert Barnefleld the other Executor. [...]