chairman of the local Family History Society here in North Warwickshire I am
often asked to investigate families in my area of interest, helping people with
problems they are having in making a further step back or finding long lost
relatives throughout the world. Usually
such information discovered is of a commonplace nature, taking families back a
couple more generations or putting long lost cousins in touch with each other.
But one ancient family hereabouts– the Ensors – opened up a very interesting
possibility, one that was entirely unexpected; that there are people living
today by the name of Shakespeare that are direct descendents of one of William
Shakespeare’s own immediate family.
I first became aware of an Ensor/Shakespeare connection when researching the Ensors in John Nichols “History & Antiquities of the County of Leicester” Vol 4 Part II (published in 1811) where I found on page 602 in a family tree of the Purefoy family a note of a marriage between John Strong Ensor and Anne Purefoy in 1747. John Strong Ensor (1716-1768) was the son of James Ensor of Wilnecote (1681-1750) who married Sarah Strong ( -1721).
In reference at the bottom of page 602 it said:
Of John Strong Ensor – “whose
sister was wife of the reverend John Dyer: and whose grandmother was a
Shakespeare descended from a brother
of every body’s Shakespeare.”
Biographies of William
Shakespeare and genealogical information which have previously been published on
his family, are silent on any connection he might have had with North
Warwickshire or Leicestershire – or if his brothers had male descendents who
would give rise to such a connection. None of his three known brothers seem to
have married, and only one said to have had an illegitimate son who died as a
pre-pubescent youngster. Two of his
brothers were believed to be living in London at the same time as William.
Accepted published records can offer us no more than this.
The Rev. John Dyer married Sarah Ensor (1712 -1760).
Sarah was the sister of John Strong Ensor. It was her second marriage.
Amongst the papers sent to me from an Ensor correspondent in America : "In 1756, Rev. John Dyer, wrote to William Duncan:-
'More of myself, which your good natured curiosity draws from me, is this, after having been an itinerant painter in my native country (South Wales), and in Herefordshire and Worcestershire, &c. &c. I married and settled in Leicestershire. My wife's name was Ensor, whose grandmother was a Shakespear, descended from a brother of everybody's Shakespear.'
John Strong Ensor was clerk to an attorney in the
North Warwickshire town of Coleshill.
He married Anne Purefoy and went into partnership with George Purefoy his
brother in law, Attorney at Law in Hinckley, Leicestershire.
In the Harpur of Burton Latimer collection at
Northampton County Records Office -"Settlement by John Strong Ensor and
Anne his wife of Mansion House of Exning, Suffolk; lands there and in Stoney
Stanton, Narborough and Cosby, Leics."
The Exning estate passed down through later generations and a relationship to William Shakespeare appears to be preserved: The Morning Herald, "1857, June 2. Died at Hastings, aged 62 William Hammond, esq. of Camden Road villas, and Scott's-yard, London, and Exning, Suffolk, a magistrate for the County of Middlesex, and for upwards of forty years a respectable merchant of the City of London, He died in Jesus. The deceased was said to be one of the last lineal descendents of Shakespeare."
Another connection - "The Pauls of Wilnecote, who descend in common with Mrs. Dyer from Grace, [Shakespeare] but not from Strong, are familiar with an idea of relationship to Shakspeare." The Pauls inherited the Ensor’s property at Wilnecote in the 18th century, which had been in the latter family for at least 200 years.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) had three brothers
who we know from Stratford Upon Avon parish registers: Edmund or Edward
Shakespeare. (1580 – 1607), believed to be the actor buried in Southwark;
Richard (1574 – 1613) and Gilbert (1566 – 1612).
Gilbert became, in later life, a haberdasher in St Brides in London.
William Shakespeare’s removal, about 1590, to
London appears to take place during the same period as a reversal not only in
his father’s fortunes but increasing poverty for the residents of his hometown
in Stratford. According to Vol.3 of the Victoria County History of Warwickshire
P.249 “In October 1590 the Corporation (of Stratford on Avon) petitioned
the Lord Treasurer for the nomination of the Vicar and schoolmaster and an
additional fair, and offered for these and other franchises, a free farm and
rent of £5 a year. The petition speaks of the town as ‘now fallen into much
decay for want of such trade as heretofore they had by clothinge and making of
William kept his family and property interests in
Stratford. He purchased a house in the town, New Place, in 1597. He remained in
touch with his family, frequently returning to look after his local affairs, and
escape the plague in London when it closed the theatres.
