Introduction to the CHESHIRE ARDERNES

Two Sir John Arderns, two Thomas Arderns, two Robert Arderns c.1500

Sorting through the muddles

Helen Moorwood [April, 2013]

This is basically a re-examination and juxtaposition of some Ardern matters (which I discovered a decade or more ago) about relevant Cheshire Ardernes, placed next to details discovered in the 18th century by Edmond Malone about the Midlands Ardens, reported and expanded on by Joseph Hunter, New Illustrations Of The Life, Studies, And Writings Of Shakespeare, 1845 (which I re-read recently, meanwhile online). Various muddles need to be sorted out before a more accurate family tree can be presented of the Ardernes in the Midlands c.1500 who used the cross-crosslets fitchy arms of the Cheshire Ardernes. I repeat from the Introduction to the CHESHIRE ARDERNES that any reader interested in pursuing this further should read my earlier contributions on the Duxbury Family History Site. The Duxbury home page is at Scroll down and find Helen’s story from Duxbury to Shakespeare, subsections 17. Robert Glover (1544-80) and Mary Arderne’s Cheshire family and 18. Sir John Arderne.  

I have deliberately spelt the surname in the title as Ardern, because this was one form commonly used by both the family in the Midlands and the one that had moved from there to Cheshire in c.1220 and back again to the Midlands by 1500. However, to make it clear that one Sir John (and Thomas) Arderne was definitely from Cheshire, son of Thomas Arderne Sr of Harden (Cheshire), who moved to Leicestershire, this Sir John (and Thomas) Arderne will always be spelt thus. Accordingly, the (Sir) John Arden who seems to have been from the family at Park Hall in Aston near West Bromwich will always be spelt Arden. This is the ‘modern’ form adopted for all with this name in the Midlands, including Mary, John Shakespeare’s wife. We will see, however, that she should more rightly, from now on, be called Mary Arderne. (This would create havoc in Stratford and Shakespearean publications, however, so we will not push this point beyond current writings.) Where there is any doubt, the form Ardern will be used.

Edmond Malone (1741-1812) was the first towering figure in Shakespeare biographical studies. He was the first to establish that John Shakespeare’s wife was Mary Ardern. He assumed (erroneously, it turns out) that she was his first and only wife and therefore the mother of William Shakespeare, and his version has been believed ever since. Malone’s discoveries were all published, many posthumously by James Boswell in 21 volumes (1821), usually known today as Boswell’s Malone, which is meanwhile online. The first part of Volume II is devoted to an attempt to sort out all the genealogical details, including the Arderns. See Boswell’s Malone, 1812; discoveries & conjectures.

These were abstracted, scrutinized, confirmed and added to by Joseph Hunter (1783-1861), another serious and diligent historian and antiquarian from Sheffield (best known for his History of Hallamshire (1819), the area around Sheffield, much appreciated by HM because it includes the hamlet Moorwood, the origin of my husband’s surname). Hunter published his Shakespeare findings (some additional to Malone’s) and tentative biographical conclusions in his Life, Studies and Writings of Shakespeare, 1846 (also online), pp. 33 ff. Among other new discoveries, he established that Robert Arderne of Wilmcote’s wife at his death in 1556 was his second wife, Agnes Webbe née Hill. I assume that any reader of this article has ready access to Malone’s and Hunter’s writings online (their biographies are in Wikipedia), from which all the relevant claims below are mere repetitions. Both were thorough in their searches; both were frustrated by the lack of coherence in the accounts of some families; both are to be highly praised for their efforts. The major evidence that they both lacked was that from the work undertaken on the Cheshire Ardernes by Cheshire antiquarians.

The towering figure here was George Ormerod (1785-1873) from South Lancashire (his biography is also on Wikipedia). He lived near Chester from 1811 to 1823 until his historical work for The History of Cheshire (the bulk published 1816-19) was completed, when he moved south. This work was elaborated on enormously by other antiquarians, particularly Thomas Helsby, who published an expanded version of Ormerod’s History between 1875 and 1882. The work relevant to the Ardernes was further expanded on by J. P. Earwaker, East Cheshire (1877). Although these established much if not all the genealogy of the Cheshire Ardernes, they never pursued the further life of Thomas Arderne, Esq., who had migrated from Cheshire to the Midlands by the end of the 15th century. Very significantly, this was shortly after the Battle of Bosworth, which put Lancastrian Henry VII on the throne of England. The Ardernes who had returned to the Midlands became very muddled with the Ardens who had always stayed there.

With hindsight, it is easy to see why Malone was never aware of the Cheshire details – he died too early to benefit from Ormerod’s work. It is more difficult to see why Hunter never looked at Ormerod’s work, particularly given that they were both from the North. However, Malone’s conclusions about the Arderns and Mary Arde(r)n(e) were so widely accepted that it seems not to have occurred to him to look at Ormerod. He certainly never refers to him. And Hunter’s main work was already over before Helsby produced his magnificent update of Ormerod. By this time, Malone and Hunter’s versions reigned supreme, when a new towering figure appeared in Shakespeare biographical studies: James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps (biography on Wikipedia - his father interestingly also from Lancashire). Although providing many invaluable new details, his version of the Arderns still stayed basically the same.

