Recordings in the Episcopal register at Worcester on the dates of November 27 and 28, 1582, reveal that Shakespeare desired to marry a young girl named Anne. There are two different documents regarding this matter, and their contents have raised a debate over just whom Shakespeare first intended to wed. It is a fact that Shakespeare was of age 18, a minor at the time, married Anne Hathaway, who was twenty-six and already several months pregnant.
Who was Anne Hathaway?
Anne was the eldest daughter, and one of the seven children of Richard Hathaway, a twice-married farmer in Shottery. When Richard died in 1581, he requested his son, Bartholomew, move into the house we now know as Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, and maintain the property for his mother, Richard’s second wife, and Anne’s stepmother.
Anne lived in the cottage with Bartholomew, her step-mother, and her other siblings. No doubt she was bombarded with a barrage of household tasks to fill her days at Hewland Farm, as it was then called. Anne did not attend any schools and hence was completely illiterate.
Marriage Arrangements of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway
The legal age of marriage for boys at that time was 21, while William was just 18 years and he needed his father’s permission to get married. During that time everybody was married inside the church and there were no provinces for registry marriage offices.
As Anne was pregnant, they need to get married as soon as possible. It was a tradition that the marriage has to be announced in the church for 3 times which was called “Crying the Banns”. If anyone has an objection at that time, it can be raised. If Banns were not read, that marriage would not be considered as legal. This was time-consuming.
However the faster alternative was to obtain permission from the Bishop. Hence they presented a sworn statement which confirmed that there were no pre contacts and their marriage was legal and lawful. This was presented before the Bishop of Worcester. He then issued a marriage bond, which confirmed that William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway.
Later this marriage bond was presented at the local church and hence they now needed only one reading of the Banns.
The Mystery and Confusion About the Legal Marriage
There are two documents regarding the marriage, however the name conflicts. Two different entries are mentioned in the Episcopal register at Worcester on 27th November 1582 and 28th November 1582.
On November 27, 1582, the diocese records in Worcester show a license issued for the marriage of “Wm Shaxpere at Annam Whateley” which was about William Shakespeare and one Anne Whately of Temple Grafton. And the entry on 28th November 1852 was issued for the marriage of “William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway ” which was about Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway.
The next day, friends of the recently deceased Richard Hathaway of Shottery posted a surety bond for the marriage of William Shakespeare to Richard’s daughter, Anne Hathaway.
Critical consensus is that “Whateley” was simply a clerical error. However, some suggest that the two records refer to different marriages, or even that Shakespeare meant to marry Anne Whateley but was forced to marry Anne Hathaway due to her pregnancy Whatever parish records there were of the actual marriage have not survived.
William Shakespeare Marriage
William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway were married at Temple Grafton which was a small village located 5 miles away from Stratford-Upon-Avon. There is not much detail about the actual wedding but it is assumed that William Shakespeare marriage was similar to all other Social Standing that took place during the Elizabethan Era.
We don’t know exactly when William and Anne were wed. One would assume it was shortly after the license was granted. What is interesting and has raised as much speculation as anything about the marriage is that only six months from the issue of the license, Anne gave birth to the couple’s first daughter, Susanna. While that may explain the need for haste, it tells us nothing about the couple’s actual relationship.
Incidentally, it may be possible that William and Anne were formally betrothed well before the license was granted. If the couple had pledged themselves in the presence of witnesses, this would have constituted a legally binding relationship. Under those circumstances, they could have consummated their love prior to the wedding without anyone raising an eyebrow. But that’s just conjecture as well, and since the betrothal would have been a verbal commitment, there wouldn’t have been a record of it anyway.
William Shakespeare Children
William Shakespeare had three children. Susanna was born in May 1583, six months after the wedding of her parents Anne Hathaway and William Shakespeare. The baptism of Susanna Shakespeare took place in Stratford Parish Church on May 26th, 1583. Susanna was married to John Hall who was a physician.
John Hall had left a nuncupative will after his death which included manuscripts of Shakespeare’s work, John Hall and his wife inherited after his father’s death.
Two years later in 1585 Anne and William’s twins, Hamnet and Judith Shakespeare were born. The baptism of Hamnet and Judith Shakespeare took place in Stratford Parish Church on February 2nd, 1585. The twins were named after two very close friends of William and Anne, the baker Hamnet Sadler and his wife, Judith.
These were the three legitimate children of the Bard. However, his son Hamnet did not live longer and died due to some unknown cause on 11th August 1596 at the age of 11.
William Shakespeare’s Last Will
The only mention Shakespeare himself actually makes of Anne is in his last will and testament. It is but a single line: “I give unto my wife my second best bed with the furniture.” Some of the readers have considered this statement against Anne, but the mention of the second-best bed would have been their marriage bed since the best bed in their house was reserved for guests.
And so, the thinking goes, how much could he have loved this woman if he essentially left everything to his eldest daughter and her husband? There is evidence in other wills of the period to suggest that the seemingly inconsequential bequeathal of this bed wasn’t perhaps the insult we perceive it to be today.
Simply put, it is impossible to determine any real sense of Shakespeare’s relationship with Anne from the scant evidence available to us today. Short of discovering any personal correspondence between them, we will likely never know anything more of Anne than we have for centuries.
Mrs Shakespeare is one of the many facets of Shakespeare’s life destined to remain a mystery. Even the death of William Shakespeare is a mystery. It is supposed that he might have died of syphilis or even murdered. He is buried in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford Upon Avon, Warwickshire.