Page images

[Arms of John Shakspere. 7



On the 22nd of August, 1485, there was a battle fought for the crown of England, a short battle ending in a decisive victory. In that field a crowned king, “ manfully fighting in the middle of his enemies, was slain and brought to his death;” and a politic adventurer put on the crown, which the immediate descendants of his house wore for nearly a century and a quarter. The battle-field was Bosworth. Two months afterwards the Earl of Richmond was more solemnly crowned and anointed at Westminster by the name of King Henry VII. ; and “after this,” continues the chronicler," he began to remember his especial friends and fautors, of whom some he advanced to honour and dignity, and some he enriched with possessions and goods, every man according to his desert and merit." * Was there in that victorious army of the Earl of Richmond,—which Richard denounced as a “company of traitors, thieves, outlaws, and runagates,”—an Englishman bearing the name of Chacksper, or Shakespeyre, or Schakespere, or Schakespeire, or Shakespeyre, or Schakspere, or Shakespere, or Shakspere,t—à martial name, however spelt ? “ Breakspear, Shakespear, and the like, have been surnames imposed upon the first bearers of them for valour and feats of arms.” I Of the warlike achievements of

• Hall's Chronicle.

† A list of the brethren and sisters of the Guild of Knowle, near Rowington, in Warwickshire, exhibits a great number of the name of Shakspere in that fraternity, from about 1460 to 1527 ; and the names are spelt with the diversity here given, Shakspere being the latest.

| Verstegan's “ Restitution,” &c.

this Shakspere there is no record : his name or his deeds would have no interest for us unless there had been born, eighty years after this battle-day, a direct descendant from him—

“Whose muse, full of high thought's invention,

Doth like himself heroically sound ; a Shakspere, of whom it is also said

“He seems to shake a lance

As brandish'd at the eyes of ignorance." + A public document, bearing the date of 1599, affirms, upon “credible report," of “John Shakspere, now of Stratford-upon-Avon, in the county of Warwick, gentle man,” that his “parent, great-grandfather, and late antecessor, for his faithful and approved service to the late most prudent prince King Henry VII. of famous memory, was advanced and rewarded with lands and tenements, given to him in those parts of Warwickshire, where they have continued by some descents in good reputation and credit.” Such is the recital of a grant of arms to John Shakspere, the father of William Shakspere, which document refers to “his ancient coat of arms, heretofore assigned to him, whilst he was her Majesty's officer and bailiff of Stratford.” In those parts of Warwickshire, then, lived and died, we may assume, the faithful and approved servant of the “unknown Welshman,” as Richard called him, who won for himself the more equivocal name of “the most prudent prince." He was probably advanced in years when Henry ascended the throne ; for in the first year of Queen Elizabeth, 1558, his great-grandson, John Shakspere, was a burgess of the corporation of Stratford, and was in all probability born about 1530. The family had continued in those parts, we are assured, “ by some descents ;” but how they were occupied in the business of life, what was their station in society, how they branched out into other lines of Shaksperes, we have no distinct record. The name nuay be traced by legal documents in many parishes of Warwickshire ; but we learn from a deed of trust executed in 1550, by Robert Arden, the maternal grandfather of William Shakspere, that Richard Shakspere was the occupier of land in Snitterfield, the property of Robert Arden. At this parish of Snitterfield lived a Henry Shakspere, who as we learn from a declaration in the Court of Record at Stratford, was the brother of John Shakspere. I It is conjectured, and very reasonably, that Richard Shakspere, of Snitterfield, was the paternal grandfather of William Shakspere. Snitterfield is only three miles distant from Stratford. They probably were cultivators of the soil, unambitious small proprietors.

Harrison, a painter of manners who comes near the time of John Shakspere, has described the probable condition of his immediate ancestors : “ Yeomen are those which by our law are called legales homines, free men born English. The truth is, that the word is derived from the Saxon term zeoman, or geoman, which signifieth (as I have read) a settled or staid man.

This sort of people have a certain pre-eminence and more estimation than labourers and the common sort of artificers."

But the grant of arms in 1599, opens another branch of inquiry into Shakspere's ancestry. It says, “ for that the said John Shakespere having married the daughter and one of the heirs of Robert Arden of Wellingcote, [Wilmecote) and also produced this his ancient coat of arms, we [the heralds] have likewise upon one other escutcheon impaled the same with the ancient arms of the said Arden of Welling

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


| Ben Jonson.
I See Halliwell's "Life of Shakspere," p. 8, and Collier's “Life," p. 62.

cote.” They add that John Shakspere, and his children, issue, and posterity, may bear and use the same shield of arms, single or impaled.

