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Henley-street and Greenhill-street, and we may, perhaps, conclude that the birth took place in the former. John and Mary Shakespeare having previously lost two girls, Joan and Margaret, William was at this time the only child of his parents.
A malignant fever, denominated the plague, broke out at Stratford while William Shakespeare was in extreme infancy: he was not two months old when it made its appearance, having been brought from London, where, according to Stow, (Annales, p. 1112, edit. 1615.) it raged with great violence throughout the year 1563, and did not so far abate that term could be kept, as usual at Westminster, until Easter, 1564. It was most fatal at Stratford between June and December, 1564, and Malone calculated that it carried off in that interval more than a seventh part of the whole population, consisting of about 1400 inhabitants. It does not appear that it reached any member of the immediate family of John Shakespeare, and it is not at all unlikely that he avoided its ravages by quitting Stratford for Snitterfield, where he owned some property in right of his wife, and where perhaps his father was still living as tenant to Alexander Webbe, who, as we have seen, in 1560, had obtained a lease for forty years from his relative, the widow Agnes Arden, of the messuage in which Richard Shakespeare resided.
In order to show that John Shakespeare was at this date in moderate, and probably comfortable, though not in affluent circumstances, Malone adduced a piece of evidence derived from the records of Stratford: it consists of the names of persons in the borough who, on this calamitous visitation of the plague, contributed various sums to the relief of the poor. The meeting at which it was determined to collect subscriptions with this object was convened in the open air, “ At a ball holden in our garden,” &c.; no doubt on account of the infection. The donations varied between 7s. 4d. (given by only one individual of the name of Richard Symens) and 6d.; and the sum against the name of John Shakespeare is ls.
6 Sbakspeare, by Boswell, vol. ii. p. 83.
It is to be recollected that at this date he was not an alderman ; and of twenty-four persons enumerated five others gave the same amount, while six gave less: the bailiff contributed 3s. 4d., and the head alderman 28. 8d., while ten more put down either 2s. 6d. or 2s. each, and a person of the name of Botte 4s. These subscriptions were raised on the 30th August, but on the 6th September a farther sum seems to have been required, and the bailiff and six aldermen gave Is. each, Adrian Quyney 1s. 6d., and John Shakespeare and four others 6d. each : only one member of the corporation, Robert Bratt, whose name will afterwards occur, contributed 4d.
We are, we think, warranted in concluding, that in 1564 John Shakespeare was an industrious and thriving tradesman.
He continued steadily to advance in rank and importance in the corporation, and he was elected one of the fourteen aldermen of Stratford on the 4th July, 1565; but he did not take the usual oath until the 12th September following. The bailiff of the year was Richard Hill, a woollen-draper; and the father of our poet became the occupant of that situation rather more than three years afterwards, when his son William was about four years and a half old. John Shakespeare was bailiff of Stratford-upon-Avon from Michaelmas 1568, to Michaelmas 1569, the autumn being the customary period of election. In the mean time his wife had brought him another son, who was christened Gilbert, on 13th October, 1566'.
Joan seems to have been a favourite name with the Shakespeares : a Joan Shakespeare is mentioned in the records of the guild of Knowle, in the reign of Henry VIII.; and John and Mary Shakespeare christened their first child, which died an infant, Joan. A third daughter was born to them while John Shakespeare was bailiff, and her they also baptized Joan, on 15th April, 15698. The partiality for the name of Joan, in this instance, upon which some biographers have remarked without being able to explain it, may be accounted for by the fact that a maternal aunt, married to Edward Lambert, was called Joan; and it is very possible that she stood god-mother upon both occasions. Joan Lambert was one of the daughters of Robert Arden, regarding whom, until recently, we have had no information.
* The register of the parish-church contains the subsequent entry :
1566, October 13. Gilbertus filius Johannis Shakspere."
We have now traced John Shakespeare through various offices in the borough of Stratford, until he reached the highest distinction which it was in the power of his fellow-townsmen to bestow: he was bailiff, and ex-officio a magistrate.
