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   Chapter 6 THE ARDENS OF WILMECOTE

Shakespeare's Family By C. C. Stopes Characters: 26771

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


It is unfortunate that we know so little about Thomas Arden, Mary Shakespeare's "antecessor." A quiet country gentleman he seems to have been, marrying for love, and not for property, or his wife's descent might have helped us to clear his own. I do not think she was a Throckmorton, but I think she was very probably a Trussell, which Mr. French also suggests. Joane was a Trussell name, and Billesley held some attraction to the family. We are not sure of anything about Thomas except the purchase of Snitterfield, the year before Sir Walter Arden's death, and his payment of the subsidies in 1526 and 1546. It is probable he was the "Thomas Arden, Squier," who witnessed the will of Sir Walter in 1502; it is possible he was the Thomas Arden who witnessed the will of John Lench[83] of Birmingham in 1525, though it is more likely that this latter Thomas was his nephew, the heir of Park Hall. Thomas of Wilmecote is supposed to have died in 1546, but no will has been discovered. Probably he had handed over his property to his son in his lifetime. There is no trace of another child than Robert.

Robert was probably under age when his father purchased Snitterfield, and hence the need of trustees in association with the purchase. On December 14 and 21, 1519, Robert Arden purchased another property in Snitterfield from Richard Rushby and Agnes his wife,[84] and he bought also a tenement from John Palmer on October 1, 1529.[85] One of his tenants was Richard Shakespeare. He and his tenant were both presented for non-suit of court in 30 Henry VIII.

He contributed to the subsidy in Wilmecote in 1526 and 1546. We know no more of his first wife than we know of his mother. She might have been either a Trussel or a Palmer. But we know that he had seven[86] daughters, who all bore Arden family names: Agnes, who married first John Hewyns, and secondly Thomas Stringer, by whom she had two sons, John and Arden Stringer; Joan, who married Edmund Lambert, of Barton-on-the-Heath, who had a son, John Lambert; Katharine, who married Thomas Edkyns of Wilmecote, who had a son, Thomas Edkyns the younger; Margaret, who married first Alexander Webbe of Bearley (by whom she had a son Robert), and secondly Edward Cornwall; Joyce, of whom there is no record but in her father's settlement and will;[87] Alice, who was one of the co-executors of her father's will, but of whom there is no further record; and Mary, the other executor, who married John Shakespeare. The exact dates of their birth are not known. Robert may be supposed to have been married about 1520, and it is probable that Mary was born about 1535. It is likely that she was of age when made executor in 1556, but not at all necessary.

Robert Arden married again when his family had grown up-probably in 1550-Agnes Webbe, who had been assessed as the widow of Hill of Bearley on £7, in 37 Henry VIII., 1546. On July 17, 1550, Robert Arden made two settlements of the Snitterfield estates, probably upon his marriage.[88] In the first,[89] he devised estates at Snitterfield in trust to Adam Palmer and Hugh Porter, for the benefit, after the death of himself and his wife, of his three married daughters-Agnes, Joan and Katharine. In the second, a similar deed,[90] in favour of three other daughters-Margaret (then married to Alexander Webbe of Bearley), Joyce and Alice. Mary is not mentioned, probably because the Asbies estate was even then devoted to her.

