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  Dictionary of National Biography

Shakespeare, William (1564-1616)

William Shakespeare's entry in the Dictionary of National Biography covers many pages and is not reproduced here in it's entirety. However, the first section has some interesting genealogical clues, which provide hints for further research areas, and is reproduced below:

'Dramatist and poet, came of a family whose surname was borne through the middle ages by residents in very many parts of England - at Penrith in Cumberland, at Kirkland and Doncaster in Yorkshire, as well as in nearly all the midland counties. The surname had originally a martial significance, implying capacity in the wielding of the spear. (CAMDEN, Remains, ed. 1605, p. 111: VERSTEGAN, Restitution, 1605). Its first recorded holder is John Shakespeare, who in 1279 was living at 'Freyndon,' perhaps Frittendon, Kent (Plac. Cor. 7 Edw. I, Kanc; cf. Notes and Queries, 1st ser. xi. 122). The great mediaeval guild of St. Anne at Knowle, whose members included the leading inhabitants of Warwickshire, was joined by many Shakespeares in the fifteenth century (cf. Reg. ed. Bickley, 1894). In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the surname is found far more frequently in Warwickshire than elsewhere. The archives of no less than twenty-four towns and villages there contain notices of Shakespeare families in the sixteenth century, and as many as thirty-four Warwickshire towns or villages were inhabited by Shakespeare families in the seventeenth century. Among them all William was a common christian name. At Rowington, twelve miles to the north of Stratford, and in the same hundred of Barlichway, one of the most prolific Shakespeare families of Warwickshire resided in the sixteenth century, and no less than three Richard Shakespeares of Rowington, whose extant wills were proved respectively in 1560, 1591, and 1614, were fathers of sons called William. At least one other William Shakespeare was during the period a resident in Rowington. As a consequence, the poet has been more than once credited with achievements which rightly belong to one or other of his numerous contemporaries who were identically named.

The poet's ancestry cannot be traced with certainty beyond his grandfather. The poet's father, when applying for a grant of arms in 1596, claimed that his grandfather and the poet's great-grandfather received for services rendered in war a grant of land in Warwickshire from Henry VII. No precise confirmation of this pretension has been discovered, and it may be, after the manner of heraldic genealogy, fictitious. But the poet undoubtedly came of good yeoman stock, and there is every probability that his ancestors to the fourth or fifth generation were fairly substantial landowners (cf. Times, 14 Oct 1895; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. viii. 501;Genealog. Mag. May 1897). Adam Shakespeare, a tenant by military service of land at Baddesley Clinton in 1539, was great-grandfather of one Richard Shakespeare, who held land at Wroxhall in Warwickshire in 1525. The latter is hesitatingly conjectured to have migrated soon after that date to Snitterfield, a village four miles to the north of Stratford-on-Avon. At Snitterfield a yeoman of the name was settled in 1535 (cf. HALLIWELL- PHILLIPPS, II. 207), and there is no doubt that he was the poet's grandfather. In 1550 he was renting a messuage and land at Snitterfield of Robert Arden; he was alive in 1560, and may be assumed to have died before the opening of the next year, when the Snitterfield parish registers, in which no mention is made of him, came into being. Richard of Snitterfield had at least two sons, Henry and John; the parentage of a Thomas Shakespeare, a considerable landowner at Snitterfield between 1563 and 1583, is undetermined, but he may have been a third son. The son Henry remained at Snitterfield all his life, and died a prosperous farmer in December 1596. John, the younger son of Richard, was the poet's father.'

 

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