On 17th June 1601 John Daniell, the tenant of Hackney
rectory, was found guilty by the Court of Star Chamber of what we would
now call forgery and blackmail. He was sentenced to a period in the
pillory, a term of imprisonment, and a massive fine which led to the
confiscation of his property by the Exchequer. This resulted in a ten
year trail of inventories, pleas and petitions which has been used to
build a picture of Daniell's house in Hackney - the Parsonage House
- and the lives lived in it.
Perhaps uniquely for a 17th century resident of Hackney,
this evidence also tells us a great deal about John Daniell himself,
and his wife Jane - their attitudes, aspirations and failures - and
on this part of the site we have tried to piece together the circumstances
which led to the DanielIs' move to Hackney, and then to their rapid
The records of John's trial in Star Chamber and his
later law suit against Ferdinando Heybourne (who subsequently bought
the lease of the Rectory) give us a great deal of information. The papers
relating to the Star Chamber action in the State Papers series are annotated
by him, mostly with rather petulant comments refuting the prosecution
case. Moreover, to justify his actions he wrote a narrative of his misfortunes,
poignantly entitled "Danyells Dysasters".
This gives us a rare insight into the thought processes of an Elizabethan
gentleman. Throughout this memoir, Daniell represents himself as an
injured party who was "entrapped by double dealing
and powerful adversaries".
Furthermore, we have a similar recital of the story
written by Daniell's wife Jane, entitled "The
Misfortunes of Jane Danyell". Autobiographical material relating
to an Elizabethan woman is even rarer than such material relating to
an Elizabethan man. Both documents appear to exist only in manuscript
form. The personal testimonies allow us to flesh out the story gathered
from the legal records. In the following retelling of the DanielIs mis-fortunes
we have drawn heavily on these testimonies. It should be borne in mind
however that both husband and wife were concerned to justify what was
essentially an act of blackmail, and to portray themselves as victims
of the ensuing actions of state and local officials.
A gentleman of Cheshire
John Daniell was a Cheshire gentleman with an estate
at Daresbury, near Runcorn, which his family had held since the reign
of Edward Ill. He was born about 1545, and became a ward of the Queen
on his father's death in 1559, Daresbury being held from the Crown.
The estate included Daresbury Hall itself, a water mill and lands nominally
worth £16 3s. 4d as a moiety (half) of a knight's fee, together
with other lands in Cheshire and Lancashire. Wardship of young John
was granted by the Queen to one Richard Merbury of Walton, either his
maternal uncle or cousin.
We have not found any indication of the course of John
Daniell's early career, but he spent at least part of his life on his
country estate in Cheshire. He undertook the amateur military duties
typical of the Elizabethan country gentleman. In 1588 and 1596 he was
Captain of a band of foot mustered in the hundred of Bucklow - in 1588
he was requested by the deputy lieutenants of Cheshire to hold his men
in readiness to meet the expected Spanish invasion. He was also concerned
to secure and expand his estates in the county. He was involved in a
long dispute with Christ Church, Oxford, over the tithes of Daresbury
and Runcom, and his approach was robust. In 1592 he was in trouble for
the alleged "riotous removal" of tithe corn from the supposed lessee
of the Daresbury tithes.
But John had ambitions outside Cheshire. As a relatively
young man, he was a follower of Thomas Butler, 11th or "Black" Earl
of Ormonde. To obtain political office and social advancement at the
end of the sixteenth century, members of the gentry often became clients
of prominent courtiers. Ormonde was one of the leading Anglo-Irish peers
and head of the powerful Butler family, but he had been educated in
England and was intermittently resident at Court, where John appears
to have been a member of his household. On the Earl's return to Ireland
to suppress a rebellion (undated in John's account, but probably the
Desmond revolt of 1579), John went back to Cheshire and "applyed
[himself] to husbandrie" - concentrated
on farming his estate, in other words. When Ormonde returned to Court,
John returned to his service.
However, despite Ormonde's patronage, John was unsuccessful
in attaining his objective of a post in the royal household. His ambition
was to succeed his uncle as Serjeant of the Pantry. This was not a prominent
position at court; in 1607 the post was worth £11 8s 1d per annum,
with 17 assistants, but no doubt there were various perks which made
the position worth having! But when his uncle died, a Mr Ware was appointed
to the Pantry instead of John. "Nevertheless,"
continues John, "I attended upon the seyd Earle
many years still expecting some other preferment." He was not
successful, and when Ormonde returned to Ireland for good, probably
in the late 1580s, John transferred his allegiance to another courtier,
the Earl of Essex.
In the Service of the Earl of Essex
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, had been Elizabeth
I's favourite since the late 1580s. He has been summed up as "the
epitome of the courtly hero: handsome, adventurous, ambitious, a brave
soldier and a fair poet". He was also a Staffordshire landowner,
and thus a natural patron for an ambitious gentleman from across the
border in Cheshire. The strength of the Essex connection is indicated
by the Christian name of John's second son, Devereux.
A remark by Essex at his own trial, to the effect
that John had "broke a standard", remains
obscure, but suggests that John had accompanied the Earl on campaign.
There is no indication as to which of the Earl's never very successful
expeditions this may have been, but John may have been the Daniell who
arrived in Dublin with letters for Essex in August 1599 and returned
to Court with dispatches from the Earl.