Two new documents have recently come to light which belong to this period, and which show, beyond all dispute, that although John Shakespeare had risen to a station so respectable as that of bailiff of Stratford, with his name in the commission of the peace, he was not able to write. Malone referred to the records of the borough to establish that in 1565, when John Wheler was called upon by nineteen aldermen and burgesses to undertake the duties of bailiff, John Shakespeare was among twelve other marksmen, including George Whately, the then bailiff, and Roger Sadler, the “head alderman.” There was, therefore, nothing remarkable in this inability to write; and if there were any doubt upon this point, (it being a little ambiguous whether the signum referred to the name of Thomas Dyxun, or of John Shakespeare) it can never be entertained hereafter, because the Shakespeare Society has been put in possession of two warrants, granted by John Shakespeare as bailiff of Stratford, the one dated the 3rd, and the other the 9th December, 11 Elizabeth, for the caption of John Ball and Richard Walcar, on account of debts severally due from them, to both of which his mark only is appended. The same fact is established by two other documents, to which we shall have occasion hereafter to advert, belonging to a period ten years subsequent to that of which we are now speaking.
8 Although John Shakespeare was at this time bailiff, no Mr. or Magister is prefixed to his name in the register, a distinction which appears only to have been made after he had served that office.
“ 1569, April 15. Jone the daughter of John Shakspere."
The grant of arms to John Shakespeare considered. The confirmation and
exemplification of arms. Sir W. Dethick's conduct. Ingon meadow in John Shakespeare's tenancy. Birth and death of his daughter, Anne. Richard Shakespeare born in 1574, and named, perhaps, after his grandfather. John Shakespeare's purchase of two freehold houses in Stratford. Decline in his pecuniary affairs, and new evidence upon the point. Indenture of sale of John Shakespeare's and his wife's share of property at Snitterfield, to Robert Webbe. Birth of Edmund Shakespeare in 1580.
ALTHOUGH John Shakespeare could not write his name, it has generally been stated, and believed, that while he filled the office of bailiff he obtained a grant of arms from Clarencieux Cooke, who was in office from 1566 to 1592. We have considerable doubt of this fact, partly arising out of the circumstance, that although Cooke's original book, in which he entered the arms he granted, has been preserved in the Heralds' College, we find in it no note of any such concession to John Shakespeare. It is true that this book might not contain memoranda of all the arms Cooke had granted, but it is a circumstance deserving notice, that in this case such an entry is wanting. A confirmation of these arms was made in 1596, but we cannot help thinking, with Malone, that this instrument was obtained at the personal instance of the poet, who had then actually purchased, or was on the eve of purchasing, New Place (or “the great house,” as it was also called) in Stratford. The confirmation states, that the heralds had been “by credible report informed,” that “the parents and late antecessors!” of John Shakespeare
were for their valiant and faithful services advanced and rewarded of the most prudent prince, Henry the Seventh ;” but, as has been before stated, on examining the rolls of that reign, we can discover no trace of advancement or reward to any person of the name of Shakespeare. It is true that the Ardens, or Arderns, , were so “ advanced and rewarded”;” and these, though not strictly the “ parents,” were certainly the “antecessors” of William Shakespeare. In 1599, an exemplification of arms was procured, and in this document it is asserted that the “great grandfather” of John Shakespeare had been “ advanced and rewarded with lands and tenements” by Ilenry VII. Our poet's "great grandfather,” by the mother's side, was so “advanced and rewarded ;” and we know that he did “faithful and approved service” to that “most prudent prince.”
Another point, though one of less importance, is,
1 Malone gave both the confirmation and exemplification of arms, but with some variations, which are perhaps pardonable on account of the state of the originals in the Heralds' College : thus he printed “parent and late antecessors," instead of “
parents and late antecessors,” in the confirmation ; and “ whose parent and great grandfather, late antecessor," instead of “whose parent, great grandfather, and late antecessor,” in the exemplification. We are bound here to express our acknowledgments to Sir Charles Young, the present Garter King at Arms, for the trouble he took in minutely collating Malone's copies with the documents themselves. Other errors he pointed out do not require particular notice, as they apply to parts of the instruments not necessary for our argument.
? Robert Ardern had two offices conferred upon him by Henry VII., in the 10th and 17th years of his reign ; and he is spoken of in the grants as unus garcionum cameræ nostræ : the one office was that of keeper of the park at Aldercar, and the other that of bailiff of the lordship of Codnor, and keeper of the park there. He obtained a grant of lands in 23 Henry VII. ; viz. the large manor of Yoxsall, in the county of Stafford, on condition of a payment of a rent to the king of 42l. per annum.