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Henry VIII.: we there find a Thomas Shakespere of Balishalle, or Balsal, Thomas Chacsper and John Shakespeyre of Rowington, Richard Shakspere of Woldiche, together with Joan, Jane, and William Shakespeare, of places not mentioned : an Isabella Shakspere is also there stated to have been priorissa de Wraxale in the 19th Henry VII.? The Shakespeares of Wroxal, of Rowington, and of Balsal, are mentioned by Malone, as well as other persons of the same name at Claverdon and Hampton. He carries back his information regarding the Shakespeares of Warwick no higher than 1602, but a William Shakespeare was drowned in the Avon near Warwick in 1574, a John Shakespeare was resident on “ the High Pavement” in 1578, and a Thomas Shakespeare in the same place in 15853.
The earliest date at which we hear of a Shakespeare in the borough of Stratford-upon-Avon is 17th June, 1555, when Thomas Siche instituted a proceeding in the court of the bailiff, for the recovery of the sum of 81. from John Shakespeare, who has always been taken to be the father of our great dramatist. Thomas Siche was of Arlescote, or Arscotte, in Worcestershire, and in the Latin record of the suit John Shakespeare is called “glover,” in English. Taking it for granted, as we have every reason to do, that this John Shakespeare was the father of the poet, the document satisfied Malone that he was a glover, and not a butcher, as Aubrey had affirmed', nor a dealer in wool, as Rowe had stated'. We think that Malone was right, and the testimony is unquestionably more positive and authentic than the traditions to which we have referred. As it is also the most ancient piece of direct evidence connected with the establishment of the Shakespeare family at Stratford, and as Malone did not copy it quite accurately from the register of the bailiff's court, we quote it as it there stands :
2 For this information we are indebted to Mr. Staunton, of Longbridge House, near Warwick, the owner of the original Registerium Fratrum et Sororum Gilde Sancte Anne de Knolle, a MS. upon vellum.
3 For the circumstance of the drowning of the name-sake of our poet, we are obliged to the Rev. Joseph Hunter. Mr. Charles Dickens was good enough to be the medium of the information respecting the Shakespeares of Warwick, transmitted from Mr. Sandys, who derived it from the land-revenue records of the respective periods.
4 Aubrey's words, in his MS. in the Ashmolean Museum, at Oxford, are these :-“ William Shakespeare's father was a butcher, and I have been told heretofore by some of the neighbours, that when he was a boy he exercised his father's trade ; but when he killed a calf, he would do it in a high style, and make a speech.” This tradition certainly does not read like truth, and at what date Aubrey obtained his information has not been ascertained: Malone conjectured that Aubrey was in Stratford about 1680 : he died about 1700, and, in all probability, obtained his knowledge from the same source as the writer of a letter, dated April 10, 1693, to Mr. Edward Southwell, printed in 1838. It appears from hence that the parish clerk of Stratford, who was “above eighty years old” in 1693, had told Mr. Edward Southwell's correspondent that William Shakespeare had been “ bound apprentice to a butcher;" but he did not say that his father was a butcher, nor did he add any thing as absurd as Aubrey subjoins, respecting the killing of a calf “ in a high style.”
“Stretford, ss. Cur. Phi. et Mariæ Dei grā, &c. secundo et tercio, ibm tent. die Marcurii videlicet xvij die Junij ann. predict. coram Johne Burbage Balliuo, &c.
Thomas Siche de Arscotte in com. Wigorn. querit' versus John Shakyspere de Stretford in com. Warwic. Glou in plac. quod reddat ei oct. libras &c.”
John Shakespeare's trade, “glover,” is expressed by the common contraction for the termination of the word; and it is, as usual at the time, spelt with the letter u instead of v. It deserves remark also, that although John Shakespeare is often subsequently mentioned in the records of the corporation of Stratford, no addition ever accompanies his name. We may presume that in 1556, he was established in his business, because on the 30th April of that year he was one of twelve jurymen of a court-leet. His name in the list was at first struck through with a pen, but underneath it the word stet was written, probably by the town-clerk. Thus we find him in 1556 acting as a
5 Rowe is supposed to have derived his materials from Betterton, the actor, who died in 1710, and who, it is said, went to Stratford to collect such particulars as could be obtained : the date of his visit is not known.
regular trading inhabitant of the borough of Stratfordupon-Avon.
Little doubt can be entertained that he came from Snitterfield, three miles from Stratford; and upon this point we have several new documents before us. It appears from them, that a person of the name of Richard Shakespeare (no where before mentioned) was resident at Snitterfield in 15506: he was tenant of a house and land belonging to Robert Arden (or Ardern, as the name was anciently spelt, and as it stands in the papers in our hands) of Wilmecote, in the parish of Aston Cantlowe. By a conveyance, dated 21st Dec., 11th Henry VIII., we find that Robert Arden then became possessed of houses and land in Snitterfield, from Richard Rushby and his wife: from Robert Arden the property descended to his son, and it was part of this estate which was occupied by Richard Shakespeare in 1550. We have no distinct evidence upon the point; but if we suppose Richard Shakespeare of Snitterfield? to have been the father of John Shakespeare of Stratford', who married Mary Arden, the youngest daughter of Robert Arden, it will easily and naturally explain the manner in which John Shakespeare became introduced to the family of the Ardens, inasmuch as Richard Shakespeare, the father of John, and the
6 In 1569, a person of the name of Antony Shakespeare lived at Snitterfield, and, as we learn from the Muster-book of the county of Warwick for that year in the State Paper office, he was appointed a “ biliman.”
