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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 +; 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,
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.f
* Note C.
+ Robert Arden's will.. John Shakspeare's bill of complaint against Lambert.
# Grant of arms to John Shakspeare. Fuller's Worthies.
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. 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 among
the defaulters to a contribution for the purchase of defensive armour and weapons. 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. potest le
Dugdale's Antiq. Sir John Arden's will, 1526, Prerog.
* John Shakspeare's bill of complaint against John
† Regist. Burg. Strat.
List of debts appended to Roger Sadler's will. Prerog.
Regist. Burg. Strat.
He was shortly after dismissed from the corporation for a neglect of attendance at the halls for the seven preceding yearst; and, in 1587, subjected to an action for debt. The precise state of his affairs during the ten succeeding years is not known, but it does not seem likely, from his describing himself in 1597 as of “ very small wealth and very few friends," that the sun of prosperity ever again shone upon him ; and a supplication from the bailiff and burgesses of Stratford, in 1590, records the hopeless depression of the once highly prosperqus trade of a woolstapler. The town had then “ fallen into much decay for want of such trade as heretofore they had by clothing and making of yarn, employing and maintaining a number of poor people by the same, which now live in great penury and misery, by reason they are not set at work as before they have been.”[
John Shakspeare died in 1601. His family was numerous : Jone, Margaret, William, Gilbert, Jone, Ann, Richard, and Edmund. ll The
Register of the Bailiff's Court. + Regist. Burg. Strat. I Declaration filed in the Bailiff's Court.
Bill of complaint against John Lambert.
Supplication to the Lord Treasurer Burghley. || Note D.
first born, Jone, died in earliest infancy, and Margaret when only five months old. William was the poet. Of Gilbert nothing appears after the registry of his baptism*: the register, indeed, mentions the burial of “ Gilbert Shakspeare, adolescens,” in 1611-12, who might, or might not, have been the son of the elder Gilbert. Jone married William Hart, a hatter in Stratford. She died in 1646, leaving three sons.t She was remembered in her immortal brother's will by a contingent legacy of fifty pounds to her and her children; a bequest of twenty pounds, all his wearing apparel, and the house which she then occupied, at a yearly rent of one shilling, for her life. The Harts have continued in Stratford during the two centuries which have elapsed since the poet's death. In 1794, one of Shakspeare's two houses in Henley-street was the property of Thomas Hart, a butcher, the sixth in descent from Jone. Ann Shakspeare died in infancy. Richard was buried in 161213. Edmund Shakspeare embraced the calling
* The text states the fact literally ; but I have no doubt that Gilbert lived till after the Restoration of Charles II., and was that brother of Shakspeare of whom Oldys reports, that he saw the dramatist perform the character of Adam in As You Like It. See Note N. † Parish Register of Stratford.