John, came to Stratford from Snitterfield before 1532 as an apprentice
Glover and tanner of leathers. John Shakespeare prospered and began to
deal in farm products and wool. It is recorded that he bought a house
in 1552 (the date that he first appears in the town records), and bought
more property in 1556. Because John Shakespeare owned one house on Greenhill
Street and two houses on Henley Street, the exact location of William's
birth cannot be known for certain. However, speculation generally indulges
itself to placing Shakespeare's birth in a house on Henley Street.
Sometime between 1556 and 1558 John Shakespeare
married Mary Arden. The Ardens were Roman Catholics. Mary may also have
been a Catholic, but the Shakespeare's publicly belonged to the Church
of England, the state church.
The daughter of the wealthy Robert Arden
of Wilmecote and owner of the sixty-acre farm called Asbies. The wedding
would have most likely taken place in Mary Arden's parish church at Aston
Cantlow, the burial place of Robert Arden, and, although there is no evidence
of strong piety on either side of the family, it would have been a Catholic
service, since Queen Mary I was the reigning monarch.
John and Mary Shakespeare, Will's parents,
had 8 children: Joan, born 1558, Margaret in 1562, Will in 1564, Gilbert
in 1566, Joan in 1569, Anne in 1571, Richard in 1574, and Edmund in 1580.
Notice two daughters named Joan: the first did not live through childhood,
the second Joan, born in 1569, lived to be 77 years old.
We assume neither John nor Mary could write
-- John used a pair of Glovers' compasses as his signature while Mary
used a running horse -- but it did not prevent them from becoming important
members of the community. John Shakespeare was elected to a multitude
of civic positions, including ale-taster of the borough (Stratford had
a long-reaching reputation for its brewing) in 1557, chamberlain of the
borough in 1561, alderman in 1565, (a position which came with free education
for his children at the Stratford Grammar School), high bailiff, or mayor,
in 1568, and chief alderman in 1571.
Due to his important civic duties, he sought
the title of gentleman and applied for his coat-of-arms in 1570 (see picture
on left). However, for unspecific reasons the application was abruptly
withdrawn, and within the next few years, for reasons just as mystifying,
John Shakespeare would go from wealthy business owner and dedicated civil
servant to debtor and absentee council member.
By 1578 he was behind in his taxes and stopped
paying the statutory aldermanic subscription for poor relief. In 1579,
he had to mortgage Mary Shakespeare's estate, Asbies, to pay his creditors.
In 1580 he was fined 40 pounds for missing a court date and in 1586 the
town removed him from the board of aldermen due to lack of attendance.
By 1590, John Shakespeare owned only his house on Henley Street and, in
1592 he was fined for not attending church.
However, near the very end of John Shakespeare's
life, it seems that his social and economic standing was again beginning
to flourish. He once again applied to the College of Heralds for a coat-of-arms
in 1596, and, due, likely to the success of William in London, this time
his wish was granted. On October 20 of that year, by permission of the
Garter King of Arms (the Queen's aid in such matters) "the said John
Shakespeare, Gentlemen, and...His children, issue and posterity"
were lawfully entitled to display the gold coat-of-arms, with a black
banner bearing a silver spear (a visual representation of the family name
"Shakespeare"). The coat-of-arms could then be displayed on
their door and all their personal items. The motto was "Non sanz
droict" or "not without right. The reason cited for granting
the coat-of-arms was John Shakespeare's grandfather's faithful service
to Henry VII, but no specifics were given as to what service he actually
performed. The coat-of-arms appears on Shakespeare's tomb in Stratford.
In 1599 John Shakespeare was reinstated on
the town council, but died a short time later, in 1601. Since William
was his eldest son he received what little land his father owned. He
was probably near seventy years old and he had been married for forty-four
years. Mary Shakespeare died in 1608 and was buried on September 9.