The family of Arden was one of the highest antiquity in Warwickshire. Dugdale traces its pedigree uninterruptedly up to the time of Edward the Confessor. Under the head of Curdworth, a parish in the hundred of Hemlingford, he says—“In this place I have made choice to speak historically of that most ancient and worthy family, whose surname was first assumed from their residence in this part of the country, then and yet called Arden, by reason of its woodiness, the old Britons and Gauls using the word in that sense.” At the time of the Norman invasion there resided at Warwick, Turchil, “a man of especial note and power” and of "great possessions.” In the Domesday Book his father, Alwyne, is styled vice comes. Turchil, as well as his father, received favour at the hands of the Conqueror. He retained the possession of vast lands in the shire, and he occupied Warwick Castle as a military governor. He was thence called Turchil de Warwick by the Normans. But Dugdale goes on to say—“ He was one of the first here in England that, in imitation of the Normans, assumed a surname, for so it appears that he did, and wrote himself Turchillus de Eardene, in the days of King William Rufus.” The history of the De Ardens, as collected with wonderful industry by Dugdale, spreads over six centuries. Such records seldom present much variety of incident, however great and wealthy be the family to which they are linked. In this instance a shrievalty or an attainder varies the register of birth and marriage, but generation after generation passes away without leaving any enduring traces of its sojourn on the earth. Fuller has not the name of a single De Arden amongst his “Worthies”

-men illustrious for something more than birth or riches,—with the exception of those who swell the lists of sheriffs for the county. The pedigree which Dugdale gives of the Arden family brings us no nearer in the direct line to the mother of Shakspere than to Robert Arden, her great-grandfather : he was the third son of Walter Arden, who married Eleanor, the daughter of John Hampden, of Buckinghamshire; and he was brother to Sir John Arden, squire for the body to Henry VII. Malone, with laudable industry, has continued the pedigree in the younger branch. Robert's son, also called Robert, was groom of the chamber to Henry VII. He appears to have been a favourite ; for he had a valuable lease granted him by the king of the manor of Yoxsall, in Staffordshire, and was also made keeper of the royal park of Aldercar. Robert Arden, the groom of the chamber, probably left the court upon the death of his master. He married, and he had a son, also Robert, who had a family of seven daughters. The youngest was Mary, the mother of William Shakspere.

From the connection of these immediate ancestors of Shakspere's mother with the court of Henry VII., Malone has assumed that they were the “antecessors "* of John Shakspere declared to have been advanced and rewarded by the conqueror of Bosworth Field. Because Robert Arden had a lease of the royal manor of Yoxsall

, in Staffordshire, Malone also contends that the reward of lands and tenements stated in the grant of arms to have been bestowed upon the ancestor of John Shakspere really means the beneficial lease to Robert Arden. He holds that popularly the grandfather of Mary Arden would have been called the grandfather of John Shak. spere, and that John Shakspere himself would have so called him. The answer is very direct. The grant of arms recites that the great-grandfather of John Shakspere had been advanced and rewarded by Henry VII., and then goes on to say that John

* In a draft of the grant of arms, dated 1596, there are several variations from that of 1599. Amongst others we have," whose parents and late antecessors were for this valiant and faithful service" instead of "parent, great-grandfather, and late antecessor, for his faithful and approved service," &c.

Shakspere had married the daughter of Robert Arden of Wellingcote : He has an ancient coat-of-arms of his own derived from his ancestor, and the arms of his wife are to be impaled with these his own arms. Can the interpretation of this document then be that Mary Arden’s grandfather is the person pointed out as John Shakspere's great-grandfather ; and that, having an ancient coat-of-arms himself, his ancestry is really that of his wife, whose arms are totally different ?

Mary Arden! The name breathes of poetry. It seems the personification of some Dryad of

“ Many a huge-grown wood, and many a shady grove," called by that generic name of Arden,—a forest with many towns,

“Whose footsteps yet are found,
In her rough woodlands more than any other ground,
That mighty Arden held even in her height of pride,

Her one hand touching Trent, the other Severn's side."* High as was her descent, wealthy and powerful as were the numerous branches of her family, Mary Arden, we doubt not, led a life of usefulness as well as innocence, within her native forest hamlet. Her father died in December, 1556. His will is dated the 24th of November in the same year, and the testator styles himself

Robert Arden, of Wylmcote, in the paryche of Aston Cauntlow."

[graphic][subsumed][merged small]

The face of the country must have been greatly changed in three centuries. A canal, with lock rising upon lock, now crosses the hill upon which the village stands ; but traffic has not robbed the place of its green pastures and its shady nooks, though nothing is left of the ancient magnificence of the great forest. There is very slight

Drayton. “Polyolbion," 13th Song.

« PreviousContinue »