John Shakespeare’s grants of arms in 1596 & 1599

Texts of the grants of arms, Nichols, 1863

Helen Moorwood [April, 2013]

Nichols (1806–73) was, one might presume, the author of this Appendix. Biographies of his grandfather printer John Nichols, father John Bowyer Nichols and himself John Gough Nichols are on Wikipedia. He was a distinguished antiquarianand this was the first in a series of 8 volumes of The Herald and Genealogist from 1863 to 1874, after which it was followed by other compendia. (This Volume is meanwhile online, courtesy of Google Books.)

The appropriate pages of his Appendix are reproduced in full, mainly because Nichols was the first person to publish transcriptions of all the relevant coat of arms documents together in one place. It was Edmund Malone at the end of the previous century who had brought these to the attention of those interested in Shakespeare’s biography; it was also Malone who had discovered the identity of John Shakespeare’s wife via a document in 1578 about the sale of lands in Snitterfield, which were later identified as having belonged to Robert Ardern. He assumed that Mary Arden was John’s one and only wife and the mother of all his children. The Ardern arms solicited by John Shakespeare in 1599, for impalement on his Shakespeare arms, provided proof of this marriage.

I have taken the liberty of dividing the text of each of the two grants of arms into five parts:

[1] Preamble

[2] Important personal details

[3] Rigmarole

[4] The description of the coat of arms

[5] Concluding rigmarole.

I have also moved Nichols’s footnotes from the bottom of his pages to beneath each relevant paragraph.

This, it is hoped, makes comparison between the 1596 and 1599 drafts easier.

I have also added [§] with a numberafter each appearance of the names Shakespeare and Arde(r)n(e). All are faithfully transcribed from the MSS by Nicholls, but the variations highlight his own use when writing the names and quoting from others. These are listed with a comment at the end: [§1-14] Shakespeare [§1-4] Ardern.

Nichols included an unusually elaborate depiction of the Shakespeare coat of arms from J. C. M. Bellew, Shakespere’s Home at New Place, Stratford-upon-Avon (1863). A few pages before this Appendix, Nichols had written a rather withering review of this book, particularly regarding Bellew’s comments on William Shakespeare’s reasons for the application for a coat of arms. For any reader who wishes to come to their own judgment, Bellew’s book is online, courtesy of Google and the New York Public Library.


John Shakespeare’s grants of arms in 1596 & 1599

Nichols’s text: 1596

Helen Moorwood [April, 2013]

         The Herald and Genealogist, Volume 1, 1863, Ed. John Gough Nichols



APPENDIX.[pp. 510-514]


     Of this document two draft copies are preserved in the College of Arms, in MS. Vincent 157, Art. 23 and Art. 24. Art. 23 appears to be the second copy; but, as there is an hiatus in the middle where the paper is torn away, Mr Halliwell has taken the former for the text of his copy (Life of Shakespeare [§2], fol. 1853, p. 69,) inserting the variations of Art. 24 within brackets. We shall here pursue the contrary plan, giving the document from the second copy, except in that part where we are obliged to supply the hiatus from the first.

[1] “TO ALL and singuler Noble and Gentelmen of what estate [or] degree bearing arms to whom these presentes shall come, William Dethick alias Garter principall King of Armes sendethe greetinges. Know yee that, whereas by the authoritie and aucyent pryveleges perteyning to my office from the Quenes most excellent Mate and by her highnesse most noble and victorious progenitors, I am to take generall notice and record and to make declaration and testemonie for all causes of arms and matters of Gentrie thorougeout all her Majestes Kingdoms, Domynions, Principalites, Isles, and Provinces, To th’end that, as manie gentlemen, by theyre auncyent names of families, kyndredes and descentes, have and enjoye certeyne enseignes and cotes of arms, So it is verie expedient in all ages that some men for theyr valeant factes, magnanimite, vertu, dignites, and desertes, may use and beare suche tokens of honour and worthinesse, whereby theyre name and good fame may be the better knowen and divulged, and theyre children and posterite in all vertu (to the service of theyre Prynce and Contrie) encouraged.

[2] Wherefore being solicited and by credible report informed that John Shakespeare [§3] of Stratford uppon Avon in the counte of Warwik, whose parentes and late antecessors* were for theyre faithefull and va[leant service advaunced and rewarded by the most prudent] prince King Henry the Seventh of [famous memorie, sythence which tyme they have continewed at] those partes, being of good reputacion [and credit; and that the] said John hathe maryed [Mary, daughter and one of the heyrs of Robert Arden [§1], of Wilmcote, in the said] counte, esquire.†

Above the word antecessors is written Grandfather.

