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SHAKSPEARE AND HIS TIMES.
SHAKSPEARE IN STRATFORD.
Birth of Shakspeare-Account of his family-Orthography of his Name.
WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE, the object almost of our idolatry as a dramatic poet, was born at Stratford-upon-Avon, in Warwickshire, on the 23d April, 1564, and he was baptized on the 26th of the same month.
of his family, not much that is certain can be recorded ; but it would appear, from an instrument in the College of Heralds, confirming the grant of a coat of arms to John Shakspeare in 1599, that his great grandfather had been rewarded by Henry the Seventh, “ for his faithefull and approved service, with lands and tenements given to him in those parts of Warwickshire, where," proceeds this document, “they have continued by some descents in good reputation and credit." Notwithstanding this assertion, however, no such grant, after a minute examination made by Mr. Malone in the chapel of the Rolls, has been discovered ; whence we have reason to infer, that the heralds have been mistaken in their statement, and that the bounty of the monarch was directed through a different channel. From the language, indeed, of two rough draughts of a prior grant of arms to John Shakspeare in 1596, it is probable that the service alluded to was of a military cast, for it is there expressly said, that he was rewarded “for his faithful and valiant service," a term, perhaps, implying the heroism of our poet's ancestor in the field of Bosworth.
That the property, thus bestowed upon the family of Shakspeare, descended to John, the father of the poet, and contributed to his influence and respectability, there is no reason to doubt. From the register, indeed, and public writings relating to Stratford, Mr. Rowe has justly inferred, that the Shakspeares were of good figure and fashion there, and were considered as gentlemen. We may presume, however, that the patrimony of Mr. John Shakspeare, the parent of our great dramatist, was not very considerable, as he found the profits of business necessary to his support. He was, in fact, a wool-stapler, and, there is reason to suppose, in a large way; for he was early chosen a member of the corporation of his town, a situation usually connected with respectable circumstances, and soon after, he filled the office of high bailiff, or chief magistrate of that body. The record of these promotions has been thus given from the books of the corporation.
“ Jan. 10, in the 61h year of the reign of our sovereign lady Qucen Elizabeth, John Shakspeare passed bis Chamberlain's accounts."
" At the Hall holden the eleventh day of September, in the eleventh year of the reign of our sovereign lady Elizabeth, 1569, were present Mr. John Shakspeare, High Bailiff."
It was during the period of his filling this important office, that he first obtained a grant of arms; and, in a note annexed to the subsequent patent of 1596, now in the College of Arms, + it is stated that he was likewise a justice of the peace, and possessed of lands and tenements to the amount of 500l. The final confirmation of this grant took place in 1599, in which his shield and coat are described to be, “ In a field of gould upon a bend sable, a speare of the first, the poynt upward, hedded argent;" and for his crest or cognisance. “A falcon with
“ his wyngs displayed, standing on a wrethe of his coullers, supporting a speare armed hedded, or steeled sylver."
Mr. John Shakspeare married, though in what year is not accurately known, the daughter and heir of Robert Arden, of Wellingcote, in the county of Warwick, who is termed, in the Grant of Arms of 1596, “a gentleman of worship.” The Arden, or Ardern family, appears to have been of considerable antiquity; for, in Fuller's Worthies, Rob. Arden de Bromwich, ar. is among the names of the gentry of this county returned by the commissioners in the twelfth year of King Henry the Sixth, 1433; and in the eleventh and sixteenth years of Elizabeth, A. D. 1562 and 1568, Sim. Ardern, ar. and Edw. Ardrn, are enumerated, by the same author, among the sheriffs of Warwickshire.S It is well known that the woodland part of this county was formerly denominated Ardern, though, for the sake of euphony, frequently softened towards the close of the sixteenth century, into the smoother appellation of Arden; hence it is not improbable, that the supposition of Mr. Jacob, who reprinted, in 1770, the Tragedy of Arden of Feversham, a play which was originally published in 1592, may be correct; namely that Shakspeare, the poet, was descended by the female line from the unfortunate individual whose tragical death is the subject of this drama ; for though the name of this gentleman was originally Ardern, he seems early to have experienced the fate of the county district, and to have had his surname harmonized by a similar omission. In consequence of this marriage, Mr. John Shakspeare and his posterity were allowed, by the College of Heralds, to impale their arms with the ancient arms of the Ardens of Wellingcote.