Many other Shakespeare biography researchers and historians have been and gone since then, but all, without exception, have accepted Malone’s and Hunter’s embryo version of Mary’s family, ancestry and biography. This has been repeated in every Shakespeare biography since then. The latest ‘definitive’ scholarly biography must be the one by Peter Holland in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004). One could raise many objections to his dismissal of so much valid traditional evidence, but as far as the Arderns are concerned, he repeats the same story ‘discovered’ by Malone, with more details provided in the 19th century.

Some relevant Ardern ‘facts’

1. (Sir) John Arden (of the Park Hall family), who wrote his will in 1526, names his three brothers as Thomas, Martin and Robert. One might reasonably assume (as did Malone) that this was their order of seniority, with John presumably the eldest and Robert very likely the youngest.

2. This item is included here as typical of the investigations by Malone and Hunter, with the first and last sentences indicating their sense of frustration and helplessness:

“It is remarkable that the pedigrees of Arden of Warwickshire are so incomplete. We know with certainty from the will of John that he had the three brothers Thomas, Martin, and Robert, and yet in the best pedigree of Arden which I have been able to find, namely one which is inserted in the Harleian copy of the visitation of Warwickshire by Lennard and Vincent in 1619,* only Martin of all the brothers of John is mentioned, with this daughter and heir whom Thomas Gibbons married. He was of Dichley, in Oxfordshire. This pedigree presents us with the names of the parents of John and Martin, and consequently, as we may believe, of Robert, the Arden of Wilmecote, or his father. They were Walter Arden and Eleanor his wife, daughter of John Hampden, of Hampden in Buckinghamsire.†

*Harl. 1167, f. 57, 58. Compare also Harl. 6832, f. 384.

† Much has been said of late of the poet’s descent from the Hampdens; but it is remarkable that in the pedigree of Arden, in Har.. 1110, f. 24, the wife of Walter is said to have been a daughter of William Brasbridge, of Kilsbury, in co. Warwick, Esquire. The same remark, however, concerning descent from ancient gentry would apply whether the marriage were with Hamden or Brasbridge. Walter’s children are there said to be John, Martin, Robert, and Henry. The Arden pedigree it is manifest wants a great deal of examination.” (Hunter, p. 34)

3. (Sir) John Arderne/Sir John(5), son of Thomas Arderne Sr (Cheshire to Leicestershire) was married (child marriage) in 1479 to Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Gerard of Bryn (Lancashire). In John’s father Thomas Arderne’s will in 1511, the son and heir was Thomas Arderne (Jr), aged 40. From this one may conclude that son (Sir) John, the eldest son, was already dead. Cheshire documentation does indicate that he died osp in 1498/9.

4. John Ardern was an Esquire of the Body to Henry VII (reigned 1485-1509).

5. At least one John Ardern seems to have been knighted, creating therefore at least one Sir John Ardern, but possibly not two.

6. In the 1530s or 1540s Leland the historian reported: “Arden of the court is the younger brother to Arden the heir.”

7. “. . . that Robert Arden, of whom neither Dugdale, nor any of our other antiquaries, seem to have had any knowledge; who was groom or page of the bedchamber to King Henry the Seventh; (Boswell’s Malone, p. 37) and appears to have been a favourite of his sovereign, having been highly distinguished and rewarded by him - In the seventeenth year of his reign (Feb. 22, 1502), perhaps by the interest of Sir John his uncle, who, it may be supposed, placed him about the King, he was constituted keeper of the royal park called Aldercar; and in the following September, bailiff of the lordship of Codnore, and keeper of the park there. About five years afterwards, in September, 1507, two years before the King’s death, at which time, having probably attended his twenty-second year, he is no longer styled unus garcionum cameræ, he obtained a lease from the crown of the manor of Yoxsall, in the county of Stafford, for twenty-one years; which groom of the bedchamber, and nearly of the same age, married in the year 1508, we may reasonably suppose that Robert also became a father about that time, perhaps in 1510, when he appears to have been twenty-five years old; and if his son Robert, the father of our poet’s mother, who settled at Wilmecote, near Stratford, married Agnes Webbe in 1535, at the age of twenty-four, then his fourth daughter, Mary, was probably born in 1539, and was about eighteen years old in 1557, when she became the wife of John Shakspeare.” [The last section has been crossed through because Malone’s speculations turned out to be wrong on most counts. However, the preceding part on Robert, the groom or page of the bedchamber to Henry VII is based on documents, all referenced by Malone in footnotes. HM]

8. “the Subsidy Rolls lately disinterred from the perishing beds of old Exchequer documents, present us with both a Thomas and a Robert Arden living at Wilmecote in the 15th of Henry the Eighth, 1523-4, who are each assessed upon goods of the value of 10l. In the 38th of that reign, 1546-7, Thomas Arden was living, if not at Wilmecote, yet in the parish of Aston Cantlow, and was assessed on lands valued at forty shillings per annum.” (Hunter, p. 33)

9. Wilmecote is “a hamlet of the parish of Aston Cantlow, or Aston Cantilupe, a few miles north-west of Stratford”. (Hunter p. 33)

10. Robert Arderne was living in Wilmcote when he wrote his will in 1556. Hunter established that his birth was “not much later than the year 1500” (p. 33). His will reveals a fairly large household with many belongings, indicating that he had been living there for some time. His second marriage to Agnes Hill née Webbe some time after 1546 was established by Hunter. (His first wife, mother of all his daughters, including Mary, still remains unknown today. Mary’s other sisters, with a final grand total of eight daughters, were gradually discovered one after the other during the later 19th century, but they need not concern us here.)