Robert Arden, sick in body, but good and perfect of remembrance, made his last will and testament[91] November 23, 1556, and he must have died shortly after. This will of itself answers the question as to his worldly position, and as to the meaning of the word "husbandman" in his case. The wage of a working "husbandman" at the time was from 25s. to 33s. a year.[92] His will discloses property on a level with many "gentlemen" of his time and his county. It gives a strong suggestion that Mrs. Arden was not on the best of terms with her stepchildren. Robert bequeathed his soul "to God and the blessed Lady Saint Mary, and all the holye company of heaven," and his body to be buried in the churchyard of Saint John the Baptist at Aston Cantlowe. "Also I bequeathe to my youngest daughter Marye all my land at Willincote caulide Asbyes, and the crop upon the grownde sown and tythde as hitt is ... and vili xiiis iiiid of money to be paid her or ere my goodes be devided. Also I gyve and bequeathe to my daughter Ales, the thyrde parte of all my goodes moveable and unmoveable in fylde and towne after my dettes and leggessese performyde, besydes that goode she hath of her owne all this tyme. Allso I give and bequethe to Agnes my wife vili xiiis iiiid upon this condysion that she shall sofer my dowghter Ales quyetly to ynjoye half my copyhold in Wyllincote during the tyme of her wyddewoode; and if she will nott soffer my dowghter Ales quyetly to occupy half with her, then I will that my wyfe shall have but iiili vis viiid, and her gintur in Snytterfelde. Item, I will that the residew of all my goodes, moveable and unmovable, my funeralles and my dettes dyschargyd, I gyve and bequeathe to my other children to be equaleye devidide amongeste them by the descreshyon of Adam Palmer, Hugh Porter of Snytterfelde, and Jhon Skerlett, whom I do orden and make my overseers of this my last will and testament, and they to have for their peynes takyng in this behalfe xxs apece. Allso I orden and constitute and make my full exequtores Ales and Marye my dawghters of this my last will and testament, and they to have no more for their paynes takyng now as afore geven to them. Allso I gyve and bequethe to every house that hath no teeme in the paryche of Aston, to every house iiiid. Thes being witnesses Sir William Bouton Curett, Adam Palmer, Jhon Skerlett, Thomas Jhenkes, William Pytt, with other mo." Proved at Worcester, December 16, 1556, by Alice and Mary Arden. It is interesting to learn from the inventory the nature of the furniture, and the prices of the period. There were eleven "painted cloths" in the various rooms, the substitutes for ancient tapestry even in good homes.

The value of the goods, movable and unmovable, independently of the landed property, was calculated to be £76 11s. 10d. This was a large sum for the period. Probably even then the goods were worth much more, as the prices entered are relatively low for the date. Certainly it is necessary to multiply the value by ten to translate it into modern figures, and that would give a good estimate for the saleable value of a houseful of furniture now.

After her sister's and her stepmother's legacies of £6 13s. 4d., after the payment of 4d. to every family in the parish, and of 20s. to the overseers, all debts being paid, Alice was to have a third-that is, the third that by old English law belonged to the dead. She would thus have at least £13 worth in kind, along with her interest in Snitterfield and what goods "she had of her own." The others would have about £5 each. It may be noted the widow was left no furniture or goods. She may have claimed the widow's third, though the effect of her jointure was to disturb the law of dower. She seems to have had furniture of her own. She evidently stayed on in her husband's home, and apparently brought her own children there.

Mary Hill was married to John Fulwood, November 15, 1561, at Aston Cantlow. Agnes Arden, widow, made her will in 1578. The opinion that there was no great friendliness with her husband's family is strengthened thereby, yet there was not the absolute estrangement some writers have supposed. Halliwell-Phillipps states that she does not mention a member of her husband's family. She left legacies to the poor, to her godchildren, to her grandchildren, and the residue to her son and son-in-law in trust for their children. She left twelve pence to John Lambert, her stepdaughter Joan's son, and twelve pence to each of her brother Alexander Webbe's children, one of whom, at least, was the son of her stepdaughter Margaret. She left nothing to any of her stepdaughters, and nothing to any of the young Shakespeares. The overseers were Adam Palmer and George Gibbs; so she had been able to keep friendly with her husband's friend. The witnesses were Thomas Edkins (a stepdaughter's husband), Richard Petyfere, and others. She was buried on December 29, 1580, and the inventory of her goods was taken January 19, 1580-81. The low rate at which it is calculated is remarkable. "Item 38 sheep £3; fivescore pigs £13 4s.," etc. The sum total was £45. The will was proved on March 31, 1581.

The friendliness between the Shakespeares and the other Arden families seems to have been unstable. Aunt Joan's husband, Edmund Lambert, of Barton-on-the-Heath, and their son John, through rather sharp practice for cousinly customs, became owners of Asbies. There is a hazy suspicion even about the bona fides of the Edkins. Agnes had settled rather far off at the home of the Stringers, in Stockton, co. Salop. In February, 1569, Thomas Stringer devised to Alexander Webbe his share of Snitterfield. John Shakespeare was one of the witnesses to the indenture. Alexander Webbe, it is true, made John Shakespeare, his brother-in-law, the overseer of his will at his death in 1573.

