Marie’s Musings

No. 12: Hidden Figures

by Marie Delgado Travis

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Leaving William Byrd aside for a moment (to be curiously considered in my next post), I mused on what I personally would consider the “bird with the loudest lay.” You may recall that phrase is part of the first line of Shakespeare’s The Phoenix and the Turtle(dove):

Let the bird with the loudest lay….

Having lived for a time in a rural setting, I would say it is the rooster, who wakes us in the morning, and crows several times throughout the day, much like a herald (“Ten o’clock and all is well”) or— as in Shakespeare’s poem— a call to prayer / worship service.

Rooster Crowing Compilation by YANG Edwin (2016)
(Just for fun!)

Significantly, one of the two men martyred with Saint Anne Line— whom some consider the inspiration for Shakespeare’s poem (see previous posts below)— was the Jesuit, Roger Filcock. And of course, a synonym for “rooster” is a “cock,” so Father Filcock, would “fil” the bill.

St. Roger Filcock, S.J.
All Images for Educational Purposes Only

Also executed at Tyburn on that somber day, 27 February 1601, was Blessed Marcus (Mark) Barkworth, a Jesuit novitiate turned Benedictine monk.

Blessed Marcus Barkworth, O.S.B.

To appreciate how his name may also be “hidden” in The Phoenix and the Turtle, let’s review the Legend of the Phoenix together. [See McMillan, Douglas J. “The Phoenix in the Western World from Herodotus to Shakespeare,” The D.H. Lawrence Review, vol. 5, no. 3, (1972)].

Aberdeen Phoenix.
Source: Wikipedia.

Although the legend has varied over the centuries, in its most common version, the Phoenix lives, as Shakespeare puts it, in “a lone Arabian tree.” There is, in fact, a date tree associated with Saudi Arabia, known as the Phoenix Dacrylifera:

Source: Wikipedia

In Christianity, palms have for centuries been associated with martyrdom. Just as the athlete in ancient times received a palm frond or crown of laurels upon winning a competition, martyrs — as St. Paul says in 2 Timothy 4: 7-8, have “fought the good fight,” and won “the crown of Righteousness” in heaven.

Procession of the Martyrs Mosaic (6 C.), Sant Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy.
Note the crown and palm branch in the portraits of St. Roger Filcock and Bl. Marcus Barkworth above.

Now, legend also has it that the Phoenix lines its nest with precious spices, including frankincense, and in some versions, myrrh— another parallel with Christianity, as these, together with gold, were the valuable gifts given to the newborn Christ by the Magi (Matthew 2: 1-2).

The Three Magi Mosaic (6th C.). Basilica of Sant Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy. Source: Wikipedia.

But back for a moment to the pre-Christian legend. Having lived in its tree for a period of up to 500 years, depending on the source, the ancient Phoenix sets fire to its nest and immolates itself, only to be reborn as either its own offspring, or the same Phoenix renewed, yet another Christ symbol (resurrection from the dead).

Book of Emblems
(Frankfurt, 1583)
The Latin text specifically refers to the Phoenix as a Christ figure, and describes it as an “Ever-Singular Bird, Father and Son to Itself.”

Given the description of the Phoenix’ habitat, we could say that it is a “bark” (the literary figure of metonymy, where the part represents the whole, i.e., a “tree”), and its spices make it of great value or “worth” (Barkworth).

Far-fetched? Well, maybe so. But Sir John Salusbury, nicknamed “the Strong”— dedicatee of the anthology in which Shake-speare’s poem first appeared (see title page below)— was an aficionado of acrostic poetry, word puzzles, and “mystical allusions,” as was the book’s editor, Robert Chester, according to numerous sources [e.g., E.A.J. Honigmann, Shakespeare: The Lost Years (1998) at 92ff and Carleton Brown, The Poems of Sir John Salusbury and Robert Chester (Early English Text Society (1914)].

Sir John Salusbury

Strange because Sir John professed to be a staunch Protestant supporter of Queen Elizabeth (not to mention also vehemently anti-Earl of Essex), and The Phoenix and the Turtle, as I have demonstrated over a series of posts, is a poem with strong Catholic underpinnings.