11. Mary Arderne, daughter of Robert Arderne of Wilmcote, definitely married John Shakespeare. [For the moment it does not matter whether she was his first or second wife.] When John Shakespeare applied in 1599 for the impalement of her arms into his, the heralds first awarded the arms of the Midlands Ardens, then crossed this out and substituted for it the cross-crosslets fitchy arms of the Cheshire Ardernes, with a martlet for difference, meaning a fourth son. Mary’s father, or grandfather, or a previous ancestor, had thus definitely been a fourth son.

12. Robert Arderne left only daughters, so with him the male line in Wilmcote died out in 1556.

13. Visitation Pedigrees in the next century included no pedigrees for Arderns of Wilmcote because there were no males left there.

(Sir) John Arderns

One (Sir) John Ardern was encountered by Malone, who could not, however identify him precisely:

Dugdale’s Antiq. of Warwickshire, p. 653, edit. 1656. For this assertion he only quotes Holgrave, qu. 19, by which is meant the nineteenth quire of the book denominated in the Prerogative Office; but in that quire there is no will of any person of the name of Arden. I suppose, therefore, that in the will of some other person contained in the quire cited, Sir John Arden in mentioned (probably as one of the feoffees in some feofment), and is described as Squire for the body to King Henry the Seventh; but the laxity of this reference prevents me from furnishing my readers with the words alluded to by Dugdale. A passage, however, in Sir John Arden’s will, which is in the Prerogative Office (Parch. qu. 8), proves that he was frequently honoured by the visits of the King, whom he probably attended in Bosworth field. By his will, which was made on the 4th of June, 1526 (not 1525, as Dugdale has it) he gives to his son Thomas, as “heire lomys and to remayne in the maner of the Loge from heire to heire, a standing cup with a cover well gilt, and the best salt with a cover.” . . . To his son John, “a gowne furred with foye, a blak gowne furred with booge, a blak velvet doublet;” . . . To his wife Eliyabeth, “all the goods that she brough, both her and at the Holt.” Of his brother Robert, who is one of the witnesses to his will, he thus speaks: “Item, I will that my brothers, Thomas, Martin, and Robert, have their fees during their lives.” This will was proved, June 25, 1426; and it appears from the Office found after the death of the testator, that he died on the day on which his will was made. Esx, 18 Hen. VIII. p. 1, n. 9. Dugdale was unacquainted with the exact time of his death.(Boswell’s Malone, Vol. II, p. 33, Note 2., continued from p. 32 and onto p. 34.)

[(pp. 31 ff) Main text at the top of each page, the bottom part of the pages being devoted to his very long notes. HM]

(p. 31) Viewing the assertion made by the heralds in this light, all the difficulty vanishes: for the father of that Robert Arden, whose daughter John Shakspeare married, or, in other words, the grandfather of Mary Shakspeare, who, according to the usage above mentioned, was popularly called the grandfather of John Shakspeare also, had been very highly distinguished and rewarded by King Henry the Seventh, as the heralds rightly state the matter, in general terms, in their first draft in 15961. [Note 1 gives details of the grants of arms to John Shakespeare. HM] (p. 32) Sir John Arden, (p. 33) the elder brother of our Robert’s grandfather, was Squire for the body to that king2 [This is Note 2 above. HM]: the duty of which (p. 34) office, requiring a personal attendance on his sovereign both by day and night, accompanied with a constant familiar interourse3 [Note 3 gives a very long quote concerning the duties of an Esquire to the body of the King. HM], he necessarily had frequent op- (p. 35) portunities of ingratiating himself with his master, and a ready access to the royal favour. He died (p. 36) June 4, 1526, in the eighteenth year of the reign of King Henry the Eighth. Of his five brothers, we are only concerned with Robert, who was living in 1526, being a witness to John’s will. I find by an inquisition taken after the death of Sir John Arden, that his eldest son, Thomas, was then forty years old and upwards4 [Note 4: Esc. 18. Hen. VIII. p. 1, n. 97.]; and consequently he must have been born in or before the year 1484. His father indeed was married eleven years before, but probably when he was not above eighteen, his wife’s father having, for the sake of his fortune, inveigled him into a marriage in his minority, a practice at that time extremely common. If we suppose Sir John Arden’s brother, Robert (who must have been near three years younger than he, two other children having intervened between them) to have married in 1484, he might have been, and probably was, the father of that Robert Arden, of whom neither Dugdale, nor any of our other antiquaries, seem to have had any knowledge; who was groom or page of the bedchamber to King Henry the Seventh; (p. 37) and appears to have been a favourite of his sovereign, having been highly distinguished and rewarded by him. In the seventeenth year of his reign (Feb. 22, 1502), perhaps by the interest of Sir John his uncle, who, it may be supposed, placed him about the King5 [Note 5 is a long quote about the duties of a Page of the King’s chamber. HM], he was constituted keeper of the royal park called Aldercar6 [Note 6. See Appendix.].; and in the following September, bailiff of the lordship of Codnore, and keeper of the park there. About five years afterwards, in September, 1507, two years before the King’s death, at which time, having probably attained his twenty-second year, he is no longer styled unus garcionum cameræ, he obtained a lease from the crown of the manor of Yoxsall, in the county of Stafford, for twenty-one years7 [Note 7. See Appendix.]; which, (p. 38) were we obliged to rely on conjecture only, might be presumed to have been a very valuable grant, as the annual rent stipulated to be paid to the King was forty-two pounds, a considerable sum at that time; which yet had certainly a very small relation to the real yearly value of the manor. Concerning its extent and value, however, I am not under the necessity of having recourse to conjecture; for by an inquisition taken many years afterwards, in the thirty-third year of Queen Elizabeth (1591), it appears that this manor contained above four thousand six hundred acres8. [Note 8 gives the inquisition of “Sir William Holles, who died at Haughton, in the County of Nottingham”, who “died possessed (inter alia) of the manor of Yoxall with all its appurtenances,” etc., etc. Esc. 33 Eliz. p. 1, n. 122.]

