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- in Chancery was instituted for the recovery of them. No
decree in the case has been found; but as the matter was at that time probably in the stronger hands of Shakespeare's son William, there can be little doubt that it was carried to a successful issue. Mr. Collier is of the opinion that Lambert may have relinquished the estate on the payment of the £40, and of the other sums claimed by his father in 1530.
Still we must not from these things infer too much as to the shortness of John Shakespeare's means in 1580. He was still in possession of the two copyhold estates alienated to him by Turnor and West in 1556: also the two freehold estates in Henley-street, which he purchased in 1575, were still owned by him, and on his death they remained as a part of his son's inheritance. Another curious fact is given by Mr. Halliwell as showing that his means could not have been at a very low ebb. It appears from the parish register, that a daughter of his was buried on the 4th of April, 1579; and the Chamberlain's accounts for that year have an entry of 8d. paid by him for the bell and pall at the funeral; which is the largest fee in the list." So that his distress could hardly have been so great at this time as hath sometimes been supposed, and as the other facts noticed might seem to infer.
Be this as it may, the pressure seems to have been still harder upon him a few years later. It is not improbable that his affairs may have got embarrassed from his having " toc many irons in the fire,” The registry of the Court of Record has a large number of entries respecting him, scattered over the whole period from 1555 to 1595, with the exception of fifteen years, from 1569 to 1584, during which the registry is deficient. These entries show him to have
19 The following are the entries relating to this point :
been engaged in a great variety of transactions, and to have · bad more litigation on his hands than would now be thought either creditable or safe.
We have already seen that he was one of the aldermen from 1570 to 1586. He was very seldom absent from the councils of the borough before 1577; and from that time till his removal he was rarely present. He is marked, how. ever, as attending a meeting held October 4th, 1577; and is found in regular attendance from that timc till January 5th, 1578; after which date, the only instances of his being present were September 51h and November 4th, 1582. At length, at a meeting held September 6th, 1586, he was removed, and his non-attendance assigned as the reason of the act.20 It is probable enough that his course in this matter may have grown from a wish to be quit of the office. Mr. Halliwell thinks his action is so far from arguing him to have been in pecuniary distress, that "it implies, on the contrary, the ability to pay the fines for non-attendance.” 21 This seems to us nowise conclusive; for sacrifices of that kind are often made by men struggling to keep up their credit, and perhaps to retrieve ur repair their fortune. Some personal antipathies growing out of his troubles may have rendered him unwilling to meet with his fellow-aldermen in public council. On the 25th of May, 1586, he was summoned to the Court of Record as a juryman; which proves him to have been in Stratford that year, and able to attend the meetings of the corporation.
Among the numerous entries concerning him in the regis
20 The records show the following minute of the proceedings : " At thys halle William Smythe and Richard Courie are chosen to be aldermen in the places of John Wheler and John Shaxspere; for that Mr. Wheler dothe desyre to be put owt of the companye, and Mr. Shaxspere dothe not come to the halles when they be warned, nor bathe not done of longe tyme."
21 Ai a meeting held November 19th, 1578, it was “ordered that every alderman and burgese that hath made default, not com minge to this hall accordinge lo lhe order, shall paye their mor ciainent."
try of the Court of Record are several bearing upon the point in hand. On the 16th of February, 1586, we find an entry of a capias issued against him for debt: this is followed, on the 2d of March, by another copias issued in behalf of the same party; and the latter entry has a marginal note which seems to imply that after all the debt was not discharged. There is also an entry, on the 19th of January in the same year, of a return to the effect, that he had no goods on which distraint could be made. This is regarded by Mr. Halliwell, himself a lawyer, as the most formidable circumstance appearing against him: but he thinks that, caking into view the ancient forms of process in actions of debt, it “must be construed in a great measure by legal formality, not necessarily as an actual fact;” and he adds, “there can be little doubt that he was keeping himself out of the way of the service of a process.” Another entry, dated March 29, 1587, mentions a writ of habeas corpus produced by John Shakespeare; which concludes with tolerable certainty either that he was in custody for debt, or that he wished to remove a cause to a higher court. What effect these things may have had on the Poet, will be considered hereafter. Mr. Halliwell winds up his notice of them as follows: “When we compare these facts with the probable date of Shakespeare's removal to London, it will, I think, be found to raise a strong probability in favour of the supposition that the circumstances of the family had some relation with that important step in the Poet's life.”