Attending Essex at Court, and perhaps on campaign,
was an expensive business. The Earl advertised his social prominence
with lavish expenditure on his person and his household. It was difficult
for a man of limited means to keep up: "I sometyme
followed the unfortunate Erle of Essex and his honours late countesse
to my exceeding charge, losse and hinderance.."
Marriage to Jane
While in the service of Essex, John met one of the
Countess of Essex's gentlewomen, Jane van Kethulle. Jane was a Protestant
exile from the Low Countries, the daughter of a Flemish nobleman, Francois
van Kethulle, Lord of Rihoven, who had been governor of Ghent. It was
probably about 1587 when she came to England and entered Lady Essex's
service. Internal evidence suggests that Jane wrote the "Misfortunes"
about 1605, when she had been away from her native country for eighteen
years. . Lady Essex was then the wife of Sir Philip Sidney, who
served in the Netherlands with the English forces against the Spanish.
Presumably it was through the Sidney connection that Jane found herself
under the protection of Frances. Jane served her for ten years and by
her own account become a valued friend of the Countess. She was entrusted
with the care of Frances's jewels, during which time she did not "dyminish
of them so much as one pearle!" 
John and Jane were married in the winter of 1595/6;
a general licence was granted on Ist December by the Bishop of London
to John Daniell and "Jane Rehova, spinster,
a foreigner, and domestic servant of the Countess of Essex, resident
in the parish of St Olave's, Hart Street." Jane was presumably
then living at Walsingham House in Seething Lane in St Olave's parish,
a house which had come to the Essexes from Frances's father, Queen Elizabeth's
secretary and spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham. One wonders at John's
motives in marrying Jane, as he appears to have remained resolutely
single until the age of fifty. One clue is that one of John's major
grudges against the Essexes was that the dowry they promised to Jane
failed to materialise.
The Daniells had several children. The eldest son John
must have been born soon after their marriage, and Jane records that
she had four children when the family left Hackney. The William Daniell
baptised in St John at Hackney on 28th May 1601 may have been their
child.  If so, his father was either already in prison or shortly
to be arrested. Perhaps to mark the occasion young Williarn wore the
mantle of crimson taffeta recorded in the inventory of the Parsonage.
Forgery and blackmail
Essex's political ambitions were threatened by other
factions at Court, principally those of Sir Robert Cecil, the Secretary
of State, and Sir Walter Raleigh. This meant that it was by no means
easy for him to get his clients appointed to office, and the fruits
of office were the means by which a powerful man secured the loyalty
of his followers and thus extended his own political influence. Notoriously,
Francis Bacon, Essex's candidate for Attorney General, was not appointed
to that post, but neither was John Daniell to the Pantry when it once
again fell vacant. By 1599 he had spent a great deal of money in attending
on Essex without attaining his ambition. However in October of that
year he obtained a useful and profitable lever against the Earl.
At the end of September 1599 Essex had suddenly returned
to London from Ireland. He had gone there as Lord Lieutenant in March
to suppress the long running revolt of the Catholic Earl of Tyrone.
The campaign was a failure, and Essex unwisely and in defiance of specific
instructions made a truce with Tyrone. His return to Court was precipitate
and without permission. On 1st October he was put under house arrest.
On 10th October the Countess of Essex entrusted to
Jane Daniell a locked casket of letters to the Countess from her husband.
With her husband under house arrest she presumably felt that the letters
were too sensitive, for whatever reason, to fall into the hands of the
When the casket was returned to Lady Essex in January
1600, a number of the letters were discovered to have gone missing.
John Daniell had extracted some of the letters and had them copied by
a prominent London scrivener, Peter Bales. According to his later statements,
Daniell's intentions were patriotic; he realised that they contained
evidence somehow damaging to Essex, and he intended to present them
to the Queen. Be that as it may, Bales claimed at John's subsequent
trial that John had demanded he imitate Essex's handwriting closely
when copying the Earl's letters. This suggests that John was effectively
making forgeries to pass off as the Earl's original letters.
Jane persuaded him not to damage her reputation with
Lady Essex by revealing the letters to the Queen, and he resolved to
use them to compensate himself for the years of expense in Essex's service,
by using the letters to extort money from the Earl and Countess. He
demanded £3000, arguing that something was owed to him in lieu
of Jane's dowry which had never been paid.
In April 1600 Lady Essex made over to the Daniells
the considerable sum of £1720, having raised the money by selling
her jewellery. The Earl made a release to them "of
all actions, suits, debts and accounts", effectively an acknowledgement
that the payment was a just payment for their "good
and faithful service". John returned the copies of the letters
he had had made by Bales, but retained the originals, presumably as
security for payment of the balance of £1280.
The letters present a slight mystery. At John's trial,
Attorney General Sir Edward Coke informed Star Chamber that the letters
were dated from both before and after the Essexes' marriage and concerned
only "matters of affecion and such like".
Why was the Countess so anxious to conceal from the authorities what
it is suggested were merely love letters? And why did John think that
such letters would be so useful a basis for blackmail? One possibility
- and there is no proof - is that the letters revealed that Essex was
having an affair with Frances while she was married to Sir Philip Sidney.
The cuckolding of a national hero would certainly have been a matter
for concealment. Alternatively, Coke may have been concealing the truth
himself because of Essex's posthumous popularity, and the letters really
were treasonous, as John consistently maintained. We shall never know;
it appears that the letters no longer survive.
After his trial the Countess of Essex described John as "the
most perfidious and treacherous wretch that I think did ever infect
the air with breath". One can see her point.