Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

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 steel as aforesaid, sett uppon a helmet with mantells and tassells."

[Arms of John Shakspere.]

But there were other arms one day to be impaled with the “ speare of the first, the poynt steeled, proper.” In 1599 John Shakspere again goes to the College of Arms, and, producing his own “ancient coat of arms,” says that he has “married the daughter and one of the heirs of Robert Arden, of Wellingcote :" and then the heralds take the “speare of the first," and say—“We have likewise upon on other escutcheon impaled the same with the ancient arms of the said Arden of Wellingcote.” They add that John Shakspere, and his children, issue, and posterity, may bear and use the same shield of arms, single or impaled.

The family of Arden was one of the highest antiquity in Warwickshire. Dugdale traces its pedigree uninterruptedly up to the time of Edward the Confessor. Under the head of Curdworth, a parish in the hundred of Hemlingford, he says “In this place I have made choice to speak historically of that most ancient and worthy family, whose surname was first assumed from their residence in this part of the country, then and yet called Arden, by reason of its woodiness, the old Britons and Gauls using the word in that sense.” At the time of the Norman invasion there resided at Warwick, Turchil, “a man of especial note and power” and of “great possessions.” In the Domesday Book his father, Alwyne, is styled vice comes. Turchil, as well as his father, received favour at the hands of the Conqueror. He retained the possession of vast lands in the shire, and he occupied Warwick Castle as a military governor. He was thence called Turchil de Warwick by the Normans. But Dugdale goes on to say—“He was one of the first here in England that, in imitation of the Normans, assumed a surname, for so it appears that he did, and wrote himself Turchillus de Eardene, in the days of King William Rufus.” The history of the De Ardens, as collected with wonderful industry by Dugdale, spreads over six centuries. Such records seldom present much variety of incident, however great and wealthy be the family to which they are linked. In this instance a shrievalty or an attainder varies the register of birth and marriage, but generation after generation passes away without leaving any enduring traces of its sojourn on the earth. Fuller has not the name of a single De Arden amongst his Worthies’—men illustrious for something more than birth or riches, with the exception of those who swell the lists of sheriffs for the county. The pedigree which Dugdale gives of the Arden family brings us no nearer in the direct line to the mother of Shakspere than to Robert Arden, her great-grandfather: he was the third son of Walter Arden, who married Eleanor the daughter of John Hampden, of Buckinghamshire; and he was brother to Sir John Arden, squire for the body to Henry VII. Malone, with laudable industry, has continued the pedigree in the younger branch. Robert's son, also called Robert, was groom of the chamber to Henry VII. He appears to have been a favourite; for he had a valuable lease granted him by the king of the manor of Yoxsall, in Staffordshire, and was also made keeper of the royal park of Aldercar. His uncle, Sir John Arden, probably showed him the road to these benefits. The squire for the body was a high officer of the ancient court; and the groom of the chamber was an inferior officer, but one who had service and responsibility. The correspondent offices of modern times, however encumbered with the wearisomeness of etiquette, are relieved from the old duties, which are now intrusted to hired servants. The squire for the body had to array the king and unarray ; no man else was to set hand on the king. The groom of the robes was to present the squire for the body “all the king's stuff, as well his shoon as his other gear;" but the squire for the body was to draw them on. If the sun of majesty was to enlighten the outer world, the squire humbly followed with the cloak; when royalty needed refection, the squire duly presented the potage. But at night it was his duty, and much watchfulness did it require, to preside over all those jealous safeguards that once fenced round a sleeping king from a traitorous subject. In a pallet bed, in the same room with the king, rested the gentleman or lord of the bedchamber; in the ante-room slept the groom of the bedchamber; in the privy chamber adjoining were two gentlemen in waiting; and, lastly, in the presence-chamber reposed the squire for the body under the cloth of estate. Locks and bolts upon every door defended each of these approaches, and the sturdy yeomen mounted guard without, so that the pages, who made their pallets at the last chamber threshold, might sleep in peace.* It is not improbable that the ancestor of John Shakspere might have guarded the door without, whilst Sir John Arden slept upon the haut pas within. They had each their relative importance in their own day; but they could little foresee that in the next century their blood would mingle, and that one would descend from them who would make the world agree not utterly to forget their own names, however indifferent that future world might be to the comparative importance of the court servitude of the Arden or the Shakspere. Robert Arden, the groom of the bedchamber to Henry VII., probably left the court upon the death of his master. He married, and he had a son, also Robert, who married Agnes Webbe. Their

youngest daughter was Mary, the mother of William Shakspere. Mary Arden! The name breathes of poetry. It seems the personification of some Dryad of

“Many a huge-grown wood, and many a shady grove," called by that generic name of Arden,-a forest with many towns,

* This information is given in a long extract from a manuscript in the Heralds' Office, quoted in Malone's · Life of Shakspeare.'

