During the sixteenth century,
there were many families with the name Shakespeare in and around Stratford.
"Shakespeare" appears countless times in town minutes and court
records, spelled in a variety of ways, from Shagspere to Chacsper.
Unfortunately, there are very few records
that reveal William Shakespeare's relationship to or with the other Shakespeare's
of Stratford. Genealogists claim to have discovered one man related to
Shakespeare who was hanged in Gloucestershire for theft in 1248, and Shakespeare's
father, in an application for a coat of arms, claimed that his grandfather
was a hero in the War of the Roses and was granted land in Warwickshire
in 1485 by Henry VII. However, no historical evidence has been discovered
to corroborate this story of the man who would be William Shakespeare's
great-grandfather, but, luckily, we do have information regarding his
paternal and maternal grandfathers.
The Bard's paternal grandfather was Richard
Shakespeare (d. 1561), a farmer in Snitterfield, a village four miles
northeast of Stratford. There is no record of Richard Shakespeare before
1529, but details about his life after this reveal that he was a tenant
farmer, who, on occasion, would be fined for grazing too many cattle on
the common grounds and for not attending manor court.
There is no record of Richard Shakespeare's
wife, but together they had two sons (possibly more), John and Henry.
Richard Shakespeare worked on several different sections of land during
his lifetime, including the land owned by the wealthy Robert Arden of
Wilmecote, Shakespeare's maternal grandfather.
Robert Arden (d. 1556) was the son of Thomas
Arden of Wilmecote, Shakespeare's maternal great-grandfather, who probably
belonged to the aristocratic family of the Ardens of Park Hall. He was
catholic and married more than once (we know the name of his second wife
-- Agnes Hill) and he fathered no fewer than eight daughters. He became
the stepfather of Agnes' four children.
Robert Arden had accumulated much property,
and when he died, he named his daughter (Shakespeare's mother) Mary, only
sixteen at the time, one of his executors. He left Mary some money and,
in his own words, "all my land in Willmecote cawlide Asbyes and the
crop apone the grounde, sowne and tyllide as hitt is".