Joyce Arden and Alice Arden seem both to have died unmarried, without leaving a will. There is no further mention of Alice, the wealthier of the two maiden sisters, resident at Aston Cantlow, neither has there hitherto been made any suggestion concerning Joyce, and her death does not appear in the parish registers. Now, it was an exceedingly common custom of the time for poorer single relatives to enter into the service of wealthier members of the family; for "superfluous women" even, who were not poor, to go where they were wanted in other homes. Might she not have gone in such a capacity to one of the houses of the Ardens of Park Hall? In Worcestershire, near Stourbridge, there is a parish called Pedmore, and a hall of the same name, then inhabited by the Arden family. The registers there record the death of a "Mistress Joyce Arden" in 1557, to whose family there is no clue: and I cannot but think she was Shakespeare's aunt, as the Joyce of Park Hall was married.

The Webbes[93] gradually bought up the reversionary shares of the other Arden sisters in Snitterfield, and held the whole as tenants under Mrs. Arden, widow. But the story of the Shakespeares' transfer is so curiously mixed up with their other actions that they must be taken together, in order to get a contemporary view of the matter. We find that John Shakespeare had apparently pinched himself in 1575 to purchase two houses in Stratford-on-Avon for £40, believed to be in Henley Street[94]. By 1578, for some reasons not explained, he was excused his share in municipal charges[95], and by a will of "Roger Sadler" Baker in that year, we know that he was in debt to him, and under circumstances that necessitated a security. "Item of Edmund Lambert and -- Cornish for the debte of Mr. John Shakesper vli[96]." John Shakespeare mortgaged Asbies to Edmund Lambert for a loan of £40 on November 14, 1578[97], the fine being levied Easter, 1579, the mortgagee treating the matter as a purchase[98].

There is a curious complexity caused by a lease of the same property being apparently granted to George Gibbes, and a double fine levied[99]-i.e., parties brought in who were strangers to the title; and a double fine appears to have been levied for technical purposes when the estate was entailed[100]. These other names were Thomas Webbe and Humphrey Hooper[101]. The mortgage loan was made repayable at Michaelmas, 1580, when the lease commenced to run, and things seemed to have been made safe for the Shakespeares. Then they proceeded to sell a parcel[102] of the Snitterfield property to Robert Webbe for £40 on October 15, 1579. The description is worded loosely: "John Shakespeare yeoman and Mary his wife ... all that theire moietye, parte and partes, be yt more or lesse, of and in twoo messuages," etc. The indenture is long[103], and written in English, and would seem to have been signed at Wilmcote[104].

A bond was drawn up on the 25th of the same month, carrying a penalty of twenty marks against the Shakespeares if they infringed the above conditions, also signed in the presence of Nicholas Knolles, the Vicar of Auston or Alveston[105]. Another deed, the final concord,[106] is drawn up in Latin: "in curia domine Regine apud Westmonasterium a die Pasche in quindecim dies anno regnorum Elizabethe ... vicesimo secundo ... inter Robertum Webbe querentem et Johannem Shackspere et Mariam uxorem ejus, deforciantes de sexta parte duarum partium duorum messuagiorum ... idem Robertus dedit predictis Johannis et Marie quadraginta libras sterlingorum." On this sale Robert Webbe paid a fine of 6s. 8d. for licence of entry to the Sheriff of the County.[107]

