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that he was then a regular trading inhabitant of the town. In 1557, he was also chosen an ale-taster, the duty of which office was, 66 to look to the assize and goodness of bread and ale, or beer, within the precincts of that lordship." September 30th, 1558, he was chosen one of the four constables, the other three being Humphrey Plymley, Roger Sadler, and John Taylor. On the 6th of October, 1559 he was elected to the same office for another year, and was a so made one of the four affeerors, whose duty it was, to deter mine the fines for such offences as had no penalties prescribed by statute. He held the latter office again in 1561, and in September of that year was also chosen one of the chamberlains of the borough, a very responsible office, which he filled for two years. Advancing steadily in public rank and confidence, he became an alderman on the 4th of July, 1565; and on the 29th of September, 1568, he was elected bailiff, the highest honour that the corporation could bestow. He held this office just a year. The series of local honours conferred upon him ended with his being chosen head alderman on the 5th of September, 1571, in which office he continued till September 3d, 1572. The rule being "once an alderman, always an alderman," unless positive action were taken to the contrary, he retained that office till 1586, when, for persevering non-attendance at the meetings, he was deprived of his gown.
After all these proofs of public consequence, the reader may be surprised to learn that John Shakespeare, the father of the greatest thinker and greatest poet the world has ever seen, could not write his name! Such was undoubtedly the fact; and we delight to publish it, as showing, what is too apt to be forgotten in these bookish days, that men may know several things, and beget witty children, without being initiated in the mysteries of pen and ink. The earliest known instance of his appearing as a marksman is in a list of names appended to the proceedings of a court-leet, dated October 6th, 1559. And in the records of the borough,
under the date of September 27th, 1565, is an order signed by nineteen aldermen and burgesses, calling upon Joha Wheler to undertake the office of bailiff. Of these nineteen signers thirteen are marksmen, and among them are the names of George Whately, then bailiff, Roger Sadler, nead alderman, and John Shakespeare. So that there was nothing remarkable in his not being able to wield a pen. In this case, his mark is placed under his name to the right, so as to look as if it might be meant for Thomas Dyxon, whose name is written next after his. From the uncertainty thence arising, Knight labours hard to make out that he was not a marksman; but there are too many proofs of the fact, even if this one should fail. As bailiff of Stratford, John Shakespeare was ex officio a justice of the peace; and two warrants are extant, granted by him on the 3d and 9th of December, 1568, for the arrest of John Ball and Richard Walcar on account of debts; both of them bearing witness that "he had a mark to himself, like an honest plain-dealing man." Several other cases in point are met with at later periods. On the 15th of October, 1579, John and Mary Shakespeare "put their hands and seals to a deed and bond for the transfer of their interest in certain property at Snitterfield to Robert Webbe; both of which are subscribed with their several marks, and sealed with their respective seals; his seal showing the initials J. S., and hers a rudelyengraved horse. His name with a mark affixed to it is also found subscribed to an inventory of the goods of Henry Field, dated August 21st, 1592. The last known instance of his mark is in a deed, bearing date January 26, 1597, conveying a small portion of his Henley-street property to George Badger. These several documents will be further noticed hereafter, and are but mentioned now for the special purpose in hand.
It may be worth noting, that before 1579 John Shakespeare had adopted a new mark; and this fact is supposed to have some connection with his change of business. In
both the deed and the bond of October 15th, 1579, transferring the Snitterfield interest to Webbe, he is styled "John Shakespeare, of Stratford-upon-Avon in the county of Warwick, yeoman." At what time he ceased to be a glover and became a yeoman, we have no means of knowing. His earlier mark, that of 1559 and 1565, is a sort of cabalistic figure, which Mr. Halliwell thinks to have been symbolical of his pursuit; resembling an instrument still in common use for stretching or opening the fingers of new gloves. His later mark, as found in the deed and bond just mentioned, and in all the after-instances of his signature, was a simple