     As Thomas Arden9, a cousin-german to Robert, the (p. 39) groom of the bedchamber, and nearly of the same age, married in the year 1508, we may reasonably suppose that Robert also became a father about that time, perhaps in 1510, when he appears to have been twenty-five years old; and if his son Robert, the father of our poet’s mother, who settled at Wilmecote, near Stratford, married Agnes Webbe in 1535, at the age of twenty-four, then his fourth daughter, Mary, was probably born in 1539, and was about eighteen years old in 1557, when she became the wife of John Shakspeare. In tracing these descents, I have been the more minute, because they are wholly omitted by Dugdale in his pedigree of the Arden family, in which he has mentioned the first Robert, brother to Sir John, without noticing any of his posterity: an omission for which he is not answerable; for to have enumerated all the minor branches of each family, and their pedigree, would have been needless labour.

Note 9. (pp. 38-39) Beside the distinction which was shown by King Henry the Seventh to Sir John Arden, who, we have seen, was one of the squires for his body, and the lucrative grant to our poet’s great grandfather, Robert Arden, the groom of the chamber; it should be noticed that Thomas Arden, the eldest son of Sir John and cousin-german of Robert, obtained a grant of the manor of Brerewood Hall, and the rectory of Curdworth, in the county of Warwick (Esc. 5 Eliz. p. 1, n. 2); and though this grant was made by Henry the Eighth in the thirty-first year of his reign (p. 39) (1539), it also might have been in the contemplation of the heralds, or rather of those from whom they received their instructions, who might not have minutely attended to the date.

(p. 39. contd.) For the existence of all the persons above-mentioned, as our poet’s maternal ancestors, I have unquestionable authority; for the progress of their respective descents, conjecture only; but conjecture strongly confirmed by the corresponding marriages and deaths of the collateral branches of this family, as may appear by inspecting the genealogical table inserted in the Appendix. From that table it may be seen, that our Poet’s maternal grandfather, whose will has been already noticed, was cousin-german to William Arden, heir apparent to Thomas, the owner of the great estate of (p. 40) Park Hall and Curdworth; which William died in June, 1544; and that our poet’s mother, Mary Shakspeare, was third cousin to Edward Arden, who became possessed of that estate in 1563, was Sheriff of the county of Warwick in 1568, and by the artifices of Robert Earl of Leicester was attainted and executed in 15841. [Note 1. An account of the extremely hard usage which this gentleman received from Leicester, may be found in Peck’s Desid. Cur. 4to. p. 579.]

Leland, who composed his Itinerary between the years 1536 and 1542, mentions that Arden of the court was a younger brother to Arden the heir2. [Note 2. Itin. Vi. 20.] The principal representative of the Arden family, in Leland’s time, was Thomas Arden, already noticed, who succeeded to his father’s estate in 1526, and died in 1561. His only brother, John, was not, as far as I have been able to learn, preferred at court. The person about the court was probably either Robert, the quondam groom of the chamber, who, when Leland wrote, was above fifty years of age, and having once set his foot on the ladder of promotion, in the time of Henry the Seventh, might have continued to ascend it in the reign of his successor; or his son Robert, our poet’s maternal grandfather, who was then I believe, about twenty-seven or twenty-eight years old. In the multitude of facts and places noticed by Leland, he might easily have mistaken the younger branch, for the younger brother of this family. Supposing, however, that John Arden, the brother of Thomas, was the person in his contemplation, that (p. 41) circumstance would not at all militate against the present hypothesis.

