Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Arden, Edward

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ARDEN, EDWARD (1542?–1583), high sheriff of Warwickshire in 1575, was a probably innocent victim of the rigorous severity adopted by the ministers of Queen Elizabeth in order to defeat the numerous Roman Catholic conspiracies in favour of Mary Queen of Scots and against the protestant sovereign. He was the head of a family that had held land in Warwickshire for six centuries from the days of Edward the Confessor downwards. His father, William, having died in 1545, Edward succeeded his grandfather Thomas Arden in 1563. He kept to the old faith and maintained in his home, Park Hall, near Warwick, a priest named Hall, in the disguise of a gardener. This man, animated with the fierce zeal of his order, inflamed the minds of the Arden household against the heretical queen, and especially influenced John Somerville, Edward Arden's son-in-law. This weak-minded young man had been greatly excited by the woes of the Scottish queen, who had given to a friend of his a small present for some service rendered her when at Coventry in 1569. He talked of shooting the Queen of England, whom he vituperated as a serpent and a viper, and set out for London on this deadly errand. Betraying himself, however, by over-confident speech, he was arrested, put to the rack, and confessed, implicating his father-in-law in his treason, and naming the priest as the instigator of his crime. All three were tried and sentenced to death. Somerville strangled himself in his cell. Arden was hanged at Tyburn (October 1583), but the priest was spared. Arden's head and Somerville's were set on London Bridge beside the skull of the Earl of Desmond.

Dugdale, who quotes from Camden's 'Annals,' says that Arden was prosecuted with much rigour and violence at the instance of the Earl of Leicester, whom he had irritated, partly by disdaining to wear his livery, but chiefly for galling him by certain harsh expressions touching his private accesses to the Countess of Essex before she was his wife. The language of Camden is very outspoken. 'The woful end of this gentleman, who was drawn in by the cunning of the priest and cast by his evidence, was generally imputed to Leicester's malice. Certain it is that he had incurred Leicester's heavy displeasure; and not without cause, for he had rashly opposed him in all he could, reproaching him as an adulterer, and defaming him as a new upstart.' Much interest is attached to the question of relationship between this Edward Arden and Mary Arden of Wilmcote, the mother of Shakespeare, and second cousin of Edward Arden's father. Ingenious writers have not been wanting who trace the poet's consummate portrayal of high-born dames to his gentle blood and the influence of the Arden ladies, his mother and her six sisters who dwelt at Asbies in Wilmcote.

[Froude's England, vii. 610; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser., v. 332, 463, 492; Dugdale's Warwickshire, ii. 931; Camden's Annals, 1583; Calendar of State Papers, 1583; French's Genealogica Shakspeareana.]

R. H.