Upstart Crow: 15 Facts About Mary Arden


Continuing her series on the interesting parallels between the Upstart Crow characters with their real life counterparts @ChasquiPenguin has written another article for us! This one’s all about Mary Shakespeare (née Arden):

15 Facts Known about Shakespeare’s Mother

  1. With no records available, Mary Arden is thought to have been born in a year between 1535 and 1540, the youngest of her parents’ eight daughters.
  2. Her parents were Robert and (probably) Mary Arden.
  3. Her father, Robert Arden, was the owner of Glebe Farm in Wilmecote, 8 miles from Stratford-upon-Avon, and from a noble Catholic family. The Arden family’s ancestors are said to have been given land by William the Conqueror.
  4. Mary would have grown up learning how to manage a house, cook and plan meals as much as a year ahead, in addition to helping on the farm.
  5. On the death of her father in 1556, she inherited Asbies, part of the Arden estate in Wilmecote, now known as Mary Arden’s House. Along with her sister, Joan, Mary was an executrix of his will.
  6. Mary married John Shakespeare in 1557 and moved into their Henley Street home, in Stratford, which he had bought the year before.
  7. John Shakespeare’s father, Richard, was a tenant farmer on land owned by the Ardens, so it is likely Mary and John had known each other since they were children.
  8. They had four sons and four daughters, though not all survived to adulthood, but their most famous son was William Shakespeare, born in April 1564.
  9. Three months after his birth there was an outbreak of the plague in Stratford and Mary took their baby son (their two elder daughters having already died, possibly of the plague) to her family home in the countryside, which was untouched by the epidemic, where she stayed with her sisters.
  10. John Shakespeare was a glover by trade, also dealing in wool, and possibly leather, and was a prosperous businessman, though his fortunes fluctuated. He also took on civic roles, which elevated the Shakespeares further in the town.
  11. Mary’s role was to look after the family but it is likely she also helped with cutting out the leather for the gloves and saddles made by her husband. She also sold some of her inherited land, when times were hard.
  12. Mary, like most wives, would have been expected to deputise for her husband, by dealing with any business colleagues who called at the house. As a result, she probably became adept at this skill.
  13. It is most likely that Mary was illiterate; she used a running horse as her signature, which would have been stamped on to documents from a wax seal.
  14. Mary died in 1608 and was buried on 9th September at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon.
  15. Mary Arden’s House was bought by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and, together with its farm, is now an historic museum, open to the public.


The above details are correct to the best of my ability but please let me know if you notice any inaccuracies.

Twitter: @ChasquiPenguin