† Gent. was first written, and it is altered to esquire.

[3] In consideration whereof, and for the encouragement of his posterite, to whome such Blazon [or Atchevement] by the auncyent custome of the laws of armes maie descend, I the said Garter King of Armes have assigned, graunted and by these presentes confirmed this shield or cote of arms, viz.

[4] Gould, on a bend sables a speare of the first, steeled argent; and for his crest or cognizance a falcon, his wings displayed, argent, standing on a wrethe of his coullors, supporting a speare gould, steeled as aforesaid, sett upon a helmet with mantelles and tasselles as hath ben accustomed and dothe more playnely appeare depicted on this margent.

[5] Signefieng hereby, and by the authorite of my office aforesaid ratifieng, that it shalbe lawfull for the sayd John Shakespeare [§4] gent. and for his children, yssue and posterite (at all tymes and places convenient) to bear and make demonstracion of the said Blazon or Atchevement upon theyre Shieldes, Targets, Escucheons, Cotes of arms, Pennons, Guydons, Ringes, Edefices, Buyldinges, Utensiles, Lyveries, Tombes or Monumentes, or otherwise, for all lawfull warrlyke Factes or civile use and exercises, according to the laws of armes, without let or interruption of any other person or persons for use or bearing the same. In witnesse and perpetuall remembrance hereof I have hereunto subscribed my name, and fastened the seale of my office endorsed with the signet of my armes, At the Office of Armes, London, the xx. Daye of October, the xxxviij.* yeare of the reigne of our Soveraigne Lady Elizabeth, by the grace of God Quene of England, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faythe, etc. 1596”

In the margin are sketched with a pen the arms and crest, and above them this motto, Non sans droict. At the foot of the draft are the following memoranda, which were first written without the portions printed within brackets, and the latter were afterwards added, but in the same or a similar hand.

[This John shoeth] A patierne therof under Clarent. Cookes hand in paper. xx years past

                                   [The Q. officer & cheffe of the towne]

[A Justice of peace] And was ^ Baylife of Stratford uppo Avon. xv. or xvj. years past.

That he hathe lands & tenements of good wealth s Substance [500li.]

That he mar[ried a daughter and heyre of Arden, [§1] a gent. of worship.]

(The last few words are now torn away from the paper.)

xxxix, is altered to xxxviij.

A lengthy footnote by B. Roland Lewis, The Shakespeare Documents (p. 212), following on immediately from the four footnotes above, “This Joh[n] sheweth”, gives:

The four footnotes, in the same handwriting as the body of the grant, have been variously transcribed by scholars. In the first footnote the third word is the crux. Commonly, the transcripts have “hath”. But whatever else the initial letter of this word in the original manuscript, it is not an Elizabethan script h. The entire word is either very closely written, or else partly deleted, or one word is superimposed upon the other. S. A. Tannenbaum in a communication to the present editor transcribes it as: “This John long [changed to “sent”] A patierne therof vnder Clarent Cooks hand. in paper. XX yeares past,” and adds, to explain, “I think the scribe wanted to write ‘long ago’.” That “long” was first written and then “sent” written on top of it seems plausible; but a critical examination of the composite under a microscope does not aid very much. Sir E. K. Chambers [William Shakespeare, II, 20] has “shoeth,” which would be a strange spelling for the well-known Elizabethan form “sheweth.” Likewise, he reads “herof” rather than the very definite “therof.” Moreover, he omits the little word “in.” In Elizabethan documents a short horizontal dash (sometimes a bit wavy) was equivalent to the word “in,” and here is an instance of such use.

In the second footnote Sir Edmund misspells the word Baylif[e?] by transcribing it “Baylyue,” and writes also, “The Q[uenes] officer,” etc. But microscopic analysis shows no “Q[uenes]” in the original manuscript.

