Category Archives: William Shakespeare

On this day in 1564 – the plague arrived in Stratford upon Avon

On 11th July 1564 the plague arrived in Stratford upon Avon, over 200 were buried by the end of the year which equated to around 1/5th of the town’s population.

Accusations were made against the town clerk, Richard Symonds for spreading the disease across the town by allowing his servant to run errands whilst sick, although this was never proven.

In the town records for baptisms and burials alongside the record Oliver Gunne are the words ‘hic incepit pestis’ translated to ‘Here begins the plague’. The telltale signs of the plague were noted on Gunne’s body including the black and purplish spots that were associated with the disease. Few families survived the plague intact but one family that did was the Shakespeare’s which was surprising in itself as John and Mary Shakespeare had a newborn son in the home who escaped the plague untouched, the baby would go on to be William Shakespeare.

The Shakespeare’s lived in the centre of Stratford upon Avon in Henley Street and just a few houses away their neighbours would lose four of their children to the plague. Many tried to protect their homes in order to ward of the disease by keeping their windows and doors sealed, burning dried Rosemary in a chafing dish and scattering peeled onions on the floor.

The cause of the plague is often attributed to the fleas that were carried on rodents and could strike without warning. The first sign of the plague was a swelling in the groin or armpit before spreading across the body where black and purple spots would break out before attacking the rest of the body before the victim succumbed to the disease after a few days.

As Tudor medicine was not as advanced as today’s modern medicine there was no known cure for the plague and many towns had to simply wait for the disease to pass at the toll of many deaths.

144The Parish records in Stratford upon Avon documenting the begining of the plague in 1564

On this day in 1613 – Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was burned to the ground

The Globe Theatre was built in 1599 and was the home of William Shakespeare’s work; however, it was built of timber and a thatched roof. Within the theatre there were three tiers of wooden balconies and benches for the audience to sit on.

The Globe was home to many props that were used day to day within each play and this included a canon that was installed near to the thatched roof in the ‘Gods’. The cannon was loaded with gunpowder and wadding and used to create dramatic effect or in battle.

On 29th June 1613 the cannon was used during a performance of Shakespeare’s King Henry VIII to singal Henry’s arrival at a Masquerade ball at Cardinal Wolsey’s home. Sparks from the cannon fire landed on the roof and a fire quickly broke out and spread across the theatre, at first the audience ignored it believing it to be a part of the performance but eventually they all evacuated from the theatre leaving through two sets of doors, the main entrance and also an exit door.

There were no reported deaths or serious injuries but it was noted that one man’s breeches caught on fire and had to be put out with a bottle of ale.

There were two eyewitnesses to the Globe fire. First Sir Henry Wotton wrote in a letter dated 2nd July 1613 wrote;

“… I will entertain you at the present with what happened this week at the Banks side. The King’s players had a new play called All is True, representing some principal pieces of the reign of Henry the Eighth, which set forth with many extraordinary circumstances of pomp and majesty even to the matting of the stage; the knights of the order with their Georges and Garter; the guards with their embroidered coats, and the like: sufficient in truth within awhile to make greatness very familiar, if not ridiculous. Now King Henry making a Masque at the Cardinal Wolsey’s house, and certain cannons being shot off at his entry, some of the paper or other stuff, wherewith one of them was stopped, did light on the thatch, where being thought at first but idle smoak, and their eyes more attentive to the show, it kindled inwardly, and ran round like a train, consuming within less than an hour the whole house to the ground. This was the fatal period of that virtuous fabric, wherein yet nothing did perish but wood and straw, and a few forsaken cloaks; only one man had his breeches set on fire, that would perhaps have broiled him, if he had not by the benefit of a provident wit, put it out with a bottle of ale.”


A second eye witness, Mr. John Chamberaine, wrote in a letter to Sir Ralph Winwood on 8th July 1613;

The burning of the Globe or playhouse on the Bankside on St. Peter’s day cannot escape you; which fell out by a peal of chambers, (that I know not upon what occasion were to be used in the play,) the tampin or stopple of one of them lighting in the thatch that covered the house, burn’d it down to the ground in less than two hours, with a dwelling-house adjoining; and it was a great marvaile and a fair grace of God that the people had so little harm, having but two narrow doors to get out.”