According to the Monumental Inscriptions found in St.
Bartholomew’s church at
Little Packington, in North Warwickshire, near
Coleshill, there is a memorial to the Shakespeare family who lived there until
their small estate was sold to Lord Aylesford sometime in the early 18th
This memorial reads:
“Near this place was interred George Shakespeare of
Packington Parva, Gentleman, Thomas Shakespeare, Gentleman and Grace his wife.
Thomas Shakespeare, Gentleman and Mary his wife. Which Mary was daughter of
William Lapeth Gentleman.
They had also two sons and two daughters, Thomas,
George, Mary and Grace.
George Shakespeare, he departed this life 27 May 1725
aged 43, by whom this monument was erected in pious regard to the memory of his
great grandfather, grandfather, grandmother, father and mother, brother and
the Harpur material at Northampton is information on their dealings with other
families into whom they married, the Purefoys previously mentioned,
particularly, who were also landed people in Leicestershire and Warwickshire,
and the Strongs of Sutton in the Elms also in Leicestershire.
copy of the genealogy of the Strong family prepared in the 18th
century by Lucy Strong was obtained – and this time my hunch paid off. Lucy
told me what I needed to know. It strengthens the possibility that the poet had
relatives living in North Warwickshire, which share his surname and genetic
material, whose descendents are still known by the name Shakespeare to this
present time. Until now this was not thought possible because it was always
believed that anyone by the name of Shakespeare was related to that larger group
of Shakespears who lived outside, but close to Stratford, in the parishes of
Rowington and Warwick particularly.
the genealogical note of the Strong family in the hand of Lucy Strong written in
the 18th century confirmed the connection. Despite the contemporary
handwriting, spelling errors and words, which were hard to read. It was written
as a note rather than a family tree, and I guess was addressed to one of
Lucy’s cousins, the Harpurs: Where I have put a question mark the [?]
writing is indistinct or indecipherable.
Strongs came into England with King John but he sd all he remembered was his
grandfather as follows, Tho: Strong of Sutton Bun [?] In Leicestershire Esqr:
had a good estate & 3 sons & 3 daughters------------
ye first son married Jus: Cave daughter of Mr. Cave of Leir in Leicestershire
& by her he had two sons – Tho: & Wm Esqr.: Tho: died Wm married a
daughter of Sr. Sam’l Dashwood Barronet who: at ye request of his Bro: Sr
Sam’l Dashwood took all his estate in Leicestershire & pd. Down 40
thousand a piece to ye Government: & forms, ye Excise his Bro: Dashwood was
one of his partners & pd down ye like sum:Strong continues after a
Commissioner till he died in ye end of Queen Ann: Reign he had two sons Tho:
& John Esq.,
died: John never married had 4 daughters married -----
ye second son married had issue Tho: a haberdasher of [?] ----in Southwark
London: John a merchant at Hull: from him descended ye most remarkable Edmund
Strong Sr. of Levining [?] of Oxon known by Mr. Crampton of Bosworth & many
more in ye second of Queen Ann: Reign & many more descended from the branch
of ye above Daughters one married Justice Neltrope [?]
in Lincolnshire: an other Robert of Sutton in Leicestershire
Esq. An other to Knight Esq also near Lin--------
son married Mary Cave an other daughter of ye affors; Cave Gent: Leicestershire
She was Aunt to Dr. Cave fr, of Levining [?]