John Shakespeare's course of good fortune seems to have reached its height about the time of the large Henley-street purchase in 1575. The first evidence of a decline of prosperity is met with in 1578. At a borough meeting, held on the 29th of January that year, it was ordered that every alderman should pay 6s. 8d., and every burgess 3s. 4d., "towards the furniture of three pikemen, two billmen, and one archer." From this order seven persons, two aldermen and five burgesses, were excepted. John Shakespeare was one of the aldermen so excepted; he was to pay 3s. 4d., and Humphrey Plymley, the other, 5s. Again, under the date of November the same year, the records of the borough have the following: "It is ordained that every alderman shall pay weekly towards the relief of the poor 4d., saving Mr. John Shakespeare and Mr. Robert Bratt, who shall not be taxed to pay any thing." By the same order, Mr. Lewis and Mr. Plymley are taxed 3d. each, and every burgess 2d. Mr. Knight thinks that at the time of these assessments John Shakespeare may have resided out of Stratford, probably at Ingon meadow; and that this was the cause of his being thus excepted. Had such been the case, he would hardly have been legally designated in the deed and bond of October, 1579, just referred to, as "John Shakespeare, of Stratford-upon-Avon." Again, on the 11th of March,
1579, we have an account of money levied for the purchase of armour and arms; and "Mr. Shakespeare" is one of ten names whose "sums are unpaid and unaccounted for." His share in this case is put down as 3s. 4d. Another instance, to be mentioned here as showing him straitened for means, is furnished by the will of Roger Sadler, a baker, dated November 14, 1578, and proved January 17, 1580. Appended to this will is a list of "debts which are owing unto me Roger Sadler," and among the items is one of Edmund Lambert and a man named Cornish, "for the debt of Mr. John Shakespeare, £5.” 16
There is another class of facts bearing towards the same conclusion. In the spring of 1579, John and Mary Shakespeare are found mortgaging their estate of Ashbies to Edmund Lambert for £40. The fine levied on this occasion is printed in Halliwell's Life; as is also another fine levied the same year, which shows the same parties transferring to Thomas Webbe and Humphrey Hooper some interest in an estate, not elsewhere heard of, in Wilmecote, described as consisting of "seventy acres of land, six acres of meadow, ten of pasture, and the right of common, with the appurtenances.” The same year, on the 15th of October, also finds them parting with an interest in some property at Snitterfield to Robert Webbe for the sum of £4.17 The deed
16 Lest this should pass for more than it is worth, perhaps we ought to mention that in the same list Mr. John Combe is put down as owing £23; Mr. Lewis ap Williams, £3; Richard Hathaway alias Gardiner of Shottery," £6 8s. 4d; William Cox, £10; Mr. Michael Gutheridge, £1; George Merrill, £6 12s. 4d.; Mr. Thomas Trussell, £1 4s.; Richard Frost, £4; and Mr. Walter Roche, LA.
17 This property was most likely a part of what Robert Arden speaks of in his will, 1556, as his wife's "jointure in Snitterfield." Agnes Arden had a life-interest in it. The deed of 1579 to Rolert Webbe describes the property in question thus: "All that theire moitye, parte and partes, be yt more or lesse, of and in twoo messuages or tenements with thappurtenaunces, in Snitterfield afore said, and all houses, barnes, stables, gardens, orchards, medowes pastures, to the said twoo messuages belonginge or appertaininge or occupied with the same."
of conveyance and also the bond for the performance of covenants, with the names and marks of John and Mary Shakespeare subscribed, are printed at length by Mr. Halliwell. It appears, further, from a fine dated in the spring of 1580, and discovered by Mr. Halliwell in the Chapter House, that Mary Shakespeare had a reversionary interest of much higher value in some other property at Snitterfield, which was then made over to the same Robert Webbe for £40. This property was vested for term of life in Agnes Arden; and at her death, which occurred December 29th, 1580, a share in it would have reverted to Mary Shakespeare as one of the heirs-at-law of Robert Arden, who had died in 1556.18
These particulars show beyond question that John Shakespeare must have been somewhat pressed for money. How long the pressure continued is uncertain. The latter sale was probably made for the purpose of enabling him to discharge the mortgage held by Lambert; for on the 29th of September, 1580, the mortgage-money was tendered to Lambert, and was refused on the ground that other debts were owing to him by Shakespeare. Among the claims thus urged, may have been that already mentioned from the will of Sadler, for which Lambert had become surety; and the result proves, at all events, that either the claim was thought unjust, or else the party was unable to meet it. The tender and refusal of the money are ascertained from a replication made by John and Mary Shakespeare in a Chancery suit in 1597. On the death of Edmund Lambert, his son John retained possession of the premises, and the suit
18 The following description of this property, and of the Shakespeare interest in it, is given by Mr. Halliwell, from an entry in certain records at Carlton Ride, dated Easter Term, 1580: "Inter Robertum Webbe quer. et Johannem Shackspere et Mariam uxorem ejus deforc. de sexta parte duorum partium duorum mesuagiorum, duorum gardinorum, duorum pomar., Ix. acrarum terræ x. acrarum prati, et xxx. acrarum jampnorum et bruerum, cum pertinentiis, in tres partes dividend. in Snitterfylde."