Meet the Woman Who Nearly Ended Shakespeare’s Career

When William Shakespeare was still a relatively young man, before he got involved with the creation of the Blackfriars Theatre he crossed paths with a feisty woman who was highly educated and battled him fiercely over the opening of the theatre.

Elizabeth Cooke was her name, and she was born in 1540. Her mother Anne Fitzwilliam Cooke nearly lost her life, in the Hoddeston riots on 16th August 1534, after a man attacked her.

Elizabeth’s father Anthony was a forward thinking man, who taught his children in the same way regardless of their sex. The Cooke family house was affectionately nicknamed the ‘Female University’, and Anthony’s status as the companion to Edward VI meant that Elizabeth and her sisters had frequent contact with the Prince.

Her father taught her Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French and Italian as well as dancing, and the medical qualities of herbs and flowers amongst other things. His belief in the fact that women were just as capable as men in all things, might have been the reason behind his choice to get involved with the plot to have Lady Jane Grey take the throne after Edward Vi’s death.

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It’s not been proven but Mary I believed that he was involved, and put him in the Tower of London for a time. He was pardoned and left England when Elizabeth was thirteen, not long after losing her mother.

However, Elizabeth might have stayed in England, given the fact that she was married to an English nobleman, Thomas Hoby in June 1558. Thomas was a prominent member of the court, serving as the ambassador to France, and became Sir Hoby on 09.03.1566.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth was not able to be married to Sir Hoby for very long, as he died only four months after his knighthood. She still was close to the Queen, though, receiving an emotional letter of condolence from her. It might have dulled the ache a little, but Elizabeth soon had another Thomas to care for. She gave birth to Hoby’s son not long after her husband’s death and named him Thomas Posthumus.

Elizabeth’s second marriage was to another prominent courtier Lord John Russell, in 1576. The couple had two daughters together, during their ten-year union.

Elizabeth’s sisters married just as well, Mildred, her elder sister becoming the wife of Lord Burghley. Lord Burghley was Elizabeth the first’s most trusted advisor and offered Elizabeth’s son Thomas Posthumus tutelage at his side.

The connection gave Elizabeth confidence, and she was often involved in political affairs. Her puritanism is one of the reasons that she clashed with Shakespeare. She got up a petition to ban the rebuilding of Blackfriars Theatre, something that Shakespeare was connected with, as he was one of the seven shareholders.

Somehow, maybe because of her close friendship with the Queen, Elizabeth managed to convince many of the other people that lived in the ‘upmarket’ district of Blackfriars to oppose the building. Some of those that signed were Baron Hunsdon, the patron of the actors company.

Luckily for Shakespeare, and all the drama lovers that have enjoyed his plays throughout the succeeding years, she was ultimately unsuccessful in banning the company from performing.

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