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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

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.
February 4, 1598
In this 1598 survey of those storing grain in Stratford-upon-Avon, “W[illia]m Shackesp[ear]e” is listed as holding 10 quarters of malt.
October 1, 1598
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.
July 18, 1598
In the summer of 1598, Thomas Blackford of Butlers Marston sold a house on the north side of Sheep Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, to Daniel Smith. The deed recording the sale, shown here, was drawn up on July 18.
January 24, 1598
In this letter, dated January 24, 1598, Abraham Sturley wrote to fellow Stratford townsman Richard Quiney about several town matters, including a rumor regarding Shakespeare’s intent to purchase land.
November 4, 1598
On October 25, 1598, Richard Quiney wrote both to Shakespeare, asking for his help in securing a loan of £30 and to his friend Abraham Sturley in Stratford-upon-Avon to let him know the request had been made.
ca. November 4, 1598
While in London in the autumn of 1598, Richard Quiney received five letters from his father Adrian. Four are dated (October 20 and 29, November 10 and 18).
November 24, 1598
While in London during the autumn of 1598, Richard Quiney received at least four letters from Daniel Baker, written on October 17, October 26, November 13 and November 24, the last of which is shown here. Baker addresses Quiney as his uncle, and refers to Quiney’s wife as his aunt.

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