     As the concession of arms obtained form the College of Heralds, by John Shakspeare, in 1569 or 1570, entitled his son to the honourable distinction of armorial ensigns, a privilege which, however little estimated at present, was in that age considered as very valuable and important, it may appear strange, that our poet (for the application, without doubt, came from him, though his father’s name was used) should at a subsequent period, near thirty years afterwards, again apply to them on the same subject. The solution, I think, is, that, finding himself now rising into consequence (which we shall hereafter see was the case), and having acquired some wealth, he wished to derive honour to himself and his posterity, in consequence of his descent from the ancient and opulent house of Arden. Hence that descent is carefully noticed in the draft of 1596; and, to enable him and his posterity to impale the arms of Arden with his own, seems to have been the principle object of that confirmation3, or exemplification of arms, which was granted by Camden and Sir William Dethick, in 1599: circumstances which appear to me to add great strength to the interpretation of the ambiguous words in these grants, which has been already given.

     3 These arms have not hitherto been discovered thus impaled; they might, notwithstanding, have been thus impaled in a ring or seal used by our poet, and now lost; or this might have been his object in 1596 and 1599, and that object have been afterwards neglected.

Malone, quite understandably, presumed that Sir John Ardern, “Esquire for the body to King Henry the Seventh”, “whom he probably attended in Bosworth field”, was the John Arden who wrote his will in 1526. Malone thus awarded the latter posthumously with a knighthood. Unfortunately he does not provide a complete transcript of this will, so we do not know whether he was actually named as a knight in it or not. One useful detail given is the age of his son and heir Thomas in his inquisition later in 1526 as being 40+ years old. Malone calculated that (Sir) John was at least 18 when son Thomas was born in c.1484 (p. 36), and thus a birth date for (Sir) John of ?c.1466. Malone then traces his ancestors and descendants as the Ardens of Park Hall.

Unlike Malone, I presumed from the Cheshire end of the story that the “Esquire for the body to Henry VII” was Sir John Arderne (Sir John(5) on the Cheshire Arderne FT p. 2, b. c.1469), eldest son & heir of Thomas Arderne Sr (Cheshire to Leicestershire), apparently d. 1498/9 osp, at which point his brother Thomas Arderne Jr became son & heir. In favour of this was Thomas Arderne Sr’s move to Leicestershire some time after Bosworth. I have long assumed that the award of lands in Leicestershire to Thomas Arderne Sr had been as a result of service to Henry VII, and the most obvious service by someone from Cheshire would have been in one of the Stanley armies from Lancashire and Cheshire that won the Battle of Bosworth. Malone had assumed that Sir John “Esquire for the body to Henry VII” might well have fought at Bosworth. I had assumed that it was his father Thomas Sr, which had led to his son’s appointment at court.

In any case it seems that we have at least two contemporary John Arderns, whom I have named:

(Sir) John Arden (?c.1466- will 1526) with brothers Thomas, Martin, Robert and sons Thomas and John.

Sir John Arderne(5) (c.1469-1498/9), son & heir of Thomas Arderne Sr (Cheshire to Leicestershire) until his death, when he was succeeded by younger brother Thomas Jr.

Shaw’s Knights of England is of no help here. Only two early Ardern knights are given in his Index on p. 437. Note the spellings:


   Ardern, John d’, Kt. (1347), II. 9

   Ardem, John, K.B. (1400), I. 129

   Ardern, John, Kt. 1660, II. 229

   Ardern, Richard P. Kt. 1788, II. 300

The first was Sir John(3) on HM’s THE EARLY ARDERNES OF CHESHIRE (page 1).

The second was Sir John(4) on HM’s THE EARLY ARDERNES OF CHESHIRE (page 2).

The third and fourth are too late to be relevant.

Thomas Arderns

There are so many Thomas Arderns, that it might be useful to number them. As I have already used (1), (2), etc. on the Family Trees, I will call them here (A), (B), etc.

Thomas Arderne Sr (?c.1445-1511), from Cheshire, founder of the Arderne branch in the Midlands.

(We can put him on one side, as he was one generation older than most of the rest.)

Thomas Arden (b.?c.1468-1526>), next younger brother of (Sir) John Arden of the Midlands; Thomas in (Sir) John’s will 1526. (We can probably put him on one side, because his son and heir was Thomas(B), not Robert of Wilmcote.)

Thomas Arderne Jr(A) (1471-1512>), son & heir of Thomas Arderne Sr (Cheshire to Leicestershire), aged 40 in his father’s will, so his birth date is definite.

Thomas Arden(B) (b. ?c.1484-1526>), son & heir of (Sir) John Arden (will 1526).

Thomas Ardern(C) in Wilmcote in 1501.

Thomas Ardern(D) living in Wilmcote in 1523/4 at the same time as Robert Ardern, goods of each valued 10l.

Thomas Ardern(E) living in Aston Cantlow in 1547. (Wilmcote is in the parish of Aston Cantlow.)

Thomas Arderne(F), presumed by all recent Shakespeare biographers to be the father of Robert Arderne of Wilmcote (Mary’s father), who seemed to ‘turn up in Wilmecote from nowhere’.