In the light of extant documentary evidence (see chapter vi, above) relative to the finances of John Shakespeare, question very properly might be raised - and often has been raised - about the “500li” at the end of the third footnote. Not infrequently wealth in Elizabethan times was rated, as today in England, on the basis of yearly income; rather less frequently was a man’s wealth rated in terms of the total value of his holdings. Now if “That he hathe Land[es] & tene[men]t[es] of good wealth & Substance 500li”, with an unusually heavy period under the “li” (as was conventional in Elizabethan times) which period was not completely closed but which, in the hasty making, resulted in a zero, is not wholly tenable. A very clear photographic facsimile shows that each cipher of the “500li.” is quite open and that the period is after the “li.” Unquestionably the reading is “500li..”

The mutilation of the bottom right edge of the original manuscript renders it impossible to interpret the last footnote - “That he mar . . . .” It is fair to assume that since the body of the text already had stated that John had married [Mary Arden], the footnote added further information of some sort - perhaps about Robert Arden, or her inheritance, or something else that would support the Shakespeare application.

[N.B. This differs slightly from my own transcription, mainly because we were each trying to indicate in a different way all the deletions, abbreviations, interpolations and a corner torn away. Despite other slight anomalies, the content is exactly the same. HM]


John Shakespeare’s grants of arms in 1596 & 1599

Nichols’s text: 1599

Helen Moorwood [April, 2013]



[1] To all and singuler Noble and Gentelmen of all estates and degrees bearing arms to whom these presentes shall come, William Dethick, Garter Principall King of Arms of England, and William Camden alias Clarentieulx, King of Arms for the Sowth, East, and Weste partes of this realme, sendethe greetinges. Know yee That in all nations and kingdoms the record and remembrances of the valeant factes andverteous dispositions of worthie men have bene made knowen and divulged by certeyne shieldes of arms and tokens of chevalrie, The grant and testemonie whereof apperteynethe unto us by vertu of our offices from the Quenes most excellent Mate, and her highenes most noble and victorious progenitors:

[2] Wherefore, being soliceted and by credible report informed, that John Shakespere, [§6] nowe of


Stratford uppon Avon in the counte of Warwike Gent, whose parent ^ and [late†] antecessor, for his faithefull and approved service to [the late most prudent prince] King H. 7. of famous memorie, was advaunced and rewarded with lands and tenementes geven to him in those partes of Warwikeshire, where they have continewed by [some] descentes in good reputacion and credit; and for that the said John Shakespere [§7] having maryed the daughter and one of the heyrs of Robert Arden [§2] of Wellingcote, in the said counte, and also produced this his auncient cote of arms heretofore assigned to him whilest he was her Majesties officer* and baylefe of that towne,

† The words in brackets are the corrections of the first writing.

* The word Justice is erased, and her Mats officer inserted above the line. This shows that the memoranda upon the former Grant, printed in the opposite page, in which the terms “The Queen’s officer and baylife of Stratford upon Avon” are used, were written before 1599.

[3]In consideration of the premisses, and for the encouragement of his posterite, unto whom suche blazon of arms and atchevements of inheritance from theyre said mother by the aucent custome and laws of arms maye lawfully descend, We the said Garter and Clarentieulx have assigned, granted, and confirmed, [and by these presentes exemplefied] unto the said

[4] John Shakespere [§8] and to his posterite that shield and cote of arms, [originally, whiche he shewed and produced, but afterwards erased, †] viz. In a field of gould uppon a bend sables a speare of the first, the point upward, hedded argent; and for his Crest or Cognizance A ffalcon with his wynges displayed, argent, standing on a wrethe of his coullors, supporting a speare gould, steeled as aforesaid, standing on a wrethe of his coullers, supporting a speare or, heeded or steeled sylver, fyxed upon a helmet with mantelles and tasselles, as more playnely maye appeare depicted on this margent; and we have lykewise uppon an other escutcheon impaled the same with the auncyent arms of the said Arden of Wellingcote,

† Mr. Halliwell, in his folio Life of Shakespeare, [§9] p. 70, makes particular remark upon the erasure of these words. They do not however appear to have been erased to contradict or withdraw the statement: but because it had been already made a few lines above, where it is said that John Shakespere, [§10] had produced the coat which had been formerly assigned to him when Bailiff of Stratford.

[5] signifeing thereby, and by the authorite of my office aforesaid ratifieng, that it shalbe lawfull for the sayd John Shakespeare [§11] gent. to beare and use the same shieldes of arms, single or impaled as aforesaid, during his natural lyffe; and that it shalbe lawfull for his children, yssue, and posteryte (lawfully begotten) to beare, use, and quarter and shwew for the the same with theyre dewe differences in all lawfull warrlyke factes and civile use and exercises, according to the laws of arms and custome that to Gentrie belongethe, without let or interruption of any person or persons for the use or for bearing the same. In witnesse and testemonye wherof we have subscribed our names and fastened the seales of our offices.

