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.

Anne Hathaway 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.)

Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare's wife

Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife

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 his wife 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.

4 replies
  1. Yvonne Hudson
    Yvonne Hudson says:

    In researching my one-woman show, Mrs Shakespeare, I confirmed that there are many reasons that Anne was older than Will, that it was unusual for her to be pregnant when they wed, and that the bequest of a bed was not a slight. Young women often–as Anne did–cared for family members as Anne did after her mother’s death–and married younger men as they were in greater number as possible husbands. This is statistical supported in the Warwickshire county records. In addition, a betrothal often involved “pre-consummating” the marriage as a common part of the bond. A wedding often followed. Regarding the bequest, the marriage bed was often called “the second-best bed” and was the “better” bed that guests would use. New Place was very large house–it’s documented that it had 10 fireplaces–so specifying that bed for Anne could have been a personal gesture of affection or simply gratitude. She bore twins and Will’s only son. His love for his children is expressed in his plays. While he may have enjoyed other infatuations or even affairs, he would have likely returned to Stratford at Lent and other times when the theatres closed (such as epidemics of plague). There’s no confirmation of why Hamnet died. Accidents were the leading cause of death in Elizabethan era childhoods. But infections were basically untreatable and a number of common things may have killed little Hamnet. These facts are some of the most helpful in understanding that the Shakespeare’s marriage was not so unusual or even loveless.

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  2. Janett
    Janett says:

    I just returned from England and got to stop at Anne’s home. The gardens were beautiful. Just love it there. I wonder when writer’s say Shakespeare “curtly” bequethed her the second best bed we aren’t reading too much into it. It would have possibly been the bed where their children were conceived, and maybe he and she were sentimental about it. Maybe the best bed went to the daughter because her need was greater than Anne’s. Just a thought, and a different perspective.

    Reply
  3. Taylor
    Taylor says:

    I thought this was very helpful; I am studying Shakespeare, and writing a biography, and I interpreted this as very helpful because I have a specific section in my biography about William Shakespeare about his wife. Thanks again!

    Reply

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