Much Ado About Marriage

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Aston Cantlow, Hampton Lucy, Weston-on-Avon, Temple Grafton, Luddington, Clifford Chambers, Stratford-upon-Avon, Bishopton, Billesley, Worcester St. Martin’s, or Worcester St. Michael’s?

Take your pick. All of these churches have a claim.

Some facts: Anne (or Agnes) Hathaway was 27; William was 18. She was already three months pregnant when the marriage took place in late November 1582. It is presumed the Bishop of Worcester granted a special license (now lost), a record of which survives in the Bishop’s register. There was a marriage bond, too, witnessed by two friends. And that’s all.

On Friday I went to an open public debate at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon: ‘Where was Shakespeare married?’ It was chaired by historian Robert Bearman and five guest speakers were given eight minutes each to argue the case for a different location.

Martin Gorick presented the claim for Bishopton church, now a mound of earth on the right hand side of the Stratford-Birmingham line, just after the train passes under the A46 at the edge of the town. Quieter than the main parish church, Bishopton was where Thomas Quiney, Shakespeare’s son-in-law, performed public penance in 1616 for his ‘pre-marital fornication’ with Margaret Wheeler (she and her baby died in childbirth). Turn left out of the Hathaway home, follow Shottery brook, and an earlier case of cart before horse can be quietly rectified in nearby Bishopton.

The actor Jeffrey Dench made a gently humorous claim for Clifford Chambers, and related it to a legend that Shakespeare was born there. Stratford was suffering from plague and the rector John Brown knew Shakespeare’s father. At the time of the marriage, one of Shakespeare’s cousins was working on the estate of Sir Hercules Rainsford, who was a good friend of the then rector, Edward Vernon. Although no marriages are entered in the Clifford Chambers register for 1582, it is another quiet country church…

The case for Luddington was presented by Chris Sharpe. The schoolmaster of Stratford was also ex-officio the curate of Luddington. Anne Shakespeare’s niece lived forty yards away from the church. And there is the story – possibly true – told by S. W. Fullom, the Victorian biographer, that several residents of the village had seen the marriage recorded in the ancient Luddington register, which was later burnt by the curate’s housekeeper to boil a kettle.

Shakespeare scholar Ronnie Mulryne made the best case he could for Holy Trinity Church, Stratford. The original entries were more likely to have been made weekly rather than daily, so some could have been lost. A scribe copied the register in 1598, another opportunity to lose the crucial entry. A smear down the page for the 1582 entries might even suggest that the scribe (perhaps the vicar?) was drinking at the time and might not have been concentrating properly.

Temple Grafton came last, presented by Stratford expert Mairi Macdonald. Their register dates from 1612, but it is the parish named in the Bishop’s register. Alas, the name of the bride is there given as Anne Whateley. But, the clerk had been dealing with a complicated legal case involving Whateley earlier that same day, so it was an easy mistake to make. It’s unlikely that two mistakes were made at the same time. Anne’s mother might have come from Temple Grafton; a maternal relative there might have looked after the pregnant Anne. The vicar of Temple Grafton, John Frith, was described as being ‘unsound in religion’ and, as well as having Catholic sympathies, might have been willing to help the Shakespeares avoid too much public exposure.

Everyone present then voted and the results were: Bishopton 14, Clifford Chambers 8, Luddington 18, Stratford 3, and Temple Grafton 27.

Temple Grafton had my vote on the strength of Mairi’s persuasion and because it is the only parish named in the documentary evidence that survives.

No doubt it’s a debate that will continue.

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson
  • Yvonne Hudson

    Wherever they wed, we do know the Shakespeares eventually did make it to the altar at Holy Trinity. As challenging as their marriage may have been with the loss of Hamnet, the reality of distance, and their times, William and Anne completed a life's journey that I believe inform his work–tragic, comedy, and historic.

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