1.5. Interview via FAQs (2002)

Helen Moorwood 2013

1.5.3. Mainly about his parents

 If Mary Arde(r)n(e) wasn’t his mother, who was?

I have no idea, other than that she was John’s (first or) second wife, and possibly (from names evidence) a daughter of Gilbert and Joan X and herself Joan. She might have been from Lancashire or Warwickshire, or anywhere else.

Is there any hope of identifying her?

From my point of view at the moment, not much. They must have married before 1557, which is too early for most surviving Parish Registers, and as a wife, she wouldn’t have left a will. The main chance would come from a will naming John Shakespeare of Stratford as a son-in-law. As every document in Warwickshire mentioning Shakespeare seems to have been scoured thoroughly, there seems little hope there, although for the past two centuries everyone has assumed his first and only wife was Mary. Maybe a wider search will produce something - or not.

Who was John’s first wife?

 No idea, and I doubt if she will ever be identified, but reliable early reports and dates alone indicate that she existed.

If Mary was John’s (second or) third wife, who was she married to before?

 I have no idea, but the Greene alias Shakespeare family of Stratford provides the best clue for future research. Greenes in other places have been identified as potentially significant by Enosand Conlan.

How do you know she was John’s (second or) third wife?

 Because of all the following facts. I have no doubt that it will be disputed until all have been sifted through by others, but for me this is the only possible conclusion on the basis of the following:

(1) There was an early and reliable report from Stratford that John had three wives and eleven children. (Malone, reported by Schoenbaum, 1987; Schoenbaum, by the way, got it wrong when he wrote that Malone had sorted out the problem. He hadn’t - see French,who states explicitly that after all Malone’s research in Stratford Parish Records and elsewhere, and pondering, he came to the conclusion that John indeed had three wives). 

(2) There had already been another very reliable and independent report of a large family, this time ten children (Rowein 1709). Two independent early reports of ten or eleven children, and my experience of early reports and traditions invariably turning out to contain the kernels of historical truth, led me to suspect that this might also have been true.

 (3) The obviously persistent tradition of three wives lingered on in Stratford until the 19th century, whatever Shakespeare scholars might have decided in the meantime (see Frenchwhen reporting on later claims for Shakespeare coats of arms).

 (4) Amongst the early reports from Stratford there was not a single mention of the identity of William’s mother and certainly no mention that she might have been an Arde(r)n(e); Mary’s possible role in William’s life came into the ‘conventional’ story only after the discovery of her father Robert’s will and some land transactions of the late 1570s.

(5) There is not a single scrap of documentary evidence that John and Mary married in 1557, as in the ‘conventional’ story; the only documentary evidence of their marriage was from 1578 onwards, with a fairly certain continuation of this until John was buried at Stratford in 1601 and Mary in 1608.

(6) The number of John’s children's recorded baptisms and burials at Stratford Parish Churchmade no sense in the light of the reliable early reports of a family of ten or eleven children (presumably children who survived well into adulthood, or who would have remembered them a century later?). The Bishop’s Transcript of the records shows eight baptisms, with the definite burial there of only two of these as infants, and Stratford civic records (Halliwell-Phillipps) indicated that John was not even present for one of these burials (of daughter Margaret in 1579). Something was fishy somewhere. Either the Bishop’s Transcript was a faulty copy of the original, omitting many details, or the ‘conventional’ story was wrong.

(7) An analysis of the names of John’s early children baptised in Stratford produced a very peculiar picture, with Mary Arde(r)n(e), documented daughter of Robert and granddaughter of Thomas of Wilmcote, pretty obviously playing no part.

(8) An analysis of the dates of baptism and burial, and all other known details of John’s children baptised in Stratford, produced another peculiar picture, far from that of a single marriage of a couple who always stayed in the same place.

(9) The discovery of various references to Mr Shakespeare or Shakespeare, Gent. and a descendant in Warwick in 1694 (Stopes, Gough Nichols, Schoenbaum)alerted me to the possibility that John and Mary might well have had more sons than Edmund after their marriage. They did: John and Thomas.

[Subsequent research (2004) by Stephen Pearson, webmaster of the Shakespeare Family History website, confirmed these extra sons but also provided a later suspicion that these were more likely earlier sons, from John’s (first or) second marriage.  See Wherefore Art Thou, Grandfather? - Freepagesand Peter LeeSHAKESPEARE'S HIDDEN FAMILY- Nuneaton History. Reading these two articles in c.2006 set me on another trail. Some interim conclusions about numbers of children born at which stage in John’s life were subsequently modified, as indicated below in brackets. In any case, Steve Pearson’s research proves that Richard of Snitterfield was not John’s father.HM 2013]

(10) The actual proof that she was not William’s mother, and therefore not John’s first wife, is that neither William nor any of his descendants quartered her coat of arms, quite simply because they had no right under heraldic laws (Woodcock).

But haven’t I read somewhere that it was William who applied for his own coat of arms, and permission to impale Mary’s?

All over the place, but the texts of the documents themselves prove that John was the one to apply and be awarded them. William, as his son, was entitled to use these arms, of course, and seems to have been the butt of a few jokes about this in Jonson’s Poetaster. But he never quartered Mary’s arms because he wasn’t allowed to under heraldic laws.

How important was Mary, as John’s third wife and William’s stepmother?

Very. She provided William with an instant set of gentry and noble connections, including the Stanleys, Hoghtons, Heskeths and pretty well everyone else ever mentioned in the ‘Shakespeare in Lancashire’ theory. These provided young William with his passport to his future career and sponsored him for the rest of his life.

What about the ten or eleven children?

Four [or more 2013] survivors were from John’s second marriage, four [or only one or two 2013] from his marriage to Mary and the rest Mary brought with her from her previous marriage(s).

Why have you concluded they married in c.1575?

Several facts converge on this date. It had to be after 1574 when the last child from the second marriage was baptised. It had to be before 1578 when he started selling Mary’s property. In 1576 he obtained a coat of arms, although it was twenty years before he carried through the official application. Several have puzzled over this, but the very date in between the two outside dates for the marriage make one suspect there had been some change in his life, and marriage to an heraldic heiress would be one highly plausible explanation. Also, from the beginning of 1577 onwards he disappeared from sight in Stratford for two decades, apart from the occasional return to do with lands and properties and the death of friends. They also had to have time to produce two children [or only one child 2013] before 1580. Put all these dates and facts together and the only two sensible years are 1575 or 1576. Hence c.1575.

Is there no record of John and Mary’s marriage?

Not located so far, but there was never any record of their supposed marriage in 1557 (which never took place), so I can’t think there can be much objection to no record of a marriage which obviously did take place. Parish records before 1600 are so patchy or non-extant that there is little hope of locating precise details. Stratford is one of the exceptions, with its rather complete (all have assumed) Bishop’s Transcript starting in 1558. Their marriage is not recorded there, presumably for the simple reason that they married somewhere else, where records have not survived. It was normal, then as now, to marry in the bride’s parish. Mary’s native parish was Aston Cantlowe in Warwickshire, where marriage records survive from 1560 onwards, but there is no record there. One can assume whatever one wants, but my conclusion is that they probably married in the parish where she had lived with her previous husband, perhaps in Warwickshire or perhaps in Cheshire (the two most likely candidate counties) or perhaps somewhere else. I doubt if we will ever know.


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