Now, this apparently second sale has puzzled many Shakespeareans, as well as the "fraction." Even Halliwell-Phillipps[108] supposes that "John Shakespeare had some small interest in Snitterfield of his own," which he parted with for £4, and that "Mary Shakespeare was entitled to a share through an earlier settlement." Others have thought, however, that the first was but a draught deed of the indenture, the £4 the earnest money,

and the "final concord" for £40 the conclusion of the whole. This is supported by the absolute indefiniteness of the first as to part or parts in two messuages, and by the apparent definiteness of the second. But the peculiar wording has further puzzled many writers. In referring to Robert Arden's settlements, we find that one tenement is settled upon three daughters, and the other tenement settled upon other three daughters, Mary's name not being mentioned. How, then, was she empowered to sell any share? It could only be by inheritance or by gift from some of her other sisters. The course of events showed it was not of free gift. But Joyce and Alice had apparently vanished from the scene. If they left no will, their shares would be divisible into equal parts among their surviving sisters by common law, and through her fraction of their shares Mary Shakespeare could step in as part owner of Snitterfield. Now, it is quite possible that the first sale of 1579 was an indefinite sale of Mary's share of Joyce's portion; and it is possible that Alice died in that year, and increased the share of her sisters, so that the two portions were treated together in the deed of 1580. Seeing that the two portions of the property had long been held together by the Webbes, it is quite natural to read "the sixth part of two" rather than "the third of one," as each sister originally read her share. Now, if Mary had lost both of her sisters, it is quite natural to read her share as "the sixth part of two parts or portions of two tenements." This has not yet been thus simply explained. But it is not strictly correct; for while the share of the first sister would bring Mary "the sixth part of one part of two tenements," the death of the second sister should have secured her the fifth part of one part of two tenements, plus the fraction already inherited by the second from the first, or, more simply, the fifth part of two parts of two tenements. It was near enough, however, for all practical purposes, and Robert Webbe seems duly to have handed over the money to John Shakespeare. Robert Webbe's eagerness to buy, and the Shakespeares' need of the money, seems to have determined the price. Forty pounds was a large sum for such a fraction of the whole. Robert Webbe's readiness may be accounted for, because he was on the eve of marriage. There was a new settlement[109] of estates at Snitterfield on the occasion of his marriage to Mary, daughter of John Perkes, September 1, 23 Elizabeth, and an agreement between Edward Cornwall[110] (stepfather to Robert Webbe) and William Perkes, respecting an estate in Snitterfield, and a proviso against any claim from the Ardens.

But it was not from the Ardens that any difficulty arose. Before the death of Mrs. Agnes Arden, she was called to support her claim and that of all her stepdaughters, based on a supposition of entail, against the descendants of the Mayowe who had sold his property to Thomas and Robert Arden in 1501. Being described as old and infirm, a Commission was directed to Bartholomew Hales, Lord of the Manor of Snitterfield, and Nicholas Knolles, Vicar of Alveston, to take her deposition concerning it, in July, 1580.[111] She died in December of that year; and in 1582 John Shakespeare,[112] and his brother Henry, and Adam Palmer, with others, were called on to give evidence in the case between Thomas Mayowe and Robert Webbe, before Sir Fulk Grevyle, Sir Thomas Lucy, Humphrey Peto, and William Clopton, Commissioners. Their depositions in support of the deed of transfer seem to have been sufficient, and we hear no more of Mayowe. The newly-married couple settled down on the inheritance of the Ardens, and the old home of the Shakespeares.

Concerning Mary Arden's special inheritance at Asbies, there is a sadder story to tell. Whether John Shakespeare could read or not, he was certainly not a Latin scholar, and though not ignorant of many points of common law, was not up to all the technicalities used at times to confuse the truth. It is evident that there had been some verbal agreement between him and Edmund Lambert on which he relied, but that the written deed was all that John Lambert accepted.[113] On selling the main portion of his wife's property at Snitterfield, John Shakespeare seems to have walked right off with the money to Edmund Lambert, of Barton-on-the-Heath, to redeem his mortgage, and reinstate himself as owner of Asbies, free to grant a lease or sale on his own terms. But through a quibble, which "was not in the bond," Edmund Lambert refused to accept this until certain other debts were also paid. Thereby he gained the shelter of time, which "was in the bond," and put Shakespeare at a legal disadvantage, though it is evident from the later papers that a verbal agreement had taken place to extend the time, seeing that the money had been tendered. We may be sure that the property was worth more than £40 in hard cash to either, and more, in romantic associations, to the Shakespeares. For it was a part of Thomas Arden's original property. How he came by it, no one is sure. French[114] suggests it might have been given him by the Beauchamps of Bergavenny, who had intermarried with the Ardens, and had been more than once known to have been in friendly relations. The guardian of Robert Arden, his grandfather, had been the Lady of Bergavenny, and Elizabeth Beauchamp was godmother to Elizabeth Arden, daughter of Walter and sister of Thomas, whom we take to be the Thomas of Aston Cantlow.

