Nashe lived and died a freelance, but not entirely from choice.    He tried several times to attach himself to some powerful man who would support him financially and protect him from legal interference.

It never lasted; perhaps he was just too cussed to fit in as the humble servitor.  Below are some of his failures.

Sir George Carey (1534 - 1603)

Carey's father was Lord Hunsdon, who happened to be Queen Elizabeth's closest living relative. In the competitive world of the court this was a huge advantage. Carey played it for all it was worth.

Carey was a soldier, used to command; hot-tempered and not a man to cross. He had a very religious wife he was fond of but seems to have escaped from occasionally, and an only child, the daughter he dotingly called his "lytel Bes" (little Bess). Contemporary gossip suggests that like his father he kept mistresses. Fortunately he also spent lavishly on literature and music, and was evidently amused by Nashe. It was Carey who intervened to get Nashe out of Newgate jail.

When Nashe knew him Carey was in charge of the pretty and strategically important Isle of Wight, which lies off the south coast. Carey called himself its "Governor" and ran it like his private kingdom. Having sprung Nashe from Newgate he spirited him off to the Island, where he would be safe. Nashe spent Christmas of 1593 there, and was ever after deeply grateful to the Careys for saving him from his powerful enemies - and from Newgate jail.

Sir Walter Ralegh ( ?1552 - 1618)

Tall, dressy, with bushy hair; clever; a heavy smoker. Small-voiced for such a big man, he spoke "broad Devonshire to his dying day" because he was the country-born son of a tenant farmer. Ralegh was frightened of nobody. Swaggering about in silks paid for partly by credit, partly by bluff and partly by tax revenues he'd begged from the Queen, he was also widely hated - the nobility couldn't bear this common upstart and the rest resented being taxed to support his lifestyle. Ralegh didn't care as long as he had the Queen to back him. He had numerous affairs before he wrecked his relationship with her by secretly getting married. Mistresses Elizabeth could overlook; wives she resented. Ralegh was too useful to be dropped, but things were never the same after.

This disaster happened in 1592, at about the time Nashe was trying to get Ralegh to be his patron. Ralegh had already shown an interest in the poetry of Nashe's friend Marlowe - why didn't he take on Nashe? It's apparent from his writing that around this time Nashe felt let down by some great courtier who'd promised him the earth and then dumped him. Was this Ralegh?

Personally I think it was. At another time Ralegh might have been amused by Nashe, but in 1591/2 he was trying desperately to keep his marriage, and his wife's pregnancy, a secret. The last person he'd want around would be a writer with a nose for scandal. But that's speculation. The whole Nashe-Ralegh connection is unclear.

John Whitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury (1530 - 1604)

On the surface, the man least likely ever to employ Thomas Nashe. Whitgift was the most senior churchman in England, and one of his many responsibilities was censoring the press.

Personally austere (he never married), Whitgift nevertheless felt it his duty to uphold the dignity of his office by maintaining a princely household. He lived in pomp and travelled in state, but also founded almshouses for the poor. Apparently he enjoyed dining with the residents, though whether they enjoyed it too isn't recorded. He also sometimes dined in hall with his students when he was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, eating the same food as they did to show them the importance of scholarly abstinence. He numbered Francis and Anthony Bacon among his ex-pupils.

His loyalty to Elizabeth was personal and unshakeable. When the Essex rebellion broke out he rode at once to her rescue at the head of fifty armed retainers. He also rigorously enforced church discipline for her, and was consequently loathed by the Puritans, who called him "the Pope of Lambeth". His connection with Nashe perhaps began back in 1589, during the Marprelate campaign. By mid-1592 Nashe was part of Whitgift's household, temporarily at Croydon to avoid the London plague. But by early next year, he wasn't. And six years later in 1599, it was Whitgift who banned all his work. (For picture click here.)

Ferdinando, Lord Strange (?1558 - 1594)

Eldest son of the Earl of Derby. Cultured, popular and no mean poet himself, Strange certainly encouraged artistic talent. As well as favouring writers like Edmund Spenser and George Chapman, he was patron of the acting company in which William Shakespeare seems to have begun his stage career. Strange also knew Marlowe - "very well" according to Marlowe, loudly quoting his lordship as a character reference when in a spot of bother abroad. (Though later Thomas Kyd claimed Strange "could not endure" Marlowe after he knew he was an atheist. But that remark was made under torture.) Nashe seems to have aimed to appeal to the sensual side of Lord Strange. He dedicated a pornographic poem to him, though in manuscript of course; publication was impossible.

Strange's death was - well, strange. His father died in 1593 and Ferdinando became earl. It was a delicate task, being head of the Stanley family. They were of Catholic background and royal descent, and many English Catholics felt they had a better right to the throne than Elizabeth. Almost at once an approach was made by a Catholic plotter called Hesketh, the son of local gentry. Ferdinando revealed the plot and Hesketh was promptly hanged as a traitor.

Five months later Ferdinando, a healthy man in his mid-thirties, suddenly fell desperately ill. After ten days of agonising symptoms that fitted no known illness, he died. His contemporaries immediately suspected Catholic witchcraft. We would assume poison. Where, though, would the list of suspects start? With the Heskeths? Catholic servants in Ferdinando's own household? The Elizabethan secret service? (There were doubts at high level that Ferdinando was as blamelessly loyal as he claimed.) One of those unsolvable Elizabethan mysteries.

(For my personal theory about pictures of Ferdinando, click here.)

Mary, Countess of Pembroke (1561 - 1621)

Mary, married off at fifteen to a husband over forty, was the younger sister of the famous Sir Philip Sidney - poet, gentleman, diplomat, war hero and role model to a generation of Englishmen. Indeed she was so close to him the scurrilous gossips of the age whispered "incest". They were almost certainly wrong, though whether she stayed entirely faithful to her elderly husband is perhaps more questionable.

Beautiful, wealthy, clever and with real literary talent, she was much courted by poets.   Nashe didn't like her, though in his preface to Astrophel in 1591 he put out a hopeful feeler of grovelling compliment ("fair sister of Phoebus and eloquent secretary to the Muses...")    Unfortunately, Astrophel was a bootleg edition of the very private poems of her dead brother. Mary was furious, pulled strings with her connections in the Privy Council and grandly had the lot recalled. Then a year later she published a better edition herself without, naturally, any Nashe input.   After that the relationship was downhill all the way.    By 1599 Nashe was referring to her in print as "Maid Marian", Robin Hood's mistress being not noble and chaste to the Elizabethans but a randy slut.    No chance of a job there, then.

Click here for a link to the Hilliard miniature of Mary.
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