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THE

LIFE AND WRITINGS

OP

WILLIAM SHAKSPERE.

CHAPTER I.

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On the 22nd of August, 1485, there was a battle fought for the crown of England, a short battle ending in a decisive victory. The battle-field was Bosworth. 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 Schakspere, or Shakespere, or Shakspere a, -a 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."' b Of the warlike achievements of 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 Stratfordupon-Avon, in the county of Warwick, gentleman,” that

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

* 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.

Spenser. • Ben Jonson.

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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.” 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, or what was their station in society, how they branched out into other lines of Shaksperes, we have no distinct record. The name may 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 &. 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.

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

a See Halliwell's 'Life of Shakespeare,' p. 8, and Collier's 'Life,'

p. 62.

The family of Arden was one of the highest antiquity in Warwickshire. Dugdale traces its pedigree uninterruptedly í up to the time of Edward the Confessor. 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.

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,

VOL. L

B

66

“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."a 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."

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 stepmother of his children) six pounds thirteen shillings and fuurpence, under the condition that she should allow his daughter Alice to occupy half of a copynold 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.

a Drayton: “Polyolbion,' 13th Song.

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