We can safely assume that Thomases(C), (D), (E) and (F) in Wilmcote were all one and the same, so let us amalgamate them all as Thomas(C). This leaves us with the two Thomases(A) and (B). Was Thomas(C) of Wilmcote one and the same as Thomas(A) or Thomas(B)?

If son Robert of Wilmcote was born ?c.1500 (as calculated below), then father Thomas(C) would presumably have been born at least eighteen years earlier, therefore ?c. 1484-94, although if older on marriage, this could be pushed back further. If he was the Thomas in Wilmcote already in 1501, this pushes his birthdate back even further to ?c.1480 or even a little earlier. This still leaves us with a choice between Thomas(A), born 1471 and Thomas(B), born ?c.1484.

Choosing between these two presents us with several problems. It might at first glance be tempting to choose the best candidate for the Thomas(C) of Wilmcote as Thomas Arden(B), who, very understandably, was Malone’s choice. It might also be easy, as I did at first, from the Cheshire end, to consider that he might have been Thomas Arderne(A), son & heir of Thomas Arderne Sr in 1512. Both of these suffer, however, from being second sons and not fourth sons. We are faced with the indisputable fact that Robert’s cross-crosslets fitchy Cheshire Arderne coat of arms had a cadency mark of a martlet, as the fourth son. The very fact that it was the Cheshire Arderne arms seemed to rule out Thomas Arden(B), because his father (Sir) John and his descendants seem (agreed by all) to have been from the Park Hall family, which bore completely different arms. The arms of the latter family were first considered but immediately discarded by the learned Kings of Arms Sir William Dethick and William Camden in 1599.

I became very aware, when researching the Cheshire Ardernes many years ago, that it happened several times that two surviving sons in the same generation were given the same name, and not just because the first with this name had died. Many other genealogical researchers have often commented on this in other families and various explanations have been offered. I then took an imaginative leap and assumed that Robert, Groom of the Chamber to Henry VII, was the third son of Thomas Arderne Sr (Cheshire-Leicestershire) and that Thomas Sr had a fourth son, also named Thomas, who was the one who had moved to Wilmcote by 1501, where he married and had son Robert. This gave Thomas Arderne Sr four sons: Sir John(5), Thomas(1) (both of whom really existed); Robert (who really existed as a Groom of the Chamber, but we don’t know whose son he was); and Thomas(2) (who would provide the required fourth son). This would certainly be a sensible explanation to fit together the few facts that we have. The scenario at the death of Thomas Sr in 1512 would be as follows: Thomas (b. 1471), son & heir in 1512, inherited his father’s lands in Leicestershire; his younger brother Robert had meanwhile found favour at court and been awarded various posts and lands in Derbyshire and Staffordshire; and fourth son Thomas(2), presumably with a little help from his father, had found a suitable small estate in Wilmecote to settle down as a Gentleman and have a family. There were inevitably many niggling doubts, of course, which, on returning to re-examine the situation a decade later, grew ever larger. I abandoned my ‘invented’ Thomas(2), but we were still left with the problem of the martlet for a fourth son.

One explanation for the fourth son was found when I went back a few generations in the Cheshire Ardernes to Ralph(2), the grandfather of Thomas Arderne Sr, who continued the line at Harden Hall. He was the fourth son (and another example of two brothers with the same name). On the assumption that Ralph(2) had been awarded the martlet as a difference on his coat of arms, the solution to Thomas and Robert Arderne’s martlet was solved: Thomas(C) of Wilmcote was one and the same as Thomas(A). I have not yet, however, found another example of the Arderne arms with martlet. If any reader should chance upon an earlier example, I would, of course, be delighted to hear from them. This might confirm or refute my suggestion.

P.S. Very recently, and almost by chance, I came across an excellent summary of the problem of ‘Two Thomas Arderns’ by John Klause, Shakespeare, the Earl and the Jesuit, Associated University Press, 2008. His research was concerned mainly with ‘Catholic Shakespeare’, but relevant to some of his arguments was establishing the origin of the Ardernes of Wilmcote. This book had appeared several years after my investigations a decade ago. As it is now available online, with several reviews, I extract only a few sentences here.

(p. 263) [Note] 6. Anyone familiar with the history of Shakespeare’s family will recognize the controversial placement of Mary Arden in a line of descent from Walter Arden, ancestor of the Ardens of Park Hall. . . .

The Victorian genealogist George Russell French believed that the Thomases were one and the same, but French’s identification of the two has often been challenged, and by distinguished scholars such as E. K. Chambers and Mark Eccles. . .

(p. 264) On the issues discussed in this note, see George French, Shakespeareana Genealogica, 416-48; Charlotte Stopes, Shakespeare’s Family 24-34; J. S. Smart, Shakespeare: Truth and Tradition, 42-48; E. K. Chambers, William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems, 2. 18-34 . . .

