The only reason we know anything at all about William Shakespeare and his ancestry is because scholars are very interested in him and have made the effort to find out. That is because his writings present a genius who not only had a great gift for story-telling and the ability to connect human emotion to the English language in a way that had never been done before and has not been done since, but also that they revealed a human being with extraordinary qualities. His insights into human life, his ability to laugh, to empathise; his wisdom and his sense of proportion in relation to human life, were astonishingly highly developed. And yet we don’t know anything about the man at all – we don’t even know his name, really, because appearances of the name in documents over the centuries, including in his own time, ranged through spellings like ‘Shaxpere’, ‘Shagspere’, ‘Chacsper’, ‘Shakstaff” ‘Shakkespere’, but never ‘Shakespeare’ until it appeared on the First Folio (first edition of his collected plays) as the hyphenated ‘Shake-speare’. Shakespeare himself would undoubtedly have pronounced the first syllable of his name with a short ‘a’, as in ‘pack’.
When looking at Shakespeare’s ancestry we know something about his parents, John and Mary – in fact, a lot more about them than about their famous son – and we can go a generation beyond that and be reasonably sure about two of his grandparents – his father’s father, Richard Shakespeare, and his mother’s father, Robert Arden.
Richard Shakespeare was a tenant farmer in Snitterfield, a village about four miles from Stratford. He was constantly in trouble for grazing too many cattle on Common Land then not attending court. In spite of the danger he professed strong Catholic beliefs and we know that because he insisted on them in his will. The aristocrat who owned the land he farmed was Robert Arden. Richard Shakespeare had two sons; Richard and John.
The Ardens were part of a noble Catholic family, the Ardens of Park Hall, whose ancestors had been given land by William the Conqueror. Robert Arden’s wife was Agnes Hill. They had eight daughters and Mary Arden was the youngest. Mary was sixteen when her father died and he left her some money and some land in Wilmecote.
John Shakespeare and Mary Arden married and became the parents of William Shakespeare.
Some scholars have painstakingly searched documents going right back, and some possible ancestors of Shakespeare have been spied.
There was a John Shaksper living in Frittendon, Kent, in 1279. A William Sakspere was hanged for theft in Clopton, Gloucestershire in 1284. In 1457 an Isabella Shakspear was the prioress of the Benedictine convent of Wroxall. One of the other nuns in the same year was Jane Shakspear. In 1487 Hugh Shakspere of Merton College, Oxford changed his name to Sawndare because of something he had done which necessitated an incognito approach to life!
And that’s about all we know of Shakespeare’s ancestry.None found.