Ford's writing career: poet, moralist, playwright
Although Foster's main focus, in his 1989 monograph, was on Shakespeare and, to a lesser extent, William Strachey, one figure who played a significant role was the poet and dramatist John Ford. Indeed, Foster and his chief associate Richard Abrams may have felt that he had been given too prominent a part, for in their later writings Ford has virtually disappeared, as if his potential status as a rival candidate for the poem's authorship had become an embarrassment to them. Still, thanks to Foster's initial investigation we can place Ford very close to William Peter and his family.
Ford was born in 1586, in the Devonshire village of Ilsington, and was baptised in the village church on 12 April (not 17 April), as has been recently shown. 1 William Peter had been christened on 31 December 1582, in the Devonshire village of Shillingford St George, some eleven miles away, and grew up on his family's estate at Bowhay. 'Nothing else is known of William's childhood until 13 July 1599, when he entered Exeter College, Oxford,' matriculating on 26 October, and spending 'most of the ensuing decade at the University' (Foster 1989, p. 71). Nothing else is known of John Ford's childhood until September 1600, when he and his first cousin William Ford (born 1581) also entered Exeter College, matriculating on 26 March 1601. The college Register gives John Ford's age as sixteen (he was not yet fifteen), but as Foster points out, 'the ages given in the Register are frequently inaccurate by a year or two', and throughout the college records they are described 'as “Ford, se. ” and “Ford ju. ”', notations 'used throughout to denote elder and younger family members, usually brothers, sometimes cousins' (pp. 183–4).
William Ford's father had died in 1587, when he was just six, and he was brought up by his uncle Thomas Ford of Ilsington, father of the dramatist. John and his cousin William grew up at Ilsington, 'virtual stepbrothers', as Foster put it (p. 185). William Ford and William Peter, Foster suggested, 'had probably known one another since childhood. As they were only a