I read French, Stopes, Chambers and Eccles a decade ago (having also read Malone and Hunter, who had preceded them). It was their muddles which led me to produce the Cheshire Arderne Family Trees that now appear on this website. None of them had looked closely at the Cheshire Ardernes. If they had done so, maybe they would have come to the same conclusion as I have now reached? To repeat: my conclusion is that Thomas(C) Ardern of Wilmcote (who bore the cross-crosslets arms awarded to John Shakespeare’s wife Mary) was one and the same as Thomas(A) Arderne Jr , son and heir of Thomas Arderne Sr in 1511 (whose family had borne the cross-crosslets arms since at least 1288).

This conclusion might well initially displease Professor Klause, but if he looks at the Family Tree of The ARDERNES OF ALVANLEY & (H)ARDEN, CHESHIRE (page 3) he will find John Arderne, the strongest possible candidate as the Catholic priest of this name in the Tower of London, who helped Jesuit John Gerard of Bryn to make his spectacular escape in 1597. John Gerard was the son of Catholic Sir Thomas Gerard of Bryn Sr (with a family chapel in Winwick), who had in 1570 planned the escape of Mary, Queen of Scots from Chatsworth, along with Catholic Sir Thomas Stanley of Winwick, Lancashire and Tong, Cheshire. Their sons, Sir Thomas Gerard Jr and Sir Edward Stanley, were both knighted by King James in 1603 and around this time William Shakespeare wrote two Verse Epitaphs for Sir Edward Stanley for his family tomb in Tong, Shropshire. Their biographies appear in Sir Thomas Stanley (c.1524-1576, his biography and Sir Edward Stanley Jr (1562-1632), his biography, both extracted from my book Shakespeare’s Stanley Epitaphs in Tong, Shropshire (2013).

Robert Arderns

Turning to Robert Arderns, we find three who need to be accounted for. Let us take two of them first:

Robert Arden(A), youngest brother of John (witness of John’s 1526 will). If Malone calculated the dates of his elder brother John correctly, then John was b. ?c.1466, Thomas ?c.1468-70, Martin ?c.1470-72 and Robert ?c.1472-74.

Robert Arderne(B) of Wilmcote (Mary’s father), who must have been a Cheshire Arderne (because of his Arderne arms), the fourth son or the descendant of a fourth son. He had been in Wilmcote for some time before his death in 1556. We can now set about calculating his birthdate. He married his second wife Agnes shortly after 1546/7 (according to Hunter in 1845); or in 1548 (according to Honan, Shakespeare, 1999, who is taken as a serious representative of all recent biographers). By this time he had had eight daughters by his first wife (the total number discovered gradually throughout the 19th and 20th centuries). Mary is now assumed by all recent biographers to have been about 16-18 on her father’s death, therefore born ?c.1538-40. Working backwards, and if we may assume the birth of eight (surviving) daughters over a period of ten to twenty years, this places Robert’s marriage in 1520-30. If we may assume he was 18 at the youngest on marriage, then this would give him a birthdate of 1502-1512. With the earlier birthdate, this would make him eligible to be the Robert Ardern living in Wilmcote in 1523/4 with goods valued 10l, which allows us to award him the earlier birthdate of ?c.1502 If we look at his presumed father Thomas Arderne(A)’s details, we know that he was born in 1471 or a little earlier (aged “ 40 years or more” in his father’s will in 1511). We have no idea who or when Thomas(A) married, but one might reasonably suppose that he did so and was aged somewhere between 18 and 35 at the time, with son Robert(B) born some time later. Working forwards from his birth, this would place Thomas(A)’s marriage at the earliest (>1471+18=) >1489, giving Robert(B) probably the earliest possible birthdate of c.1490. The later date of marriage would give would give Robert(B) a birthdate of some time after (>1471+35=) >1506. This is brings us fairly close the birthdate calculated backwards of c.1500. Putting all these possible birthdates together, it seems reasonable to give him a ‘working birthdate’ of ?c.1500.

This leaves us with two Robert Arderns, who can now be abbreviated to:

Robert Arden(A), born ?c.1472-74, of the family at Park Hall.

Robert Arderne(B), born ?c.1500, descended from the Cheshire Ardernes.

This seems to put Robert(A) out of the running as Mary’s father. We must still account for a third Robert:

Robert Ardern(C), who was a groom of the chamber to Henry VII, who was awarded various posts and lands (according to Hunter) in:

- 1502 in ‘Aldercar’ (Was this Aldercar in Derbyshire? Or was it Altcar in Lancashire?)

- 1502 in Codnor (Derbyshire)

- 1507 in Yoxall (Staffordshire), who seems (according to Hunter) not to have produced a long-lasting male line at Yoxall.

These dates would fit in admirably with the dates of Robert Arden(A), born ?c.1472-74 and eliminate Robert(B), born ?c.1500.

I was fascinated to re-read recently Charlotte Stopes, Shakespeare’s Family (1901), meanwhile online, and read her precise references to these dates and awards. Clicking on the blue references should take you to the book online. Otherwise google the author and title.

Seeing that Sir John was the Esquire [Pg 27] of the Body to Henry VII., it seems very probable that his brother Robert was the Robert Arden, Yeoman of the Chamber, to whom Henry VII. granted three patents: First, on February 22, 17 Henry VII., as Keeper of the Park at Altcar,[66] Lancashire; and second, as Bailiff of Codmore, Derby,[67] and Keeper of the Royal Park there; the third[68] gave him Yoxall for life, at a rental of £42—afterwards confirmed. Indeed, Leland in his "Itinerary" mentions the relationship,[69] and the administration of Robert's goods proves it.

