The Shakespear(e)s of Rowington
Nuneaton & North Warwickshire Family History Society
In 1936 Arthur Mee edited a series of books entitled: “The King’s England, A New Domesday Book of 10,000 Towns and Villages” in 41 volumes. The volume covering Warwickshire has many references to Shakespeare and by some method, we are not told how he knew this, he has discovered that one of the Shakespeares of Rowington, a John Shakespear, son of Thomas, was apprenticed to William Jaggard (1568-1623) the publisher at whose press a collection of “Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies” was printed in 1623 – the famous “First Folio” which was completed after William Jaggard’s death in 1623 by his son Isaac and published that year.
By what means are we to deduce that young John Shakespeare, a rural country boy from deepest Warwickshire, could gain access at such a young age to a successful London printer. Maybe his kinsman, the poet himself, had taken young John under his wing and introduced him to his contact, the printer, who had, even before his death made available to William Jaggard some of his works for printing. Most Shakespearean scholars assume that William Jaggard, prior to the poets death had surreptitiously purloined these hand written texts and printed them without the poets permission. It could be that all along William Shakespeare had a hand in Jaggard’s publishing business and one day introduced a nephew or cousin to assist him as a favour to his publishing friend and his relatives in Rowington.
That the Shakespeares of Rowington, were a family of substance at this period can be deduced from their property known as Shakespeare Hall which can be viewed on the internet at: www.geh.org/ar/strip14/htmlsrc/m198122910031_ful.html and www.geh.org/ar/strip14/htmlsrc/m198122910033_ful.html
Rowington was the seat of some of the earliest Shakespeare families in Warwickshire. In the Register of the Guild of St. Anne, Knoll (Knowle) near to Rowington are two of these early families listed as follows in the parish:
c. 1464 Johnannes Shakespeyre ejusdem villae (Rowington) et Alicia uxor ejus.
1476 Thomas Chaksper et Christian cons.suae de Rowneton.
In this book were also several other Shakespeare families mentioned at Woldiche, Wroxhale (Wraxhale), Balsale (Ballishalle), and Meriden (Shakespeareana Genealogica P.351/2)
Rev. Henry Norris, who wrote his history of Baddesley Clinton, published in 1897, has quoted that he had found Shakespeares in an early court roll of Baddesley Clinton, a parish just a few miles from Rowington, as early as 1389. This is as far as I can tell the earliest reference to the name in Warwickshire. Baddesley Clinton was a later seat of one branch of the Ferrers family who had extensive estates throughout the Midlands. There seems to be a close business relationship between the various generations of the Ferrers families and the Shakespeares, particularly with regard to the leasing of land. This culminates in the personal effects of one of the descendents of this branch of the Ferrers [Thomas Ferrers of Baddesley Clinton 1713-1760)] passing under the direction of one of the last direct descendents of the Rowington Shakespeares [William Shakespeare, gentleman, of Knoll (Knowle) Hall ( - 1762)] who was appointed his trustee. William, who had married Ann Ives of Rowington on 2nd February 1741 was buried at Rowington on August 17th 1762. Ann was sole executor of his will on his death. (This may have been his second marriage, his first wife Mary dying and being buried at Rowington on December 11th 1739)
By the 16th century a seat of the Shakespeare’s was a small estate at Mowsley End, Rowington. Thomas Shaxpere held it until his death in 1591. His wife was Annis (possibly nee Scott). Their recorded children were:
Richard who died in 1592, Thomas, Joan, Eleanor who never married who was buried 20th October 1616, and Annis. Possibly Thomas or his son Thomas were the parents of young John who moved to London to work in the book trade.
One of the problems sorting out all these Shakespeares is the proliferation of the names, John, Thomas and William. The Rowington families were no exception and we find the senior Mowsley End line succeeded through Richard whose family were:
John bapt. 6.7.1574 and died 1609.
Thomas who may have been buried on 16th March 1611
and a relatively long lived William who was buried 13th July 1646.
John (1574-1609) had two sons:
Thomas listed as a mealman or baker and died in 1614, Richard who also died in 1614.
Thomas’s only known child was a son, John, buried on 13.2.1652 who was married to Mary (?).
John and Mary had five children.
The second son of John (1574-1609), Richard also had several children but we do not know the name of his wife.
William who married Margaret; they had a son John
Richard who married Elizabeth; they had four children including two sons William and John (a weaver)
John and Thomas
Another son of Richard Shakespeare who died in 1592, Thomas ( - 1611) mentioned previously had at least one son:
Thomas (who was buried in Rowington churchyard on 8th March 1646) married Elizabeth.
These also had a large family with the familiar Shakespeare Christian names to confuse the researcher:
Ann bapt before 1616 and buried 3.8.1640
Richard bapt. 23.4.1626
Elizabeth bapt.5.9.1629 who died and replaced by another Elizabeth bapt. 4th April 1630
Finally Mary bapt. 14.8.1631
John ( -1710) who married Rebecka ( -1669) also had several children:
Josiah bapt.8.2.1664 bur. 17.2.1664
Mary bapt. 3.12.1665 bur.17.9.1669
It is a curious fact that even though many Shakespeares during the 17th century favoured their baptism and burial at Rowington there were no male marriages for them during the period 1612 to 1679 in that parish. Which may suggest that most of their male offspring were married in their new wives home parishes leading to the name Shakespeare cropping up in other Warwickshire districts such as Ipsley, Pinley Green, Lapworth, Claverdon, and Henley in Arden where they lived on their wives rented properties or inherited estates.
There were other Shakespeare families which seems to have derived from the main Rowington line, this time a century earlier in the 1500’s. These were more famously found in Snitterfield and Stratford Upon Avon, Warwick and Coventry, Staffordshire and even in London. The reason that some of these Shakespeares, over a period of two centuries, crop up in unlikely isolated places such as Bedfordshire, Essex, Kent and Leicestershire, might be due to several sons being clergymen who were offered the living of random outlying parishes away from their familiar territory in Warwickshire.
An additional complicating factor in all this, John Shakespeare junior of Stratford who married Margery Roberts and took over her former late husband, Thomas Roberts shoemaking business, had three children by John with the Latin names, Ursula, Phillipus and Humphrey. These children’s names crop up in later generations in Feckenham, Worcestershire and Ipsley, Warwickshire, probably leading to those generations of Shakespeares alive today. Circumstantial evidence points to their having a family bond with Rowington as buried there on October 30th 1729 is Humphry Shakespeare of Lapworth. (probably a descendent of John Shakespeare Jnr. of Stratford and Margery Roberts).