y’t married Lady Sidney daughter to ye Earl of Leicester he gave my
father our first coach-------
had by Mary Cave Tho: my grandfather: & one more son Tho: married Phillipa
Daughter of Adrian Shakespear of Stratford upon Avon in Warwickshire Gent. Her
ancestors lie in tombs there by her he had 3 sons Tho: Strong Esqr. Wm: &
George: Tho: my father married Sarah younger daughter of Louis ---[?] Gregory of
Brinkloe Castle Esq. & Grandaughter to ye Earl Segrave: by her he had two
sons: Gregory: & Tho: of ye middle Temple & myself Lucy-------------
married had one son Tho: who died at Oxon: & two daughters Jane &
married a Relation----------I think her name was Lord [?] & by her had one
son Thos: of Fernivale [?] Inn: Daughter two Sar: & Eliz:
value my selfe upon these things ye more ye Chansellor of Leichfield told me at
Mr. Littleton’s table before all ye company: ye was a better family then ye Sr
Willoby & sought to be better usd: my Grandfather was custod, of this
younger Brother was a Judg’ about 50 years ago Mr Littleton remembers ye -----
& my uncle. “
Strong was born at Sutton in the Elms (near Broughton Astley in Leicestershire)
to George Strong (1670-1728) and Sarah (maiden name unknown). George Strong was
the son of Thomas Strong and Phillipa Shakespeare. He had estates at Sutton in the Elms, Croft in
Leicestershire, in the Borough of Tamworth and Wilnecote, so was a neighbour of
the Ensors. From Lucy Strong’s note of her ancestors Phillipa appears to be
the daughter of Adrian Shakespear of Stratford upon Avon, Gent.
Strong died on 15.11.1728 and according to
his will his devisees were to take the name Strong after their Christian
name. He had a brother, William Strong who lived at Rugby. George was said, at
one time, to have been the Collector of Excise at Lichfield.
Strong, whose daughter had died, settled his estates on his grandchild John
Ensor (1716-1768) who took the middle name Strong. He was then twelve years of
John Strong Ensor had a sister – Sarah
Ensor (1712-1760). Sarah married first John Hawkins but had no children by him,
and then sometime in the 1740’s, John Dyer the poet (1700-1757). Dyer had been
to in Italy trying to earn a living as an artist but without much financial
success returned to England in 1741. He was offered the living of Calthorpe in
Leicestershire by one of the Harpurs (whose papers are lodged in
Northamptonshire CRO) it must have been during this period that he met and
married Sarah Hawkins (nee Ensor). He was her second husband. He lived there for
ten years. They had one son and
three daughters all of whom received the Shakespeare genetic material passed on
by his wife survived Dyer.
is there to be deduced from Lucy Strong’s specific statement: “Tho:
married Phillipa Daughter of Adrian Shakespear of Stratford upon Avon in
Warwickshire, Gent. Her ancestors lie in tombs there.”
do not think there is any reason to doubt the probity of Lucy Strong’s
note. It is entirely possible that Adrian Shakespear was buried in the
Shakespear family tomb in Stratford parish church, Holy Trinity.
the 17th century an earlier monument was replaced by one more
befitting the great poet who was buried there replaced this: William Shakespeare
with its bust and likeness, and the famous inscription:
friend, for Jesus’ sake forbear
dig the dust enclosed here.
be the man that spares these stones
cursed be he that moves my bones.”
we take today to be the resting place of the great man himself
was close to the tombs of other family members, his brothers perhaps,
(his wife Anne, was in the next tomb), and other Shakespeare relatives, and
comments do not indicate a connection with the bard. She does not mention
William, whom she might not have known much about, since to a 18th
century country girl with, perhaps, little contact with the stage or literature.
Presumably his fame had not yet risen beyond academic or city circles, it did
not occur to her to mention such a relationship, but to her relative through
marriage John Dyer, an aspiring poet himself and literate country parson such a
relationship was worth mentioning.
research took another step forward on reading, “Shakespeareana Genealogica”
compiled by George Russell French which was originally published in 1869 and
re-printed in 1975. In this book there is a chapter on William Shakespeare’s
immediate family, which suggests that there were two distinct Shakespear
families living in 16th century Stratford upon Avon. One of the
poet’s parents headed by his father John Shakespeare (?1530-1601) and another
headed by a John Shakespeare, a shoemaker. The latter married (according to
Stratford parish records) on 25th. November 1584. to Margery Roberts (
-1587). We know very little about this John but the dates suggest that he
was about 30 years younger than William’s father.
poet’s father, John Shakespeare must have been born in the 1530’s, and
married Mary Arden (c.1535-1608). The parish registers for Stratford Upon Avon
commence in 1558. We know that William’s father was a householder several
years prior to 1558 as he was fined for having an illegal dunghill in the street
outside his house in 1552. This would indicate
he had children prior to 1558 when the parish records start.
