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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

October 9, 1589
SHAKESPEARE DOCUMENTED IS STILL GROWING! Descriptive content and transcriptions will continue to be added, updated and expanded. Check back for regular updates!
1590
SHAKESPEARE DOCUMENTED IS STILL GROWING! Descriptive content and transcriptions will continue to be added, updated and expanded. Check back for regular updates!
September 25, 1592
SHAKESPEARE DOCUMENTED IS STILL GROWING! Descriptive content and transcriptions will continue to be added, updated and expanded. Check back for regular updates!
November 29, 1596
The enrolled entry known to Shakespeare scholars as the “Langley writ” was recorded in the Court of King’s Bench between October 29, 1596 and January 24, 1597. The writ constitutes presumptive evidence that William Shakespeare, formerly of St.
October 20, 1596
This draft grant of arms for John Shakespeare was prepared and written by William Dethick, Garter King of Arms, the most senior of the 13 heralds of the College of Arms. It is the first of two drafts of the grant, both dated October 20, 1596.
October 20, 1596
Two draft grants of arms survive from the 1596 application, both dated October 20, 1596, and both in the handwriting of William Dethick, the most senior of the 13 heralds of the College of Arms.
August 11, 1596
Hamnet, William and Anne Shakespeare’s only son, was buried on August 11, 1596, according to the Holy Trinity Church parish register. Next to the entry, an “X” added by a later hand highlights its significance. He was eleven years old.
November 15, 1597
Lay subsidies were a type of tax based on personal wealth. In London, the collection of subsidies was managed at the local level of ward and parish. Each collection typically generated one lay subsidy roll and one default roll for each ward.
May 2-9, 1597
In May 1597, the freehold title to New Place passed from William Underhill to William Shakespeare. This would normally have been recorded in a formal deed of conveyance, signed by both parties.
May 8, 1597
In May 1597, the freehold title to New Place passed from William Underhill to William Shakespeare. This would normally have been recorded in a formal deed of conveyance, signed by the both parties.

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