7 Richard Shakespeare, who, upon this supposition, was the grandfather of the poet, was living in 1560, when Agnes Arden, widow, granted a lease for forty years to Alexander Webbe (probably some member of her own family) of two houses and a cottage in Snitterfield, in the occupation of Richard Shakespeare and two others. Malone discovered that there was also a Henry Shakespeare resident at Snitterfield in 1586, and he apprehended (there is little doubt of the fact) that he was the brother of John Shakespeare. Henry Shakespeare was buried Dec. 29th, 1596. There was also a Thomas Shakespeare in the same village in 1582, and he may have been another brother of John Shakespeare, and all three sons to Richard Shakespeare.
8 This is rendered the more probable by the fact that John Shakespeare christened one of his children (born in 1573) Richard. Malone found that another Richard Shakespeare was living at Rowington in 1574.
grandfather of William Shakespeare, was one of the tenants of Robert Arden.
Malone, not having the information we now possess before him, was of opinion that Robert Arden, who married Agnes Webbe, and died in 1556, had only four daughters, but the fact undoubtedly is that he had at least seven. On the 7th and 17th July, 1550, he executed two deeds, by which he made over to Adam Palmer and Hugh Porter, in trust for some of his daughters, certain lands and tenements in Snitterfield'. In these deeds he mentions six daughters by name, four of them married and two single ; – viz. Agnes Stringer, (who had been twice married, first to John Hewyns) Joan Lambert, Katherine Etkins, Margaret Webbe, Jocose Arden, and Alicia Arden. Mary, his youngest daughter, was not included, and it is possible that he had either made some other provision for her, or that, by a separate and subsequent deed of trust, he gave to her an equivalent in Snitterfield for what he had made over to her sisters. It is quite certain, as will be seen hereafter, that Mary Arden brought property in Snitterfield, as part of her fortune, to her husband John Shakespeare.
Although the Ardens were an ancient and considerable family in Warwickshire, which derived its name from the forest of Arden, or Ardern, in or near which they had possessions, Robert Arden, in the two deeds above referred to, which were of course prepared at his instance, is only called “ husbandman :”—“ Robertus Ardern de Wilmecote, in parochia de Aston Cantlowe, in comitatu Warwici, husbandman.” Nevertheless, it is evident from his will (dated 24th November, and proved on the 17th December, 1556) that he was a man of good landed estate. He mentions his wife's “jointure in Snitterfield,” payable, no doubt, out of some other property than that which, a few years before, he had conveyed to trustees for the benefit of six of his daughters; and his freehold and copyhold estates in the parish of Aston Cantlowe could not have been inconsiderable. Sir John Arden, the brother of his grandfather, had been esquire of the body to Henry VII., and his nephew had been page of the bedchamber to the same monarch, who had bountifully rewarded their services and fidelity. Sir John Arden died in 15.26, and it was his nephew, Robert Arden, who purchased of Rushby and his wife the estate in Snitterfield in 1520. He was the father of the Robert Arden who died in 1556, and to whose seventh daughter, Mary, John Shakespeare was married.
9 They are thus described : “ Totum illud messuagium meum, et tres quartronas terræ, cum pratis eisdem pertinentibus, cum suis pertinentiis, in Snutterfylde, quæ nunc sunt in tenura cujusdam Ricardi Henley, ac totum illud cottagium meum, cum gardino et pomario adjacentibus, cum suis pertinentiis, in Snytterfyld, quæ nunc sunt in tenura Hugonis Porter.” Adam Palmer, the other trustee, does not seem to have occupied any part of the property.
No registration of that marriage has been discovered, but we need not hesitate in deciding that the ceremony took place in 1557. Mary Arden and her sister Alicia were certainly unmarried, when they were appointed “executores” under their father's will, dated 24th Nov., 1556, and the probability seems to be that they were on that account chosen for the office, in preference to their five married sisters. Joan, the first child of John Shakespeare and his wife Mary, was baptized in the church of Stratford-upon-Avon on the 15th Sept., 1558", so that we may fix their union towards the close of 1557, about a year after the death of Robert Arden.
What were the circumstances of John Shakespeare at the time of his marriage we can only conjecture.
10 The register of this event is in the following form, under the head “ Baptismes, Anno. Dom. 1558.”—
“ Septēber 15. Jone Shakspere daughter to John Shakspere.” It seems likely that the child was named after her aunt, Joan, married to Edward Lambert of Barton on the Heath. Edward Lainbert was related to Edmund Lambert, afterwards mentioned. See also p. Ixxii.