This is the story of a peasant’s daughter who rose to wealth and status, who buried three of her children and lived through four changes of her country’s religion, who survived the plague and gave birth to one of the world’s best known playwrights and poets. This is the story of Mary Arden, William Shakespeare’s mother.
|Mary Arden's House|
In 1553, when Mary was about 18, Edward suddenly died and Mary Tudor came to the throne; she was a Catholic who was determined to turn the clock back!
Amongst other items showing his generous and thoughtful nature, he leaves 4d to everyone in Aston Cantlow who didn’t have a team of oxen
Within weeks of his purchase he married Mary Arden in 1557. He was in his late 20s, she was about 22. Stratford then was a small market town with maybe 1200 people and a growing middle class serviced by tailors, and hatters and glovers. 'Home' at that point was just beginning to be a venue for social display and ambition... (i.e. beginning the keep up with the Joneses) and he needed house to fit status.
It may have been a comfort, who can tell how she would feel after the death of her babies? but at least her husband was doing well. His freehold in Henley Street entitled him join the corporation. Corporations had replaced the guilds in 1547 and they ran the town. His civic duties ranged from constable to ale taster and charity hand out to the poor. He was a man of credit. Someone they could trust.
In 1558 Mary Tudor died and Elizabeth came to throne, but she was Church of England and so the fourth change of religion in 20 years began. Soon there were risings against her religious policies and the government responded by removing all trappings of Catholicism. In 1563 Stratford council had to do the government bidding and in winter 2/- was paid for defacing images in the chapel so no memory of them remained and the chamberlain, John Shakespeare had to sign off the job.
After William, other babies born and remained healthy; Joan, Anne, Gilbert and Richard and Mary spent time teaching them their ABC and reading prior to them going to school and telling them stories. Years later William would remember tales of their legendry ancestor, Guy of Warwick. There is also a strong possibility that William would have seen the mystery plays that were still held.
Meanwhile as an alderman John was able to send his son to the Grammar school, the gateway of to university. In late 1570s the government suddenly turned on the illegal wool dealers with the whole force of the law and John’s whole informal network collapsed. Suddenly he had a network of debt everywhere with no network of income!
As the financial difficulties piled up, in 1570 their 7 yr old Anne died. The corporation book has an insight into the tragedy: 'for the bell and pall for Mr Shakespeare’s daughter for her funeral, 8d (pence)'.
|John's death recorded in the Parish record|
and Mary followed him in 1608, in her early 70s and was buried in the churchyard in Stratford.
© Diana Milne August 2017