Stafford, William (1554-1612) (DNB00)

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STAFFORD, WILLIAM (1554–1612), alleged author of the ‘Compendious Examination of Certain Ordinary Complaints,’ born at Rochford, Essex, on 1 March 1553–4, was second son of Sir William Stafford, by his second wife and relative, Dorothy, daughter of Henry Stafford, first baron Stafford [q. v.] Sir Edward Stafford (1552?–1605) [q. v.] was his elder brother. Sir William had acquired Rochford through his first wife, Mary Boleyn, sister of Anne Boleyn, who, after being Henry VIII's mistress, married first Sir William Cary, and, after his death in 1528, Sir William Stafford. William was educated at Winchester, where he was admitted scholar in 1564 (Kirby, p. 139), and at New College, Oxford, matriculating in 1571, and being elected fellow in 1573 (Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. ix. 375; Reg. Univ. Oxon. ii. ii. 54). In 1575, however, he was deprived of his fellowship for absenting himself from college beyond his prescribed leave, and he seems to have become a hanger-on at court, where his mother was mistress of the robes to Queen Elizabeth. There he suffered some slight from the Earl of Leicester, and developed into a ‘lewd, miscontented young person’ (Hatfield MSS. ii. 224). In June 1585 he suddenly and secretly left London for Dieppe, probably with the intention of joining his brother Sir Edward, then ambassador in Paris. He was back again in 1586, and on 26 Dec. in that year he sought an interview with the French ambassador, Châteauneuf, at his house in Bishopsgate Street, asking his aid to escape to France on the pretext of being unable to tolerate Leicester's scorn. According to Stafford's own account, the French ambassador then inveigled him into a plot for assassinating Queen Elizabeth, and securing the succession to the throne of Mary Queen of Scots. The ambassador's secretary, De Trappes, and a prisoner in Newgate named Moody were also in the plot. In the following January Stafford revealed it to Walsingham. De Trappes was arrested at Dover and Châteauneuf was summoned before the council. There he acknowledged that he had been privy to the plot, but swore that Stafford had suggested it, that he endeavoured to dissuade him, and that he would have revealed it at once had it not been for the respect in which he held Stafford's mother and brother. After some demur Châteauneuf's statements were accepted and Stafford was imprisoned in the Tower, where he remained until August 1588 (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1581–90, p. 531). The plot was probably concocted by Stafford in order that his services in revealing it might win him favour at court.

After his release Stafford married, in 1593, Anne, daughter of Thomas Gryme of Antingham, Norfolk, where he resided quietly for the rest of his life. He presented various books to Winchester College, and died on 16 Nov. 1612. He left a daughter Dorothy, who married Thomas Tyndale of Eastwood Park, Gloucestershire, and a son William (1593–1684) [q. v.]

Apparently on the strength of his initials, and of an allusion in the dedication to Queen Elizabeth to ‘his late undutiful behaviour,’ Wood assigned to Stafford the authorship of ‘A compendious or briefe examination of certayne ordinary complaints, of divers of our countrymen in these our dayes … By W. S., Gentleman’ (T. Marsh, London, 1581, 4to). A second edition appeared in the same year; it was reprinted in 1751, when the publisher attributed the authorship to Shakespeare. This ridiculous assumption was easily confuted by Farmer in his ‘Essay on the Learning of Shakespeare’ (1821, pp. 81–4). The book, which has also been attributed to Sir Thomas Smith (1513–1577) [q. v.] and his nephew, William Smith, was republished in the ‘Harleian Miscellany’ (1808, vol. ix.) and in the ‘Pamphleteer’ (1813, vol. v.); and a German translation, by E. Leser, appeared in 1895. In 1876 it was edited for the New Shakspere Society by Dr. Furnivall, who combated the authorship of William Stafford, pointing out the absence of evidence and the absurdity of making the allusion to ‘undutiful behaviour,’ written in 1581, apply to treasonable practices committed in 1586. But no satisfactory attempt to investigate the authorship was made until 1891, when Miss Elizabeth Lamond contributed to the ‘English Historical Review’ (vi. 284–305) a conclusive refutation of Stafford's authorship. She discovered two extant manuscripts of the work—one belonging to Mr. William Lambarde, and the other formerly belonging to the Earl of Jersey (Hist. MSS. Comm. 8th Rep. App. i. 92) and now in the Bodleian Library (Add. C. 273). A third, which escaped her notice, is is among the Hatfield MSS. (Cal. Hatfield MSS. i. 52). The Lambarde manuscript was written not later than 1565, and the Historical Manuscripts Commissioners erroneously dated the two others 1547. From internal evidence it is evident that the work was written in the summer of 1549, and it gives an invaluable account of inclosures, debasement of the coinage, and other causes of social distress during the reign of Edward VI. Miss Lamond attributed the authorship, with considerable probability, to John Hales (d. 1571) [q. v.] The work was not published until 1581, when W.S., whoever he may have been, brought it up to date, and issued it as his own composition. The alterations are clumsy; but one added passage, attributing the rise in prices to the influx of precious metals from the Indies, is notable as the first indication of the perception of this truth in England. The Lambarde manuscript was published by Miss Lamond in 1893 with introduction, appendices, and notes.

[Cal. State Papers, Dom. and Addenda, 1580–1625; Cal. Hatfield MSS. pt. iii.; Harl. MSS. 36, f. 357, 288 ff. 170–1; Camden's Annales, ed. Hearne, ii. 526–8; Wood's Fast, i. 378; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. ix. 375–6; Dr. Furnivall's Forewords to the edition of 1876; Miss Lamond's Introd. to her edition of 1893; English Hist. Rev. vi. 284–305; authorities cited in text.]

A. F. P.