The eye witnesses disagree on how long it took the theatre to burn to the ground but it is clear that within two hours of the roof catching on fire the Globe was no longer standing.


On this day in 1564 and 1616 – William Shakespeare was born and died.

William Shakespeare was believed to have been born on 23rd April 1564 in Stratford upon Avon to John Shakespeare and his wife Mary. His exact birth date is unknown but as he was baptised at Holy Trinity Church three days later on the 26th it is assumed he was born just days before. William grew up on Henley Street in a house where his father, a Glover, also traded from. Shakespeare was an incredibly lucky child as he escaped the plague which claimed the lives of many children in the 1560’s.

Baptism recordWilliam Shakespeare’s baptism record on view at Holy Trinity Church

John Shakespeare had alongside his glove trade he was also involved in the local council starting as an ale taster and working his way up to alderman and high bailiff. In an account book of the Stratford Corporation it is noted that John had made payments to the Queens players and John would have most likely attended these performances taking his family along as well for the show, giving William Shakespeare his first taste of theatre.

BirthplaceShakespeare’s birthplace

As John Shakespeare was also an alderman within the Stratford council William was able to attend the King’s New School where he learnt Latin and the tales of Ovid, which would influence his later writings. John Shakespeare fell on hard times by taking financial risks and he soon fell into debt. In 1576 John Shakespeare resigned from the town council in disgrace and William had to leave his education behind.

King's schoolPart of the King’s School where Shakespeare attended

William Shakespeare after leaving his education incomplete most likely had to help within the family business in order to keep the family home. At the age of 18 William was married to the 26 year old Anne Hathaway. William was one of only three men under the age of 21 who married in his time. It was a hasty marriage though as Anne was already three months pregnant. The Chancellor of the Worcester Diocese allowed the marriage banns to be read only once instead of the usual three.

Six months later Anne gave birth to a daughter, Susanna, who was baptised on 26th May 1583 and two years later Anne gave birth to twins Hamnet and Judith who were baptised on 2nd February 1585.

After the birth of the twins in 1585 there are no records of Shakespeare until he appears in London in 1592 with the one exception where his name appeared in a complaints bill of a law case in the Queen’s Bench. There are many theories as to what Shakespeare did during these seven years including that he travelled north where he was employed as a tutor, he travelled to Italy either on a pilgrimage or as a spy, there is also the possibility that William joined an acting company as they passed through Stratford upon Avon. We will never really know what Shakespeare did in this time as many of the tales came after his death.

In 1592 William Shakespeare appears in London as an established actor where he is referenced in ‘Groats-Worth of Wit’ by the playwright Robert Greene who wrote

there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger’s heart wrapped in a Player’s hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country’

It appears that Greene was critising William for his writing saying that he was acting above his station as an actor and trying to match the achievements of other writers such as himself and Christopher Marlowe. An apology was issued three months after Greene’s death by Henry Chettle, Greene’s editor.

At the time Shakespeare was already gaining popularity with plays such as Henry VI, Titus Andronicus and The Comedy of Errors. These plays were normally performed by Pembroke’s Men. This early success halted when the plague caused the playhouses to close their doors. Many acting companies took to the road however; Shakespeare it appears stayed behind in London and wrote poetry, in particular, the highly successful Venus and Adonis. It was during this time that William caught the eye of the Earl of Southampton who was just about to turn 21 and he soon became Shakespeare’s patron.

In 1594 the London playhouses reopened and Shakespeare returned and joined Richard Burbage and William Kempe at the Lord Chamberlain’s Men formally Lord Strange’s Men. The company although under the patronage of the Lord Chamberlain was owned by the actors who all became shareholders. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men performed for Queen Elizabeth I on many occasions. Shakespeare wrote all his plays during this time exclusively for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men including Richard II, Love’s Labour’s Lost and Romeo and Juliet.