We know that during the period 1558-1580 John and Mary produce their
documented offspring. There is a lack of information
of unrecorded parish events in the immediate years before 1558 when the
younger John was presumably born. His birth is not recorded in the parish
registers after 1558, or in the surrounding parishes.
There may well have been other children.
In Stratford Civic records John Shakespeare in anyone of the variety of
spellings of his surname is most often referred to as Mr. John Shakespear. The
younger John is referred to as “shumaker, corvizier, cordinarius.” It is
also interesting to know that John senior’s trade was wool merchant, glover,
whittawer [fine white leather worker] and dealer in animal skins, whereas John
the younger is a shoe maker, i.e. a worker in leather. A trade not far removed
from William’s father. The
younger John increases in status
over the length of time he is recorded in Stratford – eventually to become a
master of the Companie of Shoemakers. He occupied a house in Bridge Street,
Stratford upon Avon formerly occupied by his father in law Thomas Roberts –
also a shoemaker. He also took over one of John senior’s duties. John senior
was appointed ale taster in 1557, the younger John appointed ale taster in 1585.
would also seem logical for William’s father to call his first son John, if
this shoemaker was so related?. In his Genealogica Mr. French says that
John junior had left Stratford upon Avon by 1595. Could he have prospered and
bought a small estate at Little Packington or elsewhere in North Warwickshire?
Margery died John appears to have re-married. his marriage to a Mary (surname unknown) yielded children as
to French a lineal descendent of Humphrey, a George Shakespeare, was still
living in Henley in Arden in 1864. Just how this connection passed through the
Shakespeare lines has not been traced.
curiosity in Stratford Parish Records, regarding the burial of William
Shakespeare’s younger brother Gilbert – Feb. 3 1611,12 Gilbertus Shakspeare,
Adolescens – in Latin Adolescens means “young man usually aged 15-30 years
of age” (Gilbert 1566-1611-1612) was 47/48 years of age. Might this internment
not be the brother Gilbert, of William
who was then 47, but another younger relative. If Gilbert had been buried in
Stratford he would have been brought there from London? Edmund the actor/player
at the Fortune theatre who died in 1607 was buried in Southwark – not
Stratford. According to Mr. J.O. Halliwell (Author of the Life of Shakespeare)
there was an Edward Shakespeare (Actor) – not Edmund- living in London in the
parish of St. Giles, without Cripplegate, in 1607, who is supposed by Mr.
Collier to have been an actor at the Fortune Theatre.
but surely the pedigrees of the distant Shakespeares are converging but it is a
difficult business. There are so many large voids. The evidence is very
scattered. Recently I learned that the group that are now in Staffordshire but
ultimately stem from Rowley Regis and Dudley are
descended from one Edward Shakespeare (?1580-1634). They went into the
typical Black Country trade of nail making; however, this may have been the
result of their removal from Warwickshire where their family’s trade might
have been blacksmithing? A
prominent family of Shakespeares who trace
their ancestry back to Stepney (Shadwell) in London, and not further, stem from
John Shakespear (1619-1689) a ropemaker. Interestingly this large and eminent
family use the same arms granted to John Shakespeare in 1596 and claim
descendency without firm proof of it from the Warwickshire family.
grant of arms is a very specific award to John Shakespeare. (1530?-1601). Whilst
he and his blood relatives in a direct line of descendency can use it unchanged,
those in collateral branches are only allowed to use an altered form of it. So I
am confused why descendents who use it subsequently, at a time when deference to
such ancient rights and symbols were more adhered to than this throw away age.
(Nowadays anybody by the same name seems to be able to buy a copy of a grant of
arms from a stall on the market). In those days these matters were treated far
the actual grant of arms to John Shakespeare is the wording:
it shall be lawfull for the sayd John Shakspeare, gent and for his children,
yssue and postinte (at the times and places convenient) to bear and make
demonstration of the said Blazon or Achievement upon theyre Shields, Targets,
Escutcheons, Cotes of Arms, Pennons, Guydons,Ringes, Edefices, Buyldinges,
Utensils, Lyveres, Tombes, Monuments, or otherwise…”
is also curious to note that the same family of Shakespeares to which Adrian
Shakespeare, gent of Arley, Warwickshire appears to belong belong, and probably
a relative of whom, George Shakespeare of
Fillongley, has engraved on his tomb
in the parish church in Fillongley, those
same arms granted to John Shakespeare, the poets father, in 1596. In the records
of the Leatherseller’s Company in London there are entries of the
apprenticeship of George, son of Thomas Shakespeare of Arley, co. Warwick and of
George, son of William Shakespeare, also of Arley, in June 1732. Also on the
floor of the nave of Fillongley church is a flat stone, inscribed – “To the
memory of Thomas Shakespear of Fillongley, in the County of Warwick, gentleman,
who departed this life May ye 7th, 1763, in the 73rd year
of his age.
sore long time I bore,
were in vain,
death gave ease and God did please
ease me of my pain.’