Perhaps Sir John was being punked by the man who wrote the Shakespeare canon, and I don’t mean the commoner from Stratford-upon-Avon. Sir John was, after all, William Stanley’s brother-in-law, having married the 6th Earl of Derby’s illegitimate (but recognized) half-sister, Ursula. The two men were reportedly close. This would also make the Welshman, Salusbury, Edward de Vere’s kin through marriage, as Derby in turn was married to de Vere’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth. And we know how much the man who wrote Shakespeare loved to good-naturedly rib the Welsh, e.g. Hotspur’s comments about Welsh singing in Henry IV Part One.

On a more serious note, and also according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Sir John’s older brother Thomas Salusbury— arguably a victim of government entrapment— was executed for his involvement in the doomed Babington Plot (1586) to free the Catholic Queen of Scots (see references to the plot below).

This is not to imply that Sir John Salusbury was himself a crypto- Catholic, but rather that, like Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623), the anthology Love’s Martyr seems to have been a “close friend and family affair.”

But it gets more a-musing (as in “to ponder,” not in the “funny” sense), when one considers that that Shakespeare’s allegorical poem is nominally about “birds of prey” versus “birds that pray.” For you see, the above-mentioned Marcus Barkworth was shadowed, harassed and blackmailed by a Stephen Parratt (also spelled Parrat), a government spy whom the Spanish Jesuits and Benedictines referred to as “Stephen Parrot.” Parrat was one of several informants who infiltrated Catholic seminaries, monasteries and religious colleges abroad, under the pretense of entering a religious order [James E. Kelly,”A suppurating ulcer”: religious orders and transnational conflict in Valladolid at the start of the seventeenth century,” The Seventeenth Century, Vol. 37, Issue 5 (2022)]

This deceit placed “foule [sic] of tyrant wing” (as the man who wrote Shakespeare calls them in his poem), in the position of “fingering” and “turning in”Catholic missionaries in England to Elizabethan authorities. Barkworth himself (using the alias George, perhaps his saint name) complained about Parrat in an undated letter to Robert Cecil, then Lord Secretary (not to mention, also Edward de Vere’s former brother-in-law) [Volume 269, undated 1598, Calendar of State Papers Domestic-Elizabeth (1598-1601)]:

32. Petition of George Barkworth to Sec. Cecil. Was committed to Newgate six months ago, on suspicion of being a seminary priest, which he is not.

This is not equivocation. As mentioned, Barkworth professed to be a Benedictine monk, not a priest. However, according to Dom Bede Camm, A Benedictine Martyr in England (1897) at 74, he had made an unusual arrangement with his order that he would “make his monastic vows at the hour of his death.

The annotation continues in part:

Begs the same liberty of the house at Bridewell which was granted to him at Newgate, and which he had at first, till shut up by means of one Parrat, who having opposed his removal to Bridewell, obtained 40s. from him to consent to it, and now asks 8l. more for him to have the liberty of the place continued, which the petitioner, being poor, has refused to pay.

In Barkworth’s words, as a result of this refusal, “he was instantly closed up in the lowest room of the house, where he [remained] comfortless….” [Dom Bede Camm, A Benedictine Martyr in England (1897) at 118 (fn)].

The Reverend Henry Garnet advances Barkworth’s story (Camm 123):

He refused to be put upon trial by the jury, giving as a reason that he knew that upon the jury there were certain persons named Parratt, Ingleby, and Singleton ready to swear he was a Priest….

Garnet also provides us with a small glimpse into conditions at “Limbo,” the dungeon in Newgate Prison, in which Barkworth and other priests awaiting execution were confined (Camm at 123-124):

It is a place underground full of horrors, without light, and swarming with vermin and similar reptiles; it is impossible to see there without candles continually burning, and there is neither bed nor chair, unless the persons provide for themselves.

In “Jonson and the Spies,” The Review of English Studies, Vol. 13, No. 52 (Oct. 1937), and citing Camm’s Nine Martyr Monks (1931), scholar Mark Eccles adds at 387:

On the gallows [Barkworth] prayed for “Mr. Waade, Ingleby, Parrat and Singleton, who were the prosecutors of his death.”