In October 1596 William Shakespeare spurred on perhaps by his father’s fall from grace when he was a child reapplied for a coat of arms on behalf of John Shakespeare it was granted to the Shakespeare’s. Three years later another application was made to combine the Shakespeare coat of arms with the Arden coat of arms.

Coat of armsShakespeare’s coat of arms above the door at the birthplace

In August 1596 William’s only son, Hamnet, died aged 11. The cause is unknown. It is unknown as well whether Shakespeare returned to Stratford for his funeral but the following year Shakespeare bought New Place, the second largest house in Stratford. Shakespeare paid just £60 for the house, which was considered cheap for the day. In 1598 Stratford Council ordered an investigation into the hoarding of grain. A bad harvest had caused the price of grain to increase as well as an increase in illegal trading. New Place was surveyed and it was recorded that the house contained ten quarters of malt. Around the same as other households in the area including the schoolmaster and vicar.

New PlaceNew Place once the second largest home in Stratford, now demolished

The Lord Chamberlain’s Men performed in The Theatre, Shoreditch. They briefly moved to Curtain Theatre in 1597. On 29th December 1598 following ongoing disputes with The Theatre’s landlord, Giles Allen, who owned the land in which The Theatre stood. Burbage and his brother Cuthbert along with the acting company and workmen dismantled The Theatre and transported it across the river to Southwark where it was rebuilt as The Globe Theatre. Five members of the acting company including William Shakespeare were offered the chance to become shareholders for the cost of £10. As well as performing Shakespeare’s plays The Globe Theatre also played work by Ben Johnson and Christopher Marlowe.

Globe TheatreThe modern day Globe Theatre situated yards away from the original plot

William Shakespeare and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men became embroiled in the Essex Rebellion of 1601 when they were commissioned by some of Essex’s supporters to put on Richard II in the hope that the scenes of Richard being overthrown would inspire the audience to overthrow Elizabeth. The company were investigated and learnt that they had been offered 40 shillings to put on the play, which was more than their normal fee and so they agreed. The company went unpunished as it was clear that they had no further involvement in the plot and they even performed for Elizabeth at Whitehall the day before Essex was executed.

With the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603 the Lord Chamberlain’s Men became the King’s Men and fell under the patronage of King James I.

In 1604 Shakespeare was living close to St Paul’s Cathedral as a tenant of Christopher Mountjoy. Mountjoy was a wig maker and his apprentice Stephen Bellott wanted to marry Mountjoy’s daughter. Shakespeare acted as a negotiator when details of the dowry were being sorted out. The couple married but eight years later Bellott attempted to sue his father in law for failing to pay the dowry in full. William Shakespeare was called to testify in court but records show that he said that he remembered little of the events.

Back in Stratford in 1605 Shakespeare purchased shares in the tithe leases for £440 which gave him and his family an income from grain, hay, wool, lamb and many other items. In 1607 Shakespeare went on to purchase farmland of 107 acres for £320. Shakespeare was becoming a prominent businessman within Stratford and it appears he invested his money in order to support his family.

In 1609 the London theatres were once again closed as the plague again spread throughout the city. It is believed that Shakespeare had decided to retire to Stratford around this time. He still made frequent visits to London for business including the above court case regarding his former landlord. After 1610 Shakespeare wrote less only completing The Tempest, The Two Noble Kinsmen, Henry VIII and the lost play of Cardenio. Three of these plays were collaborations with John Fletcher who would succeed Shakespeare as the playwright for the King’s Men.

In March 1613 Shakespeare finally purchased a London home, after living in rented accommodation throughout his time in the city. Shakespeare bought an apartment in a gatehouse that was part of the former Blackfriars priory. Although Shakespeare was living back in Stratford at this time he leased the apartment out to John Robinson.

