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appearance of antiquity about the present village, and certainly not a house in which we can conceive that Robert Arden resided.
It was in the reign of Philip and Mary that Robert Arden died; and we cannot therefore be sure that the wording of his will is any absolute proof of his religious opinions :-“First, I bequeath my soul to Almighty God and to our blessed Lady Saint Mary, and to all the holy company of heaven, and my body to be buried in the churchyard of Saint John the Baptist in Aston aforesaid." Mary, his youngest daughter, occupies the most prominent position in the will :-"I give and bequeath to my youngest daughter Mary all my land in Wilmecote, called Asbies, and the crop upon the ground, sown and tilled as it is, and six pounds thirteen shillings and fourpence of money to be paid over ere my goods be divided.” To his daughter Alice he bequeaths the third part of all his goods, moveable and unmoveable, in field and town: to his wife Agnes (the step-mother of his children) six pounds thirteen shillings and fourpence, under the condition that she should allow his daughter Alice to occupy half of a copyhold at Wilmecote, the widow having her "jointure in Snitterfield.” The remainder of his goods is divided amongst his other children. Alice and Mary are made the “full executors” to his will. We thus see that the youngest daughter has an undivided estate and a sum of money; and the crop was also bequeathed to her. The estate consisted of fifty-six acres of arable and pasture, and a house. But she also possessed some property in Snitterfield, which had probably been secured to her upon her father's second marriage. It was in Snitterfield that Richard Shakspere occupied part of the Arden property.
Some twenty years after the death of Robert Arden, Harrison described the growth of domestic luxury in England, saying, “There are old men yet dwelling in the village where I remain, which have noted three things to be marvellously altered in England within their sound remembrance.” One of these enormities is the multitude of chimneys lately erected, whereas formerly each one made his fire against a reredosse in the hall, where he dined and dressed his meat: the second thing is the great amendment of lodging—the pillows, the beds, the sheets, instead of the straw pallet, the rough mat, the good round log or the sack of chaff under the head : the third thing is the exchange of vessels, as of treen platters into pewter, and wooden spoons into silver or tin. He then describes the altered splendour of the substantial farmer : “A fair garnish of pewter on his cupboard, with so much more in odd vessels going about the house; three or four feather-beds ; so many coverlids and carpets of tapestry ; a silver salt, a bowl for wine, and a dozen of spoons to furnish up the suit.” Robert Arden had certainly not a mansion filled with many needless articles for use or ornament. In the inventory of his goods taken after his death we find table-boards, forms, cushions, benches, and one cupboard in his hall ; there are painted cloths [pictures] in the hall and in the chamber ; seven pair of sheets, five board-cloths, and three towels; there is one feather-bed and two mattresses, with sundry coverlets, and articles called canvasses, three bolsters, and one pillow. The kitchen boasts four pans, four pots, four candlesticks, a basin, a chafing-dish, two cauldrons, a frying-pan, and a gridiron. And yet this is the grandson of a groom of a king's bedchamber, an office filled by the noble and the rich, and who, in the somewhat elevated station of a gentleman of worship, would probably possess as many conveniences and comforts as a rude state of society could command. There was plenty outdoors-oxen, bullocks, kine, weaning calves, swine, bees, poultry, wheat in the barns, barley, oats, hay, peas, wood in the yard, horses, colts, carts, ploughs. Robert Arden had lived through unquiet times, when there was little accumulation, and men thought rather of safety than of indulgence : the days of security were at hand. Then came the luxuries that Harrison looked upon with much astonishment and some little heartburning.