† From the connection of these immediate ancestors of Shakspere's mother with the court of Henry VII., Malone has assumed that they were the “ antecessors” of John Shakspere declared in the grants of arms to have been advanced and rewarded by the conqueror of Bosworth Field. Because Robert Arden had a lease of the royal manor of Yoxsall, in Staffordshire, Malone also contends that the reward of lands and tenements stated in the grant of arms to have been bestowed upon the ancestor of John Shakspere really means the beneficial lease to Robert Arden. He holds that popularly the grandfather of Mary Arden would have been called the grandfather of John Shakspere, and that John Shakspere himself would have so called him. The answer is very direct. The grant of arms recites that the great-grandfather of John Shakspere had been advanced and rewarded by Henry VII., and then goes on to say that John Shakspere had married the daughter of Robert Arden of Wellingcote: He has an ancient coat-of-arms of his own derived from his ancestor, and the arms of his wife are to be impaled with these his own arms. Can the interpretation of this document then be that Mary Arden's grandfather is the person pointed out as John Shakspere's great-grandfather; and that, having an ancient coat-of-arms himself, his ancestry is really that of his wife, whose arms are totally different?

“ Whose footsteps yet are found
In her rough woodlands more than any other ground,
That mighty Arden held even in her height of pride,

Her one hand touching Trent, the other Severn's side." That name of Mary Arden sounds as blandly as the verse of this fine old panegyrist of his “native country," when he describes the songs of birds in those solitudes amongst which the house of Arden had for ages been seated :

“ The softer with the shrill (some hid among the leaves,

Some in the taller trees, some in the lower greaves)
Thus sing away the morn, until the mounting sun
Through thick exhaled fogs his golden head hath run,
And through the twisted tops of our close covert creeps

To kiss the gentle shade, this while that sweetly sleeps." + High as was her descent, wealthy and powerful as were the numerous branches of her family, Mary Arden, we doubt not, led a life of usefulness as well as innocence, within her native forest hamlet. She had three sisters, and they all, with their mother Agnes, survived their father, who died in December, 1556. His will is dated the 24th of November in the same year, and the testator styles himself “ Robert Arden, of Wylmcote, in the paryche of Aston Cauntlow.”

[graphic][subsumed][merged small]

The face of the country must have been greatly changed in three centuries. A canal, with lock rising upon lock, now crosses the hill upon which the village stands; but traffic has not robbed the place of its green pastures and its shady nooks, though nothing is left of the ancient magnificence of the great forest. There is very slight appearance of antiquity about the present village, and certainly not a house in which we can conceive that Robert Arden resided.

Drayton.

Polyolbion, 13th Song.

+ Ibid.

It was in the reign of Philip and Mary that Robert Arden died; and we cannot therefore be sure that the wording of his will is any absolute proof of his religious opinions :-“First, I bequeath my soul to Almighty God and to our blessed Lady Saint Mary, and to all the holy company of heaven, and my body to be buried in the churchyard of Saint John the Baptist in Aston aforesaid.” One who had conformed to the changes of religion might even have begun his last testament with this ancient formula; even as the will of Henry VIII. himself is so worded. (See Rymer's · Fædera.') Mary, his youngest daughter, from superiority of mind, or some other cause of her father's confidence, occupies the most prominent position in the will :—“I give and bequeath to my youngest daughter Mary all my land in Wilmecote, called Asbies, and the crop upon the ground, sown and tilled as it is, and six pounds thirteen shillings and fourpence of money to be paid over ere my goods be divided." To his daughter Alice he bequeaths the third part of all his goods, moveable and unmoveable, in field and town: to his wife six pounds thirteen shillings and fourpence, under the condition that she should allow her daughter Alice to occupy half of a copyhold at Wilmecote, she having “her jointure in Snitterfield,” near Stratford. The remainder of his goods is divided amongst his other children. Alice and Mary are made the “ full executors” to his will. We thus see that the youngest daughter has an undivided estate and a sum of money; and, from the crop being also bequeathed to her, it is evident that she was considered able to continue the tillage. The estate thus bequeathed to her consisted of about sixty acres of arable and pasture, and a house. It was a small fortune for a descendant of the lord of forty-seven manors in the county of Warwickshire, * but it was enough for happiness. Luxury had scarcely ever come under her paternal roof. The house of Wilmecote would indeed be a well-timbered house, being in a woody country. It would not be a house of splints and clay, such as made the Spaniard in that very reign of Mary say, " These English have their houses made of sticks and dirt, but they fare commonly as well as the king.” It was some twenty years after the death of Robert Arden that Harrison described the growth of domestic luxury in England, saying, “There are old men yet dwelling in the village where I remain which have noted three things to be marvellously altered in England within their sound remembrance.” One of these enormities is the multitude of chimneys lately erected, whereas formerly each one made his fire against a reredosse in the hall, where he dined and dressed his meat: the second thing is the great amendment of lodging—the pillows, the beds, the sheets, instead of the straw pallet, the rough mat, the good round log or the sack of chaff under the head: the third thing is the exchange of vessels, as of trèen platters

* See an account in Dugdale of the possessions, recited in ‘Domesday Book,' of Turchil de Arden.

« ZurückWeiter »