Of the issue of John Shakspeare by this connection, the accounts are contradictory and perplexed; nor is it absolutely ascertained, whether he had only one wife, or whether he might not have had two, or even three. Mr. Rowe, whose narrative has been usually followed, has given him ten children, among whom he considers William the poet, as the eldest son.tt The Register, however, of the parish of Stratford-upon-Avon, which commences in 1558, is incompatible with this statement; for, we there find eleven children ascribed to John Shakspeare, ten baptized, and one, the baptism of which had taken place before the commencement of the Register, buried.FF The dates of these baptisms, and of two or three other events, recorded in this Register, it will be necessary, for the sake of elucidation, to transcribe :
“ Jone, daughler of John Shakspere, was baptized Sept. 15, 1558.
William, son of John Shakspere, was baptized April 26, 1564.
Communicated to Mr Malone by the Rev. Mr. Davenport, vicar of Stratford upon Avon. Vincent, vol. clvii. p. 24. See the instrument, at full length, Reed's Shakspeare, vol. i. p. 146, edit. of 1803. The History of the Worthies of England, part. 1. fol. 131, 132. ** See Shakspeare's coat of arms. Reed's Shaksp. vol. i. p. 146. tt Reed's Shakspeare, vol. i. p. 58, 59.
# Ibid. p. 133.
" Jone, * daughter of John Shakspere, was baptized April 15, 1569.
Margery, wife of John Shakspere, was buried Oct. 29, 1587.
Humphrey, son of John Shakspere, was baptized May 24, 1590.
Mary Shakspere, widow, was buried Sept. 9, 1608." Now it is evident, that is the ten children which were baptized, according to this Register, between the years 1558 and 1591, are to be ascribed to the father of our poet, he must necessarily have had eleven, in consequence of the record of the decease of his daughter Margaret. He must also have had three wives, for we find his second wise, Margery, died in 1587, and the death of a third, Mary a widow, is noticed in 1608.
was suggested to Mr Malone, t that very probably, Mr John Shakspeare had a son born to him, as well as a daughter, before the commencement of the Register, and that this his eldest son was, as is customary, named after his father, John; a supposition which (as no other child was baptized by the Christian name of the old gentleman) carries some credibility with it, and was subsequently acquiesced in by Mr Malone himself.
In this case, therefore, the marriage recorded in the Register, is that of John Shakspeare the younger with Margery Roberts, and the three children born between 1588 and 1591, Ursula, Humphrey, and Philip, the issue of this John, not by the first, but by a second marriage ; for as Margery Shakspeare died in 1587, and Ursula was baptized in 1588-9, these children must have been by the Mary Shakspeare, whose death is mentioned as occurring in 1608, and as she is there denominated a widow, the younger John must consequently have died before that date.
The result of this arrangement will be, that the father of our poet had only nine children, and that WILLIAM was not the eldest, but the second son.
On either plan, however, the account of Mr. Rowe is equally inaccurate ; and as the introduction of an elder son involves a variety of suppositions, and at the same time nothing improbable is attached to the consideration of this part of the Register in the light in which it usually appears, that is, as allusive solely to the father, it will, we think, be the better and the safer mode to rely upon it, according to its more direct and literal import. This determination will be greatly strengthened by reflecting, that old Mr. Shakspeare was, on the authority of the last instrument granting him a coat of arms, living in 1599; that on the testimony of the Register, taken in the common acceptation, he was not buried until September, 1601 ; and that in no part of the same document is the epithet younger apnexed to the name of John Shakspeare, a mark of distinction which there is every reason to suppose would have been introduced, had the father and a son of the same Christian name been not only living at the same time in the same town, but the latter likewise a parent.
