Steven W. May and Alan Bryson (eds), Verse Libel in Renaissance England and Scotland

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Editor’s NotePOEM 6Sir Thomas Stanhope against John Markham, 1592

To Master John Markham one of the yonger sonnes of Master Robert Markham of Cottam.

  • 1Thou crooke-backte, scabbed, scurvie° Squyer,
  • 2Thou plaiest the knave for flatterye and hyer;
  • 3Thou shalte have to portion,° by thie birthe right,
  • 4The Gallowes most fitt for so scurvie a wight.°
  • 5And for the Cooche cutting, and libells sett upp,
  • 6Thou arte a Calf and a Sheepe's face, no wiser then a Tupp;°
  • pg 1007A scurvie knave thou arte, and so thou wilte dye—
  • 8Farewell scabbed crooke-back, not worthie a flye.

copy text: Lambeth Palace Library MS 701, f. 67

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Editor’s Note
Commentary, Poems 6–7
In 1592, this exchange of verse insults between Sir Thomas Stanhope and John Markham enlivened one episode in a feud between these two Nottinghamshire families that lasted for several decades and involved numerous relatives on both sides of the conflict. Robert Markham, John's elder brother, may have initiated the feud during a dinner hosted by the Archbishop of York, at Southwell, Nottinghamshire, on 12 May 1583. As Robert criticized John Stanhope (Sir Thomas' younger brother), Thomas Cooper took offence, being nephew to both men. The spate of challenges and counter-challenges that followed culminated that July in a triple duel in which Cooper wounded Robert Markham and took his sword. Robert's kinsman, Gervase Markham, seriously wounded Cooper's cousin, Nicholas Sutton, but Jerome Markham was stabbed in the belly by Cooper's friend, Mr Nowell. Although no Stanhopes were directly involved in this brawl, Cooper had stayed overnight at the home of Sir Thomas after the dinner at the Archbishop's, and he was lodging in July with a third Stanhope uncle, Edward, when Robert Markham burst into the house with a band of armed retainers and issued the final challenge in this phase of the conflict.75
By 1591, if not before, tensions between the Markhams and Stanhopes were absorbed into the larger regional contention between the Stanhopes and Gilbert Talbot, seventh Earl of Shrewsbury. In 1592 the Earl's brother-in-law, Sir Charles Cavendish, challenged John Stanhope to a duel, then ambushed Stanhope and his followers in London. Meanwhile, Shrewsbury used trickery to block Sir Thomas Stanhope's election to Parliament. Afterward, the Stanhopes circulated 'uncomplimentary pictures of the earl', while Sir Thomas's coach was vandalized at Newark in Nottinghamshire.76
The exchange of libellous poems that ensued between the Stanhopes and Markhams remained grounds for revenge more than a year later, as summarized in a letter from Shrewsbury to the Earl of Essex. Shrewsbury offered the following defence for his client, John Markham's reply to Stanhope's poetic insult: ' . . . as for writinge certaine verses in defence of his creditt [Poem 7], him selfe havinge bene most basely slandered, by certaine libells throwne abroade in the night [Poem 6], and those of his (he sayes) weare no libelles, for that he subscribed his name to them all, which I know to be trew indeede.'77 Shrewsbury's testimony is supported by the introduction to the Rawlinson text, which affirms that Stanhope's poem was 'Caste out agaynste John Markham at Newarke' (f. 2). The Lambeth Palace Library MS explains in greater detail that 'These are the verses which weere written the day after Sir Thomas Stanhop's Cooche Lethers was cutt at Newark and dispersed abroade in the streetes, being twentie of them lapped upp like letters with this direction To Mr John Markham one of the yonger sonnes of Mr Robert Markham of Cottam' (f. 67).
Markham, not content with replying to Stanhope's verse letter in kind, also addressed his opponent in prose, responding to each charge in Sir Thomas' poem, and greatly increasing the degree and scope of his counter charges:

To Sir Thomas Stanhope in requytall of the Libell above written.

Haste thou (base and unworthie knight) been so longe practized in Machiavel's dampned devises, and can thie groose hedd in the conclusion78 of thie corrupted carkasse, bringe fourth no better fructe then doultishe fooleryes? Yett sithe thie cankered knightshipp hath in rymes given the first occasion of this scoulding combatt, I in my proose will make replycacion, not to thie self, (leaste I shoulde so farre move thie pacyence, as in thie fearefull Choller, offring to caste my letter from thee, thou shouldest with it, cast thyne arme from thie bodye, and so peradventure coosen79 the divell of his dewe, by thie toe speedie deathe) and therfore to avoyde that I will scoulde with thee, and by these, challenge thie brothers, Sonne, Sonne in lawe, or to conclude, any gentleman thie Kynsman, or frende, who will maynteigne thie execrable actions, and therfore to them or any of them, I by these (for thie sclaunderous libells) give the lye in their throotes in dispightfullest manner.

Nowe Sir knight to aunswere thie libelous lyes, for the factor,80 being (as I thinke) one of thie bawedye Instrumentes, I leave hym to the revenge meete for a keepe doore or a carrye whoore.81 And, good well shapte knight, though I be crookte backed, yett is it not the pockes,82 or any bawdye disease that makes me sitt like a deformed ape under a Tree, with my hedd and knees so conjoyned, as yf I loved them so well, that my whoale pleasure consisted in their kyssing; neither doo any noysome salves of myne trooble any, as thyne generally tyer all that conferre wth thee. For the Gallowes, which is termed my birthright, yf any of myne auncestors hadd happened to dye so unkyndly,83 as one vnder a Tree, and an other (beinge condempned to hanging) have his hedd stricken from his shoulders, I muste have blushed to suffer any of my knaves to have offred the Gallowes to thee. For thie Cooche cuttinge, or any Libell setting upp, knowe, thou confused excrementes of nature,84 that to any of thy followers, kynde,85 or freindes, who thinke I touche them for this and the whole lybell, I geve them the lye in the throate.