Edmund Lambert died in 1587, and his son John seems to have been threatened by the Shakespeares with a law-suit for the recovery of Asbies, and proposed as a compromise to pay a further sum of £20, thereby securing Asbies as by purchase. To this, however, the consent, not only of Mary, but of William, her heir, was necessary, and the poet is supposed to have come down to Stratford on the occasion to act with his parents. But probably there was some other hitch: the £20 may have been held to be covered by the "other debts," which already had done service for Edmund Lambert; or the Shakespeares weighed their desire to have back the land, which they probably then wished, with their growing family, to farm themselves. Nothing seems then to have been settled, and they were too poor to risk the perils of a great law-suit. Doubtless, with sad hearts and bitter retrospect, they regretted their unlucky purchases in 1575, which seemed to have pinched them so, and wished at least they had been contented with the half, with the one tenement in Henley Street that formed part of their residence. For, had they only spent £20 then instead of £40, they could have repaid their hard-dealing relative not only the smaller mortgage, but the "other debts," out of the £40 they received for Snitterfield from the more liberal Robert Webbe.

Finding John Lambert even harder to deal with than his father, John Shakespeare brought a Bill of Complaint against him in the Court of Queen's Bench,[115] 1589, by John Harborne, attorney, in which his wife and son are mentioned. Nothing seems then to have been done. On November 24, 1597, backed by their son's influence and money, John and Mary Shakespeare, plaintiffs, without associating their son's name, made a formal complaint to the Right Honourable Sir Thomas Egerton,[116] stating that Edmund Lambert was to hold it only until repaid the loan, that the money had been duly tendered to him on the agreed date, that he had refused it, and that his son John holds the land still, and makes secret estates of the premises, the nature of which they cannot describe, as the papers have been withheld them; that their papers and evidences are open to the court. They add further that "the sayde John Lamberte ys of greate wealthe and abilitie, and well frended and allied amongst gentlemen and freeholders of the county ... and your saide oratores are of small wealthe and very fewe frendes and alyance in the said countie. They pray a writ of subp?na to be directed to John Lambert to appear in the Court of Chancery."

John Lambert, pointing out the uncertainty and insufficiency of the plaintiff's bill, also that the bill had already been exhibited against him in the same court, and he had fully answered it, asserts that the arrangement was a deed of sale, with the conditional proviso that if John Shakespeare should pay £40 on the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel, 1580, to Edmund Lambert, in Barton-on-the-Heath, the bill of sale should be void. He did not pay the money on the day, and therefore his father was legally seized of the estate.

To this John and Mary Shakespeare replied, and again explained that the money was tendered at the date, and that Edmund Lambert refused to receive it unless other moneys also were paid, of which no condition had been fixed; that on the death of Edmund, John had stepped into possession, and refused to hear anything from them.[117] John Lambert had another quibble, that John Shakespeare had exhibited two bills against him, one in his own name, and one associating his wife's. On July 5, 1598, July 10, 1598, and May 18, 1599, further steps were taken, but still no decision was reached. Therefore, on June 27, 1599, a commission was appointed to examine both parties. In the Index Trin. Term, 41 Elizabeth, there is the entry "Shackspeere contra Lambert," but the page that contained further notice is lost.

On October 23, 1599, another entry of the case is recorded: "Yf the defendant show no cause for stay of publicacion by this day sevenight, then publicacion ys granted"; but nothing more has come to us. Probably delay helped the more powerful, certainly possession proved nine-tenths of the law, and the expenses of legal action even then were paralyzing.[118] It is strange that the fate of Asbies as a property is unknown. There are traces of its being in the possession of Adam Edkins in 1668, of one John Smith after him, and of Clement Edkins in 1699,[119] but the name seems to have vanished, and with it all remembrance of the boundary of the inheritance of the Ardens of Wilmcote.

