The series continues as @ChasquiPenguin (twitter) brings us 15 Known and Likely Facts about John Shakespeare:
- John Shakespeare is thought to have been born in either 1531 or the 1520s, probably in the village of Snitterfield, Warwickshire.
- His parents were Richard and Abigail Shakespeare (née Webb).
- Richard Shakespeare was a tenant farmer, and some of the land he worked belonged to Robert Arden, father of John’s future wife Mary.
- John was a glover by trade and dealt in leather. He was a good businessman and ambitious, moving to Stratford-upon-Avon where he bought a house on Henley Street in 1556. This was known to have fine furnishings and the latest “mod cons” of the day.
- It is believed that John married Mary Arden in 1557, probably in her parish church in Aston Cantlow. They had eight children, born between 1558 and 1580, five of whom lived into adulthood, among them William Shakespeare who was born in 1564.
- In Stratford John became involved in civic duties which, over many years, included the important roles of alderman, bailiff and ale taster, and in 1568 he was elected mayor.
- John sent William to the King Edward VI School in Stratford from the age of 7, and it is likely that as a result of his role as alderman the education was free.
- As well as being a glover, John bought and sold wool illegally (trading in many parts of England) and had another sideline as a moneylender and was said to have charged some of his clients an interest rate of 20% on the loans. However, the government employed informants to spy on suspected moneylenders and John was caught and fined 40 shillings, half of which is likely to have been paid to the informant, Anthony Harrison. This is recorded in the National Archives.
- The government was also well aware of the illegal and very lucrative wool trade and paid informers to report the broggers, as these dealers were known. It was possible to make thousands of pounds in the illicit sale of wool – a vast sum of money when a house cost around £50.
- In the 1570s the illegal wool-selling network collapsed, following a recession, and John Shakespeare found himself in debt. As a result, his wife Mary sold her land in Wilmcote. This consisted of Asbies, the part of the Arden estate she had inherited from her father. At some time in its history, the Henley Street house was apparently divided into two, one half still owned by the Shakespeare family while they rented the other half to neighbours who turned it into an inn. In 1846 it was bought by The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
- In 1579, to further help the family finances, William (aged 14) had to leave school and it is likely he worked in his father’s gloving business. This destroyed any hopes he may have had of going to university.
- In 1582 William married Anne Hathaway and the couple lived in the Henley Street house with his parents.
- In 1586 John was struck off the town council for non-attendance at meetings.
- In 1596 John Shakespeare was granted a coat of arms (making him a gentleman officially), his application in 1570 having been withdrawn for unknown reasons. William’s application, on behalf of his father, to the College of Arms in London still exists, together with the drafts, and once the coat of arms had been granted the Shakespeare family would have been allowed to display it over the door of their house and on their possessions. The French motto on their coat of arms is “Non sans droict”, meaning “Not without right”. The family would also have received the letters patent, this being the official document granting the coat of arms. However, this does not appear to have survived the passage of time but it is known that it was written in English, though many others of the era were in Latin.
- John Shakespeare died in 1601 and was buried on 8th September in the Holy Trinity churchyard in Stratford. Despite his achievements, it seems unlikely that he was literate as his signature was a pair of glover’s compasses.
The Shakespeare Family’s Coat of Arms
The above details are correct to the best of my ability but please let me know if you notice any inaccuracies. In aiding my research work, I am indebted to Professor Michael Wood and his team for the information provided in his 2003 TV series, “In Search of Shakespeare”, and to online resources, especially from The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.