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Shakespeare's Family and Early Years

Shakespeare was born into a middle-class family that had money and aspirations. His father, John, was a glover (maker of gloves) by trade and also active in local government. In his lifetime in Stratford-upon-Avon he served terms as alderman, bailiff, chief magistrate of the town council and mayor (1568). In 1556, a year before he married Mary Arden, he was appointed the borough’s official “ale taster”, responsible for inspecting bread and malt liquors. He occasionally worked as a wool-dealer and informal money lender. Illegal activity in these two trades kept him in legal and financial trouble throughout William’s formative years.

Follow the link below for an article on newly-discovered documents relating to John’s legal problems:

Shakespeare's Birthplace

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Shakespeare’s Mother, Mary Arden, was a woman of property when she married John, with acres in Wilmcote and Snitterfield. She was at least 17 when she married John in the parish church at Wilmcote in 1557. Their wedding would have been a Catholic service followed by a mass. (The Shakespeare’s were Catholic, and Protestant Elizabeth I wouldn’t come to the throne until 1558.) They made their home on Henley Street in Stratford, and this is where William and his siblings (three younger brothers, with whom he shared a room, and two younger sisters) grew up. (Two girls born before William would die in infancy.)

The parlour was a formal space for John to conduct business and for guests to sleep in the guest (best) bed. The dining hall would have been the main room for the family. William would have come home from grammar school to eat lunch here with his family. The home had bedrooms for John and Mary, and one for the girls to share and one for the boys.

Even with money troubles, Shakespeare and his family lived a lifestyle with some ease. The home was originally divided into two parts: the house and the workshop. John would have had 2 or 3 apprentices working for him in his workshop. John aspired to the status of gentleman and would petition the College of Arms unsuccessfully for a coat of arms. William would procure one for him posthumously in 1596, with the ribbon at bottom proclaiming in Latin, “NOT WITHOUT RIGHT.”

Source: Shakespeare Birthplace Trust





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