Tag Archives: Stratford upon Avon

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 1555 – George Carew was born

George Carew was born on 29th May 1555 to the Dean of Windsor, Dr George Carew and his wife Anne. Carew attended Broadgates Hall, Oxford and later Pembroke College between 1564 an 1573.

Carew entered into the service of the crown’s base in Ireland in 1574 and served under his cousin, Sir Peter Carew. The following year saw Carew volunteer to join the army of Sir Henry Sidney and in 1576 Carew for a few months fulfilled the role of Captain of the Garrison at Leighlin and was also appointed the Lieutenant Governor of County Carlow as well as the Vice Constable of Leighlin Castle.

With a successful career in the army in 1578 Carew was made Captain in the Royal Navy and began a voyage with Sir Humphrey Gilbert. Carew successfully helped put down the Baltinglas and Desmond rebellions and was later appointed Constable of Leighlin Castle after the death of his brother.

In 1580 Carew married Joyce Clopton, daughter of William Clopton from Stratford upon Avon. The couple had no children although he had one illegitimate child, Sir Thomas Stafford.

Carew’s success meant that Queen Elizabeth I held him in high regard, as did Sir William Cecil and his son, Robert. Carew began receiving many posts with the court starting in 1582 when he was appointed a gentleman pensioner to the Queen and the following year High Sheriff of Carlow.

Carew was knighted in Christ Church, Dublin on 24th February 1586 by Lord Deputy, Sir John Perrot and petitioned the court on many government issues from Ireland. Carew returned to Ireland in 1588 to become Master of the Ordnance, after turning down an ambassadorship to France. Carew would hold the role of Master of the Ordnance until 1592 when he became Lieutenant General of Ordnance.

In May 1596 Carew was part of the expedition to Cadiz and in 1597 to Azores. In March 1599 Carew was appointed Treasurer at War to the Earl of Essex during his Irish campaign but when Essex abandoned his post to return to England, leaving Ireland undefended, Carew was appointed Lord Justice.

At the tip of the nine year war Carew was granted the post of President of Munster on 27th January 1600 and landed at Howth Head in February with Lord Mountjoy. In his role of President and he was able to impose martial law. In his role Carew was involved in many events including when the Earl of Ormond was seized and Carew and the Earl of Thomond escaped under the rain of daggers.

When Queen Elizabeth died in 1603 Carew was faced with with civil disorder as towns that fell under his jurisdiction refused to accept King James I as the new King of England. In Cork riots broke out and Carew had to send troops to restore order to the town.

In 1604, under the reign of King James I, Carew was elected as a Member of Parliament for Hastings and on 4th June 1605 he was created Baron Carew of Clopton. Carew was able to leave Ireland behind for a while but regularly checked in with the progress of the country, he was pleased to see that Ireland was improving and offered suggestions on how to keep it moving forward as a Protestant country.

In 1616 Carew was appointed a Privy Councillor and in 1618 he pleaded to King James I for the life of Sir Walter Raleigh, who was accused of being a Spanish spy and denouncing the rule of King James I.

Carew remained at court when King Charles I took the throne and was appointed Treasurer to Queen Consort Henrietta Maria of France and on 5th February 1626 he was created Earl of Totnes.

Carew died on 27th March 1629 at The Savoy and he was buried at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford upon Avon on 2nd May.

George Carew

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.

Theatre Review – Love’s Labour’s Lost at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Love’s Labour’s Lost – RSC, Stratford upon Avon, 28th February 2015


What happens if four men sign an oath swearing to not see a woman and commit to three years of studying and fasting? What if those four men forget that a Princess of France and her ladies are due to visit the court in just a few days? The answer hilarious consequences and hijinks.

The Royal Shakespeare Company has teamed up the slap stick comedy with Much Ado About Nothing, playing under the name of the highly rumoured missing play Love’s Labour’s Won. Love’s Labour’s Lost is set pre World War I in the Edwardian era.

