Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, was born in 1556. Shakespeare was eight years younger than her. When they married in 1582 he was eighteen and she was twenty-six. She was pregnant at the time and whatever their relationship was like – which we don’t know anything about – he had no alternative other than to marry her because it was socially unacceptable for a woman of her standing to have a child without being married.
She was the eldest of the eight children of a farmer, Richard Hathaway. They lived in a big farmhouse, called Hewland Farm in the village of Shottery, one mile from Stratford. When Richard died in 1581 she continued to live with her siblings and step-mother in the farmhouse, which is now known as Anne Hathaway’s cottage – one of the most visited tourist buildings in England. When she married she went to live with her husband in his parents’ house in Henley Street, Stratford.
The Shakespeares had two daughters and a son. Their son Hamnet died, aged eleven. It is generally thought that he died of the plague. (Read more about Shakespeare’s family.)
Soon after the marriage Shakespeare went to work as an actor in London while she remained in the Henley street house with her in-laws. Shakespeare visited frequently but Anne Hathaway never went to London, as far as anyone knows.
Anne’s in-laws were fairly prosperous, although that prosperity was on the decline, but their standard of living improved as her husband became, at first, well-off as a successful playwright and theatrical operator and then famous as the writer and presenter of the most successful plays of his time, even performing, occasionally, for the King and his royal court. Anne lived the life of what would be the equivalent, in our times, of a millionaire’s wife and enjoyed the prestige that came with having a successful and very wealthy husband. In 1596 her husband bought, and moved the family into, New Place, one of the biggest houses in town. On his retirement in 1610 Shakespeare settled in Stratford and lived the last six years of his life as a family man – husband, father and grandfather. During those years the Shakespeares enjoyed a rich social life, visited by some of the most glittering stars of the age, men like Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton, whose names are still among the most famous as literary figures.
After Shakespeare’s death in 1616 Anne continued to live in New Place as a wealthy widow, until her death in 1623, aged sixty-seven. She was buried beside her husband in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.