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Arden and John Shakspere were, in all likelihood, standing before the altar of the parish church of Aston Cantlow, and the house and lands of Asbies became administered by one who took possession "by the right of the said Mary," who thenceforward abided for half a century in the good town of Stratford. There is no register of the marriage discovered: but the date must have been about a year after the father's death; for "Joan Shakspere, daughter to John Shakspere," was, according to the Stratford register, baptized on the 15th September, 1558.
A PLEASANT place is this quiet town of Stratford-a place of ancient traffic, "the name having been originally occasioned from the ford or passage over the water upon the great street or road leading from Henley in Arden towards London."* England was not always a country of bridges: rivers asserted their own natural rights, and were not bestrid by domineering man. If the people of Henley in Arden would travel towards London, the Avon might invite or oppose their passage at his own good will; and, indeed, the river so often swelled into a rapid and dangerous stream, that the honest folk of the one bank might be content to hold somewhat less intercourse with their neighbours on the other than Englishmen now hold with the antipodes. But the days of improvement were sure to arrive. There were charters for markets, and charters for fairs, obtained from King Richard and King John; and in process of time Stratford rejoiced in a wooden bridge, though without a causey, and exposed to constant damage by flood. And then an alderman of London,-in
days when the very rich were not slow to do magnificent things for public benefit, and did less for their own vain pride and luxury,-built a stone bridge over the Avon, which has borne the name of Clopton's Bridge, even from the days of Henry VII. until this day. Ecclesiastical foundations were numerous at Stratford; and such were, in every case, the centres of civilization and prosperity. The parish church was a collegiate one, with a chantry of five priests; and there was an ancient guild and chapel of the Holy Cross, partly a religious and partly a civil institution. A grammar-school was connected with the guild; and the municipal government of the town was settled in a corporation by charter of Edward VI., and the grammar-school especially maintained. Here then was a liberal accumulation, such as belongs only to an old country, to make a succession of thriving communities at Stratford; and they did thrive, according to the notion of thrift in those days. But we are not to infer that when John Shakspere removed the daughter and heiress of Arden from the old hall of Wilmecote he placed her in some substantial mansion in his corporate town, ornamental as well as solid in its architecture, spacious, convenient, fitted up with taste, if not with splendour. Stratford had, in all likelihood, no such houses to offer; it was a town of wooden houses, a scattered town,-no doubt with gardens separating the low and irregular tenements, sleeping ditches intersecting the properties, and stagnant pools exhaling in the road. A zealous antiquarian has discovered that John Shakspere inhabited a house in Henley Street as early as 1552; and that he, as well as two other neighbours, was fined for making a dung-heap in the street.* In 1553, the jurors of Stratford present certain inhabitants as violators of the municipal laws : from which presentment we learn that ban-dogs were not to go about unmuzzled ; nor sheep pastured in the ban-croft for more than an hour each day; nor swine to feed on the common land unringed,† It is evident that Stratford was a rural town, surrounded with common fields, and containing a mixed population of agriculturists and craftsmen. The same character was retained as late as 1618, when the privy council represented to the corporation of Stratford that great and lamentable loss had happened to that town by casualty of fire, which, of late years, hath been very frequently occasioned by means of thatched cottages, stacks of straw, furzes, and such-like combustible stuff, which are suffered to be erected and made confusedly in most of the principal parts of the town without restraint."‡ If such were the case when the family of William Shakspere occupied the best house in Stratford, a house in which Queen Henrietta Maria resided for three weeks, when the royalist army held that part of the country in triumph,—it is not unreasonable to suppose that sixty years earlier the greater number of houses in Stratford must have been mean timber buildings, thatched cottages run up of combustible stuff; and that the house in Henley Street which John Shakspere occupied and purchased, and which his son inherited and bequeathed to his sister for her life, must have been an important house,—a house fit Hunter: 'New Illustrations,' vol. i. p. 18.
The proceedings of the court are given in Mr. Halliwell's 'Life of Shakspeare,' a book which may be fairly held to contain all the documentary evidence of this life which has been discovered. Chalmers's 'Apology, p. 618
for a man of substance, a house of some space and comfort, compared with those of the majority of the surrounding population.
That population of the corporate town of Stratford, containing within itself rich endowments and all the framework of civil superiority, would appear insignificant in a modern census. The average annual number of baptisms in 1564 was fifty-five; of burials in the same year forty-two: these numbers, upon received principles of calculation, would give us a total population of about one thousand four hundred. In a certificate of charities, &c., in the thirty-seventh year of Henry VIII., the number of "houselyng people" in Stratford is stated to be fifteen hundred. This population was furnished with all the machinery by which Englishmen, even in very early times, managed their own local affairs, and thus obtained that aptitude for practical good government which equally rejects the tyranny of the one or of the many. The corporation in the time of John Shakspere consisted of fourteen aldermen and fourteen burgesses, one of the aldermen being annually elected to the office of bailiff. The bailiff held a court of record every fortnight, for the trial of all causes within the jurisdiction of the borough in which the debt and damages did not amount to thirty pounds. There was a court-leet also, which appointed its ale-tasters, who presided over the just measure and wholesome quality of beer, that necessary of life in ancient times; and which court-leet chose also, annually, four affeerors, who had the power in their hands of summary punishment for offences for which no penalty was prescribed by statute. The constable was the great police officer, and he was a man of importance, for the burgesses of the corporation invariably served the office. John Shakspere appears from the records of Stratford to have gone through the whole regular course of municipal duty. In 1556 he was on the jury of the court-leet; in 1557, an ale-taster; in 1558, a burgess; in 1559, a constable; in 1560, an affeeror; in 1561, a chamberlain; in 1565, an alderman; and in 1568, high bailiff of the borough, the chief magistrate.
There have been endless theories, old and new, affirmations, contradictions, as to the worldly calling of John Shakspere. There are ancient registers in Stratford, minutes of the Common Hall, proceedings of the Court-leet, pleas of the Court of Record, writs, which have been hunted over with unwearied diligence, and yet they tell us nothing, or next to nothing, of John Shakspere. When he was elected an alderman in 1565, we can trace out the occupations of his brother aldermen, and readily come to the conclusion that the municipal authority of Stratford was vested, as we may naturally suppose it to have been, in the hands of substantial tradesmen, brewers, bakers, butchers, grocers, victuallers, mercers, woollen-drapers.* Prying into the secrets of time, we are enabled to form some notion of the literary acquirements of this worshipful body. On rare, very rare occasions, the aldermen and burgesses constituting the town council affixed their signatures, for greater solemnity, to some order of the court; and on the 29th of September, in the seventh of Elizabeth, upon an order that John Wheler should take the office of bailiff, we have nineteen names subscribed, aldermen and burgesses. Out of the nineteen six only
* See Malone's Life of Shakspeare,' Boswell's Malone, vol. ii., p. 77.
can say, "I thank God I have been so well brought up that I can write my The stock of literary acquirement amongst the magnates of Stratford was not very large. And why should that stock of literature have been larger? There were some who had been at the grammar-school, and they perhaps were