That the circumstances of Mr. John Shakspeare were, at the period of his marriage, and for several years afterwards, if not affluent, yet easy and respectable, there is every reason to suppose, from his having filled offices of the first trust and importance in his native town; but, from the same authority which has in
It was common in the age of Queen Elizabeth to give the same Christian name to two children succes sively. This was undoubtedly done in the present instance. The former Jone having probably died, (though I can find no entry of her burial in the Register, nor indeed of many of the other children of John Shakspeare) the name of Jone, a very favourite one in those days, was transferred to another new-born child "-Malone from Reed's Shakspeare, vol. i. p. 134. + Reed's Shakspeare, vol. i. p. 136.
duced us to draw this inference, another of a very different kind, with regard to a subsequent portion of his life, may with equal confidence be taken. In the books of the corporation of Stratford it is stated, that
“ At the hall holden Nov. 191h, in the 21st year of the reign of our sovereign lady Qucen Elizabeth, it is ordained, that every Alderman shall be taxed to pay weekly 4d., saving John Shakspeare and Robert Bruce, who shall not be laxed to pay any ibing; and every burgess 10 pay 2d.” Again,
At the hall holden on the 6th day of September, in the 28th year of our sovereign lady Queen Elizabeth :
" At this hall William Smilh and Richard Courte are chosen to be Aldermen in the places of John Wheler and John Shakspeare, for that Mr. Wbeler doth desire to be put out of the company, and Mr. Shakspeare doth not come to the halls, when they be warned, nor bath not done of
The conclusion to be drawn from these memoranda must unavoidably be, that, in 1579, ten years after he had served the office of High Bailiff, his situation, in a pecuniary light, was so much reduced, that, on this account, he was excused the weekly payment of 4d.; and that, in 1586, the same distress still subsisting, and perhaps in an aggravated degree, he was, on the plea of non-attendance, dismissed the corporation.
The causes of this unhappy change in his circumstances cannot now, with the exception of the burthen of a large and increasing family, be ascertained ; but it is probable, that to this period is to be referred, if there be any truth in the tradition, the report of Aubrey, that “ William Shakspeare's father was a butcher.” This anecdote, he affirms, was received from the neighbours of the bard, and, on this account, merits some consideration. +
We are indebted to Mr. Rowe for the first intimation concerning the trade of John Shakspeare ; his declaration, derived also from tradition, that he was a “ considerable dealer in wool," appears confirmed by subsequent research. From a window in a room of the premises which originally formed part of the house at Stratford, in which Shakspeare the poet was born, and a part of which premises has for many years been occupied as a public-house, with the sign of the Swan and Maidenhead, a pane of glass was taken, about five-and-forty years ago, by Mr. Peyton, the then master of the adjoining Inn called The White Lion. This pane, now in the possession of his son, is nearly six inches in diameter, and perfect, and on it are painted the arms of the merchants of the wool-staple="Nebule on a chief gules, a lion passant or.” It appears, from the style in which it is finished, to have been executed about the time of Shakspeare, the father, and is undoubtedly a strong corroborative proof of the authenticity of Mr. Rowe's relation. I
These traditionary anecdotes, though apparently contradictory, may easily admit of reconcilement, if we consider, that between the employment of a wooldealer and a butcher, there is no small affinity; “ few occupations,” observes Mr. Malone, can be named which are more naturally connected with each other." S It is highly probable, therefore, that during the period of John Shakspeare's distress, which we know to have existed in 1579, when our poet was but fifteen years of age, he might have had recourse to this more humble trade, as in many circumstances connected with his customary business, and as a great additional means of supporting a very numerous family.
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. i. p. 58.
+ MS. Aubrey, Mus. Ashmol. Oxon. Lives, p. 1. fol. 78, a. (Inter Cod. Dugdal.) Vide Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 213.
# Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 214. and Ireland's Picturesque Views on the Upper or Warwickshire Avon, p. 190, 191! Since this passage was written, however, the proof which it was supposed to contain, has been completely annihilated. “If John Shakspeare's occupation in life,” observes Mr. Wheeler, “want confirmation, this circumstance will unfortunately not answer such a purpose ; for old Thomas Hart constantly declared that his great uncle, Shakspeare Hart, a glazier of this town, who had the new glazing of the chapel windows, where it is known, from Dugdale, that such a shield existed, brought it from thence, and introduced it into his own window."-Wheeler's Guide to Stratford, pp. 13, 14.
Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 214.