John Shakespeare’s grants of arms in 1596 & 1599

Helen Moorwood [April, 2013]  

The main point in going into so much detail about the two grants of arms in 1596 and 1599 is that together they provide the strongest possible evidence for many of the ‘missing details’ (so far) in John Shakespeare’s biography. These in turn have enormous implications for William Shakespeare’s own biography. My conclusions & implications can be summarised in a few statements.

- John Shakepeare had received a ‘pattierne’ for his Shakespeare arms from herald Robert Cook xx = 20 years earlier, i.e. in 1576, just like he said. The implication is that there had been some recent change of status.

- John Shakespeare made these applications in 1596 and 1599 himself; they were not made by his son William on his behalf. Comments on this appear in sections in the Development of SHAKESPEARE-ARDERNE theories 1780s-1980s.

- John Shakespeare was telling the truth when he claimed a great-grandfather who had performed service for Henry VII. The most logical explanation is that he had been a soldier in the Lancashire Stanley army at Bosworth, which won the day for Henry VII. This raises interesting implications for the ‘Lancastrian Shakespeare’ theory.

- John Shakespeare was telling the truth when he claimed that his great-grandfather had been awarded lands in Warwickshire. The strong implication is that his great-grandfather had moved there from somewhere else.

- John Shakespeare was telling the truth that some descendants of this ancestor were still living in Warwickshire. This raises implications about why John himself was not living there.

- Mary Arderne was his second wife, married in c.1575, which accounts for John’s change in status shortly before his ‘pattierne’ of arms in 1576. John had first received a pattern for his Shakespeare coat of arms in 1576, motivated by his rise in status by marrying Mary, from a gentry family. She was therefore not the mother of William Shakespeare, but she and her family were certainly influential in his later career. To understand this conclusion, see “John Shakespeare had ten children”.

- Mary’s ancestry was in the Ardernes of Harden in Tameside in Cheshire, just over the boundary to Lancashire. To understand this conclusion, you need to read Introduction to the CHESHIRE ARDERNES and take a good look at all the CHESHIRE ARDERNE Family Trees; plus the rest of this ‘file’.

- All the conclusions above inevitably support the ‘Lancastrian Shakespeare’ theory and, concomitant to this, provide additional support for the ‘Catholic Shakespeare’ theory.

But before these conclusions can be restated with any confidence that they might be accepted by others, all the evidence from the arms grants must be thoroughly re-examined. First of all we must look at the Texts of the grants of arms to John Shakespeare, Nichols, 1863. These have, of course, been known for a long time, and thoroughly pored over. It is useful, therefore to look at some previous interpretations, in an attempt to discover why these never led to the same conclusions as mine.

From the grants alone (with a certain amount of background knowledge and some logical reasoning) it seems more than reasonable to assume that John’s great-grandfather had fought at Bosworth. The armies that won the day were led by two Stanleys: Sir William of Holt (who led the final victorious charge that killed Richard III) and his brother Baron Thomas Stanley, who changed sides at the last minute and supported his stepson Henry Tudor, picking up the crown from a thorn-bush and placing it on Henry’s head (according to tradition and Shakespeare’s Richard III). They can both be seen on the Family Tree Early STANLEYS of HOOTON (Cheshire) & LATHOM (Lancashire). Their armies consisted of men largely from the Stanley territory in Lancashire, Cheshire and North Wales. It therefore seems reasonable to suppose that John’s ancestor was from the North West. He had been rewarded for this by lands in Warwickshire, where some descendants were still living in 1599. John had not inherited these, from which it might be reasonably assumed that John himself was a younger son or son of a younger son, who had had to make his own way in the world.

So much for John. But what do we learn about his wife Mary from the arms drafts? First and foremost that, as an Ardern of Wilmcote, she was entitled to the arms of the Cheshire Ardernes. This is covered under Three cross-crosslets fitchy vs fess chequy.

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