MENU

An abundance of administrative documents provide important details of Shakespeare's economic and social status. Shakespeare divided his time between his theatrical career in London, and business and personal matters in Stratford-upon-Avon, the town where he was born, grew up, and raised three children with his wife Anne: Hamnet (who died when he was 11), Judith, and Susanna. Documents from Stratford-upon-Avon's corporate archives illustrate his Stratfordian connections and the constant balancing of debt and credit among its more prominent citizens. The parish register of Holy Trinity Church records the baptisms, marriages, and burials of members of his family. Paperwork created by various courts provide details relating to real estate transactions, taxes, legal cases, and his social network at the time of his death. Records preserved by the College of Arms chronicle his father's application for a coat of arms in 1596 and the subsequent debate over its validity. Various other legal and financial records which mention Shakespeare or his family reflect the work flows of a wide range of highly organized administrative bodies in early modern England. 

Shakespeare's personal papers do not survive, which is frustrating but not surprising. In general, personal papers only survive if they are absorbed into institutional archives or if they suffered from benign neglect in the muniment rooms of noble houses. Shakespeare's last direct descendant died in 1670, at which point his house, New Place, and its belongings, was sold. It wasn't until the 18th century that people began to value and romanticize the manuscripts of famous authors.

All Documents

April 29, 1552
In April 1552 John Shakespeare was one of three Stratford residents fined for allowing a sterquinium, or muck-heap, to accumulate in Henley Street, presumably outside their front doors. This is the first recorded mention of John Shakespeare.
October 2, 1556
At Stratford’s court leet - originally a manorial court with delegated authority in minor criminal matters –  held on October 2, 1556, the jury reported two recent purchases by John Shakespeare.
June 17, 1556
On June 17, 1556, Thomas Such brought a case against John Shakespeare in Stratford’s court of record for the recovery of £8.
June 2, 1557
In the autumn of each year, at Stratford’s court leet – originally a manorial court with delegated authority in minor criminal matters – officials were elected to assist the bailiff in the governance of the town.
September 15, 1558
Joan, John and Mary Shakespeare’s first child, was baptized on September 15, 1558, according to the Holy Trinity Church parish register. Next to the entry, an “X” added by a later hand highlights its significance.
September 30, 1558
John Shakespeare was elected constable of Stratford-upon-Avon, as shown here, on September 30, 1558. One of the constables’ main duties was to oversee the watch “for the good governement of the Towne” (Minutes and Accounts, i, p.
Easter 1560
SHAKESPEARE DOCUMENTED IS STILL GROWING! Descriptive content and transcriptions will continue to be added, updated and expanded. Check back for regular updates!
May 4, 1561
John Shakespeare was elected as an affeeror, an official appointed to monitor the level of fines imposed at Stratford’s manorial court, for the second time on May 4, 1561, as shown here.
December 2, 1562
Margaret, John and Mary Shakespeare’s second child, was baptized on December 2, 1562, according to the Holy Trinity Church parish register. Next to the entry, an “X” added by a later hand highlights its significance.
April 30, 1563
Margaret, John and Mary Shakespeare’s second child, was buried on April 30, 1563, according to the Holy Trinity Church parish register. Next to the entry, an “X” added by a later hand highlights its significance. She was about five months old.

Pages