William Shakespeare signed his will on 25th March 1616; he left most of his estate to his eldest daughter Susanna who had married the local doctor, John Hall. His other daughter Judith married a local winemaker, Thomas Quiney. The day after Shakespeare had signed his will Quiney had been found guilty of fathering an illegitimate son and was ordered to do public penance. This incident led to Shakespeare altering his will to ensure that Judith’s portion of his will was protected. Shakespeare also left his second best bed to his wife Anne. It is believed that the second best bed is in fact the marital bed and the best bed was kept for guests. Therefore the sentimental value was more significant.

William Shakespeare died on 23rd April 1616, aged 52. The cause was unknown as it was said that he was in perfect health. However, years later it was rumoured that Shakespeare caught a fever after drinking with Ben Johnson and Drayton. Another theory was that Shakespeare died after a cerebral haemorrhage which would suggest either a blow or fall to the head or an ongoing illness.

William Shakespeare was buried two days later at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford with his epitaph carved into a stone slab warning of anyone who thought of disturbing his bones. It reads;

Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare,

To dig the dvst encloased heare.

Bleste be man spares thes stones,
And cvrst be he moves my bones’

GraveThe curse protecting the bones of William Shakespeare


A monument was placed years later with an effigy of Shakespeare writing. It is believed that the monument was installed before the publication of the first folio in 1623.

MonumentWilliam Shakespeare’s monument overlooking his grave.

On this day in 1580 – William Herbert was born

William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, was born on 8th April 1580 to Henry Herbert and his third wife Mary Sidney.

Herbert had a very lively relationship history in his teens he was betrothed to Bridget de Vere, granddaughter of William Cecil. The annuity could not be agreed and so the couple never married. He moved on to Mary Fitton and got her pregnant. Herbert refused to marry Mary and as a result was sent to the Fleet prison. The child was still born and Herbert petitioned Sir Robert Cecil to be released. Herbert was freed but barred from the court. Herbert eventually married Lady Mary Talbot in 1604.

Herbert became the Chancellor of the University of Oxford and went on to found the Pembroke College at Oxford. Although barred from court for a short time he became the constable of St Briavels n 1608 and then in 1615 served as Lord Chamberlain to the Queen.

Herbert’s most lasting memory comes from William Shakespeare. Herbert was a patron of Shakespeare and is considered to be one of the candidates for Shakespeare’s ‘Fair Youth’ that Shakespeare urged to marry. Shakespeare dedicated his sonnets to Mr W.H. Many argue that this is Herbert although another candidate for the dedications was Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton. When Shakespeare’s first folio was published in 1623 it came with the dedication to the “incomparable pair of brethren” of William Herbert and his brother Philip.

Herbert was a keen supporter of the arts and along with Shakespeare he was also patron for the likes of Ben Johnson, John Donne and George Herbert.

Herbert died on 10th April 1630 and was buried in Salisbury Cathedral.

William Herbert

On this day in 1588 – Thomas Hobbes was born

Thomas Hobbes was born on 5th April 1588 in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. It was rumoured he was born early due to the incoming Spanish Armada.

Hobbes studied at Oxford and it took him nearly five years to complete his degree but upon graduating he was quickly recommended to become the tutor of William Cavendish. Hobbes and Cavendish became firm companions and in 1610 travelled Europe together; here he saw the scholars and philosophers at work. His companion and employer died in 1628 and Hobbes found himself unemployed but quickly gained another tutor position for Gervase Clifton. This short lived role only lasted two years as he was reemployed by the Cavendish family for the son of his former master.

During this period of time tutoring the youngest Cavendish Hobbes also expanded his own knowledge of philosophy and after 1636 he was a regular debater in Paris philosophic groups and he began considering himself as a philosopher as well as a scholar.

Hobbes began working and studying areas from physical momentum to bodily motions involved in sensation, knowledge and passions.

Hobbes returned to England in 1637, after the end of the Tudor reign. Within the next three years Hobbes wrote a paper called The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic. This was never officially published a copy did make its way to the public 10 years later and it was clear that the document showed hints of the political crisis that was to come.

When civil war broke out in England Hobbes was already in self imposed exile in Paris where he continued his philosophical studies. In 1647 Hobbes became the maths tutor to Prince Charles, whilst he was also in exile.

