Mary Shakespeare

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Mary Shakespeare, née Arden, (c. 1537–1608) was the mother of William Shakespeare. She was the daughter of Wilmcote gentleman farmer Robert Arden, a cadet of the Arden family[1][2] prominent in Warwickshire since before the Norman Conquest. She was the youngest of eight daughters, and when her father died in 1556 she inherited land at Snitterfield and Wilmcote from her father as a dowry. The house was left to her stepmother Agnes Hill. Richard Shakespeare, the father of John Shakespeare, was a tenant farmer on land owned by her father in Snitterfield. As the daughter of Richard's landlord, she may have known John since childhood.[3] Mary married John Shakespeare in 1557, when she was 20 years old.[3] She bore eight children: Joan (1558), Margaret (1562–1563), William (1564–1616), Gilbert (1566–1612), Joan (1569–1646), Anne (1571–1579), Richard (1574–1613), and Edmund (1580–1607).[4] Though Mary gave birth to many children, several of them died young. Their first daughter, Joan, born 1558 died; the name being used again for their third daughter. Their second daughter, Margaret, also died in infancy.[3] Some members of the wider Arden family were of the Catholic faith.[3]

Mary was from a family of status and her ancestors – such as Thomas Arden, who fought in the thirteenth-century civil war for the Barons and Simon de Montfort; Robert Arden who fought in the War of Roses; John Arden who served on the court of Henry VII – were well-connected in society.[3]

Palmer's Farm (rear)

Mary Arden's House in Wilmcote has been maintained in good condition because it had been a working farmhouse over the centuries. It was bought by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in 1930 and refurnished in the Tudor period style.[5] In 2000 it was discovered that the building preserved as Mary Arden's house had belonged to a friend and neighbour, Adam Palmer, and the house was accordingly renamed Palmer's Farm. The house that had belonged to the Arden family – which was near to Palmer's Farm – had been acquired by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in 1968 for preservation as part of a farmyard, without knowing its true provenance.[6] The house and farm are open as a historic museum displaying 16th-century life.


  1. ^ Burke's Landed Gentry, 18th ed., vol. 2, 1969, ed. Peter Townend, 'Arden formerly of Longcroft' pedigree
  2. ^ Shakespeare, Anthony Burgess, Vintage Books, chapter 1, 'Home'
  3. ^ a b c d e Wood, Michael. Shakespeare. New York: Basic, 2003. Print.
  4. ^ A Shakespeare Genealogy Archived March 29, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "Mary Arden's House (the mother of William Shakespeare)". Online Shakespeare.
  6. ^ The Shakespeare Houses – The Official Guide, Revised 2008, ISBN 978-0-7117-2949-0