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FOOTNOTES:

[83] See "Survey of Birmingham," 1553, Clement Throckmorton, p. 3, edition by Mr. W. B. Bickley.

[84] Stratford Miscellaneous Records, No. 436.

[85] Ibid.

[86] Halliwell Phillipps mentions Elizabeth Skerlett as an eighth, surely in error.

[87] I believe that I have found the register of her death in association with the Ardens of Park Hall, see p. 41.

[88] This supposition is strengthened by the language of the lease which Mrs. Arden granted her brother of a farm in Snitterfield, May 21, 1560, of which "estate was made to me the said Agnes by my late husband in the fourth year of the raigne of the late King Ed. VI., 1550; ... now in tenure of Richard Shakespeare, John Henley, and John Hargrave."

[89] See Records of Stratford-on-Avon.

[90] Ibid.

[91] Worcester Wills. Consistory Court.

[92] See Sir George Nichols' "History of the English Poor Law."

[93] See "Release from Thomas Stringer of Stockton, co. Salop, to Alexander Webbe of Snitterfield, husbandman, 12th Feb., 11 Eliz., witness John Shaxpere," confirmed after the marriage of Margaret to Edward Cornwall, October 16, 18 Elizabeth. "A transfer from John Shakespeare and Mary his wife" of her shares of Snitterfield, 21 Eliz., for £4; 15 Oct., 22 Eliz., for £40; and 23 Eliz., 6s. 8d. "Release from Thomas Stringer and Thomas Edkins to Robert Webbe, 23rd Dec., 21 Eliz." "A grant from Edmund Lambert and Joane his wife to Robert Webbe of their interest in Snitterfield, 2nd May, 23 Eliz." (Stratford-on-Avon Records).

[94] Stratford-on-Avon Miscellaneous Papers.

[95] Chamberlain's Accounts, Stratford-on-Avon.

[96] Worcester Wills.

[97] Reply of John Lambert in 1597, Chancery Proceedings.

[98] Note of the fine (Halliwell-Phillipps' "Outlines," ii., 11 and 202).

[99] Notes and Queries, 8th Series, vol. v., pp. 127, 296, 498.

[100] West's "Symboleography Concords," pp. 10, 11.

[101] Halliwell-Phillipps, "Outlines," ii. 202. Wilmcote Fines, Hilary term, 21 Eliz.

[102] Halliwell-Phillipps points out that it is for £4, which is an evident error ("Outlines," ii. 179).

[103] Ibid., p. 179.

[104] "Sealed in the presence of Nycholas Knooles, Vicar of Auston."

[105] Halliwell-Phillipps, "Outlines," ii. 182. Dugdale, Alveston.

[106] Ibid., ii. 176.

[107] Warr. Fines. "In onere Georgii Digbie Armigeri Vicecomitis comitatu pr?dicti de anno vicesimo tercio Regine Elizabethe, fines de Banco anno vicesimo secundo Regine Elizabethe pro termino Pasche," etc. "Recepta per me Johannem Cowper sub vice comitem."

[108] Halliwell-Phillipps, "Outlines," ii. 179.

[109] Stratford-on-Avon Miscellaneous Documents.

[110] Ibid.

[111] Stratford Miscellaneous Papers.

[112] Ibid.

[113] Court of Chancery Records.

[114] French, "Genealogica Shakespeareana," p. 484.

[115] Coram Rege Rolls, Term Mich., 31 and 32 Elizabeth; also Halliwell-Phillipps, ii. 11.

[116] Chancery Cases, 40-41 Elizabeth, S.s. 24 (21), Stratford, P. R. O.; also Halliwell-Phillipps, ii. 14.

[117] Chancery Papers, S.s. 24 (21), Stratford, in dorso, "40-41 Eliz."; Halliwell-Phillipps, ii. 204.

[118] Notes and Queries, 8th Series, v. 127, 296, 478.

[119] Halliwell-Phillipps, ii. 205.

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