The King of Navarre and his fellow companions in study Berowne, Dumaine and Longaville played by Sam Alexander, Edward Bennett, Tunji Kasim and William Belchambers respectively fall into their roles as the opening scenes see them debating and discussing the oath that they are about to sign. Just as soon as the oath is signed and the punishment for breaking the oath is declared the men are reminded that the Princess of France is due to visit the court, this surely means that they will instantly break their oaths. Instead meet lodge the ladies outside the court in a field and meet them there, ensuring that the oath remains intact. Well that is until they see them!

Berowne and Rosaline’s first meeting, in a play where language is powerful and conveys double meanings, are a meeting of wits. However, Michelle Terry’s Rosaline in harsher in her words than I have ever interpreted before and is almost mocking Edward Bennett’s Berowne for showing an interest in her. I personally imagined that Berowne and Rosaline’s conversations were more flirtatious and jovial than they come across on stage.

John Hodgkinson’s passionate Spainiard Don Armando provides many laughs alongside his brilliantly underpraised page, Peter McGovern and when they are combined with Nick Haverson’s Costard it is a case of amazing casting. Nick Haverson as Costard completely steals every scene he is in, his comedic timing is spot on and he plays the hapless fool to many laughs from the audience. Haverson was very nearly the star of the show had it not been for the Dumaine’s teddy during the scene whether they each learn that the others have broken their oath almost as soon as they had made it. Set atop an elaborate rooftop each of the men reveal through letters, sonnets and talking to their teddy just how they feel about the ladies who have entered their court. Bennett’s Berowne shines here throwing in his quips as each man talks whilst concealing his own feelings. However, it is teddy, in his dressing gown to match his owner that gets the loudest laughs. Why replicas were not being sold in the shop is beyond me, the RSC would have a queue of people wanting to buy the adorable little bear!

Loves-Labours-Lost-2014-13-541x361                            Photo courtesy of Manuel Harlan and The RSC

With Berowne’s quick thinking talking them out of their oaths, the men decide to dress as Muscavites and visit the ladies. Along with this is the most elaborate song and dance that praises the women and their beauty. It was good to see so much effort go into the Russian entertainment with past productions just having the men doing a little jig on stage before carrying on with the scene, you can tell that a lot of effort went into getting this right and as such it really pays off. Jamie Newell’s wonderfully elegant and sometimes sarcastic Boyet, having informed the ladies of the impending imposters help them trick the haplessly in love men into declaring intents to the wrong women. When they return as themselves Leah Whitaker’s highly intelligent Princess of France and her ladies openly mock and exposes the men. The men apologise and all is righted with them learning that they have been tricked themselves. They settle down to watch a very amateur production of the Nine Worthies put on by Don Armado, Costard and companions. Full of wonderful costumes, forgotten lines and a fight between Costard and Don Armado, the play within a play could almost be staged independently.

The leisurely entertainment is interrupted by news that the Princess’ father has died and they must return to France. An unusual end to what is often portrayed as a comedy. The men are told to wait a year and a day to prove their love and that they will not break it as easily as their oaths to study. A harsh ending made worse when the King and his men return in full soldier uniforms as they head off to fight in World War I. A reminder that promises were broken at that time and that love was a difficult emotion to contain.

For a play that is about love, emotion and broken oaths the language is as important as the ideas behind the play. Misunderstanding and double meanings turn situations on their heads. The verbal jousting between lovers can be interpreted as jovial courtly love or the women mocking the men and accusing them of being false, which is how it felt at times in this production.

The impressive set, based on nearly Charlecote Park, looks like it could be straight out of Downton Abbey, really adds to the feel of the play, four gentlemen relaxing and shutting themselves away in a sumptuous house to understand the world in which they live in. The costumes as well were dazzling, in particular the ladies during the Muscavites scene, the sparkling jewel encrusted dresses and large statement pieces of jewellery kept catching my eye throughout the scene. Love’s Labour’s Lost and Love’s Labour’s Won compliment each other perfectly and that is down, I think, to the marvellous direction of Christopher Luscombe who has put on the two plays in a beautiful tribute to the centenery of the Great War.


Love’s Labour’s Lost is running at the RST in Stratford upon Avon until 14th March and special encore screenings are taking place in selected cinemas, with a dvd release most likely scheduled for later in the year.