Yeven at the Office of Armes, London, the .      .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .    .   .   .   .

In the xlijte year of the reigne of our most gratious Soveraign Ladye Elizabeth, by the

Grace of God, [Queene of England,] France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faythe, &c. 1599.”

(The precise date of this patent is deficient, not because it was left blank, but because the paper is accidentally torn away.)

The history of the coat of Shakespere [§12] does not quite end here. It happens that it was one of those for which Ralph Brooke, York Herald, called his superiors Dethick and Camden over the coals. He accused them of having in this case sanctioned a bearing too closely resembling that of the Lords Mauley: and their reply is still extant among –

“The answeres of Garter and Clarencieux Kings of Arms to the Scrowle of Arms exhibited by Raffe Brokesmouth, caled York Herald.

It is as follows:-

     “SHAKESPERE. [§13] It may as well be said that Harley, who bearethe Gould, a bend between two cotizes sable, or Ferrers [drawn in the margin Or, on a bend sable three horse-shoes argent], or any other that beare silver or gould, a bend charged in like manner, usurpe the coate of the Lo. Mauley. As for the speare on the bend, [it] is a patible* [i.e. a sufficiently conspicuous] difference; and the man was a magestrat in Stratford upon Avon, a justice of peace. He maryed the daughter and heyre of Ardern, [§3] and was of good substance and habelité.” (Ashomolean MS. 846, ix. Fl. 50.) The latter passages are thus varied in expression the volume marked W. Z. at the Heralds’ College, at fol. 276:- “the persone to whome it was granted hath borne magestrcy, and was justice of peace at Stratford upon Avon; he married the daughter and heire of Arderne, [§4] and was able to maintain that estate.”

In the Harleian MS. 6140, at fol. 45, there is a tricking of the arms of “William Shackspare, [§14] a patent per William Dethike, Garter Principall King of Armes.” It is placed side by side with the Pegasus coat which was granted to the poet Drayton, and affixed to his monument in Westminster Abbey.

* This word is omitted in the new Dictionary by Richardson, as if it were non-existent. In that by Johnson it is explained as meaning sufferable or tolerable, as if derived from patior; citing some older Dictionary, but with any example: perhaps, however, it was a modification of patent, and formed in analogy to visible. It does not seem connected with the word compatible, which is French, but derived by Richardson from the Middle Latin compatiri, which Vossius says was used for convenire.



John Shakespeare’s grants of arms in 1596 & 1599

Notes on Dethick’s spellings of Arde(r)n(e)

Helen Moorwood [April, 2013]

Arden [§1] Dethick 1596

Arden [§2] Dethick 1596

Ardern [§3] Dethick 1599

Arderne [§4] Dethick 1599

The spelling of ‘Arden’ by Dethick in 1596 and Ardern(e) in 1599 might be totally irrelevant, but we might remember that in 1596, when John was applying for the confirmation of his own arms, there was no need to specify which branch of the Arde(r)n(e) family Mary came from. In 1599 it was different: in applying for the quartering, it was essential to get this right. Not only did Dethick cross out the Park Hall arms, replacing them with the Cheshire Arderne arms, but he also spelt the name with the most frequent spelling used by the Cheshire Ardernes themselves (in the documentation reproduced by Ormerod and Earwaker, Cheshire historians in the 19th century). One might assume that Dethick had checked the precise lineage, but alas, no documentary proof of that remains beyond the very visible arms of Arderne of Harden and Alvanley impaled on John Shakespeare’s arms – and Dethick’s spelling of Ardern(e) in [§3] & [§4].


