Townshend Earlier History

by Nigel Watts

The Hem Townshends were not really Townshends at all, but Agboroughs. When William Agborow, a London merchant, died in 1619, he left a young widow Anne and a three month old son Robert . She married again and had more children, and the young Robert was brought up in his step father's household. Anne's second husband was Aurelian Townshend, whose surname Robert was later to adopt as his own.

I have yet to establish when or where William was born, or who his parents were. The place name Aggborough occurs in Worcestershire, near Kidderminster, and there are clusters of related surnames in parish records in both Kiddermister and Doddenham in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, so it seems probable that the family originally came from that area. William married Anne Wythes, daughter of Edward Withes of Copgrove, Yorkshire, at St Benet Fink in the City of London on 14 January 1616. She was 22 years old , and may have been William's second wife, as the St Benet Fink register also records a marriage between a William Agbarowe and Mary Lodge on 18 April 1613.

Anne seems to have remarried, to Aurelian Townshend, by 1622, as their first child, George, was baptized on 17th December of that year, at St Giles Cripplegate. Ten years later, Aurleian was to make his appearance as a writer of court masks. In an extensive biographical note on Aurelian which appeared in the introduction to an edition of his works published in 1912 , E K Chambers wrote:

"Oblivion has scattered her poppy effectively enough over the name of Aurelian Townshend, who is now but a shadowy figure dimly discerned in the background of that bustling London of the early Stuarts and the Civil Wars. Yet in his day he walked with wits and poets, and, for certain touches of rareness here and there in his song, it becomes an act of piety to peice together what is known of him .... to stand as a preface to this belated gathering of his scanty harvest."

Aurelian was the son of John Townshend of West Dereham, Norfolk and third cousin of Sir Roger Townshend of Raynham, Norfolk. He was born in about 1583, which would make him about ten years older than Anne. As a young man he was taken under the wing of Sir Robert Cecil, who wished to train him for the service of his son William Cecil. For this purpose he was sent on a tour of France and Italy lasting several years, and there is some evidence to suppose that on his return he re-entered the service of Robert Cecil, who had by then become Earl of Salisbury and Lord High Treasurer.

In the twenty years following Robert Cecil's death in 1612 little is known of Aurelian's life. He appears to have lived in the Barbican from the time of his marriage in about 1622 as his six children were all baptized at St Giles Cripplegate. This seems to be confirmed by the opening lines of a poem by his friend Thomas Carew:

Why dost thou sound, my dear Aurelian,
In so shrill accents from thy Barbican
A loud alarum to my drowsy eyes,
Bidding them wake in tears and elegies
For mightly Sweden's fall?

Aurelian is believed to have collaborated with Inigo Jones in the king's mask Albion's Triumph on 8th January 1632. He wrote the description which was later published, and was probably the author of all the verses. In the following year he wrote the verses for the queen's mask Tempe Restored, for which Jones is believed to have been responsible for the "invention", or rather the plagiarism from a similar mask performed before the French King Henri III in 1582. Aurelian's opportunity appears to have arisen through a falling out between Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones, from which Jonson came off the worse. Chambers thinks it "not improbable" that he was introduced through Edmund Taverner, secretary to the Lord Chamberlian, as Taverner and Aurelian had both been in the train of Sir Edward Herbert in 1608.

Aurelian was not called upon to write any more masks, but he now had a place in the world of letters.

to be continued....

Last Update: 09/25/99
Web Author: Nigel Watts
Copyright ©1999 Kenrick Armitstead & Nigel Watts - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED