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Speculation on the Origin of

John Shakespeare

of Stratford

It can now be shown that John Shakespeare, the Henley Street Glover, who was the father of the Poet William Shakespeare did not arrive in Stratford from nearby Snitterfield as several hundred years of biographers would have you believe - in fact, what was suggested by the earliest of these biographers as 'probable' has now transmuted into 'fact' which seems to be almost universally accepted.

Where Might John Have Come From?

There were only a few villages and towns with resident Shakespeares at the time John would have been born: assuming him to have been apprenticed to learn his glover's trade then we can assume him to have been at least 21 years of age (ie the age at which his apprenticeship would have finished) when he became resident in Stratford. The first documentary evidence for him being resident there dates from 1552, giving him a birthdate before 1531. At this time the only Shakespeares to be found were resident in the cluster of villages with Wroxall and Rowington at their centre. However, these two places themselves can probably be discounted, as just about all of their resident John Shakespeares can be accounted for.

What Clues Do We Have?

There are actually a number of very good clues that John had a connection with the County Town of Warwick.

Foremost among these is the fact that John served on a Jury in Warwick an 1569 concerning a dispute in Rowington. To serve as a juror he must have either lived in, or, more likely considering he was known to have been resident in Stratford at the time, owned property in the town. It is also intriguing that Thomas Shakespeare, the head of the Warwick line, held land in Balsall, which was left to his widow in his 1579 will. Here we have another enigma in that John Shakespeare, the Stratford 'Shoemaker' also had property in Balsall, which he disposed of in 1596. The 'Shoemaker', whose parentage is proving troublesome, was either an hitherto unrecognised son of John Shakespeare, of Stratford, or a member of the Warwick family!

We find John serving on yet another Jury in Warwick in 1572: the jury of inquisition of Master Badger at Warwick. This time one of his fellow jurors was Thomas Shakespeare, Shoemaker, of Warwick!

The next clue of a connection between the Stratford Shakespeares and those in Warwick is the fact that (yet another!) John Shakespeare, a known member of the Warwick line, was apprenticed to the London printer, William Jaggard. Jaggard is chiefly known to history as the printer of the celebrated 'First Folio' of the Poet's work, which is the means by which many of the plays survive to the present day. As earlier versions of some of the Poet's works were printed by Richard Field, the son of the Shakespeare's Henley Street neighbour, it has to be questioned why the change of allegiance took place, and why the young John Shakespeare from Warwick was apprenticed to Jaggard in the first place.

The Green Family

"John and Thomas Green of Warwick were cousins, both 'Master Green,' the one host of the Crown Inn, with apparently a brother, Thomas Green alias Shakespeare, who died at Stratford in 1590; the other a mercer in the High Pavement, near the Crown, with a brother John at Tanworth, and two sons Thomas and John, who became lawyers, and resided at Stratford, the former for some years with his cousin the Poet at New Place." [E I Fripp, 'Shakespeare's Haunts Near Stratford', page 67]. So here is yet another connection with Warwick, with the Poet's cousins, the Greens. It is interesting that one of them (he appears in the Stratford Parish Registers) used the alias Shakespeare, suggesting that his mother was possibly a Shakespeare.

More Clues

No less an authority than Sir Edmund Chambers speculated that Thomas Shakespeare, of Warwick, was most likely a grandson of Thomas Shakespeare, of Balsall. Current research indicates that this is most likely to be the case, but we are still no nearer to identifying the missing generation. What we do have, however, is the most intriguing clue that there was a John Shakespeare resident in Balsall who was a similar age to both Thomas of Warwick, and, more importantly, the Poet's father. The clue that seems to have been overlooked until now is that there was a John Shakeshaft listed as a juror in Balsall in 1548. Other records of him occur between 1543 - 1549. We can be absolutely certain that Shakeshaft is here yet another rendition of Shakespeare: it occurs elsewhere, notably in the case of Richard Shakespeare of Snitterfield who is occasionally listed as Shakeshaft. It is a fact that there are no regular records of the surname Shakeshaft in Warwickshire until the eighteenth century. There is also a record that a John Shakespeare hanged himself in his house in Balsall in 1579 - this might be the same, or another John.

Without further evidence it is dangerous to speculate, but this John from Balsall could easily be (1) the Poet's father, (2) the brother of Thomas of Warwick, or even, (3) both! A fourth alternative, given that we do not know his age, other than that he was an adult, is that he is Thomas's father, and therefore the missing generation.

July 2005

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