George Austin uncovers more Catholic connections in Shaekespeare’s Warwickshire neighbourhood

A year after returning to Stratford, William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. She was already pregnant – not at all unusual in those days. Anne was the eldest daughter of Richard Hathaway and his first wife, who came from Temple Grafton. When Richard died he was buried according to the reformed faith – but he did name a prominent recusant as his executor. After the death of her father, Anne returned to the village and it was there that she and William married.

Whereas the Stratford vicar, Henry Haycroft, was a strong Protestant, at Temple Grafton the vicar was John Frith, described in a government spy’s report made only four years after Shakespeare’s wedding, as ‘an old priest and unsound in religion, he can neither preach nor read well, his chiefest trade is to cure hawks that are hurt or diseased.’

Later when the twins were born, they were named Hamnet and Judith after their Catholic neighbours, the Sadlers, and Hamnet Sadler was godfather to young Hamnet. So by 1585, Shakespeare had not abandoned the social and religious loyalties of his family. His mother was Mary Arden and his connection with the Arden family is interesting as the Ardens were one of the most tenacious Catholic families in Warwickshire.

Sir Edward Arden, the head of the clan, ‘was a prominent Catholic who kept a priest disguised as a gardener,’ known to the area as Fr Hugh Hall. Arden’s son-in-law, the deranged John Somerville, was arrested for threatening to assassinate the Queen and under torture implicated Arden and Hall.

Both were eventually arrested and sentenced to death, but Hall died in prison. In 1583 Sir Edward Arden was hanged, drawn and quartered and as he was led to the scaffold he protested his innocence of all of which he had been charged, claiming ‘that his real crime was profession of the Catholic faith.’

Warwickshire had continuing and strong Catholic roots, and it is said ‘many aldermen and their wives were avowed Catholics.’ Centuries later in Stratford’s Guild Chapel it was discovered that instead of being destroyed as the law demanded, the wall paintings had simply been covered with whitewash, easily removable if the old faith were restored.

William’s father was John Shakespeare, and records show not only John’s firm Catholic roots but also his connections with other Catholic families in the town. John was a maker of gloves and lived in Henley Street. It was a close community and in the same street lived a woollen-draper, George Whateley, two of whose brothers became priests.

Near John’s shop was the Angel Inn, owned and managed by the Cawdrey family, staunchly Catholic with a son who trained as a Jesuit priest. His closest neighbour was George Badger, also a woollen draper, who was deprived of his office as alderman and even sent to prison for his Catholicism.

Then there was the Quiney family, one of whom married William’s daughter Judith. They were fiercely Catholic and Adrian Quiney’s son Richard was a close friend of William, who became godfather to Richard’s child. The Quineys also married into the Sadler family – John Sadler owned the Bear Inn, which was eventually sold to the Nash family, also Catholic and who also married into the Shakespeare family. The host of the Bear Inn, Thomas Barber, was a Catholic too.

As early as 1578 when a levy was made in Stratford partly to enforce anti-Catholic measures, John Shakespeare refused to pay, as did George Badger together with Thomas Reynolds and Thomas Nash, also Catholics and both fathers of two of William’s school friends.

In the tense situation of the day, if you had such intimate connections with Catholics in your town it was because you shared their faith, just as in the more ‘difficult’ dioceses today, orthodox Catholics are closer to those who hold to the same truths.