Today in Literary History – September 7, 1601 – Death of William Shakespeare’s father


William Shakespeare’s father, John Shakespeare, died on September 7, 1601, at the age of 70, when Shakespeare was 37 and tasting success in London, having opened The Globe Theatre in 1599.

John Shakespeare had a life of steady rise in fortune and social standing followed by a precipitous decline starting in the 1570s when William was about ten years old.

John moved to Stratford-on-Avon as a young man, married well, established himself as a manufacturer of fancy kid gloves and acquired property. He held various offices in Stratford – Bailiff, Alderman, Chief of Council and finally Mayor. Then, things began to go wrong for John.

The reasons for his declining fortunes (he was stripped of all offices and seems to have sold off most of his land at a fraction of their value) have been debated. One theory, still unproven, is that he secretly remained faithful to the Catholic religion at a time when Protestantism was the official faith in England.

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John applied to be granted a coat of arms in 1570 but was rejected. In 1596 he re-applied and, due it is thought to William’s success in London, it was finally granted.

How William was affected by his father’s death is unknown, but he did inherit the house that he was born and brought up in, which he promptly leased out to a tenent who added on to it and turned it into an inn, “The Swan and the Maidenhead.”

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