And so in the winter of 1556 was Mary Arden left without the guidance of a father. We learn from a proceeding in chancery some forty years later, that with the land of Asbies there went a messuage. Mary Arden had therefore a roof-tree of her own. Her sister Alice was to occupy another property in Wilmecote with the widow. Mary Arden lived in a peaceful hamlet; but there were some strange things around her,-incomprehensible things to a very young woman. When she went to the church of Aston Cantlow, she now heard the mass sung, and saw the beads bidden; whereas a few years before there was another form of worship within those walls. She learnt, perhaps, of mutual persecutions and intolerance, of neighbour warring against neighbour, of child opposed to father, of wife to husband. She might have beheld these evils. The rich religious houses of her county and vicinity had been suppressed, their property scattered, their chapels and fair chambers desecrated, their very walls demolished. The new power was trying to restore them, but, even if it could have brought back the old riches, the old reverence had passed away. In that solitude she probably mused upon many things with an anxious heart. The wealthier Ardens of Kingsbury and Hampton, of Rotley and Rodburne and Park Hall, were her good cousins ; but bad roads and bad times perhaps kept them separate. And so she lived a somewhat lonely life, till a young yeoman of Stratford, whose family were her father's tenants, came to sit oftener and oftener upon the wooden benches in the old hall—a substantial yeoman, a burgess of the corporation in 1557 or 1558; and then in due season, perhaps in the very year when Romanism was lighting its last fires in England, and a queen was dying with “Calais” written on her heart, Mary Arden and John Shakspere were, in all likelihood, standing before the altar of the parish church of Aston Cantlow, and the house and lands of Asbies became administered by one who took possession by the right of the said Mary,” who thenceforward abided for half a century in the good town of Stratford. There is no register of the marriage discovered : but the date must have been about a year after the father's death; for “ Joan Shakspere, daughter to John Shakspere,” was, according to the Stratford register, baptized on the 15th September, 1558.
A PLEASANT place is this quiet town of Stratford—a place of ancient traffic, “the name having been originally occasioned from the ford or passage over the water upon the great street or road leading from Henley in Arden towards London.”* England was not always a country of bridges : rivers asserted their own natural rights, and were not bestrid by domineering man. If the people of Henley in Arden would travel towards London, the Avon might invite or oppose their passage at his own good will ; and, indeed, the river so often swelled into a rapid and dangerous stream, that the honest folk of the one bank might be content to hold somewhat less intercourse with their neighbours on the other than Englishmen now hold with the antipodes. But the days of improvement were sure to arrive. There were charters for markets, and charters for fairs, obtained from King Richard and King John ; and in process of time Stratford could shew in a wooden bridge, though without a causey, and exposed to constant damage by flood. And then an alderman of London,-in days when the very rich were not slow to do magnificent things for public benefit, and did less for their own vain pride and luxury, built a stone bridge over the Avon, which has borne the name of Clopton's Bridge, even from the days of Henry VII. until this day. Ecclesiastical foundations were numerous at Stratford ; and such were, in every case, the centres of civilization and prosperity. The parish church was a collegiate one, with a chantry of five priests ; and there was an ancient guild and chapel of the Holy Cross, partly a religious and partly a civil institution. A grammar-school was connected with the guild ; and the muni
cipal government of the town was settled in a corporation by charter of Edward VI., and the grammar-school especially maintained. Here then was a liberal accumulation, such as belongs only to an old country, to make a succession of thriving communities at Stratford ; and they did thrive, according to the notion of thrift in those days. But we are not to infer that when John Shakspere removed the daughter and heiress of Arden froin the old hall of Wilmecote he placed her in some substantial mansion in his corporate town, ornamental as well as solid in its architecture, spacious, convenient, fitted up with taste, if not with splendour. Stratford had, in all likelihood, no such houses to offer; it was a town of wooden houses, a scattered town,—no doubt with gardens separating the low and irregular tenements, sleeping ditches intersecting the properties, and stagnant pools exhaling in the road. A zealous antiquarian has discovered that John Shakspere inhabited a house in Henley Street as early as 1552; and that he, as well as two other neighbours, was fined for making a dung-heap in the street.* In 1553, the jurors of Stratford present certain inhabitants as violators of the municipal laws : from which presentment we learn that ban-dogs were not to go about unmuzzled ; nor sheep pastured in the ban-croft for more than an hour each day ; nor swine to feed on the common land unringed.+ It is evident that Stratford was a rural town, surrounded with common fields, and containing a mixed population of agriculturists and craftsmen. The same character was retained as late as 1618, when the privy council represented to the corporation of Stratford that great and lamentable loss had “ happened to that town by casualty of fire, which, of late years, hath been very frequently occasioned by means of thatched cottages, stacks of straw, furzes, and such-like combustible stuff, which are suffered to be erected and made confusedly in most of the principal parts of the town without restraint." I
The population of the corporate town of Stratford, containing within itself rich endowments and all the framework of civil superiority, would appear insignificant in a modern census. The average annual number of baptisms in 1564 was fiftyfive ; of burials in the same year forty-two : these numbers, upon received principles of calculation, would give us a total population of about one thousand four hundred. In a certificate of charities, &c., in the thirty-seventh year of Henry VIII., the number of “houselyng people” in Stratford is stated to be fifteen hundred. This population was furnished with all the machinery by which Englishmen, even in very early times, managed their own local affairs, and thus obtained that aptitude for practical good government which equally rejects the tyranny of the one or of the many. The corporation in the time of John Shakspere consisted of fourteen aldermen and fourteen burgesses, one of the aldermen being annually elected to the office of bailiff. The bailiff held a court of record every fortnight, for the trial of all causes within the jurisdiction of the borough in which the debt and damages did not amount to thirty pounds. There was a court-leet also, which appointed its aletasters, who presided over the just measure and wholesome quality of beer, that necessary of life in ancient times ; and which court-leet chose also, annually, four affeerors, who had the power in their hands of summary punishment for offences for which no penalty was prescribed by statute. The constable was the great police officer, and he was a man of importance, for the burgesses of the corporation invariably served the office. John Shakspere appears from the records of Stratford to have gone through the whole regular course of municipal duty. In 1556 he was on the jury of the court-leet ; in 1557, an ale-taster ; in 1558, a burgess; in 1559, a
* Hunter : “New Illustrations," vol. i. p. 18.