Hobbes also published work under the title Leviathan which set out a doctrine for the foundation of states and legitimate governments. This was written during the civil war era. After the civil war and England returned to a monarchy a bill was passed against atheism, which Hobbes had been accused of in the past. Due to his connection as former tutor to the new King Charles II he was somewhat protected. A committee believed that Hobbes’ Leviathan showed atheist tendencies, this led to Hobbes burning some of his more compromising books for fear of being labelled a heretic. With the bill passed Hobbes was unable to publish any more of his work in England he could not even respond to his critics. Hobbes continued publishing his work abroad and gained a great reputation.

Hobbes died on 4th December 1679 and was buried in St. John the Baptist Church in Ault Hucknall, Derbyshire.

Thomas Hobbes

On this day in 1563 – Arthur Brooke died

Arthur Brooke, the English poet died on 19th March 1563. Very little is known about Arthur Brooke’s life.

Brookes wrote the English poem ‘The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet’ the poem in which William Shakespeare used as his inspiration for Romeo and Juliet. Brooke’s version was taken from the French translation of a story that was included in Matteo Bandello’s ‘Novelle’. Brooke made many changes to the story; the role of the nurse was developed further and the final scene was significantly altered. Most importantly Brooke introduced the idea that fortune was the force that controlled the lives of Romeo and Juliet. As Shakespeare used these changes in his version we can see that Brooke’s poem was his inspiration and not the original text.

Brooke’s died on 19th March 1563 in a shipwreck whilst aboard the Queen’s ship, Greyhound. The vessels destination was set for Le Havre in order to help the Protestant cause in France.


On this day in 1619 – Richard Burbage died

Richard Burbage was the son of businessman John Burbage and born in 1567. Not much is known about Burbage’s early life or career as an actor but we can assume that it was likely he acted in both the Admiral’s Men and Lord Strange’s Men as they regularly performed in his father’s theatre in the early 1590’s. We know that Burbage performed with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and remained with them after they became the King’s Men and beyond. He would have performed many times in front of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I.

Upon the death of his father, James, Richard and his brother Cuthbert took over running the two family theatres; Blackfriars Theatre and The Theatre. Blackfriars was leased out to new tenants and the income they received from that helped them dismantle The Theatre after their land lease ran out and transport it across the Thames to build a new theatre called the Globe Theatre (see for more information).

The Burbage’s along with William Shakespeare and three other men bought back the lease on the Blackfriars Theatre in 1608 after their tenants could no longer make the payments each month. They turned it into an indoor theatre for the King’s Men for use when the Globe was not a suitable venue or if they were commissioned to perform for a private audience.

Richard Burbage was the lead actor for the majority of William Shakespeare’s plays playing iconic roles such as Hamlet, Othello and King Lear. Burbage continued performing until he died on 13th March 1619. He was buried in St Leonard’s church in Shoreditch, unfortunately his grave location is now lost.

Richard Burbage

On this day in 1597 – The lease for the Globe Theatre is signed by the shareholders

In 1597 Giles Allen refused to renew the lease on the land where The Theatre stood, home to the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Over Christmas 1597 the Burbages dismantled The Theatre and stored it on the north bank of the Thames.

In order to raise the funds to lease new ground to rebuild their theatre they offered five members of the acting company the chance to become shareholders at the cost of £10 each. One of these five was William Shakespeare. The land chosen was south of the River Thames in Southwark and was renamed The Globe Theatre. The Globe opened in 1599, most likely with Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Shakespeare was to be their resident writer but the Lord Chamberlain’s Men also performed works by Ben Johnson, John Fletcher and Thomas Dekker.

On 29th June 1613 during a performance of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII a fire, caused by cannon fire, set the theatre alight and burnt it to the ground. A second Globe Theatre was quickly built over the foundations of the previous building and opened the following year. However, Puritans closed all theatres in 1642 and the theatre was most likely demolished in 1644.

A modern reconstruction of The Globe opened in 1997, 750 feet away from the original site and it was built based upon all existing evidence of the original building. 101_2124