For my name of knave, I houlde thie knaverie thie best meane of living, and therfore duringe thie lief keepe it thie self, and after thie deathe leave it to thyne heires. But nowe Sir, to conclude, lett me a little question with you: Are you not an odyous, sclaunderous knave upon Recorde? Did you ever offer a horrible rape to one of your neere kynde, and in her resistaunce rente her Smock?86 Or did you ever offer or performe the most dampned offence of Incest? Howe longe, I pray you Sir, have you hadd (with your bawdye actions) the Greenecomes, the yellow or black Jaundeys, or the most hated disease called La gran verola?87 And to conclude, howe manye hast thou been the deathe of, by causing suche as begged their breade, to sell their Fryeng pannes, with other necessaryes, and to pyne88 their wives, Children, and them selves, to paye thee dooble rentes at thie Daughter's wedding?89

Nowe Sir, yf in all these thou be faultie, all the worlde will saye with me, thou arte the most vyle, Filthie, Sclaunderous, incestuous, Dampned, knavishe knight that ever receaved that honorable order. And nowe, careles90 to offend thee, but doubting91 to be too tedyous to the multytude I meane shall viewe these, I rest.

  •         From thie Godsonne who deadlie
  •         hateth thie damphned condicions,
  •                          John: Markham92
Although he asserts here that Stanhope's 'Factor' wrote the verse letter to which he replies, there is no reason to doubt that Markham himself wrote the responses to it in verse and prose. The three extant manuscript texts of this letter testify as well to his success at distributing it 'to the multytude'. Needless to say, this new round of insults did nothing to allay the feud. At about the same time that these libels were being penned, Stanhope's son-in-law, John Holles, challenged Gervase Markham to a duel. The Privy Council sent Markham, Holles, and his brother-in-law John Stanhope to the Marshalsea Prison, releasing them in March 1593 with a warning that Holles and Markham were to keep the peace, and Stanhope to 'give no occasion of challeng, provokement or offence' to Sir Charles Cavendish.93 In 1594, however, one of Holles' servants killed the Earl of Shrewsbury's gentleman of the horse. Later, Holles reported that Markham wrote shameful libels calling him a coward and had them posted on market crosses at Retford, Newark, and Nottingham. In response, Holles sent St Loe Kniveton to challenge Markham to a duel.94 The two men met by accident in 1598 with the result that Markham survived a serious wound to the groin. In 1599, John Stanhope seems to have brought the hostilities to an end when he attacked and wounded Cavendish.95
Editor’s Note
75 Folger MS L.d.922 (i).
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76 Hasler, 1.566, 3.456; W. T. MacCaffrey, 'Talbot and Stanhope: an Episode in Elizabethan Politics', Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 33 (1960), 73–85; 83. MacCaffrey treats in detail the 1593 conflict and its aftermath.
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77 PRO SP 12/247, f. 15, Shrewsbury to Essex, 14 January 1593/4.
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78 At the end of.
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80 Agent, in this case, author; Markham asserts here and in his later reference to 'any of my knaves' that someone wrote Poem 6 for Sir Thomas.
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81 The OED's only citation for keep-door, a porter, is from Aphra Behn's The City Heiress (1682). Markham's meaning is clearly, the door keeper in a brothel. Markham's carrye whoore', unlisted by OED, is a synonym for pimp.
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82 French pox, syphilis.
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83 Unnaturally; we have not identified the Stanhope forbear who died under a tree. Sir Thomas' father, Sir Michael Stanhope, was sentenced to hang for treason in 1552, but was instead beheaded.
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84 Worthless dregs of nature.
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85 Kindred.
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86 This alleged incident seems not to have been recorded elsewhere. Sir Thomas had several daughters-in-law, one of whom may have been the victim of this abuse according to the verse libel, 7.3–4.
Editor’s Note
87 Greencomes (untraced). Yellow and black jaundice refer to morbid conditions of the skin, here, probably, with overtones of veneral disease. The gran verola is another name for syphilis.
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88 Starve.
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89 In May 1591, Sir Thomas' only daughter, Anne, married John Holles, thwarting a match promoted by George Talbot, sixth Earl of Shrewsbury, to marry one of his nieces to Holles. Holles thereafter played an active role in the feud between the seventh Earl of Shrewsbury and the Markhams (MacCaffrey, 'Talbot and Stanhope', 76 ff.).
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90 Without concern for.
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91 Fearing.
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92 Lambeth Palace Library MS 701, ff. 67–67v, endorsed: Mr John Markham's answer to the Libell against him at Newark. 1592. We have emended this text from copies in O: MS Rawl. B.88, ff. 2–2v and BL Lansdowne MS 99, f. 276, at l. 7 Chiller] Choller; 10 perdie] speedie; 17 libells] libelous; 32–33 I greete thie frendes aforenamed with my former salutacons] to any of thy followers, kynde, or freindes, who thinke I touche them for this and the whole lybell I geve them the lye in the throate; 34 knaveries] knaverie.
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93 Letters of John Holles 1587–1637, ed. P. R. Seddon, Thoroton Society Record Ser. 31 (Nottingham, 1975), 1.5; APC 40.135, meeting of 25 March 1593.
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94 HMC Portland 9.89.
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95 MacCaffrey, 'Talbot and Stanhope', 83–4.
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scabby; shameful, contemptuous
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Editor’s Note
male sheep, ram
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