John Shakespeare’s grants of arms in 1596 & 1599

Notes on spellings of Shakespe(a)re

Helen Moorwood [April, 2013]

SHAKESPEARE [§1] Dethick/College of Arms

Shakespeare [§2] Halliwell

Shakespeare [§3] Dethick

Shakespeare [§4] Dethick

SHAKESPERE [§5] Dethick/College of Arms

Shakespere [§6] Dethick

Shakespere [§7] Dethick

Shakespere [§8] Dethick

Shakespeare [§9] Halliwell (repeat of [2])

Shakespere [§10] Nichols

Shakespeare [§11] Dethick

Shakespere [§12] Nichols

SHAKESPERE [§13] Dethick/College of Arms

Shackspare [§14] Anon


Garter King of Arms Dethick, who actually had John Shakespeare in front of him in 1596 and 1599, used the form with ‘a’ [§3, 4, 11] and without [§6, 7, 8] almost indiscriminately, as did the heralds at the College of Arms when filing these MSS [§1, 5, 13]. Interestingly, these were the only two forms that Dethick used, out of the dozens which had appeared in documents. James Orchard Halliwell(-Phillips) [§2, 9] had already decided by the time of his Life of Shakespeare in 1853 that SHAKESPEARE was the correct form, and later wrote a whole essay on whether there should be an ‘a’ in or not. He was convinced there should be. Others continued to debate the spelling throughout the 19th century and Nichols in 1863 was still opting for ‘without a’ [§10, 12]. We all know which one finally won.

Shackspare [§14] Anon

Incidentally, this last document [§14], which must have been written not too long after the 1596 confirmation of arms, is one more tiny piece of proof that William Shakespeare of Stratford was a poet. Why else should anyone have thought it appropriate to place it next to his friend Michael Drayton’s coat of arms? The following Drayton details provide some interesting links to several people who appear in my book Shakespeare’s Stanley Epitaphs.

Drayton died in 1631, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. The Countess of Dorset is said to have erected his monument, as she did those of Spenser and Daniel; and his epitaph has been variously ascribed to Ben Jonson and to Quarles; it is more in Jonson’s manner.

Do, pious marble, let thy readers know

What they and what their children owe

To Drayton’s name, whose sacred dust

We recommend unto thy trust.

Protect his memory, and preserve his story;

Remain a lasting monument of his glory.

And when thy ruins shall disclaim

To be the treasure of his name,

His name, that cannot fade, shall be

An everlasting moment to thee.

Dravton took for himself a most fantastic coat of arms, Pegasus rampant in a shield of azure gutty d’eau from Helicon, with the cap of Mercury for crest, amid sunbeams proper.

Robert Southey, “Michael Drayton” in British Poets, Chaucer to Jonson (1831) p. 596

(online, courtesy of

Comment 1. Drayton’s coat of arms makes Shakespeare’s look very simple and sober.

Comment 2. The Countess of Dorset is better known today as Lady Anne Clifford. Samuel Daniel had been her childhood tutor. She was a first cousin of Ferdinando and William Stanley, 5th and 6th Earls of Derby. Her first husband Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset died in 1624 and she married again, but was still known as the Countess of Dorset for the rest of her life. In 1630 she married Philip Herbert, 1st Earl of Montgomery and 4th Earl of Pembroke, the latter title since the death of his brother William, 3rd Earl of Pembroke in 1630. The two Herbert brothers had been the dedicatees in 1623 of Shakespeare’s First Folio. (You can find Lady Anne bottom right on the family tree STANLEY, Earls of Derby & CLIFFORD, Earls of Cumberland.)

Comment 3. This introduces us to a ‘mutual admiration circle’ of poets writing verses and epitaphs for each other. Shakespeare wrote two Verse Epitaphs for Sir Edward Stanley (see Shakespeare’s Stanley Epitaphs), first cousin of poet Ferdinando Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby and playwright William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby. (The latter, incidentally, is a Shakespeare Alternative Authorship Candidate – rubbish, but he moved in the same circles.) Jonson wrote an epitaph for Drayton (above), having already written an ‘obituary epitaph’ for Shakespeare in the First Folio. Weever had written admiring verses for Spenser, Shakespeare, Drayton, Ferdinando Stanley – and Lady Anne Clifford’s father Sir George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland. (E. A. J. Honigmann, John Weever: a biography of a literary associate of Shakespeare and Jonson, together with a photographic facsimile of Weever’s ‘Epigrammes’ (1599), Manchester University Press, 1987.) Southey joined Wordsworth and Coleridge in the Romantic period, as the Lake Poets writing in admiration of Shakespeare, etc..

Comment 4 & Conclusion. How Shakespeare or anyone else spelt his name is irrelevant. All those mentioned above used different spellings, although the most frequent gradually became the current spelling of SHAKESPEARE. This is internationally recognized as the man from Stratford and the great dramatist and poet, who are identical. Only those who believe in ‘conspiracy theories’ see the different spellings as important. I believe that they are misguided.


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