† The proceedings of the court are given in Mr. Halliwell's “Life of Shakespeare,"—a book which may be fairly held to contain all the documentary evidence of this life which has been discovered.
| Chalmers's “Apology," p. 618.
constable ; in 1560, an affeeror ; in 1561, a chamberlain ; in 1565, an alderman ; and in 1568, high bailiff of the borough, the chief magistrate.
There have been endless theories, old and new, as to the worldly calling of John Shakspere. There are ancient registers in Stratford, minutes of the Common Hall, proceedings of the Court-leet, pleas of the Court of Record, writs, which have been hunted over with unwearied diligence, and yet they tell us little of John Shakspere ; and what they tell us is too often obscure. When he was elected an alderman in 1565, we can trace out the occupations of his brother aldermen, and readily come to the conclusion that the municipal authority of Stratford was vested, as we may naturally suppose it to have been, in the hands of substantial tradesmen, brewers, bakers, butchers, grocers, victuallers, mercers, woollen-drapers.* Prying into the secrets of time, we are enabled to form some notion of the literary acquirements of this worshipful body. On rare, very rare occasions, the aldermen and burgesses constituting the town council affixed their signatures, for greater solemnity, to some order of the court ; and on the 29th of September, in the seventh of Elizabeth, upon an order that John Wheler should take the office of bailiff, we have nineteen names subscribed, alderren and burgesses. There is something in this document which suggests a motive higher than mere curiosity for calling up these dignitaries from their happy oblivion, saying to each, “Dost thou use to write thy name? or hast thou a mark to thyself like an honest, plain-dealing man ?" Out of the nineteen six only can answer, “I thank God I have been so well brought up that I can write my name.” We were reluctant to yield our assent to Malone's assertion that Shakspere's father had a mark to himself. The marks are not distinctly affixed to each name, in this document. But subsequent discoveries establish the fact that he used two marks—one, something like an open pair of compasses — the other, the common cross. Even half a century later, to write was not held indispensable by persons of some pretension. In Decker's “Wonder of a Kingdom,” the following dialogue takes place between Gentili and Buzardo :
“ Gen. What qualities are you furnished with ?
Buz. My education has been like a gentleman.
Buz. As a gentleman ought to be; one tongue serves one head; I am no pedlar, to travel countries.
Gen. What skill ha' you in horsemanship?
Buz. As most of your gentlemen do ; my bond has been taken with my mark at it.' | We must not infer that one who gave his bond with his mark at it, was necessarily
ignorant of all literature. It was very common for an individual to adopt, in the | language of Jack Cade, “a mark to himself,” possessing distinctness of character, and almost heraldically alluding to his name or occupation. Many of these are like ancient merchants' marks; and on some old deeds the mark of a landowner alienating property corresponds with the mark described in the conveyance as cut in the turf, or upon boundary stones, of unenclosed fields.
One of the aldermen of Stratford in 1565, John Wheler, is described in the town records as a yeoman. He must have been dwelling in Stratford, for we have seen that he was ordered to take the office of high bailiff, an office demanding a near and constant residence. We can imagine a moderate landed proprietor cultivating his
* See Malone's " Life of Shakspeare,” Boswell's Malone, vol. ii., p. 77.