The King Lear Connection


a stirring tale of love, greed and comeuppance

….and, possibly, William Shakespeare!




On 15th. October 1587 Sir John Willgoose married Grace Annesley, the eldest of the three daughters of Sir Bryan Annesley and Awdry Tyrell. The couple had six children and lived at Iridge Court, Salehurst in Sussex and at Darincourt in Kent. Sir Bryan was the Queen’s Master of Harriers and former Warden of the Fleet Prison. His second daughter, Christianna was married to William, Lord Sandys and his youngest daughter, Cordelia, eventually married Sir William Harvey, although in 1601 she was still a maiden lady.

There was a son, Bryan, but he remained single, had no children and died young.  



In 1601 a law, “gavelkind”, existed specifically in the county of Kent. It decreed that male and female heirs inherited equal rights to property and that the widow was endowed with half her husband’s estate. However, his two eldest daughters being married women, Sir Bryan contravened this law on 1st. April 1601 by willing almost his entire estate to Cordelia. By 1603 he became senile and Cordelia took charge of his affairs. On 10th. July 1604 Sir Bryan died. Grace and Christianna immediately contested the Will, claiming that their father must have been senile at the time of making it.


Letter to Lord Cecil and Sir Thomas Walsingham

“According to your letter of the 12th. of this present, we repaired into the house of Bryan Annesley, of Lee, in the county of Kent, and finding him fallen into such imperfection and distemperature of mind andmemory, as we thought him thereby become altogether unfit to govern himself or his estate, we endeavoured to take a perfect inventory of such goods and chattels as he possessed in and about his house. But Mrs. Cordell, his daughter…refuseth to suffer any inventory to be taken, until such time as she hath had conference with her friends, by reason whereof we could proceed no farther in the execution of your letter,

From Lee, 18th. Oct,1603  Signed: John Wildegos, Tymothe Lawe, Samuel Lennard.”



When the case was heard in court, Cordelia successfully defended Sir Bryan, who had never actually been registered insane. As a consequence, she inherited the estate and, making sure everyone knew about it, she caused to be erected at St. Mary’s Church, Lee a glowing memorial to her parents. It was transcribed on 22nd. August 1830 by Joseph and Charles Perkins Gwuilt:


“Here lyeth the body of Bryan Auslye esquire late of Lee in the county of Kent and Awdry his wife the only daughter of Robert Tirrel of Burbrooke in ye county of Essex esquire he had issue by her one sonne and three daughters Bryan who died without issue Grace married to Sir John Willgoose knight Christian married to the Lord Sands and Cordell married to Sir William Hervey knight ye said Bryan the father died on the 10th. Day of July 1604 he served Queene Elizabeth as one of the bank of gentlemen pensioners to her Majesty the space of XXX yeares the said Awdry died on the 25th. Of November 1591 Cordell the youngest daughter at her owne proper cost and charges in further testimonie of her dutifull love unto her father and mother caused this monument to be erected for the perpetuial memorie of their names. Against the ingrateful nmature of oblivious time.

Nec primus nec altimus multi ante

Cesserunt et omnes sequititur.”


The costs of the court case must have been immense. Sir John and his family continued to live at Salehurst but eventually his holdings in Wales were sold and it is rumoured that his fortune was lost. Certainly, within twenty years or so the family had disappeared from the area – unless you know differently!



And where does William Shakespeare come in?


Geoffrey Bullough in his Sources of Shakespeare states:

“The most probable inspiration for Shakespeare’s reanimation of this old story was an article of current events. In October of 1603, Cordell Annesley was forced to prove the sanity of her father, Bryan, who was accused of senility by Cordell’s sister, Grace.”


“Winter’s not gone yet, if the wild-geese fly that way.”

The Fool, King Lear Act II Scene 4


Post Script

"One of the executors [of Sir Bryan’s Will] was Sir William Harvey, third husband of the Dowager Countess of Southampton, mother of Shakespeare’s early patron. And after that lady’s death in 1607, he married Cordell Annesley."

(Bullough, 271)



 I am indebted to Paul Chapman, who reminded me of The Fool’s words



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