"Arden of the court, brother to Sir John Arden of Park Hall." "Itinerary," vi. 20, about 1536-42.

This seems to confirm beyond doubt the Yeoman of the Chamber as Robert(A), and provides the information that Stopes, at least, also assumed that it was Altcar in Lancashire.

However, there must remain the niggling doubts (for HM at least) caused by there being no mention (so far) of the family at Park Hall having any lands other than in Warwickshire. Whereas the Cheshire Ardernes had a longstanding interest in Elford in Staffordshire, their place of origin, which is not far from Yoxall. An earlier Stanley-Arderne marriage had put the Elford & Pipe estate in the hands of Sir Thomas Stanley and his descendants. This Sir Thomas Stanley (1392-1463) was the great-uncle of Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby, whose army won the day at Bosworth, at which his ‘cousin’ Sir Humphrey Stanley of Elford, with an Arderne grandmother, was also present. Could Robert Arden(C) and his father Sir John Arden at Park Hall have somehow had a connection with a junior Arderne branch left in Staffordshire after the first Sir John Arderne(1) had moved to Cheshire in c.1220? And how do we account for the grant at Altcar in Lancashire, near North Meols and very much in Stanley territory? The Victoria County History for Altcar sheds no light.

More research is needed.

The large remaining problems

How did Robert Arderne of Wilmslow (Mary’s father) qualify for the cadency mark of a martlet for the fourth son?

Why did Thomas Arderne Jr, son & heir in 1512, not stay on the lands in Leicestershire inherited from his father?

The first question made me go back again to the Cheshire Arderne FTs. Was there a fourth son somewhere up the line, who had been an heir to family estates, even though a fourth son? There was indeed one. At this point the reader needs to have the Cheshire Arderne FT page 2 before their eyes. We see that Thomas Arderne Sr had himself been the son & heir to his father John(1) Esquire, Lord of Alvanley & Harden. We also see that his father, with his second wife, had produced another large family. We know that Thomas Sr had moved to Leicestershire some time before 1500 and that he handed over the Cheshire lands to his younger brother Ralph, who certainly still owned them on his death in 1540 (the Ipm has survived). If we go back one generation further we see that there were indeed four documented brothers: Peter and Ralph(1) from the first marriage and Sir John(4) and Ralph(2) Esquire from the second marriage. Peter and Ralph(1) had both survived to adulthood, but neither had produced a son & heir.

Sir John(4)’s story at this point becomes highly enlightening in solving one problem. He might have had a very interesting career in Richard II’s service for life (although his appointment in 1396 did not last very long, because Richard was deposed three years later by Henry IV). His marriage had produced no son & heir, just two daughters, both of whom, very interestingly, had married Stanleys. Most importantly, his family, ever since it had moved to Cheshire in c.1220, had still always retained their ancestral estate in Elford, Staffordshire. One can only presume that there were many family conferences on how best to pass on all their family lands to the next generation. The solution was found when daughter Matilda/Maud married Sir Thomas Stanley in 1413. He was a younger brother of Sir John Stanley of Lathom, Lancashire, who served as Constable of Carnarvon and was eminent enough in history to earn a role in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 2. The Stanleys were indeed a family already very much on the rise. It was decided that Sir Thomas and Matilda/Maud would inherit the Elford estate, knowing full well that this would now leave the Arderne family and pass to the Stanleys. This did indeed happen, and the Stanleys of Elford were to earn their own place in history as supporters of all the Lancastrian kings. Ralph, the fourth son, would inherit all the Cheshire estates, and to cement the Stanley links, he too married a Stanley.

If the reader now looks at the Cheshire Arderne FT page 1, (s)he will see that Ralph(2) presented the fact that for the first time (since Sir John Arderne(1) had founded this branch two hundred years earlier) all was not to be automatically inherited by the eldest son & heir. I would now like to suggest that this was reason enough for Ralph(2) to acquire the martlet in his coat of arms, which his descendants used from then on. Perhaps someone will put this to the test by scrutinizing again all surviving examples of the cross-crosslets fitchy arms ever used by any members of the family.

This explanation might have provided the answer to the first question above. But what about the second question: Why did Thomas Arderne Jr, son & heir in 1512, not stay on the lands in Leicestershire inherited from his father? There is no obvious explanation for this, but a tentative one is at hand. His elder brother Sir John(5) was, of course, the son & heir as long as he was alive. This was the case until 1498/9, when Sir John was nearing his thirtieth birthday and Thomas Jr in his late twenties. We have no idea what Sir John died of, but unless it was as a result of a long and lingering illness, the family would have assumed until shortly before Sir John’s death that Thomas Jr would not inherit the family estates. He would thus have looked for a career, or, with help from the family, have purchased an estate for himself. Then, unexpectedly, he did become the son & heir, as was certainly the case in his father’s will in 1512.

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