One more particular will conclude this part of the subject. From a recent discovery in the State Paper Office, it appears that Sir Thomas Lucy, Sir Fulk Greville, and six others, having been commissioned to make inquiries touching priests, jesuits, recusants, and fugitives in Warwickshire, sent to the Privy Council what they call their “second certificate," dated September 25th, 1592. That portion of the certificate which relates to Stratford-on-Avon professes to return “ the names of all such recusants as have been here.
tofore presented for not coming monthly to the church, according to her Majesty's laws; and yet are thought to forbear the church for debt, or for fear of process, or for some other worse faults, or for age, sickness, or impotency of body." This introduction is followed by a list of names, and among them are these nine: “Mr. John Wheler; John Wheler, his son; Mr. John Shakespeare ; Mr. Nicholas Barneshurst; 'I Lomas James, alias Giles; William Bainton; Richard Harrington ; William Fluellen ; George Bardolph.” These are grouped by a bracket; and against them are the words, -“ It is said that these last nine come not to church for fear of process of debt.” Then come six other names grouped in like manner, and against them are the words, — “Were all here presented for recusants, and do all so continue, saving Mrs. Wheler, who is conformed, and Griffin ap Roberts now dead."
What we are to conclude from this matter, stands in much doubt. It is to be noted, that the return purports to give “the names of all such recusants as have been hereiofore presented ;” which would naturally infer that John Shakespeare had been named in a former list of persons suspected of recusancy; but on this point we are without any means of information, the most diligent search having failed to discover the first certificate of the commissioners. Perhaps all who did not go to church as often as once a month were presumed to be .ecusants, until they should show that thy had other good causes for staying away. At all events, it is not very likely th..t John Shakespeare was indeed a recusant: he had all his children, that we hear of, regularly baptized at the parish church; and we have seen him holding several public offices which he could not have entered but under such oaths as no honest Romanist could think of taking. Still it is possible that, like many other conscientious men, having first embraced the Reformation, he afterwards had some misgivings, and would fain have re turned to the faith of his earlier years.
We have now given all the information on this point that lies within our reach, and must leave the reader to his own judgment in the question. Touching the fear of process for debt, Mr. Collier thinks nothing of the sort would have kept him from church on Sunday, as no such process could be served on that day. But we suspect he must be mistaken here, else why should the return have alleged this as the cause of his not coming to church? The commissioners must have known what could and what could not be done on Sunday; and we cannot judge from the laws of our time what may have been lawful then. But, whatever may have been the cause in question, whether it were fear of arrest or aversion to the reformed faith, or whether it were “age, sickness, or impotency of body,” it certainly did not prevent his being called upon to make inventories of the goods of persons deceased; a task which, according to the old lawbooks, should be performed by “four credible men or more." Twice in the year 1592, on the 24th of July and the 21st of August, we find him engaged in offices of that kind, Ralph Shaw and Henry Field being the persons whose goods were inventoried. 22 At the end of the latter document, we have the signature “ John Shakespeare, senior,” with his mark, a simple cross, placed, as usual, a little below his name, to
22 This Henry Field was probably the same person against whom we found him bringing an action in 1556, for unjustly detaining a quantity of barley. - We subjoin the titles prefixed to these two inventories :
“ The true and perfect inventory of Raph Shawe, of Stratford upon Avon in the county of Warwicke, woll-dryver, decessed ; taken the xxiii.th day of Julye, in the xxxiii.th yeare of tho raygne of our soveraygne lady Elizabeth, by the grace of God of England, France, and Ierland, Queene, defender of the Feyth, &c., by the discretion of Mr. John Shakspere, Mr. Willyam Wil. son, and Valentyne Tant, with others.
“ A trew and perfecte inventory of the goodes and cattells of Henry Feelde, late of Stretford uppon Avon in the cownty of Warwyke, tanner, now decessed, beyinge in Stretford aforesayd the xxi. daye of Auguste, anno Domini 1592, by Thomas Trus sell, gentylman, Mr. John Shaksper, Richard Sponer, and others."