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On the 22nd of August, 1485, there was a battle fought for the crown of Eng land, a short battle ending in a decisive victory. In that field a crowned king, "manfully fighting in the middle of his enemies, was slain and brought to his death;" and a politic adventurer put on the crown, which the immediate descendants of his house wore for nearly a century and a quarter. The battlefield was Bosworth. "When the earl had thus obtained victory and slain his mortal enemy, he kneeled down and rendered to Almighty God his hearty thanks, with devout and godly orisons. . . . Which prayer finished, he, replenished with incomparable gladness, ascended up to the top of a little mountain, where he not only praised and lauded his valiant soldiers, but also gave unto them his hearty thanks, with promise of condign recompense for their fidelity and valiant facts."* Two months afterwards the Earl of Richmond was
more solemnly crowned and anointed at Westminster by the name of King Henry VII.; and "after this," continues the chronicler, "he began to remember his especial friends and fautors, of whom some he advanced to honour and dignity, and some he enriched with possessions and goods, every man according to his desert and merit."* Was there in that victorious army of the Earl of Richmond,-which Richard denounced as a "company of traitors, thieves, outlaws, and runagates,”—an Englishman bearing the name of Chacksper, or Shakespeyre, or Schakespere, or Schakespeire, or Schakspere, or Shakespere, or Shakspere,†— a martial name, however spelt? 'Breakespear, Shakespear, and the like, have been surnames imposed upon the first bearers of them for valour and feats of arms."‡ Of the warlike achievements of this Shakspere there is no record: his name or his deeds would have no interest for us unless there had been born, eighty years after this battle-day, a direct descendant from him—
"Whose muse, full of high thought's invention,
a Shakspere, of whom it was also said—
"He seems to shake a lance
As brandish'd at the eyes of ignorance." ||
Certainly there was a Shakspere, the paternal ancestor of William Shakspere, who, if he stood not nigh the little mountain when the Earl of Richmond promised condign recompense to his valiant soldiers, was amongst those especial friends and fautors whom Henry VII. enriched with possessions and goods. A public document bearing the date of 1596 affirms of John Shakspere of Stratford-uponAvon, the father of William Shakspere, that his "parent and late antecessors were, for their valiant and faithful services, advanced and rewarded of the most prudent prince King Henry VII. of famous memory;" and it adds, “sithence which time they have continued at those parts [Warwickshire] in good reputation and credit." Another document of a similar character, bearing the date of 1599, also affirms upon "creditable report," of "John Shakspere, now of Stratford-upon-Avon, in the county of Warwick, gentleman," that his "parent and great-grandfather, late antecessor, for his faithful and approved service to the late most prudent prince King Henry VII. of famous memory, was advanced and rewarded with lands and tenements, given to him in those parts of Warwickshire, where they have continued by some descents in good reputation and credit." Such are the recitals of two several grants of arms to John Shakspere, confirming a previous grant made to him in 1569; and let it not be said that these statements were the rhodomontades of heraldry,-honours bestowed, for mere mercenary considerations, upon any pretenders to gentle blood. There was strict inquiry if they were unworthily bestowed. Two centuries and a half ago
* Hall's Chronicle.
A list of the brethren and sisters of the Guild of Knowle, near Rowington, in Warwickshire, exhibits a great number of the name of Shakspere in that fraternity, from about 1460 to 1527; and the names are spelt with the diversity here given, Shakspere being the latest.
Verstegan's 'Restitution,' &c.
such honours were of grave importance; and there is a solemnity in the tone of these very documents which, however it may provoke a smile from what we call philosophy, was connected with high and generous principles: "Know ye that in all nations and kingdoms the record and remembrance of the valiant facts and virtuous dispositions of worthy men have been made known and divulged by certain shields of arms and tokens of chivalry." In those parts of Warwickshire, then, lived and died, we may assume, the faithful and approved servant of the "unknown Welshman," as Richard called him, who won for himself the more equivocal name of "the most prudent prince." He was probably advanced in years when Henry ascended the throne; for in the first year of Queen Elizabeth, 1558, his great-grandson, John Shakspere, was a burgess of the corporation of Stratford, and was in all probability born about 1530. John Shakspere was of the third generation succeeding the adherent of Henry VII. The family had continued in those parts, "by some descents;" but how they were occupied in the business of life, what was their station in society, how they branched out into other lines of Shaksperes, we have no distinct record. They were probably cultivators of the soil, unambitious small proprietors. The name may be traced by legal documents in many parishes of Warwickshire; but we learn from a deed of trust, executed in 1550 by Robert Arden, the maternal grandfather of William Shakspere, that Richard Shakspere was the occupier of land in Snitterfield, the property of Robert Arden. At this parish of Snitterfield lived a Henry Shakspere, who, as we learn from a declaration in the Court of Record at Stratford, was the brother of John Shakspere. It is conjectured, and very reasonably, that Richard Shakspere, of Snitterfield, was the paternal grandfather of William Shakspere. Snitterfield is only three miles distant from Stratford.
A painter of manners, who comes near to the times of John Shakspere, has described the probable condition of his immediate ancestors: "Yeomen are those which by our law are called legales homines, free men born English.... The truth is, that the word is derived from the Saxon term zeoman, or geoman, which signifieth (as I have read) a settled or staid man. . . . This sort of people have a certain preeminence and more estimation than labourers and the common sort of artificers, and these commonly live wealthily, keep good houses, and travel to get riches. They are also for the most part farmers to gentlemen, or at the leastwise artificers; and with grazing, frequenting of markets, and keeping of servants (not idle servants as the gentlemen do, but such as get both their own and part of their masters' living), do come to great wealth, insomuch that many of them are able and do buy the lands of unthrifty gentlemen, and often, setting their sons to the schools, to the universities, and to the inns of the court, or otherwise leaving them sufficient lands whereupon they may live without labour, do make them by those means to become gentlemen: these were they that in times past made all France afraid.” Plain-speaking Harrison, who wrote this description in the middle of the reign of Elizabeth, tells us how the yeoman and the descendants of the yeoman could be changed into gentlemen; "Whosoever studieth the laws of the realm, whoso abideth in the university giving his mind to his book, or professeth physic and the liberal sciences, or beside his service in the room of a
captain in the wars, or good counsel given at home, whereby his commonwealth is benefited, can live without manual labour, and thereto is able and will bear the port, charge, and countenance of a gentleman, he shall for money have a coat and arms bestowed upon him by heralds (who in the charter of the same do of custom pretend antiquity and service, and many gay things), and thereunto being made so good cheap, be called master, which is the title that men give to esquires and gentlemen, and reputed for a gentleman ever after." And so John Shakspere, whilst he was bailiff of Stratford in 1568 or 1569, desired to have "a coat and arms;" and for instruction to the heralds as to the "gay things" they were to say in their charter, of "honour and service," he told them, and he no doubt told them truly, that he was great-grandson to one who had been advanced and rewarded by Henry VII. And so for ever after he was no more goodman Shakspere, or John Shakspere, yeoman, but Master Shakspere; and this short change in his condition was produced by virtue of a grant of arms by Robert Cook, Clarencieux King at Arms; which shield or coat of arms was confirmed by William Dethick, Garter, principal King of Arms, in 1596, as follows: "Gould, on a bend sable and a speare of the first, the point steeled, proper; and his crest, or cognizance, a faulcon, his wings displayed, argent, standing on a wrethe of his coullors supporting a speare gould steele as aforesaid, sett uppon a helmet with mantells and tassells."
[Arms of John Shakspere !