The Tudor Society

8 September – John Shakespeare, father of William Shakespeare

On this day in Tudor history, 8th September 1601, John Shakespeare, father of playwright William Shakespeare, was buried at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon.

John was a glover and whittawer, and also an important man in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, serving as high bailiff, chief alderman and deputy bailiff, and being given the right to educate his children at the local grammar school for free. However, he also ran into trouble at times.

Find out more about the life of William Shakespeare's father, John Shakespeare, in today's talk.

Also on this day in Tudor history, 8th September 1560, the body of Amy Robsart, wife of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was found at the bottom of some stairs in her rented home, Cumnor Place in Oxfordshire. What had happened to Amy? Was her death a result of "misfortune", as decided by the coroner, or was it suicide or murder? Did Robert Dudley kill his wife? Did William Cecil kill Amy? Find out a bit more in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:


On this day in Tudor history, 8th September 1601, John Shakespeare, father of playwright William Shakespeare, was buried at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon.

It is not known exactly when John was born but it was around 1530/1531 and he appears to have been the son of husbandman or tenant farmer Richard Shakespeare who had settled in the Snitterfield area, near Stratford-upon-Avon, by 1529. By the time of his marriage to Mary Arden, between 1556 and 1558, John was a glover and whittawer, i.e. someone working with light-coloured leather, working out of his home in Henley Street in Stratford. Mary was the daughter of Robert Arden, from whom John’s father rented property. Her family were prosperous and important. Robert died in 1556, leaving Mary property including his estate in Wilmcote.

John and Mary had their first child, a daughter Joan, in 1558, but she didn’t survive infancy. She was followed in 1562 by Margaret, who only lived for a few months, and then by William in April 1564, who luckily survived the plague that hit the town that summer. There were five more children after William, although Anne, born in 1571, didn’t survive childhood.

In 1557, John was working as an ale-taster for Stratford, but by the time of William’s birth in April 1564, he had risen to be a burgess of Stratford, and a year later he became alderman and then, in 1568, he was made high bailiff, or mayor. Three years later, in 1571, he was made chief alderman and deputy bailiff, In the late 1560s, John applied for a coat of arms, believing his ancestors to have been “advanced and rewarded” by King Henry VII, but the application was subsequently withdrawn. Arms were, however, granted in 1596. The position of alderman gave John the right to have his children educated for free at the local grammar school and it appears that William attended.

John’s luck ran out in the 1570s when he was prosecuted for usury, the action or practice of lending money at unreasonably high rates of interest, and illegal wool trading. He ended up in debt, which led to him mortgaging some of his wife’s properties and losing them in 1580 when he was unable to keep up with the repayments. In 1586, he was replaced as alderman as a result of his poor attendance at meetings.

Outwardly, John was a conforming Protestant, acting in accordance with Elizabeth I’s religious legislation and having wall paintings whitewashed over in the Guild Chapel in Stratford due to them being viewed as superstitious and idolatrous. However, his wife Mary was from a Catholic family and John may well have been a Catholic or, at least, had Catholic sympathies.
As bailiff, John would have attended performances by players such as the Queen’s Players, Worcester’s Men, Leicester’s Men, Warwick’s Men and others, and it seems likely that his son William accompanied him. They may well have also attended the entertainment at the Earl of Leicester’s home, Kenilworth Castle, when the queen visited in 1575.

It is not known when John died, but he was buried on this day in history, 8th September 1601 at Holy Trinity Church, the church that is also the resting place of William Shakespeare.

Some trivia now, his whitewashing of the wall paintings in the Guild Chapel of the Holy Cross, for which he paid two shillings for “defasyng ymages in ye chapel”, wasn’t exactly a brilliant job as by the 19th century they were beginning to show through. A restoration project in 2016 uncovered more of the wall paintings and they really are interesting to see if you are able to visit the chapel.

Exit mobile version