So, while not raptors (except as an anagram), parrots, together with canaries and pigeons, are associated with “snitching” (e.g., expressions such as “stool pigeon,” “singing like a canary” and “parroting another’s words.”

But ay, here’s the rub. Ben Jonson, who also participated in the Love’s Martyr anthology with Shakespeare and other famous writers of the day (Chapman, Churchyard, Marston) may have had his own dealings with “stoolies,” while he was a prisoner at the Marshalsea (for his alleged role in the writing of the banned play, The Isle of Dogs) and Newgate prisons (for killing actor Gabriel Spencer in a duel), and perhaps in other settings where there was a more reasonable expectation of privacy.

The final lines of Jonson’s poem, “Inviting a Friend to Supper” (1616) below, hints at the (mortal) danger posed by “Pooleys and Parrots,” who infiltrate “feasts,” from intimate gatherings at one’s home— Elizabethan spymasters Sir Francis Walsingham and the Cecil’s were particularly fond of suborning servants in wealthy households— to shall we add (though not necessarily present in Jonson’s poem), raiding a clandestine Mass held in the sanctity of someone’s private property.

Ben Jonson
Source: Wikipedia

And we will have no Pooley, or Parrot by, 

Nor shall our cups make any guilty men; 

But, at our parting we will be as when 

We innocently met. No simple word 

That shall be uttered at our mirthful board, 

Shall make us sad next morning or affright 

The liberty that we’ll enjoy tonight.

For full text, visit

“Inviting a Friend to Supper”
by Ben Jonson, wonderfully
read by Robert Sean Leonard,
uploaded by Zsuzsanna Uhlik (June 2022).

Robert Pooley (AKA Poley), by the way, was not “just” a notorious priest-hunter like Parrat. He was one of the three men involved in the infamous “bar room brawl” in which the poet-playwright Christopher Marlowe was killed (as Eccles cleverly points out at 386, “after supper”). And Poley was, inter alia, a pivotal player in the Babington Plot, which resulted in the beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots:

 [Poley] was continually with …Babington, he attended Mass, confessed, and in all things feigned to be a Catholic, and still learned his lesson of Mr. Secretary [then William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Edward de Vere’s former father-in-law], whom they should draw into the plot, and what plot they should lay, and what course they should take, that might best serve the turn for which all this device was taken (I.e., “to make Catholics odious, and to cut off the Queen of Scots”) [John Morris, The Letter Books of Sir Amias Poulet, Keeper of Mary Queen of Scots, London: Birns and Oates, 1874), at 386].

We’ll pick up here in my next post! But till then, we leave you with this lovely, even bird-like, rendition below of the psalm Blessed Markus Barkworth, O.S.B., and Saint Roger Filcock, S.J., chanted on the way to their gruesome executions by hanging, drawing and quartering— or their “glorious martyrdoms,” as Dom Bede Camm referred to their deaths.

Bishop Richard Challoner sets the scene in Memoirs of Missionary Priests, and Other Catholics of Both Sexes, That Have Suffered Death in England on Religious Accounts from the Year 1577 to 1684, Vol. 1 (1684, published 1903):

Mr. Barkworth and Mr. Filcock were both drawn together upon the same hurdle from Newgate to Tyburn. When they were put up into the cart, Mr. Barkwork [sic] with a joyful accent, sung those words of the royal prophet [Psalm 118: 24], haec dies quam fecit Dominus, exultemus (“This is the day the Lord has made, let us be glad”); and Mr. Filcock went on in the same tone, et laetemur in ea (“… and rejoice in it”).

This was a hymn (along with the Te Deum, a song of Thanksgiving) famously sung by St. Edmund Campion and his co-defendants when they had been condemned to martyrs’ deaths some twenty years earlier. The following musical interpretation of Haec Dies is by— did you guess? William Byrd— Muse-permitting, subject of my next post!

Voces8: “Haec Dies” (Ps. 118: 24)
Music by William Byrd

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on


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