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LIFE OF SHAKSPEARE.*
A family variously named Shaxper, Shakespeare, Shakspere and Shakspearet, was spread over the woodland part of Warwickshire in the sixteenth century. They were tradesmen and husbandmen, and their property was at least respectable ; different depositories of legal writings proving it to have been frequently the subject of judicial controversy and testamentary disposition.
Of that particular branch of the family whence the poet descended, nothing whatever is known beyond his immediate parentf, John Shakspeare, who was originally a glover S, and, subsequently,
* Note A.
+ Note B. # Rowe's account of the family is this: It
appears by the register, and other public writings of Stratford, that the poet's family were of good figure and fashion there, and are mentioned as gentlemen." This is extremely inaccurate.
§ A manuscript of the proceedings of the Bailiff's Court in 1555, which so describes him.
a butcher*, and also a dealer in wool in the town of Stratford.t He filled various municipal offices in the borough; among the records of which his name first appears in 1555, in an account of the proceedings of the bailiff's court. In Michaelmas, 1557, or some time very slightly subsequentt, he was admitted a member of the corporation. In September, 1561, he was elected one of the chamberlains, and filled that office during two successive years. In 1565 he was invested with an alderman's gown, and in 1568 he attained the supreme honours of the borough, by serving as high-bailiff from Michaelmas in that year to the same festival in the following. Two years afterwards, 1571, he was elected and sworn chief alderman for the ensuing year. * Aubrey
+ Rowe. $ On Michaelmas day, 1557, John Lewis was the last on the list of burgesses, and there were then four vacancies. The next existing enumeration of burgesses is one dated 1564, in which John Shakspeare stands next but one to Lewis : he, therefore, probably, was elected into one of the vacancies mentioned. On this occasion Malone says, in the text of his Life of Shakspeare, “ It appears from a paper inserted below, &c.” We look below, and are met by, “ See Appendix.” We look in the Appendix, and search in vain for the promised document. Similar disappointment is occasioned in the two succeeding pages, 76, 77.
§ Regist. Burg. Strat. Whatever respectability the corporation of Stratford boasted, their claims to erudition must have been most humble: out of nineteen members of that
The progress of John Shakspeare in municipal distinctions is an implication of respectability which is supported by other considerations. His charities rank him in the second class of the townsmen of Stratford* , a public document, referring to the year of his magistracy, states him to have been possessed of property to the amount of five hundred pounds t; so early as 1556 he was the holder of the leases of two houses, one in Greenhill, the other in Henley-street, Stratford, and in 1570 he rented fourteen acres of land, called Ingon, or Ington, meadow. I
His prosperity was undiminished in 1574, when he purchased two houses, with a garden and orchard annexed to each, in Henley-street, Stratford. S
body who signed a paper in 1564, only seven could write their names, and among the twelve who set their mark is John Shakspeare; he is kept in countenance, however, by the then chief magistrate, whose cross is ostentatiously termed “the sign manual of the high bailiff.”
* In a subscription for the relief of the poor in 1564, out of twenty-four persons, twelve gave more, six the same, and six less than John Shakspeare: in a second subscription by fourteen persons, eight gave more, five the same, and one less.
+ Grant of arms to John Shakspeare, 1596.
† Regist. Burg. Strat. Two indentures in the Roll's chapel.
§ Chirograph of a fine levied to John Shakspeare, by Edmund Hall, and Emma his wife, in 1574. Deed executed by Elizabeth and Thomas Nash in 1639.
While in the exercise of his magisterial office, John Shakspeare obtained from the Herald's College a concession of arms. From some unexplained cause, he made another application for a grant of arms in 1596, with similar success ; and, in 1599, procured a confirmation, or exemplification, of the former grants, with permission, in consideration of his marriage with Mary Arden, to impale his own with the arms of that ancient family.* Some property in money, an estate in land, and an exaltation in rank, were the beneficial consequences of this alliance.t
Mary was the youngest daughter of Robert Arden, of Wilmecote in Warwickshire. The Arden family was of great antiquity, and, in the reign of Henry the Seventh, in particular, of some consideration. Sir John Arden, the elder brother of Mrs. Shakspeare's great-grandfather, was squire for the body of that king; her grandfather was groom, or page, of the bedchamber to the same monarch, who rewarded his fidelity by constituting him keeper of the park of Aldercar, and bailiff of the lordship of Codnore.I
* Note C.
+ Robert Arden's will. John Shakspeare's bill of complaint against Lambert.
# Grant of arms to John Shakspeare. Fuller's Worthies. Dugdale's Antiq. Sir John Arden's will, 1526, Prerog. Off. Grants to Robert Arden. An Inquisition made in 1591.
In 1574, John Shakspeare's affairs began to fall into decay. In 1578, he mortgaged the small estate he enjoyed through his wife, for forty pounds*; and his difficulties were so well known to his brothers of the corporation, that they remitted to him, in the same year, the payment of half the sum of six shillings and eight pence levied upon each alderman, and entirely exempted him from a weekly contribution of four pence to the poor.t At the same time, also, he was indebted five pounds to a baker at Stratford, and compelled to obtain collateral securities for its payment. In the following year his name is among the defaulters to a contribution for the purchase of defensive armour and weapons. S In 1585-6, a distress was issued for the seizure of his goods, which his poverty, however, rendered nugatory, it being returned “ Joh’es Shackspere nihil habet unde distr. poteșt le
* John Shakspeare's bill of complaint against John Lambert.
+ Regist. Burg. Strat.
| List of debts appended to Roger Sadler's will. Prerog. Off. s Regist. Burg. Strat.