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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 & 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 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.
We are not to infer that when John Shakspere removed the daughter and heiress of Arden from 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 streeta. 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 b. 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." c
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
The average annual number of baptisms in 1564
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 fairly held to contain all the documentary evidence of this life which has been discovered.
Chalmers's . Apology,' p. 618,
was fitty-five ; 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 or damages did not amount to thirty pounds. There was a Court-leet also, which appointed its ale-tasters, 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 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, aldermen 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. 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 nanie 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 de manding a near and constant residence. We can imagine a moderate landed proprietor cultivating his own soil, renting perhaps other land, seated in a house in the town of Stratford, such as it was in the middle of the sixteenth century, as conveniently as in a solitary grange several miles away from it. Such a proprietor, cultivator, yeoman, we consider John Shakspere to have been. In 1556, the year that Robert, the father of Mary Arden, died, John Shakspere was admitted at the Court-leet to two copyhold estates in Stratford. The jurors of the leet present that George Turnor had alienated to John Shakspere and his heirs one tenement, with a garden and croft, and other premises in Grenehyll Street, held of the lord at an annual quit-rent; and John Shakspere, who is present in court and does fealty, is admitted to the same.
The same jurors present that Edward West has alienated to John Shakspere one tenement and a garden adjacent in Henley Street, who is in the same way admitted, upon fealty done to the lord. Here then is John Shakspere, before his marriage, the purchaser of two copyholds in Stratford, both with gardens, and one with a croft, or small enclosed fielda.
In 1570 John Shakspere is holding, as tenant under William Clopton, a meadow of fourteen acres, with its appurtenances, called Ingon, at the annual rent of eight pounds. When he married, the estate of Asbies, within a short ride of Stratford, came also into his possession ; and so did some landed property at Snitterfield. With these facts before us, scanty as they are, can we reasonably doubt that John Shakspere was living upon his own land, renting the land of others, actively engaged in the business of cultivation, in an age when meni of substance very often thought it better to take the profits direct than to share them with the tenant ? In A Briefe Conceipte touching the Commonweale of this Realme of Englande, published in 1581,—a Dialogue once attributed to William Shakspere, —the knight says, speaking of his class, “ many of us are
• Malone, with the documents before him, treats this purchase as if it had been the mere assignment of a lease; and Malone having printed the documents, no one who wrote about Shakspere previous to the publication of our · Biography,' in 1843, deduced from them that Shakspere's father was necessarily a person of some substance before his marriage, a purchaser of property.