The Beestons of Titchfield
William Beeston was a prosperous man who was living at Posbrook House towards the end of his life. He was a tenant of the earl and had the means to educate his children. His eldest son, Henry, became Master at Winchester College and New College, Oxford and his second son, William became Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica and was knighted. Great Posbrook House still stands today and would have been a substantial and expensive house when it was built. It is probably correct to assume that the Beestons were well-to-do and well-connected. William Beeston married Elizabeth Bromfield, a daughter of Arthur Bromfield, a man with manors middlesex and Hampshire. William Beeston died in 1638 and is buried in Titchfield. It should be noted that Sir William Beeston was born in 1636, two years before the older William Beeston died. This is possible of course as Elizabeth Bromfield, the wife of William Beeston, was considerably younger than her husband, although it has been suggested that Sir William Beeston may have been a grandson. The DNB states that he was the son of William Beeston of Posbrook.
This would excite no great interest are it not for the fact that John Aubrey wrote that he had been told by William Beeston that William Shakespeare was sometime a schoolmaster in the country. What Aubrey actually wrote was this:
Though, as Ben Jonson says of him that he had but little Latin and less Greek, he understood Latin pretty well, for he had been in his younger years a schoolmaster in the county – from Mr Beeston.
This man was William Beeston, but not the buccaneering Sir William Beeston, who made a pile of money in Jamaica; he was a well known actor and producer of plays, the son of Christopher Beeston, an actor and colleague of William Shakespeare. This William Beeston was born 1610/11 and died in 1682
Any scrap of information about Shakespeare tends to send the imagination into overdrive and several scholars have been tempted to make the Beeston connection with Titchfield. Is there a connection?
At first glance the connection may rest only on the name. The Titchfield Beestons were, as described above, well-to-do and the sons and daughters would have good opportunities in life without considering the rough and uncertain trade of an actor. Both Henry and Sir William Beeston were able to slide into prestigious positions and need not have given acting a second thought. In William Beeston’s relatively straightforward will he bequeathed everything to his wife, presumably because the children were still very young.
Now let us turn to Christopher Beeston. He was a child actor in 1592 and grew up with the theatre. He acted with William Shakespeare in Ben Jonson’s play Every Man in his Humour and he probably did well enough out of his trade. He had at least one son, the William mentioned by Aubrey, and he died in 1638, coincidentally only a few days after William Beeston of Titchfield. He was probably born c. 1582.
If he was connected to the Titchfield Beestons, his choice of a career on the stage appears unlikely. It was possible to make a living during Shakespeare’s lifetime but most families would be very wary of a future for their sons in this trade. The large majority of the actors and playwrights of Shakespeare’s day came from modest backgrounds and had little to lose. They were clever men of course and could readily undertake the hack work of putting together a play. Boy-actors, who took the parts of women, were unlikely come from a well-to-do family.
Christopher Beeston doesn’t seem to fit.
Except, as Stewart Trotter has ventured, he was an illegitimate son. What is attractive about Stewart Trotter’s theory is that acting was in many respects the perfect opportunity for a boy born on the other side of the blanket. He had no reputation to lose and the more respectable opportunities enjoyed by his half brother or brothers were closed to him. William Beeston of Titchfield may have been a hard driving character and possibly only in his sunset years did he settle into marriage and family at Posbrook. Thomas Nashe, the pamphleteer and sometime playwright, wrote a pamphlet called “Strange News” and dedicated it to William “Apis Lapis” (Latin for Bee-stone). From the text William Apis Lapis emerges as a bon viveur who was not always scrupulous about the way he made money. He may also have fathered illegitimate children. The pamphlet also indirectly informs us that Beeston was a man about town (London) and one suspects that this washer he made his money before settling on a quieter life at Posbrook.
Could one of them have been Christopher Beeston? If this was the case then William Beeston would have taken minimal responsibility for the child, providing a few pounds for maintenance and then largely leaving the woman to make theist of it. In this scenario we can imagine young Christopher being put on the stage at an early age to help with the household budget He also signed himself Christopher Hutchinson,which may suggest that this was his mother’s name.
There may be an issue with dates. William Beeston was established and well-known in 1592 and we believe that Christopher Beeston/Hutchinson was about 10 years old at that date. This would place William Beeston’s birth in the early 1560s – possibly even 1564! That would place him in his mid-70s at the time of his death, and in his 70s when he sired his son William. Not at all impossible of course, but at the very least raising some questions.
I can’t arrive at any definite conclusions about the connection between William Beeston and Christopher Beeston – if any. Christopher may have come from another Beeston family altogether; however, there are some rounds at leat for considering a link.
For a fuller account please go to Stewart Trotter’s blog, The Shakespeare Code.