Christians for Jesus’ sake forbear
disturb the dust that slumbers here’ “
the similar last two lines to those on William Shakespeare’s own epitaph.)
the parishes of Little Packington and
Fillongley are adjacent, and it should be
noted that William Shakespear, the poet’s father was engaged as a wool and
skin merchant, and that the younger John of Stratford was a shoemaker. Both
“Leathersellers” in effect.
brings me further on to the subject of the grant of arms to William
Shakespeare’s father John. It is said that an earlier attempt by John to
obtain a grant of arms in the year 1560’s failed.
despite obvious financial problems at the start of 1590 his fortunes had
returned sufficient to splash out on a grant of arms six years later. Who
applied and paid for them?. John, apparently, was sufficiently impaired in the
art of reading and writing to sign his name with a mark and not a written
signature. This asks the question as to who actually put pen to paper in the
very detailed submission which would be needed to qualify for these arms. Was it
William, or another one of his brothers who applied for and obtained that grant
French in his Genealogica says: “No evidence has yet been found of the
marriage of any one of the Poet’s brothers; the fair presumption, therefore,
is that they died bachelors, an opinion which is strengthened by the fact of no
allusions being made by the Poet in his will to any wife or issue of his
brothers, and he was particular in caring for a remainder among his nearest kin,
which is evinced in a remarkable manner by his naming the succession to his well
earned property, first, to the heirs-male of seven sons, “one after
another”, of his daughter Susanna Hall, should she have them; next, in default
of such issue, to the heirs-male of his grand-daughter, Elizabeth Hall; failing
them, then to the heirs-male of his second daughter Judith; and lastly in
default of such issue, to his right heirs. As it happened, the Poet’s last
surviving descendent, Lady Bernard, bequeathed some of her grandfather’s
freehold property to her kinsmen, the Harts, who were the surviving nearest
blood relations to the original testator, descended from his sister Joan.”
is the key problem with the theory that William had a brother who was the
progenitor of later Shakespeares in the northern part of the county of
Warwickshire and beyond. That
William did not leave him anything in his will. The will survives and its
contents are well known. Mr French points out quite clearly he makes adequate
provision for his children and gifts to friends and family. However, having said
that it raised a few eye brows when he only left his wife Ann his second best
bed. The inference being that Ann already had the matrimonial home and best bed,
the second best was simply an afterthought. It could be, of course, that
William, having a brother might not have needed to provide for him as he was
adequately set up on his own small estate in Warwickshire.
Shakespeare senior’s will does not appear to have survived which would, no
doubt, have confirmed or destroyed these theories.
what is apparent is that there was a gap between the time John Shakespeare
(1530?-1601) set up home in Stratford and was fined for having left an illegal
dung-hill in the street outside in 1552, which suggests he was by then married
as he was a householder, and six years later with the commencement of Stratford
parish records in 1558. From these we know of the baptisms of his recorded
children. It is hard to think that he did not start his family soon after
marriage and may have produced as many as three more children by 1558.
and Mary regularly produced children immediately after commencement of the
parish registers in the year 1558, 1562, 1564, 1566, 1569, 1571, 1573 and
1709 Nicholas Rowe, one of the poet’s earliest biographer’s, mentions ten
children, not eight, but does not say where he got this information from given
that he was using the parish records which would have revealed just eight.
However, Mr. Rowe does talk of William being the oldest son which could
only have been deduced from the parish register.
At the time he was writing it could be assumed that he had visited Stratford and spoken to descendents of people who knew the Shakespeares prior to the family dying out and their oral tradition was of ten children, but when Mr. Rowe visited the church and examined the parish register he only discovered eight and simply assumed from that that William was the oldest, and he never questioned the oral memories of the locals.
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