History in the News
The Bard’s political beliefs and writings may have been influenced by criminal accusations against his father
Millions of artefacts lost in Brazil
Events that may have inspired a young William Shakespeare have been uncovered in documents relating to the playwright’s father. Hidden in the National Archives for years, the 21 records – discovered by Prof Glyn Parry from the University of Roehampton – highlight the legal and financial trouble suffered by the Bard’s father, John Shakespeare. John, a glover and wool dealer, was a prominent member of society in 16th-century Stratfordupon-Avon who held several municipal roles, including that of mayor. We know he was accused of illegal wool dealing and moneylending, but it was assumed that these allegations were settled out of court while his famous son was still young. That appears not to be the case.
The records show that John’s troubles lasted until William was at least 19 – much later than previously thought – and were brought about by informers, who were widely considered to be corrupt and only interested in filling the Queen’s coffers. One of his debts to the Crown is recorded at £132, or £20,000 in today’s money, and his property was placed at risk of seizure.
William’s writing often betrays a need for justice, as well as a critical view of those in power. Could his father’s experiences have something to do with it? Prof Parry thinks so: “Very little is known of William Shakespeare’s early life and the influences on his writing. These documents now confirm that legal action taken against his father by the Crown influenced his attitude to power politics.”
The allegations caused trouble for Shakespeare’s father until 1583, when the Bard would have been at least 19