The Daniells  
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The Dysasters and Misfortunes of John and Jane Daniell


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 departure.

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.

Upwardly mobile

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. [12]. 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!" [13]

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. [15] 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 authorities.

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.


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This site, developed with funding from the New Opportunities Fund as one of the projects within Sense of Place, London, forms part of the National Archive's Education site. It was developed as a partnership between Hackney Archives Department, Immediate Theatre and the National Archive's Education Team