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Ancestors of William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

"What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other word would smell as sweet".
Romeo and Juliet 

The name Shakespeare is extremely widespread, and is spelt in an astonishing variety of ways including Shakspere, Shakespere, Shakkespere, Shaxpere, Shakstaff, Sakspere, Shagspere, Shakeshafte and even Chacsper as can be seen via details of possible ancestors.

The name of John Shakespeare, one of Shakespeare's ancestors occurs 166 times in the Council Book of the Stratford corporation, and appears to take 16 different forms. Shakespeare himself, in credited examples of his signature, always wrote “Shakspere.” However, in many formal documents and the printed signatures to the dedications of his poems and plays that bear his name it generally appears as Shakespeare. Interestingly, another derivation of the name "Shake-speare" appears on the First Folio. In Shakespeare's era a hyphen in a name was apparently used in pseudonyms or nomme de plumes by authors who wanted to keep their true identity a mystery. The name originally held a martial significance in relation to the wielding of a spear and was extremely common throughout England and possible ancestors. However, in the sixteenth century the surname is found far more frequently in Warwickshire than elsewhere. Warwickshire archives contain notices of Shakespeare families and possible ancestors in no less than twenty-four towns and villages.

There are authenticated records proving the existence of the following people and possible ancestors however there is no confirmation that they were definitely related to and ancestors of William Shakepeare of Stratford.

1279  John Shakespeare living at 'Freyndon,' perhaps Frittendon, Kent
1284  William Sakspere of Clopton, Gloucestershire, was hanged for theft.
1385  William Shakespeare served on a coroner's jury in Balsall.
1457   Isabella Shakespeare is mentioned in the Register of the Guild of St Anne at Knowle as the
          prioress of the Benedictine convent of Wroxall
1457  Jane Shakespeare is also mentioned in the Register of the Guild of St Anne at Knowle as a nun of
         the same convent.
1487  Hugh Shakspere of Merton College, Oxford, changed his name to Sawndare, because his former
         name was of 'vile reputatum'
All of the above mentioned people are possible ancestors of the great Bard.

    Adam Shakespeare, a tenant by military service of land at Baddesley Clinton was great-grandfather
         of one Richard Shakespeare.
1535 an entry regarding Richard Shakespeare, a yeoman of Snitterfield, who was Shakespeare's paternal
         grandfather. No other records are available regarding Richard's wife but he had two sons, John and
         Henry. John, the younger son of Richard, was the father of William Shakespeare
1556 Robert Arden dies (Shakespeare's maternal grandfather.) Robert Arden belonged to the
         aristocratic family of the Ardens of Park Hall. One of his daughters, Mary was the mother of
         William Shakespeare
1561 Richard Shakespeare dies (Shakespeare's paternal grandfather) 
All of the above mentioned people are probable ancestors of the great Bard.

When Shakespeare's father applied for a Coat of Arms he stated that his father and grandfather, his ancestors, fought for Henry VII during the War of the Roses and were given a grant of land in Warwickshire for their services. This claim regarding the ancestors cannot be substantiated.

Richard was a tenant farmer in Snitterfield which was a village about four miles away from Stratford. Between 1530 and 1550 he was penalised many times for non-attendance at the Manor Court in Warwick and for grazing too many cattle on Common Land. He apparently chose to pay a 2d fine for non-attendance rather than lose a whole days wages. He left a will demonstrating strong Catholic beliefs. As a tenant farmer he worked on various sections of land, one of which was owned by the wealthy Robert Arden of Wilmecote. The name of Richard's wife is unknown but they had two sons, Henry and John. Richard's son, John Shakespear, married Mary Arden the youngest daughter of Robert Arden. The marriage was a very good one for Richard as he was only a Yeoman and Mary came from an aristocratic Arden family. One of Shakespeare's definite ancestors.

Robert Arden was the son of Thomas Arden of Wilmecote (Shakespeare's maternal great-grandfather). The Ardens were part of the noble Catholic family of the Ardens of Park Hall whose family forebears had been given land by William the Conqueror. Robert Arden was married twice. There are no details of his first wife's name but his second wife was called Agnes Hill, who already had four daughters by her previous marriage. Robert had eight daughters and Mary Arden, the youngest, married John Shake-speare and became the mother of William Shakespear. Mary was sixteen when her father died and she was named as one of the Executers of her father's will in which he left her some money and some land in Wilmecote. One of Shakespeare's definite ancestors.

There is quite a lot of documented evidence surrounding the life of Shakespeare's parents, Shakespeare's definite ancestors, and this is fully covered in the next section - please click here for:

Biography and Ancestors of William Shakespeare - Mother and Father - Mary Arden and John Shakespeare - life in Stratford
William Shakespeare Full and Short Biography
Shakespeare Index

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